Archive for March, 2007

Day 5 of hot sauce – Mad Dog Liquid Fire

By Razib Khan | March 31, 2007 10:07 pm

For Mad Dog Liquid Fire the same critique that I applied to Ass in Space applies. The only difference is that there was a nice tangy smoked flavor to it, so I will actually give it a 4 out of 10 (I was too disgusted with Ass in Space‘s lack of spice to rate it).



By Razib Khan | March 30, 2007 8:19 pm

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Day 4 of hot sauce – You Can't Handle this Hot Sauce

By Razib Khan | March 30, 2007 2:31 pm

canthandle.jpgYou Can’t Handle This Hot Sauce is subject to the same critique as Dave’s Insanity. Only not as spicy (though close). 6.5 out of 10. I ate it with rice + Yumm! Sauce + avocado + black beans & onions + cilantro & tomatoes.


The importance of labs?

By Razib Khan | March 29, 2007 1:16 pm

Steve Gimbel has a post up where he expresses skepticism of the utility of lab sections. Janet, Chad & Chad and RPM all offered responses. All that needs to be said from the various angles that I would have touched upon has been said, so I won’t add much more, except to recall my discussion over at the literary blog The Valve about the testimony of Steve Fuller during the Dover trial. For those of you who don’t know, Fuller is a scholar of science (that is, he studies science as opposed to being a scientist) who has suggested that Intelligent Design is a worthy research program, and is willing to testify to that effect. I noted that Fuller has no undergraduate science background at all (in contrast to Gimbel), so that undermines some of his credibility to speak as an expert. Though I don’t think you always to have to “live” something to understand it, sometimes experience is the best course one can take, and in the case of scholars of science having some undergraduate background (even as a minor) is not particularly difficult. One may, or may not, agree with my contention, but the author of the post responded:

Razib, I disagree very strongly with Fuller’s position about this–to the point of mystification–but it’s parochial to suggest that more time taking multiple-choice tests and dissecting things would have affected his later thinking. It’s just completely irrelevant to the argument he’s making.

To dismiss a science eduction as “multiple-choice tests and dissecting things” is, I think, a serious trivialization of what I was speaking of. Science is a culture, and if you are an anthropologist of science, broadly speaking, you must know that culture. Similarly, if one’s goal is to get students to understand the importance and nature of science, what better way then immerse them in the tedium and minutiae, and frankly, often irrelevance, of day to day empirical work (even if they are operationally “cook book” experiments).


Day 3 of hot sauce – Hottest Fuckin' Sauce

By Razib Khan | March 29, 2007 12:27 pm

devilIII.jpgAs some of you might have noticed, I was not impressed with Hot Sauce #2. For day 3, I had pepper-crusted beef, bacon, and arugula sandwiches and spicy mustard with the Hottest Fuckin’ Sauce. As you can tell by the picture to the left where I’m pouring, yes, pouring, the sauce over my sandwich, this isn’t that hot of a concoction. The ingredients listed are: Habanero Peppers, Water, African Oleoresin, Scotch Bonnet Peppers, Salt, Onion, Vegetable Oil, Acetic Acid, Garlic and Xanthan Gum. I don’t know what did it, but this might not be as spicy as Dave’s Original “Flavorless” Insanity Sauce, but there is a richness to the taste which impressed me. Not to be cliche, but this hot sauce brought out the flavor in the food, as opposed to muffling it. In some ways Hottest Fuckin’ Sauce reminds me a lot of the home-made habanero sauce I’ve had before. This a definite 8 out of 10.


INFIDEL, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

By Razib Khan | March 29, 2007 11:44 am

Diana, formerly of “Letters from Gotham,” reviews Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali at GNXP Classic. Here’s her conclusion:

And, unlike the chicken littles of the Right blogosphere, I think that is exactly what we are saying, even if in rather mumblingly, hesitantly and stammeringly. That Puerto Rican girl on the subway isn’t exchanging her t-shirt that says, “I must, I must, I must improve my bust,” for a burqa anymore than our industrialists and molecular biologists and physicists are going to stop thinking and innovating and creating. They are an army much more powerful than the Quran, yes. We will insist, acidly, on our freedoms, on our laws, on our science, and our crummy t-shirts. If the Muslims in our midst can’t handle it, that’s their problem. And we will protect the apostates from Islam who come to our free societies for refuge. If Hirsi Ali has helped us to focus our minds on that task, she deserves our gratitude.


