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January 24, 2004

The Jewish "People"

OK, follow-up on the dialogue that Abiola & I have been having. On many points of fact, we don't disagree. For instance, I suspect we would agree on the following:

1) The early period of Judaism was characterized by a tribalistic faith, henotheism, rather than monotheism.
2) These West Semitic peoples were likely a coalition of tribes, with latecomers (for instance, the tribe of Dan), and not characterized by racial or ethnic awareness as much as cultural differences (Solomon married pagan women-but it was their heathenry rather than their ethnicity that was problem, see Ruth as a contrast).
3) Between 500 BCE and 500 CE a lot of varieties of "Jews" existed. It is possible that at one point 1 out of 10 inhabitants of the Roman Empire were Jewish, probably through conversion. The conversion of non-Jewish kings to Judaism was common-place in the "market-place" of religions, the family of Herod being a famous example, but others include the Jewish kings of Yemen.
4) Judaism existed as various affinal movements that are well known to us today (Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes for instance). Others are less well known, for instance, the Hellenistic Jews and the "God Fearers."
5) During this period, the "ethnic" identity of Jews was more cultural, and through the process of conversion, which entailed circumcision for men, one could become a part of the Jewish people. The Emperor Domitian made proselytization a capital crime for Jews likely because his own family members had converted (his older brother, the Emperor Titus, had a Jewish mistress).
6) The rise of the "daughter faiths," Islam and Christianity, changed the Jewish religion and culture greatly. While the more "liberal" and "integrationist" forms of Judaism melted away (it is likely that Hellenistic Jews and "God Fearers" were prime candidates for Christian conversion), Rabbinical Judaism, now known as Orthodox Judaism, remained as the primary minority religion within Christendom & the Dar-al-Islam.
7) The various cultures that Judaism was formed under has had a big impact on transforming the tribal henotheism of the 8th century BCE into the tribal ethical montheism of the 8th century CE. The influence of Zoroastrianism is famous, while practices like matrilineal descent were probably picked up from Romans. It seems that the ideas of the afterlife that Jews like Maimonides espoused were influenced by the Greek, Christian and Muslim traditions.
8) At various points, Jewish groups became sharply reduced in number through forced conversion, and the injunction by the majority communities to not proselytize became part of custom & tradition, and a very important one for group survival. This resulted in the isolation of Jewish groups genetically from the surrounding population. For example, it seems that the Jewish Yemenite population does not have much black African mtDNA, and this might be the result of the fact that by the time of the major importation of slaves began during the high Islamic period, they had already been sealed off by marriage from the surrounding society (Jews might leave through converison, but no one entered the faith).
9) Between 1000 and the modern era, the vast majority of the world's Jewry existed in communities where a relationship with a dominant religious ethos was important, whether that be Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Muslim or establishment Protestant.

At this point, I will go on to make a few assertions that are more tenditious. Read more below....

Here is the ADL's ire at Southern Baptist attempts to convert them:

The campaign launched by Southern Baptists to convert Jews to Christianity is an insult to the Jewish people and a setback for the cause of interfaith dialogue and understanding. We are very sad that emphasis would be placed on converting Jews rather than promoting a common ground and discourse between all faiths.

The ADL is a caricature of the modern American Jewry, but that allows us to examine in more detail the gross features of the American Jew and their outlook toward the world. I bolded a few points, note the constant switch between the conception of Jews as people (ethnos?) and a religion. Substitue "people" with "religion" and I think it seems a far less injurious "insult" for most Americans, after all, it is accepted that in our market-place of faiths individuals can convert from one religion to another. The ADL seems to be saying that to convert a Jew from one religion to another is somehow an insult that person's ethnicity (ethnicide?)! Additionally, try and map this to the Christian context, it is simply strange to speak of the "Southern Baptist people." It is interesting to note that traditionally Jews of no religion have been far more accepted as "Jews" than Jews of another religion (see here, page 20 of the PDF). It is a banal observation to say that Jews are both a people and a religion.

I believe this situation is somewhat problematic for Americans to understand. This is a culture where switching religions is common-place, where churches compete for followers, and individualistic tailored spirituality is the norm. The Jewish conception of an organic whole of religious peoplehood seems archaic, and it should, because I believe it was formed in a very different context, that context being pre-modern Europe and the Middle East.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, and the eventually dominance of the conception that religion was a personal choice, Europe was nominally under the Universal Catholic Church. There was a schism between the eastern Church and the western Church, but within their own spheres, the two behaved in similar ways and evinced the attitude that they were the One True Church. Before the conversion of Constantine, Christians were a self-selected minority, strong in their faith. After the barbarian invasions, the model of Christianization became different, as elites were converted, while the masses were nominally baptized, but de facto pagan. Each priest has his "flock," but the flock was simply an administrative division in the Universal Catholic Church-which was a monopoly elite faith. Until the Protestant Reformation it might be asserted that much of Europe was pagan on the ground. A historical survey of the early medieval period shows that bishops and notables were aware of the explicit paganism practiced by their serfs, but salvation was attained by a people, not through individual faith, so only the very devout would attempt to instruct their dependents on the One True Religion.

In this context, the idea of a Jewish people and faith makes sense. The Catholic Church had an ambivelant relationship to the Jews, as did the Muslims. Both groups agreed that the Jews had some relationship to God, but they asserted that their's was the true faith. Though the Catholic Church was implicated in some attempts to convert the Jews to Christianity, in general it tended to grudgingly support the Jewish wish to continue existence as a separate religion and people (in fact, there is evidence that anti-Jewish pogroms were most effective where church and state power were fractured and weak, for instance, the Rhineland). The Church and the State had a relationship with the local Jewry as corporate entities.

Move forward to the 21st century, the United States. The Church is fractured, and resembles more the jostling of businesses attempting to win clients, while individual choice is paramount in both economics and politics. The Jewish leaders can no longer negotiate with centralized powers, but rather have to face a host of various actors, from liberal denominations willing to respect them, to evangelical ones who wish to convert them. While the Universal Catholic Church prior to the Reformation tended to de facto accept the concept of salvation of a people, so that the paganism of most of their rural flock was no great worry, Justification by Faith Alone and the religious individualism sparked by the Reformation, and its Counter-Reformation, made Christianity much more concerned about everyone's individual beliefs (as was the case during the pre-Christian Roman period when society was damned in any case). The United States is the end point of this revolution.

Modern American Judaism has adapted to some extent, offering various avenues of religious expression, from Reconstructionism to Hasidism (with Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox in between). This is in sharp contrast with most of the rest of the developed world, where the choice tends to be between Orthodox and Secular (with a "Liberal" rump here and there). In countries where religious feeling is low (such as northern Europe), or de facto religious monopolies are in effect (Catholic southern Europe), the old Jewish ways of religion & people work. Similarly, they work in Israel as well, where there is little viable competition. But in the United States, they simply can not keep up with more aggressive religious firms.

The fact is that American Judaism must become just another denomination. Certain business practices, including proselytism, that were not appropriate (or possible) in a world of guilds, Church and nobility, must be revived for the American Age. The Jewish establishment, which is already fractured in comparison to the past, can not negotiate a modus vivendi with 1,000 religious denominations. The cartel mindset must go!

But can it? I am skeptical, both from reading, and my experiences with secular Jews. Of course, there are those disagree with me, but in the end, I don't care really if the Jewish faith comes or goes.

