Archive for October, 2008

Language vs. genes, similarities & differences

By Razib Khan | October 31, 2008 5:20 pm

Genetic and Linguistic Coevolution in Northern Island Melanesia:

…Here, we use high-quality data and novel methods to test two models of genetic and linguistic coevolution in Northern Island Melanesia, a region known for its complex history and remarkable biological and linguistic diversity. The first model predicts that congruent genetic and linguistic trees formed following serial population splits and isolation that occurred early in the settlement history of the region. The second model emphasizes the role of post-settlement exchange among neighboring groups in determining genetic and linguistic affinities. We rejected both models for the larger region, but found strong evidence for the post-settlement exchange model in the rugged interior of its largest island, where people have maintained close ties to their ancestral lands. The exchange (particularly genetic exchange) has obscured but not completely erased signals of early migrations into Island Melanesia, and such exchange has probably obscured early prehistory within other regions. In contrast, local exchange is less likely to have obscured evidence of population history at larger geographic scales. has already surveyed the paper, so if you’re interested in this specific result just go there. Rather, I want highlight a general point: linguistic and genetic variation are correlated, but the large residual highlights differences between the two.

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Statistics and religious trends

By Razib Khan | October 31, 2008 1:06 pm

I have a piece up for The Guardian’s new Comment is Free Belief site, The use and abuse of statistics – Prophecies of the extinction of religion, or its triumph, fall prey to the weaknesses of linear prediction. Implicit in my argument are these sorts of dynamics:

Bearman and Brückner have also identified a peculiar dilemma: in some schools, if too many teens pledge, the effort basically collapses. Pledgers apparently gather strength from the sense that they are an embattled minority; once their numbers exceed thirty per cent, and proclaimed chastity becomes the norm, that special identity is lost….

This is in regards to virginity, but the insight is generalizable. You don’t have to know anything about dynamics though, just read a cultural history of France since the Revolution and you’ll see what I mean.


The fact of the irrational voter

By Razib Khan | October 31, 2008 12:29 pm

Gov-Palin-2006_Official.jpgThe Political Gender Gap: Gender Bias in Facial Inferences that Predict Voting Behavior:

Contrary to the notion that people use deliberate, rational strategies when deciding whom to vote for in major political elections, research indicates that people use shallow decision heuristics, such as impressions of competence solely from a candidate’s facial appearance, when deciding whom to vote for. Because gender has previously been shown to affect a number of inferences made from the face, here we investigated the hypothesis that gender of both voter and candidate affects the kinds of facial impressions that predict voting behavior.
… Results indicate that both gender of voter and candidate affect the kinds of facial impressions that predict voting behavior. All voters are likely to vote for candidates who appear more competent. However, male candidates that appear more approachable and female candidates who appear more attractive are more likely to win votes. In particular, men are more likely to vote for attractive female candidates whereas women are more likely to vote for approachable male candidates.

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"Phoenician" DNA….

By Razib Khan | October 31, 2008 2:20 am

Dienekes and Kambiz both hit a new paper which claims to find the Y chromosomal (direct male descent lines) signatures of the ancient Phoenician colonization of the Mediterranean. I tend to see a lot of merit in Dienekes’ criticisms, the net here is thrown so wide that it’s almost one of those models where it explains everything so that it explains nothing. Compare this to the recent work on the genetics of the Etruscans and modern populations of Tuscany, which strongly lend credence to ancient myths of their origin in Anatolia The historical data I’ve seen suggests that both the Phoenician and Greek colonial expansions were characterized by an enormous male skew; the Rape of the Sabine Women echoes incidents which are alluded to in founding myths of several prominent cities in Magna Graecia. So sniffing around the Y is the way to go even if J2 is a false lead. In Carthage he noble lineage of Hannibal’s family had attested female ancestors who were Sicilian Greek, which implies that the Barcids were an amalgam of Greek, autochthonous Sicils, Berber as well as the male descent line from the Phoenician settlers from Tyre. Finally, do note that the likelihood of “supermale” lineages such as that of Genghis Khan doesn’t make it implausible for me that a handful of elite males hooked into the cheap and efficient Mediterranean transport network could have leave a very strong genetic imprint for the future. The Phoenician expansion into North Africa, Spain an Sicily is probably most well analogized to the Spanish conquistadors who subjugated the New World in less than a century.


