Interesting paper out in JAMA, Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction:
The association between coffee intake and risk of myocardial infarction (MI) remains controversial. Coffee is a major source of caffeine, which is metabolized by the polymorphic cytochrome P450 1A2 (CYP1A2) enzyme. Individuals who are homozygous for the CYP1A2*1A allele are “rapid” caffeine metabolizers, whereas carriers of the variant CYP1A2*1F are “slow” caffeine metabolizers….Intake of coffee was associated with an increased risk of nonfatal MI only among individuals with slow caffeine metabolism, suggesting that caffeine plays a role in this association.
Imagine when insurance companies get their hands on this sort of information, they’ll give you your lowest risk lifestyle dependent on your genotypic predispositions. This sort of trait indicates the contextual response of genes and subsequent development. Genes don’t “determine” anything, they are important (or not) parameters in concert with a host of other variables.
Here is a popular press review of this paper.
You want to know what John Hawks sounds like? He’ll be on Radio Open Source tomorrow (there should be a web feed). I talked to David Miller about getting John on the show before he became famous in Slate, so I am going to take a little credit for this. John and Spencer Wells will be “facing off.” John, can you ask Spencer to make his email address more accessible? I’m tired of people emailing me and asking about ways to contact him!
Update: John was really amused throughout the whole show. Spencer Wells asked kind of sarcastically (?) if I was “Richard Dawkins.” No, I’m not, Spencer Thanks to Chris Lydon for giving a shout out to me at the end of the show. Also, Brendan said that both John and Spencer were on the show at my suggestion, so that’s cool, I guess I’m a “scientific activist” of sorts now?
I have a maxim, “beware of British newspapers.” I guess I should add the BBC to that list after reading this slapdash piece, Obese men ‘have lower IQs’. Speaking as a normal weight individual with a BMI of 22.8 I don’t have a personal axe to grind, but this study screams correlation does not equal causation.
The Boston study found that men with a BMI of 30 or more scored on average 23% lower marks in tests of mental acuity.
The authors make some noise about blood circulation, and I’m sure you can posit thousands of halfway plausible causative components, but perhaps fat dudes are just sluggish because they just ate before the test? Anyway, I suppose this is an example of a “contagious” meme. The science is plainly ludicrious, but it is pretty funny. And I am evil, so I guess it makes sense I would want to talk about obesity in somewhat mocking tones.
Addendum: The same researcher has found a positive link between high cholesterol and IQ.
Below is an image that should strike fear into the hearts of all birds, from below and above, evil knows no bounds! On a serious note I was chatting with a friend of mine about the possible hypotheses for the domestication of the dog, and when we moved onto cats he remarked that I’d had it flipped around, it was the cats who domesticated us….
Interesting report out, Evolutionary biology research techniques predict cancer. Medicine has been around for thousands of years, from the “healings” of shamans to the “theoretical” paradigm of Galen. It seems possible that until the last 100 years or so medical techniques were just as likely (or more likely in many situations) to exacerbate illnesses as they were to help. The medical arts might be an outgrowth of our psychological biases, not materialist considerations (an analogy with financial “analysts” might be appropriate). Purely empirical sciences focused on proximate aspects of phenomena are often groping blindly in the dark, so the inclusion of microevolutionary theory can add in the elimination of alternative hypotheses. Modern medical science has progressed very far, but the integration of the temporal and spatial perspective of evolutionary science may help us in outwitting nature by cutting off the pathological dynamics at the pass.
This whole conversion story in Afghanistan has been in the news recently. The Christian Science Monitor attempts to put the issue of conversion from Islam to another religion in an international perspective. I am cautious about making large generalizations without qualifications, but I will offer that as a civilization, “Dar-al-Islam,” has particular issues with conversion when set against “Hindu” or “Christian” civilization. Though the difference is quantitative, not qualitative, some facts are so naked that caveats can not truly cover up the shame.
Apropos of my earlier post relating to heritability…this is the sort of confusing gibberish that ends up making it into the press, Professor researches genetics of gambling. He tries to clear up problems of communication:
This quote has been misconstrued. In the logical development of any investigation of the genetics of a disorder, once something is shown to run in families and appears to have some heritable component, molecular genetic approaches follow. Studies can be done with small numbers of DNA samples, as I propose doing, but definitive studies require thousands of DNA samples. I doubt such an ambitious undertaking will take place for many years.
Good luck on getting nuance across to the press. All the while, genetic association studies will continue.
