Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Up Your Oars [Say that fast], Lamar S. Smith! POTUS Rejects Your Right-Wing Scheme To Gut Science Funding!

Yesterday we heard from the ScienceInsider that Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) had plans to do away with pure and social science research. Fear not!

Credit: David Malakoff/Science
Today we hear that POTUS B. Obama spoke before the (United States) National Academy of Sciences this very day, and addressed Rep. Smith's and others' efforts to hobble government-funded science research in the U.S. It is with some glee that I quote from B.O.'s speech, as transcribed in the ScienceInsider.
"[W]e've got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars," Obama said. "And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process." 
Obama also gave a shout-out to the social sciences, which have borne the brunt of recent congressional complaints. "[O]ne of the things that I've tried to do over these last 4 years and will continue to do over the next 4 years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process," he said. "That not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science—all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review—but in all the sciences, we've got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they're not subject to politics, that they're not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that's why we've got to keep investing in these sciences." 
[I have to admit, when, in yesterday's tirade, I made mention of some liberals who "may be of a mind to cave before the present onslaught on science in the U.S.," I had the President in mind---mostly based on his occasional capitulations on the progressive agenda on which he campaigned for both his first and second terms. I'm a bad puppy. Somebody put me down!]

Afterthought: Was Lamar Smith aware yesterday that the POTUS would be speaking to the NAS today? The timing is a bit too good to have been just chance. In that case, was Smith's announcement a "shot over the bow?" 

The score is 1 for the forces good; 0 for the dark side.

But WAIT! This doesn't mean you can put your torches and pitchforks away! We still have to reform Wall Street and transform this economy from its present doldrums. My best advice is to read End This Depression Now, by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. He'll guide you through the maze of economic smoke and mirrors that the right and most of the left are putting in front of Americans everywhere. Prof. Krugman diagnosed the fundamental problems that created the Great Depression; he's tried, in vain, to talk over the economic dodos who have the ear of both right and left.

Keep fighting the good fight!


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

Monday, 29 April 2013

'Scuse Me! Lamar Smith (R-TX) You've Got A Lot Of Damned Gall To Think You Know Anything About Science!

As Jeff Goldblum's character Ian Malcolm said in the sequel to Jurassic Park, "Hold on, this is going to be bad."

Representative Lamar Seeligson Smith (R-TX), pictured above, is Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Be very afraid of his lately proposed legislation---to direct the NSF on how to judge the merit of grant proposals. That news is NOT good for social science, of which, of course, in most intellectual environments, archaeology and palaeoanthropology are considered a part. [A tip o' the hat to Tom Wake, Margie Purser and 'Rissa Russell for bringing this to my attention via Facebook.]
ScienceInsider has obtained a copy of the legislation, labeled "Discussion Draft" and dated 18 April [2013], which has begun to circulate among members of Congress and science lobbyists. In effect, the proposed bill would force NSF to adopt three criteria in judging every grant. Specifically, the draft would require the NSF director to post on NSF's Web site, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:
1) "… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;
2) "… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and
3) "… not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies."
We've heard regressive politicians before, and we know that whole segments of the population decry the funding of projects that are characterized as other than applied science [AKA useless, fluffy]. So, Smith's sabre-rattling in the sitting U.S. Congress is nothing new. What's new is that there are too many regressive politicians in these days---even those calling themselves liberal may be of a mind to cave before the present onslaught on science in the U.S. [and, alas, to a lesser, but still troubling degree, in my home and native land, Canada, thanks to the cretins who elected a regressive political party and gave them a parliamentary majority].

I'll get back to Smith a little further down. But first I want to digress for a moment to argue that criticism of pure science [and social science] has a long history.

A screen grab of
Pandorean geography
Not only is the right's depiction of much social science and even pure physical-science research nothing new, it had its roots in the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver's Travels, along with the country of Lilliput portrayed that of Laputa, which was an Avatar-like island that floated like a cloud over the earth. Laputa's society consisted of two sorts of people, mainly---scientists and servants. Gulliver describes the two sorts in these unforgettable words, he had
... never till then seen a race of mortals so singular in their shapes, habits, and countenances. Their heads were all reclined, either to the right, or the left; one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the zenith. Their outward garments were adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars; interwoven with those of fiddles, flutes, harps, trumpets, guitars, harpsichords, and many other instruments of music, unknown to us in Europe. I observed, here and there, many in the habit of servants, with a blown bladder, fastened like a flail to the end of a stick, which they carried in their hands. In each bladder was a small quantity of dried peas, or little pebbles, as I was afterwards informed. With these bladders, they now and then flapped the mouths and ears of those who stood near them, of which practice I could not then conceive the meaning. It seems the minds of these people are so taken up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the discourses of others, without being roused by some external taction upon the organs of speech and hearing; for which reason, those persons who are able to afford it always keep a flapper (the original is climenole) in their family, as one of their domestics; nor ever walk abroad, or make visits, without him. And the business of this officer is, when two, three, or more persons are in company, gently to strike with his bladder the mouth of him who is to speak, and the right ear of him or them to whom the speaker addresses himself. This flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his master in his walks, and upon occasion to give him a soft flap on his eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in cogitation, that he is in manifest danger of falling down every precipice, and bouncing his head against every post; and in the streets, of justling others, or being justled himself into the kennel.
Swift's account seems preternaturally prescient when Gulliver describes one of the Laputan scientists and his work.
The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same colour. He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me “to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers.” I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.
This is the perfectest description of an academic that I have ever seen! Most research in Swift's 18th century experience would have been self-funded, with, often, deleterious effect on the researcher's finances.* One can easily imagine that the well-placed Swift had at times been confronted by impoverished, yet eager inventors hoping for a handout. And so, throughout Gulliver's tour of Laputa Swift shows us his proper English gentleman treating the Laputan research projects with equanimity, leaving the reader no choice but to see it as well-crafted satire.  

