Predictions for 2018

I don’t normally do year-end stuff. But I figured, why not? After all, I put up a post at my work blog about the major things that happened in historical human pop gen this year.

Indian population genomics will move forward notably. The ancient DNA work really feels like vaporware sometimes. Some of the researchers involved reach out to journalists (people of my acquaintance) and leave tantalizing clues, but they disappear off the face of the earth. I assume that some sort of Indo-Aryan intrusion from Central Asia will seem clear from the data and results, though the Indian media and intellectual class will claim the opposite. In this way they are just like the American media and intellectual class; if the evidence does not fit just say that the evidence says the opposite of what it does. People will believe because they want to believe.

The current protests in Iran won’t go anywhere. Someone with guns needs to be on the side of the protestors. That’s it. Also, if a group with guns ends up favoring them, the West will find that anti-clerical Iranians are quite nationalistic and not necessarily liberal democrats.

The Democrats will win the House of Representatives. I think there’s about a 50/50 chance that they’ll get the Senate.

The United States will be in a recession by the last quarter of 2018. We’re overdue. All OECD countries are growing, to the point where Brent crude prices are going up. This isn’t sustainable, especially since many developed nations have been kicking the bucket down the line.

Personal genomics is going to be more of a presence as the year progresses. I was surprised by all the attacks from the tech-press on direct to consumer genomics over the past few months. That indicates to me that the industry is getting big enough to be a click-bait target.

George R. R. Martin will publish Winds of Winter.

More ancient DNA from the New World. This has been in the works for a while. I’m really skeptical that they won’t be able to push it out in 2018.

Twitter will continue to not be able to find its way. Basically, it can’t win, and won’t win.

More work in complex trait genetics published. This is has been long in the works, so this I know for a fact. Whatever the results, don’t worry, it will confirm all your priors no matter what those priors are.

Preparing for Nero

Richard Elliott Friedman’s The Hidden Face of God grapples with the reality that over time in the Biblical narrative the deity becomes less and less a direct presence. In Genesis, humankind has conversations with the divine, and arguably even wrestles with God himself. This is not what we see in later books. Or more precisely, we don’t see.

For a nonbeliever, this is an issue of intellectual curiosity (I’d be one of those). But if you are a believer in the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, then these are serious and important questions. God is, after all, the most important truth of them all.*

The “hiding” away of a great truth or truths is not simply of relevance to God or the supernatural. Whigs believe that modernity converges toward truth. But Whigs may not get to define the truth of matters on this question.

Let’s posit, hypothetically, that the notionally open Enlightenment republic of letters, which plumbs the depths of nature and society for Truth, is beyond its high tide. That over the next decade or so intellectuals, seekers of the truth in a notional objective reality, slowly withdraw from visibility or at least begin to engage in explicit and self-conscious opacity. In public speaking for example making recourse to code or dog-whistles. But private intellectual communities will persist.

The question is how will they persist? Face-to-face salons and meet-ups are one option. Then there are private e-lists and slack channels, as well as direct message communities on Twitter and Facebook groups (these have all emerged in the last few years as public discourse on social media has gotten nastier).

The major problem I see here is that you trade off scale for security. Consider what happened with JournoList. Any “exclusive” group will become infested with moles over time, and private conversations will be made public. People will anticipate this as a group becomes popular and become less candid. As a group scales, it loses its utility.

In contrast, in-person meetings are generally totally free from these worries (unless someone is recording you). Unfortunately, these do not scale well. Adding and removing people from in-person meet-ups takes a lot of work. From what I’ve seen often that work is done by a few individuals who eventually get burned out. At which point the group dissolves or breaks up into smaller more socially-focused units. If a group can not scale, its utility is constrained and limited.

