Open Thread, 10/2/2018

I’m reading Ramesh Menon’s The Mahabharata: A Modern Reading before I go to sleep. If you are ignorant, the Mahabharata is about an epic poem that’s an order of magnitude longer than the Iliad or The Odyssey combined. Menon’s prose rendering seems to get some good marks, so I that’s not why I chose it. It’s not the most artful writing, but that’s not what I was looking for, nor would I appreciate it in any case.

My rationale for reading this two-fold. First, as someone who was raised on Bulfinch’s Mythology and has read Genesis in dozens of translations, I thought it was behoove me to become a bit more culturally fluent about brown stuff. Especially in light of the fact that I’m “tagged” on a “Hindu Twitter” thread every few weeks now (12+ hard science disciplines apparently prove the Mahabharata happened 25,000 years ago!).

Second, the age of Indian historical population genetics is coming to an end. Perhaps ten years from now people will be doing temporal transects of eastern Maharashtra, but the bigger framework will be nailed down soon enough. And real intellectual understanding is going to have to synthesize archaeology and mythology with the demographic inferences.

The Urbane Cowboys podcast now has had three Bengali American conservatives on. #representation You should subscribe (I might be on again to talk about CRISPR soon).

Browncast #3. I talk about Indian genetics.

Does DNA Make Us Who We Are? A reader of this weblog shouldn’t find anything new in this book. There are some technical issues in this book you might pick up, as well as airbrushing out of Eric Turkheimer citation. But I left that stuff out of the review since regular people won’t care or understand.

Plomin is definitely an enthusiast on some counts. But most of the book covers his career and views on behavior genetics.

Why There Will Not Be a Beige Future: Skin Color, Genetics, Race and Racism. Written for an audience less familiar with genetics. You shouldn’t need to read this. But some of you still don’t know what the breeder’s equation is.

The New Evolution Deniers. I haven’t read this piece, but people keep asking me about it. Plenty of biologists have these sorts of views from what I can tell, but they’re never going to say a word.

So that’s why this battle is lost in my opinion. I don’t really care. American culture is now a battle between different groups of propagandists who manipulate the levers of power. The rest is commentary, and positivism and critical-rationalism are dead in the broader culture. They only persist in the “inner party” of the elect. Truth is the real conspiracy….

The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible. Good book.

I’ve been defending Marc Lamont Hill’s right to speak and express his views, and retain his professional positions. Mostly because “free speech” really doesn’t matter unless you kind of detest the views you are defending…. So I guess I’ m still delusional and not a realist. I contain multitudes.

Inside the chaos and corruption of Tripoli, where militias rule the streets. We violated the “Pottery Barn rule.”

Mountain lion genomes provide insights into genetic rescue of inbred populations.

Ancient Yersinia pestis genomes from across Western Europe reveal early diversification during the First Pandemic (541-750). Last author “Krause.” You’ll be seeing that a lot related to historical genomics from this group in the near future. Ancient DNA is cheap enough that it can be used to resolve historical questions as opposed to shedding light on prehistory.

Simulation of Karyotype Evolution and Biodiversity in Asexual and Sexual Reproduction.

Sex differences in gene expression in the human fetal brain.


26 thoughts on “Open Thread, 10/2/2018

  1. From the Plomin review: “New science shows that parents’ genes affect children’s characteristics even when those genes are not passed down to the child, implying that parents’ behavior shapes the environment of the child. Science surprises constantly, and does not always adhere to our blueprint.”

    Parents’ behavior – this is basically shared environment, right? Wouldn’t this be detected by adoption studies if it were happening to any significant extent?

  2. Hello Razib!

    If you take science questions from laypeople…:)

    I have a few questions about archaic introgression. From my (lay) understanding, roughly 700k years ago the ancestors of modern sapiens split into about four groups, our Sapien ancestors, an Archaic African group which bred with some Africans 30k years ago, Neanderthals and Denisovans closely related to each other who bred with the out-of-Africa Sapiens 50k years ago. Also a “basal Eurasian” population that for one reason or another, no longer exists but did not mix with either Neanderthals or Denisovans.

