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April 19, 2003

left-handedness: 'feast or famine' mutation

This article from the UK Times summarising some recent research on handedness was published last year but I thought it might still be worth bringing to GeneExpressors' attention so that it can be enriched with their unique insights. I've long been fascinated by left-handedness and its 'feast or famine' aspect which is quite similar in pattern to males' general distribution curve (i.e. both groups have a disproportionately high number of both retards/psychopathological cases/learning disability cases and prodigies/gifted). See this for a list of groups found to have elevated prevalence of left handedness (it's quite a varied list).

To recap the state of knowledge, one theory which has tried to account for these patterns is that there are 2 kinds of left-handers - genetic left handers and 'pathological' left-handers (made at birth). The disproportionate number of high musical/mathematical ability and high IQ left-handers (as documented by the research of Camilla Benbow) are therefore said to belong to the former group while the retards/alcoholics, etc belong to the latter. The latter group become left handed because the left brain becomes damaged at birth and therefore faculties there have to shift to the right hemisphere and the child ends up left-handed while exhibiting their pathologies due to the diminished left hemisphere function. The research summarised in the article that I've noted, however, argues that left-handedness is a 2nd handedness mutation that occured late in the piece in human evolution and might account for both the 'feast' and the 'famine'. This seems to make sense insofar as it seems a bit of a stretch to blame brain damage on the left hemisphere for the elevated lefthandedness among groups like schizophrenics, autistics and dyslexics. The theory noted by the Times article argues that:

Somewhere along our evolutionary history ... we departed from chimps and other apes to develop a gene for right-handedness (he called it D, for dextral). This was allied to the development of language, which happened in only one half of the brain — the left hemisphere. McManus, who is right-handed but whose mother was left-handed, explains: “It would not have worked to put language in both hemispheres, because the corpus collosum (the bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two halves) is relatively slow and inefficient. The connections within each hemisphere are fast and reliable, which is essential for language.

“Crucially, the left hemisphere controls the right-hand side of the body, so the right hand became more dextrous at tasks such as hammering stone tools.” ... If handedness accompanied language, he adds, then we would not expect any other animal species, bereft of language, to develop handedness.

Then, McManus says, between two million and 5,000 years ago a second gene arose (called C, for chance), which allowed left-handedness to emerge. The second date is bounded by the fact that artworks over the past five millennia that depict people engaged in skilled activities, such as writing or throwing a weapon, display roughly the 90-10 percentage split in handedness that we see today.

What happened to make some of our forebears left-handed, after millions of years of right-handedness? The primary role of this second gene, McManus says, was to tweak brain structure so that the left hemisphere could accommodate other faculties apart from language. This tweaking — caused by inheriting one C gene and one D gene (one from each parent) — would furnish a person with, possibly, a better brain. This gene combination also happened to shift hand dominance in a minority of individuals from the right to the left.

“In CD brains, instead of having language in the left hemisphere only and non-language things in the right hemisphere, some of those faculties flip over to the other side,” McManus says. “You get things side by side that you wouldn’t find in a right-handed brain; they are built in a different way which I think makes them advantageous.

“Imagine, for example, having spatial faculties in the left hemisphere — this means that symbols and language are next to each other. This is particularly good for doing mathematics. Although we are not sure, the proportion of left-handed mathematicians could be as high as 20 per cent; there is certainly enough evidence to believe that left-handedness and mathematical talent may be linked.”

However, having too much crossover between brain hemispheres — caused by a CC inheritance — may lead to “higgledy-piggledy brains”, according to McManus. This genetic combination may lie at the heart of why autism, dyslexia and speech disorders such as stuttering are overrepresented in the left-handed population (the conditions are also much more common among boys).

PS The article also notes that East Asians exhibit a lower incidence of left-handedness. I wonder whether this has more to do with increased conformism and less tolerance of left handedness. I am left handed and I remember when I was in third grade of primary school in Malaysia one of my teachers spent a term trying to get me to write with my right hand. I was the stubborn type, so he didn't succeed. Incidentally I went through a period of stuttering around ages 9-10 but after that period, it basically vanished without a trace and I became active and proficient in public speaking/debating in high school. Perhaps my mutant left-handed brain was going through a period of tweaking/adjustment?;)

On the comments board, Zizka asks:
"I think that there is a general question here which would apply also to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. If they are hereditary and bad, why are they still in the gene pool?" He argues: "while full-blown schizophrenics are not functional, many schizophrenics in remission (or before the disease expresses) are extraordinarily talented and capable. Not just functional, but exceptional.(I have personally known at least two of them.) Much the same is true of "mania" (= bipolar disorder in its happy mode)."

