Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Justifying their Existence - The Humanities   posted by TangoMan @ 8/31/2005 11:59:00 PM

Remember those Glory Days when you were a young graduate student and thought that you were going to light the world of academia on fire? The days when you felt you were Living On The Edge Of The World. Now that you're a professor, the reality of life in the Academy is far different from what you'd imagined it would be, in fact it's Worlds Apart.

You often feel that My Best Was Never Good Enough and you feel that your career is a Wreck On The Highway. The groundbreaking research you thought was ahead of you is now behind you, and quite frankly it was never really groundbreaking at all. You have some of the trappings of success - you have some graduate students and you see in them the same dreams you had decades ago, yet everyday you feel like you're wearing a Brilliant Disguise.

You're tired and jaded, and every day feels like a Lonesome Day. You need meaning in your life, a Reason To Believe that the material you publish is actually read by someone rather than just wasting paper in some obscure journal that no one other than a librarian ever picks up.

You're Countin On A Miracle that something will make your writing meaningful. You want someone to ask you to Raise Your Hand if you dream of taking a different path for you feel that you're living in the Darkness On the Edge Of Town.

Oh, there's your colleague now. Good, your speech is ready, and the audience certainly looks attentive. Your moment of glory has almost arrived. You await your cue to take to the stage. When The Lights Go Out you have to take a Leap Of Faith and hope that 500 of your colleagues will appreciate the remarkable insights presented in your paper "A Marxist Perspective on Darkness on the Edge of Town" at the Bruce Springsteen Glory Days Symposium:

On September 9, hundreds of scholars will gather at Monmouth University, in the 55-year-old singer's native New Jersey, for a three-day conference on his place in history.

The first-of-its-kind symposium is expected to attract more than 150 papers exploring Springsteen's influence on US literature, sociology, religious thought and politics. Academics will debate his impact on America's memory of the Vietnam war, and its higher education curriculum.

Scholarly gatherings that focus on popular entertainers are not an entirely new phenomenon on American campuses. The flourishing of cultural studies, which began in the 1980s, has proved a boon for aspiring Leavisites in the rock'n'roll domain, who were last seen in such numbers when Stanford University hosted a symposium on Bob Dylan in 1998. . . .

Womack will "discuss the nostalgic imperatives in Springsteen's songs that allow us to enjoy a perspective towards the past as an archetypal paradise - a seductive space in which we can fulfil our collective longing for the illusory wholeness that lives in our memories and our dreams".

Karl Martin, chair of the department of literature, journalism and modern languages at California's Point Loma Nazarene University, will weave together Springsteen's fabled auto-imagery with that used by the southern Gothic author Flannery O'Connor. . . .

For Springsteen, argues Martin, "the car represents a set of values, a certain way of looking at the world, and it's something that ha changed as his music has matured, too. He's no ordinary songwriter, that's for sure." . . .

According to Pardini, Springsteen "subverts a male-dominated, Italian-American Catholicism in order to subvert a national identity historically marked by the gender and racial conflicts of its class-divided society and to affirm the plural identity of an equal, and therefore free country".

This is how your tax dollars are being put to good use. This is the way things work these days, so This Land is Your Land and that's the state of our Humanities Departments. If you don't like it then do something about it. Afterall, this is where you're sending your kids - right Into The Fire. Your kids need the damn credential to get on in the Real World and this is the way the game is played, so this is The Price You Pay - you pray and send your kids into The Promised Land and hope, beyond hope, that they're not Lost In The Flood of mediocrity.

Human evolution book and the chimp genome   posted by Razib @ 8/31/2005 10:45:00 AM

Carl Zimmer has a new book coming out in November on human evolution. Carl also has a magisterial post up on the recent completion of a draft of the chimpanzee genome (a paper is due to go up on the Nature website at some point). You can connect the dots on why this important, but Carl goes through the play-by-play. Please note that the paper which analyzed gene expression differences in chimpanzee and human brains had to take into the account the fact that the sequence draft they had access to for chimps was filled with errors, not the greatest when you are probably looking for small differences that can lead to large effects.

Erratum: From the comments, "...major problem for studying gene expression changes is that it is done on arrays with probes based on human sequences. Now that we have the chimp genome, we can use this to igore array signals from probes that cover DNA where humans and chimps differ. Errors in the chimp sequence draft have little impact on this analysis."

Update: John pointed me to the link in Nature. The articles and second to last letter are free!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What Copernican Revolution?   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 11:10:00 PM

There is an article out that profiles a researcher who studies public knowledge of science and technology. I thought this quote was a typo or misrepresentation, "One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth." But I found the original paper and here is what it says:

...only half of US adults know that the Earth rotates around the Sun once each year (NSB, 2000). One in five US adults say that the Sun rotates around the Earth, and 14 percent of US adults think that the Earth rotates around the Sun once each day (see Figure 2). A comparative study with Britain in 1988 found that only one-third of British adults understood that the Earth rotates around the Sun once each year...The level of adult understanding of the solar system shows little change over the last decade....

Well, I guess I was the one who said that people don't systematically explore the inferences of their assumptions and beliefs....

Jason Malloy Adds: And what are the wages of this ignorance?

In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools . . . The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time." . . . In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism . . . John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said he was surprised to see that teaching both evolution and creationism was favored not only by conservative Christians, but also by majorities of secular respondents, liberal Democrats and those who accept the theory of natural selection. Mr. Green called it a reflection of "American pragmatism."

It's a reflection of American something all right . . .

More from Razib: The evolution vs. creation section of the Pew Survey is very informative. 50% of secular individuals support "equal time" for creationism/intelligent design vs. 30% who oppose it. With that figure in mind, I'm not sure that one can say this is a secular vs. religious divide....

By the way, here is a graph from another survey which tracks "favorable" opinions of various groups:

Don't talk to me about Islamophobia....

Derb on Darwin   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 10:36:00 PM

John Derbyshire's latest column rips into Intelligent Design. I've been pretty heartened by Derb's uncompromising adherence to the scientific consensus. But honestly I'm a bit surprised. This is from Derb's column Confessions of a Metrocon, written 2 years ago:'ll be the legions of real, authentic conservatives out there in the provinces. God bless them all for keeping America strong, free, and true to her founding principles. If the price to be paid is a sodomy law here, a high-school Creationism class there, well, far as I am concerned, that's a small price indeed. People who don't like those things can always head for the metropolis, after all.

Muddy sources....   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 09:32:00 PM

Trying not to be a hypocrite1 I am reading the Koran front to back in a couple of translations. I got my first mildly annotated one a few days ago, Majid Fakhry's An Interpretation of the Qur'an. The cover states that it is "endorsed by Al-Azhar," the quasi-Rome of Sunni Islam. But within the first 50 pages I started to get really frustrated, the text is just muddled, and the footnotes that clarify what's going on really seemed stretched and arbitrary to me (basically, there are things like the use of the word "people" twice in a sentence, with the first "people" footnoted as "means Jews" and the second one "means polytheists"). So I picked up What the Koran Really Says, an anthology of scholarly articles edited by Ibn Warraq, and the first chapter dealt with some philological issues, and loe and behold, the footnotes aren't muddled, that's the best you can get out of some of the passages. Warraq notes that in one passage a given word can mean "hide" or "revealed," and it depends on the context, but how you figure out the context is anyone's guess because there isn't much to go on (sometimes they get out of this by appealing to early Islamics scholars or hadiths that assert that X means X2 in passage Z, that is, authority of person and not the text). The first chapter of Warraq's book is readable online, you should check it out.

Anyway, I'll be reading the New Testament soon after I get done with the Koran (I have just reread the Pentateuch), but from where I stand right now my skepticism about the determinative power of texts is getting stronger, not weaker.

1 - That is, I have expressed skepticism about textual roots of particular religious or cultural traditions, but now I am going to attempt a deep and close full reading of the texts under question.

Must know this graph....   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 07:25:00 PM

This graph better be known to you.

F'n Education   posted by Alex B. @ 8/30/2005 04:27:00 PM

There have been many posting here on Colleges of Education, and the Education profession in general. I think this may take the cake as one of the most asinine and psychologically bankrupt1 educational policies I have ever come across.

A sneak preview

one school in the town of Wellingborough is allowing pupils to swear at teachers, providing they only do so no more than five times in a class. A tally of how many times the f-word is used will be kept and if the class exceeds the limit, they will be “spoken” to...

Eventus stultorum magister

1. I would think anyone with a class in rudimentary learning theory would give a thumbs down to this. Ironically, I don't think that is a requirement in all COEs.

Echoes of distant Kaifeng   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 04:10:00 AM

From Melvin Konner's Unsettled - An Anthropology of the Jews:
...In 1489, carved in stone, we have, "Althought there are some minor discrepancies between Confucian doctrine and our own...both are exclusively concerned with honoring the Way of Heaven, venerating ancestors, valuing the relations of ruler and subject, obedience to parents, harmony with families, correct ordering of social hierarchies, and good fellowship among friends: Nothing more than the 'five cardinal relations' of manking. Although it differs from Confucian texts in its writing system, if one scrutinizes the basic principles he will find that it is the same, as it contains the Way of constant practice." A 1663 inscreption adds that the Jewish sacred texts have the same basic meaning as the "Six Classics," revered Confucian works. And a 1679 one states that Jewish Scriptures support the teachings of Confucius and Mencius....

The passages highlighted by Konner express the peculiarities of the Jew in Han China, and is remiscient of the way the Muslims of China attempted to reconcile their practice and beliefs with the norms of their nation. Legalistic Monotheism + Confucian China = predictable verbal gymnastics. Most of the works on Chinese Jews in English seem to have been authored by Westerners, but Jews in Old China is a work that is oriented toward primary sourced essays by Chinese scholars. It chronicles the foggy origins of the Chinese Jews (mostly, but not all, centered around Kaifeng) and their eventual decline and absorption, a fate in sharp constrast to the vibrant Hui minority.

So what happened? It seems clear that the Chinese Jewish community was always a few orders of magnitude less numerous than the Muslims. While Muslims were widely dispersed it seems that the Jews were concentrated in a few large cities, and so were subject to greater variation in fortunes as natural disasters and political turbulence on the local level tended to loom large for the fate of the whole community (ie; all eggs in one basket syndrome). But in addition to the periodic acts of God with destabilized the Jewish community the last few centuries of its existence there was the constant pressure of assimilation to the Han culture around them. Extracted out of any supportive milieu and unable to shield themselves as individuals by shear force of local numbers like Muslims the Jewish community persevered by holding true to their practices as referenced in their Torah and Talmud through individual fidelity to their traditions. There were no mass pogroms or any particular interest in converting the Jews to non-Jewish practice on the part of the Chinese government. Instead of push, pull was the issue, as many of the young men of the community aspired to the Mandarinate, which entailed rigorous and deep study of Chinese Classics. Because of the finite nature of time it became common for prominent Jewish men of the Kaifeng community to be far more conversant and comfortable in the literature of China than the law of the Talmud. These men were also often polygynous, and usually had Chinese wives. Assertions of Jewishness could sometimes seem almost comical, one learned scholar and official ate pork, but forbade the raising of pigs in the yard of his estate. Eventually he acceded to the wishes of his wives and the swine ran free.

After 1800 the intersection of natural disasters, the passing away of their last rabbi and the deterioration of their economic standing concomitant with the decline of the Chinese state into disorder resulted in the final dissolution of the Jewish community as a higher order entity. As the supportive bonds between fellow Jews were broken they scattered apart to make their way as individuals in Chinese society. Some converted to Christianity. But a more common option was to be absorbed into the Hui community, which was natural since the Han Chinese seemed to long have had difficulty distinguishing the two groups of pork-abstaining monotheists from the West (the Jews were often termed "Blue Hat Hui" because of their caps, while the conventional Hui wore white hats, though they were most often known as the "Sinew-plucking religion"). It is likely that the majority simply melted into the Han masses.

The Jews of China reacted to Chinese culture in a fashion very similar to the Muslims of China. They simply slotted their own parochial terms into the closest fits possible into the Chinese Way. Nevertheless, quantity mattered,1 without social critical mass possible through numbers and the diffusion of risk via demographic dispersal, the Jewish community was not able to maintain its coherency in the face of assimilative pressures. China, being a highly literate and historically minded culture though left us with ample evidence of a peculiar community that likely never numbered more than some tens of thousands.

Update: I feel as if I should add some context and flesh out this post a bit in response to some comments. First, please note that Jews and Muslims were not the only "Western barbarians" to bring their religions to China. In the 8th and later 12th century (two separate seedings) Christianity was brought to the Middle Kingdom. In the second half of the first millennium both Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism (the former the source of many Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological concepts, the latter to a large extent a hybridization of Zoroastrianism and Christianity) were introduced to Tang China.

One must remember that when compared on various characteristics all the Western religions were very similar when set against Chinese beliefs (I assume here that Buddhism is Chinese, though it too started out as a Western religion, that is, from India via Central Asia). If one constructed a cladistic character based tree the various Chinese beliefs would occupy one branch and the various Western religions would occupy another. In many ways each of the attempting plantings of Western religions in pre-modern China were replications of the introduction of affinal meme-complexes. Of these introductions only Islam managed to survive into the modern era in China (the modern revival of Christianity dates only to the 19th century, and more realistically to the past few decades in terms of growth). This is in sharp contrast to India, where four of the five Western religions took root. Christianity rooted itself in Southern India (the state of Kerala is 20% Syrian Christian). Ancient Jewish communities also existed side by side with the Christians in Kerala, while another group resided up the coast (around modern Bombay). The Zoroastrians established the powerful Parsi community in Gujarat. And of course Indian Muslims have a strong presence because of the legacy of Turkish rule and subsequent conversions, but even without this important historical fact, a separate community of Muslims arose in Kerala in a fashion cognate with the Syrian Christians and Jews via the Arabian Sea trade. In other words, even if Indians had repulsed the Turkic invasions it is plausible that a small non-trivial indigenous Muslim community would exist in India (Muslim Arabs also served in the armies of Indian potentates from an early date).

So what was the difference between India and China? I think Kerala is the key, because Muslims, Jews and Christians all took root there and persisted without the protection of states which promoted their religion (that is, they were ruled usually by Hindu maharajas, though sometimes the Muslims also had their own rulers later on). All of these communities maintained links with the worldwide information networks of their religions. The Syrian Christians had long standing relationships with the Christian communities in Baghdad and Antioch. The Cochin Jews were in contact with West Asian Jewish communities, and were periodically energized by influxes of foreign groups (Jews fleeing persecution from as far away Portugal and the Rhineland!). The Muslims of Kerala had close relations with Arab ulema from Arabia proper, which is reflected in their adherence to the Shafi school of sharia (most Indian Sunnis are Hanafi, which is more closely associated with the Turkic world). Arab reformers even emigrated to Kerala periodically, and the Muslims of Kerala have a long history of Arabic scholarship. Further north in Gujarat it seems that the Parsi communities have been reinforced by emigration of Zoroastrians from Iran as late as the 19th century after their initial 8th century exodus.

I think my point is pretty clear: distance was a crucial factor in the absorption of the Western religionists in China and their persistence in India. Because of the open information networks via long distance trade as well as the possibility of pilgrimage to holy sites the connections were maintained with the international religious communities in India. In China because of the distance this was simply not as likely. The existence of the Silk Road and Muslim peoples adjacent to the Chinese state in the Tarim Basin served as a conduit to worldwide Islam for the Hui of China proper. In contrast, the Christians and Zoroastrians of Xian, the Manichaeans of South China and the Jews of Kaifeng were far more isolated, and it seems plausible that their religion started to become a distant mythology as no one in living memory had journeyed to Jerusalem or the ancient religious sites of Iran. While West Asian clerics could foreseeably settle in India, with which their homelands had a regular direct trade with, China was a distant land of myth.

In regards to Jews, the fact that the Lemba of Zimbabwe carry the Cohen Modal Haplotype as do the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico is to me evidence that Jews did venture quite far from the orbit of the civilized world. If it were not for genetics it seems almost certain that scholars would dismiss the Jewish ancestry of both the Lemba and the Crypto-Jews of the Amerian Southwest as nothing more than legends and myths. If the Jews of Kaifeng had disappeared as an organized community in 1600 instead of 1800 before the arrival of European priests interested in their culture it might be that they too would be a myth, and those Chinese who claimed Jewish ancestry would be dismissed as attempting to appropriate an exotic identity. I am willing to bet that many more surprising "Jewish" groups will be discovered in the next few years (that is, groups will exhibit the Cohen Modal Haplotype, which indicates ancestry derived from the Jewish priestly lineage). So in answer to Michael's question about why more Jews did not flee persecution, I suspect many did. But cut off from the critical mass of practicing Jews shackled under dhimmitude and Christian domination these refugees were inevitably absorbed by their milieu. And why did Jews persist in the hostile lands of Islam and Christianity while they withered under the benign neglect of the Imperial Chinese? Part of it is I think distance from Jerusalem and the places where the events in the Bible occurred. Egypt, Babylonia, Israel, etc. all were conceivable and reachable, at least to the elite, even if one resides in Spain, Germany or Yemen. In contrast, to a Chinese Jew these were simply locations described in their religious texts with which they had no semblence of concrete relation or conception of. But the death by tolerance factor was at work also I suspect. The idea that persecution strengthens a community is often too glib an answer, but, I suspect that the Talmudic Judaism of the Pharisees is tenable (and flourishes) most when there is a tension between it and the surrounding society so that individuals must by necessity partake of the communal identity for their own well being. In both Christianity and Islam Jews had a special role as a reviled and respected precursor people and the savants of these faiths codified very specific ways to interact with and treat the Jewish people. If a Jew converted to either of the "daughter" religions he or she was implicitly cutting themself off from their own people and making a unidirectional transition (ie; reversion back to Judaism was proscribed by the dominant religions, at least in form if not always in practice). In contrast, it seems that if a young Jewish man in Kaifeng wanted to assimilate to the Han culture, but later took to Judaism more seriously and reverted back to halakhic practice, the Chinese would not view this with the same opprobrium. In short, in Kaifeng there was a whole spectrum of individual choices and and group dynamics could not robustly manipulate them. In the world of Islam and Christianity the choices, at least for a great period of time, available to Jews were constrained by the peculiar and historically contingent relationships of these religions to the Jewish people. In some ways I think one can make an analogy with American Judaism, where personal choice is dominant over communal loyalties, and like the Chinese case I think that that results in the erosion of the coherence of a Jewish "people."2

1 - Unlike the Jews of India the Jews of Kaifeng did not seem to have received any infusions of later waves of Jewish immigration and lostregular contact with the rest of the Jewry (it seems almost certain that they were derived from the Persian and Bukharan Jewish communities).

2 - In the Classical world there were Hellenistic Jews, but they do not seem to have left any ideological descendents, and many scholars suppose that they were often the first converts to Christianity because it served to privilege and maintain some element of Jewishness but also offered the opportunity to assimilate into the gentile world.

Must ask about Alexa....   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 01:41:00 AM

OK, first, check out the similar pages to GNXP over at Google. There are no great surprises, really popular blogs like Marginal Revolution show up, blogs we have a long-standing relationshp with, like Steve Sailer are also on the list, and topically related ones like Carl Zimmer make the cut. What I want to ask though is that for years our Alexa profile has shown that Dr. Weevil and the Greatest Jeneration as among the top 10 related links. Why??? I don't think we've ever linked to those blogs (if it wasn't for Alexa I would never have known about them), and I don't think they link to us. I don't even think that I have seen them linked to from the weblogs I do read (not many, but almost all of them are on the "similar links" page of Alexa and Google). I don't really know what they're about. So why is Alexa telling everyone that those blogs are similar to GNXP? This is been the case for the past 2 years (the time I've checked Alexa regularly). Are there very regular readers of those two blogs who have the Alexa toolbar and also read this blog?

Sorry, I had to get this out there, I've been wondering for a long time (some of the other "site info" for the blogs look really strange to me, look at what Instapundit readers are supposed to be checking out).

The Use of Racial, Ethnic, and Ancestral Categories in Human Genetics Research   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 12:01:00 AM

The Use of Racial, Ethnic, and Ancestral Categories in Human Genetics Research. You can find the PDF in gnxp files in the forum (I'm not trying to make you register, but I am noticing that google is sending a lot of people to the few PDFs I'm saving on our servers and they obviously don't see the rest of the weblog and just gobble up bandwidth). There is not much that will be new to GNXP readers, the first half of the paper ranges over the biological aspects of the topic, going from palaeoanthropology to population genetics. The literature review is pretty deep. A pretty thorough overview of the current "Out of Africa" orthodoxy is covered, but some space is given to dissenters who assert there might be archaic autosomal sequences in the genomes of some populations, which surprised me (John and Henry were both cited, but Lynn Jorde of the U of Utah was a part of the group that came up with the paper, so perhaps I shouldn't be that surprised). Eventually they bring up the 85-15 within group-between group variance on a single locus that Richard Lewontin popularized, but they don't touch upon the fallacious aspect of that statistic. Nevertheless, there are literature pointers to Neil Risch, so one can find the other viewpoints if inclined (the precision of identification as one increases the number of loci brought into the analysis, etc, etc.). The second half of the article on social and ethical aspects of the issue was less interesting, and seemed rather platitudinous, but then that might be my own bias in what aspects of a topic generally engage me.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Where the action is (will be)   posted by Razib @ 8/29/2005 11:51:00 PM

The No Speed Bumps weblog is where you want to go if you want to see action relating to the Charles Murray's article. Inbound links from Atrios and Andrew Sullivan has resulted in a second order traffic spike to this site because No Speed Bumps linked to our summary in their summary.

Race Preferences for Medical Practice   posted by TangoMan @ 8/29/2005 08:31:00 PM

Back in December '04 UCLA Law Professor Richard Sanders published A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools in the Stanford Law Review which detailed the costs to African-American students of being recipients of Affirmative Action (see here and here for the Cliff Notes versions.) As you can imagine this set off a fire storm of protest, similar in tone, though subdued in fury, to what followed the publication of Rushton and Jensen's paper Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability. Critics lined up to take their shots at Sanders. A good summary of the ensuing battle can be found at the Volokh Conspiracy, here and here (Be sure to read the comments.)

As with Ruston & Jensen's paper, the controversy that followed Sanders was a clear case of conflicting Axioms with many of the rebuttals arguing from the Axiom of Equality, the Axiom of Proportionalism and Axiom of Social Justice, and were primarily worried about the decreased African American presence in law schools that would result if Affirmative Action was eliminated. In reading many of these rebuttals I was struck by the game theoretic aspects which argued that if Affirmative Action was eliminated that many African-American students would transfer their ambitions to other Professional Schools that still employed Affirmative Action policies. The critics argued that Law Schools shouldn't abandon the crutch they've provided to minority students thereby foreclosing the prospect of losing these unqualifed students to rival faculties. The critics seemed to completely miss that Sanders was arguing from the Axiom of Merit, which he felt trumped the existing policies of the Law Schools.

After reading through the back and forth volleys I got to wondering why no similar study had been conducted on the effects of Affirmative Action within the medical community. Afterall, the stakes are certainly greater in that a medical student's performance impacts on the health of patients, rather than simply their well-being (civil law) or freedom (criminal law.) What I really wanted to see was how medical malpractice suits were broken down by race of the physician but I couldn't find any data at all. If anyone has access to such data, please leave a comment or e-mail me with the particulars.

I'm guessing the data is proprietary to insurance companies and is probably essential in determining insurance rates. After reading some of the data from the National Medical Association, which represents the interests of African-American physicians, it's clear that obtaining malpractice insurance is a significant problem for its members, but considering that we're in the middle of a malpractice crisis, it's imposible to ascertain whether African-American physicians' rates, and difficulty in obtaining insurance, are any different from the physican community as a whole.

However, even without the medical malpractice data, the consequences of Affirmative Action are evident in how minorities perform in medical school and in subsequent licensing examinations:

The study examined admissions records in two separate years at the five medical schools: the Medical College of Georgia, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, the State University of New York's Brooklyn College of Medicine, and the University of Washington School of Medicine.

[ . . . . . ]

For example, at Michigan State University's College of Medicine in 1999, the median grade point average (GPA) for white admittees was 3.61, nearly an A-, while the median GPA for black admittees was 2.93, slightly below a B. Furthermore, the median MCAT score for blacks admitted to Michigan State that year was 29 (out of a possible 51 points) compared to 36 for whites.

[ . . . . . ]

These differences in admissions rates mirror the racial disparities in accomplishment on the first stage of the medical licensing exam. Scores from Michigan State averaged over a three year period show that 14% of black students failed the Step 1 of the exam, and 10% failed to take it, while among white students the failure rate was only 1% and the untested rate, 4%. Thus cumulatively, 24% of black medical students at Michigan State failed to complete the first stage of obtaining a medical license compared to only 5% of white students. Among Hispanics the combined rate was 8% and among Asians, 2%.

[ . . . . . ]

These figures are especially stark when one considers that the scores reported by Michigan State are final scores. Medical students are allowed to take Step 1 up to six times, and when a student fails several times, only the final result is reported. Thus the 14% of black students at Michigan State who are noted as failing the exam, may in fact have repeatedly failed to pass the exam and have a failure listed as their final result, and will not be able to obtain a medical license unless they are able to pass Step 1.

More disturbing than even the failure rate of minorities on the licensing exam, Clegg asserted, "is that even among the students who ultimately pass the exam it's fair to assume that they are not going to be as successful as doctors as students who are academically better qualified would have been." He continued, "You know one of the responses that we heard to our study was, well, what's wrong with racial and ethnic preferences because no one's going to be qualified to become a doctor unless they pass the exam…as far as patients are concerned, not only will there be fewer doctors, but the doctors who finally do become admitted are not going to be as good. The idea isn't simply to admit students who are able to scrape by with a passing grade after taking the medical exam several times. We should be trying to have the best possible doctors, not doctors who are simply minimally qualified."

It appears that Affirmative Action's lenient admission standards weeds out the weaker candidates before the time for placement through the National Resident Matching Program sifts and sorts the nation's medical school graduates and places them into residency programs. Surprisingly I didn't find any declarative statements that the program grants any preferential treatment to minorities, so if this is a true condition, we'd expect to see more of a merit-based sorting based on the competitiveness of the various disciplines.

It's frustrating that the data I'm seeking is not available, for I think it would be informative to get a racial breakdown of medical specialties and compare the results to the difficulty of winning admission into the medical specialties.

I did find this breakdown of Black Physicians in New Orleans, and using the competitiveness data above, 9% belong to the Extremely Competitive specialities, 15% to the Very Competitive, 30% to the Competitve and 46% to the Less Competitive. Again, the corresponding data from the medical community as a whole is difficult to extrapolate without access to more data sources. Here is a datasource on State Health Facts that some may find useful.

So what is the ripple effect of admitting minority students to medical school under preferential quotas? The evidence is clear that a sizable portion of minority students simply won't get licensed to practice. Of those that do get licensed, I'd dearly like to know how well they perform without institutional favoritism shielding them from the full effects of competition and how well they adhere to professional standards.

Once out of medical school, the results of Affirmative Action can have real consequences:

This debate over the possible benefits of racial preferences at the nation's medical schools was most famously raised by the 1978 Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in which the Court ruled that the use of racial quotas in admissions was unconstitutional but continued to allow for an applicant's race to "tip the balance" in his favor.

One famous beneficiary of racial preferences in admissions is Bernard Chavis, whose admission into the University of California's medical school despite his inferior academic accomplishment prompted Bakke to file suit against the university. Long upheld as an example of the success of racially biased admissions programs, Chavis made a career serving poor minority communities until the Medical Board of California suspended his license to practice medicine in 1997, warning of his "inability to perform some of the most basic duties required of a physician" after one woman died and two more suffered serious complications after receiving liposuction from Chavis.

We also see problems with institutional slipping of standards, as Godless noted the problems facing two black medical schools:

A Courant analysis of disciplinary actions against doctors nationwide found, however, that both Howard and Meharry produce troubled doctors more frequently than most other schools - at rates about 10 times greater than the schools with the lowest numbers. The actions ranged from a simple citation to permanent license revocation for a range of misdeeds including medical incompetence, ethical lapses and criminal behavior.

The findings - controversial and politically sensitive as they are - defy simple explanation. [Really?...]

Howard and Meharry are not offshore schools with little accountability to U.S. regulators. Their programs are regularly reviewed and are subject to the same accreditation standards as all other American medical schools. They graduate many fine doctors.

So what accounts for the higher rates of disciplinary actions?

With the consequences of incompetence being so much greater in the field of medicine than in law, a study similar to the one conducted by Professor Sanders is urgently called for. If the Axiom of Merit loses ground to the Axiom of Proportionalism, we could see calls for increased enrollment under preferential guidelines for minority students as reported in The Right Thing to Do, The Smart Thing to Do: Enhancing Diversity in Health Professions by the National Academies Press:

A projection model developed by Libby yielded results indicating that in order to reach 218 physicians per 100,000 persons for each racial/ethnic group, the numbers of first year residents would need to roughly double for Hispanic and black physicians, triple for Native American physicians, and be reduced by two-fifths for white and Asian physicians.

Note how Asians are Honorary Whites in that report.

It's difficult to model how reduced standards for minority students can be ameliorated if they are not as prepared as their colleagues for the rigors of medical school, have higher failure rates during their education, have a more difficult time passing licensing examinations, and with some schools at least, have a disproportionate presence in disciplinary hearings. Are we to believe that simply practicing their craft on innocent patients will over time increase their competence to the same level of their colleagues who weren't admitted under preferences schemes?

Related: What do you call a black doctor? and ER Meets Reality and Bell Curve For Doctors

Units of selection (and more)   posted by Razib @ 8/29/2005 08:26:00 PM

Elizabeth Lloyd, of the female orgasm controversy, has several interesting papers and book chapters available for download. I plan to read Units and Levels of Selection: An Anatomy of the Units of Selection Debates first.

Tales of chromosomes   posted by Razib @ 8/29/2005 08:00:00 PM

Carl has a nice post up on chromosomal changes on the heels of an article he wrote on the topic recently. He references two papers, one comparing the macaque and human genomes, and another that compares various mammalian orders. I have previously pointed to a paper (you can read the full text at the link) which reviewed gene expression differences in human and chimpanzee brains and found that differentially expressed genes tended to be found on the 10 chromosomes which seemed to be rearranged in humans vis-a-vi chimpanzees. The correlation between these two genomic features (differences) is certainly worthy of further exploration. Also, please note that the domestic and wild (Przewalski) horse have 64 and 66 chromosomes each, and hybrids have 65, while another cross with the domestic horse results in 64. This page has more references of similar crosses (different chromosome numbers in the parental generation but viable fertile offspring).

Intergroup violence   posted by Razib @ 8/29/2005 07:11:00 PM

PNAS finally posted the paper The evolution of lethal intergroup violence (previously discussed).1 I've uploaded the PDF in the files section of the gnxp forum as "intergroupviolence" for readers who are interested (you might have to register to view files).

1 - It is rather annoying that webmasters are often days late posting papers that the press often reports as "available on the website today."

What Americans believe about religion (sort of)   posted by Razib @ 8/29/2005 02:47:00 PM

Newsweek and Beliefnet conducted a poll in early August and the results are in. There's a lot of data to digest, and I think it is important to understand how Americans view their own religion since there are so many analogies we use and comparisons we make assuming the character of American religion as a given ("American Taliban," "Muslim fundamentalists,"1 etc.). Here is the most interesting result to me:

Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation, or not?

Evangelical Protestants - 68%
Non-Evangelical Protestants - 83%
Catholics - 91%
Non-Christians - 73%
Total - 79%

Evangelical Protestants - 22%
Non-Evangelical Protestants - 10%
Catholics - 3%
Non-Christians - 3%
Total - 12%

Don't know
Evangelical Protestants - 10%
Non-Evangelical Protestants - 7%
Catholics - 6%
Non-Christians - 24%
Total - 9%

The question is broadly stated. My personal communication with many evangelicals is that they tend to demur in responding to a query as to whether Roman Catholics may attain salvation, and often are open to the possibility, but will affirm that non-Christian religions are a definite path to hell. Nonetheless, it is an intertesting gauge of the situation in a country that is both extremely religious (at least by affirmation) and pluralistic.2

1 - The term "fundamentalist" is originally from the early 20th century in relation to the Protestant literalist movement and its revolt against modernist interpretations and scripture and adherence to a set of "fundamentals."

