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May 14, 2005

Not out of southeast Asia

John Hawks has a must read post about the new Science paper mentioned below.

Posted by razib at 07:11 PM | | TrackBack

Surprising results from the new Pew poll...

Here are some of the more surprising of the results from the latest Pew Research Center poll, "Beyond Red vs. Blue."

First of all, lets start off with the categories that the poll divided people into. You can find more info about each of these categories by following this link.


Here are the results of whom each group is most likely to vote for:


... and the centrists generally lean toward the GOP side of the isle:


Now that that's out of the way, time to get to the good stuff.

First, in direct contradiction to polls released last year, the report states that...

Enterprisers [Bush's strongest supporters] follow news about government and politics more closely than any other group, and exhibit the most knowledge about world affairs. The Fox News Channel is their primary source of news (46% cite it as a main source)...

Most Americans support tort reform:


Most Americans have no problems with trade:


... but they do have a problem with outsourcing:


A slight majority of Americans have no problems with guest workers, with the most opposition on the Democratic side of the isle:


The majority of Americans, and Republicans, support universal health insurance in some form:


The vast majority of Americans think that displaying the Ten Commandments on government buildings is "proper":


Bush's strongest supporters, the Enterprisers, are the least likely of Republicans to attend Bible study or prayer meetings:


The vast majority of Americans think that preemptive military action can be justified:


Americans as a whole are generally tolerant of Christian conservatives and Muslims. Interestingly enough, Liberals have a much, much, much stronger opinion of Muslims than they do of Christian conservatives:


Finally, and perhaps most disturbing of all, the vast majority of Americans support teaching creationism alongside evolution in schools:


So, this is very interesting and surprising data. I strongly recommend that everyone should read the report or look at the stances of the voting blocks on the various issues. There's a lot more interesting stuff in the report than just the stuff I posted here, although it was weak on many areas, such as on issues concerning immigration. I also highly recommend looking at the principle findings.

Also, take their typology test and see where you stand... I'm an Enterpriser, in case anyone cares. :)

Posted by Arcane at 06:06 PM | | TrackBack

The great squeezes

Check out this grap of the temperature changes over the past 40,000 years extrapolated from Greenland ice cores (click for larger images):

Or this from the Antarctic for the past 450,000 years:

We have lived in charmed millennia...imagine how difficult it must have been for Eurasian populations of homonids to react to these climatic changes. One hypothesis I offered about the cause of homogenous Eurasian genetic markers is that there have been many population bottlenecks induced by climate change. On an unrelated note some researchers have suggested that the preternatural stability of temperature regimes over the past 10,000 years is the result of agriculture and domestication of animals (cattle produce a large percentage of the world's methane output). How's that for "extended phenotype."

Posted by razib at 03:03 PM | | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

Out of Africa by coast...once...maybe???

Early African migrants made eastward exit (caution Will Robinson!). Nick Wade has more. The ubiquitous Stephen Oppenheimer makes a cameo, a bad sign in my opinion as far as scientific objectivity is concerned. In his book The Last Eve Oppenheimer blandly states that human lineages have gone their separate ways since the Last Glacial Maximum, that is, for about the past 20,000 years! (I am willing to concede a far amount of persistent deep time substructure...but Oppenheimer has never heard of the words "back migration," nor does he reconcile his strident viewpoints with demic diffusions) He spends a great deal of time muddling on about Southeast Asia, coming to the conclusion that all the various peoples and phenotypes of that region have been extent there since time imemmorial (or more specifically, since the Toba Event). Both articles I point to offer cautious but firm dissent even from traditional proponents of the Out-of-Africa thesis, Chris Stringer and Richard Klein (Klein also is a fan of the Great Leap Forward). The important point is that the researchers seem to be suggesting that the indigenous people of Southeast Asia have been genetically isolated from surrounding populations for the past 65,000 years!!!. They came and planted themselves in the rainforests like the rock of ages. I've got a bridge to sell them. Seriously though, there is modern genetic evidence that in the local region agriculturalists have "reverted" to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, while splendid medieval empires like Majapahit were a force from Sumatra to the Moluccas and even into the Borneo of the Orang Asli (someone forgot to tell these Sarawak tribals about their long-standing policy of genetic isolation). Wow, 2s is looking a hell of a lot more plausible. In any case, the paper below is basically a restatement of the central core of Oppenheimer's book, no wonder he's getting all giddy.

The abstract from Science (Macaulay et al.):

A recent dispersal of modern humans out of Africa is now widely accepted, but the routes taken across Eurasia are still disputed. We show that mitochondrial DNA variation in isolated "relict" populations in southeast Asia supports the view that there was only a single dispersal from Africa, most likely via a southern coastal route, through India and onward into southeast Asia and Australasia. There was an early offshoot, leading ultimately to the settlement of the Near East and Europe, but the main dispersal from India to Australia ~65,000 years ago was rapid, most likely taking only a few thousand years.

Full text (cut & paste) below....

