Open Thread, 3/6/2018

Eden in the East is a weird book. Written in the late 1990s before modern-day genomics, its central thesis about the origin of Southeast Asian people in Pleistocene Sundaland seems likely to be wrong (at least most of their ancestry). But the author, a polymath medical doctor, marshals an enormous amount of archaeological and textual data supporting old ideas of cultural diffusionism, much of it plausible.

Despite my skepticism of the general theses promoted, reading Eden in the East is useful insofar as you need data and interpretive sieve for the swell of ancient DNA.

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is eliminating many majors and adding new ones. This is eliciting a lot of outrage on Twitter.

Public universities are funded by the public. If they aren’t fulfilling the public role then things will have to change. Unlike many people, I don’t shed too many tears about the elimination of some of these majors because most graduates of them are stupid and uninformed (some of them actually have a less accurate view of the world coming out than before they arrived at university).

Here’s the breakdown:

Expanding programs Change into majors Discontinuing the programs
Chemical Engineering Aquaculture/Aquaponics American Studies
Computer Information Systems Captive Wildlife Art – Graphic Design will continue as a distinct major
Conservation Law Enforcement Ecosystem Design and Remediation English – English for teacher certification will continue
Finance Environmental Engineering French
Fire Science Geographic Information Science Geography
Graphic Design Master of Business Administration Geoscience
Management Master of Natural Resources German
Marketing Doctor of Physical Therapy History – Social Science for teacher certification will continue
    Music Literature
    Political Science
    Sociology — Social Work major will continue


Let’s set aside the fact that some of these programs, such as sociology and American Studies, are often de facto political action outfits. As someone who has talked to people who have history degrees from universities of various prestige and stringency, institutions of higher learning are doing a really shitty job inculcating knowledge into these kids. Or love of the topic. Also, their critical faculties aren’t the best. Too much critical theory, not enough critical thinking. Recitation doesn’t cut it.

Aquaculture and aquaponics is a vocational program of study which isn’t sexy, but at least it aims to impart skills. That’s what a lot of these kids need.

So my buddies at DNA Geeks unveiled a new t-shirt, Pipe(tte) Dream.

I kind of thought it was funny, but it turns out there’s some demand for stuff like this. Is bench biology still a thing? I guess so…. Anyway, if you are interested, click on through!

Evolutionary inferences about quantitative traits are affected by underlying genealogical discordance. This is an important preprint. Read it.

The Silicon Valley elite’s latest status symbol: Chickens. Some of the people caught up in this are quite self-aware: Citroen’s 19-year-old son, Luca, who grew up around the family business, puts it this way: “Being able to say you have chickens says, ‘I have a back yard,’ and having a back yard says, ‘I have space.’ And having space means you have money, especially when it comes to Silicon Valley real estate.” Chickens are a “hard to fake” signal of wealth. Yeah (the Romans had sacred chickens).

My main hope is that some of these rich Silicon Valley hobby-farmers pick up a copy of Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. It would do them some good (and perhaps the world?).

Do any readers have a review copy of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity? It’s Carl Zimmer’s new book and the publisher is out of galleys.

Speaking of reviews, I’ll be writing one up for Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past for a publication most of you have heard of. Have to put the “writer hat” back on for a bit. Between my job, my intellectual interests, and family, I haven’t put much effort into that.

You probably know that Antifa went after Christina Sommers:

To be honest these forays by centrists (Sommers is a registered Democrat with libertarian leanings, similar to Steven Pinker) into the academy are starting to remind me of those ridiculous “debates” that Jews had to have with professional anti-Jews (mostly apostates) in the courts of medieval European monarchs. There were the outward forms of debate, but everyone knew what it was about (since Sommers and Pinker are from Jewish backgrounds perhaps that’s apposite).

Similarly, when the campus Left is against some speaker many people roll their eyes, and the administration makes the usual noises, but you know that the protestors are going to get a slap on the hands no matter how obnoxious or aggressive they are. For most academics, for various reasons, there are no enemies on the Left. Communists and Communist sympathizers like Angela Davis can be fulsomely praised with no worries about reputation, but those academics who think Sommers or Pinker are making reasonable points have to furtively communicate on secret direct message groups.

That’s where we are.

