« December 28, 2003 - January 03, 2004 | Main | January 11, 2004 - January 17, 2004 »

January 10, 2004

The Other Diaspora

This article in The Washington Post about Iraqis of African descent is fascinating. Recently I've been reading books about the Brazilian "racial democracy," and some of the quotes from Afro-Iraqis are exactly the same as Afro-Brazilians, they often de-emphasize their blackness and look to their commonalities with the general society, all the while being victims of racism from the lighter majority.

Though the presence of blacks in the Arab world is well known, their existence in India is not. The Muslim rulers of India brought black slaves with their armies to rule over the subcontinent, though several times the slaves rebelled and took power into their own hands, and black military leaders become de facto rulers. The Siddi people of India are the descendents of black Africans.

From Extensive Female-Mediated Gene Flow from Sub-Saharan Africa into Near Eastern Arab Populations from The American Journal of Human Genetics:

The mtDNAs of sub-Saharan origin that are present in Near Eastern populations show a striking phylogeographic pattern. They are virtually restricted to Arab populations, occurring at 35% in the Yemen Hadramawt and 10-15% in other Arab populations. They are absent or almost so from Turks, Armenians, Azeris, Georgians, and Near Eastern Jews and present at lower levels in Turkish Kurds. In Europe, they are detected at appreciable levels only in regions which experienced Arab rule during the medieval period. This pattern suggests that most female gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa into the Near East probably took place relatively recently, within the last 2,500 years. Y-chromosome data indicate that recent male gene flow was substantially less. This appears to be the case even for the Yemen, where more than a third of mtDNAs derive from Africa.

I suggest people read the full text, as it is available free.

Posted by razib at 10:02 PM | | TrackBack

Stressed out cities

What is the most stressed out city? Survey says, Tacoma is the most stressed out-and Albany-Schenectady-Troy the least. My family has lived near both areas, and I can report that Tacoma is pretty depressing-though I don't remember Albany being any sort of utopia (the population has been declining in that area of upstate New York). But the author might have acknowledged that the suicide rate is probably exaggerated by the sunless climate.

Update: My girlfriend points out that noting Las Vegas has a high divorce rate is kind of stupid. Check Bestplaces.net, "number of Starbucks" is a crucial "general" metric on the city comparison feature!

Posted by razib at 09:35 PM | | TrackBack

The Numbers Game

I was in my local bookstore recently and saw that the cover of E magazine had a sub-heading titled Myths, Truths and Half-Truths About Human Population Growth and the Environment. You can find the article on their website-kind of apropos of the immigration issue that has been a theme of GNXP recently, but this from a more Left-enviro perspective. There is a particular emphasis on addressing the idea that population consciousness is somehow inherently sexist or racist (think of it is a Left-enviro form of the arguments the Right has to make sometimes that capitalism is not inherently sexist or racist).

Posted by razib at 03:24 PM | | TrackBack

Destination Detroit!

Detroit, Michigan hopes to showcase improvements. From a Lonely Planet:

Karla Zimmerman, who wrote the Great Lakes section of the upcoming edition of Lonely Planet's U.S. guide, said Detroit's "post-apocalyptic feel," combined with several renowned museums, make it a fascinating destination.

Posted by razib at 03:15 PM | | TrackBack

January 09, 2004


The Economist has an article about the hairlessness of everyone's favorite primate.

But human hair is generally fine and short, and so humans look naked compared with their closest animal relations. How bare they are, though, does vary racially—which may explain why one Thai lady has requested that her European boyfriend should have his entire body waxed.

The last point discussed was facial hair.

The theory here is that sexual selection has kept facial hair in men, presumably because this advertises their male hormones. But why, then, do so many men, in so many cultures, shave them off? Perhaps the fear of parasites is driving some men to be clean-shaven. Maybe the goatee is a compromise between being clean and manly. Or, perhaps, shaving is popular because facial shape in humans is a sexually dimorphic characteristic. Men tend to have squarer jaws than women, and they shave to highlight this. If so, this would explain the trend for emphasising the edge of the jawline with a fringe of hair.

So is this why men shave? Does The Economist have it right, or is it something else?

