Tag Archives: John Hawks

Neanderthal-human Hybrids

Paul Mason and Robert Short have an article out called Neanderthal-human hybrids (I wonder what that’s about?). Here is the abstract:

Evidence from studies of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA extracted from Neanderthal fossils and humans points to fascinating hypotheses concerning the types of interbreeding that occurred between these two species. Humans and Neanderthals share a small percentage of nuclear DNA. However, humans and Neanderthals do not possess the same mito­chondrial DNA. In mammals, mitochondrial DNA is exclusively maternally inherited. Taking into account an understanding of interspecific hybridity, the available data leads to the hypothesis that only male Neanderthals were able to mate with female humans. If Haldane’s Law applied to the progeny of Neanderthals and humans, then female hybrids would survive, but male hybrids would be absent, rare, or sterile. Interbreeding between male Neanderthals and female humans, as the only possible scenario, accounts for the presence of Neanderthal nuclear DNA, the scarcity of Neanderthal Y-linked genes, and the lack of mitochondrial DNA in modern human populations.

Paul Mason previously wrote about the topic over at Neuroanthroplogy, so I really don’t have much more to say on the topic, other than that I’ll get around to reading it over the next couple of days. I’m curious to see if the usual suspects in the genetics (Razib Khan), anthropological (Dienekes) and evolutionary (John Hawks) communities offer some food for thought on the topic.

For me, I’m actually more interested in Mason’s recent work on degeneracyBut that’s for a later post ;-)

Poster Venn Diagram

Last week I presented an academic poster over at Edinburgh. Even though I’d argue it was reasonably successful, getting lots of good feedback and some useful recommendations, I still think it could have benefited from being trimmed down to highlight the main points. I’ve uploaded it to Scribd so you can see for yourself:
Phoneme Demography Poster

Since presenting I’ve come across this insanely useful poster Venn Diagram (H/T: John Hawks):

Now try and spot which aspects I didn’t cater for in my poster (hint: direct your eyes toward the right).

Some Links #15: Empires of the Word & anti-Babel

Empires of the Word & anti-Babel. It’s a few days old now but I’ve only just had time to read it. Anyway, check out Razib’s review of Empires of the Word: A Language History of the world. Lots of information for budding historical linguists and those intrigued by language spread and extinction. Particularly relevant is the following paragraph:

As I indicated above Empires of the Word is rather thin on robust generalizations. But one point which the author mentions repeatedly is that the rise and fall of languages of great expanse and utility is the norm, not the exception. In particular, Nicholas Ostler takes time out to emphasize that languages which spread via trade often do not have long term staying power. Portuguese, Aramaic, Punic and Sogdian would fall into this category (the later success of Portuguese was a matter of rice and empire in Brazil). It seems that mercantile communities are too ephemeral, that successive historical shocks inevitably result in their decline when there isn’t a peasant demographic reservoir or imperial power which imposes it by fiat. Even those languages which eventually spread beyond traders and gain cultural and political cachet may fall from grace. Greek is the best case of this. It was the dominant language of the Roman East, and spoken as far as modern Pakistan, and studied in Dark Age Ireland. By the early modern period it was a strange and foreign language in the West, and with the rise of Islam in the east it lost its cultural glamor, and even those Christians in Arab lands who were Melkite, Greek Orthodox who adhered to the theological position of Constantinople, became Arab in speech and identity (in greater Syria the Greek Orthodox have been instrumental in the formulation of Arab nationalism).

Opening a bibliography database for human evolution. Again, it’s been a few days since this was posted, but I’d advise anyone interested in human evolution visit John Hawks recently announced database. The bibliography section also has an RSS feed which provides a chronological list (newest first).

In which I apply for a job as a homeopath… Dave over at Anomalous Disaster has a great little post on him applying for a position at NHS Tayside for a homeopathic specialist. This is from the very same health board who recently brought us the sacking of 500 staff. So Dave decided to apply, which, at a cushy £68,000 salary, is definitely a job worth pursuing — after all, it can’t be that hard to dispense magic beans and provide a pseudo-scientific air of authority. Here is part of his letter of application:

The original research that I have published means that I am familiar with the body of published work on homeopathy, and the many meta-analyses and systematic reviews conducted on it. The fact that these conclude that homeopathy is no more effective than a similarly administered placebo will not bother me whilst I am taking advantage of some of the excellent salmon fishing to be found in the Tayside region. Indeed, given the fact the position only calls for the successful applicant to attend two sessions per week, I should imagine I would have plenty of time to indulge in a bit of fishing.

Click here to apply.

Selfish Sounds: Darwinism in linguistics. A brief(ish) article on the work of historical linguist, Nikolaus Ritt, and how words and sounds compete for the purpose of being replicated. Specifically, it looks at how the sound shapes of English words have gradually evolved:

Good examples of such phenomena are sets of changes which are obviously directed but unfold over time spans that are impossible to even survey by individual speakers. They have come to be known as ‘drifts’. A case of such a drift seems to have affected the sound shapes of English words (or better: lexical morphemes, i.e. the smallest linguistic units that carry meaning). Over time their shapes seem to have gradually evolved in a direction where they came to fit better into the rhythmical patterning that characterises English speech. “For instance, vowels in long words tended to be shortened over time, while vowels in short words tended to be lengthened. Thus, the rhythmic units they established became more uniform”, Nikolaus Ritt explains.

