Friday, February 05, 2010

Language goes extinct, human race to follow....   posted by Razib @ 2/05/2010 09:23:00 AM

Last speaker of ancient language of Bo dies in India:
Professor Anvita Abbi said that the death of Boa Sr was highly significant because one of the world's oldest languages - Bo - had come to an end.


"It is generally believed that all Andamanese languages might be the last representatives of those languages which go back to pre-Neolithic times," Professor Abbi said.

"The Andamanese are believed to be among our earliest ancestors."

I have a tendency to eye roll when people come out with these weepy stories about dying languages. When a language dies a people dies, more or less. No doubt there are particular stories, memories passed down which maintain continuity of identity, which disappear. But humans do not necessarily die. If members of obscure tribe X all learn English, or Chinese, tribe X as tribe X disappears, more or less. This is not trivial, I believe most humans would prefer that the cultural forms which pervade their own lives would pass down to future generations. Memory is to a great extent the only form of immortality we've had access to. But for members of obscure tribe X learning a widely spoken language is often a boon, and brings great benefit as they can engage in more fruitful exchanges with the broader human race. The implicit contract that peoples make with their own ancestors extracts too high a cost at some point, and when the present ceases to uphold its pact with the past, the past becomes obscured in the mists.

On a specific note about this article, the Andaman Islanders are actually a real concrete human population, they're not "among our earliest ancestors." Additionally, I thought that languages which were purely oral tended evolve faster than languages which were written down. Is it then plausible to make great claims for Bo's antiquity?

Related: The tragedy of dying languages. Larded with specious banalities or outright falsities, but good for a laugh.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Peer groups & bourgeois virtues   posted by Razib @ 1/28/2010 05:36:00 PM

Self-Control and Peer Groups:
However, according to a new study by Michelle vanDellen, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, self-control contains a large social component; the ability to resist temptation is contagious. The paper consists of five clever studies, each of which demonstrates the influence of our peer group on our self-control decisions. For instance, in one study 71 undergraduates watched a stranger exert self-control by choosing a carrot instead of a cookie, while others watched people eat the cookie instead of the carrot. That's all that happened: the volunteers had no other interaction with the eaters. Nevertheless, the performance of the subjects was significantly altered on a subsequent test of self-control. People who watched the carrot-eaters had more discipline than those who watched the cookie-eaters.

I assume time preference is heritable (at least via its correlation with other traits such as IQ), but, that assumes you control background social and cultural variables.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

On the cusp   posted by Razib @ 1/07/2010 11:33:00 AM

Lots of talk about how the "underwear bomber" was from a wealthy and cosmopolitan background in the media. Like the poverty = crime meme, the poverty & backwardness = terrorism meme is still floating around, though the evidence of the past decade of the prominence of affluent and well-educated individuals in international terrorist networks is eroding that expectation's dominance a great deal. One thing though that I noted was that many Nigerians are claiming that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalized in Londonistan. Though Nigeria has had a great deal of Muslim-Christian violence over the past few decades, the main reasons can be easily attributed to local dynamics (internal migration, Hausa chauvinism, etc.). I think there is a difference between a movement such as ETA, which has clear and distinct aims, and more quixotic groups which were basically nihilistic in their outcomes (if not aims), such as the Red Army Faction. The Salafist international terrorism movement resembles the latter more than the former in terms of the practical outcomes of their actions.

The importance of diaspora communities and mobile cosmopolitans in international terrorism makes me wonder as to the relevance of Peter Turchin's thesis that civilizational boundaries are critical in shaping between-group dynamics. Among "right thinking people" the Clash of Civilizations narrative is dismissed, but there are many non-right thinking people for whom it is alive and essential, even if they wouldn't put that particular name to it (i.e., usually it is for them one of civilization vs. barbarism, Christianity vs. heathenism, the Abode of Islam vs. the Abode of War). And the civilizational chasm may be most alive precisely for those people who live on the boundaries between the two. The popularity of nationalist political movements in areas of Europe with large immigrant populations attests to the generality of this insight.

Update: Just noticed that Haroon Moghal makes similar observations:
The first point: radicalism is most likely to emerge from zones of overlap. By this I mean the people, places or other contexts where Western and Islamic perspectives come together in negative contrast. Say, the African Muslim student who travels to Europe to study, finding himself alienated by the lifestyle around him, the hateful comments about Islam in the public discourse and the undeniable pain of war and poverty in so many Muslim lands. Or the British Muslim who's angry at his government's foreign policy and tired of not being considered part of his country. (No wonder the pining for future Caliphates: it's somewhere one's passport might imply belonging.)


A materialist bias would like us to believe that human flourishing negates the baser aspects of the self, an assumption undermined by someone such as Saddam Hussein, who despite his wealth was still a predator upon his people. People who are deeply mired in poverty can be attracted to extremist causes, and can and do commit acts of terror. But the founding leaders of al-Qaeda, and those who would attack us within Western territories, are generally well-educated and well-off citizens from the non-West, persons who are themselves zones of overlap. We hear the struggle in Abdulmutallab's words. It's not that poverty doesn't move them, but more correctly it is an interpretation of poverty that radicalizes (and is itself radical).

(via JohnPI)

Addendum: Just a note, the intersection between cultures/civilizations can play out synthetically or through confrontation. The two Jewish rebellions against Roman rule were ultimately futile, and forced a reconstruction of Jewish identity into a more pacific form. On the other hand, one could model Christianity as a synthesis of Jewish and Greco-Roman culture which was eminently successful in its own right.


Friday, January 01, 2010

Estimating black-white racial tension from 1850 to present   posted by agnostic @ 1/01/2010 08:59:00 PM

As a New Year's gift, here is a free copy of an entry I put up on my data blog (details on that here). It's a quantitative look at the history of race and culture in America, together with qualitative examples that illustrate the story that the numbers tell. Enjoy.

Previously I looked at how much attention elite whites have given to blacks since the 1870s by measuring the percent of all Harvard Crimson articles that contained the word "negro." That word stopped being used in any context after 1970, which doesn't allow us to see what's happened since then. Also, it is emotionally neutral, so while it tells us how much blacks were on the radar screen of whites, it doesn't suggest what emotions colored their conversations about race.

When tensions flare, people will start using more charged words more frequently. The obvious counterpart to "negro" in this context is "nigger." It could be used by racists hurling slurs, non-racists who are quoting or decrying the slur, by tribalist blacks trying to open old wounds to recruit new members, by blacks trying to "re-claim" the term, by those debating whether or not the term should be used in any context, and so on. Basically, when racial tension is relatively low, these arguments don't come up as often, so the word won't appear as often.

I've searched the NYT back to 1852 and plotted how prevalent "nigger" was in a given year, though smoothing the data out using 5-year moving averages (click to enlarge):

We see high values leading up and throughout the Civil War, a comparatively lower level during Reconstruction, followed by two peaks that mark "the nadir of American race relations." It doesn't change much going through the 1920s, even though this is the period of the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the West and Northeast. It falls and stays pretty low during the worst part of the Great Depression, WWII, and the first 10 years after the war. This was a period of increasing racial consciousness and integration, and the prevalence of "negro" in the Crimson was increasing during this time as well. That means that there was a greater conversation taking place, but that it wasn't nasty in tone.

However, starting in the late 1950s it moves sharply upward, reaching a peak in 1971. This is the period of the Civil Rights movement, which on an objective level was merely continuing the previous trend of greater integration and dialogue. Yet just as we'd guess from what we've studied, the subjective quality of this phase of integration was much more acrimonious. Things start to calm down throughout the '70s and mid-'80s, which our study of history wouldn't lead us to suspect, but which a casual look at popular culture would support. Not only is this a period where pop music by blacks had little of a racial angle -- that was also true of most of the R&B music of most of the '60s -- but was explicitly about putting aside differences and moving on. This is most clearly shown in the disco music scene and its re-birth a few years later during the early '80s dance and pop music scene, when Rick James, Prince, and above all Michael Jackson tried to steer the culture onto a post-racial course.

But then the late '80s usher in a resurgence of identity politics based on race, sex, and sexual orientation ("political correctness," colloquially). The peak year here is technically 1995, but that is only because of the unusual weight given to the O.J. Simpson trial and Mark Fuhrman that year. Ignoring that, the real peak year of the racial tension was 1993 according to this measure. By the late '90s, the level has started to plummet, and the 2000s have been -- or should I say were -- relatively free of racial tension, a point I've made for awhile but that bears repeating since it's not commonly discussed.

Many people mention Obama's election, but that was pretty late in the stage. Think back to Hurricane Katrina and Kanye West trying but failing to foment another round of L.A. riots, or Al Sharpton trying but failing to turn the Jena Six into a civil rights cause celebre, or the mainstream media trying but failing to turn the Duke lacross hoax into a fact that would show how evil white people still are. We shouldn't be distracted by minor exceptions like right-thinking people casting out James Watson because that was an entirely elite and academic affair. It didn't set the entire country on fire. The same is true for the minor exception of Larry Summers being driven out of Harvard, which happened during a remarkably feminism-free time.

Indeed, it's hard to recognize the good times when they're happening -- unless they're fantastically good -- because losses loom larger than gains in our minds. Clearly racial tensions continue to go through cycles, no matter how much objective progress is made in improving the status of blacks relative to whites. Thus, we cannot expect further objective improvements to prevent another wave of racial tension.

Aside from the long mid-20th C hiatus, there are apparently 25 year distances between peaks, which is about one human generation. If the near future is like most of the past, we predict another peak around 2018, a prediction I've made before using similar reasoning about the length of time separating the general social hysterias that we've had -- although in those cases, just going back to perhaps the 1920s or 1900s, not all the way back to the 1850s. Still, right now we're in a fairly calm phase and we should enjoy it while it lasts. If you feel the urge to keep quiet on any sort of racial issues, you should err on the side of being more vocal for right now, since the mob isn't predicted to come out for another 5 years or so, and the peak not until 10 years from now. As a rough guide to which way the racial wind is blowing, simply ask yourself, "Does it feel like it did after Rodney King and the L.A. riots, or after the O.J. verdict?" If not, things aren't that bad.

Looking at absolute levels may be somewhat inaccurate -- maybe all that counts is where the upswings and downswings are. So I've also plotted the year-over-year percent change in how prevalent "nigger" is, though this time using 10-year moving averages to smooth the data out because yearly flucuations up or down are even more volatile than the underlying signal. In this graph, positive values mean the trend was moving upward, negative values mean it was moving downward, and values close to 0 mean it was staying fairly steady:

Again we see sustained positive growth during the Civil War, the two bookends of the nadir of race relations, although we now see a small amount of growth during the Harlem Renaissance era. The Civil Rights period jumps out the most. Here, the growth begins in the mid-1940s, but remember that it was at its lowest absolute levels then, so even the modest increases that began then show up as large percent increases. The PC era of the late '80s through the mid '90s also clearly shows up. There are several periods of relative stasis, but I see three periods of decisively moving against a nasty and bitter tone in our racial conversations: Reconstruction after the Civil War (admittedly not very long or very deep), the late '30s through WWII, and the "these are the good times" / Prince / Michael Jackson era of the mid-late '70s through the mid '80s, which is the most pronounced of all.

That trend also showed up television, when black-oriented sitcoms were incredibly popular. During the 1974-'75 season, 3 of the top 10 TV shows were Good Times, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons. The last of those that were national hits, at least as far as I recall, were The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and In Living Color, which were most popular in the late '80s and early '90s. Diff'rent Strokes spans this period perfectly in theme and in time, featuring an integrated cast (and not in the form of a "token black guy") and lasting from 1978 to 1986. The PC movement and its aftermath pretty much killed off the widely appealing black sitcom, although after a quick search, I see that Disney had a top-rated show called That's So Raven in the middle of the tension-free 2000s. But it's hard to think of black-focused shows from the mid-'90s through the early 2000s that were as popular as Good Times or The Cosby Show.

(In the top picture, the comparison between Jennifer Beals and Halle Berry shows that a black-white biracial babe actress who came of age during the late '70s and early '80s took a white husband twice, while her counterpart who became famous in the early '90s went instead for black men.)

But enough about TV. The point is simply that the academic material we're taught in school usually doesn't take into account what's popular on the radio or TV -- the people's culture only counts if they wrote songs about walking the picket line, showed that women too can be mechanics, or that we shall overcome. Historians, and people generally, are biased to see things as bad and getting worse, so they rarely notice when things were pretty good. But some aspects of popular culture can shed light on what was really going on because its producers are not academics with an axe to grind but entrepreneurs who need to know their audience and stay in touch with the times.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Cultures of constraint; Islam, India and Marxism   posted by Razib @ 12/18/2009 10:11:00 PM

Pew has a new report, Global Restrictions on Religion (HT JohnPI). It illustrates rather clearly some general trends which I've been mulling over for several years looking at cross-cultural data. Here's a 2-dimensional chart which plots the 50 most populous nations in their data set along an axis of governmental vs. social restrictions on religion.


There are the set of countries which have been shaped by Marxism in the recent past, or still are officially Marxist, which have strong legal sanctions against organized religion. China, Eritrea and Uzbekistan fall into this camp. But look at Russia. Perhaps Russian intolerance is a function of its Eastern Orthodoxy, but it seems plausible that Communist era elites have simply continued the tendency to control "subversive" religious groups that they had honed during the Soviet period (most Western nations were very restrictive of minority religions when the Russian Revolution occurred, but during the Soviet period many evolved toward a more tolerant state).

Then there are the Muslim countries. While China has official atheism, religious groups can flourish (at least within the natural bounds of the religiosity of the Chinese people, which seems to be set rather low) so long as they keep a low profile and don't get on the wrong side of the state. But in many Muslim countries hostility toward non-mainstream religious movements runs very deep. I don't need to elaborate on this, Muslims are the modern apotheosis of the Abrahamists of old, atheists toward other gods and promoters of their own (listening to the radio recently I noticed how talk show hosts given Muslims a pass when they get all effusive about how incredible their religion is. If a white Christian did this it would seem gauche). This probably explains on some level the extreme outrage in Muslim majority countries when Muslim expression in the non-Muslim majority countries is restrained. This response is totally not dampened by the strong tendency for Muslims to severely constrain the rights of non-Muslims when they themselves are in the majority. The Single Truth needs no apology, and why would one want to be fair and balanced between Truth and delusion? (I think back here to debates between pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity, as the latter brushed aside the pleas from the former for tolerance of belief and practice by arguing in effect that freedom of religion would only give succor to delusion and was therefore ultimately an obscenity. This stance remained dominant in the West down to the Enlightenment)

Finally, there's India. By India, I don't mean the nation of India. I mean the civilization, which includes Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and yes, Pakistan. Poking through survey data it seems that Hindus are quite religious, like Muslims, but they are far less atheistic, as one would expect. The philosophical aspects of Hinduism which tend toward universalism and cultural parallelism seem to percolate down rather far (though the survey data I see probably excludes the illiterate masses). On the other hand, like Muslims Hindus seem to have really strong attitudes when it comes to religious defection or switching. India has laws discouraging or banning conversion which might be appropriate in the Muslim or (post-)Marxist world. When looking at survey data on South Asians from India in the UK or USA it is interesting to me that though the Hindus are only moderately religious in their self-conception, very few avow that they have "No Religion." This is in strong contrast with East Asia, and among East Asian immigrants, who routinely assert that they have no religious affiliation. While Indian Hindus by and large have no need to convert the world in totality to their religion, as Muslims and Marxists must in regards to their faiths, they are strong believers in the necessity of some religious identity. Additionally, they have an attachment to the idea that people should not defect or switch between identities, lest inter-communal harmony be disrupted.

In the report they express some surprise that Africa is relatively tolerant. I am not. From what I have read religious conversion and switching is very common in Africa, from Protestantism to Catholicism to Islam and back. Even heads of state have switched religions without extreme controversy. Perhaps this has something to do with the sheer fragmentation and diversity of most African nations, which are cleaved along many dimensions besides religion. Additionally, the roots of any given organized religion are generally rather shallow in most of these nations. So unlike Indian civilization switching religion doesn't carry a lot of historical baggage. The best analogy to Africa seems like the United States, which also have a huge diversity of religious sects, and where switching is generally not particularly surprising or controversial. Individual preference is balanced with communal identification.

Finally, I want to note the distinction between some European nations which are secular (France) and East Asian ones (Korea, Japan). Without the totalist influence of Marxism East Asian nations tend to take a relatively muted stance toward religion. Just as Sri Lankan Buddhists show that the identitarian reflex of Indians is not a function of Hinduism, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong all illustrate that without official Marxism there is relatively robust tolerance of religious sectarianism. The power of one organized religion in East Asia was always much less than it was in Europe. Talking to many Europeans who are secular, though they themselves are not believers, they often find "non-traditional" religions rather weird. There is clearly a particular favoritism toward the traditional religion of a society, and a suspicion of new religions. This in some ways resembles the Indian attitude, except it is much more stripped of any supernatural content in terms of belief.

Here are two maps which illustrate the axes above:



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Monday, November 16, 2009

A simple framework for thinking about cultural generations   posted by agnostic @ 11/16/2009 12:44:00 AM

In this discussion about pop music at Steve Sailer's, the topic of generations came up, and it's one where few of the people who talk about it have a good grasp of how things work. For example, the Wikipedia entry on generation notes that cultural generations only showed up with industrialization and modernization -- true -- but doesn't offer a good explanation for why. Also, they don't distinguish between loudmouth generations and silent generations, which alternate over time. As long as a cohort "shares a culture," they're considered a generation, but that misses most of the dynamics of generation-generation. My view of it is pretty straightforward.

First, we have to notice that some cohorts are full-fledged Generations with ID badges like Baby Boomer or Gen X, and some cohorts are not as cohesive and stay more out of the spotlight. Actually, one of these invisible cohorts did get an ID badge -- the Silent Generation -- so I'll refer to them as loudmouth generations (e.g., Baby Boomers, Gen X, and before long the Millennials) and silent generations (e.g., the small cohort cramped between Boomers and X-ers).

Then we ask why do the loudmouth generations band together so tightly, and why do they show such strong affiliation with the generation that they continue to talk and dress the way they did as teenagers or college students even after they've hit 40 years old? Well, why does any group of young people band together? -- because social circumstances look dire enough that the world seems to be going to hell, so you have to stick together to help each other out. It's as if an enemy army invaded and you had to form a makeshift army of your own.

That is the point of ethnic membership badges like hairstyle, slang, clothing, musical preferences, etc. -- to show that you're sticking with the tribe in desperate times. That's why teenagers' clothing has logos visible from down the hall, why they spend half their free time digging into a certain music niche, and why they're hyper-sensitive about what hairstyle they have. Adolescence is a socially desperate time, not unlike a jungle, in contrast to the more independent situation you enjoy during full adulthood. Being caught in more desperate circumstances, teenagers freak out about being part of -- fitting in with -- a group that can protect them; they spend the other half of their free time communicating with their friends. Independent adults have fewer friends, keep in contact with them much less frequently, and don't wear clothes with logos or the cover art from their favorite new album.

OK, so that happens with every cohort -- why does this process leave a longer-lasting impact on the loudmouth cohorts? It is the same cause, only writ large: there's some kind of social panic, or over-turning of the status quo, that's spreading throughout the entire culture. So they not only face the trials that every teenager does, but they've also got to protect themselves against this much greater source of disorder. They have to form even stronger bonds, and display their respect for their generation much longer, than cohorts who don't face a larger breakdown of security.

Now, where this larger chaos comes from, I'm not saying. I'm just treating it as exogenous for now, as though people who lived along the waterfront would go through periods of low need for banding together (when the ocean behaved itself) and high need to band together (when a flood regularly swept over them). The generation forged in this chaos participates in it, but it got started somewhere else. The key is that this sudden disorder forces them to answer "which side are you on?" During social-cultural peacetime, there is no Us vs. Them, so cohorts who came of age in such a period won't see generations in black-and-white, do-or-die terms. Cohorts who come of age during disorder must make a bold and public commitment to one side or the other. You can tell when such a large-scale chaos breaks out because there is always a push to reverse "stereotypical gender roles," as well as a surge of identity politics.

The intensity with which they display their group membership badges and groupthink is perfectly rational -- when there's a great disorder and you have to stick together, the slightest falter in signaling your membership could make them think that you're a traitor. Indeed, notice how the loudmouth generations can meaningfully use the phrase "traitor to my generation," while silent generations wouldn't know what you were talking about -- you mean you don't still think The Ramones is the best band ever? Well, OK, maybe you're right. But substitute with "I've always thought The Beatles were over-rated," and watch your peers with torches and pitchforks crowd around you.

By the way, why did cultural generations only show up in the mid-to-late 19th C. after industrialization? Quite simply, the ability to form organizations of all kinds was restricted before then. Only after transitioning from what North, Wallis, and Weingast (in Violence and Social Orders -- working paper here) call a limited access order -- or a "natural state" -- to an open access order, do we see people free to form whatever political, economic, religious, and cultural organizations that they want. In a natural state, forming organizations at will threatens the stability of the dominant coalition -- how do they know that your bowling league isn't simply a way for an opposition party to meet and plan? Or even if it didn't start out that way, you could well get to talking about your interests after awhile.

Clearly young people need open access to all sorts of organizations in order to cohere into a loudmouth generation. They need regular hang-outs. Such places couldn't be formed at will within a natural state. Moreover, a large cohort of young people banding together and demanding that society "hear the voice of a new generation" would have been summarily squashed by the dominant coalition of a natural state. It would have been seen as just another "faction" that threatened the delicate balance of power that held among the various groups within the elite. Once businessmen are free to operate places that cater to young people as hang-outs, and once people are free to form any interest group they want, then you get generations.

Finally, on a practical level, how do you lump people into the proper generational boxes? This is the good thing about theory -- it guides you in practice. All we have to do is get the loudmouth generations' borders right; in between them go the various silent or invisible generations. The catalyzing event is a generalized social disorder, so we just look at the big picture and pick a peak year plus maybe 2 years on either side. You can adjust the length of the panic, but there seems to be a 2-year lead-up stage, a peak year, and then a 2-year winding-down stage. Then ask, whose minds would have been struck by this disorder? Well, "young people," and I go with 15 to 24, although again this isn't precise.

Before 15, you're still getting used to social life, so you may feel the impact a little, but it's not intense. And after 24, you're on the path to independence, you're not texting your friends all day long, and you've stopped wearing logo clothing. The personality trait Openness to Experience rises during the teenage years, peaks in the early 20s, and declines after; so there's that basis. Plus the likelihood to commit crime -- another measure of reacting to social desperation -- is highest between 15 and 24.

So, just work your way backwards by taking the oldest age (24) and subtracting it from the first year of the chaos, and then taking the youngest age (15) and subtracting it from the last year of the chaos. "Ground zero" for that generation is the chaos' peak year minus 20 years.

As an example, the disorder of the Sixties lasted from roughly 1967 to 1972. Applying the above algorithm, we predict a loudmouth generation born between 1943 and 1957: Baby Boomers. Then there was the early '90s panic that began in 1989 and lasted through 1993 -- L.A. riots, third wave feminism, etc. We predict a loudmouth generation born between 1965 and 1978: Generation X. There was no large-scale social chaos between those two, so that leaves a silent generation born between 1958 and 1964. Again, they don't wear name-tags, but I call them the disco-punk generation based on what they were listening to when they were coming of age.

Going farther back, what about those who came of age during the topsy-turvy times of the Roaring Twenties? The mania lasted from roughly 1923 to 1927, forming a loudmouth generation born between 1899 and 1912. This closely corresponds to what academics call the Interbellum Generation. The next big disruption was of course WWII, which in America really struck between 1941 and 1945, creating a loudmouth generation born between 1917 and 1930. This would be the young people who were part of The Greatest Generation. That leaves a silent generation born between 1913 and 1916 -- don't know if anyone can corroborate their existence or not. That also leaves The Silent Generation proper, born between 1931 and 1942.

Looking forward, it appears that these large social disruptions recur with a period of about 25 years on average. The last peak was 1991, so I predict another one will strike in 2016, although with 5 years' error on both sides. Let's say it arrives on schedule and has a typical 2-year build-up and 2-year winding-down. That would create a loudmouth generation born between 1990 and 2003 -- that is, the Millennials. They're already out there; they just haven't hatched yet. And that would also leave a silent generation born between 1979 and 1989.

My sense is that Millennials are already starting to cohere, and that 1987 is more like their first year, making the silent generation born between 1979 and 1986 (full disclosure: I belong to it). So this method surely isn't perfect, but it's pretty useful. It highlights the importance of looking at the world with some kind of framework -- otherwise we'd simply be cataloguing one damn generation after another.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith as an adaptation   posted by Razib @ 11/14/2009 06:11:00 PM

Nicholas Wade has an article up in The New York Times, The God Gene, which serves as a precis of the central arguments of The Faith Instinct, his new book. The title is catchy, but it should really be "The God Phene." Depending on how you measure it, religiosity is a heritable trait, with its variance being controlled by variance across many genes. There is as likely to be a "God Gene" as a "Smart Gene" or "Height Gene." In other words, not too likely.

I have been putting off putting up a review of The Faith Instinct because there's a lot of ground to cover. The portions which emphasized the role of common belief, "imagistic arousal" and ritual in cementing common bonds among men and allowing for maximal force of collective action were persuasive to me. As someone who has never served in the military I am not personally familiar with the "band of bothers" dynamic, but the role of chanting, posing and synchronous mindfulness & action in sport is obvious. It's no coincidence that high stakes athletics and religion tend to go hand & hand. Wade's references to William McNeill's Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History were very intriguing, and I have to check that book out at some point.

Though it is clear to me that there is utility in tribal gods binding a deme together to engage in collective action, I am more skeptical of the central function which Wade places upon religion as a driver of the cognitive biases which are likely to predict religion. Women are more religious than men. One plausible explanation for this is more men than women are socially retarded, and it is social retards who find supernatural agents less intuitively plausible, and are also liable to admit to this belief and not conform with the modal norms of society. The thesis in The Faith Instinct is that group level selection, on the level of tribal units, selected for those demes where religiosity was more pronounced, as those groups could engage in more effective collective action. Much of the argument is derived from Samuel Bowles from what I can tell. The problem of course is that the sex engaged in the warfare which is the specific manifestation of intergroup competition and subject to natural selection, males, seem to be less predisposed to belief in supernatural agents. Of course sex differences should be slow to evolve, so it suggests that if selection was operative upon religion as a trait it hasn't swept away all the various cobwebs of evolutionary history in terms of the lower-level traits which come together to form the religious phenotype.

An alternative model for why religion is universal in humans from the adaptationist one is that it is a byproduct of various other cognitive traits which are useful, just as heat is produced during work. More specifically, in books like Religion Explained & In Gods We Trust cognitive anthropologists Pascal Boyer & Scott Atran argue that basic intuitions which naturally lead one to supernatural inferences derive from extremely useful cognitive features; agency detection, theory of mind, and flavors of folk psychology. Supernatural intuitions don't constitute religion, and Wade et al. are not suggesting that it is simply theism which confers a selective benefit, but rather the entire cultural package of religious belief & practice, the "integrative" as well as the supernatural aspect. The problem that seems to emerge from these overlapping models is that I do not see why group selection dynamics operating upon biological traits are necessary to explain religious instincts as we see them today. Religion just doesn't seem that tightly integrated of a feature, but a more diffuse phenotype (as evident by the novel fusion of philosophy with religion which occurred during the Axial Age). Rather, it seems a cultural adaptation which hooks into previously extant and ubiquitous psychological intuitions.

But a fuller review at ScienceBlogs soon.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Straight porn makes you gay   posted by Razib @ 9/24/2009 10:54:00 PM

This is making the rounds of the internet:
Schwartz told the crowd about Jim Johnson, a friend of his who turned an old hotel into a hospice for gay men dying of AIDS. "One of the things he said to me," said Schwartz, "that I think is an astonishingly insightful remark...he said 'All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards."

There were murmurs and gasps from the crowd. "Now, think about that," said Schwartz. "And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he's going to want to get a copy of Playboy? I'm pretty sure he'll lose interest. That's the last thing he wants! You know, that's a good comment, it's a good point, and it's a good thing to teach young people."

This conversation is a window into the widely divergent worldviews of many conservative Christians in the United States from the rest of society. How many 11-year old boys are going to look for Playboy if they want porn today? Playboy isn't even considered porn by many today, I recall in the mid-1990s when the military removed pornographic magazines from stores on their bases they left Playboy. Next he'll be talking about the dangers of rock & roll! More seriously, I suspect many people would react to this sort of assertion as ludicrous on the face of it, but it seems possible that to this audience this is an insightful and plausible thesis (or, they feel that they have to pretend that it's insightful and plausible, as they may have personal experiential knowledge which falsifies it which they can not divulge because they aren't supposed to be having those experiences). Secondarily, I remember the serious reception of Naomi Wolf's thesis from several years ago that porn was turning men off from having sex with real women in some quarters. Since the 1970s the Religious Right and Feminist Left have oddly paralleled each other, asserting strange ideas about the nature of heterosexual males and their susceptibility to sexual visual stimulus, without bothering much to consult a wide range of men who engage in the behavior in consideration.

I won't deny that there might be some effect of porn on the margin. But really. Perhaps men turned gay by straight porn will show up in the comment threads and tell their story, or those who only have sex with their girlfriends when their internet connection is down (the latter may occur, but probably has more to do with World of Warcraft than porn, so porn related behavior changes only).

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

The changing library   posted by Razib @ 9/06/2009 01:38:00 AM

The future of libraries, with or without books:
The stereotypical library is dying -- and it's taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it.

Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. "Loud rooms" that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.

I like computers, but I have to admit that I really appreciated how underutilized libraries were by the bibliophobic public before circa 1995. With public computer terminals there are many more people who show up at public libraries. I don't have an issue with younger people, but there are always a large number of older creepy dudes who obviously don't have a computer at home and so show up to look at porn. Some libraries have even installed privacy screens. In college I remember there was one guy who would use the university library computers to load up on porn. He'd bring a stack of computer disks and copy images to them for several hours, and then leave. A friend, who had just come fresh off the boat from Singapore, referred to him in Queen's English as "the pornographer" ever after (we'd see him biking around town).


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Differences in human universals on the margins   posted by Razib @ 8/20/2009 10:55:00 PM

Neuroskeptic reviews new research which reports that East Asians and Europeans perceive facial expressions differently. Yes, differences do seem to exist, at least within the small sample studied, but there is a great deal of overlap. Of course much of the phenomena of interest are on the margins anyhow. Speaking of which, Genetic and Molecular Basis of Individual Differences in Human Umami Taste Perception:
Population diversities of SNPs in TAS1R1 and TAS1R3 have been reported by Kim et al...Minor allele frequencies of the SNP at 372 in TAS1R1 vary among eight populations; 10% in Cameroonian, 0% in Amerindian (native Americans), 25% in North European, 35% in Japanese, 5% in Russian, 35% in Hungarian, 40% in Chinese and 6% in Pakistani, whereas those at 757 in TAS1R3 showed no obvious difference among populations. These results suggest that there may be differences in umami sensitivity related with TAS1R1-A372T among populations in the world.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cognition & Culture   posted by Razib @ 7/14/2009 03:22:00 PM

In case you don't know, the Cognition & Culture group blog is of some interest. One of the contributors is Dan Sperber, who I interviewed a few years ago. Sperber et al. work within the naturalistic paradigm in cultural anthropology. I like to think of it as anthropology that comes not to praise gibberish, but bury it. In all likelihood the models are mostly wrong, but that's a feature. In much of American cultural anthropology the models can't even be wrong because of the incredibly obfuscatory word-play.


Monday, July 13, 2009

QWERTY-nomics debate thriving 20 years after "The Fable of the Keys"   posted by agnostic @ 7/13/2009 02:05:00 AM

In 1990, Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis wrote an article detailing the history of the now standard QWERTY keyboard layout vs. its main competitor, the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. (Read it here for free, and read through the rest of Liebowitz's articles at his homepage.) In brief, the greatest results in favor of the DSK came from a study that was never officially published and that was headed by none other than Dvorak himself. Later, when researchers tried to devise more controlled experiments, the supposed superiority of the DSK mostly evaporated.

Professional typists may have enjoyed about a 5% faster rate, or maybe not -- despite the conviction of the claims you hear, this isn't a well established body of evidence, such as "smarter people have faster reaction times." Moreover, most keyboard users aren't professional typists, and the vast bulk of their lost time is due to thinking about what they want to say. Therefore, the standardization of the QWERTY layout is not an example of our being locked in to an inferior technology. Which isn't to say that the QWERTY layout is the best imaginable -- but certainly not a clearly inferior layout compared to the DSK.

While Liebowitz and Margolis may have hoped that their examination of the evidence would have thrown some cold water on the "lock-in to inferior standards" craze that had gotten going in the mid 1980s, with QWERTY as the proponents favorite example, the idea appears too appealing to academics to die. (Read this 1995 article for a similar debunking of Betamax's alleged superiority over the VHS format.) Liebowitz appeared on a podcast show just this May having to reiterate again that the standard story of QWERTY is bogus.

To investigate, I did an advance search of JSTOR's economics journals for "QWERTY" and divided this count by the total number of articles. This was done for five four-year periods because it's not incredibly popular in any year, and that creates more noise in a year-by-year picture. I excluded the post-2004 period since there's typically a 5-year lag between publication and archiving in JSTOR. This doesn't show what the author's take is -- only how in-the-air the topic is. With the two major examples having been shown to not be examples of inferior lock-in at all, you'd think the pattern would be a flaring up and then dying down as economists were made aware of the evidence, and everyone can just leave it at that. But nope:

Note that the articles here aren't the broad class discussing various types of path dependence or network effects, but specifically the kind that lead to inferior lock-in -- as signalled by the mention of QWERTY. I attribute the locking in of this inferior idea to the fact that academia is not incentivized in a way that rewards truth, at least in the social sciences. Look at how long psychoanalysis and Marxism were taken seriously before they started to die off in the 1990s.

Shielded from the dynamics of survival-of-the-fittest, all manner of silly ideas can catch on and become endemic. In this case, the enduring popularity of the idea is accounted for by the Microsoft-hating religion of most academics and of geeks outside the universities. For them, Microsoft is not a company that introduced the best word processors and spreadsheets to date, and that is largely responsible for driving down software prices, but instead a folk devil upon which the cult projects whatever evil forces it can dream up. Psychologically, though, it's pretty tough to just make shit up like that. It's easier to give it the veneer of science -- and that's just what the ideas behind the QWERTY and Betamax examples were able to give them.

Overall, Liebowitz's work seems pretty insightful. There's very little abstract theorizing, which modeling nerds like me may miss, but someone's got to take a hard-nosed look at what all the evidence says in support of one model or some other. He and Margolis recognized how empirically unmoored the inferior lock-in literature was early on, and they also saw how dangerous it had become when it was used against Microsoft in the antitrust case. [1] He also foresaw how irrational the tech bubble was, losing much money by shorting the tech stocks far too early in the bubble, and he co-wrote an article in the late 1990s that predicted The Homeownership Society would backfire on the poor and minorities it was supposed to help. (Read his recent article on the mortgage meltdown, Anatomy of a Train Wreck.) Finally, one of his more recent articles looks at how file sharing has hurt CD sales. Basically, he details everything that a Linux penguin shirt-wearer doesn't want to hear.

[1] Their book Winners, Losers, and Microsoft and their collection of essays The Economics of QWERTY attack the idea from another direction -- showing how the supposed conditions for lock-in or market tipping were met, and yet time and again there was turnover rather than lock-in, with each successive winner having received the highest praise.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Your generation was more road-raging   posted by agnostic @ 6/02/2009 02:18:00 AM

Click the tab below the body of this post to read previous entries in the series about how previous generations were more depraved. One way to look at how civilized we are is to see how we behave in situations where our conduct can mean the difference between life and death for those around us -- for example, when we drive our car. Traffic deaths, of course, reflect properties of the car as much as the people involved, but teasing the two apart turns out to be pretty simple in this case.

In my brief review of Daniel Gardner's book The Science of Fear, I gave a few examples of how media coverage of some threat was outta-whack with the underlying risk, namely homicide and rape. Gardner spends a few pages talking about the epidemic of "road rage" that was allegedly sweeping across the country not too long ago, so why don't we have a look at what the data really say about when road rage may have been greater than usual.

