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November 29, 2003

God & the scientists

Chapter of the book, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, deals with science and religion. The subject of the religious faith of scientists comes up, and here is some data I gathered. The first table is the from the book, while the second two I cobbled together from internet sources since Nature's website seems to be down.

American Academics, Source: Calculated from the Carnegie Commission Survey of 60,028 American Academics

Religiousness by Scholarly Field, 1969
  % Religious Person % Regular Attend % Never Attend % Relgious Conservative % No Religion
Math/Statistics 60 47 35 40 27
Physical Sciences 55 43 38 34 27
Life Sciences 55 42 36 36 29
Social Sciences 45 31 48 19 36
Economics 50 38 42 26 30
Political Science 51 32 43 18 30
Sociology 49 38 43 16 36
Psychology 33 20 62 12 48
Anthropology 29 15 67 11 57

American Natural Scientists - 1996 Source

Believe in personal God?
Discipline Yes No Not sure  
Math 44.6%      
Physics 22.1%      
1914 41.8% 41.5% 16.7%  
1996 39.3% 45.3% 14.5%  

Prominent American Natural Scientists - N.A.S. members (1998, sample size ~ 250) and "eminent" scientists in 1914 & 1933 Source

Believe in personal God?
Discipline Yes No Not sure  
Math 14.3%      
Physics 7.50% 79.0%    
Biology 5.50% 65.2%    
1914 27.7% 52.7% 20.9%  
1933 15.0% 68.0% 17.0%  
1998 7.00% 72.2% 20.8%  

I'll have plenty to say about science and religion soon...but please note something interesting. All the surveys seem to indicate that Mathematicians are the most religious. And as you see, the "softer" and less g loaded fields tend have fewer believers.

Of course this holds for American scientists only. From the European scientists I've met, they are probably more secular. On the other hand, I suspect that Middle Eastern and South Asian scientists tend to be more religious than American scientists....

Posted by razib at 11:44 PM | | TrackBack

Shulevitz on Human Accomplishment

Judith Shulevitz reviews Human Accomplishment. Shulevitz seems to find amusement in Murray's confirmation of his list at "face value," that it does tend to correlate well with that we'd have expected. The thing I liked about Murray's list and method is that people might argue qualitatively that for instance the German contribution to the arts and sciences took off after 1750. But a contrarian might quibble and bring up obscurities and cherry-pick all the great German thinkers and artists before 1750 to make their argument appear as strong. A quantitative analysis allows us to comb the methodology and is more immune (though not totally so) to the tendency to cherry pick to buttress your thesis. Cant and rhetoric get swamped by data. Of course that makes the jobs of pundits & reviewers like Shulevitz a bit harder....

Update: Murray has an article in The New York Times.

Posted by razib at 10:20 PM | | TrackBack

November 28, 2003

I know The New Republic has fact checkers, but....

There is an article over at The New Republic (subscribers only-like 90% of their good stuff now!) about the Muslims of Suriname. I clicked and was thinking about purchasing it when I noticed this: "And while Islam is the majority faith....". From what I recall, Islam isn't the majority faith, and neither is it the plural majority faith. Here are numbers I found....

CIA FACTBOOK: Hindus 27.4%, Protestant 25.2%, Roman Catholic 22.8%, Muslim 19.6%, indigenous beliefs 5%.

These numbers are copied in many locations, but you can go to Adherents.com to double-check and see that the range of numbers from various sources is pretty close to this.

Also, the article starts out noting that an Ahmadiyya Mosque stands at the heart of the capital. The author perhaps discusses later that the Ahmadiyya are considered heretics by most Sunnis, and in many places Muslims insist they not call themselves Muslims-I don't know-I wasn't going to pay for an article that had such a big factual error up front.

The main reason I'm picking on them is because all the publicity over the whole Stephen Glass episode is coming back in movie and novel form, so I figured they'd be a bit stricter about fact-checking....

Posted by razib at 03:22 PM | | TrackBack

The Poverty of Nations

To conclude my series of posts on international comparisons of IQ (no more, I promise!), I want to look at levels of economic development as measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per head. While this cannot be a perfect indicator (such a thing does not exist), it is probably the best we have.

Data on GDP per head are available for all countries from the useful Nationmaster website. They are expressed in US dollars at Purchasing Power Parity. The source is given as the CIA World Factbook 2002, so I hope it is more reliable than their info on Saddam’s WMD (just kidding, folks). I assume that the data is from 2002 or not long before.

For the reasons given in my previous post, it would also be interesting to compare GDP of developed and 3rd-world countries now with GDP of developed countries around 1930 - the chronological baseline for the Flynn Effect. For this purpose I have taken the UK as a comparator, because I know a bit about UK statistical sources.

A variety of sources indicate that GDP per head in 1930 in the UK in real terms (i.e. allowing for price inflation since then) was about a quarter of its 2002 level of £17.7 K. (For details see the continuation.) Nationmaster gives 2002 GDP per head for the UK as $25.4 K. (The current market exchange rate of £1 = $1.7 would give the higher figure of $30.1 K, but I will use the Nationmaster figure for consistency of comparison with other countries.) This implies a 1930 level around $6.4 K (in 2002 PPP prices).

So here are data for GDP per head in selected countries, with the UK 1930 figure shown in bold. All figures are in US $ thousands.

UK (2002)............25.4
Hong Kong...........24.6
South Korea.........19.3
Czech Rep...........15.2
UK (1930)..............6.4
Sri Lanka................3.2
Equat. Guinea........2.1
North Korea.............1.0

Of course, there are both practical and conceptual difficulties in comparing GDP in different countries. How does one measure GDP in subsistence peasant economies? There are also some specific oddities in the table above. Can GDP per head in Bosnia really be that low? And why is it (apparently) five time higher in Gabon than in Nigeria?

