Open Thread – January 1st, 2011

By Razib Khan | January 1, 2011 10:52 am

So what should I post about this year? I do get a fair number of ideas from reader comments & emails, so this thread might be useful.

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Comments (34)

  1. A really Big Picture Summary for dummies. What we’ve (you’ve) learned in the last (say) 10 years.

    I really enjoy reading your blog, even though there’s lots of it that goes over my head.

  2. Marilyn Sukonick-Zeff

    1. Not accepting other peoples’ limitations as your own. Eg. Dad is not an assertive man, hence the adult child does not grow past Dad’s fear to express himself in a healthy way.
    2. Connecting with the most evolved piece of everyone you meet. Assume you will accomplish what ever you need to achieve prior to addressing any individual, or situation.
    3. Don’t allow past pain define your future. Eg You got hurt in a past relationship. Fear of trusting again only fuels the negativity of the situation that had no room to flourish from the beginning.
    4. The gut feeling or 1st voice one hears in regards to insightful warnings, should be valued and trusted.
    5. Never let go….simply walk through the issue…step by step…soon enough, you will be so far ahead, that the pain is just a blur behind you.

  3. How to understand all your graphics and data sets and other stuff like that.

  4. dave chamberlin

    I think your many book reviews ought to be more accessible. They were for me an excellent guide as to which books I should buy as well as educational in and of themselves. You have a long list of books you reccommend over on Gene Expression Classic but clicking on them just links you to the book seller. Just as a suggestion if you could link to your previous book reviews that are buried in years gone by I think many people would appreciate them as much as I did. Besides that thanks for your patience with my many off topic remarks, we as commentators need to censor ourselves to keep the quality up, and certainly that applies to me more than most.

  5. B.B.

    I’d be curious to get your opinion on agnostic’s theories of differing cultural trends during wild times/safe times.

  6. I would be interested in seeing more about the interactions of ancestry with culture, the extent to which myths of common ancestry or relationships are reinforced or not.

  7. tx to everyone who commented so far. kind of stuff i’m l0oking for….

  8. I’m actually very interested in reading more about the juxtaposition of hispanic and brown culture that Zachary [ed: I originally wrote Neil. Who the heck is Neil?] was getting at in the comments at Brown Pundits, though that’s probably more appropriate for the other blog than this one.

  9. I’ve really enjoyed your blog, Razib. It was the first year that I followed it daily. I think you’re doing an excellent job. One thing that can be actionable is breaking up some of your posts (on human origins, for example, including some of the most recent ones) into more digestible, thematically uniform pieces. Sometimes your warm-up section makes me think about something different from your main section, and I come up with a comment that doesn’t take your main part into consideration because your introduction was already thought-provoking enough. So informing readers is one thing, inspiring is another. Your format fits the former goal better than the latter.

    All the best in the New Year!

  10. Razib’s coolness is confirmed by Nick Rowe’s fandom. As is Nick’s.

    Since you sometimes discuss oriental ancestry among Bengalis, here’s an endnote (minus cite) from “The art of not being governed”:
    “It also happened, occasionally, that militarily expansive padi states in the hills drove other hill peoples into the lower valleys. From the thirteenth century on, the Ahom, a Tai group, drove the people of the rival Dimasa kingdom into the valleys, where they eventually merged into the Bengali majority. The Ahom themselves later conquered the lowlands of the Brahmaputra Valley and acculturated to the Hindu-Assamese.”

  11. Sandgroper

    I’m fervently hoping you will be posting about some genetic data from Homo floresiensis. I presume you feel a bit the same way.

  12. How about a look at the various human hybrids that have shown up in the past few years. Like the human-neanderthal hybrid.

    and on a nonsensical note . . .

    Am I a Neanderthal?

    Do you often get the urge to bash an adolescent?

    No points, you’re normal.

  13. I’d like your posts to begin with a summary, say, one paragraph, 50-100 words. Won’t keep me from reading the rest, but some posts contain paragraphs that I tend to skim for not being able to grok them anyway. Though with those longer posts you tend to end on a synthesizing, recapitulating note, a summary would make it easier to get the gist of articles that some would need the whole evening–or more– to fully understand, if at all.

  14. daninthai

    Thanks Razib for all the posts in 2010. I would like to read more on what you think about the relationship between cultural and genetic differences. How much does genetics affect culture and behaviour in different racial groups?
    Also, what can we infer about future evolution of humanity, knowing what we know now? How will the trends that we currently see in population structure change the demographics of the world in the next 100 – 1000 years.
    Finally, as a previous commenter suggested, a little help in understanding the more technical side of the posts would be great. I’d like to understand more of what you write without having to go back to university for a few years.
    Happy New Year.

  15. Some more ideas:

    – A periodic summary of what we personally can usefully find out from getting ourselves genetically tested. I realize you and I have discussed this already and neither of us yet see a lot of utlity in terms of actionable results from testing.

