Are dogs as old as Eurasian human modernity?

51fQMbh-NnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A few months ago the anthropologist Pat Shipman published a book, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction. I’ve read Shipman before, and because of my interest in domestication it’s been on my radar, but I haven’t gotten around to purchasing it. The major reason is that as I understand it the title is somewhat misleading, in that there’s a lot less in the text on human-dog cooperation than one might think. Which is reasonable, it’s a speculative hypothesis at best.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that there’s no strong evidence that dogs were domesticated or distinct as early as ~35 thousand years ago, when modern humans replaced Neandertals in Europe. This comes up in a very highly rated comment on Amazon in fact. The best genetic work, Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs, implies a date of ~15,000 years before the present, at the earliest.

But now it looks like it’s time to update our priors on this. Shipman’s speculative theory, still unlikely in opinion, is no longer extremely unlikely. The reason is ancient DNA. Ancient Wolf Genome Reveals an Early Divergence of Domestic Dog Ancestors and Admixture into High-Latitude Breeds:

The origin of domestic dogs is poorly understood…with suggested evidence of dog-like features in fossils that predate the Last Glacial Maximum…conflicting with genetic estimates of a more recent divergence between dogs and worldwide wolf populations…Here, we present a draft genome sequence from a 35,000-year-old wolf from the Taimyr Peninsula in northern Siberia. We find that this individual belonged to a population that diverged from the common ancestor of present-day wolves and dogs very close in time to the appearance of the domestic dog lineage. We use the directly dated ancient wolf genome to recalibrate the molecular timescale of wolves and dogs and find that the mutation rate is substantially slower than assumed by most previous studies, suggesting that the ancestors of dogs were separated from present-day wolves before the Last Glacial Maximum. We also find evidence of introgression from the archaic Taimyr wolf lineage into present-day dog breeds from northeast Siberia and Greenland, contributing between 1.4% and 27.3% of their ancestry. This demonstrates that the ancestry of present-day dogs is derived from multiple regional wolf populations.

gr2_lrgAs you can see from the figure to the left the Taymyr sample diverges at about the same time as the common ancestor of wolves and modern dogs. In other words, you have a polytomy. Not only that, but there has been introgression from the Taymyr lineage into particular northern dog populations.

Genetics and genomics are big deals. But at this point I have to point out that archaeologists have really been here the whole time. Archaeologists reported that the Amerindians brought dogs with them over through Berengia. Historians know that the indigenous people had dogs. Yet in 2010 geneticists published, in Nature, Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication, who put the focus on the Middle East and the Neolithic revolution. There was basically no way this really made sense. Then you had a 2011 paper in PLOS ONE, A 33,000-Year-Old Incipient Dog from the Altai Mountains of Siberia: Evidence of the Earliest Domestication Disrupted by the Last Glacial Maximum. Even the authors themselves assumed that this was a “false dawn.” That this dog-like canid probably did not give rise to later dog lineages. But if the results above are correct, then in fact this 33,000 year old individual may actually be part of the extant proto-dog population.

Let’s let this sink in: if the results above hold, then the arrival of modern humans to northern Eurasia may have been coincident with the emergence of a distinct dog lineage. The term “man’s best friend” takes on a whole new meaning. The relationship between man and dog may be nearly as ancient as modern humans as we understand them, that is, populations capable of copious and protean symbolic cultural production which explode out in the archaeological record over the past ~40.000 years. In addition, I also believe we now need to totally reconceptualize how we view the relationship of wolves and dogs. Rather than an ancestral and derived set of populations, whose “species” status is only semantic convenience, they are actually sister clades. The results in this paper confirm other findings that the wolves of North America and Eurasia seem to share a post Last Glacial Maximum origin. Wolves as we understand them today may have emerged simultaneously with dogs, both descending from the melange of canid lineages which flourished during the Pleistocene. There’s a reason that feral dogs, such as dingos, do not “revert” to wolves. The ancestor may not have even been a wolf!

