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March 05, 2005

And Speaking of Penises...

Wassersug et al. (2004) have a (interesting? painful?) survey of 134 men with an interest in castration. Here are some numbers:


Under 25: 4%
25–35: 16%
35–45: 23%
45–55: 38%
Over 55: 17%
No answer provided: 2%


Non-HS: 1%
HS graduate: 16%
2 yrs college: 22%
4 yrs college: 25%
Postcollege: 25%
Doctoral degree: 9%
No answer provided: 3%

Reasons respondents desire castration (by number of responses)

A feeling of calm, often called the eunuch calm: 42
A sense of control over one’s sexual urges and/or sexual appetite: 41
The excitement of the castration scene itself: 32
Cosmetic effect. Just like the look: 31
Feeling a deep desire to be submissive to partner: 26

Interesting that they have a much higher rate of advanced education than the general population.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 04:42 AM | | TrackBack

Crime and Punishment: Part 2

In a recent post I looked at the data on crime by different ethnic groups in Britain. As this arose from a controversy about crimes committed by women, I dealt only with the data for women.

Out of curiosity I have done a similar exercise for men….

As previously, the data are derived from the 2002 Home Office Report on prison statistics for England and Wales, compared with data from the 2001 Census for proportions in the general population of England and Wales aged 16-34 inclusive (which I take to be the peak age of criminal activity).

This gives the following results (in per cent to one decimal place):

__________White__All non-white__Black__S. Asian__Chinese & other__Mixed

In Prison (1)__79.2_____20.2______13.5_____3.2_____3.5___________n/a

In Prison (2)__84.5_____14.1______10.4_____2.6_____1.1___________n/a

In general____88.3_____11.7_______2.6_____6.3_____1.3___________1.5

(1) percentages among all male prisoners
(2) percentages among male prisoners excluding foreign nationals
n/a = data not available in prison statistics
Figures may not total to 100% due to rounding and small numbers of prisoners with 'unrecorded' ethnicity.

As discussed more fully in the previous post, there are difficulties in interpreting these data, and not much weight should be put on them. Notably, the categories used for the ethnic breakdown in the prison statistics are not the same as in the Census. It is not at all clear what is covered by the ’Chinese and other’ category in the prison stats, and I suggest this category should be ignored. There is also the problem that some prisoners are temporary visitors to the UK. However, as compared with the women’s statistics, the number of ’drug mules’ is less important among male prisoners. I have therefore given figures for all male prisoners (first line), followed by figures excluding foreign nationals.

It will be seen that, as with the women’s figures, Black men are over-represented in the prison population, while South Asian men are somewhat under-represented, though not as dramatically as in the case of women. I suspect that a more detailed breakdown would also reveal differences between different Asian ethnic groups, as these groups also differ substantially in educational and economic performance.

Posted by David B at 04:41 AM | | TrackBack

The Conflict Within - The Left's Version of Creationism

I've now had two critiques against my post The Turning of the Tide and both shared a common thrust: the Left has no science luddites and they don't tolerate the subornment of science. The Left is above such tactics, or so say my critics.

What's especially baffling is that some of the Left's scientific icons and popularizers of science are quite flagrently offering suborned statements to their acolytes. Now, while the Left justly castigates the subornment of science by the Right's tactics of bribery and power politics it turns a blind eye to its own crimes of subornment paid for with adulation and desire to maintain ideological amity.

Regular readers of this blog are already aware of the antics of the Sociobiology Study Group, but new readers may profit from a recap for it would offer some history and could help put into perspective the recent statements of Steven Rose (which I'll get to in a moment,) which along with my critics, helped prompt this post. Rose, you may recall, along with Richard Lewontin and Leon Kamin, wrote a manifesto entitled Not In Our Genes that directed agitprop against sociobiology and is much beloved, as was Gould, by those who stand fast against research in genetics that would tread on, and threaten, their ideology.

E.O Wilson, writing about the attacks launched against him during the Sociobiology War, quotes Rose's co-author of Not In Our Genes Richard Lewontin:"There is nothing in Marx, Lenin, or Mao that is or can be in contradiction with a particular set of phenomena in the objective world." Wilson, in rebutting Lewontin, goes on to write, first a restatement of Lewontin's point and then his rebuttal:

True science, in other words, must be defined intrinsically to be forever separate from political thought. Ideology can then be constructed as a mental process insulated from science.

In formulating sociobiology, I wanted to move evolutionary biology into every potentially congenial subject, including human behavior and even political behavior, roughshod if need be and as quickly as possible. Lewontin obviously did not.

By adopting a narrow criterion of acceptable research deserving the title of science, Lewontin freed himself to pursue a political agenda unencumbered by science. He purveyed the postmodernist view that accepted truth, unless based upon unassailable fact, is no more than a reflection of dominant ideology and political power. After his turn to political activism, around 1970, he worked to promote his own accepted truth: the Marxian view of holism, envisioning a mental universe within which social systems ebb and flow in response to the forces of economics and class struggle. He disputed the idea of reductionism in evolutionary biology, even though it was and is the virtually unchallenged linchpin of the natural sciences as a whole. And most particularly, he rejected it for human social behavior. He said, in 1991, "By reductionism, we mean the belief that the world is broken up into tiny bits and pieces, each of which has its own properties and which combine together to make larger things. The individual makes society, for example, and society is nothing but the manifestation of the properties of individual human beings. Individual properties are the causes and the properties of the social whole are the effects of those causes. "

Now this reductionism, as Lewontin expressed and rejected it, is precisely my view of how the world works. It forms the basis of human sociobiology as I construed it. But it is not science, Lewontin insisted. It cannot be made into science. And according to his own political beliefs, expressed over many years, sociobiology or any other social theory based on the biology of individuals cannot even possibly be true. Here is how he summarized his postmodernist argument: "This individualistic view of the biological world is simply a reflection of the ideologies of the bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth century that placed the individual as the center of everything."

That much being understood, Lewontin concluded, and the shackles of bourgeois ideology cast aside, we are then freed to proceed along more progressive--that is to say, Marxist--political guidelines. These do not require scientific validation, at least not by any connection with genetics, neurobiology, or evolutionary theory. The genes, Lewontin declared, "have been replaced by an entirely new level of causation, that of social interaction with its own laws and its own nature that can be understood and explored only through that unique form of experience, social action." Hence the inviolable wisdom of Marx, Lenin, and Mao to which he alluded elsewhere.

Now I can come to the essence of the radical science movement. As loopy as it all may seem today, and especially after the collapse of world socialism, the argument has to be taken seriously, since it has been accepted to varying degrees by a few influential scientists, including Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levins, and Ruth Hubbard, who are highly regarded in the public eye as scientists, even as they continue to promote a Marxian view.

Here then is the argument in its raw form: only an anti-reductionist, non-bourgeois science can help humanity attain the highest goal, which is a socialist world. In the 1984 book Not in Our Genes, Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin, all worthies of radical science philosophy, explained their purpose as follows:

We share a commitment to the prospect of the creation of a more socially just--a socialist--society. And we recognize that a critical science is an integral part of the struggle to create that society, just as we also believe that the social function of much of today's science is to hinder the creation of that society by acting to preserve the interests of the dominant class, gender, and race. This belief--in the possibility of a critical and liberatory science--is why we have each in our separate ways and to varying degrees been involved in the development of what has become known over the 1970s and 1980s, in the United States and Britain, as the radical science movement.

That well respected scientists, two of whom, Lewontin and Levins, had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (and soon removed themselves in ideological protest) could advocate an approach to science guided by a radically sociocultural version of Marxism may seem odd today given recent history. But it helps to explain the distinctive flavor of the controversy at Harvard in the 1970s, in an atmosphere of unfettered political correctness. In the standard leftward frameshift of academia prevailing at that time, Lewontin and members of Science for the People were classified as progressives, admittedly a bit extreme in their methods, while I--Roosevelt liberal turned pragmatic centrist- -was cast well to the right. (All emphasis added)

This injection of rabid political ideology into science has a history within the Left and by no means is the Right immune from the same forces, but the Right doesn't seem to be self-delusional about its virtue on this matter. In an attempt to enlighten those who believe that the Left has no version of intellectual creationism in its midst, Razib, in his post Points of Departure pointed to an article published in The Nation entitled The New Creationism: Biology Under Attack and written by Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh. Let me add another voice of reason from the Left which also attempts to get out the message that the Emperor Has No Clothes, Melvin Konner's Darwin's Truth, Jefferson's Vision: Sociobiology and the Politics of Human Nature published in the American Prospect. Konner writes:

Sociobiology—also known as evolutionary psychology or neo-Darwinian theory—holds that many patterns of human behavior have a basis in evolution. Because this approach often suggests biological explanations of gender roles, it affronts many feminists. It has also drawn opposition from a group of biologists on the left who have raised general scientific and philosophical objections and have had great influence in shaping liberal opinion. The scientific critics have included highly respected figures in biology: Ruth Hubbard, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Jonathan Beckwith, among others. None in this group had done direct research on human behavior when sociobiology first emerged in the 1970s. Nonetheless, they immediately perceived a grave threat to liberal values, and their opposition has persisted ever since.

