Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage?   posted by Razib @ 4/30/2009 12:09:00 PM

John Derbyshire is making it over at Secular Right. Since Andrew Sullivan linked you can imagine the way comments are going....

(Comments closed here)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mike Lynch elected to NAS   posted by Razib @ 4/29/2009 10:15:00 AM

See the press release. Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits and The Origins of Genome Architecture are excellent books (though set aside some time if you want to tackle the first).

Secular Cycles of the human animal   posted by Razib @ 4/29/2009 09:10:00 AM

Quantitative ecologist Peter Turchin's Secular Cycles is not available for purchase, but you can get a final draft copy online. His previous books, War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations & Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, prefigure many of the arguments that are fleshed out in Secular Cycles. Turchin's aim is audacious. The last paragraph of Secular Cycles lays out the vision:
Our concluding thoughts are these. We believe that we showed that it is possible to obtain quantitative empirical estimates for many variables that are needed to test theories of historical dynamics. Furthermore, our models, and the demographic-structural theory in particular, have matured to the point where they can make quantitative and testable predictions. Many of these predictions are supported by the data; others failed, but often in interesting ways that suggest further development of the theory. The historical process is very complex, we have to live with severe data limitations, but nevertheless it is possible to apply the standard scientific approach to the study of history. We are optimistic about the future prospects of History as Science.

If history is any guide Turchin's optimism is misplaced, and a general theory of historical dynamics will elude us. But the nature of science is that it is exhibits a strong ahistorical* bent and the past can be a weak guide to the future.  If cliodynamics emerges as a respectable field we would expect it to overturn precedent. As someone trained in the former Soviet Union it should be  no surprise I suppose that Turchin would be the one making an attempt to resurrect theoretical history in the English speaking world. An intellectual who was shaped by a Marxist Zeitgeist would be more easily inclined to consider the possibility that history could be formalized so as to produce systems of non-trivial inferential power.

So what makes this latest effort different from the speculations of Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler? First, as a biological scientist Turchin comes the table with a methodological toolkit which is far superior in precision to that available to historians of the early 20th century. From game theory to systems ecology there are many new formal frameworks which can be brought to bear upon human historical dynamics which were not extant in earlier epochs. Secondly, the data sets are far more extensive than they once were due to the prominence of cliometrics, as well as the greater power of traditional fields such as archaeology due to improvements in method. Finally, Turchin's ambition is constrained to the pre-modern era when Malthusian parameters were ascendant. This is not to say that I do not think that some of his inferences and conjectures have no contemporary salience, but there is no overarching lesson or ideological implication to be derived from his models (in contrast to Marxism).

Nevertheless, I am obviously somewhat intrigued by Turchin's attempt to add some quant juice to qual questions & observations. I recently read Niall Ferguson's The House of Rothschild: Volume 1: Money's Prophets: 1798-1848. Because of the fact that the House of Rothschild was incomprehensibly wealthy at its peak via its involvement in public bond markets there was naturally a whole genre which emerged exposing their power and malice as conspirators at the center of a vast web of influence (see the Age of Metternich). Ferguson does emphasize that the financial interests of the Rothschild's, public debt, compelled them to attempt to block conflicts between major European powers. But another reality which has nothing to do with the Rothschild's is that Europe during the early years of the family's rise was recovering from the Napoleonic Wars, and nations and elites which have experienced sustained and strenuous conflict tend to be wary of future conflicts. In Turchin's data sets he present evidence that these qualitative cycles are evident in clear generational terms throughout the historical record for regions where we have good records. He also presents a causal motive force behind the explosions of violence which tend to prune military aristocracies. Ultimately one would also want to explore the neurological basis of memory and its effect on how humans make decisions and weight risks, and how long traumatic events can effect behavior, but the gross patterns and the expected period of the recession of violence are also of interest. The point being that despite their wealth even the House of Rothschild might have been accidental players in broader macrosocial dynamics.

* Though operationally it is historical because of the weakness of human cognitive powers.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Western names in China   posted by Razib @ 4/28/2009 10:23:00 PM

The Name's Du Xiao Hua, But Call Me Steve:
Given the nationalism I've witnessed in China, I was a bit surprised at how readily Chinese adopted Western names. (Even my Americanized parents were uncomfortable with the idea of me changing my name. They said I could do as I wished when I turned 18, though always in a tone that suggested such an unfilial act would cause them to die of disappointment.) But Duthie's participants insisted that taking an English name isn't kowtowing, nor is it simply utilitarian. Rather, it's essential to being Chinese and achieving Chinese goals. Whereas in the past patriotism was expressed by self-sacrifice, it is now expressed through economic activity. So by working for, say, 3M, Chinese citizens are helping to build up China, and the English names they take on in the process are as patriotic as Cultural Revolution-era monikers like Ai Guo (Loves China) or Wei Dong (Mao's Protector).

The author is a Chinese American. In Peter Turchin's model borderlands tend to generate the level of social cohesion necessary for a dynamic civilization-state, while the "heartland" exhibits more anomie and decay. But another aspect of this is that Diasporas often exhibit some element of stasis; as if they enter into a cultural chrysalis. The Chinese case is particularly instructive, as due to the upheavals of Marxism, the Cultural Revolution, and now the unbridled capitalistic ethos, much of traditional China has gone by the wayside. Rather, archaic forms and rites are preserved in the Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, in Taiwan or even in the United States. Chinese in China naturally have less of a need to assert their "authenticity," so why not adopt what needs to be adopted?


Monday, April 27, 2009

Bone mutants and recent selection   posted by p-ter @ 4/27/2009 08:15:00 PM

The New York Times has an interesting little piece on bones, including a description of the unsettling genetic disorder fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva:
When Harry Eastlack was 5 years old, he broke his left leg while out playing with his sister. The fracture failed to set properly, and soon his hip and knee had stiffened up as well. Examining the boy, doctors found ominous bony growths on the muscles of his thigh. Within a few years, bony deposits had spread throughout Harry's body, infiltrating his chest, neck, back and buttocks. Surgeons tried to cut the excess bone away, only to watch it grow back thicker and more invasive than before.

By his mid-20s, his vertebrae had fused together, his torso been thrust rigidly forward and his back muscles replaced with solid bone. Finally, even his jaw locked up, and he died of pneumonia in 1973, just shy of his 40th birthday.
Fun fact: the gene that causes this disease is ACVR1, which lies in a region of extended haplotype homozygosity and extreme population differentiation suggestive of recent positive selection in non-African populations.

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Homo floresiensis as an outgroup?   posted by Razib @ 4/27/2009 07:16:00 PM

That's what this piece in The New York Times seems to be implying. In other words, the various classes of H. erectus might be a sister clade to H. floresiensis, instead of the latter being derived from a branch of the erectine lineages (as Neandertals and our own species are). The reference to "primitive" features and atavism though is likely to confuse the general audience, are the characteristics of the Hobbits really that much less derived than our own in relation to the last common ancestor? And I really wish someone would just do a poll of paleoanthropologists; they're the only ones with the knowledge base to assess the different hypotheses, but it seems like coalitional politics makes it so that the "consensus" is whatever the last anthropologist that the reporter talked to says it is.

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The Green Beard of Sex   posted by DavidB @ 4/27/2009 04:45:00 AM

One morning recently I woke up and suddenly thought I had solved the evolutionary problem of sex. About ten minutes later, I realised I hadn't, and went back to sleep. But it may still be worth outlining the 'solution', first because understanding the fallacy in the solution helps clarify the problem itself, and secondly because in some circumstances the solution is not entirely fallacious.

The evolutionary problem of sex is that it is wasteful. Quite apart from the time and effort involved in getting a partner, sexual reproduction seems to involve a major genetic waste. With sex an organism usually only puts half of its genes into each offspring, while the other half is effectively thrown away. Provided the division of genes (at meiosis) is random, the genes which maintain sexual reproduction themselves will only go into half the offspring. If we call a gene that maintains sexual reproduction a prosexual gene, while a gene that causes asexual (clonal) reproduction is antisexual, a prosexual gene will only on average be passed on to half of its posessors' offspring, whereas an antisexual gene will be passed on to all of them.

Of course, this advantage of antisexual genes would be offset if there are twice as many offspring under sexual reproduction as under asexual. This would be expected if the two partners in sexual reproduction contribute equal resources to the production of offspring. This does sometimes happen, as in many single-celled organisms, where the partners exchange material equally, and in some animals where males contribute as much as females to the nutrition and care of offspring. But the latter case is comparatively rare. In most animals and plants, the male contributes little or nothing to the offspring other than bare genetic material. I will call this the standard scenario. In the standard scenario, then, it seems that the female is behaving as a genetic altruist towards the male. A female who is willing to mate with a male is effectively saying 'come and be my genetic parasite'. (I will assume there are separate sexes, though the same arguments could be developed, mutatis mutandis, for the sexual functions of hermaphrodites.)

If we see sexual reproduction as a form of genetic altruism, we can at once classify possible solutions to the problem, drawing on the general theory of altruism. This is the first part of my not-so-brilliant idea. Notably, we have:

Group selection solutions

Sexual reproduction may be disadvantageous to individuals but advantageous to groups, for example by enabling them to evolve faster and avoid extinction. R. A. Fisher thought this was a serious possibility. But apart from all the usual problems of group selection, in the case of sex there is an additional problem. Many organisms (especially among plants) are capable of reproducing both sexually and asexually. It would be easy for them to switch entirely to asexual reproduction, yet most of them continue to reproduce sexually at least some of the time. This implies that in these cases there must be some advantage of sexual reproduction at the individual level.

