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March 19, 2005

Is it just me...

...or does Paul Wolfowitz resemble a Mirror Universe Dennis Kucinich?

(Or, alternatively, does Dennis Kucinich resemble a Mirror Universe Paul Wolfowitz.)

All either one would need is a Spock goatee.

Or maybe they used to be a single entity split in two by a transporter accident with the friendly-but-totally-pussified half becoming Kucinich and the hardass-psycho-motherf*cker half becoming Wolfowitz.

Maybe I shouldn't post after an Saturday night's carousing.

Posted by jeet at 10:34 PM | | TrackBack

Secular Rites in the EX-GDR

I was fascinated to come across Deutsche Welle's brief article on Jugendweihe, an interesting holiday in Germany (literal translation "youth consecration") that aspires to be a secular equivalent to religious confirmation ceremonies for teenagers, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The German Humanist Association advertises for young Jugendweihe recruits with the promise that "there is much to celebrate (and many presents) even without confirmation and communion." There must be some lure in those words for the nation's teenage population, as one in every three youngsters in the states of the former East Germany signs up to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

The 150-year-old ritual, which was mainly celebrated in eastern Germany during the past 50 years is not without controversy: While supporters see it as a non-religious way to give teenagers a forum to expand their minds, horizons and understanding of morals, opponents see it as a left-over from communist days that merely give kids an opportunity to ask their relatives for presents.

But not everyone is as ready to accept the ritual as part of Germany's national youth program. Andreas Matthes grew up in western Germany and said he finds the idea of Jugendweihe dishonest.

"Most kids now don't know the meaning of Jugendweihe in communist East Germany, because their parents don't tell them that," he said. "They don't tell them about the difficulties incurred for those who went to confirmation instead, and that is false."

But both Hillig and the president of the Jugendweihe association, Werner Riedel argued that the 21st century event is a far cry from that of the old communist era. In the nine months leading up to their big day, the youngsters can participate in any number of events which are designed to expand their minds, horizons and understanding of morals.

But given that it is all on a voluntary basis, there is plenty of scope for those teenagers who want to make a quick buck with a relatively clean conscience to go ahead and do so. And that is another one of the problems, Matthes said.

"There is no moral basis for the Jugendweihe, because those who take part don't have to do anything either before or after the event," he said. "And that renders it all so meaningless."

Every Easter, me and my sister eagerly searched for the sugary treats and small gifts hidden about the family living room, and how every Christmas we still more energetically unwrapped more and more expensive presents. Oh, and we went to church from time to time. Possibly my family's experience was unique in Canada; possibly West Germans treat holidays of religious origin more seriously than Canadians do. Possibly.

This article at the Goethe-Institut makes it clear that for young East Germans, Jugendweihe is a durable and popular tradition.

Each year some 100,000 East German pupils undergo Jugendweihe, whereas in West Germany that figure is only a couple of hundred. The reason for this lies in the legacy of the German Democratic Republic, even if Jugendweihe was no invention of its ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). The coming-of-age ritual, which has its origins in the second half of the 19th century, is rooted in free-thinking tradition and during the Weimar Republic was appropriated also by the workers' movement. Banned by the Nazis, the SED reintroduced Jugendweihe in 1954 as a public pledge to socialism, also with the intention of repressing the influence of the churches.

Most East Germans are suspicious of the Church as an institution. 'We don't really have many dealings with the Church over here,' says Julia Gräfner diplomatically. The 14-year-old is a student at the Goethe grammar school in Schwerin, the capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. She is looking forward to her big day, her Jugendweihe. Julia will even have the honour of delivering a thank-you address to the parents on behalf of all 78 Jugendweihe candidates. Only four out of her 27 classmates have decided in favour of the Protestant confirmation ritual, while one has chosen the Catholic ceremony. For Julia, there is not much of a difference. 'Although Jugendweihe is the secular variant of the ritual,' says the young girl, 'it has the same function - it symbolises our passage into the community of adults.'

There has been a sustained lack of interest in organized religion in East Germany since the fall of the Berlin War and reunification. Many observers expected religion to recover markedly, but as Sacred and Secular (reviewed by me here) demonstrates, most central and eastern Europeans are quite happy with being unchurched. It turns out that East Germans have developed and maintained their own communal rites, just as West Germans did theirs. The critical difference is that religion plays a much lower profile in the East. This observation leads to two conclusions, the first specific and the second general:

1. East Germans may define themselves as Germans, but their definitions and norms differ significantly from those of West Germans. As I've written earlier, and as Melli K. has noted recently in her latest post at Aufbau Ost, regardless of the illegitimate foundations of the German Democratic Republic and its totalitarian history, a distinctive East German culture not only developed but survived reunification. Efforts towards eliminating unwanted benign cultural elements are more characteristic of totalitarian states than of liberal democracies.

2. There is a major difference between a secularized society and an atheist society, something comparable to that between agnosticism and atheism. Members of secularized societies seem to maintain tenuous links with major religions, coopting their holidays and their other cultural elements for use when they want an in-group market or a reason for celebration, ignoring inconvenient elements of dogma at their convenience. Members of atheist societies, in contrast, often have only historical relationships with religion, creating and maintaining their own rites, their own acts of collective celebration. Too often, popular commentators seem to miss this critical difference.

Posted by randymac at 05:21 AM | | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

Early South Americans ''Australo-Melanesian- like''

From an article in press in the Journal of Human Evolution >>

Increasing skeletal evidence from the U.S.A., Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil strongly suggests that the first settlers in the Americas had a cranial morphology distinct from that displayed by most late and modern Native Americans.... The Paleoamerican morphological pattern is more generalized and can be seen today among Africans, Australians, and Melanesians. Here, we present the results of a comparative morphological assessment of a late Paleoindian/early archaic specimen from Capelinha Burial II, southern Brazil. The Capelinha skull was compared with samples of four Paleoindian groups from South and Central America and worldwide modern groups from W.W. Howells' studies. In both analyses performed (classical morphometrics and geometric morphometrics), the results show a clear association between Capelinha Burial II and the Paleoindians, as well as Australians, Melanesians, and Africans, confirming its Paleoamerican status.

The researchers conclude with >>

The increasing evidence that all late Pleistocene/early Holocene human groups from South America are characteristically non-Mongoloid has major implications for the colonization of the Americas.... Even if few studies with large samples from single sites have been carried out so far with Paleoindians...it is evident by now that South America, Central America and possibly North America were populated by human groups with a more generalized cranial morphology before the arrival of the Mongoloids. Since this more generalized morphology (''Australo-Melanesian- like'') was also present in East Asia at the end of the Pleistocene, transoceanic migrations are not necessary to explain our findings.

As presented in detail elsewhere (Neves et al., 2003) the arrival of an ''Australo-Melanesian-like'' population in the Americas is easily accommodated under what is presently known about the place of origin and the routes taken by modern humans in their first long-distance dispersions (Lahr and Foley, 1998). Acordingly, a population that began to expand from Africa around 70 ka reached southeast Asia by the middle of the late Pleistocene, carrying with it a cranial morphology characterized by long, narrow neurocrania and narrow, projecting faces. We postulate that after reaching southeast Asia, this stem population gave rise to at least two different dispersions. One took a southward direction and arrived at Australia around 50 Ka. Sometime between 50 and 20 Ka a second branch dispersed towards the north, and arrived in the Americas by the end of the Pleistocene, bringing with it the same cranial morphology that characterized the first modern humans. When the classical Mongoloid cranial morphology appeared in northeastern Asia, either as a local response to extreme environmental conditions, or as the product of a migration from northern Europe, a new expansion of northern Asians reached the New World, bringing with it a cranial morphology characterized by short, wide neurocrania and broad, retracted faces.

