Useless (youngwilliam) wrote,

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So, it's all a storm in a teacup. The media exaggerated the significance of these frauds, with phrases like "History of modern man unravels" and "key discoveries" occurring in headlines.The frauds are doubtless a blow for the researchers unlucky enough to have sent samples to Protsch for dating, but do nothing to weaken the evidence for human evolution (despite the occasional creationist claiming otherwise). February 16, 2005: Homo floresiensis on Darwin Day The Panda's Thumb For Darwin Day (Feb 12th), the Canberra Skeptics arranged a talk by paleoanthropologist Colin Groves at the National Museum of Australia on the subject of Homo floresiensis, the "Hobbit". It's clearly a popular subject; the small lecture theatre was filled to capacity with a few hundred people. Some scientists have disputed the idea that floresiensis is a new species, suggesting instead that the skeleton is a pathological modern human - Maciej Henneberg, for one, has claimed that it closely resembles a 4000-year-old microcephalic skull found on Crete. Groves showed pictures of that skull and compared it to the hobbit. They did not look very similar to my unqualified judgement, nor, apparently, to the judgement of many qualified scientists. The hobbit femur also has differences from that of any other hominid, and the pelvis flares more than in H. sapiens or H. erectus. December 10, 2004: H. floresiensis a microcephalic? Anatomist Maciej Henneberg has claimed that the 'Hobbit' skull is extremely similar to that of a microcephalic specimen from Crete (microcephaly is a medical condition which results in small brain sizes). I suspect Henneberg, though a respected anatomist, will turn out to be wrong for a number of reasons. One is that Brown and his colleagues are also respected anatomists, and they have had access to the fossil and many months in which to study it. Brown considered the possibility of microcephaly even before Henneberg raised it, and rejected it: It's more difficult to rule out, I suppose, the analogy with abnormal modern humans, like pituitary dwarfs or microcephalic dwarfs, because there you can have small-bodied people who have small brain sizes as well. Very few of these people actually reach adulthood and they have a range of distinctive features, depending upon which particular syndrome they have, throughout the cranial vault and rest of the skeleton. None of these features are found in Liang Bua. It has a suite of clearly archaic traits which are replicated in a variety of early hominids and these archaic traits are not found in any abnormal humans which have ever been recorded. We now have the remains of 5 or 6 other individuals from the site, so it's not just one. There's a population of these things now and they all share the same features. (Peter Brown, in an interview with Scientific American) Second, microcephaly is a rare condition - the probability of finding a fossil which happened to have microcephaly would be very low. If other specimens similar to LB1 in the skull turn up, we can effectively rule out microcephaly as an explanation. Thirdly, Brown's article on floresiensis passed an extensive peer review from 12 other experts before publication. That doesn't prove it's right, but it does give it considerable credibility. In other news about H. floresiensis, Indonesia's most prominent paleoanthropologist Teuku Jacob has stirred up controversy by taking the fossils from the center where they were stored to his own laboratory for study. Jacob had also been previously reported in newspapers as being skeptical that the Hobbit was a new species; he believed that it was a member of the "Australomelanesid race", and only 1,300 to 1,800 years old. In other news about H. floresiensis, Indonesia's most prominent paleoanthropologist Teuku Jacob has stirred up controversy by taking the fossils from the center where they were stored to his own laboratory for study. Jacob had also been previously reported in newspapers as being skeptical that the Hobbit was a new species; he believed that it was a member of the "Australomelanesid race", and only 1,300 to 1,800 years old. And, there was an article in the Dec 5th Sydney Morning Herald (; registration may be required) about some Indonesian villagers who allegedly captured a tiny woman three weeks ago! Sadly she escaped, so we can't determine if she's a living H. floresiensis. I wouldn't bet on it, though. November 11, 2004: Ten years old today! Guess what? This website is 10 years old today. I started this project in 1994 because the archive had no material on human evolution, even though it's a topic of crucial interest to the creation/evolution debate. The first version of this site was not a web page, but a 53K text file available by ftp from the