Around the Web – March 22nd, 2011

By Razib Khan | March 22, 2011 10:58 pm

Monuments to Clan Life Are Losing Their Appeal. A rule of thumb is that the Chinese tend to emphasize permanent architecture less than other societies, probably due to the tendency not to use durable materials.

The Next Bubble: Farmland. Did not know: “And large-scale farmland bubbles are quite rare: There was only one in the United States in the entire 20th century, during the great population scare of the 1970s.”

Tortoise and Hare, in a Laboratory Flask. Carl on the new paper out of the Lenski lab.

Unknown Animals Nearly Invisible Yet There. There aren’t enough labor hours to catalog the tree of life.

A Proud ‘Lobbyist’ and ‘Southerner’ Weighs ‘President’. We haven’t had a fat president in nearly 100 years.

Europe’s Rift Over Energy Is Widened by France. Go France!

Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter. Brass tacks: what’s the rate of drop of proportion of virgins over the course of the past year?

Law of Averages. Finally, people are responding to the disincentives of low-tier law school attendance!

Vaccine to Cure Asthma Brought on by House Dust Mite Allergies?

Canine Genetic Wrinkle Has Human Potential. Dog genetics yields important insights for humans. Not too surprising. Dogs and humans exhibit a lot of convergences from different sections of the mammalian bush.

The skull that proves those New Stone Age farmers weren’t so peaceful after all… My null model is that intra-specific competition results in violence once at the Malthusian limit.

Economics and Evolution Help Scientists Identify New Strategy to Control Antibiotic Resistance. This is the sort of thing that’s potentially the most potent antidote to Creationism.

Sizing Up Kinship: Larger Groups Win. Review of the Kim Hill paper.

Hunter-gatherer kinship and band composition. John Hawks on the Kim Hill paper.

Population-Based Resequencing of Experimentally Evolved Populations Reveals the Genetic Basis of Body Size Variation in Drosophila melanogaster.

A Molecular Phylogeny of Living Primates.

A Faded Industrial Town Is Feeling Britain’s Cuts. Half the workers in the public sector? This is not a sustainable ecosystem.

Public Jobs as the Ticket to Middle Class Status. Reihan Salam offers some skepticism.

Molecular Evolution, Mutation Size and Gene Pleiotropy: A Geometric Reexamination.

Return of the Sailer Strategy. I’m feelin’ more and more right-wing of late. But no pinker.

Wildlife defies Chernobyl radiation. Similar to the phenomenon of wildlife refuges created by land mines.

MORE ABOUT: Daily Data Dump, Links
  • John Emerson

    The clan buildings fit a different way of life. The clans no longer have their power, and defense against bandits and other clans is no longer necessary.

    Some clans in S. China had artillery to use in these wars.

    Clan wars is what the stateless society is all about. Absence of a state doesn’t lead either to peaceful coexistence or to a fantasy wild west of freelance gunslingers, but to very tight militarized groups which are usually but not always kin-based. These groups included local bandit groups and were never purely defensive in nature. The state came into existence in order to suppress, and by a process of suppressing, these local groups.

    “Cohesive Force”, Jacob Black-Michaud: highly recommended.

  • Sandgroper

    “A rule of thumb is that the Chinese tend to emphasize permanent architecture less than other societies, probably due to the tendency not to use durable materials.”

    That’s a very odd way to put it – obviously not true now, and I doubt generally true in the past. The Chinese have built vast numbers of very durable structures – the landscape of China is littered with them, including some very tall slender structures notably early.

    In modern society, I see this as manifestation of “new is good”, but I don’t see the historical evidence to back this.

    Emerson, you should edit before you post. “The state came into existence in order to suppress, and by a process of suppressing, these local groups” is gibberish.

  • Zachary Kurtz

    As a member of the NYC Less Wrong group, I want to take issue with your “virgin” characterization. Most people in the group are in the 20-30 range, many are in relationships (and not necessarily monogamous ones, at that!) and, AFAIK, would not need the group to get laid.

