Of interest around the web

By Razib Khan | November 15, 2010 1:06 am

I am not doing daily link round ups right now because I’m not reading the web as much, but I certainly have enough material to put up one link round-up/pointer per week.

David Burbridge of GNXP has completed five posts on the Price equation. One more to go (focusing on group selection). Highly recommended.

Vitamin D Deficit Doubles Risk of Stroke in Whites, but Not in Blacks, Study Finds. There has been other stuff about different healthy basal levels of micronutrients by population. This is an important one to keep an eye on, and should make us reflect on the importance of personalized medicine. A friend of mine who is a doctor observed that one reason that more well educated and higher socioeconomic status patients get better diagnoses and treatment is because they do so much leg-work and are so assertive as advocates for their own health.

Questionable Science Behind Academic Rankings. It’s long been known that academic rankings (like lists of all sorts) are 1) voodoo in terms of adding any real value beyond what you know, 2) crack in terms of profitability. US News & World Report wouldn’t even exist at this point if it wasn’t for their yearly rankings, and if the weekly folds I’m sure that their rankings could be spun-off as a profitable annual publication.

The Way the Future Blogs. Frederik Pohl’s memories. One of the things I really enjoyed about The Price of Altruism is that it gave me a wider lens on George Price the man, who I knew primarily through the recollections of W. D. Hamilton. Pohl does the same for the luminaries of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.” I especially enjoy the stuff on Isaac Asimov.

Thoughtful Animal. A blog worth reading.

RocketMelt. It’s a browser with social networking apps integrated, like Flock. I like it better than Flock, though I don’t do enough social networking to really justify switching from Chrome, which has some extensions I use a lot.

Africa Channel reveals lost lineage for guests at launch party. Personal genomics focused on ancestry probably has two primary groups for whom there’s a real value-add: adoptees, and, those of the African Diaspora. In the article linked they’re focusing on maternal and paternal lineages, which are a tiny slice of one’s ancestry. But they offer a level of unequivocal certitude and precision which isn’t possible with an assessment of the total genome. True, uniparental lineages are only a tiny slice, but for people of the African Diaspora a small slice is better than none.

Europe Works on Possible Irish Rescue. I believe financial historians have observed that problems with national debts have usually followed in the wake of financial crises, so this is expected. Something to consider: the Republic of Ireland has a population on the order of ~1/10th that of Spain.

Facing Austerity, Britain Unveils Welfare Cuts. One issue that I can see is that there are an awful lot of non-means-tested welfare services in the United Kingdom. I don’t have too much sympathy for students who complain about rising tuition in the United Kingdom, as in some ways it seems to me a transfer of wealth from the society at large toward the middle and upper middle classes, in the aggregate. I understand the argument that education is a capital investment for the future, but there needs to be a real pricing system which reflects the underlying benefits being gained. In the United States there is clearly an education bubble driven by the fact that student loans can not be discharged in bankruptcy.

Genetics Has a Big Impact on How a Person Operates in a Social Group. This sort of research is fascinating. I assume there’s heritable variation in also sorts of personality traits. It would be interesting if different populations had different dispositions toward group social behaviors. For example, if populations which had been agriculturalists for a long time were far more amenable toward following the leader and group conformity?

Perfect applicant not indigenous enough for job. As noted by “Sandgroper” a person doesn’t even have to have Aborigine ancestry to be an Aborigine in Australia. But it seems in this case a woman who appears to be white, but does have Aborigine ancestry from her father, was rejected from a poster campaign because of the disjunction between her identity and her appearance. People can be whatever they claim to be in my book, but, there’s a serious issue with people who can pass as white blurring the differences between their experience of life and those who are clearly “visible minorities.” I personally oppose most programs aimed at ameliorating differences in outcomes between ethnic/social groups, but, so long as such programs exist they need to be implemented judiciously. A white person who has non-European ancestry and identifies with that ancestry is not equivalent to a visibly non-white person.

In Yemen, Cultural Propriety Poses a Security Challenge. Women in Yemen go about daily life veiled, and escorted by men (though this was not always so in the former South Yemen within living memory). But they also attend university. This hybrid between the modern and the pre-modern is totally new. One of the problems I have with Muslim women who assert that their religion demands that they veil their face in all sorts of public situations is that in the pre-modern context where this was demanded women did not have a public life.

New Statistical Model Moves Human Evolution Back Three Million Years. The last common ancestor of chimps and humans 8 million years BP instead of 5. We live in an awesome time, but it’s humbling that we have to deal with +/- 3 million years even in questions as central to the origin of our species as this.

AVPR1A: Music in your Genes? Familiar gene. We have fewer than 20,000 genes last I checked, but two dozen or so always pop up when we’re talking behavior genetics.

World’s oldest axe found in Australia. Interesting. Though one should be cautious about dating, period.