Comparisons over long periods of time are even more problematic. Many goods and services available widely now did not even exist in 1930, and others have changed greatly in nature or quality.

So I wouldn’t put a great deal of weight on these comparisons. But, for what they are worth, they do show a huge range of material conditions in different countries. Income per head of the average person in the poorer countries must be below that of all but the very poorest individuals in the wealthier ones. And, so far as comparisons across time are valid, the figures are consistent with my earlier argument that environmental conditions in developed countries in the 1930s were already better than in many 3rd-world countries today. In so far as the Flynn Effect is due to economic development (and if it isn’t, what is it due to?), we would therefore expect IQ in those 3rd-world countries to be substantially ‘behind’ that of developed countries today.

“A variety of sources indicate that GDP per head in 1930 in the UK in real terms (i.e. allowing for price inflation since then) was about a quarter of its present level. “

- The ‘one quarter’ estimate has been given by a number of economic commentators, e.g. here.

- The economic history website eh.net gives a figure of £3,619 per head for UK GDP per head in 1930 in 1995 prices. This may be converted to 2002 prices by the 2002:1995 ratio of the Retail Price Index, which is 176:149, giving £3,619 x 1.18 = £4270. This is just under a quarter of GDP per head for 2002.

- B R Mitchell’s British Historical Statistics (1988) gives UK GDP in 1930 as £4142 million. Dividing by the 1930 population figure of 46 million gives about £95 per head in 1930 prices. Price inflation between 1930 and 1994 was approximately x 32, giving £3040 in 1994 prices, and updating this by the RPI increase between 1994 and 2002 gives £3040 x 1.22 = £3709. This is somewhat lower than the other estimates, but not badly adrift given the different data sources.

- The ‘one quarter’ estimate is also consistent with an average annual growth rate of between 2 and 3 per cent over the period, which is supported by other data.

Posted by David B at 07:15 AM | | TrackBack


Via Conrad:

West Bank - Rofayda Qaoud - raped by her brothers and impregnated - refused to commit suicide, her mother recalls, even after she bought the unwed teenager a razor with which to slit her wrists. So Amira Abu Hanhan Qaoud says she did what she believes any good Palestinian parent would: restored her family's "honor" through murder.

Full article.

Reminds me of the post about Arab porn from last year:

"The whole town is satisfied and dissatisfied at once," said local man Fathi Sultan. "Satisfied at what happened, because we tried to protect our honor, but on the other hand dissatisfied because she (Kashua) didn't die, nor her husband."
Kashua's brother endorsed the attack on the couple. "If I could, I would eat them both raw and spit them out," he told Israeli television, his face obscured and first name withheld.

Posted by razib at 01:50 AM | | TrackBack

November 27, 2003

Polygamy in Indonesia

In The Washington Post there is an article on the revival of public polygamy in Indonesia. A few things to note:

  • The Western observers who extoll the liberal pluralism of Indonesian Islam need to realize that this version of Islam, tolerant, relaxed and almost syncretic is giving way to a more "orthodox" form that looks more directly to the Koran and Hadith.
  • Also, this "debate" is almost certainly do to the public emergence of a practice that has been maintained underground during the years of secular authoritarian rule under Suharto.

It is interesting turnabout to note that the Islamists are making utilitarian arguments in favor of this practice, that the nature of men and women is accommodated by polygamy, while the non-Islamists are arguing in terms of sacred principles of love, fidelity and chastity. This is one situation where the strict interpretation of Islam does not impose a hedonistic cost, but rather enables the full sexual expression of men.

Some have argued that gay marriage will undermine monogamous heterosexuality. I don't know how polygamy fits into making marriage more or less inviting to young men-but the negative outcomes of the practice, least judging by the social correlates in cultures where it is widely practiced, makes me rather wary of allowing it to have any toehold in this country.

Finally, please note this assertion by a "progressive" Islamic scholar in Indonesia:

Today, he said, the Koran, read according to the principles of modern justice, bars polygamy.

When you begin to read your Holy Book by the principles of modern justice, rather than reading modern justice from your Holy Book, that is doing nothing but inviting secularism. I've got my finger's crossed....

Posted by razib at 11:32 PM | | TrackBack

Indo-European farmers

Both Dienekes and Abiola pointed to this release in Nature suggesting that the Indo-Europeans were Anatolian farmers (see my links to recent papers on demic diffusion). Here is the abstract of the paper. I am prone to believing the rigor of evolutionary biolgoists, though molecular clock controversies make me cautious, I assume that the authors used the Hittites as the "out group."

Posted by razib at 05:04 PM | | TrackBack

Homos in Georgia

Seems like the our family tree keeps on getting bushier. They just found some ancient pre-sapien Homos in the Republic of Georgia. Being skull & bones science, they aren't sure if it's Homo erectus (the favorite), Homo habilis (an older form) or something else entirely. The importance of the find is that it dates from 1.75 million years B.P., while Homo erectus seems to have speciated from habilis about 1.9 million years ago. That means that hominids left Africa far earlier than we had thought....

Posted by razib at 04:48 PM | | TrackBack

Best wishes

Happy holidays! Hope everyone enjoys hanging out with their family ;)

Posted by razib at 03:52 AM | | TrackBack

S.J. Gould of physics....(?)