    Finally, another population that bred with Denisovans, who we don’t know of.

    So questions

    1) Did I miss any? Did I get any of the dates wrong?

    2) How long ago did this mystery population that possibly bred with Denisovans split off from our ancestry? Do you have an idea of when they bred with Denisovans?

    3) Neanderthals, split off from our Sapien ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years seem to exhibit a lot of similar characteristics to sapiens-could this indicate that behavior modernity(not sure if I’m using the term right but its the best I can think of) existed pre-700k?

    4) Do we have any idea of events roughly 700K years ago to cause such a long lasting split if I understand it correctly? It seems too coincidental to me that right around that time we’ve got about 3-4 lineages splitting off, then merging back together roughly 650k-670k years later.

    Anyways, if you’ve read this thank you for taking the time.

    Gibran Mahmud

  3. 1) Did I miss any? Did I get any of the dates wrong?

    basal diverged recently. btwn 100 and 50 K bp.

    the denisovan archaic admixture is very old diverged. probably before 1 million? the separation is probably low population density in eurasia.

    not sure we have a good sense when the archaic africa outgroup split…..

  4. But I left that stuff out of the review

    You also left out the fact that the repetition in the book is unmatched by any other.

    It is an excellent review in my opinion. It would be great if in the future no genetics related book is complete unless it gets reviewed by you.

  5. I’ve been reading lately, but not really commenting much because my focus has been elsewhere and I haven’t had many intelligent comments to make on your posts.

    However, since this is an off topic post, I’ll note that this weekend I found out about an interesting band – a Mongolian folk-metal band called The HU. They have two videos on youtube – this one and this one.

    Not unexpectedly, the whole Mongol motif works well with metal (much as it does with Scandinavia). If you watch the videos with subtitles on, there’s a lot of discussion of black banners, the great khan lord Chinggis, the wolf totem, wisdom of the ancestors, etc. Not sure if they’re 100% serious about this and genuine reactionaries, or just doing it for image, but it’s very entertaining (and not in a laughable way) regardless. And given the historical and political interests of many of the readers, I thought someone would get a kick out of it.

  6. @Gibran, add that Reich’s book has a bunch of figures that might help:

    (I think it’s fair play to excerpt them? But the full text is also worth reading).

    Reich suggests:

    1) Neanderthal-AMH split 770,000 – 550,000, then intra AMH split at 300,000 – 270,000 (just after time of Jebel-Irhoud skulls with composite features of AMH face and archaic braincase); about half time depth of Neanderthal-AMH split.

    2) Superarchaic splits from other humans at 1,400,000-900,000 (e.g. presumably some kind of Asian Homo Erectus), then the main Denisovan lineage splits from Neanderthal 470,000 – 380,000, and recombine prior to 400,000-270,000, which is the time Denisovan splits to Siberian Denisovan and Australo-Denisovan.

    3) Basal Eurasian splits from other Eurasian about 54,000 – 49,000, roughly before admixture with Neanderthal/Australo-Denisovan in Eurasian groups (all non-Basal and Oceanian respectively), and almost at the same time as East+West Eurasian split. East African split (presumably without considering any Eurasian backflow) at about 70,000-80,000.

    4) West African ghost archaic splits around 700,000 (could be before or after AMH split from Neanderthal). Mixes with West African AMH post 70,000. West African split time with East Africans, estimated at about 130,000 kya in the simple model, is a composite of the West African ghost archaic, and most of ancestry splitting from East African about same as East African splits from Eurasian.

    5) Reich introduces a model where all above descend from Asian / Eurasian Homo, which migrated back into Africa as early AMH around 300,000 (presumably from East Asia, since Europe is ‘thal territory), with benefit of fewer migrations between Eurasia and Africa. However, not sure this does actually give fewer migrations if you have an African ghost splitting off at 700,000 kya. But currently this is the weakest hidden ghost.

