Open Thread, 3/14/2018

I finally met my old friend Ramez Naam in the flesh. Ramez’s publisher sent me his book More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement in 2005. One thing led to another, and somehow he’s guest blogging on Gene Expression!

CRISPR as we know it did not exist in 2005. Things have really changed since then, and for the better, at least from the perspective of genetic engineering. It’s as if some of the stuff in More Than Human is coming to life.

I also recommend his book The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.

Ramez is more optimistic about the future than I am, though cautiously so. I hope he’s right, and I’m wrong. I fear he’s not.

My concern is not with technological innovation. That will happen. It’s with maintaining social stability due to the immiseration of what was the middle class in developed societies. Also, the bourgeois version of the New Class seems to lack empathy toward the future lumpen….

SEC Charges Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes With ‘Massive Fraud’. “Fake it ’till you make it” will keep happening if there are no follow-up criminal charges. Holmes may not have gotten away the con, but she was a paper billionaire for a while and funded R & D with the cash that they raised on lies. One moral some are going to take away is that she took a big risk and failed, but it was one that perhaps needed to be taken.

Adaptive landscape of protein variation in human exomes.

Genetic dissection of assortative mating behavior.

Conor Lamb Wins Pennsylvania House Seat, Giving Democrats a Map for Trump Country. I’m pretty bullish on a Democrat takeover of the house. The country will swing back. That being said, I’m also bullish on the idea that the Democrats are their own best enemy, and divisions and lack of coherency in their plan going forward will mean they won’t be able to capitalize on their electoral windfalls over the next few years.

This week’s episode of The Insight is up, 23andMe, the FDA, and Our Genomic Future. We have some potential guests lined up. One of whom is Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters.

Please subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher, and leave us 5-star reviews! 

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up. I’ll be avoiding drunk people on the streets of Austin. But I also want to point out that my “side-hustle” DNA Geeks has an M222 t-shirt available. In case you don’t know, that’s the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages’ possible haplogroup (a sublineage of R1b). About 10% of Irish men are M222.

‘Tomb Raider’: Fans Slam Criticism of Alicia Vikander’s Body. There are two points that I want to make. First, at 5’5 inches, Alicia Vikande is of a very normal height (Angelina Jolie was two inches taller). She’s not physically imposing, and she has a very narrow waist as well. Her figure is “boyish.” Second, since the 1990s there has been a shift in male action stars toward being more shredded/athletic as opposed to jacked-up and exaggerated in their physicality. This is a very different Lara Croft for a very different time.

I decided to check out the new public library today. Saw the book The Invention of Humanity: Equality and Culture Differences in World History. I hate the overuse of the term “invention” in book titles, but when I noted the beginning covered China, I got it. Too often books that are Eurocentric turn out to be more data than narrow/inference, and they rig the data ahead of time to support their thesis (see, Inventing the Individual).

I also got Constructing the World (a David Chalmers book), The Bible and Asia: From the Pre-Christian Era to the Postcolonial Age, Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece, The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. That’s ranked in order of likelihood that I’ll get through them.

Also, Philip Jenkins has a new book, Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World. Jenkins is a great scholar, I admire his work a lot. But I think I’m going to take a break from religious history, since I know a fair amount about the topic.

Polygenic scores and tea drinking.

Exposing flaws in S-LDSC; reply to Gazal et al.. Working your way through this literature is often pretty useful, so start at this commentary.

National Geographic has a special on race and what not. One piece being shared is kind of interesting, These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race. Here’s an important quote:

In genetic terms, skin color “is not a binary trait” with only two possibilities, Martin notes. “It’s a quantitative trait, and everyone has some gradient on this spectrum.”

Historically, when humans have drawn lines of identity—separating Us from Them—they’ve often relied on skin color as a proxy for race. But the 21st-century understanding of human genetics tells us that the whole idea of race is a human invention.

