Archive for March, 2008

World religions – numbers over time….

By Razib Khan | March 31, 2008 3:33 pm

Well, it turns out that there isn’t a handy-dandy reference for the numbers for various religions in the past. Mark Kirkorian over at The Corner linked to my earlier post where I expressed skepticism about the contention by the Vatican demographer that a larger number of Muslims than Roman Catholics is new. Other people have contacted me as well. In any case, my hunch is that in fact Muslims were more numerous than Roman Catholics in the period between 950 and 1750, though the window could be shorter. My reasoning below the fold….

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The accommodation of religion

By Razib Khan | March 31, 2008 2:04 am

The Islamic Republic of Harvard?:

But the decision put Harvard in the awkward position of having to arbitrate what constitutes legitimate religious practice. Marine claims there was a “moral and ethical responsibility” for the administration to act on this request, telling the Associated Press last month that “it’s a pretty big breach of their moral and religious code … and it’s just not possible for them to be in a mixed environment.” But according to Aljawhary, “It’s not like we can’t work out when men are around.” In fact, “we were not ‘demanding’ women-only hours,” Aljawhary said. If the administration had said no, she said, “it would have been okay.”
Universities are often forced to alter their policies to accommodate the religious views of students–such as changing test dates on religious holidays or accommodating special dietary restrictions. But what happens when students hold a relatively extreme version of religious practice? And perhaps more importantly, what happens when that practice comes into conflict with other values important to the university?

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By Razib Khan | March 30, 2008 7:39 pm

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Why genome wide scans aren't all that

By Razib Khan | March 30, 2008 3:56 pm

Dan MacArthur at Genetic Future has the details. Some of the stuff coming out of genomics reminds me a lot of what you see with social science; lots of sexy studies which turn out not to be as significant upon later analysis. Perhaps hypotheses are overrated?


More Muslims than Catholics…again

By Razib Khan | March 30, 2008 3:22 pm

Update: Follow up post with some numbers and logic laid out.
Muslims more numerous than Catholics: Vatican:

Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican’s newly-released 2008 yearbook of statistics, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world’s population and Catholics 17.4 percent.
For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us,” Formenti told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006.

I’m willing to bet that Formenti is wrong. What do others think? Consider that Catholicism was the dominant religion in 1250 across 2/3 of Europe, and the residual Christian population in the Islamic world did not tend to be in communion with Rome (Maronites being the exception to the rule). I suspect that there were more Muslims than Roman Catholics until about the 18th century, when Islamicization of marginal peoples such as the Central Asian Turks was just about tapped out and population growth in the New World was adding to the numbers of Catholics. Population growth in Catholic European nations in the 19th and early 20th centuries would likely have increased the lead
I’ll try and look up some population numbers and post them. I know this is a pedantic point, but when it comes to controversial topics which have public policy implications people should try really hard not to make stuff up when there’s no need….


Impersonating Dan Dennett on religion

By Razib Khan | March 30, 2008 1:37 pm

At my other weblog a long post on religion:

On the most recent you can watch Paul Bloom explaining why he thinks the propensity for theism is an innate bias of our species. Several years back Bloom wrote a piece for The Atlantic, Is God an Accident?, where he makes a similar case. But the general outline of Bloom’s line of thinking is actually most powerfully argued in Scott Atran’s In God’s We Trust. The cognitive psychologists and anthropologists who work within this paradigm are operate under some background assumptions in regards to our mental architecture. First, human cognitive states are strongly biased by innate tendencies which have a biological origin. Perception and language acquisition are easily explained by nativist treatments, but Atran and others have argued that more obscure biases such as folk biology also exist, while other domains such as theory of mind are broadly accepted within the scholarly community.


Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence

By Razib Khan | March 30, 2008 1:09 pm

I have a review copy of Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence; but I’m not planning on reading it at this point. See John Hawks for why. Sometimes interdisciplinary work sheds new light on old questions because of the ability to think-outside-of-the-box. Sometimes not so much.


Katz update

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2008 11:53 pm

Just an FYI, but Kat photos will be delayed by a day or so this week. But if you are interested in katage, check out this week’s South Park.


Gene Genie #24

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2008 11:28 pm

Greg Laden has Gene Genie #24 up. I’ll be hosting #30 at the end of April….


Geert Wilders & defaming Islam

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2008 1:41 pm

Michael C. Moynihan has a article up at Reason, In Defense of Geert Wilders:

In response to the controversy surrounding Fitna, Wilders’ website was knocked offline by his American host, Network Solutions; he has been repeatedly denounced by the government of Jan Peter Balkenende as a liability to Dutch “interests”; the country’s shriveled monarch, Queen Beatrix, admonished that free speech doesn’t allow one the right to offend; and last week 1000 “anti-racism” activists protested Fitna in Amsterdam’s city center. As one demonstrator told Reuters, “There should be restrictions on what Wilders can say… it is a very bad example to people to let him say whatever he wants.” Similar demonstrations on behalf of free speech and the freedom to mock, insult, and defame religion have yet to materialize.

