Daily Data Dump (Tuesday)

By Razib Khan | May 4, 2010 3:30 pm

It’s not sexist to accept that biology affects behaviour. Sex differences would be less controversial if everyone understood some statistics, or at least distributions. As it is, I have had a friend with a college degree (albeit, this was a sociology graduate) explain that on average men do not have greater upper body strength, as she had known men who had less upper body strength than she did (she was a relatively tall female, so I could accept this contention in relation to her and some smaller male she had encountered). And yes, she was refuting an assertion about an average with one counter-example, and frustration ensued when I tried to point out that her one counter-example was not refutation of the possibility of an average difference! I know that behavioral differences are much more controversial, but there isn’t even a point in going this far when a substantial proportion of the population is skeptical of basic physical differences like size and strength.

In Darwin Family, Evidence of Inbreeding’s Ill Effects. Charles Darwin worried about this a great deal (this was a theme in Creation). The risks of first cousin marriage, assuming no other inbreeding in earlier generations (as among inbred clans and ethnic groups), can be stated innocuously or ominously. Innocuously: “There is a 1 out of 50 chance of your child having a recessive disease.” Ominously, “You increase the probability of your children having a recessive disease by a factor of 10.” The ominous warning presages the societal problems that ensue when consanguinity is widespread. Saudi Arabia for example is developing a world-class specialty in rare recessively expressed diseases because of the combination of widespread cousin marriage (in fact repeated cousin marriage within lineages probably produces far higher inbreeding coefficients than with typical first cousin marriages in the West) and oil-generated wealth to invest into a robust health sector.

You Can’t Derive Ought from Is. This is an argument I want to get into after I read more ethics (Will Wilkinson helpfully provided me a list of good books).

Monday Pets: Where Did Cats Come From? If cats had not domesticated humans, some other mammal would have.

What’s the Greek Economy Really Like? Bryan Caplan infers that the Greeks deceived about their GDP because most government workers in Greece (25% of the work force) don’t add any value to the economy. Unless you’re an old school command economy socialist I suspect most people can accept the contention that beyond a basic and necessary level public sector employment in many societies tends to turn into avenues for patronage, rent-seeking, and a basket of sinecures. Great story…but it turns out that Caplan’s number on the proportion of Greeks in government employ was wrong. I just heard on the radio a commentator point to the fact that 25% of Greeks are on the government payroll as the primary systemic issue. But if the premise is wrong, so is the inference.

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  • bioIgnoramus

    At your first link I particularly enjoyed “I totally agree we need to sweep away the tired old stereotypes”. It’s clearly a call for vigorous new stereotypes. But I do get tired of people stereotyping stereotypes.

  • Consummationist

    On that note I do some push-ups, I habit I should have acquired earlier – we all know the girls like to see the delts and pecs.

    I have looked at a fair number of photographs of Greece, and on that limited information I have to agree with Caplan: the GDP at PPP does not look remotely like the reported $30-35,000. If 25-33% public-sector employment is not the cause of the incongruity, then I tentatively join Caplan in suspecting that there is something else funny going on.

    Three cheers for outbreeding in the middle-East; I’m not sure anything else in all the world could help them as much.

  • MK

    ***that on average men do not have greater upper body strength, as she had known men who had less upper body strength than she did (she was a relatively tall female, so I could accept this contention in relation to her and some smaller male she had encountered).***

    You should have arranged a jelly wresting contest (you vs her and some of her girlfriends) to prove your point.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Beliefs about morality don’t pay rent. Books about things other than ethics might.

  • B Sagdieyev

    I like S Baron-Cohen article VERY much. I like you, do you like me? I like sex. Yeessss! But is it not problem that woman have a smaller BRAIN than a man?

  • bioIgnoramus

    Cats have smaller brains than sheep and are clearly much cleverer.

  • http://churlsgonewild.wordpress.com Nick

    You’re right about sex differences and statistical ignorance. But the stupidity often works the other way here, too. I know plenty of people who generalise about male behavioural traits on the basis of like 5 (non-independent) observations: their dad, their brother and the last 3 guys they dated.

  • znz

    On sociologists: (NSFW) part 1 part 2

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    nick, true.

  • Chris T

    My answer to morality and the is/ought question is: why ought we be moral?

  • Chris T

    I disagree with one part of Baron-Cohen’s article:

    “Some brain types are more common in one sex than another, but because an individual can be atypical for their sex, it is meaningless to try to predict anything about a person’s behavior based on their sex.”

    Sure you can, insurance companies do it all the time. Since we can’t possibly know about all of the personal aspects of a given individual, often probabilities based on group averages are all we can go on. The trick is to reevaluate when we receive contrary information.

  • miko

    “Sure you can, insurance companies do it all the time.”

    Insurance companies, unless they are very tiny, are not making predictions about individuals… their model of doing business is based on the fact that it doesn’t matter if they are wrong about many individuals as long as they are right better than chance across large groups. That and and totally fucking people with legitimate claims.

    “…why ought we be moral?”

    You oughtn’t, you is. Morality is part of our social primate legacy.

  • Chris T

    Insurance companies assess a person’s premium (or even insurability) based on the average risk of the groups a person belongs too. Unmarried men under 25 have to pay high auto premiums because the risk is high in all three categories.

    “You oughtn’t, you is. Morality is part of our social primate legacy.”

    Indeed, but that doesn’t mean it ought to be, which was the question the essay was addressing.

  • Brian Too

    I heard that 80% of Greeks do not pay their taxes. That would seem to be a problem! I also heard the EU bailout mandated gov’t. reform, including tax increases. Seems to me, maybe I’m missing the point here, that more effective collection should be the focus, not raising them for the 20% that do pay.

    What’s going on there? Are the taxes punitively high causing widespread disconnection with the citizenry? Is it a culture of “we’ve always done business under the table, therefore that is normal behaviour?” Or are the anarchists in Greece, who seem to have more sway than anywhere else I can think of, influential enough to have seeded this idea (that government itself is bad).

    I don’t recall hearing about this problem in Turkey either. Why not? Yeah, I know, Greeks and Turks have traditionally hated each other, but in recent years they’ve patched things up. Plus, culturally they aren’t that different from each other. They mainly differ in nationality and religion, when it comes right down to it.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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