Open Thread, 12/17/2018

DNAGeeks is doing the last holiday push.

The new WordPress post editor kind of sucks. Installed a plugin to get rid of it. I guess it’s easier if you aren’t comfortable in HTML and want to do complex layouts, but I think the site is OK as is (though perhaps I need a better degradation to mobile?).

A lot of people have been telling me that The Three-Body Problem is good. Thoughts?

The latest Brown Pundits podcast, episode 5 on China. Soon Tanner Greer of Scholar’s Stage will be on!

Population structure of modern-day Italians reveals patterns of ancient and archaic ancestries in Southern Europe. The paper points to the fact that it seems that a Caucasus-related ancestry that has been seen in early Bronze Age Greece also seems to have impacted southern Italy and Sicily. There’s a paper that will come out soon with ancient samples from Sicily and Sardinia that confirms this. The same Caucasus-related ancestry is found in the steppe expansion, but that too came into Italy through the north.

Lund professor freed student from Islamic State war zone. One of the craziest stories I’ve read this year.

The untold story of how India’s sex workers prevented an Aids epidemic. About twenty years ago or so there were a lot of stories about how India was going to be the next major locus of HIV infection. That hasn’t occurred.

This week on The Insight Spencer & I talked about African genetics. Already a very popular episode.

Don’t blame Trump for the demise of The Weekly Standard. I’m still shocked that The American Conservative is still around, while The Weekly Standard is not. In general, I think reliance on a patron means you need to be careful about your heterodoxies. Life is about trade-offs. Scott McConnell has a reflection on the passing of The Weekly Standard, What The Weekly Standard Has Wrought:

If the Iraq war was sold to the American establishment by a small elite, the price was borne by many. Estimates of the fiscal costs run from $1 trillion to as much as $3 trillion, (if you credit Nobel prize recipient Joseph Stiglitz’s calculations, which include the long-term care costs for American soldiers with lifelong and life shattering injuries). The human costs to the soldiers and their families was substantial. Throughout the Mideast, the number of people killed, wounded, or turned into refugees by the invasion was staggering. The American “regional dominance” touted by the Standard proved entirely fanciful.

It is hard for younger people to remember what the years after 9/11 were like. The center-Left was broadly in support of the initial invasion of Iraq, though with some qualms, and ultimately turned against it. The Right was different. Aside from a few people at The American Conservative and stubborn individuals like Greg Cochran, by and large, there wasn’t any strong dissent from one of the most disastrous foreign policy decisions in American history. It is striking to me that so many of the people associated with The Weekly Standard are now given “strange new respect” by “resistance liberals” when they backed a war with such consequences (though to be fair, the center-Left which now pays homage to The Weekly Standard were usually in favor of the war before they were against it).

Another Clever Proxy for Quantitative History. If you don’t know who Peter Turchin is, familiarize yourself!

As 2018 turns to 2019 some of you may be wondering about books you should read. If you haven’t, Who We Are and How We Got Here is still very relevant.

Two books on history which will blow your mind, The Fall of Rome and The Fate of Rome. These are works that take material and environmental conditions seriously.

F. W. Mote’s Imperial China is highly recommended as well.

David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations is well written. If you want to get a sense of ‘endogenous growth theory.’

Justin Fox’s Myth of the Rational Market is good too. There was a period in the second half of the 2000s when a lot of good popular books on economics and finance were coming out (for obvious reasons).

The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. This book is less crazy reading today than it was years ago when I read it. Some of the predictions have been born out.

If you are looking for scientific biography with heft, I recommend Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology.

Wittgenstein’s Poker. An enjoyable read. If you don’t know much about Wittgenstein or Popper aside from sketches, it might be a good place to start (a bit too soft on Wittgenstein and hard on Popper from what I recall by the way, at least for my taste).

The Coming Anarchy. This book was wrong. But it can still illuminate in the wrongness.

If you haven’t gotten a copy of Principles of Population Genetics, not too late. Not a book you need to read front to back. Just read a chapter here and there.

With Christmas coming up, I don’t know how much time or inclination I’ll have to blog. So happy holidays to everyone if you don’t see me around much!

How the Catholic Church Created Our Liberal World. These arguments are not new. I first encountered them in Adam Bellow’s In Praise of Nepotism. I’m not totally convinced…I wonder if the rise of capitalism and modernity in Western Europe was over-determined. One thing to note is that the largest gradient of genetic variation in Europe is north-to-south. Northern Europe from Ireland to Russia is relatively uniform. But the socio-cultural gap between west and east is striking and derives in large part from the difference between a Latin Christian West, and an east which was not Latin and usually Orthodox Christian.

24 thoughts on “Open Thread, 12/17/2018

  1. I remember there being lots of dire predictions from organizations like W.H.O that HIV was going to cross over from marginalized groups into the mainstream, as had happened in sub-Saharan Africa. One possible explanation for why the region remains distinct is that it’s due to tainted medical supplies (specifically, needles). I don’t know how India compares specifically on that front. More recently I’ve heard it argued that Islam is negatively correlated with HIV prevalence in Africa.

  2. Man, seeing that Italian study reminds me of that Imperial Rome paper by Flavio De Angelis. It’s this one:

    >Rome wasn’t built in a day: biomolecular analysis of ancient Romans

    >1Department of Biology, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Rome, Italy, 2Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, 3Anthropology Service, Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma, Rome, Italy, 4Department of Molecular Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy

    Combined with that Central to South Italy paper and it’d be enough to learn about Italy’s genetic past I’m sure.

  3. Re Three-Body Problem, I read the first book and a half, decided to quit.

    Reasons to read: it was a hit in China, will be a movie, so at that level of cultural learning of what’s popular it was worth reading (at least some of it). So I don’t regret reading the first book and a half.

    Reasons to skip: I like my hard sci-fi to be reasonably consistent in it’s speculative science hook and world building. And for this I got more and more annoyed as the books went on. The fermi paradox explainer justification had me squirming until I decide to stop reading. So as hard sci-fi, it’s moderately weak, not really worth reading compared to other stuff. But I’m nerdy enough in my hard science that I’m judgmental on this topic.

    So you might try it as a cultural read, but if you are more hard core on wanting good science speculation I’d say it’s a no.

  4. 1) Turchin’s books:

    A) I read “Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth” on Kindle. It was a decent non-technical page-turner, in which he engagingly (is capable of writing amusing very wry elucidatory turns of phrase [a la Russki/professional educator] coupled with cojones to toss aside academic soft-pedaling and very clearly state his stark opinion on arguable points) lays out the summary of his historical thinking and outlines his attempt to quantify-systematize-algorithmify. Plus of course historic examples to buttress, some of which were real verboten-history info-nuggets to me (e.g. the horrific pre-contact Hawaii rule-by-terror structure).

    B) Then purchased “Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History”, again Kindle. This one delves into his technics, pages of abstruse nuts n’ bolts equationing of history, really laying bare his methodology. [Reading this one on recent model Kindle e-reader, which viewing device annoys endlessly to begin with, was a total eye-crosser, especially with graphics which had to be opened in the clunky horrible etc. (Am I the only one with this problem? If not, how do you deal? Is a Fire better, or what? Better off with paper book for technical literature? But books are way more expensive.)]
    Anyway, e-reader issue aside, and back to Turchin’s fine work and worthy book:

    I found that Ages of Discord thesis mirrors my own prior intuited mental map of cyclicality. Whether Turchin’s method has true explanatory/predictive power, or is just a thought-provoking sterile attempt, ultimately akin to perhaps Terence McKenna’s noble whackadoodle ‘Timewave Zero’,
    no-one yet knows.

    But worth a very respectful read, as Turchin’s is serious and vetted work which may end up being a really revolutionary-genius Nobel-worthy mostly-correct formulation.

    2) Gonna buy The Three-Body Problem for all six in-law sets, for Xmas. (scissor-clapping hands, “xmas shopping conundrum, Done!”) Will order via Razib link, thus paying him for his intellectual, if not world-historic emotional, labor.

  5. Darn it, Nathan Taylor, in-laws include astrophysics profs and the like. Thanks for the review and thanks to Razib for the suggestion and hosting. Hardcore-hep yet moderated polite crowd is why I keep coming around these parts. I don’t like squishy science-fiction either: Stanislaw Lem Lives! Now it’s back to scented candles for xmas gifts, and figuring a different way to compensate Razib. Hey R do you still have Never Fade Tardigrade shirts that can get to NYC in time for xmas? My fave is the Founding Crystal, but as I am outside the field, pretty much no one I ever encounter will know what the heck is that- if I were a cetain type of disdainful nerd, I could get one of those crystal shirts just for hoi polloi condescension kicks.

  6. Will order via Razib link, thus paying him for his intellectual, if not world-historic emotional, labor.

    😉 i do have a patreon. don’t advertise it much, but created in part cuz a reader wanted the option.

  7. . Hey R do you still have Never Fade Tardigrade shirts that can get to NYC in time for xmas?

    no guarantee, but we can get you free rushed shipping. make a note on checkout

  8. My uncle was on TWA Flight 847 in 1985, which got hijacked by Lebanese terrorists. My family had begun to arrange a similar rescue operation to that Swedish one, but the Reagan Administration came through and got Israel to release a bunch of Shia prisoners in exchange for them (not officially, of course, but it was what it was).

    I suppose the story seems less crazy to me for that reason.

  9. Three Body Prob is awesome. I especially liked Dark Forest. Would make a great HBO mini series if well done (though they’d probably muck it up like so many others).