If you’ve read this blog you know I’ve blogged about “black and white twins” for over ten years. Also, I think a lot of the debunkings of race are pretty facile. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Rather, one of the things that are unmasked unwittingly in pieces such as this is how deeply Eurocentric these conversations are. It’s as if public intellectuals and journalists that write on this topic either don’t know any non-white families or they pretend that they don’t. The “humans” and “Us” implicitly points to white European systems of racial classification (e.g., East Asians relied on skin color somewhat, but since they are not much darker than white Europeans, they also included hair color, to distinguish the Dutch from the Portuguese, and large noses and body hair, to distinguish from themselves).

Twins with different skin tones are striking. But almost any South Asian, black American, or Latino, or Southeast Asian, or even East Asian, can tell you that there is a wide range of pigmentation within many families. Basically, unless you are in a homogeneous European social environment, where most everyone has very light skin on a global scale, you will see the variation of pigmentation within families. Both my parents have large sibling cohorts, and in both of them there are cases where the difference in complexion between siblings is in the same range as the two fraternal twins highlighted in the piece.

Of course, journalists who work for National Geographic or The New York Times know people of varied ethnicities and probably see that there is pigmentation variation within those families. They just pretend as if they don’t for these sorts of pieces which debunk race, and the readers pretend they don’t know this information as well as they take it in in a self-satisfied manner and nod sagely.

I haven’t had much time to read Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. But those who say it’s quite like The Better Angels of Our Nature seem correct from how how far I’ve gotten.

My timeline has been swarming with debunkings of Enlightenment Now from all ideological angles. The best responses to these can usually be found in Saloni’s timeline (from her), who is “Pinker’s bulldog.”

Ex-Muslim TV‘s Twitter account is irritated that some of its stuff is now labeled “sensitive material.” The day before this came up I noted that one of my posts that Jerry Coyne retweeted about Islam and apostasy was also labeled “sensitive material.”

Basically if Muslims find it offensive, it might be subject to scrutiny from Twitter. This may or may not be defensible from Twitter’s perspective in a business sense, or ethically. But it’s just the reality we have to deal with, though I would like to know which school of Islamic jurisprudence Twitter relies on to gauge sensitivity and offense. I suspect it will be the Hanafi fiqh due to its liberal utilization of qiyas, which allow’s Del Harvey’s minions more free play.

The nation-state is dying. What will come out of its ashes? I suspect empire by another name….

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36 thoughts on “Open Thread, 3/14/2018

  1. This is a very different Lara Croft for a very different time.

    The rebooted Lara Croft game must have gotten less exposure than I thought. Vikander’s Croft is a dead ringer for the Lara Croft in that one.

    The nation-state is dying. What will come out of its ashes? I suspect empire by another name….

    We’re about to find out how sturdy international law and regimes are in the next couple decades.

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  2. ““Fake it ’till you make it” will keep happening if there are no follow-up criminal charges.”

    I doubt that, either way. Fraud is a constant. Larceny is in the human heart. Lots of them get caught lots of them go to jail. There are always lots of grifters who think that they can get away with it. I have seen a bunch of them up close and personal. They are hard to pick out, because they are always very charming.

    The only advice I can give you is that if it seems to be too good to be true, it isn’t. Avoid it.

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  3. I’m convinced that the Dems will retake the House and eventually the Presidency as well. Granted, they won’t be very effective, but that’s not what I worry about.

    Outside of immigration and economic issues, Trumpism as an ideology (such as something so uncodified and incoherent as it is) has been pretty conciliatory regarding most of the gains the Democrats have made in the culture war, yet the base of the American left seems to be living out Talleyrand’s quote about the Bourbons after their return to power: “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” It really does seem like they want to punish the economically burnt-out regions of fly-over country by ratcheting up the pressure on the things they culturally value while dismissing the economic and social disorder that fed the election of Trump, and their leadership and pundit classes seems more than willing to fulfill that desire rather than pay it lip service.

    It really doesn’t bode well for the political and social stability of the nation over the medium and long term. Apres Trump, le deluge.

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  4. I think rumours of the demise of the nation-state are exaggerated. At least in Europe, nationalism seems to be the hip new thing. Not sure if that’s a dead cat bounce in the face of the inevitable, though.

