Open Thread, 9/20/2015

j10063I know I’ve mentioned that stopped reading much about religion a few years back because I had hit diminishing marginal returns. But this Peter Turchin review of Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, made me reconsider. There’s no time or inclination in the near term for me to read this book, but it’s definitely in my mental stack now. I found the thesis plausible, and am familiar with the author’s published research, but remain mildly skeptical. Some of the experimental cognitive science I’ve seen in this literature is kind of “wow, that’s cool!”, but of late I’ve started to become more skeptical, as much of it turns out to not have generalizable relevance or is not robust (see The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us). But, it does seem that this research program is starting to go into a more multi-disciplinary direction, and that’s a good thing, as you have multiple domains of “cross-checking” to build your positive case.

418MoLiuCdL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_On Twitter Steven Pinker points out that IQ has been immune from replicability crisis. Unlike a concept like implicit association there aren’t debates about its relevance to other characteristics (e.g., no, you do not necessarily behave in a more racist manner if you score as more racist on the IA tests) as well as the robustness of the result itself (e.g., the same people can get wildly different scores on re-tests which aren’t spaced that far apart). But that’s one reason I haven’t read much about IQ in years. The last book I read all the way through on IQ was probably James Flynn’s What is Intelligence (though I am excited to read my friend Garrett Jones’ book Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, which is coming out in early November). Basically, the major findings of intelligence testing are pretty well set and good enough for someone for whom the topic isn’t a specialization. Similarly, from the lay perspective you don’t really need to keep up on the latest details in evolutionary science. The big sketch is probably already good enough for you. But, I did buy a copy of Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All That Matters. I’ve sampled a fair amount of the book, though not read it front to back, and I think I can recommend it to those who want a primer.

Current Biology has a new paper, The Role of Recent Admixture in Forming the Contemporary West Eurasian Genomic Landscape. It uses the fineStructure framework, basically looking at haplotype sharing across groups. The time depth here of the inferences are relatively recent. There’s a lot in the paper, and I don’t know how to interpret all of it. But, it does reiterate that recent gene flow is a pervasive feature of the human landscape, and not just one of the modern era.

I will be in the DC-Baltimore area for ASHG in a few weeks. Excited about the poster buffet. Also going to eat spicy Chinese food. Any recommendations in Baltimore for Sichuan?

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