Sources for some of the historical assertions:
Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian?
Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World
One True God : Historical Consequences of Monotheism
The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation

Posted by razib at 04:12 PM | | TrackBack

Howard "Goldwater" Dean

David Franke writes about Dean for LewRockwell.com:

To me, he's the Barry Goldwater of our time – that rare politician who speaks his mind honestly and passionately, without regard for the polls and the political technicians, and often too bluntly or clumsily for his own good. That doesn't make either of those two men the ideal politician or presidential candidate, but it sure endears them to me on a personal level. It is rare to find a politician who is not scripted. As a right-wing libertarian, I disagree with Dean on virtually every issue, including war (I go further than he does), but I would feel safer with him in the White House than with any of the standard-issue politicians in either party. He could be counted on to repeatedly make the "mistake" of leveling with me and the rest of us, rather than lying and concealing. It's in his nature. He hasn't been reconfigured by living or working in Washington, DC.

Which brings us to that "awful" thing he did in his concession speech in Iowa. Am I the only person in America who can't comprehend what was wrong with it? It was a pep rally with his followers, for goodness sake, and he was letting them know they weren't going to accept this as a defeat and how much he appreciated what they had gone through together. It wasn't a tirade of a mad man, it was a real man caught up in the moment, and bonding with his mostly young and very enthusiastic and idealistic fans. As a native Texan, I even liked the whoop at the end. Heck, we whoop more than that at the contra dances I go to every weekend.

Personally, I am more worried that Dean is a liberal nutcase, but I can see what Franke is getting at.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 09:22 AM | | TrackBack

And you thought H-BD was controversial.

Reading this post by Godless on healthcare fired off some neurons in my brain about a proposal made in 1984 by Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado - the elderly have a duty to die.

I remember watching Lamm on 60 Minutes as he made his case and I followed with interest the firestorm that ensued afterwards. He spoke an unacknolwdged truth that people just didn't want to hear, much like the issues surrounding Human Bio-Diversity.

Here is an excerpt from an interview:

Lamm advocates age-based rationing of healthcare as a way to curb costs, because he views the aging of the population as the principal cause for those increased costs. He also wants an end to any more age-based benefit programs. Says Lamm, "Of course we have more of a duty to a 10-year-old than to a 60-year-old. Common sense says we should reserve the expensive medicines and technology for those who have the chance of a longer life."

He set out a scenario of future intergenerational warfare, where the young and middle-aged, would be paying for an extensive, and expensive, health care regime for the elderly, because the elderly had more political clout, while at the same time increasing numbers of children couldn't even get immunizations.

The macroeconomic conditions that precipitated Lamm's comments back in 1984 are still existent today. As noted in Trickster's post at tactitus health care now accounts for 14.1% of GDP and last year's health care inflation grew at 7%. How long can health care costs grow faster than the economy as a whole before some type of rationing will have to take place?

Lamm was primarily concerned with Medicare:

He worries, “There is something terribly inappropriate about a society which does not even provide basic health care to millions of people and yet amends its Medicare regulations to pay for heart transplants, a number of which go to the wealthy elderly.”

Lamm's concern was with the actuarial soundness of Medicare:

This year, Social Security and Medicare will account for 6.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). By 2030, those programs will grow to 11.0 percent of GDP. Moreover, the number of beneficiaries will grow much faster than the number of workers paying taxes to support those programs. The ratio of covered workers to beneficiaries will drop from about 3.4 this year to about 2.3 by 2030.

We must live in tamer times for I'm not coming across reform proposals that are as radical as Lamm's. But then again the growing prominence of the right-to-die movement may be the slippery slope towards utilitarian life & death decisions that critics fear. For that is what Lamm advocated:

Lamm suggests that healthcare rationing be reconfigured on a utilitarian basis: in such a way that the greatest possible number of people receives the greatest possible amount of healthcare. Lamm advocates a healthcare rationing system that would provide the greatest good for the greatest number; he wants to “buy the most health care for our society.”

Of course, who makes those utilitarian decisions is left unmentioned. The fears are that bureaucrats or carved in stone regulations will be cutting short people's lives. But then again is that necessarily worse than HMO administrators denying treatment?

What I think bothered Lamm the most was the HUGELY expensive treatments for the critically ill patients that only extended their lives for a period of months. There was no price rationing mechanism when analyzed with respect to the Hippocratic Oath. The immediate concern of the physician is the patient before him and it's very difficult to assign value to the hundred thousand dollars expended on extending a 75 year old patient's life for 2 months and then comparing the value that could be gained by denying such care and instead making the funding available to school children who are uninsured.

A major benefit of free-market health care is the vitality of the system and the diversity of choice available to patients and practitioners. Because Medicare is not based on a free-market model there is no checking mechanism to insure an overall societal good. Does the size of a voting constituency necessarily indicate the best decision? How come the elderly insure their selfish well-being via benefits to Medicare but allow some of their collective grandchildren to go uninsured?

What is to be done? The system is not firing on all cylinders for it cannot be efficient to have children be ill, and possibly have life-altering consequences from those illnesses that will affect them for the remainder of their lives, and impact on their economic and personal contributions to society, while at the same time devoting resources to a dying person.

If the answer is to find utilitarian value in these life & death decisions then this will play towards centralized decisionmaking and regulations which are inherent characteristics of socialized medicine (Medicare.)

Of course, the market could solve the problem of intergenerational health care issues by prohibiting intergenerational wealth transfer via taxation. If people had to pay for their own health care premiums and they could chose different policies based on life-time medical cost caps then the market could most efficiently arbitrate what may come to be a future problem.

It may soon come to be that life extension technologies will become so expensive that the net assets of a patient may not be sufficient to cover the cost of treatment and the tempation for drawing more from society than one has contributed will be an irresistanble impulse, for one's life itself will be at stake. The sharing of risk via insurance will become moot for every person will incur this cost rather than a statistical sample from the population, thus voiding the risk amortization principle.

I thought I'd offer this topic up for discussion because I wanted an excuse to practice posting (so I ask your forebearance if there are formatting errors.) I'm not usually concerned with health policy - my main interests are energy policy, space policy, demography and foreign policy. I hope to be posting more in the future.

Posted by TangoMan at 08:42 AM | | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Tuskegee re-examined

My own interest in learning more about the Tuskegee syphilis study began with a dinner conversation with a friend, who is a doctor. Earlier that day I had received a communication from the head of an IRB committee indicating that 'Tuskegee' was reason enough to have all research questions and procedures at the University of Chicago screened and approved by an IRB. Although I knew relatively little about the details of the Tuskegee Study, I had somehow acquired the impression that many decades ago during the days of unregulated medical science the US Public Health Service had actually infected black men with syphilis. This is a not uncommon belief among black and white Americans who have heard of 'Tuskegee'.

But my friend told me: 'Nobody was given syphilis in the study.' All the participants (black sharecroppers in Macon County, Alabama in 1932) already had syphilis, 'but they were not treated for the disease'. I then asked him how syphilis was treated in 1932 when the study started. 'There were some horrible, painful, expensive long-term treatments around but I don't think they really worked', he said - 'there was no effective therapy at the time'. 'Had there been an IRB system in place in 1932, applying the medical research norms of those times, would the IRB have approved the project?', I asked. 'I am not sure, but they might have', he said. I began to suspect that there was both less and more to 'Tuskegee' and the political role it now plays in popular consciousness than has met the public eye.

