The essence of the alien

By Razib Khan | October 13, 2010 2:25 pm

If you found out a new fact about yourself could that reshape how you view yourself? An extreme case involves the Polish Neo-Nazis who found out that they are actually of Jewish origin. But it can be more subtle. A friend recently told me that her proud Irish American father found out that he carried a Native American Y chromosomal lineage. There is the peculiarity that how we view ourselves is contingent not only the reality of who we are, but the background facts we assume about ourselves.


When it came to light last spring that most modern humans may carry a non-trivial load of Neandertal ancestry I predicted that that would re-humanize Neandertals in our minds, and also the representations we make of them. The recent story about a cryptic language in northeast India made me consider another possibility. Currently our population coverage in surveys of genetic variation, from which we make inferences as to the evolutionary history of our species, is constrained by the representativeness of the samples. We have Basque, Han Chinese, Bushmen, and Papuans. That’s plenty. But what if in the course of expanding our coverage we discover an ethno-linguistic group which is predominantly not of the Neo-African lineage in terms of genetics? Since all populations that we know of have culture that would be informative in and of itself. But how would we view this group? One moment they were essentially human, but now genetics tells us that they are different in a fundamental fashion from the rest of us.

I do not believe that this will occur. At least not in such a stark fashion. But what if Sub-Saharan Africans were the dominant shapers of the contemporary cultural Zeitgeist internationally instead of Europeans and those of European-descent? How would they view the fact that non-Africans have non-trivial admixture from Neandertal populations? Especially if non-Africans were not as economically advanced or socioculturally prominent as Africans.

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  • http://www.minneapolishouses.org Michael Little

    I am no expert but if this were true, it really would alter the way we look at sociocultural development.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    Especially if non-Africans were not as economically advanced or socioculturally prominent as Africans.

    Counterfactual hypotheses sometimes obliterate the critical principles they’re meant to illuminate.

    What if the dramatically-inbred population of Samaritans were healthier and smarter than Europe-derived Jews? Ah, but they aren’t, and they aren’t because of fundamental properties of the paths the two peoples took. You may as well ask what if the Nile were to flow from the sea to the source instead of the other way around – it’s nonsense.

  • miko

    Way to take a discussion-ending shit on this thread. I guess you’ve got a reputation to maintain. I think your command of 4 syllable words grows ever mightier.

    The epitaph from PZ’s dungeon:
    Years of smugly tedious comments from this obsessive passive-agressive whiner are enough. The guy puts up 25-30 comments a day, all calculated to annoy and fuel long drawn-out threads where he offers nothing but snideness — he’s nothing but a bitter noise-maker who poisons discussions.

  • mstevo

    @miko-WELL SAID!

  • http://changelog.ca/ Charles Iliya Krempeaux

    @Razib said…
    But what if Sub-Saharan Africans were the dominant shapers of the contemporary cultural Zeitgeist internationally instead of Europeans and those of European-descent? How would they view the fact that non-Africans have non-trivial admixture from Neandertal populations? Especially if non-Africans were not as economically advanced or socioculturally prominent as Africans.

    I’m assuming what you probably are hinting at is that people might assume that it is the Neanderthal genes that made non-Africans poor and primitive.

    Of course correlation does not imply causation, but many people would probably assume causation.

  • jb

    I find it interesting that nobody seems to want to make a connection between Neandertal admixture and the fact that Europeans and Asians are in fact more advanced than Africans. It’s interesting because I have seen so many examples of people making the opposite argument — i.e., taking the fact of overall greater African genetic diversity and trying use it to imply some kind of genetic superiority for Africans, or at least to argue that it means it’s impossible for Africans to be intellectually inferior to non-Africans. Stephen J. Gould made the latter argument, and that’s the point the people who keep saying “we are all Africans” really care about. Arguing that “white people are superior because of our ancient Neandertal bloodlines” would make every bit as much sense (i.e., a little bit of sense, but not a whole lot), but so far I haven’t heard anyone making that argument. Maybe the bad Neandertal PR is just too much to get by?

