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March 19, 2005
Is it just me...
...or does Paul Wolfowitz resemble a Mirror Universe Dennis Kucinich?
(Or, alternatively, does Dennis Kucinich resemble a Mirror Universe Paul Wolfowitz.)
All either one would need is a Spock goatee.
Or maybe they used to be a single entity split in two by a transporter accident with the friendly-but-totally-pussified half becoming Kucinich and the hardass-psycho-motherf*cker half becoming Wolfowitz.
Maybe I shouldn't post after an Saturday night's carousing.
Secular Rites in the EX-GDR
I was fascinated to come across Deutsche Welle's brief article on Jugendweihe, an interesting holiday in Germany (literal translation "youth consecration") that aspires to be a secular equivalent to religious confirmation ceremonies for teenagers, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood.
The German Humanist Association advertises for young Jugendweihe recruits with the promise that "there is much to celebrate (and many presents) even without confirmation and communion." There must be some lure in those words for the nation's teenage population, as one in every three youngsters in the states of the former East Germany signs up to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
Every Easter, me and my sister eagerly searched for the sugary treats and small gifts hidden about the family living room, and how every Christmas we still more energetically unwrapped more and more expensive presents. Oh, and we went to church from time to time. Possibly my family's experience was unique in Canada; possibly West Germans treat holidays of religious origin more seriously than Canadians do. Possibly.
This article at the Goethe-Institut makes it clear that for young East Germans, Jugendweihe is a durable and popular tradition.
Each year some 100,000 East German pupils undergo Jugendweihe, whereas in West Germany that figure is only a couple of hundred. The reason for this lies in the legacy of the German Democratic Republic, even if Jugendweihe was no invention of its ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). The coming-of-age ritual, which has its origins in the second half of the 19th century, is rooted in free-thinking tradition and during the Weimar Republic was appropriated also by the workers' movement. Banned by the Nazis, the SED reintroduced Jugendweihe in 1954 as a public pledge to socialism, also with the intention of repressing the influence of the churches.
There has been a sustained lack of interest in organized religion in East Germany since the fall of the Berlin War and reunification. Many observers expected religion to recover markedly, but as Sacred and Secular (reviewed by me here) demonstrates, most central and eastern Europeans are quite happy with being unchurched. It turns out that East Germans have developed and maintained their own communal rites, just as West Germans did theirs. The critical difference is that religion plays a much lower profile in the East. This observation leads to two conclusions, the first specific and the second general:
1. East Germans may define themselves as Germans, but their definitions and norms differ significantly from those of West Germans. As I've written earlier, and as Melli K. has noted recently in her latest post at Aufbau Ost, regardless of the illegitimate foundations of the German Democratic Republic and its totalitarian history, a distinctive East German culture not only developed but survived reunification. Efforts towards eliminating unwanted benign cultural elements are more characteristic of totalitarian states than of liberal democracies.
2. There is a major difference between a secularized society and an atheist society, something comparable to that between agnosticism and atheism. Members of secularized societies seem to maintain tenuous links with major religions, coopting their holidays and their other cultural elements for use when they want an in-group market or a reason for celebration, ignoring inconvenient elements of dogma at their convenience. Members of atheist societies, in contrast, often have only historical relationships with religion, creating and maintaining their own rites, their own acts of collective celebration. Too often, popular commentators seem to miss this critical difference.
March 18, 2005
Early South Americans ''Australo-Melanesian- like''
From an article in press in the Journal of Human Evolution >>
Increasing skeletal evidence from the U.S.A., Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil strongly suggests that the first settlers in the Americas had a cranial morphology distinct from that displayed by most late and modern Native Americans.... The Paleoamerican morphological pattern is more generalized and can be seen today among Africans, Australians, and Melanesians. Here, we present the results of a comparative morphological assessment of a late Paleoindian/early archaic specimen from Capelinha Burial II, southern Brazil. The Capelinha skull was compared with samples of four Paleoindian groups from South and Central America and worldwide modern groups from W.W. Howells' studies. In both analyses performed (classical morphometrics and geometric morphometrics), the results show a clear association between Capelinha Burial II and the Paleoindians, as well as Australians, Melanesians, and Africans, confirming its Paleoamerican status.
The researchers conclude with >>
The increasing evidence that all late Pleistocene/early Holocene human groups from South America are characteristically non-Mongoloid has major implications for the colonization of the Americas.... Even if few studies with large samples from single sites have been carried out so far with Paleoindians...it is evident by now that South America, Central America and possibly North America were populated by human groups with a more generalized cranial morphology before the arrival of the Mongoloids. Since this more generalized morphology (''Australo-Melanesian- like'') was also present in East Asia at the end of the Pleistocene, transoceanic migrations are not necessary to explain our findings.
Skeletal remains from another excavation in Brazil -- the Santana do Riacho 1 skulls -- also displayed "Australo-Melanesian- like" traits including "a long, narrow brain case and eye sockets set relatively low on the face."
You all remember Kennewick Man -- the authors of the Report on the Osteological Assessment of the "Kennewick Man" Skeleton suggested he had a Polynesian (64%) or Ainu (24%) ancestry.
Woman leads muslim prayers
More at Muslim WakeUp!.
Addendum: Updated link so it doesn't need registration.
