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November 13, 2004

Prayer & Fertility

All of our recent discussion on Intelligent Design reminded me of the famous "Columbia Medical School Prayer Study." Perhaps you recall that in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, the Journal of Reproductive Medicne published a study that demonstrated that praying helped infertile women to conceive.

Many people were shocked at the conclusion and of course, this was right up the alley of the folks at the Skeptical Inquirer who dug down and deep and have quite an interesting expose which highlights false identities, doctors who aren't doctors, insurance fraud, the bankrupt Adelphia Communciations, Master's graduates in parapyschology from the John F. Kennedy University in California (quite a few steps below the credentials of the Discovery Institute's personnel) and a scneario that better fits a soap opera than the review board of a prestigious journal and the faculty of an Ivy League University.

Posted by TangoMan at 07:41 PM | | TrackBack

Pet peeve

The weather in New York has dropped into the 30s, which means only one thing.

It's time for dogs in sweaters.

I don't wish to offend the ardor with which dog owners love their dogs, but I feel compelled to point something out: dogs aren't people. I don't know what the EEA for various breeds of dogs are, but I do know, the advanced stages of mange notwithstanding, dogs have more fur per square inch than, say, a human. (Remember, I'm Chinese. Depending on what part of the world your ancestors came from, YMMV. You know who you are.)

Yes, yes, it can be very cute, but dogs don't really need sweaters. And I'm damn sure they don't need $100 cashmere sweaters from Ralph Lauren.

Also, and I acknowledge that this may be a sore spot, your dog is not your child. Just because you call it yourself its mommy or daddy doesn't make it so. (At least I hope so.) I'm going to go out on a limb and start making sweeping generalizations about the sort of Manhattanite that feels compelled to kit her (and it usually is a her) canine out in a crewneck: For decades, your top priority has been your career and your Type-A personality keeps you from making the sorts of compromises that a mature relationship with another human requires. Well into your thirties and forties you come to terms with the fact that you will probably never "end up" with someone and get a pet (often a menagerie of them) to obtain the sort of unconditional devotion and companionship that is simply not available from people.

Posted by jeet at 06:37 PM | | TrackBack

Of Moas and mitochondria

Interesting new study suggests that the giant Moa of New Zealand suffered a population crash of at least an order of magnitude before the arrival of Polynesians to the islands. Why is this important? Money shot:

"If they are right then a deer-infested forest would be closer to the original New Zealand forests," he says.

I wonder if in the future (thousands of years) geneticists will reconstruct human induced environmental change by tracing the various population bottlenecks and man-wrought migrations of species between biogeographic domains. Of course, by that time "humanity" might have reached an "omega point" and such primitive inferential methods might be unnecessary.

Posted by razib at 03:35 PM | | TrackBack

Why a polycultural education?

A few months ago I was talking to a friend. I mentioned that though I oppose multiculturalism as it is taught now, I favor courses that would give students of culture X a factual perspective on cultures A, B, C....

The problem with multiculturalism courses today is that they are:

  • Therapy sessions for ethnic minorities.
  • Not heavy on facts, but loaded with value judgements.
  • Those judgements, though couched in relativist jargon, often betray Western underpinnings in the way the facts are filtered.
  • Many individuals learn what they already knew, and in advanced courses it is often a case of coethnics studying their "own culture."

A polycultural education, which gives a broad sweep of various cultural traditions, their ways of thought, and modes of expression can be a crucial supplement to a Western worldview. Not only would there be an elaboration on the reality that "the West" is in part a synthesis of various cultural strands and has engaged in liberal borrowings from other cultural complexes,1 but an understanding of the basics of other cultures allows students to have a set of points from which to calibrate judgements about Western culture itself! (I would suggest appreciate, but that is somewhat value laden, I assume students would see the important uniqueness of the Enlightenment tradition after studying the ways of the Indians or Chinese)

1 - One feature of the modern West (or modern civilization) is that it has evolved for evolvibility, to use a evolutionary analogy.

Posted by razib at 01:24 PM | | TrackBack

Same, different, depends....

Occassionally I check pings, and today I noticed that Conservative Commentary linked to my post where I cut & pasted an email from a Dutch friend. Guessedworker comments on that thread that "First off, razib is NOT a friend of the European or European-American...He is probably very aware of race and his own racial interest,1 like me. But unlike me that awareness leads him to the politic of cosmopolitanism - that is, anti-whiteness." I am aware of my own racial interest, but that interest is simply implied from the particulars of my individual interest, if racial & individual interest conflict the latter has clear precedence since for me personally as the former has no salience outside of the context of the latter. What I found interesting is that many who accept intergroup psychological differences seem unable to imagine that a natural spectrum of human variation exists oustide of their own understanding of what is good, right and beautiful in the world. I have spoken of this in the context of ethno-autism before, where blindness to the motivations and character of other groups can lead to a false perception of the world. I don't know why GW is commenting on that post anyway, the person who Peter quotes, David, has had "relations" far outside his own "ethne," so despite his worry about Muslim radicalism in The Netherlands I suppose he too is no friend of Europe or Europeans.

1 - Someone who is a natural egoist like me can only react but quizzically to assertions of one's own racial interest. I can understand having an economic interest, having a personal interest, but having a racial interest? Ultimately racial interests seem to decompose into individual interests, that is, your own well being is furthered by assocation with kin & kith, those like you with whom you are most comfortable. Since that has never been the case for me, I simply don't have an emergent racial interest, unless you attempt to apply inclusive fitness standards, but this does not (I believe) bear upon the proximate motivations of my behavior in any case.

Posted by razib at 12:59 PM | | TrackBack

Berlinski, sophistry, Right & Left

Damn you Michael Blowhard! I noticed several weeks ago that Steve mentioned in passing that Commentary had published a piece by David Berlinski taking a swipe at evolutionary psychology. A few years ago The Weekly Standard published a peice by one Andrew Ferguson also dismissing evolutionary psychology in terms that would do Steven Rose & Richard Lewontin proud. I won't get into the details of what the motivations of secular conservatives attacking evolutionary psychology are, but one thing I knew is that I should not read the snide sophist David Berlinski's work because I knew what an insincere jackass he was. Back in 1996 I had the displeasure of watching a panel discussion where Berlinski made Michael Behe seem like a very earnest and straighfoward man. Berlinski's posture and manner seemed to communicate, "With my sneer do I falsify Darwinism!"

If you read the Commentary piece you have to ingest Berlinksi's excessively baroque and gratuitously allusive style.1 Berlinksi holds up evolutionary science to the high standard of deterministic physical science. Let's ignore the reality that deterministic physical science might not be as deterministic at the most reducible level as Berlinski would have you believe. He states that:

a well-posed differential equation achieves a coordination among continuous quantities that is determined for every last crack and crevice in the manifold of time. And is this the standard I am urging on evolutionary psychology? Yes, absolutely.

Nothing but the best.

Since such general solutions are difficult to come by in microevolutionary mathematical works you know at this point that Berlinski can begin his work of demolition with aplomb and gusto. Evolutionary psychology is a sloppy discipline because human minds are sloppy, riddled with contingency and complexity. Berlinski makes it clear that the human mind is a marvelous piece of work, but presumes that its manifold variations and interdependencies can be modelled in a theoretically elegant and transparent fashion within two decades of the initiation of the project of evolutionary psychology by Toobey & Cosmides. He criticizes evolutionary psychology by implication for its low ad hoc standards, but attempts of show how ludicrous it is by examples as follows:

If male standards of beauty are rooted in the late Paleolithic era, men worldwide should now be looking for stout muscular women with broad backs, sturdy legs, a high threshold to pain, and a welcome eagerness to resume foraging directly after parturition.

