Archive for April, 2011

The "law school scam" media bubble

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2011 2:58 pm

If you’re like me you have friends and acquaintances who want to go to law school. I often respond sarcastically that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” There have long been “law school scam” blogs, but it seems that right now there’s a veritable bubble in media reports on exactly how law schools are screwing their students. Remember, law school debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

First, an article in The New Republic, Served: How law schools completely misrepresent their job numbers:

When we take temporary employment into account, it appears that approximately 45 percent of 2010 graduates of this particular top-50 law school had real legal jobs nine months after graduation. And the overall number is likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average outcome for the graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools as a whole.

Even this grim figure, however, may be unduly optimistic. All these statistics are based on self-reporting, and neither law schools nor NALP audit the data they publish. In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and found several instances of people describing themselves as employed permanently or full-time, when in fact they had temporary or part-time jobs (I found no instances of inaccuracies running in the other direction). Perhaps some graduates exaggerate their employment status out of embarrassment, or for strategic reasons, but, whatever their reasons might be, this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further.

This is old news. The New York Times now has a piece up with a new twist, Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win:

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"Out of Africa" vs. "Multi-regionalism" revisited

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2011 1:48 pm

A few months ago I exchanged some emails with Milford H. Wolpoff and Chris Stringer. These are the two figures who have loomed large in paleoanthropology and the origins of modernity human for a generation, and they were keen in making sure that their perspectives were represented accurately in the media. To further that they sent me some documents which would lay out their perspective, in their own words, and away from the public glare (as in, they’re academic publications).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Human Evolution

The loss of sacred belief?

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2011 12:32 pm

Over at the Less Wrong blog there is a post, So You’ve Changed Your Mind. This portion caught my attention:

So you’ve changed your mind. Given up your sacred belief, the one that defined so much of who you are for so long.

You are probably feeling pretty scared right now.

I reflected and realized that the various issues where I’ve held relatively strong opinions and then changed my mind were generally cases where I relied on received wisdom, looked more closely, and felt that there was some misrepresentation among the orthodox gatekeepers of wisdom. But there’s one “big” issue that I guess I have changed my mind: I used to view all utility calculations on the scale of the individual, and accepted that all entities above or below the scale of the individual were useful only as a means toward individual well being. I probably wouldn’t defend this position anymore, though I think it has a logical coherency and may still be viable in some places and times. I’m not a “communitarian” or anything like that, rather, I have an impulse to just disavow these sorts of formal constructions of how best to attain and maintain human happiness in a time and space invariant sense.

Individual and social life are often best optimized by both forethought, and a simple process of trial and error through living. Those who accept the power of a priori in matters societal are often younger from what I have experienced.

MORE ABOUT: Philosophy

The soft twilight of monarchies

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2011 2:54 am

Years ago I took a course on Tudor and Stuart England. Its primary focus was more on social and cultural aspects of British society at the time, rather than diplomatic history. Later I took an interest in the England of the Civil War era. One thing that struck me was the unquestioned acceptance of monarchy in the minds of the people, from high nobility to low commoner. Like the Romans before the Visigothic sack in the early 5th century these were a people who could not imagine a world any different than the one they had known. That is one of the things which made the execution of Charles I so shocking to many contemporaries. Myself, I was tacitly indoctrinated in American republicanism as a child. Films like the The Patriot grow in the rich soil of the same cultural environment which gave rise to the phenomenon of the antagonists in Roman era films speaking with British accents while the protagonists had robust American drawls. As I spent my formative years on the fringes of of New England there was particular pride taken in that region’s early role in the rebellion whenever we addressed the American Revolutionary War. Clearly I have little reverence and respect for the institution of monarchy as a matter of upbringing and expectation. Not to make too explosive an analogy, but in the past I viewed monarchy as somewhat like slavery, an cultural artifact once universal which would inevitably melt away under the harsh glare of the objective forces of justice for all.

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MORE ABOUT: Culture, Monarchy, Politics

Open Thread – 4/30/2011

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2011 1:30 am

I haven’t had these for a while. Following a request from the new year I’ve been mulling how to write up Population Structure and Eigenanalysis in an intelligible manner to the general readership. Still kind of at an impasse. On a logistical note, my email address is really getting on way too many mailing lists. If you want a prompt response from me twitter might be best, at least until I get overwhelmed by the noise on that service and move on to something else….


