Archive for April, 2008


By Razib Khan | April 18, 2008 1:44 am

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Supernatural sex differences

By Razib Khan | April 17, 2008 10:04 pm

The post below where I observed that in the United States men are over-represented among the Religious Right as opposed to the general population elicited a lot of response. I took some of the data from American Piety in the 21st Century which is broken down by sex and posted it below the fold….

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Have faith in the church, not god

By Razib Khan | April 17, 2008 5:24 pm

Religiousness and Infidelity: Attendance, but not Faith and Prayer, Predict Marital Fidelity:

High religiousness has been consistently linked with a decreased likelihood of past infidelity but has been solely defined by religious service attendance, a limited assessment of a complex facet of life. The current study developed nine religiousness subscales using items from the 1998 General Social Survey to more fully explore the association between religiousness and infidelity. Interestingly, logistic regressions using currently married participants (N = 1,439) demonstrated that attendance, but not faith, nearness to God, prayer, and other religious attributes, was related to infidelity. Exploratory analyses also found that individuals with high religious importance but low attendance were more likely to have had an affair and weak evidence that marital happiness moderated the association between religiousness and infidelity.

I wouldn’t put that much weight on one study…but this speaks to the functional significance of religious phenomena. Secularists often make the critique that great evil has been acted upon in the name of religion, but the flip side of this is that the same psychological and social parameters which result in group conformity which generates hostility toward perceived outgroups also can serve as critical buffers for those within the circle of the ingroup. The fact that institutional religion is declining as a source of social cohesion and identification, but supernatural beliefs far less so, suggests that anomie and anti-social behavior may increase….


Men are religious fundamentalists

By Razib Khan | April 16, 2008 3:22 pm

The finding that men are more likely to be secular than women is a relatively robust result. You can note this in the Pew Religious Survey, to the point where 70% of self-identified atheists in the United States are male. In places as disparate as East Asia and Latin America women are stereotypically more religiously identified as well (or, religious practice is categorized as a female-identified activity). So what about the patterns within denominations? Men, being more secular in orientation on average, would probably sort into the more liberal and less demanding denominations, right? Not really. See below the fold.

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FOXP2 & Neandertals; a reprise

By Razib Khan | April 15, 2008 9:33 pm

Via Dienekes, The Timing of Selection at the Human FOXP2 Gene:

Krause et al. (2007) recently examined patterns of genetic variation at FOXP2 in two Neandertals. This gene is of particular interest because it is involved in speech and language and was previously shown to harbor the signature of recent positive selection. The authors found the same two amino-acid substitutions in Neandertals as in modern humans. Assuming that these sites were the targets of selection and no interbreeding between the two groups, they concluded that selection at FOXP2 occurred before the populations split, over 300Kya. Here, we show that the data are unlikely under this scenario but may instead be consistent with low rates of gene flow between modern humans and Neandertals. We also collect additional data and introduce a modeling framework to estimate levels of modern human contamination of the Neandertal samples. We find that, depending on the assumptions, additional control experiments may be needed to rule out contamination at FOXP2.

Update: Kambiz has much more.


Is medicine more "scientific" than physics?

By Razib Khan | April 15, 2008 6:02 am

Sheril pointed me to this data rich release of Science and Engineering Indicators. I was interested to see this table:

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Why you might have asthma?

By Razib Khan | April 14, 2008 6:24 pm

Effect of Variation in CHI3L1 on Serum YKL-40 Level, Risk of Asthma, and Lung Function:

Background The chitinase-like protein YKL-40 is involved in inflammation and tissue remodeling. We recently showed that serum YKL-40 levels were elevated in patients with asthma and were correlated with severity, thickening of the subepithelial basement membrane, and pulmonary function. We hypothesized that single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that affect YKL-40 levels also influence asthma status and lung function.

Results A promoter SNP (–131C→G) in CHI3L1, the chitinase 3–like 1 gene encoding YKL-40, was associated with elevated serum YKL-40 levels (P=1.1×10–13), asthma (P=0.047), bronchial hyperresponsiveness (P=0.002), and measures of pulmonary function (P=0.046 to 0.002) in the Hutterites. The same SNP could be used to predict the presence of asthma in the two case–control populations (combined P=1.2×10–5) and serum YKL-40 levels at birth (in cord-blood specimens) through 5 years of age in the birth cohort (P=8.9×10–3 to 2.5×10–4).
Conclusions CHI3L1 is a susceptibility gene for asthma, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and reduced lung function, and elevated circulating YKL-40 levels are a biomarker for asthma and decline in lung function.

