Saturday, February 28, 2009

GNXP Survey Results   posted by Razib @ 2/28/2009 03:06:00 PM

There are nearly 500 complete responses to the survey from last week. Here's a CSV file of the results. Below the fold are the frequencies as well as N's. I might report some trends in the data, but a lot of it is predictable. People who only read ScienceBlogs GNXP are way more liberal than those who do not.
Reads.... Only GNXP ScienceBlogs Only GNXP Classic Both
No Answer 1.83 2.08 2.87
Far Left 13.76 4.17 2.87
Left 28.44 5.56 11.48
Center Left 16.51 10.42 15.31
Center 8.26 6.94 11.00
Center Right 2.75 10.42 11.00
Right 1.83 13.19 10.05
Far Right 0.92 9.03 5.74
Libertarian 20.18 31.94 19.62
Other 5.50 6.25 10.05

Full results below the fold.

Which weblogs do you read?
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 26 5.25%
GNXP Scienceblogs 109 22.02%
GNXP Classic 147 29.70%
Both 213 43.03%
How long have you been reading this/these weblogs(s)?
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 16 3.23%
Less than 1 month 12 2.42%
1-6 months 62 12.53%
6-12 months 83 16.77%
1-2 years 150 30.30%
3-4 years 107 21.62%
5+ years 65 13.13%
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 8 1.62%
Male 434 87.68%
Female 53 10.71%
What are your politics?
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 18 3.64%
Far Left 28 5.66%
Left 66 13.33%
Left of Center 68 13.74%
Center 44 8.89%
Right of Center 46 9.29%
Right 46 9.29%
Far Right 26 5.25%
Libertarian 114 23.03%
Other 39 7.88%
Confidence in Existence of God
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 18 3.64%
Does Not Exist 209 42.22%
Skeptical of Existence 116 23.43%
Doubtful of Existence 28 5.66%
Believe Existence Possible 47 9.49%
Believe Existence Probable 24 4.85%
Know God Exists 30 6.06%
No Opinion 23 4.65%
Religious Orientation
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 12 2.42%
Not Religious 332 67.07%
Christian 93 18.79%
Jewish 18 3.64%
Muslim 9 1.82%
Hindu 9 1.82%
Buddhist 4 0.81%
Other Beliefs 18 3.64%
Where Do You Live?
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 8 1.62%
USA & Canada 354 71.52%
Latin America 6 1.21%
Caribbean 0 0
Oceania (Australia, NZ + Pacific) 17 3.43%
Southeast Asia (i.e., ASEAN) 2 0.40%
East Asia 12 2.42%
South Asia 2 0.40%
Middle East + North Africa 3 0.61%
Sub-Saharan Africa 1 0.20%
Western Europe 84 16.97%
Eastern Europe 5 1.01%
Russia + CIS 1 0.20%
Racial Identity
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 12 2.42%
White/European 413 83.43%
Black/African 3 0.61%
East Asian 14 2.83%
South Asian 28 5.66%
Middle Eastern/North African 2 0.40%
Southeast Asian 4 0.81%
Mixed (Mestizo, multiracial, etc.) 19 3.84%
Amerindian 0 0
Highest Educational Level Attained
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 11 2.22%
Less Than Secondary 5 1.01%
Secondary 12 2.42%
Some Post-Secondary 43 8.69%
University 187 37.78%
Graduate 237 47.88%
Socioeconomic Status
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 20 4.04%
Lower Class 20 4.04%
Lower Middle Class 69 13.94%
Middle Class 214 43.23%
Upper Middle Class 158 31.92%
Upper Class 14 2.83%
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 6 1.21%
Younger than 18 4 0.81%
18-25 99 20.00%
26-35 155 31.31%
36-45 90 18.18%
46-65 124 25.05%
65+ 17 3.43%
Highest Level of Math Completed
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 27 5.45%
Pre-Algebra 4 0.81%
Algebra 9 1.82%
Geometry 11 2.22%
Algebra II 26 5.25%
Pre-Calculus 36 7.27%
Calculus 103 20.81%
Differential Equations 49 9.90%
Linear Algebra 46 9.29%
Multivariable Calculus 56 11.31%
Higher than Multivariable Calculus 83 16.77%
Have Math Degree 45 9.09%
Opinions On The Singularity
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 141 28.48%
Will Happen 32 6.46%
Might Happen 169 34.14%
Unlikely 131 26.46%
Impossible 22 4.44%
How Many Children Do You Have?
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 7 1.41%
0 316 63.84%
1 61 12.32%
2 65 13.13%
3 32 6.46%
4 9 1.82%
5 3 0.61%
6 1 0.20%
7 0 0
8 0 0
9 0 0
10 0 0
Lots 1 0.20%
How Did You Find This Weblog?
Answer Count Percentage
No answer 42 8.48%
Google 58 11.72%
Other Search Engine 1 0.20%
Instapundit 9 1.82%
Steve Sailer 83 16.77%
Scienceblogs 82 16.57%
Andrew Sullivan 7 1.41%
Message Board 6 1.21%
Word Of Mouth 19 3.84%
Email 0 0
Blogroll 20 4.04%
Pointer From Another Weblog 141 28.48%
Other 27 5.45%

Friday, February 27, 2009

Interview of Greg Cochran on   posted by Razib @ 2/27/2009 10:57:00 PM

OK, it's more just Greg talking. Here. The density of brown dudes on is rather high this week.

Guess which surnames died out in pre-industrial England?   posted by Herrick @ 2/27/2009 05:42:00 PM

The surnames of the criminal and the poor, of course. Greg Clark provides new evidence for the "survival of the richest" here (and he thanks Nick Wade for the idea). From the abstract:

[E]vidence from...surnames...again shows the takeover of English society by the economically successful between 1600 and 1851, and the disappearance of the criminal and the poor. A man's economic success in pre-industrial England predicted a permanent increase of his surname frequency, and hence his gene frequency, by 1851.

Confession: I, for one, had no idea that Elvis was a surname.

Clark's papers have familiarized economists with the basics of genetics. It seems to be paying off: At the American Economic Association meetings this year, there was a session on brain evolution in the very long run, another on genetics and microeconomic behavior, and a third GNXP-friendly session where Clark presented the above-quoted paper.

Haloscan going through transition   posted by Razib @ 2/27/2009 04:34:00 PM

Haloscan is upgrading to JS-Kit. Until I update this post, you might want to not comment (I can't approve comments right now, and don't know whether it will be saved in the database).

Update: Looks like comments are back.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Epigenetics and gene structures   posted by p-ter @ 2/26/2009 07:40:00 PM

Following up on this previous post on epigentics, I thought I'd point to a couple nice examples of using epigenetic information to obtain insight into basic biology.

The first is, I think it's fair to say, a landmark paper identifying a set of over a thousand likely functional non-coding RNAs in mouse cell lines. The approach used here was epigenetic: the authors generated genome-wide maps of chromatin modifications known to mark promoters and transcribed regions, and screened out all the regions of the genome already known to be transcriptionally active. This left them with a set of putatively functional transcripts, which tended to be highly evolutionarily conserved (indicating function), and many of which they confirmed via other means to be novel long non-coding RNAs.

