Tag Archives: Science

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:

The Open Science Movement

It’s growing. And I’m all in favor of it.

Canton is part of a peaceful insurgency in science that is beginning to pry open an endeavor that still communicates its cutting-edge discoveries in much the same way it has since Ben Franklin was experimenting with lightning. Papers are published in research journals after being reviewed by specialists to ensure that the methods and conclusions are sound, a process that can take many months.

More on Science Education in America

John Hawks on Carl Wieman:

Wieman’s initiative at UBC is now looking at how to implement discipline-based education research. He says that science teaching is already beginning to change as the university community learns that becoming an expert is not only about the factual knowledge of a subject.

He pointed to the humanities as a model. “The humanities wouldn’t think of a lecturer coming into class and simply reading Shakespeare to students,” he said. “The students read the content and then come to class and discuss.”

“We’re still learning that in physics.”

Of course we’ve all had those professors who teach a class on a work of literature, and only accept their own interpretation of the work as a legitimate answer. In science, the Socratic style has the potential to be even worse, degenerating into the Ferris-Bueller-like, “anyone…anyone…” kind of questioning. It takes work to get students to follow a chain of reasoning and take the steps on their own.

Sounds like a worthwhile debate.

The New World of Science Blogging

Lealaps discusses what the future of science blogging might be.


Dr. Seuss goes Science and Slams Intelligent Design in a fun slide show.

Stanford gets Steven J. Gould Library

My Grandmother (who owns thousands of books herself) would love this about Steven J. Gould (one of the great evolution scientists of the 20th century):

Gould owned approximately 1,500 rare, antiquarian books, some dating back to the late 1400s. His library of more contemporary books numbers roughly 8,000 volumes. Although the total number of papers has yet to be determined, the librarians working on the collection estimate they will stretch more than 500 linear feet—a good deal longer than a football field.

Republican Candidates vs. Evolution

3 of the current Republican Candidates for President don’t believe in evolution. One of them, Mike Huckabee, is ever becoming a major contestant.

A little while back, The Proletariat had an interesting post that discussed Darwinism, evolution, Marxism, and Religion on his blog in response to an article in the Journal of International Socialist Review entitled “Why evolutionary biology creates a problem for the Right?” by Phil Gasper.

Simply put, the religious fundamentalist attack on Darwin’s ideas amounts, in effect, to an attack on the scientific method itself. Rejecting evolutionary biology means rejecting along with it large portions of physics, astronomy, cosmology, geology, and other sciences, which provide evidence for evolution or employ similar methods. But capitalism depends on the accumulation and exploitation of new scientific knowledge. In the short term if religious anti-evolutionists are successful in a particular locality, they can do serious damage to science education, deter researchers from accepting university positions, and create a climate hostile to high-tech industry and investment. In the longer term they can pose a threat to scientific reason itself. Because of this, opposition to creationism and intelligent design has emerged within the conservative movement itself.

It got me thinking about the supposed ‘war’ between science and religion.

I myself am a fervent believer in Evolution. I’m not anti-religion, nor am I a “secular humanist” (I find them silly). I simply think that the evidence is clear, and that the theory of evolution is the strongest theory we have to explain human origins.

It says nothing about whether there is or is not a God. That isn’t the point. The point is that there is genetic variation over time and through processes like natural and sexual selection in response to pressure from their environment and from other species, creatures can (and very often do) change dramatically. It’s about biology and genetics, NOT metaphysics.

There may well have been a God that had a hand in the start of the universe. I, and no one else can know for sure. But, Evolution as a theory makes a remarkably strong case for how species have evolved and branched out ONCE LIFE GOT STARTED.

Evolution does not start with the premise that there is no God. That’s a myth. It just takes us from the moments in the beginnings of life to now. If God is as powerful and all-knowing as Christians say he is, then he is MORE than capable enough to have started this process and allowed it to just ‘do it’s thing’.

I am still convinced that the reason that Creationists and ID folk don’t believe in the theory of evolution is based on a few key points: 1) They don’t fundamentally understand what the theory actually says; and 2) Their fears, born out of that misunderstanding, that evolution is an attack on God, hits too close to home for them to think rationally. It is very hard for anyone to think rationally when they think that those things (or those people, ideas) that they hold dearest are under attack.

But, the fact of the matter is that evolution is NOT an attack on Religion. Period. Of course, I understand that many evolution writers (Dawkins comes to mind) are themselves engaged in what they see as a war between Atheists (and others they deem truly ‘rational’) and Religionists (who they deem decidedly ‘irrational’). But, we must be careful not to confuse the scientific ideas with the non-scientific, philosophical, discussion about the existence of God that happens to be continuing on between some of those who work in these fields.

When a Physicist says that he supports a Democrat for President, it doesn’t imply that the theory of Quantum Mechanics necessitates Democratic policies. That’s absurd. Science is science, politics is politics, and religion is religion.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the war between Science and Religion is largely a fabrication by those at the extremes to polarize an otherwise intelligent and reasonable public. With full access to the facts, and without the suppression that comes from creationists and those who favor ID to keep evolution out of schools, people would be far more likely to be able see evolution for what it is (and for what it isn’t).

There is no war based on facts. There is simply animosity between groups that don’t really hear one another.