The Young Palaeontologist’s Guide to Media Scepticism: The 2018 Taxonomic Tumult

Pretty much.

Last time, I provided a small example for how bad journalism can transform “this thing is going to happen” into “the exact opposite thing is going to happen” through scientific illiteracy at best and wilful ignorance at worst. Given the tumultous nature of science, politics, and current affairs, I’m going to find these comparisons quite useful.

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The English Invasion

So it’s going to be me, then?

So I’m the one who has to say something, eh?

So the possibility of a great confluence of English folk coming up to Scotland in the event of Scottish independence is supposed to be a good thing, is it?

Well. I have a few things to say about that.

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Incel Outside

Last week, another “movement” born of nihilism, misanthropy, and misery has taken lives. That this is happening 100 years after a major milestone in the ongoing global struggle for universal suffrage & equal opportunities only proves that we must constantly work hard to maintain that which we’ve fought for, or risk losing it all.

I don’t particularly want to dignify the incel (Newspeak for involuntary celibacy – note the use of celibacy, a word with a very specific religious meaning, as opposed to something like abstinence or continence) “movement” by using their term for their misogynistic ideology, because it would be disrespectful to the original creator of the term to use it in its twisted definition. Nonetheless, its obvious association with Orwell & its homonymic relationship to intel imbues it with a certain ironic power.

It’s an extremely frightening phenomenon to me, because I could imagine how so many could end up falling into its trap.

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The Young Palaeontologist’s Guide to Media Scepticism: Or, How Bad Dinosaur Journalism Destroyed My Trust in the Craft

(Still not happy with the Sunday Herald after that smear against the noble Dinosauria)

For many individuals in Scotland and across the world, their scepticism of the mainstream media may have started at a number of times. For Scottish independence supporters, many started to question the media around the time of the 2014 referendum campaign; others may have started earlier, about the time of the Iraq War; still more may have questioned the popular media narrative even before that.

For me, it’s a bit more complex: my scepticism of media, particularly newspapers, started a lot earlier – and for a rather different subject – but I’ve found that the journey I undertook is strikingly applicable to any field.

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William Blain, The Comics Wizard from Gourock

Image taken from This Was The Wizard, courtesy of Down The Tubes

Eventually Willie Blain became Managing Editor of all of the Thomson line of comics, originating their girls’ comics with Bunty (1958), their boys’ adventure comics with Victor in 1961 and such famous titles as Jackie (1964). Although he rarely gets a credit, a poll of the most important figures in the history of British comics would almost certainly have to include Willie Blain in the top five.
Steve Holland

Today would have been the 115th birthday of William Blain. You may not immediately recognise the name, but many a child who grew up in Scotland in the 20th Century will be very familiar with his works.

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Some Countries That I Used To Know

The modern international system is built, in part, on two ideas that turned out to be in tension: Borders are sacrosanct and people determine their own political status.

The former was meant to put an end to war by discouraging invasion or separatist rebellion. The latter was meant to protect citizens from dictators or occupiers. But when a subset of a population decides to break off, those two principles collide.

This has opened a vacuum in the international system when it comes to declaring independence. Neither norms nor the law are particularly clear on how or when it’s permissible.

Max Fisher and Amanda Taub for The New York Times

One of the more perplexing arguments against independence movements is the notion of stability, that we simply can’t be doing with all this map-altering border-scribbling changes for no good reason. After all, the nations we know today have persisted for decade, even centuries: why fix what isn’t broken? Such comments are usually cast with the unspoken belief that secession is inherently bad – it’s a “problem,” a “threat to the European Order,” “economically costly,” and “incredibly dangerous to the stability of nations.” It’s more of the same story, of states protecting their power and privilege in fear of the people making decisions that might jeopardise those things.

Perhaps if the appearance of newly-independent states was a rare thing, they would have a point. But in the last 30 years or so, just as many nations have gained their independence, formed and broken unions, redrawn their borders, and even disappeared entirely. Maps had to be redrawn; globes of the world replaced; dictionaries and encyclopedias and gazetteers republished.

Today is my 34th birthday. As an experiment, I thought I’d have a look at Europe from 1984 to the present day, with images taken from a popular video that’s been doing the rounds. No doubt it will be very basic, & one’s definition of international recognition or even of “nation” will vary, but I think it’s an interesting exercise.

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The Dark Man of Cheddar

Cimmerians. These people were descendants of the ancient Atlanteans, though they themselves were unaware of their descent, having evolved by their own efforts from the ape-men to which their ancient ancestors had sunk. They were a tall powerful race, averaging six feet in height. They were black haired, and grey or blue eyed. They were dolichocephalic, and dark skinned, though not so dark as either the Zingarans, Zamorians or Picts.
– Robert E. Howard, “Notes on Various Peoples,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p348-349

Then when I was about twelve I spent a short time in New Orleans and found in a Canal Street library, a book detailing the pageant of British history, from prehistoric times up to – I believe – the Norman conquest. It was written for school-boys and told in an interesting and romantic style, probably with many historical inaccuracies. But there I first learned of the small dark people which first settled Britain, and they were referred to as Picts. I had always felt a strange interest in the term and the people, and now I felt a driving absorption regarding them.
– Robert E. Howard, letter to Harold Preece, 20th October 1928*

Prof Mark Thomas and Dr Yoan Diekmann at University College London analysed the sequences generated at the Natural History Museum to establish what Cheddar Man looked like. It was previously assumed that Europeans developed paler skin many thousands of years before Cheddar Man, so he was thought to have had reduced skin pigmentation and fair hair. The results however, indicate that whilst Cheddar Man had blue eyes, he also had dark coloured curly hair and ‘dark to black’ skin pigmentation. This means that the lighter pigmentation now considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe, is a far more recent phenomenon.
– The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man Press Pack 

The recent news about Cheddar Man will come as no surprise to people with an interest in anthropology, or even ancient history. Britons with dark skin & black, curly hair have been recorded since the Roman period, with early 20th Century folklorists such as Margaret Alice Murray, David MacRitchie, and G.F. Scott Elliot detailing stories of the early inhabitants of the British Isles.

What is perhaps more surprising is the reaction to that news.

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