Archive for September, 2008

The Church teaches Muslims evolution?

By Razib Khan | September 30, 2008 2:47 am

The New York Times has an article up about how French Muslim girls are enrolling in Catholics schools, in part because of the relatives freedoms these religious schools offer in terms of their dress vis-a-vis the normal public schools. I found this portion interesting:

The biology teacher at St. Mauront has been challenged on Darwin’s theory of evolution, and history class can get heated during discussions of the Crusades or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Muslim students shocked the staff by showing glee, Mr. Chamoux recalled.

I am not one of those atheists who has a realistic hope that religion will ever truly recede from the world. Rather, I do believe that religious institutions adapt to the Zeitgeist because they are of this world, whether they accept that claim or not. Somewhat crassly I have occasionally suggested that European Christianity has been gelded by the Enlightenment, and Islam is having to go through that process right now. I do think that strident anti-religious diatribes may play a role in pushing the boundaries of the ecosystem of the discussion, but ultimately most of the change will likely occur endogenously, in the form of individuals who share the religious presuppositions of the retrogrades whom they are trying to reform. If Muslims see in Christians as a model of worshiping their One True God in a manner that is less barbaric and primitive as they are now I see no harm in that, and only good.


Hot peppers & pain

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2008 9:18 pm

habenero.jpgBayblab has a post up, Which organisms can feel pain?, on capsaicin. The post also points to an article about a man dying after eating habanero chili paste (though the article makes me suspect it was some allergy).
Related: 7 days of hot sauce.


Academic fads in graphs

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2008 4:22 pm

Agnostic has three posts of interest over the past week: Graphs on the death of Marxism, postmodernism, and other stupid academic fads, Response to criticism on the death of academic -isms and Graphs on the rise of scientific approaches to humanity.


Selectives sweeps and the alleles that love them

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2008 8:14 am

Another paper with another technique to detect positive selection in the human genome, Identification of local selective sweeps in human populations since the exodus from Africa:

Selection on the human genome has been studied using comparative genomics and SNP architecture in the lineage leading to modern humans. In connection with the African exodus and colonization of other continents, human populations have adapted to a range of different environmental conditions. Using a new method that jointly analyses haplotype block length and allele frequency variation (F(ST)) within and between populations, we have identified chromosomal regions that are candidates for having been affected by local selection. Based on 1.6 million SNPs typed in 71 individuals of African American, European American and Han Chinese descent, we have identified a number of genes and non-coding regions that are candidates for having been subjected to local positive selection during the last 100 000 years. Among these genes are those involved in skin pigmentation (SLC24A5) and diet adaptation (LCT). The list of genes implicated in these local selective sweeps overlap partly with those implicated in other studies of human populations using other methods, but show little overlap with those postulated to have been under selection in the 5-7 myr since the divergence of the ancestors of human and chimpanzee. Our analysis provides focal points in the genome for detailed studies of evolutionary events that have shaped human populations as they explored different regions of the world.

Below the fold is a table with the candidate genes they picked up….
Update: John Hawks comments.

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Genetic engineering in the service of social engineering?

By Razib Khan | September 28, 2008 10:53 pm

FuturePundit comments on the recent story about the shift away from the “Mediterranean diet” in the Mediterranean, specifically Greece. This is naturally leading to greater obesity. FuturePundit states:

Fresh produce and olive oil can’t compete with hamburgers and fries. We need to either genetically engineer ourselves to dislike junk food or we need to genetically engineer our metabolisms to handle junk food without harmful effects.

le_grand_comptoir_duck_conf.jpgI’ve been trying to avoid fried foods myself; but one thing that I have been noting is that when I walk by a restaurant where there’s a lot of frying going on I get really, really, curious about what it might taste like. Tastes and impulse control exhibit variation, but the mean is simply going to cause a whole lot of chronic health trouble in a world of cheap calories.* Nevertheless, we need to admit that there’s a big utility return here. People really like fatty fried foods, though I think in classic Epicurean fashion the optimal pleasure is obtained by alternating between lightly cooked dishes rich in green vegetables with meat-centered items fried in saturated fats. But the optimum mix is probably still way too heavy on saturated fats.
Below the fold I’ve posted the chart of obesity rates by nation rank-ordered. I suspect some will be surprised by #2.
* I do think we should keep in perspective that the “obesity epidemic” is an unfortunate byproduct of a wealthy and well-fed society.

