Archive for June, 2010

Daily Data Dump – Wednesday

By Razib Khan | June 30, 2010 2:46 pm

Psychological Research Conducted in ‘WEIRD’ Nations May Not Apply to Global Populations. This is the standard objection to psychological studies in terms of the representativeness of their samples; middle class university students. But more broadly they’re Western middle class university students.

The grandmother factor: Why do only humans and whales live long past menopause? Interestingly the data and model here imply that the importance of disproportionate maternal grandmothers (this is empirically attested in even notionally patriarchal societies) may have something to do with patrilocality.

Ghana’s unique African-Hindu temple. In some ways this seems to replicate the non-congregational model found in India, whereby locals seem to be patronizing the temple for its “services” is a non-exclusive fashion.

The Myth of the Fat Burning Zone. This is in the “news your can use” category.

Why won’t those &$*%#@ bloggers go away? Scott Sumner’s response to a criticism of the “econosphere” from a professional economist. I doubt that engineers worry about engineering bloggers talking about stuff they don’t know about. Economics is hard, but many of us who are not averse to giving due respect to professionals who have a real understanding of how the world works have shifted our assessment on the empirics of late. The econosphere would disappear in its current critical form if economists either toned down their pretensions, or actually showed us the money.

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Porn and moral panic

By Razib Khan | June 29, 2010 4:41 pm

Social conservative blogger Rod Dreher points me to this interview of a Left-wing sociologist on the malevolent influence of pornography on modern relationships. She has a book out, Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality. Her conclusion:

To turn this around there needs to be a massive public health awareness campaign. Unless people begin to understand the role pornography is playing in our culture, I can’t see any reason that this won’t get worse, because all of these men who started watching pornography young are going to want more and more. Pornographers themselves say they’re having trouble keeping up with what fans want because they want it so hardcore.

Where is this going to end? I don’t know. What will an 11-year-old boy want 10, 20, or 30 years from now? Nobody knows. The truth is we’ve never brought up a generation of males with hardcore pornography. No one can really say what’s going to happen. What we do know, from how images and media affect people, is that it’s going to increasingly shape the way men think about sex, sexuality, and relationships.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Psychology

Nazis in space

By Razib Khan | June 29, 2010 12:19 pm

Really interesting trailer for a movie which is premised on a “secret history” where a group of Nazis flee to the far side of the moon at the end of World War II, and are returning imminently in the near future from their exile.

Wired has the back story of how this group of film makers generated broad-based funding for their project. Of course they’re Finnish….

MORE ABOUT: Films, Movies

Daily Data Dump – Tuesday

By Razib Khan | June 29, 2010 11:59 am

North America’s First Peoples More Genetically Diverse Than Thought, Mitochondrial Genome Analysis Reveals. The paper is free to all. Remember that this is just mtDNA, the maternal lineage. This area seems a bit confused now. The standard simple model, which is barely even a ‘stylized fact’ at this point, is that a group of Siberians arrived ~12,000 years ago and this founder population to led to all that has come after. For about twenty years geneticists have been claiming to see more time depth, but that’s confused by the possibility that they have been looking at evolutionary dynamics in Berengia, not North America.

In Ireland, a Picture of the High Cost of Austerity. So was there an alternative to austerity for Ireland alone? Can such a small nation pump growth with deficit spending if its larger neighbors are all beating the drum for austerity? Seems like they’re soldiering on and making the best of a bad situation.

In Faulty-Computer Suit, Window to Dell Decline. Dude, do not buy a Dell!

The Triumphant Decline of the WASP. Noah Feldman basically concedes that WASPs are the world’s least primitive population. Of course that does not entail fitness of genes or memes.

Can linguistic features reveal time depths as deep as 50,000 years ago? Mostly likely not.

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Your genes are just the odds

By Razib Khan | June 29, 2010 4:55 am

Morning Edition has a strange story today about the exploration of one neuroscientist of his own family’s history, specifically its psychological and neurological quirks. To not put too fine a point on it, the scientist in question finds out that he has a history of violence in his family, and, that he carries a genetic variant implicated in violent behavior under particular conditions, as well as telling neurological patterns found among psychopaths. Here’s the relevant section:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Behavior Genetics
MORE ABOUT: Behavior Genetics

Daily Data Dump – Monday

By Razib Khan | June 28, 2010 1:36 pm

High Rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Older Swingers. This goes into the “they had to do research!?!?!” category. Older swingers are a “high risk” group, like gay men and prostitutes.