And so Berlinski disproves the explanatory power of evolutionary psychology, for obviously males do not prefer such lumbering Helgas. And yet he does not address issues of correlated response, for environmental fitness is not the summa bonum (a pretentious use of Latin yes, but befitting a critique of such ostentatious drivel), one might consider how such features might impact reproductive fitness. That is, perhaps such robust features result in a decline in capacity for viable gestation, making environmental fitness irrelevant (for example, in rats there is an optimum size for a mother to minimize infant mortality, even if larger and more robust rats were more likely to survive predation, that is irrelevant if they can not carry offspring to term). This is certainly part of the point of the work that Berlinski critiques, that fitness might seem obvious but an analysis of its proximate features can smoke out nuances that armchair theorizing (a criticism levelled at evolutionary psychology) can not easily conceive of (see The Handicap Principle). Berlinksi does not truly engage the body of research, rather, he caricatures and dismisses it, and liberally peppers his prose with literary and historical allusions that convey a verisimilitude of scholarly due diligence (since Berlinksi is a skeptic about evolution in general, his opposition to evolutionary psychology is something that exists a priori, so the editors of Commentary knew what they were getting into).

I could go on and on (he gives one the impression that Kimura's molecular neutralism is the last word on the validity of natural selection on phenotypes), but let me end by noting that Berlinksi notes with hearty approval of the recent critiques by Richard Lewontin of population genetical models. Lewontin has some issues with mathematical modelling and fitness optimization, but that is irrelevant to the reality that it is clear that Berlinski shows his cards of intellectual bad faith by citing one who freely admits an ideological axe to grind.

This leads me to conclude with a peculiar tangent: my criticisms of intellectual activities on the Left is often driven by the convinction that the tools and idea artifacts generated from this quarter quickly become drafted into the arsenal of those who would assault modernity and progress from the Right (though in the following I restrict my examples to the Western Right, I think in the long-term the non-Western Right, that is, traditionalist non-Western cultures, might be more of a problem). I have seen this in recent years on issues like pornography, where in public forums right-wing anti-porn activists use verbiage drawn from feminists and couch their objections in the language of female dignity and violence (I do not doubt right-wing anti-porn activists detest violence against women and wish to restore female dignity as they conceive of it, but I would assert that their central concerns ingroup have more to do with broad general moralistic principles, while outgroup they use terminology that is more remiscient of consequentialist minutiae). I have seen it among racial separatists, some of whom now argue for a multicultural amity enforced by geographic division because peoples who could exist as organically separate entities should, in symmetry with some of the ideas proposed by Left ethnic minority activists. This is not to deny that the Right can produce intellectual constructs that are persuasive, but those from the Left have a look & feel that can transcend differences of core values and perhaps shift the opinion of those in the middle who are disinclined toward the Right's moralistic or traditionalist motivations. In their book The Future of Religion sociologists William Bainbridge and Rod Stark offer the following observation, though the vast majority of Americans are theists, behaviorally in terms of their lifestyle and buying habits they cluster into two groups. Moderate and liberal religionists often behave in a fashion similar to explicit religious secularists, while conservative religionists tend to espouse and practice different folkways. The take home message is that though the religious as a whole rhetorically cluster together against atheists and agnostics, conservatives might have a hard time persuading moderate and liberal religious people on issues of lifestyle using their core religious principles because moderates and liberals do not apply them in such a fashion. By analogy many moderates and liberals might be as uncomfortable with human cloning as conservative religious people, but they have no strong articulate theological objections and are not persuaded by appeals from right-wing sectarian quarters. On the other hand, arguments by more secular thinkers like Leon Kass, and consequentialist/utilitarian considerations such as adult stem stells can shift their viewpoint.

And so the danger that comes from thinkers like David Berlinski, for the author of A Tour of Calculus has more credibility with the general public than an individual who authors obscure fundamental Biblical commentaries. Berlinski uses a style that appeals to the intellectual mainstream, and he has no hesitation in drafting the ideas of selectively concurrent thinkers in his negative case against evolution.2 In a more broad sense, while some on the Post Modern Left take glee in the battles they win against promoters of "Eurocentric linear thinking," they might consider that they are eviscerating the bedrock of the Enlightenment tradition which has succorred and nourished them in their quest for intellectual illumination. Their victories would be for naught if far more dogmatic worldviews came to the fore to replace the post-Enlightenment Western intellectual tradition. (for the record, I think the Western intellectual tradition will beat all comers in the next few decades, but we can not assume that this is an inevitable force of history, we must make it so by our actions)

Addendum: If read Berlinksi' whole piece, tell me, am I the only one who smells Pyrrohnian Skepticism worthy of the Post Modern Left despite his praise of physics? For example, I smell some of the same attitude in this old post over at Crooked Timber.

1 - Such literary narcissism is only worthy of a weblogger, not someone who publishes in one of the elite intellectual journals of public policy in the United States.

2 - Kimura & Lewontin do not for example share Berlinski's skepticism of the fact of biological evolution. I suspect that Kimura would be as irritated with Berlinski for enlisting neutralism in the way he has as S.J. Gould was whenever Creationists would point to punctuated equilibria as a falsification of evolution.

Posted by razib at 11:34 AM | | TrackBack

Exploiting evolution???

A few weeks ago, I had a thought, how would a con man survive in the EEA? That is, imagine a clan group whose size maxes out at 150. Then imagine a tribal group on the order of thousands. This would be the constrained world that most people would be expected to move in. Modern con men shift from community to community and manufacture new clean identities once their game is implemented and their capital of confidence exhausted and their yield secured. In the EEA this obviously would not work, screwing over your fellow clan members would likely be a one-shot affair, and moving to the next marks would be difficult because cultural groups would probably be small enough that informal information networks would be efficient at spreading someone's reputation around.

Though I have serious qualms about David Sloan Wilson's work on "multi-level selection," he is someone who has explored the differences between individuals in terms of their compunction toward amoral manipulation, that is, machiavellian vs. non-machiavellian personalities. In Animal Behavior and Game Theory Wilson has a chapter where he reviews the literature on machiavellian personalities and their impact on group dynamics. There is a lot of red meat that might be fodder for GNXP posts, but one thing that I found interesting was that though machiavellian personalities are often attractive in the short term there is some evidence that others become aware of their tendencies over a longer period and avoid interacting with them in any situation that they could exploit. Inserting this in the context of the EEA makes sense of the idea of "cheater detection," if these machiavellian personalities existed in the EEA, it would be good to extract them out of the social loop as soon as possible since they tend to be parasitic defectors by inclination. Wilson eventually concludes with suggestions for paths of research in the area of machiavellian personalities (it is related to his interest in altruism), and asks about various ESSs that might exist to maintain a balance between high machiavellian and low machiavellian personalities.

The idea of evolutionarily stable strategies made me wonder: wouldn't a machiavellian con man flourish in the anonymous mass culture of the modern era in comparison to the EEA? (that is, have higher fitness) After all, con men can keep moving from community to community with various aliases, and often leverage institutional credentials and manage to subborn the relatively clumsy legal authorities that are often one step behind them. Does crime pay more today than it did 10,000 years ago?