Jim Manzi on epistasis

By Razib Khan | October 30, 2008 4:58 pm

Jim Manzi has a long post up on epistasis, that is, gene-gene interactions:

We could call this process of competing algorithms struggling to find the best solution as fast as possible “meta-evolution”. That is, each potential search method must compete for survival. The fact that the algorithm that has won this (idealized) competition in the real world has the form of a GA seems to indicate that there is some structure to the relationship between gene vectors and physical outcomes, but that it is much more complex that simple linear combinations without interaction terms, otherwise nature never would have evolved the evolutionary algorithm with all of its computational overhead. If epistatic interactions were not central, meta-evoltuion should have killed off evolution as we know it a long, long time ago.

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Seed Magazine endorses Barack Hussein Obama II

By Razib Khan | October 30, 2008 10:32 am

You can read all about it. I don’t have anything interesting to say on the election, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m also closing comments on this post because I’m 99.999% sure you don’t have anything interesting to say either (added a third 9 after the decimal point upon further consideration!).


Evolution and trustworthiness

By Razib Khan | October 30, 2008 8:59 am

Evolution of trust and trustworthiness: social awareness favours personality differences (Open Access):

Interest in the evolution and maintenance of personality is burgeoning. Individuals of diverse animal species differ in their aggressiveness, fearfulness, sociability and activity. Strong trade-offs, mutation-selection balance, spatio-temporal fluctuations in selection, frequency dependence and good-genes mate choice are invoked to explain heritable personality variation, yet for continuous behavioural traits, it remains unclear which selective force is likely to maintain distinct polymorphisms. Using a model of trust and cooperation, we show how allowing individuals to monitor each other’s cooperative tendencies, at a cost, can select for heritable polymorphisms in trustworthiness. This variation, in turn, favours costly ‘social awareness’ in some individuals. Feedback of this sort can explain the individual differences in trust and trustworthiness so often documented by economists in experimental public goods games across a range of cultures. Our work adds to growing evidence that evolutionary game theorists can no longer afford to ignore the importance of real world inter-individual variation in their models.

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The wealthy work harder?

By Razib Khan | October 30, 2008 4:50 am

In response to a Conor Friedersdorf post on hard-working high earners I decided to look around for some data on the differences between socioeconomic categories in terms of hours worked weekly. In the GSS I found a modest association between higher income and more hours, but the N’s were rather modest as well. Looking through google scholar I stumbled onto a different issue. Below the fold is a table from The Overworked American or the Overestimated Work Week?

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Princeton Univeristy Press blog

By Razib Khan | October 29, 2008 1:35 pm

Princeon University Press now has a weblog. It looks like a good idea in terms of getting publicity for authors of academic books (and ideally, you get some value-add in terms of insight and experience). I wonder if Andrew Gelman’s editor has tried to figure out how many extra copies of d State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State were pushed because of he blogospheric publicity? Of course his sort of publicity will start to be less powerful once most academics start to publicize their work ahead of publication via web communication channels.


Race as a function of name

By Razib Khan | October 28, 2008 6:37 pm

mrname.jpgDienekes has a interesting, if not surprising, post on how names can mold how we perceive people. I’ve posted on this before. The most extreme illustration of this tendency I’ve ever read is the fact that during segregation some southern hotels allowed international travelers from African countries with obvious black ancestry to check-in. I believe it is important to study and properly define the nature of the social construction of ethnic and racial identity, because it is just as important as the biological reality of race and ethnicity.

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Where is Obama overperforming?

By Razib Khan | October 28, 2008 3:04 pm

There has been a lot of talk of Barack Obama “expanding the map” this cycle for the Democrats. In mid-September when John McCain was at his polling-peak many were assuming that had just been a pipe-dream, and that the traditional Democratic strategy of winning big blue states was back in play. But with the Obama bounce not so fast! So where is Obama exactly expanding he map? Below is a map generated by Andrew Gelman comparing Kerry’s 2004 election results with current averaged poll numbers.

