Wikipedia articles of interest

i. Control of fire by early humans. I read about this stuff in The Human Past as well, but like in so many other cases wikipedia actually has a lot of stuff if you care to look for it. Wikipedia’s treatment of this subject does not seem to be out of line with the evidence presented in THP; generally it seems to be the case that people knew how to make fire around 125-130.000 years ago, but it is not clear when/where this ability first evolved (THP sums it up like this: “Spreads of burned sediment, ash, and charcoal that almost certainly signal fireplaces are conspicuous in many sites occupied by the European Neanderthals and their near-modern African contemporaries after 130,000 years ago, and it is generally assumed that people everywhere after 130,000 years ago could make fire when they needed it. The question is when this ability evolved, or perhaps more precisely, whether a stage of full control followed on one when fire use was sporadic and opportunistic. This issue is difficult to address since sites older than 130,000 years ago are relatively rare and they are mostly open-air localities.” […] caves are far more likely to preserve fossil fireplaces.” p.117. The problem is that at an open-air site, it’s much more difficult to tell if the fire was made by humans or natural processes.)

ii. Danish phonology. Some interesting aspects:

“Unlike the neighboring Mainland Scandinavian languages Swedish and Norwegian, the prosody of Danish does not have phonemic pitch. Stress is phonemic and distinguishes words like billigst [ˈb̥ilisd̥] “cheapest” and bilist [b̥iˈlisd̥] “car driver”. The main rules for the position of the stress are:

1. Inherited words are normally stressed on the first syllable.
2. The prefixes be-, for-, ge-, u- are unstressed, e.g. for’stå “understand”, be’tale “pay”, u’mulig “impossible” (NB there is also a stressed for- in nouns corresponding to the verbal prefix fore-).
3. In many compound adjectives, especially those ending in -ig and -lig, the stress is replaced from the first to the second syllable, e.g. vidt’løftig “circumstantial”, sand’synlig “probable”.
4. Words of French origin are stressed on the last syllable (except /ə/), e.g. renæ’ssance, mil’jø.
5. Words of Greek and Latin origin are stressed according to the Latin accent rules, i.e. stress on the penultimate if it is long or else on the antepenultimate, e.g. Ari’stoteles, Ho’rats.
6. The learned suffixes -aner, -ansk, -ance, -a/ens, -a/ent, -ere, -i, -ik, -ion, -itet, -ør are stressed, e.g. finge’rere, situa’tion, poli’tik, århusi’aner. The preceding syllable is stressed before the learned suffixes -isk, -iker, -or, e.g. po’lemisk, po’litiker, radi’ator. The suffix -or is stressed in the plural: radia’torer (colloquial: radi’atorer).
7. Verbs lose their stress (and stød, if any) in certain positions:

With an object without a definite or indefinite article: e.g. ’Jens ’spiser et ’barn [ˈjɛns ˈsb̥iːˀsɐ ed̥ ˈb̥ɑːˀn] “Jens eats a child” ~ ’Jens spiser ’børn [ˈjɛns sb̥isɐ ˈb̥ɶɐˀn] “Jens eats children”.
In a fixed phrase with an adverb or an adverbial: ’Helle ’sov ’længe [ˈhɛlə ˈsʌʊˀ ˈlɛŋə] “Helle slept for a long time” ~ ’Helle sov ’længe [ˈhɛlə sʌʊ ˈlɛŋə] “Helle slept late”.
Before the direction adverbs af, hen, hjem, ind, indad, ned, nedad, op, opad, over, ud, udad, under (but not the location adverbs henne. inde, nede, oppe, ovre, ude): e.g. han ’går ’ude på ’gaden [hæn ˈɡɒːˀ ˈuːð̪̩ pʰɔ ˈɡ̊æːð̪̩n] “he walks on the street” ~ han går ’ud på ’gaden [hæn ɡɒ ˈuð̪ˀ pʰɔ ˈɡ̊æːð̪̩n] “he walks into the street”.


The original pitch tone has been replaced by an opposition between syllables with and without the stød. The stød is not a separate phoneme, but a suprasegmental feature that may accompany certain syllables; those with a long vowel or that end with a voiced consonant.

The stød is phonemic since many words are kept apart on the basis of the presence or absence of the stød alone, e.g. løber “runner” [ˈløːb̥ɐ] ≠ løber “runs” [ˈløːˀb̥ɐ / ˈløʊ̯ˀɐ], ånden “breathing” [ˈʌnn̩] ≠ ånden “the spirit” [ˈʌnˀn̩].

