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December 18, 2004

God & the evolutionists

When talking about evolution to the public it is very important (in the American context) to emphasize that religion & Darwin are not plainly at odds, that there are many religious folk who accept the basic fact of evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, via Chris Mooney, I see that Greg Graffen of Bad Religion has published a thesis titled Evolution, Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist World-View. Graffen surveyed prominent evolutionary biologists on their attitude to and adherence toward religion and other metaphysical extra-scientific issues. One key point to note is that they are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

About 5.5% of respondents assented to a belief in a personal God and 6.5% believed in a Deist God (Survey results, PDF). This tracks well with the Larson & Witham survey of 1998 of NAS members, 14% of mathematicians, 7.5% of physicists and 5.5% of biologists responded that they believed in a personal God. So, it seems clear that evolutionary scientists are not special in their irreligion, rather, it itends to be a property of NAS members in general. Opinions about immortality (life after death) seem to also be about the same for the two surveys.

72% of the surveyed evolutionary biologists believed that religion might be an adaptation, while only a minority agreed with the idea of separate "magestaria" (a Gouldian term), with an even smaller faction assenting to a seamless harmony. Religion is a rather complex social phenomena strongly influenced by environmental factors, but that evolutionary biologists should be open to an adaptationist and functional explanation of religious behavior strongly suggests to me a Gouldian separation between the social and biological is a minoritarian position.

Addendum: My current opinion is that in the most general sense a naive functional interpretation is difficult for religion, though I suspect that the varieties in which it manifests itself are constrained by functional-biological delimiters. But "religion" is a very broad definition, and so a one-size-fits-all explanation is probably untenable.

Posted by razib at 04:11 PM | | TrackBack


CNBC has a story up about a woman, Kathy Brittain White, the former CIO of Cardinal Health, starting a company called Rural Sourcing. The aim of the company? To move low paying IT jobs to the dirt-poor parts of rural America instead of to foreign countries such as India.

Now, I am not an economist, so my thoughts are those of a layman, but I see two problems;

1) Rural America is sparsely populated compared to densely populated India, so it is more of a workers market. In India it is much easier to keep salaries low since if a talented individual wants a raise you can easily fire him and find another qualified person within a day, not so in Arkansas where quality workers would be hard to find.

2) Related to the first. The closer proximity of Rural America to big population centers where the cost of living is much higher would result in an increased rate of increase in the cost of living in the said rural areas.

So, in my opinion, it is a good short-term solution but the outsourcing to India is still better in the long term. But that is my layman’s opinion and would enjoy hearing from our economist readers.

Thanks to JS Henderson at Mises Economics Blog for the tip.

Update Heh, I just had a thought. IT jobs require a certain level of intelligence and education that may be lacking in rural places such as Arkansas (no, I am not calling all Southerners stupid), so you may have an exodus from big urban centers to the rural areas. Think of it, an unemployed, college-educated, person in a big city might trade a high urban salary and the city lifestyle for a job in a place where said salary would provide a decent living. This would probably result in the 'natives' still being unemployed and the 'cultural' destruction of the rural areas by the 'city-slickers'.

Posted by scottm at 01:01 PM | | TrackBack

Tolkien Diagnosis

Hat Tip to Geek Press, I thought this was quite clever Psychiatric Diagnosis of Gollum

Posted by jnutley at 12:30 PM | | TrackBack

December 17, 2004

Holiday books....

Over at Washington Monthly Kevin Drum recently had a series of "Holiday Books" for political junkies. I emailed TangoMan ("our man at WM" so to speak) and asked him if Drum had posted any science book recommendations, but it seems like it was a political fest. I guess I understand why it had to be that way, WM being a political blog and all, but a lot of times I think that political books that are commentaries on the contemporary condition are out of date before they hit the newsstands. So, I'm calling out GNXP posters for book recs (just update my post). A few stipulations: you max out at three, one of them has to be science, and they are under 500 pages and less than $30 either new or used on Amazon or Abebooks (this eliminates a lot of textbooks that people should read, but this for the type of thing you should be able to read over a week long vacation with the in-laws with no access to Mathematica). My offerings below....

Addendum: I spoke too soon! Drum's most recent post suggests a book about twins! Also, his old list offers some evo psych books. Not a big surprise given some of his posts....

Razib says read:

The Imitation Factor by Lee Alan Dugatkin is a quick view into the modern state of ethology. Related post.

The Nurture Assumption is very germane in terms of one's view of pubic policy, so it is a psychology book that has political implications. Related post.

The Human Web is a short entertaining book from John McNeill, an old school historian that focuses on big issues, rather than the 2 days your shoelaces spent being in hell in 7th grade when you did long distance running in gym class. Related post.

TangoMan says:

To add a little non-biological flavor to your reading I draw from my other interests to help you overcome your planetary chauvinism. What's that you say? Well, ask yourself if a planetary surface is really the right place for an expanding technological civilization? I don't think it is.

The High Frontier This is the bible and lays out the whole concept of space habitats from the Man himself, Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill.

Mining the Sky A book chock full of technical data on the wealth that awaits us in the asteroids.

The Lunar Base Handbook A damn handy book to have and explores facets involved in lunar base construction. Ever wanted to know how to make concrete in a vacuum. This book has the answers.

Jason Malloy says:

The Heretic in Darwin's Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace. What if Michael Behe would have discovered the secret of altruism rather than William Hamilton? This kind of counter-intuitive brain-bender (almost) already happened. Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the theory of natural selection nearly simultaneously to Charles Darwin, but his curious dabblings and obsessions in religious mysticism, junk science, and eventually the rejection of his own theory and embrace of good old fashioned Creationism, make a striking contrast to the model scientism, consistency, and cool-headed humanist rationalism of Darwin. Good writing on a compelling and frustrating figure.