Terri Schiavo - What The Future Portends
Majikthise knocks this one out of the park with a comprehensive wrap-up on this battle and the propaganda that has been flung around. Go and read it.
A day late...
I had intended to post this amusing take on the origins of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in honor of St. Patrick's Day, but unfortunately I didn't get the chance. So now, for those of you with an historical turn of mind, here is (a day late) a short essay "clarifying" the background to the whole NI thing...
A brief history of the Irish question - a study of ethnicity in action
According to history, in the early fifth century these ‘Romans’ ‘left’. What actually happened was that, first under Magnus Maximus, and later, under Constantine III, the British (or Romans) went over to the continent to conquer the Roman Empire. Unfortunately they were too early, both were defeated and killed, and we had to wait another 1,500 years for the British Empire. This, however, left something of a military vacuum, which various Germans (Saxons, Angles and Jutes) were called in to fill by the Romans (or Britons) who were left.
March 17, 2005
For the ladies-part II
Seeing as how there is a controversy of non-linking in the blogosphere (generally in the context of sites with 1-2 orders of magnitude greater number of visitors than GNXP) to the Y-less kind, I have chosen to do my part. Since I don't read blogs much I can't really tell you about any diamondesses-in-the-rough, so what I did was:
1) Move Jinderella to the top of "our other blogs."
Past experience suggests that those near the top of the lists get the most traffic form this blog.
The Heritability of Religiousness
Those Minnesota behavioral geneticists are at it again. Thomas Bouchard, Laura Koenig, Matt McGue and Robert Krueger have a new paper in The Journal of Personality about the heritability of religiousness that a lot of people have been talking about.
Investigating the heritability of religiousness is nothing new, of course. A host of studies have found values ranging from zero in a sample of Australian men (Truett et al. 1992) to .54 in Americans (Bouchard et al. 2004) -- the differences depending mostly on the age of the sample and the type of measure used for the phenotype. Its this first issue (changes with age) that Koenig et al. focused on.
When rating retrospectively, the MZ correlation for religiousness was .69, and the DZ correlation was .59. The difference between these correlations was not significant (Z=1.35, p>.05). When rating current religiousness, however, the MZ and DZ correlations were .62 and .42, respectively, and were significantly different (Z=2.18, p<.05). It appeared that the MZ twins maintained their similarity over time, while the DZ twins became more dissimilar. These correlations suggest low genetic and high environmental influences when the twins were young but a larger genetic influence as the twins age.
The Singing Neandertal
A some amusing article about the high pitched voices of Neandertals (at least, that is the hypothesis). The piece notes that Steven Mithen, author of The Prehistory of the Mind, is coming out with a new book titled The Singing Neanderthal: The Origin of Language, Music Body and Mind. Reading Mithen's previous book I am somewhat surprised that he would offer such a title, in The Prehistory of the Mind he comes close to advocating a deux ex machina in "solving" the problem of the rise of sapience in humanity, and, he implicitly leaves Neandertals out of the picture. One interesting thing I've noted is that the closest thing that I can perceive to a "consensus" is that Neandertals might have had some form of language and sapiency, but that they were crucially different, and the genetic evidence does seem to suggest that fit the bill as a separate species.
In my previous post The end of the Andaman Islanders? I pointed to an article which highlights the immunological barrier that separates the natives from the immigrants. This is a case where two populations of humans are separated by a fact of biology, in that one population will over time spread diseases to another so that death is inevitable. Of course, the two populations are still interfertile, so they are not dinstinct under a biological species concept, but, I think they flirt with differentiation under the ecological species concept. Bringing this back to the Neandertals, one of the researchers brings up the possibility that our cousins were deciminated by diseases. I think the crucial variables here are band size and frequency of band-to-band interaction. If the Neandertals tended to live in a far more isolated and nucleated fashion than moderns, their density might not have supported many diseases in comparison to the more numerous agglomeration of moderns. If we find loci in the modern human genome that seem to be evidence of interfertility between various hominins, the biological species concept distinction will be brought into question, but I think we can be confident that there was an ecological species separation....
It seems they found some Shetland shit from 3,000 years ago. The indicated diet seems to suggest no great want. Interestingly, in Life in the Ancient Near East the author notes that ration records for "unfree labor" suggest a caloric intake of 3,000 per day, a healthy level. I doubt that ancient peoples had a caloric intake much below the modern mean (though they might have been shafted in the protein department if they were agriculturalists), rather, they were plagued by the variance from year to year, and in particular they were subject to periods of starvation that resulted in die offs. If the die offs are conceived of as repeated selection events, it should not surprise us when we see populations like the Pima Indians.
The classical origins of racism
An e-list on which I participate has been having a discussions of a review by Paula Fredriksen of the new book The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity. You can't read the review online, it is behind TNR's digital wall, though a subscriber did cut & paste it so that I have read it.
My first response is that a book with the above title makes as much sense as writing a monograph entitled "The medieval poetic roots of college 'hook up' culture." In other words, broadly considered, racism is a human universal, if you take it be roughly cognate with xenophobia. Certainly the Greeks were xenophobic, but not particularly more or less xenophobic than any other ancient peoples in terms of kind (as opposed to degree). I would argue that the Romans were mildly less xenophobic than the premodern median (examples like Cato the Elder notwithstanding), their periodic expansion of the citizenship was praised by the Greek Polybius as being a source of strength and flexibility in contrast to the more constrained conception of the body politic of the polis.
