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December 04, 2004

Miss World 2004 - Peru

Maria Julia Mantilla Garcia of Peru is Miss World. Since the Miss World site has crappy load times I can't do my survey of contestants, which is best since I should be doing other things. But about Ms. Garcia:

It is not surprising that though only 15% of Peruvians claim to be white, their representative in a beauty contest is no Inca Princess. Nevertheless, I think the fact that Latin American countries generally hold up fair ladies as the ideal of beauty, or that Bollywood actors & actresses are generally shifted several standard deviations from the South Asian median in complexion, should give Americans some breathing room for any criticisms that our beauty ideals are "too white" when 70% of the population is non-Hispanic European in origin....

For comparison, Miss Bolivia seems to be a Mestizo, though she hails from the lowlands rather than the Andes. It might just be that the Andean poples do not normally exhibit the leggy and svelte phyisque preferred for Miss World (which is even less substantive than Miss Universe from what I can gather).

P.S. Miss United States seems like not only is she shifted from the "All American" norm in looks, she is smarter than typical.

Posted by razib at 02:31 PM | | TrackBack

The "baby gap"

Steve Sailer's long-awaited article for The American Conservative has finally been posted on their site! Check it out.

Posted by Arcane at 02:06 PM | | TrackBack

December 03, 2004

IgNoble Awards

I didn't see much coverage of the IgNoble Awards in the blogosphere so I thought I'd summarize the winners for 2004. The video of the award ceremony was released on Nov. 28.

Steven Stack of Wayne State University and James Gundlach of Auburn University for their published report "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide."

Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University, Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus, and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden's National Board of Fisheries, for showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting.

The Coca-Cola Company of Great Britain, for using advanced technology to convert liquid from the River Thames into Dasani, a transparent form of water, which for precautionary reasons has been made unavailable to consumers.

The Vatican, for outsourcing prayers to India.

Daisuke Inoue of Hyogo, Japan, for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.

Jillian Clarke of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, and then Howard University, for investigating the scientific validity of the Five-Second Rule about whether it's safe to eat food that's been dropped on the floor.

Ramesh Balasubramaniam of the University of Ottawa, and Michael Turvey of the University of Connecticut and Haskins Laboratory, for exploring and explaining the dynamics of hula-hooping.

Donald J. Smith and his father, the late Frank J. Smith, of Orlando Florida, USA, for patenting the combover (U.S. Patent #4,022,227).

The American Nudist Research Library of Kissimmee, Florida, USA, for preserving nudist history so that everyone can see it.

Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University, for demonstrating that when people pay close attention to something, it's all too easy to overlook anything else -- even a woman in a gorilla suit.

Posted by TangoMan at 07:15 PM | | TrackBack

Dawkins and sexual selection

Slate has an nice interview with Richard Dawkins. Same old, same old. But I have a question for the ladies: is Richard Dawkins handsome??? I see this assertion made, explicitly or implicitly about Dawkins now & then, and I wonder, is there something to this? I've been in a small lecture where Dawkins presented, about two dozen people, and I have to say he exuded an incredible amount of confidence, he seemed clearly an "alpha," but I can't attest to his looks (I like the ladies). Dawkins' bold & brassy prose style and flashy flourishes mapped pretty well on to his speaking style and his public persona. In contrast, Steven Pinker was in private conversation a more shy and reserved individual than I would have expected from his books (I never saw him in lecture or listened to interviews).

I guess I'm asking if Richard Dawkins is the Naomi Wolf of evolutionary biologists? (he's quite clearly a popularizer rather than a original thinker in the context of his own field of ethology & evolutionary biology from what I can tell)

Posted by razib at 06:30 PM | | TrackBack

"Racial Disparities Noted In Immune System Genes"

I noticed a new paper today ("Differential Distribution of Allelic Variants in Cytokine Genes among African Americans and White Americans").

From the press release:

"We found that African Americans were significantly more likely to carry genetic variants known to stimulate the inflammatory response," ... "At the same time, genotypes known to dampen the release of anti-inflammatory proteins were more common among African Americans. This is kind of a double whammy."

Their method:

Specifically, scientists compared genetic data on 179 African-American and 396 white women who sought prenatal care and delivered uncomplicated, single, first births at Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center between 1997 and 2001. Blood samples were analyzed for a multitude of functionally relevant allelic variants in cytokine-regulating genes.

And an unexpectedly candid result:

"In the past, people looked at one or two variants," said Dr. Ness. "We looked at a whole host, and saw trends that perhaps point to some evolutionary-mediated change in the human genome that has had an impact on inflammation."
Posted by rikurzhen at 12:30 PM | | TrackBack

Spoof Website Markets GM Virus Nanotech

Crossposted from GeneticFuture.org

My friend Steve Miller, prolific creator of venerable innervision-arts site mkzdk.org
and current events watchdog site dvmx.com pointed me to this page:


If you've ever read Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age then this post-apocalyptic corporate sales pitch should be familiar.

Take a moment to meditate on the future of you and your beloved manufacturers. Knowing that commerce without attrition can lead to the eventual extinction of your product line, isn't it time you considered the fool-proof option of a fully controlled viral epidemic? Think of the instantaneous market share boost you would receive after your competitor's labor population was attrited with a virus made just for them.


In other news, a book on genetics has won the £10,000 Guardian award -- the first time a non-fiction book has ever won this prize.

Posted by canton at 08:10 AM | | TrackBack

Christmas...a holiday for everyone, from everyone?

Here is a short but informative article on the various Christmas traditions and their likely origins in paganism. Assertions like "Jesus is the reason for the season" are obviously contextual. I am well aware that some Christians, in particular Catholics, make a case that Christ-centered Christmas predates the declaration of Natalis Sol Invictus (birth of the Victorious Sun) by the emperor Aurelian in the late 3rd century on December 25th, but I tend to be sympathetic to the idea that "Christmas" is an absorption by the early Church of a nearly universal European pagan holidy. If not, it seems an example of the stealth-paganization of a Christian holiday. The book Europe, was it ever really Christian?: The interaction between gospel and culture by Dutch Reformed thinker Atonie Wessels explores many of the "pagan" practices indulged in by the European peasantry prior to the spread of mass literacy and evangelical faith with the Reformation (even Christmas cookies have pagan antecedants!). Though Wessels' thesis is not totally persuasive (he clearly is one of those Protestant thinkers who believes Roman Catholicism a failed syncretistic experiment, though he does not from what I recall explicitly voice this opinion) he assembles a wide and deep catalog of heterodox practices, folkways and beliefs that cloud our concepts of what particular rituals and symbols truly mean.

The modern PC de-Christianization of Christmas (a transmutation into the more generic "Holidays") is rather wrong-headed in that the holiday has always had many faces. Rather than stripping bare & sterilizing dominant traditions those who have little interest in creches & carols can choose to emphasize other aspects of Christmas, that is, promote diversity rather than try and impose deracinated homogeneity. While some moderns fear the Christianity in Christmas many Protestant sects have been suspicious of what seems plain naked heathenism associated with the holiday's rituals and so it comes as no surprise that groups like the Puritans banned the festival so as to blot out a dollop of the paganism of old from their stern faith. They failed, and that should teach us something.

Posted by razib at 04:30 AM | | TrackBack

Hobbit Theft

A week ago Carl Zimmer hinted that a prominent Indonesian researcher had his eye on the "Hobbit" discovery from a month back, and that this scientist tended to "is known to guard fossils in his vault." Well, The Australian reports that other paleontologists are freaking out because it seems possible that the slimy Teuku Jacob is going to sequester as many of the remains as he can get his hands on (some are already behind his obscurantist firewall).

Are we surprised that a genuine scientific culture (as opposed to scientists or scientific discoveries) emerged just once in the history of our species?

Posted by razib at 02:07 AM | | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

One important thing

I know many GNXP1 readers have technical backgrounds and also have an interest in public policy & politics. Well, if you are going to read one book about American history over the holidays, please read Albion's Seed. Though it was written in 1989, the author is positively prescient on many points of contention and conceptual frameworks used for analysis in our present time, and I know GNXP readers are impressed by models that have some predictive power. At about ~900 pages of text it is data rich, and the footnotes are copious enough to convince anyone that the author's assertion are backed up by research rather than personal prejudice. I will post on the book in more detail later...right now I am still in the process of digestion...but this the sort of work that I mean when I say we need to maintain fidelity to The Way of Truth. More later....

