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June 25, 2005

No surprises....

This story that offers that prostitution is legal in Turkey prompted me to survey the legal status of prostitution in nations which are members of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Well, Turkey is an exception, and since I used the The World Sex Guide (not work friendly!) there was little data on many countries without much sex tourism.

Nation Prostitution Status
Afghanistan *
Albania de jure illegal
Algeria *
BANGLADESH de jure illegal
EGYPT Illegal
INDONESIA de jure illegal
NIGERIA de jure illegal
Posted by razib at 09:46 PM | | TrackBack

Brown and out? (so I thought)

An, another story in The New York Times about the craze in India to get into an I.I.T....

The opening paragraphs:

ANUPAM KUMAR, 17, is the eldest son of a scooter-rickshaw driver. He lives in a three-room house made of bricks and mortar and a hot tin roof, where water rarely comes out of the tap and the electricity is off more than on.... ... "It's becoming very important to explore other planets because this planet is becoming too polluted," he said with deadly seriousness...His mother, Sudha Devi, a savvy woman with a 6th-grade education, cooled him with a palm-frond fan.

His father, Srikrishna Jaiswal, who made it through 10th grade, flashed a bemused smile. "He has high-level aims," he said.

...Of 198,059 Indians who took the rigorous admissions tests in 2005, 3,890 got in, an acceptance rate of under 2 percent....

My thought was of course that it is a story of a poor boy who has unrealistic ambitions, but, of course, 1 billion people, so you have a whole array of lives to choose from:

[On June 16, sitting at his tutor's house, Anupam learned the results. He made it into the institutes, with a rank of 2,299. Classes start in mid-July.]

Good for him! Unfortunately, stories like these mask the quantitative reality that 40% of Indians are illiterate (versus 10% of Chinese, even taking into account Communist tendencies toward exaggerating social statistics, which post-socialist India probably shares, it is a big chasm). You can see state-by-state literacy rates if you are curious about variation. I can offer a personal anecdote which I think tangentially relates to this issue of an enormous range in South Asia between bestial destitution and intellectual ambition. I only recently learned that the eminent physicist Satyendra Nath Bose was a lecturer at Dhaka University between 1921-1945. He is of course the gentleman for whom bosons are named after (You've probably heard of the "Higgs boson"). Now, I have spent some time on the grounds of Dhaka University as I have or have had many relatives associated with that institution as students, faculty or staff. My earliest memories are of the neighborhoods around the campus, and last spring I took in the buildings, smelled the air and stepped past the wretches curled up outside of its gates. It is frankly unfathomable to me that a man who collaborated with Einstein could have been embedded in environs so permeated with a scarcity of basic human necessities. It is romantic fodder for biographers and newspaper articles, but is a sad commentary that genius that could span continents could affect little change nearby.

Posted by razib at 02:35 AM | | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

Tom Cruise: He knows Psychiatry's History

Tom Cruise, who according to the IMDB dropped out of high school, gave what has to rank as one of the most assinine interviews on the Today show, well, today (6/24/2005). I'll let you read it for yourself to get the full flavor, but here is a highlight:

CRUISE: No, you see. Here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do......

aren't there examples, and might not Brooke Shields be an example, of someone who benefited from one of those drugs?

all it does is mask the problem, Matt. And if you understand the history of it, it masks the problem. That's what it does. That's all it does. You're not getting to the reason why. There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. [empahsis added]

No? Hmmmm. That's interesting. I wonder if he's ever tested his hypothesis by taking a sample of articles in PubMed, much less taken biochemistry/psychopharmacology coursework from a non-Scientologist. Hell, I'd be impressed if he'd read any scholarly book on the history of psychology/psychiatry (the two intertwine quite a bit, for better or worse, in their beginnings). I'll admit the fields have episodes in thier pasts that, by modern knowledge, aren't anything to brag about, but isn't that what science is about? Perpetually self-correcting, working to make a given field constantly evolve.