  • pconroy

    In terms of Neanderthal admixture of 1 to 4% uniformly among Eurasians, it’s interesting to note that the paper some time ago on the genotype of 5 Bushmen (!Kung-San) showed that at least one had 2 mutations of the FOXP2 gene – this is highly unusual, as this AFAIK is one of the more highly conserved genes we have. That fact, and the fact that modern human FOXP2 genes were found in one sample of Neanderthals – I think one of the Vindija, Croatia ones – could mean that the version of FOXP2 in modern humans introgressed from Neanderthals.

    FOXP2 of course is the language gene, and I think more specifically it codes for the mechanics of sound expression.

    There are a number of alternate possibilities:
    1. The Neanderthal sample had received the modern FOXP2 gene via introgression from early modern in the Levant
    2. The !Kung-San people originally had the modern FOXP2 version, and due to speaking a Click Language, had evolved a modified version since they diverged from modern humans some 150,000 years ago.

  • Eric Johnson

    miko, nice 7th-grade girl impression. Caledonian’s clearly a worthwhile poster and he got boyeeez up in this blog. Initially I thought he was saying that counterfactuals are often inherently inane, and I was gonna return fire. I was mistaken, he’s saying something else: when you construct a counterfactual, you might assert a ceteris paribus, or you might just assume it and leave it unsaid. What he’s saying is that this ceteris paribus can often be inanely false in an overlookable way. I’m not sure that applies to Razib’s post very much, but it’s of considerable general interest.

    While I can’t speak for our host of course, PZ traditionally is not exactly a huge authority on this blog, FYI. Don’t you know about how he posted that Professor Cochran was dumb, and got swarmed by vicious, uncritical GNXP fanboys? We stay on opposite sides of E. Main ever since. To me he’s far less interesting than, say, you, content-wise – not that his style is better. And while we’re on style, why say piss or shit repeatedly, it’s unpleasant to think about. Your rhetoric should make recourse to fine wines, cute girls, rare butterflies on silver pins, imported tofus and hummuses on toast, plummeting but tastefully selected stocks and bonds, graceful McMansions… you know, the finer things in life. Ah, you’ll go far.

  • miko

    jb, neither makes any sense (neandertal admixture makes you smarter or stupider). unless you know more about the genetics and development of cognition than anyone on earth.

    I’m rarely a SJG defender, but I think what he said is that it makes no sense to consider Africans as a whole a stable group for comparisons to other groups, since the diversity within Africa is so much greater than that outside. I would be interested if he said what you claim he did, as well as a reference.

  • Eric Johnson

    jb, your comment is ironic, Harpending & Cochran made an assertion like the one you mention, in their recent book – and both have commented here.

    There was an efflorescence in Europe many millennia before agriculture, when Europeans arrived there – maybe 30-40,000 years before present. The book suggested that introgression of neanderthal alleles might have been involved. The efflorescence, according to the book, involved “cave paintings, sculpture, jewelry, dramatically improved tools and weapons.” Plus long-distance trade.

    We know that broadly, hominids have progressed to higher “encephalization quotients” (brain volume / body volume) over time, slowly. So it could be that neanderthals had an allele or two of their own that could contribute to intelligence, artistic culture, what have you.

    Dienekes has pointed out, though, that Africans may be admixed with erectus, or, actually, he suggests that they could have neanderthal introgressions too, directly or indirectly; as I recall he thinks that the methods used so far would fail to identify neanderthal alleles that are present in both Africans and other Eurasians.

  • miko

    hey, and I just found this breathtakingly stupid article at huffpo

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/garret-loporto/surprising-way-your-neand_b_568455.html

    “The efflorescence, according to the book, involved…”
    Whatever it involved, what is the evidence these things were absent from contemporaneous African populations?

  • pconroy

    A friend recently told me that her proud Irish American father found out that he carried a Native American Y chromosomal lineage.

