Archive for August, 2009

Madoff enabler being treated unfairly

By Razib Khan | August 25, 2009 1:37 am

Lawyers for Broker in Madoff Case Call U.S. Suits Unfair:

“What the commission has done here to Robert Jaffe is simply unfair,” the defense motion argued. “The agency has called him a cheat, a knowing participant in the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Yet, it has failed to back up these charges with factual allegation

I think using broad-brush terms like “unfair” which aren’t precise & legal is probably not a good move. Life isn’t fair, and many people screwed by Bernie Madoff will never be made whole. That’s not fair, but that’s reality.


Argentina, the indigenous foremothers

By Razib Khan | August 25, 2009 12:08 am

Dienekes points to a new paper, Amerindian mitochondrial DNA haplogroups predominate in the population of Argentina: towards a first nationwide forensic mitochondrial DNA sequence database:

The study presents South American mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data from selected north (N = 98), central (N = 193) and south (N = 47) Argentinean populations. Sequence analysis of the complete mtDNA control region (CR, 16024-576) resulted in 288 unique haplotypes ignoring C-insertions around positions 16193, 309, and 573; the additional analysis of coding region single nucleotide polymorphisms enabled a fine classification of the described lineages. The Amerindian haplogroups were most frequent in the north and south representing more than 60% of the sequences. A slightly different situation was observed in central Argentina where the Amerindian haplogroups represented less than 50%, and the European contribution was more relevant. Particular clades of the Amerindian subhaplogroups turned out to be nearly region-specific. A minor contribution of African lineages was observed throughout the country. This comprehensive admixture of worldwide mtDNA lineages and the regional specificity of certain clades in the Argentinean population underscore the necessity of carefully selecting regional samples in order to develop a nationwide mtDNA database for forensic and anthropological purposes. The mtDNA sequencing and analysis were performed under EMPOP guidelines in order to attain high quality for the mtDNA database.

Unlike Mexico or Venezuela Argentina does not conceive of itself as a mestizo nation. In fact, it is not even primarily a Spanish-ancestry nation, because of the large contingent of Italians, as well as significant minorities of immigrants from Western and Northern Europe. And yet this is not an isolated finding, a large proportion of the mitochondrial lineages of Argentines seem to be of Amerindian origin. How can this be with the known waves of immigration and Europeanization of the country in the 19th and 20th centuries? I’ve discussed the likelihood of strongly male-biased immigration, replacing the indigenous autosomal and Y chromosomal genetic material, and leaving much of the direct-line female lineages intact.
Cite: International Journal of Legal Medicine, 2009 Aug 13, DIO:10.1007/s00414-009-0366-3

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Genetics

The Selfish Genius, mind your manners Dr. Dawkins!

By Razib Khan | August 24, 2009 9:03 am

51xVRm33RtL._SL500_AA240_.pngA month ago Larry Moran made reference to Fern Elsdon Baker’s new book, The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin’s Legacy. Moran was a bit disappointed by the previews, his pet hobby-horse being the revolutionary impact of the neutral theory of molecular evolution, while Elsdon-Baker seems rather fixated on the potential of Neo-Lamarckism, especially epigenetics. Well, I’ve read the book, and Larry Moran would probably be disappointed, though she mentions Stephen Jay Gould and pluralism a bit, there’s really very little engagement with the 20th century debates in evolutionary biology. The narrative is broken into two parts, the first half being a history of science and a general description of the current consensus and its possible future trajectory, and the second half a detailed examination of Richard Dawkins’ foray into social and political advocacy, and its relationship to his philosophy of science, and the potential impact of his reputation on science education. A mouthful in less than 300 pages.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Genetics

Revolutionary Minds

By Razib Khan | August 23, 2009 10:23 pm

If you haven’t, you might want to check out the Revolutionary Minds weblog. Good for browsing and sampling.


Social science = study of Western college students

By Razib Khan | August 23, 2009 8:34 pm

Or at least that’s the joke. Interesting post from Tom Rees which illustrates the utility of cross-cultural tests of general theories-of-religion. Rees notes:

One of the leading theories of why religion is so popular goes by the ominous name of ‘Terror Management Theory’. Put simply, this is the idea that people turn to religion to ease their fear of death.

