Friday, September 30, 2005

Brain Scans and Social Policy   posted by Fly @ 9/30/2005 11:34:00 AM

If prediction of anti-social behavior becomes sufficiently accurate, will society adjust by mandating treatment, monitoring, or incarceration BEFORE a crime has been committed? If a person’s behavior is largely a result of an innate, abnormal brain structure, is he morally responsible for his actions. How would our legal and moral systems adapt?

First evidence of brain abnormalities found in pathological liars

MRI brain scan the ultimate lie detector

Perhaps psychopaths could be reliably detected by observing brain function while showing images that normally evoke emotional responses. Perhaps potential child molesters could be identified based on brain responses to images of children. Or potential terrorists.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Vox Clamantis in Deserto   posted by TangoMan @ 9/29/2005 11:52:00 PM

Joanne Jacobs points to a new blogger, Newoldteacher, a graduate student in education. Hers is a voice crying out in the wilderness of education graduate programs:

My professor is a real history professor from the real university I attend. He specializes in modern Islam and European colonialism in the Middle East. He wears bow-ties, tells us we're wrong, criticizes us when we stay stupid things, and generally emits an air of effortless superiority. It's absolutely awesome. Finally, someone who values knowledge, who doesn't believe it's just a useless jumble of unrelated baubles. He's brilliant, and it's obvious that he's brilliant because he knows so much. It's not that he's used "transfer skills" from critical thinking projects he did as a kid. No. He studied for god knows how long in libraries across America, the Middle East, and Europe. He learned other languages and lived in other cultures, and he just knows his shit. Today he gave a narrative of the last few years in American life that was brief but so incisive I felt I would tear up. I hate that my school doesn't think this type of intellectualism is worth anything. The guy in my class who was so pro-constructivism, he said "our schools produce kids who are good at school." First off, most of them don't. Second, what is wrong with that?

Joanne note that Newoldteacher, who hopes to teach social studies, thinks it's more valuable to know things than to be able to "make a model space station out of plastic pipes and rubber tubing."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

This is not cool   posted by Razib @ 9/28/2005 11:37:00 PM

Heat-balling wasps by honeybees. Science News has a detailed story about the phenomenon.

Update: Link fixed.

I am a believer   posted by Razib @ 9/28/2005 06:34:00 PM
Share/Bookmark the post below I alluded to the HIV-does-not-cause-AIDS meme. As always, when we bring this sort of thing up someone points to Duesberg. But I have to say, I've never followed those links. I've never even been tempted. The reason? I know people who know a fair amount about HIV, and they think it is quackery. I know that the overwhelming majority of medical scientists reject this meme. Ultimately, I am a believer in the system, not any specific hypothesis. As such, my worldview and faith in science would not be shattered if HIV did not cause AIDS, scientific consensus can be wrong, it is usually wrong at some point (or less accurate a mapping of the world out there). But it is up to the system of science to methodically expose its own faulty presuppositions. It isn't a perfect system, but show me something better. My post below was not a plea for any particular system, but rather for the idea that systems as conceived in the Western intellectual tradition have validity. Scratch a modern and you will find a Sumerian magician. I tremble for my people, for even we are susceptible to the temptations of false idols and foreign gods, it is in our nature. Though the Western intellectual milieu is not a sufficient condition for modernity, I believe it is a necessary condition, it is a light unto the nations. We are a nation of priests who witness to a living tradition. We may not always comprehend the mysteries of our three-faced trinity of rationalism, skepticism and empiricism, but we should do our best to follow our Law. The Post Modernists of the Left and Right are false prophets who I believe are leading the people alway from fidelity to Law, which would be a shame, because our god and our Law have no other worshippers and adherents in anything more than false words. As youth were are often reviled by those who see in our heterodox predilictions something profane and peculiar, even our own families often perceive us to be unnatural and abnormal creatures. The temptations of the pagan magical world around us are manifold, and we take comfort in the social systems that allow us to communicate and have fellowship with others of our nation. But I fear that too many foreign gods are being worshipped in our temples, and there may come a day when we will scatter among the nations and be reabsorbed into the peoples from whom we came. The sun of our tradition will set and the demon haunted world will be unchallenged once more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Promiscuous meme(plexes)   posted by Razib @ 9/27/2005 05:51:00 PM

In last month's issue of the conservative Catholic journal First Things:

...Collins also endorses the view that evangelicalism is moving beyond the foundationalist theology of the past and into what is commonly described as a postmodernist understanding of truth. He quotes the very prolific and influential British evangelical, Alister McGrath: "The time has come for evangelicalism to purge itself of the remaining foundational influences of the Enlightenment, not simply because the Enlightenment is over, but because of the danger of allowing ideas whose origins and legitimation lie outside the Christian gospel to exercise a decisive influence on that gospel...We have been liberated from the rationalist demand to set out 'logical' and 'rational' grounds for our beliefs. Belief systems possess their own integrities, which may not be evaluated by others as if there were some privileged position from which all may be judged."

I have noted before McGrath's smug exultation at the coming "Post Modern" age, which he concludes will usher in the death of atheism as rationalism retires from the intellectual playing field. McGrath is not alone, as I have noted many a time, the law professor who sparked the rise of the modern Intelligent Design movement, has also spoken highly of Post Modernism:

CJ: Much has been said about the impact of our entering the post-modern era. How do you anticipate post-modernism will impact the debate?

Phil: ...I think it's positive, on the whole, in the sense that it focuses attention on assumptions that people make, and there really isn't one single kind of rational system that can combine everything in the world. Then, where it becomes excessive is when it verges over into nihilism or indifference ideas...taken in the right doses, it's a healthy antidote to excessive rationalism; taken in overdose, it poisons the mind. But you find the notion that non-Western ways of thinking must be treated with respect, that even ancient traditions of tribes may have their truth value--these are healthy developments, I think, and they help open up the universities to challenges to the dominant scientific materialism. So yeah, it's having a big effect and I think, on the whole, a healthy one.

I thought of McGrath and Johnson when I read this from HIV-causes-AIDS denier Christine Maggiore:

...She has stayed healthy, she said, despite a cervical condition three years ago that would qualify her for an AIDS diagnosis. In a 2002 article for Awareness magazine, she facetiously refers to it as "my bout of so-called AIDS," saying it coincided "perfectly with the orthodox axiom that we get a decade of normal health before our AIDS kicks in."

Presupposing the "orthodoxy" of HIV-causes-AIDS, it seems that Maggiore's 3 year old daughter died of the disease. Of course, that hasn't fazed Maggiore or her allies (yet) in their belief. As McGrath noted, "Belief systems possess their own integrities."

Critical skeptical scholarship, of which "Post Modernism" is one strand, is a good thing, in some measure. The post-Enlightenment intellectual tradition depends upon skepticism and empiricism to alternatively prune and build the great rational systems which undergird science and traditional scholarship. Nevertheless, just as Neo-Thomism and Objectivism became drunk on "rationality," while the various Positivist schools tended to be slavish toward a particular conception of "empiricism," many modern scholars seem to have became fixated on skepticism, primarily I think because it is a magic key which opens the door to an innumerable kaleidoscope of negative paradigms. I have asserted many times that the brews concocted by ivory tower intellectuals eventually become poison in the hands of movements and individuals that said ivory tower intellectuals would consider reactionary. It happened with the anti-porn arguments of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon, though the ultimate grounds for objection to pornography on the part of grassroots activists seem to be moral and religious, the proximate arguments to a broader (and often elite progressive) audience are couched in terms of female worth and autonomy. The multiculturalist paradigm is now being used, opportunistically, by a subset of Muslims to push to recreate the social strictures of their "homelands" and nullify the basic rights that have become part of the post-Enligthenment consensus.

Perfection is impossible, we shall all miss the mark of an accurate representation of the world around us. But there seems to be a subset of intellectuals, a looming simmering anti-consensus, which rebels against the injunction to strive toward accuracy, systematic coherency and plain transparency. But some may ask if the threat of some babbling quasi-philosophers and critics of the established system of Western intellectual inquiry as it has crystallized by the early 20th century is that great. The bits of evidence above to me are an illustration of a truth that I believe we should all be aware of: the default cognitive state of humanity is far more congenial to loose, imprecise and emotionally satisfying narratives and fabulations than the unnatural models which modern science and scholarship promote. Humans want to believe certain things. Ergo, the timeless appeal of pseudoscience. The relative immunity of mass religion to the universal acid and the lack of awareness, or interest in, systematic theology which presumes to respond to that universal acid (many evangelical apologetics are riddled with question begging arguments and circular reasoning, but their purpose is to buttress faith with the patina of rationality, not win a point by point debate). Rational intellectualization is in some measure a rebellion against our nature. I remember my mild let down reading Carl Sagan as a child when he dismissed crankish science because said crankish science was so entertaining and dazzling, and did not require the same cognitive outlay as the equivalent spectacular vistas of real science. Authors of popularizations of science or scholarship make their books accessible to a broad audience by scaffolding rationality with a superfluous entourage of anecdotes, analogies and biographies, cold reason and dry fact transformed into a vivid living narrative.

Most people who have scientific training can not design a chemical plant. They can not scribble some equations which would accurately predict the results of selective breeding regimes. They can not extract active ingrediants from mixtures given a few beakers, burners and pipets. Scientists are technical specialists, embedded in a social system, and owing fealty to a common understanding of the how the world works, and trusting in the intersection of the world and that social system. Similarly, scholars in non-scientific fields are also specialists, and their disciplines operate via rules and accepted standards. These individuals are keepers of the flame of modern civilization which all humans today, more or less, benefit from. I believe there is some complacency amongst us moderns that scientific and intellectual modes of thought have diffused widely enough among the general public that the meme would survive any assaults, whether sociological or natural. I do not for a moment believe that Johnson or McGrath, both evangelical Christians, see in Post Modernism as anything more than a tool to deal with the disease of secularism. They surely believe in Eternal Truths. But sometimes the cure is worse than the disease....

Addendum: Though I speak firmly with the voice of an atheist biased toward a positivist methodology and a naturalistic ontology, I explicitly do not reject the common ground I share with many humanists and religionists. Though I reject the arguments promoted by Neo-Thomist philosophers within the Roman Catholic Church, I can understand the basic process of reasoning. In contrast, a Post Modern conception of Christianity evades engagement and discourse. Similarly, though I may find the contentions of some scholars as to the genius of Shakespeare unconvincing or inscrutable, I can conceive of the general outline of their argument. In contrast, the post-Derridaesque style of discourse seems to make a mockery of the communicative facility that god or nature has granted our species. There are certain intellectuals out there who share a common currency, backed by the gold standard set by the Classical and Enlightenment thinkers (flawed and futile in execution, but inspiring in vision), around which a common intelligible discourse can be perpetuated. In contrast there other others who wish to print currencies which are measured only against the fiat of social whim and which stubbornly refuse interconversion.

Note: I bring up Neo-Thomism several times because McGrath's rejection of "ideas whose origins and legitimation lie outside the Christian gospel" seems reflective of a particular strand of Protestantism which makes an ostentatious attempt to discard Classical philosophical influences on Christianity. This of course is in direct conflict with the main thrust of Roman Catholic intellectuals, who drink deeply at the well of non-Christian Hellenic philosophy, whether it be Neo-Platonism via St. Augustine, or, more contemporaneously, Aristotle via St. Thomas Aquinas. I say ostentatiously because from the inception of the Reformation Protestants have balked at discarding crucial centerpieces of Christian theology which do seem to be ideas that derived from the engagement of gentile converts with the non-Christian milieu, for example, the Trinity. When early Protestant radicals attacked reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin on these particulars they were rejected as heretics, and appeals were made to the Church Fathers to supplement sola scriptura. Some pre-Reformation intellectuals who brought up these issues eventually became Jews (they are recorded because of their trials as apostates).

Addendum II: One thing I want to be clear about, I specifically aimed to be "Broad Church" here, McGrath refers to the "Enlightenment," which might imply the French Enlightenment. I am not one who thinks that the French Englightenment was an unmitigated disaster, nevertheless, my defense of "rationality" is a bit broader than the school of Voltaire and Diderot, and includes the general Western intellectual tradition that encompasses skepticism and empiricism as essential legs in the tripod completed by rationalism. Not only does this include the Scottish and English Enlightenments, but I do not exclude the Roman Catholic Thomistic philosophical tradition as a player in the market of ideas, because it shares the same cognitive currency. To various extents many streams of Western and non-Western intellectual thought express each of the elements noted above, but I think that one strand in particular which one can push back as far as the pre-Socratics, has resulted in the critically rational intellectual outlook of modernity. The "threat" that relativists, Post Modernists and primitivists on the cultural Right and the Left is not that they will undermine the intellectual outlook of the broad masses, the common folk have only a perfunctory attachment to any sort of intellectualization in any case, rather, I worry about the negative effect excessive skepticism might have on the cohesion of the social system which furthers science and scholarship in the West, and this instability might undermine the tacit deference that the public concedes to scholars due to their erudition and analysis of positive truths.

Ivory Cower   posted by Scorpius @ 9/27/2005 02:59:00 PM

The always enjoyable Victor Davis Hanson has a good piece in the online WSJ today talking about the out-of-control diversity problem on college campuses. Go read.

Temporary impairment   posted by michael vassar @ 9/27/2005 01:37:00 PM

It's easy to find articles on the long term impairment to IQ due to fetal alcohol syndrome and other causes, yet terribly difficult to find anything on the much more common-place phenomenon of temporary impairment. I think that it would be very useful to know the number of standard deviations by which a given level blood alcohol, sleep deprivation, or other impairment alters IQ, reaction time, etc. Does anyone here have any idea where this sort of research is published, or if it isn't published, why it isn't? Government resistance to research facilitating the direct comparison of the hazards of different drugs is an obvious reason, but doesn't seem sufficient.

For that matter, any thoughts on why the magnitude of the cognitive benefits of aderall, ritalin, modafinal, caffeine, and the like are so rarely quantified?

No Uterus Required   posted by TangoMan @ 9/27/2005 12:44:00 PM

The birth of Emylea Tharby in London, Ontario last April may one day be looked on as a watershed moment in the abortion debates. Little Emylea's birth was a unique event, not just for her parents, but for the medical profession as well:

On April 30, Ms. Tharby gave birth to her daughter, Emylea, at 33 weeks. It was only during the vertical caesarean section that doctors discovered the umbilical cord was attached to the outside of the uterus. Emylea had grown in her mother's abdominal cavity, her skull flattened slightly from butting Ms. Tharby's liver.

The baby's survival, while being described as miraculous, also lends credibility to a theory almost universally relegated to the realm of science fiction: that any human, woman or man, can give birth.

Most commentary is focusing on the novel prospects of men carrying babies to term, which doesn't surprise me considering the amount of continued interest we see in my post on Male Lactation. However, I think that more a more likely outcome will be an outsourcing of fetal gestation, especially as research in artifical uteri continues to progress, and the cost-effectiveness of egg-banking brings that practice within range of many more young woman, thus enabling them to combine eggs harvested during prime years with child rearing at a more mature age, where the mother is better equipped in terms of personal capital.

However, the pro-life forces will surely have recogized that little Emylea viably developed outside of the womb. A way to short circuit the abortion debate might be to offer fetal extraction procedures instead of fetal extinction procedures. The extracted fetus is then gestated within the womb of another or within an artificial uterus. Fetal extraction procedures would certainly make it more difficult for the pro-choice movement to argue for the right to fetal extinction. Such a leap in technology would also undercut a woman's legal claim to the privacy and primacy of her right to control her reproduction and that by extracting the fetus and transplanting it, she hasn't provided consent to having her child be born. Such an argument would be weakened for her rights to assent to the birth would now be on equal footing with men who don't have the right to veto a woman's pregnancy on the grounds of not consenting to having a child. Men's rights currently take a secondary role to those of women because the health burden of pregnancy or abortion falls solely on the woman. Of course, the issue of state intervention and the financial responsibility for unwanted fetuses would still be in the air. Would pro-life forces be willing to provide either natural or artificial gestatation and adopt all of the extracted fetusus or will they seek to push that responsbility onto their fellow citizens?

Now let's avoid the standard pro-choice/pro-life talking points in comments, which means the ethical and religious aspects of the debate. Advocates of each side won't make any inroads with their opponents and we won't really advance the debate by progressing down that road. Instead, let's focus on the legal, scientific and sociological implications associated with advancing reproductive technology.

Genghis Khan and his hordes of Mycobacterium tuberculosis   posted by Theresa @ 9/27/2005 09:30:00 AM

Apparently Genghis, et. al., had a few stowaways:

A report in the October issue of Genome Research suggests that Genghis Khan's invasions spanning the continent of Asia during the 13th century may have been a primary vehicle for the dissemination of one of the world's most deadly diseases: tuberculosis....

Mokrousov's team hypothesized that, given the strong gender bias of TB infectivity and the likely family-based mode of TB transmission during pre-industrialized times,
M. tuberculosis dissemination has reflected the unidirectional inheritance of the paternally transmitted human Y chromosome. To test this hypothesis, the authors compared the genetic profiles of a common form of M. tuberculosis, called the Beijing genotype, with known patterns of prehistoric and recent human migrations, as well as with global patterns of Y-chromosome variation.

Strikingly, they observed that over the past 60,000-100,000 years, the dispersal and evolution of
M. tuberculosis appears to have precisely ebbed and flowed according to human migration patterns.


The authors describe how the Beijing genotype of M. tuberculosis originated in a specific human population called the K-M9 in central Asia approximately 30,000-40,000 years ago following a second "out of Africa" migration event. The bacteria and its human host then disseminated northeast into Siberia between 20,000-30,000 years ago and throughout eastern Asia between 4,000-10,000 years ago. More recently, the Beijing genotype of M. tuberculosis was introduced into northern Eurasia, perhaps by Genghis Khan himself during the 1200's, and into South Africa, possibly through sea trade contacts with Indonesia or China during the last 300 years.