    – A list of links of your favorite past posts. Or do it by theme with links on a theme.

    – What has surprised you out of the last few years of genetics discoveries? Anything? Or is it all just details that fit your view of human evolution?

    – Forecasts on what kinds of genetic discoveries are coming when. How much genetic data do we need to order to make discoveries in various areas?

  16. 1. I read this blog mostly for the posts on demographics and history, so more of that.

    I have a special appreciation for the posts on historical genetics. I am not conversant with the literature on genetics; most who are know nothing about history. I am most grateful that you take the time to write posts accessible to both groups.

    2. Recently, I have been reading a book on Cambodia’s history. The Mekong river basin is really an interesting area, in terms of cultural history – most of everything to its East looked to India to cultural inspiration, while those to its west looked to China. This has prompted a number of questions on my part: why were most South Asian states “Indianized” instead of India being “South-Asian-ized”? How come (with the exception of Vietnam), these countries were not “Sinicized” instead?

    You seem to be pretty familiar with the dynamics of cultural diffusion & exchange. Have you posted on this before? If not, any thoughts?

  17. gary

    Any recent stuff on the genetics of Ethiopians.

  18. Stephen

    I’d be interested in what your social science data work (I forget the database acronym) might illuminate about causes of homelessness in the U.S. What does the boom since 1980 (try an N-Gram) say about our system and values? What seems to surprise immigrants is how many homeless actually have families. Is it some challenge that came out of left field, or is it an obvious result of our history?

  19. Chris T

    A post on how culture and genetics have influenced each other over time would be interesting.

  20. I’d like to see a post on Slavic admixture into the rest of Europe. (What kind of genetic impact did this have. What the history behind it.) For example:
    – in Hungary we know that many Slovaks were Hungaricized,
    – Slavs migrated to parts of Italy,
    – Slavs migrated into Greece,
    – Etc.

    It would be interesting to explore the genetics and history of the Scottish border reivers. Some info here:

    A post on exploring the the Alans (Alani) would be interesting. With some attention paid to the Ossetians. (This is a paper I found a long time ago: ) Can we detect their genetic “signal” in places they would have settled in Europe?

  21. Moser

    I’ve always enjoyed your exploration of the tension between self-identified ethnicity and genetic realities.

  22. Roger Bigod

    The combination of serious scholarship with enthusiasm for the material makes it fun to read. Keep up the good play.

    I’d like to see some stuff on the Native Americans that I’ve been too lazy to dig up. Before the arrival of Europeans, there were 150-300 million, according to different estimates. After Cortes, there were waves of viral infections (smallpox, measles, mumps) referred to as the Great Dying. This killed perhaps 90% of the natives.

    But when I read about the Virginia as the first colonists found it, there’s no mention of depopulation. Powhatan’s people lived in villages that appear to be in a static relation to resources, and there’s no mention of recent change in population. Did they not experience the Great Dying, or did they replentish the population in less than a century?

    Compared with the original numbers, how many copies of Amerind DNA, with and without including people of mixed ancestry? And what were the differences between the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English patterns of colonization?

  23. Sandgroper

    #25 – That has always puzzled me too.

    Pocohontas is thought to have died in England of tuberculosis in her early 20s, but then that’s what people did then. I don’t think it shows she was especially vulnerable, although maybe she was.

    So far as I know, the only native people to avoid epidemic disease were the plains nomads.

    Also as far as I know, the first Spanish explorers passing through northern America were enough to depopulate large areas of sedentary farmers.

  24. Sandgroper, you may find the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann very interesting if you haven’t already read it.

  25. Sandgroper

    Thanks Michelle. Yes, I have been waiting to get my hands on a copy of it. I could do with it now in my boring and lonely infectious disease isolation.

    Thanks also for the phrase “a very low tolerance for piquance.” I have spent a lifetime searching for an expression that would explain to people exactly what I dare not put in my mouth.

    I come from Margaret River, which in some ways could reasonably be described as the Antipodean equivalent of the Appalachians back then (only much smaller), so maybe there’s a link.

    I comfort myself with the (possibly delusional) thought that we might be “super tasters”.

  26. Antonio

    There is a lot of overlap, I think:

    – comparative analysis of genetic admixture of South and North America. Specially the “hidden” admixture patters across US ‘whites’.
    – non-european components across european populations, including in Europe itself.
    – genetics and ethnic identity.
    – examples of how genetic research can advance our understanding of the *modern* populations.
    -recent and very recent selections and genomic changes (say, from the Roman Empire on).
    – many readers, like me, don’t fully understand some discussions. Maybe very few introductory posts can be help us.
    – you’ve a list of books somewhere: maybe you can link to it at your main blog, also offering some information, like comments or reviews (and including old ones), made by you or others you trust, whenever available.

    Thank you for this wonderful space!!!


  27. AMac

    Just keep it up, Razib.

    I often encounter unexpected essays and links here. While many go over my head, some don’t. You do a lot of unconventional — or aconventional — thinking. This is one of the things that makes your writing so interesting.

