Archive for September, 2009

How'd that acquisition work out?

By Razib Khan | September 30, 2009 5:48 pm

Lewis Is Said to Be Leaving Bank of America. Years ago I’d read that there was some social science which suggested that M&As were encouraged by the incentive structure of CEO careers; that is, the upside for a CEO in relation to a successful M&A are higher than for their firm. As for the downsides, the effect sizes are probably inverted. Steve Case & Gerald Levin might have their reputations in tatters, but they remain wealthy men. As for Time Warner….


Stephen Hawking steps down

By Razib Khan | September 30, 2009 5:21 pm

Hawking steps down as Lucasian professor in UK. H/T


The root of all anti-evolutionism

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 6:57 pm

The Religious Landscape Survey has a lot of data various denominations. Recently I noticed something weird about Mormons; they are very anti-evolution, as well as anti-universalist in their views on salvation, according to this survey. These are notable views because Mormons don’t have well established attitudes on evolution from on high (which is why Mitt Romney expressed anti-Creationist sentiments without any blowback during the 2007-2008 campaign), and, their religious tradition actually seems to have been influenced by American Universalism, and so an exclusive attitude toward salvation is rather strange. In the case of the latter one could fudge the issue by noting Mormons believe in levels of heaven, and only Mormons themselves have access to the highest level (in particular, male Mormons who become divine). But in the soteriology of Mormonism I am to understand that only a tiny minority of human beings will spend eternity in hell (the “Outer Darkness”). So what’s up with the Mormon response to this question? I think it has to do with social identification, as Mormons are now operational adjuncts to the culture of conservative Protestantism (rejection of the theses of Charles Darwin is apparently more pervasive now than it was in the 1930s on the BYU campus according to surveys published in The Creationists).
I wanted to relate attitudes toward evolution as they depend on other parameters. I created indices by converting ordinal variables into integers, so that Conservatives = 1, Moderates = 0 and Liberals = -1. I weighted by the proportions, so that if a group was -0.5 in terms of political index that mean it was somewhat more liberal than not. You should be able to figure out the meaning of the signs simply by how the groups associate with each other, though I went left to right in the tables in the Religious Landscape Survey positive to negative (1, 0, -1, or 2, 1, 0, -1, -2, etc.). I estimated WORDSUM means by looking at the means for each educational class in the GSS and weighting appropriately (for black churches I used black WORDSUM means).

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One more day to vote for GrrlScientist

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 2:26 pm

Read about it here


Creation finds distributor

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 2:22 pm

I missed this from last week, Newmarket picks up Jon Amiel’s ‘Creation’.


Religion & cognitive neuroscience

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 3:56 am

Neuroanatomical Variability of Religiosity:

We hypothesized that religiosity, a set of traits variably expressed in the population, is modulated by neuroanatomical variability. We tested this idea by determining whether aspects of religiosity were predicted by variability in regional cortical volume. We performed structural magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in 40 healthy adult participants who reported different degrees and patterns of religiosity on a survey. We identified four Principal Components of religiosity by Factor Analysis of the survey items and associated them with regional cortical volumes measured by voxel-based morphometry. Experiencing an intimate relationship with God and engaging in religious behavior was associated with increased volume of R middle temporal cortex, BA 21. Experiencing fear of God was associated with decreased volume of L precuneus and L orbitofrontal cortex BA 11. A cluster of traits related with pragmatism and doubting God’s existence was associated with increased volume of the R precuneus. Variability in religiosity of upbringing was not associated with variability in cortical volume of any region. Therefore, key aspects of religiosity are associated with cortical volume differences. This conclusion complements our prior functional neuroimaging findings in elucidating the proximate causes of religion in the brain.

Obviously these sorts of studies need to be viewed skeptically, the intersection of religion & fMRI seems very biased toward a high level of “sexiness.” Nevertheless, there are dozens of books on the psychology of religion, and, we know that religiosity is moderately heritable, so at some point the cognitive neuroscientists need to get in on the game of normal human variation in religious orientation (as opposed to studies of mystical brain states which seem focused on outliers). Here’s the conclusion, which takes some sides in long festering arguments about the evolutionary origins of religion:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology, Religion

Ag subsidies + ag science = :-(

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 3:31 am

From Science, Plenty of Cows but Little Profit:

