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January 29, 2005
Group Selection can work...just
I’ve frequently been sceptical about the plausibility of group selection - for example here - so I am honour-bound to report a model which makes a form of group selection somewhat more credible.
The model, due to Henry Harpending and Alan Rogers, dates from 1987, but doesn’t seem to be as well known as it might be. For example, it is not cited in Sober and Wilson’s Unto Others (1998), or in the recent symposium volume Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation (ed. P. Hammerstein) (2003).
For more details….
The model is set out in the paper: Henry Harpending and Alan Rogers, 'On Wright's mechanism for intergroup selection’, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1987, vol. 127, pp.51-61. As the title suggests, it is a development of ideas originally sketched by Sewall Wright, though with important modifications.
A further analysis and critique of the model is in M. Gilpin and B. Taylor, ‘Comment on Harpending and Roger’s [sic] model of intergroup selection’, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1988, vol. 135, pp.131-135.
The key elements of the model are:
With these assumptions, H & R derive an equation to quantify the change in the proportion of altruists in the migrant pool compared with the population from which the migrants come. [Note 1.] The equation shows that provided there is some variance in the proportion of altruists in different groups, then the migrant pool will have a higher proportion of altruists than the preceding average for the groups. This is not surprising, as the ‘group effect’ means that groups with a higher than average proportion of altruists contribute disproportionately to the migrant pool.
H&R explore the effects of different values of the parameters by several methods of calculation and simulation. There are four key variables: the cost of altruism c; the group effect g; the size of the groups n; and the ’migration rate’ m. H&R find that the population is mixed (polymorphic) for altruism and selfishness when c is 0.03 (i.e. mortality of altruists 3 percent higher than selfish individuals); g is 1 (implying that pure altruist groups have a surplus twice as large as pure selfish groups); m is .2 (i.e. 20 percent of replacements are drawn from the migrant pool); and n is 25. They then illustrate the effects of doubling or halving each parameter, while the others are held constant. On this basis if n is halved, altruism is fixed; if it is doubled selfishness is fixed. If c is halved (to 0.015), altruism is fixed; if it is doubled (to 0.06) selfishness is fixed. If g is halved, selfishness is either fixed or in a large majority; if it is doubled, altruism is either fixed or in a large majority. If m is halved, altruism and selfishness are polymorphic; if it is doubled, altruism is either fixed or polymorphic.
Gilpin and Taylor confirm H&R’s results, and give an analysis of the effects of simultaneously varying group size and the cost of altruism. This shows that groups have to be very small - with only around 5 members - if altruism is to survive when the cost is above 10 percent.
The results of varying the parameters are not surprising except for the effect of raising the ’migration rate’. Migration tends to reduce the variance of the frequency of altruists in different groups, so it might be expected that raising m would make altruism less likely to succeed. However, H&R find that over the range of m from .2 to 1, changing the level of m makes little difference to the success of altruism. They attribute this to the presence of two counterbalancing effects: higher migration reduces between-group variance, but in this model the benefits of altruism are spread only through migration, so higher migration helps ensure its success. Gilpin and Taylor also point out that m is not strictly a migration rate, but only the probability that vacant places will be filled by migrants. Groups are therefore not swamped by migrants, however high the surplus going into the migrant pool.
Since the model only works if there is variance in the frequency of altruists, and migration tends to reduce this, it is of interest to consider how variance is maintained. It seems to be agreed (see Hamilton, Narrow Roads, vol.1, p.335) that purely random assortment of altruists afresh in each generation does not produce sufficient variance for group selection to work, at least without synergistic fitness benefits. In H&R’s model the group effect is simply proportional to the frequency of altruists, so the benefit is not synergistic. However, the groups are not completely ’reshuffled’ in each generation. I presume this gives some scope for higher levels of variance to be achieved by genetic drift. If there were no selection and no migration, all groups would eventually become fixed either for altruism or selfishness, in roughly equal numbers, at which point variance would reach a limit. But I confess I don’t fully understand what is going on in the model. Altruism seems to survive even when m = 1, in which case altruists dying within groups are only replaced by other altruists at the average frequency of altruists in the migrant pool. I don’t see how sufficient levels of variance are sustained in these circumstances. Gilpin and Taylor also seem to see a problem with this, but don’t discuss it in depth.
Opinions will differ on the importance of H&R’s model in biological reality. H&R themselves think their results ‘cast doubt on the primacy of genic selfishness as a tenet of Darwinian theory’, and suggest that group selection could be important in hominid evolution. Gilpin and Taylor on the other hand think the model has 'a very limited range of applicability to the biological world’.
There are two aspects to this question: the range of parameters for which the model works, and the plausibility of the model itself. It seems clear that it works only in fairly special circumstances: small groups, low individual cost of altruism, and large group benefit of altruism. The groups cannot be much larger than 25 individuals (including offspring), the cost cannot be more than about 5% of normal fitness, and the benefit must be at least a 50% increase in surplus offspring. It may be thought inherently unlikely that there are many altruistic traits that would simultaneously have such low costs and high benefits. This may however be an unfair way of putting it. In H&R’s model the ’group effect’ consists in a higher group surplus of births over deaths, and this does not necessarily require a large increase in average fitness. A surplus of, say, 10% instead of 5% would be sufficient to give g = 1.
On the plausibility of the model itself, it would be unreasonable merely to complain that it is oversimplified, because all models are. However, as Gilpin and Taylor point out, in several respects the simplifications work in favour of group selection, which would therefore be less plausible if the model were made more realistic. Notably, if some groups were much larger than others, selfishness would be favoured. It would also be favoured if groups were allowed some growth, rather than being constant in size. G&T also make an obscurely worded point about sex balance. I am not sure what they mean, but it does seem that any large imbalance in the sex ratio of migrants would produce difficulties for the model. In many species it is common for all young males (or occasionally females, as in chimpanzees) to disperse from their natal group (presumably as an evolved adaptation to prevent inbreeding). In these cases migration would probably be on a larger scale than allowed in the model. Migrants would not just be replacing the dead, but also replacing migrants of the same sex leaving their natal group. It is not clear if the model would still work in these circumstances.
So overall I’m inclined to say ‘close, but no cigar’. However, the model does have the merit that it represents genuine group selection. Unlike some models, there is no suggestion that altruists associate preferentially together, or that benefits go to relatives more than to non-relatives. In practice, of course, groups as small as 25 (including offspring) are likely to contain close relatives, so if altruism is found in such groups it would require very careful examination to distinguish between group and kin selection. The crucial test would be whether the behaviour violates Hamilton’s Rule; if it does, but nevertheless flourishes, an explanation by group selection may be called for, though one would also need to consider reciprocal altruism and other indirect benefits as possible explanations.
First, note that if there are N groups, each with fixed size n, the total number of altruists in all groups is SPin = NPn, and therefore SPi = NP. The variance V of the Pi’s can be shown to be S(Pi^2)/N - P^2 (I omit proof of this - it is a standard result). It follows by simple rearrangement that SPi^2 = N(V+P^2).