    This is what in the US South would be called “Black Irish” – Native American with/without Irish admixture.

  • Eric Johnson

    miko, I think smarter makes sense, because these independent lineages were, probably, all getting more sophisticated in presumably separate genetic ways. Or at the very least, were a bit more likely increasing in sophistication than decreasing.

    But, of course I agree that we aren’t remotely close to certainty.

    Of course, it’s possible that very little sophistication, quantitatively, happened in the time that these lineages were separated.

    We may not know anytime soon, or even ever. Most traits may involve even thousands of genes, as you know. It sounds odd when I hear someone suggest 10,000 genes might be involved in a trait. Just seems awfully high, though I don’t actually know in a good formal way if it is or isn’t. But, think of all the SNPs… 10 million? How many more are coming – could there be 100 million? If we assume they are randomly distributed, most will be noncoding but of course some of those could be cis-regulatory of transcription. And theory suggests that they will mostly be neutral…..ish. What are the odds that most of them are near-neutral rather than neutral? Since there are so many of them, which could work together to produce pheno traits, perhaps we should not necessarily say they are effectively neutral even if they make less than a 0.01% difference in a quantitative pheno trait. Or even 0.001%? I guess there are too many deeply-unknown variables for us to do the math really, and I’m hardly well read on the different architecture hypotheses.

  • bioIgnoramus

    Hummus on toast, with a few olives, is what I had for lunch. Followed by some cheddar with a spicey tomato and caramelised onion chutney; I trust that this has raised the tone in the way called for by Mr Johnson.

  • Eric Johnson

    > Whatever it involved, what is the evidence these things were absent from contemporaneous African populations?

    Just archeology. Subject of course to the limitations of archeology. Other than the fact that bones always break down in most African forest soils (hence not a lot of forest ape fossils for us to look at), I wouldn’t know what the limitations are. I’m guessing there has been more digging for artifacts in Europe (but there may also be diminishing returns to doing large amounts). People look for coins and stuff with metal detection – illegal or restricted most places now, I think – some of the major archeological troves in Europe have been discovered by accident by laymen. And maybe some of the painted caves. Ancient coins are still being discovered in south Europe regularly, I think mostly by non-scholars. That’s why most of them are so cheap, though most of them are not too attractively made in the first place (the best Greek stuff is better than the Persian which is better than the Roman).

    I’m not sure how much artifact searching there has been in Africa – certainly a lot of searches for australopitheci and homos, but some of those habitats are desert now, and were lush back then.

  • miko

    Eric, I get where you’re coming from, but I’ve never heard a convincing story of why general intelligence would trend in particular directions among human groups in the recent past. The evidence for selection in the context of new pathogens and dietary changes are pretty good, neither seems closely related to being wicked smaht. Not that I don’t think culture can be an important selection factor in producing cognitive modules. But above a threshold that essentially all normal humans meet, I have never heard of conditions in which general intelligence would directly predict reproductive success. I know of at least one example where the opposite is true. I know there are a lot of possible adaptive stories that would reward small increases in cognitive ability, just never have heard evidence for any.

    My understanding of the current thought on Neandertal life is that it was one of interminable cultural stasis at very low densities. Hardly conditions conducive to increasing “sophistication.” We like to tell ourselves that emigrating populations of humans are special and adventurous (see myths about what makes Americans apparently so awesome). It seems to me that in most animals (and people) emigration usually happens because you are pushed out by a more fit local group.

  • miko

    re:archaeology — I think it’s pretty clear that sampling is a huge problem in archaeology (as in all the digging-around-for-stuff sciences), partly due to what archaeologists are interested in, but hugely to do with climate and geophysical and ecological context. we know a lot more about people who had handy access to stone than those who built out of wood.

  • http://www.kinshipstudies.org German Dziebel

    @pconroy

    “2. The !Kung-San people originally had the modern FOXP2 version, and due to speaking a Click Language, had evolved a modified version since they diverged from modern humans some 150,000 years ago.”