Although local microevolutionary processes in the Americas can not be precluded to explain the transition from a generalized to a very specialized cranial morphology (Powell and Neves, 1999), a model based on the entrance of two different morphological patterns from the Old World is much more parsimonious. As recently demonstrated by Roseman (2004), significant changes in cranial morphology are much less frequent than previously expected. As such, cranial morphology has much to say about human evolutionary history.

Skeletal remains from another excavation in Brazil -- the Santana do Riacho 1 skulls -- also displayed "Australo-Melanesian- like" traits including "a long, narrow brain case and eye sockets set relatively low on the face."

You all remember Kennewick Man -- the authors of the Report on the Osteological Assessment of the "Kennewick Man" Skeleton suggested he had a Polynesian (64%) or Ainu (24%) ancestry.

Posted by theresa at 07:11 PM | | TrackBack

Woman leads muslim prayers

Islamic woman sparks controversy by leading prayers.

More at Muslim WakeUp!.

Related: Islam with Chinese characteristics...no, really!.

Addendum: Updated link so it doesn't need registration.

Posted by razib at 06:13 PM | | TrackBack

Terri Schiavo - What The Future Portends

Majikthise knocks this one out of the park with a comprehensive wrap-up on this battle and the propaganda that has been flung around. Go and read it.

Posted by TangoMan at 03:06 PM | | TrackBack

A day late...

I had intended to post this amusing take on the origins of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in honor of St. Patrick's Day, but unfortunately I didn't get the chance. So now, for those of you with an historical turn of mind, here is (a day late) a short essay "clarifying" the background to the whole NI thing...

A brief history of the Irish question - a study of ethnicity in action

In the first century BC the British (or Pretanoi) lived quite happily on their islands all fighting one another, and probably not even aware that they were Pretanoi. This pleasant state of affairs was disrupted by the invasion of the Romans (actually not Romans, but Gauls, Germans, Spaniards, Numidians, Thracians, and lots of others with a few Italians pretending to be Romans for appearance’s sake). After nearly four hundred years of occupation the Britons thought of themselves as Romans (and under this guise had themselves helped invade a few unsuspecting countries such as Dacia).

According to history, in the early fifth century these ‘Romans’ ‘left’. What actually happened was that, first under Magnus Maximus, and later, under Constantine III, the British (or Romans) went over to the continent to conquer the Roman Empire. Unfortunately they were too early, both were defeated and killed, and we had to wait another 1,500 years for the British Empire. This, however, left something of a military vacuum, which various Germans (Saxons, Angles and Jutes) were called in to fill by the Romans (or Britons) who were left.

Under Constantine I the Roman Empire became nominally Christian (a Jewish religion, not to be mixed up with Judaism), so all the eastern parts of the British Isles were Christian. The Scots (who lived in Ireland) had never been conquered by Romans or by anyone pretending to be Romans, so they were not Christians, but Pagans, until they were converted to Christianity by Patrick (or Palladius). Meanwhile, behind their backs, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who were Pagans, had taken over the east of England, so that now the western part of Britain was Christian and the eastern part was Pagan (the reverse of what it was before, but perhaps the same as it is today).

Never having been conquered, the Scots in Ireland had continued their bad old ways of fighting one another, and when one group of them, the kingdom of Dal Riada, lost, they decided to take it out on people outside of Ireland. So they attacked the Britons (or Welsh) who lived in Scotland (which wasn’t called Scotland, because the Scots lived in Ireland). But when the Scots from Dal Riada invaded Scotland, it became Scotland, except the bits occupied by the Picts and Angles. Much later the Picts and Angles became Scots, which would have made things easier if the Norse hadn’t invaded part of Pictland (and remained Norse, until they too became Scots, and the last ones to speak Gaelic).

So by around AD 600 (except it wasn’t because Bede hadn’t invented the AD system yet) the Irish Scots were in Ireland, the Picts and Scottish Scots in Scotland, the Britons (or Welsh) mainly in Wales, but also in England and parts of Scotland, and everyone was fighting everyone else including themselves. So the Irish became Irish, the Scots and Picts became Scots, the Britons became Welsh, and everyone else became English, unlike nowadays when everyone on the continent calls the Scots and Welsh English as well, which understandably annoys them intensely -- the Irish are either Irish or British, except when they too are called English. This goes to show that you can trust no external source, ancient or modern, to tell you what people call themselves.

In AD 597 St. Augustine turned up in Canterbury and introduced the Roman Church (which became the Roman Catholic Church when it was no longer catholic in the Greek sense of ‘universal’). So in the east there were Roman Christians while in the west the Celtic Church held sway, except, as there were never any Celts in Britain, it could not have been the Celtic Church. Unfortunately no-one has come up with a better term -- the Irish Church is not adequate, as the Irish weren’t Irish, and it included Welsh, Scots, and some Anglians in Northumbria. According to Bede it should be the Scottish Church, but that confuses modern people who still naively believe that Scots come from Scotland.

At this point in history comes the turning point, from whence all the Irish problems stem, the Synod of Whitby in AD 664. In it the Irishman (or Scotsman) Colman was defeated and went home to Scotland (or Ireland), and the English decided to follow Roman practice. This is why nowadays we have no idea when Easter falls following the Roman system of calculation, rather than having no idea when it falls following the Scottish calendar. Thus the Irish, Scots, Britons and Picts were on one side, and the English on the other. Except that somehow by the time of the next major event, the Irish had changed their minds, so that everyone in Britain followed the Roman Church and were on the same side, and trying to keep the terrible Vikings and Danes at bay.

This might have been fairly successful, except for the fact that some Vikings went to France and became Normans (or Northmen), so that disguised as Frenchmen (the Franks were Germans who spoke French, whereas the French are Gauls who speak French), they were able to confuse Harold Godwinson by failing to live up to their name and attacking from the south, while Harold was in the north dealing with genuine Northmen. The Norman kings spoke French, so were unable to converse with their English (and Danish) subjects, but this did not matter, as they also controlled large parts of France. However, when they lost control of their French possessions, they had no-one to talk to so they learnt English too. Thus it is thanks to Joan of Arc throwing the Normans (or English) out of France that English rather than French is now the major world language (otherwise the English might have ended up speaking French like the Normans). The other problem with the Normans was that they tried to take over everyone else (Welsh, Irish and Scots), but it is always the English who are blamed for this.

Henry VIII, having lost the final bit of France, founded the Anglican Church to oppose Catholics. The Scots too became Protestants (not to be confused with the Scottish Church, which, as we saw, was Celtic). In 1601 the Scots took over England under their king, James VI, who became James I of England, and so took over Scotland, so that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were all finally united and could start fighting one another in peace without too much outside interference (except from the Dutch William of Orange, and various Georges of German origin). As part of this process, James sent some Scotsmen back to Ireland to keep the Irish under control. So now the Scots (who had been Irish before the Irish became Irish) now went back to Ireland where the Irish (who had been Scots) were now Irish. Add to this the religious dimension that the Irish (who had not been Catholic) were now Catholic, and the Scot and English (who had been Catholic) were now Protestant, then confusion was bound to reign.

In the eighteenth century the Irish, Welsh and Scots suddenly found they were all Celtic. This fortunately came at an opportune moment, as all over Europe people were discovering the ‘nation-state’, and with it their national history. Thus the Germans had Germania, the Italians Italia, and the Greeks Graecia (or Hellas), and so they united or freed their countries. The English were too superior for such games, and in any case Britannia was Welsh, not English, so, illogically, they became British. The French too had a problem as the Franks were German, so they invented the Gauls. This coincided with the moment in time when the Irish discovered they could speak and write English much better than the English (Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, Shaw, etc.), and had largely changed their language, and they might have stopped speaking Irish but for the foundation of Eire.

