Friday, March 31, 2006
Jane Galt comments on the immigration debate and is convinced by the argument put forth by Bryan Caplan:
When I read this analysis I couldn't help but think that Jane and Bryan are backing the Paul Erlich position in the Erlich-Simon Bet while those who favor rational immigration are backing the Julian Simon side. Now what's odd here is that Erlich, the biologist, lost the bet against Simon, the economist, because he didn't account for the role of technology and now we have two economics bloggers endorsing an analysis which also takes no account of the substitution effect of technology for unskilled labor.
Galt and Caplan are arguing that comparative advantage of offering a lifetime subsidy of $89,000 per unskilled immigrant without a high school education will free up labor to more productive uses and that the subsidy for unskilled labor is preferred to the technological substitution that we see in Japan with the rise of robots substituting for unskilled labor.
Another point that they neglect to consider in opposing what they call "Eugenic Immigration" are the externalities associated with importing and subsidizing unskilled immigration. Randall Parker goes into some of those externalities in this post.
Seeing how they're mooting the question of Eugenic Immigration let me offer another proposition - by opposing an immigration policy Galt and Caplan set up a dynamic to enhance dysgenic trends because the US, with a mean IQ of 100, has the misfortune to be flooded with illegal immigrants with a mean IQ of 90. China, on the other hand, has a substantially homogeneous population with a mean IQ of 105, and they're already instituting neo-eugenic policies. The rise of China is an issue that is already on the rader screens of our economic analysts - now let them factor divergent IQ trends into the mix in order to get a better picture of how the future plays out.
What I don't understand is how the net present value of a taxpayer subsidy of almost $1.1 trillion for the 12 million illegals in our midst compares favorably to the labor substitution effect and the economic activity that is generated from the development, manufacture and maintenance of a robotic infrastructure and how supporting a dysgenic trend in an era of lowered social mobility can be considered a winning bet. Robert Samuelson sees the storm clouds on the horizon:
And so does Paul Krugman: (discussed here)
Further, our two econo-bloggers ignore the decline in worker/population ratio from 2000 to 2005: (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
White Men: 74.9% to 73.5%
White Women: 58.5% to 57.4%
White Teens: 50.1% to 40.7%
Black Men: 68.4% to 65.2%
Black Women: 61.7% to 59.2%
Black Teens: 31.2% tp 25.3%
and the concomitant rise (20% in 4 years) in Social Security Disability Income recipients from 6,000,000 in 2000 to 7,200,000 in 2004. A good many of these recipients are discouraged workers looking for more reliable incomes than can be found competing against wage depressing illegals.
I just don't see how the analysis works to the favor of the Galt-Caplan position, be it an economic or eugenic frame of reference. I wonder if they've read Amy Chua's World on Fire for they seem to be drawing out the long-run blueprint to a US version of a market dominant minority.
See this report for more on discouraged workers.
Update: Randall Parker has more on this topic.
I just found the useful Freethought Multimedia website, which collects and archives the Internet audio/visual leavings of Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, and a few related intellectuals. Courtesy of their Pinker section we get the video of Pinker's January talk at the Institute for Jewish Research on the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending paper.
OK...so my notice earlier was an early April fools "joke." Anyway, I apologize to Ron Edgar of the Gene Expression Omnibus, as a concerned reader emailed him. I'll try to think of something more innocuous next time. I should have just made up a fake organization.
My recent post on Sexual Selection mentioned the theory that the 'hairless' skin of humans is due to sexual selection.
After writing this I thought I would check out what is known about the evolution of human body hair. One interesting result is this Royal Society paper by Pagel and Bodmer. Their theory is that hairless skin makes it easier to remove ectoparasites like fleas and ticks, and that humans' loss of body hair was first favoured by natural selection for this reason, then reinforced by sexual selection. [Added: this was a free pdf when I got it a week or two ago, but may now require subscription. For those who want to track it down in a library, the reference is 'A naked ape would have fewer parasites', by Mark Pagel and Walter Bodmer, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (B) (Suppl.), 270, 2003, pp.S117-119. Or you may still be able to Google up a freebie. Try searching Google Scholar for key words 'Pagel Bodmer naked ape'. When I tried this just now it still gave free access to the full text.]
As P & B recognise, it isn't clear whether the advantage of removing crawling parasites like ticks would be offset by an increase in attacks by mosquitoes and other flying pests. Another obvious question is why, if hairless skin makes it easier to remove parasites, man is the only primate to have lost his body hair. Other primates certainly spend a lot of time grooming themselves and each other to remove fleas and ticks. P & B suggest that the loss of body hair was related to the invention of fire and clothing, which would have enabled humans (unlike other primates) to regulate the surrounding temperature. The selective advantage of removing parasites more easily would then not be constrained by the need to retain body hair for warmth at night.
Like many hypotheses in human evolution, this one seems vulnerable to the criticism of being a 'Just So Story'. It is attractive, but difficult to prove one way or the other. And the link between the loss of body hair and the use of clothing becomes less plausible when one remembers that most modern hunter-gatherers in tropical countries (Australian aborigines, Bushmen, various pygmies), who are presumably the best model for our out-of-Africa ancestors, traditionally wore little or no clothing. The aborigines are noted for their ability to sleep naked on cold nights.
I think that any successful theory for the loss of body hair will need to look more closely at the physiology and genetics of human hair development. Humans are not really hairless at all, but have dense hair everywhere except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The appearance of hairlessness depends on the length and fineness of the hair, which is under complex hormonal control in different parts of the body and at different stages of the life cycle. And then there is the puzzle of lanugo, the long hair which grows all over the human fetus but disappears before or shortly after birth. Explain that by sexual selection! [Added: Wikipedia has this to say about lanugo: "Lanugo are hairs that grow on the body to attempt to insulate it because of lack of fat. It is a type of pelage. It occurs on fetuses and it is normal for the unborn baby to consume the hair, which then contributes to the newborn baby's first faeces. Lanugo hair is usually shed and replaced by vellus hair at 36-40 weeks gestation. The presence of lanugo in newborns is a sign of premature birth. It is also a common symptom of serious anorexia nervosa, as the body attempts to insulate itself as body fat is lost." The 'insulation' theory sounds to me like pure guesswork: a fetus in the womb doesn't need insulation! I suppose the anorexia point might appear to support it, until one reflects that there is unlikely to be an evolved response to anorexia: in pre-modern conditions, anyone who got that thin would be doomed.]
Economist Evelyn L. Lehrer states in The New York Times:
You can read a more detailed paper at Lehrer's website. Nothing too weird, and we shouldn't read much into it as there are all sorts of variables that influence the type of person who marries outside their own religion/ethnic group...but, I am struck that most of the marital dissonance between Protestants and Jews also seems to crop up between Catholics and Jew. Genetically it seems clear that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism form a clade with multiple shared derived characters when compared to the outgroup of Judaism, but sociologically in the Catholic-Protestant-Jew trichotomy it is the Protestants that have been the odd ones out in relation to the two white "ethnic"religious groupings. In fact the Jewish and Catholic elites were both united against the WASP establishment until 1950. The diminution of the more crass forms of nativism and a more abstract and intellectual critique of Roman Catholicism non-religious Jews could agree with, and, the subsequent rise of "cultural issues" shattered the Catholic-Jewish alliance which crested during the second heyday of the Klu Klux Klan.
But the bigger point might be that the nature of difference is less important than the difference in the first place. Group identity and support which dissolves with an outmarriage might be more important than the multiple stresses introduced by pairwise differences between individuals, as it seems that least ideologically Catholics and Protestants should share more because of their common Christianity.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
We've talked about the French birthrate before, so here is a story out on that topic. Note that France has Europe's second highest birthrate.
To obviate the questions of algebraically challenged readers (lovers of the qualitative query that some of you are),
1.9 = ((white French)/(total)) * fertility + ((non-white French)/(total)) * fertility
If you assume that 20% of French women who might have children are non-white (erring on the high side), and you assume that the white French fertility is 1.5, you'd get 3.5 for the non-whites. Just plug and chug possibilities. I don't know the French language literature but my minimal knowledge of Europeans informs me that it is far less strange for French women to have multiple children than it is for Italians (as a contrast), so I don't think the high fertility can be attributable purely to non-white residents.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Moebius Stripper responds to a comment left on her blog by a student (not her student though) who wants to set Moebius straight about the grand purpose of education. Some highlights:
I really can't do justice to what Moebius Stripper has written. Go read the whole thing.
In a flashback to the IQ by state hoax, the Times has published a list of IQs by country for most, but not all, European countries. The ranking is attributed to Richard Lynn, without references.
The IQ range of 107 (Germany) to 89 (Serbia) resembles real IQ by US state data.
Razib whispers: Beware of British newspapers!!!
You want to know what John Hawks sounds like? He'll be on Radio Open Source tomorrow (there should be a web feed). I talked to David Miller about getting John on the show before he became famous in Slate, so I am going to take a little credit for this. John and Spencer Wells will be "facing off." John, can you ask Spencer to make his email address more accessible? I'm tired of people emailing me and asking about ways to contact him!
Update: John was really amused throughout the whole show. Spencer Wells asked kind of sarcastically (?) if I was "Richard Dawkins." No, I'm not, Spencer :) Thanks to Chris Lydon for giving a shout out to me at the end of the show. Also, Brendan said that both John and Spencer were on the show at my suggestion, so that's cool, I guess I'm a "scientific activist" of sorts now?
A few days ago I received an email from a reader asking me about the possibility for differentiation of populations because of the postgenomic era, eg., the use of multiple markers to achieve separability. They brought up the near disjoint character of the Duffy antigens between Europeans and Africans (ergo, its historical utility in calculating white admixture into the African American population). One thing I offered is that if a derived allele is near fixation (near 100% in group X), then it will likely be characterized by high frequencies in many other groups and one might find it more worthwhile to search for populations that remain in the ancestral state. In other words, resistence to the acquisition of beneficial alleles by particular local populations, or, more likely, their insulation because of time and space from the region of the origin of a current selective sweep, will be more common than the detection of locally stable clusters of high derived allele frequencies. My hunch is that highly beneficial alleles that emerge within a population will most likely be beneficial in other populations and deme-to-deme gene flow is a powerful force. For example, I think something like lactose tolerance is relatively common, an allele which swept through distinct and varied populations in Eurasia where cattle culture was feasible. This doesn't people separability is not possible or plausible, obviously Risch's work falsifies that manifestly, rather, I think that the pairwise comparison of nearly disjoint allele frequencies across populations is going to be a lot less interesting than the richly complex relief of gradients which will track geography and history ways we don't even understand yet.
Crooked Timber has done a web seminar on Chris Mooney's Republican War on Science
I was especially happy to see John Holbo's piece, "Mooney Minus the Polemic?", which points out the exception of science friendly libertarians and their own disdain for the liberal abuses of science:
[hypothetical libertarian soliloquy:] Liberals are the ones who are always refusing to look at the facts. Look what they did to poor Larry Summers because he tried to speak truth to power! They buried their heads in the sand when The Bell Curve came out! Whimpering "frankenfood." Postmodern nonsense! What the academy needs is a return to reason!
The comments thread of "The Stars and Stripes Down to Earth (posted for Daniel Davies by HF)" includes some suggestions re: a Democratic war on science along the same lines.
Overall, Chris [link to his site at ScienceBlogs] does a good job of handling the criticism.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Check it, got this note from Adam Bly of Seed:
If BusinessWeek is reading my other blog, shouldn't you be? :)
Sunday, March 26, 2006
This whole conversion story in Afghanistan has been in the news recently. The Christian Science Monitor attempts to put the issue of conversion from Islam to another religion in an international perspective. Most readers of this weblog know that I am cautious about making large generalizations without qualifications, but I will offer that as a civilization, "Dar-al-Islam," has particular issues with conversion when set against "Hindu" or "Christian" civilization. Though the difference is quantitative, not qualitative, some facts are so naked that caveats can not truly cover up the shame.
There are "Muslim" nations where conversion to other religions is socially acceptable. Albania and Indonesia are two such cases. In Albania the dereligionization of Communist period has been followed by a feeding frenzy of religious activity as Muslim and Christian groups have entered the country and turned it into a rational choice competitive marketplace of memes. I am to understand the current issue of First Things has an article by Stephen Schwartz where he notes that Muslim clerics in Albania do not begrudge conversions to Christianity (specifically, Roman Catholicism, another one of Albania's traditional religions, as evidenced by Mother Theresa). In Indonesia after the 1960s there were widespread conversions to Hinduism by Communism sympathetic nominal Muslims (whole villages sometimes converted due to animus against orthodox santri Muslim landlords and their right-wing thugs), and to this day there tends to be acceptable religious flux in this nation as Christians, Hindus and Muslims make conversions from each other's camp. In Africa there are also many conversions from Islam to Christianity, I recall Pat Robertson bragging that thousands of members of a tribe that was traditionally Muslim was converted to Christianity in Burkina Faso thanks to the activities of missionaries.
