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May 22, 2004



More on JMS

This week's issue of Nature (20 May) has a long obituary of John Maynard Smith by Eors Szathmary and Peter Hammerstein.

The obit is also available online here. This is a Nature webpage dedicated to JMS, and includes a 15-page bibliography of his publications and a selection of his papers from Nature.

Warning: even at 15 pages, the bibliography is far from complete. It doesn't include JMS's numerous book reviews in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and Nature itself. Nor do I see his historical essays on Weismann and Galton, and various other 'occasional' publications. I suspect that the items omitted from the biblio would make a respectable career's work for most of us!

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May 21, 2004



The unluck of the Irish

Study links folic acid gene mutation to birth defects. How do you remedy the problem? Folic acid supplements!

Posted by razib at 09:06 PM | | TrackBack


Democratic bimodalities

Steve has some data implying that smarter whites tend to vote a bit more Democratic (control-f "Q. Do smart whites vote Democratic?"). The effect isn't as strong as many in the chattering class might presume. I think this has to do with selection bias and projection of the small sample, as Steve suggests. From what I gather, the chattering class is disproportionately drawn form persons who majored in liberal arts at elite universities, and this group tends to be rather Leftish (think New Democrats as the Right end of the spectrum). If you looked at those who majored in science & engineering at the same schools, I suspect they would less liberal, but most of these people do not become public intellectuals.

Posted by razib at 12:53 PM | | TrackBack

May 20, 2004



Bow, wow

Pooch breeds identified by genes.

Salient points:

1) One "ancient" branch, three recent ones, of canis familiaris.
2) The importance of functional genes in effecting the phenotype of the dog. That is, the three recent clades look very different, even if their origin was on the order of hundreds, not thousands, of years. Note that "ancient" breeds were re-bred from the genetic background of the canine population in the recent past (the same "look" can be replicated through selection biasing a breeding population).
3) Dogs are man's best friend if they can help us with understanding human diseases.

via Steve Sailer.

Posted by razib at 09:01 PM | | TrackBack

May 19, 2004



Cowgirls for Allah

Here is a Beliefnet interview with Asma Gull Hasan, author of Why I am a Muslim. To me, her life seems to typify an unstable equilibrium between the two worlds of traditional Pakistan (insert random Muslim culture) and 21st century United States. She is not easily identified as a Muslim woman because she wears no head-scarf, let alone resembling a "Black-Moving-Object." But in some of her social mores, she is obviously rather conservative, and though very few Americans are virgins on their wedding day, she seems to be saying that this is an important thing to do if you are going to be a Muslim. Of course, there are American Christians who reject pre-marital sex, and walk the talk (this is important), but they are often perceived to be in an adverserial relationship with the mainstream culture. This is exactly what Asma is obviously not comfortable with-rather, that niche is taken up by the vocal minority of American Muslims who enforce the wearing of head-scarfs in social situations. Is pre-marital sex a necessary condition of being a modern American? Of course not, but, I am skeptical that most American families live in terror that it will get out in the community that their daughter or son has engaged in such activites (even if they espouse a contrary ideal). Americans do not live in such structured extended families where "honor" and "reputation" are codified, enforced and related in such a way that the behavior of individuals echoes throughout a social network. Asma Gull Hasan does not live in an extended family either, but the picture she paints of the assimilated American Muslim culture indicates that that sort of mentality has yet to be eroded by the atomizing impact of Western culture.

Posted by razib at 11:19 PM | | TrackBack


Designing People

Imagine if you will - the combination of powerful software with genetic engineering and you might well be designing your own children with the help of softare from morphases.com

Play with their software and either create the most beautiful creatures we could imagine or screw it up and create some abomination

Posted by TangoMan at 03:32 AM | | TrackBack

May 18, 2004



Age of consent

In the post below on Blue vs. Red States, godless aired the possibility that Blue staters might be more open to reducing the age of consent, I was curious, so I looked the data from this site, and didn't really find a pattern. Below are the states sorted by age of consents 16 and below, and those who are at 18 (I used the higher age if there was a split).