Direct fitness benefits to the individual

If the individual gains some direct benefit in reproductive fitness, sufficient to offset the cost, then sexual reproduction is not altruistic after all, since it is not on balance costly. Most of the currently favoured solutions to the problem are of this kind; for example, W. D. Hamilton's idea that sex helps individuals resist parasites and pathogens. Some solution or combination of solutions of this kind may well be sufficient, but at present none of them is generally accepted. To explain the prevalence of sexual reproduction the benefit has to be both large and widespread.

Reciprocal altruism

An altruistic act can be beneficial to the individual if it is accompanied or followed by a reciprocal act of equal or greater value. In the case of sex, this would be the case, for example, if hermaphrodites simultaneously take on both male and female sexual roles in mating with each other. This occurs among some slugs, earthworms, etc, but it is obviously not a general solution to the problem. There would also be reciprocity if males contributed equal resources, but the whole point of the standard scenario is that this is uncommon.

Kin selection (inclusive fitness)

Close relatives of an individual carry identical copies of some of the same genes. A gene in the individual which promotes altruism towards relatives therefore gives some benefit to copies of itself. In the case of sex, an individual who mates with a relative mitigates some of the genetic 'cost' of sex, but as far as I can see this would never be enough to offset the cost entirely.

Green Beard Effects

A gene for altruism may be favoured by selection if it benefits another individual who is not related to the altruist, but who carries a copy or copies of the same gene. The problem is how to recognise such an individual, given that genes are not directly observable. The answer is that the gene may have some observable external effect. Richard Dawkins dubbed such an effect a Green Beard. If a gene produces green beards, and altruism towards green beards, such a gene can be favoured by selection. The problem is that such convenient combinations of effects are probably rare. Note that it is not sufficient (as Dawkins is quite clear) for an individual with a green beard merely to act altruistically towards other individuals with green beards: it has to be same gene which causes the altruistic behaviour and the green beard. Of course, pleiotropism (multiple effects of genes) is common enough, but the particular kind of pleiotropism required for a Green Beard Effect would be an unusual coincidence.

The main part of my not-so-brilliant idea is that sex itself is a green beard. The very fact that an individual is willing to reproduce sexually is a reliable indicator that it carries prosexual genes. Provided the genes are only effective in the homozygote state (in other words, they are recessive to antisexual genes), then any individual who reproduces sexually can be sure that its offspring will receive two prosexual genes, one from each partner, and not just one, so the gene will not decline in frequency. Problem solved!

The Fallacy

To see that there must be a fallacy somewhere, consider a population of fixed size, with separate sexes in equal numbers, exclusively sexual reproduction, and no male contribution to offspring (as in the standard scenario). In such a population each pair will have two surviving offspring, on average one male and one female, who will continue the process in the next generation. Suppose now that a mutation in a female produces an antisexual gene, which causes the female to produce only clonal daughters. Such a female will have two daughters, each daughter will herself have (approximately) two daughters, and so on, all of whom will have antisexual genes. The frequency of antisexual genes in the population will therefore rapidly increase. Since the population is fixed, the number of daughters per asexual mother in each generation will gradually decline, but so will those of sexual mothers, and the asexuals will still squeeze out the sexuals until there are only asexuals, producing one daughter each per generation. This is of course not my example, but a familiar scenario due to John Maynard Smith, which he used to demonstrate what he called the 'twofold cost of sex'.

Since the 'green beard' effect of sex would still apply in such a scenario, but without preventing the elimination of sex, there must be a fallacy somewhere in the green beard idea. As often, it is easier to see that there must be a fallacy than to pin it down. I think the main explanation is that the true cost of sex is not the waste of genes, but the inefficiency of sexual reproduction under the standard scenario. In a stable population each male-female pair produces on average two surviving offspring. Since the male contributes no resources, the female alone evidently has enough resources to produce two offspring. These two offspring in turn mate with two other individuals and the four individuals produce four offspring between them, and so on. In a stable population reproducing sexually the number of surviving offspring is always the same as the total number of parents involved. But if one female has sufficient resources to produce two offspring, she could produce two female offspring by asexual reproduction. In this case each offspring would in turn have two offspring, and in each generation the number of female descendants of the original female will be approximately doubled, subject to the ceiling of the total population. They will always have an advantage over the sexual reproducers, because they are using the available resources twice as efficiently to produce offspring: N offspring per individual, instead of N offspring per couple. The cost of sex really has nothing to do with the division of genes. To dramatise the point, suppose a population reproduces entirely clonally, but with a system of environmental sex determination in which half the offspring are phenotypically males, who are unable to reproduce since the females do not need them. In this scenario there is no division of genes, but there is still an inefficiency in producing males, and any mutant gene which enabled females to produce only female offspring would have a rapid evolutionary success.

This suggests that the evolutionary problem of sex should really be split into two parts, of equal importance:

a) given that males usually contribute no resources, why is sexual reproduction so prevalent?


b) given that sexual reproduction is so prevalent, why do males usually contribute no resources?

The first question is the classic problem of sex, to which so many solutions have been offered.

The second question is relatively neglected, but at first sight seems almost equally problematic. If it so disadvantageous to females to mate with a non-contributing male, why is there not a strong pressure to select males who do contribute? After all, sexual selection is often a powerful and effective force. I suspect that the answer has two main parts. First, in plants and many animals, such as sessile invertebrates, there is physically no way that the male can contribute anything other than his sperm, and for well-known game-theoretical reasons, sperm is usually selected to be small. Second, even in cases where males could in principle contribute resources, they would often have no confidence of paternity, and they would lose more by committing resources to a female than they would gain in access to matings. If the female can obtain parental resources from one male, it will always be in her interest to 'cheat' and get the best available genes from another male if she can. Therefore male parental contributions seldom evolve.


There is of course a large literature on the evolutionary problem of sex, some of which I have read over the years. I wrote most of the above without referring to the literature, but after doing so I looked at a few surveys of the problem, such as John Maynard Smith's chapter in Behavioural Ecology, to check whether I had forgotten something important. I don't think so, but I see that there has been some discussion of whether the 'twofold cost of sex' is best described as a 'cost of meiosis' as a 'cost of producing males'. It seems clear that under the standard scenario there is no cost of meiosis as such, once the 'green beard' aspect is taken into account, whereas there is still a cost of producing males. On the other hand, under some non-standard scenarios there would be a cost of meiosis. To use an example of JMS, suppose a bird species reproduces sexually, with males and females providing equal resources. An antisexual gene in a female would then gain no advantage by suppressing meiosis if at the same time the female stopped mating and therefore no longer obtained resources from a male. But if she could suppress meiosis and still go through the mating process (which is perfectly plausible), she would gain the 'twofold advantage'. In this scenario it would therefore make some sense to talk of a cost of meiosis.

In my brief skim through the literature I did not find any analysis of sex as a form of altruism, or the related idea of sex as a Green Beard, but I dare say it is in there somewhere.

Sunday, April 26, 2009 again   posted by Razib @ 4/26/2009 07:54:00 PM

Chatting with my friend Jake Young.

Communism setting the stage for capitalism   posted by Razib @ 4/26/2009 12:07:00 AM

Over at ScienceBlogs I have a post which highlights the bizarre likelihood that in China atheists are actually some more hostile to the precepts of godless Communism than the religious. I talked to Michael Vassar about this and he thought it was curious that Chinese atheists are probably among the segments of the world population most likely to appreciate the non-zero sum power of capitalism and economic growth. Well, I guess Mao and the Cultural Revolution would do that to you, right? In any case, in the World Values Survey there is a question about income inequality, here 0 = Incomes Should Be Made More Equal, and 10 = We need larger income differences as incentives. Below the fold are a selection of nations with the proportions of those in the 15-29 age ranges who agree with a "10" when it comes to income inequality.

France 4.7
Great Britain 5.2
Italy 3.7
United States 5.3
Canada 6.4
Japan 6.2
Australia 4.8
Sweden 2.9
Finland 3.1
South Korea 12
Poland 11.9
Brazil 16.7
Slovenia 5.4
Romania 8.7
China 14.7
Taiwan 12.9
Ukraine 21.4
Russia 34.4
Thailand 9.8
Serbia 13.8
New Zealand 6.4
Hong Kong 1.7

Hong Kong, by the way, had the population which was most averse to income inequality....

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Smart people act more rationally in economics   posted by Razib @ 4/24/2009 11:04:00 PM

Cognitive skills affect economic preferences, strategic behavior, and job attachment:
Economic analysis has so far said little about how an individual's cognitive skills (CS) are related to the individual's economic preferences in different choice domains, such as risk taking or saving, and how preferences in different domains are related to each other. Using a sample of 1,000 trainee truckers we report three findings. First, there is a strong and significant relationship between an individual's CS and preferences. Individuals with better CS are more patient, in both short- and long-run. Better CS are also associated with a greater willingness to take calculated risks. Second, CS predict social awareness and choices in a sequential Prisoner's Dilemma game. Subjects with better CS more accurately forecast others' behavior and differentiate their behavior as a second mover more strongly depending on the first-mover's choice. Third, CS, and in particular, the ability to plan, strongly predict perseverance on the job in a setting with a substantial financial penalty for early exit. Consistent with CS being a common factor in all of these preferences and behaviors, we find a strong pattern of correlation among them. These results, taken together with the theoretical explanation we offer for the relationships we find, suggest that higher CS systematically affect preferences and choices in ways that favor economic success.