One must also consider what exactly xenophobia implies. After all, it is true that the "metics" of Classical Athens were not political members of the Athenian city state. But, they dominated the commerce and contributed intellectual luminaries such as Anaxagorous, they were participants in Athenian life as opposed to subhuman chattel or outcastes. Additionally, many of these alien metics were Greeks themselves, so Hellenic xenophobia can be interpreted as less shallow in its implications (explicit, political participation, which native born slaves and women were also excluded from) and exceedingly narrow in its vision (that is, fellow Hellenes were subject to great suspicion, just as non-Greeks or semi-Greeks1 were).
I will not even consider whether the Romans were the source of modern racism, even during their Republican phase they periodically extended the franchise to notables and confederates, and I think their Republican and Augustan suspicion of things "Oriental" must be tempered by their thorough post-Augustan cosmopolitanism. But, it is important to consider what one means by "racism," and I am not so sure that a modern concept of racism would really apply to the ancients (as opposed to xenophobia).
By this, I mean to suggest that though ancient peoples like the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Chinese offered empirical theories about the "essential" natures of various people as conditioned by their climates or geography, it never reached a highly systematic stage.
The ancients were not naive in their understanding and knowledge of phenotypic differences, in Mary Lefkowitz's Not out of Africa, the author points out that the ancient Greeks made a distinction between the Egyptians and northern Indians, and the Ethiopians and southern Indians, for though the two dyads are composed of populations of aproximately the same skin coloration (at least from a Hellenic vantage point), the Greeks noted that there were differences on other axes (wooly hair, generally facial features). This is the sort of insight that frankly often escapes the modern American discourse, and went to Lefkowitz's point that Afrocentric conflation of "people of color" (Egyptians, Carthaginians, etc.) with "black" is ludicrous in the ancient context.
Nevertheless, though empirical considerations were duly noted, prescientific peoples often did not elaborate a tight and integrated racial system that they wedded to their overall ideology. Greek xenophobia is more akin to garden variety prejudices and preconceptions than a ideology of how to perpetuate the Good Life. Certainly the Greeks could have formulated such an ideology, after all, they were among the first expositers and systemetizers of "democracy" or "oligarchy." But when it came to considerations of racial or ethnic kinds I do not think that the Greeks were exceptional or sui generis as they were in so many fields for their period (aside from a possible taxonomical precision which emerged as a byproduct of their scientific culture). A more recent historical analogy might be presented by the Chinese. Around 1900 the Confucian state was collapsing under the weight of its dead tradition and custom, and new ideas, from Christianity to Darwinism, were percolating through the intelligensia. This resulted in the formulation of a Chinese racialist ideology that borrowed most of its essential features from European racialism. Though Chinese mandarins were prejudiced about other peoples (and if you read the annals of their visits to the ancient Khmer kingdom you will note that they find the "naked blacks" exceedingly repulsive in a way that implies some racial aversion) they strongly resisted the rise of scientific racial theories, in large part because it undercut their somewhat tabula rasa biases about human nature. Confucians might be xenophobic, with biases against dark-skinned and "red haired" (Caucasian) peoples littering their literature, but they were not systematic about it.
Which moves me to a major point: I suspect that the first civilization to stumble upon the scientific method on any planet will go through a racist period. The reasoning is transparent: the scientific method results in an inflection point in terms of technological and social change, and force projection through arms. It emerges out of a careful balance between empiricism and systemetization. It seems obvious that the same mind set would observe the yawning chasm between the culture in which that mind set resides and other cultures, and systemetize it in a formula of racial-ethnic-cultural essentialism. The empirical element is clear in that a Great Chain of Being is assembled, with civilized but inferior peoples (the Chinese) a crucial rung below, and uncivilized and inferior peoples populating the lower regions of the hierarchy.
In short, I believe that what we mean by racism today is more likely a product of the scientific revolution leveraging innate human universals, as opposed to legacies drawn from ancient cultural templates. The idea that the Greeks or Romans invented racial theory that were passed down as part of their cultural inheritance seems to place a great faith in the persistence of explicit cultural forms in an substantively unaltered fashion. Long time readers of the blog will know I am skeptical of such assertions because I believe that many cognitive processes that mediate our cultural expressions reside on the non-conscious level and so are not mediated by ideology.
But, and this is a big but, I am going to engage the thesis that racism could be transmitted from ancient cultures to the present, as if it is a reasonable conjecture, and assuming that ancient "racism" is similar to modern racism, and point out what I perceive to be a flaw or blind spot in fingering the Greeks and the Romans: the modern West is a synthesis of various traditions, including the Hebraic and Germanic ones. I will neglect the last because of its relative paucity of pre-Christian literature and my suspicion that it is not relevant to the debate in any form.
