Archive for August, 2006

Inbreeding among Mormons

By Razib Khan | August 31, 2006 11:03 am

A reader pointed me to this fascinating, if tragic, article about the rise of rare recessive diseases among a schismatic Mormon sect which dominates Colorado City. This group has been in the news since the their “prophet” was just arrested. The article points out that because of the inbred nature of the community, and its small size, one particular rare disease, Fumerase Deficiency, has now become rather common. I have talked about inbreeding before. Most of us know the problems that crop up intuitively from experience, rare traits begin to spread in an inbred population. But, what needs to be emphasized is the greater problem from long term customary inbreeding, as is common in much of the Muslim world (and now in the Muslim Diaspora in the West), and in isolated cases as above.

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Biology's future as a science

By Razib Khan | August 31, 2006 9:37 am

Lubos Motl asked me to comment on this majestic post by a computational biologist at Stanford. This paragraph is worth quoting:

I will enumerate three main points, all of which represent both a challenge and an opportunity. The first will deal with a scientific challenge of a theoretical orientation, namely the lack of a theory for biology. The second with the sociological organization of biologists and biology departments at the leading research institutions. And the third will be part science, part sociology, having to do with the focus of current experimental methods and programs on biomedical research as opposed to basic biological research. The challenges are listed according to my own judgment of their importance.

Here it is an important quote from my exchange with theoretical evolutionary biologist David Haig in regards to theory & biology:

Question: Do you believe most biologists, even evolutionary biologists, appreciate formal theory?
Answer: Most biologists do not appreciate formal theory. Theory is more respected by evolutionary biologists as a group.

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Off with her head!

By Razib Khan | August 31, 2006 1:16 am

I stand with the other science bloggers in encouraging everyone to do what they can to oust the Creationist on the Ohio School Board. More from Ed Brayton, Chad, John, Bora, Kevin and Tara. If you lose enough small battles the big war is lost.


Data & theory, then, now, and forever

By Razib Khan | August 30, 2006 2:59 pm

In the 10 Questions for A.W.F. Edwards, a mathematical geneticist, he was asked:
Like Fisher you have worked in both statistics and genetics. How do you see the relationship between them, both in your own work and more generally?
Edwards responded in part:
Genetical statistics has changed fundamentally too: our problem was the paucity of data, especially for man, leading to an emphasis on elucidating correct principles of statistical inference. Modern practitioners have too much data and are engaged in a theory-free reduction of it under the neologism ‘bioinformatics’.

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I'm an "upbeat"?

By Razib Khan | August 30, 2006 11:43 am

I noticed some blogs were talking about a new Pew Political Typology, and I decided to take their survey to see where I fit in. It said I was an Upbeat, which seemed wrong to me as I’m not that partisan (I voted for Kerry though my registration is Republican). So I took the Political Compass test, and I got my usual result:
Economic Left/Right: 2.13 (I’m fiscally conservative)
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.38 (I’m socially liberal)
I’m a moderate libertarian who leans toward the slightly more liberal side. My political intensity has been decreasing over the years, and I’ve probably gotten a bit more liberal, so the non-trivially partisan “Upbeat” result took me by surprise. Anyone else have a weird result from the Pew Survey? The questions seemed a bit too black & white for me. Not a big deal, but people talk about it as if the categories are meaningful.


Katz, Skogkatter kladistics

By Razib Khan | August 30, 2006 9:14 am

Below the fold, same breed, or not?

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Why I rock

By Razib Khan | August 30, 2006 2:25 am

Habanero.jpgTo the right you see a habanero pepper, 100-350 K Scoville units (Jalapeno is 2.5-8 K). I can eat 2 habeneros in one sitting and enjoy it. And what does not kill you can cure cancer. Hot dog! On the other hand, if I want something which is a little less spicey and has a more tangy, aromatic flavor, I really enjoy green Thai peppers. I’m the spicey ScienceBlogger.


Why I'm jealous of John Hawks

By Razib Khan | August 29, 2006 12:35 pm

johnhawks.jpgLook at this bitch. No, seriously, check it out, he has this long ass post on fossils and paleoanthropology. How the hell am I supposed blog about human evolution with some pride & self-respect if John Hawks has to cover every damn angle!!!. I know a little about fossils, words like stratigraphy don’t terrorize me, but I just don’t have all the details of every damn fossil at the Awash site or Sterkfontein in my head. Fossils make me want to tear my hair out, how the hell am I supposed to ascertain if the Hobbit is a new species or a pathology? Hawks on the other hand looks at pictures and comes up with the conclusion that they are “without a doubt” a pathology. I can look at hotcaptcha and say, “without a doubt, butt ugly,” but a bunch of bones???
1) Yes, you should make sure to read John Hawks
2) But tell him to stop giving it up for free, the town slut is making it hard for the whores to put bread on the table


The Secular Right (again)

By Razib Khan | August 29, 2006 11:59 am

Real Clear Politics has a column titled The Secular Right which reflects upon the Mac Donald vs. God affair. Interestingly, the author linked to my post where I followed the debate in The Corner. A few months ago my summary of John Derbyshire’s summary of Judith Rich Harris’ work was linked from her site. Ultimately, I think this should be a clue to NRO that they need to invest in a more robust and user friendly content management system: their archiving blows.