Golly, Beav, We’re Historic. I really loved Leave It To Beaver when I was a kid.

Religious Extremists Will Inherit the Earth. John Derbyshire reviews the new book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. I’m looking forward to this book, though I’m generally skeptical of the error bars on any social prediction beyond the 20 year time horizon.

Born to be a slave in Niger. This a story from 2005, but from what I gather nothing has really changed in much of the Sahel since then. Slavery is particularly pernicious in Mauritania, where the racialized aspect is pretty straightforward.

New Clues Suggest Wet Era on Early Mars Was Global. This story caught my attention because I just found out that Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Barsoon novel is going to be turned into a film.

MORE ABOUT: Daily Data Dump, Links

More children please: men or women?

By Razib Khan | June 28, 2010 1:49 am

In the post below on Bryan Caplan’s arguments for why one should have more children there was an “interesting” comment:

As if we’re harmless little creatures at one with our environment and put no toll on the balance of nature around us. Funny how we humans act like mindless rabbits and lemmings and put the sole unintelligent directive of our DNA as the mouth of god. Men most interestingly in power or self described intellectuals after sitting around picking belly lint and jerking off in praise of their penises find clever monkey justifications (patriarchal religions mostly) for more more more babies and women must be subservient to male sexual needs and demands of more babies. See a huge male god said so.

Funny how women mostly never jump on the soapbox bandwagon of wanting to pop out tons of kids, just male spermatozoa fed rants formed by the human male organism to insist his natural inclination is the word of gawd. If you can’t use holy massive penised Jehovah to instill this dreck then dream up socio-biological propaganda for the atheist hip guys needing a good shagging with their female cohorts.

Ignoring the weirdness of much the comment, is it true that men are more pro-natalist than women? I have shown that there seems to be a trend within the last 10 years of preference for larger families. What’s the sex breakdown for this?

The correlation between men and women is 0.65 year-to-year in their mean for ideal number of children. About 43% of the variance of the trend over the years can be predicted from one sex to the other. Is there is a systematic difference? Here’s a chart:

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MORE ABOUT: Feminism, Pro-Natalism

Why educated women are having children

By Razib Khan | June 27, 2010 10:22 am

Matt Yglesias has posted some charts showing that

1) Childlessness among women is becoming more common

2) The variation of this state by education is disappearing

Here’s the chart which illustrates the second phenomenon:


I think the reason this may be occurring is a dilution of the sample bias of women who have higher education in relation to the general ppoulation. In other words, as more women attain advanced degrees the pool of those women become less atypical vis-a-vis the general population

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: Education, natalism, Women

Amerindians of Brazil more numerous than you think

By Razib Khan | June 27, 2010 9:09 am

adriana-limaA few months ago I was thinking a fair amount about the Neandertals. One issue which became more stark to me due to that particular finding, that a few percent of the human genome seems to have derived from Neandertal populations, is the reality that genetic distinctiveness can persist long after cultural coherency is no longer a reality. That made me reconsider one of the facts of contemporary scholarship, that the Amerindian populations of the two most populous nations of the New World, the United States of America and Brazil, have disappeared or been totally marginalized demographically.

I’ve observed before it looks like that about 15-20% of the ancestry of the Argentine population is Amerindian, despite the nation’s proud identity as a European settler offshoot (i.e., more like the United States or Australia, than Mexico, which has an explicit hybrid identity). But I realized that Brazil was perhaps the bigger catch.

Only 0.4% of Brazilians identify as Amerindian. That’s about 700,000 people. But we know that a substantial number of white, brown and black Brazilians have Amerindian ancestry. Assuming for argument’s sake that the 700,000 Amerindians have undiluted indigenous ancestry, how much of the distinctive Amerindian genome in modern Brazil is to be found in this segment of the population?

There was a paper which came out in an obscure Brazilian journal last year which can help answer this question, DNA tests probe the genomic ancestry of Brazilians. For the purposes of the paper they needed to find a small number of ancestrally informative markers which would allow them to partition the ancestries of the individuals in their data set into European, African, and Amerindian, segments. Luckily these are three very distinctive populations. They cross-checked the utility of their markers against the HGDP data set. In other words the precision and accuracy of the 40 markers they selected should be assessed by how well they can distinguish these three “pure” populations. Their Brazilian subjects consisted of self-identified whites from various regions, as well as black men from Sao Paulo. Brazil’s racial taxonomy has a brown (pardo) category which is large, but judging from the very high proportion of African ancestry among the blacks in their sample I don’t think they included self-identified mixed-race people in that group (some scholars lump mixed and black Brazilians together into the black category).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Genetics, Genomics