    Seems Chinese sci-fi is less beholden to certain ‘idealist’ strains that Western scifi normally (not always) has. So it’s darker in a more realistic ‘thats just the way it is’ way. And the opening with Cultural Revolution…. yowza.

  10. The Three Body Problem was one of the strangest experiences when I tried to read it. I have friends who loved it, but I gave up maybe a quarter of the way in. I read some other reviews and reactions on the print SF reddit and there does seem to be a lot of people who loved it and also a lot of people who are mystified by why such a bad book is getting so much praise. Even though I gave up on it, there were aspects of it that I did actually like and find interesting. It starts out well with a dramatic scene set during China’s cultural revolution, but then it seems to lose the plot for quite a while after that. There was only one character that had a recognizable personality. Most of the characters were cardboard. I finally gave up and started skipping ahead. One other odd thing was that one of the quotes on the back of the cover has a spoiler. I guess many people would have already have heard of it, but I kept wondering when they were going to get to the thing mentioned on the back before I realized this was actually being kept hidden and was supposed to get revealed further into the book.

    I have a physics degree and occasionally this makes it slightly more challenging to suspend disbelief, but it usually isn’t an issue. This book seemed to reach the uncanny valley level of physics knowledge. The author knew some and had obviously read a lot of popular science articles. But particle colliders and future physics were part of the plot. Instead of glossing over the details, they often explained them in ways that revealed their ignorance of colliders and particle physics. In particular, the “sophons” were extremely far-fetched, especially because he describes the principles of how they work. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but magic beans would have been more believable. Though to give the author some credit, the description of their creation was oddly one of the more interesting parts out of what I did read.

  11. I quite enjoyed the 3 body problem and its sequel. I am half way through the 3rd book now.

    I am not a huge Sci Fi reader more of fantasy reader, but I would rate this highly just behind, Dune and Foundation.

    The ideal science fiction novel in my opinion has 3 primary elements.
    1. The plot
    2. The characters
    3. The science

    In the ideal Sci Fi Novel the scientific ideas are compelling while serving a plot purpose, and the story is driven by strong characters.

    I find you rarely find a story that does all three well. Authors who offer interesting takes on scientific ideas like say kim stanley robinson are often bad at both plot and characterization.

    Writers who are strong at character and plot like Richard Morgan tend to be light on science.

    My take on the three body is it offers interesting scientific ideas that tie well to a coherent, interesting and well pace plot, but characterization is mostly weak. So far the third book has been the strongest in character development.

    I found the introduction of the three body problem and it’s relevance to the story really intriguing.

    The setting around the cultural revolution is also fascinating and it creates a moral valence to the story that is is interesting to me.

    A technology element mentioned earlier the sophons also stretched my suspension of disbelief but as someone who doesn’t read a lot in that field it wasn’t too hard to accept.

    I found some of the cultural evolution projections hard to accept as someone who sees things through a evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics lense.

    Strongly recommended despite those caveats.

  12. This is big. In the space of less than 10 years, actually more like 5, Australian Aboriginal people have gone from being highly suspicious of scientists who want to study them, and very resistant to providing DNA samples, to now actively driving and participating in research into modern and ancient Aboriginal genomes because they want to know, for reasons that are important to them.

    Huge step forward.

    “Ancient nuclear genomes enable repatriation of Indigenous human remains.”

  13. Wrt to the Italy paper, seeing the separate Iranian Neolithic in their ADMIXTURE in Southern Italy and Sicily as opposed to the rest of Italy and the Balkans that only has the CHG stuff makes me think that they should have used a Levantine Neolithic or Bronze Age (i.e. Levant_N/Iran_N) source too as opposed to just an Anatolian one (Phoenicians?).

    Corsica is another interesting island population. While not as EEF as Sardinia, it bulges out from the Italian cline (from around Tuscany, which would make sense) towards Sardinian/EEF sources which seems to imply less steppe and extra CHG and more EEF kind of ancestry. I wonder if this points towards Corsica being less affected by the prehistorical steppe and CHG associated migrations or historical migrations from the Balkans/Near East and Central Europe instead. I know there are contacts between Corsica and Sardinia too, especially considering the northern Sardinian dialects, but I wonder if there has been geneflow from Sardinia to Corsica as well which would have made it a bit more EEF, especially after looking at the differences in position between the genotype and chunkcount/haplotype PCAs (or does that one rather imply more recent gene flow from Italy to Sardinia instead?). The Sardinian clusters themselves are interesting with one being much more “inbred” and admixed than the other apparently. I also wondered if there might be some more recent Slavic admixture in one of the Northeast Italian clusters.

    As to the upcoming paper, the West Sicilian Beaker samples from the big Beaker paper already showed some of that CHG.

    Btw, do you have any clue what happened to the supplements? I didn’t see them for this paper on biorxiv and I notice they’re missing from all papers now…?

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