2 - If you click the link and check the survey you will note that only 77% of those between the ages of 18-39 affirm a Christian faith, as opposed to 90% of those older, so the variance in religious belief is getting larger.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Robert Trivers profile....   posted by Razib @ 8/27/2005 04:45:00 PM

The Guardian has a profile of Robert Trivers up.

Via Crooked Timber

Friday, August 26, 2005

Beyond MC1R   posted by Razib @ 8/26/2005 03:09:00 PM

I finally read Heather Norton's review of worldwide MC1R polymorphism. In case you forgot MC1R is a locus that has been implicated in the expression of pigment in human beings, and mutations on it are often correlated with the various phenotypes we see around us (red hair, light skin, etc. etc.). The major take home point of Heather's paper is there is more than meets the eye than MC1R. For example....

1) Heather points out that there is no association (ie; mutation ~ change in phenotype) between eye color and MC1R. Something else is controlling the expression of eye color. This is interesting because Joe Birdsell in Microevolutionary Patterns in Aboriginal Australia states that iris color is often inverted in direction of trend from hair and skin color in many populations as a function of sex (including Australian Aboriginals). In other words, males tend to have lighter eyes and darker hair and skin than females.

2) There are likely gene-gene interactional effects between MC1R and other loci. In other words, there isn't going to be a simple and elegant prediction equation like the ideal gas law (PV=nRT) which maps various additive loci onto a phenotype (different combinations can lead to the same phenotype, for one, and the genetic effect of a locus is dependent on the alleles at the other loci).

3) Europeans are extremely diverse on this locus vis-a-vi other populations. There are 30 alleles which break the 1% threshold within European populations It seems that Heather and her coauthor suggest that relaxation of functional constraint (UV radiation) is the most plausible hypothesis, but the power of the statistical tests doesn't warrant a final conclusion (ie; it could be some sort of diversifying selection).

4) East Asians tend to exhibit very high frequencies of the Arg163gln allele (as high as 80% among the Dai of Yunnan province in China, decreasing to 40% among the Uighers of Xinjiang and less than 10% in South Asia [ie; India]). The authors suggest that this allele might have been subject to strong directional selection in the recent past. They note that "under neutral expectation, the estimated arrival time of the Arg163Gln allele is older than the age of modern humans...." Things that make you go hhhmmm....

Overall, skin color is a messy polygenic trait. It is almost certainly not a nice Fisherian topography, but we have mapped the rugged gene-gene interactions at work so generalizations are hard to come buy that add any value to our knowledge-base. Additionally, some loci like MC1R are likely to have particularly strong effects because they lay at the nexus of various regulatory pathways. Finally there is the hypothesis that Greg Cochran and others have put forward which opines that perhaps some of these alleles (look at how many Europeans carry!) "jumped" from other ancient hominid lineages and were under selection subsequent to the hybridzation event.

Update: Lei has more.

Related: Blonde Australian Aboriginals. Black and strawberry. What controls variation in human skin color? Genetics of Hair Color (again). Genetics of hair color. It's better on fire. An email Heather sent me. Evolutionary speculations.

Kapu: Charles Murray on Race, Sex, and Intelligence   posted by Jason Malloy @ 8/26/2005 07:21:00 AM

I'm off the computer until this evening, but Commentary has Charles Murray's September issue article The Inequality Taboo up on their website now, available for reading.

Update from Dobeln: The most interesting thing about this essay is not the text itself - it's a wrap-up, with no new revelations. Rather, it's the fact that it got linked by blogging powerhouse Instapundit. This in turn indicates that the Instapundit is a card-carrying member of "the stealth consensus". Something tells me unorthodox ideas will be harder to squelch in the Internet era...

more inside

Jason M. Adds: Who’s listening?

Al Fin+
American Kernel +
Andrew Sullivan +
Armed and Dangerous +
Bellhorn at Bat +
Blogospherical Ruminations +
Brainster's Blog +
Chris A. Miller +
The Citizen-Journal +
Steven Donohue +
I, Ectomorph +
Evan Kaiser +
EvoWeb +
Instapundit +
Kaiser +
Logical Meme +
Mad Kvalsvik +
Mahalanobis +
Mankind Minus One +
NoSpeedBumps +
Paco Pond +
ParaPundit +
Penultimate +
Random Thoughts +
Red Hill +
Res Ipsa Loquitur +
Spartacus +
Steve Sailer +
Sweet and Sour +
Thrasymachus +
Tjic +
Vulgar Morality+
Weekend Pundit +
Wide Awake Cafe+

Action Potential +/-
Begging to Differ +/-
Bilious Vapors +/-
Free Republic +/-
Hatful of Hollow +/-
Intelligence Testing +/-
Lies and Statistics +/-
The Plonkers +/-
Washington Monthly +/-

Atrios -
Best of Both Worlds -
Brad Delong -
Echidne of the Snakes -
Effin’ Kidding -
Lawyers, Guns and Money -
Matt Stevens -
Matthew Yglesias -
Minipundit -
Steve Gilliard -

(I'll probably do this with the Lynn study news too, which seems to be generating a lot of talking)

Rikurzhen: remembering the 90s - Mainstream Science on Intelligence - signed by 52 experts, Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns - from the American Psychological Association

Conditional response....   posted by Razib @ 8/26/2005 12:46:00 AM


Evolutionary biologists mostly assume that polygyny increases sexual dimorphism in size because, under polygyny, larger males monopolize mating opportunities and pass on their ‘large male’ genes to their sons. Available data on parent–child correlations in height among humans (Homo sapiens) do not support the crucial assumption that height is transmitted along sex lines. This paper instead suggests that human sexual dimorphism in size emerged, not because men got taller, but because women got shorter by undergoing early menarche in response to polygyny. It further speculates that, rather than genetically transmitted, the sexual dimorphism may emerge anew in each generation in response to the degree of polygyny in society. The analysis of comparative data supports the prediction that polygyny reduces women’s height, but has no effect on men’s, and is consistent with the speculation that the origin of human sexual dimorphism in size may be cultural, not genetic.
The authors present evidence that women who enter menarche earlier reach a shorter adult height while in societies where polygyny (defined as male reproductive variance:female reproductive variance) is more pronounced also tend to exhibit more sexual dimorphism. At the end of the paper the authors hypothesize that a biological-proximate process that might affect menarche are pheromones produced by the father which interact with his daughter's physiology. Evidence which shows later menarche for girls who spent a greater time with their fathers is brought forward, the logic being that polygynous fathers can provide their daughters far less individual attention (ergo, pheromones).

Related: Father absence and reproductive strategy: an evolutionary perspective.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Average male IQ greater than average female IQ   posted by the @ 8/25/2005 11:59:00 PM

From BBC News:

Academics in the UK claim their research shows that men are more intelligent than women.

A study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology says that men are on average five points ahead on IQ tests.

Paul Irwing and Professor Richard Lynn claim the difference grows when the highest IQ levels are considered.

Their research was based on IQ tests given to 80,000 people and a further study of 20,000 students.

'Widening gap'

Dr Irwing, a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester University, told the Today programme on BBC Radio Four the study showed that, up to the age of 14, there was no difference between the IQs of boys and girls.

"But beyond that age and into adulthood there is a difference of five points, which is small but it can have important implications," he said.

Seems that the paper will be published later, so details will have to come from the press.

Going back to the Meccan well....   posted by Razib @ 8/25/2005 04:48:00 PM

I have been reading some chapters of A History of Islamic Societies recently, and I noticed something interesting. But first some context. I have read a lot about the dynamics of Indonesian, in particular Javanese, society for many years. The reason is that on this island of 100 million you have a nominally Muslim society which expresses the full range of Islam from "orthodox" Arabicized practice and belief (the urban reformist santri) to nominal Muslims whose practice is so close to Indonesian Hinduism1 that since the 1960s many of them have been switching to that religion. Until recently my conception of the emergence of a urban literate santri was that it was an inevitable result of a closer reading of the source texts and traditions of Islam, the Koran and the Hadiths. In other words, santri Muslims were simply more Muslim than the typical Javanese Muslim (an increase in the magnitude of the same vector).

But, as some know, I have also expressed skepticism at too close of a reliance on texts as determinative on the pathway of social and cultural development. In the chapters in the above book on 19th century Indian Islam I noted something interesting: reformist neo-orthodox movements are repeatedly attributed to hajjiis, those who made the pilgrimage to Mecca, in particular those who had resided in the city for long periods of time. The prestige that they attained upon their return resulted in their initiation of "reforms" to bring local practices (often loosely classified as "Sufi") into line with Meccan norms. The same "reforms" were initiated by Hui who had returned from Mecca. And sure enough, the chapter on Southeast Asian Islam notes that the modernist reformist Muslims who rose to challenge the traditional expressions of Javanese Islam were also inspired by movements founded by hajjiis!

In The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore characterizes some individuals as "meme fountains." It seems clear to me that the hajjiis were operating as meme fountains when they returned from Arabia and the sacred physical heart of Islam, Mecca. The practices of Meccan Islam are in some ways unchallengeably normative, and so the hajjiis had the moral authority to "reform" local practices which deviated from the Meccan norm. Richard Dawkins explained the neo-memetic ideas of Blackmore in part as fidelity to an original source which was abstracted and converted into clear heuristics so as to make errors unbiased (and so non-progressive). The original template served to anchor propogated ideas and practices which did not replicate duplication errors. The standard model promoted by many is that the Koran and Hadiths serve as that template. I dissent from this view because my own reading of cognitive science suggests that religious texts are easily warped and distorted by "learned consensus" or personal self-interest. They do not exhibit the transparent inferential characteristics of mathematical axioms, ergo, the often strained verbal gymnastics of the religious "sciences." Rather, I am suggesting that the template is more likely to be the norms espoused by the Muslims of Mecca.

This has an implications: the hajj is far more common today than it was in the past. There are millions of hajjiis every year (the Saudi government even has to limit it). In synergy with communication technologies that implies that the number of meme fountains might be far greater than in the past (though the more mundane nature of the hajj because of modern transporation might mitigate the influence of hajjiis). Efforts to tailor or accommodate Islam to local norms must be balanced against the conformist tendencies of the meme fountain generator that is Mecca. Additionally, the character of Meccan Islam is partly dictated by the Saudi state, which frowns upon non-Wahhabi or Salafist practices (though Meccan Muslims resist the Saudi orthodoxy).

In the past the Dar-al-Islam was an idea that appealed to elites, for only elites were literate and practiced an Islam which was characterized by punctilious adherence to the norms of sharia (this is more true of the non-Arab world). Today many regions of the Muslim world are modernizing (eg; Malaysia) and literacy and access to source texts is spreading. With it is an attempt to generate a common set of Islamic norms. But I think it is important not to neglect the physical presence of hajjiis throughout the Muslim world and their direct experience and understanding of how Islam is practiced in the city of Muhammed. It is often said that Malcom X's encounter with blue-eyed Muslims in Mecca was relevatory for him, and changed his understanding of what Islam is. I suspect that this is but the tip of the iceberg of what is going on, and any attempt to understand how Islam is developing needs to include an ethnography of the hajjiis.

1 - Indonesian Hinduism, typified by the religious practices of Bali, is not the same as Indian Hinduism, ergo, the qualifier. The Balinese are not the only Indonesian Hindus, there remained through the Muslim period communities of identified Hindus in Java, especially in the eastern regions and in the highlands. Since 1965 there has been a trend for heterodox religious movements and individuals to give their affiliation as Hindu to avoid religious persecution (the national ideology demands that citizens be a member of one of the major religious groups, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism). Some of these groups are close to being Hindu in name only.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

To maintain the peace one must be prepared for war???   posted by Razib @ 8/23/2005 03:50:00 PM

A paper should be out on PNAS at some point today which argues (to simplify) that dangerous weapons ushered in an era of cooperation and amity. Here is a report in National Geographic.

"Asian" and "Western" thinking....   posted by Razib @ 8/23/2005 02:01:00 PM

A reader pointed me to this new research out in PNAS that suggests that "...Westerners attend more to focal objects, whereas East Asians attend more to contextual information." Scientific American has a popular press piece up on this as well. The reader wondered why the researchers focused on cultural rather than biological factors. To understand, I think you need to have read Nisbett's book, The Geography of Thought (see my review), where he introduces many of the ideas that loom in the background of this paper. In the book Nisbett notes that Anglo-Saxons1 and East Asians are his two model cultures, but that Continental Europeans tend to "think" in a hybrid fashion, while most other peoples view the world as East Asians do. Phylogenetically Europeans are not located between East Asians and Anglo-Saxons, they are on a continental scale almost indistinguishable from Anglo-Saxons. Similarly, various non-European groups are not particularly closely related to East Asians vis-a-vi Anglo-Saxons. Also, Nisbett even presents evidence in his book that Anglo-Saxons and East Asians can be "trained" to respond to questions like the other group by simply giving them explicit instructions on what to look for (the training can last as little as an hour). But there is a more important piece of evidence. Here is a fragment from a paper titled Cultural Preferences for Formal versus Intuitive Learning:

...European Americans, more than Chinese or Koreans, set aside intuition in favor of formal reasoning. Conversely, Chinese and Koreans relied on intuitive strategies more than European Americans. Asian Americans' reasoning was either identical to that of European Americans, or intermediate.... [* see note below]

Certainly formal and intuitive reasoning are genetically controlled to some extent, and I am willing to bet that many cognitive biases on the individual level can contribute to whether one prefers formal or intuitive reasoning. Perhaps the "central tendency" in terms of formalism vs. intuition of different populations might be different assuming the same environmental background. But the results from Asian Americans suggest that a great deal of the bias is culturally mediated. One could posit Baldwin Effects strengthening the cultural bias but it seems plausible that this process has not gone very far along. For example, I would argue that the individualism of Anglo-Saxon cultures as a mass society value is a relatively recent affair (though the aristocratic perception of Rights and Prerogatives are eternal!).

Related: Chris has much more on this topic. John expresses skepticism.

1 - Short hand for the English speaking world.

* This is why I give props to the Greeks for popularizing the formal proof in mathematics. I don't think it is a "normal" way to think, and the Chinese, certainly not a dull people, tended not to stab at problems in this fashion. Neither did Indian mathematicians, and even the great Ramanujan was not much of a formalist from what I gather.

Culturally Authentic Recipe Club   posted by jeet @ 8/23/2005 01:27:00 PM

Contemporary Americans don't eat the same dishes as Medieval Europeans because because many foods in a modern American diet were not available to Medieval Europeans. They either hadn't been discovered by Europeans yet, such as New World foods like maize, potatoes, and chocolate, or were unavailable for other reasons, such as pepper and other spices, which were expensive luxuries then.

When devising recipes, medieval cooks like Taillevent had to take into account the amount of leftovers and how perishable they would be given the lack of refrigeration as well as how reliable his supply of quality ingredients was. Almond milk, for example, used to be commonplace for a number of reasons. In addition to its inherent perishability, cow's milk was often sold by unscrupulous dealers who adulterated their product or sold spoiled milk as fresh. Almonds were much less perishable and a reliable supply could be kept on hand.

Old recipes are often the best that a cook could devise given the constraints at the time. Mooncakes, for example, have decreased in popularity as the Chinese community has been exposed to lighter goodies like Portugese egg tarts and Australian (no, I don't mean Austrian) apple strudel and adopted them as their own.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm hungry.

Bushy phylogenies....   posted by Razib @ 8/23/2005 12:17:00 AM

A new report is coming out of Dmanisi, Georgia, about a 1.8 million "Homo erectus" skull. This is a site that has generated a lot of buzz in the past few years, mostly because it is evidence that pre-moderns ventured into northern Eurasia very soon after their emergence in Africa. Here is a map from which places it in perspective:

(if you click it you will see a larger image)

~1.8 million years ago there were many Homo and homo-like species hanging around on the scene. Remember those popular T-shirts which showed a linear sequence of species? Well, I'm not saying that modern humans are hybridized from branches of the bush (see here though on what might have happened). John Hawks scooped a press a few weeks ago (and knows more about this topic, obviously).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hominid hacking   posted by Razib @ 8/22/2005 11:53:00 AM

I'm sure you've heard about the very ancient pedigree of tuberculosis by now. Carl Zimmer has posted in depth on this topic already, so I'll just point you there in case you want something more than the free PDF. Too often people imagine evolution as being driven out environmental change. My recent post which pointed to climate change is in keeping with this tradition. But in reality coevolution with other species, in particular pathogens, is a crucial factor which doesn't get enough emphasis, even though the 'Red Queen' hypothesis is in the zeitgeist. Unfortunately, I think part of this is the tendency to imagine 'fitness' as something in relation to the elements around you, when what is really crucial is your reproductive rate in relation to conspecifics. This rate is strongly influenced by persistent infections (pathogens) as well as social interactions with other members of your species. The "environment" is outside, inside as well as the biases and emergent dynamics of the social group. Additionally, the parasite-hitchikers can give us phylogenetically relevant data points for palaeoanthropology, as tapeworms and lice have.

Cultured Chimps   posted by DavidB @ 8/22/2005 03:39:00 AM

Some new research provides evidence that chimpanzees show 'cultural conformity': they follow the learned behaviour patterns prevalent in their group even though they are aware of effective alternatives. A report from the Guardian is here. There are several others on the net.

I think this could be important. Several experts on 'cultural evolution' have argued that conformism among humans is the result of selection between groups, but their only argument is that 'there is no alternative'. They will now need to show that the same argument applies to chimps.

Added: to expand slightly on that last point, the group-selection theory requires that groups containing a genetic tendency towards cultural conformity should be more successful as groups than those which do not contain such a tendency. Among humans, this requirement is not implausible, because culture is obviously very important among humans, and because cultural traits vary widely among different groups. (Whether they vary widely among locally competing groups is more doubtful, but I won’t pursue that now.) Human groups also often act as groups, so that conformity might well be beneficial in inter-group competition.

It is not clear that the same can be said for chimps. Chimps do have some culturally acquired traits, and they do show some variation between different chimp populations. Notably, some populations use stones to crack nuts, and others don’t. But culture is far less developed among chimps than among humans, and it isn’t clear that cultural conformity would be likely to affect group survival among chimps in the way that the group selection theory would require. Of course, if conformity is beneficial to individuals, there is nothing for group selection to explain.

Update from Razib: Here is the article in Nature. Another in Scientific American. And finally, a release from Eureka Alert.

Fitch, Hauser and Chomsky respond to the response.....   posted by Razib @ 8/22/2005 02:14:00 AM

I have posted on the "languages wars" I thought that I'd point out that Noam Chomsky, Marc Hauser W. T. Fitch have responded (full text) to Steven Pinker and Ray Jackendoff's paper which was written in response to their initial manifesto. Note that this is basically back-biting amongst the "innatist" camp as regards language. Though I think Pinker and Jackendoff have run ahead of the data as far as FOXP2 goes, I suspect their tack will be more fruitful. I am not necessarily one who believes that complex behaviors are necessarily straightforward adaptations or have strong fitness implications which can't be warped or distorted by social considerations (even if a given religious practice is functionally deleterious, if it makes you an outcaste when you dissent from the practice then your fitness drops). But, I am highly skeptical that language is such a trait, I simply do not believe that serendipity is the source of our competence at speech (or recursive capacity).

Related: The children of Universal Grammar. FOXP2.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A tale of one ratchet   posted by Razib @ 8/21/2005 08:11:00 PM

As some of you know, I am involved in the Cognitive Science Blog Reading Group where we are reading Michael Tomasello's The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. As I stated on the group I view my participation on the list and posts on the weblog as synergistic, intersecting but not necessarily coterminous activities. The core readership of this weblog is focused on the biological sciences, and so a post I make here will not have the same flavor as a comment I might make on the reading group, because the goal and shared lexicon differ. Unlike other group members I decided to read the book in two sessions and will give a short review of the whole book here. I do not know if I will post follow up posts because I will state beforehand that most of the book is way outside the core of my knowledge base, biological-evolutionary concerns are simply background assumptions that Tomasello does not engage with after an almost perfunctory nod in chapter 2 (even here he focuses more on ethology, the study of animal behavior, than on evolutionary biology or palaeoanthropology). If you want more details, you can always check in on Chris' weblog where he will be commenting and linking copiously for weeks to come (I would characterize him as the John Hawks of cognitive science). Also, I will always update the "Related links" below with weblog posts that deal with the book indefinitely.

First, speaking directly to the audience of this weblog, I will offer a tangential digression about why I am interested in cognitive science. Though I had read Steven Pinker's popular books years ago, my interest in the field was triggered primarily by my encounter with Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. I emphasized the evolutionary portion because I did not pick up that book with an understanding that it would be suffused with terminology and paradigms draw from cognitive science, rather, I was looking for a Darwinian account of the growth and development of what I perceive to be a human universal, religious expression. Engaging with Atran led me to other books like Explaining Culture by Dan Sperber and Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer. The jargon overhead in these books (especially Atran's) can be quite high, so I was driven to read Mind Readings by Paul Thagard just so I could get the gist of the terms that assault you in a never ending stream. Cognitive science is in many ways (I feel) philosophy + experiments, and unfortunately that triggers a schema which sometimes casts a pall over my attitude, because fundamentally I am not particularly interested in philosophy as an ends (I read philosophy for its insight into historically important ideologies as well as a dictionary for comprehending what other people are saying). But, nevertheless, I think cognitive science has some direct relevance to many areas of the human sciences that I am interested in, and so that's why I am still venturing into this strange territory.1 This was brought home to me by a concluding review chapter of Atran's book where he addresses "mind blind" theories of human behavior, like sociobiology or group selection. Atran's contention was that looking at humans as cognitive black-boxes and focusing on how they express their behavior, rather than how they perceive and conceive of the world around as well, is a theoretically hamstrung paradigm. I agree. To use an analogy, Dmitriy Mendeleev's periodic table is very useful in its own way for categorization and conceptualizing the relations between the elements (ie; electronegativity, nobility, etc.), but one needed a genuine post-Daltonian atomic theory grounded on the quantum level to make great deductive strides (even octect rules get you only so far!). Similarly, common theses like "proverty leads to terrorism" can be easily empirically refuted (at least in its deterministic strong form), but to go on to address this issue in all its manifestations we need to examine the phenomenon on all of its various levels of organization, starting with the cognitive level (psychology and neuroscience), and working up to macrosocial analyses. Too often economists spit out correlations and regressions, foreign policy analysts often concoct ad hoc verbal models while sociologists and historians try to squeeze behavior into "grand theories" (ie; Marxism, Post-Colonialism, etc.) by looking at the higher order group trends, insteading of starting from the basic level of the individual.

So there is the manifesto, on to the book. As I stated above, this might be my only review because most of the chapters are simply outside of the core focus of my knowledge base. Though I've read spottily in cognitive science (and am an enthusiastic miner of paradigms from it), I don't know much about developmental psychology, which is almost a background assumption beyond chapter 2. So I will touch upon the primary thesis and then go on to some biological implications and assumptions.

Tomasello makes a pretty bald and simple claim: there is basically one species-unique feature of our cognitive phenotype which is at the root of much of what differentiates us from other beasts, and that is our ability to conceive of conspecifics (other humans) as intentional agents like ourselves. This is the overarching necessary and sufficient condition that results in our humanity, our ability to empathize with others and model their behaviors. Of course, the ability to perceive other humans as intentional agents (goal directed) is irrelevant outside of a social matrix, so much of Tomasello's arguments rests upon our intentional modelling capacity being unleashed in distributed networks of information, the "culture." Individual acquisition of information via imitation and socialization leads to the cummulative "ratchet effect" of cultural evolution which results in our spieces' many unique implied traits.

Since the author's hypothesis rests on developmental psychology rather than evolutionary biology, neurobiology or palaeoanthropology, there are many reviews of literature relating to children and blocks and other people. As someone who has a positive affinity for children the descriptions were sometimes distracting because an experiment that recounts how a child pretends that a block is a plane by shouting "Vroom!!!!" induced a mental image of a cute toddler which broke my train of thought. Chapter 2, which ostensibly deals with biological points in favor of his thesis elucidates the differencess between chimpanzees and humans, in particular chimps and infants. Tomasello dismisses assertions of chimpanzee culture, at least in the way humans have culture which is rooted in instruction, imitation and accumulation of novel behaviors. He even implies at some point that part of the problem is that we tend to see intentionality in chimps where there might not be any intentionality (this is common in many fields, one might argue that Intelligent Design is the more prominent current example of this tendency). Tomasello suggests that even young infants tend to engage their parents in a way that chimpanzees simply do not, and offers that the way infants learn behaviors implies an understanding of intent and overall structure of interpersonal relations that chimpanzees have a difficult time conceiving of. For example, human infants and toddlers will often exactly mimic adults in a task even if it is less efficient than another method which is plainly obvious, while chimpanzee "mimics" tend to exhibit a lot more variation and are almost ad hoc in their "imitation." Tomasello gives the example of a chimp mother rolling over a log to get at some ants. Her infant subsequently "copied" this behavior, but Tomasello suggests that many of these behaviors are not imitation as much as a parent adding more information to the infant's data base, which it subsequently acts upon. Now that the infant chimp knows that ants are under the log, it will attempt to get at them, pushing the log out of the way just happens to be the easiest way to do this. In controlled experiments Tomasello points out that chimps often imitate in a scatter shot fashion that suggests that they are not fixed as much on the behavior of the chimp who serves as the model as opposed to the object of interest that the model chimp brings attention to via their behavior. Chimpanzees, in short, live in a world filled with moving animals (which includes other chimps, more or less) that might cause changes and display correlated behaviors, but they are not 3-dimensional Others who are worthy of understanding fundamentally, and, from whom one could learn.

In contrast to chimps, human infants around 9 months (though there are glimmers of species unique behavior before, especially in parent-child interactions) begin to behave in a fashion where other humans beings, as well as the object of attention, become important. In other words, the goals of other human beings and their motivations and tendencies as individuals like the infant itself become noticeable. Whereas before 9 months infants behave "dyadically," that is, in a one-to-one interaction, as opposed to "triadically," where there are multiple relations at work (usually involving the infant, another person, and an object). This ability to interact with other human beings as complex creatures with motives and intentions similar to one's own is the beginning of the ontogenetic ratchet, as humans begin to develop toward a mature cognitive phenotype, developing verbal and cognitive sophistication gradually because of the saturation of social input enabled by the initial spark of intentional thinking. This ontegenetic ratchet is nested within the historical-cultural ratchet, where humans leverage each other's information and spread memes throughout the population via instruction and imitation. Note that in The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore goes to great efforts to dismiss the idea that non-human creatures "really engage in imitation." Some of Toamsello's ideas are reminiscent of her arguments, though he focuses on the issues of "why" more than "how," that is, humans imitate so well because they can conceive of others as intentional agents that one can learn from. Some of Judith Rich Harris' talking points in The Nurture Assumption can also be slotted into Tomasello's paradigm, though he focuses more on parent-child interaction while Harris is fixed on peer groups. To be human is to be social, and sociality is enabled by the intentional concept of others. When it comes to language, Tomasello pretty clearly rejects the idea that language is an innate module, and explicitly says that unlike many people he is skeptical that if everyone over the age of 1 became autistic, but still retained the ability to feed and care for children, language would "naturally" emerge out of the social matrix. Rather, Tomasello, argues that language is a cultural device generated by humans via their symbolic-representational aptitudes which are themselves an outgrowth of their facility with modelling intentional relations. There are similarities with Terrence Deacon's ideas in The Symbolic Species, where much of the argument about language focuses on the thesis that language is simply a subset of the symbolic capacity and that "universal grammar" is just an artifact of the particular biases of the brain's wiring which all "invented" languages slowly converged upon through cultural selection and pruning. If you replaced "intentional agents" with a more generalized "symbolic" capacity much of Tomasello's argument matches that of Deacon's, Tomasello asserts at one point that our models of physical objects are simply mappings of concepts which were initially relevant only to social interactions with conspecifics. While Deacon would argue for a general symbolic ability which can be applied in different contexts, Tomasello seems to argue for a general intentionalizing capacity which is abstracted toward a general symbolic ability.

This is not a conversational popular work, I am eliding a great deal and compressing Tomasello's argument unfairly. But being a blog post, so it goes. Though a certain "Clark" seems to be referenced on every other page, I have no idea who this individual is, or the character of their life, as would be common in a popular work. Tomasello likely excised as much as possible from his argument to compress the prose into 216 pages, and I am not doing justice to the nuance of his argument, in part because I am not totally comfortable with terms like "intersubjectivity" or "perspectival." While I am comfortable with "ontegeny" and other biologically intelligible terms, cognitive science jargon is still a third language for me. So I will move on now to the issues which I know a bit more about, the biological frame that Tomasello works within. He asserts that the capacity for humans to behave as intentional agents arose sometime between 6 million and 250,000 years ago, roughly the period between our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and the emergence of anatomically modern humans in Africa. This is a large window, and he doesn't seem to want to get caught up with the details of when intentionality arose. Additionally, he argues against modularity of various cognitive phenotypes because 6 million years is not long enough for these to evolve. Finally, he throws in the point that 99% of our sequence is cognate with that of chimpanzees to argue that the genotypic difference is minimal. Tomasello emphasizes that it is development, ontegeny, which is at the heart of our differences with our nearest relatives.

First, I will point you to Bora Zivkovic's post on the first chapter of Tomasello's book. It is an understatement to assert that Bora and I have disagreed in the past, but as biologically oriented individuals it was no surprise to me that he basically asks the same questions that immediately came to my mind. Just as I find the Evolutionary PsychologicalTM argument that salient cognitive features must be monomorphic because of the importance of contingency ("half a trait is worthless," a mutation inserted into the mechanistic epistatic network would result in a collapse of the cascade of pathways which result in the phenotype) an exaggeration contradicted by the reality of human variation on many traits, I find the argument that 6 million years isn't "enough time" for evolution to work upon variation to generate species specific modules unpersuasive. I don't think the evidence is conclusive in either direction (calling all cognitive neuroscientists!), and evolution of phenotype does not proceed at a constant rate, but is contingent upon variation responding to selection (OK, at one locus, but I suspect it isn't like selection on correlated traits is always at a steady pace). The amount of variation within a population and the magnitude of selection can both change a great deal over time, ergo, I don't think that Tomasello's assertion at the beginning of the book really holds. Palaeoanthroplogy tells us that there has been a persistent increase in cranial volume over the past 2 million years, ceasing about 200,000 years ago, and, this rate has not been constant (there were spurts here and there). Bruce Lahn's recent work points to persistent directional selection on the genes which control for the size of the brain. There is also research which explores the matter of gene expression in the brain (vis-a-vi chimpanzees, for example). I don't know whether it is the sequence or the expression that matters, but I certainly don't think the question has been answered, and I don't think that 6 million years is piddling (frankly, I don't think a few hundred thousand years is piddling, depending on what traits you are talking about).