And it is to well-crafted satire in the here and now to which I'll be resorting. Well, maybe not satire, really. More like irony, when it comes to our new foe, Lamar S. Smith.

Mary Baker Eddy, Founder and spiritual leader of the
Church of Christ, Scientist.
Wikipedia reports that Representative Smith's religion is the Church of Christ, Scientist, commonly known as Christian Science. Notwithstanding the great reporting job that the Christian Science Monitor has done over the years, the dictates of Christian Science are, I think, largely unknown to most non-CS people. A little information might enlighten you as to Rep. Smith's notion of what constitutes science. Christian Science, the sect, was the invention of one Mary Baker Eddy, who, in the early 20th century decided that Enlightenment science had done little or nothing to improve the plight of humanity, afflicted as they are with trouble, strife, illness, and death. She foresaw a return to what she termed "primitive science" was in order. To address the health and other concerns of good Christians she proposed  that they "commemorate the word and works of [Christ Jesus]" and "reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing."

Practitioners of CS are to study the Bible dutifully every day according to the patterns of readings that Ms. Baker Eddy decreed for her devoted followers. That was just to help keep them healthy by, in a sense, living with and in the way of Jesus. And when misfortune strikes, the answer is prayer. Solitary and communal. Everyone knows everyone else in a typical CS group. So, when one of them gets sick all members of the congregation help the individual through prayer---such is their belief that only in this way can people be healed.

With all due respect for others' beliefs, positive thinking is one thing---Christian Science is quite another. I should know. Although a life-long atheist I fell in love with a Christian Scientist a long time ago. I was smitten before I knew the degree to which this otherwise smart and worldly woman believed in the tenets of the sect. Push came to shove when we started to talk about marriage and kids, and she said to me "I would expect that when I or one of the kids fell ill you'd allow me to exhaust 'primitive healing' before you took them to a medical doctor." I truly loved her. But in the end I couldn't conscion her beliefs. It was heart-wrenching for me. I have no idea how our parting affected her, but I'm pretty sure I know how she dealt with her broken heart. To me the adherents of CS are guilty of, not depraved indifference, but of a sort of depraved devotion to a pipe-dream.

So, your take-home message today is to remember that the "science" in Christian Science is anything BUT science in the vernacular sense of the word. Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) is steeped in the principles laid down by Mary Baker Eddy in 1908. Ironic, don't you think, that CS was begun JUST as medical science was embarking on a century of truly extraordinary advances in the attainment and maintenance of health. Moreover, at a time when electricity, telephones and the horseless carriage were mere novelties, Mrs. Eddy couldn't have foresee the triumphs of the physical sciences in the 20th century---space travel, genetics, and microwave pizza. It seems to me that anyone like Smith, who can refer to "primitive healing" as a 'science' and to Jesus Christ as a 'scientist,' knows precious little about science---what it is, what it stands for, how it works, and what it can achieve.

So, my American fellow subversives. Make as much noise as you want in opposition to Rep. Smith's benighted legislation. And feel free to mention his core belief [superstition, really] about Jesus and healing.

I'm up for a fight. How about you? Grab your torch and pitchfork!



SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

An Archaeology of Western Asia's Political Boundaries From 1000 CE to the Present.

I know. I know. This isn't, truly, an archaeological subject. But, this animation is incredible! And the implications for archaeology are manifold. 

It come to us from LiveLeak.com, and depicts the changing boundaries of western Asia ONLY since 1000 C.E. 

[I may be math-impaired. But even I can figger out that it represents a total of only about 1012 years!]

Thanks to Marcel Zemp for pointing me in this direction.

I was most intrigued by the political picture for most of the last millennium in what's now Germany. Second place was pre-Russian Empire Lithuania. My gawd, it stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea! No wonder there's so much antipathy between ethnic Russians and Lithuanians! Third would be the western extent of the Mongol Empire---measured in degrees of longitude it rivals Russia as the greatest empire in history. [Not so 'great' for the conquered people. But, you get the idea.] 