Nevertheless in wide swaths of the Muslim world standard sharia injunctions against conversion away from Islam are normative. For example, in Pakistan and Bangladesh Christian missionaries have targeted the Hindu minorities because the Muslim majority will not tolerate evangelization. The same pattern can be found in Malaysia, where Christians proslyetize amongst Buddhists, Chinese folk religionists and Hindus, but avoid the Muslims for fear of political retribution. I also recall that back in the 1990s Go Chok Tong warned Christian fundamentalists about upsetting the religious balance of the city-state in part because of anger from the Muslim Malay minority.
How to interpret this? First, one must note that horror at conversion to another religion has never been limited to Islam, one only need to look at the Hebrew Bible, or injunctions against Jews owning Christian slaves and statues against Judaizing to know that other branches of the Abrahamic family tree have been ill at ease with individual defections of creed. The long history of interaction between pagan and Christian in Europe between the 4th and 12th centuries was one of transition from the former to the latter, in large part because reversion from the latter to the former was rarely accepted. Within bounds Christians still are not especially comfortable with conversion away from their own flock, the "anti-cult" movements on the fundamentalist fringe of American Christianity are often focused on critiquing New Religious Movements which are perceived as a missionary threat bent on "stealing" their youth (in the course of being instruments of Satan of course). In The Future of Religion Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge report data which shows that Americans who are most supportive of the Great Commission are also the least favorable toward allowing non-Christian missionaries to freely operate within the United States (Seventh Day Adventists were an exception). I also recall years back when John Paul II proudly told Indians that the Catholic Church would not turn aside from its missionary program in South Asia, this, at the same time the Church was vociferously objected to the intrusion of evangelical Protestants into Latin America (Roman Catholics might fairly contend that the analogy does not work because the latter case was "sheep stealing," but of course my understanding is that Catholicism has always been a missionary religion in Protestant lands where such activity is feasible).
There are several issues here. First, intolerance and disgruntlement at defection from group identity is normal. The recent flair ups against Christian missionaries in India and the occassional "Satanism" hysteria in the United States show that it lurks under the surface in cultures where conversion is accepted and protected. I think it is to some extent an emergent property of human "groupishness," of "doing what your neighbor does." In some societies, like the United States conversion from various religions to others is common enough that the social stress is limited to an interpersonal level, community censure is simply too weak to be powerful. There are exceptions, for example I have heard of Mormons who leave the religion not being able to live a normal life in parts of southeastern Idaho because day-to-day interaction is not possible due to ostracism. But in most of the United States the intersection between religious pluralism and social mobility results in a cocktail where "church shopping" is common.
Other nations are not like this. And to some extent the United States is an aberration, the only real analogy being countries like Albania where traditional religious institutions have been totally demolished and have not had the time to recover and monopolize the social space they once held. Most nations with long histories do have "established" churches, whether via custom or law. Russia has the Orthodox Church. Sweden has the Lutheran Church. Malays are Muslim. Spaniards are Roman Catholic. Jews are, well, Jews. These are what I term "cartel cultures" where higher order religious goods & services are monopolized by one particular umbrella institution. Some of these cultures have sizable secular minorities who no longer participate in the transactions mediated by the monopoly (communal prayer, mass, etc.), but there is little competition from other umbrella institutions. In cultures like Russia the monopoly religious institution is not just a religious institution, it is an organic and necessary part of the communal culture. This inseparability means that defection from the Russian Orthodox Church toward a Protestant Christianity is far more threatening than simply lapsing in practice. This might explain the phenomenon of Jews and Muslims in Christian cultures expressing more hostility toward converts to Christianity from their own ranks as opposed to the non-religious who reject the creedal points but do not replace them with an alternative set of beliefs. Unbelief does not necessarily imply rejection of the community, but alternative beliefs do.
The cartel system has been the modus vivendi for many cultures over the past few thousand years. The millet system under the Ottomans was one of the more explicit manifestations of this, each religious leader was responsible for his own community. Elsewhere, rabbis in much of Eastern Europe became princes of their people, and where Roman Catholics were a minority they organized their own counter-cultural institutions against the Protestant majority. In The Netherlands the "pillar" system reflected the self-organization of Catholics, Protestants and the unaffiliated. Of course this system isn't etched into our cultural DNA. Small-scale peoples do not construct doctrines and institutional churches which promote and execute creeds and practices. Nevertheless, the basic tools were already in place, ostracism and other social pressures already had developed to an advanced stage to enforce group conformity and coherence. They were simple scaled up, with an extra layer of rationalistic sophistication (theology, doctrine, etc.) wielded by a specialist class (clerisy) sitting atop the system.
Where does this leave us? In regards to Islam as it is practiced and enforced in much of the Middle East and South Asia it seems that the cultural form is simply a refined expression of a common stable state. Familial, clan and ethnic honor are intertwined with religious profession in a set of interlocking contingent norms and practices with serve as cultural boundaries. In some parts of the Muslim world, in the Balkans, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia the magnitude is attenuated and there is more give and take with other cultural communities. Similarly, in India and and in much of Europe conversion from one religion to another is legal, but subject to social costs and strain. In the United States and South Korea and in parts of Africa conversion is so common, and switching so ubiquitous, and the pace of economic and social development so rapid, that the normal modus vivendi has been overturned and religion has become, to some extent, McChurch. It has been torn away from custom and tradition and stability of generations, and into more ad hoc fluid organizations which serve individualized needs and preferences.
This is important because to some extent in international contexts there seems to be tendency to frame the debate as if the religiously fluid situation in the United States is the norm throughout the world, or that it should be. George W. Bush is a Methodist, his father is an Episcopalian, while his brother converted to Roman Catholicism. Karl Rove is not religious. Marvin Olasky, the father of "compassionate conservatism," is a convert to evangelical Christianity from Judaism. The point is that George W. Bush's experience has primed to see conversion as only a personal choice, when in most of the world it is a profoundly transgressive act that is a rebuke to kith and kin. The recent problems caused by South Korean Christian missionaries in Iraq also point to the same mentality, taking for granted religious conversion as a normal part of life when it isn't. Some of the Christian Churches of the Middle East have a nearly 2,000 year old history, so they are particularly affronted when evangelicals from the United States attempt to "convert" their youth.
Myself, I think the instability of the new world is a byproduct of radical individualism. I like this, I enjoy the choice that volition it introduces into the self-creation of individuals. But, I do not think that its future ascendence is going to be without bumps and rocky patches. And, I don't think it is "normal" in any straightforward sense of the word, humans are a social animal, and the customs and traditions of almost all traditions rebels against the radical choice which enslaves the culture to the whim of the individual.
I need an estimate of the fraction of selected variants that involve an amino acid change, as opposed to noncoding changes in promoters and enhancers and such. Something for mammals would do. Can anyone find one?
Seems like a Jersey principal was instructed to cheat on state tests.
Good thing the cheater was caught, so that this thing won't ever happen again.
ADDENDUM: From the Wikipedia article on Camden:
La Griffe has a nifty solution all ready to go for just this kind of situation.
Nothing big enough for its own post, just a bunch of things that caught my attention:
PLoS Genetics: AVPR1a and SLC6A4 Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance
We therefore hypothesize that the association between AVPR1a and SLC6A4 reflects the social communication, courtship, and spiritual facets of the dancing phenotype rather than other aspects of this complex phenotype, such as sensorimotor integration.
PLoS Medicine: Are Racial and Ethnic Minorities Less Willing to Participate in Health Research? Nope.
TSC: The Stone Age Trinity wherein a libertarian realizes that humans have an egalitarian instincts which will get in the way of a libertarian society.
TNR: Blue State Blues -- Criticizing "red state snobbery", Jonathan Chait writes "I wonder if Wolfe and his fellow travelers realize how much their mau-mauing of blue staters is, well, Maoist." -- Ironic new meaning of "Red state".
Saturday, March 25, 2006
A paper in PLoS Genetics, Assumption-Free Estimation of Heritability from Genome-Wide Identity-by-Descent Sharing between Full Siblings, describes a way to determine heritability using actual genotypes in leiu of estimated kinship coefficients.
From the synopsis:
Quantitative geneticists attempt to understand variation between individuals within a population for traits such as height in humans and the number of bristles in fruit flies. This has been traditionally done by partitioning the variation in underlying sources due to genetic and environmental factors, using the observed amount of variation between and within families. A problem with this approach is that one can never be sure that the estimates are correct, because nature and nurture can be confounded without one knowing it. The authors got around this problem by comparing the similarity between relatives as a function of the exact proportion of genes that they have in common, looking only within families.
While children inherit more or less exactly half of their genomes from each parent (and thus -- usually -- have a coefficient of kinship of 1/2) due to the mechanism of two hapolid genomes combining at feritilization, for full siblings the actual coefficient is merely distributed around a mean of about 1/2. Due to chance segregation, some siblings have an actual relatedness which is greater than 1/2 and others less than 1/2. Here's the actual distribution of relatedness that they measure:
The rest of the synopsis:
Using this approach, the authors estimated the amount of total variation for height in humans that is due to genetic factors from 3,375 sibling pairs. For each pair, the authors estimated the proportion of genes that they share from DNA markers. It was found that about 80% of the total variation can be explained by genetic factors, close to results that are obtained from classical studies. This study provides the first validation of an estimate of genetic variation by using a source of information that is free from natureâ€“nurture assumptions.
They get a h^2 of 0.8. My reading of there paper is that this may be an underestimate:
We have ignored the contribution of the sex chromosomes to genome-wide IBD. In humans, the X chromosome accounts for 4% of genes and 5% of physical length . If all chromosomes account for genetic variation in proportion to the number of genes or physical length, then our estimate of heritability will be biased downwards by about 4% to 5%.
This is a very important paper for several reasons. First, it should permit the verification of heritability coefficients for phenotypes like IQ where there has been some dispute. Second, it will permit the estimation of heritability in tandem with mapping projects that have sibs. I imagine there are already suitable datasets out there waiting to be mined.
Some horses are fast, and some horses are Secretariat. After the great horse's death an autopsy revealed that his heart was about three times as big as it should have been, certainly a prescription for early mortality. The greatest racer of them all seems likely to have been a biological freak, where some developmental or genetic quirk allowed him to pound away with a macro-heart. None of Secretariat's offspring replicated his magnificence. This makes sense, a classic case of regression to the mean. If one assumes that Secretariat's massive but healthy heart was the byproduct of an exceedingly rare combination of beneficial genes, then sexual reproduction will likely break apart such favorable variations.
But there could be other reasons that Secretariat's offsprings weren't quite what he was, circulatory physiology aside. A new study has just come out which concludes that mitochondrial genetics might play a crucial role in the respiratory performance of a horse.
Mitochondria are of course only passed through the female line, so none of Secretariat's offspring would have had his particular respiratory engine. You can read the full paper on the site of the company that is sponsoring this research. I can't help but wonder if some Arab sheikh knew this all along....
CNN has a short feature on the "Muslim Madonna," Deeyah, you can see the video here.
Addendum: There is a controversy about the veracity of this young woman's claims. Prior facts are important here in judging the likelihood of various scenarios. My own view is that this is self-promotion leveraging upon some real background issues.
Friday, March 24, 2006
The fallacy of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" is one of the truisms of our age. I am trying to think of a nice way to get across another idea, that phylogeny does not necessarily imply morphology (or phenotype). In other words, this is the inverse of convergent evolution, where phylogenetically distant kinds exhibit similar morphology because of canalization via the same selective forces in concert with structural constraints. Here I am speaking toward cases where phylogenetically close organisms seem to exhibit extremely differentiated morphologies. Consider the relationship between chimpanzees, humans and gorillas. One line of phylogenetic research implies that gorillas are an "outgroup" to the chimpanzee-human clade, but, to the homocentric mind it seems that our own species exhibits a range of morphological features which set us apart as particularly distinct from our anthropoid cousins. In other words, morphologically one could argue that chimpanzees and gorillas form a phenetic clade,1 while chimpanzees and humans form a phylogenetic clade.
Most long time readers of GNXP know the "back story" to this post. 3 years ago I posted an email from Henry Harpending where he offered that in some cases some human populations exhibit greater phylogenetic similarity (neutral loci) than one would suspect based on physical inspection (due to differences in the adaptive/functional loci). In a broader context it is part of my evolution toward a perspective on species concepts which resembles that of botanists, species are nominal notions we use to verbally indicate clusters of alleles and particular densities in genetic parameter space as opposed to something real. Over the next few years I suspect that the postgenomic revolution via the HapMap and more widespread sequencing will make clear to many individuals that the focus on uniparental lineages over the past 15 years (NRY and mtDNA studies) has only illuminated half the story, and that the tale told by functional alleles is not necessarily going to be concordant. Additionally, I also believe that we are on the cusp of the age of morphological rengineering, when the very perception of "biological kinds" will be subborned by biotechnology, cybernetic augmentation and cosmetic resculpting.