Substituting equivalent expressions where appropriate in the formula S[Pi(a+bPi)]/S(a+bPi), it follows that the frequency of altruists in the migrant pool can be expressed as [NPa + S(PibPi)]/[Na + bSPi] = [NPa + bS(Pi^2)]/[Na + bSPi] = [NPa + Nb(V+P^2)]/N(a+bP). Cancelling the common factor N and substituting ag for b gives [Pa + ag(V+P^2)]/(a+agP) = [Pa+agV+agP^2]/(a+agP). Cancelling the common factor a and rearranging we get [P(1+gP) + gV]/(1+gP) = P + gV/(1+gP). QED.
Monkey porn anyone?
According to researchers at Duke (Article in upcoming Current Biology), male monkeys will "pay" to look at pictures of:
1.) Female monkeys
2.) Dominant males
Perhaps Pamela Anderson and Arnold Schwarzenegger should consider getting into the monkey business?
January 28, 2005
John Emerson hypothesizes that the term "kayak" is of Turkic origin and reached Scandinavia from both the east and west ~1700. Under this model the Thule Inuit culture borrowed the term from neighboring Siberian peoples. The reality of circumpolar travel reminds us that though there are broad general trends in intercontinental separation (World Island vs. New World), and though the Inuit served as a very efficient bottleneck in many ways, it is plausible that certain cultural features did "diffuse" from Old World to New. In The Seven Daughters of Eve Bryan Sykes reaffirms the Southeast Asian origin of the Polynesian peoples, but, offers that there is some evidence of South American mtDNA lineages on some of these islands. The presence of Polynesians on Easter Island suggests that it is likely that isolated seafarers did wash up on the South American coast, only to be absorbed into the local population if they managed to stake out a new life.
Islam: essential and nominal
Lawrence Auster points to very long article he has written on Islam where he is criticizing Daniel Pipes' attitude toward the religion: The Search for Moderate Islam. Auster also links to Pipes' reply, which he characterizes as nominalist, and in turn Pipes' terms Auster an essentialist. Pipes says:
This is a common and in my opinion respectable position, but my turn from "essentialism" to "nominalism" on this issue has been less driven by historical than cognitive considerations. When I began to encounter research which suggested that reflective, rational and axiomatic thinking plays a far less central role in our day-to-day life than we think I reconsidered the importance of texts as causal factors as opposed to reinterpreted justifications. Additionally, research which suggests that inferences from what might seem clear axioms vary greatly between individuals who are not allowed to communicate suggests to me that social and cultural mediation is crucial to the illusion of "obvious" inferences from texts to practice & belief.
To some extent this is an academic argument, I tend to agree with Auster & Pipes that the norm of Islam as it is practiced in most nations by most individuals is not "moderate" in a Western context. Nevertheless, truth is truth, and a contention that any given belief system is essentialist in its character rather than contextually determined does have some policy implications (there is considerable flexibility of course in how fast you believe change is possible within a belief system to maintain continuity).
The only point that might be added is that believers within the faith might find this attitude fallacious and patronizing, and between point A and Z in time when practice & belief changes a great deal I have no doubt they will find a way to ameliorate cognitive dissonance and explain away contradictions. Minds are clever beasts, and religious minds no less.
Addendum: Let me be clear in that I am expressing skepticism of the interlocking contingency of specific "memes" with "memecomplexes" that we might term religions. Religionists from the inside might breezily assert the "obvious" connections between a, b, c, d and the inference that a excludes !a and so on. I simply don't think that a, b, c, d and so forth which coalesce to form the mental conception of a given "religion" have such logical relationships with each other, additionally they are often not clear enough as concepts to really imply an obvious negation. This is one reason why my objection to religious "essentialism" is far upstream of historical considerations. I don't think think that religious ideas, as they are normally conceived of by the layperson, intrinsically have any logical structure which one can deduce from outside of a socially mediated context with imposes the inferences by consensus (eg; it is "obvious" that the New Testament implies a Trinity as elucidated in the Athanasian Creed, or, it is "obvious" by analogy that bans on alcohol must be extended to tobacco).
Addendum II: I just realized something. Pipes' ends his reply to Auster with obvious confusion and irritation as he does not discern any policy differences in terms of implementation between Auster & himself. In other words, what matters in the argument between essentialism and nominalism on the first order? I think one must consider the background of both individuals. Lawrence Auster is a devout Christian (conservative Episcopalian) who converted from a non-Christian Jewish background, ergo, he espouses the essential tenets of the Christian faith. To my knowledge Daniel Pipes is not an orthodox Jew, and so like many non-Orthodox Jews his attitude toward religion is possibly rather flexible, and oriented toward the manifestations of religion rather than introspective aspects of faith and belief.
Imagine if you will. You give a sentient alien a King James Bible. You have this alien read this tome front to back.
Now, you explain to the alien that in the United States certain regions believe in the literal truth of this text more than other regions. You stipulate that the "New Testament" is generally considered more important to the majority of individuals in the United States. Additionally, you also explain that there is interregional variation in interpersonal displays of aggression as well as openness to international belligerance.
Would the alien predict that a literal belief in NT correlated with aggression and warlike propensities or not?
You can also stipulate that a minority of the population rejects the NT and hews to the "Old Testament" (the Hebrew Bible), at least nominally. Would the alien predict that these individuals would emphasize interpersonal aggression and warlike tendencies or not?
Women in science on Science Friday
Women in Science. The guests are Nancy Hopkins (you know her), Marianne Bronner-Fraser (biology, Caltech), Meg Urry (physics, Caltech) and Nicole Weekes (psychology, Pomona). Should be archived at the above URL soon.
Related: Over at his fMRI blog Aziz comments on the different uses of gray and white matter by men and women. Meghan O'Rourke in Slate slams Summers for his tactlessness. She makes a good point about the "blind audition" isssue, but tends to talk about average differences (even though she acknowledges that the tails are what matters) and uses value laden terms like superiority.
January 27, 2005
The Galtonian Revolution visits the NSCDC
I was sent this working paper today from the NSCDC about early childhood emotion. Usually, I need to ingest some type of analgesic compound before I can make it through these things, but this one smacks nicely of the hb-d theme of this blog. Of course you have to, somewhat, read between the lines, but not too much. For example, here is one of their main points:
We now know that differences in early childhood temperament — ranging from being extremely outgoing and adventurous to being painfully shy and easily upset by anything new or unusual — are grounded in one's biological makeup. These variations lead to alternative behavioral pathways for young children as they develop individual strategies to control their emotions during the preschool years and beyond. They also present diverse challenges for parents and other adults who must respond differently to different kinds of children. When it comes to finding the “best” approach for raising young children, scientists tell us that one size does not fit all.
I really don't think Scarr & McCartney, or Galton himself, could have put it much better.
Marriage & evolution
In The Symbolic Species Terrence Deacon argues that "marriage" was an ancient homonid response to the conundrum of group living as a monogamous species, that is, a socially constrained contract given meaning and force by symbolic concepts. The Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Art As Adaptation Kathryn Coe also suggests that marriage is an old feature of our genus, and points out that the "ideal" time of marriage for females in most traditional cultures is prior to their reproductive peak years, indicating long term investment on the part of males. Of course, monogamy and polygyny are stark dichotomies which do not capture the full range of behavioral norms of humans and our near kin, though I think it can be asserted that humans fall somewhere closer to the monogamous end of the spectrum.