I would argue that the Hebrew Bible records genocides which likely serve as far more salient cultural templates than the ideas of the Romans or Greeks. For instance:
I am of course taking the passage out of context, as the Amalekites were a nasty bunch, but it does suggest that there are portions of the Hebrew Bible which are ripe for the pickings if you want to engage in a genocide. This does not imply that wholesale slaughter of alien peoples is a particular trait of the ancient Hebrews, but, the deeds of the Hebrews during their sojourn in Canaan are recorded in the most widely read book in the history of the world, and, given a Divine imprimatur.2 John Hartung has a website devoted to the task of retracing the genocidal tendencies in the modern West back to the Hebrew Bible.
As I said above, I don't think that ancient cultural templates have much to do with the rise of scientific racism and the genocides perpertrated in the name of scientific racism and cultural supremacy. Nevertheless, I think that using the term scientific racism obscures an essential reality: in many contexts racial superiority or domination was justified on Biblical, not scientific, grounds. I still hold that a "scientific mind set" and the runaway technological and social evolution triggered by the Copernican Revolution are the true roots of scientific racism, but, I also believe that for much of the period the explicit justification was rooted in elements of Christian faith, some of which drew upon the Hebrew concept of God's convenant with a special people. The most explicit and elaborated form I can think of is the Afrikaner development of their Dutch Reformed religion, and their self-perception of being Hebrews in a pagan land filled with "Kafirs" (Canaanites?) who were not and need not be accorded the full rights of humanity because they were outside the convenant. The justifications for slavery during the antebellum South also borrowed heavily from Biblical language (as did the jeremiads of the Abolitionists, suggesting that explicit reasoning from scripture is ultimately ancillary no matter what the particulars believe). In other words, I see no particular reason to bias the explicit correlations toward pagan Greece and Rome when for much of the past 1500 years the Christian, and therefore to some extent Hebraic, religious faith was crucial in shaping the development of Western people, who also happened to pioneer scientific racism.
Which goes back to the author of the book above, and the reviewer. "Benjamin Isaac" is clearly a Jewish name, and he is a professor in Tel Aviv. To me, more importantly, Paula Fredriksen is a convert to Judaism. Let me be clear that I don't think there is a Jewish plot to denigrate the classical pagan past, after all, the author of Not out of Africa carries the name Lefkowitz. Nevertheless, I have read a fair amount of Jewish history and religious scholarship (one of my favorite authors is Richard Friedman). I have noted that there is a tendency to engage in ethno-autism among some Jews, so that there is a blind spot that might obscure obvious parallels between Greek xenophobia and Hebrew xenophobia. In an irony, if one held that Athens was paramount in its shaping influence in comparison to Jerusalem, then racism is mostly likely derived from Hellenic models. Nevertheless, I don't think that Athens totally absorbs Jerusalem, and I think the importance of the Hebrew Bible to some Protestant groups has resulted in the use of selections from the Hebrew Bible to justify racism which ultimately is an emergent property of the scientific revolution and the mind set that it fostered.
Finally, I will end by saying that this is a weak point in the modern West's reverence and appreciation for the classical past. It seems that attacking Greece and Rome is almost sexy, as these civilizations are the apotheosis of Dead White Maledom. I have offered before that I am personally biased toward pre-Christian Greece and Rome for a host of reasons, though I also appreciate the contributions of the Germanic tribes and Jerusalem. Ultimately, those who wish to overplay any of the columns which have held up Western civilizations must remember that there are enemies about who wish tear down the whole structure. Patriarchy, hegemony and heterosexism are easy to find on the ground in all three cultures, as they are, in almost all cultures. The revolt against Greece and Rome is not just a revolt against the Western past, it is a revolt against the present state of human nature.
And with that, I end!
1 - By which I mean heavily Hellenized peoples like the Macedonians.
2 - From where I stand it is almost certain that the records of slaughter in the Hebrew Bible are not true, but rather a mythology concocted to unify the Hebrew people.
Ladies' Choice Poll Results
I thought this comment from razib is apropos to my poll, since I hypothesize that mate selection on IQ is an important factor for the XX.
in the mating mind one way geoff miller pumps up sexual selection and polygyny is that it is a way to reduce genetic load and avoid mutational meltdown. miller also asserts that since around 1/3 of genes might have some impact on the brain (i've seen this quoted elsewhere, don't know where it comes from), cognitive display is a good way to evaluate genetic health.
Here are the results:
As you can see, godless swept into an early lead, and no one was able to catch him. Given the small sample size, and the basically frivolous nature of the poll, there are only a few things I can say--
More boring statistics...
In my recent post on Education and ethnic groups in England I noted that there were some gaps in the statistics. I have been trying to fill these, with partial success…
I mentioned three main gaps:
a) the statistics covered only state schools, and not private ones
b) for education after age 16, the statistics did not cover specialist post-16 colleges
c) the statistics on performance at age 18 (GCE A-level and equivalent qualifications) were expressed as points scored by those who entered the examinations, and not as averages for the whole population at that age.
A partial solution to these problems is provided by the Youth Cohort Study, a representative survey of young people over 16. The 2004 YCS report on young people aged 16 (after leaving compulsory education) includes some data with an ethnic breakdown of participation in full-time education, from which I have extracted the following:
________________State school___Private___Post-16 colls.___Total f/t educ.*
*The total includes the first three columns plus a small proportion in other types of full-time education.