Make your voice heard on genetic testing

By Razib Khan | April 30, 2011 1:19 am

Over the past few days some friends have started receiving their results from 23andMe’s last sale (others have put me on notice to inform them of the next discount window). This brings me to thinking about direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and the legal and technological framework in which we live. In relation to the former thanks to Daniel Vorhaus the F.D.A. has reopened the public docket on this issue, until May 2nd. So Monday. The best way to submit is online, and reference docket ID FDA-2011-N-0066. I believe this direct link to the submission page should work as well. You obviously know my opinion. Here are some sample submissions. You can also see the submissions so far at this address. Some of them are quite succinct: “FDA let people access their genetic information since it’s one of basic right of human being.”

Dr. Daniel MacArthur has more sage commentary, as usual.

Have a good weekend!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics

The royal wedding and outbreeding

By Razib Khan | April 29, 2011 2:14 pm

In the wake of the post from earlier this week on the inbreeding within the House of Windsor (and current lack thereof), Luke Jostins, a subject of the British monarch, has a nice informative post up, Inbreeding, Genetic Disease and the Royal Wedding. This tidbit is of particular interest:

In fact, eleventh cousins is a pretty low degree of relatedness, by the standard of these things. A study of inbreeding in European populations found that couples from the UK are, on average, as genetically related as 6th cousins (the study looked at inbreeding in Scots, and in children of one Orkadian and one non-Orkadian. No English people, but I would be very suprised if we differed significantly). 6th cousins share about 0.006% of their DNA, and thus have about a 0.06% chance of developing a genetic disease via a common ancestor. Giving that the Royal Family are better than most at genealogy, we can probably conclude that the royal couple are less closely related than the average UK couple, and thus their children are less likely than most to suffer from a genetic disease. Good news for them, bad news for geneticists, perhaps?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Genetics

Friday Fluff – April 29th, 2011

By Razib Khan | April 29, 2011 1:00 am


1) First, a post from the past: Taste & behavior genetics.

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MORE ABOUT: Blog, Friday Fluff

Love and arranged marriage

By Razib Khan | April 29, 2011 12:46 am

In the wake of yesterday’s review of a paper on heritable variance in trait preferences realized in romantic partners I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this new study out of PLoS ONE, Evolutionary History of Hunter-Gatherer Marriage Practices. It’s actually a pretty thin piece of work in all honesty from what I can tell. They wanted to query ancestral ranges of marriage patterns by mapping the cultural variation in customs onto a phylogenetic tree. To generate that tree they took mtDNA sequences, which to me seems kind of old school. Using the cultural patterns present in living hunter-gatherer groups they presumed they could infer the ancestral state.

So combining these two sources of data they generated this:

They conclude:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Behavior Genetics, Evolution

The three poles of South Asian genetic variation

By Razib Khan | April 28, 2011 5:48 pm

Zack Ajmal has posted his K = 11 Reference 3 results including Harappa Ancestry Project participants. Below are the results sorted by the East Asian, South Asian, and Onge. I limited it to those who had 5% or more East Asian. All caps = reference populations. The rest are individuals from HAP:

Group Subgroup Ethnicity S Asian Onge E Asian
Austro-Asiatic Khasic KHASI 21% 21% 48%
Austro-Asiatic Munda JUANG 26% 43% 28%
Austro-Asiatic Munda BONDA 27% 44% 27%
Austro-Asiatic Munda GADABA 29% 42% 24%
Austro-Asiatic Munda KHARIA 33% 44% 21%
Austro-Asiatic Munda SAVARA 33% 44% 21%
Austro-Asiatic Munda HO 34% 44% 20%
Austro-Asiatic Munda MAWASI 38% 44% 16%
Austro-Asiatic Munda ASUR 42% 42% 14%
Austro-Asiatic Munda SANTHAL 40% 45% 13%
Indo-European Indo-European SAHARIYA 44% 39% 12%

Bengali 51% 28% 12%

Bengali 49% 28% 11%
Indo-European Indo-European SATNAMI 49% 36% 8%

Isolate BURUSHO 47% 10% 6%

Bengali 54% 29% 6%

Bengali/Oriya 53% 29% 5%
Dravidian Dravidian MALAYAN 50% 42% 5%

UP 48% 21% 5%

That’s my parents at 12 and 11 percent East Asian. Using the new reference population Zack estimates that my “Ancestral South Indian” (ASI) is ~43%. That makes more sense to me that Dodecad’s estimate of ~34%. I think that Dodecad method was confused because I do have genuine East Asian admixture, and the estimate of “Ancestral North India” (ANI) vs. ASI is confounded by other components. I suspect that the estimates of Onge are probably less valid for groups like the Khasi because of bleeding over from the East Asian component (in other words, the regression which Zack used to predict ASI is fitted to South Asian populations without East Asian admixture, and isn’t fully transferable to those that have it). But the geographical breakdown of the East Asian element is pretty striking, if expected. The Bengalis have more East Asian than other Indians, as you’d expect. Here are all the HAP individuals + reference populations as points on a two dimensional plot:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Genetics, Genomics

A loss of literacy

By Razib Khan | April 28, 2011 12:49 pm

The Case for Cursive:

For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.