Now, another article does posit a separation on the order of 50-70,000 years of the Andamanese from mainland Eurasians. But, the authors tend to be more upfront about issues relating to genetic drift, and unlike the Semang or Orang Asli the Andamanese are rather out of the way. I am not totally discounting all elements of the narrative pressed forward above, but, genes serve as flexible instructions to shape and mold a human's phenotype, the lineages are all their own, and the concordance of the gene lineages with "individual" lineages, let alone populations, is I think an often tenditiously assumed axiom in many of these research papers. The authors above make the identity of genes:individuals, groups of genes:groups of people. Working back over 2,000 generations with such assumptions is I think a somewhat sketchy proposition unless your variables are controlled for (eg; at least the Andamans are islands, which are noted for fostering relatively genetically isolated people. For example, Sardinia is situated in the rather populous Mediterranean, but it often is an outlier in Principal Component Analysis diagrams of European genetics). Or, if your facts are so crystal clear, the narrative so compelling, the predictions so spot on, than the model is simply self-evidently true. But at this point I think that Recent-Out-of-Africa has depleted all the parsimony capital it had saved up, at least from where I stand.


The traditional "out of Africa" model for modern human origins posits an ancestry in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by a dispersal via the Levant ~45,000 years ago (1, 2). However, the suggestion of an earlier "southern route" dispersal from the Horn of Africa ~60,000 to 75,000 years ago, along the tropical coast of the Indian Ocean to southeast Asia and Australasia (3, 4), has recently gained ground (5-8). Part of its rationale has been the presence of a number of "relict" populations in southern India and southeast Asia; it has been suggested that these populations might be the descendants of such an earlier dispersal, along with Papuans and Aboriginal Australians (9).

Following the work of Vigilant et al. (10), Watson et al. (11) provided evidence from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) patterns for a single dispersal from Africa, although not distinguishing between a northern or southern route. More recently, the existence of a southern route has been supported by analyses of mtDNA restriction enzyme data from New Guinea (12) and control region sequences from mainland India and the Andaman Islands (13-16). Meanwhile, archaeological evidence has been found for the occupation of the coast of Eritrea ~125,000 years ago—the oldest known indication of human exploitation of marine resources (17).

Fig. 1. Reconstructed phylogeny of 31 mtDNA coding region sequences. mtDNAs from the Malay Peninsula are indicated by solid circles at the tips of the tree. [View Larger Version of this Image (16K GIF file)]
However, the published genetic data remain sufficiently ambiguous for some geneticists to reject the very existence of a southern route (18), and the question of single versus multiple dispersals also remains in dispute. What is needed to distinguish between the different dispersal hypotheses are well-resolved sequence data from the relict populations themselves. Here, we test the possible dispersal routes with a maximum likelihood analysis of complete mtDNA genomes from the Orang Asli—the aboriginal inhabitants of Malaysia and the principal relict group in southeast Asia (19)—in the context of other eastern Eurasian and Australasian lineages.

We sampled 260 maternally unrelated Orang Asli, including (i) Semang, who live (or lived until recently) in small, nomadic hunter-gatherer groups in the lowland rainforests; (ii) Senoi, who are traditionally swidden agriculturalists; and (iii) Aboriginal Malays, horticulturalists and fishers who most resemble physically the majority Melayu Malays. It is widely agreed that the Orang Asli, especially the Semang, are aboriginal inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula (19, 20). Moreover, there is a well-documented archaeological record of continuous occupation by hunter-gatherers throughout the Holocene, and an essentially continuous hunter-gatherer record from at least 40,000 (perhaps 70,000) years ago (21).

A reconstructed phylogeny of eastern Eurasian mtDNA genomes is shown in Fig. 1 (see fig. S1 for branch labels); ages of the principal nodes in the tree are shown in table S3. This analysis yields a time to the most recent common ancestor of all humans (TMRCA) of ~200,000 years ago, in close agreement with Mishmar et al. (22). Haplogroup L3 (the African clade that gave rise to the two basal non-African clades, haplogroups M and N) is ~84,000 years old, and haplogroups M and N themselves are almost identical in age at ~63,000 years old, with haplogroup R diverging rapidly within haplogroup N ~60,000 years ago. This agrees quite well with the similarity of ages of M and N noted by Forster et al. (12) [see also (23)] and with the ages of both autochthonous R lineages in India (24) and the three major haplogroups in China (25).

Three possible hypotheses can be distinguished using these data. If modern non-Africans are descendants of populations that dispersed along both northern and southern routes, then mtDNA lineages belonging to relict populations (including Orang Asli, Papuans, and Aboriginal Australians) should diverge from founder types that are distinct from those leading to the main continental Eurasian groups. If there were just a single dispersal, then all non-African populations should diverge from the same set of founders, which would coalesce to ~45,000 to 50,000 years ago if the Levantine corridor model were correct, or ~60,000 to 75,000 years ago if they were all the result of the proposed earlier single southern route (4). At this time, a northern passage was most likely blocked by desert and semi-desert (26).