Note that the ethnic classification is not the same as in the earlier data: there are no ’mixed’ categories, ’Black’ is not divided between African and Caribbean, and there is no separate category for Chinese. (I do not know whether Chinese in the sample have gone into ‘Other Asian’ or ‘Other’. If the Census categories are applied, they should go into ‘Other‘.)
The table gives the percentages of each ethnic group who are continuing in full-time education (the total in the final column), and in state schools, private schools, and post-16 colleges respectively. It will be seen that all the non-white groups have a higher proportion of young people continuing in full-time education after age 16 than whites. This is well-known from earlier data: see my old post for discussion. The data also confirm that there are some differences in the proportions of different ethnic groups in private schools. As I pointed out earlier, the state school data will be somewhat depleted in high-ability children, and this is likely to affect some groups (particularly Indians) more than others, but as the differences are only a few percentage points, this does not affect the big picture. A more serious problem revealed by the YCS data is the large difference between ethnic groups in the proportions attending post-16 colleges. These are particularly high among the Black and Bangladeshi groups. The omission of these colleges from the data in my previous post could therefore be a serious defect in the data on post-16 (A-level and equivalent) attainment by different ethnic groups.
This problem could be overcome if we assume that the average attainment level within each ethnic group is the same whether the childern are in schools or in post-16 colleges. We could then simply gross up the school data to allow for the relative numbers in post-16 colleges, and get a result that would be valid for comparison of attainment of ethnic groups across the entire population of the age group. Unfortunately the assumption would be invalid. Post-16 colleges fall into two main types: specialist 16-18 schools (usually called ’6th Form Colleges’ - roughly equivalent to Senior High in America), and Further Education Colleges, which offer education and vocational training to the whole over-16 population. The 6th Form Colleges have characteristics and performance similar to those of ordinary High Schools - it is just a matter of local organisation whether secondary education is provided in single schools covering the 11-18 age group, or divided into two or three separate schools, including a 6th Form College. FE Colleges, on the other hand, are very different. Not all the students are aiming for A-level or equivalent qualifications, and of those who are, the average attainment is much lower than in schools or 6th Form Colleges. Simple ’grossing up’ would therefore be misleading.
I toyed with the idea of using more complicated adjustment factors, e.g. based on the difference in overall performance between schools and FE colleges, but concluded that, apart from being tedious, the results would be invalid for the comparison of ethnic groups. For this purpose we really need adjustment factors specific to the ethnic groups concerned, and I have not found sufficient data for this purpose. Suppose for example that average A-level point scores in FE colleges are only half of those in schools (across all ethnic groups), it would not be safe to use this as an adjustment factor for Bangladeshis in particular, because their relative performance in schools and FE colleges might be quite different from the average. So I have not pursued this approach.
The data on post-16 attainment therefore remain imperfect. For 16-18 children remaining in schools, the data in my last post give an indication of relative performance, but this may either over- or under-state the attainments of an ethnic group in the population as a whole. For the latter purpose the only evidence I can find for this age group is the Youth Cohort Study at age 18, which includes an analysis of the highest qualification achieved at that age. Since these people are not old enough to have attained Level 4 qualifications (university degrees, etc), this shows the proportions who have obtained some Level 3 qualifications (A-levels, etc). In 2004 these were as follows:
(n/a indicates numbers in sample too small for a meaningful percentage).
The lack of information on Chinese people, and the lack of breakdown between Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, is unfortunate, but the general rank order of Indian>White>Pak/Bang>Black is consistent with most of the other data.
I stress again that I am not expressing a view on the causation of these differences. In my next post I hope to examine the hypothesis that they can be explained by ‘poverty’.
Incidentally, while rooting around in the DFES statistics I came across this recent research report on ethnicity and education, which usefully updates the study by Bhattacharyya et al which I linked to in an older post.
March 16, 2005
When I read that Rachel Corrie's parents are suing Caterpillar for violating international law by knowingly selling a bulldozer that could be used to endanger lives, I wondered how matters would be different if the Corries had to pay when they lost this lawsuit.
If you don't recall Rachel Corrie's saga, think back to 2003 and the young women who was killed by being run over by a bulldozer as she was protesting house demolitions conducted by the Israelis in the Rafah refugee camp. Here's more info.
All I can say is if someone wants to play chicken with a bulldozer, has the opportunity to jump clear as the bulldozer approaches but doesn't yield at all, well then, we can thank her for helping improve the gene pool. Of course, one loser has already paid in this sad incident.
Responses to Bullying
Here are two contrasting approaches to the problems of schoolyard bullying. One punishes the victim and the other finds a unique way to get the message across to the bullies.
Principal Bruce Armstrong confirmed that the students had recorded the attack using a camera on a mobile phone. [ . . . .]
Now for a breath of fresh air compared to the above idiocy of blaming the victim for defending himself against a kick-boxer take a look at this approach, and you have to give the school officials credit for trying a new approach to modify the behavior of bullies. My impression is that they've concluded that bullies really don't want to get in touch with their inner child, because the inner child of these child bullies is also a bully.
A teacher in a northern Manitoba town has sparked controversy by forcing students accused of bullying to wear hockey helmets bearing the slogans "loser" and "I'm stupid: I bully."