What we need are technological tools which will allow for surreptitious private candid freethought in a public world dominated by social credit and conformity due to authoritarianism. Demagogues may persecute those who speak uncomfortable truths for the sake of the body politic, but if these people are discreet they surely have a role in to play in the great game of mass manipulation that will probably become much more advanced as this century proceeds. Truth is a tool which even the princes of lies can use to win their battles. When Nero comes all will make peace with the new brutality no doubt.

The reality is that many of our institutions are already quite corrupt. And yet it is also true that privately many people who lie in public exhibit virtue and common sense. They are constrained by the system, they do not create it. Of course, they are craven and one has to understand that they will make the denunciations necessary when the time comes for them to do so. But it’s all just business. This seems the human norm.  Technology has to work with our nature, not against it.

Snapchat’s feature of messages which disappear was created so that teens could exchange nudes. The aim here was to share an intimacy, titillate, not create a permanent record. Similarly, any technological system to foster intellectual discussion has to take into account considerations of privacy, trust, and permanency. In a way, the peer-review system has some of these features, but it is rather slow and calcified at this point.

We need better things….

* Christians reverse the disappearance of God through the incarnation, but that’s a different thing altogether.


The iPhone killed commenting

Back when this domain received about 15 or 20 percent of the traffic it now receives there were many more commenters. What happened? One of the reasons the Sepia Mutiny weblog was shut down was that as the commentariat withered after 2007 there was less motivation to keep a community going (there was none).

The explanation at the time was that people were moving conversations to Facebook. Today we would add Twitter and Reddit to the list of “culprits.”

But there’s another thing that is hard to ignore: about half the traffic that comes to this website is now on iOS or Android. That is, half the traffic to this domain is mobile.

I’m pretty sure that the nature of browsing content on a phone discourages the sorts of intense back & forth exchanges which were the bread & butter of comments sections of weblogs in the days of yore.

Why Darwinian metaphors work for start-ups

Peter Thiel is a deep thinker. I say that because some of my friends in the Bay Area whom I respect for being punctilious practitioners of cognitive hygiene nevertheless exhibit awe in relation to their conversations with him (for what it’s worth, most do not agree with his politics). Though Thiel has the standard educational qualifications and cognitive abilities of America’s ruling class, I think the key aspect is that people perceive in him a deep cunning which is very unnerving. This cunning is why he is a successful entrepreneur, and not an affluent lawyer on staff at a major tech firm.

Zero To One has many insights for the typical reader, though perhaps less so for those steeped in economic history, endogenous growth theory, or evolutionary biology. The novelty is in a situation of scientific ways of viewing in the world in the business and tech landscape of Silicon Valley.

But one way of talking that Thiel expresses skepticism of is the “Darwinian” language of competition employed by many people in business. I think here he misses the mark because he conceives of Darwinian processes in purely biological terms. As it is, a lot of the ideas in the field of cultural evolution, which models inter-group human dynamics, dovetails with recommendations in Zero To One.

Probably the biggest takeaway for me was the importance of asabiyyah in the likelihood of the long-term success of a firm. But anyone who has worked at a start-up knows this intuitively. Financial alignment of interests are necessary, but not sufficient. Culture matters.

Against Thomas Jefferson!

I was unexpectedly traveling on an airplane recently, so I had some time to read Michael Lind’s Land of Promise (I had just finished Peter Thiel’s Zero to One). Though with the subtitle “An Economic History of the United States,” it’s not a dispassionate, or frankly scholarly, take. Lind marshals a great deal of evidence, but it’s in the service of promoting a Hamiltonian or “developmentalist” view of American history, as opposed to a Jeffersonian or “producerist” perspective.

As such, Land of Promise steps into a debate that goes back to the early days of the republic, though modern interpretations are colored by own peculiar perspectives. One of the major problems with this debate is that it transcends contemporary political alignments. Today Lind is broadly to the Left (he was originally a neoconservative), but he stands strongly against the sort of arguments promoted by Matt Stoller in How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. Stoller is an heir to the populist tradition in the Democratic party which goes back to Thomas Jefferson, but famously crystalized under Andrew Jackson. In contrast, Michae Lind and the developmentalists are heirs to Henry Clay’s American System.