Of late the evidence that human social intelligence reached a ceiling tens of thousands of years ago has moved me back from the position that the high density cultures that have thrived over the past few thousand years might be conducive to shifts in the balance of personality phenotypes prevelant within human subpopulations. But with the relatively anonymous modern world that has outgrown its social intelligence capacities one could argue that machiavellian individuals have a wealth of marks at their disposal in a way that was impossible in the EEA. It could be argued that the Roma Gypsy subculture of Eastern Europe promotes a normative lifestyle that could be described as machiavellian in the context of non-Roma. This obviously could never have come about thousands of years ago when large cultural complexes did not exist to feed off of in a parasitic fashion.

Assuming far larger panmictic breeding populations it seems that there might be greater variation in personalities today for natural selection to work with as many more polygenic variants are possible (response to selection is proportional to heritable variation). It might be that "sociopathic" personality types always emerged from the genetic background because a mix of personality trait controlling alleles on various locii produced the fitness optimum in the EEA, that is, there was some element of balancing selection at work. In this scenario the sociopaths would have low fitness, but always persist because they were simply byproducts of optimally fit parents who had both selfish and altruistic tendencies (their mirrors would be totally transparent individuals). As the environmental context changed sociopaths might have found a more favorable niche and so are no longer as ill-favored by the gods of reproductive fitness.

One prediction I might make is that when you have populations who have a long history of mass urban culture, a greater percentage of sociopaths will exist within them because it is easier for them to engage in free riding and exploitation. One might imagine an arms race as sociopaths induce functional changes in the character of the society that they parasitise, as it moves toward more legalist totalitarianism to curtail social norm loopholes utilized by machiavellian individuals. Finally the society might collapse because the cost of the arms race exceeds its expendable political capital, at which point smaller units of governance resurface and the sociopaths are more easily "purified" from the system because they no longer can move so easily to escape more informal socially sanctioned retribution. At this point the various polities might start reaggregating into larger conglomerations because the personality mix is more conducive toward large cooperative political projects, and which point the sociopaths might resurface to exploit the opportunity rich environment. Perhaps this is one of the factors that undergirds the oscillating character of Chinese civilization? I rather doubt it actually, but it is an idea.

Posted by razib at 02:14 AM | | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

The Underground Railroad - Cybertracks

OK, back to skewering the Left now.

For all of those people shaking their heads and wondering how they could live in the same country as all of those with Red State mentalities you've probably thought about moving to Canada. Well, if you stopped your quest after hitting the Canadian Skilled Worker Self Assessment Test, fear not, for I, TangoMan, your ever intrepid sleuth have come to the rescue. If you really want out I have uncovered an underground railroad to help you.

If you're a woman looking to flee, look here or here or here, or here, or here, or here.

Perhaps you can commiserate with the other feminine voices crying out in the wilderness. Vox Clamantis in Deserto. Here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here,

Lest you get the wrong idea, it's not only the ladies that are wanting to jump from a sinking ship. There are plenty of guys too. How about this fellow, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or Mr. Beef Donut, or this gay man, or this guy and his dog, but this guy has got more than politics on his mind. And this guy has got all of the angles covered. A true entrepreneur.

Well guys, everybody with me now, HELP IS ON THE WAY. Just take a gander at this enterprising lady. At least she's putting her political principles above her worldy needs, unlike this woman or this one or this one.

I'm not really sure who could help this person though. But as they say, there is a market for everything.

And if you're not the marrying type you can always follow this guy's strategy.

Posted by TangoMan at 07:48 PM | | TrackBack

ID News Round-up

Another school district bites the dust:

With a vote last month, the school board in rural south-central Pennsylvania community is believed to have become the first in the nation to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power.

The battle in Georgia continues with some high fallutin lawyer logic:

Lawyers fighting a court challenge of evolution disclaimers on textbooks defended the warning stickers in final arguments Friday as a show of tolerance — not religious activism, as some parents claimed.
Posted by TangoMan at 04:29 PM | | TrackBack

Glassman's tips to the Democratic leadership

I'm limiting my political posts since we already have tons of bloggers posting political stuff, but I just had to post this link: be sure to check out James Glassman's 10 suggestions on how to Save the Democratic Party. It's fantastic.

Be sure to check out the Open Thread (on the top right-hand corner of this blog below the "Blog Tributaries" link) daily if you don't already. "Fly" and "Frank" post some really good links from time to time.

Posted by Arcane at 01:22 AM | | TrackBack

A Dutch leftist on the threat of Islamism: "We will have to live with" it...

... and I say you'll die from it. This latest article by Dutch columnist Mark Spaan in The Guardian is the latest example of tolerance taken way too far. Spaan states, "Few are aware that in the near future as much as 15% of the Netherlands' population will be Muslim. The old Dutch society so craved by Pim Fortuyn no longer exists. We will have to live with the one we've got." Not only that, the so-called "defenders" of free speech over at Index on Censorship claim that the criticisms van Gogh made of Islam were an "abuse of his right to free speech" and stop just short of saying that van Gogh deserved what he got.

Tolerance has been taken way too far. It has reached the point where there is no tolerance for non-violent criticisms of minority cultural groups, but violent attacks by members of those very groups are tolerated and even apologized for. Of course, this is nothing new to readers of this blog and many others, but it never ceases to astound me how naive some people are. Every day in classes, in newspapers, and in books I read, there is some delusional fool expounding on the glories of Islamic Civilization while at the same time demonizing Western Civilization. They act as if medieval Islamic and Western Civilizations are accurate representations as to how they are today.

The Mufti of Australia stated last February that he believes Australia was discovered by Muslims and you can find literally hundreds of websites that claim that Muslims discovered America (and let me point out that by "discover" I recognize that I am ignoring the migrations and settlement of peoples thousands of years beforehand). The purpose of this is generally to undermine the West's claims to having discovered them. I can imagine sometime in the near future some Islamist group will start claiming that Australia and the US are in fact Muslim territories because members of their religion might have discovered it, at which point tons of leftists and "human rights" do-gooders will grasp onto this cause and start helping them out. That's just how insane this whole thing is.

If this is "tolerance," I want none of it. "No freedom for the enemies of freedom," I say!

Posted by Arcane at 12:45 AM | | TrackBack

November 11, 2004

Sogdian princess

As some of you may know, there is a new Alexander movie coming out next month, and Rosario Dawson plays Roxanne....

Roxanne was a Sogdian princess whose father was king of Balkh (modern Mazar-i-Sharif). The Sogdians were an Indo-European people who spoke an Iranian language who dominated much of northern Afghanistan and the Ferghana Valley during ancient times. Their only modern linguistic descendents are the Yaghnobi people, who have been shown to have some genetic relationship to the peoples of Western Europe (see Spencer Wells' Journey of Man1). So I'm not sure if she's an accurate representation of what the ancient Roxanne looked like...but that's OK, the real Alexander was a red-headed midget with little pegged teeth.

1 - Wells traces the lineages of the group of modern humans who pushed into Europe from the east, that is, Central Asia. The Sogdians were possibly descendents of this same group that drifted south, or at least stayed closer to the ancestral homeland.

