Archive for November, 2012

European Gypsies (Roma) descended from the ancestors of NW Indian Adivasis

November 30, 2012

While the Indian origin of the European Roma populations is linguistically and genetically well-established, accurate identification of their South Asian source has remained a matter of debate. A new open access paper PLoS ONE 7(11): e48477. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048477 now pinpoints the ancestry of today’s Roma to the ancestors of the Adivasi (“original people)  tribes of North West India.

The Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup H1a1a-M82 Reveals the Likely Indian Origin of the European Romani Populations, Niraj Rai et al.

I note , in passing, that the discrimination and “oppression” of the current Roma populations across all of Europe is not so unlike the discrimination and “oppression” being suffered by their distant cousins who are the current Adivasis in India.

Out of India Migration Rai et al

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Liverpool Care Pathway for babies is surely euthanasia but it is not painless

November 29, 2012

I have no doubt that the Care Pathways have the best of intentions to make an inevitable death as painless and comfortable as possible. But at best this is euthanasia and at worst it is something else. The latest article in the Daily Mail’s “campaign”  is more than a little disturbing. If a Care Pathway – by definition – is intended to lead to a dignified and pain-free death then causing additional suffering by being put on the Pathway cannot be right. I am not sure where the ethical line goes but I cannot help feeling that a final painless lethal injection may be preferable to 10 days of starvation and thirst and suffering as feeding and fluids are denied and a baby shrinks to death.

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On the shoulders of midgets:10 years of scientific fraud at University of Kentucky

November 29, 2012

Maybe the detection of fraud has improved lately but it is still highly unlikely that the majority of cases are being discovered. I have the clear perception that the increasing number of cases of manipulating or faking data that are being discovered is just the tip of the iceberg. These cases – as with the case described in my previous post about Diedrik Stapel – also demonstrate the systemic disinclination of peers to be critical or to find fault with their colleagues. Traditional peer review has always had its failings but  is now also proving to be incapable of handling the huge increase in the number of papers being published. And the apparently increasing incidence of fraud among scientists will not change until scientists can be held liable for their misconduct. Academic freedom is all very well but it needs to be tempered with some responsibility and some corresponding accountability.

In the long run – over a few centuries – it probably does not matter. Scientific cheating does not alter natural laws or relationships but in the short term of our lifetimes the damage is considerable. Not only does it waste resources but the the misdirection of other scientific efforts leads to much work being done on a foundation of quicksand. On the shoulders of midgets!

In this case where Eric Smart has been found to have been falsifying data for a decade, the Office of Research Integrity has published its findings and 10 papers are to be retracted and he will not seek grants for 7 years. 13 researchers at his lab “have moved on to other projects and endeavors.” The papers to be withdrawn have been cited over 100 times.

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Stapel fraud report blames lack of critical scientific culture

November 28, 2012

The massive Diedrik Stapel fraud broke a year ago and the final investigation report “Failing science: The fraudulent research practices of social psychologist Diederik Stapel” has now been published. The final fraud count is quite staggering. 55 papers, 10 theses and possibly a further 11 publications were fraudulent. That’s 10 PhD students who will have doctorates rescinded or must start from scratch! The report is in Dutch  (pdf): Final Report Stapel Investigation

Human behaviour in all its aspects and including social psychology are certainly disciplines worthy of study and I would not go so far as to say they can never become sciences. But social psychology is certainly  no science yet. Stapel’s behaviour – which is by no means unique for publicity hunting social psychologists – was nothing more than pseudoscience and will not advance the progress of this discipline into becoming a science.

Dutchnews reports:

A report into how a Dutch university professor was able to fake research data for years blames the absence of a critical scientific culture at academic institutions.

Stapel, who was a professor of social and behavioural sciences at Tilburg, was suspended in September 2011 after doubts emerged about research that concluded eating meat makes people anti-social and selfish.

The report, compiled by special commissions from four universities where Stapel worked, concludes at least 55 out of 130 academic papers written by Stapel and 10 graduate student theses he was supervising contain fraudulent data. There are doubts about the authenticity of a further 11 papers.

The 108-page report says colleagues who worked with Stapel had not been sufficiently critical. This was not deliberate fraud but ‘academic carelessness’, the report said. ‘The critical function of science has failed at all levels,’ the report said. 

In a statement, Stapel said he had failed as a scientist. ‘I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain I have caused others,’ he said. ‘I feel sorry, shame and I blame myself. The truth would have been better served without me.’

…. Finance ministry officials are also investigating Stapel because much of his work was funded by public research money.