From the discussion:
The novel relationships we find have potentially deep implications. For example, Gregory Clark recently suggested that the initial location of the industrial revolution in England may have been due to a "survival of the richest" selection process, that operated there from as early as 1250 C.E...This selection may have been cultural, genetic, or both. He suggests that selection favored "capitalist" traits that include several of the ones (e.g. risk taking and saving propensity) we analyze herein. Were these traits independent, it is hard to imagine how a selection process could induce such a bundled concentration in the time frame suggested. But if these traits are correlated due to their linkage with cognitive skills, then a "selection of the richest" explanation, operating through selection for cognitive skills, becomes more plausible....

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Horse coat color variation and domestication   posted by Razib @ 4/24/2009 01:30:00 AM

Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication:
The transformation of wild animals into domestic ones available for human nutrition was a key prerequisite for modern human societies. However, no other domestic species has had such a substantial impact on the warfare, transportation, and communication capabilities of human societies as the horse. Here, we show that the analysis of ancient DNA targeting nuclear genes responsible for coat coloration allows us to shed light on the timing and place of horse domestication.We conclude that it is unlikely that horse domestication substantially predates the occurrence of coat color variation, which was found to begin around the third millennium before the common era.

Also see ScienceDaily.

Related: Horse genetics & color, White horses and blonde humans: a genetic connection?, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World and Earliest domestication of horse?

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sex & choice   posted by Razib @ 4/23/2009 08:48:00 PM

Steve points out that Geoffrey Miller has a new book that's going to come out soon, Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior. More directly related to the topic of sex and decision-making, The Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making. Read the whole paper, but I have a figure from it below....



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Steve Sailer makes Talking Points Memo   posted by Razib @ 4/21/2009 09:07:00 PM

See here.

Political unification leads to the spread of languages   posted by Razib @ 4/21/2009 08:22:00 AM

Political complexity predicts the spread of ethnolinguistic groups:
Human languages show a remarkable degree of variation in the area they cover. However, the factors governing the distribution of human cultural groups such as languages are not well understood. While previous studies have examined the role of a number of environmental variables the importance of cultural factors has not been systematically addressed. Here we use a geographical information system (GIS) to integrate information about languages with environmental, ecological, and ethnographic data to test a number of hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the global distribution of languages. We show that the degree of political complexity and type of subsistence strategy exhibited by societies are important predictors of the area covered by a language. Political complexity is also strongly associated with the latitudinal gradient in language area, whereas subsistence strategy is not. We argue that a process of cultural group selection favoring more complex societies may have been important in shaping the present-day global distribution of language diversity.

Here's the map from a figure which shows linguistic diversity, with darker areas being more diverse. If you read the authors' paper you note that their model explains 55% of the variance in linguistic diversity. That's the important point, qualitatively it is obvious that political complex entities (or at least those which scale) are prior to the spread of their lingua franca. The spread of Chinese, Latin and Arabic are three classic examples where we have a lot of historical data. The extant Classical sources make it clear that the Roman world was peppered with a plethora of exotic dialects, only a few of which were recorded in written form (since they were not written languages). Remember that languages like Finnish were oral "peasant tongues" until the past few centuries. The same is obviously true for Chinese, though I have read that the dialects of southeast China still exhibit traces of their pre-Chinese substratum.

Obviously the spread of languages along with political systems is no great revelation. Rather, I think it is important to note that there are likely other dynamics at work. Geneticists such as Marcus Feldman have suggested that the similarities between genetic and linguistic cladograms which Cavalli-Sforza noted decades ago probably are due to the fact that marriage markets extend only out to those who speak the same language. In other words the spread of languages like Latin and Arabic obscure over older genetic-linguistic structures, which is seen in many societies where super-languages did not supersede the local dialect. A final issue that I think needs to be brought up are the somewhat artificial lines on the map between closely related languages (e.g., Dutch-German)*, and the real chasms of unintelligibility between unrelated languages (e.g., Finnish-Swedish). I am curious as genetic maps become more fine-grained if there are particular language-related patterns to the changes in allele frequencies.

* Artificial because the codification of a standard dialect as the language, e.g., Florentine to Italian, ignores the historical continuity of dialects.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Measuring whether a painter is under or over-valued   posted by agnostic @ 4/19/2009 10:51:00 PM

As a follow-up to the previous post on measuring the price-to-earnings ratio of composers, I've done the same thing for painters. The motivation is the same, and I'm still using the painter's score in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment to measure earnings (the more objective valuation). Here, instead of measuring price (the more fashion-driven valuation) with the number of works available at, I'm using the number of works available at, the main place that people visit to buy inexpensive high art.

The AllPosters score is simply number of works available, divided by the max for any artist (which happens to be for Monet), multiplied by 100. So, like the HA score, it is a measure of how valued an artist's works are, using the most highly valued artist of all as a reference point.

A look at the data shows several similarities to the case of composers, suggesting that -- for example -- we overhype a certain time period in general, even though it could arguably be the peak for one art form and yet be only mediocre for another art form. We are more likely to fall for the whole zeitgeist, rather than ruthlessly discriminate and have a separate "favorite period" for different art forms.

Anyway, let's get to the results. I've uploaded the dataset here, where you can copy & paste the text into an Excel spreadsheet to play around with it yourself. I'm only using painters because the sculptors and architects don't have much available at AllPosters -- people want to buy prints of paintings, not of sculptures. Although I haven't used them in the analysis, I've still included the sculptors and architects in the raw data. This only excludes 12 of 111 artists, and they're pretty spread out across time periods.

As with composers, the agreement between encyclopedia writers and educated laymen is pretty close. Spearman's rank correlation between the HA score and the AllPosters score is rho = +0.58 (p less than 10^-6). As before, a fair amount (about 34%) of the variation in subjective valuations can be accounted for by variation in fundamental worth, but that still leaves plenty of room for hype to influence poster-buyers. Here is a plot of the two scores:

The two biggest outliers are Monet, who dominates the poster market but is considered second-tier in encyclopedias, and Michelangelo, who dominates encyclopedias but doesn't appear on many people's walls. This could be due to a lot of his work being sculpture and architecture. (None of the results are affected by counting Michelangelo as a sculptor / architect and removing his data-point from the analysis.) Picasso also gets a lot of coverage in encylopedias, while not attracting much attention from poster-buyers.

As with Schoenberg among composers, this may suggest that Murray's decision to use 1950 as a cut-off was still a bit too late to fully remove the effects of hype. Still does a very good job, given that only a couple of probably over-rated Moderns have P/E ratios that say they're actually under-rated (e.g., Picasso, Max Ernst, de Chirico).

The clearest case of a painter who is very eminent is encyclopedias but fairly neglected by the lay public is Raphael -- his HA score is 73, while his AllPosters score is 23. Most people my age wouldn't even recognize him, were it not for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him. For fun, here are the top 10 under-valued and over-valued painters, where hype increases as you go down either list:

Top 10 under-valued painters

Pol de Limbourg
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Max Ernst
Giorgio de Chirico
Piet Mondrian
Hugo van der Goes
Martin Schongauer
Frans Hals

Top 10 over-valued painters

Marc Chagall
Fra Angelico
Henri Rousseau
Edgar Degas
Camille Pissarro
Salvador Dali
Vincent Van Gogh
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Claude Monet

And as we saw with composers, the P/E ratios of painters are highly skewed, with most painters being under-rated and a tiny handful who are blown out of proportion. As before, a log-normal (or maybe exponential) distribution probably underlies the pattern. Here is the distribution, where the average is 0.4:

Finally, here is a look at how P/E ratios vary based on when the painter flourished:

Just as with composers, those painters who flourished in the second half of the 19th C are the most over-valued. In a response to my composers post, Steve Sailer suggested that the time series showed that Western music reached its pinnacle during the Late Romantic period, perhaps because it was more profound than what he considers the daintier Classical-era music. But the painters who are responsible for inflating the hype of late-19th-C painting cannot be said to represent the perfection of technique, the profound rather than the light, and so on. These are the Impressionists and some Post-Impressionists, after all -- not their Academic contemporaries like Bouguereau. The only commonality with their musical contemporaries is a preference for expression, emotion, and well, the impressionistic.

So, there are two explanations for the over-valuation of late-19th-C music and painting: 1) there is currently an irrational fashion bubble for that time period -- it had to be some period, so why not that one? The bubble would encompass the entire zeitgeist, regardless of whether the different parts of it represented the pinnacle of art in their respective media. Or 2) the art-consuming public is more sentimental than judges of art, so that the public tends to over-value time periods that gave greater emphasis to the emotions per se, independent of their artistic merit or the profundity of emotion expressed.

This second explanation includes all class-based explanations, such as the one that says that academics favor aristocratic art, while the lay public is mostly upper-middle class professionals who have a weak spot for the high point of art consumed by the bourgeoisie. It was the new merchant class, remember, that was responsible for cleaning up the lurid spots left by the aristocratic and lower classes -- ending public hangings (and then hangings altogether), campaigning for animal rights, looking upon duels and other fights as barbaric rather than civilized, and so on. So we could just be seeing a class phenomenon, given that the middle class is more sentimental.

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An argument for searching for rare variants in human disease   posted by p-ter @ 4/19/2009 03:04:00 PM

Based on the comments on my previous post, I'm going to lay out an argument which I find reasonable for sequencing studies in human disease:

Let's follow Goldstein's back-of-the-envelope calculations: assume there are ~100K polymorphisms (assuming Goldstein isn't making the mistake I attribute to him, this includes polymorphisms both common and rare) that contribute to human height, that we've found the ones that account for the largest fractions of the variance, and that these fractions of variance follow an exponential distribution.