It is impossible to predict the presence or absence of the stød; it has to be learned. However there are some main rules:

1. Original monosyllabic words have stød. Words that ended in consonant + r, l, n in Old Danish have the stød even though an anaptyctic vowel was later developed. The postposed definite article, which has become an inseparable part of the word, does not influence the word.
2. All umlauting plurals in -er (ODan. -r) have the stød, e.g. hænder [ˈhɛnˀɐ] “hands”.
3. Most presents from strong verbs (ODan. -r) have the stød, e.g. finder [ˈfenˀɐ] “finds”. Many of the presents of verbs with a preterite in -te have the stød as well (but not the presents of verbs with a preterite in -ede).
4. Monosyllabic words that originally ended in a short vowel + a single n, r, l, v, ð, g do not have the stød. However, when the definite suffix is added, the stød “returns”, e.g. ven [ˈʋɛn] ~ vennen [ˈʋɛnˀn̩] “friend”.
5. Stød is frequently avoided in words with the combinations rp, rt, rk, rs, e.g. vers [ˈʋæɐ̯s] “verse”, kort [ˈkʰɒːd̥] “card, map”/”short”.
6. Most (non-derived) words in -el, -er have the stød. Most words in -en do not have the stød. Nomina agentis in -er do not have the stød.
7. All words with the unstressed prefixes be-, for-, ge- have the stød.
8. There is stød in most compounds that have a replacement of the stress from first to the second syllable.
9. There is frequently the stød in the second part of compound verbs.
10. Monosyllables regularly lose the stød when they are the first part of a compound: mål [ˈmɔːˀl] “target, goal” ~ målmand [ˈmɔːlˌmænˀ] “goalkeeper”. The vowel is sometimes shortened: tag [ˈtˢæːˀ] “roof” ~ tagterrasse [ˈtˢɑʊ̯tˢaˌʁɑsə] ”roof terrace”
11. Words of Greek or Latin origin have the stød on a stressed antepenultimate syllable or a stressed last syllable. A stressed penultimate syllable has the stød if the word ends in -er.”

The non-verbal aspects of human interaction increase the demands on the human brain to deal with complexity immensely in ways we don’t think about, but let’s not pretend that the verbal aspects are necessarily simple and easy to deal with. It’s very hard to remember how much you need to know and learn to master a human language unless you’re in the process of actively doing it.

iii. Borromean rings.

“In mathematics, the Borromean rings[1] consist of three topological circles which are linked and form a Brunnian link, i.e., removing any ring results in two unlinked rings.”

They are weird, that’s what they are. Here’s an image from the article:

iv. Terminal velocity. From the article:

“In fluid dynamics an object is moving at its terminal velocity if its speed is constant due to the restraining force exerted by the fluid through which it is moving.

A free-falling object achieves its terminal velocity when the downward force of gravity (FG) equals the upward force of drag (Fd). This causes the net force on the object to be zero, resulting in an acceleration of zero.[1]

As the object accelerates (usually downwards due to gravity), the drag force acting on the object increases, causing the acceleration to decrease. At a particular speed, the drag force produced will equal the object’s weight (mg). At this point the object ceases to accelerate altogether and continues falling at a constant speed called terminal velocity (also called settling velocity). An object moving downward with greater than terminal velocity (for example because it was thrown downwards or it fell from a thinner part of the atmosphere or it changed shape) will slow down until it reaches terminal velocity. […]

The reason an object reaches a terminal velocity is that the drag force resisting motion is approximately proportional to the square of its speed. At low speeds, the drag is much less than the gravitational force and so the object accelerates. As it accelerates, the drag increases, until it equals the weight. Drag also depends on the projected area. This is why objects with a large projected area relative to mass, such as parachutes, have a lower terminal velocity than objects with a small projected area relative to mass, such as bullets.”

v. Gyromitrin.

vi. Caspase.

“Caspases, or cysteine-aspartic proteases or cysteine-dependent aspartate-directed proteases are a family of cysteine proteases that play essential roles in apoptosis (programmed cell death), necrosis, and inflammation.[2]

Caspases are essential in cells for apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in development and most other stages of adult life, and have been termed “executioner” proteins for their roles in the cell. Some caspases are also required in the immune system for the maturation of lymphocytes. Failure of apoptosis is one of the main contributions to tumour development and autoimmune diseases; this, coupled with the unwanted apoptosis that occurs with ischemia or Alzheimer’s disease, has stimulated interest in caspases as potential therapeutic targets since they were discovered in the mid-1990s.”

vii. Darien scheme.

viii. Cinderella effect.