Additionally, the authors also note that the features of the dog which are hallmarks of domestication may themselves be derived within the dog lineage. That is, the separation of the ancestors of dogs and wolves predates the Last Glacial Maximum, ~20,000 years ago. But the evolution of dogs so that they exhibit particular derived traits may have occurred far later in time. In fact, I would hold that perhaps the true story is one of co-evolution between dogs and humans.

The ultimate moral of this true story to me is that many Pleistocene mega-fauna with wide ranges in Eurasia were subject to similar evolutionary dynamics. Extinction of distinct local lineages was the rule, not the exception. Recolonization from populations which dodged extinction was also inevitable. The phylogenetic tree was pruned repeatedly, but tempered somewhat in the ferocity of clipping by admixture and introgression, as branches fused together.

Men of greatness, men of the north


Large-scale recent expansion of European patrilineages shown by population resequencing:

The proportion of Europeans descending from Neolithic farmers ~10 thousand years ago (KYA) or Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers has been much debated. The male-specific region of the Y chromosome (MSY) has been widely applied to this question, but unbiased estimates of diversity and time depth have been lacking. Here we show that European patrilineages underwent a recent continent-wide expansion. Resequencing of 3.7 Mb of MSY DNA in 334 males, comprising 17 European and Middle Eastern populations, defines a phylogeny containing 5,996 single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Dating indicates that three major lineages (I1, R1a and R1b), accounting for 64% of our sample, have very recent coalescent times, ranging between 3.5 and 7.3 KYA. A continuous swathe of 13/17 populations share similar histories featuring a demographic expansion starting ~2.1–4.2 KYA. Our results are compatible with ancient MSY DNA data, and contrast with data on mitochondrial DNA, indicating a widespread male-specific phenomenon that focuses interest on the social structure of Bronze Age Europe.

Looking at this paper, it basically confirms what we know from ancient DNA, and other large scale sequencing projects. Until recently much Y chromosomal phylogenetic analyses were done utilizing highly mutable regions, microsatellites. This had a major upside, in that variation was copious. But, it wasn’t as precise as more slow mutating regions of the genome would have been. But without next generation sequencing the Y chromosome is just hard to work with due to its paucity of SNP variants. So that’s why we’re seeing some gains here.

The relatively homogeneity in Northern Europe in particular is attributed to a few lineages which have gone through “star-like” expansions. That aligns rather well with the idea that the arrival of populations from the steppe was demographically an earthquake.

Ancient DNA analyses are accurate


A few years ago a paper was published, Effect of ancient population structure on the degree of polymorphism shared between modern human populations and ancient hominins, in PNAS, which argued that ancient population structure within Africa might be the reason that non-African populations are genetically closer to Neandertals. The basic logic is simple. If within Africa there was variation in relatedness to Neandertals, and modern non-Africans are derived from the group that was closer to Neandertals, then one might infer that there was recent admixture between the groups even though any connection was very distant in the past. This objection actually popped up immediately when the Neandertal admixture Science paper was published. Over time many people have been convinced by various ingenuous and abstruse arguments.

The problem is that not everyone is a statistical geneticist, nor do they think about these issues very often. When it comes to the media they have to rely on what’s being published in prominent journals. The PNAS paper above has haunted the field in my opinion, because reporters have had to take the researchers at their word, when frankly most statistical geneticists that I know did not find their arguments very persuasive in the first place. Today we have even less reason to believe them. A few hours ago I saw this in my feed from the Genetic Literacy Project, More mystery about Neanderthal and modern humans: How reliable is ancient DNA analysis? The answer is very reliable. There’s no controversy.

The figure at the top of this post is from Genome sequence of a 45,000-year-old modern human from western Siberia. What you see is that the markers diagnostic of Neandertal ancestry are clustered together in segments to a far greater extent in the ancient sample than among modern peoples. This sort of pattern of decaying tract length is a hallmark of pulse admixtures. Each generation recombination breaks apart associations until the tract lengths are very small (or, they are not detectable). There are now at least two ancient samples which show that Neandertal-modern human admixture occurred in the relatively recent past in relation to their own period in comparison to modern individuals. That in itself reduces the probability of ancient structure being the dominant explanation for the Neandertal affinities of non-Africans, as ancient structure would not exhibit this tract length bias. And, this result has the utility of being amenable to common sense comprehension.