Research along these lines has been pursued by Dr David Horrobin who has found elevated incidence of either schizophrenia or schizoid personality traits or elevated incidence of relatives who are schizophrenics among high achievers and 'creative types'. Given the elevated incidence of left-handedness among schizophrenics, it may be that there is some common mutation that connects all these conditions along with autistic/semi-autistic characteristics (or perhaps people diagnosed as having autistic traints are actually schizoid). This article has a summary of Dr Horrobin's book 'The madness of Adam and Eve' which outlines his own 'mutation' theory to explain his findings:

Horrobin - who is medical adviser to the Schizophrenia Association of Great Britain - argues that the changes which propelled humanity to its current global ascendancy were the same as those which have left us vulnerable to mental disease.

'We became human because of small genetic changes in the chemistry of the fat in our skulls,' he says. 'These changes injected into our ancestors both the seeds of the illness of schizophrenia and the extraordinary minds which made us human.'

Horrobin's theory also provides support for observations that have linked the most intelligent, imaginative members of our species with mental disease, in particular schizophrenia - an association supported by studies in Iceland, Finland, New York and London. These show that 'families with schizophrenic members seem to have a greater variety of skills and abilities, and a greater likelihood of producing high achievers,' ...

According to Horrobin, schizophrenia and human genius began to manifest themselves as a result of evolutionary pressures that triggered genetic changes in our brain cells, allowing us to make unexpected links with different events, an ability that lifted our species to a new intellectual plane. Early manifestations of this creative change include the 30,000-year-old cave paintings found in France and Spain.

The mutation Horrobin proposes involves changes to the fat content of brain cells. 'Sixty per cent of the non-aqueous material of the brain is fat. Humans have bigger heads than chimpanzees because their heads are full of fat.' By adding fat to our brain cells, we were able to control the flow of electrical signals more carefully and make more complex connections within our cortexes.

Posted by jason_s at 10:37 PM | | TrackBack

Poincaré Conjecture solved?

Anyone that cares already knows this story. But I link to it anyway to show that I am a God-Fearer even if I am not of the Chosen People....

Posted by razib at 09:25 PM | | TrackBack

Responses to question time :)

I'm wrapping two message board posts into one. More efficient....

First, from the post Cannibals:

What is your take on this: the ancient Hebrew story (Genesis) puts agriculture before hunting and gathering. Evolution, of course, puts agriculture AFTER hunting and gathering. Why would the ancient Hebrew story reverse the order in this way?

What of this principle of degeneration? something evolution religiously avoids in principle. I think we may have demonstrated that degeneration is indeed an operative principle in the life force development.

Posted by: David Yeagley at April 18, 2003 05:36 PM

First, to the semantic issue, on this blog, we don't tend to use "evolution" in just one fashion, and often it is explicitly in the context of macro & microevolution, ie; biological evolution. So generalizations can get tricky when the context is unclear. You are in the first paragraph speaking of an inductively observed process of social evolution which is a totally different idea entirely, and frankly without more than the most slim of theroetical bases, in contrast to biological evolution which in the scientific fashion weds fact to theory and can make some reasonable predictions and engages in reproducable experiments.

On the specific question you ask, there are myriad responses. I have noticed Hugh Ross (an Old Earth Creationist who rejects biological evolution and is marginally more plausible in a rational world-view than the Young Earth Creationists) attempt to shoehorn Genesis into an understanding of the fossil record. It works-if you believe his theories ahead of time. Otherwise, Ross' assertions are tenditious, and the science he references as well as the theological paradigm he uses are both subject to personal preference and in my perception cherry picking to suit his idea (big surprise).

