Open Thread, 03/18/2019

Going back to finishing Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not. My general attitude so far is that I’m skeptical, but the author presents a plausible thesis. Additionally, the book is worth reading because of its engagement with the whole literature in this area. It’s got a good bibliography you can follow-up.

We had Shadi Hamid on the Brown Pundits podcast. Really appreciate Shadi’s interest in engaging with a diverse array of people. A real intellectual for our time, and unfortunately all too rare in many places these days (I think Shadi should go on the Extremely Offline podcast, even though he is extremely online).

There’s a Fake Outrage Machine on the Right, Also. Basically, they’re trying to get a professor fired for saying in some forum several years ago that cops should be killed. This is egregious, but one of the features of academia, as it is today, is that egregiousness is defended.

Some people are making the analogy to the professor who is under fire at Sarah Lawrence, who wrote an op-ed suggesting there needs to be more intellectual diversity in academia. That’s a pretty weird comparison, but I guess it tells you something. If you are conservative your very existence is scary. If you are on the Left, suggesting people should be killed is scary. But look, there are literal Communists in the academy. No one is demanding they be fired, and unless you add all sorts of caveats being a Communist often means you believe in violent revolution against a class of people. Being liberal in the broad sense is illustrated only when it’s hard, not when it’s easy.

A conservative assault on academia may need to occur, but it shouldn’t be around small things like a professor here and there. Go for the money. That’s the heart. Crazy professors are like stray strands of hair.

The Stanford professor who rejected one of Elizabeth Holmes’ early ideas explains what it was like to watch the rise and fall of Theranos. If you listened to The Dropout, you get the feeling that Dr. Phyllis Gardner was the hero we didn’t deserve. It must have been difficult to watch what has happened over the past 15 years for her. She knew it was fake all along.

Immune Gene Diversity in Archaic and Present-day Humans. Starting to think that the low diversity and population sizes of northern humans were a long-term problem, and one reason they were absorbed by southern modern humans. Not totally sure though.

Jomon genome sheds light on East Asian population history.

Shared polygenetic variation between ASD and ADHD exerts opposite association patterns with educational attainment.

The Scandals of Meritocracy. Virtue vs. competence. Would you rather have a boss who is evil but competent, or good but incompetent? The reality is you have to balance the two. Richard Nixon was probably smarter that Dwight Eisenhower in raw g, but Eisenhower was probably a better person.

Indian population is growing much faster in the north – and the south is paying the price. Much of South India is below replacement. Kerala’s fertility is similar to Japan’s. The Gangetic core of North India is well above replacement. The state of Bihar has 100 million people and a total fertility rate of 3.41. That’s similar to Pakistan’s.

Classic Mechanism of Epigenetic Inheritance Is Rare, Not the Rule. Some geneticists are in “but we all knew that” mode. But the reality is that going by the popular press the public doesn’t know that. The unfortunate reality is that scientific revolutions don’t come around that often.

DNA Friend. Amusing parody site.

Genome-Wide Polygenic Risk Scores and prediction of Gestational Diabetes in South Asian Women.

Fooled By Randomness is my favorite Nassim Taleb book.

Graham Coop has released a textbook, Population and Quantitative Genetics. Since I periodically get emails to delete comments from kids in high school and college, I knew younger people read this weblog. I’d recommend a resource like this to see if you are really interested in population and quantitative genetics.

Check out the Population Genomics blog.

A History of the Iberian Peninsula, as Told by Its Skeletons.

Survival of Late Pleistocene Hunter-Gatherer Ancestry in the Iberian Peninsula.

Population histories of the United States revealed through fine-scale migration and haplotype analysis. White Americans are the garlic people.

29 thoughts on “Open Thread, 03/18/2019

  1. Razib,

    (Very) off topic question regarding aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack: I noticed a great dichotomy regarding the reaction of neoliberals/progressives when it comes to Islamist led and white nationalist led terror attacks. See for example John Cassidy of the New Yorker:



    Where in the former type of attacks you see some kind of effort to “contextualize” the threat with citations of how terrorism is statistically rare and the need to “gather all the facts”. Yet when it comes to the latter type of attacks, no such effort is made, and indeed the opposite seems to be the case (“response needs to be commensurate with the threat, which is spreading ominously”). And such disparate reactions are fairly widespread among other writers. Do you have any thoughts on what explains this glaring discrepancy in reactions?