Addendum: The one contention that I found tenditious in AS was that only 1/5 of Americans had British ancestors. Well, you can check the reported ancestry over at the Census. Here are the "British" stats:

Irish 10.8%
English 8.7%
Scottish 1.7%
Scotch-Irish 1.5%

This makes no sense, and quite obviously many people of British origin probably did not respond, or responded as "American." A quick perusal of sites related to ancestry states that "70% of Americans have some roots in the British Isles." This might sound like a high-ball estimate, but, it seems plausible that most mixed-race Native Amerians and black Americans probably have roots in the British Isles, and many "ethnic" white groups like Italian Americans have extremely high intermarriage rates, but anecdotally, today many of the offspring identify with their more "exotic" forebears than their Anglo-Celtic ones.

Update: GC's old post has good links. The county level ethnic concentration maps are really cool, so make sure to select that option!

1 - I guess the blog is now "GNXP" rather than "Gene Expression."

Posted by razib at 03:05 PM | | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

"Opposites Attract"

Regular readers know that I often blurb the late William D. Hamilton's Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Volume 2 (many copies of which are selling for $20-25 on AMAZON!), which tends to revolve around his fixation on the evolution of sex in response to parasites. Well, here is an article titled Good vs complementary genes for parasite resistance and the evolution of mate choice, this in the context of "Opposites Attract" (OA) vs. "Condition Dependent" (CD) vs. "Random Mating" strategies (RM). OA is the type of behavior alluded to in posts like Rare male advantage, while CD is selection for "fitness" (resistance to disease in this case) and RM is buckwild sluttiness. The authors ran a few models, and their general conclusion is that the OA populations manifested an ESS that was able to resist invasion from both CD & RM strategies, while it was able to "invade" both. The full article (PDF) is sinfull in its brevity so I recommend you check it out.

Addendum: There is conflicting evidence about whether humans engage in OA, for example, some research suggests women are attracted to shirts worn by men with different MHC profiles while other researchers find that women prefer those worn by men with MHC profiles similar to their fathers (smell is the proximate here).1 It is clear though on a social level that humans tend to engage in like-to-like mating, that is, they generally match for religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Various forms of exogamy and endogamy also play into the mix.

Addendum II: New readers might be interested in this older post: Of pathogens & polygyny. The upshot is that an environment more rife with pathogens tends to favor polygyny (greater reproductive skew for males, CD preference) and exogamy (OA).

Addendum III: In response to a comment from Frank M. I linked to this post which suggests people are "attracted to faces like their own" because of some sort of influence from their parents. This is basically like imprinting, there is a genetic tendency that you are "primed" for that must be triggered by environmental inputs.

1 - Some have suggested that though randomizing the immune profile of your offspring might increase their fitness after birth, mating with someone with a similar immune profile boosts viability during gestation because of a lower likelihood of fetus-mother conflicts.

Posted by razib at 08:04 PM | | TrackBack

Innocent of specicide?

Some of you might have stumbled upon the recent evidence that the drastic drop in population occurred in many "megafauna" lineages in Siberia ~37,000 years ago (10,000 years prior to the arrival of humans in large numbers to the region). This is interesting to me in light of the fact that many paleoanthropologists have attempted to pin the mass extinctions of large mammals in Australia and the New World on humans, but recent moa data in combination with this data is suggestive (though definitely not conclusive) of a pattern where modern humans are exonerated of blitzkrieg mass-killings. It seems plausible to me that many large mammals would go through cycles in terms of the density of the breeding population through their range, and the difference with the arrival of humans is that we might have prevented the "bounce back" that would normally have been inevitable. Similarly, I have read that the penguins and other animals have exploded in population with the decline in the whale species because of human hunting, and some ecologists wonder if the whale population can ever regain their "natural" position within the ecosystem now that it seems to have re-equilibrated.

Posted by razib at 07:29 PM | | TrackBack

War Gaming

As I pointed out in a previous post on Iran's nuclear ambitions I think that there are two factors at work, civilian nuclear power and the Mullahs burning desire to acquire nuclear weapons. I'm not too optimistic about soft power negotiations being effective in stopping the nuclear weapons drive and I thought it might be interesting if we interactively war gamed the situation, perhaps starting with an interactive decision tree analysis where we could conduct a poll for each branch and start navigating the likelihoods of future events.

It seems to me that Europeans, at the end of the day, would be willing to live with a nuclear armed Iran, where that would be a more bitter pill for Americans to swallow. If action is needed to thwart the Mullah's ambitions can the US go it alone considering present commitments in Iraq?

I'm thinking that with a decision tree analysis we can look at each step from the present to possible outcomes, for instance, if force is to be considered, how will we muster the resources. What is the probability that we'll have a draft, or increase recruitment, how long to work those troops through training, will we redeploy from other overseas theatres and leave Iraq levels static, will we downsize Iraq troop levels in preparation for nationbuilding in Iran, or will we see that military options are really not on the table. If the latter then what other options can be explored.

If we lay out the decision branches, and set up a poll, we can all vote on each branch and get a feel for the "wisdom" of each branch and the likelihood of events going that way.

Does this sound like something people would be interested in? Perhaps Arcane or some of our other bloggers can be enticed help design the experiment. Anyways, I'd be interested in people's opinions on whether they'd like to see this type of interactive experiment take place. If enough people are interested, I could start putting together a rudimentary tree to get the ball rolling.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:16 PM | | TrackBack

African Endurance Running and Genetics

According to New Scientist:

Researchers have established that [African endurance runners] are more likely to have certain variants of four Y chromosome genes compared with other Ethiopians. No one knows what the genes do, or how influential they are, but they are the first to be linked to east Africans’ outstanding ability for endurance events.
....Four gene variants were clearly more common among the athletes, and one was less common. No mutation was unique to the athletes, however, suggesting that it is the combination of certain gene types that makes the difference.
Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 01:45 PM | | TrackBack

Genes & politics

Dan Seligman has an interesting piece in Forbes titled Of Genes and Exit Polls. You need to register, but this should work: username: gnxppublic, password: publicgnxp.

Two notes:

  1. Political typologies are very dicey, so though I can accept the correlations, I'm not sure I know what is being correlated (that a presumabely liberal sociologist quoted in the article described "conservative" traits as "aggressive and enormously self-righteous" should give you a clue as to my skepticism about attributions of tendencies by political orientation A, B, C....)
  2. This seems most relevant to within-country comparisons. That is, the political & social system of the USA (or Australia, or whatever) is the "environment," with variations by region and locality, so the genetically controlled predispositions upstream of the emergent psychological and behavorial tendencies get expressed differently in different contexts (that is, a "norm of reaction").

Some critics of psychometrics point out that unlike height we don't have a perfectly precise measure of "intelligence," well, I think that the criticism is even stronger in political preference....

Posted by razib at 01:35 PM | | TrackBack

The Adoption Controversy, Part Two

This is a follow-up to my post entitled The Nurture Assumption.

If you've been following the comments at Washington Monthly and at Jane Galt in reaction to the original post by Alex Tabarrok and his follow-up post on a paper entitled What Happens When We Randomly Assign Children to Families by Bruce Sacerdote (here is a free access version of the paper) you'll have noticed that many commentators are finding it difficult to accept Sacerdote's conclusion that parental income, while being correlated to the biological child's income, has virtually no influence on the income of the adopted children.

What I want to do in this post is to first clarify what I think is a calculated omission on Sacerdote's part and what is riling up the commentariat and secondly to point to other findings in Sacerdote's paper and see if they will be as controversial (warning - I'll write the second part with a straight face but the intent will be parody.)

It appears to me that Sacerdote's findings are being met with so much skepticism because he's hiding behind squid ink and the critics are finding it difficult to model the mechanism which would connect parental income to the income of the biological children but not to the adoptive children. It's obvious that the difference at work is parental genetic contribution to the biological children but I think the root of the skeptcism centers on the question of how can genes possibly control for income.

So, first, let's strip away some of the squid ink so we can assess the situation accurately. Sacerdote writes:

There is a large adoption literature outside of economics and it has focused mostly on estimating the heritability of IQ, as in Scarr and Weinberg [1978, 1981], and personality traits as in Loehlin, Horn, and Willerman [1985, 1987, 1994], and Plomin, Defries, and Fulker [1988, 1991, 1997]. I depart from this literature in two ways. First I focus on income, education and health outcomes rather than IQ and personality traits.

