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May 16, 2003

Chix rule?!?!

This Businessweek article documents the rise of women in educational attainment. Why is this happening? I think it is the fact that there are more men at the bottom end of the IQ bell curve while the minimum intellectual capacity demanded for collegiate studies has been downshifting toward the fat middle of the distribution (around the mean) where females outnumber males. A clue to what is going on is that the article notes that more lower income women than men take standardized tests-just as high IQ men pair with lower IQ women (though still very intelligent of course ;) the lowest IQ men normally get together with somewhat higher IQ women. These women are now going into higher education, leaving their dull partners behind them....

Posted by razib at 05:48 PM | | TrackBack

Conservative politics causes AIDS???

Mac Diva says that conservative politics causes AIDS. The logic seems to be that since the south has a disproportionate number of AIDS cases, and the south is conservative, ergo, a causal relationship.

I have a simple rejoinder-do a district by district analysis of HIV infection rates in the south and see if they are more Republican or Democratic.

Spin my ass, do I need to connect the dots here??? I'm not a social conservative myself and or much of a political one (more by default), and religion & social mores serve as no immunity against cultural dysfunction (in my opinion), but this seems a cheap shot at best.

Posted by razib at 02:01 PM | | TrackBack

Jayson Blair

OK, I guess I must comment on the Jayson Blair fiasco, since enough time has passed that the big boys have all issued their major denials & explanations.

Every talk show where they have a black journalist on starts out with said person denying that race played any role. Who are they kidding? Even if a black person is qualified enough for a job, if the field is one where their race is underrepresented, they will get extra consideration because of their race. In the case of incompetents they will get extra breaks because of their race. This applies to women and other minorities as well. If Jayson Blair was Howell Raines' nephew he would probably have gotten breaks, but if he was a white kid intern he probably wouldn't have been able to suck-up on the white guilt. That's probably how it is.

But one thing that isn't being talked about much, aside from a few isolates like John Derbyshire, is that the Jayson Blair case illustrates what I have seen personally and have heard about many times-that once hired, minorities or women often are harder to fire. This probably has the effect of blacks & women being shunted to less important areas where performance is not as crucial once they are hired (see the corporate ghettoization of minorities & women in public relations & human resources). All this of short-changes individual minorities and women who would be superior performers, as must prove themselves (as they often complain!) to justify the added risk of their "stickiness" (greater cost in firing if they don't work out).

The moral of it is all is that policies often have unintended consequences-and though they are aimed at groups, it is on the individual level that they are implemented, and the the latter behave differently than the former.

[1] In recent years brown people in the tech industry probably also benefited from group perception of competence.

Posted by razib at 12:12 PM | | TrackBack

May 15, 2003

India on fire

Suman Palit bemoans the Indianization of America via multiculturalism and its handmaid affirmative action. As Suman points out the Indian government has been attempting to erase the social and historical reality of caste by government fiat for three generations. It has done this with blatant affirmative action that has slowly been devalued as more castes attempt to qualify as "backward." India's anti-caste policies in fact have almost certainly crystallized the socio-cultural structure of 1947 as now there is an incentive for the lower-castes to cling to that status while higher caste groups develop a resentment and no doubt emphasize their own purity to compensate for perceived slights at the hands of the government [1].

But one needs to extend this further and apply Amy Chua's thesis in World On Fire-a globalized India will need affirmative action to maintain some level of social stability. Groups like the Marwaris, Parsis and Banias will take advantage of the world capital markets and leverage their international connections in the Diaspora to attain even higher levels of entrepenurial success. Additionally, other groups, like the Brahmins of southern India, will achieve success by the novel mode of professional advancement through the offshore service sector (from highly paid programmers to more modest jobs such as customer service). To redress the market induced imbalance the Indian government will almost certainly have to placate the lower caste groups with even more government jobs & programs. In the long term one could imagine mobile groups like the Marwaris and Brahmins migrating from Mother India to the West or more pliable Third World nations, sapping South Asia of the productive economic classes that have long given it a modicum of civilization despite its ubiquitous squalor.