The second is a nice paper demonstrating that one of the same epigentic marks used above to identify transcribed regions is present, in humans, mice, and nemotodes, preferentially on exons (rather than on the entirety of the transcribed region). As this mark is present only in genes that are being transcribed, the authors conclude that it is placed in conjunction with transcription, and likely in conjunction with splicing. They speculate about the role that this mark could play in gene regulation, but in general, this paper raises many more interesting questions than can currently be answered.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Epigenetics in the NY Times   posted by p-ter @ 2/24/2009 07:50:00 PM

Not news to many readers, I'm sure, but Nicholas Wade has a nice article on epigenetics and gene regulation. Some people in the article complain about the lack of a focused investment by the government in this area. I found this a little odd--isn't quite a bit of large-scale work being done by the ENCODE project?

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Male superiority at chess and science cannot be explained by statistical sampling arguments   posted by agnostic @ 2/24/2009 05:37:00 PM

A new paper by Bilalic et al. (2009) (read the PDF here), tries to account for male superiority in chess by appealing to a statistical sampling argument: men make up a much larger fraction of chess players, and that the n highest extreme values -- say, the top ranked 100 players -- are expected to be greater in a large sample than in a small one. In fact, this explanation is only a rephrasing of the question -- why are men so much more likely to dedicate themselves to chess.

Moreover, data from other domains where men and women are equally represented in the sample, or where it's women who are overrepresented in the sample, do not support the hypothesis -- men continue to dominate, even when vastly underrepresented, in domains that rely on skills that males excel in compared to females. I show this with the example of fashion designers, where males are hardly present in the sample overall but thrive at the elite level.

First, the authors review the data that male chess players really are better than female ones (p.2):

For example: not a single woman has been world champion; only 1 per cent of Grandmasters, the best players in the world, are female; and there is only one woman among the best 100 players in the world.

The authors then estimate the male superiority at rank n, from 1 to 100, using the entire sample's mean and s.d., and the fraction of the sample that is male and female. Here is how the real data compare to this expectation (p.2):

Averaged over the 100 top players, the expected male superiority is 341 Elo points and the real one is 353 points. Therefore 96 per cent of the observed difference between male and female players can be attributed to a simple statistical fact -- the extreme values from a large sample are likely to be bigger than those from a small one.

Therefore (p. 3):

Once participation rates of men and women are controlled for, there is little left for biological, environmental, cultural or other factors to explain. This simple statistical fact is often overlooked by both laypeople and experts.

Of course, this sampling argument doesn't explain anything -- it merely pushes the question back a level. Why are men 16 times more likely than women to compete in chess leagues? We are back to square one: maybe men are better at whatever skills chess tests, maybe men are more ambitious and competitive even when they're equally skilled as women, maybe men are pressured by society to go into chess and women away from it. Thus, the question staring us in the face has not been resolved at all, but merely written in a different color ink.

The authors are no fools and go on to mention what I just said. They then review some of the arguments for and against the various explanations. But this means that their study does not test any of the hypotheses at all -- aside from rephrasing the problem, the only portion of their article that speaks to which answer may be correct is a two-paragraph literature review. For example, maybe females on average perform poorer on chess-related skills, and so weed themselves out more early on, in the same way that males under 6'3 would be more likely to move on and find more suitable hobbies than basketball, compared to males above 6'3. Here is the authors' response to this hypothesis (p. 3, my emphasis):

Whatever the final resolution of these debates [on "gender differences in cognitive abilities"], there is little empirical evidence to support the hypothesis of differential drop-out rates between male and females. A recent study of 647 young chess players, matched for initial skill, age and initial activity found that drop-out rates for boys and girls were similar (Chabris & Glickman 2006).

Well no shit -- they removed the effect of initial skill, and thus how well suited you are to the hobby with no preparation, and so presumably due to genetic or other biological factors. And they also removed the effect of initial activity, and thus how enthusiastic you are about the hobby. And when you control for initial height, muscle mass, and desire to compete, men under 6'3 are no more or less likely to drop out of basketball hobbies than men over 6'3. How stupid do these researchers think we are?

So, this article really has little to say about the question of why men excel in chess or science, and it's baffling that it got published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The natural inference is that it was not chosen based on how well it could test various hypotheses -- whether pro or contra the Larry Summers ideas -- but in the hope that it would convince academics that there is really nothing to see here, so just move along and get home because your parents are probably worried sick about you.

Now, let's pretend to do some real science here. The authors' hypothesis is that the pattern in chess or science can be accounted for by their statistical sampling argument -- but of course, men dominate all sorts of fields, including where they're about as equally represented in the pool of competitors, and even when they're outnumbered in that pool. Occam's Razor requires us to find a simple account of all these patterns, not postulating a separate one for each case. The simple explanation is that men excel in these fields due to underlying differences in genes, hormones, social pressures, or whatever.

The statistical sampling argument can only capture one piece of the pattern -- male superiority where males make up more of the sample. Any of the non-sampling hypotheses, including the silly socio-cultural ones, at least are in the running for accounting for the big picture of male dominance regardless of their fraction of the sample.

To provide some data, I direct you to an analysis I did three years ago of male vs. female fashion designers. Here, I'll consider "the sample of fashion designers" to be students at fashion schools since that's what the data were. Fashion students are the ones who will make up the pool of fashion designers upon graduating. I included four measures of eminence: 1) being chosen to enter the Council of Fashion Designers of America, 2) having an entry in two major fashion encyclopedias, both edited by women (Who's Who in Fashion, and The Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion), 3) having their collections listed on Vogue's website, and 4) winning the highest award of the CFDA, the Perry Ellis awards for emerging talent.

The male : female ratio in the pool of fashion students is 1 : 13 at Parsons and 1 : 5.7 at FIT. So, the female majority in the sample of fashion designers is not quite as extreme as that of males in chess leagues, but pretty close. The statistical sampling argument predicts that females should out-number males at the top. But they don't -- the M : F ratios for the four measures above are, respectively, 1.29 : 1, 1.5 : 1 and 1.9 : 1, 1.8 : 1, and 3.6 : 1. Again, this isn't as extreme as male superiority in chess, but recall that males are so underrepresented in the sample to begin with!

(For other design fields that males tend to have greater interest in, such as architecture, the M : F ratios among the winners of the Pritzker Prize and the AIA Gold Medal are, respectively, 27 : 1 and 61 : 0).

The authors statistical sampling argument is not a null hypothesis that we reject or fail to reject in any particular case -- rejecting it in fashion design, and failing to reject in chess. It is not a hypothesis at all, but simply a rephrasing of the observation that men dominate certain fields, only measuring this by their greater participation rates. Again, it does not address why males are so much more likely to participate in chess leagues to begin with, which could be due to any of the existing hypotheses about male superiority. The point is that it is a widespread phenomenon that requires a single explanation applying across domains.

I find the genetic and hormonal influences on the mean and variance of cognitive ability and personality traits to be the most promising (just search our archives for relevant keywords to find the discussions). But this study of chess players offers nothing new to the debate, and could not do so even in principle, as it doesn't make a novel hypothesis, apply a novel test to existing data, or apply existing tests on novel data. You can reformulate the observation or problem however you please, but that doesn't make the testing of hypotheses go away.


