Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Collection of Genetic Anthropology Just So Stories

Irish DNA originated in Middle East and eastern Europe
Tim Radford
The Guardian
28 December 2015

Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe
Haak et al.
11 January 2015

Genome-wide patterns of selection in  230 ancient Eurasians
Mathieson et al.
23 November 2015

Why I am not currently covering ancient DNA studies

Dear Readers,

I've decided, for the time being, to take a break from discussing and analyzing papers in human ancient DNA studies.  The reason for this is that there seems to be little effort to properly establish a baseline for Paleolithic or Mesolithic ancient DNA patterns over geography; certainly not to the granularity where you could think about ecozone specialization, which was most certainly a factor in ancient population variation.  The current proposed scenarios (for example "mass migration" of "red haired" invaders and Irish DNA originated in Middle East and eastern Europe) are juvenile at best.  Many papers currently published repeat the same as yet unsupported scenario that the origin of Neolithic farmers is entirely from the "Middle East" during the Neolithic (with the "Middle East" seeming to vary anywhere between Thessaly and the Southern Levant), followed by Bronze Age "Steppe" warriors from "the Pontic steppe of southern Russia, who knew how to mine for copper and work with gold".  It's all very biblical and neatly Bronze Age Steppe Hypothesis Indo-European Language Theory compatible. These papers are published in PNAS and Nature with evidently little effort to review them critically.  Almost immediately afterward, like a machine, these papers receive heavy media attention over and above all other scientific publication.

Most of the authors publishing these ancient DNA papers all know each other and review each other's work.  It is a small community of the same people.  Through their use of social media, much of the research is discussed online under pseudonyms, with genomics professionals also posting their own work under pseudonyms.  Moreover, these researchers make use of tweeters such as Debby Kennett (her area is geneology, not science) and Maria Arcos-Avila , and forum posts (for instance by geneologists such as Jean Manco, to promote their work.  Shockingly, both Debby Kennett and Maria Arcos-Avila often retweet posts from Razib Khan . . . yes, Razib Khan, pornography aficianodo and apparent race and cognitive psychology expert.

There is a consistent pattern in some of these papers, where skin, hair and eye color seem to be the primary focus.  Given that the research is often funded under the rubric of medical research, it is highly mysterious as to why the funding in these ancient DNA papers have produced so few medically significant results, and have focused so much media attention on skin, hair and eye color.

For these reasons, my current focus is on archaeology, ecozone studies and cultural anthropology, and less on genetic anthropology.

Wishing you a Happy New Year.

Marnie Dunsmore

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Tech Giants That Fell From Grace" And Other Revelations of 2015

Issie Lapowsky

6.  Secret

Back in early 2014 the tech world couldn’t get enough of Secret, the anonymous social networking app that quickly became a hotbed of industry gossip. But by the end of the year, faced by competitors like Whisper and Yik Yak, it seemed Secret was going through something of an identity crisis. In 2015, it took its last breath when founder David Byttow announced that the startup, which had raised $35 million in funding, was shutting down.

His rationale was that anonymity online is “the ultimate double-edged sword, which must be wielded with great respect and care.” In other words, when social networks are anonymous, people are jerks. We might just be better off without yet another tool for trolling each other.

7. Homejoy

In 2015, the on-demand economy got hit hard by worker classification lawsuits arguing that the drivers, cleaners, and personal shoppers that keep all those companies running ought to be classified as employees, not independent contractors. Homejoy, an on-demand cleaning service startup, was among those sued. Unlike richer contemporaries like Uber [backed by Sequoia Capital], Homejoy couldn’t handle the potential liability and shut down in July.

The company’s failure also revealed the challenges on-demand startups face when they try to force growth. In order to expand its customer base, Homejoy offered its services to first-time customers at dirt-cheap prices, making it next to impossible to retain those customers later on.