So I began to read the now standard literature on the topic, as well as some of the scientific reports by members of the Tuskegee project, a sociological study of Macon County conducted in the early 1930s, and websites of various kinds (1). Eventually I discovered a Thucydides-like historical account of the medical belief system that informed the research (2). And the more I read, the more suspicious I became about the standard horror-story.

I would recommend reading the rest, though it is dense.

My own feeling is that there were serious ethical problems with the Tuskegee syphilis study. People would go to jail were it done in 2003. But it was not done in 2003. By any reasonable account, I think, the interpretation that the black population was being used as medical guinea pigs cannot be sustained.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 05:51 PM | | TrackBack

The blood of the Jews

Abiola & I have been having a discussion about where Jews are on the people -> religion spectrum over at his blog. Kind of silly-an African African American (had to type that!) and a South Asian American debating about Jews. GNXP readers are encouraged to contribute their opinions-particular the Judaic ones.

But-I would appreciate it if readers browsed some of the links below. Much research on Jewish genetics has come out in the past few years (most readers have read press releases of course)-

Y Chromosomes Traveling South: The Cohen Modal Haplotype and the Origins of the Lembathe "Black Jews of Southern Africa". This full text article confirms that the Lemba group of southern Africa does have some genetic connection to the world Jewish Diaspora, their traditional priestly class carries the traditional Jewish priestly marker ("The Cohen Modal Haplotype"). Here is the site of the NOVA documentary on this issue.

India's children of Israel find their roots. This popular press article reports on the research by Tudor Parfitt (who also did the research on the Lemba above) that indicates the Bene Israel, a Jewish community in India that traditionally has resided in the region to the south of Bombay, also exhibit the "Cohen Modal Haplotype," in other words, they too have genetic connections with the world Jewry.

The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East. Full text article asserts:
1) Kurdish and Sephardic Jews cluster
2) Ashkenazi Jews "slightly, yet significantly," different from the above two Jewish groups (posit gene flow from European populations)
3) The Jewish groups resemble groups from the northern part of the Fertile Crescent (Turks, Armenians & Kurds) more than Arabs, at least according to the measure of a major Y chromosomal haplogroup.

High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic substructure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews. Basically many Arab and Jewish paternal lineages have a relatively recent comment ancestry, though Arabs in particular have some lineages that are absent among Jews at high levels, indicating recent admixture (this sort of pattern was found in the above article).

Y-Chromosome DNA Haplotypes in Jews: Comparisons with Lebanese and Palestinians. Sephardic Jews, but not Oriental Mizrachi or Ashkenazi, share certain haplotype frequencies.

The Two Common Mutations Causing Factor XI Deficiency in Jews Stem From Distinct Founders: One of Ancient Middle Eastern Origin and Another of More Recent European Origin. Full text of an older article (1997) indicating the common origin of the world's major Jewish communities.

MtDNA evidence for a genetic bottleneck in the early history of the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Study of mtDNA of the Ashkenazi, the maternal lineage, indicating an early (~100 generations before present) population bottleneck, after which there was rapid expansion.

Multiple origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y chromosome evidence for both Near Eastern and European ancestries. The Levites, the helpers of the Cohens, have a (possibly) more diverse ancestry than the Cohens, and don't dovetail as easily into the religio-historical narrative of the Jews.

Founding Mothers of Jewish Communities: Geographically Separated Jewish Groups Were Independently Founded by Very Few Female Ancestors. Full text of the article that contends that the various Jewish communities have local maternal lineages and but common paternal lineages. With groups like the Lemba, Bene Israel and Black Cochin Jews of India, this seems pretty hard to dispute. With Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, making these sort of assertions through visual inspection are more difficult since the host populations are far closer together in phenotype, while Ashkenazi are somewhere in between.

Origins of Falasha Jews studied by haplotypes of the Y chromosome. Concludes that the Falasha/Beta Israel are converts to Judaism (note that Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is in practice closer to Judaism than the more Hellenized variety that we are familiar with).

Here is a site listing many studies and popular presentations of them (on the Khazaria site-buyer beware).

There are many more studies out there-but I hope that the above citations will disabuse the two binary alternatives presented by ideologues:
1) Jews are an alien people among their hosts, by blood, custom and confession.
2) Jews are socially constructed, local gentiles that took up the Torah and Talmud, who have no genetic connection transnationally.

Posted by razib at 05:39 PM | | TrackBack

Sex determined by genes...but which genes?

A primitive Y chromosome in papaya marks incipient sex chromosome evolution. Basically, the findings confirm what was hypothesized, that sex chromosomes are just modifcations of autosomal chromosomes. The Lord God did not just utter, "let their be sex," once....

Posted by razib at 03:51 PM | | TrackBack

Sexual identity possibly partly genetic?

It is a commentary on our culture that studies like this are worth being published.

Posted by razib at 03:21 PM | | TrackBack

January 22, 2004

Over in Europe....

A few summers ago GNXP had a friendly exchange with the Brit-libertarians over @ Samizdata. Perry de Havilland expressed the opinion that race relations are better in the UK than in the United States. Perry, being a hard-core libertarian, is not of the "but it's better in Europe" school, so I paid attention to him. It seems many Brits and Anglo-philes have this idea (my Queen's-English babbling roommate from Singapore would express the same opinion).

Well, what to make of this:

Four out of 10 whites do not want black neighbour, poll shows. This in a nation that is ~5% non-white ("black" includes South Asians in the UK)!

The story makes the point that the racialist feelings are concentrated among the older generations and the working class. Nontheless, the United States is a nation where 1/4 of the population is what Canadians would call "visible minorities," and I suspect that there is less segregationist feeling (explicitly at least-thanks to PC) than over the on the other side of the pond.

Posted by razib at 06:36 PM | | TrackBack

Japanese guest workers program?

There's been a lot of talk by people that Japan is a zero immigration state, and that it's dealing well with its demographic decline. I would like to point out that Japan has been importing workers for quite some time now. They are Japanese Brazilians (yes, only 300,000, nothing compared to the United States)! One of the most successful groups in Brazil's "racial democracy," the Japanese who return to the "mother country" serve as the unskilled labor, unseen, unthanked, by the majority Japanese. Of course, the Axiom of White Perfidy has so far allowed the Japanese to engage in this explicit targeting of an ethnically similar labor force from a hemisphere away, despite the huge pool of unskilled labor on the Asian continent. Of course, Japanese men do sometimes get pliable brides from the continent, called "Asian Brides."

Posted by razib at 06:06 PM | | TrackBack

Dutch are polarized?

Apparently there is a new report out that suggests the Dutch are polarized. The fact that they've allowed immigrant children to be taught in their "native" languages in primary school hasn't helped.

But here's a question: the Dutch have a long history of pluralistic toleration. We know about the Jews, but there were also Huguenots, Puritans and a large native Roman Catholic minority. Something has changed. Is it the type of migrant, or is it the attitude of Dutch society? I think it is a little of both.

Here is an old report from The American Prospect-do you see any solution being offered here aside from broadsides against "hate" and platitudes? I complained to then web editor Chris Mooney about this report, and he forwarded my bitchy email to the writers, but I never heard anything back.

Posted by razib at 04:54 PM | | TrackBack

Jews of Uganda & Irshad Manji

Article on the Jews of Uganda. There are Jews in strange places, for instance, in the northeast Indian state of Mizoram.

