Archive for November, 2008

The mists of the adaptive fog

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2008 1:42 am

Richard Lawler pointed me to a new paper by Sean Rice, A stochastic version of the Price equation reveals the interplay of deterministic and stochastic processes in evolution. The Price Equation is the generalization of selective evolutionary dynamics by the amateur evolutionary biologist George Price which so impressed W. D. Hamilton. But as Rice notes it only captures a slice of the various parameters which influence evolutionary processes. Like some other papers I’ve pointed too Rice presents some relatively counter-intuitive results, or at least results which confound our general expectations, by scratching beyond the surface of the assumptions of conventional population genetic models:

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Down with historical whiggishness!

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2008 12:01 am

A few days ago I suggested that it is folly to expect Europeans would elect a person of color to their highest office when so few Europeans are persons of color. Today in Slate a piece basically suggests that Americans should not be so full of themselves, Only in America? The wrongheaded American belief that Barack Obama could only happen here:

People are still amazed he won. In a country where more than a few white folks would still say outright that one of “them” shouldn’t be in charge, here was a politician who didn’t downplay his ethnicity, his foreign-sounding name, or his father who wasn’t even a Christian. And he wasn’t just ethnically atypical. He’d made himself a member of the country’s meritocratic elite. He wrote real books that really sold. That blend of outsider detachment and obvious ambition drove his earnest enemies crazy.
So they attacked him as doubly strange, both “not like us” and elite. They claimed you could not trust this man, that he was unknowable, unreliable, a snob, and a toff. They ridiculed the seal he’d contrived for himself, with its Latin motto meaning, roughly, “yes, we can.” These same rhetorical ploys did not keep Benjamin Disraeli (motto: “forti nihil difficle”; literally “nothing is difficult to the brave”) from twice becoming prime minister of Great Britain during the reign of his good friend Queen Victoria. So could we Americans stop patting ourselves on the back about the supposed uniqueness of our electing Barack Obama president?

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A synthetic unerstanding of the past

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2008 9:33 pm

Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age:

In 2005 four outstanding multiple burials were discovered near Eulau, Germany. The 4,600-year-old graves contained groups of adults and children buried facing each other. Skeletal and artifactual evidence and the simultaneous interment of the individuals suggest the supposed families fell victim to a violent event. In a multidisciplinary approach, archaeological, anthropological, geochemical (radiogenic isotopes), and molecular genetic (ancient DNA) methods were applied to these unique burials. Using autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosomal markers, we identified genetic kinship among the individuals. A direct child-parent relationship was detected in one burial, providing the oldest molecular genetic evidence of a nuclear family. Strontium isotope analyses point to different origins for males and children versus females. By this approach, we gain insight into a Late Stone Age society, which appears to have been exogamous and patrilocal, and in which genetic kinship seems to be a focal point of social organization.


Cosmic Variance "sells out"

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2008 2:05 pm

Chad has a post up about Cosmic Variance‘s move to Discover Blogs. He notes that some people lamenting the decline of the “old blogosphere” haven’t been around blogs that long. He doesn’t mention that he’s been blogging since 2002. So have I. Most blogs have always sucked, that’s a constant. Some of the less-sucky ones now have the option of remuneration. With four major competing scienceblog networks I think you’ll get some competition driving quality. Granted, a great deal of blog writing will remain crap; just like a great deal of the media. The laws of the universe have not changed. And the “good old days” were not really that good…. (e.g., the “warblogging era,” where I was unfortunately a marginal player).


Slouching toward foreign autos….

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2008 1:09 pm

Here is a chart from Jim Manzi:
I added a trendline of GDP growth in the United States from 1995-2006 to suggest the general economic climate. As they usually don’t say: the fundamentals are not strong. Matt Yglesias makes a pointed, if admittedly somewhat unfair, analogy:

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You're sick because of your genes!