But, Cruise, like any other American, is entitled to his opinion---no matter how (un)informed. What concerns me, occasionally working with people w/ dopamine activiation issues, is having to deal with a client coming in, saying, "But Tom Cruise said..." Maybe its just me, but unless they've undergone significant training (e.g., ), I don't think celebrities should dispense medical advice, no matter, um, how well they know a particular field's history.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 06:42 PM | | TrackBack

More diverse geeks please

ITAA Diversity Study: Numbers of Women, Minorities in Tech Too Low
. The IT work force needs to get more diverse! Women are only 32.4%, Hispanics only 6.4%. Blacks are underrepresented by 22.4% and whites by 6.6%! Asians continue to be twice as overrepresented in the IT workforce as in the general population, so we know what the solution has to be, as the report says, "With competitors like China, India and Western Europe on our heels," we have to decrease the representation of Americans of Chinese and Indian descent in the IT workforce to make room for more diversity!

Also, the consensus among geeks is that there aren't enough hot chicks in the IT field, and the industry needs to perform outreach so that it can win them away from sales and marketing jobs which are mind-numbing and not nearly as fly as programming....

Posted by razib at 11:03 AM | | TrackBack

F.D.A. Approves BiDil

The drug, which had no effect on a white control group, but reduced heart failure deaths by 43 percent for an African-American control group, was approved by the F.D.A. as a drug for African-Americans yesterday. The New York Times reports that there was some controversy, but it appeared to be mostly between those who cared more about the lives and health of African-Americans and those who cared more about preserving "the greater untruth" that genes don't differ with ancestry:

"BiDil was endorsed last week by an F.D.A. advisory panel of outside experts. But controversy surrounded the discussions . . . critics said that endorsing a drug for one race gave official government imprimatur to the discredited notion of race as a biological category.

Several influential black political and scientific groups embraced BiDil, however, as a way to redress years of inequality in medical treatment and outcomes."

Posted by Jason Malloy at 02:48 AM | | TrackBack

God and the doctors

Religious Characteristics of U.S. Physicians:

The response rate was 63%...Compared with the general population, physicians are more likely to be affiliated with religions that are underrepresented in the United States, less likely to say they try to carry their religious beliefs over into all other dealings in life (58% vs 73%), twice as likely to consider themselves spiritual but not religious (20% vs 9%), and twice as likely to cope with major problems in life without relying on God (61% vs 29%).

The Seattle Times has a detailed article and an informative table. The table offers the following denominational data (religion, frequency in survey respondents, frequency in general population): Protestant (38.8/54.7), Catholic (21.7/26.7), Jewish (14.1/1.9), None (10.6/13.3), Hindu (5.3/0.2), Muslim (2.7/0.5), Orthodox (2.2/0.5), Mormon (1.7/0.4), Other (1.8/1.6).

The large number of Jews is no surprise to anyone, while Hindus and a great portion of the Muslim segmant are basically proxies for the brown presence in the medical profession. The high number of Buddhists is probably the tip of the iceberg for the number of East Asians (since most East Asians in the USA aren't Buddhist, and are most likely to be Christian with a large non-religious minority, see Kosmin et al.). I am a bit perplexed by the Orthodox number, but I do recall that various groups like Greeks who fall under this category have done well for themselves, and their urban orientation might mean they are more likely to enter into professions.

In any case, some readers might be surprised at the relatively high rates of institutional religiosity as measured by affiliation and attendance coupled with somewhat less than typical personalized vigor and engagement (that is, doctors are more likely to go to church, but less likely to believe in God or an afterlife). Don't be, sociologists of religion like Rodney Stark have been pointing out for decades that there is often a strong positive correlation between socioeconomic status and affiliation with institutional religion. To be succinct, affiliation with a local religion often symbolizes that one is a pillar of the community. This can be illustrated by the common practice of switching churches with changes in one's socioeconomic status (that is, Episcopalians are more closely associated with the establishment than Baptists). Additionally, elite affiliated religious denomination tend to have a relaxed This-Worldly attitude, all the better to maximize social networking and minimize alienation from society at large. The Unitarians are probably the most extreme manifestation of this, as they basically serve as a social networking club for secular folk who want to have a collegial churchy atmosphere (Unitarians kids have the highest SAT score of major religions).1

Via Arthur Hu.

Related: God & the scientists.

Update: Levels of support for Creationism among M.D.s. Here is the full report, please note that the sample size for some groups is very small.

1 - I have checked out Unitarian churches before and dated a lapsed Unitarian who was very active in her youth group, so I speak from experience.