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Indian American ethnicity

By Razib Khan | October 26, 2008 11:42 pm

There was a comment below on Indian American ethnicity in terms of proportion. By “ethnicity,” I mean the dominant language-based groups which serve as the organizing unit of many Indian states. The usual figures I see quoted are that 50% of Indian Americans are Gujarati, 25% Punjabi, with the balance a host of other groups (e.g., Bengalis, Tamils, Assamese, etc.). Digging around, I found these data:

In 2006, 26.3 percent of Indian immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking Hindi at home. Gujarathi (14.1 percent) was the next most popular language, followed by English (10.1 percent), Panjabi (10.0 percent), Telugu (9.7 percent), Tamil (6.7 percent), Malayalam (6.1 percent), Urdu (3.4 percent), Marathi (3.1 percent), Bengali (2.2 percent), and Kannada (1.7 percent).

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Rise of the zombies?

By Razib Khan | October 26, 2008 9:24 pm

shuffle-06-1.jpgWilliam Saletan has an article out on the tendency for many Americans today to always be “hooked in” to technology through mobile devices (cell phones, iPods, etc.). I recall a woman loudly talking about her boyfriend leaving her, and the consequent emotional devastation, in front of me in the supermarket checkout line once. Only after 5 minutes did I notice the very subtle ear piece she was wearing (this was not the express line, so yes, 5 minutes). This was 3-4 years ago. Today my first hypothesis would likely be that she had an ear piece, not that she was schizophrenic, which is what I was wondering then. I always carry my cell phone on my person and have my iPod shuffle ear buds handy when I’m out & about doing errands and what not. I’m not speaking here as an outsider to this phenomenon. I do think that there are downsides, and Saletan highlights some of the more obvious ones (usually having to do with transportation). But I also think that we don’t have a good grasp of the impact on overall productivity of this sort of thing. After all, if you’re in the supermarket checkout line browsing the web via your iPhone, isn’t that a more productive use of time than just standing around, which after all doesn’t exactly require much conscious explicit cognitive functions? How often are you going to be in an “emergency” situation in a supermarket checkout line where you need to be able to hear the clerk talk to you before it’s your turn to be rung up?
Note: Someone should really ask about what it means that many obese are starting to ride around in scooters in lieu of walking. I see this more and more, and I don’t live in Mississippi.


Manjoo on Ubuntu

By Razib Khan | October 25, 2008 3:49 am

Linux Is Making Me Insane: Grappling with Ubuntu, the free, open-source operating system. I have Ubuntu on my PC through a dual-boot. I also purchased a USB wireless card which was guaranteed to be compatible with Ubuntu plug-and-play. It does work…80% of the time. The problem is that it “drops” the connection every half hour or so and I might have to end up rebooting the system to get it to work again. No thanks. There are some programs which only run on Linux systems that I keep Ubuntu around for (VMware is way too slow), but for browsing the internet it is just not useful for me. If someone like me, or Thomas Mailund, is lukewarm to the most user-friendly of the Linux distributions, I’d say not ready for primetime as your grandma’s OS….


Asian American Republicans-it's a Christian thing

By Razib Khan | October 25, 2008 12:03 am

200px-Bobby_Jindal%2C_official_109th_Congressional_photo.jpgObviously the most prominent Indian American politician today is Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. But Jindal is not very representative of Indian Americans:

…Additionally, there are also industry-wide Indian American groupings including the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and the Association of American Physicians of Indian Origin. Despite being heavily religious and having the highest average household income among all ancestry groups in the United States, Indian Americans tend to be more liberal and tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Polls before the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election showed Indian Americans favoring Democratic candidate John Kerry favored over Republican George W. Bush by a 53% to 14% margin (nearly a 4 to 1 ratio), with 30% undecided at the time….