Finally there is another option to ease tension between the castes-find a scapegoat. The killings of Muslims in Gujarat are perhaps a prelude to this-for on that issue, all Hindu castes might agree, for though the Dalit is a wretched of the earth, he is still not a Muslim. A close analogy would be the intense racism that the working and lower classes of whites in the American South projected toward the blacks.

[1] The elite is of course always has overseas university slots for its children, those who take the brunt of affirmative action programs are the traditionally less well connected and suffering "middle classes," though these now form the heart of BJP electorate.

Posted by razib at 11:02 PM | | TrackBack

Genetic History of the Jews

Steve Sailer interviews Jon Entine who is writing a book that seems to deal with Jewish history through the prism of genetics. A good summary of the current state of knowledge.

Update: Story on Hellenized Jews in southern Italy (the Italiot Greek communities are the remnants of Magna Gracia and the Byzantine Era).

Posted by razib at 07:14 PM | | TrackBack

IQ, g, etc.

Jane Galt takes up the IQ controversy. GNXPers are a bit late to the game....

Also-check out this fluffy review of the book Intelligence, Race, and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen. Here are some quotes that capture the flavor of the review:

In a sense, intelligence tests are like artificial intelligence: the “highest” brain functions, such as the ability to do algebra, are among the easiest things for machines to replicate - and tests to measure - whereas the deeply intuitive ways we make sense of each other are hardest to produce artificially.
My wild hunch, and this might be just wishful thinking, is that future generations will see Jensen’s work as a waste of his mathematical and statistical intelligence, equivalent of hiring me instead of Hattestad for the throwing job.

Update: Good response to the review above. From the Evolutionary Psychology list.

Posted by razib at 10:59 AM | | TrackBack

May 14, 2003


There's an important article in this week's 'Nature' (8 May) on 'The Evolutionary Origin of Complex Features', by R. Lenski et al. (Nature, vol. 423, pp.139-45).

The authors use a computer simulation of the evolution of complex logic functions from simple elements, using proxies for 'mutation', 'fitness', etc. The technical details are beyond me, but it looks like good stuff. The general result is to show that highly complex 'adaptations' can indeed emerge by natural selection. It is possible to trace back in detail how adaptations have emerged, and then re-run the simulation with alternative options. One of the interesting findings is that occasionally mutations that are initially disadvantageous can still be established by selection, either because they 'hitch-hike' with linked advantageous 'genes', or because they are quickly followed by mutations elsewhere in the 'genome' which have an advantageous epistatic effect. It's not clear how realistic this is in biological terms, but it could happen, and it is allowed for in Sewall Wright's 'Shifting Balance' model.

Back to 'culture' in my next post.


Posted by David B at 03:13 AM | | TrackBack

May 11, 2003


In earlier notes I examined the idea of cultural evolution by selection operating on groups of people.

This note looks at a different process: cultural evolution operating directly by selection of cultural traits. The general idea is simple: cultural traits (customs, institutions, art forms, etc) ‘reproduce’ (they get themselves copied); the ‘copies’ are similar but not identical; and the variant forms have different rates of survival and further reproduction. These processes meet the usual requirements for natural selection to occur. We can therefore expect cultural traits to evolve in such a way as to maximise their own reproductive success.

This is not a wholly new idea. Even in Darwin’s lifetime people talked about the ‘struggle for existence’ between competing ideas. Philosophers and psychologists like C. S. Peirce and James Mark Baldwin explicitly developed ‘evolutionary’ theories of knowledge using Darwinian concepts. More recently, Karl Popper made the process of ‘trial and error’ central to his ‘evolutionary epistemology’, and pointed out the analogy with Darwinian selection, while Friedrich Hayek described the economics of the free market as a ‘discovery procedure’ in which actions that are not centrally planned or co-ordinated can nevertheless lead, by a process of selection, to efficient outcomes.