Posted by razib at 02:40 AM | | TrackBack

Cosmopolitan Danish harbors

Interesting use of genetics to elucidate ancient population structure: mtDNA analysis of human remains from an early Danish Christian cemetery:

One of Denmark's earliest Christian cemeteries is Kongemarken, dating to around AD 1000-1250...A surprising amount of haplogroup diversity was observed (Area 1: 1 U7 (male), 1 H, 1 I, 1 J, and 1 T2; Area 2: 2 H, 1 I, and 1 T, with one H being male); even the three subjects of haplogroup H were of different subtypes. This indicates that no subjects within each area were maternally related. The observed haplogroup, U7, while common in India and in western Siberian tribes, was not previously observed among present-day ethnic Scandinavians, and haplogroup I is rare (2%) in Scandinavia. These observations suggest that the individuals living in the Roskilde region 1,000 years ago were not all members of a tightly knit local population and comprised individuals with genetic links with populations that were from much farther away.

This was a harbor town, so patrilocality and "foreign women" might have been rather exaggerated, but it underscores that it is plausible that men who returned from viking and trading might have brought more than goods.

Posted by razib at 01:36 AM | | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Stem cells in the Dar-al-Islam

Fascinating article in The Christian Science Monitor on the state of stem cell research in the Muslim world. This is the most surprising part for me:

Egypt will not be the first predominantly Muslim country to conduct stem-cell research. Iranian scientists developed human embryonic stem-cell lines in 2003 with the approval of Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader, says LeRoy Walters, a professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington.

Who's the Great Satan doing the devil's work now? Gives a whole new meaning to the Axis of Evil.

Via Get Religion.

Posted by razib at 09:36 PM | | TrackBack

Types, categories and discussion....

Language can be a bitch. I'm not one who believes that "thought is created by language," there is probably something like mentalese since people can actually ask the question whether language totally bounds thought. But language is a clunker sometimes, and the tendency to talk in terms of a few types, thrown across the cognitive plain in a slapdash manner, whether you mean to or not, is really frustrating.

I posted comments (or tried to*) at the cultural anthropology weblog Savage Minds, and Kerim excised this portion of my post relating to "ethno-autism":

Hindus, it is true, do not proslyetize aggressively or practice much intolerance, but then, but of course, caste acts as an integrative and segregative phenomenon that makes conversion or unified outlook unecessary. Tolerance and religious pluralism is gained at a rather repulsive cost (from the Western perspective).

I bold the part "Hindus" because what exactly does it mean to be a Hindu? Are Hindus as I have characterized them? One response, which is fair enough, is that Hindus have been known to engage in religious intolerance. And no, I'm not talking about the recent communal tensions between the Hindutva nationalists and Islamists as two antipodes, I'm talking about battles between Jain and Hindu kings in southern India in the early medieval period which resembled sectarian conflict like that between Protestants and Catholics in Reformation Europe or Asharites and Mutazilites during the Abbasid Caliphate.

If one thinks of "Hindus" as a Platonic bounded ideal than any characterization of Hindus is basically impossible. Unlike the Abrahamic monotheisms belief in God is not necessary in Hinduism, not only is Hindu identity partially ethnic, there are atheistic schools of Hinduism. Additionally, some Hindus claim even atheistic and materialistic (rejecting spirit and karma) sects like the Carvaka as part of the "broach church" of their tradition, not to mention the contention that everyone is a Hindu because they are part of the monistic reality of the Brahma.

We must move past purely deductive and Platonic absolutes and settle for working definitions. "Hindus" are a finite subset of humanity who espouse an overlaping set of doctrines, practice, customs, traditions and self-identify as "Hindus" as opposed to non-Hindus (note that for much of history Hindu was less a religious identity than simply the term for an inhabitant of the Indian subcontinent and a member of the wider cultural complex that defined that region). Despite the instances of religious intolerance that characterize Hindu culture as a whole, overall there is a qualitative difference in the modal behavorial attitude toward other religions when compared to the traditions of Christianity and Islam. This can be illustrated by the attitude of Hindus toward Jews and Zoroastrians, both groups which fled western Eurasia because of religious or social persecution. In India both groups have integrated into the social structure and preserved something of their distinctive folkways in the midst of far more numerous peoples. In contrast, both Muslim and Christian societies have had a tendency toward periodic persecutions, which are often accompanied by wholesale absorption of minority religious traditions (these persecutions need not be frequent, simply frequent enough over the long term to result in a persistent shift toward the majority cultural complex).