I now understand why Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities has been assigned to so many undergraduates: it’s a short and simple book. It’s depressing but unsurprising that it could be so influential. More on that later.

The criticisms that Enlightenment Now doesn’t really delve into the intellectual archaeology of the Enlightenment are spot on. But this seems a case where the title is a bit off, but the text itself is solid. I have seen on Twitter quotes about how Pinker has apologia for the Tuskegee experiment. My prior at this point about these sorts of invidious accusations is that they’re lies. For a variety of reasons, people lie about Steven Pinker. That’s sad, but we live in a world where liars prosper, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

My podcast with Spencer, The Insight, has been pretty successful so far. I just submitted it to a bunch of podcast directories this weekend to cover bases. Our goal is to get highlighted by iTunes, so if you haven’t, subscribe and leave a good review! (also, there are only three reviews on Stitcher so far)

We interviewed Chris Stringer a few weeks ago. This week we’re trying to get Milford Wolpoff recorded (to be posted next week). We have some ideas about guests we might have on. Currently, we want to mix personal genomics/biotech, genetics, and paleoanthropology. I think I want to mix in some straight history at some point, since so much ancient DNA is starting to percolate into that field.

Retweets Are Trash. Basically, the argument is that if you get rid of RTs some of the toxic effects of Twitter are dampened. Skeptical, but hopeful.

How Twitter Lost The Internet War. The most important part is the assertion that Twitter has a lot of tech-debt that it hasn’t retired or discharged, and that’s why it hasn’t been able to solve its troll problem in a non-manual manner. I have a hard time crediting this. But perhaps that’s how it is?

Turkey Is Turning Into the Next Pakistan. Being totally honest, it’s hard for me to believe that the media hasn’t been underplaying this story. Back when ISIS was a thing, Turkey was turning a blind eye to thousands of foreign fighters that were streaming into Syria. Even if Turkey isn’t pro-Islamist (and it kind of is), they are clearly backing Sunni Islamists who will impose a nasty majoritarianism if they ever win. Not that the anarcho-communist Kurds we’re backing would be any better in the long run.

Ultimately in Syria, I can’t begrudge ethnoreligious minorities for siding with the Assad regime against the rebels. And, I can’t begrudge the Sunni population their reliance on militants who are more fierce and principled in defending them and their interests against the government. But we’ve been through Iraq twice. Our Saudi ally has birthed monsters over the past generation. We turned a blind eye when our ally of convenience in the 1980s, Iraq, engaged in gas attacks against Iran and the Kurds.

We need to learn, and just stop. Stop!

On the lookout for Kindle deals in books. Here’s what I got recently:

* The Rise and Fall of Communism.
* Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization
* The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

I have a lot of books on Communism that I need to read!

Interesting paper, Understanding the factors that shape patterns of nucleotide diversity in the house mouse genome.

The 500 errors on this site are due to a plugin and some of the issues with porting this blog over a few months ago. I need to allocate a day to figure this out, but I’ll do it. The same issues with the South Asian Genotype Project. I will update it. But I need to have four or five uninterrupted hours, and that’s just hard to come by.

SXSW should be interesting this week. As per usual I’ll avoid most of the festivities.


25 thoughts on “Open Thread, 3/6/2018

  1. starting to remind me of those ridiculous “debates” that Jews had to have with professional anti-Jews (mostly apostates) in the courts of medieval European monarchs.

    WWE for the educated?

  2. I kind of thought it was funny, but it turns out there’s some demand for stuff like this. Is bench biology still a thing? I guess so….

    Haven’t you ever seen a photo of a scientist?. It’s not some nerd sitting at a computer. A scientist moves liquid from one vessel to another! And a scientist occasionally uses a compound microscope.

    I was rereading the article about getting your child sequenced while he was in utero. I’m very interested in doing that (WGS) for my unborn child. While it is possible (IIRC) to completely sequence the cffDNA in the mother’s blood, I can’t find any companies that do so. The closest I get is Baylor’s Preseek. It looks like they just do targeted sequencing, not WGS. Does anyone here know of any other companies that do fetal WGS?