Tuberculosis and migration patterns

Origin and primary dispersal of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis Beijing genotype: Clues from human phylogeography

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The vigorous man of Asia   posted by Razib @ 9/24/2005 05:36:00 PM

Sometimes illustration is as important as argumentation. The East in the West by Chris Caldwell is just that, illustrating the rough textures of the "Turkish question." There is very little data in Caldwell's piece that can be quantitized. Caldwell suggests that the religiosity of Turkish petite bourgeoise is akin to ardor of the American middle class rather than the staid post-Christianity of Europe...but he doesn't offer survey data which points to the reality that 71% of Turks affirm "strong religiosity," as opposed to 65% of Americans, and 57% of Italians, 38% of British, 34% of French and 26% of Swedes. The piece alludes to the reality that liberalization of culture is not a necessary implication of democratization, but it never states it in a succinct and point by point fashion. Worth a read, for a reminder rather than any new insights.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Semantics - The Threshold Necessary To Be Called A Liar   posted by TangoMan @ 9/23/2005 10:58:00 PM

For the last few days I've been involved in an ongoing debate with Steve Verdon and one of his readers, Victor, on whether President Clinton is a bald-faced liar for making this statement:

On the US budget, Clinton warned that the federal deficit may be coming untenable, driven by foreign wars, the post-hurricane recovery programme and tax cuts that benefitted just the richest one percent of the US population, himself included.

"What Americans need to understand is that ... every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts," he said.

"We have never done this before. Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a conflict, military conflict, by borrowing money from somewhere else."--emphasis added

Clinton added: "We depend on Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Korea primarily to basically loan us money every day of the year to cover my tax cut and these conflicts and Katrina. I don't think it makes any sense."

After a few rounds of back and forth it looks like we've adopted two differing interpretations of what "financed" means. Steve and Victor argue from the default position that there have always been significant foreign debt holders of US Securities, and their default hypothesis must be refuted entirely by accounting for 100% of the debt sourcing. To account for less than 100% automatically implies foreign contribution, and even an insignificant foreign contribution, falsifies President Clinton's statement. I'm interpreting "financed" to mean the costs of the entire endeavor, not simply a minor part of the endeavor. This seems to be the more common usage, such as "I financed my house with a $600,000 mortgage from the bank" being a true statement even though I received a $5000 loan from my father-in-law in order to help with the downpayment.

Let's get into the details of the argument. Steve points to WWII as the case to prove that President Clinton is lying. I pointed out that on June 30, 1941 the National Debt stood at $49 Billion and that the debt grew to $259 Billion by June 30, 1945 and during that time there were 8 War Bond Drives which raised $185.7 Billion and that more traditional financial instruments, like Treasury bonds and Certificates of Indebtedness, were also being marketed. The War Bonds by themselves accounted for 88.4% of the proceeds borrowed. Turning to another source, (see Figure 12,) we see that there was no debt issued under the Foreign Government Series until 1960. I certainly wouldn't conclude that the WWII US war effort was financed by foreign borrowing.

Aside from sticking to the position that any amount of foreign borrowing, no matter how minor, invalidates President Clinton's position, Steve insists that the likely points of foreign capital were Canada and Britain. I think that contention unlikely, considering they had entered into WWII two years before the US and each were on a massive war footing with their own War Bond Drives, and in the case of Britain, were already receiving aid from the US in the form of Lend-Lease:

On 11th March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act. The legislation gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the powers to sell, transfer, exchange, lend equipment to any country to help it defend itself against the Axis powers.

A sum of $50 billion was appropriated by Congress for Lend-Lease. The money went to 38 different countries with Britain receiving over $31 billion. Over the next few years the British government repaid $650 million of this sum.

[ . . . . ]

Britain was in pawn, at the very time that Attlee was fighting to exert some influence on the postwar European settlement. The only solution was to negotiate a huge American loan, the repayment and servicing of which placed a burden on Britain's balance of payments right into the twenty-first century.

The rest of the Commonwealth joined with Britain in fighting against the Axis powers before the US joined the war. Their economies were also set on a war footing, which included extraordinary measures, such as found in Australia:

- the fixing of profit margins in industry;
- restrictions on the costs allowed for building or renovations;
- the pegging of prices;

I find that to posit that the private capital of the citizens was being used to finance the US deficit to be incongruent with the massive capital requirements that their countries were facing for at least 2 years before the US deficit started to rise. Isn't it more parsimonious to assume that the capital was being soaked up by their own governments? I looked for information on foreign exchange controls but couldn't find any information in my searches. Does any one know if such controls existed during the war period.

So, if not Canada and Britain, which countries were the major financiers of our debt? Japan, China, France, Germany, Saudia Arabia, Korea, the colonies of Africa? Anyone see a problem here? Maybe the Germans wouldn't have minded if the neutral Swiss financed the American war effort against them? Maybe the countries that financied our WWII debt were Boliva and Panama? The coffee barons must have had a lot of surplus capital that they wanted to invest in safe instruments.

So, WWII seems to me to be a bust as a case for falsification. Victor follows in his comments with the case of the Revolutionary War being financied by the Dutch and the run-up in debt during the Vietnam War era. If we couldn't agree on the semantics of financing a war like WWII how are we going to come to an agreement on whether a Republic exists before it wins a revolution?

On the issue of Vietnam, let's go back to President Clinton's text. The overall context of the remarks makes clear that he is concerned by the historical anomaly of cutting taxes and borrowing the foregone tax revenue in order to finance the tax cuts, the war effort, massively increased domestic spending and disaster reponse. There is a case to be made that some, if not all, of the additional borrowing could have been replaced with tax revenues absent the tax cuts. Underlying President Clinton's remarks are what I take to be two moral arguments common to the Democratic critique: 1.) It is immoral to not ask the citizens to sacrifice in times of national crisis and instead expect future generations to make the required sacrifice, and; 2.) It is immoral to actually lower taxes and raise discretionary domestic spending, thus necessitating borrowing, in times of national crisis and burdening future generations with the debt obligations. The added debt, much of the which is being supplied by foreign entities, would be smaller if tax cuts weren't implemented.

Now we got into a side argument about whether foreign sourced debt is less preferable to domestically sourced debt and my position is that any effort to broaden the market for the debt will lower the cost of servicing that debt and thus create a benefit for US taxpayers. However, President Clinton isn't saying having foreigners buy our debt is a negative for the US. His position is that the fiscal mismanagement we're seeing from President Bush is unprecedented in the history of the Republic.

Let's look at the broader financial indicators that occured during WWII (1941-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1965-1973) and see how the Federal Government's finances were being managed compared to the Iraq War period (2001-2004).

U.S. Fiscal Indicators During Periods of War
YearPublic Debt/GDP (%)Top Marginal Tax Rate (%)Individual Tax/GDP (%)Corporate Tax/GDP (%)Excise Tax/GDP (%)Other Tax/GDP (%)
World War II
1941 42.3 81.00 1.2 1.9 2.2 0.7
1942 47.0 88.00 2.3 3.3 2.4 0.6
1943 70.9 88.00 3.6 5.3 2.3 0.4
1944 88.3 94.00 9.4 7.1 2.3 0.5
1945 106.2 94.00 8.3 7.2 2.8 0.5
Korean War
1950 80.2 91.00 5.8 3.8 2.8 0.5
1951 66.9 91.00 6.7 4.4 2.7 0.5
1952 70.9 88.00 3.6 5.3 2.3 0.4
1953 88.3 94.00 9.4 7.1 2.3 0.5
Vietnam War
1965 37.9 70.00 7.1 3.7 2.1 0.8
1966 34.9 70.00 7.3 4.0 1.7 0.9
1967 32.9 70.00 7.6 4.2 1.7 0.9
1968 33.3 75.25 7.9 3.3 1.6 0.9
1969 29.3 77.00 9.2 3.9 1.6 0.9
1970 28.0 71.75 8.9 3.2 1.6 0.9
1971 28.1 70.00 8.0 2.5 1.5 0.9
1972 27.4 70.00 8.0 2.7 1.3 1.0
1973 26.0 70.00 7.9 2.8 1.2 0.9
Iraq War
2001 33.1 38.60 9.9 1.5 0.7 0.9
2002 34.1 38.60 8.3 1.4 0.7 0.9
2003 36.1 35.00 7.3 1.2 0.6 0.7
2004 37.2 35.00 7.0 1.6 0.6 0.7

You'll note that there was a big increase in Public Debt during World War II, but there was a steady rate of decreasing the Public Debt/GDP ratio through the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The top marginal tax rate was either raised, or reduced to the long term average rate, during those wars. The contribution of individual tax collected increased as a share of GDP during times of war. It is only during the administration of President Bush and the Iraq war that all of these indicators don't follow historical patterns. At times of war we usually make the sacrifices needed to finance those wars, rather than pushing the cost onto the backs of our children while we add irresponsibilty onto irresponsibility by backing multiple tax cuts that have disproportionate benefit across socio-economic classes.

The financing of the Iraq War is different from that of the Vietnam War, in that while we increased our sale of debt instruments abroad during the Vietnam period, we were also growing our economy at such a rate that the added debt was actually diminishing our debt burden as a percentage of our GDP. President Bush's mismanagement of our treasury has resulted in increased borrowing adding to our debt burden as a percentage of our GDP while at the same time decreasing the share of individual tax collections as a percentage of GDP. We've reduced individual tax collections by 2.9% of GDP and increased our debt by 4.1% of GDP. The added financial burden of the Iraq War has been entirely financed by debt. This report (Table #20) shows that in the period July 2002 - July 2004, China has increased its portfolio of US Long Term Debt Securities from $165 Billion to $360 Billion and Japan increased their holdings from $411 Billion to $736 Billion. These two countries alone can account for all of the debt that was issued to finance our war efforts in Iraq.

So, it sure doesn't look to me like President Clinton was out to take a cheap shot at the fiscal policies of the Bush Administration - he had the facts behind him and this was in fact a substantive shot at the fiscal mismanagement we're seeing from the "Party of Spending Like Drunken Sailers", once known as the Republicans. Never before have we financed a war by increasing our Public Debt/GDP and borrowed those funds from abroad.

Lastly, when will we get serious about fiscal management if not at times like this? If we can't show fiscal maturity during a time of war and rebuilding after a disaster, how severe will a future crisis have to be to instill the discipline we'll need to get our fiscal house in order?

Update: Steve Sailer has a piece on the cost-benefit analysis of the Iraq War done by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies.

Thomas Friedman: Brains vs. Language   posted by Jason Malloy @ 9/23/2005 02:36:00 AM

Thomas Friedman speaking yesterday in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun:

Funabashi: Among the emerging Asian countries, India seems to have an advantage in globalization because of its citizens' high English ability. But there are reports that as many as 350 million people are now studying English in China. In a globalizing world, how does English ability impact on a country's potential?

Friedman: Knowing English was an early advantage for India in a couple of areas. One is, obviously, call centers, where you had to know English to serve an English-speaking company. But today, the second-largest outsourcing capital in the world is Dalian, China, where thousands of Japanese-speaking Chinese are now running the backrooms and writing the software of major Japanese multinationals and American multinationals formerly based in Tokyo. And, as I'm sure people here are aware, there are Japanese language schools on every other corner in Dalian. Japanese language is now required for two years at many schools in Dalian, and I would hardly say that speaking English in Dalian today is a great advantage. In fact, speaking Japanese would be a huge advantage. That's the first point I would make.

The second point I would make is that in terms of hard-core business processes, so much of this is about writing code and things of that nature, that I believe at the end of the day business will go to where the brains are and not where the language is. You will meet companies today in the United States who have already skipped over India and gone right to China for basically the next generation of business process engineering.

In working on my book, I interviewed Bill Gates, and he told me that Microsoft opened its third research center in the world in Beijing in 1998. It used to just have a research center in Cambridge, England, nice English-speaking place, and Redmond, Washington. He told me they opened their research center in China by giving IQ tests to 2,000 Chinese around the country, Ph.D.s and engineering students, recommended to them, and out of those 2,000 they basically chose 20 to open the research center in China.

Now, think what it is actually to be one of those 20 out of a country of 1.3 billion people. In fact, they have a saying at the Microsoft Research Center in China: In China, when you're one in a million, there are 1,300 other people just like you.

Now, what Bill Gates will also tell you is that today the China Research Center is the leading research center in Microsoft. You know what he'll also tell you, though? He'll tell you that Microsoft's best game designers all come from Japan. I bet none of them speak English, or very few. So, I don't think this is going to be about language. I think the language advantage is going to quickly be arbitraged out. There'll be more Chinese speakers on the Internet very, very soon.

Related: Why India Will (Probably) Never Catch China, China vs. India: Part I

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hobbit horizons...   posted by Theresa @ 9/22/2005 10:46:00 AM

For those of you in the UK, check out BBC's Horizon tonight for more on the Flores "microcephaly or not" question. (More here: Hobbit hhhmm....)

Professor Bob Martin, one of the team that is set to publish new evidence challenging the discovery team's original interpretation, says the Hobbit's brain is "worryingly" small and contradicts a fundamental law of biology.

"What this law says in simple terms is that if you halve body size, brain size is only reduced by 15%," he told the BBC's Horizon programme.

"So if you halve body size you don't halve brain size, the brain is reduced far less than that."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dawkins on Kin Selection: A Correction   posted by DavidB @ 9/21/2005 02:12:00 AM

A while ago I posted on this subject here.

An attentive reader (Omri Tal) has pointed out an error in my analysis. The point concerns Dawkins's 'misunderstanding 10': that 'Individuals should tend to inbreed, simply because this brings extra close relatives into the world'. My analysis agreed with Dawkins that bringing close relatives into the world has no evolutionary advantage if these merely replace equal numbers of genes that would be passed on by mating with non-relatives. But I then argued that this would not always be the case:

The crucial point is therefore whether incestuous matings would simply replace outbred ones. Dawkins notes this question, but does not mention the likely asymmetry between males and females: females can usually only have a limited number of offspring, whereas males can have a practically unlimited number. A male who mates with his sister (or daughter) is therefore more likely to gain in the number of offspring than she is, and the balance between gain of inclusive fitness (measured by the increase in genes identical by descent) and loss of physiological fitness will be different for the two sexes. Suppose that a brother can mate with his sister and thereby gain 2 extra offspring for himself, while she gains none for herself (since the mating with her brother displaces an outbred one); a gene causing him to mate with his sister will therefore gain on average 2 x 3/4 copies, [2 x 1/2 copies of his own genes, plus 2 x 1/4 i.b.d. genes from her] whereas a gene causing her to mate with her brother will gain only 2 x 1/4 copies [since she would pass it on to half her offspring anyway, and it is only the possibility of extra copies from her brother that counts]. We might therefore expect males and females to evolve different attitudes towards incest, with females being much more resistant to it.

Omri Tal has pointed out that this overstates the difference between the position of males and females. I somehow overlooked the fact that if a sister mates with her brother, he 'loses' the nephews or nieces that his sister would otherwise produce by mating with an unrelated partner. This needs to be taken into account in calculating the effect on his inclusive fitness. The result of doing so is that his net 'gain' is only 2 x 1/2 copies, not 2 x 3/4. This is still greater than the 'gain' of his sister (2 x 1/4), but the difference is not as great as I suggested.

In more detail...


We assume that a variant gene (allele) predisposes its bearers to mate with their siblings (though they can still mate with non-relatives), whereas an individual who does not bear the gene mates only with non-relatives.

Each mating pair produce 2 offspring.

A male who mates with his sister also produces 2 offspring with unrelated mates, but a female who mates with her brother produces only 2 offspring in total. Her offspring with her brother therefore replace the offspring she would have had with unrelated males.

We consider two siblings who are not themselves inbred. They may each have inherited a copy of the gene from a recent ancestor, but cannot each have inherited 2 copies. (Allowing for inbreeding in the siblings themselves would just complicate matters further.)

With these assumptions, we can calculate the 'gain' from inbreeding compared with non-inbreeding. To give a 'baseline' position, suppose that for some reason (e.g. distance) the siblings cannot mate with each other, and therefore mate only with non-relatives. In this case a male who has the gene for inbreeding will on average pass on 2 x 1/2 copies to his offspring. His sister has a 1/2 chance of carrying the same gene, and therefore on average passes it on to 2 x 1/2 x 1/2 offspring. The total expected number of copies of the gene passed on is therefore 1.5. We can do the same calculations for a female who carries the gene. Since the situation is symmetrical with that of the male, the result is also 1.5.

Suppose now that a male carrying the gene mates with his sister. By assumption, he has 2 offspring with his sister and 2 offspring with a non-relative. He therefore passes on 2 x 1/2 + 2 x 3/4 = 2.5 copies of the gene to his offspring. But he no longer has the nephews or nieces he would have had if his sister had mated with an unrelated male. His net gain from inbreeding compared to not inbreeding is therefore simply 2.5 - 1.5 = 1.

The position of males and females is no longer symmetrical, so we need to calculate the position of females separately. Suppose a female carrying the gene mates with her brother. She produces 2 inbred offspring with on average 2 x 3/4 copies of the gene. She produces no outbred offspring, but by assumption her brother still produces 2 outbred offspring, with on average 2 x 1/4 copies of the gene, so in total 2 x 3/4 + 2 x 1/4 = 2 copies are passed on. The female’s ‘gain’ from inbreeding is therefore 2 - 1.5 = 0.5 copies. The ratio of male:female gain is therefore only 2:1, not 3:1 as I originally supposed.

Horny bulls   posted by Razib @ 9/21/2005 12:35:00 AM

Cattle domestication in the Near East was followed by hybridization with aurochs bulls in Europe:

Domesticated cattle were one of the cornerstones of European Neolithisation and are thought to have been introduced to Europe from areas of aurochs domestication in the Near East. This is consistent with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data, where a clear separation exists between modern European cattle and ancient specimens of British aurochsen. However, we show that Y chromosome haplotypes of north European cattle breeds are more similar to haplotypes from ancient specimens of European aurochsen, than to contemporary cattle breeds from southern Europe and the Near East....