While I'm attacking S.J. Gould (so easy), I have a question for readers. Physicist Brian Greene wrote The Elegant Universe, just did a documentary of the same name for PBS and has been written up in Scientific American recently. I've read the book and watched the documentary and found it entertaining. Nevertheless, the whole idea that Stephen Hawking was the "greatest physicist since Einstein," and the subsequent disabuse of that notion on the part of anyone that scatches beneath the surface, makes me a bit curious-is Greene a brilliant quack?

Unlike evolutionary biology, string theory is a bit removed from immediate social implications, aside from a few PoMo weirdos who try to spin it into their theories of nothing. While the background, beliefs and possible ideological perspectives of evolutionary biologists regular comes on the radar of the curious, we tend to give physical and mathematical scientists a pass on these issues as long as they aren't too blatant about politically incorrect extracurricular activities.

In any case, for those of you who understand the physics (the math of it), is Greene worth reading? Is he an S.J. Gould, passing himself as an expert to non-specialists? (his website says he works in string theory, but of course, Gould worked in evolutionary biology!) The NOVA documentary gave a lot of face-time to Ed Witten and Steven Weinberg, so I'm pretty willing to assume that Greene isn't out to make a quick buck as a popularizer.

Posted by razib at 02:48 AM | | TrackBack

Ahistorical evolution

Missed this story, An apparent order to evolution slowly emerges: New evidence seems to show that evolution repeats itself and is not as random as first thought, in The New York Times a few weeks ago (I got this from the Taipei Times). Funny thing, the central crux of the article seems to be showing that the evidence is disproving Stephen Jay Gould's ideas (big surprise!):

Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, crystallized the question in his book Wonderful Life. What would happen, he asked, if the tape of the history of life were rewound and replayed? For many, including Gould, the answer was clear. He wrote that "any replay of the tape would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the road actually taken."

OK, what does the science say?

...In 1988, Lenski and his colleagues set up a dozen genetically identical populations of E. coli bacteria in bottles of broth and have followed their evolutionary fates.

Now, more than 30,000 bacterial generations later, Lenski and colleagues have what is becoming one of the most striking examples of repeatability yet. All 12 populations show the same patterns of improvement in their ability to compete in a bottle and increases in cell size. All 12 have also lost their ability to break down and use a sugar, called ribose.

You can go to Richard Lenski's website to get more information on this topic. Of course, a standard Creationist response would be that this is "microevolution." But you don't have to look at bacterial studies to see that Gould was exaggerating.

Here is an image of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger

Here is an image of the "Dingo" that replaced them on the Australian continent:

My point is not that evolution can't take another path from the ones that we know, after all, the kangaroo doesn't quite look like herbivores on other continents[1], but common physical motifs reappear many times in any survey of the history of macroevolution. Gould knew this, he was a paleontologist, but he chose to give the masses a different impression by shading the emphasis in another direction.

In any case, nice to see evolutionary biology being presented as a science where people actually do experiments in a lab, rather than just a montage of artists sketches of reconstructions of extinct creatures that we only know from fossils (of course, also a fan of theoretical evolutionary biology that uses some maths)....

fn1. Note the similarity in appearence of the Icthyosaur, bottle nosed dolphin and swordfish, obviously these were creatures of various phylogenetic origins who were constrained by functional necessity into a certain body plan. In contrast, there has been no reprisal of the Plesiosaur body plan. Perhaps its particular niche disappeared? Well, there is some evidence that ammonites were the main food of this creature. Ammonites were very large cephalopods, bigger cousins of the nautilus, and, they became extinct during the late Cretaceous (concurrent with most big animals like the dinosaurs, flying and marine reptiles). That string of conjectures and suppositions took me 5 minutes, a combination of logical thinking, google and a few basic facts regarding how evolution works. I am probably wrong on the details, but it seems a much more frutifull way to go than encapsulating the idea that "evolution is random and without constraint" in flowery literary prose....

Posted by razib at 02:10 AM | | TrackBack

Look the Yehudi - Lord on High - Part III

In my previous posts I introduced the use of Jews in 19th century Europe as an analogy for the assimilation of Muslims in the United States, and conversely the problems with any attempts to do this in Europe[1]. Basically, the Reform Jewish movement, and the secularization and "Christianization" (to some extent belief system and a great extent practice) of the Western Jewry, allows them to acculturate more easily and hopefully in the long term melt into the greater society.

On the latter point, some have objected that this idea, that Jews would assimilate and disappear, is pie-in-the-sky, and that it has been predicted for thousands of years. I believe that social circumstances are greatly alterted in the 21st century vs. the first 2 millennia after Christ-so this argument does not apply.

But, some perspective, the idea that Jews have never assimilated into host cultures is to some extent a myth. After all, many conversos in Spain eventually became orthodox Catholics, as did a great many Jews in medieval and modern Europe (the discovery of the Lemba connection to the Jewish people almost certainly is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "lost" fragments of the House of Israel).

Recently, I read the book One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism, by Rodney Stark[2], and one chapter is devoted to why the Jews have remained with us to this day after 2,000 years. One group of Jews that Stark focuses on are the Jews of China, who were centered around the northern city of Kaifeng. This Jewish community, unlike many in the West, disappeared not through persecution, but simply through intermarriage and assimilation into their Chinese surroundings. Here is a portion of the book that I found very interesting (page 198):

As it happened, Chinese Jews excelled at Confucian scholarship, and "beginnning in the fourteenth century a large number of Jews from Kaifeng did join the scholar-official class in increasing numbers as years went by" (Rhee, 1973:120). Thenceforth the community's "most brilliant and ambitious" young men spent long years in "Confucian indoctrination," to the detriment of their orthodoxy (Pollak, 1998:341). These were the young men from whose ranks rabbis would have come. Instead, their devotion to Confucian study resulted in their ignorance of Hebrew, and in their being very inclined to reinterpret Judaism according to Confucian concepts.