First, here's a quick view of media coverage of "road rage," which begins in 1996:

What about actual traffic deaths, though? The data come from the National Safety Council, as recorded across several versions of the Statistical Abstract of the United States -- which, btw, is much cooler than the General Social Survey or the World Values Survey if you want to waste some time crunching numbers. I tracked the data back as far as they exist in the Stat Ab, and they include four ways of measuring traffic death rates. Here are the graphs:

The first is the most instructive -- it measures the number of deaths compared to the number of vehicles on the road and how long they're on the road. The other three measure deaths compared to some population size -- of vehicles, of drivers, or of the whole country -- but even if population size is constant, we expect more deaths if people drive a lot more. The distinction isn't so crucial here since the graphs look the same, but I'll refer to the first one because what it measures is more informative.

From 1950 to 2008, there's a simple exponential decline in traffic deaths (r^2 = 0.97). As roads are made safer, as all sorts of car parts are made to boost safety, and as people become more familiar with traffic, we expect deaths to decline, and that's just what we see. I looked at earlier versions of the Stat Ab, and there is a similar exponential decline in railroad-related deaths from 1920 to 1959 -- again, probably due to improving the technology of railroads, trains, and so on.

However, aside from the steady decline that we expect from safer machinery, there is a clear bulge away from the trend during the years 1961 - 1973. Although I haven't researched it, it seems impossible for roads to have went to shit during that time but not during the other times, or that cars made then were even less safe than the ones made before or after. The obvious answer is that people were just more reckless and/or hostile toward their fellow man in that period.

There's no other huge departure from the trend, so if any time period has been characterized by "road rage," it was The Sixties (which lasted until 1973 or '74). Consider the age group whose brains are most hijacked by hormones, and maybe by drugs and alcohol too -- say, 15 to 21 year-olds. The oldest members of this group who were driving during the road rage peak were born in 1940, while the youngest ones were born in 1958. Hmmm, born from 1940 to 1958 -- Baby Boomers. (Those born after 1957 - 8, and before 1964, are not cultural Boomers.) And this doesn't seem to be an effect of lots more teenagers on the road than at other times -- there have been echo booms afterward and yet no big swings away from the trend.

When the media and everyone hooked in to the media began talking about road rage 10 to 15 years ago, there was nothing new in the traffic death story -- indeed, the rate was continuing its decades-long decline. If you just want to know what is going on right now, the media may not be so bad at giving you that info. But this serves as yet another lesson to not believe anything they say, or imply, about trends unless there is a clear graph backing them up (or, in a pinch, a handful of data-points sprinkled throughout the prose).

I located, collected, analyzed, and wrote up all of the relevant data -- stretching back nearly 60 years -- in less than one day, and only using the internet and Excel. This shows us again that journalists are either too clueless, too lazy, or too stupid to figure anything out.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Goodbye Old Kashgar   posted by Razib @ 5/27/2009 08:17:00 PM

To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It. The city is Kashgar, in the far west of China. I have read that Kashgar is the large city furthest from oceans on all directions. It's a typical story of developers wanting to develop. You read articles like this about Beijing all the time (or did, I assume that most of the developing to be done has been done). One issue that I'm curious about though, my understanding is that China (and East Asia in general) has fewer buildings of great antiquity than in the West because so much of the monumental architecture was in wood. This results in ancient cities being viewed as relatively ephemeral, with the elements (especially fire) taking what humans don't eventually tear down and reprocess. So there is very little of the earlier dynasties in the old imperial capital of Xi'an because the complexes of the imperial family and aristocrats were made of wood. Perhaps some of the reporting of how heartless Chinese bureaucrats are in regards to historic buildings suffers from a cultural gap whereby societies which materials like stone assume more permanence to architecture than those which rely in less durable medium such as wood.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Science of Fear, and some data on media overhyping of crime risks   posted by agnostic @ 5/22/2009 02:10:00 AM

Since the world started falling apart, books on how crazy we are have never been more popular. Most focus on findings from behavior economics that show how human beings deviate from homo economicus in making decisions, and The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner is no different. Unlike the others in this newly sexy genre, though, he doesn't look at economic decisions very much, but instead on how we assess risk -- sometimes to our own harm. Consider those who, in the panic after 9/11, switched from riding airplanes to the more dangerous mode of cars and died in car crashes.

I won't review the book at length since it's an easy read and well written -- worth adding to your "crazy fucking humans" summer reading list. For a taste, though, here's the author speaking on The Leonard Lopate Show.

Gardner spends some time discussing how outta-whack the media coverage of a problem is with the underlying risk, as when silicone breast implants for awhile appeared to be the next cigarette or trans fat. Over at my personal blog, I put up two entries that have graphs showing, from 1981 to 2007, the per capita rates of homicide and forcible rape (risk), the fraction of all NYT articles that mentioned "murder" or "rape" (coverage), and the coverage-to-risk ratio (overhyping). Here's the homicide post and the rape post. In both cases, sometime in the early-mid 1990s, in the wake of a generalized hysteria -- identity politics, L.A. riots, Third Wave feminism, blaming AIDS on Regan, etc. -- the overhyping starts to take off and has remained high up through recent years. We've never been safer, yet we've only grown more paranoid.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Rome Fell   posted by Razib @ 5/20/2009 07:17:00 PM

David Frum has a very interesting review of How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower. In it he touches upon two other works which address the same topic, The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization & The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. I've read them both, and they are excellent histories, though as Frum notes they take different tacks. The former taking a materialist perspective, and the latter a more classical narrative of politics and government. I also agree that to some extent modern multiculturalism has fed into the revisionism which suggests that there was no decline from Classical to Late Antiquity. In From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents conservative historian David Gress actually shows how pre-multiculturalist liberal intellectuals, such as Will Durant, privileged pre-Christian antiquity, in particular Greece, and excised the entire period after the fall of Rome and before the rise of the Enlightenment (with a nod to the Renaissance) as making any substantive contribution to the liberal democratic consensus

Where you stand matters in making these sorts of judgements. For obvious reasons Catholic Christian intellectuals of what we term the medieval period did not view the ancient world as superior to their own, because whatever its material or intellectual merits, it was a fundamentally pagan one at its roots. Though the modern West is still predominantly Christian in religion, that religion no longer serves as quite the core anchor that it once did,* and material considerations as well as abstractions such as "democracy" and the "republic" are given greater weight than they once were. I believe that David Gress is right to suggest that attempts by secular liberal historians to deny the essential role of Christendom, the period between antiquity and the age of the nation-state, was driven more by politics than reality. The founders of the American republic were obviously classical educated and that influenced their outlook, as evidenced by their writings as well concrete aspects of culture such as architecture. But they were also heirs to a tradition which defended the customary rights of Englishmen, rights which go back ultimately to Anglo-Saxon tribal law. It is simply laughable to imagine that Greek democracy slept for 2,000 years and reemerged in the late 18th century in the form of the American democratic republic. But, the very same historical factors which make Western civilization what it is today also result in a set of normative presuppositions that does naturally marginalize or diminish the glory of medieval civilization set next to its classical predecessor.

Also, one minor point. Frum says:
...Some scholars have speculated that the empire was depopulated by plague after 200. (William McNeill wrote a fascinating history of the global effects of disease, Plagues and Peoples, that argues for disease as a principal cause of Roman decline.

This could well be true. On the other hand, of the emperors and would-be emperors who contested power in the turbulent 3rd century, only one Claudius II Gothicus, died of plague. At least 17 were assassinated or executed, and four more died under unknown circumstances. Four died in battle, one in captivity after battle - but only two of those five met their end at the hands of foreign enemies. The other three died fighting Roman rivals.

In regards to the hypothesis of demographic decline due to plague, the fact that only Claudius II Gothicus died of this cause is likely a weaker point than one might think. Only one monarch died of the Black Plague, which most historians assume killed 1/4 to 1/3 of Europeans. This is probably most easily interpreted in light of the reality that the elites are relatively well fed, and might therefore have been less susceptible to disease than the populace as a whole. The connection between poor nutrition and a relatively anemic immune response to disease has been offered as one reason why deadly pandemics were much more common in the pre-modern period, when a far higher proportion of the population was nutritionally stressed.

H/T Conor Friedersdorf

* I think the Islamic world is a better model of how medieval Christians might view their classical pagan cultural forebears. Egyptians take pride in the antiquity of their society, but what was before Islam was jahaliya. The preservation of Greek knowledge by the Arab Muslims during the first few centuries of Islam exhibited a strong selection bias toward works of abstract philosophy. Ancient Greece's cultural production in the arts held no great interest, so it is only thanks to the Byzantines that many of those works were preserved.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Children, the ideal vs. the realized internationally   posted by Razib @ 5/19/2009 10:49:00 PM

I looked at data from the World Values Survey in terms of the actual proportion of those in the age group 30-49 for various countries who have 2 or fewer children, vs. those in that age group who thought 2 or fewer was the ideal number. I aggregated Wave 3 and Wave 4 surveys, so the times range from 1995 to 2002. Data, etc., below.

Proportions surveyed for those in age group 30-49

2 or fewer children 2 or fewer children "ideal" Difference between actual and ideal
Bangladesh 43.9 90.1 -46.2
India 43.5 74.7 -31.2
Vietnam 58.3 85.2 -26.9
Iran 52.8 73 -20.2
Turkey 48.7 63.9 -15.2
China 82.9 93.3 -10.4
Peru 54.3 62.3 -8
Mexico 46.2 53.2 -7
Taiwan 53.9 59.4 -5.5
Egypt 34.4 37.2 -2.8
El Salvador 46.8 48.3 -1.5
Czech 80.5 81.9 -1.4
Great Britain 77 78.2 -1.2
Puerto Rico 57.4 58.2 -0.8
Uruguay 64.1 64.3 -0.2
Venezuela 50.7 50.7 0
Germany 84.2 83.9 0.3
Romania 82.1 81.8 0.3
Slovakia 75.4 71.1 4.3
Azerbaijan 64 57.4 6.6
Brazil 62.6 55.9 6.7
Morocco 58.1 50.5 7.6
Chile 61.8 53.9 7.9
USA 70 61.1 8.9
Switzerland 80.5 71.2 9.3
Bulgaria 88.7 79.2 9.5
Argentina 55.8 46.3 9.5
Albania 62.1 52.5 9.6
Australia 70.6 60.9 9.7
Spain 82.3 72.5 9.8
Indonesia 48.1 37.8 10.3
Colombia 62.6 51.4 11.2
South Africa 58.4 47 11.4
Hungary 80.2 68.5 11.7
Iraq 28.8 16.9 11.9
Belarus 91.4 79 12.4
Ukraine 88.2 75.6 12.6
Pakistan 53.7 39.8 13.9
Russia 89.6 75.2 14.4
Poland 69.3 54.8 14.5
Jordan 26 11.5 14.5
Philippines 39.6 23.5 16.1
Canada 75.1 58.5 16.6
Finland 75.3 58.3 17
Sweden 74.6 57.2 17.4
Uganda 31.5 12.4 19.1
Saudi Arabia 39.4 20.1 19.3
South Korea 81.6 61.9 19.7
Slovenia 84.2 64 20.2
New Zealand 66.7 46.3 20.4
Zimbabwe 34.7 11.3 23.4
Macedonia 82.4 56.9 25.5
Singapore 79.9 54.4 25.5
Dominican Republic 48.9 23.3 25.6
Tanzania 43.1 17.4 25.7
Kyrgyzstan 49 21.9 27.1
Lithuania 85 57.7 27.3
Moldova 71.5 43.6 27.9
Armenia 64.9 36.8 28.1
Bosnia 81.9 53.4 28.5
Estonia 85.4 55.3 30.1
Nigeria 37.3 5.7 31.6
Croatia 82.3 46.4 35.9
Japan 77.5 41.5 36
Latvia 83.3 46 37.3
Serbia 79.4 39.9 39.5
Georgia 78.3 18.6 59.7

Now a chart, here's how you'd read it:

Top of the Y axis = low fertility in the 30-49 age group (lots of people with 2 or fewer children)

To the right of the X axis = nations with low fertility preferences in the 30-49 age group (lots of people who think 2 or fewer children is the ideal)

The line represents X = Y. So nations above the line are those where there is more ideal preference for children than the reality, while nations below the line there is more reality, so to speak, than the ideal.

There seems to be a situation where in many nations people want more children than they are having. That is, their avowed preference is greater than what is revealed by their behavior. There are general clusters. The "breeder nations," where people do have many children, but want even more, and the other set where populations are underperforming even their mild expectations. No surprise that the post-Communist nations are in the second category, but interestingly the East Asian nations of Japan and South Korea fall into this range. Interestingly, these are also nations which tend to be rather secular for their social conservatism from a Western perspective. Georgia is not a typo, though I wouldn't be surprised there was a problem with the data (it might be coded or entered incorrectly).

Then there are nations where people have more children than they want. Iran has some specific historical conditions which can explain this. During the Iran-Iraq War the Iranian leadership was pro-natalist, but in its wake they have strongly encouraged family planning. Iran is now a sub-replacement nation when it comes to fertility. Vietnam and India have experienced economic turnarounds of late due to their relatively late entrance into the game of globalization. These surveys occurred around the year 2000, about 10 years into both of their liberalization programs. One might be seeing the outcomes of earlier norms overlain upon new mores due to international media. Finally, as far as Bangladesh goes, it is an ethnically and religiously homogeneous nation, so there isn't a national imperative whereby ethnic groups worry about other groups outbreeding them. Additionally, it is very, very, crowded. There are many poor African nations, but aside from Rwanda and Burundi, all of them are far below the Malthusian parameters when it comes to primary production in relation to Bangladesh.

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The geography of online social networks   posted by agnostic @ 5/19/2009 02:18:00 AM

Since most people use online social networks like Facebook to keep in touch with people who they interact with in real life, it doesn't make sense to sign up for a Facebook account unless others in your area have already. This predicts that we should see a spreading out of Facebook from its founding location, just like a contagious disease rolling out from Typhoid Mary's neighborhood. Let's take a look at the data and see.

First, I found this map from Google Images of the number of Facebook visits by state:

Unfortunately, these are not per capita rates. But you can still tell that the Northeast has a whole hell of a lot of activity, while super-populated California shows little. Luckily, Facebook calculated the number of adult users in each state, and divided this by the state's entire adult population size to get the prevalence of Facebook among adults by state. The data are here, and I've made a bubble map of them here. Note that the pattern is pretty similar, even though these are now per capita rates.

It looks as though Facebook is spreading from the Northeast, so one easy way to quantify the pattern is to plot the prevalence of Facebook among adults as a function of distance from the original physical site -- Harvard, in this case. (I used the zip code of a state's largest city and that of Harvard to calculate distance.) Here is the result:

Close to Harvard, prevalence is high, and it declines pretty steadily as you branch out from there. The Spearman rank correlation between Facebook prevalence and distance from Harvard is -0.58 (p less than 10^-6).

If Facebook were being used to talk anonymously to a bunch of strangers, as with the early AOL chatrooms, then the adoption of this technology wouldn't show such a strong geographical pattern -- who cares if no one else in your state uses a chatroom, as long as there are enough people in total? This shows how firmly grounded in people's real lives their use of Facebook is; otherwise it would not spread in a more or less person-to-person fashion from its founding location.

It's not that there aren't still chatrooms -- it's just that, to normal people, they're gay, at least compared to Facebook. Few would prefer joining a cyberworld for their social interaction -- using the internet to slightly enhance what they've already got going in real life is exciting enough. The only exceptions are cases where you have no place to congregate in real life with your partners, such as a group of young guys who want to play video games. Arcades started to vanish around 1988, so that now they must plug in to the internet and play each other online. For the most part, though, the internet isn't going to radically change how we conduct our social lives.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Two Cultures, and some data on the public's response   posted by agnostic @ 5/18/2009 03:04:00 PM

SEED has a set of short video responses to the question "Are we beyond the Two Cultures?", a reference to the split between the arts & humanities types and the science types. Steven Pinker discusses several ways in which the arts can benefit from working with the sciences, such as gaining a better understanding of human attention, visual processing, and so on. In his book The Blank Slate, Pinker argues that one reason that 20th C. art and architecture have been such huge flops is Modernism's denial of a basic human nature, both in terms of how the mind works and what things push our pleasure buttons. But aside from what has been going on in academia and the art gallery world, where does the art-consuming public stand on bridging the Two Cultures?

If we are to believe Tom Wolfe's account in From Bauhaus to Our House, in the first several decades after WWII, most of the elite considered it cool to sit in (or at least display) furniture that embodied the Modernist aesthetic. He emphasizes that Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair was particularly sought after. So, some decades later, how much does the public value Modernist design as compared to design whose forms are derived more from nature?

(The latter forms appeal to what E.O. Wilson calls "biophilia," or our native apprecation for natural forms. This idea goes back at least to the mid-19th C., when the British architect Owen Jones wrote The Grammar of Ornament, available online in full and in color. It sought to bridge the gap between the arts and the sciences by investigating the general laws of aesthetics in ornamentation, and especially by pointing to the central role that nature-based forms play.)

Searching's home & garden section for Modernist keywords "Barcelona chair" gives 957 results (other searches for this item give fewer hits), "Mies" gives 435, "Corbusier" gives 284, and "Eames" (who is much more palatable) gives 1,258. Contrast this with Art Nouveau keywords: "Tiffany lamp" alone gives 10,381, while the broader "Tiffany -breakfast" (to remove Breakfast at Tiffany's memerobilia) gives 16,565 hits. Price differences don't seem to account for this, since the objects from both styles are moderately expensive.

The same order-of-magnitude difference shows up for searches of's home & garden section too. "Tiffany lamp" gives 2,003 results, while "Barcelona chair" and "Mies" each give about 40, "Corbusier" gives 303, and the less-insane "Eames" gives 466.

Finally, searching gives 147 hits for "Tiffany" (Studios) and 191 for "Gaudi," compared to only 22 for "Eames," 38 for "Corbusier," and 16 for "Mies."

So, as far as the art-buying public is concerned, most people seem to belong to the Third Culture already. It's only arts academics, critics, and others in the business of art who insist on a sharp divide between the arts & humanities and the sciences. After all, they have their territory to defend from the ever-encroaching sciences, whereas outsiders are disinterested.

I found something similar when I looked at the under- and over-valuations of composers and of painters as well: most of the art-buying public values mid-late 19th C. music and painting, mostly ignoring the Modernists.

When the elite art world abandoned its interest in the sciences, more or less as a fashion statement, it doomed itself to silliness and obscurity. Science types already read a lot outside of their main area, so we don't have terribly far left to go. However, arts & humanities types flaunt their ignorance of the sciences -- unlike Alberti or Owen Jones -- so that the burden of "closing the gap" falls more on them.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Measuring the shelf-life of student interest in their subjects, using Google Trends   posted by agnostic @ 5/10/2009 11:55:00 PM

To test how sensitive Google Trends is to fundamental changes in the thing you're asking about, I decided to see if it could pick up the seasonality of fruit availability. Sure enough, it does. Just check blueberries or pomegranate: when the fruits are plentiful, people are very interested in them; outside the peak season, interest plummets. Interestingly, you see something very similar for how much people are searching Google for intellectual topics, which is an indicator of how long their interest lasts.

I noticed a funny cyclical pattern awhile back when I searched Google Trends for slavery. I had a hunch but filed it away. Now I've looked into it, and it's what I thought -- it tracks the school year, specifically when mid-term and final papers are due during the fall and spring semesters. There's sharp drop during Christmas vacation, and a steady low level during summer vacation. To show that this is true, you see the same pattern for postmodernism, Freud, Foucault, semiotics -- plus Darwin, evolutionary psychology, differential equations, and linear algebra.

That shows how long the average student, after exposure to some body of thought, retains interest in it over their lifetime -- about a day or so after the exam is done. And intellectual merit hardly seems to matter -- real stuff like differential equations doesn't seem any stickier than the snake oil of postmodernism. If you're an educator who's ever suffered from the delusion that you can inspire lasting interest in your subject, these graphs should wake you up. Sure, there's that one student whose eagerness for the subject is just a bit creepy (unless she's a cute girl, of course), but most of your students will treat your class like they do the movies they see in the theater -- or the Malcolm Gladwell books their parents read -- which provide brief fun but are forgotten a week or so later.

This more or less contradicts the proponents of higher ed for everyone, of a core curriculum, and of similar policies that are based on the assumption that students retain anything at all. After their Harvard undergrad educations, most alumni had no clue what causes the seasonal change in weather. (They tend to say that it's due to the elliptical orbit of Earth around the Sun -- summer when it's closest and winter when it's farthest away.) If they're just going to flush out the course's content once the semester is over, why make them take the course in the first place? Except for the school to get their money, and for the professor to keep his job through high enrollment.

"But higher ed is not just pre-professional training -- it's about cultivating the garden of their mind!" Well, if the average student were at all intellectually curious, maybe. But most aren't -- once their final paper is in, flusssshhh! To revisit the topic of the education bubble, most arts and humanities majors could cruise through undergrad in two years tops, unless they were dead set on becoming academics, in which case they'd really need to absorb a lot more information. But if you're majoring in history or English in order to go to law school, who cares if you only surveyed one period of English poetry, rather than from Beowulf to the Beats? Obvious exceptions are technical or professional majors, such as engineers needing to know calculus, statistics, etc., which might take them three years to complete.

The cold hard reality, shown by the Google Trends data above, is that just about all students are going to junk everything they ever learned in college once they're done with the course -- not even once they graduate. Therefore, having them schlump around all day in these throwaway courses only wastes their time, money, and energy, which could be spent producing stuff. Aside from signaling that they haven't gone braindead or really fucked up their work ethic after high school, a college degree doesn't mean much, unless it's a technical one. So, give them a year or two to prove this, and then get them out into the real world. They'll probably come out the other end of college with healthier livers to boot.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is news coverage of science focusing more on substance than before?   posted by agnostic @ 5/05/2009 10:15:00 PM

One thing that many of us worry about is how well educated the educatable public is about biology and evolution -- are they reading superficial stories, or are they being exposed to the deeper ideas? (Set aside whether they'll remember any of it in a few years.) Actually, what most really worry about is whether or not science reporters are doing a better or worse job than before, since we can't really know how much substance the public shoud be expected to grok. There's actually a fairly crude but helpful way to measure this, so let's see what it shows.

I started with the complaint that when a science isn't very mature, people focus too much on individuals -- they're like disciples hanging on every word of the prophet, or quoting him in exegesis if he's dead. For example, Freudian, Marxism, Chomskyan, and Darwinian or Darwinism are common terms, yet they don't actually say what they're for -- just whatever the guy said. Contrast this with the rare or non-existent terms Lavoisierism, Newtonian (the far more common phrase is "classical" mechanics), etc. Adjectival forms in math are only meant to show who discovered or invented something -- Gaussian distribution, Hessian matrix, Laplace transform, etc. -- rather than refer to a large body of theory that the guy put together.

This is compounded in journalism since writers usually are arts and humanities majors, who will thus be tempted to write biographical pieces and present the social history of the scientists, rather than digest what their contributions were and convey that substance to the readers. Such articles would certainly contain their names, but not necessarily the concepts they invented.

So, my measure of "fluff" is the number of articles that contain a famous scientist's name (funny way of defining fluff, but you'll see). My measure of "substance" is the number of articles that mention a particular theory, concept, or whatever, associated with that scientist. I then take the ratio of substance to fluff and track this over time. This ratio answers the question: "For every article that mentioned the scientist, how many articles mentioned a big idea linked to him?" Larger values mean a greater focus on the theory itself rather than the person who invented it.

I'm sure you have vivid memories from high school chemistry class about what an atom looks like, but I'll bet you find it difficult to remember what's-his-name and you-know-uh-that-guy who developed the various parts of the model. That's good -- the key ideas stuck. Now on to the data.

I searched the NYT from 1981 to 2008 for "Darwin," "evolutionary," "natural selection," "Adam Smith," "invisible hand," "the big bang," and "Einstein" (removing results with "Einstein College"). And before the autistic geek brigade pipes up about how Einstein didn't propose the Big Bang -- no shit. But his ideas did help pave the way, and his name is the only one common enough to get lots of data for each year (unlike Lemaitre, who gets only 8 hits during the entire 28-year period). Likewise, general relativity and Brownian motion don't exactly get a lot of coverage. For physics, it's either the Big Bang or black holes, and the latter has been appropriated into common usage far more than the former, so using "the Big Bang" is better for making sure the context is scientific.

Here are graphs showing the substance-to-fluff ratios over time:

Overall, things look good -- reporters are focusing more on the deeper ideas of the field, compared to dropping names. The year-to-year variation is a lot wilder for economics, but it's a social science, and so less mature than biology or physics. So, writers may be more fickle when they're deciding whether to focus on the ideas or to invoke some famous guy's name. Indeed, we expect that in some areas of social science, education, and health and nutrition -- which are largely presided over by a dogmatic priestly caste -- the major breakthroughs in the field won't be reported at all, or will show downward trends over time, as the ideology police slowly buries them down the memory hole.

This jibes with what most people say about the NYT science reporting -- it's great for the hard sciences, but it might as well be the funny pages for social science or health and nutrition. Sure, the NYT regularly churns out stories about non-existent "trends" based on what's fashionable among a handful of neurotic Jewish mothers on the Upper West Side. But at the same time, the NYT also allows Carl Zimmer, Nicholas Wade, and John Tierney to get the word out about a lot of great research. I didn't read the NYT in 1981, as I was not even 1 year old for most of that year, but based on the above data, I would guess that the science reporting was not nearly as good as it is now.

It's yet another example of how the panic about the world going to hell only applies to the arts and humanities, not the sciences. No one gives a shit about contemporary art anymore, and quoting a Yale lit crit theorist these days would only get you laughed out of the room. This is good -- people have woken up. As far as the intellectually curious crowd is concerned, though, things are only getting better.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Avowed condemnation of bribery does not predict corruption   posted by Razib @ 5/03/2009 01:38:00 AM

Below when I compared the Nordic countries and Italy on a host of variables, I noted in the comments that it was rather amusing that 99% of the people in Bangladesh asserted that bribery was never justifiable, while only 69% of Swedes did. More specifically, the World Values Survey simply asked if bribery was ever justifiable, and there 10 options, with 0 = never justifiable and 10 = always justifiable. So 99% of the Bangladeshis chose 0, while only 69% of Swedes did. Plotting the 2008 Corruptions Perceptions Index scores from Transparency International against the proportion who chose 0, bribery is never justifiable, resulted in this:

Here's the raw data:

Bribery Never Justifiable CPI
Sweden 68.5 9.3
Singapore 76.6 9.2
Denmark 92.9 9.2
Finland 79.7 9
Netherlands 72.6 8.9
Iceland 87.1 8.9
Canada 80.3 8.7
Luxembourg 70.8 8.3
Austria 72.3 8.1
Germany 64.6 7.9
Great Britain 67.4 7.7
USA 80 7.3
Japan 83 7.3
Belgium 67.7 7.3
Chile 70.9 6.9
France 67.1 6.9
Slovenia 73.5 6.7
Estonia 66.9 6.6
Spain 71.9 6.5
Portugal 73.7 6.1
Israel 86.1 6
Malta 94.2 5.8
Puerto Rico 89.8 5.8
Korea 80.2 5.6
Czech Republic 51.4 5.2
Jordan 96.4 5.1
Hungary 53.3 5.1
Slovakia 39.4 5
Latvia 74.4 5
South Africa 61.1 4.9
Lithuania 66.7 4.8
Italy 79.3 4.8
Greece 64.4 4.7
Poland 76.8 4.6
Turkey 93.7 4.6
Croatia 79.1 4.4
Romania 80.2 3.8
Bulgaria 77.6 3.6
Peru 72.7 3.6
Mexico 72.5 3.6
China 83.4 3.6
Macedonia 86.7 3.6
Saudi Arabia 77 3.5
Morocco 97.7 3.5
Serbia 85.4 3.4
Albania 53 3.4
India 85 3.4
Algeria 88.6 3.2
Bosnia 85.5 3.2
Tanzania 92.1 3
Argentina 92 2.9
Nigeria 63.3 2.9
Moldova 49.2 2.9
Egypt 94 2.8
Vietnam 93.5 2.7
Uganda 72.6 2.6
Indonesia 82.5 2.6
Pakistan 91.9 2.5
Ukraine 64.1 2.5
Iran 93.3 2.3
Philippines 39.5 2.3
Russia 70.3 2.1
Bangladesh 99 2.1
Belarus 39.3 2
Venezuela 75.1 1.9
Kyrgyzstan 73.4 1.8
Zimbabwe 91.9 1.8
Iraq 84.6 1.3

Eastern Europeans and Filipinos are at least honest about their "pragmatism."

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Western names in China   posted by Razib @ 4/28/2009 10:23:00 PM

The Name's Du Xiao Hua, But Call Me Steve:
Given the nationalism I've witnessed in China, I was a bit surprised at how readily Chinese adopted Western names. (Even my Americanized parents were uncomfortable with the idea of me changing my name. They said I could do as I wished when I turned 18, though always in a tone that suggested such an unfilial act would cause them to die of disappointment.) But Duthie's participants insisted that taking an English name isn't kowtowing, nor is it simply utilitarian. Rather, it's essential to being Chinese and achieving Chinese goals. Whereas in the past patriotism was expressed by self-sacrifice, it is now expressed through economic activity. So by working for, say, 3M, Chinese citizens are helping to build up China, and the English names they take on in the process are as patriotic as Cultural Revolution-era monikers like Ai Guo (Loves China) or Wei Dong (Mao's Protector).

The author is a Chinese American. In Peter Turchin's model borderlands tend to generate the level of social cohesion necessary for a dynamic civilization-state, while the "heartland" exhibits more anomie and decay. But another aspect of this is that Diasporas often exhibit some element of stasis; as if they enter into a cultural chrysalis. The Chinese case is particularly instructive, as due to the upheavals of Marxism, the Cultural Revolution, and now the unbridled capitalistic ethos, much of traditional China has gone by the wayside. Rather, archaic forms and rites are preserved in the Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, in Taiwan or even in the United States. Chinese in China naturally have less of a need to assert their "authenticity," so why not adopt what needs to be adopted?


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Political unification leads to the spread of languages   posted by Razib @ 4/21/2009 08:22:00 AM

Political complexity predicts the spread of ethnolinguistic groups:
Human languages show a remarkable degree of variation in the area they cover. However, the factors governing the distribution of human cultural groups such as languages are not well understood. While previous studies have examined the role of a number of environmental variables the importance of cultural factors has not been systematically addressed. Here we use a geographical information system (GIS) to integrate information about languages with environmental, ecological, and ethnographic data to test a number of hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the global distribution of languages. We show that the degree of political complexity and type of subsistence strategy exhibited by societies are important predictors of the area covered by a language. Political complexity is also strongly associated with the latitudinal gradient in language area, whereas subsistence strategy is not. We argue that a process of cultural group selection favoring more complex societies may have been important in shaping the present-day global distribution of language diversity.

Here's the map from a figure which shows linguistic diversity, with darker areas being more diverse. If you read the authors' paper you note that their model explains 55% of the variance in linguistic diversity. That's the important point, qualitatively it is obvious that political complex entities (or at least those which scale) are prior to the spread of their lingua franca. The spread of Chinese, Latin and Arabic are three classic examples where we have a lot of historical data. The extant Classical sources make it clear that the Roman world was peppered with a plethora of exotic dialects, only a few of which were recorded in written form (since they were not written languages). Remember that languages like Finnish were oral "peasant tongues" until the past few centuries. The same is obviously true for Chinese, though I have read that the dialects of southeast China still exhibit traces of their pre-Chinese substratum.

Obviously the spread of languages along with political systems is no great revelation. Rather, I think it is important to note that there are likely other dynamics at work. Geneticists such as Marcus Feldman have suggested that the similarities between genetic and linguistic cladograms which Cavalli-Sforza noted decades ago probably are due to the fact that marriage markets extend only out to those who speak the same language. In other words the spread of languages like Latin and Arabic obscure over older genetic-linguistic structures, which is seen in many societies where super-languages did not supersede the local dialect. A final issue that I think needs to be brought up are the somewhat artificial lines on the map between closely related languages (e.g., Dutch-German)*, and the real chasms of unintelligibility between unrelated languages (e.g., Finnish-Swedish). I am curious as genetic maps become more fine-grained if there are particular language-related patterns to the changes in allele frequencies.

* Artificial because the codification of a standard dialect as the language, e.g., Florentine to Italian, ignores the historical continuity of dialects.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Measuring whether a painter is under or over-valued   posted by agnostic @ 4/19/2009 10:51:00 PM

As a follow-up to the previous post on measuring the price-to-earnings ratio of composers, I've done the same thing for painters. The motivation is the same, and I'm still using the painter's score in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment to measure earnings (the more objective valuation). Here, instead of measuring price (the more fashion-driven valuation) with the number of works available at, I'm using the number of works available at, the main place that people visit to buy inexpensive high art.

The AllPosters score is simply number of works available, divided by the max for any artist (which happens to be for Monet), multiplied by 100. So, like the HA score, it is a measure of how valued an artist's works are, using the most highly valued artist of all as a reference point.

A look at the data shows several similarities to the case of composers, suggesting that -- for example -- we overhype a certain time period in general, even though it could arguably be the peak for one art form and yet be only mediocre for another art form. We are more likely to fall for the whole zeitgeist, rather than ruthlessly discriminate and have a separate "favorite period" for different art forms.

Anyway, let's get to the results. I've uploaded the dataset here, where you can copy & paste the text into an Excel spreadsheet to play around with it yourself. I'm only using painters because the sculptors and architects don't have much available at AllPosters -- people want to buy prints of paintings, not of sculptures. Although I haven't used them in the analysis, I've still included the sculptors and architects in the raw data. This only excludes 12 of 111 artists, and they're pretty spread out across time periods.

As with composers, the agreement between encyclopedia writers and educated laymen is pretty close. Spearman's rank correlation between the HA score and the AllPosters score is rho = +0.58 (p less than 10^-6). As before, a fair amount (about 34%) of the variation in subjective valuations can be accounted for by variation in fundamental worth, but that still leaves plenty of room for hype to influence poster-buyers. Here is a plot of the two scores:

The two biggest outliers are Monet, who dominates the poster market but is considered second-tier in encyclopedias, and Michelangelo, who dominates encyclopedias but doesn't appear on many people's walls. This could be due to a lot of his work being sculpture and architecture. (None of the results are affected by counting Michelangelo as a sculptor / architect and removing his data-point from the analysis.) Picasso also gets a lot of coverage in encylopedias, while not attracting much attention from poster-buyers.

As with Schoenberg among composers, this may suggest that Murray's decision to use 1950 as a cut-off was still a bit too late to fully remove the effects of hype. Still does a very good job, given that only a couple of probably over-rated Moderns have P/E ratios that say they're actually under-rated (e.g., Picasso, Max Ernst, de Chirico).

The clearest case of a painter who is very eminent is encyclopedias but fairly neglected by the lay public is Raphael -- his HA score is 73, while his AllPosters score is 23. Most people my age wouldn't even recognize him, were it not for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him. For fun, here are the top 10 under-valued and over-valued painters, where hype increases as you go down either list:

Top 10 under-valued painters

Pol de Limbourg
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Max Ernst
Giorgio de Chirico
Piet Mondrian
Hugo van der Goes
Martin Schongauer
Frans Hals

Top 10 over-valued painters

Marc Chagall
Fra Angelico
Henri Rousseau
Edgar Degas
Camille Pissarro
Salvador Dali
Vincent Van Gogh
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Claude Monet

And as we saw with composers, the P/E ratios of painters are highly skewed, with most painters being under-rated and a tiny handful who are blown out of proportion. As before, a log-normal (or maybe exponential) distribution probably underlies the pattern. Here is the distribution, where the average is 0.4:

Finally, here is a look at how P/E ratios vary based on when the painter flourished:

Just as with composers, those painters who flourished in the second half of the 19th C are the most over-valued. In a response to my composers post, Steve Sailer suggested that the time series showed that Western music reached its pinnacle during the Late Romantic period, perhaps because it was more profound than what he considers the daintier Classical-era music. But the painters who are responsible for inflating the hype of late-19th-C painting cannot be said to represent the perfection of technique, the profound rather than the light, and so on. These are the Impressionists and some Post-Impressionists, after all -- not their Academic contemporaries like Bouguereau. The only commonality with their musical contemporaries is a preference for expression, emotion, and well, the impressionistic.

So, there are two explanations for the over-valuation of late-19th-C music and painting: 1) there is currently an irrational fashion bubble for that time period -- it had to be some period, so why not that one? The bubble would encompass the entire zeitgeist, regardless of whether the different parts of it represented the pinnacle of art in their respective media. Or 2) the art-consuming public is more sentimental than judges of art, so that the public tends to over-value time periods that gave greater emphasis to the emotions per se, independent of their artistic merit or the profundity of emotion expressed.