    Modern linguists generally don’t attribute great antiquity to Khoisan clicks. To quote Guldemann (“Clicks, genetics, and “proto-world” from a linguistic perspective”): “In conclusion, there is no good reason as yet to assume with any confidence that clicks were among the earliest phonemic speech sounds. The possibility is very real that the emergence of clicks as phonemes in Africa represents a far later episode in the diversification of human speech.”

    In an attempt to relate their findings to anything outside of genetics, geneticists snatched on the old myth of clicks being “primitive sounds” and mapped them onto what they believe are primitive genetic clades found in the Khoisan such as mtDNA L0 and Y-DNA A. From a linguistic perspective, there’s no basis for this presumption, and it makes total sense that FOXP2 shows a derived state in Khoisans. Clicks probably emerged as a result of an introgression of non-phonemic speech elements into a phonological system. Something similar may have happened in the case of whistled languages that are much more widespread than click languages (attested on all continents).

    As you may know, I doubt that those presumably earliest human genetic clades attested in Khoisan are that old either. Just like clicks, they are Sub-Saharan African specific and are unlikely to be ancestral to the clades that are more widely spread in and outside of Africa.

  • Eric Johnson

    To address Razib’s question, I do think the adneanderture would be trumpeted in a chauvinist age. However, it would take a relatively long time. The image of the lunkhead neanderthal would have to go away first.

    I’ve heard, though, that often the Other is not depicted as inept, really. Rather, they are a sneaky, devious people, dishonorable, when We only want peace and trade. So maybe someone would say, too bad X people haven’t been infused with the simple, honest heritage of [archaic group Y].

    The Japanese (well, the nationalists at least) would be glad if they had *any* unique admixture, since they don’t like the idea of being recent emigres from Korea. But maybe after another 100 years of peace, they won’t be as agitated about it. Perhaps, also, they will eventually point out to some unique SNPs. Anyway, regardless, they are certainly a distinct people, after 2,000 years.

  • miko

    Anyway, regardless, they are certainly a distinct people, after 2,000 years.

    They will never be forgiven for stealing sushi, unfortunately.

    geneticists snatched on the old myth of clicks being “primitive sounds” and mapped them onto what they believe are primitive genetic clades found in the Khoisan such as mtDNA L0 and Y-DNA A. From a linguistic perspective, there’s no basis for this presumption

    Right on, but “geneticists” is both too broad (not that many geneticists care) and too narrow (non-expert dilettantes in human genetics are the big fans).

  • Eric Johnson

    > My understanding of the current thought on Neandertal life is that it was one of interminable cultural stasis at very low densities. Hardly conditions conducive to increasing “sophistication.”

    Well yeah, I’ve heard that they generally didn’t pick up (supposedly) superior sapiens sapiens tools during the contact. But there could be a lot of reasons for that, including perhaps that the neandertal tools were better in neandertal hands. Havin the hands!

    > We like to tell ourselves that emigrating populations of humans are special and adventurous (see myths about what makes Americans apparently so awesome). It seems to me that in most animals (and people) emigration usually happens because you are pushed out by a more fit local group.

    I do think founding Americans are a little different (I’m not one, myself). A lot of them came for religious reasons (to the north) and I’m told England was not that overcrowded from 1607 to whenever (though even so, there could still have been economic reasons to come here). But I wouldn’t necessarily call them awesome. They’re alright. I bet there would have been no Civil War if the Yankees had been of the same sub-ethnicity as the Rebs. If there were Yankees in the South they would have stamped out slavery themselves, and if there were SW English in the North, they wouldn’t have made war over it, or at least probably not. I would say that the founding New Englanders were selected for moralism, intransigence, and love of weird religions, relative to their ancestors in England.