The Ancestor's Tale. As usual Dawkins succeeds as both expositer and entertainer. The Chaucer narrative device highlights the fact that no one truly holds the legacy of or understands evolution better than the English (sorry fellow Americans).

Human. At exactly $30 and 500 pages I'm able to slip this one in. Page after page of all things human: history, biology, psychology, and ethnology - a shameless celebration of evolutionary navel gazing, HB-D and HB-U. Its predecessor, Animal from a couple of years back is also a book I still enjoy very much.

Posted by razib at 05:11 PM | | TrackBack

A brief history of the apocalypse

The Economist has a great essay about apocalyptic beliefs across the political and religious spectrum (including secular atheists). Much of the material has already been discussed in different texts already, such as the apocalyptic beliefs of Marxists and National Socialists, but it's neat seeing it all in one short, concise essay that covers both political and religious aspects of them. Here's an excerpt from the end:

So there you have it. The apocalypse is the locomotive of capitalism, the inspiration for revolutionary socialism, the bedrock of America's manifest destiny and the undeclared religion of all those pseudo-rationalists who, like The Economist, champion the progress of liberal democracy. Perhaps, deep down, there is something inside everyone which yearns for the New Jerusalem . . .

Kudos to Arts and Letters Daily, a site that should be on everybody's "Favorites" list, for linking this up.

Posted by Arcane at 05:00 PM | | TrackBack

New monkey discovered....

Scientists find new Indian monkey. Note that the macaque resides in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh, a rugged region of India whose inclusion in the Indian federation is more an accident of British colonial history than anything else. Last I read, the Indian government keeps a sort of cordon around Arunachal Pradesh, partly because of its strategic importance (the Chinese claim it and overran it in the 1962 war), and partly to preserve the indigenous cultures. I have read that Christian missionaries have converted and trained young people who leave Arunachal Pradesh to engage in proselytization among the predominantly "animist" locals since the the missionaries themselves are prevented from venturing into the state. So it is no surprise that large mammals, even primates, could be resident in this region without the outside world being aware.

Posted by razib at 03:30 PM | | TrackBack

Many faces of Turkey

Abiola points me to this fascinating piece in The New York Times (originally published in Der Spiegel). What many people forget when using the world "Turkey" and the term "Turkish" is that the nation has a fair amount of texture and detail. I recently listened to a BBC piece which noted that western Anatolia has a standard of living approaching Greece, but the vast east and southeast remains far more backward. A survey of economic difficulties in the southeast of Turkey suggests that "the per capita income of the poorest city in the region is only one-eleventh of that of an industrial center in the west."

And this only focuses on the economic dimension. As the piece above notes, Turkey is divided into various religious clusters, with a secular western urban elite, a religiously orthodox striving bourgeois in the "heartland" and traditionalist peasants in the countryside. This should not be particularly surprising, it is a common pattern in many Muslim countries that the most religiously "conservative" and observant segment of society is not the peasantry, but the the striving middle class.1 A similar traditional trichotomy exists in Indonesian society, with the elite priyayi aristocrats molding a synthetic spirituality drawn from various sources, though they are nominally Muslim. The observant santri are generally identified with the urban trading classes and include many rural landowners. The abangan peasantry give nominal adherence to Islam, though in practice they tend to be more influenced day-to-day by Javanese spiritualism and traditional customs. As Javanese society becomes more urban & modern it will likely be that the abangan will disappear as a major force and the santri traditionalists will be opposed by "modernists" (which will likely include the cultural descendents of priyayi cosmopolitanism).

It should not surprise Westerners that economic advancement and some level of modernity tends to spark religous observance, after all, the Renaissance was followed by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, with the relatively relaxed medieval Roman Catholic mass religion giving way to more personal and strict religious dispensations. The changes wrought by industralization across England in the 18th century occurred in concert with evangelical revivals and rise of "muscular Christianity." The strength of American Born Again Christianity in large part tracks the movement of rural WASP Americans into the urban and suburban middle class. In a fast changing world, an strict adherence to the norms dictated by traditional religion might be a normal response.

In the context of Turkey, a nation of 100 million caught between here & there, all this suggests that great changes are imminent. I am skeptical that the EU can swallow such a nation whole.

1 - One can expand the scope of the generalization to India, where the Hindu nationalist parties often gain support from the non-English educated upper and middle castes, often small businessnmen and local professionals.

Posted by razib at 12:38 PM | | TrackBack

On Genetic Interests

Out of curiosity...

Frank Salter's new book, On Genetic Interests, was released earlier this month. From what I gather, its very Rushton-esque in arguing that ethnic nepotism increases inclusive fitness.

However, Tooby and Cosmides level some very convincing arguments against "genetic similarity theory," particularly the lack of a clear evolutionary impetus in the absence of inter-racial contact during the EEA.

So my question is, has anyone read it yet? Does Salter address any of T&C's criticisms? Has Rushton himself ever responded?

Ethnic Genetic Interests: Part 2
Ethnic Genetic Interests
Interracial Marriage: Salter's fallacy
Limits to Hamiltons Rule
Dissin' Dawkins
Green Beard and Ethnic Nepotism

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 02:42 AM | | TrackBack

The costs of intelligence....

