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October 31, 2003

Gender Genie
Want to know whether you're male or female? Among other ways to tell, you can use the Gender Genie. Enter a block of text and it will tell you the likely gender of the author. Cool.
Posted by ole at 12:57 PM | | TrackBack

Brain teaser

Here's a nice little puzzle I came across in Godfrey Thomson's Instinct, Intelligence, and Character (1924):

"Imagine a cube, which is going to be cut in two by a straight saw cut. The saw-cut section, the raw face of the cut, can clearly be of various shapes, as square, or triangular (if a corner were cut off). How would you cut the cube so that the section may be a perfect plane hexagon?"

You are not to draw diagrams, or look at cubical or near-cubical objects while thinking it out.

If you are not a mathematician, your first thought (like mine) may be that it is impossible, or that it is a trick question, like those puzzles about making pyramids out of matchsticks. But accept the assurance that it is a genuine puzzle, with a straightforward solution.

Once you accept that there is a solution, it shouldn't take too long to find it. But the interesting question is how you reach the solution. Do you get there purely by visual imagery, purely by logical reasoning, or some combination of the two? (Of course mathematicians may use analytical geometry or whatever, but I'm treating it primarily as a puzzle for the intelligent layman or -woman.)

I suspect that there would be considerable individual differences in approach, and that these might cast some light on different mental 'factors'. Also, possibly, differences between men and women or groups with different genetic and/or cultural ancestry.

Posted by David B at 05:41 AM | | TrackBack

October 30, 2003

Sociological Dogmas
Sociological Versus Psychological Theories of Crime

.. . . sociological theories [of crime] are not usually put in a way that makes them testable. If unemployment is a powerful factor, does it work immediately? Is there a delay, and if so how long - 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? Similar questions can be asked about poverty. And how do we define poverty? Is it absolute or relative? Arbitrary assumptions are usually made when sociologists are confronted with contrary evidence, but still there is no theory precise enough to permit exact quantitative predictions. Such facts as are available certainly do not support common-sense ideas of this kind. Differences in personal wealth - a favorite sociological cause of crime - have declined considerably since the turn of the century, but crime has gone up several hundred percent. Poverty? From 1979 to 1987 there has been a particularly steep rise in crime, but poverty has decreased dramatically (Eysenck & Gudjonsson 1989). Unemployment? Some authors have analyzed U.S. crimes and found an inverse relation between unemployment and crime. Gross national product, an indicator of national wealth? Ellis and Patterson (in press) found it to correlate positively and highly with criminality in a sample of 13 industrial nations (.68 with total theft). The evidence, if anything, is strongly opposed to sociological theories. Naturally, poverty, unemployment, and wide differences in wealth are undesirable and ought to be eradicated or at least diminished; however, doing so might increase rather than diminish crime, counter-intuitive as such a prediction, might seem. Possibly, of course, the regression is curvilinear. That is, perhaps great poverty, great unemployment, and great differences in wealth lead to low crime (as, e.g., in the early days of the Weimer Republic?); middling poverty, medium unemployment, and middling differences in wealth lead to high crime (as in the United States of America?); and little poverty, little unemployment, and few differences in wealth lead to low crime (as in Switzerland?). My point is that sociological theories are hunches rather than theories - not based on thorough statistical analysis of historical records, and too inexact to be testable.
The second argument against sociological theories is that social "causes" of crime, even if they could be proved to exist, must act through psychological pathways. Individuals react differently to poverty, unemployment, and inequality; clearly, the personality and intelligence of the individuals concerned filter objective conditions and determine their perception. Poverty may cause some people to rebel against society, blame the government, and seek refuge in crime, while others blame themselves, their lack of cognitive ability, their ignorance, and their lack of skill, and regard unemployment as just punishment. This great diversity to stress is well documented (Lazarus & Folkman, 1989); to disregard relevant factual knowledge is unscientific in the extreme. Ultimately sociology must be a part of psychology, because it studies a limited set of factors that affect human behavior through psychological mechanisms.

