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June 03, 2005



Single Gene Responsible for Fruit Fly Sexual Orientation

(Crosspost from GeneticFuture.org.)

The results of a study published this week suggest an undeniable connection between genetics and sexual behavior -- at least with fruit flies.

A single gene appears to be responsible for whether a fruit fly will court male or females, regardless of its own gender.

[ From Medical News Today ]
A male fly's sexual courtship of a female fly is a complicated business of tapping, singing, wing vibration, and licking, but a single gene is all that is needed to produce this complex behavior, according to new research published in this week's issue of the journal Cell.

Dickson and Demir created male-spliced versions of fruitless in female flies and female-spliced versions in male flies. Males with the female version of fruitless "barely court at all" when paired with virgin female flies in an observation chamber, according to the researchers.

Males with the female fruitless splice form were also more likely to court other males than flies with the male form, suggesting that male-specific fruitless splicing "not only promotes male-female courtship, it also inhibits male-male courtship," the researchers say.
Dickson and Demir refer to fruitless as a behavioral "switch gene" that is both necessary and sufficient to produce a particular behavior. Switch genes that trigger the development of a particular anatomical feature like wing structure have been studied extensively, but there are very few studies of switch genes that control a complex behavior, the researchers note.

None of the news is bold enough to suggest a human connection, i.e. a genetic basis for homosexuality, but it's hard to overlook the fact that fruit flies share 60% of their genes with humans. Furthermore, fruit flies have been a hot subject for study since 2000, when it was discovered that they employ eerily similar genetic mechanisms as humans for morphological development into adults. [Didn't your heart race during that brief excitement in 2000 when virtually all 13,601 genes belonging to the fruit fly genome were decoded?]

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June 02, 2005



A Word to the Wise on Race

Correction 06/06/05

An atheist/skeptic audio program that I sometimes listen to, The Infidel Guy, recently had a debate “On the Merits of Racial Diversity” between white nationalist doyen Jared Taylor and energetic ZNet race pundit/author Tim Wise. The debate is about two hours long (download to listen here), and several race-related topics are covered, though, hilariously, “the merits of racial diversity” isn’t really one of them. Wise and Taylor are an interesting pair of kooks who mix occasionally reasonable perspectives on isolated issues with distasteful racialized politics.

Much of the debate has to do with the nature of xenophobia, and while there is much disagreement between the two, there is no red meat and the issues are so loosely formulated, and sometimes metaphysical, that no one says anything false per se, but when the topic turns to genetics, race, and intelligence testing, Wise starts churning out logical errors and unambiguous factual errors with powerful and devoted consistency. Wise is a good example of the deep and willful ignorance sociologists often have about genetics.

The transcript can be found here if you want to fact-check me or follow along, but to set up the context, Taylor and Wise argue over whether differences between black, white, and Asian Americans on traits such as IQ and crime are genetic or are really caused by economic circumstances and majority discrimination, with Taylor taking the former position and Wise taking the latter. At this point the host lets a caller chime in who asks if maybe both Taylor and Wise are taking an extreme position on race differences, and that maybe both genetics and environment both played big roles. Unexpectedly, Tim Wise immediately answers the caller saying ‘yes’ !:

” CALLER: . . . Do you think that there could be some moderation here and realize that it’s not such extremes here, that it [i.e. racial differences] is a combination of nature and nurture, it’s in fact both, it’s not either/or.

TIM: Oh, I don’t doubt that for a second. I think it’s true for any human trait. It’s one of the reasons, for example, that you have, there is some evidence, that there may be genetic predisposition among certain indigenous American communities, American Indian communities, toward hypertension, high blood pressure, et cetera . . .”


Having admitted that “any trait” can differ genetically between, quote, “communities”, and having agreed with the caller that the reasonable position on racial differences is the “middle way” between genetic and environmental determinist arguments, Wise has set himself in a truly awkward position, because while he agrees this is the reasonable position in theory, this is not the position that Wise takes in practice at all. So how does he reconcile this? Having tipped his hat to the reasonable position, as a gesture of politeness, he immediately disowns it (Isn’t there, after all, a famous dictum about hypocrisy being Wise’s tribute to virtue? . . . OK, that’s the last ‘Wise’ pun, I swear):

”So there’s no question that any trait can by affected by either [nature or nurture]. The point I would simply make is that that’s true for individuals. There is no, however, inherent reason to believe that those tendencies cluster on the basis of “race” for the simple reason that the racial designations that we currently use are principally based on three characteristics. They are facial structure, skin color, and hair texture. Those are things that are controlled by six genes out of thirty thousand genes in the human genome and those genes have never been shown by any geneticist on the planet, any biologist on the planet, to be connected, or what geneticists call “concordant,” with any other trait known as intelligence or known as temperament or behavior or ethics or morality or any of those kinds of things. So even though individuals absolutely have certain genetic predispositions towards everything from certain diseases to the ability to sing, to play music, to jump high, to run fast, there’s no reason to believe that those things would cluster on the basis of this thing that we now call race.”

So having admitted that hypertension clusters by a specific ancestry, Wise quickly turns around and contradicts himself by arguing that traits can’t cluster by ancestry. To do this he pulls a common slight of hand by rudely conflating ancestry with isolated appearance traits. The specious logic here - that since isolated appearance traits don’t have a pleiotropic effect on behavioral traits (incidentally, a questionable assertion in its own right) behavioral traits can’t differ with ancestry - is incompatible with Wise’s earlier statement about American Indian “communities” having higher rates of hypertension, and one could easily turn that on him and ask what the “red skin” and “hair texture” of those Indian populations has to do with hyper-tension. How did skin color predispose some Indian groups toward hypertension? By the same specious logic we could say that Wise must be a liar about the Indians and hypertension because the small number of genes for “red-skin” has nothing to do with hypertension. To clarify what’s wrong with Tim’s argument, genes (and hence gentically influenced traits) are jumbled together incidentally through common selection histories, which are captured by what we call ancestry; that doesn’t mean that appearance and behavioral traits cause each-other or are caused by the same genes, it just means they are found together with a certain statistical likelihood that is predictable with knowledge about ancestry. So for instance, African Pygmies are both short and have tight curly hair. Now this doesn’t mean that genes for shortness cause tight curly hair or that these traits are caused by the same genes, it means those genes were jumbled together in that selection environment; most likely the selection pressures for each trait was entirely different. Similarly there’s no reason that behavioral traits shouldn’t be jumbled together in every uniquely differentiated population just like appearance traits are jumbled together in every uniquely differentiated population. The mind is like any other organ and is in no way off limits to selection. The argument is erroneous. “Six genes” for skin color, and facial features and hair texture, by the way, is another manufactured fact - the number is completely fabricated.

