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December 18, 2004
God & the evolutionists
When talking about evolution to the public it is very important (in the American context) to emphasize that religion & Darwin are not plainly at odds, that there are many religious folk who accept the basic fact of evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, via Chris Mooney, I see that Greg Graffen of Bad Religion has published a thesis titled Evolution, Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist World-View. Graffen surveyed prominent evolutionary biologists on their attitude to and adherence toward religion and other metaphysical extra-scientific issues. One key point to note is that they are members of the National Academy of Sciences.
About 5.5% of respondents assented to a belief in a personal God and 6.5% believed in a Deist God (Survey results, PDF). This tracks well with the Larson & Witham survey of 1998 of NAS members, 14% of mathematicians, 7.5% of physicists and 5.5% of biologists responded that they believed in a personal God. So, it seems clear that evolutionary scientists are not special in their irreligion, rather, it itends to be a property of NAS members in general. Opinions about immortality (life after death) seem to also be about the same for the two surveys.
72% of the surveyed evolutionary biologists believed that religion might be an adaptation, while only a minority agreed with the idea of separate "magestaria" (a Gouldian term), with an even smaller faction assenting to a seamless harmony. Religion is a rather complex social phenomena strongly influenced by environmental factors, but that evolutionary biologists should be open to an adaptationist and functional explanation of religious behavior strongly suggests to me a Gouldian separation between the social and biological is a minoritarian position.
Addendum: My current opinion is that in the most general sense a naive functional interpretation is difficult for religion, though I suspect that the varieties in which it manifests itself are constrained by functional-biological delimiters. But "religion" is a very broad definition, and so a one-size-fits-all explanation is probably untenable.
CNBC has a story up about a woman, Kathy Brittain White, the former CIO of Cardinal Health, starting a company called Rural Sourcing. The aim of the company? To move low paying IT jobs to the dirt-poor parts of rural America instead of to foreign countries such as India.
Now, I am not an economist, so my thoughts are those of a layman, but I see two problems;
1) Rural America is sparsely populated compared to densely populated India, so it is more of a workers market. In India it is much easier to keep salaries low since if a talented individual wants a raise you can easily fire him and find another qualified person within a day, not so in Arkansas where quality workers would be hard to find.
2) Related to the first. The closer proximity of Rural America to big population centers where the cost of living is much higher would result in an increased rate of increase in the cost of living in the said rural areas.
So, in my opinion, it is a good short-term solution but the outsourcing to India is still better in the long term. But that is my layman’s opinion and would enjoy hearing from our economist readers.
Update Heh, I just had a thought. IT jobs require a certain level of intelligence and education that may be lacking in rural places such as Arkansas (no, I am not calling all Southerners stupid), so you may have an exodus from big urban centers to the rural areas. Think of it, an unemployed, college-educated, person in a big city might trade a high urban salary and the city lifestyle for a job in a place where said salary would provide a decent living. This would probably result in the 'natives' still being unemployed and the 'cultural' destruction of the rural areas by the 'city-slickers'.
December 17, 2004
Over at Washington Monthly Kevin Drum recently had a series of "Holiday Books" for political junkies. I emailed TangoMan ("our man at WM" so to speak) and asked him if Drum had posted any science book recommendations, but it seems like it was a political fest. I guess I understand why it had to be that way, WM being a political blog and all, but a lot of times I think that political books that are commentaries on the contemporary condition are out of date before they hit the newsstands. So, I'm calling out GNXP posters for book recs (just update my post). A few stipulations: you max out at three, one of them has to be science, and they are under 500 pages and less than $30 either new or used on Amazon or Abebooks (this eliminates a lot of textbooks that people should read, but this for the type of thing you should be able to read over a week long vacation with the in-laws with no access to Mathematica). My offerings below....
Razib says read:
The Human Web is a short entertaining book from John McNeill, an old school historian that focuses on big issues, rather than the 2 days your shoelaces spent being in hell in 7th grade when you did long distance running in gym class. Related post.
To add a little non-biological flavor to your reading I draw from my other interests to help you overcome your planetary chauvinism. What's that you say? Well, ask yourself if a planetary surface is really the right place for an expanding technological civilization? I don't think it is.