archive, which at the time was an ftp site rather than a website. (ftp stands for File Transfer Protocol, and was a common way of getting files to and from other computers before the web took off). Originally it was just a list of descriptions of species and fossils and a brief rebuttal of some creationist arguments. I converted it into a web page in November 95 and added the first illustrations. The page had grown to 151K by April 96, and in October 96, it was split into multiple web pages. The site has been steadily growing since 1994. At the moment, it consists of 170 web pages totalling about 1.8M in size (a number of them by other contributors), along with about 230 image files. The home page gets about 400 hits per day. This site is now one of the top resources on human evolution on the web, and (I think) the best source of information about creationist arguments on human evolution on or off the web. I've enjoyed creating the site and plan to keep doing it for a while yet. I hope you've enjoyed reading it! October 28, 2004: Homo floresiensis - the Hobbit One of the most astonishing fossils ever found: scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of dwarf human, Homo floresiensis, on the Indonesian island of Flores. Bones have been discovered from about 7 individuals, including an almost complete skull and partial skeleton. They show that these people were only about 1 meter (3ft) tall as adults, with an astonishingly small brain size of 380cc. Compare this with the average modern human brain size of 1350-1400cc; 380cc is about average for a chimp. It is thought that this is a dwarf form that evolved from Homo erectus; it is not uncommon for dwarf species of large mammals to evolve on islands. Even more surprising, these critters made stone tools and used fire. H. floresiensis was at the site by 38,000 years ago and remained there until at least 18,000 years ago. Anecdotal evidence from Indonesia raises the fascinating possibility that they could have survived on Flores up until about 500 years ago, when the Dutch first arrived there. Some good links: * Nature special on Flores Man * Mini Human Species Unearthed, by Scientific American * "Hobbit" Discovered: Tiny Human Ancestor Found in Asia, by National Geographic * Carl Zimmer's commentary on The Loom * Paul Myers' commentary on Pharyngula * John Hawks' weblog commentary Flores was also in the news in 1998, when Mike Morwood (who is also involved with this new find) announced the discovery of archaeological evidence of Homo on the island 840,000 years ago. Because Flores is thought to have always been separated from Java by a deep sea passage, this indicated a hitherto-unsuspected ability of H. erectus to cross sea barriers. This is one of the most important hominid fossil finds ever. For sheer mind-boggling unexpectedness, nothing beats it. Expect Flores to become a very hot spot in human evolution studies in the next few years! (Even more fun will be watching creationists trying to explain it away...) October 11, 2004: Dembski on human origins, again William Dembski of the Discovery Institute has just updated his article on human origins. And, as before, Ian Musgrave has critiqued the article at the Panda's Thumb, Dembski on Human Origins, reprise.

In other news, I was just outside of work and this woman was giving her infant kid a cookie or cracker or some such thing. She handed it to the kid, and suggested to the kid that they say, 'thank you' in return.

Now, it struck me: is it really that good of an idea to just get the kid to say 'thank you' purely as a matter of rote? As in, such that they don't really get the concept of why they're saying it? I'd almost think it best to sit the kid down while you have something that they like. Have them ask you for it, give it to them, then ask, "Now, was that nice of me to give you that? If so, it'd be nice of you to thank me for giving you that." That way, they're not learning to just say the ritualistic 'thank you' after folks do things, but instead learn the notion of being grateful (and leaving it up to them to decide how they want to phrase it).

I think it stems from my annoyance at telemarketers and suchlike who start off with 'How are you today?', but don't pause so you can answer them before they continue on. It's like that bit in Brave New World.

EDIT TO ADD: Or better yet! When the kid does something nice for you, thank them but in different ways. So that way, they'll be more likely to get the gist of why you're thanking them. And after a bit of this, make a point of -not- thanking them for a particular something.. ..then ask them if it would've been better if you had thanked them. Aha! I like that! Hrm.. now I just need a kid to test this theory on. Two, actually, so I can use one as a control.
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