On a Uganda related note, I read a bit of Irshad Manji's book The Trouble With Islam (here is her official website). I found her explicit and unapologetic anti-anti-Semitism refreshing. On the other hand, she starts off by talking about her family's origins in Uganda as part of the Indian (Gujarati) community, but presents it in a way that will confuse those out of the know. She says that Idi Amin expelled all the Muslims from Uganda, not notifying the reader that many of the Indians in Uganda were Hindu, and that Idi Amin was a Muslim, so the expulsion was not religous, but ethnic. Not a big deal, but if you go into controversial waters, you better dot your i's.

Also, Abiola blogs about the same topic, and states the obvious, if Jews worry about demographic collapse as a confession, why not accept ethusiastic converts? Well, because like the Parsis, modern Jews are to some extent a people, a nation, and ties of blood are a factor in this.

Update: You can listen to Manji being interviewed here. She speaks a lot of good sense, but I'm skeptical that Muslims in the West are going to listen to a lesbian.

Posted by razib at 03:06 PM | | TrackBack

Back to regular programming....

Sorry for the site outage-mix up with the billing from my webhost, they forgot to update my credit card expiration and I didn't know I wasn't being charged.


Posted by razib at 02:38 PM | | TrackBack

January 21, 2004


Listed below are some non-fiction books that have made an impact on me in the past 15 years. There is a non-trivial overlap with the list compiled by godless for GNXP readers, so I left off Blank Slate & Genome, etc.

If anything, there are good indicators of "where I'm coming from," so to speak-though I'm sure there are plenty of great books I've left off, the fact that these come to mind in a short time says something about either the books or me.



A History of Byzantine State and Society


History of Rome

History of the Arab Peoples

In Search of the Trojan War

The Sacred Chain

The Sumerians

Life Science

Broca's Brain

Guns, Germs and Steel

Principles of Population Genetics

The Living Planet

The Third Chimpanzee

Tower of Babel


The Millennium Problems




Physical Science

Big Bang

Einstein's Dream

The God Particle

Political Philosophy

A Theory of Justice

Social Science

Migrations and Cultures


The Truth About Everything


Programming Perl


Who Wrote the Bible



Posted by razib at 09:10 PM | | TrackBack

Review of Darwin's Cathedral in Human Nature Review

A succinct review of Darwin's Cathedral-that also touches upon a few other hypotheses for the origins of religion relating to biology. After all, the similarity of religiousities of twins raised apart is suggestive of some genetic factor upstream of the phenotype....

Posted by razib at 09:03 PM | | TrackBack

Sexy during good times-serious during sad

Does sex sell?:

Individuals preferred smaller eyes, thinner cheeks and larger chins in bad times, and women with larger eyes, fuller cheeks and smaller chins in good times, the study found.

Posted by razib at 08:12 PM | | TrackBack


What is the Good?

Posted by Thrasymachus at 04:50 PM | | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

Apostate, She

The response to this post on Free Republic of an article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali seems rather tepid. What could they dislike about a woman who rejects traditional religion and the ways of the ancien r้gime? This BBC profile has a photograph that makes her look much like her co-ethnic, model Iman:

I just got done IMing with a friend in the Netherlands who is acquainted with the woman-and she is now apparently dating his professor. Pessimist that he is, he is waiting for her to be killed (though since she is black it seems unlikely someone from the white radical Left will do the deed this time). I say Dutch liberalism has a chance if she lives out this decade....

Posted by razib at 08:12 PM | | TrackBack

Coming to America

There is always a lot of talk about the low science scores of American students. But who cares? We know that Asian scientists come and set up shop in the US (which has a more open and risk accepting research culture), but this article (via Niraj) in Time documents the high-level European immigration to the United States. Though I do think it overstates the case with choice biased quotes (as if scientific politics is a European disease!), there is surely something to this. So, let foreign governments take care of their education, and let American labs soak them up as post-docs!

If you want a contrary view, check out Rich Florida complaining that the U.S. is losing the hearts & minds of the mobile "Creative Class". There are few nuggets of fact, but I think a lot of it is silty supposition (I do agree that U.S. immigration policies should be more friendly toward those with skills & educational qualifications, but that doesn't mean that that is contingent upon a Democratic political orientation)....

Posted by razib at 05:30 PM | | TrackBack


My girlfriend was pretty weirded out by Dean's bizarre behavior last night. I thought it was kind of funny. Not a good sign when you become the butt of jokes....

Posted by razib at 02:26 PM | | TrackBack

West to East

Weird story about Westerners looking for jobs in India!

Posted by razib at 02:11 PM | | TrackBack

Mating call

Sometimes people do behave like animals.

A few weeks ago I was watching Real World San Diego.

The hunk was calling his girlfriend to have her confirm to the hottie that he did have an 8-inch-penis (20.32 cm).

After confirmation, she proceeded to:
1) Fall on the floor
2) Turn away from him
3) Get all fours
4) Elevate her rump
5) Display it prominently
6) Strut off with an arched back (remaining on all fours), all the while shaking her rump in his direction

Now that the hunk has broken up with his girlfriend, let's see if the coital signalling worked....

If you don't watch Real World San Diego, here is a site that has an amusing summary of episodes:

Robin suggests Jacquese does not look like someone from the ghetto which leads to a division among the cast. In one camp you have the mega-hot cast members who have large body parts, in the other camp you have the equally hot cast members who feel left out because they are either minorities or afraid of large boats.

Posted by razib at 01:40 PM | | TrackBack

Vic Hanson

I read Mexifornia a few weeks ago. It just seems real strange to me that a 20th century liberal in the mold of Will Durant should be write for conservative publications. Or does it?

Posted by razib at 01:30 PM | | TrackBack

Bohmian Mechanics

More than anything else, I dislike philosophy in my physics. Mainly because physicists are not any good at philosophy. The two fields need to be kept separate. So I present Bohmian mechanics: Quantum mechanics without the philosophy.

And that is it, really. Those two equations – Schrödinger's equation and an evolution equation – predict all the results of orthodox quantum mechanics. No observers, no wave-particle duality, no wave-function collapse, no playing dice with the universe (although the non-stochastic nature of the theory is not its main motivation).

What I like best about Bohmian mechanics is its simple mathematical specification. Once you have the two basic equations, all the rest of quantum theory falls out in the math.

Here is a slightly more in-depth explanation by Sheldon Goldstein. I could put it more simply, but I do not love you all enough to create my own gifs for the equations.

Bohmian mechanics (or the de Broglie-Bohm theory) is the minimal completion of Schrödinger's equation, for a nonrelativistic system of particles, to a theory describing a genuine motion of particles. For Bohmian mechanics the state of the system is described by its wave function tex2html_wrap_inline1146 together with the configuration Q defined by the positions tex2html_wrap_inline1150 of its particles. The theory is then defined by two evolution equations: Schrödinger's equation for tex2html_wrap_inline1152 and a first-order evolution equation


for Q(t), the simplest first-order evolution equation for the positions of the particles that is compatible with the Galilean (and time-reversal) covariance of the Schrödinger evolution [24, pages 852-854,]. Here tex2html_wrap_inline1158 is the mass of the k-th particle. (If tex2html_wrap_inline1050 is spinor-valued, the products in numerator and denominator should be understood as scalar products. If external magnetic fields are present, the gradient should be understood as the covariant derivative, involving the vector potential.) This deterministic theory of particles in motion completely accounts for all the phenomena of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, from interference effects to spectral lines [23, pages 175-178,] to spin [25, page 10 of [1],], and it does so in a completely ordinary manner.

And here is an a very readable dialogue prepared by Roderich Tumulka which covers some obvious objections one might have to the theory.

