Archive for November, 2006

Brighter than Isaac Newton?

By Razib Khan | November 30, 2006 10:39 am

In his presentation for Beyond Belief 2006 Neil deGrasse Tyson offered Isaac Newton as his candidate for the most brilliant intellectual ever. Because he is trained as a physicist Tyson can be accused of some bias, but the impact on him personally was pretty obvious, he was emotionally moved just comprehending Newton’s genius. Myself, I would tend to agree with Tyson though these things are always subject to the various weights on your parameters. Who would you offer up? Of the ancients I believe that Archimedes is likely to have been a magician in the mold of Newton. Here is what the great polymath J.M. Keynes had to say of Sir Isaac Newton:

He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.


Radical Muslims are similar to moderates

By Razib Khan | November 29, 2006 11:20 am

Foreign Policy has a interesting selection of charts. They show that “radicals” and “moderates” in the Muslim world are not that different. Below the fold is a chart which offers two facts
1) Radical Muslims are, on average, more educated than non-radical Muslims
2) Radical Muslims are, on average, more affluent than non-radical Muslims
Should this surprise? I don’t think so. Look to the history of the United Kingdom, Protestant radicalism took root in the highly literate environs of East Anglia. Health and wealth are often conducive to religious utopianism and reformation.

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God or tongue?

By Razib Khan | November 29, 2006 10:05 am

Over at Michael Brendan Dougherty’s place a debate broke out over the relative importance of language vs. religion in the Irish identity. This could perhaps be abstracted and extrapolated to many peoples and nations. In the comments Daniel Larison offered:

But then I also think that Catholicism in Ireland predates the 19th century and has more to do with Irish culture than a nearly dead Celtic language that was mostly revived by modern nationalists.

Larison is no idiot, a Ph.D. candidate in Byzantine Studies he certainly has the sense and knowledge to take the long view, but this seemed a rather peculiar and flip comment to me (I’m being Christian here).
1) I was to understand Gaelic was the dominant language in Ireland until the 1840s.
2) I was to understand that the relationship of Roman Catholicism and Irish identity as we understand it today was a product of reforms and nationalisms which only crystallized in the 19th century. The seeds of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Irish identity of course lay in the Reformation, when the rest of the British Isles went Protestant but Ireland did not, but from what I recall the most powerful locus of anti-Protestant feeling lay not amongst the Gaelic speaking Irish, but the descendents of the “Old English”/Anglo-Norman settlers. Larison is the Ph.D. candidate in history here, he must know this? Or am I wrong?
My own interest in the topic is derived in part from my own background as a Bengali, an ethnic group united by language, but divided by religion. Though traditionally the Bengali cultural elite was Hindu, based out of Calcutta, today Muslim Bangladesh is the nation where the Bengali language reigns supreme. By some estimates around 40% of Calcutta’s population is now non-Bengali speaking, as immigrants from other parts of India come looking for work. The Bengalis of eastern Bengal, Muslim by faith, but also affiliated with a great many Hindus via their language and its literature, have shifted back and forth in regards to where they place an emphasis in regards to their identity. During the period before 1947, when India and Pakistan were created, the Muslim Bengali populace was a major vote bank for the Muslim League, which forced the partition of the subcontinent. Between 1947 and 1971, when West Pakistani non-Bengali elites dominated East Pakistan, what was East Bengal, there was an emphasis on the Bengali language (i.e., The Language Movement). Since 1971 the dominant Muslim Bengalis of Bangladesh have shifted back and forth in regards to stars which shape their identity, with different individuals come down in different directions. These issues are complex. They deserve more than flip dismissals, the language which brought forth the legends of Cúchulainn must count for something?


My "dialect"

By Razib Khan | November 29, 2006 1:48 am


I grew up in the Northeast (almost New England) and the Pacific Northwest. Here is a map of American English dialects.

Via Shaitan. You can take the quiz here.


Neandertal teeth

By Razib Khan | November 28, 2006 12:17 pm

Science Daily summarizes findings that Neandertal teeth grew at the same rate as modern humans. John Hawks applies the skeptical eye of a scientist. N matters….