10. Twitter

It’s been a bittersweet year for Twitter. On the one hand, 2015 saw the return of Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder, as its new CEO, as well as the debut of Moments, a new feature that’s turning out to be a pretty useful way of navigating Twitter’s firehose of information. On the other hand, Dorsey’s return was accompanied by a big round of layoffs. Before that, Twitter was awash in criticism over former CEO Dick Costolo’s failure to produce the user growth that other competitors like Facebook have enjoyed.

In August, Twitter shares dropped below their IPO price, a response to its second quarter earnings report. All the while, the company has struggled to contain the rampant and dangerous abuse that takes place on the platform. We’re not counting Twitter out yet, but Dorsey certainly has a busy year ahead of him in 2016.

Holiday Reading and Shameless Plug for a Darkly Funny Book: Dear Committee Members

Julie Schumacher

pages 3-5

September 4, 2009
Theodore Boti, Chair
Department of English

Dear Ted,

Your memo of August 30 requests that we on the English faculty recommend some luckless colleague for the position of director of graduate studies.  (You may have been surprised to find this position vacant upon your assumption of the chairship last month -- if so, trust me, you will encounter many such surprises here.)

A quick aside, Ted:  god knows what enticements were employed during the heat of summer to persuade you -- a sociologist! -- to accept the position of chair in a department not your own, an academic unit whose reputation for eccentricity and discord has inspired the upper echelon to punish us by withholding favors as if from a six-year-old at a birthday party:  No raises or research funds for you, you ungovernable rascals!  And no fudge before dinner!  Perhaps, as the subject of a sociological study, you will find the problem of our dwindling status intriguing.

To the matter at hand:  though English has traditionally been a largish department, you will find there are very few viable candidates capable of assuming the mantle of DGS.  In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd wager that only 10 percent of the English instruction list will answer your call for nominations.  Why?  First, because more than a third of our faculty now consists of temporary (adjunct) instructors who creep into the building under cover of darkness to teach their graveyard shifts of freshman comp; they are not eligible to vote or to serve.  Second, because the remaining two-thirds of the faculty, bearing the scars of disenfranchisement and long-term abuse, are busy tending to personal grudges like scraps of carrion on which they gnaw in the gloom of their offices.  Long story short:  your options aren't pretty.

After subtracting the names of those who are on leave or close to retirement, and those already serving in the killing fields of administration, you will probably be forced to choose between Franklin Kentrell (NO:  spend five consecutive minutes with him and you will understand why); Jennifer Brown-Wilson (a whipping girl for the theory faction -- already terrorized, she will decline); Albert Tyne (under no circumstances should you enter his office without several days' warning -- more on this later); Donna Lovejoy (poor overworked creature -- I hearby nominate her [anonymously please] with this letter); and me.  You'll soon find that I make myself unpleasant enough to be safe from nomination.

Enfin:  Lovejoy will sag under the additional burden, but she will perform.

Ted, in your memo you referred briefly, also, to the need for faculty forbearance during what we were initially told would be the "remodeling" of the second floor for the benefit of our colleagues in the Economics Department.  I'm not sure that you noticed, but the Econ faculty were, in early August, evacuated from the building -- as if they'd been notificed, sotto voce, of an oncoming plague.  Not so much the faculty in English.  With the exception of a few individuals both fleet of foot and quick-witted enough to claim status as asthmatics, we have been Left Behind, almost biblically, expected to begin our classes and meet with students while bulldozers snarl at the door.  Yesterday afternoon during my Multicultural American Literature class, I watched a wrecking ball swing ing like a hypnotist's watch just past the window.  While I am relieved to know that the economists -- delicate creatures! -- have been safely installed in a wing of the new geology building where their physical comfort and aesthetic needs can be addressed, those of us who remain as castaways here in Willard Hall risk not only deafness but mutation:  as of next week we have been instructed to keep our windows tightly closed due to "particulate matter" -- but my office window (here's the amusing part, Ted) no longer shuts.  One theory here:  the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and, weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us.  Let the academic year begin!

