From The evolution of human skin coloration, page 12:
The 55 men in a drug doping study in Sweden were normal and healthy. And all agreed, for the sake of science, to be injected with testosterone and then undergo the standard urine test to screen for doping with the hormone.
The results were unambiguous: the test worked for most of the men, showing that they had taken the drug. But 17 of the men tested negative. Their urine seemed fine, with no excess testosterone even though the men clearly had taken the drug.
It was, researchers say, a striking demonstration of a genetic discovery. Those 17 men can build muscles with testosterone, they respond normally to the hormone, but they are missing both copies of a gene used to convert the testosterone into a form that dissolves in urine. The result is that they may be able to take testosterone with impunity.
The gene deletion is especially common in Asian men, notes Jenny Jakobsson Schulze, a molecular geneticist at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. Dr. Schulze is the first author of the testosterone study, published recently in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The whole “Asian” angle wouldn’t be as important from where I stand if China wasn’t intent on becoming an athletic superpower. Specifically, from Doping Test Results Dependent on Genotype of UGT2B17, the Major Enzyme for Testosterone Glucuronidation:
We demonstrated that a deletion polymorphism in the gene coding for UGT2B17…is strongly associated with TG levels in urine…All subjects devoid of the gene had a T/E ratio below 0.4…This polymorphism was considerably more common in a Korean Asian than in a Swedish Caucasian population, with 66.7 and 9.3 % deletion/deletion (del/del) homozygotes respectively.
They don’t seem to know what SNP is causing this. If you are curious, you can check out the linkage disequilibrium around UGT2B17.
And there is science, perhaps the greatest of all our achievements, because nowhere else on earth did it appear. China, India, the Muslim world, all had fine cities and systems of law, architecture and painting, poetry and prose, religion and philosophy. None of them ever accomplished what began in northwest Europe in the later 17th century, though: a scientific revolution. Thoughtful men and women came together in learned societies to compare notes on their observations of the natural world, to test their ideas in experiments, and in reasoned argument against the ideas of others, and to publish their results in learned journals. A body of common knowledge gradually accumulated. Patterns were observed, laws discerned and stated.
The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism, to the sensibilities of those Apaches, made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism. (A thing that cannot be said of Darwin. See Chapter X of Voyage of the Beagle.)
Via Talk Islam.
On the whole the evangelical mainstream in the decades following the turn of the century appeared apathetic, acquiescent, or at times downright supportive of the eugenics movement. In this article, I argue that the evangelicals often accepted eugenics as a part of a progressive, reformist vision that uncritically fused the Kingdom of God with modern civilization.
In Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity the author makes the case that to a large extent this was an issue of class; the higher orders, generally professing Christians of a sort, favored eugenics, while the lower class victims and their preachers naturally objected. The more progressive churches also often aggressively got behind race-betterment. This is not to deny that secularists such as H. L. Mencken were enthusiastic eugenicists on scientistic grounds; rather, it is to offer that the social realities of the day suggested that a eugenical inclination was the dominant position, one which many of the Christian churches acceded to reinforce their relevance to contemporary society and its ills (it is notable that the Roman Catholic church in Europe was more successful in blocking eugenics in the nations in which it was powerful than the Protestant churches of northern Europe were, assuming the latter were so inclined).1
For a few weeks I’ve been mulling over a “theory” about the nature of contemporary fiction. The quotes are because this is a theory in the way that normal people have theories; they don’t know much and just make up plausible (to their mind) models that are ultimately grounded in a whole lot of ignorance. I really don’t know much here, and I strongly suspect I’m wrong, but I can’t help but express an opinion in public though I feel I shouldn’t because of my admitted ignorance. To some extent I’m putting this post up to be enlightened by readers who do know a great deal more about letters (e.g., The Man Who is Thursday, who should also resize the little dog so his front page load doesn’t go well north of 300 K).
Here’s the argument: contemporary mainstream fiction is very different from the storytelling of the deep past because of a demand side shift. Women consume most fiction today, and their tastes differ, on average, from those of men. How do they differ? To be short about it men are into plot, while women are into character. This means that modern literary fiction emphasizes psychological complexity, subtly and finesse. In contrast, male-oriented action adventure or science fiction exhibits a tendency toward flat monochromatic characters and a reliance on interesting events and twists. Over my lifetime I’ve read a fair amount; but the vast majority of the fiction has been science fiction & fantasy. Many males outgrow this bias, perhaps as they become more psychologically complex and nuanced, but I haven’t (though I don’t read much fiction in general at this point). I know many other males who are similar; we aren’t dumb, and not all of us have Asperger’s. We just aren’t interested into characterization or character. We are people of exotic ideas, novelty of story arc and exploration of startling landscapes. Contemporary mainstream fiction, high, middlebrow and low, does not usually satisfy these needs.
But ancient fiction; epics, myths, etc., do fulfill these requirements. I didn’t seek out fiction in any form before I was 13 or so (I was assigned books in school of course); but I had read Bullfinch’s Mythology as well as translations of the Iliad and Gilgamesh. In hindsight I suspect that my interest in these works is due to the fact that they are recognizably High Fantasy. Either they are explicit myths, or, they refer to peoples and places whose lack of banality is due to their distance in time & space (obviously I have never been to the Zagros mountains!). I also have read historical fiction which is sufficiently distant in time, e.g., the whole of Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series.