    Next time you’re in New York, please come and visit. We have several meetings per week.

  • Richard Frankel

    >Brass tacks: what’s the rate of drop of proportion of virgins over the course of the past year?

    I’m a member of this group. If you’re willing to replace “virgins” with something slightly more sophisticated but similar in spirit, the number is quite high. If you’re being strict about it then the answer is probably low, in part because I don’t think the group contained many virgins in the first place.

  • Sandgroper

    By which I mean, I know what you mean, but your means of expression is painfully bad.

    BTW (again directed at Emerson), I have been waiting for you to give me another lecture on the meaning of freedom:

    Lucky you, living in the land of the free. Poor me, living among the oppressed and delusional.

  • Razib Khan

    As a member of the NYC Less Wrong group, I want to take issue with your “virgin” characterization. Most people in the group are in the 20-30 range, many are in relationships (and not necessarily monogamous ones, at that!) and, AFAIK, would not need the group to get laid.

    lol. ok. i’m familiar with the left coast groups, as well the type who show up at singularity summits. odds-ratios of virgins is definitely high. second question: any tutoring on humor in the new york LW group?

    That’s a very odd way to put it – obviously not true now, and I doubt generally true in the past

    yeah, i think you’re wrong. you can just repeat that i’m wrong, i don’t really care.

  • Razib Khan

    p.s. here’s the wiki entry on chinese architecture. this is the general thrust in the history books i’ve read:

    Unlike other building construction materials, old wooden structures often do not survive because they are more vulnerable to weathering and fires and are naturally subjected to rotting over time. Although now nonexistent wooden residential towers, watchtowers, and pagodas predated it by centuries, the Songyue Pagoda built in 523 is the oldest extant pagoda in China; its use of brick instead of wood had much to do with its endurance throughout the centuries. From the Tang Dynasty (618–907) onwards, brick and stone architecture gradually became more common and replaced wooden edifices. The earliest of this transition can be seen in building projects such as the Zhaozhou Bridge completed in 605 or the Xumi Pagoda built in 636, yet stone and brick architecture is known to have been used in subterranean tomb architecture of earlier dynasties.

    In the early 20th century, there were no known fully wood-constructed Tang Dynasty buildings that still existed; the oldest so far discovered was the 1931 find of Guanyin Pavilion at Dule Monastery, dated 984 during the Song….

    this is contrast to the antique west, where utilization of more solid building materials means that there are many recognizable ruins which date back ~2,000 years.

  • John Emerson

    Or Egypt, for example.

    The reason why Marco Polo didn’t mentionabout the Great Wall is that it didn’t exist in his time. There were various other walls here and there, but no Great Wall.

    Sandgroper, I can’t remember you but apparently we don’t like each other. Cool. Ask a native speaker of English to explain my sentence to you. It wasn’t a very beautiful sentence, but it wasn’t gibberish.

    Apparently in your world Jeffrey Shuren is sort of like Hitler. Well, well. I don’t know what you’re talking about otherwise.

  • Zachary Kurtz

    I’m sure a few of us would offer you a bet on to predict the rate of virginity loss in the group over the last year.

    I’ll just take it as a joke and move on.

  • Razib Khan

    i do the bet thing a lot too. just an fyi zach, but michael vassar & i have been friends since 2004, so i’m not totally unfamiliar with the mores of the LW subculture. though from what i’ve heard the nyc group has some distinctive dynamics which the left coast groups are trying to emulate.

  • Kiwiguy

    In an online discussion a population geneticist (‘Gorbachev’) discusses some research, makes predictions:

    “My thesis was in evolutionary biology; I studied the speed of gene transmission and the effects of various statistical phenomena.

    The transmission of genes through populations is not straightforward and mechanical; there are a host of bizarre statistical distribution phenomena that both maintain “racial” (varietal) characteristics and wildly bend and transform them.

    In a *very* short period of time, applying limited selective pressure, it’s possible to bend these distributions out of all shape and proportion, thus accounting for the ease with which breeders can shape a particular genetic line among any animals they choose.