Young ones....

Hawaii 14 Gore
Idaho 14 Bush
Colorado 15 Bush
Connecticut 15 Gore
Virginia 15 Bush
Alabama 16 Bush
Alaska 16 Bush
Delaware 16 Gore
Georgia 16 Bush
Indiana 16 Bush
Kansas 16 Bush
Maine 16 Gore
Maryland 16 Gore
Michigan 16 Gore
Minnesota 16 Gore
Mississippi 16 Bush
Montana 16 Bush
Nebraska 16 Bush
Nevada 16 Bush
North Carolina 16 Bush
Ohio 16 Bush
Pennsylvania 16 Gore
Rhode Island 16 Gore
South Carolina 16 Bush
Vermont 16 Gore
Washington 16 Bush
West Virginia 16 Bush
Wyoming 16 Bush

Well aged....

Arizona 18 Bush
Florida 18 Bush
Iowa 18 Bush
Massachusetts 18 Gore
New Hamsphire 18 Bush
New Jersey 18 Gore
North Dakota 18 Bush
Imbler 18 Gore
Tennessee 18 Bush
Utah 18 Bush
Wisconsin 18 Gore

Posted by razib at 10:49 AM | | TrackBack


Geek Culture

The Onion reports a story of a average woman at a Science Fiction convention becoming a relative hottie. Hilarious.

Posted by scottm at 02:02 AM | | TrackBack


Arthur & his wogs

Seems like the new King Arthur movie is more The Winter King than The Once and Future King. Arthur is a Roman defending Romano-British civilization ~500 and Guinevere seems to be a Pictish princess. The Saxons look suitably barbaric. Why the peculiar title? Arthur's knights are Sarmatians, an Iranian people who occupied the same niche in east-central Europe that the Avars and Magyars later would. Historically some of the Sarmatians who were defeated by Rome in Pannonia were resettled along Hadrian's Wall. Some have suggested that certain Arthurian motifs point to a Sarmatian influence....

Posted by razib at 01:12 AM | | TrackBack


Beyond Just-So

Excellent article (free registration) on the current state of evolutionary psychology.

Via Steve Sailer.

Posted by razib at 12:28 AM | | TrackBack

May 17, 2004



Just a little bit gay....

Just found out about this book, The Puzzle, that attempts to sketch out why homosexuality exists within human populations. Here is an interview with the author, who seems to be suggesting that homosexuality emerges out of the human ESS. He also seems to be saying that homosexual behavior can be changed, something that isn't going to go over too well in some quarters. Readers might also be interested in A Separate Creation, by Chandler Burr, if this topic tickles their fancy.

Via Steve Sailer.

Posted by razib at 07:22 PM | | TrackBack


Reflections on integration

A week ago, Randy asked:


1. How do they think current immigration waves in North America and Europe differ from previous waves (gastarbeiter in Europe, the turn-of-the-century wave in North America)?

2. What do they think are the particular dangers or problems of the current waves?


Many responses ensued. One thing that I think it important to note though, both the perception of difference and the objective reality of difference are important, and it is in the first area that there are wide similarities (between periods and countries), and in the second area that there might be salient differences (between this age and that age, this country and that country).

An easy way to illustrate what I'm talking about is to imagine a person, John, who has two neighbors move in at the same time. John is a fundamentalist Protestant Christian. He believes that only those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior can be accepted into heaven, and he has a narrow view of who "Christians" are.

The two neighbors can be described as follows:

Brian, a family man from a Roman Catholic background, and Abdullah, a family man and a person of Muslim background.

John's first reaction to the newcomers is suspicion, discomfort and a mild level of animosity when his neigbhors move in. He tries to "witness" to them, and they react with irritation. Over time, one could imagine that John would become more comfortable around his neigbhors. He would see their kids play, he would see them water their lawn on the weekends and they would invite him over for barbecues, etc. His conceptions of them as "in the darkness" might be ameliorated by inter-personal experiences, and he would realize that their faith really isn't that different from his, in some ways.