Bilalic, Smallbone, McLeod, and Gobet (2009). Why are (the best) Women so Good at Chess? Participation Rates and Gender Differences in Intellectual Domains. Proc. R. Soc. B, 276, 1161–1165.

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The Porn Belt   posted by Razib @ 2/24/2009 12:21:00 PM

Tyler Cowen points me to an interesting paper, Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?. Here's an interesting map which shows states with high and low porn subscription rates (dark = high, light = low).


Here's a table with the data, controlled for some variables.


This part is amusing:
The fourth column reports that in regions where more people report regularly attending religious services (per National Election Studies 2004), overall subscription rates are not statistically significantly different from subscriptions elsewhere...However, in such regions, a statistically significantly smaller proportion of subscriptions begin on Sundays, compared with other regions. In particular, a 1 percent increase in the proportion of people who report regularly attending religious services is associated with a 0.10 percent reduction in the proportion of purchases that occur on Sunday. This analysis suggests that, on the whole, those who attend religious services shift their consumption of adult entertainment to other days of the week, despite on average consuming the same amount of adult entertainment as others.

Remember Pete Du Pont's op-ed, Gore Carries the Porn Belt?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Preliminary responses to reader survey   posted by Razib @ 2/23/2009 09:10:00 AM

Are here. Just the frequency data. Past experience tells me that the proportions won't change much.... (N is well over 300)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Deep Web   posted by Razib @ 2/22/2009 08:39:00 PM

Exploring a 'Deep Web' That Google Can't Grasp. I remember when I first encountered Google, right after reading this article in Salon. Not to put a fine point on it, I was tired of search engines that returned a list of porn stars when I was trying to look up the black conservative "Shelby Steele." Obviously Google changed that, the search experience become so quantitatively different than it was qualitatively different. There was the pre-Google web, and the post-Google web. In any case, I've been hearing stuff about the "Deep/Dark Web" for years now. Hopefully someone will figure this out. There was a time when you'd play around with a few search engines as well as a directory like Yahoo to find some information. Google was such an improvement that it introduced one-stop searching, making MetaCrawler irrelevant. If some of these Deep Web technologies pan out, perhaps we can do away with Orbitz too.

From human genetics to biological insight   posted by p-ter @ 2/22/2009 11:20:00 AM

In 2007, SNPs in an intron of the gene FTO were reported to be associated with obesity. At the time, essentially nothing was known about the gene. A few months later, a group of biochemists proposed a role for the gene in demethylation of nucleic acids (RNA or DNA). This week, a group of mouse geneticists present an analysis of a knockout of the gene, and show that the knockouts are resistant to weight gain due to increased energy expenditure.

There's still quite a ways to go before the mechanism by which FTO contributes to weight variation in humans is understood (oddly enough, there's some evidence that the mechanism is through increased energy intake rather than expenditure), but people keep chipping away...

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reader Survey   posted by Razib @ 2/21/2009 10:22:00 PM

It's been a while since I did a reader survey, so I posted 15 questions here. I'll put up a csv file with the results in a week.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Convergent evolution in pigmentation   posted by Razib @ 2/20/2009 11:16:00 AM

Short article in Conservation and Convergence of Colour Genetics: MC1R Mutations in brown Cavefish:
One of the most striking observations in nature is when similar phenotypes appear independently, such as wings in birds and bats, or melanism in moths and mice. These examples of so-called convergent evolution naturally lead us to ponder the question of genetic repeatability, i.e., the extent to which similar phenotypes that evolved in parallel share the same genetic mechanisms. Cave-dwelling organisms provide an attractive system for studying genetic repeatability, since populations in geographically isolated caves often undergo striking convergent evolution in response to the drastically altered environment, with reduced pigmentation and vision being particularly common phenotypes.


A test for the pathogenic theory of homosexuality?   posted by ben g @ 2/20/2009 11:04:00 AM

Compare monochorionic to dichorionic twins. If there's a teratogen causing homosexuality then it should show up as a statistical difference in concordance for homosexuality.

Of course this would only tell us whether there is a prenatal pathogen. It wouldn't rule out the possibility that there is a pathogen that only strikes later on.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mandatory genetic screening?   posted by Razib @ 2/18/2009 06:25:00 PM

Parents probably already know this, but this is a surprise to me, Screening for Rare Genetic Disorders Now Routine in Newborns:
A March of Dimes report released today says all 50 states and the District of Columbia now require newborn screening for 21 or more so-called core disorders recommended for testing. These core disorders, 29 in all, include many rare but potentially disabling or fatal metabolic disorders. Although all states have rules or laws requiring the screenings, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have yet to implement their expanded programs, according to the organization.

The increase represents a big change since 2000, when most states screened for only four conditions and testing practices varied widely from state to state, according to March of Dimes officials.

The article ends on a weird note:
"She is beautiful, healthy, precocious, 99th percentile height and weight, just wonderful," Mr. Swift said. "That test saved her life."

Shout out to parents out there, do you really want your baby to be the 99th percentile in weight?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The New York Times article skimmer   posted by Razib @ 2/17/2009 11:35:00 PM

A web 2.0 app that allows you to explore The New York Times. Via Felix Salmon.

Steven Rose: Wrong on the science of race, gender, and intelligence   posted by ben g @ 2/17/2009 08:13:00 AM

In the latest issue of Nature, competing editorials were written on the proposition that scientists should study race and IQ. Steven Ceci and Wendy Williams argued 'Yes', and Steven Rose argued 'No'. In this article I will detail the scientific errors which underly Rose's argument. The scientific reasons offered by him are largely a veneer meant to justify his "radical science" political views, but I will refrain from commenting on his politics until my next post on this.

Rose argues:
the categories of intelligence, race and gender are not definable within the framework required for natural scientific research, failing my first criterion of being well-founded. They also fail the second criterion of being answerable: we lack the theoretical or technical tools to study them.
Let's begin with his critiques of IQ:

to try to capture the many forms of socially expressed intelligent behaviour in a single coefficient — and to rank an entire population in a linear mode, like soldiers on parade lined up by height — excludes most richly intelligent human activities. Social intelligence, emotional intelligence, the intelligent hands of the craftsman or the intelligent intuition of the scientist all elude the 'g' straightjacket
Modern psychometrics isn't claiming that all of a person's intelligence is measured by IQ or g. IQ is used because of its strong and reliable correlations with educational and economic performance, independent of class and race.

Group comparisons of IQ are even more problematic. Attempts have been made to make 'culture-fair' or 'culture-free' tests, as if such a thing were possible, to allow comparisons of 'g' between people from very different societies.
Rose doesn't understand what is meant by "culture fair." It doesn't mean that the test prevents someone's culture from having an effect on their IQ score. Rather, it means that culture does not effect the test's predictive validity. And that is indeed the case. Worldwide the correlations between IQ and economic/educational success are high.

