By Julien Riel-Salvatore
So... there's a new paper in PLoS ONE about how 'cavemen' depicted four-legged animals better than 'modern' artists (Horvath et al. 2012). I usually try to refrain from paper bashing here, but there is such a high density of wrong (if not downright fail) in this one, that it's hard not to. Becky Farbstein agrees, and points out that:
1) anyone using the word 'cavemen' with a straight face in a scientific publication today cannot be taken to know anything about the time period in question;
2) the paper's conclusions are only surprising or noteworthy if you assume that cavemen (and by extension hunter-gatherers) are somehow less advanced at a fundamental level than 'modern' folks (again, whatever that is);
3) and - extremely importantly - that there is no reason to expect that an artist, archaic or modern, necessarily operates with the goal of depicting quadrupeds realistically; to assume that this is the case fundamentally misinterprets what art can be and usually is, i.e., not strictly about representing reality.