Encouraging science journalism: The genome of Kennewick Man.

Violent metaphors

A little over a year ago the complete genome sequence of a Clovis individual, the 12,500 Anzick child, was published. His sequence gave us a fascinating glimpse of ancient Native American genetic diversity, and new insights into the early peopling of the Americas. At the time, however,  I was unhappy about how the media covered it:

“Unfortunately, several press reports chose to find controversy in a decidedly non-controversial story by giving undue weight to problematic “alternative” explanations of Native American origins, including the Solutrean hypothesis, and other “European contributions” to Native American ancestry.”

Last week saw the announcement (also from Eske Willerslev’s lab group: they’re amazingly prolific) of the sequencing of yet another significant ancient American genome: the 8,500 year old skeleton from Washington popularly called “Kennewick Man.”  This time the press did an exemplary job of covering the news.

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On Evaluative Criticism


Imagine yourself wearing a pair of latex gloves, scraping some dust off the surface of your favourite book or movie with a scalpel and tapping it into a glass vial of clear fluid. Now seal the vial and shake it, stare into its contents. When little Venus symbols to start floating in the solution you can declare to all willing to hear, “This! This is a feminist text!”

A lot of effort goes into arguing whether something is or isn’t feminist. In fairness, this is as tricky a question as people make it out to be. If we are to accept that an author’s intentions don’t always reach the text and that the reader reads themselves in a text than it follows that some amount of, say, feminism, may exist in anything. It also may be that in reaching for something to identify with, audiences may nominate a toothless champion for their defence. This might be the case with Mad Max:…

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