We assessed the distribution of mtDNAs present in the Orang Asli (table S2) by searching for their associated control region motifs in the worldwide mtDNA database (27). Several are shared with other southeast Asian populations, and these most likely indicate Holocene introgression (25, 28). However, most are virtually unique to the Orang Asli and are therefore likely to be indigenous. This strongly supports the suggestion that the Orang Asli harbor "relict" mtDNA lineages with time depths of ~44,000 to 63,000 years (27). Their restricted distribution makes it very likely that these lineages diverged around that time within mainland southeast Asia. Although caution is warranted given the time depths involved, this conclusion is plausible on environmental grounds. Forests would have flourished on the lowlands abutting the Malaysian Peninsula throughout the last glacial period (21), which implies that this region acted as a glacial refuge where populations survived and genetic diversity was maintained. Although it is likely that waves of replacement occurred during the late Holocene to the north of the peninsula and on the coasts, it appears that they did not take place in the interior rainforest—or at least that the ancestors of the Orang Asli survived, albeit in low numbers, in Malaysia (20).

Furthermore, examination of recently published complete mtDNA genomes from Papuans and Aboriginal Australians (29) shows an analogous situation in which the lineages are predominantly unique to Australasia but diverge from the base of all three founder haplogroups. Both the indigenous Malaysian mtDNAs and those of Australasia are derived from the three major Eurasian founder haplogroups, M, N, and R, which are also found alongside one another to the west in the Indian subcontinent (15) as well as throughout continental Asia (25, 28).

The very similar ages of haplogroups M, N, and R indicate that they were part of the same colonization process [see (23)]. This most likely involved the exodus of a founding group of several hundred individuals (27) from East Africa, some time after the appearance of haplogroup L3 ~85,000 years ago, followed by a period of mutation and drift during which haplogroups M, N, and R evolved and the ancestral L3 was lost. Although the details of this period remain to be elucidated, the next stage is much clearer. The presence in each region of the same three founder haplogroups, but differentiated into distinct subhaplogroups, indicates that there was a rapid coastal dispersal from ~65,000 years ago around the Indian Ocean littoral and on to Australasia. Firm minimum archaeological age estimates are somewhat more recent— ~50,000 years for Australia (30) and ~45,000 years for southeast Asia (31)—but early evidence may have been lost to sea level rises. Moreover, human populations may then have diffused from the coast into the continental interiors more gradually, leaving a greater archaeological signature on the landscape as they grew in size.

This evidence suggests that this coastal trail was likely the only route taken during the Pleistocene settlement of Eurasia by the ancestors of modern humans, and that the primary dispersal process, at least from India to Australasia, was very rapid. A founder analysis of western, southern, and eastern Eurasian and Australasian complete mtDNAs suggested a shallow gradient of arrival times, from ~66,000 years ago in India to ~63,000 years ago in Australasia (table S4). Assuming a distance of ~12,000 km, this allowed us to estimate a dispersal rate of ~4 km/year from point estimates, a little lower than estimates for the more recent expansion into the Americas (32). An approximate lower bound on the dispersal rate is ~0.7 km/year, comparable to the recolonization of Europe after the ice age (33).

By contrast with South Asians, eastern Eurasians, and Australasians, western Eurasians have a high level of haplogroup-level diversity within haplogroups N and R, but lack haplogroup M almost entirely (34). The colonization of western Eurasia has usually been thought to have been the result of a "northern route" dispersal out of Africa, through North Africa and the Levant (4), but the close similarity of the mtDNA founder age to that of India (table S4) suggests that it was most likely the result of an early offshoot of colonization along the southern route, followed by a lengthy pause until the climate improved (26) and the ancestors of western Eurasians were able to enter the Levant and Europe. This implies that the subsequent Upper Paleolithic "revolution" in western Eurasia was one regional indication of the emergence of modern humans, rather than a radical break with the past (35).


Posted by razib at 08:03 PM | | TrackBack

"Signs and demonstrations of religious membership in the school establishments"

I can't read French, but readers who can might want to check out this report about education and religious tensions.

Posted by razib at 07:57 PM | | TrackBack


I know that like moi many readers travel a fair amount. I stumbled on this weblog that lists some deals, don't know how long it'll be around, but if you are curious....

Posted by razib at 05:17 PM | | TrackBack

Animal Behavior Through the Lense of Autism

Thought this was interesting. A review of Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson's book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behaviour in the new Nature:

There are two remarkable things about Temple Grandin. The first is that she has arguably done more than anyone else in the world to improve the welfare of animals in a practical way. Her major contribution has been to go into places that most of us would probably prefer not to think about — slaughterhouses — and imagine what it would be like to be an animal on its way to being killed. She has dramatically improved the welfare of these animals, not by making any expensive modifications to the slaughter plants but by suggesting simple changes that cost nothing, such as removing a yellow coat hanging over a grey fence, or altering the lighting to eliminate shiny reflections from a puddle. By removing stimuli that frighten cattle and cause them to stop and pile up on one another, the cattle move more easily, they don't slip and fall, and the use of electric goads is almost unnecessary


Her autism, she believes, gives her a remarkable insight into the way animals see the world. Animals, like autists, concentrate on detail. It is obvious to her that the yellow coat would be a scary stimulus to a cow, but the rest of us, concentrating on the bigger picture, would simply not realize unless it was pointed out to us.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 05:50 AM | | TrackBack

New Rodent Family?

A biologist claims to have discovered a new family of rodents in Laos (or strictly, a new species of rodent which has been classified in its own family).

