Sunday, December 30, 2012


This has to be among the best blog commentaries on open peer reviews of a published article: Another just-so story, this time about fists by T. Ryan Gregory at Genomicron is about a recent study that attracted tons of attention and coverage in news media:

To sum up, this is a paper that presents a small dataset of biomechanical analyses. It used an inappropriate sampling of subjects, and the only conclusions that can be drawn from the data are that the fists of trained martial artists are buttressed better than other arrangements of the hand. There is absolutely no information that is relevant to the question of why the human hand evolved as it did. (Note that this was not published in an anthropology or evolutionary biology journal). Moreover, to connect these observations with the evolutionary origin of human hand morphology requires some very unrealistic assumptions and a rather poor grasp of how one actually studies trait evolution.

The most impressive thing about this study is that it managed to gain so much attention with so little substance.

While we are on the topic of evolution, here are a couple more links:

  1. P.Z. Myers has started a series on αEP (or, Anti-Evolutionary Psychology; apparently, the symbol α is used in the sense of "anti" in immunological circles), and two posts are already up: αEP: Shut up and sing!, and αEP: The fundamental failure of the evolutionary psychology premise.

  2. Carl Zimmer has a nice summary -- in Of men, navigation and zits -- of a recent paper about sex differences in spatial abilities, and the proposal that "male spatial ability is not an adaptation so much as a side effect."

  3. These two short videos are noteworthy for their use of vivid physical metaphors for describing how a lot of evolution is due to just plain "dumb luck".