Archive for October, 2008

Why American exceptionalism?

By Razib Khan | October 21, 2008 3:45 pm

Matt Yglesias moots the reasons behind America’s anti-socialist/individual tendencies. This is no illusion. America’s Left party, the Democrats, have links with the Centrist Democrat International. This is an organization which roughly represents the international Center-Right, e.g., the Christian Democratic parties of Europe. The Democrats used to have observer status when this organization was more explicitly termed the Christian Democrat International. The point being that dirigiste and One Nation tendencies are much more common among Right parties than classical liberalism (in Germany the free market party is the FDP, which is mildly libertarian in orientation and traditionally represents the Protestant anti-clerical bourgeois). The mapping between European Left and Right is not perfect because on many social issues, such as abortion, speech, and ethnicity & race, Europeans are arguably much more conservative than Americans (remember white nationalists parties such as Vlaams Belang regularly get well above 10% of the vote, and lack of judicial supremacy results in incremental changes on social issues like abortion). But when in Europe when it comes to the market even the right-wing ordoliberals are probably most analogous to moderate Democrats, not economic conservatives.

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The Personal Genome Project

By Razib Khan | October 21, 2008 2:21 pm

If you are interested in the Personal Genome Project, you can get the all the down-low over at Genetic Future. Really, just go read Genetic Future.


Genghis Khan → Serpentor?

By Razib Khan | October 21, 2008 6:42 am

Gijoe23.jpgFinding Hidden Tomb Of Genghis Khan Using Non-Invasive Technologies. Cool right? My first thought was Serpentor:

…He was created through a breakthrough in cloning research by Dr. Mindbender from the DNA extracted from the unearthed remains of the most ruthless and effective military leaders in history, including Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Attila the Hun, Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, and Grigori Rasputin….

With ancient DNA extraction techniques if there’s genetic material perhaps we could actually check if the Y-chromosomal lineage adduced to be that of Temujin is actually his. And if Temujin, why not others?
H/T Kambiz


Culture & cognition

By Razib Khan | October 21, 2008 4:11 am

There is a new blog some readers might find of interest, Culture and Cognition. Dan Sperber, who did a 10 questions nearly 3 years ago, is a contributor. Imagine, what if cultural anthropology was dominated by people who didn’t behave like literary critics or aspire to be political revolutionaries?


Do the really rich support Obama?

By Razib Khan | October 19, 2008 11:05 pm

A commenter points me to a post by Robert Frank, The Rich Support McCain, the Super-Rich Support Obama:

More than three quarters of those worth $1 million to $10 million plan to vote for Sen. McCain. Only 15% plan to vote for Sen. Obama (the rest are undecided). Of those worth more than $30 million, two-thirds support Sen. Obama, while one third support Sen. McCain.

Among Lower Richistani’s, 88% cited tax policies as being “important” in making their decision. Only 11% cited the environment, 22% cited health care and 45% cited social issues.
Among the Upper Richistani’s supporting Sen. Obama, tax policies ranked last, with only 16% citing them as important. “Social issues” ranked first, with “policies dealing with wars” ranking second (67%) and Supreme Court nominations and health-care issues ranking next.

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By Razib Khan | October 18, 2008 11:01 pm

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Political pundits are worthless

By Razib Khan | October 18, 2008 3:02 pm

Check out Howard Fineman’s new column, Why Is the Race So Close?. His method of “analysis” is simple; list a number of factors which should favor the generic Democrat, and then contend that Obama’s average 6 point lead in the polls is not large enough. Actually, I put the 6 point lead part in there, Fineman uses no real numbers in the column aside from McCain’s age, it’s all qualitative hand waving. Now compare this sort of intellectual production to what went about doing, Is Obama Underachieving?:

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Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do

By Razib Khan | October 18, 2008 12:49 am

cover_medium.gifIf there is one “politics” book you should read this year, it is Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. Now, this sort of acclamation does need to be tempered by the fact that I myself don’t really read “political” books very often. But despite the modest N, I’m rather confident that anyone who picks up Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State will not be disappointed. To a great extent the collective of Andrew Gelman, David Park, Boris Shor, Joseph Bafumi and Jeronimo Cortina have produced a work which is a response in substance, if not style, to pundit productions by the likes of David Brooks and Thomas Frank. While the prose stylings of Brooks and Frank illustrate in an engaging manner what is “known,” that is, fleshing out Conventional Wisdom with concrete specific exemplars, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State is more a series of charts girded by clarifying and interpretative text. Like good science Gelman et al. generate surprising and novel results, at times defying their prior expectations. This is a contrast to the modus operandi of most mainstream pundits, who select data which can vividly depict the plausible veracity of their hypotheses. While the core of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State is an analysis of the American political scene, their data sets suggest possible reasons that the pundits themselves come to the conclusions which they do. You not might agree with all the inferences made by Gelman et al. from their data, but there is value in clarity even if the contention is incorrect.