But I'm going to get the point now. All this is important because Platonic thinking really throws a wrench into discussing public policy in terms of cultural and civilizational relations with any sort of precision. I have of late expressed some skepticism toward the putative Islamicization of Europe because the numbers seem upon closer inspection far less impressive than the often disturbing anecdotal tales bandied about in the press. The key here is numbers, the magnitude of the vector matters. In the same light casual analogies to Spain and Greece when discussing possible absorption of Turkey into the European Union are frustrating, because even assuming that Spain and Greece are analogous culturally,1 there seems a cavalier neglect of the magnitude of numerical difference. Turkey would come into the European Union as an enormous nation-state. When you make recourse to Platonic thinking these sort of obvious realities can be glossed over, "Turkey" is a type, and if you can present the Kemalist elite as the idealized "Turkey" than your argument is won, while opponents of Turkish entry will argue that if you scratch the Turk undernearth you have the Ottoman (or Saracen?). Buth are correct in that the Kemalist and Ottoman-Islamic strains are both components of the vector that is "Turkey."

In any case, I have I think shown my cards as to how I feel about Turkish integration into the E.U., but, keeping in mind the internal variation of what it means to be Turkish (the populational distribution) and the relative numbers of "Turks" and "Europeans," I think people can have a fruitful discussion about the sociological dynamics. As it is, too many debates around this issue seem purely rooted in norms, values and projections of the intentions of the "opposition," with a sideshow of trying to characterize Turks or Europeans as Platonic ideals of some sort that are, or aren't, compatible.

* The spam-filter is Leninist, its algorithm was designed by a resurrected NKVD agent!

1 - I would argue that there is a difference between an analogy between Roman Catholic emigration to the United States circa 1900 and non-white/non-Christian emigration to the United States circa 2000 vs. integration of Spain and Greece in the past generation and Turkey today into the E.U. The key here is time. In 1900 the subjective perceived distance of the Protestant WASP majority in the United States and "Popish" masses was rather large compared to today in the post-Protestant-Catholic-Jew consensus. Though I am do not necessarily totally accept the analogy between Roman Catholics and Muslims in relation to the Protestant/Christian majority of the United States, when you add time into the picture and the shift toward ecumenicalism on the part of the majority culture, the subjective distance between the majority culture and Muslims might be analogous to that between Protestant natives and Roman Catholics from Ireland, southern and eastern Europe in 1900. The European case though is different because the time scales are compressed a great deal. The absorption of Greece and Spain are rather recent, within cultural memory, so the shift toward Turkey as the "next" circle of integration is not to me as persuasive.

Posted by razib at 06:48 PM | | TrackBack

Breakin' free of biology?

On page 73 of Speciation the authors offer:

...Wilson et al. are probably correct in their main conclusion: although some distantly related species of birds can produce viable hybrids despite more than 15 millions of divergence (Price and Bouvier 2002), it is absurd to suppose that equally old mammalian species (e.g., humans vs. gibbons), could yield the same result....

This passage jumped out at me for the following reason, they reiterate many times that many of the contentions or truisms relating to speciation are grounded more in intuition than data. To correct this their book is chock full of references, some of them quite old (Orr and Coyne seem positively Gouldian in their quest for ancient references, I am somewhat shocked to see dates like 1912 in a work that isn't primarily historical more than once or twice). In the section above the authors refer to studies which do suggest that mammals might develop hybrid inviability faster than other taxa, though with caution. But to me their dismissal of the human-gibbon hybrid is too flippant in light of the rather qualified and provisional tone that suffuses their text in general.

Do I think ape-human hybrids would be viable? I wouldn't bet on it. But I don't have anything more to go on than intuition. Coyne and Orr, who are giants in their field, have more to draw on to base intuitions than I, but they are generally very careful not to pull rank in this way from what I can tell, and in contrast to other assertions in the book I do not see a citation to support their use of the term "absurd."

I am dwelling on this because Speciation hits another topic that I find interesting, the reality of the Biological Species Concept and the concordance between "professionals" and indigenous peoples in species categorizations, on the other of 70-80%. Orr and Coyne use this finding to suggest that species are objective across human cultures (though higher order taxa are not). This is not surprising, I tend to lean toward the idea that humans have some sort of innate biased folk biology that transcends culture, and likely has biological antecedants. Another contention of this paradigm is that humans also tend to also fixate on our own species, our own group/tribe, as a special kind in and of itself (even though we are formed of the same molecules as other species, to ourselves we have an ontological significance).