People in the future will not look like Brazilians

Olivia Munn
Olivia Munn
Periodically rather than offering up original thoughts it is needful to engage defensive warfare against pernicious memes. For example, one thesis that is commonly bandied about today is that racial admixture will result in the blending away of all differences, toward a homogeneous beige future without end. This is false. It is false for several reasons, genetic, and sociological. But, it is persistent for ideological reasons.

Here’s the latest instance, Future Humans Will All Look Brazilian, Researcher Says:

Meanwhile, many other physical traits will simply blend together. “Most of the traits that we think of as distinguishing different groups (hair colour, skin colour, hair curliness, facial features, eye shape) are controlled by multiple genes, so they don’t follow a simple dominant/recessive pattern,” McDonald explained. “In those cases, blending will make people look more similar over time.”

The recourse to a blending analogy is unfortunate. Genetics is not a blending process, it is a discrete one, which reconfigures variation every generation. The underlying variation in the form of alleles is maintained, even if the genotype frequencies shift. This insight is implied in the article with talk about recessive phenotypes and nods to Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. One of the key problems with Charles Darwin’s original theory of evolutionary process is that it did not account for how heritable variation could be maintained. If that variation melted away every generation through blending processes then the world would rapid equilibrate toward homogenization. Roughly half the variation would disappear per generation in an exponential decay process.

41PHSZN6AELAnd yet variation remains! Though the phenotypes, the traits, may exhibit blending between parents, the underlying genetic variation is governed by Mendelian dynamics. This is why in populations where alleles for traits like pigmentation segregate in a polymorphic fashion, such as in India, it is not uncommon for complexion to vary within families. Though on the population wide scale there is some tendency toward clustering about the mean, variance remains within a random mating group at equilibrium.

Another major issue is that these discussions too often focus on single traits. When evaluated across loci the variation and range in possibilities due to admixture in fact results in greater diversity than is possible today. Mendel’s law of independent assortment implies that traits and variation will not be co-inherited. Before international travel and migration the possibility of someone with blue eyes, an epicanthic fold, and tightly curled hair, was a theoretical affair. Today there are almost certainly people who exhibit all these traits.

By coincidence these people are likely to be Brazilian, as this is a nation where there are large populations of African, Japanese, and Northern European (German) ancestry. And the example of Brazil itself illustrates empirically why homogenization will not proceed in the manner which intuition tells us. Brazil may be modally a brown nation, but its physical types run the gamut, expressing the underlying genetic variation. Among populations such as the Uygurs, who are fusion of eastern and western streams, individuals arise who reflect in near totality the physical types of only one of their ancestral populations, even if most individuals exhibit configurations in equipoise.

And so it was, and so it will be. The reality is that today is not the age of amalgamation, that age has passed. The most recent work in human genomics actually brings us to the conclusion that in fact most of the “pure” populations we see around us today are fusions of deeply diverged human evolutionary threads. The ancestors of Europeans in the Pleistocene were as differentiated as modern continental races (i.e., Fst on the order of 0.05 to 0.15 depending on the pairwise comparison). The same is true of South Asians, and most other groups you can think of. The “Great Mixing” after the retreat of the ice and collision of peoples may explain why there is so little evidence for hybrid inviability today in cross-racial pairings; it may have been purged from the genomes of modern groups through selection during that period.

The admixture of this age will be but a shadow of the past. The reality is that for centuries into the future huge numbers of people will persist who we might recognize as European, African, and East Asian, in totality of their form and genetic heritage. The amalgamation of the early Holocene probably occurred through the fusion of groups in the early stages of demographic expansion. They were tribal affairs, parochial in their scope, born out of desperation and chaos, even if the consequences were continental in their implications. The clans of yore became the mothers of nations, but those nations are mature and endless in their number now. The existence of Brazil as we understand it is exceptional, the product of racial slavery on a massive scale during a time of tumult. It is the exception, rather than the norm.