The problem still lies with Northern Ireland, where just under half of the population are Scots who stayed at home to become Irish and Catholic, and are in conflict with just over half of the population who were Scots who went away to become Scottish and Protestant, but then came back again to become British and Protestant. These latter want to remain British and Protestant Christians, when an increasing number of the English are becoming Muslim, Hindu, atheist, druids, witches, or incorrigible agnostics like myself, and are also wondering whether they really want to be British any longer. However the Ulster Freedom Fighters are now drawing on Irish literature in evoking the spirit of the hero of the great Irish epic the Tain Bo Culainge, Cuchulainn, as a defender of Ulster against the southern Irish, and are even beginning to learn Irish, turning the Irish language into a weapon of the north versus the south rather than vice versa. Unfortunately, Cuchulainn came from the south.

To a non-Christian outsider such as myself it seems that Northern Ireland continues to be two communities divided by a common religion.

by John Collis, excerpt from “Celts and Politics” in Cultural Identity and Archaeology (eds. Paul Graves-Brown, Sian Jones, Clive Gamble), London 1996: 167-70.

Posted by theresa at 08:26 AM | | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

For the ladies-part II

Seeing as how there is a controversy of non-linking in the blogosphere (generally in the context of sites with 1-2 orders of magnitude greater number of visitors than GNXP) to the Y-less kind, I have chosen to do my part. Since I don't read blogs much I can't really tell you about any diamondesses-in-the-rough, so what I did was:

1) Move Jinderella to the top of "our other blogs."
2) Moved all females to the top of "friends and visitors."
3) Moved Robin Roberts up too, his name sounds kind of girly, like the female sports journalist.
4) Moved Bill Allison up, since his last name is "Allison."

Past experience suggests that those near the top of the lists get the most traffic form this blog.

Posted by razib at 07:32 PM | | TrackBack

The Heritability of Religiousness

Those Minnesota behavioral geneticists are at it again. Thomas Bouchard, Laura Koenig, Matt McGue and Robert Krueger have a new paper in The Journal of Personality about the heritability of religiousness that a lot of people have been talking about.

Investigating the heritability of religiousness is nothing new, of course. A host of studies have found values ranging from zero in a sample of Australian men (Truett et al. 1992) to .54 in Americans (Bouchard et al. 2004) -- the differences depending mostly on the age of the sample and the type of measure used for the phenotype. Its this first issue (changes with age) that Koenig et al. focused on.

They report:

When rating retrospectively, the MZ correlation for religiousness was .69, and the DZ correlation was .59. The difference between these correlations was not significant (Z=1.35, p>.05). When rating current religiousness, however, the MZ and DZ correlations were .62 and .42, respectively, and were significantly different (Z=2.18, p<.05). It appeared that the MZ twins maintained their similarity over time, while the DZ twins became more dissimilar. These correlations suggest low genetic and high environmental influences when the twins were young but a larger genetic influence as the twins age.


The [model fitting] estimates showed that common environment was the largest influence in the childhood data, while genetic influences were the largest in adulthood. Nonshared environmental influences, which included error variance, remained about the same over time. The genetic correlation was .59, the shared environmental correlation was .84, and the nonshared environmental correlation was .31.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 07:26 PM | | TrackBack

The Singing Neandertal

A some amusing article about the high pitched voices of Neandertals (at least, that is the hypothesis). The piece notes that Steven Mithen, author of The Prehistory of the Mind, is coming out with a new book titled The Singing Neanderthal: The Origin of Language, Music Body and Mind. Reading Mithen's previous book I am somewhat surprised that he would offer such a title, in The Prehistory of the Mind he comes close to advocating a deux ex machina in "solving" the problem of the rise of sapience in humanity, and, he implicitly leaves Neandertals out of the picture. One interesting thing I've noted is that the closest thing that I can perceive to a "consensus" is that Neandertals might have had some form of language and sapiency, but that they were crucially different, and the genetic evidence does seem to suggest that fit the bill as a separate species.

In my previous post The end of the Andaman Islanders? I pointed to an article which highlights the immunological barrier that separates the natives from the immigrants. This is a case where two populations of humans are separated by a fact of biology, in that one population will over time spread diseases to another so that death is inevitable. Of course, the two populations are still interfertile, so they are not dinstinct under a biological species concept, but, I think they flirt with differentiation under the ecological species concept. Bringing this back to the Neandertals, one of the researchers brings up the possibility that our cousins were deciminated by diseases. I think the crucial variables here are band size and frequency of band-to-band interaction. If the Neandertals tended to live in a far more isolated and nucleated fashion than moderns, their density might not have supported many diseases in comparison to the more numerous agglomeration of moderns. If we find loci in the modern human genome that seem to be evidence of interfertility between various hominins, the biological species concept distinction will be brought into question, but I think we can be confident that there was an ecological species separation....

Posted by razib at 06:18 PM | | TrackBack

Ancient health

It seems they found some Shetland shit from 3,000 years ago. The indicated diet seems to suggest no great want. Interestingly, in Life in the Ancient Near East the author notes that ration records for "unfree labor" suggest a caloric intake of 3,000 per day, a healthy level. I doubt that ancient peoples had a caloric intake much below the modern mean (though they might have been shafted in the protein department if they were agriculturalists), rather, they were plagued by the variance from year to year, and in particular they were subject to periods of starvation that resulted in die offs. If the die offs are conceived of as repeated selection events, it should not surprise us when we see populations like the Pima Indians.

Posted by razib at 05:55 PM | | TrackBack

The classical origins of racism

An e-list on which I participate has been having a discussions of a review by Paula Fredriksen of the new book The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity. You can't read the review online, it is behind TNR's digital wall, though a subscriber did cut & paste it so that I have read it.

My first response is that a book with the above title makes as much sense as writing a monograph entitled "The medieval poetic roots of college 'hook up' culture." In other words, broadly considered, racism is a human universal, if you take it be roughly cognate with xenophobia. Certainly the Greeks were xenophobic, but not particularly more or less xenophobic than any other ancient peoples in terms of kind (as opposed to degree). I would argue that the Romans were mildly less xenophobic than the premodern median (examples like Cato the Elder notwithstanding), their periodic expansion of the citizenship was praised by the Greek Polybius as being a source of strength and flexibility in contrast to the more constrained conception of the body politic of the polis.

One must also consider what exactly xenophobia implies. After all, it is true that the "metics" of Classical Athens were not political members of the Athenian city state. But, they dominated the commerce and contributed intellectual luminaries such as Anaxagorous, they were participants in Athenian life as opposed to subhuman chattel or outcastes. Additionally, many of these alien metics were Greeks themselves, so Hellenic xenophobia can be interpreted as less shallow in its implications (explicit, political participation, which native born slaves and women were also excluded from) and exceedingly narrow in its vision (that is, fellow Hellenes were subject to great suspicion, just as non-Greeks or semi-Greeks1 were).

I will not even consider whether the Romans were the source of modern racism, even during their Republican phase they periodically extended the franchise to notables and confederates, and I think their Republican and Augustan suspicion of things "Oriental" must be tempered by their thorough post-Augustan cosmopolitanism. But, it is important to consider what one means by "racism," and I am not so sure that a modern concept of racism would really apply to the ancients (as opposed to xenophobia).

By this, I mean to suggest that though ancient peoples like the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Chinese offered empirical theories about the "essential" natures of various people as conditioned by their climates or geography, it never reached a highly systematic stage.

The ancients were not naive in their understanding and knowledge of phenotypic differences, in Mary Lefkowitz's Not out of Africa, the author points out that the ancient Greeks made a distinction between the Egyptians and northern Indians, and the Ethiopians and southern Indians, for though the two dyads are composed of populations of aproximately the same skin coloration (at least from a Hellenic vantage point), the Greeks noted that there were differences on other axes (wooly hair, generally facial features). This is the sort of insight that frankly often escapes the modern American discourse, and went to Lefkowitz's point that Afrocentric conflation of "people of color" (Egyptians, Carthaginians, etc.) with "black" is ludicrous in the ancient context.