    That should all get up to speed. No big change in picture really since published, other than some revised estimates of Neanderthal ancestry exploiting differences between two Neanderthal samples and Neanderthal population structure (the tldr on revised estimates, they suggest Neanderthal remains roughly constant in Eurasia, possibly allowing for some dilution via Basal Eurasian or low extra Neanderthal pulses, and the degree of genome wide selection against Neanderthal ancestry from Reich’s book reduces to a very small degree).

  7. I’ve noticed a shift in how you write about race. Not that anything you say not contradicts what you’ve written before… but it’s hard not to notice that what you say now isn’t anything that a Silicon Valley company would object to. Did they talk to you about writing about race and IQ?

  8. I’ve been reading lately, but not really commenting much because my focus has been elsewhere and I haven’t had many intelligent comments to make on your posts.

    is the boy OK?

  9. I seem to remember there used to be a page on this blog of Razib’s most-recommended books. Is it not there anymore, or can I just suddenly not find it? The GoodReads link isn’t it, nor is it at all helpful since GoodReads’ “Favorite books” page evidently just lists every single book a user has read, which isn’t what that word means…

  10. I get that, you focus on population genetics more now. But everything seems more corporate friendly, something that no HR department would object to. I can’t imagine Razib from a decade ago bothering to write about how horrible eugenics is.

  11. where i write that? u mean in NRO?

    when you write for the mainstream audience it’s kind of different…. you have to reassure them that you don’t believe in rounding ppl up and putting them in camps…which goes without saying to the audience of this weblog.

    lots of words and concepts have to ‘drop out’ since u have wordcount limits.

    do you write for the general audience? if so, how?

  12. is the boy OK?

    He’s doing fine. Actually this Friday he’ll have his two year scans. My wife always gets worried around this time, but I’m pretty confident. After his 18-month scans his oncologist basically told us that due to the improved treatment (mostly immunotherapy) he was already almost certainly in the clear. But historically, once you’re two years out the risk of recurrence falls to zero. He’s still going to have to get CAT scans every six months for the next three years (for no particularly good reason, just because that’s the protocol) but that’s a relatively small hassle compared to what we had to go through before.

    Really it’s more a question of late effects due to his treatment now than anything. And at this point it’s still difficult to see what they are. He’s very short for his age (5th percentile) and the whole stem cell transplant process is known to stunt growth. But his growth actually slowed way down in the period before diagnosis and the curve stayed pretty much the same since then, so it’s hard to tell if that’s the reason. He’ll be lucky to hit 5’5″ though. With everything else besides that – and the scars – he’s just a normal kid.

  13. Hasn’t CRISPR made old-style eugenics moot? (Asking as a layperson)

    From a political perspective, I’m quite far from being a snowflake, but this topic (eugenics, IQ differences) is one of the very few that, I guess, “triggers” me, or at least makes me uncomfortable. Ultimately, is it useful for anything other than ranking human beings in order of importance? And regardless of our individual scientific dispositions, can we claim not to be psychologically affected by the discussion?

    (To be clear, I’m not arguing for any data or speech suppression on account of my discomfort.)

  14. The NRO article, but your Medium articles also. Your Medium articles are obviously at the behest of your employer, but have they asked you to tone it down in any medium that you write in?

    I don’t really write for a general audience, no.

  15. “Ultimately, is it useful for anything other than ranking human beings in order of importance?”

    Very much yes. How do you expect to help the low-IQ (as opposed to loudly speaking for them) except by a clear understanding of the nature of their problems? IQ predicts a huge number of life outcomes better than any other tool currently available. Knowing that seems important for making policies that will actually work for them.

    Consider that, however uncomfortable this topic makes you FEEL, others have to LIVE with the consequences, day in and day out.

    “And regardless of our individual scientific dispositions, can we claim not to be psychologically affected by the discussion?”

    This is always going to be a concern. The liberal idea of contact theory might actually help here. Do you know any low-IQ people, people with very different personalities, etc. personally, as friends?

  16. Numinous, I think I’m coming from a similar place as you are. But I have come to think that potential IQ differences are very important. Partly it was my experience in the education industry. We were very, very concerned about “the gap”. On average, black students do considerably worse than white students. And the gap hasn’t changed much in fifty years. There are three groups of possible reasons.

