« October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 | Main | October 17, 2004 - October 23, 2004 »


October 16, 2004



African Indians

Article on the Siddis, a South Asian people of African origin. It is well known that the Muslim rulers of India brought with them black African soldiers. The Indian Ocean trade also brought African slaves to the shores of South Asia. Most of these people were absorbed into the local populations, for example, in the Maldives the African element is not discernable as a separate group, though the locals show some evidence of admixture. The Siddis are exceptional in that they are a relatively pure "tribe" of African descent. Though most Siddis are Muslim, partially because of the insular nature of Hinduism but also because of their historical relationship with Islamic potentates, I have read that a small minority do practice Hinduism.

Posted by razib at 11:26 PM | | TrackBack


Go for the Jugular (Imbler's 1st congressional debate)

Just a quick impression of the 15 minutes of the debate between Republican Goli Ameri and Democrat David Wu I heard.

Opening Comments;

Wu: I'm an immigrant. I've brought research money to oregon (but every research institution he mentions is outside the first congressional district???) . blah, blah, blah.

Ameri: I'm an immigrant too, but he is a rapist (summation she did not actually say that line).

Debate;

Wu: What is needed to create jobs is more K-12 federal funding, socialized medicine, blah, blah, beltway blah.

Ameri: 80% of all new jobs are created by private businesses. More jobs need more tax cuts.

Ameri: There is a disconnect between the 41% in funding of Ed through "No Child left behind", and the money schools receive (a Republican attacking Bush?)

Wu: Bush bad on ed, more money, more money, more money, more money, more money.

All in all a good debate between a indoctrinated beltway democrat statist and a moderat republican street-fighter. Guess who I'm voting for?

Also this debate was strange on a one point. Goli answered a question about character by saying "If my husband were here he would say that after all these years of marriage I am still too independent-minded"

Posted by scottm at 08:27 PM | | TrackBack


IQ in the News

I've spotted four different IQ stories in the last four days, divided neatly into two categories. In the first category are the medical reports: Low Birth Weight Affects IQ Into Teen Years and [anti-epileptic] drug warning on child's IQ. (The drugs in question are those taken by pregnant epileptic women to prevent seizures.) Both reports accept IQ as a given, perhaps because the factors affecting it are purely environmental.

Then there's the other side: in Illinois, an education professor says 'there's no such thing as IQ' at a workshop sponsored by the Heart of Illinois Down Syndrome Association; further north, Smarter ways to measure intelligence than IQ, says University of Alberta researcher. The researcher is J. P. Das of the J. P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre. If anyone knows of a good on-line summary of his PASS theory of intelligence, please leave a comment.

At first it surprised me that people dealing with such obvious mental disabilities would doubt the significance of IQ measurements. Now I wonder whether there's a point on the IQ range beneath which it ceases to be a useful measure for them; other factors may come into play.

More on IQ outliers coming soon...

Posted by jemima at 08:18 PM | | TrackBack


Turkey & religiosity

I just finished Samuel Hungtington's Who Are We?. Before I comment much on this book I feel I should reread the voluminous critiques of the book/thesis on the more rational non-conservative blogs (I'm talking about you Matthew Yglesias!). Since I am busy with non-blog activities that might be a while, but, I wanted to offer some data that I think might illuminate something I've been questioning of late: how "secular" is Turkey?.

Here is data from the 1990-1993 World Values Survey on the percentage within each nation who affirm "strong religiosity."1 I am inserting in a variety of nations for context, but focus on the number for Turkey:


  • Nigeria - 93%
  • Poland - 85%
  • Turkey - 71%
  • United States - 65%
  • Italy - 57%
  • West Germany - 44%
  • Britain - 38%
  • France - 34%
  • Sweden - 26%
  • Japan - 19%

I highlighted France & "West Germany" (remember that the time frame was contemporaneous with reunification) because they are large EU nations. Poland is an example of a "religious" nation that just joined the EU. The United States is supposedly a right-wing evangelical God-crazed nation which scares the shit out of rational secular Europeans. Note that Turks affirm more religiosity than Americans!

Two points though:


  • "Strong religiosity" is often not precisely defined, so there will be a great deal of individual variation in what it exactly means.
  • "Strong religiosity" might have different implications in different cultural contexts.

Now, Poland is clearly an example of a religious nation that has joined the EU. I would argue though that Polish Catholicism is a difference of degree from the more moderate religiosity of Italy (or Spain), while Turkish religiosity, being Muslim, is qualitatively different (though this is open to dispute).2 Second, there is the old joke that the United States is a nation as religious as India governed by an elite as secular as Sweden, but it seems to me if there is any correspondence between American and Turkish religiosity, a similar assessment might also apply to the Turkish polity.

1- I estimated the numbers off a graph, so I am likely off 1% here and there.
2 - I have argued elsewhere that differences of doctrine and practice mask cross-cultural cognitive similarities in various classes of believers, so any qualitative difference is tempered by that reality. Nevertheless, I do think that religious phylogenies have more validity than arbitrary accidents of theological disputation. To be more specific, strongly religious Turks (and Kurds) can draw upon a long history of Hanafi shariat law, while religious Poles do not have such an explicit Catholic legal tradition (Canon Law is applied within the Church) to challenge the Civil Code.

Posted by razib at 04:56 PM | | TrackBack


Hanging at Belmont Club

Since razib wrote on Up From Ignorance I and II, and Consilience, I have begun to look at my daily reads a little more critically. How much do Science and Opinion really intersect?
I think Belmont Club is a good model, and I am interested to see if gnxpers agree. So, I will point you to my three favorite reads by Wretchard (who remains at least as mysterious as Spengler, who arcane wrote about here).

Dark Networks (network theory and the Dunbar number)

Three Conjectures ( a much sited projection of the possible outcomes of the Terrorist War-- I admire the maths)

Memo to Osama (a brilliantly clever satire of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, I think important to demonstrate Wretchard's style, powers of persuasion, and crafty-sly way of arguing theories. Wretchard uses art, science, and literature to drive home his points.)

And besides, I think you guyz should get out more! :)

Posted by jinnderella at 08:41 AM | | TrackBack


Anecdote

I noticed an obituary of John Maynard Smith in a recent issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution. It ended with a nice anecdote I hadn't seen before.

In the early 1950s JMS was studying at University College London under J B S Haldane. One day Haldane brought a visitor into the lab and asked JMS to explain what he was working on. JMS, who was studying the aerodynamics of animal flight, began to explain his calculations on the blackboard, when the visitor suddenly grabbed the chalk and started amending the equations.

JMS: 'I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch your name...'

Visitor: 'Alan Turing.'

Posted by David B at 04:00 AM | | TrackBack

October 15, 2004



Interviews....

Two great audio files if you have some spare time.