No, Sacerdote doesn't really depart from the literature by focusing on income, education and health. These factors are each related to g.

From Intelligence Predicts Health and Longevity, but Why?


O’Toole and Stankov used IQ at induction into the military, along with 56 other psychological, behavioral, health, and demographic variables, to predict noncombat deaths by age 40 among 2,309 Australian veterans. When all other variables were statistically controlled, each additional IQ point predicted a 1% decrease in risk of death. Also, IQ was the best predictor of the major cause of death, motor vehicle accidents. Vehicular death rates doubled and then tripled at successively lower IQ ranges. . .

IQ at age 11 had a significant association with survival to about age 76. On average, individuals who were at a 1-standard-deviation (15-point) disadvantage in IQ relative to other participants were only 79% as likely to live to age 76. . .

For each standard deviation increase in IQ, there was a 33% increased rate of quitting smoking. Adjusting for social class reduced this rate only mildly, to 25%. Thus, childhood IQ was not associated with starting smoking (mostly in the 1930s, when the public were not aware of health risks), but was associated with giving up smoking as health risks became evident. . .

Among diabetics, intelligence at time of diagnosis correlates significantly (.36) with diabetes knowledge measured 1 year later. Like hypertension and many other chronic illnesses, diabetes requires self-monitoring and frequent judgments to keep physiological processes within safe limits. In general, low functional health literacy is linked to more illnesses, greater severity of illnesses, worse self-rated health, far higher medical costs, and (prospectively) more frequent hospitalization.

From The Study of Human Intelligence: A Review at the Turn of the Millenium


Studies carried out in the US on the level of prediction of intelligence tests indicate that they are valuable instruments: "psychometric tests are the best predictors of success in school and in the world of work. And what’s more, they are no mean predictors of failure in everyday life, such as falling into poverty or dependence on the state (…). To say that other things are important, apart from intelligence, is not really a challenge until you say precisely what those other things are." According to the APA, standardised measures of intelligence correlate at levels of .50 with school performance, .55 with years of schooling, .54 with work performance, and –.19 with juvenile delinquency. No other psychological variable is capable of producing these correlations.


As far as the influence of SES is concerned, the APA report makes several points. It is more probable that the children of privileged families attain higher social status than those whose parents have low incomes or less education. Intelligence and family SES correlate at a level of .33. What is observed on comparing the occupational status (or income) of adult siblings raised in the same family and who, therefore, have the same family SES? In such cases, it is more probable that the brother or sister with the best intellectual performance in adolescence has the highest social status and the highest income in adulthood. It is also more probable that the brother or sister with best performance in IQ tests gets more out of education, so that s/he has better credentials for aspiring to a good job.

We see that g is correlated to health at 0.36, to income at 0.33, to work performance at 0.54, and years of schooling at 0.55. So to make the causative model clear let's substitute g for family income. Intelligence is highly heritable and this would explain a connection between the parent and biological child that isn't present for the parent and adoptive child. What critics are missing is that intelligence also correlates to education and income. So its not really the family income that is the causative agent but is in fact the intelligence of the parents.

Another confusing issue is the relatively flat line of the adoptee's income compared to the rising slope of the biological children's income. If the children are raised in the same family environment, then why the difference? Again we come back to the intelligence of the children as being the root cause.

Let's look at some data on IQ findings for a broad (though not comprehensive) cross section of jobs.

Jobs IQ.jpg

If we look at Household Income for 1980, we see that the top 5% of households earned $66,617 (current dollars) and the mean income for that year was $21,063 (current dollars.) If you compare the Household Income data for 1980 to the Sacerdote's graph you see that almost all of the parents are earning above the American Mean Income. This should be the first clue that we're not looking at a representative sample of parents.

Keeping in mind that there is a correlation between income earned and IQ, but also cognizant that the correlation is 0.33 and not 1.0, let's take a look at the distribution of the IQ range. An IQ of 125 will place you in the 95th percentile and the rarity of higher scores increases quite rapidly. Sacerdote doesn't provide us with direct IQ scores of the parents or chilren which would be extremely useful at this point but if we assume a moderate correlation between IQ and Income we can infer that a sizable majority of the parents have IQs that are higher than the American mean, some probably notably higher. I'll repeat, the parents are not a representative sample drawn from American society.

However, we have absolutely no reason to believe that the Korean adopted children are anything but a representative sample drawn from Korean society. Let's go back to the IQ distribution chart. Using a SD of 15, we see that 71% of the population falls within 2 SD of IQ 100. Various sources put the Korean mean IQ from 105-109.

So, it's quite likely that the Korean children were drawn from a representative sample of Korean birth parents and adopted by a non-representative sample of Americans who were earning above the American mean income, and likely had IQs well above the American mean of 100. We know that IQ is heritable (see Nature for the heritability of g at 0.8) and correlates to income. The biological children will also likely have IQs that are above the American mean and also above the Korean mean. There is a significant probability that their higher IQs will translate into increased earning potential and this will be correlated to the parental income. It should be noted that in 2003 the American Median Income was $43,318 (current dollars) and the adoptees, as noted in the study, are younger than the biological children, are earning right around the median income. Tabarrok notes the age difference between the adoptees and biological children:

Once you control for this and a few similar factors the mean income difference goes away (think of shifting the adoptee line up). What remains, and this is the key point, is that the biological line is upward sloping and the adoptee line is flat.

In other words, the adoptees, if they were truly drawn from a representative population in Korea are already earning a mean income. They are not subpar in this regard.

Now for those who still find this controversial perhaps you can work up the same skepticism for the Sacerdote's findings on height and Body Mass Index:

For height and obesity, there is strong transmission from parents to their biological children and almost no transmission of these outcomes from parents to adoptees. For example, the transmission coefficient on body mass index is .02 for adoptees and .23 for non-adoptees.

We also know that child-parent heights are correlated at 0.47 (note how that compares to IQ as a predictor of work performance 0.54) (See here for further information.)

Now why is it that adopted children raised in the same household as the biological children have absolutely no correlation to the height or Body Mass Index of the parents? Afterall, they are witness to family eating rituals, ingest the same nutrients as the biological children, subjected to the same food phobias and cravings, as well as the same exercise regimes and lifestyle choices and yet if we graphed these results we'd see absolutely no relationship despite these overwhelming environmental influences.

Intelligence is more strongly heritable than height or BMI. If you accept Socerdate's findings on height and BMI, what's the problem with intelligence having influence on family income and intelligence being heritable and enabling the biological children to earn incomes in relation to how well their parents earned? We have no reason to believe that the adopted children are uniformly drawn from the upper regions of the Korean IQ distribution so their performance is most likely on par for their IQ.

Posted by TangoMan at 03:25 AM | | TrackBack

Why fewer Asian geniuses?

We have mooted the question of the relative lack of East Asian geniuses in light of their high median IQ before. One common opinion is that East Asians have a smaller variance in their IQ distributions, but repeated searches by GC & I never yielded any such evidence. It seems plausible that the non-g related factors that lead to the crystallization of genius might be at work here. But going back to variance, I realized that the problem might be that there is too much variance among East Asians. Not in IQ, but in the way East Asian cultures distribute authority based on seniority and the critical importance of rank in general, that is many more East Asian intellectuals (I am thinking in particular science, as I have read studies on Japanese scientific culture) fall below the threshold of status where their opinions and ideas can ever get any traction. In contrast I would offer that American (and perhaps European) intellectual environments are relatively egalitarian, that is, there is less of a variance in the ability to get the word out. This seems to dovetail well with a common theme of Sinologists, the smothering of novel methods or ideas by a senior bureaucrat.

Addendum: This is where adoption studies and ethnographies of Asian Americans might shed some light.

Addendum II: NuSapiens offers this post: Three Human IQ Types, an unbashed exposition of intellectual elitism.

Posted by razib at 01:26 AM | | TrackBack

November 30, 2004

English only Lawsuits

Michael Blowhard points me to the 612% rise since 1996 in EEOC lawsuits against employers mandating English Only workplaces.

Claims against workplace English-only rules have increased 612 percent, from 32 cases in 1996 to 228 in 2002, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But they're still only a fraction of the EEOC's 9,000 annual claims of national-origin discrimination.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:53 PM | | TrackBack

Uber-geekdom (or I can cast 8th level spells!!!)