The round-eyed Buddha

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2007 10:08 pm

Seeing how everyone just loves it when I talk about Buddhism, I point you to a post on my other weblog, the round-eyed Buddha, where I review a book which discusses the relationship of the West and Buddhism over the past 2,000 years.


The long fuse of mammalian diversity

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2007 4:50 pm

Study Re-evaluates Evolution of Mammals:

Until now, however, most paleontologists had favored a “short-fuse” model in which mammals came into their own almost immediately after the dominant reptiles vacated their habitats. Before the extinctions, most mammals were small nocturnal creatures.
The new study confirmed and elaborated on earlier research by molecular biologists indicating that many of today’s mammalian orders originated from 100 million to 85 million years ago. The reasons for this evolutionary burst are not clear.
Drawing on both molecular and fossil data, the researchers said they found that the “pivotal macroevolutionary events for those lineages with extant mammalian descendants” occurred well before the mass extinction and long after. They emphasized that the molecular and fossil evidence provide “different parts of this picture, attesting to the value of using both approaches together.”

I don’t know much about this, but this seems cool. I hadn’t known that the molecular biologists and paleontologists were arguing about the deep lineages inferred from the genetic data, and it seems like the outcome was similar to the 1970s where the molecular side was validated by new finds.


Day 2 of hot sauce – Ass in Space

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2007 12:11 pm

Ass in Space was basically souped up Tabasco Sauce. In other words, it sucked!!!! I have nothing more to say about this lame excuse for a “hot” sauce….


A religious analogy

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2007 3:47 am

The discussion below about the adaptive value of religion was interesting, but it sparked in me an analogy which captures my attitude toward this phenomenon. Consider religions, such as Christianity, as analogs to political parties, such as Republicans. Many of the founders, including George Washington, were not positively disposed toward political parties because they were conscious of the problems of “faction” (which plagued the last years of the Roman Republic). Nevertheless, it seems that the past two centuries of the spread of liberal democracy show that political parties are a natural outgrowth of a vibrant representative democracy. Nations where political party systems are weak and based around personalities as opposed to ideological visions, such as the Russian Federation, also tend to be only notionally democratic. I suspect that organized “higher” religions are similar in a mass society. In small scale cultures supernaturalism is more diffuse, but in societies characterized by numerous civic associations and the necessity of political activism it seems that it is inevitable that supernaturalism will be reshaped into an organized framework. In other words, supernatural ideas might be an inevitable byproduct of the modal mind, but organized religion s the inevitable byproduct of the modal mass society.


Day 1 of hot sauce – Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce

By Razib Khan | March 27, 2007 1:42 pm

davepasta.jpgSo, I tried out Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce with some Tuna pasta yesterday. Here’s a comment from Amazon: “I am a real fan of hot sauce, hot peppers and anything that makes my eyes water, and I have to honestly say that Dave’s Insanity Sauce is absolutely the hottest thing I’ve ever tasted. I use one drop in about 25 ounces of home-made tomato sauce and it makes the sauce noticibly hot. This is NOT a sauce to dash into your soup or to liven up some salsa.” Hm. So I was warned. I tried a drop…and well, it was spicy, but not that spicy. So I tried a dash. Definitely made me sweat, but it wasn’t like I was eating raw habanero or anything. So I tried another dash, and another. I had several servings of pasta and had about 7-8 small dashes in all. And I wasn’t dousing my tongue with water at all. It was spicy, but not world shattering. Additionally, I don’t think I got anything else out of the flavor (i.e., I love the non-spicy flavor in fresh green Thai Peppers). As some reviewers have noted it is a quite one dimensional sauce, the heat is cranked up, but I tasted no concomitant elevation in other flavors (e.g., sour). If fresh habanero is the standard I’d give this sauce a 7 out of 10. It wasn’t a waste of money, but I’m not getting a tub of this.


7 days of hot sauce

By Razib Khan | March 26, 2007 3:36 pm

Regular readers know that I’m really into smokin’ hot sauces. I mean real hot. I’m the guy who the chefs at the local Thai restaurant know well enough to get their habanero paste ready for the medium rare steak flank. I’m the guy who checks out the local organic or Mexican grocery store for habanero sauce that’s not very debased with tomato extract and other vegetable additives to make it palatable for mortals. Well, I got tired of this. I’ve decided I’m going to try and obtain a wholesale quantity of really spicy hot sauce to last me for years, I’m tired of running out, I’m tired of having to run to the store to restock on my cayenne powder. So a few weeks ago I ordered 7 hot sauces from Hot They just arrived, and the image is below. In the near future I plan to use each of these hot sauces during a meal, and I’ll blog it as “7 days of hot sauce.” I’m going to select from these brands my hot sauce for the years. I am looking for suggestions on what to eat to maximize my discernment powers.