Rose goes on to critique the concept of biological race:

As for 'race', the problem is whether it is a biologically, as opposed to socially, meaningful category. Among geneticists interested in differences in gene frequencies between populations, there is increasing consensus that the word obscures more than it reveals, and should be replaced by the concept of biogeographic ancestry, which makes possible the study of subpopulations for relevant genetic and phenotypic characteristics... Broad divisions between 'white' or 'Caucasian' and 'black' or 'Asian', the groups generally discussed in the context of the IQ debate, especially in the United States, hide genetically important subpopulation differences within these groups.
To begin with, it is biologically meaningful to talk of the 'white race' or the 'asian race.' These categories encapsulate a great deal of genetic variation, and are not arbitrary; as Steve Sailer has pointed out, Cavalli-Sforza's principal components map corresponds to social categories of race.

Furthermore, discussing higher level categories does nothing to obscure lower level categories. If I know someone is a Christian, this doesn't mean I cease to be interested in their denomination. And in fact, psychometricians do study more specific categories than the big 3 races; see for example Jason Malloy's summary of Lynn's worldwide psychometric work.

As for terminology, it is actually irrelevant whether we refer to population groups by their "race" or their "biogeographic ancestry." The former has more social and historical baggage, and the latter is more long-winded, but they both point to the same empirical fact-- group-based genetic differences.

Lastly, the IQ differences between blacks, whites, and asians interest researchers so much simply because the differences in educational/economic outcomes between these groups interest researchers (and the public) more than other group-based differences.

Rose moves on to gender:

the crucial question is whether it is possible to identify a biological — presumably genetic or neurodevelopmental — cause to any difference in the way men and women think and act. The problem is that from the moment of birth, boys and girls are treated differently, which shapes both their growing bodies and brains and how they are expected to behave... Thus, although there are minor average structural and biochemical variations between Western men's and women's brains (such as the volume of some nuclei and the distribution of hormone receptors), speculations on their implications for how men and women may think or behave lack any empirical basis.
There are plenty of research methods that can be used to sidestep the problems that Rose raises here. To name a few, we can look at: kids raised as the opposite gender because of botched genital operations, how hormones correlate with various behaviors, the differences between girl or boy babies in their first months of life, human universals, etc.

Rose closes up the "scientific" portion of his article by citing many of the difficulties which prevent the resolution of the race and IQ debate:

The standard approach of population biologists to estimating the potential genetic contribution to a trait is to make a heritability estimate. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of this measure within a population, it is essentially just that: a within-population measure, only valid for a given environment. The nature of the equations means that if the environment changes, the heritability estimate changes too...Even if reliable correlations were found between some intelligence test score and a measure of brain physiology or activity held by a specific group, such a correlation says nothing about the direction of causation.
This is an argument for more research, not less. This is an argument for genome-wide association studies, which will allow us to pinpoint the genes that effect intelligence and how they interact with the enviornment. This is an argument for more research on the neuroscience behind IQ and intelligence. This is an argument for further funding of projects to map out the genetic differences between human populations world-wide. This is not an argument for cutting off an important (albeit, politically inconvenient) avenue of science.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Move!   posted by Razib @ 2/16/2009 11:53:00 PM

Dead End in Detroit for White-Collar Workers:
Frustrated by the tight job market, Mr. Badhorn works off his stress by hitting the gym every day. He's lost 15 pounds since November, but it hasn't made him feel any better about his circumstances. "I've pretty much come to the conclusion that I'm going to have to move if I want to earn what I made before, or close to it," he said.

Creative destruction is about as overused as paradigm shift, but it seems appropriate in this case. Depopulation is part of the life-cycle of regions.

Younger people accept evolution   posted by Razib @ 2/16/2009 09:35:00 PM

The Inductivist has already reported that younger people are more likely to accept evolution. But it is also true that younger people are less Christian than older people. But does the trend hold within religious groups? That is, are younger people more open to evolution, or is that more secular people are more open to evolution and younger people are more secular? I decided to check Protestants and Catholics in the GSS broken down into three age brackets, 18-35, 36-50 and 51+ (the sample sizes are decent). I used the SCITEST4 variable, affirmative or not for "Humans evolved from animals." I also checked for those individuals in the sample who believe that "God Definitely Exists."

Humans Evolved From Animals


Protestant Catholic
Defintely True 11.6 22.3
Probably True 30.8 42.5
Probably Not True 17.8 16.3
Definitely Not True 39.9 18.9


Protestant Catholic
Defintely True 10.9 18.1
Probably True 28.5 44.3
Probably Not True 16.4 21.5
Definitely Not True 44.2 16.2


Protestant Catholic
Defintely True 8.9 12.6
Probably True 23.5 37.3
Probably Not True 15.7 19.7
Definitely Not True 52 30.4

All Who Say God Definitely Exists, Opinions on Evolution
Defintely True 12.3
Probably True 28.2
Probably Not True 17.3
Definitely Not True 42.2

Defintely True 8.2
Probably True 27.5
Probably Not True 17.8
Definitely Not True 46.5

Defintely True 7
Probably True 20.4
Probably Not True 15.4
Definitely Not True 57.2

I looks like there's some foundation to optimism here....


Creationism among doctors and the general public   posted by Razib @ 2/16/2009 01:30:00 PM

A few years ago there was a survey of Creationism among medical doctors. The short of is that though medical doctors are not as Creationist as the general public, a large minority are Creationists. The N's for some of the groups are rather small, but I thought it might be illustrative to compare the proportion of doctors who believed that humans were created by God as they appear now, and those who mostly or complete disagree with the contention that evolution is the best explanation for human life. Since the medical survey didn't disaggregate Protestants into evangelical and mainline, I substituted from another survey.

Acceptance of Creationism for Humans
  Doctors General Public
Jewish 3 17
Catholic 11 35
Hindu 11 14
Orthodox 37 36
Muslim 43 51
Protestant 35 66

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Right & wrong is not about religion   posted by Razib @ 2/15/2009 10:25:00 PM

At least according to most Americans. The full report of the Pew Religious Landscape Survey has some data not available on the website. There is a question of the form: When it comes to questions of right and wrong, which of the following do you look to most for guidance? I think the results will surprise....

  Religious teachings & beliefs Philosophy & reason Practical experience & common sense Scientific Information Don't know/Refused
Evangelical 52 4 39 2 3
Mainline 24 9 59 4 4
Historically Black 43 4 47 3 3
Catholic 22 10 57 7 5
Mormon 58 4 33 2 3
Orthodox 25 11 52 8 5
Jehovah's Witness 73 3 19 1 5
Other Christian 19 25 42 7 4
Jewish 10 15 60 9 6
Muslim 33 10 41 14 2
Buddhist 4 27 51 12 5
Hindu 9 15 55 18 4
Other Faiths 5 25 58 8 4
Unaffiliated 6 16 66 10 3

America is the land of pragmatism I guess.

