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June 28, 2003
Richard Dawkins is trying to form some sort of movement to get atheists or non-theists called 'brights'. His explanation:
I don't know whether he was off his rocker when he wrote this. I mean, I'm pretty smug about my scientific materialism too, but this sort of campaign makes us non-theists look like dweebs, really. But if you're interested, here is the website. I wouldn't mind getting into this for networking purposes and I don't even disagree with the outreach objectives, but why such a smug name? It makes us look like ... Christian evangelists.
There was an error in my note on 'Family Connections'.
The novelist daughter of Lucian Freud is Esther Freud, not Bella Freud. Bella is a fashion designer.
For British readers, there is a profile of Esther in today's Telegraph magazine. It mentions that the novelists Rose and Susie Boyt are Esther's half-sisters. I'm not sure if they have the same mother or same father - Lucian Freud had (possibly still has) a very tangled love life.
Enough of Freuds already!
June 27, 2003
Don't be too smart
The Executioner's I.Q. Test is an article in The New York Times on IQ & the death penalty. Check this out:
Does this mean that those in the top 3%, IQs above 130, should be held to a different standard? A higher standard for mitigating circumstances? ;)
Implications of chromosomal sex determination
Razib's recent entry on the erosion of the Y chromosome got me thinking: what advantages does this method of sex determination have that allow it to persist despite the ongoing problem of Y chromosome deterioration? A little research suggests that it may help us mammals make larger evolutionary jumps than would be possible for other classes of vertebrates, which use other methods of determining sex (birds also use chromosomes for sex determination, but more on them later). To begin with, see here for a discussion of a recent Y-chromosome mutation that may have led to the creation of modern humans as a separate species. The paper also goes into some detail on how mutations of the Y chromosome provide a mechanism for evolutionary saltation that overcomes some of the objections raised by the gradualists.
Since mammals and birds don't do well in the first two categories, and can't afford the third feature given their investment in their young, I would guess that the development of their method of sex determination was a necessary precursor to the high-K reproductive strategies they use. Without it, the speciation or evolution rate for a high-K species would fall too low, and we would not have seen the great bursts of adaptive radiation that the mammals have shown.
POPULATION FALLACIES: PART 2
This is about birth rates.
The crude birth rate is the number of births per head of the population in a given period, usually a year. It is an objective statistic, and it is useful for some purposes, but it is seriously affected by the age structure of the population.
To avoid this problem what is usually quoted as the ‘birth rate’ is the Total Fertility Rate. This is the number of children that a women would have in her
For comparative purposes the TFR is less misleading than the crude birth rate, but it is not sufficiently understood that the TFR can also be misleading in its own way. It is a statistical construct based on the experience of a heterogeneous population of women over a short period of time. It does not measure the fertility of any actual cohort of women in the past, and it does not accurately predict the fertility of any actual cohort of women in the future.
One problem is that the TFR will fluctuate according to temporary circumstances, such as economic recession. If in a particular year women are less likely to have babies because of (say) economic uncertainties, then the TFR may fall sharply, but it is likely to bounce back. More seriously, if there is a long term trend for women to have babies at a different stage of their reproductive life, this will distort the TFR upwards or downwards, and it may take a decade or more for the true picture (the actual lifetime fertility of a cohort of women) to become clear. Notably, if women are postponing having babies from their twenties to their thirties, this will immediately reduce the TFR, but the TFR will eventually rise again when they have the babies they postponed earlier.
So, for example, when you read that the TFR in Japan has fallen to 1.3, this doesn’t necessarily mean that any cohort of Japanese women will on average only have 1.3 children. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but at least part of the fall in the TFR is likely to be a temporary distortion due to a time-shift in the pattern of child-bearing.
TFRs for immigrant groups can also be very misleading, as they are often constructed out of the fertility experience of women of different ages, partly in their country of origin and partly in the host country, under different demographic regimes.
I’m not suggesting that TFRs are useless, just that it is important to understand their limitations.
June 26, 2003
Good introductory textbooks
Recently, I've been reading good introductory textbooks on major fields. I just finished a book on population genetics that several people have independently recommended to me (and read it several times). It really clarified my thinking and it was pretty accessible. I think that most intelligent people could get a lot out of reading introductory texts because even if they don't familiarize themselves with the details, they will understand the broad outlines and not be intimidated by terminology.