Posted by razib at 02:00 AM | | TrackBack

Fire on earth

A few years I ago I read the book titled World Fire, where the author argues that human controlled & induced burning has had an enormous impact on the world's ecology and that modern fire suppression is profoundly 'unnatural' (the book is pretty "on message" the whole way, so it is probably best to sample instead of reading front to back since it is more of the same). To say the author is polemical is understating, nevertheless, I think it is noncontroversial that the use of fire in concert with forethought in marginal forestlands probably had an enormous impact on biomes in all regions that man spread to over the last 50,000 years. The author of the above book makes a strong case that fire changed the Australlian & New World ecology to the point where we really don't know what is 'pristine' and what is not. Quite clearly, Homo sapiens is part of nature, often our biomes become part of our 'extended phenotype', just like earthworms 'recycle' decaying matter in their gut to produce soil (or termites or ants if you have a tropical orientation) humans have been slashing and burning for thousands of years and recreating open meadows and quasi-savannas the are remiscient of our ancient hunting grounds in Eastern Africa.

Now, metal tools are great facilitators for clearing out dense forests, and this is the reason that indigenous peopels will often trade their most precious materials for these implements (ergo, the whole Napoleon Chagnon incident in Venezuela). I have read that the spread of 'civilization' into the central Gangetic plain in South Asia was only possible because of the spread of cheap iron tools which could clear the forest. If this is true clearly fire can only go so far, especially in lush & moist conditions. But, when I was in college an anthropology professor who specialized in the ancient cultures of the Pacific Northwest told me the following: when the white man showed up in the Willamette Valley he found a few straggling Native American tribes and enormous forests that seemed to be underutilized. During the course of his research he found that the pollen from the past did not show this situation to be the norm, rather, there was a much higher count of grass pollen. He hyopthesized that the pandemics that swept the New World in the first few centuries after the arrival of Europeans decimated Native American populations to the point where their fire facilitated clearing of the Willamette Valley ceased, so that it went 'back to nature'.

In any case, humans obviously leave a big footprint, though not always in the ways we might think. Perhaps in the future a student of the spread of grain based agriculture will study pattern of the genetic relationship of various rodent populations across the six non-glaciated continents with phylogenetic methods.

Posted by razib at 01:29 AM | | TrackBack

November 10, 2004

The Origin of AIDS

For years a long-standing origin theory of the emergence of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the human population is that it was a zoonotic disease (i.e. it was transfered from a different infected primate species than man) that crept out of sub-saharan Africa, this is also a belief that has crept into the lay public's mind. Well, this paper challenges those theories and assumptions. The points I found most interesting were;

(ii) Despite long-term and frequent human exposure to SIV-infected monkeys in Africa, only 11 cross-species transmission events are known, and only four of these have resulted in significant human-to-human transmission, generating HIV-1 groups M and O and HIV-2 groups A and B. The closest relatives of SIVcpz (HIV-1 group N) and of SIVsm (HIV-2 groups C-H) are extremely rare, with only six HIV-1 group N-infected patients and only single individuals known to be infected by HIV-2 groups C-H. SIV, while capable of cross-species transmission, is thus poorly adapted for disease and epidemic spread. If AIDS were a zoonosis that is capable of significant human-to-human spread, there would be a plethora of founder subtypes and groups.

(iii) Human exposure to SIV is thousands of years old, but AIDS emerged only in the 20th century. If AIDS were a zoonosis that spread into the human population, it would have spread to the West during slave trade

So at which step did the simian derived HIV mutate into the HIV-AIDS that we now face, and what set it off? Was there immunities that non-subsaharan Africans had that blocked the emergence of the epidemic when they met the subsaharans? Or was there a genetic profile that another group had that when mixed with the non-AIDS HIV transformed it into the epidemic? Interesting questions that might help us stop future diseases.

Posted by scottm at 07:27 PM | | TrackBack

Back on topic

I offer this as a way to get us off of European immigration politics for a bit. The quest for a SARS-CoV vaccine progresses.

Addendum The mechanism for this vaccine is a production of an antibody (in animal models) that has as it's antigen a portion of the Receptor binding domain of the virus, a domain which helps the virus attach to and enter the cell. This would result in an entry block for the virus.

To me this seems like a temporary solution to people who are already infected by the virus, as the vaccine does not set up a permanent immunoresponse in the patient. However, it would be good to "inactivate" and "flush-out" the SARS-CoV out of a previously infected person.

Posted by scottm at 02:52 PM | | TrackBack

Clovis deconstructed on Nova

This week's Nova presented a documentary titled America's Stone Age Explorers. It is engages in a survey of theories and ideas that are undermining the "Clovis First" hypothesis (that is, that a band of hunters populated the entire continent about 12,000 years ago by moving south from Beringia through a ice-free corridor between the North America ice-caps). What you are witnessing right now is a paradigm shift, though it is more a replacement of a tight and parsimonious hypothesis with a grab-bag of ad hoc models, that is, there is no prime contender for the next establishment theory. A few years ago I read a book on the natural history of North America which stated explicitly that the holes is Clovis are starting to seem too gaping to close and explain, but nevertheless, the author would assume that Clovis was a viable model because there wasn't anything out there to work with as a plausible alternative. I think we are still at that stage, and part of the problem is that Clovis will not be replaced by a simple and easily characterizable model, but rather a constellation of sub-hypotheses will be assembled in a modular fashion to reconstruct the peopling of the New World. If you read the blog regularly, you will know that I am of the opinion that much of paleoanthropology is going through this shift from simple and elegant models to more messy and complex constructions being driven by contradictory and confusing data. As they say, science is only provisional. It is the process, not the conclusions, that survive the test of time.

The show is probably going to be re-run all week, so check your local listings.

Addendum: The documetary presents genetic evidence that Europeans and Native Americans might share a relationship that ties them together, and so might support the Solutrean Model. But, I think the presence of same haplogroup among the Ket of Central Siberia serves as support for the contention that this was a line that simply was eliminated in Eastern Eurasia over the past few thousand years, and that the Solutrean Model doesn't get the succor from this data point that one might think. I wish NOVA had talked to someone who could have pointed that out, because it would have made the genetic case for the Solutreans far weaker. The Solutrean Model is sexy, so I guess it makes sense that they wanted to give it a lot of face time.

Posted by razib at 02:37 PM | | TrackBack

Voice from the dykes

An email from a friend of mine in The Netherlands....

[begin email]
In reaction to Bjorn Staerk, I would like to point out that, in contrast with 9/11, the murder of Van Gogh is everything but an isolated incident whose reaction you can measure. Any comparison between the two is, as we say over here, like comparing apples with pears. The attack on the World Trade Center was made by a foreign enemy, suddenly and unannounced, as it happens orchastrated by some rich boy from Saudi Arabia who got pissed off about the Americans supporting Israël and having soldiers on 'holy ground' (a good thing, mind you). On the other hand there is the Dutch population, who have been attacked, harresed, intimitated and made to feel a stranger in our own country for decades. This isn't a case of one man or a group of extremists who held a grudge against Theo Van Gogh, since nearly every Muslim in Holland disagrees with his given right to criticize, or 'insult' Islam. They don't "approve" of the murder, but they "understand why it happened". In other words, a silent consent. Made by people who, be it by violence or by openly rejecting violence, already know that it doesn't matter. If supporting freedom of speech is the common opinion in Holland now, it won't be in 40 years time. What's happening in Holland, and in the rest of Europe (think of France and its 300 lawless ghettos) is a fundamental invasion of one of the most free and social societies in the world, by those making use of those very same liberties and privillages to cause a demographic, and eventually a theocratical revolution. You're being attacked by Islam; we are becoming Islam. Numbers of victims or of the population involved may sound interesting and lead to judgements about our intolerance (intolerant Dutch, talk about stereotypes!), fact remains that the current situation is not a simple equation of people against burning mosques.

David van Ofwegen.

Philosophy student, Leiden.

Posted by razib at 01:37 PM | | TrackBack

Would Moses be Weeping?