Related: Humans greedy for pig? (which shows that pig mtDNA tends to exhibit diverse lineage signatures)

Chimp vs. human genomes   posted by Razib @ 9/21/2005 12:20:00 AM

A genome-wide survey of structural variation between human and chimpanzee:

Structural changes (deletions, insertions, and inversions) between human and chimpanzee genomes have likely had a significant impact on lineage-specific evolution because of their potential for dramatic and irreversible mutation...The events are distributed throughout the genome on all chromosomes but are highly correlated with sites of segmental duplication in human and chimpanzee. These structural variants encompass at least 24 Mb of DNA and overlap with >245 genes. Seventeen of these genes contain exons missing in the chimpanzee genomic sequence and also show a significant reduction in gene expression in chimpanzee. Compared with the pioneering work of Yunis, Prakash, Dutrillaux, and Lejeune, this analysis expands the number of potential rearrangements between chimpanzees and humans 50-fold. Furthermore, this work prioritizes regions for further finishing in the chimpanzee genome and provides a resource for interrogating functional differences between humans and chimpanzees.

Related: Human evolution book and the chimp genome, Regional patterns of gene expression in human and chimpanzee brains.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Where gnxp is popular....   posted by Razib @ 9/20/2005 02:27:00 PM

I notice that a fair # of visitors have .edu addresses, but I never noted which ones were the most popular, but here are the top colleges sending traffic to GNXP from sitemeter:

#1 University of Washington
#2 Indiana University
#3 George Mason University
#4 Hofstra University
#5 Georgetown University

Monday, September 19, 2005

Medieval Height   posted by DavidB @ 9/19/2005 02:38:00 AM

I have occasionally discussed the subject of long-term increases in average height, so I was interested to see an article in today's London Times, here. (Link may expire after a week for non-subscribers.) The drift of it is that average adult height in Britain, as measured from skeletal remains, has not changed very much since Neolithic times. Contrary to popular assumption, people in the Middle Ages were not much shorter than today. There has been a small increase (an inch or so) in recent decades due to better nutrition, but it's not such a big deal.

I think this may somewhat underestimate the increase since the 19th century. Most sources put this at at least a couple of inches. There in some evidence that average height fell in industrial areas during the harshest period of the Industrial Revolution, before rising again from the late 19th century onwards, so the increase since medieval times may indeed only be an inch or so.

While on the subject of press reports, I can't resist repeating the classic headline from Sunday's über-tabloid, The News of the World: 'Cocaine Kate's 3-in-Bed Lesbian Orgy'. (The 'Kate' is Kate Moss, in case you hadn't guessed.) Nothing to do with GNXP, but it's a dream come true!


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bwaaahahahaha!   posted by Theresa @ 9/18/2005 10:26:00 PM

A short article in the Guardian asks Are women as funny as men? (Purposefully funny, that is....)

Well, judging by Robert Provine's (Laughter: A Scientific Investigation) research, women certainly seem to laugh more at men's jokes than vice versa -- in 1200 cases, "females laughed 126% more than their male counterparts, meaning that women tend to do the most laughing while males tend to do the most laugh-getting."

Men seem to be the main instigators of humor across cultures, which begins in early childhood. Think back to your high school class clown -- most likely he was a male....

Given the differences in male and female laugh patterns, is laughter a factor in meeting, matching and mating? I sought an answer in the human marketplace of newspaper personal ads. In 3,745 ads placed on April 28, 1996 in eight papers from the Baltimore Sun to the San Diego Union-Tribune, females were 62% more likely to mention laughter in their ads, and women were more likely to seek out a "sense of humor" while men were more likely to offer it. Clearly, women seek men who make them laugh, and men are eager to comply with this request.

Sounds like sexual selection for an indicator of intelligence to me. I mean, you have to be smart to tell clever jokes, right? (Of course, you have to be smart enough to get the jokes, too....)

The good folks at the LaughLab took a look at "joke complexity" and the brain:

We also asked people who took part in LaughLab to answer questions that involve making various estimates, such as: How many words are there on one page of a typical paperback novel?

A) Under 500
B) 500 - 600
C) 600 - 700
D) 700 - 800
E) Over 800

Research suggests that people who are good at this type of question (the correct answer is under 500) tend to have good frontal lobe activation, whilst people who make incorrect estimates do not. Interestingly, people who tended to answer this question correctly tended to prefer relatively complex jokes, such as...

A scientist and a philosopher were being chased by a hungry lion. The scientist made some quick calculations, he said "its no good trying to outrun it, its catching up". The philosopher kept a little ahead and replied " I am not trying to outrun the lion, I am trying to out run you"!

Whereas people who answered incorrectly, tended to like more straightforward jokes, such as...

Which day of the week do fish hate?.......

In other words, the more intelligent you are -- or, at least, the more active your frontal lobe -- the more complex jokes you're likely (and able) to enjoy. And, it seems that women are looking for men who are funny (not surprising as this probably indicates intelligence) -- and men are looking for women who think they (the men) are funny:

When Karl Grammar and Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt studied spontaneous conversations between mixed-sex pairs of young German adults meeting for the first time, they noted that the more a woman laughed aloud during these encounters, the greater her self-reported interest in the man she was talking to. In the same vein, men were more interested in women who laughed heartily in their presence. The personal ads and the German study complement an observation from my field studies: The laughter of the female, not the male, is the critical index of a healthy relationship.

By the way, the LaughLab folks also found differences between nations in the types of jokes that they found funny:

People from The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving word plays, such as:

Patient: “Doctor, I've got a strawberry stuck up my bum.”
Doctor: “I've got some cream for that.

Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority – either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:

Texan: “Where are you from?”
Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
Texan: “Okay – where are you from, jackass?”

Finally, many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, liked jokes that were somewhat surreal, such as:

An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote: “Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”
“But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”

These European countries also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that often make us feel anxious, such as death, illness, and marriage. For example:

A patient says: “Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip, I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: “Could you please pass the butter.” But instead I said: “You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life”.

Interestingly, Germany was the exception. Germans did not express a strong preference for any type of joke - this may well explain why they came first in our league table of funniness – they do not have any strong preferences and so tend to find a wide spectrum of jokes funny.

Dr Richard Wiseman commented "These results are really interesting – it suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour."

Here are the top jokes in different countries according to the Laugh Lab.

And, for the record, my favorite (repeatable) joke:

A philosopher, a physicist and a mathematician were travelling through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
"Aha," says the philosopher, "I see that Scottish sheep are black."
"Hmm," says the physicist, "You mean that some Scottish sheep are black."
"No," says the mathematician, "All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black."


mtDNA, selection and paleoanthropology   posted by Razib @ 9/18/2005 04:29:00 PM

John has an interesting post up which reviews data that certain high latitude mtDNA lineages might confer a functional advantage via reduced metabolic overhead and greater longevity. Of course, as John notes, not only does this have great relevance for the deep-time history of our species, it is going to be a serious issue for the possibility of future paperback editions of The Seven Daughters of Eve or The Real Eve (since they assume neutrality for mtDNA, ergo, it gives us an unbiased phylogenetic map).

To new shores   posted by Razib @ 9/18/2005 01:11:00 PM

Emma Lazarus' famous lines "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" reflect in part the perception of some Americans of who the emigrants to the New World were. A friend of mine in 8th grade told me proudly that his ancestors (Scotch-Irish) were the "trash" of Europe, but they had built the greatest country on earth. The reality is more textured. If you read Albion's Seed you will note that the various streams that settled the eastern seaboard prior to 1776 fit the "huddled masses" stereotype to varying degrees.

The Puritans of Massachusetts were very conscious of preferring literate and relatively skilled settlers. Not only did they exclude the majority of the poor peasantry from their City on the Hill via monetary hurdles but they implicitly rejected the migration of religiously like-minded nobility and gentry to their Commonwealth when they refused to transfer the inherited privileges of the English upper classes. Though as a schoolboy I learned that Virginia was founded by indentured servants, the reality is that the coastal colonies of the south were seeded from the two ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, the gentry and nobility and the destitute rural poor, who to some extent transferred their class relations and sensibilities to the New World. Many of the leading families which cohered into the Virginia and Carolina planter aristocracies have their origins among the younger sons of the southwest British nobility (primogeniture excluded them from the greater part of their familial fortunes). States like Pennsylvania and New York clearly have more variegated origins, from the Dutch remnants of New Amsterdam to the Quakers and fellow travellers of Philadelphia, but overall one can say that this relatively heterogenous bunch had a central tendency toward "lower middle class" artisan origins which they leveraged into a positive attitude toward mercantalism. Often not as as cerebral as the Puritans of New England, the citizens of Philadelphia and New York nevertheless did celebrate modern virtues of literacy and industry to the extent that worldly goods could be best attained in such a fashion. And then of course there was the massive Scot-Irish emigration to the uplands which later became Appalachia. Coming from the borderlands of Scotland and England and Ulster in Ireland, this group could best fit under the image that Lazarus' poem evokes in us. Lacking in the advantages of many of the other British groups who settled the eastern seaboard this group had to grasp opportunity physically and forced its way to the center of American life in part through its prowess in the arenas of battle and politics.

Of course Emma Lazarus was speaking to a later time, during the Great Wave of the turn of the 19th century when millions upon millions of southern, eastern and Jewish Europeans swelled onto the shores of the eastern United States. The Jews were often the most likely to be literate and skilled of the new immigrant streams, and so they were the first who made their presence felt in the professions. Nevertheless, what was the character of the Jewish immigrants relative to their source populations? We can perhaps spy a hint if we look at the character of mass conversions (assimilation) to gentile society in Europe. In The Pity of it All, a history of Jews in Germany from the first glimmerings of tolerance during the life of Moses Mendelssohn until 1933, Amos Elon states:

Conversion was mostly a middle- and upper-middle-class phenomenon. The richest, most talented, successful and cultured men and women were often the first to convert.... (page 83)

At the very moment when the new Jewish middle class was beginning to enter German society and German politics, conversion deprived German Jews of their social and intellectual elite. The most influential segments of the middle and upper middle class abandoned the poor and petite bourgeoisie to their fate.... (page 90)

My impression (though I am not sure about this, further illumination would be welcome) is that some of the same dynamic characterized the conversion experience in pre-expulsion Spain, that assimilative pressures were felt strongest by the Jewish elite who moved in gentile circles.

But such assertions have a weaker weighting in my world that some quantitative documentation. Which brings me back to the United States. In The Jews in America Arthur Hertzberg offers: 1906, the year whem some two-hundred-thousand Jews...came to the United States, only fifty listed themselves as professionals (at that time, between five and ten percent of Jews in various countries of Eastern Europe, including Czarist Russia, were in the professions). (page 13)

This is a community which today has an over two times the frequency of college degree holders as the general population. Via psychometrics one can assert that the American Jewish community's median IQ ranges from 107-115. It is interesting to reflect whether perhaps the peculiar familial experiences of the Jewish intelligensia (which I would estimate form about 1/4 of America's intellectual class, conservatively) might not influence their relatively lack of interest in strongly selective immigration in a manner remiscient of Canada. After all, their forebears were not the great ones of the European Jewry, but rather those of modest means (and even less than modest), but they have clearly succeeded in this country.

Opening the gates of expression   posted by Razib @ 9/18/2005 12:10:00 PM

I have posted about the collective of Muslim women in Tamil Nadu (southern India) organizing to build their own mosque before, but here is a story which updates us on the progress of the group (and there has been progress!). I am not one who expects that most of the world's 1 billion Muslims are going to become Congregationalists with a Unitarian theology (let alone Secular Humanists) in the near future, nor do I think think that repeating the mantra that "true Islam is moderate peaceful Islam" is really that profound or useful unless you are a politician who must be above impolitic truths. So I am heartened by the increase in variance and range1 of Muslim expression as it dilutes the explicit and implicit support that the "Ummah" gives to the human fists who are engaging in "the Clash of Civilizations" (here is a post on women's mosques on China).

To a small extent my hopes are I think justified by the following: there is talk Indian tennis star Sania Mirza is being threatened by the standard issue Muslim goons because she doesn't follow the norms of dress typical for an Indian Muslim woman2 (ie; she dresses like a typical tennis player, I don't know if "modest" dress would allow the free range of movement or draw nearly the same male audience). Thankfully, the women's jamaat is aggressively pointing out the hypocrisy of Muslims who are fixating on the dress of a particularly high profile woman when there are far greater violations of Islamic norms permeating the daily life of believers in India which do not warrant any note or objection.

Via Sepia Mutnity.

1 - To be fair, I am not one who believes that the "female touch" cures all, but, I suspect that the near monopoly on religious leadership roles in Islam held by males does result in greater belligerence and fixation on confrontation which can yield status than would be the case of there were more women involved in the process of religious norm formation. As it is in most countries, Muslim and non-Muslim, women tend to be more sincere and devout believers, so once they get their feet in the door they often become a powerful force in religious vocations.

2 - This isn't the first time she's been criticized about this, and there even seems to be a weblog devoted to covering the issue of her immodesty and gleefully reporting whenever she loses (there are pictures of course, so that the hypocrites can criticze their flesh and gaze at it too!)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Soulful Culture - Misery endured solely for the benefit of the tourist   posted by TangoMan @ 9/17/2005 02:07:00 PM

Help me out here. A year or so ago the blogosphere was abuzz about a blog post some British tourist wrote in which he lamented the loss of native culture in Africa and India as modernity encroached. He felt his experience as a tourist was diminished because he couldn't witness the ancient traditions of the villagers and he couldn't block out from view the store bought food, clothing and health-products of the villagers.

I'm reminded of this story by a comment at the feminist blog, Echidne of the Snakes:

I am afraid that the New - New Orleans will come to resemble the early days of rock and roll. Black culture/music subsumed and regurgitated by whitey for the consumption of uber-whitey.

That is why I find myself in the uncomfortable position of mourning the loss of crack-addicts, poverty pockets and the like. They made a poignant and effective buffer against the blanc-mange gentrification of everything with soul.

No matter how "negative" you might find that "social capital", it is infused with deep spiritual and artistic depths as is abundantly clear to anyone who has enjoyed (and LOVED) the amazing music and the confluence of Christian and Santaria spirituality.

We need to keep the magical, ethnic stamp on that city. The Wild Tchoupatoulas should not be replaced by Abercrombie and Fitch and the "second line" should not be replaced by the "bottom line".

Update: Ok, we found (thanks Razib) two more examples, beyond the excellent pointers in the comments section, that touch on this issue, but still not the one that I remember. Conrad noted Ian Mote's insights about North Korea:

It was nice to see no Starbucks there, no advertising, no branding.... They were completely shut out and were self-reliant, and I have certain respect of their determination of their ideology.

Check out some of the comments that follow:

"Yes, brand names, marketing, etc. represent a certain amount of wasted effort in an economy. The North Koreans are much more efficient; if you're hungry, just peel some bark off the nearest tree (unless you're in the good graces of the party)."

"But wait; it's sustainable starvation! Wonder how many readers of the article will figure out that there are no brands because.....There's nothing to put brands on."

Once again Conrad mines this rich vein, but much closer to home with this report: (Here's the original post - this is a rant that you've got to read to believe, and the comments are something else too.)

This left me deeply moved, and in love with Cambodia. Completely different from Thailand where, as in Europe, everyone is too rich , too congested with people, and ignores you.

[. . . .]

They live more in communities, and haven't had their soul sucked away by television, and by more wealth than they know how to organise as a society in a sensible way. All the travellers seem to like the countries which aren't developed more than those that are, because of this warmth and friendliness. What are we developing?

Godless' comment at the end of the post captures this type of thinking spot-on:

""Too rich" - that says it all. This is the actual position of many "environmentalists" and self-proclaimed connoisseurs of "indigenous" cultures. It's a thinly veiled racism - I've got my air-conditioner, but you're so *cute* in your pre-modern village that you don't need to have one..."

Know thy Enemy - "Newton's Rape Manual"   posted by TangoMan @ 9/17/2005 01:52:00 AM

Sometimes, when the mood is just right, I reach for a little logically challenged writing to pick apart. This time I was in the mood for some post-modernist femininst gibberish. However, rather than savoring the insights I gleaned from reading Sandra Harding's The Science Question in Feminism I thought I'd share her remarkable grasp of logic with everyone:

One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g. Machiavelli) enthusiastic about the new scientific method. Traditional historians and philosophers have said that these metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings and referents of scientific concepts held by those who used them and by the public for whom they wrote. But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton's mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphyiscs the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton's laws as "Newton's rape manual" as it is to call them "Newton's mechanics"?

Note the logical constructions, or as I would argue the contortions, Harding uses to build towards her conclusion. She begins with the equation that rape metaphors proposed by feminist scholars as being present in the writings of those who express support for the scientific method are equivalent to the metaphors that describe nature as a machine. It's important to note that her argument does not specify that the writings which supposedly incorporate the rape & torture metaphors themselves focused on the scientific method, simply that the authors who supported the scientific method may have used rape & torture metaphors elsewhere in their writings. These two situations are not equivalent but they are treated as such. Harding could have been clearer in her prose or, more importantly she could have provided examples of the rape & torture metaphors to buttress her case. She chose not to be clear and instead proceeded to construct an equivalence on a doubtful foundation. Note however, that the equivalence argument is crucial towards the next step in her reasoning.

Next she notes of the rejection of the rape and torture metaphor argument by other historians of science on the grounds that the argument is irrelevant to the meaning of scientific concepts and their applications. Perhaps she is arguing that the scientific method is synonymous with scientific concepts when in fact the two mean different things all together. She finds it troubling that these same historians will accept another metaphor as being pertinent to the question of scientific concepts but reject the muddled rape and torture metaphors which are proposed to be found somewhere in the writings of supporters of the scientific method. Harding feels the case, weak as it is, is prima facie evidence of sexist bias. She believes that all she need do is show that there is indeed sexist bias, and this finding will elevate her metaphor to parity with the nature/machine metaphor. Of course, a parity finding isn't conditional on the truth of the charge of bias. Even if bias was conceded, which it's not, her metaphor argument would then have to rise on its own merits. However, she simply invokes the flawed tactic of assuming bias as being present thus and thus believing she has sufficient cause to conclude that the rape & torture metaphor has enough merit be considered on par with the nature/machine metaphor.