Crime - Make the Criminal Whole
We all know that there's a cost to doing business - you know what I mean - you take the cost of your material inputs, your labor, and your overhead and try to sell you widget for more than you've paid. This is what makes the world go round. Now take this principle of cost accounting and marry it with the principle from Tort Law of making the injured party whole - you don't want to punish the offending party by adding punitive damages so you limit their financial obligation to simply restoring the injured party to where they normally would have been without the harm that has been caused by one's action.
For a recipe of the bizarre take these two principles and add a dash of Dutch justice and you get:
It is often said that crime doesn't pay, but a Roermond man might beg to differ, having recently been refunded EUR 2,000 for the pistol he used to commit an armed robbery.
I think that the Dutch are a little confused about who is supposed to be made whole from the criminal transaction - hint: it's not the criminal. The victim shouldn't be forced to pay for the gun that was used in the robbery that victimized them.
Please leave your clever quips in comments.
Fair Play for Chimps
The latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B (biological sciences) has a paper with evidence that chimpanzees have a sense of 'fairness' dependent on whether the parties already know each other. Here's the abstract from the Royal Society's website:
Tolerance for inequity increases with social closeness in chimpanzees by SF Brosnan, HC Schiff and FBM de Waal
Similar findings have previously been reported in capuchin monkeys. Note that 'unfairness' in these experiments is primarily unfairness to the animals themselves whose response is being studied, not to other animals. If they don't get their 'fair' share they sulk, but this new reseacrh indicates that they are more likely to tolerate unfairness (to themselves) if the beneficiaries are regular social partners.
Whatever the details, this research does indicate that at least the rudiments of a sense of 'justice' are found in non-human primates, which makes it difficult to argue that this is entirely a product of human cultural evolution.
Addendum from Razib: Article in Nature.
January 26, 2005
What's Wrong With This Picture?
John at Discriminations posts a transcript from last Sunday's Meet the Press, where the host, Tim Russert, interviews the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas on the issue of adjusting Social Security payments on the basis of race and gender.
RUSSERT: "A gender adjustment--what does that mean?"
OK, I checked the calendar and it's not April 1st. So what planet is Russert really from and do you think he might be in the market for a bridge that I'm selling?
Outsource the Math Teacher
OK, so some of you may have noticed recently that I'm a bit peeved at the state of education, what with Anti-Racist Math, a feminist curriculm that focuses on reading about domestic violence, alcoholism and other domestic ills, (see this article and see Randall Parker's take on the issue) which seems to thoroughly turn young boys off from reading, and let's not forget the pablum they serve up as content for graduate students in education. It's all enough to make a parent consider outsourcing their child's education to someone who is actually competent - perhaps to a private school, if one could afford it, or to take on the task oneself, provided of course, that one can afford the time. However, when I wrote outsource, I actually meant outsource. Now you can have your child tutored in math by a professional in India for a fraction of the cost charged by local tutors:
Twice in a week, Ann Maria, a sixth grader at Silver Oak Elementary School, California logs on to the internet from home after school hours. Ann is not chatting up her friends. She is connecting to her personal tutor, already online, armed with headset and a pen mouse sitting in a call centre like cubicle almost a timezone away in Panampillynagar, Kochi, Kerala. Your neighbourhood tuition teacher, riding on the Information Technology Enabled Service (ITES) wave, has gone global and his monthly pay packet turned meatier __ the 17 teachers who work with the Growing Star Infotech (P) Ltd would testify. The firm a subsidiary of California-based Growing Stars Inc went online in January last year. ``We started with three teachers and around 10 students. There are 17 teachers now and around 160 students,'''' says Bina George, Manager HR and Administration. The service is for students from grade three to grade twelve and those who take the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college admission. The business, a brainchild of US-based NRKs Biju Mathew and Saji Philip, is rapidly expanding and is in a hiring mode. Growing Stars currently has a 57-seater facility, but feels it may need more space as they expand. The shift starts at 4.30 in the morning and ends by 12.30 pm. One reason for the high growth rate could be that personalised tuition in US is highly expensive. ``We started of with Indian students. But we have now around 60 American students and every one is happy because they are bettering the grades,'''' says Bina. The only hitch is the accent of the tutors which is being taken care of with help from a language trainer. The approach to the students and teaching is also different. ``We have asked them not to shout at or scold the students,'''' says Lila Bai Nair, Academic Director. here is a huge demand for Mathematics and recently for English. tuition in science subjects started recently. The whiteboard software interface that is installed at the student and tutor ends help in easy exchange of voice and data. The pen mouse along with the writing tablet offers an interactive atmosphere where teachers can view and correct what a student writes.
And before you think about hiring a local teacher to tutor your child in math, read this harrowing account of how math phobic many teachers really are:
As I may have mentioned before, one of the sections I teach is Math for Elementary Education. Anyone who is arguing about the best way for elementary school teachers to teach math should talk to my students: a very large fraction of them can't do elememtary-level math. Don't think that it's just this section of my students this semester; this is a systemic problem.
Be sure to read the comments for even more insight into how the fall of our civilization began. Thankfully we have the internet and tutors in India to which we can turn for salvation from social constructivist pedagogy aligned with the lowest IQ students in university.
January 25, 2005
And the Turks may not be coming
A week ago, news.google.ca began turning up links to an interesting paper: Refik Erzan, Umut Kuzubas and Nilufer Yildiz's "Growth and Immigration Scenarios for Turkey and the EU" (PDF format), written for the Centre for European Policy Studies.
The authors make the compelling argument that even if Turkey's bid for European Union membership is junked, Turkey will still exist as a source of migrants for the wider European Union. Indeed, if Turkey is excluded from membership in the European Union, the consequent underdevelopment may well encourage greater Turkish immigration into Europe. The authors examine first the experience of traditional southern European countries of emigration, then take an extra look at Turkey's experience.
Firstly, Turkey’s growth record clearly shows very high rates can be achieved but cannot be sustained without political stability and inflow of foreign savings. Without the EU anchor provided by the membership perspective, a growth performance that will cope with unemployment is not feasible.
As Kemal Kirisci noted in his Migration Information survey, "Turkey: A Transformation from Emigration to Immigration", Turkey has a history of receiving immigrants:
What is less well known is that Turkey has long been a country of immigration and asylum. From 1923 to 1997, more than 1.6 million people immigrated to Turkey, mostly from Balkan countries. During the Cold War, thousands of asylum seekers fled to Turkey from Communist states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The overwhelming majority were recognized as refugees, and were resettled to third countries such as Canada and the United States by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the late 1980s, this pattern began to change as increasing numbers of asylum seekers began to arrive from Iran and Iraq, as well as other developing nations. Turkey also experienced a mass influx of almost half a million mostly Kurdish refugees from Iraq in 1988 and 1991, as well as mass influxes of Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Muslims), and Turks in 1989, 1992-1995, and 1999.