Do any of you remember the anti-pollution commercial that was famous back in the 70s where an Indian Chief shed a tear at the sight of pollution befouling the sacred land? I wonder if Moses would feel the same today about what is taking place in Holland?

I'm sure many of you have heard the old fable of Moses standing on Mount Sinai talking to god and then god using his mighty powers blasted into two tablets some commandants for us all to follow. That sandblasting eventually led to the commandment "Thou Shall Not Kill."

Well after the Van Gogh murder, local Muslims have found the commandment "Thou Shall Not Kill" that is sprayed on a local building to be offensive and racist, so the local authorities have ordered it sandblasted off.

- Edited for clarity- Follow the Link :)

Posted by TangoMan at 02:50 AM | | TrackBack

November 09, 2004


To all interested, here's a link to watch the recently murdered Theo van Gogh's movie "Submission" online.

Update Bjorn Staerk notes the difference in reaction to the assasination of van Gogh to the reaction of Americans following September 11.

When the US was attacked on 9/11, it struck many of us how few reprisals there were against American Muslims. There were some attacks, but for a country of 300 million, who had just experienced the largest terrorist attack in history, the display of restraint was encouraging.

I'm correspondingly discouraged by how the people of Holland have dealt with Theo van Gogh's murder -- one death in a country of 16 million.

Update II Concerned? Sign the letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Posted by scottm at 10:55 PM | | TrackBack

Green light

OK, post on politics, and post on the election. I don't have time to read/monitor everything right now, so I'll just delete anything I don't find appropriate or not to my personal taste. Unfortunately the line is too blurry and fuzzy when you talk about posts that aren't explicitly partisan. Sorry to be arbitrary, but freedom always has its costs :)

P.S. please use extended entry. And if there is too much political posting going on I will simply cull them randomly.

Posted by razib at 07:30 PM | | TrackBack

Idiocy Knows No Bounds

For all of the fun we have pointing out the lunacy of the Left, and I'll grant that after losing the election they have the emotional fuel to fire their rants, let's not neglect the idiocy that inhabits the Right. I'm sure we've all seen the Jesusland and RedStateistan maps that were created by liberals who simply couldn't comprehend the mindset of the majority of Red State voters and how they pondered seceding from the US and joining up with Canada.

I've read many of those diatribes and they all seemed to be a venting of emotion but none were serious proposals. Leave it to Mike Thompson in his essay in Human Events Online: The National Conservative Weekly to be the first such serious proposal to point "out the cancer that continues to threaten our body politic", and his unique contribution to our political discourse is that he plans on kicking the Blue States out of the Union.

He points out that the venting we've been seeing on the Left about seceding will stumble on Constitutional grounds but he offers us a blueprint for expelling the Cancerous States:

Having been amended only 17 times since 10 vital amendments (the Bill of Rights) were added at the republic's inception, the U.S. Constitution is not easily changed, primarily because so many states (75%, now 38 of 50) must agree. Yet, there are 38 states today that may be inclined to adopt, let us call it, a "Declaration of Expulsion," that is, a specific constitutional amendment to kick out the systemically troublesome states and those trending rapidly toward anti-American, if not outright subversive, behavior. The 12 states that must go: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. Only the remaining 38 states would retain the name, "United States of America." The 12 expelled mobs could call themselves the "Dirty Dozen," or individually keep their identity and go their separate ways, probably straight to Hell.

A difficult-to-pass constitutional amendment, however, is not necessary. There is an equally lawful route that mercifully would be both easier and faster. Inasmuch as Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution specifies that "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union," it is reasonable that the same congressional majority may expel a state from the Union. Is there, after all, any human organization in existence (including a family or law firm) that may not disown, disinherit, ostracize, alienate or expel diabolical members? Whether the nation is purged of these 12 states via the Constitution or statute, the process of elimination must begin now, for the need of societal detoxification has waxed so overwhelmingly clear.

Phew! Where to start? Well, I'm reminded of an item I blogged on in February. So I thought I'd take a minute to explore the consequences and blinding hypocrisy of Mr. Thompson's suggestion.

Using the Bureau of Economic Analysis 2001 figures for Gross State Product, we see that the Red States of 2004 had a combined GSP of $4.614 Trillion and the remaining Blue States had a combined GSP of $5.522 Trillion. So right there Mr. Thompson has thrown away 54.5% of the economy.

Secondly, between 1992 and 2002, the Red States suckled on the public teat to a scandalous degree. I'll summarize the data to highlight the outliers.

All of the Red States received more in Federal Government Transfers than they contributed except for 3 states and all except 6 states increased their economic dependence on the Federal Government.

Changes in Red States Fiscal Relationship to the Federal Government:

Net Contributor: - Colorado, Nevada, Texas
Increase: -
Decrease: - Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah

All of the Blue States contributed more in Federal Government Transfers than they received except for 5 states and all except 9 states decreased their economic dependence on the Federal Government and 2, while still beneficiaries, reduced their dependence.

Changes in Blue States Fiscal Relationship to the Federal Government:

Net Beneficiary: - Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Vermont, DC
Increase: - Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Imbler, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, DC
Decrease: Maine, Maryland

Further, Mr. Thompson suffers from the illusion that the Red States are some sort of unified block as seen in this map. When the map is corrected for state population disparities the cartogram will look like this. In his essay Mr. Thonpson makes reference to county level analysis, which is best depicted by this map. However, the population disparities between the counties would create a cartogram that looks like this. What Mr. Thompson neglects to do is to gauge the degree to which the vote is either Red or Blue. This map does make that data correction and a tree Red or true Blue country must have over 70% of the vote totherwise it is depicted as a degree of purple. Lastly, when population differences are incorporated into the analysis the cartogram will look like this.

What's clear to me is that the Republican victories in this election weren't landslides as some analysts are proclaiming and the Red and Blue states aren't cultural monoliths. The diffusion of different values throughout the states is quite pronounced and there are only a few places where 70% of the voters are either Red or Blue.

So if Mr. Thompson is so keen on expelling Blue States from the Union he should be prepared to look in the mirror and see before him a taxpayer in a welfare dependent state and figure out how he and his fellow citizens will do without the involutnary gifts that Blue State taxpayers have been sending their way.

Lastly, as I wrote from my post in February, I'm still puzzled by how people can so easily delude themselves. To espouse independence, fiscal conservatism, small government and other traditional conservative values and yet be the biggest hogs at the federal trough is beyond me. What defines a person's political ideology: the slogans they shout or how they conduct themselves. For those Leftist Liberals, all I can say is at least they are consistent for they believe in big government and are willing to pay for it even though it doesn't benefit them. I can't find the line through the hypocrisy of mooching conservatives that will allow me to see their ideological consistency.

So, Mr. Thompson, continue with your proposal at your own peril and be prepared to accept higher taxes and a lower standard of living in order to free yourself from association with the cancerous Blue Staters. What's the definition of cancer again?

Posted by TangoMan at 06:06 PM | | TrackBack

Patent for Race Specific Drug

In the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine Dr. M. Gregg Bloche notes in an editorial entitled Race-Based Therapeutics that:

Two years ago, NitroMed obtained a second patent, this one based on the use of the formulation in blacks. This patent, the first ever granted to a preexisting drug for a new, race-specific use, pushes back potential market entry by generic sellers of the fixed-dose combination from 2007 to 2020. Less than a month later, NitroMed went public, raising $66 million (even though isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine are available separately in generic formulations, making it possible to closely approximate Nitro-Med’s combination at a cost of about 44 cents per dose).