This second explanation includes all class-based explanations, such as the one that says that academics favor aristocratic art, while the lay public is mostly upper-middle class professionals who have a weak spot for the high point of art consumed by the bourgeoisie. It was the new merchant class, remember, that was responsible for cleaning up the lurid spots left by the aristocratic and lower classes -- ending public hangings (and then hangings altogether), campaigning for animal rights, looking upon duels and other fights as barbaric rather than civilized, and so on. So we could just be seeing a class phenomenon, given that the middle class is more sentimental.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Measuring whether an artist is under- or over-valued   posted by agnostic @ 4/07/2009 12:24:00 AM

The concept of price-to-earnings ratio can be extended to anything that has an objective, fundamental value and a subjective value that people give to the thing -- assuming these can be measured, however crudely. The ratio gets bigger when the price goes up while the thing is still generating the same amount of earnings, or when it generates less earnings while being priced the same. So, larger values of this ratio mean that the thing is overhyped, while smaller values mean it's overlooked.

When lots of instances of the same thing are over-hyped, and when this over-hyping steadily increases for a stretch of time, we have a bubble. When people wake up to reality and the P/E ratio plummets, the bubble bursts. See the first graph in the Wikipedia link above for stock market data that show this relationship. These bubbles are counter-examples to the efficient-market hypothesis, which holds that prices already contain all known information about the stock -- or, say, the house. Under the hypothesis, a smarty-pants could not predictably outperform the stock (or housing) market, since they can't know anything that everyone else does not already know. But in reality, people who didn't believe the hype about houses, such as hedge fund manager Steve Eisman, got rich by betting that everyone else was nuts.

Below the fold, I develop a rough P/E ratio for Western composers, calculate it for 69 eminent ones, and discuss some applications.

For the measurement of the composer's fundamental value, I use his score in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment, which measures how much space he is given across a wide variety of music encyclopedias -- how deserving he is. It's true that article writers could be in the midst of an irrational bubble for Beethoven and devote more space to him than he merits, but by using encyclopedias across many different languages and time periods, Murray protected as much as possible against this bias. He also excluded figures who flourished in the second half of the 20th C, just in case article writers were still affected by a recent bubble.

For the measurement of the public's subjective valuation of the composer, I use the number of results returned from a search of his name in the "classical" section of Amazon's music section. (This is the name listed under "composer" in the work's webpage.) Unlike the number of Google results, the number of works offered for sale is a good measure of how much hype the composer enjoys among real consumers of classical music. I normalize these results by dividing by the maximum number of results (which happens to be for Mozart) and multiplying by 100, to put it on a 0 - 100 scale, as with the HA scores.

The measurement of how under- or over-valued a composer is, the P/E ratio, is just the scaled Amazon score divided by the HA score. Higher P/E scores suggest he is over-hyped -- if two composers have the same amount of space devoted to them by those in the best position to objective judge the composers' excellence, the one with many more works being offered enjoys the influence of hype. And so does the composer who has the same number of works being offered as another, but who has much less space devoted to him in encyclopedias.

One drawback here is that, unlike the P/E ratio for stocks or houses, the two parts of the ratio aren't measured in the same units, or even close -- they are a scaled measure of column inches and a scaled measure of works being offered. So the ratio here doesn't have an intuitive interpretation. But if we just want to see who's over- and under-valued, that doesn't matter.

I calculated this P/E ratio for anyone in Murray's list of Western composers who scored 10 or above on his 0 to 100 scale, which yielded 69 data-points. To see all composers' data, you can download the spreadsheet here by clicking on view data and copying & pasting (as text) into an Excel file. Briefly, though, for fun here are the 10 most under- and over-valued composers, where the P/E ratio increases as you go down each list. (Thus, Willaert suffers the least from hype, and Puccini the most.) Bear in mind that "over-valued" does not mean "junk," and "under-valued" does not mean "awesome" -- only that the composer is given too much attention, or too little.

10 most under-valued composers

Adrian Willaert
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Anton Webern
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume Dufay
Arnold Schoenberg
Josquin des Prez
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Orlande de Lassus

10 most over-valued composers

Johannes Brahms
Camille Saint-Saens
Charles Gounod
Giuseppe Verdi
Edvard Grieg
Antonio Vivaldi
Antonin Dvorak
Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Georges Bizet
Giacomo Puccini

Despite the presence of hype, though, the Amazon score and HA score agree pretty well with each other, as you see here:

The Spearman rank correlation between the two scores is +0.53 (p less than 10^-6). So, to some degree, the greater the esteem from encyclopedists, the more works are offered for sale. Still, differences in HA scores only account for under 30% of the variation in Amazon popularity, leaving plenty of room for the influence of hype.

And do the P/E scores form a bell-shaped normal distribution? No. The average is 0.73 -- about what Domenico Scarlatti scores -- but most of the data are below this, and less above it. The graph below shows this skewed distribution, where most composers are actually rather under-valued and a handful are fairly over-hyped.

I don't have Amazon scores going back years -- or even one year -- so I can't make a series similar to the one that shows rising P/E ratios as the stock market enters a bubble, and declining values when the bubble bursts. I could find how many articles JSTOR contains that mention the composer, and measure this for all 69 composers across the years, and re-scale them by dividing by the maximum score in each year. But I'm not that interested in this topic, so I've done something a little different to detect bubbles.

Murray also includes the year that each composer flourished -- i.e., when he turned 40 -- and I've plotted each composer's P/E score for the year he flourished. This allows us to see if composers from one time period are more or less over-hyped compared to those of another:

The composers of the pre-Classical periods (Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque) are below-average in hype. Classical composers are average or a bit below, and the early Romantics are also about average. However, the late Romantics are vastly over-hyped. The Moderns are all over the place, although none is very over-hyped. It could be, though, that for the Moderns, an "overlooked" composer could have an unjustifiably high HA score, if Murray's article writers were not yet distanced enough to avoid the effects of recent manias for Modern composers.

As a non-music buff, I feel my pedestrian tastes have been vindicated, as I've never gotten into the late Romantic period, but have always loved the Baroque most, then Classical, and even some early Romantic stuff. I have some catching up to do with Medieval and Renaissance composers, though. Culture mavens tell me that Baroque music is considered too nerdy and mostly suited for guy consumption, while the Romantics appeal more to normal people and women. So, music that appeals to more emotional people is over-valued, while music that appeals to more cerebral people is under-valued. This confirms that over-hyping something and an irrational, emotional mindset go hand-in-hand.

On the topic of bubbles, Murray mentions that you do see fashion cycles, or booms and busts, in the percentage of an orchestra's output that comes from a particular composer -- e.g., that Bach might be very popular one year and decline for the next, say, 10 years. This is despite the fact that the aesthetic value of his work -- however we measure it -- hasn't changed.

I think this argues against the cultural version of the efficient-market hypothesis. The public valuation of a composer may capture plenty of information about his fundamental worth, but there's a lot that's left out, such as the strong chance that a composer with a high P/E ratio owes some of his popularity to a bubble mindset among consumers.

There are plenty of other cases you can apply this approach to, not to mention further refinements in looking at composers. What I'd really like to see is an objective measure of female celebrities' attractiveness -- say, by plugging measurements of their face, body, etc., into a regression equation -- and compare this against the number of results returned in a Google Image search for their name. I predict Angelina Jolie would score in the far-over-hyped range, Monica Bellucci in the average range of hype, and Jean Shrimpton in the over-looked range.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

The boy trade in China   posted by Razib @ 4/04/2009 10:16:00 AM

Rural China's Hunger for Sons Fuels Traffic in Abducted Boys. As I've mentioned before sex preferences can change, Japan shifted from sons to daughters around 1990, while South Korea has flipped more recently. In the United States heterosexual couples prefer to adopt daughters. In the realm of anecdotes my mother told me how a cousin of mine in Bangladesh was somewhat disappointed when she had a son because the family (her husband & parents) was hoping for a daughter. She is a professional in her mid-30s and assumes this will be her only child. The rationale given was that if you don't have many children then daughters are more likely to be attentive to their elderly parents. From a perspective where you balance offspring's risk vs. rewards one could make the argument that for parents who want to minimize the likelihood of having a "problem child," a daughter is the way to go. The dynamic in China is interesting because I was to understand that because of the presumed biological nature of patrilineality implicit in Confucian thought there was traditionally relatively little adoption in China (or Korea). The utilization of adoption to continue the family line shows the strength of the cultural pressures, and is well attested in many societies (in Adam Bellow's In Praise of Nepotism he makes the claim that the early Church's campaign against the common classical practice of adoption was materially driven by the reality that families without male heirs were a source of wealth through posthumous bequests).


Monday, March 16, 2009

Ethnic America, 1830   posted by Razib @ 3/16/2009 12:58:00 PM

One of the most frustrating things about modern American models of ethnicity is that they are so focused on the racial aspect, and to a lesser extent on the white ethnics who arrived after 1840. Albion's Seed is great because it elucidates in such detail the different British strains which settled the Americas, but unfortunately it doesn't push the story beyond the colonial period. Other works of history hint at the fissures in Anglo-America, but few explore the divisions explicitly. The political ramifications of race, or the arrival of the Irish, are relatively prominent in the public consciousness, but I think it is arguable that the differences between the Puritans and Scots-Irish have had a more important effect on the trajectory of the American republic and our history. From page 50 of Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War:
Northern-born settlers (and more particulary New Englanders) and Southern-born migrants had distinct work habits and their own approaches to entrepenurial activities. Michael Chevalier, a French official who came to America in the 1830s to study pblic works, remarked upon the differences: "In a village in Missouri, by the side of a house with broken windows, dirty in its outward appearance, around the door of which a parcel of ragged children are quarreling and fighting, you may see another, freshly painted, surrounded by a simle, but neat and nicely whitewashed fence, with a dozen of carefully trimmed trees about it, and through the windows in a small room shining with cleanliness you may espy some nicely combed little boys and some young girls dressed in almost the last Paris fashion. Both houses belong to farmers, but one of them is from North Carolina and the other from New England."

This vignette is simply an illustration of scattered quantitative data you see in some of these works. In short New Englanders were wealthier, more well educated and more fertile than immigrants to the West from the South. Because of easier movement up the Mississippi-Ohio valley the original settlers in much of the Midwest were of Southern origin; but with the opening of the Erie canal and the rise of the Great Lakes economy fertile and industrious Yankees added much of the northern Midwest to Greater New England. Much of American history can easily be modeled as a clash of civilizations.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

The decline, or at least shift in focus, of neoconservative foreign policy?   posted by agnostic @ 2/08/2009 02:51:00 PM

On the topic of Razib's atonement for war-blogging, at my personal blog I showed a decline in the media's coverage of terrorism and of the individuals and groups involved in 9/11. How much broader does this pattern apply? Here I show similar rises and falls in the coverage of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as other neoconservative ideals like spreading democracy.

First, media coverage of Iraq and Saudi Arabia from 1981 to 2008:

In the early-mid '80s, Saudi Arabia receives noticeably more coverage. Only in 1987 does Iraq take the lead. There are obvious spikes during the Gulf War and the recent occupation of Iraq, although the elites seem to care less and less about it, thank god. 2008 in particular saw a perceptible drop compared to the previous three years. Note that in the wake of 9/11, Saudi Arabia received hardly any coverage, while all the attention was on Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.

Next, the changing prevalence in the national discourse of two neocon buzzwords:

These two graphs look very similar, and Spearman's rank correlation between the two is +0.69 (p two-tailed = 0.0004). This confirms that they're just two facets of a larger phenomenon, namely the rationalizations that supporters gave for invading Iraq, tracking down every last disgruntled Muslim, and so on. These peak in 2005 - 2006 and have sharply declined since, though they're still at post-9/11 levels.

And just for yuks, here's a graph showing the rise and fall of the fad word "Islamofascism" and its variants:

Taken together with the data I presented on my personal blog about the declining coverage of terrorism in general, and of Bin Laden and related groups, this should give us hope. You figure that in about 5 years, our obsession with the worthless sandboxes of the world will have burned out of elite culture. Still, this doesn't mean we won't find some other hellhole to fight over, prolonging the 21st C. version of the risibly pointless Scramble for Africa. But it's somewhat promising that we might soon get back to focusing on the parts of the world that matter.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

City upon a Hill   posted by Razib @ 12/28/2008 09:38:00 AM

Samuel Huntington died yesterday. Though famous for his Clash of Civilizations thesis, more recently he argued for an emphasis on the reality that this (the United States) is an Anglo-Protestant country. But I think that this assertion needs to clarified to a finer grained scale. In Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, the author makes the claim that the culture of the United States is a synthesis of four strands of colonial settlers; New England Puritans, the Lowland Southerners (e.g., Tidewater Planters), the Highland Southerners (i.e., the Scots-Irish of Appalachia) and the polyglot peoples of the Mid-Atlantic (e.g., Quakers of Philadelphia, Dutch Patroons of New York and Swedes of Delaware, etc.). After reading quite a bit of American history, especially the period between 1600 and 1850, I think that over the long haul the concrete political and social realities of America owe much more to New England than the other regions.  After I came to this conclusion (which I will flesh in more detail later), I couldn't help but note that today New England isn't included in the "Real America."


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yankees, Irish Catholics and the McCain Belt   posted by Razib @ 11/20/2008 03:35:00 PM

One of the implicit assumptions of a book like Albion's Seed is the "First Settler Effect," (FSE) whereby the groups which originally settle a region have a disproportionate effect on its cultural character in perpetuity. Obviously there are boundary conditions, the first settlers might be totally replaced demographically rapidly, or, superseded by a cultural complex which views itself as dominant and superior. But in the cased of the United States the best illustration of FSE is linguistic dialect. In New England the tendency to drop the final "r" in words like "car" (non-rhoticity) is a South English linguistic development, and is traced to the East Anglia bias of the original Puritan settlers. This tendency is today strongest in the regions around Boston. Of course, this is probably the area where the Irish Catholics overwhelmed the Yankee Protestants to the greatest extent, showing the strength of FSE ("r" was kept longer, or, is, in Irish and Scottish English, making the illustration of FSE symmetrically persuasive in this case).

But many of the arguments in favor of FSE are rather impressionistic. They are impressions filtered through the eyes of historians, though sometimes they are backed up by quantitative data (New England remains the smartest American region, as it was in 1700). Luckily for us, New England is one of the Census Divisions in the GSS, and so one can explore the differences between Protestants and Catholics, which would roughly map onto the division between original stock and later white ethnic immigrants, and compare them to the McCain Belt whites. Like New England, the East South Central Division of the GSS regions is nice and compact, and correspondences with a relatively homogeneous cultural area.

What are the religious breakdowns of New Englanders?

Religion %

Protestant 30.2
Catholic 53.8
Jewish 3.9
None 11.9

This looks about right checking with the Pew Religious Survey. I'm not totally sure about the representativeness of the GSS in terms of within New England balance, but since I'm interested in comparing New England Protestants and Catholics and McCain Belt whites I'm not too worried.

Earlier I said that the proportion of people with "No Religion" in New England probably was going to be disproportionately Yankee. I'm not so sure. The two tables below have rows which add up to 100% for religion and ancestry respectively.

% Protestant % Catholic % None
England & Wales 33.6 4.4 14.9
Germany 13.7 3.9 7.0
Ireland 9 24.1 19.1
Italy 3.7 21.1 9.5
Scotland 6.9 1.3 5.7
French Canada 4.9 17.8 5.8

% England & Wales % Ireland % Italy % Scotland % French Canada
Protestant 70.8 15.1 7.9 60.5 12.3
Catholic 17 73.4 82.3 20.1 81.9
None 11.1 11.3 2.7 17.5 5.2

If the Irish and English & Welsh are the canonical white ethnics vs. Yankees, it seems secularization hit them both to the same extent. Since 88% of whites in the East South Central Division are self-identified Protestant, I won't even give a breakdown by religion for that region. From now on I'll refer to Yankee for Protestant New Englander, and White Ethnic, for Catholic New Englander, and the McCain Belt. Remember that I'm excluding those who put religion down as "None" for New England.

Instead of an impression based on impressions, I went through the GSS and looked at a host of variables. Some of them might not be surprising to you (WORDSUM score), and some of them more so (# of sex partners since 18). The point was to collect a lot of disparate data, spanning explicit and implicit cultural markers. I tried excluding any question where N was smaller than 100 for any category, though some of the questions have N's bigger than 1,000. On some characters New Englanders cluster together against McCain Belt Whites. On other characters Yankees and McCain Belt Whites custer together against White Ethnics. Finally, there are cases where White Ethnic cluster with McCain Belt whites against Yankees. In many (most it seems to me) cases the pattern seems to be McCain Belt Whites at one end, Yankees at the other, and White Ethnics in the middle, and more often than not, closer to Yankees than McCain Belt Whites.

The cases where the White Ethnics are outgroups can I think be chalked up to aspects of Roman Catholicism and the immigrant culture which make them unique vis-a-vis the other two groups, who are old line Protestant stock. Sometimes, as in abortion on demand, I suspect that the White Ethnics are more conservative than Yankees because of their Catholicism, but they still remain more liberal than McCain Belt conservatives. On the balance, I would say that FSE is plausible and supported by these data, even though Yankees did not turn White Ethnics into Catholic Yankees, they did change their outlook or standard reference point a considerable amount (i.e., they may be socially conservative and emphasize education to a lower extent than Yankees, but they are far more liberal and more educated than McCain Belters. In some cases it seems likely that White Ethnics and Yankees evolved together over time as one regional culture, so I don't know if one can say that similarities are always due to FSE as such, though I would argue that contingency means that the original Yankee culture loaded the die in turns of future developmental paths.

A little history is warranted at this point. Around 30,000 whites settlers arrived in New England during the 17th century, but 75% arrived in the period between 1630-1640. Most of the derives from this decade and entered into a period of population growth unrivaled in the New World. The next major wave of immigrants were of course the Catholic Irish. Italians and Quebecois are also significant segments of the White Ethnic population. In sharp contrast to the Puritans, who were screened for education and skills to produce the world's first universal literacy middle class society, the white ethnics came from contexts where they were much lower on the social ladder. The Irish and Italians were classical European peasant populations who lacked the bourgeois sensibilities of the Puritans.

In the McCain Belt the dominant ethnicity is Scots-Irish, broadly construed. They generally arrived in the 18th century into the port of Philadelphia and expanded through the Southern Uplands, driving all the way to the Gulf of Mexico by the early 19th century. A secondary element consisted of migrants from the Southern lowlands, from the Tidewater down to the Carolinas. From these groups the small planter minority emerged. But demographically the former are more important, and represent the heart of the McCain Belt white culture.

Collecting these data was tedious. I expect comments to not be tedious.

Clicking on any of the phrases below will result in an image of the chart below

Abortion On Demand, Affirmative Action, Aged Should Live With Children, Drinks Alcohol, Allow Anti-Religion Book in Library, Allow Anti-Religionist To Speak, Allow Communist To Speak, Allow Doctors To Assist Death, Allow Racist Books In Library, Allow Racists To Speak, Amount Of Sex Within Last Year, Attendance (Religion), Ban Prayer In School, Beaten As Child Or Adult, Belief In Life After Death, Concern About Racial Issues, Confidence In Education, Confidence In Existence Of God, Confidence In Financial Institutions, Confidence In Military, Confidence In Organized Religion, Confidence In Science, Courts Dealing With Criminals, # Of Children, Disparate Racial Outcomes Inborn, Divorced, Educational Level, Ever Smoked, Extramarital Sex, Favor Law Against Interracial Marriage, Federal Income Tax Rate, Gun Permits, Had Affair While Married, Homosexuality Wrong, Hours Watching TV, How Fundamentalist, How Often Read Newspaper, How Often Spend Evenings With Relatives, How Often Spend Time With Neighbors, How Often You Pray, Human Evolution, Hunt?, Ideal Number Of Children, Life Exciting?, Liking For England, Liking For Israel, Birth Control For Teens, Make Divorce Laws Easier, Males Who Have Paid For Sex, Marijuana Legal, Marital Status, Marriage Happy, Money Spent On Blacks, Money Spent On Education, Money Spent On , Money Spent On Environment, Money Spent On Mass Transit, Money Spent On Military, Money Spent On National Parks, Money Spent On Roads, Money Spent On Space Program, Money Spent On , Mother Working Doesn't Hurt Children, Own Or Rent, Owns Gun, People Can Be Trusted, People Are Selfish, Political Views, Vocab Score (rough proxy for intelligence), Seen Porn In Past Year, Sex Partners Since 18 Female, Sex Partners Since 18 Male, Spanking Appropriate, Threatened Within Gun Or Shot At, Warm Feelings Toward Jews, World Is Evil, Wrong To Cheat On Taxes, Years In Armed Forces


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No more love for Modernist authors?   posted by agnostic @ 11/18/2008 09:14:00 PM

Previously I looked at changing fashions in academic theories and their associated buzzwords, using the articles archived in JSTOR as a sample: see part 1, part 2, and part 3. What about the thing that arts & humanities academics are supposed to study -- the text itself? I mean, the vulgar consuming public may flit from one "it" author to the next, but surely academics are above such fickleness?

Most of them are happy to admit that they don't make grand claims about Truth -- that's only what us evil science people do. But they don't freely admit to being driven mostly by a blind adherence to fashion -- whatever they're showing in Paris this season -- and it's time to strike back at them for this, after that knuckle-rapping they tried to give us in the '90s. Again, I've already showed how fashion works in their theories -- now it's time to show that their consumption patterns (i.e., which authors or artists they read and analyze) are also driven by fashion.

Here is a graph using only English-language articles and reviews from the "Language and Literature" category of journals in JSTOR:

The search terms were the authors' surnames, except for Jane Austen, whose full name I searched. This presents no problem for Proust and Kafka, although Joyce is a bit more common as a surname. We don't have to worry about Joyce Carol Oates, as she became popular when James Joyce was declining in popularity. Still, it's clear that the order-of-magnitude increase in "Joyce" is due to James Joyce, as no one else with that name was so popular among professors.

The graph starts at 1915 because 1914 is, according to an arts-major legend, the year that Modernism was born. I included Jane Austen for comparison. Even a traditional author like she shows ups and downs, although her popularity does not oscillate nearly as wildly as it does for the Modernists. She is clearly less popular than they are, though.

From the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s, Joyce and Proust are neck and neck, but in the post-WWII period, Joyce has always been more popular -- for christ's sake, fully 10% of all Lang & Lit articles refer to him during 1970 - 1990. Even scientists were savvy enough to know that he was the guy you named something after just to prove how clever and initiated you were.

Kafka is only slightly less popular than Proust -- which I find surprising, since Proust would seem to have much greater snob appeal, Kafka being the emo band whose posters you plastered your walls with in high school, but who you loudly deny ever having liked once you're a grown-up. Unfortunately I can't easily tell where these articles are coming from -- are the upper crust of arts departments writing mostly about Proust and Joyce, while the reject departments with no friends write mostly about Kafka and Salinger? I have no intuition here, so arts people, feel free to weigh in.

At any rate, we see that, just as with their theoretical badges, academics make their consumption a fashion symbol too. Between 1935 and 1945, the three Modernists begin to soar in popularity, but somewhere between 1955 and 1965 they hit diminishing returns, peak around 1975, and get tossed out after that. Note that this is not due to the rise of Postmodernism -- that only got started in the mid-1970s and was big in the 1980s and '90s. Already by 1965, Modernist authors saw their growth slow down. Besides, Postmodernism was attacking the assumptions of another group of academics, rather than attacking a group of authors, painters, or musicians.

The data only go up through 2001. Just eyeballing it, it's conceivable that by 2025, these three Modernists won't be given more respect than established authors like Jane Austen, and of course some may see their popularity plummet further to zero. This is a separate question from their artistic merit, obviously. For example, here's some insight into the popularity of Shakespeare in Samuel Pepys' London:

[A]nd then to the King's Theatre, where we saw "Midsummer's Night's Dream," which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.

A devil's advocate would say that academics gradually stopped writing about these authors because they'd exhausted what there is to say about them. But that's not true: the trajectories are too similar. They just happened to decide "we've gotten all we can" from all three authors at more or less the same time? That sounds, instead, like they just grew bored of the Modernists in general and only wore them out to formal events where they're de rigueur, rather than show them off to every stranger they chatted up at a cocktail party, academic conference, or public restroom.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Englanders, the culture-dominant minority?   posted by Razib @ 11/16/2008 06:26:00 PM

Cultural Regions of the United States came out in the 1970s, so it is a little dated in terms of "contemporary" observations. For example, the author obviously didn't internalize the long-term impact of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, as he posited that because of fertility rate differences between traditionalist Quebec and progressive New England the latter region would eventually be inundated by immigrants from the former. Despite the large numbers of French (Quebecois) Americans along the northern periphery of New England the ethnic flood never occurred because of the convergence of cultural mores and birthrates between the two regions. But the data and interpretation of 19th century America in the book remain valuable.

One of the obvious inferences that can be made from the data is that New Englanders shaped the culture and polities of many regions of the United States where they were a minority. Boston was self-consciously the Athens of America. Not only does this region have many elite universities, but the more prominent state institutions such as the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin were started in part by Yankees who valued these sorts of public investments. The role of New Englanders in primary education throughout the United States is well known, Puritan America may have been the world's first universally literate society, and they were intent on spreading this trait across every group into the United States.

Though New Englanders were often outnumbered by later waves of immigration from the Upland South (e.g., Scots-Irish), as in the Pacific Northwest's Willamette Valley or Northern California, they were overrepresented among the intelligentsia and captains of industry. In the western Upper Midwest Yankees were absorbed by a sea of Northern European immigration, but for several generations they retained a hold on the cultural and capital classes. One might contend that many of the complaints about the "brainwashing" which occurs at elite universities of bright but impressionable young men and women is simply the latest manifestation of the conflict between numerically superior Middle America and the elitist New England outlook (even outside of New England, see Leland Stanford's biography).

Here's a table from page 209:

Nativity in 1850

State of residence Own State Old Northwest New England Middle Atlantic South Europe
Ohio 64% 0% 3% 15% 8% 10%
Indiana 53% 14% 1% 8% 18% 6%
Illinois 41% 13% 4% 13% 15% 13%
Michigan 35% 5% 8% 38% 1% 14%
Wisconsin 21% 8% 9% 26% 2% 35%

There's an important note to this table, a disproportionate number of those from the "Middle Atlantic" are from areas of upstate New York which were settled from New England, so the proportions for New England are large underestimates. You can see that even in 1850 the general cultural outline of many states was established. In Wisconsin and Minnesota the original Yankee stock paled in comparison to the numbers of Scandinavians and Germans. Far less of this would occur in Michigan, and some immigrant groups such as the Dutch in southwest portion of the state had folkways very similar to those of the Yankees from New England. Some states, such as Illinois and Ohio, were bisected between a northern and southern half where migrants from different areas of the United States settled. In contrast, Indiana was settled mostly from neighboring regions of the South.

Here's a map of female white life expectancy:

Source: 8 Americas


Saturday, November 15, 2008

American Culture regions   posted by Razib @ 11/15/2008 10:49:00 PM

As a supplement of some of my posts, I've stitched together some maps from American Ethnic Geography. It should make everything clearer (the Midland region might some incoherent to you, but most of the Scots-Irish disembarked around Philadelphia and pushed inland and then expanded throughout the Upland South)....


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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Different American conservatisms: Mormons and Southerners   posted by Razib @ 11/13/2008 08:27:00 PM

puritans.jpgA few friends have emailed me some objections to the four culture model of american history. In short, though New England Puritans, Highland South Scotch-Irish and Lowland South Cavaliers are reasonable cultural entities which are easy to put a finger on, the Mid-Atlantic is a hodge-podge which to a great extent is simply thrown in a bin together for simplicity. In 1750 Pennsylvania was the first American colony where people of British descent became a minority. This sort of diversity makes it rather peculiar to speak of a Mid-Atlantic cultural folkway in which Germans, Dutch, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Swedes and Long Island Yankees can be thrown together into one pot. It's somewhat like assigning the term "environmental" to all the components of variance in quantitative genetics of a phenotype which can not be attributed to genetics. You know what it isn't, but what is it?

But that's just an aside. You might infer from the image above that the point of this post is not to explore what the term "Mid-Atlantic" can tell us in any model of social history. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of American coalitional politics which might be of interest in the next 4 years: Mormon America is a representative of the New England Puritan cultural tradition in "Red America." A map is going to be more informative here than words.

yankeemap.jpgWhen I say Mormons are "Puritan," I'm not saying this as a figure of speech; Mormon America is to a great extent both a direct cultural and genetic descendant of New England Puritanism! The proportion of "English" ancestry in Mormon America is somewhat exaggerated by the fact that missions were sent to England and so you had direct migrants from Europe to Utah. But this can't explain the whole of the phenomenon, American Mormonism began as a religion of Greater New England. First in upstate New York, and later in northern Ohio. Its relocation to the Midwest was problematic for a host of reasons, but the fact that they were often neighbors of people whose origins were in the South and they were quite clearly Yankees probably exacerbated tensions.

Mormonism is a very communitarian religion, not unexpected from a faith with Puritan origins. Mormon settlements in Utah were laid out like New England towns, as opposed to isolated yeoman farmsteads. Brigham Young socialized water usage to optimally allocate resources for irrigation. A tendency toward campaigns for temperance and high fertility were features of New England society. Mormons are famously fertile (relatively) and do not drink. In Wisconsin administrators preferred Yankee settlers because they were more likely to be willing to raise money for pubic goods such as schools than migrants from the South. Mormons may be low-tax Republicans, but those in good standing tithe a very large proportion of their income obligately in their private life (10% from what I recall), while the church runs itself like a corporation which has economies of scale.

Unlike evangelical Christians in the South, Mormons do not acceptwith resignation that many youth may "raise hell" before settling down. Mormons do not accept the Protestant contention that salvation is through faith alone. Behavior matters. Social pathologies and the personal disorder which has been a feature of Southern cultural life since its inception are not features of Mormon America, which reflects Puritan fixation on public order as a check on private liberty.

Over the past generation Mormons and Southern Protestants have entered into a de facto alliance because of their social traditionalism. The recent controversy over Proposition 8 in California will likely result in even more esteem for the Mormon church from structurally suspicious evangelicals (they do not believe Mormons are Christian, and resent that they claim that they are Christian). In other ways Mormons have come to identify themselves with conservative Protestant America, which to a great extent means Southern America. There are data which show that while 70% of Brigham Young University students rejected Creationism in 1930, 70% now accept it. I believe this is due to cultural influence from evangelical Protestantism, with whom Mormons are now politically allied.

But I believe that the differences between Puritan Mormon America and Southern evangelical America need to be kept in mind. Some of Mitt Romney's supporters were irritated that some conservative kingmakers (e.g., Richard Land) were leaning to Fred Thompson because of cultural affinities. Culture matters. Mormons may be aligned with the South, but the alliance will always play out in the framework of differences in cultural priors. Mitt Romney is a social conservative, and likely was before he had to lie to become governor of Massachusetts. But he is not a Southern social conservative, and that matters, and when he pretended to be he seemed phony.

Addendum: One can encapsulate what I'm trying to get at by considering an even more extreme case: Jews & black Americans. These two groups are most Left-leaning and Democratic demographics in American society, but, they obviously aren't equivalent and there are qualitative differences in their liberalism. This doesn't mean that the position of both these groups on the American Left is in question, but there will always be a tension within the alliance.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

The four culture model of American history   posted by Razib @ 11/06/2008 05:04:00 PM

The McCain Belt:
So, why did McCain do best, relative to George W. Bush in 2004, in states like #1. Tennessee, #3. Arkansas, #5 Oklahoma, #7 West Virginia, #9 Kentucky, and #10 Alabama?

Here's a map by counties, with counties where McCain improved relative to GWB in 2004 the most shown in reddest red.

Before reading onward, can you figure out why this pattern exists?

Until recently I'll be honest and admit that I had very little interest in American history beyond what I learned in high school (in contrast to my interest in the Classical period or China, etc.). It seemed rather boring because we live in America, the history is all around us, and I could watch documentaries, etc. At least that was my logic, and it's not totally faulty. The problem is that our knowledge of American history which we obtain through direct experience as Americans is implicit, and we tend to lack clarity which would allow us to discern predictable dynamics. My ignorance combined with a lack of formal paradigm meant I simply wouldn't have noted the reemergence of familiar dynamics several times within the past few years.

David Hackett Fisher's Four Folkways aren't perfect, there's a lot you can quarrel with. But it adds a lot of value as a framework which you can use to understand the flows and patterns of American history; dynamics which we ourselves are seeing as a snapshot currently. Since most pundits are ignorant of course they'll miss the big picture. I don't know enough myself to really hazard much which would add value to anyone's understanding aside from what they might get from reading Albion's Seed or The Age of Lincoln. But...though I'm not being original, I think it is important to emphasize that much of the arc of American political history can be conceived of as a set of cyclical dynamics which are the product of alliances across the Four Folkways (the demographic weights of the Four Folkways in American society at a given time are obviously crucial). As an example, during the 1930s and in the early 19th century New England stood alone against the dominant American political configuration, steadfastly adhering to a minority party. In contrast, the 1850s and the current period seem to be witnessing a more equitable division as the two northern and southern folkways align with each other in a "50:50" nation.

I also think that it is important to emphasize that much of popular history which focuses on individuals and wars might not help you generate a good model of the past which has any utility for comprehending the present. The framework above would be implicit within a narrative, humans are embedded in a sociocultural matrix, but you might fail to discern any systematic pattern if you're focusing on the personalities. This is I think a problem with a lot of "pop history" in documentary form; "boring" cultural and economic parameters take a back seat (or are mentioned in passing) to interesting, but structurally trivial, personal epiphenoma (e.g., Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the 4th of July).

Note: An important issue to emphasize about the Four Folkways is that they may evolve so that the way in which they relate to each other changes over time. In 1800 New England was arguably the most socially conservative and evangelical Protestant part of the United States, while the lowland South was at the other end of the spectrum. It was no surprise at the time that the architects of American church-state separation were low country Virginia planters, while explicit state support and preference for a particular church lasted longest in New England. Obviously things have changed, but the point is that New England and the lowland South evolved as roughly discrete units over time due to local dynamics as well as parameters which effected the United States broadly. Even though the distribution of "New England" and the "South" in parameter space has changed as a function of time, they are still discernable discrete distributions.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Which countries does the NYT cover most and least?   posted by agnostic @ 10/26/2008 09:16:00 PM

Greg Cochran left the following comment in a Matt Yglesias blog entry:

What you need is a map of the world in which the sizes of the countries are adjusted to the number of column-inches they get in the New York Times and the Washington Post. I think it would be illuminating.

Well, I've done something close enough. I only looked at the NYT, and I made a bubble chart instead of one of those distorted cartograms. Also, I used number of articles rather than column inches -- but these must correlate highly. It's not as if Tonga gets a few 10,000-word articles, while Iraq gets many 50-word articles. At any rate, let's see what the results look like.

Here are the results for the 192 members of the United Nations. Move the mouse over an unlabeled blob to see who it is, or search for a specific country. The results cover 2000 to the present, and are standardized by dividing by the number of articles for the entire period. To ensure that the graphing algorithm would pick up order-of-magnitude differences, I multiplied the fractions -- which ranged in order from 10^(-5) to 0.1 -- by 10^5, so that they range in order from 1 to 10,000. Some countries I had to estimate rather than get the exact number, since their names are shared with other things, like Turkey (see Note).

The first thing you notice is a few big blobs and lots of tiny blobs, in accord with a Power Law. Rather than futz around with getting my pictures to post here, I'll simply list the frequency distribution, where the first column is the fraction of all NYT articles devoted to some country, binned by order of magnitude:


The one country in the 0.1 bin is the US. Everyone else is lucky to get something on the order of a percent in coverage. Still, the modal country gets mentioned on the order of once every thousand articles -- not too shabby if you're Qatar. Here is the full dataset, in case you want to download and play around with it yourself.

How do we infer the level of insanity in our foreign policy implied by these data? Looking at the countries from greatest to least emphasis, the low-ranking ones make sense -- they belong to the parts of the world you've never heard of, and will not have reason to hear about within your lifetime, such as Tuvalu and Bhutan.

But there are some funny ones at the top. For example, it takes the top 9 to discover all 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council. The remainder of the top 9 are Germany and Japan -- which at least are G8 countries -- but also Iraq and Israel. Speaking of the G8, it takes the top 12 to discover them, which adds another lesser country to this elite list -- Mexico (China is not G8 but is still important). Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan also rank pretty high.