Back to the archaeological implications of these data. It finally makes sense. No wonder so many Medievalist archaeologists have no hair left! It's from pulling it out in frustration trying to sort out the ethnicity or polity from such a palimpsest---using just the archaeological record. This must be the social science Gordian Knot of the present day! 


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

Weekend Romp Turned Out Well. Now It's Back in the Saddle, Again ...

I've just returned from my overnight hike to that undisclosed location.* I'd like to say thanks to you readers for the encouragement and good wishes in the run-up. I had been invited to attend a dinner and a brunch in honour of Mr. Gordon Getty, who for 40 years has been a pillar of the Leakey Foundation, most of it spent as Chair of the Board of Trustees, and a large contributor to the foundation's endowment. It was apparent to me that his support has had a very widespread effect on the study of human origins over the last half century. For my part, the prospect of an event such as this---most unfortunately---scares the bejeezus out of me, as I've previously pointed out.

The undisclosed location was in one of the many 'wine countries' of northern California. The dinner on Sat. night was a real treat, and the company was convivial. The new Irish linen herringbone suit was a hit. And I was very relieved to see a couple of friendly faces rather than what I had most feared, the faces of---how shall I put it?---my antagonists, of whom, as you know, the numbers are legion

By far the greatest number of guests were palaeo-anthropo-philanthropists. We palaeo-anthropologists were a tiny minority. I bored right in and chatted with a number of very nice Leakey Foundation trustees and donors. The friendly faces were those of the Sunday speaker, Randy White, he of early personal ornamentation fame, and of the ever tall, dark and handsome Steve Kuhn, the Middle Palaeolithic lithicist. They've been very busy bunnies since I last talked with either, at least 20 years ago. [!] I managed to talk with both of them, and the rest, without sounding too much like a dork. And I didn't bat an eyelid when Randy told me that his team had recently dated "the vulva" from the Abri Castanet, in France. The petroglyph in question is illustrated below. I bit my tongue when the dates were published. I dunno. Looks more like the business end of a spermatozoa to me.

From White et al. 2012
There was a rough patch during my performance [which is what I've decided is the way to treat such affairs---pretending to be someone else!] at brunch this morning, when my brain nearly seized up and I stammered and ceased speaking for interminable seconds between utterances because I realized, mid-answer, that I wasn't responding to the question that I'd been asked! That'll slow anyone down. I nearly buried myself, but in the end I clawed my way back by feigning loss of my train of thought [or, rather, in retrospect wish that I had---it would have spared me the embarrassment that I felt at being both incoherent and speechless at the same time! The other seven people at the table were donors and Foundation staff, and evidently very kind people, because they neither ran screaming from the table from utter boredom during my discourses, and especially glad that I heard no one sniggering as I turned my back to leave the table up after the meal!

Clark and Betty in better days.
One other friendly face was a delight to see. The late F. Clark Howell's partner, Betty Howell, was in attendance, in no small measure because of her husband's constant contribution to palaeoanthropology and support of the foundation from the beginning, 40 years ago. Betty and I had enjoyed quite a few laughs while I was a Ph.D. student under Clark's supervision, and while she didn't remember me after twenty years we still managed to have some more laughs. Clark was always quintessentially driven and focussed, and Betty seemed the perfect balance, always airy and expressive. I miss those days at Cal, when I felt like I was on top of the world. That world, as worlds will do, kept turning, if you get my drift.

But no worries! I'm back in the saddle again.
* No sign of "Deadeye" Dick Cheney.


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Overture, Curtain, Lights! This Is It, The Night Of Nights.

As the Maestro has said, "This is it!" Tonight's the night. The whole shebang! I hope to live-blog my participation in the Leakey Foundation's 45th anniversary dinner and brunch, to be held at an undisclosed location [for those who need to know more, see here].

The new Irish linen herringbone suit is bagged and ready to go. Launch time is midday. My preparations are already 10 minutes behind sked. I'll hafta pick up the pace some if I'm gonna make my appointment at the rent-a-car office.

Kay so, I have all your good wishes fueling my chutzpah. TTFN!


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

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."

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

What, Exactly, Do The Elsevier Editors Do? Judging From Lahaye et al. (JAS 40:2840--2847, 2013) They Do Boom All!

Before I dig in, as it were, to the substance of this paper by Lahaye et al., I have a few words to say about the presentation quality of this article. In brief, I find the data chosen for tables and figures to be unhelpful in assessing the validity of many of the claims made. I find also that the text is riddled with non-standard archaeological terminology, and there are plenty of examples of lexical, grammatical and other errors that could have been avoided if there had been a native speaker of English on the research team, and should have been avoided if [and probably because] the editor had been a native speaker. I am appalled, not by the research team's effort to communicate in English, but by the fact that no one on the editorial staff seemed to care. At least half the journal's Editorial Board I know to be native speakers. How this level of English expression was allowed through to publication is beyond me. In a moment, I'll provide a selective list of sub-standard data and lexicon.