The High Frontier This is the bible and lays out the whole concept of space habitats from the Man himself, Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill.
Mining the Sky A book chock full of technical data on the wealth that awaits us in the asteroids.
The Lunar Base Handbook A damn handy book to have and explores facets involved in lunar base construction. Ever wanted to know how to make concrete in a vacuum. This book has the answers.
Jason Malloy says:
The Heretic in Darwin's Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace. What if Michael Behe would have discovered the secret of altruism rather than William Hamilton? This kind of counter-intuitive brain-bender (almost) already happened. Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the theory of natural selection nearly simultaneously to Charles Darwin, but his curious dabblings and obsessions in religious mysticism, junk science, and eventually the rejection of his own theory and embrace of good old fashioned Creationism, make a striking contrast to the model scientism, consistency, and cool-headed humanist rationalism of Darwin. Good writing on a compelling and frustrating figure.
The Ancestor's Tale. As usual Dawkins succeeds as both expositer and entertainer. The Chaucer narrative device highlights the fact that no one truly holds the legacy of or understands evolution better than the English (sorry fellow Americans).
Human. At exactly $30 and 500 pages I'm able to slip this one in. Page after page of all things human: history, biology, psychology, and ethnology - a shameless celebration of evolutionary navel gazing, HB-D and HB-U. Its predecessor, Animal from a couple of years back is also a book I still enjoy very much.
A brief history of the apocalypse
The Economist has a great essay about apocalyptic beliefs across the political and religious spectrum (including secular atheists). Much of the material has already been discussed in different texts already, such as the apocalyptic beliefs of Marxists and National Socialists, but it's neat seeing it all in one short, concise essay that covers both political and religious aspects of them. Here's an excerpt from the end:
So there you have it. The apocalypse is the locomotive of capitalism, the inspiration for revolutionary socialism, the bedrock of America's manifest destiny and the undeclared religion of all those pseudo-rationalists who, like The Economist, champion the progress of liberal democracy. Perhaps, deep down, there is something inside everyone which yearns for the New Jerusalem . . .
Kudos to Arts and Letters Daily, a site that should be on everybody's "Favorites" list, for linking this up.
New monkey discovered....
Scientists find new Indian monkey. Note that the macaque resides in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh, a rugged region of India whose inclusion in the Indian federation is more an accident of British colonial history than anything else. Last I read, the Indian government keeps a sort of cordon around Arunachal Pradesh, partly because of its strategic importance (the Chinese claim it and overran it in the 1962 war), and partly to preserve the indigenous cultures. I have read that Christian missionaries have converted and trained young people who leave Arunachal Pradesh to engage in proselytization among the predominantly "animist" locals since the the missionaries themselves are prevented from venturing into the state. So it is no surprise that large mammals, even primates, could be resident in this region without the outside world being aware.
Many faces of Turkey
Abiola points me to this fascinating piece in The New York Times (originally published in Der Spiegel). What many people forget when using the world "Turkey" and the term "Turkish" is that the nation has a fair amount of texture and detail. I recently listened to a BBC piece which noted that western Anatolia has a standard of living approaching Greece, but the vast east and southeast remains far more backward. A survey of economic difficulties in the southeast of Turkey suggests that "the per capita income of the poorest city in the region is only one-eleventh of that of an industrial center in the west."
And this only focuses on the economic dimension. As the piece above notes, Turkey is divided into various religious clusters, with a secular western urban elite, a religiously orthodox striving bourgeois in the "heartland" and traditionalist peasants in the countryside. This should not be particularly surprising, it is a common pattern in many Muslim countries that the most religiously "conservative" and observant segment of society is not the peasantry, but the the striving middle class.1 A similar traditional trichotomy exists in Indonesian society, with the elite priyayi aristocrats molding a synthetic spirituality drawn from various sources, though they are nominally Muslim. The observant santri are generally identified with the urban trading classes and include many rural landowners. The abangan peasantry give nominal adherence to Islam, though in practice they tend to be more influenced day-to-day by Javanese spiritualism and traditional customs. As Javanese society becomes more urban & modern it will likely be that the abangan will disappear as a major force and the santri traditionalists will be opposed by "modernists" (which will likely include the cultural descendents of priyayi cosmopolitanism).