Tim compounds this absurd argument by arguing that black Americans share appearance genes with their West African cousins but that’s it (later he expands on this curious idea by arguing that the average European is 10 times more related to any given African than to any given European and vice versa. Don’t try to figure it out you’ll give yourself a headache . . . ), his “evidence” for this is to use basketball awards as a pseudo-genetic marker:

”It’s the reason why you’ll find African Americans in the NBA but you won’t find many West Africans, who are certainly “blacker” and according to the racist theorist, athleticism and blackness somehow run together, you would expect West Africans to dominate the NBA and African teams to dominate international basketball competitions, and they don’t because these things are not concordant on the basis of race. They do not cluster on the basis of so-called racial categories, because these categories are highly artificial and they are not anything where you can actually . . . even IQ testing, when I sit down to take an IQ test they simply take for granted that I’m white because I identify as white. But there’s no way to tell whether a third of my lineage could be black. If I look white and I self-identify as white, I’m white. Similarly if someone who’s black, 85% of all blacks in the US have European ancestry. Someone who comes in but who identifies as black or who is seen by the test-givers as black will be classified as black. You don’t know what percentage of their lineage is European or vice versa. So these categories have never been delineated in scientific terms where you can say, “This is Asian, this is black, this is white, and then you compare the scores.” Until that can be done, to sit here and have this conversation about nature/nurture or to have a conversation about racial difference as opposed to individual difference, which I’m in total agreement with the caller on that, is I think an artificial debate.
Tim makes three separate assertions here which are easily debunked with hard data and a fourth which is a clear logical non sequitur:

1) Black Americans only share a few superficial appearance traits with their current West African relatives.

2) Black Americans don’t share identifiable athletic talents with their current West African relatives.

3) We don’t know if black and White American social identities correlate with any precision to coherent ancestry/genetic profiles, so . . .

4) . . . we can’t scientifically explore/discuss whether genes play a role in group differences.

Assertions number 1 and 3 are falsified by a paper published this year in the American Journal of human Genetics . In Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies, Hua Tang and a large number of other scientists recruited 3,636 subjects from 12 different locations in the U.S. and 3 in Taiwan who all identified themselves as black, white, Hispanic, or Asian. Tang et al. analyzed these subjects at 326 genetic markers. The data was then blindly analyzed. Do four American groups who use four ethnic labels, correspond to four major genetic clusters (as predicted), or sixteen, or a hundred? Do African Americans on the east coast and west coast differ more from each other than either does from a native African (as admixture and the "6 gene" hypothesis would predict)? If such a difference even exists, do 0%, 50%, or 100% of the people who say they are black actually turn out to be genetically white? All these types of questions are answered by this study.

Wise appears to be suggesting that African-Americans only share “6 genes” related to appearance with West-Africans and nothing more. Is that true? The author’s tell us:

We note that the genetic cluster results indicate that older geographic ancestry—rather than recent geographic origin—is highly correlated with racial/ethnic categorizations and, thus, is the major determinant of genetic structure in the population. Although our results suggest that genetic stratification may exist within racial/ethnic groups—specifically, whites and African Americans sampled from different geographic locations in the United States—we found the differences based on current geography to be quite modest.”
In other words African Americans, even with white admixture, are more closely related to each other and distant Africans than white Americans, Asians, and Hispanics (as determined by ancestry profiles). Likewise, white Americans are more closely related to each other and distant Europeans than their fellow African-Americans who they have lived with and exchanged a certain amount of genes with for four-hundred years in the New World.

Wise also asserts, quite dubiously, that we are not allowed to ask whether socially labeled black and white Americans differ for genetic reasons on any given trait because blacks and whites are intermixed, so self-identified ancestry is only mysteriously linked to meaningfully stable genetic populations. This self-serving casuistry is so shamefully idiotic, hypocritical and illogical that it marks anybody who uses it as nothing better than a religious Fundamentalist. First Tang’s data again refutes Wise. Of the 3,636 subjects who the authors describe as an ”unbiased sampling of individuals who self-describe within the major categories we included”, the data showed four major genetic clusters with “nearly perfect correspondence between genetic cluster and SIRE [Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity] for major ethnic groups living in the United States”. Of the 3,636 subjects only 5 (or 0.14%) reported an ancestry that did not match what they thought or reported. So note that this directly meets Wise’s necessary pre-condition for asking if American ethnic differences between blacks, white, and Asians are genetic:

So these categories have never been delineated in scientific terms where you can say, “This is Asian, this is black, this is white, and then you compare the scores.” Until that can be done, to sit here and have this conversation about nature/nurture or to have a conversation about racial difference as opposed to individual difference, which I’m in total agreement with the caller on that, is I think an artificial debate.
So Wise’s own conditions for legitimately asking questions about the genetic basis to racial difference have been satisfactorily met because Tang’s data shows us that self-identified American racial labels such as “black”, “white”, and “Asian” do correspond to actual genetic clusters with virtually 100% accuracy.

In reality, I should point out Tang’s data is simply further confirmation of what we’ve already known (e.g. if we found some sort of cosmic videotape of human evolution it would further confirm it, but human evolution is already a fact.) Similar data from methods as numerous and diverse as physical anthropology and comparative genealogies (in the olden days) to polymorphisms, such as blood groups, and genetic admixture studies (in more modern times) could have been used as evidence to make the exact same point for as long as these nature questions have existed. So Wise’s “pre-condition” for asking nature questions had already been met, but this is irrelevant anyhow, Wise’s “pre-condition” for asking nature questions was both disingenuous and illogical, and only a way for Wise to cut off debate at his own ideological convenience. For one, if the social identities known as black and white Americans were somehow just shifting non-identities, with no assumable temporal coherence, then it wouldn’t make sense for us to find a consistently identifiable trait difference of any sort to begin with. How would we be able to find a replicable pattern in what is by definition noise?? Second, even if we ignore this logical contradiction, if social labels do not meaningfully correlate with ancestry or a coherent historical social grouping, then Tim has also cannibalized any logical argument he has for reparations, Affirmative Action or any social policy that recognizes African-Americans as a group with any logical social coherence or historical continuity. If we don’t know who is really black and white for the purpose of trait study, or genetic evaluation, then we don’t know who is really black and white for the purpose of racial dispensation either. In fact any argument about “group uncertainty” that can be used to cut off debate about nature questions can be used just as legitimately to cut-off debate about nurture questions. So for instance, if Wise wanted to assert that blacks were being discriminated against and were disproportionately being kept out of higher paying jobs, even if he had incontrovertible data to show this, Taylor could have just as logically said that there is no way of knowing if those socially defined black people who were being kept out of that job were actually black or white, so the debate would be “artificial”. Of course this wouldn’t make sense for the same reasons listed above. If there is a reliable pattern of people of a certain social identity not getting jobs despite equal qualifications, then it is certain that this social label corresponds to a real group (even if definable in this one sense) and that pattern has an etiology which can be explored. And if there is a reliable pattern of a certain social group averaging a certain score on an IQ test then it is certain that this social label corresponds to a real group (even if definable in this one sense) and that pattern has an etiology which can be explored. There are no a priori reasons that we can’t ask or explore a phenomenon as if it had a naturist etiology, or why nurture, has a priori ontological legitimacy for social science puzzles while nature does not - there are just as many limitations and unknowns confounding environmental puzzles, if not more, as there are confounding genetic ones. Wise’s “metapysicalization” of genetics is an ideological strategy, and a shamefully common one at that.