Modern English derives from Scandinavian rather than from Old English

November 28, 2012

Linguists at the University of Oslo – Jan Terje Faarlund and  Joseph Emonds – believe they can prove that English is in reality a language  belonging to the Northern Germanic language group which includes Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese rather than deriving from Old English where Old English, in turn, was derived from the West Germanic language group brought into Britain by the Angles from Northern Germany and Saxons from Southern Jylland  in the fifth century.

I found learning Swedish from English a lot easier than learning German from English. The number of words similar to English in the other two languages are not so different. So I have always assumed that my ease of learning was due to the similarities of grammar and syntax between Swedish and English.  All the more understandable with this connection between English and old Scandinavian.

New linguistic research has concluded that residents of the British Isles didn’t just borrow words and expressions from Norwegian and Danish Vikings and their descendants. Rather, claim two professors now working in Oslo, the English language is in fact Scandinavian.

Jan Terje Faarlund, a professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo (UiO), told research magazine Apollon that new studies show English “as we know it today” to be a “direct descendant of the language Scandinavians used” after settling on the British Isles during and after the Viking Age. 

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Sasquatch (“Bigfoot”) DNA study has the makings of a hoax intended to be found out

November 27, 2012

A press release was issued on Saturday 24th November. A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America.

It feels like a PR campaign to me rather than any scientific study. It has all the makings of a hoax for publicity purposes where the inevitable debunking of the hoax is expected – but where criminal fraud cannot be proved.

The critical weakness lies in the purported samples from Bigfoot which have apparently been undergoing genetic study. The “scientists” are decoupled from the authenticity or the contamination/manipulation of the samples and are protected from charges of fraud. Of course nothing has been peer-reviewed or published yet. No data has been made available either. Where the samples came from and how they were “prepared” also remains to be seen. And the “study”  has a rather obvious commercial interest (The scientist leading the study, Dr. Melba Ketchum is the founder of DNA Diagnostics). I have a strong suspicion that the objective of the hoax is simply publicity and the main objectives of the hoax will be to keep the story going for as long as “genetically”  possible. The results and data leaked must therefore also be stage-managed to be difficult to debunk or disprove so that the assertions can live as long as possible.

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Was European colonialism the force that spread democracy?

November 26, 2012

A new paper in the American Political Science Review suggests that European colonialism was the key driver in establishing democratic systems of government around the world. Only states which had strong established political structures prior to the colonial wave managed to resist colonial rule and/or  the establishment of “democratic” European institutions. According to the author, Jacob Gerner Harir of the University of Copenhagen,

”This could mean that perhaps we need to adopt a new view of the colonial era. Even though it led to massive exploitation and oppression of many people in the Third World, we can now see that it also contributed to the spread of democracy.”

There is a hint of defensiveness here, almost as if this work is also an attempt to justify the oppression and exploitation that was the main-stay of European colonialism.

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Humans may have started selective breeding 50-60,000 years ago

November 25, 2012

Humans probably started selective breeding – artificial selection – with the domestication of the dog. Dogs diverged from wolves about 100,000 years ago. The earliest skeletal association of wolves with humans is also from about 100,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of an ancestral dog  is from about 32,000 years ago.

It is not implausible that the first exercise of artificial selection is connected with the domestication of the dog and happened 50- 60,000 years ago.

Ancient dog domestication was the start of artificial selection by humans

COP18 in Doha and “hot air”

November 25, 2012

There can be few things more wasteful than this. And all  for a hypothesis which cannot be proven and is increasingly looking like “hot air”. 

The annual climate jamboree  is about to start for 17,000 participants!!!!!

This from the BBC

  • Doha climate talks: Will ‘hot air’ derail the process?
  • More than 17,000 participants are expected in the Qatari capital Doha for the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  • Qatar, rich in oil and particularly gas, has some of the highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world.
  • One of the concerns is over “hot air” – several EU countries were given huge allowances of carbon permits that they want to carry over into a new commitment period. But the scale of the surplus, some 13 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, could render future promises to cut carbon effectively meaningless. (Note that cutting Carbon itself is pretty meaningless)

Lula’s legacy in Brazil being badly tarnished by new corruption scandals

November 25, 2012

Influence peddling and other forms of political corruption are not of course restricted to Brazil or just to the developing countries. It is just a lot more sophisticated in the US and japan and Europe. But more mud is being flung and a great deal of it is now sticking to former President Lula’s period of office in Brazil.

Reuters reports:

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, moving quickly to nip a new scandal in the bud, ordered the dismissal on Saturday of government officials allegedly involved in a bribery ring, including the country’s deputy attorney general.

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