Posted by Thrasymachus at 04:47 PM | | TrackBack

The Little Polities

Charles Murtaugh points me to this article in The Economist (via Orinn Judd). It argues that there is "...a trade-off between the benefits of scale and the costs of heterogeneity." Duh! That's why I'm a federalist, and when I'm less concerned about people wondering if I'm mentally ill, I openly moot the idea of breaking up these United States of America. Overall, it is something to think about in the context of America, the republic started out with 2.5 million people, only 10% being real political & economic stakeholders, but today we are 300 million people with universal sufferage over the age of 18. It's a pretty good code base that seems to have been extensible, but we might open ourselves to the possibility of a re-write to make it more modular.

In any case, I would like to add that though Charles seems to have a platonic crush on Orrin Judd, the dude makes the following assertion/comparison that seems a bit shallow:

"(2) China and India: neither has a snowball's chance of remaining whole."

That strikes me as kind of dumb. China has a 2,000 year history of cyclical oscillations between centralized rule and interregnums of political plurality. But, one pattern that seems to be marked is the tendency for the interregnums to shrink! In contrast, the history of India is one of political plurality, with central rule more often being imposed from the outside (Muslims), so Orrin is probably on solid ground making the assertion in that case.

The dumbness is not in predicting China's collapse (that happens now & then), but putting China and India together on the same line. India's political unity is a historical abberation, China's is not.

Godless comments:

Though I agree with some of the thesis (the heterogeneity vs. economy-of-scale tradeoff), I disagree with many of the points brought up by both Orrin and the writer. Among them:

  1. Singapore is hardly homogeneous. It's got four official languages. So does Switzerland.
  2. Cutting the list off at the top 10 is arbitrary - it includes boutique island nations like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Also, I'm not sure what their source is for the GDP-per-capita figures. The CIA world factbook is out of date on a lot of things (e.g. the ethnic composition of Britain), but let's assume its GDP-per-capita stats are ok. If we extend the CIA stats to the top 20 nations, the pattern disappears entirely. Now you have multimillion person nations. Among them: USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany.
  3. I agree that federalism is a big reason for America's success. I disagree that it is the only or even primary reason for America's success. America has only 3-4 times the population of Germany, but is far more ethnically heterogeneous. Is 60-80 million the upper limit beyond which centralized government is impossible? It's a questionable premise.
  4. China and India are utterly different, as Razib pointed out. To make it more concrete - China is 92% Han. India by contrast has thousands of micro-races and micro-dialects.
  5. Lastly, let me point out that there are tremendous transaction costs involved with "breaking up the United States". I don't think it's either realistic or necessary.

Bottom line: there are many factors that can unify a nation. Among them are race, religion, language, nationalism, and an external threat. Centralization of government becomes more difficult as less of these unifying factors exist, because it becomes harder to amalgamate preferences successfully.

But while the heterogeneity of nations is a consideration, it is not the only consideration. A far more robust predictor[1] of prosperity than size or heterogeneity is mean IQ. But the Economist can't write that. It is a fact, however, that the two prerequisites for wealth are a high mean IQ and a capitalist economy. That's why Iran and Vietnam will likely be prosperous if and when they shed the shackles of Islamism and communism respectively.

[1] Note that Griffe's analysis needs to be updated for 2002, as the East Asian countries have significantly higher GDP-per-capitas than those (older) statistics indicate. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong are all first world nations (or quasi-nations in the case of HK). Malaysia's large Chinese minority is getting it close to first world status, and parts of China are already first world.

Posted by razib at 03:22 PM | | TrackBack

Less herbs, more synthetics!

Herbal remedy boom threatens plants:

Worldwide demand for herbal remedies is threatening natural habitats and endangering up to a fifth of wild medicinal plant species which are being harvested to extinction, a leading science magazine said.

via Chris Mooney.

With the whole fiasco that is Traditional Chinese Medicine, a.k.a. 101 ways to prepare Tiger Penis, perhaps we should shout it loud & proud again: Chemistry for a better world!

Posted by razib at 02:39 PM | | TrackBack

The price of the great outdoors

Mountain lion 'out for blood' killed after attacking bikers. The conflict between mountain lions and humans in the mountain West is not new. These are in general secretive big cats, attested to by the fact that while the wolf was exterminated from most of the lower 48, the cougar continues to haunt the Rockies.

But, many Westerners, often affluent liberal professionals, what to be "near the wilderness." Yesterday night as my girlfriend and I were walking back from her office late at night a family of deer were taking a rest in the middle of a lawn on a house just off the main street. I myself have seen the strange behavior of the local deer, as they come out of the hillsides and wait for the cars to pass on the main drag, before venturing to the other side of town. Here is the type of scene that is common place around where I live:

If you like the outdoors, clean water and a sky unmarred by smog, visit the portion of the I-5 corridor between Redding, California and Imbler, Imbler. But of course there are downsides to the "country life." No lights, no big city and no Banana Republic. Those are the things that most people think of when they imagine the urban life, and those are the things that many are escaping.