Biologists, being human, are subject to the same bias. I will go out on a limb and suggest that Coyne and Orr might find the idea of a viable human-ape hybrid absurd because it is instinctively abominable. In a similar vein my personal impression is that the idea of human-animal chimeras are very disturbing to people, imagine if you will if someone engineered a dog with the face of a man? To some extent our attitudes toward the great apes prefigure these modern discomforts, we see in them a "warped" reflection of ourselves. From a cognitive perspective the chimpanzee might be triggering mental faculties that respond to animal and human input cues, resulting in a mixed cascade of inferences.

But this "mental block" may have more than just ethical and aesthetic consequences, it might have skewed the progress of science in paleoanthropology. Over the past few months Greg Cochran has brought up the issue of "2s" a few times, and I have begun to entertain it seriously. Reading Coyne and Orr's review of the literature on debates about the various species concepts, with extreme partisans of the species-are-social-constructs coming out of botanical fields where hybridization is ubiquitous (or so they claim), I am in hindsight shocked at the peculiar duality of Out-of-Africa-Alone and Multi-regionalism. In light of the literature reviewed in Speciation both models seem somewhat extreme, but they were offered as the only viable and fleshed out alternatives for two generations. Granted, there were regular admissions by many of possible hybridization events, in The Third Chimpanzee Jared Diamond offered in an aside that it was possible that hybridization occurred in Eastern Asia (an easy speculation since the fossil record for "archaic" H. sapiens is so scanty). But these musings never really made it very far and were stray thoughts that seemed to never congeal into a model. Anagenetic Multi-regionalism and Out-of-Africa-Alone might simply have been geared toward our cognitive "sweet spot," we are after all a very special species, a One-of-a-Kind. Either we came out of Africa in one fell sweep, all descendents of a mitochondrial Eve, or we were always one worldwide species slowly hurtling simultaneously toward our inevitable sapiency.

Addendum: Orr and Coyne express repeated caution about inferring species phylogenies from only a few loci, and make the important point that hybridization events can result in homogenization on some loci while selection maintains differentiation on others. For example in many plant species there seems to be a number if signatures of hybridization events in the mtDNA, but the autosomal genome remains differentiated.

Update: John's post reviewing baboon hybridization is relevant....

Posted by razib at 02:07 AM | | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Gottfredson's Armamentarium

For any who are interested in Intelligence/g research, I highly recommend looking at Dr. Linda Gottfredson's web site. She has (almost) her entire collected works freely available to the public, even the to-be-published stuff. Of particular note are the following (recent) manuscripts:

1. Gottfredson, L. S. (in press). Implications of cognitive differences for schooling within diverse societies. In C. L. Frisby & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Comprehensive Handbook of Multicultural School Psychology. New York: Wiley.

[Nice, up-to-date review of group differences, with educational implications]

2. Gottfredson, L. S. (2004). Realities in desegregating gifted education. In D. Booth & J. C. Stanley (Eds.), In the eyes of the beholder: Critical issues for diversity in gifted education (pp. 139-155). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press

[She compares the Discrimination vs. the Distribution hypotheses; a very nice synthesis of the g-Big 5 [give or take a factor] core of much of differential psychology]

3. Gottfredson, L. S. (2003). Dissecting practical intelligence theory: Its claims and evidence. Intelligence, 31, 343-397.

[Gottfredson pretty much shred's Sternberg's Triarchic/Practical Intelligence theory]

--See also: Gottfredson, L. S. (2003). Practical intelligence. Pages 740-745 in R. Fernandez-Ballesteros (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychological assessment. London: Sage.

And my two particular favorites (because of my line of work):

Gottfredson, L. S. (2000). Equal potential: A Collective fraud. Society, 37, 19-28.

Gottfredson, L. S. (2005). Suppressing intelligence research: Hurting those we intend to help. In R. H. Wright & N. A. Cummings (Eds.), Destructive trends in mental health: The well-intentioned path to harm (pp. 155-186). New York: Taylor and Francis.

There are, of course, many others, and it is well worth an hour or two of your time to read a handful of the stuff there. If you read the whole site, I recommend going to your academic adviser and asking for some Independent Study credit hours, as you'll hardly find a better on-line compendium of literature in this particular field.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 06:18 PM | | TrackBack

Republicans who voted "No" on the Flag Burning Amendment

Sometimes peculiar intersections can be interesting. Here are the American Conservative Union ratings of the 12 Republicans who voted against H J RES 10 ("Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing the Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States"):

NameLifetime score

The only note I would make is that Ron Paul, TX, votes against basically everything (he's an anti-federal paleolibertarian). For reference, Nancy Pelosi has a lifetime score of 3 and Tom Delay a 96.