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The sexes do not differ on science

By Razib Khan | September 28, 2008 3:17 pm

When I look through the GSS I am struck, and sometimes disturbed, by the way attitudes toward science track various demographic slices. It is no surprise that Fundamentalist Christians tend to be suspicious of science, but blacks and the poor also tend to be much more hostile than whites and the middle and upper classes. So I was curious as to whether there was a systematic sex difference as there are on some issues (astrology) but not on others (abortion). What differences there are seem very modest. In fact, I am struck that the difference in daily familiarity with science does not result in proportionally a greater unease with science on the part of the sex which is less familiar on average on a day to day basis with science (females). If you want to replicate what I did below, the “ROW” variables are: DOUBTS3 SCI30 TRUSTSCI SCISOLVE SCICHNG SCIMORAL NEXTGEN TOOFAST SCIFAITH HARMGOOD SCIGRN SCIPRY (you can just cut & paste this list). And the “COLUMN” was obviously SEX.

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By Razib Khan | September 28, 2008 4:59 am

I have turned on moderation for all comments. This means that you may have to wait a considerable amount of time before I publish them on the weblog (I will not be checking and approving on an iPhone for example). If your comment is not published within about 1 day then you may assume I have deleted it. Comments which add value, address the post and are delivered courteously will be published. Those which do not meet all three criteria will not be published. So if you are courteous but do not address the post you will not be allowed through the moderation queue. If you do not add value then you will not be allowed through the moderation queue; e.g., a comment of the form “Great post!” is not necessary and I will not publish it despite the fact that it nominally addresses the post and is courteous. If you make an uncivil argument the substantive nature of your comment will be irrelevant; you will not make it through the comment queue. I will make more than a cursory examination of comments by anyone who is not a “regular” and/or known to me personally. The primary exception to these stipulations are humorous comments, which need not add value only through a direct engagement with the post.


None dare call it eugenics!

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2008 3:49 pm

There is some buzz recently about a lawmaker in Louisiana, John LaBruzzo, who is proposing to pay poor women to be sterilized. His logic seems naively reminiscent of Thomas Malthus. It any case, I will admit that I’m generally skeptical of the efficacy of these sorts of programs. But I think government sponsored eugenical projects are I think besides the point and miss the bigger picture.
2 years ago I reviewed a paper by Armand Leroi, The future of neo-eugenics. 2 years is ages in genome-time; it keeps getting cheaper. Notwithstanding the current low returns on investment in the attempts to ascertain the genetic components underlying many complex traits such as schizophrenia, there are still plenty of large effect traits which tests can pick up. And they are getting cheaper and cheaper.

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R. A. Fisher and the Adaptive Landscape

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2008 2:36 pm

R. A. Fisher and the Adaptive Landscape:

…My own interpretation is that Fisher was sceptical about the value of the landscape concept as such, because both environmental and genetic conditions were too changeable for the metaphor of a ‘landscape’ to be useful. For Fisher the question of the ‘shape’ of the landscape therefore did not arise as a major issue, and he had no need to take a firm view on it. I discuss this interpretation below the fold.

Read the whole thing.
Related: R. A. Fisher and Epistasis, Notes on Sewall Wright: Population Size, Notes on Sewall Wright: the Measurement of Kinship, Notes on Sewall Wright: Path Analysis, On Reading Wright and Notes on Sewall Wright: Migration


Demography + Genetics → insight?

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2008 8:22 am

Earlier I reviewed a new paper which made some species-wide grand claims about the nature of human demographic dynamics. Specifically, as it relates to the ratio and reproduction of males and females over time. But to me some of the less ambitious but more specific work in this area where demographics, anthropology and genetics intersect are nearly as interesting.
From example, look at this figure:
This distribution shows the confidence intervals estimated from genetic data in relation to sex-specific migration rates. Granted, as noted in the paper, Molecular analysis reveals tighter social regulation of immigration in patrilocal populations than in matrilocal populations, the distributions overlap, but the difference is great enough to make a plausible case in terms of an inference. In short, patrilocal societies in the sample seem to limit male migration between demes. Matrilocal societies far less. It seems to pass the smell test, and the genetic data allows one to put some numbers and quantitatize differences.
A more recent paper, Sex-Specific Genetic Structure and Social Organization in Central Asia: Insights from a Multi-Locus Study, has an event more detailed figure:

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Liberals are conservative with names; conservatives not really?

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2008 6:58 pm

Of Names and Politics: The Palin Story (H/T Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science):

Characteristic blue state names: Angela, Catherine, Henry, Margaret, Mark, Patrick, Peter and Sophie.
Characteristic red state names: Addison, Ashlyn, Dakota, Gage, Peyton, Reagan, Rylee and Tanner.

