8.9 Earthquake Hits Japan and Triggers a Massive Tsunami

I just saw that Japan, where I spent my early childhood, was just rocked by a huge earthquake.  It registered 8.9, which is the largest in Japanese history.

Here’s a vid from an American who teaches in Japan, it’s a personal account basically:

From the Guardian:

The most powerful earthquake recorded in Japanese history. The tremors were the result of a violent uplift of the sea floor 80 miles off the coast of Sendai, where the Pacific tectonic plate slides beneath the plateJapan sits on. Tens of miles of crust ruptured along the trench where the tectonic plates meet. The earthquake occurred at the relatively shallow depth of 15 miles, meaning much of its energy was released at the seafloor.

As sad as it is that upwards of (EDIT) 350 people have died, over 1,000 missing.  Hopefully the moving Tsunami that is heading toward other parts of the world won’t cause too much damage.  But, we may be in for more.

The tsunami moves across the Pacific at a speed of 500mph, with waves expected to reach the island of Fiji and Cairns in Australia at 3.28pm GMT. From then, waves are due to reach Acapulco in Mexico at 7.59pm, Chile at 10.55pm, Ecuador at 11.31pm, Colombia at 11.47 and Peru at 12.33am.

Read more from the BBC here.

Neanderthal Civilization?


As part of the new 102nd Four Stone Hearth, a piece by Julien Riel-Salvatore explaining his new paper about how Neanderthals were much more advanced than previously thought has caught fire.  And why not?  Neanderthals have had a long history of being derided as the dumb jocks of the humanoid evolutionary line.  They had the brawn, but they lacked the brains.

While they certainly didn’t have the cognitive capacity that we do, they weren’t as dumb as all that.

I showed that, among, other things, around 42,000 calendar years ago (ca. 36.5 radiocarbon years BP), a new culture (better, behavioral adaptation) – the Uluzzian – emerged in southern Italy and is widely believed to have been made by Neanderthals. The thing is, the Uluzzian is associated with bone tools, stone armatures likely used as part of composite projectile weapons, shell ornaments, coloring material (ochre, limonite), and possible evidence of small game exploitation. These features are all generally associated with modern human groups, not so much with Neanderthals.

His post is a bit long, but it’s worth it if you’re into Neanderthals as much as I am.

Make sure to check out the 102’nd Four Stone Hearth Here

Health Care Cartoon

Well, it ain’t gonna fix everything, but it’s a start …

Four Stone Hearth #101 – The Phoenix Edition


This is the Phoenix edition of the Four Stone Hearth.  It’s 100th installment saw the relinquishing of power of the original editor in chief, Martin Rundkvist of aardvarchaeology.  I want to extend my thanks to Martin for turning the Four Stone Hearth into the shining example of what is possible with a Blog Carnival.

We now have a new head-honcho, Aferensis.  Most readers will know him, and know he’ll do a great job at keeping the flame burning for a long time coming.

We’re heading into a new age, and it seems like it is appropriate that this is the 101’st edition.   It’s been speculated that Blog Carnivals are going out of fashion – as evidenced by the demise of a few great ones like The Tangled Bank and The Skeptics Circle.

I think, however, that the blog carnival has an important place in the dissemination of science information to the general reading public.  If nothing else, it provides a hub through which lots of great info can be read that might not have crossed ones radar.  But, it also is a way for bloggers to interact, have fun, and keep the flame of science blogging burning bright – no small issue since most science bloggers are not paid for their blogging.

So, with that in mind here’s the 101’st collection of great blog posts in anthropology:

We’ll start with a hat tip to the previous editor of this blog carnival, Martin Rundkvist, with Archeology 101: Chronology, or, How Can I Get a Date? A good chunk of Creationists base their refusal to believe in human evolution on their total lack of understanding of how scientists date things.  Martin breaks it down for us.

Over at Athropology.net we have a post entitled, “A Curious Look At The 3.39 Million Year Old “Stone Tool Markings” From Dikika, Ethiopia.”  Here’s a quote:

I don’t know who this is worse for, the editors & reviewers over at Nature or the authors of the article who can’t tell the difference between crocodile teeth markings and stone tool modification.

Them sounds like fightin’ words!

You think your neighborhood is bad?  Welcome to Texas:

The family says their dog scared up the monkey under the backyard patio and the creature then chased the woman into her garage – trapping her for over an hour.

Bonvito has two posts.  The first discusses the counterintuitive idea that male primate rank has little to do with reproductive success:

Rhesus females also prefer novel males for mating. This female mate selection is thought to be one of the primary factors why males migrate out of their natal group. The migrating males, who are at the very bottom of the hierarchy, have to be in constant high alert, especially so during the mating season when high ranking males are on guard (i.e., those who are on top are particularly protective of their position on this period).

The second is about Jane Goodall’s connection with Gary Larson’s Far Side.  Is the famous primatologist able to take a joke?