    1) It’s white people’s fault. This has historically been the way to bet. But the legal system of white supremacy has been dismantled for fifty years. So now the talk is of a “system of white privilege”. People say they’re not racist and the culture certainly looks a lot different but nevertheless what white people have built keeps black people down.

    2) It’s black people’s fault. Parents don’t read to their kids enough or take them to museums. There are too many single parents and a culture that doesn’t equip people to take advantage of the opportunities in America.

    3) It’s nature’s fault. On average, black kids don’t have as much school smarts as white kids.

    These are really the only explanations. If you reject two, the remaining one has to be true. Public policy, and most right-thinking people reject number three. The second is kind of dicey. If it’s presented as “black people don’t have the resources that white people have”, it’s sort of acceptable. But mostly, concerned people reject it as “blaming the victim” or “punching down.”

    That leaves number one. American society MUST be deeply racist and evil. If even anti-discrimination laws and a generally sympathetic media and official rhetoric that loudly rejects anti-black thought isn’t enough to change things, then stronger measures are necessary. And there is almost a duty to hate American society.

    Going with one pretty much requires you to treat any “disparate impact” as morally unjust discrimination. The obvious moral reaction is to legally require racially equal outcomes–which is just getting things back to where they would be if there hadn’t been any discrimination.

    On the other hand, white privilege seems to operate differently on different non-whites. It doesn’t keep Chinese- or Japanese- or Korean-American students down. It does seem to work on Filipinx and about half as well on Latinx as it does on blacks. Perhaps it really isn’t such a big deal.

    That then requires you to consider number three as a possibility, even if it feels awful.

  17. One should note there are biological explanations other than genetics for the test score gap. Differences in prevalence of exposure to lead during childhood certainly contribute. Other possible factors include fetal alcohol syndrome being a more likely result if black mothers drink during pregnancy, and perhaps differences in levels of breast feeding (although more recent studies suggest correcting for SES this isn’t as big of an impact as was historically thought). Perhaps even early childhood nutrition in some way influences adult outcomes, though I find this less likely.

    That said, aside from lead remediation (which would be expensive, but doable – almost certainly should be done on a wider scale) it would be hard to remedy many of these issues because they’re cultural rather than structural. Indeed, it’s arguable some are related to gene-environment interactions. For example, if a woman with high levels of impulsiveness but normal intelligence can’t stop from drinking during pregnancy, they’re likely to have a child who is both impulsive (due to inheritance) and less intelligent (due to at least sub-clinical levels of fetal alcohol syndrome). From then on in, because of the combination of lower intelligence for environmental reasons and impulsivity, their descendants would also be likely to drink somewhat during pregnancy, making the lowered IQ due to drinking essentially an emergent property of their impulsive nature combined with a cultural background where drinks are freely available.

    Regardless, the way things are going there is likely only going to be a very short period of time between our understanding of the genetic architecture of intelligence and being able to offer low-cost edits to parents to boost the intelligence of their offspring. Thus any gaps that really do exist when all environmental elements are taken out of account are likely to be moot by the time of my grandchildren. Or at least the gaps between black and white students will have lost salience when compared to the edited and non-edited.

  18. The NRO article, but your Medium articles also. Your Medium articles are obviously at the behest of your employer, but have they asked you to tone it down in any medium that you write in?

    the medium articles have to be written totally differently. they’re not personal.

    NRO audience has lots of social conservatives who are religious.

  19. re: *yellow vest* : just makes me wonder how are WE going to pay for everything that we take for granted as something due to us by right of working hard and playing by the rules? and by “WE” i mean everyone in the developed world.

    from Razib’s Twitter

    That’s one of the most important questions there is, and almost nobody is even thinking about it.

    The wisest man I ever knew used to say, “I know how to make my kids mad. Promise them this [holds hand about chest high] and give them this [holds hand waist high].”

  20. Thanks for the admixture responses! The Denisovan one (of likely ancient homo erectus) is possibly the most fascinating. 1 million years! That’s…my God……old. Very old. Admixture is probably the most interesting new topic in human evolution.


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