However respected the source, the criticism from this group has had little effect on the direction of scientific research: sociobiology is now firmly established as an accepted branch of normal science. As a result, liberal opinion about sociobiology has increasingly diverged from scientific opinion. If liberals are to understand why this has happened, they need to consider the possibility that Gould, Lewontin, and other prominent scientific critics were wrong in their attack on sociobiology in the first place.

[ . . . . ]

But because these scientists are so well respected—deservedly so, in the cases of Lewontin and Gould—their influence may extend beyond the power of their arguments. Neither has ever engaged in primary research in the human sciences, but both often proclaim sociobiology inapplicable to them.

[ . . . . ]

The danger, though, is that the "anti" position may become so congenial for liberals that they ignore the almost universal acceptance of neo-Darwinian or sociobiological theory among researchers in natural history and animal behavior and among many psychologists and social scientists. Studies motivated by such theory and apparently confirming components of it have routinely been published in leading refereed journals in all these fields for many years. Indeed, one need only read regularly the rest of the magazine for which Gould writes his column to see that this body of theory is now routinely accepted.

[ . . . . ]

Over the past 15 years systematic research on child abuse and pedicide by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson—research specifically motivated by neo-Darwinian theory—has shown that a child is between 10 and 100 times more likely to be assaulted or killed if he or she lives in a household that includes an unrelated male.

[ . . . . . ]

There is something perversely comforting about the Daly and Wilson finding. Child abuse in the presence of unrelated males is an equal-opportunity scourge, crossing boundaries of class, race, and religion. Sadly, biological mothers as well as stepfathers are guilty of the abuse; it is the presence of the unrelated male in the household that seems to count, whether or not he commits the abuse. Theory notwithstanding, this is a disturbing and puzzling phenomenon, but it is a human one. Or more precisely, it is a human extension of an animal phenomenon, and that perhaps disturbs us most of all.

In recent years, Gould and others have taken to criticizing sociobiology for being overzealous in its application of Darwinian principles. For example, in the New York Review of June 12, 1997, Gould pigeonholes his opponents as "Darwinian fundamentalists" or "ultra-Darwinians" who cannot respect any process in evolution other than natural selection. He correctly points out that natural selection is not the be-all and end-all of evolution. Asteroid impacts have drastically changed the earth's climate, flora, and fauna; after one such event the dinosaurs and many of their contemporaries became extinct. Also, many DNA mutations are neutral—they have no adaptive or functional consequence, and so they happen randomly. Finally, there are inertial properties of organisms called developmental constraints, which slow down evolution or shunt it along a finite number of favored paths. These processes are not up for argument. Everyone, including alleged ultra-Darwinians, agrees with Gould that they are important.

The problem is only with Gould's straw man: a Darwinian thinker so ignorant and rigid as to deny the reality of the aforementioned, universally accepted facts. Do "ultra-Darwinians" have difficulty with mass extinction by asteroid impact? Hardly. In fact, such extinctions wipe the slate of life on earth more or less clean, giving natural selection much freer reign for the next few million years as the earth fills with life again. Do "Darwinian fundamentalists" ignore neutral mutations? Of course not, although the "selfish gene" theory itself provides an interesting hypothesis about how DNA can change within a genome without having any effect on the organism, or even having a detrimental effect, by duplicating itself and "hitchhiking" along.

[ . . . . ]

In a similar vein, in his recent criticism Lewontin has exaggerated sociobiologists' inflexibility on the question of group selection. In a review last October of a book about unselfish behavior by Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson in the New York Review, Lewontin praises the authors' work as "subversive" and "radical" in the sense of requiring that current orthodoxy be overturned. Lewontin is right to think that a great deal is at stake here, especially for the human sciences. If group selection is powerful and important, then so is group functionalism. And if group functionalism is valid, then the standard social science model—the organic model—is much less vulnerable to Darwinian revision than many of us think. If groups have been selected as functional entities despite individual competition within them, then altruism and cooperation do not need neo-Darwinian explanations.

But, actually, theoretical hostility to group selection has waned considerably among evolutionists, and it has been given a legitimate role even by many like E. O. Wilson, George C. Williams, and John Maynard Smith whom Gould would call "ultras." So when Lewontin characterizes group selection as "anathema" to "nearly all evolutionary biologists," he is substantially behind the curve. Sober and D. S. Wilson are far more open-minded about levels of selection than Gould and Lewontin are; they offer their theory not as a replacement for sociobiology but as an addition. Indeed, the same intellectual developments that Sober and D. S. Wilson call "great insights" and "advances" Gould and Lewontin have viewed as products of reactionary cultural trends and threats to liberal political philosophy—not to mention being silly and wrong. (All emphasis added.)

The ideology of these critics seems to be so strong that it is leading them by the nose to make rash, and incorrect, statements but these statements play very well with their targeted audience. In fact, I debated titling this post either Scientic Whoring from the Left or Playing to the Crowd: The Leftist Creationism but Steven Rose's recent hypocritical statement in the London Times, couched in the form of a strawman will allusions to Speilberg's Minority Report, pretty much clinched the title for me, for it addressed the battle between pandering and truth. So what did Rose say? Here's an excerpt from the Times:

At the heart of Rose’s concern is the battle being fought between philosophers, sociologists and psychologists over neuroscientific descriptions of human nature.

[ . . . . ]

He sees menace in the smug reductionism of so-called “neuro-philosophy”, which dismisses traditional views of human responsibility as mere unscientific “folk psychology”. Rose is pleading for an understanding of neuroscience and human identity that invokes not only the complex interaction between our genetic make-up and environmental influences, but the existence of authentic moral agency. At the same time he insists on the importance of our evolutionary and individual histories. Among the “bad hats” of neuroscience he cites the late Nobel prizewinner Francis Crick, who liked to say that we are “nothing but a bunch of neurons”. Crick thought that free will was just a tiny brain mechanism called “anterior cingulate sulcus” and that consciousness was no more than a specific rate at which brain cells oscillate. These radically reductionist approaches, Rose reports, have resulted in the idea that humans are no more than predictable, manipulable cyborgs.

Rose’s timely book warns of the self-fulfilling prophecies of reductionist explanations of human nature for future policy in mental-health and the criminal-justice system. In order to behave freely and responsibly, he argues, it is crucial we believe we are free. We have to grasp the authenticity, scope and limits of human freedom. The spread of “neurogenetic” determinism (the idea that everything is fated in our genes and brain chemistry), he warns, could lead to a state of affairs in which a Twinkie Defence could be invoked for any and every human action and circumstance. This is not a matter, as Rose points out, of merely excusing crimes: it could result in the not too distant future in our locking up as “dysfunctional” individuals diagnosed genetically or through brain scans before they have done anything deemed to be dangerous. “Our ethical understandings may be enriched by neuroscientific knowledge,” he asserts, “but not replaced.” Rose insists that only through confirming our belief in freedom and moral agency can we “manage the ethical, legal and social aspects of the emerging neurotechnologies”.

I'll give Rose credit - he certainly has mastered the techniques of Gould and Lewontin, as Konner described above, specifically arguing against the strawman, vilifying your opponent. and Rose has done them one better, with his allusions to Hollywood-style scaremongering about pre-emptive arrest and detention.

Why, though, do I think he's being hypocritical? Perhaps he really believes what he speaks. Perhaps he believes that there is indeed a Ghost in the Machine. But I don't think so, especially when you compare his remarks about Crick's statement on free will to his own statement about his work but note that the statement is targeted to a different audience than that of his book. His interview in The Edge:

One of the things that I was doing at Cold Spring was talking about a new molecule that we've discovered — a little peptide , five amino acids long, which seems to be able to rescue the memory loss that you get with the disorder of the Alzheimer proteins.

[ . . . . . ]

They turn out to be a group called cell adhesion molecules. That is, they're molecules whose job is to stick together the two sides of the synaptic junction, the business end of the relationship between one cell and another.

[ . . . . . ]

And it turns out that the normal functioning of this molecule is necessary for long-term memory to be made; if we stop the molecule from functioning — you put an antibody into the brain which binds to the molecule, or a specific bit of RNA which stops it being synthesized — then the memories can't be made.

Then if you look at the structure of this molecule, the amyloid precursor protein, it turns out that there is a very small section of it which is just a few amino acids long which seems to have some very special properties. It's those properties which you can mimic by making an artificial peptide, and it's that it turns out will rescue the memory which is lost otherwise.

So, Rose castigates Crick for his statement that we are "nothing but a bunch of neurons” and then tells a scientifically inclined audience about his work on a molecule that is vital for the formation of long-term memory.

On the one hand he has no trouble in promulgating his narrow reductionist view on the processes of life, specifically that component of consciousness that we call memory, and which has significant influence over our choices, but he chooses to characterize Crick's statement in the most absurdist terms imaginable, portraying Crick as believing that all of life is beyond our control and the sum of our chemical and biological processes is no more than the parts. For his lay audience he alludes to a Ghost in the Machine, but for those interested in the minutia of his work, be blows the ghost away.