But none of this means that pithy phraseology will go the way of the dodo. I am not satisfied with the phrase "phylogeny does not imply morphology" because "morphology" seems too narrow. On the other hand, phenotype seems clunkly. Any suggestions?
1 - I am well aware that this perception is sensitive to the choice of characters.
Although the scientific community has been dismissive of the threat of juvenile neurological disease posed by thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines), the theory linking mercury to autism has persisted in the popular mind. The US is in the middle of a vast--if late and unwilling--experiment in reducing thimerosal use, and the results are beginning to trickle in.
The latest issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (Spring 2006) documents "Early Downward Trends in Neurodevelopmental Disorders Following Removal of Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines" [PDF]:
A two-phase study was undertaken to evaluate trends in diagnosis of new NDs entered into the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS) databases on a reporting quarter basis, from 1994 through 2005. Significant increasing trends in newly diagnosed NDs were observed in both databases 1994 through mid-2002. Significant decreasing trends in newly diagnosed NDs were observed in both databases from mid-2002 through 2005. The results indicate that the trends in newly diagnosed NDs correspond directly to the expansion and subsequent contraction of the cumulative mercury dose to which children were exposed from TCVs through the U.S. immunization schedule.
If the trend continues downward, the tragedy of autism won't quite be over. It will only get harder to develop and distribute vaccines, and virtually impossible to convince the public that they're safe.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
This is kind of funny. I liked the definition of Molecular Ecologists especially. John Hawks' post on genomics is also of interest.
I've received several emails about this study, Atheists identified as America's most distrusted minority. This shouldn't surprise too many people, but I think some perspective is in order. I think the results are probably accurate, but, I also think that the belief is wide but shallow.
I went to high school in an area that was about 75% Republican and half Mormon. One time during our American Government class the teacher, Mr. Nelson, was giving a talk about the First Amendment, and he stated that in the United States you could believe in any God you wanted to, or no God at all. This last assertion seemed to quiet the class, and some people asked what he meant, and he responded, "Well, you can be an atheist." As it turned out, there were three atheists in the class, myself and two female friends of mine. We were chuckling in the corner, and Mr. Nelson knew our lack of beliefs and he smiled at us. Later, after class, he came up to me. He looked left and right, and whispered, "I go to church because my wife makes me, I don't believe in Jesus or anything like that." He smiled and walked off.
So there was some "in the closet" behavior, but the reality was that most people accepted my lack of belief for what it was. The survey above suggests that people distrust atheists more than they distrust homosexuals or Muslims, and I think such opinions are sincere, but they are opinions offered in a vacuum of facts or experience. Atheists are such a small and invisible minority in the United States, we only make it into the public eye via the occassional broadside from Richard Dawkins or the spectacle of Michael Newdow. We don't exist as real human beings for most Americans. In contrast, gays have Will & Grace and Ellen and George W. Bush has been talking about how Islam is a religion of peace since a number of Muslims were instrumental in the killing of 3,000 Americans.
In my high school I would probably have been in some physical danger if I was an out of the closet homosexual. I wasn't at all quiet as an atheist, and I think that suggests that the antipathy was not as deep against my lack of belief as it would have been against a non-heterosexual preference. If I walked around school with a skullcap and "traditional" Muslim dress I think I also would have been on the receiving end of more deep hostility than I was as a cheerful heathen who blended in. When it comes to homosexuality and Muslims people know what they should think and say. When it comes to atheists schemas kick in that are somewhat abstract and not particularly informed by reality, and so they offer you opinions about imagined evil-atheists who are godless communists or amoral Satan worshippers (some of my fundamentalist friends were genuinely surprised I wasn't a communist who worshipped Satan).
Of course some atheists do feel persecuted, but I think often (though not always) this is a function of individual personality, and they are attributing their failings or problems interacting with other human beings to specific differences which are only shallow indicators. Perceptions of racial, religious or sexual discrimination often fall into the same category, unpleasant or socially inept individuals may often attribute their lack of success and acceptance to characteristics which others have an unfounded bias against, as opposed to being unfortunately endowed when it comes to social graces or competence. Atheists, being between 1-5% of the American population, are probably selection biased from a skewed segment of the population as a whole and so may often fit in in a strange fashion (we are likely to be male for example, and I think we are nonconformists by the nature of our beliefs being so deviant from the norm). There is probably confirmation bias when people see godless oddballs, and ignore the fact that people like the great hitter Ted Williams were atheists. Some people still perceive all atheists to be Leftists, when Ayn Rand was an atheist. Or consider, Michael Shermer, the agnostic editor of The Skeptic who is a libertarian.
So to all the godless out there, I say represent! This is the only life you have, or at least so we assume.
Addendum: Please note, I have known about these negative feelings toward "atheists" for a long time, it is common knowledge in the freethought community (polls show that people don't want atheists teaching in public schools, etc.). I put "atheists" in quotes because I think the issue is in part people don't like their idea of what atheists are, not real atheists (most people know few of these, aside from what they see on the news). I have also come out and said right here that I don't believe these feelings are really that deep...but, they are useful to me personally because it is a nice cudgel to use against those who might accuse me of "Islamophobia," after all, I am (by this survey and common polls) a member of a minority even more hated than Muslims. I have "moral authority," so to speak, though I don't think I should. As I said above, I don't really think that atheists are more disliked than Muslims, and nor do I think that atheists are really more disliked than homosexuals. This is simply part of the fakery that is part & parcel of the human mind and the norms that constrain and scaffold our society. You know the lay of the land, what route you choose to take scale the mountains of your choice are up to you. So you know and I know that the river isn't deep, but if you want to impress people with your swimming skills it might not hurt to pretend that it is.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Common loss-of-function variants of the epidermal barrier protein filaggrin are a major predisposing factor for atopic dermatitis:
This hits close to home, asthma and eczema both run in my family (atopic dermatitis). Now, why would a loss-of-function genetic variation exist at such a high frequency? One could posit that functional constraint was removed...but I can tell you from personal experiences that neither asthma nor eczema are "neutral." Of course, in the pre-modern world the environmental factors which result in the expression of both phenotypes might not have been present....
Poll on whether you have asthma or eczema in your "family" (defined as out to 1st cousins and up to grandparents):
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Attractive birds won't catch the flu. Just a reminder that sexual selection and beauty signalling health isn't an illusion....
Update: Here's the link to the paper. Shout out to Lukas.
As my previous posts should have made clear the biggest short term problem caused by inbreeding is that deleterious alleles will be "unmasked" in their homozygous state. The individuals in question don't necessarily have a greater proportion of deleterious alleles in regard to their genome content, but, there is likely to be less complementation. So, this paper, Quantification of Homozygosity in Consanguineous Individuals with Autosomal Recessive Disease:
Please note these researchers are British, and and Britain has a serious problem with inbreeding and their Muslim population.
Rob Skipper has a post where he cooks up a different concoction of natural selection, and John Hawks responds, to which Skipper answers with his own rejoinder. It is well worth reading and pondering all of it. The seed from which the exchange grew isn't that interesting to me, the definition of natural selection. My own view is more expansive than Skipper's, and frankly, perhaps even more than John's since I suspect I try and slot a lot of culturally mediated selection into the umbrella of "nature." But I think ruminations of this sort can be fruitful in allowing us to grapple and dance with the basic fundamental concepts of evolutionary and population genetics. Semantics are tiresome, and yet they are necessary for any genuine discussion (see the persistent confusion over the term "heritability" even on this weblog). This is especially true in a partly a priori discipline rooted in theory and deduction from particular premises. In a fashion evolutionary biology in its more abstract waters is like Talmudic study, we must wrestle and ponder the concepts with deep respect and genuine reverence, because in the reifications lay the ultimate answers to the engine of life's diversity.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I listened to "The Demographics of Liberalism" on NPR, and noted a striking similarity between Phillip Longman's conclusions and those of Steve Sailer's Baby Gap research.
More from Longman in USA Today.
The main difference between Sailer and Longman appears to be their audiences.
While you're chewing on that, I wanted to pose a question: what could tax policy do to promote "eugenic" (for lack of a better word) reproductive trends? (Partial inspiration for this question.)
This article about Bedouin genetic diseases in Israel due to cousin marriages seems like clear cut pedigree collapse wreaking havoc. One of the most annoying things about people not knowing science is that a superficial understanding of a topic can be really problematic. Check out this article from Slate from a few years back:
This prediction equation needs to be kept in mind by everyone:
K = c(1 + 15q)/(c + 16q - cq)
The proportion of first cousin matings being c within the population, and q being the frequency of the recessive allele in question. Though the individual risk in a given mating from a cousin marriage might not be problematic, doubling the number of children within a population with many birth defects is problematic in an era of socialized and quasi-socialized medicine. The frequency of individuals with recessive diseases that are the result of cousin marriages is something to keep in mind when a child with a very rare but expensive-to-treat- ailment is going to be an inevitable public charge.
In the case of the bedouin above, I think this equation is salient:
Inbreeding coefficient = sum over all common ancestors[(1/2)i * (1 + FA)]2
[Interjection: to clear up any confusion, I'm referring to the inbreeding coefficient formulated by Sewall Wright. The primary issue in the context of the issue of pedigree collapse is that when we are thinking of "first cousins" we consider that they share two out of four grandparents in common because of the sibling relationship of two parents, one of each respective individual. The inbreeding coefficient is measuring the path of descent from the common ancestors and taking into account the dilution of ancestry that occurs over the path of descent. FA is important because it is the inbreeding coefficient of the common ancestor. If you have an inbred group, then many common ancestors with their own inbreeding coefficients start to "contribute" to the overall sum, far above and beyond what a calculus that projects 1-2 generations into the past would suggest. Of course if you work back far enough we are all 'inbred,' that is what races and species are, groups that tend to breed disproportionately or exclusively with their own 'kind,' but mutation adds novel noise into the system while natural selection cleans the deleterious dirt out over the generations.]
The Arab bedouin of the Negev are likely a small initial population substructured into clans who have been breeding amongst themselves. Transgenerational normative incest reduces the long term effective population and so increases the power of random geneti c drift in fixing deleterious alleles even in the face of selection. A perfect recipe for families where children born without eyes aren't that abnormal.
This is even not mentioning the likely negative impact of cousin marriage socially. Egalitarians might want to keep in mind that cousin marriage has been cross-culturally justified as a way to keep wealth concentrated in particular families (due to partible inheritance).
Related: Cousin be perty-part n.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
For all of you Futurama fans, Billy West who is the voice talent behind the characters of Philip J. Fry, Dr. John Zoidberg, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, Captain Zapp Brannigan and Richard Milhous Nixon writes that Futurama is being resurrected:
Also, news this week that Welcome Back Kotter is being re-made with Ice-Cube taking on the Kotter role and Dallas is heading for the big-screen with John Travolta taking on the J.R. Ewing role.
Matt Hogan pointed me to this Chris Roach post on the music used in al Qaeda propaganda videos. The post is worth a read and Roach links to some exemplars for those who haven't listened to any of the stuff. It got me wondering about the actual neuroscience and psychology of music. This is an area where the research is fairly thin, but there were two papers of particular interest that I found, which together hint at an interesting picture.
Peretz et al (1998) (PDF) studied a patient who sustained sequelar lesions in both of her temporal lobes, which left her unable to recognize once-familiar melodies, discriminate between musical sequences, or sing more than a single pitch, despite being able to sing well before the damage had occurred. Her other cognitive capabilities were otherwise totally unimpaired. Now here's the weird part: she claimed to still be emotionally affected by music even though she couldn't articulate why. Subsequent study bore this out: her emotional responses to music correlated very highly with those of a fully-functional control group. After controlled experiments which you can read about in the paper, Peretz et al concluded that there was a dissasociation between structural and emotional cognition in music.
This in itself isn't really surprising, but it neatly underscores the "under the hood" nature of so much of our cognition. Subtle cues can have deep effects that we're not consciously aware of.
The second paper is by Blood and Zatorre (2001) (PDF), who found using PET scans that the "shiver down the spine" effect of pleasurable pieces of music correlated with increased activity in the emotion & arousal centers, and also the reward/motivation centers of the brain. These are much the same areas that get activated for addictive drugs, and it's plausible the association of these sensations with videos glorifying terrorist attacks can can have subtle psychological effects.
Recall that per Marc Sageman (see Razib's earlier post on Sageman's book here, and overviews of Sageman's work here and here), in the vast majority of cases he studied, social bonds arose before ideological commitment. The common pattern seems to be that young disaffected men form isolated cliques, one or more of them starts taking an interest in Islamic extremism (usually through visits to extremist mosques), and draws the rest of the group in as well. This dynamic bears a resemblance to the role of social circles in the forming of drug addictions as well.
No real culminating point to all this, other than to gesture at the vague outline of what psychological role jihadi music might play in the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism.