Eugenics, the genetics that dare not speak its name

By Razib Khan | November 27, 2006 4:05 pm

Orac has a rather thorough post on eugenics, and what Richard Dawkins has recently had to say on it. Here is the definition of eugenics:

…the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, esp. by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).

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Scientism, huh?

By Razib Khan | November 26, 2006 8:12 pm

Update: Chris has a follow up post.
Chris leaves nothing unsaid. A sample:

In that talk Dawkins sounds, at times, like a 5-year old with the vocabulary and factual knowledge of a world-renowned scientist….
I find it hypocritcal and, as an atheist, more than a little embarrassing that these fundamentalist, Dawkinsian, scientistic, self-styled free thinking atheists, who know jack about the history of religion, or serious philosophy and theology, feel that they can criticize religious fundamentalists for saying things about science (in the evolution-creationism debate, for example) when those religious fundamentalists are clearly ignorant of the science, but have no problem making grand claims about the rationality of religion or its practical implications. I can’t help but think that they feel they’re justified in this because they have a distinct sense of intellectual and, perhaps, moral superiority over the religious….

Well, I’ve stated that a diversity of viewpoints is necessary, and this needed to be said too. I think fundamentally a problem that too many intellectual atheists have, and Chris alludes to this, is to reduce religion to scriptural literalism and the general movement which is fundamentalism. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris argue strongly for a necessary connection between non-fundamentalist monotheism and fundamentalist monotheism precisely because their assault against the latter need not be repeated for the former if you view the latter as simply an extention upon the bedrock placed upont he former. I think this is something of a nasty rhetorical trick myself, I can see where they are coming from, but I feel that their motives are more driven by tactics than strategic sincerity. Additionally, fundamentalist religion in its extoric avowed trappings is not difficult to comprehend for those who are not religious, it is naturally easy to confuse the bare totems of fundamentalist religion, righteous fidelity to text, tight community and a powerful clerical class (in practice, often not in theory) as the essence of religion. But what if it’s not? One can not see the psychology of the religious, one must study it, if one can not partake of it in a direct fashion. And that is where Harris and Dawkins seem to go wrong in their emphasis, they confuse the exoteric elements of fundamentalism for being an increase in magnitude of the vector when it is in fact somewhat orthogonal to the root of basal psychological religiosity.
Ezekiel 16:20-21 Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?


Viva proportional representation!

By Razib Khan | November 26, 2006 7:51 pm

Interesting article which surveys the confusion in Europe right now as countries whose electoral systems are based on proportional representation are seeing a tendency by the populace to vote for parties of the far Right and far Left. This has resulted in unwieldly and unstable coalitions drawn from the ever shrinking center. Many Americans (and some Brits) have long complained of “winner take all” districts which results in ideologically impure parties who offer milquetoast alternatives. The flip side though of course is that small popular vote majorities tend to yield very sizable representative majorities. Myself, I tend to favor proportional representation, despite its instability, because I think it more accurately reflects the ideological divisions within the electorate. The “big tent” negotiation which goes on in backrooms in a two-party systems occur more transparently when coalitions are necessary.
Genesis 38:24 – And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.


Heritability of religiosity

By Razib Khan | November 25, 2006 12:04 pm

Below I made a reference to the heritability of religiosity. In a chat with Christer Chris that the heritability for religiosity was 0.5, and he was surprised at the result. I decided to double-check, and here is the latest paper:

Estimates of the degree of genetic and environmental influences on religiousness have varied widely. This variation may, in part, be due to age differences in the samples under study. To investigate the heritability of religiousness and possible age changes in this estimate, both current and retrospective religiousness were assessed by self-report in a sample of adult male twins (169 MZ pairs and 104 DZ pairs, mean age of 33 years). Retrospective reports of religiousness showed little correlation difference between MZ (r=.69) and DZ (r=.59) twins. Reports of current religiousness, however, did show larger MZ (r=.62) than DZ (r=.42) similarity. Biometric analysis of the two religiousness ratings revealed that genetic factors were significantly weaker (12% vs. 44%) and shared environmental factors were significantly stronger (56% vs. 18%) in adolescence compared to adulthood. Analysis of internal and external religiousness subscales of the total score revealed similar results. These findings support the hypothesis that the heritability of religiousness increases from adolescence to adulthood.

