Archive for June, 2008

Curing the gay

By Razib Khan | June 18, 2008 11:44 am

Sexual Reorientation: The gay culture war is about to turn chemical:

If the idea of chemically suppressing homosexuality in the womb horrifies you, I have bad news: You won’t be in the room when it happens. Parents control medical decisions, and surveys indicate that the vast majority of them would be upset to learn that their child was gay. Already, millions are screening embryos and fetuses to eliminate those of the “wrong” sex. Do you think they won’t screen for the “wrong” sexual orientation, too?
Liberals are slow to see what’s coming. They’re still fighting the culture war. The Toronto Star, like other papers, finds a neuroscientist who thinks the new study “should erode the moral judgments often made against homosexual preferences and rebut any argument that it is a mere a lifestyle choice.” Well, yes. But then what? The reduction of homosexuality to neurobiology doesn’t mean your sexual orientation can’t be controlled. It just means the person controlling it won’t be you.

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Firefox 3.0 is fast

By Razib Khan | June 17, 2008 2:41 pm

So get it.


Who you have sex with….

By Razib Khan | June 16, 2008 6:41 pm

Genetic and Environmental Effects on Same-sex Sexual Behavior: A Population Study of Twins in Sweden:

There is still uncertainty about the relative importance of genes and environments on human sexual orientation. One reason is that previous studies employed self-selected, opportunistic, or small population-based samples. We used data from a truly population-based 2005-2006 survey of all adult twins (20-47 years) in Sweden to conduct the largest twin study of same-sex sexual behavior attempted so far. We performed biometric modeling with data on any and total number of lifetime same-sex sexual partners, respectively. The analyses were conducted separately by sex. Twin resemblance was moderate for the 3,826 studied monozygotic and dizygotic same-sex twin pairs. Biometric modeling revealed that, in men, genetic effects explained .34-.39 of the variance, the shared environment .00, and the individual-specific environment .61-.66 of the variance. Corresponding estimates among women were .18-.19 for genetic factors, .16-.17 for shared environmental, and 64-.66 for unique environmental factors. Although wide confidence intervals suggest cautious interpretation, the results are consistent with moderate, primarily genetic, familial effects, and moderate to large effects of the nonshared environment (social and biological) on same-sex sexual behavior.

ScienceDaily has an important caveat:

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Bobby Jindal: Creationist (???)…Politician!!!!

By Razib Khan | June 16, 2008 3:17 pm

I have already posted on Creationism & Bobby Jindal. Here’s more:

As a parent, when my kids go to schools, when they go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking. I want them to be able to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data. I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn’t created accidentally. I do think that there’s a creator. I’m a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I’d certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don’t want them to be – I don’t want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness. The way we’re going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science and let them not only decide, but also let them contribute to that body of knowledge. That’s what makes the scientific process so exciting. You get to go there and find facts and data and test what’s come before you and challenge those theories.


Soda vs. Pop (and Coke)

By Razib Khan | June 16, 2008 12:45 pm

The post on soft drink terms has elicited a great deal of response (on my other blog as well). Many people want a little more granularity; well, it was brought to my attention that Google Maps based survey is up. You can vote and increase the N. I ask all American readers interested in the topic to participate (doesn’t look like it takes Postal Codes, only Zips), as it will offer us even more detail. My “blog reader surveys” usually return around 400 responses so I hope I can increase the sample size multiplicatively….
(if you have a weblog, you might want to link too!)


Soda vs. Pop: explanations

By Razib Khan | June 15, 2008 7:49 pm

Every few years I post this map. Anyone have good explanations for some of the patterns? (e.g., what’s going on around St. Louis and Milwaukee?)


Ancient DNA in Xinjiang

By Razib Khan | June 13, 2008 2:54 pm

Via Dienekes, Ancient mtDNA from Sampula population in Xinjiang:

The archaeological site fo Sampula cemetery was located about 14 km to the southwest of the Luo County in Xinjiang Khotan, China, belonging to the ancient Yutian kingdom. 14C analysis showed that this cemetery was used from 217 B.C. to 283 A. D. Ancient DNA was analysed by 364 bp of the mitochondrial DNA hypervariable region 1 (mtDNA HVR-1), and by six restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) sites of mtDNA coding region. We successfully extracted and sequenced intact stretches of maternally inherited mtDNA from 13 out of 16 ancient Sampula samples. The analysis of mtDNA haplogroup distribution showed that the ancient Sampula was a complex population with both European and Asian Characteristics. Median joining network of U3 sub-haplogroup and multi-dimensional scaling analysis all showed that the ancient Sampula had maternal relationship with Ossetian and Iranian.

The Ossetes are the most prominent of the northern Iranian speaking peoples which were once more expansive in their extant than the south Iranian languages we are more familiar with (e.g., Kurdish, Persian, etc.).