Now, given Turkish economic growth and demographic changes, the country might well become a country of net immigration, ironically taking forms of illegal entry familiar to students of immigration into the modern European Union:
Today, officially sanctioned immigration into Turkey has for all intent and purposes dropped to a trickle. Since the early 1990s, however, Turkey has witnessed a new form of irregular immigration involving nationals of neighboring countries, EU nationals, and transit migrants. Turkey allows nationals of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and the Central Asian republics to enter the country quite freely either without visas or with visas that can easily be obtained at airports and other entry points. A large number of these people are involved in small-scale trade. However, some overstay their visas and illegally work as household help, commercial sex workers, and laborers, especially on construction sites and in the tourism sector.
I find Kirisci's conclusion hard to disagree with:
One final challenge for the immediate future will be alleviating western European fears about waves of Turkish immigrants if Turkey is admitted as an EU member. One argument that could be raised is that a Turkey that becomes integrated into the EU is less likely to flood Europe with migrant labor than if it is kept outside the union. This argument is based on the fact that the EU now has a long record of stabilizing and helping to consolidate democracies and promote economic prosperity. In fact, an increasingly democratic and prosperous Turkey is more likely to become a country that attracts immigrants, particularly from Turkish communities in Europe. Greece, Spain, and Portugal, all of which saw many of their nationals return following their EU accession, are a case in point in this respect.
The precise terms of Turkish integration into the European Union seem open to debate, granted. Even so, it's a minor irony (or perhaps a major one) that opponents of Turkish immigration might have to support Turkey's entrance into the European confederation in order to diminish the flow of immigrants.
The Chinese are coming (to Europe, that is)
Laczko's article argues that the PRC-citizenship population of Europe is low, divided roughly as described in the below chart:
Substantial evidence seems to suggest a significant undercount. The data for France is particularly poor, being more than a decade out of date. This is unfortunate, since, as Hugh Schofield wrote for Expatica, the French Chinese community is quite dynamic.
From a handful of Catholic converts brought back to the court of Louis XIV, the Chinese in France have grown to a community of some 600,000 and their numbers continue to swell with new waves of immigration from Manchuria and other depressed parts of the home country.
It's worth noting that the population of Dongbei--roughly corresponding to the area of Japan's Manchukuo satellite--is in excess of 100 million. Yes, Russia is located just across the Amur; Russia's absorptive capacity for immigrants, though, is open to doubt, particularly given the rate of China's modernization. As Laczko argues, Europe potentially has substantial absorptive capacity for Chinese immigrants:
There are signs of a growing demand for skilled workers and students from China in a number of European countries. Shortages of skilled workers in sectors such as health services have already led to campaigns by some European countries, such as Ireland and the UK, to recruit nurses directly from China.
Europe is a global economic power. It only makes sense that it has the capacity to attract immigrants from all over the world. Europe's Chinese communities are currently small; then again, a half-century ago so were its Muslim communities. A Chinese population that is already much more mobile within the frontiers of China that an Arab-Berber-Kurdish population within the frontiers of the Arab world has the potential to make a substantial impact on European demographics. Potential only, given the growing hostility to immigration that Pearsall Helms has described developing even in relatively liberal Britain, but even so.
Making old diseases
I read this article in the New England Journal of Medicine the other week. Researchers have been able to synthesize something close to Spanish Influenza and use it to infect mice.
Hopefully nobody working on this sort of thing has a grudge against society. Or is going through a bad breakup.
More Getting Out the Vote
David Boxenhorn is nominated in multiple categories at Israellycool, host of the Jewish/Israeli Blog Awards. His post from gnxp, Maladapted to Our Habitat is nominated for best individual post, and his Valley posts for best series. You can vote once a day, here. David's blog, Rishon-rishon is also nominated for Best Overall, Best New, Best Jewish Culture and Best Jewish Religion.
The polls are open until Sunday. :)
African American views on HIV/AIDS
I sure many of you have seen the study reported in the Washington Post on AA beliefs concerning HIV. Here's the breakdown of data:
These beliefs are explained in the article as being based on
"This is not a bunch of crazy people running around saying they're out to get us," Akbar said. The belief "comes from the reality of 300 years of slavery and 100 years of post-slavery exploitation"
I have my doubts. In my reading of HIV/AIDS research conducted in Africa I continually find examples of similar beliefs in goups that have little connection to the slave trade or the Tuskegee experiment, as this abstract details. So to me this is less an artifact of the American experience than of a cultural remnant from Africa.
"Hidden" Y Chromosome Sequence
Hot on the heels of the Summers controversy, researchers at the University of Heidelberg have found a "hidden" stretch of a half million base pairs on the Y chromosome. As Nature News reports:
The DNA that makes up the chromosome is highly repetitive, making it very difficult to sequence. But in June 2003, researchers in the United States announced that they had done so, and had found 78 genes, including several involved in sperm production.
Gudrun Rappold, one of the scientists involved, says there appears to be eight genes in the region. Though she guesses they might have something to do with male height and disease, we obviously cant rule out influences on cognitive or behavioral patterns just yet.
On a lighter note...
The Oscar nominations are just out. For a full list go here.
In the Best Actor category the nominations are Leo Di Caprio, Jamie Foxx, Johnny Depp (Neverland), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), and Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda).
In the Best Actress category the nominations are Hilary Swank, Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), Annette Bening, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine). I haven't seen Catalina's film, but of the other performances the winner should be Imelda Staunton, but I can't quite see the Oscar going to a dowdy middle-aged abortionist.
For patriotic British readers wishing to maximise their ethnic non-genetic interests, the nominees to root for are Imelda Staunton, Kate Winslet, Clive Owen (nominated for best supporting actor in Closer), and Sophie Okonedo (nominated for best supporting actress in Hotel Rwanda). Disgracefully, but predictably, most of the initial British reports on the nominations haven't noticed that she is British (she's one of those Anglo-Bantu hybrids Frank Salter is so worried about).
On the "Next Islamic Revolution"
As I noted a few days ago The New York Times Magazine sent an intrepid journalist to chronicle the rise of Islamism in Bangladesh. This story is getting some play on the web, Winds of Change and Little Green Footballs have both pointed to it. If you want a Razib-o-centric view on this issue...read on.
First, one needs to keep the numbers in perspective. Bangladesh is a nation of ~140 million. 10,000 Islamic militants, 500 jihadis, tens of thousands of hoodlums who take to the streets. Such things are difficult to judge in terms of what they truly mean. A writer who travels to an alien land can only impart you their impressions, a particular slice of life. How representative is that slice?
I have a distant relative who is a development economist. He was quite frank that numbers in Bangladesh are always a tricky game, truth is something defined on a piece of paper, while reality only exists in the shadows.
My personal experience of Dhaka in the spring of 2004 was of a somewhat ostentatious Muslim nation, devout in any Western context, but generally focused on attaining a degree of prosperity in the face of its omnipresent poverty. Certainly I was peppered with questions about hatred toward Muslims in the United States, but on the other hand people were just as ready to talk about the coming flood of Chinese garments into the world markets and the ramifications for Bangladesh's economy.
The call to prayer ebbed and flowed throughout the day (some mosques summoned their worshippers earlier than others, so there was a distribution which peaked at a particular time and diminished). But there was also the persistent bustle and hustle of commerce, "respectable" women were complaining that prostitutes were expanding the red light district and becoming more bold in staking out their place in the public arena, while the local English language newspaper had a somewhat light-hearted piece about the open air pornography stalls that dominated one market. Corruption is more salient than Allah in Bangladesh, and so of course the local police officers looked the other way in exchange for their quota of pornographic goodies. In some of the main public squares there were bright posters with plump golden fleshed women in various states of undress, advertising "private shows" and what not. Some were torn down, but the next day they were there again.