In Bouchard’s “twins raised apart” studies he found about a 0.5 heritability. In any case, remember what heritability is: The proportion of population level variance attributable to genetic variance. Why does environmental variance become so much less important once you leave adolescence? Take a guess….
Psalms 137:9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.



By Razib Khan | November 24, 2006 6:40 pm

Samuel 17:36 – Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.

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You're either with us, or against us….

By Razib Khan | November 24, 2006 4:29 pm

How has your post-T-day been if you are a citizen of the Greatest Nation in the World?TM Wow, I woke up this morning to a flare up in the Ed vs. PZ battle here on SB and elsewhere. Bora has the most most thorough round up of links, which can be reduced to theistic-evolutionists-are-sell-outs vs. theistic-evolutionists-are-OK-by-me. In many ways I do probably agree with Bora’s perspective on this issue, there are a multiplicity of strategies, and different groups need to approach them from different angles. Of course, being a pragmatic libertarian conservative, I don’t feel that Creationism is necessarily a symptom of “Conservative Pathology.” I’ve already noted that the link between being an anti-evolutionist and on the Right are weak in Europe, and men like William Jennings Bryan were certainly not conservatives in their day. In regards to the “root causes” of Creationism I think there is a mix of innate psychology and historical contingency. I am averse to accepting a Dawkins-style model which reduces Creationism to a subset of the religion “problem.”
At the end of the day, this all a bunch of words. Yes, it can cause some temporary ill-feeling, but the fight goes on, and there is science to be done. On a personal level my own atheism has minimal affect on my relationships with Christians, like Christer Chris. Let a thousand flowers bloom, from PZ level anti-theism to Brayton style respect for theism to Ken Miller out & out theism.
PS: Though the nastiness is pretty regrettable, at the end of the day we’re all worm-food.
Zechariah 13:7 – Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.


Friends with unbelievers?

By Razib Khan | November 24, 2006 3:29 pm

Does Islam Forbid Befriending Non-Muslims?.

It is obvious that Jews patronize the Jews and Christians patronize the Christians, so why not Muslims patronize Muslims and support their own people. This verse is not telling us to be against Jews or Christians, but it is telling us that we should take care of our own people and we must support each other.

Num 31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.


Ass-kicking is stochastic

By Razib Khan | November 24, 2006 12:27 pm

Via Kambiz I found this post which argues that the high-protein diet of the Mongols was important in allowing them to defeat their enemies, who were relatively nutritionally deficient. Perhaps. But history isn’t that simple, after all, if “more meat = more ass-kicking,” you wouldn’t have predicated that the grain-fed Roman soldiers would be able to cut a scythe through meat & milk gorging Celts and Germans, would you? How did those ancient Italians defeat the northerners? If you read about the suppression of the rebellion of Boudicca and how outnumbered Roman infantry formed a testudo simply turned into a Celtic meat grinder you’ll see that man can fight and win by bread and water alone!
Judges 9:45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.


Colored folk – we ain't all the same

By Razib Khan | November 23, 2006 6:48 pm

Shelley Batts has a post, Whites-Only Scholarship as “Reverse Affirmative Action”. Shelley sayeth:

…In order to ensure that universities, and students, benefit from a diverse education, often pro-active techniques are utilized to recruit minorities.

When the race war comes all of us colored folk will be marked by our skin or our countenance as The Enemy. But, today the reality is that various People of Color have rather different interests in some areas, and that within each group there are schisms of interest due to class (e.g., what does the Indian doctor have to do with the Indian cabbie? Not very much let me tell you).