She then proceeds towards her conclusion by next constructing a conditional argument where she claims that if we accept the nature/machine metaphor we must accept other metaphors as being similarly useful. Whether we should do so because she hints at sexist bias or for logical reasons she doesn't make clear. The entirety of her argument seems to be that if one metaphor is accepted then other metaphors should be as well. Obviously, what Harding is omitting from her case is the truth value of the conditional argument. Perhaps she's standing pat with her position that the charge of sexist bias is sufficient evidence of the truth value. However she hasn't argued that position. Perhaps it would help if we take a look at some examples of counterfactual conditionals to help shed some light on the truth value of her argument.

(1) If Bobby did not run over the dog, someone else did.
(2) If Bobby had not run over the dog, some else would have.

The first statement is certainly true, for the dog has indeed been run over. The second statement though is probably false. In the first we know that a condition exists, the dog has indeed been run over. In the second statement we do not know whether a dog has been run over. This is where Harding makes another of her logical errors. The nature/machine metaphor has instances of actually being advanced as a descriptive metaphor for scientific concepts. The rape & torture metaphors proposed to exist in the writings of authors who favored the scientific method have not been advanced as being descriptive of scientific concepts. Based on Harding argument it is illogical to infer that a.) the authors actually made the arguments; and b.) that the metaphors, if accruate, are descriptive of scientific concepts. Harding conspicuously neglected to make the positive case that would address the truth value of her claim.

Now it could also be the case that Harding is arguing along the lines we often see from Intelligent Designers. They often position their arguments in this form:

If irreducable complexity cannot be explained by the theory of evolution, then evolution is an invalid theory.

Then they point to something they believe cannot be explained. However, the inability to explain the phenomenon doesn't invalidate the theory. But when the fallacy is pointed out to them they resort to the position that because we accept the theory of evolution then we should accept the concept of irreducible complexity.

Harding, by arguing sexist bias and equivalence of the metaphors may be arguing that if we do not accept the rape & torture metaphor then we should not accept the nature/machine metaphor. However, since we do accept the nature/machine metaphor then we must accept the rape & torture metaphor. This is a logical contraposition and it doesn't, in the least, as with the Intelligent Designers, address the validity of her argument.

She never once makes the positive case for her claim that rape & torture metaphors are useful in describing Newton's Laws. She presumes that such metaphors, if they even exist, have "fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science." Therefore, she claims that feminists are justified in claiming that Newton's laws can be referred to as Newton's Rape Manual.

I'm not aware of any conservative feminist scholars - they all seem to be of a liberal bent. I consider this type of scholarship to be a clear case of ideologically motivated rejection, and distortion, of science and while Chris Mooney is on his publicity campaign for his book, The Republican War on Science he's promulgating the view that it's only those of a conservative inclination who distort science to fit their ideological ends. My body of writing is quite clear in demonstrating that I'm no apologist for Republicans and yet I find Chris's thesis to be objectionable in that it is clearly not an accurate representation of the entire problem, and actually misrepresents the scope of the issue.

See related: The Conflict within - The Left's Version of Creationism.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Just a little shilling   posted by Razib @ 9/16/2005 11:23:00 AM

My friend Manish has a new blog client debuting. It's cheaper than City Desk :)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bastions of Liberalism   posted by TangoMan @ 9/15/2005 09:57:00 PM

I'm sure that few would dispute the claim that our elite universities are bastions of liberalism. The faculty are well known for advocating public policy like integration, hiring quotas and all sorts of redistributive schemes. They tend to minimize criticisms, and the critics, of their schemes on the grounds that they are protecting class interests. The liberal outlook certainly places a higher priority on egalitarianism than on efficiency so I'm delighted to present an opportunity for our liberal academician friends to show us how enlightened they are by endorsing the plan put forward by Robert M. Dunn, Jr., a professor of economics at George Washington University.

A core value of American liberals is the importance of redistributing wealth from the prosperous to others, through highly progressive taxes and transfer payments. Which leads to a question: If redistributing wealth is a good idea for workers, companies, individuals, and families, then intellectual consistency suggests it should be equally valid for institutions like colleges and universities. Right?

Why should students at Princeton, where economist Paul Krugman teaches when he is not thundering against the “well off ” on the New York Times editorial page, enjoy income from huge endowments, while students at poorer institutions have far fewer educational resources? How unfair!

Worse, the extreme inequality of colleges is subsidized by the government. Gifts to rich schools are tax deductible for the donors. Universities and colleges pay no taxes on their capital gains, dividend, and interest income. This is an outrage against liberal principles! Remedial legislation is clearly needed!

[ . . . . ]

It’s time for an egalitarian revolution. Liberal professors at Harvard, Princeton, Amherst, and Williams should follow the principles they proclaim and strongly support action to end campus disparities by redistributing educational wealth.

Congress should pass, and President Bush should sign, a hefty and progressive tax on large per student endowments. The funds should be transferred to poorer schools. The same tax should apply to future gifts from alumni.

And why stop there? If redistribution is good, the same concept should apply within universities. Why should the law schools at George Washington and Georgetown live in splendor just because their alumni make more money than theology or economics or anthropology majors? The wealth of these law schools should be transferred to poorer departments. Particularly economics!

Professors at rich schools will splutter that such taxes will sharply reduce incentives for alumni to make gifts. Are we to believe that graduates of Yale are so narrow-minded and selfish that they only want to help Yalies? Surely Yale, Princeton, Williams, and Grinnell alums will give just as freely knowing that their gifts are helping students at poorer schools, particularly since they were taught primarily by liberal professors devoted to income redistribution.

Administrators at rich colleges will claim they raised their money through great effort, that it is unfair to take it away, and that this transfer would eliminate the incentive for poor schools to do a better job of fundraising. We won’t take those arguments any more seriously than liberals take the similar arguments conservatives make about income taxes and death taxes.

So when members of the classes of 1956 and 1981 gather next June at their 25th and 50th reunions in the tony precincts of New Haven, Cambridge, Princeton, and Williamstown, they should expect to see 35 to 40 percent of their gifts whisked away to poorer schools. That should improve their feelings of virtue. In fact, they should increase the size of their gifts to make up for the tax. That’s the least they owe us all.

New locus for skin color?   posted by Razib @ 9/15/2005 03:56:00 AM

Evidence for Recent Positive Selection at the Human AIM1 Locus in a European Population. The authors took samples from whites from South Africa, Tamils and Sinhalese from Sri Lanka, Chinese from Guanghzhou, Ghanians from Accra and Xhosans from South Africa. They found that one particular allele on AIM1 locus seems to have been under strong directional selection over the past few tens of thousands of years in Europeans, and this allele seems to correlate with pale complexion. In contrast with the pattern on MC1R, where Africans are under functional constraint (new non-neutral variants are purified via negative selection) and Europeans seem to be diversified via relaxation of selection, here Europeans seem to be subject to some sort of selective sweep. The results are interesting especially in light of the recent review of MC1R I have posted on. Dienekes has more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Brad DeLong - Ninja Geneticist   posted by dobeln @ 9/14/2005 11:04:00 PM

Brad DeLong might be an economist by day, but as nightfall approaches, he dons his stained lab coat to become: Ninja Geneticist!

Enemies of the people, like the infamous Sully-Man, seldom prevail when confronted with Ninja Geneticist's famous Super-Piercing Insight:

"There is no age in which you can say what Andrew Sullivan wants to say: that there are subtle, genetic differences between "broad racial groups" in the sense that members of population 1 have the mutation, and members of population 2 do not."

Take that, Sully-Man!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dependency Ratios   posted by DavidB @ 9/13/2005 03:00:00 AM

A year or two ago I posted a lot on population topics such as fertility, life expectancy, and dependency ratios. For those who are interested in these subjects, I have put an update on dependency ratios on the politics board. Even if you don't agree with what I say, I've given some useful statistical sources.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

One Nation Under Gods, and Mitt Romney, over before it began   posted by Razib @ 9/11/2005 03:04:00 PM

A few months ago the buzz around governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts as a candidate for 2008 began to build. You can read a long profile in The Atlantic from September, or this shorter more politically oriented one in The Weekly Standard dating from last June. Romney is in some ways a Republican "dream candidate." Romeny looks presidential, has had a very successful business career, "saved" the Salt Lake City Olympics, and seems to be able to be all things to all people politically (ie; moderate or conservative). But as this Amy Sullivan piece in The Washington Monthly points out Romney is going to run into the "Mormon" problem at some point.

What is the "Mormon" problem? Most of you likely have little familiarity with Mormons and Mormonism aside from seeing missionaries around the neighborhood or reading about polygamy in your high school history books. On the other hand I attended a high school which was 50% Mormon, and by senior year almost all of my close friends were devout Mormons (I was somewhat straight edge back then, which meant that I wasn't comfortable hanging around my non-Mormon friends as they generally liked to get baked all the time). At one point I developed such an interest in Mormonism that I was reprimanded by the Vice Principal (who was a Mormon) for passing out copies of the Book of Mormon on campus (I ended up converting one girl! My Mormon friends were not pleased since they knew I was doing this more in mockery than sincerity). I saw the tension between non-Mormons and Mormons first hand throughout high school (the Mormons were termed the "Mormonites"). One particular example illustrates the tension that seethed under the surface. In my AP English class there were three popular girls who sat I next to. One day I noticed that Andrea and Erika were gone, and I asked Jana, who was present, where they were (seemed strange that they got sick on the same day). Jana told me that the were off on a "Mormon related activity." Without any further prodding Jana, who I knew was from a somewhat conservative Presbyterian background, started telling me that Mormonism was a "cult" and that they "really weren't Christian" and that Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) was a "crook and liar." She was just repeating the talking points that were commonly presented and reinforced in most of the non-Mormon churches in the local area. Her outburst wasn't atypical, and my Mormon friends would often talk about experiences when they were younger when people would disparage their religion when their acquaintances didn't know that they were Mormon. The point is that in much of the country Mormonism isn't a well understood religion, but in regions where Mormons and other Christian groups are well represented, other Christians, in particular evangelicals, are well aware of the differences between Mormonism and other forms of Christianity. Not only is Mitt Romney peaking early but Christian networks will start "spreading the word" about Mormonism if he becomes prominent on the national stage, and I wouldn't be surprised if James Dobson interviewed an "expert" on the Mormon "cult" within the next year if Romney doesn't fade. For secular people the differences between Mormonism and other forms of Christianity are not of great note. So I doubt that the media will really see the underground evangelical groundswell that will surge in response to any scenario where Romney is a front runner until the candidacy is already dead on arrival. The problem with Mormons is not that they aren't "Christian," it is that they try and assert that they are Christian, which enrages evangelicals.

But if Romney was the focus of my post I would be putting this on the politics blog. I'm not, and the reason is that Mormonism is a world religion which arose in the light of history (there are about 3 million Mormons in the United States, another 3 million abroad). While questions about the "historical Jesus" or "historical Muhammad" are filled with speculation, supposition and textual analysis, Joseph Smith is a historical personage, and the growth and elucidation of the Mormon religion has been copiously documented. Mormonism can give us insights into how religions crystallize into a "mature" form over time, and the influence that the whims and preferences of a founder might have as well as the buffering and canalizing power of a particular sociohistorical context. I have posted on Mormonism before, but this post will be far longer and cover more ground.

Update: You can find much more via google. To clear up a confusion for some people: I don't think Romney's religion problem is that great in a general sense. A 1999 poll noted that only 17% of the public rejected voting for a Mormon (vs. 3% for a Jew), but I suspect that a disproportionate number of that 17% are evangelical Christians who are the core of the Republican primary electorate. I don't think Romney's Mormonism is any more problematic for the the vast majority of Americans than George W. Bush's Methodism, but the vast majority of American voters are not going to be voting in the Republican primary in South Carolina.

In preparation for this post I read One Nation Under Gods, by Richard Abanes, which is a history of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) skewed toward its 19th century roots. Abanes is an evangelical Christian who is moderately hostile to Mormonism. Nevertheless, Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine, gave the book a blurb so I assumed it was more than your typical polemic. The book has hundreds of endnotes, which you can use to check Abanes' shading of his sources (a Mormon group has examined many of the endnotes). Since I am not totally ignorant of Mormonism I could judge to a moderate extent the accuracy of many of the points Abanes was making, and in general I think he presents a pretty accurate narrative, though sometimes his sampling and culling of the record can be irritating. Instead of forming my idea of what Mormonism is and how it came to be Abanes simply added more depth and detail to my conception.

There are two threads that Abanes weaves throughout the book:

1) Mormons put their Church ahead of the United States and there is reason to suspect that putting Mormons in positions of power is dangerous to the health of our republic.

2) Mormons are not Christian.

I actually reject contention #1 (ie; I don't think a Romney presidency would be all that bad, assuming that he didn't govern like a social conservative on the warpath against fetal stem cell research) and think that #2 is highly colored by Abanes' own evangelical Christian background. There are a few areas where the author's bias crops up in a problematic manner. I will offer two examples:

1) The author is an evangelical Christian and he assumes that most of the readers are Christian, so he appeals often to the Bible to refute Mormon claims. For example, he gives considerable space to debunking claims of Mormons that Joseph Smith and Mormonism are foreshadowed in the Bible via textual analysis. This can be taken to such lengths that I feel many non-Christians will find Abanes' digression irrelevant to the main substance of the book as well as unpersuasive because of the vagueness of the passages being cited. For example, the author attempts to refute Mormon claims (often dating to the 19th century, but still brought up in contemporary Mormon apologetics for the practices of their forebears) that polygamy was sanctioned by the practice of the patriarchs (ie; Abraham and Jacob were polygynous). Abanes responds that almost all references to marriage in the Bible imply monogamy, so polygyny must be a pagan practice that the patriarchs had picked up from their neighbors. As someone who has read the Hebrew Bible multiple times, and Genesis dozens of times, I don't find this persuasive at all. God makes quite clear what is verboten and what is not, and polygyny is not proscribed in the law.

2) Sloppy logic tends to creep in now and then when the author veers from an objective third person vantage point to a more personal first person Christian opinion. In the chapter which explores whether Mormons are Christian (the answer is a strong negative) Abanes asks the reader to consider if Christians can be considered Mormon. Since Christians can not be considered Mormon, according to Abanes it stands to reason that Mormons can not be considered Christian. I will not even deign to critique this sort of argument, but will just observe that this is not out of the range of the talking points some of my evangelical Christian friends have subjected me to. Clearly this sort of "logic" is meant for the choir, the syntactic style of logic is more important than the formal structure and clear inferences.

With those caveats in mind, I will move on to the substance of Abanes' book.

Joseph Smith

Abanes spends a lot of time on the character of Joseph Smith. The short of it is that Joseph Smith was a narcissistic conman. For a more contemporary example of the con that Smith managed to pull off just consider L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. I know that Mormons will find this offensive, and there are Mormon apologetics which refute this contention (of course), but unlike Muhammad, the Buddha or Jesus Christ there are newspaper articles and studies by investigators that asked people who knew Smith and his family about his character and origins. Joseph Smith's family were lower class New Englanders who had fallen in the world. They were part of a class of poor Americans who made their living by their wiles and their ability to exploit the "cracks" in civil society (they regularly did not pay back debts and moved on).

It is important to know that many of Smith's formative years were spent in the Burned-Over District of upstate New York where there was an efflorescence of new religious movements due to the Second Great Awakening. Abanes does not cover this topic in great detail, perhaps because he wanted to emphasize the character of Joseph Smith as sui generis and particularly diabolical (if Abanes was being explicit I suspect he would have asserted that Smith was inspired by Satan). But I have read that the Mormon rejection of a conventional hell (there are multiple levels of heaven, and an "Outer Darkness" for Mormon apostates) and baptism after death derive from Smith's affinity for the Universalist sect that was popular during this time throughout New England and upstate New York (the Universalists eventually folded into the Unitarian Church in 1960, ergo, Unitarian-Universalists). The Universalists themselves trace their intellectual lineage back to the 5th century theologian Pelagius who was rebuked by St. Augustine and declared a heretic. Abanes might have elided over this because acknowledging this would have emphasized that many of the ideas of Mormons can be found among early Christians, though those particular views were eventually rejected by the consensus of the Church.

But in any case, Abanes notes that Smith was an inspirational preacher, who hopped between various denominations and mastered the King James Bible (KJV) as well as choice phrases in Latin or Greek which would induce awe his audience at particularly pregnant moments. Joseph Smith was also a gifted storyteller, at least according to his mother, and spun tales about Native Americans out of the air. Finally, he was rather tall (over 6 feet) and judged to be handsome. His combination of imagination, verbal aptitude (at least orally) and handsome visual aspect seem to be reasons why Smith rose up and succeeded as a messianic prophet figure.

Abanes also notes other aspects of Smith's personality. He was the type of person who thought very highly of himself and would state that he was extremely handsome, gifted or good to all who would listen. His physical size combined with his narcissism also meant that Joseph Smith enjoyed picking fights with others, and even when he was a prophet of great power he would enjoy wrestling and throwing down men who he thought needed to be brought down in the world. Smith's sexual apetites were also extravagant, and it seems plausible that the Mormon practice of polygamy derived from the need for Smith to engage in sexual liasons with women (often young) he found attractive. Abanes also chronicles Smith's stints as a small-time conman who tracked buried treasure using a "magic seerstone," his founding of an unlicensed bank (or as he termed it, "anti-bank") and his time as a criminal under indictments in Missouri.

And of course, there was also Smith's period as a "lieutenant general" in Illinois who headed up a Mormon army of 4,000. This was the second largest armed force in the United States after the federal army, which had 8,000 active duty men under arms. Joseph Smith liked to parade in military uniform and march his troops through the Mormon dominated town of Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith even announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1844 (he also fancied that he would of course one day be king of the world after the impending Second Coming).

