Archive for May, 2007

Organ donation & brown people

By Razib Khan | May 31, 2007 12:28 pm

OK, most of you know some genetics. You know that immunological profiles are very diverse, and you know that because of the mathematics of this diversity matches aren’t easy. The problem increases in magnitude when you can not look within your ancestral population because the combinations will tend to draw from the modal alleles within that population. If that isn’t clear: many small minorities in the United States are faced with the prospect of very long odds when it comes to tissue matches because of low numbers. This means proactive drives are necessary, as a matter of life & death. With that….
A young man needs your help, within the next 6 weeks. If you’re brown, drives are planned in Fremont, Cerritos Anaheim and Livermore; additional information may be found here.
More info on this case.


Modernization = religion in South Korea?

By Razib Khan | May 30, 2007 12:42 pm

In my post Why the gods will never be defeated I made many references to the rise in religiosity concomitant with modernization in South Korean. Here is an article which illustrates what I’m talking about:

As recently as 1964, only a little over 3.5 million South Koreans, out of a total population of almost 28.2 million, noted a religious affiliation on government census forms. In other words, less than four decades ago, only a little more than 12% of the South Korean people declared themselves to be Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, or a follower of one of Korea’s many other organized religions. By 1983 more than 15.5 million South Koreans, close to 40% of a population of over 39.6 million, responded in the affirmative when their government asked them if they professed faith in any particular religion. That was more than a four-fold increase over the number of believers two decades earlier. By the 1990s, those willing to identify themselves as members of a specific religious community had risen to between 47 (in 1997) to 54 (in 1991) percent of the total population of South Korea. The size of the self-proclaimed religious population had risen from less than 16 million to between 21 to 23 million in a little more than a decade. Moreover, according to the 1997 Gallup poll, almost half of those who said they had no religious affiliation at that time confessed that they had once considered themselves Buddhists, Catholics, or Protestants….

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Epistatic variance to additive variance

By Razib Khan | May 29, 2007 10:11 pm

A few weeks ago I posted on how population bottlenecks can convert dominance variance into additive genetic variance. This is important because it is additive genetic variance that is relevant for population level directional selection upon quantitative characters. Now agnostic posts on how epistatic variance can be converted into to additive genetic variance.


Breastfeeding by adults?

By Razib Khan | May 29, 2007 8:36 pm

Islamic scholar promotes adult breastfeeding:

…Izzat Atiyaa had issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, offering his bold suggestion as a way around the prohibition in Islamic religious law against a woman working in private premises with a man who was not her close relative. Breastfeeding, he argued, would create a familial relationship under Islamic law.
Dr Atiyaa explained to the Egyptian newspaper al-Watani al-Yawm that: “A man and a woman who are alone together are not (necessarily) having sex but this possibility exists and breastfeeding provides a solution to this problem (by) transforming the bestial relationship between two people into a religious relationship based on (religious) duties.


ASPM & Microcephalin & tonal languages?

By Razib Khan | May 29, 2007 4:11 pm

Note: The authors have a website which summarizes their research (via Language Log).
Speaking in tones? Blame it on your genes:

People who carry particular variants of two genes involved in brain development tend to speak nontonal languages such as English, while those with a different genetic profile are more likely to speak tonal languages such as Chinese.
In tonal languages, which are most common in South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, subtle differences in pitch can change the meaning of vowels, consonants and syllables. Nontonal languages, which prevail in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, use pitch only as a way of conveying emphasis or emotion.

He cautioned, however, that the research had so far found only an association that appears to be more than chance, and that more work was needed to confirm a causal effect.

I first started hearing stuff this sort of research (i.e., the correlations between particular alleles and language forms) in 2006, so I’m not too surprised. We’ll see how this pans out, look for it in PNAS.
But, which alleles on which genes? From Scientific American:

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Seed 2007 Writing Contest

By Razib Khan | May 29, 2007 1:19 pm

Check out the 2007 writing contest from Seed Magazine. First prize is $2,500.


Yu Hong, round-eyed in China

By Razib Khan | May 28, 2007 3:39 pm

Kambiz @ has an excellent review of the case of the Chinese warlord with “European” ancestry.


Evolution & intuition

By Razib Khan | May 28, 2007 1:58 pm

Chris has a long response to Paul Bloom’s recent argument about intuition & science & education. You can also see Jake Young’s critical take here, as Chris responds in part to some of his issues with the piece.


Eternal recurrence

By Razib Khan | May 27, 2007 2:21 am

I’ve been blogging since spring of 2002. I’ve seen ’em come and go. Interestingly, I’ve noted that three blogs I once followed have sprung back to life after going silent relatively early on in the blosphere’s evolution, Ideofact, Rachel Lucas and Brink Lindsey. It’s all rather strange to see people pop up into the cyberworld after such a hiatus, I’ve certainly evolved, but these individuals (less so Brink) have engaged in saltation, if you remember their previous morphs at least.


The dead hand of the law

By Razib Khan | May 26, 2007 7:18 pm

Want to make analytic philosophy papers the exemplars of lively and clear prose? Just read some articles from The Harvard Law Review. My own personal experience with lawyers is that most of them know the law as well as a heating & cooling engineer knows the temperature systems of the typical modern building. That being said, heating & cooling engineers don’t presume to have insights into the human condition, while many smart lawyers seem to think they do have such general knowledge. Lawyers are the potentates of process, and I give them their due, but they should leave conversations of substance to those who actually know facts which see the light of day outside of the pages of briefs.



By Razib Khan | May 25, 2007 10:25 pm

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Radio Open Source needs funds!