Now, assume you have assembled a cohort of 5000 individuals and done a genome-wide association study using common SNPs. You find some interesting things, but you want more. Now, you have two choices: sequence those 5000 individuals to look for rarer variation, or increase sample size to 20,000 and perform another association study using the same set of common polymorphisms.

As Daniel Macarthur points out, you've not yet sucked every drop of marrow out of those 5000 individuals: there are presumably some (many?) rarer SNPs that have modest effect sizes (in sense 2 from this post), and thus account for measurable (though still small) fractions of the variance in your trait. Those are low-hanging fruit for you to find if you pony up the cash for some sequencing (the price of which keeps dropping). This is especially true if there are more rare variants than common ones that influence the trait, as is likely the case (there's more rare variation than common variation overall). So instead of spending on scaling up your sample size, spend on sequencing, and have impact now.

Is this along the lines the argument Goldstein is making? I don't really think so, but welcome comment. In any case, the choice above is somewhat arbitrary--if you want to look for very rare variation, you need a sample size larger than 5000 anyways, and if you're sequencing, you're obviously not just going to look at the rare variants since the common ones come along for free.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reverting to cultural type   posted by Razib @ 4/18/2009 11:39:00 PM

Who I Am Depends on How I Feel: The Role of Affect in the Expression of Culture:
We present a novel role of affect in the expression of culture. Four experiments tested whether individuals' affective states moderate the expression of culturally normative cognitions and behaviors. We consistently found that value expressions, self-construals, and behaviors were less consistent with cultural norms when individuals were experiencing positive rather than negative affect. Positive affect allowed individuals to explore novel thoughts and behaviors that departed from cultural constraints, whereas negative affect bound people to cultural norms. As a result, when Westerners experienced positive rather than negative affect, they valued self-expression less, showed a greater preference for objects that reflected conformity, viewed the self in more interdependent terms, and sat closer to other people. East Asians showed the reverse pattern for each of these measures, valuing and expressing individuality and independence more when experiencing positive than when experiencing negative affect. The results suggest that affect serves an important functional purpose of attuning individuals more or less closely to their cultural heritage.

More in ScienceDaily:

... And elevated mood even shaped behavior, allowing volunteers to act "out of character." These findings suggest that people in an upbeat mood are more exploratory and daring in attitude — and therefore more apt to break from cultural stereotype. That is, Asians act more independently than usual, and Europeans are more cooperative. Feeling bad did the opposite: It reinforced traditional cultural stereotypes and constrained both Western and Eastern thinking about the world.

I think these data are interesting in light of the sort of argument presented in works such as The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. The standard model here is that cultural openness correlates with economic growth, while stagnation results in retrenchment.

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Profile of Greg Cochran in The Los Angeles Times   posted by Razib @ 4/18/2009 02:45:00 PM

Steve points me to a profile of Greg & Henry, with a focus on Jewish genetics & smarts.

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Those Antarctic bacteria   posted by Razib @ 4/18/2009 02:19:00 PM

Check out Ed Yong's post on A Contemporary Microbially Maintained Subglacial Ferrous "Ocean".

Friday, April 17, 2009

Notes on the Common Disease-Common Variant debate: two years later   posted by p-ter @ 4/17/2009 08:07:00 PM

Just over two years ago, I wrote a brief post explaining why I find the "debate" about common variants versus rare variants in human medical genetics to be largely unhelpful. I concluded thusly, after explaining some of the rationale for looking for common variants that affect disease susceptibility:
So am I then arguing in favor of the CDCV [Common Disease-Common Variant] hypothesis? Of course not-- rare variants, aside from being predictive for disease in some individuals, also give important insight into the biology of the disease. But it is possible right now, using genome-wide SNP arrays and databases like the HapMap, to search the entire genome for common variants that contribute to disease. This is an essential step--finding the alleles that contribute disproportionately to the population-level risk for a disease. Eventually, the cost of sequencing will drop to a point where rare variants can also be assayed on a genome-wide, high-throughput scale, but that's not the case yet. Once it is, expect the CDRV [Common Disease-Rare Variant] hypothesis to be trumpeted as right all along.
Well, two years later, the price of sequencing has dropped precipitously. And in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, David Goldstein makes the argument that association studies using common variants have been disappointing and what people really need to be doing is--would you believe it?--searching for rare variants using sequencing.

Your opinion about the current crop of genome-wide association studies depends, of course, on what you were expecting to begin with: if you thought that a few common variants would be discovered for each common disease and fully explain its prevalence, you're likely to think the whole enterprise has been a bust (with a few exceptions, of course--Goldstein mentions exfoliation glaucoma and macular degeneration). If, on the other hand, you thought that genome-wide association studies would have about as much success as the linkage and candidate gene studies that preceded them (Daniel Macarthur characterized the field as a "scientific wasteland" prior to 2005, and that's only mild hyperbole), you're probably astounded by their success.

In any case, the objections to large association studies are/have been numerous, but Goldstein has come up with the most bizarre one yet--that large association studies using common variants might find too many things! The premise is this (and let's take a non-disease trait like height as an example): current association studies have identified many loci of small effect that influence human height. Together, these loci account for ~3% of the population variation in height. Assuming these are the largest effect sizes out there to find, and an exponential distribution on effect sizes (both probably approximately fair assumptions), then a massive number of loci influence height, potentially genes across the entire genome. Thus, "[i]f common variants are responsible for most genetic components of type 2 diabetes, height, and similar traits, then genetics will provide relatively little guidance about the biology of these conditions, because most genes are 'height genes' or 'type 2 diabetes genes.'"

The solution to this problem, Goldstein claims, is to look for rare variants that (he presumes) have larger effects. This claim, though it appears reasonable, is a non sequitur. The reason why is that Goldstein is conflating two definitions of effect size. In definition one, effect size is defined as the proportion of variance in a trait explained by a polymorphism. In definition two, effect size is defined as the difference in mean trait value between two genotype classes. Why is this a problem? Because the proportion of variance in a trait explained by a polymorphism is a function both of its frequency and the impact it has on the trait [1]. To re-use a previous example, imagine smoking cigarettes gives you a 5% chance of developing lung cancer, while working in an asbestos factory gives you a 70% chance. In sense one, smoking has a larger effect size--since so many more people smoke than work in asbestos factories, the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking is much higher than the number due to asbestos. However, under definition two, working in an asbestos factory has the larger effect size--the probability of developing the disease is much higher. Thus, though a rare polymorphism might have a large effect (in sense 2), it will explain a tiny amount of the variance in the trait simply due to the fact it is rare [2].

The contention that the number of loci needed to explain the heritability of a trait will somehow be smaller if one looks at rare variation is simply false.

[1] Assuming additivity, the variance explained by a locus is 2p(1-p)a^2, where p is the allele frequency and a is half the difference between the means of each homozygote. See Figure 4.8 of Lynch and Walsh.

[2] For example, let's use the equation in [1] and assume a polymorphism has a frequency of 0.001%. Then, in order for this polymorphism to account for 0.05% of the variation in height (on the small end of the proportions accounted by common polymorphisms identified to date), a single allele would have to increase height by a whopping 5 standard deviations.


Fat people on flights   posted by Razib @ 4/17/2009 11:57:00 AM

Charge the Large:
United Airlines has just implemented a tough policy for fat people: If you're too big to fit in a coach seat on a full plane, you'll have to pay for a first-class seat or two adjacent coach seats. And if those options are sold out, you'll be bumped from the flight.

The author, William Saletan, notes that there are less onerous ways that tall people can get some leg room and only a moderately increase the damage, so why not charge by the inch? I think the background issue is that the larger tend to weigh more and that has an impact on the amount of fuel a plane needs (this includes tall people obviously too). Why not start weighing all people and charging them premium based on size?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

IQ and "conventional wisdom"   posted by Razib @ 4/16/2009 11:19:00 PM

Several people have emailed me (and emails and forward are appreciated by the way) about two articles in The New York Times about IQ. IQ Harmed by Epilepsy Drug in Utero, which Steve's already commented on. And the most emailed article currently, Nicholas Kristof's How to Raise Our IQ. Some of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning might have noticed that I long ago stopped talking much about psychometrics. Why? I'd rather not waste my time trying to convince smart people that they are actually smarter than stupid people. If I had a penny every time someone with an elite college education in the hard sciences explained that "they don't believe in IQ".... Of course, on the other hand these aren't the huge majority of people. Many who were nerds or of high intelligence know that there's a qualitative difference between themselves and the herd, in particular those from families with several siblings where psychometric variance is rather obvious. How much more "shared" can environment exactly get?

But in any case, many of the intelligent refuse to assent to the position that intelligence actually exists, and that it can be measured. A few conversations aren't going change opinions here, as the opinions aren't based on empirical data. Rather, it's a theory to which one is socialized (and which socialization can reverse, but this requires a great deal of time investment which isn't going to happen with most people). My own experience with the crowd that runs with Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky is that 1) they tend toward the retarded end of social intelligence 2) are invariably accepting of, or open to, the reality of g. In other words, my assumption is that most people who "don't believe in intelligence," don't for reasons of socialization, because they know the rewards built into the incentive structure of human groups for conformity. Of course, there is "believe," and then there is believe. The same people who don't believe in intelligence are proud of their GRE scores, convinced that Republicans and religious people have lower IQs, and outraged when the mentally deficient, as measured on IQ tests, are executed. This probably reflects some mental modularity. People might say they don't believe in IQ, but the decisions they make are to some extent informed by the assumption that intelligence exists, and individuals vary. This shouldn't be a surprise, our executive functions have only a loose control over the different subfunctions which define our cognition. Ironically it might reflect the limits of the conscious rationalin enforcing its well on subconsciously operating modules. The long arm of intelligence reaches only so far into the crevasses of one's mind.