First, though, I thought I'd check to see if the publisher, Elsevier, had any policy on the expected level of English expression. Indeed, they do. Have a look.
URL: http://www.elsevier.com/authors/author-services
The passage that I find most telling is this one
Our long history of publishing peer-reviewed scientific journals has equipped us to ensure your English is free of grammatical and spelling errors. 
That Elsevier have chosen to offer a paper "free of errors" FOR A PRICE tells me that the journal is willing to publish sub-standard English, as long as it is, on the whole, comprehensible. I'd say that broken English is comprehensible, but it doesn't constitute what the journal calls "English ... of a high quality." Notwithstanding that, the caliber of expression evident in Lahaye et al.'s article obviously wasn't enough to "cause delays and initial rejections."

Okay. What do I see as problematic? Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. [Will I ever get those show tunes out of my brain? It's getting full.]

ABSTRACT, line 1.
"Numerous data, from archaeological researches"
That's simply incorrect grammar. "Researches" is the third-person present form of the verb "to research." The plural of research is "research."
ABSTRACT, line 6.
"all our observations ... tend to prove the good integrity of the site and the anthropological nature of the artifacts."
I'm gonna guess that, by "good integrity" the authors mean stratigraphic integrity, and that the artifacts with an "anthropological" nature are those attributed to human behaviour and not geofacts [as stone that has been fractured in such a way that it is difficult to rule out either nature or human agency.
ABSTRACT, line 8.
"The results bring new pieces of evidence of a human presence"
I've heard of "pieces" of a puzzle and"pieces of eight," but I've never encountered "pieces" of evidence. If taken literally, the use of "pieces" in this context would indicate that not much had been recovered---only pieces of what they might have hoped to obtain.
TEXT, line 1.
"Understanding the dynamics, knowing the age and the way the first peopling of America took place is, more than ever, a challenge for research, and is closely linked with societal issues."
Given that "Understanding" is part of what appears to be a compound subject [of one sort or another], one has to assume that the verb in this sentence is "is," which is followed by "a challenge for research ... [that is] ... "closely linked with societal issues." "Understanding" what, exactly. The "dynamics." But, the "dynamics" of what? If one is to make any sense out of this sentence, whatsoever, one must infer that "the age" and "the way" of the peopling of America are the dynamics alluded to in the first part. And, speaking of firsts, this is the first sentence in the article.
TEXT, line 3.
"Different theories have been in contradiction for a long time, and the paradigm of a post-11,500 years BP occupation has remained predominant for a long time."
I can't help from suggesting that the first part, in a very awkward way, is telling us that "contradictory theories" have been around "for a long time." "Years" is simply redundant. A certain "paradigm" has "predominated," we are told,  AGAIN "for a long time." I wouldn't let this sentence stand in an undergraduate essay.
TEXT, line 6.
"Nevertheless numerous new pieces of data question the initial acceptance of a theory of a migration from Siberia to Beringia, and then from the north to the south of the American continent."
Okay. Let's see if we can sort this one out. The subject is "pieces." Those "pieces" question something. That's impossible. A "piece" of something is incapable of "questioning" anything. [I'll ignore the use of the term "migration," which implies that these people knew where they were going.] This "migration" is said to have taken place beginning in Siberia, continuing across Beringia, and from there, "from the north to the south" of a "continent" that doesn't exist on the map. As to the direction taken once on the continent that has no existence, it would have been difficult for the first people to have travelled in a SOUTH TO NORTH direction!

This paper is heading for a failing mark, and we're not out of the THE FIRST PARAGRAPH yet!

TEXT, line 9.
"Maybe, most of all, these new data question the values of the terminus post-quem imposed by a chronological limit fixed to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)."
In this example I've highlighted the words that are the frame of this sentence. I'll condense it for you. "These data question the values of the LGM." Somehow I don't think that's what the authors wanted to say. Once again, we have an inanimate object---in this case "data"---questioning "values." We won't find out until much later in the paper why the LGM is mentioned in the introductory paragraph.
TEXT, line 11.
"As far as the southern part of the continent is concerned, until recently it was admitted that it had been quickly colonized after the diffusion of the Clovis culture in the north." There's that mythical continent again! In this, the last sentence of the first paragraph, we are told that someone has "admitted" [South America] was colonized after some diffusion in the north. I doubt that anybody "admitted" anything.

Phew! We've now made it through the first paragraph.

As you can plainly see, at a minimum this article's first paragraph is rife with editorial shortcomings. Believe me, it doesn't end there. As a result, there isn't time to cover the rest of this article.

Someone should give Elsevier a kick in the ass, especially considering how much their damned publications cost!

SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Caution: Autobiographical. I'm Tellin' Ya. It's Like My Life Has Been One Big Clerical Error ...

... how else to explain some of the improbable things that happen to me? A case in point.