While Christians did indeed have a lower death anxiety than the non-religious, Muslims did not. In fact, their death anxiety was markedly higher than both the other groups.
When the participants were asked to explain why they felt the way they did about death, the reasons for the anxiety of Muslims became clear:

[For Christians] themes of heaven and eternal life are prevalent, whereas for Muslims the afterlife may be something to fear (“I don’t know if I have been a good Muslim and so go to heaven or hell”).

In other words, the Christians in this group had low death anxiety because they mostly don’t believe in hell!
This focus on heaven, and disbelief in Hell, is very popular among Western Christians today. But it’s a fairly recent development. For most of the history of Christianity, the fear of punishment in Hell was an ever-present and vivid theme.

According to the General Social Survey in the United States 80% of Southern Baptists “definitely believe in hell,” as opposed to 35% of Episcopalians and 50% of Methodists, so our religious population has a diverse enough array of beliefs among Christians to serve as an interesting test of the generalizability of these theories even within religious groups. Anyone familiar with sermons such as Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of the Angry God, or the literature which examines the world of the early American Puritans, is aware of the fact that terror of damnation was a very common theme among Christians of earlier eras. Additionally, a broader historical and cultural survey reminds us that many ancient religions conceived of afterlives which were generally less than pleasant, from the domain of Hades to sheol.



By Razib Khan | August 23, 2009 5:31 pm

Arnold Kling mulls over various options when it comes to tacking the American national debt. Here’s the one which is out “get-out-jail-free” card:

2. Technology to the rescue. Some major technologies, probably either wet or dry nanotech, produce so much economic growth that the ratio of debt to GDP stays under control. I give this a 20 percent chance. Sometimes I think the chances are higher, maybe even 50 percent. It’s a difficult estimate to make–today, I’m in a mood to say 20 percent.

I think information technology is great, but at some point we probably need to increase productivity more concretely. That is, build stuff more efficiently, instead of organize ourselves and our workflow more efficiently.


Region & race; opinions & values

By Razib Khan | August 23, 2009 3:38 pm

In the post below I combined some of the Census Regions for reasons of sample size. But I decided to do this again without combining, but removing some of the questions because of small sample sizes. Again, I also limited the sample to whites between 1998-2008.
But, I added another category: blacks. Michael Lind said:

Drum’s creepy bigotry becomes clear when other groups are substituted: “There are, needless to say, plenty of individual blacks who are wholly admirable. But taken as a whole, black culture is [redacted]. Barack Obama can pretty it up all he wants, but it’s a [redacted].” Or maybe this: “There are, needless to say, plenty of individual Jews who are wholly admirable. But taken as a whole, Jewish culture is [redacted]. The late Irving Howe can pretty it up all he wants, but it’s a [redacted].”

Below J-Dog notes:

Can we do a recount on the Civil War – and FORCE the crackers in the South to secede now?

Results below….

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Muslim slurs against Sikhs?

By Razib Khan | August 23, 2009 5:14 am

UK Sikhs accuse BBC of racism:

“We should not be paying a licence fee for promoting the ignorance-based ramblings of those bent on self-promotion who sneer at Asian religion and culture,” said Hardeep Singh, a spokesman of the Sikh Media Monitoring Group, which accused BBC’s Asian Network of being insensitive towards listeners from the minority community.
The Sikh Group has written to the BBC asking for a full transcript of Adil Ray’s show, which was removed from their website after threats from angry Sikh listeners who accused the popular Muslim presenter of denigrating the “kirpan” dagger – an important religious symbol and one of five ceremonial symbols that baptised Sikhs are expected to wear at all times, The Independent newspaper said today.
Members of the Sikh community complained that Ray, in the show broadcast by the Birmingham-based network on Thursday August 6, had been disparaging about whether Sikhs really needed to carry kirpans. The complaint was based on Ray’s discussion of the cancellation of a Punjabi music concert in Canada where police had banned Sikhs who refused to remove their “kirpan”, the British daily reported.