The suggestion that American blacks only share an appearance (or “six genes”) with their West African cousins has already been debunked, but while I use a genetics reference that shows a common racial ancestry, Wise’s “proof” for his assertion is not only laughably irrelevant, it is also wrong. According to Wise, see, we know that the shared “skin color” and “facial features” of American blacks and West African blacks tell us that there should be no other disease risk, behavioral, biochemical, and physiological similarities, because they don’t have the same track record for slamming dunks:

“It’s the reason why you’ll find African Americans in the NBA but you won’t find many West Africans, who are certainly “blacker” and according to the racist theorist, athleticism and blackness somehow run together, you would expect West Africans to dominate the NBA and African teams to dominate international basketball competitions, and they don’t because these things are not concordant on the basis of race.
This argument shows absolutely nothing of importance, and certainly doesn’t show what Wise wants it to show, but it’s worth noting that West African blacks do share many identifiable athletic talents with their American relatives that have known links to physiological and biochemical similarities due to shared ancestry. To name a few that were listed in Science:
”Various studies have shown that West African [descended] athletes have denser bones, less body fat, narrower hips, thicker thighs, longer legs, and lighter calves than whites.”
Note that these physiological differences are found in West African blacks in the U.S. (American blacks trace the grand majority of their ancestry to West-Africa), Britain, Canada, the Caribbean, Brazil, and of course in West-Africa. Independently those traits are advantageous towards certain types of athletic performance no matter what race you are, they just happen to be found at higher frequencies (and hence are more likely to be clustered) in people of West African descent. Similarly when it comes to short distance running, geography and culture doesn’t predict elite winning, a specific ancestry does:
Athletes of primarily West African descent—which includes the majority of U.S. blacks—hold all but six of the 500 best times in the 100-meter race
So Wise’s theory is wrong - race does not equal skin color and it is not reducible to 6 skin color genes. Race is ancestry and ancestry, whether we are talking about mom and dad ancestry or the ancestry of much larger families, such as American Indian communities, involves genetic differences that run deeper than skin and hair color. Race is not a trait, it’s ancestry, and ancestry has wide-ranging genetic implications.

Wise’s next paragraph of arguments is so full of make-believe that I am quoting it in full. Literally every sentence is a made-up-on-the-spot fact:

” . . . genetic differences between . . . so-called races are still about one tenth the size of any other subspecies on the planet. In other words, generally biologists or geneticists argue, this is the generally accepted science, that in order for two groups or any multiple of groups to be considered subspecies or races or breeds of the same species, they must differ, or they usually will differ, in fact they always will, there will be more difference between the breeds, between the subspecies, between the so-called races, than there will be within the so-called breed, within the so-called subspecies or within the so-called race. In humans, that is not the case. On average, humans will vary by eight to nine times more within a population group than between a population group so that I as a European-descended person will be eight to nine times more different from another European person genetically than I would be from someone who is not at all European, who was Asian, or who was African.

HOST: That’s evolution for you.

TIM: That is not true for any other species on the planet. The other species tend to differ by five times, ten times, twenty times more between groups than within the groups. So we do not meet the test as human beings for subspecies or for races.”


To list the lies and then discuss them in turn:

1) Genetic differences between human races are 10 times smaller than between the races of any other animal on earth.

2) “The generally accepted science” for determining sub-species is that the genetic differences between the two populations must be larger the differences within the populations.

3) Animal sub-species typically differ five times, ten times, twenty times more between groups than within the groups.

4)Any given European is eight to nine times more genetically similar to any given African and Asian than he is to any other given European (Lewontin’s Fallacy).

First let’s examine Wise’s claim that “genetic differences between . . . so-called races are still about one tenth the size of any other subspecies on the planet.” Jared Taylor challenges Wise on this claim using dogs and Wise boldly and smugly repeats his claim as a scientific fact:

JARED: Well, and do you think the genetic differences between subspecies of dogs are greater or less than genetic differences than say between Australian Aborigines and Japanese? Are they greater or less?

TIM: Well the differences between the breeds, the differences between, let’s say, German Shepherds, and a, I don’t know, cockapoo or something, that’s even a pure breed, a poodle, those differences would absolutely be, I think they’re on the order of ten times the difference between...

JARED: Wrong.


Wise doesn’t know what he is talking about. Not only are the genetic differences within any one dog breed greater than the differences between any of them, the differences within a single dog breed, such as Chihuahuas, is actually greater than the genetic difference between two different recognized SPECIES of animals - wolves (Canis Lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans). To quote James Serpell’s The Domestic Dog:

”Recently using genetic and biochemical methods researchers have shown domestic dogs to be virtually identical . . . to other members of the genus . . . Results using mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) data . . . reveal startling similarities among canids . . . Greater mtDNA differences appeared within the single breeds of Doberman Pinscher or poodle than between dogs and wolves . . . to keep things in perspective, it should be pointed out that there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves, and coyotes, than there is between ethnic groups of human beings. (pp. 32-33)
So contrary to Wise there are larger genetic differences between a West African, a Northwest European, and an Northeast Asian, then there is between two separate species, a wolf and a coyote, or between a Shih Tzu and a German Shepherd. So if you think that that meaningless Lewontin 85-15 statistic about “within-between” is some sort of “scientific” debunking of functional genetic differentiation between humans (which is his whole fallacious point for making and disseminating it) I urge you to be consistent and make the same claim about the behavioral uniformity of wolves, coyotes, and Jack Russell Terriers, because the same fallacious logic should apply. Let’s see what happens in the Lewontin logic world when a coyote tries to hunt large prey, or a wolf tries to hunt solo for some small prey, or when Paris Hilton’s dog joins the police on a drug raid.

Wise also completely invented the fact that human races are less genetically differentiated than animal races. Using Sewall Wright’s genetic distance statistic, FST, the value of differentiation for human races is typically 12-15%, Wright suggested this figure is on the high to moderate end of genetic differentiation among other animal races. This figure, by the way, clumps together a number of low differentiation populations and drags the number down; if we compare just the two largest sub-divisions of the human species – Africans and non-Africans - we get a number of 25-30%, which is huge. So at the very least we can say the human species has two enormously genetically differentiated races compared with the rest of the animal world.

Wise asserts as fact:

”generally biologists or geneticists argue, this is the generally accepted science, that in order for two groups or any multiple of groups to be considered subspecies or races or breeds of the same species, they must differ, or they usually will differ, in fact they always will, there will be more difference between the breeds, between the subspecies, between the so-called races, than there will be within the so-called breed, within the so-called subspecies or within the so-called race.”
Generally “biologists or geneticists” argue no such ludicrous thing, and Wise’s “generally accepted science” isn’t accepted by one scientist much less all of them. Wise argues that recognized sub-species will always differ more between than within; this claim is absurd, scientists don’t even have this sort of genetic information for but a tiny handful of animals, and this information is worthless for what scientists communicate with classification (Wise also exaggerated his own lie by arguing that races almost always differ by “10" and “20" times as much between than within. This is another Wise invention). Since genetic distance and/or variability is not even what determines species (which is simply determined by the presence or absence of breeding in natural zones of contact) much less sub-species, differences within species (not just races) can easily be greater than differences between species (not just races). If we used the within-between statistic to classify nature it would destroy the biological species concept! Wise’s confused blarney is just a dubious interpretation of Richard Lewontin’s already dubiously interpreted non-fact about why the human species doesn’t have races (and the fault lies with Lewontin just as much as it does with Wise). Thanks to the Endangered Species Act the criteria scientists really use for determining subspecies in nature is more or less standardized. John Goodrum notes:
In response to questionable interpretations of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and to help ensure the evolutionary significance of populations deemed ‘subspecies,’ a set of criteria was outlined in the early 1990s by John C. Avise, R. Martin Ball, Jr.[10], Stephen J. O’Brien and Ernst Mayr [11] which is as follows: “members of a subspecies would share a unique, geographic locale, a set of phylogenetically concordant phenotypic characters, and a unique natural history relative to other subdivisions of the species. Although subspecies are not reproductively isolated, they will normally be allopatric and exhibit recognizable phylogenetic partitioning.” Furthermore, “evidence for phylogenetic distinction must normally come from the concordant distributions of multiple, independent genetically based traits.”[12] This is known as the phylogeographic subspecies definition, and a review of recent conservation literature will show that these principles have gained wide acceptance.
Contrary to Wise and what you might’ve heard in the media (though, not in the New York Times), we know that the grand majority of biologists agree that there are human races (Lieberman et. al. 1992 ). Ernst Mayr’s definition of sub-species is the standard one accepted by scientists (the record is in the scientific literature, look in it and see how many scientists are using the nutty Lewontin “within-between” formula to determine sub-species of animals - about as many that are using “punctuated equilibrium” I would guess) and has been the standard since the initiation of the Darwinian New Synthesis. Mayr has publicly addressed the misinformation that evolutionary biologists believe there aren’t human races:
There is a widespread feeling that the word race indicates something undesirable and that it should be left out of all discussions. This leads to such statements as there are no human races.