Addendum from Razib: It seems to me that too much of the public and foreign policy discourse operates with the assumption of Rationality(Culture) = Behavior. That is, inferences based on cultural axioms are the way in which we operate. In the current conversation about Iran I am a bit disturbed at the tendency to take the rhetoric of the radical political leaders at face value, or, interpret them through our own world-views (ie., instead of positing rational inferences from the axioms, the nutsoness of a set of axioms or behaviors in the light of our own values allows us to quickly deduce that the Other is insane and inscrutable). A less gross, but nevertheless overly simple, representation might be Rationality(Mind(Culture)) = Behavior. That is, our behavior is a function of the architecture of the mind channeling culture and guided by a few basic rational principles. If you are to kill an enemy it often behooves one to invade their house and map the lay of land so you might wait in ambush. In argumentation I have found it far easier to convince individuals to take the knife and cut their own throat because their beliefs demand it rather than moving earth and sky and showing them my truth and wielding the knife myself. There is more than one leash with ties man in this world, and it is important that we manipulate all of them.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
I think that it's about time that the Woman's Movement start mooting legislation barring women from consuming alcohol. I readily admit that this is an outrageous position but considering the alternative legislation that gets advanced from feminist thinkers, such outrageous legislation might actually result in an increase in public safety and a decrease in the incidence of rape.
Back in 1991, in order to advance the Women's Movement agenda of convicting more men for the crime of rape, the Canadian Justice Minister, Kim Campbell introduced Bill C-49 in which Section 273.1 enshrined the prinicple that women who were intoxicated were incapable of giving consent to a sexual act and that a man could not use his own intoxication as an excuse for thinking that she was equally capable of granting consent. In other words, men were held to a higher standard than were women. The commentary that followed this proposed legislation was instructive:
Common sense prevailed and the feminist revisions were amended:
So, a bad idea was quashed, but that doesn't stop the bad ideas from popping up elsewhere. This is precisely what is happening in the UK. The BBC reports that there is a great concern about the low conviction rate of men charged with rape:
Hopefully reason will prevail and this proposed law will go no further. However if the law is not implemented the UK will still have to contend with a low conviction rate for the charge of rape. Clearly feminists are interested in insuring more men are held responsible for the crime of rape but they are stymied when the victims have hazy recollections, or none at all, of the alleged crime.
What we're dealing with here is the comatose distinction that the Canadian civil liberties critics raised in their objections. There are two ways for feminists to arrive at their preferred endstate of increased rape convictions:
1.) Create a double standard in the law which treats women as incapable of granting consent while intoxicated, and therefore any sexual act with a woman who is intoxicated is de facto rape. The problem is that a number of men will be convicted as rapists simply because they, while also intoxicated, took a woman's consent to be freely given.
2.) Lessen the frequency of women being in an intoxicated state and incapable of giving consent. If paternalism is to rule the day and women are to be held to a lessened standard then by eliminating the very situation of women being intoxicated during the sex act the incidence of rape, and the accusation of rape, will decrease. Therefore, the rapes that do find their way to criminal trail will likely see a higher conviction rate.
You see, the problem with paternalistic laws is that, at their core, they are insulting to the dignity of people.
I came across this sexual assault court case and thought it would make for an interesting post. Here are the established facts:
In conferring judgement Justice Kennedy notes:
Justice Kennedy imposed the following sentence:
Interesting as this case is, it's not the end of the story. Years later, Watson confessed to police that she and Mrs Ibbs conspired to have Ibbs charged with sexual assault so as to get him out of the house. In 1997 they served seven months in jail for conspiring to pervert the course of justice. It took until March 22nd, 2001 for the West Australian Court of Criminal Appeal to unanimously overturn the conviction of Kevin Ibbs.
Unresolved in the case law is the question of exactly how much of a window of time does a man have in which to comply with a woman's cease and desist order. The court has determined that the outer bounds of 30 seconds constitutes rape. How about 25 seconds? Is that rape or can one plead to a reduced charge? Also, would it be admissable to introduce IQ and reaction time data as part of a defense strategy to make the case that the man is in a diminished mental state brought on by sexual excitement and there is a lag between hearing the cease and desist order and the mental processing required to affect compliance and that the actual brain circuitry will be different for each individual thus making a hard and fast stop clock rule impractical? Also, should the court weigh the "30 second rule" depending on when during the sexual act the cease and desist order was uttered. We know that the male brain process orgasm differently than the female brain:
Here is a more scholarly treatment of the topic:
I'd love to be in the court when a defense attorney is trying to establish precisely when the cease and desist order from the woman was issued, what mental state the man was in at that point of the sexual act, asking the court to give some consideration to diminished capacity if the cease and desist order was issued just prior to, or during, orgasm rather than at the earlier stages of the sex act, and then arguing that the woman was partly responsible for inducing the mental state coincident with orgasm by willfully agreeing to participating in a sex act that brought the man to a state of diminished capacity via orgasm. As an outside observer, these issues would be very interesting to work through.
I read Peter Frost's paper on blonde hair and sexual selection awhile ago. I don't have much to say on it that I didn't already say in the previous conversation, I think ascertainments or suppositions in regards to sexual selection in the evolution of the human species and our phenotype(s) will be a lot more fruitful when we have the priors in in regards to the organization of our genome and its deep time history locked down in more detail. I'm posting now because I did think Peter put a lot of interesting data out there, and I am reproduced two of the maps in his paper, which depict the frequency of blonde hair and blue eyes respectively in northwest Eurasia. Nothing surprising, but some concrete percentages for any future discussions on the topic. You'll find it below the fold.
The only substantive point I'd like to add is that Peter points out that the emergence of 30 polymorphisms extant within the European populations on MC1R as a consequence of release of functional constraint is implausible (the locus implicated in melanin regulation which in East Asians and other populations tends to be far less polymoprhic, or nearly monomoprhic, as in Africa). He contends that the current level of hair color diversity in Europe would have taken 850,000 years to develop if one assumes release of constraint was the primary factor, and of course H. sapiens sapiens has been in Europe no longer than 35,000-40,000 years (one assumes that release of constraint would not have occurred prior to leaving the lower latitudes). But, I would like to point out that H. sapiens neanderthalensis was resident in Europe for ~250,000 years. This isn't enough time for a neutral-only model to generate the diversity, but life isn't always an either or scenario, and one could imagine that factors other than in situ mutation or selection upon standing genetic variation might have played a role in the diversification (or perpetuation of diversity) of European color phenotypes.
Update: Greg points out that Neandertal (H. heidelbergensis) precursors might have lived in Europe as early as 800,000 years B.P. So that is a point to consider. Also, I have to add this in the "scientists don't get evolution" files, I recall that one paleoanthropologist posited that Neandertals were dark-skinned because their skeletons seem to exhibit features similar to rickets. At the time (I was 16 when I read this) I wondered how plausible it was that 800,000 years of hominin residence in high latitudes wouldn't have selected against traits which predispose one to rickets. Obviously it isn't plausible.
Credit: Beals et al., An Introduction to Anthropology, 3rd ed.
Apropos of our conversation in the post below in regards to proving recent common ancestry, Breakpoint Cloning and Haplotype Analysis Indicate a Single Origin of the Common Inv(10)(p11.2q21.2) Mutation among Northern Europeans:
Friday, March 17, 2006
I have a post on Post Modern biology on my other weblog. I talked to David Miller of Radio Open Source about this topic on the phone. I basically told him using terms like "Post Modern" vs. "Modern" smacked to me more of marketing than substance. Of course, scientists have to eat and be famous too. I don't know much about the "controversy" here...I've known about epigenetics for a long time, and it seems like a viable and important field. Biology is a domain of knowledge where generalizations hold as expectations, and rivers sometimes do flow uphill.
Many people who read this weblog are in the biosciences, what do you think? Here is the abstract which prompted Miller contacting me:
First, is "stochasticity" news to anyone here? Population genetics is constructed on the null ground of stochasticity. I don't think that terms like "Cell Doctrine" or "Central Dogma" have the same import for scientists that terms like doctrine or dogma have in the non-scientific domain (I have read that Francis Crick regretted the use of the term "dogma," and wouldn't have offered it if he was as cognizant of the nuances and assocations it evoked). To me, it is kind of like Richard Dawkins use of the term "selfish" in a genocentric paradigm, the word itself caused a great deal of confusion outside of evolution and genetics, and Dawkins had to devote several lectures in the late 1970s and early 1980s clearing up the semantic problems. I don't think the science is becoming Post Modern, as that people continue to be Post Modern in how words can confuse rather than clear up.
Steve Olson of "Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans" fame has a piece in Slate discussing this finding with a lead-in related to the The Da Vinci Code trial:
On Monday Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, testified in a London courtroom to defend himself against the charge that he stole from an earlier book the idea that Jesus has a secret line of descendants who are alive today. But no matter how the court case turns out, both books are confused. If anyone living today is descended from Jesus, so are most of us on the planet.
He does a good job of explaining the highly reticulated mess that is true human genealogy. This is an important point and he deserves credit for the piece. Unfortunately, he fails to point out that even at the identical ancestor point, some people are more your ancestors than others. With that in mind, consider his closing remarks:
The risk of today's genetic genealogy tests is that they tend to divide people into groups, whereas the real message that emerges from genealogy is one of connections. For centuries, scientists have tried to sort people into biological categories. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they pounced on the idea of race and used it to formulate hypotheses about human differences that had disastrous social consequences. In the 20th century, scientists began to explore the greater complexities of our biological histories, which are impossible to capture in a word as simple-minded as "race." If genetic genealogy tests explored and explained these complexities, I'd have no problem with them. But most of today's tests hark back to the bad old days of racial science.
Obviously it would be nice if the world were to move in that direction, but it's a bit of an overstatement. If Jesus is the ancestor of anyone living today, then most likely he's the ancestor of some people much more than others. While we do "all share the same ancestors just a few millenniums ago", this doesn't change the fact that some of us much more related to one another than others. In other words, most of the bite in "race" is still there.
Addendum from Razib: Two points to keep in mind, much of the human genome is redundant and does not exhibit sequence level polymorphism. Second, genes are discrete, that is, information will be lost via sampling, so the number of ancestors is less relevant than their proportional representation in the nodes of your genealogical tree. Olson in the Slate piece talks about comparing lists of ancestors and seeing that they have all the same people in them, but of course that's a lot less genetically relevant than the number of times they show up in the list.
Mortimer asks an interesting question about proving that the last common ancestor of all human beings lived a few thousand years ago. We "know" (via inferences from coalescent theory) that the last common ancestor of the nonrecombinant Y lived tens of thousands of years ago, and than the last common mtDNA lived a little earlier. Since these are male and female only direct lineages it is clear that simple a priori assumptions suggest that the last common ancestor via any sequence of male and female ancestors should be far more recent.
But how do you "prove" this? As I said, genetics is discrete, so just because someone is your ancestor doesn't mean that there is a identical-by-descent fragment within you from that given ancestor (a copy of unique sequence for example). I think the key is to look for a mutant which emerged recently, and if that mutant has fixed in the population, than by definition (let's exclude horizontal gene transfer) the line of ancestry has to go back to the individual in whom the mutation originated. Additionally, a wide survey of ancient remains might be able to get a general sense of the time frame when this mutation arose, when its frequence approaches statistically significant neglibility in the sample. The probability of fixation for a new allele within a population (a mutation) is about ~4Ne generations, where Ne is the effective breeding population for a neutral mutant. This is a gross simplification, and this is the expectation of the time to fixation, not a number etched in stone (there will be variance and some alleles fix earlier, some later), but the simplifying assumptions seem to suggest the time until fixation will be longer in geographically dispersed species than the prediction based on this equation. Even if Ne is assumed to be in the hundreds that seems too many generations to get the last common ancestor via sequencing on a neutral mutant.
So I think the best bet for smoking-gun-proof (as opposed to reasonable certainty based on a priori models) would be to look for positively selected alleles which have moved to fixation within the last 3,000 years. I don't know, or frankly think, that we will find anything like this across all extant populations. But that would be "proof," assuming we can find this super-selected allele, get a large sample of ancient remains, and are willing to accept a "good enough" answer which isn't absolutely definitive (I would bet that Tasmanian Aboriginals would be less likely to fix the magic allele because their small population implies that random genetic drift could swamp even large selection coefficients).