The human brain uses about 25% of the energy your body has to dole out to its various organs. That's a big cost. Explaining why we have such proportionally large brains is the subject of many books.

But in any case, Carl Zimmer writes about recent research which hints as greater fitness of "dumb" individuals within two animal species. One thing though, Carl should be cautious about addressing the idea of intergroup differences in humans before knocking it down (see the last paragraph), Charles Murtaugh can attest to the dangers of even mooting the topic .

Posted by razib at 12:38 AM | | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

Eating one's own....

I'm not much of a political junkie...but, I listened to something that I found interesting today. On Warren Olney's To the Point they talked about Donald Rumsfeld and William Kristol came on and criticized the performance of the Secretary of Defense. After him Midge Decter of The Heritage Foundation called in, and after the standard "I'm a big of fan of Bill Kristol" caveat, proceeded to accuse him of being a chickenhawk! She said, "Bill Kristol hasn't been within 500 miles of a battlefield....", after which she defended Donald Rumsfeld's performance. Kristol had earlier alluded to sharp disagreemants between neocons on whether to stand behind president Bush's support for Rumsfeld (particularly in the context of Iraq troop levels), and Decter came out confirmed this split with her rather straightforward use of an anti-neocon insult.

I don't follow much politics in detail, but I do know that Midge Decter & Norman Podhoretz are usually assumed to the standard bearers of the older generation of neoconservatives, along with William Kristol's parents, Iriving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb. Decter and Podhoretz's son, John Podhoretz helped found The Weekly Standard with Bill Kristol, so it's all quite incestuous.

Anyway, the only reason I note this is that I was shocked that a mother of the neconservative movement would use a slur generally hurled by the Left and paleos against neocons against one of the next generation when they didn't toe the party line....

Listen to the segment here.

Posted by razib at 07:03 PM | | TrackBack

Beyond white skin privilege

Several articles on Asian Americans have been brought to my attention. First, Stark Contrasts Found Among Asian Americans. This graphic illustrates the situation well, Asian Americans are multi-modal in income and education. Now, this should make sense, when you reflect that Asian Americans are an omnibus grouping. The San Jose Mercury news has a series titled "Asian Impact" that focuses on the Bay Area. Again, the multi-modality is emphasized, with various ethnic groups decomposed into their distinct elements, though there tends to be a positive spin on the trajectories of less affluent groups, for example, Lifting test scores in one San Jose district, spotlights the impact of Vietnamese on one particular school. Here are some charts from the series that might interest readers:

Discrimination Against Asians
Views of Marriage Outside of the Group
Social Networks

Based on a poll underwritten by The San Jose Mercury News, it shows some intertesting trends (though not surprising), for example, the Filipino openness to out-marriage (the Spanish/Chinese/indigenous mestizo background of much of the Filipino elite might explain this).

Such surveys of a minority ethnic group will offer different lessons to Left and Right. When I was in college the Asian Pacific Student American Union often emphasized the plight of the Southeast Asians to "debunk" the Model Minority Myth. The problem with this is two fold.

  1. Even the Hmong are on an upward trajectory, and the Vietnamese most certainly are.
  2. It does not refute the reality of relatively prosperous Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean Americans-who happen to form the majority in terms of numbers (one could focus on the plight of poor whites in the upland South if the least among us is going to be a standard).

I'm going to be honest when I feel that some APASU types felt an almost bizarre auto-schadenfreude about the misfortunes of Asians Americans when they came to light, as it reinforced models of how they felt white America screwed the Yellow Man (since they tended to be East Asians most of the anecdotes dealt in negative stereotypes based on chopsticks and kung-fu movies rather than curry munchers snake charming, as South Asian activists would emphasize).

The major take home lesson might be that the 1960s Civil Rights movement is not the template for a somewhat artificially constructed white-non-white dichotomy. This dichotomy is partially contingent on the overwhelming dominance of white Americans in public life, something less significant in many regions of the country, and the relatively smaller numbers of non-whites so that intra-non-white conflicts can be discarded from the equation. The chart that displays attitudes toward marriage shows that all Asian American groups tend to be coolest to partnerships with black Americans. A similar sort of tension exists between blacks and Latinos, between the various Asian groups and so forth. Aside from natural clusters within the Asian group (Vietnamese-Chinese-Japanese-Korean) I think it can be argued that many minority groups are more comfortable with, and share more with, white Americans than other minority groups.

On the Right, one lesson to note is that yes, Asian Americans of various stripes do succeed and prosper, but the difficulty of black Americans and to some extent Latinos in fully emulating a cross-community white middle class model (that is, they display cognate income distributions, rather than being skewed toward poverty, despite a large middle class) suggests that the conservative free enterprise formula has different results depending on the sort of capital that the community brings. That is, there are many complex elements that go into making a "community," and just as the Left attempts to extract a few salient points to address injustice (in particular the relationship to white America), the Right attempts to extract a few bullet points that it believes can be easily leveraged with "enterprise zones" and what not (family values for example).

There are no simple answers, I am generally of the school that the government should not have much of a hand in inter-ethnic relations unless violence seems imminent. Nevertheless, those who do believe that inter-community amity is something that the government can deal with, or that programs can "uplift," need to study the empirical reality and be cautious of broad models that discard genuine details of difference.

Posted by razib at 04:05 PM | | TrackBack

December 15, 2004

IQ & TIMSS, 2: Differential Slopes

I've been looking at some of the TIMSS stuff for a few days, but dobeln's post prompted me to post.

