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August 21, 2004

Rational mysticism

One of the most agitating portions for me of Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine was Richard Dawkins' introduction where he tells of a student of his who had picked up some peculiar mannerisms from her parents, who themselves had affected these tendencies in imitation of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Something within me could not help but be digusted by this idolatry of Wittgenstein, I can abide by the abject devotion and dedication that the majority of my fellow man direct toward their gods, but a man who walked in the flesh and seemed to always be on the verge of insanity?

It did not help that I generally do not feel congenial toward Wittgenstein's philosphical "ideas." Not only did he turn against Bertrand Russell, a man who I admire despite his naivete and hyporcisy, for the sheer firepower of his mind, Wittgenstein stood in opposition to the late Sir Karl Popper, the father of falsification (or rather, he was Popper's "enemy #1"). Wittgenstein's Poker is a philosophical history that I just recently read which details the conflict between the two Austrians, in the process taking a gentle and entertaining tour of early 20th century intellectual history. I come not to recommend the book, if you've read much history of philosophy it is nothing more than a casual airport read, rather, I want to dwell upon the magic of Wittgenstein.

Many philosophers hold to the conceit that they are rational beings. And when I read about the abominable cult of Wittgenstein, I peruse passages that describe his "incandescent intellectual fire," his "compulsive charisma," his "godlike disregard for convention." You would think the man was the second coming! His life was wracked by the torment of thought, his existence pervaded by extreme suffering on behalf of the intellectual shortcomings of his fellow man. I have only mildly skimmed Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, a byproduct of a period where I absorbed data on the life of Bertrand Russell (Wittgenstein being a prominent player). I don't disagree with all that Wittgenstein asserts, but I left the text with a feeling of "there is no there there." Plato seduced by flattering the conceit of intellectuals that their ideas, their minds, were all that truly was (a metaphorical solipsism if not a literal one). Aristotle by his sheer diluvian output. Aquinas via the fiat of the Church. What power does Wittgenstein hold over the hearts of men?

For all Wittgenstein's peculiar manners, there are some key facts about him that need to be highlighted.

  • He was the scion of one of Austria's wealthiest families, and so was possessed of a natural confidence.
  • He was an exemplar at whatever task he set himself. He was an outstanding mechanical engineer, philosopher, architect, medical research assistant, school-teacher, and so forth.
  • His lack of self-conscious pretention (his love of crime fiction for example) appealed to those who saw it as a signal that here was one who did not need to display substance, but simply was.
Earlier I have blogged about the book The Imitation Factor, and Wittgenstein is a clear case of this. Second order imitation, as in the case of Dawkins' student is very probable, as all the researchers who study his life seem to imply that all his "followers" aped his style, though they generally failed to appreciate the substance. Wittgenstein was what Susan Blackmore would term a "Meme Fountain."

But what does that all mean? Does it matter that a small cult of followers of the late great philosopher is fanatic enough that he was rated the 5th most influential philosopher of all time in a poll taken in 1998 (this was of academics in the field)? I hold that unlike the work of Sir Karl Popper, Wittgenstein's system is mumbo-jumbo, only a level below that of Sarte or Heidegger. One could say this about a lot of philosophy. Over the generations memetic fidelity will shift his shapeless ideas beyond shapeless recognition. Only the ghost of "Forms of Life" will survive, or whatever nonsensical definition they use. "Schools" of philosophy exist because most of philosophy does not live up to the conceit of rationality, it is driven, perish the thought, by emotion rooted in evolution!

To some people the primacy of idealism appeals to their ego and self-conception as the apex of creation (strangely, my narcissism has always grafted itself onto a skeptical empiricism!). Hard-headed empiricists look to their common sense. More artistic minds wade through the morass that is modern non-analytic philosophy, especially fields like literary criticism. And then there are the men and women who develop "cult" followings, devotees of the mind who flee rationality and yet aver that they are still partisans.

Persistant philosophical ideas are the ones what defy falsification, and so blur the line between faith and reason, religious and paradigm.

Wittgenstein was probably right that there aren't really philosophical "problems," just language puzzles. But, as the decades have past, the importance of non-rational and unconscious thought have come to the fore, and vast swaths of the mind have opened up for scientific investigation. Wittgenstein and his followers might assert as a Truth that each language is its "own form of life," but many linguists would assert that these "forms of life" are constrained by the active hand of evolution, by biology, by the naturalistic limitations of the universe. The "cult" of any philospher exists in that gray zone outside of science, where fashion and fad play a greater role than prediciton of coherency. If all philosophical sense is nonsense, it stands to reason that the most creative and colorfull cult leaders would leave the largest footprints.

Addendum: In contrast, think about the situation of the contemporaneous scientist Linus Pauling. James Watson asserted that one reason Pauling, for alll his brilliance, didn't stumble upon the structure of DNA, was because he was surrounded by over-awed "Yes men." Where philosphers can afford acolytes, scientists need skeptics as helpmates. Reality does not accept ego as a form of payment.

Posted by razib at 09:23 PM | | TrackBack

In 1917, two radical social utopias were born ... only one survives

I thought readers might find the details about Deep Spring College interesting. It is located in the high California desert, has a student body of 26, offers a full $50,000 bursary to each student, has an average class size of 4, the students must work 20 hours per week on either the college's 300 head cattle ranch or 152 acre alfalfa farm, and after earning a 2 year Associate's Degree half of the students transfer to Harvard, Brown and Chicago while the remaining students make their way to Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley, Wesleyan and Oxford. Two thirds of graduates earn graduate degrees and over half of the students earn a doctorate.

Here is the official site. Here is a modest photo-essay about the College. Here is another photo-essay with follow-on links.

There is a t-shirt sold on campus that has a picture of Lenin alongside Nunn, the founder of Deep Springs, and a caption that reads "In 1917, two radical social utopias were born ... only one survives."

Posted by TangoMan at 06:53 PM | | TrackBack

Four Surprises in Global Demography

AEI has released an interesting paper examining world-wide population trends. I'm still absorbing it so I will just point out a few things that jumped out at me, and leave comments on it for a future time or for GC or Razib.

Unnatural Gender Imbalances;

And the collision is not only happening in East Asia. Gender determination technology is now nearly universally available; sub-replacement fertility is fast becoming the planetary norm; and a strong son-preference has been expressed in a number of cultures worldwide. One of these is Punjab, India. In a major survey undertaken there a decade ago, when fertility levels were still well above replacement, ten times as many women expressed a preference for a boy as for a girl. And according to India's latest census, in that state's youngest age groups, there were 126 young boys for every 100 young girls. That figure cannot be taken as an exact indication of gender imbalance at birth: differential mortality and/or migration, for instance, may have affected this reported outcome. Yet the true sex ratio at birth in Punjab may not be far different from the extraordinary disparities reported for the very young. Contrary to expectation, with increased affluence, education, and contact with the outside world in China, the gender imbalance has increased, and it is starting to do the same in the Caucasus, parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe, and even subpopulations within the United States.

Now I knew that China and India had gender imbalances, but the U.S.?

American "Demographic Exceptionalism"
(basically we are the only developed country to not have a shrinking population)

So how can we explain this fertility discrepancy? Possibly it is a matter of attitudes and outlook. There are big revealed differences between Americans and Europeans regarding a number of important life values. Survey results highlighted in The Economist (November 2003) point to some of these. Americans tend to identify the role of government as "providing freedom," while Europeans are inclined to think of government in terms of "guaranteeing one's needs." Attitudes about individualism, patriotism, and religiosity seem to separate Americans from much of the rest of the developed world. Is it entirely coincidental that these divergences seem to track with the big cleavages between fertility levels in the United States and so much of the rest of the developed world?

Godless comments:

Without mass immigration, the US would have negative population growth (the Anglo fertility rate is 1.84, below replacement level). See also here:

Future fertility and immigration may play major roles in the Nation's growth.

The two major components driving the population growth are fertility (births) and net immigration. In the middle series, the number of births is projected to decrease slightly as the century ends and then increase progressively throughout the projection period. After 2011, the number of births each year would exceed the highest annual number of births ever achieved in the United States.

Almost one-third of the current population growth is caused by net immigration. By 2000, the Nation's population is pro-jected to be 8 million larger than it would have been if there were no net immigration after July 1, 1992. By 2050, this difference would increase to 82 million. In fact, about 86 percent of the population growth during the year 2050 may be due to the effects of post-1992 net immigration.

In the absence of mass immigration, the US population would have similar demographic characteristics to other majority European countries. I can provide more citations on this for the skeptical, but it's an accepted fact among both immigration reformers and proponents of the current system. AEI takes a much more positive view on the phenomenon than I do; their fallacious assumption is that the individuals being added to the population are not net tax recipients:

"It doesn't take a genius to figure out that education is the best predictor of income and thus of benefit and cost," said UC Davis economist Philip L. Martin, an expert on rural immigrants.

He cites studies that say an arriving immigrant with at least a high school education will pay an average $89,000 more in taxes and other revenues than he or she costs in services. Those with less than a high-school education, however, put such a demand on public services that their large negative value persists through their children's and grandchildren's generations.

Like Tyler Cowen, I believe a revenue-positive strategy rather than our current revenue-negative immigration strategy is the way to go. Welfare is not the only category of expenditure; everything from public education to roads to police officers costs money, and immigrants with less than a high school education are unlikely to pay more than they necessitate in payments. Often, immigration's effect as a whole on the tax payer is misleadingly estimated by grouping Ph.D. physicists and engineers with migrant workers. If you break them out separately as Davis and others have done, the disparity is stark - and there is no need for us to take millions of people with less than a high school education when we could be taking the smartest of the world.

Posted by scottm at 12:54 PM | | TrackBack

Pet news: Dingo evolution, Cat cloning

[Assorted pet news crossposted from GeneticFuture.org]


Once again, studies of mitochondrial DNA have revealed something interesting about the ancestral origins of species:

Aug. 3, 2004 — Dingoes, Australia's wild dogs, are descended from Asian domesticated dogs, not wolves, according to international research.
[Discovery Channel News, reporting on this PNAS abstract]

I love stuff like this. It reminds us that we humans (and our domesticated pets, for that matter) are not the pinnacle of evolution. More bad-ass stuff is yet to come. Take a look at this dingo, for example. Do you think Lassie would have a chance in an all-out claws and fangs battle with this puppy?

Kind of makes you wonder what house cats are going to evolve into...

Two kittens have been born using a new cloning method that may be safer and more efficient than traditional methods, a U.S. company said Thursday.

Genetic Savings & Clone promises to clone anyone’s pet -- for $50,000 or so -- and started with chief executive officer Lou Hawthorne’s own pet cat.

[As reported in this article in Wired News.]


You know, just in case you're concerned about running out of housecats once they evolve into something ferocious like the Australian dingo.

Posted by canton at 10:51 AM | | TrackBack

The Case for Racial Profiling (A thought)

I have been thumbing Michelle Malkin's new book on the subjects of the Japanese interment and racial profiling of terrorists. It's an easy read, though not very well written, so I would suggest it to anyone interested in the subject.

But as this is a book on racism, the inevitable comment arises from a virulent anti-racist, such as this one on Amazon:

Okay, let's just say for arguments sake that we follow mrs malkin's advice and profile ONLY male middle-easterners. Terrorists arent stupid. They'll quickly catch wind of this and start to change their attack strategy. What if they decide to start using females? If they havent already. Or more light-skinned people? Or maybe even children? Who knows what terrorists can be capable of.

Folks, terrorism is an idea not EXCLUSIVE to male muslims from the middle-east. Sure in the short term profiling male muslims might work, but what about LONG term? That is the key. We must defeat the idea of terrorism in general.

Now, the reader is correct in pointing out that Al Qaeda might recruit persons of other races or sexes, but in the long run I do not believe that Islamic terrorists will move out of the Middle Eastern male market much.

Terrorists are intensely concerned about security and secrecy, for obvious reasons, so much so that most terrorist's family members or friends do not even know their son has joined. They are also groups which actively recruit and do not advertise much outside the Arab world. All this leads to that the existing terrorists get to decide who joins. In this situation the recruiter is going to go with whom he trusts and what he knows. And so he, being an Arab male, is most likely to trust other Arabs and men.

So at the end of the day, while we may see female terrorists or white terrorists, they are likely to be a minority among ME male terrorists.


A friend who reads this blog e-mailed me saying "What you're basically saying is that terrorists will remain ME males since ME males tend to be sexist and racist?"


Godless comments:

I should also comment that nothing prevents us from switching our strategy once Al Qaeda's ostensible B-team (the 70 year old blonde Kansas grandmothers who also happen to be suicidal jihadists) starts committing attacks. Profiling is one component of a Bayesian strategy, and of course it can evolve with time if significant numbers of non-Arabs (or non-Muslims) take up the Al-Qaeda banner. The smartest thing to do is to put it on a Bayesian foundation, with estimates for probability of terrorist given Muslim, probability of Muslim given terrorist, and so forth. I have a post coming up along these lines.

Posted by scottm at 08:27 AM | | TrackBack

August 20, 2004

The golden mean on the adaptive landscape

A passing sentence in David Salsburg's The Lady Tasting Tea made me wonder about the adaptive landscape in the context of culture. Stella Cunliffe, past president of the Royal Statistical Society stated that the "delight in elegance, often at the expense of practicality, appears to me...to be a rather male attribute" during her annual address in 1975. My first thought was "why thank you very much!" Over the years I have had to listen to educators and social crusaders lament the dearth of women in the sciences, and a common sentiment is that for theoretical science to be more "relevant" to young women it has to be repackaged as something more "practical" and "useful." My first objection is that theoretical science is quite practical, with its applications seamlessly embedded into every aspect of our life, while its uses are as numerous as the stars (to state it rather unscientifically). But the real problem illustrates itself when you read about a "computer programming class" designed for women which emphasizes the stitching together of prewritten modules as opposed to writing low level code from scratch and building your own objects. In this way, the girls could see very quickly the use and execution of their little app without all the drudgery of having to optimize every little loop or document every shitty-ass work-around. The problem is not that the theoretical sciences are not "practical" or "useful" enough, it is that often they are dull 99.9% of the time as you patiently master technique after technique and hope that one day you will be able to tackle real substantive topics.