I would like to see state-level data broken down on a finer grained level. After all, it could be that people in red states who give their children very conservative names are the most conservative, and inverted in the liberal states. But it’s a really interesting observation. Remember that on the grandest scale baby names vary through random drift.
Below the fold I’ve placed a map which shows the regions. I’ve reedited to fit within the ScienceBlogs space limitations. You can find the original at Baby Name Wizard.

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10 Questions for Parag Khanna

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2008 3:58 pm

secondworld.jpgI have an interview in the form of 10 questions with Parag Khanna, author of The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order.


Male skew; dude likes ladies

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2008 9:14 am

501px-Human.svg.gifPLoS Genetis has a neat paper up which clarifies something which we kind of already knew, Sex-Biased Evolutionary Forces Shape Genomic Patterns of Human Diversity:

Like many primate species, the mating system of humans is considered to be moderately polygynous (i.e., males exhibit a higher variance in reproductive success than females). As a consequence, males are expected to have a lower effective population size (Ne) than females, and the proportion of neutral genetic variation on the X chromosome (relative to the autosomes) should be higher than expected under the assumption of strict neutrality and an equal breeding sex ratio. We test for the effects of polygyny by measuring levels of neutral polymorphism at 40 independent loci on the X chromosome and autosomes in six human populations. To correct for mutation rate heterogeneity among loci, we divide our diversity estimates within human populations by divergence with orangutan at each locus. Consistent with expectations under a model of polygyny, we find elevated levels of X-linked versus autosomal diversity. While it is possible that multiple demographic processes may contribute to the observed patterns of genomic diversity (i.e., background selection, changes in population size, and sex-specific migration), we conclude that an historical excess of breeding females over the number of breeding males can by itself explain most of the observed increase in effective population size of the X chromosome.

Autosomal refers to the genome which excludes the Y and X chromosome (and mtDNA of course). Assuming equal numbers of males and females in any given generation you expected a ratio of diversity of 0.75 between the X and the autosomes; remember that the number of copies of X circulating within the population are reduced by 25% because males carry only one copy, while women carry two.

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Population substructure in Japan

By Razib Khan | September 25, 2008 6:00 pm

Dienekes points me to a new paper, Japanese Population Structure, Based on SNP Genotypes from 7003 Individuals Compared to Other Ethnic Groups: Effects on Population-Based Association Studies:

….Here, we examined Japanese population structure by Eigenanalysis, using the genotypes for 140,387 SNPs in 7003 Japanese individuals, along with 60 European, 60 African, and 90 East-Asian individuals, in the HapMap project. Most Japanese individuals fell into two main clusters, Hondo and Ryukyu; the Hondo cluster includes most of the individuals from the main islands in Japan, and the Ryukyu cluster includes most of the individuals from Okinawa. The SNPs with the greatest frequency differences between the Hondo and Ryukyu clusters were found in the HLA region in chromosome 6. The nonsynonymous SNPs with the greatest frequency differences between the Hondo and Ryukyu clusters were the Val/Ala polymorphism (rs3827760) in the EDAR gene, associated with hair thickness, and the Gly/Ala polymorphism (rs17822931) in the ABCC11 gene, associated with ear-wax type. Genetic differentiation was observed, even among different regions in Honshu Island, the largest island of Japan. Simulation studies showed that the inclusion of different proportions of individuals from different regions of Japan in case and control groups can lead to an inflated rate of false-positive results when the sample sizes are large.

Nothing too surprising; much of the variation seems to follow axis of the Japanese archipelago. Remember that EDAR is a locus implicated in the typical form of many East Asians, and seems to have been under recent selection in that region. ABCC11 also seems to exhibit the same pattern in terms of worldwide frequency. Dienekes also posted some of the PC plots.
Related: Japanese Origins…., Genetic map of Europe; genes vary as a function of distance and The Genetic Map of Europe.


Liberals & conservatives; religious edition

By Razib Khan | September 25, 2008 3:18 am

What if there were no God? Politically conservative and liberal Christians imagine their lives without faith:

A sample of devout Christian adults, ranging widely in political orientation, described what their lives (and the world) might be like had they never embraced faith. Politically conservative Christians (also scoring high on right-wing authoritarianism) tended to imagine a life deficient in impulse control, wherein unrestrained sexual and aggressive urges, addictive behaviors, and human selfishness undermined the social good. By contrast, politically liberal Christians (also scoring low on right-wing authoritarianism) imagined an empty and barren world, devoid of the emotional intensity that makes life worth living. Gender differences were also observed, but they did not interfere with the relation between political orientation and the narrative themes. In accord with theoretical writings regarding normative and humanistic ideologies, the findings suggest that, at least among American Christians, political conservatism may entail a fear of, or strong sensitivity to, the prospects of conflict and chaos, whereas political liberalism may entail an equally strong fear of, or sensitivity to, emptiness.

