I should probably rotate the objects of my ire more often. Way back in the days before Scienceblogs, a couple of my common targets were people I rarely talk about anymore, like George Gilder, or Gregg Easterbrook. Easterbrook is a pretentious sports writer and creationist who hates godless books and movies, who somehow managed to land commissions with Slate and Wired as a science writer (this is comparable to me getting hired to be a sports writer — Armageddon is nigh if that ever happens).
I am very pleased to see, though, that someone else shares my contempt for the guy: Tom Levenson can be provoked to peevishness by an Easterbrook column. Easterbrook’s not just bad at science, he sucks at writing. What does this mean?
A Cosmic Thought: Last week researchers announced they had found, in a South African cave, evidence of painting 100,000 years ago. The previous oldest evidence of painting was from 60,000 years in the past; the famous Lascaux cave paintings in France were made about 17,000 years ago. The latest find, in South Africa, shows both that our ancestors were experimenting with iron oxides to make permanent paint 50 millennia in the past: all that time ago, they painted inside caves, seeming to hope their work would last long enough to be seen by distant descendants.
Each time telescopes improve, the universe is revealed to be larger, older and grander. Each time anthropology makes an advance, the human experiment is shown to be older and more complex than thought. Who can say where the cosmic enterprise may be headed?
Hey! I’m talking about that really cool discovery of a 100,000 year old pigment set in New Orleans this coming weekend! It really is a nifty story that shows people have been doing art for about as long as they’ve been Homo sapiens.
But I haven’t a clue what Easterbrook is talking about. I think the cave art was painted for the people of that time, and they don’t seem to have been doing it for posterity, or Gregg Easterbrook; I’m also baffled by the odd implication of a prediction of greater, older complexity of human culture far back in the past. People 100,000 years ago were fully anatomically human; I think everyone expects that their would have been cultures existing coincident with our evolution.
Let’s not even get started on his math confusion that 100,000 years = 50 millennia.
I do wish someone could explain to me how that hack continues to publish.