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi
In the next few decades international elites will no doubt enter into a period of intermarriage as old barriers fall, and new commonalities of class transcend ethnicity. But for the majority of the citizenry of the old nations such considerations will be theoretical. The initial period of synthesis and cross-fertilization will give way to stasis as all those open to the new possibilities of finding mates across old racial categories will have done so. Those who remain, the majority, will be more conservative in their preferences and tastes. The Holocene ushered in races which are extant across the world today through admixture; the anthropocene will usher in the post-national international race of global elite. Rather than twining a few threads of the human lineage, this new population will twist all the threads together in a radical new conformation. And it will be anything but homogeneous and uniform in its expression!

Modern humans are a house undivided


12918295Sometimes it is useful to enter into the record what you think, even if it is not fully formed, or even not strongly held. After reading a review on mutational load in human populations, which lingered long over demographic inferences of our species’ fluctuations in population size, as well as conversations with Gregory Cochran and Ian Mathieson, I have come to the conclusion that cultural group selection is a very important, perhaps dominant, dynamic in explaining the ubiquity of anatomically modern humans over the past ~50,000 years.

This is not a novel position. A group of evolutionary theorists, most prominently today David Sloan Wilson, have argued for the primacy of group level collective dynamics for human societies which allow for a plausible organismic metaphor in their action and behavior for the past 40 years. Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd have developed an extensive body of theoretical work outlining precise models (see Not by Genes Alone) which extend this framework. Importantly, I want to be careful and qualify that I am being precise when I limit my conjecture to humans, and, cultural phenotypes. For empirical and theoretical reasons I believe that humans may be sui generis.

My intuition here is tied in to what I have stated earlier about Aurignacian populations, and their likely extinction in Europe due to the arrival of Gravettian populations. The ancient DNA results are yielding to the conclusion that the human past has been subject to a great deal of local population replacement. To me this is peculiar, because even in the course of inter-group competition one would expect a fair amount of admixture, as is assumed in a demic ‘wave of advance,’ where populations push forward their range through natural increase. In fact the replacements don’t strike me as typically genetical in their fluctuations. Rather, they’re cultural. Punctuated. Alternating between stasis and rapid switches in state and character. The genetic data may simply be witness to the outcomes of winner-take-all outcomes.

Of course there has long been speculation that the social organizations of anatomically modern humans was the key for why they replaced their cousins. Many of these models though were derived from conjecture, and extrapolation. The new twist for me is that the historical population genetics is now aligning with this possibility. These are real concrete data and results.

Open Thread, 5/16/2015

51aBlSPDX8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been reading The Making of Modern Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu is a pretty big deal, and I’ve long been intrigued by him as an individual after reading about him and his contemporaries in the novel Taiko. Also, Japan seems a good way to investigate the possibilities of how one becomes modern without being fully Western.

Stanford is hosting BAPG XII in two weeks. Unless something intervenes I’ll be attending as usual. I also assume that the excessive population genomics tweeting will lose me some followers, as is the norm.

Had a good chat with Iain Mathieson today, as I swung through Berkeley (had Peking duck for lunch and Texas barbecue for dinner!). It’s a good time to be alive and be interested in human evolutionary genomics.

Lots of comments below on my post on Asian Americans and university admissions. I don’t really have a strong opinion as to how admissions should be handled. As usual my sentiment is to make a plea for honesty and candor. But I’m probably being naive and hopeless about it all.

Update: I’m in the third & fourth segments.

Asian Americans lack “good character”

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a suit brought by Asian American organizations, Harvard Accused of Bias Against Asian-Americans:

The complaint, filed by a coalition of 64 organizations, says the university has set quotas to keep the numbers of Asian-American students significantly lower than the quality of their applications merits. It cites third-party academic research on the SAT exam showing that Asian-Americans have to score on average about 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanic students and 450 points higher than African-American students to equal their chances of gaining admission to Harvard. The exam is scored on a 2400-point scale.

Ron Unz, among others, has written about this, before. So not a big surprise as to the underlying empirical trends. Liberal commentator and Harvard grad Matt Yglesias has talked about the patterns for years. It’s an open secret. The question is whether anyone cares, and whether the legal system will do anything about.

