Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New DNA analysis provokes suprise, opens questions

One of the conceits of science is that it is an ever improving journey towards "The Truth™" and that we've come a long way and know a lot of stuff.  Sadly, the credibility of the science industry has taken quite a beating in the news lately.  One article I read suggested that only 6% of experiments that were the basis of our pharmaceutical industry were repeatable (with another paper by another agency coming to similar, although not identical conclusions.)  Controversy after controversy has plagued climate science, and now the consensus is that anthropogenic global warming is not real--although that's merely a footnote; consensus is not science.  In fact, that methodology is a big part of the problem (that and the politicization of certain sciences.)  Peter Higgs (of Higgs-boson fame) says that in today's environment, he never would have been able to propose the Higgs particle.  He never would have even been able to think of it, much less get it published, in the professional climate that exists today.  Nature even published an experiment that highlighted the ease with which fraudulent (to say nothing of sincere yet shoddy and wrong) scientific papers can be published. 

This means, of course, that models, theories, and years--decades, even--of work can be built on assumptions that turn out to be faulty and flawed.  In which case, our science has done nothing to bring us closer to The Truth™, and in fact has led us away from it on a chase after a red herring.  This can be a traumatic event for scientists, who continue to try and prop up and explain models that really no longer fit the data.  One would think that eventually The Truth™ will win out, but it is often not so sure.  A great example of this is the spectacular and somewhat embarrasing failure of the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) team, as well as the XENON-100 team, to detect any sign whatsoever of the supposedly ubiquitous dark matter.

And yet, astronomers will continue to insist that dark matter, and dark energy, must exist, even though to an impartial observer with no horse in that race, it certainly appears that dark matter is merely a mathematical fudge factor that allows equations to balance rather than a real property of our universe.  And if it requires a mathematical fudge factor to cause our equations to balance, that certainly calls into question the validity of those equations, and the models on which they are based.

It is at this point that one usually pulls out the credentials card; citing the fact that the person making the criticism is not part of the secular priesthood of Scientists™ and therefore unqualified to point out criticisms that anyone can readily see.  The same thing happens in climate science, when climate scientists insist that in spite of all the record low temperatures, the 15+ years of no warming, and the numerous allegations of fraud and bad science which have propped up the global warming paradigm, that global warming is still very real, and a consensus of scientists say so (in spite of the fact that these scientists are not necessarily climate scientists, and in spite of the latest polls of climate scientists who affirm that there is in fact a consensus that anthropogenic global warming does not exist.)  The same was shown in the contempt by Egyptologists for Robert Schoch's water erosion data on the Great Sphinx of Giza--rather than address his arguments, they retreat back into their existing models and say that there is no room in their models for this data, no matter how good it may or may not be, it can't possibly be true, because it doesn't fit their model.

This, of course, is not science.  It's the absense of science.  It's dogma.  Models don't precede data, data precedes models.  If data exists that contradicts the establishment model, and the data is good data that can't be dismissed as fraudulent or mistaken, then the model needs to change to accomodate it.  If the model is completely thrown out, and an entirely new model needs to replace it, then so be it.  That's science.

Anyway, there's been a lot of talk about how DNA evidence is throwing off all kinds of archeological, and even paleontological, models.  One of the latest is that modern human DNA showed up some 4 times earlier than it was supposed to, throwing all kinds of paleontological models about the spread and development of early humans into a mess.  Another one is this article which throws similar disarray into our models of the spread of people into North America.

This one is of particular interest to me, because I've long thought that our models of the settlement of the Americas was overly simplistic and inherently unlikely--in spite of the scientific "consensus" around it, which is taught in schools and in textbooks around the country.  With the appearance of the Kennewick man, the Spirit Cave mummy, the Solutrean hypothesis, and many other findings that seemed to stand in contradiction to the dogmatic model of a monolithic Clovis migration from Berengia as the sole ancestry of the pre-Columbian settlement of the Americas.

The article linked attempts to link this European DNA to Kennewick man, which is absurd, as it ignores the fact that Kennewick man is not European, and appears to be most similar to the Jōmon people, or other Asian populations that predate the current east Asians--proto-Ainu or Polynesians, for instance.  Other articles on the subject, that have popped up, have Europeans migrating to the Lake Baikal area, and from there staging migrations into North America--after marrying a bunch of local girls first, I presume.

But the reality is, this data doesn't solve anything; it in fact does quite the opposite.  It further muddies the waters.  It criticizes the existing model, without really offering anything in return, other than perhaps circumstantial support to other "fringe" theories, such as the Solutrean hypothesis.  But accepting them based on this data doesn't really give us a clearer picture of the settlement model of the Americas.  It just highlights the need for a revolution in our existing archeological models to one that comfortably encompasses all of the available data.

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