Nevertheless, though empirical considerations were duly noted, prescientific peoples often did not elaborate a tight and integrated racial system that they wedded to their overall ideology. Greek xenophobia is more akin to garden variety prejudices and preconceptions than a ideology of how to perpetuate the Good Life. Certainly the Greeks could have formulated such an ideology, after all, they were among the first expositers and systemetizers of "democracy" or "oligarchy." But when it came to considerations of racial or ethnic kinds I do not think that the Greeks were exceptional or sui generis as they were in so many fields for their period (aside from a possible taxonomical precision which emerged as a byproduct of their scientific culture). A more recent historical analogy might be presented by the Chinese. Around 1900 the Confucian state was collapsing under the weight of its dead tradition and custom, and new ideas, from Christianity to Darwinism, were percolating through the intelligensia. This resulted in the formulation of a Chinese racialist ideology that borrowed most of its essential features from European racialism. Though Chinese mandarins were prejudiced about other peoples (and if you read the annals of their visits to the ancient Khmer kingdom you will note that they find the "naked blacks" exceedingly repulsive in a way that implies some racial aversion) they strongly resisted the rise of scientific racial theories, in large part because it undercut their somewhat tabula rasa biases about human nature. Confucians might be xenophobic, with biases against dark-skinned and "red haired" (Caucasian) peoples littering their literature, but they were not systematic about it.

Which moves me to a major point: I suspect that the first civilization to stumble upon the scientific method on any planet will go through a racist period. The reasoning is transparent: the scientific method results in an inflection point in terms of technological and social change, and force projection through arms. It emerges out of a careful balance between empiricism and systemetization. It seems obvious that the same mind set would observe the yawning chasm between the culture in which that mind set resides and other cultures, and systemetize it in a formula of racial-ethnic-cultural essentialism. The empirical element is clear in that a Great Chain of Being is assembled, with civilized but inferior peoples (the Chinese) a crucial rung below, and uncivilized and inferior peoples populating the lower regions of the hierarchy.

In short, I believe that what we mean by racism today is more likely a product of the scientific revolution leveraging innate human universals, as opposed to legacies drawn from ancient cultural templates. The idea that the Greeks or Romans invented racial theory that were passed down as part of their cultural inheritance seems to place a great faith in the persistence of explicit cultural forms in an substantively unaltered fashion. Long time readers of the blog will know I am skeptical of such assertions because I believe that many cognitive processes that mediate our cultural expressions reside on the non-conscious level and so are not mediated by ideology.

But, and this is a big but, I am going to engage the thesis that racism could be transmitted from ancient cultures to the present, as if it is a reasonable conjecture, and assuming that ancient "racism" is similar to modern racism, and point out what I perceive to be a flaw or blind spot in fingering the Greeks and the Romans: the modern West is a synthesis of various traditions, including the Hebraic and Germanic ones. I will neglect the last because of its relative paucity of pre-Christian literature and my suspicion that it is not relevant to the debate in any form.

I would argue that the Hebrew Bible records genocides which likely serve as far more salient cultural templates than the ideas of the Romans or Greeks. For instance:

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

Samuel 15:3.

I am of course taking the passage out of context, as the Amalekites were a nasty bunch, but it does suggest that there are portions of the Hebrew Bible which are ripe for the pickings if you want to engage in a genocide. This does not imply that wholesale slaughter of alien peoples is a particular trait of the ancient Hebrews, but, the deeds of the Hebrews during their sojourn in Canaan are recorded in the most widely read book in the history of the world, and, given a Divine imprimatur.2 John Hartung has a website devoted to the task of retracing the genocidal tendencies in the modern West back to the Hebrew Bible.

As I said above, I don't think that ancient cultural templates have much to do with the rise of scientific racism and the genocides perpertrated in the name of scientific racism and cultural supremacy. Nevertheless, I think that using the term scientific racism obscures an essential reality: in many contexts racial superiority or domination was justified on Biblical, not scientific, grounds. I still hold that a "scientific mind set" and the runaway technological and social evolution triggered by the Copernican Revolution are the true roots of scientific racism, but, I also believe that for much of the period the explicit justification was rooted in elements of Christian faith, some of which drew upon the Hebrew concept of God's convenant with a special people. The most explicit and elaborated form I can think of is the Afrikaner development of their Dutch Reformed religion, and their self-perception of being Hebrews in a pagan land filled with "Kafirs" (Canaanites?) who were not and need not be accorded the full rights of humanity because they were outside the convenant. The justifications for slavery during the antebellum South also borrowed heavily from Biblical language (as did the jeremiads of the Abolitionists, suggesting that explicit reasoning from scripture is ultimately ancillary no matter what the particulars believe). In other words, I see no particular reason to bias the explicit correlations toward pagan Greece and Rome when for much of the past 1500 years the Christian, and therefore to some extent Hebraic, religious faith was crucial in shaping the development of Western people, who also happened to pioneer scientific racism.

Which goes back to the author of the book above, and the reviewer. "Benjamin Isaac" is clearly a Jewish name, and he is a professor in Tel Aviv. To me, more importantly, Paula Fredriksen is a convert to Judaism. Let me be clear that I don't think there is a Jewish plot to denigrate the classical pagan past, after all, the author of Not out of Africa carries the name Lefkowitz. Nevertheless, I have read a fair amount of Jewish history and religious scholarship (one of my favorite authors is Richard Friedman). I have noted that there is a tendency to engage in ethno-autism among some Jews, so that there is a blind spot that might obscure obvious parallels between Greek xenophobia and Hebrew xenophobia. In an irony, if one held that Athens was paramount in its shaping influence in comparison to Jerusalem, then racism is mostly likely derived from Hellenic models. Nevertheless, I don't think that Athens totally absorbs Jerusalem, and I think the importance of the Hebrew Bible to some Protestant groups has resulted in the use of selections from the Hebrew Bible to justify racism which ultimately is an emergent property of the scientific revolution and the mind set that it fostered.

Finally, I will end by saying that this is a weak point in the modern West's reverence and appreciation for the classical past. It seems that attacking Greece and Rome is almost sexy, as these civilizations are the apotheosis of Dead White Maledom. I have offered before that I am personally biased toward pre-Christian Greece and Rome for a host of reasons, though I also appreciate the contributions of the Germanic tribes and Jerusalem. Ultimately, those who wish to overplay any of the columns which have held up Western civilizations must remember that there are enemies about who wish tear down the whole structure. Patriarchy, hegemony and heterosexism are easy to find on the ground in all three cultures, as they are, in almost all cultures. The revolt against Greece and Rome is not just a revolt against the Western past, it is a revolt against the present state of human nature.

And with that, I end!

1 - By which I mean heavily Hellenized peoples like the Macedonians.

2 - From where I stand it is almost certain that the records of slaughter in the Hebrew Bible are not true, but rather a mythology concocted to unify the Hebrew people.

Posted by razib at 10:54 AM | | TrackBack

Ladies' Choice Poll Results

I thought this comment from razib is apropos to my poll, since I hypothesize that mate selection on IQ is an important factor for the XX.

in the mating mind one way geoff miller pumps up sexual selection and polygyny is that it is a way to reduce genetic load and avoid mutational meltdown. miller also asserts that since around 1/3 of genes might have some impact on the brain (i've seen this quoted elsewhere, don't know where it comes from), cognitive display is a good way to evaluate genetic health.

Here are the results:

Steven Pinker............14%..........9
Pascal Boyer...............3%..........2
Spencer Wells.............3%..........2
Steve Sailor................6%..........4
Godless Capitalist.......23%.........15
Razib Khan.................12%..........8
Jeff Percifield..............18%........12

total votes................................65

As you can see, godless swept into an early lead, and no one was able to catch him. Given the small sample size, and the basically frivolous nature of the poll, there are only a few things I can say--
1) The local talent section was much more appealing on the whole to our readers.
2) Using a representation instead of an actual pic of the candidate did not seem to affect the respondants. The two highest scorers were portrayed by fanciful representations I chose based on my knowledge of their personalities.
3) The romantic appeal of the masked outlaw is hard to beat. ;)

Posted by jinnderella at 05:22 AM | | TrackBack

More boring statistics...

