Open Thread, 5/07/2018

Longtime readers are well aware that A History of the Byzantine State and Society is one of my favorite books. To understand the Middle East right before the arrival of the Mongols and the emergence of the Crusader states, one has to understand the expansion of Byzantium in the early 11th century, and its subsequent regression in the late 11th and 12th centuries. In 2005 I actually did a 10 questions with the author, Warren Treadgold.

So I’m very excited to be reviewing his new book, The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education, for NRO.

Had a chance to read Matt Hahn’s Molecular Population Genetics. The con is that it’s an $80 book that’s 350 pages. This is not a replacement for Principles of Population Genetics or Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. Rather, as alluded to by the title there’s a lot of focus on molecular evolutionary and population genetics. Imagine a population genetics book written with an assumption that you know what a SNP-chip is and have access to genome-wide sequence data. In some ways, it’s similar to Rasmus Nielsen’s (and Slatkin) An Introduction to Population Genetics. But these books reflect the authors.

For example, if you look up “site frequency spectrum” in An Introduction to Population Genetics there are seven pages. In Molecular Population Genetics there is one page on this topic. Anyone familiar with the work of these researchers would totally expect this. If you are a pop-gen nerd, there’s really no debate. You need to get Molecular Population Genetics or steal it from a friend. But a bigger question is why I recommend seemingly esoteric books to my readers. I say seemingly because understanding population genetics in the generality makes a lot of the detailed more specifically interesting stuff much more comprehensible.

The readership of this weblog is small but self-selected. If you consider yourself an intellectual person and have some disposable income and leisure you should be developing yourself in various ways outside of the professional sense.  If you are reading this weblog you are likely to be the type of person who wants to understand things not just because one gets paid to understand things, but because understanding things is an end unto itself.

I am privileged to be paid to explore various topics related to certain intellectual interests (human population genomics), but I believe that something would be seriously wrong with me if I limited my inquiries to this narrow topic. Therefore I read a fair amount of history, and take an interest in topics like cognitive science and Biblical scholarship. Part of my attempt on this weblog to is to add population genetics to the list of interests of people who are professionally not engaged with the topic, whether they be in closely related fields (e.g., a theoretical ecologist) or in a totally different line of work (union organizer).

The Neutral Theory in Light of Natural Selection. This review is free. One of the great things about this is that it kind of revived a corner of science Twitter which had started to go into senescence (Patrick Phillips has been at the center of several of these discussions).

Related to our podcast topic from this week, Doc Edge and Graham Coop have the definitive formal take, How lucky was the genetic investigation in the Golden State Killer case? The TL;DR version is not that lucky. They show formally that with a database of ~1 million individuals with SNP-data it’s likely that you’ll get relative matches that might be useful. More precisely, a database of ~1 million means that there is a ~90% chance of at least one 3rd cousin match. There’s even a 25% chance of a 2nd cousin match! A database of ~5 million gives a 75% chance of a 2nd cousin match, and ~10 million gives a 90% chance of a 2nd cousin match. These are around the range of the databases of 23andMe and Ancestry right now.

As the authors say: “it’s a question of deciding the circumstances under which we as a society want these familial searches to be used.”

Tales of Human Migration, Admixture, and Selection in Africa.

The evolutionary history of human populations in Europe. Preprint by Iosif Lazaridis.

There are a certain number of traditional liberals with a libertarian bent who I’ve always admired. Nadine Strossen is one of those (Wendy Kaminer is another). Strossen is out with a new book, HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship (Inalienable Rights). It strikes me this is conservative in the literal sense in that she is attempting to defend a late 20th-century liberalism which is now on the wane.

The Liberal Media Can Have Ideological Diversity Without Conservatives. Two sections jump out at me. First, “the social conservative’s view on fetal personhood is unfalsifiable — and does boast a significant constituency — but it doesn’t generally lend itself to novel or engaging debates.” The issue with abortion is not about debating, as much as it is important to not always put forward writers who implicitly assume that the pro-choice position is the only view that one might entertain. I’m skeptical of some of the leaps that pro-life writers make based on their political position…but then, I’m not pro-life. It’s important to at least know the views of other people.

Second, the author suggests that Left-wing socialists who believe that the people should control the means of production (as opposed to simply redistributive socialism as is the case in Scandinavia) should be given a fair hearing, though they observe “concentrating financial power in the state apparatus has often been an invitation to tyranny.” Yeah. That.

Pretty straightforward establishment liberals, such as Matt Yglesias, are starting to assert that publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times are equivalent to National Review, in their ideological valence (the argument being that they shouldn’t have to hire conservatives since they’re liberal publications). Conservative critics have long asserted this, but now liberals are agreeing.

Conservatives have lost the universities and the press. Both these institutions don’t even make a pretense at evenhandedness at this point. The broadly liberal center is eroding. I suspect that people like Nadine Strossen will be viewed in the future like Cato the Younger.

Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, Mohenjo Daro. People don’t really know much.

Interviewing Carl Zimmer for the podcast this week. Taking suggestions for questions to ask him (we have a finite time so might not get it in….)

