Open Thread, 11-15-2012

By Razib Khan | November 15, 2012 1:58 am

Your cry is heard!

MORE ABOUT: Open Thread

Comments (52)

  1. Florida resident

    I have no idea if it is interesting, but:

    “Bactrian camel genome holds survival secrets”

  2. David Kane

    It would be interesting to read your thoughts about the science associated with the controversy about Elizabeth Warren’s Native American ancestry. Background via Wikipedia here. Official (?) list of Native American senators here. Questions:

    1) Assume that Warren wants to determine if she has any Native American ancestry. What genetic test would you recommend? How expensive would it be? How accurate, both in terms of false positives and false negatives (which are presumably a function of her actual ancestry, if any) would such a test be?

    2) Assume that someone else wanted to determine, without Warren’s permission, her Native American ancestry. How would one do that? (Simplest, I assume, is getting genetic material from a full sibling.) Perhaps I have been watching too much CSI, but my *guess* would be that it might be possible to retrieve enough genetic material from a discarded drinking glass or tissue. True? If so, how much increased uncertainty would that add to the process? Are there legal implications associated with submitting someone else’s genetic material for testing?

    Again, I am not interested in the politics or ethics of this issue, just the practical science. (If any GNXP readers had a view, I would be interested in those as well.)

  3. jose

    Why have Japanese style toilets not been successful in the US? Average middle class family in Japan has superior, cleaner toilet tech than the average millionaire in the US.

  4. Simone Simonini

    This is a (very speculative looking) paper claiming that human intelligence probably peaked thousands of years ago:
    Is this reasonable? And how far off are we from being able to perform the triangulation study suggested in figure 2?

  5. jose – not sure. i’ve always tried to convince other people to convert since i got one and they usually laugh as if it’s inferior. i always ask “do you get cleaner by rubbing paper on your skin or washing it with water?” many people clearly thought it was stupid and laughed as if it was an inferior method. different = bad, i guess.

  6. Weltanschauung

    Simone Simonini, your speculative looking paper has been dismissed by Greg Cochran:

  7. What genetic test would you recommend? How expensive would it be? How accurate, both in terms of false positives and false negatives (which are presumably a function of her actual ancestry, if any) would such a test be?

    the genetic tests wouldn’t be too difficult. you don’t need that many markers. 23andme would do. the problem is that it is not impossible that in 200 years (or whatever period of time) that all the native american segments could have been lost through sample variance. probably want to look at the extended pedigree. the main issue is that at 200 years there’s a big difference between genealogical ancestry, and genomic ancestry. apparently according to 23andme a considerable number of self-identified ‘cherokees’ in their database have only a few percent admixture (the rest being white).

  8. JeffH

    re Japanese toilets: has there been a study showing that Japanese washlets are better? I want real scientific proof that they are better before I switch over.

  9. Dwight E. Howell

    I suspect that agricultural humans are degenerating especially as athletes (hardly a new idea) _but_ if stone age people were significantly more astute than moderns there are more than enough very recent stone age people to allow that to show up in a study. I do accept that it may be happening but making bad choices still kills millions for example texting while driving, etc. is still taking out a lot of people.

    Selection for disease resistance and surviving famines due to local crop failures have certainly been driving evolution among farmers up until the present.

  10. erin

    Here are the results of 23andMe’s onging study of the genetics of sexual orientation, presented recently at ASHG. No linkages of a statistical significance were found . Interesting to peruse.

  11. Jeff – i think you may be over thinking this one! trying to not be too graphic but just know that once you get one, “residue” is a thing of the past:) if you got mud on your hands would you prefer to clean them by wiping dry paper on them repeatedly or thoroughly rinsing them with warm water and then patting them dry? think about it – it’s quite a lifestyle enhancer. i wonder how i even survived before i had one.

  12. jose

    Well, it’s an open question of whether small amounts of “residue” on your hindquarters is really much of a health issue. I don’t know. It’s quite possible the Japanese toilets offer no measurable health improvements, other than an aesthetic preference. Is there any data on health problems caused by toilet paper usage that would be alleviated by the paper-less Japanese style toilets?