By Razib Khan | June 13, 2008 5:17 am

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Luck of the Irish

By Razib Khan | June 13, 2008 12:32 am



Jacob's Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History

By Razib Khan | June 12, 2008 3:06 pm

jacobslegacy.jpgOver the past decade the concurrent arrival of relatively cheap sequencing technology as well as copious computational power has resulted a flurry of research in the domain of genetic anthropology with the intent of fleshing out historical questions. Spencer Wells’ Journey of Man and Bryan Sykes’ The Seven Daughters of Eve were among the early entrants in this burgeoning corpus of popular science literature. Both of these were relatively expansive works, focusing on the deep time histories of the Y and mtDNA lineages, the paternal and maternal ancestry respectively. As the low hanging fruit has been plucked more recent research has focused on narrower and more precise questions. David Goldstein’s Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History is a straightforward but dense exposition of just such a topic. In many ways this is a work which complements Jon Entine’s Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People; but while Entine exhibits the narrative flourishes and expansive curiosity of a writer, Goldstein’s book is a focused extension of his particular line of research. In fact, there is little scientific content in Jacob’s Legacy which couldn’t be gleaned from the substantial number of papers which have addressed questions of Jewish genetics over the past 10 years. Of course, I assume that a 120 page book aimed at the popular audience is going to be more intelligible than the discussion sections of two dozen scientific papers.

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Higher IQ ~ more atheism internationally

By Razib Khan | June 12, 2008 2:37 pm

God makes you stupid, researchers claim:

Lynn and his two co-authors argue that average IQ is an excellent predictor of what proportion of the population are true believers, across 137 countries. They also cite surveys of the US Academy of Sciences and UK Royal Academy showing single-digit rates of religious belief among academics.

Well, I actually blogged this relationship years ago (December 2003 actually). It jumps out at you pretty clearly if you know the two traits and their international trends. I think that the causal factors which underly the relationship need to be qualified carefully; I do not believe that it is just high IQ leading to some inevitable skepticism. I think a psychological phenomenon such as religious belief should be modeled as a quantitative trait subject to a norm of reaction. So of late I’ve become more interested in the correlations of these traits which vary within a culture. I’m especially interested in the ~0.50 heritability that Thomas Bouchard found among twins separated at birth in regards to religious intensity….
I’ve placed the three tables I found in a pre-press form of the paper that is circulating below the fold….

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Vitamin D deficiency & heart disease

By Razib Khan | June 12, 2008 3:49 am

Vitamin D: New way to treat heart failure?. It’s been in the news so I figured I’d point to Think Gene’s roundup. It seems in the health sciences occasional fads for miracle-nutrients show up, so take it all with a grain of salt. I’m less interested in Vitamin D’s relationship with late in life ailments such as cancer and heart disease as I am with its more global impact on immune function, because it is the latter which has the most evolutionary impact (most people done breeding by the time heart attacks and cancer take their toll).


Bobby Jindal, Creationist? George Will, agnostic

By Razib Khan | June 12, 2008 3:43 am

Josh has a good overview of the wending through the legislature of a Creationist bill in Louisiana. The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who just turned 37, has made Creationist noises before. This is interesting because Jindal is a Roman Catholic, so he has no necessary religious rationale for his Creationism. Additionally, he has a degree in biology from Brown University. Fellow ScienceBlogger Mike happens to have gone through the same biology program as Jindal at the same time at Brown, and he makes it clear that Jindal’s opinions do not emerge from a vacuum of information, Brown’s curriculum was very thorough about emphasizing evolution. If Jindal does sign this bill I believe he will be have to make his mark as governor of Louisiana as opposed to being a national figure; evolution is a marginal issue to most people but cultural elites, both Left and Right, perceive anti-evolutionism as a sure sign of yokel-identification.

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God bless America!

By Razib Khan | June 11, 2008 4:50 pm

Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech:

A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States do not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.
Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.
Two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress say the magazine, Maclean’s, Canada’s leading newsweekly, violated a provincial hate speech law by stirring up hatred against Muslims. They say the magazine should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their “dignity, feelings and self respect.”

Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

I have to say fuck their dignity. When Muslims redact the Koran so as to satisfy the affront to my dignity as a non-Muslim at its ethno-centric and triumphalist narrative I’ll be willing to pay attention to this sort of stuff from those who claim special access to transcendental truth and presume that others live in darkness and falsity. And no, servers are not hosted in Canada.
(H/T Talk Islam)


Geologists are Republicans?

By Razib Khan | June 10, 2008 4:08 pm

I was poking around Fund Race 2008 and was curious how different scientist professions were giving in regards to political parties in the USA. Below is what I found….

profession Repub # Dem # Repub $ Dem $ Ratio # Dem $
mathematician 18 98 13740 72837 5.44 5.3
physicist 86 532 65722 425105 6.19 6.47
chemist 172 397 111058 247742 2.31 2.23
biochemist 23 117 16567 100415 5.09 6.06
biologist 27 278 13809 156868 10.3 11.36
geologist 321 294 321835 195143 0.92 0.61
electrical engineer 321 374 184539 244717 1.17 1.33
mechanical engineer 155 149 109542 86466 0.96 0.79
civil engineer 555 419 488337 284625 0.75 0.58
chemical engineer 123 97 87113 54524 0.79 0.63
economist 205 798 239043 784461 3.89 3.28

I suspect that geologists are explicable when you note how many are employed in natural resources industries (e.g., oil).