Technique is paramount, the joy of extracting substance from the world itself or seeing your application being used is something that comes after a long slog through esoteric minutiae. My personal experience is that many women don't have the patience, or the playfullness, for this sort of thing. Frankly, most men do not have this sort of playfullness. Of course, everything has its context, as most males would find the specifics of stitching rather dull (as would most women, though a smaller proportion). Many less cognitively gifted males who find mathematics and science dull thrive when it comes to the technique of souping up their car or the proper way in which to stand in the batting box so as to maximize one's batting average.

But I digress. My real point, in the context of an adaptive landscape, is that this fascination with elegance, theory and the abstract isn't always negative. Richard Nisbett's Geography of Thought (see my review) asserts that the Greek (and later Western) fascination with abstraction, paradox and theoretical proof was the key toward seeding the bed for the rise of science. In contrast, Nisbett notes that the Chinese intellectual tradition has been more pragmatic and grounded in empirically informed "common sense." While ancient Greece produced metaphysical philosophers like Zeno (a Stoic who brought us his famous paradox), China saw the rise to prominence of a succession of pragmatic politically oriented sages. The "logicians," a Chinese school that did focus on language and thought in a more "Western" fashion had relatively low status, and though the writings of Polybius display cogent observations about the Roman system of government, they are ultimately retrospective rather than prescriptive.

What did this variance yield? In the long run, the 2000 year record of Chinese history shows the recapitulation of a basic dynastic pattern and social system, with periods of equilibrium increasing in length. It is, all in all a pretty good record for a social system that crystallized over 2000 years ago. Contrast this with the "Western" pattern: the Greeks of the Hellenistic period were very different from the Greeks of the 19th century. Though there is some continuity, the transformative influence of Christianity, the fluctuation in Greek political arrangements, remade the Hellenes. What did the Greek period of cultural brilliance do for them in the long run aside from assuring individual Greeks enduring fame and renown? And yet, as I noted, many would assert that the scientific tradition was seeded by the first era of science that began with the pre-Socratics. The better question would be to ask how much the West benefited from the Greek project.

This moves us to a thesis exposited by Jared Diamond (and David Landes, and others): that the multiplicity of Western polities allowed for a profusion of ideas and competing forms and fashions that was more innovative than the unitary Chinese model. Victor Davis Hanson and his ilk would assert that the ancient Greek culture was sui generis, a special creation that gifted to the West, broadly speaking, its own unique genius. Diamond & co. would assert that the geographic fragmentation of the European subcontinent allowed for the rise of this cultural sui generis.

So what does this have to do with the adaptive landscape? I think that individual European cultures and polities can be thought of us as isolated subpopulations that can shift to new fitness peaks because of their own particular local landscapes. In contrast, the Chinese polity was fixed on one particular peak, rather than being scattered in a fashion where random walk innovation, or specific selection pressures, could be brought to bear to explore the full landscape. In the short term, the European situation could be seen as suboptimal, and various subcultures could be perceived to be dysfunctional, fixating peculiar theories of government or religion that would be highly maladaptive if brought under full scrutiny of a common unifiedl system. In contrast, the Chinese system might seem more locally optimal, as the central government channels its resources into pragmatic and utilitarian 'productive' ventures. But, in the long run, it was the European cultural complex that settled upon a stratospheric peak because of the peculiarities of its historical pathway.

This explicitly functionalist interpretation of cultural adaptation can be easily reduced to the individual level. The models that the Chinese intellectual had to emulate were essentially heirs of Confucius, or to a lesser extent the masters of the Daoist or Buddhist religious systems. Confucianism throughout much of its history was at odds with the latter two religio-mystical "other-worldly" movements, and served as a polar counterpoint to them. Men might move between the two realms, but integration of Buddhist ideas into Neoconfucianism did not in its essence alter the ends of the latter philosophy, that is, a pragmatic system of political governance stemming from individual self-cultivation and a stern adherence to filial piety. After the Tang dynasty, religious orders were by and large shut out of the mainstream of Chinese elite discourse, so their esoteric and impractical ideas had little influence (note the decline of 'scientific' Daoism, with its quest for the exiler of immortality).

The dilettante scholar, sometimes unfocused, occassionally driven by an incadescent passion, had a different status during periods of "Western" history. An Aristotle was unusual only in his brilliance for his age. One could say the same for Newton or Gauss. The point is that though these men had non-intellectual interests and sometimes responsibilities, a preoccuptation with cognition and pursuit of what to some might seem like esoterica was perhaps less unusual than it might have been in the Chinese context (more appropriate to a Buddhist monk in an isolated monaste ry or a Daoist hermit in the forest). This is not to say that the passionate drive toward esoterica was always to bear fruit, Newton's advances in mechanics and optics stand alongside a lifelong fixation on alchemy and scriptural textual analysis, and few men are Newtons, so for every one "hit" there might be one thousand misses.

Going back to the adaptive landscape, here you might imagine two cultures, one where there is more latitude for individuals to shift and wander about the "fitness peaks," even toward "maladaptive" valleys. But at some point an individual emerges from the valley and begins to scale a new peak with the aid of a mindbending insight that warps and reshapes the very adaptive landscape itself ("extended phenotype" writ large). Now, remember that for this "success" there might be 1000 "misses," so the society as a whole might be perceived point to be suboptimal in its mobilization of its human capital toward "productive" uses, but when viewed from a different temporal vantage point, the latitude might seem like foresight.

In Human Accomplishment Charles Murray points to the rise of science as being connected to Christianity in part because the transcendant goals and motivations welling up from the faith encouraged thinkers to extreme ends to discover "God's purpose" or "plan." Murray seems to imply that science needed the maladaptive kick-start to get over the hill and initialize its engine. He notes that Christianity might not be so essential contemporaneously because the system (which sits atop a "peak") already exists and generates rational incentives for non-religious individuals. The initialization of science reshaped the whole adaptive landscape, and created modernity itself. This cultural polycentrism, and on the intra-cultural level an acceptance of peculiar fops and dreamers, benefited the West in the long run. It is in its core the type of culture than Karl Popper described in The Open Society, a society where individual freedom is a central value that allows a full expression of various modes of life and profession of viewpoints.

Back to the geeks, it is the fruits of geek play, geek intellectual agony and geek obsession that the "paradigm shifts" described by Kuhn, or the "falsification" of theoretical idols alluded to by Popper, can truly play themselves out. The "male" focus on elegance, technical precision and playfull abstraction might seem without utilitarian benefit in the short run, but historical induction has shown its value in the past 500 years. Modern Western culture has hit upon a balance between work & play, abstraction and application, theoretical purity and pragmatic compromise, and if it ain't broke, who are we to carp about how science isn't "woman friendly." In contrast, I believe that pre-modern China and India, for all their high culture, never achieved real science because they fell at two ends of the spectrum, the Chinese with their focus on the near and obvious, the tried & tested, and the Indians with their heads in the clouds, never bridging the abstract with the material and ameliorating the squalid material conditions of their environs. I fear that in the quest for more "relevant" science, a "pragmatic" Maoist intellectual strain is manifesting itself in the West. If you can't attract women to science, simply do away with science and give something more palatable its name.

Posted by razib at 10:50 PM | | TrackBack

Spem successus alit

The hope just keeps on coming for GC.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 03:17 PM | | TrackBack

Gulf War Syndrome and Monkey Viruses

[Crosspost from geneticfuture.org]

Here's an article that brings up some tricky cause/effect questions:

Genes May Determine Who Developed Gulf War Syndrome [U. Buffalo news wire, Aug 9 2004]

The research showed that a certain gene predicted whether or not veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War would come with Gulf War Syndrome:

External or environmental factors do play a role in Gulf War Syndrome, said Vladutiu, but likely as triggers in those with a genetic predilection, rather than as the initial cause.

These triggers may be extreme exertion, heat, chemical exposures, infections, multiple vaccinations, emotional stress and a combination of these conditions or something else entirely.

This reminds me of another set of controversial studies, those focusing on people infected with Simian virus 40.

"Simian virus what?" Take note! SV40 is something YOU may have! Simian virus 40 used to be exclusively a Monkey Thing, but during the 1960's the virus hitched a ride into our species when we had the bright idea to manufacture polio vaccines from ground-up infected monkey kidneys. (Vegans take note.)

SV40, like HIV, can't be cured, and it probably spreads through sexual contact. Unlike HIV, it doesn't seem to harm you on its own. (There's a little controversy on this issue, however.) Without a doubt, SV40 doesn't kill you, so the chances are that someday it will become pretty much ubiquitous among humans, as will herpes and a whole host of other non-debilitating viruses.

So here's the problem with Simian virus 40. While on its own, SV40 may not be harmful to humans, when combined with asbestos, it's deadly. For a long time, researchers were puzzled by the fact that while some people who had minimal contact with asbestos died of asbestos-related cancer, other people who lived, worked, and breathed asbestos all day long for years never had any such problems. The breakthrough came when we realized that if you carried SV40, this made you susceptible to asbestosis. Our government, which was responsible for infecting millions of its citizens with SV40, tends to be a little hesitant to admit fault in all this. Understandably, there is some concern that people might not look kindly on preventative vaccination practices if this news got a lot of attention.

Anyhow, what's interesting about both these diseases -- Gulf War Syndrome and Asbestosis -- is that they seem to express themselves exclusively in the presence of certain environmental conditions. It kind of makes you wonder what other genes we have lurking inside of us, just waiting for the right circumstances for them to expose their secret nature...

Posted by canton at 11:29 AM | | TrackBack

Hispanic Math

Matt Rosenberg has an interesting post on how the University of Arizona has been awarded a $10 million federal grant to come up with more culturally-sensitive math instruction for Hispanic students. He links to this report:

Latino youths, especially those from low-income or working-class families, tend to score lower on standardized math tests than their white counterparts and are among the lowest of all ethnic groups.

"The achievement gap is real, and it is growing," said Virginia Horak, an associate math professor and one of the principal investigators on the grant.

The grant will fund research, professional development of teachers and development of leaders in math education, she said.

Among the goals of the new center are to create teaching materials and ways of teaching that bring in a cultural and linguistic context specific to Latinos, said Ron Marx, dean of the UA College of Education.

[ . . . . . ]

The UA departments involved in the grant are mathematics, language and reading and culture.

Uhm, what exactly is a Dept. of Reading and Culture? Also, note the prominant role for the College of Education which itself is a huge part of the problem, primarily due to the education profession's gullability in adopting education fads and the low standards of scholarship, faculty intelligence, and admission standards:

Critics have a laundry list of complaints about teacher training. They include: too much theory and not enough practice, mediocre subject-area training and low admissions standards.

Some critics complain of a vicious cycle: graduates of weak public high schools go to weak education colleges and then return, poorly prepared, to teach in the public schools.

As Thomas Sowell has noted:

Education majors achieve much lower SAT scores than those choosing other majors. When they finish college, it's the same story. Education majors are outscored, on the Graduate Record Exam, by other majors anywhere from 91 to 259 points. College students who major in education are among the least qualified. Some of the least qualified students, taught by the least qualified professors, have been entrusted with the education of our children. We shouldn't be surprised by their falling for fads and substituting methods that work for methods that sound good. This mediocrity isn't new. When Harvard University's president retired in 1933, he told the trustees that Harvard's Graduate School of Education was a "kitten that ought to be drowned." More recently, a knowledgeable academic said, "The educationists have set the lowest standards and require the least amount of hard work." In some circles, education departments have become known as the university's "intellectual slums."

Related posts here and here.

Posted by TangoMan at 03:27 AM | | TrackBack

Woohoo! D'oh!

For the first time, Moroccan primary schools are teaching Tifinagh (Berber) to children. (hat tip: Mirabilis.ca)


Kent Davis-Packard, "At last, an ancient tongue will be taught", The Christian Science Monitor, 2004 August 17.

The letter "yaz," shaped like a joyful human being, is the symbol of the Imazighen people. It's one of the 39 letters of Tifinagh, the ancient language all children in Morocco will be required to learn - in addition to classical Arabic and French - by 2008.

"It's our maternal language," says Amina Ibnou-Cheikh Raha, director of Le Monde Amazigh, a newspaper dedicated to Imazighen, or Berber, cultural issues. "It's the first language that existed here in Morocco. What's abnormal is that it has never been taught."

Berbers - the name given to the Imazighen people because they were viewed as "barbarians" who at first did not accept Islam - have inhabited North Africa since 7,000 BC. Their ranks have included St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and they have managed to preserve their languages despite French, Roman, and Arab conquests. [You missed the Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Kent.]
Tamazight [the term used to designate all Imazighen languages] speakers constitute 40 percent of Morocco's population, 20 percent of Algeria's, and 1 percent of Tunisia's. This year, Morocco's Ministry of Education and the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) have introduced the 9,000-year-old language into some 300 primary schools throughout Morocco for the first time.


Some Moroccan educators also hope the use of the language in schools will lower the Imazighen dropout rate.

"Many Imazighen students do not follow the educational system and they do not succeed, and this is in part because they don't study in their own language," says Fatima Agnaou, a researcher at IRCAM.
Some worry that the initiative will stumble due to a government decision to begin teaching Tamazight in three separate dialogues, phasing in standardized Tamazight over the course of a decade. It's a decision some critics suggest was influenced by government fears of too much Imazighen unity.
In neighboring Algeria, for instance, the Imazighen were harshly repressed after independence from France. It was even illegal for a child to be given a Imazighen name, and such cultural repression sparked violent reactions.

The King of Morocco, whose mother happens to be a Berber, is cautiously pursuing a politic of incorporation. "I don't think we will have the same kinds of problems that Algeria went through," says civil activist Jamila Hassoune. Use of Tifinagh, she insists, is "a cultural richness that, instead of dividing Morocco, unifies it."

Those of you familiar with my writings (alright, bloggings *sigh*) will know that I have reservations about the second half of that article. I'm extremely pleased that an Islamic country has made it official public policy to teach its children to cherish their pre-Islamic heritage from a very young age, you know, instead of denouncing any pre-Islamic cultural identity as jahil, the vernacular Arabic for pre-Islamic, literally "ignorant", and trying to wipe it out. And I take more than a little ironic pleasure at the notion of an Islamic country implementing what looks suspiciously like a multiculturalist educational philosophy.