This is a perfectly rational outcome -- our foreign policy may obsess over these places, but by placing criteria on them like "permanent member of UN Security Council" or "member of G8," we can see which ones don't deserve the attention. They represent the parts of the world, like Iraq, where we're wasting a bunch of money to squat over an over-glorified sandbox, hoping that our colonial piss will transform it into a lush oasis. Or they're the places, like Mexico, where we're importing a large illiterate peasant underclass from. This seems like a useful way to change our foreign policy: see who we're obsessed with, but who don't really matter, and cut them loose (relatively speaking).

By the way, the Many Eyes website has a global map feature, but it only allows an additive scale for bubble size, with the three smallest orders-of-magnitude collapsed into one bubble-size. So it didn't look very good. Maybe at some point I'll screen-capture the bubble chart, and cut and paste each bubble onto a picture of a world map, but that probably won't happen.

Note: I used the common English names for countries -- e.g., Syria rather than Syrian Arab Republic -- and made the following modifications to make sure I picked up the country rather than something else by that name:

Chad: added "Africa" to search
Georgia: added "Tbilisi" -- probably an undercount, but not my much
Guinea: subtracted "Equatorial Guinea," "Guinea-Bissau," and things like "guinea pig"
Jordan: added "Israel" -- again, an undercount, but not by much
Palau: subtracted "Barcelona" and "Catalonia" (it means "palace" in Catalan)
Turkey: subtracted "Thanksgiving" -- probably an overcount, but not by much
United States: searched "America," and subtracted "Latin America," "South America," and "Central America"

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Increasing partisanship since the 1990s: more evidence   posted by agnostic @ 10/24/2008 02:56:00 AM

In the book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State (see Razib's review here and the book's blog here), the authors note that the two major political parties have become more polarized in various ways since the 1990s, even though the average voter hasn't changed much. Also, the key message of the book is that the red state - blue state culture war is mostly restricted to high-income, and to a lesser extent middle-income voters.

They searched some mainstream media outlets for the words "polarizing / polarization," as well as buzzwords for the cultural split like "NASCAR dad" and "soccer mom," and found that they either show up for the first time or increase during the early/mid-1990s and remain as high today. I've searched the NYT for "partisan," as well as a variety of newspapers for the pejorative "partisan hack," and they show the same pattern.

Here are the graphs:

For the first graph, I took the number of articles with "partisan" and standardized this by dividing by the number of articles with "the" -- basically, all articles. (The 2008 point is an estimate based on the year so far.) Aside from 1984, when there was a huge divide between the two presidential candidates, there is nearly no change from 1981 to 1991. However, in 1992, when the culture war begins to take center stage, the frequency increases to about twice as high as during the 1980s.

For the second graph, I did a Lexis-Nexis search for "partisan hack," a common culture war swear-word for what the other guy is. I included the 12 newspapers with the highest counts, and that covered most of the major papers as well as some lesser known ones (see full list below). Not being able to search the database for "the," I couldn't standardize these data, but they show the same pattern as above, so I doubt the year-to-year variation in total output explains it. Here is the total output per year for the NYT, for comparison. Again, the 2008 point is for the year so far.

Aside from a few jabs from The Imblerian in the early 1990s, the first time this phrase shows up is in 1994, and it spreads to an order of magnitude larger by the 2000s. Outside of newspapers, Lexis-Nexis returns a result from 1984 where a politician is quoted as calling another a partisan hack. So the term must have been invented before the 1990s, but surged during the culture war.

These data agree with the larger picture in the book: the topic of partisanship has become much more talked about since the 1990s, and the specific slander "partisan hack" has increased noticeably during the same time.

List of newspapers included in the Lexis-Nexis results: New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Boston Globe, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Star-Ledger, Richmond Times, Palm Beach Post, St. Petersburg Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Oregonian.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Uyghurs, Chinese Muslims, etc.   posted by Razib @ 10/13/2008 04:55:00 PM

Chinese Muslims, Uyghurs, have been in the news a bit. When I'm listening to them the radio I notice there's some confusion among some presenters as to the difference, if any, between Uyghurs and Chinese Muslims. Last spring I recall Chinese government mouthpieces basically make stuff up out of whole cloth about Tibet without any fluent rebuttal or challenge in the media, so it might be worthwhile to just clarify some issues here.

1) Uyghurs are Muslim

2) Most Muslims in China are not Uyghurs

3) A greater number of Muslims in China are Hui, Chinese dialect speaking Muslims (called Dungan in Central Asia)

4) Uyghurs as we know them today are to a great extent an artificial identity which served specific imperial and bureaucratic interests of the Russian, Chinese and Soviet states

The last is probably a bit confusing to you. In short who occurred in Central Asia in the 19th and the 20th centuries was that nation-empires sliced and diced various tribal and local level identities into discrete ethnicities. The broad substratum of sedentary peoples who spoke Turkic dialects from the Caspian to what is today Western China were traditionally bracketed under the appellation Sart. These peoples were often ruled by descendants of nomadic groups (they were to some extent sedentarized nomads themselves, though admixed with indigenous Indo-European elements), or, dominated by contemporary nomadic populations. The term "Uzbek" originally applied specifically to a ruling elite who conquered the sedentary populations after the decline of Timurlane's lineage in Central Asia. Russian ethnologists simply labeled all Turkic speaking peoples under Uzbek hegemony as Uzbeks; that is how all Turkish speaking peoples within the boundaries of the political borders of Uzbekistan became Uzbek. The Kazakh and Kirghiz populations were given national identities though these were in fact more realistically confederations of different tribes ("hordes") with minimal cross-linkages. The term Uyghur comes from an early medieval ethnic-political group which was hegemonic in the Tarim basin, but Uyghur identity had disappeared in this region with its more thorough Turkicization and Islamicization (the originally Uyghurs were Manichaean, though later they turned Buddhist, and their empre encompassed a far greater expanse than the Tarim Basin). There is a minor ethnic group in Central China which actually derives from the original Uyghurs, and is called by that name as well. By analogy, some Maronite Christians in Lebanon deny that they are Arabs and claim that they are descendants of the Phoenicians. Though this may be true, obviously there is little real cultural continuity between Phoenicians and Maronite Christians who speak Arabic and whose ancestors have likely spoken Arabic for ~1,000 years.

The above is just to make clear that if you scratch under the artificial construction of Uyghur national identity, you basically have Turkish speaking Muslims. In Sons of the Conquerors the author observes that Uyghur dissidents tend to congregate in Istanbul. This emphasizes the Pan-Turkic aspect of Uyghur nationalism, and in fact the Turkish dialect of the Uyghurs is intelligible with the Turkish spoke in Turkey. Just as the French authorities may tell the children of African immigrants about their "ancestors" the Gauls, so Uyghur elites have accepted the glorious past of the Uyghur nation (the early medieval Uyghur Empire was very influential in Chinese politics as foederati). On the other hand, ethnographic surveys suggest that non-elite Uyghurs have little Uyghur nationalist self-conception, and just identify as Muslims. To some extent this parallels what exists in Turkey between a Turkic and European identified secular elite, and non-elite segment which is Islamically oriented.

What gets more complicated when you talk about Chinese Muslims is that the most numerous group are Chinese speaking and physically and culturally resemble the Han majority. These are termed "Hui people," to denote the fact that they are conceived of as a national minority, and not necessarily a religion. That is, many Hui may be secular or atheistic, just as many Han are, but they will nevertheless retain a Hui self-conception. Unlike the Uyghurs the Hui have long been embedded in a Han Chinese cultural milieu. Their religious orientation obviously separates them from the Han, for it is understood that though a Han may be Christian, Buddhist or Daoist, a Han who accepts Islam becomes a Hui. Nevertheless, the Hui have traditionally been part of the Chinese national experience for nearly 1,000 years; the famous Ming admiral Zheng He was from a Hui Muslim background (though the extant evidence suggests he was not particularly orthodox in the way most Muslims would recongize and leaned toward the syncretistic orientation of the Han majority; a tendency which was probably common enough to explain rather widespread evidence of Hui in much of South China assimilating to Han society). This is in stark contrast to the Uyghur, who were generally outside the purview of Chinese cultural influence. Within the last 1,000 years when polities based out of China had power over what is now Xinjiang, those polities were not Chinese (e.g., the Mongol Yuan and the Manchus). Though the Manchu dynasty ruled as Confucian emperors within China proper, in Mongolia, Manchuria, Tibet and Turkic Central Asia they ruled as tribal warlords. By analogy, consider that the British Hanoverian dynasty ruled for nearly a century as kings of Great Britain but were the electors of Hanover, and so subjects for most of that period to the Hapsburg dynasty. In other words, for much of the Manchu period the rule over non-Chinese territories was one of personal fealty, not one of integration into the Chinese bureaucratic state.

This changed during the 19th century, and especially the 20th. A more direct attempt at rule of Xinjiang naturally led to resistance and rebellion. One of the more interesting ways that the Chinese central government attempted to integrate Xinjiang into the state was to use Hui, Chinese speaking Muslims, as proxies against Turkic Muslims. Though Hui groups in China proper revolted during the 19th century, in Central Asia they have often been seen to be tools of Chinese political and cultural hegemony. A disproportionate number of the Chinese settlers in Xinjiang, and merchants who trade in the former Soviet republicans of Central Asia, are Hui. While in China proper the Hui are a separate and distinct ethnic group with peculiar folkways (in many areas of China they are the only minority of appreciable numbers), in Turkic Central Asia their Chinese cultural characteristics become much more salient to both themselves and to other Muslims. Though with the rise of mass communication the religious Hui have become generally conventional Muslims, it is notable that during Islamic reformist revolts the Hui used Daoist motifs to motivate mass risings because that was the most efficient way to communicate to a Chinese speaking population with a Chinese sense of cultural history despite their religious distinctiveness.

All this is to clarify the point that anti-Chinese feeling in Xinjiang intersects with both religious and ethnic differences, and the existence of the Hui as a group whose relation to the Han majority is highly conditional on circumstances complicates the picture. Though the Hui are often at tension with the Han majorities among whom they live there is an established modus vivendi, facilitated in large part by the fact that linguistically and physically the Hui are no different than the Han (some Hui show evidence of their non-Chinese origins in their features, but these exemplars are actually outliers). The Han Chinese push into Xinjiang on the other hand brings to mind a different dynamic, while the Hui are Jews among gentiles, the Uyghurs are like the Sioux being encircled by homesteaders. Though Xinjiang has been under political rule of a China based government since the 18th century, for most of that period it was operationally indirect enough so that it had little effect on the average Uyghur peasant in the oases. Local Turkic elites served as intermediaries and proxies for the Manchu political elite, just as in China proper the Confucian bureaucracy administered the country under the direction of a non-Chinese military elite.

At this point numbers are hard to come by, but it is assumed that Han Chinese are probably a majority of the population of Xinjiang. But, an important point must be made that Xinjiang as a cultural-administrative unit is a creation of the Chinese government. During the 18th century the northern half of the province, Dzungharia, was populated predominantly by Buddhist Mongolian peoples. During a series of wars these regions were ethnically cleaned and Muslim Kazakhs and Uyghurs entered into this vacuum. It is in this region that the city of Urumqi is situated, and where most Han in Xinjiang reside. Until recently the heartland of the Uyghurs, the string of oases and cities around the Tarim Basin were spared large scale immigration by the Han (in part for reasons of lack of transportation). But with the completion of railroads all the way to Kashgar that isolation is ended and there are reports that the number of Han Chinese is now increasing. Naturally this will result in more ethnic conflict. Unlike in Tibet proper the elevation in Xinjiang is not so extreme as to make it physiologically uncomfortable for outsiders. On the other hand, like Alaska Xinjiang is strongly geared toward a resource extraction economy at this point, and it seems plausible that if the Chinese rate of growth decreases to a point which chokes demand somewhat then the net flow of settlement might reverse. But I suspect that that will only occur a generation from now when the development of China starts to approach a more stationary state.

Until then, it seems likely that the cities of the Tarim Basin where Uyghurs remain a majority, albeit a progressively marginalized majority, will be loci for conflict. Religion is often a very good way to mobilize, motivate and coalesce group identity, so it seems likely that the banner of Islamic resistance will come to the fore in future decades. But, it is important to remember that the Uyghurs are not the most numerous Muslim group in China, the Hui are, and the ultimate root of the conflict is probably less to do with religious differences as it does with the fact that the ethnic groups of China proper, the Han and the Hui, seem likely to dispossess the Turkic Muslim groups of Xinjiang in their own lands in the coming years.

Note: Numerical note. The Chinese census suggests that about 50% of the population of the traditionally Muslim nationalities in China are Hui, that is, Chinese speaking Muslims. 40% are Uyghur, with the balance being taken up mostly by other Central Asian groups. I say traditionally Muslim nationalities because it seems likely that a large percentage of the Hui are not religious believers, just as a large percentage of Han are not religious believers. Since they are tabulated as an ethnic group this is irrelevant to their identity as Hui. Now, consider if a subset of Hui become involved in radical transnational Islam which attempts to subborn the Chinese state; the fact that Hui identity is both ethnic and religious will come to the fore. Whatever issues that an atheist Hui might have as a perceived ethnic minority in Han China, it seems implausible that they would align themselves with the Islamic world over their identification with China, in particular since many of these Hui have abandoned Islamic ritual prescriptions in the compromises necessary to live in an urban milieu (think the orthodox Jews from Poland who arrived to America's shores to work in the textile factories and what not). In contrast, the non-Hui Muslims are far less well integrated into Chinese culture and are ill equipped to piggy-back upon the rise of the Chinese economy. Additionally, anecdotally I've read reports which suggest that the Uyghurs are generally practicing Muslims, to a far greater extent than the Turks of the former Soviet republics. So a "buy in" to some abstract pie-in-the-sky Caliphate seems much more plausible from that sector.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Graphs on the rise of scientific approaches to humanity   posted by agnostic @ 9/29/2008 02:16:00 AM

Well, with the first post and a response to criticisms out of the way, I'll conclude with the graphs on some ideas that are gaining in popularity in the study of mankind. Where it says "social sciences," I've only searched JSTOR for the following journal categories: anthropology, economics, education, political science, psychology, and sociology. The social sciences, basically. (And I've used appropriate neutral comparisons as before.) The reason is that if "heritability" increases in usage, that could be due to its use in genetics -- I want to see how popular it is when talking about humans. (As before, graphs have simple titles, while the full search terms are listed in an Appendix.)

Contrary to what you might think, since about 1950 academics have become increasingly interested in the genetic influence on human nature, reversing a period of decline from roughly 1930 to 1950. There is also an apparent cyclical pattern on top of the increasing trend. Just make sure you refer to the heritability of "cognitive ability" rather than of "IQ" (see below).

I've broken up the graphs on Darwin in the social sciences to make the trends clearer. There is an early phase in Victorian times when Darwin's thoughts were everywhere, especially in discussing human beings. Around the turn of the century, his ideas become less popular, as mentioned above. Around 1940, when his ideas come back due to the modern synthesis in biology, they become more popular in the social sciences as well. Indeed, since the mid-1940s, his ideas have only become more important to social scientists -- whether they like it or not.

Notice that while "IQ" goes through cycles about an increasing trend, its synonym "cognitive ability" shows exponential increase. I assume that this is because "cognitive ability" is not a politicized term, while "IQ" is, resulting in outbreaks of hysteria where many more people of any ideological background begin talking a lot about it.

The same is true of "sociobiology," which Leftist academics such as the Sociobiology Study Group tainted with negative political associations, compared to its synonym "evolutionary psychology." Now, someone will say that evolutionary psychology is different -- that it studies the mental, psychological processes rather than just observed behavior. But that's nonsense -- if you've read one of the many evolutionary psychology articles about digit ratios, waist-to-hip ratios, whether the female orgasm is adaptive, and so on, you know that mental processes and cognitive science models rarely come up, except in the study of vision.

Indeed, "evolutionary psychology" increases at just the time when "sociobiology" decreases, in the mid-1980s, showing that the former is simply replacing the latter as the preferred term.

As further evidence that a decline in usage means a decline in popularity, "evolutionary psychology" gets lots of hits in the 1890s when pioneers of psychology like William James were obsessed with integrating evolution and the study of the human mind, and takes a nosedive and lies dead once behaviorism takes over in psychology around the 1920s.

Because "evolutionary psychology" and "cognitive ability" are safe terms politically, these are the obvious choices for people who don't want to have water poured over their head at a conference -- and the data show this rational choice. Interest has continued to skyrocket, although people use different codewords. Nothing like this turned up in the first post because it is not political suicide to talk about postmodernism or Marxism in academia -- but just try bringing up "IQ". It is fascinating that academics can adhere to the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin and be taken seriously, while anyone who would do so for the ideas of Mussolini or Hitler would be made a total pariah. I wouldn't take either numbskull seriously, but most educated people will, perhaps grudgingly, give a free pass to those who revere the ideological or political figures associated with The Other Great Dictatorships and Mass Murders.

I've already made general observations in the first post, and they carry over here, especially the fact that the history of ideas seems so unaffected by the history of the entire outside world -- one more idea that Marx got wrong. There is clearly change, struggle between groups, and so on, but they are largely internal to academia. The future -- or the near-future anyway -- looks pretty bright for those interested in the biological approach to studying humans and their ways, and who believe things like IQ are important. Any students who are still considering the social constructionist, Marxist, feminist, or Whateverist approach should at least learn the new theories, if for no other reason than to be employable in 5 to 10 years. Hell, you might even consider it a kind of Pascal's Wager.


Here are the search terms I used, once again searching the full text of articles and reviews:

"cognitive ability" OR "cognitive abilities"

"darwin*" NOT "social darwinism" NOT "social darwinist" NOT "social darwinists"

"evolutionary psychology" OR "evolutionary psychologist" OR "evolutionary psychologists"

"heritability" OR "heritable"



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Response to criticism on the death of academic -isms   posted by agnostic @ 9/29/2008 01:57:00 AM

My first post detailed the demise of wooly-headed theories in academia. In this post, I'll also address some common criticisms that have come up so far. In the third post, just above this one, I will look at a rival class of theories, namely the scientific and in particular biological approaches to studying humanity. The take-home message is that, while the Blank Slate theories are slowly being driven out of academia, new ones based on the biological sciences are becoming ever more popular. But let's start with the criticisms:

1) You're confusing popularity with accuracy, truth, etc.

I never said anything to this effect. I am just interested in whether certain theories are becoming more or less prevalent. Now, I happen to believe that in the case of, say, psychoanalysis or Marxism, the theories are becoming less popular because people realize that they're not very insightful. And certainly what I think is a great theory could become unfashionable for whatever reason. Whether you're celebrating or mourning the death of some theory, I don't care -- I just want to show whether it is or is not dying.

2) You didn't account for the lag between when an article is published and when it is archived in JSTOR.

I did do that, but I was only explicit about it in the comments to the first post. Journals in JSTOR have a "moving wall" between original and archived dates, with most having a lag of 3 to 5 years. Here is the distribution of lag times. By excluding data from 2003 onward, I've taken care of 88% of journals. And I don't want to hear a non-quantitative objection that "the remainder could be affecting the results" -- tell me what you think the data-point should be for, say 2001, and then derive how large of an effect the 12% of journals would have to have in order to get that value. We'll see how reasonable that sounds. Moreover, since no moving wall is greater than 10 years, any decline that started before 1998 is not subject to even this vague objection -- for example, Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis.

3) You don't have a neutral control case to show that Marxism is "really" decreasing in popularity.

I did admit in the first post that ideally we'd have the total number of articles that JSTOR has for a given year, and that we'd divide the number of articles with Marxism by the total number of articles to get a frequency or prevalence. We can estimate the total by searching for articles with some highly frequent word, such as "the", so that the number returned is very close to the total. For "the", this approach is almost guaranteed to work, since almost no article would slip through the net.

However, JSTOR has a list of highly frequent words that it doesn't allow. Still, not all common words are blocked. I consulted a frequency list compiled by Oxford Online, and chose the highest-ranking words there which are not blocked by JSTOR, though I excluded the personal pronouns and "people," since I don't expect those to show up much in hard science or social science journals. This gives the variants of "time," "know," "good," and "look."

So, I've estimated the total number of articles for a year by searching for "time" OR "know*" OR "good*" OR "look*", where the asterisk means the word-ending can vary. How closely this estimates the true total is not of interest -- the point is that it serves as a common, neutral yardstick to measure the change from one year to the next.

Interestingly, using this control has almost no effect on the shape of the graphs from the first post. That is because the increase in the total number of articles increases only linearly from about 1940 onward, whereas the articles on postmodernism increase or decrease exponentially -- and an exponential divided by a linear is still growing or dying very fast. I've redrawn the original graphs and posted them here because it's easier for me; sometime soon, I'll substitute them into the first post for the record.

The only change I make to my original observations is that social constructionism is not so obviously declining anymore, although it is plateauing and apparently declining since 1998. If I had to guess about its behavior after 2002, I would say it's downward simply because none of the other theories plateaued for very long -- they quickly hit a peak and declined, so a steady high value does not appear to be stable for such theories.

4) You're mistaking a decline in usage with a decline in belief -- once the idea becomes taken for granted, practitioners stop referring to it explicitly.

Just on an intuitive level, we know this is horseshit -- do physicists not use the words "gravity" or "electricity" anymore, or no longer refer to Newton? This objection exemplifies the problem with the average arts and humanities major: he is content to build a logically coherent argument without doing a quick reality check for its explanatory plausibility. I guess that's why they end up in law firms.

But to provide evidence that usage tracks belief, here are some graphs for hard science keywords. In the case of Darwin, I excluded articles on "social Darwinism," which appears to be a, er, social construction in academia. See here. I have data on academic scarewords like "biological determinism," and perhaps in a future post I'll show those. Right now, I want to focus on articles that are at least somewhat level-headed. For ease of inspection, I've given each graph a simple title, and list the search terms at the end of this post in an Appendix.

As the disciplines of population genetics and sociobiology have become staples of biology, mentioning them by name has not declined -- just the opposite. Because they are such thriving fields, writing about them explicitly has shot up. Darwin's thoughts were immensely popular in Victorian times, but they languished because no one could tell how to unite them with the study of heredity. That was, until the modern evolutionary synthesis, which began in the late 1930s -- since then, interest has exploded. The same goes for Mendel's thoughts -- no one knew what the physical basis for his "gene" idea was, until the relationship between the genetic code and DNA was laid out in the late 1950s.

This shows that even hard science ideas can rise and fall and rise again, in these cases probably because some key aspect was found unsatisfying, until a later discovery fixed the problem, allowing the idea to become popular again. So there's hope for the unemployed psychoanalyst yet, assuming he can stick around for a half-century.


Here are the search terms I used:

"population genetic" OR "population genetics" OR "genetics of populations"


"darwin*" NOT "social darwinism" NOT "social darwinist" NOT "social darwinists"

"mendel" OR "mendelian*" OR "mendelis*" NOT "mendelss*"

I put the last restriction on the Mendel search because I got a lot of results about the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

As with the first post, I searched the full text for both articles and reviews.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brian Ferguson and Ashkenazi IQ   posted by Razib @ 9/25/2008 09:51:00 PM

It's up, How Jews Became Smart: Anti-"Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" (big PDF). The long-awaited rebuttal to the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Graphs on the death of Marxism, postmodernism, and other stupid academic fads   posted by agnostic @ 9/22/2008 12:17:00 AM

[Note: I'm rushing this out before the school week starts, as I need sleep, so if it seems unedited, that's why.]

We are living in very exciting times -- at long last, we've broken the stranglehold that a variety of silly Blank Slate theories have held on the arts, humanities, and social sciences. To some, this may sound strange, but things have decisively changed within the past 10 years, and these so-called theories are now moribund. To let those out-of-the-loop in on the news, and to quantify what insiders have already suspected, I've drawn graphs of the rise and fall of these fashions.

I searched the archives of JSTOR, which houses a cornucopia of academic journals, for certain keywords that appear in the full text of an article or review (since sometimes the big ideas appear in books rather than journals). This provides an estimate of how popular the idea is -- not only the true believers, but their opponents too, will use the term. Once no one believes it anymore, then the adherents, opponents, and neutral spectators will have less occasion to use the term. I excluded data from 2003 onward because most JSTOR journals don't deposit their articles in JSTOR until 3 to 5 years after the original publication. Still, most of the declines are visible even as of 2002.

Admittedly, a better estimate would be to measure the number of articles with the term in a given year, divided by the total number of articles that JSTOR has for that year, to yield a frequency. But I don't have the data on total articles. However, on time-scales when we don't expect a huge change in the total number of articles published -- say, over a few decades -- then we can take the total to be approximately constant and use only the raw counts of articles with the keyword. Crucially, although this may warp our view of an increasing trend -- which could be due to more articles being written in total, while the frequency of those of interest stays the same -- a sustained decline must be real.

Here are the graphs (an asterisk means the word endings could vary):

Some thoughts:

First, there are two exceptions to the overall pattern of decline -- orientalism and post-colonialism. The former may be declining, but it's hard to say one way or the other. The latter, though, was holding steady in 2002, although its growth rate had clearly slowed down, so its demise seems to be only a matter of time -- by 2010 at the latest, it should show a down-turn.

Second, aside from Marxism, which peaked in 1988, and social constructionism, which declined starting in 2002 *, the others began to fall from roughly 1993 to 1998. It is astonishing that such a narrow time frame saw the fall of fashions that varied so much in when they were founded. Marxism, psychoanalysis, and feminism are very old compared to deconstruction or postmodernism, yet it was as though during the 1990s an academia-wide clean-up swept away all the bullshit, no matter how long it had been festering there.

If we wanted to model this, we would probably use an S-I-R type model for the spread of infectious diseases. But we'd have to include an exogenous shock sometime during the 1990s since it's unlikely that epidemics that had begun 100 years apart would, of their own inner workings, decline at the same time. It's as if we started to live in sparser population densities, where diseases old and new could not spread so easily, or if we wandered onto an antibiotic that cured of us diseases, some of which had plagued us for much longer than others.

Third, notice how simple most of the curves look -- few show lots of noise, or the presence of smaller-scale cycles. That's despite the vicissitudes of politics, economics, and other social changes -- hardly any of it made an impact on the world of ideas. I guess they don't call it the Ivory Tower for nothing. About the only case you could make is for McCarthyism halting the growth of Marxist ideas during most of the 1950s. The fall of the Berlin Wall does not explain why Marxism declined then -- its growth rate was already grinding to a halt for the previous decade, compared to its explosion during the 1960s and '70s.

Still, it could be that there was a general anti-communist zeitgeist in the 1950s, so that academics would have cooled off to Marxism of their own accord, not because they were afraid of McCarthy or whoever else. Importantly, that's only one plausible link -- there are a billion others that don't pan out, so it may be that our plausible link happened due to chance: when you test 1000 correlations, 5 of them will be significant at the 0.005 level, even though they're only the result of chance.

This suggests that a "great man theory" of intellectual history is wrong. Surely someone needs to invent the theory, and it may be complex enough that if that person hadn't existed, the theory wouldn't have existed (contra the view that somebody or other would've invented Marxism). After that, though, we write a system of differential equations to model the dynamics of the classes of individuals involved -- perhaps just two, believers and non-believers -- and these interactions between individuals are all that matter. How many persuasive tracts were there against postmodernism or Marxism, for example? And yet none of those convinced the believers since the time wasn't right. Postmodernism was already growing at a slower rate in 1995 when the Sokal Affair put its silliness in the spotlight, and even then its growth rate didn't decline even faster as a result. Kind of depressing for iconoclasts -- but at least you can rest assured that at some point, the fuckers will get theirs.

Fourth, the sudden decline of all the big-shot theories you'd study in a literary theory or critical theory class is certainly behind the recent angst of arts and humanities grad students. Without a big theory, you can't pretend you have specialized training and shouldn't be treated as such -- high school English teachers may be fine with that, but if you're in grad school, that's admitting you failed as an academic. You want a good reputation. Isn't it strange, though, that no replacement theories have filled the void? That's because everyone now understands that the whole thing was a big joke, and aren't going to be suckered again anytime soon. Now the generalizing and biological approaches to the humanities and social sciences are dominant -- but that's for another post.

Also, as you sense all of the big theories are dying, you must realize that you have no future: you'll be increasingly unable to publish articles -- or have others cite you -- and even if you became a professor, you wouldn't be able to recruit grad students into your pyramid scheme, or enroll students in your classes, since their interest would be even lower than among current students. Someone who knows more about intellectual history should compare arts and humanities grad students today to the priestly caste that was becoming obsolete as Europe became more rational and secular. I'm sure they rationalized their angst as a spiritual or intellectual crisis, just like today's grad students might say that they had an epiphany -- but in reality, they're just recognizing how bleak their economic prospects are and are opting for greener pastures.

Fifth and last, I don't know about the rest of you, but I find young people today very refreshing. Let's look at 18 year-olds -- the impressionable college freshmen, who could be infected by their dopey professors. If they begin freshman year just 1 year after the theory's peak, the idea is still very popular, so they'll get infected. If we allow, say 5 years of cooling off and decay, professors won't talk about it so much, or will be use a less strident tone of voice, so that only the students who were destined to latch on to some stupid theory will get infected. Depending on the trend, this makes the safe cohort born in 1975 at the oldest (for Marxism), or 1989 at the youngest (for social constructionism). And obviously even among safe cohorts, some are safer than others -- people my age (27) may not go in for Marxism much, but have heard of it or taken it seriously at some point (even if to argue against it intellectually). But 18 year-olds today weren't even born when Marxism had already started to die.

It's easy to fossilize your picture of the world from your formative years of 15 to 24, but things change. If you turned off the radio in the mid-late '90s, you missed four years of great rock and rap music that came out from 2003 to 2006 (although now you can keep it off again). If you write off dating a 21 year-old grad student on the assumption that they're mostly angry feminist hags, you're missing out. And if you'd rather socialize with people your own age because younger people are too immature to have an intelligent discussion -- ask yourself when the last time was that you didn't have to dance around all kinds of topics with Gen-X or Baby Boomer peers because of the moronic beliefs they've been infected with since their young adult years? Try talking to a college student about human evolution -- they're pretty open-minded. My almost-30 housemate, by comparison, was eager to hear that what I'm studying would show that there's no master race after all. What a loser.

* I started the graph of social constructionism at 1960, even though it extends back to 1876, since it was always at a very low level before then (less than 5 per year, often 0). Including these points didn't make the recent decline so apparent in the graph, so out they went.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Slouching toward modernity....   posted by Razib @ 9/21/2008 10:38:00 PM

Young and Arab in Land of Mosques and Bars is an article about a few young Egyptian men who moved to Dubai and how it changed them. The piece is an illustration of a very narrow slice of Dubai life; after all most young men in the city are not Arab, but South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, etc.). Nevertheless, there are particular points which align with broader trends which we have discussed on this weblog. For example:
This economically vital, socially freewheeling yet unmistakably Muslim state has had a transforming effect on young men. Religion has become more of a personal choice and Islam less of a common bond than national identity.

I have already mentioned several times the cross-cultural sex differences in religiosity. The article makes it clear that freedom and choice result in a drifting away of many young men from traditional religious norms. Not all of course. I believe that the "traditional" institutions which have constrained, channeled and sometimes altered species-typical urges and biases are features of the Post-Neolithic mass society. These mass societies, what we term "civilizations," are characterized by powerful male packs who generate within group cohesion by reducing internal variance in norms, behavior and symbolic markers. The variation is to some extent generated by genetic variation (personality differences, etc.), so without constant social pressure the extant phenotypic variation in behavior starts to show up again. Of course even in a modern economy where "rational actors" are individual agents who operate within a fluid market of goods and services these packs remain (social networks and connections), but the bureaucratic meritocracy breaks down their determinative power. The packs are a parameter in your success in life, but they are not the parameter. Man exists apart from the pack as a selfish consumer and personal producer, and to some extent these individual identities are given notional primacy. But it is not just a modern capitalist economy which allows this individualism to flourish. As documented in Benjamin Friedman's The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth the norms which we might define as broadly liberal individualism seem contingent upon a regime where one perceives that the future will be characterized by greater prosperity than the present. Which bring us back to Dubai; its prosperity is to a large extent built upon debt. I suspect that there's a good chance that when its economic growth is curtailed Dubai will become much less free-wheeling.

Addendum: Though in this post I allude to the constricting effect of the pack norms, obviously many people receive psychological utility from packishness. The cognitive "hooks" for pack behavior vs. individual consumer behavior are different, but they're both there in various proportions in all of us. Unfortunately I think that the modern liberal individualist society has inverted the totalism of the pre-modern traditionalist culture in terms of prioritizing only one aspect of our psychological predispositions. While in a traditional setting many who were by nature individualists chaffed at the social controls, today those who might benefit and find particular comfort in packs are marked off as somewhat deviant (e.g., women who are raised with liberal values but convert to a very traditionalist religion and immerse themselves in a subculture where their personal choices are constrained and channeled).

Note: The relationship between the main individual profiled in the piece and his girlfriend reminded me of the South Park episode Raisins. Ergo, the image.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Being "Open" doesn't make you wealthy?   posted by Razib @ 9/15/2008 12:12:00 PM

At least on the state level. A bold Swede who is not shy about plotting data took a stab at checking to see if the results in the personality variation paper could also show trends in GDP per capita:
Extroversion correlated weakly positive (0.16), agreeableness moderately (0.31), conscientiousness moderately (0.34), neuroticism weakly (0.13) and openness negatively (-0.26). That seems odd.

I have plotted the different factors vs GDP below (click for a larger version), with a bundle of regression lines added (each corresponds to the data minus one state, thus showing a bit how stable the estimates are).

Here's my explanation: the same state which has Silicon Valley also has Fresno (no offense to Fresno). The correlations I reported yesterday between Openness and something like patent production would only be generated by the tails of the social distribution. Silicon Valley, not Fresno. There's a reason that The Audacious Epigone looked at both high school graduation rates and college degree holding rates. The two don't always go in the same direction....

Update: From the comments::
He's interpreted the data wrong. Specifically, he plotted the state rank, not the z-value, and so the lowest valued states have the highest openness. The graph then does in fact show that higher openness produces higher per capita GDP. In fact all his correlations have the wrong sign because of this.

Still, he should plot the z-value instead.

If Anders doesn't do this, I might instead....

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Communism = Human capital trainwreck   posted by Razib @ 9/13/2008 01:25:00 AM

The Epigone, Half Sigma and Inductivist look at a lot of American state-level data. But I have started to get curious about other countries. I've heard weird things like the claim that at some point in the 1990s northern Italy was the wealthiest part of Europe. I don't know about Italy yet (Italy at one point had a higher per capita GDP than the UK though), but I was curious at inequality in the German states and how it might relate to confession (Protestant or Catholic). I didn't find any religious trend of major note, but the gap between the former East German Lander and those of the West in per capita GDP as late as 2001 shocking (more recent data is welcome, I might look myself). To get a sense of, it looks that as if the between-lander differences are on the order of what you might see across American states, from Connecticut to Mississippi. To be fair to the komrades, the economically and socially dynamic regions of Germany have often been to the southwest near the Rhine and mineral resources, so it seems likely that Baden-Wurttemberg had a head start even before World War II.

State GDP per capita 2001 (EURO) Protestant Catholic Protestant + Catholic
Saxon-Anhalt 16.18 15.7 4.1 19.8
Brandenburg 16.27 19.2 3.1 22.3
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 16.29 18.4 3.4 21.8
Thuringia 16.41 26.1 8.1 34.2
Saxony 16.79 21.6 3.7 25.3
Berlin 22.39 22 9.2 31.2
Schleswig-Holstein 22.57 56.3 6.1 62.4
Lower-Saxony 22.63 52 17.9 69.9
Rhineland-Palatinate 22.75 31.9 46.9 78.8
Saarland 22.96 20 65.3 85.3
North Rhine-Westphalia 25.52 28.6 43 71.6
Baden-Wurttemberg 28.75 34 38 72
Bavaria 29.22 21.7 58 79.7
Hesse 30.56 41.3 25.6 66.9
Bremen 33.92 44.1 12.2 56.3
Hamburg 42.88 32.2 10.1 42.3


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Forward into the past   posted by Razib @ 9/09/2008 12:46:00 PM

Steve points me to a John Tierney column, As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen:
"Humanity's jaunt into monotheism, agriculturally based economies and the monopolization of power and resources by a few men was 'unnatural' in many ways," Dr. Schmitt says, alluding to evidence that hunter-gatherers were relatively egalitarian. "In some ways modern progressive cultures are returning us psychologically to our hunter-gatherer roots," he argues. "That means high sociopolitical gender equality over all, but with men and women expressing predisposed interests in different domains. Removing the stresses of traditional agricultural societies could allow men's, and to a lesser extent women's, more 'natural' personality traits to emerge."