The similarity between the success of European Ashkenazi Jews in entering gentile professions after emancipation and the depiction of the Kaifeng Jews making use of the semi-meritocratic rules of admission into the Chinese bureaucracy struck me as fascinating (the Kaifeng Jews seem related to a branch of Jews that originated in Persia). Stark compares the Chinese community to the modern Reform Jewish tradition and the ancient Hellenistic Judaism of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria (some modern Reform thinkers explicitly make connections to the Hellenistic Jews-giving their tradition an ancient patina). Stark points out that Hellenistic Judaism disappeared, while the more exclusive and "backward" Talmudic Jewish tradition continued to the modern day without interruption. Additionally, like many scholars he asserts that it was the Hellenistic Jews who were the most enthusiastic converts to Christianity, which allowed them to keep their belief in God and respect their Jewish ancestry and abandon the practices that set them off from other peoples. Stark points out that while at the time of Constantine (330) Jews formed about 10% of the Roman Empire's population, by 1000 they were about 1% of Europe's population[3]. Obviously Jews have been converting to other faiths since the rise of the religion, though a core group has continued to be true to their ancestral God down to the modern age and keeps the perception up that the Jewish people are a permenant fixture of European life.

In any case, what is crucial about the Jews of China, the modern West and classical Europe, is that they attempted to preserve their own religious traditions, while absorbing and espousing non-Jewish ideas. In other words, the Chinese Jews became Jewish Chinese! Roman Jews became Jewish Romans. And of course, American Jews are becoming Jewish Americans. Once the core ideas become that of the host society the tendency to be a people set apart dissipates. There is no point in being a "light unto the nations" when the flame flickers in the same region of the spectrum. Some of my Jewish friends have a saying, "There is no such thing as third generation Reform." Of the eight grand-children of the great Jewish German philosopher Moses Mendelsohn, who encouraged secular learning, one was Jewish. His last Jewish descendent died in the late 1800s. The rabbis of the older tradition were right, secular learning is poisonous to the Jewish soul.

My point: Once Muslims accept the premises of the West, they will become an echo, not an alternative. Many people know about the Hui Muslims, who speak Chinese dialects and usually "look Chinese," but there were also many Muslims would became absorbed into Chinese society. Back when I was a college I remember reading a small article titled, "The ancestors don't eat pork," which surveyed a group of villages on the coast of Fujian that seemed to have been founded by Chinese Muslims, but today the only remnant of their Islamic past is that they do not offer pork to the grave-stones of their founding fathers. So there is hope, Muslims may yet one day eat halal pork and drink some whisky at the end of the day, though not during Ramadan of course!.

Next up: problems with the Jewish-Muslim analogy.

fn1. Importing an immigrant group that slots into a very low SES position in society, with mixed future prospects of advancement, is pretty dicey overall. That's why some of us at GNXP are worried about Mexican immigration into the United States, in the short term, great for the immigrants (work) and the upper-to-upper-middle-class natives (cheap labor), but a cost to the middle class and contributor to possible future structural inequalities. In Europe, the equivalent of Mexican Americans happen to have a very tight and ideological religious framework to channel their resentments with and dissents from their host culture.

fn2. Yes, I'm reading all of Stark's books, and will be writing a rather large essay reviewing his work. I think this is important for several reasons. First, Stark tends to give lots of interviews to the press. Second, his rational choice theory is a good stab at making the study of religion systematic. And third, some of his ideas can have practical implications in the examination and prediction of the interaction between Islam and Christianity that is occurring now.

fn3. Caveat, the 1% figure is for Europe, while the 10% figure is inclusive of the Africa and Middle Eastern provinces of Rome, so the disparity is somewhat understandable, though it is still great enough enough to warrant comment.

Posted by razib at 12:51 AM | | TrackBack

November 25, 2003

Look to the Yehudi - Part II

I don't have much time now, so I am going to offer that I will elaborate on this much more in future posts. I started this series last week with a general sketch of my thesis: that Reform Judaism in 19th century Europe after emancipation offers a good model for a Muslim compromise with modernity. I also hinted that this applied only to the United States.

To see why, here is an excerpt from Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge's A Theory of Religion (page 150-152):

...If sect membership also entails a very distinctive ethnic or racial marker, defection is impeded thereby, for two reasons...the surrounding society will still tend to code the defector as a member of the sect. Second, because of the bond of loyalty - not merely religious but also racial or ethnic. There is a further barrier if the high tension group does not belong to exactly the same religious tradition as the low tension relgious groups in society, as has often been the case for non-Christian groups in predominantly Christian societies....

Further on, they point to Reform Jews as an example of the response to these conditions:

...they had lost status among other Jews...They lacked the influence to transform Judaism into a state of lower tension. The result was the Reform Movement. This new movement discarded the bulk of Jewish traditions as "superstition and antiquated custom"...Tension between Reform Judaism and its surroundings was very low....

The basic point is this: Jews bound by the traditions of their faith since the times of the Roman Empire broke with those traditions in exchange for acceptance and advancement into gentile society. The Jews who remained true to halakah and clung to the shtetl remained unaccepted and economically deprived. Various compromises with gentile Christian society were formulated, from Christianized "Messianic Jews," secular "cultural Jews," mildly religious Protestantized non-Orthodox Jews, the "orthodox" revival movements around chasidism and of course the traditional orthodoxy of the Jewish people for the past 2,000 years.