So here are my contributions:
Population genetics - Principles of Population Genetics by Daniel Hartl & Andrew Clark.
I'm curious about philosophy, economics, linguistics, psychology and statistics introductory texts for my next subject areas of inquiry. Also, any other fields of course. Please post suggestions in the comments box.
There is a lot of specialized knowledge out there-but I don't think reading introductory texts is out of reach for most people.
Move over Matt Ridley
About the author of the evol. psych. book Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice:
And now check this out....
Listen to her here being interviewed about the book (type "Judson" under the guest text box).
Well, it seems looks matter when it comes to pop science. Remember Spencer Wells, author of The Journey of Man, why was it him in particular that emerged out of Stanford's human population genetics lab?
From The Economist....
Government plans on paternity testing
POPULATION FALLACIES: PART 1
One of the many things that annoy me is the prevalence of fallacies about population issues. So to vent my spleen I’m planning a few notes on common population fallacies.
I’ll start with the idea that in the ‘old days’ (paleolithic, neolithic, medieval, pre-industrial, or whenever) everyone died young.
It’s quite true that in pre-20th century societies the average lifespan, or life expectancy at birth, was usually between 30 and 40, as compared to over 70 in most Western countries now. From this it is inferred that hardly anyone lived beyond the age of 45, that someone would be considered old at 50, and that real old age (70 or older) was extremely rare.
But I trust it is obvious to GNXP regulars that average (mean) lifespan tells us very little about the distribution of mortality. An average lifespan of 40 would be consistent with half the population living to 80. To say anything useful about the age structure of the population we need to know not just the mean but the distribution of lifespans.
Pre-20th century mortality patterns varied, but the main feature of all of them was that infant mortality was high. Typically over 15% of children would die in their first year, and between 30% and 50% would die before age 10. These high infant mortality rates had a dramatic effect on life expectancy at birth, dragging it down well below present levels.
But for those who survived the perils of childhood, life expectancy was not so bad. Admittedly, mortality between age 20 and 60 due to epidemic disease (smallpox, cholera, etc) and chronic infections (syphilis, TB), was higher than we would like, but from 20 up to about age 55 the risk of death in any given year would only be between 0.5% and 2% - worth saying your prayers to avoid, but not worth losing sleep over. There was a reasonable prospect of reaching old age.
These points can be illustrated by some figures calculated by Charles Babbage based on the experience of the Equitable Life Assurance Society in 18th century England. Of a given cohort at birth, based on this pattern, we would expect 65% to survive to age 10, 62% to survive to age 20, 57% to age 30, 51% to age 40, 45% to age 50, 35% to age 60, 25% to age 70, 14% to age 80, and 2% to age 90. This gives a median life expectancy at birth of about 41, and an average of about 39 (assuming that infant mortaliy is concentrated in the first year.)
For amusement I have also checked the lifespan of major C17 and C18 philosophers. To the nearest year this gives: Bacon 65, Berkeley 68, Condillac 65, Descartes 54, Diderot 71, Hobbes 92, Hume 65, Kant 80, Leibnitz 70, Locke 72, Malebranche 77, Priestley 71, Reid 86, Spinoza 44, Voltaire 83. Average lifespan 71.
Of course these aren’t representative samples. People who die young seldom become famous philosophers, and the customers of the Equitable were all wealthy enough to afford life insurance. Probably a cohort of peasants or coal miners would have fewer people living to real old age. But the figures do show that even with average life expectancy below 40, there can be lots of old people around. There may be some societies or occupations where the stereotype of ‘all dead by 50’ is accurate, but this needs to be proved from specific data, not a general assumption.
Affirmative Action strikes a Knock-out!
First, the SCOTUS decision, and this, Ward Connerly is making lots of $$$ out of his crusading against affirmative action, giving himself a half-a-million dollar salary.
June 25, 2003
Nick Thompson says that the Republicans have a science problem-as much political & cultural as it is technical. One thing Nick overlooks is that most "scientists" in America today are probably engineers, not Ph.D.s in the natural sciences, and they trend Republican....