Anyway, I think this sort of "scientific genealogy" does tell us something about human psychology, if it doesn't tell us anything about genetics on a deep level. Consider this, we are conditioned to assume about 1/2 relationship to our siblings, 1/2 to each parent. Even in the case of 1st cousin marriage the parents are probably only 1/8 related to each other. Let's ignore cases of extreme inbreeding or clan cultures where the inbreeding coefficient is cranked up by generations of incest. Humans have certain expectations of their ancestors. You have two parents. Four grandparents. Eight great-grandparents. Do you know all your great-great-grandparents by heart? My understanding is that for most people there is little information in their heads about ancestors beyond 3 generations, though in many cultures a patrilineage or a "famous ancestor" might be noted. Our intuitions are conditioned by the last 3 generations, but as we move back up the family tree reticulation becomes much more of an issue. Our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather might also be our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and our great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle, etc. We may have a fixed number of male and female ancestors, but some of those males and females are duplicates. Logically this is obvious, but I don't think people internalize this too deeply, otherwise there wouldn't be such emotional salience in regards to mtDNA or Y chromosomal tests which "prove" ancestry, though what they prove is rather trivial. And Olson has to be betting that people don't think about this much with his facile comparison of the particular ancestors we have all being in common. If someone tells you that two individuals have the same grandparents that gives you an immediate gestalt understanding of their relationship (or, if you tell them they share two grandparents). If someone tells you that individuals a & b share all the same ancestors that doesn't tell you much because the variance in ancestral contribution between the ancestors is far greater than would be between average grandparents (if siblings mated, you would have four grandparent slots occupied by two unique individuals, but we don't usually consider this case because it is so atypical).
Thursday, March 16, 2006
The Harvard neuroscientist Christopher Chabris has written an exceptionally useful review of the brain correlates of g. Follow the top link of this page.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
This is the Voight, Kudaravalli, et al. issue. They lead with an editoral "Being Positive about Selection", which discusses the increasing research output on this question.
Of interest along the same lines is "Gene Losses during Human Origins":
The authors find that the human CASPASE12 pseudogene has been positively selected for in humans. This adaptive gene loss confers protection from sepsis.
Full Free Contents
Monday, March 13, 2006
So, Brad DeLong posits a very simple model to refute the idea of natural selection within the last 10,000 years. But this doesn't work, models are context dependent. Evolutionary psychology can't work, except when it can. And so on.
Update: Just to make it clear, the point of the post was to show how plausible or implausible simple models become depending on where you stand on a given issue. As I've noted before, your political or social stance strongly colors the perceived utility of a model where many parameters are left explicitly unaccounted for.
I throw out some of Greg's evil ideas over at my other blog, and try to frame it in the context of evolution of traits within the rest past. Bonus picture at the bottom for those who make it that far :)
Chris of Mixing Memory has a long post on the cognitive science of evolutionary biology, or, more precisely, how people tend to interpret and perceive evolutionary biology. The whole post is worth reading (and linking if you have a weblog). I hit upon some of the points in my post Endless Forms Most Continuous, but Chris points out three primary blocks to an acceptance of evolutionary biology:
1) Intuitive theism, the tendency to see design in complex objects and phenomena.
2) Intuitive essentialism, the tendency to not frame populations as populations as opposed to iterations of an idealized "type."
3) And, "The role of explanatory power in determining the value of beliefs, and the fact that we may resist explaining our most cherished beliefs in order to avoid devaluing them." This is basically the connection between fundamentalist religious beliefs and their explanation of the world around us.
Chris sees #3 as the big hurdle:
And yet how deep is fundamentalism? International surveys suggest that the belief in God is not a necessary bar to acceptance of evolution, rather, a particular form of American Protestantism has hewed to a literalist and inerrant interpretation of the Bible. But, this fundamentalism is not a necessary implication of Christian faith, metaphorical readings of the Bible are as old as the Church Fathers, and older Christian traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) never accepted a literal reading of the scripture as normative. In other words, the power of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States to some extent blinds many Americans as to the specific nature of the relationship between religion & science in the modern world. Of late I have posted about the fact that I perceive some beliefs to be powerfully held, and yet upon further reflection they lack depth. I believe in some ways "fundamentalism" as a fixed phenomenon is such a thing, one age's "fundamentalism" is simply the rebellion against modernity for that time. There was a time that fundamentalism might have implied a rejection against the spherical earth or heliocentrism, but no one who is a fundamentalist aside from Wahabbi clerics in Saudi Arabia would hold to those positions. References to the four corners of the world or the sun standing still in the Bible obviously do not imply the world is flat or that the sun circles the earth, obviously, right? American style fundamentalism is a fact of the world around us here in the United States, and the power of anti-evolutionary thought is something we must always consider, but, we need to be cautious about extrapolating from one point in time and space as if there is something essential about "fundamentalist" Christianity which demands a Creationist paradigm.
There is a reason that history has the fragment story within it. While popular science often has to enliven the narrative with biography, scholarly history often drives the personalities into the background as it attempts to extract the general trends and social dynamics which scaffold the lives which we find so compelling. Because of its openness to story-telling history can spawn titles like How the Irish Saved Civilization. Many historical narratives are begging to be shaped into an evocative yarn.
But aside from its narrative magnetism history can also illuminate the way we view the world around us, our biases and blinkers. Though I believe that the depredations of "Post Modernism," broadly interpreted, have done a disservice to genuine scholarship, modern skepticism's emergence in the humanities was likely an inevitable byproduct of the excessive hubris of scholars and thinkers who remade the past in their own image (I'm looking at you Will Durant!).
Stripping away a name can change perspective a great deal sometimes. Consider this, until yesterday I did not know that the Eastern Roman Emperor, Zeno, was born with the name Tarasicodissa. Zeno is a Greek name, so though I knew that this emperor's origins were a bit rough, I did not think much upon his background. But it turns out that Tarasicodissa was an Isaurian! This did not surprise me, I knew he had some association with the Isaurian soldiers recruited from the depths of Anatolia. Who were the Isaurians? A group of barbarians who provided troops for the Eastern Roman Empire who resided somewhere in central Anatolia. That was all I knew...until I read this Wikipedia entry. Wikipedia can be unreliable, so I doubled-checked some facts in google print. The fact of interest to me is that the Isaurians are likely the ancestors of the local Kurds of southern Anatolia! Another fact of interest is that the emperor Leo III was also an Isaurian.
Why am I going over this? Here are the dates of the reigns in question:
Leo III: 717-741
Here are two other dates of interest:
September 4th, 476, the last Western Roman Emperor is deposed
717-718 The Second Seige of Constantinople by the Arabs
In other words, Zeno and Leo III occupy essential hinging points of Western history. Zeno consolidated the Eastern Roman Empire as the Western Empire fell to barbarians. Leo III battled back the last attempt by the Arabs to conquer Constantinople. Nevertheless, the title is probably deceptive. We have no way of knowing whether the West would or would not have survived the fall of Constantinople, or if Byzantium would have been weakened if Zeno had been more proactive in defending the interests of civilization in the West (the barbarian rulers of Italy were generally not a big change from the Roman ruling class in any case). Also, the "Kurds" as we know them did not exist over 1,000 years ago, the tribe of the Isaurians did. It seems likely that the Isaurians spoke an Iranian language which is genetically ancestral to the local dialects of Kurdistan in the region of Southern Anatolia where they once resided. But the historic origin of the Kurds is to some extent a recent creation of post-18th century nationalisms, the Kurdish language is characterized by wide dialetical range.
My point is that we tend to see the past as an extension of the present, and we foist upon it our modern categories. It might be a curiosity to us that Byzantium was fundamentally a Greek culture which perceived itself as Roman and was led by Emperors of non-Greek origin (often Armenian). That this warrants our notice tells us about our modern notions of the nation-state, and less about the tensions which existed in the undiscovered territory of the past....
Turns out all housewives aren't complete pill-popping wrecks. Go figure.
Here are the figures, published in this month's issue of the journal Social Forces: 52% of wives who don't work outside the home reported they were "very happy" with their marriages, compared with 41% of wives in the workforce.
Personal reflection: With most women in the workforce, how comparable are the housewives of today with the housewives of yesteryear?
Sunday, March 12, 2006
I stumbled upon this talk by Steve Pinker on the evolutionary psychology of religion that's about a year and a half old. Nothing out of the ordinary, but concise (and a pretty good intersection with many of my own ideas).
I am puzzled at the frequent invocation of sexual selection to solve awkward evolutionary puzzles, especially in human evolution. Hairless skin? No problem: sexual selection! Big brain? Sexual selection! Language abilities? Sexual selection! Musical and artistic skills? Sexual selection! An extreme example of this trend is Geoffrey Miller's The Mating Mind, which I commented on here.
This uncritical enthusiasm for sexual selection leads me to set out some reasons for caution...
I base my discussion mainly on Darwin's Descent of Man, Malte Andersson's Sexual Selection, and Patrick Bateson (ed) Mate Choice, along with Fisher, Hamilton, Trivers, and the other usual suspects. My comments on the marriage customs of primitive people are based on Westermarck's History of Human Marriage and a variety of more recent sources, including those cited here.
By Darwin's definition, a sexually selected trait is one which gives an individual 'an advantage over other individuals of the same sex and species, in exclusive relation to reproduction'. The advantage consists in an increase in the quantity or quality of sexual partners as compared with individuals who do not possess the trait. Darwin further distinguished between sexual selection based on a physical contest between rivals (usually males), and selection based on active choice by the opposite sex. Sexual selection by contest was widely accepted by Darwin's successors, but selection by choice was more controversial. It is now generally agreed that selection by choice does occur, but there is still disagreement about the basis for that choice. Hence the controversies about the Handicap Principle, selection for genetic quality, the role of protection against parasites, the feasibility of Fisher's 'runaway' process, and so on.
The following deals only with sexual selection by choice. The mere existence of choice does not automatically lead to sexual selection in Darwin's sense. The choice must lead to some reproductive advantage, measured by the number of surviving offspring. In the case of highly polygynous breeding systems, and where there is no paternal care of offspring, it is easy for a female preference to lead to a reproductive advantage for the preferred males: they simply mate with more females and have more offspring. In (approximately) monogamous breeding systems it is more difficult, as Darwin himself emphasised. If there is a large surplus of one sex over the other, selection can operate through the failure of unpreferred individuals to get mates, but it is rare for there to be a large surplus of one sex (exceptions are discussed in a famous paper by Hamilton). Where the sex ratio is approximately equal, and mating is approximately monogamous, sexual selection can only operate at the margins, through differences in mate quality, or through extra-pair copulations.
How can we recognise if a trait is due to sexual selection? I don't think there is any foolproof test, but here are some indicators noted by Darwin and others as prima facie marks of sexually selected traits:
1. The trait is found only in one sex, or is found much more highly developed in one sex than the other.
2. The selected sex is the one with the greater variance in reproductive success, which is nearly always the male. Males can father an indefinite number of offspring, and their reproductive success usually depends primarily on the number of matings they secure, whereas female reproduction is limited by nutrition and physiology.
3. Sexual selection is strongest among highly polygynous species, such as birds with a lek mating system, or mammals where males keep a harem. Conversely sexual selection in weakest among species with monogamy and biparental care, though males can still increase their reproductive success by extra-pair copulations, and both sexes can increase it by obtaining high quality mates.
4. It is likely that a trait is sexually selected if it first appears at sexual maturity.
5. It is likely that a trait is sexually selected if it appears only during a specific mating season.
6. It is likely that a trait is sexually selected if it used prominently in courtship.
7. A trait is plausibly due to sexual selection if it is costly and appears to have no direct survival value - the classic example being the peacock's tail. But note that there may also be a sexual preference for the average or optimum state of a trait already favoured by natural selection, in which case sexual selection will act as a stabilising or retarding factor in evolution. This factor does not seem to be sufficiently discussed in the literature.
8. An animal seldom has more than one type of trait strongly developed by sexual selection. For example, birds which are good singers seldom have spectacular plumage, and birds with spectacular plumage are seldom good singers.
9. Sexually selected traits often differ conspicuously between closely related species. This may be because sexual selection has a purely arbitrary component, or because sexually selected traits serve to distinguish one species from another and prevent infertile matings.
10. My last point is tentative, but I wanted to get to 10! I suggest that sexually selected traits are unlikely to be due to single genes, and especially recessive genes. The reason is that a new gene mutation will be so rare (and in the case of a recessive gene even more rarely expressed) that it will not provide good material for sexual preferences to work on. If the trait is very rare, any individual with a preference for that trait will be at a disadvantage (if only by the time wasted in searching), so the preference is unlikely to evolve. New traits such as blue eyes, which depend on recessive genes, are prima facie unlikely to spread by sexual selection. This would require the selecting sex to have a widespread predisposition in favour of such traits, for no apparent reason.
If we consider human evolution with these points in mind, there are only a few traits which seem good candidates for explanation by sexual selection. The facial hair and deep voice of the human male, which appear only at sexual maturity, are good candidates. (But do women actually find men's facial hair attractive?) The greater average size of the male is also a plausible candidate, though this might alternatively be explained by 'contest' selection or by ecological differences between males and females. The pubic hair of both sexes is consistent with point 4, but not point 1, and it is possible that it functions merely as an indicator of sexual maturity, and not as a basis for selection between mature individuals.
