You don’t have to look to hard to find bad science writing. Here at Discoblog, we do our best to chronicle, analyze, and explain the worst of it, from the playing hockey with facts to the over-reliance on questionable studies to the always-popular “slapping pseudo-science on a stereotype and declaring bulletproof validation.” But sometimes an article comes along that’s so egregious, so sloppy, so far from anything resembling actual fact, that even we are astonished.
Case in point: “Shopping is ‘throwback to days of cavewomen,'” a piece by Ben Leach at the U.K. Telegraph. It refers to a study (we use the term loosely) led by David Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan University, which “found” that “skills that were learnt as cavemen and women were now being used in shops.” According to Holmes:
Gatherers sifted the useful from things that offered them no sustenance, warmth or comfort with a skill that would eventually lead to comfortable shopping malls and credit cards. In our evolutionary past, we gathered in caves with fires at the entrance. We repeat this in warm shopping centres where we can flit from store to store without braving the icy winds.
The lead of the news article, found directly below a photo of a Nordic beauty staring lustfully into a shop window (since, naturally, when an article like this refers to the “humans” who love shopping what it really means is “women”), reads as follows:
Shoppers are using instincts they learnt from their Neanderthal ancestors, researchers have found.
So let’s review: According to the study, we learned to spend our days in malls maxing out AmEx cards from our ancient Neanderthal precursors. Except for the fact that Neanderthals are not direct ancestors of modern humans, and the two didn’t have any overlap. So just when did these “instinctual gathering” lessons occur? When we were all riding on the backs of Tyrannosaurs spearing woolly mammoths?
• It’s all in the hands: Did early humans stone the Neanderthals into extinction?
• “Debby was a great bear. She acted like a grumpy old bear a lot of times. It was great. She had a lot of life in her, a lot of feistiness.” The world’s oldest living polar bear is no more.
• The Great Ape Trust is having an auction of ape paintings—that’s paintings done by (non-human) apes—to raise money for conservation. Is it just us, or these look suspiciously like those elephant paintings?
Could humans talk 500,000 years ago? Their ears say… maybe, according to Rolf Quam of the American Natural History Museum in New York.
Quam and his colleagues used fossil remains of a 500,000-year-old human—an ancestor of the Neanderthals, actually—to reconstruct how big its ear canal would have been. He found that the canal would have been surprisingly long, which is important because it would have allowed these ancient humans to hear sounds with frequencies between 2 and 4 kilohertz quite well, a range that includes human speech patterns.