See the NYT report here. (Free registration may be required.)

Posted by David B at 02:38 AM | | TrackBack

May 11, 2005

Suddenly sexy

The mental effects of bariatric surgery:

“If the woman married when she was thin, had kids, became obese, and then had the surgery, the marriage almost always got a lot better,” he explains. (An estimated 75 percent of all bariatric patients are female.) “But if the woman married someone while she was obese and then became pretty . . . well, then she found a job. Got her colors done. Felt better about herself. And almost every one of those marriages ended in divorce.”
Posted by Thrasymachus at 05:15 PM | | TrackBack

Smarter Mothers Have Boys?
Mothers pregnant with boys may be less forgetful than those carrying girls, Canadian researchers said on Tuesday.

The researchers said they found evidence that women who gave birth to boys consistently outperformed moms of girls in tests that specifically taxed memory in areas of listening, computational and visualization skills.

Interesting. But more importantly, this is the perfect excuse for pregnancy anecdotes. Tell your stories.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 03:08 PM | | TrackBack

Brown must not kill brown

A curious thread over at SM...some brown readers are surprised that the acts of the famous Amritsar Massacre were carried by brown soldiers.

There are two issues here, first, the notion that a sense of "India" existed nationally (as opposed to among an educated literate, and often Anglicized, native elite). I will disregard that, and focus on the fact that brown did kill brown (to rephrase a maxim in the last "Planet of the Apes" film). Throughout history the enemies that are greatest are those near to you. In the case of Bengali Muslims for example, prior to 1947 those enemies where their co-ethnics, the Bengali Hindus (in particular the upper caste elite of Calcutta). In the 1940s the main redoubt of the Muslim League was in eastern Bengal where local Muslims voted their resentment against religiously different, but ethno-racially similar, people. After 1947 the "enemy" changed into the Punjabi elite of West Pakistan, co-religionists who were ethnically and racially different. My personal observation within my family is that older individuals, those who have experienced "the boot" of Hindu bhadrolok ("gentleman") domination tend to be almost nostalgic for Pakistan. In contrast, young people, especially those born after 1947 (my parents' generation) tend to be more positive toward an assertion of Bengali identity, because "the boot" they experienced was Punjabi.

In sum, hatreds and coalitions are situational, and the epicycles are far more important in many ways that the great overarching pattern. Life is more often about a clash of clans than a clash of civilizations. The Campbells will always be with us.

Posted by razib at 11:09 AM | | TrackBack

May 10, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

I think this interview about the film The Kingdom of Heaven is worth the read. I watched the movie, it was acceptable at the matinee price (though the length was a bit much), though the battle scenes weren't as good as what you got at the beginning of Gladiator (Ridley Scott, same schtick). You saw a lot less of Eva Green than in The Dreamers (the link not work safe!).

Also, I would like to pass on this factual tidbit: in 1620 in Haarlem (in The Netherlands) 20% of the population was Reformed, 12.5% Roman Catholic, 14% Baptist, 1% percent Lutheran and 1% were members of the Walloon church. That leaves 52.5% of the population heterodox, or not fully involved in any one church (source: The Reformation by Ulinka Rublack). The CIA Factbook says that today The Netherlands (as a whole) is 31% Roman Catholic, 21% Protestant, Muslim 4.4%, other 3.6%, unaffiliated 40%.

Addendum: On the Ridley Scott film, I would like to offer that of course I find the defeatism of the likes of the director rather repellant and bizarre. But, I don't find it surprising so I wasn't taken aback. My rather mild response to the film was the fact that some of the scenes were executed decently and the historical errors were relatively less egregious than I'd assumed they would be. Additionally, though I don't think that the motivations and worldviews of men 1,000 years ago were unbelievably different from "moderns," neither am I wholly comfortable with the interpretations of the period offered from the Left, Right and Middle and all points orthogonal. Frankly, the high Medieval Period is so richly textured and complex that any assertion is partly correct, the key being the extent and magnitude of the "partly" portion.

Posted by razib at 10:52 PM | | TrackBack

Biology...the messy science

An interesting post on "chimeras" at the EvolvGen weblog. Common sense conceptions of "kinds" don't fair well when evolutionary biologists push the envelope of the possible.

Consider tiger-lion matings. Neither form of hybrid,ligers1 and tigons, are necessarily sterile. Some sources indicate that ligers are generally not sterile2 (there are fewer references to tigons because mating a male tiger with a female lion is a more difficult deed), and most of the references to their sterility seem presumptive based on their hybrid nature. Of course in nature tiger-lion matings are rare for ecological and ethological reasons.

Update: Steve's comment about the interfertility of the panthera genus ("big cats") being important to Creationists made me reflect on something. This 1995 paper gives a rather broad 1-10 million year range for the "radiation" of the genus, which seems to be monophyletic (see for yourself). There has been a lot of talk on this weblog about the possible interfertility between various homonid lineages. It is interesting to consider that it seems plausible that the lion and tiger lineages have been distinct for at least 2 million years, and possibly longer. Yet they still issue semifertile offspring. Recall that the truly interesting point about cross-homonid matings is not widescale genetic exchange, but the movement of advantageous alleles between populations.