I've made this precise argument on this weblog for several years now. The preoccupation with self-actualization and personal fulfillment which is the true religion of the mass consumer society is not something that I think is historically contingent or a random act of cultural evolution. It is an expression of a very deep rooted modal psychological predisposition that has echoed down from the Paleolithic and has simply been evoked by the modern context.

With all the talk about recent human evolution and the effect of agriculture obviously we've deemphasized the whole Pleistocene Mind model which was in the vogue with Evolutionary Psychologists. But these sorts of distinctions of emphasis highlight that variations of truth are often quantitative, not qualitative. Reality is a mix of various elements, not a set of stark alternatives. Agricultural peoples may carry more copies of AMY1, but they still enjoy the taste of meat. And it is illustrative that the elites of many agricultural societies allocated much of their marginal time to the sport of hunting.

After The Great Divergence and the transition to mass wealth societies we saw unleashed these ancient pent up preferences on a broader level. Today hunting is no longer the purview of rentier aristocracies who engage in their pleasures by capturing the surplus production of the peasantry. But we have not gone back to the past in some Eternal Recurrence. Rather, elements of pre-Neolithic psychology that have come to the fore and become explicit aspects of our cultural framework remain embedded in a matrix riddled with the great residual institutions of the traditional post-Neolithic world (e.g., religion, monarchies, formal law, etc.). And of course though we live in a culture where individuality is prized, we are not fragmented into small hunter-gatherer brands. Instead, the post-Industrial society dwarfs the post-Neolithic in the potential scope of social networks and scale of our tribes to such an extent that even the aforementioned institutions which arose to grapple with the complexities of the pan-tribal world have been stretched to their breaking points.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cantons of Switzerland, per capita GDP, language and religion   posted by Razib @ 9/07/2008 03:05:00 AM

Update: Added populations.

Update: Added 1980 vintage language data. Note that Italians are the largest foreign population traditionally.

Update II: I tried to plot the 1980 language proportions against 2005 per capita income. I know, not kosher, but doesn't matter, almost none of the income variation can be accounted for by language variation (around 5%, with a slight positive relation between Germanity and wealth). Using the 1980 language data and 2005 per capita cantonal GDP the nominal per capita GDP would be 56,000 for German speakers and 51,000 for French speakers.

A commenter asked about Switzerland. I'd been meaning to look deeper into the issue for a long time, so I decided to give it a try. Below the fold are the Swiss Cantons organized by the variables you see in the title. I had to collect the information from various sources, explaining the obviously non-Anglicized names of some of the Cantons (I've just finished looking up the language and religious proportions in a somewhat time consuming manner, so I am not inclined to change the names since they're rather intelligible). I ran into some papers relating factors such as government expenditure and economic productivity and Protestantism, but I'll leave the data without comment and as a reference for readers. I also included a map below which can give you a sense of where the Cantons are and the distributed. One thing to note, several sources noted that in Switzerland Protestantism historically tended to be urban, which I thing goes a long way toward explaining what seems to be a difference in per capita GDP.

Canton Per capita* Language Religion Population German French Italian Romansch
Basle-Town 115178 German Protestant 193100 81 3 8
Zoug 93753 German Catholic 95100 87 1 7
Nidwald 73286 German Catholic 37200 94 1 2
Glaris 73236 German Protestant 38700 83
Zurich 68804 German Protestant 1181600 83 2 8
Geneve 62839 French Protestant, Catholic 396600 9 65 9
Schaffhouse 55126 German Protestant 73700 85 1 6
Basle-Land 53502 German Protestant 255300 85 2 7
Vaud 52901 French Protestant 608200 9 75 7
Schwyz 50170 German Catholic 125200 91
Neuchatel 49775 French 2/3 Protestant 165400 8 77 9
Grisons 49355 55% German, 30% Romansh, 15% Italian 1/2 Catholic, 1/2 Protestant 38700 60 1 13 22
Argovie 49209 German Mixed 579400

Soleure 46844 German 3/5 Catholic 241600 87 1 7
Appenzel Rh-I 45936 German Catholic 14900

Uri 45712 German Catholic 35800 91 1 4
Berne 45644 German, French Protestant 938600 84 8 4
Thurgovie 44918 German 2/3 Protestant 225400 87
St-Gall 44866 German Mixed 443900 89
Appenzell Rh-E 44215 German Protestant 54000 90
Lucerne 43910 German Catholic 342900 91 1 4
Tessin 39646 Italian Catholic 305600 11 2 84
Obwald 39559 German Catholic 31800 94 1 2
Valais 38385 2/3 French, 1/3 German Catholic 273400 32 61 3
Fribourg 38385 2/.3 French, 1/3 German Catholic 229900 32 61 3
Jura 38070 French Catholic 69222 9 86 4

* Nominal per capita GDP 20005, swiss franc


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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Culture, genes and civilization   posted by Razib @ 9/04/2008 01:00:00 PM

Significance Of Milk In Development Of Culture To Be Studied:
"The oldest pottery shards shown to contain milk were found in southeastern Europe, more precisely in what today is northeastern Greece. We believe that the mutation once grew common there and then became fundamental to the development of agrarian culture," says Anders Gotherstam, who will be coordinating the project.

The researchers will follow the tracks of milk throughout Europe, making use of a model for the spread of genes in order to follow the dissemination of the mutation. In this model the frequency of the mutation increases along the 'frontline' of the dissemination-that is, we in Scandinavia, on the periphery, should thus have the highest frequency of the specific gene.

OK, if I'm reading this right...the hypothesis is that lactase persistence due to a mutation around LCT will be highest frequency in regions which experience agriculture, but haven't experienced it that long? In other words, perhaps the "end state" of agriculture societies is more like China, as milk culture gets squeezed on the Malthusian margins? If this is what they're saying I doubt I believe it.

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Why diversity can be a problem   posted by Razib @ 9/04/2008 10:19:00 AM

Many readers of this weblog are familiar with Robert Putnam's research showing that communitarianism may be inversely correlated with diversity. In the American context we're likely to view this through the prism of race and ethnicity. But Peter Turchin in his work tends to focus on religion and other ideologies as the group identities around which humans coalesce. Humans obviously have a need for conformity and solidarity; I recall as a child a Steelers fan getting into a fight with a Browns fan. So it should not be hard to observe the problems which ideological diversity produce even in an ethnically and racially homogeneous nation such as South Korea.

Last week there were mass demonstrations of Buddhists in South Korea against the religious parochialism of the current president, a Presbyterian elder. The president is already unpopular for other reasons, so I don't personally believe that this unrest is a necessary outcome of religious tension. Rather, as documented in books such as The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, a social context where individuals feel under stress and insecure will often produce intergroup conflict. In an age of plenty there is elbow room between factions because of the growing pie, but when we smell the Malthusian trap in the air group level affinities come to the fore as you don't want to become isolated as an individual without communal capital which you can leverage.

South Korea is I suspect a case where these dynamics might become more important in the coming years because of its religious diversity. Additionally, religious tension is not a new feature of the culture. It isn't too hard to find instances of fundamentalist Christians attacking Buddhism. This is similar to cases in Brazil where evangelicals have destroyed statues of the Virgin Mary. There several recent incidents associated with the current head of state which precipitated the present crisis, but note this:
But tension has been building up since December, when newly elected president Lee began filling his first cabinet with Christians. At least a half of his new ministers were people professing to be Christians, with the prime minister, Han Seung Soo, said to be a Roman Catholic. Not a single cabinet minister professed to be Buddhist.


Of the 15 members of Lee's Cabinet, 12 are Christian and one is Buddhist while the affiliation of two others was not immediately available.

So obviously there's some disagreement, but one can assume here that though Christians are 1/3 of the population they are the substantial majority of the cabinet. Is this prejudice? Discrimination? Do Buddhists have grounds to be angry? As I have noted before in South Korea Christianity has a strong correlation with higher socioeconomic status. If one assumes that cabinet level positions sample from the social and educational elites, then they will naturally tend to preponderantly be Christians! Of course since the president is a zealous Christian one can always be suspicious of his motive and method, so as a precautionary principle one could argue that there should have been an affirmative action to reach out to Buddhists so that the cabinet "looked like the nation."

In the United States we're so hung up on racial and ethnic factions that we often don't notice that the disparate representations of different religious groups in government. Check the religious affiliations of Congress and Governors. Thank God we live well below the Malthusian limit!

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The myth of sexual predators: a positive feedback model   posted by agnostic @ 9/02/2008 10:36:00 PM

As a special case of the downward trend in homicide and forcible rape beginning in the early 1990s, from 1990 to 2004, sexual abuse of minors steadily declined by 49%, reversing an upward trend from the 15 years before 1990; and from 1993 to 2004, sexual assaults against 12 to 17 year-olds steadily declined by 67%. See Finkelhor & Jones (2006) (free PDF here) for a review of the data, why they are real declines, and some proposed explanations. Also see Wolak et al. (2008) (free PDF here) for a review of the fact and fiction about internet sexual predators -- in particular, it appears that most sexual relationships involving teenage females that began with internet contact are voluntary (although still statutory rape if the female is under the age of consent), often repeated, and that the males rarely use deception. Unwholesome, but not what you see on To Catch a Predator.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the recent panic that the mass media have been fueling about "sexual predators" is horseshit. For the same methodological reasons as in this post on the rape hysterias, I look at data on the popularity of the "sexual predator" theme in the New York Times. It is the opposite of the prediction from a "following the beat" view of journalistic practice, instead fitting a "spreading an unfounded rumor" view. I propose a simple model and estimate the annual growth rate of the rumor. First, let's see how many articles were written in the NYT in a given year that contained "sexual predator," "sex predator," or the plural forms of these two terms.

Here is a graph:

Right away we observe that the coverage is completely outta whack with the crime statistics on the ground: the phrases first appear in 1966, but there is essentially no coverage up through 1980, a moderate increase until 1990, and an explosion of articles starting around 1990. Because the increase in coverage cannot be explained by a rational response to easily discovered crime statistics, we conclude that it is an irrational "moral panic" -- if the sexual predator did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

Going further, let's look at the data from 1981 to 2007. I start with 1981 because that is the first year when at least 2 articles appear -- 1 article every 5 or 10 years you could write off as flukes -- and I drop 2008 since the year is not done yet:

Of the typical curves used to fit data, here the exponential does the best: r^2 = 0.8772, and there is a theoretical reason to expect exponential growth. Actually, a quadratic curve improves r^2 by 0.0037, but that's not very much, and it doesn't illuminate what's going on. By setting 1981 equal to t = 1, and calling the number of articles N, the curve above is:

N(t) = 0.8896*exp(0.1665*t) - 1

So, the estimated annual growth rate is 0.1665.

An exponential function solves a differential equation of the form:

dN/dt = r*N

In words, the rate of increase in the number of articles is directly proportional to the current number of articles, where r is the growth rate we just estimated above. This says that somehow each article begets more articles which beget more articles. This is how a rumor spreads, although "articles written" are technically not the same thing as "people who have heard the rumor." Perhaps in the future the number of articles will saturate at some level, and we will have to re-model it using logistic growth. Or the meme could become unfashionable and the number will plummet to 0, in which case we'd use a boom-and-bust model. These two more realistic models are variations on the S-I-R model of the spread of contagious diseases, the only difference being whether the "infected" people can lose their infectivity or stay infected forever.

Clearly the unlimited exponential growth model is inadequate because the total number of articles in all of the NYT is bounded, so the articles written on "sexual predators" cannot increase without bound. But since their number has not saturated yet (logistic model) or crashed downward (boom-and-bust model), we can't decide between the two more plausible models, let alone estimate the related parameters (like the steady-state number of articles in the logistic model). What is important here is that we have shown that the popularity of the "sexual predator" idea behaves like a rumor and takes on a life of its own or fuels its own growth.

To wrap up, the panic over "sexual predators" is a lot like the Early Modern witch-hunts, which could not have succeeded without mass communication to spread the rumors of well-to-do worry-warts. Because it's easier to swallow rumors than to investigate them, there's a clear incentive for most reporters to do just that. And most of the blogosphere too, for that matter. The desire to know is just not uniformly distributed among the population, even among the affluent sectors. That's something to consider any time you find yourself parroting the hype -- if it were based on good work, then it would pay to buy into it. But most journalists are too stupid, lazy, credulous, or moralistic to figure out what's going on. And most of the blogosphere too, for that matter.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Rational and irrational hysteria about rape: some data   posted by agnostic @ 9/01/2008 10:05:00 PM

Aside from grunge music, what made the late '80s and early '90s culture so gay was a Third Wave of feminist panic, this time without a threat on the ground to respond to. A full employment plan for professional feminists thus required cooking up a boogeyman, and because they prey mostly on impressionable undergrad and grad students, they found it useful to invent the threat of "campus rape" and "date rape." There was a real rape problem in the general population leading up to 1992, though, so Third Wavers were simply parasitizing the popularity of a campaign aimed at helping real rape victims. Let's have a look at whether the various rape hysterias, measured by coverage in the NYT, responded to a real or manufactured threat.

To begin with the facts on the real threat, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the US Department of Justice, has data available on forcible rape from 1960 to 2006...

Here is a graph:

There is a fairly steady increase from 1964 to 1992, and a pretty steady decrease from then to 2006. To measure the national hysteria, we will count how many articles appeared in the opinion-leading NYT in a given year that contain some relevant phrase, which tells us how "in the air" the idea is. [1] Here is the graph for "rape crisis," almost always in the context of rape crisis centers, their organizers, and so on:

Overall it looks like it's tracking something real, namely the forcible rape rate: the phrase first appears soon after rape crisis centers were founded in the early '70s, and the graph steadily rises until 1993 and steadily falls afterward. A separate question is whether the level of panic in a given year is "appropriate" to the threat -- is there too much or too little coverage? That's a value judgment, or perhaps a tough empirical matter, so I won't explore that. What is clear is that the trend in coverage of rape crisis centers tracks the trend in forcible rape rate pretty well, so these articles are reporting on something real.

Rape crisis centers were not confined to colleges -- they were part of community outreach programs, so it makes sense that they would have been more in touch with reality. What happens if we look just at the hysteria about rape on college campuses? Heather Mac Donald wrote a good overview of the subject, called "The Campus Rape Myth". Here is the graph for "campus rape," "rape on campus," or the plural forms of these two phrases, which supports her use of the term "myth":

The graph is very different from before: there is almost no coverage until the late '80s, there is an abrupt spike lasting through the early '90s, and a sudden return to a lower level. The increase-then-decrease pattern is correct, and the peak is roughly where it should be, but the rest of the shape is all wrong. There should be a steady increase up to and away from the peak, not a sudden spike.

What the "campus rape" meme resembles is a bit of gossip that flares up and burns out quickly. The rise and fall of real rape happens on the time scale of decades, while the rise and fall of the "campus rape" myth unfolds on the scale of years. That's what we expect from a gossip model, since gossip spreads very quickly -- by word-of-mouth -- while the social forces that cause the rape rate to change cannot produce such fast changes, judging by how "slowly" social change in related areas proceeds (such as the rates for homicide, illegitimacy, divorce, etc., which also rise and fall on the order of decades). The fact that the two peaks are very close suggests that this myth "piggy-backed" on the popularity of a real threat; otherwise it wouldn't have been taken seriously. [2]

Lastly, let's look at the popularity of the more nebulous concept called "date rape." Here's a graph for articles containing "date rape," "date rapes," or "date raped":

As with "campus rape," the coverage is mostly divorced from reality: there is almost no coverage until the late '80s, an abrupt spike, a sudden downturn, and a steady but still high level afterward. So, unlike "campus rape," the "date rape" myth remains popular. Now, "date rape" is a great myth because it is too vague to easily measure, and therefore difficult to show it's not a grave threat. We know that this coverage cannot reflect forcible rape in general, since that has been declining since 1992, not stabilizing after 1995. One useful definition of "date rape" is rape by an acquaintance, as opposed to those dark-alley events. Here is a relevant fact from a journal article on the decline in many forms of abuse against minors since the early 1990s (another story you haven't heard anything about in the gossip-driven media):

Sexual assaults of teenagers have dropped, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). From 1993 through 2004, overall sexual assaults decreased 67% (Figure 2). The subgroup of sexual assaults by known persons was down even more.

Granted this is for victims aged 12 to 17, but the pattern among 18 to 24 year-olds must surely mirror this. Women far north of this are less likely to be raped at all, and in any event they are not the ones who the media portray as victims of date rape -- it's usually a naive college freshman, as in that dopey movie Higher Learning (a wonderful reflection of the zeitgeist). So, as with "campus rape," most of what you hear about "date rape" is folk mythology.

To close, how did the rape panics affect the average person? It likely gave well-to-do women an exaggerated view of the dangers of male sexuality, and likely left their male counterparts' heads spinning, with lasting effects. Let's take 1991 to be the peak year of these hysterias, and include the two years on either side, when the irrational ones were in their spike phase. Then let's consider people who were 15 to 24 years old -- those still forming their identities, growing into adulthood, figuring out how the social world works, who are open to new views, etc.

This creates a cohort born from roughly 1965 to 1978 that would most strongly bear the imprint of this hysteria, and especially those born around 1971 -- basically, Generation X, with Roissy's and Udolpho's cohorts being near ground zero, Half Sigma being one of the elder members, and Thursday being a younger member. Because the hysteria was so abrupt, there is a strong contrast right outside of this cohort -- for example, Steve Sailer and Alias Clio are not very far outside, but the tone of voice they use when talking about the battle of the sexes is very different, regardless of who turns out to be more accurate in a particular case. The same holds for most Baby Boomers.

The young people I'm friends with or have tutored, who were still in diapers in 1991, don't seem to bear the imprint of the hysteria -- you had to be a struggling adolescent or young adult at the time for it to really fuck with your mind. Children were too blissfully ignorant, while full adults' outlook on the world had already comfortably congealed, more or less. It is no accident that this cohort produced the pickup artists like Mystery -- the women in this group are more psycho than in other cohorts, and the men still have a bad taste in their mouths from being on the receiving end of a national witch hunt. (Full disclosure: I was born in 1980.)

Why didn't the nutty Second Wave of feminism leave a similar imprint on those born before 1965? All of that Andrea Dworkin stuff couldn't have been easy to stomach. I think because, as exaggerated as the Second Wave ideology was, there was a real and steady increase in violence against women at the time, not to mention the parallel increase in homicide, drug use, race riots, and all other kinds of sick shit. You may not have agreed with their assessment of how bad things were, or what caused them, but you could still tell that things seemed to be getting worse -- at least they weren't making everything up.

However, the '90s reversed just about every awful social trend of the previous 30-odd years. Surrounded by evidence of things not being so bad, you could only react with total bewilderment when a group of average women -- not just the bulldog lesbians -- got in your face about how awful men are for date raping their friends and turning college campuses into rape zones, so that women needed to Take Back the Night. The appropriate response to this is, of course, "Are you all fucking crazy?" But that would have only strengthened the witch-hunters' suspicion that you were a closet-rapist. It's a hardening experience to be told that you and the other guys in the room are potential rapists of the girl sitting the next row over.

Tomorrow I'll look at a closely related myth, though this time one that is still increasing in popularity, and I'll propose a model for it and estimate parameters.

[1] I eliminated any "duplicate" results, such as a "summary of the Metro section" that only mentions that there's an article on rape inside (I only counted the real article), or in some cases if what should have been a single long article was salami sliced into 6 or so short pieces -- for example, if a single day's feature on "campus rape" had 6 vignettes focusing on 6 campuses, I counted only one of them. Overall these were rare, though. The 2008 data-points are up through September 1, but I included them just to get a hint of where things are now.

[2] In terms of differential equation modeling, the growth rate of the parasitic response would be an increasing function of the current level of the real threat, and perhaps of the rational response too.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The impact of national culture on economic outcomes   posted by Herrick @ 8/19/2008 09:20:00 PM

The first correct daily temperature forecast was not broadcast [in China] until July 1999. Previously, temperature predictions were never permitted to fall outside the range for efficient factory work.

That's from Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture, by Eric Jones. Jones is best known for his book The European Miracle, an anti-Pomeranz text if there ever was one. In Cultures Merging, he provides decent anecdotal evidence that while "bad culture" might be able to hold back a country back a little, cultures are actually fairly fluid over the span of decades, and tend to steer in the direction of economic efficiency (a point emphasized by Clark). Jones's pet example is East Asia, where Confucianism was once said to be a barrier to economic development (too much blind obedience to the dead hand of hierarchy) but is now lauded as the driving force behind superior "Asian Values" of hard work and sacrifice.

The first half of the book (parts one and two of four total) can be easily recommended to those interested in the culture question. Lots of stories, some big-think, some bold generalizations. The second half is filled with stories about his Asian graduate students; not sure what that's all about.

But while it's fun to read books about culture, it sure would be nice to bring some rigor to the debate, wouldn't it? My preference--typical for an economist--is to look for the key under the lamppost of things we can actually measure. Lynn and Vanhanen's national average IQ measures spring to mind--and boy are those scores ever robust as predictors of national economic outcomes. And Jones and Schneider show that even if you control for "cultural" variables like Confucianism, Islam, or Buddhism, the nation's average IQ is still a strong predictor of economic performance. High-IQ groups are likely to have some good cultural traits like patience, cooperativeness, and a tendency to agree with economists on the merits of untrammeled competition.

What'd be nice to know at this point is "What's left after you control for national average IQ?" Do cultural variables (as measured in, say, the World Values Survey) still have predictive power? It might be all stems and seeds, but right now we don't know. Sure would be nice if someone out there did some research into this....

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Has porn become mainstream? Not really   posted by agnostic @ 8/14/2008 04:04:00 AM

A rumor I've been hearing a lot lately, although I recall hearing it as early as 2003, is that "porn is becoming / has become mainstream" -- or that it's ubiquitous, unavoidable, the wallpaper of our culture. Like most alarmist ideas spread by the innumerate -- failing schools, oral sex rampant among teenagers, the coming Islamic Caliphate -- I assume it is a gross exaggeration or false. And as always, I'm right. It doesn't take a genius: simply judge based on the track record of similar panics made possible by mass media, going back to the witch hysterias of Early Modern Europe.

I collected a bunch of data about a month ago and planned on doing some time series analysis, maybe showing how certain models (like epidemics or logistic growth) would fit the data, but the fall semester begins soon, and I'm preparing enough as it is. So nuts to the analysis; I'll just present the data, since the picture is very clear. In brief, the popularity of pornographic movies has remained steady for over 20 years, and in a sense for the last 35 years -- when the data begin. The popularity of print pornography fell sharply after its peak in the early/mid 1970s and has more slowly declined for about the past 20 years. Even non-pornographic but racy "lad mags" have seen their popularity tank, with only Maxim US holding steady.

Before getting to the data, though, how far back does the "porn has become mainstream" meme go? I didn't conduct an exhaustive search, but I found a 1990 letter-to-the-editor in the NYT, as well as a 1998 news story in Time, so it's hardly new. It's interesting to note that most such articles feature a quote like this one from New York Magazine in 2003:

Over beers recently, a 26-year-old businessman friend shocked me by casually remarking, "Dude, all of my friends are so obsessed with Internet porn that they can't sleep with their girlfriends unless they act like porn stars."

The grave implication is: "Just think of what young people who grow up with this will expect!" But a moment's reflection tells us that the same is true of men who visit prostitutes, who've been around forever. And yet men haven't come to expect their wives to behave like wild whores inside or outside the bedroom -- again, except for the handful of 20-something losers who New York Magazine manages to mine such embarrassing quotes from. Indeed, the universal Madonna / Whore dichotomy tells us that most men will continue to prefer their flings to act like call girls, pornstars, strippers, etc., while preferring their gfs and wives to act not whorish.

Enough gasbaggery; onto the data (and then more hot air). The "porn is everywhere" meme claims that a high percentage of people are infected by porn, whether through video or print. Obviously the claim is not that there's a lot of porn out there, but which no one ever consumes -- so we just look at the prevalence of porn-watchers over time. Fortunately, the General Social Survey, a large and representative national survey, asks Americans if they've watched an X-rated movie in the past year. To see for yourself, go here and type in, without quotes, "xmovie" in the row box and "year" in the column box. If you want to see male vs. female, type "sex(1)" for male or "sex(2)" for female into the selection filter box. Across the years, the response rate is 58%, from about 51,000 people -- damn good for surveys. Here are the results for men and women (click on the image to see it full-size):

For men, porn-watching declined at least from 1973 until 1980, and increased until 1987. After that, you may be able to see fluctuations up and down but they're around a pretty steady value of about 35%. The pattern for women is much clearer to see: essentially no trend, but cycles of varying period and amplitude. I interpret these patterns as a decline during the 1970s when porn theaters became unfashionable, an increase during the 1980s as porn became available on VHS, and no change afterward -- in particular, no skyrocket due to the availability of internet porn, something I would not have predicted by intuition.

Also bear in mind that if porn were indeed "becoming more mainstream," we should see a strong upward trend just because people are less embarrassed to admit they watch it. Only if people in the 1970s were hooked up to porn 24 hours a day but denying it, while people today admit to it at the same rate but are watching less, would we observe a lack of a strong upward trend. Even in that case, that means porn-watching was more prevalent in the past. I favor a simpler interpretation: that because porn has not become mainstream, nor more taboo, people tell the truth at the same rates from the sexually liberated 1970s up to today.

There are of course liars, but they don't seem concentrated in one period or another. How bad is the lying in any period, though? -- maybe all men are watching porn now but only 35% admit it. In 2003, the Nielsen Ratings people tracked the traffic of internet porn sites, and they found that 1 in 4 internet users visits porn sites (see here). That's just what we'd expect from the GSS results, which show that of men and women combined, 24% in 2002 and 26% in 2004 watched porn. Traffic doesn't lie, and because the numbers are virtually identical to what people say, we conclude that almost nobody lies about watching porn (at least in anonymous surveys). So not only have their proportions not increased relative to before, but porn-watchers are not even a majority of men -- a bit more than one-third. For women, even less so -- about one-sixth. Porn is not now, and never was, mainstream.

Turning to porn in print, I collected circulation data for Playboy for any year I could find. The data are from many sources -- business sections of newspapers, histories of the magazine, etc. -- and for some years I couldn't find estimates. Still, there are plenty to see a clear pattern. I did the same for Maxim's US edition, both shown here:

Playboy accelerated in popularity from its beginning in 1953 to 1973, after which it plummets until 1987, and then it slowly but steadily declines to today. I don't have rich data to show it, but from what I read in my research, the same rough pattern holds for other porn magazines like Penthouse and Hustler. Maxim looks like it's grown logistically, on analogy with a fad growing by word-of-mouth contagion. Maxim of course is not porn; the nearest thing might be 1940s pin-ups. I speculate that Playboy's exponential growth was due to featuring young brunette girl-next-door types, and its crash due to using blonder and older "power bitch" types. Maxim has done well, in this view, for relying so heavily on dark-haired women. In any event, we see that porn has not become mainstream in print either -- just the opposite.

One last batch of data mostly from the UK, home of the "lad mag." Almost as soon as the fad had begun, it peaked and began plummeting, which has been well covered in the British press. I've shown it here for three of the most popular UK lad mags (I culled the data from various newspaper or other reports):

The US edition of FHM appeared to be doing well, even if it had begun to saturate. The drop-off I drew to show that it was abruptly canceled and only exists as a website now. Stuff Magazine, also once popular in the US, was cancelled in 2007. So even the non-porn but racy lad mags are dying off, save Maxim US.

Because the "porn has become mainstream" meme is part of a panic -- either about eroding cultural standards, eroding barriers between public and private vis-a-vis sex, eroding relations between men and women due to unrealistic expectations, or the erosion of something else -- most of those who already believe it will not be persuaded by the stark clarity of the data here. (Hopefully the open-minded ones will end up reading this.) Like witch-hunters, they will shift the goalposts perhaps by saying, "Well yeah, but that just means that porn's influence is more subtle and covert, but no less pervasive and corrupting because of that."

The first target will be female appearance, of course: as porn becomes more ubiquitous, they start dressing like sluts! Except that porn-watching increased most dramatically and reached a peak during the '80s -- the decade of high-waisted pants, granny-panties, and bulky manlike tops (baggy sweaters, shoulder-pads, etc.). I've written elsewhere about how girls don't even dress like sluts anymore, a 5-year fad in thongs notwithstanding.

The second target will be sexual behavior: as porn becomes more ubiquitous, people will begin acting more promiscuously. But I've already shown that there was probably a single increase and single decrease in promiscuity, with the turning point around 1991. The popularity of porn either waxes and wanes for women or dips, increases and stays for men -- it has nothing to do with how promiscuous people are.

Anyway, I could go on, but you get the idea. Let's all be done with this "porn has become mainstream" nonsense.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Science and technology" - then & now   posted by Razib @ 7/30/2008 01:38:00 PM

Tyler points to a new story in The New York Times highlighting discoveries about the Antikythera mechanism:
The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism's concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with the great Archimedes.


"We believe that this mechanism cannot have been the first such device since it is so sophisticated and complex," Dr. Freeth said. "And we don't understand why this extraordinary technology apparently disappeared for several hundred years, later to emerge in the great astronomical clocks of the 14th century onwards."

My explanation: the ancients had scientists and technologists, but they did not have Science and Technology. In other words, science and technology as we understand it today in the age of scientific industry is a cultural complex which has attained critical mass and is self-perpetuating. One does not need to manifest the brilliance of Isaac Newton to stand upon his shoulders, the sociocultural framework takes Newtonianism as a given. There were scientists in ancient Greece, in the Islamic world, China, India, etc., of various sorts. But these people lacked a cultural framework in terms of a critical mass of numbers which arose in the West sometime between 1600 and 1900 as a cumulative process.*

This is not to say that the "knowledge based" economy is a function of the modern West, it is not. The ancient Greeks had lawyers, doctors and philosophers. So did many other civilizations at various points in history. Legal frameworks, as an example, are essential for complex society, but it also seems to be that they arise necessarily from mass societies of a particular threshold of complexity. The mass societies of the post-Neolithic world straining against the bounds of the Malthusian trap were not barbaric; but they were not mass consumer societies. While I do not believe that science & technology as I am conceiving of them in this post were necessary or sufficient to drive the productivity gains which are required for existence outside of the Malthusian trap,** I suspect that they will be necessary to perpetuate said society into the indefinite future. Science & technology are not hallmarks of civilization, but they necessities of continued affluence.

* That cultural complex's emergence might be contingent upon a host of parameters. For example, the printing press, the unity imposed by Latin as a common language for western European intellectuals, the lack of a unified ideology to suppress diversity of thought
(remember that the Reformation broke the Church's power to stifle new currents in Protestant Europe, while Protestant high priests likewise had no power in Catholic Europe), etc.

** This is not to say that I don't think technology was not necessary or essential for the massive productivity gains, but the scientific-industrial-complex which we know and love (I hope!) today didn't coalesce into its full form until the past century or so, though I do believe its origins can be traced back to the 17th century.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sheep herders are not sheep???   posted by Razib @ 6/17/2008 10:44:00 AM

Ecocultural basis of cognition: Farmers and fishermen are more holistic than herders:
It has been proposed that social interdependence fosters holistic cognition, that is, a tendency to attend to the broad perceptual and cognitive field, rather than to a focal object and its properties, and a tendency to reason in terms of relationships and similarities, rather than rules and categories. This hypothesis has been supported mostly by demonstrations showing that East Asians, who are relatively interdependent, reason and perceive in a more holistic fashion than do Westerners. We examined holistic cognitive tendencies in attention, categorization, and reasoning in three types of communities that belong to the same national, geographic, ethnic, and linguistic regions and yet vary in their degree of social interdependence: farming, fishing, and herding communities in Turkey's eastern Black Sea region. As predicted, members of farming and fishing communities, which emphasize harmonious social interdependence, exhibited greater holistic tendencies than members of herding communities, which emphasize individual decision making and foster social independence. Our findings have implications for how ecocultural factors may have lasting consequences on important aspects of cognition.

I reviewed the Richard Nisbet's Geography of Thought 5 years ago. There seems to be a substantial literature on this topic in regards to different dominant modes of cognition. There is a great deal of overlap, and these tendencies seem to be highly plastic (e.g., you can "train" someone to think in an alien mode rather quickly), but on the margins the average differences between societies have likely mattered a great deal. Would anyone, for example, claim that the individualism of the Celts vis-a-vis the Romans in their fighting styles served them well? In contrast, total nomads (as opposed to farmers who practice a great deal of animal husbandry) can arguably leverage individual action against slow moving group formations to a far greater extent (e.g., as evidenced by the shift by the Romans themselves from fixed infantry based defenses toward mobile armies during the late Empire). And of course both When Histories Collide and Farewell to Alms seem to be making the case that particular economic and social systems have fostered customs and traits which are beneficial to the flourishing of capitalism.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

The Paskowitz Family and the unwritten moral law   posted by Razib @ 6/02/2008 10:58:00 PM

Reihan has a post up, The Paskwotiz Family, where he praises the new documentary Surfwise. I first heard about this family a few weeks ago on the radio show On Point; the director of the documentary and a few of the sons were interviewed at length. Reihan finishes:
I get the point. I sympathize! But note that there’s no getting out of the "iron cage." Mind you, I'm pro-modernity, pro-market. What troubles me (us?) about the Paskowitz story, which of course I invest with a lot of romance and affection, are the constraints on the kids - what was their context of choice, and how could they live full lives in a market society?

Reihan is alluding here to the fact that though Dr. Dorian Paskowitz has a medical degree from Stanford he doesn't send his children (seven of them) to schools in keeping with his counterculture orientation. A month ago I posted When the weirdos are white, in reference to the state of Texas' forcible intervention in the family lives of Fundamentalist Mormons. The intervention was clearly due to moral unease with the nature of the lives these Mormons led and the expectations that we Americans have in terms of our fellow citizens. As white Americans of no peculiar ethnic identity Fundamentalist Mormons were not shielded by the tendency of elite moderns to cut a bit of slack to the Other (the Amish are a more extreme case in their difference from society so more slack is given).

The reactions of the Fundamentalist Mormons and the Paskowitz family I think smoke out the contradiction at the heart of contemporary elite Western life: the simultaneous superposition of a disavowal of judgement & absolute values and an adherence to a set of standards which scaffold and guide one's life rather rigorously (e.g., the "best schools," the "fulfilling careers" and the "loving spouse"). Conservative Christians in the United States often see themselves as in contradiction to the values encapsulated by the dominant dispensation, and so I believe though they are often guilty of myopia they can easily elucidate the general outline of what they mean by the Good Life. In contrast, mainstream America, the pulse of which is defined by upper middle class professionals, the English gentry of our day, often adhere to a set of values implicitly and discernible only through the subtext of their words and actions.

Societies have norms. When individuals and groups violate those norms society sanctions them in some manner because of their revulsion at the violation of those norms. But many modern Americans have a tendency to mask the causal factor behind this revulsion, the transgression against particular taboos or beliefs & folkways held sacred, and talk as if in reality it was some more abstract and distant ultimate principle which motivated them. For example, the extraction from children from "dangerous" parents is to allow the children to "make up their own mind" and not be "brainwashed," because after all humans with free choice and will always make the "right" choices. So you simply turn it into a general issue of individual choice as opposed to a specific reaction to an infraction against the unwritten moral law. A more more explicit exploration and discussion of the values which "mainstream" Americans hold might be in order for our society I would think. But then, I value transparency....


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Where have all the Smiths gone?   posted by Razib @ 4/22/2008 07:35:00 PM

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science asks where asks where all the Smiths have gone:
Sam Roberts writes,

In 1984, according to the Social Security Administration, nearly 3.4 million Smiths lived in the United States. In 1990, the census counted 2.5 million. By 2000, the Smith population had declined to fewer than 2.4 million.
Where did all the Smiths go from 1984 to 1990? I can believe it flatlined after 1990, but it's hard to believe that the count could have changed so much in 6 years.

Perhaps it's the difference between the SSA and Census methods of counting

Here's another explanation, it's the inverse of the phenomenon of those claiming Native American ancestry in the United States doubling in 10 years. Many Smiths were at one point Schmidts, who knows if some of them didn't revert now that WASP surnames aren't as value-added? I strongly suspect that the number of ethnic whites in the USA is overstated because those with mixed-ancestry emphasize the most non-traditional quanta of their heritage. That means if someone is 1/4 German & 3/4 English they might declare their ethnicity as German. I'll probably have to look up some social science on this question at some point....

Note: the rank of Schmidt increased in terms of rank by 33 from 1990 to 2000.