Addendum: I want to make clear that I'm not assuming a Blank Slate model where the sources of moral intuition or reason that people offer up is actually the real source, as opposed to a post facto confabulation. The survey is simply interesting to me as a window into the public's own self-perception.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

From genome-wide data to insights into human population structure   posted by p-ter @ 2/14/2009 12:28:00 PM

The most important public sources of genetic data for understanding human population genetics to date have come from the HapMap and the Human Genome Diversity Panel. A new paper presents an analysis of human population structure in a somewhat complementary data set assembled from thousands of samples largely from Mexico, Europe, East Asia, and Central Asia (the European population in this data were previously examined in great detail). A couple highlights:

1. I recently mentioned a pair of papers that presented conflicting results about the relative effective population sizes of the X chromosome and the autosomes. In this paper, the authors write:
Interestingly, we observed a significantly higher degree of divergence in allele frequency across X chromosome SNPs where we estimate FST to be 9.7%. This value is about 40% higher than the expected value of 6.8% derived from a many-deme island model and accounting for the 4:3 ratio of autosomes to sex chromosome. The higher degree of population divergence at X chromosome SNPs suggests a smaller effective population size of the X than that predicted from Mendelian genetics.
This is additional evidence that the observation that needs to be explained is a lower Ne on the X chromosomes as compared to the autosomes, rather than the reverse.

2. Within Europe, the authors find that, in general, haplotype diversity decreases from the south to the north, an observation consistent with expansion from the Middle East into Europe via a series of serial bottlenecks. However, there is high haplotype diversity in Southwestern Europe, which is inconsistent with such a simple model. The authors show that many of the SW European haplotypes match up with those in Africa, suggesting recent migration directly from Africa across the Mediterranean could partially explain this phenomenon.

I may have more to say once the Supplementary Information are available online, but this is a nice example of leveraging samples collected for medical genetics studies around the world for further understanding in population genetics.


Sexual Selection - with a twist   posted by DavidB @ 2/14/2009 01:37:00 AM

Some birds like a threesome: see here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

...and the meltdown shall be blogged....   posted by Razib @ 2/13/2009 10:54:00 PM

Check out Calculated Risk. I came for the charts, but stayed for the bank failures.

The costs of IVF   posted by Razib @ 2/13/2009 01:02:00 PM

Slate has a piece up, Pregnant Pause: Who should pay for in vitro fertilization?. What might the objection to the bolded section be?:
Roughly 10 percent of couples experience infertility, a rate possibly accelerated by the increasing average age of prospective mothers. This demographic trend of older mothers is encouraging (since higher maternal age is a powerful predictor of financial security and the child's future social and educational attainment), but the odds of successful spontaneous pregnancy are lower. And so women increasingly turn to fertility treatments such as ovarian hyperstimulation, which forces the ovaries to pump out more eggs per cycle and increases the risk of having twins or triplets, and IVF, in which fertilized eggs, or embryos, are implanted in the uterus directly. Almost one in 80 newborns in the United States owes his existence to IVF.

In any case, if there is mandatory insurance coverage for IVF that would seem to have obvious social consequences in terms of the decision-calculus that women make. The magnitude of the trade-offs shift....


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwinian Nuggets   posted by DavidB @ 2/12/2009 01:34:00 AM

Today is the 200th birthday of you-know-who. I'm sure most people are already sated with Darwiniana, but I can't let the day pass without making my own small contribution.

One of the pleasures of reading Darwin is that one can still find nuggets of insight in unexpected places. Here I want to describe two of these: Darwin's discussion of incest taboos, and his treatment of animal combat. [Added 14 February: On the latter, see the Addendum at the end of the post.]

The obvious place to look for a discussion of human incest in Darwin's works would be in the Descent of Man, but the first edition (1871) does not even mention incest. Instead, Darwin's fullest discussion of the subject comes in the unlikely setting of The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. This is Darwin's longest single work, and, as its title suggests, it is mainly concerned with a detailed analysis of the varieties of domesticated animals and plants, including 100 pages on pigeons alone. But it also includes a mass of information and discussion on heredity in general (including Darwin's erroneous 'provisional hypothesis of pangenesis'). As part of the treatment of heredity, Darwin discusses the effects of cross-breeding and inbreeding, so a discussion of human incest taboos is not quite as much of a digression as it might seem.

In the first edition (1868) Darwin discusses (and rejects) previous explanations for incest prohibitions, and continues as follows:

It would be interesting to know, if it could be ascertained, as throwing light on this question with respect to man, what occurs with the higher anthropomorphous apes - whether the young males and females soon wander away from their parents, or whether the old males become jealous of their sons and expel them, or whether any inherited instinctive feeling, from being beneficial, has been generated, leading the young males and females of the same family to prefer pairing with distinct families, and to dislike pairing with each other. A considerable body of evidence has already been advanced, showing that the offspring from parents which are not related are more vigorous and fertile than those from parents which are closely related; hence any slight feeling, arising from the sexual excitement of novelty or other cause, which led to the former rather than the latter unions, would be augmented through natural selection, and thus might become instinctive; for those individuals which had an innate preference of this kind would increase in number. It seems more probable that degraded savages should thus unconsciously have acquired their dislike and even abhorrence of incestuous marriages, rather than that they should have discovered by observation and reasoning the evil results. The abhorrence occasionally failing is no valid argument against the feeling being instinctive, for any instinct may occasionally fail or become vitiated, as sometimes occurs with parental love and the social sympathies. In the case of man, the question whether evil follows from close interbreeding will probably never be answered by direct evidence, as he propagates his kind so slowly and cannot be subject to experiment; but the almost universal practice of all races at all times of avoiding closely-related marriages is an argument of considerable weight; and whatever conclusion we arrive at in regard to the higher animals may safely be extended to man (1868, vol.2, pp.123-4)

In the second edition (1875) this passage is heavily revised, to take account of new evidence. Darwin's own son George had made a statistical investigation of the effects of first-cousin marriage (in which the Darwins had a close personal interest!), and concluded that the effects were slight. Alfred Henry Huth had also recently (1875) published a book, The Marriage of Near Kin, which concluded that there was no instinctive feeling against incest in man. Darwin expressed some reservations about Huth's evidence, but accepted the main conclusion. As a result, in the second edition his treatment of incest was revised and shortened as follows:

It has been clearly shown by Mr Huth that there is no instinctive feeling against incest in man any more than in gregarious animals. We know also how readily any prejudice or feeling may give rise to abhorrence, as shown by Hindus in regard to objects causing defilement. Although there seems to be no strong inherited feeling in mankind against incest, it seems possible that men during primeval times may have been more excited by strange females than by those with whom they habitually lived; in the same manner as according to Mr Cupples, male deerhounds are inclined towards strange females, while the females prefer dogs with whom they have associated. If any such feelings formerly existed in man, this would have led to a preference for marriages beyond the nearest kin, and might have been strengthened by the offspring of such marriages surviving in greater numbers, as analogy would lead us to believe would have occurred (1875, vol.2, pp.103-4)

It will be seen that the theory is somewhat weakened, since it no longer accounts for 'abhorrence' of incest (which Darwin, following Huth, now believes is not instinctive), but only a 'preference' for more distant marriages. To account for 'abhorrence' (which Darwin still believes is widespread, though not instinctive), Darwin has to appeal to reinforcement by social customs and beliefs. This subject is covered more fully in the second (1874) edition of the Descent of Man, which contains an extended discussion of social conventions. Particularly relevant to incest is the following:

The breach of a rule held sacred by the tribe, will thus, as it seems, give rise to the deepest feelings, - and this quite apart from the social instincts, excepting in so far as the rule is grounded on the judgement of the community. How so many strange superstitions have arisen throughout the world we know not; nor can we tell how some great and real crimes, such as incest, have come to be held in abhorrence (which is not however quite universal) by the lowest savages. It is even doubtful whether in some tribes incest would be looked on with greater horror, than would the marriage of a man with a woman bearing the same name, though not a relation....[quotes examples from E. B. Tylor] We may therefore reject the belief, lately insisted on by some writers, that the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience.(1874, p.176)

Darwin thus presents not one but two theories of incest prohibitions, the second of which is close to that usually attributed to Edward Westermarck, writing some twenty years later. Whether either of them is correct I will not consider. The subject of incest prohibitions has been extensively discussed by modern sociobiologists, but so far as I am aware Darwin's accounts in the Variation have not been noticed.