(Related, read "The gaming mind and intuition" at my blog)

Recently I had lunch with a friend from my community college days (ten years back). We originally met in a psychology class and our conversation turned to that. In that class the teacher set aside a time for students to voluntarily take the Stanford-Binet IQ test administered by an outside expert (he brought it up, I had completely forgotten it until he mentioned it). He remembers me being upset when I got my score (he always had a better memory than me, I have a horrible memory) as I thought it was too low. So we exchanged the score sheets, and were both stunned. He scored a 128 which I thought was mediocre, and I scored a 142, which he thought was amazing. He asked me why I was so upset, and this is where my story enters into geekdom so for our non-geek readers I will put the rest below.

My answer to his question was "well, 142 is high but it isn't above 170, what I was hoping for"

Him " Man that's high I think you're being unrealistic. Why did you pick that number?"

Me "Because Mages in AD&D are only mediocre until they have INT score of 16, 17, 18 and I figured that IQ was comparable to INT times 10"

He laughed it off thinking I was putting too much faith in a game we both enjoyed, and that I was a little nutty.

When I finished lunch and went back to work, I started to think about whether the two scores (IQ and INT) are translatable. Both are more-or-less Gaussian, both center around a number that is easily convertable (100 for IQ and 10.5 for INT, just times INT by 9.52 to get 100). I dug up the data on the probability distribution for a 3d6 die roll, and what I found was something that at first glance was not very encouraging to my thought experiment.

The "bell-curve" for 3d6 die roll was "squashed" in the middle due to insufficient data-points, so obiously a forumula of 9.52INT=IQ would not work (among other reasons), so I focused on percentile. Looking at my score, 142, which is within the to 0.25%, and comparing it to my distribution breakdown of INT rolled scores gives a INT score for me of 18.

Whoot! I can cast 8th level spells!

Now, I know this is an exercise in futility and means nothing, and there are always problems comparing two bell-curves, and the INT curve drop-off completely at exactly 18, but it just made me feel good.

Now I can go about finishing creating myself as a AD&D character. Let's see strength 12, Con 10, Dex 11, Wis 12, CHA 11, 4th level wizard (closest to a chemist IMO), NG....

Addendum I think it's interesting to note that my friend is a mid-level manager on the way up in a technology firm in town (he got a business major), while I have a Chemistry degree and four years of Basic research experience. And one note of unfairness, he makes twice as much now as my highest salary, there is no justice!

Also I have recently taken another IQ test and scored at 139, I'm getting dumber! ;)

Posted by scottm at 04:53 PM | | TrackBack

The Pentagon's "Cambrian program"

Andrew Parker, who has been discussed on this blog before, has been recruited, along with "all manner of political and military figureheads, as well as defence analysts, computer programmers, tacticians and statisticians," by the British Ministry of Defense to develop a piece of software that will use "evolutionary theory to predict possible threats and outcomes," and has been dubbed the "Cambrian program." He also reports that Tony Tether at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, lots of neat stuff on their site, btw) here in the U.S. is working on a similar program.

The program will work along the same lines as computer programs already used to recreate the evolutionary paths of different species. The programs take data from thousands of different fossils and use artificial neural networks and so-called genetic algorithms to piece together how different species evolved. The Cambrian program will follow suit, only instead of processing fossil data, it will eventually be fed information on the state of our society. Data on the way we travel, the way we use energy and water, our postal services and internet traffic, will be processed alongside information on the availability of weapons, chemicals, radioactive material, and so on. It will then attempt to use the data to piece together possible threats that could emerge in the future.

This is basically the only thing out there on it that I can find and DARPA hasn't posted anything on their program yet... but it sounds sweet to me! The rest of the article is quite good, as well, so check it out!

Posted by Arcane at 03:37 PM | | TrackBack

SURVECTOR: The Orgasm Drug

I'm no fan of the corrupt bureaucrats at the FDA. In particular, I think drugs widely tested & prescribed in Europe but not vetted by the FDA should be available in the US with that caveat. Let the public decide for themselves.

An interesting case is the drug Survector, a novel tricyclic antidepressant which was marketed by Servier in France & widely prescribed in Europe. Unlike serotonin reuptake blockers like Prozac, Survector is a dopamine reuptake blocker & mild psychomotor stimulant. Among its effects:

Because of the latter as well as its mild psychomotor stimulant effect, Survector was deemed to have abuse potential (hardly the case with side-effect rich drugs like Prozac). Pressured by the FDA, Survector's EC license was withdrawn in 1999. Yet studies of dependence (here & here) showed that those most at risk were people with serious psychiatric disorders & histories of substance abuse (duh).

There were also cases of hepatotoxicity (perhaps due to genetic predisposition). Alcohol, of course, has abuse potential & causes liver damage, but don't look for it to be withdrawn from the market. As it shouldn't be: why should a minority of substance abusers set public policy?

The orgasm effect also engages America's Puritanical pleasure phobia. MDMA is a valuable drug that's been useful in PTSD & psychotherapy, but due its being scheduled is now almost impossible for scientists to study. Its misuse by kids doesn't change its potential usefulness.

FOOTNOTE: Survector's manufacturer Servier is now offering a related drug called Tianeptine, which shows promise, altho there are no plans to market it in America. It's also self-evident that manufacturers of the multibillion dollar SSRI industry have a vested interest in keeping substances like Survector & Tianeptine off the US market.

(Survector's not, however, completely unavailable.)

Posted by jeff at 01:51 PM | | TrackBack

The Way of Truth

Cross-posted to Dean Nation.

The person you agree with 100% of the time is yourself. And sometimes, even that isn't so! Running a weblog focused on diverse topics I stumble on to many areas where I disagree with person X and agree with person Y, and many areas where the converse happens. The person with whom I will disagree will sometimes attempt to call me back to Reason, or suggest that I Really Can't Believe That. It's like my mental faculties just escape me now & then! To paraphrase H. L. Mencken there are individuals who live in terror that someone, somewhere, out there can conceive of a rational opinion at variance with their own!

I exaggerate for effect. We all succumb to this tendency now & then. As a species we seem intent on focusing on individual battles rather than tracking the progress of the war, perhaps this is what makes strategic thinkers "geniuses," they are not modal personalities. This shouldn't be too surprising when you realize that though we are shaped by ultimate considerations they work through variations in proximate traits. If you don't survive the battles, you won't live to enjoy the fruits of victory in war.

Human beings have confirmation biases. That is, we are more likely to accept evidence that confirms our hypotheses. We also have coalitional biases, that is, we are more likely to give credence to individuals who we know share our other biases, and this can even work to counteract confirmation bias on occassion (that is, you accept weak evidence for hypothesis A but individual 1, who you share multiple other biases with, offers evidence for B, and so the evidence for A looks far weaker to you now).

In terms of specifics, you see these coalitional and confirmation biases show up in various manners. For example, my admiration for Paul Gross is grounded in the reality that he shares two particular biases of mine: he fights creationism where ever it rises to battle science, and also keeps an open mind on topics relating to human nature (from evolutionary psychology to human biodiversity). Now, I happen to disagree with some of Dr. Gross' opinions on foreign policy, but I don't particular care about that topic much so it doesn't really diminish my admiration for him.

Back when I was a "hardcore" libertarian and a freethought activist, I was heartened to find out that non-theist philosopher Antony Flew was also a committed Thatcherite (Flew has expressed a recent openness to Deism FYI, so I haven't labelled him a negative or implicit atheist as I would have 1 year ago). This tendency for humans to exhibit correlation on numerous variables is not surprising, that libertarians are generally secular & self-perceive their views as "rational" would be no great surprise to anyone (or that they are mostly male). The most common explanation for this tendency is that there are underlying axioms or experiences that commonly shape one's opinion on alternate hypotheses. For example, if one adheres to a new found respect for "traditional wisdom," a turn torward the dominant religion and simultaneous acceptance of conventional social mores might be expected. On the other hand, I think people often dismiss the more unpredictable sociological angle: one may switch from Democrat to Republican if one joins a church where everyone is a Republican not because of a genuine heart-felt change in personal values, but because everyone else is a Republican (the values then change in a Pascalian fashion as the constant refrain of the new truth seeps into your brain).