The Hebrew conception of Genesis from a secular viewpoint seems quite clearly the product of the Levantine mileau of the Bronze Age (according to Hebrew scholar Elliott Friedmann for instance the Christian conception of creation ex nihilo is not supported scripturally but rather the Lord God creates the universe from a preformed chaos, just like the traditional Sumerio-Semitic creation tales). This was a time when "civilization" as we understand it (literacy, state-craft, etc.) existed as puddles in a sea of barbarism. I believe that "agriculture" did not reach Nordland (Scandinavia) until around 4000 BCE-and there were still plenty of peoples making the transition or existing in a state of tension. It is important to remember that the process of "civilization," transition from hunter-gatherer tribalism to agricultural literate statecraft did not happen in clear cut temporal chunks, one after the other, rather it was messy, overlapping, and halting process that smeared itself over the human species. This is clearly why many of the ancients accepted a cyclical rather than progressive conception of history-the Bronze Age Greeks and Indus Valley Civilization both seemed to "regress" as you term it before the rebirth of their civilizations in their "Classical" phase. But a lifestyle is not inferior or superior.

Going back to the evolutionary conception borrowed from biology-lifestyles are either reproductively advantageous or they are not. There is some indication that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was more healthy than the high-starch low protein agricultural mode. But, the minimum human caloric intakes were maintained in a steadier fashion, and so over the long term, semi-healthy peasants out-bred hunter-gatherers (demic expansion). This does not mean that the peasant lifestyle is "more natural," or "less natural," or even better or "progress." This is all framed in your conception of what is good, what is bad, etc. But it is possible in my opinion to step back and decouple the facts from our norms. Some groups such as the Khoisan (Bushman) of the Kalahari might very well have "regressed" because of historical marginalization by other peoples, especially expansive and agriculturally sophisticated Bantu cultivators from the north and west who sequestered lands previously used in some sort of nomadism.

A standard historicist explanation of the Hebrew conception of their relationship with the earth and the wilderness is that they were nomads who conquered the cultivator civilization of the Canaanites (revisionists will object of course that this is mythology used to justify the ruling Jewish class during the era of United Kingdom). Since their self-worth was tied to their superiority in some sense (at least anachronistically)-it would seem plausible that they would hurl contempt on the cultivators and praise nomadism and hunting. Similarly the Tutsi pastoralists considered themselves "superior" in some fashion to the Hutu Bantu agriculturalists because of the military and political domination that the former imposed upon the latter, though the latter were "superior" if you consider agriculture as the hallmark of progress. The examples are myriad and one only need to look at Central Asia to see the repeated conquest of nomads and hunters among the cultivator oases of the peasants-and yet eventually the "conquerors" were also won over to agriculture because of its competative advantages (the historians of Central Asia speak of peoples like the Turks and Mongols being "cooked" by civilization from their raw state).

Finally another alternative is that the Hebrew Genesis story is garbled in some fashion. Perhaps an ancient scribe reversed the order of some verses by mistake during transcription? Stranger things have been known to happen (Sea of Reeds -> Red Sea).

And as I've alluded to above, I do not believe evolution mandates "progress" or "regress." Rather it seems you are inserting in teolology (purpose) into a scientific world-view that is focused on process and method rather than product. It seems clear that natural historically there has been a general trend toward greater complexity from our perspective-but the vast majority of the biomass of this planet might very well be prokaryotic-and we eukaryotic organisms might be jaded by own macro-scale successes to equate complexity = progress = success. In fact the argument could be made that the least entropic phase was during the "Age of Dinosaurs," but since we don't have access to dinosaur internal anatomy we can't guage that much being speculation.

OK, to another entry....

From Where did the brown chix go?.

So what about the evpsych thing about women being more inherently valuable or whatever it is? Explain this to me, ye Dawkinsites.

Posted by: Justin Slotman at April 18, 2003 09:19 AM

Be carefull of absolutes my friend-aside from your (and many others') fixation on Malkin and Chua. Among mammals females act as a sort of "limiting reagent." While women have a fixed number of gestations men have millions of sperm. The concept is pretty simple. But that does not imply that just because it is "good for the species" that you have more females (more possible births) that it is good for the individual.