Excerpt taken from Personality and Crime by HJ Eysenck. Chapter in Psychopathy - Theodore Millon (editor). All emphasis mine.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 08:16 AM | | TrackBack

A new ethnic classification

Reading today's Guardian newspaper (UK, 30 October) I came across the following:

"For young boys like Jake and his cousin John, the world is divided into two groups: the Pakis and the Porkies. The Pakis are the Muslims who seem to go to the mosque a thousand times a day, who fast and pray and have to watch what they eat. The porkies can be white or black or mixed race, but what unites them is that they are not Muslim. They call themselves porkies because, unlike the Muslims, they can eat pork. It is not a racial category you will find on any census form, but the concept of porkie says something new and profound about how some are forming their cultural identity in urban communities. The rise in mixed marriages has spawned a generation of children for whom the old race distinctions have blurred into irrelevance: it is not about whether you are black or white any more, it is about whether you are a paki or a porkie."

This comes from a feature article about a white family living in a predominantly Asian area of Bradford (northern England.) It is trailing a documentary programme The Last White Kids on Channel 4 at 9.00 p.m. tonight (30 Oct.)

I hasten to say that I would never use the 'P' word myself - I'm only quoting from the dear old Grauniad.

Posted by David B at 04:59 AM | | TrackBack

October 29, 2003

ID in schools? (II)

From the message board:

The issue here isn't whether evolution is true, but whether it's wise to teach it to young children

Do you really want your children to be taught that life is a constant struggle of person against person, family against family, class against class, sex against sex ...

... and of children against parents?

(yes I know this is simplistic, but that's how most kids in their early teens will see the situation)

Sounds like a recipe for social chaos to me

Kids who want to pursue careers in biology can learn about evolution in college. i.e. when they're old enough to understand and take responsibility for the consequences of their opinions and actions

Folks who push evolution in schools are being either (a) stupid or (b) deliberately malicious and socially destructive

I won't get into the depth of the caricature here of "evolution," just note that the description above seems closer to Social Darwinism writ large than any theory of biological evolution. In any case, got me thinking, I remember reading an article back in 1990 in the Skeptical Inqurier about the beliefs that newspaper editors had about evolution. The basic tenor was something similar to Social Darwinism, not anything close to Darwin's theory, let alone something approaching the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Here are the only snippets I could find on the web:

Dr. Zimmerman has surveyed the top news executive at each of the 1,563 daily newspapers in the United States. Only 51 percent of the editors disagreed strongly with the statement "dinosaurs and humans lived contemporaneously." Only 57 percent disagreed strongly with the statement "Every word in the Bible is true." Although 16 percent of the editors think that "creation science" has a valid scientific foundation, approximately one-fourth of them indicate that they personally accept the premises of "creation science."(20)
Gatekeepers? Hm....
Posted by razib at 11:48 PM | | TrackBack

Sweatshop vs. Sweatshop
Posted by razib at 11:49 AM | | TrackBack

October 28, 2003

ID in schools?

Should evolution be taught in high school science classes?.

Simple (minded) wisdom:

Simple wisdom on the origins of mankind

I am a bus driver and while waiting on the bus about a week ago, a high school student and I had some "small talk." The subject of evolution came up. All I asked was, "Do you believe in evolution?" Very bluntly her answer was, "No, things are too orderly!"

I was dumbfounded! So much wisdom and so simple!

Many teachers do have a lot of learning, as do many scientists. She had simple wisdom, which is, in my opinion, very much more to be desired. Somehow, this person knew that the invisible Creator is very very clearly seen in the things he created.


The problem with evolution is that we can't refute intuitive responses easily. The idea that acceleration is constant no matter the mass of the object often weirds kids out when they are exposed to it, but take a tennis ball and a ball of lead and demonstrate it....

Here is an old post from last summer when I debated Susanna of Cut on the Bias on Evolution and Creationism.

An interesting point that I often hear is: Look at trees, there must be a God/Creator/etc. (from people that aren't particularly religious either). Reminds me of the 18th century bishop who whenever he saw a monkey at the London zoo couldn't believe there could be a God, as he became so enraged. Romantic, emotional responses, seem to dictate opinions about these sort of issues.

Even if evolution can't explain all the complexity in nature, I feel toward this topic as a methodological naturalist what I would hopefully feel toward atomic theory in an earlier age. When Dalton's Theory came out in the early 19th century the mechanisms were rather poorly understood and it was a very ill-understood model. It took the emergence of Quantum Mechanics to have a satisfactory model of the atom (in a fashion). Nevertheless, we saw the first sketches of reality in the Daltonian Model (as opposed to the purely metaphysical conjectures in the original Democritan Atomic School).

