by Denyse O'Leary
In "Neanderthal home made of mammoth bones discovered in Ukraine" (PhysOrg.com December 19, 2011), Bob Yirka reports,
Up till recently, most researchers studying Neanderthals had assumed they were simple wanderers, hiding out in caves when the weather got bad. Now however, the discovery of the underpinnings of a house built by a group of Neanderthals, some 44,000 years ago, turns that thinking on its head. Discovered by a team of French archeologists from the MusÃƒÂ©um National d'Histories Naturelle, in an area that had been under study since 1984, the home, as it were, was apparently based on mammoth bones. The team's findings are to be published in the science journal Quaternary International.Why must this stuff always be a surprise?
Actually, Darwinists desperately needed an ape man, to demonstrate the fabled ascent of man, and they co-opted the Neanderthals. Who appear to have quit the job.
Over the past decade, new information regarding Neanderthals, a human ancestor that died out approximately 30,000 years ago, has come to light that tends to reverse decades of thinking. Instead of a clumsy, dim-witted people, it appears Neanderthals were more advanced than most had thought. Evidence of cooking, burying their dead, making jewelry and perhaps even speaking to one another has come to light indicating that first assumptions were a little harsh. Now, with the discovery of a home built by Neanderthals, it's clear they were far more sophisticated than anyone had imagined.
Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that some of the bones used to build the house had decorative carvings and added pigments clearly showing that those that built the house, were in fact, building a home.We told you. They quit. And their house might be worth more than yours nowadays ... well, it would get top marks for creative use of natural materials ...
One solution for the Darwinist would be to establish "ghost lineages" of ape men. They must have existed, and the speculations about them will be immune to correction by evidence.
by Denyse O'Leary
In a remarkable departure from the usual "idiot child of evolutionary biology" fare provided by evolutionary psychology, from Was Darwin Wrong About Emotions?(ScienceDaily Dec. 13, 2011), we learn,
Contrary to what many psychological scientists think, people do not all have the same set of biologically "basic" emotions, and those emotions are not automatically expressed on the faces of those around us, according to the author of a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science. This means a recent move to train security workers to recognize "basic" emotions from expressions might be misguided.Anyone who has managed a large number of people from diverse backgrounds will soon discover this fact. One smells lawsuits to come from security interventions based on crackpot evolution theory.
"What I decided to do in this paper is remind readers of the evidence that runs contrary to the view that certain emotions are biologically basic, so that people scowl only when they're angry or pout only when they're sad," says Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University, the author of the new paper.(Heretic!)
A very good point. Actors are expected to "show" emotions that the audience can interpret. But that's an elaborate repertoire. One reason most people "can't act" is that their real display repertoire doesn't travel well enough, and they can't master the repertoire.
But Barrett (along with a minority of other scientists) thinks that expressions are not inborn emotional signals that are automatically expressed on the face. "When do you ever see somebody pout in sadness? When it's a symbol," she says. "Like in cartoons or very bad movies." People pout when they want to look sad, not necessarily when they actually feel sad, she says.
Some scientists have proposed that emotions regulate your physical response to a situation, but there's no evidence, for example, that a certain emotion usually produces the same physical changes each time it is experienced, Barrett says. "There's tremendous variety in what people do and what their bodies and faces do in anger or sadness or in fear," she says. People do a lot of things when they're angry. Sometimes they yell; sometimes they smile.And occasionally they show no apparent reaction but later go postal ...
Hope she's got tenure.
"Textbooks in introductory psychology says that there are about seven, plus or minus two, biologically basic emotions that have a designated expression that can be recognized by everybody in the world, and the evidence I review in this paper just doesn't support that view," she says. Instead of stating that all emotions fall into a few categories, and everyone expresses them the same way, Barrett says, psychologists should work on understanding how people vary in expressing their emotions.
But she may escape the Inquisition because, we are told, Darwin's sacred text "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" does not actually contain the claim attributed to him. Barrett tells us, "Darwin thought that emotional expressions -- smiles, frowns, and so on -were akin to the vestigial tailbone -- and occurred even though they are of no use." Which is equally nonsense, but not the same nonsense.
by Denyse O'Leary
In "Are there Higgs bosons in space?" (Science on MSNBC.com, 12/14/2011), Natalie Wolchover asks,
"Rather than using a 17-mile-long collider, can't we just find them out there?", explaining, Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, report that they're hot on the trail of an elusive elementary particle known as the Higgs boson. It's only a matter of time before they'll have the infamous "God particle" in handcuffs, they say. But after years of particle- and head-bashing at the LHC, one burning question is whether there's an easier way to do this. Instead of constructing an 17-mile-long, high-energy collider to generate a Higgs particle from scratch, couldn't we just go look for one in nature?