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2008 4:33 am

Kambiz’s review (pointer) to the Humanity’s Genes an the Human Condition conference made me aware of Jean-Laurent Casanova‘s research. His general idea seems to be that heightened susceptibility or death due to infectious disease is in large part a function of inter-individual genetic variation. Among the young this is due to Mendelian genes of large effect, whether it be dominant or recessive (higher frequency among those who are the product of cousin marriage). For the old he suggests that it might be due to QTLs of small effect, just like schizophrenia. To some extent this is a revision to the germ theory of disease; pathogens are necessary, but not sufficient, and operationally they are close to ubiquitous. The general model is laid out in this paper, From monogenic to multifactorial predisposition: the example of infectious diseases:

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Numbers and the auto industry

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2008 12:00 am

If Detroit Falls, Foreign Makers Could Be Buffer:

“You would have an auto industry in the United States more like that of Mexico and Canada: foreign-owned,” said Sean McAlinden, chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., which describes itself as a nonprofit organization that has “strong relationships with industry, government agencies, universities, research institutes, labor organizations” and other groups with an interest in the auto business.

Like Canada! Now that’s scary. Here are some interesting numbers from the piece:

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New Star Trek Movie Trailer

By Razib Khan | November 16, 2008 11:42 pm

Look below the fold, don’t know how long it will be around (H/T Ross Doutht).

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Chad Orzel & Jennifer Ouellette on

By Razib Khan | November 16, 2008 2:14 pm

Where have English Americans gone?

By Razib Khan | November 16, 2008 3:33 am

Elsewhere, I reiterate the common sense case that the decline in the proportion of Americans who are of “English” ancestry over the past 30 years from 22% to 9% is mostly a function of changed questionnaires and cultural preferences.


Sydney Brenner to fat people: you're a criminal!

By Razib Khan | November 16, 2008 12:43 am

pd_bicycle_071204_ms.jpgKambiz attended the Humanity’s Genes and the Human Condition, and he reports some interesting goings on. Sydney Brenner, Nobel Laureate 2002, had this to say this about human evolution:

Starts off with a zinger: “Biological evolution for humans has stopped.” Uhh, really Sydney? You better do better than that. He uses an analogy about how if we feel cold, we don’t ‘adapt’ we just kill an animal, skin it, and wear its pelt as evidence of relaxed natural selection.

I wonder if this the malevolent influence of Steve Jones, but I doubt it. But that wasn’t the weird stuff:

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Center Right nation, Center Left nation, or just stupid nation?

By Razib Khan | November 14, 2008 10:24 pm

Bell-curve.jpgIn the latest Conn Carroll and Bill Scher have an argument where they brandish dueling public survey results to make the case that the public is to the Left or the Right. How can they do this without totally fabricating their data? Because the average human being is not very smart, ergo, they aren’t consistent. If you want a slim little volume which collects all the survey data confirming this hypothesis, just read The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Americans are conservative because they want smaller government and lower taxes, and liberal because the want more services…at the same time! Since this is a democracy where politicians have to pander to voters, and a market economy where pundits and the media in general have to sell their services to the consuming public, no one has the heart to go Mencken. Of course, privately it’s a totally different game, as intellectuals on both the Right and the Left understand that the average human is a total ignoramus and there is a reason that direct democracy is used only sparingly in the modern world. Candor breaks out on both the Right and the Left when it comes to undecided voters because these inhabitants of the left tail of the Bell Curve aren’t big readers of mass media, and are a small enough constituency that the dull public doesn’t feel bad when pundits point and laugh….


Detroit Bailout Blog

By Razib Khan | November 14, 2008 10:03 pm

The Bailout Blog. Read it.


Save Detroit?

By Razib Khan | November 14, 2008 4:05 pm

Yesterday I implored the country not to save Detroit. Today Daniel Gross argues that Detroit’s Big Three Are a National Disgrace: But we still need to save them. This is the only part which I think is on point:

But General Motors wouldn’t be a typical bankruptcy. GM’s management argues that the very act of filing for bankruptcy eliminates the possibility of recovery since people would be reluctant to purchase expensive, long-lived assets (cars and trucks) from a bankrupt entity. And because of GM’s size and the place it occupies in the supply chain, the company’s failure would likely trigger the bankruptcy of hundreds of suppliers and other companies that rely upon it.