This Chris Mooney article about Creationism/Evolution polls might be of interest to some.

Posted by razib at 11:22 AM | | TrackBack

October 27, 2003

g by any other name?

General Symbol Machines: The First Stage in the Evolution of Symbolic Communication over at Human Nature. This is a long and wordy paper (the philosophical preliminaries and review seemed to be interminably gas-baggish) which scales back (or at least qualifies) the "modular" conception of human cognition advocated by Pinker & co to some extent. I don't know much about cognitive science, but the article reminded me of some of those speculative papers on molecular genetics that were both review & wacked hypothesis in an area of study that had little data on the ground and many sprouting theories. That being said-that's how science works. I hope the researchers are a bit more succinct next time....

Posted by razib at 02:06 AM | | TrackBack

October 26, 2003

Creationist racialism?

I have spoken of the connection between secular scientific polygenism and racialist theories in the past to caution those who believe that "progress" and "secularism" are always on the side of the right (in hindsight). But, I didn't know that some mainstream Creationists also espouse some racialist thinking (Mormon racism is a well known historical fact that is played up by evangelical Christians of of the Trinitarian and Apostolic tradition)[1]. This all goes to show you that the arrow of causation does not flow in the direction that propogandists assert-I doubt that Christian and secular racists were racists because of Christianity or secularism, rather, they simply incorporated pre-existing racism into their paradigms. This suggests that we should be skeptical of attempts to smear any ideology with racism unless it is explicitly racialist as a point of principle. The American Left attempts to do this to the Right (based on the known historical record) and conversely the Right attempts to tarnish the Left in a like manner (often based on connections less well known, though just as contemporaneously tenditioius). In the end, it has debased and devalued the term racist, one of the many words rendered dull & useless by overuse, joining the long list along with heretic, fascist, communist and bigot. These words have become generously utilitized tactical weapons in every private battle, rather than sparingly deployed strategic armourments in public wars.

fn1. Note that I do not object to the assertion that various "races" might have different average phenotypes (physical and behavioral) rather, I object to the moralistic assertion that the God had decreed that the descendents of Ham-"all of the earth's 'colored' races,--yellow, red, brown, and black--essentially the Afro-Asian group of peoples" serve the descendents of Shem and Japeth. This descendent of Ham (by the above definition) does not serve God or man by anyone's decree.

Posted by razib at 01:52 PM | | TrackBack


In a recent post Razib raised the puzzle that minority languages (such as Latvian) often survive despite political and economic domination by other ethnic groups.

Here I want to consider the opposite case, where one language is replaced by another without any political and economic domination to explain the change.

So... why do the Scots speak English?

The puzzle is that the majority of the population of Scotland (i.e. the inhabitants of the Lowlands) spoke English already by the end of the 15th century. This is long before the political union of England and Scotland (early C18), or the personal union of the Crowns under King James (early C17). And until the C18 there wasn’t even a great deal of trade between the two countries.

Scotland was never conquered by England, there was no mass migration of English-speaking people into Scotland, and even after the Union the English did not interfere with Scottish law, education, and religion.

So how did a mainly Gaelic-speaking population come to speak a form of English?

By ‘a form of English’, I mean the traditional language of the Scottish Lowlands, which evolved from the northern dialects of Old English (Anglo-Saxon). In the earliest accounts (C12- C13) the Scots described this Lowlands language as Inglis, to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, but, significantly, by the end of the C15 it is known as Scottis, to distinguish it from English as spoken in England. Other terms for the language are Scots, Old Scots, Broad Scots, Lowland Scots, and Lallans.

From the C17 onwards educated Scottish speech and writing became Anglicised. Modern Scottish Standard English is essentially the same as the Standard English of England, except for accent. There is no great mystery about this process of Anglicisation. The other main languages of Western Europe (French, German, Italian, Spanish) have all become standardised on the basis of their most prestigious dialect (e.g. Tuscan in Italy), and dialects like Provencal and Plattdeutsch have declined. This process has accelerated since the C19, when public education and mass media favoured the use of a uniform national language.

What is more puzzling is the spread of Inglis way back in the middle ages. I have read (or browsed!) quite a few books on Scottish history, but most of them are curiously brief and vague in their treatment of this major event (see e.g. the large New Penguin History of Scotland).