  13. JeffH

    jose – I imagine hemorrhoids.

    erin – Wow 180,000 samples, and the full genotyping data too! I really want to put in a proposal through 23andMe. Whoops misread only 23,000 answered the survey.

  14. Tom Bri

    Japanese, as a broad generalization, are far more interested in bodily cleanliness than are “Westerners” even Americans, who seem to be fairly intense on this issue. The average American just makes a different cost-benefit analysis than Japanese do. Besides, there is the whole Japanese gadget fascination.
    Remember, Americans are the people who allowed their government to impose non-functioning low flush toilets on the entire population in response to a water shortage in a handful of areas. If we take that with barely a whimper, pretty obviously we don’t consider toilets particularly important.

  15. Sandgroper

    jose – you’ve obviously never had to do bowel prep for a colonoscopy.

  16. Dear god let me be anonymous for this...

    Do Japanese toilets splash? I wouldn’t want my dangling bits sprayed by water mixed with poop.

  17. re Japanese toilets–I use a water-filled bowl that I dip paper towels in, does the trick, seems like an aesthetic preference, though. Sandgroper, these people are quite hard-boiled, a nurse told me. You grow with your tasks.

  18. I_Affe

    I think most toilets beat the German toilet. I really don’t like that kind.

  19. Justin Loe

    #2 According to one analysis I have .55% Native American ancestry. I think to make a claim based on that would be unethical, and that’s probably the most that she could claim, or perhaps 2-3%.

  20. I never thought we’d be talking about takin’ dumps on Gene Expression. This is awesome.

  21. Simon

    @ Dear god let me be anonymous for this…

    I believe the water in the spray is heated, so it must come from a separate holding compartment.

  22. skid

    What are you guys talking about, a combination bidet and toilet? I remember those in hotel room toilets in Tokyo, but they also have toilet paper for unenlightened Americans like me. Apparently saves on the house calls for toilet paper. Bidets are relatively common, actually, just not so much in the U.S.

    Speaking of crap, what a load of it was that article about stone age people being smarter than modern man. Otzi had a copper axe 5000 years ago. Eurasia generally had metal tools for 7000 years. When Europeans came to the Americas, the Natives were still in the stone age. Yet, Native Americans are not smarter than everyone else. I think that back then, as now, not everyone needed to be smart. One smart guy per village suffices, as it does now.

  23. Sandgroper

    #17 – Trust me, after you’ve wiped your backside 20 times in the space of 2-3 hours, you’ll be praying for a jet of warm water rather than more wiping.

  24. Douglas Knight

    Japanese toilets: forget America, what about France? Are high-tech bidets pushing out low-tech ones? I searched on and it didn’t look to me like it was selling many, but it did produce 3 or 4 ads taking me off of amazon.

  25. Antonio Pedro

    Hi all,

    Any good books on the history of Europe, from the end of the Roman Empire on? The shorter the better 🙂 Thanks!!!

  26. Riordan


    As a “Romney leaning” voter (I don’t know, perhaps you did vote for him in the end) and an South Asian American as well, what do you think the current Republican party needs to do policy and ideology wise in order to gain more of the Asian American vote? Any parts they need to merely reformulate? Any parts they need to revise? Or any parts they should just junk permanently?

    Assuming of course, you are actually interested in this subject.

  27. Sandgroper, I thought you were referring to medical personal that has to deal with these issues.

    re: German toilet. They were designed to facilitate taking stool samples, which made sense in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Those are hardly sold anymore for private use, though. To regress a bit further to the mean: while in olden times there has been many a thud in the morning, nowadays it’s splishes & splashes all over Germany, as in other civilised nations.

  28. Scott Reilly

    If you don’t know anything about genetics and want to get a good overview, try this free online course .

    I’m half-way through it and it’s fucking great.

  29. James S

    Does anyone know how accurate this “journey of mankind” animation is?

