News: On language origins, thinking, race & politics

Language origins

April 15: Language serial founder effects?, a comment from John Hawks on the published paper featured below in the NY Times. Hawks notes one of the problems with the paper is it does not match current genetic findings:

Atkinson suggests that African populations have had more time to recover diversity after a bottleneck at the origin of language. That seems an inauspicious suggestion, considering that the genetic model of a founding bottleneck in Africa has taken some serious body blows this year.

April 14: Languages Grew From a Seed in Africa, with reporting from Nicholas Wade. Seems interesting, but would like to hear more opinions from linguistic anthropology. It also relates to something I’ve wondered about in my blog-post Denisovans, Neandertals, Anthropology 101: How has Eswaran’s Diffusion Wave Model been faring against the new admixture sequencings? This language study seems against Diffusion Wave, as it suggests bottlenecks in an overall expansion pattern. Nicholas Wade seems to hew pretty close to the story this time, until the last paragraph:

In the wake of modern human expansion, archaic human species like the Neanderthals were wiped out and large species of game, fossil evidence shows, fell into extinction on every continent shortly after the arrival of modern humans.

The first point, about Neandertals wiped out is untrue, as there were places of long coexistence. The second point, about large game animals, is hotly contested. See the comment stream below for more from Helga Vierich, who has done anthropology with hunter-gatherers. Also see the critique of Jared Diamond in the sections on Domestication, Agriculture, Civilization.

Thinking or retaining?

April 18: “Come On, I Thought I Knew That!” reports on how “people retain significantly more material when they study it in a font that is not only unfamiliar but also hard to read.” Interesting. But what if the goal is not to retain but to think? Will it really help if people struggle with a hard font, and so can’t finish the article or book? Certainly true that “difficulty builds mental muscle, while ease often builds only confidence.” But didn’t we know that already? And again, what kind of difficulty? What kind of mental muscle?

Race and politics

April 21: Racial Resentment at Its Root analyzes how race was central to 2008 voting patterns:

The most powerful form of racial animus in politics today is often called “racial resentment,” as reflected in anger about blacks’ demands, criticism of blacks’ work ethics, and believing that racial discrimination has largely disappeared. Such racial resentments had stronger effects on candidate choice than in any other recent presidential election. Moreover, everything associated with Obama became racialized.

More evidence we are not in a post-racial society, as examined in the blog-post Race Remixed?

April 20: Bacteria Divide People Into 3 Types and it turns out those types don’t seem to have anything to do with reported ethnicity, sex, weight, health, or age. “One possibility is that the guts, or intestines, of infants are randomly colonized by different pioneering species of microbes.” I predict enterotype therapy will eventually be more powerful than what was promised as gene therapies. I also corrected a misinterpretation in the comment stream: strange how quickly people want to believe types must be related to ancestry, and racialized.

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