Around the Web – January 12th, 2011

By Razib Khan | January 12, 2011 1:00 pm

Sex and Statistics or Heteroscedasticity is Hot. Heteroscedasticity just means differences in variances. So it turns out that two women who have the same expected attractiveness rating from different males can still exhibit a difference in variance of evaluations. So a woman who is average, and everyone perceives her as average, gets less attention than a woman who some perceive as beautiful and some perceive as ugly. Seems common sense. Interestingly one of my roommates in college, who is now an economist, expressed this theory. I would forward him the article on Facebook, but I’m not sure if his wife would be excited if she saw it….

Hotheads by nature. Even more interesting is the intersection of nature and nurture. There are differences across the USA among “Anglo” subcultures in propensity toward aggression and violence. One of the reasons that John Brown became such a hero in the North before the Civil War was that his violent behavior was seem as appropriate retaliation for the ubiquitous aggression and intimidation which Yankee settlers experienced on the frontier when they encountered Southerners. It would be interesting to see how genes expression in different American subcultures.

By This Time in the Last Presidential Cycle, 14 Candidates Had Jumped In. A guess a sitting president makes a big difference. I recall in 1992 many of the “big names” in the Democratic party passed, allowing Bill Clinton to rise to the top of the dwarfish pack.

Mystery solved: The evolution of 
diagnostic abilities in genetic testing. Also see this post at Genomes Unzipped on a related issue.

A true cultural topography. I argue that Brown Pundits on the complex nature of cultural variation. A major problem is that most people are ignorant of cross-cultural ethnography and history, so they rely on cartoonish theories and models which are based on their normative preferences.

Evolution of an antifreeze protein by neofunctionalization under escape from adaptive conflict. “This study reveals how minor functionalities in an old gene can be transformed into a distinct survival protein and provides insights into how gene duplicates facing presumed identical selection and mutation pressures at birth could take divergent evolutionary paths.”

Medieval mtDNA from Byzantine Sagalassos. Historians now root around archives. I wonder if by 2020 rooting around online genome repositories will be a new skill necessary. It seems that many demographic and economic historical hypotheses could be answered by old DNA.

Ancient Denisovans and the human family tree. “Stringer concludes, ‘Personally I think that the distinctiveness and separate evolutionary histories of groups like Neanderthals and modern humans warrant their continuing recognition at the species level, provided we remember that this may not preclude some hybridisation.” I think we spend too much time obsessing over the term ‘species’ myself.

The Real Problem With China. Everything is pirated in China. Is that a bad thing?

Hot Social Networking Site Cools as Facebook Grows. The end of MySpace for all practical purposes. I think MySpace’s failure is a learning opportunity for other firms though.

What Killed the Hominins of AL 333?. Man as prey. Brian Switek has been doing some good stuff at his new perch at Wired. Too bad there’s no direct link from Wired’s front page.

A rant on the evolution of religion. I agree with a lot of it, though I think Tom a touch understates the “naturalness” of religion. I’ll probably be reviewing Michael Blume’s paper mentioned (Dr. Blume contacted me directly. I get these inquiries now and then, but if you’re a scholar and you think I’d be interested in reviewing your paper, do email. It will increase the probability greatly. I’m not omniscient, I miss a lot of great stuff).

Reconstructing the Indian Origin and Dispersal of the European Roma: A Maternal Genetic Perspective. The big picture inference is massive bottlenecking and rapid population growth. The I think the term “Roma” by the way is a slight misnomer; Roma refers to a specific subset of Gypsies. Groups in Spain, Finland, or the United Kingdom have different terms for themselves.

Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. See Ed Yong.

Pakistan Faces a Divide of Age on Muslim Law. This is the face of what Fareed Zakaria has termed “illiberal democracy.” Should we always favor the Populares?

The not-so-great Islamist menace. The numbers suggest that most European terror is due to nationalist or politically motivated groups, not Islamists. Islamic terrorism is naturally much more of a problem for majority Muslim nations.

Some scientists also embrace creationism. Good for a laugh.

“Band of Brothers” Commander Dies. Someone who was 18 in 1945 is now 83.

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Comments (8)

  1. Ken Climo

    Yes, i felt that Tom *wanted* religion to not be natural in that Epiphenom piece so he kinda misled the reader by making it sound as if it wasn’t. it is but he just doesn’t like that fact.

  2. Steven Colson

    Interesting to see that the newly released “A genome-wide association study of Cloninger’s temperament scales: Implications for the evolutionary genetics of personality” indicates that personality trait variation is NOT determined by genetic variants commonly measured. I guess my 23andMe results will not help me confirm my novelty seeking or lack of persistence. So getting back to American’s in general: Why are they hotheads?

  3. Steven Colson

    Fascinating paper at that discusses genetic influences on group politics (also the title of the paper).

  4. daninthai

    Thanks for the ‘Hotheads by Nature’ link.
    It’s interesting to see how much genetics could play a role in our behaviour. Personally, I favour ‘nature’ over ‘nurture’ as having the most impact on how we live our lives.

  5. Thanks for the mention! I am looking forward to read your upcoming piece about the evolution of religion. Although I do understand that this topic is ripe with emotions for many people, the evolutionary perspective on any complex, biocultural human trait – including i.e. music, speech, intelligence or religion – is not a recent invention. In fact, it has been brought forward by Charles Darwin himself in his “Descent of Man” back in 1871:

    For some years now, scholars from very different fields and worldviews have collaborated in exploring religion as (yet another) evolutionary trait. And from twin- to brain-studies through psychological experiments and studies in demography and populations genetics, we didn’t find a single clue about “religion falling from heaven” or being “a purely cultural construct” (whatever this should be? Even non-universal traits such as reading & writing emerged on biological and thus heritable bases.) Then, I don’t know of any colleague seriously propagating that the evolution of religion would either disprove or prove God’s existence. But the emerging consensus is that Charles Darwin has been right and that it is possible to apply evolutionary studies to any human behavioral trait, including behaviors toward superempirical agents (aka religion).

  6. > I’ll probably be reviewing Michael Blume’s paper mentioned
    looking forward to that …for all the wrong reasons, sorry: he’s one prominent fighter against ‘Islamophobia’ over here and he’s quite happy with the religious uptrend Islam causes in Europe–as he sees it. I’d like to know if he gets his science right, as the polemical exchanges on politics I had with him didn’t impress me much.

  7. just an fyi, it isn’t his paper. my error. he just fwded me the link. interesting that he’s against islamophobes, since i am an admitted one 🙂

  8. @M. Möhling

    Thanks for the recommendation. And yes, I think it’s a scientist’s duty to refute any racist or anti-democratic stances such as islamophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism or homophobia, hatred against christians or atheists. Well, I would be most happy if Europeans and Germans in general would tend to have more children, sustaining our valuable culture. Although I do understand the psychological tendencies to blame and fear minorities – the low birth rates among the European educated and well-off are neither the Muslim’s nor the Jew’s or any other’s fault…

    And I might add, as a bit of information, that the fertility rates of most Muslim populations have begun to fall, too, with i.e. Turkey and Iran just going below replacement level.


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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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