This is Sheldon's Goldstein's homepage, where you can find a large number of his published papers on Bohmian mechanics as well as the latest pre-prints.

Like Quantum mechanics, Bohmian mechanics can be extended to include the creation and annihilation of particles. It is straightforward enough to create Bohmian Field Theories from Quantum Field Theories.

The most serious objection to Bohmian mechanics is that it is non-local. This creates serious problems for Lorentz invariance. Because Bohmian mechanics has exactly the same predictions as Quantum mechanics, it predicts the correct result for the Einstein-Poldalsky-Rosen Experiment. (Bohmian mechanics actually has some close historical ties with EPR. It is the same Bohm and Bell for both.) Bohmian mechanics cannot get around the implied non-locality in the way that QFT does because BM claims that the particles involved are all real, and that what you see is what you get.

You can find one paper on Goldstein's website, published in Classical and Quantum Gravity, that shows one method of dealing with this: Opposite Arrows of Time Can Reconcile Relativity and Nonlocality. However, I do not find the approach suggested to be at all fruitful. It is an interesting thought-experiment, but not much more.

I am not actually too bothered by the non-locality of Bohmian mechanics. To me, it is already a substantial departure from relativity to claim that Lorentz invariance says nothing about particles and such, but rather certain mathematical constructs which are what is really real. A modification of Lorentz invariance based on the idea that particles and all that are real seems an equivalent way of dealing with the consequences of EPR to me. In fact, the Bohmian way of dealing with this puts the problem in a much clearer light.

Either way, Bohmian mechanics is Quantum mechanics if Quantum mechanics were just another boring old theory with none of the philosophic romance. I happen to like it a lot more that way.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 11:12 AM | | TrackBack

Intelligence and education

In comments on my recent post on intelligence and social mobility one commentator drew attention to a recent discussion paper:

Fernando Galindo-Rueda and Anna Vignoles: Class ridden or meritocratic? An economic analysis of recent changes in Britain.

This is apparently not yet published in print, but is available as a PDF file here. (Warning: 2.63 Mb download.)

This is one of the most interesting and impressive studies I have seen on the subject. (Many thanks to ‘Economist’ for pointing it out.) I would urge all psychometricians, sociologists and economists to read it. It is based on comparison of two longitudinal studies in the UK with very large and representative samples: the National Child Development Study, which follows a cohort born in 1958, and the British Cohort Study, which follows a cohort born in 1972. The paper examines the importance of cognitive ability and parental social class in determining educational and economic success. It also includes some discussion of the effects of social class on cognitive ability itself.

For British readers, the most interesting feature may be the authors’ claim, which appears well-supported, that cognitive ability became relatively less important, and social class more important, in determining educational achievement between these two cohorts. As the authors put it, the educational system actually seems to have become less meritocratic, despite educational changes intended to reduce social advantage and disadvantage. Perhaps the most striking finding is that for children with high ability but low SES, the probability of obtaining a higher education qualification actually fell during the relevant interval, despite a general expansion of higher education.

Personally, I do not find this as surprising as the authors. These two cohorts (aged 11 in 1969 and 1981 respectively) straddle the period in which the 11-plus examination was abolished and selective grammar schools largely replaced by comprehensive high schools. The 11-plus was not a perfect instrument of meritocracy, but it was better than nothing. There were plenty of people who warned at the time (late 60s) that comprehensivisation would damage the prospects of poor bright kids.

For non-British readers, the most interesting part of the paper may be section 5, which considers the determinants of cognitive ability (alias IQ) itself. The paper provides some evidence that social class became a stronger influence on IQ at age 10/11 in the later cohort (born 1970) than the earlier one (born 1958). This seems to provide some support for an ‘environmentalist’ intepretation of IQ differences. However, I think this section of the paper needs to be scrutinised carefully by expert psychometricians. Even for a committed ‘environmentalist’, the findings should be problematic, as it is difficult to see what environmental changes could have made a large difference to the importance of social class over a period of only 12 years. (Changes in the British education system are unlikely to be the explanation, as these did not affect primary schools (age 5 to 11) as much as high schools.)

The authors themselves recognise a technical problem with the data, in that the earliest cognitive ability test in the NCDS was at age 7, whereas in the BCS it was age 5 (with no test at age 7). They therefore have to compare the predictive power of a test at age 7 (in predicting IQ at age 10/11) with the predictive power of a test at age 5. This introduces a source of measurement error variance which might affect the results. The authors attempt to allow for this (see pages 30-31), but I am not sure they have made enough allowance. It is well known that IQ tests on young children have low reliability, and there is a large increase in predictive power between ages 5 and 7 (see e.g. Robert B. McCall ‘Childhood IQs as predictors of adult educational and occupational status’, Science (1977), vol. 197, 482-3). We might therefore expect the predictive power of the early-IQ variable to decline between the NCDS and BCS cohorts, and the predictive power of parental SES in a partial correlation analysis might increase, since less of it would be ‘partialled out’. It is also interesting that the total explanatory power of all the variables, as measured by R-squared, seems to have fallen substantially between the two cohorts (see the last line of Table 8). Since the change from testing at age 7 to testing at age 5 is the main difference in the explanatory variables, this may suggest that the apparent decline in the importance of early IQ, and the increase in the influence of parental social class, is a statistical artifact. (Warning: I may have misunderstood the technicalities in this discussion, so politely correct me if I’m wrong.)

To keep the matter in perspective, the paper should not be interpreted as showing that the British system has become 'unmeritocratic'. It appears to have moved from a position which was quite highly meritocratic to one which is in some respects less meritocratic. In other respects (e.g. the economic return to cognitive ability, especially for women), it has become more meritocratic over the period studied.

But with all reservations, this is clearly an important study. As the authors point out, in some respects the British data are more useful than the analogous ones in the US, so they ought to be widely noticed.

Posted by David B at 05:38 AM | | TrackBack

January 19, 2004

Posted by razib at 07:59 PM | | TrackBack


Why do the ladies like the shoes???

Any theories?

Posted by razib at 06:21 PM | | TrackBack

Lactose tolerance/intolerance

The truisms about lactose intolerance are so well known that people tend to not get into specifics. It can be hard to find specific information about the geographical extent of lactose tolerance. Here is some sites I found with info.

UC Davis Nutrigenomics:

The A haplotype conferring lactose tolerance has an 86% frequency in the northern European population, but only 36% in southern European populations.

Lactose intolerance rates as given on the above site:

Southeast Asians/98%
Asian Americans/90%
Alaskan Eskimo/80%
African Americans Adults/79%
Mexicans from rural communities/73.8%
North American Jews/68.8%
Creek Cypriots/66%
Mexican American Males/55%
Indian Adults/50%
African American Children/45%
Indian Children/20%
Caucasians of N. European and Scandinavian decent/5%

Another site highlights the importance of intra-regional differences:

The prevalence varies by race and ethnicity. It is more common among African-Americans, Hispanics and oriental population. In India, for example, it is seen in 25% of north Indian and 70% of south Indian population.

Here are some conclusions that might surprise:

A study of regional differences in prevalence of primary adult lactose malabsorption in Italy was conducted on 205 subjects. Their origin was determined by their grandparents' birthplace, 89 from northern, 65 from central, and 51 from southern areas of Italy...Prevalence of lactose malabsorption is significantly lower in the central sample (19%) than in the northern (52%) and southern (41%) samples (p less than 0.01). This finding contrasts with the hypothesis of a continuous increase in frequency of lactose malabsorption from northern to southern Europe and is probably due to the complex genetic history of the Italian population.