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  5. It looks like Jenkins’ book accepts at face value that the Deuteronomic reformation in Ancient Israel that promoted monotheism happened with Josiah. Robert Price’s recent ‘Holy Fable’ argued that this Josiah reformation was most likely a literary creation to cast back into history a reformation that actually took place under the Hellenistic-era Hasmoneans: the very era that Jenkins is looking at. If Price is right, then this probably vitiates a lot of what Jenkins writes concerning what was old and what was new in the period.

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  6. Theranos always seemed like an “either-or” thing to me. Either it was going to be revolutionary, or it was a total fraud, but I didn’t see any evidence of the fundamental analytical chemistry work needed for the “revolutionary” bit.

    When I saw the makeup of the board of directors I was more convinced that there was some chicanery going on.

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  7. FYI. Just read three of your posts on Insitome blog and each had a typo, malapropism, or some such. My favorite is that ancient floods may have come from “eternal” sources.

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  8. Regarding the midterms, I’ve been assuming since right after the election, when Trump didn’t immediately start building the wall, that he was saving wall construction for this summer for maximum electoral advantage. If I’m right and construction is well underway by the time people vote, then I don’t think the Dems will do as well as everyone seems to expect. If nothing much is happening by then I’d say the Repubs and Trump deserve to lose even if the Dems don’t deserve to win.

    The podcast is great. It would be even better if it was longer.

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  9. polynices, i think the sweet spot for podcasts is ~45 minutes for most listeners. that being said, if we go long we’ll probably just break up single casts into multiple.

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  10. >The nation-state is dying. What will come out of its ashes? I suspect empire by another name….

    What is the basis of this statement?

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  11. Emma Zunz: Every reputable scholar I have read believes that the Hebrew writings that are the basis of what we know as the Bible and the Hebrew Tanakh, were still unstable during the time between the erection of and the destruction of the Second Temple. However, that instability is quite minor and is, and has been, well known all along. The major differences are between the texts that became the Masoretic text that is canonical among Jews and the texts that represent the Vorlage of the Septuagint, the Koine Greek translation of Hebrew texts that was the basis of many Christian Old Testaments. The differences are not important enough to support any idea that the Second Temple texts of the Pentateuch were not authentically antique at that time.

    Mr. Price seems to be like the Palestinians who claim that there was no temple in Jerusalem, and the people who claim that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazar Turks. I.e., nutjobs with agendas.

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  12. Polynices: I think the “wall” is a pretty fringe issue that won’t make much difference to enough voters. It is pretty normal for the President’s party to lose 25 to 30 House seats in the first mid-term.

    The things that could bail out the Republican control of the house are 1. very strong economic growth in the first 3 quarters of 2018, and 2. dramatic foreign policy developments.

    As for 2. See my next post.

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  13. Jason,

    >>What is the basis of this statement?
    >Precedence

    I am legitimately curious as to its basis, so there is no need to act smart.

    Razib,

    Could you point me to further reading on the subject?

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  14. Here is a rumor of a foreign policy development that could have a dramatic domestic political impact.

    I had lunch with a friend this week. He is well connected among Democrat Party operatives. His son is in the military and has just returned from a tour of duty in Korea.

    His rumor is that the meeting between Trump and NORK dictator Kim will produce a peace treaty between the parties to the Korean War. The terms of the treaty will include the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the withdrawal of American forces from South Korea.

    If such a thing happened large numbers of Americans on the isolationist right, and the pro-communist left would be thrilled. The narrative of an unstable sabre rattling Trump would be destroyed. It would boost Trump’s popularity ratings dramatically, and perhaps reverse the anti-Trump electoral trend of the past few months

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  15. EB,

    i’m talking both about the trend in the EU for devolution toward a ‘federal europe’ and within the USA of patriotic nationalism becoming the purview of the MAGA crowd.

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  16. Razib,

    >i’m talking both about the trend in the EU for devolution toward a ‘federal europe’ and within the USA of patriotic nationalism becoming the purview of the MAGA crowd.

    Do you mean greater integration of the EU, and the patriotic nationalism in the USA leading to resurgent imperialism in the United States? Or the efforts you are talking about are attempts to compensate for the decline of the nation-state?