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Notes on Sewall Wright: the Measurement of Kinship

By Razib Khan | April 13, 2008 11:40 am

David Burbridge continues his awesome series of posts on the history of evolutionary genetic thought with Notes on Sewall Wright: the Measurement of Kinship. Here’s a taste:

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AVPR1a polymorphism & "ruthlessness"

By Razib Khan | April 12, 2008 3:28 am

Genghis_Khan.jpgA few months ago I blogged a paper, Individual differences in allocation of funds in the dictator game associated with length of the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor RS3 promoter region and correlation between RS3 length and hippocampal mRNA. Now these results have hit the press with really wack titles. Jake at Pure Pedantry and Joseph at Corpus Callosum offer the appropriate scientific caution. Caution is warranted, but I think the next decade at the intersection of behavioral economics & genetics is going to be very big. Papers such as Heritability of ultimatum game responder behavior & Heritability of cooperative behavior in the trust game are just the tip of the iceberg.


Asian doctors are white

By Razib Khan | April 12, 2008 2:44 am

About 10 years ago Eugene Volokh wrote How the Asians Became White. I think it’s aged rather well. Volokh starts:

Don’t believe me? A recent MSNBC news headline announced a “Plunge in Minority University Enrollment” at the University of California, with UC Berkeley reporting that “minority admissions had declined 61 percent.” Actually, the total percentage of racial minority students at Berkeley, Asians included, fell from 57% to 49%. If you exclude the burgeoning group of people who decline to state their race, the minority percentage fell only three percentage points, from 61% to 58%.

Fast forward, you see headlines such as Minority doctors in short supply in state. Here are the first two paragraphs:

A new study on physicians in California shows a glaring gap between the number of doctors of color compared with the state’s ethnically diverse population, especially among African Americans and Latinos.
At the same time, the state has a disproportionate number of Asian and white doctors, according to the UCSF study, which focuses on doctor ethnicity and language fluency.

CNN_SanjayGupta.jpgThe same mixing & matching. To assert a glaring gap of color one has to de-colorizing Asians. Including Asians makes the gap far less glaring (a state that is about 50% minority with around 40% minority doctors). The general focus of the news report here is pushing the thesis about a minority doctor shortage, so you see the standard deemphasis on statistics which show a surfeit of Asian Americans, but with a precise & clear reiteration of the dearth of blacks and Latinos. The background assumption is of course simple: a world of white and non-white must redress the injustice that the white metes out to the non-white.
Luckily, we have data. You can read the original report (PDF). I did, and placed some of the data below the fold….

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By Razib Khan | April 11, 2008 12:25 pm

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History through biology

By Razib Khan | April 11, 2008 1:37 am

Ancient DNA: Reconstruction Of The Biological History Of A Human Society:

A research team has reconstructed the history of the evolution of human population and answered questions about history, using DNA extracted from skeleton remains. Knowing the history of past populations and answering unresolved questions about them is highly interesting, more so when the information is obtained from the extraction of genetic material from historical remains. An example is the necropolis at Aldaieta (Araba) where some of these mysteries about these peoples have been answered – thanks to the study of their DNA.

Expect more in the near future….


Why scientists should do drugs (if they choose)

By Razib Khan | April 10, 2008 9:15 pm

The reports about the widespread use of drugs, cognitive enhancers, among scientists is making the rounds. I tend to think that it might be a positive thing, even if there are side effects. The fact is that if you go into science you’re looking at a life of relatively meager remuneration for the intellectual firepower you can bring to any question. Someone who has the abilities and skills to get a tenure track position could almost certainly have been able to make a go of it in a much higher paid profession, but they didn’t. Why? Many reasons, from fame to doing what you love. The reality though is that most scientists don’t really stand out, and unlike Gilgamesh no one will remember them in the future. I think that the culture of science does need a lot of warm bodies, so there is a positive spillover effect to someone spending their whole life in a scientific career, despite the fact that only a tiny minority of individuals will accrue to themselves the glory of immortality and acclaim.