But let me note something, a lawyer defending Harvard notes:

Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel, said the school’s admissions policies are “fully compliant with the law.” The school says its admissions process takes into account a variety of factors besides academics, including applicants’ extracurricular activities and leadership qualities.

This is what a leader looks like
This is what a leader looks like

It strikes me as unlikely that Asian American applicants lack extracurricular activities. Though first generation immigrants may come from societies where academic achievement is the summum bonum, they know that in American admissions criteria that non-academic strengths matter. But, you can’t manufacture leadership and charisma. Harvard’s role is to educate and inculcate the leaders of the next generation of Americans. It is the training ground for our natural aristocracy. Can American society actually conceive of a situation where 40% of those leaders are Asian? I doubt it. Asian Americans are not seen as plausible leaders. Especially by the established oligarchs, who would prefer their own offspring to inherit the mantles of power. Asian males in particular exhibit a “penalty” in the dating game. White females perceive them to be sexually impotent (on average), and for better or worse the opinions of white females as to who is a plausible leader in our society is very telling. If American women won’t want have to have sex with them, then why would the broader society see them as creditable leaders?

This is related to something Josh Harkinson at Mother Jones pointed out recently: Asians are far underrepresented in top management in relation to their representation among rank and file workers, especially in technical positions, in Silicon Valley. This is well known. People make all sorts of excuses for this. For example, a large number of the Asians are immigrants to the children of immigrants, who may not have the “social capital” to be successful in management at an American firm.

For me, here’s the upshot: we just need to be honest. Perhaps the cultural skills and dispositions that Asian Americans bring to the labor force are naturally more amenable to technical positions and professions like medicine than they are to management. It may not be as much discrimination, even of the implicit sort, as opposed to the natural sorting of personality types. This is an option we may need to entertain, rather than assuming that it is all invidious discrimination. It does strike me as obvious that Harvard and other Ivy League schools are attempting to racially balance by putting their fingers on the admission knobs in just the perfect manner. Though I’m not particularly happy about this, being transparent and honest would at least allow us to address what’s going on, and wonder whether we should do something about it. The fact is that Asian Americans are doing relatively well, even if their proportion at Harvard is 20% instead of 40%. Do we as a society need to abolish all discrimination by any means necessary? I’d say no.

The Cro-Magnons have no descendants in Europe today

Phylogenetic tree of mtDNA lineages, with 40 K B.P Aurignacian "Fumane 2"
Phylogenetic tree of mtDNA lineages, with 40 K B.P Aurignacian “Fumane 2”

220px-Cro-MagnonA new paper in Science, The makers of the Protoaurignacian and implications for Neandertal extinction, seems to establish definitively that the Aurignacian culture, often identified as the first modern human society within Europe, was in fact of modern humans. The part that is of interest to me is the DNA evidence from this paper. In particular, they got a good quality mtDNA sequence, and put it on a phylogenetic tree with other humans. As you can see, it is clearly within the clade of modern humans, and in particular non-African modern humans. More precisely, this individual is a basal branch of haplogroup R, which is common across western Eurasia, and ancestral to many common lineages. The fact that it’s basal isn’t too surprising, this individual is ~40,000 years in the past. Because of the rapid turnover of mtDNA lineages it isn’t surprising if past lineages have gone extinct in a given region, even if total genome content is passed down.

But, I do want to enter into the record that in concert with rumors I’ve been hearing as well as the broad picture of what ancient DNA is telling us about genetic turnover that I doubt that modern Europeans in any way descend from the Cro-Magnon populations of the first settlement of the continent by moderns. Rather, I’d bet that the “hunter-gatherer” ancestry of the Europeans of today goes no further back than the post-Gravettian cultures, and perhaps later. The genetic makeup of ancient populations seems to have been more complex than we’d have imagined, and there were meta-population dynamics which we’re only getting a good grasp of. With low population densities and a fragmented Pleistocene landscape it strikes me as plausible that Palearctic mammals in particular may be characterized by repeated resettlement of the frontier of the range from core source populations after local extinctions and retrenchments.