By Razib Khan | May 25, 2007 7:22 pm

Radio Open Source is trying to raise some money to stave off shut-down.


Why the gods will not be defeated

By Razib Khan | May 25, 2007 6:53 pm

I’ve received a few emails from friends about this piece in Edge titled Why the Gods are Not Winning. The reason is that I’ve made it clear that in many ways I think religiosity as we understand it naturally arises out of the intersection of our societies and our cognition, that atheism is not the ancestral “wild type” for our species. In some ways the piece at Edge is a good corrective and offers up a lot of data that people need to know. Recently an acquaintance of mine mentioned that the United States is undergoing a “religious revival.” I responded that over the last 10 years those offering that they have “No religion” has increased greatly in proportion (the magnitude of the increase is somewhat in dispute, but the direction of this trend is not). The simple repetition in the media that there is an “evangelical awakening” has convinced many there is such an upsurge in religiosity when the reality of the data might argue against it. Nevertheless, the whole piece has serious issues, as to some extent the two authors are offering an inverted narrative from that of the religious triumphalists, cherry-picking data congenial to their arguments and mixing & matching adjectives and superlatives with specific numbers in a way that might beguile the uninitiated. The assertion by the authors of the Edge is somewhat like the following: “the Middle Ages saw a decline in economic production across the world.” Yes, true, but which Middle Ages? When Europe was at is nadir between 500 and 1000 China was in efflorescence under the Tang dynasty. When Europe was in the midst of the Aristotelian Renaissance during the 13th century Chinese culture was in decline due to the assaults of the Mongols. When Europe was entering into its Age of Exploration Japan was beginning to withdraw into the shell enforced by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The point is that world wide generalizations often mask local dynamics, and One True Answer that projects the future is often falsified by the variation of that future.

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By Razib Khan | May 23, 2007 1:45 am

Fellow SBer Mark Chu-Carroll on the loss of his father.


Group selection & the bugs

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2007 4:45 pm

The emergence of a superorganism through intergroup competition:

Surveys of insect societies have revealed four key, recurring organizational trends: (i) The most elaborated cooperation occurs in groups of relatives. (ii) Cooperation is typically more elaborate in species with large colony sizes than in species with small colony sizes, the latter exhibiting greater internal reproductive conflict and lesser morphological and behavioral specialization. (iii) Within a species, per capita brood output typically declines as colony size increases. (iv). The ecological factors of resource patchiness and intergroup competition are associated with the most elaborated cooperation. Predictions of all four patterns emerge elegantly from a game-theoretic model in which within-group tug-of-wars are nested within a between-group tug-of-war. In this individual selection model, individuals are faced with the problem of how to partition their energy between investment in intercolony competition versus investment in intracolony competition, i.e., internal tugs-of-war over shares of the resources gained through intergroup competition. An individual’s evolutionarily stable investment in between-group competition (i.e., within-group cooperation) versus within-group competition is shown to increase as within-group relatedness increases, to decrease as group size increases (for a fixed number of competing groups), to increase as the number of competing groups in a patch increases, and to decrease as between-group relatedness increases. Moreover, if increasing patch richness increases both the number of individuals within a group and the number of competing groups, greater overall cooperation within larger groups will be observed. The model presents a simple way of determining quantitatively how intergroup conflict will propel a society forward along a “superorganism continuum.”

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Geico Neandertals

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2007 4:16 pm

I know most readers have/watch TV, so the Geico Neandertal commercials aren’t new to them. But I thought I’d post this on the chance that some haven’t seen them, because I really like this one….


Who's the freak now?

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2007 3:41 pm

I was having coffee with a friend of mine. She’s an attractive young woman who was once a professional model of some promise (she’s not single guys, no emails inquiring please!). I simply note this fact to frame the following anecdote appropriately and make clear how incongruous it was. I was explaining to her the ethical issues involved in selective abortion of fetuses who will have Down Syndrome. When I mentioned Down Syndrome a pall seemed to hang over the conversation, and there was a moment of silence. She looked at me very gravely and stated, “I was once tormented and picked on by a group of Down Syndrome individuals….” That was not the response I expected. In any case, she had to take the bus when she was in high school, and apparently at her stop there was a a group of Down Syndrome adults who were regulars. And because they had the force of numbers on their side they taunted her and made her feel like an outcast, they would run around her and shout “grandma, grandma!”


God's Contintent, Christianity, Islam and Europe's Religious Crisis

By Razib Khan | May 19, 2007 1:54 pm

I have a long review of God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis over at my other weblog. This is part 1 of 2 for this review, with the second focusing on European Islam. If you are a data junkie I highly recommend God’s Continent.


I approve this v-log

By Razib Khan | May 19, 2007 12:25 am

Check out Julian Sanchez’s v-log. I agree with the general thrust of his critique, but I’m also intrigued by the possibilities of turning v-logs into mini-Daily Shows as he does with the video splicing here (I assume he didn’t spend a lot of time on this). I don’t think it is really appropriate for science because it isn’t like scientists normally are talking about their work on TV all the time, but perhaps when it comes to something with stem cell policy and the occasional “panel discussions” you see it might be interesting and funny.


Recent bird evolution

By Razib Khan | May 18, 2007 6:51 pm

Blackbirds Evolving Uptown:

More than a century ago, some European Blackbirds gave up the commuting life. The traditional routine was to nest in northern forests but head for southern Europe or northern Africa at the first sign of winter. Then some populations discovered that winter in the city isn’t half-bad: The microclimate is warm with plenty of tasty leftovers. So strong is the appeal of city life, according to a research team in Germany, that it is has not only changed the blackbirds’ behavior, but their genetics, too.


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