July 10, 2013

From Roger Lass:

Re: Neanderthals may have talked-even contributed to our language, scholars claim (July 10, 2013): I was rather shocked by the amateurishness, or at least eccentricity, of the contents of your piece today on possible traces of Neanderthal Language in modern languages. It’s true there are some traces of contact, but attributing language in the usual human sense to the common ancestor of H. sapiens and the Neanderthals is impossible, as there is in principle no way of obtaining the comparative data that would support it.

It is normally accepted by mainstream historical linguists (though not be certain eccentric outgroups) that language change is too fast and radical for us to obtain, by standard means of reconstruction, any data from a period that distance. The generally accepted view is that we cannot reconstruct any linguistic substance (words, sounds) beyond an impenetrable wall of 6-10, 000 years. That would get us back to around the invention of agriculture, and nothing very interesting has emerged at that date either.

The article reads like a piece of typical science journalism of the worst kind. Usually you choose to report interesting material; this is why I’m surprised at this piece. It is possible of course that your reporter didn’t read the paper in detail or was not technically equipped to understand it. But its position as given there is close to comical.

Roger Lass
Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Historical and
Comparative Linguistics, University of Cape Town
Honorary Professorial Fellow in English Language
and Linguistics, University of Edinburgh

From Ray Goodman:

Re: Neanderthals may have talked-even contributed to our language, scholars claim (July 10, 2013): I have long believed that it was likely that Neanderthals possessed a spoken language, Brocca’s Region (identified with Speech production) and Weirneke’s Region (identified with Speech Recognition) are well developed in the Neanderthal Cranium and the discovery of the presence of the Hyoid bone in the Neanderthal (which facilitates Speech) argue for a “Speaking” Neanderthal.

From B. Simpson:

Re: Poor people get fewer painkillers from ER docs, study finds (June 26, 2013): I was almost shocked to read this article because it directly addressed my experience in the ER a few years ago. I drove myself to the ER at the Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. late one Friday night due to an tooth abscess which made the side of my face swollen beyond recognition. My molar had broken. After several hours in an ER room and in abject pain, I was seen by a few PA’s. I got a shot into my gum and my gum was lanced. I was given a Tylenol to take home. I asked for stronger painkiller because it was throbbing with pain, I didn’t have access to a Dentist, and it was the Labor Day weekend, nothing opened on that Monday. When I got home on Saturday morning and after picking up penicillin from the Pharmacy, the pain was so intense, I couldn’t see or think straight. My brother purchased a bottle of Rum to numb it which did not help at all. I called the hospital and asked to speak to the Administrator to file a complaint and to ask for pain relief. I was told that the ER does not give out pain medicine due to problems with drug addiction. I never received any relief for my pain during the 4 days.

I was in my late 50’s, never used drugs, but did have an Access card at the time.

It is the most despicable thing that an ER does. How shameful that this country harbors such little regard for people. In this ER arena filled with pain and suffering withholding the one thing that would alleviate misery and extending compassion is sick on the part of the physicians and staff. They should be sued.

From Steven B Kurtz:

Re: Ending poverty, protecting nature go hand in hand: UN report (June 1, 2013): The omission of massive overpopulation as a driver of both environmental devastation and poverty is glaring. The UN has addressed this in many conferences and articles for decades. It is no longer politically incorrect to discuss the population variable unless you are fostering competitive breeding which is overtly stated by several orthodox religious sects amongst all three major monotheistic and patriarchal religions. 
Ample documentation for the above is in my 10 page paper given to The World Congress of the Systems Sciences/ISSS conference in Toronto (2000) See:

From Jeffry J. Smith:

Re: Studies may have overestimated our generosity (June 17, 2013): I was very disappointed in the methodology of the Dictator game. By making the recipients anonymous and unknown, the motivation of the giver is completely discarded. I wouldn’t have given in either version of the game, the original or the Las Vegas version. The reason? How would I know the gift would be well used? To me that is the salient feature of giving--how well will the recipient use the gift given. This is why I give to charities where I know the percentage of my donation that goes to the cause. For example, Gospel for Asia, one of my favorite charities, ensures that 100% of my gifts go for the purpose I wish, whether children’s education or water wells in villages with no hygenic water supply.

Given that the motivation of the giver is ignored NOTHING can be concluded from these psychological studies. It is far better to do a demographic analysis of giving and see who gives what to which charity. Then interview a random sample of the significant demographic segments and find out their motivations in giving.

From T. Wignesan:

Re: Eww! 95% don’t wash hands properly (June 10, 2013): I found your piece on hand-washing quite amusing. I don’t know how it is out there in the States where your research took place, but here in Europe, it’s really a shame. To attempt to wash one’s hands in almost any rest-room entails the use of taps and basins which have already been soiled by users or by cleaners who don’t necessarily take the requisite precautions: most cleaners come from Third World or developing countries where similar facilities simply don’t exist; at least, they didn’t up to quite recently in some places. Cleaners think what “looks” clean or free of “visible” dirt is really clean. They have no idea of what is contamination. Just observe them do the cleaning - I have - and you can see it’s only a means to a livelihood for them. They cannot however be blamed, of course. I’m merely stating a fact.

My point is, even if soap or other cleansing liquid is provided, to have access to them in their containers turns out to be a means of contamination. Even after washing one’s hands, if one turned off the tap with the so-called clean hands, one’s hands will have been contaminated all over again. The same applies to towel arrangements wherever they are provided. To use one’s bare hands to touch door handles and other entrance appliances can also prove to be a rather contaminating task. In fact, those who apparently don’t wash their hands in the rest rooms may eventually be freer of contamination than those who do.

Sorry to be so finicky, but I do think your research in this matter might need re-thinking.

Every good wish.

Dr. T. Wignesan,
ex Chercheur au C. N. R. S. 
94004 Creteil cedex, France

From Don Ledger:

Re: Overeating learned in infancy, study suggests (May 23, 2013): I believe there is some truth to this. I’m 68. My parents were both children of the depression when food was scarce. I constantly heard the remarks, clean off your plate, other kids elsewhere (usually China) don’t have much to eat. I think this was a throwback to when they had little variety of food and were happy to be eating at all. Strangely my father’s side was thin and my mother’s side obese yet my mother is 90 and my father died at 57 from plugged arteries. Myself and my two sisters are overweight. A cycle was begun back then that seems to have flowed through to the grandchildren. For myself I got chubby around 9 years and it went away at 12-13. But after marrying in my early twenties it came back. There are variables but we all seem to take after mom.

From T. C. Gibian:

Re: Already-approved drug tied to longer, healthy life in mice (May 25, 2013): Rapamycin’s effect on the mTOR pathway is well documented. The trouble with this drug is that it has proven somewhat toxic and requires very careful administration. Another well tested drug with the same effect but none of the detrimental side effects is Metformin, also known as Glucophage. This medication is used to reduce blood sugar, but has attested beneficial effects on the mTOR pathway and has demonstrated to reduce the incidence not only of diabetes, but also some types of cancer. This information can be verified by articles in Wikipedia and in Scientific American.