Molecular evolution of extinct lineages

By Razib Khan | June 10, 2008 7:29 am

This is cool, Intraspecific phylogenetic analysis of Siberian woolly mammoths using complete mitochondrial genomes:

We report five new complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes of Siberian woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), sequenced with up to 73-fold coverage from DNA extracted from hair shaft material. Three of the sequences present the first complete mtDNA genomes of mammoth clade II. Analysis of these and 13 recently published mtDNA genomes demonstrates the existence of two apparently sympatric mtDNA clades that exhibit high interclade divergence. The analytical power afforded by the analysis of the complete mtDNA genomes reveals a surprisingly ancient coalescence age of the two clades,~1-2 million years, depending on the calibration technique. Furthermore, statistical analysis of the temporal distribution of the 14C ages of these and previously identified members of the two mammoth clades suggests that clade II went extinct before clade I. Modeling of protein structures failed to indicate any important functional difference between genomes belonging to the two clades, suggesting that the loss of clade II more likely is due to genetic drift than a selective sweep.

Sympatric just means there was a spatial overlap between the lineages (see Figure 1 in the paper). I don’t particular care much about the specific inferences being made here; I just think it’s really cool that this sort of work can be performed on an extinct lineage of organisms. Of course, mammoth and mtDNA are optimal targets for this sort of research. Mammoth are big, widespread and were extant across a region where there is a high likelihood of preservation (low temperatures and permafrost), while mtDNA is relatively copious and so a greater likelihood exists of usable quantities remaining even after eons of degradation. But ultimately time is probably the biggest factor, mammoth were around relatively recently in terms of natural historical scales.


…then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods….

By Razib Khan | June 9, 2008 3:41 pm

Carl has an excellent post up, Engineering Life: The Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night:

…Erwin Chargaff, an eminent Columbia University biologist, called genetic engineering “an irreversible attack on the biosphere.”
“The world is given to us on loan,” he warned. “We come and we go; and after a time we leave earth and air and water to others who come after us. My generation, or perhaps the one preceding mine, has been the first to engage, under the leadership of the exact sciences, in a destructive colonial warfare against nature. The future will curse us for it.”
At the same time, people warned that we were doing the unnatural, something that humans were not meant to do. “We can now transform that evolutionary tree into a network,” declared Robert Sinsheimer, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We can merge genes of most diverse origin–from plant or insect, from fungus or man as we wish.”
It was not a power that Sinsheimer thought we could handle. “We are becoming creators–makers of new forms of life–creations that we cannot undo, that will live on long after us, that will evolve according to their own destiny. What are the responsibilities of creators–for our creations and for all the living world into which we bring our inventions?”

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”


Have liberals no shame?

By Razib Khan | June 8, 2008 4:26 pm

Will Wilkinson and Jon Haidt just did a I’ve blogged Haidt’s ideas before (Chris is skeptical). During this interview Haidt lays out the difference between college age liberals and other societies with a scenario where a beloved dog dies and the family decides to consume the creature. Most non-college age non-liberals think that that’s immoral, while many of the liberals express a more guarded utilitarian evaluation where its morality is ambiguous. That’s fine, but later on Haidt mentions that a lot of New Age liberals are always going on about “toxins”; I see this in my day to day life all the time. So what gives? I wonder if Haidt is over-reading the responses to his first question.
First, liberals can be disgusted. How would the college students react if if you asked if it was moral if a family decided to eat a newborn that had died, or perhaps their mother who was living in the attic until her expiration? So I think there might be a quantitative difference, but on the margins the underlying principle operates. Secondly, what about a culture where women get circumcized where their labia and clitoris are removed at the age of 18 because they are told that that is what “good girls” should do? What if the women are doing this of their own free choice with their own sterile knives and anaesthesia?
I don’t have strong opinions on either the quantitative and qualitative questions here. Haidt has a Ph.D. and I’m sure he can design good experiments, and perhaps I’m ignorant because I haven’t read all his papers. But I can’t shake off the perception that perhaps the outcomes of these results are an artifact (there is also the point that people may say one thing but act out in a different way, and avowed morality/reason often is overruled by a gut reaction proximately).


On causes and religion

By Razib Khan | June 8, 2008 2:05 pm

A long response by me at my other weblog to Alan Jacob’s piece, Too Much Faith in Faith. A sample:

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Uncontacted, uninfected?

By Razib Khan | June 8, 2008 12:06 am

Twilight for the Forest People:

If they are removed and survive the exposure to diseases they have never encountered, it is likely that the unique knowledge and beliefs that define them, the spirit of their life, will probably slip away.

I am to understand that governments like Brazil are better about this, but there has long been a problem with these tribal groups disappearing in 2-3 generations because of their lack of immune faculties to deal with the pathogens they’re newly exposed to. Something to think about.


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