But enough theory, I would like to address a specific. On occasion, some regular readers of my opinions express dismay that I take an elitist attitude toward the evolution/creation "controversy." That is, I tend to discount the creationist opinions of the American public for two reasons, first, I don't think they are deeply felt, and second, they are wrong. Now, the truth is that I may believe that it is wrong for schools to serve only kosher meals or only vegan meals (in deference to the dietary restrictions of some students), but, it is not an opinion that I would not be particularly concerned about this even if "my side" lost the battle at a school board meeting. The latter political dispute is of a different kind that the former scientific dispute.

I am not one who is going to deny that science is totally innocent of norms, values and "unproven" assumptions, but, I will assert that convential political "debates" occur primarily because humans are often unable to eloborate and clarify for each other their deep-seated instincts and values which could render their opinion rational, at least in light of their axioms, to other disputants. The axioms of science are more naked and transparent (methodological naturalism, a reliance on evidence, inference and reason), and the means take priority over the ends! This last part is crucial: I don't believe that teaching creationism in the public schools is a disaster for the negative effect it will have on evolutionary theory per se, rather, I worry about the corrosive effect it will have on those children who might later be influenced by the scientific method, with all its checks & balances and its reliance on good faith (rather than plain faith).

Am I being paranoid? Perhaps, but civilization does hang in the balance, because the modern world is contingent upon the open society, and especially science (republicanism and institutions of civil society are necessary for genuinely innovative science in my opinion, but the affluent middle class society which feeds these values would be untenable without the scientific revolution).1 I am of the mind that the world has produced only one true scientific society, that of Europe in the 17th century (which later expanded to become coterminus with the world). Evolutionary psychologists have addressed our cognitive difficulties with the scientific mode of thought, and only a small minority of individuals in our ostensibly scientific culture will be involved with science or technology in their daily lives, but these individuals are a necessary condition for the perpetuation of middle class affluence. To flourish and grow young scientists and engineers need a culture that will enable them. The creeping in of creation science and other assorted qwackeries will not result in the death of our civilization in one fell swoop, but this is another battle that needs to be viewed in the context of the war against human nature, the war against confirmation bias, groupishness and all the assorted drives and tendencies shaped by our environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA).

But, I must admit that there is a reason that some people sympathize with the public will to insert their norms and values into the realm of science, and that is because those norms and values have been driven out of other domains of knowledge which are more amenable to manipulation. The rise of multiculturalist political correctness in the United States seems to have resulted in the flight from the classrooms of a positive discussion of the preconditions of the shaping of the republic. The seminal importance of religion in both the cultures of New England and Pennsylvania might be deemphasized so as not to seem biased toward Christian faith. The fact that modern civilization as we know it was created by white Europeans seems to be something that must be addressed with discomfort. The reality that this fact has the implication that much of modern art, with its profuse plentitude derived from middle class affluence, is generated by white European men is also another source of discomfort for the cultural elite. The War Against Science accusation against religion has become part of the zeitgeist, engendering a greater hostility toward "godless science" than there need be.

An erosion of Western cultural values in the classrooms should not be compensated for by the insertion of a system-of-thought that simply no longer exists within the purview of modern science, itself one of the crowning jewels of Western civilization! Rather, we must return to a fideltiy toward Truth, no matter the consequences, no matter how politically unpleasant they might be in the modern age, because for every unpleasant Truth, there are pleasant ones, depending on where you stand. Yes, the founders of the original colonies might be considered distasteful religious fundamentalists or evangelicals, but many of the founding fathers were Deists or liberal Christians. Yes, racism was endemic to early American society, but nevertheless there were exceptions like the Quakers who would refuse to have anything to do with those owned slaves and argued for a universal freedom. Yes, the native peoples of this continent were decimated, but in the end they were not exterminated and today still exist as autonomous nations with their communal freedoms intact.

We are the ones, irrational humans, who impute to Truth a positive or negative light. Prior to the rise of Western civilization truth was more subjective, it has proximate utility as a frame to model the world so that our existence could be safeguarded and genes perpetuated. But with the efflourescence of the Greek spirit in Western civilization we began to move past proximate considerations and look toward the ultimate goals, toward a culture of rational Truth and openness. We gave up our proximate fixations, at least in rhetoric if not always practice, in the interests of ultimate methods which tunneled themselves undernearth the high gradient generated by human bias and prejudice. We should always remember that Western civilization has grown by leaps & bounds by a particular constraint of means which felicitously gives rise to glorious ends.

1 - I offer a conundrum that modern science is partially dependent on the existence of the society that it created. I think one can resolve this by remembering that the methods of science have evolved over the past few centuries, the elite and gentlemenly orientation of science is not the science of today. And in any case, sometimes good ideas can fruit in salty earth by a capricious toss of the dice by God or Nature.

Posted by razib at 12:01 PM | | TrackBack

NAACP President steps down

Reports about President Kweisi Mfume will be stepping down from his position, and that the organization will be looking for a new for a new candidate. Callers at C-SPAN have offered their views; Jesse Jackson, Barak Obama, Julianne Malveau, Colin Powell etc. Save for the last one I think each of them would be horrible, and Colin would not work since his close relationship to the Bush administration. In the Extended Entry I give my choice.


First, Bill would not give the paranoid set of the left all the theories for failure in the black community they thrive off of (HIV-AIDS is a biological weapons created by whites, crack cocaine was sold in the black communities by the CIA, etc.). Second, he would take the focus of the black voice off of hand-outs and set asides, and recenter it on making the community itself emphasize education, discipline, and responsiblity.

But I have little doubt it won't happen. The black "leadership" have made a lot of money and garnered a lot of power running on the victim myth.

Posted by scottm at 05:58 AM | | TrackBack


Searchmiracle.com seems to have hijacked my browser. I keep getting links inserted on my own blog that I did not insert. I would not care much but it insists on highlighting as a link the first four letters of the word 'analogy'.

Does anyone know how to take it back from them? I've tried everything I know. Has anyone else experienced this? In all my years of surfing I have not.

Posted by scottm at 05:13 AM | | TrackBack

The new buzz-word: Telomere

I seem to be hearing a lot about this little bit of genetic material in popular culture these days;

The New York Times goes into a pretty indepth article for a media that is scientifically illiterate.

In a report on CNN about Yushchenko's appearance there was an explanation by a doctor that extreme stress could have induced it, which included a lesson on telomeres.

On the Science Fiction show Enterprise they even used telomeres to determine that an embassy bomber was not T'Pol's mom T'Pau by the fact that the telomeres on the genetic material found on the bomb had not undergone 'ageing'.

I expect to hear more and more of this once obscure biology term used in daily life.

I also expect to see in the next few years internet ads and infomercials promising a youthful appearance by using a telomerase based product (with extremely questionable effectiveness)

Update I've been informed that T'Pau was not T'Pol's mother, T'Les is. T'Pau is some sort of legendary Vulcan leader who was in the original series, guess I lose my Trekkie membership card, oh well.

Posted by scottm at 01:03 AM | | TrackBack

The Fallujah Report

This entry is totally unrelated to the primary subject of the blog, but I felt that I had a responsibility to post this (kudos to Noah Shachtman at Defense Tech).

This is a PowerPoint presentation apparently created by U.S. Central Command about the battle of Fallujah in Iraq. For an HTML version of this PowerPoint, click here; for those of you with PowerPoint, here is the PPT version (big kudos to Soldiers for the Truth for posting this, even though I disagree with them on many issues).

In the presentation there are a slew of pictures of IEDs, some of the torture rooms, lots of weapons captured, and many interesting statistics. Here are some of them:

- 3 out of every 5 Mosques had fighting positions – 60 total

- 653 total IEDs were found and detonated in Fallujah. The average number of IEDs found and/or detonated across Iraq per month from July to October was 772.

- 11 IED Factories were found. 3 slaughter houses were found.

- 1 out of every 5 blocks had a weapons cache – 203 total.

Check it out! Also, keep a watch on this blog, because I'll be posting an essay by an international relations theorist who is working to apply sociobiology into making "classical realist" theories more explanatory. It's a very good essay and it's always nice other polisci freaks other than myself delving into this, but wait until you see the responses from his critics. They don't go two paragraphs before they start citing Gould and Lewontin!

And send those links to that PowerPoint to your buddies, if you wouldn't mind.

Posted by Arcane at 12:48 AM | | TrackBack

November 29, 2004

Support the blog, blah, blah....

