Friday, March 15, 2013

Ultra-Orthodox Big Losers in New Israeli Coalition. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Ultra-Orthodox Big Losers in New Coalition. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, March 13, 2013.

MOOCs and Historical Research. By John McNeill.

MOOCs and Historical Research. By John McNeill. Perspectives on History, Vol. 51, No. 3 (March 2013). Also find it here.

History à la MOOC. By Jeremy Adelman. Perspectives on History, Vol. 51, No. 3 (March 2013). Also find it here.

The Professors’ Big Stage. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, March 5, 2013.

The End of the University as We Know It. By Nathan Harden. The American Interest, January/February 2013.

Neanderthals Doomed by Vision-Centered Brains.

Neanderthals Doomed by Vision-Centered Brains. By Tia Ghose. LiveScience, March 12, 2013. Also at Yahoo News, The Huffington Post.

New insights into differences in brain organization between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. By Eiluned Pearce, Chris Stringer, and R. I. M. Dunbar. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Vol. 280, No. 1758 (May 7, 2013), published online March 13, 2013. PDF. Also find it here.

Neanderthals’ large eyes “caused their demise.” By Pallab Ghosh. BBC News, March 12, 2013. Chris Stringer video here.

Return of the Neanderthals. By Virginia Hughes. National Geographic News, March 6, 2013.

Neanderthal attitude to socializing may have caused downfall. AFP. The Sydney Morning Herald, March 14, 2013.

Bright Eyes. By Clive Finlayson. Clive Finlayson’s Human Evolution Blog, June 14, 2013.

Neanderthal brains focussed on vision and movement leaving less room for social networking. The Royal Society, March 13, 2013.

Royal Society News Release:

Although Neanderthals’ brains were similar in size to their contemporary modern human counterparts, fresh analysis of fossil data suggests that their brain structure was rather different. Results imply that larger areas of the Neanderthal brain, compared to the modern human brain, were given over to vision and movement and this left less room for the higher level thinking required to form large social groups.

Professor Robin Dunbar and Eiluned Pearce at the University of Oxford and Professor Chris Stringer FRS at the Natural History Museum looked at data from 27,000–75,000-year-old fossils, mostly from Europe and the Near East. They compared the skulls of 32 anatomically modern humans and 13 Neanderthals to examine brain size and organisation. In a subset of these fossils, they found that Neanderthals had significantly larger eye sockets, and therefore eyes, than modern humans.

The researchers calculated the standard size of fossil brains for body mass and visual processing requirements. Once the differences in body and visual system size are taken into account, the researchers were able to compare how much of the brain was left over for other cognitive functions.

Previous research by Dunbar and Pearce shows that modern humans living at higher latitudes evolved bigger vision areas in the brain to cope with the low light levels. This latest study builds on that research, suggesting that Neanderthals probably had larger eyes than contemporary humans because they evolved in Europe, whereas contemporary humans had only recently emerged from lower latitude Africa.

“Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes and also have bigger bodies than modern humans, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking,” explains lead author Eiluned Pearce, anthropologist at the University of Oxford.

“Smaller social groups might have made Neanderthals less able to cope with the difficulties of their harsh Eurasian environments because they would have had fewer friends to help them out in times of need. Overall, differences in brain organisation and social cognition may go a long way towards explaining why Neanderthals went extinct whereas modern humans survived.”

“The large brains of Neanderthals have been a source of debate from the time of the first fossil discoveries of this group, but getting any real idea of the ‘quality’ of their brains has been very problematic,” says Professor Chris Stringer FRS, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum and co-author on the paper. “Hence discussion has centred on their material culture and supposed way of life as indirect signs of the level of complexity of their brains in comparison with ours.

“Our study provides a more direct approach by estimating how much of their brain was allocated to cognitive functions, including the regulation of social group size; a smaller size for the latter would have had implications for their level of social complexity and their ability to create, conserve and build on innovations.”

Professor Robin Dunbar observes: “Having less brain available to manage the social world has profound implications for the Neanderthals’ ability to maintain extended trading networks, and are likely also to have resulted in less well developed material culture – which, between them, may have left them more exposed than modern humans when facing the ecological challenges of the Ice Ages.”

The relationship between absolute brain size and higher cognitive abilities has long been controversial, and this new study could explain why despite similar brain size, Neanderthal culture appears less developed than that of early modern humans, for example in relation to symbolism, ornamentation and art.

Reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman. Joe McNally/National Geographic.

Allen West’s Speech at CPAC 2013.

CPAC 2013: Lt. Col. Allen West. The ACU, March 14, 2013. YouTube. Also at The Right Scoop, Fox News.

Allen West at CPAC: “Deeds, Not Words, Will Paint This Country Red.” By John Hayward. Human Events, March 14, 2013.

Who Speaks for the GOP Base? By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, March 14, 2013.

CPAC 2013: US Senator Tim Scott. The ACU, March 14, 2013. YouTube.

CPAC 2013 Playlist. The ACU. YouTube.