In my recent post on Education and ethnic groups in England I noted that there were some gaps in the statistics. I have been trying to fill these, with partial success…

I mentioned three main gaps:

a) the statistics covered only state schools, and not private ones

b) for education after age 16, the statistics did not cover specialist post-16 colleges

c) the statistics on performance at age 18 (GCE A-level and equivalent qualifications) were expressed as points scored by those who entered the examinations, and not as averages for the whole population at that age.

A partial solution to these problems is provided by the Youth Cohort Study, a representative survey of young people over 16. The 2004 YCS report on young people aged 16 (after leaving compulsory education) includes some data with an ethnic breakdown of participation in full-time education, from which I have extracted the following:

________________State school___Private___Post-16 colls.___Total f/t educ.*

__Other Asian________40________10_________37__________91

*The total includes the first three columns plus a small proportion in other types of full-time education.

Note that the ethnic classification is not the same as in the earlier data: there are no ’mixed’ categories, ’Black’ is not divided between African and Caribbean, and there is no separate category for Chinese. (I do not know whether Chinese in the sample have gone into ‘Other Asian’ or ‘Other’. If the Census categories are applied, they should go into ‘Other‘.)

The table gives the percentages of each ethnic group who are continuing in full-time education (the total in the final column), and in state schools, private schools, and post-16 colleges respectively. It will be seen that all the non-white groups have a higher proportion of young people continuing in full-time education after age 16 than whites. This is well-known from earlier data: see my old post for discussion. The data also confirm that there are some differences in the proportions of different ethnic groups in private schools. As I pointed out earlier, the state school data will be somewhat depleted in high-ability children, and this is likely to affect some groups (particularly Indians) more than others, but as the differences are only a few percentage points, this does not affect the big picture. A more serious problem revealed by the YCS data is the large difference between ethnic groups in the proportions attending post-16 colleges. These are particularly high among the Black and Bangladeshi groups. The omission of these colleges from the data in my previous post could therefore be a serious defect in the data on post-16 (A-level and equivalent) attainment by different ethnic groups.

This problem could be overcome if we assume that the average attainment level within each ethnic group is the same whether the childern are in schools or in post-16 colleges. We could then simply gross up the school data to allow for the relative numbers in post-16 colleges, and get a result that would be valid for comparison of attainment of ethnic groups across the entire population of the age group. Unfortunately the assumption would be invalid. Post-16 colleges fall into two main types: specialist 16-18 schools (usually called ’6th Form Colleges’ - roughly equivalent to Senior High in America), and Further Education Colleges, which offer education and vocational training to the whole over-16 population. The 6th Form Colleges have characteristics and performance similar to those of ordinary High Schools - it is just a matter of local organisation whether secondary education is provided in single schools covering the 11-18 age group, or divided into two or three separate schools, including a 6th Form College. FE Colleges, on the other hand, are very different. Not all the students are aiming for A-level or equivalent qualifications, and of those who are, the average attainment is much lower than in schools or 6th Form Colleges. Simple ’grossing up’ would therefore be misleading.

I toyed with the idea of using more complicated adjustment factors, e.g. based on the difference in overall performance between schools and FE colleges, but concluded that, apart from being tedious, the results would be invalid for the comparison of ethnic groups. For this purpose we really need adjustment factors specific to the ethnic groups concerned, and I have not found sufficient data for this purpose. Suppose for example that average A-level point scores in FE colleges are only half of those in schools (across all ethnic groups), it would not be safe to use this as an adjustment factor for Bangladeshis in particular, because their relative performance in schools and FE colleges might be quite different from the average. So I have not pursued this approach.

The data on post-16 attainment therefore remain imperfect. For 16-18 children remaining in schools, the data in my last post give an indication of relative performance, but this may either over- or under-state the attainments of an ethnic group in the population as a whole. For the latter purpose the only evidence I can find for this age group is the Youth Cohort Study at age 18, which includes an analysis of the highest qualification achieved at that age. Since these people are not old enough to have attained Level 4 qualifications (university degrees, etc), this shows the proportions who have obtained some Level 3 qualifications (A-levels, etc). In 2004 these were as follows:

__Other Asian________n/a

(n/a indicates numbers in sample too small for a meaningful percentage).

The lack of information on Chinese people, and the lack of breakdown between Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, is unfortunate, but the general rank order of Indian>White>Pak/Bang>Black is consistent with most of the other data.

I stress again that I am not expressing a view on the causation of these differences. In my next post I hope to examine the hypothesis that they can be explained by ‘poverty’.

Incidentally, while rooting around in the DFES statistics I came across this recent research report on ethnicity and education, which usefully updates the study by Bhattacharyya et al which I linked to in an older post.

Posted by David B at 04:07 AM | | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

Loser Pays

When I read that Rachel Corrie's parents are suing Caterpillar for violating international law by knowingly selling a bulldozer that could be used to endanger lives, I wondered how matters would be different if the Corries had to pay when they lost this lawsuit.

If you don't recall Rachel Corrie's saga, think back to 2003 and the young women who was killed by being run over by a bulldozer as she was protesting house demolitions conducted by the Israelis in the Rafah refugee camp. Here's more info.

All I can say is if someone wants to play chicken with a bulldozer, has the opportunity to jump clear as the bulldozer approaches but doesn't yield at all, well then, we can thank her for helping improve the gene pool. Of course, one loser has already paid in this sad incident.

Posted by TangoMan at 11:41 PM | | TrackBack

Responses to Bullying

Here are two contrasting approaches to the problems of schoolyard bullying. One punishes the victim and the other finds a unique way to get the message across to the bullies.

Principal Bruce Armstrong confirmed that the students had recorded the attack using a camera on a mobile phone. [ . . . .]

The school also suspended the Year 11 victim because he retaliated during the attack.

The victim said that after years of bullying he had decided enough was enough.

He alleged his attacker had seven years of kick-boxing training.

"He kicked me in the head, stomach, arms and legs. It went on for about 45 minutes," the victim said.

The teenager said he had been unable to get up after the attack. His mother said his braces had been embedded in his cheek and he had suffered a black eye and cuts. [ . . . . ]

She said it had been the second time her son had been seriously assaulted at or near the school.

Now for a breath of fresh air compared to the above idiocy of blaming the victim for defending himself against a kick-boxer take a look at this approach, and you have to give the school officials credit for trying a new approach to modify the behavior of bullies. My impression is that they've concluded that bullies really don't want to get in touch with their inner child, because the inner child of these child bullies is also a bully.

A teacher in a northern Manitoba town has sparked controversy by forcing students accused of bullying to wear hockey helmets bearing the slogans "loser" and "I'm stupid: I bully."

The students, who didn't deny they harassed another boy, were also subjected to jibes from other children during a role-playing exercise at Langruth Elementary School.

They were told to clean floors in the school in Langruth, located on the west side of Lake Manitoba. [ . . . . . ]

"At least this teacher had the courage to say these other children shouldn't be going home crying every day. These children, if they role-play, may learn what they're doing to other children."

Sutherland, who is a member of the parent advisory committee for the school, conceded that the discipline will probably make her son think twice about mocking other children in the future.

The school division said it supports the teacher's approach to discipline, but it wouldn't make any other comments on the case.

Posted by TangoMan at 10:01 PM | | TrackBack

X-Chromosome Activation

Men and women: The differences are in the genes

"This tells us that neighborhoods matter," Carrel said. "Genes on the X chromosome evolved in five sequential segments or layers. The older segments have fewer genes that escape inactivation than those that developed later in the chromosome's evolutionary path. This suggests that, as the human species continues to evolve, more and more of the genes that are escaping inactivation may lose their ability to do so."