Gene discovery supports link between handedness and language-related disorders. And yet from what I know left-handedness has a strong aspect of cultural constraint, or lack thereof. In other words, presumably a certain proportion of people in a population have a disposition toward left-handedness, but only in certain populations does this express because of the taboos against left-handedness in many societies. Even in the United States teachers would encourage left-handed children to write with their right hand. As for me, I write right-handed, play basketball left-handed, and, can switch hit and pitch. Perhaps of some interest, I have slower reaction time when I hit left-handed, judging by the fact that I often go opposite field on that side of the plate, but generally pull hit right-handed.

The New Scandinavian Model. Swedish socialism ain’t what it used to be.

Strange Parallels: Volume 2, Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800-1830. A difficult and dense book. But worthwhile for the thickness of fact and subtly of argument.

Why some young US workers now seek fortunes in India. If you’re in a white collar track and not protected by licensing regimes expect to hustle for the rest of your life.

Collapse Was Slow. Need to think on this more deeply, but the examples given are less complex and vertically integrated that our contemporary societies.

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  • Sandgroper

    “A white person who has non-European ancestry and identifies with that ancestry is not equivalent to a visibly non-white person.” Absolutely true.

    But the whole thing is a mess, and I feel hugely conflicted about it, as I commented once before. I felt that way before I knew I had any Aboriginal ancestry, and I don’t feel any differently now, because Aboriginal people were always part of my landscape as a kid. I have never identified culturally as Aboriginal, that would be absurd, but I have always identified WITH Aboriginal people as an inalienable part of the country I was born in, part of my visual and cultural landscape and, as my countrymen, no less than any other. White Australia has Aboriginal counterparts to Ira Hayes.

    As a side note, though, the comment by the interviewer ”I wouldn’t have picked her for Aboriginal at all … to me she looked like an Aussie girl” was unconsciously deeply racist and offensive – the implication of what she said is that there are the Aboriginal girls, and then there are the Aussie girls. Like, indigenous Australians are somehow not real Aussies, they are different and apart, and not part of “us”. To me, and to any objective person who knows the history of the different legal treatment meted out to Aborigines in the past (e.g. like not being counted in the census, until that was overwhelmingly overturned in the 1967 national referendum – yes, I know the apologist explanation for it, but that it remained in the constitution for 66 years was a national disgrace – I was too young to vote in that referendum, but was outraged when I learned what it was about), that’s about as offensive as anyone can get toward my Aboriginal countrymen, when the whole reconciliation thing is about recognizing that we are a mixed up bunch, but that we are now all one, and have been for quite a while.

    I don’t wonder they sacked the interviewer. So would I, not for wanting someone who looked Aboriginal, I think that is defensible (and I look more Aboriginal than that girl does), but for her moronic and offensive comment. You don’t want a moron doing your recruitment for you. Racism is capable of infinite subtlety – you can find reasons to fail people without giving such stupid explanations.

  • Ben

    “I don’t have too much sympathy for students who complain about rising tuition in the United Kingdom, as in some ways it seems to me a transfer of wealth from the society at large toward the middle and upper middle classes”

    Are you saying that *subsidised education* – rather than rising tuition – is a “transfer of wealth to the middle and upper middle classes”? That’s only true if you assume working class people don’t go on to higher education. I think there is more representation of all classes in the UK higher education system than in the US, which is probably a factor in the UK’s higher social mobility.

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

    ben, if you’re interested in more than opining, i’d be curious as to data. i wouldn’t be surprised, though i disagree based on stuff i’ve read about the importance of accent and connections in terms of getting into oxbridge (though that dates to the late 90s). the USA has a higher degree of post-secondary ed. attainment than britain btw:

    http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=29#M_7

    the last OECD data has 17 percent of 20-29 year old brits being in tert. education vs. 23 percent of americans. the brits are declining too in percentage interestingly.

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

    That’s only true if you assume working class people don’t go on to higher education.

    and i assume you can do math. i’d be a moron to say no one from the working class goes to university. the extent is

    1) what are the tax rates by income/class

    2) what the matriculation rates by income/class

    if tax rates are high in general i could be wrong too. i assume that the very high earners pay more than their fair share. rather, i wonder if perhaps people in the modest white collar middle class are benefiting to a far greater extent than those who are blue collar middle class, because they pay similar tax, but one group sends their children to university a far higher rate than another.

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

    for the purposes of future commenters, here is some data to talk about instead of just offering opinions:

    http://www.oecd.org/document/52/0,3343,en_2649_39263238_45897844_1_1_1_37455,00.html

  • Roy

    “different healthy basal levels of micronutrients by population”

    Yes it would be the obvious conclusion to draw. If blacks don’t suffer increased risk of strokes at a vitamin D level which is associated with doubled risk of strokes in whites, then blacks don’t need as high as high a basal level of vitamin D. (And is low vitamin D a cause or a result of illness in humans ?)

