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December 20, 2003
In like Flynn
In my last musings on the subject of IQ comparisons, I said (threatened?) that I might return to the subject of the Flynn Effect.
The political scientist James R. Flynn was the first to draw attention to the fact that average intelligence test scores in most industrialised countries have increased substantially over a period of decades (Flynn ,  - see the references below). Before Flynn, psychologists had occasionally mentioned that IQs had risen (e.g. Vernon, p. 207), but showed remarkably little curiosity about the phenomenon, so Flynn deserves the credit for highlighting it.
Here I am interested in the questions: how large is the cumulative Flynn Effect? How long has it been going on? And is it still continuing?
A rise in mean IQ scores has been found in almost every period in every industrialised country where the question has been studied (for a few exceptions see Storfer p. 97). The rate of increase is usually between 2 and 4 IQ points per decade, but rates as low as 1 and as high as 8 points per decade have been found. The largest increases are usually on non-verbal tests like Raven’s Progressive Matrices, the lowest on individually administered general tests of the Binet type.
Related interjection from Razib: Matthew Yglesias has a post on the black-white IQ gap.
The largest cumulative increases I can find in the literature are as follows:
West Germany 1954-1981: a 20-point gain by children on the German form of WISC [Storfer, p. 96]
How far back does the Flynn Effect go? IQ tests only began around 1905 (Binet-Simon) and adequate national standardisation samples are not found until the 1930s. However, Flynn (Neisser, p. 36) gives evidence that the rising trend in the USA started no later than 1918. He also presents intriguing data from the Raven’s standardisation samples in the UK. The 1942 standardisation sample included adults aged up to 65 (and thus born from 1877 onwards), and Flynn concludes that even after allowing for decline of IQ with age, 70 per cent of Britons born in the late 19th century would have scored below an IQ of 75 on current (1990s) norms. This implies a mean IQ of not more than 70 on current norms [see note 1].
Is the increase still continuing? There is conflicting evidence on this. Lynn and Pagliari found that in the USA the rise continued unabated at least until 1989. However, Teasdale and Owen’s  study of Danish army recruits suggests that the rate of increase is slowing down, and is now ‘modest’.
If we assume that gains have continued in recent years at a rate of 2 points per decade, then the cumulative figures given above can be updated to give total gains up to 2002 as follows:
West Germany 1954-2002: 24 points
I’m sure you can guess where this is leading to! By subtracting the cumulative ‘Flynn Effect’ from today’s IQ levels we can estimate the average IQ levels (by today’s norms) of these countries at relevant dates in the past. These levels can then be inserted for comparison into the table of national IQs provided by Lynn and Vanhanen. Here is the result, for selected industrialised and other countries (historic figures are in bold, the others are current figures as given by Lynn and Vanhanen [see note 2]).
I won’t consider in detail the causes of the Flynn Effect, which are discussed in detail by the contributors to Neisser (ed.). Personally, I like the argument of Richard Lynn that the main factor is improved nutrition during development and early childhood. Over the last 100 years, industrialised countries have seen three striking trends: (a) average height has increased; (b) the average age of puberty has fallen; and (c) average IQ scores have risen. Improved nutrition is the major reason for (a) and (b), so it would be a parsimonious explanation if it is also responsible for (c). But whatever the causes, they are likely to be environmental factors which vary between populations separated in space as well as in time.
Some of the cumulative increases in IQ (up to 30 points, or 2 standard deviations) may seem very large. Flynn himself describes them as ‘massive gains’. This may be somewhat misleading. We usually have no basis for judging the ‘size’ of an IQ interval other than the proportions of the target population who achieve the scores defining the interval. This is quite different from the measurement of physical qualities such as height, where (barring scruples about relativity) one inch is the same as any other inch. Nor is a difference of one standard deviation necessarily ‘large’ in relation to the total range of intelligence. Consider the analogy with height. In the late C19 the average height of mature males in England was about 5 feet 7 1/2 inches, with an s.d. of about 2 1/2 inches. Since then the average height has increased to 5 feet 10 inches, i.e. by about one s.d. of the C19 level. This is a noteworthy increase, but I don’t think anyone would be tempted to call it ‘massive’, since we can see (literally) that it is only a small proportion of total height. It should also be noted that a ‘large’ increase in IQ may boil down to a small number of items passed in a test. Each correct answer on Raven’s Matrices accounts for two IQ points, so an increase of 20 points corresponds to an additional 10 correct answers, out of a maximum of 60 items. Or in the Danish military tests, the total increase of 10 IQ points between 1958 and 1998 corresponds to a raw score increase of about 6 items out of 78 (Teasdale and Owen ). Is this ‘massive’? What do such terms mean in this context?