But none of these approaches went beyond a vague and rhetorical analogy between cultural processes and natural selection. Richard Dawkins changed that in the 1970s by introducing the concept of a ‘meme’ as the cultural counterpart of the biological ‘gene’, and tracing in some detail the similarities and differences between the two. (To be historically fair, it should be said that Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus Feldman simultaneously proposed somewhat similar ideas, but without Dawkins’s flair for publicity.) Apart from establishing the basis for regarding memes as replicating entities, and objects of natural selection, Dawkins points out the corollary that, like genes, memes are essentially selfish. The properties that we expect memes to evolve are those that enhance their own survival and reproduction, and not the interests of individual humans or societies. Sometimes these will coincide, but there is no guarantee of that. Consider, for example, the ‘meme’ for suicide bombing.

In re-reading Dawkins’s writing on memes in ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘The Extended Phenotype’ I find very little to disagree with. Dawkins’s explanations are clear, he makes all the necessary cautions and reservations, and he succeeds in proving that the term ‘natural selection’ can legitimately be applied. And yet..... I still feel that the concept of natural selection is far less useful in dealing with culture than it is in biology. Perhaps because Dawkins overplays the ‘selfishness’ of genes within biology itself, he underplays the differences between genes and memes. By and large, functioning genes (as distinct from passive stretches of ‘junk’ DNA), are successful only when they promote the interests of the organisms that carry them, or of other organisms carrying copies of the same gene (usually relatives). Genes are integral parts of the organisms that carry them, and they can only reproduce if those organisms are successful in obtaining nutrition, mates, etc, in competition with others. Moreover, the elaborate system of meiosis ensures that all genes in a body have an equal chance of being replicated. A gene will therefore get itself reproduced if and only if the bodies that carry it are successful in their own ‘struggle for existence’. Long before Darwin, it was easy to see that much of animal and plant morphology and behaviour was ‘adaptive’. The problem was not so much to identify adaptations, as to explain them. Before Darwin, there were only two explanations: the traditional one of ‘God made it that way’, and the more recent, but quite inadequate, one of ‘Lamarckism’. Darwin transformed biology by providing a better explanation.

In culture, by contrast, we do not know how to recognise adaptation, and we are not entitled to assume that it exists at all. We cannot ask ‘which part or function of the organism (or society) does this cultural trait help, and how?’, because we have no reason to assume that it helps any of them. In this respect the meme is quite unlike the gene. The meme can spread and reproduce itself without the aid of biological reproduction. This considerably weakens the analogy between cultural and genetic evolution. There might be a closer analogy between memes and viruses, which are essentially disembodied bits of DNA, free to skip from one body to another. Dawkins himself makes the comparison with viruses, but does not pursue its implications as far as I would wish. The key point is this: in so far as cultural traits are the product of evolution by the natural selection of memes, this gives us no reason to suppose that they will in general be useful, by contributing to reproductive fitness or in any other way, to individual humans or societies. The most we are entitled to say is that the capacity to acquire and transmit culture is (or has been in our evolutionary past) on balance useful, because that capacity has evolved by conventional biological selection.

It does not follow from this that all or even most cultural traits are desirable in themselves. It might be that the capacity for acquiring and transmitting culture is so valuable for certain vital purposes (such as learning how to find food), that its value outweighs the cost of carrying useless or harmful traits. It is conceivable that the great majority of cultural traits are ‘junk culture’, analogous to the ‘junk DNA’ that takes up a large part of the genome. The difference is that junk DNA is usually harmless. Admittedly, it takes up space, and a certain amount of time and resources are wasted in copying it, but beyond that it is harmless because it literally does nothing. In contrast, junk culture may have very serious effects. Belief in witchcraft is, presumably, junk culture, but try telling that to the Witchfinder General when he calls!

If this is accepted, the majority of culture might be ‘junk’. It does not follow that it is. I will try to pursue this in another note.


Posted by David B at 07:08 AM | | TrackBack