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Regional differences in opinion, attitude and values

By Razib Khan | August 23, 2009 4:02 am

Update: Follow up post.
This Michael Lind piece bemoaning liberal contempt for white Southerners made me want to look a bit deeper and compare interregional differences and similarities. I went into the General Social Survey and limited responses to whites only and compared by region. The regions in the GSS are those of the US Census:
I combined New England & Mid Atlantic as the Northeast, the North Central regions as the Midwest, Mountain and Pacific as the West, and finally the other three regions as the South. Results below….

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Back to Firefox

By Razib Khan | August 21, 2009 2:22 pm

Switched back to Firefox from Chrome. I’ve been using it for the past 2 days and there isn’t a discernible difference in speed. I got tired of some of Chrome’s minor bugs which emerge in AJAX driven websites which haven’t been test-driven on that particular browser, so I thought I would see if version 3.5.2 had closed the speed-gap. Seems like it has. At least with only a few extensions.



By Razib Khan | August 21, 2009 9:34 am

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Chimpanzee & human speciation

By Razib Khan | August 21, 2009 2:25 am

Thomas Mailund on Doubts about complex speciation between humans and chimpanzees:

Two patterns from large-scale DNA sequence data have been put forward as evidence that speciation between humans and chimpanzees was complex, involving hybridization and strong selection. First, divergence between humans and chimpanzees varies considerably across the autosomes. Second, divergence between humans and chimpanzees (but not gorillas) is markedly lower on the X chromosome. Here, we describe how simple speciation and neutral molecular evolution explain both patterns. In particular, the wide range in autosomal divergence is consistent with stochastic variation in coalescence times in the ancestral population; and the lower human-chimpanzee divergence on the X chromosome is consistent with species differences in the strength of male-biased mutation caused by differences in mating system. We also highlight two further patterns of divergence that are problematic for the complex speciation model. Our conclusions raise doubts about complex speciation between humans and chimpanzees.

See Thomas’ post for the blow by blow….


Modern civilization, inevitable, or contingent?

By Razib Khan | August 21, 2009 1:40 am

How inevitable was modern human civilization – data:

To me it looks like life, animals with nervous systems, Upper Paleolithic-style Homo, language, and behavioral modernity were all extremely unlikely events (notice how far ago they are – vaguely ~3.5bln, ~600mln, ~3mln, ~200k or ~600k, ~50k years ago) – except perhaps language and behavioral modernity might have been linked with each other, if language was relatively late (Homo sapiens only) and behavioral modernity more gradual (and its apparent suddenness is an artifact). Once we have behavioral modernity, modern civilization seems almost inevitable. Your interpretation might vary of course, but at least now you have a lot of data to argue for your position, in convenient format.

I agree with bolded part; see After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC and The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution. After the last Ice Age post-hunter-gatherer lifestyles sprouted up independently several times. Homo were around during previous Interglacials, but there is no evidence of that before. During the Ice Age between the Eemian Interglacial ~100,000 years ago and Holocene ~10,000 years ago humanity changed in some fundamental way, so that once the ice retreated the scene was set for an unparalleled cultural explosion.


Who are the conservative Democrats? (part 2)

By Razib Khan | August 21, 2009 12:28 am

A question below:

I’m curious about the demographics of this category, specifically their geographic distribution, religion and ethnicity.

First, I limited the sample to whites to remove confounds of ethnicity. Interestingly, in the GSS in the period between 1998-2008 24% of black Democrats/lean Democrats considered themselves conservatives, as opposed to 18% of whites. This surprised me, I generally remove blacks from he GSS sample in politics so had no data to fill in the gap where intuition lay. It does reiterate my suspicion that personal assertions of political ideology are less important than revealed preferences as determined by voting patterns. Another way of characterizing the racial breakdown is that while 21% of liberal + moderate Democrats were black, 28% of conservative Democrats were black.
As for the rest of the question, that’s rather easy to explore. I simply combined the liberals and moderates into one category, placed the conservatives into other, and cross-referenced them when other variables. For your information, “SEI” = socioeconomic index below. The short of it is that conservative Democrats are less intelligent and educated, more Protestant and religious, less affluent, and of course, more Southern. This is for whites only again.

