Friday 25 October 2013

Pardon Me, Fred, But Is This Your Freudian Slip Showing? I Think Not.

As you may have guessed, anyone who published titles like "Grave Shortcomings" and "Middle Palaeolithic Burial is Not a Dead Issue," might be amused at any similarly layered article title. I'm also someone who lets go a deep sigh of resignation when reading most article titles in my field. They not only leave a lot to be desired semantically, but also semiotically: dull as dust and twice four times so unhelpful as to be diffusely obfuscatory.

A brief paddle around the scientific title pool in just the last few days.
"Random and centrality-based emergence of leaders."
A study of how peer pressures influences society.
"Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television."
Which concludes that shows having ethnically disparate characters garner better ratings for their writers.
These two articles might be pulling them in in Peoria with the right bait. Instead the authors go for the big surprise effect, preferring to say nothing of any importance in perhaps the most important words in the entire articles—the titles. What average Joanne in these disciplines—after skimming an email digest or a table of contents—could know that these two papers bore anything worthwhile? Seriously.

The big surprise for authors such as these comes when they discover no one reads or cites their [quite probably] important findings because the titles were so generic as to be a waste of printer's ink. Physician, heal thyself. And guarantee more citations!

But crummy titles aren't my problem. So, why start out with this? I just wanted to provide some background to the art of article titles before I introduced the following little gem, the title of which leaves no doubt what it's about, and at the same time manages to coyly stick it to the discipline of palaeoanthropology.

Thank you, Fred Spoor! This is delicious. Don't you think so, ID?
"Palaeoanthropology: Small-brained and big-mouthed," Nature 502:452–453. doi:10.1038/502452a
(Published online 23 October 2013.)
A tip o' the hat to friend of the SA, Patrick Randolph-Quinney, for notifying his facebook friends of this tidbit of Fred Spoor's oeuvre. The title is close to slanderous! Unless, of course, the title is just a case of the author's majestic Freudian Slip showing. Nah! But it does give Fred Spoor an out if they come after him for slander. And, thanks to the title, this latest contribution of his will attract the attention of everyone who wears the label palaeo [or paleo] anthropologist—and a huge audience not directly engaged in piecing together our evolutionary history from scraps of fossil bone.

Spoor's Nature News & Views piece is aimed at the leaders of the Dmanisi, Georgia excavations of ~1.75 Ma fossil-bearing dirt. They recently described the latest in a long line of beautiful Hominids [sensu here]:
Click to go to the article on the Science web site.

A through F: Dmanisi cranium (D4500). 
G: Dmanisi cranium ( D4500) and mandible (D2600) form the complete skull. From Lordkipanidze et al. (2013).
Dozens of lifetimes have been spent in fruitless pursuit of even one such beautifully preserved hominid specimen. For the Dmanisi crew, it's just the latest. [I know people who'd refer to theirs as disgustingly good fortune. But they're not bitter!]

The problem for the Dmanisi lot, and Spoor's main point, is that in the Science article they argue that the entire catalog of ~2.5 Ma to ~?1.77 Ma African, European, and Asian fossils represents a sole, but genetically variable species, that of Homo erectus (Dubois, 1892) [at one time referred to as Solo Man from Java]. Theirs is the quintessential evocation of the Multiregional Origins Hypothesis for the evolution of modern humans. And they couldn't be more wrong.

But, I'll let the palaeoanthropological sharks have their feeding frenzy. Fred Spoor has merely fired the first shot across Lordkipanidze et al.'s bow.

Dmanisi hominid skull (D4500/D2600) in norma lateralis
So, "Thanks! Fred Spoor" for leaving your steaming trace on the doorstep of the Dmanisi excavators, and that of the discipline at large.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Until next time!


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's page, Rob Gargett's twitter account, and his Google+ page. A few of you have already signed up to receive email when I post. Others have subscribed to the blog's RSS feeds. You can also become a 'member' of the blog through Google Friend Connect. Thank you for your continued patronage. You're the reason I do this.

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