Here are two trends (source) that I found interesting, re: Race and TIMSS in the USA:

Notice that (1), the White levels have ostensibly leveled off, while

(2) the Black and Hispanic/Latino levels have definitely increased over 3 years, although they might be leveling off (at least in math).*

My initial question was what was causing the differential slopes? And the secondary question was what will the 2007 wave show?

As to the former, I would say that it is the massive funding going into Urban school districts. Where I live, for example, they put oodles of money into a particular school that wasn't faring so well academically and happened to have a large African American population. They overhauled the school's administration, teachers, etc., and I am sure they will find some improvement on achievement indicators. Few would say if you took the best teachers and the best administrators and threw a wad of $ at them that scores couldn't be somewhat increased.

As to the latter, I see all three race groups show heavy plateauing, especially in math, with a Black-White gap of ~ 75, which (gasp!) is about 1 SD.

* I really wanted to see the trend for Asian Americans, too, but the data did not meet some requirement, so the good people at the Federal Gov't decided not to post the data (at least that I could easily find).

Posted by A. Beaujean at 05:16 PM | | TrackBack


Here is a quote from Godless from a while back:

“Now, for all the skeptics in the audience: who wants to bet that the 2003 data set will not have an IQ-TIMSS correlation greater than .65 or that Ghana & Botswana will score significantly above their IQ-predicted position on the trend line?...this is a chance for the h-bd skeptics - especially those who think Richard Lynn's data is *totally* useless [1] - to venture an empirical, testable prediction.”

Yesterday, TIMSS 2003 results were released to the public. I of course whipped up a little Excel goodness. (It’s a quickie, so beware of errors, etc. I am happy to take corrections*.) So, what does the data say?


(* = white lie)

Here follows a table with:

a) IQ scores, adjusted and unadjusted from “IQ and the wealth of nations” by Lynn and Vahannen. (Gathered into a table by Steve Sailer)
b) GDP per capita from the same book
c) TIMSS math scores from TIMSS 2003 for grade eight students in those countries with an entry in the L&V dataset.
d) A few simple regressions I ran on the material. Not an econometrics wizard, so point out errors at will.
e) A nice little IQ-TIMSS graph, for your viewing pleasure.


A TIMSS-Raw IQ score OLS regression yields an adjusted R-squared of 0,89.
A TIMSS-Adjusted IQ score OLS regression yields an adjusted R-squared of 0,82


a) Couldn’t find Botswana in the L&V data set. Their 366 score did manage to beat out Saudi Arabia…
b) The Canadian TIMSS score is a mix of the scores for Quebec and Ontario.
c) The UK entry is the score for England, with a flag for too few participants.


Real GDP per cap

Book Score

Adjusted IQ

TIMSS - math

Hong Kong





South Korea















Singapore - Total




















United Kingdom










New Zealand










United States











































































Morocco (in Netherlands)















South Africa











Posted by dobeln at 01:31 PM | | TrackBack

Runaway Sexual Selection

Recently had an exchange with a correspondent on "runaway sexual selection," and I thought I'd put up this link to a verbal exposition on the process. Here is a short paper from 6 years back with a more mathematical treatment in the context of ornamentation. Relevance? Runaway might be why some populations look so ooogggllly to you, but they get on fine with each other, their "ornaments" are your ugly masks.

Addendum: A short paper by Geoffrey Miller which presents the core of his thesis about sexual selection & humans elaborated in The Mating Mind.

Related: The Wisdom of Seinfeld.

Posted by razib at 01:12 PM | | TrackBack

Worldview vs. Worldview

I read The ID Update once every week. Today:

He also stresses that the debate is NOT between science and religion, but science worldview vs science worldview.

Lawrence Auster doesn't get it, he seems to think that teaching ID in schools is a victory for religion. "Traditionalist Conservatives" like Auster often talk about the "abstracting" tendencies of liberalism, and its implicit (and sometimes explicit) forebear, Protestantism. Jim Kalb has spoken of Christianity's relative orthogonality with the "earthly order" (Kalb is a Roman Catholic convert). Both Mr. Kalb & Mr. Auster often depict Islam as a totalitarian all-encompassing ideology, that is, it is "this worldly" and steps outside the proper bounds of the limits of religious life.

And yet I think this is what the "Intelligent Design" movement is attempting to do, that is, it is, I believe, a revival of the periodic attempt of the Reformation and its descendents to sanctify every aspect of human life (in ID's case, science). Just as some Muslims use the Koran & Hadith as a judge for every one of their actions, some Puritans measured their lives against the Bible in a very literal sense. In the modern world the Luddism of the Amish communities serve as a full expression of this literalism.

One of the figures in the ID movement that outsiders do not often know about is the Reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who is the source of many critiques of Methodological Naturalism. Philip Johnson, the lawyer who spearheaded the revival of an intellectual Christian naturalism, is, like Plantinga, part of the Reformed tradition (Presbyterian). This is of course the same tradition from which the Puritans sprang. The extremist fringe of the Reform movement also is the root of Dominion Theology, the position that the laws of the Bible should be the basis of all American laws. Democracy must eventually go because God, not the people, are the true rulers.