 

22 thoughts on “Open Thread, 5/07/2018

  1. Conservatives have lost the universities and the press. Both these institutions don’t even make a pretense at evenhandedness at this point.

    Conservatives lost academia and media a LONG time ago. What’s happening now is that the “moderate left” is losing power at these institutions to the radical left. The latter, which began its assault upon these institutions decades ago, seem to be capturing fully the levers of power.

    The “confrontation” between the black mob and Nicholas Christakis* at Yale and its outcome should be a clear sign as to who is in charge.

    A part of me is happy to see this, because it lays bare as fraudulent the long-time conceit of the left that it holds the moral high ground.

    *Christakis may be a good man (or not, I don’t know), but he is certainly a very naïve man. The poor dear thought he could reason with these people.

  2. I was mildly surprised that, during the ‘qipao’ shit-storm, nothing about the Hanfu movement emerged.

  3. >The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education

    meta: I’ve seen many calls all over the internet with people calling for reformation, but I don’t know, it just seems kind of pointless at this point.

    Those who genuinely care, yet not cynical enough, will continue to make calls like this.

    Me however, when I have children, I hope to impart upon them that they way they should approach this institution called Academia is that of exploitation: strip of it what you need and don’t in debt oneself to such bureaucratic machinations masquerading as the pursuit of knowledge, and if want arises to socially signal academic prowess, at least do it for economic gain.

    >Part of my attempt on this weblog to is to add population genetics to the list of interests of people who are professionally not engaged with the topic, whether they be in closely related fields (e.g., a theoretical ecologist) or in a totally different line of work (union organizer).

    I’m hooked to reading your writing from all the sites you have posted on for years out of my curiosity to know whats going on here, but I haven’t found much motivation to dig deeper with population genetics.

    The closest I’ve come is when is usually when you cover some data source, that I then download and write some code to explore a bit. It would be cool if I could do something useful from time to time for some researchers or students who want some help in a way I could provide.

    >“it’s a question of deciding the circumstances under which we as a society want these familial searches to be used.”

    As the tools become cheaper and more accessible to people (as it must if those working on such want to scale even more), “society” may have it’s desires, but individuals will do what they please. I’m more interested in the question of: for what ends will those at the margin think of to use such tools (beyond all the stuff people already talk about in scifi)?

  4. Nothing to suggest, but looking forward to hearing Carl Zimmer’s voice/discussion, having long enjoyed his writing.

    Spencer will be relieved (self-deprecating sarcasm) to know that, through increased familiarity derived from binge-listening, I no longer find his accent irritating, or even notice it. Exposure is a wonderful thing.

  5. Levitz is already trying to walk back some of it on Twitter, arguing that he was really saying that liberal publications shouldn’t hire conservatively solely for “instrumental” reasons. “Instrumental” meaning “these publications hired conservative authors because they thought they would say something about conservatives in general”. The argument being that if this is not the case – if reading conservative intellectuals doesn’t tell you anything about conservatives at large or the conservative movement in general – then it’s pointless to hire them.

    Of course that ax cuts both ways – how relevant are the ideas of the leftist intellectuals he wants to bring on board as a guide to any constituency in the US? I won’t deny that having them present does stimulate thought (certainly I’ve learned a few things from reading pieces by Matt Bruenig, Jacobin, and the like).

  6. Question for Carl Zimmer, Razib Khan, and for anyone else: Is it a human right to know who your parents are?

    I should think that right trumps the right to privacy.

  7. @John Massey

    I didn’t even realize Spencer has an accent. He sounds pretty “newscaster North American” to me. What am I missing?

  8. @Joe Q. – His accent is not Standard American to my ear. But it’s not way out there. If anything, it’s overly mellifluous to me, but I’m over it. Listening to enough podcasts has given me immunity.

    I digress, but I once watched a Youtube video of Reece Witherspoon being arrested for being drunk and disorderly or whatever it was, and I literally could not understand a single word that the young Georgia State Trooper said to her. My thought was that I had better never try to drive a car through Georgia – if I got pulled over for anything, I would be in real trouble. Spencer is nothing like in that category.

  9. There’s something that people call Standard American or General American, which lacks perceptible regional, ethnic, etc. characteristics. Like Joe Q. I tend to associate it with TV newsreaders and the like. I can’t pick any regional variation in accent in a lot of Americans who I hear speaking via various media, so I tend to label that as Standard. Americans I talk to regularly tell me you need to speak like that to get a job in TV; well, that’s what they tell me, and I don’t know any different.

    How real it is, I’m not competent to address, so I’ll take your word for it (but note here I’m strictly talking about accents – I have no clue about word usage; like, I know people use different words for fizzy soft drinks in different regions, but I know nothing about those things). But I do notice regional and ethnic accent characteristics when they are distinct or pronounced; that Georgia State Trooper I mentioned was an extreme case, so extreme that it really surprised me, and he was a young white guy.

  10. There’s something that people call Standard American or General American, which lacks perceptible regional, ethnic, etc. characteristics.

