The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Clovis not the original, claim academics

In our on-going series, "Everything you they know is wrong," the notion that the Clovis people were the first humans in North America has been hit with a couple of separate blows, at least one of which is probably going to be fatal.

In this article, excepted from Nature, large-scale work with DNA shows that there were at least three separate migrations from Asia, not the one big one that Clovis-first postulates.

Much more to the point, though, is this piece, in which DNA again, this time from Paisley Caves in Oregon, appears to show that there was a pre-13,000 year old culture that is also pre-Clovis. The authors of a piece in Science are taking a somewhat cranky line about it all, since they apparently got beaten up severely by the Clovis cult types (read: people whose reputations and bodies of research have been based on the Clovis-first assumption.)

If you want the quick cocktail-party sound bite, you can just say, "Well, of course Paisley Caves stratigraphy demonstrates that the Western Stemmed tradition pre-dates Clovis ... oh, you hadn't heard? Really?"

Anyway, poke around in the articles if you care for this sort of thing, but I won't be offended if you don't. As always, I'm fascinated by the resistance to change exhibited by people who are supposed to be trained to read the data and react with what Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein character called "quiet dignity and grace."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Old news but with an inevitable twist

So by now you've heard that the Higgs boson or something that looks like it to particle physicists has been seen, flying by the window at the LHC. I was so relieved, personally, since now we'll be able to ... um, something or other. The standard model of the universe doesn't need to be rewickered or the shingles on Einstein aren't curling or something like that. But let's be clear about all this: a speculative view of how things are and came to be, realized mostly in abstruse mathematics, has had one of its more wild-ass conjectures initially verified. Years of quibbling remain, metric tonnes of chalk dust (more likely, white board marker fall out, these days,) and oceans of misunderstood media hooey (such as calling the Higgs "the God particle," a term physicists almost universally hate) lie ahead of us before anything you or I can experience will result.

But wait! One group, outside the common run of quantum-maddened theorists, does feel passionately about all this. No, it's not the crew of idiots over here who thought starting up the Large Hadron Collider would create black holes and end the universe. It's not the GOP, since no one has so far managed to find a way to blame quantum mechanics on Obama. No, it's those fun-loving Islamists, who "scorn" the only Nobel laureate Pakistan has yet produced, because he's a ... Christian? No. An atheist? Sadly, no. It's because he was an unpopular kind of Muslim. Who cares that he actually predicted the existence of the Higgs? That he was honored by the thinking part of the world for his achievements? He's a stinkin' heretic (or was; he died some time back.) See, Pakistan is largely Sunni, it turns out, and our guy, Adbus Salam, wasn't even a Shia, he was an Ahmadi. And the government of Pakistan has been at some pains to erase this particular sect from the canon of folks who can even call themselves "Muslim."

Still, Pakistan remains an important US ally, and acts as a bulwark against ... what, again?