    As far as I know it is true that traveling out of Sub-Saharan Africa could potentially have been easy. It seems there are climatic changes that may have made movements in and out easy for hominids and animals, at certain times. Some think that the Sahara is a typical African savanna at some times, with all the big grazers and carnivores:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahara_pump_theory

  • http://www.kinshipstudies.org German Dziebel

    “Right on, but “geneticists” is both too broad (not that many geneticists care) and too narrow (non-expert dilettantes in human genetics are the big fans).”

    Good point. The click connection was just very popular at the Joanna Mountain lab at Stanford when I was there. The outcome is the Knight et al. 2003 paper. But let me give it another twist: geneticists as a group tend to snatch on those fringe linguistic theories that are not favored by linguists themselves. E.g., geneticists continue to talk about Greenberg’s “Amerind” (I heard it from Tad Schurr a couple of months ago) even after linguists went as far as publishing a letter in AJHG debunking Greenberg’s methodology. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182033/). This is 15 years after Greenberg’s theory was dismissed internally by specialists in Amerindian linguistics. See also http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000209.html on Cavalli-Sforza’s use of Greenberg and Ruhlen’s linguistic classifications to bolster his own genetic trees.

    It looks like different labs tend to choose different linguistic myths to validate their findings.

  • pconroy

    German #19
    Note, I didn’t say anything about Click Languages being ancient… just that they could have evolved during the 150,000 years that !Kung-San are allegedly separated from other modern human populations – meaning as recently as 10,000 years ago or later…

  • gcochran

    Domesticated cows must have lower genetic diversity than the ancestral aurochs, so I guess it’s impossible for Guernsey cows to have, on average , higher milk production than the aurochs. I guess it would be even more impossible for most Guernseys to have higher milk production than _any_ aurochs.

    Yet they do.

    There, I have disposed of that stupid argument by an everyday counterexample. Let it never darken anyone’s door again. The point is, it is not so much genetic variety that determines trait values, but rather the direction and strength of the selection that the population has experienced.

    On the other hand, some kinds of genetic variety do matter as well. Try selection on a small population with limited genetic variation: selection will usually plateau at a lower value than if you had used a population with greater variation. Even then, response is usually limited, since the response typically is due to standing genetic variation – alleles that were already there in the initial population. If you tried the same selection experiment in a much larger population , or in the wild, the response to selection will be greater ( and involve fewer nasty side effects). This can take more time, especially to the extent that it means waiting for new mutations and waiting for those new mutations to rise to high frequency.

    And particular _kinds_ of genetic variation can also matter. Suppose that we were selected cows for heat tolerance. If we took a small sample and ran that selection experiment for , say, 40 generations, we’d see significant change. If we had a much larger sample and and ran it for, say, 400 generations, we’d see more response. But there’s a short cut: take a small sample of European/taurine cattle and add a few Zebu cattle from India. They arose from a separate domestication, from a wild stock that split off from the European/Middle Eastern aurochs about half a million years ago. They’re adapted to a hotter climate – they have functional alleles that help endure high temperature. In that selection experiment on the mixed zebu/taurine population, you’ll get more response, more quickly, than in any practical selection experiment using taurine cattle alone. This is because you have added functional, adaptive variation, not just variation. You could probably have obtained similar results by running your selection experiment on pure taurine cattle for a very long time ( surely half a million years would do the job) who has that kind of time nowadays?

    I think that we can be pretty sure that adding zebu cattle speeds up the response to selection – because it has already happened.

  • miko

    The point wasn’t that you can’t measure differences (suppresses a “duh”). It’s that comparing groups with wildy different variances and distributions is bad statistics. So bad practice if you are trying to determine the relationship between genotype and phenotype.

  • http://www.kinshipstudies.org German Dziebel

    @pconroy

    “Note, I didn’t say anything about Click Languages being ancient… just that they could have evolved during the 150,000 years that !Kung-San are allegedly separated from other modern human populations – meaning as recently as 10,000 years ago or later…”

    I understand. I was just saying that linguistics seems to be consistent with your option 2, namely that FOX2 in derived in Khoisan, provided, of course, that clicks and the FOX2 allele in Khoisans are correlated.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    jb, neither makes any sense (neandertal admixture makes you smarter or stupider). unless you know more about the genetics and development of cognition than anyone on earth.

