Friday 1 November 2013

AIME Contribution #1: "Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray" [REF]

I've posted the following Contribution on the AIME website.  It draws on a recent news story.
A fascinating news story from the world of palaeoanthropology: the discovery of a skull that could, after further extensions of the referential chain, fundamentally transform the story of early human evolution. 
Here is the key quote: "Everything that lived at the time of the Dmanisi was probably just Homo erectus," said Prof Zollikofer. "We are not saying that palaeoanthropologists did things wrong in Africa, but they didn't have the reference we have. Part of the community will like it, but for another part it will be shocking news.""

Unwittingly, perhaps, but the researcher articulates the [ref] mode in its scientific form beautifully. The discovery will unleash deeply interested passions, both positive and negative! There will be anger, indignation, argumentation! But colleagues and predecessors are not portrayed as dopes who have no 'access to reality' or who are 'wallowing in a world of illusions'  they simply 'didn't have the same reference' that these researchers presently do.
I posted it in relation to this section on page 107 of AIME:
Here, too, this is very ordinary business: delicately placing a specimen brought back from an archaeological dig in a drawer lined with cotton is “putting into form,” since the drawer is marked by a label with a number that will make it possible to categorize the specimen, and the white cotton lining makes the specimen’s shape more visible (it was hard to make out when it was only a brown spot on brown soil). The drawer has its “tails” side—it takes in the fossil—and its “heads” side—the fossil receives a label and reveals its outlines more readily. Something like an ideography. A minuscule transition, to be sure, but indispensable in the long series of transformations that permit, in the end, perhaps, if the paleontologist is lucky, the reinterpretation of the fossil.
Does this qualify as a Contribution rather than a mere comment? I hope so. It is a small Contribution, for sure, but it is a nice example that fleshes out [ref] to some degree and demonstrates that, in practice, scientists do not usually refer to Science in order to win arguments.