Around the Web – December 6th, 2010

By Razib Khan | December 6, 2010 7:41 pm

For Those About to Rock…You’ll Need These. Chris Mooney has a round-up of ‘Rock Stars of Science’. I’ve been meaning to talk about this, as Chris gave me a heads up, but I’ve been kind of busy with other things. But better late than never. I have some of the same concerns as the nay-sayers. Is this really necessary? The campaign strikes me as kind of cheesy and ill-thought out. But the critical thing to focus on is that it isn’t about me, it’s about the efficacy of this sort of thing in furthering the ends of science. I’m not convinced that this will help, but I’m skeptical that this will hurt. Therefore though my personal gut response is consonant with the reaction of those who think this strikes a false note, I can acknowledge that I’m not the typical person on the street. Additionally, many marketing campaigns work through implicit associations, and this might get the job done on that level and shatter some old associations. The target audience is presumably the type of person who’ll never encounter PV = nRT or doesn’t know that acceleration is the derivative of velocity with respect to time. Both cool concepts, but total gibberish to the masses. Science is a cultural enterprise which needs institutional support, and I am not going to judge these sorts of campaigns on my personal reaction. Rather, I’ll be interested in whether these campaigns reduce or elevate the image of science as an enterprise in the eyes of the public. For that, there needs to be some social science! More marketing as science, and less as art, in the interests of science!

Smart Republicans, Stupid Democrats. Apparently the trend started in 1994, where “Red States” were net debtors to the public fisc. I still want to see more data on the possibility that the transfer of monies is from Republicans in the Upper East Side to Democrats in North Dakota, though I’m open to anything.

Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion and the Politics of Human Origins. John Lynch reviews a book on the history of polygenism. Though I’m willing to cop the role of secular progressive intellectuals in forwarding ideas which we’d perceive as very illiberal and objectionable today (e.g., H. G. Wells contention that the colored races would have to go extinct because it was the law of nature that the strong should supersede the weak), it is always interesting to me how Christians of a given age are strongly shaped by the secular currents of thought. So Southern promoters of slavery who were Christian believers integrated polygenism into their ideology, whereas Christian abolitionists were explicit monogenists. Though many Christians opposed eugenics, man advocated eugenics. And so forth.

Prolific Science Bloggers 2.0. I’m apparently #2! Wait until Jan 1st 2011, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The ‘Give Me a Job’ Microbe. The biographical backstory of the ‘arsenic bacteria.’ “At the workshop, Felisa came up with the most incisive suggestion: Maybe there is a life form that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus (they are chemically similar) in its organic structure. The participants were intrigued but not convinced.” Well, obviously the lead researcher here is an opportunist, but I don’t say that as an insult. I’m relatively skeptical of the findings, and I do not feel that most of the press covered itself in glory, but I have to admit some grudging admiration of the boldness of Felisa Wolfe-Simon. There’s a lot of self-serving bullshit politics in science, like any human enterprise, and least she took a stab at something that was high risk-high yield. On the other hand I’m getting tired of NASA’s over-hyping of these microbial findings with hyperbolic press conferences. If they do this a third time I’m going to be really pissed. Not that they care…but I vote!

Autism and Old Fathers. Many people assume that fathers contributed a disproportionate amount of the mutational load to their offspring because of the errors in the replication of sperm over their lives. This would seem to support that general finding.

12 Common Misperceptions About Book Publishing. “But most authors who rely on writing as their primary means of support are poor indeed. Authorship, like it or not, is a form of celebrity, and we live in a winner-take-all society with very few winners.” Not too surprising. Reminds me of something else….

Hobbits Are White, But Should We Pretend Otherwise? You can pretend otherwise, as it’s fantasy. But Middle-earth was an extremely detailed secondary world whose horizons were thoroughly fleshed out by J. R. R. Tolkien. The Hobbits were white, because they were based on the English middle class rural gentry. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s time these were white.

Attacks on Immigrants on the Rise in Greece. Social phenomena you’d expect in light of the stresses which Greece, and other European nations, are going through. Generosity and liberality flourish in circumstances where want and deprivation are not on the horizon. This is why liberals should be very careful when talking about ‘sustainability.’ If it sacrifices ‘blue skies’ then the vistas become dark.

Deborah Solomon Hates It When (Other) People Ask Stupid Questions. People like Deborah Solomon give the media a really bad name. How does she keep her job? If any blogger or regular person pulled the crap she did with her interviews it would no doubt reflect badly on the ethics of that individual. But The New York Times keeps her around. I don’t re-edit my “10 Questions” in case you’re curious.

Your Web Surfing History Is Accessible (Without Your Permission) Via JavaScript. Not cool. On the other hand I’m a little perplexed by the freak-out: unless you use cash your transactions are being tracked already. This is a specific instance of a general trend, which the public has generally accepted without much protest.