However, given the experience of Western schools with Afrocentrism and similar approaches in American schools for Hispanic students, Moroccan educators who hope that the use of Tifinagh will lower the Imazighen dropout rate are likely to be disappointed.

As for the assertion that the use of Tifinagh will unify Morocco instead of dividing it, well, the results of the similar policies in the West, the same ones I mentioned before, suggest precisely the opposite. If anything, the use of Tifinagh will further entrench and deepen the divisions between Imazighen and Arab.

The suggestion that the slow phase-in of Tamazight into schools is due to concerns about Imazighen unity implies that the government is aware (and afraid) of precisely that possibility. I'm surprised to find myself a little relieved that the government's enthusiasm for teaching Tifinagh is not unbridled. That suggests that the government is being more realistic than those educators who expect Imazighen dropout rates to fall or that civil activist who insists that the effect will be centripetal rather than centrifugal. Were it not, Tifinagh education's likely failure (in the case of reducing dropout rates) and outright counterproductivity (in the case of Moroccan unity) might cause a backlash on the celebration of pre-Islamic heritage not just in Morocco, but across the Islamic world.

I believe that the war on terror cannot be won without a sea change in how the global Muslim mainstream sees non-Muslim peoples and cultures. Teaching Muslim children to celebrate their pre-Islamic heritage is a step in that direction.

Posted by jeet at 02:37 AM | | TrackBack

Race Doesn't Exist, again, (sigh)

In my webtravels I've come across another instance of someone proclaiming that "Race Doesn't Exist" and he directed me to his manifesto:

Essentially, poking around the literature has convinced me that people at higher levels of education -- be they Republican or Democrat -- are essentially nonracist; that once one has any post-Bachelor's education, one is extremely unlikely to believe that races exist as anything other than social constructs and have any genetic basis in reality. Bob Jones university is interesting because it is spectacularly unusual. Okay.

However, people at lower levels of education are much more likely to hold racist attitudes. These people trend Conservative, and since the Parties are pretty well-defined at this point (with some overlap), uneducated people (again, talking only about whites) trend Republican.

Further, racist attitudes are to some degree counteracted by liberalism. While uneducated liberals may feel racism toward African-Americans, the overall liberal ideology of government assistance for all and equal opportunity acts as a countervailing force, so relatively few racist acts are advocated or taken. By contrast, the conservative philosophy of individual responsibility and private action acts as a lens through which racist attitudes can be transmitted through the world.

This graduate student in economics also bought into the Gore Voters = High IQ / Bush Voters = Low IQ hoax from a few months ago but at least we know that he's not compounding his error by dismissing the validity of IQ testing.

If race doesn't exist someone should get on the horn pronto, and tell, for instance, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is in the midst of a campaign that specifically targets different population groups with their own unique treatment and prevention regimes:

The campaign focuses on empowering people at high risk to make modest lifestyle changes that can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Campaign materials include motivational tip sheets for consumers as well as print and radio public service ads. Each set of materials is specifically tailored for one of the high risk groups:

African Americans;
Hispanic and Latino Americans;
American Indians and Alaska Natives;
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and,
Adults aged 60 and older.

Someone should really tell the Pima Indians of Arizona that there is no genetic basis for race and that their high incidence of diabetes is just a statistical fluke as is their average male life expectancy of 57:

“Over the age of 35, it’s now more common to have diabetes than not to have diabetes. Probably more like 70 [percent],” says Bogardus, adding that in the general population, it’s much lower – approximately 6-8 percent.

And it’s rising. What scientists are learning from studying the Pimas’ diet, metabolism and genes, is that a genetic mutation first makes them overeat and become obese. Then, they think another mutant gene kicks in, triggering the diabetes.

In the Phoenix NIH lab, they’re searching through billions of genes, and they’re closing in on two culprits: chromosomes 1 and 11.

“On chromosome 1, we’ve identified a region that contains a diabetes susceptibility gene in the Pimas and this has been confirmed in many other populations around the world,” says Bogardus. “And on chromosome 11, we have a region that harbors an obesity susceptibility gene.”

The people who are claiming that race is solely a social construct should get into contact with the genetic research community for there happen to be 491 papers cited in a PubMed search on Pima and Diabetes, the group operating the Pima Indians Diabetes Database and the aforementioned NIDDKD which has published this news brief for Native Indians, and this news brief for African Americans. Furthermore, there are physicians who take race into account as well as pharmocological researchers:

Recognizing that our one-size-fits-all approach to medicine has serious flaws, some doctors are urging research into the development of racially targeted drugs. In March 2001, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the testing of a drug called BiDil in about 600 black subjects who will participate in the African-American Heart Failure Trial, the largest clinical trial ever to focus exclusively on African-Americans.

In previous studies including both white and black patients, BiDil provided a selective benefit for the black subjects. White subjects did no better on average than those given a placebo. The leading explanation for this disparity revolves around the molecule nitric oxide, a chemical messenger that helps regulate the constriction of blood vessels, an important mechanical dynamic in the control of blood pressure. High blood pressure contributes to and worsens heart failure because it makes the heart pump harder to overcome peripheral resistance in the arteries. BiDil acts by dilating blood vessels and replenishing local stores of nitric oxide. For unexplained reasons, blacks are more likely than whites to have nitric oxide insufficiency.

Lastly, someone should tell the editors of journals like Scientific American and save them the trouble and expense of printing multipage articles on the question of "Does Race Exist?"

Godless comments:

Here are half a dozen more references on the topic:

  1. MIT technology review article on the The Haplotype Map (mirrored on our site)

    formed a $100 million, three-year plan to chart just such a map. It’s called the International HapMap Project, and beginning with several hundred blood samples collected from Nigeria, Japan, China, and the United States, it will use highly automated genomics tools to parse out the common haplotype patterns among a number of the world’s population groups
    ... the HapMap, together with a series of powerful genomic tools developed over the last several years, will make it possible to spell out in great detail the genetic differences between peoples from different parts of the world.
    ... Ultimately, all of genetics boils down to measuring the genetic variation in some population of people and comparing it to their characteristics and looking for correlations. That’s all genetics ever is.” And, adds Altshuler, the HapMap “is simply a tool to study genetic variation at unprecedented levels of accuracy and detail.”
    ... They also found that how people categorized themselves—whether they called themselves black or white or Asian—correlated closely with the genetic categories.
    ... Race, of course, already plays a huge role in how doctors diagnose and treat patients. Physicians are well acquainted with the idea that Caucasians with northern-European ancestry have higher rates of cystic fibrosis than Asians and blacks, while African Americans suffer from higher rates of hypertension and diabetes.

    Here is the official site.

  2. Yale's ALFRED

    ALFRED contains allele frequency data on polymorphic loci for different human populations. As genetic polymorphisms, the common alleles at these loci must be considered normal variations. While it is a demonstrable fact that different populations have different frequencies of these alleles, most of the common alleles are present in most human populations. Many studies have shown that for any one genetic polymorphism most of the variations will occur among the individuals within each population because of the different genotypes. Only a small additional proportion of the global variation occurs as gene frequency differences among populations. Those differences, however, can illuminate evolutionary histories of human populations and may be especially relevant to design and conduct of biomedical research.

  3. The cover of scientific American (mirrored on our site)

    Does Race Exist? If races are defined as genetically discrete groups, no. But researchers can use some genetic information to group individuals into clusters with medical relevance
    ... scientists have collected data about the genetic constitution of populations around the world in an effort to probe the link between ancestry and patterns of disease
    ... about 10 percent of the variation distinguishes continental populations
    ... Some polymorphisms do occur in genes, however; these can contribute to individual variation in traits and to genetic diseases. As scientists have sequenced the human genome (the full set of nuclear DNA), they have also identified millions of polymorphisms. The distribution of these polymorphisms across populations reflects the history of those populations and the effects of natural selection.
    ... The frequency of the FY*O allele, which corresponds to the absence of Fy antigen on red blood cells, is at or near fixation in most sub-Saharan African populations but is very rare outside Africa
    ... By looking at the varying frequencies of these polymorphisms, they were able to distinguish five different groups of people whose ancestors were typically isolated by oceans, deserts or mountains: sub-Saharan Africans; Europeans and Asians west of the Himalayas; East Asians; inhabitants of New Guinea and Melanesia; and Native Americans. They were also able to identify subgroups within each region that usually corresponded with each member's self-reported ethnicity.
    ... West Africans generally have polymorphism frequencies that can be distinguished from those of Europeans, Asians and Native Americans
    ... Several of the polymorphisms that differ in frequency from group to group have specific effects on health
    ... In these examples--and others like them--a polymorphism has a relatively large effect in a given disease

  4. Neil Risch's Genome Biology article

    Neil Risch of Stanford University, a leader in the field of genetics, contends that race is helpful for understanding ethnic differences in disease and responses to disease.

    His position was prompted by an editorial last year in the New England Journal of Medicine asserting that "'race' is biologically meaningless," and one in Nature Genetics warning of the "confusion and potential harmful effects of using 'race' as a variable in medical research."

    1. In large part, the controversy stems from advances in DNA research streaming from the Human Genome Project -- and trying to reconcile the fact that the pattern of DNA data differs among ethnic groups.
    2. All humans have the bulk of their genetic heritage in common and possess the same set of genes.
    3. But because of mutations -- or changes in DNA -- each gene comes in slightly different versions, and some of them are more common in one ethnic group than another.
    4. These genetic differences often have medical significance -- since some occur among genes that affect susceptibility to disease and the response to drugs.
    5. For example, a mutation that causes hemochromatosis, a disorder of iron metabolism, is rare or absent among Indians and Chinese, but occurs in 7.5 percent of Swedes. Differences involving susceptibility to sickle cell anemia and lactose intolerance have been noted among ethnic groups and races.
    Risch points out that many studies have shown that these differences cluster into five major groups, which are simply the world's major continental areas and the people who once bred in them in isolation -- sub-Saharan Africans; Caucasians, including people from Europe, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East; Asians; Pacific Islanders and native Americans

  5. Cavalli Sforza's Geography of Human Genes

    These studies were soon extended to other blood-group systems, and a body of data began to accumulate showing that different human populations have different proportions of blood groups. However, the first glimpse of the staggering magnitude of genetic variation came later--beginning in the 1950s and coming to full development in the 1960s--when individual differences for proteins could be systematically studied. A protein is a large molecule made of a linear sequence of components called amino acids; different proteins vary considerably in their amino-acid composition and serve very different functions

  6. Sally Satel's NY Times op ed on the utility of race in medicine:

    Not surprisingly, many human genetic variations tend to cluster by racial groups -- that is, by people whose ancestors came from a particular geographic region. Skin color itself is not what is at issue -- it's the evolutionary history indicated by skin color. In Africa, for example, the genetic variant for sickle cell anemia cropped up at some point in the gene pool and was passed on to descendants; as a result, the disease is more common among blacks than whites. Similarly, Caucasians are far more likely to carry the gene mutations that cause multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.

    Admittedly, race is a rough marker. A black American may have dark skin -- but her genes may well be a complex mix of ancestors from West Africa, Europe and Asia. No serious scientist, in fact, believes that genetically pure populations exist. Yet an imprecise clue is better than no clue at all.

See also this post with a review of Bamshad's latest paper from Nature Genetics.

Posted by TangoMan at 02:19 AM | | TrackBack

Chinese Brain Bank Established

In a follow-up to this post on brain morphology the Chinese, no wilting flowers they, in apparent disregard of the notion that race doesn't exist, have established a Brain Bank to study the Chinese brain.

Researchers in Hong Kong and China hope to persuade Chinese people to donate their grey matter to medical science.

Brain banks in the West do not have an adequate supply of brain tissue from the Chinese to make research feasible.

Hong Kong University says the project will help scientists to gain an understanding of the differences between the brains of different races.

This may have implications for the treatment of disease.

Posted by TangoMan at 12:03 AM | | TrackBack

August 19, 2004

Repeated or Missing Genes Discovered

Usually we read about research that has uncovered single letter differences in the human genome, but in the current issue of Nature Genetics Stephen W Scherer & Charles Lee, in their study entitled, Detection of Large-Scale Variation in the Human Genomereport the discovery of huge segments, numbering into the hundreds of thousands of letters, of DNA that repeat or are missing. These segments contain genes, which means that some people have duplicate genes, and the researchers are postulating that these extra or missing genes could influence susceptability to disease.

This was first discovered in a study that used DNA microarrays to analyze DNA of patients with developmental disorders. A group of healthy people were chosen to be the control group, and it was within the control that they found either the missing or the repeating sequences. They found an average of 12 DNA segments that were missing or duplicated in the control group of 39 healthy people.

Scherer & Lee's study fairly duplicates the work of Michael Wigler published in Science in July. In that study, Large-Scale Copy Number Polymorphism in the Human Genome they found that, on average, 11 stretches of DNA that had either missing or repeated sequences of more than 400,000 letters of genetic code.

Wigler's study found that stretches of DNA contained genes associated with drug resistance in breast cancer, leukemia, and matters such as body weight.

Both of these studies of course supplement the work of the HapMap Project which is focusing primarily on single letter differences between populations and not such long sequences between populations.

Here is some supplementary data on large-scale copy number variations that were detected by Scherer & Lee. Here is some supplementary data on large-scale copy number variations near known polymorphic and disease loci such as Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne (DMD) and Becker (BMD) Muscular Dystrophies, X-linked Mental Retardation, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Recessive Hereditary Megaloblastic Anemia 1. Here is a brief on the methods used in the study.

