Open Thread, 06/05/2018

The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, underlies sociality, and alters life history. I keep suggesting to everyone that they need to read more cultural evolution! But to be honest it’s hard for me to keep up. So much easier reading evolutionary genomics, since I know the literature and the models far better.

Book recommendations, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. Yeah, it’s good. But for the more technically inclined, Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed. At some point might get the author of the second book on the podcast.

Two issues of guilt: I haven’t been keeping up with the comments, and also the South Asian Genotype Project. I’ll try to do better on that in the near future. Though a major cost there is I will then post less.

Probably keep an eye out for more stuff from me in NRO and India Today in the near future. Though if you follow my total content feed the NRO stuff already gets pushed into that automatically.

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh was reviewed in The New York Times. I plan on trying to get a review into NRO. Here is an important point: it’s a pretty diverse and long book, so any review is going to run with only a small sliver of the narrative. Honestly the stuff about marine cancer and chimerism is probably the most novel material, but that’s probably not going to take center stage in most reviews because it would take a lot of explanation.

In contrast, people “get” race, eugenics and epigenetics (or so they think).

I found the second half of The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War more of a slog than the first half. Why? I think it’s because I didn’t viscerally understand as well the difference between 1870 and 1940. In contrast, I get what’s changed between 1940 and 2010 (I think?).

I still think it’s worth a read. Lots of facts and footnotes.

So many in my “stack” before I could ever get to The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World. But this looks like a really good book.

Lots of debate on the Twitter on whether the Enlightenment “invented” racism. The problem that I see is that this is correct if you define racism in a very specific way. To be frank, an entirely Eurocentric way.

In God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, there is a section which covers tensions in the Egyptian court during the period of the Crusader kingdoms (I believe in the middle 1200s). Basically, black slaves who traditionally guarded the harem had taken a more prominent leadership role. The Circassian military slaves found this offensive on grounds of race and caste. The cultural context was clearly not anything that a 17th century Englishmen would recognize, but it’s pretty obvious that the tensions at court organized themselves around race.

You might say it wasn’t racism because there wasn’t an explicit Linnean taxonomy. But the implication is clear that the Circassians were not going to tolerate domination by black slaves who were customarily, if not by statute, subordinate. Kind of sounds racist.

Though I’ve read books like The History of White People, in general, I find them too Eurocentric, with a particular focus on Anglo-America. Not that that matters as such, it’s just not to my taste to understand the general human condition.

But when we get into arguments about racism being invented in a clear and distinct fashion during the Enlightenment, it helps to have read books like God’s War, and have really good recall. Or a bit of Ibn Khaldun and his rather crass ethnography. Or you might read a history of Ming dynasty China, and recall that sometimes Portuguese sailors who were washed ashore were executed by officials, because they had blonde hair and blue eyes, and so were assumed to be Dutch (who were a priori pirates). The Ming were not racist as such, but they generalized racially in a manner which was unfortunate for fair Portuguese (and probably good for dark Dutch, those these instances are not recorded, for obvious reasons).

Of course we know most people don’t know any of this, or Aristotle’s taxonomies, or the literature on folk biology.

Additionally, one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that in public debates historians often lie. They don’t lie in a bald-faced manner, they lie like Protagoras might lie. They play fast and loose with terminologies and shade the conclusions in a way that benefits their chosen tribe. Unlike physics, history is really hard and requires a lot of honesty. Unlike physics, historians seem to lack that quite often.

I know enough to be able to see them in action because I know enough to know when they’re engaging in misdirection.

I have no solution. As with journalists, you need to know as much as they do to know when they lie when they tell the truth. Unfortuately, historians are usually more clever than journalists.

Speaking of history, John Julius Norwich has died. His Byzantium books are decent. Though you should always graduate to Warren Treadgold’s A History of Byzantine State and Society.

Uncertainty about social interactions leads to the evolution of social heuristics.

The genetic basis of mutation rate variation in yeast.

Andy Ngo Patreon. Honestly, I agree with him too much to read him a lot!

Outstanding questions in the study of archaic hominin admixture. Follow the citations.