First, Matt Stone is interviewed about the new movie Team America: World Police. He sounds off on Judaism, Bugs Bunny & Tojo and puppet-sex.

Second, Robert Wright has a must listen interview with the late John Maynard Smith. They discuss (among other things), frequency dependent selection, ESS, the intersection between humanity and biology, cybernetics, the evolution of sex, artificial intelligence, politics and Smith's impending mortality.

Posted by razib at 11:31 PM | | TrackBack


Now we're talking revolution, comrade

Another interesting entry for all of you, although not related in any fashion to the subjects of this blog, but since we're discussing Derrida I thought I'd bring up a topic a bit more fun: nuclear energy.

Wired has a great article, titled Let a Thousand Reactors Bloom, discussing China's interest in the latest and greatest of nuclear technologies: modular pebble-bed reactors. I've been interested in the subject of pebble-bed reactors for quite a while now after reading an article about them in The Economist. The greatest thing about pebble-bed reactors, other than that they are meltdown-proof and are environmentally safe (even though, unfortunately, it appears from the article that China has an extremely active environmental lobby like the West), is that they are far cheaper than larger, custom-designed reactors.

But the one excellent point made by the article is not only that China plans to build 30+ nuclear reactors over the next 15 years, and as many as 200 over the next 45 to produce 300+ gigawatts of output, but that all of this nuclear power could help China to jumpstart the growth of a hydrogen-based economy far ahead of the time it will take the West. Maybe it'll force the West (with the exception of France, who has many, many nuclear power plants) to reconsider our absurd policies regarding nuclear energy.

Let the revolution begin!

Addendum from Razib: Nuclear energy consumption top 10:

1. Sweden 7.74 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
2. France 7.26 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
3. Finland 4.31 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
4. Lithuania 3.92 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
5. Switzerland 3.71 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
6. Slovakia 3.33 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
7. United States 2.82 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
8. Bulgaria 2.67 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
9. Japan 2.47 terawatt-hours per 1 million people
10. Korea, South 2.46 terawatt-hours per 1 million people

So, if you want to get into it with a greenie-Left friend, and you are American, just tell them, "...but in France and Sweden...."

Posted by Arcane at 12:12 AM | | TrackBack

October 14, 2004



I'd rather praise God

With the passing of Jacques Derrida, and tribues like this in The New York Times, I wondered, what would I rather have a child of mine embrace, religious fundamentalism or some flavor of Derridaism?1 Upon a few minutes reflection, for the sake of society I might lean toard Derridaism, since examinations of Texts generally result only in cognitive suicide, while religious fundamentalisms tend to channel passions into outward action when they immolate their bodies. Nevertheless, for my personal sanity I suspect that a religious fundamentalist child would be less maddening.

Let me elaborate. In 1984's The NeverEnding Story "Fantasia" is being overwhelmed by a "Nothing." The peoples of Fantasia are diverse, with differences of culture and opinion, but before the Nothing they all stand as one in terror, it swallows all in its maw of nihilism. If you watch the movie to completion you find out that Fantasia depends on the imaginations of human children to sustain itself, and the modern world is sapping the wonder from their minds, and the Nothing is the consequence.

When it comes to Derridaism I feel that it is something like the Nothing. When my friends influenced by that mode of thought began to prattle about "not believing in logic," swimming for meaning in a passing comment or intent on examining their intellectual fecal matter in public as if they were drawing insights from the most putrid of thoughts, I simply wanted to scream!. It was like the world was becoming unmoored, every attempt at cognition dissolves before the self-contradicting nihilism as the ludicrousness of people judging you for judging, refuting the validity of refutation, is followed by a swarm of words who act as the outriders of the great vast cognitive Nothing that brooks no engagement...because there really is nothing there.

1-In all of its "Post Modern" and "Deconstructionist" flavors that define distinctions with no difference.

Posted by razib at 10:37 PM | | TrackBack


Cheater detection...not so good?

New research that reiterates the findings that 'cheating detection,' picking ou liars and deceivers, doesn't seem that well honed in most humans. But, the interesting thing the researchers found is that ~1% of subjects were extremely good at picking out fakers. If this ability is heritable, it would seem to go against Leda Cosmides' idea that a 'cheating detection' module developed during the EEA to get around the 'free rider' problem, since the genes influencing this trait have not been selected toward ubiquity.

Posted by razib at 07:48 PM | | TrackBack


Global Competitiveness Report

The Global Competitiveness Report for 2004-2005 is out.

Here are top 16 (you can see the rest in this PDF):

1. Finland
2. USA
3. Sweden
4. Taiwan
5. Denmark
6. Norway
7. Singapore
8. Switzerland
9.Japan
10.Iceland
11.United Kingdom
12.Netherlands
13.Germany
14.Australia
15.Canada
16. UAE

I used the countries visited website to make a map of the these nations in the extended entry. And no, I'm really not a shill for Weber....

Update: I mapped all the countries in the list in increments below. Bangladesh beat out Angola and Chad! There are only 104 countries on the list by the way.


Millisecond rate at which loop will run


create your own visited country map or write about it on the open travel guide

17-32:

create your own visited country map or write about it on the open travel guide

33-48:

create your own visited country map or write about it on the open travel guide

49-64:

create your own visited country map or write about it on the open travel guide

65-80:

create your own visited country map or write about it on the open travel guide

80-104:

create your own visited country map or write about it on the open travel guide

Posted by razib at 01:13 PM | | TrackBack


America's Looming Creativity Crisis

Has anybody read the article "America's Looming Creativity Crisis" by Richard Florida in Harvard Business Online? He is going to be on Charlie Rose tonight to talk about it. His article looks interesting, but being a cheap bastard, I am canvassing for opinions before spending my $6.00 for the pdf.
Here is the description on the order page:

The strength of the American economy does not rest on its manufacturing prowess, its natural resources, or the size of its market. It turns on one factor—the country's openness to new ideas, which has allowed it to attract the brightest minds from around the world and harness their creative energies. But the United States is on the verge of losing that competitive edge. As the nation tightens its borders to students and scientists and subjects federal research funding to ideological and religious litmus tests, many other countries are stepping in to lure that creative capital away. Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and others are spending more on research and development and shoring up their universities in an effort to attract the world's best—including Americans. If even a few of these nations draw away just a small percentage of the creative workers from the United States, the effect on its economy will be enormous. In this article, the author introduces a quantitative measure of the migration of creative capital called the Global Creative-Class Index. It shows that, far from leading the world, the United States doesn't even rank in the Top 10 in the percentage of its workforce engaged in creative occupations. What's more, the baby boomers will soon retire. And data showing large drops in foreign-student applications to U.S. universities and in the number of visas issued to knowledge workers, along with concomitant increases in immigration in other countries, suggest that the erosion of talent from the United States will only intensify. To defend the U.S. economy, the business community must take the lead in ensuring that global talent can move efficiently across borders, that education and research are funded at radically higher levels, and that we tap into the creative potential of more and more workers. Because wherever creativity goes, economic growth is sure to follow.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 09:43 AM | | TrackBack

October 13, 2004



Fellowship 9/11

For our Fantasy Geek and politcal readers, here is a short that pokes fun at F9/11 using the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Enjoy!