  2. A more charitable explanation would be that Islamist terror is roughly almost twenty years old and maybe contextualizing makes sense considering huge amount of state resources dedicated to it in the West and throughout the world. Far-right terrorism, while very old, is newer for most of the public, especially with social media. And to be fair, Cassidy’s prescriptions are actually the same in both articles.

  3. Sorry, I was going to edit this main post into the previous one, but I was kicked out while editing (took too long?)

    Why is South Indian fertility so low? I am shocked that any of the states even reach Japan’s or Norway’s.
    My guess is that education levels and “gender equality” is higher in those states and results in women have higher agency over family planning? Is there a deep roots/lineage aspect as well?

    The fertility rate -> potential political backlash thesis is very persuasive (and underrated in Western discussions around comparative issues).

  4. I think a lot of people strongly suspected Theranos was fake, but unfortunately that group did not include the high power military and political guys on the board and the people controlling the financial purse-strings.

    People somehow bought into the idea that a Stanford undergrad drop-out could seize a Holy Grail that the likes of Bob Langer and George Whitesides had been unable to reach. The details were too complicated for them, I guess.

  5. It must have been difficult to watch what has happened over the past 15 years for her. She knew it was fake all along.

    The article you link really doesn’t say that. Maybe the podcast does; I haven’t listened to it.

    This is a ridiculous statement. Did she really look into Holmes’s soul and see her fraud? Is this any better than the VCs who looked into her soul? All Gardner says is that she was going to “try it until you succeed.” That’s exactly what the VCs saw. Maybe, as she says, trying that with treatment is dangerous, but that’s different than expecting fraud! Anyhow, Holmes pivoted to diagnostics, where one could maintain parallel tests to calibrate.

    The article makes it sound like Gardner really formed her opinion with Fuisz, which sounds totally reasonable, but a lot less than 15 years. BI hints at the possibility that she was a clearinghouse of damning rumors from much earlier. (Carryrou also focuses on Gardner-Fuisz.) That Gardner happened to have contact with Holmes at the very beginning is a dramatic touch, but irrelevant to anything Gardner could or should have known.

  6. on the podcast she claims elizabeth was poaching around for a professor. she claims she tried to warn channing robertson.

    also, lots of ppl were pretty skeptical when she was huge in 2014. i heard it. didn’t know what to think of it, but science ppl were confused as to what was going on since they hadn’t published and it seemed kind of impossible. the carreyou story was fwded a lot for that reason in my circles.

  7. Interview: Economist Jared Rubin on Islam, Christianity, and the
    Patrick Wyman interviewed Jared Rubin on his Tides of History Podcast”
    Rise of the West 8/23/2018
    Professor Jared Rubin of Chapman University joins us to talk about the economic divergence between Europe and the Middle East that began in the early modern period. Check out his fantastic book – Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not.

  8. I have not read the Rubin book. What I know about it gleaned from the Patrick Wyman podcast which was an interview of Rubin by Wyman.

    I just looked for some more information short of adding the book to my infinite queue of books to read: Here is a summary of the book on Rubin’s web site:
    Joel Mokyr’s review:

    Rubin is an economist, not a historian. As an economist he is a practitioner of the “new institutional economics” (Ronald Coase, Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom)

    Rubin says that rulers have choices in how to rule. They can use coercion or they can be legitimated. Legitimacy is a much cheaper way to rule as most people will obey a legitimate ruler. The problem is that it is hard for a ruler to legitimate himself.

    In Islamic civilization, rulers are legitimated by the ulema (the religious authorities).

    In Europe, rulers came to be legitimated by parliaments composed of important economic actors, land owners and merchants. The role of religious authorities in legitimating rulers decayed in the late middle ages.

    A real break came with the invention of the printing press. In Europe, the press became important and the Reformation made it more important.

    In the Islamic world, the printing press was rejected. In 1485 the Ottomans banned printing as an affront to God.

  9. “A conservative assault on academia may need to occur”

    And it is way overdue. You would think that the universities would be an easy target — a lot of resentment can be ginned up and focused. I am kind of amazed that it hasn’t happened yet.

    Possible targets. Tuition. It would be expensive and regressive to make college tuition free. But, it would be cheap, popular, and devastating, to impose wage and price controls. Million dollar college presidents? Why should they make more than a Cabinet Secretary? Why should a professor make more than GS scale salaries?