Three years ago, a technological breakthrough gave dairy farmers the chance to bend a basic rule of nature: no longer would their cows have to give birth to equal numbers of female and male offspring. Instead, using a high-technology method to sort the sperm of dairy bulls, they could produce mostly female calves to be raised into profitable milk producers.
Now the first cows bred with that technology, tens of thousands of them, are entering milking herds across the country — and the timing could hardly be worse.
The dairy industry is in crisis, with prices so low that farmers are selling their milk below production cost. The industry is struggling to cut output. And yet the wave of excess cows is about to start dumping milk into a market that does not need it.
“It’s real simple,” said Tony De Groot, an early adopter of the new breeding technology, who milks 4,200 cows on a farm here in the heart of this state’s struggling dairy region. “We’ve just got too many cattle on hand and too many heifers on hand, and the supply just keeps on coming and coming.”
The average price farmers received for their milk in July was $11.30 for 100 pounds, down from $19.30 in July 2008. The retail price of milk has not dropped as much, but it is down 24 percent in a year, to an average of $2.91 a gallon for milk with 2 percent fat.
Desperate to drive up prices by stemming the gusher of unwanted milk, a dairy industry group, the National Milk Producers Federation, has been paying farmers to send herds to slaughter. Since January the program has culled about 230,000 cows nationwide.

From what I know the market for these sorts of products has framed by a lot of subsidies and incentives. Increased productivity through better science should be good for any industry, but here you go slaughtering cattle to reduce production and keep the prices up. OPEC is simple compared to this. These sorts of policies are only practical because we live in a world of surplus food production.


The bleeding of American Catholicism

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 3:15 am

I remember back in the early 1990s that there was some talk about the United States going from a plural majority Protestant nations, to a Roman Catholic one at some point in the early 21st century. This in itself wouldn’t be that big of a deal today, Canada already has more Catholics than Protestants (44% of the adult population is Catholic), and it has retained the dominance of Anglo-Protestant culture (also, the influence of Roman Catholicism in Quebec collapsed during the 1960s). But here in the United States things haven’t quite worked out. Latinos have become rapidly de-Catholicized, and only ~60% are Roman Catholic today. Additionally, American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population reports that Latinos went from being well underrepresented among those with “No Religion” in 1990 to almost establishing parity. Finally, there seems to be major defections among white ethnics; 33% of those with “No Religion” list at least some Irish ancestry. The likelihood of this is clinched by this chart:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Religion

Crazy genetic mutant, alien….

By Razib Khan | September 28, 2009 5:03 pm

mutationsloth.pngDarren Naish has the full story. In a bygone age without scientists who…know stuff, these sorts of finds would become the germ of myth. As it is we cobble together a bunch of banal facts and likelihoods into something far less exciting, but more likely to b a true description of reality.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Environment

The adventure of the Cohen Modal Haplotype

By Razib Khan | September 28, 2009 6:50 am

The past 10 years have seen a lot of ups & downs in the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH) hypothesis, which suggests some veracity to the Biblical narrative whereby the priestly caste status of the Jewish people is passed down patrilineally from Aaron, the brother of Moses. But could there be multiple Aarons? Possibly. Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique lineages of the Jewish priesthood:

It has been known for over a decade that a majority of men who self report as members of the Jewish priesthood (Cohanim) carry a characteristic Y chromosome haplotype termed the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH). The CMH has since been used to trace putative Jewish ancestral origins of various populations. However, the limited number of binary and STR Y chromosome markers used previously did not provide the phylogenetic resolution needed to infer the number of independent paternal lineages that are encompassed within the Cohanim or their coalescence times. Accordingly, we have genotyped 75 binary markers and 12 Y-STRs in a sample of 215 Cohanim from diverse Jewish communities, 1,575 Jewish men from across the range of the Jewish Diaspora, and 2,099 non-Jewish men from the Near East, Europe, Central Asia, and India. While Cohanim from diverse backgrounds carry a total of 21 Y chromosome haplogroups, 5 haplogroups account for 79.5% of Cohanim Y chromosomes. The most frequent Cohanim lineage (46.1%) is marked by the recently reported P58 T->C mutation, which is prevalent in the Near East. Based on genotypes at 12 Y-STRs, we identify an extended CMH on the J-P58* background that predominates in both Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Cohanim and is remarkably absent in non-Jews. The estimated divergence time of this lineage based on 17 STRs is 3,190 +/- 1,090 years. Notably, the second most frequent Cohanim lineage (J-M410*, 14.4%) contains an extended modal haplotype that is also limited to Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Cohanim and is estimated to be 4.2 +/- 1.3 ky old. These results support the hypothesis of a common origin of the CMH in the Near East well before the dispersion of the Jewish people into separate communities, and indicate that the majority of contemporary Jewish priests descend from a limited number of paternal lineages.