"This tells us that neighborhoods matter," Carrel said. "Genes on the X chromosome evolved in five sequential segments or layers. The older segments have fewer genes that escape inactivation than those that developed later in the chromosome's evolutionary path. This suggests that, as the human species continues to evolve, more and more of the genes that are escaping inactivation may lose their ability to do so."
RNA Recoding of Brain Proteins
March 15, 2005
An Interesting Blog I Came Across
Check out Illuminaria's Voice. She has some interesting posts up and I was surprised to see no comments were left to any of the recent posts I read.
In her post on the efforts to institute a banning of abortion because the fetus is gay she does some digging on the methodology of twin studies used in support of the genetic hypothesis. She also writes:
it’s pretty hard to say that abortion is completely ok in every case, depending completely on the whim of the mother, unless her choice is affected by the child’s possible sexual orientation, or gender, or ethnicity, or whether or not it has Down’s Syndrome for that matter. If abortion is wrong, then it’s wrong no matter why the choice is made. If abortion is OK, then it’s always OK. If we’re just discarding a ball of cells that isn’t a life yet, then who cares if the ball of cells is gay or female or black?
In this post she digs up the differential training requirements for New York area police candidates.
In this post she takes a look at the case of LeMoyne College 's expulsion of a graduate student in education because he thought there was merit in the idea of corporal punishment.
Beware The Ides of March
What is it with leaders being attacked on March 15th? Today, in a surprise turn of events, Harvard's Faculty of Arts & Sciences passed a motion saying it lacked confidence in the performance of Dr. Summers. The motion was introduced by J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and African and African-American studies, (surprise surprise) and it was expected to be voted down but passed 218-185. This was the first such motion that has passed in Harvard's 400 year history.
Hey, remember when this story first broke and we were surprised by the shitstorm that it caused because we thought people were already comfortable with gender differences. There's no way racial differences are going to be an easier pill to swallow for these types of people. The little minds have drawn their long knives and that's a very dangerous combination
UPDATE: Luboš Motl gives us an insider's perspective. I particularly liked this point - "Mr. Latory, a voodoo expert and an apologist for the corrupt and brutal Nigerian dictator Ibrahim Babangida." Hahaha.
Related: Our Summers coverage.
No, I'm not talking about Jews, I'm talking about Armenians! Out of curiosity I tried to find anything interesting from a genetic angle on them, and all that yielded was Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), but, as the term indicates the condition is prevelant among many groups of Near Eastern origin (including Ashkenazi Jews).
More later (I will elaborate on the bullet points above)....
THE NATURE OF NORMAL HUMAN VARIETY
Interesting Edge essay by Armand Leroi.
March 14, 2005
Biology and Law
“"The legal system tends to assume that either people are purely rational actors or that their brains are blank slates on which culture and only culture is written. The reality is much more complicated and can only be appreciated with a deeper understanding of behavioral biology,” said Vanderbilt law professor and biologist Owen Jones. He co-authored the article with Timothy Goldsmith, Yale professor emeritus of molecular, cellular and developmental biology.”
American Jews and Israel
These sort of numbers may explain why the Republican, and in particular George W. Bush's, stance in support of Israel has not swayed as many Jewish American voters as might be expected, as religious traditionalist Jews who are most concerned about this issue are already the ones most likely to be Republican.1
1 - Exit polls suggest that Bush received about 1/4 of the Jewish vote in 2004 , as opposed to 1/5 in 2000. A 20% increase, even in light of Bush's overall upswing in the popular vote, isn't half bad, but it certainly isn't a sea change, and the Lieberman factor (an observant Orthodox Jew) was at play in 2000.
March 13, 2005
Human biodiversity hits The New York Times
Via Steve, A Family Tree in Every Gene. Hits many of the major talking points, A. W. F. Edwards & correlation structure, a multidimensional topographical analogy, the use of populational information in medicine and the rejection of the typological strawman. If the middle-brow-journal-of-record publishes it...well, it's only a matter of time.
The New SAT
Chris Correa offers up a nice compendium of reactions to, and analysis of, the new SAT with a 25 minute essay section.
Among the articles he references is this editorial from the New York Times which questions the value of dropping analogies in favor of a 25 minute essay:
We are living in the age of the false, and often shameless, analogy. A slick advertising campaign compares the politicians working to dismantle Social Security to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a new documentary, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," Kenneth Lay compares attacks on his company to the terrorist attacks on the United States.
The funniest part of Chris's post was when he linked to this Seattle Times report which highlighted the requirement of the essay being written in cursive, not in print:
"We were all laughing," Jenkins said. "Most high-school students do not remember cursive. We learned it in fourth or fifth grade and have not been required to use it. This was definitely the hardest thing on the test!"
Seeing how we're entering the Age of the Blog perhaps it is appropriate that students write a 25 minute essay on something they know absolutely nothing about.
The Yuck! Factor
Razib's been kind enough to let me guest blog here at GNXP, so I thought I'd comment on his post on Headless Humans
But first, let me get the blatant self promotion out of the way! I'm the author of a new book titled More Than Human which I've also recently been blogging about. The book's about using biotech for human enhancement - gene therapy, genetic engineering, smart drugs, brain computer interfaces, that kind of thing. It also looks at the ethics and social consequences. You can buy a copy at Amazon.