The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

Not too surprising. But here’s a question: does anyone out there have problems writing by hand, period? I do so little on pen/pencil & paper* that I have been noticing some strangeness in my non-signature writing. Usually when I have to send a letter where I have to write out the address, or perhaps to write something on a card. A lot of our day to day tasks are implicit/subconscious. Our “reflexes” emerge through repetition. But what happens when “basic” tasks become exceptional events? I’ve probably gotten much better at typing with my fingers on my smartphone’s screen at this point than printing out letters. As for cursive, don’t even go there….

* Supermarket shopping lists are now a constantly updated Google Doc which I access in my smart phone.

MORE ABOUT: Cursive, Literacy

Sheril Kirshenbaum's lateral meme transfer

By Razib Khan | April 28, 2011 11:30 am

My friend Sheril Kirshenbaum at The Intersection is going solo and joining the crew at Wired Science Blogs. Since I have other friends there the RSS addition will be natural. They better take care of her there. I know from first hand experience that the editors in these digs pay attention to the needs of the bloggers. In any case, Sheril has been someone with whom I’ve had extremely positive interactions with every since we shared space on ScienceBlogs, so I’m definitely excited for her and will keep an eye on what she’s up to. You should too!

MORE ABOUT: Sheril Kirshenbaum

What is best in life?

By Razib Khan | April 28, 2011 3:42 am

I’m more a connoisseur of the trailers of summer films than a viewer of them. But I notice that a new Conan film is coming out, after years of delays which I was blissfully ignorant of. But honestly this is not a franchise I’d have thought would be up for a “reboot,” but here we are. I have never read more than one of Robert E. Howard’s stories, but the two 1980s films which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger I’ve watched half a dozen times each. They’re campy and silly, but generally fun if your tastes run toward juvenile, or, you are a juvenile. But the trailer for the new edition makes it seem overly serious, without the budgetary sizzle to render it palatable. Below is the trailer for the 2011 film, along with those for the two earlier ones.

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Love is not a hardwired battlefield

By Razib Khan | April 28, 2011 2:59 am

ResearchBlogging.orgJudging by some of the amusing search queries I find every Friday people have a wide range of tastes and fetishes when it comes to pornography. From what I can tell the realized phenotypic interval in mate choice is less varied and eye-opening, but exists nonetheless. Why? Is there a rhyme or reason, or is it simply random chance and the necessity of the biological clock ticking? These are not issues which aren’t discussed or mooted thoroughly regularly. The popular science literature is littered with hypotheses from social and evolutionary psychology. How else could you have a books such as The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature and Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. This is sexy science by definition. Not Physics Letters.

There are three broad issues which have interested me in the domain of attraction and evolution. First, what is the character of cultural universals of beauty rooted in biological preferences? Second, what is the character of cultural variation in beauty rooted in contingencies or local conditions? And third, what are the genetic and non-genetic factors in individual mate preference? In this post I’ll focus on the last. Not to put a fine point on it: are you born with a “type,” or is your “type” a matter of chance and necessity after you are born? An interesting twist on the second issue is that one phenomenon which falls into the “not born” but biological category is the process of sexual imprinting. For example, you may exhibit attraction to individuals who resemble your opposite sex parent.* The clear connection to the presumed “Oedipus complex” of this probably explains it prominence.

A new paper in The American Naturalist aims to examine the question of realized variation individual preferences with a huge sample of twins, monozygotic and dizygotic. By realized, I mean that they focus on the people with whom you actually pair up, not your ideal avowed preference. Variation in human mate choice: simultaneously investigating heritability, parental influence, sexual imprinting, and assortative mating:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Psychology

Neandertal hybridization & Haldane's rule

By Razib Khan | April 27, 2011 11:35 pm

Mr. James Winters at A Replicated Typo pointed me to a short hypothesis paper, Neanderthal-human Hybrids. This paper argues that selective mating of Neandertal males with females of human populations which had left Africa more recently, combined with Haldane’s rule, explains three facts:

- The lack of Neandertal Y chromosomal lineages in modern humans.