  30. #29, out of date. #26, nothing. the republican party is already the de facto ‘white party,’ and it will remain so. identity politics is here to stay, and white people get to play the game now too. i don’t care if the republicans are the white party or not because i don’t give a shit for most identities (sheep are sheep, what superstition they adhere to is of no concern to me).

    for republicans on the national level a ‘reverse clinton’ is probably the way to go. take a mid-atlantic pol like chris christie, and nominate him as a representative of a de facto white christian southern party. he may eat into enough of the mid-atlantic white ethnic vote to change the electoral calculus.

    Any good books on the history of Europe, from the end of the Roman Empire on?

    short + end of roman empire on seems to be problematic as an intersection.

  31. Careless

    the mobile website is still impossible to turn off, impossible to pass the first page on my tablet, and impossible to see things like your blockquotes. It’s the worst current mobile website I use, out of dozens, and it’s not close. Just allowing people to disable the mobile mode instead of forcing mobile would fix the whole problem, which would take a few minutes for the programmers, I believe.

  32. Careless

    I mean, I can see your block quotes on it (but not videos, usually), but they’re identical to your text in indentation, font, color, etc. Turns guessing what you wrote and what you’re quoting into a game

  33. i’ll pass the comment on. i have no control over that. though you might post your specs (e.g., iphone, android, etc.)

  34. Antonio Pedro

    “short + end of roman empire on seems to be problematic as an intersection.” agree. what I have tried to ment is some historical overview of western european people (and later their nations). I mentioned since roman empire because I am particular interested in post-roman migrations and settlements and how they are related to modern people and states. I am looking for something mostly descriptive and rather basic and general. I am going for vacation in France and I thought I could use sometime to developed a better frame of the broad features of the european history. Sometime when I am reading something more specific stuff I just think I am missing a bunch. But maybe it is too much a book. Thanks.

  35. Michael


    What about a Northeastern candidate with a Midwestern running mate – would that change the electoral calculus too?

  36. diana

    My cry….the obesity epidemic is bothering me big time. It didn’t used to, but since I lost 20 pounds, it does. This morning I saw on that nice TV show hosted by Charles Osgood, for nice middle-class people (apologies to non-Americans), a whole show about foodies and foodie-ism. I wonder whether the latter day obsession with food isn’t related to the obesity epidemic.

    Razib: you recommended a book about the Comanches by a Finn. Have you read T.E. Fehrenbach’s “The Comanches: History of a People”? If so, is reading the Finn’s book worthwhile? Fehrenbach’s was a great book, very enlightening about Texas.

  37. Careless

    @Razib: it’s on both Android devices I have (a 2.3 HTC phone and a tablet on ICS) that the site recognizes as Android (the Kindle Fire isn’t recognized by this or most other sites as being Android or mobile, which is convenient)

    Oh, and it’s also impossible to read past the first page, because when you click on the “older post” link it brings up a second page that has the Discovery Blogs header, but no posts.

  38. Walter Sobchak

    Razib: I had just finished reading “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Peter Heather and “The Fall of Rome” by Bryan Ward-Perkins both of which emphasize the agency of the Germanic invasions of the 5th century in destroying the Roman State in Western Europe.

    I highly recommend both books. War-Perkins is shorter and more focused on the consequences of the Fall for material life in Western Europe. The Heather book is a terrific work of synthesis that combines cultural and political history with a strategic view of the roles of both the Western and Eastern Empires and of the Barbarians.

    All of that made me curious about what genetics could teach us about the permanent human impact of the invasions. E.G. do the places where the Germanic tribes settled in France, Spain, and Italy show a genetic impact of those settlements?

    I would appreciate any references to your posts or other things a non-scientist might find accessible and informative on this subject.

    While surfing your blog to see what I could learn, I read: “Historical Dynamics & contingent conditions of religion”. It really impressed me.

    I had read Stark, and thought that his theory did more to explain the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire than any thing else had read. Robin Lane Fox had written a couple of books on the subject that, IIRC, focused on ideology/theology not on the creation of concrete social networks. Gibbon, incidentally, had stressed the “social services” provided by Christians in that time. Stark’s social picture of Imperial Society fits very well with Heather’s (who emphasizes the assimilation of local elites to Roman culture) even though Heather does not cite Stark (Disciplinary silos, I suspect).