Finally, a more full treatment (follow the link for full text access):

The prevalence of primary lactose maldigestion is 3–5% in Scandinavia, 17% in Finland, 5–15% in Great Britain, 15% in Germany, 15–20% in Austria, 17% in northern France, 65% in southern France, 20–70% in Italy, 55% in the Balkans, 70–90% in Africa (exeptions: Bedouins, 25%; Tuareg, 13%; Fulani, 22%), 80% in Central Asia, 90–100% in Eastern Asia, 30% in northern India, 70% in southern India, 15% in North American whites, 80% in North American blacks, 53% in North American Hispanics, and 65–75% in South America

I stopped drinking milk at the age of 5. People always assume I have lactose intolerance, and those in the "know" often ask in a way that it is obvious that it makes sense in light of the fact that I am non-European. Of course, the above data indicates that the situation is more complex than that. The old story about sending powdered milk to Africa and the problems that caused are held up to show the importance of biological considerations, but people often tend to gloss over the deeper details. If there was a famine among the Fulani of the Sahel, powdered milk would cause no problem, and these are the very people that are often the most affected by the desertification of the Sahara....

Posted by razib at 02:55 PM | | TrackBack

PC follies: Part 2

According to a report in The Times (London) today (January 19), 'last week a Belgian court ruled that a Muslim woman was allowed to be photographed for her identity card wearing a veil, saying that she had the right to appear in the photograph as she usually does in real life'.

This is almost too good to be true (if you see what I mean), and I cannot vouch for its accuracy, but the date is not April 1st.

Posted by David B at 10:56 AM | | TrackBack

Islamicization, American style

My parents were moderate Muslims in Bangladesh. They wouldn't pray much, though they would go to mosque on the major holidays. I have two uncles on my mother's side who are "fundamentalists," and one uncle-by-marriage on my father's side who also would qualify as such.

In Bangladesh there is a tradition to have Bengali nick-names and Muslim (Arabic, Persian or Turkish in origin) official names. The former would be your general form of address among your family and friends, while the latter would go on official documents and would be the way you were introduced in polite company.

My mother and her first five brothers followed this tradition. Her youngest brother goes by the name "Mustafa," which is not Bengali. My father's father was a teacher of the Koran (in addition to owning some jute farms & cattle herds), so none of his children had Bengali names (my paternal grandfather himself was from an Urdu-speaking background, though he re-identified with Bengali culture and all his children consider themselves Bengali).

My younger brother and I have Bengali names and Muslim names (we were born in Bangladesh). My two youngest siblings (U.S. born) have only Muslim names, the atomization of American culture and the lack of the extended family making the idea of a Bengali nick-name seem outdated. When I was a child we would go to mosque only during major holidays. Recently I hear that my family goes to mosque (masjid) every Sunday, and my youngest siblings (they are pre-teens) go to "Sunday school."

Strangely, my family has become more orthodox in their Islam as they have assimilated to American culture. As their Bengaliness has been unmoored from their natal culture-Islam has allowed them to develop a new identity within a foreign matrix. It is true that my parents still have a South Asian identity, through Hindi film and social functions related to my mother's interest in Bengali song & dance, but they are Muslim Americans first and foremost.

I am obviously lost to Islam, as I suspect is my brother who is only 4 years younger than me, but my youngest siblings, born and raised in the United States, might not be! Strange....

Addendum: Though the secularization of the orthodox Jewry in the United States is common knowledge, the re-confessionalization of secular anti-religious Jews is not. I have read that levels of God-belief actually increased among Jews after their assimilated into American culture, as they formed a "Jew" to slot into the "Protestant-Catholic-Jew" trichotomy. My major point is that Muslims in the United States are re-organizing along Protestant lines, where my parents took Islam as a given during my childhood, they are engaging in pro-active indoctrination with my siblings, directly mimicking the church-going of their suburban neighbors. As has been noted before on this blog, French "Muslims" actually resemble French "Catholics" in their religiosity, a secularized majority and a devout minority. I think Islam in this country is going through a period of "Americanization." Some Muslims will become absorbed into the secular-bobo cultural complex, some will form their own Protestant-like Muslim denominations and some will probably find a genial liberal Islam. I think the the fact that Muslim immigrants to this country are selection biased for education means that more will shift toward "low tension" religious groups than might otherwise be the case.

Posted by razib at 12:35 AM | | TrackBack

No photo ID, no work

US immigration reformers might take heart from the recent announcement of this policy proposal from Australia's major centre left opposition[1]:

Foreigners working in Australia would be issued with a photo identity card and, if found working without one, would be deported, the Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, said yesterday ...

All non-residents with the right to work would be issued with a card when their visa was granted. The card would expire with their visa. Apart from a photo it would feature their name, nationality, passport number, visa status and tax file number, and they would be required to present it when seeking work.

Speaking in Townsville, Mr Latham said: "We've got 60,000 illegal migrants within Australia and half of those are working - 30,000 illegal overseas workers who are taking up Australian jobs and running down Australian working conditions and entitlements. The Howard Government talks a lot about border protection but in fact it is neglecting a lot of the big issues within the migration system ...

The announcement followed several days on the hustings in Queensland in which Mr Latham has ramped up Labor's security rhetoric, promising to be tougher on border protection than the Howard Government.

[1] Quoting is not endorsement. Personally I'm ambivalent about the 'righter than thou' rhetoric on immigration adopted by the Labor Party because of historical parallels - e.g. traditionally it was the Labor party which was more 'gung ho' on the White Australia Policy until recently. Nonetheless it's worth noting that Latham has adopted a very clever tactic - the policy wll go down well with the dwindling blue collar organised labour base, and he can defend himself against charges of xenophobia on the basis that it's all about protecting illegals from 'exploitation'.

Posted by jason_s at 12:14 AM | | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

Conservatives for Dean?
Posted by razib at 09:30 PM | | TrackBack

Language & genes

Abiola notes on his blog that the Fulani speak a Niger-Congo language while the Hausa speak an Afro-Asiatic tongue. When Cavalli-Sforza came out with The History and Geography of Human Genes he noted the striking correlation between genetic markers and languages. This was a throw-back position, before World War II people would use languages and genetic affinity as if they were interchangeable, but this practice went into decline.

Here are the languages associated with Fulani:

The languages of this family include the west African languages of Fulani (Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso), Malinke (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast), Mende (Sierra Leone), Twi (Ghana), Ewe (Ghana, Togo), Mossi (Burkina Faso), Yoruba (Nigeria), Ibo (Nigeria), Kpelle (Liberia), Wolof (Senegal, Gambia) and Fang (Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea).

The languages associated with Hausa include the Berber and Semitic languages (Arabic, etc.).

The pecularity of this is of course that the Hausa are less "Caucasoid" than the Fulani-so it seems that the two groups speak languages they shouldn't, according to the broad Afro-Asiastic = Caucasoid and Niger-Congo = Sub-Saharan African rules (the Fulani being more classically Caucasoid). A quick PubMed search yielded this article which indicates that the Fulani are not very Caucasoid at all according to some genetic markers! That certainly might clear up the original question, but these debates remain in other contexts.

Cavalli-Sforza took data from all around the world, and as a general tendency the concordance between language and genes exists (especially if you correct for the post-1500 spread of European languages). Nevertheless, many people tend to focus on specific people that don't fit into the general predictions, and expect an extremely high level of specificity from the trends. Frankly, they are looking at it deterministically and want to resolve extra-scientific disputes, which often are difficult to adhere to if you couch conclusions probabilistically.