The names of the hosts, the time and the location have been redacted.
I guess it wasn't enough to have been accepted into the Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley straight from a B.A. at Simon Fraser, with full funding for four years, and been supervised by Clark Howell, Meg Conkey, and Diane Gifford-Gonzalez. Proof that it wasn't enough? A few weeks ago, plop, into my email inbox came the above-pictured verrrry smart-looking invitation to join in a 45th anniversary celebration of the Leakey Foundation, in an unassuming country castle in a quiet rural burg just north of California's wine country. Besides me, the guest list includes all of the Foundation's hyper-well-off Board of Director-type people, it's no-doubt-equally well-off donors, and, most likely, anyone who's anyone in Palaeoanthropology [which, by the way, doesn't include me], going back decades. In addition, this year marks the fortieth year on the Board of Directors of one Gordon P. Getty. Yep. The same.

Not only am I invited for dinner. I'm also invited to a brunch the next morning. That promises to be like old home week. Check it out.

Randy White authored "Rethinking the Middle/Upper Paleolithic Transition" (Current Anthropology 23, 169--192) shortly before I started my B.A. in Archaeology. It was influential in many ways, and White's, along with other workers and their works,  contributed much to my archaeological upbringing. The names of the hosts, the time and the location have been redacted.
Professor White and I are both Canadian. We both work on the same issues. We're almost the same age. That makes us practically related, fer hevvensake!

Nevertheless, I, thinking that my invitation was a misprint or a clerical error, and before R.S.V.P.ing [or, simply, R.ing for those of us who know French], emailed to inquire as to the reason I found myself on the guest list. Long pause. The person at the other end of the internet asked if I thought I'd been included due to an error.

[If you're familiar with my life and work, you'll already know that a question like this could only have one legitimate answer---and that answer would be, "Well, yes, I think it may very well be a mistake. I've only once asked for and didn't receive any research funds from the Leakey Foundation." Apparently the idea of making archaeological spatial pattering interpretation more secure wasn't in the Leakey Foundation's brief. Clark Howell was on the committee that year and he alluded to a fellow committee member who had "a bee in his bonnett for you" (meaning me). Unbelievable!]

Onward and ever forward. After excavating an old cv from the choking round-up of dust bunnies under my bed, I was reminded that, back in the Pliocene the L. S. B. Leakey Trust granted me a small portion of what it cost to get to Europe and back for my dissertation research. So I told the person on the other end of the internet what I had discovered. Without hesitation I was advised that it's what prolly cinched the invitation for me. So, how could I refuse? I responded in the affirmative that, indeed, I would be attending. And then I was informed that the dress was suit and tie. Thereafter, having mused at length on the prospects for a great dinner and an equally exquisite brunch the next day [think about it! Free, good wine? I'm there], I started to get the heebie-jeebies. Wanna know why?

I'm pretty sure that I've been a participant at such an event exactly once in my life. That was even before I was looking for an academic job. I was still in graduate studies. I had no money, and managed to stop eating and drinking long enough to be able to afford a cheap used jacket to go with a pair of my not so well coordinated pants. That little soirée was at the home of the same Mr. Getty, where Mrs. Getty was feting my friend Susan Antón, who'd just been offered a position in Florida [where, by the way, she didn't have to stay long---they grabbed her at NYU and she's been there ever since]. I'm sorry to say that I'm one who is easily starstruck. The Getty home is a palace. Full stop. The dinner was held in the Atrium, complete with fairy lights and a full-size skylight three stories above. Servers came and went through invisible doors in the hallways and party spaces. I had trouble keeping my jaw parallel to my uppers. So, other than the fact that I looked and felt like an Okie on a visit to the White House, it was a most enjoyable evening.

Clockwise from top left. The Getty House in Pacific Heights. Mrs. Getty and the dogs in a room she decorated. The current resident of the White House in the Getty House---Mrs. Getty on the left; Mr. Getty on the right. The table setting. The atrium. The recital hall. Who says I'm starstruck!
This time around I'm being invited to an evening affair at a country home. But I'd bet dollars to donuts that it'll be no less posh than my visit to Chez Getty. And, unless you've been asleep for the past 2 years you'll know the problem is still money. I've long since jettisoned the Okie clothes. But, unfortunately the timelessly stylish jacket and slacks I bought to wear for my first [and last] academic 'job talk' are now at least two beer bellies too small. So, I would need new clothes. To top it off, I couldn't imagine driving up in Snow White, my reliable but malmaintained '97 Geo Metro 3-door with the 1000 cc, 3-cylinder engine and stick shift transmission. The old girl probably hasn't been washed in 3 years, and the cabin looks a little like a homeless bivy, so overworked and busy am I that I never take the time to dung it out.

Snow White. My 1997 Geo Metro. Not quite visual pollution in the legal sense, but getting there. It would probably fit easily under the cab canopy standing next to it.
What to do? What to do?