Those who subscribe to this opinion are obviously ignorant of modern biology. Races are not something specifically human; races occur in a large percentage of species of animals . . . the geographic races of the human races established before the voyages of European discovery and subsequent rise of a global economy - agree in most characteristics with the geographic races of animals. Recognizing races is only recognizing a biological fact.


Wise claims that a European will be nine times more genetically similar to an African than to another European:

”On average, humans will vary by eight to nine times more within a population group than between a population group so that I as a European-descended person will be eight to nine times more different from another European person genetically than I would be from someone who is not at all European, who was Asian, or who was African.

HOST: That’s evolution for you.”


That’s clearly stupid misinformation for you. This is what A.W.F. Edwards has termed “Lewontin’s Fallacy”, which we have dealt with previously here. Basically this idea that Wise is expressing is exactly what Lewontin intended to communicate by his within-between figure. As Michael Bamshad noted in Nature Genetics last year:

”Frequently, it is erroneously contended that the high (85–95%) within group variance of human populations is inconsistent with the existence of races because differences between individuals are greater than differences between groups. Such low FST values are sometimes misinterpreted to mean that genetic differences between individuals within sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or Europe are typically greater than differences between individuals on different continents. A positive FST indicates, however that individuals from different populations are, on average, slightly more different from one another than are individuals from the same population” (p. 5-7)
Wise claimed that there are no races because they aren’t “concordant” (which he attempted to “prove” using basketball accomplishment as a genetic marker!), but it is precisely the “concordance” of traits found in populations that puts this claim to shame. How, for instance, can we tell apart Europeans and Africans if so much more variation is within each race than between them? How can we tell apart a coyote and a Afghan (a different species) when they are even less genetically differentiated from each other than is a European and an African? The answer that Lewontin didn’t tell you, and as I described above, is that ancestry jumbles together certain genes. Two different Chihuahuas might differ on a number of genes which don’t add up to any consistent pattern, but the relatively smaller number of genes that distinguish the Chihuahuas from the wolves are also found together in a statistically predictable way according to and predictable by ancestry. This means that while, on average, two Chihuahuas will be more genetically different from each other than either is to a wolf, the genetic structure, created by two separate population histories, results in two very different population phenotypes. The combination of extreme traits that form a Chihuahua are almost all right there in the wolf genome and vice versa, but a wolf would never give birth to anything that looked like a Chihuahua and vice versa because it would be an impossible genetic shuffle to randomly generate. This miracle is the essence of natural selection - shuffling together ordered patterns over time from raw genetic noise. Genetic structure is just as important as genetic amount. Jared Taylor (who has his own problems correctly interpreting genetics, as we’ve been over many times on this site before) also messes up when he attempts to correct Wise:
”JARED: Were you suggesting earlier that whites can be more similar to people of different races than they are to each other? Is that what you were suggesting earlier?

TIM: I’m not suggesting it, that’s what science says.

JARED: No, no, no, no white people are[n’t] more similar to blacks, say genetically, than they are to other whites.

TIM: Of course we are.

JARED: That’s completely false.

TIM: It is not false.”


You’re both wrong. Taylor is wrong because a white person can easily be more genetically similar to a black person than to another white person. Bamshad also tested this out:

”To quantify how often an individual is more similar to another individual from the same group versus a different group,we defined racial groups a priori using . . . five categories for race based on physical features and/or country of origin: African–American, ‘White’, American–Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander . . . and estimated how often an individual was more different from a person in a different ‘racial group’ than a person from the same ‘racial group’ based on 377 STR genotypes. Regardless of the racial group to which an individual belonged, two people from different racial groups were more different than two individuals from the same racial group approximately two-thirds of the time.Only approximately one-third of the time were two people from the same racial group more different that two individuals from different racial groups.” (p. 7)
Note that this result is without using genetic structure, as mentioned above, so it’s reasonable to suppose that similar results could be obtained using Chihuahuas and German Shepherds (just so people don’t get the wrong idea about the phenotypic implications of this). But like Wise, Taylor and many other White Nationalists have occasionally ignored genetic structure too, focusing in on shared genes to the exclusion of structure, in order to make the argument that races share more genes with each other than they do with other races, and therefore must have some sort of special kin-selected bond like mothers and their children do [1]. This result flies in the face of Taylor and any such theory or attendant dubious “gene-eye-view” ethic for White Nationalism.

Wise, of course was wrong about both structure and amount, believing improbably not just that races were somehow equally related, but that they were somehow more genetically similar than people of the same race by a factor of 10! I guess I can understand how Tim or someone might think that any random white person was just as related to any random black person than to any other white person. If they really believed that race was just skin color or an isolated appearance trait it would make sense. After all fat people aren’t more related to other fat people, even though they might share some fat genes. This would be a wrong idea about race but it is at least understandable. But how in the world - please someone tell me - can someone believe that the average European is more related to the average African? What logic can possibly bridge that gap? Genome similarity would have to have an inverse relationship with endogamy and ancestry. Wise’s assertions are so bizarre that they are only understandable as a willful mental effort to not understand genetics as much as possible:

”Yes, there are population groupings, they relate to the primary point of origin or dispersal or development. But they do not break down as black, white, Asian, mestizo or indigenous American or whatever categories we might want to construct. Those categories change over time. If [race] were a biological concept, how would it have been possible for one in Alabama under segregation to be black if you had one eighth black blood but in Mississippi one drop of black blood and in South Carolina one quarter black blood? How could it be biological if we could not even and still cannot agree on what it is that makes you black, what it is that makes you white, what it is that makes you Asian? How much black blood does it take to cancel out all the white blood? How much white blood does it take to cancel out all the Asian blood and make you white? Whether we know how to self-identify, of course we do. We live in a society where race has been given meaning, but I’m not in touch with my genotype. I am not in touch with my DNA. I don’t converse with it on a daily basis to know that I’m being instructed by the proteins in my system and the genetic coding on my chromosomes to consider myself white. I consider myself white because I’m accepted and received and treated as white. Therefore I experience myself as white. It’s a social distinction."
Wise argues that race is “just a social construct”, but for Wise to be correct, a change of social label would need to be able to change our genes. This is the only way that Wise can be correct, and for race to not be a biological concept. Social rules and choices can determine who we breed with, and can determine the finger-printed mixtures of ancestries we pass on to our children, but social choices do not and can not change our current ancestry. Wise notes, for instance, that someone could’ve been labeled either white or black according to three different rule systems in different parts of the Jim Crow South. But Wise omits or is just too thick to realize the fact that racial ancestry is not a social label but a verbalized statistic that can be precisely measured and accurately reported with a DNA test. Words and labels don’t change the objective facts of nature. This is the race that a biologist, if not a sociologist, speaks of, and there is no debating whether or not it exists, and it is also the race that Wise needs to start confronting instead of evading for the purposes of arguments about genetic differences. Genetic differences do not go away because we don’t name them. If certain American Indian “communities” are considered ‘white’ in one part of the U.S., this doesn’t mean that their red skins will change color or that their peculiar genetic disease susceptibilities will go away. Wise argues that the Irish “became white” and that Jews “became white”, but this doesn’t mean that a different social label changed them genetically as individuals; though assimilation, into non-Irish and non-Jewish populations would genetically change their children as they took ethnically, and hence genetically, different sexual partners. Irish people who are accepted as, or self-identified as Nigerians, do not therefore acquire black skin and sickle-cell anemia. Jews who “become white” do not magically shed Tay-sachs disease, and do not magically lose distinctive Semitic features in the place of distinctive Anglo-Saxon ones (except, of course, according to the discredited Lamarkianism of Frans Boas). Tim Wise notes that there is no biological reality to terms such as black, white, and asian, because these terms change over time, but Wise succumbs to a Platonic fallacy; when he believes something needs to be forever unchanging in order for it to be real. I provided a study above that affirmed that these social labels do correspond, with virtual perfection, to coherent, unmanufactured American genetic clusters, which in turn reflect deep evolutionary ancestry. If Tim Wise has any humility, any integrity, he will stop repeating arguments he can’t defend, stop inventing statistics, stop evading the issue of genetic differences with absurd red herrings, non sequiturs and false facts, and start making room for human biodiversity in his ethical world-view, because time is not on the side of genetic equalitarianism when it comes to ancestry and genetic differences . True liberals accommodate information into their ethical world-views, and shouldn’t have any trouble doing it if their convictions are properly justified. Liberals who evade facts, create a dangerous vacuum and open the door for demagogues like Jared Taylor to fill it. By his own dishonesty Tim Wise actually assists people like Jared Taylor, and in that sense, ironically, Tim Wise is actually enabling racism. When the human biodiversity Pandora's box is finally unleashed, those Creationist liberals who scoffed at and distorted the facts of evolution in the name of social justice will find themselves needlessly discredited, and they will have only themselves to blame as they transparently scramble for the ethical justifications they should have swore by in the first place.

[1] To do this they fallaciously attempt to get from A (shared genes) to C (altruism) by side-stepping the fundamental bridge, B (kin-selection). In this way the magical science of “ethnic nepotism” reminds me of that South Park joke (which I only know second-hand) about that air-tight plan for how to make money:

Step 1: collect underpants.

Step 2: ??

Step 3: $$ profit $$

See, ‘Step 2’ is the whole story. Taylor has psychotically argued that it is more ethically “justified from a genetic point of view” (whatever that means??) for a person to prevent the immigration of two African blacks into America than it is for them to save their own drowning child; a nonsensical, poorly justified ethic that Taylor (who obviously doesn’t have children himself) is actually promoting. But according to the Bamshad results, what would actually be “justified from a genetic point of view” would be for a white person to prefer the immigration of, or to save the life of a black person over another white person about 1/3 of the time – an ethic which actually contradicts White Nationalism. Taylor, of course, already knew what his ethics were, the ludicrous quasi-scientific gene rationale was drawn entirely post hoc from the newly minted church of Frank Salter. The Salter crowd, including academic White Nationalists like Kevin MacDonald, is the far Right version of what Alan Sokal was scathingly exposing on the far Left, where marginalized political philosophies, seeking depth and legitimacy, turn themselves into cargo cults by co-opting the language of math and science. What else can we call it when intellectually decadent academics mine terms and ideas from biology, and use them out of their original functional scientific context to promote ethno-states? How is it different from those other Post-Modern academics on the other side of the political spectrum who use out-of-proper-context terms from physics to promote socialism?

Correction 06/06/05

"Frequently, it is erroneously contended that the high (85–95%) withingroup variance of human populations is inconsistent with the existence of races because differences between individuals are greater than differences between groups. Such low FST values are sometimes misinterpreted to mean that genetic differences between individuals within sub-Saharan Africa,Asia or Europe are typically greater than differences between individuals on different continents . A positive FST indicates, however, that individuals from different populations are, on average, slightly more different from one another than are individuals from the same population . . . two people from different racial groups [are] more different than two individuals from the same racial group approximately two-thirds of the time."

Bamshad pp. 5-7

Gregory Cochran and Birch Barlow have brought to my attention that the claim that people from different races are more genetically similar 1/3 of the time, whether the intended interpretation of Bamshad's paper or not, is not true except for single DNA segments.

First Gregory Cochran writes:

The chance that the genetic distance between a European and a sub-Saharan African is going to be less than the genetic distance between two Europeans is effectively zero, not one-third . . . I faked up two gene frequency data sets such that their Fst was 0.15 I use random sampling to create two individuals from distribution A and one from distribution B: then I calculate the A1-A2 genetic distance and the A1-B1 genetic distance. If I look at 10 loci, A1 is closer to B1 than to A2 about 30% of the time. If I use 100 loci, A1 is closer to B1 about 1.9% of the time. If I use 1000 loci, A1 is never closer to B1 than A2 in 20,000 runs.

Barlow adds in the comment section, that:

The "1/3 of the time, someone is more related to someone of another race their own race," seems like a misintepretation (or at least very poor representation) of the fact that one could have a single gene or other DNA segment shared with someone of another race but not someone else of their own race. Indeed, a 2/3 frequency of a "+" version of a DNA segment vs. a "-" version corresponds fairly well to the ~10-15% of variation between races figure (.67^2+.33^2=.558, 2*.67*.33=.442, difference=.116=11.6%). Slightly different figures (slightly below 1/3) can give Fst values close to the African vs. non-African one quoted here; i.e. .25-.30. For ex., .75^2+.25^2=.625, 2*.75*.25=.375, difference=.25=25%).

So the criticisms of Taylor for making this claim must be retracted, which is no small admission. Though I will add that criticisms of Taylor based on poorly justified ethics and Sokal-worthy Salterism are not related to, and hence effected by, this news.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 06:30 PM | | TrackBack


Overclocking

The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence has found a journal. It will be published by The Journal of Biosocial Science. Here is an article in The Economist. The New York Times may be publishing something before long.

Update from Razib: Now in The New York Times. Pinker responds mildly positively, though he seems slotted in more as a color commentator. Andrew Clark (of Hartl & Clark) does not seem happy. Interestingly, the non-scientist interviewed (a historian) isn't screaming (yet).