The point about a number of paternal lineages is a critical part of this paper. Here’s a figure which shows the proportions of Y haplogroups among Jewish populations (the use of the term “Israelite” for a contemporary nationality is novel to me, as they mean what I would have thought would be “Israeli”):

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Why ligers are huge

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2009 7:10 pm

liger3.pngBelieve it or not, tigers are not the largest big cat. Ligers are (you might remember ligers from Napoleon Dynamite). Why? It has to do with the weirdness that occurs when you hybridize across two lineages which have been distinctive for millions of years, but not so long so as not to be able to produce viable offspring (in fact, many ligers are fertile as well). Here’s the explanation:

Imprinted genes are under greater selective pressure than normal genes. This is because only one copy is active at a time. Any variations in that copy will be expressed. There is no “back-up copy” to mask its effects. As a result, imprinted genes evolve more rapidly than other genes. And imprinting patterns — which genes are silenced in the eggs and sperm — also evolve quickly. They can be quite different in closely related species.
Lions and tigers don’t normally meet in nature. But they can get along very well in captivity, where they sometimes produce hybrid offspring. The offspring look different, depending on who the mother is. A male lion and a female tiger produce a liger – the biggest of the big cats. A male tiger and a female lion produce a tigon, a cat that is about the same size as its parents.
The difference in size and appearance between ligers and tigons is due in part to the parents’ differently imprinted genes. Other animals can also hybridize, with similar results. For example, a horse and a donkey can produce a mule or a hinny.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, Evolution

Visualizing caste & linguistic differences in India (Fst)

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2009 6:03 pm

I took the Fst values from Reconstructing Indian population history, and decided to plot them in different ways. Remember that Fst measures the proportion of between population variance, the variation which can’t be accounted for by the normal variation you’d find within a population. So it’s a rough measure of genetic distance. I’ve removed the Chenchus, Siddis and Tibeto-Burmans from the data because they’re outliers, especially the last two. I’ve taken the Kashmiri Pandits as reference group, so that all Fst values are such that they measure the distance between Pandits and group X. I selected the Pandits because they perceive themselves to be the most racially pure Aryan group in South Asia (read The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, or talk to a Kashmiri Pandit!), and I think that many Indians would accept this on some level (though the two Pakistani groups, Pathans and Sindhis, both had slight higher “Ancestral North Indian” (ANI) than the Pandits). Also, I believe that the Fst values for the two Austro-Asiatic groups are not totally comparable with the rest because while most South Asian groups are a combination of ANI and “Ancestral South Indian,” these groups likely have some admixture or relationship to populations in East Asia. In any case, charts below.

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The politics of Indian science

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2009 3:43 pm

A geologist, Suvrat Kher, has a very good post on the recent paper on Indian genetics. He concludes:

The Indian Press has made a hash of the finding. For example they have only reported those parts of the study that deal with the kinship among Indians and have stressed that castes and tribes cannot be differentiated or that there is no divide between the Aryans (roughly north Indians) and Dravidians (south Indians). That is all true for average relatedness. But the study also clearly points out that there are genetic differences between north and south Indians and between upper and lower caste in terms of the degree of relatedness to Eurasians. North Indians and upper castes are more closely related to Eurasians. North Indian upper castes have even more Eurasian ancestry. This part was ignored by the press.
But I can’t blame the press entirely. The scientists who gave interviews to the press didn’t mention this. They wimped out on reporting this potential inflammatory and politically incorrect finding. This is just poor and irresponsible science outreach on part of the scientists. How can you ignore a finding that is staring out at you from the very paper you are talking about? The press may be guilty of not digging in but it was just reporting what the scientists told them.

indiadivsB.pngI’ve noticed that several Indian weblogs have linked to my previous post to prove that the Aryan-Dravidian divide is a myth! Again, look at the chart to the left. I’ve recoded so that Indo-European (“Aryan”) and Dravidian speaking groups are blue & red respectively. They overlap, but there is clearly an average between group difference.
Sometimes people will see what they want to see. It reminds me of a post I put up years ago that some Jewish groups, like non-Ashkenazi from the former Uzbekistan, don’t really fit into the “Sephardic-Ashkenazi” dichotomy. Nevertheless, the first comment on the post asked if these Jews were Sephardic or Ashkenazi!


Smarter people go to college, so average university students less intelligent?