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Cute baby animals (zoo edition)

By Razib Khan | October 17, 2008 12:17 pm

Zoo Borns.


Hatin' on Linux

By Razib Khan | October 16, 2008 12:52 pm

Thomas Mailund is having serious issues with Ubuntu….


How many years is pleasure worth?

By Razib Khan | October 16, 2008 2:17 am

FuturePundit reports on research which suggests that smoking removes 10 years from your life expectancy. It’s nice to see a number on this; it isn’t like this is a counterintuitive finding. But this sort of quantification is important. I don’t smoke, and I never have, but my experience in college was that people who smoked found it pleasurable and a social lubricant. There’s some value in that. On the other hand, unlike alcohol consumption, smoking seems to have uniformly deleterious health effects, so the utilitarian calculus is more straightforward. Greasy food, alcohol, sweets, smoking, etc. So many things which humans crave, enjoy, and take pleasure in are “bad” for you. Why?

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Pod cars!

By Razib Khan | October 15, 2008 10:54 pm
Photo Credit: Wired

Wired has a story about pod cars! Awesome. Pod cars are one of those things ubiquitous in science fiction (like humanoid robots) that just never come to be. In contrast, computer technology has advanced so far in the past generation that older science fiction resembles some sort of alternative history where Apple didn’t transform home computing more than extrapolation from the present.
Granted, I don’t have much of an opinion on the feasibility of pod cars. Nor do I really care. It just would be fun to have a little bit of Logan’s Run around (mind you, just a little bit).


Judge a book by its cover

By Razib Khan | October 14, 2008 2:43 pm

barackbandar.jpgTo the left is Bandar bin Sultan. To the right, Barack Obama. Bandar bin Sultan is the son of a Saudi prince and his Sudanese “servant” (probably a slave). So we know that Bandar bin Sultan is 1/2 Arab and 1/2 Sudanese. Anwar Sadat had a Egyptian father and a Sudanese mother. In any case, here is Bandar’s father. Because of the fact that violent terrorists are Arab Muslims and various East-West dichotomies Arabs are coded as “brown,” but really many of them are not that brown (trust me, I’m brown, I know brown, and many Arabs are not the real deal). This is why Ralph Nader never gets any attention for being an Arab. Or why Tiffany (Darwish) was never profiled as an Arab American pop starlet (Lebanese American father). And why Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, is not usually considered a high level executive of color, and why the senator from New Hampshire, is not considered a fellow racial minority in the Senate along with Obama and the guys from Hawaii.
This is why this stuff about Barack Obama being Arab is crazy. There are plenty of black Arabs of course, mostly in the Sudan and East Africa. Arab is a cultural-linguistic identity, so race is no bar. But the fact is that most Arabs are a Mediterranean looking folk as the process of Arabicization occurred mostly in the Near East and North Africa. And, perhaps to the shock of Real White People many consider themselves white, and have traditionally had some contempt for dark-skinned peoples from Africa and South Asia. I go over all this to emphasize how stupid it is for people to say that Barack Obama is not black or African, but an Arab. Aziz pointed me to this post, claiming that Obama is Arab and not a “Negro”:

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Steve Jones, in his own words

By Razib Khan | October 14, 2008 6:43 am

The BBC interviews Steve Jones. Nothing new. I think Jones’ fixation on natural selection as a function of parameters exogenous to the population is part of the problem. A lot of evolution is probably due to intraspecific dynamics, that is, individual vs. individual competition within a population, not to mention host-parasite co-evolution via the evolutionary arms race. And there is the ever present empirical contention that Jones’ makes that humans used to breed like elephant seals. He’s wrong. But, I have to say I understand why the media loves him, he exudes confidence and is not prone to the over subtly and qualification which is often the norm among academic scientists.
Related: Britney & Jamie Lynn falsify Steve Jones, Evolution, why it still happens (in pictures) and No Virginia, evolution isn’t ending.