Exmaple-you have two populations, A & B. A has 90 females, 10 males. B has a 50:50 ratio. The females in A and B are "programmed" genetically to pop out the ratios above. It seems clear that over time group A will outreproduce group B if you assume equal fertility for the two groups of females. But within group A the women that have sons will be the most successfull of all! Why? Because those 10 males have MANY more children than each of the 90 females. So you have a tension between individual and group and the two will often balance out (this is an example of group selection).

This applies to Haryana-for the society it would be good to have more women. But because of the price of dowaries it is better that individual women have more sons. Additionally the partilineal and patrifocal basis of this society also weights the scale toward sons. Why pay dowaries? Well-it gets rid of daughters! Daughters don't contribute to the social line of descent and don't live with their natal family in the end in any case-in contrast with the boys-rather, many of these families speak of "raising other family's wives." On a social scale Punjabis are smart enough to know it would be better to have more daughers, but individually they are not willing to make the sacrifice. Eventually the costs of sons vs. daughters will change because of circumstances.

Why is the "north" so much more wacked out in this way than the "south"? I emailed Suman a long time ago that northern India-and especially the Cow Belt (Hindi speaking area in the north-centre & north-west) has more social commonalities with the Islamic world if you look at vital statistics than southern India. Kerala is as Steve Sailer has asserted-"is Sweden without the wealth" (I would add Sweden without the hot chicks too). Tamil Nadu is now at replacement level fertility! In contrast regions of the north more resemble Libya or Jordan in their fertility rates. What gives?

One thing that GNXP can address is the genetics. I have already hinted that certain races follow different reproductive strategies-generally following Rushton's rule as far as gender ratio at birth goes. This is not something I have been able to "prove," but there seems a trend that might be explained that way, though other things could account for it (African populations have more female at birth while East Asians have the least, even in Japan where girls are preferred!). In the context of India-we might also bring into play Henry Harpending's idea of a "northern" and "southern" wave out of Africa. India is a mix of the two waves and it seems plausible that the "southern" coastal wave left more of an impact on the south while the "northern" wave has influenced the north more with the neolithic revolution and the expansion of Middle Eastern farmers. This might be a reflection of different mating strategies between the two populations.

To a more prosaic answer-you might try the "hydraulic thesis." North-northwest India requires complex social organizations predicated on centralization to keep the irrigation networks going. Additionally the agriculture is labor intensive and monopolized by men. In contrast one could argue that Kerala with its more salubrious climate (warmer & more equitable rainfall) did not require such centralization to mobilize social resources to keep up a high population density. Additionally perhaps the agricultural style (more gardening) was conducive to female participation in the communal work giving them greater power. Of course this can act as a selective pressure and the social & historcal could cause a genetic shift as well (in other words only certain personality types are successfull in hydraulic civilizations vs. garden civilizations).

Kerala is the home of groups such as the Nayar who were the last to keep up matrilineal & matrifocal practices that were found in other regions of southern India in the pre & early historical periods. The current gender equity is probably partially a reflection of this. Please note that matrilineal and matrifocal cultures are different from matriarchal cultures. The latter are really not existent insofar as women take over men's temporal roles (exclusively queens instead of kings, female generals, etc.)-but rather groups like the Iroquois had women in positions of power who acted as consultative and veto-wielding voices that tempered the male leaders-it was more complementary equality than female domination.

On the role of Christianity-most of them in Kerala are not recent converts but rather old Syrian Christian communities, so it is not likely due to a wholesale importation of "Western values." On the other hand the Christians almost certainly serve as a gateway to Western outlooks and also missionary and philanthropic organizations would have found it easier to work among the "Christians of Saint Thomas" and their cosmopolitan environs in Kerala than the more closed and xenophobic mileau of northern India. Also, Christians form about 5% of Tamil Nadu's population. I invite readers to inspect the sex ratio tables at Census India, Christian states tend to have good ones (balanced), but so does India's most Hindu state, Orissa.

On whether this will be a boon for women, I don't think so. Call me a pessimist but we might see women being viewed less of an expense than as a commodity whose price might be recouped at some point. Perhaps that is an improvement, but individuation and separation from familial identity need to be driven by overall cultural changes, not just economic incentives, at least in my view. Arm these chicks, they need to kill some of their obnoxious brothers and fathers off.