One of the biggest mistakes we make as humans is our tendency to glorify the past and sanitize it.  For instance, we look up to Napoleon and Caesar and totally ignore the horrific violence and death they caused in their selfish pursuits of power.  Judith of Zenobia: Empress of the East takes a hard look at the Peloponnesian War and it’s consequences. A quote:

The bodies of the dying were heaped one on top of the other, and half-dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets or flocking around the fountains in their desire for water.

Anthropology is not just about long dead people or exotic tribal societies in Africa.  It’s also about modern cultures and modern living.  Krystal D’Costa, of Anthropology in Practice, has a post about the struggle of keeping the faith during Ramadan and still running a successful food cart business.

While many Muslims choose to slow down during this period, for those who make their livelihood as food cart vendors, it can present a personal challenge: They are surrounded by foods that they themselves cannot eat all day long. It creates a challenge for the individual, but also for the business as they have to rely on sight and smell to gauge flavors

She also has a great post about the odd fact that Nescafe is so popular in coffee producing countries!

… why does Nescafe seem to be popular among coffee producing countries that theoretically have access to their own supply of coffee beans? Anthropologist Kevin Birth offered some suggestions that cover the expenses associated with grinding and brewing beans, but today we’ll look a bit more closely at the relationship between local consumption and consumer identity.

You think the life of an Archaeologist is easy?  Watch out for moose! Magnus Reuterdahl of Testimony of the Spade gives us a glimpse into his world.

For those who don’t know, Eric Michael Johnson, formally of the Primate Diaries on ScienceBlogs.com, is in exile.  Well … he’s in blogging exile.  And he decided he was going to go on tour.  His most recent stop is at Anthropology in Practice where he talks about the cultural divides of Myspace and Facebook, functional racism, and class. Great stuff.

In the wake of many teens departure Boyd describes what was left behind as the formation of a digital ghetto. Abandoned Myspace profiles “often fell into disrepair, covered in spam, a form of digital graffiti [as] spammers took over like street gangs.” In contrast, Facebook was seen as a virtual gated community with the “same values signaled by the suburbs.” The class bias represented in this was extremely telling in 2009 when Facebook and Myspace converged with roughly equal numbers of visitors. A New York Times story about this convergence was titled “Do You Know Anyone Still on Myspace?” This confession by the author is extremely revealing. Given data showing equal traffic his preference was to make assumptions based on his network of friends, a trend that is likely to be pervasive throughout the mainstream media on stories that are much more important.

A Primate of Modern Aspect has a piece about ape sex, the human inability to stay objective, and evolutionary psychology.

Here’s the thing that gets me all riled up when I read these sorts of op-eds: Lots of people study primate sexuality.  It’s a fascinating field.  And who the primates are having sex with is only part of the fun.  We know about stress, group dynamics, cognition, and general evolutionary theory because of the good, hard work of these people who are driven by curiosity. But for some reason, the only time primate sexuality gets any attention is when we turn it into a debate about how humans should be having sex.

We never say, “Hey, those muriquis are too promiscuous.  Don’t they know that all of their close evolutionary cousins are polygynous?  If they just did what came naturally to them, they’d have a lot less psychological stress.”  Or, “Those gibbons are so sexually repressed.  If they just gave in to their natural predilection for promiscuity, I bet those nasty gibbons would have fewer territorial disputes and gibbon society would be much more peaceful.”

Help! These Baboons need a name.

A Hot Cup of Joe deconstructs the PseudoArchaeology of Glenn Beck.

It should be no surprise that, since he has little grasp on the rest of reality, that Glenn Beck would fare any better at understanding archaeology.

Anna of Anna’s Bones adds the third installment to her “Stripped” series:

I felt the blood rush towards my head. Everything was upside down. I adjusted my hands according to yoga instructions I had been given many years ago – “you have a very long back” I had been told. I tilted my head to the side to meet 50 pairs of very confused eyes staring intently at me… I was, after all, doing downward dog in a Paleoanthropology workshop.

In DIY Knapping, at A Very Remote Period Indeed, we get a nice video showing how hard this practice really was.

Kris Hirst discusses Gary Feinman’s photo essay on About.com on a Regional Survey in China:

Mick Morrison has a post about the teaching of Archaeology, digital learning, and blogging (rather relevant to a blog carnival, I dare say!).

Finally, here is a picture of John Hawks, a Paleoanthropologist who clearly loves his job:

Humans Acting Like Chimps

The video below is titled, “Chimpanzee Human-Like Behavior Montage.”  Of course, we only think of their behavior as “human-like” because we’re human.  I’m sure they are watching us on Youtube thinking, “Man, those humans sure act like Chimpanzees!’” 

