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.”
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….)