Posted by TangoMan at 11:38 PM | | TrackBack

Hardy and genetics

G. H. Hardy's letter to science . He notes that: In a word, there is not the slightest foundation for the idea that a dominant character should show a tendency to spread over a whole population, or that a recessive should tend to die out. Reading a biography of Ramanujan a few years back I recall that Hardy was shocked about some of the naive and sloppy ideas espoused by the biologists of his day. For him, the Hardy-Weinberg Equation was so plainly obvious that he was reluctant to pursue the matter. The fact that scientists at the time were duped by what seem to be in hindsight (thanks in part to the Hardy-Weinberg Equation) supremely obvious fallacies should make us cautious about the ability of the public to digest the new bioscience with any level of clarity. We'll know that psychology has really made it as a science capable of novel predictions when it stops making sense to our own intuitive understanding of human nature (The Theory Of Mind), graduating from the elaboration of the obvious to the exploration of the hidden structure of reality.

Posted by razib at 09:56 PM | | TrackBack

Fear of a brown planet

A slight thought experiment, which I have alluded to before, but never been totally explicit about. Take a population, say 1,000 females of the black race and 1,000 males of the white race. Allow them to interact, isolated from the distractions of the outside world. In a few years, little brown children are born....

Moving into the world of 'make believe,' imagine that the phenotype 'white' is controlled by the same locus as the phenotype 'black.' One who expresses a black phenotype has the genotype BB while one who expresses the white genotype has the genotype bb. In the world of generation 1, blacks are jet black, while whites lack pigment at all (are albinos).

Assume that the density of melanin is proportional to the number copies of the B allele one carries. So, the density of melanin of blacks is 2x (1 copy of B is proportional to x), while for whites it is 0. In generation 2, all carry copies of both alleles. That is:

BB X bb = Bb, in that all matings were between a BB and bb individual in the parental generation.

Since density of melanin in the skin is proportional to the number of copies of B one carries, the generation 2 offspring are all 'brown,' fairer than their mothers, darker than their fathers.

So we live in a brown planet, right? Blacks and whites banished forever?

Not really. Assume random mating and Hardy-Weinberg proportions will quickly ensue (ignore random genetic drift and selection). That is, p2 + 2pq + q2. Since the allele frequencies are 50/50, about half of the population expresses the Bb phenotype, while 1/4 is homozygous for the black and white phenotypes (that is, p = .5 & q = .5, so, substitue into the equation above).

But let's throw in a twist, rule: like mates with like whenever possible after generation 1. That is, people who express the black phenotype marry other blacks, browns prefer browns and whites only pair up with whites.

In generation 2, this is a moot point, only browns exist, ergo, browns pair up with browns. But, in generation 3 whites and blacks will reappear as homozygous offspring of their heterozygous parents. Since like mates with like, blacks and whites will pair up with each other in generation 3. Since they are homozygous, they will have black and white offspring only.

The browns also prefer each other. Because they are heterozygous they will give birth to mostly heterozygous offspring (1/2 within the population of the children of brown parents). But they will also give birth to white and black children (1/4 of each).


The process (assortive mating) clearly mitigates against the perpetuation of brown people. Perhaps a mild form of this happened in Brazil in the recent past?

I say this because a team of Brazilian researchers suggested that the lineages of Brazilian whites were highly confounded with non-white Brazilians. That is, though both groups were of distinct phenotype, their ancestry was far less pure than physique might have suggested.

Going back to the world of make believe, in generation x, where x >> 1, if the rule I state holds, you have a population that has been cleaved into two. Yet, aside from the color locus, the two populations are equally white and black, though you wouldn't guess that from glancing at their butt cheeks.

No wonder such a simple idea like Mendelianism did not gain traction until well into the 20th century (see R. A. Fisher's seminal paper that showed how continuous traits emerged out of Mendelian principles, resolving the 'dispute' between the Mendelians and the biometricians). Human beings are the products of millions of years of evolution. We have predispositions and tendencies, and our fine pattern detection sensors come preloaded with biases shaped by our past. Everyone understands genetics on the intuitive level in what it does, the principle of heredity is an atomic & foundational element of human nature. It is expected that a mother and father should birth offspring that resemble them, we do not attain this position via reason, rather our own cognitive modules come loaded with a few basic understandings, triggered and molded by our experience.

That being said, we do not have an instinctive understanding of Mendelianism. Humans know what genetics does, but have little grasp of how it does it. People speak in broad inclusive typologies of race, tribe or family, but these are ultimately fuzzy emergent concepts fixed upon the reality that we are all but a commune of genes and their protein slaves.

In the EEA family and tribe were restricted in space, and genes were exchanged at a tepid pace, from hillock to valley and hillock over the generations. Today, a man born in Ghana can become Secreatary General of the United Nations and wed a Swedish woman. Granted, the majority of the human race does not consist of mobile cosmopolitans, but mobile cosmopolitans are an influential segment of humanity. Additionally, in places like Latin America one can see the impact of hundreds of years of mixing between lineages, indigenous and foreign.

We are slowly stepping outside the land of make believe. Our intuition might not always lead us to the right path, and the principles that we could neglect because the sun always rose in the east must now be examined with greater care and attention.

Posted by razib at 08:38 PM | | TrackBack

Genetics of Alcoholism

John B Whitfield writing in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and working with data from three studies conducted between 1980 and 1995 on volunteer adult male and female Australian twin subjects conclude that reported alcohol consumption was mainly affected by genetic factors and that genes that affect alcohol intake do affect alcohol dependence, but genetic effects unique to dependence are also significant; environmental effects are largely unique to either intake and dependence. Here is the abstract.

Nothing really earth shattering, but the genetic impulse towards addiction that is separate from the genes that code for alcohol consumption and addiction does open up some new avenues for research. Is there an addiction gene that predisposes one to addictive behavior?

The search for the actual gene sequences is being conducted by Dr. Howard J. Edenberg:

There are 7 human alcohol dehydrogenase genes that evolved from a common precursor, but now differ in the tissues in which they are expressed. We are now mapping cis-acting elements in the distal 5' regions of these genes, and examined their effects in transient transfection assays. We are looking for tissue-specific elements that regulate these genes, and the transcription factors that control them.
Posted by TangoMan at 08:32 PM | | TrackBack

Fun with statistics

America is bad. You wanna know why? Because it puts so many people in prison: 715 per 100,000 population, the highest incarceration rate in the world.

For every 100,000 people, Sweden imprisons only 75 and Sudan only about 36. That's because they're more enlightened.

Also, America imprisons more people because it's so violent, unlike peaceful and orderly societies like Japan. Or Haiti.

Prison Population Rates per 100,000 of the national population
United States715
Source: International Centre for Prison Studies, Kings College, London

In fact, the current US incarceration rate is a record high. That's because crime is too.[1]

"American prison population surpasses 2 million, the highest incarceration rate in the world", Salt of the Earth: Your online resource for social justice, April 2003.

Violent crime, which is of most concern to people on the street, has fallen to its lowest levels since 1974, when data was first collected nationally.

Unlike in Europe, where people are more civilized.
[O]ver the last 25 years there appears to have been a general increase in crime in all European countries.
Another reason that so many Americans are in prison is that American sentences are so long. That's because Americans are vengeful. Europeans are enlightened, giving convicts shorter sentences so they have less trouble re-entering society.
Laban Tall, "Cash for Good Causes", UK Commentators, 2004 August 11.

In a British prison you never serve your full sentence - that would be too harsh. [Iorworth] Hoare was released early and by November 1975, when he should still have been inside, he was back in court for another attack on a woman.
He had been released early once, only to offend again and be convicted. Surely that would be an end of early release ? But to the probation officers and social workers of the Criminal Justice system he was still capable of redemption, of being reformed. Give him another chance. Sentenced to four years in November 1975, less that THREE years later he was back in court charged with assault and indecent assault - crimes again committed when he should have been in prison. This time he got four years.

We must assume he was let out early and avoided being convicted again until June 1983, almost a year after he should have finished his sentence. This time the charges were rape and indecent assault, the sentence seven years. Naturally he was released early, and only five years after sentence was attempting to rape a retired teacher.

This time the judge had had enough.

"Paramount in my mind is that every moment you are at liberty some woman is at risk and I believe it to be my duty to protect, so far as I am able, women from the risk you represent.

"This is the last in a long line of appalling offences committed against women and the only sentence I can pass is one of imprisonment for life."

Life ? Fifteen years and he's on day release.

[/end sarcasm]
Let's go back to the statistics. Despite an uptick in the past year, US "crime rates remain some of the lowest in a generation". At the same time, the US incarceration rate has reached an all time high, at least four to five times the rate, depending on the country, seen in western Europe, which has seen a general increase in crime over the last 25 years.
Peter Reydt, "Britain: prison overcrowding reaches breaking point", World Socialist Website, 2004 February 26.

Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, the number of prisoners has risen by 24 percent. This is not due to rising crime rates, but to the readiness of the courts to resort to custodial sentencing for even minor crimes. First time burglars are twice as likely to go to jail now as they were eight years ago, whilst the number of adults serving sentences for less than 12 months is up 160 percent since 1999.
The increase has far overstepped all expectations. The projected figures for 2006 now expect the prison population in England and Wales to reach 87,200—9,500 more than planned for.
Such is the scale of overcrowding, that Home Secretary David Blunkett is said to be looking into increasing the use of electronic tagging. Some 3,500 people are currently on Home Detention Curfew.

The government’s criminal policy has been carried out under the banner of “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Committed to a right-wing big business agenda, the government has fulfilled the first pledge, but has done nothing to alleviate the social conditions that cause crime in the first place. Instead its own policies have contributed to the increase in the prison population through the rising levels of social inequality. Many inmates, for example, are in prison for petty offences, such as non-payment of fines, bills, etc. [Sure they are.]

The official attitude towards criminal policy, as with every other area of British social policy, increasingly mirrors that of the United States.

Good for Britain.

In any criminal justice system, the safety of law-abiding citizens is the one priority that should supersede all others. Hell, it’s the very point of society. It’s the reason that the state has a monopoly on violence. We, as citizens, “outsource” self-defense to our police and military so the rest of us don't have to worry about such things and can spend time on things we'd rather be doing and also because they can specialize and take advantage of economies of scale. This doesn’t preclude treating prisoners well, but to do so at the expense of the safety of society at large betrays the very purpose of civilization.

Prison overcrowding has the most devastating impact on the well being of inmates. The annual report for England and Wales for 2002/2003 by the Chief Inspector of Prisons published earlier this year, graphically underscored this. Its main conclusion found that the explosion in prison numbers was directly related to a staggering rate of suicides and self-harm in English and Welsh prisons.
Cry me a f*ckin’ river.

Hey, I’ve got an idea! BUILD MORE PRISONS, BITCH!

Now, before this post completely degenerates into right-wing bilespew, I’m going to point out how capitalism contributes to this state of affairs. Of the countries in western Europe, only Finland (17.1), Iceland (2.9), Norway (14.9) and Sweden (21.8) have population densities lower than the United States’ (32.0) (as measured in persons per square kilometer). Western Europe has an overall population density of 110.2. Of countries with a significant amount of rural territory (i.e. excluding San Marino, at 475.1; Malta, at 1,236.3 and Monaco, at 16,135.0[!]), Britain, at 249.5, is beaten only by Belgium (342.3) and the Netherlands (480.8), which is why God invented Australia. (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data Base.)

When land is scarce, homes, offices and factories are gonna come up much higher on the priority list than prisons. I get that. I'm willing to cut western Europe a little slack on account of that.

But this clapped-out old nag of an anti-American high moral horse is long overdue his trip to the glue factory.

I understand that this post doesn't address US drug policy, but this one does.

And on the matter of incarceration and race (via MilkandCookies), consider the words of noted African-American actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Ninety-eight percent of the people in jail belong in jail. The other two percent probably did something somewhere, and it caught up with them. If you live your life a certain kind of way, you don't have to worry about that kind of thing happening. Like with the police, I always gave them respect. Cops have a hard job; I understand that. Of course, some of 'em are kind of screwed up mentally in certain ways....
They deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!

[1]What the f*ck happened to Finland?

Posted by jeet at 06:11 PM | | TrackBack

NAS 2004 report: GM food safe!

[crosspost from geneticfuture.org]

The National Academy of Sciences recently published a report (available as a book, or as a free download from here) which says that genetically modified food is no way substantially different from non-GM food. It says that GM foods, just like regular foods, carry risks. The report admits that GM technology can cause these risks to pop up in unlikely places (e.g. GM insect-resistant celery that gives farm workers severe skin rashes) but stops short of saying that GM food is in any way less "safe" than non-GM food.

More specifically, the NAS report says that the substances that compose GM food can't be meaningfully distinguished from the substances in ordinary food. As such, the FDA is basically discouraged from treating GM food in a different way than regular food when it comes to safety.

Generally speaking, this report doesn't alarm me in any way. It puts forward the point of view that most reasonable science-minded folks hold, that GM food doesn't contain weird never-before-seen toxins, and that anyone who thinks that GM food is going to kill us is being a little foolish.

Unfortunately, it doesn't do much to promote GM food labeling. There are a lot of reasons we should require GM food to be labeled as such. For one thing, there are a lot of folks who don't want to help finance companies that are participating in the GM food industry. While GM food is probably safe for us, it's too early to tell whether or not it's going to mess up our ecosystem. Many consumers would like to vote with their dollars, and spend their money on traditional foods instead of jumping head-first into GM technology.

Also, while GM food is probably safe for most of us, it does risk killing a few of us. A while back, someone had the idea to improve the nutritional quality of soybeans by creating a transgenic soybean -- borrowing 2S albumin production from Brazil nuts. As it turned out, if you were deathly allergic to Brazil nuts, you would also be deathly allergic to this soybean. Consider the dilemma of someone who fears Brazil nuts. You grow up knowing that you're deathly allergic to Brazil nuts, and you learn how to avoid them and products that contain them. How would you cope if GM soybeans containing your allergen entered the market, but weren't labeled as such? Soybeans are everywhere, from baby food to breakfast cereal to McDonald's hamburgers.

So while a GM soybean is not "substantially different" from non-GM food, that is, while it doesn't contain weird proteins that we've never dealt with, that doesn't mean it's such a safe food that it doesn't require special FDA attention and labeling.

[Richard Caplan, U.S. Public Interest Research group] cites as a major weakness in the report its discussion of the potential allergenicity of genetically engineered crops. While the report authors agree that allergenicity should be evaluated "in every case" and that improvements to the current system are known and have been thoroughly discussed, it fails to call on the FDA to institute a mandatory pre-market assessment according to commonly accepted protocols like the one laid out by the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization.

U.S. PIRG has long supported a system that requires foods to be labeled if they contain genetically engineered ingredients, which would help to accomplish a recommendation of the report that the government should require that food labels include "relevant nutritional attributes so that consumers can receive more complete information about the nutritional components in GM foods introduced to the marketplace." The report also calls for a significant increase in transparency of data submissions, which would help remove the large cloud of secrecy surrounding whatever testing is done on genetically engineered crops. For example, a Monsanto study recently reported in Le Monde appears to show deleterious effects on rats in a feeding study of genetically engineered crops, but the company has failed to release it, claiming it as confidential business information.

"The fact is these foods are on our dinner tables right now," concluded Caplan. "Unfortunately there remains much work to be done to improve the system of oversight for genetically engineered food crops, and it starts by changing the current voluntary system at FDA to a mandatory one."
-- Environmental Media Services

Posted by canton at 10:52 AM | | TrackBack

Who is a Levite?

The Jewish magazine Forward has an article up titled A Skeleton in the Jewish Family Closet?. The genetic angle, the possible non-Levantine origin of the Levite male lineage (the article points to a Slavic source) is somewhat old news. Over the past few years several researchers have suggested a non-trivial level of intermarriage occurred between Jews and non-Jews in the areas in which they settled, while others, including Greg & Henry reject that position (here is a post where the study referenced in the article is linked to as well as a bunch of other Judaic-genetics) [1]. My personal opinion is that after the rise of Christianity the intogression of indigenous genes was the result of one generation of intermarriage with local women by immigrant Jewish men, but we all really have to wait and see, after all, a one-dimensional picture from only one lineage (NRY, mtDNA) tells us only so much.

The bigger point is that all these "Who is a Jew" arguments based on blood (the maternal descent rule), rather than the sum total of belief, experience, culture and yes, ancestry, is highly simplistic. When one makes faslifiable assertions one must be prepared to stumble upon evidence to the contrary. In the short term these genetic studies are grist for the mill of half Jews who take umbrage at the often patronizing attitude that "full Jews" display toward them. After all, who has more to lose, a half Jew demoted to a "quarter Jew" or a full Jew demoted to a half Jew? Whose the mischlinge now?

(thanks to "Xguy" for the link)

[1] Michael Hammer referred to in the article, posits that the Y lineage is actually Middle Eastern, and just happens to be of the same haplotype as the Eastern European line. This sounds like a weird assertion, until you realize that Hammer has argued for relatively minor introgression of "non-Jewish" ancestry in the modern Ashkenazi population, that is, his position must be viewed in light of his model.

Posted by razib at 10:24 AM | | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

Flynn Effect my a$$

New ACT data out. Surprise, surprise regarding rank order, etc.

What is interesting is the stability of the mean score.

If you look at a little longer time period, the stability of mean scores is uncanny1:

National Average ACT Composite Score, 1994–2004
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
20.8 20.8 20.9 21.0 21.0 21.0 21.0 21.0 20.8 20.8 20.9

Now, we know the SAT is highly g-loaded, and the ACT cannot be too far behind (see how high they correlate). So, combine this with J. P. Rushton's work, and I pose to you that the Flynn Effect is just psychometric slight-of-hand, i.e., while IQ scores appear to the naked eye to be going up, mean "intelligence" is rather steady.

1. The rescaling was in the early 1990s, and I do not believe that any of the scores were computed under the old scaling.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 09:47 PM | | TrackBack

Selection Pressure: A Race to the Bottom

We're all familiar with the concepts of darwinian selection but let's for a moment consider the conseqences of a world in which we turn the model on it's head. What happens when mate selection becomes a information blind (or almost so) process? No, I'm not referencing arranged marriages because in that practice the families act as the agents in the information exchange process and are making rational (one hopes) decisions on behalf of their sons and daughters. Rather, I'm referring to the Kyrgyz practice of Bride Kidnapping:

Petr and Fatima arrive as a wedding is about to begin. Women are busy making traditional Kyrgyz bread for the occasion, and men sit in chairs outside, talking and sipping tea. The groom confesses he has had some difficulty finding a bride, but he is hopeful that "this one will stay."

When the bride does arrive, she is dragged into the groom's house, struggling and crying. Her name is Norkuz, and it turns out she has been kidnapped from her home about a mile away.

[ . . . . . ]

As the women of the groom's family surround Norkuz and hold down both of her hands, they are at once forceful and comforting, informing her that they, too, were kidnapped. The kidnappers insist that they negotiated the abduction with Norkuz's brother, but her sister, a lawyer from Osh, arrives to protest that her sister is being forced to marry a stranger. Ideally in Kyrgyz circles, a bride's family gets a price for their daughter, but Norkuz is 25 -- considered late to marry -- and the women remind her she is lucky she was kidnapped at all.

Within the space of an hour, Norkuz struggles less, looking exhausted but laughing along with the women who have placed a scarf on her head. Tradition dicates that once the bride accepts the ceremonial scarf, the matter is settled and the wedding can commence. Norkuz relents.

[ . . . . . ]

Petr learns that the origins of this strange custom are murky: "Some say Kyrgyz men used to snatch their brides on horseback. Now they use cars, and if a villager doesn't have a car, he hires a taxi for the day."

Petr and Fatima speak with a taxi driver in Osh who says he helped kidnap a girl earlier that same day. During Soviet times, bride kidnapping was banned, but in the past decade, the old tradition has revived, especially in rural areas.

Jumankul, 19, is under pressure from his parents to marry and bring home a wife who can help work on the family farm. Jumankul tells Petr and Fatima that he's seen a girl in Osh whom he likes and plans to drive to the city in a few hours to kidnap her.

"We can't afford her hand," says Jumankul's father. "They wanted too much money."

The family has hired a taxi to drive Jumankul to Osh where he and his friends plan to find and kidnap the girl he has seen at a bazaar. But when they get to Osh, Jumankul can't find the girl. The group drops by a vodka stand to try to find out where she lives, but the girl working there suspects a kidnapping and refuses to tell Jumankul's brother, Ulan, the address of the girl. "Find it yourself," she tells him.

Not wanting to return home empty-handed, Jumankul and his friends decide to change plans and kidnap the girl in the vodka bar.

Her name is Ainagul, and by the time Petr and Fatima return to Jumankul's village outside of Osh, she has been resisting a room full of women for more than ten hours. Though Jumankul's older brother claims her family has already agreed to the kidnapping, Ainagul stands in a corner of the room, crying, and continuing to fend off the women who take turns trying to put the wedding scarf on her head.

"It'll be over soon," Jumankul's brother, Ulan, tells Petr. "You'll see."

But Ainagul puts up a strong fight, and the women tire of trying to convince her. After the oldest woman in the village makes a final attempt, telling Ainagul to stay or she will be unhappy, the women give up. Her ordeal over, Ainagul is free to go.

Once she has left, the women sit outside Jumankul's home and curse the departed girl. They say that her child will be a drunk and that her mother-in-law will be cruel. Jumankul, too, is upset and worries that he will never find a bride who will stay.

The information void here is startling. The initiation of the process is made by a would-be groom who stalks an unsuspecting bride. Her fate is determined only be her resistance or acquiescence to a process of duress all while she is in an almost complete information vacuum.

Not to be outdone by such revolutionary disregard for darwinian selection processes the British are doing their best to even the cultural playing field:

A BOSS had her job ad banned - because it asked for "hard-working" staff.

Beryl King was told by a Jobcentre that it discriminated against people who were not industrious.

Yesterday Beryl, 57 - who was after warehouse workers - said: "I couldn't believe my ears. Has our world gone mad?

"I've been running my business for 27 years and it's getting harder to find people who want to do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.

"How long before someone says you can't pay people for working because it discriminates against those on benefit who are paid for not working?"

Beryl, who owns two job agencies in Totton, Hants, offered £5.42 an hour for "warehouse packers who must be hard-working and reliable". She added: "We wouldn't dream of discriminating on grounds of race, sex or age.

"However, this is taking it too far. The ability to work hard is a talent in the same way as is the ability to type. If I advertise for a typist am I discriminating against people who can't type?"

The Southampton Jobcentre is investigating. A spokesman said: "Words such as 'hardworking' can be accepted if used with a clear job description."

Last month, optician Pauline Millican told how a Liverpool Jobcentre axed her request for a £5-an-hour hard-working receptionist on similar grounds to Beryl's.

The drive towards the lowest common denominator continues unabated, for men unable to find brides and for lazy slobs alike. Welcome to the Lowest Common Denominator World. For those who are mathematically inclined, and who wish to use this talent before it too is discriminated against, you may appreciate the significance of this mindset by considering this equivalence:

Information = discrimination.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:39 PM | | TrackBack

Ashkenazi IQ - Cochran & Harpending

Just got this in the mail today:

I have put our Ashkenazi manuscript back up on my website together with some quotes from the editor rejecting it. Meanwhile you are free to tell folks about it.


Best, Henry


Those readers with blogs should link, would be interesting to see Greg & Henry's work getting attention our tiny corner of the blogosphere.

Posted by razib at 05:19 PM | | TrackBack

Britain: the Christina Aguilera of the international community?

or, Are the Chinese a bunch of prudes or what?

I bring this up because, not only does the sexual morality of modern Britons dismay Laban (a proud Briton though he may be, I doubt he’ll dispute the assertion), but the survey “cited” by the article (I put “cited” between scare quotes because the article fails to give either its title or author) suggests an alternative explanation for what godless describes as (and I’m paraphrasing here) “East Asian guys’ tendency to have a hard time in the female department.” (My Lord, my Lord, why hast thou forsaken me!)

[J]ust 17% of Chinese and 30% of French[!] would consider it normal to have had a number of lovers in the double digits.
[Of the peoples surveyed] the Chinese were the most moral, with 70% believing in monogamy.
[self-deception]Maybe we’re not failing to get laid, maybe we just don’t wanna! Didja ever consider that![/self-deception]

You can find the whole article on those slutty, slutty limeys here.

I wonder how much of an increase in traffic we're going to see from searches for “christina aguilera + slutty”.

Posted by jeet at 02:00 PM | | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

The Ultimate Contact Sport

Daniel Drezner reminisces about his days as an Ultimate player and laments about its Olympic prospects. He links to a Wall Street Journal (subs. req.) story by Barry Newman:

Frisbee, meantime, has blossomed from a lazy game of catch on the frat-house lawn into the sport of "ultimate," a high-voltage cross between soccer and American football. It was known early on as ultimate Frisbee, but Wham-O Inc., which owns the Frisbee trademark, wouldn't get behind it. So it's just plain ultimate now.

That causes branding issues: Ultimate? Ultimate what?

Therein lies the dilemma, for how can the brand of Ultimate ever compete for Olympic ratings against the brand of the Ultimate Contact Sport!

First, before I tie this essay into the theme of h-bd,

let's come to terms with the business of sports marketing, television viewership share and demographics that underlie the modern Olympic Games and most importantly the finances involved in putting on such a spectacle:

"The Games have reached a critical size which may put their future success at risk if the size continues to increase," an IOC study commission on the issue reported in 2002.

Rogge, chief coordinator for the Sydney Games before becoming president, hopes cost reduction would allow cities in Latin America and Africa to host the Games.

Every additional athlete is estimated to cost Games organisers $30,000, every additional journalist $15,000.

[ . . . . . ]

In May, the IOC decided not to exclude any sports until 2012 but Rogge has put the 28 Olympic sports on notice that they risk being removed if they cannot prove their worth. A review of the Olympic programme will be conducted soon after the Athens Games.

Softball, modern pentathlon and baseball narrowly avoided being expelled from the Olympic family two years ago and all three are aware they must look their best in Athens this month if they are to survive long-term.

Even officials in core Olympic sports such as fencing, shooting and weightlifting are concerned they could be pushed out of the Olympic family. The last sport to be removed was polo in 1936.

Last December's council meeting of archery's governing body FITA was dominated by worries about the sport's Olympic status. Members were told that "sometime next year we will have to present why we should be at the Games."

[ . . . . . ]

Television appeal is all-important in the 21st century and a "modern" sport such as beach volleyball, with its eye-catching displays of bronzed flesh, wins hands down against more esoteric sports such as archery and shooting.

Shooting is one of several sports to have had its athlete quota reduced for the Athens Games and it will lose two events in 2008. The IOC had originally wanted to cut five events from a shooting programme that encompasses 17 gold medals in Athens.

[ . . . . . ]

An IOC commission recommended in 2002 that baseball be excluded from the 2008 Games because of its patchy popularity worldwide, the high cost of venue construction and the problems of attracting the best professionals from North America.

Modern pentathlon and softball were also deemed not popular enough and too expensive, but they were all reprieved after passionate defences by the sports' officials at an IOC meeting in late 2002.

The IOC has warned three-day eventing it could be excluded from Beijing and has proposed to cut back on synchronised swimming, shooting, rowing, badminton and sailing events.

Rogge is aware that many international federations rely heavily on IOC funding derived from Games profits. Exclusion could deal a financial death blow to sports such as modern pentathlon.

However, the IOC wants to keep the Olympics relevant to the modern world and feels it is anomalous not to include hugely popular sports such as rugby and golf.

"People forget about the millions of athletes whose sports are outside of the Olympic programme," Rogge said in 2002.

"The question is: 'Don't we have sports outside that deserve better to be in the programme?'"

I'll grant that DanceSport has the biggest giggle factor (apart from Chess and Bell Ringing) of all of the new sports that are being considered but when viewed in terms of what the Olympic Games actually are, a sports & entertainment commercial enterprise, rather than what they are believed to be, an international forum for sports, their prospect for inclusion, along with Beach Volleyball starts to make sense. Further, there are perennial events which are yawn inducing for most spectators and are anathema to the advertisers that fund the majority of the sports:

There are times when even those directly involved can no longer defend their sport's presence. It happened in Atlanta in 1996, when archery official Jim Easton acknowledged that bows and arrows were so "boring" to watch that the event should consider having, "archers line up on both sides and the last one standing would be the winner."