Are porn stalls and strip shows typical of Bangladesh? The local prostitutes' union organizing is not something that should indicate that sexual freedom is the norm among Bangladeshi women, while the relative lack of modesty of dress (in a Middle Eastern way of judging such things) does not imply that Bangladeshis feel themselves to be any less Muslim and are any less pompous in their private assertions of piety. Rather, I am pointing out that extracting from the rich texture of an extremely poor country the possibility that its whole being might move toward Islamism seems to be implausible...but then who I am I to judge? I saw what I saw, from the perspective of one whose family members are rather privileged, and on the whole urban. But, I would offer that urban Islamism is the real threat, while rural Islamism generally indicates that local grievances are being channeled through religious forms to cover up their base motivations.
Finally, let me offer that in my own family are many devout people, but in particular I have two uncles who might be considered fundamentalists in Western parlance. One of my uncles is an imam who keeps his wife in purdah. Another of my uncles is a professor of geology at a small college, and he also keeps his wife in purdah, and he is a member of an organization called Tableegh. Tableegh has been termed the "Muslim Jehovah Witness," their obnoxious exhortations to relatives and friends, their aggressive interpersonal sermons, tend to rub many moderate Bangladeshi Muslims the wrong way. I have seen many relatives' eyes glaze over as they listen to the thousandth sermon from my uncle about how women should be secluded, everyone should pray five times a day, how one should eat, sleep, think and breath. But, it is crucial to note that this order does not engage in politics. That is, they are not Islamists in the public sphere, their domain in personal witness and conversion. I do not note in the article above any mention of this group, but in my experience these are the fundamentalist Muslims who are the most powerful day to day force in the life of Bangladeshis, not those who are involved in political parties (Tableeghis specifically avoid politics).
One must avoid generalizations based on samples of two. Or my slice of life. My uncles, religious, pious, rather medieval Muslims, are not typical of Muslims. Let me be frank and note that I see the stamp of common familial tendnecies, a combination of extroversion combined with hyperrational reflection. Their Islam is a meditation on eternal truths rather than an emotional expression of the love of God. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that both of my uncles expressed little hostility toward the United States, that my uncle who was an imam had inquired about obtaining a position in the United States, while my uncle who was involved in Tableegh noted that in the United States you had a land where being a Muslim was incredibley easy because of its freedoms. This is not to sanitize their mindsets, in the end they believe that all should submit to Allah, but in their relative quietism it was clear they conceived of this via the means of persuasion rather than compulsion.
These are just my impressions. My distant cousin the economist left me deeply disturbed about the state of data collection in Third World countries, and one should always be skeptical of headcounts and tallies offerd by "governments" of such nations. Hitler's Germany never gave a majority to the Nazi party, so it is possible that the majority of Bangladesh's rather moderate Muslim population could assent to the will of a militant minority, but it is important to note that there are fissures and substructure within the conservative Muslims themselves. In many urban areas Bangladesh's society is changing so fast that the agenda of reformists, whether Islamist or Western liberals, must always keep pace with local looming social disasters that metastize and shape-shift with each alteration in the socioeconomic winds. My relatives, rather prosperous individuals, complain now that it is extremely difficult to find household help because so many young women are working in the factories. This one piece of the puzzle is a crucial one that many miss, Islamism in some ways is a reaction to the headlong rush of a culture that is shifting from pre-medieval to information age in fits & starts, and in a mosaic fashion as some segments remained mired in subsistence while others attempt to become subdivisions of Walmart.
In any case, there are some prosaic reasons for Bangladesh not becoming an Islamic maelstrom in the coming years:
One or two of these variables can be overcome. Poor Afghanistan was geopolitically entangled with the outside world and economically isolated, so it felt both free and compelled to Islamicize. Bangladesh's 140 million people are twisted in too many directions to form a fist against the West. The threat comes from countries which have attained a level of prosperity, which can mobilize their population who now look beyond subsistence, but have not obtained universal middle-class levels of affluence. They can marry resentment to lack of want and therefore meditate upon plans which look over the horizon. (my opinion also applies to segregated Muslim nations which are being incubated in some European polities)
Are You Old or Are You Hip?
Kimberly Swygert points me to one of the top 20 prom dresses this season, and like her, I realize I most be old because there's no way, no how, no daughter of mine would ever wear this dress to a high school prom. I suppose, though, that this was inevitable after the introduction of thongs for 10 year old girls, and co-ed sleepovers for teens. To see what the hub-bub is all about click on over to the New York Post (might not be work-safe though.)
January 24, 2005
That's Not The Bed Lever, Nurse -- But Don't Stop Cranking It.
With support from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Melissa Resnick of Merrick, New York, will become the first blind nursing student at Nassau Community College (NCC). Admission to NCC's Nursing Department is highly competitive and the Department is widely respected for its academic excellence. The college confirmed her acceptance after initially expressing concerns over her ability to perform the required classroom and clinical work. Ms. Resnick will start her classes on Friday, January 21, 2005.
As you'd expect the news account of this admittance is quite rah-rah for the blind underdog and is full of feel good sentiments, but what I really wanted to know was how they would accomodate Ms. Resnick into their program? Also, will Ms. Resnick, once graduated, be satisfied with a position that acknowledges her limitations and thus limits her responsibilites or will she then also bring in the big guns, the National Federation of the Blind, and demand to be fully engaged with patients?
If total equality is sought I see this situation as being frought with danger, for Ms. Resnick, her employers and innocent patients. How much do innocent parties have to yield and compromise so as to validate the worth of handicapped people? If I'm a patient in a hospital the last thing I want to do is be concerned with accomodating a blind nurse. I just see trouble ahead on this story.
Tom Lehrer on New Math
The Genetics of Selflessness
A group of Israeli researchers have a very interesting paper available as an advance online publication from Molecular Psychiatry. Noting that two dopaminergic genes (DRD4 and the microsatellite variant DRD5) have been implicated in ADHD and antisocial behavior, the authors hypothesized that "if one variant contributes to antisocial traits, then conversely the absence of this variant or the presence of other variants might contribute to altruistic behavior."
Together with the insulin-like growth factor 2 gene (IGF2), they find significant associations between scores on the
Selflessness Scale and the DRD4 exon III (D4.4), the IGF2 Apa I (‘G’) and DRD5 (146 and 148 bp repeat) polymorphisms. Univariate analysis also showed significant associations with the most common D4.4 allele, the IGF2 ApaI (‘G’ allele) and DRD5 (148 bp repeat, negatively associated) for all three factors (KIN, NON-KIN and NON-CARING). We also found a significant association (P¼0.002) between the D4 4/4 genotype and TPQ reward [Cloninger’s TPQ4 subscale related to empathy]
This association with the "feel good" chemical dopamine would appear to provide the sort of proximate mechanism necessary to compel people to act contrary to their fitness. Also of interest, all three of the genes were associated with altruistic behaviors toward both kin and non-kin.