So the best way to increase the intelligence of your offspring? Fuse your gametes with someone intelligent! You don't even have to believe in intelligence to do this, as many who do just this don't. The main issue isn't that people won't be a position to fuse their gametes with individuals in the same range as themselves in terms of intelligence. Rather, it's that they won't let the fusion come to fruition!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Neuroeconomics happens in the brain   posted by Razib @ 4/15/2009 07:57:00 PM

Risk-dependent reward value signal in human prefrontal cortex:
When making choices under uncertainty, people usually consider both the expected value and risk of each option, and choose the one with the higher utility. Expected value increases the expected utility of an option for all individuals. Risk increases the utility of an option for risk-seeking individuals, but decreases it for risk averse individuals. In 2 separate experiments, one involving imperative (no-choice), the other choice situations, we investigated how predicted risk and expected value aggregate into a common reward signal in the human brain. Blood oxygen level dependent responses in lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex increased monotonically with increasing reward value in the absence of risk in both experiments. Risk enhanced these responses in risk-seeking participants, but reduced them in risk-averse participants. The aggregate value and risk responses in lateral prefrontal cortex contrasted with pure value signals independent of risk in the striatum. These results demonstrate an aggregate risk and value signal in the prefrontal cortex that would be compatible with basic assumptions underlying the mean-variance approach to utility.


Personal genomics & NEJM   posted by Razib @ 4/15/2009 06:24:00 PM

Multiple articles on personal genomics in The New England Journal of Medicine, Genomewide Association Studies and Human Disease, Common Genetic Variation and Human Traits, Genomewide Association Studies - Illuminating Biologic Pathways and Genetic Risk Prediction -Are We There Yet?. Nick Wade has a piece on these articles in The New York Times.

Related: Preparing doctors for the genomic tsunami, Linkage versus association: a mini-primer, A note on the Common Disease-Common Variant debate, Common disease, common variant and Common disease, common variant.

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What you already knew about Finns   posted by Razib @ 4/15/2009 01:16:00 PM

Genetic markers and population history: Finland revisited:
The Finnish population in Northern Europe has been a target of extensive genetic studies during the last decades. The population is considered as a homogeneous isolate, well suited for gene mapping studies because of its reduced diversity and homogeneity. However, several studies have shown substantial differences between the eastern and western parts of the country, especially in the male-mediated Y chromosome. This divergence is evident in non-neutral genetic variation also and it is usually explained to stem from founder effects occurring in the settlement of eastern Finland as late as in the 16th century. Here, we have reassessed this population historical scenario using Y-chromosomal, mitochondrial and autosomal markers and geographical sampling covering entire Finland. The obtained results suggest substantial Scandinavian gene flow into south-western, but not into the eastern, Finland. Male-biased Scandinavian gene flow into the south-western parts of the country would plausibly explain the large inter-regional differences observed in the Y-chromosome, and the relative homogeneity in the mitochondrial and autosomal data. On the basis of these results, we suggest that the expression of 'Finnish Disease Heritage' illnesses, more common in the eastern/north-eastern Finland, stems from long-term drift, rather than from relatively recent founder effects.

The Wikipedia entry on Swedish-speaking Finns highlights the controversies about their origins. Some claim that they are Finns who switched to Swedish as they rose up the class hierarchy, while the alternative model is that they are the descendants of immigrants who arrived after the Swedish conquest of much of Finland during the 12th and 13th century. Additionally, there is the countervailing dynamic whereby it seems that many Swedish speaking Finns have been assimilated into the Finnish speaking population since the 19th century.

Of course it doesn't need to be a black-white dichotomy of immigrants vs. the indigenous. But the genetic data can help quantify the proportion of gene flow due to migration vs. acculturation. Right now the genetic data don't seem to support a strong version of the hypothesis that Swedish-speaking residents of Finland are simply the descendants of those who switched to the Swedish language. Rather, a non-trivial level of migration seems likely to have been an integral part of the process.

H/T Dienekes

Related: The genetics of Fenno-Scandinavia, Finns as European genetic outliers and Estonians are not like Finns.

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Your religion is false   posted by Razib @ 4/15/2009 09:52:00 AM

Joel Grus, who was a blogger at Gene Expression in 2002, and who is responsible for the banner graphic, has a weblog up promoting his book Your religion is false! (But so is everyone elses.).


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Religion, the United States, Sweden, South Korea and Japan   posted by Razib @ 4/14/2009 10:59:00 PM

It turns out that the World Values Survey has a decent web interface, rather like the GSS. As an exercise I thought I would compare 4 nations when it came to religious attitudes, the United States, Sweden, South Korea and Japan. The United States because most readers are American. Sweden because it is the apotheosis of European secularity. Japan because it is generally presumed to be an apathetic non-Western nation when it comes to religion. And South Korea, which sends more Christianity missionaries than any nation aside from the United States. The data for South Korea are usually a revelation for Americans, as we are conditioned by the dominant role of conservative Protestantism among our own ethnic Korean population, it is somewhat of a surprise when digging into the data to note that Korea is a much more secular nation than the United States.

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Religious person A religious person 44.9 % 26.5 % 30.9 % 38.9 % 82.5 %
Not a religious person 41.4 % 59.7 % 37.7 % 54.4 % 16.0 %
A convinced atheist 13.7 % 13.8 % 31.4 % 6.7 % 1.4 %
Total 4531 (100%) 1186 (100%) 1198 (100%) 968 (100%) 1180 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
How important is God in your life Not at all important 13.7 % 12.6 % 12.2 % 28.9 % 3.7 %
2 7.6 % 9.8 % 8.1 % 11.4 % 1.7 %
3 9.1 % 13.1 % 10.6 % 11.0 % 2.1 %
4 4.9 % 3.7 % 7.0 % 7.7 % 1.8 %
5 11.2 % 11.6 % 17.2 % 12.2 % 3.8 %
6 10.1 % 21.6 % 8.1 % 6.1 % 3.9 %
7 7.2 % 9.2 % 7.5 % 5.6 % 6.1 %
8 7.6 % 8.7 % 7.3 % 5.4 % 8.6 %
9 5.5 % 2.8 % 6.1 % 2.8 % 9.9 %
Very important 23.1 % 6.9 % 15.9 % 9.0 % 58.3 %
Total 4586 (100%) 1194 (100%) 1198 (100%) 996 (100%) 1198 (100%)
Base for mean 4586 1194 1198 996 1198
Mean 5.8 5.0 5.5 4.1 8.5
Standard Deviation 3.21 2.65 2.99 2.97 2.45

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Get comfort and strength from religion No 44.8 % 64.9 % 32.9 % 66.8 % 20.4 %
Yes 55.2 % 35.1 % 67.1 % 33.2 % 79.6 %
Total 3874 (100%) 950 (100%) 856 (100%) 895 (100%) 1173 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Statement: good and evil Clear guidelines about what is good and evil 30.7 % 19.2 % 37.0 % 15.8 % 49.2 %
Depends upon circumstances at the time 64.4 % 69.3 % 63.0 % 81.0 % 46.6 %
Disagree with both 4.9 % 11.5 % - 3.2 % 4.2 %
Total 4661 (100%) 1277 (100%) 1199 (100%) 999 (100%) 1186 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Belong to religious denomination No 35.4 % 55.6 % 36.8 % 24.2 % 21.5 %
Yes 64.6 % 44.4 % 63.2 % 75.8 % 78.5 %
Total 4614 (100%) 1267 (100%) 1196 (100%) 1015 (100%) 1136 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
How often do you attend religious services More than once a week 8.0 % 1.7 % 13.1 % 0.5 % 16.4 %
Once a week 12.9 % 2.4 % 17.1 % 3.3 % 28.8 %
Once a month 9.3 % 8.3 % 8.0 % 5.6 % 15.1 %
Only on special holy days/Christmas/Easter days 19.9 % 43.2 % 11.2 % 10.6 % 10.5 %
Once a year 14.3 % 22.1 % 6.9 % 21.4 % 7.0 %
Less often 15.5 % 13.8 % 27.6 % 13.2 % 7.5 %
Never practically never 19.9 % 8.6 % 16.0 % 45.6 % 14.8 %
Total 4752 (100%) 1343 (100%) 1198 (100%) 1013 (100%) 1198 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Moments of prayer, meditation... No 41.5 % 60.1 % 41.1 % 56.0 % 10.7 %
Yes 58.5 % 39.9 % 58.9 % 44.0 % 89.3 %
Total 4384 (100%) 1229 (100%) 954 (100%) 1004 (100%) 1198 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Politicians who don´t believe in God are unfit for public office Agree strongly 6.3 % 2.3 % 2.9 % 1.7 % 17.8 %
Agree 9.1 % 5.5 % 7.4 % 2.3 % 20.5 %
Neither agree or disagree 31.0 % 50.8 % 30.5 % 11.5 % 26.0 %
Disagree 32.5 % 26.1 % 41.9 % 37.0 % 27.3 %
Strongly disagree 21.1 % 15.3 % 17.2 % 47.5 % 8.5 %
Total 4602 (100%) 1328 (100%) 1074 (100%) 1010 (100%) 1190 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Religious leaders should not influence how people vote Agree strongly 28.6 % 33.0 % 25.0 % 34.3 % 22.3 %
Agree 40.5 % 41.2 % 44.4 % 33.9 % 41.5 %
Neither agree or disagree 16.2 % 20.4 % 19.1 % 10.2 % 14.1 %
Disagree 10.8 % 3.5 % 8.4 % 14.4 % 18.3 %
Strongly disagree 3.8 % 1.9 % 3.1 % 7.3 % 3.8 %
Total 4651 (100%) 1326 (100%) 1122 (100%) 1009 (100%) 1194 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Better if more people with strong religious beliefs in public office Agree strongly 6.9 % 1.4 % 6.3 % 2.1 % 17.6 %
Agree 14.8 % 3.9 % 18.0 % 6.7 % 31.0 %
Neither agree or disagree 29.0 % 31.6 % 36.2 % 21.3 % 26.5 %
Disagree 30.4 % 36.3 % 28.2 % 38.3 % 19.2 %
Strongly disagree 18.8 % 26.7 % 11.3 % 31.6 % 5.7 %
Total 4540 (100%) 1324 (100%) 1028 (100%) 1003 (100%) 1185 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Religious leaders should not influence government Agree strongly 24.1 % 33.1 % 20.6 % 24.4 % 17.0 %
Agree 34.7 % 39.2 % 36.7 % 27.4 % 34.0 %
Neither agree or disagree 23.0 % 22.0 % 30.3 % 20.3 % 19.7 %
Disagree 14.1 % 4.0 % 9.7 % 21.1 % 23.6 %
Strongly disagree 4.1 % 1.7 % 2.7 % 6.8 % 5.7 %
Total 4607 (100%) 1320 (100%) 1103 (100%) 995 (100%) 1189 (100%)