Why does Rose engage in this form of hypocrisy? Well, he certainly plays to the crowd and his ideological proclivity towards Marxism is well known:

He may be the last of the Marxist radical scientists," says his friend and collaborator Patrick Bateson, now provost of King's College, Cambridge, "but he won't be the last radical. Steven is not always right; but he has been very brave in some of the things he has said. He can be astonishingly articulate in circumstances where I would simply seize up. And he does have the most extraordinary energy.

[ . . . . ]

Mary Midgley, the philosopher and a friend, attributes the breadth of Rose's interests to Marxism, because Marxists were forced to think in large terms about society as a complicated system of inter-reacting mechanisms.

[ . . . . ]

The tradition of politically radical biology into which he was inducted at Cambridge was certainly Marxist and often Stalinist, descending though figures like JBS Haldane and JD Bernal, a great scientist who none the less wrote an obituary of Stalin which described him as "a great scientist [who combined] a deeply scientific approach to all problems with his capacity for feeling and expressing himself in simple and direct terms". But, Rose says, he himself was never particularly "Sovietophile". He always employed researchers from eastern Europe - no more reliable way of ensuring that his lab was full of anti-communists.

The memory of such contortions - for Stalin had murdered every honest geneticist in the Soviet Union - does something to explain the bitterness of the controversies into which the Roses were drawn in the 70s and later. These started with the notion, popularised by Hans Eysenck, that IQ tests measure an independently existing general intelligence, of the sort that separates us from animals; and that this quality is largely, measurably, determined by our genes. From that it would follow that there might be IQ differences between different races or classes; and, if there are, there is a limited amount that governments can do to bring about equality between races and classes.

As part of a general assault on what he called "genetic determinism", Rose attacked every aspect of this argument, which seemed to him bad science in the service of bad politics. Even today, when he concedes that IQ tests may be quite useful as a way of measuring test-passing abilities, he maintains they are useless as a measure of general intelligence. Patrick Bateson, who thinks Rose overstated the case against the tests, says: "The resistance to the notion that IQ might mean anything was partly based on another strongly held instinct on Steven's part, namely that nothing is wholly dependent on biological makeup. This led him into a position of attacking the tests at exactly the time when they were being quite widely accepted."

But the IQ tests were merely a warm-up for his major controversial struggle, against the whole complex of ideas - "Darwinian" if you believe in them, "ultra-Darwinian" or "Darwinian fundamentalism" if you don't - represented by Richard Dawkins and Helena Cronin in this country, and EO Wilson, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker in the US. Rose, along with his American friends Steven Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, has fought a tireless polemical war against the claim that a Darwinian analysis has much to tell us about human nature or the organisation of society. This claim has gone by various names over the years; nowadays it is mostly known as evolutionary psychology: in the 70s, an earlier version was known, after EO Wilson's book, as sociobiology.

Over the years, the level of abuse has toned down - though two years ago Rose used the threat of a libel suit to force the obliteration of a speech bubble in a comic book on "Evolutionary Psychology for beginners" which he felt put stupid words into his mouth. But the underlying principle of his attacks has always been the same: that social causes are more important and interesting in human affairs than biological ones.

Originally the complaint against sociobiologists was that they were all either right-wingers or dupes of the right. This wasn't fair or true at the time - unless you take everyone who disagrees with you politically to be a dupe of the right.

Clearly, Rose is following the same playbook used by Jared Diamond, who on the one hand, in his book Guns, Germs and Steel, much beloved by those on the Left, downplays genetic variation as having little import, and on the other hand, in a study published in Nature, clearly targeted towards a scientific audience, advocates the study of ethnic differences in testis size.

One glaring question remains though, what does Rose hope to gain by using such tactics? In addition to his Marxist worldview, he's clearly arguing against the liberalization of reproductive laws and, as is to be expected, he advocates state guidance of people's reproductive choices:

The varied pattern of regulation leads to reproductive tourism in which well-heeled people from well-regulated countries go to less well-regulated ones to buy services, whether to choose the sex of a child, use pre-implantation genetic diagnostics, or ensure fertilisation by the sperm of a dead partner. While it is probable that the children conceived are likely to find themselves in a loving family, there is something unnerving about the way that a number of would-be parents court the media, exposing their intimate family life to such public scrutiny.

[ . . . . . ]

The need for more and more reproductive technology because of increasing problems in having children starts at the wrong end. Yes, it is true that women are having children later because they have to establish their careers first. Yes, it is true many men's sperm count is reduced. But instead of working at the curative end, if we began with the preventive, Britain would put serious money into affordable high-quality childcare so that women who wanted them could have their babies younger. We need a society that promotes reproductive health rather than expensive technological fixes.

Rose, like his fellow travellers Gould and Lewontin, doesn't want his worldview, which has been extensively shaped by Marxist philosophy, to come crumbling down. The solutions proffered are state centered, gene-phobic, and premised on the extreme malleability of human nature. Further, like Diamond, he knows what sells and what his fans want to read and hear. He panders to the ideology, whether he truly believes in the Ghost in the Machine or not, and despite the warnings offered by Ehrenreich, McIntosh and Konner, the faithful of the Left lap up the ideologically reassuring pablum and turn a blind eye to the reality unfolding before them. The core of this faith is that human nature is malleable beyond limits that now exist, and like I've written before, along with my co-bloggers, it is that faith in the face of reason that binds one faction of the Left to their faith-based counterparts on the Right and like on the Right, the Left has its charlatans and hypocrites delivering these sermons.

Posted by TangoMan at 01:32 AM | | TrackBack

March 04, 2005

The Aging Penis

Dr. Robert Birch, a sex therapist, offers up a fascinating article on the physiological changes that aging brings on for men and their equipment. If you think clogged arteries only affect your heart and the only downside is that you'll die of a heart attack, well, I hope you're sitting down, because I've got far worse news for you.

On the bright side, if anything will spur further research into genetics and anti-aging, I'm sure that a penis-centric research design will yield untold serendipitous results for medical science for the interest in the research will be high, and the market for the treatments will be huge. Think about this for a moment, who really wants to live to be 150 if all of your subsystems keep degrading in performance.

Posted by TangoMan at 08:59 PM | | TrackBack


Wired article on synesthesia.

Posted by razib at 03:28 PM | | TrackBack

Sports Enhancement

As seen in this article, enhancement is getting more mainstream coverage.

“In a decade, a quarterback might have muscle cells removed from his legs. Those cells would then be engineered in the lab to be stronger and reinserted, enabling a quarterback with the wisdom of a 35-year-old to run like he's 20. The same technique could be used around shoulder joints, adding power and durability to the arms of pitchers, weight lifters, and volleyball players. (Some sports medicine experts believe stem cells might be manipulated to grow even more enhanced replacement cells.) As minimally invasive and arthroscopic techniques improve, surgeons will be able to tweak bicyclists' hearts to increase stroke volume and reroute digestive systems to optimize energy absorption.”

Posted by fly at 12:24 PM | | TrackBack

What? - Were you raised by a pigeon?

It was a joy to read how the acclaimed director, Emir Kusturica, goes off on a British censor.

Emir Kusturica has just finished writing his letter to the censor. "I will not cut my film because, because, because ... because of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz." "What do you think?" he asks me. I tell him that as an argument it has a certain economy and elegance, but it might not be the most practical of approaches. "I don't care," he says. "That shithead is driving me nuts. He is messing with my sleep."

The British censor has asked him to remove a scene from his new film, Life Is a Miracle - a typically full-blooded romance set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war - in which a cat pounces on a dead pigeon. Kusturica had thought it a reasonable metaphor for how idealists and innocents are easy prey for calculating big beasts in times of conflict.

The offending shot lasts of all of two seconds and is about as disturbing as an episode of the Teletubbies. But the British censor said no and Kusturica, one of the greatest film directors in the world, is so flummoxed and upset that he is considering pulling the film from the UK altogether.

I beg him not to. "You don't realise what an emotive issue pigeons are in England," I say, with all the plausibility I can muster. "I am not cutting my film for this jerk," he insists. "Was he brought up by pigeons or something? I love Ken Loach and your football and your working class, but I do not believe the great English culture is going to be undermined by one eastern European cat.

"I just don't get it. The pigeon was already dead, we found it in the road. And no other censor has objected. What is the problem with you English? You killed millions of Indians and Africans, and yet you go nuts about the circumstances of the death of a single Serbian pigeon. I am touched you hold the lives of Serbian birds so dear, but you are crazy. I will never understand how your minds work."

Posted by TangoMan at 12:07 PM | | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

"Oh God!!!" The proximate & the ultimate

I just recently read Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, by psychologist Helen Fisher. I was interested in the "chemistry" part, as I've developed a mild interest in neurobiology and the various transmitters in the cranial "soup," and how they might impact our cognition (or lack of). It is a short, sweet, and at times a fluffy book (the chapters in the second half of the book start to veer into psychotherapy so I didn't pay as much attention to them). But, this hypothesis-just-so-story was worth reading the book, I thought:

  • When men and women look at beautiful/symmetrical faces the ventral tegmental area (VTA) tends to "light up" on fMRI.
  • The VTA is rich in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that induces energy & elation.
  • When women gaze at a symmetrical man as they are copulating the VTA lights up, produces dopamine, which triggers a release of testosterone, which enhances sexual response.
  • So, this explains why women achieve more orgasms with symmetrical men.
  • An organsm tends to "suck up" more of his sperm, increasing the possibility of fertilization.
  • And symmetrical men tend to have "better genes," so this integrated physiological set of responses fosters the ultimate end of greater fetal viability and health of the offspring.