To Muslims: Over half of Muslim immigrants to the United States have graduate degrees! These are people who have much to gain from assimilation with the rest of society. In the lingo of Stark & Bainbridge (they are rational choice theorists), they would benefit from trading "compensators" (pie-in-the-sky-promises) for "rewards" (tangible goods and services). Liberal, well connected ethno-religious groups tend to be able to offer rewards, while closed sects offer compensators. To leverage the full power of advanced degrees in the United States, especially professions that require interpersonal relationships, transformation to a lower state of tension is critical for Muslims. The other option is defection, but as noted above, there are ethnic-racial markers that prevent this. As an example, I am an atheist Republican, but it sure takes a long time for me to make it through security at an airport, my profession of disbelief in my natal religion matters little to much of society that does not know me. For many, onversion to Christianity might not remove the costs associated with being "Other," and would incur the negatives of social ostracism from your natal community[1].

Of course, the whole point is that transformation to a state of lower tension, liberalization, is in the interests of groups with high socioeconomic status or aspirations. American Muslims, especially immigrants, can make that claim. European Muslims usually can not. While American Islam might produce a liberalized form of Islam, European Islam is shaped by a low socioeconomic group experience. Stark & Bainbridge predict that they will favor "compensators" over "rewards," because the latter are simply not available in those societies, and the existance of copious rewards in their environment will lead them toward extreme preference to the compensators only they are willing to make the sacrifices for to raise their own self-worth. European lslam therefore should be more like the faith of Baptist fire & brimestome preachers. Of course, one caveat is that I think Stark & Bainbridge's rational choice theory of religion is much less well tested, and frankly, less well supported, by the European religious marketplace.

fn1. Interesting side-light: since South Asian Hindus and Sikhs are regularly confused with Muslims, and Sikh men in particular "stick out," it is in the interests of the former to encourage the liberalization of the latter. The "costs" incurred by Islamic estrangement from the greater society to some extent overflow into the communities that Muslims get confused for!

Posted by razib at 03:46 PM | | TrackBack

November 24, 2003

Iranians aren't Arabs....

One thing that many Americans (and Germans too as well[1]) find confusing is that Iran is not an Arab country. Mainstream publications have had to offer corrections for decades after mistakenly including Iran in a list of Arab nations or terming it an Arab nation. Here is the ethnic break-down in Iran: Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1%.

The two big groups to note are the Azeris and the Persians. Persians obviously are the core ethnic group and Farsi is the national language[2]. Azeris though are not an oppressed minority, and I have read that they are over-represented in the power elite. Azeris are a Turkic group and their language is very close to the Turkish of Turkey proper, the main difference is that they are Shia rather than Sunni Muslims. Ethnic affiliations are to some extent fluid between such close groups like the Azeris, Turkomans and Turks, and even with more distant ones like Persians[3].

Persians often take great umbrage at being confused with Arabs. Authors like Robert Kaplan and V.S. Naipul have documented the Persian antipathy toward the Arabs, all the while espousing the Arab religion enthusiastically. It is rather understandable for reasons of history, geography and religion why Iran is bracketed into the Arab world in the minds of many.

But back to specific issues of language: Iran uses a modified Arabic script. If there was one thing that is practically possible in distancing and differentiating Iranians from Arabs, is the option of replacing Arabic script with a Roman alphabet. Tajikstan, which uses a form of Persian (Dari) as its national language has done just that[4], and Turkey's conversion to the Roman alphabet surely helped to distance their identity in the mind of Westerners from that of their former Arab subjects.

So my prediction, within two generations Iran will switch to a Roman alphabet. In fact, I would not be surprised if many non-Arab Muslim peoples switched to a Roman alphabet. Additionally the various peoples of the Indian subcontinent also might switch at some time in the future, something not difficult for certain groups who have low levels of literacy in any case.

fn1. Recently a German acquaintance introduced me to a friend (from Germany) who thought I was "Arabic," since I looked a bit (very vaguely I assume) like an Iranian friend of theirs.

fn2. Between the fall of the Sassanids around 650 and the rise of the Pahlavis in the 1920s native stock Persian speakers were never very militarily prominent. Persia was mostly ruled by Arabs, Mongols and Turkic groups.

fn3. Basically, I'm trying to say that post-French Revolution Western concepts of "nation" and "ethnic group" have less salience in this area of the world, as we learned in Afghanistan. And before Zack Latif chimes in-yes, the big chasm is between agriculturalist and nomad.

fn4. More accurately, they went from Arabic to Cyrillic to Roman.

Posted by razib at 09:45 PM | | TrackBack

Who won the culture wars again?

Forget gay marriage for a moment and note something that is a less concrete, but still powerful, indicator of the tides of culture:

"Squeaky clean" Jessica Simpson, whose father is a Baptist youth minister, and was a virgin until she got married, on the cover of Rolling Stone....

Her father notes that now that she's married she's "doing it until she's blue in the face". Is this how we expect a Protestant evangelical youth pastor to speak of his daughter? In 2003 it's not outside the bounds of normality....

Posted by razib at 04:52 PM | | TrackBack

November 23, 2003

Not a slur against semiotics...or is it?

Check out this cartoon:

Chris Mooney points me to this article in The Washington Post about the furor erupting over this. You see, look at the crescent, an outhouse, the SLAM. SLAM~Islam, a crescent~Islam and an outhouse~House of Islam? That's what I thought after hearing that the artist was a Christian fundamentalist. Christian evangelicals do have an alternate way of speaking within their own sub-culture, the most prominent and public tendency is to use the term "Christian" to only refer to other "Born Again" believers, especially evangelical Protestants. There are more obscure references, like George W. Bush's use of the term wonder working power, which goes over the heads of most non-evangelicals.