Addendum from Razib: A few years ago Greg Cochran & Henry Harpending pointed out that the DRD4 alleles vary widely in frequency, and suggest that the 7R allele has been under positive selection (possibly frequency dependent, that is, multiple "morphs") in some populations. You can find a comparison chart here for the particular class of polymorphisms Greg & Henry are talking about (4 repeat is ancestral, 7 repeat is the selected variant, these are on exon III, just as above).
Bachner-Melman, R. et al. 2005. Dopaminergic polymorphisms associated with self-report measures of human altruism: a fresh phenotype for the dopamine D4 receptor. Molecular Psychiatry: advance online publication 18 January 2005.
(Cross-posted at my site, Organic republican)
Report on a South Asian, muslim, Norwegian born pop singer named Deeyah, whose slightly risgue style has angered enough muslims in Norway that she has fled to England for her own safety. Reading several reports on the subject of this singer and her plight, as well as watching some of her videos makes me wonder: is the anger she is generating completely attributable to her being a muslim who bares skin, or is there some sense of frustration from her fellow South Asians for her westernizing their traditional culture?
One thing that I think stands out in this case is that she is not an apostate, she is still a practicing muslim. So she stands as a success story for the west, a woman who draws on her heritage and her birth country's culture and values and successfully blends them to become a moderate ethnic/religious role model. Too bad she is being run out of country after country, maybe she'll have to finally move to the U.S.
Any way, I don't care. She's a good singer, with an interesting style. And, oh yeah, she's hot.
Addendum from Razib: Please note that in the Norwegian context "South Asian" is basically synomous with people of Pakistani origin. This is a community that has had some issues with assimilation. Also, please note that a recent Miss Norway of half-Persian origin was discovered to have some done hard-core porn.
The "fertility inversion"
A week ago a story broke suggesting that a portion of Iceland's population possessed an genetic inversion which conferred upon them possibly greater fertility & lifespan. The authors suggested that this inversion has been selected for in the past 10,000 years and that its separation from the modal type occurred on the order of several million years ago. Additionally, the reports suggested that there was interpopulational differences in the frequency of the inversion.
The supplementary information in the paper did not give explicit frequencies (it presented two diagnostic SNPs in a pie chart from across various populations). I decided to just do a search on ALFRED, and tabulated the exact frequencies of the diagnostic markers as well as the sample size. Additionally, I have included the map with the various ethnic groups so that you can tell which obscure group is where.
The only note I would add is that the "Mixed Europeans" graph is placed on Europe, but when I followed the link, it stated that the sample was "Collected by K. Kidd from unrelated individuals of European ancestry living in the United States and Canada." To reiterate, here is the frequency of the diagnostic markers for the inversion among European groups in the list: Finns (7%), Russians (9-10%), Danes (13-16%), Irish (18-17%), Icelanders (20%) and Mixed Europeans (23-22%). As you can see in the table below, another spike in frequencies seems to be found in populations of Middle Eastern origin (Samaritans, Druze and Ashkenazi Jews, as well as lower frequencies among Yemeni Jews). So, there seems to be two possible components of variation, one radiating out of the Middle East, and another dropping as you move further east in Europe, perhaps a hint of selection after the last Ice Age among the populations that moved north from the Iberian refugia up the Atlantic coast. I can't really think of any obvious reason that "Mixed Europeans" would have a higher frequency than some of the common Northern Europeans. One thought is that Americans are a plural majority of British Isles stock (I tend to think the Census undercounts this group greatly), and we see that in Europe there is an increase of frequency as one moves West. Also, Germans were not sampled, and they are very numerous in the United States. ALFRED does note that "The Irish sample was collected by Prof. K. Kendler and collaborators from people born in Ireland predominantly from the northern and central counties." There is some population substructure in Ireland, so perhaps southern Ireland has higher frequencies of the inversion. Additionally, the high birthrate of the settler colonies might be a factor, as European birthrates might have been more constrained by a ceiling because of resourche limitations, eliminating more of the fertility advantage. Perhaps looking to the Hutterites could provide some evidence in this direction (as they have had very high birthrates for many generations).
Bold indicates markers which are diagnostic for the novel inversion.
Ethnic Genetic Interests - Part 2
In the previous post I outlined the concept of ethnic genetic interests, as advocated by Frank Salter, and offered some general philosophical objections to it. Here are some more technical comments:
1. Salter frequently talks about the ‘distinctive genes’ of an ethnic group or race, but very few alleles are confined to a single race. More often, all races share all alleles, but at moderately different frequencies. Typically, in a two-allele system there is a difference of 30 or 40 percent in frequency of an allele between continental races: for example in ratios such as 40:80, 50:85, or 65:95. (The differences may be somewhat greater for Y chromosome or mtDNA haplogroups, where transmission is only through one sex, and there is no recombination.) These differences in frequency are sufficient to generate the levels of genetic distance (as measured by FST) found between such populations, which are usually in the range of .1 - .2. For example, a frequency for a given allele of 50% in one population and 85% in another would produce an FST of about .14 between them, which is larger than the FST between white Europeans and Australian aboriginals (Salter, table on p.68). In promoting their ’ethnic genetic interests’, in opposition to other populations, ethnic groups would therefore not be preserving unique alleles, but merely bringing the global frequency of these alleles closer to the frequency found in their own group: neither more nor less. (If all other ethnic groups in the world were exterminated - which even Salter might consider a bit extreme - this goal would be exactly achieved.) Why anyone should consider this a ‘vital’, ‘fundamental‘, or ‘ultimate’ interest is beyond me. Why so much fuss about shifting a gene frequency from, say, 50 percent to 60 percent? I am not sure that Salter himself is aware of the rather footling nature of his ‘ultimate interests’, once one strips away the rhetoric. (It might be said that the important thing about population differences is the scope for distinctive gene combinations, but Salter himself doesn’t pursue this line, so I won’t linger over it.)
2. It is also doubtful whether the frequency of alleles, and the resulting measure of ethnic genetic kinship, is the most appropriate way of measuring genetic similarity and difference within Salter’s own conceptual scheme. After all, what is an allele? Any difference between two DNA sequences, however small - as small as a single base substitution - is sufficient to constitute them as different alleles, regardless of any effects on their functions or fitness. This may be appropriate for tracing ancestry and reconstructing phylogenies - the main purpose for which these frequency differences are used - but it does not seem especially relevant for Salter’s stated ‘ultimate interest’ of ‘genetic continuity’. For this purpose a more natural measure would be the extent of similarity between genetic sequences as a whole, measured by the proportion of identical DNA. But if we adopt this measure, ’ethnic’ differences become trivial: between human continental races genetic sequences differ by only about a tenth of 1 percent of all DNA bases. Please note that I am not falling into ’Washburn’s Fallacy’. The question is what is the appropriate measure of genetic difference for Salter’s avowed aim of preserving ’genetic continuity’, and for this purpose the proportion of identical DNA is more logical than the proportion of identical alleles. If our concern is simply to maximise the amount of identical genetic material to our own that is transmitted to future generations, it makes hardly any difference whether this is done by our own ethnic group or another one. It is far more important to maximise the amount of human reproduction in general. Of course, I don’t suggest that this is desirable: in my view quality is more important than quantity. But for Salter quantity is apparently everything.