1 - You heard about them in Napoleon Dynamite.

2 - Though I would bet genetic incompatibilities reduce their reproductive fitness greatly even if they aren't sterile. Additionally, the references to male sterility (as opposed to female fertility) suggest that sperm motility is probably an issue. But though they are reproductively less fit, male ligers are probably the king of cats if size is any judge, they are reputed to be larger than both their parent species.

Posted by razib at 09:25 PM | | TrackBack

Hey Kids! Porn!

If you were conducting a campaign against pornography, would you include "Rub It Out" among your catchphrases?

I wouldn't be so sure about giving it the elbow either.

via BBC News

See also
"Mine's a Double" via FARK
"There's still a lot of Queens in George Tenet"

Posted by jeet at 04:55 PM | | TrackBack

Murder as usual for young America

It’s time again to drag out America’s new favourite dataset couple into the limelight – Abortion and Murder! To be specific, I’m going to talk a bit about the age-based criticism of the Levitt and Donohue paper that Steve Sailer has been pushing for some time now.

First, a short recap: Sailer’s critique is based around the fact that the age group 14-17, that started enjoying the crime-stopping benefits of abortion rights in 1987 or so, responded to this improvement by going on a significant murder spree. (A quickie regression between cumulative abortion impact for the age group and the 14-17 murder rate yields a negative adjusted R2) Levitt explains this phenomenon by pointing to the Crack Wars of the early 1990-ies. Sailer, in turn, is fond of using this graph to support his point:


Now, while this certainly is a bump in the road for Levitt and Donohue, they can stage a strong comeback by pointing to the 18-24 age group instead, where the magic of OLS gives them plenty more to write home (or to a top journal) about.

Especially when controlling for a few variables like the incarceration rate, the cumulative abortion impact of the 18-24 group yields a big R2, as well as significant coefficients.

There are two major problems remaining, however, in addition to the murderous teen thing. Both problems are visible in the graph below:


Problem one: After the crack epidemic subsided, the 18-24 group settled down on pretty much the level of murderousness displayed during the (largely abortion-impact-free) period of 1970-86. This is the same pattern as among the 14-17 year-olds, where the “abortion effect” could not be detected. This could be a mere coincidence, of course. If abortion had not been present, the 18-24 year-olds might very well have continued to murder each other at unprecedented rates, due to some unknown force unrelated to the crack wars, while the 14-17 age group would have returned to normalcy. This, however, leads us to problem number two.

Problem two: The only real murder reduction in the US has taken place among the older generations – the 25 years and above category has seen its murder rate decline since the beginning of the 1980-ies. These generations are the ones that are largely untouched by abortion. (The first abortion-improved cohort entered the 25+ category in 1998)

Finally, my own take, really short version: The crack epidemic made youths more murderous than usual, and when it subsided they went back to murdering each other at normal rates. Meanwhile, ever-increasing incarceration rates made it a lot harder to stay on the street in the long run as a career criminal, and thus, the oldies got to murder each other less than in the good ol’ days. Levitt's abortion-crime relationship for the 18-24 age group is pure coincidence.


So, what point am I trying to make, aside from the ones Sailer has already made?

What I found interesting is that the "Levitt effect" really appears to exist at first glance, but that it is confined to 18-24 year-olds. I don't find that correlation very convincing in terms of being the cause behind the murder decline, however, because of the reasons stated above.

Second, I really don't think Sailer pushes the most striking factoid hard enough: Murders have only declined among older people, while all youth groups - including the big-R-squared 18-24 gang that Levitt depends on - show constant murder rates, if you ignore the crack spike. Instead, Sailer focuses more on the 14-17 discrepancy, but I think the fact that there really is no murder reduction *at all* to show for all those abortions is a lot more striking, and thus likely to change minds. If I am incorrect in these views, link away , and I will update / correct / delete. (I am a regular Sailer reader and a fan, after all)

Posted by dobeln at 05:14 AM | | TrackBack

May 09, 2005


Mitochondrial DNA variants linked to renal, prostate cancer.

Via Dienekes.

Related: Saami and berbers-an unexpected mitochondrial DNA link. The mitochondrial DNA link is a clade within haplgroup U, the mtDNA variant which might result in the negative selection pressure noted above. Abstract:

Intriguingly, the Saami of Scandinavia and the Berbers of North Africa were found to share an extremely young branch, aged merely ∼9,000 years. This unexpected finding not only confirms that the Franco-Cantabrian refuge area of southwestern Europe was the source of late-glacial expansions of hunter-gatherers that repopulated northern Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum but also reveals a direct maternal link between those European hunter-gatherer populations and the Berbers.

I've talked about the Iberian refugia multiple times, but generally I have been skeptical of a Berber connection because of various studies, including a recent one that carries the title A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for Y-Chromosomal DNA Variation in North Africa. But though the Saami display a particular DNA motif at frequencies of near 50%, among the Berbers the frequency is exhibited in the range of ~2% (similar to populations of southwestern Europe). The above link indicates that negative selection might have played some role in reducing the frequency of this haplogroup. It might be that the fitness hit might have impacted Saami and the peoples of southwestern Europe and northern Africa differently (the environments and diets are very different). Additionally, I don't know how much credit to put in the Saami frequencies since bottleneck effects are attributed to this population (in the far north of Europe with a specialized lifestyle they inhabit a functional genetic island). Nevertheless, the presence of a high frequency of a haplogroup whose origin is likely in Iberia in northern Scandinavia adds a layer of complexity to our perception of European demographic pasts, while the possibility of selection muddles it even further....