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Speciation & gene flow

By Razib Khan | April 10, 2008 3:37 pm

Speciation with gene flow could be common:

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Why Burma will beat Bangaldesh: human capital matters

By Razib Khan | April 10, 2008 3:01 pm

When I was a little kid I would check out countries whose vital economic and social statistics were not as good as Bangladesh’s. I basically was curious as to what could have happened, how can you be more miserable than Bangladesh??? How??? During the 1980s Vietnam was one of those nations. Torn by war for decade & saddled by a anti-productive Communist economic system this was a nation where I noted that indices like caloric intake and GDP PPP actually had Bangladesh on top!
No more. Vietnam’s economy has grown a great deal from its extremely low base over the last 20 years, and it has now surpassed Bangaldesh. South Asians often like to complain that the reason East Asian nations like South Korea and Japan did so well, while their nations languished, was that the United States injected capital inputs after World War II. That model doesn’t work for Vietnam for obvious reasons.

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Philosophy = lower salary

By Razib Khan | April 9, 2008 5:18 pm

philosophy.gifThere was a recent article in The New York Times about the boomlet in philosophy majors. Seemed like a classic “journalism by the numbers” (like a coloring book). But via Tyler Cowen via Kids Prefer Cheese comes the graphic to the left. I suppose undergraduates aren’t really responding to rational financial incentives, huh? Well, depends on how you define rational:

Jenna Schaal-O’Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks. She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.
“That whole deep existential torment,” she said. “It’s good for getting girlfriends.”

N = 1 & all, but still….


Burn Mark Chu-Carroll!!!

By Razib Khan | April 7, 2008 3:28 pm

He’s a damn frequentist! (the big issue is that he’s not a philosopher, not that there’s anything wrong with it….)


Selection for height genes?

By Razib Khan | April 7, 2008 9:31 am

Three papers on genome wide association studies & height. Identification of ten loci associated with height highlights new biological pathways in human growth, Genome-wide association analysis identifies 20 loci that influence adult height and Many sequence variants affecting diversity of adult human height. Dan MacArthur hits the major point:

ScienceDaily puts a positive spin on the story (“Scientists are beginning to develop a clearer picture of what makes some people stand head and shoulders above the rest“), but the real story is this: despite the massive scale of these studies, they’re still only capturing less than 5% of the total variance in a trait that is almost entirely (90%) genetic. This is a powerful demonstration of the inability of current GWAS technology to access the genetic variants responsible for the vast majority of heritable variation in at least some complex traits, for reasons I have previously discussed in detail.

I was wondering if there was any recent selection in the genomic regions pinpointed in the three papers, so I turned to Haplotter. Below the fold are the results….

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Tasmanian devils won't go extinct! (probably)

By Razib Khan | April 6, 2008 8:44 pm

taz.jpgWe’ve talked before on ScienceBlogs about the extinction risk to Tasmanian Devils because of contagious cancer. Well, perhaps there’s a light at the end of this population tunnel, Hope over Tasmanian Devil cancer:

The world’s largest marsupial carnivore is facing extinction from a mystery facial cancer.
But scientists say Cedric appears to be naturally resistant to the contagious tumours which have killed half the devil population in Tasmania.
Cedric is the first Tasmanian Devil to have shown any immunity from the disfiguring disease.

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Nose jobs in Iran

By Razib Khan | April 5, 2008 6:12 pm

bahar.jpgA new piece in TNR, Iranian Chic, highlights the fact that nose jobs are all the rage in the Islamic Republic. A more detailed article notes:

One prominent Tehran plastic surgeon says his patients include the daughters of senior Islamic clerics.
Its use in the Islamic republic was officially sanctioned by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s late leader and father of the Islamic revolution. He gave the go-ahead after being consulted by a religious figure whose daughter was due to be operated on by Iran’s leading plastic surgeon, Mohammed Abidipour.

One of the main reasons offered for this fixation on facial perfection is that in Iran women can show their faces, but not their hair or figure (at least theoretically). So there is a natural tendency to fixate on the one region of the body which is a visible. Of course, that begs the question why nose jobs are popular with males in Iran as well. Additionally, I recently went to a Nowruz celebration with Kambiz, and the relatively liberal Iranian Americans unnecumbered by onerous morals legislation (head-scarf to cleavage ratio was 1:50) were obviously in love with plastic surgery too as evidenced by the presence of Latoya-Jackson-Face.
Below the fold a video report on the trend.

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