Television, of course, would heartily approve: a Survivor spinoff for the Olympic Games.

In the original Games, mule-cart racing was eventually dumped for lack of spectator appeal -- and TV ratings had nothing to do with it.

What Mr. Pound should aim for is a massive purge. It has happened before, right after the 1924 Paris Games, when 16 events were dumped, one of them -- cross-country running -- because it was killing the competitors.

There can be legitimate additions -- triathlon being a good example in Sydney -- but the IOC and Mr. Pound should work far harder to expunge rather than to replace.

Some of the events simply make no sense. The modern pentathlon, which is expected to go soon, is anything but "modern." It is, instead, an old military test to find the soldier best at relaying a message on horseback while fighting the enemy off with pistol and sword, then crossing a river and dashing 4,000 metres through the woods.

It will go, and there will be protests.

But we presume there were loud protests back in 1900, when the live pigeon shoot was dropped as an Olympic sport.

Let's get right to the heart of the matter, ratings. Summer Olympics rarely draw the viewers that Winter Olympics garner:

And despite the abundance of skin, and the advent of beach volleyball, ratings for the Summer Games are typically nowhere near the ratings for their winter counterpart, usually held in February when temperatures outside are chilly and TV sets inside are fired up.

The first three days of NBC's coverage of the 2002 Winter Games, held in Salt Lake City, averaged 35.1 million viewers, compared to 23.7 million for the first three days of warm-weather festivities from Athens.

Still, NBC, which paid $793 million for the pleasure of broadcasting ping-pong games of global import, should come out ahead, thanks to $1 billion in ads sold. Some of that revenue could be returned to sponsors such as McDonald's and Visa if ratings don't meet NBC's projections, but so far the network says ratings are meeting, and exceeding, estimates.

It's hard to argue against the appeal of scantily clad athletes but Beach Volleyball alone can't reverse the trends of declining viewership, nor can sports like Ultimate, which have an appeal to a very narrow, young, and trendsetting audience who aren't big Olympic viewers. The introduction of Skeleton, Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing were efforts to broaden the appeal of the Winter Olympics in order to capture that elusive 18 to 34 year-old demographic but their audience, best measured by the appeal of the Winter X Games, paled in comparison to the scope of the older demographic which is drawn to the spectacle of figure skating and ice dancing.

Who watches figure skating?

70% of women consider themselves figure skating fans

54% of the total population 12+ is interested in figure skating

68% are women age 25–54

65% 1+ years in college

63% are in $50M+ income households

Figure skating fans are educated and affluent

Figure skating is the highest-ranked sport among the U.S. population 12+ in fan base

Women sports fans prefer to watch figure skating over college basketball, college football, tennis and the NHL

Figure skating is the most popular spectator sport among American women and their teenage daughters

I believe that the International Olympic Committee is grappling with the fundamental market appeal of the individual sports which comprise the Olympic stable and the popularity of figure skaing in the Winter Olympics is not lost on them, especially when compared to the meager gains garnered from the inclusion of more extreme sports in the Winter Olympics. Clearly, a comparable appeal to the "figure skating" demographic is lacking in the Summer Games, and while bikini-clad athletes do appeal to male viewers, those viewers are already in the fold.

DanceSport made it's Olympic demonstration debut at the Sydney Games but judging from the derision it attracted from the the NBC commentators it looks like there is a massive disconnect between, on the one hand, the American sports-commentating professionals, & diehard sports fans, and on the other, large segments of non-traditional Olympic audiences:

Ballroom dancing is a multi-billion dollar industry that's especially popular in Europe and Asia, where it's a well-established spectator sport. Japan alone has over 15 million ballroom dancing enthusiasts. In the United States, there are over 30,000 registered amateur ballroom dancers. PBS's annual telecast of Championship Ballroom Dancing attracts more than 10 million viewers.

Note that televised championships on PBS attract 10 million viewers which compares quite favorably to US Figure Skating rating of 3-16 million households.

Interestingly, the Anglo perspective on DanceSport doesn't seem to be held the world over, so the Olympic Committee will also have to account for varying international perspectives in addition to gender perspectives:

Amanda Smith: Well with that television coverage in other parts of the world, is it being presented as a sport by the TV sports department? I mean we've seen some ballroom dancing on the telly in Australia before, but it's been presented more as, I suppose, light entertainment than sport.

Tony Tilenni: I think you'll find it depends on the country. Some countries, a lot of the European countries, don't have a problem with dancesport at all being on the sports side, nothing at all. I suppose you'd argue that probably countries such as England, believe it or not, and America and Australia, are the ones who've got the biggest problem with dancesport, but we don't have the same problem with the majority of the European countries.

[ . . . . . ]

And I think I could safely say that, I think it was now about ten years ago, we had the University of Freiburg in Germany, do a study, and they compared our athletes to the world champion 400-metre runner. And they did all the usual tests in terms of sports medicine. They came to the conclusion that the dancers were at least as fit as the 400-metre world champion runner. They did this test over two minutes, and the runner was there for two minutes. Now the dancers do five dances of, say, a minute-and-a-half to two minutes each dance, one after another. They might do five or six rounds in a day. Now compare that to, say, Carl Lewis, who goes out for ten seconds on one day and then has a two day break. Now OK, the dynamism of that ten seconds is fantastic, but our couples, in terms of stamina, performance, athleticism, put in a hell of a lot more than probably quite a few other sports.

Of all of the candidate sports vying for Olympic recognition, DanceSport seems to be making the greatest inroads. In April, the Japanese DanceSport Federation received recognition from Japanese Olympic Committee and there is a comprehensive International Governing Body, the International DanceSport Federation, that is fully on-board with Olympic mandates (anti-doping) and 53 member countries are recognized by their domestic Olympic Committees.

Now, you may be asking what the heck all of this has to do with the topics on this blog. Well, other than serving as an excuse to post some pictures, I tend to look on the DanceSport Olympic ambitions as a fairly good proxy on the h-bd debate. There are a number of compelling reasons to include DanceSport in the Olympics, and while most DanceSport participants are strong advocates of such a position, and there is a wide spread appeal to a broad audience (silent consensus), those who most fervently support the Olympic Vision, the sports fans and especially the commentators, are most aghast at the suggestion that DanceSport is a sport to be included in the Olympics. Anyone else see any parallels?

Posted by TangoMan at 11:58 PM | | TrackBack

Peace in our time

I give up.

Michelle Goldberg, “The whole world is watching”, salon.com, 2004 August 17.

Recently Bill Millard, an East Village writer, editor and musician, posted a suggestion on an anti-RNC listserve that activists should respond to the media's fear mongering by pledging, "publicly, loudly, with absolute seriousness -- to avoid and repudiate idiotic actions like triggering blackouts, harming horses, etc. That's right-wing provocateur behavior, not principled protest. Karl Rove couldn't think up a better way for this whole event to play right into the Repugniks' hands."

To Millard, the idea seemed like common sense, and he was surprised by the vehemence with which several activists rejected it. "Denouncing violence is the equivalent of attempting to minutely define who makes up a NoRNC coalition that's actually quite diverse and hard to pin down," wrote Eric Laursen, a member the A31 coalition, a group calling for direct action against the RNC on Aug. 31. "It just complicates the story for a corporate media that can't handle much in the way of subtleties."

Rather than repudiate violence, the direct-action faction of the anti-RNC movement is trying to convince the media that violence is solely the fault of the police.
[R]age has to be used strategically, [argues John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA], or it amounts to little more than a tantrum. "We have to take our own discontent about the horrors this administration is foisting on our world and we have to find a way to productively channel that anger into something that speaks to a larger audience, as opposed to just engaging in personal therapy," he says. "When you're doing something in front of the cameras, for the cameras, you have to take into account how will this be perceived."

Such thinking makes sense only to those who are worried about alienating American voters. Liberals are, but many anti-RNC activists defiantly are not. Ironically, despite being motivated by a ferocious hatred of George Bush, some of those planning direct-action protests against the convention have grown so disillusioned with electoral politics that they barely seem to care whether he's defeated in November.

Getting Bush out of the White House "is an aesthetic thing -- I won't have to look at him anymore," says the A31 Coalition's David Graeber, explaining his mild preference for Kerry. A 43-year-old anthropology instructor at Yale, Graeber, who lives in Chelsea, says, "Maybe I'll vote for Kerry, maybe I won't."

With the outcome of the election a source of relative indifference to him, he's less interested in communicating with people in swing states than with people abroad. "I want to send a message to someone in Iraq, in China, in Afghanistan," that there are people in America who oppose Bush's foreign policy, he says.

Many liberals find such sentiments so irrational as to make discussion impossible. "I don't know: How do you convince the potential rioters that they're buying Christmas presents for Karl Rove?" [says former antiwar organizer Todd Gitlin].

It gets better.

Jennifer Steinhauer, “Just Keep It Peaceful, Protestors; New York Is Offering Discounts,” The New York Times, 2004 August 18.

In a transparently mercantile bid to keep protesters from disrupting the Republican National Convention later this month, the Bloomberg administration will offer "peaceful political activists" discounts at select hotels, museums, stores and restaurants around town during convention week, which begins Aug. 29.
If only the Romanovs had thought of this.

"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday, when he announced the program at NYC & Company, the city's tourism office, which will distribute the buttons to all comers to its Midtown office.

So the Bloomberg administration is going to try to placate protestors, some of whom are violently (in every sense of the word) anti-capitalist, with a discount scheme?
Protesters can also get the buttons from groups that have a legal permit to rally. But Mr. Bloomberg conceded yesterday that not everyone who wore a button would be strictly vetted for his or her peacefulness. "Unfortunately, we can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said, though he doubted any of them would want to wear one.
Mr. Mayor, I'll be blunt. You're not very popular. Commuters resent the re-introduction of the commuter tax. City residents resent the cuts in services. And, though the negative effect of this is likely negligible in a such a gay-friendly city, you kinda ping our gaydar more than that McGreevey guy ever did. Maybe even more than Tom Cruise. And we’re Blue Staters. We've got good gaydar.

I tend to vote Democrat, yet I genuinely admired your brave defiance of special interests in defense of our city's financial well-being. On the basis of that alone, I would vote for your re-election. In the last three years, Gracie Mansion has demonstrated far more fiscal responsibility than the White House.

Like our President, you hold a Harvard MBA. (Unlike you, however, he seems to have missed the class on the importance of positive cash flow. Perhaps he was off fulfilling his duty in the National Guard. You know, getting up at the crack of dawn to do lines. Of marching, that is. Yeah, Bolivian marching, maybe.)

Which brings me to my point. You are a Harvard MBA with a Wall Street background, which suggests that your firsthand knowledge of anarchists is limited.

I used to live in the fair borough of Brooklyn, in a neighborhood known as Williamsburg. Many of the people whom you hope to ply with promises of discounted Applebee’s Buffalo chicken salads were my neighbors. (By the way, if you were a visitor to Manhattan and deciding on a restaurant, would you really choose to eat at a fern bar like Applebee’s?)

I have no doubt that some of them will be perfectly willing to wear the buttons to, in language they would use, “appropriate the symbols of hegemony. And that salad doesn’t sound so bad. I don’t suppose they could do a Buffalo tempeh salad with a vegan soy blue ‘cheese’ dressing, could they?” If nothing else, with their ironic postmodern sensibilities, they may appreciate the buttons in and of themselves for their kitsch value. But you’re probably too far in the closet to be an enthusiastic fan of the whole kitsch thing.

(N.B. As far as they're concerned, You = The Man)

Law-abiding protesters will be given buttons that bear a fetching rendition of the Statue of Liberty holding a sign that reads, "peaceful political activists." Protesters can present the buttons at places like the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Sex, the Pokémon Center store and such restaurants as Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too and Applebee's to save some cash during their stay.
Words fail me. I mean, the Pokemon Center?! Are you sh*tting me? *sigh*
The discount program for protesters is modeled on one for delegates to the convention, and there are some notable differences. Protesters are offered $5 off admission to the Museum of Sex, while delegates are not. But delegates get $3 off the space show at the American Museum of Natural History, a discount not offered to protesters. The Republicans get "Rent," the people who oppose them get "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."
Waitwaitwait...you’re sending the Republicans to “Rent” and the protestors to “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding”?! Why hold back? Hire Pat Boone to entertain the protestors, why dontcha? And while you're at it, why not give the Republicans tickets to Bugger McSodomy's Leather Chaps Revue?

Okay, okay, now I get it. You're trying to pre-emptively "punk" both the Republicans (for their shameful refusal to send New York City the money promised after September 11th for increased security) and the protestors (for their anticipated violence), right? Right?!

Posted by jeet at 10:10 PM | | TrackBack

Head of nail, meet hammer
Sam Harris, “Holy Terror; Religion isn't the solution -- it's the problem”, Los Angeles Times, 2004 August 15.

President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate have failed -- for the moment -- to bring the Constitution into conformity with Judeo-Christian teachings. But even if they had passed a bill calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, that would have been only a beginning. Leviticus 20:13 and the New Testament book of Romans reveal that the God of the Bible doesn't merely disapprove of homosexuality; he specifically says homosexuals should be killed: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death."

God also instructs us to murder people who work on the Sabbath, along with adulterers and children who curse their parents. While they're at it, members of Congress might want to reconsider the 13th Amendment, because it turns out that God approves of slavery -- unless a master beats his slave so severely that he loses an eye or teeth, in which case Exodus 21 tells us he must be freed.

What should we conclude from all this? That whatever their import to people of faith, ancient religious texts shouldn't form the basis of social policy in the 21st century.
Of course, the Bible is not the only ancient text that casts a shadow over the present.

A social policy based on the Koran poses even greater dangers. Koran 9:123 tells us it is the duty of every Muslim man to "make war on the infidels who dwell around you." Osama bin Laden may be despicable, but it is hard to argue that he isn't acting in accord with at least some of the teachings of the Koran. It is true that most Muslims seem inclined to ignore the Koran's solicitations to martyrdom and jihad, but we cannot overlook the fact that some are not so inclined and that some of them murder innocent people for religious reasons.