My second 'nugget' concerns Darwin's treatment of animal combat, specifically combat between males to obtain access to females. In this case Darwin's treatment does indeed come in the expected place - the part of the Descent of Man concerned with sexual selection - but the passage I want to focus on occurs only in the second (1874) edition. This used to be the standard version, but since the reprinting of the first (1871) edition by Princeton UP, the second edition is probably now seldom read. In the first edition Darwin gives a long discussion of combat between male mammals, such as rams, bulls, and stags. He attempts to deal with the problem that some animal weapons, such as the long backward-pointing antlers of the Oryx, do not appear very efficient for fighting. In dealing with this he emphasises that the effectiveness of the weapon needs to be considered in relation to the existing weapons and fighting methods of the species concerned. In the case of the Oryx, once they had acquired the method of kneeling down, lowering their heads, and attempting to insert their antlers under the rival's neck, then a gradual evolution of longer and longer antlers could be advantageous (1871, vol.2, p250.) He then considers the branching antlers of most deer species, and discusses how they are used. But he is doubtful that they would always be as effective as simpler antlers, and speculates that they may have a subsidiary advantage for purposes of display (p.254). He then quotes a recent report from America describing a variety of Cervus Virginianus, known as the spike-horn variety, with a simpler, straighter antler, which appears to be increasing in numbers, so that the species is being modified by sexual and natural selection (p.255).

This is all good stuff, but a critic objected that if simpler antlers were more effective, branched antlers should not (on Darwin's principles) ever have evolved. In the 1874 edition he answers this objection as follows:

To this I can only answer by remarking, that a new mode of attack with new weapons might be a great advantage, as shown by the case of the Ovis cycloceros [described earlier] who thus conquered a domestic ram famous for his fighting power. Though the branched antlers of the stag are well adapted for fighting with his rivals, and though it might be an advantage to the prong-horned variety slowly to acquire long and branched horns, if he had to fight only with others of the same kind, yet it by no means follows that branched horns would be the best fitted for conquering a foe differently armed. In the foregoing case of the Oryx leucoryx, it is almost certain that the victory would rest with an antelope having short horns, and who therefore did not have to kneel down, though an oryx might profit by having still longer horns, if he fought only with his proper rivals. (1874, p.783)

I think this shows a sophisticated grasp of the concept of frequency-dependent selection, and might well be regarded as anticipating modern evolutionary game theory. In case this seems fanciful, consider the following:

As everyone knows, male deer have branched antlers. During the breeding season, two stags fight by lowering their heads so that their antlers interlock. Each then attempts to force the other backwards, until at last the weakest is forced to break away and flee. Because of the branching structure of the antlers it is rare for a stag to be pierced by its opponent's antlers. Occasionally, however, a stag grows antlers without branches; such a stag may wound and kill its adversary.... Why should natural selection have favoured a device - the branching of antlers - which appears to reduce the chances a stag may have of winning fights? (1972, p.8)

This passage is not from Darwin, but from an essay by John Maynard Smith which contains the first application of game theory to animal behaviour, predating the better-known paper by Maynard Smith and George Price. Maynard Smith goes on to stress, like Darwin, that the optimal 'strategy' in a given situation will depend on what other animals are doing. Maynard Smith gives no source for his stag example, and he does not cite Darwin. Yet it is virtually certain that Maynard Smith, an expert on sexual selection, had at some point read the second edition of the Descent of Man (the only one easily available at that time). I suspect that the stag example had unconsciously lodged in his memory, and may even have helped to stimulate the train of thought that led to evolutionary game theory itself.

[Addendum: The connection of game theory with Darwin may actually be more through Price rather than Maynard Smith. Price wrote a long paper in 1969 titled 'Antlers, intraspecific combat, and altruism' and submitted it to Nature, who sent it to John Maynard Smith as referee. JMS recommended acceptance in principle, subject to substantial shortening. Price did not resubmit it and nothing further was heard from him. In 1972 JMS incorporated some of Price's ideas in his essay cited above, with due acknowledgement to Price. Price and JMS then got back in touch, and wrote their joint paper (1973). Price's long original manuscript has not been found, but according to a description by Price it specifically refered to Darwin's discussion of deers' antlers. For all this see (1995)]


1868. Charles Darwin: The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, first edition.
1871. Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, first edition.
1874. Charles Darwin: The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, second edition.
1875. Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, second edition, quoted here from a single-volume edition of 1901.
1972: John Maynard Smith, 'Game Theory and the Evolution of Fighting', in On Evolution.
1973: John Maynard Smith and George Price, 'The Logic of Animal Conflict', Nature, 246, 15-18.
1995: Steven A. Frank, 'George Price's Contributions to Evolutionary Genetics', J. Theoretical Biol., 175, 373-88.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Risk taking 5-HTTLPR and DRD4   posted by Razib @ 2/11/2009 10:26:00 PM

Genetic Determinants of Financial Risk Taking:
Individuals vary in their willingness to take financial risks. Here we show that variants of two genes that regulate dopamine and serotonin neurotransmission and have been previously linked to emotional behavior, anxiety and addiction (5-HTTLPR and DRD4) are significant determinants of risk taking in investment decisions. We find that the 5-HTTLPR s/s allele carriers take 28% less risk than those carrying the s/l or l/l alleles of the gene. DRD4 7-repeat allele carriers take 25% more risk than individuals without the 7-repeat allele. These findings contribute to the emerging literature on the genetic determinants of economic behavior.

I swear I blogged this before....

Human CCR5 knockout   posted by p-ter @ 2/11/2009 07:27:00 PM

This is a pretty nice little story: a man enters a clinic with leukemia and HIV, gets a bone marrow transplant from a donor homozygous for the CCR5 deletion (these individuals are largely resistant to HIV infection), and ends up no longer needing anti-retroviral therapy.

It's just a single patient, and I somehow doubt this is a viable option for HIV treatment, but still, this is pretty impressive:
In our patient, transplantation led to complete chimerism, and the patient's peripheral-blood monocytes changed from a heterozygous to a homozygous genotype regarding the CCR5 delta32 allele. Although the patient had non–CCR5-tropic X4 variants and HAART was discontinued for more than 20 months, HIV-1 virus could not be detected in peripheral blood, bone marrow, or rectal mucosa, as assessed with RNA and proviral DNA PCR assays. For as long as the viral load continues to be undetectable, this patient will not require antiretroviral therapy.