Posted by razib at 02:05 PM | | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Your masturbation is a failure. Here, have some movie tickets.

So goes a line in David Plotz's new tome The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, and, curiously, that is what the reader (at least this one) comes away feeling after completing the book: a lot of effort exerted, but with a highly disappointing result.

I picked up the book as I had a day to give over to light reading, and a history of the so-called Nobel Prize Sperm Bank (actually Robert Klark Graham's Repository for Germinal Choice) seemed like a good way to fill it; after all, I was curious to see what this curious cadre of noble sperm spawned. But instead of a group of interesting biographies, the reader gets a characterization of Graham (and his most infamous donor, William Shockley) as a eugenic, racist loons, whose ideas were the epitome of the word preposterous; a half-assed history of eugenics and the Repository, full of the obligatory -ist adjectives every other paragraph; a myriad of Plotz's opinions about everything from artificial insemination to how parents expect too much from their children--many of which contradict each other; and, in between all this, a few plodding biographical sketches of the offspring and donors.

What struck me the most were two things. First, is Plotz's inconsistencies: He insists that Graham's ideas were coo-coo, yet later he concedes that they were good enough to forever shaped the sperm donation/artificial insemination industry. After all, when shopping for sperm today, who would purposefully go after semen from a man with a sub-average intelligence, sub-par health, and noticeable lack of morality. Perhaps serendipitous, but that is what Graham set out to do in the first place: set up a way to allow for positive eugenics; that is, trying to improve mankind's intelligence, health, and morality via selective breeding. Moreover, Plotz implicitly condemns the thought of producing better babies (on purpose), yet later says that it is now common practice (although more at an individual level). Throughout the book, he leads the reader to believe that a kid's environment is what causes him/her to be intelligent, personable, and successful, but at other points he admits that they are all influenced genetically. All in all, he takes no position (well, not for long anyway), and his ambivalence is tiresome.

In between his own diatribes, he gives a few glimpses of what the Repository kids are like: one is a reclusive "genius" in college, another a precocious, buoyant girl who is likely to enter in Marine Biology (following, ahem, her biological father's footsteps, who was a chemist). One is a teenage father, although fervently struggling to go to school and take care of his family, while another (his 1/2 brother by the same Repository dad) is a "gifted" pianist/artist.....although remarkably similar having never seen, or heard of, each other and only having 1 parent in common. While only a handful of the 215, all in all, not too motley a crew, despite Plotz not-always-flattering picture of them.

But what really strikes me about the book is, despite Plotz implications to the contrary, the kids turned out to show the potency of genetics. Quantitative genetics would predict that if you take a group of sperm donors who are "above average"1 in intelligence, health, and morals, you would get, in return, a group of kids who, as a group, are above average. If a father's trait, say, IQ, is 140 (not a far-fetched figure for the Repository) and assume that the heritability for IQ is .40 (an underestimate), then if the mom's IQ is 85, then the average value for the kids will be 105; if the mom's IQ is 120 (a more sensible estimate for the moms seeking Repository sperm), the average value for the kids is 112, and you can interpolate as high or low as you want.2 On average, the kids won't attain the parents' values, but they will be above average. While Plotz does his best to paint a dismal picture of the whole Repository, and tries to convince the reader that it is the kids' environment that one should worry about the most, he can't help but adding evidence to the genetic theory: "In short, they are certainly above average as a group, but the range is wide"...exactly what quantitative genetics would have predicted about genetically-influenced traits.

In sum, the book is little more than a collection of essays showing Plotz's ambivalence and ostensible lack of knowledge in quantitative (behavior) genetics, with a few anecdotes about the Repository thrown in for good measure; in other words, read the local library's copy.

[1] According to Plotz, even though Nobel laureates donated, none of their sperm fertilized an egg carried to term. The sperm that did was from other donors, who were sans Nobel.