Though I am willing to grant that humans are unique insofar as they view others as intentional agents, and that this difference is one of the most important factors that generate our humanity, I think there are other issues that Tomasello gives short shrift to. For example, even if language started out as an emergent property of the social-informational complexity engendered by the ability to peceive others as intentional agents, I don't see why the Baldwin Effect wouldn't result in those who are able to be more linguistically eloquent having a selective advantage, so there was a shift toward innateness over time. Certainly, the fact that there is a "critical period" after which our ability to pick up language seems to dissipate suggests to me that our brain has been "retrofitted" toward "competence" for this phenotype. Additionally, Tomasello juxtaposes language with mathematics, and implies that the former is far more similar to the latter than we perceive it to be. Though I suspect bioengineering and cybernetics will make conventional selection moot soon enough, in some ways I think that mathematical fluency is a good model for what language must have been like before selection for competency on this ability allowed it to be a "natural" ability. The Number Sense chronicles many cases of "mathematical aphasia," but these cases are usually much milder, more diffuse, and more spotty than the linguistic aphasia which are center stage in The Language Instinct (unlike linguistic aphasia, you might not even find out via casual conversation that somone simply lacks the ability to count, and in fact, casual conversation will in all probability yield a lot of false positives as far as mathematical aphasias go). That suggests to me that the coupling between a genetic substrate (either rooted in sequence or expression differences, doesn't matter) and the phenotype is closer in language than in mathematics (which is a retrofit in its first stages and coopts many different areas of the brain in different people). And, since Tomasello's book was published there are tentative signs that language can be "invented" in a very short time by those who are isolated from parental inputs.

Tomasello does acknowledge the possibility for a behavioral module here and there when the fitness impact is totally obvious (he cites David Buss' hypothesis about jealousy for example). But his focus on developmental psychology tends to result in his neglect of many human abilities which seem to result from long term selection via "culture." For example, in neurobiologist William Calvin's latest book he points out that chimpanzees simply do not have the sensory-motor capacity to create tools, even to the sophistication of the Oldowan technology that erectus used between 2.5 and 1.5 million years ago. Perhaps the ability to view others as intentional agents resulted in symbolic thinking, which triggered ideas on how to use tools, but I suspect that these subsequent downstream developments almost certainly had a genetic impact, and resulted in additions to our "cognitive toolkit." The relatively static progression of tool use, with periodic spurts, until about 50,000 years ago is also peculiar. Obviously the ratchet need not be constant...but in terms of technology, and it seems expression of symbolism, its rate of ascendence is highly erratic. Many have used this fact to argue that there was a genetic change that must have precipitated the technological-cultural revolution of the past 50,000 years. Some think that the selective sweep that occurred around 100,000 years ago (give or take tens of thousands of years!) on the FOXP2 "language gene" has something to do with it. Of course, selection doesn't always occur how you'd expect, so evolution might have some more surprises for us.

After all this, I guess I can say that I'm not convinced by Tomasello's argument. I think he has found an essential cog in the whole artiface of humanity, but it isn't the master-cog. I'm not really sure there is a master-cog. There is evidence of both sequence changes and alterations in gene expression in reference to the human brain. It seems clear that selection occurred on our sensory-motor capacities that resulted in our competence in reference to tool use...but obviously, it seems strange that this would develop before we used tools, so why did we starting using tools a few million years ago anyhow? FOXP2, which is a regulatory gene that has some relevance to language fluency, as well as general intelligence, swept through our species a hundred thousand years ago, or earlier. Symbolic culture seems to have really taken off less than 100,000 years ago. This is a really knarly bush of theoretical contingencies and possibilities, and Tomasello has evaded the biological ones by simply moving past them very quickly. If I had to bet, I would guess that the ability to view each other as intentional agents is relatively recent, perhaps within the last few hundred thousand years. I do think it is a crucial change in our conception of the world, but, I believe it also set into motion changes which resulted in other selective forces being unleashed, and language arose as a competency in its wake. Our ability to use tools and manipulate physical objects in a complex manner though preceded the intentional mind, and in fact might have somehow set the stage for selection for this trait. Perhaps Tomasello has it backward, and somehow we began to imagine other human beings as tools, to be shaped and bent to our own uses. If my timeline is right the major push toward expansion of the human cranium and selection on those loci which affect brain size occurred before the major switch in our conception of the world.

The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition is a very good book. It is a bit dense if you are a cognitive science virgin, but if you've made it only to first or second base (like me) it won't offend your sensibilities and tax your level of expertise too much. It reinforces some points I have made many times on this weblog, for instance, that children learn many ostensibly cause-and-effect conceptual structures through imitation, that their causative nature is only apparent to the initiated and culturally fluent. Etiquette is a clear example, you behave like so because to not behave like so is "rude," but as we all know, why it is rude is not always easy to pinpoint (or, that's what I claim!). Ultimately, rudeness is often based on social deviation. The conception of others as intentional agents worthy of some empathy and consideration is certainly very important. But I doubt it is the whole story by a longshot, and I would take bets on that. But it is a big enough story that it deserves a lot of attention.

Related links: Cultural Origins of Cognition: Introduction and Context, and intro at Chris' weblog. Clark on chapter 1. Jesse riffing off Clark. Bora on chapter 1. Blar on Santayana and Tomasello. Chris on chapter 1. Here is a paper that comes close to being a precis for the book, and a recent paper which tests some of his hypotheses. A piece in Scientific American reports on research published in Nature which directly contradicts Tomasello's assertion that chimpanzees do not have imitative culture. Of course, the conclusion is up for dispute, but the quote at the end explicitly rejects the thesis that it was attention to the goal rather than the task itself that the chimps were focused on. Chris has a post on autism that readers might find interesting. Chris on chapter 2. Clark with chatper 1 bonus.

Related on this blog: Dusk of Human Culture, The Mating Mind, Grooming and Gossip and Mother Nature.

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1 - I won't deny that philosophy also has relevance on higher orders, but I feel that "philosophy of...." fields are often too detached from the discipline they are devoted to analyzing (ie; science, religion, history, etc.).

Welcome to STALIN!   posted by TangoMan @ 8/21/2005 02:02:00 AM

Did you just read the latest mindless talking point on Red State or Daily Kos? Feeling frustrated? Wondering if the propaganda can get any worse? Wonder no more, for the North Korea News Agency archive is now on-line. Read your propaganda the way it's meant to be read, with over 50 megabytes of hard-core Stalinist propaganda at your fingertips, polished by the masters themselves, from the glittering city of Pyongyang where the vanguard of humanity shows the rest of us stooges the way of the future, the everlasting glory of Scientific Marxism.

Where else can you search a news database, STALIN, the STatistical Analyzer of Language In North Korean Propaganda, with terms like "U.S. imperialist ogres," "class enemies," "Human scum," "Inveterate," and "imperialist aggressor."

And a bonus for those who've grown jaded about propaganda written by fallible humans - a random insult generator that will create gems undreamt of by mere men. Create you own fantasy scenario - imagine that you have achieved the pinnacle of propaganda spinmeisterness - you're Mohammad Said Sahhaf, AKA Comical Ali, Saddam's lackey, ahem, I mean Information Minister, and there you are before the salivating media, captivating them with your briefing and then you get caught unawares by a question. You were in your moment of glory until that cretin reporter bellowed out his question, and now suddenly your mind goes blank. Never fear, one mouse click and you're saved, you look up, lean into the microphone and let fly with "You loudmouthed beast, your ridiculous clamor for 'human rights' is nothing but a shrill cry!" or you could go with "You sycophantic stooge, you have glaringly revealed your true colors!"

Via Yahoo News

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Yo bitch, can you tell me how to get to Sesame street?!?!   posted by Razib @ 8/20/2005 01:57:00 AM

Talk about a scarlet pimp, look below the fold....

If it happened ~2 million years ago....   posted by Razib @ 8/20/2005 01:15:00 AM

Scientific American has a summary of a new paper in Science which chronicles the oscillating climate of Africa 3 to 1 million years ago. Here's the relevant snip:

Lake sediments in ten Ethiopian, Kenyan and Tanzanian rift basins suggest there were three humid periods at 2.7-2.5 Ma, 1.9-1.7 Ma and 1.1-0.9 Ma before the present superimposed on the longer-term aridification of East Africa. These humid periods correlate with increased aridity in Northwest and Northeast Africa and significant global climate transitions....

The main problem with studies like this is the whole correlation does not equal causation issue...though climate change does usually result in selection and drift working on a population. The fact that great a swath of Africa which is today rainforest was once predominantly scrub with mere islands of verdancy is often held to have resulted in the relative profusion of various species which seem to fill the same niche. As the forests retreated and fragmented the thesis is that the fauna that depended upon these biomes retreated into the refuges and over time were subject to allopatric speciation. When the forests expanded the species comingled, increasing local diversity all throughout the forest zone.

For hominids, the relevance is that the repeated shifts in climate and fragmentation of habitats (whether it be savanna or forest) would likely have resulted in repeated selection events as well as spatial segregation. Looking at this chart which shows the putative hominid speciation events in their timeframe the overlap with the period of climate change alluded to above is clear. Of course, I haven't read the paper, so I don't know how they claim that this was that much different than any other period in the past...though I suppose Stephen Jay Gould would say something about contingencies and smile munificently.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Blonde Australian Aboriginals   posted by Razib @ 8/19/2005 07:56:00 PM

It's really frustrating when you can't find information via google, but, it just reminds you how shallow the the data mining of search engine crawlers can be. On this weblog people have mentioned blondeness among Australian Aboriginals multiple times, and ultimately we really haven't gotten anywhere (no one has brought up novel data) because no one has any information to offer aside from what they read in C.S. Coon's books when they were younger. There isn't much out there on the web.

Luckily, I decided to check the local college library, and I found Joseph Birdsell's Microevolutionary Patterns in Aboriginal Australia, which has a large section addressing the issue of blondeness among the indigenous people of the antipodal continent. Below, I will summarize most of Birdsell's data and analysis so that google will at least have this to crawl now.

But first, I want to address a minor point that often comes up. One hypothesis about Australian Aboriginal blondeness is that it is due to admixture with Europeans, in particular Dutch sailors who entered into undocumented liasons with native women prior to British colonization. This to me seems like a ludicrous assertion for the following reason: if the blonde alleles introgressed from another population, they can be thought of as proxies for the ancestral admixture of Western Europeans into these tribes. Though a very high frequency of tribal members exhibit preadult blondeness, there are almost no other European diagnostic phenotypes in evidence! That is, their skins are rather dark and their features classically Australian Aboriginal. Most people talk about European blondeness as if it is a recessive trait. I have issues with that simple idea, but, taking it at face value the frequency of blonde alleles in a panmictic population should be higher than the frequency of the blonde phenotype,1 so we are talking about a rather high level of admixture if the blondeness is due to European ancestry. On the other hand, there are no other visible signs of this ancestry. One could hypothesize of course that the initially low frequency (attained via admixture) spread through the population because of positive directional selection on the trait. So in that case the alleles are of European origin, but the frequency of blondeness is not diagnostic of ancestry because it is not a neutral trait. But Birdsell's data points away from a European origin for blondeness, and many of the recollections of readers of GNXP are correct as to the character of this trait among Australian Aboriginals.

To review, there are two primary melanin pigments, dark eumelanin and red-gold pheomelanin. The dosage of these two pigments results in the various hair colors we see in people. Redheads tend to have a great amount of pheomelanin, but almost no eumelanin. Ash blonde people are the reverse when it comes to pheomelanin, while golden blonde individuals tend to be somewhere in the middle. People with auburn hair have relatively high levels of both. But note that pheomelanin is more diffuse and less abundant, and it is no a surprise that black haired individuals may simply mask their "red" pigment. Many people with black hair (including yours truly) go through a "red blonde" phase during hair bleaching, as the dense eumelanin granules are stripped away by the bleaching agents first. It seems that the expression of the phenotype is dependent on many genes, though a few, like MC1R, have an outsized influence (perhaps through regulation of other loci). This is probably one reason that despite the typological division of Europeans into "blondes," "brunettes" and "redheads," there tends to be a continuous gradation of color. Not only do the combinations of eumelanin and pheomelanin dosage add "mixed" categories (strawberry blonde, auburn) to the triplet, the expression of these pigments is not an "on" or "off" matter as one would expect if one locus was at the heart of the process. I have made the repeated argument that the "recessive" character of blondism and the "dominant" character of brunette hair is partially an artifact of how we classify hair color. All the various non-blonde hair colors, from brown to black are slotted into the "dominant" category, when I would argue that even among black haired people there is a wide variance of pigment concentration of eumelanin that visual inspection might miss, for example between a light skinned Japanese individual and someone from southern India or Africa (basically, one can not get below a certain level of reflective, so all the extra melanin does not register any change in color).

Now, to the Australian Aboriginals.

1) The perception (based I assume in color plates in older anthropology books) that the blonde Aboriginals were ash in their coloration is correct. The reason, according to Birdsell, is that they exhibit very little pheomelanin in their hair. Of course there is a lack of eumelanin in the hair samples as well. Unfortunately Birdsell did not assay the concentration of granules quantitatively, but inspected them visually under a microscope. Nevertheless, he saw what was going on at the proximate level pretty well. It wasn't, to consider an outlandish example, a case where a yellow pigment was being produced that obscured the eumelanin.

2) There is both sexual dimorphic and paedomorphic tendencies to the trait. In short, pre-pubescent children are blonder, as are females.

3) This is not a rare trait that is expressed by a few individuals in many tribes. Rather, the frequency of the phenotype can approach 90-100% in children, and still remain significant even in adult males. Also, the "darkening" is often to a brown color, rather than black.

4) Birdsell suggests that the allele which causes this blondeness, in reality the loss of function or expression of both traits (dark and red pigment), is characterized by "incomplete dominance." The frequencies for the expression of the trait are extremely high. If it was a "recessive" trait the allele(s) must be close to fixed. I don't find his arguments persuasive because he didn't mention crosses between dark haired aboriginals and blonde aboriginals, in part because the unmixed peoples of this sort (that is, without European ancestry) are also not likely to go on cross-continental searches for husbands or brides from other Aboriginal groups. But, that being said, Birdsell offers the following observation: hybrids between Europeans and dark-haired (eastern) Aboriginals never exhibit hair that is lighter than brown. Obviously, not all Europeans are blonde, or carry blonde genes, but the conclusion of blonde phenotypic recessiveness is hammered home. Hybrids between blonde Aborigines and Europeans almost always exhibited the ash blonde phenotype of the Aborigines as children. I don't put too much stock in terms like "incomplete dominance," aside from that it is saying "hey, we don't know much about this gene." Nevertheless, I think the hybrid phenotype is a strong line of evidence that it isn't localized on the same part of the genome as the blonde loss-of-function alleles in Europeans. Crosses between dark haired Europeans and blonde Europeans do not almost always result in blonde children (many times the children are blonde and they become dark haired as they develop, but, Birdsell seems to suggest that inheritance pattern is more deterministic when one of the parents is an Australian Aboriginal blonde).

5) Birdsell notes that the blonde phenotype does not apply to all body hair. Almost all the rest of the body hair is rather dark, the only exception being the hairs on the forearm, which tend to be even blonder (that is, those who darken with adulthood retain blonde forearm hair).

I would like to end with a tentative hypothesis. Obviously Birdsell is trying to convey the impression that this is a trait that is "incompletely dominant," even though it is a "loss of function" trait (eumelanin and pheomelanin seem to not be found in the hair). The "incompletely dominant" part suggests that there is a locus of large effect at work here. Additionally, Birdsell only mentions gradation in hair color as a function of development or maturation, not population. What I mean by this is that one doesn't get the impression of individuals with light brown or dark blonde shades as youth who become black haired as adults. Continuity (normalish distribution) is a feature of polygenic traits, while discrete or binary tendencies are exhibited by classical mendellian traits. With this in mind, I offer that perhaps these Australian Aboriginals carry an allele which results in the synthesis of a trans-acting factor which suppresses gene expression on the loci which control for melanin production (or, it could be interfering with a crucial regulatory step). This suppression is obviously dependent on factors relating to development and cell-cell differentiation, because the melanin is found in copious amounts in other body hairs as well as in the skin. A sequencing of the loci which we know affect melanin dosage might not turn up anything out of the ordinary in comparison to other dark skinned people. In contrast, I suspect many Europeans have multiple polymorphisms which result in the overall reduction in melanin production via melanocytes throughout their skin, their body hair as well as their irises.

So why is this trait expressed in frequencies of 90%+ (that is, adults who started out ash blonde as youth) in the west-central deserts of Australia? Birdsell doesn't offer any selectionist reason, and I can't think of any environmental ones. There was obviously constraint on skin color, which makes sense in light of the protection that dark skin confers against radiation. The only thing I can come up with is sexual or social selection (ie; it might have been preferences for a particular type of child as opposed to males and females choosing each other for this trait). But it is basically a default hypothesis (I do not credit genetic drift in this case, but I do not know the demographic history of these tribes, so that is a possibility I suppose). Also, blondism might just be a byproduct of the allele's function, which we do not know yet (or, we know it, but have not made the connection).

I was going to scan the map up, but I'm having some driver issues, so no go in that direction (if someone wants to find the book and scan it up and put it on flickr I will link to it-it's on page 196). Descriptively, you have a modal frequency of this phenotype in the middle of western Australia of 90-100%. The frequency drops off to around 50% by the southwest coast and the geographic center of the continent, and more sharply north toward Arnehm Land until the phenotype is almost nonexistent on the north coast. The phenotype is absent from the eastern third of the continent. Overall, one can imagine an area of the map where the phenotype is absent like a crescent, thick and rotund in the southeast, and becoming a relative sliver as it arcs around the zone of blondeness around its northern edge.

Related: Black and strawberry.

1 - p2 + 2pq + q2 = 1. The "recessive" allele is usually signified by q. The q2 is the frequency of expression of the recessive phenotype, so for example, if the blonde allele is present in a frequency of 0.5 throughout the random mating population, 1/4 of the individuals will express it. If a population is 1/2 blonde, than 70% of the alleles floating in the population are blonde. So, if you had a tribe that was 50% blonde, if blonde alleles are neutral (no selective advantage), ignoring drift one could assume that 70% of the ancestry was European if the alleles had to have come from that source population. Of course, I don't think that the dominance-recessive concept really works well a lot of the time, and I certainly don't think that blondism is a one locus mendellian trait, contrary what they taught us in high school.

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Black and strawberry   posted by Razib @ 8/19/2005 02:42:00 AM

A researcher who studies melanin hits a lot of data nuggets in one post. NuSapiens offers some related speculations (sort of). Also, you might be interested that Heather Norton has a paper in press, Worldwide polymorphism at the MC1R locus and normal pigmentation variation in humans. Of course, I have no access to Peptides, though Heather gave us the gist I think if not the details....

Update: If you are curious, here is an article that attests to some polymorphism among Sub-Saharan Africans on the MC1R locus (one of the three nonsynonomous mutations was found in a Khoisan individual). The standard assumption is that MC1R has been under strong functional constraint amongst dark skinned peoples, and far less (or least different selective forces have become important) among light skinned peoples (see here for an extensive review article). Henry and Greg have suggested that some variants of MC1R that result in reduced eumelanin production could be the result of introgression from non-African hominids ("archaic" H. sapiens, like Neandertal), though here you see that there is at least some variation for selection to work upon even in the African genetic background. Some older hair color related posts here and here. For more about MC1R go here.

Human atoms   posted by Razib @ 8/19/2005 02:33:00 AM

Two papers in PNAS of some interest: Geographic routing in social networks and Kinship-based politics and the optimal size of kin groups.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Slaves by the grace of God   posted by Razib @ 8/18/2005 11:11:00 PM

I've developed a mild interest in John Brown, but before I began reading about him I wanted to refamiliarize myself with the cultural history of slavery in the United States...and I noticed a little book titled Islam's Black Slaves, and I had to pick it up. It's real short, I read it in when I was walking to the grocery store and other sorts of errands, but it's got some good data. This post isn't about slavery per se, but rather an issue that crops up now and then, what are the textual constraints on the expression of the Muslim faith? I have periodically expressed mild skepticism at the amount of text derived inferences people sometimes assert are determinants in the modal shape of behavior or median cultural expression. No doubt the constraints exist on some level, and ideas can change the world. That being said, I was curious at how slaves were treated in Islam because the sharia has explicit instructions on this point. The author begins by noting the standard talking points, there are Islamic hadiths which state that there is merit in freeing a slave, a mother and child should not be parted and the child of a master and slave woman is free and not a slave. The standard assertion that slavery in the Muslim world was never so cruel, dehumanizing and barbarous as the chattel slavery deployed for plantation agriculture that became normative in the New World (from Brazil to the American South) seems correct. One thing to consider is that in the Muslim world many more blacks were "house slaves," and so the brutal conditions of the field were less of a concern (there had been revolts by slaves in Iraq early in the history of Islam which discouraged the practice of slave labor on plantations). Nevertheless, there were incredible brutalities, especially in the high mortality rates in transport. And of course, hypocrisy and breach of "Islamic law" was the norm.

I want to highlight two passages from the book. First:

Muslim propriety permitted no such scrutiny as came to be common in the slave markets of the Americans. Male slaves might be eamined only above the navel and below the knees, female slaves only by viewing their faces and hands....

But, near the end of the book the author reprints an article from 1956 verbatim that described a slave auction in Djibouti where the merchants were going to transport their "goods" to Arabia, in parctiular, the city of Jiddah:

...A trader would nudge a slave's jaw with a stick and the man would open his mouth to display his teeth. Another probe with the stick and he would flex his arm muscles. Young women were forced to expose their breasts and buttocks. A dispute developed over the virginity of a tall young ebony woman, and during the hour-long argument she was forced to squat while one of the most prominent buyers examined her with his fingers. She was terrified; her trembling was visible fifty yards away.

Occasionally children were sold in batches. They did not cry, mainly, I think, because they had no tears left, but they held tightly to one another and kept looking around as if for help. Boys of about ten or twelve had their anuses examined; homosexual buyers are fussy about disease.

This and many other passages in the book makes the idea that Islamic slavery was more humanitarian as a matter of kind as opposed to degree seem ludicrous. Granted, in Islam there was far less stigma attached to slavery, and the racial bar was not absolute. Many of the great rulers were once slave soldiers, and potentates often had slave mothers (black and white). But my point in highlighting the above passage was to show how ludicrous the idea that sharia injunctions really made a big difference in the way slaves were treated, the bestial scene occurred in 1956, and the "merchants" were from the "fundamentalist" state of Saudi Arabia.1

There are other issues relating to slavery where sharia commands a particular course of action, but Muslims generally found ways to skirt the letter of the law. For instance, castration is banned in Islam, but eunuchs were omnipresent in Muslim courts. How was this so? There were multiple avenues of recourse. In some places non-Muslims specialized in castrations, in Al-Andalus it was Jews, in the Ottoman Empire it was Christians. In other cases slaves were castrated outside of Muslim lands, so that Prague in Christian Bohemia became a center for the generation of eunuchs for Ottoman service. In Africa the Muslims were often castrated en route. Sometimes, castration was attributed to a "mistake," the slaves were sent to a barber who was going to circumcise them and he simply grasped their genitals and sliced everything off (while European slaves generally had their testicles removed, black slaves had both testicles and penis removed).

Now, the issue of circumcision is important because the enslaved should be non-Muslim, one can not enslave Muslims, though one could encourage a slave to convert. But there were ways to get around this issue of not enslaving Muslims. In the Hausa states of modern northern Nigeria disobedience to the potentate was ruled tatamount to apostasy, so Muslim villages were attacked and enslaved and sold to pay off debts on the pretense that they were in rebellion, ergo, apostates (the rebellion might be due to an incredibly high tax which they could not pay). Another common argument was that Muslims whose practice or tradition deviated from the slavers were not truly Muslims, so they could be enslaved. Of course, sometimes there wasn't even a pretense at following this injunction, there are multiple records of African village leaders as well as Muslim "holy" men leading pilgrimages to Mecca, where they promptly sold everyone into slavery and absconded with the gold to some far off land (this occcurred in Mali in the 20th century, and a delegation to Libya was sent in the hopes of extraditing a man who had led his village on Haj and then sold everyone to merchants and then opened a business in Tripoli with the proceeds). As the demand for slaves increased the merchants became far less scrupulous in determining whether the goods were ill-gotten.

Obviously there is a lot more I could say, but I think I have made my point. Sharia stipulates very specific ways one should treat and obtain slaves. Sharia was almost always breached, sometimes quite blatantly. Nevertheless, often transparent pretexes were concocted to generate an imprimatur of correct form and practice. There seems to have been a wide variance of the expectation that a slave could have about his life, and how he was treated, or whether an innocent villager (Muslim or non-Muslim) could become a slave, and the threads that seem to be the variables that determine the nature of slavery are usually based on historical and social conditions, or just plain greed. All the while in the background are the same common Islamic textual injunctions and specificied practices, which nevertheless seem to have been rendered a dead letter. So the implication here is clear, some Muslims today justify slavery because it is the sharia (see Mauritania, where the white Berbers come close to engaging in racial slavery reminiscient of the American South, though perhaps operationally more like Apartheid South Africa). But in the past the way slavery was practiced violated even the most "liberal" precepts of the sharia, so it seems a short step for one to find out a way that one could render slavery operationally forbidden (for example, consider the argument against polygyny that since Muhammad said that all wives needed to be treated equally and this was not possible, polygyny is not possible). The key here is not just the texts alone, but the interaction between the texts and the stubborn social matrix which interprets the text in a self-serving fashion.

Addendum: This article might be of interest to readers: Extensive female-mediated gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa into near eastern Arab populations. Here is part of the abstract:

...a very high frequency of African lineages present in the Yemen Hadramawt: more than a third were of clear sub-Saharan origin. Other Arab populations carried approximately 10% lineages of sub-Saharan origin, whereas non-Arab Near Eastern populations, by contrast, carried few or no such lineages, suggesting that gene flow has been preferentially into Arab populations....

1 - The author suggests that slaves in the Muslim world played a very different role in the economy than in the New World (or ancient Greece and Rome for that matter!). Muslim slaves tended to be consumer items, they were symbols of prosperity, and also domestic helpmates. And quite often, they were also soldiers. These two states, household help and martial occupations, meant that slaves were not treated as commodities toward a profit motive in a production oriented economy like they were in the sugar and cotton plantations of the New World. Though the mortality rates during transport, and especially for males after the castration, were probably as high as the "Middle Passage," those that survived probably lived less dehumanizing existences in the Muslim world. One could argue this was because of the character of sharia (with its stipulations for good treatment toward slaves), but I suspect a more plausible explanation is that they occupied a different niche in Muslim societies, perhaps analogous to slaves in pre-Christian (and early medieval) northern Europe, as opposed to the mass agriculture of ancient Sicily or cash crop plantations of the New World.

More on the naturalistic fallacy   posted by the @ 8/18/2005 07:00:00 PM

Comments about my "Ethics is hard and so is science" got me interested in the naturalistic fallacy: "the argument tries to draw a conclusion about how things ought to be based solely on information about how things are in fact." An example: "There have always been wars. Hence there is no reason for you to object that our bombing of Serbia was morally wrong."

Prima facia, the naturalistic fallacy seems like a stupid mistake to make. Adding science to the mix, and evolution in particular, certainly exacerbates the reasoning problem. But surely this is not the only reason that so many people commit this error.

The naturalistic fallacy is actually a very limited proposition. It entails that empirical facts alone cannot be the foundation for moral judgment. But clearly empirical facts can and should be a part of ethical reasoning. W.R.T. Darwinism, empirical facts about human nature tell us how difficult it will be to achieve a desired outcome.

In the comments, Steve Sailer pointed out that "the belief that all human beings are equal" is pre-Darwinian belief, promoted by Christianity. I now think that the tendency to commit the naturalistic fallacy has a similar cause; it involves the inappropriate attribution to Darwinism of the pre-Darwinian concept of a "moral order" instantiated in the natural world. The concept of a coincident natural and moral order is easy to see in Christian theology, and it appears to bedevil rational thought today.

But I think splitting the natural and ethical should tell us something else. It should tell us that moral progress is not an inexorable outcome of history, but rather is something that we have to work to achieve.

The lions of America....   posted by Razib @ 8/18/2005 12:47:00 PM

There is going to be publication of a piece in Nature (sometime today) that argues for the reintroduction of megafauna to North American by transplanting African speices. This article in the Economist has an overview, while CNN also is reporting on this. The only thing I would like to add is that I think the analogy to the introduction of rabbits (to Australia) is really dumb. First, megafauna have been part of the North American landscape before, there are all sorts of plants that seem to assume that there are still giant ground sloths hanging around to disperse their seeds (10,000 years is a long time, but not that long). Second, the species they are going to introduce (possibly) are all relatively slow reproducers. If lions really started eating a lot of people, well, killing them wouldn't be that difficult. And they would eat some people, there have been problems with this issue in Boulder, CO, where a few parks have had three year olds snatched away by cougars. In another incident a jogger was ambushed and eaten (of course, usually the issue is the consumption of cats and dogs, not people). As if to emphasize this problem, Nature has an article up about an increase in lion attacks in Africa. That being said, I'm not sure if the people of South Dakota (for example) would really mind the introduction of megafauna, I've been through that state and there really isn't much to see between Rapid City and Sioux Falls (the cold winters would be an issue in South Dakota of course, but lions were found in Southern Europe and in the highlands of the Middle East into historic times). Certainly it could bring some tourism. I suspect people who could afford to go to Africa for a safari would still prefer the real thing.

Update: If you want big European red deer antlers, go to New Zealand. You want to see wild camels? There are 500,000 in Australia! You want to see wild horses? Look in the American West, the Eurasian steppes.

Update II: Josh Donlan (leader author of the paper above) has just posted his ideas over at Slate. I think it is a sober and realistic plan. I doubt it will happen for a variety of reasons, primarily because of the synergy of the utopian Nature Is Always Right (even when it isn't nature) sentiment from progressives and Kill the Critters rural folk. I lived among the Kill the Critters folk for many years, and I understand their concerns, it is pretty much common sense, if it kills humans, or it kills human livestock, kill it, right? Well, that depends. With fewer and fewer rural people in America (and even most "rural" people don't live in the country, they live in towns, less than 2% of Americans live on farms for instance) the ineffable beauty of nature appeals a lot more to those who live their days in an environment of black top rather than black buttes. On the other hand, there are those who I suspect would label themselves progressives and environmentalists who are making somewhat strained, and in my opinion disingenuous, claims. For example, I don't particularly see why all of a sudden they care what ranchers would think about carnivores, it didn't matter when wolves were reintroduced. The argument that it would drain the demand for African eco-tourism also strikes me as false, if you are the type who wants to see the African wilds, are you really going to be satisfied with New Mexico neo-savannah? The people who might take "safari" trips to the new Wild West would most likely be the types who would visit the San Diego Zoo or even local petting zoos. They would be two different demographics. Then of course there are there are the particular ecological objections, for instance, climate. First, many of these megafauna, or, their analogs, were indigenous to this continent at some point. Second, many of these creatures have wide ranges. Third, microevolution can work wonders, and one could certainly selection bias the parental population so that its various characteristics are more optimal for the New World.

Overall, this isn't going to happen. Nevertheless, here is another example of metaphors people don't live by, selective use of the precautionary principle and of course strained analogies. The fact is that we live in an engineered and unnatural world, there isn't much about it that is "in balance" as it "should be." Nature isn't that much different, there are always metastabilities and requilibrations going on all around us. Relaxed selection on the pronghorn antelope after the extinction of the North American cheetah has not done all its work so that things are in "balance" again....

Update III: John Hawks comments. I made a few comments at Sepia Mutiny (nothing new, but if you are curious).

Update IV: Steve Biodio has two comments worth reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The evo-psych debate   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 11:19:00 PM

Well, I wasn't going to comment on the Amanda Schaeffer slam of Evolutionary PsychologyTM in Slate drawn heavily from David Buller's Adapting Minds, but Steve just has, and GC pointed out that someone on Brad Plummer's blog also noted the implicit opening for human variation that she produced by acknowledging the reality of microevolution over the past 10,000 years. I'll leave you with the links....

Cousin be perty, part n   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 09:24:00 PM

When I was in Bangladesh last year an ignorant distant cousin of mine was defending her choice of marrying another cousin (not someone I was related to) because she stated that unless "blood groups are the same" it isn't really much of a problem.1 Of course, that's bullshit. I happened to have brought Principles of Population Genetics with me and opened up to figure 13 in the chapter on inbreeding and showed her the graph which plotted "Frequency of deleterious recessive allele (q)" vs. "Percent of affected children whose parents were first cousins." The qualitative observation was clear: though few offspring whose parents were first cousins had recessive disease X, an enormous percentage of individuals in a breeding population who had recessive disease X had parents who were first cousins. The equation used to plot this graph is (K being the dependent variable):

K = c(1 + 15q)/(c + 16q - cq)

The proportion of first cousin matings being c within the population, and q being the frequency of the recessive allele in question.

