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December 30, 2004

Unforeseen Innovation

Reuters reports that South Africa's high crime rate has prompted the inventive class to produce some very interesting security-related technology. Some of these are impractical (like the flame thrower-equipped car) or just variations on an extant theme (computers that notify the owner and "squawk' with a car-alarm like alert when stolen), but at least one could be very useful in the US:

With a computer circuit board concealed in the butt and a revolutionary laser firing mechanism instead of the traditional hammer, the "South African Intelligent Firearm" would not look out of place on the set of a science fiction movie.

The really clever bit is in the handle, which reads the user's thumb print so only the rightful owner can fire it. And when it shoots, a camera takes a digital photo of the target, noting the time and the date -- just in case the user ends up in court having to justify opening fire.

While thumb print IDs have been supported by the left in the US, it's interesting that the opposite seems to be happening in SA. Perhaps gun robberies are frequent enough that such measures are necessary? In any case, it seems that desperation is the mother of invention.

GC comments:

More from the article:

In Johannesburg's wealthy northern suburbs scarcely a house is without radio-controlled gates, infra-red anti-burglar beams and electric fences that bring armed security guards bursting through the door at the drop of an intruder's hat.

"Joburgers" have become a byword for obsession with security, with an advert for cheap flights to the Indian Ocean resort of Durban showing a young boy on the beach building a sandcastle complete with an elaborate system of razor-wire.

While [some people] assure us that crime is plummeting in SA, the South African reality is quite different...


In the previous post, I said that Abiola Lapite was a modern day Walter Duranty for denying the horrifying death toll (more than a quarter million to date) in South Africa by implying that the whites deserved it for apartheid. This is a false statement, for Abiola Lapite is in fact not a modern day Walter Duranty. Unlike the Ukraine, there is no famine in South Africa, only the highest rape and murder rates in the industrialized world. Furthermore, South Africa is warm while the Ukraine is cold. And the countries are totally different: "Ukraine" has many fewer letters than "the Republic of South Africa". It is clear the metaphor must be junked.

So in response to his threat of libel action, I have decided to come clean. What IS true is that Abiola Lapite is a modern day Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. And, oh yes, a Dahmer.

Yes, you heard me: he is personally responsible for the deaths of millions. And he molests young Laotian boys before eating them.

And he enjoys sex with goats.

That is all :)

Posted by scottm at 05:49 PM | | TrackBack

Intellectual Fingerpainting
The trap one often falls into is to focus on one of those to which the typical response of the [h-bd] convert is to either a) completely ignore it b) dismiss it as an "outlier" or "an exception to the rule" which rather betrays complete ignorance of Popperian falsification. If you really don't understand this point, imagine "exceptions to the rule" of gravity.
--Frank McGahon

This has to be one of the silliest comments I have ever read.

As I am not a huge fan of Lynn (he does have WN aka "whining Nazi" tendencies), I will not go at length to defend L&V, though their data *is* remarkably close to TIMSS data. However, when one is dealing with an issue like h-bd, one has to go with the weight of evidence--not stick with PC until one meets some ridiculously high standard of evidence; almost any social science data will have outliers. Setting a high standard of evidence is what people do when they're cornered; e.g. the tobacco companies denying that cigarettes are addictive and can cause cancer. The h-bd issue we are dealing with here is this: are there nontrivial differnces in coginitive ability between different populations? This seems a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Remember, even with typical U.S. IQ figures, we only see about 10 to 20 percent of variance between racial groups (the mean IQ figures E. Asian=103, Black=85, Latino=90, Euro=100, SD=15 give 13% of variance between groups). However, while the variance in almost any trait is primarily within races, it does not mean that between-group variation is trivial. One need only see the poor economic and academic performance of Hispanics (on average) in the U.S. to see this.

Given what we know about biological factors that can affect intelligence (such as NMDA and GABA activity during development), what we know from twin studies, and what we know about the correlation between white matter in the brain and IQ (just to name a few), Bertolt Brechtís* conclusion that all disparities are "a product of history, not nature" simply seems loony. Unfortunately, all too many who describe themselves as conservatives and libertarians seem all too willing to go along with Brecht.

*Communist writer in the 1920s and 1930s.

GC comments:

More to the point, if you're using words to describe an inherently statistical phenomenon, it is easy to make it seem like your objections and nitpicks are powerful. If there are 10 outliers on a height-weight scatterplot with 1000 points, those inclined towards verbal sophistry can say: "There are at least 10 things that don't fit! First, there is Jane, the anorexic 6'4" woman. Then there is Steven, the 5'0 200 lb man. Then there is..." and so on down the list. Because of the way the human mind works, if you can fill up a page of text with objections, you can make yourself think that you've come up with a powerful counterargument...even when the substantive trend is unaffected by these nitpicks.