In What Hath God Wrought Daniel Walker Howe suggests that though Jacksonian populism was politically ascendant in the first half of the 19th century, with the battle over the Second Bank of the United States symbolic of the reputation of Alexander Hamilton’s vision, ultimately Hamilton and Clay’s ideas ultimately won the day. As Lind and others have pointed out Abraham Lincoln was explicitly an heir of Henry Clay, and the high-tariff Republican party of the 19th and early 20th century maintained the germ of developmentalism, even during the height of Gilded Age laissez-faire.

The “problem” is that today these differences between developmentalists and producerists are hard to map onto modern configurations, though the impulses remain with us. The post-World War II American consensus favored a gradual deemphasize on industrial policy and free trade, in line with producerist thinking, but also public investment in national projects, such as the interstate highway system or the internet, in line with developmentalist thinking.

I haven’t finished  Land of Promise, but it was written in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and before the chaotic Trump revolution of 2016. Lind’s argument seems to be that government and large private actors should act in partnership, with the former restraining the worst impulses of the latter. In ways the method here is not that different from what “business Republicans”/”donor class Republicans” would prefer. In contrast, someone like Matt Stoller is suspicious of bigness, oligopoly, and concentration of power, in classic Jeffersonian fashion. In this manner he actually shares a rhetorical pose with some populist conservatives.

As a modern person, I don’t know where I fall. The America of my youth, the Reagan-Clinton era, was dominated by a Jeffersonian-producerist rhetoric, if not always action. On the other hand, history generally suggests to me that a Hamiltonian-developmentalist paradigm is friendly to the facts of how the world is, as opposed to how it should be.

Why the Democratic wave may be bigger because of gerrymandering

I’ve been saying for a while that I think the Democrats will probably retake the House in 2018. More recently the probability seems to be getting higher and higher if you look at the generic ballot.

But I noticed something on Twitter and made an observation which I think perhaps I should put here: the conscious Republican gerrymandering after 2010 opens the possibility for greater Democratic gains because of tail risk. I was prompted to this comment after seeing a distribution of likely outcomes of the November 2018 election. The shape of the likely number of Republican/Democratic representatives wasn’t Gaussian. Rather, there was a much longer Democratic tail to the distribution. I hypothesized that this was the outcome of massive Democratic gains if the wave was high enough, and gerrymandering districts begin to overtop and flip.

The logic is pretty straightforward. Republican gerrymandering involves packing Democrats into some districts and dividing others between very Republican districts. The packing decreases the proportions of Democrats in some Republican districts. But the dilution of Democrats across very Republican districts, leaving somewhat less Republican, but still reliably Republican, districts, is where my point comes in.

If the national generic ballot swing toward Democrats is large enough, then some safe Republican seats come into play. Distribution of Democrats across these districts in a normal year does not entail anything more than a trivial shift in probabilities. But in a wave election, the standard operating procedure might not hold. If the Democratic votes were in a single district, then the Republican districts that remained would be more robust to a wave. As it is, removing these safe Democratic districts and distributing them across Republican districts made these districts a little less robust to a wave.

Open Thread, 12/24/2017

Well, Merry Christmas Eve!

I’ve been rereading Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. Recommended. A little different now that I’ve been involved in start-ups.

I would say that a lot of it is a pretty straightforward application of stuff you’ll encounter in economics and economic history to Silicon Valley (e.g., economic growth through technology vs. Smithian growth through globalization).

Haven’t had time to work on the South Asian Genotype Project much since I’ve burned a lot of hours on the margin moving websites. I’ll get back to it in the next few days.

Just a reminder, two days now to get $80 off Helix products (say early hours of December 26th), including Neanderthal, Metabolism and Regional Ancestry.

A friend asked about which podcasts I listen to. Here are the ones I listen to habitually:

In Our Time. I’ve been listening to this podcast for 10 years now. The Glenn Show on Probably listen to 75% of these discussions. Planet Money and Tides of History.

Secular Jihadists. One of the cohosts pointed out on the last episode that Stalin and Mao killed more people than Hitler. Oh, and that white people are the “least racist.” We live in a predictable world, and this podcast always surprises me with the originality of the hosts (though I demur from their New Atheism).

Chap Trap House. I don’t really get it, but the bro-banter is pretty amusing to me.

Stuff You Missed In History Class.

Politics Podcast from FiveThirtyEight.

Also, my podcast with Spencer Wells is going well (if downloads are any measure). We have some stuff coming up on Neanderthals (two episodes), as well as the Aryan invasion of India. You can find it on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play too (Spotify hasn’t gotten back to me).

I’ll be taking some time off from this weblog and my day job spending some time with my kids the week after Christmas. I’ll probably post stuff if I really have to, but otherwise might be a little quieter….

“Rakhigarhi paper” out in January 2018? (maybe?)

Tony Joseph has an interesting piece up, Who built the Indus Valley civilisation?, which people are asking me about via email. First, I don’t have any inside information. Last I heard in September was that the Rakhigarhi results were “one or two months away,” like they have been for a year or so. So I put it out of mind.

In any case, here are the important points:

All this could now change thanks to the science of genetics and four ancient skeletons excavated from a village called Rakhigarhi in Haryana. The four people to whom these bones once belonged — a couple, a boy and a man — lived roughly 4,600 years ago when the Indus Valley civilisation was in full bloom.

In the three-and-a-half years since its excavation, Shinde has brought together scientists from Indian and international institutions like the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad (CCMB), Harvard Medical School, Seoul National University, and the University of Cambridge to work on different parts of the project, including extracting and analysing DNA from these ancient people, reconstructing their faces, and studying the remains of their habitation to understand their daily habits and ways of life.

The DNA analysis will also help figure out their height, body features, and even the colour of their eyes….

Joseph also asserts that the publication will happen in a “leading international journal” in a month or so. If I had to bet, I’d say Nature.

Harvard Medical School suggests to me they finally got David Reich’s group involved. As for Cambridge University, Eske Willerslev now has an appointment there. He’s apparently assembling a paleogenetics group.

The piece specifically highlights Y and mtDNA. But if they are talking about height, body features, and color of eyes, they must have gotten genome-wide data. If Eske Willerslev is involved they may have sequenced the whole genome at some coverage of at least one of the samples.

If I had to bet I think the Rakhigarhi samples will be Y haplogroups J2 or the Indian branch of L, and the mtDNA will be an Indian branch of M. In terms of genome-wide patterns they will exhibit a mixture between West Eurasian ancestry, with strong affinities to Near Eastern farmers from the Zagros, and what we now term “Ancestral South Indians” (AS), who descend from the aboriginal peoples of the subcontinent, and are genetically somewhat closer to East Eurasians than West Eurasians (to be fair, I think it is not implausible that much of ASI heritage is the product of westward migration out of Southeast Asia during the Pleistocene and early Holocene).

Overall, genetically these samples may look the most like South Indian non-Brahmin middle-to-upper castes. Think the Reddy people of Andhra Pradesh. Additionally, going back to R1a1a-Z93, I do think it was intrusive with the Indo-Aryans. Its highest frequencies do tend to be among upper castes, and there is an increasing cline toward the northwest of the subcontinent.

ButR1a1a-Z93’s presence at appreciable frequencies in South India among non- Brahmins, including tribal populations, indicates a more complex ethnogenesis of Dravidian speaking groups than we might have realized. Priya Moorjani told me specifically that 4,000 years ago there were “unmixed ANI and ASI groups” in the subcontinent. I think for the former she’s picking up the signal of intrusive Indo-Aryans. But what about the latter? I doubt there were unmixed ASI in the Indus Valley. But they probably still persisted to the south and east when the Indus Valley people were in decline and the Indo-Aryans arrived. The South Indian Neolithic dates from 3000 to 1400 BC.