Here are some statistics from an old post:

Condition - % of affected children whose parents were first cousins
Total color blindness - 15
Albinism - 21
Xeroderma Pigmentosum - 23
Ichthyosis Congenita - 35
Tay Sachs - 40

(the numbers are for the United States where c was assumed to be ~1%)

So, Lei is correct that when she states that "children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk," but looking at this issue on a population wide level one can see that the cost vs. benefit analysis might lead to being less sanguine. Now, Lei brings up that genetic testing can obviate this issue, but remember the easiest implementation of the solution in the case of a positive match: abortion (I don't know how one would test sperm and not damage it, and it seems removing eggs and testing them to reimplant them would also be laborious and expensive). This isn't a palatable option for many couples. I remember watching a documentary where they highlighted the case of a Roman Catholic couple who had had 2 children, one with cystic fibrosis, and they decided to risk it and try for another child in the hopes that they would be lucky. They made it clear that they opposed abortion on principle. The documentary ended before they found out their results for the third pregnancy.

Additionally, Lei is talking specifically in relation to the situation of Arabs in Israel. I happen to have a friend who is an Israeli Arab and he tells me that it is common not just to marry cousins, but to marry within a clan. Lei notes that the heightened risk from second cousin marriages is minimal, but my concern is that these Arab clans are extremely inbred to begin with.

The equation for inbreeding coefficient is:

FI = sum over all common ancestors[(1/2)i * (1 + FA)]2

Here, you are summing over the paths to each common ancestor, FA, with i being the number of individuals in each path (obviously inbreeding via a common great-great-great grandparent is weighted far less than that via a grandparent). In the United States if you marry a cousin (outside of really rural areas) it is not likely that aside from those implied by the common grandparents you have many recent common ancestors. In other words, families that your parents do not share in common are not likely to be related. In the situation above with Arab clans, this may not be so, there could be a tight and interlinked network of common ancestries up all possible branches of the lineage.3

In Saudi Arabia this is a big medical issue. The reason you don't hear about it much from other Muslim countries is that I suspect that unlike Saudi Arabia they don't have a comprehensive health care system (Israel does, so that's probably why it is making the news). But the point I'm trying to make is that using American first cousin marriages as a proxy is probably not good anyway because I would not be surprised if the inbreeding coefficients were way higher in many parts of the Arab world than one would expect based simply on the reported familial relationship.

Related: Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development.

Updated: offers a thorough PDF that has a nation by nation (broken up by studies and sample ethnic group or location) breakdown. Be no more ignorant about cousin-love the world over!

Here is a map for the visually inclined:

1 - Though consanguinity is not as common in Bangladesh from what I can gather as it is in the Arab world, or even Pakistan, it is not unknown. My distant cousin was a topic of conversation precisely because for some reason (never elucidated) my family tends to avoid these sort of unions, and in fact, my own personal background is not one of similarity but diversity (ie; my paternal grandfather was of admixed South Asian and West Asian origin, his wife was from a recently converted Hindu family, etc.). I suspect that empirically over the generations my family found that expanding social networks rather than firming up the ones they already had was a successful strategy, and, frankly their relative prosperity might have meant they were secure enough to not take what seems to be perceived by many as the "safe" strategy and marry within the family. I have come to find out recently that there is a long history of relative geographic spread in terms of spousal choice that I suspect was not typical in most of Bengal in the early 20th century. Even with those who remain in Bangladesh I note that one of my uncles married a women of Bihari (Urdu speaking migrants from India pre-1947) origin without any comment (I only know because I heard her speaking Urdu on the phone with her mother and was confused for a moment until another relative told me what her background was).

2 - If i starts getting big, well, no point, right? You judge when to stop counting the common ancestors.

3 - A page that eludicates the coefficient with some diagrams.

Cute shoes in the cave....   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 09:22:00 PM

Dienekes blogs about paleolithic shoes (sort of).

GNXP, part of the muckraking Left?   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 06:29:00 PM

Well, not really, but the Mother Jones Weblog can't pass up free TNR content and linked to a cut & paste of article about conservative backing of counterrevolutionaries.

Cutting Edge of Education Research   posted by TangoMan @ 8/17/2005 12:50:00 PM

We generally like to add original commentary to our posts but occasionally we run into posts on other blogs that sum up the sitution perfectly, so without furthr ado here is the Instructivist's take on what is needed to get a Ph.D in Education:

Racial and Gender Identity Development in White Male
Multicultural Educators and Facilitators:
Toward Individual Processes of Self-development

by Paul Gorski
University of Virginia
April 1998

© Copyright by
Paul C. Gorski
All Rights Reserved
May 1998




I am a white male multicultural awareness facilitator. As such, I facilitate activities and discussions focused on multicultural issues and identifiers including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, ability status, and religion. In these forums, I request that individuals describe from their personal experience what it means to be "female," "Jewish," "Latino," or other identification descriptors. It is through facilitating the exchange of these experiences and perspectives and advocating for the introspective process of exploring them that I work to build an atmosphere conducive to introspection, self-development, and increased awareness of a discussion's participants.

It seems that Gorski has taken this schtick and actually published some textbooks on Multicultural Education, here and here.

I weep silent tears for the state of our schools.

Bong bombings   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 11:31:00 AM

350 small bombs explode in Bangladesh. Rezwan, who blogs from Bangladesh, has more, and promises updates. The analogy between Islamism and Communism or Fascism has its weaknesses, but one point of similarity is that all of these "movements" have been directly or indirectly responsible for more casualties to their own presumed constituents than "the Enemy." On a less human note, Mecca is being bulldozed (while the possible eradication of historic Muslim sites in Christian Spain is worthy of an article in The New York Times), in large part to destroy historic sites which might become the objects of reverence. The Wahabbi attack on holy sites (Muslim holy sites, including the tomb of Muhammed) dates back to hundreds of years, but what they couldn't get away with through fanaticism they are justifying as development. Sometimes this "Islamic solidarity" that goons like the 7-7 bombers are inspired by seems like such a farce, but, I suppose it can be asked if one could say that a terrorist is anything but "dumb" on a fundamental level about the relation between reality and their own fantasy projection. Also, you might be curious about this statement put out by the "Muslim community" in Britain, who expose themselves as being rather unreconstructed cultural particularists (as opposed to universalists) if you take their defense of both shariah in Muslim lands (see point #1) and hard-core Western civil liberties in the UK at face value (see point #4). It smells a little like the "what's mine is mine and what's your's is mine" philosophy, nothing logically wrong about this sort of egotism, but people tend to intuitively revolt against it (let's hope).

Update: Eoin points me to this piece in The Guardian throwing cold water on calls for a "Reformation" within Islam (most recently by Salman Rushdie). I think that "Reformation" is sketchy concept to apply to Islam as a whole because the network of relations and concepts of Islam circa 2005 is simply so unlike Christianity circa 1500. But, as the article makes clear, the Reformation itself was a rather mixed-bag in itself. It seems that these calls for "Reformation" in the Anglo-Saxon world are the long lost channelings of the old Protestant polemics which viewed Luther, Calvin and Knox as rebels against "Papist Superstition." Instead of a Reformation, I have said multiple times that Islam in the West needs to be rendered subservient to the Enlightenment. The yoking of religion to the values of the Enlightenment in the West is so complete that most Christians and Jews would assert that democratic liberalism is implied by the very nature of their faith.1 Just as Messianic Jews declare proudly that Christianity completes their Jewishness (ie; turning their back on 2,000 years of Jewish rejection of the Christian message is more authentically Jewish), participants in a liberal democratic order must, to the overwhelming first approximation, believe that that order completes (or at least does not contradict) their other ideological and confessional identifications. How one goes to believing that A implies Z is ultimately irrelevant.

1 - There is a case made by many, of various religious, political and disciplinary persuasions, that democratic liberalism is a subset of Christian religious values. I think it is a plausible hypothesis, but I remain skeptical.

Bong bombings">

The first "smart mobs"   posted by Razib @ 8/17/2005 01:07:00 AM

From The Royal Society Proceedings: Biological Sciences, a paper of note titled The social nature of primate cognition:

...the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis, also known as the social brain hypothesis, tends to emphasize certain traits and behaviours, like exploitation and deception, at the expense of others, such as tolerance and behavioural coordination, and therefore presents only one view of how social life may shape cognition. This review outlines work from other relevant disciplines, including evolutionary economics, cognitive science and neurophysiology, to illustrate how these can be used to build a more general theoretical framework, incorporating notions of embodied and distributed cognition, in which to situate questions concerning the evolution of primate social cognition.

There is a lot in the paper that seems pretty sketchy to me (ie; multi-level selection), but, the point about the excessive Cartesianism of some primate models of psychology has some truth. Certainly terms like 'distributed cognition' slot in well with the current 'wired' zeitgeist, characterized by a free flow of information, but narrow deep specialization of knowledge bases. I have reviewed Robin Dunbar's work before, and I think there is a lot to it, but it is the start, not the final world. To get a good sense of a person's psychology it is often rather artificial to extract them outside of their social context and have them press buttons on a computer screen. Now, imagine how monkeys in laboratories must feel! In any case, I have uploaded the full paper (PDF), mostly because it is a gold mine of literature cites which I suspect some readers will have interest in following up.1

Also, heads up, I'll be reviewing the book Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, by Michael Tomasello, in the near future. As some of you know I am part of Chris' cognitive science reading group, and this was the book I voted for, so I'm looking forward to it. You can find a long introduction to the book (likely longer than my review) over at Chris' blog. I also would like to throw out an idea I've been mulling for a while: a Gene Expression reading group. Unlike Chris' group I am not fixed on focusing on a particular discipline, and my tentative goal would be to get humanists to read serious works of science and scientists to examine serious works of non-scientific scholarhsip. I will probably start up a YAHOO! group devoted to this in the near future.

Update: I've started a YAHOO! group, Gene Expression Books. This will be the base from which we'll go.

1 - You can find all the cites at the link provided initially, but stripped out of their context and relevance in the text of the paper.

Hedonistic economics   posted by the @ 8/17/2005 12:02:00 AM

A meta-analysis finds that relative rather than absolute economic status correlates with happiness, but health and marriage are more important. From ScienceNow:

Many surveys show that richer folks tend to be happier, but the reasons for this correlation remain unclear. According to one theory, heftier incomes buy bigger homes and fancier cars, which can bring greater satisfaction. Another idea is that happiness also depends on how one's earnings rival those of same-age peers. The trouble with most surveys, however, is that they do not address confounding factors, such as a skyrocketing divorce rate, which could mask the effects of income on happiness, says Glenn Firebaugh, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

So he and Laura Tach, a sociology graduate student at Harvard University, devised a method to more clearly distinguish the real effect of money. Mining survey data from 1972 to 2002, the researchers sorted more than 20,000 working-age Americans by income and age. And by further breaking down the data, they could control for factors that influence happiness, including health, marital status, education, race, work status, and gender. Based on the number-crunching, money makes people most happy when they have more of it than their peers do, Firebaugh and Tach reported 14 August at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia. But bigger incomes didn't cause happiness to soar as much as good health or marriage did, the analysis found.

That's an empirical finding with implications for ethics and politics. Insofar as poverty impinges on health and marriage, that would seem to confound their results. Also, basal happiness is known to be heritable.1 IQ affects health and longevity. Any indication that it affects happiness?

Related: Bloody matam & display

1. Lykken, D. & Tellegen, A. Psychol. Sci. 7, 186−189 (1996).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ethics is hard and so is science   posted by the @ 8/16/2005 05:05:00 PM

Consider this clip from the latest intelligent design related article from The New Republic.

There's an odd reversal-of-roles at work here. In the past, it was often the right that tried to draw societal implications from Darwinism, and the left that stood against them. And for understandable reasons: When people draw political conclusions from Darwin's theory, they're nearly always inegalitarian conclusions. Hence social Darwinism, hence scientific racism, hence eugenics.

Which is why however useful intelligent design may be as a rhetorical ploy, liberals eager to claim the mantle of science in the bioethics battle should beware. The left often thinks of modern science as a child of liberalism, but if anything, the reverse is true. And what scientific thought helped to forge--the belief that all human beings are equal--scientific thought can undermine as well. Conservatives may be wrong about evolution, but they aren't necessarily wrong about the dangers of using Darwin, or the National Academy of Sciences, as a guide to political and moral order.

The author seems to be missing something. He may not understand the naturalistic fallacy. He may not understand Darwinism.

liberals eager to claim the mantle of science in the bioethics battle should beware

Everyone should be eager to "claim the mantle of science" in every debate. It is an excellent way to be sure against making avoidable mistakes. I cannot imagine an intellectually respectable alternative.

The left often thinks of modern science as a child of liberalism, but if anything, the reverse is true.

I guess that depends on your definition of "liberalism". Certainly modern science has a lot to say about human nature that some liberals would prefer not to hear. But if science really is a problem for "liberalism", then all the worse for "liberalism". The naturalistic fallacy (deriving ought merely from is) has an equally false corollary: deriving is merely from ought. If your world view is contradicted by the best available evidence, get a new world view.

And what scientific thought helped to forge--the belief that all human beings are equal--scientific thought can undermine as well.

That's just a pun on the word "equal". You don't have to look very far to see that not all humans are identical. Yet it is a moral truth that all people ought to be given equal moral respect. I cannot imagine a scientific finding that would persuade me otherwise.

Committing the naturalistic fallacy is a danger at the interface of science and ethics. The danger comes when either is given inappropriate value in decision making. This is not the only danger. Science is hard. Ethics is hard. So it should be no surprise that properly interpreting the ethical/political implications of science is also hard.

Flynn Effect in Denmark & Norway - R.I.P.?   posted by Theresa @ 8/16/2005 05:00:00 PM

I read with interest (and, admittedly, a hell of a lot of ignorance) both the Teasdale & Owen and Sundet, Barlaug & Torjussen articles which purport to show an end to the Flynn Effect in Denmark and Norway respectively (see A. Beaujean's previous post for more on the topic).

Now, I am far from an expert on the ins and outs of IQ and the Flynn Effect -- and I will leave it up to others to discuss the likelihood of the Flynn Effect coming to an end in industrial countries. However, what I do want to do is to call in to question the methodology behind both of these investigations. Specifically, the validity of the researchers' data sets.

In both cases, the researchers examined data from intelligence tests given to military conscripts over several decades (Denmark and Norway have mandatory military service). In the Danish study, the data ranges from 1959 through 2004; in the Norwegian, from 1957 through 2002. Again in both cases, test scores increased from the 1950s onwards (at varying rates) through the 1980s until they reached a peak in the 1990s at which point they appear to decline. Thus, the researchers conclude an end to (or at least a slowing of) the Flynn Effect.

Each of the articles goes on to discuss various possible alternate causes for the differences between the cohorts from the various years -- they examine differences in nutrition, education, etc., etc. But in neither case do they question the obvious -- i.e. that their data sets may have changed.

Anyone who knows anything about Europe should know that the populations of both Denmark and Norway were very different in the 1950s as compared to today. Due to fairly steady immigration since at least the 1970s, neither of these nations have homogeneous populations any longer. (1) (2) Furthermore, not only are the populations of today very different from those of several decades ago, perhaps it is not coincidental that the dip in the intelligence scores in both countries happened in the 1990s -- presumably just as the children of the immigrant groups of the '70s and '80s came of age and entered military service. (3)

Of course, the next question would be, could immigration have affected these test scores? -- and by how much? I don't know for sure -- but, if I were to try to work out some answers, I would certainly consider the following:

  1. What populations are we talking about here? The largest immigrant population group in Norway is Pakistani; in Denmark, it appears to be Turkish, although there are also large groups from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq and Africa. (4) (5)
  2. What are the median IQ scores for these groups? Lynn & Vanhanen in "IQ and The Wealth of Nations" estimated the median IQs for Pakistan to be 81, Turkey 90, and Sri Lanka 81. (6) What happens when we factor in such median scores with the median score of 98 for both Norwegians and Danish?
  3. How many young men from immigrant backgrounds are entering the military service at any given time? Perhaps the armed forces of each country (the agencies who gave the tests in the first place) have some numbers. A very rough estimate of mine for Denmark in 2004 suggests that approx. 10% of Danish conscripts may have come from a non-Western immigrant background. (7) What sort of implication does that sort of number have for the overall test scores?

All but one of the five researchers involved in these two studies are (or at least were) based in Norway and Denmark. I find it hard to believe that they are ignorant of the changes in the populations of the countries in which they work/live. I find it even more unfathomable that they didn't take such facts into consideration when they undertook their research.


(1) "At the beginning of 1970, the immigrant population in Norway totalled 59,200 persons, which was about 1.5 per cent of the total population. By the beginning of 2004, this figure had increased to 348,900, 7.6 per cent of the Norwegian population.... In 1970, people with non-western origins accounted for 16 per cent of the immigrant population, while in 2004 the figure was 72 per cent."

Immigration and Immigrants 2004

(2) "In 1980, there were about 135,000 immigrants in Denmark out of a population of about 5 million. This figure has increased rapidly since the mid 1980s and in 1998 there were 277,000 immigrants in Denmark, corresponding to 5.2 percent of the Danish population. These figures include 1st and 2nd generation of immigrants, where the latter group has been steadily increasing from 18,000 in 1980 to 70,000 in 1998."

Employment and Wage Assimilation of Male First Generation Immigrants in Denmark

(3) "Almost half of the persons in the immigrant population [in Norway] were aged 20-44 years, whereas the corresponding figure for the total population was 35%.

Immigration and Immigrants 2004

(4) At the beginning of 2004, the immigrant population in Norway totalled 349,000 persons, almost 8% of the total population; first generation immigrants totalled 289,000 persons, or 6% of the total population. Almost 3 out of 4 persons in the immigrant population had non-Western backgrounds. Two out of 3 first generation immigrants also come from a non-Western country. The non-western immigration population makes up almost 6% of the Norwegian population. The largest groups in the immigrant population were persons with backgrounds from Pakistan, Sweden, Denmark and Vietnam; the largest groups of first generation immigrants - Swedes, Danes, Pakistanis and Iraqis.

Immigration and Immigrants 2004

(5) Employment and Wage Assimilation of Male First Generation Immigrants in Denmark


(7) There were an estimated 2600 18 year-old men from a non-Western background in Denmark totally in 2004. In the Teasdale & Owen article, they give 23,505 as the number of conscripts tested by the military in 2004. They suggest that up to 10% of 18 year-old men are exempted from military service annually; so, using this estimation, only 2340 of the 2600 non-Western men would actually be in the service in 2004 -- or approximately 10% of the total.

Statistics Denmark

Thailand Gets Serious About IQ   posted by Jason Malloy @ 8/16/2005 01:44:00 PM

After yesterday’s interview with Lee Kuan Hew comes another example of Asia’s determination to enter the developed world. Bangkok’s The Nation reports on Thailand’s effort to get to the bottom of its low IQ (Govt to Map Country’s Intelligence):

“A project using demographic maps to identify areas of iodine-deficiency and low intelligence are being drawn on the belief there is a connection between the two. In all, the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health will draw three maps in an effort to combat low intelligence, after it a study found the average IQ level among many youths was lower than 80.

Two of the maps will focus on iodine deficiency: one depicting the average level of iodine in pregnant women and another showing the percentage of people who have access to iodised salt in each area.

A third map will focus on the average IQ level among children in every province.”

This of course is in line with the Copenhagen Consensus which suggested that more action into raising cognitive abilities by combating malnutrition (an idea associated with Richard Lynn) was one of the best ways to improve the lot of developing countries. The Nation reported on the data that pushed this initiative a few years ago (IQ Survey 'Cause for Alarm'):

” . . . a National Health Examination Survey team released a report just before Children's Day last month that the average IQ of Thai school children, based on tests in 1997 on 3,846 schoolchildren between six and 12 years old was a poor 91.96 . . . "When other countries monitor the IQ scores of their children, they want them to reach their full potential. But intelligence has never been a national policy objective for human development in our country."

Although Thailand's IQ average falls well within the 80-95 range for Southeast Asia, it still falls short of the average 100, achieved by developed nations and East Asian countries such as Japan and Korea

. . . some findings of the IQ survey are too shocking to ignore. Of the children tested, 8.5 per cent could be classified as mentally retarded (IQ of below 70), compared with the 2-3 per-cent global average . . . in the case of the North . . . the figure was as high as 16.4 per cent.

Disease, heavy-metal poisoning and malnutrition, such as iron or iodine deficiencies, can have serious affects on child development . . .”

It's good to see a modernizing country take intelligence seriously, and hopefully their efforts will pay off and set a model for other developing nations. The data also lend further support to the reliability of international IQ scores. For instance, the recent study discussed above was not included in IQ & the Wealth of Nations, because it was released in the same year as the book (2002), but Lynn and Vanhanen did find and include an earlier report from Thailand. The data from a 1989 sample of 8 to 10 year olds on the Colored Progressive Matrices indicated an IQ of 91, which is the same as the 1997 score even with a decade between the two measurements. This is tyical as the reliability correlation reported in IQ&tWoN for nations where data from more than one IQ study was available was .94.

"Bigger" In Relation to What?   posted by Jason Malloy @ 8/16/2005 10:29:00 AM

From today's GNXP forum link dump comes this BBC story (Large Condoms for S African Men):

"A range of extra-large condoms has been launched in South Africa, to cater for "well-endowed" men.

"A large number of South African men are bigger and complain about condoms being uncomfortable and too small," said Durex manager Stuart Roberts."

Did the 80s teach us nothing? Trying to prevent AIDS and save lives is no excuse for spreading stereotypes.

Update: Uganda's The Daily Monitor responds optimistically to the news, remarking that they now can import the larger condoms from South Africa. The article also provides an interesting quote from the project manager of Uganda’s Aids Control Program indicating that the African country has already benefited from an upgrade:

"“There were complaints at the time when the condoms were being imported from Korea because they were deemed to be relatively smaller than what most Ugandan men required. But we abandoned the Korean condoms and started using brands especially made to our tropical specifications,” she said.

Related: Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Gonads?, German penises 'too small for EU condoms'

How often do you read the site....   posted by Razib @ 8/16/2005 02:19:00 AM

How often do you read the site?
More than once a day
Once a day
A few times a week
Once a week
A few times a month
Free polls from

If you want to know why I ask, I'm curious as to how many days old the posts on the front page should get. I shift it between 3-5 days, with 4 being the mode.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Chromsome abnormality discovered   posted by TangoMan @ 8/15/2005 04:56:00 PM

A report from China has recently confirmed a Chinese male has the world's first reported chromosomal abnormality karyotype on the third and thirteenth chromosomes.

I wonder if the Chinese scientists searched high and low for the work of the Intelligent Designer for these types of occurances can't occur through "evolution." {end sarcasm}

Experts say that the discovery of this new chromosomal abnormality karyotype not only enriches the world's chromosome data bank, but is also very helpful to the study of hereditary improvement of the human race, and useful in the clinical studies of genetics.

Yang's wife was pregnant twice, but unfortunately twice suffered a miscarriage within the first two months of pregnancy.

Medical tests showed that Yang's third and thirteenth chromosomes are different from those of normal people.

"The two chromosomes set off a balanced translocation, which means that the two chromosomes became fractured, and they have changed to become two totally new chromosomes after their natural reconstruction," said Du Wei, doctor from Changchun Maternity Hospital's Cytogenetics Lab.

Since there was no record on balanced translocation of human's third and thirteenth chromosomes at home or abroad, the hospital sent Yang's cell sample to the National Medical Genetics Key Laboratory for verification.

Since the quantity of the chromosome has not changed, Yang is no different in appearance, personality or intelligence from a normal human.

However, the couple only have a one in eighteen chance of having a healthy child through regular pregnancy, and the child in turn has a one in eighteen chance of inheriting the chromosomal abnormality.

More NALS mysteries   posted by michael vassar @ 8/15/2005 04:44:00 PM

Having had some more time to digest the NALS study of adult literacy, I few more features of the results seem highly surprising or inconsistant with other information. For one thing, the NALS data suggests an absolute level of unemployment much greater than that which I have seen reason to suspect elsewhere. For another, the median weekly wagest seem far too low. If 70% of the NALS level 5 readers have professional or managerial employment, how can the median wage for NALS level 5 readers have been $650/week as recently as 1993? For that matter, among the NALS level 2 readers only 43% are employed yet 12% are managerial. Who could they possibly be managing? Another oddity is that there does not seem to be a national crisis of illiteracy driven immobility. Given the large number of people scoring at NALS levels 1 and 2, and the general complexity of the written/computer tests required to attain a drivers license, it would seem that a very large fraction of the population would be barred from driving due to functional illiteracy. This does not seem to be the case. More generally, the NALS data seems to suggest that one's neighboors lack abilities that one would deem essential to day-to-day life, such as the ability to deal with all of the bills, bureaucracy, and paperwork they are faced with. How can they possibly interact with the credit and insurance systems well enough to pay their rent? Does anyone here have any idea?

Ascent of the tuber eaters   posted by Razib @ 8/15/2005 03:29:00 PM

Carl Zimmer has a good post up which comments on a new paper (full text) by Greg Laden and Richard Wrangham which elaborates the thesis that hominids survived on the savanna in large part by consumption of tubers. The funniest aspect, which Carl highlights, is the correlation between mole rat and homonid remains (mole rats consume tubers).1 Anyway, great paper, historical science at its best, marshalling multiple points of evidence which converge on one hypothesis. I am waiting for John Hawks' response because I would like him to comment on the feasibility of using carbon isotopes to infer the diet of hominids (he has expressed skepticism before).

1 - Please note that this complements, rather than supersedes, the man-the-meat-eater hypothesis. The authors posit that where chimpanzees rely on lower quality greens a pith, the "fall back" food of humans, tubers, was of higher quality. This is an important point because the large brain is a major sink of the calories we consume as human beings, and rich dense foods like tubers are a better source of energy.

Harry Lee speaks   posted by Razib @ 8/15/2005 02:40:00 PM

Steve Hsu transcribes a Der Spiegel interview with Lee Kuan Hew. Note that Lee has a cosmopolitan background, though he is a hard-headed realist.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

"Different" ways of "knowing"   posted by Razib @ 8/14/2005 09:51:00 PM

One of most of the frustrating things about the modern intellectual discourse is that those of us who hew to the Enlightenment tradition, that empirical investigation can shape a rational model of the world as it is, are having to battle two sides. On the one hand, you have traditionalist religious fundamentalists, particularly in the United States, who can mobilize massive ground troops. On the other hand, you have the hyper-Post Modernist project which attempts to deprivilege Western science from its monopoly on descriptions of the physical and biological world around us by periodically blind siding us with massive air raids. This story about Maori objections to the Genographic Project illustrates how the two can work in tandem, in particular when the focus is on non-white peoples who have a history of being at a disadvantage.

For example, see this quote, "For Tongans, we were created in Tonga. We have gods, our own gods, which we created the same as the people of Israel. We have our own stories...." Or, " "We didn't come from anywhere. We know that our Dreamtime stories tell us we were always here, in Australia. Can this be twisted to say we came from Africa...." The analogy with Christian fundamentalists is not too strained here as far as the religion goes, though while the fundamentalists want to preserve a certain model of the world that they think validates their literal faith in the Bible and underpins their morality, the indigenous spokespersons have a different ax to grind: "Maori representatives at a Health Research Council conference in Wellington called for the project's "immediate halt", saying genetic information belonged to hapu, whanau and iwi collectively, not to individuals." Ultimately, this is politics that is at work, as small ethnic groups attempt to maintain their own traditions in the face of the acidifying effects of modern society (the same acid that Christian fundamentalists fear).

The fact is, contra this talk of "gods," almost all the inhabitants of Tonga are Christian. According to The Joshua Project the vast majority of Maori are Christian. So are the majority of Australian Aboriginals. An emphasis on "traditional beliefs" is belied by the reality on the ground (if you read the article one researcher in New Zealand notes that he's had little trouble in convincing individual Maori to give blood). I am not a hard-core believer in either the Dawkinsian or Gouldian position on the Religion-Science relationship, that is, conflict vs. nonoverlapping magisteria. But, when mythology conflicts with science, I think that the universal acid will always win. It doesn't matter if the mythology is Christian or non-Christian, in the face of modern science they are simply presenting unneeded and superseded hypotheses.

Update: John Hawks has more commentary on this topic. Let me stipulate that I am as skeptical as John is about the grandiloquent claims made on behalf of the Genographic Project. Copious Y and mtDNA studies have been going on for the past 10 years, so it isn't like Wells and company are going into uncharted waters. I think John is correct that the main yield of the study will be finding a few oddball relationships between populations. Nevertheless, notwithstanding grand claims, science proceeds quite often by small increments. And we all know to get funding and exposure scientists make claims about their research and its relevance to our understanding of humanity (or practicality) which upon further review are often tendentious.

All that said, as a matter of principle I think we simply shouldn't give much ground at all to "other ways of knowing." In terms of outcomes, there will always be other ways of knowing, whether it be religion, astrology or urban legends. Those of us who believe that science is particularly fruitful though should stick by our guns, because the history of the world suggests that science is not inevitable and endemic to our species. Religion and astrology and other assorted "ways of knowing" are, they need no grand defense because humans are already biased toward privileging them. Particular specific beliefs do not persist, but myth-making does. Similarly, specific scientific hypotheses might fall by the wayside, but the method and social enterprise of science continues. I do not put great weight in specific hypotheses (whatever inferences the scientists of the Genographic Project might make from their data), but I do defend (strenuously) the endeavor.

The other aspect of these stories, which sets them apart from the standard science vs. religion narrative, is the "indigenous people" angle. It seems clear that some leaders, or spokespersons, for these groups are asserting a communal claim on their genetic history. This flies in the face of western individualism, and I do not think that this should stand. Legitimacy is conferred, it is not inherent. As a matter of practicality communal claims are executed and implemented by specific individuals, so what one is really doing if one cordon's off scientific avenues of inquiry due to political sensitivities is transferring control from a distributed network of individuals to a few specific individuals (who claim to speak for everyone of a particular group).

Interracial Marriage   posted by DavidB @ 8/14/2005 12:50:00 PM

I see that one of my posts from earlier this year is being quoted on White Nationalist sites as ‘sophistry’ aimed at encouraging interracial marriage, or ‘miscegenation’, as they charmingly call it.

I suppose it is an honour to be criticised in such quarters, but I don’t think I deserve it. My post (here) expressed no opinion either for or against interracial marriage. I merely pointed out a fallacy in an argument sometimes used against it. I don’t think anyone has answered my criticism, other than by the usual tactic of changing the subject.

But for what it is worth, I don’t see any strong biological reasons either for or against interracial marriage in general.

To expand on that, we can consider the biological implications at both individual and population level…

Individual level

At individual level the key consideration is the effect on the offspring. There are theoretical arguments on both sides.

Against interracial marriage (or other interracial mating), it may be said that:

a. the main races [see note 1] have evolved over thousands of years to be adapted to a specific geographical environment, whereas their offspring will not be well-adapted to any environment, and

b. the genes at different loci in each major race have evolved to be adapted to each other, forming ‘co-adapted gene-complexes’. Interracial mating would break up these gene-complexes.

For interracial mating it may be said:

a. Mating between different races of animals or plants within the same species often results in ‘hybrid vigour’: the offspring are superior to either of the parents (or at least to their mean). The main reason for this is probably that it reduces the harmful effects of inbreeding. As human racial and ethnic groups are to some extent inbred, then some degree of hybrid vigour might be expected when different groups interbreed.

b. As a more specific benefit, the offspring of interracial mating are likely to avoid genetic diseases arising from homozygous harmful recessive genes found mainly in particular groups, such as cystic fibrosis in Europeans and sickle-cell anaemia in West Africans.