My point is that the semiotician is making this way too complicated. Chris gives the guy some credit, but anyone with basic tools of logic, inference and some facts on hand could come to the same conclusion without using terms like "polysemic" to seem more profound than they are.

As for the cartoon, I think it's pretty smart and funny, probably because I do think something stinks in the House of Islam. The semiotician says "it is a mistake to give much weight at all to the artist's stated intention. For one thing, it discounts the strength and influence of the unconscious mind, he said. All that matters in artistic criticism, he said, is the effect of the art on its viewers: the way people interpret it. In other words, even if Hart intended no offense, the offense is there." The dude needs to remember that Christian fundamentalists are insulted and lampooned constantly in a coded fashion as slack-jacked toothless bigoted yokels. There's some truth in that caricature, but only conservatives make a big huff about it, and the demurs of liberal secular purveyors about the intent of this sort of depiction know exactly what they're doing. Doesn't take a semiotician to figure that out.

Update: My girlfriend informs me I've been had-this strip is in the style of this comic artist from what she's seen of him in the past. OK, I should get a life....

Posted by razib at 06:36 PM | | TrackBack

More Cubic Bisection

pentagonal cubic bisection

The other day I asked:

  1. Can a cube be sectioned in such a way as to create a regular pentagon?

  2. It appears the regular hexagonal section has the greatest area of all possible sections.  Can you prove it?

I know you've been breathlessly waiting for the answers, so here you go.

First, no, a cube cannot be sectioned to create a regular pentagon.  The closest you can do is the figure shown above.  This is a "full house" pentagon; three of the sides are the same length, and the other two sides are the same length as each other, but longer than the other three.  {Note: it is not necessary that one of the pentagon's vertices be coincident with a vertex of the cube.}

Second, the regular hexagon is not the section with the greatest area.  I didn't mean for this to be a trick question, but I guess it was.  The section with the greatest area is this one:

maximal cubic bisection

The diagonal of each face is √2

Area: √2 = 1.41

Here's the regular hexagon again:

hexagonal cubic bisection

The diagonal of each face is √2

Each side of the hexagon is √2/2

Triangles are equilateral with area √3/8

Area: ĺ√3 = 1.30

There are some other candidates as well.  In the two figures above, consider rotating the section about the dashed line as an axis.  That yields the following section (a diamond, not a square):

diamondal cubic bisection

Each side is √5/2

One chord is √2, the other is √3

Area: Ĺ√2√3 = 1.22

And continuing the rotation, this section, a square with the minimum area of any section which passes through the center of the cube:

square cubic bisection

Section same as cube face

Area: 1

Another interesting section is this one, the largest triangular section:

triangular cubic bisection

The diagonal of each face is √2

Triangles are equilateral with area √3/8

Area: Ĺ√3 = 0.87

Finally, here's today's bonus question:

  • What is the area of the "full house" pentagonal section?

Posted by ole at 06:20 PM | | TrackBack

Eric Raymond on IQ

Eric Raymond has had a post on IQ up for about a week. I think he is a bit under-informed about the particulars and leaves out some qualifications. Nevertheless, here is a quote:

But male/female differences are insignificant compared to the real hot potato: differences in the mean IQ of racial and ethnic groups. These differences are real and they are large enough to have severe impact in the real world. In previous blog entries I've mentioned the one-standard-deviation advantage of Ashkenazic Jews over gentile whites; that's roughly fifteen points of IQ. Pacific-rim Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans etc.) are also brighter on average by a comparable margin. So, oddly enough, are ethnic Scots ó though not their close kin the Irish. Go figure...

And the part that, if you are a decent human being and not a racist bigot, you have been dreading: American blacks average a standard deviation lower in IQ than American whites at about 85. And it gets worse: the average IQ of African blacks is lower still, not far above what is considered the threshold of mental retardation in the U.S. And yes, it's genetic; g seems to be about 85% heritable, and recent studies of effects like regression towards the mean suggest strongly that most of the heritability is DNA rather than nurturance effects.

For anyone who believe that racial equality is an important goal, this is absolutely horrible news. Which is why a lot of well-intentioned people refuse to look at these facts, and will attempt to shout down anyone who speaks them in public. There have been several occasions on which leading psychometricians have had their books canceled or withdrawn by publishers who found the actual scientific evidence about IQ so appalling that they refused to print it.

Unfortunately, denial of the facts doesn't make them go away. Far from being meaningless, IQ may be the single most important statistic about human beings, in the precise sense that differences in g probably drive individual and social outcomes more than any other single measurable attribute of human beings.

Mean IQ differences do not justify making assumptions about any individual. There are African black geniuses and Ashkenazic Jewish morons; humanity and ethics demand that we meet each individual human being as an individual, without prejudice. At the same time, group differences have a significance too great to ignore. In the U.S., blacks are 12% of the population but commit 50% of violent crimes; can anyone honestly think this is unconnected to the fact that they average 15 points of IQ lower than the general population? That stupid people are more violent is a fact independent of skin color.

And that is actually a valuable hint about how to get beyond racism. A black man with an IQ of 85 and a white man with an IQ of 85 are about equally likely to have the character traits of poor impulse control and violent behavior associated with criminality ó and both are far more likely to have them than a white or black man with an IQ of 110. If we could stop being afraid of IQ and face up to it, that would give us an objective standard that would banish racism per se. IQ matters so much more than skin color that if we started paying serious attention to the former, we might be able to stop paying attention to the latter.