Update from Arcane: Now UPI has picked it up, via the Washington Times... Hat tip: Drudge Report

Update from Razib: You can follow the blog commentary with this technorati query. Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan both noted it today...so the information is out there. GNXP readers who have absorbed the full paper might want to correct some misimpressions of those who don't seem to have read the hypothesis in the original, Greg & Henry can't be everywhere.

Update again from Razib: One thing I noticed, almost all the weblogs reference the summaries in the popular press of the journal article, could GNXP readers please put a link in the comments box of weblog entries that don't have it to the original piece? (I've noticed a few GNXP regulars have done that on some blogs already) It would answer many of the questions and objections people are bringing up....

Update from Jason M: Lots of great reactions from across the Net. Razib, who writes for David Horowitz's Moonbat Central, samples some reactions from Right-of-Center. Meanwhile, the gracious honcho at Metafilter did me a solid and put up my post, because the system won't let a newby post until a week after membership. Metafilter is a Left-of-Center community site that I've read for some time which tends towards mannered and intelligent discussion, and this entry provides no exception. Perhaps surprisingly there appears no predictable political reaction with equal parts uneasiness and general HBD positivity across the spectrum.

Technorati has more. Sullivan, Reynolds, and all the rest.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 10:37 AM | | TrackBack


NAGPRA alert!

If you are American go check out Moira's update!

Posted by razib at 08:04 AM | | TrackBack


Classic Texts

In my post yesterday I mentioned J B S Haldane's classic 1957 paper on The cost of natural selection.

I find that this is available as a free pdf download here. Several other classic texts are available from the same source.

As I mentioned in my post, Haldane's conclusions have been much modified by later geneticists. It is generally agreed that natural selection can be faster than Haldane supposed, though different models produce very different results. I mention this now because I see from my Google search that Haldane's paper is often cited by anti-evolutionists as showing that the evolution of man by natural selection is impossible.

Posted by David B at 04:51 AM | | TrackBack

June 01, 2005



Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Human Events Online has published a report of what works conservative scholars consider the most damaging. They asked each of the 15 judges to vote for ten books and score each of their votes on an inverse score scale (i.e. #1 on each person's list received a score of 10, #2 a 9, #10 a 1).

Below the break you can find the list, a description of each, and my thoughts.

1. The Communist Manifesto

Summary: Marx and Engels, born in Germany in 1818 and 1820, respectively, were the intellectual godfathers of communism. Engels was the original limousine leftist: A wealthy textile heir, he financed Marx for much of his life. In 1848, the two co-authored The Communist Manifesto as a platform for a group they belonged to called the Communist League. The Manifesto envisions history as a class struggle between oppressed workers and oppressive owners, calling for a workers’ revolution so property, family and nation-states can be abolished and a proletarian Utopia established. The Evil Empire of the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice.

2. Mein Kampf

Summary: Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was initially published in two parts in 1925 and 1926 after Hitler was imprisoned for leading Nazi Brown Shirts in the so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” that tried to overthrow the Bavarian government. Here Hitler explained his racist, anti-Semitic vision for Germany, laying out a Nazi program pointing directly to World War II and the Holocaust. He envisioned the mass murder of Jews, and a war against France to precede a war against Russia to carve out “lebensraum” (“living room”) for Germans in Eastern Europe. The book was originally ignored. But not after Hitler rose to power. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, there were 10 million copies in circulation by 1945.

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao

Summary: Mao, who died in 1976, was the leader of the Red Army in the fight for control of China against the anti-Communist forces of Chiang Kai-shek before, during and after World War II. Victorious, in 1949, he founded the People’s Republic of China, enslaving the world’s most populous nation in communism. In 1966, he published Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, otherwise known as The Little Red Book, as a tool in the “Cultural Revolution” he launched to push the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese society back in his ideological direction. Aided by compulsory distribution in China, billions were printed. Western leftists were enamored with its Marxist anti-Americanism. “It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism,” wrote Mao.

4. The Kinsey Report

Summary: Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at Indiana University who, in 1948, published a study called Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, commonly known as The Kinsey Report. Five years later, he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy. “Kinsey’s initial report, released in 1948 . . . stunned the nation by saying that American men were so sexually wild that 95% of them could be accused of some kind of sexual offense under 1940s laws,” the Washington Times reported last year when a movie on Kinsey was released. “The report included reports of sexual activity by boys--even babies--and said that 37% of adult males had had at least one homosexual experience. . . . The 1953 book also included reports of sexual activity involving girls younger than age 4, and suggested that sex between adults and children could be beneficial.”

5. Democracy and Education

Summary: John Dewey, who lived from 1859 until 1952, was a “progressive” philosopher and leading advocate for secular humanism in American life, who taught at the University of Chicago and at Columbia. He signed the Humanist Manifesto and rejected traditional religion and moral absolutes. In Democracy and Education, in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation.

6. Das Kapital

Summary: Marx died after publishing a first volume of this massive book, after which his benefactor Engels edited and published two additional volumes that Marx had drafted. Das Kapital forces the round peg of capitalism into the square hole of Marx’s materialistic theory of history, portraying capitalism as an ugly phase in the development of human society in which capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits. Marx theorized that the inevitable eventual outcome would be global proletarian revolution. He could not have predicted 21st Century America: a free, affluent society based on capitalism and representative government that people the world over envy and seek to emulate.

7. The Feminine Mystique

Summary: In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, born in 1921, disparaged traditional stay-at-home motherhood as life in “a comfortable concentration camp”--a role that degraded women and denied them true fulfillment in life. She later became founding president of the National Organization for Women. Her original vocation, tellingly, was not stay-at-home motherhood but left-wing journalism. As David Horowitz wrote in a review for Salon.com of Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique by Daniel Horowitz (no relation to David): The author documents that “Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer.”

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy

Summary: Comte, the product of a royalist Catholic family that survived the French Revolution, turned his back on his political and cultural heritage, announcing as a teenager, “I have naturally ceased to believe in God.” Later, in the six volumes of The Course of Positive Philosophy, he coined the term “sociology.” He did so while theorizing that the human mind had developed beyond “theology” (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through “metaphysics” (in this case defined as the French revolutionaries’ reliance on abstract assertions of “rights” without a God), to “positivism,” in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be.

9. Beyond Good and Evil

Summary: An oft-scribbled bit of college-campus graffiti says: “‘God is dead’--Nietzsche” followed by “‘Nietzsche is dead’--God.” Nietzsche’s profession that “God is dead” appeared in his 1882 book, The Gay Science, but under-girded the basic theme of Beyond Good and Evil, which was published four years later. Here Nietzsche argued that men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power,” and that superior men will sweep aside religiously inspired moral rules, which he deemed as artificial as any other moral rules, to craft whatever rules would help them dominate the world around them. “Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation,” he wrote. The Nazis loved Nietzsche..

10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

Summary: Keynes was a member of the British elite--educated at Eton and Cambridge--who as a liberal Cambridge economics professor wrote General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in the midst of the Great Depression. The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government. When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity. FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt.