Jeet adds: For those of you who haven't read this yet, it makes a great companion piece to the above.

Jeet adds: See also here (after any commercials).

Posted by scottm at 09:41 PM | | TrackBack


Yes Virginia, natural selection does continue....

Over at PLOS there is an eminently readable paper titled Population History and Natural Selection Shape Patterns of Genetic Variation in 132 Genes. The authors sequenced DNA from about 60 individuals, 30 African Americans and 30 European Americans, and found the latter showed evidence of recent adaptation, whether that be mediated via positive selection sweeps or balancing selection (the former would tend to homogenize the polymorphisms so that the advantageous variant would dominate in frequency while the latter would display intermediate frequencies so as to maximize heterozygous genotypes). This jives with a recent paper that finds evidence for widespread selection sweeps outside of Africa among humans, or the possibility that lightening of Eurasian skin is due to the release of functional constraints when humans left their natal continent (in other words, instead of strong constraints toward one variant a thousand flowers bloom, possibly due to genetic drift or sexual selection).

A quick search of this blog will reveal a lot of papers linked to that talk about neutral markers which trace phylogenies and genetic distances between populations. This is great for tracking population movements, but doesn't tell us much about what forces reshaped the populations once they moved into a new habitat. In Journey of Man Spencer Wells alludes to a change in modern humans when they entered the novel environment of Central Asia. Wells alludes to the fact that the human toolkit changed during our species Central Asian sojourn, but he never elaborates in detail whether the changes were driven by cultural evolution or a genetic change, though it seems plausible that both occurred as they often drive each other (I tend to think that cultural changes reshape the genetics of a population a lot more than people realize).

As a specific example, the authors of the above paper target in particular two genes that have been implicated in the rate limiting step of calcium absorption metabolic pathway. Both genes show evidence of selection sweeps in Europeans, that is, there was very strong selection on the locus for a particular variant which is disproportionately represented, at least when compared to the null hypothesis of neutrality (random walking variations of polymorphisms). The authors suggest that this is related to the fact that Europeans also have a great capcity for lactase metabolization as adults (lactose tolerance). Lactose tolerance is obviously an adaptation driven by the domestication of cattle, a cultural feature that is contingent upon environmental factors.

The authors note that African Americans do not show evidence of a selection sweep on that locus. African Americans also tend not to exhibit a high lactose tolerance. Now, what I am curious about, do lactose tolerant Nilotic Africans also show evidence of a selection sweep on the calcium absorption regulating genes? There is research that suggests that adult lactose tolerance in Africans is controlled by a different allele than among Europeans, so perhaps a different variant will be found.

Related: Henry Harpending on neutral vs. functional genome as a reflection of a group's history.

Posted by razib at 08:16 PM | | TrackBack


Transgenics Gone Wild!

Really good article by Ronald Bailey over at reason about transgenic technology. I respect Bailey, I have even read some of his books on the subjects of environmentalism and transgenics, but he usually produces light-weight work for reason rehashing his old arguments; eg "genetic manipulation has been going on for centuries" etc. This work is well-thought out and well-researched answer to the anti-scientific left (and yes, they are the big threat to using technology to improve crop yields and fight diseases) which brings up specific examples. Enjoy!

Posted by scottm at 08:14 PM | | TrackBack


Sokal

Jinderella tells me that Winds of Change is discussing the Sokal Hoax.

Related: My Postmodern Adventure, via Steve.

Posted by razib at 06:19 PM | | TrackBack


The Other Half

Jason Malloy pointed me to the blog Science and Politics. The author is a biologist who is an admirer of Stephen Jay Gould.

This post is an attempt (from what I can gather) to box this blog into a particular slot that is convenient for the author's thesis that "genetic determinism is completely consistent with conservative worldview. Liberals, on the other hand, are drawn to interactionist, non-hierarchical models of society, economics, theology, biology and everything else." Yes, yes, I won't dispute I'm a "genetic determinist," you can see it quite clearly on this blog, since I believe that some of the variation on many traits within a population can be attributable to genotypic differences, I'm a determinist (as to opposed to the more nuanced "interactionist" viewpoint, which seems from my determinist angle to posit the bizarre view that genes and environment go hand in hand in a dynamic process to shape the phenotype).

Steve Pinker at Robert Wright's new site talks about how when he posits that something is 25-75% heritable, people automatically respond, "Oh, so you're saying it's all in the genes," neglecting some basic understanding of percentages. This is a common event, Ikram over at his blog once labelled me a genetic determinist (in juxtaposition with his "environmentalist determinism") because I submitted there was some evidence that religious zeal might be 50% heritable. Don't you see the symmetry? 50% heritable in a population automatically translates into 100% of an individual's phenotype is controlled by genes!

But I post this for two reasons. Here is something that I object to that the author above asserts:


...we see that the blog owner, as well as most commenters, choose William D.Hamilton, Ronald A. Fischer, John B.S. Haldane, John Maynard Smith, John Trivers, Richard Dawkins, Edwards O.Wilson, Matt Ridley, Steven Pinker and Francis Crick as great heroes of biology...All these people have made great contributions to evolutionary theory. Yet, they were content to make their mathematical models (or play with molecules) without feeling a great urge to test their applicability to the real world....

Ignoring the fact that I was a bit more parsimonious with praise than the author implies, William Hamilton, the center-piece of the post quoted, died because he caught something while doing fieldwork.

Second, the author continues:


It is possible to go through college, and grad school, and get a PhD in one of the molecular fields without ever taking courses in evolution, ecology, behavior, anatomy, physiology or embryology.

This is rich, the author is trying to connect us to conservative Creationists (the other side of the coin of right-wing determinism) and ends up parroting one of their classic lines: that much of biology proceeds fine without evolution, that it is not necessary for a molecular vantage point! Additionally, I am highly skeptical that someone who does biological sciences would get away with not taking any evolution (outside of a few fundamentalist schools). I did biochemistry and had to take the standard year long general biology introduction that had an ecology and evolution term.

I'll stop now. I put that blog on the blogroll because I feel I'm looking into another universe when I read it. In Defenders of the Truth there is quite a great deal about the fact that the original left-wing scientists who smeared E. O. Wilson went to great efforts to portray the sociobiologists and their fellow travellers as right-wing genetic determinists, Wilson's vanilla liberalism, Trivers' radicalism and Dawkins' reflexive leftishness were irrelevant, they were all recast as conservatives so that righteous scientist activists could debunk and defy them.