Tick-tock biological clock

By Razib Khan | June 27, 2010 12:46 am

There will be an interesting presentation tomorrow at the European Society of Human Reproduction & Embryology. Basically the researcher is going to present on a method for predicting when a woman will hit menopause. This part from the press release is the important bit:

“The results from our study could enable us to make a more realistic assessment of women’s reproductive status many years before they reach menopause. For example, if a 20-year-old woman has a concentration of serum AMH of 2.8 ng/ml [nanograms per millilitre], we estimate that she will become menopausal between 35-38 years old. To the best of our knowledge this is the first prediction of age at menopause that has resulted from a population-based cohort study. We believe that our estimates of ages at menopause based on AMH levels are of sufficient validity to guide medical practitioners in their day-to-day practice, so that they can help women with their family planning.”

The method:

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The essence of pleasure

By Razib Khan | June 26, 2010 12:37 pm

I highly recommend this discussion between Paul Bloom & Robert Wright. The topic under consideration is the psychology of pleasure, as reviewed in Bloom’s new book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like. You can also find out about Bloom’s ideas in this exchange in Slate. The essentialism examined in Descarte’s Baby is being taken for another spin, though with a more precise focus. The bottom line is that pleasure is often contingent on more than proximate empirical sensory input; it depends on what you perceive to be the essence of the object of pleasure, even its history (or more crassly, its price). This truth may make the calculation project of the utilitarian heirs of Gottfried Leibniz pragmatically impossible.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Psychology

First they came for Dave Weigel

By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 12:53 pm

Dave Weigel of The Washington Post has resigned over his juvenile postings on an e-list. Basically the postings allowed for Weigel’s mask to slip, and showed him to be a vulgar and immature young man in some contexts. That’s no different from many of us in the proper context. The e-list is now defunct because of this information break.

Someone like Dave Weigel, a reporter who has to make a public pretense toward objectivity, and a somewhat public person, is atypical. But I think it’s the tip of the iceberg. People who know me in “real life” know that nothing they say to me will ever show up on this blog; it’s private, and my day to day interactions almost never intersect with the topicality here. If I want to introduce an idea or concept that someone else familiarized me with I will ask if I can do so, and credit them if they request. But that’s the nature of this blog, which draws more upon the scientific literature or reader feedback. Other outlets blur the line between private & public more explicitly, and if you meet someone with such an outlet, watch what you say, watch what you do. I’ve been on private e-lists where people say things that in public that could really compromise them. I’ve even gotten into disputes with people who were taking one stand in public which I knew could be easily undercut if I “exposed” what they’d said in private.

In the short term by breaking down barriers to information flow the internet is going to result in people retrenching to the narrowest and most trusted circles to “let their hair down.” In the long term I think we might have to reconceptualize what we think of as private or public. Soon enough a whole host of data on anyone you meet will be available on demand. And your data will also be available to them.

MORE ABOUT: Technology


By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 12:19 pm

lavender (1)

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Daily Data Dump – Friday

By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 11:52 am

23andMe research article finally published. Dr. Dan MacArthur offers his take on a new PLoS Genetics paper which was published using 23andMe’s user base. Of course there’s already information coming out of 23andMe’s user community not getting into the academic literature, see this comment below.

Group Solidarity and Survival. For what it’s worth, I think group solidarity was critical for human survival and flourishing. I suspect it was responsible for the secular increase in cranial capacity for most of hominin history.

Adverse drug reactions from psychotropic medicines in the paediatric population: analysis of reports to the Danish Medicines Agency over a decade. This looks like a correlation, so there might be the issue of the type of woman who is prescribed psychotropic medicines being more prone to have children with birth defects for other reasons. But something to think about.

Trust and Prosperity. This issue is not salient unless you move. There is a difference in trust even within the United States; rural Vermont vs. downtown Boston. The explanation for this difference is straightforward, but there are probably more subtle differences between societies. On an individual level I wonder at the aggregate decrement in productivity and energy due to having to “track” very vigilantly whenever you’re in a public place in a low-trust situation or society.

China’s Export Economy Begins Turning Inward. Remember that China’s population is about the same as the whole world in 1850.

MORE ABOUT: Daily Data Dump, Data

What has Rome to do with Nairobi?