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Justifiable: cheating on taxes Never justifiable 68.8 % 83.5 % 74.7 % 50.7 % 62.1 %
2 11.1 % 6.2 % 11.6 % 17.1 % 11.0 %
3 6.7 % 4.0 % 6.1 % 10.0 % 7.4 %
4 3.1 % 1.5 % 2.1 % 5.4 % 4.0 %
5 4.4 % 2.4 % 2.8 % 8.3 % 5.0 %
6 1.9 % 0.7 % 1.0 % 2.5 % 3.7 %
7 1.1 % 0.1 % 0.5 % 2.4 % 1.9 %
8 1.0 % 0.3 % 0.3 % 2.1 % 1.5 %
9 0.4 % 0.2 % 0.3 % 0.5 % 0.9 %
Always justifiable 1.3 % 1.2 % 0.7 % 1.0 % 2.4 %
Total 4718 (100%) 1312 (100%) 1199 (100%) 1009 (100%) 1198 (100%)
Base for mean 4718 1312 1199 1009 1198
Mean 1.9 1.5 1.6 2.4 2.3
Standard Deviation 1.81 1.40 1.38 2.01 2.20

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Justifiable: someone accepting a bribe Never justifiable 78.4 % 83.0 % 80.2 % 68.5 % 80.0 %
2 8.7 % 5.1 % 10.3 % 13.0 % 7.4 %
3 4.7 % 3.9 % 4.7 % 7.3 % 3.6 %
4 2.3 % 1.6 % 1.8 % 3.4 % 2.8 %
5 2.6 % 3.3 % 1.6 % 2.8 % 2.6 %
6 1.0 % 1.1 % 0.3 % 1.4 % 1.2 %
7 0.7 % 0.2 % 0.5 % 1.4 % 0.7 %
8 0.7 % 0.8 % 0.1 % 1.2 % 0.7 %
9 0.3 % 0.2 % 0.3 % 0.1 % 0.4 %
Always justifiable 0.7 % 0.9 % 0.4 % 1.0 % 0.6 %
Total 4724 (100%) 1314 (100%) 1199 (100%) 1013 (100%) 1198 (100%)
Base for mean 4724 1314 1199 1013 1198
Mean 1.6 1.5 1.4 1.8 1.6
Standard Deviation 1.46 1.48 1.14 1.68 1.48

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Justifiable: homosexuality Never justifiable 31.8 % 29.8 % 52.7 % 8.7 % 31.6 %
2 5.6 % 5.7 % 9.8 % 2.8 % 3.6 %
3 6.0 % 9.2 % 7.3 % 2.8 % 4.1 %
4 4.4 % 5.3 % 4.6 % 2.4 % 4.7 %
5 13.6 % 15.8 % 11.9 % 10.0 % 16.1 %
6 7.5 % 12.0 % 3.0 % 3.3 % 11.1 %
7 4.2 % 4.1 % 3.8 % 4.3 % 4.6 %
8 5.8 % 6.6 % 3.5 % 8.4 % 5.3 %
9 3.5 % 2.2 % 1.0 % 6.6 % 4.7 %
Always justifiable 17.6 % 9.4 % 2.3 % 50.6 % 14.1 %
Total 4553 (100%) 1200 (100%) 1199 (100%) 978 (100%) 1177 (100%)
Base for mean 4553 1200 1199 978 1177
Mean 4.8 4.4 2.8 7.7 4.8
Standard Deviation 3.40 2.98 2.44 3.07 3.25

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Justifiable: abortion Never justifiable 22.3 % 14.6 % 36.9 % 5.4 % 29.7 %
2 7.0 % 7.4 % 10.8 % 1.7 % 7.0 %
3 8.5 % 12.4 % 10.2 % 4.2 % 6.2 %
4 6.0 % 7.6 % 7.1 % 3.2 % 5.5 %
5 16.6 % 21.3 % 17.1 % 11.8 % 15.4 %
6 9.9 % 14.6 % 4.8 % 7.7 % 12.2 %
7 6.4 % 6.2 % 5.5 % 8.3 % 5.8 %
8 8.2 % 8.7 % 3.8 % 14.1 % 7.1 %
9 3.7 % 2.6 % 2.2 % 8.1 % 2.9 %
Always justifiable 11.4 % 4.5 % 1.7 % 35.4 % 8.1 %
Total 4607 (100%) 1224 (100%) 1199 (100%) 993 (100%) 1191 (100%)
Base for mean 4607 1224 1199 993 1191
Mean 4.9 4.7 3.4 7.4 4.4
Standard Deviation 3.02 2.50 2.46 2.72 2.97

Weight [with split ups]
Total Japan Republic of Korea Sweden United States
Justifiable: divorce Never justifiable 9.3 % 5.5 % 21.0 % 2.1 % 7.5 %
2 3.8 % 2.8 % 7.7 % 1.3 % 2.8 %
3 5.8 % 6.5 % 8.1 % 2.0 % 6.2 %
4 5.9 % 5.3 % 7.2 % 4.8 % 6.1 %
5 20.0 % 19.3 % 23.7 % 12.2 % 23.7 %
6 12.0 % 16.5 % 8.1 % 6.4 % 15.9 %
7 7.9 % 6.7 % 7.7 % 8.0 % 9.4 %
8 10.7 % 12.1 % 6.9 % 14.0 % 10.3 %
9 6.1 % 5.8 % 4.8 % 8.9 % 5.4 %
Always justifiable 18.5 % 19.5 % 4.9 % 40.3 % 12.6 %
Total 4630 (100%) 1233 (100%) 1198 (100%) 1004 (100%) 1195 (100%)
Base for mean 4630 1233 1198 1004 1195
Mean 6.1 6.4 4.6 7.8 5.9
Standard Deviation 2.81 2.62 2.70 2.42 2.53

The data are open to many interpretations. You can actually do more fine-grained analysis, but I'll leave that for the readers. I would say:

1) South Koreans are more religious than the Japanese, but also just as starkly they are more polarized. Look at the first table and how many Koreans asserted that they were convinced atheists, as opposed to the more mellow Japanese and Swedes. Japan and Sweden are clearly more secular than South Korea, but since religious controversy isn't a feature of their public life, atheism vs. theism is less of an issue.

2) From a Western perspective the American & Swedish data are rather easy to interpret. The high rates of Swedish affiliation despite their secularity is simply due to the history of the established Lutheran church in that nation (only recently disestablished last I checked), and the customary attachment which most Swedes have to the institution. Aside from that, Sweden is secular and the United States not so much. South Korea and Japan are harder to interpret. Despite being very secular Japan is obviously rather conservative when it comes to many social mores, and Korea exhibits the same tendency. Rather than pinning down a specific explanation it is important to note that the role of institutional organized religion has been relatively marginal in these two societies until recently, and what role it did play was of low prestige compared to that in Western societies. In fact it can be argued that South Korea is simultaneously becoming a more religious and liberal society.

3) Despite the fact that Sweden has high rates of nominal affiliation to the Lutheran church, ceremonial and ritual religion seems to be a more common feature of the lives of the Japanese.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Austrians and presuppositionalism   posted by Razib @ 4/12/2009 02:37:00 PM

Less Wrong makes an analogy between Austrian economics and Calvinist presuppositionalism. I've turned off comments, so you can comment there. Especially see Robin Hanson's comment. When I expressed skepticism of rationality, this is part of what I was talking about. Deduction gets you only so far, mostly because humans are stupid and imprecise.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Genetics of domestication   posted by p-ter @ 4/11/2009 07:37:00 PM

Most readers are likely familiar with the classic "taming of the fox" experiment started by Dmitri Belyaev--starting with a wild silver fox, the group was able to quickly breed both a tame and hyper-aggressive line of animals. I was unaware that, concurrently with this experiment, that same group was also performing the same experiment on rats.