    Edit: I see that Baylor also offers whole exome sequencing too:

    But it requires a physician’s orders. Hmmm…

  3. Re: the disputations (earlier comment) the point is that — debate or no debate — the outcome was already known. The Jews would always lose, and some kind of repercussion (imprisonment, execution, pogrom, etc.) was already in the works.

    Re: the University of Wisconsin story: Is there something in the University’s mandate that all majors have to be offered at all campuses? I’ve never quite understood why a university (especially a small campus in a big system) has to be all things to all students.

  4. The Jews would always lose, and some kind of repercussion (imprisonment, execution, pogrom, etc.) was already in the works.

    well, the analogy works. in most (though not all) cases there is some whacked out scene to the antifa’s benefit.

    Re: the University of Wisconsin story: Is there something in the University’s mandate that all majors have to be offered at all campuses? I’ve never quite understood why a university (especially a small campus in a big system) has to be all things to all students.

    though in the case of academics it seems partly class solidarity with other faculty. it’s not like engineering or the natural sciences is ever under the gun. it’s always politicized fields, or the humanities.

    the politicized fields are trash, but the humanities can do some good. but in practice at non-elite campuses i don’t think they are adding that much value. the humanities seem great to polish off kids with innate talent or lots of social capital to burn (a good way to prep for law school, or get ready for media/PR career for the well-heeled).

  5. “Is bench biology still a thing? I guess so….”

    Look, just because we’re paid like slaves doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings you know.

  6. A recommendation for the dnageeks site: Make the names of the shirt color appear when you select it. I honestly have no idea how to tell some of the Heathers apart…

  7. This story about the University of Wisconsin is one of the most encouraging things I’ve heard in a while. I hope others will follow suit in the next few years.

  8. I agree with Yudi that the UW story is basically encouraged. I would like to register a note of disappointment that they are ditching their German, French, and Spanish majors. Those, if nothing else, teach an identifiable skill. And language learning has more or less forever been a major part of education. Personally, I think there should be no grants or federal loans for non-STEM majors (I used to work in the student loan industry; didn’t make me any more sympathetic to our higher education funding system). But if you want to spend a ton of money on your own dime to get a BA in foreign language, more power to you, I say.

  9. i agree that there are unfortunate false positives here.

    also, tbh if these humanities programs were creating critically rational people that might piss a lot of people off too. but as it is humanities programs are producing creed reciting robots at worse, and slackers at best (the difference in work expectations btwn history and chemistry/bio courses i took as an undergrad were out of control! in contrast to most kids i actually did more reading than was required in the former).

  10. Greg and Razib bring up good points about languages–I was not looking closely enough at that list. I definitely think those programs are valuable, not least for national security. Foreign language learning might also cut down the insularity of our elites just a tiny bit.

    I would be very interested in hearing more about Greg’s experiences with the student learning industry!

    Razib, a lot of the dross in the humanities could be reduced by more restrictive education requirements and fewer people going to college. They have become a holding tank for people who shouldn’t be in college at all. I say this as a humanities major unsure about the social (as opposed to personal) value of my education.

  11. Re: Uni Wisconsin

    A good benchmark for restructuring the uni majors is the underemployment rate, i.e. university graduates working in jobs that do not require uni degrees, and divert those students into more needy majors,

    Rank %UnderEmploy Majors
    1 74.4 Criminal justice
    2 66.5 Performing arts
    3 63.1 Public policy / Pre-law
    4 62.6 Leisure/Hospitality
    5 62.3 Fine arts
    6 62.0 Miscellaneous technologies
    7 61.4 Business management
    8 59.6 Medical technicians
    9 59.1 Anthropology
    10 58.9 Art history
    11 58.7 Animal and plant sciences
    12 58.3 Liberal arts
    13 58.2 General business
    14 58.1 Communications
    15 57.1 Ethnic studies
    16 56.6 History
    17 56.5 Mass media
    18 56.5 Sociology

    65 21.3 Primary education
    66 20.8 Aerospace engineering
    67 20.7 Mechanical engineering
    68 20.6 Electrical engineering
    69 20.3 Pharmacy
    70 19.8 Civil engineering
    71 19.1 Computer engineering
    72 17.0 Chemical engineering
    73 14.9 Special education
    74 13.4 Nursing

    Example of underemployment Those underemployed are fairly intelligent but do not favor jobs like nursing or teaching. Strangely the data split naturally into two groups and the demarcation point interestingly at about IQ 115, the nominally minimum university entry IQ. Those who are below IQ 115 with increasing IQ strangely flock to majors that have higher underemployment rate, whereby decreasing their financial worth.