Posted by razib at 03:45 PM | | TrackBack

April 18, 2003


This is my first blog, so its main purpose is to introduce myself. I have taken
part in some previous discussions, and Razib has now given me the opportunity to blog in my own right.

I am English, and I live near London. I am not an academic, but my university studies included the history of science, and for the last ten years I have been writing occasional papers on the subject. My main interest is in evolutionary
biology, including population genetics, speciation, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology. I also have some interest in anthropology and human evolution.

It occurred to me that one way to give readers a general idea of my approach would be to list some of the thinkers I most admire. So here are twenty of my
‘heroes’ (in historical order) - and a few villains:

THOMAS HOBBES: still fresh and daring after 350 years.
DAVID HUME: the boldest of all sceptics. For present purposes, his most important contribution is his insistence that ‘ought’ cannot be derived from ‘is’- values cannot be derived from facts.
THOMAS REID: another 18th century Scot. Reid is generally known as a critic of Hume, but he had interesting views of his own on human nature. For more on Reid and other C18 thinkers, see my paper ‘Instinct and Enlightenment: philosophy, theology and the theory of animal behaviour in the 18th century’ in SVEC (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century), 2002:06, pp.243-303.
ADAM SMITH: a boring choice, I suppose, but unavoidable.
WILLIAM PALEY: an underrated thinker. Above all, his ‘Natural Theology’, which was much admired by Charles Darwin, provides overwhelming evidence of ‘adaptation’ in the organic world. For more on Paley, see my paper ‘William Paley confronts Erasmus Darwin: natural theology and evolutionism in the eighteenth century’ in Science and Christian Belief, 10 (1998), pp.49-71.
THOMAS MALTHUS: much maligned by people who have never read him. It is desirable to read both the original short version of his ‘Principle of Population’, and one of the later, expanded editions.
CHARLES DARWIN: obviously.
ALFRED RUSSEL [sic] WALLACE: nice guy, shame about the spiritualism. See the sympathetic recent biography by Michael Shermer.
FRANCIS GALTON: explorer, inventor, meteorologist, biologist, statistician, anthropologist, psychologist, and pioneer of fingerprint analysis. They don’t make them like that any more! For more on Galton, see my papers ‘Galton’s 100: an exploration of Francis Galton’s imagery studies’ in British Journal for the History of Science, 27 (1994), pp.443-63, and ‘Francis Galton on twins, heredity and social class’ in British Journal for the History of Science, 34 (2001), pp.323-340. See also Gavan Tredoux’s Galton website at http://www.mugu.com/galton/index.html
AUGUST WEISMANN: not immune to the German vices of dogmatism and system-building, but he did defend and advance the theory of natural selection at a time when it was under threat.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: crazy name, crazy guy. Another thinker much maligned by people who have not read him.
WILLIAM JAMES: his ‘Principles of Psychology’ is still the best single book to read on the human mind.
KARL PEARSON: not a very nice man, it seems, and his penchant for collectivism was unfortunate, but his prodigious intellectual energy and range
of achievement are inspiring.
EDWARD WESTERMARCK: a Finnish anthropologist (1862-1939). His
books on ‘The History of Human Marriage’ (3 vols.) and ‘The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas’ (2 vols.) are a treasure-house of politically incorrect information about ‘primitive’ peoples.
LEONARD DARWIN: the fourth son of Charles Darwin, Leonard was considered the dunce of the family. After a career in the British Army, he dabbled in politics and economics before at the age of 60 he was invited to become President of the Eugenics Education Society. The Society probably just wanted a respectable figurehead, but Leonard turned out to be an effective chairman and writer on eugenics. His book ‘The Need for Eugenic Reform’ (1925), though inevitably dated, is still worth reading, and his article on ‘Heredity and Environment’ (Eugenics Review, 8 (1916-17), pp.93-122) is one of the best things ever written on that thorny subject. Behind the scenes, Leonard also provided advice, encouragement, and financial assistance to the young R. A. Fisher. Their published correspondence (‘Natural Selection, Heredity, and Eugenics’, ed. J. H. Bennett (1983)) shows that Leonard was himself an astute evolutionary theorist, and some of the ideas usually associated with Fisher may have started with Leonard: for an example, see my note in ‘Nature’, 355 (1992), p.118.
R. A. FISHER: a great statistician as well as a great biologist - it just isn’t fair!
EDWARD EVANS-PRITCHARD: to my mind the outstanding anthropologist of the 20th century. His books on the Nuer and the Azande are about as close as we can get to understanding the life and thought of non-Western peoples.
FRIEDRICH HAYEK: for defending liberty and individualism against prevailing fashions. Not so sure about some of his later work, which drifted towards ‘organicist’ conservatism.
W. D. HAMILTON: for his originality and intellectual courage, best seen in his prefaces to the essays in ‘Narrow Roads of Gene Land’ (vols. 1 and 2).
JOHN MAYNARD SMITH: the most distinguished living evolutionary theorist. Notable for his clarity and objectivity. He has contributed to nearly every branch of the subject, and I believe his book (with Eors Szathmary) ‘The Major Transitions in Evolution’ (1995) may prove to be the most important book on evolution in the last 50 years.