Ah, too bad here in the United States we aren’t as progressive and liberal as those Europeans. They’re so advanced compared to us. As a racist I luckily enjoy the right to insult Islam on this side of the pond.


Uyghurs are hybrids

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2008 10:55 am

uyg1.jpgAnother paper is out which falls under the category of using genetics to understand human history; Analysis of Genomic Admixture in Uyghur and Its Implication in Mapping Strategy:

The Uyghur (UIG) population, settled in Xinjiang, China, is a population presenting a typical admixture of Eastern and Western anthropometric traits. We dissected its genomic structure at population level, individual level, and chromosome level by using 20,177 SNPs spanning nearly the entire chromosome 21. Our results showed that UIG was formed by two-way admixture, with 60% European ancestry and 40% East Asian ancestry…Both the magnitude of LD and fragmentary ancestral chromosome segments indicated a long history of Uyghur. Under the assumption of a hybrid isolation (HI) model, we estimated that the admixture event of UIG occurred about 126 [107∼146] generations ago, or 2520 [2140∼2920] years ago assuming 20 years per generation. In spite of the long history and short LD of Uyghur compared with recent admixture populations such as the African-American population, we suggest that mapping by admixture LD (MALD) is still applicable in the Uyghur population but ∼10-fold AIMs are necessary for a whole-genome scan.

The rationale for these sorts of admixture studies is medical; you need to know the genetic background of a population to make sure that you don’t infer spurious assocations due to population substructure. Imagine that you have a study group and allele B on gene 1 is strongly associated with a higher incidence of disease X. This is important information which is going to be relevant for targeting and treatment. But what if you find out later that your study group consisted of two historically distinct populations, and allele B is only found in one of these. Additionally, within this population allele B is not associated with disease X. One can infer then that the original finding was simply due to the population substructure, and the correlation between allele B and disease X was due to the higher frequency of both these characters within a population as opposed to any causal relationship. Sometimes the substructure is going to be cryptic, and in other cases researchers need to be clear about the level of granularity necessary for any particular question.

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Minorities + minorities?

By Razib Khan | March 24, 2008 1:38 am

Do minorities feel they have more in common with each other rather than whites? See Inductivist.


Muslim fundamentalists, then and now

By Razib Khan | March 21, 2008 6:44 pm

It was in the 7th century of the Christian Era many of the events which shaped the course of Islamic sectarianism occurred. The major one you are aware of is the Shia-Sunni split; the reality of the origins of this schism and the way in which in manifests today is more complex than the cartoon cut-out you are normally presented, but I want to focus on a group which is outside of the Shia-Sunni dichotomy, the Ibadi. The Ibadi are descended from one of the assorted Kharijite sects. The Kharijites were extremists in the early history of Islam, they rejected Ali because he offered to parlay with the opposition. Though analogies are fraught with misrepresentations, the Kharijites are somewhat like the radical Protestants of the early Reformation era; they rejected the the vast majority of Muslims as infidels and refused to compromise with the world. Here is the Wikipedia characterization of Kharijites:

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Kate Beckinsale treats?

By Razib Khan | March 21, 2008 5:32 pm

kate_1.jpgGuess what Kate Beckinsale prefers over sushi….


Patterns of admixture in Latin American mestizos

By Razib Khan | March 21, 2008 3:02 pm

New PLOS paper, Geographic Patterns of Genome Admixture in Latin American Mestizos. Nothing new, but pushing the ball forward….

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By Razib Khan | March 21, 2008 1:59 pm

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Why we need to respect religion

By Razib Khan | March 21, 2008 4:19 am

How a Film Triggered a Global Panic:

But Balkenende is only doing what he believes is the best thing to do under the circumstances. Meanwhile, both the secretary general of NATO and Iran’s deputy foreign minister have offered the Dutch advice on how to neutralize Wilders: by invoking Article 29 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to Article 29, individual rights must be limited when it comes to respect for the freedoms of others and where the public order makes this necessary. Ironically, the man who invoked this article is the deputy foreign minister of a country, Iran, where homosexuals are publicly hanged and adulteresses are stoned to death, and when this happens, no one there invokes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Iranian ambassador to the Netherlands also told a group of journalists that freedom of speech is “not unlimited.”
When asked whether the Netherlands could expect a boycott on Dutch products if the Wilders film is shown, the ambassador was evasive but clear. “All options are on the table,” he said. “No one can say what will happen.”
Hans Gert Pöttering, the president of the European Parliament, issued a similar statement. He called upon the media to impose a “code of behavior” on itself and not to publish anything that could be perceived as “derogatory” by members of religious groups. He also warned the Dutch not to “make a contribution to violence because of our freedom.” These clear words of appeasement, which the chief EU parliamentarian directed against the victims and not the perpetrators of violence, urging the former to be on their best behavior, were — as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote — the result of “anticipated fear” and sounded “dangerously like self-censorship.”