European population substructure

By Razib Khan | March 26, 2007 8:37 am

The American Journal of Human Genetics has an article up examining population substructure within Europe (or, more precisely, the varation of genes), Measuring European Population Stratification with Microarray Genotype Data. From the discussion:

PC1 [the largest principle component of variance] largely separates northern from southeastern individuals…and is consistent with the clines observed in classic gene-frequency…Y-chromosome…mtDNA…and whole-genome…studies of European diversity. PC2 [the second largest principle component of variance] reflects mainly east-west geographic separation and, particularly, identifies the two Iberian populations (Spanish and Basques) in our analysis as distinct…Furthermore, PC3 and PC4 emphasize the separation of the Basques and Finns, respectively, from other Europeans…The Basques are known to have unusual allele frequencies for several marker systems…and speak a unique non-Indo-European language. In line with their non-Indo-European Uralic language and previous study of their Y-chromosomesthe Finns show evidence of an increased affinity to the Central Asian populations when placed in an intercontinental context (fig. 1A and 1B)…STRUCTURE analysis of the European populations is highly consistent with PCoA; for example, when the number of populations (K) is 3, the major divisions correspond to the northern, southeastern, and Iberian populations (fig. 4B). In cases of higher K values, first the Finns (K = 4) and then the Basques (K = 5) emerge as distinctive….

The southeast-north cline that they speak of is straight out of L.L.Cavalli-Sforza’s History and Geography of Human Genes. Cavalli-Sforza argued in that book that this reflected the “demic diffusion” of agriculture and was a residue from a genetic wave of advance generated by population expansion initiated in the region of the Levant-Anatolia. By its nature a wave of advance is exhibits a weaker genetic signal in relation to the source because of dilution via intermarriage, so it is no surprise that the British, for example, are predominantly descended from the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers of northern Europe. The detection of east-west gradients, as well as the diversity of the Iberian sample, also points to the demographic expansions out of the Ice Age refugia when the glaciers retreated and northern Europe was repopulated. Note that the sample sizes for some of the local populations were very small. From the paper, “western Irish (n = 6), eastern English (n = 8), French (n = 1), German (n = 8), Valencian Spanish (n = 20), Basque Spanish (n = 8), Italian (n = 9), Polish (n = 8), Greek (n = 8), Finnish (n = 7), Armenian (n = 8), and Ashkenazi Jewish (n = 5)….”This is the most informative figure.


Is religion an adaptation?

By Razib Khan | March 25, 2007 8:59 pm

Paul Zed Myers comments on Alan MacNeill’s contention:

To an evolutionary biologist, such pan-specificity combined with continuous variation strongly suggests that one is dealing with an evolutionary adaptation.

Myers sayeth:

For another example, people in the US largely speak English, with a subset that speak Spanish, and a few other languages represented in scattered groups. That does not mean we should talk about English as an adaptive product of evolution. Language, definitely – there’s clearly a heritable biological element to that ability. Similarly, religion may easily be a consequence of a universal trait like curiosity (we want answers to questions, religion provides them, so it spreads – even if the answers are all wrong) or empathy (we are social animals, we like community activities, religion hijacks that communal urge), but religion itself is but one replaceable instance, an epiphenomenon that too many people mistake for the actual substrate of the behavior.

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Sewall Wright, a father of evolutionary genetics

By Razib Khan | March 25, 2007 1:07 pm

Over at GNXP Classic David B has an introductory preface to a series of posts he plans to write on the great evolutionary geneticist Sewall Wright. David sums up:

As for my own assessment, for what little it is worth, in reading Wright I have realised that his achievement was truly massive. At the same time, I find it difficult to work up any great enthusiasm for his writings. This is partly due to the obscurities I have already mentioned, but also to a certain dryness and narrowness of scope. Whereas one can still read Fisher and Haldane and hope to find new insights and speculations, there is relatively little in Wright that cannot be found in more digestible form in a good textbook. Perhaps this is what every scientist should aspire to: to be absorbed into textbook nirvana.