So here you have a neat little story that connects the proximate dots, and also offers an ultimate explanation. Fisher could be wrong, but nevertheless, I thought it was worth sketching out her reasoning.

Related: Love & marriage & genes and Imprinters Walk Among Us.

Posted by razib at 06:40 PM | | TrackBack

Who knew....

Casey Kasem is Druze.

Posted by razib at 06:02 PM | | TrackBack

Slow Dimorphism

Even when favored by natural selection, sexual dimorphism evolves far more slowly than monomorphic traits: alleles tend to have the same effect in in both sexes. . I just talked to Alan Roger about a paper of his (with Arindam Mukherjee) that did a quantitative analysis of just how much more slowly: for stature: about 65 times more slowly . There is reason to think that is a general result, that for most traits, dimorphism evolves tens of times more slowly than monomorphic traits, given equal force of selection.

Every now and then we hear someone say that given the recent common origin of the human race, there just hasn't been time for geographically isolated populations to evolve significant differences. That's wrong: 150,000 years is a reasonable consensus value for most recent human common ancestry, and that's enough time for a lot of change in the population mean of just about any trait, given plausible values of the force of selection. However, it is not a long time in term of selecting for changes in sexual dimorphism: more like 2300 years. The species is young enough that you expect sex differences to be roughly constant, even when means vary widely. Pygmy men are shorter than European women, but the difference between Pygmy men and women is about the same as the difference between European men and women. I would guess that this is true in general: true for psychometric traits as well.

I bet Larry Summers would like to talk about this.

Posted by greg at 05:13 PM | | TrackBack

Hobbit brains

Carl Zimmer has an excellent analysis of of the Flores Hobbit brain. At the current pace I might as well dump Carl's RSS on to GNXP, but, in any case, the highlights:

  • The probability that it is microcephalic goes way down.
  • The probability that it is a H. sapiens pygmy also seems to have decreased.
  • The probability that it is some form of H. erectus seems to be about the same.
  • The probability that it is "something else" seems to go way up (mostly at the expense of microcephaly and human pygmy hypothesis).

Posted by razib at 02:09 PM | | TrackBack

Individualism versus "sexual proprietariness"

Der Spiegel reports >>

In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been brutally murdered by family members. Their crime? Trying to break free and live Western lifestyles. Within their communities, the killers are revered as heroes for preserving their family dignity. How can such a horrific and shockingly archaic practice be flourishing in the heart of Europe?

[T]he first extensive data the German government collected about the lives of Turkish women was published last summer, as part of a study done by the Ministry for Family Affairs. The study showed that 49 percent of Turkish women said they had experienced physical or sexual violence in their marriage.

Since I am a Western woman, it won't surprise anybody when I say that I find "honor killings" to be abhorrent and completely unacceptable. I find it hard to resist putting myself into the place of these women and, as an individual, feel I can relate to the fact that they want to take control of their own lives and (what it ultimately boils down to) their own reproductive futures.

I found that I gasped out loud at the figure of 49% of Turkish women in Germany reporting to have experienced physical/sexual violence in their marriage -- but, then I wondered what the figure in the United States might be. There's always certainly a lot of talk about domestic violence in the States -- I didn't want to judge German Turks too harshly before I found out some facts.

What I found was (also unacceptable) >>

22.1% of surveyed women [National Violence Against Women Survey, U.S. Dept. of Justice], compared with 7.4% of surveyed men, reported they were physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, or date in their lifetime.... Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.

And >>

In 1998, intimate partner homicides accounted for about 11% of all murders nationwide. They constituted about 33% of murder of women but only 4% of murders of men. Female murder victims were substantially more likely than male murder victims to have been killed by an intimate partner; of the 1,830 persons murdered by intimates in 1998, 72% (1,320) were women.

So, from those figures, it appears that while American men (1) are no saints, "only" one-in-five (roughly) American women report having been physically assaulted by their spouses, nearly one out of every two Turkish women in Germany have experienced abuse. Sobering figures all around, but particularly shocking behavior on the part of the Turks.

Still, despite the differing figures, there does seem to be something universal going on here -- many men appear to be violent toward women -- and, to a large degree, toward the women with whom they are intimate. What is going on?

Wilson and Daly convincingly discuss male violence towards partners in terms of "sexual proprietariness" >>

The ostensible motivating circumstances in most uxoricides [killing of wife by husband] reflect what we have called male sexual proprietariness: Husband who kill usually appear to have been moved by an aggrieved intolerance of the alienation of their wives, either through (suspected or actual) adultery or through the woman's termination of the marriage. Daly and Wilson reviewed several studies of well-described spousal homicide cases, and in each sample, such sexual proprietariness was apparently the primary motivational factor in over 80% of the cases.... Studies of nonlethal violence against wives indicate a more diverse set of motives, but the predominant one is apparently the same: When asked what are the primary issues around which violent incidents occurred, both beaten wives and their assailants nominate "jealousy" above all else.

Our findings [data from Canada and elsewhere] include the following: (a) much higher rates of uxoricide after estrangement than in coresiding couples, (b) highest rates of uxoricide and nonlethal assaults for the youngest wives and a steady decline with age (2), (c) higher rates of uxoricide and nonlethal assaults in common-law marital unions than in registered marital unions, and (d) higher rates of violence when the woman has coresident minor children sired by a previous partner.

So, all of this violence toward spouses/partners "makes sense" when we view it from the perspective of males attempting to maximize their reproductive success by trying to exercise "property" rights over (especially young, i.e. fertile) women while at the same time reducing the chances of themselves winding up as providers for other males' offspring (i.e. being cuckolded). I'd even suggest that the women's families (fathers, mothers, brothers) also sometimes get into the act (as in the German Turkish cases) because the future of THEIR genes is on the line, too -- they all want to ensure that the genes they share with the female in question get the best (in their eyes) reproductive chance possible (3).

Of course, all evolutionary psychology does is offer possible explanations for what is going on -- it does not offer ethical solutions or planning guidelines for the future of humanity. We have to decide whether we want it to be permissible in our society for individuals, or families, to use violence and murder to coerce others into doing their (reproductive) bidding. My personal choice is no -- I do not want to live in such a society. I would wish to eliminate such behavior as much as possible since I value my own, individual freedom to choose.

In light of this, I say that Germany and the Netherlands and other European countries ought to demand that immigrants, whatever part of the world they hail from, must adhere to Western ideals. I have nothing against people CHOOSING to follow whatever religion or other custom(s) they wish to -- but there must be FREE choice involved. Otherwise, we are simply giving away our Western heritage of freedom and individualism.

As one Dutch politician said: "We have been tolerant to the nontolerant, and we got intolerance back."


(1) "Among women, being black, young, divorced or separate, earning a lower income, living in rental housing, or living in an urban area were all associated with higher rates of intimate partner victimization between 1993 and 1998....

"Overall, blacks were victimized by intimate partners at significantly higher rates than persons of any other race between 1993 and 1998. Black women experienced intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than whit women, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. Black men experienced intimate partner violence at a rate about 62% higher than that of white men and about 2.5 times the rate of men of other races."

(2) "Women ages 20 to 24 were victimized by an intimate partner at the highest rate (21 victimizations per 1,000 women). This rate was about eight times the peak rate for men (3 victimizations per 1,000 men ages 25 to 34)."

(3) What I personally found to be one of the most cynical aspects of the Der Spiegel story was that "in many cases, fathers -- and sometimes even mothers -- single out their youngest son to do the killing, Boehmecke said, 'because they know minors will get lighter sentences from German judges.'" What cowards, to make a decision to kill one's daughter and not have the guts to follow through on that decision oneself.

Posted by theresa at 11:12 AM | | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Race and Psychopathology

Back in 2002, Richard Lynn published an investigation of racial differences in psychopathology. Arguing mostly from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI/MMPI-2) Psychopathic Deviate scale and a host of social factors like school suspensions, crime rate, long-term monogamous relationships, extramarital sex and "moral understanding," Lynn concluded the trait's distribution was in line with what Steve Sailer calls "Rushton's Rule": psychopathology is most prevalent among individuals of African descent, least among Asians, and Caucasians intermediate.

Not surprisingly, Lynn's paper received a lot of criticism. Zuckerman (2003) argued Lynn did not clearly draw a distinction between the psychopathic personality and criminality:

Although criminal history is often used as a surrogate for APD, actual diagnosis must inquire beyond the mere history of arrests and convictions. Otherwise there is no point in the distinction.

This conceptual confusion leads Lynn to neglect statistics that potentially conflict with his view -- namely -- the incidence of diagnosed Antisocial Personality Disorder. The largest such study of this kind, Robins and Regier (1991), failed to find any significant racial difference.

In October's issue of Law and Human Behavior, the authors of a new study go one step further and conduct a meta-analysis of the pertinent literature. 21 studies, all relying on Hare's widely used Revised Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) or its derivatives, were included.

Their results are interesting, and worth quoting at length.