The phrase "the war on terrorism" is a dangerous euphemism that obscures the true cause of our troubles, because we are currently at war with precisely a vision of life presented to Muslims in the Koran. Anyone who reads this text will find non-Muslims vilified on nearly every page. How can we possibly expect devout Muslims to happily share power with "the friends of Satan"? Why did 19 well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors? Because they believed, on the authority of the Koran, that they would go straight to paradise for doing so. It is rare to find the behavior of human beings so easily explained. And yet, many of us are reluctant to accept this explanation.

Religious faith is always, and everywhere, exonerated. It is now taboo in every corner of our culture to criticize a person's religious beliefs. Consequently, we are unable to even name, much less oppose, one of the most pervasive causes of human conflict. And the fact that there are very real and consequential differences between the major religious traditions is simply never discussed.

Anyone who thinks that terrestrial concerns are the principal source of Muslim violence must explain why there are no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers. They too suffer the daily indignity of the Israeli occupation. Where, for that matter, are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more brutal. Where are the throngs of Tibetans ready to perpetrate suicidal atrocities against the Chinese? They do not exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? The difference lies in the specific tenets of Islam versus those of Buddhism and Christianity.
In the eyes of most of the civilized world, the United States is now a rogue power -- imperialist, inarticulate and retrograde in its religiosity. Our erstwhile allies are right not to trust our judgment. We elect leaders who squander time and money on issues like gay marriage, Janet Jackson's anatomy, Howard Stern's obscenities, marijuana use and a dozen other trifles lying at the heart of the Christian social agenda, while potentially catastrophic problems like nuclear proliferation and climate change go unresolved.

We elected a president who believes the jury is still out on evolution and who rejects sound, scientific judgments on the environment, on medical research, on family planning and on HIV/AIDS prevention in the developing world. The consequence, as we saw in recent elections in Spain, is that people who feel misled and entrapped by our dogmatic and peremptory approach to foreign policy will be unable to recognize a common enemy, even when that enemy massacres hundreds of people in their nation's capital.

It is time we recognize that religious beliefs have consequences. As a man believes, so he will act.
Now that our elected leaders have grown entranced by pseudo-problems like gay marriage, even while the genuine enemies of civilization hurl themselves at our gates, perhaps it is time we subjected our religious beliefs to the same standards of evidence we require in every other sphere of our lives.

Posted by jeet at 10:00 PM | | TrackBack

A Dungeons and Dragons Education

Due to the retirement from print journalism of Walter Cronkite, and his attacking of internet reporting, this story has re-emerged. Like most rational people I think the controversy in the early eighties over D&D was just silly, but I'd like to share an anecdote that made me realize the importance of gaming in education.

In the fourth grade, a Jewish friend of mine introduced me to the Basic D&D game. After a year he moved and I did not get back to it until I was a freshman in High School. That first year, a Catholic friend of mine introduced me to AD&D, we played as a group for about a year.

Now to the point. During both of these friendships, I talked to my friends parents, since my father was a little hesitant about this game. Both sets of Parents, far from being worried about the game were enthusiastic about their sons playing. The usual answer was "It develops mathematical ability, analytical reasoning, and cost-benefit reasoning, etc.". Far from being anti-social nerds, both of these friends were very out-going, but were extremely adept at math and sciences.

I have heard back over the last ten years from each of them. The Jewish friend is now a Computer Engineer, and the Catholic friend is mid-level Officer and pilot in the U.S.A.F and a graduate from the Air Force Academy.

My friends whose parents kept them from gaming? Usually they could not get past the dumbed down freshman level college science courses, and usually ended up in social sciences, the arts, the humanities etc.

Something to think about.

Posted by scottm at 06:48 PM | | TrackBack

Half Baked
Anita Hamilton, "This Bud's for the U.S", Time, 2004 August 23.

[The trade in marijuana] has led to an increase in drive-by shootings in Canada by rival dealers, and to "grow-rips," in which competing clans break into growers' houses to steal their crops, according to Canadian police. The body of the suspected ringleader of a trafficking group was found stabbed in the neck in a ditch in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in November 2002. "It's still a dangerous drug," says James Capra, the DEA's chief of domestic operations. "People are killing each other over it."

Oh, for f*ck's sake. People kill each other over diamonds. Does that make diamonds dangerous?
"If the perception is that it will be easier to get marijuana in Canada ... then it creates problems at the border," Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada, said at a Toronto Board of Trade dinner in February.
Now here’s a more subtle argument that gets to the heart of the matter. A situation where a commodity is criminalized in most countries but much more easily available in one or a few creates market distortions with predictable consequences. One is the almost inevitable development of an illicit trade.

Another likely consequence is what the Netherlands, under pressure from its neighbors, is now characterizing as the problem of “drugs tourism”. That consumers of a particular good in a particular country incur costs when their country criminalizes that good is not disputed. What is not often mentioned (perhaps it’s considered too obvious to bother acknowledging) is that endless waves of feckless youngsters out to consume a substance that knocks a couple dozen points off their IQs create negative externalities of their own. (None of which is to say that their tourist dollars don’t make up for it, just that there are negative externalities for the host country.)

One can address the asymmetry by exerting pressure on the more liberal country to adopt the stricter country’s less tolerant approach, as the Bush Administration has done. Or one can address the negative externalities more specifically, such as the Netherlands’ trial ban on sales of ganja to foreigners in the border town of Maastricht. (As if that’s going to stop some entrepreneurial Dutchman from starting a “middleman” service.) Of course, the simplest thing would be decriminalization by the stricter country, eliminating the downward pressure on supply (and consequent upward pressure on price and profitability) that criminalization generates as well as the attraction to more unsavory elements of an in-demand commodity that cannot be legally traded. If the government is so inclined, it can regulate and tax the sh*t out of it.

Posted by jeet at 04:20 PM | | TrackBack

HIV and social norms

Razib, of this blog, has often spoken/written about societal structures (for example polygamy/monogamy) and how they impact on the spread of HIV. So when I was reading this article, a human interest type story on HIV postive women in South Africe, I was suprised to find this little useful nugget in an otherwise superficial tale;

She [Anne Leone] became one of the first white women in the country to publicly reveal her status after asking herself: "How can anyone be strong if one lives a life of lies and in hiding?" Few white South Africans know their HIV status or are prepared to disclose it.

And right after revealing that interesting fact they go on with the human interest story. The question they should have looked into in this piece is how HIV rates differ among the two predominant racial groups, and whether this difference is based on biology, culture, or other factors such as shame.

HIV is one area where we cannot continue to deny the cultural/biological differences between groups. However, if you talk to AIDS researchers in private they will admit to these differences, they will just worm around those facts in their grant proposals.

Posted by scottm at 04:08 PM | | TrackBack

Regression to the Mean and Galton’s Fallacy (not!)

In a recent discussion Abiola drew attention to ‘Galton’s Fallacy’. As I am interested in Francis Galton’s work I was curious to know more about the ‘fallacy‘.

Anyway, I did some searching, with the following results…...

First, it appears that the term ‘Galton’s Fallacy’ is confined to the economics profession, and is comparatively recent. Three papers in particular are frequently cited:

1992: Milton Friedman: ’Do old fallacies ever die?’, Journal of Economic Literature, 30, 2129-32.

1993: Danny Quah: ’Galton’s Fallacy and tests of the Convergence Hypothesis’, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 95, 427-43.

1999: Christopher Bliss: ’Galton’s Fallacy and economic convergence’, Oxford Economic Papers, 51, 4-14.

All three articles are concerned with the theory of comparative economic development. Some economists believe that there is a tendency for national levels of economic development to converge. To support this theory they offer evidence that countries with high levels of GDP at the start of a long period tend to have more moderate growth rates at the end of that period, while those with low initial levels of GDP have higher growth rates at the end of the period, supposedly leading to convergence over time.

As stated, this evidence is clearly inconclusive. The puzzle is not to see why it is inconclusive but why anyone should want to use it. Why mix up evidence about GDP levels and growth rates, at different points in time, in this convoluted way? Perhaps the reasoning is that high (or low) initial levels of GDP must be the result of previous high (low) growth rates over a long period. If later the countries concerned have growth rates closer to the average, this may suggest that their long-term performance has also converged towards the average - though why anyone should apply such an indirect test when a more direct test is available is still a puzzle. Why not just check whether GDP per head converges over time? If historical data are available for growth rates, they must be available for GDP!

In any event, previous high (or low) growth rates may be due to unique historic circumstances, which cannot be expected to be permanent. High (low) growth rates will therefore probably be followed by growth rates closer to the general average. In statistical terms, the tendency of high or low growth rates to be followed by more moderate rates may just be an example of ’regression towards the mean’ (see Technical Note). This does not necessarily lead to convergence, since there may be enough fluctuation around the mean (including higher or lower growth rates among those countries that were initially ’mediocre’) to maintain the same overall dispersal. To overlook this possibility would be fallacious. Since Francis Galton was the first to identify, name, and explain the phenomenon of regression towards the mean, it would be reasonable to call it ’Galton’s Fallacy’, rather in the sense that Down’s Syndrome is attributed to Dr. Langdon Down, i.e. as its discoverer.

Turning to the three cited articles, Milton Friedman does not actually use the term ’Galton’s Fallacy’. Friedman refers to the ’regression fallacy’, and says ’After all, the phenomenon in question is what gave regression analysis its name’. In a footnote he adds ’Galton examined the heights of fathers and sons, and found that the sons of tall fathers tended to be shorter than their fathers, i.e. regressed toward the mean; similarly, the fathers of tall sons tended to be shorter than their sons, i.e. regressed toward the mean. This is simply the well-known phenomenon that in a linear regression of x and y, the regression of y on x is flatter relative to the x axis than the regression of x on y’. It isn’t clear from this what Friedman thinks the fallacy is, but on the face of it he does not accuse Galton himself of any fallacy, he merely points out (correctly) that Galton discovered regression.

Danny Quah’s article of 1993 does use the term ‘Galton‘s Fallacy‘. The article cites no earlier use of the term, but refers to ’the famous Galton’s fallacy of regression to the mean’. This might suggest that Quah believed that ‘Galton’s Fallacy’ was already an established (even ’famous’) usage. However, I have not found any earlier example of the term. As to Galton’s role in the ‘fallacy‘, Quah says that ‘Galton, in aristocratic manner, was concerned about the sons of tall fathers regressing into a pool of mediocrity along with the sons of everyone else… He could not, however, reconcile this with the population of male heights continuing to display significant cross-section dispersion…’ Quah gives no reference to Galton’s writings, and there is nothing to show that he has actually read any. In Quah’s account the fallacy is to infer (wrongly) from the fact of regression that there will be a reduction of population variance (dispersion). Although Quah does not explicitly accuse Galton of committing this fallacy, his claim that Galton could not reconcile regression to the mean with continued cross-section dispersion does point in that direction.

Christopher Bliss’s article is aimed at elucidating several different meanings of ‘Galton’s Fallacy’, and includes a section on Galton himself. He briefly describes Galton’s discovery of regression: ’Galton noted regression towards the mean for human heights. He examined a sub-sample of fathers selected for their exceptionally high stature, and noted that their sons exhibited on average statures closer to the mean stature of the general population…Galton’s Fallacy was to wrongly infer from these valid observations that a general contraction of the spread of heights in the population was taking place; a reduction in the variance of heights…. Galton’s observation caused him anxiety because he supposed that tall men might play a crucial role in winning wars, so that a reduction in their prevalence might weaken national security…’

Bliss cites no text of Galton’s to support these points, which to be frank are virtually pure fiction. Galton’s pioneering 1885 article on ’Regression towards mediocrity in hereditary stature’ did not ‘examine a sub-sample of fathers selected for their exceptionally high stature’ (he used a sample covering the full range of heights), and he did not ‘infer that a general contraction of the spread of heights in the population was taking place’; on the contrary, one of his main aims was to explain how the distribution of heights remained constant between one generation and the next. As to tall men being needed for ‘winning wars‘, Galton explicitly argued elsewhere (Hereditary Genius, pp. 144-6) that tall men were at a disadvantage in modern warfare, because they were more likely to be shot!

But did Galton in fact commit ‘Galton’s Fallacy‘, if by this we mean the belief that regression towards the mean implies a reduction of variance?

So far as I am aware, he did not. He did indeed commit some fallacies connected with regression (see Technical Note), but not this one. In several places (e.g. Natural Inheritance, 1889, p 115-117) Galton was quite clear that regression to the mean did not entail any reduction of population variance, as the convergence of some individuals towards the mean was offset by the dispersion of others, already saying in his 1885 paper that ‘the process comprises two opposite sets of actions, one concentrative and the other dispersive, and of such a character that they necessarily neutralise one another, and fall into a state of stable equilibrium‘. Historians of statistics usually credit him with the first clear explanation of this point. It is possible that some of the modern writers who refer to ‘Galton’s Fallacy’ are more muddled on the subject of regression than Galton was, over a hundred years ago.

I also note that none of the three economists considered here seems to have read the important article on ’Regression toward the mean and the study of change’, by J. Nesselroade, S. Stigler, and P. Baltes, in Psychological Bulletin, 1980, 88, 622-37, which preceded their own work by more than ten years. In a more recent article (published after the papers by Friedman and Quah, but before that by Bliss) Stephen Stigler has discussed the history of regression theory at length. He comments: ‘It is fair to say that by 1889 Francis Galton had a clear understanding of the concept of regression… Galton’s grasp of the concepts was as firm as anyone is likely to encounter even today… The recurrence of regression fallacies is testimony to its subtlety, deceptive simplicity and, I speculate, to the wide use of the word regression to describe least squares fitting of curves, lines and surfaces. Researchers may err because they think they know about regression, yet in truth have never fully appreciated how Galton’s concept works. History suggests that this will not change soon. Galton’s achievement remains one of the most attractive triumphs in the history of statistics, but it is one that each generation must learn to appreciate anew, one that seemingly never loses its power to surprise’ (from the essay ‘Regression toward the mean’, reprinted in the book Statistics on the Table, by Stephen M. Stigler).