The only qualification I would offer is that David states, “W. D. Hamilton, the most influential of all recent theorists, was largely self-taught in genetics, but took Fisher’s Genetical Theory of Natural Selection as his main inspiration.” The inspiration point is spot on, Hamilton’s adulation of Fisher during his early and middle years is pretty clear when you read the biographical prefaces to his collected papers, but, in Narrow Road of Gene Land II, page 127, he says: “Sewall Wright, who by my time at Ann Arbor had become my favourite evolutionist….” Hamilton was at the University of Michigan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so one might say that as he shifted from a focus on the evolution of sociality toward the evolution of sex his so did his intellectual mentors?



By Razib Khan | March 23, 2007 1:19 pm

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Population vs. quantitative genetics?

By Razib Khan | March 23, 2007 10:59 am

One issue that has cropped up in the comments a few times here is a conflation between quantitative & population genetics. Though people seem to think they’re interchangeable terms, they’re distinct fields. That’s why population genetics text books have chapters devoted specifically to quantitative genetics, and showing how the latter can be bridged with the former.
Roughly, population genetics is a “bottom up” field which deals with the dynamics of allele frequencies under the influence of evolutionary forces such as mutation, drift, selection and migration. In some ways it can be thought of as a formalization of the Mendelian revolution of the early 20th century, which reconceptualized inheritance as a discrete process.1 Quantitative genetics is a more “top down” discipline. Though it crystallized during the same period as population genetics via the work of R.A. Fisher, Sewall Wright and J.B.S. Haldane, its roots are pre-Mendelian, and can be traced to the biometrical school founded by Francis Galton and promoted by Karl Pearson. It many ways quantitative genetics is a branch of statistics. Population genetics starts from first principles, assuming a set number of loci and an arrangement of alleles, first and foremost the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium (HWE), p2 + 2pq + q2, where p & q represent two alleles on one locus and the three terms represent respective homozygotes and the heterozygote frequeny within a population. In contrast, quantitative genetics focuses on continuous traits which exhibit an normal distribution, and by its nature begins from the characteristics of realized phenotypes, as opposed to an abstract genetic model. But, the two are fundamentally connected because quantitative genetics simply represents one extreme in regards to genetic architecture (i.e., many loci which may be modeled by the Central Limit Theorem as random variables).

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Zach Braff going down, or going up?

By Razib Khan | March 23, 2007 4:24 am

zach.jpgI really don’t know what to think of this. Did you catch Zach Braff debating CATO’s Will Wilkinson? Either Scrubs isn’t doing so well, or Robert Wright is so big that semi-intellectual actors want to get aboard with


SLC45A2 and human skin color

By Razib Khan | March 21, 2007 9:05 am

I figured I would just note this, another skin color study:

…We previously reported significant associations of two coding region polymorphisms with hair, skin, and eye color in Caucasians. Here we characterize the promoter region of MATP [SLC45A2] identifying two new transcription start sites and a novel duplication…A total of 700 individuals from five different population groups (529 Caucasians, 38 Asians, 46 African Americans, 47 Australian Aborigines, and 40 Spanish Basques) were genotyped for known promoter polymorphisms…Allele frequencies of all three polymorphisms were significantly different between population groups. In Caucasians, the -1721G, +dup, and -1169A alleles were significantly associated with olive skin color. The three promoter polymorphisms were found to be in linkage disequilibrium with each other but not with the two previously reported coding region polymorphisms. Functional analyses in a melanoma cell line showed that the promoter haplotype -1721G, +dup, -1169A significantly decreased MATP transcription. This report provides further evidence for the involvement of MATP in normal pigmentation variation by identifying associations between MATP alleles and skin color variation in Caucasians and demonstrating a functional significance of these polymorphisms.

Related: A post on SLC24A5 and one on OCA2. Earlier commentary on the lead author’s work (a correction from her). Convergent evolution on skin color.


The Prison of War & Peace

By Razib Khan | March 19, 2007 10:14 am

A few days ago I began a survey of Martin Nowak’s treatment of modern game theory in his book Evolutionary Dynamics. Today I’m going to hit the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Roughly, this scenario is one where two individuals are isolated, and if they both keep their mouths shut (cooperate) they get off, but, if one rats the other out while the other keeps silent, the silent partner is screwed while the snitch gets off. If both of them rat the other out they get a prison sentence, but a lighter one than if they had kept silent while the other ratted them out. In other words: ratting the other person out is the “rational” option. So, the question is, why don’t we see a war of all against all in the world around us? That is what Nowak addresses in a whole chapter, and his exploration and treatment is highly ambitious, and it is clear that his long term aim is to characterize human action. Nowak aims to finish the house that Robert Trivers began constructing with his theory of reciprocal altruism.

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