Language groups often closely match national identities, and once you mix nationalism, you get all sorts of strained arguments and debates. Kemal Ataturk, a man that was likely of Slavic and Albanian ancestry, funded research to discern the uniqueness of the Turkish "race." Decades after his death, it is becoming quite clear that the penetration of "Turkish genes" into the Anatolian population was rather low. Now that the idea that Turkey is a "European nation" has solidified among the elite of that country, this data might be something to be proud of. The reality of who the Turkish people are has remained constant, while scientific investigation has become more precise, but the political ramifications and emotional expectations are always a churning sea.

The beauty of an avant guarde field like historical population genetics is that conflicting & ambiguous data, that needs to be set in context, can satisfy everyone! Just pick an outlier study, and ignore everything else-I've seen this many times with ideologues.

Posted by razib at 05:51 PM | | TrackBack

Culture dominant minorities?

Amy Chua's term, "Market Dominant Minorities," is fast becoming a conventional part of the public intellectual lexicon. But I have been wondering if she didn't leave a lot of groups out by narrowing her focus so much to economic factors and also pin-pointing groups that have multiple points of divergence from the majority population (historical, linguistic, religious, etc. more or less).

I don't know what term to use for a broader grouping of dominant minorities, but I'll use the term "culture dominant." Some of these groups to my knowledge are not nearly as market dominant as in the cases Chua points to, and what dominance they have might be do to recent political ascendence. Additionally, some of these groups exist in a closer continuum with the groups that outnumber them. Since Americans are pretty fixated on the Middle East, I'll start there:

Middle East:

Alawites in Syria: This is the group that dominates the commanding heights of the Syrian military-political complex. The Assad family are members. Their origins are confusing, and they have been termed as heterodox Shia and crypto-Christians. They have a historical relationship with the Alevi Shia of Turkey. Both these groups tend to hide their affiliation from the majority Sunni community because of a history of persecution, and just how heterodox they are is a matter of debate because of their secrecy. Like other minorites, the Alawites gravitated toward Pan-Arabism and the Baath Party because it offered a way to attain solidarity with the Sunni majority. The Hama revolt of 1982 was partially a Sunni conservative revolt against the secularism of the Alawite dominated government. They form 10% of Syria's population.

Bedouin in Jordan: Though Palestinians form the majority of the Jordanian population, the Bedouin are the major backers of the Hashemite monarchy, which itself was imported from the Hejaz (the Arabian province that his home to Mecca & Medina). Bedouin and Palestinians are of course both Arabs, but there is a difference in lifestlye, and from what I gather (I have a friend who has many relatives in Jordan), there is a fair amount of mutual contempt. Much of the non-political life of the nation is driven by the entrepenurial Palestinians. I believe Bedouin form about 25% of the population of Jordan.

Bedouin in Libya: The situation is similar to Jordan, Qadaffi is a desert tribesman by origin, as are many of his supporters. Tripoli and Benghazi are the home bases though of an ancient city-dwelling population.

Sunni Arab in Iraq: This is famous at this point, so I won't go into detail, except to note that there was a tendency in the 19th century for nomads who took up the sedentary life to switch to the Shia affiliation.

Arab in Morocco This is another sketchy case, because the line between Arab and Berber is fuzzy in Morocco. Many statistics will show that there are more Arabs in Morocco, but this might be due to the greater prestige associated with Arab affiliation. It is certainly a fact that Arabicization has proceeded at a high rate in Morocco, and it was only recently that the Berber dialects were acceptable in official discourse (in other words, a Berber judge would address non-Arab speaking peasants in a court of law in Arabic, because use of a Berber dialect would be unthinkable).

Arabs in the whole Gulf: This is an obvious call, native Arabs in most of the Gulf states have high incomes, but their dominance is only political, the 40-90% of the population who are not native Arabs do most of the economic production and keep the nations going.

I exclude other candidates like the Ashkenazi in Israel because they tend to dominate across all spheres of life, while the Riyadhi elite of Saudi Arabia is not as sharply set off from the other regions to my mind.

Readers with more knowledge of course are free to correct me, and I'm sure there are dynamics in many societies that are missed or glossed over by outsiders, so perhaps Oman is dominated by a particular tribe and so forth. It seems that where the line between the dominant minority and the majority is sharper, insofar as "switching," would be difficult, force of arms is crucial. For instance, the Alawites are heterodox, and concentrated in particular regions of Syria where they could find refuge against Sunni persecution. Their clans are probably somewhat inbred and related. Becoming an Alawite is probably very difficult, especially in light of the fact they tend not to publicize their true beliefs. In contrast, the switch from Berber to Arab in Morocco is easier, just learn Arabic and change your personal habits, there have been so many Arabicizing Berbers that no one will make a great note of your tribal origins. I suspect the situation in Jordan is intermediate, and the military power needed to maintain the dominance of the minority also less than Syria but more than Morocco.

Posted by razib at 05:00 PM | | TrackBack

Sex selection makes national news

This cover story in Newsweek covered the sex selection technology that is becoming widely available in the United States. But, I would have liked two things explored in more detail:

1) Why do some families skew toward males or females.
2) What has the impact of sex imbalance been in other parts of the world, like the Punjab or South Korea?

I don't think sex selection is that mind-boggling, after all, infanticide has been around for thousands of years, and elective abortions combined with ultrasound have been accessible for a few decades now. Rather, it is the high-tech methods, and the "wow!" factor, that is being hyped up.

Posted by razib at 04:22 PM | | TrackBack

Jews & genes

MtDNA evidence for a genetic bottleneck in the early history of the Ashkenazi Jewish population:

These diversity patterns provide evidence for a prolonged period of low effective size in the history of the Ashkenazi population. The data best fit a model of an early bottleneck (~100 generations ago), perhaps corresponding to initial migrations of ancestral Ashkenazim in the Near East or to Europe. A genetic bottleneck followed by the recent phenomenon of rapid population growth are likely to have produced the conditions that led to the high frequency of many genetic disease alleles in the Ashkenazi population.

I believe that Hammer (one of the authors of the above paper) has argued for a lower level of admixture with European populations for Ashkenazi Jews than others.

Posted by razib at 01:49 PM | | TrackBack

Homeland Security Threat Levels

I made an off-the-cuff comment a bit earlier, saying that: "The alerts have been falling quite regularly on holidays and also whenever the war makes a big media splash for some reason. No relation to actual intelligence about terrorism, of course, but you can't have everything." It was more an impression than anything else, so I have gone back to review the information released by the White House on each threat status change. The White House has a nice Homeland Security website with a bunch of archived announcements and speeches. Here are (I think all) the dates of the changes and cited reasons.

March 12, 2002 Homeland Security Advisory System created. Starts at Yellow. Ridge actually explains what Federal agencies are supposed to be doing for a couple colors.

September 10, 2002 Yellow to Orange "Based on debriefings of a senior al Qaeda operative, of possible terrorists attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States"

September 24, 2002 Orange to Yellow "Contributing to this decision were the recent arrests of six men in suburban Buffalo who are alleged to have provided material support to al Qaeda."

February 7, 2003 Yellow to Orange "Recent reporting indicates an increased likelihood that Al Qaida may attempt to attack Americans in the United States and/or abroad in or around the end of the Hajj, a Muslim religious period ending mid-February 2003." Bush SOTU on Jan. 28, Blix report setback wasn't out until Feb. 14

February 27, 2003 Orange to Yellow "Among the factors we considered was the passing of the time period in or around the end of the Hajj, a Muslim religious period ending mid-February 2003."