Monday, February 09, 2009

"Smoking related" anti-sociality heritable, not environment?   posted by Razib @ 2/09/2009 09:55:00 PM

Disentangling prenatal and inherited influences in humans with an experimental design:
Exposure to adversity in utero at a sensitive period of development can bring about physiological, structural, and metabolic changes in the fetus that affect later development and behavior. However, the link between prenatal environment and offspring outcomes could also arise and confound because of the relation between maternal and offspring genomes. As human studies cannot randomly assign offspring to prenatal conditions, it is difficult to test whether in utero events have true causal effects on offspring outcomes. We used an unusual approach to overcome this difficulty whereby pregnant mothers are either biologically unrelated or related to their child as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF). In this sample, prenatal smoking reduces offspring birth weight in both unrelated and related offspring, consistent with effects arising through prenatal mechanisms independent of the relation between the maternal and offspring genomes. In contrast, the association between prenatal smoking and offspring antisocial behavior depended on inherited factors because association was only present in related mothers and offspring. The results demonstrate that this unusual prenatal cross-fostering design is feasible and informative for disentangling inherited and prenatal effects on human health and behavior. Disentangling these different effects is invaluable for pinpointing markers of prenatal adversity that have a causal effect on offspring outcomes....

I guess that's what economists would call a "natural experiment." In any case, these results are in light with the sort of arguments Judith Rich Harris lays out in her books. Much of the correlation we see behaviorally between parents and children actually being genetic, even though we have prior assumptions as to the importance of socialization in the behaviors in question. Here's the primary figure:


From the results:
These results therefore point to the importance of inherited factors in the association between prenatal smoking and offspring antisocial behavior and suggest that gene-environment correlation is important in explaining this association

The data show that mothers who smoked in the sample tended to have anti-social offspring. There was a correlation. But when broken down by relatedness the data showed that the effect existed among related mothers and offspring, but not unrelated. The inference then is that the smoking-anti-sociality likely had more to do with personality traits in women who would smoke while pregnant, and who would pass those personality traits to their offspring.

Addendum: What kind of maniac would go through in vitro and then smoke! Just sayin'.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Babies, babies....   posted by Razib @ 2/08/2009 10:11:00 PM

And Baby Makes How Many?:
In 1976, census data show, 59 percent of women ages 40 to 44 had three or more children, 20 percent had five or more and 6 percent had seven or more.

By 2006, four decades after the Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to use birth control (and the last year available from census studies), 28 percent of women ages 40 to 44 had three or more children, 4 percent had five or more and just 0.5 percent had seven or more.

"Three is still O.K.," said Michelle Lehmann, the founder of and a mother of eight children who lives outside Chicago. "When you have four, people start raising eyebrows. When you go to five, people are like, 'No way.'"

The decline, or at least shift in focus, of neoconservative foreign policy?   posted by agnostic @ 2/08/2009 02:51:00 PM

On the topic of Razib's atonement for war-blogging, at my personal blog I showed a decline in the media's coverage of terrorism and of the individuals and groups involved in 9/11. How much broader does this pattern apply? Here I show similar rises and falls in the coverage of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as other neoconservative ideals like spreading democracy.

First, media coverage of Iraq and Saudi Arabia from 1981 to 2008:

In the early-mid '80s, Saudi Arabia receives noticeably more coverage. Only in 1987 does Iraq take the lead. There are obvious spikes during the Gulf War and the recent occupation of Iraq, although the elites seem to care less and less about it, thank god. 2008 in particular saw a perceptible drop compared to the previous three years. Note that in the wake of 9/11, Saudi Arabia received hardly any coverage, while all the attention was on Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.

Next, the changing prevalence in the national discourse of two neocon buzzwords:

These two graphs look very similar, and Spearman's rank correlation between the two is +0.69 (p two-tailed = 0.0004). This confirms that they're just two facets of a larger phenomenon, namely the rationalizations that supporters gave for invading Iraq, tracking down every last disgruntled Muslim, and so on. These peak in 2005 - 2006 and have sharply declined since, though they're still at post-9/11 levels.

And just for yuks, here's a graph showing the rise and fall of the fad word "Islamofascism" and its variants:

Taken together with the data I presented on my personal blog about the declining coverage of terrorism in general, and of Bin Laden and related groups, this should give us hope. You figure that in about 5 years, our obsession with the worthless sandboxes of the world will have burned out of elite culture. Still, this doesn't mean we won't find some other hellhole to fight over, prolonging the 21st C. version of the risibly pointless Scramble for Africa. But it's somewhat promising that we might soon get back to focusing on the parts of the world that matter.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

What men & women what   posted by Razib @ 2/07/2009 12:17:00 AM

FuturePundit has a post, Mate Preference Trends:
Strip away tradition. Strip away religious beliefs. What happens? Men and women are looking at each other in ways that seem even more influenced by their evolutionary heritage. The mating market looks like it is becoming more competitive.

He goes on to observe that men are becoming more interested in a potential mate's earning power, and far less in chastity (I do think that there's also a supply issue here shifting the rank order of preferences, if you know what I mean). Women, like men, now prioritize romantic love. What's going on?

If we take these data at face value I think that in some ways evolutionary psychology is becoming more, not less, salient in terms of our life choices. In many "traditional" societies mate choice is highly constrained by the preferences & interests of individuals who are not the principals. Though this is certainly operative in many hunter-gatherer societies (e.g., the bizarre incest taboos among some Australian Aboriginals), I suspect that freedom of choice is more constricted among sedentary agricultural populations because it is in this group that institutionally derived norms loom the largest. As humans subsisted on the Malthusian margins in such relatively complex societies there was little "wiggle" room for lifestyle experimentation. Interestingly, many Blank Slate theorists who advocate lifestyle experimentation presume that an ideological revolution was necessary for an exploration of the behavior space, but perhaps deviation was always latent, and only constrained by cultural norms.

In any case, traditional norms did not reshape the human mind in terms of basal preferences. This is evident in the oral and literary production of traditional societies themselves. The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne has analogs in most cultures. Even if traditional norms frown upon the lack of restraint which is evident through the actions of tragic lovers, it is clear that the stories evoke empathy in the modal human, even the most hard-hearted.

From a functional perspective using the criterion of romantic love as the primary factor in pairbonds in traditional societies might have been impractical. Not so today, as our consumer society has the minimum floor of subsistence taken care of. Of course the long term utility of putting such a great emphasis on romantic love, as opposed to a more balanced suite of matching parameters, may be a different beast altogether from proximate psychic satisfaction.

Note: As I suggest above relaxing the constraint of traditional norms may result in a dispersion or diversification of behavior as individuals gravitate toward their own preferred strategy due to individual differences. Many individuals for example today have no interest in reproducing, or entering into a pairbond with one other person. Some traditional cultures ostracize their sort of behavior, or marginalize them to a specialized caste or phase in life history. But perhaps heritable behavioral variation always existed, only to be dampened by the norms associated with traditional culture?

