The ongoing catastrophe in Japan, especially in Fukushima, still dominates the German media. But other topics were able to reconquer some news space last week.
The finding of a pre-Clovis culture in Texas, which antedates the first proven human colonization of the Americas about at least 4000 years, got a lot of press. "Flintstone Family needs to be antedated" headlines the Austrian Standard (Klaus Taschwer) - though the article does not mention the comic characters at all.
The article from Stern.de (Lea Wolz) included an independent source (anthropologist Gary Haynes, University of Nevada) who feels there are some residual doubts regarding the dating method (luminescence) used by the archaeologist. The last third of the article explains, that the finding raises a lot of questions - how did the pre-Clovis-culture reached North-America, despite the icy Canadian landscape 15000 years ago? Did they walk over the Bering land bridge along the American west coast or did they cross the Pacific, like other theories suggest?
Though the Stern article included Haynes it did not mention that he has been for years a prominent defenders of the "Clovis first"-theory - making even more significant his acknowledgment that humans lived in America before the Clovis-culture. Die Presse (Jürgen Langenbach) mentions this in an interesting article, along with other discoveries, that add doubt about Clovis-first, including genetic analysis.
Die Zeit (Nicole Franciska Kögler) quotes Tom Dillehay from the University of Kentucky who can't understand, why the current discovery merits such. Lots of different discoveries in the past (including his own work in South America) had not merely cast doubt on the Clovis-first-theory but disproved it, he states.
The focus of Die Süddeutsche Zeitung (Hubert Filser) is on the question "by feet or by boat?". The article starts with a hunting scene from 12000 years ago - on the islands of Santa Rosa and San Miguel offshore from California. That means hunters there used boats and opens speculation that America might have been colonized via the Pacific. Furthermore, the article summarizes different research approaches trying to shed light on the early American history. Linguistic research hints to three distinct language families - three different colonizing events? Genome analysis suggests, "that the Indians are not descendants from the first, but a second or third colonization event."
In summary, none of the articles quoted a source not mentioned or suggested by Science. Not a single German archaeologist was asked about his opinion. Don't they exist? Did someone actually try to add a European angle to the story? Wouldn't it be interesting to have a neutral view on the highly controversial debate among US archaeologists?
Also on the plate this week:
"Artificial sperm bred for the first time",...
Such headlines jumped from a couple of German language newspaper science sections. Well, artificial mouse sperm, actually. Bravely, the Süddeutsche did not try to cover this up in their headline (article based on dpa). Most others did: Focus (here), Spiegel-online (here), Standard (here). The Austrian Wiener Zeitung (Eva Stanzl) mentioned the mouse-source, but got something else wrong, somehow: "Frankenstein from Mouse-Sperm" (Surprisingly, I couldn't find a hint to any Frankenstein-like creatures in the original Nature paper).
... Baby Grammar,...
Even four-month old babies are already able to learn basic grammar rules. The (PLoS-published) research from the Max-Planck-Institute for Cognition and Neuroscience in Leipzig was picked up all over Germany: Welt (here), Die Presse (here), 20 Minuten (here), Krone (here), Freie Presse / dapd (here). And the article from busy Adelheid Müller-Lissner was published at Zeit-Online (here), Handelsblatt (here) and Tagesspiegel (here) (all part of Holtzbrinck Media). Spiegel-Online had a very smart introduction to the topic: The very first sentence included a grammar mistake! Probably, to raise the readers awareness, how difficult grammar is even for adult journalists ;-) ("Leipzig - Säuglinge können schon sehr früh die Grammatikregeln einer neuen Sprachen lernen."). Though this one made me smirk, I was, again, disappointed, that none of the articles included any other opinion or expert than provided by the Max-Planck-Institute (press release). Not that I distrust the Max-Planck-Scientists, but adding the perspective of an independent researcher would make the articles sound less than a rewritten Max-Planck-announcement. My question is, whether it is really journalistic work to just rephrase a press release (more or less) and not put the new research into perspective?
... and finally:
The Financial Times Deutschland (Michelle Röttger, Marion Schmidt) picked up the investigation of public prosecution against a German professor, the head of the European Business School EBS. Breach of trust is the accusation because the professor had multiple sidejobs (as an adviser, e.g.) and interests in a couple of companies. Officially, professor are allowed to work eight hours on the side. The universities know that many professors work more time on the side or that many do not even announce their activities, but they turn a blind eye. The article quotes from the book of the professor Uwe Kamenz ("Professor Untat", kind of "Professor Misdeed"), who tested his colleagues by offering them a sidejob. Dozens replied, despite the job would have required more than the allowed amount of time. But the article makes clear, that this behavior has its roots in a deeper problem: On one hand, professor should have contact to the "real world". On the other hand, how far should they be engaged in activities outside the universities? And what consequences do these sidejobs have regarding their scientific results? Worth reading. And worth effort to dig deeper...