In sum, Smith was a megalomaniac according to Abanes. But this opinion is also held by most non-Mormon scholars from what I have seen, so though the details are likely disputable most non-Mormon scholars of note tend to agree on the general direction of the vector.

"Persecution" in the Midwest

The standard picture presented by Mormons (personal communication, their literature) is that they were driven out of the Midwest by those who attacked them because of their religion. The truth is more complicated, as is implied by the fact that Joseph Smith raised an army of 4,000 in the mid-1840s.

Like Smith most of the Mormons were Northeasterners. Their first major migration was to Ohio, where Smith had some supporters. But a revelation from God directed Smith to tell his Mormons that Zion, where Christ would return to earth, was in Jackson county Missouri, and so a massive migration of thousands of Latter Day Saints ensued. As I noted above most of the Mormons were by origin northerners so there was already a built up bias against them from the local residents who were pro-slavery southerners by identification. Additionally, Abanes asserts that most of the Mormons were lower to lower-middle-class converts who were immersed in the occult and magical fringes of the Second Great Awakening, so they often alienated the natives by claiming that they would be exalted when Christ returned and flaunted magical powers and occassionally even claimed to cast spells and hexes on those they disliked. On a social level there was a tendency for Mormons to stick together and discriminate against non-Mormon businesses. On an individual level they were generally not derived from the "respectable" segment of American society and so not particularly polished in their habits or comportment.

These factors led to the translocation of the Mormon community to another county in Missouri after the final precipitating event of perceived anti-slavery editorials by the Mormon newspapers (recall that the Mormons were Yankees). But soon enough the new non-Mormon neighbors complained about similar goings on as had previously occurred at the original Mormon settlement. Ingroup-outgroup dynamics simply alienated Mormons from the surrounding community. The resolution to this problem was to allocate to Mormons a particularly underpopulated county where they could live by themselves so as not to alienate non-Mormons.

But after Joseph Smith's banking failure (he printed money without authorization) he had to leave Ohio and once he became the core of the Missouri settlement Mormons spread out and began infiltrate other counties in violation of the implicit agreemant made with the state legislature (which specifically alloted to Mormon settlers their particular county). So again, tensions flared. Eventually there were atrocities as armed Mormon fanatics clashed with local militias, and at one point there was the so called "Mormon War" where the state of Missouri came close to exterminating the group. Joseph Smith and his confederates were arrested after he had to sue for peace (the state of Missouri mobilized everyone against the Mormons), but eventually he managed to escape to Illinois. Once in Illinois the Mormons managed to turn the town of Nauvoo into their own state within a state. Attempts to extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri failed because he always had a bodyguard and he even had a local ordinance passed with forbid the entry of those whose intention was to take him back to Missouri for trial. Abanes documents instances of murders, beatings and extra-legal torture performed on non-Mormons and dissidents in Nauvoo by Mormon fanatics. Eventually the practice of polygamy and the fact that Joseph Smith had become a law unto himself prompted the state of Illinois to to intervene, and Smith was arrested and killed by a lynch mob. You can google to find those particular details.

After this the vast majority of the Mormons fled to Utah as the federal government was moved to act against their army and warrants were out for the arrest of Mormon leader Brigham Young....


Utah territory (which was a far greater expanse when Mormons originally settled it) was hardly populated by any other whites so the Mormons under the leadership of Brigham Young established their own theocratic state for nearly five decades. Abanes documents instances of violence against non-Mormon residents, and conflicts between Mormons and federal troops. It seems that the Civil War gave the Mormons a respite as the federal government neglected the Utah situation for several years. Abanes notes that the Mormons gleefully tracked the casualties back east as they assumed that the End was at hand and the United States would have to turn to the Mormon Church to save the Constitution and the republic. This period witnessed a great deal of hostility between Mormons and the rest of America, and it seems accurate to say that Mormons were in America, but not of America.

To illustrate the degree of hostility between Mormons and the rest of the population of the United States, consider the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This was an incident where it seems likely that the Mormon leadership colluded with Native American tribes to plunder an affluent wagon train. When the Natives couldn't finish the job the Mormons appeared on the scene as rescurers but killed all individuals over the age of 6 after the settlers had agreed to a truce in return for safe passage (Mormons assume that those under 7 are innocent).

Abanes also suggests that the hallmarks of Mormonism and its relationship to the United States persisted after the 1890s when Utah became a state persisted. For example, Abanes asserts that until 1945 church presidents were polygamists. Abanes also notes that an oath that Mormon males took until 1924 when they entered the priesthood (all Mormon males are members of the priesthood) swore vengence upon the United States for the killing of their prophet and leaders. Abanes notes that all church presidents, including the present one, swore this oath!

Abanes' narrative doesn't extent much into the 20th century, the period during which Mormons "normalized" their relationship with the rest of America. Instead, he moves on to specific topics that are crucial to the perception of Mormons by non-Mormons.


It is well known that the Aaronic priesthood was off limits until blacks until 1978. It is less well known that it is a common Mormon belief that the Native Americans are descendents of ancient Hebrews (by and large), so of course they were white, and their dark skin is a result of sin. The book of Mormon speaks glowingly of those who turned to virtue and Christ becoming "white and delightsome," and until 1980 Mormons spoke of Native American converts "whitening." I have queried this particular point with Mormons before and generally it elicits anger and outrage, but very little outright denial. And Native Americans are not the only "cursed" people, the standard idea is that dark skinned peoples were born into their bodies because they sinned in their preexistent lives in heaven by following Satan instead of Jesus. White people followed Jesus and so were born into white bodies. Another explanation is that non-white peoples are descended from Cain, who had a "mark" set upon him by God (ie; dark skin). The Mormon ideas about race aren't too hard to google, or too original in light of 19th century America, so I'll leave it at that.

Are Mormons Christian?

Abanes spends a lot of time on this topic. Are Mormons Christian? Abanes concludes that Mormons deviate from historic Christianity. I emphasize historic because the particular form that Christianity took by the 4th century compressed and obliterated a great deal of variance in theology and practice, and some Mormon beliefs and practices likely fall under the rubric of some ancient Christian sects. But, if "Christian" is conceived of as an expectation (assuming some variance) within a particular range, Mormons likely fall outside of any expected range. Why?

Here are some points.

1) Mormons reject the Trinity. They believe that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate individuals.

2) God has a physical body (ie; hands, head, body, etc.).

3) Jesus and Satan are brothers, one of God's many children (one line of thought is that the Heavenly Father is the literal father of all human's, at least their preexistent selves).

4) God was once a mortal being who was eventually exalted to Godhood.

5) This exaltation is the fate of Mormon males who follow proper rules, rituals and hold to true belief (women can attain some level of divinity only by marriage to an exalted male).

6) God is married to the Heavenly Mother. There is some talk that God might have other wives. There is also some talk that the conception of Jesus was a rather more physical process (since God is a physical being) than is normally conceived of in Christianity.

7) God lives on Kolob, a planet in this universe (I believe in the Pleiades cluster).

8) Mormons are henotheists, they worship one God, but accept a multiplicity of Gods. In other words, not only can Mormon males become God of their own universe, there are likely other Gods in the universe who created their own planets, and there were Gods in the past (one responsible for the Creation of the God of this planet).

9) Though polygyny is banned by mainstream Mormons, Mormon males may be "sealed" to more than one woman sequentially. That is, Mormons believe that the afterlife is characterized by normal familial relations, and a man may have more than one afterlife wife (imagine his first wife dies).

10) Jesus created the earth from matter, instead of out of nothing as in traditional Christianity.

11) Mormons have prophets (Joseph Smith) and post-Bible books (Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, etc. etc.).

12) Mormons believe Christ will return to Missouri to usher in his Earthly Kingdom and that Adam and Eve fled to Missouri after being expelled from the Garden of Eden.

13) As I have alluded to above, Mormons believe that our spirits are preformed and that we have had experiences/lives in heaven before our earthly one. One reason Mormons have so many children is that they are creating bodies for these spirits.

14) Mormons have a rich tale of a War in Heaven between Satan and Jesus. This is generally not emphasized or explicated in mainstream Christianity (it really isn't fleshed out in the Bible, there is some material in the Apocrypha), but is a feature of Milton's works of fictional interpretation.

I could go on and on. But it is important to note that very few Christian churches accept Mormon baptism as valid.

Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is their savior, and they follow Christ, so they are Christians. But look at some of the beliefs above. If you ignore that Mormons revere Christ more than Muslims do (though Jesus is highly thought of in the Koran) on a relative scale it seems that Islam or Judaism are more like mainstream Christianity than Mormonism. For example, Mormons are not really monotheists! Not only do they dispense with Trinitarian theology as philosophical gibberish and accept that the three aspects of the Godhead are actually separate beings, they accept that other gods may exist.

I don't particularly care that Mormons aren't Christians, but it engrages Abanes and many evangelicals because they assert that Mormons are confusing people as to their true nature. I went to the LDS website and found this page titled The Nature of God. There is no hint here that Mormons reject the Trinity or the peculiarities of their ideas of the nature of God in comparison to other Christians (or other monotheists). The language used in fact makes it very difficult to note any difference from mainstream Christianity. Here is the president of the church responding to the FAQ question as to whether Mormons are Christians. Again, there is no explicit falsity but a definite sidestepping of the differences between Mormonism and other Christianities. I spent about 30 minutes going through the links and I found nothing that hinted at most of the points above. I suspect there is information on the site that would yield the data above, but it seems to be relatively hidden.

Abanes and other evangelical Christians are concerned because they suspect that people are being seduced away from true Christianitity to a non-Christian religion posing as Christianity. To Abanes and his fellow believers people are being led away from salvation by the duplicity of Mormonism. Since I'm not Christian the Mormon soft-pedalling of their beliefs doesn't strike me as despicable, they are simply using tactics common to missionary religions: preach to people in a gentle and accessible manner when possible, reinterpret the religion in terms that non-believers can relate to. Eventually converts do find out the details of the Mormon religion, but no doubt they are more emotionally prepared for the somewhat shocking details by that point. Muslims do the same thing when they talk about Jesus being a revered prophet, Hindus when they state that Jesus is an avatar of the Godhood and Christians often attempt to identify the Christian God with the God of a local people (ie; the Mizos or Karens of Southeast Asia had Gods which resembled the Christian God a great deal so missionaries simply implied that Christianity was their primal religion and the traditional religion was a garbling of their true faith). I do think that Abanes has a point though when he offers that Mormons believe that mainstream Christianity isn't really true Christianity, that the Mormon Church is restored church of the days of yore. But ultimately this point is only relevant because evangelical Christians form at least half of the Republican primary electorate. In the long run Romney is toast. Either that, or political consultants are actually worth the millions they are paid (I'm skeptical, Romney should pray to Jesus if he is serious about running for president).

Religion is always true

One of the most amusing aspects of Abanes' book was that he often wore the hat of the skeptic and true believer (in evangelical Christianity) in quick sequence. While Abanes was quick to contextualize Mormonism and show how Joseph Smith's milieu and subsequent historical events affected the path of the development of the religion he obviously believes that evangelical Christianity is a good recapitualization of the primitive Christian church that needs no contextualization (see the beliefs of the author's own church). In fact many Mormon beliefs can be thought of as state of the art popular culture science and scholarship, for the early 19th century!

Abanes shows how Smith seemed to be strongly influenced by the pop archeology of his day which posited that the Native Americans were descendents of Hebrews (the 10 tribes) and that the Mound Builders had once had a marvelous civilization which collapsed under the weight of their sin. Many of the rites and rituals performed in Mormon temples also seem to derive from Freemasonry, which was a vital and powerful movement during Joseph Smith's day. In the pre-genetic era Smith's idea that skin color was a reflection of ancestral iniquity were not entirely implausible, as was a Lamarckian concept that lightness was acquired through correct belief was heritable. Smith's penchant for women and subsequent normalization of polygamy influenced Mormonism for decades, and today Fundamentalist Mormons who number in the tens of thousands (and least) continue to carry that particular torch. But plural marriage (as they like to call it) was practiced by some groups in upstate New York during that time period so it was not that revolutionary or unprecedented when the Mormons introduced it. The idea that Mormons espouse about the physical nature of God is grounded in "common sense" which rejected some of the more peculiar Greek philosophizing which entered into Christianity (Mormons mock the idea that God sits upon a "topless throne" as logically incoherent). The Mormon God is not outside logic so they avoid some of the more common conundrums posed by the definition of God within the monotheistic tradition (ie; omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient).

Many of the ideas from the early 19th century do not stand up to 5 minutes of reflection. The Mormon idea that Native Americans are descended from the 10 tribes of Israel is refuted by modern archeogenetics, linguistics and paleoanthropology (the historical events posited in the Book of Mormon are eminently testable). The Book of Mormon records an old world civilization with horses, cattle, wheat, wheels and advanced metallurgy which seems to have left no archeological or biogeographical record to speak of. We know how skin color emerges as a phenotype in its broad sketch, and though one can find ways of reconciling the Mormon idea that darkness is a curse from God upon sinning spirits with anthropology and genetics, the original Mormon prophets and presidents seemed totally unaware of the manner in which their model was expressed in this world (despite numerous revelations from God!).

The details of the history of the Mormon Church are on public record. Reports about Joseph Smith's history as a conman can be found in public records (arrest warrants) and newspaper articles. The wars between Mormons and other Americans are also verifiable via newspaper reports. Though these reports are are likely skewed against the Mormons the obituaries of those killed by Mormon toughs can likely be tracked down. Newspapers and investigative journalists spawned a cottage industry documenting the peculiarities of polygamous 19th century Utah.

Abanes points out that the original copy of the Book of Mormon was filled with grammatical mistakes, double negatives and other syntactical errors common among lower class Americans of the early 19th Joseph Smith. He notes that Joseph Smith translated the Golden Plates upon which the the Book of Mormon was written from "Reformed Egyptian," a language no one had, or has since, discovered any other evidence of. Additionally, when a follower of Smith showed some transcriptions of Reformed Egyptian script to a classicist in New York the man simply responded that what he saw before him was a hodge-podge of chicken scratches and garbled Roman and Greek letters. There are also peculiar anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, the Jews who arrived in the New World in the 6th century before Christ set up synagogues...when synagogues were not a feature of Judaism during this period. Names like "Timothy" crop up in the text which aren't appropriate for Hebrews of the 6th century. Abanes also points out that prior to French occupation in the 1860s the Comoros islands were spelled "Camora" in Arabic, and their capital was "Moroni." The final battle between two Native American groups in the Book of Mormon happens on a hill called Cumorah, and the man who survives that battle and becomes an angel is "Moroni." The 1830 Book of Mormon spells "Cumorah" "Camorah."

The list goes on. Abanes is quite clearly enraged that anyone could even credit Mormonism since it has such a falsifiable paper trail. He notes that when confronted with basic facts that cast doubt on their religion Mormons often rely on a personal testimony of faith! Abanes notes multiple times that Mormons are subjective, that their religion is rooted in emotion, that they reject rationality when it comes to their spirituality. Personally, I find this rich. The modern Protestant tradition in large part rejects the cool rationality of Thomas Aquinas in favor of justification by faith alone. Protestant philosophers like Cornelius Van Tail forwarded the idea of Presuppositionalism, that the world is intelligible once you presuppose the truths of the Bible (ergo, Christianity).

I will grant that the claims of mainstream Christianity are not so nakedly falsifiable as the claims of the Mormon religion, but I suspect that the same cognitive processes are at work. The relative growth of Mormonism despite its patently false claims about the history of the New World is no surprise, people don't (in my opinion) examine their own religion with the same degree of rigor as they do everything else in the world. I have been in the presence of evangelical Christians mocking the Hindu concept of the incarnation of gods in human beings. I remember reading Ibn Warraq's experience of meeting a Muslim who proudly displayed a copy of Why I am not a Christian, Bertrand Russell's refutation of Christianity, without any self-awareness that the arguments mapped almost perfectly onto Islam.

In Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust there is the following contention:

...disconfirming evidence only seems to make believers try harder to understand the deeper truth and to strength religious beliefs. For exampe, after reading a bogus article on a new finding from the Dead Sea Scrolls that seemed to contradict Christian doctrine, religious believers who also believed the story reported their religious beliefs reinforced (Batson 1975)....

In other words, for the vast majority of Mormons, including Harvard educated believers like Mitt Romney, no falsifying information will shake their faith. The Domneh are extreme examples of the inability of believers to accept anything that contradicts their faith, in their case, their Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zvi, converted to Islam and died a Muslim in good standing. The Domneh outwardly converted to Islam along with their Messiah, but inwardly continued to practice a form of crypto-Judaism and developed a theology which explained away their Messiah's conversion to Islam as another twist on his Messianic mission.

This does not mean that believers are always immune to falsifying evidence, I am making probabilistic, not deterministic, assertions. Abanes offers documentation that Mormons who sought out the truths of Mormonism via archeology eventually ceased to believe (though often outwardly maintaining fellowship). The same can be said about men who trained as geologists but were from Creationist backgrounds, Ronald L. Numbers in The Creationists assayed men in these positions and they universally rejected Creationism but were extremely troubled by this development in their lives and did not want to speak of it. A shaking of the faith is not just limited to religion, some of the same cognitive processes are at work among those who are politically active, as it is difficult to move beyond the axioms one has held without question for
so long. And many of the people who reject their beliefs based on data or logical inconsistency are cognitively atypical (most people do not become geologists for oil companies or devote their lives to archeology that supports their religious beliefs).

Possible Traitors?

Abanes begins his book by citing a speech where then presidential candidate Orrin Hatch acknowledged that Mormonism might be needed to step in and fill the breech as the United States collapses. He points out that George Romney (Mitt Romney's father) also expressed this viewpoint. Abanes is clearly implying here that Mormons are a government within a government, that their first loyalty is to their church, and that push come to shove they put their faith above their patriotism. He notes that the Mormon church is an extremely wealthy entity which is notoriously secretive about its reach, though it is well known that it is one of the largest landowners in the western United States. It seems clear to me that the detailed documentation of Mormon opposition and conflict with the American republic in the 19th century was simply background to support Abanes' contention that Mormons are a threat to the United States. Many people know that the Mormon church advises their members to stockpile supplies, and it seems clear that many within the church see themselves as a shadow government that might emerge in the case of a possible civilizational collapse. The Mormon church already runs its own welfare system in Utah, and it is excellent at placing church members in jobs. A high birthrate means that Mormonism is perceived as a fast growing church. Mormons like Brent Scowcroft are well placed in government, and their reputation for honesty and clean living means that they are often recruited to agencies that deal with national security like the CIA.