Here my moderate confidence sketch. The collapse of the Indus Valley civilization was probably ultimately due to the fact that these early antique societies were not very robust to exogenous shocks and endogenous decay of asabiya. Once these societies, which have accumulated some level of surplus wealth by squeezing it out of the Malthusian margin, start to totter social collapse and dissolution can happen fast, and barbarian groups outside of the gates with more social cohesion can engage in a takeover.

In the case of the collapse of the Sumerian-Akkadian civilization, the barbarian Amorites actually took over and maintained cultural continuity. In post-Roman Britain, the Roman civilization collapsed in totality, and “Roman Christianity” had to be reintroduced from the European continent and from the Celts into Anglo-Saxon England. The barbarian takeover resulted in the total cultural obliteration of the Britons. Finally, you have instances such as post-Roman Gaul, which transformed into Francia. Unlike the case of the transition from the rule of the Third Dynasty of Ur to that of the Amorites, the Frankish rulers oversaw a wholesale reimagining of the identity of the people of Gaul. Even as late as 800, a ruler such as Charlemagne still spoke a dialect of German as his first language. And yet the Franks of Neustria were ultimately transformed and became one with the “Romans” whom they ruled.

In the post-Harappan world of northwest India I suspect something close to the Anglo-Saxon precedent is likely. Though the majority of the ancestry of the Upper Gangetic plain is not Indo-Aryan, a substantial proportion is. And this ancestry is detectable at lower fractions even among non-Brahmin Bengalis. In Central and South India the situation was probably more like Mesopotamia around ~2000 BC or Gaul post-500 AD. There were various sorts of interactions between Indo-Aryans and local populations, as well as the final assimilation of aboriginal peoples into Indo-Aryan and Dravidian speaking peoples.*

* The Munda people clearly have some East Asian ancestry. And, they are mostly a mix of ANI and ASI. But whenever I look at their genome-wide results it strikes me they may not have any Indo-Aryan ancestry. This may ultimately be totally comprehensible in light of the chronology of migration and segregation.

Update: One of the researchers involved indicates Eske Willerslev is not involved.

The general social complexity factor is a thing

The above is the Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world, derived from responses to the World Values Survey which are subject to principal component analysis. Basically, you take all the variation and pull out the biggest independent dimensions which can explain the variation. You’ve seen this with genetic data, but the method is pretty common in the social sciences.

When you do this with genetic data and human populations and use adequate sample representation PC1 is almost always African vs. non-African and PC2 is West Eurasia/North Africa vs. the rest of the world that’s not Africa. Though one can quibble with the details the reality is that these patterns are easy to reconcile with evolutionary history. Humans first split between Africans and non-Africans, and the west vs. east division in Eurasia is arguably the next major bifurcation (and gene flow barrier).

For the above map, the first two principal components explain 70 percent of the variance in the data. So what are they? You can see above that they labeled the x-axis as survival to self-expression, and the y-axis tradition to secular-rational. I’m not hung up on what this means and am not going to explore that. Rather, notice the geographic clustering.  These dimensions pass the smell test in terms of their clustering.

If you look at the distributions pretty much none of them should be surprising to you historically.  Protestant Northern Europe was very different in 1700 from today, but it was already a coherent socio-cultural phenomenon. Similarly, Russia has been historically distinct from Western Europe culturally for nearly the whole of its existence as a coherent polity (from ~1000 AD on). In fact, the marriage of Ann of Kiev into the French royal family in the 11th century may be indicative of the closest relationship of what became Russia to the West before the early modern period.* On this map, Russia and other Eastern European nations are quite distant from Northern Europe, and to some extent from Catholic Europe.