We are all scientists in the ICU

By Razib Khan | October 14, 2008 1:13 am

Over at Emanuel Lusca has a post, Science As A Human Practice. I sniped a little in the comments, to which Emanuel responded:

My intention was not to refine, clarify, or elevate science. My intention was to point out that science should not be put on a pedestal, that it is like any other human practice, e.g. religious practice. In my mind science and religion are equally valuable and insightful. And of course, you and many others will criticize me for that, but that’s okay.

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Vitamin D is important to your health?

By Razib Khan | October 13, 2008 2:08 pm

The August issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has a supplement of articles, Vitamin D and Health in the 21st Century Update. ScienceDaily has some quotes from one of the main researchers:

… Norman identifies vitamin D’s potential for contributions to good health in the adaptive and innate immune systems, the secretion and regulation of insulin by the pancreas, the heart and blood pressure regulation, muscle strength and brain activity. In addition, access to adequate amounts of vitamin D is believed to be beneficial towards reducing the risk of cancer.

I think a focus on the immune system is important from an evolutionary perspective.


Experiments in Ethics

By Razib Khan | October 13, 2008 12:34 pm

expethics.jpgIf the trolley problem is not known to you, I would recommend Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Experiments in Ethics. It is one of those works which combines brevity with density, a feast of ideas laid out before you which is nevertheless consumable in a minimal span of time. And Appiah is an engaging writer to boot, switching seamlessly between informal and elevated registers. I suspect the last is a reflection of his interactions with younger people in the form of graduate students in concert with his British philosophical training.
In Experiments in Ethics Appiah takes the tack of an experimental philosopher in exploring the shoals of human moral sense and sensibility. There are three threads which work their way through narrative: history of philosophy, empirical results from various disciplines which speak to ethical questions and finally the Big Questions of the good and right life. These threads are naturally not clear and distinct, fading into each other. Appiah argues plausibly that experimental philosophy with its diverse toolkit is actually more in keeping with the spirit of the discipline as it has been practiced for most of its history. What we know of as philosophy is an orphaned creature, shorn of its innumerable daughter disciplines, the natural and human sciences. As I am already one who accepts the proposition that understanding human nature through a priori means is a fool’s errand Appiah’s brief against the universality of the reflective insights, intuition and introspection of professional philosophers finds a ready audience.
Yet even though Experiments in Ethics proselytizes for novel if true & tested methods to revitalize the most ancient of intellectual endeavors, Appiah nevertheless remains focused on questions which philosophers traditionally ask. In concert with cognitive scientists experimental philosophers seem to have rather convincingly toppled the methodological presuppositions as to the powers of reason of individual scholars. But at the end of the day this is a case of being unable to put Humpty-Dumpty back together. Even though the emperor has no clothes at least he had some moral clarity. After ripping through the pretensions of contemporary wisdom it seems that we’re left back at the doorstep of Nicomachean Ethics. But is that truly so bad?
Related: For a meatier review, I recommend Morality Studies by the cognitive psychologist Paul Bloom.


Britney & Jamie Lynn falsify Steve Jones

By Razib Khan | October 13, 2008 6:18 am
Photo credit: AP

In light of last week’s posts about why human evolution continues, I think it is critical to make concrete the reality of reproductive variance. It seems highly likely now that Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant again. This might be a moot point if she has an abortion, though now that the word is out the public relations fall out might reduce the likelihood of that choice. The behaviors and outcomes of the lives of the Spears sisters are in the public spotlight, so let’s leverage this into an illustration of evolutionary theory. Last year I wrote Jamie Lynn Spears: it runs in the family?:

“I heard about it on the radio, they were talking about it. It’s real popular down there. Everybody knows about them,” Raynard Norman laughed. “It’s embarrassing, kind of. If it’s not her, it’s Britney, so at least it’s not Britney this time. But I’m not surprised, not really. … Nobody’s surprised because it’s not uncommon with her family. Next time, use a condom.”

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DonorsChoose update

By Razib Khan | October 13, 2008 4:16 am

Just an update on the DonorsChoose drive for this year. I’ve removed some funded challenges from my drive, and added a whole lot more. In general they’re either bioscience related, or, they’re projects from really poor schools. This year I haven’t raised much money through my drive, though some of the other ScienceBlogs are doing really well on the Leaderboard. Obviously “winning” isn’t that big of a deal here, but both years this weblog’s challenges have finished out really strong, so I’m not too worried….
(shout out to those who gave early!)


The Adaptive Landscape

By Razib Khan | October 12, 2008 2:48 pm

A clarification (always needed!) of some issues in regards to Sewall Wright’s conception of an adaptive landscape….


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