Just published is the the first steps in a search for the precise genetic changes underlying the differences between a tame and aggressive line of rats, separated by only 60 generations of breeding. The basic result is that they are able to identify two regions of the genome that very likely carry variation affecting tameness. They are unable to identify particular genes due to the resolution of the study, but one can only assume they're in the process of following this up (since these two lines are only separated by 60 generations, one easy way to search for a causal polymorphism might be to just sequence the two lines--there's likely very few differences between them in the candidate regions).

It was also been noticed, in both the fox and rat experiments, that changes in tameness were associated with changes in pigmentation--in the rat case, the presence of a white patch of fur. This study design allows the authors to determine whether the same locus influencing pigmentation is also involved in tameness. In this case, they're not.


New model organisms   posted by p-ter @ 4/11/2009 08:28:00 AM

Nature has a nice piece on the uses of alternative model organisms in various parts of biology. The focus is on the medical applications of these models, which I suppose is due to issues with funding. But the real message is that with novel genomics applications (mainly high-throughput sequencing), understanding the genetics of a wide variety of nature's bizarre creatures is possible. Sure, understanding how the Antarctic icefish adapted to sub-zero temperatures might in theory help understanding of some human disease, but let's be honest--that's worth studying just because it's really cool.


The problem of crap   posted by Razib @ 4/11/2009 12:20:00 AM

Tyler Cowen points me to this case against YouTube. In short, the user generated crap which dominates the system costs money to host and serve, but doesn't offer much of a return in monetization. But it seems to me that this is just the problem of too much crap on a lot of these "social network" driven websites where sorting for quality hasn't been well thought out. After all, I still have a woman on my gtalk list who I purchased a bed from via craigslist 3 years ago (we both had gmail addresses we used for email). I should probably prune her from my list, along with the other random people who I've emailed with but don't really know.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

African Pygmies & their origins   posted by Razib @ 4/09/2009 05:01:00 PM

There was some talk about Pygmies on the post about Jerry Coyne's weblog. PLoS Genetics has a new paper up on the topic of Pygmy origins and their relationship to non-Pygmy populations. I've blogged it over at ScienceBlogs.

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Parents don't matter as much as you think....   posted by Razib @ 4/09/2009 04:49:00 PM

Jonah Lehrer interviews Judith Rich Harris on the topic of The Nurture Assumption. Related but coincidently I pointed to new research on the investment and returns which adoptive parents get, and how the results are not surprising in a behavior genetic context.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

In defense of rationality   posted by Razib @ 4/08/2009 04:13:00 PM

Michael Vassar emailed me the following in response to my indicated skepticism of rationality:
First, it seems to me that it is much easier to measure the aggregate power, across human history, of rationality, than to measure its power in individual manifestations. In aggregate, rational thought is what's responsible for not living in mud huts that fall down frequently if not built by following one's proper tribal rituals of mud-hut-building. I would expect that we would all agree on that. Likewise, most of what's wrong with the world is in an important respect the result of lacking rationality. Arbitraging the potential gains from trade between Saddam and the shrub would have been more productive and rational than the Iraq war, as a trivial instance. Well then, most of the evidence regarding the impact-per-manifestation for rationality comes from dividing "everything" by "frequency of manifestation of rationality". As one learns more it becomes increasingly appearent that X is not about Y and that most actions are not rationally derivable from their alleged (and explicitly believed) goals. This means that rationality manifestations are less common thus more powerful than is commonly believed.

What I have strongly moved away from is the attitude that classes of people such as nerds, scientists, skeptics and the like who like to describe their membership in terms of rationality are noticibly better than average at behavioral rationality, as opposed to epistemic rationality where they are obviously better than average but still just hideously bad.

I agree with Michael. I think rationality, and more specifically science, is our hope in the great sea of noise. It is after all what we depend on to enable the affluent life which we all take for granted. But on an interpersonal level I'm rather skeptical of great rational systems which very smart people attempt to convince me of, and which I was rather attracted to as a younger man. I'm also skeptical about my ability to judge the plausibility of many the rational systems which I encounter in my conversations as well. My skepticism varies a function of domain. In mathematics and the physical sciences rationality has enormous utility. In much of the life sciences rationality has some utility, but it has far less power than in the physical sciences. And so on down the great chain.

My skepticism manifests in rather concrete ways. I would rather have a drink with someone than listen to their grand theory of history, no matter how smart they are. On the other hand if they are able to illuminate the Feynman lectures with exceeding clarity because of their intelligence and knowledge I am definitely interested in passing on the alcohol to maintain my mental acuity.


Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids   posted by Razib @ 4/08/2009 11:26:00 AM

Part of the preface from Bryan Caplan's next book is up.

Frequency dependence & cooperation   posted by Razib @ 4/08/2009 01:56:00 AM

Snowdrift game dynamics and facultative cheating in yeast:
The origin of cooperation is a central challenge to our understanding of evolution...The fact that microbial interactions can be manipulated in ways that animal interactions cannot has led to a growing interest in microbial models of cooperation...and competition...For the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to grow on sucrose, the disaccharide must first be hydrolysed by the enzyme invertase...This hydrolysis reaction is performed outside the cytoplasm in the periplasmic space between the plasma membrane and the cell wall. Here we demonstrate that the vast majority (99 per cent) of the monosaccharides created by sucrose hydrolysis diffuse away before they can be imported into the cell, serving to make invertase production and secretion a cooperative behaviour...A mutant cheater strain that does not produce invertase is able to take advantage of and invade a population of wild-type cooperator cells. However, over a wide range of conditions, the wild-type cooperator can also invade a population of cheater cells. Therefore, we observe steady-state coexistence between the two strains in well-mixed culture resulting from the fact that rare strategies outperform common strategies-the defining features of what game theorists call the snowdrift game...A model of the cooperative interaction incorporating nonlinear benefits explains the origin of this coexistence. We are able to alter the outcome of the competition by varying either the cost of cooperation or the glucose concentration in the media. Finally, we note that glucose repression of invertase expression in wild-type cells produces a strategy that is optimal for the snowdrift game—wild-type cells cooperate only when competing against cheater cells.

From ScienceDaily:
Studies have shown that in the wild, yeast carry different numbers of copies of the invertase gene. This genetic diversity in the wild may be similar to the long-term coexistence of cooperators and cheaters observed in the laboratory, says Gore.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Measuring whether an artist is under- or over-valued   posted by agnostic @ 4/07/2009 12:24:00 AM

The concept of price-to-earnings ratio can be extended to anything that has an objective, fundamental value and a subjective value that people give to the thing -- assuming these can be measured, however crudely. The ratio gets bigger when the price goes up while the thing is still generating the same amount of earnings, or when it generates less earnings while being priced the same. So, larger values of this ratio mean that the thing is overhyped, while smaller values mean it's overlooked.

When lots of instances of the same thing are over-hyped, and when this over-hyping steadily increases for a stretch of time, we have a bubble. When people wake up to reality and the P/E ratio plummets, the bubble bursts. See the first graph in the Wikipedia link above for stock market data that show this relationship. These bubbles are counter-examples to the efficient-market hypothesis, which holds that prices already contain all known information about the stock -- or, say, the house. Under the hypothesis, a smarty-pants could not predictably outperform the stock (or housing) market, since they can't know anything that everyone else does not already know. But in reality, people who didn't believe the hype about houses, such as hedge fund manager Steve Eisman, got rich by betting that everyone else was nuts.

Below the fold, I develop a rough P/E ratio for Western composers, calculate it for 69 eminent ones, and discuss some applications.

For the measurement of the composer's fundamental value, I use his score in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment, which measures how much space he is given across a wide variety of music encyclopedias -- how deserving he is. It's true that article writers could be in the midst of an irrational bubble for Beethoven and devote more space to him than he merits, but by using encyclopedias across many different languages and time periods, Murray protected as much as possible against this bias. He also excluded figures who flourished in the second half of the 20th C, just in case article writers were still affected by a recent bubble.

For the measurement of the public's subjective valuation of the composer, I use the number of results returned from a search of his name in the "classical" section of Amazon's music section. (This is the name listed under "composer" in the work's webpage.) Unlike the number of Google results, the number of works offered for sale is a good measure of how much hype the composer enjoys among real consumers of classical music. I normalize these results by dividing by the maximum number of results (which happens to be for Mozart) and multiplying by 100, to put it on a 0 - 100 scale, as with the HA scores.

The measurement of how under- or over-valued a composer is, the P/E ratio, is just the scaled Amazon score divided by the HA score. Higher P/E scores suggest he is over-hyped -- if two composers have the same amount of space devoted to them by those in the best position to objective judge the composers' excellence, the one with many more works being offered enjoys the influence of hype. And so does the composer who has the same number of works being offered as another, but who has much less space devoted to him in encyclopedias.

One drawback here is that, unlike the P/E ratio for stocks or houses, the two parts of the ratio aren't measured in the same units, or even close -- they are a scaled measure of column inches and a scaled measure of works being offered. So the ratio here doesn't have an intuitive interpretation. But if we just want to see who's over- and under-valued, that doesn't matter.

I calculated this P/E ratio for anyone in Murray's list of Western composers who scored 10 or above on his 0 to 100 scale, which yielded 69 data-points. To see all composers' data, you can download the spreadsheet here by clicking on view data and copying & pasting (as text) into an Excel file. Briefly, though, for fun here are the 10 most under- and over-valued composers, where the P/E ratio increases as you go down each list. (Thus, Willaert suffers the least from hype, and Puccini the most.) Bear in mind that "over-valued" does not mean "junk," and "under-valued" does not mean "awesome" -- only that the composer is given too much attention, or too little.