Posted by razib at 09:00 PM | | TrackBack

On science - II

My post What people need to know about science...according to scientists generated some interesting responses. Quick rejoinders:

  • My rather spare and parsimonious emphasis on the paramount importance of systematic method, with a further decomposition into rational, empirical and skepticism elements does not mean I believe these are the only things necessary for good science, rather, I think they are the pith at the heart of the difference between Western science as it crystallized over the past few hundred years and non-Western "science," medieval "science" and yes, even Greek "science."
  • Intuition, curiosity, hard-work and passion are all crucial cogs in the machine that is the individual scientist, but I hold that all are irrelevant without the aspects noted above. European and Taoist alchemy for example no doubt had practioners with all of the listed laudable characteristics, to no avail.
  • Science also works within a community. This means that falsification can come from any direction, hypotheses are scrutinized in the public eye and data is pooled. But, it also opens up the Kuhnian point about "paradigms" and the socially mediated aspect of science. This is true of course, but the important thing to note is that paradigms do shift, reality is the final arbiter. To use a genetical analogy, a locus (topic) might be polymorphic (alternative hypotheses) for a time, but eventually one allele (theory) fixes so that it becomes part of the "genetic background" (fundamental laws and established models) against with evolution (science) works.
  • I suspect what John was saying in asserting that science "isn't something special or different" is that the method of science works because the content that science chooses to examine is carefully pre-screened. One can imagine a scientific method as an enzyme binding on to the substrate which is the content, but for the binding to take the substrate and enzyme must "fit" in a lock and key. Instead of the scientific method dictating the terms of what is to be science, scientifically tractable problems might have dictated the methods and forms that science took.

Addendum: An acquaintance of mine mentioned offhand that he had a strong suspicion that the Manchester School of liberal economics had a strong influence on the individual-centric competitive perspective that colored early Darwinian evolutionary theory (Malthus was also a strong influence). Though my acquaintance abhors individualistic capitalism and the Manchester School's neoliberal descendents, he admitted that evolution seems to work on just those principles (this is most clear after the work of William D. Hamilton and George C. Williams in the 1960s that placed the individual, as opposed to the species or group, front and center in evolutionary theory). The moral of the story is that even if a social milieu has a powerful shaping influence on the models that science might produce: that does not necessarily imply that the model is flawed (most models are flawed after all). In contrast, deep into the 1980s the Japanese promoted theories about primate ethology (in particular macaques) that emphasized unselfish behaviors "for the good of the species" as opposed to intraspecies competition. In the end, such models had to cede ground to the data. In the end the data trumps culture.

Posted by razib at 08:12 PM | | TrackBack

Follow up on the substance of the Left's style

My previous post really went off topic on the Peak Oil issue. I didn't mean for it to veer in that direction, but that's like a drunk driver asserting that he didn't mean to drive into the tree, so my bad.

Here is my point: I sympathize a great deal with the individualist/civil liberties issues that many liberals push for. I disagree with, but can understand, economic populism. On the other hand, the identity politics discourse really gets on my nerves. It's like the SAT analogies section all over again! (yes, I'm that old) It is a bizarro style of intellectual posing that serves little genuine greater social purpose, but does establish oneself within their own narrow sociopolitical ecology in terms of status. To make an analogy, imagine a learned Jew1 in a Eastern European shtetl who is a master of rabbincal disputation. There is a whole world outside the shtetl that the Jew doesn't care about, doesn't engage with, and that has contempt for the Jew because of his perceived alienness. But the fact remains that the Jew is still part of the world by virtue of the reality that his urban lifestyle is dependent on the surpluses produced by the rest of the society, his own ecosystem is simply nested within the greater social system.

My personal observation is that among many elite liberals this peculiar identity politics discourse and verbal genuflection toward ghost sensitivities has started to spiral out of control in a runaway selection effect. This does two things

  1. It weakens genuine Left-Right tension and oppositional politics (good from where I sit in the idiosyncratic-party-of-one) because the Left becames rather good at auto-cannibalizing because of the strong pressure of individual selection and preening within the Left ecology. The greater importance of intrapolitical competition explains I suspect the difference in the nature of the Left and Right ecologies in the United States, or at least the perception that the Right is simultaneously more unified and tolerant of internal dissent. (the Schiavo dispute brought out the same bizarro preening on the social Right as well)

  2. The sharp rhetorical tools which are developed by the Left-shtetl ecology are exported out into the general society to far more substantive social effect (a previous example of this is the anti-porn feminist rhetoric that was put to good use by social values conservatives).2

John has already talked about the decline of populism in the Democratic party. I don't necessarily think that is totally a bad thing, but some populism is also I think good for the republic (else we become might as well become a plutocratic-oligarchy in name as well as fact). But populism requires mobilization and focus on material issues as opposed to mental demons.