Several brain storms later, and not a few glasses of fermented fruit that came from somewhere near the location of the Big Do, I had formulated a plan. I'll drive north from Surf City on the Saturday, park at the Daly City B.A.R.T. station, transfer my self and my mostly empty suitcase to a Zip car that I've reserved for a 24-hour period, and hie myself to a cheap motel mere 15 km from the destination burg. There I'll prolly take a shower, fix my do, then slip on my brand new Irish linen large herringbone, two-piece suit, purchased expressly for the occasion. Have a look.

The Man. I never was this good-looking. And I don't have to tell you that I've changed, for the worse, since I was his age. (Image courtesy of Land's End)

The close-up. How many herring do you think it takes to make a herringbone patterned suit?
[Frankly, until this past week, I didn't even know the little blighters could sew!] (Image courtesy of Land's End)

Aside from the face, I'll be deviating from the look in these Land's End dot com photos in only one other small way. Instead of the pastel purple tie, I'll be sporting my Cal Bears old boys tie!

The University of California's Berkeley campus was the first of what's now ten. For that reason, only those who attend UC Berkeley are entitled to bear the official symbols. When asked they say they're attending Cal, they call their sports teams The Bears, after the golden bear [grizzly, in fact] that roamed California in the early European era, and is portrayed prominently on the state's flag.   
With all of the superficial---corporeal---problems solved, you might think that I'm all set. Nuh-uh. I'll now need to summon up some serious chutzpah if I'm to temporarily overcome my all-encompassing, day-in-day-out problem long enough to make the best of the experience I'm to enjoy next weekend. You've heard of wallflowers? Well, if you look up wallflower in the dictionary you'll see there's a picture of me!

To make an excruciatingly long story mercifully short, due to persistent negative social rejection from the time of my earliest memories until I was about 13, my unconscious apparently 'internalized' the humiliating, shame producing bullying and social rejection that I received in my neighborhood and at school. I was persona non grata and worse. It has meant that my adult life has been spent in avoidant behaviour of one flavour or another, to a greater or lesser degree, in my dealings with other human beings. I literally fear interacting with people. I want personal relationships as much as the next person, but I'm only gonna get into one if I think I'll never receive the sorts of soul-destroying remonstrances and humiliation that, over the years, my unconscious has learned to expect.

I procrastinate endlessly in any activity that requires approaching a stranger or [even] an otherwise innocuous acquaintance. Forget approaching a country's traditional owners for permission to transgress on their patch to do some archaeology. Forget, too, proposal writing, doing the research and writing it up---I'm afraid that most anything that comes out of my head or mouth is gonna end up being ridiculed and I'll be regarded as one who doesn't know what he's talking about. My Ph.D. dragged on two years longer than it needed to, simply because I couldn't fight the inertia that infests my waking life. Having my work on Middle Palaeolithic burial derided and ignored hasn't helped much.

I don't do large gatherings of virtual strangers very well. Inevitably I feel as if I want to crawl out of my skin rather than try [and fail] to make chit-chat and gave people think I'm a nincompoop. I'm much more likely to stand by myself, with my back to the wall and a glass in my hand than I am making small [or even big] talk with the grownups [of which group I've never been one]. Teaching was torture for me, with every second spent wondering if what I just said or am going to say will cause any of my students to think ill of me or spur their derision. When one's mind is occupied with an inner conversation of that sort, you can imagine that it's only a matter of time before one does or says something that provokes just those responses that one fears the most. And, don't get me started on my numerous, failed, relationships with women.

I presume you can therefore see my problem in the time leading up to the Leakey Foundation soirée? It's a week away and already I'm starting to have second, third and fourth thoughts about the whole idea. I'm incapable of schmoozing. To make matters even worse, there'll undoubtedly be innumerable scholars in attendance who will have been familiar with my work on the Middle Palaeolithic. Who wouldn't want to avoid them? My guess is lots of people. But me? You betcha!

So, wish me luck. At least with the cool new clothes I'll have looked a good fight! And as long as I tell everyone that I'm driving the shiny new Civic Zip car because my Testarrosa's in for service, I won't feel like a total rube. ;-)

I'll be doing my very best to be cool, suave, and debonair. I've even had business cards made so that I look official. Whaddayathink?

My business card. Not to scale.
If this was TMI [too much information] feel free to forget it as soon as you'd like.


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

What Pieces Of Work Are Men? When Will They Stop Abusing Power & When Will The Abuse Of Women In Anthropology Cease To Exist?

This image appears today on the home page of UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology. Pope's Pit Viper(Trimeresurus popeiorum), a venomous species that is widely distributed across SE Asia (Photo Yu Zeng). My reason for including it here and for remarking on its source should become evident further down.
Time check. The year is 2013, not 1963. But you wouldn't know it if you'd just woken up after a 50-year-long nap.