Tour of the ScienceBlogs

By Razib Khan | August 29, 2006 9:09 am

Check out the tour (taxonomy?) of the ScienceBlogs over at 3.14. There are promises of summaries of each SB (I assume I’ll be the handsome ScienceBlogger!).


Voltron & evo psych

By Razib Khan | August 28, 2006 12:59 pm

voltron.jpgAs a child it seemed that everyone preferred Lion Voltron to Car Voltron. I was a contrarian and asserted that I preferred Car Voltron, and yet in my heart of hearts I knew Lion Voltron was the true bomb. Is there an evolutionary psychological reason why Lion Voltron would be more popular than Car Voltron? I mean, there are lions on national flags, but cars? Lions play a role in mythology, and C.S. Lewis even selected a lion as a Christ analogue. Could it be cognitively lions give us more “free information” and inferential power? Could it be that Lion Voltron simply fit into a more relatable mental slot than Car Voltron? After all, Lion Voltron was set on a quasi-medieval planet. Quasi in that there was a monarch, witch and a castle, but they also had lasers and space ships. In contrast, Car Voltron (vehicle Voltron) was “lost in space,” and so the whole creation of a humanoid mega-bot seemed a little canned.
Addendum: Typing Voltron into google images just brings back Lion Voltron. You have to type Vehicle Voltron to find any of the other morph, and even then the iamges aren’t very good. Just goes to show, Lion Voltron does roar, even today.


10 Questions for A. W. F. Edwards

By Razib Khan | August 28, 2006 12:19 pm

Last week I pointed you to 10 questions for Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, and hinted that there is another 10 Qs for another student of R.A. Fisher. Well, that time has come, today David B. posted his 10 questions for A.W.F. Edwards. I want to follow up last week’s theme in regards to population substructure, because A.W.F. Edwards has been the most prominent recent expositer of why phylogeny, clustering of populations, is still possible though we are a genetically young and homogenous species. We asked A.W.F. Edwards on his motivations for writing Lewontin’s Fallacy, and I think you’ll find the answer interesting (below the fold). I also believe that the this 10 questions is special because Dr. Edwards responded with multiple “mini-essays,” he even attempted a new elucidation of the Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection.

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10 assertions, postscript

By Razib Khan | August 28, 2006 9:52 am

Recently, myself, RPM, afarensis, Robert Skipper, John Wilkins and John Hawks made about 10 assertions about evolution of about 10 words or less (some participants fudged, no worries, I’m not Tony Soprano). We all went in different directions, but issues that cropped up several times
* The relationship between selection and evolution, and its particular elucidation
* Mutation is not always deleterious
* Common descent of species
* Species concepts
* The fact that humans are still evolving
I haven’t done a rigorous comparison, so your thoughts are welcome.


The man

By Razib Khan | August 27, 2006 3:02 pm

papa.gifThis is the man….


Coming to Life – a big and small book

By Razib Khan | August 27, 2006 1:05 pm

OK, so I finally read Coming to Life by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time finding something original to say. To recap, Janet, Shellee, Bora (hey, check out Bora’s link, books_coming_to_life_by_christ.php!), RPM, The Poreless One and PZ hit this book hard. The reviews are damn thorough, and you have a wide disciplinary perspective, from neuroscience to developmental biology to evolutionary genetics to physiology to biochemistry, and over into philosophy. How’s that for multidimensional?
So where does that leave me? Since I am so late already I figured I would post something, and when a brilliant thought pops into my head I can riff off of it in a follow up entry. But right now I’ll offer some quick impressions. I think this paragraph from PZ captures my own thoughts pretty well:

It wasn’t what I expected at all, but I think readers here will be appreciative: it’s a primer in developmental biology, written for the layperson! Especially given a few of the responses to my last article, where the jargon seems to have lost some people, this is going to be an invaluable resource.

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Got Microsoft stock?

By Razib Khan | August 27, 2006 12:15 am

“…you know, Microsoft is like a cush government job.”
-friend who is an ex-Microsoft employee.
“I just noticed in this year’s update to Excel that they finally added that feature I worked on 10 years ago!”
-friend who is an ex-Microsoft employee.