Extrapolating current bandwidth needs, I'll probably have to move the blog to another host around the new year. This means more costs and more hours of my short life devoted to the ignoble task of weblog administration. Please consider following one of the Amazon links on the sidebar if you are buying books as presents during the holidays-doesn't cost you anything extra.

By the way, multiple copies of Robert Trivers' Natural Selection and Social Theory are available for $10, though the list price is $50! There is a telling anecdote about Richard Lewontin in the introduction to his reciprocal altruism paper....

Update: In response to David Boxenhorn's suggestion I hacked up a trivial script which will take a conventional AMAZON url and spit back another one which is formatted so GNXP gets a kickback if you follow the link and purchase. All these books are saved so others can see what readers buy. Anyway, whether it works is up to you. The link will be under the heading Books for the holidays in the sidebar.

Update II: OK, made some changes to the code. Here is the file with the HTML stuff, and the class code. It's all pretty self-evident.

Posted by razib at 10:03 PM | | TrackBack


From the authors of the forthcoming Madame Bovary's Ovaries: Biology for the Bookish
via Arts & Letters Daily

The prospect of staying alive through time via future generations is the motivation underlying sex, love, and indeed everything in the organic world.

In justifying [the society of Orwell's 1984], Winston's torturer, O'Brien, explains: "You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable." Fortunately, O'Brien, like the Director in Brave New World, is wrong. People are immensely malleable, more so, in all likelihood, than any other species. But infinitely? Absolutely not.


Denial of love, of genuine sex (which is to say, difficult, but also gratifying), of reproductive opportunity, of individuality are all denials of our organic humanness.


Despite the inherently depressing plot lines of most dystopias, they persist in their fundamental popularity. The Handmaid's Tale, a modern feminist classic by Margaret Atwood, warns of a future in which "love is not the point." And neither, of course, is motherhood or child rearing. Ironically, the novel was intended as a criticism of evolutionary thinking, which Atwood interprets as oppressing women by enshrining reproduction as their sole biological and cultural "role." Notwithstanding her distrust of sociobiology, it is Atwood's paradoxically acute grasp of evolutionary realities -- especially the centrality of reproduction -- that makes The Handmaid's Tale, as well as her most recent work, Oryx and Crake, such a powerful dystopian story.


Just as Fahrenheit 451 depicts a world in which cheap, artificial entertainment substitutes for the "real thing," the phenomenally popular movie The Matrix describes a vision that is even more nightmarish: a computer-generated cyberworld in which human beings, deceived as to their true situation, believe that they are living genuine lives. But they aren't. Most are victimized by a vast network of machines, their bodies preyed upon while their minds wander, misled, in a virtual "matrix" in which strings of code give the illusion that protein gruel is really champagne and steak. By contrast, DNA, our own, genuinely biological code, gives us actual champagne and steak -- pleasuring our taste buds while fueling our organic metabolism. The Matrix, a prime example of a life-denying, biology-perverting dystopia, envisions a world that is literally drained of its physicality.

Perhaps one reason The Matrix (at least, the first episode) is so resonant is that organic genuineness has become less accessible to us all. "The ordinary city-dweller," wrote philosopher Susanne Langer, "knows nothing of the earth's productivity. He does not know the sunrise and rarely notices when the sun sets ... His realities are the motors that run elevators, subway trains, and cars. ... Nature, as man has always known it, he knows no more."

Posted by jeet at 08:15 PM | | TrackBack

Zimbabwe's New Strategy

We've all read about how well Zimbabwe is being governed these days, so this brainstorm shouldn't come as a surprise:

ZIMBABWE has come up with a bizarre proposal to solve the food crisis threatening half its population with starvation. It wants to bring in obese tourists from overseas so that they can shed pounds doing manual labour on land seized from white farmers.

The so-called Obesity Tourism Strategy was reported last week in The Herald, a government organ whose contents are approved by President Robert Mugabe’s powerful information minister, Jonathan Moyo.

Pointing out that more than 1.2 billion people worldwide are officially deemed to be overweight, the article exhorted Zimbabweans to “tap this potential”.

“Tourists can provide labour for farms in the hope of shedding weight while enjoying the tourism experience,” it said, adding that Americans spent $6 billion a year on “useless” dieting aids.

“Tour organisers may promote this programme internationally and bring in tourists, while agriculturalists can employ the tourists as free farm labour.

“The tourists can then top it all by flaunting their slim bodies on a sun-downer cruise on the Zambezi or surveying the majestic Great Zimbabwe ruins.”

Read further in the article for details on the reality of life in Zimbabwe:

This is a government that boasts of bumper harvests when 5.5m of its people need food aid; that negotiates to buy Russian MiG fighter jets when the country is bankrupt; that shows constantly smiling dancing Zimbabweans on state television (known locally as the “Bums and Drums” channel) when two-thirds of the working population has fled. . . .

It did not take long to see what was going on. Mazowe Valley is less than an hour from the capital and a drive through the area revealed the shocking destruction that Mugabe has wreaked on this sad but beautiful country.

It used to be described as the bread basket of southern Africa, with neat fields of maize and soya growing in rich red soil and farmers notching up world records for yields. Rows of giant greenhouses sheltered roses that earned important foreign exchange, as did fields of miniature vegetables to sell in British supermarkets.

In 10 years of visiting Zimbabwe, I have often been through Mazowe and its model farmland. Today it is a series of fallow fields, overgrown with grass, weeds and thorny scrub, as if some deadly scourge had swept through the valley. There are orchards of dead citrus trees, greenhouse frames stripped of their plastic roofs and the broken, twisted poles of what were once floodlights and irrigation systems.

Security fences have gone. Trees have been chopped for firewood. Even the telephone wires have been looted.

Gone, too, are the panga- waving “war veterans” who manned almost every entrance two years ago. Most of the war vets and settlers who were bussed in to take over the farms have been moved out so that party bigwigs can move into the houses.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:41 PM | | TrackBack

The Nurture Assumption

Kevin Drum continues his stirring of the hornet's nest, this time linking to Alex Taborrok's post on a recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper by Bruce Sacerdote that examined the outcomes of Korean children who were randomly assigned to adoptive families back in the the 70's. Jane Galt also picks up the item. We should compare and contrast how the readership of these two different blogs reacts to the research.

Sacerdote pretty much supports the thesis put forward by Judith Rich Harris in her book, The Nurture Assumption which boils down to the fact that parenting doesn't matter all that much in determining how well the children do later in life. (Sailer's review and Harris' shorter version published in Psychological Review and Jason Malloy's review of the Harris-Kagan dispute.) What does emerge from the paper is that genetics does matter and the causality arrow for the high income or college educated mother may actually start at the genetic level rather than at the environmental level.

Sacerdote finds that family income had no effect on the eventual incomes of the adoptive children but did influence the biological children. Also, he found that college graduation rates, height and obesity all have stronger correlations for biological children than for the adoptive children.

The tide continues to roll in.

Posted by TangoMan at 12:59 PM | | TrackBack

Yushchenko's Illness

While cognizant that this post feeds the conspiracy minded, I did find it interesting that Ukranian Presidential contender Viktor Yushchenko has been battling a mystery illness, which:

Yushchenko's doctors in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, said they had determined that "chemicals not of a food origin'' had triggered the illness.

Is this illness the result of directed poisoning, similar to the Ricin unbrella attack that befell Georgi Markov, something out of the Russian Chemical Weapons research program or something, while still unsolved, of a much less sinister origin?

Time Magazine reports that Putin is very keen on a Yanukovych victory:

There's also the risk a wayward Ukraine could damage relations between Moscow and the West. During the campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not hide his sympathies: he visited Ukraine twice to broadcast his support for Yanukovych. Political consultants and media specialists close to the Kremlin played a major role in shaping both the strategy and the message of the Yanukovych campaign, and according to specialists like the Carnegie Endowment's Anders Aslund, Russia pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into his election bid. On Monday, Putin was the first world leader to congratulate the Prime Minister on his victory, a full two days before the Electoral Commission declared him President-elect. Sources well briefed on Kremlin affairs tell TIME that as protests in Kiev gathered momentum, Putin urged the much-discredited outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, eager to secure a safe retirement amid charges of corruption and political violence, to declare Yanukovych the winner. The sources say Putin made it clear that Moscow would not accept a Yushchenko victory.
Posted by TangoMan at 01:24 AM | | TrackBack

November 28, 2004

Coalitional stress

Long time readers of this blog know that I love to employ Paul Krugman as a coalitional stress inducer in dialogues. Left-of-center individuals who might otherwise accept the conventional wisdom about the glory of Stephen Jay Gould (the late literate Left-of-center intellectual) are far more likely to stop and reconsider their assumptions if offered a quote from someone who shares their partisan sympathies. This has peeved some right-wing readers, but as I prioritize scientific fidelity over political purity I don't really particularly care and feel no compunction about using this somewhat sneaky method to spread the gospel of Smith & Hamilton far & wide ("Go, therefore, to all nations and make them my disciples"). The quote that I have used before can be found in this Slate article, and if you haven't read it, click & control-f Gould (my personal experience is that the force of this quote is strong enough to transform partisan screeching to genuine consideration pretty quickly).