[2] Y_hat = X_bar + (h^2){([Mom's Score + Dad's score]/2)-X_bar}, where X_bar is the population average.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 08:12 PM | | TrackBack

Genetic fertility

Not any great surprise, a particular gene expression profile1 correlates strongly with late in life fecundity. Interestingly the author studied Ashkenazi Jews and the genes in question are associated with apoptosis (cell death) and DNA repair mechanisms. He has found a similar profile among Bedouin women who conceived late in life. Surely there are some correlated responses that serve as "trade-offs" for this predisposition.2 This is of course the sort of thing that could make genetic testing early in life really be relevant to the choices an individual makes.

Via John Hawks.

1 - From what I can tell there is a tacit assumption that the gene expression profile is inherited in the conventional sense and always expressed, but what about the possibility of epigenetic responses due to environmental and developmental inputs?

2 - One could argue that in premodern conditions the selection coefficient would not be as high as today because life expectancy was lower, so any short term trade-offs early in one's reproductive career would be more detrimental to fitness than today when a far higher frequency of women make it to 50 healthy, hale and with husband.

Posted by razib at 06:08 PM | | TrackBack

Complex "traits"

By now everyone has read the article that the heritability (definition 2) of "political ideology" is ~0.5, but the heritability of political party is far lower. There's a lot of chew on here (unfortunately The American Political Science Review doesn't have this paper online), but note that this similar to what Tom Bouchard found out as regards to religous attitudes and beliefs of separated twins raised apart, heritability of "religious intensity" or "zeal" was ~0.5, but there was very little concordance of religious denomination.

Two points:

  • The likely distribution of these tendencies suggests to me that it is better to think of them as heritable polygenic traits with strong environmental components (plus the whole correlational and interactional factor) as opposed to "genetic" traits that can be conceived of as "modules." This distinction isn't academic, it has implications with how people approach the topics.
  • Obviously aspects of your phenotype are going to shape how your life-history tracks in a given social matrix and how you perceive yourself and your values. I suspect for example ugly people will report on a survey that "looks aren't important to them," even though I doubt when given an opportunity an ugly guy or girl would turn down a hot date with a fine physical specimen to have dinner with someone with a great personality but who was revolting as sin. In other words, studies like this tell you a lot, but not necessarily in a transparent or simple fashion.

Finally, Steve brings up the point that whites in the northeast are far more liberal than whites in the south, but their genetic differences are probably minimal, at least in light of the wide ideological gap. I think the point about the social matrix is important, the complex behavorial-cognitive phenotypes don't crystallize in a vacuum. Not only does space matter, but time does. In short I think what these studies are pointing out are relative slots people will fit into given a particular norm of reaction. To use the religion analogy, Swedish Americans in North Dakota are probably genetically the same as Swedes in Sweden, but the latter are likely far more "progressive" and "secular" than their American cousins, the difference being between the social matrices in which the two similar genotypes are expressed. I suspect that what you are seeing is simply a sliding over of the distribution, more or less. Similarly, today the average "conservative" tends to espouse race blindness and the average "liberal" tends to espouse positive discrimination for groups that have suffered negative discrimination in the past, but, 50 years ago the average conservative tended to espouse, condone or tolerate negative discrimination against groups that traditionally suffered such treatment, while the average liberal espoused race blindness. The change, as a function of time, was simply the social matrix, not the frequency of genes.

The take home message for the activists is that if you change social values of the society (whatever that means in the concrete sense, I suspect it translates into coopting the elite organs of civil society) individuals will simply renormalize themselves. I think homosexuality is a good example of social attitudes renormalizing over the past generation (that is, something I've observed in my short lifetime).

Related: Reflections on the "God Module".

Posted by razib at 10:57 AM | | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

Siblings differ....

Variation is one outcome of sexual reproduction. Not only does recombination usually disrupt linkage disequilibrium in a population over time, but the law of segregation means that siblings will often receive different alleles from the same parent.1

As an illustration, click here. Sometimes nature just puts all its eggs in one basket....

1 - If the parent is homozygous, that is, carries two copies of the same allele, then obviously this isn't so.