The perils of Wikipedia

By Razib Khan | August 26, 2006 3:25 pm

In an entry below I offer that the citation of a Wikipedia reference is not reliable, and I can’t take responsibility if someone changes the entry between my link and your click. I am not totally kidding, I “Wikipediaed” a semi-famous individual recently and the entry described him as a serial rapist. In broken English. Someone was obviously bored, or had a bad experience with this small time celeb. I quickly reedited it, but it sure brought home to me the problem with Wikipedia. But then I thought: could you, as a blogger, just reedit or write your own Wikipedia entries and then link to them as a citation?
Anyway, I guess you could say I’m pretty cautious about linking to Wikipedia in regards to things that I’m not totally sure about, or that are not copiously cited. A lot of the technical stuff is good, and Wikipedia is actually often well referenced on many entries, so it is a good starting point, but it sure isn’t The Answer (and remember, Iverson’s field goal % isn’t that high). There are similar problems with google. For example,

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Altruism – the great puzzle

By Razib Khan | August 26, 2006 1:37 pm

Like sex, altruism is a great mystery in the life sciences, especially in the case of humans (because of is generous expression). Neither kin selection nor reciprocal altruism seem able to explain the scale of human societies, their cooperativeness, their often unselfish nature. Several years back David Sloan Wilson and Elliott Sober wrote Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior to offer their own model, which works within a multi-level selection paradigm which suggests that cooperation and altruism are favored at the level of groups, above and apart from their benefit to the individual.
In my argument with Steve Burton of Right Reason about the role of Christianity on the values and morals of our society these issues have lurked in the background. Steve has made repeated references to the New Testament, and the uniqueness of their ideas. I have repeated several times that though I think Steve has a case, it is very debatable because the extent of x in a text is not entirely quantifiable but captured by a gestalt understanding. A phylogeneticist once told the story of the problem with taxonomy before Willi Hennig’s cladist revolution: basically, when two biologists had a disagreemant about a tree, their punchline would be, “because I said so!” There was really no way to dispute objectively these issues before taxonomy became systematic and evolved into Systematics. I have read the New Testament, as well as the Hebrew Bible (the latter multiple times). I am aware of the history of the Classical period in the West, and am reasonably familiar with the outline of history in China, the Middle East, etc. I am not convinced by “I said so,” or repetitions of the same point again and again.*
So therefore I think we should look to evolution, psychology and other assorted social sciences. In that spirit, I present to you a series of posts by Dan Jones where he reviews altruism and cooperation from a game theoretic perspective. Here Dan comments on a paper which examines the reality that groups which do not punish freeriders seem to dissolve over the long run. Then, Dan puts the spotlight on a survey of altruism across cultures. Finally, in Beware of Others Dan illustrates why the human sciences are experimental sciences more than a priori reflection or post facto analysis, sometimes they are not anticipated by intuition (see case “BC”). I will quote one of Dan’s points:

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Stem cells no?

By Razib Khan | August 26, 2006 12:39 pm

Kathryn Jean Lopez is very skeptical of the new stem cell method. I think you might have to put a pitchfork in it then, it seems like she would be hyping it if she thought it could go anywhere….


Smart people got no babies…. (?)

By Razib Khan | August 25, 2006 3:27 pm

RPM comments on some issues relating to human genetics. First, he points to the article about how conservatives are going to outbreed liberals, etc. etc. etc. The problem with this article is that the Left & the Right have been around since the late 18th century and history marches Leftward even though one assumes the Right has been breeding at a higher clip for the past 8+ generations. What gives?
First, there is a heritable component to political orientation. That is, a proportion (around 0.5) of the variation in of conservatism or liberalism within the population is attributable to genes. Additionally, obviously politics is vertically transmitted and horizontally propogated (i.e., parent to child, activist to sheep). But there’s a problem with these simple assertions: liberal & conservative are contextual. What is liberal in one environment may not be liberal in another (it maybe conservative). If one holds that a “liberal” or “conservative” tendency is determined by relation to the center of the given distribution, then so long as there is variation within the population due to a variety of factors liberals and conservatives will always hang around, even if the median value shifts greatly. We know from long term breeding experiments that genetic variation often takes a long time to exhaust itself, and certainly if there is a genetic element to political preference and fitness is correlated with the Right end of the spectrum (because of higher birthrates) I suspect that a lot of latent variation will remain for many generations to drive a dynamic political tension within our culture. This isn’t even taking into account that fitness varies dependent on the particular circumstances within which genes are expressed.
But there’s a bigger more interesting issue which RPM moots:

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