[Added: There are also difficulties for the idea that humans' hairless skin is a result of sexual selection. Children have no visible body hair, then it appears, on chest, arms, legs, etc, at sexual maturity. Men have more than women, though undepilated women have more than children. This is the reverse of the pattern one would expect if hairlessness were due to sexual selection: we would expect children to be shaggy, then to lose their body hair at puberty. The pattern we actually see suggests that hairlessness serves some other purpose, but that the body hair of adults plays a sexual role of some kind - though possibly more as an indicator of maturity than as a sexual attractor. I note that male chest hair only appears about 5 years after puberty, when the man is fully grown and able to compete with adults.]
As is well-known, Darwin believed that many of the differences between human races, such as skin colour, are due to sexual selection, but he probably underrated the importance of natural selection in this area, and he had no knowledge of genetic drift (though he did suggest that selectively neutral characters might occur as 'fluctuating elements'). Most of the human racial differences are found in both sexes, and in children as well as adults, contrary to points 1 and 4 above. Moreover, blond hair, which has sometimes been cited as a sexually selected racial trait, often darkens before sexual maturity, which strongly contradicts point 4.
There are general reasons for doubting that sexual selection has been a major factor in human evolution. Sexual selection is strongest when there is wide variance in reproductive success. But if we disregard freak examples like Genghis Khan, differences in human reproductive success are relatively modest. Humans are slow, small-scale breeders and are only moderately polygynous. And in primitive societies the choice of mates is tightly constrained both by the number of available partners and by tribal customs. Choice for the individual is very limited, and often made mainly by relatives of the individuals concerned. Most females are married at puberty to older males. If women are subsequently widowed, they are usually remarried either to relatives of their dead husband or to a younger male who is not yet successful enough to have a desirable young wife. We do not know how far back in human history such customs go, but the number of available partners for marriage has probably always been small until recent times. In small, scattered populations the challenge is to find any suitable partner, not to choose among a plethora of alternatives! In short, it would be difficult to find a worse candidate species for strong sexual selection than homo sapiens. I'm sure I am not the first person to make this observation - I think it is somewhere in Maynard Smith - but it is worth making again.
Of course, even weak sexual selection might have important effects if sustained over long periods and not opposed by natural selection. But this is no use to those who want to explain the rapid evolution of costly traits such as human intelligence.
I don't know why explanations by sexual selection are so popular, but there may be a misconception that sexual selection is faster or stronger than natural selection. This is not likely to be true except in the case of a highly polygynous species. Fisher's phrase of 'runaway' sexual selection may also be responsible for the misconception, but again this process is probably the exception rather than the rule. Runaway selection is among the most difficult and controversial areas of evolutionary biology (see the essays by O'Donald and Arnold in Bateson (ed), and chapter 2 in Andersson). This has attracted some very clever theoretical biologists to study the subject, and there is a large literature, but theory far outruns empirical evidence. I also note that runaway selection is particularly unlikely to apply to selection of female traits. The reason is that in this case the process would require there to be a 'sexy daughter' effect, analogous to the 'sexy son' effect in runaway selection for male traits. But the 'sexy daughter' effect would be weak, because a daughter who attracts numerous sexual partners will not greatly increase her number of surviving offspring, unlike a 'sexy son'.
Runaway sexual selection does offer the hope of explaining seemingly arbitrary traits, because it does not require any strong initial reason for the female sexual preference. Once the process gets going, initially arbitrary preferences are self-reinforcing. But again, this probably requires special circumstances to take off, and in general it cannot be assumed that sexual preferences are arbitrary. Fisher himself proposed that the starting point of runaway selection was a preference for a trait mildly favoured by natural selection. Preferences for anything other than the existing optimum traits would normally be opposed by natural selection, so any change in sexual preferences - for example, a trend towards preferring lighter or darker skin - would itself need to be accounted for. In the most successful models of runaway selection, it cannot get started when the female preference is very rare (Andersson, chapter 2). These models also assume polygyny, though it has been shown that a moderate form of the Fisher process may work in a monogamous system (Andersson p. 42).
Overall, sexual selection is a more complicated and difficult process than natural selection, and its explanatory advantages are largely illusory. Like group selection, I think it should be an explanatory last and not first resort. Of course, this doesn't mean it should be ruled out a priori, or that it is not legitimate to propose bold hypotheses, just that the difficulties need to be recognised and squarely faced.
Did you ever hear the tale of the salesmen who were able to sell ice to the eskimos? Well, now that global warming is reducing the world's supply of ice, these intrepid entrepreneurs have moved onto more fertile pastures - selling the scent of woman to women: (not work safe)
More likely, this is a stimulatory aid for men, but that's not as fun to write about. However, this fragrance should make some guys very happy when combined with modern technology.
The company is also promising a new fragrance designed for women - I'm guessing that they're distilling the fragrance of "Sweaty Jockstrap."
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Nick Wade's piece on history, genetics and human evolution is out. John McNeill says:
McNeill coauthored The Human Web with his father a few years ago, and it was a pretty good interdisciplinary survey. I am not surprised that McNeill was the historian that Wade looked to for a quote. Money shot from Greg:
Update: So, Brad DeLong has a hyper-simplistic post where he "refutes" Greg and Pritchard's contentions. Here is a case where simple models become very appealing when it supports your own prior beliefs...all of a sudden various interactional, environmental and other forces that buffet the frequency of one allele become irrelevant.
If you are interested in the story about the non-bipedal family in Turkey, here are two articles in The Times. I'm convinced it isn't a hoax now, but I don't really know if it tells us anything interesting, I posted at more length about it on my other blog.
Updates: The producer of the documentary about this family offers detailed comment.
On a note related to the "math on the brain" post, Gary Marcus will have a new paper out in Cognition (pdf here), in which he puts forward a "descent with modification" (DwM) view of mental modularity. The gist is that we know from double dissociations (where one system is impaired but not some other, and vice versa) that there must be some degree of modularity. However, we also know that other diseases can affect several systems at once, and psychometrics shows that individuals who excel or struggle in one area usually so in others also, so to some extent the diverse modules must share some of their architecture at the neural and/or genetic level as well. He contrasts this DwM view, where mental systems can be variations on a common source, with the conventional sui generis view, where the systems are too unique to spring from a common source. Furthermore, if two mental systems were variations on a common theme, it would require fewer genes to build them and less time for natural selection to design them, vs. having to build the two systems largely de novo.
He discusses the example of language, "the canonical putative module." Though distinct from other systems and a more recent adaptation, it seems to have modified pre-existing features from the following other human systems: memory, spatial & temporal representation, and our more general "who did what to whom" hierarchical encoding of relationships. Perhaps this is how to best interpret Chomsky, Fitch, and Hauser's universally perplexing (pdf) concepts of the Broad and Narrow faculties of language, FLB and FLN -- that is, FLB includes the common sources from which FLN has devised novel variations (FLN also includes de novo inventions).
Marcus is the author of The Birth of the Mind, which examines how we get from genes to brains, and The Algebraic Mind, which is not about math but about the debate in cognitive science over rule-governed symbol manipulation vs. statistics-driven parallel distributed processing. He also co-authored a recent review of the genetics and evolution of human language (pdf here, ctrl F "eloquent").
Friday, March 10, 2006
When some school administrators say that all students have the same potential, they evidently really do believe this to be true. How else to explain this report from the Chicago Tribune:
Notice the ass-covering going on here. For years, blind students have had to enroll in this class and this isn't news to the school officials, yet they're saying that they'd be willing to modify the requirements if only some parent would step forward and battle the school bureaucracy and "make a good case" for exempting blind students from learning how to drive. Why even the teacher thinks it's a great idea to teach blind students how to read road signs translated into braille.
In other education news, if you're a college professor don't view porn on the computer monitor while teaching your class, especially if your monitor is twinned to an overhead projection system.
Hat tip to Darren.
The BBC is reporting on some psychological research that decomposes various aspects of "mathematical" abilities. In short, the researchers seem to have localized serial digital counting and analog numerosity using neural imaging technologies. The latter is found in many animals, including rats and pigeons, and gives you a gestalt sense of proportion and ratio. It is not a precise accurate count, though when the set of discrete objects is less than 10 most humans exhibit a small enough error range that it operationally produces the same results as counting in sequence. Counting digitally on the other hand, an abstraction of ticking off your fingers as you count up over integers, is a more precise artificial feature of our species. Unfortunately I can't give you details because though the BBC reports that PNAS has published the paper I can't find it on their site.
Readers interested in this topic should check out The Number Sense and The Math Gene (I prefer the former because it is a less disjointed narrative). Also, this short (7 pages) review/opinion paper, Arithmetic and the Brain, might be of interest.
Update: Kevin McGrew has more.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
When I was in high school a friend of mine told me that my AP English essays had no substance, and I would reply, "Yeah, as wide & deep as the Platte river" (a common saying in regards to the Platte is "a mile wide and inch deep"). At my other blog I posted something titled The important things in life, where I reflect on the reality that even though in many ways evolutionary science isn't that important (compared to more proximally pragmatic areas, like materials science for example), it tends to suck up a lot of public oxygen, so you would think that people are passionate about this topic. But are they? The public knowledge of evolution on anything more than a superficial level, whether pro- or anti-, does not suggest a genuine deep interest in evolution, as compared to how fat Britney Spears is at the current moment in time.
One point I was trying to get across is that the beliefs people claim to hold can be more shallow than we might assume based on the ardor with which they express them, even in light of extreme or shocking actions they suggest are driven by them. This includes religious beliefs. Marxists have long reduced religious motivations toward material interpretations, so this sort of dismissal has an old history. Though shoehorning everything into a "materialist" or "class" paradigm is simplistic, the point is that even though an individual may sincerely offer one parameter as the sole causative component, there are likely other forces lurking underneath the surface. This can apply to politics, I have observed this with Christopher Hitchens. I assume that the religious conservatives with whom he is allied with now abhor is anti-religious zeal (in Free Inquiry Hitchens says: "I'm an atheist. I'm not neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion, but religious belief itself"). But, coalitional politics matters, and all of a sudden there is a greater indulgence of Hitchens' reflexive anti-Catholicism in places like NRO.
Which brings me to a question, is there a word for something which people hold to be of great importance, but behavorial evidence over the long term indicates is not as important as one might claim in a particular point and time? ("we should judge people by what's on the inside") In other words, fanatically avowed beliefs which are nevertheless held in a shallow fashion so that they are brushed aside in the interests of expediency?
Addendum: By the way, what I'm talking about has a relationship to the Fundamental Attribution Error, though in the attribution isn't to a personality, but to the relationship between an idea and a set of behaviors.
Addendum II: I appreciate the responses so far, it has helped clarify some confusions in my own head. This post was in part a response to the issue that I've been having of late in that there are particular mental states which I conceive of which I don't have really good terms for. It might be that I haven't read enough cognitive science...and time permitting, I will remedy that situation soon.
But, what exactly am I talking about when I mean heartfelt feelings that are held fanatically but only superificially? I recall reading a chapter out of a memoir a few years back by an atheist in Pakistan. He recalls how as a young man he was a devout Muslim, and when partition occurred his father came to their home and explained that it was agreed that they were going to kill their neighbors. With his father he hunted the neighborhood Hindus and Sikhs, and he himself managed to killed an old man who had crawled into an alcove of his family's house.
Years later, in the 1950s, this individual read the Koran for himself, and when reading a section where God abrogates a set of commandments in the case of the prophet he had a "eureka!" moment and thought to himself, "Muhammad made this up in a self-serving fashion!" After this point he quickly fell into total unbelief. He explains that he began his memoir by recounting how he killed his Hindu neighbor because he wanted to show the warping effect that religion had, and that his remorse haunts him to this day though he is now well advanced in age.
But did Islam give him the power to kill his neighbor? Did Hindus and Sikhs far to the east also somehow coincidentally take succor from their religion to slaughter their Muslim neighbors? Did the God that all the believers accept as true just go insane and drive the faithful to madness?
Another story. Years ago in college I had a friend who was a sincere liberal from a long line of liberals. There was an international corporation which was considering building a factory in our region, and there were protests and concerns in regards to its environmental impact. My friend's girlfriend told me that he was so distraught and angry about the factor being built that my friend woke up in the middle of the night because of his worries. As it is, 2 years after this my friend was out of college and he had one year between graduation and grad school. He needed a job. Well, guess who was hiring? Why yes, my friend ended up getting a job at that factory that he found so distressing 2 years before. I would joke to him that he'd raise his kids so that they would go work for Exxon, but make sure to protest for 30 minutes before they went into the office.
In these situations they aren't "rationalizations" in the classic sense where I think people know they are making excuses or justifying their action. They sincerely belief, they sincerely feel, and they sincerely act (in the first case). From the outside it seems that everything is rock solid. After all, the man in the first story killed a neighbor because of a religious difference. Obviously his religion meant a lot to him! And yet he recounts 10 years later having a "eureka!" moment, and becoming a dissenting atheist in a country sliding toward fundamentalism. WTF? He killed someone for a religion, but that religion dissipates just like that? Obviously there were likely other things going on in his head back when he killed his neighbor, and likely there were things going on in his head before the eureka moment....