    The BA. Most of them have 16 courses of content (a course is one semester of classes on a single subject). The other 16 are “liberal arts” (crap nobody but the professor cares about). Some of it may be stuff you should have learned in High School, but you have to pay tuition to take it again. Foreign languages. Where you are taught to read texts in languages that nobody speaks anymore, but, you can’t hold a conversation with a native speaker or read today’s newspaper.

    Endowments? The biggest ones are a scandal. Their managers get paid millions. And the schools that have them still charge astronomical tuitions. Tax them. Ban investments in any thing other than Treasury and Municipal bonds.

    Tax exemptions. The rationale is that the colleges perform the public service of educating our children. But, many colleges now educate enormous numbers of foreigners. A quarter of the students at Columbia are foreigners. NYU has something like 12,000. Why are American taxpayers subsidizing their educations?

    Research. Enormous swathes of research are paid for by the Federal Government, and they are intellectual and scientific junk. They are simply welfare for middle class white people.

  10. “Much of South India is below replacement. Kerala’s fertility is similar to Japan’s.”

    Very interesting. The Chart Shows Sikkim in the far north as the lowest 1.17.

    My guess is that the trajectory will reach the north in a few years.

    It is absolutely fascinating. The trend seems to be universal and not linked to culture or politics. Maybe Gaia really is in charge. Malthus can’t account for this.

  11. Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes’s ability to recruit George Shultz et. al. as window dressing may prove once more that a pretty girl is like a malady.

  12. “Classic Mechanism of Epigenetic Inheritance Is Rare, Not the Rule.”

    This is bad news for the gender identification people. If gender dysmorphia is genetic, it can be tested for and eliminated or treated with drugs or, eventually gene therapy. If it isn’t and there is no alternative to environment, it should be subject to talk therapy.

  13. “White Americans are the garlic people.”

    What does that mean?

    I feed it into Google, and it replied: “Did you mean: White Americans are the gaelic people.”

  14. “A conservative assault on academia may need to occur”

    Sorry, I left out my favorite stick to beat them with.

    Smash the college admissions game. Make admissions by random draw. It is the only system that is objective, utterly fair, and guaranteed to produce classes that echo the demographic diversity of the country.

    They have objective systems in Europe and East Asia, the kids take examinations such as the French Baccalaureat or the German Abitur. The tests are written essay type exams, and some of them are even oral. They are far harder to cheat on than the multiple choice parodies of examinations used by the SAT in the US.

    That would be one way out. It would also be politically unacceptable. You can imagine the racial skews of the incoming classes. And, you can imagine the screeching from Beverly Hills when they find out that Olivia is going to have to go to Cal State Northridge and party with kids from the Valley.

    The only system I can think of that is fair, representative, and objective is a random draw.

  15. But, many colleges now educate enormous numbers of foreigners. A quarter of the students at Columbia are foreigners. NYU has something like 12,000. Why are American taxpayers subsidizing their educations?

    Because for many non-elite universities, they are moneymakers who pay full-tuition. It’s the same reason that competitive state universities increasingly recruit from out-of-state and are moving away from the original mission of educating their states’ cognitive elites (who stay home). I agree, though, that it should be dramatically curtailed (along with immigration).

    The only system I can think of that is fair, representative, and objective is a random draw.

    Not bad, but the problem with this model is that you don’t advance knowledge with “representative” population.

    Some – read “most” – people don’t belong in universities. They should get vocational or technical training appropriate for their cognitive profiles. That is, in fact, exactly what happens in Germany (indeed, German companies themselves help to provide such training and also have management-worker councils through which the workers have far more say in how companies are run than in the U.S. where ordinary workers are simply wage slaves). People in the mid- to low-tier of intelligence are far more likely to find satisfying and fulfilling profession this way than by earning, say, a communications degree in a third-rate university and racking up a huge debt.

    But, despite how much good this would do, it is also politically unfeasible in the U.S., because the cognitive separations would become, in fact, largely racial segregations. Can’t have that.

  16. Virtue vs. competence. Would you rather have a boss who is evil but competent, or good but incompetent? The reality is you have to balance the two. Richard Nixon was probably smarter that Dwight Eisenhower in raw g, but Eisenhower was probably a better person.