In any case, I found another Krugman gem, RICARDO'S DIFFICULT IDEA, a piece bemoaning the difficulty of communicating comparative advantage to the general public (the article itself is worth reading, though I doubt it will surprise anyone in its specifics no matter what your opinion of comparative advantage is). The anecdotes that Krugam recounts makes me very grateful that the general public takes less interest in biology than economics. In any case, juicey quotes to use as weapons in online debates below, since G.W. Bush has been reelected we can be assured that Krugman will be one of the Left's favorite intellectuals for years to come, so we might as well use his opinions to help clarify evolutionary thinking and dispel naive obscurantisms....

Old ideas are viewed as boring, even if few people have heard of them; new ideas, even if they are probably wrong and not terribly important, are far more attractive. And books that say (or seem to say) that the experts have all been wrong are far more likely to attract a wide audience than books that explain why the experts are probably right. Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life (Gould 1989) which to many readers seemed to say that recent discoveries refute Darwinian orthodoxy, attracted far more attention than Richard Dawkins' equally well-written The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins 1986), which explained the astonishing implications of that orthodoxy. . (See Dennett for an eye-opening discussion of Gould).....

The article received wide attention, even though it was fairly unclear exactly how Reich proposed to go beyond free trade (there is a certain similarity between Reich and Gould in this respect: they make a great show of offering new ideas, but it is quite hard to pin down just what those new ideas really are)....

Ask a working biologist who is the greatest living evolutionary thinker, and he or she will probably answer John Maynard Smith (with nods to George Williams and William Hamilton). Maynard Smith not only has a name that should have made him an economist; he writes and thinks like an economist, representing evolutionary issues with stylized mathematical models that are sometimes confronted with data, sometimes simulated on the computer, but always serve as the true structure informing the verbal argument. A textbook like his Evolutionary Genetics (1989) feels remarkably comfortable for an academic economist: the style is familiar, and even a good bit of the content looks like things economists do too. But ask intellectuals in general for a great evolutionary thinker and they will surely name Stephen Jay Gould -- who receives one brief, dismissive reference in Maynard Smith (1989)....

What does Gould have that Maynard Smith does not? He is a more accessible writer -- but evolutionary theory is, to a far greater extent than economics, blessed with excellent popularizers: writers like Dawkins (1989) or Ridley (1993), who provide beautifully written expositions of what researchers have learned. (Writers like Gould or Reich are not, in the proper sense, popularizers: a popularizer reports on the work of a community of scholars, whereas these writers argue for their own, heterodox points of view). No, what makes Gould so popular with intellectuals is not merely the quality of his writing but the fact that, unlike Dawkins or Ridley, he is not trying to explain the essentially mathematical logic of modern evolutionary theory. It's not just that there are no equations or simulations in his books; he doesn't even think in terms of the mathematical models that inform the work of writers like Dawkins. That is what makes his work so appealing. The problem, of course, is that evolutionary theory -- the real thing -- is based on mathematical models; indeed, increasingly it is based on computer simulation. And so the very aversion to mathematics that makes Gould so appealing to his audience means that his books, while they may seem to his readers to contain deep ideas, seem to people who actually know the field to be mere literary confections with little serious intellectual content, and much of that simply wrong. In particular, readers whose ideas of evolution are formed by reading Gould's work get no sense of the power and reach of the theory of natural selection -- if anything, they come away with a sense that modern thought has shown that theory to be inadequate.

[my emphasis]

Posted by razib at 06:07 PM | | TrackBack

$100 kit tests who's sporty and who's not.

Crossposted from GeneticFuture.org. Trawled from Genetic Kit to Pick Sports Stars The West Australian.

Want to know whether you're better suited to endurance sports like marathons, or "sprint-power" sports like Judo or short-distance swimming? You could spend some time swimming and running and see which one feels more natural...

... or, you could just send $110AU to the Genetic Technologies Corporation in Melbourne Australia. Why sweat and expend all that unnecessary effort to figure out which athletic events are your forté? Instead, just swab your cheek, sign a check, lick a stamp, and spend 2-3 weeks on the couch while you wait for your genetic screening results.

The science behind this test doesn't seem totally unreasonable. The company tested 300 "elite athletes" for the R577X variant of ACTN3 gene. This genetic variant determines whether or not the alpha-actinin-3 protein will be present in fast-twitch muscle fibers. It makes sense that this study found a correlation between the absence/presence of this gene and sprinting versus endurance sports.

So what's the problem here? Genetic Technologies Corporation isn't engaging in any serious breach of ethics here. It's not like they're offering you a home kit to modify your sperm so you can pick whether your future child will be a Bruce Lee or Abebe Bikila. But what, exactly, are they offering you that can't be determined without this miracle of modern technology? A fundamental part of living life is figuring out your aptitudes. Being guided by statistics towards one sport or another doesn't save you time -- it just robs you of the opportunity to beat the statistics and be a marathon runner who has an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

What I would really like to see is a genetic test that screens for succeptibility to fall for science-based scams that encourage you spend $110AU for no good reason. Now that would be interesting!

Posted by canton at 05:25 PM | | TrackBack

Why are Dutch Immigrants Lagging?

An in-press paper by two dutch psychologists, Jan te Nijenhuis and Henk van der Flier, explores why Dutch immigrants are lagging behind the majority population in work-related measures.

78 immigrants (their composition in terms of country of origin is not mentioned, but the authors do state that their research focuses primarily on people from Surinam, the Netherlands Antilles, Morocco, and Turkey) and 78 majority group members applying for a truck-driving position were given the GATB 1002 B (General Aptitude Test Battery), attentional-ability, perceptual-motor-ability tests (the ADM, CADM, DTG and CDTG respectively) and driver training.

Continue reading on Ultradarwinian

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 02:30 PM | | TrackBack

X chromosome evolution

A few weeks ago there were reports of a possible ’gene for homosexuality’ on the X-chromosome, which produced a higher incidence of homosexuality in males but increased fertility in females. In comments on the subject I suggested that a gene on the X-chromosome would tend to promote the reproductive fitness of females at the expense of males (up to a limit of twice the advantage to females) since an X-chromosome spends on average twice as long in females as it does in males.

While making this comment I had qualms that the argument might be fallacious, so I have tried to think it through properly. My post on the X-chromosome waltz analysed what was meant by saying that an X-chromosome spends twice as long in females as it does in males. I also discovered while re-reading Matt Ridley’s Genome that none other than Robert Trivers had already put forward essentially the same proposal: ‘Trivers argued that, because an X chromosome spends twice as much time in women as it does in men, a sexually antagonistic gene that benefited female fertility could survive even if it had twice as large a deleterious effect on male fertility’. [Note 1].

So the argument can’t be fallacious….. can it?

………… Well, not exactly, but it is tricky. Not for the first time, I wish I hadn’t got caught up in the problem! The complication is that in a sexually reproducing population, with equal numbers of males and females, the average reproductive fitness (number of offspring per individual) must be the same for males and females. A particular gene may promote greater fitness among females than in males (or vice versa), but any difference in fitness is constrained by the overall equality of fitness of males and females in the population. This is not a serious constraint when the gene is rare, but if the gene becomes common this factor needs to be taken into account. As the gene approaches fixation its fitness among both males and females must approach the population average (which assuming a stable population must be around two offspring per parent surviving to maturity).