    A more interesting graph is the expected earning chart, i.e. factoring in the professional wage if you are luck to work at that levels and those underemployed with the average wage for those without uni degrees as shown by the horizontal line in the chart. The average wage for non-degree holders is higher than many of those with uni degress, especially for those in majors with high underemployment rates. That is why many of them claimed that IQ does not influence incomes, they are living in that cluster and cannot see beyond that.

  12. Communism: I am not sure what aspects of the topic you want to read about. But, if you want a book about the history of the development of Marxist ideas, I recommend: “Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study”
    by George Lichtheim

    It is mostly about the 19th Century. Sadly, it seems to be out of print in the US, but there were cheap used hardcover copies. You can try where it seems to be in print.

  13. Chickens are a “hard to fake” signal of wealth.

    That’s funny! My younger children are pressing my wife and me to sell our home in town and permanently relocate to our country home. They would like to have dealings with chickens, bunnies, goats, donkeys, and horses every day. My wife likes the idea of fresh eggs and goat milk every morning (and of course she would love to ride every day and I would love to shoot on the property every day).

    “I’ve rooster”

    I looked into roosters. Apparently they protect the hens and even find them treats (good). But, they also rape them and physically damage/wear them out, quite badly sometimes (bad). And if you have more than one, you get unsanctioned cockfights. That’s what one farmer friend of mine told me, anyway.

  14. I agree with Greg and Yudi. A lot of language departments translate contemporary cultural and news works into English, and make them available for scholars of other disciplines. Indirectly, the loss of those programs will mean less accurate reporting on foreign affairs.

  15. Razib, I’ve been listening to your Insitome podcast (I’ve finished about four episodes so far). Nice work. I feel like this is filling in a lot of the basic gaps I have in understanding human genetics.

    The back-and-forth between you and Spencer Wells is great but Wells’ voice comes through more clearly and with greater audio fidelity than yours. Given your differences in vocal timbre, you might try a few different mikes and mike setups to make sure that things are “equalized” as it were.

  16. Razib, a lot of the dross in the humanities could be reduced by more restrictive education requirements and fewer people going to college. They have become a holding tank for people who shouldn’t be in college at all. I say this as a humanities major unsure about the social (as opposed to personal) value of my education.

    I’ve noticed that at my undergraduate university, Psychology was a kind of ‘default’ Arts major. Perhaps English (literature) is also one at other universities. Although it wouldn’t surprise me that business and engineering are also initially full of people who attend university out of social obligation, but those majors (especially engineering) are full of weed out courses so at end anybody who graduate is at least semi-competent.

    I also feel that one reason that universities now skew female is that women are more receptive to the social message of ‘going to university = good thing’, regardless of their actual academic ability or preference. Males in the same position are more likely to either become NEETs or directly enter the job market. I’m not sure which is better. Depends on the economy.

    Like you, I do feel that it would be better if BA programs raised their admission requirements and restricted their intake. And not just BAs: the Chronicle of High Education had an article where the author blasted the MLA for holding workshops pushing PhDs into the job market, noting if they weren’t going into academia, they should gotten a cheaper and shorter degree instead (something my professors told me as well).

  17. America’s War for the Greater Middle East – Andrew J. Bacevich is a good overview of America’s recent misadventures in the Middle East. I suspect you’d agree with a lot of his conclusions.

  18. @Razib — Yes, I started at the beginning and have made it up to “Neander-Me 2” so far.

  19. One important thing to note though:

    In the past they have received research funding from the College Board, which administers the SAT.

  20. There is a common test for university seniors and the results were published together with the university’s graduation rate. Thus it is easy to determine the default university norms for graduation rate with respect to the quality of the students.The biggest positive outlier was 2.7 SD above the trend for the norms, i.e. graduation rate inflation. That is why some universities do not like common tests. A few days later the column of graduation rates disappears from the results. Will you trust more the result of the common tests or the university degrees? Why is graduation rate a university performance indicator and yet incoming student quality is not?


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