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2009 9:22 am

My post below elicited a lot of response. One thing to point out though, which I want to emphasize: a higher proportion of smart people go to college now than in the past. How can this be? First, let’s review the change in distributions of intelligence of those with college degrees (or higher) and those without. The first two charts show the proportions of WORDSUM scores for individuals with and without college degrees for two decades. I limited the sample to whites ages 30 and over. So for example in the period between 1974-1984, of those with college degrees and higher 26.8% scored 10 on WORDSUM. Among those without college degrees 21.8% scored 6. The error bars are 95% confidence intervals.

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Altruism & the apes

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2009 4:52 am

Eric Michael Johnson of Primate Diaries has a piece up for Seed, where he reviews Franz De Waal’s newest book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. Also a post, Misunderstanding Dawkins: The Role of Metaphor in Science is worth a read. I’ll respond to Michael at some point in the near future,


Same glasses edition

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2009 3:09 am

John Hawks & I did a diavlog for Science Saturday. We decided it would be appropriate to synchronize with dark-rimmed glasses. Also, Mr. Parrot kind of decided it was an opportune time to make a huge racket by swinging his perch against the cage repeatedly. Just so you know….
(I put it below the fold too)

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By Razib Khan | September 25, 2009 2:30 pm

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College students are not as intelligent

By Razib Khan | September 25, 2009 6:36 am

I made a comment earlier that college students, and by inference college graduates, are not as intelligent as they used to be on average. I made that comment based on what I’d seen in the General Social Survey. What I had seen was a decline in average WORDSUM score over the years (WORDSUM being a variable which records how many correct responses individuals received on a vocab test). But I’ll lay out the data here.
I limited the sample to whites between the ages of 22-35. That way I get a snapshot of those who graduate from university in a particular time period, and I need to limit the sample because of the nature of my hypothesis as to why college students are less intelligent.
Below is a chart which shows the mean WORDSUM scores of those with college educations or higher, and those without college educations, with 95% confidence intervals on the bars.

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The politics of genetic history in India

By Razib Khan | September 24, 2009 10:36 pm

A reader pointed me to an article, Aryan-Dravidian divide a myth: Study. Some of the authors of the paper I reviewed today (actually, I wrote the post yesterday and put it in schedule) had some interesting things to say:

The great Indian divide along north-south lines now stands blurred. A pathbreaking study by Harvard and indigenous researchers on ancestral Indian populations says there is a genetic relationship between all Indians and more importantly, the hitherto believed ”fact” that Aryans and Dravidians signify the ancestry of north and south Indians might after all, be a myth.
”This paper rewrites history… there is no north-south divide,” Lalji Singh, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and a co-author of the study, said at a press conference here on Thursday.
Senior CCMB scientist Kumarasamy Thangarajan said there was no truth to the Aryan-Dravidian theory as they came hundreds or thousands of years after the ancestral north and south Indians had settled in India.
The study analysed 500,000 genetic markers across the genomes of 132 individuals from 25 diverse groups from 13 states. All the individuals were from six-language families and traditionally ”upper” and ”lower” castes and tribal groups. ”The genetics proves that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of the Indian society,” the study said. Thangarajan noted that it was impossible to distinguish between castes and tribes since their genetics proved they were not systematically different.

”The initial settlement took place 65,000 years ago in the Andamans and in ancient south India around the same time, which led to population growth in this part,” said Thangarajan. He added, ”At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers here. But at some point of time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India.”

The researchers, who are now keen on exploring whether Eurasians descended from ANI, find in their study that ANIs are related to western Eurasians, while the ASIs do not share any similarity with any other population across the world. However, researchers said there was no scientific proof of whether Indians went to Europe first or the other way round.

To understand some of these assertions you have to know that in India there are Creationist-like movements driven by nationalist and Hindu fundamentalist ideologies.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Genetics

Lie, lie, lie, keep lying

By Razib Khan | September 24, 2009 7:01 pm

Mugabe denies blame for Zimbabwe woes. I recall listening to a debate recently via Planet Money on reforming the banking system. A lobbyist for the big banks made the case that our principles of free enterprise, initiative and and flexibility, letting the market work, meant that the government couldn’t and shouldn’t regulate the banks more restrictively, or even break them up. Whatever the merits of the specific issues, I was struck by th bald-faced gall he had in making these assertions with TARP + easy money from the Fed + explicit guarantees. The panelists were economists or treasury department officials so they mildly called the lobbyist on his obfuscations; no “You lie!” here. In simpler and more innocent times I would have been disgusted by genocidal creatures such as Mugabe lying when everyone knows he is lying. It was a sign of their mental pathology that they went through the useless dance of denial. Now I see Mugabe as simply one end of a spectrum of corruption, immorality and bestial rational self-interest.
Below is a song from circa 2000 which is I think the theme of our age….

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