Finally, an increase in mean scores does not necessarily mean that the whole distribution of scores has shifted upwards, retaining the same ‘shape’. Unfortunately the literature on the Flynn Effect tends not to say much about distributions. The studies by Teasdale and Owen are an exception. T & O  shows a marked change in the distribution. There is a reduction in the number of low scores and an increase in the number of moderately high scores, but no marked increase in very high scores. The distribution changes from symmetrical to negatively skewed, with a ‘pile-up’ of moderately high scores. T & O consider, but reject, the possibility that this is an artificial ‘ceiling’ effect. If this pattern is representative of the changing pattern of IQ scores generally, it might explain why we do not seem to be living in a golden age of genius.
Note 2: I have simply subtracted the cumulative Flynn Effect from the ‘current’ IQ levels shown for these countries in Lynn and Vanhanen. In fact, L & V’s data are not all recent; e.g. their IQ of 72 for Jamaica is based on data from 1962. L & V’s procedure (p. 197-8 of their book) is to express each country’s mean IQ by reference to a mean IQ of 100 for the UK. If the test concerned was standardised for the UK substantially earlier or later than the date of the test in the other country, then L & V assume that mean IQ in the UK has increased by 2 points per decade, and adjust the data accordingly. For example, if country A had a mean IQ of 105 in 1970, on a test standardised with a UK mean of 100 in 1960, then L & V would estimate the UK mean as 102 in 1970. As this is 3 points below country A at that date, their table would state the IQ of country A as 103 against a notional UK mean of 100, preserving the differential of 3 points. Bizarre though L & V’s approach may seem, it is probably legitimate for combining data from different time periods, if you are going to do this at all. Provided that the mean IQs in country A and in the UK have increased at roughly the same rate since the date of the tests, the rank order of national IQs will be unchanged, and the numerical intervals will not be badly distorted (across the range of difference likely to be encountered in practice). If on the other hand mean IQs have increased at very different rates, then the figures in the table could be misleading with respect to current (2002) relative levels. However, this is unlikely to be the case for the industrialised countries considered here, because (a) most of the test data for these countries are quite recent, and (b) the rates of change in recent decades are unlikely to have been widely different in different industrialised countries.
James R. Flynn  ‘The mean IQ of Americans: Massive gains 1932 to 1978’. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 1984, 29-51.
December 19, 2003
Great Audio Archive
World of Ideas has a great audio archive of lectures by great thinkers. The most recent one by physicist Murray Gell-Mann was pretty interesting. I always assumed Gell-Mann was a European emigre, but he's American, and he touches diverse topics such as Galton, Jamaican Creole dialects and the Power Law. WBUR has a good site overall. Ahmad's War in particular is a good (but bittersweet) documentary.
What's in a definition? The whole world, my child....
Watch the thread titled NRO Gets Dirty II (on @ Matthew Yglesias' blog) devolve into a defense of various definitions of the same word. Funny how internet discussions often evolve to the same end-perhaps there is an Internet God that rigged the teleology.
1) People disagree about substance
I do it too, not meant as a criticism, just a general rule of internet discussion it seems. Each exchange is like a photocopy-the two parties become more and more muddled what the other is talking about and begin to engage in a self-dialogue, because they know what they think the other's position is.
A few minor points on substance, Matthew notes that NRO people shouldn't talk about evolution to support their arguments seeing as they also give some space to people from anti-evolutionist (no, Intelligent Design!) groups. Well, I think the Right tends to use evolution today as a tool to achieve an end toward convincing the End-User of whatever position they're espousing. So Neocons, who often don't go to temple or church themselves, will attack evolutionary psychology to make common cause with Evangelicals, who disagree in principle with evolution, though much of this is only a symptom of the rage as theological modernism rather than foundational. Similarly, when Nature is on the same page with conservative social agendas, it is a prestigious and appropriate tool to convince the End-User of the non-normative basis of their position.