With respect to the wealth of nations, which was the topic discussed in the thread, the trend is fairly clear:

NOTE: I know the graph has to be updated. The data is now about 5 years old. It would be trivial to do the update with the aid of Nationmaster, and maybe I'll do so in the next few days. But in any case, even if you neglect the x-axis and the correlation and the scatterplot and just look at the histogram of points on the y-axis (GDP-per-capita of each nation), the relationship between ethnicity and GDP-per-capita is clear, EVEN IF you believe IQ is not the explanatory variable.

Now, yes, individual nations matter. Yes, you can point out that there is an overlap by comparing Bermuda to Russia. Yes, most of the outliers can be explained through historical arguments whereas others are more puzzling. But the trend is clear.

However, if you are intent on obscuring this trend, you can do so by avoiding graphs and equations entirely. This is the tactic of Ned Block and Stephen J Gould. One cannot understand the technical aspects of heritability or evolution without equations or graphs...but one can certainly make others misunderstand said technical aspects if one is so inclined.

Posted by bb at 09:10 AM | | TrackBack

December 29, 2004

+10 Strength, +8 Intelligence, +18 RROWR!

Heather Graham is on the EverCrack.

I'd always wished I had the chance to play Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, but I never had friends who were into it.

You know, Ms. Graham, I'm sure those kids who were into it would have extended a warm hand of welcome.

Posted by jeet at 08:57 AM | | TrackBack

Today's assignment:

Your task is simple - read these texts and connect the dots:

"New Study Finds That Math Items on the Nation's Benchmark Exam Are Too Easy, Don't Adequately Assess Skills"
Brookings Institution

"Closing the racial learning gap"
La Griffe du Lion

So, what are you waiting for?

Posted by dobeln at 05:19 AM | | TrackBack

December 28, 2004

Monkeys Conform to Gender Toy Preference Stereotypes Too

Little boys like to play with toy cars and girls with dolls. These sexually dimorphic toy preferences extend to non-human primates.

Alexander & Hines (2002) gave 44 vervet monkeys of each sex six toys to play with; two male-typical (a toy car and ball), two female-typical (a doll and pot) and two sex-neutral (a book and stuffed animal). Male ververts were more likely than females to engage the car and ball while females were more likely to play with the doll and pot. No difference was found in the neutral toys.

These findings make gender socialization theories of play behaviors increasingly untenable. Even though pre- and neonatal androgen exposure has been linked to play preferences in rats, rhesus monkeys, and human females with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, blank slaters like Fausto-Sterling remain unimpressed. Phenotypic masculinization, they suggest, could be altering socialization by parents and peers. Gender self-identification could be weakened by sex hormones and not affecting the neural processes of play as such. But vervets are neither subject to the human socialization process or (so far as we know) capable of gender self-identification.

Why then to girls and boys prefer the toys they do? One possibility is what the authors refer to as object categorization, whereby a stimulus possesses "a sufficient cue or number of cues from some larger set of characteristics that define a class." In the case of females, for example, their toys "have been described as objects that afford opportunities for nurturance (Campbell; Eisenberg and Miller), and selection pressures may favor responsiveness to object cues (e.g., an animate-like form) that signal maternal behavior because these cues enhance infant survival." Male-typical toys, on the other hand, "have been characterized as objects with an ability to be used actively (O'Brien & Huston, 1985) or objects that can be propelled in space (Benenson, Liroff, Pascal, & Cioppa, 1997). Preferences for such objects may exist because they afford greater opportunities for engaging in rough or active play."

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 10:46 PM | | TrackBack

Images of my brain

Courtesy of Aziz.

(lots of big images below)

Posted by razib at 03:28 PM | | TrackBack

IQ and Spinal Muscular Atrophy

There seems to be some evidence linking Spinal Muscular Atrophy to intelligence.  It is often found in very intelligent children, and according to Loveline's Dr. Drew, patients often report feeling that their intelligence has increased during the course of the disease.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 12:32 PM | | TrackBack

December 27, 2004

Putting the Evo-Devo in Evo-Psych

Talking to Ingo Brigandt about his ethnic nepotism paper, he brought up an interesting concern about evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology postulates mental or behavioural modules based on alleged selective demands. Note that these modules are functionally defined and that the assumption is that for each important ecological and behavioural function there is a *distinct* mental module. (E.g., as jealousy has an important social effect on reproductive success, evolutionary psychologists postulated the existence of a jealousy module). Evolutionary developmental biologists talk about Ďmodulesí as well. however, they have a structural-developmental understanding of module. A module is a homologue, i.e., a structure that is structurally-developmentally defined and a character that exists across species as it is inherited from a common ancestor. On this account, something is a unique module if it is a single character that may vary relatively independently from other characters. To figure out whether something is a unique character one has to study its evolution on a phylogenetic tree (or its variation within a species). In addition to this standard comparative method, evolutionary developmental biology offers insights as to whether a module is developmentally individualized so that it evolves as a real unit or character.