On the other hand, there are other issues that are more important once you actually live in the country. Fires are a fact of life, 2 years ago it was so bad that it was like twilight at noon. Because of the spread of rural developments for professionals, local resources are overstretched, trying to save houses in areas where old timers might have avoided building because they knew the negatives that came along with hillside vistas. People are pushing their way into the wilderness to enjoy it, but in the process are bringing the amenities that they take for granted with them.

Cougars eating human beings is not something I favor. But, I think some people need to understand that this is the reductio ad absurdum of living "in the wilderness." If you want to see yourself as just another animal in "harmony" with nature, you might open your mind to the possibility that the predators will start viewing you as meat.

Posted by razib at 02:16 PM | | TrackBack

Men On the Moon

After the amazing success (a few failures too) of robots on Mars, Bush plans to follow this up with....

A lunar base! And humans to Mars after that.

Even after we see again and again that NASA's most amazing results – scientific and public relations – come from their cheap, unmanned missions, our politicians cannot figure out that this is what NASA should be spending money on. It is strange, especially when embarrassing budget disasters are the only thing that politicians usually get in return for the manned missions.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 06:13 AM | | TrackBack

Breaking news! Human populations differ genetically!!!

Nicholas Wade is a great journalist, and slowly he is pushing the wedge of acceptable discourse into uncharted territory. I would bet money that he talked to Vincent Sarich or read some of his work for this new article, titled Ice Age Ancestry May Keep Body Warmer and Healthier, because the emphasis on adaptation after the Out-of-Africa radiation is something Sarich puts special focus on. The money shot:

A team of California geneticists has found that many of the world's peoples are genetically adapted to the cold because their ancestors lived in northern climates during the Ice Age. The genetic change affects basic body metabolism and may influence susceptibility to disease and to the risks of the calorie-laden modern diet.

The finding also breaks ground in showing that the human population has continued to adapt to forces of natural selection since the dispersal from its ancestral homeland in Africa some 50,000 years ago.

I think the next logical step is to begin to explore selective effects on the genome dependent on the transition to high density living concomitant with the transition to agriculture in most of the world's populations. Matt Ridley in his most recent book made some references to this topic, so I suspect there are researchers out there he is in touch with who are looking at differences between populations with a history of high density vs. those that remained at the hunter-gatherer stage longer.

NPR's Morning Edition for January 9th has a piece interviewing the researcher profiled by Wade . The abstract can be found on the ssslllooowww Science site.

Posted by razib at 01:35 AM | | TrackBack

January 08, 2004

Why Is Probability So Hard?

I am going to pull out some familiar chestnuts here. If you have not heard these puzzles before, then good, you may find them interesting. If you have heard them before, even better.

First, let's start with something obvious. If you toss a fair coin once, does the result tell you anything about the result of the next toss? No.

Which leads to...

The Twin Paradox
(Yeah, I know that the name is already taken).

A mother pushing a pair of non-identical twins in a baby carriage calls you over. She tells you that one of them is a boy.

What is the probability that the other child is a boy?

And this is generally where the instructor gets to condemn everyone who answers 1/2.

Here are the possible sex groupings of the twins:
1. BB
2. BG
3. GB
4. GG

Only number 4 can be ruled out. Therefore the chance of there being two boys is 1/3, not 1/2.

The Game Show Paradox

On a game show there are three curtains. Behind two of the curtains are goats. Behind the other curtain is a Ferrari. The contestant has to choose one of the curtains to open, and he gets whatever is behind that curtain.

So Bob the contestant picks a curtain to open. Before it is opened, however, Pat the host opens another curtain, showing the goat behind it. He then gives Bob the opportunity to switch curtains. Should Bob switch?

And this is generally where the instructor gets to condemn anyone who says it doesn't matter.

When Bob picked the first curtain, there was a 1/3 chance that the Ferrari was behind it, and a 2/3 chance that it was behind another curtain. So it is obvious that if he stays with the curtain he is at there will only be a 1/3 chance of winning the Ferrari. But if he switches, he will have a 2/3 chance.

No Good At Probability?

Nearly everyone's gut feeling was 1/2 and 'doesn't matter' respectively. This proves we're no good at probability, right? Not so fast.