There were also a number of runner-ups which only requirement was that two or more judges voted for them. I won't go into complete detail, but I will point out one book that I think should have made the list (and in the top 5), but did not:

-Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Obviously a book which has led to the death of millions a year should be listed.
There was also a few books which I thought had no business being on the list:

-Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
-On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
-Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

Finally, while I don't recognize most of the names of the judges on the list, I think they skew towards more economic conservatism. While there are obviously social-religious conservative sentiment expressed in the selection; most of the books picked seem to show a inclination amongst the judges for anti-statism/libertarian conservatism/

Posted by scottm at 11:38 AM | | TrackBack


Group Selection (oh no, not again!)

In a recent post on Altruistic Punishment I remarked that ‘group selection should be regarded as an explanatory last resort’.

I didn’t intend this to be a controversial proposition, but as some comments challenged it, I will give some reasons for regarding group selection as a last resort.

I will assume that the traits favoured by group selection (whatever that means) are not independently favoured by selection on individuals. The whole point of the group selection debate is about how to explain traits that appear contrary to individual selection.

[Added on June 2: Of course, I am not denying that in some circumstances a trait could be favoured by selection at both individual and group level, but this is not very interesting, and it is not what the group selection controversy is about. As George C. Williams put it: ‘Many biologists have implied, and a moderate number have explicitly maintained, that groups of interacting individuals may be adaptively organized in such a way that individual interests are compromised by a functional subordination to group interests. It is universally conceded by those who have seriously concerned themselves with this problem that such group-related adaptations must be attributed to the natural selection of alternative groups of individuals and that the natural selection of alternative alleles within populations will be opposed to this development… A group in this discussion should be understood to mean something other than a family and to be composed of individuals that need not be closely related’ (Adaptation and Natural Selection, 1966, p.92) If people insist on using the term ‘group selection’ for cases where individual selection within the group is favourable, or at least neutral, towards the trait in question, then I think they should at least use some additional qualifying term. I suggest that it should be called Trivial Group Selection, by analogy with mathematical usage, where problems often have ‘trivial’ solutions for some values of the variables. For example, the equation in Fermat’s Last Theorem has solutions for x = y = z = 0, but Andrew Wiles would have won no prizes for pointing this out.]

Beginning with some points of methodology:

1. By their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7: 20). In assessing any scientific theory we should ask whether it has proved fruitful. In Imre Lakatos’s terms, is it a progressive research programme? Is it generating testable empirical hypotheses and predictions, and if so, are they turning out successfully? Modern group selection theories have been under discussion for over 30 years now, but apart from M J Wade’s experiments on flour beetles (which present the most favourable circumstances for group selection) they seem to have generated little in the way of empirical data. If we look back further in time, group selectionism of the old kind was not only unfruitful but an obstacle to the progress of evolutionary theory. As John Maynard Smith said some years ago in a critique of Elliott Sober, until the 1960s ‘biology was riddled with “good-of-the species” thinking. Again and again, one met in the literature explanations of some trait… in terms of the benefit that the trait conferred on the species, or even on the ecosystem as a whole. It was clear to me, as it must have been clear to George Williams, that no progress would be made toward understanding the evolution of such traits until this kind of thinking was ended… If Sober’s way of describing the world is taken seriously, it will again cease to be obvious, and someone (not me, next time) will have the job to do over again’ (ref.1).

2. Theories are not to be multiplied without necessity. Since we clearly do need selection at individual level, it would be more parsimonious if we can also use it to explain the phenomena (such as ‘altruistic punishment’) for which group-selectionist hypotheses are being offered. We should look carefully for individual-selection solutions, such as inclusive fitness or game theory, before resorting to group selection.

3. Models of group selection are more complex than those of ordinary selection, because they have to incorporate at least two levels of selection and the interactions between them. They also tend to involve unfamiliar concepts and terminology. The objection to this is not just the effort involved in learning and applying any complex new theory, but the difficulty of interpreting the results. For an example see here.

4. Much of the argument about levels of selection has been about words rather than facts. The term ‘group selection’ by itself can cover many quite different phenomena. In considering any proposed application of group selection to some trait, we need to ask:

- is the trait cultural or genetic?
- is it a trait of a group or of individuals?
- is differential reproduction occurring at the level of the group (e.g. by group extinction or multiplication) or at the level of individuals?
- if a trait of individuals varies in frequency between different groups, how does the variance in frequency arise, and how is it maintained in the face of migration and interbreeding?
- is the trait selected by virtue of its own effects on the fitness of groups or individuals, or as a by-product of other properties?

To illustrate the last point, it is obvious that some human cultural traits have spread because they happen to be linked to successful political entities, the success of which has little or nothing to do with the traits in question. For example, the English language is widely spoken throughout the world, while Italian is not, but no-one will suppose that this has much to do with the intrinsic merits of English compared to Italian. Some authors distinguish between ‘selection’ and ‘sorting’ of traits, where ‘sorting’ does not imply any intrinsic fitness advantage of the trait concerned. In these terms English has spread through sorting but not selection. There is no doubt that ‘sorting’ in this sense does occur, but it is not very interesting, and we don’t need any elaborate theory to explain it. It is not what the group selection controversy is about.

Depending on the answers give to the questions above, many different versions of group selection can be proposed, some of which are more plausible than others. Watch out for the old ‘bait-and-switch tactic’. Also watch out for the use of the label ‘group selection’ for phenomena that would not be generally recognised as group selection at all. Notably, if a trait is selected by virtue of its fitness effects within local concentrations of genetically related individuals, many would call this kin selection rather than group selection.

Moving on to objections of substance, it is difficult to generalise because different objections apply to different versions of group selection:

5. In the older theories of group selection, differential reproduction was usually defined in terms of the extinction or multiplication of groups as a whole. The main difficulty with this is that a group would normally have a ‘generation time’ much longer than that of individual organisms. If the groups contain genetically diverse individuals, the traits favoured by individual selection would therefore (other things being equal) increase in frequency more quickly than those favoured by group selection. In order for group selection to prevail, the groups have to be very pure to begin with, mutation and migration rates have to be low, and/or the group selection effect per ‘generation’ has to be strong compared with individual selection. If we are dealing with human evolution, there is also the problem that there just may not have been enough time for extinction or multiplication of groups to have had much effect. Cultural evolution in particular often occurs within a group ‘lifetime’, so it is very difficult to see how group selection of this kind could explain it.

6. In the newer theories of group selection (from about 1975 onwards), the selective process usually depends on the differential reproduction of individuals rather than groups. In these theories groups as such do not ‘die’ or ‘give birth’, but individuals vary in fitness according to the frequency of certain traits within groups. The ‘group selection’ effect therefore depends on covariance between fitness and frequency of the trait within groups. Price’s Equation, which I discussed here, provides a framework within this can be analysed. The difficulty for group selectionists is to explain how sufficient covariance is maintained despite migration and mixing of groups. Generally speaking, models of this kind only work if groups are small and fairly isolated. It then becomes difficult to distinguish group selection from kin selection, since the members of the group will often be related to each other.

7. Group selection is complicated. Cultural evolution is also complicated. When people try to combine the two in ‘cultural evolution by group selection’ I despair. I commented at length on the difficulties here, over 2 years ago. I wouldn’t still agree with all the details, but I don’t see any reason to change the general thrust. There are just too many differences between genetic and cultural evolution for the analogy to be useful. And one of the few actual examples of cultural group selection that is ever used by the Groupies - the Nuer Conquest - turns out on investigation to be much weaker than they claim.

