03 June 2010

Daily Digest, 03.06.2010

Today: Arizona tries to "reassign" teachers with accents; the EFF fights predatory copyright suits; Brewster Kahle on the futures of book distribution; "lazy" carrion crows sometimes help out; Moran helps save the world from Lamarckism; a 58,000-year-old ochre production site in South Africa; the perils of the "doll test"; Jewish genes; California's prospective ban of plastic shopping bags; the case for peer review in baseball; a concert for dogs; and, finally, it's Sir Jean-Luc (and about time, too).

Yet more apparent anti-immigrant nuttiness in Arizona: Mark Liberman at Language Log comments (with appropriate skepticism, given the source) on a story at Fox News, "Arizona Seeks to Reassign Heavily Accented Teachers," apparently aimed at teachers with Spanish accents. As one of the comments to Liberman's post points out, speakers of Arizonan English would be considered "heavily accented" in many parts of the world (Oxford, for example).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation continues to fight the good fight against predatory copyright lawsuits that attempt to circumvent the rights of the accused.

Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen summarizes Brewster Kahle's address at the meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing on the possible futures of book distribution.

NatureNews reports on a study just published in PRSB, showing that "lazy" carrion crows (Corvus corone)— non-breeding individuals who do not ordinarily participate in shared responsibilities of caring for young in the social group—will increase their help disproportionately in times of special need (for example, when one member of a breeding pair is injured). These observations may, the authors suggest, help explain why the groups would tolerate free-riders in the first place. The article, Baglione, V. et al. Proc. R. Soc. B, is behind a paywall, and I would have to register just to see the price. But not right now.

Larry Moran at Sandwalk, um (pardon me), eviscerates the study I linked to yesterday about our catfish- turtle-, and crocodile-eating distant ancestors. He makes much clearer than I could the rather Lamarckian hypothesis that the study seems to be putting forward (ancestors ate omega-fatty-acid-rich foods, their brains grew, and thus bigger brains evolved).  I'm sure that's not what they meant to imply, but it sure seems to be the impression given by their own conclusion (which Moran quotes) and the press reports. Guess it's a good thing I didn't shell out that $10....

Jennifer Viegas at Discovery News writes on a newly discovered 58,000-year-old ochre powder production site at Sibudu, South Africa. Ochre is clay tinted in various hues by the presence of mineral oxides. The use of ochre for decoration of bodies, clothing, and artifacts is considered a crucial indicator of the presence of symbolic thought and behavior in humans. The abstract is here; a pdf of the corrected proofs of the article is available from ScienceDirect for $31.50. I wonder how much ochre I can buy for that ....

Peter Frost at Evo and Proud contributes a fascinating post on "The use and abuse of doll tests," a topic on which Frost himself has done research. In doll tests, children of various ages are given a choice between one of two dolls, one typically with a darker skin color than the other. Many studies show children after about the age of 4 typically pick the lighter doll, irrespective of their own skin color, and it is often assumed that these results reflect culturally learned attitudes. Frost makes a persuasive case that this isn't so; he points out that cross-cultural research shows this pattern of choice to be more or less universal, and he suggests the reason more likely has to do with selection for the ready perception of sexual dimorphism in complexion (women, in general and across cultures, are "fairer" than men). Includes a great bibliography.

Nature News describes a newly published study in the American Journal of Human Genetics on the genetic commonalities among various Jewish populations. The researchers conducted a genome-wide analysis, based on single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), longer segments of DNA, and copy-number variant, of 237 individuals from Jewish communities in iran, Iraq, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, and eastern Europe. The study found "strong genetic commonalities" among the communities, although also varying degrees of similarity to surrounding populations:  Italians (for the Europeans) and Druze, Bedouin, and Palestinian for the Middle Easterners. The abstract is here. The pdf is behind a paywall at ScienceDirect, where it costs $31.50.

80beats reports on the prospective ban of plastic shopping bags in California, which has now passed the State Assembly and which Governor Schwarzenegger has promised to sign if it is passed by the state Senate.

Kent Anderson wonders whether baseball ought to have peer review, in light of yesterday's umpirical theft of Armando Galarraga's perfect game.

Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are giving a concert at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday that includes a 20-minute piece designed to be heard only by dogs.  Dogs will be allowed into the concert free.

And now it's Sir Jean-Luc....er, I mean, Sir Patrick.
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