Now for the villains:

KANT: the rot started here. The problem is not that most of Kant’s doctrines are false (though they are), but that he presented them in such appalling style. Before Kant, philosophers aimed at clarity, even if they did not always achieve it; after Kant, it was acceptable, even fashionable, to equate
obscurity with profundity.
HEGEL: I once spent a lot of time trying to understand Hegel, and I still resent the waste of time and effort. Gilbert Ryle got it right when he said, ‘Hegel is not worth studying, even as error’.
MARX: the worst thing about Marxism (well, apart from the millions of deaths
it caused) is the way it immunises itself against criticism by labelling the critics as ‘bourgeois ideologists’. By the way, Marx was also a shit in his private life: a braggart and a bully, who sponged off his friends and knocked
up the house-maid.
FREUD: barking mad.
J. B. WATSON: Watson’s ‘Behaviorism’ is a deeply stupid book. It is astonishing how little evidence Watson had for his views. One may paraphrase his argument in three steps:
Step 1: there is no conclusive evidence for innate dispositions in man
Step 2: therefore there are no innate dispositions in man
Step 3: therefore my theory of conditioning is correct.
The starting point was not unreasonable in Watson’s time, but Step 2 does not follow from Step 1, and Step 3 does not follow from Step 2. It is one of the mysteries of the 20th century how charlatans like Freud and Watson
became so influential.

Well, that’s enough heroes and villains. Hopefully, everyone will find something to annoy or offend them!


Posted by David B at 06:21 AM | | TrackBack

April 17, 2003

18 years for a political killing?

Dutch Court Sentences Killer of Politician to 18-Year Term. In a liberal democracy it seems that politically motivated killings are especially chilling to the free exercise of thought and the development of healthy faction.

The panel of three judges today gave an implicit answer. They said the killing, although violating the nation's values, had not endangered democracy itself. They were not imposing a life sentence, they said, because they had been persuaded that Mr. van der Graaf was not likely to repeat his crime.
Mr. van der Graaf told the court, after many months of silence, why he had decided to shoot Mr. Fortuyn, a gay former sociology professor and a rising political star who campaigned on an eclectic mix of liberal and right-wing ideas. He said the politician was a dangerous man "who abused democracy by picking on vulnerable groups" and who had awful ideas"about immigrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, animals and the environment."

Mr. van der Graaf might not repeat the crime. The article states he might be out in 12 years. What sort of message does this send to radicals of all stripes who wish to leap-frog around the democratic process? Proscription and political murder have a long history-the recent model of non-violent power transitions are the historical exceptions. Does anyone doubt that there are many fanatics who would trade 12 years of their life for the expiration of their political enemies and the possible destruction of their causes through terror? The irony in this specific case is that Pim's death galvanized Dutch society and many of his positions have influenced the spectrum from the Left to the Right.

Please note that this sort of sentence is not exceptional in The Netherlands for killings. (via Kaus Files)

Posted by razib at 11:37 PM | | TrackBack

Where did the brown chix go?