To some extent if you know me in person you can see that I’m not interested in the details of the characters of other human beings. I’m somewhat along the autism spectrum toward Asperger’s. I’m not the type to lose myself in a story, and I’m not really interested in most horror films because I have a hard time getting scared or identifying with the characters (I can’t forget it’s just a movie and the people aren’t real). It seems clear to me why I have a hard time being interested in mainstream fiction; not only am I not interested in the characters, but I’m just not like most of the people depicted in terms of their values or personality. I can’t “relate,” and I’m not interested in “relating.”
If you read Isaac Asimov’s biography, In Memory Yet Green, I think you get a sense of why his novels depict flat characters. Though Asimov seems to be a gregarious individual, he was very narcissistic and self-involved. I don’t get a sense that he was a socially sensitive soul (though he did resent the anti-Semitism he had experienced or slights from strangers). Asimov wrote something of an apologia for science fiction as a genre of ideas, but I think it reflects the set of values which I’ve expressed above and which many science fiction oriented individuals embody; plots, not people. (if you want every stereotype of science fiction readers confirmed, check out William Sims Bainbridge’s Dimensions of Science Fiction, which is based on surveys at science fiction conventions)
For whatever reason Our Kind of People don’t become literary critics or arbiters of taste & sophistication. Science fiction & fantasy can never be Great Fiction. If a work of science fiction & fantasy is Great Fiction then by definition it is not science fiction & fantasy. Slaughterhouse-Five, Brave New World and 1984 are not science fiction. Within the science fiction ghetto authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury, who admit or manifest little interest in science as such and emphasize literary values and social messages (especially Le Guin for the latter), are held up as the great authors who are acceptable. In other words, authors for whom psychological exploration just happens to involve a spaceship in the background.
Why does any of this matter? For one, I think that it is somewhat peculiar that many of us find fiction from the past more engaging than popular contemporary works. Aupelius’ Golden Ass gets my attention; most contemporary fiction does not. I am arguing here that this is partly due to the fact that in the past those who read copiously were, on average, much more like me than they were like the typical human. Not only were readers by and large men (usually of some means and comfort), but they were often also disproportionately eggheads who were eccentric by their nature. How many elite scholars were there such as Claudius who were not attracted to the public life of politics and do not appear in the annals of history? With the printing press, cheaper paper, and the rise of mass literacy,1 things changed, the distribution of taste shifted. And so did the distribution of genres.
So am I full of crap?
Addendum: I also think there is a supply-side issue; female authors tend to produce a particular type of work. This is evident within science fiction; female authors are underrepresented in hard science fiction. Here is something from the Wikipedia entry for the Tales of Genji:
The Tale of Genji…is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century, around the peak of the Heian Period. It is sometimes called the world’s first novel, the first modern novel, or the first novel to still be considered a classic
. This issue is a matter of debate. See Stature below.
The Genji is also often referred to as “the first novel”, though there is considerable debate over this – some of the debate involving whether Genji can even be considered a “novel”. Some consider the psychological insight, complexity, and unity of the work to qualify it for “novel” status while simultaneously disqualifying earlier works. Others see these arguments as subjective and unconvincing. Related claims, perhaps in an attempt to sidestep these debates, are that Genji is the “first psychological novel”, “the first novel still considered to be a classic”, or other more qualified terms. It is, however, difficult to claim that it is the world’s first novel without denying the claims of Daphnis and Chloe and Aethiopica in Greek, which author Longus and an unknown sophist respectively wrote, both around the third century, and in Latin, Petronius’s Satyricon in the first century and Apuleius’s Golden Ass in the second, as well as Kadambari in Sanskrit which author Banabhatta wrote in the seventh century. (The debate exists in Japanese as well, with comparison between the terms monogatari — “tale” — and shosetsu — “novel”.)
The first psychological novel? Sounds really boring (though it seems like she makes an attempt at plot, so perhaps I should check this out. I enjoyed Musashi, whose author was influenced by the Tales of Genji).
1 – I am not convinced that even the Athenian democracy was characterized by mass literary. See Ancient Literacy.
Welcome to the 30th Gene Genie!
Indulge in the fascinating world of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine has a “genetics lifestyle” post, Home Improvement For Geneticists. Not quite Tim Allen. Fellow ScienceBlogger Sandra illustrates Mapping polymorphisms in 16S ribosomal RNA. Definitely worth checking out, anyone interested in biology should be down with ribosomes, and rRNA has also been critical in taxonomy. Biotech Weblog notes that Gene Therapy May Treat Cocaine Addiction. ‘nuf said. Migraines affect about 1 out of 6 people in the world; so pay attention when Genetics and Health suggest the possibility for a Genetic breakthrough for migraine sufferers. KQED’s Quest offers a podcast which illuminates the light shed upon Human Genetics through Dogs. Have you read The History and Geography of Human Genes? Then you must read Yann Klimentidis, p-ter and G; beware of how PCA is displayed! We live in a world where hundreds of thousands of Americans are currently stationed in Iraq. So it is probably important to wonder about A Genetic Susceptibility to PTSD?, as Brain Blogger does. Think Gene engages in a little heresy from the Central Dogma, blogging the revolution as Scientists clarify a mechanism of epigenetic inheritance. Are you going to be well aged? Ouroboros asks Is there anything SIRT1 can’t do? It might be part of the answer, along with a helping hand from our friends at Big Pharma. You hear a lot about Hox genes, especially with the rise of evo-devo, DNA and You makes it a bit personal. A HOXA2 mutation is responsible for one type of autosomal recessive microtia (congenital deformity of the outer ear), a mouthful that remains relevant.
Speaking of which, let’s move specifically into the domain of Personalized Genetics: