Open thread 7/25/2012

By Razib Khan | July 25, 2012 12:01 am

I need to rationalize my process of modulating the stream of comments I get. Toward that end I am going to be posting an “open thread” once every week (I’ve scheduled the next month already). If you have the urge to leave an off-topic comment on a post immediately, just put it here. You can of course contact me, but I understand that is often suboptimal, insofar as you may wish for input from other readers. Because this option is available I am inclined to simply delete off-topic comments more aggressively now, with repeated violations resulting in banning.

The nature of the restrictions of the comments are relatively loose on this post. You should maintain some decorum as usual. But you can post links, ask me or other readers questions, etc.

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  • Matunos

    Is it just me, or does submitting comments from the iPhone never work?

    — Not sent from my iPhone

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    others have complained about it. no idea what’s wrong.

  • http://www.twitter.com/theogonia Shashi

    Okay. I have a question for you Razib. I saw you mention in one of your posts that you tended towards isolationism or something similar when it came to geopolitics(?). Obviously, a lot is left unsaid in sound bytes, so can you elaborate? or maybe link to some previous posts if you think any are salient.

    I haven’t really heard any convincing arguments for Isolationism (as opposed to internationalism) that doesn’t assume short term goals only.

  • Joe Q.

    Any book recommendations (“popular science” type or maybe a bit more advanced) for someone who wants to better understand how genetics is applied to the study of human populations? I’m basically looking for a primer that would help me better understand Razib’s more technical posts.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    I haven’t really heard any convincing arguments for Isolationism (as opposed to internationalism) that doesn’t assume short term goals only.

    i’m talking about american tendency toward jacksonian foreign policy. i am generally supportive of free trade. in any case, the issue here is that american intervention causes long term harm toward america, without changing the trajectory of the future. american hyperpower is a substitute for the true development of international and regional institutions. until america stands back the rest of the world won’t stand up. also, we can’t it.

    Any book recommendations (“popular science” type or maybe a bit more advanced) for someone who wants to better understand how genetics is applied to the study of human populations?

    the problem is hat the technical aspects need a technical book! :-) but i would say that Human Evolutionary Genetics is light on formalism and heavy on facts, so should be digesteable.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    A few things.

    1. As a recent parent, you should check out the children’s book Stellaluna. Although I’m sure the book is in reality about tolerance, it can easily be read as a kid’s book about the biological nature of differences. It’s about a bat who gets separated from its mother at a young age, and is raised by a bird family. Despite being raised by birds, it still wants to act like a bat, and is overjoyed when it grows up and is reunited with its mother and other bats.

    2. In one of the Neandertal threads, someone mentioned in response to my resurrection of Tasmanians idea that this is technically already possible. Although AFIAK no one is doing it, you could combine IVF with ancestry studies on the zygotes, allowing you to determine each potential sibling’s ancestry, and to pick which ever one had the highest percentage of a given background. Do you think such a reproductive technology would be utilized anywhere in the near future? Obviously it would have to be in cultures with enough money for IVF, a lack of opposition to reproductive technology/zygote destruction, and admixed people. Could wealthy Indians use it to boost the “ANI” percentage of their children? Gulf Arabs in order to ensure that their offspring are more purely of Arab stock? It would have interesting implications.

    3. In a lot of your essays on politics, you mention “human flourishing.” What do you mean by this? Some mixture of social stability, productivity, and material comfort? Or something else.

  • Brel

    Are we going to see your review of The Better Angels of Our Nature anytime soon? Also, what books are you reading at the moment?

  • SD

    Thanks for putting up an open thread! One thing I have been curious about in general, and would like to ask you, is this. How relevant do you think is the early and mid twentieth century physical anthropologists’ obsession with skull shapes and skull measurements in the light of genetic data? Do they match? I have been handed down a whole bunch of such books, most of which are easily downloadable on the internet as well, differentiating between alpine and Mediterranean skulls, for instance, and movements of such populations. Then in Europe you have the Brunn and Borreby skulls, etc, while I’m told that in the south Asian context, anthropologists could differentiate between nordic, alpine, austric and ‘scythic’ elements, all based on skull shapes. Does modern genetic data reaffirm what many would call such antiquated views, or are they fit for the trashbin?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Do you think such a reproductive technology would be utilized anywhere in the near future?

    yes. but i think it will be less about ancestry than appearance. e.g., people of mixed race in latin american who want to assure that their children are of “good appearance” (if you know what i mean).

    The Better Angels of Our Nature

    how about by the end of the summer? i kind of stalled out on 3/4 of the way through because psychology is less interesting to me than it used to be.

    How relevant do you think is the early and mid twentieth century physical anthropologists’ obsession with skull shapes and skull measurements in the light of genetic data?

    they have some insight on the coarse level. you can see an “out of africa” migration using just skulls.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    In a lot of your essays on politics, you mention “human flourishing.” What do you mean by this? Some mixture of social stability, productivity, and material comfort? Or something else.

    yeah. let’s just say i’m more and more aristotelian, and less and less epicurean, in my outlook on proper human flourishing.

  • Aitch

    Not sure if this is a recent pop psychology meme – the only online references I’ve seen after a quick look are from the mid-1990s – but over the past several months I have twice had people assure me that an individual’s IQ is inherited from the mother, and not from both parents. In my social milieu the norm is to ridicule psychometrics, unless it’s to invoke the exceptionally low IQ of a poor prisoner on death row. So it’s interesting that this reference would crop up – I’m close to thinking that what makes it socially acceptable and worthy of mention is unfortunately a certain misandrist Schadenfreude at the idea that the genetic legacy of males in no way contributes to the intelligence of the species.