“The Cinderella effect is a term used by psychologists to describe the high incidence of stepchildren being physically abused, emotionally abused, sexually abused, neglected, murdered, or otherwise mistreated at the hands of their stepparents at significantly higher rates than at the hands of their genetic parents. It takes its name from the fairy tale character Cinderella, who in the story was cruelly mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters.”

The article is messy and I mostly included it in this post to give you the above (most people don’t click the links anyway – which is fine!).

ix. Rotavirus. I remember reading a Danish article at some point about whether the vaccine against the Rotavirus A should be part of a national vaccine-program, but I can’t remember where I read about it. Why would you want a vaccine? Well:

“Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea among infants and young children,[1] and is one of several viruses that cause infections often called stomach flu, despite having no relation to influenza. It is a genus of double-stranded RNA virus in the family Reoviridae. By the age of five, nearly every child in the world has been infected with rotavirus at least once.[2] However, with each infection, immunity develops, and subsequent infections are less severe; adults are rarely affected.[3] There are five species of this virus, referred to as A, B, C, D, and E.[4] Rotavirus A, the most common, causes more than 90% of infections in humans.

The virus is transmitted by the faecal-oral route. It infects and damages the cells that line the small intestine and causes gastroenteritis. Although rotavirus was discovered in 1973[5] and accounts for up to 50% of hospitalisations for severe diarrhoea in infants and children,[6] its importance is still not widely known within the public health community, particularly in developing countries.[7] In addition to its impact on human health, rotavirus also infects animals, and is a pathogen of livestock.[8]

Rotavirus is usually an easily managed disease of childhood, but worldwide nearly 500,000 children under five years of age still die from rotavirus infection each year[9] and almost two million more become severely ill.[7] […]

Rotavirus causes 37% of deaths attributable to diarrhoea and 5% of all deaths in children younger than five.[9]”

[my emphasis]

I think perhaps the numbers of some of the sources in the article are incorrect or mixed up, presumably because new sources have been added at a later point – maybe I’ll go have a closer look and/or edit it later. Anyway, [6] from above tempts me to add a ‘not in source given’ tag, because I could not see how that claim was supported by the article after searching the document and skimming it to figure out where the claim came from. Maybe I’ll do that later. The article linked to from [6] is on the economics of RV gastroenteritis and vaccination. On the other hand, this article (found through Scholar, maybe it’s also one of the sources in the article – I haven’t looked) – Nosocomial rotavirus infection in European countries: a review of the epidemiology, severity and economic burden of hospital-acquired rotavirus disease – does support the claim in the wikipedia article:

“The data currently available on the epidemiology, severity and economic burden of nosocomial rotavirus (RV) infections in children younger than 5 years of age in the major European countries are reviewed. In most studies, RV was found to be the major etiologic agent of pediatric nosocomial diarrhea (31-87%), although the number of diarrhea cases associated with other virus infections (eg, noroviruses, astroviruses, adenoviruses) is increasing quickly and almost equals that caused by RVs. Nosocomial RV (NRV) infections are mainly associated with infants 0-5 months of age, whereas community-acquired RV disease is more prevalent in children 6-23 months of age. NRV infections are seasonal in most countries, occurring in winter; this coincides with the winter seasonal peak of other childhood virus infections (eg, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza viruses), thus placing a heavy burden on health infrastructures. A significant proportion (20-40%) of infections are asymptomatic, which contributes to the spread of the virus and might reduce the efficiency of prevention measures given as they are implemented too late. The absence of effective surveillance and of reporting of NRV infections in any of the 6 countries studied (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom) results in severe underreporting of NRV cases in hospital databases and therefore in limited awareness of the importance of NRV disease at country level. The burden reported in the medical literature is potentially significant and includes temporary reduction in the quality of children’s lives, increased costs associated with the additional consumption of medical resources (increased length of hospital stay) and constraints on parents’/hospital staff’s professional lives.”

If you, like me, didn’t know what a nocosomial infection is, well that’s just a hospital-acquired infection. RV-infections are not nocosomial infections.

Citations in the wikipedia article are also problematic because I became aware that not all of them are direct citations; for instance, [2] leads to this article – Rotavirus Overview: The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal – but that’s a secondary source to the claim. The primary source is a CDC-report: “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Atkinson W, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, et al, eds. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation; 2007:295-306.”

(Sorry for the lack of updates, this is a difficult time for me.)


February 26, 2012 - Posted by | Anthropology, Archaeology, Data, History, Immunology, Infectious disease, Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, Psychology, Studies, Wikipedia

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