By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 9:00 am

rule-empires-those-who-built-them-timothy-parsons-hardcover-cover-artThere are very few books which would attempt to connect the experiences of the 1st century British who lived through Roman conquest with the French under the Vichy regime in World War II. The The Rule of Empires: Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall by Timothy Parsons attempts to do just that. As John Emerson observed the subtitle is obnoxious; all states fall, not just empires. But in the author’s defense usually they are not the ones who decide upon the title, rather the publishers look for sentences which are catchy and can move some units. A grand explanation of why empires fall may appeal to the average reader. A disparate collection of descriptions of the imperial experience, filtered through a prism strongly shaped by 20th century perceptions and models of colonialism, perhaps not.  The latter is what the The Rule of Empires is. The author is a professor of 20th century African social history, and the specter of the European colonialism of the Dark Continent haunts even the chapters on Roman Britain or Umayyad Spain. Though Parsons’ sympathy with the subjugated is obvious he restrains himself enough so that tiresome polemic does not interfere excessively with the collation of fact or the attempt to engage in objective analysis. Unfortunately the project of a grand theory of the rise and fall of empires, or more accurately the colonized experience,  falls short of its goals. I was totally unpersuaded that the fall of Napoleonic Italy, Roman Britain, or British Kenya, were united in any deep way by inevitable social or institutional forces of history which thread together all empires. Though there are many interesting facts on display, it does seem to me that the author falls into a tendency to transform all imperialists into 20th century British, and all subjects into 20th century Kikuyu. The most recent imperial adventures serve as the models, or the skeleton, around which the grand theory is built, and that only distracts from the specific chapters which are rich with specific detail.

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The dismal gods

By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 12:51 am

marketplaceLarry Witham’s Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion is a manifestly ill-timed book. He states that “…around 2006 I began to notice a good deal of hoopla in the book market about economic explanations for just about everything-books that were best sellers.” Marketplace of the Gods was obviously written to capitalize on the prestige of economic explanations, but unfortunately it has come out after the bubble had burst on that market, so to speak. Within the past few years even many economists have come to admit that the power of their discipline’s logic can explain far less than they’d once thought. In fact, it seems a bit much for economics to explain everything when the core competency in financial domains are themselves being challenged. Even in 2008 in The Logic of Life Tim Harford was engaging in a rearguard attempt to prevent behavioral economists such as Dan Ariely from knocking the legs out from under the central thesis of his book. A more accurate subtitle for Marketplace of the Gods would have been “economic explanations of religion.” Not punchy or imperialistic, but true to the content of the text.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Economics, Religion

You have no privacy, deal with it

By Razib Khan | June 24, 2010 12:36 pm

The Washington Post‘s blogger-journalist Dave Weigel has a post up where he preemptively apologizes for stuff he posted on an “off-the-record” e-list,. Extracts are going to be published by a gossip site. Journalists are the tip of the iceberg; privacy is fast becoming a total fiction, remember that. We’re slowly drifting toward David Brin’s model of a “transparent society”, but it’s happening so fluidly that people aren’t even noticing. And yet as I have noted before, people are resisting the push to merge all their personas into one. Interesting times.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Technology
MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Privacy

Daily Data Dump – Thursday

By Razib Khan | June 24, 2010 11:44 am

This Doctor Does What to 6-Year-Old Girls’ Clitorises? This reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story of a pediatrician being attacked in England because a really stupid outraged person was opposed to pedophilia. Here’s a sentence for the ages: ” Because much as Savage might like it to be, the world is not yet a place where most little girls can have a clitoris that looks like a penis and feel entirely at ease.” I think the intersex have been subject to such misrepresentation historically that advocates for this group should really focus on being true to the facts and not appealing to emotions.

Caring About Strangers. I recall years ago that the Christian Rock group Jars of Clay collaborated on a concert with liberal Hollywood-based organizations to raise consciousness about religious intolerance and persecution in China. Jars of Clay naturally was focused on the Protestant “House Churches,” while Hollywood was focused on Tibetan Buddhists. Both instances of persecution were, and are, real, but which one you focus on is obviously determined by your own world-view and sympathies.

Consumer Genetics Needs More Transparency, Not Excessive Regulation. In general I agree. I suppose my null or default position is not to regulate this sort of thing. Those who wish to regulate need to make their case, as opposed to fear-mongering.

Gore Was Accused of Sexual Advances. Excelsior!