First, Mormons only grew by 10.7% between 1990-2001, a strong implication that they are hitting the inevitable "plateau." Second, it seems as many Americans convert out as convert in to the Mormon faith. We don't need to fear a "Mormon planet." Most of the growth of the Mormon church is occurring overseas, not in the United States. And Mormons are not the only religion with a mixed (at best) relationship with governments. Roman Catholics were for most of the 19th and early 20th centuries perceived to be a fifth column more beholden to Rome than Washington D.C. Jews in many nations have been assumed to be Jews first and nationals second. Even evangelical Christians like Abanes no doubt express a patriotism contingent upon the character of the American republic, that is, if they perceived that the "Anti-Christ" was working through the American state then no doubt as Christians they would turn their backs on patriotism and work against the government. The reality is that all people have divided loyalties. For most of the population there is religious faith, along with national sentiment, ethnic affinity and familial ties. During the 19th century adherence to the Mormon religion dictated interests at variance with that of the American republic. For most of the 20th century Mormons were patriotic Americans because they had found their own place in the republic. It is true that in many ways Utah is run as a Mormon republic, but expressions of Protestant Christian piety are also common throughout much of the American South in a fashion that would seem insensitive in the West or Northeast. Balancing religious faith with national patriotic feeling only seems difficult when one pushes the question to a reductio ad absurdum, but it seems that the same process can smoke out lack of pure and unadulterated patriotism in almost any religious group. Abanes extracts out allusions that Mormon politicians make to some of the more apocolyptic elements of their religion, but no doubt he would object to the same questions being asked of evangelical Christian public figures who also espouse a theology of impending End Times.


In The Creationists Ronald L. Numbers reports that in 1935 only 36% of Brigham Young University students denied that humans evolved from lower life forms, by 1973 this number had increased to 81%! What you see here is a conformity of Mormons to broad trends in conservative Protestantism which are not necessary conditions of their religion, but serve to generate common points of affinity between the two traditions. As I note above the original Mormons were often lower class converts with a fixation on the occult and magical, modern Mormons tend be stereotyped as techies and accountants (though One Nation Under God found that Mormons tended to be less socioeconomically impressive than reports drawn up by the church). Though Joseph Smith's background and personal life would not predict a church of social conservatives, Mormons have been instrumental in buttressing specific social conservative movements (anti-ERA, anti-gay marriage today). One branch of the Latter Day Saints movement, originally called the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, but now termed the Community of Christ, consists of those followers of Joseph Smith who remained in Missouri. This offshoot of the original sect has slowly shifted toward a far more traditional form of Christianity, as can be seen in their relatively transparent statement of beliefs (note how they explicitly state their acceptance of the Trinity). In contrast the majority of Mormons who migrated to Utah developed their own peculiar theology isolated from the majority of Christian believers in this country and shaped by the opinions and biases of men who had a deep hostility to the American polity and felt persecuted by the mainstream culture.

As I have noted before the human mind is not a unitary and interally consistent whole. Mormons, and humans in general, may often hold logically contradictory beliefs or behave in ways that do not cohere as a whole when viewed from the outside. Unbelievers who view Mormonism as a social phenomena can easily point out 1) obvious fallacies in their beliefs 2) deviances from the implications of those beliefs in their everyday life. But this is easy to do with almost anyone. Mormons live their lives embedded in a social world. In the 19th century when they often lived in a purely Mormon milieu they viewed the world, and non-Mormons, differently than Mormons today do. Now, it is true that Mormons are quite often exclusive and barely conceal their contempt for mainstream "Christianity" (which they consider the Whore of Babylon), but this attitude is not limited to Mormons. Mormon historical peculiarities (polygamy) and the heterodoxy of their theology likely makes their conceit more odious in the eyes of evangelical Christians.

Today Mormons are still concentrated in the Great Basin region of the West. But as I note above, 16% of Mormons are converts while 16% defect. This "churn" results in an influx of new worldviews into the Mormon church. Because of the peculiar structure of the church hierarchy the current president, Gordon Hinckley, is 95 years old and a product of early 20th century Mormonism. His successor will also likely be extremely aged. The Mormonism of these men was a purely white religion that was only then moving past its polygamist and outcaste past. But the Mormonism of this age is at least half non-white (and foreign), and the geographic range is rapidly expanding. Salt Lake City is already a majority non-Mormon city, and their high birthrates notwithstanding it seems likely that the influence of the church in Utah is likely to only go down in magnitude as religious diversity slowly creeps into the Mormon heartland (and as white flight from California begins to target Utah as Colorado "fills up").

We aren't ready for a Mormon president yet...but give America and Mormons a generation or two.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ancient Britons   posted by DavidB @ 9/10/2005 03:23:00 AM

Dienekes has a report on some new studies of DNA in British skeletons dating from the first millennium A.D. I'm not sure what it all means, or how it relates to previous DNA studies, but I mention it in view of my previous post on Celts and Anglo-Saxons.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dogs Playing Poker?   posted by gcochran @ 9/08/2005 08:43:00 PM

" "There's just no correlation," said Duke's Wray, calling education and other environmental factors more important for intelligence than DNA anyway."

Rikurzhen: Source

BRCA1 variant   posted by gcochran @ 9/08/2005 04:20:00 PM

There is a new BRCA1 haplotype with a geographical distribution reminiscent of that seen in microcephalin and ASPM: the new variant is about 30k years old and considerably more common outside of sub-Saharan Africa (~55%) than inside (~20%) . BRCA1 has also been evolving unusually rapidly in the hominid lineage (like ASPM and microcephalin). It is suspected of having something to do with brain development, since it is highly expressed in neural stem cells and is functionally linked with microcephalin. Also, the high incident of BRCA1 mutations among the Ashkenazi Jews - as part of a complex of DNA-repair mutations - suggests that tweaking BRCA1 can affect cognition.

Research approved for two-mom one-dad embryos   posted by Canton @ 9/08/2005 02:43:00 PM

[Crossposted from]

Scientists at Newcastle University have been given approval for new research aimed at combating a particular set of inherited human diseases: those that are passed on via mitochondrial DNA instead of the nuclear DNA most folks are familiar with. The trick? They'll be creating human embryos that are the product of two mothers and one father. Here's the background:

Nuclear DNA includes thousands of genes, and is given credit for making you who you are, and is in fact the only DNA considered when discussing the human "genome". Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) only has 37 genes and doesn't change much from individual to individual. However, that doesn't mean that MtDNA isn't capable of expressing diseases of its own.

So if you're a mom who suffers from a mitochondrial disease, how do you keep from passing it on to your baby? According to the Newcastle researchers, here's what you do: extract healthy ooplasm (including MtDNA) from a different mom's egg cell and insert it into one of your own egg cells. Then fertilize it with the father's sperm in the usual way (with glass rods and tubes and such) and presto! Healthy baby.

Trigger-finger ethics watchdogs suggest that you've just broken a new taboo -- making an embryo that has two moms and one dad. Supporters would respond by saying that the nuclear DNA is the only "important" DNA, so who cares if the mitochondrial DNA comes from someone else?

Myself, I'm on the fence with this one. Most people would agree that there's something ethically suspicious about making better babies by combining nuclear DNA from two moms. And while mitochondrial DNA doesn't obviously code for things like blue eyes or long limbs, it does interact with nuclear DNA, working together for the expression and use of certain proteins. Will we discover some day that the rare and small differences found in MtDNA somehow have subtle (or profound) effects on the human phenotype -- who we are and how we behave? If so, then mixing one mom's DNA with the another mom's MtDNA could lead us into ethically uncertain waters.

On the other hand, why not go for broke? Let's use a surrogate mother for the womb too. Then we'll have three mothers involved in the production of a newborn! Just imagine the positive impact such practices could have on profits on Mother's Day... :)

[ Reference: BBC News ]

This is Bruce Lahn's brain on ASPM and MCPH1   posted by Razib @ 9/08/2005 02:30:00 PM

Researchers Say Human Brain Is Still Evolving. The crest of articles already seems enormous on Google News as I write. The papers are in the current issue of Science. I gotta run, but I assume other people on this blog will have comments, so I figured I'd act as the thin edge of the wedge....


Microcephalin, a Gene Regulating Brain Size, Continues to Evolve Adaptively in Humans

Patrick D. Evans,1,2 Sandra L. Gilbert,1 Nitzan Mekel-Bobrov,1,2 Eric J. Vallender,1,2 Jeffrey R. Anderson,1 Leila M. Vaez-Azizi,1 Sarah A. Tishkoff,4 Richard R. Hudson,3 Bruce T. Lahn1* The gene Microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size and has evolved under strong positive selection in the human evolutionary lineage. We show that one genetic variant of Microcephalin in modern humans, which arose ~37,000 years ago, increased in frequency too rapidly to be compatible with neutral drift. This indicates that it has spread under strong positive selection, although the exact nature of the selection is unknown. The finding that an important brain gene has continued to evolve adaptively in anatomically modern humans suggests the ongoing evolutionary plasticity of the human brain. It also makes Microcephalin an attractive candidate locus for studying the genetics of human variation in brain-related phenotypes.


Ongoing Adaptive Evolution of ASPM, a Brain Size Determinant in Homo sapiens

Nitzan Mekel-Bobrov,1,2 Sandra L. Gilbert,1 Patrick D. Evans,1,2 Eric J. Vallender,1,2 Jeffrey R. Anderson,1 Richard R. Hudson,3 Sarah A. Tishkoff,4 Bruce T. Lahn1* The gene ASPM (abnormal spindle-like microcephaly associated) is a specific regulator of brain size, and its evolution in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens was driven by strong positive selection. Here, we show that one genetic variant of ASPM in humans arose merely about 5800 years ago and has since swept to high frequency under strong positive selection. These findings, especially the remarkably young age of the positively selected variant, suggest that the human brain is still undergoing rapid adaptive evolution.

Addendum, Rikurzhen:

Q: are there phenotypes (e.g. brain size or IQ) associated with these alleles?
A: no, these alleles have not been tested; but loss of function alleles of these genes affect brain size

Also note that there are almost certainly hundreds of QTLs for IQ, and previous attempts to find linkage or assocation have been not especially fruitful -- largely because of low statistical power. However, because there is such a strong selective signature on these alleles, there is likely to be a pheotypic effect, albeit likely a small one. From the Microcephalin paper:

The specific function of Microcephalin in brain development makes it likely that selection has operated on the brain. Yet, it remains formally possible that an unrecognized function of Microcephalin outside of the brain is actually the substrate of selection. If selection indeed acted on a brain-related phenotype, there could be several possibilities, including brain size, cognition, personality, motor control, or susceptibility to neurological and/or psychiatric diseases. We hypothesize that D and non-D haplotypes have different effects on the proliferation of neural progenitor cells, which in turn leads to different phenotypic outcomes of the brain visible to selection.

Jason M. adds: The files have been added to the GNXP files section. Not to be missed! Also here's my thread over on MetaFilter.

Update from Razib: Of course you should read what John Hawks has to say. Andrew advises caution. Slasdhot has a thread (I don't see anything below a mod score of 4 but there still isn't much to see...though John popped up in there). Here is a technorati query you might want to keep track of.

TangoMan adds: Maps below the fold.

Click on maps for the larger versions.

Some numbers on the value of secondary education   posted by michael vassar @ 9/08/2005 08:35:00 AM

Does anyone know, statistically speaking, what sort of product the public schools are producing... according to their own advocates... after excluding 8% of the student body from testing for various reasons?

Here are the actual numbers. To some degree they speak for themselves, but here are the highlights. The top 10% of 4th grade students equal or outperform the bottom 25% (really over 45% after accounting for children excluded from the test and children who dropped out of high school) of 12th grade students, and the top 25% of students outperform the bottom 10% (really over 30% for reasons given above)! For your reference, roughly 25% of the US population gets a college degree, so the average person who will get a college degree has better math ability and reading comprehension in 4th grade than the bottom 4th of the population will have after 8 more years of schooling supposedly teaches them these subjects!

This is all the more remarkable in light of the antiquated concept of IQ as a quotient. Around the mean, this concept is predictively accurate for the most part. From the quotient definition of IQ we can infer that there are many cognitive tasks which are not taught in school in which the 10th percentile 14 year old substantially outperforms the 90th percentile 9 year old. In other words, performance in the subjects which are "taught" improves less than would be expected simply from mental maturation, or at least less than performance in subjects that are not taught.

Human Protein Atlas   posted by dobeln @ 9/08/2005 04:50:00 AM

Straight from Sweden to a computer near you: The Human Protein Atlas. For all of you people out there who are into proteins and stuff.

The Human Protein Atlas

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Familiar faces   posted by Razib @ 9/07/2005 03:46:00 AM

Sex-contingent face after-effects suggest distinct neural populations code male and female faces. Well, the link was titled "Human brain favors familiar faces." Not ground-breaking research, but I've put it in the files.

Bruce Lahn   posted by Razib @ 9/07/2005 01:10:00 AM

The Scientist recently did an interview with Bruce Lahn. I got it out of the google cache (it is premium now) so I cut & pasted it below in case something happens to that....

Rebel with a Lab

For Bruce Lahn, an interest in human genetics has roots in Chinese protests

By Karen Hopkin

Bruce Lahn has always been something of a rebel. As an undergraduate at Beijing University in the late-1980s, Lahn was a ringleader in the first wave of student prodemocracy protests. "I was fiercely opposed to the communist ideology," he says. "I just didn't want to be told what to do, especially if it didn't come with a reason." These early rallies set the stage for the huge demonstrations that would culminate in the infamous crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Although Lahn had transferred to Harvard University by the time the government sent in the tanks, his disgust with the system helped shape his scientific career. "I had this idea that the problems with China, in addition to being social, might also have a genetic root." Indeed, all human behavior – our tendency toward violence as well as our capacity for kindness – must, to some extent, be encoded in our DNA. So Lahn decided to study human genetics. "I was attracted by the idea of understanding human behavior, especially how it relates to society, in a deeper way."

In that effort to understand human behavior, Lahn, now a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at the University of Chicago, is searching for the genes that make the human brain unique. By scanning the sequences of some 200 brain-related genes from mice, rats, macaques, and humans, Lahn and his colleagues have turned up a handful of genes that appear to have evolved very rapidly in the human lineage. Most are involved in brain development, suggesting that bigger, better-wired brains might have given our ancestors a selective advantage. These genes, Lahn hopes, might give us a handle on what makes us human.

"Not many people start out their careers saying they're going to study the molecular basis of humanness," says Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego. "That's what I find interesting about Bruce: he's decided to go for it. We need more people like him in the field."


Before pouncing on what makes humans human, Lahn focused his attention on what makes men men. As a graduate student in HHMI investigator David Page's lab at MIT, Lahn characterized a couple of dozen genes that were unique to the Y chromosome. "One day he just decided he was going to clone all the genes on the Y chromosome," says Karin Jegalian, a former labmate who is now a freelance writer. "He realized that with a little bit of PCR and a few sequencing machines, he could do it. And he went ahead and got it done." The feat provided insight into the evolution of the Y, which started life as a standard-issue chromosome that shrunk and became specialized to govern sperm production and the development of other male-related traits.

The experience gave Lahn an entrée into human genetics and whetted his appetite for combining molecular biology with an appreciation of evolution. "I wanted to bring evolution to bear on molecular biology and I hoped that a synergy of the two would allow me to do things that people in either camp couldn't do," he says. Take, for example, his work on the potential "humanness genes." Now that Lahn and his lab have identified genes that have undergone accelerated evolution in humans, they'll investigate how the variants unique to humans contribute to building better brains.

"We're getting to the point where we can start taking the next step to look at function -- to find out how these changes do what they do," says grad student Nitzan Mekel-Bobrov.

"Tying molecular evolution to function is a big goal," says Steve Dorus of the University of Bath, Lahn's first PhD student. "But Bruce is a go-getter with boundless energy. He's very tenacious and not afraid of tackling any kind of project." Even ones that involve probing the evolutionary changes that might have helped shape human behavior.

"Bruce is very careful to stick to the science, stick to the facts," says Mekel-Bobrov, because not everyone is comfortable with comparisons between humans and other primates, particularly comparisons that involve gene sequences. "When you align the chimp sequence and the human sequence you're immediately struck by the similarity between the two: base after base, the sequences are the same. It can be very jarring," he says. "If we're so similar, what is it that makes us special?"


To Lahn's mind, the brain seemed a good place to start. At the time, says Lahn, "the human was sequenced, the mouse was being sequenced, the rat was beginning to be sequenced, and monkey wasn't even on the drawing board. Given that we were just one small lab, we couldn't sequence the whole genome of any species." So he targeted the brain; a move Varki likens to the outlaw Willie Sutton saying that he robbed banks because "that's where the money is."

i"Bruce is going for the brain; he's going where the action is and finding things out. And that's great," says Varki. But Varki cautions that evolutionary changes don't occur in isolation and that a narrow focus on the brain, perhaps the most complex and difficult organ to probe, might cause the researchers to overlook clues to our humanness that are more accessible. For example, Varki notes, the tissue that shows the most obvious difference between humans and chimps actually falls just below the shoulders: the breast. In female chimps the breasts do not become very noticeable until the animal is pregnant. "It may be that the genes that are involved in that difference in the breast are the same ones that are responsible for some of the differences in brain development," he postulates.

So far, Lahn's approach appears to be paying off. Over the past year, he and his team have described their findings on human brain evolution in a flurry of papers in Human Molecular Genetics, Cell, and Science. The author list for each publication bears the names of a good percentage of the people in Lahn's lab.