Technical Note

Roughly speaking, wherever there is an imperfect correlation between two variables, we expect the more extreme values of one variable to be associated with less extreme values of the other, which is said to ‘regress’ towards its mean value.

More precisely, suppose there are two sets of measurements, which we will call x’s and y’s. They may be measurements of the same kind or of different kinds. We assume that each x measurement is associated in some way with a particular y measurement. Initially the x’s and y’s are expressed in raw units of measurement, e.g. inches or kilograms. To avoid the confounding effect of possible differences in the variability of the x’s and y’s, it is convenient to divide the raw measurements (inches, etc.) by the standard deviation of each variable, so that they are expressed in units of their own variability. (I will call these ’standardised’ values.) For example, suppose we have a set of measurements of human height, with mean 5’9”, and standard deviation 2”. The mean will then have a standardised value of 69/2 = 34½, and a raw measurement of 5’8” will have a standardised value of 34.

Suppose now that we consider all the standardised values of x within a narrow range, and then examine the standardised values of the y measurements associated with those particular x‘s. If the mean of these standardised y values is closer to the standardised mean of all the y’s than the mean of the associated standardised x values is to the standardised mean of all the x’s, then we may say that the y’s regress towards the mean.

Regression towards the mean is commonly found when two variables are imperfectly correlated (i.e. have a correlation other than 1 or -1). Sometimes it is implied that it is always found (e.g. Nesselroade et al say that ’Lack of perfect correlation and regression toward the mean are essentially equivalent‘), but as I pointed out here, it is possible to devise artificial examples where this is not the case. But it is certainly a very common phenomenon.

We can perhaps understand regression best by supposing that each set of variables is the result of two sets of influences, one of which is common to both variables, while the other is unique to one of the variables. Schematically, we may say that x = a + b, while y = a + c, where b and c are independent influences. (In the case of a negative correlation, we suppose that the common influence has a positive effect on one variable and a negative effect on the other.) A high value of x may be the result of high a, high b, or both. The highest values come when both a and b are high. Since the y variables share the common influence a, they will tend to be higher than average when x is high, but as the x’s are also influenced by b, while the y’s are not, the associated y’s will on average not be as high as the x’s. (High b has no tendency to be associated with high c, so the combined effect of a + b is only partly reflected in the value of a + c.) Since the situation of x and y is essentially symmetrical, the x’s associated with a narrow range of values of y will also tend to regress towards their mean. Mutatis mutandis, the same obviously applies to low as well as high values.

There are numerous possible fallacies and misunderstandings concerning regression towards the mean. The so-called Galton’s Fallacy (i.e. that regression implies a reduction in variance), is probably rare, if it occurs at all outside economics. Here are some of the more common errors or misunderstandings I have come across:

1. Because regression is often illustrated by biological heredity, as in Galton’s original studies, it is sometimes supposed that it is a specifically biological phenomenon. This is not the case.

2. An opposite mistake (or at least an oversimplification), is to describe it as a ’purely statistical’ phenomenon. It is statistical in the sense that it can only be formulated precisely in statistical terms, but it is not a statistical phenomenon in the sense that it is a product of statistical procedures (like sampling error). In every case of regression there are underlying real factors which can be empirically investigated.

3. Regression is sometimes misunderstood as being a causal process occurring in time. But there can be regression from later to earlier events, or between simultaneous phenomena, e.g. between the size of different parts of the same body. It has nothing essentially to do with time.

4. Another elementary error is to suppose that the regression of x on y is the inverse of the regression of y on x, so that, e.g., if fathers who are 6’ tall have sons who are on average 5’10” tall, then sons who are 5’10” tall will on average have fathers who are 6’ tall. The fallacy here is to suppose that ’sons who are 5’10” tall’ are the same set of individuals as ’sons of fathers who are 6’ tall’. But this is not true, because: (a) 5’10” is only the average height of the sons of 6-footers, most (or even all) of whom will be scattered around the average, and (b) men who are 5’10” tall are not exclusively the sons of 6-footers. In fact, most of them will be the sons of fathers who are shorter than themselves (assuming average population height of 5’9”). Galton already made this point clearly in his 1885 paper.

5. One of the most common errors is to assume that if there is regression between variables measured at time T1 and time T2, then this indicates some general underlying causal factor producing the change. There may be, but there need not. For example, if children who perform very well on an IQ or scholastic test at age 10 do less well (on average) at age 15, there need not be any general reason for the decline. There may have been a variety of accidental or temporary factors which raised performance at age 10 but no longer apply at age 15. (Similarly, those who do badly at T1 are likely to do somewhat better at T2, regardless of any special treatment they may have been given in the interim. This is a serious problem in interpreting medical and educational data, and is one reason why it is essential to use a control group.)

6. It is unsafe to study only the extremes of a distribution, and then to generalise the results of that study to the whole distribution. This is because the extremes with respect to a particular trait are likely to be the product of a variety of untypical circumstances, and the individuals concerned will show regression towards the mean in other respects. For example, in studying the brain/body ratio of men and women, it would be unsafe to rely solely on the data for men and women of equal body size, because these are at the extremes of the male and female distributions (relatively small men and relatively large women). Their brain size is likely to regress towards the mean of each sex. So if we find that men of (say) 130 pounds weight have larger brains than women of the same weight, we cannot safely infer that men in general have larger brains relative to body size than women. (Maybe they do, but other evidence is needed to confirm this.)

7. Regression towards the mean in standardised values does not necessarily imply regression in raw values. If tall men tend to have shorter sons (measured in standardised units relative to the mean height of all sons) this does not imply that the sons are shorter when measured in inches. Maybe the entire population of sons is taller than the fathers. More subtly, changes in the standard deviation also need to be taken into account. Suppose that a population of asexual organisms each have several offspring. Suppose also that the mean value of the offspring of an individual for some trait, e.g. longevity, is always the same as that of their parent, but with some scatter around the mean. The mean value of the trait in the whole population will be unchanged, and there is no regression of the offspring when measured in raw values, but there will still be regression when standardised values are used. This is because the scatter of offspring around the parental means increases the standard deviation of the trait in the total population of offspring, and reduces the standardised values compared with the raw measurements.

8. If x regresses on y, and y regresses on z, it does not follow that x regresses on z. (To give a trivial counterexample, if the x’s are identical with the z’s, they do not regress on themselves. Or suppose that the x‘s and z‘s are MZ twins, while the y‘s are their non-twin siblings.) Nor, if we quantify the extent of regression by calculating a regression coefficient, does it follow that the regression of x on z is the sum or product of the regression of x on y and y on z. This is only true in special circumstances.

9. Regression is a property of sets of observations, not of individuals. It is strictly nonsensical to say that a given individual regresses towards the mean relative to some other individual. However, we may estimate or predict the most likely value of an individual based on the regression in a class to which the individual belongs, relative to a class to which some other individual belongs. The problem with this is that individual items (objects, people, organisms, etc), may fall into many different categories at the same time, e.g. a man may be a European, a German, a teacher, a diabetic, etc. The extent of regression towards the mean may be different for each category. To get the best estimate, we should use the regression coefficient for the narrowest category to which the individual belongs. E.g. it would be wrong to use a coefficient applicable to middle-class European males in general, if we know that the individual is a German diabetic teacher and that this subset has different regression characteristics.

Did Francis Galton commit any of these fallacies?

Arguably, he did commit fallacies 8 and 9. On several occasions he assumed that regressions could be multiplied together, in the manner of fallacy 8, without adequate justification. This was first pointed out by Galton’s disciple Karl Pearson, who founded the theory of multiple correlation as a generalisation of Galton‘s work. Galton also arguably committed fallacy 9, because he believed that in the long term individuals regressed towards the mean of their entire ancestral population, and not to the mean of their direct ancestors. However, this is a debatable point. Galton’s belief in ’perpetual regression’ was not a simple misunderstanding of statistics, but was a consequence of his biological theory of heredity, which included a belief in ’positions of organic stability’ to which organisms tended to revert unless a new position of stability is reached by a large and sudden ‘jump’. (In this sense Galton was a forerunner of punctuated equilibrium theory, as recognised by Stephen Jay Gould.)

The one thing I have not found anywhere in Galton’s work is ’Galton’s Fallacy’!

Posted by David B at 03:55 AM | | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Talk about Innovation

Boing Boing reports that out of 1.5 billion condoms distributed freely in the Indian subcontinent to combat HIV, only a quarter are being used properly. Of the remaining 75%, they were used for;

According to two university reports, rural villagers have used them as disposable water containers to wash, after relieving themselves in the fields. India's military have covered gun and tank barrels with condoms as protection against dust. Of the 891 million condoms meant to be handed out free, a considerable proportion were acquired by road-building contractors who mixed them with concrete and tar and used the mixture to construct roads, rendering road surfaces smooth and resistant to cracks. Builders spread a bed of condoms beneath cement plastering on roofs, ingeniously preventing water seepage during the monsoon rains.

Weavers in Varanasi used around 200,000 condoms a day to lubricate their looms and to polish the gold and silver thread used to embroider the saris they produced. Sari maker Yusuf Bhai said they purchased the condoms from agents, who reportedly acquired them from agencies involved

I don't know whether to admire their ingenuity or be mad at their stupidity in the face of an epidemic.

Update: Godless points out in the comments that the threat of HIV to the Indian subcontinent is overblown. OK, but you have to admit that the original reason the program was begun, to curb overpopulation, is still a valid concern for the Indian government.

Posted by scottm at 10:56 PM | | TrackBack

"It ain't us, it's the media. The media has distorted our image to make us look bad."

The tactic of overreacting to media depictions which godless posts about has broken out of the confines of the postmodern left and been adopted by groups not known for eagerly deconstructing texts.

Sophie Arie, "Don't honour wise guy De Niro, say US Italians", The Guardian, 2004 August 13.
Yesterday, it emerged that an influential Italian-American organisation had appealed to Silvio Berlusconi, asking the prime minister to cancel Italy's plan to award [Robert] De Niro honorary citizenship.

The Order of the Sons of Italy in America (Osia), which is based in Washington and has 600,000 members and donors, and describes itself as the oldest and largest association of its kind, is indignant that the actor has "made a career of playing gangsters of Italian descent".

It is particularly annoyed that De Niro is to star in a Steven Spielberg children's film which is, it says, deeply offensive and will instil in young people the idea that Italians are all mafiosi.
"This man [Spielberg] is going to make millions of dollars with a film that is going to introduce unflattering and untrue stereotypes of Italian-Americans as gangsters to millions of children," said Dona de Sanctis, Osia's deputy executive director.

The organisation faxed Mr Berlusconi on Tuesday to demand that the actor not be given the citizenship accolade.

"He has done nothing to promote Italian culture in the United States. Instead, the Osia and its members hold him and his movies responsible for considerably damaging the collective reputations of both Italians and Italian-Americans," the group said.

The letter, copied to Italy's minister for Italians abroad, also pointed out that for Italy to confer such an honour on De Niro would be perceived as an insult by millions of Italian-Americans who have long objected to the actor's "distorted and unbalanced portrayal of people of Italian heritage".

Will I be seeing Shark Tale? No, but only because it looks like it blows.

I’ll leave the last word to an actual Italian.

[S]aid Mariassunta Baranello, organiser of [a week long festival of De Niro films in his ancestral village of Ferrazzano], "Our history has good and bad bits. You cannot just deny the past.[1] And after all, it is only cinema."

[1]Obviously not a leftist there..

Posted by jeet at 06:10 PM | | TrackBack

Free MAT

Harcourt is doing a "research study" on the Miller Analogies Test. (It sounds to me like they're norming a new computerized version of the test.) If you've never taken the MAT, you can take it for free at test centers around the US [PDF].

Posted by jemima at 12:09 PM | | TrackBack

August 15, 2004


New Jersey has had it's share of problems this week. Flying below the radar was a state Supreme Court decision ruling diversity was more important than fiscal prudence. I quote,

In her ruling, [Chief Justice] Poritz said concerns about racial diversity trump worries about high property taxes.

"Students attending racially imbalanced schools are denied the benefits that come from learning and associating with students from different backgrounds, races and cultures," Poritz wrote. "We find that, in this case, withdrawal by North Haledon will deny the benefits of the educational opportunity offered by a diverse student body to both the students remaining at Manchester Regional and to the students from North Haledon."

Of course, in the decision, I don't see anything definite that explains what this diversity benefit is that is worth taxpayers shelling out more money than is necessary, sans the overly ambiguous

promote ‘cross-racial understanding,’ help to break down racial stereotypes, and ‘enable students to better understand persons of different races.'” [see also, O'Connor]

What gets me is that the decision isn't based on data or even what is best for the community (i.e., lower property taxes), but rather some abstract notion that diversity, ipso facto, automatically means a better education.

If this keeps up, I can see a not too distant future when, say, programs for the gifted are deemed wrong/illegal by the Courts; not because they are ineffective (which they tend not to be), but because they, more often than not, do not take on the demographic characteristics of the school(s) from which the gifted kidos come.

Of course, the entire premise behind all of this legal mumbo jumbo is that we are all the same, one people if you will, and any difference is due to different environments---thus the perceived need to equalize, integrate, and uniformly distribute.

Where is Pinker's jurisprudent incarnation?

Posted by A. Beaujean at 09:16 PM | | TrackBack

Color vision & chimps

I've posted two entries previously on Sarah Tishkoff & Brian Verrelli's work on the evolutionary history of human color vision (here & here), so here is the abstract from the September issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics. Funny how the conventional wisdom that we are "99% genetically the same as chimpanzees" is being alterted by new findings that point to significant functional divergence between our two lineages, from greater polymorphic diversity in color vision found by Verrelli & Tishkoff, but also in the case of FOXP2 ("the language gene") and functional funny business on the locii that effect human skin color. The chimp is both profoundly like us and essentially unlike us. This "paradox" is one that is not well captured by human language, which itself is likely the product of evolution and so constrained by its hardware substrate. How to decompose variance in morphology, the lineal implications of the coalescence time of various neutral markers and the mutations on functional portions of the genome in a succinct non-jargonistic fashion for public consumption?

Posted by razib at 10:01 AM | | TrackBack