Our chief finding is that there is little evidence that Blacks are more psychopathic than Whites in the aggregate. The strongest foundation for an argument that ethnic groups differ in psychopathy would be a finding of large and reliable group differences on the interpersonal and affective characteristics of Factor 1, given the relative nonspecificity of the behavioral features of Factor 2 (see Lilienfeld, 1994; Skeem & Mulvey, 2001). The results of this study directly counter this argument. On the basis of homogeneous effect sizes from studies of 8,890 individuals, we found that Blacks are no more “emotionally detached” (Patrick, Bradley, & Lang, 1993) than Whites. When considered in conjunction with the results of Cooke et al. (2001), who found minimal differences in PCL-R factor structure and in the meaning of Total scores between these ethnic groups, there seems little reason to believe that there are significant ethnic differences in “core psychopathy” in this population.


This may well be true of psychopathy, more broadly construed. Although statistically significant, the size of the effect for PCL-R Total scores (d = .11) is about “half as small as small” (Kenny, 1999, p. 6), according to Cohen’s (1988) interpretive guidelines. On the 40-point PCL-R, Blacks obtained scores that were a weighted average of 0.7 points higher than Whites. To place the absolute magnitude of this difference into a practical context (American Psychological Association, Board of Scientific Affairs, 1999), it is less than one-fourth the size of the standard error of measurement (SEM) for the PCL-R. The SEM for PCL-R total scores is 3.1 points, meaning that “if 100 trained raters assessed the same subject (sic) at the same time, about 68% of the scores would fall within +/− [3.1 points] of the subject’s (sic) obtained Total score . . . ” (Hare, 1991, p. 36).

In other words, "blacks exceeded Whites by an average of less than one point on the PCL-R".


Lynn, R. 2002. Racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality. Personality and Individual Differences 32: 273-316

Skeem, J.L. et al. 2004. Are there ethnic differences in levels of psychopathy?
A meta-analysis. Law and Human Behavior 28: 505-527.

Zuckerman, M. 2003. Are there racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality? A critique of Lynn's (2002) racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality. Personality and Individual Differences 35: 1463-1469.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 09:38 PM | | TrackBack

Points of departure

Cyborg Democracy and Dale Carrico have both commented on The Turning of the Tide post by TangoMan. Later, Dale has a follow up post where he fingers (perhaps) a yawning chasm between "GNXP" and himself. He states:

Why is it so often the case that so many of the ones to whom you would want to look for allies in the cause of championing a more scientific and hence more democratic culture seem at once so susceptible to bamboozlement by the kinds of scientism that confuse prescriptions for descriptions, confuse parochialism for the defense of truth, and self-congratulation for modesty itself?

On the point about prescription and description, I have advised caution about making the ought -> is fallacy many a time, for example:

...science is fuzzy and flexible enough that you can generally extract some "natural" justification for your given normative position. Biology is more useful I suspect in clarifying the plausible paths of implementation, and the obstacles one needs to surmount...It still leaves room in the end for a variety of terminal positions.

And speaking of prescription and description, why does a scientific culture imply a democratic one???

When it comes to being narrow-minded, well, one can not be all things to all people. If you are the type of person who suspects that "science is just another superstition," there simply is no common ground for discourse. Similarly, if one accepts the literal truth of the Bible, unless you are open to some mental gymnastics that redefines "literal" in a fashion I would not recongize, I suspect that there is little point in engaging in a discussion on this weblog. But, that leaves a rather broad umbrella under which you can take shelter, whether you are a Left, Right or Other, atheist or theist, black, brown, yellow, white, male, female, etc. As for banning snark, well, delicious rhetoric tends to warm the hearts of fellow travellers but gets in the way of opening substantive avenues of discourse with those who you disagree with (and I think talking to people you disagree with respectfully is far more fruitful than not, sometimes you find out you are wrong!!!)....

Related: Dale's incredulity about the possibility that some on the Left are tabula rasa believers led me to reread The New Creationism: Biology Under Attack, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh, published in The Nation about 8 years ago....

Posted by razib at 07:43 PM | | TrackBack

The value of Diversity and Homogeneity

NuSapiens has a post addressing differential performances of diverse and non-diverse groups. This is an important issue. In modern American culture there is literally a Cult of Diversity, a general assumption that Diverse ~ Good. But, "Goodness" is more predicated on moral considerations than utilitarian ones. It seems highly plausible that in group tasks commonalities are more likely to lead to fewer confusions and misunderstandings, that diverse groups which are not always on the same page will suffer even if individually they are superior specimens on any given task. As a historical example, consider the Roman armies that marched against the Celts. I would hazard a bet that a grain fed Roman was not as "fit" a warrior, on average, as a Celt who had a more diversified diet and likely a genetic predisposition to be taller in any case. Nevertheless, disciplined and well organized Roman legions cut through barbarian tribes like scythes, because the latter had far less group coherence. On the other hand one can imagine other scenarios where diversity is essential to group success, for example, during the Roman general Agricola's march into Scotland it would have likely aided him if he had some native levies so that he could communicate with possible allies and have a better sense of the lay of the land. Even if the native levies diminished the seamless integration of his fighting force, they would be useful in other circumstances, their linguistic and cultural fluency could aid in maximal force projection and deployment.

This highlights what I think is an important point when it comes to conceptions of "diversity." In the United States it is often assumed that "diverse" ~ multiracial. But, that does not take into account linguistic, religious diversity, political diversity or economic diversity. A consideration of linguistic diversity brings home the downsides rather forcefully. Additionally, an examination of different variables can lead one to disparate conclusions. For example, it is well known that Japan and Korea are very homogenous nations. Nevertheless, because of a small, but non-trivial, number of Korean Japanese, and foreign laborers from various parts of Asia as well as Japanese Brazilians, Korea is often judged to be more homogenous. But that neglects two crucial points.

  1. Korea is far more religiously diverse (1/2 nonaffiliated, 1/4 Christian, of many denominations, and 1/4 Buddhist).1
  2. Korea has a far more vital political party system.

Despite the fact that Korea is racially homogenous almost to unity, I would argue that on the whole based on macrosocial metrics it is likely to be characterized by more anomie than Japan2

1 - Both Japan and Korea have many "New Religions," and you could likely get different results based on how you calculated religious diversity. But, while over 90% of Japanese have an apathetic affiliation with their national Shinto cult and Japanese Buddhism, the Koreans have several large religious groups of similar size.

2 - Some of you might be curious has to how genetically diverse the Japanese and Koreans are. My impression is that there isn't that much data in on this on that level of granularity (though if someone is willing to do a PubMed search I'm willing to post an addendum), but it is noteworthy that it is likely that the Japanese are a hybridized population, with about three parts Korean and one part Ainu. Of course, the former would be a subset of Korean genetic diversity, while the latter would increase the heterozygosity on many loci because the Ainu (Jomon) are an outgroup to the Yayoi and Korean source population.

Posted by razib at 12:50 PM | | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

Brain's Wiring Diagram

“An article published in this week's issue of PLoS Biology (March 1, 2005) describes Chklovskii's discovery of strongly preferred patterns of connectivity or scaffolds within the wiring diagram of the rat brain. The patterns are likely to correspond to modules that play an important role in brain function not only in rats, but also in humans.”

I looked online and I don’t believe this article will be generally available until March 15.

Essentially they establish that in a rat visual cortex 17% of synaptic junctions account for almost half the connectivity strength. That means a subset of the connections are heavily preferred signaling pathways. Such preferred pathways could be low-level brain modules.

They are only showing evidence that preferred connections exist. They aren’t saying what causes them or what function such pathways serve.

Update from Razib: Here is the article. Make sure to check "New Research Articles," many of the best stuff is leaked early and nested within this page. To me, it seems that the modular vs. non-modular debate is going to end up like the Nature vs. Nurture dichotomy, rather than typologically excluded opposites, much of the discussion will (unfortunately) revolve around semantic clarification and emphasis of exposition rather than substance because it seems unlikely that there is an idealized "pure" modularity or non-modularity manifesting itself in mammalian brains.

Posted by fly at 12:49 PM | | TrackBack

The invisible Asian

Little Advance Is Seen in Ivies' Hiring of Minorities and Women.

Here is the full report (PDF) that the article above is based on.

The word "Asian" does not show up once in The New York Times article. It pops up 4 times in the report itself, 3 of them are embedded in charts and one of them is a footnote. There is no mention of Asian Americans in the text.

Doctoral Degree Program Enrollment, 2001
Black 3.7% 8.9%
Hispanic 3.1% 5.3%
Asian/Pacific Islander 7.1% 5.1%
American Indian/Alaska Native  0.3% 0.6%
International Scholars 34.7% 13.1%
Women 46.0%  58.2%

60% of graduate students are women! If women have an aversion to pairing up with males with lower educational qualifications, it makes sense that female education correlates negatively with fertility....

Addendum: William asks about the number of women getting education doctorates. The Digest of Education Statistics 2003 is a good source for that sort of information. As a point of fact the slight majority of doctorates in 2003 were awarded to men, while of female doctorates 23% were in Education as opposed to 10% for males.