"These projects are large: no single person could do any of them," says Jerry Wyckoff of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, a former postdoc. Most require the expertise of molecular biologists, geneticists, bioinformaticists, and even anthropologists. Fortunately, Lahn has been able to gather this variety of talents under one roof. "The thing that Bruce is really good at - his special talent, his mutant skill - is finding good people," says Wyckoff. "Bruce has great ideas. But without the people to play out those ideas, he wouldn't get very far. He's able to assemble the resources and people to take his ideas and run with them. It's why he's a successful scientist."


Chasing down candidate humanness genes is not Lahn's only big idea. He also maintains an active research program on stem cell biology. Just as Lahn wishes to understand what makes humans human, he also hopes to unravel why stem cells are stem cells. "Why are they capable of many different fates, whereas differentiated cells are stuck with their particular characteristics?" he muses. Lahn is conducting some of this research in China, in a stem cell center that he founded at Sun Yat-sen University. "There, it's easier to access materials, eggs, embryos, and fetal tissue. And we can do certain manipulations that would be hard to do here," he says. "The idea is to leverage the advantages, both in terms of social permissiveness and the cost of certain reagents."

At Sun Yat-sen University's Center for Stem Cell Biology and Tissue Engineering, Lahn and his colleagues are working to derive human and primate stem cell lines from embryos and fetuses with a variety of genetic backgrounds. Like many researchers, Lahn hopes to learn how to coax stem cells to differentiate into specific cell types, perhaps for eventual use therapeutically to replenish or repair tissues in patients with blood disorders or neurodegenerative disease.

For Lahn, returning to China is more than a convenience. It's his way of doing something to make China a better place -- more like the place he was thinking about when he hung those first rally posters in the halls of Beijing University. "I believe the way to develop China is not to overthrow the communist government. The costs of that, in terms of violence and the ensuing chaos, may actually be too high a price to pay," he says. "Instead I want to help China develop scientifically, by promoting the exchange of information, the exchange of people, the flow of ideas. And I'd like to pursue research directions that will put China on the map [and] make China a leader in the world instead of having the country play a me-too, catch-up role," Lahn explains.

"I also have a number of more crazy ideas," he adds: growing human organs in monkeys, for example. "People talk of stem cell biology as if someday we'll be able to grow organs in a Petri dish," notes Lahn. "That's never going to happen. Certainly not in my lifetime." The way he sees it, the best way to grow an organ, particularly a complex organ such as heart or liver, would be to implant stem cells into a suitable host and then allow those cells to form the desired tissue in vivo, in the animal. For instance, to produce a liver that's suitable for transplant, Lahn imagines first generating a transgenic monkey whose own liver development fails early on. Researchers could then seed that animal with human stem cells that could take root and give rise to a liver that's almost entirely human. Lahn and his colleagues are currently investigating whether stem cells from one type of rodent can survive and differentiate in another.

"He's been talking about this stuff since graduate school," says Jegalian: stem cell biology and what makes us human. "At the time it sounded pretty kooky. But it's cool that he's still thinking about it, has published papers on it, and is even going back to China to do it."

Of course Lahn hasn't entirely abandoned the rebellious ways he first expressed in China. "I will probably continue to work on problems that are off the beaten path [and] approach science in a way that's less conventional in the hopes of finding something that's a little more exciting, that might bring major insights or upset conventions," he says. "I guess I still have a little bit of revolutionary spirit in me -- even though now I'm more of an evolutionary guy."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What have you got show for yourself?   posted by Razib @ 9/06/2005 02:39:00 AM

Genes in Conflict is a book coming out this November by Robert Trivers and Austin Burt. You can read a full text of a paper titled Theory of genomic imprinting conflict in social insects that Trivers and Burt coauthored, I suspect it gives one a flavor of what is to come. Classic "logic with fractions."

Them and Us   posted by David Boxenhorn @ 9/06/2005 12:07:00 AM

I have read a quite a few commentaries around the web, and in the MSM, comparing Katrina to 9/11. One thing I haven't seen commented on: On 9/11, the enemy was them, with Katrina, it is us. There is a world of difference between the two, even when the objective danger is comparable.

Living in Israel, I often have non-Israelis wondering that I live in such a "dangerous place". I usually reply that the chance of violent death in Israel is not higher than in the US, and is in fact much lower than, say, West Philadelphia, where I lived for four years without anyone wondering about the illogic of it. (West Philadelphia is not the most dangerous part of the city, by the way. That honor goes to North Philadelphia.) In fact, the experiential reality of living in Israel is that it's much safer than the US. The reason: In Israel, the danger comes from them, in the US it is from us. Violent crime in Israel is almost unknown, and when it does happen it's almost always a crime of passion. Israelis may think they are anxious about personal security, but few of them are in a position to personally compare their anxiety to that of Americans. I have lived significant amounts of time in both places, and I think I can say with confidence that in comparison to the US, Israelis feel safe.

Part of the reason is undoubtedly rational: Israel's personal security problem is much easier to live with than the US's. I don't worry about my kids being kidnapped. Women don't worry about walking around at night. When someone yells at you from a car, you don't fear for your safety. All this adds a significant intangible to the quality of life. But I also think that a big part of the difference is purely psychological. We humans are simply better equipped to deal with external threats than internal ones: a threat from one of us provokes far more anxiety than a threat from one of them. In fact, an external threat can have the paradoxical result of reducing rates of anxiety. I have lived through a few crises (examples: here, here) and can attest that the resulting cohesiveness of society can almost make it worth it (especially in the second case, when there really wasn't any significant danger).

New York on 9/11 was a clean fight against them. It is the kind of tale that makes heroes. Anyone doing their best and fighting hard will come off looking good. In contrast, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina is a dirty fight against us. The ambiguousness of the fight makes no-one look good. Compare firemen and policemen: Firemen are heroes. Policemen... well it depends who you ask.


Addendum: I think that much of the attraction of groups like al-Qaa`idah (القاعدة) is the strong cohesiveness generated by making everyone else into them, the enemy.

(Crossed-posted on Rishon Rishon.)

Update from Razib: I deleted all the comments. We can start afresh, I didn't have the inclination to sift through all that stuff.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Great horses of history.....   posted by Razib @ 9/05/2005 11:27:00 PM

There are reports that over in England they are going to be extracting and analyzing the DNA of great race horses. My first thought is that I am skeptical that Gulf Arabs have not been funding this line of research in secret for years. And of course, being American, I wonder when someone will get to the great Secretariat. A documentary on ESPN about 3 years ago presented an interview with a veterinarian who found out during the post mortem that Secretariat's heart was twice the median size! It seems likely that this physiological abnormality was responsible for his racing prowess. One important point to note is that there was a sharp regression among Secretariat's offspring, only a few had any competitive success and none came anywhere close to his virtuosity. This shouldn't surprise us, if you consider speed a phenotype one would imagine that if it is not 100% heritable than extreme phenotypes like Secretariat would not persist. But I doubt that a horse like Secretariat can be spoken of in such a fashion, his phenotype was way outside any normal range of variation, so I don't think a breeder's equation applied to him. It seems likely that Secretariat was simply an Ace of Spades genetically speaking, a combination of alleles resulted in his survival and expression of his freakish phenotype. One negative aspect of sexual reproduction is that extremely "fit" genetic combinations are disrupted. I don't know what Secretariat's record as a stud horse was, for example the number of healthy foals per copulation, but it wouldn't surprise me if many of the mares miscarried fetuses who had large hearts but lacked their sire's felicitous genetic arrangement.1

1 - One can conceive of all sorts of modifier or epistatic effects going on in the background resulting in Secretariat's peculiar phenotype. Or perhaps it was a developmental wrong turn which ended up saving the fetus' life. Or perhaps it was something strange in environment. In any case, his offspring were bound to regress.

Heads up   posted by Razib @ 9/05/2005 09:45:00 PM

From Steve:

Big genetic news coming this week -- This is just a teaser about a paper that will be out by Friday. A certain evolutionary theorist has been chewing my ear off about it for weeks. I'll try to get you all the details when it's officially released, although it's usually hard to scoop Nicholas Wade of the New York Times on the human genetic biodiversity beat. I beat Wade on the Genghis-Khan-as-world's-greatest-lover report, but that was only because the Space Shuttle broke apart and he had to cover that instead.

I hope you aren't going to revive polygenism Greg (2s?)....

Canine theory of mind?   posted by Razib @ 9/05/2005 01:49:00 PM

The New York Times has an interesting article that addresses the theory of mind, this part was very interesting to me:

...Earlier this year, Brian Hare of Harvard, Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and their colleagues showed that ordinary domestic dogs understand what is meant when a human being points at something (as in "the food's under this one!"'). Even apes don't understand pointing, which suggests that selective breeding has left dogs especially attuned to reading human minds.

With the standard caveat that this is ongoing research, if dogs have developed a form of human-biased theory of mind through selection operating on natural wolf variation that suggests a rather short timeline for this sort of trait, we have had domestic canines for no longer than a few tens of thousands of years.1 Remember that one of the major claims of Evolutionary PsychologyTM is that there simply hasn't been enough time for evolution to reequibilitrate our Pleistocene Swiss Army Knife mentality.2 Evolutionary PsychologyTM argues that our minds are characterized by extremely contingent specialized cognitive modules which show little within-species variation (language is the archetype, we can all speak and understand). Since they focus on human beings I am curious as to how they will attempt to rebut the dog research. Their perception of the slow pace of evolution suggests to me that proponents of Evolutionary PsychologyTM won't want to posit a canine theory of mind module geared toward H. sapiens. One last point to consider is that if apes are deficient in a cognitive skill which dogs are not then that suggests that the power of selection within the milieu of human culture is enormous.

Related: I believe this is the paper implied by the quotation above.

1 - There have been many repeated reports of dog ability to infer human cognitive state, but the pointing contrast with chimps struck me in particular.

2 - Remember, for a quantitative trait the response to selection is proportional to additive genetic variance (variance of the phenotype attributable to loci of independent additive effect on the phenotype), so response = (narrow sense heritability) * (selection differential). I am suspect that to a first approximation this is the sort of evolutionary dynamic that drove dog sensitivity to human cognitive states. From what I can gather proponents of the Evolutionary PsychologyTM view seem to posit sequential fixations on a each locus so that the each locus is selected against the genetic background that includes the prior fixation. This sort of evolutionary genetics can result in mechanistic epistasis which would imply a highly contingent genetic architecture.

Selection, nuclear genetic variation, and mtDNA, John Hawks, 9-2005, his weblog   posted by Razib @ 9/05/2005 03:20:00 AM

John has an enormous blog paper up titled Selection, nuclear genetic variation, and mtDNA. It's 37 K of text (I cut and pasted into notepad).

The importance of li and social conformity   posted by Razib @ 9/05/2005 12:06:00 AM

Yesterday I posted on the work of Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd on cultural evolution. In short, they take George Price's rather expansive ideas on selection as a transdisciplinary force rather seriously, and extend them to create the field of evolutionary cultural anthropology. As David has noted before much of their argument hinges upon group selection, as the tendency toward social conformity induces far greater intergroup as opposed to intragroup variance than can be found in other species (chimpanzees, etc.). A extreme example would be language, there is obviously variation in how people speak English and French, but the difference between the two languages is far greater than any internal dialectical range. There are all sorts of issues I have with their somewhat baroque models (despite their tendency to reduce culture to mathematics I don't find their accompanying exposition easy to follow, semantics is a bugger in this case), but it is important to note that they reject kin selection and reciprocal altruism as being sufficient to generate large social units. The standard evolutionary psychological argument is that these two phenomena are abstracted and scaled up in complex societies. Richerson and Boyd assert that they are not sufficient and that prosocial adaptations and cognitive biases generated through gene-culture coevolution within the context of group selectional units were necessary conditions for cultural complexity. But in any case, no matter if Richerson and Boyd are right about group selection (and implicitly a revival of functionalism in anthropology), social conformity does seem to be a rather "natural" state of our species.

I thought of this when I read the following in The Analects of Confucius - a Philosophical Translation:

...the text as we now have it was read very closely and carefully, and in fact, usually memorized, along with the names of the dramatis personae mentioned in the text, by virtually every educated Chinese for two millennia....
Li has been translated as "ritual," "rites," "customs," etiquette," "propriety," "morals," "rules of proper behavior," and "worship."

I have posted recently that both Chinese Muslims and Jews, two very distinct (vis-a-vi the Chinese) groups had a past history of elites mastering the Chinese Classics to confer upon themselves and their people respectibility. I have emphasized li as opposed to other virtuous characteristics in Confucianism (ie; ren) because I believe that it was the most impactful on the Imperial Chinese tradition.1 Two years ago in my essay The futility of universal love I hypothesized that an abstracted and extended form of kin selection was implicit within the teachings of Confucianism and was an essential component of the magic that allowed 2,000 years of continuity.2 But over the past few years my reading of the psychological and biosocial literature has also convinced me that a strong bias toward group conformity is an innate feature of our minds. The success of the Chinese state was almost certainly in part due to the cognitive lock-step and common feeling of norms, values and customs, that united the elite. To many modern Westerners the slavish devotion to "useless" ancient rituals that were often the hallmark of (I would argue a somewhat unfair simplification) Confucianism seemed to a be great waste of effort. In reality I think that the rituals helped to solidify the fellow feeling of the bureaucratic clique which administered the state.3 A Western analogy might be the period when the ruling elites of the United States were classically educated WASPs.

Prior to the "Confucian miracle" and the rise of the Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese (and now China proper) economies it had been common form to dismiss the traditional religio-political paradigm of these nations. Max Webber famously blundered early in the 20th century when he expressed skepticism at the possibility of economic modernization in the Far East because of their Confucian and Buddhist values.4 But it is important to remember that the State Confucian system was robust for over 2,000 years! In the short term Islam is important because of its violent and demographic threat to the West. But in the long term I suspect China will loom larger. No matter the details I think we have much to learn about that nation, and much to learn from it.

1 - I tend to believe that the last great pre-Han Confucian sage, Hsu Tzu, had the great influence on Imperial Confucianism (through his influence on Legalism, which was implicitly coopted by the state even if its strong form was rejected). Hsun Tzu is often thought to have emphasized li more than the other early Confucians.

2 - To give a few examples, the traditional Chinese custom was not to prosecute sons for aiding fugitive fathers because it was understood that filial piety was more important as a basic value than a particular criminal case. Additionally, the Emperor was often concieved of in familial terms, the Son of Heaven and the metaphorical father of his people and other the potentates of tributary peoples.

3 - In the 18th and 19th century the religious worship of bureaucrats was even mandated to conform to national norms (there were proscribed gods). Additionally, it was often common practice to post mandarins in locales far from their place of birth to diminish nepotism.

4 - My impression is that Japan prior to World War II was still relatively a poor nation by Western standards, that in some ways it was going through its own "Guilded Age" as a small elite prospered and moved forward while the majority lived in relative deprivation.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Kysymys Suomalaisille   posted by Razib @ 9/04/2005 09:37:00 PM

Miksi te suomalaiset tykätte meistä näin paljon???

Reply Englanniksi please.

Dar al-Harb   posted by jeet @ 9/04/2005 09:14:00 AM

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a little over a year, which the obligations of the physical world have kept me from, but Razib's recent series on the Hui has finally given me an excuse.

Many of the Muslim immigrants to China were Central Asian mercenaries who settled in China rather than make the arduous journey home. In pre-modern China (and other pre-modern societies), men are expected to pursue the same line of work as their forebears. This, along with the Confucian Han disdain for military careers, meant that the descendants of these men found their niche in the Chinese economy as soldiers, mercenaries, and caravan guards.1 And in China, mercenary families, whether Han or Hui, were famous for their Kung Fu.

If its traditions are to be believed, the Cha Chüan (查拳; pinyin: Chāquán) style of Kung Fu has its origins in the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the recuperation of Hua Zongqi, a young Hui general, in the county of Guanxian in Shandong Province.3 As thanks for their care, he stayed to teach the townspeople martial arts.

The same scenario figures in the origin story of Tan Tui (彈腿; pinyin: Tán Tuǐ): the invalid soldier, the kind townspeople, the reciprocation of hospitality by teaching Kung Fu, even Guanxian County, Shandong. The origin of Tan Tui is set towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and attributed to a Hui from Xinjiang named Chashangyir. It is improbable that such a particular sequence of events repeat itself in the same location a thousand years after they first took place. However, a Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE) vase in the collection of the Museum of Metropolitan art features the figure of a wolf-headed man, a totem of the non-Han peoples of Xinjiang, in an unmistakably Tan Tui posture as he fights a mounted Han archer. So the link to Xinjiang may have substance even if little else in the origin story does.

The people of Guanxian eventually taught Tan Tui to the Buddhist monks of the Longtan Temple, who expanded the original 10 routines of Tan Tui into 12.

Even though it is sometimes taught as a style on its own, both the 10- and 12-routine Tan Tui are best-known because their adoption into the curriculum of other styles, starting with Cha Chüan and especially through the widespread impact of the Jing Wu Men (of Fist of Fury fame) and the Nanjing Central National Martial Arts Institute.

In the neighboring province of Hebei is the village of Meng in the prefecture of Cangzhou. In Meng Village during the 18th century a Muslim named Wu Jong began teaching the martial arts he learned from a Taoist monk (or monks, depending on the account), which became known as Ba Ji Chüan (八極拳; pinyin: Bājíquán). In the 20th century, the bodyguards of Emperor Puyi (of Last Emperor fame), Mao Zedong, and Chiang Kai-Shek were all practitioners of Ba Ji.

In one of his posts, Razib linked to a Time magazine article about Han-Hui violence in Henan, which lies immediately south of Hebei, in the prefecture of Zhengzhou, where the Shaolin Monastery is located. 60 miles west of the Shaolin Monastery is the ancient city of Luoyang, home to a Muslim community known for a branch of the martial art Xing Yi Chüan (形意拳; pinyin: Xíngyìquán). The founder of this branch, Ma Xueli, is said to have learned the style from a wandering master in the 18th century. His family is rumored to have been involved in the martial arts for much longer. The teacher of the 13th century master Bai Yufeng is said to have been a man named Ma from Luoyang.