But this map isn’t just a reflection of geography. You see that Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia occupy positions in relationship to Russia and Western Europe exactly where you would predict from their history. Serbia has a much stronger affinity with Russia, Croatia is in Catholic Europe, while Slovenia seems more like Northern European nations than Croatia. Bosnia occupies a position between Croatia and Serbia. These variations are important because ethno-linguistically the divisions between Serbians, Croatians and Bosnians (and lesser extent Slovenians) are minor. They originate from groups of Slavs who settled among the native Pannonians, whether Latin or Illyrian speaking, only in the centuries before 1000 AD.

What you are seeing here quantitatively are the historical fissures that occurred during to division between Western and Eastern Europe through theological conflict, and later the shock of the Tatar Yoke for the Russians, and Ottoman domination in the Balkans. If you know some history the reality that Croatia is Catholic, and oriented toward the West, and long been under Austrian and Hungarian hegemony, explains why it is where it is culturally. Similarly, Serbia is Orthodox, was oriented toward Byzantium, and later subjugated for centuries under the Ottomans.

But most people don’t know much history. This is why visual representations of quantitative social science data are quite useful. It’s almost impossible to convince the ignorant of historical truths when they don’t know any history because they can’t tell if you are making things up. Usually they trust you if you are part of their in-group, and distrust you if you are of an out-group.

For example, over the years a few times I’ve had really strange conversations about whether Russia is a Western nation or not on Twitter. There are roughly two groups that assert Russia is a Western nation: 1) white nationalists, for whom whiteness is necessary and sufficient for being Western 2) historically naive public intellectuals who can’t evaluate competing hypotheses, and implicitly impute Western identity to Russia because Russians are white and Christian (at least culturally). With white nationalists obviously there isn’t going to be a major argument. Their framework is just so different.

But historically naive public intellectuals are a different case. They simply don’t know enough facts to make even the weakest judgement, and so default back to the heuristic of racial and cultural categorization at the coarsest levels (this also explains their need to transform white-skinned and often blue-eyed Turkish and Balkan Muslims into “people of color”). At this point one can point out a lot of facts, including the reality that for centuries Russian intellectuals themselves debated about whether to become Western or retain their own distinctive identity as separate. And yet at the end of it all how would someone who doesn’t know much history know whether to give credibility to my contentions? If I stated that much of late medieval Russian statecraft owed much to experience of princes who grew up under the Tatar Yoke as well as the creation of a frontier culture which assimilated aspects of the Tatar lifestyle (as well as some Tatar nobility, who converted to Christianity and became part of the boyar class), how would they easily figure out if I’m bullshitting them? (yes, they could go read-up, but by the fact they don’t know relatively introductory history well into adulthood indicates no deep interest in doing this).

Quantitative and formal measures give us a simple language that even the naive can navigate. One can define Russia as within the West, or without, but one can not deny that socio-culturally it is quite distinct from Western and Northern European cultures. The data say it is so!

This brings me to a new paper in PNAS (OA), Quantitative historical analysis uncovers a single dimension of complexity that structures global variation in human social organization. It’s one of the first results from the Seshat: Global History Databank. Peter Turchin is heavily involved in this, but I notice the above paper also includes Harvey Whitehouse on the author list. I’ve long admired his work on the cognitive dimension of cultural production and variation.

Here’s the abstract:

Do human societies from around the world exhibit similarities in the way that they are structured, and show commonalities in the ways that they have evolved? These are long-standing questions that have proven difficult to answer. To test between competing hypotheses, we constructed a massive repository of historical and archaeological information known as “Seshat: Global History Databank.” We systematically coded data on 414 societies from 30 regions around the world spanning the last 10,000 years. We were able to capture information on 51 variables reflecting nine characteristics of human societies, such as social scale, economy, features of governance, and information systems. Our analyses revealed that these different characteristics show strong relationships with each other and that a single principal component captures around three-quarters of the observed variation. Furthermore, we found that different characteristics of social complexity are highly predictable across different world regions. These results suggest that key aspects of social organization are functionally related and do indeed coevolve in predictable ways. Our findings highlight the power of the sciences and humanities working together to rigorously test hypotheses about general rules that may have shaped human history.