The Discourse of Race in Modern China. I read this book 13 years ago. It was written 25 years ago. Seems like it is more relevant today than it was then.

Mystery ghost ape species found hidden in bonobo’s genome. Sometimes I wonder if the term “species” and “population” are just getting totally overwhelmed with the complexity of the models that genomics is now throwing at us.

I don’t think genomics has transformed evolutionary biology in the broad sketches. But, it has really specified a lot of details and filled in gaps, and terms which had previously been pretty clear and distinct are getting really muddled.

Don’t usually say it straight out, but I might not be posting as frequently for a while. Need to catch up on family, keep up on work, etc. I feel like I’ll probably crank it up again when the next batch of ancient DNA papers come out.

Also, Patrick Wyman is on this week’s episode of The Insight (should be up by Wednesday night EDT). We take on ancient DNA and Late Antiquity. I think you’ll like it. Only 14 reviews on iTunes to go before I stop pestering you guys on that!

Any other population genetics blogs you read? Any books of note?

6 thoughts on “Open Thread, 06/05/2018

  1. Hey Razib. Will there be a podcast about the native origin of dogs? Specifically I am curious about the sub-continent dog breeds. The Chippiparai looks very much like the Saluki and a less hairier version of the Afghan Hound. The Rampur Hound, the Kadai, and the Kanni are all seeming variations of the Saluki. The Rajapalayam is a pure white version of the Dalmatian. The Rajapalayam has blue or green eyes with a coat that has pink spots. The South Indian mastiff (The Bully Kutta) looks like a version of the Iranian mastiff. My question: how do we know that these dogs are native? If they are not native, who brought these dogs to the Indian sub-continent?

  2. Re Gordon’s book.

    A good visceral explanation of the post-1870 changes in the U.S. standard of living is found in C. Vann Woodward, “Origins of the New South, 1877-1913: A History of the South” (1981).

    Among the really striking points it makes is that the issue of getting indoor toilets and running water that is a big issue in parts of India today was at a similar point in the American South in this time period (e.g. a major draw for would be suitors) even though it had long been available in the urban north.

    Another striking point was that most parts of the South had only a single general store in their community until close to the end of this time frame.

    It also provides some of the most clear explanations for what former slaves did economically with their newfound non-slave status in the South (many kept doing similar work but moved from town to town by train in groups, giving them some bargaining power if farm owners got out of hand).

    And, it provides a vivid sense of how northern banks and carpet baggers interacted with the local economies and communities.

    For example, most plantation owners needed to borrow money from northern banks to keep operating, and most of those that did eventually lost their plantations in foreclosures (modern inheritance, divorce and foreclosure law in Southern states often have special protections for “legacy property” in reaction to this experience).

  3. Dmitry Pruss informed us about the upcoming autosomal DNA paper “Cryptic Native American ancestry recapitulates population-specific migration and settlement of the continental United States” by I. King Jordan, Lavanya Rishishwar, and Andrew B. Conley that has a preprint up since May 30th at

    Pertinent to our previous New Mexican/Coloradan Hispano discussions, Dmitry says the study includes Hispano DNA and that in addition to finding about 1/3rd Amerindian DNA in them, they found about 10 percent of their DNA matches or is similar to Sephardic Jews.

    In May, I found a DNA segment whose carriers are 4 New Mexican Hispanos, 3 Mexicans, a Chilean, and numerous Ashkenazic Jews.

  4. A book of note: Kevin Laland’s Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind (Princeton, 2017). There’s a fair amount of overlap with The Secret of Our Success. But Laland makes much more of the human desire and ability to teach, which is useful because of the complementary desire and ability to learn.

    Among other thongs, he argues that, contrary to so many nature documentaries, most animals do not teach their offspring to hunt, forage, etc. The closest they come is allowing the youngsters to tag along when they do it.

  5. Any reaction to Steve Sailer’s review of Zimmer’s book?

    it’s fine. just want to emphasize most of the book isn’t what steve talked about imo. there’s just A LOT in the book.

    the new stuff is more about chimerism and contagious cancer.

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