Posted by razib at 11:40 AM | | TrackBack

Carl on Language II

Carl Zimmer has posted his follow up on language & evolution. No big surprise, the question is the answer in the end. Though I find Chomsky et al.'s model parsimonious, I have a hunch that it simply explains too little. On the other hand, Pinker et al. might be constructing a rather baroque adaptive cathedral (no spandrels though!), but at least their model offers great opportunies for falsification or confirmation. There are many, perhaps rightly, who dislike the fact that Pinker has a rather outsize reputation because of his public intellectual status, but in the end his ideas will either be stand or fall outside the penumbra of his reputation. This process will occur outside of psycholinguistics as well, in the Synaptic Self Joseph Ledoux explains that nativists favor a "selection" as opposed to an "instruction" model of synaptic connectional structural development. This is a prediction based on a model, and all of Pinker's public intellectual status will not shield him if his paradigm is found wanting.

Posted by razib at 10:33 AM | | TrackBack

February 28, 2005

The allochtonen are leaving

Reading Silt 3.0 yesterday, I was interested to read an analysis of Dutch migratory statistics, entitled "Witamy!". Specifically, he was examining the data presented in a recent article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw. His translation:

The total number of emigrants was 112,000, whereas only 90,000 people, mostly Europeans, settled in the Netherlands. [...]

Turks and Moroccans were especially likely to remain in their homelands in 2004. Arrivals from those countries fell by 40%, from 11,600 in 2003 to 6,800 in 2004. The stricter rules for “marriage immigration” would seem to be a logical explanation for this drop, but the rules did not take effect until late in 2004. So their effect should not be apparent until 2005. [Demographer Jan] Latten speculates that many Turks and Moroccans stayed away because of the less welcoming climate, or because of better economic conditions in their homelands.

Only the Poles went against the trend of falling immigration. Since their country joined the European Union on 1 May 2004, they have been arriving here in greater numbers. The number of immigrants from Poland doubled last year, to nearly 5,000 people.

As for the emigration of 112,000 people, the highest total ever, the Central Bureau of Statistics has no explanation. Around half of this number are autochtonen [native Dutch people]. Some are leaving to retire abroad; others for work or study.

The other half of this number would be non-autochtonen leaving the Netherlands. Making the generous assumption that there are exactly one million Muslims in the Netherlands, my admittedly simple calculations suggest that the allochtonen population has shrunk by at least 5%, wiping out a couple of years of natural increase.

Project that trend.

Posted by randy at 07:55 PM | | TrackBack

Technical difficulties....

Some of you have been noticing various apache errors (404 in particular). Over the past week I've been blocking files and directories on this site because we came VERY close to our bandwidth limit. Actually, we exceeded it, but the webhost doesn't seem to count the last 6 hours against us (that is, it checks every 6 ours and if we exceed it will block the site, but since we exceeded bandwidth in the last 6 hours of February on the machine's clock it wasn't a problem). I actually had to buy extra bandwidth.

Anyway, for some reason over the past few months our bandwidth demands have outrun our traffic by a bunch. I suspect it was the spate of PDFs we were offering early last month, but, it might also be google queries accessing the large archive files more frequently as they became more numerous. I have blocked off access to many of the PDFs. My plan is to eventually shift them over to the "gnxpfiles" group and update the links.

For those with accounts on GNXP I strongly suggest you cut down on the posting of pictures that reference the file from within the website, and use "gnxpfiles" to store PDFs. On a note of manners, I also am asking that you not steal bandwidth from small websites, though I don't care if you do it from a source which wouldn't notice the hit.

On a further note, you might have noted also that I have really constrained the number of entries that show on the front page, reducing the range down to only the past 3 days. I know some of you think this is short, and I initially did it because I wanted to have a cheap way of reducing the bandwidth over the past week, but I actually like it as it keeps old discussions from getting out of hand. If you really want to continue a discussion with someone I suggest e-mail, or looking up the entry using the search function.

Addendum: OK, I've moved the front page to 5 days. That should be long enough for discussions to run out of steam....

Posted by razib at 04:41 PM | | TrackBack

Switching typologies....

Cross-post of my recent entry over at Dean Nation below....

Toward a reality based foreign policy

A few weeks ago I came across as something of a petulant nitpicker when it came to the equivalence of the "Shia" of Iraq and the "Shia" of Iran and the possible implications of this in the development of our foreign policy. I noted in the comments that both sides of the political aisle tended to look at international issues through an extremely ideological lens. I think part of this is because few people make an effort to master the basic facts that are at issue, but plug in prefab values into their analogical equations.

Let me be explicit about what I mean.

Some people assume that Shia in Iraq ~ Shia in Iran.
Iran is a "fundamentalist theocracy."
Ergo, the probability is that Shia ascendency in Iraq will, by analogy, lead to "fundamentalist theocracy" in Iraq.

This is very convenient for those who wish to undermine the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, so of course such people are not going to check their premises since the analogical equation spits out results that fit their expectations. I am going to submit that some of the premises, very far upstream, are faulty, or at least that their validity must be mitiated by large error bars.

In what follows, I will argue the following: when it comes to the context of international foreign policy models the term "Shia" becomes rather close to useless in terms of its predictive utility.

Though I have been skeptical of making analogies between Christianity and Islam to impart to non-Muslims (I myself am of Muslim background though a self-professed atheist) the flavor of sectarian divisions in Islam in the past, I will now try to offer one that I think is more helpful in the light of our previous discussion. In the "Standard Model" the Shia are made equivalent Catholics and the Sunni to Protestants. The reason being primarily that the Shia tend to be far more "clerical" in orientation while the Sunnis tend to be more "individualistic." This analogy is not totally misleading, and does yield some valid associations. But, I think a more valid analogy is as follows: the Sunnis are like Catholics and the Shia are like Protestants.

But I will not leave you with the bald assertion as there are many loose ends and vague implicit assumptions that will not impart to you the gist of what I am trying to say. So, I will illustrate with example.

When I was in college I had a roommate from Singapore who was of Roman Catholic background. He told me that once his father had stumbled into an Anglican cathedral and not realized that it was not a Catholic service until about halfway through. On the other hand, one would likely gather from the general tone of a Baptist service that it was not Roman Catholic in any way. My point is there is an enormous internal variation within Protestantism. What unites Protestants is that they are not Roman Catholic, with the priority being on Roman, because substantively the difference between High Church Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism is minimal, the main point of distinction being that the former rejects the Pope in Rome.

This internal variation within Protestantism has had historical consequences, for example, during the Elizabethian period many of the queen's radical Protestant courtiers were angered by her relative caution and uninterest in defending the interests of the anti-Catholic sects on the continent. Some of this might have had to do with the fact that Elizabeth perceived in radical Protestantism something profoundly alien and subversive. Her successors, the Stuart monarchs, made a slow but uninterrupted shift from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism in the next century because of their perception that the latter was more amenable to absolute monarchy than the former, and during much of the period when they were Anglicans they persecuted radical Protestants with more verve and persistance than they did Roman Catholics (in fact, they wed Roman Catholic princesses). Similarly within Germany the conflict between Calvinists and Lutherans was often nearly as great as between Protestants and Catholics. And it was in Calvinist countries that the most radical Protestant groups, for example, Baptists, were most thoroughly persecuted. The overall point is though from a Roman Catholic perspective they were all "Protestants," there was so much internal variation that the utility of the term could only go so far.

I think that this reality is translatable to the Muslim world. The Sunni faction is relatively uniform in that there are four broad schools of shariah which recognize each other as valid. They developed together in a broad consensus in the light of history and through state support over a thousand years. The Shia on the other hand, the supporters of Ali, have generally been dissidents and existed on the margins. As such, they are characterized by a great level of internal difference and sectarian faction (rather like Protestants).

For example, after I read Mullahs on the Mainframe, an ethnography of Aziz's religious group, the Daudi Bohra Ismaili Muslims, I realized how much salience the Catholic analogy must hold for him, for I had never realized exactly how relevant and powerful the religious leaders of the Ismaili community were on a day to day basis. Some Catholics have a saying, "Protestants believe in the Bible, we believe in the Church." To paraphrase, while Sunnis put their faith in the Koran and Hadiths, Aziz's group seems to invest as much reverence upon the guidence of their "dai" (their religious leader). I do not believe this is nearly as true for other Shia groups. To me, it seems that the Ismailis are one antipode of the spectrum of what it means to be Shia, in some ways they are perhaps the exemplars of Shiism in its hierarchal tendencies.

The Ithna Ashari, the majority of the world's Shia, who are centered around Qom in Iran and include the Shia of Lebanon, Iraq and much of the Gulf countries, certainly are more centrally organized and led than many Sunni groups. Nevertheless, they do not seem to evince the same tight focus that the Ismaili do (if the Ismailis are Roman Catholics, perhaps the Ithna Ashari are Anglo-Catholics). This is even less true of other "Shia" groups like the Zaydi of Yemen (who are very close to the Sunnis in practice), or the Alevis and Alawites of Turkey and Syria.