Yet the little devils are explicitly avoiding the Large Hadron Collider ... hmmm ...
John Gunion, first author of "The Higgs Hunter's Guide" (Basic Books, 1990) and a professor of physics at the University of California, Davis, said Higgs bosons regularly pop into existence all over space.
by Denyse O'Leary
From "From whales to earthworms, the mechanism that gives shape to life" (News Mediacom, 14.10.11), we learn,
During the development of an embryo, everything happens at a specific moment. In about 48 hours, it will grow from the top to the bottom, one slice at a time Ã¢â‚¬â€œ scientists call this the embryo's segmentation. "We're made up of thirty-odd horizontal slices," explains Denis Duboule, a professor at EPFL and Unige. "These slices correspond more or less to the number of vertebrae we have."
Every hour and a half, a new segment is built. The genes corresponding to the cervical vertebrae, the thoracic vertebrae, the lumbar vertebrae and the tailbone become activated at exactly the right moment one after another."
The process is astonishingly simple. In the embryo's first moments, the Hox genes are dormant, packaged like a spool of wound yarn on the DNA. When the time is right, the strand begins to unwind. When the embryo begins to form the upper levels, the genes encoding the formation of cervical vertebrae come off the spool and become activated. Then it is the thoracic vertebrae's turn, and so on down to the tailbone. The DNA strand acts a bit like an old-fashioned computer punchcard, delivering specific instructions as it progressively goes through the machine.
The punch line:
"A new gene comes out of the spool every ninety minutes, which corresponds to the time needed for a new layer of the embryo to be built," explains Duboule. "It takes two days for the strand to completely unwind; this is the same time that's needed for all the layers of the embryo to be completed." This system is the first "mechanical" clock ever discovered in genetics. And it explains why the system is so remarkably precise.
The Hox clock is a demonstration of the extraordinary complexity of evolution.Or of something.
Happily, these guys don't offer a hoked-up "evolutionary" explanation.
by Denyse O'Leary
In "U.S. Will Not Finance New Research on Chimps" (New York Times, December 15, 2011), James Gorman reports,
The National Institutes of Health on Thursday suspended all new grants for biomedical and behavioral research on chimpanzees and accepted the first uniform criteria for assessing the necessity of such research. Those guidelines require that the research be necessary for human health, and that there be no other way to accomplish it.The announcement was not controversial. Not much chimp research is going on in medicine; it's expensive and usually unnecessary. And the ban exempts the usual "chimps r' us" stap of the pop science media:
For behavioral and genomic experiments, the report recommended that the research should be done on chimps only if the animals are cooperative, and in a way that minimizes pain and distress. It also said that the studies should "provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition."Notably,
In making the announcement, Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the N.I.H., said that chimps, as the closest human relatives, deserve "special consideration and respect" and that the agency was accepting the recommendations released earlier in the day by an expert committee of the Institute of Medicine, which concluded that most research on chimpanzees was unnecessary.Of course, the key question is, what's to become of the (probably) thousands of chimps who are no longer grant attractors?
by Denyse O'Leary
Here, it was one of 2010's top ten new species picks. Turned up in South Africa; Can leap as well as a grasshopper.
File under: We warned you about cockroaches already, but you ...
by Denyse O'Leary
Here's some useful work by new Zealand scientists: By themselves, the New Caledonian crows didn't know what the thirsty crow knew in the famous Aesop's fable: He dropped pebbles into a nearly empty pitcher until the much-sought water ended up at the top. But given hints, ...
Crows saw a tube partially filled with water. Inside the tube was a bite of meat, stuck onto a piece of wood that floated below their reach. Small stones were sitting nearby. If you're thinking that you might not have been able to solve this puzzle, rest assured--the birds didn't get it either.
This suggests that smarter animals do not so much abstract a solution to a proble4m but take available hints from their environment. Makes sense.
After making sure the crows didn't naturally know how to solve the puzzle, the researchers gave the birds a hint. This time, the crows saw the same tube, floating meat, and stones. But there was a platform next to the top of the tube with a couple stones sitting on it, too. As the crows attempted to jam their beaks far enough into the tube to reach the meat, they tended to accidentally knock the stones into the tube. After doing this several times and noticing how the water level rose, all the crows eventually figured out the trick. They began dropping stones into the tube on purpose to get the meat.
by Denyse O'Leary
Well, isn't that the key epigenetics question - what we really want to know.