Sounds like someone is channeling godless. Here is the new face of evil himself. Please note, he is an open source evangelist, let's see how long it takes for someone to try and connect Linux to racism! This would be an excellent way for M$ to engage in FUD . You think that sounds weird, check out this post over @ Samizdata titled Tranzis love Linux.

Posted by razib at 05:59 PM | | TrackBack

Asian family values

The BBC recently had a series called The Asian Family. All five programmes are online in audio format. Program 2, titled "When a Girl Marries" is set in Singapore. There are some funny segments detailing the banal realities of Singapore's Confucian-Orwellianism on the subway. They interview some single professional women as to why they aren't marrying and breeding. One woman says: "'traditional' men haven't adjusted to the needs of modern women, but 'sensitive new age guys tend to be irritating whiners!'" Can't win I guess. The most bizarre moment was when one woman said that she intended to do right by her government when she was ready, referring to Senior Minister Lee Kwan Hew's stated goal that college educated women should have more children.

Posted by razib at 05:40 PM | | TrackBack

What do you call a black doctor?

Remember the old Malcolm X quote: Do you know what white racists call black PhDs? (answer: the n-word). In that vein of thought, this Fred Reed column is pretty brutal in its honesty:

What effect does the unmentionable pervasive scorn have on society? One result is the widespread assumption among whites that blacks are incompetent. For example, I wonít let my children (or me) within shouting distance of a black doctor. I donít care about his color. I know how great the affirmative action is, how great the pressure not to fail blacks. Sorry. Iím not going to take the chance. Nor are a great many people. Black doctors know it.

Though I have principled problems with affirmative action, another point is that from a utilitarian perspective it has a warping affect on the discourse and interaction of individuals in this society. A realist must admit that ingroup-outgroup behavior is a human universal. Liberal societies tend not to give this tendency official sanction, but more thorough attempts to legislate it away simply have not had their intended effects either.

I friend of mine who recently graduated from medical school would talk about the people who were "characters" in class. Out of 100 students in his year he graduated 3rd in the class, so he wasn't too shabby, and could look down with a bit of contempt and patronizing noblesse oblige at the guy who applied 6 times to the same school before he was accepted, or the woman with 2 kids and a bitchy ex-husband, or a really asymmetrically built doctor who was at the left end of the bell curve looks-wise. Nevertheless, what struck me was the nickname he and his classmates (his circle were 5 of the people ranked 1-10 in the medical school) gave the one black medical student: Token.

Of course, the word token doesn't have the same sting because of history as what Malcolm X referred to, but it's pretty illustrative of a certain mind-set. I asked my friend if the guy got in on quotas, and my friend and his buds weren't really sure, but they assumed he had. Token, whose name I never found out, was considered a OK doc, not a incompetent nut-case like the 1/8 Native American woman who trumpeted her heritage constantly as if it was a talisman against rebuke, or the chubby-faced loser at the bottom-of-the-class who seemed to display a lassitude toward life. Token was no star, there were those who were dimmer lights, but nonetheless, he was the object of mirth and condescending ridicule.

In defense of my friends, the acceptance rate at their med school was less than 5% that year, and most of them also felt punished for being young as there was a recent trend for looking to those who had been "out in the world." Anyone who was perceived as having recieved a break, or contrived to get in on lower standards, was given less than full consideration in the constellation of achievers. It didn't matter that no one knew the test scores or GPA of the one black medical student as an undergrad, they assumed that they were low, and so imputed his standing as one who could talk to them as a peer.

This sort of attitude is the reason why I can get a bit hysterical when I talk about affirmative action. As I've noted before, the negative impact of affirmative action exceeds the opportunies opened for exceptionally qualified individuals of groups who tend to under-perform in any given field. On the other hand, a group as a whole might be more well-off because of the leg up given by preferences. To compenstate for the perception of different standards, hypercompetent members of "disadvantaged" groups will make explicit their achievements and qualifications (to the point where it would seem strange in those outside this group). In contrast, the less-than-stellar who benefit from affirmative action won't disclose test scores, GPA or rebutt implied criticisms with explicit measures of performance, but will posture and assault rhetorically.

When I was an undergraduate, my university put whether to have new majors offered to a student body vote, and whenever a "studies" came up I would vote against it. My reasoning was that "studies" are havens for the less than intelligent and tend to give people who should drop out of college a safety valve. My Korean American friends joked that those too stupid for science and business majors switched to Asian Studies. A Jewish friend made the same joke about Jewish Studies. I will leave quips about Black Studies, Women's Studies and Peace Studies out of this post, but I'm sure you've heard of them.

Within any group there are people who just can't hack it. This is true among both genders and all races. But for white males there isn't a White Male Studies-where being a White Male offers them a bachelors degree, as they "bring their own particular life experience that transcends the conventional discourse and paradigm and pushes beyond the boundaries-of-the-normal...." Among South Asians for instance, there are plenty of stupid people. Right now there isn't a Brown Studies department, though they fit somewhat unnaturally into Asian Studies and Ethnic Studies, and other nouveau areas. There is no perception among the general population that brown docs and engineers are getting special treatment, so we don't have to deal with the typical liberal cant on racial issues. As Imbler Volokh has observed, a dark skinned South Asian, darker that many American blacks, can still be termed "Lily White" in a culturally-slip-up. And hallelujah to that! Being an Honorary White (in some contexts) means you have to live up to the same standards! It means that when you achieve something of note, people will give you fair praise, honest praise, and people won't dismiss you explicitly or (more often) implicitly. It means when you say something stupid, people will tell you you're being stupid, and if the maxim that you learn from mistakes has any truth, this is crucial to intellectual growth!