Now, my point in diving into this minutiae is not to suggest that Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic, and the most prominent life scientist in the ID movement is secretly planning a revolution that would bring the United States under radical Protestant rule. The links and intellectual influences are not explicit, rather, the Christian intellectual fringe (that is, self-conscious Christian intellectuals rather than intellectuals who happen to be Christian) express a human tendency to create a unified worldview. "Christian" music is another example of the same phenomena. Yet, one thing to note is that Intelligent Design, Christian Reconstructionism and Christian music tend to be profoundly influenced by the goings on in this world, that is, they have a strong stamp of being Christianized copies of a "non-Christian" original (that is, science, government and pop music). Hyms and other forms of musical expression glorifying God have always existed in the Christian tradition, so the branding of a musical tradition that seems to have arisen in imitation of trends in American culture since 1950 as "Christian music" seems a bit presumptuous. Similarly, a tradition of Natural Theology and metaphysical philosophy has existed within the Christian tradition since its imbibing of Greek thought. Nevertheless, the Intelligent Design movement, with its promise of applying a "Chrtistian" science in laboratories among the stench of beakers and out in the field seems to be a different and modern beast. And of course, St. Augustine's City of God seemed to reiterate the Western understandintg of the ambivalence of God and the secular city, so the attempt of Christian Reconstructionists to reshape society based on the dictates of The Holy Book seem at odds with the mainstream of Western Christianity.

I suspect for many people Intelligent Design is another thumb in the eye of godless atheism. Perhaps, but it is also a wedge in a multi-pronged attack, part of the intellectual battle that has been wracking the Western world since the Reformation.

Posted by razib at 12:34 PM | | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

The Unintelligible Academy

Michael Blowhard has an interesting reflection on a recent exchange with the academics over at Crooked Timber. All I can say is that he is a man of great patience, and the only dissent I would add is that most of the CT gang are not strict humanists but rather inhabit the greyland of social science (and even the philosophers work in fields like probability theory and politics which are not artistically humanistic).

But it go me thinking, my problem with CT is not their politics, that is their reflexive Leftism, as I believe 3/4 of political distinctions are about flavors of norms and ultimate ends rather than disagreemant on means (and the means are what takes brainwork). After all, Aziz and John are rather unequivocal Democrats with whom I am on good terms. Rather, it is their perpetual sneer at dissent, their paradoxical pose of simultaneous egalitarianism (Republicans believe in plutocracy!) and elitism (the academy is an intellectual aristocracy!).

Yet I come not to bury CT, but praise a suggestion that John made a few months back: eliminate most academic departments and reduce scholarship down to a few core fields like literature, history, mathematics and philosophy. In this scheme, if I recall correctly, John would slot in much of social science into history, and the natural sciences would be included in philosophy (natural philosophy that is). I might quibble on the details, but in the generality I tend to favor such an amalgamation as opposed to the profusion of various hybrid disciplines (biochemistry, political philosophy, etc.).

It also got me thinking about a peculiar historical anecdote. In the 1600s Transylvania was a hotbed of Reformed Christianity, and had close ties with Western European intellectuals. And this was one reason that many Transylvanian students (most of whom were Hungarian by ethnic origin) would show up at Oxford and other English universities to learn at the feet of other Protestants. The peculiarity was they often didn't know English, but they did know Latin, which is what the lectures were being taught in!

Posted by razib at 05:47 PM | | TrackBack

Dean nation cross-post

I have a post up over at Dean Nation. As a preface, I'm sure most GNXP readers will know that I am concerned about the scalability of republican institutions to the level of a mega-state like the United States. Those on the Right who have a principled and deep standing belief in federalism now have, at least temporarily, some allies on the Left on this issue. We should make the most of it.

The Best of All Likely Worlds

If you are a fan of the history of ideas you will know that Voltaire once mocked Leibniz's contention that we live in "the best of all possible worlds." Now, Leibniz was a very intelligent man, the inventor of the useful calculus notation and a world-rank philosopher, aside from being professional training as a lawyer, he dabbling in mine engineering and his day-to-day consisted of diplomacy and archiving to pay the bills. So, it makes sense that some of the spirit of Leibniz lives on today. For many human beings, though not asserting that this is the best of all possible worlds, believe that we can (with mild effort) attain the best of all possible worlds. I believe that such utopianism is folly, though the intentions might be laudable, the intersection between political and attempts to enforce the best of all possible worlds (whatever norms you might hold up as "ideal") and human nature have been catastrophic. Rather, what we can hope to achieve in our lives is the best of all likely worlds, the likely being contingent upon the constraints of time and place.

Perhaps my outlook is shaped by the fact that I am something of a "gene nut." One of the most common arguments trotted out against Creationists is that the anatomy of many species indicates a "good enough" solution. An ideally "optimal" design simply does not exist, "optimal" is contingent upon variables which actually shift in flux as a function of time or space. As an example, the human body's vareigated immune system deploys a "scout" in the form of the Major Histocompability Complex (MHC), the forerunner of killer T-cells which clean up nasty pathogens that wander into the orbit of any organism. The character of the MHC (its phenotype) is controlled by what are termed the HLA locii, that is, a particular configuration of its genotype. There are multiple HLA genes and each of these come various flavors, or polymorphisms. The short of it is that what you need to know is that the presence of multiple forms indicates that diversity is selected for. In fact, diversity is so important on these locii that various HLA forms are transpecies, you might have an HLA profile more similar to a chimpanzee than your cousin because the genes are that ancient. The diversity of the HLA genes is almost certainly a function of the fact that they are constantly assailed by a host of hyper-evolving pathogens. Just when the immune system becomes "perfect" at neutralizing one threat another pops up. The various forms are simply part of a whole array of tools that the body keeps on hand in the case of novel attacks. One interesting idea, posited by the late biologist William D. Hamilton, is that at any one given time a particular conformation of HLA locii might more "optimal," but since time does not stay still natural selection will never move that conformation to the species norm, that is, fixation, instead an oscillating cycle will perpetuate the diversity.