Thus, the emergence of the combination treatment as a race-specific drug was driven in large measure by regulatory and market incentives. It remains unknown whether these two drugs in combination with an ACE inhibitor improve survival among patients with heart failure in general (or among patients in other racial groups) beyond the improvement achieved by ACE inhibition alone. But a treatment for all patients with heart failure, regardless of race, could not have extended NitroMed’s intellectual property protection by 13 years.

What's interesting here is that a similar treatment can be achieved by combining two generic drugs, but formulating those drugs into one pill would be a violation of intellectual property rights. I think that this IP issue is as newsworthy as the race-specificity of the drug treatment.

Dr. Bloche also goes into the issue of race-based medicine and references the squid ink rationalization that race-based medicine is just a placeholder until to personalized pharmacotherapy becomes mainstream. However, Dr. Bloche makes the economic case that personalized pharmacotherapy will suffer from diminished market share:

First, as A-HeFT illustrates, market and regulatory incentives shape research agendas. The ease with which race can be used as a crude marker for clinically relevant biologic difference makes it attractive as a basis for bringing pharmaceutical products to market. But once a pharmaceutical firm has obtained patent protection and regulatory approval, it has little incentive to sponsor research aimed at elucidating the relevant genetic variations and their physiological manifestations. Indeed, such research risks shrinking the demand for a drug, by subtracting patients who lack the genetic markers that predict a good response. Such research is a classic “public good” in the economic sense: absent government support (or state-imposed obligation), it will tend to be undersupplied by market actors. And without the needed follow-up science, racial categories are at heightened risk of being reified as biologic.

Second, race is a very crude marker — ill-defined, indeed undefined. Again, A-HeFT is illustrative. Its investigators included patients who were self-identified as black. They thus delimited “blackness” in social and cultural fashion, poorly connected to underlying population genetics.

Clearly, the pharmaceutical company is benefiting from patients within the racial group whose individual genetic composition is an outlier in the standard distribution of genetic composition of race that was used in the clinical trials and while these patients do broaden the market for the drug and enable more research to take place Dr. Bloche goes on to warn of the pitfalls that may result from such reification.

I'm sure that this news is giving the "Race Doesn't Exist" crowd severe indigestion.

Posted by TangoMan at 03:21 PM | | TrackBack

Let's talk about sex (in America)

In my previous post on sperm competition I wondered about the use of the term "promiscuous" to describe females and GC responded that males are (generally, and with caveats) by definition promiscuous (at least by aspiration). Since I believe it nice to put numbers on such things, here is what I found in the 1994 book Sex in America, based on the University of Chicago sponsored survey in the context of the number of sexual partners since age 18:

Partners 012-45-1010-2021
male 3% 20% 21% 23% 16% 17%
female 3% 31% 36% 20% 6% 3%

The survey also gives 2 and 6 as the median numbers of sexual partners for females and males respectively. Even assuming for underreporting (females) and embellishment (males) there is a nontrivial difference in the distributions. It would be best if we could look at 60 year olds, but I couldn't find that particular table via Amazon's search feature.

Posted by razib at 03:14 PM | | TrackBack

Is the GOP making a Latin mistake?

One of the big news items of this past election was that nation wide, (according to exit-polling) Bush took 44% of the Hispanic vote. However the always brilliant Steve Sailer notes some discrepencies;

[D]id Bush really score in the mid 40s with Hispanics? I've looked through the troubled NEP exit poll data, and most of the states look reasonable: California 32%, Illinois 23%, New York 24%, Colorado 30%, Nevada 39%, Florida 56%, etc., but that national figure appears to be driven by an eye-popping report of 59% of Hispanics for Bush in Texas, up 16 percentage points from 43% in 2000.

So is the GOP making that mistake? I think they are periliously close to making one.

George W. Bush has always had a 'thing' for hispanics; he speaks spanish, he is related to one, he won their vote in Texas in his gubernatorial re-election bid. So he is driving the national party to not only appeal to the hispanic community but to enlarge it through lax immigration rules. His rational? Hispanics tend to be religious social-conservatives, they also tend to be hard-working both obvious GOP traits. However, they are completely discounting the race issue and the brilliant way that the Dems can use that issue to trump all other concerns.

My fear is that the GOP will be tricked into enlarging the Hispanic community only to have them abandon them at the ballot box.

Posted by scottm at 02:29 PM | | TrackBack

Secularism & seculars

Here is an interesting result I've mentioned from a recent Pew Survey about views on Islam of Americans.

  Fav. Not Fav. DK/Ref.
White Protestant 34 41 25
Evangelical 29 46 25
Attend weekly 23 54 23
Attend less often 38 33 29
Non-Evangelical 40 36 24
White Catholic 43 34 23
Secular 50 25 25

Keep this in mind if you read Hitch's argument that George W. Bush is a force for secularism. Frankly, I'm tired of objections about patriarchal Christianity from a certain sector while at the same time "non-Western" faith traditions get a pass in this department. I think the "secular" subset of the population can be decomposed into two fragments, those who are propelled by deep unified principles, like the people at Internet Infidels (who have even attacked Hindutva, something most Americans don't even know about), and so have a skeptical eye toward religion in the generality, and those who have specific gripes against a religion because of their life experiences.

I see this division as a reflection of the divide between Hard Seculars and Cultural Creatives. I suspect that the growth in the 'No religion' category over the past 15 years is a reflection of the dynamism of the latter category, while hardcore skeptics and rationalists remain at around 5% of the population. As an illustration of what I feel is the hypocrisy in the treatment of conservative Christianity in comparison conservative Islam,1 I listen to NPR rather frequently, and every few months there is a story about a modern, but religiously traditional, Muslim family. The pro-woman nature of the Muslim religion is highlighted by interviews with the women of the family. When am I going to see similar reports about strong evangelical Christian women? Or the fact that though evangelicals wish to convert the world, they understand that such a conversion is not going to come by force but through missionary persuasion?. I'm not holding my breath.

Addendum: One could argue that you face and stand off the Enemy Before You. Frankly though, I don't think that that objection is viable anymore, especially after the murder of Theo Van Gogh. 1 - Can you imagine a major liberal blogger declaring that "conservative Christianity" is just not a useful term?
Posted by razib at 09:21 AM | | TrackBack

Trivers at the Edge

"In genetics it's fair to say that about 20 years ago a cloud on the horizon was our knowledge that there were so-called selfish genetic elements in various species that propagated themselves at the expense of the larger organism. What was then just a cloud on the horizon is now a full-force storm with gale winds blowing." - Robert Trivers

The Edge Foundation recently hosted a special event in honor of the esteemed evolutionary theorist Robert Trivers. Interviews, pictures, videos and so-forth available for those interested over on edge.org.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 04:52 AM | | TrackBack

November 08, 2004

First to America

The Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting article (PDF) titled "America's First Immigrants" that reviews the current dissolution of the solid Clovis First consensus in American paleoanthropology. I lean toward the coastal-migrants-from-Asia-scenario myself as the highest likelihood candidates for the "first Americans," but the take home message is that the history of the populating of two continents is a complex affair. Reading the Keith Windschuttle & Tim Gillin piece, "The extinction of the Australian pygmies," I am struck by the similarities, the confluence of political interests and the seduction of scientific parsimony converged to synthesize an extremely simple hypothesis of a few founders for an entire continent of indigenous peoples. Genetic evidence points to a more complex reality and now the evidence in the New World from the discipline of stones & bones is coming into line with the wet lab data. It seems likely to me that the Clovis First consensus will live longer simply because it is a politically elegant hypothesis as it establishes a unitary legitimacy for the First Nations, but science marches on, politics will only defer the inevitable paradigm shift.