- The lack of Neandertal mtDNA lineages in modern humans.

- The probable existence of Neandertal autosomal ancestry in modern humans.

If you don’t know, Haldane’s rule basically suggests that there’s going to be some sort of breakdown in the heterogametic sex. In humans females are homogametic, XX, and males are heterogametic, XY. The breakdown need not be death (or spontaneous abortion). It could be sterility (e.g., some mutation or genetic incompatibility which results in the malfunctioning of the flagella of sperm would do it).

So you have a scenario where only Neandertal males are interbreeding with the intrusive groups from the south. The hybrids from these pairings would then lack Neandertal mtDNA, since mtDNA is passed only from mothers. But the male offspring would have Neandertal Y chromosomes. This is where Haldane’s rule kicks in: these males in their turn would not reproduce. Therefore only the female hybrids would pass on their genes. These females obviously don’t pass on a Y chromosome. And, they would pass on their non-Neandertal mother’s mtDNA.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Genetics, Genomics

The continuing tangling of the human tree

By Razib Khan | April 27, 2011 3:59 pm

ResearchBlogging.orgLast summer I made a thoughtless and silly error in relation to a model of human population history when asked by a reader the question: “which population is most distantly related to Africans?” I contended that all non-African populations are equally distant. This is obviously wrong on the face of it if you look at any genetic distance measures. West Eurasians, even those without recent Sub-Saharan African admixture (e.g., North Europeans) are closer than East Eurasians, who are often closer than Oceanians and Amerindians. One explanation I offered is that these latter groups were subject to greater genetic drift through a series of population bottlenecks. In this framework the number of generations until the last common ancestor with Sub-Saharan Africans for all groups outside of Africa should be about the same, but due to evolutionary factors such as more extreme genetic drift or different selective pressures some non-African groups had diverged more from Africans than others in terms of their genetic state. In other words, the most genetically divergent groups in relation to Africans did not diverge any earlier, but simply diverged more rapidly.

Dienekes Pontikos disagreed with such a simple explanation. He argued that admixture or gene flow between Africans and non-African groups since the last common ancestor could explain the differences. I am now of the opinion that Dienekes may have been right. My own confidence in the “serial bottleneck” hypothesis as the primary explanation for the nature of relationships of the phylogenetic tree of human populations is shaky at best. Why my errors of inference?

There were two major issues at work in my misjudgments of the arc of the past and the topology of the present. In the latter instance I saw plenty of phylogenetic trees which illustrated clearly the variation in genetic distance from Africans for various non-African groups. Why didn’t I internalize those visual representations? It was I think the power of the “Out of Africa” (OoA) with replacement paradigm. Even by the summer of 2010 I had come to reject it in its strong form, due to the evidence of admixture with Neanderthals, and rumors of other events which were born out to be true with the publishing of the Denisovan results. But to a first approximation the clean and simple OoA was still looming so large in my mind that I made the incorrect inference, whereby all non-Africans are viewed simply as a branch of Africans without any particular differentiation in relation to their ancestral population. Secondarily, I also was still impacted by the idea that most of the genetic variation you see in the world around us has its roots tens of thousands of years ago. By this, I mean that the phylogeographic patterns of 25,000 years in the past would map on well to the phylogeographic patterns of the present. This assumption is what drove a lot of phylogeography in the early aughts, because the chain of causation could be reversed, and inferences about the past were made from patterns of the present. My own confidence in this model had already been perturbed when I made my errors, but it still held some sort of sway in my head implicitly I believe. It is one thing to move on from old models explicitly, but another thing to remove the furniture from your cognitive basement and attic.

I have moved further from my preconceptions between then and now. It took a while to sink in, but I’m getting there. A cognitive “paradigm shift” if you will. In particular I am more open to the idea of substantive back migration to Africa, as well as secondary migrations out of Africa. A new paper in Genome Research is out which adds some interesting details to this bigger discussion, and seems to weigh in further against my tentative hypothesis that serial bottlenecks and genetic drift can explain variation in distance to Africans of various non-African groups. Human population dispersal “Out of Africa” estimated from linkage disequilibrium and allele frequencies of SNPs:

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1 billion year old freshwater life

By Razib Khan | April 27, 2011 12:10 pm

There was a reference to complex pre-Cambrian life in a book I’m reading, Kraken, and it made me double-check Wikipedia’s Cambrian explosion entry. Lacking total clarity, I decided to read a new paper which was published in Nature, Earth’s earliest non-marine eukaryotes. The Cambrian explosion is pegged to ~500 million years ago, but these data indicate a freshwater ecosystem which predates ~1 billion years before the present. Also, there was weird stuff in the discussion which startled me:

…Early eukaryotes were clearly capable of diversifying within non-marine habitats, not just in marine settings as has been generally assumed. This idea directly supports phylogenomic studies which find that the cyanobacteria evolved first in freshwater habitats and later migrated into marine settings….

Cyanobacteria are the ubiquitous blue-green algae which were’t familiar with. New Scientist has some quotes from paleontologists who seem to think that this paper is credible. There’s a good and a bad to this. The good, I’ll have to read up on this area which I’m so fuzzy about in terms of details. The bad is that it slices my finite time pie even more.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Paleontology, Uncategorized

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

By Razib Khan | April 26, 2011 11:56 pm

Horses from Chauvet Cave

I’m not particularly a fan of Werner Herzog films, but I think I might check out his new documentary on Upper Paleolithic art, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Chauvet Cave in France is the subject of the film, which is in 3-D. In media appearances Herzog has claimed that the cave was sealed for 20,000 years before being discovered in 1994. To maintain its pristine character it is closed to the public, so the filmmakers clearly had to jump a lot of hoops to get their footage. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is opening in limited release this Friday, but from what I can tell that basically  means it is showing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York, period. So I’ll have to wait for it when it goes nationwide.

Trailer below.

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Changing your null on charities

By Razib Khan | April 26, 2011 10:38 pm

My friend Holden Karnofsky has a review of the Greg Mortenson affair over at the The GiveWell Blog:

There has been a lot of coverage of the scandals around the Central Asia Institute. The founder has been accused of fabricating inspiring stories, as well as of spending less than half of the millions of dollars he’s raised on building schools.

The Central Asia Institute receives four stars from Charity Navigator (archived) and had perfect ratings from Great Nonprofits prior to the scandal (archived), but GiveWell has declined to give this organization a recommendation or distinction (note that that page was published in mid-2009).

In a sense this doesn’t indicate impressive foresight on our part: nearly all charities we examine do not receive recommendations or distinctions, so it’s not as though we spotted the fabrications and financial mismanagement ourselves. Yet in the bigger picture, I see this incident as a vindication of our approach to giving: it’s a reminder that you shouldn’t give charities the benefit of the doubt.

MORE ABOUT: Greg Mortenson

Building a harmonious society through genomics

By Razib Khan | April 26, 2011 1:27 pm

Dan Vorhaus points me to this Newsweek feature on BGI. My friend Steve Hsu gets some face time in the piece:

…Last year, pharmaceutical giant Merck announced plans for a research collaboration with BGI, as the Chinese company’s revenue hit $150 million—revenue projected to triple this year. “I admire their passion and the willingness to take risks,” says Steven Hsu, a physicist at the University of Oregon, adding that “it permeates the organization.”

Satellite research centers have been set up or are underway in the U.S., Europe, Hong Kong, and four other locations in China, and the number of researchers at the main headquarters in Shenzhen has more than doubled during the past year and a half. The institute now employs almost 4,000 scientists and technicians—and is still expanding.

“I’ve seen it happen but sometimes even I can’t believe how fast we are moving,” says Luo Ruibang, a bioinformaticist, who at 23, fits perfectly within the company’s core demographic. The average age of the research staff is 26.

Li Yingrui, 24, directs the bioinformatics department and its 1,500 computer scientists. Having dropped out of college because it didn’t present enough of an intellectual challenge, he firmly believes in motivating young employees with wide-ranging freedom and responsibility. “They grow with the task and develop faster,” he says. One of his researchers is 18-year-old Zhao Bowen. While still in high school, Zhao joined the bioinformatics team for a summer project and blew everyone away with his problem-solving skills. After consulting with his parents, he took a full-time job as a researcher and finished school during his downtime. Fittingly, he now manages a project on the genetic basis of high IQ. His team is sampling 1,000 Chinese adults with an IQ higher than 145, comparing their genomes with those of an equal number of randomly picked control subjects. Zhao acknowledges that such projects linking intelligence with genes may be controversial but “more so elsewhere than in China,” he says, adding that several U.S. research groups have contacted him for collaboration. “Everybody is interested in intelligence,” he says.

Knowledge, information, innovation, these are the only ways that the human race will beat back the Malthusian trap in our age. The world is aging now, and many nations will be moving past peak labor soon. We’ll need to be squeeze more productivity our of fewer at some point.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Economics, Genomics

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