I put quotes around Shia purposely in the case of these last, particularly the Alevis and Alawites. If you read about the Alawites, though they have been declared Ithna Ashari by clerics in that camp, you are struck by their relative heterodoxy. Like their cousins in Turkey, the Alevis, they do not practice the conventional 5 pillars of Islam because they consider them "symbols." The Alawites also celebrate Christmas and Nawruz, the Persian New Year, which the clerics in Iran have been campaigning against because of its un-Islamic origins. I have also read that, like the Alevis, the Alawites include alcohol in some of their secret rituals. Nevertheless, in the 1970s Ithna Ashari clerics declared that the Alawites were orthodox Muslims of their sect. Why? One might consider that at this point the Alawites, in the person of Hafez Assad, had ascended to power in Syria, and Syria was a crucial geopolitical consideration which the Ithna Ashari Shia of Lebanon and Iran had to take into account. Nevertheless, I doubt that the Alawite ruling class of Syria is warmed by the rise of a Shia state in neighboring Iraq.

I digress into such minutiae to hammer home the possibily that the term "Shia" in analogical equations that one constructs might be a very fuzzy variable indeed. Syria is technically a Shia ruled state, but it is a secular Baath nationalist one, and so religiously tolerant that the Christians from Iraq are emigrating to Damascus! Why do people fear theocracy in Iraq even though Syria is ruled by a Shia ruling class? Obviously, circumstances in the specifics differ, the Shia of Iraq have closer connections to Iran, are unambiguously Ithna Ashari, and they are a majority as opposed to a minority like the Alawites. But taking these specifics into consideration, one should then move further, and evaluate whether the analogy between Iraqi and Iranian Shia might be imperfect as well. I have detailed in the previous post that the Akbari faction tends to be much more powerful in Iraq than in Iran, where the Usuli are dominant. Akbari interpretation of Ithna Ashari religious thought is more conservative in that clerics tend to play less important roles in political life. This is something that is quite clearly relevant in the case of Iraq.

I will close out this post by suggesting that if you are to hold that your opinions, projections and evaluations are based on empirical considerations, a thorough, detailed and deep knowledge of the variables must be attained before one can truly be confident of predictions. If one is basing one's opinions on first principles drawn from political values and beliefs, certainly facts are simply colorful adornments and need not be examined in detail. But in that case you will certainly not be able to convince those who are outside your charmed political inner circle and faction rather than the best interests of your values are being served.

Posted by razib at 04:24 PM | | TrackBack

Merit-based employment

This article suggests that firing poor-performing employees may improve work quality.

“A study publishing in the latest issue of Personnel Psychology finds that forced distribution ratings systems (FDRS), where a predetermined percentage of low-performing employees is fired every year, can be an effective way to improve a company's workforce.”

I’m amazed anyone could get funding for this research. So un-PC.

(This was a computer simulation and the short review doesn’t say whether they validated their model by matching model predictions to historical performance of real organizations.)

Employment regulations that prevent firing non-performing employees might significantly hurt a firm’s long-term competitiveness. (Or, in the case of Germany, a nation’s competitiveness.) Anti-discrimination laws whether for race, gender, or age could have large costs.

Posted by fly at 02:05 PM | | TrackBack


This week, Jacqueline over at her blog is going to be discussing all the political issues that polite society avoids; abortion, God, discrimination, biological basis of race. Go and get into the fray.

Posted by scottm at 12:41 PM | | TrackBack

Taste & behavior genetics

As regular blog readers know I am something of a chili pepper addict. I have previously mentioned the genetics of taste, particularly in relation to phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) sensitivity, which correlates strongly with a variety of responses to bitter, salt and sweet sensations (you probably tasted a piece of paper in high school biology which had some PTC on it, the reaction for tasters was reflexive revulsion, while non-tasters didn't understand what the fuss was about). The key is some people tend to be hypersensitive to bitter tastes, others less so, and a minority of people relatively insensitive.

My interest in this topic was prompted by the fact that I am both a PTC non-taster and rather adept at consuming large quantities of chili. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in pepper that gives it the "fire" taste, selectively effects mammals but not birds. In an evolutionary context this promoted wider dispersal of the pepper seeds. Therefore it is surprising that some humans seek out the taste of capsaicin (though it does have anti-bacterial properties). In any case, while in college I noted there was some evidence that there was a relationship between PTC insensitivity and capsaicin insensitivity. Additionally, I noted that South Asia had a high number of PTC non-tasters, so I inferred that South Asia had a genotypic predisposition to adding chili pepper to its suite of condiments (it is a New World import despite its modern ubiquity in much of Asia). Digging around did not show any startling interpopulational patterns, though there is a lot more to PTC than just capsaicin.

So, I was interested when I noted two articles related to PTC (and its cousin PROP) had been published. The molecular basis of individual differences in phenylthiocarbamide and propylthiouracil bitterness perception connects the dots between the phenotype and the genotype. Crucial, but not too sexy. On the other hand, Genetic and environmental determinants of bitter perception and sweet preferences is one of those papers where the abstract gives much of the game away. Some conclusions:

  1. Taste sensitivity is likely mediated by environment. Children showed a stronger genotype-taste discernment correlation than adults. This should not surprise anyone, we all know we can "acquire" tastes. My spice tolerance has ratcheted up greatly since childhood, while many people get over the bitterness of beer.
  2. Children with genotypes that predisposed them to taste sensitivity were the most likely to prefer sweet drinks. This pattern was not found in adults.
  3. Race was a significant variable as black children reported far greater preference for high levels of sugar in their cereal. This indicates a strong cultural factor, but, I recall that much of West Africa had a low frequency of the insensitivity that is correlated with lack of craving for sugar, so you might be seeing a gene-environment correlation here as differences in genotypic distribution have had a multiplier effect in shaping cultural culinary habits (though spice is common in black American and apparently much of West African cuisine, so we shouldn't make much of the high number of PTC/PROP tasters in West Africa).
  4. When mother and child differed in their taste sensitivity it affected their interaction. In particular, taste insensitive mothers perceived taste sensitive children (they are focusing on one locus and two allelic variants in a standard homozygote-heterozygote model with additive effects) as being more "emotional" than taste insensitive children. This is important, because it is likely a hint that small, seemingly trivial, genotypic differences can leave a wider footprint on the extended phenotype of a child and parent.

Previously I focused on intergroup differences on this locus (a table of frequencies if you are curious), but I am now curious as to further study in more convential behavior genetic modes.

Related: Natural Selection and Molecular Evolution in PTC, a Bitter-Taste Receptor Gene, PTC taste, balancing selection?, PTC, part II and Genetics of taste.

Posted by razib at 12:02 AM | | TrackBack

February 27, 2005

Islam & Europe

A long article about Muslim immigrants and Europe, starting off on the Netherlands. Two points.

  1. In the Dutch context the rural origin of many of these immigrants is emphasized.
  2. The article states, "Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a petite Somali refugee who is a Liberal MP in the Dutch parliament. Herself a Muslim, she is an outspoken critic of Islam...." This makes as much sense as "Richard Dawkins, himself a Christian, is an outspoken critic of Christianity." Dawkins is from a Christian culture and background, but by his actions and words he has given a quite clear signal that he is not a Christian. Similarly, I think the same can be said of Ali. The fact that she is a Somali does not mean that Islam is by definition a part of her identity. They should have correctly stated that she is of Muslim origin, the qualification would make it clear that religious identities are not fixed. As it is, the current implicit assumption that one is born into a culture or religion, whether that be among some European or among proponents of identity politics in the United States, is a sign of profoundly illiberal assumptions on the part of both.

Via Randall.

Posted by razib at 06:04 PM | | TrackBack

Gay gene eugenics

Okay, this story has got everything. Eugenics, homosexuality, abortion, Republicans versus Democrats, even Rush Limbaugh.

A Republican lawmaker in Maine has introduced a bill to prohibit abortions based on the sexual orientation of the unborn baby.

State Rep. Brian Duprey wants the Legislature to forbid a woman from ending a pregnancy because the fetus is homosexual.

He said the bill looks into the future in case scientists find what he described as a "homosexual gene."

Posted by Thrasymachus at 02:02 PM | | TrackBack

Written Language

I saw razib's note on Zimmer's article, and it gave me a couple ideas which I posted at my site. GNXPers might be interested, so I'm reposting here. The advantage of discussing written language instead of spoken language is that it by definition moves us up into historical time periods instead of prehistoric.

If you took a monkey's brain, and without any structural changes, blew it up to three times its size, would it have the capacity for language? Carl Zimmer discusses whether language is a product of natural selection or whether it sprung up spontaneously once the capacity came into existence. Zimmer's article is open-ended, but he claims that a part II is in the works which will deliver some conclusions.

I'll just note two points:

  • Proving that certain recent genes are necessary for spoken language doesn't help much in this argument because there is a good chance that early language was gesture based.
  • Proving that rudimentary languages are advantageous to survival does not disprove the 'almost everything for language was already there' hypothesis, it only contradicts a certain piece of supporting evidence for it.

How much language, gesture based or verbal, would a monkey be capable of if its brain were three times larger? I have the feeling that we're a long way from answering that, although I'm interested in Zimmer's part II.

There is a related question, however, and this one may be a bit easier to approach.

Could our ancestors of 100,000 years ago have learned written language if it was in existence at that time? In other words, are evolutionary adaptations necessary for a brain that is capable of spoken language to comprehend visual symbols? Why didn't written language spring up as soon as spoken language did? Did the written word have to wain on an inventor, or did it have to wait on natural selection?