    When I was doing research, it struck me that selective pressures only need about a 1.5-4% impact on a breeding population to have effected major change within 5 generations.In my research case, this is more or less what I had (if memory serves me correctly; it’s been a while):

    I wanted to test various ideas about inheritance of color and how the mechanism worked (a specific mode of expression). It all worked out nicely. But as a side-benefit, I also got this:

    1 Gen:
    Grey (15%), Brown (17%), white (18%), black (22%), quad-patterned (23%), balance: mottled.

    4% selective pressure (I didn’t kill them; I segregated them, don’t worry).

    Result: Minor change. Nothing major; a shift of about 1-2 % for each color.


    4% selective pressure.

    2 Gen: Massive shift: White 29%; Grey 4%; Brown 11%; black 17%; quad-patterned 16%; balance mottled (much larger than before).

    I now dropped the pressure to 2%; I removed far fewer individuals. And yet, this happened:

    3rd gen: White 54%; Balance between 10-5%

    By 5 generations, I had a nearly pure-white line of (mammals).

    I was able to repeat this over 4 years.

    I had three control groups. The showed minor statistical variation.

    And YES, the smell was incredible.

    Hundreds of similar studies have been done. I wasn’t actually looking to illustrate this point, but it was an interesting side-venture.

    The point: In a shockingly small number of generations, its possible to drive a statistical occurrence of a genetic feature from relative balance to total dominance, with a freakishly small selective pressure. Control groups showed typical drift, but all within statistical norms…

    Want to know about an interesting effect?

    Three of the animals were outrageously hostile; they were difficult to control. It caused endless trouble. If there were problems, they were usually the source. It usually manifested in ear-biting and goring of other males, very atypical for this particular species of mammal. In almost all cases, the testicles were clawed at. It was brutal.

    One control group I had, while showing the same statistical distribution for color, also had, at G7, about 47% of its members illustrating overtly antisocial behavior. By g5, none of the other groups had it; it reappeared in only one individual in another group.

    I never selected for it or against it. Clearly, it was either one of my statistical freaks or there was some other selection going on. I was correct.

    The males who showed some of this behavior were chosen as mates in that control group 10% more often, as my co-author reported. Basically, the gene for aggression got some males more mates – IN ONE GROUP, and not others.

    Why was a total mystery…

    It’s going to become possible to identify specific gene complexes for a whole range of human behaviors, which we now think are cultural or learned.

    We’re going to find out that genes breed culture which breed genes.

    Give it 15 years.”

  • Sandgroper

    It’s only true of above-ground structures (underground structures are still structures – holes in the ground tend not to stay open indefinitely by themselves), then only true of certain classes of above-ground structures (or parts thereof – the wooden roofs of ancient Greek temples are no longer there), and then really only true up to the Tang Dynasty, when the Chinese became more ambitious with above-ground structures of more durable materials.

    Emerson: Who said anything about the Great Wall? If you want to talk about Egyptians vs Chinese, then compare tombs with tombs.

    The Chinese built in wood a lot for a reason – they knew a lot about earthquakes, going back at least 2,000 years. It didn’t stop them building some pretty amazing structures for their time, in terms of height and slenderness.

    Note city centre of Tianjin, carefully preserved intact and functioning among the sky-scrapers.

    Note village of Cuiheng, carefully preserved in its entirety, complete with photos on walls of houses – OK, maybe that’s for reasons other than appreciation of period architecture.

    Comparing anyone to the Romans is a tough call. They were phenomenal. They also had a standing professional army that served as engineers. The Great Canal was a fair effort, though, at least comparable to Roman roads, bridges and aqueducts in degree of engineering difficulty, and still functioning.

    I’m not an apologist for the Chinese. There is ongoing destruction of lots of stuff that might be deemed worthy of preservation in the name of progress, but they don’t have a monopoly on that. But I think I could mount a reasonable argument that, post-Cultural Revolution, of the stuff they have preserved, and there is a mind-bogglingly large amount of it, they are doing a better job of taking care of it than either the Italians or the Greeks.


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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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