Any regular reader of this blog will know I love collections.
Which is one of the many MANY reasons I’m devastated about the fire at the National Museum of Brazilian.
In summary: the fire burned for six hours and left behind ashes where there had been dinosaur fossils (including the reconstructed Maxakalisaurus topai), the oldest human remains in the Americas, Luiza, and the audio recording and documents of indigenous languages that are otherwise extinct.
We will never be able to replace these items and the knowledge they contain is irreplaceable. Our collective knowledge is worse off as a result.
And with the devastated feeling of the incalculable loss, we’re starting to take stock of how this could have been prevented.
Funding for one (read about how the museum was underfunded for decades). And another is digitalizing the collection.
But for now, I will remain in morning for the knowledge that has gone up in flames.
There is research occurring right now on the cutting-edge intersection of evolutionary biology, experimental archaeology, neuroscience, and linguistics. And it all centers around a surprisingly simple question: where does language come from?
And the latest research argues that it revolves around our ancestors’ hard-earned ability to produce complex tools.
Want to know these two ideas are related? Read more here!
Genetics are having a disruptive influence on humans complex past. For example:
Thirty kilometres north of Stonehenge, stands a less-famous group of Neolithic stones. Established around 3600 BC by early farming communities, the West Kennet long barrow is an earthen mound with five chambers, adorned with giant stone slabs. At first, it served as a tomb for some three dozen men, women and children. But people continued to visit for more than 1,000 years, filling the chambers with relics such as pottery and beads that have been interpreted as tributes to ancestors or gods.
The artefacts offer a view of those visitors and their relationship with the wider world. Changes in pottery styles there sometimes echoed distant trends in continental Europe, such as the appearance of bell-shaped beakers — a connection that signals the arrival of new ideas and people in Britain. But many archaeologists think these material shifts meshed into a generally stable culture that continued to follow its traditions for centuries.
But last year, reports started circulating that seemed to challenge this picture of stability. A study1 analysing genome-wide data from 170 ancient Europeans, including 100 associated with Bell Beaker-style artefacts, suggested that the people who had built the barrow and buried their dead there had all but vanished by 2000 BC. The genetic ancestry of Neolithic Britons, according to the study, was almost entirely displaced. Yet somehow the new arrivals carried on with many of the Britons’ traditions. “That didn’t fit for me,” says Carlin, who has been struggling to reconcile his research with the DNA findings.
So can genetic studies overturn work done by dozens of researchers over decades? Is the promise of ancient DNA too good to be true, or a whole new window into our ancestors?
Read about the ongoing struggle here.
Two scientist in Germany are trying to determine the best way to teach German to nonnative speakers.
As a nonnative speaker currently living in and trying to learn German, this study is directly relevant to me. But more importantly, Germany has had a very open policy on immigration, resulting in millions of refugees from Syria admitted to Germany within the last two years.
Germany is committed to making these people productive members of society, it’s no surprise that they are funding research to find the best way to integrate these new members into the German landscape.
Read about it over at NPR!
A: Their genetic relatedness to you.
A new study out in PNAS this week suggests that you may have even more in common with your friends than you think. In particular, you are more likely to share your sense of smell.
“People often talk about how their friends feel like family. Well, there’s some new research out that suggests there’s more to that than just a feeling. People appear to be more like their friends genetically than they are to strangers, the research found. Some of the genes that friends were most likely to have in common involve smell. “We tend to smell things the same way that our friends do,” Fowler says. The study involved nearly 2,000 adults.”
Read (or listen) to the story at NPR (or check out the original article here for more data and less speculation).
Figure 4 from Tehrani 2013. The result of a network analysis among fairy tales. The large number of well spaced network connections from the East Asian group is suggestive of blending between the other two major groups.
In a pretty interesting example of cross fertilization between scientific disciplines, a recently published paper by Jashmid Tehrani uses phylogenetic methods borrowed from evolutionary biology to construct an “evolutionary tree” of fables related to Little Red Riding Hood.
Tales typical of Riding Hood are found mostly in Europe, but a series of stories sharing some features are found in Africa (involving an Ogre) and East Asia (The Tiger Grandmother). These have sometimes been considered to be part of the Riding Hood group, but there has been debate over whether or not they actually belong to another, closely related group found in Europe and the Middle East known as The Wolf and the Kids.
Almost a year ago today, I wrote my first post here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!. The post, titled ‘The Data on Science and Religion‘, discussed a article in Science that investigated whether analytical thinking promoted religious disbelief. I thought it fitting that my post today would tackle a new article, just published in PLoS One that asks whether analytical thinking also makes you more moral.
The authors of the article, Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich, used a series of four experiments to ask whether there was a link between exposure to science and moral behavior. In the first experiment, the authors examined how previous exposure to scientific thinking influenced perceptions of moral behavior. Participants were asked to read a short story describing a date rape situation and rate how wrong the behavior was on a scale of 1-100, where 100 is considered completely wrong. They were then asked, on a scale of 1-7, how much they ‘believe’ in science.
