Centauri Dreams reports on asteroid P/2016 G1, a world that, after splitting, is now showing signs of a cometary tail.
The Everyday Sociology Blog considers outrage as a sociological phenomenon. What, exactly, does it do? What does it change?
Joe. My. God. reports on a new push for same-sex marriage in Germany, coming from the SPD.
Lawyers, Guns and Money examines the Alabama government’s disinterest in commemorating the Selma march for freedom.
Marginal Revolution looks at Oxford University’s attempt to recruit white British male students.
At the NYRB Daily, Masha Gessen warns against falling too readily into the trap of identifying conspiracies in dealing with Trump.
pollotencheggmaps the distribution of Muslims in Crimea according to the 1897 Russian census.
Savage Minds takes a brief look at ayahuasca, a ritual beverage of Andean indigenous peoples, and looks at how its legality in the United States remains complicated.
Elf Sternberg considers the problems of straight men with sex, and argues they might be especially trapped by a culture that makes it difficult for straight men to consider sex as anything but a birthright and an obligation.
The Volokh Conspiracy considers how the complexities of eminent domain might complicate the US-Mexican border wall.
Window on Eurasia reports on protests in Russia and argues Belarus is on the verge of something.
New York‘s Jesse Fingal has an excellent long read describing how, through diligent work and despite problems internal to the discipline, political science graduate student David Broockman proved that a much-mooted theory was based on fraud. The academy can work better, clearly, but Fingal demonstrates how it can be made to work regardless.
The exposure of one of the biggest scientific frauds in recent memory didn’t start with concerns about normally distributed data, or the test-retest reliability of feelings thermometers, or anonymous Stata output on shady message boards, or any of the other statistically complex details that would make it such a bizarre and explosive scandal. Rather, it started in the most unremarkable way possible: with a graduate student trying to figure out a money issue.
It was September of 2013, and David Broockman (pronounced “brock-man”), then a third-year political-science doctoral student at UC Berkeley, was blown away by some early results published by Michael LaCour, a political-science grad student at UCLA. On the first of the month, LaCour had invited Broockman, who is originally from Austin, Texas, to breakfast during the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. The pair met in a café called Freshii at the Palmer House Hilton, where the conference was taking place, and LaCour showed Broockman some early results on an iPad.
The iPad thing was LaCour’s trademark. “He was sort of famous for taking his results from different studies he was working on, putting them on an iPad, and buttonholing people at the conferences and going over all of the research that he was doing, the different findings he had, and basically not letting the people go until they had an idea of what he was working on,” says Tim Groeling, a communications professor at UCLA, who is listed as one of LaCour’s references on his curriculum vitae. “It was infectious,” continues Groeling. “Really cool stuff was on that iPad.”
The results LaCour showed Broockman were, in fact, very cool, and like everyone else who had come across them, Broockman instantly knew they would be a hit. LaCour’s research involved dispatching canvassers to speak with California voters at their homes. He reported that a brief conversation about marriage equality with a canvasser who revealed that he or she was gay had a big, lasting effect on the voters’ views, as measured by separate online surveys administered before and after the conversation. [. . .]
[. . . B]ack in 2013, the now-26-year-old Broockman, a self-identifying “political science nerd,” was so impressed by LaCour’s study that he wanted to run his own version of it with his own canvassers and his own survey sample. First, the budget-conscious Broockman had to figure out how much such an enterprise might cost. He did some back-of-the-envelope calculations based on what he’d seen on LaCour’s iPad — specifically, that the survey involved about 10,000 respondents who were paid about $100 apiece — and out popped an imposing number: $1 million. That can’t be right, he thought to himself. There’s no way LaCour — no way any grad student, save one who’s independently wealthy and self-funded — could possibly run a study that cost so much. He sent out a Request for Proposal to a bunch of polling firms, describing the survey he wanted to run and asking how much it would cost. Most of them said that they couldn’t pull off that sort of study at all, and definitely not for a cost that fell within a graduate researcher’s budget. It didn’t make sense. What was LaCour’s secret?
At Language Log, Victor Mair comments on claims that Mandarin is “weirder” than Cantonese, and suggests that Indian-Americans have advantages over Chinese-Americans in spelling bees owing to the complexity of memorization with Chinese characters.
Bag News Notes profiles a now-vanished New York Times photo essay, one detailing children residing as restaveks with Haitian families who are–or are not?–servants.
Centauri Dreams considers how the New Horizons probe might detect subsurface oceans on Pluto.
Daniel Drezner thinks that applying bad analogies to contemporary international relationships can unduly prejudice the contemporary world, and wonders if the impending construction of the world’s tallest building in China signals the end of the Chinese boom.
Eastern Approaches notes the continued political strike in Poland over in-vitro fertilization.
Geocurrents’ Asya Pereltsvaig profiles the deportation of Soviet Koreans from their Pacific homeland to Central Asia in the late 1930s, and notes echoes of this deportation in the music of Soviet Korean singer-songwriters.
I first learned of the latest claim of the detection of ancient linguistic relationships via Dienekes’ blog. The affair was summarized at The Economist‘s Johnson blog.
The Washington Post reports today that linguists have discovered a handful of “ultraconserved” words, some 15,000 years old. These are said to include “hand”, “give”, “bark” and “ash”. The paper is “Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia,” by Mark Pagela, Quentin D. Atkinson, Andreea S. Calude, and Andrew Meade in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Post buried the real news, though: what the new paper does is claim this as evidence that 7 modern language families, not yet conclusively shown to be related, are part of an Ur-family called proto-Eurasiatic. By their theory, the Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Inuit-Yupik, Dravidian, Chukchi-Kamchatkan and Kartvelian languages all share a common ancestor. The descendants of these proto-languages are spoken in a vast territory covering most of Eurasia including the Indian subcontinent today.
What the Post doesn’t even brush on is how controversial this is likely to be. Historical linguists have not just established the existence of proto-families. They have elaborately reconstructed them. By contrast, the authors of the latest PNAS paper have, apparently, found just 23 words they think are shared among at least four of the seven families in the putative Eurasiatic. Clever statistical analysis can make a stab at answering how likely this is to be due to chance. But such analysis after 150 centuries of language change can hardly give certainty.
This has been widely criticized, and to the best of my layman’s knowledge, accurately. See the comments in one Language Hat post and linking to a general criticism of the project at Language Log, one which makes the point that reconstructions building on reconstructions are remarkable. Geocurrents’ Asya Pereltsvaig and Martin Lewis criticized the project on linguistic and geographic grounds. So, alas, this effort is almost certainly misguided.
(Why alas? I suspect that much of the appeal of these projects lies in their claim to have recovered a bit of humanity’s deep history, the preliterate past far beyond plausible reconstruction. Reclaiming a bit of the past through sheer ingenuity is an appealing project.)