The Other beyond the dream and nightmare

51GD7A9F3WL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Recently I reread War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, with a particular focus on the transition in Europe during the Mesolithic/Neolithic. Today with ancient DNA we know that in western Europe there were two distinct populations which came together with the arrival of agriculture. One population, which is very similar to modern southern Europeans, was a synthesis of Ice Age indigenes and an intrusive group from the Middle East. The other population, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, were related to, or in part ancestral to, much of the heritage of modern northern Europeans. An interesting aspect of the division between these two populations is that their genetic distance was very high, on the order of 0.05 to 0.10. Or that between continental races. Additionally, the hunter-gatherers may have been a fearsome sight to behold, large robust people with dark skin and hair and piercing blue eyes. A novelistic treatment of the meeting between hunter and farmer invites itself naturally (Ted Kosmatka?).

WillianGolding_TheInheritorsFurther back in time you have the meetings between our own lineage and Neandertals and other assorted hominins. No doubt some of the same discordances that characterized the interface of farmer and hunter would have applied in these situations, though even more starkly. I’ve read a fair number of novelistic takes on this “first contact.” Clan of the Cave Bear of course. But also Bjorn Kurten’s Dance of the Tiger. I’m finally getting to reading William Golding’s The Inheritors. And Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax series, which is a strange twist on the theme, deploys many of the same tropes as prehistorical fantasy despite its science fiction setting.

OrientalismBut a major problem with these books is that they turn the Neandertals into reflections of some aspect of our own dreams and nightmares about ourselves. Jean Auel’s Neandertals in Clan of the Cave Bear were patriarchal brutes, as opposed to the matrifocal Cro-Magnons. Ayla’s nemesis Broud is a nightmare inversion of dreamy Jondalar. In contrast Sawyer and Kurten depict Neandertals as a more gentle folk, more or less, in comparison to the rapacity of modern humans (Golding also goes in this direction). This is the same problem that Keeley observes in War Before Civilization, and that Steven Pinker explored in depth in The Blank Slate, though applied to our own species, with Europeans tellingly substituted for modern humans. Against this reference the Other is a noble savage, with different weights to nobility and savagery contingent upon cultural fashion.

cover_passingContemporary American discourse about social justice is marinated in this intellectual framework, the heir of the age of white supremacy and scientism which crested in the early 20th century. Left-liberals who espouse strident progressive social justice views ascribe regressive practices among non-whites purely to extraneous Western colonial influences, as if non-white peoples were innocents in the garden before the arrival of Europeans, lacking agency for good or will. Whereas a previous generation of white supremacists perceived in the non-Western the inferior and primitive, a modern generation of Westerners sees the authentic and pristine. Though the moral valence differs, the underlying structural framework is invariant. To truly carve nature about its joints in a manner which exhibits appropriate fidelity we need to go beyond this reflex. Hopefully in such a manner we can also begin to probe our own past without fewer illusions which are haunted by the present.

Atheists in Bangladesh may not be totally doomed

By now you are aware that another blogger who happened to be an atheist was killed. The modus operandi is pretty familiar. It looks like there are now “hits” going up against these individuals as a way for Islamic radicals to target an easy to scapegoat minority in Bangladesh. Atheists are now caught in a crossfire between religious nationalists and secularists, a divide which goes back to the Pakistan days. How vulnerable are the atheists? Well:

“The culture of impunity that has spread over the last few years clearly has very damning results,” Arifur Rahman told IHEU after Washiqur Rahman was killed. “… The word ‘Nastik’ (atheist) has been vilified in Bangladesh (and the rest of the Muslim world); they are seen as sub-human, it is OK to kill them.”

All cultures are not the same. In most of the Islamic world sufferance would be enough for many minorities. While craven Leftists wring their hands over insults to Islamic minorities in their midst, Islamic civilization is wrecking havoc upon the liberties of millions. That being said, there is a continuum. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Azerbaijan are not interchangeable. There are some analogies being made to Pakistan right now (like being analogized to Mississippi in the United States this is never good). That’s apposite at this particular moment because 45 Ismaili Muslims have been gunned down in Karachi. It strikes me that Pakistani sectarianism is now proceeding down a Bonhoefferian Niemöllerian gangplank, first dehumanizing non-Muslims, and then progressively narrowing the set acceptable. The nation is on the way to being a literal circular firing squad.