As for the definition of the word "Conservative," one of the problems is that the world starts getting really fuzzy and similarly alien once you move a few paces from your own spot on the intellectual map. Libertarians can get heated up over paleo vs. Left vs. anarchist vs. minarchist vs. Natural Rights vs. Utilitarian vs. Nozickian vs. Rothbardian vs. Monarchist (you read that right!) debate and disputes. 99% of the rest of the world is like, "Say what?" From the Left, they are all neocons now (I have noticed a trend by Leftist social activists to accuse people on the Right who they disagree with of being Neocons). From the Right, they are all godless class warriors.
Let the War of Words continue....
Liberals aren't consistent on evolution either. They use evolution to bash Christian fundamentalists over the head, but moot the idea that humans might have been shaped by natural selection and you become one of those evil nazi-evolutionary-psychologist-bell-curve-eugenicist types.
This TNR article makes the point that Howard Dean is too secular to be elected. The article notes that Dean's family has become more secular over the generations. Political families that have succeeded over the past century have become more, not less, religious. Look at the Bush family, Bush Sr. is an Episcopalian, but G.W. is a Methodist and Jeb is a Catholic, generally two groups that require more outward displays of religious faith and devotion that their father's denomination. The current governor of Ohio, Bob Taft, is a Methodist. His presidential great-grandfather was a Unitarian, and his prominent grand-father, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, was a lax Episcopalian (he preferred golf to church on Sundays).
In general American politicians have been converging in values with the electorate when it comes to religion. This is in contrast to caste-oriented nations. Many of Brazil's heads of state have been personally non-religious, as is the current president of Chile, while Argentina's Carlos Memen made a transparently self-interested conversion to Catholicism from Islam (only Catholics can be head of state). In India, Nehru was an agnostic, while many of the local parties that dominate on the state level have been anti-religious (Communist, DMK, etc.).
It seems, unlike many peoples, Americans demand politicians that "think like them." A question the populist Left might ask is how much of this is superficial cant to paper over the genuine differences of interest between the elite and the masses? They have to realize that people don't just vote pocketbooks, they vote on cultural issues, so the Democrats will have to find someone to neutralize the latter before making a move on the former.
Advice to Dean, go to a Billy Graham revival (perhaps now Franklin Graham?), have a Born Again conversion, but assert his new found relationship with Christ has only validated his Leftish cultural views (despite her new found Christianity Jane Fonda remains on the social Left).
fn1. The old assertion that the United States is a country as religious as India dominated by a cultural elite as secular as Sweden is pretty dumb-I think one can make the case that India is a country as religious as India dominated by a cultural elite as secular as Sweden.
Matters of taste
Playmate of the Year Preview for 2003. July, October or November seem like the standouts to me.
Also, TV GUIDE is doing You Sexy Thing with Julia Stiles and Kirsten Dunst. All I can say is that Stiles looked feminine next to Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity, while Dunst is a very attractive alien.
Update: Martin gives a link to every playmate from 1980 to 1999 without pop-ups.
December 18, 2003
Mind, nature & nature
Boston Review on the mind and nature and nuture.
The Invincible 100
Here are the results for the question about how you guys found GNXP:
I should note that all of the polls I've done so far tend to max out at around 100-125 respondents. Before google boosted our ranking we were getting around 500 users a day visiting. In addition to the various number of people who comment, I suspect that GNXP's "core" readership is somewhat above 100, but not too much further than that. Right now we are getting well over 1,000 (sometimes around 2,000) unique users a day. Just as power laws apply to the traffic of blogs, they obviously apply to readers of blogs, a tiny minority of readers makes most of the comments and probably contributes a majority of the hits. After blogging for about 1.5 years I have to say I have learned a lot. In some ways I was blogging ever since I was a child internally, but now I have some feedback on a lot of the ideas. Thanks for that.
By the way, I'm thinking of starting a quarterly (every 3 months) webzine spun-off of GNXP. What do readers think of that? I wonder if there is much room for another zine out there. Can you think of sites like GNXP? I want to see what's out there before proceeding.
Is love mortal-blind?
This link Jacqueline provided indicates that human-elf pairings tended to be male human + female elf. It notes that elves are androgynous aside from their bits & pieces, so humans are more sexually dimorphic....
P.S.: My favorite scene from the RotK was when Pippin was singing for Denethor while his son Faramir was leading a suicidal charge....
