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Human evolution: Caution urged re new views, when plenty of papers “confirmed” and “proved” the old ones

File:Turist den-peschera.jpg
tourists at the Denisova cave/Russian Encyclopedia

Recently, we’ve been hearing a fair bit about the Denisovan early human culture, who were Neanderthal cousins and perhaps modern human ones too. Certainly, genetic analysis has raised some interesting possibilities.

Traveller’s tales abound now (travellers in time,if you like), and at “Gene Expression,” one of the Discover Magazine blogs, we learn from Razib Khan some reasons for caution, in “The unbearable thinness of Denisovan,” that people are “squeezing this orange too much”:

The reality is that a little over a year ago the interpretative framework of science in this area shifted. That was because of the concreteness of ancient DNA, which allowed for a direct comparison, instead of statistical sifting through the genomes of extant populations. Remember, before 2010 there were plenty of papers utilizing subtle statistics and computational muscle which “proved” and “confirmed” an Out-of-Africa with replacement model. The power and precision of these techniques tended to overshadow the reality of a margin of error, and uncertainty in their conclusions. We need to be cautious when the machinery turns itself in the opposite direction, gleaning glimpses of what we now know is likely there …

We generally hear about the errors from competitive theorists, which is a key reason one needs a free market in science.


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