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Finns as European outliers

By Razib Khan | October 24, 2008 3:33 pm

Dienekes points to another paper on European population substructure, Genome-Wide Analysis of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Uncovers Population Structure in Northern Europe:

In this study, we analysed almost 250,000 SNPs from a total of 945 samples from Eastern and Western Finland, Sweden, Northern Germany and Great Britain complemented with HapMap data. Small but statistically significant differences were observed between the European populations…The latter indicated the existence of a relatively strong autosomal substructure within the country, similar to that observed earlier with smaller numbers of markers. The Germans and British were less differentiated than the Swedes, Western Finns and especially the Eastern Finns who also showed other signs of genetic drift. This is likely caused by the later founding of the northern populations, together with subsequent founder and bottleneck effects, and a smaller population size. Furthermore, our data suggest a small eastern contribution among the Finns, consistent with the historical and linguistic background of the population.

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Religion is adaptive; religion is not

By Razib Khan | October 23, 2008 9:58 pm

John Wilkins points me to a piece by Pascal Boyer,* Being human: Religion: Bound to believe?:

So is religion an adaptation or a by-product of our evolution? Perhaps one day we will find compelling evidence that a capacity for religious thoughts, rather than ‘religion’ in the modern form of socio-political institutions, contributed to fitness in ancestral times. For the time being, the data support a more modest conclusion: religious thoughts seem to be an emergent property of our standard cognitive capacities.

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Sewall Wright & the Shifting Balance Theory

By Razib Khan | October 23, 2008 3:49 pm

David’s penultimate post on Sewall Wright, Notes on Sewall Wright: The Shifting Balance Theory – Part 1:

Two catch-phrases indissolubly linked with Sewall Wright are the adaptive landscape, and the shifting balance. In preparing my note on Wright’s concept of the adaptive landscape I was surprised to discover that Wright himself seldom if ever used this expression. I could not find a single example. I was therefore half-expecting that I would not find any reference to the shifting balance either – and I would have been half-right. Wright did use that term, but not, as far as I can find, until surprisingly late in his long career….

Part 2 coming soon….
Related: Notes on Sewall Wright: the Adaptive Landscape, Notes on Sewall Wright: Migration, Notes on Sewall Wright: Population Size, Notes on Sewall Wright: the Measurement of Kinship, Notes on Sewall Wright: Path Analysis and On Reading Wright.


DonorsChoose Update

By Razib Khan | October 23, 2008 3:45 pm

As you can see to the left Gene Expression hasn’t raised that much money this year. That’s not so hot, but, some of the other ScienceBloggers have raised a bunch, so that’s heartening. I also wanted to add that Seed will be “padding” our contributions this year, but right now the amount that Seed is giving is multiples greater than what I’ve raised so far, so I hope readers can help me out a bit….


The death of godless Europe?

By Razib Khan | October 22, 2008 9:02 am

Most of you know that Europe (like Japan and South Korea) has very low fertility; below replacement even. One of the main explanations is that with the decline in religiosity it naturally follows that fertility will decline (the psychological or sociological proximate models vary). Atheism kills with its pessimism. On first blush I think this is plausible because I’ve heard so many post-religious individuals who simply assert that they could never have children because of the state of this world. That is, with various catastrophes on the horizon they would simply be perpetuating suffering. But think more closely on this…this isn’t a very novel or new perspective, it has cropped up among anti-worldly religious movements many times. Cathars were simply an extreme manifestation of this tendency. Additionally, when I surveyed data from the 2005 Eurobarometer the correlation between fertility and belief in god was weak. This makes sense when you consider that relatively religious nations such as Greece and Italy have lower fertilities than Sweden and France. That being said, the secular do generally have fewer offspring in the United States, and within population variation is a necessary complement to observations of between population variation.
So with all this in mind that I was interested to stumble upon a paper, Religion, religiousness and fertility in the U.S. and in Europe. The authors observe that the United States is much more religious than Europe as a whole, and the average American woman is much more fertile than the average European woman. From this many intellectuals have adduced that these two characters exhibit a causal relationship so that the greater fertility of American women can be attributed to their greater religiosity.

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