Indian State Empowers Poor to Fight Corruption. One of the things my family hated about Bangladesh was the corruption. Those who caved to the corrupt norms have flourished. Those who refused have not, or had to flee to the West or the Middle East.

The Surprising Wealth and Success of Japan. Stagnant affluence isn’t all that bad. Japan is not a dystopia, just a slowtopia.

Euro Zone Is Imperiled by North-South Divide. Europe did OK under the Roman Empire, but then there was some explicit and concerted coordination at the center. As it is, the Brusselsocracy seems to only be in a position to annoy and harass, rather than enable a real integration.

Timing and dynamics of Late Pleistocene mammal extinctions in southwestern Australia. “We conclude that the arrival of humans was probably decisive in the southwestern Australian extinctions, but that changes in climate and fire activity may have played facilitating roles. One-factor explanations for the Pleistocene extinctions in Australia are likely oversimplistic.” No shit. Humans were a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition. It says something that these sorts of papers reiterating this highly plausible point continue to get published. Let’s move on.

When Farmers Met Foragers. Two year old article has aged rather well I’d say.

Genetic Switch for Determining Gender Identified; Gene Linked to So-Called ‘Intersex’ Families. But, some perspective: “Approximately 1 in 1000 individuals is affected by these disorders, says Dr. Ostrer.”

How to Eat at Chipotle. Rather funny observation about the incentives of employees of chain eateries.

The Allergy Gene. I have asthma, had eczema as a child, and have allergies. I suspect many of you have the same issues.

Christian Minister: Muslim Congressman’s Support Of ‘Homosexuals’ Is Part Of Sharia Plot. Very amusing. On the other hand, liberals laughing might reflect on the reality that they’re acknowledging that the Islamic religion is mostly a ‘hate group’ when it comes to gays.

Ideal Body Mass Index Identified in New Study; Overweight and Obesity Associated With Increased Risk of Death. In many quantitative traits the ‘golden mean’ holds true…but what happens when the mean is way shifted out of the norm? ~30% of Americans are obese, and they’re skewing the mean and median.

Primates Are More Resilient Than Other Animals to Environmental Ups and Downs. Though it might depend on what you define as ‘environment.’ There’s circumstantial evidence that H. sapiens sapiens rendered our cousins not-so-resilient. The past 20 million years have also shown a shift away from apes to monkeys in terms of how speciose the two classes are.

Most Low Birth Weight Babies Become Productive Adults, Study Finds. Don’t stress out too much parents!

Researchers Identify Gene Tied to Extremely Rare Disorder That Causes Inflammation and Loss of Fat. I don’t know that the genetics of fatness are going to get very far (prediction: like height by and large)…but be careful about headlines if you’re the media. “Loss of fat” genes might prompt stupid people to wonder about gene therapy.

Evolution of Cooperative Cross-Feeding Could Be Less Challenging Than Originally Thought. Cooperation is an area where theory is less robust than the observation and experiment. There’s a lot more cooperation than there “should” be according to theory. That means theory is wanting, or we’re ignoring theory that’s out there.

Associations between Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene Variation with Both Infidelity and Sexual Promiscuity. Too sexy a result. Put on your skepticism condom!

The end of this YouTube clip is NSFW, but very amusing nonetheless:

MORE ABOUT: Daily Data Dump
  • Sandgroper

    “Hobbits Are White, But Should We Pretend Otherwise?”

    Nope. The counterpoint to that was the casting for “The Legend of Billy Sing”, in which people of European descent have been cast in the roles of the half-Chinese Australian sniper Billy Sing in WW I and his fully Chinese father.

    How many infantrymen any time in history have had a personal confirmed enemy kill rate of >150 ? Can’t be many.

  • Sandgroper

    I guess this pretty much answers my question:

  • Katharine

    This is why liberals should be very careful when talking about ’sustainability.’ If it sacrifices ‘blue skies’ then the vistas become dark.

    Call me a socially inept idiot, but to me this makes no sense. It’s somehow a problem to say ‘Look, unless we do this, it’s going to be crap, and there’s no other way to do things well, and odds are people are going to suffer, but this is the way that makes the least amount of people suffer’?

    Are the majority of humans this emotionally infantile?

  • Razib Khan
  • Douglas Knight

    Here is the paper on web history sniffing, including the list of sites.

  • Russell

    Re: Corruption. Has Bangladeshi corruption changed over time from what you’ve heard from relatives? Do corruption levels ever change for any society? I live here in Chicago and it seems that corruption is something that is talked about a good deal but is nowhere near as widespread as it used to be.

    I really love the blog. Great insights.


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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


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