8. As far as I recall, I have never seen a model of group selection that deals with the selection of more than one trait at a time. This is a problem even for selection on individuals. In a classic 1957 paper on the ‘cost of natural selection’ J B S Haldane estimated the number of ‘selective deaths’ (or failures to reproduce) that would be necessary in order for a rare advantageous gene to spread to fixation, and concluded that with plausible levels of advantage it would take about 300 generations per locus. If many loci were under selection simultaneously the process would take much longer. Later geneticists argued that Haldane’s assumptions were oversimplified, and that with more complex (but biologically reasonable) assumptions about the mode of selection it would be possible for a larger number of genes to be fixed more quickly (see e.g. refs. 2 and 3). But the problem is more severe for group selection because most models require the effect of a trait on group fitness to be large, in order to overcome countervailing individual selection. If a group has more than a few favourable traits under selection simultaneously, the combined effect on fitness could be unfeasibly large. There is also the difference that in individual selection a species will typically contain millions of individuals, much more than the number of loci under selection (which cannot be more than the number in the species genome). In contrast, with group selection the number of traits (cultural or genetic) under selection may be of the same order of magnitude as the number of competing groups (probably no more than a few hundred in the same geographical area). This poses additional problems for the ‘cost of selection’. I don’t know if the problems are insuperable, but my guess is that group selection can only effectively promote a few traits at a time.

It is still conceivable that group selection might account for one or a few particularly important human traits, such as language, social conformism, or collective punishment, which would then have a multitude of secondary effects by creating new conditions for evolution by individual and kin selection. But I hope we can do without it, and the onus of proof is on those who say we cannot.


Ref. 1: John Maynard Smith, ‘Reply to Sober’, in The Latest on the Best: Essays on optimality and evolution, ed. John Dupré, 1897.
Ref. 2: John Maynard Smith, ‘ “Haldane’s Dilemma” and the rate of evolution’, Nature, 1968, 219, 1114-1116.
Ref. 3: P. O’Donald, ‘ “Haldane’s Dilemma” and the rate of natural selection’, Nature, 1969, 221, 815-7.

Posted by David B at 06:41 AM | | TrackBack

May 31, 2005



Buller, part II

Chris of Mixing Memory has an extremely in depth critique of David J. Buller's Adapting Minds. He isn't impressed with Buller's command of the literature in cognitive science. Also, here is a paper by Buller that summarizes his main points.

Posted by razib at 08:52 PM | | TrackBack


A Feast for Crows is done!

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is sort of finished. Better than nothing. I was worried he'd have a heart attack....

Via Science Fiction GNXP.

Posted by razib at 10:41 AM | | TrackBack

May 30, 2005



Man didn't kill off mega-marsupials (perhaps)

New research suggests that Australian mega-fauna were not killed off by the arrival of human beings ~50 K B.P., rather, climate change was the culprit. I think the problem with the way these sort of studies are presented is that there is the assumption that there needs to be a silver bullet which "explains" a given phenomenon. Clearly, after tens of thousands of years of "coexistence" humans were to some extent part of the environment of these marsupials, so their extinction might simply have been the outcome of the intersection of climate and H. sapiens facility at expanding into new niches and blocking the "bounce back" of mega-fauna. Evolution is as much (if not more), as highlighted by the "Red Queen Hypothesis," a matter of coevolution between life forms as response to environmental stimuli. Additionally, man can reshape the environment, adding another confounding variable into the model. In other words, climate change might have been a necessary condition for mega-faunal extinction, but it was not sufficient.

Posted by razib at 08:21 PM | | TrackBack


The hardening of belief

Randall Parker has an excellent post up titled "Infanticide And The Affordabilitty Of Religious Taboos," where he follows up a post where I wonder about the various levels of truth when examining the human past. Randall opines that "Coexisting believers in rival religions will have lives more similar to each other than their religious texts would lead you to expect if they are very poor. But as their living standards rise they will be able to afford to more accurately live according to their doctrinal beliefs and hence forgotten practices for each religion will be dusted off and increasingly obeyed." On the face of it there is a lot of truth in this assessment.

I have kept an eye on Indonesia for many years and read a fair amount of anthropology and social history, and my reading suggests to me that it is more often the urban and literate Javanese who are likely to be santri, that is, religiously orthodox in the traditional Islamic fashion. But there is another layer to the puzzle as well: non-orthodox Islam is far stronger in Java than in outer islands like Sulwasi or Sumatra. Why? There are two reasons: some areas, like Aceh, were Islamicized very early on, while other regions, like Sulwasi had no robust native literate culture. In Java the indigenous cultural tradition has spawned a system of mysticism and historical memory that has been able to hold off the exclusive dominion of Islam in the lives of the Javanese. The pre-Islamic Buddhist-Hindu-Javanese traditions were powerful enough that many rural folk abandoned Islam for Balinese Hinduism after the tumult of the 1960s. The Indonesian government has only a few recognized religions, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) and Buddhism, and so many individuals who might not feel wholly comfortable in any of these traditions nevertheless must choose. Those Javanese who remain attached to their Islamic heritage (the vast majority) have slowly been transitioning to santri practice (there is a positive correlation between being santri and a high socioeconomic status). This process of "orthodoxization" seems to be rather inevitable. It is similar to what happened in the Indian subcontinent, as the indigenous Muslims reformed their religion to be more in keeping with pan-Islamic forms in the 19th century and purged their rituals and celebrations of any Hindu "taint." Westerners who bemoan the decline of tolerant Javanese Islam in the face of santri piety, or harken back to an age when Hindu and Muslim peasants celebrated festivals together, must reflect that the changes they see in peasant societies that are industrializing and entering modernity are simply an echo of the progress of the West.

One thing though that I think is also true about the hardening of orthodoxies that come with literacy and modernity: there is also a breaking of the orthodoxy and thousands of charismatic individuals because foci of sects and catalysts for schisms between various groups of True Believers. Only the fiat of the state can keep a lid on this process in places like Saudi Arabia.

Posted by razib at 02:59 PM | | TrackBack


Misunde'stood!

In The Eclipse of Darwinism historian of science Peter J. Bowler chronicles the period in the first few decades of the 20th century when the Darwinian theory of evolution (that is, rooted in natural selection acting upon heritable variation) was out of favor with most biologists. To some extent this falsifies the contention that "Darwinians"1 are an all-powerful orthodoxy who can stifle dissent, but one tidbit that I found interesting that I thought I'd pass along: on page 18 Bowler asserts that Herbert Spencer's conception of the process of evolution was Neo-Lamarckian, not Darwinian.

1 - I personally think that biology is complex and advanced enough to move beyond "schools" of thought. Molecular evolution in particular has changed things so much that pre-1950 terminology does not capture the complexity of the field(s).

Posted by razib at 02:09 PM | | TrackBack

May 29, 2005



Miss Universe happens today....

Miss Universe will be selected today. If any of you watch TV and if they are showing it live....

Update: Canada wins! Hey?

Posted by razib at 10:45 PM | | TrackBack


Note on comments

Experimenting with phpBB and I managed a small hack which integrates each post with a comment entry on the board. I am thinking of switching over from Haloscan in the next day or two. This would mean people would have to register to post comments. I haven't tested the hack so I don't know if messes up phpBB too much, we'll see.

Posted by razib at 02:46 PM | | TrackBack