    Well, I certainly can’t make that claim. On the other hand, I can plausibly claim to know more about the development of cognition than the average person. And I do know that interspecific crosses often have extreme characteristics not found, either in the same degree or of the same kind, in the parental lineages.

  • miko

    I guess what I meant is there is no particular reason to believe either claim, not that they are inherently non-sensical. We don’t understand “smart” as a phenotype, it’s proximal features, it’s genetic basis, it’s non-genetic determinants, etc, etc. Behavioral genetics experiments on model organims is messy. Designing and interpreting these experiments is difficult and fraught with interpretive pitfalls. Not surprisingly, very few natural evolutionary scenarios fulfill remotely adequate experimental criteria. Humans have an additional laundry list of confounds.

    I don’t think human behavioral genetics is pointless or uninteresting, just that it’s intellectually cheap to lower evidentiary standards because we’d like important sounding, headline-grabbing conclusions. . It also attracts agendas like crazy–people who are only interested in science insofar as it allows them to footnote their assumptions. New data is exciting and fun, and I understand the bar for data has to be much lower and the leeway given for speculation much higher in human work. But I’d just like to see the same interpretive rigor applied to something like human intelligence that we routinely apply to, say, fruit fly grooming.

  • gcochran

    We know something about its proximal features: intelligence is correlated with brain size, more so with the volumes of particular brain regions. And we have no trouble measuring brain size in different individuals and different populations.

  • jb

    I’m rarely a SJG defender, but I think what he said is that it makes no sense to consider Africans as a whole a stable group for comparisons to other groups, since the diversity within Africa is so much greater than that outside. I would be interested if he said what you claim he did, as well as a reference.

    I’m quite sure that SJG did in fact claim that the greater genetic diversity made it impossible that Africans could be less intelligent than non-Africans. He originally made the claim in an article in Natural History magazine, and he also included it in an appendix to a later edition of The Mismeasure of Man. On page 399 (from Google Books):

    For starters, though, I suggest that we finally abandon such senseless statements as “African blacks have more rhythm, less intelligence, greater athleticism”. Such claims, beside their social perniciousness, have no meaning if Africans cannot be construed as a coherent group because they represent more diversity than all the rest of the world put together.

    The thing is, this is just wrong. Those statements may be true or false, but the greater diversity of Africans does not render any of them senseless, any more than it renders senseless the statement that “African blacks have darker skin and curlier hair.” Gould’s claim is total obvious nonsense, and I think the only reason he wasn’t called on it instantly is that nobody felt comfortable making an argument that could be interpreted as anti-anti-racist.

  • gcochran

    With Gould, sometimes you couldn’t tell whether he was lying or just hopelessly confused.

  • miko

    OK, I concede Gould was blurry–I know he is a rhetorical weasel and I don’t like to defend him, but I don’t think that statement says what you claimed it did (“it is impossible for Africans to be intellectually inferior to non-Africans”). My memory of Mismeasure of Man is that his explication of factor analysis and critique of statistical methods is great, and he loses focus when he grinds his axes. But I do think he is talking about a statistical sample when he says “coherent group.” You can measure group differences according to whatever independent variable you want (continent of origin, birthday month, favorite muppet). His point is about within/between group measurements and statistical associations between genes and phenotypes. In other words, he is discrediting not so much claims that you can measure group differences (though elsewhere he is of course highly critical of the measurements themselves), but that you can infer genetic mechanisms from these comparisons.

    gcochran, brain size is a weak correlate of IQ score, it is not demonstrated to be a proximal mechanism for the phenotype (in our evolutionary lineage, there is certainly a link between head hugeness and cognitive ability, but that’s not the same thing intraspecific variation). Counterexamples abound, so it’s not worth getting into details. The evidence that this relationship has a genetic basis is based on twin studies, I think, which for me doesn’t really count as “genetics.”

