Evolutionary ‘hobbit man’ was modern human with Down’s syndrome?

A furious international dispute has erupted over the publication of a paper that claims the hobbit man of Flores was a modern human who had Down’s syndrome. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this month, the research has been denounced by scientists around the world. The tiny Homo floresiensis, discovered on Flores, an island in Indonesia, is definitely a member of a distinct ancient species of hominins, they insist.

The dispute has its roots in an expedition by Australian and Indonesian researchers in 2003. The scientists were working in a limestone cavern called Liang Bua, on Flores, when one uncovered a small skull and lower jaw. Although tiny, the skull had adult teeth. “This was no child, but a tiny adult – one of the smallest adult hominins ever found,” the expedition leader, the late Mike Morwood, of Australia’s University of Wollongong, announced.

Other remains were dug up and identified as those of a hominid species they called Homo floresiensis. But one small group of scientists has persistently disputed this claim, arguing that the bones really belong to a modern human with anatomical abnormalities. It is their most recent claim, that the Flores hobbit had Down’s syndrome, that has enraged fossil experts who insist the tiny bones are those of distinct lineage. “It is interesting their paper contains no images of skeletons of Down’s syndrome individuals,” said floresiensis expert Professor Dean Falk, of Florida State University. “If it had, you would see clearly that they look nothing like the Flores specimen. The idea is nonsense.”

It is still not known how these early hominins got to Flores or how they evolved their small stature. Yet most scientists accept their authenticity – with the exception of the late Indonesian palaeoanthropologist Teuku Jacob, who claimed the remains were those of a modern human with an abnormal skull. At one point Jacob and his followers took, without permission, the hobbit bones dug up by Morwood’s team. They were eventually returned, though some had been badly damaged.

The measurements taken by Jacob’s team have since been used by researchers Maciej Henneberg, of Adelaide University, Robert Eckhardt, of Pennsylvania State University, and Hsu, of China’s National Institutes of Earth Sciences, as the bases of articles that claim the hobbit is really a deformed modern human. “First they claimed the hobbit was really a modern person with microcephaly – an abnormally small head,” said Falk. “We showed that this could not be true. Then they claimed he had Laron syndrome, a form of dwarfism. Again my team showed this was not true. Now they are taking a shot with Down’s syndrome. Again they are wrong.”

via Homo floresiensis: scientists clash over claims ‘hobbit man’ was modern human with Down’s syndrome | Science | The Observer.

Damaging Effects of Marijuana

MANASSAS, Va. – As support for legalized recreational marijuana use increases, some have warned that there is presently little research indicating the effects of low to moderate use of the drug. However, the results of a small but sobering study released in April by several Boston-based researchers have shed light on the damaging effects of even casual use of the drug among young adults, according to the Society for Neuroscience.

The results of the study may hold import for colleges and universities, which struggle perennially with binge drinking, drug use, and the subsequent host of negative decisions.

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, which compared high-resolution MRI brain scans of recreational marijuana users aged 18 to 25 with those of nonusers, found significant abnormalities in the left nucleus accumbens and the left amygdala of marijuana users, even those who smoked just once per week. These regions of the brain are responsible for pleasure and reward, processing memory, emotional reactions, and the assessment of negative consequences.

Previously, the only existing studies on the subject had applied to those who smoked excessively—for example, once per day for approximately three years. This study targets those who smoke only a few times per week.

From a moral standpoint, Dr.Taylor Marshall has made a Thomistic argument against the use of marijuana, asserting that it inexcusably inhibits man’s most God-like faculty—rationality—thus diminishing users to the level of beasts. He distinguishes it from alcohol, the effects of which can be graduated, and from medical use of marijuana and similar drugs. He ultimately concludes that its use is immoral. Even his critics, who consider the effects of marijuana to be as graduated as those of alcohol, concede that the drug’s recreational use is not altogether benign.

Scientists agree that while the study examined only a small sample, its results encourage deeper study and a greater dissemination of information. “There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem —that it is a safe drug,” said co-author of the study, Anne Blood, in a News.Micarticle. “We are seeing that this is not the case.”

via Study sheds light on damaging effects of marijuana among college-aged adults – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

California’s Economic Collision Course

You have heard it before: “As California goes, so goes the nation.”  If that is the case, the national economy will be harmed for decades to come because of California’s misplaced priorities today.  Indeed, by emphasizing high-speed rail over water and failing to deal with its debt crisis, California poses a long-term threat to our national economy and is on an economic collision course of increased immigration and lack of water.

California has more than 38 million residents. Despite net losses of millions of residents to other states, California continues to grow through immigration.  Latinos now equal the number of non-Hispanic whites in California.  With projections that show California’s population reaching 45 to 50 million within 20 years, you would think job creation would be job one for Jerry Brown.

Sadly, that is not the case today.  Despite a much-heralded recovery in the media and by Governor Jerry Brown, California still has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.  Also, more than 30% of the nation’s welfare recipients are Californians – even though California has just 12% of the nation’s population.  It is not surprising, therefore, that California is ranked number one in poverty.

The cause for those bad statistics is bad government policy.  California is the most regulated, highest-taxed, most in-debt state in America.  According to government data, from the municipal to the state level, California governments have more than $1.1 trillion in debt – much of that tied to pensions.

Beyond debt, Governor Brown recently signed a huge tax increase featuring a top rate of 13.3%.  Overall, California taxes are 42% higher than Texas.  California also has the most extreme/job-threatening global warming law in the world, which includes a 15-cent gas tax increase slated to take effect in 2015 – on top of the already record gas prices.

High debt, high taxes, high regulations and high poverty are not exactly the foundation on which to add 7 to 12 million people.  California’s private sector needs an economic recovery far more robust and broad-based to absorb those new people.  Unfortunately, California continues to make bad decisions with long-term implications.

Perhaps worst among them is Brown’s decision to make high-speed rail a higher priority than water.   Over the last 7,000 years, California has endured droughts that have lasted up to 20 years, according to Scott Stine, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Cal State East Bay.  California is in year three of its current drought, which is projected to result in economic losses of $2.2 billion to California agriculture in 2014 alone according to a UC Davis study – not to mention the loss of over 17,000 jobs.

To combat the lack of water brought on by drought and environmental policies that favor fish over people, California farmers are behind a drilling boom – for groundwater.  The problem is that, at current rates of consumption, some believe California could run nearly dry of groundwater within two decades.

Unlike his father Edmund G. Brown, Sr., who focused on water, Jerry Brown would rather see $68 billion spent on high-speed rail – a project for which there is no significant consumer demand and, like most every rail system, will likely require endless public subsidies and therefore add to the debt crisis. Brown recently killed a proposed water bond of $11.4 billion because he said it would “break the bank.” Apparently $68 billion won’t break the bank, but $11.4 billion would.

California’s debt crisis will hobble its economy as well.  Even Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel was honest enough to say that pension debts were deterring businesses from locating in Illinois.  In California, despite what some say could be more than half a trillion dollars of public employment retirement-related debt, there is literally no concerted plan for addressing the issue – tinkering yes, real reform no.

Unless California addresses its long-term water needs and debt crisis, the already overburdened private sector will not be able to handle the coming population influx.  Instead, California’s welfare rolls will swell, adding to its debt crisis.

In 2009, California sent out IOUs to creditors when hard pressed for cash and borrowed billions from the federal government.  A decade from now it could be much worse.   Rather than leading the national economy, California could well be holding down America’s economic growth.

via California’s Economic Collision Course: Immigration and Water.