He goes on:

The point of this is that whether there is really a jealousy module (distinct from other postulated modules) depends on whether the *material * basis of this feature can actually vary and change in evolution without affecting other traits. But this can only occur if this module is developmentally dissociated from other modules. Mainstream evolutionary psychology does not address any of these questions, thatís why I think that this approach and relate[d] ones (Salter, etc) are scientifically not fruitful. What one has to do is to view behavioral features, emotions, and the like as modules in the sense of homologues, and study their variation in humans and homologize them with the corresponding traits in closely related organism. Once one has an idea as to how these characters have changed on the phylogenetic tree and what their developmental underpinning is, scientists are in a position to actually explain the evolution of behavior.

I'm not so sure about this last part. Investigating the underlying neurophysiology of behavioral/psychological adaptations seems like something that can be teased out independent of their actually being adaptive, in the same way one can investigate the heritability of general intelligence without necessarily trying to find high-IQ QTLs. In other words, evolutionary psychology seems to work on a different explanatory level (i.e. this behavior is or is not an adaptation) that would exist with or without modern evo-devo.

He does seem right in suggesting that it may be premature to label any of these adaptations modules, though.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 06:07 PM | | TrackBack

Discovery Institute Blog

The creationists over at the Discovery Institute have a new blog devoted to, in their words, correcting the "misreporting of the evolution issue" in the newsmedia.

Not surprisingly, there is no comments section.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 02:21 PM | | TrackBack

December 26, 2004

Evolution and the Contagion of Reason

It is often said that the ancient Greeks were the first Europeans. Indeed, their culture feels remarkably modern. Usually this is put down to the Greek spirit of inquiry, its dedication to reason, or perhaps cosmopolitanism. But there is another characteristic of ancient Greece which unites it with the present, and distinguishes it from the past. It is a characteristic that is almost universally overlooked, despite its importance, because its presence is so much a part of contemporary consciousness that its nature is exceedingly hard to convey: ancient Greece, like modern times, was a non-traditional culture.

Though I, myself, am often haphazard in my use of the word 'traditional' (for example, I often use the terms: 'traditional values' or 'traditional religion'), at least for the purpose of this post I will endeavor to use the word more precisely: A traditional culture is one that has explicit cultural institutions for transmitting tradition. The emphasis is on the word explicit - clearly, people in all cultures learn from their elders, and thus tend to propagate traditions. But in tribal cultures there is strong, if not universal, tendency to maintain cultural institutions whose purpose is to preserve and transmit the wisdom of the tribe. In other words: maintaining tradition is an explicit value - not just as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. The identity of the tribe is symbiotically bound to its memetic wisdom, and each strives to preserve the other.

Traditional culture is often thought of as a kind of super-stodginess: elders frowning and saying, "this is the way it's always been done". However, I have found (and I don't know how generally applicable this is) that in a certain way quite the opposite occurs. The maintenance of explicit institutions for transmitting tradition provides a forum, and a language, for examining it. We see it operate in the one area of life that, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries, still operates on traditional principles: Law. The legal profession, in common-law countries, maintains institutions for transmitting not just the law itself, but also how the law is understood. And when the law is applied, it is necessary to consider not just the law itself, but the whole weight of legal tradition - this tradition being considered, in fact, inseparable from it.

It is perhaps inevitable that tribal cultures would tend to be traditional. Clearly, those tribes which best succeed in transmitting their accumulated wisdom to the next generation are most likely to succeed, so maintaining explicit institutions for this purpose would tend to further this goal. But there is a better reason: traditional cultures create the infrastructure for memetic evolution.

Many systems, not just genetic systems, are evolutionary. To be evolutionary, a system need only:

1. Consist of units which propagate traits over time

2. Propagate units with advantageous traits better than units with disadvantageous traits

3. Have some kind of mechanism for mutation of traits

Thus, many systems, for example economic systems, can be thought of as evolutionary. But notice that (1) and (3) are contradictory: it is essential that the tendency to mutate be extremely low in comparison to the tendency to conserve and propagate traits. If the mutation rate is too high, it will overwhelm the ability to propagate advantageous traits, and the system will be defined not by evolution, but by the quirks of the mutation mechanism.

The ancient Greeks, in adopting reason as the standard for judging truth, implicitly rejected tradition. It is this, to my mind, that is most responsible for the modern feel of Greek culture. But in doing so, they rejected an evolutionary system in favor of a viral one. Reason is a mechanism for the rapid mutation of memes: Come up with a good reason, and you will change your mind, and others'. The fitness of a meme is determined not so much by the constraints of the environment, as by its attractiveness to the fallible mind.

Clearly, reason has brought us far. But with populations on the precipice of decline in every modern society, it might be relevant to ask: Will it win out in the end? Perhaps tradition will make a comeback? Or perhaps there is some synthesis of reason and tradition that is better than either of the two?

(Cross-posted at Rishon Rishon)

PS: I think this whole issue should be thought of as meta-memetic evolution: Memes which determine the evolutionary environment of memes. It is parallel to genes which determine the mechanism of reproduction.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:27 AM | | TrackBack