There is actually a good reason for our gut feelings. And it is the same reason in each case. Let's go back to the twins.

Scenario A: Imagine that you had a great many mothers and their twins together in a room. You collect all of the mothers who could can truthfully say "one is a boy." This is 3/4 of the mothers. Then you check the sex of either one of children and record your results.

Scenario B: Imagine instead the same situation, except this time you ask the mother to tell you the sex of either one of the children. When the mother says "boy" – true for 1/2 of the mothers – you then check the sex of either one of the children.

So here is the secret to the twin paradox: We solved the twin paradox as A, but B was how we heard it.

B is a narrative – in other words a sequence of events. That is how we tell stories. The twin paradox was presented as a narrative.

For want of a better term, A can be referred to as a description of a system. That is how we usually set up mathematics problems. We describe a system and then solve it. The twin paradox was solved in this manner.

The game show paradox is exactly the same.

Scenario A: Imagine a game show where the host knows where all of the prizes are. When a contestant picks one curtain, the game show host will always pick out one of the other curtains where a goat is.

Scenario B: Imagine a game show where the host knows nothing about the prizes. When a contestant picks one curtain, the game show host will pick a curtain at random and show what is behind it.

We solved the game show paradox as A, but B was how we heard it.

So this is not a problem of being good at probability or not. Our minds solve these problems just fine. It is a matter of language being too inexact to specify to our mind just which problem it should be working on.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 11:12 PM | | TrackBack

Don't sneeze @ genes
Posted by razib at 07:06 PM | | TrackBack

It could be worse....

I guess I might be seen as acting a bit hysterical recently about the amnesty plan-but I lived in a compound until I was 4 and am not too excited about going back. But, in any case, some perspective-we don't have it as bad as much of Europe. Case in point, Denmark (my comments in red):

One of the key mistaken assumptions made by various Danish governments was that after a generation, the children of the newcomers would assimilate, marry Danish girls, and become jolly Danes themselves. In fact, rather than marrying locally, most Turks, 95 percent in Rockwool’s reckoning, still import a Turkish wife even in the third generation. In fact, many Turks feel an obligation to help cousins back in the ancestral village get out through arranged marriages....
Because of the poor language abilities and work habits of many foreigners, employers are reluctant to hire them. As a result of unemployment, the father, the traditional seat of authority in Islamic families, often loses the respect of his children. The result has been a sharp increase in crime among second generation immigrants — to the extent that in the public mind, the word crime now brings to mind the image of a foreigner.
[Thank god that the United States tends to restrict immigration from Third World Muslim countries to skilled immigrants (more or less), otherwise I would have a hard time getting a date]
A rash of gang rapes over the past year has caused particular consternation. In one highly publicized case, seven Palestinian youths who were accused of gang-raping a teenage girl got off with extremely light sentences — three months — and were seen celebrating afterwards...
[In Denmark, where predominantly Muslim immigrants account for 68% of rapes, Islamic “community leaders” went out of their way to describe rape as “un-Islamic.”]
Finally, there are the financial costs. Immigration and the failure of integration have been staggeringly expensive, a tremendous strain on the welfare state. A minority of 4 percent of the population — that is, non-Western immigrants — accounts for fully 34 percent of the Danish social budget....
There have been some legislative efforts to address the problems. One new law seeks to bar immigrants under 25 years of age from bringing a foreign spouse into Denmark. This is done expressly to prevent arranged marriages: Older, more mature immigrants, it is believed, are less likely to give in to the dictates of family and custom....
[because of the EU common borders, many Muslims are moving to Sweden, importing their spouses from the mother country, and after a few years planning to move back to Denmark]

You give asylum to semi-literate rustics from Muslim countries and expect them to become good Danes in one generation!. Big surprise that they soon become alienated from a society they can't succeed in, a society that assumes they just aren't up to snuff because of past experience, and take refuge in pre-modern religious and cultural traditions. Groups like the Arab European League are a synthesis of Western narcissism and Eastern piety-the reactionary medieval traditions of their volk are a salve to their bruised egos.

Read the full article.

Posted by razib at 04:41 PM | | TrackBack

Variation on Universal Grammar?