But wait...I suspect over time John would realize that though there were important doctrinal differences, Brian really wasn't a non-Christian, that the Pope wasn't some malignant force, and that they both espoused the same Nicene creed. On the other hand, there is only so much common ground John can find with Abdullah. Yes, one can finesse some issues, but the reality remains that ecumenical feelings are much more difficult between a fundamentalist Protestant and a Muslim than between the former and a Roman Catholic. While two Christians have a concrete connection through the histories of their churches, John and Abdullah have to make recourse to mythologies of the unity of the Abrahamic faiths (that is, we don't know Abraham existed, Arabs almost certainly took on the label of Ishmaelites later one, etc. etc.).

Now, it is important to note is that human beings are only capable of a finite level fear & revulsion. Even though initially, "objectively" Abdullah had a faith that was more at variance with John's fundamentalist Protestantism than Brian's, John viewed them both as "non-Christians" in his rather Manichaean conception of the Order-of-Things. The tendency to view the world in black-or-white tends to result in oversimplifications, and perception quickly defines reality. As a greater level of nuance is attained, orders of magnitude make themselves apparent, and John realizes that Brian shares more elements of his faith than Abdullah does (of course, John knows rationally that Roman Catholicism has similarities with his faith before "first contact," but I am suggesting his sense of alienation has already "maxed" out at that level of difference, so that Abdullah doesn't elicit much greater emotional distress).

So, back to Randy's question, how does this apply to various waves of migration? Since perception is a large part of reality, the equivalent social tension induced by the immigration of the "Other" is similar in various periods when "nativism" flairs up. On the other hand, there are differences, and there are differences, Italian Americans for example have integrated more seemlessly into the fabric of American life than Jews, because the former, for all their swarthy Mediterranean a"Otherness," were fundamentally Christians, and often of a mild anti-clerical variety, so intermarriage with native white Americans occurred when familiarity was common-place. In contrast, Jews are axiomatically set apart from gentile society because of the very nature of who Jews are. Granted, by the mid-20th century American civil religion began to be defined by the mythology of Catholic-Protestant-Jew (as if the first two did not cluster together in reference to the third), but this inclusion of Jews, and the use of the term "Judeo-Christian," simply masks an underlying real tension that exists between Jews and Protestants & Christians. This tension flair up during controversies having to do with attempts to convert Jews, or when high school graduating classes attempt to agree upon an ecumenical communal prayer.

The common analogy with Irish-American and Italian-American communities misses the reality that these enclaves are rumps, remnants of ethnic groups that have in large measure been absorbed into the fabric of white America. On the other hand, there is a fear among Jews about the interrmarriage statistics, which are risen sharply since the 1960s. This is a reflection of the objective differences between Jews and Christians.

The analogy with Muslims and othe religious minorities and immigrant groups is obvious: they might be perceived as no more alien than the Roman Catholics from Poland in 1900 in 2004, but in reality, there are salient differences of kind that are more difficult to paper-over in the creation of a common identity. More radical elements of the Muslim community believe Christians engage in shirk, while more conservative Christians are not shy about calling Muhammed a false prophet. Roman Catholics and Protestants can appeal to a larger set of intersecting core beliefs, and the reality of a shared history, rather than having to conjure of a distant mythological past.

This does not mean that I believe that the human mind is not ingenious enough to paper-over differences and formulate some sort of ecumenical integrity to the American civil religion. I am just asserting that it might be more difficult, invariant of time and place, between certain duets as opposed to others.

Addendum: More topical analogy: I would not be surprised if conservative Americans view "gay marriage" with about the same revulsion as segregationist Americans viewed "interracial marriage" (the rhetoric that this will lead to bestiality is rather cognate with diatribes I have read from white nationalist quarters). But, I do think there is a difference, in that "interracial marriage" has been much more common-place historically than "gay marriage."