1 - Warning! Warning! Using the term "Jew" and making an analogy with a shtetl is not an opening for Jew baiting! Alas, perhaps I'm drinking and driving again....

2 - A very clear illustration of the power and force of the social Left in reshaping the "norm" on the Right is the book One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism, authored by Creationist svengali Ken Ham. Though to be fair in the 18th century the Christian monogenists stood their ground against secularist polygenists (who asserted that human races were tatamount to distinct species with disparate origins), by the 19th century the racialist tenor of the times had seeped into Christianity, and I would argue that the pull of the surrounding culture deracialized much of the more fundamentalist Protestant strands of white American Christianity in the 20th century just as it had volkified it in the previous.

Posted by razib at 04:58 PM | | TrackBack

Why it was "The Ancestor's Tale"

Reading a bit about inbreeding and population bottlenecks I came upon the extreme example of the northern elephant seal. In the late 19th century its population was reduced to about 20 individuals (undiscovered and isolated on a Mexican island). Today, there are around ~100,000 northern elephant seals. Compared to the southern elephant seal the northern hemisphere species exhibits far less genetic variation (surprise!). A relatively recent paper concluded that the diversity of southern elephant seals on a particular MHC locus was comparable to humans. While the northern elephant seal can be characterized by two mtDNA haplotypes (frequencies of 0.275 and 0.725) the southern elephant seal on South Georgia Island alone exhibits 23 mtDNA haplotypes (Hedrick 2000).

This sort of data makes it intuitively clear why population long term effective population of a species may be far closer to the low end of the range than the high end of the range (the long term effective population size is the harmonic mean of the size in individual generations, about ~ t/(Σ1/Ni). Evaluated over the past few thousand years the northern and southern elephant seals would have numbers of genealogical ancestors in keeping with their modern population sizes, but examining their diversity of alleles would suggest that the former went through a recent bottleneck and had a small "effective population" evaluated over the whole period.

Mendelian genes are a concept that only has become popularized in the last 100 years, while the molecular idea of a gene (promoters, termination, and all the wrinkles that eukaryotic gene regulation is subject too) only has exploded onto the scene within the past few generations. But we have tens of thousands of years of comfort with the idea of ancestry. It may be a species typical trait (The Ancestress Hypothesis argues for the relationship between visual art and the emergence of concepts of kinship). In the past genuine knowledge of ancestry was an affair more of imagination than fact beyond a few hundred years (4-8 generations?), but today scientists claim that they have genuine evidence of who "your ancestor was 10,000 years ago." Of course they are quick to add that they are simply tracing the descent of a particular gene (or allelic variant of a gene), but such fine print generally gets lost in the bold headlines in the press release. I have discussed the same issue in relation to paleoanthropology, mitochondrial Eve went from being the bearer of the ancestral mitochondrial DNA sequence of all humans to the "mother of us all." This is not a minor point, at least in terms of the inferences it triggers in the mind of the typical person on the street. The caveats that other women were alive at the time who were also our foremothers, definitely genealogically, and possibly genetically, is usually drowned out in the sensationalism.

This isn't an issue relating just to lay persons, Darwin still hewed to the blending theory of inheritance, even though such a theory implied the loss of the genetic variation that was necessary for evolution via natural selection! Of course within our own lifetimes children are "blended" forms intermediate between their parents because of the prominence of polygenic continuous traits that are expressed via additive effects (each allele on the locus expresses independently an equal contribution to the phenotype). But this obscures the reality that genes are discrete information particles, not analog copies. Because they are discrete information particles population bottlenecks are significant because the number of slots in which various alleles can fit into are sharply reduced (each individual has two slots for two copies, alleles, of a given gene), and even when the population expands to its pre-bottleneck size genetic information has usually been permanently lost, as rare alleles may drift to extinction in a one generational event (via increased sampling error, as the number of any given allele drawn from a large population deviates more from expectation with a reduced number of draws). This does not mean that the number of total ancestors has declined greatly if you go back far enough, but at a certain point up the tree of descent the term "ancestor" starts to become disconnected from the genetic meaning that we normally ascribe to it through common sense observation in everyday life. While you can be reasonably sure that your grandparents contribute aproximately equally to your phenotype evaluated over all traits because each contributes about 1/4 of the genes you carry, as you move further back up the tree of your ancestry some ancestors begin to show up many more times than others (because of differential reproduction, population substructure or inbreeding). And even if you have individuals X and Y who show up an equal number of times you may carry no alleles identical by descent (IBD) from from X though you may carry some from Y (independent assortment, drift and recombination playing into the outcome).

Whether it is hard-wired or shaped by experience with human cultural norms is irrelevant, the issue is cognitive. Part of the problem is an improper mapping of descent analogy of humans within our own lifetimes and the lineages of alleles over the generations. The schema for ancestry, kinship, is simply being used whenever people talk about "genes," which causes serious confusions. Nevertheless, it is "ancestors" that people care about, flesh-and-blood human beings, not alleles, alleles are an abstract concept which little relevance and trigger fewer emotionally salient associations and inferences. This is why Richard Dawkins' most recent book was titled The Ancestor's Tale even though throughout the book his main preoccupation is with genes (a point he makes explicit repeatedly). I have implied that this issue might be one reason that the Recent-Out-of-Africa has widespread support among many scientists, it resolves the conflicts between various ideas of ancestry and species-individual coherence.