The French Way
LA TIMES article about the head-scarf row over in the Gallic country. Many Brits & Americans have been contemptuous of French attempts to squelch Islamist identification amongst their Muslim minority. Yeah, as a classical liberal, laissez faire, but I live in a country where Muslims are closer to 1% than 10% of the population. The UK is at 2%. Easy for us to point fingers, but what would we do in the same situation??? Seriously. Read this article from The American Prospect and ask yourself if the Left is offering any credible alternative to the nationalist Right. 'tis far easier to scold xenophobes than outline a plan of action to turn Muslim peasants into European social democrats.
Better Left Unsaid, But....
Saw Return of the King today. Good movie.
Anyone can find anything in Tolkien. But one thing that I've always wondered is how liberal Tolkien lovers hande the racio-cultural implications.
When I googled tolkien racism
Actually, this isn't what I think of at all when I try and glean a racial angle in Middle Earth. I'm wondering about the fact that the "black men" of Harad (who are dominated by a white ruling caste) and "Easterlings" are aligned with Sauron. In fact, only the Men of the West are struggling against his influence. I remember vividly the passages in The Silmarillion which allude to the sexual exploitation of the women of the "Elf Friends" during the First Age by "swarthy" and "sallow" Easterlings after the latter had invaded the lands of the western folk. So one way those who espouse PC views on race and are afflicted by Tolkienophila can dodge the issue is to throw up a straw man (I sure as hell never identify with a monster because they're brown skinned! How stupid do you think I am?).
Now, I'm not very outraged by any of this, I think it is clear that this sort of mindset made sense in the historical and social context that Tolkien was familiar with, and as some commentators have noted, modern film today tends to depict villains as blue-eyed blonde males. But I doubt I am the only non-white person who noticed that I look far more like one of the corrupted Haradim or an Easterling than the Free Men of the West. This is of course a common motif in fantasy, and I have seen Amazon user reviews who comment positively on a book because the swarthy and sallow are not depicted as the enemy (this genre is often aimed at Anglo-American kids, so it makes sense to have noble knights defeating swarthy scimitar wielding nomads. And, I have to admit that fantasy novels that use a non-European context can be hard for me to figure out because the references don't come as easily). Yet, after noting this, I also realize, I do not live on Middle Earth, and the values of the Free Men of the West are more admirable than those of the colored races of Middle Earth, so emotionally with Arnor and Gondor do I stand.
As for the John-Rhys Davies interview, he says:
Hallelujah brother! Of course, as Steve Sailer notes, blood matters in the world of Tolkien. Those who have read The Simarillion know this, a drop of Elven blood goes a long way in giving a hero a prepackaged suite of noble traits and heightened skills. This is hinted at in the first film when Elrond (who is of mixed racial heritage himself, but chose to be a member of the Elven race) notes that the "blood of Numenor is all but spent...." The Numenorians are the natural ruling race of the West, and with a hint of Elvish ancestry they have extended lifespans in comparison to full mortals. Their first king was Elrond's brother Elros, who chose to be a Man. It follows that the Free Men would be more imbued with nobility and courage, it was they during the First Age who mixed their blood with Elvenkind and so the base venality of Humankind is most diluted in them (the "Black Numenorians" are evidence that they are not immune to Sauron's temptation, and black in this context is on account of character, not color).
Please note, I think that most of the criticisms can be deflected if you look at The Lord of the Rings. It is in The Silmarillion, almost a work of narrative history, where the deep historical roots of the general trends can be seen most strikingly. In Tolkien's defense, the virtue of the Men of the West can be argued as coincidence, insofar as those humans who were nearest to the Elves inevitably acculturated their noble values.
This article addresses some of the same points, though there is more outrage in the tone.
fn1. Though the Men of the West are obviously white, some of the rhetorical depictions of them as blonde Nordic superman are pretty outrageous. I recall from The Simarillion that at least one race of the Elf Friends was depicted as dark haired and another blonde (I don't remember the third). If you watch Return of the King, note the contrast between the blond Rohirrim and the almost uniformly dark-haired citizens of Minas Tirith. And I believe that pure blooded Numenorians look like Aragorn, dark-haired and pale-eyed.
December 16, 2003
Blood is thicker than....
Father love isn't the same as mother love, that's for sure....