10 most under-valued composers

Adrian Willaert
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Anton Webern
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume Dufay
Arnold Schoenberg
Josquin des Prez
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Orlande de Lassus

10 most over-valued composers

Johannes Brahms
Camille Saint-Saens
Charles Gounod
Giuseppe Verdi
Edvard Grieg
Antonio Vivaldi
Antonin Dvorak
Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Georges Bizet
Giacomo Puccini

Despite the presence of hype, though, the Amazon score and HA score agree pretty well with each other, as you see here:

The Spearman rank correlation between the two scores is +0.53 (p less than 10^-6). So, to some degree, the greater the esteem from encyclopedists, the more works are offered for sale. Still, differences in HA scores only account for under 30% of the variation in Amazon popularity, leaving plenty of room for the influence of hype.

And do the P/E scores form a bell-shaped normal distribution? No. The average is 0.73 -- about what Domenico Scarlatti scores -- but most of the data are below this, and less above it. The graph below shows this skewed distribution, where most composers are actually rather under-valued and a handful are fairly over-hyped.

I don't have Amazon scores going back years -- or even one year -- so I can't make a series similar to the one that shows rising P/E ratios as the stock market enters a bubble, and declining values when the bubble bursts. I could find how many articles JSTOR contains that mention the composer, and measure this for all 69 composers across the years, and re-scale them by dividing by the maximum score in each year. But I'm not that interested in this topic, so I've done something a little different to detect bubbles.

Murray also includes the year that each composer flourished -- i.e., when he turned 40 -- and I've plotted each composer's P/E score for the year he flourished. This allows us to see if composers from one time period are more or less over-hyped compared to those of another:

The composers of the pre-Classical periods (Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque) are below-average in hype. Classical composers are average or a bit below, and the early Romantics are also about average. However, the late Romantics are vastly over-hyped. The Moderns are all over the place, although none is very over-hyped. It could be, though, that for the Moderns, an "overlooked" composer could have an unjustifiably high HA score, if Murray's article writers were not yet distanced enough to avoid the effects of recent manias for Modern composers.

As a non-music buff, I feel my pedestrian tastes have been vindicated, as I've never gotten into the late Romantic period, but have always loved the Baroque most, then Classical, and even some early Romantic stuff. I have some catching up to do with Medieval and Renaissance composers, though. Culture mavens tell me that Baroque music is considered too nerdy and mostly suited for guy consumption, while the Romantics appeal more to normal people and women. So, music that appeals to more emotional people is over-valued, while music that appeals to more cerebral people is under-valued. This confirms that over-hyping something and an irrational, emotional mindset go hand-in-hand.

On the topic of bubbles, Murray mentions that you do see fashion cycles, or booms and busts, in the percentage of an orchestra's output that comes from a particular composer -- e.g., that Bach might be very popular one year and decline for the next, say, 10 years. This is despite the fact that the aesthetic value of his work -- however we measure it -- hasn't changed.

I think this argues against the cultural version of the efficient-market hypothesis. The public valuation of a composer may capture plenty of information about his fundamental worth, but there's a lot that's left out, such as the strong chance that a composer with a high P/E ratio owes some of his popularity to a bubble mindset among consumers.

There are plenty of other cases you can apply this approach to, not to mention further refinements in looking at composers. What I'd really like to see is an objective measure of female celebrities' attractiveness -- say, by plugging measurements of their face, body, etc., into a regression equation -- and compare this against the number of results returned in a Google Image search for their name. I predict Angelina Jolie would score in the far-over-hyped range, Monica Bellucci in the average range of hype, and Jean Shrimpton in the over-looked range.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

The Cult of Rationality   posted by Razib @ 4/06/2009 11:33:00 PM

The gang at Overcoming Bias has a new project, Less Wrong: A Community Blog Devoted To Refining The Art Of Human Rationality. If you just laughed, you probably shouldn't click through. Otherwise, you probably already know about it, but if you don't, check it out. I'll be honest and admit that I've become more skeptical of the power of human rationality as the years have gone by, but I do enjoy talking to people who prioritize rationality (at least notionally) more than those who don't. Consider that many people who enjoy gambling know that odds are they'll probably lose money. But the winning is sweet indeed.

Graduate school standardized test data by race   posted by Razib @ 4/06/2009 11:24:00 PM

Steve's latest column is data rich, Graduate School Admissions, Race, And The White Status Game.

Estrogen & economics   posted by Razib @ 4/06/2009 11:03:00 PM

A randomized trial of the effect of estrogen and testosterone on economic behavior:
Existing correlative evidence suggests that sex hormones may affect economic behavior such as risk taking and reciprocal fairness. To test this hypothesis we conducted a double-blind randomized study. Two-hundred healthy postmenopausal women aged 50–65 years were randomly allocated to 4 weeks of treatment with estrogen, testosterone, or placebo. At the end of the treatment period, the subjects participated in a series of economic experiments that measure altruism, reciprocal fairness, trust, trustworthiness, and risk attitudes. There was no significant effect of estrogen or testosterone on any of the studied behaviors.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

The money illusion & neuroscience   posted by Razib @ 4/04/2009 11:45:00 AM

See The Frontal Cortex.

Related: Tracking economists' consensus on money illusion, as a proxy for Keynesianism.

The secret network   posted by Razib @ 4/04/2009 10:37:00 AM

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World is a work of economic history focused on trade. It suffers like many in this genre due to a sloppy grasp of the historical record (the numerous trivial errors are a good sign of a very thin grasp of secondary sources).* But when it comes to the details of trade networks it is relatively informative (though do check the notes!). One of the more interestings aspects of A Splendid Exchange is the deep treatment given to the Indian ocean trade network from antiquity down to the early modern period (also see Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium fora more scholarly take on this topic). The standard model from the extant sources suggest that the trade from Egypt to China had a hinge at Sri Lanka, so that Western and Eastern traders went no further than this point. But there are references by Portuguese soldiers and missionaries to "Roman colonies" in the trading cities of the Malay archipelago in the 16th century, strongly suggesting that the Italian's networks extended very far to the east. Additionally, during this period the Acehnese of northern Sumatra were a notable presence in the western Indian ocean, as evidenced today by the Malay features of some individuals in the Hadhramaut in southern Yemen. Finally, there is circumstantial evidence that the mercentile elite of Cairo during the phase of Mamluk ascendancy was of Indian provenance, specifically Tamil.

When I say "secret" I mostly mean that though the trade network was well known to the principals, because of minimal documentation our knowledge of it is thin. And when we do not see records of something, it does not exist. The copious amounts of gold & silver coins in 1st century from the Malabar Coast in India are witness to both luxury and non-luxury good consumption by the Roman world (gold = luxury, silver = non-luxury) of Asian products, while the shift to gold in the 2nd century suggests a decline in the non-luxury sector. Of course these inferences can be made only because of the durable nature of coinage and its known exchange rates with goods & services.

These data and the hints of wider patterns which we can discern make some paradoxes more comprehensible. Consider the fact that the origin or transit of the Malagasy language from southern Borneo is highly likely. Settlement of Madagascar by a people who speak and Austronesian language seems exceedingly peculiar. By analogy some have suggested it was as if Cuba had been settled by the Norwegians in the 10th century. Interestingly the linguistic relationship to Borneo is supported by the genetic data. The fact that the Malagasy has loan words from Swahili, Arabic and Sanskrit indicates a deep integration with the Indian ocean network. A bigger point is that unfortunately when it comes to modeling human history we don't tend to take into account what we don't know (naturally) as much as what we know. The Indian ocean network's outlines are detectable because of its scope, but it is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg in terms of these patterns in human history.

*Though to be fair this is not a scholarly work.

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The boy trade in China   posted by Razib @ 4/04/2009 10:16:00 AM

Rural China's Hunger for Sons Fuels Traffic in Abducted Boys. As I've mentioned before sex preferences can change, Japan shifted from sons to daughters around 1990, while South Korea has flipped more recently. In the United States heterosexual couples prefer to adopt daughters. In the realm of anecdotes my mother told me how a cousin of mine in Bangladesh was somewhat disappointed when she had a son because the family (her husband & parents) was hoping for a daughter. She is a professional in her mid-30s and assumes this will be her only child. The rationale given was that if you don't have many children then daughters are more likely to be attentive to their elderly parents. From a perspective where you balance offspring's risk vs. rewards one could make the argument that for parents who want to minimize the likelihood of having a "problem child," a daughter is the way to go. The dynamic in China is interesting because I was to understand that because of the presumed biological nature of patrilineality implicit in Confucian thought there was traditionally relatively little adoption in China (or Korea). The utilization of adoption to continue the family line shows the strength of the cultural pressures, and is well attested in many societies (in Adam Bellow's In Praise of Nepotism he makes the claim that the early Church's campaign against the common classical practice of adoption was materially driven by the reality that families without male heirs were a source of wealth through posthumous bequests).


Friday, April 03, 2009

Google books developments   posted by Razib @ 4/03/2009 10:24:00 PM

Google's Plan for Out-of-Print Books Is Challenged:
The settlement, which covers all books protected by copyright in the United States, allows Google to vastly expand what it can do with digital copies of books, whether they are orphans or not.

Google will be allowed to show readers in the United States as much as 20 percent of most copyrighted books, and will sell access to the entire collection to universities and other institutions. Public libraries will get free access to the full texts for their patrons at one computer, and individuals will be able to buy online access to particular books.

I know some people complain that we don't live in the world of The Jetsons, but I'm sure many readers remember the convenience of owning a set of encyclopedias.