Posted by razib at 11:40 PM | | TrackBack

Hobbitan reflections

Nick Wade has a long article which offers updates on the story of Homo florensis. Wade reports that some scientists hypothesize that H. florensis might be derived from H. sapiens based on the advanced tools that the species produced. The reduction in brain size seems to argue against that, the peoples of the Andaman Islands have been relatively isolated but did not undergo such a sharp reduction in their cranial volume, and the chronology of the fossil findings seem to make an argument for continuity between modern humans and the Flores dwarves difficult. This research will take years to digest, and the possibility of DNA extraction could clarify many of these arguments.

Posted by razib at 11:02 PM | | TrackBack

"Sperm competition"

We've talked about "sperm competition"1 on this blog before, well, here comes a study (abstract in the extended entry) in Nature Genetics which shows that "...that the evolution of SEMG2, the gene encoding semenogelin II, a main structural component of semen coagulum, is accelerated in polyandrous [multiple males] primates relative to monandrous [one male] primates. Our study showcases the intimate relationship between sexual selection and the molecular evolution of reproductive genes." The basic trend is transparent, species where females are likely to have copulations with multiple males during their fertile period are likely to be under selective pressures that alter the characteristics & quantity of sperm to maximize chances of insemination and minimize fertilization by other males (various popular articles highlight gleefully the fact that in some species semen can form a "solid plug" like glue). The proximate outcome of the ultimate evolutionary pressures is that you see a variation in the ratio of testicle size to body size that covaries with the type of mating regime practiced by a species, that is, while gorillas have relatively small testicles because males monopolize sexual access to females in their harems, chimpanzees have large testicles because female chimps tend to "shop around."2 Additionally, popular press articles listed below report that the nature of the semen itself varies from species to species (viscosity), features that are controlled by the gene mentioned above. Evidence of selection on this gene suggest an "arms race" as males engage in sperm competition. Another nail in the coffin of Desmond Morris' pair-bonding? The congruence of molecular genetic evidence with findings from ethology and primatology is a powerful testament to the fact that various scientific disciplines act like separate vectors that focus upon the same basic truth (though you might subscribe to the insane view that they are parallel social constructions).

The article highlights the fact that the evidence seems to point to an evolutionary history of human sexuality that can be characterized as a medium between the strategies of chimps & gorillas in terms of the polyandry/monandry dichotomy. I imagine the molecular data can be an avenue to test some of the hypotheses presented about variation in mating strategies between various human groups ("cads vs. dads").3 At this point, I'm not sure if a great amount of intergroup variation will be found on the molecular level because of the changes in social environment that disaparate populations have been through (though a few relatively stable cultures like China might offer possibilities), but it is an interesting question.

Related: An entry from me on polygyny vs. monogamy in humans. Another post on the relationship between pathogens & polygyny. Popular press pieces from the BBC and The Australian on the aforementioned research paper.

1 - Also known as "dipping your buddy's pot of glue."

2 - I have to say, I find the constant popular press descriptions of females "promiscuous" a little annoying. Perhaps I'm just PC about this, but males in polygynous circumstances are generally described not described such a fashion.

3 - An interesting case study might be to compare populations that share a common genetic history and live in close proximity, for example, the adivasi populations of India and the caste Hindu argrarian peoples who are their neighbors. If there are intergroup differences do manifest themselves because of microevolutionary forces one would imagine that in caste Hindus functional constraints might be released as the "arms race" abates under social enforced monogamy and strident sanctions against female infidelity.

Rate of molecular evolution of the seminal protein gene SEMG2 correlates with levels of female promiscuity

Steve Dorus1, 2, Patrick D Evans1, 2, Gerald J Wyckoff1, 3, Sun Shim Choi1 & Bruce T Lahn1

1 Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.

2 Committee on Genetics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.

3 Present address: Division of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108, USA.

Correspondence should be addressed to Bruce T Lahn blahn@bsd.uchicago.edu

Postcopulatory sperm competition is a key aspect of sexual selection and is believed to drive the rapid evolution of both reproductive physiology and reproduction-related genes1, 2, 3, 4. It is well-established that mating behavior determines the intensity of sperm competition, with polyandry (i.e., female promiscuity) leading to fiercer sperm competition than monandry1, 2, 3. Studies in mammals, particularly primates, showed that, owing to greater sperm competition, polyandrous taxa generally have physiological traits that make them better adapted for fertilization than monandrous species, including bigger testes, larger seminal vesicles, higher sperm counts, richer mitochondrial loading in sperm and more prominent semen coagulation2, 5, 6, 7, 8. Here, we show that the degree of polyandry can also impact the dynamics of molecular evolution. Specifically, we show that the evolution of SEMG2, the gene encoding semenogelin II, a main structural component of semen coagulum, is accelerated in polyandrous primates relative to monandrous primates. Our study showcases the intimate relationship between sexual selection and the molecular evolution of reproductive genes.

Posted by razib at 10:18 PM | | TrackBack

On other blogs

FYI for readers, I will post at least once a week over at Aziz's Dean Nation weblog on a politically related topic. Here is my first entry. My aim to is be the "house libertarian" and offer a different voice now and then.

Update: I've cut & pasted the post above (you can find the permlink @ "entry").

Change is in the air...and here I am. This morning I talked with Aziz a bit about politics and he invited me to post here to offer a different perspective. My plan is to post once a week on a politically related topic.

If you don't know who I am, and most of you likely don't, I am Razib Khan, and I run the weblog Gene Expression. I have filled out a political quiz, and you can view the results here. I am by self-description a small-l "libertarian," though I am a small-r "republican" first and foremost. Though Aziz and I disagree on many political issues, talking to him a few times in the past week (I am visiting Houston for business) has exposed the reality that though we are very different individuals we share deep ontological commitments. As an illustration of my priorities, I will offer that I would rather live in a socialist or social conservative democratic republic than in a libertarian regime headed by a "benevolent" monarch. Process matters a great deal to me, because I implicitly assent to the maxim that the life we live now is interwoven with a promise that we make to generations that will come after, and a reverence for those who have come before us. It is through process that we preserve the means to extend our polity into the future rather than fixating on the ends of the next few years to the point where we mortgage our descendent's inheritance.

Enough narcissistic prattle. I must come clean to readers of this blog, I have said a great many negative things about American liberalism on my weblog over the past few years, a fair amount of it laced with sarcasm and contempt. But as I become more reflective politically, I realize that part of my anger was shaped by my college experiences at the University of Imbler, where a particular type of fashionable liberalism was normative. It is also influenced by the reality that I reside in a small Imbler town where New Age spiritualism and a hyperliberal sensibility are omnipresent (to make it more concrete, last year, 90% of bumper stickers were for Dennis Kucinich, with the balance being for Howard Dean). I believe my objection is to a particular type of "liberalism," rather than the whole broad swath of center-Left ideology.

Already I have stated that I share many ontological beliefs with Aziz. I will be more explicit about them now:

* Operationally we must assume there is an objective universe.
* Truth has meaning outside of any "social construction."
* Ideas can transcend culture, that is, universalism, can triumph over intellectual particularisms.
* Intellectual discourse must be grounded in good faith.
* Reason is not a Western superstition, but a common human tool.