Liberal vs Conservative Psychologists? Definitions Matter


This is a funny little battle between the leftist psychologist and a guy defending the right from his own profession.  It’s a lesson in how not to make a good argument on both sides.  I’ll focus on the first post.

The first blogger goes about defining Liberalism in what he thinks is a meaningful way to describe the modern left – he is wrong:

Liberalism: The genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.

He uses this to explain why Liberals (that is, leftists) apparently tend to score higher (on average) on IQ tests than people on the right.  His reasoning is that the liberalism he defines above is evolutionarily novel.  In tribal societies and hunter-gatherer situations we had evolutionary pressure to be altruistic towards those in our own group – but to those outside it. So, to be altruistic to those people who are not related to us (are not in “our” group) is something beyond our evolutionary base-line of familiarity, and therefore hard for people who aren’t as intelligent to deal with and understand. 

Liberals are smarter, so they care more.  Conservatives are dumber, so they don’t understand that helping others that you don’t know is a good thing.  That is much of his argument.  Wow …

Here is the biggest problem:

He uses some studies (apparently) showing that people who have more (politically) liberal views tend to have (very) slightly higher IQ’s (again, on average) than people who identify as (politically) conservative.  How much?  The liberals have an average of 104 and conservatives have 94.  (Big deal, both are well within normal range, IQ is a notoriously inaccurate judge of intelligence, and it is not correlated with morality generally.)

The problem is that he’s flipped definitions on us!

What the studies DO suggest is that (ever so slightly) higher IQ is correlated with a POLITICAL self-described liberalism.  But, the above definition he started with is NOT political, it is ethical.  There is a difference.  He’s flipping back and forth. 

The original definition is good, if we leave politics out of it.  But, it is false to say that only leftists define themselves this way.  Most Christians would also – who are generally conservative.  (Think of all of the Christian infomercials asking us to give money to African children.)

The difference is in HOW to contribute those larger proportions of private resources to those who need them.  Leftists feel as though it is the governments job to do this with taxes, and rightists believe that we should do so privately and with private organizations (even that is simplistic, but we’ll go with it for now).  Conservatives are not less morally interested in helping others than the left is.  They just don’t believe that the government is the right arbiter of the resources necessary to make that happen. 

By the first definition, we’re all liberals.  But, politically that is certainly not the case. 

This tendency to be cavalier with definitions is at the root of most arguments people have in politics.  We presume that we are all using the same ones when in fact we rarely are.  We presume that if someone else disagrees with our point of view, they must be either stupid (because they aren’t getting our line of reasoning) or immoral. 

Everyone is suspicious of everyone else.  Motives are questioned.  What is never questioned is simply whether we’re even on the same page to begin with.  Definitions matter. 

Calling for Submissions – I’m Hosting the 101st Four Stone Hearth


The 101’st Four Stone Hearth Anthropology Blog Carnival is being hosted right here, by yours truly.  We’re looking for submissions of blog posts/articles in the following topic areas:

  • archaeology
  • socio-cultural anthropology
  • bio-physical anthropology
  • linguistic anthropology

If you’re a blogger, you’ve written a recent post in one of the topic areas above, and you’d like to get some extra traffic to your site make sure to submit your post to either me at


or to aferensis.

You can also nominate others, of course.

Also, please feel free to leave comments below about what you’d like to see, and if there is anything I can do to make you more likely to get interested in not only reading the Four Stone Hearth every fortnight, but participating in it as well.

The Sunday Stack Up #1

This is my first edition of what I hope to make a weekly thang.  Below I’ve collected and linked to the many things I was reading this week on the net that have some relation to what it is this blog is about (the intersection of evolutionary science and politics).  So, some of it is on the far end of the science realm, some is straight up politics, and some is a hybrid of the two.

Like to hear it?  Here it go …

The Science

Batten down the hatches!  But, with what?  A tool!  Thank goodness we’ve been using those for a while … how long?  Maybe a million years longer than we had originally thought!  Ad Hominin digs deep.

Eric Johnson guest posts over at Carin Bondar’s site about the evolution of menopause in “Sacrifice on the Serengeti”. This one is interesting as it suggests that grandsons survived better in the presence of maternal grandmothers more than they did in the presence of paternal grandmothers.  I personally have always been very close to my own maternal grandmother, so maybe that’s why I turned out so good 🙂

In case you don’t know enough about the Brontosaurus, here’s some learnin’ from the Monte Python crew:

Cromercrox expands on the above “theory” in a piece on how them crazy dinosaurs got so big in the first place, and then I riff on it here.

I then get even more crazy by arguing about dinosaur muscles on my strength training blog.

Zen Faulkes tells the gripping and exciting tale of a Lizard in a Lifeboat.

You need a whale fix?  I know I do!  Over at Why Evolution is True, we’ve got Baleen Whales: A Lovely Transitional Form.  Interesting factoid:  The earliest baleen whales actually had teeth.