Are High Glycemic Index Carbs Worse Than Saturated Fat? “…swapping saturated fat for carbs with a high glycemic index (e.g. 5% lower calories from saturated fat, and 5% increased calories from high GI carbs) was associated with a 33% increased heart attack risk.”

MORE ABOUT: Daily Data Dump, Links

The English & Irish, together again

By Razib Khan | June 24, 2010 4:12 am

One of the peculiarities of the synthesis of 19th and early 20th historical linguistics and biological anthropology was the perception by many British thinkers that the English, as the scions of the Anglo-Saxons, were fundamentally a different race from the Celtic nations to their west, the Welsh and Irish, and the Scots to the north (yes, I know the Scottish nation emerged is a mix of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon elements which were preponderant at different times and periods). In other words English nationalists would characterize their own race as a branch of the German peoples. English was a Germanic language, and the linguistic chasm emphasized more starkly a distinction from the Celts who inhabited Britain prior to the arrival of the Germans, and gave the island its name before they were marginalized and pushed to the “Celtic fringe.”

The historical context of this does not need to be elaborated in detail. The Emerald Isle’s integration into the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland was always a difficult affair. This was due in large part to religion (the lack of an effective Irish Reformation may have had other structural causes); the Irish were a Roman Catholic populace at a time when Roman Catholicism and loyalty to the monarchy were presumed to be contradictory. In 1800, before the potato famine and the English demographic explosion, Ireland accounted for one third of the population of the United Kingdom (I do not put much stock in the linguistic difference, as the Welsh speaking regions were firmly Protestant and so not perceived to be sources of equivalent dissension despite their cultural marginality). With the rise of taxonomic science what was a crisp social chasm was reconceptualized as a biological and evolutionary gap along the Great Chain of Being.

In the twentieth century the tide turned, today most scholars would assert that the shift from Celtic to Anglo-Saxon speech and culture in what became England was a matter of emulation, not genetic replacement. Personally I suspect that the pendulum has swung too far, but it does show how strongly influenced by fashion these sorts of preconceptions are.

Modern genetics can clear up the confusion to some extent. A new paper in The European Journal of Human Genetics surveys samples from Dublin, the south & southeast of England (the heart of Saxon Britain), Aberdeen, Portugal, Bulgaria and Sweden. Population structure and genome-wide patterns of variation in Ireland and Britain. I’ll just focus on the figures of interest in relation to the questions I aired above.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Genetics, History

Project your own probability

By Razib Khan | June 24, 2010 1:02 am

By now you’ve probably stumbled onto Wired‘s profile of Sergey Brin, and his quest to understand and overcome Parkinson’s disease through the illumination available via genomic techniques. I want to spotlight this section:

Not everyone with Parkinson’s has an LRRK2 mutation; nor will everyone with the mutation get the disease. But it does increase the chance that Parkinson’s will emerge sometime in the carrier’s life to between 30 and 75 percent. (By comparison, the risk for an average American is about 1 percent.) Brin himself splits the difference and figures his DNA gives him about 50-50 odds.

Brin, of course, is no ordinary 36-year-old. As half of the duo that founded Google, he’s worth about $15 billion. That bounty provides additional leverage: Since learning that he carries a LRRK2 mutation, Brin has contributed some $50 million to Parkinson’s research, enough, he figures, to “really move the needle.” In light of the uptick in research into drug treatments and possible cures, Brin adjusts his overall risk again, down to “somewhere under 10 percent.” That’s still 10 times the average, but it goes a long way to counterbalancing his genetic predisposition.

Do you think Brin’s chances are really 10 percent? Is he being an objective analytical machine, or is he exhibiting the ticks of systematic bias which plague wetware? This is interesting because when it comes to big-picture extrapolations individuals who come out of the mathematical disciplines (math, computer science, physics, economics, etc.) have a much better ability to construct models and project than those who come out of biology. Biology is dominated by masters of detail. The system-builders only have small niches across the sub-domains, with the exception of evolutionary biology where the system is the raison d’etre of the field. But though biologists lack strategic vision, they are often masters of tactics when on familiar ground. I would like to believe Sergey Brin’s estimate of the probability in his case, but I do wonder if biomedical scientists working on Parkinson’s are aware of powerful constraints and substantial obstacles which would force one to be less optimistic. I would of course assume that Brin though is aware of constraints, or lack thereof, because he has talked to the relevant researchers. On the other hand, would a biomedical scientist be totally candid with Sergey Brin due to even the silver of a possibility of a research grant of magnificent scope?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology, philosophy

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