The last of these points is the only one that can be asserted with any confidence. The others are more speculative, and it is a matter for research whether they are significant or not. The subject has not been studied very fully. On searching I found only three areas where mixed-race offspring are said to have some health problems:

a. it is more difficult for mixed-race individuals to find genetic matches if they need tissue or organ donors.

b. in a study of American students, individuals who identified themselves as mixed-race were reported to have higher than average levels of stress and stress-related health problems. Of course, there is no evidence that this is a genetic effect.

c. according to one study (link here), mixed-race offspring may have a moderately higher risk of certain birth defects, but a moderately lower risk of others.

On the positive side, it is sometimes suggested (e.g. by Armand Marie Leroi) that mixed-race offspring are physically fitter or better-looking than the average of their parents. From personal observation I find this plausible, but I don’t know of any statistically valid evidence: it is easy to point to individual cases like Halle Berry or Thandie Newton, but this doesn’t prove much. (Razib recently commented on a study which provides some of the kind of evidence needed.)

It is possible that with more research further drawbacks or advantages to interracial mating will emerge. Just as each ‘pure’ group has its own distinctive profile of genetic risks, we might expect each ‘mixed’ group to have its own special features. But on common-sense grounds these are unlikely to be very important. The reason is simply that the existing races are already genetically variable. If there were any ‘co-adapted gene complexes’, they would be broken up by mating within races almost as frequently as in mating between races. As for being ‘adapted to the environment’, the differences between human races are comparatively recent and superficial in evolutionary terms. This is true whether we adopt a pure Out-of-Africa model or some mixture of Out-of-Africa and multiregionalism. In the latter case it would still be true that races as they exist now are comparatively recent. It is also likely that some of the differences between races are not adaptive at all, but the result of genetic drift at a time when populations were much smaller and more isolated from each other than today. And some of the differences that were adaptive in Paleolithic and Ice Age conditions will no longer be adaptive now.

Population level

Turning to the pros and cons at population level, the first key point is that interracial mating in itself makes no difference to gene frequencies in the total population. Any trait that depends on the additive effect of genes will therefore not be affected so far as its mean value in the combined population is concerned. Interracial mating does however affect the amount of diversity within and between populations, as measured by average heterozygosity (though, as I pointed out here, this is not always a very useful measure). If we consider the fanciful case of global panmixia, where the entire human population mates entirely at random, then races within the human population would cease to exist. The resulting level of diversity in the global population would be lower than at present, because between-group variance would be eliminated, but the remaining diversity would be greater than in any of the present races. For quantitative characters such as height or IQ (assuming additive inheritance), the genotypic mean would be that of the present world population, while the standard deviation would be somewhat greater than in existing populations. Effects due to dominance and epistasis are of course more difficult to predict.

What would undeniably be lost would be the clustering of genes and phenotypic traits which at present makes it possible to identify individuals as belonging to a particular race, despite the overlap in traits between races. I cannot see any biological reasons for objecting to this, other than the dubious ‘co-adapted gene complex’ idea discussed above. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I would regret the disappearance of such fine types as the Nuer or the Icelander. From a scientific point of view, I would be sorry to lose such curiosities as the Andaman Islanders. More generally, I think it would be undesirable to make any large and sudden change in the genetic makeup of the human species, on the prudential ground that we can’t predict all the consequences [see note 2]. ‘Global panmixia’ would be difficult to reverse [note 3]. But it would also be unreasonable to resist all change.

In any event, global panmixia is hardly an imminent prospect. In much of the world (e.g. Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe), there is little interracial or even inter-ethnic mating. Significant rates of interracial mating occur only in rather special circumstances, where different racial groups are present in large numbers and have few barriers of language, religion or custom between them. Like it or not, in most localities the distinctions between racial groups will not disappear in the foreseeable future.

In the longer term, it is not clear whether interbreeding will eventually lead to the disappearance of geographical races. In so far as the existing racial distinctions are due to genetic drift in small Paleolithic populations, or to obsolete selective factors, then they cannot be expected to persist in the face of even modest levels of interbreeding. If on the other hand differences are due to significant differences in selective pressures (including sexual selection) in geographical regions, then they may persist indefinitely in the form of clines. The existing pattern of geographical variation is already clinal, except where there has been recent inter-continental migration. The amount of gene flow between major races at global level (e.g. between East Asians and Africans) due to interbreeding must be less than 1 per cent per generation, so even quite modest levels of counter-selection would suffice to maintain some genetic differentiation. In any event, even if gene flow is not resisted by selection, at present levels of interbreeding it would take several millennia for all distinctions to be erased. During this time scale other events affecting the human gene pool are likely to supervene, so speculating about the distant future of racial differences seems pointless.

Finally, I should stress that I have only been discussing biological, and not social or political, implications.

Note 1: I use the term ‘race’ for convenience, though it has no generally accepted meaning. It should not be taken as implying that human ‘races’ are or ever have been sharply defined and distinct entities. To illustrate the difficulty, consider the case of South Asia, which contains over one fifth of the world’s population - about the same as that of Africa, Australasia, and the Americas combined. Do the inhabitants of South Asia belong to a single ‘race’, or several? Do South Indians belong to the same ‘race’ as North Indians and Pakistanis? Do South Asians (or any of them) belong to the same ‘race’ as major populations elsewhere? Genetically they may be closer to Europeans and other ‘Caucasoids’ than to East Asians (but see this paper by Jorde and Wooding for some more complex evidence), but should they be grouped in one ‘Caucasoid’ race with Europeans (and North Africans) or are they sufficiently different to be regarded as a ‘race’ in their own right?

Note 2: It is conceivable, for example, that the distinctive achievements of European culture have depended on the prevalence of certain combinations of intelligence and personality which in turn depended on gene-combinations that are more common among Europeans than elsewhere, and which would become rarer if the European gene-pool were to merge with, say, the Chinese gene-pool. I don’t know of any serious evidence for this, but I don’t think it can be dismissed as absurd.

Note 3: I was going to say impossible to reverse, but that cannot be strictly true. Heredity is particulate, not blended. Reversing the effects of panmixia would be like unshuffling a pack of cards, not like unscrambling an egg. Assuming that the differences between races that are of practical interest (such as appearance, personality, and cognitive ability) involve differences of allele frequency at no more than a few hundred loci, I guesstimate that it would take between 10 and 20 generations of careful breeding to recreate populations with allele frequencies similar to the original major races with respect to these loci. The more loci, the longer it would take.

More Fodder for the SPLC and James Dobson   posted by Jason Malloy @ 8/14/2005 10:06:00 AM

Hot on the heels of the New York Times’ Straight, Gay or Lying? article comes this excellent Boston Globe summary of the current state of the science of homosexuality (What Makes People Gay?); guaranteed to throw book-burning religious fundamentalists of the right and the left into childish spasms of rage.

As I mentioned several days ago, the latest research is converging on prenatal hormone exposure as the most promising candidate for explaining some major group differences - in this case homosexuality. Though the source of those prenatal differences in exposure (e.g. genes) is still mostly a mystery (snubbing Greg Cochran, the article attributes the ‘gay germ’ hypothesis to Paul Ewald and “a colleague”).

As with the New York Times article, the Globe discusses the difference between male and female orientation (or categorical arousal) as it relates to genital arousal. Men are only physically aroused by either male or female stimuli, and men do not exhibit a bisexual arousal pattern (i.e. men who are aroused by male stimuli are only aroused by male stimuli). Men who report being gay or ‘bisexual’ are also aroused only by male stimuli. Women, on the other hand, exhibit physical arousal to both male and female stimuli, which does not track their subjective/psychological arousal or their stated orientation (lesbians and straight women are physically aroused by both male and female stimuli). A new study in-press for the journal Biological Psychology reinforces the lack of relationship between category and physical response in women, by showing that not only do females typically exhibit a genital response to male and female stimuli, but to imagery of animals copulating! Men exhibit no response to this category of stimuli. This does not mean that women are zoophiles, but that their physical arousal isn’t telling the same story as it is with men, and is probably mostly an automatic response induced by nothing more than generalized “sexual imagery”.

A bitterly positive sweep   posted by Razib @ 8/14/2005 02:06:00 AM

Long time readers will know that I've followed the genetics of taste for a while now (see here, here, here and here). So I am really interested in a new paper that just came out in Current Biology, titled Positive Selection on a High-Sensitivity Allele of the Human Bitter-Taste Receptor TAS2R16:

We detected signatures of positive selection, indicated by an excess of evolutionarily derived alleles at the nonsynonymous site K172N and two linked sites and significant values of Fay and Wu’s H statistics in 19 populations. The estimated age range for the common ancestor of the derived N172 variant is 78,700–791,000 years, placing it in the Middle Pleistocene and before the expansion of early humans out of Africa. Using calcium imaging in cells expressing different receptor variants, we showed that N172 is associated with an increased sensitivity to salicin, arbutin, and five different cyanogenic glycosides....

A nonsynonymous mutation means that the amino acid encoded by the codon has been altered, so there is often (though not always) a functional implication downstream. Positive selection, suggested by an excess of nonsynonymous vs. synonymous (functionally neutral) mutations, would imply that the fitness of the mutant is greater than the ancestral variant. The term "cyanogenic" should give you a clue to the possible reasons why sensitivity of perception to various chemicals can shift the selection coefficienct: strong unpleasant taste associations may serve as a hinderance to poisoning. This seems to have been very beneficial indeed, here is a map of the frequencies of the ancestral alleles (re-edited for ease of viewing):

The lighter regions indicate higher frequencies (click on the map for better resolution). It seems that the ancestral low sensitivity variants are predominantly found in Africa.

Here are aggregate frequencies of the two ancestral alleles by region: Africa 13.8%, Middle East 2.4%, Central/South East Asia 0.2%, Europe 0%, Americans 0%, East Asia 0% and Oceania 0%. The sample numbers were between 100 and 500 individuals (closer to 150-300 in most cases), so the total lack of ancestral haplotypes in much of the world seems to be a testament to the power of selection (there were a small number of "Other" rare haplotypes, though usually on the order of 1-8%). The authors do note that there seems to be a correlation within Africa itself of malarial regions and a high frequency of the ancestral less bitter sensitive allele. They note that "Chronic low-level ingestion of cyanogenic foods has been linked with an increased protection against malaria."

Taste perception is a complex trait. We all know the importance of smell in augmenting and adding greater dimensionality to it. Nevertheless, it is an important part of our day to day life, and, it affects how we interact with others. A great deal of it is due to upbringing and fortitude in the pursuit of acquired discernment, but, it isn't a level playing field, some people have further to go to tolerate certain flavors (the supertasters) while others must coax every ounce of sensory input to perceive any flavor (the nontasters). It is interesting that though less than 15% of the African population exhibit the ancestral genotype, it is likely that 25-35% of African Americans do, at least based on their source populations in this study (ie; Yoruba, South African Bantu, etc.).

Spelke on Math   posted by Razib @ 8/14/2005 01:35:00 AM

Here is a paper by Elizabeth Spelke (in press) where she argues against intrinsic differences in mathematical aptitude. I assume readers will actually read the paper before commenting. Frankly, I'm not familiar with much of the literature she draws upon to judge its veracity, so until I can dig deeper, I won't offer any comment.

Update: I am cutting and pasting Alex's comment here:

My comments:

1. She gives the impression that strategies are independent of cognitive ability (and implies that they are environmentally mediated). While it is true that people can be taught problem-solving strategies, there is no reason to believe that, taught a strategy for a given problem in a situation, one automatically generalizes it to novel problems and situations. It is akin to being taught how to answer the problem on an IQ test. Yes, people can be taught how to answer these types of questions and can score higher than what their ``true" score is, bt this does not mean that said training generalizes to the world around them.

2. The areas she lists that girls outperform males (e.g., verbal fluency, calculation) are much more memory loaded, whereas the areas she lists that boys outperform females (e.g., analogies, mathematic word problems) are much more akin to Spearman's eduction of relations and correlates. This is not a mere strategy preference, but a leaning on very different cognitive mechanisms.

3. Minor note: Gallagher's paper deals with the GRE, not the SAT-M. Moreover, my reading of the technical report (it available electronically here) is that males outperformed females on most, if not all, the item sets. I only skimmed it, though.

4. Her statement that "the SAT-M could be made to favor either males or females by suitable choice of items" is technically true, but in doing so, you would have to refine your definition of mathematics to such a degree that it no longer resembles mathematics. Robert Williams did this with the BITCH; he redefined intelligence to mean the understanding of East St. Louis Black ghetto slang, then tried to show a) how other racial groups were inferior on the BITCH and b) how biased other tests were (that were developed on the 100+ years of research into human cognitive abilities) since they didn�t correspond with his definition and instrumentation.

5. Her notion that interests and social forces w.r.t. math aptitude are inert in "real high school and college classrooms" and that only during some magic time of post-secondary instruction do they avail themselves is ass.

6. GPAs are fraught with problems when comparing within a school unless there is a very close core curriculum between the ``comparees.� Between schools, it becomes even worse. Moreover, Spearman addressed the whole issue of the foibles of using teacher perceptions of ability (grades) vs. using a standardized measurement instrument 70 years ago (see Abilities of Man). If the crux of the argument here is girls get better grades, then me thinks she needs to get a better argument.

7. "From adolescence onward, males are females show somewhat different cognitive profiles, but they are equally able to learn mathematics." What? Says who? Where? Talk about a non-sequitor (see her previous sentence)

8. My favorite absurdity in the whole paper:

American high school boys show greater variability on the quantitative SAT, but American college men and women are equally proficient at learning advanced mathematics....

Res ipsa loquitur

Further comment from Razib: #8 is the one that really seemed sketchy to me. It seemed that some of the assertions were just assertions, though there were literature reference, and I would have liked to know what she meant or how she came to some of the conclusions. How do you objectively assay proficiency at "learning advanced mathematics?" There is a wide range of variance of competency among those who graduate with mathematics degrees, even among good students, from what I have known.

Incan Khipus   posted by TangoMan @ 8/14/2005 01:18:00 AM

Chris Correa has an interesting post on Incans Khipus.

Incans probably used knotted strings to communicate numerical values. The precise meaning of these strings, known as khipus or quipus, have been a mystery for quite some time and some people speculate that they don’t represent numbers at all. However, the strings are of particular interest to many anthropologists because they are the only known form of written communication developed by the Inca.

Harvard anthropologist Gary Urton has been trying to untangle the meanings behind the knots for quite some time. With the help of a centralized database and a mathematician, he believes he has finally deciphered the code.

Chris has the rest of the story.

Update from Razib: Text of Science report below the fold....

Khipu Accounting in Ancient Peru
Gary Urton and Carrie J. Brezine

Khipu are knotted-string devices that were used for bureaucratic recording and communication in the Inka Empire. We recently undertook a computer analysis of 21 khipu from the Inka administrative center of Puruchuco, on the central coast of Peru. Results indicate that this khipu archive exemplifies the way in which census and tribute data were synthesized, manipulated, and transferred between different accounting levels in the Inka administrative system.

Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.

Tribute in the Inka state was levied in the form of a labor tax. Each "taxpayer" (state laborer) was required to work a specified number of days each year on state projects. Using data recorded in khipu (knotted-string devices used for bureaucratic recording and communication), Inka accountants assessed tribute levels and assigned tasks to different numbers of local workers. At the lowest, local level of the administrative hierarchy, tributaries were grouped into five accounting units of 10 members each. One member of each of these groups of 10 would have served as Chunka Kamayoq ("organizer of 10"). Five such groupings would make a unit of 50 tribute payers, under the authority of a Pichqa-Chunka Kuraka ("lord of 50"). Two groups of 50 would be combined into a unit of 100 tributaries led by a Pachaka Kuraka ("lord of 100") and so on up the hierarchy.

Near the top of the decimal administrative hierarchy were the heads of the approximately 80 provinces, the officials of which were called T'oqrikoq. Each provincial official was under the direction of the appropriate Lord of the Four Quarters; these four lords served directly under the Inka king in Cusco. The governor of each province was required to keep a copy of khipu accounts so that "no deception could be practiced by either the Indian tribute payers or the official collectors" (1).

A primary question is how did information move between adjacent levels of this hierarchical administration? The instructions of higher-level officials for lower-level ones would have moved, via khipu, from the top of the hierarchy down. This information would be partitive in nature; for instance, assignments made to 1000 tribute payers would be broken down into two groups of 500, each of which would be decomposed into five groups of 100, and so on. In the reverse direction, local accountants would pass data regarding accomplished tasks upward through the hierarchy. In that direction, information at each level would represent the summation of accounts from the level immediately below. These accumulating data would eventually arrive in the hands of the Cusco accountants, where the highest level of accounting went on. Here we present an analysis of a set of khipu from Puruchuco that are linked hierarchically in such a relationship of summation and partition.

The archaeological site of Puruchuco is located on the south bank of the Rimac River, about 11.5 km northeast of the center of Lima, within the present-day district of Ate. Puruchuco is a roughly rectangular compound with high surrounding walls made of tapia (pounded adobe) construction. Around and in some cases abutted to the palace of Puruchuco were several smaller constructions. The cache of khipu was found under the floor of one of the smaller attached buildings. From its location, Mackey surmised that this building was the house of a khipu-keeper (khipukamayuq) who served the lord of the palace (2). Field notes from the day on which the khipu were discovered state that they were found inside a semi-ovoid urn covered by a small gourd. There were 21 khipu and several loose pendant strings (3).

What we term the Puruchuco "accounting hierarchy" pertains to 7 of the 21 khipu samples found together in the urn. Though not included in this analysis, several other khipu may provide supporting documentation to these seven. The seven khipu are related in a hierarchical arrangement of three interconnected levels, designated levels I, II, and III, as shown in Fig. 1. Two of the seven khipu (UR63 and UR73) were on level I, the base; three khipu were on the second level [UR64, UR68, and 9 (4)]; and two (UR67 and UR66) were on level III.

Fig. 1. The accounting hierarchy from the archive of Puruchuco. [View Larger Version of this Image (42K GIF file)]
The two samples at the top of the hierarchy, UR66 and UR67, were rolled up together into a single bundle. These two khipu bear identical numerical values and string colors that seem to be a subtle transformation from one to the other.

There are two principal aspects of the Puruchuco accounting hierarchy. First, khipu on the same level match or closely match: They display identical or similar numerical sequences and color patterning. This, we argue, was the checks-and-balances aspect of the accounting hierarchy. Second, values on khipu sum upward and are subdivided downward: The numerical values of certain groupings of strings (to be defined below) on the two khipu on level I sum to values tied onto certain groupings of strings on the three khipu on level II, and the numerical values of certain groupings of strings on the three khipu on level II sum to the values on the two khipu on level III. Or, moving down the hierarchy, values on strings at higher levels are partitioned among groupings of strings on the next lowest level.

Through cord color and spacing, each of the seven khipu is organized into different numbers of subunits. Khipu on level I decompose into six subunits; those on level II contain three subunits (plus what we call "introductory segments"); and the two khipu on level III have only one unit (plus introductory segments). Inside these subunits, the strings are further subdivided by a combination of spacing between strings and/or by the repetition of color patterning in groups of strings. The general color pattern is a four-string seriation or sequence of colors (such as dark brown, medium brown, light brown, and white) repeated multiple times (5, 6). The numerical values of the cords vary in magnitude in accordance with the color, with the four strings of each color-seriated set generally increasing in size through the sequence.

An example of summation upward, between UR68 on level I and UR63 on level II, is given in Fig. 2. UR63 is organized by spacing and color seriation into six pendant string groupings, labeled a to f. The number of strings in each group is shown in brackets at the bottom of the columns. The six columns comprise (i) three sets of (5 x 4 =) 20 strings organized into five groups of four color-seriated strings; (ii) two sets of (3 x 4 + 2x 3 =) 18 color-seriated strings; and (iii) one set of (3 x 4 + 3=) 15 color-seriated strings. The meandering dotted lines at the tops and bottoms of the columns of UR63 in Fig. 2 show how this sample is to be reassembled into its proper linear arrangement. The numerical values of string groupings in UR63 sum to values recorded on the middle of the three subunits of UR68. The color-seriated strings of UR63 are aligned across the six segments, and these groupings are aligned with the similarly color-seriated grouping of (5 x 4=) 20 strings in the central subdivision (strings 34 to 53) of khipu UR68. Summing across the aligned strings of UR63 results in totals equal or close to those recorded on the depicted section of UR068. The values knotted into the cords of UR68 are reported on the right; any number between parentheses immediately to the left of these is the actual sum of values on the strings of UR63 at that position. The parenthetical numbers represent values that should have been recorded if the relationship between UR63 and UR68 was a matter of strict addition. The presence of several close, rather than exact, matches suggests that there was some degree of flexibility allowable in the accounting relationship between these two levels.

Fig. 2. Numerical and color correlations between khipu UR63 and the central section of UR68. [View Larger Version of this Image (26K GIF file)]
Continuing the summing upward, we next consider khipu UR68 (level II) and UR67 (level III). Their relationship is illustrated in Fig. 3. UR68 is disassembled into its three color-seriated subdivisions (labeled A to C), which are shown aligned with the similarly color-seriated string groupings of UR67. Figure 3 shows 20 strings in all subunits.

Fig. 3. Numerical and color correlations between khipu UR68 and UR67. [View Larger Version of this Image (19K GIF file)]
The summations between UR68 and UR67 are more exact than those between UR63 and UR68. Setting aside the broken string in UR67, the values diverge in only two instances, and in each case the discrepancies are small: 2904 instead of 2908 and 161 instead of 162. The variance present in the connection between levels I and II has been considerably reduced between levels II and III.

Pendants between dotted lines in Fig. 1 are implicated in the summation/partition relationship. The pendants on level III outside of the dotted lines, and those to the left of the dotted lines that protrude from the tops of the khipu on level II, form introductory segments. The dotted lines in Fig. 1 encompass all the pendants on level I khipu but only the middle subunit of level II khipu. That is, complete summation of level I khipu accounts for only a portion of the values recorded on khipu on level II. The other values on level II khipu are not accounted for by the currently known level I khipu UR63 and UR73. There may have been four additional level I khipu, with the information for these two additional subunits on level II. One pair would have summed to the leftmost subunits on level II, whereas the other would have produced sums recorded on the right subunits. Except for the introductory segments, all strings on level III are involved in the summation relationship.

It appears that the original structure of the Puruchuco accounting hierarchy contained six paired khipu on level I, whose values were summed to produce those on the three subunits of the three khipu on level II, whose subunits in turn were summed and recorded on the two khipu on level III. Information was either being funneled and synthesized upward or subdivided and distributed downward among the three levels of khipu.

We assume that the Puruchuco accounting hierarchy was a set of records for use both within and outside the administrative center. Khipu on level III could represent either a set of instructions issued to the lord of Puruchuco from the provincial governor or reports on local Puruchuco resources to be sent to the provincial governor. In either of these scenarios, one of the requirements would have been that the khipu bear an indication of their destination or origination. If numerous khipu were coming into a central archive for storage or were being dispersed from that archive to disparate places, it would have been helpful, if not essential, to have place identifiers encoded within each khipu. We suggest that the introductory segments on level II and III khipu represented just such identity labels.

The numerical values knotted onto strings within the introductory segments on level II and III khipu all contain arrangements of just three figure-eight knots tied onto three separate strings. Figure-eight knots on khipu normally signify the numerical value one. We hypothesize that the arrangement of three figure-eight knots at the start of these khipu represented the place identifier, or toponym, "Puruchuco." We suggest that any khipu moving within the state administrative system bearing an initial arrangement of three figure-eight knots would have been immediately recognizable to Inka administrators as an account pertaining to the palace of Puruchuco.

Why don't level I khipu bear introductory segments? Perhaps UR63 and UR73 were not intended to travel away from Puruchuco; instead, they may have been local accounts, drawn up by the resident khipukamayuq for accounting purposes within the palace. If the seven khipu in Fig. 1 register demands for service received from outside Puruchuco, meaning that if the relation among them is one of partition, then the level I khipu would have represented the reorganization of the mandate from outside in relation to the availability of resources at the local level. In this scheme, level I khipu would have pertained only to local accounting matters, and it would have been unnecessary to attach the place identifier. However, if the overall relationship is one of summation, and these khipu were prepared as a report on local conditions for dispatch outside Puruchuco, then level I khipu would represent the raw tables of local information that served as the foundation for constructing level II and III khipu. Level III khipu, the summary reports, would have been sent to a distant administrative center.

We suggest that khipu may have contrasting number qualities depending on whether they represented instructions coming from the state administration to a local accounting center or were records produced within a local accounting center with regard to existing community resources. In the first circumstance, we suspect that khipu values would have tended to be even decimal values or calculations of values in standard proportional shares. If a khipu account was compiled from within some local administrative center to be sent upward to higher level officials, counts of resources could be expected to have reflected the vagaries of the natural distribution of items in society. Such numbers are less likely to be whole and rounded or perfectly proportional.

We believe that the Puruchuco archive is the first known example indicating how information moved both up and down the Inka administrative hierarchy. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether the khipu are related through data partition or summation; however, careful study of the Puruchuco and other khipu archives may provide the foothold needed for addressing the most difficult question facing students of the Inka khipu: How did the khipu-keepers of the Inka administrative system record the identities of objects—people, animals, produce, manufactured goods, etc.—in the three-dimensional forms of their knotted-string records (7)?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Pox Parties   posted by TangoMan @ 8/13/2005 10:36:00 PM

Upon hearing the glorious news that little Susie's schoolmate is infected with pox some parents, taking their vaccine phobia a bit too far, hustle their kid out to the SUV and make a beeline to the pox-infected home so Susie can attend, and be infected at, a Pox Party.

The revival of this practice is gaining ground and proves the old adage that a little knowledge is dangerous. However, some parents are all ga-ga over this trend:

When she was 7 years old, San Francisco resident Eos de Feminis remembers, she attended an out-of-the-ordinary slumber party. "It was unusual, because we lived across the street from them, so we normally wouldn't spend the night," recalls de Feminis, 36. More notable was the fact that at least one of the kids at the party had broken out with itchy, red sores, and De Feminis was there to deliberately get infected, too. . .

"My memories of being sick as a child are actually quite pleasant," Volpe recalls. "I got to sleep in my parent's bed during the day and eat special food and get my forehead stroked." Not that the experience will necessarily be so painless for her 3-year-old daughter, she admits, acknowledging the discomfort and itchiness characteristic of chicken pox, though she adds, "Personally, I would love a reason to take a week off from work and stay home with my daughter."

Here's the medical warning against Pox Parties:

The belief out there is to have a chicken pox party to get it over with," says Dr Grenier. But parents rarely realize that their kids can get severe complications from the infection. The disease can also reactivate later in life in the form of shingles. Dr Grenier suggests you tell parents that chicken pox isn't a mild disease. According to her, in Canada there's an average of 5.8 deaths due to chicken pox every year. Chicken pox can cause serious inflammation that destroys joints and even encephalitis. The vaccine doesn't prevent all kids from catching it — about 90% of individuals are protected. Those that do contract it, however, suffer only minor symptoms. New research also points to evidence that the vaccine is a cost effective step in the right direction. A study published in the September issue of Pediatrics showed that since the vaccine was introduced in the US in 1995, the healthcare system has saved close to $100 million US due to fewer complications and hospitalizations.

Freaky optical illusion   posted by Razib @ 8/13/2005 10:18:00 PM

Check this out. This would have been a great example for my post about the Robot's Rebellion.

Via Marginal Revolution.

Why the Hui?   posted by Razib @ 8/13/2005 09:53:00 PM

A friend asked me about my recent fixation on the Hui (see here, here and here). The simplest answer was that I get interested in topics on occassion. But upon second thought I realized that this was closest to the mark: "...they are a Muslim population of ancient lineage that has perpetuated itself in a profoundly non-Muslim milieu for at least 700 years." The key, for me, is that the Hui are profoundly and deeply Muslim and Chinese.

The vast western half of China which is inhabited by Uighers and Tibetans and a host of other assorted peoples was only recently integrated into the Chinese nation-state. During most of the Qing Dynasty they were separately administered as Manchu protectorates. Even during the earlier dynasties, like the Tang and Han, when the Tarim Basin oases came under Chinese suzerainty they were never part of the Chinese "system." An analogy would be the decades long coexistence of Great Britain and Hanover during the 18th century as possessions of the same monarch which still remained separate polities. Another analogy would be Scotland and England before the Act of Union which irrevocably unified the two nations as "Great Britain" (also including Wales). My point is that the relations between the Muslim Uighers and Han civilization can not give us deep insights because they have very shallow historical roots, and the difference is not limited to just religion, but includes political and linguistic gulfs. Though the Islamist sympathies of many Uighers are known, until the past generation pan-Turkish nationalism animated the separatist movements of "East Turkestan" as much as religious sentiments.

In contrast the Hui (whose name ironically is a garbling of "Uigher") are part of Han civilization as a long standing minority (until the 18th century they monopolized the astronomical corp of the palace functionaries). The intersection between the Han and the Hui in terms of language, physiognomy and shared history is profound. It is religion, and all of the concomitant traits that are implicated in that, which separate the Hui. To get to the root of it I suspect that the Hui and Han experience can tell us something of the future of Muslims in the United States. I specify the United States because it is in this nation that I think one is most likely to see a generic "Muslim American" identity emerge, and the reason is that unlike Europe the American Muslim community is not dominated by one particular ethnic group. In this way there might actually be a similarity to the Hui, who were themselves diverse in origin, Persian, Arab and Turk, not to mention local converts.1 The Hui are certainly very different from the majority Han, but they are integrated and have a stake in Chinese civilization, which they have been part of for at least 700 years. After all, the famous Chinese explorer, Zheng He (Cheng Ho) was a Muslim. The prologue to the Dao of Muhammad opens with a debate as to the morality of the raising of a Hui official to the status of governor between two Han scholars, with commentary (and defense of the act) from Musllim scholars. This is important, whereas in some nations there are debates among Muslims as to the religious validity of participation in the government of a non-Muslim polity, the Hui proactively argued that there was nothing untoward in their participation in the Chinese examination system and mandarinate.2 As I have noted in my previous post, the Hui intellectual class also justified their inclusion in the Chinese order primarily through the references to Confucianism, not through Islam (there was little quibbling about whether China was part of the "Dar-al-Harb," or whether Muslims were in "treaty" with the Chinese state, Muslim minority status within a non-Muslim polity was a given). Interestingly, a few years ago I remember watching an episode of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher where a young Muslim Republican declared that "Muhammad was a capitalist, he was a merchant, so he would have loved the United States."3 In many ways I think this is similar to the Hui declaration that Muhammad was a "sage," "scholar" and "righteous monarch." Unlike the Muslims of most of Europe the American Muslims are not disproportionately underclass, but scattered across the class spectrum. Similarly, the Hui do not seem particularly poor nor rich. This lack of explicit class tension eliminates an important confounding variable.

Of course, this is not to say that all has been well with the Hui-Han relationship. Last year Time reported on ethnic conflict in Henan between the Hui and the Han. In the 19th century the Hui rebelled against the Qing dynasty in the northwest and in Yunnan, and many were expelled and became the core of the Dunganpeople of Central Asia (as I have noted, the Hui have often been military enforcers for the Chinese state in places like Xinjiang or Yunnan, but this also means that they can be trouble makers). Nevertheless, I think the long residence of the Hui, and their prominence periodically as servants of the Chinese state, attest to the fact that the relationship has not been predominantly adversarial. Unfortunately, with the Hui contact with the outside world and an internalization of the normative Muslim discourse in relation to non-Muslims where conditions differ (ie; non-Muslims are traditionally conceived of as dhimmis) I do not know if their local adaptations will persist.