This article in The Economist highlights research that indicates that language affects the way we look at the world. Much of the same territory is tread by The Geography of Thought, and I suspect that the linguists will find that this is only an overlay over the "Universal Grammar," just like the author of The Geography of Thought pretty much admitted by the end of the book that individuals could easily be re-trained to "think differently" (more Western or Eastern). Of course, language acquisition capacity drops a great deal after adolescence, so there are differences. The researcher mentioned above is an evolutionary psycholinguist, so I am skeptical that he will give much comfort to the tabula rasa crowd who are prone to assert that ideas precede the reality of the world around us.

Posted by razib at 03:55 PM | | TrackBack

Dumb & dumber

Sometimes I wonder if the New Agey Left and the Medieval Right are going to collude to undermine the Modern world. Check out this moronic behavior:

Some Nigerian Muslims believe that the polio vaccine is part of an American plot to depopulate poor countries. Some imams preach that it is laced with anti-fertility drugs, can cause AIDS and is even linked to mad-cow disease. The source of these interesting theories was apparently American websites promoting “holistic” medicine.

Full article in The Economist (there isn't that much more).

Reminds me of the idiocy of the pro-non-iodized salt movement in India.

January 07, 2004

Pink forests

Our favorite pinko is a guest blogger. Let's see how he behaves when he lets his hair down among his own kind....

Posted by razib at 09:57 PM | | TrackBack

Genetic determinism?

Seems like one presidential candidate is an explicit genetic determinist!

Posted by razib at 09:43 PM | | TrackBack

The headline says it all....

Democrats: Bush immigration plan not enough. I guess the zero population growth faction isn't that strong anymore, of course, NARAL could push for immigrant children to get tax-payer funded abortions, and that might dovetail the two positions....

Our president, Caracalla-oops, I mean G.W., might do anything for the Almighty Dollared Interests, but the Dems will anything for the adulation of the world's masses. Republican politicians are whores, but at least they do it for $, the Dems seem to act out for the love of the game....

Posted by razib at 09:30 PM | | TrackBack

Genetic Genealogy

MSNBC is doing a series called genetic genealogy.

Posted by razib at 05:09 PM | | TrackBack


I hate Hints & Tips from Queer Eye. It's just so...gay....

Posted by razib at 01:40 PM | | TrackBack

Backward & brown

On Globalisation India, Like China, Needs To Be More Aggressive. Some poll numbers:

...Indians are open to the outside world but less so than the Chinese. Regarding globalisation in general, 76% of Chinese think it is good for their country, compared with only 45% in India (although only 6% of Indians disagree, with the rest offering no opinion). Forty-six per cent of Indians surveyed feel that foreign companies have a good influence on their country (compared with 76% in China) versus 25% who disagree (9% in China)....
...Around 85% of Indians feel their culture is superior to others, compared with 66% of Chinese. Only 51% of Indians like the pace of modern life, compared with 65% of Chinese....

There's a reason that anti-globalization greenies find fellow travellers in India.

Posted by razib at 12:53 PM | | TrackBack

A thought

America, it's a temp agency, not a republic!

Posted by razib at 12:38 PM | | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

A request

Please vote for Nicole Kidman in TV GUIDE's You Sexy Thing, she's gettin' kind of spanked right now, and I don't like to see an Academy Award winning actress treated in such a fashion....

Posted by razib at 04:37 PM | | TrackBack

Where the Left & the Right can agree

George Bush's America: Gated communites (but still united, not divided!).

Howard Dean's America: 3.8% non-white, but appreciating the diversity and educating white folks.

Posted by razib at 03:19 PM | | TrackBack

On creating modern states

Abiola Lapite states that ethnicity is the problem in Africa. In sum, the problem is the diversity of ethnicities that exist because of a relative insulation from the "human web" of information systems and governments that have (relatively) homogenized large stretches of the Eurasian continent since the "Axial Age." African situations do exist in Eurasia, but only when there is a confluence of historical and geographic factors, case in point, Caucasia. This is reflected in the biological diversity of fauna and flora, in addition to the famous linguistic and ethnic babble that is the hallmark of this region. Sometimes geographic constraints are very tight, and paradoxically they give freedom to isolated peoples who see in them refugium against centralizing states and ideologies.

Ethnic diversity is an indicator of deep seated differences between pre-modern nation-state Europe (circa 1500) and pre-modern nation-state Africa (circa 1800), to give a comparison. Europe of 3,000 years ago was almost certainly as diverse as Africa is today (which after all is something that we evaluate after the Bantu expansion from eastern Nigeria). Abiola has argued on his own blog that the slow transformation of the gentry dominated England toward universal franchise over hundreds of years is the smoothest model of transition to a nation state (the central thesis of Fareed Zakaria's Future of Freedom). It takes little brilliance to see why Africa is in such straights.