Intuitively most people would have guessed this. Social complexity is a thing. Human cultural evolution has exhibited some directionality or at least a general secular trend. If you have read a lot of history and thought about these things you’d come to these conclusions intuitively.

I could also assert that northern France in the 12th century AD was a more socially complex society than the one the Romans conquered in the 1st century BC. Why? I could give plenty of reasons. But it is at this point that a fashionable viewpoint in some academic circles would problematize this assertion, and argue that characterizing High Medieval France as more complex than pre-Roman Gaul exposes one’s own assumptions and beliefs, as opposed to facts about the world.

You know the type. One problem one often encounters with this line of argument is that the individuals making the argument really don’t know enough in terms of facts to know what they’re refuting. Rather, they’ve been caught along on a current academic fashion.

This is why figures like the one to the left are important. It shows values on the social complexity factor, PC1, for Latium (red), the Paris basin (blue) and Iceland (green). What you see is that the Paris basin lags Latium up until around 0 AD. At this point there is catch-up. Though Gallic social complexity was already increasing in the centuries up to the Roman conquest (one reason the Romans found conquest of Gaul useful was that it was wealthy enough to steal from), it was only around the time of assimilation into the Roman state that it caught up to Latium.

Latium and the Paris basin both decrease in social complexity after the fall of the Roman Empire. But after 1000 AD the Paris basin outstrips Latium. In the 12th century it does seem that the Paris basin was more socially complex than it was in the pre-Roman period.

It is much easier to point an ignorant person to a chart than go through a laundry list of facts. Facts without context and background knowledge are not useful. But visualizations of data are much more easily digestible.

The authors show that the nine complexity characteristics are highly correlated with each other. Some of these make sense (those related to polity scale). But others are not as straightforward, though the verbal arguments present themselves (e.g., polities with lots of people are more likely to need written scripts for bureaucratic record keeping; the data show this to be true). Additionally, the models that are general can predict patterns in individual regions. That implies that the same dynamics are occurring cross-culturally. Each society is not sui generis for the purposes of analysis.

Of course a standard retort will be that the selection and coding of criteria of complexity itself is biased. That’s fine. But with formal methods we can actually hash out disagreements and points of interpretation in a much simple and clear manner than before. Ultimately I think those who object to this sort of analysis actually object to analysis driven by data and formal methods, as opposed to their own intuitions and personal preference. After all, it’s not a great discovery to find that there is a common cross-cultural dynamic which underpins social complexity.

But in the future Seshat and the researchers who utilize it will smoke out counter-intuitive or surprising results. The data and methods are there.

* Ann herself seems to have been mostly of Scandinavian ancestry as was the norm for the early Kievan nobility. Her mother was a Swedish-born princess, while her father was a Slavicized Rurikid.

Finland to sequence 10% of its population in 6 years

As you may have heard, Finland is starting a major genomics initiative. They’re going to try and sequence 500,000 Finns over the next 6 years. Obviously, these are goals, and sometimes efforts fall short. But sequencing is only going to get cheaper. I think they’ll get it done.

After the UK Biobank I’m starting to wonder if European countries with robust socialized medical sectors are really going to start shining in this big data + medicine space because of their ability to ramp up scale and coordination very fast. In the late 2000s, a few friends predicted this might happen, and that seems right.

And it is true because of their low effective population size and therefore genetic homogeneity sequencing and analyzing Finns is useful. Also, it might be some sort of bias in the discovery, but they do seem to have a lot of recessive diseases. But ultimately I’m hoping a non-European nation besides an East Asian can get it together with a similar effort so we get some more genomic diversity into the system. The Gulf states are my bet, as they have major issues with recessive diseases and some money to pump into the system.