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By TheophileEscargot (Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 08:14:57 AM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Biological Anthropology: An Evolutionary Perspective". Reading: "The Year of the Jouncer". Web.

Latest TTC course was Biological Anthropology: An Evolutionary Perspective by Barbara J. King. Thought the title was a bit misleading: it's more like "The Evolution of Man: An Anthropological Perspective"; most of the course is just a history of human evolution, with the modern implications confined to a handful of lectures at the end.

Even though the overall progress from Australopithecus to Sapiens is pretty familiar, still found the details interesting. King goes into some depth on how we know what we know, and is honest and open-minded about disagreements within the field.

I had the impression that the "Out of Africa Replacement" theory was pretty much proven, but King says that problems with the molecular clock have cast some doubt upon it. Also there is some evidence of non-African skeletons retaining some features over a long period, suggesting they weren't replaced. King seems to agree with chuckles that a combination of the two models, with some interbreeding between a proto-Sapiens emerging from Africa and the non-African native Erectus, is likely.

Disappointingly, the evidence that Neanderthals put flowers in graves also turns out to be flawed, though the did seem to leave some grave goods.

King only refers briefly to Evolutionary Psychology, giving the fairly bland example of polygyny being vastly more common than polyandry. There's not enough info to answer the question that's been bugging me: whether all the nonsense around, is just the media reporting badly, a handful of publicity-hungry researchers, or a fundamentally screwed-up field.

This course is carefully balanced though: always pointing out that genes interact with culture, and that they are usually highly multi-factored as opposed to the "gene for" stuff that appears in the popular press.

One argument that seemed a little weak was that "race" is a fundamentally unscientific concept, whereas "population" is a valid concept. For instance, she says

No agreement exists on how many races can be identified in the world. The possibilities range from 3 to more than 200, based on which traits one deems significant.
To me, this seems to be quite close to a beard/continuum fallacy. Just because a continuum exists doesn't mean that it's invalid to draw distinctions, and it seems to me that "populations" have the same problem.

Overall though, an interesting, balanced and well-presented course.

Read the second volume of playwright Simon Gray's diaries: Year of the Jouncer. Read the first one, "The Smoking Diaries" not long ago. This one seemed a bit duller in the first half, with not a lot happening.

Got more interesting later on, as he describes going through the experiences of having a play flop, and then having a big hit with "The Old Masters", and then being nominated with his CBE.

He's a witty enough writer to make even everyday ruminations worthwhile, Thought his few pages on Hamlet and Shakespeare were particularly good. He thinks some elements in Shakespeare (the Ghost in Hamlet, the witches in Macbeth) are overanalysed by the critics; and are basically just there because a rushed Shakespeare just stuck very closely to the plots of the sources he was cribbing from, not bothering to wonder if the elements are really necessary.

So, a bit more uneven than the first, but still worth a look.

Economics. France: the price of suspicion.

Spoof Tube announcements by Emma Clarke, now sacked.

Yet another Geography test game.

< Tryptophan, take me away (2007 edition) | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Where Man Began | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Race by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #1 Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 08:48:21 AM EST
Looked at from a genetic perspective, certain traits are attached to geography and certain traits aren't. Usually you can find very clear-cut evolutionary reasons why those traits are linked to those geographical reasons. (For instance, skin color is very obviously linked to geography.)

Most other traits are not linked to large-scale geography at all. For instance, the tallest populations are the Scots and the Masai. We could just as well group them together form sharing that trait, but we don't because we traditionally group by geography.

The trouble is that when people think of "race", they assume wholesale differences, not variations in a very few set of specific traits. The general human population is mixed enough that most traits don't very by biology, so that from a strictly genetic standpoint, two people with ancestry on different sides of the earth could easily be more similar than two people with ancestry in the same geographic region. They'd just "look" more different as the geographically tied traits tend to be more externally visible, and also because we tend to fixate on them.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

So race is a social construct, unlike gender? by Dr H0ffm4n (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 07:07:57 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Depends on what you mean by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #12 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 07:14:05 AM EST
Race is merely a bundle of certain traits. It's no more "socially constructed" than "height", "weight" or blood type. What *is* socially constructed is the importance we give it.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Except that by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #13 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 11:54:50 AM EST
the bundling of those traits rather than another set may be socially constructed.

The question is whether a clustering algorithm would find e.g. pigmentation traits as significant in grouping people's origin as people do.

[ Parent ]
The standards for publishing... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 10:08:59 AM EST
in a bunch of the evo psych journals just aren't that high. I guess my vote would be:

It's a potentially valid subject, with some loose cannons, who unfortunately not only have tenure, but dominate the review process in some of the high profile journals.

As a result, the quality of published research is pretty variable.

Social psychology is borderline worse, but it doesn't get as much publicity (I'm not sure why). I guess that points up that the reporting is an issue, but more in an "oxygen of publicity" way than just shoddy reporting. I think Ben Goldacre's column sort of suggests that every field is pretty shoddily reported.

country quiz by garlic (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 10:32:24 AM EST
did relatively well -- as long as you could click the right country, distance didn't matter that much. Got tripped up in very hard capitals when I mixed up estonia and eratria in my head. Seemed to be a heavy focus on island nations.

failed geography test on lvl 10 -nt- by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 01:56:38 PM EST

The French don't trust each other? by DullTrev (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 11:20:27 PM EST

No-one else trusts them either.

I had to say it.

Neanderthals/graves/flowers by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 01:12:39 AM EST
That's so lovely. What was the evidence? What was the problem with it?

It's political correctness gone mad!

The evidence was pollen by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #7 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 01:29:45 AM EST
But when they could check the dates more accurately it turned out the pollen had just blown in much later.

However, the Neanderthals did bury their dead with stone tools sometimes, and piled slabs of rock on top of them. They just weren't necessarily stone-age hippies after all...

[ Parent ]
There's something about by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #8 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 01:34:11 AM EST
the image of an ogre-like Neaderthal clutching a flower with a tear on his cheek that appeals to my inner girl.

It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Don't go the explosm doctor then by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 1) #14 Wed Nov 28, 2007 at 02:18:37 AM EST
This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.
[ Parent ]
Biological Anthropology by hulver (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 06:56:23 AM EST
I'll have to get J to have a look at this diary.

She's doing archaeology at the moment, and bones is a particular interest of hers. As a result she's been going beyond archaeology into early humans. She's been doing a lot of study on Neanderthals as well, as one of her lecturers is a bloke called Paul Pettitt who's done a lot of Neanderthal research.

I'll see what she's got to say on the subject.
Cheese is not a hat. - clock

Hey! by DullTrev (4.00 / 3) #11 Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 07:09:22 AM EST

You can't get people who study a subject to comment on a website. It's against the whole ethos of the internet!

[ Parent ]
Where Man Began | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback