Archive for Language and science

Fake science journals

Parse that however you wish, we're plagued with them.

On an average day, I receive solicitations to write papers from them three or four times.  Sometimes they offer me editorships or guest editorships for designated issues.  Sometimes (but not often) they offer me money.  All such e-mails immediately go in the trash, but they leave a bad taste and are unsettling.

What's really bad now is that, whereas they used to come from places I had never heard of, now the fake science sickness has infected some of our mainstream publishing  houses.

"Flood of Fake Science Forces Multiple Journal Closures:
Wiley to shutter 19 more journals, some tainted by fraud"
By Nidhi Subbaraman, WSJ (May 14, 2024)

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 2

A little over a year ago, Frank Jacobs published this admirable survey of a mysterious object that has perplexed and preoccupied us for the past week — The Mysterious Dodecahedrons of the Roman Empire, Big Think, Atlas Obscura (5/12/23):

The first of many of these puzzling objects was unearthed almost three centuries ago, and we still don’t know what they were for.

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Indigo and cabbage, part 2

The first part of this series, "Indigo and cabbage", written the day before Thanksgiving in 2023, is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling posts I've ever made.  This follow-up is even more of a delight, because here I get to introduce a new paper by anthropologist-linguist-textile expert Elizabeth J. W. Barber, and what a tour de force it is (see below).

Here I give an extended account of her scholarship, especially her early activities in the computer analysis of Chinese, because she was instrumental in helping to make that possible at its foundational stage.

She earned a bachelor's degree from Bryn Mawr College in Archaeology and Greek in 1962. Her chief mentor was Mabel Lang from whom she learned Linear B and who advised her honors thesis on Linear A. In addition to Lang, Wayland wrote her thesis under Emmett L. Bennett Jr. Her thesis used computer indices of the Hagia Triada Linear A texts in an attempt to decipher its signs and symbols. The computer indices were made via punched cards, a method which was preceded by the work of Alice E. Kober on Linear B. She earned her PhD from Yale University in linguistics in 1968. Her doctoral study at Yale University was supervised by Sydney Lamb, under whom she wrote her dissertation, "The Computer Aided Analysis of Undeciphered Ancient Texts."

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England

"They are known as one of archaeology’s great enigmas – hollow 12-sided objects from the Roman era with no known purpose or use."

So begins this article by Jessica Murray in The Guardian (4/29/24):

Mysterious Roman dodecahedron to go on display in Lincoln

There are no known descriptions or drawings of object in Roman literature, making its purpose unclear

Roman bronze dodecahedron found in Tongeren, Gallo-Roman Museum, Tongeren

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Words for Water Being Sent to the Moon Europa

"Water", "water", everywhere — and it's pronounced differently wherever you go.

See the dozen or so US and UK phonetic and phonemic transcriptions and audio clips provided by Wiktionary here.  The last of the US audio clips even has the trace of an initial "h", as some people pronounce "wh-" interrogatives.


From Marc Sarrel

I recently heard about an engraving that is attached to the Europa Clipper spacecraft, to be launched to the moon of Jupiter in October of this year.  Europa likely has a large liquid water ocean underneath its shell of water ice.  There is more liquid water on Europa than on Earth.

The vault plate features waveforms for the word “water” in 103 spoken languages, plus a symbol that represents the word in American Sign Language.  If you scroll down a bit on the page, you can choose one of the languages, see the waveform and hear the spoken word.

I think this is a really compelling way to represent the common link between Earth and Europa.

I agree with Marc.

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Political aspects of teaching Classical Chinese at First Girls High School in Taipei

This issue caused quite a hullabaloo more than a month ago and, during the runup to the national election that was going on at that time, it generated a lot of hot rhetoric.  It's important to note that First Girls High School is an elitist, influential institution that is very hard to get into.

The debate over how much and what sort of Classical Chinese to include in the curriculum grew quite heated, so naturally I quickly wrote a detailed post on the subject, but then my computer crashed because of one of the many dreaded, hated "updates" that I have to endure for the sake of "security" (the bane of my life), and I lost my carefully prepared post on the Classical Chinese debate — same thing happened to the draft of my post on the Tokyo restaurant sign that supposedly "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people".  It has taken me till now to find the time to reconstruct them.

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Normative language

A matter that requires nuancing: Jinyi Kuang and Cristina Bicchieri, "Language matters: how normative expressions shape norm perception and affect norm compliance", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2024:

Abstract: Previous studies have used various normative expressions such as ‘should’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘approved’ interchangeably to communicate injunctions and social norms. However, little is known about whether people's interpretations of normative language differ and whether behavioural responses might vary across them. In two studies (total n = 2903), we find that compliance is sensitive to the types of normative expressions and how they are used. Specifically, people are more likely to comply when the message is framed as an injunction rather than as what most people consider good behaviour (social norm framing). Behaviour is influenced by the type of normative expression when the norm is weak (donation to charities), not so when the norm is strong (reciprocity). Content analysis of free responses reveals individual differences in the interpretation of social norm messages, and heterogeneous motives for compliance. Messages in the social norm framing condition are perceived to be vague and uninformative, undermining their effectiveness. These results suggest that careful choice of normative expressions is in order when using messages to elicit compliance, especially when the underlying norms are weak.

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Indigo and cabbage

In the first comment to this post on a Northeastern topolectal word for kohlrabi, "piě-le 丿了" (cf. MSM piělán 苤蓝), Jenny Chu astutely asked whether the second syllable is related to the Chinese word for the color blue, lán 藍 (also "indigo", for which see below).

That sent me scurrying, since — although I was vaguely aware of a secondary meaning besides "indigo, blue" of "cabbage" for lán 藍 — I could not recall ever hearing any convincing / satisfying explanation for what the relation between these two meanings is.

Some early Chinese authors and commentators do assert that the leaves of cruciferous vegetables (Brassicaceae, colloquially called cole crops in North America) are referred to as lán 藍 due to their color.  However, because of my background knowledge of words for cabbage, kale, etc. in many other languages, I did not find that a satisfying explanation.  So I decided to dig deeper into the mystery of the dual identity of lán 藍:  indigo and cabbage.

I believe that what I came up with will illuminate the conundrum.

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Advanced lexicography for diabetes in Japan and China

This is a followup to "Japanese words that are dying out: focus on diabetes" (11/21/23).  Because it's history of science / medicine for specialists and too technical for the majority of readers, I will not provide transcriptions for all but a few of the most common terms.

[The following is a guest post from Nathan Hopson]

Google doesn't have data for a Japanese ngram search, but here are the oldest results from searches of the National Diet Library (NDL) and the Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers:
Translated by 森鼻宗次 (Morihana Sōji).
Original authors listed as:
ゼオルヂービウード (George B. Wood)
ヘンリーハルツホールン (Henry Hartshorne)
Penn grad Hartshorne spent time in Japan, and wrote Wood's memoir; Wood was also a Penn grad
Looks like the original text of this book was Wood's, selected and edited by Hartshorne? Wood and Harsthorne were both very prolific, and I can't easily tell which text has been translated.

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"Don't speak Japanese loudly outside!"

Advisory to staff of the embassy of Japan in Beijing:

ALPS shori mizu no kaiyō hōshutsu kaishi ni tomonau chūi kanki (2023-nen 8 tsuki 25-nichi)


Warning regarding the start of ocean discharge of ALPS-treated water (August 25, 2023)

Kinō (24-nichi), fusoku no jitai ga hassei suru kanōsei wa haijo dekinai tame chūi shite itadaku yō onegai shimashitaga, ika no ten ni tsuite ryūi shite itadakimasu yō aratamete onegai itashimasu.

(1 ) Gaishutsu suru sai ni wa, fuhitsuyō ni nihongo o ōkina koe de hanasanai nado, shinchōna gendō o kokorogakeru.
(2 ) Taishikan o hōmon suru hitsuyō ga aru baai wa, taishikan shūi no yōsu ni saishin no chūiwoharau.



"Yesterday (24th), we asked you to be careful because the possibility of unforeseen circumstances cannot be ruled out.

 (1) When going out, try to be cautious in your behavior, such as not speaking Japanese in a loud voice unnecessarily.
(2) If it is necessary to visit the embassy, pay close attention to the surroundings of the embassy."

(source) (GT romanization and translation)

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RFK Jr on ethnic allele frequencies

tl;dr: RFK Jr. asserted recently that "COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people", while "the people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese", also implying that this "racial and ethnic differential" means that the virus may have been created as an "ethnic bio weapon". In response to objections, he defended his assertion on the basis of total misrepresentation of a scientific publication, itself problematic. Details below…

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Learning sinitic and sinoglyphic "zero"

Plus Indic, plus Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, Hokkien (Taiwanese), Hakka, and Fuzhou (Eastern Min).

For an exciting read / ride, be sure to follow the whole thread, travelling through time and space.

Courtesy of Egas Moniz-Bandeira ᠡᡤᠠᠰ ᠮᠣᠨᠢᠰ ᠪᠠᠨᡩ᠋ᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠ

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"An exercise in inference sabotage"

Eve Armstrong, "I Murdered Conan O'Brien and Nobody Will Ever Know — an exercise in inference sabotage", 3/30/2023:

Abstract: I employ an optimization-based inference methodology together with an Ising model, in an intentionally ineffectual manner, to get away with murdering an obstreperous scientific collaborator. The antics of this collaborator, hereafter "Conan O'Brien," were impeding the publication of an important manuscript. With my tenure date looming, I found myself desperate. Luckily, I study inference, a computational means to find a solution to a physical problem, based on available measurements (say, a dead body) and a dynamical model assumed to give rise to those measurements (a murderer). If the measurements are insufficient and/or the model is incomplete, one obtains multiple "degenerate" solutions to the problem. Degenerate solutions are all equally valid given the information available, and thus render meaningless the notion of one "correct" solution. Typically in scientific research, degeneracy is undesirable. Here I describe the opposite situation: a quest to create degenerate solutions in which to cloak myself. Or even better: to render measurements incompatible with a solution in which I am the murderer. Moreover, I show how one may sabotage an inference procedure to commit an untraceable crime. I sit here now, typing victoriously, a free woman. Because you won't believe me anyway. And even if you do, you'll never prove a thing.

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