The Namboothiri Brahmins of Kerala in southern India had a peculiar tradition. Only the the eldest son married a Namboothiri woman. The younger sons entered into relationships with Nair women (the ruling caste of Kerala). All their children would have the status of the mother. This resulted in a surplus of Namboothiri daughters, though some of this was mitigated by the practice of Namboothiri men entering into polygamous relationships. As for the other half of the equation, from the accounts it seems that the relationships with Nair women could range from polyandry (she could have a Nair husband or other Brahmin lovers) to concubinage (google the term Sambandham). These traditions preserved the property of the Namboothiri families and gave them the resources to become probably the foremost Vedic scholars among the Brahmins of India. In fact, there is a relic of Proto-Indo-European (some specific raised accent) that is preserved only in the Sanskrit used in the ritual of the Namboothiri Brahmins among all the multitudinous tongues spawned by PIE and the forms of Sanskrit used by the various Brahmin groups of India (the Namboothiris themselves speak the Dravidian language of Kerala). With the rise of traditional monogamy the Namboothiris have become far more like other high caste groups....
What does this have to do with the Thurmond? Because of caste strictures most Namboothiri fathers could not interact (eat with, drink with) with their Nair sons-though of course in grand religious tradition the relationship with Nair women was a violation of the letter of the law in the first place. No doubt the fathers loved their sons, but they were not Namboothiri and could not study the sacred Vedas since the Nairs are Sudras (though of course there were issues with paternity in these matrifocal living situations). There is a hierarchy of love and pride in each human being. The fact that generations of southern white men turned their backs on their bastard half-black children is abominable, Thurmond seems to have acted with more honor than most, but again, like so many things, this human tendency of putting social status and group allegiance before ties of blood is not special to the West. Though in these contexts, where families are cleaved asunder, it seems bestial, the abnegation of the parent-child bond is a manifestaiton of that trait that sets us apart from so many animals, the elevation of abstract groups above those of blood-relation in the chain of being.
Greater China-why not?
Just read parts of A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook, and it brought up an interesting point which I've often reflected upon, though without any great original insights. Southeat Asia, Indo-China and the Malay archipelago, are about equally distant from the heartlands of Chinese and Indian culture, and rather far from the Middle East. And yet, while Chinese culture has affected Vietnam profoundly, the impact upon the peoples of the region seems to have been much greater from India. In fact, the Chinese influence today would be far diminished if the Overseas communities were subtracted from the equation. The Islam of the Malay peoples was often mediated by Gujarati Indian merchants (along with Arabs and other Muslim peoples), while the Javanese in particular retain Buddhist-Hindu practices such as depictions of the Ramayana in their puppet-shows despite their nominal Muslim profession. Tibet also made a choice for the more Indian form of Buddhism and culture when it pondered which civilization to align itself with. In Myanmar the Burman kings switched from the Mahyana school (dominant in China) to a Therevada form of Buddhism preached by Sri Lankan monks. The Burmans and the Thai, like the Vietnamese, were familiar with the Chinese, as they came from southern China, and were an affinal people racially and to some extent linguistically (this is disputable). But only the Vietnamese were strongly influenced by the Han model in culture and myth, the Thai and Burmese were far more impacted by Indian archetypes (I believe the Thai king as a cakravartin, not a Son of Heaven). All this does not deny the distance of the mass culture from the exoganous influences-I just wanted to highlight the disparate impact of alernative elites modes of thought, because elite modes often percolate down as society modernizes. Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia may become more Indian as a more self-conscious Buddhist thought purges animism and native beliefs, just as Indonesia and Malaysia are becoming more Muslim. Vietnam, the Sincized sibling of the ASEAN group, might gravitate toward a more Indian model if China becomes too overbearing as both become plugged in to the system of international trade and more formalized cross-border traffic.
Yes, I know this is a well known phenomenon, but still worth pondering after all these years....
Papists, Protestants & propoganda
Recently, I have come to the conclusion that American culture, influenced by Protestant propoganda, has unfairly painted the Roman Catholic Church as an enemy of science & progress. Even anti-religious secuarlists like Richard Dawkins use the Church as their special foil, the relic of a demon haunted age.