Suppliers would eventually shift to other car companies if the demand is still there, but it might take a lot of “creative destruction” along the way. The rest of the stuff again seems totally irrelevant, people outside of the Industrial Midwest have to look to their own needs (Florida & California real estate collapse anyone?). And while I think there’s no shame in a nation not having a car company, in a world of multinationals those arguments are specious anyhow.
Related: An evil libertarian, Why are we bailing out Detroit? In the comments, PalMD of Denialism says:

No one knows what to do with Detroit. Even some of my most conservative friends around here support an auto bailout. For folks who don’t live around here, it’s hard to imagine just how much every person in SE Mich relies on the auto industry. 30,000 lost auto jobs, which is likely to happen in the next few months, will ripple violently through michigan’s economy. Associated industries, corner stores, hospitals, you name it, everyone is affected.

It is entirely rational that people in Michigan, no matter their “principle,” should support a bail out. It is their only hope, even if it isn’t a good hope. Michigan will take a hit in terms of taxation, but, the risk of the loan will be distribution across all 50 states. That’s a big “win” for Michigan. But what’s in it for those of us outside of Michigan? Auto industry think tanks put the number of rippling job losses on the order of millions. But there are already millions of unemployed and underemployed people throughout this country. Think about the construction industry in California, Nevada and Florida which is in meltdown. People working in construction make good money as blue-collar work requiring minimal skills goes, but they don’t make auto-worker money. Nor do they have benefits usually. Who is helping them now that they’re out on their ass? Truthfully, they lost a lot less than auto-workers would, but is that a rationale for why we should be giving money to corporations which employ auto-workers?
I don’t begrudge Michiganders for making the case for the bail out. You do what you have to do to have a hope of keeping your house, sending your kids to a good college, maximizing the amount of healthcare that you have access to. Rather, the focus here should be on those outside of the industrial Midwest. Wouldn’t $50-200 billion extra dollars go a long way across many states in terms of building up infrastructure? Pennies add up to dollars, and dollars add up to tens of dollars, which add up to thousands of dollars. If you are a social democrat the auto industry bail out will continue to prop up the mini-corporatist social democracies of GM, Chrysler and Ford. But what about the hundreds of millions of other Americans who don’t have the privilege of being a member of the UWA? For redistribution of wealth to be a sellable proposition it has to be grounded in some sort of conception of fairness and just desserts. If them, why not everyone? If Michigan, why not Iowa, why not Florida, why not Mississippi? Because the family farm or condo construction business isn’t culturally iconic?
More: Leverage:

3 — A lot of this talk has an air of socialistic hubris about it. If this line of thinking were correct and the primary impediment to the production of technological miracles was a lack of government leverage, then state-owned enterprises would have been a smashing success. In reality, outside of a relatively narrow range of utility-type activities, they’ve been flops. If the negative externalities associated with carbon emissions were correctly priced, I’m quite sure that would lead people in various places to develop lower emissions cars. But is just sort of pointing at GM’s engineers and telling them “make low-emissions cars!” really going to lead to the intended result?

Yes. Magical thinking is back! What’s a few hundred billions to assuage our bleeding hearts? I understand why Michiganders are going magical; magic is their hope. But other people don’t need to put their faith in magic, it never did anything for us for thousands of years, why now?


Do not "save" "Detroit"!

By Razib Khan | November 13, 2008 3:53 pm

Well, the title doesn’t matter. I think it is a fait accompli. Some Coastal Democrats might be suspicious of the car culture, but they have empathy for the problems which emerge from de-industrialization. Republicans have no credibility or capital. A bailout will happen, but I believe that most people will see that it is going to simply put off the inevitable. Megan McCardle talks about the de-industrialization of the “Other Rustbelt,” towns centered around less iconic firms:

Just as the auto industry made (and broke) Detroit, Rochester was the creation of Eastman Kodak. Kodak bonus day was like Christmas without the tree: celebratory dinners at the local restaurants, shopping trips at the Midtown Plaza, which locals claim as America’s first enclosed mall.
Then in the 1970s, it all began to change. Smaller companies filed antitrust suits. Fuji and Polaroid nibbled away at their film business. In 1997, Fuji started a price war from which Kodak’s stock price has never fully recovered. And the advent of digital cameras has been devastating. Kodak has made up some of the lost ground by making cameras, but this is a fiercely competitive business much difference from the old core business of selling the cameras cheap and the film dear. At its peak, Kodak employed 60,000 people in a city of perhaps 300,000. Now the city’s population has dropped to 210,000–but Kodak employment has fallen to less than 15,000.