To avoid confounding past experiences, the following three experiments manipulated the participants recent exposure to scientific thinking by asking them to play a word game that either contained scientific vocabulary (i.e. hypothesis, scientists, etc.) or control vocabulary (i.e. shoes, paper, etc.) and then complete one of three alternative tasks aimed to measure morality. The second study repeated the same moral judgement scenario as their first experiment. The third study asked participants to report the likelihood that they would engage in certain activities in the following month. Those activities fell into two categories: (1) prosocial behaviors that benefit others, such as giving blood and (2) control activities with no benefit to others, such as going to the movies. Finally, the forth study measured actual moral behavior by giving the participants $5 and asking them to split it (in any manner they desired) between themselves and another anonymous participant.
Welcome, readers, to the 57th Carnival of Evolution. This past month, the 204th birthday of Charles Darwin just happened to fall on Mardi Gras, a celebration of life’s exuberant excesses. So put on your most dazzling mask, and join us for an exploration of the endless forms most beautiful to be found in the living, evolving world.
In addition to Darwin Day and Mardi Gras, February is the month of Valentine’s Day. So it’s maybe appropriate that evolutionary bloggers had sex on the brain. Joachim describes new research on the specific forms of natural selection that might have supported the evolution of sexual reproduction. Right here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, Amy Dapper writes about one consequence of sex, among grass gobies: “sneaker” males with specialized sperm. And Jeremy Yoder (yours truly) takes a look at daisies that attract pollinators by fooling them into mating with deceptive flower petals.
Meanwhile, Hannah Waters explains why sociable weaver birds nest together—because it pays to stay home and help their parents.
While most songbird species breed before they even turn a year old, sociable weavers rarely breed before the age of two. Instead, these younger birds help raise other nestlings–their siblings as well as unrelated chicks–by gathering food and maintaining the nest’s fluffy interior chambers and external sticks and grass.
This post is a guest contribution by Amy Dapper, the proprietor of Evolve It!, a blog about (sometimes) cool (mostly) science-y things. Amy is a PhD student at Indiana University studying evolutionary theory.
Religious beliefs, or more likely disbelief, tend to be a hot topic on science blogs, particularly those with a evolutionary bend. However, when these topics come up there is often more opinion than science, which is why I was excited to see an research article in last weeks edition of Science titled ‘Analytical Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief’ . The article, authored by Will M. Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, uses a series of five studies to build a causal link between analytical cognitive processes and religious disbelief. I thought it would be fun to delve into the science behind their audaciously titled article for my guest post here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense.
The authors approach understanding the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief and disbelief using the dual-process theory of human thought. This theory posits that we use two distinct and separate systems for reasoning. The first, creatively termed System 1, is intuitive and produces a rapid response based only on prior knowledge and experience. Previous research has found that individuals who rely more heavily on this intuitive cognitive system are more likely to believe in supernatural entities, and thus tend to have stronger religious beliefs . On the other hand, System 2 is rational and produces a slower response based upon logic and reasoning that, when employed, often overrides the conclusions of System 1. The authors hypothesize that, in contrast to System 1, this analytical cognitive system promotes religious disbelief.
The language of evolution (Darwin, 1859)
This post is a guest contribution by James Winters, the proprietor of Replicated Typo, a group blog about language and evolution. James holds a MSc in the evolution of language and cognition from the University of Edinburgh, and is contemplating going on for a doctorate. If you have an idea for a post, and you’d like to contribute to Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, e-mail Jeremy to inquire.
Just over 140 years ago, Charles Darwin famously discussed the striking parallels between the forces that govern language change and the evolutionary processes underlying species formation:
“The formation of different languages and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously parallel… We find in distinct languages striking homologies due to community of descent, and analogies due to a similar process of formation… We see variability in every tongue, and new words are continually cropping up; but as there is a limit to the powers of memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct” (Darwin, 1871: 78-79).
Darwin recognised, along with several other linguists of the period such as August Schleicher and Mikołaj Kruszewski, that language falls under the remit of evolutionary principles. Since then, there has been a renewed and growing interest in evolutionary (Croft, 2000) and ecological (Mufwene, 2000) theories of language change, with biological, cultural and linguistic forms of evolution being captured by the more general rubric of Complex Adaptive Systems. First coined by Holland (1992), CAS are a subset of nonlinear dynamical systems in that they exhibit emergent properties as a result of multiple, interconnected elements. However, it is the capacity to evolve and adapt that differentiates language and biology from these other systems, with the key concept being their ability to learn: past experiences filter through, or influence, future states of the system due to cumulative amplification dynamic (Deacon, 2010).