“Using primary skin cells, she compared gene expression between the X chromosome and the inactive chromosome for 94 genes spanning the X chromosome in 40 human samples. She found that only 65 percent of the genes were inactive in all samples. Twenty percent were inactivated in some samples and not in others, and 15 percent escaped inactivation in all samples. In addition, many of those from the inactive X that were expressed were only partially expressed.”

“The data also suggests that the female genome now differs from the male genome in at least four ways. First, previous studies had shown that the Y chromosome gives males several genes that are absent in the female. Second, this study shows the fact that some genes on the inactive X are expressed means that about 15 percent of the genes are expressed at higher levels in females than in males. Third, this study also shows an additional 10 percent of genes on the inactive X show variable expression levels in females, whereas men have only a single copy of these genes. And finally, scientists had already known that random nature of X-inactivation shows that females, but not males, are mosaics of two cell populations with respect to X-linked gene expression.”

Posted by fly at 05:03 PM | | TrackBack

RNA Recoding of Brain Proteins

Mechanism of RNA recoding: New twists in Brain Protein Production

“Robert Reenan, has uncovered new rules of RNA recoding--a genetic editing method cells use to expand the number of proteins assembled from a single DNA code. According to his work, the shape a particular RNA adopts solely determines how editing enzymes modify the information molecule inside cells. The study may help explain the remarkable adaptability and evolution of animal nervous systems--including the human brain.”

“By comparing the same highly edited RNA from over 30 insects, Reenan uncovered some general rules of A-to-I recoding. He observed that the RNA of different insects folds into unique structures. These shapes single-handedly determine the species-specific RNA editing patterns that Reenan previously observed. For example, part of the RNA molecule he focused on--the code for the protein synaptotagmin, a key player in neuronal chemical signaling--looks like a knot in fruit flies, but a loop in butterflies. These molecular knots and loops bring regulatory regions of the RNA together with sites destined for recoding, guiding editing enzymes to act there. As proof, Reenan coaxed fruit fly RNA to adopt a "mosquito-like" structure by making small changes in the molecule--a procedure he dubbed "guided evolution." Predictably, cells edited the reconfigured fly RNA in the mosquito-like pattern.

In all species Reenan studied, the RNA region that regulates folding is located within an intron--a string of non-protein coding letters that cells cut out or "splice" from the molecule during processing. RNA recoding can't occur without introns, so cells must have a way of slowing down splicing long enough for editing enzymes to do their job. "The structures imply a really strong interaction between splicing and editing," according to Reenan, who notes that, "these complicated structures actually tie up--literally--splicing signals." By making small alterations in introns during evolution, different insects conserved the basic RNA code for making important proteins, but developed a way to tweak the resulting nerve cell protein's function in a species-specific manner. The species-specific editing may give insects different abilities by modifying behaviors.”

“Researchers still don't know why editing occurs, but posit that organisms use it to increase protein variety. RNA recoding lets cells generate an array of proteins from a single DNA sequence, each with a slightly different function. Producing different proteins in a cell at once could let organisms fine tune biological processes with extreme precision--a level of flexibility the DNA code doesn't afford. "Genetics is digital," says Reenan, adding "Editing changes digital to analog," letting cells "dial up" the exact amounts of altered proteins required at any given time or place.”

The work appears in the March 17 issue of Nature. If anyone has an online link, I’d like to look at the paper.

Posted by fly at 03:56 PM | | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

An Interesting Blog I Came Across

Check out Illuminaria's Voice. She has some interesting posts up and I was surprised to see no comments were left to any of the recent posts I read.

In her post on the efforts to institute a banning of abortion because the fetus is gay she does some digging on the methodology of twin studies used in support of the genetic hypothesis. She also writes:

it’s pretty hard to say that abortion is completely ok in every case, depending completely on the whim of the mother, unless her choice is affected by the child’s possible sexual orientation, or gender, or ethnicity, or whether or not it has Down’s Syndrome for that matter. If abortion is wrong, then it’s wrong no matter why the choice is made. If abortion is OK, then it’s always OK. If we’re just discarding a ball of cells that isn’t a life yet, then who cares if the ball of cells is gay or female or black?

In this post she digs up the differential training requirements for New York area police candidates.

In this post she takes a look at the case of LeMoyne College 's expulsion of a graduate student in education because he thought there was merit in the idea of corporal punishment.

Posted by TangoMan at 08:44 PM | | TrackBack

Beware The Ides of March

What is it with leaders being attacked on March 15th? Today, in a surprise turn of events, Harvard's Faculty of Arts & Sciences passed a motion saying it lacked confidence in the performance of Dr. Summers. The motion was introduced by J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and African and African-American studies, (surprise surprise) and it was expected to be voted down but passed 218-185. This was the first such motion that has passed in Harvard's 400 year history.

Hey, remember when this story first broke and we were surprised by the shitstorm that it caused because we thought people were already comfortable with gender differences. There's no way racial differences are going to be an easier pill to swallow for these types of people. The little minds have drawn their long knives and that's a very dangerous combination

UPDATE: Luboš Motl gives us an insider's perspective. I particularly liked this point - "Mr. Latory, a voodoo expert and an apologist for the corrupt and brutal Nigerian dictator Ibrahim Babangida." Hahaha.

Related: Our Summers coverage.

Posted by TangoMan at 07:48 PM | | TrackBack

Aryan Jews?

They are:

  • An ethnic group that has been around for 2000-2500 years.
  • Proud of their unique religion.
  • Have had a disproportionate role in the history of the West.
  • Are scattered in a Diaspora of millions as well as constituting a political nation in the Near East.
  • Are often a "market dominant minority."
  • Have been victims of a genocide which serves as an essential component of their modern self-identity.

No, I'm not talking about Jews, I'm talking about Armenians! Out of curiosity I tried to find anything interesting from a genetic angle on them, and all that yielded was Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), but, as the term indicates the condition is prevelant among many groups of Near Eastern origin (including Ashkenazi Jews).

More later (I will elaborate on the bullet points above)....

Posted by razib at 11:22 AM | | TrackBack


Interesting Edge essay by Armand Leroi.

Posted by fly at 10:01 AM | | TrackBack

March 14, 2005

Biology and Law

Understanding biological foundation of human behavior critical to improving laws

“"The legal system tends to assume that either people are purely rational actors or that their brains are blank slates on which culture and only culture is written. The reality is much more complicated and can only be appreciated with a deeper understanding of behavioral biology,” said Vanderbilt law professor and biologist Owen Jones. He co-authored the article with Timothy Goldsmith, Yale professor emeritus of molecular, cellular and developmental biology.”

“The Columbia Law Review is one of the most prestigious scholarly journals in the legal academy. The fact that it has agreed to publish this article signals the growing legitimacy and influence of the field of law and behavioral biology,” Chris Guthrie, associate dean for academic affairs at Vanderbilt Law School, said. “We are fortunate to have the country’s leading law and behavioral biology scholar here at Vanderbilt.”

Posted by fly at 03:03 PM | | TrackBack

American Jews and Israel

David Boxenhorn alerted me to this report: American Jewish Religious Denominations, and I thought I would cut & paste a slice of a table that I think is very interesting.

  Orthodox % Conservative % Reform % "Just Jewish" % Total %
Frequency of adults in the total Jewish population 10 27 35 26  
Very emotionally attached to Israel 68 39 21 24 32
Have every visited Israel 73 53 34 27 41
Strongly agree that "I have a strong sense
of belonging to the Jewish people"
91 74 56 39 60

These sort of numbers may explain why the Republican, and in particular George W. Bush's, stance in support of Israel has not swayed as many Jewish American voters as might be expected, as religious traditionalist Jews who are most concerned about this issue are already the ones most likely to be Republican.1

1 - Exit polls suggest that Bush received about 1/4 of the Jewish vote in 2004 , as opposed to 1/5 in 2000. A 20% increase, even in light of Bush's overall upswing in the popular vote, isn't half bad, but it certainly isn't a sea change, and the Lieberman factor (an observant Orthodox Jew) was at play in 2000.