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Fear of a black president: Mississippi edition

By Razib Khan | November 13, 2008 1:31 am

mississippiobama.jpgThe map to the left shows the counties which voted for Obama (blue) and McCain (red) in the 2008 election. The blue counties are part of the Black Belt, the area where blacks are a majority of the population because of the economic concentration of cotton culture during the 19th and 20th centuries. The McCain Belt, those counties where John McCain beat George W. Bush, is getting some press, but obviously it is interesting to wonder about areas where large black populations which increased turnout are likely masking the shift of the white vote for John McCain. I have already shown on a state-by-state basis where the white vote shifted toward the Democrats in 2008, and where it shifted toward the Republicans. Though the average white vote budged only a bit, there is important regional structure which is being masked by aggregating all this information.
The political scientist Larry Bartels reaffirms my basic point:

However, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence suggesting that racial resentment eroded Obama’s support among white voters. His gains relative to Kerry were significantly smaller in states with large numbers of African-Americans–a pattern disguised in the overall vote totals by his strong support among African-Americans themselves. In the former Confederacy he gained only slightly over Kerry among white voters, despite making big gains in two key swing states, North Carolina and Virginia. The only states in the country in which he lost more than a point or two of white support were Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

You can see this in the exit polls. They rather straightforwardly illustrate that Obama won a smaller percentage of the white vote than Kerry in many states in the South. But I decided to look at it a different way: I plotted the percentage of whites in each county and their vote percentages for Barack Obama and John Kerry in Mississippi. This is more precise than an exit poll because votes are votes, and the Census counts everyone. So here is that chart:

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China, climate & history

By Razib Khan | November 12, 2008 3:41 am

A Test of Climate, Sun, and Culture Relationships from an 1810-Year Chinese Cave Record:

A record from Wanxiang Cave, China, characterizes Asian Monsoon (AM) history over the past 1810 years. The summer monsoon correlates with solar variability, Northern Hemisphere and Chinese temperature, Alpine glacial retreat, and Chinese cultural changes. It was generally strong during Europe’s Medieval Warm Period and weak during Europe’s Little Ice Age, as well as during the final decades of the Tang, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties, all times that were characterized by popular unrest. It was strong during the first several decades of the Northern Song Dynasty, a period of increased rice cultivation and dramatic population increase. The sign of the correlation between the AM and temperature switches around 1960, suggesting that anthropogenic forcing superseded natural forcing as the major driver of AM changes in the late 20th century.

Standard story, right? Here’s the main figure:

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Europe is white, that's why they won't have a Barack Obama soon

By Razib Khan | November 12, 2008 1:45 am

The New York Times has a piece up, After Breakthrough, Europe Looks in Mirror, which quotes people who wonder when Europe will have its own colored head of state. Let’s ignore for a moment that the longest serving Prime Minister in British history was 1/8 Indian; that was nearly 200 years ago and despite his known and acknowledged colored heritage Lord Liverpool was first and foremost a scion of the British nobility. These sorts of self-flagellations make no sense. The United States is about 30% non-white (many Hispanics identify as racially white, but operationally the Hispanic/Latino category is considered non-white). If Europe looks in the mirror, it sees a white person!

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Beyond Belief 3 – Candles in the Dark

By Razib Khan | November 11, 2008 2:51 pm

You can watch Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark online (Chris & Sheril have two segments). Unfortunately the neat Flash interface means you can’t just load an audio file into your ipod….


Red State, Blue State, Urban State, Rural State?

By Razib Khan | November 11, 2008 4:50 am

In regards to the title, in a word, I don’t think so. More on that later. Nationally the exit polls suggest that these are results for Barack Obama broken down by “Size of Place”:
Urban: 63%
Suburban: 50%
Rural: 45%
There’s a rather clear relationship here whereby Obama’s vote totals in urban areas are higher than in suburban areas, which are higher than in rural areas. Various factors such as his liberalism, his blackness and his urban machine origins make this totally unsurprising. “Real Americans” in rural areas naturally are more averse to Obama. But what about states that buck the trend? Nationally suburban areas voted for Obama +5. Below are states where Obama over-performed in rural areas vis-a-vis suburban areas:

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