    The problem with this comparison is that Ike was both a better person and a more competent leader than Richard Nixon. So there’s no tradeoff.

    Nixon was probably smarter than Ike, but then so was Jimmy Carter. Neither Carter nor Nixon, however, could come close to matching Ike’s commonsense, experience, and leadership skills. And Ike’s IQ was high enough.

  17. To niroscience

    The southern fertility transition was a loo….ng process taking 50 years and explaining will need a long essay. To cut it short, the points are urbanization, middle class- like aspirational thinking, and the need for conserving investment. It was indeed created by education of girls. The last piece is religious, and gender pressures are not overwhelming in the south, and family decision making by women is not frowned upon. One could think of it as Korea, China happening with a 20 year delay.
    The fertility transition is no negative here, as the move away from farming has created a large number of young with difficult job transition

    The south is not the same as north.

  18. I am pretty sure not only there are regional variations in fertility rate in India, there are inter-caste variations too. Upper castes, especially those with a high regard for education like Brahmins, are driving themselves to extinction simply by “inaction” 🙂

    In my ancestral village in North India, upper caste neighborhoods lie desolate with locked houses and unkempt streets. Most of their younger generation has migrated to cities, and they simply do not have enough people to come to village regularly and maintain their ancestral houses. Lower caste neighborhoods are thriving by contrast.

    I believe the geographical/religious/caste disparities in Indian population growth is the least talked about major issue. It should be brought to the arena of public debate.

  19. “My guess is that education levels and “gender equality” is higher in those states and results in women have higher agency over family planning?”

    For all that we know, this could have been the reason for the collapse of Indus-valley civilization too. Harappan women became too rich and too educated for their own good, refused to have babies, and the robust and earthy Aryan women simply outbred them. 🙂

    How is this as an alternative to AIT.

  20. Twinkie:

    “Because for many non-elite universities, they are moneymakers who pay full-tuition.”

    If a non-profit earns money for an activity outside of the scope of its charitable purpose, it receives what the IRS calls “unrelated business taxable income”. The money colleges mulct from foreigners should be categorized as UBTI and taxed under the unrelated business income tax. The same goes for the new fad of opening branches in foreign countries for purposes other than educating Americans.

    “Some – read “most” – people don’t belong in universities.”

    True but useless. In Lake Wobegon all of the children are above average. It is impossible to persuade middle class college educated Americans that Olivia should go to beauty school.

  21. As if on cue:

    “Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots” by Eliza Shapiro on March 18, 2019

    “Students gain entry into the specialized schools by acing a single high-stakes exam that tests their mastery of math and English. Some students spend months or even years preparing for the exam. Stuyvesant, the most selective of the schools, has the highest cutoff score for admission, and now has the lowest percentage of black and Hispanic students of any of New York City’s roughly 600 public high schools.”

    “Attempts to diversify the schools without touching the test have failed. Neither the expansion of free test prep for minority students nor a new plan to offer the specialized high school exam during the school day made a dent in the admissions numbers. The mayor and other supporters of the effort to overhaul the admissions system cited the statistics released Monday as the clearest evidence yet that the system is broken.”

    “‘These numbers are even more proof that dramatic reform is necessary to open the doors of opportunity at specialized high schools,’ Mr. de Blasio said.”

    Incidentally you have to read the charts in the article with a magnifying glass, but whites are a minority as well with only 22% of the class. Hispanics are 11%, and Blacks 1%. The rest, 66%, are Asian.

    There is no way that an objective examination based system of college admissions will be politically acceptable.

  22. @ Walter

    “White Americans are the garlic people.” Look at Figure 1 in the paper. The visual joke should be apparent.

  23. Razib: Something else that has nothing to do with Europe:

    “Belcher said there are three facts about Ethiopia that are critical to understanding the significance of these manuscripts; as many mistakenly assume that Christianity in Africa arrived with Europeans.

    “First, the Highland Ethiopians converted to Christianity in the fourth century, before most of Europe had even heard of Christ,” Belcher said. “Second, they have been using an African written language for more than 2,000 years, despite the stereotype that Africa is a place without writing. Third, they have been making bound books since the sixth century. This form of Christianity is really ancient, and has nothing to do with Europe.”

    “Ethiopian scholars and priests shared their knowledge of Ethiopia’s ancient tradition of written literature and bound manuscripts with a large audience at Princeton on March 12.”