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
In a previous post I discussed educational performance in England by different ethnic groups in 2004. There are now some figures for 2005. The full data are available here (downloads require PDF and Excel readers).
I will only give the key results at age 16. In the last year of compulsory education (age 15/16) nearly all children take examinations for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). The usual measure of 'satisfactory' performance is to get passes in at least 5 subjects at Grade C or higher.
As previously, I will give data for the following ethnic groups:
W = White
W/BC = Mixed White and Black Caribbean
W/BA = Mixed White and Black African
W/A = Mixed White and Asian
A = Asian (note 1)
I = Indian
P = Pakistani
Ba = Bangladeshi
Bl = Black (note 2)
BC = Black Caribbean
BA = Black African
C = Chinese
All = average for all children
Note 1: 'Asian' covers Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and 'other Asian' 'Other Asian' covers miscellaneous groups (Vietnamese, etc), but not Chinese, which has a category to itself. Middle Easterners (Arabs, Turks, etc) may be included in 'other Asian', but in the 2001 Census most of them seem to classify themselves as 'White'. People of Asian origin via the Caribbean or east Africa usually give 'Indian' as their self-identified ethnicity.
Note 2: 'Black' includes Black African, Black Caribbean, and 'Black Other'. 'Black Other' may include some mixed-race children, but those who are known to have a White parent should be counted under W/BC or W/BA.
Percentage obtaining satisfactory GCSE results:
____________Boys_______Girls_______All______% increase on 2004
In the last column I have given the increase since 2004 in the percentages of children (boys and girls combined) obtaining satisfactory results (i.e. the increase in raw percentage points, not as a percentage of the 2004 figure). It will be seen that there are increases in all ethnic groups, but larger in some than others. The largest increase is for 'Mixed White and Black African', which has now moved slightly ahead of 'White'. As I have pointed out previously, the 'Mixed' groups are difficult to interpret, as the parents are not random samples of their own ethnic groups. In the case of White/Asian, it is known that the parents are disproportionately middle-class and well-educated, and the same may be true of White/Black African. With the exception of this group, I have not noticed any change in the rank order of the results, but there have been changes in the size of the differentials. There have been notable improvements in both Black Caribbean and Black African performance, the latter of which is now only just behind Pakistani. The press release from the Education Department describes the results as showing a 'narrowing of the gap' between ethnic groups, which is largely true; but note that Bangladeshis have increased their lead over Pakistanis, and Indians and Chinese have increased their lead over Whites. The gap between boys and girls in all groups has hardly changed.
As previously, I would stress that these figures cannot be taken as simple indicators of IQ, still less of any genetic difference. The continuing year-on-year increase in average results is also difficult to interpret, and it is controversial how far it reflects a genuine improvement in educational achievement, and how far a relaxation of standards or more emphasis in schools on 'teaching to the test'.
Added: today's (March 12) London Sunday Times suggests that the increase in scores in the last few years is largely due to a shift towards taking 'softer' subjects, like leisure and tourism studies. The proportion of children getting 'good' GCSE's in key subjects like English and mathematics has actually fallen slightly.
Most Human-Chimp Differences Due to Gene Regulation - Not Genes. I don't know if this is news, but it reiterates a trend that will continue as a deeper understanding of how genes express themselves, and regulatory pathways, are explored in greater detail. The paper, Expression profiling in primates reveals a rapid evolution of human transcription factors, is out in Nature tomorrow. If natural selection is a "substrate neutral" algorithmic process (or "stochastic hill climbing"), does it really matter if it is selecting from a range of regulatory switches vs. alternative sequences?
Update: Evolgen has much more.
Related: Regional patterns of gene expression in human and chimpanzee brains.
The American Conservative has a nice article by Paul Belien on Denmark's immigration and assimilation policies. The whole article is worth reading, and though TAC is a journal of opinion it is not that far off the even keel, especially the first half. One thing to note is that Denmark is aggressively reducing the inflow of immigrants from other countries, and making proactive efforts to assimilate the minorities, especially Muslims, that already reside within the country.
In an email exchange with Diana about a week ago I expressed the opinion that in the medium-term the most negative impact of Muslim-non-Muslim conflict in Europe would be toward individual Muslims. It seems a no brainer in the context of a society that is overwhelmingly non-Muslim, and where Muslims to a large extent reside in a state of dependency vis-a-vis the majority. For every "no-go" zone of a major European city no doubt Muslims would have to face heightened hostility throughout the vast majority of their country of official citizenship. Of course, conceding Denmark its aggressive assimilationism (the article points out that there have been threats to expel families who send children back to the home country to inculcate them in traditional values) will have negative consequences for long term group identity and coherency in relation to the majority, and, it will undermine the position of "community leaders" who are vested in a particular set of norms and customs which separate their putative constituency from the majority.
As I noted in my post a few weeks ago on various forms of multiculturalism, the emergence of distinct minority group identities is to some extent a function of bureaucratic classification and conference of legitimacy to particular individuals who claim to represent a coherent community. In the short term the Danish intransigence at the emergence of a proto-Islamic community with sharply demarcated boundaries in relation to the majority culture is causing problems, but, it could be argued that the costs incurred within the next decade or so will be returned many-fold by the reduction of persistent overhead endgendered by a multicultural modus vivendi.
The Danish logic, elucidated in the piece, is plainly common sense. The rate of assimilation seems clearly inversely proportional (all other parameters held equal) to the ratio of the size of the minority population to the majority. Even if humans are not random actors who interact with an unbiased sample of the overall population, as the minority becomes a smaller fraction the likelihood of forced confrontation of the "outside" world by a minority increases.
On one final point, there is a perception by some (often expressed on this blog as well) that Muslims are somehow peculiarly indigestable because of the nature of their religious ideology. In comparison to Chinese immigrants, for example, this is clearly true, and I am open to the contention that the Muslim "memecomplex" has within it defensive measures spawned by the 1,500 year arms race with Christendom. That being said, one example often used to illustrate Islamic imiscibility is the expulsion of the Moriscos of Spain in 1610. But, if you read Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft, where several chapters chronicle Muslim-Christian dynamics in Iberia, you will note that a substantial (perhaps a majority) of Moriscos converted to Christianity, and, some of the most vociferous proponents of expulsion were Christians whose own familial background as conversos was thrown in a very bad light by co-ethnics who lived the lives of crypto-Muslims (one Christian priest from a Morisco background proposed castrating all crypto-Muslim males). In other words, though the proponents of multiculturalism often privilege group rights above individual considerations, the historical record tells us that scratching below the surface will often stir up interests that are individual, even if they don the mask of some higher ideal.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
You should really check out The Superficial. I was introduced to it by an MIT grad student, so you know, itz got to be all that. You can read about Joe Rogan's flamewars on MySpace.
P.S. re: MySpace, as I told a friend of mine who asked why I didn't do anything with my MySpace profile, cuz I don't want to meet 15 year olds! (well, unless it is a 15 year old down with J.M. Smith, but then itz all cerebral).
Monday, March 06, 2006
Nick Wade has a new article out, Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story. Nothing that should surprise, selection happens. I'm a little surprised that Spencer Wells is putting in so much face time in Wade's article, to me this suggests that he might be moving on to his new schtick, studying human morphological variation as opposed to scientific genealogy. The original paper is in PLOS. I'm not going to do the cut & paste thing, this is a free paper that you have access to, if you are a GNXP reader read the whole thing. Remember, a) selection is stochastic, they come close to saying what I said about the new skin color locus b) this paper misses sweeps that have already moved toward fixation. Expect far more in the next 6 months....
Update: I've put up a short summary of the paper at my other blog.
Update II: Check out this commentary from Anthropology.net.
Results below (via Grrlscientist).
Comment: I have always had broad interests, so no surprise.
I offer some ideas on why the blondes-going-extinct meme has persisted over the past three years on my Seed blog.
Make that germs: abstract here, other review here, older review of previous work here (1st link via Jerry Pournelle). Even when food intake & activity was controlled, chickens became obese when infected with a human adenovirus (Ad-37, though other adenoviruses were already known to be implicated). Presumably they play a role in human obesity as well, and so yet another case where germs play a role in chronic illness, as predicted by Gregory Cochran & Paul Ewald's New Germ Theory (click 1st item), which Ewald popularized in Plague Time. Of course, germs aren't the only cause of obesity, since there are plenty of ways to screw up a system. Aside from usual suspects like poor diet & exercise, I thought up another obesity germ scenario here (item 3i). Exploring this study further:
1) These viruses are respiratory & spread by droplets, so this may be a case like polio where a germ occasionally meanders from its natural habitat (for polio, the gut) and does inadvertent damage elsewhere (for polio, the nervous system). So, implication of germs in an illness at site X doesn't imply that the germs are adapted to exploit site X, and thus we don't need to spin an evolutionary story about how the germs screwing up X helps them spread. Polio only infects the nervous system about 1 per 100 cases, the rest of the time hanging out in the gut.
2) Also like polio & other known infectious diseases, obesity could turn out to be simple to cure once a vaccine were engineered. You don't cure dysentery with surgery or GE -- you just clean up the damn water. With all of the health care costs due to obesity & its concomitant health problems gone, it would be a hell of a financial relief for all.
3) Speaking of Behavior Genetics below, studies like these highlight the role that microbes play in individual differences, namely the mysterious "non-shared environment" which accounts for ~50% of the variation in intelligence & personality. That is, one monozygotic twin gets infected, the other doesn't; both get infected, but the germ deviates from its niche to some unintended site in one but not the other; both get infected, the germ deviates from its niche in both, but one twin houses some other germ that blocks the path of the deviant one before it can get into the nervous system.
Emulating obesity researchers, we need a hard-nosed approach to figure out the "ideal" range for Big Five personality traits, as nutritionists have for BMI. That is, not "ideal" for living an enjoyable, fulfilling life, but "ideal" in the biologist's sense of optimal for making babies. Suppose investigators find out that some population's mean for, say, Introversion is a standard deviation or so below the ideal score -- as if the mean for BMI were far above ideal. Now, if some individuals were below the ideal, no big deal, but if the population mean were noticeably below the ideal, it would suggest either environmental toxins or pathogens -- or selected genetic response to such pathogens, like sickle-cell.
After all, if germs are implicated in obvious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia (considering its frequency, fitness cost, and having been around for at least several hundred years), these illnesses may represent only the extreme cases of a more general pattern of microbes negatively affecting cognition (vis-a-vis reproductive fitness), much as pneumonia represents an extreme complication arising from typically mild influenza.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Update: Forgot to add a 7 and 8 month option. Just select 9-12. Thanks.
Dr. Valerie Grant has a website, Sexratio.com, which is a compilation & report of of her research:
This sort of one-parameter-to-rule-them-all obviously needs to be considered in light of other contextual factors. Nevertheless, it is an area where empirical investigation seems likely to yield some findings of note. Finally, note that these sort of hormonally oriented explanations have a strong facultative angle, sex determination bias is not something that is necessarily ingrained at birth because of genotypic considerations, environmental and developmental inputs can strongly modulate the factors.
Related: Male brain ~ more sons vs. female brain ~ more daughters?.
Dan Jones strikes again with a lengthy review of the two recent papers on higher primate altruism. Extrapolating from forms of kin selection or reciprocal altruism which seem extremely productive in explaining the behavior of other social species might be of limited utility in characterizing our own species' highly textured communal structures. Though insights from insect societies are probably good starting points, it seems plausible to me that we will find that human prosocial adaptations will have modulate the details of behavorial ecological models (eg., "theory of mind").
During the tumult between the Peace of Augsburg and the Peace of Westphalia cuius regio, eius religio was established as the law of the land, the religion of the ruler was the religion of the ruled. Of course, this was quickly breached, John Sigismund of the Hohenzollerns for example converted to Calvinism though his Prussian subjects remained Lutheran (his descendent Frederick the Great was personally an unbeliever in Christianity). In any case, a few years ago I read The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch, a panoramic political and cultural history of the period, and one thing that the author explicitly stated was that elite political backing seemed to be close to a necessary condition for a long-lasting persistence of Protestantism. That is, the states in Germany where Protestantism survived the powerful rollback induced by the Catholic Reformation were invariably those where the prince was himself a Protestant. In England and Scandinavia Protestant monarchs drove their nations by fiat toward a break with the Roman Church. In places like France and Poland Protestantism declined as a force and never attained dominance in part because the ruling dynasties did not favor it.1
The past is not the present, but it is important to keep such details in mind when making analogies that draw upon history.
Addendum: Even though monarchial dissent from Roman domination might have been a necessary condition for the success of Protestantism in various nation-states, that does not imply it was a sufficient condition. Not only did certain groups remain Catholic (eg., the Irish, but Old English and Gaelic) under Protestant monarchs, but the disputes between kings and the Church are rather an old phenomenon (Alfred the Great and Henry II are famous examples). Changes after 1500, famously the printing press, were likely catalytic in converting the common tendency of monarchs to shelter dissidents and heretics (John Wyclif, Jan Hus) into a shattering of Western Christendom.