    Although I have read a few general-interest works on IQ and psychometrics, I am unable to follow the most recent scientific literature on this topic (scientific literacy, and not access to journals, is the problem – I’m a scholar in the humanities).

    Simply, with regards to this assertion, it already seems to me a fantastic notion that a trait as fundamental as IQ would be limited to the X chromosome side of things – but I am unable to put this into a proper scientific context. Is this pop culture meme a typically garbled exaggeration of a particular research finding? Or pure nonsense?

    Never two without three, so the next time someone brings this up to me at a summer barbecue,
    I would like some gnxp-filtered talking points!

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #11, they’re exaggerating ‘maternal effects.’ anyway, it is not true. if you want a citation, this is the best:

    http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v16/n10/full/mp201185a.html

    the authors establish that IQ is

    1) heritable

    2) highly polygenic

    #2 obviates any thesis that the genes are concentrated on the X. to predict child IQ rule of thumb is to average parents, and regress back to the mean half way. will get you in the right ballpark.

  • I_Affe

    Razib,

    Reading your blog over the year it strikes me that you’re a voracious reader, and it seems, to me at least, that you’re able to recall things with great accuracy. Depending on my familiarity with a topic, it can take me several readings to remember certain materials, let alone comprehend and understand the nuances in them. What’s your reading strategy? Do you consider yourself to have a really good memory?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #13,

    1) i do have a very good memory

    2) it really helps to read at least moderately deeply in any given area. recall is achieved best when you insert facts into a larger structure of facts. eventually you hit the point of increasing marginal returns

    3) fwiw, i am busy, but i have not really played video games since 1995. i haven’t owned a TV since 2004. and i stopped watching spectator sports in the mid-2000s.

  • http://www.twitter.com/theogonia Shashi

    #14 Translation: ‘basically, I don’t waste my time, not learning’

    i’m talking about american tendency toward jacksonian foreign policy. i am generally supportive of free trade. in any case, the issue here is that american intervention causes long term harm toward america, without changing the trajectory of the future. american hyperpower is a substitute for the true development of international and regional institutions. until america stands back the rest of the world won’t stand up. also, we can’t it.

    Alright. I understand that reasoning but I am skeptical that American hyperpower and intervention is obviously/beyond reasonable doubt a bad thing for it’s own *long-term* future. I am a lot more agnostic about geopolitical outcomes over the longer term even if it seems like it’s been bad for everyone in the present and near future. I feel so primarily because my intuitions from systems sciences, network theory etc. suggest that isolated networks tend to succumb to network shocks over the longer term despite showing greater efficiency than more robust networked nodes which are slightly more inefficient.

    Less abstractly, I think the eventuality the human civilization is going to be similar to the ‘Globa’ that Hugo de Garis puts forward in his book Multis and Monos. An Isolationist country may in fact attract the attention of the non-isolated and eventually war and give-up it’s position anyway, albeit more swiftly. My overall point being that it’s a matter of when and how rather than if, that we will have a totally international civilization where everyone has a stake in everyone else and this seems like the only robust network that is protected from shocks and cannibalism. Any other structure will eventually fail.

    …or it may not, as I haven’t thought too deeply about it but my general intuition tells me that technology will not stop self-replicating and this thus put extreme selection pressure on global co-operation.

    Btw, I have very poor verbal abilities (I am one of those that made that Quant vs Verbal/Writing correlation be zero) in addition to English being second language, I have pretty low confidence in my fluency/articulation of written thought. I hope you will be charitable, I can do better with encouragement.

  • Grey

    “Do you think such a reproductive technology would be utilized anywhere in the near future?”

    A personal bet i have with myself on this is that the Japanese will one day start to give their kids funky hair colors.

  • Sandgroper

    Non-starter – whatever colour they give them, the kids will want to change it. I don’t want to boast (oh yes I do) but I have a friend who is a Japanese rock guitarist, and her hair is ginger, with pink and blue streaks. She looks amazingly good.

    I just want to point out to Matthew Hennessy that the singular of “scientific phenomena” is “a scientific phenomenon.” No, there is no way I’m giving him my email address in order to point this out to him on his blog. I’m actually a little surprised to learn from him that I am “secretly really disgusted by genetic variation”, but hey – life is full surprises.

  • Brel

    #9, fair enough. It’s a huge book and I haven’t finished it either!

  • http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/ Christopher@BorderWars

    Regarding the topic of Presidential Inbreeding that I brought up here:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/07/what-is-inbreeding/#comments

    A new NYT article based upon theory published today at Ancestry.com suggests my contention that Obama is likely the most outbred President due to the thousands of years of separation between his African and European blood might not be as solid given that his mother might trace her ancestry back to Africa through an early colonial indentured servant who was Black.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/us/obamas-mother-had-african-forebear-study-suggests.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    Given the gaps here, I think the researchers are a little over-eager to connect Obama to slavery, which has been an inconvenient footnote to the racial posturing of his genetic uniqueness: first African-American President, yes, but not in a manner that has historical ties to the slave trade.

    http://www.americanancestors.org/most-inbred-president/

    Adds some light to my question. I was correct in asserting that the early (first 10 or so) Presidents would have favorable conditions as both John Quincy Adams (4) and William Henry Harrison (9) are mentioned.

    I find it amusing that Jimmy Carter is possibly the result of 4th cousin marriage and was born in an insane asylum. So much fertile ground for snark there.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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