World religions, liberalism, democracy, etc. were "memes" that took thousands of years to "take" in most of Eurasia, and even today they have not put in deep roots everywhere. In contrast, Africa has been jump-started into the process of modernization from the village to the nation in one fell swoop (at least on the de jure level). I have spoken of this in the context of Bangladesh, which does have an elite that has been "plugged in" to the Eurasian web for a few thousand years.

Unfortunately, the sacroscant nature of the "nation state" is the price that poor Third World nations pay so that the West can be secure its own stability (remember, some nations like "Germany" and "Italy" are not much newer than some of the African countries in the long view, though they had more intermediate stages of polity formation). Case in point: Cyprus. Why must this sham go on? Allow the Turkish Cypriots to unite with Turkey and give the Greeks their enosis. But no, the dogma of colonial boundaries, the nation-state by fiat, still holds sway....

In a strange way, we do live in an age where international consensus makes many nations a prison-house of peoples. Read about the Bougainville embargo. That's why the "internationalism" of the Left today seems so self-interested and machiavellian to me....

Posted by razib at 02:01 PM | | TrackBack


Bush plan lets some illegal workers keep jobs:

...President Bush plans Wednesday to unveil an immigration proposal that would create a Web-based job registry....
...The proposal is Bush's first major policy initiative of 2004 -- a critical re-election year -- and will be unveiled days before Bush travels to Mexico for a regional summit and talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox....
The White House will contend that registering illegal workers is important for the economy and national security, according to the sources....

Liberals are wrong. Bush isn't a pawn of corporations, he's a pawn of corporations and elite liberal do-gooder groups. And what's up with the "web based" registry? The jobs illegals are doing are being done partially because they are off the books and don't pay taxes (so they are cheaper for the employer). And someone might remind G.W. that he's running for re-election in The United States of America, not The United States of Mexico. Oh, wait...the Democrats won't bring that up, the guy gets a free pass....

My parents still bitch about people that got in during the 1986 amnesty now and then, we were jumping the sponsorship hoop, and it was a little weird hearing about Bangladeshi sailors escaping from their ship and hiding out in New York City but getting the same Green Card without doing much about (hint: these are the people just like your shyster cousin who applied their intelligence to find the best cons to screw their fellow man). Anyway, I think someone should look at G.W.'s corporate record, I suspect he didn't "promote from within."

Posted by razib at 11:04 AM | | TrackBack

What it's really about-Three Little Pigs Banned

Another data point that suggests P.C. is about moral posturing, not genuine sensitivity and civility. From School Library Journal:

A West Yorkshire nursery school has banned the story of the three little pigs from classrooms for fear of offending Muslims. Barbara Harris, headmistress at Park Road Junior Infant and Nursery School, told teachers to remove all books featuring pigs from classrooms with children under age seven. Harris cited her concern for the "religious sensitivities" of 60 percent of the school's students who are Muslim, reported the London Daily Mail. Islamic leaders condemned the school's decision, saying Muslims are prohibited from eating pork—not from reading books about pigs.

Posted by razib at 10:52 AM | | TrackBack

Discordant Clines

Dienekes has an excellent recent post (January 4) on the subject of 'discordant clines', i.e. cases where geographical trends in one trait (such as skin colour) are different from the trends in another trait (e.g. blood groups). This is highly relevant to the meaning of 'human biodiversity'.

Posted by David B at 04:55 AM | | TrackBack

Mad Cows

The UK Department of Health has just released end-of-year data for deaths from variant CJD (the so-called human form of BSE, or mad cow disease) in 2003.

The figures from 1995 (the first year of records) to 2003 inclusive are as follows:


As I pointed out in a recent post, alarmist predictions of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of deaths, have not materialised. In fact, the 'epidemic' seems to have peaked in 2000 and plateaued at around 20 deaths per year.

It is also interesting to look at the figures for so-called 'spontaneous' CJD, i.e. cases with no known cause. For the same years, these are 35, 40, 60, 63, 62, 49, 57, 73, and 58. It will be noted that these are much higher than the numbers for 'variant' CJD. If we add 'variant' to 'spontaneous' figures we get the following totals:


(NB: there is often a time-lag in reporting of 'spontaneous' cases, so the provisional end-year figures for 2003 may increase slightly.)