What does this have to do with "The Best of All Likely Worlds" and Dean nation? In "The Best of All Possible Worlds" perhaps our HLA profiles could always be optimally tuned for each generation, that is, if we had perfect information about the evolutionary trajectory of any given pathogen. Unfortunately, pathogenic evolution isn't deterministic, so we would be stuck with a probabilistic projection, and of course we do not have perfect information and can only guess at what pathogens might be up to a few years down the line. In this constrained world the human species is characterized by a host of HLA profiles, that is, a diversity of defense strategies, none of which are perfect for any given attack, but which are "good enough" solutions.

So to the second question, what does this have to do with Dean nation? Two points that I can draw by analogy. The first is that if you assume that various political persuasions are HLA forms on various genes, and that America is an organism, an ultimate victory against other forms might be deleterious in the long run. That is, the victory of unilateral militarism and unilateral pacifism are losers in the long run, you need a mix of both strategies, tempered by rational means, to perpetuate general international amity. Additionally, even within the intranational context there are implications. One trend that I have been noting with some hope is the recent Leftish flirtation with federalism. To some extent this is even more opportunistic than conservative adherence to the concept (now that the Right controls the federal government devolution seems less in vogue at that end). Ever since the New Deal the Left & the federal government were closely associated with each other. The Civil Rights revolution might never have happened without the interposition of the federal government between the states and the black protesters. Through the Warren Court there was also an expansion of individual civil liberties at the expense of local control (a trend that has been somewhat curtailed, though most of the substantive gains stand). With the 50 year domination of the Democrats in the legislative branch the federal principle was wholly rational (for Democrats). With the reality of gross barbaric injustice through broad swaths of the country (segregation) the federal principle was wholly just, on the balance.

But I think it is now a time to take a step back and count wins and losses. A republic is a fragile thing, and we've kept it for 200 years. It has scaled surprisingly well, from a polity shaped by the minority of white men who met property qualifications in an oligarchic republic of 2.5 million to a nation, a cultural empire, of 300 million citizens and over 100 million regular voting participants. The imperial presidency is an awesome thing, and the executive branch now has wide and expansive powers. I have watched as many of my friends and acquaintances shudder at the thought of Republican domination of every branch of the federal government, as the Democrat wrought tools of federal dominion now get turned to other purposes. The federal strategy is a winner-take-all gambit, it discounts incrementalism and favors wild oscillations. In concert with the scale of the republic I think this is causing great stress to the health of the polity.

A more relaxed federal state is a mixed solution at best. It is not "The Best of All Possible Worlds," from a liberal perspective much of the south might be characterized by regressive legislation directed against homosexuals, while conservatives might grumble at the legalization of marijuana in the West and gay marriage in the Northeast. But in an age of mobility and the guarantee of basic civil rights I think it is a more tenable position to adhere to even for those who hold universal justice dear. To use another biological analogy, genes might be selfish, but by and large they behave in an altrustic fashion when trapped within an individual because the death of one is the death of all. Absolute short term political victories for any given side, the utilization of massive federal tools in the service of a partisan agenda, might cause so much intraorganismic strife that it is vulnerable to morbidity. And so with our great country.

What does this mean practically? It means I hope the federalist impulse on the Left is not ephemeral, because it still exits rhetorically on the Right. Words and ideas have power, and even though the Right can wield the tools of the federal government many still have a soft spot for devolution. This is a crucial point of leverage because human beings do value principle and consistency in some ineffable fashion. In concert with the reality that the pendulum of power always swings, it might be enough to create a Left-Right alliance toward devolution and a curtailment of federal power, to the better health of the overall republic.

Posted by razib at 03:10 PM | | TrackBack

Blogging on blogging

Don't like to blog on blogging...but, I noticed in this post complaining about Tyler's begging something about bloglines. I noticed that we had 75 people subscribed, not bad, though an order of magnitude less than Tyler & Alex's blog.1 In any case, what I found interesting were the related feeds.

I was happy to see I, Cringley and Joel on Software on the list. I was not surprised to see that The Loom and Future Pundit were "related" to GNXP. I was a bit disturbed to see Crooked Timber there. Also, there are blogs I've never heard about, like The Shifted Librarian and Jeremy Zawodny.

1 - If the order of magnitude difference in subscription is proportional to traffic, that means Tyler & Alex's site gets 30-40 thousand unique visitors a day. That suggests that they are probably paying a fair amount for webhosting, though since they don't disclose their SITEMETER stats I can't tell.

Posted by razib at 01:53 PM | | TrackBack

A drug that "destroys HIV"

I'm too busy studying right now to make any kind of long comments on this, but a friend sent me this link a few minutes ago. Check it out.

Posted by Arcane at 01:03 PM | | TrackBack

Blind expression

The scenario is simple, a man is blinded by two strokes which damage the visual processing region of the brain (the retina and the optic nerve are intact). A rather peculiar psychologist decides to show this blind individual a series of images.

  • When it came to 'deadpan' human faces he couldn't make heads or tails.
  • When it came to shapes all he offered were wild guesses.
  • Pictures of animals that seem threatening also did not elicit any response.

But, the patient showed a non-trivial ability to distinguish human faces expressing various emotional states (he was 60% accurate, definitely not very good, but also non-trivial). There was heightened activity in the patient's amygdala, which is known to respond to facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. Remember, this is a person whose visual center is shot, someone who is functionally blind, but modular independence of human facial recognition of emotion allowed this cognitive pathway to still transmit some information. In a BBC interview the lead researcher noted that the patient himself really had no idea what he was supposed to be seeing, and assumed that his guesses about emotional states were wildly inaccurate just as his previous ones had been, that is, his conscious reflective mind did not have direct access to this information! The information processing was occurring "under the hood."