In the 20th century, Cangzhou was the home of the Hui master Wang Ziping (1883–1973); bio en español with lots of photos here, shorter bio in English here, photo of Wang Ziping as an old man doing a bent press with a lock weight here), a master of many styles but best known for Cha Chüan. Gender equity in the Chinese umma isn't limited to female imams; Wang Ziping passed the mantle to his daughter Wang Jurong, who passed it on to her daughters Helen and Grace Wu. (Wu Jong's lineage was also continued by his daughter, Wu Rong.)

Another celebrated Hui Kung Fu master from Hebei was Ch'ang Tung-Sheng, the 20th century master of Shuai Jiao, Chinese wrestling, specifically the style from Baoding in Hebei. He was famous for his ability to drop opponents with his first technique, which is the ideal espoused by the Baoding style, as well as the Hebei style of Xing Yi.

The border region between Shandong and Hebei has long been famous for the martial arts among both Han and Hui, especially Cangzhou. Cangzhou was a penal colony, a place of exile, a really rough part of China where knowledge of the martial arts were necessary for survival.

1Explaining the disproportionate representation of Hui in the Chinese military.
2The style takes its name from Cha Yuanyi, Hua Zongqi's student and teaching assistant, possibly because there are two other styles of Kung Fu named Hua Chuan (but written with different characters).

Expression and duplication   posted by Razib @ 9/04/2005 03:05:00 AM

Wen-Hsiung Li, author of Molecular Evolution (from 1997, so somewhat dated, but I still like it), has a new paper out titled Expression divergence between duplicate genes.

Related: Expression and sequence.

Groups, Price and Culture   posted by Razib @ 9/04/2005 02:12:00 AM

My post below where I refer to the distinction between evoked and epidemiological aspects of culture prompted me to do some reading on the topic of group selection because of Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd's work on evolutionary anthropology where they appeal to it in the context of humans (as hinted at by David). Though Richerson and Boyd (alone with Joe Heinrich) use mathematical models derived from from evolutionary biology and genetics they are concerned with culture, specifically in its epidemiological forms ("meme-plexes," though they might object to the use of that term because of their issues with memetics). I'm still chewing on what I think about all this, but I thought I would point you to two interesting papers, George Price's Contribution to Evolutionary Genetics, and for the more humanistically oriented, Death of an Altruist (the altruist being George Price). Also, I've noted before, Andrew Brown's The Darwin Wars is really all about George Price. Specifically in relation to Richerson and Boyd they have a new book out, Not by Genes Alone, which is a distillation of their numerous papers. I read this book a few months back but didn't think much about it until recently, but two papers, Built For Speed, Not for Comfort: Darwinian Theory and Human Culture and Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation, come close to hitting most of the themes laid out in Not by Genes Alone. Of course, I must point out David's multiple posts related to group selection, Defining Group Selection: The Price Equation, Group Selection (oh, not again!), CULTURAL EVOLUTION BY GROUP SELECTION and Group Selection can work...just. Since many of you are new readers (hopefully) some of David's older posts might be fresh to you....

Related: Cognitive anthropologists Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer and Dan Sperber serve as a counterpoint triumvirate who emphasize evoked culture. While Richerson, Boyd and Heinrich would attempt to understand the possible functional1 relevance of different artistic traditions, Atran, Boyer and Sperber would focus on the similarities between all forms of human art which point toward a common cognitive substrate. The cognitive anthropologists wish to characterize the physiology of the body while the evolutionary anthropologists are more interested in the character and transmission of the "parasites." Interestingly for a group of anthropologists who are skeptical of memes (from different perspectives) all of the researchers I have linked to above are quite free with their publications in PDF form.

Relevance: Some of you might be curious what application studying evolutionary and cognitive anthropology might have. Three words: understanding terrorist networks. We need to decompose the human universal features of the networks and their specific epidemiologically distinctive characteristics.

1 - They aren't naive functionalists actually, they make a point that evolutionary anthropology is a good way to explain maladaptation, but in comparison to the cognitive anthropologists they are far more open to functionalist-adaptational hypotheses.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Why society cracked   posted by dobeln @ 9/03/2005 03:05:00 PM

There has been widespread debate about the reasons behind the rapid breakdown of law and order in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. One factor, however, is consistently overlooked in this discussion: IQ.

Katrina did not merely devastate New Orleans physically – she also most likely caused a catastrophic drop in average population IQ of more than one standard deviation. The drop occurred before Katrina had even made landfall, during evacuation.

Given that all but 40 000 to 80 000 (average: 60 000) of New Orleans’ inhabitants (city proper) evacuated the city, we get the table below:

The table assumes that virtually all non-evacuees are black (as this fact is given by media reports). It also assumes that people closer to the bottom of the IQ distribution were the least likely to evacuate. These assumptions can be shifted around a lot, of course, given that quality information on the disaster is still scarce – but the bottom line remains: The evacuation most likely dropped the average IQ of New Orleans substantially, eroding the social capital of the city. When the storm finally hit, the lack of social capital resulted in society simply breaking down.

Addendum from Razib: I prodded Bangladeshi blogger Rezwan to post about Katrina, so I might as well link to him . Bangladesh is a low-IQ grinding poverty corruption ridden familialist* culture...but it is also a society that has learned to "live" with flooding. There is so much Katrina chatter that I don't have much to contribute, only to caution that examing single variables without the scaffolding parameters seems all too common on the blogosphere (ie; it was the feds, it was the local gov., it was the poverty, it was the media, etc. etc.).

* I think the familialist networks are important in the case of flooding in Bangladesh as the moral suasian (and implied ostracism and exclusion from the utilization of those networks) of relatives probably imposes some consideration of time preference in the rational calculations of sociopaths.

Non-adaptive immune adaptation?   posted by Razib @ 9/03/2005 07:00:00 AM

I have talked a fair amount about the MHC loci on this blog. The MHC are essential cogs in our adaptive immune system. Part of the reason is the relevance to organ transplantation (self vs. non-self recognition), but another big picture evolutionary factor is that the MHC loci are extremely polymorphmic. When you calculate coalescence, infer the date at which variants diverged, for the alleles some of them pre-date the human-chimp split (~6 million years ago). In practical terms some chimps and humans match on an MHC locus as opposed to near family members because the alleles transcend species. Directional selection eliminates the variation that characterizes the MHC loci while neutral evolution would result in the persistent extinction of ancient alleles. So balancing selection is usually the main way one explains the diversity in combination with ancient character of the some of the alleles.

But the adaptive immune system isn't the whole story, the innate immune system has very deep evolutionary roots throughout the animal kingdom and is often both the first and only line of defense for many organisms. Nevertheless it doesn't seem as "sexy" to study from what I gather, so I was surprised to see a paper titled The heritage of pathogen pressures and ancient demography in the human innate immunity CD209/CD209L region. This is a preprint paper, so not in its final form, but, the basic outline is this:

The CD209 and CD209L loci are essential to the innate immune system, while the former being expressed in macrophages and the latter being expressed in liver and epithelial cells. In additional to their expression differences the two exhibit sharply different signatures of evolutionary history. To a first approximation CD209 is under functional constraint, that is, mutations which alter the amino acid sequence tend to be selected against, resulting in low heterozygosity on the locus. CD209L on the other hand exhibits worldwide signatures of balancing selection, extremely high rates of polymorphism and a rather great deal of within-population vs. between-population variation. But here's the kicker, on the CD209 locus there are two clades of alleles, a dominant one found in Africans and non-Africans, a minority clade found in Africa. When they did the coalescence for the two clades it was in excess of 2.5 million years. So the authors conclude that this is evidence of ancient African substructure which has left a mark on the human population via admixture (presumably between the expanding proto-moderns and archaics). They point to another paper, Deep haplotype divergence and long-range linkage disequilibrium at Xp21.1 provide evidence that humans descend from a structured ancestral population, as presenting an "isolation-admixture" model which is the best fit for this deep time coalescence. I haven't read the second paper yet, but we know what John Hawks thinks of such activities....

Update: I've put the preprint in the files.

Neandertal days....   posted by Razib @ 9/03/2005 12:52:00 AM

Dienekes has extensive commentary on a paper that seems to end by leaning toward a predominant Out-of-Africa replacement model for the emergence of modern humans and the transition between Neandertals and our species in Europe. Their method was to use simulations where they tweaked the parameters of the period of transition between the two groups and the effective population size fluctuations of humans. Here is their conclusion:
The significance of ancient Neandertal mtDNA for resolving the fate of Neandertals increases greatly when considered in light of models for modern human origins derived from archaeology. On the basis of mtDNA, if Neandertals survived late in Europe, their per generation contribution to early modern human populations must have been fairly small (<0.2%) or we would find Neandertal mtDNA lineages in living humans. If the human population size remained constant and small until very recently, then the total, accumulated Neandertal admixture could still have been large, but if the human population started to grow rapidly from a small size about 40,000 years ago, then even a very small Neandertal genetic contribution to modern human populations can be ruled out. Archaeology tends to support the rapid population growth model (Klein et al. 2004, Stiner et al. 1999), as does living human mtDNA (Excoffier and Schneider 1999, Ingman et al. 2000). Other genetic regions are more equivocal about the timing and magnitude of population growth (Harpending and Rogers 2000, Ptak and Przeworski 2002, Wall and Przeworski 2000), but recent studies of SNPs and microsatellites appear to be reaching a consensus consistent with the results for mtDNA (Marth et al. 2004, Zhivotovsky, Rosenberg, and Feldman 2003). Our results stress the importance of fully integrating archaeological, fossil, and genetic evidence in investigations of modern human origins.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Arguments worth having ..."   posted by the @ 9/01/2005 09:20:00 PM

From an anti-ID editorial in The Guardian comes a very good list of true controversies within evolution. I was a little shocked to see mention of the controversies relating to race.

The "Cambrian Explosion"

Although the fossil record shows that the first multicellular animals lived about 640m years ago, the diversity of species was low until about 530m years ago. At that time there was a sudden explosion of many diverse marine species, including the first appearance of molluscs, arthropods, echinoderms and vertebrates. "Sudden" here is used in the geological sense; the "explosion" occurred over a period of 10m to 30m years, which is, after all, comparable to the time taken to evolve most of the great radiations of mammals. This rapid diversification raises fascinating questions; explanations include the evolution of organisms with hard parts (which aid fossilisation), the evolutionary "discovery" of eyes, and the development of new genes that allowed parts of organisms to evolve independently.

The evolutionary basis of human behaviour

The field of evolutionary psychology (once called "sociobiology") maintains that many universal traits of human behaviour (especially sexual behaviour), as well as differences between individuals and between ethnic groups, have a genetic basis. These traits and differences are said to have evolved in our ancestors via natural selection. There is much controversy about these claims, largely because it is hard to reconstruct the evolutionary forces that acted on our ancestors, and it is unethical to do genetic experiments on modern humans.

Sexual versus natural selection

Although evolutionists agree that adaptations invariably result from natural selection, there are many traits, such as the elaborate plumage of male birds and size differences between the sexes in many species, that are better explained by "sexual selection": selection based on members of one sex (usually females) preferring to mate with members of the other sex that show certain desirable traits. Evolutionists debate how many features of animals have resulted from sexual as opposed to natural selection; some, like Darwin himself, feel that many physical features differentiating human "races" resulted from sexual selection.

The target of natural selection

Evolutionists agree that natural selection usually acts on genes in organisms - individuals carrying genes that give them a reproductive or survival advantage over others will leave more descendants, gradually changing the genetic composition of a species. This is called "individual selection". But some evolutionists have proposed that selection can act at higher levels as well: on populations (group selection), or even on species themselves (species selection). The relative importance of individual versus these higher order forms of selection is a topic of lively debate.

Natural selection versus genetic drift

Natural selection is a process that leads to the replacement of one gene by another in a predictable way. But there is also a "random" evolutionary process called genetic drift, which is the genetic equivalent of coin-tossing. Genetic drift leads to unpredictable changes in the frequencies of genes that don't make much difference to the adaptation of their carriers, and can cause evolution by changing the genetic composition of populations. Many features of DNA are said to have evolved by genetic drift. Evolutionary geneticists disagree about the importance of selection versus drift in explaining features of organisms and their DNA. All evolutionists agree that genetic drift can't explain adaptive evolution. But not all evolution is adaptive.

Hat tip to Jason via the GNXP forum

Bumblebee See, Bumblebee Do   posted by Razib @ 9/01/2005 04:05:00 PM

Flower choice copying in bumblebees in The Royal Society: Biology Letters. Here is a popular article on the topic.

Related: The wisdom of Seinfeld.

Common evocations   posted by Razib @ 9/01/2005 03:16:00 PM

Salon has a long piece up about "alternative archaeology" (ie; Atlantis nuts) and its intersection with Creationism. It is basically an elaboration of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend principle. Nevertheless, there is on point that I think deserves to be noted, the various skeptics of traditional archeology seem to be a reflection of "evoked culture" in conjunction with a contrasting strong faith in centrality of "epidemiological culture." Evoked culture can be thought of as the higher order manifestations of modal cognitive responses. Languages, music, art and religions are basically evoked from universal human environments and share general similarities even if they vary in the details. Epidemiological culture is more the realm of explicit concepts and ideas which are further removed from any inevitable cognitive response to the environment (ie; novel memes). To illustrate what I am trying to get at: the superficial similarities of pyramids across the world is often pointed out as evidence for a "root race" that formulated this meme. The underlying paradigm is hyper-diffusionism, human inventions and motifs are assumed to have been generated only once, after which they spread through movement of people or ideas. In reality I suspect that the construction of pyramids falls under a particular cognitive response (socially-environmentally cued and contextualized) that can be elicited from many humans without any inputs of pyramid memes, in other words, it is often simply evoked from our mental substrate by a particular milieu (stratified civilizations with economic surplus and an elite need to "impress" the lower orders). Ironically, I suspect that the alternative archaeology movement is not an example of a memetic or epidemiological movement itself, rather, it is an evoked cognitive response to particular needs and inputs (which explains its diversity, from fundamentalist Christians to Hare Krishnas to secular journalists). So, you have the peculiar case where an common evoked cultural response promotes a myth of epidemiologically shaped humanity.1

Note: Though the terms evoked culture and epidemiological culture have precise meanings in some Evolutionary Psychology circles I am using them loosely (ie; I don't necessarily think that massive modularity or specialized knowledge domains are necessary for evoked culture).

1 - Anthropologists like Dan Sperber, Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer basically imply that though the outward explicit form of modern religion is epidemiological its basic substrate is evoked. If asked I think most people would reverse the equation, though some religious thinkers do assert that belief in God and such things are "innate."

Necessity - The Mother of Invention   posted by TangoMan @ 9/01/2005 02:39:00 PM

It seems that South Africa is becoming a hotbed for inventors. Perhaps the changing social mileau has something to do with the innovative inventions springing forth from the minds of the assaulted.

Case #1: To combat the rise of car-jackings, Charles Fourie invented a flame-thrower to roast the car-jackers.

Case #2: To combat an epidemic of rape in South Africa Sonette Ehlers invented the "rapex", a device worn like a tampon.

The "rapex" hooks onto the rapist's skin, allowing the victim time to escape and helping to identify perpetrators.

"He will obviously be too pre-occupied at this stage," she told reporters in Kleinmond, a small holiday village about 100km (60 miles) east of Cape Town. "I promise you he is going to be too sore. He will go straight to hospital."

The device, made of latex and held firm by shafts of sharp barbs, can only be removed from the man through surgery which will alert hospital staff, and ultimately, the police, she said.

Contributions of Heterosis and Epistasis to Hybrid Fitness on   posted by Razib @ 9/01/2005 01:00:00 AM

Contributions of Heterosis and Epistasis to Hybrid Fitness in The American Naturalist1:

...Hybrid survival surpassed that of inbred lines and was equal to or greater than outbred lines' survival, and more F1 than parental plants reproduced. Reductions in hybrid fitness due to Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities) (epistasis among divergent genetic elements) were expressed as differences in vegetative growth, survival, and reproduction between plants from reciprocal crosses for both F1 and backcross hybrid generations. Comparing performance of hybrids against parental genotypes from intra- and interpopulation crosses allowed a more robust prediction of F1 hybrids' success and more accurate interpretations of the genetic architecture of F1 hybrid vigor.

I tend to think that heterosis or hybrid vigor is often too easy a fallback theoretical position and am not averse to waving the wand of either genetic incompabilities2 or positive fitness syngeries even though the latter tend to throw an element of uncertainty into most generalizations. Speaking of which, plants are easy to breed and track, but they shouldn't be prime candidates for extrapolation to the rest of the biological world (remember that many plants "self" and become hyper-inbred, the viability of which might give some people bizarre ideas). Even so, you have to start somewhere, though I note that the abstract doesn't mention subsequent F1 X F1 matings which would flesh out the extent of the Walhund Effect where less fit homozygote genotypes reemerge from heterozygote matings. Anyhow, I'm rather vexed at the fact that I don't have academic access to The American Naturalist. [Thanks to those who sent me the paper! God bless you!]

1 - This is the journal where William Hamilton published a verbal precis of the two altruism papers that were later to be so influential. I just wanted to note that because the title makes it sound like The Smithsonian magazine or something of that sort (ie; general interest).

2 - A simple way to conceive of how Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities emerge is to imagine two separate breeding populations derived from common ancestral population. Over time, imagine that they fix for alternative alleles on the same loci, AA and aa (doesn't matter how or why). In this case the "genetic background" against which other loci might interact with on the aforementioned locus is disjoint between the two populations. So if a second locus fixed for two alternative alleles which are fitness optimized for the population-specific polymoprhism on the first locus, when the populations are brought together and begin to interbreed you might have a novel genetic combination which might be for ill or good.

Heterosis and Epistasis to Hybrid Fitness on">