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  17. The terms of the treaty will include the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the withdrawal of American forces from South Korea.

    Although not impossible, I would be very shocked by such a development, because the Kim regime has no deterrence except the nuclear card and because the USFK is a cornerstone of South Korea’s national security policy.

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  18. Twinkie: Yes, it is contrary to established policy, but Trump has no commitment to established policy. Further, it would fit Chinese policy and they are more important that Kim.

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  19. Further, it would fit Chinese policy and they are more important that Kim.

    Not to Kim, they aren’t, so unless you’re talking about a coup in North Korea …

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  20. In your podcast you stated that long term life insurance providers are going bankrupt due to adverse selection. That was a surprise to me, since I had heard that selling life insurance tends to be profitable because the people who tend to buy it are relatively healthy & long-lived (this is called “advantageous selection“). Once genetic data became available to everyone accurately predicting lifespan, you’re right that such risks would no longer be insurable. But the randomness you refer to later is precisely what insurance is for.

    I recall reading Eric Falkenstein’s review of Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, whose argument implied that in the long run selling insurance is a terrible strategy, comparing it to the actual performance of insurance companies. Of course, that’s from 2009, so it’s possible things have changed since then.

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  21. Lamb’s district is 95% white and in the rust belt so it probably is best to think of his particular set of policies as an aberration in the larger left coalition, though he is pro-choice and pro-union.

    With corporate Democrats like Kamala Harris supporting Bernie’s Medicare for All agenda, the left is arguably far more unified and coherent than it was in the run-up to Obama’s presidency. I can still remember when Jim Webb beating George ‘Macaca’ Allen was something for liberals to be excited about.

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  22. Roger Sweeny: “Not to Kim, they aren’t, so unless you’re talking about a coup in North Korea …”

    Kim has absolutely no leverage in dealing with China. His guns point south and China is to his north. They can turn off the spigot and Kim’s army will have neither food nor fuel.

    Against us Kim has the population of Seoul as his hostages.

    Kim is China’s slave. He will do what they tell him to do and be happy about it.

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  23. It’s springtime in Vladivostok, comrade!

    Siberian proxemics aside, I think Schwarzenegger would have been the better Republican geoconciliationist. He should never have revealed his tax returns, much less his birth certificate, I’ll say that much. The whole, whatever, some might call it fake, thing about his speech impediment being concealed by claims of some kind of foreign accent. At least that’s what some very smart people tell me. They’re well connected people, too. People who know things, things that would surprise you. I have the best people working on it, trust me. People who know about the Korean situation very well. You’ll see some big changes soon, I can tell you that. That whole, whatever, Asia region will change for the better, believe me. I’m excited for Korea, nobody else can make Korea happen, but I will. Only I, and I alone, can make it better. Wait and see. You’ll love it, I can promise you that.

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  24. Is there any chance of your publishing transcripts of your podcasts? I can read so much faster than I can listen!

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  25. Kim is China’s slave. He will do what they tell him to do and be happy about it.

    Oh, if only that were true. North Korea does produce some food and has success in smuggling, so I think it’s wishful thinking that China can “turn off the spigot” and make him do what they want him to do.

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  26. Hey Razib,

    Given the sheer volume and breadth of the topics of the books you read, do you have any particular reading strategies to help you retain the information you absorb? Or are you just a naturally quick reader with solid retention capabilities? Nothing frustrates me more about book reading than forgetting the details of 90% of what I read after a couple of days.

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  27. , do you have any particular reading strategies to help you retain the information you absorb? Or are you just a naturally quick reader with solid retention capabilities? Nothing frustrates me more about book reading than forgetting the details of 90% of what I read after a couple of days.

    you need to do “cluster-reads” within a topic area. creates connections and allows for better retention.

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  28. Kim has absolutely no leverage in dealing with China. His guns point south and China is to his north. They can turn off the spigot and Kim’s army will have neither food nor fuel.

    North Korea’s conventional military forces are already quite denuded of fuel, spare parts, and training. They have atrophied dramatically and are basically a non-factor in the geopolitical context of the region. Their large so-called special forces are merely better-fed and -trained infantry with a greater political reliability. They are essentially an anti-coup force that can double as guerillas.