In the last few days, the world has learned something that may just leave you incredulous...
Anthropologist Kate Clancy and her collaborators have made public the results of a study that, bottom line, tells us that gender bias, the 'chilly climate,' and sexual harassment are ongoing in anthropology---most egregiously, in field situations. Go here to see what Kate has to say on her blog, which is the closest you'll to a publication in the short term. Their findings were presented at the recent American Association of Physical Anthropology annual meeting.
Clancy et al. found no difference in the rate at which women and men
reported observing or experiencing sexual harassment (Source: Scientific American).
I can't help feeling ashamed---I'm a male anthropologist. You can believe it or not. [That I'm ashamed, not that I'm a male!] [Although it is true that many times in my life I've been made an honorary woman amongst groups of women for what are some very unmasculine behaviours and beliefs.] [But that's only marginally important in the context of today's rant.] In the last twenty or so years I've witnessed firsthand the persistent and pernicious sentiments and acts of my male [I'm ashamed, too, to call them] colleagues---at best, exclusionary, at worst, expressions that could only be seen as the result of deep-seated hatred of the other sex.

I'm writing down some recollections here, aimed at underlining how grotesque and shameful it is that in 2013 people in our discipline are still being subjected to behavior that was considered beyond the pale by the majority of anthropologists more than forty years ago.

Age conflates memory. So, if any of the following statements evince temporal discontinuities between my memory and the events themselves, I can only say "These are my feelings. This is how I see things today."

I'm an anthropologist, first, an archaeologist, second, and a physical anthropologist, third. That means my constant goal is to make new knowledge about who and what we are as a) a species with an evolutionary history, b) cultures, each with its own historically contingent trajectory, and c) individuals who are acted upon and in turn act upon their culture and other individuals within that culture.

I've just passed my 60th birthday. It means that I was born a mere seven years after Rosy the Riveter packed away her overalls and was, once again, relegated to purely domestic duty so that members of the 'real' work-force could get back to 'their' work after the British Empire's and the United States' militaries had saved the world from Hirohito, Hitler and Mussolini's tyranny. [It should be noted that, as has been so often the case in the home over the past 60 years, saving the world from tyranny couldn't have been achieved without the help of droves of women in the military who worked for little recognition in support of 'the war effort.']

I can't be expected to remember those first few years of my life in the 1950s and the early 1960s. However, I do recall that my high-school and college years were spent opposing the U.S.-led Viet Nam 'police action' at the same time as me and others of my sex were asked to throw our support behind what came to be known as the 'Women's Liberation' movement. Hold that thought.

Alongside my experience of those times, social and cultural anthropology were going through a profound re-orientation brought about by their embrace of, on the one hand, Marxist theory, and on the other hand the revelation that the rules governing what were considered masculine and feminine roles varied depending on the culture---i.e. that gender was a cultural construction, and not a biological recipe. As if a great light-bulb had been lit, anthropologists began to treat other peoples less as museum specimens and more like rosetta stones of their individual cultures and of 'capital C' Culture. To my mind Marx's influence was strongest in the insights he gave us about 'power relations' at any scale you cared to investigate---interpersonal, intra-familial, intra-community, class, and so on.

The 60s and 70s were also a time when a great schism appeared among social and cultural anthropologists and between social and cultural anthropology and archaeology and physical anthropology---the two fields that usually dealt impersonally with members of their subject populations. All the while, archaeologists and physical anthropologists preferred to maintain the untenable stance that their endeavours were apolitical and scientific, and therefore objective. As if.

I came of age in the late 1960s, when the Black Panthers and the Students for a Democratic Society and other grassroots efforts were salient features of, especially, the North American consciousness. It was the time of sit-ins and teach-ins and love-ins and consciousness raising and, yes, the women's liberation movement. The Simon Fraser University Archaeology Department was formed as a direct offshoot of the political foment in four-field anthropology and in political science that coincided with and further incited the social upheaval in the larger culture. In the present day that department might be excused for its particular history. I would say so if it weren't for empirical evidence to the contrary.

In the late 90s the human paleontologists at UC Berkeley chose to disavow anthropology and join with the Integrative Biology section of the university. To this day it seems as if archaeology and human paleontology exist in a bubble that time forgot. That's why I'm less than surprised and more than dismayed at the news that the abuse of power, gender bias and sexual harrassment are alive and well and living in 'the field.'

For most archaeologists and human paleontologists 'the field' is where the real work begins and ends. Days and weeks are spent in (often) remote places with groups of people sometimes running into the dozens, and all needing to get along and pull together. It's here, according to Clancy and her collaborators that the institutional restraints on abuses are cast off or conveniently forgotten, and the social life of a woman can become a flashback to a bygone time. I've seen it. I've heard about it. I've experienced it. I might have hoped for better. It's as if the history of anthropological thought never happened.

I hope that my few recollections have to some degree put these anachronistic abuses in context, and helped to explain the shame that I feel as an anthropologist, the anger that I harbour for abusive anthropologists, and the profound sadness that I feel for our discipline, which has so much to offer, but which is undermined and perverted by misogyny and the abuse of power.