Addendum: To illustrate further why the Hui are an important exemplar of Muslim minority interaction with non-Muslims, consider Thailand. The vast majority of the Muslims in that nation are actually ethnic Malays whose sultanates were conquered by the Thai monarchy over the past few centuries. But, a minority of the Muslims are "Thai Muslims," in that they are ethnic Thai who usually live in the heart of the country and happen to practice the Muslim religion instead of the Buddhist one (it is plausible that these families have their origin amongst Muslims who settled in the north and were originally Malay, but assimilated Thai ethnic identity). When considering the conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of Thailand it is important to remember that there is a strong ethnic angle to the rebellion in the south, and to eliminate this variable one might examine how the Thai Muslims interact with the Buddhist populace.

1 - South Asia is another region where a small number of foreign Muslims were absorbed into the cultural substrate and far greater numbers converted. But there is a large difference between the Hui and the South Asian Muslims in that the latter are more intimately connected with the West Asian Muslim communities, and, they are a larger minority who also have a history of domination of the non-Muslim majority in the recent past.

2 - The Jews of Kaifeng also participated in the examination system, to the point where it was a serious issue because their cultivation of the Chinese literary canon resulted in their neglect of Torah and Talmud learning.

3 - It is true that Muhammad was a merchant, but that does not necessarily mean he was a "capitalist."

No TV? No problem....   posted by Razib @ 8/13/2005 07:02:00 PM

50 Frontline documentaries streaming online.

Pinker: A Lie Can't Be Left Unchallanged   posted by TangoMan @ 8/13/2005 05:57:00 PM

Steven Pinker sets the record straight in a letter to the New York Times:

Simon Baron-Cohen has given us some of the most sophisticated research on the nature and origin of sex differences in cognition. That said, Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, never suggested that every man surpassed every woman in mathematical ability, only that their averages might be different, in the same way that women on average live longer than men, but not every woman outlives every man.

Indeed, Mr. Summers concentrated not so much on differences in the average as on differences in the variance, which result in proportionally more men turning up at the extremes.

Mr. Summers' infamous speech was many things, but statistically naive it was not.

Good for Pinker, for we can't allow the hysterical acolytes of the Church of the Blank Slate, nor those who enable them (Dr. Baron-Cohen,) to ply their revisionist rituals without being held to account. The record of Summers' remarks are available for all to examine.

You see, the thing is that while Dr. Nancy Hopkins is getting the vapors in order to better position herself for the ensuing rites of extortion and her defenders and fellow obscurantists are scurrying to impose ideologically sanctioned accounts, revise events in order to falsely demonize Summers and present a lesson for other intellectuals to not publicly veer from the Church's doctrine, we find, in venues not often frequented by the ideological feminists, that the research keeps advancing and adding further support to the line of inquiry that Dr. Summers raised in his speech.

Slowly the news does leak to the public and when another person of prominence defies dogma, without doubt the inquisition will begin again. However, the balance of power is never static and rather than uttering "But it does move" under their collective breaths the future targets of the blank slate wrath may be better positioned to fight the distortion of their remarks by appealing to a public that is more conversant with research as laid out by Constance Holden (Science 2005 308:5728):

1) Researchers are seeking biological reasons for the widespread gender differences in the prevalence and symptomatology of mental disorders. There is little debate that patterns of mental illness and disorders vary between the sexes. Women, for example, are more likely to get depressed. Men are more severely afflicted by schizophrenia. Females have more anxiety. Males exhibit more antisocial behavior. Most alcoholics and drug addicts are male; females have more eating disorders. Even suicide has a gender bias. Females make more attempts; males are more successful. Although culture helps shape how the two sexes express mental problems, some differences persist across cultures and across time. It's difficult to find any single factor more predictive for some of these disorders than gender.

2) Talking about sex differences has long been taboo in some quarters -- people hear "sex differences" and think you're talking about individuals, not populations. There is a huge amount of variation within a population and overlap between populations. But neuroscience research, especially the explosion in brain imaging, has produced data that are hard to ignore. "Every time you do a functional MRI on any test, different parts of the brain light up in men and women," says Florence Haseltine, a reproductive endocrinologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's clear there are big differences." Understanding these differences will have implications for treatments of brain diseases and brain injuries.

3) Most mental disorders are complex and resist the hunt for specific genes, yet family and twin studies have demonstrated significant heritability for them. These disorders interact with brain differences between the sexes that arise from genes on the X and Y chromosomes and from the bath of gonadal hormones that soak fetal brains early in gestation. Sex hormones are far-reaching in their powers. They are master transcription regulators; they affect hundreds of downstream genes. There is no question these are big players in mental disorders. These sex-related changes are sort of early filters, influencing the expression of underlying disorders in different ways.

Related: Much ado about women & Larry Summers

502 errors   posted by Razib @ 8/13/2005 09:45:00 AM

If you are getting 502 errors please switch browsers or use anonymouse. I have been informed that this is a problem in particular with the AOL browser...which doesn't surprise me since they are known to "optimize" (last I recall) the browsing experience by caching files and re-compressing images.

What's wrong among the elites?   posted by michael vassar @ 8/13/2005 06:11:00 AM

An examination of Linda Gottfredson's "why g matters" and of its references, leaves several important questions unanswered. The most striking, in my mind, is "why are all these semi-literate people getting through graduate school"? The average person with a graduate degree is appearently closer to the average BA than the BA is to the average person with an associates degree. Average graduate degree holders just barely make the cut-off for NALS level 4, and are much (as in, by more points than the difference between themselves and holders of associates degrees) closer to the average high school graduate than they are to the people who can complete the most difficult listed tasks, yet none of the listed tasks are very difficult. They are all simply every-day instances of the sort of analysis that middle school students are supposedly taught to do.

This actually leaves me very confused. We all hear how difficult it is to get in to medical school. How is it that with such strong selection the medical schools are unable to attract students with elementary reasoning ability? No wonder medicine appears not to effect health. No wonder Buffet seems to be able to do what he does in spite of solid theories predicting efficient markets.

Might the problem be that an IQ in the low 120s combined with high conscientiousness is sufficient to identify the easy classes and get A's in them? Might admissions committees be offended by high MCAT scores, discouraging them from giving additional consideration to students with a few B's and with MCATs better than the committee's members? I don't know. Further data indicating higher average wages for college dropouts with level 3 NALS literacy than for high school graduates with level 4 NALS literacy strongly suggests that credentialism dominated the determination of socio-economic status. At any rate, this data suggests to me that and IQ of 120-125 is basically a threshold for the highest levels of socio-economic success (remember the two recent presidential candidates, for instance) but is actually too low to make high level reasoning possible. It may be that IQ tests are not inaccurate when they place the average executive half way between the average Ivy League student (who generally can't reason very well either, can't complete a Wason selection task, and doesn't know what causes the seasons) and the average cashier.

I am left with one important question. What is Le Griffe's "Smart Fraction" actually doing? Relatedly, if the average engineer or chemist only has an IQ of 116, how does anything work? This question seriously confuses me. How is it possible to get a technical degree, using sciences that require calculus etc, and not be able to summarize a newspaper article, read a bus schedule, or calculate the gas milage a car is getting? Finally, how much weight should I give to the results of large government surveys which were carried out by such people?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Why Terrorist Demands Should Be Considered, Sometimes   posted by Randy @ 8/12/2005 07:09:00 PM

I've read and liked a lot of Canadian author Mordechai Richler's work, fiction and non- both, but our new age of paranoic terrorism has brought one passage in particular from 1994's This Year in Jerusalem to mind. (I've added the hyperlinks, of course.)

By dint of belonging to Habonim, we were connected, through Poale Zion, to Ben-Gurion's Mapai Party, Haganah, and a Yishuv policy of moderation. But the truth is, in those eventful days we secretly admired Menachem Begin. He, not Ben-Gurion, was out gutsy street-fighter, our James Cagney. When a seventeen-year-old Irgun fighter, Binyamin Kimche, was caught carrying arms and sentenced to fifteen years in prison and eighteen lashes, Begin was heard from: "If you whip us, we shall whip you." The warning was dismissed as braggadocio and Kimche was whipped. So Begin had a British major and three noncommissioned officers kidnapped and subjected to eighteen lashes before they were released. Then he issued a communiqué: "If the oppressors dare in the future to abuse the bodies and the human and national honour of Jewish youths, we shall no longer reply with the whip. We shall reply with fire." The second Irgun youngster caught with Kimche was not whipped, and the British flogged no more Jews or Arabs for the rest of the Mandate. But in the case of the three Irgun fighters involved in the raid in Acre [prison on May 4, 1947], the British would not bend. The three men were hanged on July 29, 1947, and two days later the bodies of the hanged sergeants [taken as hostages in reprisal] were found. A mine had been placed below their corpses, and the party that came out to cut them down was injured in the explosion. There were anti-Jewish riots in London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow. But what warmed the hearts of many of us in Habonim was a "Letter to the Terrorists of Palestine," published as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, and signed by Ben Hecht, co-chairman of the American League for a Free Palestine:
My Brave Friends, You may not believe what I write you, for there is a lot of fertilizer in the air at the moment. But, on my word as an old reporter, what I write is true. The Jews of America are for you. You are their champions. You are the grin they wear. You are the feather in their hats. In the past fifteen hundred years every nation of Europe has taken a crack at the Jews. This time the British are at bat. You are the first answer that makes sense--to the New World. Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad train sky high, or rob a British bank or let go with your guns and bombs at the British betrayals and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts....

On impulse, I went down to the Black Watch Armory on Bleury Street one afternoon. Claiming to be eighteen years old, I enlisted in the Reserve Army. It appealed to my sense of irony to have the Black Watch train me to fight the British--the British who were now beyond the pale, so far as I was concerned (26-27).

This Year in Jerusalem is one of Richler's more interesting books, an autobiographical exploration of his relationship to Zionism, moving from his youthful full commitment to the Zionist ideal to a more nuanced and critical relationship with the state of Israel as it exists.

If you wanted, you could also read This Year in Jerusalem as the story of how a young man, belonging to an alienated and persecuted diasporic minority, first came to embrace the cause of violent terrorism against his diaspora's oppressors and his homeland of birth (remember that the Commonwealth wasn't a dead letter back in the 1940s) and then, over course of the following decades, move away from utopian violent dreams towards pragmatic realism. Does this sound at all familiar, in the era of al-Qaeda's transnationalism and the alienation of Muslims in western Europe and North America and the embrace of tit-for-tat violence?
Just as interesting are the ways in which Britons and Canadians reacted, and did not react. Doubtless there was police surveillance of Jewish organizations linked to the violence in mandatory Palestine, but despite traditional anti-Semitism and very real contemporary conflict Jews don't seem to have been constructed by non-Jews as dangerous internal enemies. The Holocaust may have helped here, but did it help that much? More, the question of Jewish terrorism against British interests in mandatory Palestine was solved not by a harsh British crackdown against the terrorist-supporting Jewish minority--perhaps, presaging events in Britain's Malaya counterinsurgency in the 1950s (PDF format), enlisting the support of the native majority against the immigrant radicals?--but by Britain's withdrawal from Palestine.

Why the difference between then and now? There are some times, I think, when it makes sense to treat terrorism not only as a military challenge or as a policing issue, but as a public-policy issue. As a commenter pointed out, this instinct has obvious flaws. Terrorist attacks against individual Jews or against Jewish civilians or against targets in the Jewish diaspora can only be justified if you decide, immorally, that total war should be waged without any limits. That way lies the Soviet targeting of Summerside for nuclear obliteration in the Cold War, never mind the whole question of terrorism's ethics. French support for the Algerian military dictatorship was justified, unless that you think that the FIS, which includes groups dedicated to the theological debate over whether one should rape both the wife and the daughter of the infidel, or only one, and if so which one, should have been given control of the Algerian state. There are some times when the demands of terrorists shouldn't be granted and should be opposed.

In other cases, though, policy changes are merited. Terrorists themselves can't be readily bargained with, although I will note that much of the leadership of the Irish Free State came from terrorist origins and that Pilsudski, founder of the Polish Second Republic, once was a bandit on the Lithuanian roads. Many of the causes which inspire terrorists do find wider support from legitimate political movements. Under Franco, for instance, ETA arguably played a major role in the post-Franco democratization and federalization of Spain. Would it have made sense for Franco's successors to blindly insist on the need to maintain Spain as a unitary dictatorship?

Terrorists may be beyond caring about plausible responses to root causes; non-terrorists, though, not so. Keep in mind that terrorists come from somewhere. Something made people otherwise ordinary, people who in other circumstances would have become upwardly mobile members of their societies, decide that it was a good idea to set to killing. Something made other members of their societies think that they were heroes. Might it not be a wise idea to make sure that the likelihood of there being terrorists at all is as low as possible?

Beating a dead Hui   posted by Razib @ 8/12/2005 02:00:00 PM

A genome-based study of the Muslim Hui community and the Han population of Liaoning Province:

...The contrast in the patterns of autosomal and Y-chromosome diversity of the two communities was obvious. Analysis of molecular variance showed that only 4.6% of total autosomal molecular variance was due to differences between the Hui and Han. The comparable value for Y-chromosome haplotype distributions of 14.0% indicated that the Hui and Han of Liaoning have separate paternal genetic histories....

Also, China's hidden Muslims [Hui] find sense of belief:

In the 1980s, thousands of labourers went to work in North Yemen, Egypt, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. The contracts have since dried up, but for some workers the experience has given them a deeper sense of their Muslim identity. "After I came back from Abu Dhabi, I could tell people in Ningxia more about Islam in other countries,"....

This is a cog in my repeated contention: cut off from outside influences social norms can engage in a random walk, or adapt to local conditions. When a group is connected to the outside world, and feels a kinship to other groups who it notionally identifies with, they become part of a wider network of social norms and this often brings them "back in line" to median "orthodoxy." The article makes it clear that Chinese openness to the world after 1979, and travel and interaction in the form of Haj and labor, have brought the Hui a sense of awareness as Muslims. No doubt their reform of religious practice will be justified on scriptural grounds, but, I strongly suspect that they will simply be emulating the norms in other countries and rationalizing post facto.1

Related: Western barbarian + Han women = Hui.

1 - Japanese Buddhism, another religion that is part of a transnational sangha, but rather isolated, wandered into strange directions as well. "Martial monks" who married and fortified their monasteries were common before Oda Nobunaga crushed them in the late 16th century. Because of State Shinto era dictates Buddhist priests in Japan today marry, a practice which they attempted to impose on recalcitrant Koreans, who practice a more conventional form of the religon.

Immigrant variance   posted by Razib @ 8/12/2005 01:22:00 PM

One thing that diversity enthusiasts and proud nationalists can agree on is that origin does not matter, everyone from the Third World brings the same baggage, whether it be glorious ethnic cuisine or alien contagion. But there is variation, and this is neglected in the Manichaean dialogues which dominate the debate because it is far easier to assert from black and white truths than calcuate cost vs. benefit in light of one's norms. From page 102 of Muslims in the West - From Sojourners to Citizens:

...In his sample, he discovered that approximately 50 percent of Iranian and Iraqi respondents stated that they did not believe in God, nearly the same percentage expressed that they were not interested in Islam, and very few reported that they performed the daily prayers. It is mainly in these two groups that the more highly educated Muslims can be found....

This is in reference to Sweden, which currently does have a problem with people whose recent origins are from Muslim lands. The fact that many of the Iranians were part of the secular educated elite escaping the Islamic revolution is probably a relevant fact to keep in mind. A sharp constrast to the Turkish and Kurdish wave of migration which brought a group of people whose values1 were sharply differentiated from the Swedish majority.

1 - Values can change over the generations, and the p-value of the child of an atheist doctor of Iranian origin becoming a Muslim fundamentalist is higher than the p-value of an atheist Swedish doctor becoming a Muslim fundamentalist. This p-value is probably influenced by a variety of other variables as well, the size of the local Muslim community, whether the mother is Swedish, etc. etc. Assuming a small population of highly educated Iranians it is possible that one could project that within 3 generations this group would be absorbed into the milieu via intermarriage. One would have to weight the benefits that this group's wealth and intellectual capital brought to the polity against the p-value that it might produce individuals harmful to the public order.

Know thine uncle   posted by Razib @ 8/12/2005 12:16:00 AM

Understanding chimpanzees is a big step toward understanding human beings. But obviously we need to keep pushing. So, I've decided to save and upload this article, Moving primate genomics beyond the chimpanzee genome, over here.

Related: Expression and sequence.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

In Africa....   posted by Razib @ 8/11/2005 11:34:00 PM

Recently, I corrected someone as to whether African Americans are predominantly derived from Bantu speaking or non-Bantu speaking regions. Since the traditional historical sources suggest a bias toward the West Africa, from the Yoruba kingdoms all the way up to Guinea coast, the majority of the ancestors of African Americans would not be of Bantu identity. This West African bias is reinforced by books and movies like Alex Haley's Roots which tend to fix the place of ancestral origin in places like Senegal, as well as the perception of some that African Americans were Muslim before their arrival to the New World1 (since Islam tends to be most common on the Western and Eastern antipodes of Sub-Saharan Africa). Nevertheless, there textual evidence for the importation of slaves from the Kongo coast in Central Africa (this is the dominant source in Brazil).

So, it was with some interest that I stumbled upon this paper, Charting the Ancestry of African Americans. The gist of their results are that "We show that >55% of the U.S. lineages have a West African ancestry, with <41% coming from west-central or southwestern Africa." The sample size was large, with over 1,000 African Americans, and 5,000 individuals from all parts of Africa (including North, East and Southeast). Of course, this is a survey of maternal lineages. Interestingly, the authors end with this caution:

...Even with greatly improved geographic coverage, it remains the case that many mtDNAs are very widely distributed throughout the African continent, most likely as a result largely of the Bantu dispersals (Salas et al. 2002), but no doubt also as a result of both earlier and more recent movements, including those that are due to the Atlantic slave trade itself (Salas et al. 2004)....
Considerable caution is therefore warranted when dealing with claims in the popular media (such as the acclaimed and prestigious BBC television documentary Motherland: A Genetic Journey, first shown in the United Kingdom in 2003) and those made by genetic ancestry–testing companies about their ability to trace the ancestry of certain American (or, for that matter, European) mtDNAs to a particular locale or population within modern-day Africa. Our analyses stand as a warning to unsuspecting members of the public who may be seduced by such promises.

1 - There is a problem with the contention that African Americans were Muslim prior to enslavement, and that is that wide scale Islamicization in much of West Africa, even places almost uniformly Muslim today like Senegal,is a feature of the 20th century. The key is to remember that Islam tended to be localized in urban trading entrepots like Timboktu and among the traditional elites. Though some Muslims were enslaved and brought to the Americas from Africa (this is historically attested), I would be willing to bet that as many Muslim Turks and North Africans were brought over as Muslim blacks ("Turkish" slaves were apparently a presence at Jamestown, that is, slaves of Muslim origin who fell afoul of Christian pirates and were likely sold to Italians, not necessarily native Turkish speakers).

The God of the social scientists???   posted by Razib @ 8/11/2005 09:24:00 PM

There's a weird press release circulating about how Natural scientists are less likely to believe in God than are social scientists (though MSNBC tried to stay positive, with the subheading Study debunks notion that science is incompatible with religion). The researcher will be presenting her perliminary findings at the American Association of the Sociology of Religion conference in Philadelphia in the 14th of August between 2:30 and 4:45 PM (in case anyone wants to swing by).

She got a 75% response rate from over 2100 surveys sent to "21 of the top U.S. research universities." How you select your sample is very critical here obviously, but in any case, the researcher found that, 38 percent of natural scientists surveyed said they did not believe in God vs. 31 percent of the social scientists. The range seems to be as follows, 41 percent of the biologists and 27 percent of the political scientists said they don't believe in God.

A 1969 survey of American academics with a sample of 60,000 seems to have suggested the opposite result, that social scientists are more secular than natural scientists (see all the results I'm talking about here). This has led sociologist of religion Rodney Stark to claim that the perception by the public that natural science is godless is false, and has been concocted by social scientists who were strongly influenced by secular ideologies like Marxism. Stark has had some issues with defending this thesis lately because of two surveys performed by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham within the past 10 years which found two broad results: 40% of natural scientist Ph.D.s affirmed a belief in a personal God (a lower frequency than can be inferred from the survey above), while less than 10% of National Academy of Science affirmed a belief in a personal God. Stark has pointed out that there is selection biasing of these samples in comparison to the 1969 survey, obviously in the case of the latter study, but also in the scope of those who responded to the first one. The same criticism applies to the new research from what I can gather, but it must be kept in mind that a small minority of researchers tends to drive the majority of the advances in any given field. Ultimately, these studies keep coming out because of the whole Religion vs. Science angle that is always circulating in the popular press, but as long as 99% of scientists aren't atheists they'll have something positive to write about (for obvious reasons the 1996 study that showed 40% belief among scientists got a lot more publicity than the 1998 finding which showed only 7.5% belief among elite scientists).

Addendum: When I posted the numbers for the 1969 research godless capitalist offered in the comments to the effect that the higher secularity of the social scientists was tapping into anti-organized religion moods as opposed to genuine secular humanist sentiments. If you look at the questions none of them ask straight out about opinions relating to God, so you had to infer from the frequency of those who self-declared as "religious conservatives" or avowed "no religion." If this new data holds up to be robust, and even taking into account the more select sample, I think there might be something to what godless capitalist suggested, especially considering that the date of the survey was the late 1960s when many of the faculty might have been rather radical and oppositional in relation to institutions.

Coyne on ID   posted by Razib @ 8/11/2005 11:39:00 AM

Jerry Coyne is a very long piece in The New Republic on the "controversy" between Intelligent Design and evolutionary theory. Might be worth it to forward the link to someone who isn't in the know. Anthony Perez-Miller and John Hawks also comment on this topic. Carl Zimmer sets the record straight about Darwin's attitude (or lack of) toward religion.

Western barbarian + Han women = Hui   posted by Razib @ 8/11/2005 02:19:00 AM

My previous post dealt with the Hui of China from a purely historical angle. Out of curiosity I decided to see if recent archeogenetic work had been done on them (my previous literature search from about a year ago came up with little of great interest or specificity). To my surprise I found a paper surprisingly apropos, Different matrilineal contributions to genetic structure of ethnic groups in the silk road region in china. Here is the relevant part:

The prevalent presence of the eastern Eurasian-specific mtDNA haplogroups (93.3%) in the Hui compared with other Muslim samples, if not of recent gene flow from the Han people, would be attributed to the historical Han women contribution. The high frequencies of the south-prevalent haplogroups...the presence of an M7b3 type (Hui98), and other matched types across China in the Hui samples added further tallies to this suggestion and mirrored the trace of the earlier inhabitants along the southeast coast of China...In addition, neither Hui nor Han samples harbored any H and U types that were highly present in other populations in Central Asia. At this point, the matrilineal gene pool of the Hui was shaped by their historically encouraged intermarriage with the Han people, and the religion did not have much influence on it.

You can see the principle component chart. It is important to note that mtDNA is maternally transmitted, so this isn't giving us a "full genome" picture, but, nevertheless, from an inspection of Hui phenotype one can infer that they are likely a predominantly East Asian people with a residual West Asian admixture (even if their Y lineages are purely West Asian, generation upon generation of admixture with the Han via conversion of local women to Islam would have shifted the autosomal genome, which determines the general character of their genetic sequence, ergo, phenotype). The genealogies of the Hui elite point to the migration of male ancestors from the West, but say little about women, so it seems likely that the introgression of Han genes that resulted in a East Asian phenotype occurred via females. The PC chart as well as the haplotype tables shows that the mtDNA of the Han and Hui are very close in their profiles, with only a minimal level of West Asian admixture on the part of the latter. Additionally, the evidence of "southeastern" mtDNA is a testament to the relatively cosmopolitan and peripatetic history of the Hui in China, not only were their male ancestors brought in as administrators, merchants and court astronomers, but they were shifted to various parts of the Empire as needs warranted (the Hui, unlike the Han, had no qualms about the martial vocation and so were often used as soldiers, and as I noted before, "enforcers" against regional minorities, including Muslim ones). There were large Hui communities in the northwest, in Yunnan and in the southeast. Southeastern mtDNA might simply be evidence of the Muslim marriage network, which spanned the expanse of China, and the early period of admixture with southern Chinese Han women (Yunnan, in the southwest, was a non-Han province when it was first settled by the Muslims, so in that case there is likely a great deal of Dai [Thai] ancestry in the Hui of Yunnan).

There is also one point in the text that isn't reported in the abstract that was of interest to me: "Intriguingly, the haplogroups that were mainly found in southern Pakistan, India, the Near East/Caucasus region, the Iranian plateau, and the Arabian Peninsula, such as HV2, R2, and U7...were only present in Uygur and Uzbek, which harbored an approximately equal amount of western Eurasian types." The authors note that other groups, like the Kazakh, do not harbor these markers. That is not surprising, the Kazakh were relatively late arrivals to the southern steppe and were nomads who had little truck with civilization. In contrast, the Uyghers/Uighers (they use both spellings, and sometimes distinguish between the two groups and sometimes do not1) are traditionally assumed to be a ancestrally composite population of predominantly Turkish origin (their form of Turkish is nearly intelligible with almost every other language of that family, which of course facilitates pan-Turkish nationalism) superimposed upon a substrate of Tocharians and Indo-Iranians (both Indo-Europeans groups of disparate origin who populated the northern and southern edges of the Tarim basin prior to 1000). West Asian mtDNA could have entered into the Uyghers through the long established trade networks along the Silk Road, or, I suspect more likely, the West Asian lineages were brought by the expanding Tocharian and Indo-Iranian peoples thousands of years ago.

In any case, genetic data helps us solidify what we already know, which isn't a bad thing. Historical conjecture is usually jelly-like in its firmness, but over time it can be bounded and scaffolded so that it is constrained to a particular shape.

1 - There is a peculiar backstory to terms like "Uigher" and "Uygher," and there are multiple groups who claim the appellation, with various degrees of historical legitimacy based on their relationship to the 8th century Uigher Empire.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Way of the Hui   posted by Razib @ 8/10/2005 11:53:00 PM

As many of you know the Hui are the people of China who look and speak like the Han (Chinese proper) of their local region, but happen to be Muslim. But, the People's Republic defines them as a nationality, not a religion, so their identity is a bit confused because what separates them from the Han is solely their religion and the customs and traditions that are inferred from that adherence. If you read the article at the above link you will note a peculiar tendency of the Hui: the closer they are to the heart of China (the Han dominated eastern half of the nation) the less "Chinese" they feel, but the further they are from Han regions (in Xinjiang or Tibet for example), the more "Chinese" they feel. It was a Muslim who actuallly pacified Yunnan and opened the way for its subsequent Sinicization, and it was a Hui warlord who administered (often brutally) the Muslim Turks of Xinjiang during the first half of the 20th century.

To me, the Hui are interesting because they are a Muslim population of ancient lineage that has perpetuated itself in a profoundly non-Muslim milieu for at least 700 years.1 The Hui interaction with the non-Muslim majority, their status as a nation (they are termed the "Hui nation") within a nation, is I think relevant to contemporary issues outside of China. So it was with that in mind that I decided to read Dao of Muhammad, a cultural history of the eastern Hui literati during the 16th-18th centuries. Most of the book focuses on Islamic commentaries produced by eminently Chinese, but Muslim, scholars, collectively termed the Han Kitab. The Han Kitab serves as a textual looking glass into the minds of men who lived and believed as Chinese Muslims, predominantly during the period of the early to middle Qing (Manchu), a dynasty which was itself of foreign origin.

The narrative culminates in a chapter titled "Muhammad and his Dao," which highlights the peculiar and culturally contextualized paradigm and self-perception of the eastern Hui. These were men who were relatively isolated from the Ummah, unlike the Turkish speaking Muslims of the far west, and their day to day life was that of Chinese scholars, not Islamic ulema. It is therefore not particularly surprising that the Han Kitab highlights men who had reinterpreted Islam within the framework of Chinese intellectual history. For example, Muhammad is depicted as a "sage," rather than a "prophet." These semantical issues are important, because non-Chinese religions and cultures have often found it very difficult to translate the precise meaning of their own paradigm intelligibly to the Chinese (see some of the weirder "Christian" cults popping up in the Chinese countryside...shadings of Taiping Future). Many have argued that Chinese "Buddhism" is in fact more like Daoism than the Indo-Turanian religion that arrived via the Silk Road.2 In any case, the Muslim scholars of eastern China resolved this issue by simply recasting their religion in explicitly Chinese terms. Instead of an illiterate prophet who brought the Word of God down from the mountain, Muhammed was a sage, scholar and righteous king who "completed" the "Dao" in the "western lands" (Confucius is considered the "completer of the Dao" in Chinese tradition). Chinese textual sources that would have been second nature to mandarins were drafted into the argument, as assertions by Confucius and Mencius that barbarian (non-Chinese) peoples also produced sages were used to buttress their thesis about Muhammad. The practices of Muslims, the rituals, forms, prescriptions and proscribed practices, were justified as emulation of Muhammad, just as Confucian gentlemen walked in the path of Confucius. Here is a translation of what what one scholar had to say about the prophet/sage:

He [Muhammad] enforced the [proper] conduct between ruler and minister, father and son; he diffused the doctrines of Humanity, Compassion, proper behavior and politeness....

Furthermore, these Muslims conceived of their mosques as places for the study of Muhammad's Dao, so that the proper forms and manners would be maintained ("cultivating [of the Dao of Islam]"). There is much more in this vein which implies that these Muslim Chinese tended to view Islam as equivalent to Confucianism, they utilized the vocabulary and priorities of the latter to justify their adherence to the former. But this begs the quesiton, if Muhammad was a western sage, why did Chinese follow his Dao? The answer, is in part, very Confucian: many of these men claimed to be Sayyids (descendents of the prophet) or descendents of Muslims who had long settled in China. Their following the Dao of Islam was an act of filial piety, a perpetuation of customs, traditions and beliefs which were part of their patrimony. Islam was recast as a reverence for their ancestral heritage (explaining in part of the lack of interest in missionary work amongst the Han). By being good Muslims, following the Dao of their ancestors, they were keeping with the best traditions of Confucianism, and implicitly revering the social order which supported and legitimized the Emperor!3

The book stops around 1780, when the Quianlong Emperor diffused an attempted persecution of the Muslims by a court official. During the 19th century there were Muslim (Hui) rebellions in northwest China as well as Yunnan, and that was also a period when western influences, that is, from the Islamic lands of Turkestan, Persia and the Arab world, became a stronger force in Hui practice and belief. Nevertheless, as I've stated before, I believe that social consensus is a crucial factor in the formation of religious orthodoxy that often works under the guise of scholarship underpinned by analytic modes of inquiry. The Muslims of Han China, traditionally amongst the most isolated in relation to the Ummah are a nice illustration of this fact, as not only do they not engage in the Dar-al-Harb vs. Dar-al-Islam (very roughly, the Abode of War [non-Muslim lands] and the Above of Peace [Muslim lands]) talk common to other Muslim minorities who found themselves minorities to reconquista by Christians or Hindus, they legitimize their religion by attempting to establish the imprimatur it received from Chinese Emperors. The modern world is not that of the 16th-18th centuries, information travels very fast, and "cybernetworks" can span continents. Still, as my post about women's mosques in China highlights, there is still enough variance due to spatial separation that disparate social consenses can emerge. Additionally, modern identity formation is not dictated by the whim and unanimity of an elite caste, in places like the United States identity entrepreneurs can generate new combinations of traits which might not serve the interests of heads of cultural cartels. Only god knows what the future holds....

1 - The latest date for large scale Muslim settlement in lands dominated by the Han would be during the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in the 13th century. The Hui themselves have legends which date their arrival during the Sui dynasty, during the life of Muhammed himself, though these are almost certainly mythological. It seems highly plausible though that the first Muslim communities in China date to the Tang dynasty, which flourished between 650 and 900 (which an apogee around 750).