pig_blood_koran_02.jpgLet’s get real here. It isn’t just any religious gorup; it is a religious group which has produced a militant wing intent on rolling back the Enlightenment’s victories for the right to blasphemy their One True God at the edge of the scimitar. Christian fundamentalists are problematic for a host of reasons, but the central tendency of modern Islam is shockingly illiberal, and I believe that mass media and modern information technology is resulting in less assimilation of Muslims to liberal norms than would otherwise be the case. Those norms include the right to blaspheme without fearing life & limb, a normal fear for most of human history when it came to dissenters against the dominant supernatural paradigm of a given society.
Above you see an image of the head of a pig with a book in its mouth. That is all.
Related: Is your mother a slut?.


Is James Kirchick stupid, or does he just think we are?

By Razib Khan | March 20, 2008 9:52 pm

Normally I don’t blog politics since I don’t know shit really. I generally subscribe to 2-3 political feeds which I regularly rotate to keep me “hooked in.” Today I saw something so so shockingly stupid, or, brazenly mendacious, that I had to take note. Red Massachusetts?:

…And a Scots-Irish war veteran as the Republican nominee complicates predictions about whom Kennedy Country will support come November.

Most of the commentary seems fine, if disputable; I might not agree, but it’s political pundrity, about as rooted in reality as sports predictions. James Kirchick graduated from Yale with a degrees in history and political science, so I assume he knows something and has the processing power to engage in a fair amount of rigorous ratiocination. The reference to “Kennedey Country” has to do with the fact that Massachusetts is demographically dominated by Irish Americans and their political culture. This is not identical to Scots-Irish, who are customarility Presbyterian. Additionally, in the southern highlands some of the Scots-Irish regions were often redoubts of Unionist-Republican sentiment during the long Democratic hegemony (ergo, the creation of West Virigina). Nor are these two groups similarly distributed across the nation.

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Math × Biology → Crazy Delicious!

By Razib Khan | March 20, 2008 5:46 am

otto.jpgI just purchased a copy of A Biologist’s Guide to Mathematical Modeling in Ecology and Evolution by Sarah P. Otto and Troy Day. My main rationale for getting this book was that I wanted a reference with the kitchen sink included, and, I was curious about mathematical ecology. This text leans a bit more toward ecology than I would have preferred, but it has a lot of good stuff and I’d recommend it if you are curious about the stiff formal side of biology. I liked the fact that there was a section on probability as well as linear algebra; Otto & Day only assume algebra and calculus, so it is totally accessible to undergraduates. It really isn’t that dense in terms math and prose, the type set means that the 700+ pages throws a bit less at you than you might assume. There are a load of illustrations too if pictures are your style.
(I really appreciate the tables of formulas clustered appropriately by category and separated into discrete and continuous sections; nothing new, but nice to have it all on one platter so to speak)


Why Arthur C. Clarke mattered

By Razib Khan | March 19, 2008 9:29 pm

space.1.jpgEveryone on ScienceBlogsTM is talking about Arthur C. Clarke. I put up a short post where I noted his passing. I wasn’t a super fan of Clarke’s fiction, though I found it interesting and thought provoking. My personal favorite was the The City and the Stars, which tells the story of a future human civilization of immortal citizens who have turned away from the cosmos. Clarke, being a science fiction writer, does not depict this inward looking conservatism positively, though to some extent one might posit that it is a sort of Benthamite utopia.
And that is the significance of men like Clarke; they offer up a vision of the future where humanity explores the cosmos. When I was a child I remember seeing a clip of Joseph P. Kennedy II, the son of Bobby Kennedy, making a speech in congress bemoaning funding for NASA which might come at the expense of social programs. I was stuck by the argument the time, and frankly somewhat alarmed. Obviously no one wants to take food out of the mouths of babes, but such an extreme utilitarianism seems spirit sapping to me, pedestrian if you will. Ultimately Kennedy’s argument hinged on exactly what sort of vision we might have for the future and the present; I doubt he personally abdicated the life of aesthetic appreciation because so many are malnourished around the world. How many lived in want so that Joseph Kennedy could live the life of leisure, philanthropy and activism which is the birthright of a Kennedy? The choices we make in our own lives show that though a spare utilitarian moral calculus may be an place from which the discussion can start, it is not the end of the story.

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