Let's not let this moment pass unremarked. Be good subversives, y'alls, and take every opportunity to talk to your students, your fellow students, your colleagues, your instructors, and your superiors. Only in this way, I think, will it be possible for anthropology to shed for the last time its reptilian skin and grow into the powerful voice for human dignity that it professes to be.


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

I Have To Do Something To Get The Two Penises Off The Home Page

It's not just that my real life has been busy lately. There doesn't seem to have been a decent extraordinary and criticizable archaeological claim for... like... ever.

Maybe it's because the past few weeks have seen the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and the Paleoanthropology Society. Maybe it's left my peers and colleagues mute for the moment.

It's prolly just stochastic variability. But I do get to feeling as if I'm letting the readership down when I don't put something up every day, to say nothing of more than once a week!

The past few weeks haven't been without interest... they've just been without much of interest to me.

In fact I have three times in the past five days begun to write something, only to realize that I didn't have the juice to push through to the end.

There were some interesting bits. Here they are, complete with some archaeology porn.

There was the suspiciously convenient claim to have found the entry to Hades [the Hell of ancient Greek mythology] in Turkey. It was a DiscoveryNews story online. Pictures, claims, no plans, no profiles, no real way to be critical of the proposition. It was curious, however, that it was an Italian archaeologist claiming to have found physical evidence of a mythical location in what's today known as Turkey, which, if you remember is perennially antagonistic toward Greece, to the point of open warfare between ethnic Greeks and ethnic Turks on the island of Cyprus.
Credit to DiscoveryNews. Source url 
Then there was the as-yet unpublished result of some kind of magical 3D modeling that suddenly transformed Toumaï [Sahelanthropus tchadensis] from a possible gorilla ancestor to one of ours. Happily, that too held nothing up for critical scrutiny. However, in Kate Wong's Scientific American blog there was a link to a higher resolution image of Toumaï and one showing all six anatomical views of the specimen. Criky, you could practical take measurements of the latter. Here are the links.
Toumaï at 45° between frontal and left lateral...* [Caution: file is more than 5MB]
Toumaï in six views** [Caution: file is more than 37MB]
Reproduction is governed by a Creative Commons license.***
Credit to Scientific Amreican Source url
Then, a day or so ago we learned through Nature's open-source Scientific Reports of new dates on wood from Tikal that once and for all correlated the Gregorian calendar and the Maya long count. A friend of mine was high up on the list of authors. I shoulda had something to say about that. Finally, a published paper. But nothing to be critical of. So, nothing to say. I was afraid that if I mentioned it in a laudatory way I could be vulnerable to accusations of having a man-crush.
From Scientific Reports. Source url
Also there was a human/Neanderthal genome study in PLOS ONE Genetics that I was very busy trying to write about this morning until I pooped out. It concludes that interbreeding was improbable. Great! Wonderful! But I don't speak Genome. So, it's all Greek to me. *cough*
From PLOS ONE Genetics. Source url
The last three are subjects worthy of note, for sure. They're just not conducive to subversive criticism. Maybe that's it. Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, or a laggardly blogger, than to open my metaphorical mouth and erase all possible doubt.

Just know that when I'm quiet like this, I'm perched on the top branch of a dead tree somewhere, my featherless neck bent like the drain on your bathroom sink, and my sturdy, recurved beak pointing in the direction of down, waiting for some delicacy to come limping down the track toward me.

I think I'll leave you with that vision of me, and the credits for the two amazing images of Toumaï...

English: Cast of the Sahelanthropus tchadensis holotype cranium TM 266-01-060-1, dubbed Toumaï, in facio-lateral view.
Specimen of of Anthropology Molecular and Imaging Synthesis of Toulouse.
Size 182,5x105x97 mm
Français : Moulage du crâne holotype de Sahelanthropus tchadensis TM 266-01-060-1, surnommé Toumaï, en vue facio-latérale.
Exemplaire du Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse de Toulouse.
Taille 182,5x105x97 mm
Date 23 June 2010
Author: Didier Descouens

English: Cast of the Sahelanthropus tchadensis unreconstructed holotype cranium TM 266-01-060-1 dubbed Toumaï
Approximate Frankfurt Horizontal plane orientation.
Specimens from Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse de Toulouse
A : frontal view B : posterior view C : right lateral view D : left lateral view E : superior view F : inferior view
Size 182.5x105x97 mm
Français : Moulage du crâne holotype non-reconstruit de Sahelanthropus tchadensis TM 266-01-060-1, surnommé Toumaï
Orientation approximative selon le plan de Francfort horizontal.
Exemplaire du Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse de Toulouse.
A : vue antérieure B : vue postérieure C : vue latérale droite D : vue latérale gauche E : vue supérieure F : vue inférieure
Taille 182,5x105x97 mm
Date 24 June 2010
Author: Didier Descouens

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SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's Academia.edu 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.