You can read a summary here, but the full paper will be out in Nature Neuroscience.

Massive modularity? I don't know, but far more modular than you would think. Perhaps they are all a series of felicitous spandrels....

Posted by razib at 02:50 AM | | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

Code of the Lifemaker - Prologue

For those of you who haven't read Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan, you've missed a very clever prologue where Hogan sets up the premise of the novel, which centers on a society of machines and their first contact with Aliens (Humans.)

The prologue details how a self-replicating factory ship manfunctioned and the machines went through an evolutionary process culminating in genetic variability and recombination, competition, selection, and adaptation.

The prologue is now available on-line.

Posted by TangoMan at 09:59 PM | | TrackBack

Holy Khan!

Question: I have noticed that many readers of this site believe Genghis Khan was a sociopath or some blood-thirsty warlord. Why do you think that? I am curious as to specifics. I want something more than this apocryphol quote. Also, would you make Paris' choice?

Posted by razib at 09:37 PM | | TrackBack

The GNXP of Climate Change

I just noticed this new blog: RealClimate. It appears to be the Gene Expression of climate research.

Posted by rikurzhen at 09:00 PM | | TrackBack

Behaviorist Fibbing Past and Present

J.B. Watson 1924: "Give me a dozen healthy infants ... and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."

P.Z. Myers 2004: "[Society] could take 1000 [random] black kids, give them the right opportunities and the right environment, and make them all successful college students. . . . Yes, 1000 kids of any race could be raised to be successful college kids."

One sad outcome of the Blank Slate double-standard where "the extreme position (that culture is everything) is so often seen as moderate, and the moderate position is seen as extreme" is that those with extreme environmental biases can make any unsubstantiated claim they want, stated in the most factual of ways, with total impunity and with full preservation of their reputations, while scientists exploring/discussing genetic possibilities like Jensen and Herrnstein who carefully qualify their statements with agnostic and probabilistic language find themselves beleaguered and tarnished erroneously for these misconducts anyways.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 08:43 PM | | TrackBack

Random Facts

A string of random interesting/strange facts I recently collected while browsing through some online journal archives:

1. Women more frequently recall their dreams than men. (Schredl & Piel 2003)

2. Homosexual men gamble less frequently than heterosexual men. Homosexual women gamble more frequently than heterosexual women. (Hershberger & Bogaert 2004)

3. Homosexual men have larger penises than heterosexuals. (Bogaert & Hershberger, 1999)

4. Spirituality is linked to lower levels of boredom proneness in women. (MacDonald & Holland 2002)

5. Preference for dimmer light while eating is positivly correlated with bulimia in restrained eaters. (Kasof 2002)

6. The heritability of subjective well-being in women is .55, and in men, .46. (Røysamb et al. 2002)

7. Men who indicate a relatively high interest in celebrities may have some mild psychopathology (Maltby et al. 2002)

8. Predominantly white faces are rated as less masucline but more attractive than predominantly black faces. This is not due to an "own-race" bias. (Wade et al. 2004).

9. Light-eyed individuals are more likely than dark-eyed individuals to abuse alcohol. (Bassett & Dabbs 2001)

10. Among inmates who commit homicide, those high in testosterone more often know their victims and planned their crimes ahead of time. (Dabbs et al. 2001)

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 02:56 PM | | TrackBack

The Dusk of Human Culture?

I purchased The Dawn of Human Culture about 6 months ago because of late my study of human evolution has been a bit genocentric, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with skulls & bones. Stanford palaeoanthropologist Richard G. Klein knows his morphology, serving up a breezy 300 page tour of the latest research in paleontology from the fossil's-eye-view.1 But, the book is also an argument for the genetic basis of the "Great Leap Forward" (GLF), that is, that about 50,000 years ago modern humans underwent a major qualitative change in character which underwrote both their range expansion out of Africa and their cultural creativity. Of late I have expressed skepticism of this viewpoint, primarily because the data points are starting to get a bit sloppy. Nevertheless, I still tend favor some form of this argument over the gradualist position espoused by Stephen Oppenheimer in The Real Eve.

Klein's thesis is simple: about 50,000 years ago a genetic event, saltational in character, triggered the rise of man-as-we-know-him. Language, driven by FOXP2, is implicated as a major culprit, with complex symbolic thinking being the seminal byproduct of the new neural operating system. Klein appeals to neurological rewiring because he can't tie the change to cranial capacity increase, a gradual process that had ceased by about 200,000 years before the present in the homonid line that led to Homo sapiens. Those who stand at the antipode to Klein's hypothesis would assert that gradual evolution of human culture occurred after the cranial plateau and offer that if aliens observed the change in human society after 1500 and the scientific revolution they might also wonder if a genetic change might be the cause.

This got me wondering. If a group of 10 individuals from a modern Western society were dropped on a desert island what would happen? If they were going to survive they would probably abandon their specialized niches and attempt the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Though they might teach their children literacy it seems plausible that the complex information rich suite of modern society would be severely attenuated, and barring recontact the descendents of the moderns might resemble another hunter-gatherer group with legends of great days past. But, I still suspect that they would express some religious sentiments and engage in artistic activities. These to me seem human universals, not products of cultural evolution or learning, that is, they are motifs that emerge out of our cognitive predispositions. Just like language they need only minimal triggers, and the presence of other human beings in a social context might allow them to manifest themselves.