Personally, I think the author underplays the convergence between fields, the multi-level and interactionist dynamic that is reshaping modern biology, as the Red Sea between molecules and organisms that rose up in the 1960s begins to recede. Molecular Evolution is emblematic of the new non-hierarchical relationship between organismic and molecular that have emerged out of the synthetic dialectic.

Keep the comments polite. I don't want this to be a flame war.

Addendum: Of course not everything the author says about the blog is off base. But below 70% fidelity is failing. I don't grade on a bell curve! And one more thing, I made it clear that I thought Sewall Wright was lesser to R. A. Fisher, but he was not second tier. Wright might have emphasized genetic drift while Fisher focused on selection, but both were mathematical geneticists who had also delved into the real world (Wright was a fly guy from what I remember, and Fisher started his career at an isolated agricultural outpost where he implemented his practical ideas about randomization and controls). You can see that they were two sides of the same coin if you google Wright-Fisher model, the typology just doesn't hold up with even the most cursory of critiques. Also, I found the attempt to lump in organismic but mathematical evolutionary biologists like Hamilton and Smith with molecular types confusing. Since the author is opposed to both, they must be on the same side. Lynn Margulis would be appalled.

Posted by razib at 02:49 AM | | TrackBack


Turkish sophistic delights

So, 63% of Turks think polygamy is acceptable. Great, purely medieval, no?

And yet, I find out that Turkey allows nudity, even full frontal, on television! (let's hope Turks aren't as hairy as their Greek cousins, yes, you read me right, cousins!)

The problem with generalizing about "Turkey" is that this it is clearly multiple "nations," notwithstanding the posthumous will of Ataturk. Because of the reality of modern borders, one can't take in European Turkey into the EU without allowing Peasant Turkey in.

Poll numbers like the ones above show that peasant Turkey probably has at least a plural majority (the dominance of the current Islamist party is evidence of that too). The relative liberalism of Turkish mass media pop culture is a testament to the dominance of the European elite at the commanding heights1.

Shooting your unmarried 5 month pregnant aunt in the head? Medieval (and not pro-life for sure!). Winning Eurovision? I don't really know what to characterize that as, but no decent god-believing folk would countenance it if they value their honor and self-respect. Pick your facts dependent on what you want to prove, go ahead. Turkey aims to please, from villagers who live like Hattians from the 2nd millennium before Christ to topless beaches, it's all there....

1 - The commanding heights will by definition be dominated by the elites you say! Well, yes, but quite often these elites will pander to, or be constrained by, the values of the more traditionalist majority. The American entertainment industry for example is only slowly shifting beyond the bounds of "normal" within the last generation. The Bangladeshi entertainment industry is quite clearly on the leash of majoritarian preferences (a disproportionate number of people in the entertainment industry seem to be Hindus, but they are quite willing to play pious Muslim roles). Also, the ability of the secular Turkish minority to coerce and contain the religious majority for nearly eight decades is interesting.

Posted by razib at 12:37 AM | | TrackBack

October 12, 2004



Answers to poll questions

OK, all the questions for my poll question are at about 200 responses. The results pretty much matched an earlier poll I put up over a year ago. Though our "official" traffic back then was about 600 unique users a day, while today we are closer to 2600 users a day, the "core" readership seems to be have only doubled from 100 to 200. Here are the modal answers, full results below....

Top answers  
What is your sex? - Male 92%
What is your race? - European 74%
Where are you residing? - USA + Canada 72%
What is your religion? - No religion 57%
Are you down with consilience? - Consilience is cool 49%
Questions about God - Really don't believe in that kind of thing 43%
Do you believe in Universal Truth? - Yes 42%
Who are you voting for? - Kerry 33%
What is your political orientation? - Moderate Right 27%

 

Political Orientation
Moderate Right 27%
Libertarian 26%
Moderate Left 16%
Far Right 11%
Other 9%
Centrist 8%
Far Left 3%

 

Who are you voting for in the US election?
Kerry 33%
Bush 27%
None 23%
Libertarian guy 9%
Other 5%
Nader 3%

 

Do you believe in Universal Truth?
Yes 42%
What do you mean? 31%
Perhaps 18%
No 9%

 

Questions about God
Don't really believe in that kind of thing 43%
Am skeptical of supernatural entities 24%
I believe in a personal God 17%
I believe in an impersonal God 8%
I believe in a supernatural force 8%
   

 

You down with consilience?
Consilience is cool 49%
What is consilience? 35%
No point, non-science is crap 10%
No, keep discplines separate 6%
No, science is crap 0%

 

Religious orientation
No religion 57%
Protestant 14%
Catholic 10%
Jew 4%
Hindu 4%
Other Religion 3%
Muslim 2%
Buddhist 1%
Orthodox 1%

 

Where do you reside?
North America 72%
Europe 19%
Asia 5%
Middle East 2%
Australia 2%
Africa 1%
South American 1%

 

What is your race?
European 74%
South Asian 9%
Mixed 5%
Southeast Asian 3%
East Asian 2%
Middle Eastern 2%
Other 2%
African 1%
Polynesian 0%

 

What is your sex?
Male 92%
Female 8%

 

Posted by razib at 09:46 PM | | TrackBack


He She didn't give you gay, did she?

Scientists at the University of Padova offer a resolution to the parodox of heritable homosexuality: homosexuality, in males at least, is [obviously] not an adaptation that ensures the survival of genes, but the side effect of one.

Andrea Camperio-Ciani and colleagues argue genetic factors favouring homosexual male offspring could make women more fertile. "Our data resolve this paradox by showing that there might be, hitherto unsuspected, reproductive advantages associated with male homosexuality," they said.

They looked at 98 homosexual and 100 heterosexual men and their relatives, which included more than 4,600 people overall.

The female relatives on the mother's side of the homosexual men tended to have more offspring than the female relatives on the father's side.

This suggests that these women who, in theory, pass on the gay trait to their male offspring are also more fertile.

In comparison, the female relatives on both the mother's and the father's side of the heterosexual men did not appear to be as fertile, having fewer offspring.

The research is still far from conclusive at this point.

Posted by jeet at 09:01 PM | | TrackBack


Undermining Free Will?

As I promised weeks ago, here is another silly article from Foreign Policy magazine's "World's Most Dangerous Ideas" cover story.

This article, titled "Undermining Free Will" (registration required) by is Paul Davies, who is writing, as you can tell, on the basis that developments in the field of sociobiology are undermining the concept of free will. It is worth pointing out that Davies is a physicist, a really, really smart one at that, especially since he has written about various aspects of quantum mechanics (stuff that's way over my head).

However, I feel this article he has written is flawed, as you'll see soon . . .