Update from Razib: Larson & Witham's surveys of Ph.D. holding natural scientists in the mid-90s indicated that 60% were non-theists. The percentages were higher in academia than they were among government & private sector scientists. Additionally, a follow-up survey of National Academy of Science members indicates that 90% are non-theists. There is a high correlation between religiosity & political affiliation-the "seculars" vote Democrat as much as the "religious right" votes Republican. This is probably the simplest explanation.
June 24, 2003
Asian-American Race Traitors?
Michelle Malkin decries the joy that Asian-American activists are showing toward the recent ruling reaffirming affirmative action in higher education. Increasing underrepresented minorities almost certainly decreases the representation of Asians-Americans as well as European-Americans. Of course, these "activists" exist to create the problem that they campaign against, the racialization of Asian-America and a high wall of tension between their own ethnic groups and whites . These are the not the professional mainstream of Asian America, doctors, engineers & businessmen, but white collar lawyers and public sector employees who are sociologically far outside the mainstream of the ethnos that they act as activists for! Their raison d'Ítre is debunking the Myth of the Model Minority. Their motto? "Asian America sucks a hell of a lot more than you think, and it's whitey's fault!"
 Asian-American is of course an artifical construction. Even "natural" coalitions between groups racially and culturally affinal such as Korean-Americans & Japanese-Americans can be tripped up over rivalry and distrust and lack of historical experience together. South Asians in particular seem a bit out of place-but of course, for the Asian-American activists, the reference is always whitey, so if you ain't white, you ain't Latino and you ain't black, you must be an Asian or Pacific Islander!
Agriculture in New Guinea
It seems that New Guinea was one of the early agricultural hearths.
June 23, 2003
I read some of that scary 'Christian racialist' stuff that was linked to, and I see that we Europeans are accused of not being sufficiently religious.
Actually, I do read the Bible from time to time. Here are some of the texts you won't remember from Sunday school:
Genesis 6: 2-4
Read and learn!
Be brown & proud? Uh, I need to study for my test....
Bored in my hotel in Columbus I decided to check out Suman's blog and clicked the link for Satya Circle, which is about brown issues. I stumbled upon this article titled THE INDIAN AS "BLACK-WHITE" AND AS NIGGER. If you don't read the article, here is an example of the sort of thinking that it expresses: Imagine a scenario where an angry brown son comes home from college and confronts his successful engineer father and declares, "Father, you think of yourself as a man, an engineer, a Hindu, a Gujarati! Well, I think of myself as a sand nigger!"
I really don't think that's a step forward. Seriously people, this is pathetic. Look at this history of brown people in the US and you'll see it isn't anything like the experience of other "people of color." The author of the above article states:
Why should South Asians develop a consciousness of themselves as "people of color" when we all know that most of us are brown, we see ourselves everyday in the mirror! And social justice? Where has that gotten the black community since 1960? Where is it getting the Latino community? Do we want our own curried Al Sharptons?
The author lingers over the fact that brown people have issues with their own identity and are terrified of being associated with American blacks, something that white people often do. Why wouldn't white people do that? South Asians often have rather dark skin, like Africans, and most humans have similar features so why should whites notice that other aspects of phenotype mark us as non-African ? We don't look that different. Granted, many white people like to express the patronizing phrase, "Indians are just like white people with dark skin," which I suspect they picked up from brown guy with I-wish-I-was-whitey-complex . There are good reasons not to associate with blacks in the United States, they are perceived as having low social status, and South Asians are if anything concerned about rank and order. 'tis human if a bit childish and petty.
But what does it really matter? Despite the fact that South Asians often suffer from "Oh you might be a nigger syndrome" they are well educated, have high incomes, and are entrepreneurial. It flies in the face of the assertion that what whitey thinks is the paramount issue and fact of human existence. Racism. Such a burden to bear, do South Asians want to define themselves as "people of color," juxtaposed against the "white race," the race of power and privilege? How idiotic does this look? Is the Indian doctor in rural Iowa treating white patients on Medicaid a "person of color" who is being victimized by the race-class relationship that whites impose on the "other"?