On the other hand, there are essays like this which just as propogandistically argue that Catholicism is the more "progressive" faith & culture in the light of a broad classical liberalism. Bill Allison's response is close to what I would say. In Triumph : The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2,000-Year History by H.W. Crocker III (a convert to Catholicism) there is a running argument that Protestantism destroyed a cosmopolitan European medieval culture, and arrested the development of genuine liberalism. Liberalism's stronger hold in traditionally Protestant cultures does not seem to faze the author.
When you have the One True Faith, who needs facts?
Small town, bright lights
I have lived in a variety of urban situations. When I lived in a larger city, or visit them, people rarely make much note of me. When I lived in a medium sized city in upstate New York in the early 1980s, people would often ask if I was from India (I would say "Yes" for simplicity's sake). When I lived in a small town in eastern Imbler in the 1990s the only time people would note my race would be to hurl insults at me.
Now I live in a small liberal arts town filled with yuppy boomers. And here I am noticed, but not in a "racist" way. Rather, it usually goes like this....
Liberal-Broad-Minded-Person-Who-Is-Too-White (LBMPWITW): Are you from India?
I wish the above was an amusing fabrication, but it is a pretty good truncated composite of 3 recent encounters I've had. Not a big deal, but it does remind you that Westerners with disposable income who regularly travel to Third World nations, but live around only white people, can sometimes get a superficial conception of us coloreds, though their heart might be in the right place....
My plans for the future? Get a T-Shirt silk-screened that has I LOVE BEEF! on the front and I HATE ALLAH! on the back. Of course, if I really wanted to keep people away, a shirt with JESUS SAVES! would also do the trick....
fn1. Quick back-of-the-envelope shows that 30% of the population of India+Bangladesh+Pakistan is Muslim.
How did you find GNXP?
We've been at this domain for almost a year, and Gene Expression was on blogspot for 6 months prior to that. So I'm curious, how did people get to this blog? We're getting a lot of search engine hits now, but I don't know how stick they are, the comment boards haven't changed that much. So answer the poll question if inclined, and elaborate on the comment boards if you want as well....
Results so far....
December 15, 2003
Language by the plough
I finally read the paper on Indo-Europeans that gave support to the "Anatolian Farmer" hypothesis. It was very compelling. I'm mildly convinced.
Update: OK, here is the link zizka pointed to about linguists criticizing the study. Follow the links within the link, and you can find many attacks and pot-shots of the study.
A few points.
1) I agree that outside-of-speciality-people need to bone up on an area they are "invading" before they get into using their techniques in said area. I've detected obvious historical and ethnological errors in papers that study the genetic history of group X with method Y, and it is pretty stupid seeing as how all you need is a basic reference to double check your assertions and presuppositions (they usually go along the lines of assuming that "general knowledge" outside of a speciality of points in a speciality are the consensus, when usually they are out of date by a few decades).
2) That said, why is more technique bad? Molecular biologists and geneticists were told to stop talking about things they didn't know about by palaeoanthropologists when they asserted from DNA evidence that humans and other primates went they separate ways far more recently than the consensus in the field they were invading. The palaeoanthropologists had to eat eat crow when the fossils later vindicated the wet lab guys. Today the two work in concert exploring questions about the past.
3) Conflicts between different disciplines investigating the same topic are fascinating and often lead to a more thorough understanding, and sometimes a paradigm shift. If I remember correctly, in the late 19th century biologists and geologists asserted that the Earth must have been really old (for evolution and geological processes), but physicists couldn't figure out a way that the sun could produce the requisite energy for such an extended period (they didn't the have weak and strong nuclear force, so no fusion). Of course eventually the conflict disappeared when physicists had a more fleshed out model of stellar evolution from both observation and theoretical physics. Linguists of all people should be open to methods and ways of thinking that shift paradigm, their field after all has broken out of a niche in cultural anthropology by expanding across other disciplines and importing techniques and models. The general point, stay in your own area, has some truth to it. Many natural scientists get very irritated when "deconstructing theorists" decide to Study Their Way of Thinking (or what not). But the problem is really that these people aren't contributing anything to science, and are probably not that sincere in forwarding scientific knowledge since they often don't believe it is anything more than a belief-system a priori. For all their hubris and ignorance, I think people who want to investigate linguistic-historical questions through genetics and other methods that might map well have their heart in the right place. Yeah, it sucks that the mainstream press listens to them and accepts their pompous pronouncements as if wisdom came into the world with evolutionary biology (this is the general tone of some of the objections), but reform and inform rather than revolt.