1 - Just as in England, in France and Poland Protestantism did have somewhat of an upwardly mobile or elite appeal. A disproportionate number of the wealthy and nobility converted, but nevertheless their lack of success in securing the full backing of the pinnacle of political power seems to have been fatal in the long run.
Evolgen is continuing his "Detecting Natural Selection" series. Asterisks by the ones that are probably worth reading for a GNXPer.
Intro, Part I, Part II, Part III,* Part IV,* Part V, Part VI* and Part VII.*
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Will Saletan reviews No Two Alike positively in The New York Times.
Related: 10 questions for Judith Rich Harris
I have talked about the problem with comparing Muslims and Christians before. Well, sometimes a picture gives you a better gestalt perception, so this is what I'm imagining. This sort of thing is important because I believe that the distribution of attitudes, behaviors, etc. of a religious group help determine the norm of reaction for individuals. I've addressed the issue in relation to heritability of political orientation before, that is, the social matrix in which one expresses their predispositions mediated by their starting genotype influences the path of their development and their suite of personality traits. Consider for example a "born nutcase." No matter what, he might be a "nutcase" in the context of his environment, but raised in a Protestant area of Belfast he might be a bit different than if he was raised within an Amish community in Pennsylvania. In both contexts people might be, "Wow, that guy is out of control," but the absolute expression of the traits might different a great geal. In short, society matters.
In the context of Muslims and Christians, I also want to emphasize that the full character of the distribution has an effect on the development of subcomponents. To give an example, the Christian Reconstruction theonomists might resemble Salafi radicals in their legalistic attempt to overturn the rule of Man by the rule of God, but they have to dampen their rhetoric and tactics because they lay at such an extreme and marginal end of the Christian distribution. For conservative American Christians, the secular culture matters, and has a great attractive and modulating effect. This piece in The New York Times, Rebels with a Cross, chronicles the evangelical Christian counter-culture which takes it cues from punk and rebel strands in the mainstream. This sort of religious response doesn't exist among Muslims because the punk and rebel "scene" isn't really as well developed, at least publically, within the Muslim culture. An explicit example of how the mainstream culture mediates individuals outside the middle of the distribution can be illustrated by the fact that in the late 1990s I recall Jerry Falwell expressing the opinion that if he thought it was feasible he would push to ban pornography (On The O'Reilly Factor). As it was, he knew this wasn't a practical program, so he focused on other issues.
Back to Muslims, when I say things like "Muslim culture," I am falling into a very expansive, and imprecise, typology. But, to some extent it is a generalization that I think is useful in analyzing nutcases like the London bombers. Many disaffected Muslim youth get extracted out of their local, traditional, Muslim subculture, and immerse themselves in a transnational ideology of radical violent Salafism. Modern communication technology and the ease of transporation makes a worldwide "Muslim" culture possible in this sense, floating on the surface of local Islams, in them, but never of them. The nature of the "distribution" of Muslims across the range of the planet is I think roughly as I show above in terms of a host of metrics in comparison to Christians (American, European, Latin American, African, etc.), ranging from religious freedom to affront at insult. There are tensions within transnational Christianity, for example between African and Western branches of the Anglican Communion in relation to homosexuality. On this issue Muslim Africans do not have a Western "balance" to generate any discourse, homosexuality is haram, no ifs, ands or buts from liberal progressive Muslims. The overall conservative nature of worldwide Islam because of the nature of how it is expressed in regional subcultures has an powerful attractive influence on some individuals who are raised in the West. They shift their position on the distribution so far to the "left" so as to be outside the range of the normal in Britain, or the United States. In my post Going back to the Meccan Well I imply that modernity has tied together Muslim subcultures more tightly than in the past, while my posts on the Hui Muslims of China were explorations of how a Muslim subculture in a non-Muslim context evolves when isolated and allowed to explore culture space without a "guiding hand" from the worldwide consensus. The existence of female imams in China shows how isolation can allow a subculture to explore unimagined territories.
I began thinking about this after the recent manifesto by various intellectuals taking a stand against Islamism in Jyllands-Posten. Some people have pointed out that individuals like Salman Rushdie & Ayaan Hirsi Ali have no credibility in the Islamic community. Well, no shit sherlock! But, I began thinking about the role of atheists within a culture, and I recalled Sam Harris speaking in front a group of liberal Christians, expressing an unalloyed stand against organized religion. These Christians were rather civil, and shockingly open to some of Harris' ideas. The point here is that though the likes of Sam Harris will likely never speak in front of a group of Southern Baptists, liberal Christians may speak to moderate Christians, who may speak to conservative Christians, so that ideas generated by individuals like Sam Harris may possibly eventually find themselves at the "other end of the swimming pool," so to speak. It seems that there are a non-trivial number of atheists from Muslim backgrounds, and I have heard "through the grapevine" that there are many unbelievers in Muslim countries, often in positions of power or influence. This seems plausible insofar as Communist and other radical Leftist doctrines have found purchase in many of these nations, and even if most of the individuals associated with these ideologies are not atheists, it seems possible that a substantial fraction are. Nevertheless, the dominant religious ethos in these nations is shifted far to the "left" of the distribution, so these individuals are generally silent or quiet (see Why I am not a Muslim for what happens when the "mask slips" and secularists in Islamic nations express what they really think). The distribution in Muslim countries is marginally bimodal in that I suspect over at the far, far, right where you have explicit atheists there are a non-trivial number. But, these individuals have no influence on the zeitgeist because there is a large chasm in the distribution. In an ideal scenario liberal Muslims could "triangulate" using the atheists for their rhetorical purposes, and also serve as conduits for radical ideas. As it is, there is a "hole" in the fitness landscape that ideas explore in Muslim nations where liberal religionists should be.
So where does that leave us? Well, in the battle for ideas, I think we secularists need to give people like Khaled Abou El Fadl some breathing room, and frankly support. Once there is a critical mass of people like El Fadl, who are numerous enough to warrant attention for the "respectable" Muslim masses, they can serve as conduits for ideas propounded by secularists to the right (like liberal Christians, El Fadl has said that apostates need to be taken seriously). In many ways I share the sentiment of many religious conservatives who express disbelief at the "sophistry" of liberal religionists in reworking the foundations of their religious texts to be more in line with the dominant norms of liberal society. To some extent I have had a difficult time in even believing that the individuals in question really believe what they assert. Thinkers like Marcus Borg and Paul Tillich are nearly inscrutable to me, while the simple truths expressed by religious fundamentalists are easy to comprehend. Nevertheless, over time I have read more cognitive science, history of religion and Biblical criticism, and I am less inclined to fault people for "inconsistency" than I was in the past. To some extent the Post Modernists are right, language is imprecise, texts must flow through the sieve of culture. Even "fudamentalists" interpret the texts that they claim to be reading purely and plainly.
When it comes to studying humans our species is in a bind, because it is hard to step outside ourselves. But to some extent, do that we must. And we must also look at the long view and keep in mind the full ecology of ideas.
Dan Jones has a very thorough review of the recent paper in Nature which argues that negative epistasis will emerge out of sexual reproduction and so perpetuate itself. The only thing I'll add is what W.D. Hamilton noted in Narrow Roads of Gene Land, questions of fitness need to be evaluated over the long term, rather than just across a few generations. Also check out the lead author's blog.
Related: Through the rugged roads of gene land.
Today's London Times has an article here by Steven Pinker in appreciation of Richard Dawkins.
Friday, March 03, 2006
A short piece by Michelle Cottle in TNR "THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT AND SEX: Sex Obsessed" caught my attention:
Every couple of months a news story pops up about how the evangelical community is growing up, reaching out, and expanding its political activism beyond the traditional issues of personal piety: abortion, sex education, smut, and anything to do with homosexuality.
I'll leave it to you to decide if this is a good thing in the ethical sense, but let me suggest that sex obsession is a property that one would expect from a religion if that obsession helps to produce new believers. Maybe your skeptical? Well, consider the example of Wolbachia:
Wolbachia are gram-negative bacteria that form intracellular inherited infections in many invertebrates. They are extremely common with 20-75% of all insects being infected. Moreover they infect numerous non-insect invertebrates including nematodes, mites and spiders. The limits of the host range of Wolbachia are not fully appreciated at this time. Much of the success of Wolbachia can be attributed to the diverse phenotypes that result from infection. These range from classical mutualism to reproductive parasitism as characterized by the ability of Wolbachia to override chromosomal sex determination, induce parthenogenesis, selectively kill males, influence sperm competition and generate cytoplasmic incompatibility in early embryos. The unique biology of Wolbachia has attracted a growing number of researchers interested in questions ranging from the evolutionary implications of infection through to the use of this agent for pest and disease control.
Much of this playing around with sex is "motivated" by the fact that the bacteria reproduce best (or only?) in oocytes. You can read more about Wolbachia here.
For a few weeks now I've been reading NRO's blog on Rod Dreher's new book, Crunchy Cons. This supposed "movement" is ridiculously silly, and the very idea that this individual is being taken seriously by people on the right is sort of scary...
One thing that has really turned me off to this guy is just how similar his rhetoric is to old-school European reactionaries who rejected industrial civilization and imagined some kind of romanticist-inspired agricultural communal utopia.
But the biggest thing I really dislike about him is his complete and utter ignorance concerning foreign policy and national security; no political manifesto can be complete unless it lays out a general set of principles and policies concerning these two key issues. I wrote an e-mail to him a few months ago, and then sent it to him again, to which he never replied. So, I sent it to a few people at NRO, again to which there was never a reply. This man simply does not care about them at all.
Conservatives should find Rod Dreher's desire to ignore foreign policy deeply disturbing. Any analyst who ignores the fact that our foreign policy directly influences our domestic policy, and in more than a few cases takes precedent, is just asking for trouble. Dreher, quite frankly, is downright ignorant.
Michael Wade at IU has an interesting entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Evolutionary & Ecological Genetics. Wade hits the major themes starting from the Modern Synthesis, and the R.A. Fisher, Sewall Wright and J.B.S. Haldane era, down to the issues that have arisen in the molecular era and Kimura's Neutral Theory. The entry pays a great deal of attention to E.F. Ford and the ecological genetics program at Oxford.
A write up on the recent work on chimps & altruism. Also, see my extensive review of a book by one of the co-authors from last year, The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Talk of the Nation will have its audio archive of an interview with a researcher up by 3 PM Pacific time.
Here is a long PDF of a poll of British Muslims taken a few weeks ago. Here are 2 results which I think are particularly important.
* Western society is decadent and immoral and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end, if necessary by violent means - 7%
* Western society may not be perfect but Muslims should live within it and not seek to bring it to an end - 80%
* Refused - 1%
* Don't know - 11%
Q: Would you support or oppose there being areas of Britain which are pre-dominantly Muslim and in which SHaria law is introduced?
* Support - 40%
* Oppose - 41%
* Refused - 1%
* Don't know - 18%
In short, read the poll closely, this isn't an black & white community. It seems clear that some people simultaneously support Western society on principle while leaning toward separatism, while a subset, perhaps as large as 10%, are violently and radically hostile to the surrounding society.
Tip to AMdb.
Hsien Hsien Lei has a post up on the correlation between variants of MAOA and stress. In terms of conditional probabilities, MAOA does not increase your risk of suicide, but does modify the likelihood that you'll use violent methods once intent upon the act. You recall MAOA from its relationship to early childhood abuse, genes are just priors you have to live with baby....
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Arab-American Psychologist Wafa Sultan tells it like it is in this debate with Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli aired on Al-Jeezera. Watch the video to get the full flavor of the debate - she really goes on a tear. I'm not sure what to think when the first thing that comes to mind is that I'm glad that I'm not underwriting her Life Insurance policy. She levels some harsh criticism against her opponent and on the state of current Islam: (transcript and video)
Also, check out Wafa Sultan debating Algerian Islamist Ahmad bin Muhammad over Islamic Teachings and Terrorism here.
For a little different flavor of Islamic media look no further than this seminar broadcast on Iranian TV. Topic: Tom and Jerry - A Jewish Conspiracy to Improve the Image of Mice, because Jews Were Termed "Dirty Mice" in Europe.
OK, be your thuggin' self, I'm opening up the rap submissions to amoral state of nature junk.
This is a call out to GNXP readers who consider themselves center-Left to Left. Why do you keep reading? Just curious, I don't care much about what politics others follow...but obviously this weblog engages in some "dangerous" discourse now and then.
A player always tells a lady that he loves her. A semi-serious rumination on how lovers of the scientific money shot can get ours from Joe public (ie., $$$).
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
My recent post on drugs policy briefly mentioned the history of cocaine. I see that today's London Independent has a rather good survey here, though some of the figures on cocaine dependency and side effects look to me like uncritical parrotting of official propaganda.