Don’t you just HATE snobby hyenas?  Of course, we all do.  Well, The Thoughtful Animal tells us that the reproductive health of male hyenas is related to the social status of the mother.  Yet again, the rich stay healthy and the sick stay poor …

The Teenaged Atheist tells us a bit about atavisms, or evolutionary throwbacks.  What, you don’t have a tail?  You mean, I’m the only one!

Ever wanted to see Robots play Soccer?  Wilfried Elmenreich, over at Self Organizing Network Systems, gives us Evolving a Self-Organized Soccer Team. It even comes with a wicked-fresh video:

James Moss paints a nice None Linear Neural Net.  Very cool:


The Politics

Farooq Khan discusses the need for Agent Based Modeling in Political Science, Economics, and Policy Making.

The Professor Carson tells us why the Mosque is a good thing, and gives us some lessons about the KKK while he’s at it.

Conor Friedersdorf guest posts on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily dish to eschew labeling with regard to political minds/writers in Labeling is for Soup Cans.

Glenn Loury and Joshua Cohen discuss Obama’s speech on the Iraq “end of operations” on Blogging Heads.

Fareed Zakaria asks that his taxes be raised.  Great quote:

The idea that the average American is overtaxed is a nice piece of populist pandering. In fact, federal taxes as a percentage of the economy are at their lowest level since the presidency of Harry Truman. Chuck Marr and Gillian Brunet of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have calculated that a family of four at the exact middle of the income spectrum will pay only 4.6 percent of its income in taxes. Remember, almost half of the country pays no income taxes at all. The top 3 percent of Americans contribute almost 50 percent of federal income taxes.

He himself is in that top 3%.

Gender Differences, The Brain, and Testosterone

In a new book by Cordelia Fine she claims that there is no innate genetic difference between men and women’s brains.  I haven’t read the book so I’m going to make only a quick statement based upon the reviews I just read:  here, here, and here.

Here are some basical claims, as far as I can tell:

  1. The gender differences sometimes seen in behavioral and neuroscience studies are not innate.
  2. Much of the related science is flawed anyway, so even if it does seem to show innateness we shouldn’t take it seriously.

I worry about the first claim.  The reason comes down to our definitions of “innate”.  If we mean “at birth” when we say “innate”, then I agree with her.  But, if we mean that there is some genetic code that at some point will cause men and women to have (at least slight) differences in behavior, then I disagree with her.

The reason is puberty.  Far too many of the studies that “debunk” innateness of gender differences are done on babies and young children.  I find these to be stupid.  Boys and Girls are far more similar (in a whole lot of ways) than Men and Women. 

Before puberty, a boy has about as much testosterone as his little sister does.  But, during puberty he has more testosterone running through his system than Mark Mcgwire!

Why does this matter?  Because testosterone affects the brain – a lot.  Testosterone has been implicated in a whole host of different behavior and cognitive differences including memory, attention, spatial perception, mood.  Men with abnormally low testosterone are more prone to depression, aggression, and anxiety and may even be at a higher risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.

The “trigger” that gets pulled in boys as they go through puberty that releases all of that Man-making testosterone IS genetic.  How much of it that gets released is partly related to environment (of course), but that is missing the point.

Men, on average, have something like 10 times the levels of circulating testosterone than women do.  We can’t pretend like this isn’t going to be expressed in some way as behavioral differences.


Anecdotally, I’ve worked as a strength coach for a long time, and I’ve known a lot of women on steroids.  Trust me, they are more like men than most men.  Hormones change behavior.

“Normal” men have bodies that produce a substantially greater amount of this hormone than women’s bodies do.  So, as a group, men will likely exhibit more of the characteristics associated with high levels of testosterone than women will.  The brain can’t be taken as something separate from the hormones that affect it. That’s like talking about how a car works but pretending that it won’t matter if we try to run it without any gas or oil in it. 

This is an under-researched area, no doubt.  But, until I see some studies showing that these hormone levels don’t change behavior, I’m sticking to the view that there are “genetic” behavioral differences between the sexes in the broad and general sense.

Worms Made You Who You Are? Natural Selection is Weird


In a paper over at BMC Biology, the authors give us some evidence that parasitic worms may have been a factor in human evolution.

In fact they go so far as to call it a “major selective factor in humans.”

More than 2 billion individuals worldwide suffer from helminth infections. The highest parasite burdens occur in children and helminth infection during pregnancy is a risk factor for preterm delivery and reduced birth weight. Therefore, helminth infections can be regarded as a strong selective pressure.

They go on to tell us that parasitic worms have shaped our genes:

In summary, our data are consistent with the notion whereby parasitic worms have acted as a powerful selective force on human populations and have contributed to shape nucleotide variability at a number of genes involved in immune responses. We also show that several genes associated with helminth diversity are involved in the pathogenesis of atopic conditions or in airway hyperresponsiveness.