The broad chronology of the process is reasonably clear. In the early middle ages (C6 to C11) there were five main language groups in Scotland. In the east (north of the Forth) the original language was Pictish, a notoriously little-understood language that was probably P-Celtic. In the south-west (e.g. Galloway) the language was originally British (P-Celtic, as in neighbouring Cumbria). In the south-east (Lothian), the language was a form of Old English, and the region was itself part of the Northumbrian kingdom (later earldom) of Bernicia until it was ceded to Scotland in the early C11. In the west (north of the Clyde) the language was Gaelic (Q-Celtic) closely related to Irish Gaelic, as the dominant ethnic group, the Scots, came from Ireland. From the C8 onwards the coastal fringes and islands were heavily settled by Vikings, and in some areas Norse became the main language (in Shetland down to the C17).

Apart from the intrusion of the Vikings, the main development in this period was the spread of Gaelic at the expense of Pictish and British. This followed the union of the Pictish and Scottish monarchies, with the Scots as the dominant partners. The timing of the process is unclear, but it is generally supposed that the Pictish and British languages were both extinct by the end of the C11, and that Gaelic was then spoken throughout the Lowlands, except for Lothian, where the Northumbrian form of Old English still prevailed.

But almost as soon as it reached its peak, Gaelic began to give way to Inglis. The process was already well-advanced by the end of the C13. By the end of the C14 the use of Gaelic was considered old-fashioned, and a distinction had emerged between the English-speaking Lowlands and the ‘backward’ Gaelic Highlands.

The problem is to explain this rapid transition. Most books on Scottish history pass over this major event in virtual silence. The only substantial discussion I have found is an essay by D. D. Murison: ‘Linguistic relationships in medieval Scotland’, in The Scottish Tradition (ed. G. W. S. Barrow, 1974). To summarise Murison’s account, following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the Scottish monarchy intermarried with the exiled Anglo-Saxon monarchy. The political centre of gravity of the Scottish state shifted away from the Gaelic areas towards the eastern Lowlands, where Old English was the dominant language. Edinburgh, in English-speaking Lothian, eventually replaced Perth as the capital city. Old English (evolving into Middle English) became the main working language of politics and administration. In the C12 and C13 (before the wars with England over the Scottish crown) the monarchy actively encouraged Anglo-Norman influences. Anglo-Norman barons were granted fiefdoms over much of the Lowlands. Chartered towns (burghs) were set up along the lines of English boroughs. Anglo-Norman influence was also strong in the church. Although some of the barons and prelates would have been French speakers, many of their followers were English, and a form of English became (ironically) the ‘lingua franca’ throughout the Lowlands. By the C15 the use of Gaelic was considered uncouth and old-fashioned, and Inglis (now significantly called Scottis) was recognised as the national language of Scotland.

While in broad outline this process seems well-established, many of the details remain obscure. Notably, it is unclear how much actual migration took place from England to Scotland. There was evidently no mass migration, in the sense of a volkswanderung, but cumulatively the numbers may have been substantial. G. W. S. Barrow’s book The Anglo-Norman Era in Scottish History (1980) shows that people from many parts of England settled in Scotland throughout the C12-13, and he concludes ‘I would argue strongly for the probability that Anglo-Norman settlement greatly reinforced the Middle English elements in Scots speech and culture, and had a decisive effect upon the texture of Scottish society as a whole’.

But I think these accounts may omit another significant factor. The areas of Scotland that switched from Gaelic to English were principally the areas that had previously spoken Pictish or British, and had only adopted Gaelic comparatively recently (within the period of ‘folk memory’) under the dominance of the (Irish) Scots. The adoption of Gaelic culture in these areas may have been relatively superficial and perhaps unpopular. The Lowlanders presumably remembered that they had, in effect, been conquered by the Highlanders. It may be significant that while in the C15 Inglis becomes Scottis, Gaelic becomes known as Irish or Erse. In rejecting Gaelic language, were the Lowlanders also rejecting the political and cultural domination of the Irish Scots?

Well, I don’t know, but I hope to provoke any lurking experts on Scottish language and history to respond.

As for the ‘Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled...’, it’s worth recalling that ‘Wallace’ is a Scottish English name for a Welshman (i.e. probably someone of Galloway or Cumbrian British origin). Could it get more confusing?

Posted by David B at 10:35 AM | | TrackBack