3. Salter repeatedly describes the pursuit of ethnic genetic interests as ’adaptive’, but his use of this term is unusual. An adaptive gene is usually regarded as one which in some way enhances organism function or reproductive fitness. Such genes are favoured by natural selection, and may be contrasted with those that are selectively neutral or counter-selected. But this is not what Salter means by adaptiveness. For Salter, it is by definition adaptive for an individual to maximise the number of copies of his own genetic material, regardless of its selective value. So, for example, it is adaptive for an individual with Huntingdon’s disease to maximise the number of other Huntingdon’s sufferers. Needless to say, this is not an example Salter gives himself, but it is a consequence of his principles!
4. To a large extent the genetic differences between populations are due to random processes such as founder effect and genetic drift. Many population differences in allele frequency are selectively neutral. However, Salter explicitly rejects any attempt to distinguish between neutral and non-neutral differences: they are all equally part of an individual’s ’genetic interest’. This seems absurd. Salter anticipates this objection, and replies that ’random processes are fundamental to evolution and are even built into the way we produce our children [through the process of meiosis and sexual reproduction]… If the random element in ethno-genesis is a reason to doubt the value of ethnic kin, it must also be a reason to devalue one’s offspring as a store of genetic interests‘ (p.96). A debating answer to the last point would be that meiosis does reduce the value of our offspring to us by a half, as compared with clonal offspring, which is why there is a notorious problem of explaining sexual reproduction! But in any case the real objection is not to the random origin of the differences between populations, but to their lack of adaptive value (in the usual sense of ’adaptive’). Salter fails to explain why non-adaptive genetic differences should be of ‘interest’ to anyone. To give an analogy, if a painter wishes to make a good copy (as distinct from a forgery) of a famous painting, he will not try to replicate all the cracks, discolorations, and dirt that have come to blemish its surface over the years. These are not what give the picture its value. But for Salter every genetic blemish is sacred.
5. Of course, some differences between populations must have been adaptive (in the usual sense) at some time. But this is no guarantee that they are still adaptive in modern conditions. Salter’s theory implies, for example, that African populations who have migrated to temperate countries should seek to preserve their ’distinctive’ African genes - even those, like the genes responsible for sickle-cell anemia, which are actively harmful in their new environment. As I emphasised in my previous post, Salter’s position is essentially backward-looking and anti-eugenic.
January 23, 2005
Ethnic Genetic Interests
I said I would return to the subject of Frank Salter‘s book On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration (Frankfurt, 2003). [Note 1]
The key idea of the book is that every individual has a genetic interest in copies of his own ‘distinctive genes’ (Salter‘s phrase). Such copies are found not only in the close relatives of the individual, but in the wider population to which he belongs. As a result of genetic drift and different selective pressures, different gene variants (alleles) are found with different frequencies in different populations. Individuals in the same population are therefore more likely to share copies of the same alleles than those in different populations. This increased probability of sharing the same alleles can be quantified by a coefficient of ethnic kinship. Taking any two populations, given the frequency of a given allele in the two populations, we can calculate the higher probability that an individual will share that allele with another individual in the same population, as compared with the probability given by its mean frequency in the two populations. Averaging this higher probability over all genes and alleles, we get an average coefficient of kinship within the group. We can also calculate the negative kinship between individuals in the different populations, which reflects the lower probability that they will share an allele as compared with the probability given by its mean frequency in the two populations. In an Appendix to the book Henry Harpending shows that the kinship within a population can be measured by FST, the usual measure of genetic distance between populations. With the aid of the coefficient of ethnic kinship we can further calculate an individual’s aggregate ethnic genetic interest in a group to which he belongs as contrasted with another group. This is done simply by multiplying the number of individuals in the group by the appropriate coefficient. (Presumably we can also calculate the aggregate negative interest of an individual with respect to the other group, but I don’t recall that Salter discusses this explicitly.)
It is important to realise that ethnic kinship is relative to the populations chosen for comparison. The same individual will have many different coefficients of ethnic kinship, e.g. if the individual is English we could consider the comparisons English v. Danish; English v. French; English v. African; English v. Nigerian; Western European v. Chinese; and so on. But we could also go to a lower level of analysis and consider South English v. North English; London v. Nottingham; etc. The size of the coefficient of kinship will reflect the geographical distance between the populations, the length of time since they shared a common group of ancestors, their degree of inbreeding, and the amount of gene flow between them. Between two populations chosen globally at random, FST is on average around 15%, but between groups that are geographically and historically close, such as English and Danes, it is smaller, while for distant groups it is larger; for example, between North Chinese and Africans it is nearly 20%. The coefficient that is relevant therefore depends on the context. For Salter, the context is primarily that of policy-making on issues such as immigration.
So where does this all lead? Why is ‘genetic interest’ important, and what follows from it? Well, Salter argues for ’the importance of genetic continuity as an end in itself (p.24)…the process of genetic evolution is certainly the ultimate cause of our existence (p.25)… From an evolutionary perspective…genetic continuity is the ultimate interest of all life, since it has priority over other interests (p.26)… The ultimate interest is reproduction, the goal towards which all life is shaped through natural selection. Adaptive information carried in genes is transmitted between generations, and is therefore an ultimate interest (p.341)…’ So, according to Salter, genetic interests are very important. In fact, more important, or at least more ’ultimate’, and therefore deserving ‘priority’, than any others. But Salter believes that most of us are unaware of our full genetic interests, and in particular our ethnic interests: ’changed environments have effectively blinded us to large stores of our genetic interests, or to put it more accurately, for the first time situated us where we need to perceive those interests and be motivated to pursue them (p.31)… ethnic genetic interests are usually very large [in aggregate] compared to familial genetic interests (p.66)’. Salter’s book is aimed at bringing these neglected ethnic genetic interests to our attention and exploring their implications for social and political issues such as immigration, birth rates, and inter-ethnic marriage (which I discussed here).
It is essential to understand that Salter is not presenting a biological theory of how people have evolved, how they will evolve in future, or why they behave in the way they do. [Note 2] As Salter puts it himself: ’the present work is not primarily a theory of human behavior, but of interests. Rather than being a work of explanation, this is mainly an exercise in political theory dealing with what people are able to do if they want to behave adaptively (p.85)… my main goal in this chapter is not to describe how people actually behave. Rather, I explore how individuals would behave if they were attempting to preserve their genetic interests (p.257)’. Some of these remarks might suggest that Salter is merely setting out an option that people may wish to follow or not, according to their own values, but it can hardly be doubted that Salter himself positively advocates the pursuit of ethnic genetic interests, principally through the control of immigration. The use of such terms as ’adaptive’, ‘fitness’, and ’ultimate interests’ could in principle have a neutral biological sense, but in practice Salter uses them with an evaluative force: he regards the policies he discusses not just as possible but desirable. Otherwise why say that we ’need to perceive’ our genetic interests and ’be motivated to pursue them’? From time to time he overtly uses the mode of recommendation rather than mere analysis, for example, ’Multiculturalism and other versions of ethnic pluralism... are types of ethnic regime that majorities should certainly avoid (p.188)… Since genetic interests are the most fundamental, liberals [sic] should support social policies that take these vital interests into account (p.250)’. And some of the language and comparisons Salter uses are strongly emotive: ’it would appear to be more adaptive for an Englishman to risk life or property resisting the immigration of two Bantu immigrants to England than his taking the same risk to rescue one of his own children from drowning’ (p.67)…It is parents’ duty to care for their children. Do we have a similar duty to nurture our ethnies?… when ethnic competition is high, as is the case in competition between members of different races, failure to show ethnic loyalty is the genetic equivalent of betraying a child or a grandchild’ (p302-3)’.