2 - It took many generations before the Pali Canon and other Buddhist holy texts were translated into Chinese, in part because the task was so arduous as regards the precise mapping of Indian terms to Chinese ones. Many of the early Chinese perceptions of Buddhism was that it was simply a form of Daoism. Similarly, during later Chinese encounters with Christianity it was perceived that it might be a form of Buddhism (in part because the original Catholic missionaries dressed like Buddhist monks, a practice they ceased when they realized of the relative low esteem that the Confucian scholars held monks). Judaism, which was long practiced in the city of Kaifeng, was assumed to be a form of Islam with a few specific customs and habits (it was called the "Sinew Plucking Religion" because of the Jewish custom).

3 - They made copious (likely mythical) references to past Emperors who enjoined upon them the need to maintain their ancestral traditions and so perpetuate the Dao of Muhammad. Here again, they were legitimizing Islam in a Chinese manner.

Why Iran Must Not Be Invaded   posted by Randy @ 8/10/2005 09:24:00 PM

There's a depressing interview over at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Two excerpts, from separate interviews with Islamist women, are below.

Abd al-Lami: The demands raised by [secularist demonstrators]...are demands contradictory to Islam.
RFI: Why? They demand the implementation of [international] agreements that arose from decades-long fight for the rights of women and from studying the situation of women all over the world. They demand that these agreements be incorporated in the constitution.
Abd al-Lami: Yes. All of us, as women of Iraq, were oppressed for many years. Now, everybody fights for something better. Efforts should be spent on laying down a solid basis for improving the situation of Iraqi women in a complex way. We do not want that one opinion be given priority over another. We want justice, not equality.
RFI: What is your objection to equality?
Abd al-Lami: If we demand an absolute equality between men and women, that would mean depriving women of certain rights.

These rights include maternity leave, since apparently such a thing as paternity leave can't exist. The other interview subject isn't much more encouraging.

Sumaysim: I want to stress one point: This extreme attitude that leftist, liberal, and democratic forces have taken in handling these affairs only provokes an opposite extreme. I call for dialogue. Regarding these activists, whom I do not like to call "secularists" because I have a particular view on the problem of "secularism" but who oppose the application of Islamic law, why do they not gather with activists who support the application, or the practical implementation of terms, of Islamic law? Why don't they try to understand each other?
RFI: Since you have called the leftists, secularists, and liberals "extreme," what about those who have been writing the constitution draft? How about those [women] whose views have been [transparent], beginning from their [Islamic] dress and ending with the [Islamic] formulations that they want to set in the constitution? Sumaysim: I reject extremism in all forms.
RFI: So why have you labeled as extremists those who want to defend their rights?
Sumaysim: Through my work at the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, I have noticed one very regrettable phenomenon: Those [secularist] women try to accuse all Islamic-oriented women equally, be they moderate or non-moderate. The problem is mainly that the term "secular" has come to be used in various contexts, sometimes correctly and sometimes not. "Secularism" does not mean detachment from religion. No, you can be a believer and a secularist, or, you do not want Islam be used politically. This is the right of every citizen. I believe that the prime human right is the freedom of belief. So how could I abstain from a particular religion?

Kanan Makiya described, in his 1989 Republic of Fear, just how thoroughly the Ba'ath Party and Saddam Hussein had atomized what would now be called Iraqi civil society, using Orwellian methods of divide and conquer and liberal applications of brute force. Makiya also described how, before the Ba'ath Party ascended to power, Iraqi civil society was decidedly majoritarian, gleefully supporting the overwhelming use of force against whichever populations and groups happened to be unpopular: Assyrians, Jews, the Hashemite dynasty, rivals for power. Iraq can move beyond this majoritarianism to levels of democracy surpassing anything ever found in Iraq. Unfortunately, it seems like the new constitution and the new regime isn't going to enable this.

The Kurds will be protected by their autonomy; if need be, Iraqi Kurdistan can quickly pass to independence. Iraq's million Christians likewise don't have much to fear since, early optimism aside, are emigrating massively to such prosperous and stable places as Syria. Secularists and women, alas, and other unpopular groups, unless they can document their persecution and find welcoming governments. They can be guaranteed the first, but the second may be harder to come by given growing xenophobia in likely receiving countries. Life in the Islamic Republic of Iraq will be more tolerable for those groups deemed unpopular true. I wonder, though, whether to some extent the groups stigmatized have simply been switched.

The United States has removed terrible tyrannies in Iraq and Afghanistan, true. The United States has not implanted democracy and civil rights in either country. Rather, it has created not one, but two Islamic republics. It's true that they are fairly traditional tyrannies, lacking the synthetic modernities favoured by Iraq's Ba'athists and Afghanistan's Taliban or by the early Islamic Republic of Iran. It's still true that they are tyrannies, the one in the process of becoming a majoritarian polity marked by all forms of strife and the imposition of private mores to ensure public virtue, the other a collection of warlord states looking like Iraq writ small. Neither, I fear, is going to prove to be much of a model for the wider Islamic world.

Events in Iran, now, will have global import. Almost unique in the Middle East, Iran is a country that works well. Iran has a middle-income economy; Iran has a reasonably high level of technology available to it; Iran has mass politics and an ambitious parliament; Iran has mass media and high Internet penetration. Iran is run by a clerical regime that verges on fascism, yes, but this regime can't dominate everything. The life story of Shirin Ebadi is one element proving this. The widely-reported discontent among the young and the urbanites, desiring secularism and true democracy, suggests strongly that Iran's future will be bright. Spengler was right, in June, to note at Asia Times that Ahmadinejad was elected because Iran's conservative rural peasantry wanted to be protected. Spengler was wrong to expect this to be sustained indefinitely, since, after all, modern urban Iran can trace its origins directly to the dislocated peasantry urbanized and modernized by economic growth and the modern state. Iran just has to wait, hopefully not much longer, for the political demographics to tip in the right direction.

This is why Iran must not be invaded. Michael J. Mazarr's observations at The New Republic on the 5th of this month are accurate, in that an American invasion of Iran would create a new garrison state. Worse still, an American invasion that shattered the Iranian state--as it would, judging by precedents in Iran's eastern and western neighbours--would create just the right sort of opportunity for Iran's real fascists, the reactionaries who've been so far limited, to imitate Iraq's urban guerrillas and wreak havoc. If the United States wants Iran to become fully fascist, this is what the US military should do. Iran shouldn't be sent back a generation because of a nuclear deterrent in the working that may be built only after the current regime has fallen.

And so, ¡No Pasarán!. I've no doubt that the United States as a whole would mean well, but an American invasion of Iran at this point would be the worst thing that it could possibly do for freedom and liberty in the Middle East.

Sympatric Proto-Speciation   posted by Razib @ 8/10/2005 05:10:00 PM

Genomic Islands of Speciation in Anopheles gambiae.

Video Games News   posted by TangoMan @ 8/10/2005 02:36:00 PM

Posting has been a bit slow lately, so here's a bit of fluff news - Grand Theft Auto's Maker Patches Against Unsanctioned Sex. I love the next line in the article - the world's "least-downloaded patch ever." Yeah, I can't imagine too many of the people who downloaded the mod to unleash the sex graphics in the game are too keen on removing the mod.

Also, this video promo "Addiction" for Civilization IV is hilarious as is the website it promotes at the end,

Another subweblog   posted by Razib @ 8/10/2005 11:42:00 AM

I've decided to start another weblog related to Gene Expression which is more focused on political or social observations, named Politics Gene Expression. The posts there will be more derivative and less substantive (no science). I think I've given everyone who wants it privs over that blog, but email me if I haven't. You can always find the link under "tributary weblogs."

Goody Summers Put a Hex on Me   posted by Jason Malloy @ 8/10/2005 02:49:00 AM

I’ve added a lot of links (and some PDFs) to the new GNXP forum, but since it has low visibility and posting has been a little sparse, I’ll repeat a few here. The evolutionary psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has a new article in the New York Times, that’s topped their “most e-mailed” chart (The Male Condition). The research he discusses should probably be familiar to most people with an interest in the subject, and we have a number of posts about it. Baron-Cohen’s work is an example of how HBD (or studying human differences) generates the more active research programs coming out of ev psych. Prenatal testosterone is becoming the HBD cornerstone, generating behavioral research linking doses (and timing of doses) to autism, sex differences, homosexuality, and even race differences (for serious discussions of each see John T. Mannings book Digit Ratio). Of course, studying differences already puts you at high risk of professional vulnerability, but studying differences in one already controversial area that has implications for or links to several even more controversial areas means Baron-Cohen is playing with dynamite. This makes it understandable but depressing that he begins discussion of his research with this:

” So was Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, right when he remarked that women were innately less suited than men to be top-level scientists? Judging from current research, he was and he wasn't. It's true that scientists have documented psychological and physiological differences between male and female brains. But Mr. Summers was wrong to imply that these differences render any individual woman less capable than any individual man of becoming a top-level scientist.”

Baron-Cohen knows full well that no such thing was ever implied by Larry Summers, as do his critics who codified that lie into accepted wisdom. Since there is a full transcript of the conference his exact words and claims are on record, so there is no getting away with it. The conference was not about the comparative quality of practicing male and female scientists but about their comparative numerical representation in elite science/engineering faculty. Nowhere in the transcript is there anything pertaining to the former, and the two are logically unrelated. Nowhere in the transcript does Summers make the insane claim that all men are better than all women, or that women are not represented at all in science and engineering – these are absurd religious hallucinations. Larry Summers was, quite analogously, burned as a witch, as a fundamentalist community, faced with a fatal contradiction, had no choice but to protect itself against reality by inventing a new one. And now Baron-Cohen instead of taking a stand for science and free inquiry, instead of making one brave small step toward change to defend his discipline and protect the next generation of young researchers against this corrupt academic atmosphere, decides to buy his time by joining the mob: “I too saw Goody Summers, floating in the night forest eating a human head”. But the town knows Baron-Cohen likes to sneak off into the forest too, so what happens next week when he’s on show trial? Who’s left to defend him, and why should they if they can buy a couple more weeks by pointing the finger at him?

I don’t know but I for one am a little disturbed that the New York Times would print this editorial demanding that autistics be euthanized and women be denied the right to vote.

Different strokes   posted by Razib @ 8/10/2005 12:27:00 AM

Evolutionary Explanations for Societal Differences in Single Parenthood.

Monday, August 08, 2005

American cats   posted by Razib @ 8/08/2005 06:17:00 PM

DNA traces evolution of extinct sabertooths and the American cheetah-like cat. Basically, the famous saber-toothed cat (Smilodon) has a distant relationship to the rest of the felines, while the "American cheetah" is actually a case of convergent evolution to the Old World cheetah, as it seems to have been derived from an ancient proto-puma.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The inevitability of humanity....   posted by Razib @ 8/07/2005 06:21:00 PM

The Life of Meaning has an excellent post up about the importance of the Younger Dryas in human prehistory, in particular to the subsequent transition to the agricultural lifestyle. The Younger Dryas was a thousand year snap of cold and dry conditions within the macrohistory of global climate change. In the relativey balmy period prior to it in the wake of the Last Glacial Maximum human populations seem to have expanded, and in regions like the Levant settled communities arose in the plentitude. These were not towns based on crafts and agriculture as we know it, rather, they were the spatially fixed gazelle hunting cultures that I have spoken of before. But with the harsher conditions they dispersed and reverted back to a more nomadic existence. The fact that non-agricultural people could live in settled communities should not surprise us, not only do modern hunter gatherers give us a biased selection sample because of the ubiquity of agriculture and urbanity, but the Pacific Northwest tribes were exemplars of an opulent, residentially static and stratified society as late the 19th century based around fishing and gathering.

Intellectual historians often sketch out a dichotomy between a "cyclical" conception of human history and a "linear" (usually progressive) one. The latter is typically classified as "modern," and is associated with the Abrahamic religions and science,1 while the former is usually associated with Eastern cultures or "primordial" civilizations (like the Greeks). This dichotomy, like most, obscures more than it illuminates. Every schoolboy knows that the ancient Greeks conceived of the world as moving from a Golden Age down to their own Iron Age via the Silver and Bronze Ages. And yet if you examine the character of the Ages of Man2 as exposited by Hesiod, those who have read Genesis, in the supposedly linear Judeo-Christian tradition, will note that there are similarities. I suspect that the idealization of the past is a bias of any society, just as old men and women often glamorize the time of their youth, so the scholars who interpret the history of their people tend to suffuse their works with the same glow about the days of yore. If, like the Greeks circia 650, you have a recent historical memory of a "Dark Age," all you need to do is keep on pushing back to remember a time when things weren't so bad, ergo, the "Age of Heroes," which seems cognate with the period of massive Bronze Age citadels ~1200. Nevermind that these citadel cultures were characterized by a functionally illiterate society (linear B script was the preserve of the scribal class) which seems to have practiced human sacrifice (see the Pylos tablets), and was arguably artistically impoverished in comparison to the Classical Greeks and their Minoan predecessors. One can see the same mindset manifest during the Renaissance, which dismisses the "Medieval" period and looks to the era of Classical Civilizations as the exemplars of learning and knowledge. Nevermind that for science to progress one had to dismiss and move beyond Galen or Ptolemy.3

In today's fast paced culture, when college students can barely remember a time when one had to walk down to the local library to look up obscure facts, the linear model seems to be ascendent.4 Netscape might be practically defunct, but we all live in "Netscape time." But this model has its flaws, as it tends to underemphasize the importance of epicycles and periodic regression in human history.5 For example, Greek, and to a greater extent Indian, ancient civilization can be bifurcated into two phases, separated by a "barbaric" chasm when literate civilization simply did not exist. We know more about the Greek case because the chasm was shorter, and shallower in its impacts, and we have translated the literate output of the pre-chasm culture.6 Though in many ways Classical Greeks were superior to their Mycenaean predecessors (one only need to point to 5th century Athens), until the rise of the Macedonian empire the polities of the Classical world never equalled those of Mycanaean Greece, and it seems likely that the rulers of the citadels were more powerful than the often elective oligarchs of the polises. Viewed through the lens of a 17th century Hobbesian intellectual one could argue that Classical Greece was something of a decline from the more centralized Mycanaean world. The Tasmanian regression in technology seems to be an illustration that a culture, when cut off from the broader stream of human information networks, can reverse the normal helical progression upward that seems to have typify our species.

In Prehistory of the Mind Steven Mithen argued that the essential characteristics of our cognitive phenotype biased us toward the ascending ladder of cultural complexity which ensued after the last Ice Age. In After the Ice he argued that the pre-Younger Dryas Natufian culture, which was sedentary, though hunter-gatherer based, might not only have provided the demographic boost which precipitated the invention of agriculture, but, that the memories of its glory could have been the mythological seeds which the post-Younger Dryas people drew upon as they set about recreating the ancient days of dense plenty. In a previous post about epistasis I highlighted that it was important to evaluate the fitness and phenotypic implications of an allele in the context of its genetic background. An analogy with the norm of reaction could also be made, as in that case it is usually varying environmental conditions which result in a nonlinear response from disparate genotypes. In another post I suggested that the same qualifications also apply to our ideas of concepts which are not based on agreed upon axioms, but are driven by induction, an intuitive essentialism and an understanding of the lack of linear separability of "litmus test" qualities.7 Moving up from the mind, which is in part contingent upon genetically coded elements and predisposed to particular biases, to the society, obviously the geographical context and the historical inputs matter, with the society itself is also imparting a great deal of information which shapes the phenotype of the mind. Just as the analogy from genes to memes breaks down on many levels (ie; the ubiquity of horizontal transfer in memes), so the Spenglarian conception of a "civilization" as an "organism," which goes through phases of growth, maturity and senescence must be tempered by the reality that there are so many points of difference that using the organismic metaphor as a theoretical basis is likely fallacious in all but the most constrained circumstances (perhaps the nearly isolated Eastern Islanders would work under a Spenglarian model).

Just like gene-environment and gene-gene (epistatic) interactions stick out like unwanted sore thumbs in analysis of complex phenotypes,8 so the various interacting elements in socio-historical models are often discarded in favor of an "additive" or "environmental" only model. If you listen to this interview with Jared Diamond and Victor Davis Hanson you note that they both sing a one-note tune (Diamond of course appeals to geography while Hanson argues that the sui generis emergence of Classical Greek culture was the singular event in human history, from which all else follows). Older racial theorists, and some of the more enthusiastic proponents of human biodiversity on the comment boards of this weblog, tend to argue for a genetic basis for the development paths of human societies,9 as if gene frequencies have no relation to the environmental, social and historical forces that might shape fitness of a given allele. The old diffusionist school of archeology and history seemed to work on the thesis that all of human development was contingent upon singular inventions which were so unlikely as to never be reproducible, even though the development of stratified cultures with complex features cognate with the Old World in Meso and Andean America (religion, literacy and astrology) suggested that there were common universalities in the human mental architecture that tended to tease out similar phenomena given particular social contexts.10

The Post Modernists are right when they diabuse us of the notions that the old theories really explained much of anything, but I believe they are wrong in their contention that we sit atop a mountain of lies which we can never move past. The human genome might be mostly "junk" (or so we think!11) but the functional elements construct a rather marvelous phenotype. A nucleotide-by-nucelotide comparison might show us to be almost a chimpanzee, but we look within our minds and we know that this "almost" is very different nonetheless. Deconstructing the tissue of lies on which we've built our houses is far easier than gleaning from the moist despoiled mass the truths there are12 (it is certainly necessary as well, but not sufficient to generate new truth). But the fact that I am typing this out on a device with incredible computing power, and that you are reading this from all ends of the earth, is manifest proof that the gold we can extract from our lies can bear rich fruit. In the 1920s physicists had to abandon their clockwork classical universe and open themselves up to the statistical possibilies of the post-Daltonian atom. Nevertheless, science did not end within the banishing of hard determinism, our greatest achievments were arguably ahead of us, in the very realm of the terrifying reality of the new atomic world. Today, the monomethodological explanations of Everything that is human still reign, but the multipronged advances of the life and human sciences continues, cross-fertilizing and catalyzing. Historians and archeologists benefit from better dating technology as well as the insights from archeogenetics. Psychologists explore the bounds of the phenotypic mind, while neurologists explore the brain's physiology and geneticists aid in understanding the seeds of the developmental arc of the brain's final physical structure. In turn these discoveries help us understand how social networks are effected by cognitive constraints,13 and these networks are nested within our understanding of the emergence of institutions and cultures,14 which themselves reshape the cognitive phenotype which birthed them (via memes).15

An accurate and precise understanding of these fields is not available today, but this is where one hopes that cognitive boosts via both the artifices of the life and computational engineering sciences may one day aid us in our battle for comprehension. We may live today in a time where Post Modern skeptics and Monomethodological quasi-sages sit atop their mountains, self-satisfied in their adulation, but there are others who wend their way through the deep, dark valleys below, over rapids and through narrow ravines, mapping the landmarks for the explorers to come, and they are the ones who will be the progenitors of future progress. After the Younger Dryas perhaps the elders of the tribes who stumbled into an age of plentitude regaled the youngsters with lore of the ancient days before the hungry times, but the youth did not go back to hunting the gazelle as the traditions dictated, instead they blazed a new path, informed by the past, but emboldened by visions of the future.

1 - Obviously I tend to think that science is characterized by linear progress, at least so far, more or less. But the line between science and non-science is one of steps and continuity, not a sharp and yawning canyon. Though it might be fashionable in some circles to label Newton the "last of the magicians," remember that a "sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology," the daughter and helpmate of science.

2 - There are ages when man lives centuries, when he eats freely of the fruit of the earth without effort, when men were great and warlook, when there are sons of the gods who walked the earth and knew women, etc. etc. A close reader of Genesis and the Ages of Man can see the similarities, even if there are obvious differences.

3 - The great failing of Renaissance scientists, like the predecessors of Thomas Willis in physiology or Galileo in physics, was insufficient contempt for the past synthesized with a parsimonious preservation of the nuggets of genuine wisdom.

4 - Today, erudition is not marked by a knowledge of facts, but an understanding of a relation of facts which can only be attained by repeated reading and thinking.

5 - This happens in science too. Note the eclipse of Darwinism between 1900 and 1930, or the waxing of the popularity particle and wave theories of light before their reconciliation under the umbrella of quantum electrodynamics.

6 - Judging from the archeology and the philological evidence it seems that the period between the decline of the Indus Valley civilization around 2000 and the rise of post-Sanskritic literate culture around 500 was characterized by a discontinuity of language, material culture and possibly alleles. It has been argued that before the construction of New Dehli the Indus Valley cities were the apogee of public planning over the history of Indian culture, and on average, India has never recovered from that particular regress.

7 - The problem is that our representation, or operational thesis, about our own self-conception is that we do behave as if our paradigms are ideas are deductively based, which often results in people talking past each other, as the words are not communicating the information that both individuals intend them to communicate.

8 - Phenotype = Additive genetic variance + Dominance genetic variance + Epistatic variance + Gene-environment correlation + Gene-Environment interaction + Environmental variance.

9 - Aryan-Nordicist theorists ingeniously leveraged the diffusionist biases of the early 20th century to concoct an exogenous elite factor in the rise of all non-white and non-European civilizations, and manufactured theories of racial decline a priori from inferences demanded by their model in the pre-archeogentic era to explain the relatively tardiness of complex literate culture in the Aryan-Nordic ur-heimat of Northern Europe vis-a-vi Southwest and East Asia. Subsequent historical (the likely non-Aryan character of the Indus Valley civilization or the lack of any Indo-European presence in Mesopatamia until 1500) and archeogenetical data makes such theories even less tenable, at least as first aproximations which explains the primary component of variation evaluated over all of written history.

10 - With the full translation of Maya annals the uncanny resemblence (at least to my mind) between it and archaic Old World cultures is brought into sharper focus. The fall of the Maya city states seems to be very similar to collapse of the Bronze Age Greek citadel culture, in particular, the last days of Pylos and recorded in their famous tablets.

11 - The evolutionary persistence of many intergenomic sequences which do not seem to code for proteins offers compelling circumstantial evidence to selectionists that much of the junk DNA is not junk. Many molecular geneticists seem to assume it has some unknown regulatory function, perhaps by acting as modifiers within the higher order structure of the chromatin during the relaxation or condensation of histone scaffolded DNA strands.

12 - The pattern of our lies and self-deception can also give us important clues as to the nature of our mind and its particular biases, so the sort of lies we tell are crucially important. Just as "junk DNA" might have regulatory functions, so "junk memes" might serve crucial buffering and framing roles for those nuggets of truthfull representation in our minds.

13 - See my post about Dunbar's number.

14 - Relevantly, for example terror networks.

15 - No matter what we think what others think, we tend to reach social consenses about various shibboleths, which seem to trigger ingroup-outgroup behavior, which, depending on how you look at it is the bane or grace of our species.

GNXP forum   posted by Razib @ 8/07/2005 05:43:00 PM

I've decided to create a Yahoo! group forum, which will replace the "open thread" after this month. You don't need to join the group to post, but you do need a Yahoo! account of some sort (you should be able to read messages without a Yahoo! account). I think this will be more convenient as I won't have to delete all the messages at the end of the month.

Intelligent Design at Stanford   posted by Razib @ 8/07/2005 02:10:00 PM

Debate on evolution begins to flare in the Bay Area:

"While evolution is a viable theory in many people's research, it should be considered what it is -- a theory," said Steve Stenstrom, an intelligent-design backer and former Stanford University quarterback who played for the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers.

"We need to recognize we still don't have answers to a lot of questions about creation. We need to be honest about that and not just throw intelligent design out because it might cause people to believe in God."

Stenstrom helped students organize the first conference on intelligent design last year while he was an adviser for Mosaic, a coalition of Christian groups at Stanford, and Cardinal Life, a Christian group for athletes in which he was an active member as a student 11 years ago.

Rushdie on a "Reformation"   posted by Razib @ 8/07/2005 01:41:00 PM

A reader pointed me to this article by Salman Rushdie in The Washington Post where makes the argument, roughly, that Muslims in the West need to push forward into a new paradigm where they are able to" the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it." We have discussed this point several times, and it seems clear that saying it must be so won't make it so.

But relating to Rushdie, in 1989 when the controversy over The Satanic Verses broke out I was in a rural village in eastern Bangladesh. Some men approached my brother and I with photocopies that described the exact character the book, which was depicted as a novel which asserted that Muhammed's wives were "harlots," and then went into more explicit detail. Obviously in hindsight I realized that what I encountered was bizarre propoganda, and it was difficult for me to translate into Bengali since I didn't know many of the words in that language, and as a pre-teen I didn't particularly feel comfortable in repeating some of the sexually charged accusations made against Rushdie's work. But in any case, Rushdie's article is clearly aimed at Westerners, not Muslims, with whom he has no credibility as an unbeliever.

Rushdie points out that that the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, acknowledged that the Muslim community's own had committed the 7-7 outrages, but that this same man said in 1989 that '"Death is perhaps too easy" for the author of "The Satanic Verses."' Rushdie also reports that he favors the religious-hatred bill. He said on Jan. 13, "There is no such thing as an Islamic terrorist. This is deeply offensive. Saying Muslims are terrorists would be covered [i.e., banned] by this provision." You read this post over at Butterflies and Wheels to get a secularist perspective on this issue. But here is the kicker, this man has been knighted by the Queen! (ergo, the Sir in front Iqbal Sacranie's name) As I noted in my post Analogies going off base the term "moderate" can have different meanings in different contexts, and Sacranie might well be a moderate in the Muslim milieu of Britain. But he is also a man of illiberal instincts from what I can gather, and Salman Rushdie certainly hasn't forgotten that, though it seems that the British establishment has become sanguine to this reality...though perhaps pointing that out is "Islamophobia."

Is Nothing Sacred?   posted by TangoMan @ 8/07/2005 12:39:00 PM

Like clockwork, the EU bureaucrats devise regulations that are foisted upon the fine citizens of the EU who have frequently acquiesced to much inanity, but surely there must be limits that cannot be crossed.

You've read about the catastrophic incidents of décolletage cancer befalling European Barmaids, haven't you? You haven't? Well come to think neither have I. Somehow though, depriving European beer drinkers the sights of sun-kissed décolletage has become Job #1 in Brussels and it has barmaids, and so far, the British and Germans in an uproar.

Clearly a line in the sand has been drawn and injustice must be fought on every front. To get you in the fighting spirit, here lads, is what is worth fighting for.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Going a viking   posted by Razib @ 8/06/2005 01:23:00 AM

Heredity has two articles of archaeogenetical note, a paper that surveys differences in the frequency of Scandinavian Y and mtDNA lineages in the lands where the Norse settled, and a free review of that research which puts it in perspective. There shouldn't be anything in these results which surprises anyone, in some places (the Shetlands) the Scandinavians seem to have come as family units, male and female alleles which are traditionally Scandinavian markers are balanced in proportion. In other areas there is a distinct male skew, for example, in Iceland, which is more in line with the plunder, pillage and despoil stereotype of the Vikings. Humans are clever and adaptively flexible creatures who respond to a given situation in varied manners dependent on the parameters that they discern, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the pre-Christian Scandinavians could sack monasteries and slaughter priests, or, they could also be rather banal family men. Now, if only everyone would acknowledge that One True Explanations usually tend to be highly qualified or restricted to narrow spans of time or ranges of space in the human sciences.

Standard caveat, for entertainment purposes only!

Haldane on the future, and perversion   posted by Razib @ 8/06/2005 01:05:00 AM

Cosma has transcriped this old 1923 paper by J.B.S. Haldane on science and the future, with a biofocus. Haldane really is way too optimistic about the progress of biological engineering, for example, he says "It was in 1951 that Dupont and Schwarz produced the first ectogenetic [outside the womb] child." But the essay is worth this great line: "The biological invention then tends to begin as a perversion and end as a ritual supported by unquestioned beliefs and prejudices."

Little quibblings with a philosopher   posted by Razib @ 8/06/2005 12:17:00 AM

Michael Ruse has a new book coming out, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, and so he's giving interviews, and this one in Salon is pretty good. Ruse's point seems to be that atheism is not a necessary inference from acceptance of evolutionary theory, that evolutionary theory has become a religion-substitute for some (Richard Dawkins, W.D. Hamilton, etc.) and fundamentalist Christianity and Creationism are in some ways also an outgrowth of the Enlightenment milieu just like the sciences. I haven't read the book, but elements of this thesis seem plausible, but I do have a few bones to pick with the interview and some of the assumptions being made.

First, W.D. Hamilton is turned into something of a bogeyman. That's not hard to do really, the interviewer brought up Hamilton's positive attitude toward infanticide almost immediately. If you read either of Hamilton's two books though you will see there is a lot of stream-of-consciousness thinking. Frankly, I have been in the presence of many biologically oriented people who occassionally moot ghoulish ideas, smirk, shrug and disavow their utterance immediately. Hamilton surely is a little more far gone than most, but one reason it is so easy to caricature him is that his books seem incredibly naked and honest, and the second one in particular was published without the revisions that would have likely come if he hadn't died. He never got a chance to retract his utterances. But there is a bigger problem with the depictions of Hamilton in the book: he is fused with Dawkins and a chimera personality that is a composite of Hamilton and Dawkins, Hawkins/Damilton, a militant atheist who makes direct prescriptions from social evolutionary theory, emerges. While Richard Dawkins is a militant atheist by any measure, W.D. Hamilton never was. If you read Defenders of the Truth, The Darwin Wars or A Reason for Everything, you will note that 1) Hamilton is an avowed agnostic, 2) he accepts that most people are believers and thinks it is their business if it makes them happy and 3) he was probably George Price's closest friend during the years that Price had a religious conversion and devoted himself to Christian good works. At Price's funeral after his suicide when the minister declared that he 'took his Christianity too seriously,' Hamilton responded, 'Like Saint Paul?' Hamilton had some scary views, but a militant atheist like Dawkins he never was. In contrast, unlike Hamilton, Dawkins has been rather careful about offering explicit policy prescriptions based on his gene selectionist paradigm, though forceful, allusive and memorable, his prose style is also sly and indirect as to the possible range of implications of the hand of the Blind Watchmaker. Additionally, even the characterization of Hawkins/Damilton's view of evolution is a bit off. Ruse defends the Christian paleontologist Simon Conway Morris at one point in the interview, and later says "...It's not just Dawkins. The idea that life is driven basically by chance and necessity is a fairly popular refrain." But here is the issue, in his latest book, The Ancestor's Tales, Dawkins praises Morris' ideas about the constraints upon evolutionary pathways and dismisses Stephen Jay Gould's thesis of radical contigency, that is, if you rewound the clock and started evolution again it would result in radically different forms of life. A big exception for Dawkins though is intelligent life, which he doesn't see as inevitable due to its rarity, in contrast to the recurrent body forms of dolphins, ichthyosaurs and fish, to name one example.

Overall, I hope that the book doesn't make these particular errors, though I recall Ruse bad-mouthing Hamilton in an Evolution-Creation debate back in 1996 on PBS, so this might be an old hobby-horse of his.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Well, well....   posted by Razib @ 8/05/2005 05:59:00 PM

Vatican Observatory head clashes with cardinal on evolution, and the first comment on this article:

Fr. Coyne's a heretic. Last year a CNS article described his belief in a "type of divine creation that did not pre-ordain human beings, or which might have even produced thinking beings different than humans." - like a Cyclops maybe? In another article the padre said that even the Creator, "he or she," can't know everything. In other words, this fallible being started it all and waited in anticipation to see what would happen next. Drivel and nonsense! Where's the inquisition when you need it?

The wording was possibly partly in jest, but it is rather creepy....

People classify differently....   posted by Razib @ 8/05/2005 05:44:00 PM

Cognition has a new paper titled Folkbiology of freshwater fish, that might interest some. The skinny is that Native Americans and non-Native Americans tend to have contrasting taxonomies, which isn't surprising because fresh water fish are not as easy to separate using essentialist intuition as "fish, fowl and beasts of the earth." But newer readers might find my old post The Geography of Thought as apropos, but more relevant to broader context because it compares the "Asian mind" with the "Western mind."1

1 - The book makes it clear that in fact there is an "Anglospheric" mind, a traditionl non-European mind, and a European mind in the middle, when it comes to metrics like individualism. East Asians are used as exemplars of the non-European mind because there is a more psychological data on them than many others. Asian Americans tend to fall between Asians and non-Asian Americans.