Apart from a 'blip' in 2002, there is a notable stability in these totals from 1998 onwards. I'm not sure if there is any real significance in this, as stochastic fluctuations in two independent series would often cancel out and produce a more stable total. But it is at least worth considering whether part of the 'increase' in vCJD from 1997 onwards was an artifact of diagnosis.

It is also worth noting that there has never been any worthwhile proof that variant CJD is caused by eating infected beef. Early in the 'epidemic' some commentators noted that a high proportion of the victims had had jobs which involved handling beef, including a girl who had been a vegetarian for many years but worked at a dogs' home where she regularly handled meat for the dogs' meals. The epidemiologists examined this connection and concluded that the proportion of victims with 'meat handling' jobs was not in fact significantly higher than expected. But of course, this does not prove that the disease is not transmittted by handling meat, e.g. by infected prions entering the bloodstream via cuts or scratches.

As the first case of BSE has just been reported in American cows, my message to American readers would be:

(a) don't panic
(b) do look carefully at hypotheses other than transmission by eating infected beef.

Posted by David B at 04:49 AM | | TrackBack

January 05, 2004

Articles of interest....

The yield for google genetics news alert was good today.

1) Genetic counselors help parents make sense of prenatal testing, treatment options. Regnat populus!

2) Thinking Outside the Gene. Here is the crucial subheading: Only by eliminating genetic determinism from our thinking can we talk effectively and responsibly about genetic interventions.

3) Cancer research 'too colour-blind'. The abstract in Nature here.

Posted by razib at 09:23 PM | | TrackBack


772-pound tenant fights CMHA:

In August, 22 firefighters and emergency medical technicians worked for 2 ˝ hours to move Bowen from her apartment so she could have dental work. Emergency crews had to help her back when she returned.


Posted by razib at 03:26 PM | | TrackBack

DNA series on PBS

PBS has a multi-part series titled DNA showing right now. I saw part I, which basically chronicled the race to unlock the secret of the double helix (the "standard model," Watson = selfish creep, Crick = J.D. Salinger of scientists, Franklin = woman wronged, Wilkins = Dupe, etc. etc.). Pretty interesting, though I doubt they'll hit any new science, it's better than re-runs of Friends.

It is curious that Crick's website gives credit to Rosalind Franklin as a co-discover of DNA, while Watson's does not.

Sidenote: GNXP readers might find this article from 3 years back on Watson giving an "insensitive" lecture at Berkeley amusing. The whole lecture was pretty funny as far as I could tell. Here is a quote:

Witnesses were flabbergasted when the 72-year-old discoverer of the double helix suggested there was a biochemical link between exposure to sunlight and sexual urges. ``That's why you have Latin lovers,'' Watson said. ``You've never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient.''

In a lecture hall jammed with more than 200 Berkeley students and faculty members, Watson showed a slide of sad-faced model Kate Moss to support his contention that thin people are unhappy and therefore more ambitious.

``Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them,'' Watson said.

Posted by razib at 01:53 PM | | TrackBack

Keep your unclean hands off our women!

An Israeli company steals a page from the Saudi/UAE playbook:

Sex ban for Chinese in Israel

AN Israeli company has required thousands of Chinese workers to sign a contract promising not to have sex with Israelis or try to convert them, a police spokesman said yesterday.

Maybe they're just worried that "Once you go Asian, Jews are out of the equation." =)

According to the document, male workers cannot come into contact with Israeli women --- including prostitutes --- become their lovers or marry them, spokesman Rafi Yaffe said. He said there was nothing illegal about the requirement and no investigation had been opened against the company.

The labourers are also forbidden in the contract from engaging in any religious or political activity. Those who violate the agreement will be sent back to China.

About 260,000 foreigners work in Israel, having replaced Palestinian labourers during three years of fighting.

Though I think people should be allowed to enter into whatever types of contracts they wish, as long as no harm to others is involved, I have to wonder why the company would do this. It increases their labour costs, as prospective employees would rather work at other companies which don't impose such onerous restrictions. Furthermore, it will likely lead to massive problems with worker discipline: bachelor societies (such as the Chinatowns of the 19th century in the USA) aren't generally noted for their stability or lack of crime.