    Alas, that “standard” American accent is actually a quite distinguishable accent itself. The way people speak in, say, Iowa is often cited as the blandest, accent-free American English spoken by broadcasters and “generic” American characters on TV, but that, too, is an accent. Watch this: http://www.kcci.com/article/this-is-iowa-do-we-have-an-accent/6387574

  11. Free speech will continue to transition to a right-wing cause as the left achieves the status as arbiters of the new common sense. This also explains why transgression and the generally Yippie attitude of [shock] as a [value] in itself has become an unmissable attribute of the Alt Right.

  12. @Twinkie:”Alas, that “standard” American accent is actually a quite distinguishable accent itself. The way people speak in, say, Iowa is often cited as the blandest, accent-free American English spoken by broadcasters and “generic” American characters on TV, but that, too, is an accent.”

    Sure, there is no such thing as “accentless” speech….But accents are socially determined. I.e., no one in Anglo-America would describe someone like , say, Harrison Ford as speaking with an accent. Why? Because General American is regarded as the default, “neutral” Anglo-American accent.

  13. Because General American is regarded as the default, “neutral” Anglo-American accent.

    In practice, this is certainly how it is regarded. However, the main problem with this paradigm is that it leaves the general public with the impression that the so-called “standard American” (e.g. North Midland accent of Ohio and the rest of the middle Midwest) is the pure, unadulterated American English and that the rest are regional bastardizations.

    In reality, the former is simply a regional (“less marked” or “bland”) accent that gained favor after World War II and rode the growth of the mass media into attaining national ascendancy. Indeed, while American English had no counterpart to the likes of the Received Pronunciation that British English has, the closest equivalents were probably the Boston Brahmin accent of the New England upper crust and the Tidewater accent* of the upper Southern cavalier elite.

    In other words, the ascendancy of what we today consider “standard” American accent was the product of a historical accident rather than the original, elite, or privileged patois of the founding population.

    *The slow but likely inevitable death of the Tidewater accent saddens me greatly.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RzVKCWXrRA

    Most people outside the South have a particular (and distorted) view of what is spoken in the South and don’t realize that this was the premier accent of the nation’s (and South’s) elite at one time. Some of my children betray this accent (especially when they get excited or agitated) because they were born and learned to speak as little ones in rural Hampton Roads when I worked in York County, Virginia.

    It is a beautiful, melodious yet dignified accent, befitting of the nation’s once illustrious. I wish it had taken over, not the flat North Midland accent of my wife’s. I occasionally tease her that she speaks peasant American.

  14. “it leaves the general public with the impression that the so-called “standard American”…is the pure, unadulterated American English and that the rest are regional bastardizations.”

    From everything I have seen/heard and have been told by highly educated and informed people who were born and grew up in America, I don’t think that has any truth in it at all. You are creating a straw man.

    No one I talk to actually believes that there was any single original unadulterated form of ‘American English’ that was subsequently regionally bastardized. It doesn’t fit at all with the historical foundation of modern America as I understand it. It’s frankly ridiculous.

  15. From everything I have seen/heard and have been told by highly educated and informed people… No one I talk to actually believes…

    Congratulations. You and your friends are super smart, sophisticated, and just all-around awesome.

    “it leaves the general public with the impression that the so-called “standard American”…is the pure, unadulterated American English and that the rest are regional bastardizations.”

    This is a rather common view in the (middle) Midwest of their own accents… even among “the educated.” But what do I know? I only married someone from there, lived, worked, and farmed there for several years.

  16. It hardly surprises me that midwesterners think their accent “is the pure, unadulterated American English and that the rest are regional bastardizations.”

    But that doesn’t mean everyone else thinks so.

  17. But that doesn’t mean everyone else thinks so.

    Of course not “everyone else” thinks so. But it’s a pretty widespread misconception even among those who speak “bastardized” variations.

    Btw, check this out: https://youtu.be/aL0–f89Qds

    One of the first things this linguist from UPenn says is, “There isn’t any such thing as General American [accent]” and goes on to discuss the regional variations of North American English.

  18. @Twinkie:”Because General American is regarded as the default, “neutral” Anglo-American accent.

    In practice, this is certainly how it is regarded. However, the main problem with this paradigm is that it leaves the general public with the impression that the so-called “standard American” (e.g. North Midland accent of Ohio and the rest of the middle Midwest) is the pure, unadulterated American English and that the rest are regional bastardizations.”

    Well, that’s clearly an incorrect view. No form of English (certainly not RP, for example) represents the Platonic ideal from which all others deviate. However, that still leaves us with the fact that accents are socially constructed. Some are stigmatized (Brummie, NYC), whereas others are regarded as neutral/valorized (General American, RP). For example, I have several colleagues who have told me that, in order to get ahead in academia, they have worked at shedding their non-GA accents. Indeed, one of them even commented on how lucky I was in being a native GA speaker.

  19. Me? Particularly mellifluous mild Texan, with some odd pronunciations (the one that really grated on me was Spencer in the very first podcast pronouncing ‘taro’ as ‘tay-ro’; for a guy who has been to the far corners of the earth, that struck me as perverse). But like I said, I’m over it. I respect his achievements, and it’s a small thing.

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