Update: I took a bunch of German names and their English or Anglicized variants and compared their ranks between 1990 and 2000. I'm sure that the trend you see is the combined result of the decrease in proportion of those with very common Anglo names because of the decline of the non-Hispanic white fraction as well as a moderate stream of new German immigrants. But who knows?

Smith - Schmidt +33
Shepard -37 Shafer +254
Baker -1 Becker +74
Miller +1 Muller +147
Taylor -3 Schneider +57
Hill +8 Berg +122
Miner -202 Bergman +2
Brown +1 Braun +176
Dyer -111 Farber +1090
Finch -115 Fink +183
Fox +19 Fuchs +613
Duke -78 Herzog -341
Hunter -23 Jaeger +631
Buck +18 Hirsch +241
Young -3 Jung +840
Hoover +39 Huber +126
Cook -4 Koch +79
King -5 Koenig +366
Cooper -2 Kruger +191
Long - Lang +43
Mason -14 Maurer +160
Butcher +68 Metzger +424
Piper -239 Pfeiffer +372
Knight -44 Ritter +161
Barber -41 Scherer +1029
Black -11 Schwartz +102
Roper -72 Seiler +137
Weaver +11 Weber +71
White -6 Weiss +131

Update II: Proportion of German Americans dropping faster than English Americans?

Update III: Took some Census 2000 data and produced this....

Ancestry First Ancestry Second Ancestry Total Ratio of First to Second Ancestry
German 30165672 12674039 42839711 2.38
Irish 19279211 11245588 30524799 1.71
English 16623938 7885754 24509692 2.11
Italian 12836020 2799547 15635567 4.59
French 4870907 3436659 8307566 1.42
Scottish 3142893 1747688 4890581 1.8
Dutch 2552688 1986681 4539369 1.28
Norwegian 3241637 1236088 4477725 2.62
Scotch-Irish 3283065 1036167 4319232 3.17
Swedish 2436825 1561478 3998303 1.56
Welsh 886139 867655 1753794 1.02
Danish 855797 574927 1430724 1.49
Portuguese 913859 259832 1173691 3.52
Greek 942723 210315 1153038 4.48
British 828089 207044 1035133 4
Swiss 535408 374661 910069 1.43
Austrian 433292 297044 730336 1.46
Finnish 435446 188073 623519 2.32
Scandinavian 308051 117048 425099 2.63
Belgian 217524 130754 348278 1.66
Sicilian 68290 16885 85175 4.04
Celtic 53438 12200 65638 4.38
British Isles 42137 7941 50078 5.31
Luxemburger 26378 18761 45139 1.41
Icelander 30388 12328 42716 2.46
Basque 32121 9690 41811 3.31

I think the ratio of First to Second ancestry is probably a pretty good sense out admixture/outmarriage rates. Look at the Welsh; not very distinct from other British Isles groups and far less numerous, ergo lots of second ancestry.

Update IV: Median age for people of English ancestry is 44. For German it is 37. Same with Irish. What's up with that?

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

When the weirdos are white   posted by Razib @ 4/20/2008 10:52:00 AM

rulonfull.jpgClark has a post pointing to the obvious parallels between the practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and those of West African immigrants. The "problem" with the FLDS situation is pretty clear; they're WASPs with weird folkways. Of course the reaction to the FLDS is simply a retread of what happened with the original Mormons, a culturally heterodox group whose primary following was among the lower and lower middle class of Greater New England.1 I had friends in high school who were from the old Mormon stock whose ancestors had been driven west; many of the remembrances passed down through the generations resembled those of the Trail of Tears. My friends were proud & patriotic Americans, but I was surprised that on a deep level they seem to have never forgotten the persecution which Mormons experienced from the American government and the people which it claimed to represent.

The "problem" with the original Mormon church, and the FDLS today, is that we aren't living in a land of black & white, where good and evil are clear and distinct. In some ways the early Mormons were an admirable folk, picking themselves up by their own bootstraps and forging a new religion in the wilderness of the American continent. But they also manifested hostility toward outgroups and an exclusionary tendency which ill-suited them in their interaction with other Americans, "gentiles" as they would call them. The history of the Mormons from their original emigration down to the banning of polygyny was one of interminable conflict with the American republic, the Utah territory was defined by the clash between a Mormon theocracy and the occupational government of the United States. This enmity was only resolved by the Mormon rejection of polygyny.

This episode showed that the tolerance of the American polity had its limits. Though multiculturalism is a relatively new concept in terms of its elaboration, the United States of the 19th century was shockingly diverse when it came to religious pluralism. The Mormons themselves were an outgrowth of the Second Great Awakening, which transformed the American South into the domain of Baptists and produced many of the mainstream denominations which are still on the scene today. Joseph Smith's cult is the most exotic outlier, but it was not entirely atypical. Smith's sin was not to push Protestantism into a new direction, it was the fact that he dragged the Mormon church into a landscape which transgressed against the bourgeois norms at the heart of American society (this occurred with other religious-social groups which emerged out of the Second Great Awakening, but only the Mormons remain).

The emblematic violation of those norms was of course plural marriage, polygyny. I don't think that plural marriage is wrong like murder is wrong, but the social dynamics which emerge from its ubiquitous practice among the FLDS are well known, and I am skeptical that the practice is conducive to the perpetuation of a bourgeois republic. Even within the Muslim world modernizers are very critical of polygyny because of the familial destabilization it portends. In a world where time is finite one can make quick back of the envelope inferences about the effect upon parental inputs in a situation where one man fathers dozens of children with multiple wives. Though there are very specific principled arguments one can against polygyny, I suspect that the consequentialist ones are at the heart of the relatively universal objection to the practice from most Americans.

The FLDS situation gets to the heart of a broader problem in any polity, and that is one of diversity of values. As WASPs without the race card to bail them out the members of the FLDS find themselves facing the reality of prejudice & discrimination at the hands of the majority. On pure moralistic grounds I think one can point to the ubiquity of debauched polyamory in much of American society, and low "paternity certainty." Why this fixaton on the FLDS's practices? Aside from the formalization of a routine of statutory rape encouraged by Warren Jeffs, I suspect a bigger issue is that the FLDS legitimizes & solemnizes practices Americans want to keep marginalized and sinful (for lack of a better word). Most Americans are regularly bombarded with the message that prejudice & discrimination are bad, but the reality is that we engage in these activities every single day of our lives. Our rejection of polygyny brings into stark relief the persistence of shibboleths and unspoken norms. The non-ethnic whiteness of Fundamentalist Mormons results in our disgust not being buffered by race guilt or discounting of the practitioners of exotic behaviors as marginally human. The members of the FLDS are "All American" in their stock, so their practices are more repulsive than they would otherwise be. They are apostates from the
bourgeois consensus.

And consensus is vitally important, no matter how much we wish to emphasize the value of public debate and difference. Winnifred Sullivan's book The Impossibility of Religious Freedom elucidated the charade that a world without prejudice & discrimination truly is. In Catholicism & American Freedom John T. McGreevy documents how American Catholics became part of the mainstream in large part due to their assimilation of American values and folkways. In other words, Catholicism became acceptable when it became Protestant, the apotheosis of which was John F. Kennedy.2 Because religion is so important to people we treat it differently; Americans receive exemptions and dispensations from civil expectations if their religious obligations or taboos contradict mainstream norms. But these exemptions can only go so far, and they are extended only toward particular groups who have received the acclaim necessary for public recognition.

The treatment meted out to the FLDS illustrates the limits of the tolerance of acts between consenting adults, that the circle of diversity is not without boundaries. The historical record also shows that the tolerance extended toward numerous factions such Catholics and Jews was in large part a reflection of the fact that both of these groups subsumed themselves into the set of expectations which were normal within American Protestantism.3 For sects where the numbers are smaller, such as the Amish, heterodoxy is accepted because their impact is so marginal and their custom are in the generality inoffensive or quaint. In the past the American society admitted the reality of these boundaries and the general outline of our circle of tolerance; today we are somewhat in denial, and the schizophrenic reaction to something like the FLDS controversy reflects the clash between our deep-rooted values and our notional avowal of universal multiculturalism.

Related: Jake Young blogs the economic benefits of monogamy.

1 - Greater New England included much of northern Ohio, for example.

2 - I obviously don't mean that American Catholicism is in schism from the Roman Church. Rather, in terms of the conception of their relationship to their religion of choice American Catholics bring American Protestant presuppositions. This was clear even during the early 19th century, but the massive influx of European Catholic immigrants de-Americanized the church by around 1850 and brought to the fore "Old World" values and and expectations in terms of how the church would relate to the state. The result was decades of conflict which only abated when the children of the immigrants became numerically dominant and brought their own American sensibilites to the table. Simultaneously with this demographic shift the international Roman Catholic Church was shifting to a more "Americanist" perspective, culminating in Vatican II. The point is that the United States culture didn't really compromise with the Catholic Church, the church was transformed until it became acceptable.

3 - Note the popularity of non-"Orthodox" Judaism in the United States.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why civilizations may clash more, not less   posted by Razib @ 4/08/2008 12:48:00 AM

Update: Added a chart.

One of the major themes of the past few decades has been the perception that greater cultural homogenization is occurring because of globalization, which is enabled by the changes in technological and institutional parameters. Shared material culture & values may piggyback along the cresting wave of economic integration and growth. An extremely optimistic model might be that we are seeing the emergence of a vast world market unified by a common set of mediating institutions and core values. There is obviously something to this. A substantial number of Muslims defend their religion's feminist credentials and decry polygyny, while Buddhists reframe their own independent tradition as an elucidation of a universal rational spiritual tradition. These responses show the power of Western culture in setting the terms of debate. But these general trends need to be tempered by an attention to the details, the specifics of which may not entail the results in all cases which our general framework would lead us to expect.

Consider the issue of language. The consistent belly-aching over the mass extinction of obscure languages is just the latest chapter in thousands of years of linguistic winnowing. Today the Iberian peninsula is home to a group of related languages aside from Basque. 2,000 years ago it hosted tongues of disparate families; Basque, Celtic, Latin, Punic and a medley of southern Iberian languages such as Tartessian. With the extinction of most and the emergence of a few large blocks one may perhaps argue that there is more discontinuity, not less, when it comes to speech. The logic here is that a welter of dialects would tend to fade into each other, and even when there would be a "jump" across language families (e.g., Finnic to Slavic) there would be a greater number of mediating dialects sharing lexical features to facilitate cross-fertilization. With the rise of nation-states and the expansion of originally narrow dialects into lingua francas which quickly monopolize the public spaces (e.g., modern Italian and French as descendants of particular Florentine or Parisian dialects) these intermediary variants no longer play their roles. Oligopolies of languages sponsored by nation-states force bridge dialects to fade to the margins. What are bridge dialects? Catalan and Occitan are two that I have in mind. Because of the decentralized nature of the modern Spanish polity the former looks like it may have a future, but the latter is slowly being crushed by the dominance of French.

Though language is emotionally salient for many, that is really not what I had in mind. In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Samuel Huntington presented a thesis which used religion as the major organizing principle around which societies cohere. I am willing to accept this more or less (though language is obviously a major fissure as well). I have argued before that communication improvements are a major reason that I believe Islam is becoming more centralized in terms of belief and practice; the ummah is realizing its unity much more concretely than in the past. Recently I was reading a history of Burma, and the author noted that in the past many Muslims who were in areas where they were a minority were difficult to distinguish from non-Muslims. Most of their practices were similar to their neighbors, and they did not dress any differently, men and women prayed in a mixed setting etc. Much the same could be said of 19th century Bengal, where the outlook of Muslim and Hindu peasants didn't differ greatly and veneration of Hindu and Sufi saints bled into each other, resulting in an operationally syncretistic milieu, the perfect matrix for groups like the Baul to operate and receive patronage. Among abangan Muslims in Java the Ramayana remains very popular. In China the Hui Muslim intellectuals of the 18th century justified the high status of their religion on Confucian principles. In Vietnam the Cham Muslims were known to syncretize their Islam with that of the Mahayana Buddhism of their Vietnamese neighbors. The examples are endless, and one can generalize beyond Islam in South and East Asia.

Things have changed a great deal. In many of these regions Islam has gone through periods of "reform" and new found adherence to "orthodoxy." I suspect that santri Muslims in Java would assert that the spread of their form of Islam simply has to do with education; their Islam is the more authentic Islam, that of the abangan is debased weak tea. In China ties with the West enabled by modern transportation (broadly construed) resulted in a rethinking of the Hui relationship with the majority culture; instead of Confucius as the arbiter of correct thought they began to look to Muslim eminences from Southwest Asia as their authentic sages. In Kerala in South India Yemeni ulema who were reforming the Islam of that region instructed peasant women to no longer go topless as had been their custom when working in the fields. What you see here is a tightening of the ship, a purging and paring back of heterodoxy, heresy and laxity allowed and engendered by isolation.

Or do you? There aren't any black & white answers here, I don't think one can totally deny the thesis that the early texts of Islam reflect an Arab society at variance with assimilative dynamics manifest on the margins of the Muslim world. But there maybe less to the texts than meets the eyes. When reading about Burmese Muslims, or Hui Muslims, and so on, I was struck by the lack of rationalization they seemed to need for the fact that they were subordinated to non-Muslim rulers and populations. Their minority status was taken as a given, and they freely integrated themselves into a non-Muslim order (e.g., Burmese Muslims who served as soldiers, or Hui who entered the bureaucracy via the examination system). To some extent this contrasts with the pro forma nods to propriety near the "center" of the Muslim world; the fact that the Emirate of Granada was a vassal to Christian powers for centuries was long cause for some concern in the domain of political theory. Muslims in the Russian Empire engaged in soul searching as to whether it was acceptable to render under to the Orthodox Christian Tsarina (Catherine the Great). The logic was simply that of jihad and domination; the only peace was that which prevailed under Islamic dominion. That was the argument, but it was breached and contradicted by practice rather early on.

But why did this argument not seem to come up in some lands where Muslims were a small minority? Clearly there is the issue of practicality. There was no question that the Muslims of Burma were in no position to make demands or wage war against the non-Muslim majority. But, going back to my emphasis on communication and identification there was less of an exemplar of extensive Muslim states which expunge pluralism through a process of cultural attrition. Certainly India came close, but the reality remained that it was a primarily Hindu realm demographically, and the Muslim masses of Bengal were only notionally Islamicized during most of history. The apologia offered by the Emirate of Granada and the Tatars who remained within the Russian Empire was necessary because of the affinity & identification with polities where the dominionist narrative was taken for granted. Specifically, the Ottomans offered refuge to any Muslims who emigrated south into their lands, and the Sultan more or less saw himself as the natural lord of the Muslims of Russia. Tatars who remained within a Christian Empire and integrated did so despite the option of emigration or passive resistance and continued loyalty to the Sultan. The Emirate of Granada had successful models of the triumph of the eternal jihad across the Straits of Gibraltar in the Muslim polities of the Maghreb.

Today the information umbrella of the ummah spans the whole globe. Chinese Muslims are no longer ignorant of the currents of change and conformity in the rest of the Islamic world; rather, they are part of the discussion. But as they shift their marginal units of attention to the broader debates in the Muslim world they decrease the attention spent engaging their non-Muslim neighbors. These sorts of processes are complex; note that there is evidence that 19th century reformist Islamic movements in many parts of China succeeded when they used indigenous mythical formula. The paradox is that on the practical level Chinese means were the most efficient method to arrive to the ends of identification of Muslims as distinct from their non-Muslim Chinese neighbors! I bring this up to caution that even if there is a distinct tendency for many Muslims around the world to assert that they are concurrently moving toward a reassertion of 7th century Islamic values, that may not truly be the reality. This goes to emphasizing that despite the anti-liberal ethos of most Islamic fundamentalist movements, their origins, methods and to some extent practical outcomes, imply that substantively they are the product of dynamics of the last few centuries no matter their late antique packaging & marketing. The ubiquity of modern technology within Islamist circles may not be so aberrant or mercenary, but rather hint at structural features at sharp variance with their public propoganda and self-images.

But packaging matters. When the Muslim women of Kerala began wearing blouses some of their Hindu landlords objected that they were putting on airs. When some of these landlords forced the women to revert to their old style of dress their menfolk rebelled and killed them (these were not sui generis in this part of India, the same incidents occurred between landlords and low caste groups, but without the religious valence). Amartya Sen has objected to the emphasis on the Islamic identity of Bangladeshis in the United Kingdom to the exclusion of their Bengaliness, a dimension which they share with Sen (a culturally Hindu Bengali). I suspect though that Sen's objection may be in vain; perhaps the multi-textured demographic landscape is going to cede ground to the religious oligopolies of the future? The very rugged and chaotic nature of the phenotypic space which cultures had previously explored might have served as a buffer to massive seismic collisions which are now going to be inevitable in the world of crashing cultural plates.

The chart to the left illustrates what I'm talking about. Imagine a bounded region, and variation along a character (e.g., % of red-meat derived protein in diet). The further you go back in time the more local variation you tend to see. As you move closer to the present there is "cultural consolidation."

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The mediocrity of local peaks   posted by Razib @ 2/18/2008 12:38:00 AM

Steve on Extended families and materialism:
Anyway, I have a theory about why West Asian materialism runs in such narrow ruts. If you are Ed Begley, you want to impress other people who share your tastes and values, so you socialize primarily with other environmental fanatics who will be impressed that your house is off the power grid. But if you are from a West Asian group, there's much pressure on you to socialize mostly within your extended family and their in-laws and in-laws' in-laws. And because extended families are pretty average on average, specialized interests don't cut much ice. Instead, the common denominators are the surest road to approbation.

You just bought a state-of-the-art kayak? Ho-hum. Sure, your kayak-nut friends will be wowed, but your family? Yawn. In contrast, your cousin Aram just bought the most expensive BMW. Now, that's something that everybody in the family can be floored by!

I think he's on to something here. When I visited Bangladesh in 2004 I found myself seeking out my uncle who is a religious fundamentalist for conversation. Trained as a geologist he spends all his marginal time engaging in dawah and harassing less strident Muslims about following all the picayune details of shariah. Why did I seek his company? It wasn't because I enjoyed chit-chatting about the inanity of Islamic law, or that I agreed with him about the negative implications of Muslim immigration to the West because of inevitable assimilation. No, when a critical mass of Bengali women come together the constant talk about the family-matters makes you want to commit seppuku. I really didn't give a shit that my second cousin was going to marry some random loser who was from across-the-river and spoke-Bengali-with-a-weird-accent; or whatever banal chatter that they were obsessing over.

There were two ways to escape this sort of mind-asphyxiating conversation. First, seek out people not interested in mundane topics. Despite my secularity my uncle's rationales and preoccupations were interesting from an academic perspective; his relative admiration of Buddhism for example was not something one might expect from a Sunni fundamentalist (he had traveled to Australia and Southeast Asia with his religious order multiple times). Even better conversation was my cousin who had a master's degree in math, an interest in cosmology and was employed as a systems administrator. She was much more like the sort of person I would proactively associate with in my natural environment, and despite the fact that we shared relatives in common she didn't have a great need to review every last incident of gossip that she'd stumbled upon. But there was another way to dampen family-gossip: don't hang out with family! One of my father's best friends from college was an engineer, and we went to have dinner at his house one day. His brother, a physics professor at Dhaka university was there, and much of the conversation hinged upon whether the current excitement within the biological sciences compensated enough for the fact that it lacked the elegance and beauty which physics could offer. Now there's a conversation I could bite into! Of course we weren't going to talk much family gossip because they weren't family.

As family sizes shrink within a society I assume that the mind-numbing chatter which emerges from the social-networking of families will slowly diminish. People will associate based on shared-traits instead of shared lineages, mostly because lower fertility means that there's less lineage to go around. I have on the order of half a dozen aunts and uncles on each side of my family (paternal and maternal). But in my own generation the average number children is about 2 (some have 1, some have 3, etc.). There simply won't be hordes of cousins in the next generation because the sibling groups are too small (and some of them won't reproduce, as a few in my parents' generation have not).

Values, norms and ideas float on a social surface. If one's local network is saturated with family values will be preeminent. Eccentric interests are not likely to be shared across the family network unless one is totally inbred. So there is a strong selection for banal conversation topics which everyone can participate in, or signalers that everyone can appreciate. There's a local fitness peak of mediocrity around which a family gathers in terms of topic and creative expression; everyone knows uncle-so-and-so or the terrible thing that happened to that particular cousin. Remove the close relations and the landscape is no longer so regular and coalescence around a local fitness peak no longer as inevitable. An isolated individual you move to a new location and float in and out of social circles based on common affinity. In other words, the non-family world is one of a shifting balance of ideas and an exploration of a more rugged topography. The sample space of possibilities is larger, the risks greater, the comfort zone less incestuous. Depending on your values, that might be a good thing....

Addendum: The point can be generalized. Even shared affinity groups can become too incestuous, to the point where all creativity is removed. As an example, consider that William D. Hamilton believed that the George Price's formalism, which was far superior and more general than that which he had introduced earlier, was a product in large part of the Price's ignorance of what had come before in the field of evolutionary biology. Because of his ignorance George Price started in a very strange part of gene land and stumbled upon very startling vistas unknown to mainstream theoreticians who were constrained by the precedents of their elders.

Update: I do want to be clear, the dangers of family conversation isn't even that family members are that mediocre. It's that you have so much in common with family that the topics tend to be pretty banal. Even if your brother has a Ph.D. you might be more likely to talk about figuring out how to handle the fact that your parent is succumbing to dementia. These are needful conversations, but if your socialization experience is strong skewed toward family members they start swallowing up all your marginal time. The same dangers are applicable to the tendency for many Americans to spend all their marginal time with their significant other. Diversity is good.

Related: Theresa's cousin on cousin marriage & corruption. And the famous profile of the Syrian Jews of Brooklyn.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

A revival of functionalism?   posted by Razib @ 2/17/2008 12:11:00 AM

Human Culture Subject To Natural Selection, Study Shows:
The Stanford team studied reports of canoe designs from 11 Oceanic island cultures. They evaluated 96 functional features (such as how the hull was constructed or the way outriggers were attached) that could contribute to the seaworthiness of the canoes and thus have a bearing on fishing success or survival during migration or warfare.

They also evaluated 38 decorative or symbolic features (such as the types of carved or painted designs). They analyzed mathematically the rates of change for the two groups of canoe design traits from island group to island group. Statistical test results showed clearly that the functional canoe design elements changed more slowly over time, indicating that natural selection could be weeding out inferior new designs. This cultural analysis is similar to analyses of the human genome that have been successful in finding which genes are under selection.

The study is coming out on the 19th in PNAS (so that means it will show up on the website at some time after that date). As most of you know in the 1960s the neutral theory of molecular evolution emerged in response to the finding that there was a great deal of extant genetic variation on allozyme loci (OK, to be fair neutralist ideas predate the empirical results; but I think it is clear that those results made the model intellectually far more compelling). Prior to this there were two broad schools of evolutionary genetic thought; one group accepted that there would be low levels of polymorphism due to balancing selection, and another assumed that there would be little to no polymorphism because of selective constraint. No matter the rearguard attempts by the likes of Richard Dawkins to argue that molecular variation "doesn't count," I think the neutralist (or nearly neutralist) insights are important in giving us a better understanding of the nature of evolutionary dynamics on the genomic scale. In The Origins of Genome Architecture Mike Lynch argues that low effective population sizes have had a strong role in shaping the character of genomic variation in more complex organisms. In other words, we are all non-adaptationists now!

What does any of that have to do with the paper above? Peter Richerson & Robert Boyd, L. L. Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus Feldman and E. O. Wilson & Charles Lumsden have all attempted to show how evolutionary processes are relevant to our understanding of human soceties. Unfortunately, as L. L. Cavalli-Sforza observes, cultural anthropologists are less interested in understanding humans as opposed to interpreting them. Formal frameworks to accompany the mass of empirical observations are simply neglected or seen as unnecessary. This is an unfortunate overreaction to the hubris of earlier generations of anthropologists who attempted to shoehorn all human variety into a set of functional adaptations. Instead of a happy medium where skepticism is balanced with empiricism and rationalism, anthropology has swung from a total lack of critical analysis toward one where positive assertions are eschewed on principle (unless, of course, those assertions are directed toward Western culture).

In Darwin's Cathedral David Sloan Wilson tries to make an argument for resurrecting a functional understanding of cultural traits as adaptations. I think that this sort of work is hard-going, at least beyond the level of triviality (e.g., the rationales for why the Inuit dress the way they do is rather straightforward). That is because "culture" is a very broad and ill-defined term and the selective pressures are myriad; the environment, the social matrix and the correlations with other traits are all critical. Wilson's methodology in Darwin's Cathedral was to use case studies; I don't think that that will cut it. Rather, massive surveys of collected data tested via statistical methods are probably more useful in extracting out the adaptive trends as a function of time and space. I do not, for example, think it is a coincidence that over the last 2,500 years all the complex cultural traditions on the World Island became associated with what we would call "Higher Religions," roughly, the fusion of supernaturalism with philosophy and institutional structures. But were these parallel developments a function of the specific adaptive needs of these complex societies? Or where they perhaps inevitable byproducts of the sufficient intersections of modal human psychology with the rise of the novelties of mass post-tribal society?

These are big complex questions. I think that are certainly functionally significant cultural adaptations. That being said, I am not sure sure that they are responsible for the preponderance of between cultural variation. To go back to the example of Higher Religions, I think one can plausibly argue that some sort of synthesis between intuitively appealing extant supernaturalism with the intellectual & institutional abstracting tendencies of complex societies made them inevitable, necessary perhaps. Societies which were united by a common religious ethos may very well have been more fit than societies still characterized by a welter of tribal gods uncomfortably corralled under one political dispensation (though the dynamic might usually have been played out within an intrasocietal context; e.g., the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet and Japan by a particular faction at court and the subsequent nativist reaction with failed). But the specific nature of the Higher Religions may very well be arbitrary, neutral so to speak, because like a synonymous substitution they have no functional significance.

Obviously the paper above targets the law hanging fruit. Engineering is not contingent upon the caprice of human social dynamics; it works, or it doesn't, by the grace of Mother Nature. But it's a start, as it is a reality check upon those who would argue that the full sample space of cultural possibilities are theoretically at play, and equally likely. The next step is to start examining traits not so strongly constrained by physical conditions.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

The games people play   posted by Razib @ 1/25/2008 03:25:00 PM

Reza Aslan and Rod Dreher had a disagreement about the general concept of "Clash of Civilizations" on the latest I think people who actually read Samuel Huntington's original book would feel that the caricature of his thesis is a bit unfair; granted, such macro-scale typologies invite criticism, and there were some embarrassing factual errors. But Aslan himself himself is coming back with Platonic seeming typologies (e.g., "Arab culture") while at the same time ridiculing the whole enterprise.1 The reality is that the human mind is geared toward these clear and distinct types, despite the fact that reality exhibits continuity. I am, for example, always surprised at the alliances of convenience which confound our expectations based on higher-level categories. For example, the Abbasid caliphs & the Carolingians engaged communications in the interests of forging common cause against the Byzantines, prefiguring the later French alliance with the Ottomans against the Hapbsurgs. This is a case where it seems geographic parameters overruled the historically contingent cultural affinities between various states (during the time of Charlemagne the Latin and Greek churches were not even in schism!). The Umayyads of Spain similarly attempted to act in concert with the Byzantines against the rising Muslim powers of North Africa who were pushing into southern Italy and challenging their status as the paramount Islamic power in the western Mediterranean. And in the last case, cities such as Amalfi long served as federates in the North African Muslim cause against other Italian Christians for decades, enabling the endemic depredations of the Muslims upon their co-religionists in exchange for a cut of the plunder and strategic alliance. In China the Hui (or Dungans), the Chinese speaking Muslims, were used by the Manchus to conquer & suppress the Turkic speaking Muslims of Xinjiang toward the interests of consolidating the hold of the Chinese Empire upon these marginal regions. And in a peculiar case, rebellions of the Hui against their non-Muslim rulers predicated on religious differences tended to succeed only when Muslim preachers embedded within their sermons metaphors and analogies drawn from common Chinese (often Daoist) mythology! And yet, you often see this:

Omar, the Kurds claim, was once an inconsequential deputy to the now-deceased terrorist chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Omar disputed this characterization. By his own telling, he accomplished prodigies of terror against the pro-American Kurdish forces in the northern provinces of Iraq. "You are worse than the Americans," he told his Kurdish interrogator. "You are the enemy of the Muslim nation. You are enemies of God." The interrogator-I will not name him here, for reasons that will become apparent in a moment-sat sturdily opposite Omar, absorbing his invective for several minutes, absentmindedly paging through a copy of the Koran.

It is true that may Islamist Arabs have an operational tendency to conflate the "Muslim nation" with the "Arab nation," but, I do not think one can deny the internationalist tendencies of a particular tendency with Islam. Reza Aslan in the diavlog with Rod asserts the multiplicity of identities which individuals tend to have. Cultural anthropologists also tend to make this claim. It seems an obviously true claim. But, the problem to me is that Aslan (and cultural anthropologists) take this complexity and use it as a cudgel against any attempt to construct general trends or patterns of relations (outside of their own preferred narratives!). There are sociological and historical analyses of the manner in which people identify; for example, middle class Bengali speaking Muslims before the partition, and under British rule, tended to coalesce around their identity as Muslims who were marginalized by the Hindu elite of Calcutta. After independence under Pakistan Bengali speaking Muslims were dominated by a non-Bengali speaking Muslim elite; whereas before they were marginalized as mussulmans, now they were marginalized as crypto-Hindu kala Bengalis. In my own family this has manifested in a generational difference; my mother noted that her parents, especially her father who was often the only Muslim physician among his colleagues (he was born in 1896), was extremely attached to the idea of Pakistan. In contrast, her own generation experienced little discrimination from Hindus, who were by that period a minority out of power, as opposed to Urdu-speaking immigrants from India ("Biharis") who would engage in attempts to assert naked dominance in public such as forcing Bengalis out of seats on a bus if all spots were already taken (and yelling loudly in Urdu, which the bus driver might not understand, when they were denied what they wanted).

Context matters. Most of us get that. Obviously we use them as heuristics in our day to day life (among a bunch of white Americans I suppose I'm the "brown guy," and among a bunch of non-American brown guys I'm "the American"). Rather, people should engage in more scholarship to map out how how these identities apply in particular contexts and what their long-term effects are. For example, it is trivially easy to find alliances across the religious chasm for states during the medieval period; but it might be interesting to see how much deviation from expectation based purely on real-politik there was over the centuries. I think that the sincere Christian religiosity of Louis IX of France did have geopolitical consequences which could not be inferred from pure calculation of interest. It may be that though most state-action can not be derived from civilizational adherence (after, most conflict is intra-civilizational), the deviations from expectation can be, and those deviations might be particularly significant hinges of history.

Finally, I think that though broad social and historical studies are essential, we need to explore the psychology of identity in more detail. There is a difference between what people say, and what people do. I suspect many Syrian Muslims would avow more affinity to a South Asian Muslim than to a Christian, at least to the South Asian Muslim. But I also suspect that racial prejudice and to a lesser extent Arab chauvinism strongly shape realized choices, and in reality association with a Syrian Christian might actually be more likely (this doesn't take into account variables such as food, where local geography and culture matters a great deal). Ultimately, these questions of identity are empirical, and it would be nice if people spent less time arguing and more time collecting data and analyzing it.

1 - Do Syrian Christians, Arabs of Khuzistan in Iran and the Arabs of Morocco truly have in common with each other than each does with an Armenian Christian of Syria, a Persian from Fars and a Berber from the Rif?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Evolution of B. Spears   posted by Razib @ 1/17/2008 06:22:00 PM

Found this why doing research on the web, The Devolution of Britney Spears: From Pop Star to Celebrity Trash in Less than 7 Years.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Location: genes & culture   posted by Razib @ 1/15/2008 05:59:00 PM

p-ter's post about a new allele for lactase persistence is a powerful testament to the reality of gene-culture coevolution. These alleles which allow for lactase persistence have almost certainly spread over the last 10,000 years, and likely within the last 5,000. The fact that multiple alleles arose which exhibit disparate geographic distributions suggests that population substructure was generated in part by physical barriers (e.g., the mountainous massif at the center of Eurasia) which prevented selection from sweeping from deme to deme. This brings me to a note which I think is important to make: the same parameters which make a region amenable to a flow of information (culture) likely results in it being subject to repeated influxes of advantageous alleles from without. In other words, the rich get richer. Along trade routes come both cultural and genetic innovations. We've been discussing recent adaptive evolution and its likely acceleration toward the present, but if you read history you'll also note that cultural change has also sped up a great deal. The society of ancient Egypt spanned over 2,000 years; obviously it was not static, but a farmer during the Old Kingdom would not have been particularly shocked by the customs & norms of the New Kingdom. In contrast, someone from 200 years in the past would be an alien among us.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Edge 2008 question   posted by Razib @ 1/01/2008 12:56:00 PM



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Get thee to the semiotics department!   posted by Razib @ 12/27/2007 12:21:00 AM

Steve points me to this George Johnson piece. Regular readers of this weblog know that we have had our differences with Jared Diamond. That being said, Diamond's ideas are clear & distinct, you can actually understand (and disagree) with what he is trying to say. A few years back when the Savage Minds weblog was getting into it with Diamond's defenders on the blogosphere one of the main issues seemed to be that it was hard to parse exactly what problem the cultural anthropologists had with Diamond besides the obvious perception from their camp that he was a racist (the post above GNXP authored was actually used to support that contention!). There are two distinct issues at work here, one general and the other rather specific.

First, some anthropologists, generally of a cultural or social bent, have become enamored of the same fashions which are rife within literary scholarship. One could use a catchall term like "Post Modernism" to describe these tendencies, though that's oversimplifying. Roughly, the flight to relativism and the acknowledgment of the subjectivity of scientific methods inevitable in the human sciences have been taken almost to a reductio ad absurdum by cultural anthropologists. The broader dynamic was one reason that Stanford's anthropology department was split in two, separating those who viewed their discipline as a science and those who took a more humanistic tack. In the latter case one could say that the goal is interpretation, not analysis, fine grained description as opposed to smoking out systematic general truths. The trend toward very specific description and disinclination to place the local in the general context leads to intellectual myopia. Imagine a riverine system where you have two groups of scholars. One group uses a method where a researcher takes a very deep core sample at one location. They examine that core and perfectly characterize the sedimentary structure on that location. The other group engages in a broad study of shallow cores and visual inspection across the whole system; they lack detailed specific knowledge but are attempting to sketch out the general dynamics of the system. Obviously there are strengths and weaknesses to both methods, and your needs and goals need to be kept in mind. The generalists will no doubt elide specific details, while those who pour over a specific deep core will accept a trade off between their detailed local knowledge and the broader framework.

And so it is when "thick description" partisans square off against general system-builders. General system-builders will usually be wrong, most theories do not stand up to the test of time, and the vast majority of hypotheses are false. Additionally, they will ignore local detail and over generalize so as to remove outliers from their model. This is not a bug, but a feature! Cultural anthropologists who jump upon inaccuracies in inferred detail (that is, they contend that the hypothesis does not hold in the case of their studied culture) seem to not consider that system-builders by the nature of their topic of study in the human sciences will offer up statistical truths, as opposed to apodictic ones. I suspect that this confusion is in part due to the fact that many cultural anthropologists seceded from the nation of social science just as statistical techniques became ubiquitous in validating assertions of truth. The problem with American cultural anthropology is not that it is not true, but that it can never be wrong! Where as they see the naked & plain error within Diamond's work as a mark of its folly, in truth it is simply the beauty of science that falsities are exposed for what they are. On occassion marginal deviations along the edges of a theoretical construct are even cleaned up in future iterations. Imagine that, scientific progress! Instead of rebutting Diamond's thesis with their own general system cultural anthropologists reject the whole project in its entirety. In the stinginess of their vision I must admit that they remind me of Michael Behe, who implies that what is not known or understood with any level of clarity in the present shall be incomprehensible in a naturalistic sense indefinitely by its very nature.

As for the specific problem with cultural anthropology, it is encapsulated in this quote from the piece above, "Diamond in effect argues that no one is to blame," said Deborah B. Gewertz, an anthropologist at Amherst College. "The haves are not to be blamed for the condition of the have-nots." Does the ethologist blame the sick Wildebeest which is killed by the lion? Does the conversation biologist blame the Dingo for likely having driven the Tasmanian Tiger to extinction? Or does the conservation biologist absolve the Dingo of blame because the arrival of Europeans would likely have heralded the Tiger's doom in any case? Does the particle physicist give thanks to CP violation for allowing the flourishing of our civilization? And so on. These are ridiculous queries because even though a wildlife biologist might, as a human, harbor an affection for the animals of their study, in the end they are animals to study. This sort of objectivity, or at least the attempt, seems anathema to some anthropologists who see themselves as activists and actors who are deeply engaged with the material basis of their scholarship. Despite the cultural anthropologists' rejection of general inferences from data they seem to have no great qualms in making general normative assertions derived from their own axiomatic value system.