Missing sisters
Apr 17th 2003 | ROHTAK
From The Economist print edition

A shortage of girls will haunt India for decades

Will there be wives for them?

IN THE district of Rohtak, a fairly well-off town in northern India's farm belt, it is estimated that one in every six girls conceived is aborted. Modern ultrasound technology, coupled with a traditional preference for boys, has led to mass female foeticide. Progress does not help: rising prosperity, public-education campaigns and strict-looking laws have all failed to curb the practice. But the resulting dearth of females is already wreaking social damage, which can only worsen.

Demographers have long puzzled over India's skewed sex ratio. Throughout the 20th century, it grew ever more unbalanced, from 972 women for every 1,000 men in 1901, to 927 in 1991. Encouragingly, it then climbed to 933 in 2001. This, however, masked a sharp imbalance among children under the age of seven: from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in 1991, to 927 in 2001. Data on the sex ratio at birth are scanty, because many births are not registered. Figures must be gleaned from the ten-yearly censuses, and from local surveys.

These show wide regional disparities. In the south, especially in the state of Kerala, there are many more girls. But in 48 of India's 577 districts, the sex ratio among children is below 850. Of these, 34 are, like Rohtak, in Haryana or its neighbouring state, Punjab. In Rohtak there are 847 females for every 1,000 males, and just 796 girls for every 1,000 boys.

A strong preference for boys is common in agricultural societies. Boys inherit the family name and land, and provide an old-age insurance policy. Girls join their husbands' families, and need dowries. When mobile ultrasound units started touring rural Haryana in the late 1980s, their advertising pitch was, appallingly, “Pay 500 rupees now and save 50,000 later.”

Pramod Gouri, director of Search, a government-financed civic-education outfit in Rohtak, offers two explanations as to why Punjab and Haryana should be so egregiously prone to female foeticide: the region's social norms have proved remarkably immune to “modernity”; and the agricultural “green revolution” put enough money in local pockets to make sex-selection affordable. Abortion is far more prevalent among better-off, town-dwelling, higher-caste and literate women. Smaller families have, as in China, also further encouraged female abortion.

In 1994, sex tests were made illegal. But in Haryana only three cases have been filed: the law is hard to enforce, since ultrasound scans are now widespread. For doctors, there is good money—3,000-5,000 rupees ($60-100) a time—to be made from (illegal) abortions.

Already, the female shortage is making itself felt. Urmila, a district councillor in the countryside near Rohtak, says unmarried young men are turning to crime, and violence against women has increased. Some men in Haryana are buying “brides” (for between 10,000 and 20,000 rupees) from other parts of India, or Bangladesh. There are an estimated 15,000 such women. Many, though, are treated as slaves. Even their children are shunned.

Despite the shortage of brides, Urmila says that dowries have risen, not fallen. In Rohtak, a middle-class family will typically spend 600,000-800,000 rupees—several years' earnings. Touring her district, she finds people anxiously asking her if she knows of any marriageable girls. This, she hopes, may be the first sign of a change in attitudes. But it may be too late to avoid serious social trauma.

Posted by razib at 06:30 PM | | TrackBack

Lowered IQs

'Safe' Lead Levels Lower IQ in Children, Study Finds. Excerpt:

Blood levels of lead below current federal and international guidelines of 10 micrograms per deciliter produce a surprisingly large drop in IQ of up to 7.4 points, a U.S. team reports in today's New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers estimate that one in every 50 U.S. children has lead levels above that guideline and that one in every 10 has levels of 5 micrograms/deciliter or above — well within the dangerous range.

Posted by razib at 04:34 AM | | TrackBack

April 16, 2003

Art vs. Food???

From the message boards:

from godless:

who fucking gives a shit about this stupid Iraqi museum? such a mountain out of a molehill, comparatively speaking...jayzus christ! stupid liberals and their moving goalposts...not enough to totally and utterly kick ass, oh no, we need to do all this other stupid shit or else we're "negligent". God, these people at this university...they annoy me intensely, particularly because I cannot respond...

from zizka:

Not a stupid museum. Civilization began in Iraq.

from godless:

I am, I confess, an unrepentant cultural philistine in this context. I basically think that the looting of the museum shouldn't be such a big deal, compared to the fall of Saddam's regime and the liberation of Iraq. I mean, it's not like people from the West were able to travel to Baghdad and check out these relics before Saddam's regime fell, so we're where we started off before the war. More importantly, the people of Baghdad are probably a hell of a lot better off with no museum/no Saddam than the previous state of unlooted museum/Saddam present. (razib's added emphasis)

from alpha:

Call me cold, but, the contents of the Iraq museum are more important to me than the Iraqi people or their freedom - i couldn't care less about them.