What does this have to with headless humans? Razib rightly calls out that there's no more logical reason to object to brainless bodies grown as organ farms than there is to object to individual organs grown on lab scaffoldings.
I agree. The "Yuck!" reaction towards headless humans is instinctive, not logical. At the same time, that doesn't mean it can be ignored.
My personal suspicion is that the Yuck! factor is the single most powerful force that holds back adoption of new biotech advances - far larger than the moral or theological arguments of Leon Kass and other bioluddites.
History, I think, bears this out. A huge number of new biomedical techniques have been initially regarded as disgusting, immoral, or otherwise yucky. For instance, when Jenner introduced the smallpox vaccine, his critics seized on the fact that it had been cultivated from cowpox, and editorial cartoons appeared showing cow / human hybrids. The Catholic Church denounced the vaccine as a dangerous heresy - man messing with powers he did not understand. Malthus, a contemporary of Jenner, voiced that if the vaccine did work it would lead to uncontrollable population growth that would strip the world of all of its resources.
Yet less than two years later, Jenner was a hero. The vaccine worked, and that simple fact won the day. The moral arguments of the Church and social projections of Malthus hadn't really mattered at all. What had held people back was just the yuckiness of being injected with pus from a sick cow's sores. But people get over things that are yucky in time, and the best neutralizers of Yuck! are familiarity and any concrete benefits that derive from the product being offered.
Another example I posted about yesterday is in-vitro fertilization. When IVF was first introduced, there was a huge public outcry and people found the idea of "test tube babies" just a little repugnant. It was probably quite fortunate that Louise Joy Brown, the first IVF child, was a cute little blonde girl who grew up with no problems. That, plus the fact that the technique obviously did help infertile couples have children, quickly dispelled the Yuck! factor. It hasn't dispelled the qualms of critics like Leon Kass, who disliked IVF then on moral grounds and still dislikes it. But with the public acclimated to it, his moral objections no longer hold much weight.
The lessons here, I think, are
1) Even if two things are perfectly logically equivalent from an ethical viewpoint, the less yucky one is going to find easier adoption.
2) The best way to dispel yuck is to deliver value. Once people start having their lives saved by organ transplants from cloned organ banks, cloning is going to look a lot more prosaic, and will start to be thought of like vaccinations, blood transfusions, IVF, and all those other once repugnant technologies.
Addendum from Razib: I haven't finished Ramez's book yet-so that's why no comment from me, but, it's very informative and entertaining so far. I will point readers to GNXP regular NuSapiens weblog, where he has both a review and interview with Ramez.
The precautionary principle's utility....
I have observed before that the Left and Right appeal to the precautionary principle in selective manners. Many environmentalist liberals will appeal to the complexity of natural systems, which evolved over millions of years, to argue against "development" and change. Similarly, conservatives will often suggest that organically developed social institutions achieved through a process of trial and error should not be tinkered with because we do not truly understand the complexity of the system and the ramifications of deleting customs and traditions which we assume must be unreasoning spandrels extraneous to functional considerations (the same universal acid at work).
Evolutionary biology and sociology are both complex sciences (broadly speaking) which rely on probability and statistics because of their evasion of deterministic universal laws on any level of granularity. One could contrast this with the physical sciences, where deterministic reductionism has been much more influential (though at its heart the basic quantum level of organization is probabilistic). Though both environmentalists and conservatives do express some caution about mechanical innovation, in general it does not seem to be as great a concern.
But...of course the physical & information sciences in the grand-scheme-of-things undergirds the life and social sciences. Is the distinction truly relevant? After all, the development of the technology usually has important consequences for both the environment and society. There are obvious "sexy" causes like stem cells or SUVs, but it seems likely to me that the internet and cell phone technologies have reshaped human social interaction and their likely impact on the environment to a far greater extent than stem cells or SUVs will for at least a generation.
How should we exactly trot out the precautionary principle? Should we ignore it as a principle and simply accept that its implementation will be ad hoc and contingent upon norms and values?
Addendum: On second thought, I want to make explicit I know that I am not being totally fair to social conservatives and environmentalists, they do often point out the acidic effect of the modern world on human life in a general sense, but in terms of specific activism, they seem to focus on "sexy" topics like the Kyoto Protocols or gay marriage, which seem ancillary to the root problems that modernity confronts those who adhere to the precautionary principle with. Granted, gay marriage or the Kyoto Protocols are issues which have legislative solutions, and legal fiat is relatively easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I don't think it undermines my general point, the modern present tears apart the time tested fabric wrought by the past with an unprecedented rapidity.
Education and ethnic groups in England
In a previous post I discussed educational performance in England by different ethnic groups in 2002. Razib recently drew attention to some new statistics. These go up to 2004, and are available in full here (490Kb pdf file). A document covering 2002 and 2003 is available here (254Kb).
Since 2002 there have been two interesting changes. In 2003 the statistics began to include results for mixed-race children, and for 2004 they also include results for qualifications at age 18, whereas previously they only went up to 16.