    “In blacks, we may not need to raise vitamin D levels to the same level as in whites to minimize their risk of stroke”

    Sounds like they’re catching on, but then ‘preventive cardiologist’ Erin Michos, M.D. says

    “It may be that blacks have adapted over the generations to vitamin D deficiency, so we are not going to see any compounding effects with stroke”

    So blacks are suffering from D deficiency and the same old reason is trotted out: –

    “African Americans … are more likely to be vitamin D deficient due to their darker skin pigmentation’s ability to block the sun’s rays”

    There is just one problem with that, it is not true that melanin blocks the wavelengths which synthesize vitamin D . The value of melanin as a sunscreen (2010).
    “epidermal melanin is not a neutral density filter providing no or minimal protection for the induction of erythema at 295 and 315 nm and some protection at 305 and 365 nm”

    It does block 305nm but around that wavelength is the most damaging A UVB Wavelength Dependency for Local Suppression of Recall Immunity in Humans Demonstrates a Peak at 300 nm. also see Erythema curve. note the relative danger curve ( yellow) peaks at around 305nm

    There is a massive overabundance of UVB (over a year) virtually everywhere on earth so the blocking of a limited spectra of vitamin D synthesizing UVB doesn’t matter the other wavelengths get through. Melanin lets vitamin D synthesizing UVB through, that explains why Blood vitamin D levels in relation to genetic estimation of African ancestry “found novel evidence that the level of African ancestry [rather than skin pigmentation] may play a role in clinical vitamin D status”.

    The evidence is mounting up inexorably that nutritional supplements are damaging to health. If sending your vitamin D levels up is good why does the body keep everyones so low that most people have a ‘deficiency’ according to certain experts. There is a negative feedback system and I’m betting evolution has has got vitamin D levels just right

    Klotho protein deficiency and aging.

    “α-Klotho protein is shown to function in the negative feedback regulation of vitamin D3 synthesis by downregulation of CYP27B1.35,36 These observations indicated that abnormal vitamin D3 metabolism is the main cause of aging phenotypes.35,36″

    Klotho was named after one of the Moirae or fates, supplementing vitamin D is indeed a fateful step.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    The main language – handedness finding so far has been a link between stuttering and cross-dominance (i.e. having a different dominant eye and dominant hand). I’d be wary of new results if they didn’t control for that possibility.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    ” the USA has a higher degree of post-secondary ed. attainment than britain”

    Assuming that a U.S. bachelor’s degree and high school graduation and the equivalent credential in the Britain are comparable, which is non-obvious. There is a good argument that high U.S. college graduation rates are a product of less rigorous programs and that a British bachelor’s degree might be comparable to only a selective subset of American bachelor’s degrees (as measured by college selectivity, major, or graduating GPA, for example).

    Likewise, a U.S. high school diploma is something that one earns basically for showing up. But, many countries have secondary degrees that are considerably more rigorous in their requirements.

  • Christopher

    “But they also attend university. This hybrid between the modern and the pre-modern is totally new. One of the problems I have with Muslim women who assert that their religion demands that they veil their face in all sorts of public situations is that in the pre-modern context where this was demanded women did not have a public life.”

    Yeah, I’ve see women in various degrees of cover attending my secular Canadian university and I have mulled it over. I think, in nations with Muslim immigrant minorities at least, it allows those women to accentuate their own specialness in an atomistic, individualistic liberal society while taking the advantages of that society affords them, e. g. the right of women to an education.

    Moreover, I can help but think this points towards a problem with multiculturalism, at least how it’s defined and implemented in Canada. It’s not so much that it is evil or it is bad, but that it is mostly empty talk. I suspect that “multiculturalism” and “intergrationism” (i.e. the melting pot) are much closer to each in practice, towards the intergrationist pole. Multiculturalism just makes a bigger deal about the outwards manifestations of other cultures, like names, food or indeed, dress. But there’s probably the same amount of social and cultural pressure to align and conform to the culture at large, as to make those manifestations a mere façade.

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

    chris, some of your analysis seems spot on in western countries. but do note the same dynamic exists in many muslim nations. iran famously has more women graduating from universities than men. the main “paradox” is that some traditionalist muslims, including the women themselves, mix & match accommodation and appeal to custom & past precedent. that’s fine, everyone does it. but in western environments the multiculturalist paradigm is such that the traditionalist assertions of these women is not “interrogated” appropriately. if multiculturalism is about real cultures people shouldn’t be able to do it a la carte, right? i don’t know, u canadians are all into that.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I think it’s an important feature of our system that large organizations are designed to buy out assertive people. It’s common for “save money” courses and gurus to point out most people can get discounts, deals, and return items simply through assertiveness, and I guess the same thing applies to health. I think this goes beyond how most of us tend to get worn down by assertive people. It’s more that companies specifically have two sets of policies, one which extracts more profit from non-assertive people, and a second which settles for less profit or maybe is even willing to accept some loss for the assertive class.

  • Brero

    “i wouldn’t be surprised, though i disagree based on stuff i’ve read about the importance of accent and connections in terms of getting into oxbridge (though that dates to the late 90s). ”

    What have you read on this topic? Accent and connections are not important for gaining entry now and I doubt they were even that important 10 years ago.

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