Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Culture keeps us from going crazy and killing everybody

I just read that on an exam I am trying to grade. Hmmmmm.....I wish culture was working better for us. On second thought, given these exams, I wish it would stop working and someone would put me out of my misery.

Back at it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

De-evolution and Evolutionary Debate

Don't know about you but I am scheduled to cover Evolution in my General Anthropology (ANTH 2346) come this Tuesday. Not looking forward to it. 39% of Americans don't "believe" in it.

And this just in from the Daily Telegraph who is, once again, wallowing in their sense of British superiority about the rampant stupidity of their colonial backwaters. Seems the critically-acclaimed film about the life of Charles Darwin, Creation is "too controversial for religious America".

Here is the trailer:

Can't see the objection, it seems to have the proper degree of histrionics and angst. Perhaps if they ripped off some of those bodices, Americans would be more comfortable with the whole issue. *sigh*

Doing my part, as the new Honors Coordinator on campus, I have signed us up for the webcast lectures being billed as The Darwin 150 Project. Its easiest to get at them through their Facebook page. The first lecture in the series is almost sold out:

"The World Before Darwin" - Lecture 1 of "Origin of Species" 150th Anniversary Lecture Series - at Harvard University
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 from 8:00 PM - 9:30 PM (ET)

I am glad I am already signed up, fired up, and ready to go. Sign up here. If you still can.

Nat Geo has a blog up about the Facebook evopalooza. Heck, go to their Facebook page and look, I can't begin to link up all the coverage they are getting.

Has everyone seen the way-cool Evolution of Evolution extravaganza at the Nation Science Foundation? Check it out here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Those Pyramid-Building Aliens

I was going to blog about the responses of our local school districts, here in the great state of Texas, to that powerful socialist force that is our President and his nefarious plan to hypnotize schoolchildren to do his bidding but it just makes me sick to my stomach.

Instead, I have been working on those pesky aliens. This semester I cried Uncle and dealt with it in a full, frontal assault.

First know thy enemy. This blog, Ancient Cosmonauts, is a lot of fun for exploring the "pyramid-building aliens" meme. This week in my Archy class, I pulled it right up in class and we had at it. A good number laughed at the pictures. They are the Stargate visualizations they grew up with, after all. Staying with the science of movies, the blog author includes this sentiment (I hesitate to call it an argument):

Do you really think this wonderful pyramid was built by the allegedly savages depicted in Apocalypto or is it more reasonable the line of Alien vs Predator?

Fun with bad archaeology time.

We played the embedded You Tube video and critiqued it, observing, for example, the legitimacy established by the "documentary narrator" voice.

Now, that was a fun one.... but here is the kind of thing you are really up against. A site with the name of Edutube with a .org address promoting this kind of stuff.

I guess most of us begin to critique this stuff from the whole Occam's Razor perspective:
As this site by the Chemical Heritage Foundation does. But I have grown to find that approach the tiniest of toe dips into the waters of where the corrective needs to go. You are, really, only using the parsimony perspective to get you to the Myths and Moundbuilders "it was the locals, stupid" meme. The Chemical Heritage Foundation link does it with the look at how cool those ancient, indigenous people were, they discovered the magical antibiotic properties of honey. Its a bit patronizing and simplistic but it is meant for school kids, after all.

Penn State's Donald Redford has a demystified explanation here which conforms, nicely, to the requirements of parsimony. It does, however, lack the sex appeal of aliens. Or if you just want some visual support without wasting the time for a whole documentary, some visualizations from the Nova documentary This Old Pyramid, are online courtesy of Creighton University here.

If you want to add greater complexity and sex appeal (if not, necessarily, undisputed accuracy), you can get into the whole ramp location debate (summarized in Archaeology magazine in 2007) in the context of Khufu and the, definitely, non-parsimonious work of Jean-Pierre Houdin for which there is a way cool 5 minute Nat Geo clip up at You Tube here.

These brief snippets aren't meant to be comprehensive. Feel free to add. Where is Bob? He could do a better job at this.

And, if all else fails, you can always give up and buy the t-shirt. Although, I prefer "Stonehenge was an inside job".

Guest Blogger, Bob Muckle, sent me the following by email. It was too long to fit on Twitter. I am going to post it up quick and since I am out late tomorrow, he won't catch me to take it down for awhile, in case he didn't intend to share. Bob is the slanty print-attach no meaning to that.

I don't routinely schedule a discussion on the pyramids, but sometimes it does come up. Like you I tackle it on a number of fronts. When I do tackle it, I usually use the framework of science to assess the explanations/hypothesis. I start with the ol' test of testablility. As in..."if you can't test it, throw it (the hypothesis/explanation) out." It is simply impossible to test for the fact that aliens built it. "How would you test for aliens?" I ask my students. They usually come up with a list of things, but I then remind them that just because you may find some previously unknown material or some such thing, one cannot make the claim that it is evidence of aliens.'