Afterthought: Speaking of remnants, the modern Jewish population is also a "rump" so to speak, in that Jews were likely some of the most enthusiastic converts to Christianity during its early years, and the process continued well into the modern period (the old observation being that Germany's Jewish population was being asborbed at such a rate that sans the Holocaust, there would likely still be very few self-identified Jews left in Germany circa 2000).

Posted by razib at 02:22 PM | | TrackBack


Cambridge

Will be in Cambridge, Mass, hanging out with a friend this week, Wed. night to Friday night. Email me if you want to hang (see contact on sidebar).

Posted by razib at 04:56 AM | | TrackBack

May 16, 2004



I, Robot, the movie?

I, Robot is being made into a movie. Bridget Moynahan plays Dr. Susan Calvin...and I thought Isaac had imagined her as a spinster.

Posted by razib at 10:18 PM | | TrackBack


Hastening the end....

So gay marriage is almost a reality in Massachusetts. This is highlighting a "cultural chasm," blah, blah, blah. On a related note, here is Jay Manifold commenting on a the recent article on Sugar Land, Texas:


Finkel nonetheless strives to make all this sound as alien, unpleasant, and un-Blue-State-like as possible. The resulting transparent failure has me wondering if Darwinian selection isn't on the verge of simply putting the Blue States out of business.

Let's ignore the reality that many "blue" and "red" people switch over at some point in their life, there is still a way of looking at the divide as if they were two immutable tribes. But despite their general tendency to live apart, in both mind and real space, the two groups do try and influence each other ("blue" pushing for more "tolerance" and "red" pushing for more "morality" in the backyard of the other through the power of the federal government). Recently Stanley Kurtz has been talking about gay marriage in Sweden, and how it is affecting straight marriage (negatively). I know there are issues with the interstate commerce clause and gay marriage in Massachusetts, but I am trying to communicate a bigger point, conservative activists who argue that liberal social policies are resulting in the collapse of a society, and attempt to ameliote these conditions through legislation, might be delaying an inevitable cultural implosion and precipitous decline in TFR in "blue" (due to more gays, more working moms, etc.) regions that will usher in a time of the ascendancy of "red" culture (conversely, banning abortion on the federal level and repealing laws against sex discrimination that might reduce the incentive for women to have careers might have the impact of increasing birth-rates in those very states that favor abortion rights & gender equity, eventually leading to a re-legalization of abortion and re-imposition of anti-discrimination laws....) .

Update: Over at View From the Right Lawrence Auster expresses apocalyptic sentiments, but again, gay marriage is going to be a most salient where the populace is most sanguine about it (though even in Massachusetts it isn't popular). Most of "red" America will be fine, the quarterback on the local high school football team isn't going to be sashaying down the aisle with the nose-guard anytime soon.

Update II: Jay emailed me, and I have posted his comment below:

Returning to the original subject ...

1. Thanks to Razib for a largely undeserved link.

2. Randy McDonald has done some great work on the possible history and anthropology of space colonies. Having said that, it seems to me that the article I quoted had the inadvertent effect of showing that conservatives avoid precisely the errors he lists: assuming there aren't any gays or feminists nearby, etc.

3. I note that immigration is a far less contentious issue in the red states than the blue states. Texas has a far better relationship with Mexico than does California. A positive-sum mentality helps.

4. My motivation in writing what I did was my frustration at seeing gays, in particular, appear to concentrate themselves in the blue states, where their pockets get picked by those states' interventionist economic policies and high taxes. My theory is that the red states, insofar as they are freer economically and have less expensive public bureaucracies, are better places for creative, entrepreneurial people. No, you won't have politicians saying they love you all the time. But your house will cost a third as much and your taxes will be far lower. Just why someone of my background (WASP heterosexual male evangelical) would, in effect, advocate gay immigration to my part of the country is, well, just one of those red state complexities that don't get much media attention. ;)

5. Now for my big mistake: committing the besotting Libertarian sin of almost-hoping for a positive feedback loop leading to the collapse of the Evil System. In reality, the blue states have considerable strengths and are unlikely to go completely down the drain. There is an enormous degree of homeostasis in American society, even in the midst of breakneck technological advance and economic dynamism.