Posted by razib at 12:56 PM | | TrackBack

March 13, 2005

Human biodiversity hits The New York Times

Via Steve, A Family Tree in Every Gene. Hits many of the major talking points, A. W. F. Edwards & correlation structure, a multidimensional topographical analogy, the use of populational information in medicine and the rejection of the typological strawman. If the middle-brow-journal-of-record publishes it...well, it's only a matter of time.

Posted by razib at 11:05 PM | | TrackBack

The New SAT

Chris Correa offers up a nice compendium of reactions to, and analysis of, the new SAT with a 25 minute essay section.

Among the articles he references is this editorial from the New York Times which questions the value of dropping analogies in favor of a 25 minute essay:

We are living in the age of the false, and often shameless, analogy. A slick advertising campaign compares the politicians working to dismantle Social Security to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a new documentary, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," Kenneth Lay compares attacks on his company to the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Intentionally misleading comparisons are becoming the dominant mode of public discourse. The ability to tell true analogies from false ones has never been more important. But to make room for the new essay portion of the SAT that was rolled out this weekend with much fanfare, the College Board has unceremoniously dropped the test's analogy questions, saying blandly that analogical reasoning will still be assessed "in the short and long reading passages."

The funniest part of Chris's post was when he linked to this Seattle Times report which highlighted the requirement of the essay being written in cursive, not in print:

"We were all laughing," Jenkins said. "Most high-school students do not remember cursive. We learned it in fourth or fifth grade and have not been required to use it. This was definitely the hardest thing on the test!"

Seeing how we're entering the Age of the Blog perhaps it is appropriate that students write a 25 minute essay on something they know absolutely nothing about.

Posted by TangoMan at 07:25 PM | | TrackBack

The Yuck! Factor

Razib's been kind enough to let me guest blog here at GNXP, so I thought I'd comment on his post on Headless Humans

But first, let me get the blatant self promotion out of the way! I'm the author of a new book titled More Than Human which I've also recently been blogging about. The book's about using biotech for human enhancement - gene therapy, genetic engineering, smart drugs, brain computer interfaces, that kind of thing. It also looks at the ethics and social consequences. You can buy a copy at Amazon.

What does this have to with headless humans? Razib rightly calls out that there's no more logical reason to object to brainless bodies grown as organ farms than there is to object to individual organs grown on lab scaffoldings.

I agree. The "Yuck!" reaction towards headless humans is instinctive, not logical. At the same time, that doesn't mean it can be ignored.

My personal suspicion is that the Yuck! factor is the single most powerful force that holds back adoption of new biotech advances - far larger than the moral or theological arguments of Leon Kass and other bioluddites.

History, I think, bears this out. A huge number of new biomedical techniques have been initially regarded as disgusting, immoral, or otherwise yucky. For instance, when Jenner introduced the smallpox vaccine, his critics seized on the fact that it had been cultivated from cowpox, and editorial cartoons appeared showing cow / human hybrids. The Catholic Church denounced the vaccine as a dangerous heresy - man messing with powers he did not understand. Malthus, a contemporary of Jenner, voiced that if the vaccine did work it would lead to uncontrollable population growth that would strip the world of all of its resources.

Yet less than two years later, Jenner was a hero. The vaccine worked, and that simple fact won the day. The moral arguments of the Church and social projections of Malthus hadn't really mattered at all. What had held people back was just the yuckiness of being injected with pus from a sick cow's sores. But people get over things that are yucky in time, and the best neutralizers of Yuck! are familiarity and any concrete benefits that derive from the product being offered.

Another example I posted about yesterday is in-vitro fertilization. When IVF was first introduced, there was a huge public outcry and people found the idea of "test tube babies" just a little repugnant. It was probably quite fortunate that Louise Joy Brown, the first IVF child, was a cute little blonde girl who grew up with no problems. That, plus the fact that the technique obviously did help infertile couples have children, quickly dispelled the Yuck! factor. It hasn't dispelled the qualms of critics like Leon Kass, who disliked IVF then on moral grounds and still dislikes it. But with the public acclimated to it, his moral objections no longer hold much weight.

The lessons here, I think, are

1) Even if two things are perfectly logically equivalent from an ethical viewpoint, the less yucky one is going to find easier adoption.

2) The best way to dispel yuck is to deliver value. Once people start having their lives saved by organ transplants from cloned organ banks, cloning is going to look a lot more prosaic, and will start to be thought of like vaccinations, blood transfusions, IVF, and all those other once repugnant technologies.

Addendum from Razib: I haven't finished Ramez's book yet-so that's why no comment from me, but, it's very informative and entertaining so far. I will point readers to GNXP regular NuSapiens weblog, where he has both a review and interview with Ramez.

Posted by ramez at 02:57 PM | | TrackBack

The precautionary principle's utility....

I have observed before that the Left and Right appeal to the precautionary principle in selective manners. Many environmentalist liberals will appeal to the complexity of natural systems, which evolved over millions of years, to argue against "development" and change. Similarly, conservatives will often suggest that organically developed social institutions achieved through a process of trial and error should not be tinkered with because we do not truly understand the complexity of the system and the ramifications of deleting customs and traditions which we assume must be unreasoning spandrels extraneous to functional considerations (the same universal acid at work).

Evolutionary biology and sociology are both complex sciences (broadly speaking) which rely on probability and statistics because of their evasion of deterministic universal laws on any level of granularity. One could contrast this with the physical sciences, where deterministic reductionism has been much more influential (though at its heart the basic quantum level of organization is probabilistic). Though both environmentalists and conservatives do express some caution about mechanical innovation, in general it does not seem to be as great a concern.

But...of course the physical & information sciences in the grand-scheme-of-things undergirds the life and social sciences. Is the distinction truly relevant? After all, the development of the technology usually has important consequences for both the environment and society. There are obvious "sexy" causes like stem cells or SUVs, but it seems likely to me that the internet and cell phone technologies have reshaped human social interaction and their likely impact on the environment to a far greater extent than stem cells or SUVs will for at least a generation.

How should we exactly trot out the precautionary principle? Should we ignore it as a principle and simply accept that its implementation will be ad hoc and contingent upon norms and values?

Addendum: On second thought, I want to make explicit I know that I am not being totally fair to social conservatives and environmentalists, they do often point out the acidic effect of the modern world on human life in a general sense, but in terms of specific activism, they seem to focus on "sexy" topics like the Kyoto Protocols or gay marriage, which seem ancillary to the root problems that modernity confronts those who adhere to the precautionary principle with. Granted, gay marriage or the Kyoto Protocols are issues which have legislative solutions, and legal fiat is relatively easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I don't think it undermines my general point, the modern present tears apart the time tested fabric wrought by the past with an unprecedented rapidity.

Posted by razib at 01:01 PM | | TrackBack

Education and ethnic groups in England

In a previous post I discussed educational performance in England by different ethnic groups in 2002. Razib recently drew attention to some new statistics. These go up to 2004, and are available in full here (490Kb pdf file). A document covering 2002 and 2003 is available here (254Kb).

Since 2002 there have been two interesting changes. In 2003 the statistics began to include results for mixed-race children, and for 2004 they also include results for qualifications at age 18, whereas previously they only went up to 16.