I could go on, but the general sketch is now before you. There are many liberals who I have met who I feel to be kindred children of the Enlightenment in the sense outlined above. We might differ as to our means, but our ends, our basic core values of individual liberty and equality serve to anchor us in our dialogue.

On the other hand, there is a new strain of modern liberalism which draws my ire, which I will term "Romantic." This liberalism manifests itself in emotional appeals to Nature (the capital is purposeful) and has an idealized vision of non-Western cultures. This liberalism will often speak of Women's Ways of Knowing, or Linear Western Thinking, as if the various classes of human (divided by gender, race or religion) are fundamentally and categorically unintelligible to each other, separated by a chasm of unshared persuppositions. I have had many negative interactions with this sort of liberalism, and showing will be much more illuminating than saying, so here are two anecdotes.

About 4 years ago I was sitting in Starbucks with a friend of mine whose father is an Israeli-Arab and whose mother is Scottish-American. Physically he resembles your typical American kid. He was rather fixated on the Second Intifada (his family still resides in Nazareth in an Arab region of Israel proper) and so we were discussing the situation. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a young man staring at us. Finally, he strides up to us and asks us why we are talking about Israel. I replied that we were just talking about the Arab-Israeli conflict. He stated that he didn't understand why I wasn't talking about my own culture. I asked him what he meant, and he responded that I was obviously South Asian, so as a Hindu I seem to have a peculiar interest in the Middle East. Then he turned to my friend and said as a white man he could never judge what was happening in the Middle East clearly. He then offered that he was of Jewish origin but had backpacked through Jordan and Turkey, and found Arab culture "beautiful."

My friend was incensed at this point, because he was of course ancestrally half-Arab, no matter that he "looked white," while I was totally irritated, since my origin is Muslim (though I have pretty much always been an atheist), not Hindu. When I explained the situation, the individual in question seemed to back off on criticizing my friend for his interest in Israel, after all, he was an Arab, but he still stated that Islam was not my "natural" religion, that as a South Asian I should be Hindu. It mattered little to him that my paternal line is filled with imams of mosques, or that one of my great-grandfather's is a local Muslim pir (saint). My brown skin meant that I was a Hindu.

The second anecdote I will offer is of someone I met on the plane. He was talking about how much better non-Western cultures were, and that his time spent in Turkey showed him that Islam was a religion much more sensible than Christian superstition. As an apostate who has experienced a non-trivial amount of harassment, I get tired of this sort of talk, so I pulled out the "feminism card." The feminism card is simply pointing out that Islamic cultures are by and large not particularly liberal in the realm of female autonomy, whether you believe this is intrinsic to Islam itself, it is a plain reality on the ground. I particularly get irked when men who have visited the Middle East as tourists tell me how great those cultures are, since they haven't experienced them as natives, least of all as women. The feminism card is generally a way I have used to push some of my friends away from an uncritical lionization of non-Western cultures. And it always used to work. But of late it hasn't been working as much. My friend on the plane responded that well, cultures differed, and who were we to judge? Cultures might differ, but universal human values do not, and in good liberal tradition I happen to believe that there are universal values, that slavery is wrong, that state sanctioned sexism is wrong, that religious intolerance is wrong. But for some people, as long as sexism or religious fanaticism wear's a brown skin, well, that's just a different culture.

The anecdotes above lead to my next assertion: there is a strain of modern liberalism that is turning its back on the Enlightenment, rejecting the West, rejecting objective truth, rejecting universal values, and resurrecting romantic nationalism as an organizing principle of society. This strain of liberalism is I believe closely related to the rise of Post Modern thought, which negates standards and undermines the legitimacy of reason. If you reject reason, where do you turn to? Tradition! And tradition is often embedded within ethno-national cultures, and here you have the tendency to view individuals as members of groups instead of as ends in and of themselves. Now, to some of you out there this might be a peculiar concept, but over the past few years I have had the recurrent experience of being first thought of as a member of an ethno-national group (after physical inspection of my appearance) and so resulting in a barrage of questions about South Indian Hindu temples, vegetarianism and the like, and when I respond that this is inappropriate, most people have the decency to be embarrassed, but several have simply stated to me plainly that I should know what my true culture is. The implication is that my true culture is encoded in my DNA, in my blood, in my ancestry. There is where the flight from reason will always lead.

Now, why is this relevant? Well, it depends on who American liberals want to ally with. A flight from reason, a turn back toward organic traditionalism, will mean that people like me, highly secular libertarians, will always oppose the march of "liberalism." I stand with the Enlightenment, I stand with the West, and no matter that they aren't my literal genetic forebears, I stand with the Dead White Males who gave us modern science, abolished slavery and ushered in the age of affluence which has freed man from so many of its persistent plagues. Such assertions today mean that I am often labeled as a "conservative" in my social circles, but the reality is that the revolutions of the past 200 years are worth preserving rather than suborning, there is a great deal I wish to conserve. If that makes me a conservative, than I accept that label. And labels, typologies, ideologies matter, because thought and consideration always precedes action that is not reflexive.

Posted by razib at 03:11 PM | | TrackBack

November 07, 2004

Netherlands awakening

Van Gogh murder backlash begins (via VFR). When you defer payments that need to be made, the final reckoning builds. We most certainly do not live in Leibniz's most perfect of all worlds, scarcity and constraints are facts of existence, and the Dutch must now deal with a Muslim underclass that has been given succor at the teat of their welfare state and allowed to flourish by the neglect of the Dutch elite. The more and more I examine the issue, I can not think that there can be any long term solution to the "problem" of northern Europe's Muslim underclass than the reassertion of the primacy of the native culture, because the Muslim underclass culture is not self-supporting, but lives by feeding off the majority's economic productivity (Muslims who assimilate by definition opt out of the underclass subculture, and within a few generations their lines might "disappear" into the population). It is plausible that dual national cultures can be maintained, as in Canada or Belgium, but in these cases there is relative economic parity (I am aware that at one point Quebec was relatively deprived, and that Flanders and Wallonia have switched roles in the past few decades in terms of economic dynamism, but both these disparities are trivial in comparison to what I speak of).

Posted by razib at 10:02 PM | | TrackBack


I just stumbled upon this article from 6 months back on Ali G's brother's Empathizing-Systemizing theory of autism and his new book, The Essential Difference (about mindblindness in the context of male-female differences). But what caught my attention was a dissent from Baron-Cohen's thesis:

A British researcher, for example, has found that the sex ratio was equal in autistic blind children, and that there is a different sex ratio in high IQ versus low IQ people with autism. ``So it's not just a male thing; there's something else going on,'' she said.

After a little digging this is what I found:

...boy:girl ratios in the most severely retarded groups being in the range of 2:1 rather than the much cited ratio of 3-4:1 for the autism group as a whole (Rutter, 1985) and 9-10:1 for the Asperger group....

Whatever is going on, it's complex. Like schizophrenia, the genetically heritable component of autism/Asperger's Syndrome is polygenic (assuming you believe there is a unitary phenotype of Autism or Asperger's Syndrome). The point about blind children to me is more interesting than the IQ differences, could there be essential visually cued inputs that blind girls miss that results in their 'mindblindness'? (I am thinking along the lines of being able to read facial expressions and match them to emotional states) Or might it be that blind boys do not get the visual inputs that trigger their interest in mechanics and the movement of objects, allowing their social skills to develop to a greater extent?

Related: Another article on Baron-Cohen. Also, The Autism Research Centre.

Posted by razib at 09:18 AM | | TrackBack