There is a lot of complicated information in these reports, so I have tried to extract some key points most useful for ethnic comparisons…
For the benefit of readers outside the UK, education here is compulsory for children from ages 5 to 16. There are some differences in the education system and qualifications between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The data discussed here relate only to England. In England the progress of children is assessed at the end of three Key Stages, at roughly ages 7, 11 and 14. In the last year of compulsory education (age 15/16) nearly all children take examinations for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). After age 16 a majority of children continue in education for at least another two years. At around age 18 most of these take examinations for the General Certificate of Education (Advanced) (the A-level), usually in 2 to 4 subjects. A-levels or equivalent qualifications are normally required for entry to universities.
The data for 2004 cover all of these levels (except Key Stage 3, results for which have been delayed). I have selected data for Key Stage 1, as this is the earliest measure of achievement; for GSCE, which is the last stage for which the data covers a complete age cohort; and for A-levels.
Two limitations of coverage should be noted. First, the data cover only children in state-funded schools. About 6% of children in England attend private (independent) schools and are therefore not included. These are mainly children of parents with high income. The data are therefore probably somewhat depleted in the higher levels of children’s ability. It is possible that this affects different ethnic groups to different extents. It might be supposed that private education would be disproportionately ’white’, but this cannot safely be assumed. Black and Asian middle-class parents are keen on private education, especially as it is often the only way of getting good discipline and/or single-sex schooling.
The second limitation of coverage is that the A-level data only relate to those children who stay in school to take A-levels. They exclude those who do not take A-levels at all, and those who leave school but take A-levels in post-16 colleges. This may introduce some distortion with respect to ethnic groups.
As to the content of the various qualifications, I cannot claim to know much about them. The Key Stage tests assess the achievement of ‘expected’ levels of progress at each stage. It is intended that with good teaching the great majority of normal children should be able to pass the Key Stage tests, and the proportions reaching the target levels are in fact over 80%. In other words, the ’hurdles’ are set relatively low. One consequence of this is that the range of pass rates for different ethnic groups is rather restricted (from around 75% to 90%). GCSE is somewhat more selective. GCSEs are graded from F to A (with starred A* recently introduced as a mark of excellence). The usual measure of ‘satisfactory’ performance is to get passes in at least 5 subjects at Grade C or higher. For GCE A-levels there is a complicated ‘points’ system depending on the number of passes at each grade. See the pdf file for more details.
Like all academic qualifications, one would expect performance on Key Stage tests, GCSEs, and A-levels to be positively correlated with IQ. However, IQ is certainly not the only factor involved in performance, as is shown by the fact that in the educational tests girls perform substantially better than boys, although the average IQ of boys and girls is much the same (see N. Mackintosh IQ and Human Intelligence, pp.182-98 for discussion). Another indicator is the fact that ‘traveller’ children (gypsies, etc), whose education is frequently disrupted, perform far below other ethnic groups. So the educational data give at best a very imperfect guide to IQ levels.
I will extract data for the following ethnic groups:
W = White (n1)
n1: in the full data ’White’ is subdivided into White British and several other smaller groups.
Now, at last, some statistics. For Key Stage 1 I have averaged the pass rates for the three tests (Reading, Writing and Mathematics) covered in the full data. For GCSE, the figures give the percentages of children at age 15/16 getting passes in at least 5 subjects at Grade C or higher. For GCE A-level, the figures give average aggregate points per student who attempts A-levels. As performance is so different for boys and girls, I have given data for boys, girls, and the average for both sexes. Percentages are given to one decimal place.
KEY STAGE 1*
*I have averaged the pass rates for the three subjects using percentages for each subject rounded to the nearest point. The average therefore necessarily terminates in .0, .3 (i.e. .333... rounded down), or .7 (i.e. .666... rounded up). Anyone who wants to calculate the averages more precisely from the raw data is welcome to do so!
It may be of interest to put these results in rank order of ethnic groups. For simplicity I will only use the combined boy-girl data.
KEY STAGE 1
Turning to the mixed-race results, the performance of White-Black Caribbean and White-Black African children is intermediate between that of children from the relevant unmixed groups. This is what we would expect if the factors underlying academic performance have a large genetic component. No doubt one could also find a purely environmental explanation, though it is not obvious (to me, anyway) that children of White and Black parents would have a quality of environment somewhere in between that of ‘pure’ White and Black children. But in any case the neat pattern is spoiled by the mixed White-Asian group, who have performance better than that of either of the parent groups (unless we suppose that the Asian parent is nearly always Indian, which is not the case). I suppose it might be suggested that this is due to ‘hybrid vigour’, but I think this hypothesis is ’more ingenious than sound’. It is necessary to remember that mixed-race partnerships are not a random sample of the parent populations, so there could be bias either upward or downward in the genetic and environmental endowment of mixed-race children, relative to the average of the parent ethnic groups. I didn’t expect to find any useful facts on the subject, but I was pleased to find some interesting recent research by Reya Muttarak of the University of Oxford. Indeed it is so interesting that I will devote a future post to it! For the moment, the main point to note is that in Britain mixed-race partnerships are on average associated with higher-than-average educational attainment and social class (relative to the relevant group averages) of both partners. The correlation is particularly strong for Asians, fairly strong for Black women, but less clear-cut for Black men. The high performance of White-Asian children therefore correlates with the relatively high average educational and social level of both their parents. Obviously this correlation could be given either a genetic or an environmental explanation.
I had intended also to discuss the links, if any, between poverty, ethnic group, and educational performance, but I will save that for another post.