It should not surprise Westerners that economic advancement and some level of modernity tends to spark religous observance, after all, the Renaissance was followed by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, with the relatively relaxed medieval Roman Catholic mass religion giving way to more personal and strict religious dispensations. The changes wrought by industralization across England in the 18th century occurred in concert with evangelical revivals and rise of "muscular Christianity." The strength of American Born Again Christianity in large part tracks the movement of rural WASP Americans into the urban and suburban middle class. In a fast changing world, an strict adherence to the norms dictated by traditional religion might be a normal response.
In the context of Turkey, a nation of 100 million caught between here & there, all this suggests that great changes are imminent. I am skeptical that the EU can swallow such a nation whole.
1 - One can expand the scope of the generalization to India, where the Hindu nationalist parties often gain support from the non-English educated upper and middle castes, often small businessnmen and local professionals.
On Genetic Interests
Out of curiosity...
Frank Salter's new book, On Genetic Interests, was released earlier this month. From what I gather, its very Rushton-esque in arguing that ethnic nepotism increases inclusive fitness.
However, Tooby and Cosmides level some very convincing arguments against "genetic similarity theory," particularly the lack of a clear evolutionary impetus in the absence of inter-racial contact during the EEA.
So my question is, has anyone read it yet? Does Salter address any of T&C's criticisms? Has Rushton himself ever responded?
The costs of intelligence....
The human brain uses about 25% of the energy your body has to dole out to its various organs. That's a big cost. Explaining why we have such proportionally large brains is the subject of many books.
But in any case, Carl Zimmer writes about recent research which hints as greater fitness of "dumb" individuals within two animal species. One thing though, Carl should be cautious about addressing the idea of intergroup differences in humans before knocking it down (see the last paragraph), Charles Murtaugh can attest to the dangers of even mooting the topic .
December 16, 2004
Eating one's own....
I'm not much of a political junkie...but, I listened to something that I found interesting today. On Warren Olney's To the Point they talked about Donald Rumsfeld and William Kristol came on and criticized the performance of the Secretary of Defense. After him Midge Decter of The Heritage Foundation called in, and after the standard "I'm a big of fan of Bill Kristol" caveat, proceeded to accuse him of being a chickenhawk! She said, "Bill Kristol hasn't been within 500 miles of a battlefield....", after which she defended Donald Rumsfeld's performance. Kristol had earlier alluded to sharp disagreemants between neocons on whether to stand behind president Bush's support for Rumsfeld (particularly in the context of Iraq troop levels), and Decter came out confirmed this split with her rather straightforward use of an anti-neocon insult.
I don't follow much politics in detail, but I do know that Midge Decter & Norman Podhoretz are usually assumed to the standard bearers of the older generation of neoconservatives, along with William Kristol's parents, Iriving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb. Decter and Podhoretz's son, John Podhoretz helped found The Weekly Standard with Bill Kristol, so it's all quite incestuous.
Anyway, the only reason I note this is that I was shocked that a mother of the neconservative movement would use a slur generally hurled by the Left and paleos against neocons against one of the next generation when they didn't toe the party line....
Listen to the segment here.
Beyond white skin privilege
Several articles on Asian Americans have been brought to my attention. First, Stark Contrasts Found Among Asian Americans. This graphic illustrates the situation well, Asian Americans are multi-modal in income and education. Now, this should make sense, when you reflect that Asian Americans are an omnibus grouping. The San Jose Mercury news has a series titled "Asian Impact" that focuses on the Bay Area. Again, the multi-modality is emphasized, with various ethnic groups decomposed into their distinct elements, though there tends to be a positive spin on the trajectories of less affluent groups, for example, Lifting test scores in one San Jose district, spotlights the impact of Vietnamese on one particular school. Here are some charts from the series that might interest readers:
Based on a poll underwritten by The San Jose Mercury News, it shows some intertesting trends (though not surprising), for example, the Filipino openness to out-marriage (the Spanish/Chinese/indigenous mestizo background of much of the Filipino elite might explain this).