Cordially and with a hearty welcome to the madhouse,

pages 8-9:

September 14, 2009
Ted Boti, Resident Sociologist and Chair
Department of English

Dear Ted:

You've asked me to write a letter seconding the nomination of Franklin Kentrell for Payne's coveted Davidson Chair.  I assume Kentrell is behind this request; no sane person would nominate a man whose only recent publications consist of personal genealogical material and who wears visible sock garters in class -- all he lacks is a white tin basin to resemble a nineteenth-century barber.

But if you want me to endorse his nomination in order to keep him quiet and away from your office (you will find him as persistent and maddening as a fly), you may excerpt the following sentences and affix my name to them:  "Professor Franklin Kentrell has a singular mind and a unique approach to the discipline.  He is sui generis.  The Davidson Chair has never seen his like before."

A word on the call for official, written letters of recommendation, Ted:  I hope for the sake of all concerned you will cut back on these as much as possible.  The LOR has become a rampant absurdity, usurping the place of the quick consultation and two-minute phone call -- not to mention the teaching and research that faculty were supposedly hired to perform.  I haven't published a novel in six years; instead, I fill my departmental hours casting words of praise into the bureaucratic abyss.  On multiple occasions, serving on awards committees, I was actually required to write LORs to myself.

Keeping my temper under wraps for the present,

Friday, December 4, 2015

Blackfoot Expedition to Latitude 32 Degrees North, September 1787

David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in North America
(Link) Amazon
page 370-371

I have already remarked the tribe of the Peeagans [Piikani Blackfoot] have their country along the east foot of the [Rocky] Mountains from the Saskatchewan [River] southward to the Missisourie [Missouri River], and are the frontier people and their enemies on the west side of the Mountains must break through them to make war on their allies, who thus live in security in their rear.  This station has given to this Tribe something of a chivalrous character and their war parties carry on their excursions to a distance scarcely credible in search of their enemies, the Snake [Shoshoni] Indians.  In the year 1787, in the early part of September[,] a party of about two hundred and fifty Warriors under the command of Kootanne Appee went off to war on the [Shoshoni]; they proceeded southward near the east foot of the Mountains and found no natives, they continued further than usual, very unwilling to return without having done something, at length the scouts came in with word that they had seen a long file of Horses and Mules led by Black Men (Spaniards) and not far off.  They were soon ready and formed into one line about three feet from each other, for room to handle their Bows and Shiel[d]s, having but a few guns; the ground was a rough undulating plain, and by favor of the ground approached to near the front of the file before they were discovered, when giving the war whoop, and making a rush on the front of the file, the Spaniards all rode off leaving the loaded Horses and Mules to the war party, each of whom endevoured to make prize of a Horse or Mules.  They were loaded with bags containing a great weight of white stone (Silver) which they quickly threw off the animals on[to] the ground; in doing which the saddle girths were cut, except a few, and then [they] rode off.  I never could learn the number of the animals, those that came to camp at which I resided were about thirty horses and a dozen mules, with a few saddles and brindles.  The Horses were about fourteen hands high[,] finely shaped, and though very tired[,] yet lively, mostly of a dark brown color, head neat and small, ears short and erect, eyes fine and clear, fine manes and tails with black hoofs.  The saddles were larger than our English saddles, the side leather twice as large[,] of thick well tanned leather of a chocolate color with the figures of flowers as if done by a hot iron, the bridles had snaffle bits, heavy and coarse as if made by a blacksmith with only his hammer.  The weight and coarseness of these bits had made the Indians throw most of them away.

The place this war party started from is in about 53 degrees 20 minutes N [latitude], [probably just south of Edmonton, Alberta] and the place where they encountered the Spaniards conveying the silver from the mines is about the latitude of 32 degrees north, a distance of 1500 miles in a direct line.

[At this time, the Spanish mined silver near El Paso, Texas, and in the present day Mexican State of Chihuahau, under Juan Bautista de Anza.]