Here, Let Us Unpack The Daily Mail’s Latest Dumb Science Writing For You
Oh Daily Mail, ugly hateful little tabloid from across the pond, you are simply the tabloidiest! You are full of sexy ladies and sideboobs, and a whole lot of bodyshame! And the comments, ugh, we do not even. You are basically the Fox News of Britain, and we hate you like you hate Muslims and poor people.
It is not really news that the Daily Mail is the most dreadful in every single way, but we ourselves have a pet hatred for them, and that is for their science columns. They are trying soooo hard to be smart, but they just can’t hack it, because things like “science” and “logic” are hard. We have a powerful respect for most science writers — they invariably don’t understand what they’re writing about, and have to simplify it for a general audience — but reading the Daily Mail‘s science writing is like reading a kid who didn’t do the required research and is BSing the final essay.
Witness exhibit A: a science fluff piece given the typically verbose headline of “Native Americans and Russians share the same language: Dialects reveal how ancestors migrated 13,000 years ago”. Let that claim sink in for a moment: Native Americans (there is only one kind of Native American, because racism) and Russians (there is only one kind of Russian, also, too) speak the same language. Leaving aside that most Native Americans speak English, because of how we punished Native American children who spoke their people’s tongues in classrooms — this implies that Cherokee-speaking Cherokee greet each other with a hearty privyet, comrade! when they most definitely do not. This article is actually about how the Na-Dené languages (a family of related languages, including Tlingit and Navaho) are allegedly related to the largely extinct Yeneisian languages of central Siberia; similarities between the two imply a common ancestor. But “some Native Americans and 200 guys in Siberia speak and/or spoke languages that have a common ancestor” — it is not really clickbait!
Also, what is a dialect? The Daily Mail doesn’t know. They threw out that word in the hed, just to look smart! Here’s some more smart, in the lede:
It’s been known for years that some Native Americans and Russians share ancestors, and new research claims to have confirmed this link by discovering they also share language traits.
Fuckin’ nope. We got the “language = genes” misconception beaten out of us in our first week of undergrad, when we innocently proposed to our professor that genetic testing of populations might reveal realtionships between languages. It turns out you can learn a language without being related to anybody who “originally” spoke it, which is why we did not magically become Latino once we learned to speak Spanish.
So, we receive a history of the migration across the Bering Strait, and then the Daily Mail poops in our lap:
Because of the wide spread of languages, and the fact links still remain in Siberia, the researchers suggest some of these migrants returned home.
This doesn’t follow, at least, not as it’s being reported. If people speak a language in one place, and then half of them up and move to a different place, the people in the first place do not stop speaking their language, even if nobody from the second group ever comes back to visit.
To investigate this further, scientists used a technique originally created to investigate evolutionary relationships between biological species, called phylogenetic analysis. This involves creating a tree that represents relationships of common ancestry based on shared traits.
So basically, “the researchers made a tree that represented things that are probably related to each other, because they were similar.” What are the similarities? Phonemes (“sounds”)? Morphology (“ways of making words”)? Syntax (“sentence structure”)? Daily Mail is not telling us, so we are going with “some words have a the letter M in them in both of these languages”, because that would be a shared trait, and also about the Daily Mail‘s speed.
Also, we are mad, because the goddamn stock artsy picture of the Apache guy in the article implies that there aren’t any Native Americans left alive today that you could have used pictures of, which is a convenient lie in a world where the conditions that many Native Americans live in are fucking awful and we should all be completely ashamed. At least they got right that Apache is a Na-Dené language, but we are pretty sure that was by accident, because we are pretty sure they just put that particular picture there because horse tribes are sexxxy.
In case it is not obvious, we should admit it: Once upon a time, we were in graduate school, studying Language, being a Languist. We were a very particular kind of Languist called a Socio-Languist, which involves spending long hours recording people and trying to trick them into saying various words (no really). So the kind of work that we were doing was dramatically different from the work that these researchers in the article are doing, which involves statistical analysis that’s way the fuck out of our pay grade and we don’t get it. We have opinions, but they’re largely uninformed ones and also that the goddamned Daily Mail can’t do any of these ideas justice at all.
In conclusion, shame on you, Daily Mail, for taking the academic field that we surrendered seven years of our life and $100,000 to, and making us hate it and you. We will spread telepathic haterays at you, while we try to work out the actual science here, on the backs of the envelopes that these nice student loan bill collectors keep on sending us.