Perhaps as Jay would say, "we are all sinners...."

Posted by razib at 08:18 PM | | TrackBack


Paris ghettos

From a reader:


http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/05/13/60minutes/main617270.shtml.

Razib, this is an extremely important article that is an almost verbatim script of a show I just saw on CBS's 60 minutes. It deals with allegations of gang violence (esp. gang rape) that is going on against women in the immigrant ghettos of France. The interesting thing to me was that 60 minutes seems to focus on the Muslim immigrants largely targetting fellow Muslim immigrant women. Apparently, now a lot of these immigrant women are fighting back and staging large public protests concerning their treatment. Now, the interesting thing to me is that this may be the first signs of major schisms developing in the Muslim community of France. First, there may be minor schisms, which might lead to more major schisms, which might lead to sub- populations outright separating from the main population and assimilating into the wider French population. If you didn't see the actual show, read the article and see what you think.

Posted by razib at 08:14 PM | | TrackBack


Talking heads...kind of

Interviews with many scientists over at this archive (free registration, and they are in "beta" mode, they'll probably throw up barriers in the future, so get it while it's gratis).

Update: Also check out Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists™. Long time member Steve Pinker says: "Luxuriant hair is always pleasing, possibly because it shows not only current health but a record of health in the years before."

Jason Malloy adds: No, seriously, register at Peoples Archive and watch the detailed personal interviews with the late J.M. Smith and (possibly immortal) Ernst Mayr. It's a good find. Also, written interviews at Speak, Darwinists! with many big names.

Posted by razib at 02:28 PM | | TrackBack


I agree with economists!

This article in The New York Times is about the relationship of health and social status. A few economists offer words of caution, and here, I tend to agree with them, there seem to be too many confounding issues. Many of the points and counter-points seem to hint at so many other potentional follow up questions, that perhaps the article should have been presented as a list of bullets. For example:


How would one explain what is known as the "Hispanic paradox," the fact that Hispanics have lower than average rates of chronic illness than whites in the United States even though many live in relatively poorer social and economic conditions? "There has been no real attempt to control for all of those things at the same time," he said.

In other words, Hispanics might measure status in the context of their relatively deprived social environment. Anyway, a lot of stuff to argue about-I hope someone doesn't use this to make the case that poor people should be segregated and sealed away for their own good health!

Posted by razib at 02:19 PM | | TrackBack


Brain sweets

Pascal Boyer has many of his articles on evolutionary psychology & cognitive science online. Ditto for Gary Marcus. A man could lose himself....

Posted by razib at 03:28 AM | | TrackBack


The tactics of defeat

Seems like someone found this old post about ID & evolution by godless and decided to rebut it. Here is a representative quote:


Wow, I've never read a less informed defense of evolution by someone who appears so confident.
...
Apparently, Gene Expression author "godless" isn't particularly familiar with typical descriptions of evolution. To quote some of Fred Reed's questioning of evolution....
....

Where to start? Well, nowhere, Panda's Thumb is on the case 24-7, so I'm going to cool my jets. But what sort of "dialogue" can we ever have with individuals like the one I just quoted? The same sort of condescending faux-learned tone resulted in an eruption from me last week.

But there are other types I disagree with. Check out this interview with Dr. Tim Johnson, ABC News health editor. He's a believing Christian of the mainline sort. I certainly have issues with some of his opinions.

For example:


...As I have thought it through and read about it for many years, I've come to the conclusion that on balance I think it's more likely to have happened by design, even though there's been an enormous amount of chance involved.
...
The initial explosive force of the Big Bang appears to have been just right to result in the formation of the universe. The most microscopic shift one way or another, and the universe would have either collapsed back on itself or expanded too rapidly for stars to form.
...
I absolutely do. I think there's enormous evidence for the operation of natural selection in evolving life in general and human life in particular. The underlying genetic machinery--which allows mutations to happen in the first place and then to be preserved via natural selection passed on from generation to generation--is more plausibly viewed as having developed by design rather than by chance.