ScienceDaily has a serviceable summary. Seems close to “they had to do a study???” category of research. But seems like you can integrate this with the trend of political orientation tracking Openness….
Related: Conservatives have more fear.


Four Stone Hearth #50

By Razib Khan | September 24, 2008 2:31 pm

Yann is hosting Four Stone Hearth #50.


Gossip Girl as urban fantasy

By Razib Khan | September 24, 2008 12:14 am

Austin Bramwell makes a point that has been noted elsewhere:

Instead, perhaps a plurality of the rich private school kids in Manhattan–even at historically Protestant schools–are Jewish. The Jewish Daily Forward goes so far as to report that Trinity and Dalton, two of the top private schools in New York, are “largely Jewish.” An entire media industry follows the lavish bar mitzvahs of Manhattan private school kids. The closest real-world model for the high school in Gossip Girl, The Dalton School, has historically been the most recherché school for Jewish New Yorkers. (Most WASPs prefer to send their children to the old single-sex grammar schools.) Tellingly, the media now treat Dalton as the most posh school in Manhattan.
In Gossip Girl, however, Jewish kids don’t even exist, much less predominate. Everything about Gossip Girl is modern, from the drugs to the iphones, except for the sociological background, which the writers may as well have lifted out of the Gilded Age.

Austin Bramwell knows whereof he speaks; he is a New York City WASP whose marriage was noted in The New York Times. I do find it interesting that many contemporary works exhibit this bizarre sociological tick, the transposition of an older cultural hegemony into the present day. It reminds me somewhat of science fiction, though it is ostensibly a genre of the future it often tells us much more about the time in which it was written.


Who would abort a defective fetus?

By Razib Khan | September 23, 2008 9:07 am

A few weeks ago I had a post up, Down syndrome and abortion rates. Today I noticed a variable in the GSS, GENEABRT, which gives responses to the following question:
1567. Suppose a test shows the baby has a serious genetic defect. Would you (yourself want to/ want your partner to) have an abortion if a test shows the baby has a serious genetic defect?
I decided to check the responses for different demographics of course. The table are below the fold, but there seems to be a trend with people with more education, less religion and more liberalism being more prone to being inclined to abort a “defective” fetus. Note though that the responses don’t exhibit a disjoint distribution; many in each demographic category express the alternative views. I was surprised to note that there wasn’t a stronger trend on WORDSUM, but I think attitudes are a probably a function of social milieu and not some “rational ” calculation. Please note again, there is basically no sex difference on the attitudes toward this topic. One interesting thing I’ve noticed about the abortion issue is that both the abortion rights and anti-abortion rights sides try and make this into a gender battle.1 But though I’ve seen a little difference in intensity, I haven’t seen any abortion related question where men and women differ significantly (the only caveat is there is sometimes a bit of difference when you limit to graduate degree holders, as women in this category tend to be stronger supporters of abortion rights; so the “gender battle” narrative might just draw from the fact that the chattering classes are elites and they’re the only ones who count to themselves).
1 – Those of you who are on the abortion rights side might be well versed in the argument that anti-abortion rights males are attempting to control the bodies of women, etc. But I recently heard Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission make the claim that the biggest supporters of abortion are men, who wish to engage in consequence free sex. Either of these arguments may be true, and intuitively there’s certainly plausibility from where you stand, but the survey data don’t show a big difference in attitudes toward abortion in the general population.

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Conservatives & Creationism

By Razib Khan | September 22, 2008 8:30 pm

redsateneander.jpgI was browsing RedState today and I noticed an advertisement for the National Geographic special on the Neandertal genome. At first I was surprised at the appearance of this on a right-wing website; after all, there is a bias toward Creationism on the modern American Right. Then I realized that the ad was probably part of a network and RedState was just one of many sites which were automatically included in some package. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about the Right and Creationism. Why is there this association on a deeper level? A survey from several years back showed that in Europe there was little correlation between right-wing politics and Creationism. I’m sure most of you have a good idea about why you see the association here in the United States, but I wanted to check with the GSS.

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The intersection of blogs and science

By Razib Khan | September 22, 2008 7:41 pm

Shelley Batts, Nick Anthis and Tara C. Smith have a new paper, Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy, in PLoS Biology. Also, Living the Scientific Life has posted a similar article which will be published in Research Fortnight.


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