  24. I’m not sure there’s much point in continuing on Theranos, but…

    If you’re just saying that Gardner was ahead of the curve and thought that it was a fraud in 2014 or maybe 2011, sure, but that’s not 15 years. I listened to the podcast and it said that she “scolded” Robertson, but it’s not clear when. Her husband was an early advisor of the company, so she probably didn’t scold Robertson before that, which was probably after he joined. Maybe she and her husband separately decided that Holmes didn’t want any advice, which is a bad sign, but something that could change over the years. And what did she learn from Fuisz? That the company abused patents and lawsuits? Is it a reasonable inference that the company is a fraud?

    I was credulous in 2014, partly because the people who said that it was impossible gave stupid arguments. But I said that even if pinprick tests were impossible, doing lots of tests on ordinary blood draws should be easy. And even without any technological innovation, there was room for business model innovation. The political board got an Arizona law passed allowing blood testing without prior prescription, which seems like a big step forward. Of course, pivoting away from pinpricks would be admitting that they defrauded investors and Walgreens, but I think it would have been survivable. In fact, I cited Carreyrou to defend the company. His initial report said that they only did a few tests using pinpricks (presumably information on their website), which is, maybe, evidence that the company was defrauding investors, but exactly what I’d expect of a company making incremental progress.

  25. “The Long Night: Modeling the Climate of Westeros”
    Adiv Paradise, Alysa Obertas, Anna O’Grady, Matthew Young
    (Submitted on 28 Mar 2019)

    “Many previous authors have attempted to find explanations for Westeros’s climate, characterized by a generally moderate, Earth-like climate punctuated by extremely long and cold winters, separated by thousands of years. One explanation that has been proposed is that the planet orbits in a Sitnikov configuration, where two equal-mass stars (or a star and a black hole) orbit each other on slightly eccentric orbits, and the planet moves along a line through the barycenter perpendicular to the primaries’ orbital plane (Freistetter & Grützbauch 2018). We modify an intermediate-complexity GCM to include the effects of such an orbit and integrate it for thousands of years to determine whether such an orbit can a) be habitable and b) explain the climatic variations observed by the inhabitants of Westeros, in both double-star and star-black hole configurations. While configurations with low primary eccentricity and initial conditions that permit only small excursions from the ecliptic plane are habitable, these orbits are too stable to explain Westerosi climate. We find that while orbits with more bounded chaos are able to produce rare anomalously long and cold winters similar to Westeros’s Long Night, huge variations in incident stellar flux on normal orbital timescales should render these planets uninhabitable. We note that the presence of an orbital megastructure, either around the planet or the barycenter, could block some of the sunlight during crossings of the primaries’ orbital plane and preserve Westeros’s habitability. While we find that bounded chaotic Sitnikov orbits are a viable explanation for Westeros’s Long Night, we propose that chaotic variations of the planet’s axial tilt or semimajor axis, potentially due to torques from nearby planets or stars, may be a more realistic explanation than Sitnikov orbits.

    Comments: 11 pages, 7 figures; submitted to Acta Prima Aprilia
    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
    Cite as: arXiv:1903.12195 [physics.pop-ph]
    (or arXiv:1903.12195v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)

  26. From the introduction of the article whose abstract and citation are above:

    “A major concern among Westerosi people, especially those living at high latitudes, is the belief that Winter is Coming, at some unknown time in the future (Martin 1996). Here we distinguish Westerosi Winters (with a capital ‘W’) from winters (with a lowercase ‘w’), such that ‘winter’ refers to normal decreases in temperatures experienced in Westeros frequently, every few months to years, and ‘Winter’ refers to the Long Night, a catastrophic life-threatening event characterized by cold lasting a generation, kings freezing on their thrones, and White Walkers advancing and threatening the Kingdoms of Men (Martin 1996).

    Westerosi Winters are believed unpredictable by the maesters and pose a severe threat to health and safety in Westeros. This makes understanding their cause a major priority. Discovering their geophysical cause may even lead to the ability to predict when the next Winter will occur, allowing the Seven Kingdoms ample time to set aside their squabbles and prepare food stores and armies to face the coming Winter. Understanding the climate of Westeros also provides a case study for a habitable climate whose time-evolution and orbital environment is very different from Earth’s.”

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