Posted by razib at 11:49 PM | | TrackBack

Variation matters in food

This article in The New York Times about kids who are "picky eaters" is interesting and makes a tacit nod to evolutionary thinking by offering the option that picky eating might have been optimal in the EEA (that is, if you ain't a picky eater you will put bizarro stuff into your mouth). But, the story could have benefited from the research which suggests that variation in sensitivity to bitter tastes might color a parent's perception of a child as "picky," particularly if the parent is the individual who is insensitive while the child is sensitive. Recently I munched on some raw tea leaves. I could taste the mild bitter flavor, but a friend of mine was physically retching from the bitterness. Some of this is likely due to heritable genetic differences, I am a PTC nontaster, a group less likely to be bitter sensitive. But there is also the gene-environment correlation aspect, I have spent many of the past 20 years increasing my tolerance of hot peppers to extreme levels through graduated escalation, exaggerating my relative insensitivity to capsaicin. Who knows if this rubbed off on other aspects of my taste perception?

Taste & behavior genetics
, Genetics of taste, PTC taste, balancing selection?, PTC, part II and Slow and diverse food.

Posted by razib at 07:17 PM | | TrackBack

λ can be a bugger....

Those of you with a biological education know well the λ phage and its host E. coli and the various life-history pathways that characterize interaction between the two.1 So, I was surprised to see this article in PLOS today, Population Fitness and the Regulation of Escherichia coli Genes by Bacterial Viruses (those of you more in the know are surely not surprised). One of my favorite sayings is J.B.S. Haldane's "fitness is a bugger," as it expresses to me the difficulties of the concept, and the issues with talking about it without being swamped by a swarm of qualifications, caveats and provisional conjectures. The authors in the paper above suggest that during the lysogenic phase the λ repressor factor, cI, might actually bind to regions of the E. coli genome and so downregulate transcription of products which have metabolic implications. In short, in some environments infection might increase the "fitness" of a bacterial lineage (measured in doubling time). The authors point to a clustering of homologous regions to the λ operator sites as evidence for positive selection (one is a coincidence, but seven?).

Obviously stuff like this is relevant in the abstract as understanding a "simple" organism like E. coli and its relationship to its pathogens can flesh out broader principles that are important in understanding "higher" organisms. Additionally, it seems that humans have an an order of magnitude more bacteria within their bodies (mostly the gut) than they have somatic cells!2 Some of the parasites infecting us are most peculiar, for instance, the bizarre cat parasites which seem to alter individual behavior....

1 - For those of you who don't want to google, λ infects E. coli and either goes "lytic," where the infection is virulent and the bacteria dies to release the next generation of phage, or "lysogenic," where the λ inserts itself into the bacterial genome and hangs around until an opportune time to make a break. It is a canonical biological system that elucidates the complexities involved even in the genetic and physiological interaction between virus and its host bacteria.

2 - Bacteria are important in digestion too, there are certain vitamins, like B12 and K, that don't seem to get produced in "sterile" organisms, so they need nutritional supplements.

Posted by razib at 06:02 PM | | TrackBack

Maria Sharapova Gallery

Check out the Maria Sharapova slideshow over at SI. Unless you are a Lolita fan click quickly through #3.

Posted by razib at 04:15 PM | | TrackBack

June 19, 2005

Evolutionary Psychology™ - a primer

Of late I have expressed some reservations about what I term Evolutionary Psychology™, the model proposed by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, which implies certain theoretical commitments that many sympathetic to a synthetic treatment of human nature that includes biological parameters dissent from. Nevertheless, it is important to understand Tooby and Cosmides' model because it is to some extent the reference point for good faith rebuttals. So with that in mind, I link to Evolutionary Psychology: Conceptual foundations (a lengthy PDF). Also, if you have some time to kill I highly recommend Steven Pinker's So How Does The Mind Work, a rejoinder to Jerry Fodor's harsh critique (later expanded into a book) of Pinker's weighty How The Mind Works.

Posted by razib at 10:04 PM | | TrackBack

Germ cells from stem cells

British researchers are reporting success creating human primordial germ cells (the precursors of egg and sperm) from embryonic stem cells.

Reuters has the story:

"We've shown we can generate primordial germ cells. These are the cells that go on to form either the sperm or the egg depending on the gender of the individual," said Professor Harry Moore, a reproductive biologist at the University of Sheffield in England.

"In culture, we've been able to show, using human embryonic stem cells, that some of those cells develop further to a later stage of sperm development," he told Reuters.

Possible cure for infertility? In addition to making babies, eggs are the raw material for making new embryonic stem cell lines. The application of this work to making eggs could eliminate the problems of limited egg donation. It also will raise issues for the anti-embryonic-stem cell position: do embryos made completely from in vitro grown cells still count as "human life"?

Posted by rikurzhen at 06:22 PM | | TrackBack