What makes this even more confusing is that there seems to be no real religious justification for the clause in the contract (edit: not law, thanks gc for catching the slip), unlike in surrounding Islamic countries which impose similar requirements on their heathen guest workers. Unless the company in question expects this action will generate positive publicity for them, I can't see why a business, whose purpose, after all, is to generate profit, would take such an action. I suppose it's an effective method of preventing guest-worker programs from mutating into mass permanent immigration, by deliberately keeping the workers from assimilating into local society. Though of course I doubt it's a method that could be successfully implemented anywhere else ...

Posted by ericlien at 09:20 AM | | TrackBack

January 04, 2004

A real lighter shade of "brown"

I have alluded to color-consciousness among South Asians before. Well, a day ago I had an IM chat with an Indian and I brought up this issue, and he pointed me to this actress as a token dark-skinned female in Bollywood. Follow the link, because the woman in question is actually probably lighter than the median South Asian (more pictures here). You can see the normal phenotype in Indian film here.

Interestingly, Al Jazeera has an article on the issue, and here is a choice quote from the leader of a low caste political party:

I am very dark, almost black, but my wife is as fair as an English woman and I must say that although ours was a love marriage in which her intrinsic qualities mattered more than looks, I found her fair skin very attractive,” says Udit Raj.

This isn't of course limited to just India. I had a friend of Japanese origin who had spent most of her formative years in southeast Asia, and when she went back to Japan everyone would always note, "You have such dark skin!" (it was a dusky brown).

One thing to note though, most South Asian extended families have members with dark and light skin. My paternal grandmother had near black skin while my maternal grandmother has a fair complexion. When I was a small child I would refer to them as "black grandmother" and "red grandmother," not knowing any better of course, and attaching little value in any case, being only appropriate descriptors. So a major point is that though there are strong value judgements on ideal physiques, because of thousands of years of intermarriage with people of varied phenotypes, the implications are only partially racial. So Eric Margolis describing the "light" vs. "dark" dichotomy in India as "racial" is probably conflating North American conceptions of the assocation of phenotype and race with the variety of South Asian types, which may exhibit themselves throughout an extended family!

Rather than South African apartheid, a better analogy for the South Asian situation is Brazil, where hundreds of years of intermarriage have reassorted the genes to some extent where phenotype and ancestry are no longer as congruent as they once might have been (linkage disequilibrium to linkage equilibrium).

Posted by razib at 07:48 PM | | TrackBack

Science & religion, a marriage of money?

Article on "bridging" science and religion. It acknowledges one major fact, over the past 10 years a lot of the elite push for this sort of thinking has come from the John Templeton Foundation, which throws dollars toward Intelligent Design (as an example). But, it also gives funds to scientists who are pretty nonreligious and a bit confused as to what it's all about. I think *confused* is the key word.

Update: Dyson confused:

In the world of condensed matter physics, Freeman Dyson is an international superstar. But in the spiritual realm, he is virtually unknown. So it came as a surprise to Mr. Dyson yesterday that he won the 2000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the biggest award for works advancing the understanding of God or spirituality.

"I don't understand," Dyson says. "It usually goes either to a saint or a theologian, and I don't qualify as either of those. It is a mystery." But along his 54 years as a scientist, Dyson's colleagues say, he has greatly contributed to the often-heated discussion over science and religion. As a physicist, he has tried to inject ethics into the realm of science. As a writer, Dyson has worked on setting principles to guide both skeptics and believers in their work together.
In winning the prize, Dyson has joined the company of Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the Rev. Billy Graham, who are previous recipients. Asked how it feels to join such a famous group, he once again shrugs.

"I'm totally unworthy," he says. "I find it kind of absurd that I should be put into that class."

Posted by razib at 04:07 PM | | TrackBack

Muslims & marriage

This is a 12 minute audio piece about Muslim women and their problems with marriage. The juxtpositions that crop up can be jarring to stereotypes. For example, one young British Muslim talks about how she got an arranged marriage with a man who was from a religious and "good" family. She comes to find out he likes ham sandwiches and is offended by her wearing Asian clothes at home and talking about Islam. Seen in this way, he is the "liberal" and she is the "conservative," but when she goes on to describe how he treats her, and how his family views the situation (deal with it, it's done), just who is "liberal" and "conservative" can get very muddled.

The way I see it, there are many consumeristic and secular children of immigrants of Muslim and Asian origin who live double-lives, being Western in their individual spheres, but keeping up the sham of "respectability" so that the family rep is kept intact. On the other end, you have liberated, intelligent and independent girls who are rediscovering their culture and get a nasty shock when the practice does not conform to Islamic ideal....

Posted by razib at 12:02 AM | | TrackBack