I'm reproducing the parts of the article that I think are relevant, and due to classes, I will not post much in the way of comments except in maybe the comments section. But it's a good read, even if it is immensely flawed.


Belief in some measure of free will is common to all cultures and a large part of what makes us human. It is also fundamental to our ethical and legal systems. Yet today’s scientists and philosophers are busily chipping away at this social pillar—apparently without thinking about what might replace it.

What they question is a folk psychology that goes something like this: Inside each of us is a self, a conscious agent who both observes the world and makes decisions. In some cases (though perhaps not all), this agent has a measure of choice and control over his or her actions. From this simple model of human agency flow the familiar notions of responsibility, guilt, blame, and credit. The law, for example, makes a clear distinction between a criminal act carried out by a person under hypnosis or while sleepwalking, and a crime committed in a state of normal awareness with full knowledge of the consequences.

. . .

Physicists assert that free will is merely a feeling we have; the mind has no genuine causal efficacy. Whence does this feeling arise? In his 2002 book, The Illusion of Conscious Will, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Wegner appeals to ingenious laboratory experiments to show how subjects acquire the delusion of being in charge, even when their conscious thoughts do not actually cause the actions they observe.

The rise of modern genetics has also undermined the belief that humans are born with the freedom to shape their individual destinies. Scientists recognize that genes shape our minds as well as our bodies. Evolutionary psychologists seek to root personal qualities such as altruism and aggression in Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection. “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes,” writes Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins.

Those aspects of the mind that are not predetermined by genetics lie at the mercy of “memetics.” . . . British psychologist Susan Blackmore recently contended that our minds are actually nothing but collections of memes that we catch from each other like viruses, and that the familiar sense of “I” is some sort of fiction that memes create for their own agenda.

These ideas are dangerous because there is more than a grain of truth in them. There is an acute risk that they will be oversimplified and used to justify an anything-goes attitude to criminal activity, ethnic conflict, even genocide. Conversely, people convinced that the concept of individual choice is a myth may passively conform to whatever fate an exploitative social or political system may have decreed for them. If you thought eugenics was a disastrous perversion of science, imagine a world where most people don’t believe in free will.

The scientific assault on free will would be less alarming if some new legal and ethical framework existed to take its place. But nobody really has a clue what that new structure might look like. And, remember, the scientists may be wrong to doubt free will. It would be rash to assume that physicists have said the last word on causation, or that cognitive scientists fully understand brain function and consciousness. But even if they are right, and free will really is an illusion, it may still be a fiction worth maintaining. Physicists and philosophers often deploy persuasive arguments in the rarified confines of academe but ignore them for all practical purposes. For example, it is easy to be persuaded that the flow of time is an illusion (in physics, time simply is, it doesn’t “pass”). But nobody would conduct their daily affairs without continual reference to past, present, and future. Society would disintegrate without adhering to the fiction that time passes. So it is with the self and its freedom to participate in events. To paraphrase the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, we must believe in free will—we have no choice.

Paul Davies is professor of natural philosophy at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is the author of 25 books, including The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999) and How to Build a Time Machine (New York: Viking, 2002).

The thing that got me was how he said, "imagine a world where most people don’t believe in free will," and then stated, "it is easy to be persuaded that the flow of time is an illusion (in physics, time simply is, it doesn’t “pass”). But nobody would conduct their daily affairs without continual reference to past, present, and future. Society would disintegrate without adhering to the fiction that time passes." Is it just me, or did he answer his own assertion / question about "imagin[ing] a world where most people don't believe in free will" ?

How many people out there are familiar with sociobiology? How many out there are familiar with the physicists who say that time "simply is" and doesn't "pass" or "flow"? If the work of a few physicists hasn't altered how everybody uses time in their lives, why is he so worried about the work of a few sociobiologists? Society hasn't "disintegrated" because physicists view time as a fiction, so why does he think it will disintegrate if sociobiologists show that much of the concept of free will is a fiction?

I'm an amateur when it comes to sociobiology, I admit. But I don't think I'm the only one who thinks this article is bizarre.

Posted by Arcane at 07:09 PM | | TrackBack


Fisher on common ancestors

I recently quoted from a 1929 letter of R. A. Fisher on the subject of common ancestry.

I now find that there is a much more accessible discussion in Fisher's Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930):

The intimate manner in which the whole body of individuals of a single species are bound together by sexual reproduction has been lost sight of by some writers. Apart from the intervention of geographical barriers so recently that the races separated are not yet regarded as specifically distinct, the ancestry of each single individual, if carried back only for a hundred generations, must embrace practically all of the earlier period who have contributed appreciably to the ancestry of the present generation.... It is only the geographical and other barriers to sexual intercourse between different races, factors admittedly similar to those which condition the development of incipient species as geographical races, which prevent the whole of mankind from having had, apart from the last thousand years, a practically identical ancestry. The ancestry of members of the same nation can differ little beyond the last 500 years; at 2,000 years the only differences that would seem to remain would be those between distinct ethnographical races; these, or at least some of the elements of these, may indeed be extremely ancient; but this could only be the case if for long ages the diffusion of blood between the separated groups was almost non-existent. (Dover edn., pp.138-9)

This last remark seems to overlook the possibility of the evolution and maintenance of geographical differences as a result of differing selective pressures in different parts of a continuous 'cline'. In fact, however, the next section of the book goes on to consider this possibility, and the balance of factors that may lead either to an equilibrium or to a fission of the population into different species. Fisher does not use the term 'cline', which was introduced by Julian Huxley some years later, but the concept is esentially the same.

Posted by David B at 03:55 AM | | TrackBack

October 11, 2004



Professional professorialism

Hung out with an acquaintance from undergrad years who is now a tenure track professor at the University of Charleston. All I could think after talking to him was, he knows so much about so little!

Posted by razib at 01:27 PM | | TrackBack


Stumbling backward, racing forward

David's post about the "Most Recent Common Ancestor" got me thinking about one group that I believe might have been isolated for the past 10,000 years, the indigenous peoples of Tasmania.1 Unfortunately, the living legacy of the Tasmanian people consist of individuals of mixed (predominantly white) heritage because of 19th century settler depredations.

I have been fascinated with Tasmanian aboriginals in the past because they were an example of a people who had "regressed" culturally over the past 10,000 years. After the rise of sea levels following the last Ice Age Tasmanians were cut off the Australian mainland. European observers noted that the Tasmanians looked somewhat different from conventional mainland aboriginals, for example, their hair was "wooly" rather than wavy. Some of the evidence that I have found suggests that even though the indigenous Tasmanian tribes never numbered more than several thousand they were divided into 6 groups, and there was intergroup phenotypic variation. This is a testament to the richness of the genetic background of any population, or the persistant power of selection in perpetuating group differences (likely sexual).