    North Korea’ leverage against China is two-fold. One, its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Beijing is A LOT closer to North Korea than either Tokyo or any major American city. If, for some unwise reason, China were to try to intervene in North Korea and topple the regime, North Korea can make that an extremely costly move. Two, its ability to poison the Sino-American relationship. This is particularly thorny for Beijing, because an unruly North Korean regime presents it with two bad options, namely, a) some form of sanction or trade disruption, which incurs instability in a valuable buffer state and b) non-intervention, which exposes its inefficacy and lack of influence over a major client state.

    So, China has chosen b) so far, but it is less than optimal, because outsiders will see it as either c) unwillingness to punish a rogue actor in the international scene (i.e. complicity) or d) powerlessness. What many American don’t understand about North Korea is that it is a much thornier problem for China than it is for the United States.

    Against us Kim has the population of Seoul as his hostages.

    With nukes, yes. But I highly doubt his conventional forces (even the artillery tubes/rocket launch systems) pose anything more than a symbolic threat. Seoul is actually outside the range of most of the tubes, and even the small fraction (my guess is under 10%) that can hit Seoul will be destroyed within hours by counter-battery and air sorties from both ROKAF and USAF. After that the DPRK regime is hosed (it is keenly aware of the complete powerlessness of its conventional military and its susceptibility to South Korean/American invasion, which is why it gets hysterical every time USFK/ROK hold military exercises).

    Kim is China’s slave. He will do what they tell him to do and be happy about it.

    North Korea’s independent decision-making is well-documented. Not only that, Kim Jong-In has ruthlessly purged anyone with the power circle with any ties to the PRC. Typically, a person who claims that China controls North Korea or the Kim regime is either a propagandist or simply doesn’t know much about the history of the Kim family regime or the external policies and behaviors of that regime in the last several decades.

    During the Cold War, North Korea was very adroit in playing the Soviet Union against the PRC and vice versa, and, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union later on, it has managed to sustain that independence. The Kim regime is neither “a slave of China” or one of “mad men.” It has been ruled by three men who were utterly pragmatic and hyper-rational about their survival.

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  29. “It’s as if public intellectuals and journalists that write on this topic either don’t know any non-white families or they pretend that they don’t.”

    Are you saying that all whites are homogeneous and racially mixed ancestry is by definition “non-white”? I doubt it, put it is implied. Some ethnic groups tend to have “rainbow” families because they are very racially mixed (Latin Americans and North Africans, for example). Those racially mixed groups tend to identify as “white” when they immigrate to the United States. That aside, we should acknowledge that racial classification is generally considered an embarrassing subject that Americans avoid, especially if there is going to be any resistance from the people being classified. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. made a name for himself by denouncing the author Anatole Broyard (of predominately French Creole descent) as “black” for daring to reject the so-called “one drop rule” (which only blacks fight for in this day and age). Of course, people who read that article were expected to ignore the fact that New York City is filled with people with various amounts of “black blood” who don’t identify with American blacks at all. They are called Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, etc. No, we were supposed to pretend that Anatole Broyard was the ONLY one.

    “Twins with different skin tones are striking. But almost any South Asian, black American, or Latino, or Southeast Asian, or even East Asian, can tell you that there is a wide range of pigmentation within many families.”

    Mulatto elites with the rainbow families may call themselves “black” for political reasons but the vast majority of people in the black American group do not come close to having rainbow families. They are as shocked as anyone else by “black blood” in people who don’t look black. Kids in that category who have to go to school with blacks or put up with them in various environments catch hell. Do you think blacks would act like that if all of them had rainbow families? No, the rainbow “blacks” are small in number but prominent in the middle class and get a lot of publicity. The vast majority (the real blacks) are not a rainbow people. As for East Asian and South Asians, how many blonds or redheads to they typically have in their families without recent intermarriage with European descendants?

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  30. As for East Asian and South Asians, how many blonds or redheads to they typically have in their families without recent intermarriage with European descendants?

    Skin tones, not hair color (although there are small variations in hair color too).

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