As human beings we are likely cognitively biased toward viewing our own species as special. This crops up in taxonomy, where Carl Linnaeus placed us within our own genus though subsequent cladistic systematics implies that we form a monophyletic lineage with the other great apes. The Great Chain of Being suffused early evolutionary thinking, and even after our descent from pre-human primates was acknowledged our morphogenesis was conceived in a teleological light, we were the crown jewel of biological processes. The Modern Synthesis banished this sort of teleological thinking from evolutionary biology, killing the batch of orthogenetic theories which reigned supreme circa 1900. In the first half of the 20th century anthropology was an ideological discipline which also expressed a teleology, the evolution of human societies expressed a trend which culminated with the Europeans, anthropologists were an arm of the supremacist Zeitgeist in the West. The Nazi abomination showed anthropologists that such activism was illegitimate. But instead of turning from activism and ideological pursuits anthropology simply inverted itself, it became a handmaid of the counter-cultural elite, pushing relativism and lack of positive assertion as virtues except in their rejection of the West and a general suspicion of the culture of European man. The disaster of racial science as the handmaid to the racial state did not draw anthropologists to the conclusion that aspiration toward objectivity should be their goal; rather, they switched sides en masse and hitched their wagon to the cultural winners in the academy.

Though this secured their place in the humanities departments, it also made them a laughing stock in the eyes of other scientists. Here was what L. L. Cavalli-Sforza stated when I interviewed him:
I entirely agree that the average quality of anthropological research, especially of the cultural type, is kept extremely low by lack of statistical knowledge and of hypothetical deductive methodology. At the moment there is no indication that the majority of cultural anthropologists accept science - the most vocal of them still choose to deny that anthropology is science. They are certainly correct for what regards most of their work.

Anyone who is familiar with Cavalli-Sforza knows he is a humanist; he has a passion for humanity and wishes to understand our species to the best of his ability. It is clear that he does not perceive that cultural anthropologists share the same passion for understanding, as opposed to their own admittedly subjective interpretations. The evolutionary geneticist James F. Crow stated upon controversial research on human evolution & behavior:
I hope that such questions can be approached with the same objectivity as that when we study inheritance of bristle number in Drosophila, but I don't expect it soon. There are too many strongly held opinions. I thought Lahn had a clever idea in thinking that the normal alleles of head-reducing mutants might be responsible for evolution of larger heads in human ancestry. Likewise, I think that Cochran et al. are fully entitled to consider the reasons for Jewish intelligence and I found their arguments interesting. In my view it is wrong to say that research in this area -- assuming it is well done -- is out of order. I feel srongly that we should not discourage a line of research because someone might not like a possible outcome.

Is man but a fly? Why not? I can give you my ethical and moral rationales for why man is not a fly in an ontological sense, but scientifically we are of the same essence, the same atomic units, many of the same genetic switches, and so forth. The insight that man is an animal was one Charles Darwin popularized in the 19th century, but cultural anthropologists reject this truth because they reject all truths except the ones they feel privileged to assert from their perches as conscious and enlightened folk (but is not being enlightened itself an expression of a hegemonic mindset?). It is difficult to take a system of scholarship which seems to promote obscurity and subjectivity as goods seriously. Study of human societies is more difficult than breaking down a molecular genetic pathway; but that is no excuse to give up the quest for clarity, precision and prediction. We're a complex species, and there are many contingent variables which clog up any system. But I see no reason that that justifies reading societies like a work of fiction; presenting arguments as clever word games which rise and fall based on prose opacity and the fads of the day. Cultural anthropology's adherence to critique is not the problem, criticism is a necessary antidote to sloppy thinking, rather it is its promotion of critique as the sin qua non of the discipline and insulation from falsification by saying nothing positive at all. They should leave criticisms of Jard Diamond's grand system of the world to those who actually believe that such activities are not scandalous in the first place!


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Drinking in Europe   posted by Razib @ 11/18/2007 11:13:00 PM

Nothing too surprising in this story about attitudes toward alcohol in Europe. From Finland:
Since the government cut tax on alcohol by one third in March 2004, deaths and diseases from alcohol have all jumped by similar amounts in hard-drinking Finland.

The cut was made due to cheap alcohol imports from neighbouring Estonia.

People respond to tax incentives!


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Simple math   posted by Razib @ 11/17/2007 11:44:00 PM

Over at Overcoming Bias Eliezer sings the praises of simple math. Steve was the first person to bring to my attention this phenomenon. For me, a little algebra, probability and statistics goes a long way in making one's thoughts more precise and rigorous (even one's own internal monologue). You can attempt this through pure verbal description, but unfortunately the precision may not be perceived the same from different vantage points. In other words, verbal arguments often tend to communicate different things to different people (or different things to the same person at different times) because of subtle and implicit semantic interpretations (the mental algebra obviously works out differently if the coefficients in front the variables vary from person to person). If you speak in cautious and specific philosophical language it may only clarify the misunderstandings further.* Another angle is that of simple data analysis. Half Sigma and Inductivist do this well. The data is out there, insight will come.

* This is confusing. Clarify misunderstandings? If two people are discussing a topic and their understanding of the terms is such that they have two different conceptions of what they are discussing, further specificity of the language won't necessarily bring them together, rather they simply clarify in their own minds their interpretation of the model.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The importance of book stores   posted by Razib @ 11/14/2007 07:31:00 PM

With AbeBooks and access to massive university libraries, what's the point of visiting a physical book store? Well, presentation. With online stores and university stacks the search process is rather narrow and focused. You find extremely topical texts with laser-like specificity. But this also means that you won't stumble upon a book which is just outside your search arc; a text whose topicality is somewhat outside of the subject-space which you are exploring, but nevertheless extremely relevant to many of your concerns and interests.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Terrorists are engineers   posted by Razib @ 11/11/2007 12:54:00 PM

Engineers are not terrorists, rather, the inverse. At least in some circumstances. Tyler Cowen points me to a new paper, Engineers of the jihad:
We find that graduates from subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world, though not among the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries more recently. We also find that engineers alone are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms. This is all the more puzzling for engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists. We consider four hypotheses that could explain this pattern. Is the engineers' prominence among violent Islamists an accident of history amplified through network links, or do their technical skills make them attractive recruits? Do engineers have a 'mindset' that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism, or is their vigorous radicalization explained by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries? We argue that the interaction between the last two causes is the most plausible explanation of our findings, casting a new light on the sources of Islamic extremism and grounding macro theories of radicalization in a micro-level perspective.

My own working model is that engineers (and quantitative scientists) tend to go crazy because their mental outlook is relatively rigid. You don't want to be that creative if you're an applied scientist, you need to take the truths of science as givens and derive practical results. The same tendency can result in a naive fundamentalist outlook when the truths of religion are taken as givens. Additionally, it seems to me a sociological reality that aspirant sub-elites are also the best recruits due to their resentments against an "unjust" order (their talent running up against the fact that they lack culture in the snobby sense as well as connections to leverage their professional competence maximally). The interesting point is that Islamic radicals in Western countries don't fit this profile. I suspect that they can be best modeled as a more conventional class/ethnic nationalism dynamic.

Related: Nerds are Nuts.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The rate of cultural evolution, jerky or smooth?   posted by Razib @ 9/29/2007 11:24:00 PM

There has long been a tiresome debate in evolutionary biology (or at least in pop science books about evolutionary biology) whether evolution generally proceeds gradually or in bursts alternating with stasis. But I wonder: what about cultural evolution? With evolutionary biology we can look at fossils and the molecular substrate to determine the nature of change; with culture it is a little different because of its amorphous character. Some aspects are pretty easy to quantify, for example baby names for example drift like genes subject to purely random forces. On the other hand, my perception is that attitudes toward homosexuality have changed very fast over the last 15 years, so that some of the positions staked out by "social conservatives" in 2007 would be out of the mainstream for being too pro-gay in the late 1980s (here are polls). Has anyone out there plotted changes of attitudes from sources like Gallup and noticed whether the changes were gradual or subject to sharp increases or decreased in frequency?


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Then and now   posted by Razib @ 9/08/2007 09:23:00 PM

The New York Times has a story up about the boys who have to be expelled from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Warren Jeffs. This group practices obligate polygyny (you have to have at least three wives to make it to heaven) so teenage boys are thrown out of the community with the merest pretense to maintain a suitable sex ratio. Because they have led regimented lives and lack much formal education the transition to "normalcy" is often difficult. A story at CNN emphasizes the large role that alcohol and drugs end up playing in their lives after expulsion; what was forbidden now becomes the ends of existence.

Obviously a fundamentalist Mormon sect is atypical in many ways. Nevertheless, I do think that it is simply an exaggeration of cultural forms which were and are quite normal across much of the world. The values of fundamentalist Mormons are not so opaque to someone from a 'traditional' cultural perspective. Here you have a society where a group of older men have fiat power over the most basic and critical aspects of the lives of their flock. There are fierce social and psychological controls at work which serve as tools for Warren Jeffs and his acolytes. The boys profiled note that they were terrified that they were going to hell if they disobeyed the leaders of their church. In terms of individual worth the only figures who have a modicum of autonomy are the powerful old men who control the levers of the culture. Most individuals are boxed in by birth and circumstance, they have minimal choice in terms of alternatives options, their social networks are within the same group so the norms of authority and control are reinforced and replicated.

These oppressive cultural systems are certainly at variance with the liberty and autonomy which are held in such esteem in the modern West. But they "work," as can be attested by their pervasiveness. I believe that the past 10,000 years has been the story of the rise of patrilineages, cabals of powerful men who monopolize and control the surplus of any given society. Though rarely as totalitarian as Warren Jeffs and his cronies, they regulated the lives of their close relations and other figures of note to maximize the status of their lineage. Even if the peasantry were not impacted by the taboos and incentives which pervaded the lives of the elite because of practical constraints, they certainly knew what the "right" way to live life was. Modernization and increasing affluence often lead to emulation of traditional elites so that the median "best practices" in a given society become more regressive from a Western angle as it becomes more "advanced."

This trend of increased inequality and the monopolization of economic surplus by an oligarchy has only been reversed over the past few centuries in the West. Concomitantly we have seen the decreased role for the religious institutions which offered an imprimatur of sacredness to the political and social systems of control. Though individuals may still be religious, they pick and choose an institutional affiliation and no longer fear the synergistic coercive power of church and state. Liberty is an idea we hold dear, but it is also an economic reality insofar as the average man or woman in the West now lives far above basic subsistence and can choose from a wide array of luxury goods to satisfy their wants and needs. Social systems which arose during the agricultural interlude, when the typical human lived on the margins of subsistence through perpetual back-breaking labor and a small leisured elite warred and philosophized, still remain with us as ghosts from a bygone age. The rate of economic and social growth, and the disjointed nature of the process, means that the past and the present and the future all face each other every day. In the modern West one of the major manifestations of this trend is the experience of 1st generation immigrants and their offspring. The parents grew up in a subsistence society, often buttressed by familial obligations and expectations. The children socialize in a consumer world where choice is a given. A father kills his daughter because she has entered into a sexual relationship with an outsider before marriage and without his permission. These are the things that happen when the past faces the present.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

10 Questions for Greg Clark   posted by Herrick @ 8/31/2007 02:04:00 PM

In his new book A Farewell to Alms, Greg Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, contends that "[t]he New World after the Neolithic Revolution offered economic success to a different kind of agent than had been typical in hunter-gatherer society: Those with patience, who could wait to enjoy greater consumption in the future. Those who liked to work long hours. And those who could perform formal calculations in a world of many types of inputs and outputs...."

Clark also provides archival evidence that in medieval Britain (and to a lesser extent in China and Japan) the wealthy-who presumably had those "middle class" skills in abundance-raised more children than the average person. If you put these pieces together-a system that rewards a new set of abilities, plus greater reproductive success for those who have those abilities-then all you need to get some form of selection is one more link: A transmission mechanism. On the nature of the mechanism, Clark leaves the door wide open. Could be parent-to-child cultural transmission, could be genes, could be both.

While much of the discussion of Clark's book has focused on his "survival of the richest" hypothesis, Clark himself appears to be equally devoted to demolishing the widely-held view that economic institutions are the key to modern economic growth. He notes that the British people had solid property rights, limited government, and sound currency for centuries before they had their Industrial Revolution. Drawing on early work by Nobel Prize-winner Douglass North, he argues that economic institutions are largely endogenous and relatively efficient, at least when we're talking about time horizons lasting a century or more. If institutional change wasn't the driving force behind modern economic growth, then what was? In Clark's view, the driving force was change within human beings themselves.

1. In some early work, you wondered why workers in British cotton mills were so much more productive than workers in Indian cotton mills. You discuss this in the last chapter of A Farewell to Alms. You looked at a lot of the usual explanations-incentives, management, quality of the machines-and none of them really seemed to explain the big gap in productivity. Finally, you seemed to turn to the idea that it's differences between the British and Indian workers themselves-maybe their culture, maybe their genes-that explained the difference. How did you come to that conclusion?

Clark: I came to economics as an undergraduate expecting, as is the central view of economics, that the explanation for wealth and poverty would ultimately be located in social institutions and that people everywhere have basically the same aspirations and abilities.

But unlike most of my colleagues in economics I have always been interested in the mechanisms, and the fine details, of how things actually function. Much of modern economics is entirely theoretical, and even most empirical work in economics involves just looking at very high level correlations between variables such as income per person and education, or democracy, or the openness of trade.

When I set out in my PhD thesis to try and explain differences in income internationally in 1910 I found that asking simple questions like "Why could Indian textile mills not make much profit even though they were in a free trade association with England which had wages five times as high?" led to completely unexpected conclusions. You could show that the standard institutional explanation made no sense when you assembled detailed evidence from trade journals, factory reports, and the accounts of observers. Instead it was the puzzling behavior of the workers inside the factories that was the key.

2. Your book is clearly a call for a new research agenda in the fields of economic growth and economic history, one focusing less on institutions and more on what we might broadly call "labor quality." But your key hypotheses seem to turn on the question of how and why entire workforces change across the centuries, and involve questions of culture, child-rearing methods, and perhaps human genetics-fields quite outside the expertise of most economists. If you could command an army of, say, biologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists to test your hypotheses about long-term changes in labor quality, what would you have them work on?

Clark: That is a great question. If, as is possible, the pre-industrial era changed people genetically to be better adapted to market economies, then a systematic comparison of the DNA of societies should find correlations between gene frequencies and the histories of these societies. If genetic change was also occurring in historical time, as opposed to the pre-historic era, then we would expect these changes to be incomplete even in societies with a long history of settled agriculture. In that case we would actually predict class differences genetically! The rich in these societies would differ genetically from the poor in certain systematic ways! All this should be testable at some point.

If the change was purely cultural, then we still might be able to discover systematic behavioral differences between poor and rich in modern capitalist society, such as over time preference rates, that correlate with differences between rich and poor societies.

3. What do you think are the weakest links in the now-conventional "Institutions Matter" chain of reasoning?

Clark: The book challenges the modern orthodoxy of economics - that people are essentially the same everywhere, and with the right set of institutions, growth is inevitable - in three ways. First by showing that there were societies like medieval England where the institutional structure provided every incentive for growth, yet there was no growth. Second by pointing out that by objective measures the institutions of many highly successful modern economies, such as in Scandinavia, provide much poorer incentives to individuals than those of very poor economies. And lastly by showing that in the long run economic institutions that would prevent growth tend to get replaced endogenously by ones that are pro-growth.

4. You provide a variety of evidence that interest rates have fallen over the centuries; this is a fascinating set of data that we've discussed before at Gene Expression. Should economic historians still be searching for transaction cost stories to explain this fall in interest rates-e.g., lenders needed a high return in ancient Rome to compensate them for the high cost of searching for safe borrowers-or is that search likely to hit a dead end?

Clark: Interest rates on safe assets like houses and land fell from 25% or more in Ancient Babylon, to 10% in Ancient Greece, Roman Egypt and medieval Western Europe, to 4% in the eighteenth century in the Netherlands and England. Most economic historians assume this just represents transaction costs. But I can show in cases such as medieval England that transaction costs have nothing to do with this - the real return on investments as safe as modern Treasury Bonds was 10% or more. So I am confident that something much more fundamental was changing over these years.

5. You use data on British wills to argue that the British people of today are by and large the descendants not of peasants and not of the violent medieval aristocracy-both groups failed to reproduce themselves. Instead, the British people of today are largely the descendants of the bourgeoisie of the middle ages. Nowadays, that seems to be a testable hypothesis; have you run into genetic evidence bearing on what you call the "survival of the richest?"

Clark: I agree that, in principle, this is a completely testable hypothesis. If there was genetic change in the Malthusian era then we will find systematic differences in genes that influence behavior such as patience and propensity to violence between groups such as the British and those such as Australian Aboriginals that had no experience with settled agriculture.

However, as far as I am aware, the identification of genes that influence such behaviors is at a very early and tentative stage. The only such studies I have seen reported are those of differences across ethnic groups in variants of genes encoding monoamine oxidase enzymes.

6. How are economists reacting to the book? In particular, are there any misunderstandings that you'd like to address?

Clark: I expected a hostile and perhaps even dismissive reaction, given the controversy that the "survival of the richest" argument was bound to create, and given the attack on the modern orthodoxy amongst economists about institutions being the key to wealth and poverty. But economists who have read the book, even when they remain skeptical of the conclusions, have generally found it interesting and challenging. They have been surprised to learn in particular that the history of economies is not anything like the implicit assumptions they have, based on modern economic doctrine.

7. One implication of your model is that human populations that haven't been through the full Neolithic Revolution are going to fail miserably when they try to build a modern market-oriented society. If people turn out to as hard to change as they appear to be-if neither culture nor genes prove to be all that malleable in the medium-run-then how would you recommend improving the lives of these people? Do you think economists can design institutions that can help make these populations productive?

Clark: Anyone who reads history cannot fail to be impressed by the difficulties that hunter-gatherers, or societies with only limited experience of settled agriculture, have in successfully incorporating into the modern capitalist economy. I spent a week in Australia this summer, and the plight of Australian Aboriginals is very sad. The surviving Aboriginal communities have seen tremendous rates of poverty, alcoholism, drug use, violence and sexual assaults.

But an important point in the book is that while some of this cultural variation may be due to the long histories of societies, there is a lot of cultural variation within these constraints that produces dramatic differences in wealth in modern societies. So there is no ground for fatalism on the possibilities for any society. The problem is that measures to reform the cultures of societies seem difficult to devise. Look at the lack of success the Chinese Communist Party had in remaking Chinese Culture. China has emerged from a period of extreme ideological indoctrination seemingly with its pre-communist love of individual wealth and status completely intact.

8. You emphasize that "[t]he argument is not that agrarian life was making people smarter." But you also emphasize that agrarian life placed greater value on verbal and mathematical skills than hunter-gatherer life. Let's set aside for the moment the question of whether these skill changes were cultural, environmental, or genetic. Are you claiming that the rise in math and verbal skills was counterbalanced by an equal loss of some similarly valuable hunter-gatherer mental skills? In other words, were the mental effects of the Malthusian process zero-sum? If so, what process within your model would make that occur?

Clark: I wanted to emphasize in the book that I was not advocating any kind of Social Darwinism. The long Malthusian economy that preceded the Industrial Revolution changed people, but there is no evidence it made them "better" or "smarter." Indeed there is evidence that we did not become any happier as result of economic growth.

Anthropological accounts of forager societies suggest that people in these communities have strikingly developed powers of observation and memory (as well as an amazing ability to endure pain) - they are just not abilities that the modern market economy places much value upon.

9. Bowles, Camerer, and an interdisciplinary research team led a series of ultimatum-game studies in pre-modern societies; the found incredibly diverse outcomes. By contrast, across modern societies, ultimatum game play is much more similar, so it looks like the modern world really is a world of conformity, at least on this topic. How do you think their experimental evidence bears on your question of whether the "long Malthusian night," as you call it, selected for a certain set of behaviors and attitudes?

Clark: I have seen these results reported, but had not thought of relating them to the arguments of the book. I would have expected that pre-modern societies would have had a common response, but potentially a different response than in modern societies. So I do not think I could call this any kind of vindication of the hypothesis in the book.

10. What's the next project?

Clark: I always have several going at the same time. One is a follow up to the "survival of the richest" study for England reported in the book which will look more closely at the intergenerational transmission of economic success with a much larger set of data, and seek to show through examination of the effects of family size that the mechanism is indeed almost entirely the transmission of culture or genes. This study will also look over the whole period 1600-1914 and examine when and why richer men ceased to have more children than average and began to have less. I would love to use this data to try to tease out whether we have just cultural evolution as opposed to genetic - I just cannot think of any way to do that!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not sexual charity   posted by Razib @ 8/15/2007 02:41:00 AM

Remember the post Sexual Charity? This is not sexual charity, Grooming of white girls for sex is exposed as two Asian men jailed. The root:
"At the point in their lives when they are ready for this sort of activity, Asians cannot go to Asian girls because it would be a terrible breach of the honour of the community and their family to have sex with an Asian girl before marriage." She said that the reason Asian men targeted very young white girls was because older white girls knew that a relationship with an Asian youth was unlikely to last as the community would seek an arranged marriage with someone from the Asian sub- continent....

However, Ms Cryer added: "I think there is a problem with the view Asian men generally have about white women. Their view about white women is generally fairly low. They do not seem to understand that there are white girls as moral and as good as Asian girls."

[Asian means Muslim here]

"Moral" is a loaded term. Are you less "moral" if you have 3 or 4 relationships before marriage and sexual relations with those individuals? What about if you are a virgin before marriage, but you don't see the person you are going to have sex with for the first time until a few days before you marry them? There is some talk that in the United States candor has made the perfect the enemy of the good, that a little bit of hypocrisy is necessary and beneficial. But then you see the other extreme.

Of course this isn't restricted to Muslims or "traditional" cultures. Most readers know that my adolescence was spent around many Mormons, and what passes for a socially conservative milieu in the United States. A particular subset of Mormon males, generally popular jocks, would date non-Mormon girls pretty explicitly for the purposes of sexual gratification. These men would subsequently go on to marry "good" Mormon girls. One of my friends told me quite frankly that he broke up with his Mormon girlfriend and dated a non-Mormon because he was so frustrated with having his sexual urges so constrained. After he got what he wanted he went back to his Mormon girlfriend (last I heard they were married and had several children). I'm assuming things would have been a little less relieved in Provo where everyone is a "good" girl....


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Climate and civilization follow-up   posted by agnostic @ 8/05/2007 07:12:00 PM

Recently I suggested that civilization flourishes in some areas of the world more than others, in part, because winged insects thrive more in environments that are lower in elevation and latitude. These insects are a key source of chronic infectious disease in humans, and having to deal with the recurring symptoms must sap some of your body's resources that could be used for "luxury" processes involved in societal innovation. I neglected to mention that what likely makes wingedness more common in such environments -- a higher degree of environmental heterogeneity -- likely selects for an increase in migratory features more broadly, not just in insects. So some small animal may be more migratory, and it could be carrying parasites or pathogens itself, or be harboring insects that carry pathogens. It's just a lot easier for disease vectors to make their way to you in such environments. And of course, it may be that the fatigue caused by hot, humid weather makes you less productive.

Since then, I looked again at Inductivist's analyses on White IQ in various regions of the US, based on GSS data. In the first two posts (here and here), he showed that adults in the Mountain (MTN) region score better than average on mean IQ and percentage of holders of college degrees. More interesting, though, is the post on IQ and geographical mobility. Although New England and the Mid-Atlantic far and away attract the smartest Whites, the smartest of all are the NE transplants who were raised in MTN. Moreover, none of the bottom 10 pairs consisted of a group that was raised in MTN. By contrast, even though 2nd place goes to those raised in East South Central and who moved to NE, those raised in ESC also occupy 4 of the bottom 10 spots.

Why does growing up in MTN appear to boost your IQ? Probably because the climate is less favorable to the spread of pathogens by vectors that are migratory. And that, again, is probably due to less environmental heterogeneity in that area -- the Rockies are cold, dry, and very high in elevation, all tied to greater environmental stability. That's surely one reason why Colorado in particular performs so well, and its state government should publicize the hell out of Inductivist's findings to draw in wealthy parents who want the best environment for their kids. "Baby Einstein" pre-schools won't accomplish squat, but being raised in the salubrious climate of the Rockies sure will. Even the hot areas in the southern part of MTN, which are less impressive than the northern areas, are not humid or sub-tropical but desert, which is characterized by little environmental change over time or across space.

You might think that the lower population density is also a factor, and that could be, but people raised in regions with high density make a good showing in Inductivist's ranking. Population density is more critical in influencing acute, contagious diseases like the flu or perhaps rarer and wilder stuff like schizophrenia. But it could be that adult IQ is more influenced by the presence of chronic infections that continually disturb the development process. As before, knowledge of which pathogens and which vectors are the culprit is not necessary to believe this idea: just knowing that the local ecology in region X favors such things far more so than in region Y is enough to suspect that diminished IQ in region X is at least partly due to infection.

Moving on to larger concerns, one puzzle that I admitted in the original post was South Asian civilization -- isn't that one of the nastiest places to be climate-wise? I should've investigated further, because the answer is "yes and no." The climates in the Subcontinent vary a lot more than I thought, as you can see in this climate map of India and this climate map of the world. But does climate correlate with degree of civilization in South Asia? Beats me, since I couldn't say which areas over the long-haul show more development than which others. However, I have catalogued below a list of the climates for the capitals of South Asian civilizations beginning in the Neolithic. I used the chronology of Wikipedia's History of India article for convenience, and looked up the capitals there as well.

I'll leave it up to the more historically informed to say whether the hypothesis is supported or not My rough impression is that the North has shown greater development over the past several thousand years, even though the civilizations of the South and Bengal have been no slouches, but that may be wrong in general or perhaps correct broadly but wrong in finer detail. One interesting exception to the rule of Southern climates being more tropical, though, is that of Bangalore -- the "Silicon Valley of India" -- which enjoys a semi-arid climate, lies higher above sea level than Madrid (920 m vs. 667 m), and is known as a "Garden City."

And yes, I know that the current climates where the earliest civilizations flourished might not be identical to what they were at the time, but Iran and the modern countries occupying the Fertile Crescent also have mostly arid or semi-arid climates nowadays. The point is that they didn't consist of tropical wet & dry climates like you find in Sub-Saharan Africa or the Amazonian rainforests.

Civilization (:capital) -- climate

Mehrgarh -- arid

Indus Valley -- arid, semi-arid

Mahajanapadas -- arid, semi-arid, humid sub-trop

Magadha: Rajgir -- humid sub-trop

Maurya: Patna -- humid sub-trop

Satavahana: Pune, Paithan, Amaravati -- humid sub-trop

Kushan: Charikar -- highland, semi-arid; Taxila -- semi-arid; Mathura -- semi-arid

Gupta: Ujjain -- semi-arid; Patna -- humid sub-trop

Pala: Varendra / Rajshahi area -- humid sub-trop; also trop wet & dry

Chola: Tiruchirappalli -- semi-arid, trop wet & dry; Poomphuhar -- trop wet & dry; Gangaikonda Cholapuram -- trop wet & dry

Delhi Sultanate -- semi-arid

Deccan Sultanates -- semi-arid, trop wet & dry

Hoysala: Belur, Halebidu -- trop wet & dry

Kakatiya: Warangal -- trop wet & dry

Vijayanagara -- semi-arid

Mughal: Agra, Delhi -- semi-arid

Sikh Confederacy -- semi-arid, humid sub-trop

Maratha: Pune -- trop wet & dry

Post-Independence: New Delhi -- semi-arid; Islamabad -- semi-arid; Dhaka -- humid sub-trop, trop wet & dry

NB: I left out the period of colonial India for a few reasons that you might object to. First, Europeans certainly cope differently with non-European climates than do the locals, and I want to see whether climate affects degree of civilization even for those who are most adapted to life there. And second, it's my understanding that Europeans were more concerned with establishing superior trading posts and practicing mercantilism than they were with encourgaging civilization per se in South Asia.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Nerds   posted by Razib @ 7/28/2007 07:21:00 PM

Who's a Nerd, Anyway?:
But the nerds she has interviewed, mostly white kids, punctiliously adhere to Standard English. They often favor Greco-Latinate words over Germanic ones ("it's my observation" instead of "I think:), a preference that lends an air of scientific detachment. They're aware they speak distinctively, and they use language as a badge of membership in their cliques. One nerd girl Bucholtz observed performed a typically nerdy feat when asked to discuss "blood" as a slang term; she replied: "B-L-O-O-D. The word is blood" evoking the format of a spelling bee. She went on, "That's the stuff which is inside of your veins," humorously using a literal definition. Nerds are not simply victims of the prevailing social codes about what's appropriate and what's cool; they actively shape their own identities and put those codes in question.

I think the researcher interviewed is a bit too obsessed with straight-jacketing nerds into a racial identity (white). I speak as a brown nerd, though I doubt I'm as socially antagonistic toward colloquial slang and conventional mores as the archetypical nerds. Rather, I think the key to nerditutde is the lower emphasis on being accepted and so assimilating the normative tardish value system (who cares if your friends make fun of you for reading? Keep at it!). Of course, many more socially aware intrinsic nerds become adept at mimicking the tardish comportment during high school, only to show their "true colors" in college when they continue to focus academically and go on to professional jobs. Any true nerdologist has to grapple with the reality that the majority of nerds might actually be "passing."


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Against the Ultracalvinists   posted by Razib @ 6/26/2007 10:28:00 PM

Reguar GNXP reader Mencius has an interesting post titled The ultracalvinist hypothesis: in perspective. Mencius is one of those rare bloggers who focuses on occasional essays where he develops his own ideas as opposed to a barrage of links and responses to the thoughts of others. Here's his introduction:
The "ultracalvinist hypothesis" is the proposition that the present-day belief system commonly called "progressive," "multiculturalist," "universalist," "liberal," "politically correct," etc, is actually best considered as a sect of Christianity.

Update: Cryptocalvinism slight tweaked, follow up post.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

To go where the gods go   posted by Razib @ 6/23/2007 01:33:00 PM

I was having a discussion with a friend last month about the effect of religious belief on morality. My own hunch was that all things controlled religion makes a minimal impact upon average life time behavior. Rather, I suspected that religious beliefs tended to increase the amplitude of fluctuation between being "good" and "bad." Religion tends to motivate humans toward intense and acute enthusiasm. From the outside on occasion we can judge those enthusiasms to be abominable (Holy Wars, witch hunts and inquisitions), and on other occasions they are admirable (charitable activities, the drive for social justice underpinned by divine certitude, etc.). Additionally, on a personal level the immoral often use religious casuistry to absolve themselves of guilt, blame or shame at the same time that the moral are driven toward ever more incredible acts of compassion, humanity and selflessness. In other words, religion may act as a dispersive parameter on the distribution of human behaviors. A Humean skepticism and moderation may lead to a life of relative tranquility and stability, but it may also be perceived by some as pedestrian, without the element of high art that comes with extreme variations in one's character and station in life. To some extent these thoughts strangely meandered over into my reflections on this essay: Don't become a Scientist! by physicist Jonathan Katz:
Typical postdoctoral salaries begin at $27,000 annually in the biological sciences and about $35,000 in the physical sciences (graduate student stipends are less than half these figures). Can you support a family on that income? It suffices for a young couple in a small apartment, though I know of one physicist whose wife left him because she was tired of repeatedly moving with little prospect of settling down. When you are in your thirties you will need more: a house in a good school district and all the other necessities of ordinary middle class life. Science is a profession, not a religious vocation, and does not justify an oath of poverty or celibacy.

Not a religious vocation, yes. And yet why is it that so many very bright men and women go into a field notorious for the lack of remuneration? The fact is that 99.99% of scientists will turn to dust, their names forgotten to generations of the future, their theses left to rot in the back rooms or in degrading digital archives. Their toil ultimately in vain. Of course there is the flip side, the prestige (if you get a tenure track slot at a decent institution), and on very rare occasions the fame of equivalent to being a rock star (though rarely do the greatest researchers overlap with the greatest scientific rock stars). Our very civilization is dependent and contingent upon the findings of science, and yet the reality is that most scientists will never achieve fame or fortune. But the hope and the dream is what drives men and women of ostensibly high intellectual aptitude.

Aristotle Onassis once said that without women what would be the point of wealth? I have joked that civilization is what men invented to impress women. The point is that rationality, the ground of our being, is ultimately a bit ludicrous if we engage in excessive cogitation and seek out its roots and fundamentals. During the 18th and 19th centuries scientific discoveries were made by gentlemen who wished to one-up each other and make their mark on the world. Their wealth was expended in the acquisition of knowledge to increase their reputation and status in the proximate, and to assure their everlasting fame and glory in the ultimate. Human behavior varies; for every Charles Darwin there were no doubt thousands of gentlemen of leisure who wiled away their time with the hunt and the drink. But the key point is that there was a Charles Darwin. History and the advance of our species is driven by the irrational dreams of the few. A history of Human moderation would likely have been far less traumatic and uneventful, but would history have ratcheted up toward the modern world that we see around us? I have spoken with some admiration of the stability and continuity of the Imperial Chinese civilization, which maintained its basic shape for 2,000 years, from the age of the Hellenistic empires in the wake of Alexander all the way down to the 20th century. But many of have adduced that this very stability was the reason that the Middle Kingdom never gave birth to modernity. The dampening powers of the Chinese system, its careful repeated evasions of cultural collapse, might have been the very cause for its inability to soar into the heavens like the phoenix exploding from its own ashes.


Dangerous ideas - the book   posted by Razib @ 6/23/2007 01:15:00 PM

John Brockman is repackaging his "What is your dangerous idea?" question from 2006 into a book. Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins, probably the two brightest lights in the firmament of Brockman's stable, have written a preface and afterward for the book. You can read them online. Dawkins in particular touched on a subject which might interest readers:
Are there any dangerous ideas that are conspicuously under-represented in this book? I have two suggestions, both of which can be spun into either the 'is' or the 'ought' box. First, I noticed only fleeting references to eugenics, and they were disparaging. In the 1920s and 30s, scientists from the political left as well as right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous - though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, even under the license granted by a book like this, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change. Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from 'ought' to 'is' and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed and dogs for herding skill, why on earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as 'These are not one-dimentional abilities' apply equally to cows, horses and dogs, and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, sixty years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what is the moral difference between breeding for musical ability, and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or, why is it acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers, but not breed them? I can think of some answers, and they are good ones which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

Dawkins' intellectual hero W.D. Hamilton was one of the last open and vocal eugenicists within the biological community (though if you read some of the introductions to his collected papers his own views changed over time and became more nuanced). The school of evolutionary biology which Dawkins in his own body of work elucidates is derived in a direct line from R.A. Fisher. One of the fathers of modern statistics and evolutionary genetics, Fisher was as a noted eugenicist whose own prolific brood were a testament to his beliefs that the phenotypically fit (by whatever metric he defined "fit") should translate that into reproductive fitness. Another of Brockman's intellectuals, Armand Leroi, has taken a more direct tack. Dawkins must know that we are on the precipice of the eugenic era, whether we call it that or not. While the first era of eugenical enthusiasm was characterized by top-down central planning and a rather gross understanding of the elements of human heredity (it was pre-DNA after all), the second will be a bottom-up affair generated by the mass action of small effects derived from millions of individual choices by parents. One assumes that somewhere R.A. Fisher is smiling.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

This just in....   posted by Razib @ 6/16/2007 12:01:00 AM

I just looked at the google analytics data for this website for the first time in about 6 months. Sitemeter is great, but google analytics allows for a fine grained analysis of the data. Looking at the top key word search queries and the highest ranked landing pages, I conclude that people really like porn. Especially Arab porn.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

European fertility   posted by Razib @ 6/14/2007 05:33:00 PM

Article in The Economist.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On Confucian Human Nature   posted by Razib @ 6/06/2007 01:17:00 PM

I was reading The Chinese Experience, a cultural history, when I was struck by something in the chapter on Confucianism:
...The belief that all men are born equal and are infinitely perfectible is a basic and profoundly humanistic Confucian doctrine, which is not paralleled in the main Christian tradition, which holds that all men are of equal value, rather than that they are born with similar characteristics. The belief goes back to the Analetcs, which includes the saying, 'By nature men are close to each other; through experience they become remote from each other'....