By the way, do linguists mostly reject Greenberg's theories about Native American languages?. Its congruency to recent genetic evidence is a mighty peculiar coincidence if it isn't the correct model (the difference between "Na Dene" and "Amerinds").
fn1. Intellectual imperialism, done well, is a good thing. We are all conscious beings, so I think a little bit of exportation of "rational choice" from economics is OK. Similarly, we are all biological creatures with pre-packages of instincts and impulses shaped by our evolutionary history, so a little bit of exportation of "evolution" from biology is OK. The problem happens when arrogance becomes overwhelming. The physicists (like Francis Crick) who came into biology reshaped the science with their methods and mind-set (also, remember Linus Pauling, who made contributions all over the map and was only just beaten out by Crick & Watson in the hunt for the structure of DNA). Similarly, the inclusion of mathematically oriented minds was crucial to the maturation of the "Neo-Darwinian Synthesis." Cries of imperialism and the "inappropriateness" of methods from physics or mathematics toward understanding biological questions abounded in the early years, but I think today such folk are remnants of the Old Order. The question is...are you a reductionist? I am. So I think cross-fertilization is good, all knowledge is the same in the end...do I sound like a consiliator or what?
Who is the Fairest of Them All, cont.
This book is gaining attention: "Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love" by Betsy Prioleau. A study of "50 of the world's most famous seductresses -- from Cleopatra to Catherine the Great to Mae West" it makes the point "that physical beauty was not -- and is not -- a required attribute in the arts of seduction. Many, if not most, of the women she writes about were not beauties. Far more important are the gifts of wit, brains, empathy and self-sufficiency -- the opposite of neediness."
Dr. Prioleau is completely correct imho. In a recent thread, I was alarmed to see the admiration expressed for the girls (literally) who compose Google's top 10 image search. Not one truly sexy woman on the list. Note- this is expressly not that cliched call to "see the inner beauty," but a different concept of what sexiness really is. Sexiness that will take some time to be replicated in a haptically present Real Doll, if ever. The triumph of the visual is the mark of the adolescent.
More Medical Experts
While on the subject of dubious 'experts' (see my post on African AIDS), the British newspapers in the last week have had a lot of coverage of Professor Sir Roy Meadows. Sir Roy is about as eminent as doctors get: recognised as one of the world's leading p(a)ediatricians, top professor at a medical school, recipient of a knighthood and other honours, and President of the Royal College of Paediatricians.
Sir Roy's reputation has been built largely on his 'discovery' in the 1970s of Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy. Plain old Munchhausen Syndrome is the familiar mental disorder whereby people invent fictitious symptoms - or perhaps inflict real harm on themselves - just to obtain medical attention. The variant 'By Proxy' is where people invent (or inflict) symptoms on other people under their control - usually their children - for the same purpose.
There is little doubt that MSBP exists, as there are some solidly documented cases, including those where parents have been secretly filmed giving their children drugs or poisons, even in their hospital beds.
Alas, Sir Roy's great discovery seems to have gone to his head, and he started seeing MSBP everywhere, even where there were perfectly natural explanations for the symptoms observed. But such was his reputation that his evidence was taken as conclusive in several criminal trials for murder or attempted murder, and in an unknown number of child custody cases, possibly running into hundreds.
Now it is all unravelling. Several murder convictions have recently been thrown out on appeal, and there are demands for a comprehensive review of all the cases in which he gave evidence. The turning point came when Sir Roy gave an opinion of the statistical odds against more than one 'cot death' (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) occurring by natural causes in the same family, which rested on such a blatant statistical fallacy that the Royal Statistical Society wrote officially to the Court authorities to protest. After that, people began to wonder 'if he could make an error like that, what else can we trust?'. A further problem (which make this relevant to GNXP!) is that he habitually neglected genetic factors which might be responsible for unexplained deaths or illnesses. In one of the recent murder appeals, an old lady, the grandmother of the appellant, came all the way from India to give evidence on the prevalence of sudden infant death in the family.
Not sure there is any moral to all this. I'm not saying 'don't trust doctors' - just don't think they are infallible. If anything, doctors and other medical experts seem to have even more authority in the US than in Britain, and it would be surprising if there were not similar cases waiting to be discovered.
December 14, 2003
Katy posted a comment on Saddam in the message board. If any of you care about that....