There is a lot of complicated information in these reports, so I have tried to extract some key points most useful for ethnic comparisons…

For the benefit of readers outside the UK, education here is compulsory for children from ages 5 to 16. There are some differences in the education system and qualifications between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The data discussed here relate only to England. In England the progress of children is assessed at the end of three Key Stages, at roughly ages 7, 11 and 14. In the last year of compulsory education (age 15/16) nearly all children take examinations for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). After age 16 a majority of children continue in education for at least another two years. At around age 18 most of these take examinations for the General Certificate of Education (Advanced) (the A-level), usually in 2 to 4 subjects. A-levels or equivalent qualifications are normally required for entry to universities.

The data for 2004 cover all of these levels (except Key Stage 3, results for which have been delayed). I have selected data for Key Stage 1, as this is the earliest measure of achievement; for GSCE, which is the last stage for which the data covers a complete age cohort; and for A-levels.

Two limitations of coverage should be noted. First, the data cover only children in state-funded schools. About 6% of children in England attend private (independent) schools and are therefore not included. These are mainly children of parents with high income. The data are therefore probably somewhat depleted in the higher levels of children’s ability. It is possible that this affects different ethnic groups to different extents. It might be supposed that private education would be disproportionately ’white’, but this cannot safely be assumed. Black and Asian middle-class parents are keen on private education, especially as it is often the only way of getting good discipline and/or single-sex schooling.

The second limitation of coverage is that the A-level data only relate to those children who stay in school to take A-levels. They exclude those who do not take A-levels at all, and those who leave school but take A-levels in post-16 colleges. This may introduce some distortion with respect to ethnic groups.

As to the content of the various qualifications, I cannot claim to know much about them. The Key Stage tests assess the achievement of ‘expected’ levels of progress at each stage. It is intended that with good teaching the great majority of normal children should be able to pass the Key Stage tests, and the proportions reaching the target levels are in fact over 80%. In other words, the ’hurdles’ are set relatively low. One consequence of this is that the range of pass rates for different ethnic groups is rather restricted (from around 75% to 90%). GCSE is somewhat more selective. GCSEs are graded from F to A (with starred A* recently introduced as a mark of excellence). The usual measure of ‘satisfactory’ performance is to get passes in at least 5 subjects at Grade C or higher. For GCE A-levels there is a complicated ‘points’ system depending on the number of passes at each grade. See the pdf file for more details.

Like all academic qualifications, one would expect performance on Key Stage tests, GCSEs, and A-levels to be positively correlated with IQ. However, IQ is certainly not the only factor involved in performance, as is shown by the fact that in the educational tests girls perform substantially better than boys, although the average IQ of boys and girls is much the same (see N. Mackintosh IQ and Human Intelligence, pp.182-98 for discussion). Another indicator is the fact that ‘traveller’ children (gypsies, etc), whose education is frequently disrupted, perform far below other ethnic groups. So the educational data give at best a very imperfect guide to IQ levels.

I will extract data for the following ethnic groups:

W = White (n1)
W/BC = Mixed White and Black Caribbean
W/BA = Mixed White and Black African
W/A = Mixed White and Asian
A = Asian (n2)
I = Indian
P = Pakistani
Ba = Bangladeshi
Bl = Black (n3)
BC = Black Caribbean
BA = Black African
C = Chinese (n4)
All = average for all children

n1: in the full data ’White’ is subdivided into White British and several other smaller groups.
n2: ’Asian’ covers Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and ’other Asian’. ’Other Asian’ covers miscellaneous groups (Vietnamese, etc), but not Chinese. Middle Easterners (Arabs, Turks, etc) may be included in ’other Asian’, but in the 2001 Census most of them seem to classify themselves as ’White’. People of Asian origin via the Caribbean or east Africa usually give ‘Indian’ as their self-identified ethnicity.
n3: ’Black’ includes Black African, Black Caribbean, and ’Black Other’. ’Black Other’ may include some mixed-race children, but those who are known to have a White parent should be counted under W/BC or W/BA.
n4: ethnic Chinese people in Britain are mainly of Hong Kong origin. They are traditionally counted separately from other Asians in British statistics.

Now, at last, some statistics. For Key Stage 1 I have averaged the pass rates for the three tests (Reading, Writing and Mathematics) covered in the full data. For GCSE, the figures give the percentages of children at age 15/16 getting passes in at least 5 subjects at Grade C or higher. For GCE A-level, the figures give average aggregate points per student who attempts A-levels. As performance is so different for boys and girls, I have given data for boys, girls, and the average for both sexes. Percentages are given to one decimal place.



*I have averaged the pass rates for the three subjects using percentages for each subject rounded to the nearest point. The average therefore necessarily terminates in .0, .3 (i.e. .333... rounded down), or .7 (i.e. .666... rounded up). Anyone who wants to calculate the averages more precisely from the raw data is welcome to do so!





It may be of interest to put these results in rank order of ethnic groups. For simplicity I will only use the combined boy-girl data.


1. C________91.0
2. I_________89.0
3. W/A______88.7
4. W_______86.3
5. W/BA____84.0
6. W/BC____83.3
7. A________81.7
8. BC______80.3
9. Bl_______79.0
10. BA______78.3
11(=) P_____77.7
11(=) Ba____77.7


1. C________74.2
2. I_________66.6
3. W/A______65.7
4. A________55.3
5. W_______52.3
6. Ba_______48.4
7. W/BA_____47.1
8. P________45.2
9. BA_______43.3
10. W/BC____39.7
11. Bl_______39.0
12. BC______35.7


1. C________315
2. W/A______301
3. W________277
4. W/BA_____268
5. I_________257
6. W/BC_____247
7. A_________244
8. BA________223
9. P_________218
10. Bl________217
11. Ba_______216
12. BC_______203

Ignoring the mixed-race data for the moment, the other ethnic groups show few surprises as compared with the earlier data. The rank order is not very different at the different stages. The Chinese are consistently at the top, Indians are high, and Black Caribbeans are low. But note that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis start at the very bottom in Key Stage 1, and improve somewhat in later stages. Black Africans also improve from a low starting position. I suspect that in both cases this is due to an initial English language deficit, which they later overcome. The other slight anomaly is that Indians slip back somewhat from their high position when they get to A-level. Bearing in mind that the A-level rankings are based only on those children who take A-levels, it is possible that Indian children are under greater social and parental pressure than other ethnic groups to take A-levels, as a prerequisite for university entry, even when they are less academically able. This would depress the average score of Indian candidates. Of course, this suggestion would need to be explored more fully.

Turning to the mixed-race results, the performance of White-Black Caribbean and White-Black African children is intermediate between that of children from the relevant unmixed groups. This is what we would expect if the factors underlying academic performance have a large genetic component. No doubt one could also find a purely environmental explanation, though it is not obvious (to me, anyway) that children of White and Black parents would have a quality of environment somewhere in between that of ‘pure’ White and Black children. But in any case the neat pattern is spoiled by the mixed White-Asian group, who have performance better than that of either of the parent groups (unless we suppose that the Asian parent is nearly always Indian, which is not the case). I suppose it might be suggested that this is due to ‘hybrid vigour’, but I think this hypothesis is ’more ingenious than sound’. It is necessary to remember that mixed-race partnerships are not a random sample of the parent populations, so there could be bias either upward or downward in the genetic and environmental endowment of mixed-race children, relative to the average of the parent ethnic groups. I didn’t expect to find any useful facts on the subject, but I was pleased to find some interesting recent research by Reya Muttarak of the University of Oxford. Indeed it is so interesting that I will devote a future post to it! For the moment, the main point to note is that in Britain mixed-race partnerships are on average associated with higher-than-average educational attainment and social class (relative to the relevant group averages) of both partners. The correlation is particularly strong for Asians, fairly strong for Black women, but less clear-cut for Black men. The high performance of White-Asian children therefore correlates with the relatively high average educational and social level of both their parents. Obviously this correlation could be given either a genetic or an environmental explanation.

I had intended also to discuss the links, if any, between poverty, ethnic group, and educational performance, but I will save that for another post.

Posted by David B at 07:35 AM | | TrackBack