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October 03, 2004

Update 1

About six months ago I gave a list, with links and some comments, of those of my posts over the previous year that I thought might still be worth reading.

I said I would update this from time to time, so here is the first update…

As in the previous list, I will only mention those posts that I think are of more than minor or ephemeral interest.

How much taller? was prompted by recent reports on the long-term increase in adult height. I looked at some evidence on height from the 19th century and pointed out some difficulties in interpreting the data.

Evolutionarily Stable Strategies and the strategy set discussed the meaning of the ESS and emphasised that the ’stability’ of a solution is relative to a defined set of alternative strategies and payoffs. The common statement that an ESS is an ’unbeatable’ strategy can therefore be misleading.

The Nuer Conquest examined the evidence on the spread of the Nuer tribe of the Sudan at the expense of the Dinka in the 19th century. In the recent literature this has frequently been cited as a case of group-selection for a cultural trait. In my post I argued that the evidence for this is weak and has not been widely accepted by experts on the Nuer.

Defining Group Selection: Price’s Equation attempts to understand George Price’s famous equation for multi-level selective processes and its significance for group selection. This is undeniably heavy going, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to try reading it casually on-screen, but if you’re seriously interested in the subject you might find it worthwhile to print it out for closer attention. It includes a derivation of the equation which in my humble opinion is clearer than the others I’ve seen in print.

The importance of kin selection maybe takes a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I had recently read an argument against the importance of kin selection which seemed to me fallacious, and I spent some time showing why. (Incidentally, I did eventually read the offending article again, and I’m pretty sure I was not misrepresenting Dimwit’s argument - but I will maintain his anonymity!)

Territorial rights examined the various grounds that have been used to justify claims to territory. My main aim was to debunk the idea of ‘ancestral’ rights and defend the principle of self-determination by the people actually living in a territory. In comments on this, I don’t think anyone defended the concept of ancestral rights, but there was some concern that the principle of self-determination would lead to the breakup of existing successful states. I tried to answer this concern in Territorial rights: a clarification. I was amused to see that some American readers appeared to be concerned about the prospects of separatism or secession by parts of the United States. As an outsider, I find this a far-fetched anxiety - why would anyone want to secede from the most prosperous and successful nation in world history? But if (hypothetically) a majority of people in, say, California or Texas strongly and persistently wanted to leave the Union, so be it. The history of the United Kingdom shows the difficulty of trying to keep a hostile people in a Union against their will. (So, I suppose, does the American Civil War - the Union was eventually saved, but at a huge cost in human life and lasting political problems. Would anyone now defend the Union cause if it had not incidentally led to the abolition of slavery?)

Regression to the mean and Galton’s Fallacy (not!) attempts to scotch a recently emerged myth about Francis Galton’s interpretation of regression towards the mean. I also took the opportunity to deal with a variety of misunderstandings and fallacies on the subject.

Obstacles to democracy tried to answer the puzzle why there are few functioning democracies outside Europe and peoples of European origin. I emphasised the obstacles to democracy arising from ethnic, religious and economic divisions, which have commonly been underestimated in the process of ‘state-building‘.

A load of Rawls gives reasons for not accepting the late John Rawls’s theory of justice. It’s another long and complicated piece, but at least there are no equations in it!

I think those are the only posts of potentially lasting interest I’ve made in the last 6 months, but if anyone wants to check out the others, click on ‘View all entries’ (right side of the main page), put the entries in reverse order (most recent first) and scroll down .

Posted by David B at 07:54 AM