Well, it won't be surprising to anyone that I care. But godless makes a good point, for what price shall we fund the "finer things" of this life, rice for the people? I favor the space program, but the money that goes into such things could feed many. We often value things on an aesthetic or personal level that might not pan out on a first-order utilitarian accounting.

To follow-up alpha-this generation of Iraqis will come and go, but the memory of Ur will last for centuries (has lasted for the cycle of written history already). But these questions are important to ask-especially when others pay the price for the beauty of this world (save the rainforest-but what about poor landless farmers that burn it trying to feed their family?).

On a historical note, Mo-Tzu, Chinese utilitarian and proponent of "universal equal love" par excellance militated constantly against "music," a byword for the useless ritual and frippery that characterized ancient Chinese life, especially major rituals such as mourning. Confucius rejected this view, and asserted that there was value in such things, not measured in bread and water, his language to me often sounding Burkean in an East Asian context. Are we more than metabolic instruments-converting nutrients into energy and tissue? I believe so. Does the spirit of God(s) animate us? I doubt it.

More later....

Posted by razib at 01:38 PM | | TrackBack

Ultra-high IQ societies

Ultra high IQ societies like the Mega Society are an interesting development - they were formed by Mensa members who thought that Mensa was basically a f*** club for the high IQ and not sufficiently intellectual. Many prominent members of these societies are promoting the idea of Power tests, that is, IQ tests with no time limit where the score you get depends on how many questions you can get through. The questions become progressively more difficult so that average intellects can't get through them no matter how long they spend. I've noticed that some Mensa puzzle books have started using these tests as well. But how much scientific basis is there for them? Any readers qualified in psychometrics have any idea?

Some of the prominent ultra high IQ people seem to be quite prolific designers of these tests (indeed you might say some, like Ron Hoeflin make their living solely out of this) but have attained their own high IQ scores on normal speed tests, and others have passed both with flying colours. At least at the extreme high end people who do extremely well at power tests do extremely well at normal speed based tests too - which I suppose is the point since power tests were originally designed to accomodate the measurement of ultra high iq. Here is a discussion of the merits of power tests vs speed tests by a prominent member of this community.

Another curious thing about ultra high IQ societies is that, to put it bluntly, they seem to attract lots of people, who are, er, otherwise undistinguished in other respects, sometimes even dysfunctional[1]. Is this, as logic suggests, because such people self-select themselves to join such groups (whereas other ultra high IQ people who become distinguished intellectuals and mix with people of similar IQ don't need to join such groups) or is society really alienating and wasting a large stock of human capital because its educational system and social customs make them into misfits?

[1] Chris Langan, billed on American TV news as the 'smartest man in American' (IQ 195) and public face of the Mega Society, works as a bouncer and promotes his obscure and crackpot-sounding CTMU theory which might as well be recycled Leibniz. Marilyn Savant, billed in the Guiness Book of Records for highest IQ in the world (228) writes puzzle columns for the Sunday papers! What a waste ...

Posted by jason_s at 09:24 AM | | TrackBack

Born to Run

Senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated Frank Deford ponders the genetic potential of the expected baby from pregnant, Olympic medal winning (5 medals/3 gold), sprinter Marion Jones and 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery. Deford wonders if a new Olympian is on the way, or if "regression to the mean" will take-over. (NPR/audio file)

Posted by Jason Malloy at 06:48 AM | | TrackBack


Back from Chi-town. Nice place. Will be posting again when I get caught up on work/life. By the way, if no one has mentioned it, I like Lithuania ascending : a pagan empire within east-central Europe, by S.C. Rowell, for a semi-academic read on the topic that came up on the boards.

Posted by razib at 03:58 AM | | TrackBack