The exact pattern of evolution of the gene in males and females will depend on the details of relative fitness (including considerations of genetic dominance, etc). For further discussion see Note 2. (It’s tedious, but I include it on the off-chance that someone may want to check the assumptions and workings.) On the assumption that the gene has constant fitness relative to its rival alleles in the same sex, the general outcome is that:

a. a gene favouring fertility in females at the expense of males can survive if and only if the advantage in females is more than half the disadvantage in males

b. provided the advantage in females is more than half the disadvantage in males, the gene will either go to fixation or settle at an equilibrium short of fixation, depending on the balance of advantage and disadvantage. No matter how great the advantage in females, there can still be an equilibrium frequency if the countervailing disadvantage in males is strong enough. Conversely, no matter how small the advantage, the gene could still go to fixation if the disadvantage in males is also sufficiently small. For more on the conditions for equilibrium, see Note 2.

The theoretical possibility of a balanced equilibrium frequency is consistent with the observation of a persistent non-zero incidence of homosexuality in modern populations, though there may of course be other reasons for this, and homosexuality may not have a genetic basis at all (or there may be both genetic and environmental causes). It is also consistent with the quoted comment of Trivers, which refers to a gene ’surviving’, but not necessarily changing in frequency.

On the face of it, a fitness advantage among females of at least half the disadvantage to males is a fairly modest requirement, so one might expect such genes on the X-chromosome to be common. One might also expect there to be cases where the disadvantage to males is so small (relative to the female advantage) that the gene would go to fixation. So it may seem a puzzle that such genes have not often been detected. One explanation may be that once the gene has gone to fixation its effects on male bearers would be ’invisible’ because there would be no male non-bearers to compare them with. As pointed out earlier, the average reproductive fitness of males in the population as a whole is necessarily the same as that of females, so the effects would not be evident in differential reproduction. The effect of the gene on males would only manifest itself in traits such as general health and longevity. Since males do tend to have shorter lives than females, this might be due in part to such ’invisible’ fitness disadvantages. (But note that in some organisms, e.g. birds and butterflies, males are the homogametic sex.)

On the other hand, such genes may be difficult to find because in practice it is not so easy to increase female fitness at the expense of males. The factors which make females more fertile, such as efficient use of nutrition, are probably in general good for males too. Factors which make females more attractive to males may be an exception to this rule - which is why ‘genes for homosexuality’ are a plausible example - but attractiveness to males is not usually a major constraint on female fertility.

I dare say that most of the above points have been made somewhere in the literature, but I don’t recall seeing them.

Note 1
Matt Ridley, Genome, 1999, page 118. Ridley does not give a reference for the comment by Trivers.

Note 2
In a population of N females and N males there are 2N X-chromosomes in females and N in males. Suppose an allele A on the X-chromosome promotes the fitness of females while damaging that of males. If we call all the other alleles at the same locus B, there will be two relevant genotypes, AY and BY, among males, and three genotypes, AA, AB, and BB, among females. Let the frequency of the A gene in the population be p, so that there are pN copies of A among males and p2N among females.

It is reasonable to suppose that each genotype has a constant fitness relative to other genotypes in the same sex. (This would not always be the case, e.g. if there is frequency-dependent selection, but we ignore that possibility.) In males there are only two genotypes, so the matter is relatively simple. We may assume that BY has fitness x (where x is the average number of offspring surviving to maturity per individual BY male), while AY has fitness (1-c)x, with c representing the disadvantage or ’cost’ of the A gene in males (note that c cannot be greater than 1, since fitness cannot be less than zero). In a stable population with N males the total number of offspring surviving to maturity will be 2N. The frequency of AY is p, and of BY is 1-p, so we have pN(1-c)x + (1-p)Nx = 2N, which gives x = 2/(1-cp). The fitness of AY is therefore 2(1-c)/(1-cp), and there will be 2Np(1-c)/(1-cp) offspring of AY males in the next generation. (For simplicity I assume discrete generations.) Since each offspring of an AY male has a ½ probability of receiving an A gene, the total number of A genes in the offspring of males will be Np(1-c)/(1-cp). (All the offspring with an X-chromosome will of course be female, but that is not relevant for the present purpose.) The reduction in the number of A genes in the population due to the disadvantage of the A gene among males is therefore Np - Np(1-c)/(1-cp), which simplifies to Npc(1-p)/(1-cp).

The position among females is more complicated, because there are three genotypes to consider. The simplest assumption is that gene effects are additive, so that the heterozygote AB has fitness half-way between that of AA and BB. We may therefore assume that BB has fitness x, AB has fitness (1+b)x, and AA has fitness (1+2b)x, with b representing the fitness ’benefit’ of the A gene among females. We assume that these relative fitnesses are constant. Unfortunately the size of x depends also on the proportions of the different genotypes in the population. If we assume random mating, resulting in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, the proportions are p^2, 2p(1-p), and (1-p)^2 for AA, AB, and BB respectively. Assuming a total of 2N offspring, this gives x = 2/(1+2bp), so the fitness of AA is 2(1+2b)/(1+2bp), and of AB is 2(1+b)/(1+2bp). The AA females have collectively 2Np^2(1+2b)/(1+2bp) offspring, while the AB females have 4Np(1-p)(1+b)/(1+2bp) offspring. Since each AA female has two A genes, the expected number of A genes passed on by AA females is ½ x 2 x 2Np^2(1+2b)/(1+2bp), whereas the number of A genes passed on by AB females is ½ x 4Np(1-p)(1+b)/(1+2bp). Adding and simplifying we get the total number of A genes passed on by females as 2Np(1+b+bp)/(1+2bp). Since there were 2Np copies of A among females in the first generation, the increase due to the advantage of the A gene among females is 2Np(1+b+bp)/(1+2bp) - 2Np = 2Npb(1-p)/(1+2bp).

It should be noted that with increasing p, the fitness of the female genotypes AA and AB falls, as the numerator is constant while the denominator 1+2bp rises. Conversely, among males the fitness of the genotype AY rises, as the value of the denominator 1-cp falls. An intuitive way of understanding this is that as A becomes more common, it is increasingly competing against itself rather than the alternative B, which is weaker than A among females but stronger than A among males. So as p increases, the competition gets stronger for females but weaker for males.

We are finally in a position to compare the increase in A genes due to the advantage among females with the decrease due to the disadvantage among males:

Increase: 2Npb(1-p)/(1+2bp)
Decrease: Npc(1-p)/(1-cp).

One point that may be noted is that if b equals exactly ½ c, the decrease (for any non-zero p) is necessarily greater than the increase. No matter how small the frequency of the A gene in the population, it would to some extent be competing against itself, and this is sufficient in principle to tip the balance of advantage against A. With b = ½ c, the number of A genes must therefore gradually decline to zero. This may seem to conflict with the statement ascribed to Trivers, that such a gene could ‘survive even if it had twice as large a deleterious effect on male fertility’. This statement is true if the fitness disadvantage takes the form of a constant ratio in the number of offspring between the two sexes, rather than between competing alleles in the same sex. But this is not realistic unless the gene is rare; if it is common, the overall equality of fitness of males and females in the population must compress any fitness differential between male and female bearers of the A gene.

For values of b greater than ½ c, the main point of interest is whether the A gene will go to fixation or settle at some equilibrium value of p. An equilibrium will be reached if the increase due to the advantage among females exactly equals the decrease due to the disadvantage among males, that is, if 2Npb(1-p)/(1+2bp) - Npc(1-p)/(1-cp) = 0. A little algebraic manipulation shows that for values of p such that 1>p>0 this condition is satisfied if and only if 2b - c - 4bcp = 0. If we fix any two of the variables we can solve the equation for the third: e.g. for p = ¾ and b = 2/3 we get c = 4/9. It is also useful to put the equation in the form p = (2b-c)/4bc. It is evident that for any value of b, it is possible to find values of c so small that p would be greater than 1, indicating that for these values A would go to fixation. Perhaps less obviously, for any value of c it is possible to find values of b such that 1>p>0, i.e. an equilibrium short of fixation. If we take values of b converging from above towards ½ c, 2b-c will converge to 0 while 4bc converges to 2c^2, therefore (2b-c)/4bc must beyond some point in the convergence take on values between 0 and 1. So whatever the value of c, an equilibrium value of p can always be found with some value of b.

This has all assumed that gene effects are additive. I have not worked out the effect of non-additive fitness in detail, but I presume that if the fitness advantage of the homozygote AA (relative to BB) is less than twice that of AB, the equilibrium level of p would be lower than with additive gene effects, since AA homozygotes, which become more common as p increases, would add less to total female fitness than if the effects were additive, whereas the countervailing fitness disadvantage to AY males would be unaffected.

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