    When reading and thinking about the Roman Empire in the religious context, I think it is important to keep in mind that paganism was not an entity, but a label for hundreds of cults practiced in hundreds of places throughout the empire. What Julian proved is that it is very hard to displace something with nothing.

    Also, regarding Hinduism and Buddhism in the Subcontinent, has anybody ventured a plausible explanation of why Buddhism was displaced from the place where it was born?

  39. Submitting this from India. I’ve never used a Japanese toilet, and declined to use the “squat” style during my visit here, but I did try pouring water on my backside. Could be doing it wrong, but it seemed horribly ineffective compared to paper.

    I’d been reading Tainter’s “Collapse of Complex Societies” and often thought to myself that he could have benefited from reading “Empires and Barbarians”. How foolish of him to write his book decades before the latter came out.

    My driver today was going on about hinduism and how the Buddha is also considered a god (as is Rama, one for obeying his father and the other for disobeying) by Hindus. So perhaps they don’t regard it as “displaced”, although historically speaking I understand there were large Buddhist kingdoms in what is now India and the faith is now relatively marginal.

  40. Walter:
    It’s pretty much known and agreed upon by scholars of the subject. It was linked strongly with the physical institutions of monasticism, and when those were disturbed/weakened by warfare or infighting, it cut off the head. Hinduism evolved to meet many of the appeals of Buddhism, which cut off the grass roots. By the time Islam came through it was already completely hollowed out.

  41. Razib, you once pointed me to a website making a well-reasoned argument on why gay marriage would threaten traditional marriage. I lost some notes and couldn’t find your comment anymore after got overhauled some years ago–you wrote about lost posts and comments afterwards. A search for Möhling+razib+marriage or Möhling+razib+gay should turn up your answer but doesn’t. Sandgroper asked the same here but was overlooked. Should you still now that website I promise to never crack jokes about toilets again.

  42. #42, let me think. don’t recall now.

    All of that made me curious about what genetics could teach us about the permanent human impact of the invasions. E.G. do the places where the Germanic tribes settled in France, Spain, and Italy show a genetic impact of those settlements?

    also, read heather’s follow up book on the barbarian invasions. adrian goldsworthy’s book on the fall of rome might be a nice complement.

  43. #36, i’m not a retard. a wealthy massachusetts mormon is probably not the best way to cut into the ‘white ethnic’ vote of the mid-atlantic.

  44. Walter Sobchak

    Razib: Thank you. the second Heather book is on the shelf waiting its turn.

  45. Anthony

    History of Europe post-Rome: “The Inheritance of Rome” by Chris Wickham. – currenty cheaper in hardback than kindle.
    Also “War and Peace and War” by Peter Turchin, particularly chapters 7, 8, and 9.
    To fail even harder on the “short” part, Ferdinand Braudel’s “Civilization and Capitalism” trilogy, and the “Identity of France” pair if your particular interest is France.

  46. Anthony

    I’ve never used a bidet or Japanese toilet, but I wonder about drying up afterwards. I find I have to be careful about drying up various nether regions after showering to avoid fungal infections; is that handled somehow by the modern Japanese toilet?

  47. Yes Anthony, they blow your horn. Sorry, couldn’t resist, but technically Razib didn’t deliver yet, so there.

  48. Sandgroper

    MM, can you get one that washes, dries and does hair removal at the same time? I’m thinking prep for bowel surgery.

    There are few things more terrifying than a young trainee nurse blinking myopically at you through her beer-bottle glasses as she advances on you awkwardly brandishing a razor and saying “I need to shave you…down there. I have never done this before.”

  49. Sandgroper, if they crank up the temperature of the warm air dryer, hair removal should be no problem.

  50. Sandgroper

    Yes, that would be one of the few things more terrifying than the trainee nurse.

  51. Anthony

    Another disclosure issue: should the existence of coincidental genetic siblings far away be disclosed?

    Two couples suffering from fertility problems went to the same center, and chose the same egg donor and same sperm donor for IVF.


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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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