I would judge the evidence to be in favor of an 'almost everything' theory of written language. Our ancestors would probably have been capable of learning to write if they had been given a chance. The fact that written language is nearly cotemporaneous (evolutionarily speaking) with the arrival of cities and agriculture, suggests that the conditions were ripe for invention. And, more tellingly, there seem to be no groups of humans today incapable of written language.

On the other hand, there may well be a cut-off IQ for the capacity of literacy, and it would be interesting to ask at what point in our evolutionary history a reasonable fraction of the population reached that IQ.

This leads to other interesting questions. Were the first modern humans capable of cities and agriculture? Did that wait on invention of technique or upon natural selection? Presumably it is a specific social type that can live in close proximity with lots of other people, after all. Did the first alphabetic scripts wait upon invention or natural selection? The Japanese, for example, had one for a short time, but gave it up for an ideographic script. Native Japanese dislike having to read texts written completely in their alphabetic versions (hiragana or katakana), and prefer the ideographic style instead. On the other hand Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and so forth seem to have no trouble learning and using the alphabetic scripts of other languages.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 09:02 AM | | TrackBack

Crime and Punishment

I linked recently to a Sunday Times article by Rod Liddle. His main point was that

There are some things that you can say and there are some things that you can’t say. Paradoxically, they are sometimes the same things.

For example, you can’t say that black people commit more crimes, but, using the same facts, you can say that they are victimised by the criminal justice system. And you can’t say that young black males are, for whatever reason, not academically able, but, using the same facts, you can say that the school system is failing them.

The article wasn’t great science, or even great journalism, but I thought it amusingly illustrated the absurdities of current bien-pensant discourse. So I was interested to see that a recent Crooked Timber post contained a diatribe against Liddle. It wasn’t specifically aimed at this article, but it linked to a blog by Matthew Turner, which ’ably exposed’ Liddle’s article. So I naturally checked out Turner’s blog, partly to see what he says about Liddle, but also to find out what the guys at Crooked Timber reckon is an ‘able exposure’….

So here’s what Turner says about the article:

His [Liddle’s] Sunday Times column yesterday… is probably best left to fester in its own idiocy. Nevertheless it's amusing to note how it begins,

For example, did you know that black and Asian women commit far more crime than their white counterparts? Almost one third of the total female British prison population is drawn from black and Asian communities.

Because one-third is obviously far more than two-thirds. No, hang on, it's not is it?

And that’s the ‘able exposure’, in full. Well, there’s glory for you - in Humpty Dumpty’s sense.

Needless to say, Liddle wasn’t suggesting that black and Asian women commit the majority of crimes, just that they are disproportionately represented among criminals. In his own words, they have ‘an apparently greater propensity… to commit crime‘. And he went on to give some figures:

Black and Asian women make up 8% of the general population and 29% of the female prison population…

Did Turner not read the rest of the column? Or did he read it and decide to misrepresent it? Dishonest, or just an idiot?

The source of the 29% statistic, as Liddle makes clear, is the impeccably liberal organisation the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for ’women’s rights’. But that doesn’t mean it is correct, so I did some checking. As so often happens, the facts turn out to be more complicated.

First, the Fawcett Society probably got the statistic from a Home Office summary of prison statistics for 2002, which states that ’ethnic minorities make up 22% of the male prison population and 29% of the female population‘. So far so good.

But on looking at the full report on Prison Statistics in England and Wales for 2002 (apparently the latest available on the Home Office website - see here for a copy as a 2Mb pdf file) things get murkier. The report gives an ethnic breakdown of women prisoners into four categories: White, Black, South Asian, and ‘Chinese and other’. In the text (para 6.1) the proportions of women prisoners are given as Black 24%, South Asian 1%, and ‘Chinese and other’ 5%, leaving by implication 70% for Whites. However, more accurate figures are given in Table 6.1, from which I calculate the proportions (to one decimal place) as White 70.6%, Black 23.9%, South Asian 0.9%, and ‘Chinese and other’ 4.7%.

One complication is that a very high proportion of women in prison are there for drug offences. Among Black women it is especially high, at 75% (para 6.12). The Courts are reluctant to jail women, especially mothers, for crimes like petty theft and assault. The figures for women prisoners therefore give an unrepresentative picture of women’s crime in general.

A second major point is that a substantial proportion of women prisoners are visitors to the UK, notably Caribbean drug mules arrested on entering the country. If the aim is to examine the criminal propensities of ethnic groups living in Britain, these ought to be excluded. Unfortunately the statistics do not provide a reliable way of doing so. The closest we can get is to exclude foreign nationals, who are separately identified for each ethnic group (Table 6.3). This undoubtedly excludes too many, as there are numerous foreign nationals living permanently in the UK. However, for what it is worth, I have calculated the number of British nationals in the different ethnic groups as a proportion of all British nationals among female prisoners (that is, excluding foreign nationals from both numerator and denominator). This gives the proportions (to one decimal place) as White 84.4%, Black 11.8%, S. Asian 0.7%, and ‘Chinese and other’ 3.3%. Note that the ‘Black’ share is dramatically reduced - in fact, halved - though as already noted, the adjusted figure will underestimate the true proportion among those living permanently in Britain.

Of course the raw proportions mean little unless they can be compared with proportions of different ethnic groups in the general population. Rod Liddle quotes a figure of 8% for Black and Asian women in the general population, which is about right for the overall proportion of non-whites, of all ages, in the population of Britain in the 2001 Census. However, this is not the most appropriate comparative figure, first because it is a figure for Britain (England, Wales and Scotland), and we want a figure confined to England and Wales to compare with the prison figures. More important, we really need a figure for the age groups most likely to be in prison. The ’all ages’ figures are likely to be substantially misleading, because the proportions of various ethnic groups in the population vary with age.

I suggest that the most appropriate age group for comparison is roughly age 16 to 35. I have extracted figures for women of ages 16 to 34 inclusive from the 2001 Census report (Table S101). On this basis I calculate the percentages of different ethnic groups in England and Wales as:

White___All non-white___Black___Mixed____S. Asian___Chinese or other


It will be seen that the Census, unlike the prison statistics, has a ‘Mixed’ category, which is broken down into various sub-categories (white-Caribbean, white-Asian, etc.) It is not clear how mixed-race women are covered in the prison stats, but I would guess, from the size of the ‘Chinese or other’ category, that some have gone into that group, though possibly also the prison service have lumped Arabs, Kurds, etc, into ‘Chinese or other’ rather than ’white’. This creates yet another difficulty of interpretation, and I suggest it is best to ignore both the Mixed and ‘Chinese or other’ group.

Comparing the two sources - and omitting the doubtful categories - we can summarise them as follows:

___________White___All non-white___Black____S. Asian

In Prison_____84.4_____15.6________11.8_____0.7

In general

What is clear, even after all allowance is made for complicating factors, is that Black women are still heavily over-represented in the prison population, but that South Asian women are heavily under-represented. I think most of us would have guessed this anyway, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

So it seems that the real crime of Rod Liddle - or rather of the Fawcett Society - is to lump together two groups whose characteristics are radically different. In fairness to Liddle, much of his article is concerned precisely with this point.

It may still fairly be said that the proportions of people in prison are not a perfect guide to the number of criminals. Not all criminals are prisoners, and not all prisoners are criminals (some are detained on remand, and some convicted prisoners are innocent). And it is possible that the police and justice system operate differentially in relation to different ethnic groups. Numerous studies have been carried out in Britain to investigate possible discrimination in the justice system, with complicated and conflicting results. Some of the issues and evidence are discussed in this Home Office report. There is some evidence that black people are more likely than other groups to be convicted, and to receive longer sentences, for similar offences. This is a difficult point, as the behaviour of suspects affects their treatment, and different groups show different behaviour in police custody. As the HO report notes, when interrogated ’white suspects were far more likely to provide admissions [of guilt] (in 58% of cases) than either Asians (48%) or black people (44%)… The relatively low admission rate among black people in particular increases the chances of them entering the formal criminal justice system because those who deny their guilt are ineligible for a caution’ (page 73). Blacks were also more likely to exercise their right to remain silent when questioned (page 78). There is also evidence that in trials for serious offences blacks are less likely to plead guilty than whites (page 167), which would tend to increase their sentence if convicted, since there is a ’discount’ for pleading guilty.

It would be nice, of course, to have an accurate source of information, independent of the criminal justice system, on the numbers of crimes actually committed by different ethnic groups. Naturally, no such source exists. However, there is some evidence in the British Crime Survey, based on interviews with the general public on their experience as victims of crime. This report based on data from the 2000 Survey indicates that of those respondents who could describe the ethnic group of the offender, 5% of offenders were black, 3% were Asian, and 2% were ‘other‘ non-white. As compared with the proportions of youngish (16-34) people in the 2001 Census (see above) these show an overrepresentation of blacks and under-representation of Asians. Of course these figures mainly relate to personal assaults and robberies where the victim is able to see the offender.

Need I say - yes, I suppose I do - none of the above expresses or implies any opinion on whether differences in criminal behaviour among ethnic groups have any genetic basis.

Posted by David B at 03:50 AM | | TrackBack