In my experience South Asians in the United States are fractured and clannish. Though united in their concern on immigration issues, Muslims & Hindus, north Indians & south Indians, professional & working class, do not often mix and form a united front against the "white hegemonic structure." And where has that gotten us? The Washington Post reported a few months ago that as many as 50% of South Asians born in the United States out-marry. This is a very high rate for such a new immigrant group, and bodes well for future assimilation. Horror, oh horror! Of course it does not suggest a good future for the mobilization and actualization of a brown brigade in the racial legions.
What do you call your brown doctor? A sand nigger? Not if you want your meds on time.
 Other racial groups often blend and look similar to peoples of said racial group and confusions abound. Bushmen in Botswana assumed that Vietnamese workers were of their race, since they only understood the world as "black" or "Bushmen." Columbus thought that the indigenous peoples of the Americas looked "Indian."
 The author goes over I-wish-I-was-whitey-complex a lot in the article, and it's worth reading, because there's a lot of truth to it. Many browns wish their ass was a bit whiter way too much. As an avowed individualist, I'm not too concerned if my ass is blue, purple, brown or white, as long as I've got something going on between my ears and I'm well sated down under, but for some people, life exists in the context of their group affiliation. The above article criticizes the Indian fixation on wanting to assert their "Aryan" pedigree-but the author should qualify that such an assertion is not without fact, and the two peoples who unequivocally used the term "Arya" were the north Indians and Iranians. Yes, cognates exist in other tongues ("Eire"), but nevertheless, the Indo-Iranians of the satem branch of the Indo-European language family were the true Aryans, Europeans reappropriated the term because of Sanskrit's supposed ancient lineage before the discovery of other more archaic Indo-European tongues like Hittite and the decipherment of Linear B as Greek. The author's solution to I-wish-I-was-whitey-complex is to recreate a different identity, I-wish-my-ass-was-a-little-more-oppressed! My solution? Put your group affiliations in the background in a healthy fashion and try and focus on your individual strengths and achievements, rather than made-up shit about your ancestors. Additionally, understand that though injustice occurs, life sucks for everyone else on a variety of levels too, so try and make the best of it and reflect that focusing on your own life first is probably better for you (ergo, all yous become everyone in the group) than shifting your energies toward the mobilization of a sand nigger identity.
June 22, 2003
Different forms of prejudice are held to different levels of disrepute. The hierarchy seems as such:
Race is the most heinous one. Sexism is the most acceptable. And others like religious bigotry fall somewhere in the middle.
Racial prejudice seems so unjustified to many people because one can not control race. But certainly religious zeal and bigotry can be the incitement to much hatred on a similar level, no? Though that is true, in the case of religion, the "other" is more often optional. In the case of race the "other" is fixed and unchangeable. Consider the case of the Jews-the pogroms and persecutions of the Middle Ages in both Christendom & the Dar-al-Islam took a high toll in lives, but there was often a safety valve, that of conversion or dissimulation. In contrast, the Third Reich's racialist anti-Semitism was more total and brooked less compromise.
On the issue of gender, places like Saudi Arabia openly practice gender apartheid, and though the West finds it distasteful, there is no outcry equivalent to the protests over South Africa's policies in the 1980s. I think this is partly due to the fact that agricultural societies (and now post-industrial societies) have been shaped by patriarchy and patrilocality so long that it is an internalized assumption that is hard to break even for "modern" individuals. Additionally, all men have mothers and quite often sisters, so the prejudice against women is of a different nature than that of race or even religion.
Recently in Europe they have been attempting to attack anti-Islamic sentiment as "racism." Critics point out that Islam is not a race, but a voluntary belief system. But if this is openly acknowledged and accepted, then it is harder to characterize the demands that traditionalists make that Muslims conform themselves to "European values," perhaps even convert to Christianity, as beyond the pale of discourse.
One of my ‘heroes’, Francis Galton, spent a lot of time tracing the family connections of eminent people. Gifted people often have gifted relatives, and Galton believed this helped prove that ability was hereditary.
I’m not so sure about that, but I still make a note of interesting (post-Galton) cases when I come across them. I have a lot of 20th century British examples, and some Continental ones, but few American examples, outside the fields of politics and acting. This probably reflects my own ignorance, and I’m hoping that American readers can help remedy that.