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    There are plenty of places in history where we can speculate as to alternate paths it could have taken.

    If Napoleon had managed to produce an effective navy, they might be speaking French in Trafalgar Square (so to speak). If China had continued to look outwards instead of looking inwards, it might have dominated the world. If Garibaldi had unified Italy centuries ahead of time, we might not have had the Renaissance. Et cetera, et cetera.

    Consider the Mexicans. Their culture is often looked down upon, and some view the people as a whole negatively. But there was a time when they were arguably more advanced than the Europeans – when the Spanish marched into Tenochtitlan, it was larger and more glorious than any of the cities back in fetid diseased Europe. The diseases and technologies of the Spanish might have made their domination of the New World inevitable, but we can plausibly speculate about other outcomes, such as Thomas Harlan’s SF in which the ‘Aztecs’ have an interstellar empire.

    Or consider the Arab nationality, which some hate and fear, in a sort of confusion of ethnic and religious / cultural dislike. We can imagine a history in which the retreat away from scientific inquiry and into oppressive religious conservatism never happened, their Golden Age never ended, and they dominated the backwards and ignorant West. It’s not what did happen – it’s a counterfactual – but it could have.

    But sub-Saharan Africa dominating the rest of the world economically and socioculturally? We immediately recognize that as an absurdity. It’s not a plausible counterfactual.

    gcochran, brain size is a weak correlate of IQ score

    Actually, it’s a very good correlation. Not for individuals, of course. But that’s rather like saying that body mass isn’t strongly correlated with success in the NFL – it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the populations being examined.

  • gcochran

    Gould didn’t understand a damn thing about principal components analysis or statistics.

  • miko

    Actually, it’s a very good correlation.
    I dug around, it’s about 0.3, maybe a little higher. “Good” depends on your point of view. There’s a wide range reported depending on sample and method, from undetectable to >0.5, which I would call good. This kind of range and method-sensitivity suggests to me that what you are measuring is an unreliable proxy for what you actually want to know. Like something about morphology, for example.

    Gould didn’t understand a damn thing about principal components analysis or statistics.

    If you say so, potty-mouth. Even Jensen praised Gould’s description of the relevant statistical methods.

  • gcochran

    Actually, reading that book “the Mismeasure of Man” raised my interest in the subject because the mathematical discussion was such utter tripe: it spurred me to look further.
    Pretty much everything in the book is false, which is why it won a Pulitzer, I suppose. Most of it a deliberate lie, leavened with ignorance and confusion.

  • jb

    OK, I concede Gould was blurry–I know he is a rhetorical weasel and I don’t like to defend him, but I don’t think that statement says what you claimed it did (”it is impossible for Africans to be intellectually inferior to non-Africans”).

    I’m sorry, but I’m having a very hard time finding any other way to read Gould’s statement. Yes, along the way he talks about factor analysis and statistical methods and within/between group measurements and all that. But in the end what he actually says is that statements like “African blacks have less intelligence” are “senseless” and should be “abandoned,” and that the reason for this is that African blacks “represent more diversity than all the rest of the world put together.” How is that any different than the way I originally put it? Further, he didn’t just say it once, he wrote it up in a magazine article, and then thought so highly of the argument that he added it to an expanded edition of his book, and edition I might add that was promoted as “The definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve” (again, from Google books, and this time from the cover of the book). So he must have been comfortable with the wording.

    And I’ll say it again — whether or not he worded it as well as he might have, his statement is just unfixably wrong. No matter how you reinterpret it, you are going to run into the counterexamples of skin color and hair texture, where non-Africans, taken as a group, lie outside of the normal range of variation of African blacks, also taken as a group. You have to be careful, but there is nothing intrinsically senseless about comparing a single branch with the rest of the tree. The tree may have more variation overall, but with respect to the particular traits you care about, the single branch may lie well outside of the cluster formed by the other branches.

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Gene Expression

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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Edifying books

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