Banishment from the realm of the Normal to the Oppressed can have consequences even for those who would excel. Look at Cornel West, a man who knows Greek and Aramaic, but can make millions as a celebrity professor making banal observations, but recieving enormous accolades. In an alternate universe where West could not use his race as a path to riches and prominence he would probably have been a pretty good scholar. Yes, he would have a less lavish lifestyle, but he would be less of a joke privately. As it is, I wonder if Cornel West took such a path, focusing on academic achievements, would be able to escape his destiny.

And destiny is a crucial point. To succeed on your own terms, to fail on your own terms, I think this is important for the modern humans. The current thinking on issues of race and identity are turning away from that, reverting back to an organic and tribalistic conception of worth derived from corporate standards (ie; a good black man, a good white male, etc.). To some extent black Americans will always be judged by their race. At first this was due to racism, and that still plays a part, but now, a whole world-view that places their racial identity in a causal position has emerged which shoe-horns everyone to that pathway. Conservative black thinkers are still black thinkers, reviled for their race-traitorship, praised for their conservative thought, black nonetheless in more ways that just physical appearance and culture.

The day that I start hearing a lot of talk about being a credit to my race, I'm going to try and look into that wack skin de-pigmenting process that Michael Jackson went through, better to be a deformed wack than a token. This might sound strange, after all, brown Americans (South Asians) are well educated and affluent. The current perception about us is "positive." But the race hustlers are ever present, and there are those who didn't make it into medical school, law school, aren't engineers or don't own their own business, who have low self-esteem and so forth, and they exist as a resentful minority ready to spring into action when they can get the leverage they need. Right now they man the Minimarts and drive the cabs, their race does not give them any special opportunities. Those few with brains who end up in the humanities are already shiny prizes for their departments, a little-bit-of-color-in-the-vanilla, deconstructing forces and paradigm shifting atoms. These people are a minority, but they are active, and they exist in all "model minorities." While the passive majority is busy about their lives, they are aiming to create a corporate structure of ethnic identity, and of course, they are ready to take on roles of leadership as the CEOs of such diffuse bodies. Once the corporation of race goes public, everyone falls under its shadows, even those who don't buy stock. Perception starts to influence reality. Walls are put up, inter-corporate interaction becomes distorted, and the process begins to feed upon itself as the dividends of good behavior in the corporation begin to outweight dissent from corporate policy. Soon enough, even dissenters are co-opted in their own way, as they are viewed as exiles, but nonetheless, stamped by the corporation and so good moles and messengers by corporate "enemies."

Corporations are the hallmarks of agricultural life, broadly speaking. The tribe, the ethnic group, the religious body, and so forth. The liberal individualist vision rebelled against it. But now we are seeing a slide back, the re-emergence of organismic thought, though by another name. Isn't it interesting how people can put shackles on you, all the while telling you they are freeing you from the "mental hegemony" of our "oppressors"?

Posted by razib at 04:30 PM | | TrackBack

Legacy vs. affirmative action-a question for liberal readers

Recently I stumbled upon an assertion in an e-list I'm on that legacies are typically more prepared for college than race-based affirmative action admittees. My first inclination was to respond: No, blacks at Harvard have higher test scores, etc., than legacies. But I'm having a hard time finding such data, though there are plenty of assertions that repeat this talking point, which I've encountered and accepted as truth since I was 17 when my history teacher in high school used it as an argument in favor of affirmative action. Does anyone know where find information on this topic? The only article that I found with a lot of numbers argued in the opposite direction:

But it must be noted that, as in the case of women and men, the academic qualifications of legacy students are generally not far below those of their non-legacy counterparts. At the University of Virginia (UV), for instance, legacies generally enter their freshman year with better high-school grades than the university's overall pool of in-state students, though not quite as good as the out-of-state students. In their 1994 book The Bell Curve, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray report that in 1990, the average student admitted to Harvard scored 697 on the verbal SAT and 718 on the math SAT, as compared to 674 and 695 for legacy students admitted; these disparities are miniscule in comparison to those that exist between white and black admittees.

Moreover, sometimes the scales actually tip in the other direction. For example, the legacies in the current freshman class at Vermontís Middlebury College averaged 1389 on their SATís Ė fully 33 points higher than the overall class average. The admission rate of legacies in this class was 45 percent, considerably higher than the 27 percent rate for the class overall, but much lower than the nearly 60 percent rate for blacks.

Anyhow, just a plea for more information, I am curious as to this literature. Obviously because of regression to the mean high achieving parents will have more mediocre children, on average, but I suspect that the most regressed offspring of Harvard graduates tend not to apply to Harvard....

Posted by razib at 03:29 PM | | TrackBack

Good audio sites

If any of you are doing something mindless (coding, transcribing, etc.) and can listen to audio files (work at home, have your own office, etc.), I highly suggest the following sites:

BBC WORLD SERVICE programs archives. Lots of 20-40 minute specials about a wide array of topics.

NPR. No elaboration needed, but I like their search feature for audio archives, you can find obscure interviews with interesting people.

And PRI, which has a ghetto site, but the shows are sometimes interesting.

Posted by razib at 04:00 AM | | TrackBack

French Funnies

I'm not much of a hawk and find some of the Francophobia distasteful in its sincerity. Nevertheless, I was just listening to the BBC, and the interviewer asked a French reporter if the French felt affected by the impact of terrorism in the wake of the Istanbul bombings. The response was, "No, we feel insulated in a way, terrorism has only touched Spain, Italy, Britain, Turkey and the United States." I guess you need to get Belgium and Germany for the full encirclement....

Posted by razib at 03:24 AM | | TrackBack