Additionally, I ended up stumbling upon this paper by Joseph Heinrich which posits a model for how the Tasmanians seem to have lost key elements of their material culture. Heinrich notes about the "Tasmanians had by the time of European discovery likely lost, or never developed, the capacity to manufacture bone tools of any kind, cold-weather clothing, fishooks, hafted tools, fishing spears, barbed spears, fish/eel traps, spear-throwers, bommerangs. To hunt and fight, Tasmanian men used only one-piece spears, rocks and throwing clubs. In all, the entire Tasmanian toolkit consisted of only about 24 items, which contrasts starkly with aboriginal Australians just across the Bass Strait who possessed almost the entire Tasmanian toolkit plus hundreds of additional specialized tools." This is the sort of tale that gets emphasized in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, though Heinrich posits an explicit model rather that offering a verbal description, placing a premium on the number of individuals in a network and the difficulty level of a skill in determining its evolutionary arc within a people (his model utilizes Price's Equation).

Obviously social networks and lines of communication are important (this can be prosaically illustrated in how different it is for two different individuals of similar academic accomplishments who have access to divergent social networks when they look for a job). The Tasmanians are an outlier, an extreme situation which is particularly illustrative of a principle, but if you read books like The Genius of China (Josehp Needham) you will note that even "advanced" societies tend to be susceptible to the same forces. But obviously large, complex societies with open lines of communication are more resilient. In The Human Web William H. McNeill emphasies that "the West Eurasian information network" (which has expanded to become coterminus with the world) became progressively tighter and more robust with each ascending cycle (additionally, its tendency toward polycentrism lent it some redundancy). Is it any wonder that civilization began in the Middle East? Or that New World civilization began in Meso-America?

I think this should emphasize to us the importance of open social networks, even within a culture. The profusion of connections made via the internet might not be relevant for our social life (our capacities to make friends have a limit, internet personals facilitate natural tendencies rather suggesting a multiplier effect), but it seems that it will aid in the progression of our material culture to ever ascending heights. The stumbling forward and back of diverse world cultures reiterates to us the interlocking nature of our cognitive capcities and the sociocultural matrix within which it manifests itself. Sounding a bit less pretentious, our cultural creativity is contingent upon our cognitive capacities, but does not flow inevitably.

Addendum: Steve Olson tells Carl Zimmer that he thinks at least a few individuals made the journey from Oz to Tasmania in 9,000 years. If I was a betting man, I would agree. But, this is the situation where I think that possibility, that is, lineal isolation, is the most likely.

1 - It seems plausible that Indonesian sailors washed up in Northern Australia, so their ancestry lines probably tie Australian aboriginals with the rest of the world.

Posted by razib at 12:35 PM | | TrackBack


How many apes?

In commenting on the report that a new species of ape may have been discovered in the Congo, I mentioned that the 19th century explorer Paul Du Chaillu claimed to have identified three different types of ape in Africa.

I just checked his account in Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (1861), and I find that he mentions four different kinds of ape:

- the gorilla

- the ordinary chimpanzee

- a 'bald' chimpanzee, distinguished from the ordinary chimp by having a bald, shiny black head, being less fierce, and having its young white rather than black (as with the gorilla), or yellow (as with the chimp, according to Du Chaillu). He also mentions that it builds nests in the trees to sleep in at night. It was known locally as the nshiego mbouve

- finally, the rarest ape was known as the kooloo-kamba from its distinctive cry. Du Chaillu describes it at length and gives illustrations. He claims it is the most human looking of all the apes.

The 'bald' chimp is possibly the bonobo, but the illustrations of the koolo-kamba do not look much like either a chimp or a gorilla. I would recommend primatologists to take a closer look at Du Chaillu's accounts. He got a reputation for unreliability - not to say fantasy - in some of his writing, but at least some of his claims that were ridiculed at the time - such as the gorilla drumming on its chest before attacking - have been vindicated by subsequent observers.

Posted by David B at 10:58 AM | | TrackBack


Income Inequality and IQ download

Charles Murray's mini-sequel to The Bell Curve, analyzing the socio-economic effects of the within-family IQ differences between siblings, can be downloaded free from the AEI website, or viewed as a PDF here.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 10:47 AM | | TrackBack


Atheists for a Christian Europe?

I found this old quote from Aleksander Kwasniewski (via Muslim Under Progress), president of Poland:


"I am an atheist and everybody knows it, but there are no excuses for making references to ancient Greece and Rome, and the Enlightenment, without making references to the Christian values which are so important to the development of Europe," he said.

In my ealier post on consilience I said that humanists should be cautious of the 'normative fallacy,' that the spectrum of oughts is differentiated between those unmoored from the constraints of reality and those that are grounded in our everyday experience. Personally, I would love to live in a nation where most people were secular humanists, respected the rights of women, supported a minimal state, defended freedom of speech, expressed an interest in science and learning in general, and so on. Unfortunately, the real world constrains my choices in the general dominant character of co-citizens (assuming I am nation shopping).

We secularists have constrained choices. I have already expressed skepticism for extreme visions of Eurabia, but I think it is safe to say that secular and godless assertions are more acceptable in the typical Christian (and Buddhist and Hindu) nation than Muslim ones. I am not making an apologia for Christianity as the state religion of the European Union, only asking my fellow secularists to be aware than the opponent before us might pale before monsters emerging from the depths. Of course, the problem with the European Union is not just the general secular vs. non-secular tension, rather, the disparate nations of Europe have very different religious histories. But the more pedantic answer to the title of my post is that Europe is a civilization with a profoundly Christian past and a coexistent post-Christian and Christian populace differentially distributed as a function of nationality. That is the reality, the is, not the ought.

Addendum on the decline of secularism: It is "conventional wisdom" that the world is in the midst of a "religious revival." After all, that is why....

  • The proportion of Canadians who report "no religion" went from 12% to 16% between 1991 and 2001 (cite).
  • The proportion of Americans who report "no religion" went from 8% to 14% between 1991 and 2001 (cite).
  • The proportion Australians who report "no religon" went from 13% to 15.5% between 1991 and 2001 (cite).
  • The proportion of Dutch who are members of churches as declined from 76% in 1958 to 41% in 1995 (cite).
  • A paltry 15.5% of British said they had "no religion" (cite).
  • In Germany the churches have only between losing 0.7% of their members per year (cite).
  • After 2 centuries of secularism only a minimal 33% of French described themselves as atheists, 14% as agnostic and 26% as "indifferent" according to a 2003 poll (cite).


Models need the supplement of the facts. Christianity and Islam are booming religions, that is a fact. But they are booming in the Third World, especially Africa, and often due to high fertility in developing nations. Europe is becoming less tied to institutional religion, and secularization is definitely a force in the non-American English settler colonies, and there is some evidence that it is becoming a force even in the United States!