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Obesity as part of normal human variation

By Razib Khan | August 20, 2009 9:00 pm

venus_statue.jpgCommon body mass index-associated variants confer risk of extreme obesity:

To investigate the genetic architecture of severe obesity, we performed a genome-wide association study of 775 cases and 3197 unascertained controls at 550 000 markers across the autosomal genome. We found convincing association to the previously described locus including the FTO gene. We also found evidence of association at a further six of 12 other loci previously reported to influence body mass index (BMI) in the general population and one of three associations to severe childhood and adult obesity and that cases have a higher proportion of risk-conferring alleles than controls. We found no evidence of homozygosity at any locus due to identity-by-descent associating with phenotype which would be indicative of rare, penetrant alleles, nor was there excess genome-wide homozygosity in cases relative to controls. Our results suggest that variants influencing BMI also contribute to severe obesity, a condition at the extreme of the phenotypic spectrum rather than a distinct condition.

As I’m sure you know, some traits, like pigmentation, are controlled by variation on a few genes, a half a dozen. For example, one locus, SLC24A5 controls 25-40% of the complexion variation between Europeans and Africans, and can account for he same proportion of complexion variation among South Asians. By contrast, variation in height is explained by genes of much smaller effect, excepting distinct phenotypes such as dwarfism.
These data reiterate that though genes such as FTO are of particular interest in relation to variation in body mass index should probably be viewed as a quantitative trait, whereby the obese are simply at the “tail” of the distribution which emerges in response to a particular environment. This is what I mean (these are not real distributions!):

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Conservatives Democrats vs. Liberal Republicans, etc.

By Razib Khan | August 20, 2009 1:40 pm

Question below about the details of what conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans might believe, etc. I decided to look for a few questions. I removed Independents because their sample sizes are a bit smaller. I clustered all those with socioeconomic status 17-47 as “Low” and those from 47-98 as “High.” Again, I limited the sample to whites & the years 1998-2008.

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Tom Rees on Thinking Allowed

By Razib Khan | August 20, 2009 3:50 am

It was a pleasure to hear Tom Rees, one of my favorite religion & data bloggers, on Thinking Allowed, one of my regular podcasts. Epiphenom is of particular interest because Tom Rees offers up original data and analysis, instead of anecdote laced speculation. As they say, if you enjoy Thinking Allowed, you might also be interested in In Our Time….


Socioeconomic status, ideology & party

By Razib Khan | August 19, 2009 5:55 pm

Andrew Gelman has a post up, Who are the liberal Democrats and the conservative Republicans?, which shows that conservative Republicans tend toward higher incomes, while conservative Democrats tend toward lower incomes. I decided to see if something similar was discernible in the General Social Survey. I used the PARTYID, POLVIEWS and SEI variables to explore the question, and limited the sample to whites and the years 1998-2008 (so as to have contemporary relevance and control for ethnic confounds). I clustered all Republicans & lean Republicans into one category, and did the same for Democrats. I also clustered all who were liberal and conservative into one category (extremely to slightly). Finally, socioeconomic status ranges from 17 to 98, and I broke it into three categories of “low,” “middle” and “high,” 17-47, 48-77 and 78-98. The percentages in the population for these three categories were 54%, 36% and 11%, so “low” is really lower to lower middle class. In any case, the charts below….

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India losing its groundwater

By Razib Khan | August 19, 2009 5:02 pm

Americans know that the Ogallala Aquifer is important, and declining. This is much more of an issue in India, Satellites Unlock Secret To Northern India’s Vanishing Water:

Using satellite data, UC Irvine and NASA hydrologists have found that groundwater beneath northern India has been receding by as much as 1 foot per year over the past decade – and they believe human consumption is almost entirely to blame.

Here’s a map of the population density of India by district:
And now a map of the change in the levels of groundwater (red = decline, blue = increase):

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Americans have been Hindus for a long time

By Razib Khan | August 18, 2009 9:07 pm

Rod Dreher is aghast at the fact that Americans don’t assent to the views of “orthodox” Christianity. The problem that many secular and religious people on the extremes don’t get (the anti-devout and the devout) is the cognitive complexity, and, frankly, the fundamental incoherency of the religious beliefs of most humans. In The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation the authors report survey data from the early 1980s which shows that most American Christians would not definitely deny that Hindus could achieve salvation:

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