Such surveys of a minority ethnic group will offer different lessons to Left and Right. When I was in college the Asian Pacific Student American Union often emphasized the plight of the Southeast Asians to "debunk" the Model Minority Myth. The problem with this is two fold.
I'm going to be honest when I feel that some APASU types felt an almost bizarre auto-schadenfreude about the misfortunes of Asians Americans when they came to light, as it reinforced models of how they felt white America screwed the Yellow Man (since they tended to be East Asians most of the anecdotes dealt in negative stereotypes based on chopsticks and kung-fu movies rather than curry munchers snake charming, as South Asian activists would emphasize).
The major take home lesson might be that the 1960s Civil Rights movement is not the template for a somewhat artificially constructed white-non-white dichotomy. This dichotomy is partially contingent on the overwhelming dominance of white Americans in public life, something less significant in many regions of the country, and the relatively smaller numbers of non-whites so that intra-non-white conflicts can be discarded from the equation. The chart that displays attitudes toward marriage shows that all Asian American groups tend to be coolest to partnerships with black Americans. A similar sort of tension exists between blacks and Latinos, between the various Asian groups and so forth. Aside from natural clusters within the Asian group (Vietnamese-Chinese-Japanese-Korean) I think it can be argued that many minority groups are more comfortable with, and share more with, white Americans than other minority groups.
On the Right, one lesson to note is that yes, Asian Americans of various stripes do succeed and prosper, but the difficulty of black Americans and to some extent Latinos in fully emulating a cross-community white middle class model (that is, they display cognate income distributions, rather than being skewed toward poverty, despite a large middle class) suggests that the conservative free enterprise formula has different results depending on the sort of capital that the community brings. That is, there are many complex elements that go into making a "community," and just as the Left attempts to extract a few salient points to address injustice (in particular the relationship to white America), the Right attempts to extract a few bullet points that it believes can be easily leveraged with "enterprise zones" and what not (family values for example).
There are no simple answers, I am generally of the school that the government should not have much of a hand in inter-ethnic relations unless violence seems imminent. Nevertheless, those who do believe that inter-community amity is something that the government can deal with, or that programs can "uplift," need to study the empirical reality and be cautious of broad models that discard genuine details of difference.
December 15, 2004
IQ & TIMSS, 2: Differential Slopes
I've been looking at some of the TIMSS stuff for a few days, but dobeln's post prompted me to post.
Here are two trends (source) that I found interesting, re: Race and TIMSS in the USA:
Notice that (1), the White levels have ostensibly leveled off, while
(2) the Black and Hispanic/Latino levels have definitely increased over 3 years, although they might be leveling off (at least in math).*
My initial question was what was causing the differential slopes? And the secondary question was what will the 2007 wave show?
As to the former, I would say that it is the massive funding going into Urban school districts. Where I live, for example, they put oodles of money into a particular school that wasn't faring so well academically and happened to have a large African American population. They overhauled the school's administration, teachers, etc., and I am sure they will find some improvement on achievement indicators. Few would say if you took the best teachers and the best administrators and threw a wad of $ at them that scores couldn't be somewhat increased.
As to the latter, I see all three race groups show heavy plateauing, especially in math, with a Black-White gap of ~ 75, which (gasp!) is about 1 SD.
* I really wanted to see the trend for Asian Americans, too, but the data did not meet some requirement, so the good people at the Federal Gov't decided not to post the data (at least that I could easily find).
IQ, TIMSS, L&V
Here is a quote from Godless from a while back:
Yesterday, TIMSS 2003 results were released to the public. I of course whipped up a little Excel goodness. (It’s a quickie, so beware of errors, etc. I am happy to take corrections*.) So, what does the data say?
(* = white lie)
Here follows a table with:
a) IQ scores, adjusted and unadjusted from “IQ and the wealth of nations” by Lynn and Vahannen. (Gathered into a table by Steve Sailer)
A TIMSS-Raw IQ score OLS regression yields an adjusted R-squared of 0,89.
a) Couldn’t find Botswana in the L&V data set. Their 366 score did manage to beat out Saudi Arabia…