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Copy number variation in genes

By Razib Khan | November 23, 2006 12:16 pm

A new paper in Nature, Global variation in copy number in the human genome, suggests that it isn’t just SNPs that matter in regards to human variation. Those of you who are “in the know” aren’t surprised, so this press release is a bit much. Along with a focus on gene regulation, this is a fascinating new area which expands our understanding of how we are how we are beyond the raw sequence. p-etr at my other blog has a lot more. RPM has a post scheduled on this topic, I saw a preview when he published it to make sure it looked right. The press is making a big deal out of this, so we’ll see where it goes….
Addendum: Why does gene copy number matter? The most obvious way is that more gene is proportional to more transcription which results in more translation which results in more final protein end product. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is not so good, and sometimes it doesn’t matter. Genetics and Health has much more. And here’s an article in The New Scientist and another in The TImes.
Exod 23:13 And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.


The Messiah on In Our Time

By Razib Khan | November 23, 2006 7:53 am

The Messiah will be on In Our Time to discuss the evolutionary origins of altruism. They are pretty good about getting the archive up in a day or so. Interesting that they illustrate the idea with Mr. a priori Kant, or am I being pretentious and misunderstanding Kant? I simply suspect that Dawkins will argue and elucidate an evolutionarily beneficial situationalism.
Matthew 10:34 “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”


Genes & culture & milk

By Razib Khan | November 23, 2006 6:35 am

Gene-culture coevolution is a topic of interest for me. Consider adult milk digestion. It’s weird, and seems like a new adaptation. The lactase gene has been under such strong selection that it is often used (or the region around it) as a control to test whether new methods for detecting selection actually work where we think they should work.
Here are a few maps I reworked from this paper:
lactosemap.jpgThe area where cattle genes which produce milk are diverse is relevant because that is the region where milk producing cattle have likely been resident the longest. The logic is similar to why Africans are assumed to be the source population for other humans: their genetic material exhibits the extant variation of an ancient population which has been resident for a long enough period to build up mutations. Note the close correspondence!
Now, recently I stumbled onto to this old paper about differences in lactose tolerance in north and south Indians. The range given seems to be about 75% lactose tolerance in northern India vs. 35% in southern India. What’s going on here? Some make a phylogenetic argument: lactose tolerance is a signature of Aryan immigration. The problem with this argument is that South Asians are fundamentally closer to each other than they are to outside populations, and the vast majority of ancestry seems to derive from around the Ice Age or before. Though some exogenous genetic material can be found in northern Indians which is derived from populations to the north & west, the extent does not predict the level of lactose tolerance that we see. If one assumes that Indians were not lactose tolerant originally and it was introduced than south Indians would exhibit at least 35% admixture, while north Indians would be 75% exogenous (assuming really simple genetic models obviously). This isn’t warranted by any of the other data on other loci. Additionally, the recent genomic work on the lactase genes suggests the unity of the origin of Eurasian lactase persistence. In other words, the genetic strategy in Eurasia, the T allele on LCT, appeared once, and spread (in Africa there seem to be other strategies). But if other genes don’t support massive admixture between various Eurasian populations…what happened? Gene flow, and a selective sweep of a favored allele! India has many cows, and dairy is part of the diet, but this is most prevalent in the northwest where lactose tolerance has the highest penetration. When the T allele entered India its fitness was very high in the north, and less so in the south. So it rose to high frequency driven by positive selection just as it has in many other cultures.


Ethical stem cells, II

By Razib Khan | November 22, 2006 10:50 pm

Nick Anthis, he of the fake British accent, has a follow up post on “ethical stem cells.”


Mormons in The Corner

By Razib Khan | November 22, 2006 10:37 pm

David points out that they are talking about Mormons in The Corner today relating to Mitt Romney.
Jonah thinks that the Mormon thing might help
An evangelical who is married to a Mormon thinks that it isn’t a big issue
Anti-Mormon readers weigh in
A Mormon comments on the anti-Mormons
Mormonism is a falsifiable cult
Another Mormon emailer
I posted something very long on Mormons last year. I am skeptical that Romney can make it past the Republican primaries, because ceteris paribus he just can’t match up. I can’t believe that the Republicans can’t produce a convential Christian with Romney’s policy stands and competence. I won’t review the mismash with various issues relating to Mormonism, the main problem is that the religion was invented in the light of history, and its theology is very bizarre to most Christians.


Four Stone Hearth III

By Razib Khan | November 22, 2006 1:31 pm

More people related science.


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