So that’s the theory, in brief outline. What do I think of it? My short view is that, as Bentham famously said of ’natural rights’, the whole idea of ’ethnic genetic interests’ is nonsense on stilts. While reading Salter’s book I kept getting vague reminiscences of something else, but it took me a while to pin down what it was: General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, with his paranoid ramblings about our Precious Bodily Fluids.
But vulgar abuse is no substitute for reasoned argument (or vice versa), so here are some more considered criticisms:
I will begin with a conceptual, quasi-philosophical objection.
As Salter himself recognises, he is using the word ‘interest’ in an unfamiliar and controversial sense. In its primary, everyday sense, we use the word to designate the wants and needs of individual sentient beings (usually humans, but sometimes other animals). These may be either subjective wants (such as a desire for food or sex) or objective needs, such as survival, but in general we value the latter only as preconditions for the former. Survival is usually in our interest, but not if we are in constant pain, or being kept alive as a senseless vegetable.
Our desires have a biological foundation. In most cases they contribute in obvious ways to survival and/or reproduction, and it is easy to see that the desire may have evolved by natural selection as a motive to action. (I’m ignoring the mind-body problem here!) In other cases, such as the desire to listen to music, the biological value, if any, is less obvious. Clearly many of our desires are affected by our experience and culture. For example, there may well be a biological basis for hoarding and collecting, but it is hardly likely that there is a specific biological motive for collecting stamps or cigarette cards. It is also probable that some of our modern desires and values are biologically maladaptive, but this doesn’t make them any the less valid as personal motives. Different desires and interests may conflict with each other, in which case we have to decide between them, based on their relative strength, persistence, etc., and our experience of previous choices and outcomes. I don’t see any basis for assuming that we should choose the interest that is biologically most ‘adaptive‘, in the sense of maximising reproductive fitness. Most women, and many men, have a desire to reproduce, but if they do not, it is strictly their business, and it would be preposterous to tell them that it is in their ‘interest’ to do so if they don‘t want to.
In a metaphorical sense we often extend the concept of interests to entities other than individual sentient beings. For example we might talk about the interests of a corporation or a nation. But these interests are usually derivative, in the sense that they can be reduced to the average or aggregate interests of individuals. More doubtfully, we can extend the concept of interest to entities such as genes or molecules, and say that it is in their ’interest’ to survive or reproduce. This is a risky straining of terminology. It can have some advantages for brevity and vividness of expression, but it also runs the risk of confusing things that ought to be distinguished.
Salter’s concept of 'genetic interests' is an attempt to base individual interests on the metaphorical 'interest' of genes. I am unable to attach any intelligible meaning to most of what he says about it. No doubt he is right to say that 'the process of genetic evolution is certainly the ultimate cause of our existence', but to leap from this (which is a statement of fact) to the claim that 'genetic continuity is the ultimate interest of all life' seems to me mere gibberish. 'Life' doesn’t have an 'interest', any more than water has an 'interest' in flowing downhill. And even if 'life' or 'genes' did have an 'interest', so what? Why should we as individuals put the interest of our genes before our personal wants and needs, or even give it any weight at all? Salter does recognise the 'so what?' objection, but his answer to it is just the same old flapdoodle about genes as 'fundamental' to our existence. Ultimately, Salter's attitude towards the genes is more mystical than scientific.
Of course it is possible to define ‘interest’ in such a way that it is in our ’interest’ to maximise the number of copies of our genes, but one must then be careful not to draw any inferences which depend on the customary sense of the word, with its connotations of desirability. Whenever a theorist adopts a radical new definition of some word with favourable connotations, such as ’good’, ‘justice’, ‘liberty’, or ‘truth’, it is usually a sign that he wants to sell you some snake-oil.
For whatever reasons, some individuals do feel a desire to promote their own ethnic group. For those individuals, their ‘ethnic genetic interest’ is a genuine personal interest, just as much as a desire to listen to Mahler or to eat toffee. To anyone who doesn’t feel the same desire, it is just as uncompelling. Personally, given a choice between (A) a society of people genetically similar to me who share my own set of values, (B) a society of people genetically different to me who share my own set of values, and (C) a society of people genetically similar to me who adopt a set of values that I find repulsive, I would mildly prefer (A) to (B), but I would strongly prefer (B) to (C). But I don‘t see any basis for telling other people what their preferences should be.
I was going to go on to consider some more technical objections, but this post is already long, so I will save them for another post. I will conclude now with two objections of a more ‘political’ character.
First, much of Salter’s book is concerned with immigration, and especially immigration from third-world countries to the West. In my view there are sound arguments against large-scale, uncontrolled immigration from the third-world, not least the danger of civil strife resulting from the presence of large unassimilated groups holding values and beliefs incompatible with those of the host society. But it would be unwise for people who object to uncontrolled immigration on these grounds to latch onto Salter’s ideas. Whatever Salter’s own motives, his theory is being taken up enthusiastically by racists (as a Google search will confirm), and anyone who follows their lead will be tainted by association. Since even by Salter’s own account his theory is not a scientific thesis, but more of a political manifesto, there can be no compelling reason for non-racists to accept it.
Secondly, Salter’s doctrine is profoundly anti-eugenic. For Salter, it is in the interest of an individual to preserve and promote the gene frequencies of his own ethnic group, whether the existing gene frequency is good, bad or indifferent, as judged by qualitative criteria. So, for example, it is in the interest of American blacks to promote their own gene frequencies against those of American whites, even if in some respects it would be better for blacks themselves to change those gene frequencies. The doctrine of genetic interests is inherently backward-looking and conservative. In contrast, the eugenic position is that we are able to make value judgements about what characteristics are desirable (such as health, intelligence, and beauty) and undesirable (such as stupidity, mental illness, and physical disabilities) and then to take reproductive decisions based on those judgements. Of course eugenics is controversial, but many of those who might feel vaguely sympathetic to Salter’s approach would also feel vaguely sympathetic to eugenics, and they should at least be aware of the conflict between them.
Note 1: Salter uses the new word ‘ethny’ for a ‘population sharing common descent’, in preference to ‘ethnic group‘. The word seems to me ugly and unnecessary, so I will continue to use ’ethnic group’. If it is really necessary to use a single word, I would prefer ’ethnos’ (plural ’ethnoi’), the original Greek word for a tribe or nation.
Note 2: Although Salter frequently refers to W. D. Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness, he does not claim that this explains interactions between distant ethnic groups: ’From the point of view of Hamiltonian theory, the adaptiveness of altruism is dependent on local, not global, circumstances (p.149). As I argued here, any attempt to apply Hamilton’s Rule to interactions between distant ethnic groups would be invalid.