March 17, 2003 Yellow to Orange "The Intelligence Community believes that terrorists will attempt multiple attacks against U.S.and Coalition targets worldwide in the event of a U.S led military campaign against Saddam Hussein." "There are many recent indications that Al-Qaidas planning includes the use of chemical, biological, and/or radiological materials." On March 18, Bush announces that Saddam has 48 hours to leave Iraq. Gotta love the WMD line.

April 16, 2003 Orange to Yellow Major fighting declared over by the Pentagon on April 14

May 20, 2003 Yellow to Orange "While there is not credible, specific information with respect to targets or method of attack, the use of tactics similar to those seen in recent terrorist attacks overseas include small arm equipped assault teams, large vehicle borne explosive devices, and suicide bombers. These attacks underscore terrorists' desires to attack soft targets. Weapons of mass destruction, including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents or materials, cannot be discounted." This is mainly about the Memorial Day holiday, but I think that the White House claims of the WMDs having been transferred out of Iraq may also have something to do with it. Not confident about that though.

May 30, 2003 Orange to Yellow "The U.S. intelligence community has also concluded that the number of indicators and warnings that led to raising the level have decreased and the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday has passed."

December 21, 2003 Yellow to Orange "The U.S. intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond."

January 9, 2004 Orange to Yellow "With the passing of the holidays and many large gatherings that occurred during this time, we have made the decision to come down to Yellow."..."The holidays have passed; the potential danger that large gatherings present during the holidays has passed."

We were hit hard on September 11th 2001. The question immediately afterward was "how organized are these guys"? The anthrax attacks which followed answered that question for a lot of people.

But not for me. To me it seems that the evidence points to a domestic source for the anthrax mailings. Almost certainly a Republican ticked off by the Jeffords defection and driven bonkers by September 11. He sends letters to NBC, the New York Post, Daschle, and Leahy. I.e. the liberal media and a couple of Democratic Senators. Daschle, as well as being majority leader had a Republican Governor. I do not see how the targets fit with foreign terrorists. (Ashcroft's Senate loss was also hotly contested by Republicans.) I am a conservative, so I hope that this does not sound like sour grapes.

I do not think that the Islamic terrorists are all that organized or especially competent even. Let me be clear, though, that I far more worried about terrorism for preciously those reasons. More than a dozen men armed with knives and acting without much central control were able to hit this country harder than Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan ever were able to. The hate that the Bin Ladens of this world spew does not need much in the way of special organization to thrive. It just needs to be communicated to dissatisfied Muslim men where it can take seed. Hate is information, and we are facing an information war.

The pattern of threat levels convinces me that the Bush administration understands this to a degree. They know how good their intelligence information is. They know that they are not going to have information about most attacks. So they are raising the threat level based on what is in the media at the time, and what holidays and anniversaries are coming up. I wish that they were a bit more competent at managing their media image. (Whoever came up with the phrase "homeland security" has a tin ear. And seems responsible for a lot of phrases that come out of the White House.) The whole threat level concept has serious flaws. But it is a good thing at least that they are keeping the threat of terrorism in the public view.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 12:52 PM | | TrackBack

Why Mars?

What is the political explanation of Bush's Mars announcement? Does Bush have no concern about deficits? (Or as Krugman, who hates Bush more than I do, would put it: Is Bush trying bankrupt New Deal programs by raising spending as much as possible?) Did Bush make the speech to score some cheap political points without any plan for follow through? Does Bush not understand how impossible some of the things he mentioned are? (Assembling spacecraft on the moon to reduce costs, for one.)

None of those reasons, I think. Or rather, only a little of those reasons.

The reason for the Bush announcement is that it serves as the perfect cover for killing the Shuttle program. Because of the Mars plan, there has been remarkably little discussion about the coming demise of the Shuttle, despite what a huge part of NASA it has been.

To that I say: Thank God! About time for it too. As Jerry Pournelle says over and over again, the most important task for the Shuttle is to keep 20,000 NASA employees employed. They stay employed whether one Shuttle flies or five do. It is the most expensive way to get to space ever devised.

We will see a Shuttle replacement within a decade. I truly hope that it is some sort of one-use module that reenters Earth's atmosphere with ablative heat shielding. You can throw one of those on any sort of generic rocket that you like. Nice and simple. Therefore cheap as well. We have the ISS now, and can use that whenever we need space in space.

Still, I do consider it truly unfortunate that a lot of NASA money is getting pulled out of unmanned exploration in light of Bush's Mars plan. The Hubble Space telescope has been mentioned. (Actually, at current Shuttle costs, the maintenance trip is probably not worth it.) We will see more harmful program cuts in the future. I do not blame Bush for it, however. The only real solution is to kill NASA. And not even Bush has that power.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 07:55 AM | | TrackBack

Intelligence and social mobility

There has long been debate among sociologists and psychologists over the extent to which social status reflects personal abilities such as intelligence and ambition. Roughly speaking, ‘lefties’ believe that social status is largely inherited, and has little to do with personal merit, while ‘righties’ believe that in modern open societies, individuals usually reach the social level they deserve on their personal merits.

There are two recent British studies that tend to support the ‘meritocratic’ model:

Peter Saunders: ‘Reflections on the meritocracy debate in Britain: a response to Richard Breen and John Goldthorpe’ British Journal of Sociology 53, (2002), 559-74.

[This is the latest in a series of papers by Saunders and colleagues, but can be profitably read on its own.]

Daniel Nettle: ‘Intelligence and class mobility in the British population’, British Journal of Psychology, 94 (2003), 551-61.

Both studies use the very large sample of the National Child Development Study, which follows up the fortunes of an entire cohort of children born in Britain in one week in 1958 (and therefore now in their mid-40s). Saunders and Nettle both show that intelligence (measured by IQ tests in childhood) is the most important single factor predicting social mobility and status in adulthood.

Oddly, Nettle does not cite any of the previous work by Saunders. Maybe psychologists don’t read sociologists? And neither of them cites Cyril Burt’s controversial 1961 paper ‘Intelligence and social mobility’. Burt reached similar conclusions, but his empirical data are generally considered unreliable if not fraudulent.

A correlation between IQ and social mobility does not in itself say anything about the genetic or environmental origin of IQ differences between social classes. If social status reflects individual merits, then the same pattern of stability and change would be observed if the parent/offspring correlation is the same, whether the reasons for the correlation are genetic, environmental, or any combination of the two.

However, it is interesting to note that levels of social mobility seem to be broadly similar across long periods of time. I have read several studies of social mobility in Britain from the mid-C19 onwards, and mobility varies much less than you might expect. If social classes (based on occupation or income) are divided into three broad levels, then between a third and a half of men end up in a different level from that of their fathers, and have done as far back as the records go. The idea that in the ‘old days’ there was little social mobility is a complete myth.

Social mobility also seems to be much the same in all industrialised countries. Sociogists used to believe (based more on assumptions than evidence) that social mobility must be higher in ‘meritocratic’ America than in ‘hierarchical’ Europe, but the differences in reality are not very great.

This relative (though not perfect) constancy might be thought to give some support to a genetic interpretation of social mobility. On a multifactorial genetic interpretation it is what you would expect (as Burt argued) whereas on an environmental interpretation it is a bit of a puzzle.

Posted by David B at 05:32 AM | | TrackBack