From "Why Does the Same Mutation Kill One Person but Not Another?" (ScienceDaily, Dec. 7, 2011), we learn:
The vast majority of genetic disorders (schizophrenia or breast cancer, for example) have different effects in different people. Moreover, an individual carrying certain mutations can develop a disease, whereas another one with the same mutations may not. This holds true even when comparing two identical twins who have identical genomes. But why does the same mutation have different effects in different individuals?Some researchers propose,
"In the last decade we have learned by studying very simple organisms such as bacteria that gene expression -- the extent to which a gene is turned on or off -- varies greatly among individuals, even in the absence of genetic and environmental variation. Two cells are not completely identical and sometimes these differences have their origin in random or stochastic processes. The results of our study show that this type of variation can be an important influence the phenotype of animals, and that its measurement can help to reliably predict the chance of developing an abnormal phenotype such as a disease ."This team's own research looked at the worm C. Elegans, the space shuttle blowup survivor. C. Elegans is too simple to feature many complicating factors.
The work suggests that, even if we completely understand all of the genes important for a particular human disease, we may never be able to predict what will happen to each person from their genome sequence alone. Rather, to develop personalised and predictive medicine it will also be necessary to consider the varying extent to which genes are turned on or off in each person.Goodbye, "genetics is destiny."
There is a sense in which no one can tell you why your brother died and you didn't. Perhaps some day they can point to a gene abnormality that affected him fatally and you minimally - and offer a credible explanation of the cascade of outcomes. But that's it. Some of what we need to know can only be addressed by philosophy, not science.
by Denyse O'Leary
In the recent social sciences scandals, there was an obvious "freakonomics" factor: Really weird findings that do not directly upset elite pieties get massive attention and little analysis. Now, in "Freakonomics: What Went Wrong?" (American Scientist, statistics teachers Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung explain, "Examination of a very popular popular-statistics series reveals avoidable errors":
In our analysis of the Freakonomics approach, we encountered a range of avoidable mistakes, from back-of-the-envelope analyses gone wrong to unexamined assumptions to an uncritical reliance on the work of Levitt's friends and colleagues. This turns accessibility on its head: Readers must work to discern which conclusions are fully quantitative, which are somewhat data driven and which are purely speculative.
Some good suggestions for avoiding stats scams.
The risks of driving a car: In SuperFreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner use a back-of-the-envelope calculation to make the contrarian claim that driving drunk is safer than walking drunk, an oversimplified argument that was picked apart by bloggers. The problem with this argument, and others like it, lies in the assumption that the driver and the walker are the same type of person, making the same kinds of choices, except for their choice of transportation. Such all-else-equal thinking is a common statistical fallacy. In fact, driver and walker are likely to differ in many ways other than their mode of travel. What seem like natural calculations are stymied by the impracticality, in real life, of changing one variable while leaving all other variables constant.
by Denyse O'Leary
From "Disappearance of the Elephant Caused Rise of Modern Humans: Dietary Change Led to Modern Humans in Middle East 400,000 Years Ago," (ScienceDaily, Dec. 12, 2011), we learn:
The elephant, a huge package of food that is easy to hunt, disappeared from the Middle East 400,000 years ago -- an event that must have imposed considerable nutritional stress on Homo erectus.There are so many holes in this story, it should be a fish net. There is considerable evidence of varied human diet from great antiquity - which we should expect, given that people can starve waiting for big game - and the longer they starve, the less capable they are.
Unlike other primates, humans' ability to extract energy from plant fiber and convert protein to energy is limited. So in the absence of fire for cooking, the Homo erectus diet could only consist of a finite amount of plant and protein and would have needed to be supplemented by animal fat. For this reason, elephants were the ultimate prize in hunting -- slower than other sources of prey and large enough to feed groups, the giant animals had an ideal fat-to-protein ratio that remained constant regardless of the season. In short, says Ben-Dor, they were the ideal food package for Homo erectus.Except for one thing: The carcass goes bad after a few days. Maybe the theory is that homo erectus didn't notice. Even the flies and worms didn't bother him. Or, even though he couldn't cook, he knew how to salt and dry pemmican?
When elephants began to die out, Homo erectus "needed to hunt many smaller, more evasive animals. Energy requirements increased, but with plant and protein intake limited, the source had to come from fat. He had to become calculated about hunting," Ben-Dor says, noting that this change is evident in the physical appearance of modern humans, lighter than Homo erectus and with larger brains.One thing their implausible thesis doesn't lack is confidence:
Not only do their findings on elephants and the Homo erectus diet give a long-awaited explanation for the evolution of modern humans, but they also call what scientists know about the "birth-place" of modern man into question.
Incidentally, if these people think elephants are dead easy to kill, they need to read George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant."
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