The generality of this is not surprising to me. If you read histories of the intellectual ferment in early 20th century China you note that it was the conservative and reactionary Mandarin class who argued most vociferously against the European ideas regarding the racial chain of being and eugenics. Instead, liberal progressives were open to Western science, which implied innate between group and within group differences, while the Confucians were immovable form their time tested tabula rasa dogma.

Of course, to some extent both groups were guilty of overreach, the Confucians rejected the new science which did point to heritable aspects of human nature and reality of individual differences (though to be fair, their moral-political system was the most robust our species has seen, persisting across 2,000 years). As for the racial science of the early 20th century, it was a coarse and clumsy beast which was vulnerable to the rise of the the tabula rasa methodologies in the human sciences, from behaviorism to Boasian cultural anthropology. But I do think it is important to note that in Geography of Thought Richard Nisbett reports that East Asians are still far more likely to attribute individual performance to context, circumstance and effort than innate aptitudes when compared to Westerners. My comment a few weeks ago on Confucianism in China was predicated in part on hints like this that the pre-Communist cultural sensibilities have persisted down to the present day. Many scholars argue that the ostensibly revolutionary Cultural Revolution was at the heart Confucian, placing emphasis on moral worth & will as opposed to technical efficiency & pragmatism. Sometimes you really have to look between the pages of the book to see that the title is deceptive.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Confucianism & China   posted by Razib @ 5/19/2007 12:49:00 PM

The Economist has an article up about the revival of Confucianism in China. There has been a lot of talk about Christianity & Christianesque cults in China over the past 15 years (see Jesus in Beijing). It seems plausible that ~5% of the citizens of the People's Republic of China are now Christian or Christianesque, and this number is likely to go somewhat higher. But, it is important to remember that the number of Christians in Taiwan has long been stabilized at 5%, and in the 5-10% range in Hong Kong, both jurisdictions where Christianity was somewhat favored by the powers that be for decades. Meanwhile, South Korean Christianity seems to have plateaued at about 25% of the population after decades of rapid growth. The point is that one would probably bet against China becoming a Christian nation anytime soon, and without that Christianity being able to assume center stage as a unifying ideology seems unlikely.1

So Confucianism is an interesting alternative. Below I talked about the fact that even in a post-Christian continent the basic raw material of Christian belief is still abundant amongst the population which remains as a reservoir of older practices and outlooks. Is the same true of China? Though State Confucianism fell in the first decades of the 20th century as the organizing principle of the Chinese polity, the the idea of Confucianism as central to the Han Chinese identity did not really suffer major body blows until the Communist take over of the mid-20th century. While most Europeans remember a time when Christianity was ascendant as the central motivating belief structure of their culture, and some European nations still have Christianity embedded in their organizing political documents, the same is not true of Confucianism. Rather, Confucian ideas floated outside of the power structure and passed from generation to generation informally. Outside of China (e.g., Taiwan) Confucianism did not go through the gauntlet of the Cultural Revolution, so even if there was not within China some memory of this ideology it could conceivably be re-planted from without.

But what exactly is "Confucianism"? The "original" Confucianism, as elaborated by Confucius himself and preserved in The Analects, was basically an elaboration of the ideals of Zhou Dynasty China. Its core, family values and traditionalism, are not particular controversial. Later on thinkers such as Mencius and Xun Zi added layers of philosophy on top of the original system, and the rise of Buddhism, and the counter reaction religious Daoism, gave birth to synthetic ideas of Neo-Confucianism, exposited effectively by intellectuals such as Zhu Xi. Some have also asserted that State Confucianism, as promulgated first by the Han Dynasty, had more in common substantively with Legalism (though Legalism was strongly influenced by one of the three fathers of Confucianism, Xun Xi), the bete noire of early Confucianism, with only stylistic flourishes being carried over from the original ideas of Confucius. Whatever the exact truth is, I think the critical overall point is that it is less important what Confucianism is, then that it served as a common anchor for the Chinese bureaucratic elite. Until recently the common anchor for the modern Chinese mandarinate were the texts of Marx & Engels, the policies of Lenin and later the thoughts of Mao (the Little Red Book was actually modeled on the Christian pocket pamphlets ubiquitous in the China of Mao's youth). For obvious reasons that is now less appealing, and attempting to reconstruct them to be congenial to nationalist capitalism is a difficult project. Confucianism is also in some ways an odd fit, especially with its historical contempt for the merchant classes and non-primary producers in general, but at least most Chinese can accede to the fundamental value of Confucian ideas and perhaps make them relevant to the modern age.2 Just as the Constitution of the United States serves as a unifying document for the American nation, so a reconstructed Confucianism might serve as the hub around which the various spokes of Han Chinese culture revolve.

1 - I use the word "Christianesque" because many of the new Christian inspired "cults" are really pretty strange, and mix a lot of folk beliefs within Christian orthodoxy. Since so much of the growth is outside conventional channels and uncoordinated from above it tends to span a lot of "idea space."

2 - One could observe that the synthesis of Christianity and capitalism which is the norm in much of modern Western culture is also rather unexpected.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Culture and wave of advance   posted by Razib @ 5/18/2007 03:46:00 PM

Cultural hitchhiking on the wave of advance of beneficial technologies:
...Decoupling of the advantageous trait from other "hitchhiking" traits depends on its adoption by the preexisting population. Here, we adopt a similar wave-of-advance model based on food production on a heterogeneous landscape with multiple populations. Two key results arise from geographic inhomogeneity: the "subsistence boundary," land so poor that the wave of advance is halted, and the temporary "diffusion boundary" where the wave cannot move into poorer areas until its gradient becomes sufficiently large. At diffusion boundaries, farming technology may pass to indigenous people already in those poorer lands, allowing their population to grow and resist encroachment by farmers. Ultimately, this adoption of technology leads to the halt in spread of the hitchhiking trait and establishment of a permanent "cultural boundary" between distinct cultures with equivalent technology.

Application? Trace the spread of agriculture in Europe and haplogroup J2, and map it onto "diffusion boundaries."


Dumb things guys do to impress girls   posted by agnostic @ 5/18/2007 01:19:00 PM

Retrospectacle gives the low-down on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which measures the pain of insect stings. The winner is the Bullet Ant that plays a central role in boy-to-man initiation rites of the Satere-Mawe tribe in Amazonia, as seen in this video. Returning to my post on daredevils, one episode of Jackass spin-off Wildboyz features Steve-O and Chris Pontius undergoing the ritual. See this video (some censored non-nudity). Their hysterics are somewhat affected, but no doubt it takes a bad MF to undergo this ritual multiple times for 10 minutes each time.

Why would a sane person do this? Easy: study the facial expressions of the local women after Steve-O and Chris undergo the ritual (about 2:15 in the video). Since facial expressions are pretty universal, we Westerners can recognize them as "my romantic curiosity has been piqued." And the girls are pretty, too -- now we understand why guys do stupid stuff like this. Not surprisingly, the creators of the two sting scales (Schmidt and Starr), are both male. I'm sure other obscure pain scales were developed by males as well, even if they're uncredited -- fraternity initiations must involve calculations of pain from similar sources. Scoville was male, but he measured spiciness according to what a panel of tasters thought.

This is yet another example of how culture could influence evolution: a ritual like the ant-gloves unmasks the ability to "take it like a man." Since the signal of manliness is amplified by extraordinary circumstances like these, the females now don't have such a hard time teasing it out from the noise of quotidian goings-on and can thus make better decisions about who to mate with. Branding and tattoo-ing likely serve similar functions, aside from whatever other roles they may play.

On a personal note, I'm not a paragon of machismo, but I figured out early on that I have a very high tolerance for needle pain. At 22 I decided to have my forearms tattooed (tastefully), and I'm surprised by how intrigued girls have been by them. They often fondle your arms as they inspect them -- not the worst thing in the world. A co-blogger has also noted that girls dig non-tasters, i.e. someone who can eat fire without flinching (though in his case the attention is unwanted, as he has a girlfriend). Males have duller palates (see here too), making non-tasting a more masculine trait. That could be why men with overly refined palates are perceived as effeminate. In any case, here too culture could unmask who is manly vs wimpy.

True, not all cultural / technological advances will allow previously unnoticed males to become manly men -- World of Warcraft addicts will always be dateless -- but that still allows for adaptive radiation into many other "now open for business" niches. There is also the not mutually exclusive possibility that selection is acting on other, correlated traits (e.g., for certain personality types).

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Romney on evolution   posted by Razib @ 5/11/2007 09:49:00 AM

Mitt Romney elaborates his position on evolution. Here's the thing: some are wondering if this will hurt Romney with evangelicals. But imagine the opposite, what if he pandered to Creationism? Well, perhaps someone would have asked how he could believe in the evolution of humans into gods while rejecting evolution as a general process! I know, low blow, but an elite scorned might go there. After all, Jacob Weisberg has elucidated one strain of elite thinking which declares honestly that believing in stuff made up thousands of years ago is less egregious than believing in stuff made up hundreds of years ago.

P.S. you can watch all four hours of PBS' The Mormons online.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Infidelity around the world....   posted by Razib @ 5/09/2007 09:42:00 PM

Update: I forgot a major note, the data below refers to extramarital relationships within the past year. Specifically, a sexual partner not your spouse.

I got Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee, a few weeks ago. It's a pretty fluffy book that really doesn't have much meat. But, there was a nice collation of world wide data (that is available) on infidelity. I've reproduced it below the fold. Note: if you are going to comment, please don't analyze one particular data point, the regional trends are what you need to look at. This data is merged from a host of different surveys and obviously isn't entirely representative nationally.

Togo (1998)37.00.5
Cameroon (2004)36.54.4
Ivory Coast (1998)36.11.9
Mozambique (2003)28.93.1
Tanzania (2005)27.62.6
Niger (1998)27.20.1
Haiti (2000)25.40.8
Benin (2001)23.40.6
Zambia (2002)22.61.5
Mali (2001)22.40.7
Uganda (2001)22.31.2
Burkina Faso (2003)20.10.5
Chad (2004)19.90.7
China urban (2000)18.33.2
Dominican Republican (2002)18.00.8
Malawi (2000)16.30.5
Nigeria (2003)15.20.6
Mexico City (2001)15.0n/a
Zimbabwe (1999)13.80.7
Peru (1996)13.50.1
Ghana (2003)13.00.4
Namibia (2000)13.01.2
Brazil (1996)12.00.8
Kenya (2003)11.51.6
Norway (1997)10.86.6
China ( 2000)10.5n/a
Great Britain****9.35.1
Bolivia (2003)8.60.4
Ethiopia (2000)6.91
Armenia (2000)4.70.1
Philippines (2003)4.50
U.S.A. (2004)*3.93.1
France (2004)**3.82
Italy (1998)3.50.9
Rwanda (2000)3.20.1
Nepal (2001)3.00
Switzerland (1997)3.01.1
Australia (2002)2.51.8
Bangladesh (2004)1.6n/a
Kazakhstan (1999)1.60.9

* married only; ages 18 or older
** married only, ages 18.54
*** married and cohabitating, ages 16-44

Caveats? Well, obviously the differential between males & females needs to be explained. Some of it is a real outcome of the structure of societies. That is, males will marry later, and young women will enter into affairs with older men. In societies like Russia and parts of Africa there is a large imbalance in the sex ratio as one goes north of 30, so males indulge in operational polygyny. Obviously this probably isn't the whole story, there are cultural expectations, and it seems likely that women will under-report infidelities more than males (in some cultures the author implies that males may actually exaggerate how unfaithful they are to prove their virility). Not only will women consciously lie, it seems possible that women will engage in more self-deception (because of cultural expectations). I had a female friend who didn't count a one night stand as infidelity because "it wasn't a relationship." In contrast, male acquaintances that engage in this sort of behavior not only count, but revel, in their additions to their head count.

Now, as for the rough geographic differences, what's going on here? Some of this again might be due to variations in the perception of the questions being asked and the survey methodology, but looking across nations some trends emerge. African countries seem to exhibit a lot more infidelity than, for example, Nepal or Bangladesh. Being who I am I know a bit about the culture of Bangladesh, and I will offer that Bangladeshi males are not faithful because of their moral fiber, rather, they have no opportunity. When transfered to a context where infidelity is a possibility, "nature takes its course." In Bangladesh the reality is that young women who enter into sexual relationships with older males outside of the bounds of marriage are simply not "respectable" (and very rare). Women are closely watched by their male kinfolk, it is a patrilineal and patrifocal society, and despite Islam, predominantly exogamous (i.e., wives are "strangers" in the houses of their husbands, surrounded by his relatives). Female honor is essential in a society where property is passed down through the male lineage. Additionally, males are the primary economic producers, being in evidence in the fields, while women are more likely to be found working within the home or in the matrix of the village of her husband (remember, women tend to move to the household of their husbands, and so that means that they are surrounded by her husband's relatives). In Africa the situation is different, garden based agriculture means women are much more independent economic players, and matrilineal inheritance means that paternity certainty is not so inextricably tied to transfers of wealth across the generations. If most of your wealth is coming from your mother and her family, your father's line is less relevant.

There is also another issue in Africa which I think needs be brought up: Christianity. I've just finished reading some material on the period in Europe between 500 and 1000, and one point to note is that it was rather difficult for Christian clergy of a Greco-Roman orientation to stamp out polygyny amongst elite males in "barbarian" societies. That is, the nobility of Ireland and Francia were commonly polygynous, even on high up to the Merovingian dynasty. Sometimes this tension between Christian priests and the rulers upon whose patronage they depended played out centuries after the introduction of Christianity. In Africa Christianity is generally less than a century old, with much of the conversion occurring within the last two generations. While the churches preach monogamy, in keeping with Christian models ultimately derived from the Greco-Roman precedent, elite males still tend to enter into operationally polygynous relationships. Because these males are often Christian (Christianity often correlates with high socioeconomic status, and so ability to support extra wives and mistresses) they do not solemnize their relationships with their "secondary" wives. So by definition, if not operation, these are extramarital relationships.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

GOP candidates & evolution   posted by Razib @ 5/03/2007 08:54:00 PM

I don't follow politics, but I see via CNN that only 3 out of the 10 current GOP candidates reject evolution, Mike Huckabee, who is aiming for the social conservative vote, Tom Tancredo, a convert from Roman Catholicism to evangelical Christianity, and Sam Brownback, a convert from mainline Christianity to evangelical Christianity to Roman Catholicism who still attends Protestant services with his wife. So 7 out of 10 candidates for president from the party of choice of American theocrats accept evolution! What's going on here? I suspect this is reflecting SES & and the shallow roots of anti-evolutionary sentiment. In other words, I do believe that those who oppose evolutionary theory are sincere, but their attitude is simply a subsidiary of a host of positions which serve as notional markers for social conservatives. When push comes to shove cultural elites on the Right have generally balked at embracing Creationism, and this has been tolerated by the grassroots because it is a marginal issue. In contrast, 9 out of 10 candidates would not defend Roe vs. Wade, which suggests that opposition to abortion rights is a far deeper sentiment which elicits a stronger emotional valence.

Update: Jason Rosenhouse has a roundup of links. Jonah Goldberg says:
I know there are Intelligent Design fans among our readers, but I found the string of hands going up from candidates last night admitting they didn't believe in evolution to be more than a little dismaying. I'm sure they had very intelligent, nuanced, explanations. But that doesn't help that much as far as I'm concerned.

Clearly an out of touch Metrocon! Where's the love for democracy!

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee clarifies. Pretty tepid a supporter of Creationism, he. Just goes to show a) the power of elites b) the lack of importance this issue for the grassroots, since he is focused on being the genuine conservative candidate.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Toxoplasma gondii's South American origins and its influence on culture   posted by agnostic @ 5/01/2007 11:03:00 PM

Would there have been a Goya without the Columbian Exchange?

It would require many volumes to catalogue the ways in which human gene flow from Iberia and Africa into South and Central America has affected the history of the New World, while at first blush the matter of human gene flow from the Americas into Iberia and Africa might merit little more than a book or two. However, humans are not the only living things whose genes might flow in one direction or another. A simple example is corn, which when introduced into Spain became a popular staple among peasants -- so much so that many were plagued by an epidemic of pellagra for relying solely on corn, which lacks niacin. But is it possible that gene flow of another sort might have affected European high culture? After all, when we think of the culture of Spain, we typically think of The Golden Age writers, Goya, Gaudi, Segovia -- not outbreaks of pellagra.

A short and freely available article
from last year in PNAS argues pretty persuasively that the pathogen Toxoplasma gondii, which has already been shown to affect human personality and culture, originated in pre-Columbian South America. The reasoning is simple: it is much more polymorphic at neutral sites within South America, and shows a striking lack of diversity elsewhere. The less diverse forms elsewhere likely reflect smaller founder populations that were carried away on European ships. (The same reasoning suggests that Africa is the ancestral homeland of human beings.) As the Europeans returned from their initial voyages to South America, they probably brought back with them infected cats and rats, as well as soil contaminated by cat feces. Because Iberia was an agricultural society with greater population density than pre-Columbian South America, T. gondii likely found much more ideal conditions for increasing its virulence, not to mention that European populations were innocent of its existence and so likely had no defenses. The authors argue that, from there, maritime travel spread the pathogen to the rest of the world.

As Razib mentioned in his review of the study that showed T. gondii's effect on human personality, the germ has somewhat different effects on men vs women. Since we're considering high culture, we need only concern ourselves with its effect on males. The short and skinny is that it raises levels of novelty-seeking and Neuroticism, a trait that measures how easy it is for a person to become emotionally worked up. One study by Cattell found that eminent researchers he interviewed tended to be more emotionally stable. For artists, though, you don't really need me to tell you that they tend to be emotionally excitable. Novelty-seeking is obviously important for both domains.

To return to the theme of genius germs, artists show a stronger bias toward being born during the Winter and Spring than scientists, which is consistent with the hypothesis that an early infection (more likely during the "flu season") starts the individual's personality off on a more Neurotic groove. So perhaps the flourishing of T. gondii among a virgin European population contributed to the explosion of artistic creativity that we see starting about the 17th Century. Greg Clark's new book, A Farewell to Alms, argues that the Industrial Revolution could not have happened far earlier than it did, in part because the English were simply not genetically prepared for it -- they were predisposed to abandon rather than conscientiousness. Maybe the same is true for artistic revolutions -- a population may have to wait for an outbreak of nuttiness in order to produce a Beethoven or a Goya. As the population adapts defenses against pathogens that affect personality, and as sanitary conditions improve, the frequency of bona fide weirdos diminishes, and what remains are faux iconoclasts like we see in Modern Art. Andy Warhol is a good example: his eccentricity was probably little more than an affectation.

The case of Western Classical music is particularly instructive, and anyone's theory of what produces artistic genius has to contend with this medium and time-frame. Unlike all other art forms, there is almost nothing of impressive value from "Ancient music" or even most Medieval music. There is a hint of sophisticated music during the Renaissance, and then suddenly there is an explosion during the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras -- after which there is a figure here or there who you might compare to a "mediocre" Baroque composer, but none you would comfortably rank alongside Bach. The early great works of the Baroque begin about the 1720s, and by the mid-1800s most of the rest of the Greats were dead; Wagner died toward the end of the 19th C., and most of the leading candidates for "Great 20th Century compositions" debuted before 1920. How can the near entirety of an artistic domain have been created within scarcely 200 years, burning out as abruptly as it caught fire?

I initially thought an epidemic of some infectious disease was likely, since there were plenty of outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, and others back then. Syphillis, maybe? That seems plausible at first, but that disease really does appear to make you quite nuts. If it were something less severe, but that still affected the brain and personality, it could have been the newly introduced T. gondii germ, which would have taken some time to reach Germany and France. England actually has quite low levels, despite Britons' reputation as cat-lovers, and they have never produced a composer on the level of any Continental -- and not because there was no demand for or encouragement of such music. When Haydn arrived in London, he was overwhelmed by how greatly he and other Continental composers were worshipped in England. The only composer of high eminence who can claim to be an Englishman was in fact a German import: Handel. The Scandinavian countries likewise were not principal actors during the great period of classical music; the population there is more spread out, and the climate is much colder, so T. gondii might have had a harder time causing epidemics there (current levels are also very low there). Iberia and Italy would have been struck early since they have more hospitable climates and have many ports that would have welcomed ships returning from the New World.

Surely there are many necessary conditions for artistic genius to flourish, and to reiterate the point of another post on extreme deviations, if one component is lacking, the entire edifice collapses. Before and after the great period of Western music, all of the other components may well have been in place, waiting for an outbreak of oddballness. These days, no one would allow a purposeful epidemic in the hopes that it might produce one Beethoven among the millions of other lives it would ruin, so we may have to just wait for something similar to happen naturally and hope that some good comes of it. Until then, if my conjecture is on the right track, those who treasure Western high culture may owe a debt of gratitude to an obscure South American parasite that we contract via infected cat shit.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The team draft   posted by Razib @ 4/26/2007 11:10:00 PM

Echoes of Terror Case Haunt California Pakistanis. From the article:
Lodi, a city of 62,000 people 72 miles east of San Francisco, is something of an anomaly among Pakistani immigrants. Most come to the United States to pursue professional careers, to become doctors or academics in large cities. But mainly rural peasants started coming to Lodi around 1920, and residents say 80 percent of the town's 2,500 Muslims are Pakistanis.

They came as agricultural laborers and never really assimilated, preserving their traditional ways by dispatching the young back home for arranged marriages.

I don't really need to offer further comment on this. The culture described in the article seems more reminiscent of European Islam than American Islam, except that the Pakistanis in Lodi seem more gainfully employed. In much of Europe the local Muslim community consists of a monoculture derived from peasant immigrants (e.g., the Turks in German y, the Pakistanis of northern England). In the United States Muslims are ethnically diverse and subject to selective immigration policies which skews the migration stream toward professional elites (PDF). Lodi seems to resemble Europe....

Related: You can watch the Frontline special The Enemy Within on the web. It covers the Lodi case.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

ScienceBlogger threatend with legal action   posted by Razib @ 4/25/2007 11:17:00 AM

Final Update: Victory Day! In response to Shelley's request I've removed the text of the original email.

A fellow ScienceBlogger has been threatened with legal action for reproduction of figures. Obviously we post figures here on this weblog pretty frequently. It isn't to screw over the companies doing the publishing from making profits, we just want to talk science. We don't repost whole papers. It seems highly likely no one who sees the figures on our weblog is going be disinclined then to buy the article if it piques their interest (more likely they'll go to the local university library). Instead, we're giving free publicity to the journal in question. So is what was done fair use or not? Honestly, I don't care too much, it seems that they just wanted the bad publicity/review to go away. So I say give them more! Here is the text of the email:


Addendum: Thinking about it more, I wonder what percentage of sales massive academic publishers make via the "buy this article" option which pops up when your institution doesn't have access? My own hunch is that very few people go this route, but rather will simply ask the researcher in question for a reprint/PDF if it is of particular academic interest. From a sales perspective I can't believe that reproduction of figures would in any way diminish the interest of an individual in a paper or article. Rather, it is more likely to increase interest (i.e., whetting appetite). So even assuming that the email Lisa Richards sent was defensible on legal grounds it doesn't seem to make much business sense to take up time doing something like this. Unless of course, as I noted above, the main motive was just to squelch some negative publicity.

Finally, I don't want to give the impression that bloggers have a carte blanche to say or do whatever they want to on the web. But, that being said, when someone to whips out the law as a cudgel against discussion of a topic, they should know that if the cause is unjust they'll be blog-mobbed.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Salaam   posted by Razib @ 4/16/2007 07:51:00 PM

So I was at Starbucks the other day, and there was this swarthy dude hanging around (OK, my thought was, "dude looks like a terrorist?!?"). Anyway, these two women, one 60ish and another 40ish were staring at him, and finally the older one was like, "Where are from???" Swarthy-man responded, "I'm from Sawoooodi Arabia" (phonetic for Saudi Arabia). The older woman then asked, "What do they speak where you are from???" The Saudi man responded, "Arabic." There was then a long conversation which I didn't follow closely, until the two women got up to leave. The younger one then turned out, clasped her hands together in the Namaste gesture and bowed ever so slightly and said, "Salaam!" The Saudi guy seemed a bit confused but he smiled and responded with a "Salaam."


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't call it science fiction!   posted by Razib @ 4/12/2007 01:39:00 AM

Wired has a funny story about the terror that marketers have about pushing anything as "science fiction" or "sci-fi." This is very relevant today, as Kurt Vonnegut has just passed away, and he is one of many writers (e.g., Phillip K. Dick) who left the science fiction ghetto. What makes science fiction so horrifying? I hold that it is a demographic issue: the core readership of science fiction consists of ugly young adult males. Once I was in Montpelier, VT, in a used book store. I was curious where the science fiction section was so I just scanned the aisles, and sure enough there was a slightly overweight, greasy haired and pasty faced male around the age of 25 rooting through copies of E.E. Smith. I knew I'd hit pay dirt. In any case, as Isaac Asimov once observed, all great fiction is to some extent science fiction and fantasy. If someone in the 1930s read contemporary fiction they might perceive it as near future sf with a character based focus. Epic poems like the Iliad and Odyssey are really little different than a lot of "high fantasy" except in their quality. Speaking of which, anyone read good science fiction or fantasy of late? And is there any good site that reviews? SF Site seems to like everything (the last SF and/or fantasy that I read was The Thousandfold Thought).


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Say what?   posted by Razib @ 4/10/2007 10:02:00 PM

So I saw this entry over at the Superficial about Kate Moss running around with fat chicks...and it took me to this Wikipedia entry about one of the women in the photo:
The magazine cited her 'non-conformity' the reason for her selection - she is a lesbian, an outspoken advocate of gay rights, weighs around 15 stone (about 225 lbs.)...and is also in a relationship with a transgendered individual who was born a woman but identifies as a man....
...Ditto posed nude for On Our Backs, a women-run lesbian erotica magazine. "It was a big moment in my life," she told Curve magazine. "It was kind of a radical thing to do. I got my period just 10 minutes before we got there, and I was totally bleeding. I was doing it with my tranny boyfriend, who I'm in love with, and I was totally bleeding - how radical is that? - and I'm a fat person, and I'm a femme. It felt really good."

? Say what? Someone has to make a South Park episode about this.


Culture & (co)evolution   posted by Razib @ 4/10/2007 02:54:00 PM

I want to clarify a few points that I alluded to below. The fact that lactase persistence is nearly fixed in northern Europe can be used to make obvious inferences about the culture of this region. Cultural traditions clearly shaped via direct selection the gene frequencies and therefore the expressed phenotype. But most gene-trait relations that we are interested in are more complex, and the selection regime is less cut & dried. When it comes to "culture," broadly speaking (as opposed to something very precise such as the utilization of dairy in the daily diet), it is hard to make generalizations which yield us more information than we started with. One of the problems that crops up is that written texts, and avowed norms, can give a skewed perspective of the reality in the past and present.

If aliens looked at the preserved letters of Roman nobility such as Symmachus as the models for the nature of ancient Latin, they would likely be very mistaken. The likely reality is that modal Latin spoken by the masses was very different from elite Latin preserved in the extant literature, and can be gauged by the fact that Christian church made a proactive effort to recruit more of the elite into the priesthood because of the awkwardness that occurred when common preachers addressed upper class parishioners in "rough" dialect. There is also the issue that avowed norms are not always practiced widely. In Mother Nature Sarah Blaffer Hrdy observes that the lower caste vassals of the Masai espouse the same preference for sons that their overlords do, but mysteriously their mortality rates are inverted from that the Masai so that female children seem to do better than male children. The functional explanation is pretty obvious, female children can "marry up" into the Masai, while male children have far less chance of social mobility. This Trivers-Willard effect has been discerned in other situations, but, the fact that extant documentary evidence tends to skew toward the upper classes often masks the extent of daughter-preference among the lower orders (e.g., a survey of cemeteries of peasants in medieval Europe showed a bias toward youg male offspring). Additionally, modernization tends to result in the inevitable percolation of elite norms down to the masses, in India this can be seen in the spread of dowry during the early 20th century downward from the upper castes and the extinction of the practice of brideprice (where the family of the bride receives payment). But sometimes even in these societies modernization does only so much, ethnographic studies of the Khasi (a matrilineal society) and neighboring Bengalis (a patrilineal society) showed that both societies exhibited the maternal "grandmother effect" insofar as grandmothers favored the offspring of their daughters more than their sons. This should not surprise in regards to the Khasi, who are matrilineal, and where men and women are relatively equal in their relationship, but Bengalis notionally base their society around male descent groups. Like most north Indian societies women are strangers in their husband's houses (patrifocality is the norm, in contrast again to the Khasi), and their children are members of their husband's family. But the reality is often far different, in my own family my mother would wryly observe that it is somewhat indecent that her children have a closer relationship to her brothers (our maternal uncles) than to my father's brothers and sisters. Though this is not "decent," it is an ancient pattern attested within Indo-European societies. Anthropologically the explanation is often that maternal uncles can be assured of relation to their nieces and nephews by their sister to a greater extent than paternal uncles can be to their nieces and nephews by their brother. This is not a line of thinking which would be greeted positively by traditional Bengalis of course.

In any case, a few months ago I thought about the possible shallowness (or recency) of such avowed social norms when an acquaintance of mine told me the following story: basically, he had left a non-profit in Afghanistan. The reason was that his boss was having an affair with a woman who was also employed by this NGO. My acquaintance's boss was married to a close friend of his, and the "other woman" was engaged to a fellow Pashtun in Kabul. The short of it is that everyone knew of the affair in the organization, and some of them who were posted in Kabul were not happy with the possibility that a family tragedy might arise out of this, especially with the woman's impending marriage. Now, I bring this up because Pashtuns are pretty freaky about how much they control their womenfolk. When my father was a student in Pakistan the locals explained that whenever you saw one man chasing after another with a scythe or any other such dangerous implement it was likely to be a Pashtun. The locals thought it was great fun and seemed to act as if this was normal (this was Islamabad in the late 1960s). It was simply the "Pashtun way." And yet was this always the Pashtun way? The woman who I allude to above seemed to have sexual feelings which allowed her to indulge in very dangerous activities (in the context of Pashtun culture). For gene-culture coevolution to work the selection must either be persistent or powerful. Because of the variation of cultures over time in regards to particular traits persistence is often difficult. As to the strength or power of selection, I suspect that though it can be powerful in a small segment of the population, for most of history formalized norms codified in the texts which we analyze to make sense of the past were relevant for the elites. This means that the majority of the population lived "pre-civilized" lives as producers of surplus for the elites, who were the engines and consumers of civilization.

Addendum: I've re-edited the part about the NGO & Afghanistan to be more general so that individuals can't figure out who I was talking about (in case you saw version 1). I myself don't know.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Gayrabia - full article   posted by Razib @ 4/09/2007 06:58:00 PM

You can read full article about being gay in Saudi Arabia here (thanks to Diana). This was the funniest part:
...Few people in the kingdom, other than the mutawwa'in, seem to take the process seriously. When the mutawwa'in busted the party that led to Marcos's deportation, they separated the "showgirls" wearing drag from the rest of the partygoers, and then asked everyone but the drag queens to line up against the wall for the dawn prayer. At the first of the three ensuing trials, Marcos and the 23 other Filipinos who'd been detained were confronted with the evidence from the party: plastic bags full of makeup, shoes, wigs, and pictures of the defendants dressed like women. When the Filipinos were returned to their cells, they began arguing about who had looked the hottest in the photos. And even after his punishment and deportation, Marcos was unfazed; when he returned to Jeddah, it was under the same name.

I am struck that the author of the article notes a shortage of "bottoms" in Saudi Arabia. The main reason from the evidence presented within seems to be the preponderance of facultative homosexual behavior among straight males who don't have sexual outlets (e.g., not married, or their wife is not available). In contrast, I am to understand that in the US gay culture there is a shortage of "tops" and "straight acting men." In a way it seems that Saudi Arabia (and other such cultures, of which there are many, if not to the same extent) presents an opportunity for the obligate homosexual.

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The Value of Being Naive   posted by Matt McIntosh @ 4/09/2007 01:44:00 PM

Go read Hawks on Nisbet & Mooney:

This kind of cynical strategy is the province of used car salesmen and other charlatans. And it's easily exposed by any clever critic who happens to be watching . . .

My point isn't that these critics are right, but that such criticisms pretty much write themselves! A scientist trying to "frame" in this way is going to end up discredited unless they retreat to the facts anyway. This is, after all, why scientists are typically so cautious in print -- because they work in a field where bad arguments are quickly torn apart by their critics. Why in the world would anyone think politics would be any easier?

This is pretty much right, and I just want to add that this is especially bad advice to give to scientists, because scientists wouldn't be scientists if they were really good salespeople. Spinning is not their comparative advantage, and "fight the enemy on his own turf" is awful tactical advice. Scientists owe whatever respect and deference they're given to the fact that they're percieved as being interested primarily in the truth: their reputation for earnestness and lack of guile is a big part of their cred. The best way to get people to regard you as honest is to really be naively honest.

People may be dumb in a lot of ways, but they generally know how to spot when someone's trying to sell them something, and telling scientists that they should behave more like salespeople will result in them being regarded in much the same way—and they are never going to be better salespeople than professional demagogues. I can think of no better way to erode whatever benefit of the doubt that scientists currently enjoy in our culture. If scientists try to play the political game, they're going to lose. Better to try to stay above the fray than get dragged in and trampled for sure.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Americo-Browns & sex   posted by Razib @ 4/08/2007 09:50:00 PM

Abhi @ Sepia Mutiny points me to this study, "Sexual Decision-Making of Immigrant East Indians: Risky or Not?". You can see the data in the chart to the left. The sample size was hella small, and possible bias in their subjects is a pretty clear critique. That being said, this study illustrates a general trend, and that is the assimilation of 2nd gen browns into American culture despite the wishes of their parents, who often came here for economic opportunities denied them in brownland, but were intent on preserving 1972 brown values in the USA (haircuts and all). As I've pointed out before, a very significant minority of American browns are already marrying outside of their putative ethno-racial community (higher for 2nd gen as opposed to 1.5ers, the data in that table doesn't distinguish). One must also remember also that from the perspective of parents marrying across intra-brown ethnic/caste lines is also not endogamy, but those numbers will be masked in the data cited (endogamy being a metric which measures the influence on parental instruction of the values of children). The number of browns is far higher today than when I was a child, so one might assume that the outmarriage rates would be lower in the future as the pool of potential spouses born in the USA increases. Interestingly, the authors cite research from Canada which indicate that browns born in the cold north are more traditionalist than other Canadians, suggesting preservation of "values" across generations from their parents. But the dynamic might be different because of the Canadian policy of multiculturalism and the larger number of individuals from South Asia in relation to the overall population has allowed for the emergence of brown peer groups. These peer groups could serve as enforcers of "traditional" values derived from their parents. Of course parent-child values transmission does occur in some ways in the USA, for example, the nominal religion of brown Americans is generally not Christianity (and a likely majority of Christians are from families in Kerala which were Christian to begin with). To compare the impact of peer groups and parental values one must look at the overall context.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Gayrabia   posted by Razib @ 4/07/2007 10:54:00 AM

The Atlantic has a story in the May issue on homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. Like many things in the Arab world there is the de jure and de facto. Since this is only available in full in print I'll have to wait to read the whole thing, but I wonder how much they emphasize the difference between facultative homosexuality and obligate homosexuality? After all, many men in prison have sex with other men, but they aren't homosexual by choice, they are sexual with a strong preference for females and so they select the most feminine males and turn them into "bitches" to generate an illusion. For non-upper class young males (those with money can travel abroad) it seems that Saudi Arabia might exhibit some of the characteristics of a prison, and so sexual urges are "released" upon other males (or, unfortunately the domestic help). I also wonder as to the role of single-sex socialization in priming these tendencies. I am often struck by the fact that in societies where males generally form close friendships only with other males there is quite a bit more physical and emotional affection between the same gender than is acceptable (and not deemed "gay") in the United States, where sexes socialize freely and straight males are generally averse to non-violent physical contact with each other. In fact, it seems to me that when sex relations in the United States were more distinct insofar as the genders inhabited disjoint social domains there was less fear of being perceived as homosexual if you were physically close with another man. One can find analogs of this situation in single-sex education as well. In any case, my only point is that articles like this might be a bit less shocking if Americans weren't such a peculiar bunch, and the patently homophobic citizens of 1900 might be able to intuitively understand the social dynamics here more than moderns.

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