Are charges of racism losing their impact?   posted by TangoMan @ 8/05/2005 05:39:00 PM

I'm sure we've all witnessed incidents of people putting others down in order to feel better about themselves. This is an all too common behavior yet it surprises me that when a judgement must be made between the impulse to lash out so as to achieve the feeling of moral superiority and the need to assess whether the charge can be substantiated, too often we bear witness to, what appears to be no such judgements being made by the accusers. OK, this is a long winded way of wondering if the charge of racism is seen by many to have completely lost its currency, and if it has, why people still modify their statements to avoid being on the receiving end of such a charge?

Here are three cases in point:

1.) A follow-up to the Eating their Own post where the Ultra-PC brigades call the merely PC crowd of Jared Diamond supporters racist. Brad DeLong offers a hilarious follow-up. He quotes David H. Holberg, Chair, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University:

From what I have read so far, I would conclude that Diamond's representations are fundamentally misrepresentations which, unconsciously perhaps, disguise a racist and ethnocentric position...

DeLong offers this analysis:

It's beginning to look as if people like Ozma's calling Guns, Germs, and Steel "quasi-racist" and Tak's saying that it "perpetuates racism" may simply be aping their elders. It appears to be a thing their sub-group does in order to close the circle of discourse against outsiders--just as economists close the discourse to outsiders by saying "they don't have a mathematical model" and historians close to discourse to outsiders by saying "they don't have any new primary-source evidence." If so, Ozma's and Tak's claims that Diamond is "quasi-racist," or "perpetuates racism" should not be understood as empirical claims about the world but merely as markers of their own commitment to a group that seeks to close the discourse to outsiders.

2.) The reception the Cochran, Harpending & Hardy paper received on Kuroshin. The loudest and most offensive comments were by the faction screaming racist and Nazi and yet 49% of the respondents to the associated poll believe "Race and IQ are valid concepts, and there are genetic differences in intelligence between races." It seems that those 49% didn't feel the need to be so over the top with their opinions on the matter and saved themselves from the charges of racism.

3.) Coach Brown taking a teacher professional development course on multiculturalism this summer observes:

So I'm 4 weeks into the class and I've been called the following:
-a racist
-a bigot
-a capitalist pig
-a supporter of American imperialism (I have no idea why)
-a symptom of the institutional Racism so prevalent at American schools.
-a supporter of corporate America (then he listed Enron, WorldCom, Bechtel, and Halliburton as my choice picks)
-an ignorant supporter of racial profiling

and that is only from answering one question, What are the implications for today's immigrants?

With few exceptions, the common thread I see connecting these three cases is that the charges of racism are wholly unwarranted yet in the game of "feeling superior one-upmanship" throwing out the racist charges seems to be more important to the self-esteem of the accuser than the downside of looking like a jack-ass for making a ludicrous charge and the commensurate diminishment of one's reputation. Of course, I recognize the sample universe is completely biased because we're not measuring the judgements that lead to restraint and thus avoid uttering slapdash charges of racism, but still, this is almost comedic to me rather than shocking. I'd much prefer that a charge of racism actually had some shame and injustice associated with it rather than being a tool for tools to whip out without thinking.

It's all a head game   posted by Razib @ 8/05/2005 03:28:00 PM

I think John Hawks' two posts (part I and part II) express a lot of the reservations I have with the "ancestry" testing industry. To me, they resemble nothing more than online IQ tests where you pay $20 to get confirmation about what you already know! The problem, as I have said before, is that people want to know in a gestalt manner the crux of their ancestral narrative, when in reality they are a phenotype generated from discrete bits of genetic material with varied phylogenetic histories, and most of what they want to know they know (take a look at yourself in the mirror). Of course, the autosomal tests are better than the Y or mtDNA tests, and I can understand why African Americans would get some psychological satisfaction about knowing the regions where their male or female lineage are common. But for everyone else, I say stick to old school genealogy. Or else, these results should come with a warning label: for entertainment purposes only!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Contingent conditions   posted by Razib @ 8/04/2005 06:23:00 PM

Steve points me to this article which reports on a paper in PNAS (not online) that falsifies a climate-only hypothesis for North American megafaunal extinctions 11,000 years B.P. by using the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola as controls. Ground sloths disappeared from these islands 6,000 years ago, at about the time humans arrived. In After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC Steve Mithen also points out that the Wrangel Island Mammoths disappeared at around the time that the first evidence of human occupation can be discerned. Mithen also reports that he and a graduate student designed a computer model which simulated the effects on population size of megafauna due to climate change, and noted that when human hunting was added into system the population predictably tended to not recover from periods of simultaneous hunting and environmental stress. The fact that the megafuna of African still survive is likely a testament to the coevolution that must have occurred between the various ungulates and other assorted herbivores and hominid groups over the eons. The only quibble I might have with the narrative above is that it seems to presuppose a Clovis kill off, and Mithen seems to reflect that the consensus in the archeological profession that Monte Verde, at least, predates Clovis by thousands of years, so that particular chapter of the book is rather unsatisfying if you are looking for answers since the author basically moots confusions and mysteries that need to be resolved in the next few years.

Analogies going off base....   posted by Razib @ 8/04/2005 01:59:00 PM

Analogies are ubiquitous on blogs. On the more partisan/polemical ones they serve as the foot soldiers in disputations. But they are also important when you trying to communicate a concept to someone else in good faith using analogs where they are already familiar with the basic interrelationships of the elements. You map relations from the base (which they know something about) onto a target (which they know less about). But here is a key point: analogies have to maintain the interrelationships of the base to the target, and this is where most people stumble. I have talked about this before in regards to the common Sunni:Shia::Protestant:Catholic analogy. My initial skepticism was due to reading reports during the 1980s of the Shia of Iran as being the "Protestants of Islam." The fact that the analogy flipped makes me wonder about its utility...but in the end I will grant it some minimal explanatory power, though it is dependent on the knowledge base of the audience.

Consider the fixation on Islam and the War on Terror. Most people have some opinions on it, and to the first approximation I suspect that one's evaluations of the short term policy prescriptions are usually contingent on values, as well as a weighting of costs, benefits and the concomitant probability of each parameter being relevant. But what about the long term? To use an analogy, if you are standing on a field with a few friends, and a monster truck which doesn't seem to have a driver is erratically moving around, and any escape options are closed (perhaps there are walls), your short term response is going to be obvious: you get out of the way. Each individual will have their short term evaluation of the most efficient evasive tactics, you don't need to know much about the truck, it is a moving object that needs to be avoided. But in the long term you can't hope to avoid the truck indefinitely, you need to figure out how to destroy it or disable it or control it. To do this, you need to know more about the truck, inside and out. You might not really be interested in the details of how the truck works or the surface morphology which dictates where someone might be able to grasp a hold.

As some of you might have guessed, the truck is Islam. I'm not going to stretch the analogy, or get into whether Islam, or post-colonialism, or particular economic conditions, etc. are the "real problem," let's just label it "Islam" for now. There are some short term issues which need to be dealt with, and I think people's viewpoints will be contingent upon the parameters I pointed to above (values + evaluation of cost vs. benefit in light of those values). Nevertheless, I still think there is the medium-long term issue that needs to be grappled with. To deal with it, or at least discuss it, people need to have a basic level of understanding of "how the truck works." This is not always particularly easy, the first half of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam read like Islam explained by a French philosopher (this makes sense, the author is a Francophone Swiss Muslim who makes copious references to French philosophers). Nevertheless, I read it because I wanted to know more about how Muslims actually view their religion. I understood the importance of this a few years back when I read Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras at the recommendation of Aziz Poonwalla, who happens to a Daudi Bohra himself. After reading the book his blog entries were much more intelligible and less confusing to me. This doesn't mean that I believe in the truth value of Aziz's religion, but, I understand with greater precision and accuracy what Aziz believe's to be true. This capacity is of course often considered a unique trait of the human mind, we can put ourselves in other people's shoes, and examine and consider ideas which we do not believe to be true, or which do not have a easy correspondence with anything in our material universe. This competence is one reason that fiction is popular, with perhaps fantasy fiction being an extreme form of this tendency.

This moves me to an important point: many do not maintain the proper relationships between elements when they try to map an analogy to communicate information. Problems ensue from this. For example, consider the term "moderate Muslim." It is clearly a concept which defines an abstraction which doesn't exist in concrete terms. To be clear, people don't define themselves as "moderate Muslims," they are "Pakistani Muslims," or "Ismaili" or "Salafi" or "Sufi." Moderate Muslims are simply Muslims excluding Islamists by the most common definition. But I suspect many Americans simply map "moderate Muslim" from "moderate Christian." There are problems with this. In One Nation Under God the authors tend to interpret the survey data on various Christian denominations in regards to issues (political and theological) as pointing to Methodists as the most "moderate" (between the liberal Congregationalists and a host of very conservative churches defining the range), or median, confession in the United States. So do "moderate" Muslims map onto the ideals, views and norms of Methodists? First, I do not think so. Second, even if they did, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton are both Methodists, so be cautious about taking these typologies are being very predictive in the first place. But my personal impression is that moderate Muslims are not the equivalent of American Methodists, that their values and self-perception of their religion is more similar to Southern Baptists, that is, they know they are the "one true religion," though they might tolerate other religions they do not cede them any inherent legitimacy beyond what their scriptures and traditions would grant, and they view avant-garde social practices with skepticism and outright hostility. Within Christianity I think the best analogy for non-violent Islamists would be the Reconstructionist movement, which though influential beyond their numbers, is marginal enough in numbers to be mostly unknown. Interestingly, it is out of this movement that many of the violent anti-abortion activists have emerged.

What I am proposing here is that one of the problems with the contemporary discourse, on both the Right and the Left, is that it is focused on typologies but ignores the nature of the distribution. If one considers a population on a spectrum of "religious intolerance," I would argue that the generic "Muslim" median is shifted further toward the intolerant end than the "Christian" one. Though no doubt the distributions are not going to be normal, it seems plausible that they will decrease at the tolerant and intolerant tails, but numerically there could be many more Muslims at the lower ranges because the whole distribution is shifted over. So, on a relativized system the term "moderate Muslim" is intelligible, but people tend not to renorm it appropriately. In terms of religious dynamics, in the United States it has been estimated that 1/3 of individuals switch from their natal confession to another religion. This is somewhat high for most of the world, but, the conversions are not random. Jews are more likely to shift between different variants of Judaism, Protestants between Protestant sects, extremely conservative Roman Catholics to switch to the Eastern Rite, and so on. If the Muslim center of gravity as regards tolerance is not shifted, obviously a large number of specially selected moderate Muslims can cause problems because over time many will shift toward a more intolerant conservative brand of Islam simply because of the tendency toward a minority of the population to switch religions.

Finally, I want to offer one analogy that I find interesting, but deceptive. Turkey is often held up to be an example of laicism in the Muslim world on the French model. But an examination of the numbers indicates that a higher percentage of Turks express "strong religiosity" than Americans. I point out the comparison with Americans because, of course, Americans are the nutty fundamentalists of the Western world by reputation, and yet Turks, the French secularists of the Muslim world are even more religious! While 34% of French consider themselves religious, 71% of Turks and 65% of Americans do. My point is that the interrelationships do hold, Turkey is the France of the Muslim world, but the Muslim world is a crucial qualification.1

I know much of this is pedantic detail...but if you don't find this interesting, or at least relevant, I ask that you not comment on any of the Islam posts I make in the future. There are only so many unique insights you can get from reading the newspaper everyday. I am aware that a biased percentage of readers of this weblog come out of science, and so I don't expect the data base to be particularly broad in history, religion or international affairs, but I post on these topics partly to expose some facts and models to people in the sciences, who being educated, are expected to have opinions about social topics and public policy. And of course, there's always the scroll option!

1 - Obviously the analogy disregards all sorts of local pecularities. For example, I would suggest that elite Kemalism has resulted in an enormous range of religious practice in Turkey which is wider than in the United States. While many Turks are social drinkers, many rural Turks (often Kurds) are also the types which will engage in honor killings. This suggests a gap between the 21st and 11th centuries.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Gene expression matters, part n....   posted by Razib @ 8/03/2005 07:14:00 PM

Variation in gene expression profiles of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy volunteers:

In the study described here, microarrays were employed to analyse gene transcription in peripheral blood mononuclear cells prepared from serial blood samples that had been obtained, at weekly intervals, from apparently healthy human volunteers. Transcript levels for the majority of genes examined were found to be remarkably consistent within samples from a single donor. Conversely, marked differences were observed in samples obtained from different donors. Genes that exhibited differential expression dependent on sex, age, body mass index and the presence of varying proportions of different leucocyte subsets were identified. These results emphasise the important contributions of genetic and environmental factors, as well as varying representation of different cell types, in determining the overall gene transcriptional profiles of human tissues....

SNPs, microsatellites and epigenetics, we truly are living in the biological age of assume-the-cow-is-a-sphere...but the sphere is puckering and evincing some more interesting morphological features of late. Here is the press release by the researchers who were involved in the study, while this article emphasizes the ramifications as regards nutrition and individually tailored diets.

Related: Expression and sequence.

Drum's Swipe at the Right's Faux Outrage   posted by TangoMan @ 8/03/2005 11:31:00 AM

I'm sure you've all read about the President's latest idiocy, his advocation of teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in the nation's schools. When the news broke yesterday I thought about blogging it but just couldn't muster the enthusiasm to once again go on the attack against the religious right and their ignorance-based policy prescriptions - our archives are full of posts dealing with those very themes and I thought we'd add nothing new to the numerous stories swirling about the blogosphere, especially for our regular readers who are well aware of this blog's position (they'd never confuse us as having sympathy for the Religious Right) and besides how could we top this line - "Sheesh. Trying to prove the Dems right, one stupid f*cking statement at a time. Is Bush 'playing to the base' or does he believe it? I don't know which is worse."

However, today Kevin Drum has a post blasting the conservative side of the blogsphere for for their faux outrage. I don't think he's too far off-base either, this creationist delusion that the President operates under shouldn't be a surprise to anyone and the voters knew what type of man they were electing. Here's Drum's point:

Actually, what bugged me most about this whole affair was reading the faux outrage from Bush's conservative supporters in the blogosphere, as if they had no idea he felt this way before this week. Give it a rest, guys. Bush thinks creationism sounds great, Tom DeLay thinks the teaching of evolution was responsible for the Columbine shootings, and Bill Frist - a medical doctor! - is so scared of the Christian right that last December on "This Week" he hemmed and hawed and fidgeted like a naughty schoolchild while repeatedly declining to say whether he thought HIV-AIDS could be transmitted through tears or sweat.

Note to Bush supporters: You all knew what you were voting for when you put these guys in power. I'm happy to see you on the side of the angels here, but it's a little late to pretend to be shocked that the Republican leadership feels this way.

However, Kevin is painting with too broad of a brush. I think we all pretty much know that the candidate's positions on Creationism vs. Evolution weren't the main litmus tests for most voters and the conservative movement is not as monolithic in ideology as the Left would like to think. Nor is the Left as monolithic as the Right likes to think, and it was a pleasure to be a by-stander to the whole "Savage Minds (Leftist anthropologists) calling Jared Diamond's supporters racist" bro-ha-ha as Razib detailed in his post Eating Their Own. Anyways, I think it safe to assume that to many blogosphere readers we here at Gene Expression are solid Right Wing soldiers, however that impression isn't supported by data. Take a look at the data on our readership 18% of whom are inclined towards the Left vs. 37% inclined towards the Right. In the matter of religious inclination, 68% are either athiests or agnostic towards god and 57% of whom have no religion whatsoever. Also 33% voted for Kerry compared to 26% for Bush. In terms of godlessness I think we have most of the liberal community beat on that front!

Now Kevin is right to make as much hay about this embarrassment as he possibly can for such shame is a powerful tool to use to slap down the idiots in the conservative camp but in doing so Kevin is offering only a shallow, and mostly erroneous, dig at his opponents. This National Review article nicely delineates the Types of Right and I think that the emergence of the Evol-Cons is not really on the radar of many on the Left for they have no counterpart faction on which to map such emergent ideology.

. . . that lessons of the new science of evolutionary psychology are largely conservative ones about an adamantine human nature, the natural basis of sex roles, and so on; second, that the knowledge gained from the Human Genome Project and the rise of genetic engineering will throw up some fascinating and contentious political issues in the increasingly near future . . . . The main obstacle to their acceptance by other conservatives is that, although they actually lend support to the moral rules derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition, they seem to rob them of divine backing by making them merely adaptive.

As for the new issues born of genetic research, some have already crossed the political radar screen - notably, the controversy over race and I.Q. - and others will stride into the limelight very soon as it becomes possible for parents not merely to correct obvious genetic effects, but also to improve their children's I.Q., looks, height, etc. Will governments allow this? It will be hard to deny a parent the right to lift the curse of some hereditary disease from his daughter. But since there is no clear dividing line between correcting a defect and improving a feature, then wealthy parents would be able to buy better life-prospects for their offspring. Liberals would then want to use the same technology to "equalize" life-chances.

Major political battles are riding on the back of these scientific discoveries - and the evolutionary conservatives are among the very few people who have thought about them seriously.

Now, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if many of our readers who have a liberal slant to their politics, have by the Left's conscious renunciation of Human Bio-Diversity found themselves, by default, in the Evol-Con camp, though likely with many of their liberal social and economic proclivities still in tact. Afterall, one needs to only wade into the swamp of righteous indignation, willful blindness, self-affirming mantras divorced from reality and self-congratualatory adulation exhibited in this Daily Kos post to realize that liberally inclined Evol-Cons have as much in common with their ideological comrades (take a look at how one commentator is taken to the mat as a racist for using the word snigger) as conservative Evol-Cons have with the President and his ilk. For a different take on the Daily Kos issue take a look at John Hawk's post. Note the content difference between the two approaches. One need only look to the Larry Summers' debacle to realize that the Left bows before their own pieties of Blank Slatism and Gender Science (take a look at my post on Anti-Racist Math for the Gender Science take) that are equal in outlandishness to the Creationism idiocy. From my post, here's Gender Theorist, Sandra Harding:

I have been suggesting reasons for reevaluating the assumption that physics should be the paradigm of scientific knowledge-seeking. If physics out not to have this status, then feminists need not "prove" that Newton's laws of mechanics or Einstein's relativity theory are value-laden in order to make the case that the science we have is suffused with the consequences of gender symbolism, gender structures and gender identity.

To point to another example, the Cochran, Harpending & Hardy paper on Ashkenazi I.Q. has no safe harbor within the Left where it can be accepted without being seen as a threat to Leftist pieties. Of course, the standard response I've encountered is that the Left accommodates scientific reality within its ideological framework, and in fact that's precisely the tack that was taken in response to my post, The Turning of the Tide which argued that we'll likely see a merging of the Right and Left creationist and dogmatic elements against the Right and Left "reality-based" elements. At the time I felt it necessary to respond with the illustration of Leftist creationist-type thinking in this follow-on post, The Conflict Within - The Left's Version of Creationism.

So, in a nutshell, yeah Kevin, this is a perfect opportunity to crow about the Right's creationist idiocy and how the voters knew what they were getting, but don't get too far out on that plank, because the Left isn't anymore virtuous or reality-based when their own dogmas are challenged.

And for the record, I voted for Kerry.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Expression and sequence....   posted by Razib @ 8/02/2005 03:00:00 PM

We've noted the "division" between those who look for significant findings in genetic sequence information and those who are focused on the expression of the genes. So here are two papers that just came out this month:

Genetic links between brain development and brain evolution.

Aging and gene expression in the primate brain.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The God of Reason   posted by Razib @ 8/01/2005 02:26:00 PM

The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin is an ambitious book that fails in its aim ("finding meaning"), but of course that's not a particular concern, I think if 3,000 years of philosophy and philosophical religion tell us anything it is that the journey is the true destination. Written by a Keith E. Stanovoich, a cognitive psychologist, in less than 300 pages (though with detailed notes!) the book shoots from basic cognitive science all the way to philosphical ethics, with long jaunts to philosophy of the mind in between. Readers of this weblog will guess that I found the cognitive science more interesting than the other more philosophical fields (I prefer fiction to most of philosophy when I read it for philosophy's sake as opposed to getting a bearing on the intellectual environment of a historical period).

If you have read introductory cognitive science texts or any of Daniel Dennett's books there won't be any surprises, the book hammers home the point that TASS (The Autonomous Set of Systems) is as ubiquitous in our life as the analytic mind (or more so). He asserts that the conscious mind is in many ways an illusion, that we live in a "Cartesian Theater" of self-delusion as to the importance of the central processing unit in mental function. "Self" is just an emergent propery of subsystems and their synergy.

One of the great things about cognitive science is that you can illustrate the experiments, and have your readers test them, in book form. Of course, you aren't getting many repetitions (no statistical analysis), but you get a feel for what the author is getting at by doing the experiments which led to the concepts being exposited. About three years ago I reviewed the book The Number Sense, which had a neat little experiment, and I'll reproduce it here.

Answer the following questions as fast as you can:

Now quick! Pick a number between 12 and 5

Click here to find out what you should have picked.

If you didn't choose the number that pops up, you are in a minority. My point above is that people often think of TASS systems as motor reflexes, innate and hardwired, like pulling your hand away from the fire, but they are more than that. Arithmetic is learned, but by the time they are adults for many people (but not all) it is almost reflexive a skill.

Fodor's definition of a modular process (roughtly analogous to TASS) list the following traits:
  1. fast
  2. mandatory
  3. domain specific
  4. informationally encapsulated
  5. cognitive impenetrable
  6. subserved by specific neural architecture
  7. subject to idiosyncratic pathological breakdown
  8. ontogenetically deterministic
Obviously this list is too restrictive for something like basic mathematical skills, as there is a great deal of evidence that the last five criteria do not apply to mathematical functioning, and the extent of the first three are subject to specifics (what type of math, how "fast" or "mandatory"). But the point is that "higher cognitive functions" can become part of TASS over time, and the mandatory part really undermines our conceit that we are by and large rational and conscious beings, always in the cockpit controlling everything manually. This insight is "obvious" if you are talking about motor skills (shooting a basketball), but we tend to not acknowledge its reality in functions which demand some g (figuring out the best route to integrate a nasty function).

Though many elements of TASS are learned, some are innate and genetically programmed. Capacity for language seems to be one of these, as is facial recognition. This is important, because these "competencies" can disappear if there is a genetic or developmental problem, and it highlights how changes in TASS can diminish or distort "higher" aspects of our intellect. For me, the most interesting example the author gave to illustrate the importance of TASS is Capgras Syndrome, where individuals believe that those around them are "imposters." The explanation is simple: the facial recognition system still works, so you recognize people, but the "wiring" which connects this system to that which results in emotional response cued to familiar faces is broken. So, you see your father, you recognize your father, but you feel no concomitant response of filial affection. A problem emerges when the analytic system of our brain "explains" this disjointed perception: everyone must be an imposter, that is the only solution to the cognitive disconnect. They look like people you know, but they can't be the people you know. This causes bizarre paranioas, sometimes resulting in the death of the "imposters" at the hands of those suffering from this illness.

This is "confabulation" writ large, the creation of a story by the analytic mind to explain choices which are rooted in TASS. When people guess or make random choices usually there are plenty of inputs which are shifting them toward a particular selection (that's why advertising works, people don't want to acknowledge that choices are contingent upon outside inputs rather than spur of the moment). Conversely, many choices which we think are made freely and rationally are also dependent on inputs, if not TASS, at least environmental and contexual variables. For example, Stanovoich reports that over half of individuals surveyed in the USA assert they would adhere to the religion they profess no matter what the environment or social inputs were (that is, they were born to a different family which practiced a different religion). Bouchard's twin studies indicate that this isn't so, people who are genetically the same tend to track for "zeal" (half of the variation seems genetically heritable) but not specific denomination.

What does any of this have to do with evolution and Darwin? Well, it's all about TASS. Some evolutionary psychologists take TASS and to some extent almost argue away any other aspects of our mind as having any relevance, even domain-general intelligence (the analytic mind). Massive modularists are especially guilty of this, in particular when they push the idea of "psychic unity" of mankind via the monomorphism of salient psychological traits (human universals which show no heritable variation). Stanovoich's contention is that in many ways the human mind is subdivided in two, between the various aspects of TASS, and the analytic mind, which is serial, slow, kludgy and a later evolutionary development. Unlike TASS the analytic mind is a general purpose tool which is under conscious control and can be brought to bear on any problem (in theory). He goes on to argue that while TASS serves our genetic interests, the analytic mind can serve the interests of the vehicle (though it originally evolved to give more flexibility to the phenotype to advance the replication of the genotype). The author also believes that evolutionary psychologists tend to conflate the interests of vehicle (the "robot") and the genes which it carries because of their fixation on the natural rationality of TASS. Related to this, over the last generation evolutionary psychologists have attacked the heuristics and biases research of cognitive psychologists that suggest that humans are not pure "rational actors" and have a faulty conception of probability. Evolutionary psychologists who reject the heuristics and biases research offer that the mind is adapted to particular tasks, that its skillset is bounded and biased toward evolutionarily relevant concerns, and that one shouldn't presume that it would be a standard utility maximizing device (ie; that transitivity (def. 2) would hold, etc.). From this they formulate policies and tools to mitigate the confusions of the human mind in the modern world, which to some extent does assume a utility maximizing consciousness. But many evolutionary psychologists move further and rhetorically assert that the choices that most people make on various tests that suggest irrationality are the correct answers because they are the evolutionarily adapted answers. This mindset is also common once the ideas of evolutionary psychology make it to the general public, the naturalistic fallacy seems like a default cognitive template that is easily triggered. But there is a problem with this. First, modern society is not an Enviornment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (if there was one), so for example our craving for sweets is now a serious maladaptation. Second, there is a strong correlation between those with higher general intelligence behaving as if they were instrumental utility maximizers. In other words, those with a high I.Q. are much more likely to allow their analytic mind to overrule their "gut instinct." This shouldn't be surprising, as it seems that the extreme right end of the bell curve is also the least likely to submit to TASS instincts which result in fecundity (or at least, the analytic mind always manages to take appropriate precautions). Additionally, the book argues that our analytic mind characterizes our human uniqueness more than TASS (some TASS systems like language are pretty unique too of course). There is no reason to privilege TASS, and no reason to privilege the genes which it serves. Like science fiction accounts of humans endowing their android servants with sentience and regretting the decision later when the robots rebel against their masters, so it is that Stanovoich argues that the genes have lost control of their servants.

The last chapter of the book makes the case for a post-TASS analytic system of ethics. I'm not going to repeat in detail what Stanovoich argues, because it is familiar to many, basically a system based on reason and a humane utilitarianism. He comes close to railing against capitalism as being driven by first order rationality that appeals only to TASS hedonic interests (I am not totally deaf to this complaint, but the author offers no productive alternative). He argues for the socially embedded nature of utilitarianism (ie; hooking yourself up to a pleasure machine for your whole life is not cool for various philosphical reasons, most famously articulated by the late Robert Nozick). The process of reason looms large, and the rational analytic mind takes center stage.

But I think there are problems with this thesis. First, there is nothing new in rising above our baser natures. Since the emergence of Buddhism axiomatic philosophical-religions have periodically made waves. The Buddha offered the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in a non-theistic system of self-cultivation which allowed one to transcend our baser instincts. Christ was the Prince of Peace, and the early Christian communities were filled with idealists, culminating in the reunciates who fled to the deserts of Egypt. The original Ummah was predicated on justice for all. Marxism was about allowing government to wither as one reaches the final anarchic utopia. Here the issue: systems concocted by those who privilege their analytic minds tend to morph once they become popularized. 1,500 years after Buddha Mahayana Buddhism had imported gods back into the equation via Boddhisattvas. 1,100 years after the Prince of Peace Jersalem was bathed in blood in his name (or his father, "God Wills It!"). Somehow, Muhammed's particular message morphed into a worldwide jihad to bring the "Peace of Islam" to every corner of the earth (with fits). The anarchist utopia somehow led to totalitarian Marxist-Leninism.

The reformation of the mind that Stanovoich proposes is contingent upon faith in the analytic mind. Those who are cognitively nimble, who have had success in school solving equations or writing essays, they will trust that mind. Those who have failed at these tasks, or gotten by on rote memory and "tricks," will not. The majority of the human race is in the latter category. I do believe that with the coming biological engineering revolution and cybernetic extensions, this could change, but Stanovoich doesn't go into this issue (though he alludes to it, and not always positively from what I can gather).

Another point he makes is that he assumes that the cognitive revolution has debunked traditional religion. He agrees with Daniel Dennett that the "universal acid" of Darwinism will eat away all the ancient pre-scientific paradigms. I am skeptical because I do not think that religionists are anywhere close to abandoning their "code base" because of the unwieldiness of the extensions that are being added by modernity. In fact, I don't think that many people actually have within them many high level densely coded applications that need lots of spare processing power and RAM which novel extensions can be added on to. Most people just run the basic house-keeping applications which are a 'good enough' solution for the replicators. The scientific revolutions alluded to above might change that, but I suspect that the first result won't be a streamlined rationalization or a homogenization of worldviews converging upon the analytic mind, rather, I suspect there will be a profusion of mad and somewhat insane mentalities which divergent values and sense of purpose as humans boot-strap their minds into wildly different directions. Let a thousand flowers bloom....

Related: I think some readers might question the use of the term "robot" to define humans. I have a tendency to visualize people as nodes with a landscape of gene flow, for example. But note that Jennifer Aniston recently asserted that Brad Pitt has a sensitivity chip missing. I think on a very basic level humans do perceive themselves as a sort of chimera, though verbally and in our idealizations we tend to project the reality of a unitary self.

100X increase in DNA sequencing speed   posted by the @ 8/01/2005 12:47:00 PM

Nature News reports on the successful application of a new sequencing technology:

Writing in Nature, Marcel Margulies, Michael Egholm and colleagues describe a method that they say reads genomes 100 times faster than the current technology, which is based on a tried and true technique called the Sanger method.

Machines based on the Sanger method typically read 67,000 letters of the DNA code, also known as bases, in an hour; Rothberg says his method can decipher more than 6 million bases in the same time.

"We're a hundred times faster than Sanger, and we're just getting started," says Rothberg.

The 454 method is quick thanks to automation: the entire process from the initial multiplication of segments of DNA through to their sequencing is done using microfluidic technologies. It also analyses thousands of DNA molecules simultaneously. In contrast, Sanger sequencing takes many steps, and technicians are required to move the DNA from one stage to the next (see 'Cutting corners').

Using the 454 technique, one person using one machine could easily sequence the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome in a hundred days, Rothberg says.

There are still important caveats with the current state of this new technology, but it's exciting nonetheless.

The cost/speed of sequencing technology has increased exponentially since its invention. However, most performance increases in the past have come by optimizing the Sanger technique. Future advances will depend on developing new technologies. NIH has set a goal is a $1000 personalized human genome sequence.

A 2004 review gives some perspective:

The dark-blue plot indicates the Kurzweil/Moore's Law108: it describes the doubling of computer instructions per second per US dollar (IPS/US $) that has been occurring approximately every 18 months since 1900. The magenta plot indicates an exponential growth in the number of base pairs of accurate DNA sequence per unit cost (bp/US $) as a function of time1. To some extent, the doubling time for DNA mimics the IPS/US $ curve because it is dependent on it. An even steeper segment occurs in the orange curve; this depicts the number of web sites (doubling time of four months)109 and shows how quickly a technology can explode when a protocol that can be shared spreads through an existing infrastructure. The turquoise plot is an 'Open Source' case study of 'FLUORESCENT IN SITU SEQUENCING' with polonies40 (see main text for details of this DNA-sequencing technology) in bp/min on simple test templates (doubling time of one month).