There are some basic facts at issue here.

  1. I do accept that "religious zeal" is probably heritable to some extent, that is, some of the variation in religious belief can probably be attributed to genotypic differences.
  2. In most societies areligion probably correlates with variables that mitigate against high fertility.
That being said, historically secular nations like France or Uruguay are not becoming more religious. What is going on here?

The model above is just too simple. Religiousity is a complex trait and obviously has a strong environment input. For example, a substantial number of individuals in the Russian elite made the transition from Communism to nominal affiliation with Russian Orthodoxy after collapse of the Soviet Union (while many Central Asians made a shift from secularism to nominal Islam). If religious fidelity is a trait, there is a lot of phenotypic plasticity.

There are almost certainly a host of locii that contribute to the non-social input that leads toward a tendency for secularity. Even if the alleles that result in a tendency toward not being religious, or not believing in the supernatural, are often less fit, likely they can presist in the genetic background once they reach a low enough frequency (people without a large number of "non-religious" alleles at multiple locii wouldn't be less fit, and in a random mating population non-fit combinations would be rare), perhaps rebounding in frequency if the environmental conditions reduce the fitness of those prone toward excessive religiosity.

I haven't even addressed the topic of defection, after all, religion is transmitted vertically and horizontally. It seems plausible that there is still a reservoir of potential "deconverts" in many societies, even if the base of non-religious individuals is not self-sustaining. Secular intellectuals have been predicting the "death of God" since the Enlightenment, and it hasn't happened yet. Books like The Alternative Tradition: A Study of Unbelief in the Ancient World indicate that unbelief is not so unfit that the genetic underpinnings that foster it must inevitabley hurtle toward extinction1.

As for whether Islam is a meme that is overwhelming in its capacity to assimilate societies...I will elaborate more on that later, but my personal opinion is that its anti-modernistic tendencies in the European context will manifest itself mostly within historically Muslim immigrant populations. I am skeptical that Europeans themselves will convert en masse to a religion that is associated with a lower socioeconomic strata.2

Sidenote: In the United Arab Emirates 85% of the population consists of noncitizens. In Bahrain 40% of the population is noncitizen. In Qatar 80% of the population is noncitizen. 64% of Kuwait's population is noncitizen. In the cases of these countries noncitizens form the economically productive segment of the population. It is often noted that Gulf States are "medieval," with their absolute potentates, but in fact, they resemble ancient oligarchic polities where only a small minority were given the franchise and had full rights. My more general point is that even a relatively incompetant flaccid people can dominate a foreign majority.

1 - One could also imagine balancing selection where those who had a combination of religious and non-religious alleles were more fit. In this way non-religious alleles could persist in a society even though extremely secular people always took a big fitness hit.

2 - Christianity was not a low SES sect in the ancient world if you are wondering, it was middling at worst, even correcting for the fact that its urban nature tended to select for some element of cosmopolitanism.

Posted by razib at 12:20 AM | | TrackBack

October 10, 2004



New great ape?

I'm kind of weirded out by this story about the possibility of a new great ape species in Congo. This is the kind of thing you are likely to find in a Victorian adventure novel. A report will be published next week in The New Scientist. That makes me suspicious, why won't a peer reviewed journal publish this? The evidence is way too sketchy to come to any conclusion, but perhaps the scientists wanted to stake their claim to discovery before others beat them to the punch so they decided to go the route of sensationalism. Here are some options:


  • New species.
  • A population that derives from chimp-gorilla hybridization.
  • A form of chimp.

I would bet on the last, though the first would be a really exciting option (it seems like they could have gotten genetic material from the nests of these animals). Remember, the distinction between Bonobos and Common Chimpanzees is pretty recent. This is a pretty creepy anecdote:

She describes her encounter with them: "Four suddenly came rushing out of the bush towards me," she told New Scientist.

"If this had been a bluff charge, they would have been screaming to intimidate us. These guys were quiet. And they were huge. They were coming in for the kill. I was directly in front of them, and as soon as they saw my face, they stopped and disappeared."


In the Sundarbans on the border of India and Bangladesh men will wear face-masks on the back of their heads because tigers generally do not like to attack head on. This story seems to echo shades of the movie Congo. I would have been rather weirded out by the discovery of new large mammals in the 21st century (most of these sorts of discoveries recently have been in the region of southern Laos and the Annamese highlands in Vietnam), but a great ape?!?! Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Related: Jason Malloy's post on this topic from a year back (it has pictures!). Jason notes the mtDNA seems to be chimpish.

Addendum: From The Telegraph:


Dr Andrew Whitten, of St Andrews University, questioned whether behavioural differences were enough to suggest a new ape. "There are huge cultural differences among chimpanzees," he said.

"I do not think that behaviour makes a good marker for sub-species in great apes as flexible as chimps."


Of course there seem to be great morphological differences too. But the same could be said of humans. I want to see the coalescent times for this ape's genes with the Common Chimpanzee and Bonobos. But these semantic issues highlight some of the problems with defining "species."

Posted by razib at 10:11 PM | | TrackBack


The power & pride of brown

David Yeagley has a column in VDARE where he ends:


American Indians must not concede. The Hindus cannot have our legal, historical name here in America.

To the honor of the “indigenous” Columbus, on this his day, let Asian Indians be called Hindus and the indigenous people of the United States be called American Indians.


This is funny, as a few days ago over at Sepia there was some discussion as to the appellation one prefers to describe Americans of South Asian ancestry (or, self-description). I offered the term "brown."1 Manish noted that that is imprecise, Latinos/Hispanics/Chicanos have put in a claim to the name, but I don't think we should let them have it without a fight since they have so many terms in wide usage already.

A few years ago I joked in an email to David that I don't like talking to Native Americans/American Indians because I resent them to having taken a name that doesn't belong them. I think David took me more seriously that I'd intended, so it doesn't surprise me that he wrote this sort of column.

I think many people who are brown would be willing to go along with David and let Native Americans keep "Indian," though I don't think those of Christian, Muslim or Sikh faith with origins in India would accept the offer of the term "Hindu" as a replacement. In the end language matters only so much, there are many more important things to preoccupy over. I'll stick to brown, since I'm far browner than most Latinos who make a big huff about these sort of issues.

1 - In college I had a friend whose parents had come to the US from Vietnam, and I started using the word "brown" to describe South Asians. When he was at medical school he told me he continued the practice, and he started talking about his "brown mentor" to a girl who was South Asian. At first he said he seemed a bit weirded out by the term, but he notice she started using it too.

Posted by razib at 09:25 PM | | TrackBack


Political Science

A few days ago Moira Breen emailed me about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The lowdown is that the act would make it so that all human remains on federal lands would be assumed to be 'Native American'. The implication is that study of these remains would be up to modern Native American tribes.