    Eh, sorry to be a fanboy rather than offering acerbically constructive suggestions. But I have links to chase down…

  28. Your blog is a great read.

    I particularly enjoy your posts on the relationship between genetics and mental health/cognitive function. For example, I’d love to see what you have to say about the research on the links between gender and cognitive function. This is a highly charged issue, and doesn’t to me at least, seem to be monolithic. There seem to be some areas where gender differences in cognitive function are quite well established (e.g. incidence rates of quite a few psychiatric conditions), and others where the case for culturally constructed differences is more persuasive, or at least arguable. One issue I’m particularly curious about and haven’t seem more than passing references to although I know that there is a literature out there about it is age of maturity of various cognitive traits by gender. For example, I’ve seen references to old studies claiming to show that women reach peak abstract reasoning ability much earlier than men and in both cases about the same time that they reach full stature, but have never been able to track down the source research.

    Another fascinating area is human evolution in the Holocene, which John Hawks also posts on from time to time. He argues that it is happening at a faster than ever rate, despite intuition to the contrary. Somewhat related is the notion that the evolution of modern humans may have involved allopatric speciation, an idea that, in general, is gaining more prominence in the evolutionary narrative generally.

    One “summing up” post that it would be interesting to read is your assessment of what we do know to a fairly high degree of scientific certainty, and what remains in the realm of legitimate scientific disagreement or simply absence of knowledge, in some of the areas that you blog about.

    Another interesting post would be to hear you discuss something that you intuitively believe is likely to be true about the subjects that you blog about, even though you can’t prove it.

    On the cultural side of blogging, an interesting thing to explore would be remnant pockets of pagan influence in places like Mari Mountain in Russia, non-Kurdish interior Turkey, Sufi customs in Pakistan, etc. Indeed, a compilation of notable outlier populations, linguistically, genetically, or otherwise (e.g. the Ket, the Andamanese, the Saami, the Basque, the Ainu, the Asian Negrito populations, the diverse peoples of Nuba Mountain such as the Kordofani language speakers, the genetic outlier populations of Northern Cameroon, the Australian Aborginines, the Bushmen, etc.) and identification of the circumstances that sustain them would be quite interesting and add context to a lot of the otherwise sometimes dry comparisons of genome analysis.

    One idea that was very popular in the Victorian era, although it has faded from respectability today, was the notion that the ancients had a different perceptual relationship with the world around them than the moderns, with the ancients seeing the world in a more “dreamlike” way. Is there anything to that, and if so, on what time scales?

    Yet another idea would be anything tending to prove or disprove a connection between archaic human types and mythology (e.g. giants, elves, little people, trolls, goblins, etc.). Do we have cultural traces of Neanderthals or Denisovians or Hobbits or hybrids of any of them in our myths?

    I also have a fondness for “dead ends” where humanity looked like it was going some direction and it fizzled out (e.g. Viking contact in North America, Jamestown Colony, the apparent entry into and then retreat from the Levant by modern humans, the retreat and repopulation in connection with the LGM).

    A summing up of what we know about archaic climate studies would be interesting, as there are many of them out there and individually they seem to provide a lot of insight, but few seem to tell a comprehensive story. There seem to be bits and pieces of particular times and places that are easy to get jumbled especially with varied terminology in use. I’d particularly be interested in your take on the demise of the Sarasvati River system in relation to pre-history and legend.

  29. I am going to agree with Antonio on genetics and ethnic identity.

  30. Roger Bigod

    Genetics of cognitive function in people of the Borderlands. For 500 years, neither England nor Scotland controlled the place, and it evolved a culture lacking governmentally enforced public order. This was reflected in individuals who were highly reliant on clan and family, but defiant of authority.
    In the US, their descendants are known as “hillbillies” and “rednecks”.

    Some of these personality traits may have a genetic component. (I dimly recall a paper in Science about this). Has anyone made a connection with particular genes?

    If low levels of submission to authority, tolerance of public disorder and lack of affiliation with strangers is genetic, there are at least two explanatory mechanisms. One is that the conditions of the Borderlands selected for the genes. The other is that people who were willing to trade submission to authority for public order left the Borderlands, and those who liked the conditions moved there. There’s probably no way to decide that issue.

    This raises the question of whether there are are similar groups in Asia. The conditions would be a stable kingdom or empire with a marginal area that it never controlled, inhabited by people with no linguistic or ethnic barrier to migration.

  31. @Roger Bigod: You are talking about the Border Reivers, correct? (Like I mentioned in comment #23.)

    The Border Reivers’ descendents aren’t just “hillbillies” and “rednecks”, but do have representation among the elites as well. For example: Neil Armstrong, TS Elliot, Ernest Rutherford, Sir Walter Scott, Robbie Burns, U.S. Presidents Ricard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnston, etc. In Canada, Scottish Canadians have a Border Reiver component as well, and also have representation among the elites.


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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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