And so forth. Dr. Johnson seems to be a pretty moderate theistic evolutionist. I have some serious disagreements with him. I am skeptical of claims of design that issue out of the anthropic principle. But...well, frankly, Dr. Johnson resides in the same universe as I at least. He sees what's there, not what he wants to see, though the conclusions differ from those I would draw. I believe there is a sharp difference between Dr. Johnson, the individuals above, and of course, the obscurantists who form the core of the Intelligent Design movement. The likes of Dr. Johnson, and individuals like me who are Dawkinsian in our substance if not our style, can engage in a rational conversation.

For example...there is some recent evidence that an asteroid impact precipitated the Late Permian extinction event. In case you don't know, this one made the dino-destruction of 65 millions years past look like a minor perturbance in biodversity (look to the oceans if you google it). It was during this period that we saw the rise and decline of the Therapsids, a group of reptiles that figures importantly in our family tree. Most Therapsid groups disappeared, and dinosaurs quickly speciated into all their varied forms and came to dominate the subsequent Triassic. A few post-Therapsid groups became mammals, slinking in the shadow of the dinosaurs until the extinction even of 65 millions years turned the tables. The mammals quickly radiated into all the niches that were left empty with the die-off of dinosaurs during the early years of the Cenozoic-and the rest is history....

The narrative above is pretty standard, in fact, I'm sure many 4th graders have a grasp of the basics. The data is kind of vanilla after all these years. But what are the implications? That depends on what you believe in the first place. I have already labelled myself a Dawkinsian, so I won't even proceed any further. But what about Dr. Johnson? You can already see that he was ready to go anthropic during the interview. If I might speculate, perhaps he could imagine that God used the two asteroid impacts to shape our own ancestral lineage, that the long period in the shadow of the dinosaurs was somehow necessary to smooth the path toward primate sapiency. I don't know-I'm not God. But the fact is that the Therapsids managed to just hold on, they had to adjust to a new niche and developed the typical endothermic metablism and mammalian features that are so familiar to us during their Mesozoic "exile". Dr. Johnson might point out that the first "primate-like" creatures appeared at the end of the Mesozoic, just before the extinction event. Fortuitous?

I don't know, I wouldn't buy it, and I might want to get into a dispute about these interpretations. But...the fact is, they are just strange interpretations about facts that I would admit are real, the interpretation is also in line with majority thinking in the United States (much harder to beat up two bigger kids on the block at once than if you cut a deal with one of them and then turn on each other later). That is, there were two major extinction events, Therapsids did not become extinct, proto-primates showed up just before the Cenozoic, etc. etc. Dr. Johnson does not live in fantasy land. I won't go into the details of how and why Dr. Johnson and I disagree, the significance of our disagreemant, rather, I would like to emphasize that though I can't but help cringing at what I perceive to be ad hoc theological-philosophical retrofits on the basic superstructure of science and the facts that are housed within, these are but quibblings next to the bleeding ears that are precipitated by reading screeds like the one above. I once sat next to some Christians who were speculating about the implications of quantum mechanics for their faith...I thought it was kind of bizarre, just as bizarre as the New Agey types who babbled about Quantum Consciousness-but at least neither group rejected Quantum Mechanics a priori, even if I had issues with their application or conception of its relevance. Note, the individual I referred to initially was appealing to a freelance writer to show how an individual who is doing graduate work in biology simply doesn't understand evolution. Hubris? Perhaps, but surely there's a more appropriate Greek term.

In any case, I am willing to embrace tactics of defeat for final strategic victory over a more eternal enemy. I will simply accept that naturalistic evolutionary is not everyone's cup of tea as long as the hurricane of the fantasy-land outside the bounds of the scientific mind-space is kept at bay. It is all and well to disagree about the height of a mountain when you are a flying a plane over low ground, but you definately need to throw any pilot out of the cockpit that will not admit to any mountains at all.

Posted by razib at 01:37 AM | | TrackBack