Moira has three posts with more detail, here, here and here (I demand that you at least read the last post).

Look, Native Americans can believe that "they were always here," like their "elders" tell them, but they can't ram that down the throats of other people. This is multiculturalism & interest group politics run amok. I could go on, and on, and on, but the short of it is that Native American Creationism is just as idiotic as Christian fundamentalist Creationism. Unfortunately multiculturalism has a tendency to elevate non-white idiocy above the level of plain old nonsense.

Related: An audio file of a radio show all about Kennewick Man.

Posted by razib at 08:14 PM | | TrackBack


Is "pain relief" a "right" ?

In a news article posted on Yahoo by AFP, it states that today is the first "Global Day Against Pain." So, while adding to the ever increasing list of days named for some political advocacy reason (Earth Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, etc.), these folks also believe that,

Pain relief should be a human right, whether people are suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS or any other painful condition," said Professor Sir Michael Bond, President of the International Association on the Study of Pain (IASP)

"Today's Global Day Against Pain marks an immense growth in the interest in this area and today's World Health Organisation (WHO) co-sponsorship of our campaign shows that now is the time to take pain seriously," a WHO statement quoted him as saying.

...

"The majority of those suffering unrelieved pain are in low and middle income countries where there is an increasing burden of chronic conditions such as cancer and AIDS.

"Limited health resources should not be allowed to deny sick people and their families the dignity of access to pain relief and palliative care, which are integral to the right to enjoy good health".

Of course, the idea that there is a "right" to pain relief is just another example of positive rights gone awry (positive rights are generally such things like a "right to a job" or a "right to affordable housing" or a "right to healthcare"). Of course, all of these individuals want the West and East Asia to pump vast amounts of money into Third World countries to pay for some kind of universal health care system. However, what this really is, in my opinion, is just another assault upon the patent system and the desire to break it in order to produce generic copies of drugs under a "right" that goes beyond the idea of "right to healthcare" and into a "right for cheap [or free] drugs."

I don't know how all of these socialists think the industrialized world can pay for this when we already have a whole slew of problems about future entitlements, and rapidly industrializing countries like China are developing entitlement problems rather quickly, as well.

Is there anything that these people don't think we have a "right" to, except maybe to be capitalists and try to create something resembling a meritocracy? Hopefully, this won't go very far.

Posted by Arcane at 08:12 PM | | TrackBack


Data and Khaaaaan!

For those readers interested in Star Trek, Brent Spiner, Data of the Next Generation, will be starring in a multiple-episode story arc in this season's Enterprise. He will be playing an ancestor of Noonien Soong (the scientist who created Data and Lore). But the fun doesn't stop there, it seems this family line is not only involved in robotics but also genetics, as Spiner's character steals genetically enhanced embryos in an attempt to better humanity. Quote from Manny Coto, executive producer of Enterprise;

"We made him into a scientist who believed in genetic engineering, and he believed that this was the great future of mankind. He conceived this plan to steal the embryos and raise them to adulthood. But what happens is they get away from him. They go on basically a rampage, and they're like mini Khan Noonien Singhs. They're wreaking havoc in this place called the Borderland, which is near the Klingon Empire, and he's threatening to start a war with the Empire."

they're like mini Khan Noonien Singhs

hmm... why do I get an image of mini-me?

Update I guess I posted this since, even though I like Trek, I am endlessly exasperated by it. For all other sciences, they make them seem glamorous and unquestionably a benefit for man, but not genetics. In DS9 and TNG episodes they make it clear that they believe that genetic manipulation of humans is 'evil'. Go figure.

Posted by scottm at 01:08 PM | | TrackBack


How not to win a debate

Only gets political at the very end

Years before September 11th, I attended a debate that asked the question, "Is Islam a threat to Britain?" I attended in the company of some Muslim friends to provide moral support to yet another friend who would be answering the question in the negative.

I am proud to say that my friend, a BJP-supporting Hindu, held nothing back from his advocacy of British Muslims, regardless of what other differences he may have had with his teammates, which included an eloquent and impassioned British Muslim lawyer and an imam from the Muslim Parliament. (And Muslim fundamentalists insist that the forces of unbelief are always conspiring against the ummah.)

My friend rehashed the history of British colonialism. The solicitor described how British society undermined Muslim parents' efforts to raise children who observed the traditions of Islam. The imam extolled the civility of Islam over the drunken, promiscuous depravity of contemporary Britain.

Then someone on the opposing side asked flat-out, "Would you impose sharia law on Britain?"

My friend's side all shook their heads in disbelief at such an absurd question. All except for the imam, who spat out the words "Yes, I would" with neither hesitation nor humility. As the audience's gasps gave way to murmurs or silence, it became clear to one and all that the imam had "scored an own goal". I knew what my friend believed in and consequently how he probably felt but he is nothing if not professional so his only response was to affect an unperturbed facade that betrayed none of his anger or revulsion.

How badly did the imam lose the audience? Well, remember that I attended at the urging of Muslims whom I still count as friends yet my mistrust of Muslim apologists persists from that day to this. (And now you know Jeet's secret origin.)

I only bring it up because I was reminded by a display of insolence at a debate just the other night. (hat tip: Abiola)

Posted by jeet at 03:54 AM | | TrackBack


Death & importance

Yes, I'm sure you know that Jaques Derrida "Died" (that is, the Negative-of-"Life"). But did you know that Maurice Wilkins passed away a few days ago? (being a GNXP reader I'm sure you did)

A note on "deconstruction": I spend a non-trivial amount of time preoccupying on the importance of clarification and the need for precision in language. The problem I have with some people who subscribe to "deconstruction" and its affinal paradigms is this:

1) They surrender to imprecision.
2) They turn traitor to the ideals of striving toward accuracy and precision in good faith.
3) Their prose style and neoligistic extravagances exacerbate the problem. If one is a literary critic, and a disproportionate amount of reading material is influenced by deconstructive thinkers, no wonder they believe that 90% of the task is wrestling with the text!

One might wonder if the preoccuptation with "text" is good from the perspective of anti-Leftists in that activists tend to turn away from action and systematic programs because they believe such things are trivial and ephemeral, but it generally doesn't work out that way, and once activists kick into gear they can be even more difficult to deal with than conventional Leftists because they are inscrutable and intractable by reason.

Posted by razib at 01:00 AM | | TrackBack


HIV resistance

Some reference has been made to possible resistance to HIV among a subset of humans. Here is the full text of the paper Evaluating plague and smallpox as historical selective pressures for the CCR5-{Delta}32 HIV-resistance allele:


...HIV has not infected humans long enough to account for the selective rise of this resistance allele, the frequency of which is estimated at an average of ~10% in European populations (4, 12, 15-18). The allele is virtually absent in African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and American Indian populations....

Posted by razib at 12:25 AM | | TrackBack