As I observed above, I think a great deal of the problem is that while a gene in the strictest sense, whether on the molecular of populational level, is a formal or rule based concept that has arisen somewhat artificially out of the body of modern genetic science, there is a regular conflation with the universal schema of genealogical ancestry, a more complex and loose concept which is more suited to the fluidity of the everyday world. Since the general public isn't going to be reading cognitive science primers to clear up confusions between different types of mental constructs and processes anytime soon (and scientists regularly use schemas and metaphor in their scientific life as well), all we can do is keep repeating the weirdness of the selfish gene when it deviates from common sense.

Addendum: Standard caveat, much of what I was saying applies to populations, and might not map well on to individuals.

Posted by razib at 12:39 PM | | TrackBack

Pharisees of this age?

Word of warning: I do not buy into the "Peak Oil" scenarios.

That being said...many do, especially on the environmental-Left. A friend of mine forwarded me this link to an experience of a man who was talking to a U of Wisconsin audience about the topic of "Peak Oil." He used the word "bitch slap," for which he was reproved by an audience member. I myself wouldn't use the word "bitch slap," and I do think that sometimes one person's "PC" can be another person's "politeness" and "courtesy."1 That being said...a lot of people are very scared and paranoid about the "Peak Oil" issue, and I really think that points of politeness should be modulated in proportion to the gravity of the substance that is being presented.

The above I simply present to suggest that the much of the modern Left, especially the elite upper-middle-class Left, the Left that really matters2, seems to be muddling their message with extreme preoccupations with presentation, usually in the service of "sensitivity" toward an enormous number of groups. The constellation of sensitivities seems to to ballooning upward with every year, and it is spreading into the general culture as "People of Faith" and "NASCAR dads" have also started to present their brief-of-offense.3

I will end with a quote from the Bible:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous....

Matthew 23:25-29, King James Version

1 - That being said, many on the Left and the Right feel free to vilify the Other Side in the most crude and bestial of terms, while also proclaiming their right to be "offended" when the Other Side engages in rhetorical excess.

2 - The Left that can live with free trade and even welfare reform, but will expend all possible political capital to block any erosion of abortion rights.

3 - This to me is the main difference between the manners of old and the sensitivites of this age, the latter shift and morph constantly, presenting a moving target which only poseurs and activists can capture and channel like elemental social magic.

Posted by razib at 09:31 AM | | TrackBack

May 08, 2005

What people need to know about science...according to scientists

250 scientists were asked "what they would teach the world about science and why, if they could pick just one thing." I haven't explored each response, though "evolution" seems to be the most common. I would simply have said, being neither a scientist nor anyone of particular note, what I was always told as an undergraduate: science is about techniques, not facts.1 To most GNXP readers this is a self-evident and banal point, but my personal experience is that most people who do not follow or practice science have not internalized this Truth.

Michael Shermer expresses my viewpoint.

Chris has much more.

1 - I would also add that science is in large part attaining the proper equilibrium between rationalism (model building), empiricism (experimentation and observation) and skepticism (replication and falsification). These guiding principles are also embedded within a scientific culture where they operate on a group as well as individual level.

Posted by razib at 09:48 PM | | TrackBack


Two articles over at The New York Times:

The Oz of the Middle East (a travelogue about Dubai).

Sri Lankan Maids Pay Dearly for Perilous Jobs Overseas (Overseas ~ the Gulf which is also host to the fantasy city of Dubai).

Second story via Sepia Mutiny.

Posted by razib at 09:35 PM | | TrackBack

Happy mom's day

From the NYT (via free subscription):

And there are other ways that being a dedicated parent strengthens our minds. Research shows that learning and memory skills can be improved by bearing and nurturing offspring. A team of neuroscientists in Virginia found that mother lab rats, just like working mothers, demonstrably excel at time-management and efficiency, racing around mazes to find rewards and get back to the pups in record time. Other research is showing how hormones elevated in parenting can help buffer mothers from anxiety and stress - a timely gift from a sometimes compassionate Mother Nature.

Of course, they put in the mandatory swipe at IQ/intelligence, assuming there is this orthogonal entity called emotional intelligence that can add oodles above-and-beyond g in predicting job/educational/life outcomes, but skip over that part and you get to the crux of the article's idea: Perhaps then we can start to re-imagine a mother's brain as less a handicap than a keen asset in the lifelong task of getting smart, i.e., the non-recursive mother-child relation. Mothers influence their children's intellectual development (well, prenatally and in the first 5 or so years, anyway), but the kid's repay the favor by influencing her own cognitive development.

In other words, we're getting back to Bell and Harper's 20+ year old work. Happy mom’s day, indeed.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 03:05 PM | | TrackBack

Post deleted

I have deleted my own post 'A Kick In The Ballots', as it seems to have attracted ire for reasons that are not clear to me - and by now I am sure everyone knows the results of the British elections anyway.

Posted by David B at 04:10 AM | | TrackBack