There is an important paper out on calculating heritability (JAVA applet). Heritability is an important and misunderstood concept. Some people have argued that heritability is fallacious reification, a biostatistical construct which has no real relevance (or reality) outside of its utility in quantitative genetic models. But its entwinement with various concepts within evolution and genetics means it can’t be ignored, love it or hate it.1 Heritability is the proportion of phenotypic variation within a population that is attributable to genotypic variation.
John Lynch comments on an impending list of Ph.D. scientists who dissent from Darwin. He doesn’t care, and neither do I, ho hum. As I’ve noted in the past (and plenty of others have) these lists are usually stacked with physical scientists, and within the life sciences they are slim on individuals from integrative fields where evolution plays a large role. Rosters of scholars who dissent from Darwin is part of a public relations ploy meant to leverage the fact that most humans don’t have a great grasp on the specificity and the specialization which a course of scientific work entails. Been there, done that. But, another thing I want to comment on is a comment on John’s blog:
Mathematicians have this strange weakness, wherein they think they’re well-qualified to make judgments in fields outside their own. I catch myself doing it, too; I think it’s an unintentional side-effect of our training. Or maybe we just secretly think we’re much smarter than everyone else.
Well, I’ve been having fun reading John Hawks’ posts on the term “genomics,” and I’m sure Evolgen thinks I’m a bit too preoccupied with the three old thugs of population genetics…but this article, Marriage of Math and Genetics Forges New Scientific Landscape is kind of funny, the past is the future! After all, both R.A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane were trained as mathematicians, and Sewall Wright was a lover who regretted his early lack of experience. Over a year ago PLOS had a article out, Mathematics Is Biology’s Next Microscope, Only Better; Biology Is Mathematics’ Next Physics, Only Better. Yes, I think the days might be coming to an end when scientists who wanted to avoid math1 pursued biology…but this is where sociology is important. The influx of mathematically passionate individuals into modern biology is essential for the field to take off into new dimensions. Luca Cavalli-Sforza in A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey states that his book Cultural Transmission and Evolution made such a trivial impact on anthropology because the field did not have a critical mass of mathematically fluent individuals to understand the technical details he was presenting.2 Within biology itself most intellectual histories seem to suggest that the original ideas of Fisher, Wright and Haldane were often misunderstood because of the opacity of mathematical technique to most trained biologists. I am skeptical that Leibniz’s general algebra is going to arrive on the scene anytime soon, but many of the verbal jousts could, I believe, be obviated by recourse to more precise formalization. Where emotions can find secure purchase on the nooks and irregularities of words…mathematical notation is a more slippery species of beast.
1 – As a friend of mine has noted biology still explores only a small fraction of Hilbert space, fear not!
2 – Cavall-Sforza’s contention is debatable, human culture might simply be intractable using the analytic models that he put forward, but do note that it seems likely that the emergence of the Modern neo-Darwinian Synthesis was hindered by the lack of mathematical fluency in much of the biological community.
I’ve received several emails about this study, Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority. This shouldn’t surprise too many people, but I think some perspective is in order. I think the results are probably accurate, but, I also think that the belief is wide but shallow.
I went to high school in an area that was about 75% Republican and half Mormon. One time during our American Government class the teacher, Mr. Nelson, was giving a talk about the First Amendment, and he stated that in the United States you could believe in any God you wanted to, or no God at all. This last assertion seemed to quiet the class, and some people asked what he meant, and he responded, “Well, you can be an atheist.” As it turned out, there were three atheists in the class, myself and two female friends of mine. We were chuckling in the corner, and Mr. Nelson knew our lack of beliefs and he smiled at us. Later, after class, he came up to me. He looked left and right, and whispered, “I go to church because my wife makes me, I don’t believe in Jesus or anything like that.” He smiled and walked off.
Dan Dennett will be on Radio Open Source today to talk about his book Breaking the Spell. I’ve been getting into it on the comment boards.
Update: Re: Dennett’s book, I read it. It is a good review of the literature, though I highly recommend you go straight into the primary sources (though for Rod Stark, stick to A Theory of Religion, it is dry compared to his other stuff, but far less polemical and grating).
Related: The nature of religion and Breaking the Spell, Who Dan Denett think he be foolin’?.
Some of the Science Bloggers are coming up with taxonomies of biologists, physicists and anthropologists and chemists. This is great, and I don’t have anything to add except that it is always important to remember that science the method is irrelevant without the science the culture. It itself is embedded within the broader culture, and as books like The Lunar Men show science’s growth and efflorescence are tied together with currents that sweep through the broad expanse of a society. Attempts at “modernization” of a “traditional” culture via science as in the 19th century Egypt of Muhammad Ali failed because science is likely less an engine of “modernity” than a product of it.