Bangladesh is a different case. I won’t rehash it. I will point out though that when I posted about my own identity, as an atheist of Bangladeshi origin, that when put that on reddit the response by one individual was “Who cares”? Obviously there are many things in Bangladesh that warrant attention, but, targeted killing of a reviled minority is apparently not worth notice by some. Fair enough, I suppose.

But I’m not here to emote and reflect. Rather, what does the data say? The World Values Survey has data from Bangaldesh for 1999 to 2004. One of the questions asks: Politicians who don’t believe in God unfit for public office. It seems a rough gauge for attitudes toward atheists. The results are below.


As you can see Bangladesh is roughly in the middle of the list. Observe the contrast with Pakistan. Hostility toward atheism is the majority position in all likelihood, but protests of people in the face of Islamist terror, as well as the persistence of atheists in Bangladeshi culture, indicates that there is a sufficient groundswell of liberal religious civil society that there’s a shot. In contrast in Pakistan you have a society which is now at total conformity when it comes to toleration for free thought.

Raw data: 

Question: “Politicians who don´t believe in God unfit for public office”

Country Agree strongly Agree Neither agree or disagree Disagree Strongly disagree No answer Don’t know
Sweden 1.7 2.3 11.4 36.8 47.3 0 0.4
Spain 1.8 8.7 17 40.2 23.7 0 8.7
South Korea 2.6 6.7 27.3 37.5 15.4 0 10.5
Vietnam 4.5 11.9 16.9 47.4 5.8 0 13.5
Bosnia 5.1 10 30.2 25.5 22.2 0 7
Serbia 8.7 16.2 14 34.7 17.2 0 9.2
Canada 6.6 12 21.8 35.9 21.2 0 2.5
India 14.5 18.2 11.3 26.6 8.1 0 21.3
Chile 14 18.3 10 20.6 31.4 0 5.6
Japan 2.2 5.4 49.6 25.5 14.9 0 2.5
Mexico 14.9 21.5 9.2 27.3 16.2 0 10.9
Macedonia 17.7 14.7 16.8 27.5 16.6 0 6.8
Argentina 13.7 20.5 17 31.1 12.3 0 5.4
Kyrgyzstan 10.5 25 19.1 35.2 9.6 0 0.6
Moldova 11.7 28.9 21 24.1 5 0 9.2
Albania 16.1 24.8 24.7 19.2 7.2 0 8
United States 17.6 20.3 25.8 27.1 8.4 0 0.8
Zimbabwe 14.9 36.4 8.3 31.8 3.6 0 5.1
South Africa 22.9 24.6 19 19.9 7.1 0 6.5
Turkey 28.7 28.2 11.5 16.9 9.1 0.1 5.6
Venezuela 35.5 15.8 15.1 18.8 12.7 0 2.2
Uganda 25.2 36.2 14.3 17 4.3 0 3
Bangladesh 30.2 37 5.2 20 2.3 0 5.3
Puerto Rico 36.5 26.9 11.7 19.3 3.6 0.4 1.5
Tanzania 53.4 11.2 11 13.9 8.1 1 1.4
Philippines 26.8 44.4 14.7 11.9 1.9 0 0.2
Algeria 51.7 20.7 8 8.7 3.3 0 7.6
Jordan 66.6 11.1 2.1 6.8 9.3 0 4.1
Iraq 66.1 15.1 0 5.5 6.9 2.2 4.2
Nigeria 56.8 24.2 7.6 6.8 3.6 0 1
Indonesia 59.4 27.9 1.9 7.2 2 0 1.6
Morocco 72.4 14.2 2.7 4.3 1.2 0 5.1
Egypt 70.1 17.6 2.4 4.9 4.9 0 0
Pakistan 82.4 12.5 4 0.9 0.2 0 0