Thursday 25 April 2013

Lahaye et al. 2013, Take 2

I simply can't resist the urge to put up one more lot of reactions to the paper by Lahaye et al. Yesterday's blurt took us through the the end of the paper's first paragraph. Today's featurette gets us a couple of sentences into paragraph 3. I think this'll be the last editorial comment I'm going to make. [Big sighs are heard throughout the audience.] [Sheesh. Somebody's gotta do it!]

TEXT, paragraph 2, Line 1 
"As already stated there is a lot of data available. However, some are contradictory and what is needed is reliable chronological framework."
The first statement is superfluous. In the second sentence there is no indication what is meant by "some are contradictory." Also, I'm not sure "reliable" is helpful here---"unassailable" might be more correct, as would "accurate and precise." There's an article missing, too. It should read "… needed is a reliable…"

TEXT, paragraph 2, line 3
"So we propose to bring new chronological data to the issue by using luminescence dating in the study of a South American archaeological site, the Toca da Tira Peia site, the integrity of which is not under question."
They aren't "proposing" anything; they simply bring new ... data to the issue." In that vein, I'm fairly certain that, on the basis of paragraph 1, the reader will have any idea what the "issue" is of which the authors speak. Using "site" twice within seven words is repetitive. And then there's that "integrity" again, that was mentioned in the abstract. It's still vague.
TEXT, Paragraph 2, line 7
"The site is located in Brazil, close to the Serra da Capivara National Park and its controversial Boqueirão da Pedra Furada archaeological site."
The word "site is again repeated. Use of "is located" is redundant. The site of Pedra Furada is not "controversial," but the claims for its antiquity are. This collection of words tells us only that the site is close to a National Park the location of which most readers will have no idea, nor any idea why the authors would have mentioned it. The same would be the case for Pedra Furada, were it not for the map of South America that the authors provide. By the way, that map---Figure 1---identifies five sites not mentioned in the text, nor included on their timeline: Toca da penaBaxão da EsperançaSítio do MeioSantana do Riacho, Alice Boër. It's a small point, but three of the sites that aren't mentioned are included in the cluster of red dots in which the Toca da Tira Peia occurs. As if the inadequacy of the map scale weren't problem enough. In that vein, although this is apparently the first publication arising from the excavations at Toca da Tira Peia, the authors provide no site plan, two schematic profiles, and one photograph of the profile from which the OSL samples were taken. One isn't provided the site's aspect with respect to the sun, nor even a plan of the excavations. For that reason the reader has no clear idea where, in relation to the refitted artifacts, the OSL samples were taken. Furthermore, beyond the authors' assurances that they were able to discern stratification in their excavations, the sole documentation is the profile photograph (Figure 6). To the reader's eye, that profile looks homogeneous. Under those circumstances it behooved the authors to provide some empirical evidence of their claim to have found stratification. 
TEXT, paragraph 2, line 8
"It will contribute to the establishment of a chronological reference framework, that will allow us to reconsider the “Clovis first” paradigm and, potentially, to contribute to the rewriting of the history of the peopling of the South American continent."
This sentence begins with an ambiguous antecedent---the proximate "It" is Pedra Furada, with the National Park a close second, and the site itself a distant third. I find specious that the authors' contribution will do anything to "establish" what they claim. Moreover they say they'll establish a concept that as written represents a triple-redundant nominative phrase---"a chronological reference framework." I'll leave their claim regarding " 'Clovis first' ."This sentence uses "contribute" twice.
TEXT, paragraph 3, line 1
"The oldest traces of human activity in the extreme south of the continent have been studied and the corpus concerning Patagonia is particularly well documented."
The "extreme south of the continent" and "Patagonia" are equivalent and thus repetitive in this sentence. This paper could easily have done without this sentence, since it states only that traces have been studied and the corpus is documented.
TEXT, paragraph 3, line 3
"The Clovis-first model predicts the arrival of the Pleistocene hunter--gatherers around 10,000 years BP (around 9500 years BC) in the southern part of the continent."
This sentence begins an authorial digression that amounts to their claiming that citing ages based on 14C should be calculated from the present year rather than from 1950, which has always been the convention. They clearly fail to recognize that, in choosing not to use the baseline of 1950, by the time 2014 comes around their article will be out of date, literally. I can't believe that the referees let this nonsense be published. Regarding the authors' depiction of the "Clovis first" model, as I understand it, the consensus age of the Clovis phenomenon is about 11,500 radiocarbon years before the present. Despite what the authors have written, the earliest Clovis sites are not 10,000 years before present, nor 9,500 years before the putative birth of Christ (i.e. 11,513 BP). The earliest Clovis sites are approximately 13,500 calBP. This gaffe casts a long shadow, given their later claim that Monte Verde I at 14,400 BP is significantly at odds with the "Clovis first" scenario. Monte Verde I may be as old as they claim, but it's largely moot, given that there's only a 900 year difference, and given that the authors thereafter give us no indication of the age estimates' error range. It's quite possible that the date they cite for Monte Verde I has a wider range of error than the 13,500 calBP consensus age for the earliest Clovis sites. I'm left wondering the authors are inadvertently erecting a Straw Man, or are simply benighted with respect to radiocarbon age estimates. However, it is clear that they completely forego convention in the way they choose to cite age estimates. That alone should have meant that the ms needed to be revised. I find their entire presentation of what they term the "state of the art" in South American prehistory to be less than credible, as it continues to fall short in the way the research is presented. My favorite is "in order to be able to compare numerical values that are comparable."


  1. Last year Jane and I went through the process of preparing 25 tri-annual reports from National organisations submitted to an International organisation.

    The reports were supposedly in English our role was to "tidy them up a bit" but we spent hours on each one because we wanted the English expression to reflect well on the achievements of the National groups. It was a difficult task helped and hindered by "Google Translate".

    It seems the paid Editors in this case just let it go. If I was the authors I'd be disappointed but then in these metric lead times maybe what is published doesn't matter so much as being published in a high impact journal.

  2. Amen! The authors will only know that they've been let down only if a native English-speaker like me points out their flaws. You're right about the impact effect, but then again, it's not as if someone's going to visit the site, collect OSL samples and date them and publish them before the original excavators. In medical research I can see why rapid publication is the gold standard. However, for the most part, as long as the medical researchers aren't makin' stuff up, everybody in their field is able to replicate the science if they suspect anything's wrong. As you and I both know, such is not the case in our small corner of the scientific universe. By the way, I can only guess at the time and trouble that it must have taken you and Jane to 'tidy up' 25 mss. It'd be a big ask if they were all written by native speakers! Come to think of it, I've seen one too many student papers of the same caliber as Lahaye et al. Thanks for being such a good friend of the SA, Iain!


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