British cases are common, and easy to trace through the Dictionary of National Biography and its supplements, but I will list a few of the more interesting or less obvious ones:
The philosopher GILBERT RYLE (The Concept of Mind) was the cousin of the Nobel Laureate astronomer Sir MARTIN RYLE.
The Archbishop of Canterbury MICHAEL RAMSEY was the brother of the philosopher F. P. RAMSEY, who died tragically young.
The novelist NAOMI MITCHISON was the sister of the biologist J. B. S. HALDANE.
The philosopher G. E. MOORE (Principia Ethica) was the brother of poet and artist THOMAS STURGE MOORE.
The Prime Minister STANLEY BALDWIN was the cousin of writer RUDYARD KIPLING.
Charles Denning was a shopkeeper with five sons. Two of them were killed in World War I. Of the other three, one became a general in the Army, one became an admiral in the Navy, and the third became LORD DENNING, Britain’s most famous 20th century Judge. But Lord Denning claimed that the most gifted of the five brothers was one of those who died in the War.
Since the 18th century, six successive generations of the Darwin family have included Fellows of the Royal Society. The current representatives are the physiologists R. D. KEYNES and H. B. BARLOW, great-grandsons of Charles Darwin.
The Darwin family have also shown literary and artistic gifts. Among the grandchildren of Charles Darwin, BERNARD DARWIN was a popular writer, GWEN RAVERAT was an artist, and FRANCES CORNFORD was a poet. In the next generation, ROBIN DARWIN and CHRISTOPHER CORNFORD were artists, and JOHN CORNFORD was a poet. Among more distant relatives, the composer RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS was a great-nephew of Charles Darwin.
It is well-known that the novelist ALDOUS HUXLEY (Brave New World)and his brother the biologist JULIAN HUXLEY were grandsons of T. H. HUXLEY. It is less well-known that their half-brother ANDREW HUXLEY is a Nobel Laureate physiologist.
The mathematician ROGER PENROSE is the son of geneticist LIONEL PENROSE and nephew of the painter and art theorist Sir ROLAND PENROSE. Roger’s brother OLIVER PENROSE is also a mathematician, and his brother JONATHAN PENROSE is a chess grandmaster and former British chess champion.
The novelists A. S. BYATT and MARGARET DRABBLE are sisters. (Some sources describe them as half-sisters, but according to Who’s Who they have the same mother and father. ‘Byatt’ is a married name.)
The painter LUCIAN FREUD is the grandson of SIGMUND FREUD. Lucian’s daughter BELLA FREUD is a novelist.
The naturalist and broadcaster DAVID ATTENBOROUGH is the brother of Oscar-winning film director RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH (Gandhi). Less well-known, their father FREDERICK ATTENBOROUGH was an authority on Anglo-Saxon history and Principal of Leicester University College.
Turning to Continental examples:
The great German novelists THOMAS and HEINRICH MANN were brothers.
The German family of BRENTANO had several distinguished members:
The Austrian economist LUDWIG VON MISES was the brother of mathematician-philosopher RICHARD VON MISES.
The Hungarian-born scientist-philosopher MICHAEL POLANYI was the brother of economist KARL POLANYI. Michael’s son JOHN C. POLANYI is a Nobel Laureate chemist.
The Nobel Laureate Dutch biologist NIKO TINBERGEN was the brother of Nobel Laureate economist JAN TINBERGEN. So far as I know, this is the only case of close relatives winning Nobel Prizes in different subjects.
The great French mathematician HENRI POINCARE was the cousin of French President RAYMOND POINCARE.
The film director JEAN RENOIR was the son of the painter AUGUSTE RENOIR.
The Nobel Laureate physicist MAX BORN had numerous distinguished relatives, going back to Martin Luther. More bizarrely, the Australian singer-actress OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN is his granddaughter. (Not sure what Galton would have made of that.)
As I said, I know of few American examples outside politics and entertainment. Going back to the turn of the century, there is the famous case of novelist HENRY JAMES and his brother the philosopher-psychologist WILLIAM JAMES. Around the same time, the sociologist THORSTEIN VEBLEN (Theory of the Leisure Class) was the uncle of the mathematician OSWALD VEBLEN.
I hope that readers can contribute other American 20th century examples.