I also tackle it on the basis of compatability. That the Egyptians built the pyramids is compatabible with what we know of Egyptian civilization in general, and the evolution of funery monuments in particular. We can see the evolution in size, shape, and engineering of pryamide building.

I also use Occam's Razor.

And I remind students that it is bad science to accept one hypothesis by rejecting the others. This is what pyramidiots and others who use the "alien explanations" do all the time. Pretend to be scientific by generating a list of competing explanations and then ruling out Hypothesis #1, Hypotheses #2, Hypotheses #3, Hypothesis #4, and then concluding that it must have been aliens.

I don't use much on-line video on the pyramids, but on occasion I have pulled out "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts", a 1978 Nova production focussing on debunking the work of Erich von Daniken. It looks dated (hair cuts and cars, etc), but it is really quite good to show the alien vs. scientific/archaeological perspectives. It has a segment on the Egyptain pyramids that begins with von Daniken providing his explanation, and then it goes to critique. It also does this for the Nasca lines, statues of Easter Island, a Mayan sarcophagus lid at Panlenque, and some sites in South America. When I do show it, I provide an update (eg. von Daniken, while not so popular in North America is still writing books and going on lecture tours in Europe, and recently had a big theme park in Switzerland that I think went bankrupt). I also try to provide updates on current archaeological thinking about the pyramids, etc.

Of course there are many semi-scholarly/semi-scientific articles tacking the pyramadiots. Peter Kosso has a chapter called "The Epistimology of Archaeology" in the edited volume 'Archaeological Fanatasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public.' It is reproduced in 'Reading Archaeology' which I edited (Univ Toronto Press, 2008). A good portion of the chapter is devoted to considering explanations of the Egyptian pyramids.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Plugging In, Again: crumple, toss, next

The preliminary figures are in; our enrollments are up over ten percent, which puts us over 30,000 system-wide. Two weeks have gone by that I can't recall. Here seems to be a day:

8:30 arrive on Campus, pass College Democrats bulletin board on the way to office, pull down picture of Obama that looks like Heath Ledger as the Joker which has been hung by unknown idiot. Hmmmm, this one (in full color) seems to still be wet. High quality printer. Must be faculty. asshole.

8:30-10:00 answer endless emails. Sorry about your flat tire, get the notes, sorry about your grandmother there is a copy of your syllabus on Blackboard, get the notes, hmmm, free pizza this afternoon, jeez, how loud does psych prof have to scream in lecture...louder than crazy hippy-trippy philosophy dude, apparently; sorry about the loss of your last three days due to bipolar mood swing, get the notes; yes, its okay that there are 7 copies of your Discussion Board post, Blackboard does that, especially, when you click on it 7 times; yes, the deadline for Honors by Contract is September 18, yes, just like it says on the form, itself; training announcement: delete; training announcement: delete, WTF forward from fellow faculty whom I like. *snort*, a few more of those and I might make it through.

10:00-11:20 teach.....blah...blah...blah no, the pyramids were not built by aliens....blah...blah....blah..... no the pyramids were not built by aliens. blah...blah..blah

11:20-11:30 break...sorry to hear that you couldn't get parking for the last week and a half, get the notes....(need to get something to drink, need to pee) Yes, history dude, I did realize that they think the pyramids were built by aliens....shit....time to start again (need to get water, need to pee)

11:30-1:00 teach...which class is this?......blah....blah...blah

1:00...where was that free pizza?

1:00-1:01 pee (ahhh, thank god)

1:01-1:45 pester Academic Dean re:Honors Program....blah, blah, blah

1:45-2:00 panic about said Program

2:00-4:00 Honors Lounge: form updating, file processing....yes, honors student, Jim Morrison was God (note to self: NOT)....yes, Chair of English we are going to make it a goal that your Honors English Comp class will not, again, be cancelled in a record enrollment period with an enrollment of are my preliminary plans to get your class with its bitchy-ass professor to make: we are going to try the new innovative method of enrolling dead grandmothers and flat tires into all Honors classes. No, we are carefully screening to remove all students who face three day loses due to Bipolar disorder and ones who circle the parking lot for a week and a half looking for a space..Yes, I feel sure this will work, after all, the students assure me that the spirit of Jim Morrison is guiding the Honors Program as we move forward into a new blah....blah....blah....

4:00-4:01: Where was that free pizza? Need water.

4:01-6:00 Blackboard, grade, post, grade, post, grade, post....closing last call for alcohol.......

6:00-6:01 remove still wet poster of Barack Obama as the Heath Ledger Joker from Democrats board......crumple,