[...] From the evolutionary perspective this kind of development is best understood if one regards rhythm as an environmental constant in the linguistic world in which words and the sounds they are made up of have to survive and replicate. Because of the constant environmental pressure which rhythm exerts on them, the sound shapes of English words have gradually changed to become better adapted to the rhythmically structured utterances through which they get expressed and transmitted.

Some Links #7

Deconstructing Chomsky — Rewriting the innate rules of grammar. Andrew Caines over at the Naked Scientist has a good, layman’s article on Chomsky’s conception of UG and Dan Everett’s recent book Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. It’s quite a good introduction for anyone who is open to the possibility that  psycholinguistics doesn’t end with Chomsky (or Pinker for that matter).

New developments in AI. An in-depth article on artificial intelligence over at .CSV. I’m only half-way through the article, but I thought it was worth mention as, the first half at least, is pretty good. H/T: Mind Hacks.

Many English Speakers cannot understand basic grammar. Apparently, “Research into grammar by academics at Northumbria University suggests that a significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences”. Language Log and John Hawks have both picked up on the story. Once the paper is released I’ll probably write an in-depth post at GNXP.

Birth Months of World Cup Players. A short, but interesting, post over at GNXP debunking the relevance of your birth month in regards to sporting achievement. I never thought there was any controversy over the issue… But it turns out I was wrong.

Mathematical Formula Predicts Clear Favorite for FIFA World Cup. Keeping with the football theme, and apparently this formula predicts a Spanish victory. The psychic Octopus appears to think so too. I disagree. Go Netherlands!

How many Zombies do you know? Applied Statistics links to yet another Zombie-inspired study.

Dr Evan Harris. Not a link to a particular article, but it’s just nice to see Dr Evan Harris back writing his blog after being defeated in the recent UK elections.

PepsiCo has been expelled. For those of you who don’t know what this headline’s about, don’t worry, it was all just a very bad dream.

Some Links #6: We are all Keynesians now. Yeah, but which type?

If you think economic cuts are necessary, you’re being fooled. Martyn Winters (known to me as dad) writes about Joseph Stiglitz’s thoughts on George Osborne’s attempts to reduce the deficit:

You may have heard of Professor Joseph Stiglitz – he’s the Nobel laureate economist who correctly predicted the global crash. He’s distinctly unimpressed with Osbourne’s budget. This, he predicts, will make Britain’s recovery from recession longer, slower and harder than it needs to be. The rise in VAT could even tip us into a double-dip recession. He took time to offer George Osbourne a bit of advice – which will probably go unheeded, because Osbourne’s objectives aren’t necessarily to improve the economy. They are an ideological attack on the state, with the intention of shrinking it by forty percent.

The basis for this is part Keynesian, and has been echoed by other commentators such as Johann Hari, in that we must spend our way out of economic woes. Now I must admit I’m not too fond of how Osborne is going about reducing deficit (raising VAT… huh?), but, for reasons that’ll become apparent below, I do think we need to tackle the deficit.

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Reading Round Up

Here’s some stuff I’ve been reading over the last month or so:

Okay, so that brings you up to date with my reading from May through to July. Next round up will cover August. How fascinating :-/

How do biology and culture interact?

In the year of Darwin, I’m not too surprised at the number of articles being published on the interactions between cultural change and biological evolution — this synthesis, if achieved, will certainly be a crucial step in explaining how humans evolved. Still, it’s unlikely we’re going to see the Darwin of culture in 2009, given we’re still disputing some of the fundamentals surrounding these two modes of evolution. One of these key arguments is whether or not culture inhibits biological evolution. That we’re seeing accelerated changes in the human genome seems to suggest (for some) that culture is one of these evolutionary selection pressures, as John Hawks explains:
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Neanderthal Genome Published

…Well, 60% of the genome at least. Not much has been said yet in regards to the nitty gritty aspects of Svante and colleagues’ findings. No doubt John Hawks and many others will offer their own perspectives over the next couple of days. If you’re interested in the immediate gist then here’s a link to the press release. Also, here is a quote from the BBC offering a succinct summary:
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Neanderthal genome unveiling to coincide with Darwin's birthday

February 12th — keep this date in mind and prepare your browser on automatic refresh because the Neanderthal genome is to be unveiled. And just to make it extra special, the date on which we’ll dip into the three billion base pairs of our extinct relative is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin‘s birth. Here’s a little extract from the Nature article just to peak your interest:

Comparisons with the human genome may uncover evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans, the genomes of which overlap by more than 99%. They certainly had enough time for fraternization — Homo sapiens emerged as a separate species by about 400,000 years ago, and Neanderthals became extinct just 30,000 years ago. Their last common ancestor lived about 660,000 years ago, give or take 140,000 years.

I can’t think why we wouldn’t have interbred with Neanderthals. Language of course is one possible reason, acting as a symbolic marker of group boundaries to such an extent that even cultural differences within humans would minimise gene flow (assuming language, or even a protolanguage, was around then). That said, even contemporary humans are quite willing to fuck goats (and god knows what else). So why not the Neanderthals?

N.B. If you’re not familiar with they dynamics surrounding the possibility of Neanderthals having contributed some genes to modern humans, then I strongly suggest you read John Hawks’ Neanderthal FAQ. Also, check out his sections on adaptive introgression.