As it happens, we have a primitive form of "desert island" abandonment that we can use to test my hunch: Tasmanian aboriginals. Their material culture was extremely poor, the most deprived of any human group known. Being cut off from extended information networks they tended to "forget" many skills which they had brought to Tasmania. If the culture of the GLF was purely learned and markers for symbolic thought were cultural innovations rather than rooted in a genetic change, doesn't it seem likely that the Tasmanians would be the prime candidates to manifest a regression to a pre-modern (that is, pre-50,000 before present) way of life? What I know suggests that they still remained modern. Their toolkit was narrow and constrained, but still not as primitive as that of anatomically modern but pre-GLF folk. And, they made necklaces. The capacity for symbolic thought is hardwired, it's not an innovation. Of course, I'm still sketchy about the details of the GLF....

1 - Genetics is secondary to the narration, but followers of the field will have some issues. Klein leans heavily on the Puncuated Equilibria theory proposed by Niles Eldridge and SJ Gould, but what he really seems to want to express is something more similar to Sewall Wright's adaptive landscape. As for many palaeoanthropologists genetic drift often turns into a deux ex machina for Klein, and his implication that small isolated populations "mutate more" seems to be confusing the point he was trying to get across that random genetic drift is more salient in smaller breeding groups. Overall, Klein has a tendency not to decompose the impact of natural selection and genetic drift in various contexts because the drivers of the evolutionary process serve as background props rather than the main storyline.

Posted by razib at 04:18 AM | | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

The NY Times disappoints us... again.

When I logged onto the NY Times Magazine website tonight and started browsing through their annual "Year in Ideas" issue, I saw one of the ideas being mentioned was "Fertile Red States." Thinking immediately that Steve Sailer's latest research into this would be mentioned in it, I clicked on it and was disappointed that, as usual, the NY Times just couldn't get over their bias against Sailer and dredged up an article from back in last summer, without mentioning Sailer's research once. Of course, the research that they cited was done by a liberal, Phillip Longman who is afraid that high birth rates among conservatives in will turn the U.S. into a Christian version of the Taliban...

The implications of this trend appall Longman, who warns, "Such a trend, if sustained, would drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, and gradually create an anti-market culture dominated by fundamentalist values."

Riiiiiight... gotta watch out for all those free-market conservatives, they might just tear down what remains of the socialist regulations we put in place! And even worse, the article that the NY Times cited was published on the editorial page of their competitor, the Washington Post. The lengths the NY Times will go to ignore research from individuals that they disagree with is disappointing, as usual.

On another note, they have silly ideas such as:
"Hawkishness as Evolutionary Holdover" (would be more appropriately titled, "Overconfidence as a Psychological Development," but that wouldn't make it a new idea, would it?)

"The 'Acting White' Myth" (more appropriately titled, "Why We Think Bill Cosby is an Idiot")

"Psychopathic C.E.O.'s" (or "Why We Despise Successful Capitalists")

"Neo-Secessionism" (this one is actually sort of good and Michael Hill's comments are pretty cool. However, I have to say that Paul Lewis should get over the fact that this isn't Soviet Canuckistan and he might want to consider moving, especially since he's been promoting his idea of having parts of the U.S. merge with Canada since the 2000 election)

"Land-Mine Detecting Plants" (Uh ok...)

Posted by Arcane at 02:57 AM | | TrackBack

Flores Hobbit talk in Oz

Julian reports on discussions at the Australasian Society for Human Biology at the Flores "Hobbits" and the possibility that they were microcephalic. Extraordinary claims often generate strident counterclaims. I am not totally convinced about one model of what or who the Flores Hobbits were, and their supposed use of advanced tools leaves me puzzled, but if I had to bet money I would bet against microcephaly. Unless that is I found out that the researchers who published the original Flores paper were morons who didn't do their homework. Here are some numbers I found:

In the general population, microcephaly due to genetic factors occurs in 1 in 30,000 to 50,000 live births, and in 1 per 10,000 births due to other causes. In some populations, frequency may be as high as 1 in 2,000 births.

Posted by razib at 02:54 AM | | TrackBack

The Economist Part II

From The Economist:

What is an Economist.com Day Pass?

Now you can get free access to Economist.com by viewing an advertisement. In effect, the advertiser pays for you to have full access to the site for 24 hours after viewing the advertisement.

Please note: your browser must be set to accept cookies in order to take advantage of this service.

If you don't get a "Day Pass" option after clicking one of their subscriber only articles check your cookie settings.

Posted by razib at 02:40 AM | | TrackBack

The Quality of Education Research

I've been surfing the education blogs of late, and Jenny D. points to this eye-glazing featured article ! ! ! in the Columbia University Teachers College Record. Here is the listing from the table of contents:

Movements of Mind: The Matrix, Metaphors, and Re-imagining Education Alison Cook-Sather | 2004

This article uses the popular move The Matrix to evoke both metaphors for human existence and models for teaching and learning, it examines two metaphors that have dominated notions of and approaches to education in the United States, and it argues for seeking, crafting, and embracing metaphors that cast students as the principle creators of their education and themselves.

This article is the centerpiece of the journal. This article is considered an advancement of either the science, or the craft, of education. If this is the pinnacle of education research, then I should point some high school students of my acquaintance, who are looking to pad their resumes, towards the editors of this journal. Nothing like having a professional journal article to your credit when applying to college.

Posted by TangoMan at 01:51 AM | | TrackBack