Related: Forward into the past.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

When I was a moron   posted by Razib @ 2/05/2009 09:55:00 PM

My nemesis Ikram mentioned on another blog that I used to be a Warblogger. I mildly disputed this, but I went back and skimmed over all my posts from 2002 and many of them from 2003. People have a tendency to rewrite the past, but I've got archives here which go back almost 7 years now. Reading the stuff from the blogspot period (up to the end of 2002) I think I recant my objection, and will accept his characterization. I didn't blog much about Iraq in any direct way, I wasn't that interested, nor was I informed even on a superficial level (i.e., I didn't read much about the whole controversy). But, I made comments about how much I admired Victor Davis Hanson's writing at some point in the summer of 2002. Additionally, there was a pre-blogspot site I had in April-June 2002 whose archives are gone where I praised the historical fantasy writing of Michael Ledeen (I was too stupid to understand that it was speculative fiction at the time and thought it was awesome that he had all these incredible scoops). I remember well a post in April of 2003 where I said I was 55 out of 100 in favor of the war, +/- 10, with weak confidence. Luckily for me I didn't have strong opinions, so I kept most of the moronic ideas and analyses which I might have put into to the record to myself. But you could connect the dots and construct a good model of my moronic opinions if you did read what I wrote (just like my anti-Iraq War opinions probably are obvious to readers from summer of 2004 on, though I rarely blogged on the topic directly).*

My hopes for the human race back then were higher. In hindsight how did I expect Saudi Arabians to treat their women??? I remember all this well, that didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was how much I resembled Instapundit in style, and my obsession with HIV rates across the world. Also, I scored 61 on the Libertarian Purity Test in June of 2002. Just retook it now, and I scored a 31.

In any case, this painful rereading of my older posts (God I said a lot of moronic things!) was prompted by the fact that a lot of the pro-Stimulus Blogging reminds me of Warblogging. I think people tend to underestimate the downsides of action and the upsides of inaction. Hope cometh before the fall.

* I stopped thinking about the Iraq War after April of 2003, when Diana of Letters from Gotham started IMing me that she was turning against the whole thing. She knew a lot more about the topic than I did, so I took that as a bad sign for the enterprise. After reading Michael Totten's weblog in 2004 I shifted to a pretty strong anti-neocon stance.


The rise of the black wolf   posted by Razib @ 2/05/2009 01:34:00 PM

Molecular and Evolutionary History of Melanism in North American Gray Wolves:
Morphologic diversity within closely related species is an essential aspect of evolution and adaptation. Mutations in the Melanocortin 1 receptor (Mc1r) gene contribute to pigmentary diversity in natural populations of fish, birds, and many mammals. However, melanism in the gray wolf, Canis lupus, is caused by a different melanocortin pathway component, the K locus, that encodes a beta-defensin protein which acts as an alternative ligand for the Mc1r. We show that the melanistic K locus mutation in North American wolves derives from past hybridization with domestic dogs, has risen to high frequency in forested habitats, and exhibits a molecular signature of positive selection. The same mutation also causes melanism in the coyote, Canis latrans, and Italian gray wolves, and hence our results demonstrate how traits selected in domesticated species can influence the morphologic diversity of their wild relatives.

Also see ScienceDaily. The general dynamics should be relatively familiar. Here's the model in a figure:



Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Genes and Social Networks   posted by Piccolino @ 2/03/2009 04:13:00 PM

Heritability estimates are slippery animals, but this recent PNAS paper is a great illustration of how they can be used to discipline theories of social network formation. The authors start by showing that three building blocks of social networks are heritable, namely the number of friends you have, the number of people who name you as a friend, and the likelihood that two of your friends are also friends. They then ask if existing theories of social network formation are consistent with empirical fact that a large share of individual variation in these buildling blocks is explained by individual characteristics. Perhaps not too surprisingly to readers of this blog, a model which allows individuals to differ ex ante does considerably better than models which make a blank slate assumption. The paper also fits in nicely in the tradition of behavior genetic work which emphasizes how people based on their inherited traits self-select into particular environments. Razib pointed out the other day that we can taxonomize traits into those whose genetic architecture we understand pretty well (skin coloration) and those that are still a puzzla (IQ). I am curious to see where the social network building blocks fit in. I have no doubt we will have the answer to this question very soon.


Who cheats?   posted by Razib @ 2/03/2009 12:04:00 PM

The Audacious Epigone looks into what type of people cheat on their spouses. The transparent society looks better and better....

Monday, February 02, 2009

The end of envy   posted by Razib @ 2/02/2009 09:16:00 PM

Jim Manzi:
This Baconian revolution is coming to economics and social science.

In fact, it's already happening. Weirdo experimental economists are starting to win the Nobel Prize. The recent Economist magazine round-up of the 10 most promising young economists in the world is rife with it. Established economists working in the current paradigm, as always, either dismiss it, or imagine that it is a niche sub-field that won't affect them. Time will tell, but I think they’re entirely wrong.

Much of the work that we now think of as economics, political science and other social sciences will likely be displaced by some hybrid of biology, experimental economics, psychology and other fields that can evaluate hypotheses for the quantified prediction of human behavior through structured falsification tests (or, sometimes, true "natural experiments" in which non-intentional random assignment has occurred)....

Jim is describing what Michael Vassar terms "integrative social science." My own interests in behavioral economics and economic history make it rather clear that I do hope that Jim is right.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Steelers win!   posted by Razib @ 2/01/2009 10:47:00 PM

I stopped watching professional football, or even kept track of it before the playoffs, after 2003. Since then "my team," the Steelers, have won 2 Super Bowls. I stopped watching professional basketball at around the same time, and of course last spring "my team," the Celtics, won a championship.

Behavior genetics + economics = ?   posted by Razib @ 2/01/2009 12:03:00 AM

A week ago I posted MAOA, aggression and behavioral economics. In a related vein, I thought I would point again to Genetic Variation in Preferences for Giving and Risk-Taking (see Herricks' post on this last fall). From the conclusion:
In this paper, we have presented an empirical investigation into the relative contributions of individual differences in genes an environment to observed variation in economic preferences for risk and giving...While our results do not allow us to be as assertive as Sir Francis Galton, they do suggest that humans are endowed with genetic variation in their proclivity to donate money to charity and to take risks. By now there is a plethora of studies exploring th sources of individual variation in economic experiments and games, yet up until recently considerations of genetic influences have remained relativel absent. Here we have argued that this failure to consider genes obscures an important source of preference heterogeneity. Ultimately, we hope that a better understanding of the underlying individual genetic economic preferences, and the adaptive pressures under which these preferences evolved will lead to a more comprehensive economic science that can bridge some of the unexplained gaps between empirical data and economic theory....

You can read the whole paper at the link provided. The paper mentions the AVRP1a gene's association with variation in the dictator game. Of course, variation on this locus has many correlates, so I'm sure that the dopamine receptor related genes will also pop-up in the behavior economic literature soon enough. Get a big enough alphabet soup of genes, and perhaps we can go from talking about behavioral genetics & economics, to behavioral & economic genomics. I'm betting this game will resemble the genetic architecture of skin color more than IQ or height. Note how some of these loci show up over & over again in the literature, in different disciplinary contexts & behavioral phenotypes.