Open thread, 3/24/2013

By Razib Khan | March 24, 2013 12:18 pm

Comments which won’t make me want to shoot myself? We can hope!

MORE ABOUT: Open Thread
  • slartibartfastibast

    I asked Pinky-Pooh the following question when he did his Reddit AMA but he didn’t end up answering it:

    “In light of the recent evidence that transgenerational epigenetic
    inheritance of cognition-related stuff like PTSD does indeed exist*
    will genetic associations extrapolated from the results of twin studies
    need to be looked at again? In other words, what might the
    consequences be if the shared uterine environment, parent environmental
    exposures, grandparent environmental exposures, etc. all turn out to
    play significant adaptive roles in producing a given cognitive


  • Robert Ford

    I saw Steve Hsu’s last talk and he mentioned that fertility used to be highly correlated with economic success (resulting in positive selection for IQ genes.) How “true” is this? I’m not doubting it, it makes sense, just wondering if I can legitimately add that to my arsenal.

    • razibkhan

      economic success => food => more for children to eat. greg clark has good data for england obviously. it’s spottier elsewhere, but it is pretty clear from references to anti-natalism encouraged among lower classes and slaves (presumably because the infants would die of malnutrition).

  • Riordan


    I was just reading through Greg Cochran’s blog and stumbled upon this:

    Assuming you have read the study, how definitive do you think Daniel Freedman’s Chinese vs Caucasian infant study is ?

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I was discussing with someone recently the stupidity within the U.S. context of merit pay for teachers, as it’s been tried repeatedly over the last century, and has always failed. I think posters here would understand the basic arguments – teachers aren’t pieceworkers, and students aren’t widgets. The people who need incentives to perform are the students themselves.

    But that got me thinking that insofar as teachers are supposed to motivate students to work hard, teaching should, on a fundamental level, be a form of management. Which in turn left me thinking about how much actual proof there is that motivation via manager actually has any concrete results. I mean, of course management can generate operational inefficiencies, but beyond creating systems that provide incentives to workers, and attempting to hire and retain the most qualified workers, how much of personal management is built on anything resembling scientific rigor?

    I know that management still embraces pseudoscience like the MBTI, so I’m guessing not much. But this isn’t an area I’ve ever researched before.

    • USfromDK

      “beyond creating systems that provide incentives to workers, and attempting to hire and retain the most qualified workers” – this is often very hard to do well, and even just managing to avoid some relatively obvious operational inefficiencies may be worth a lot of money to a firm, which is part of why consulting firms are paid as well as they tend to be.

      Having said that… As for scientific rigor, as an economics grad student I’d say that at least where I study the people who’re interested in ‘scientific rigor’ generally try to stay clear of management courses when given a choice (last part of bachelor plus graduate level stuff) – they take courses in stats/econometrics instead. It varies how many management/business courses are available to econ students, but when they are available it seems to generally be the case that if you study econ, management courses are what you take if you suck at math. Math isn’t a sufficient requirement for scientific rigor (don’t get me started on macro), but it’ll often be a necessary requirement; it’s hard to do science without math/stats.

      I should also point out that there are math-heavy approaches to how to deal with incentives problems as well, e.g. in microeconomics – at least in my experience micro approaches will however often have a heavy emphasis on theoretical stuff rather than on empirical stuff; like how to come up with employment contracts which would lead to optimal risk sharing arrangements etc.. Even though there may still here be a relative lack of stuff like standard ‘scientific hypothesis testing’, the advanced micro stuff is still conceptually about as far away from business guys talking about MBTI as you can get (and, I’m sure, much more useful in an applied setting).

      • Karl Zimmerman

        I guess I have the following questions.

        1. To what degree does how management actually engages with workers (either on an individual level or systematically) actually improve performance? All sorts of fads happen in management, but often changes in managerial style coincide with management of the work process more generally (e.g., lean production), which makes disentangling the effects difficult.

        2. Even if there are such a thing as good managerial styles (approaches which cause people to work harder rather than less hard), can these actually be learned? It may well be that successful managers are so largely because they developed, through a mixture of genetics and non-shared environment, a natural disposition to be inspiring. If you cannot train bad or mediocre managers to be better, than an entire element of management training is largely useless. As is the strange habit in the U.S. (less common now than in the past) to promote those who are really good in their field into managing other people doing their job.

        I could buy, given what I know about how the mind works, that working to develop a sense of identification with the company (implanting human “tribal” psychology into the workplace) is important in terms of overall morale. I’m not sure, however, how much this changes into boosted performance. People could still love their company and their job, think they’re doing a great job, and actually not do much work at all.

        • USfromDK

          You’re kind of asking the wrong guy – I don’t suck at math and the work I’m doing at this point is mostly statistics- and microeconomics related stuff which has nothing to do with the kind of management stuff you’re thinking about. ‘How to improve employee morale’ is not exactly what I’m learning about in my course in microeconometrics this semester.

          But even if it’s far from the kind of management stuff you’re thinking about, some of the micro stuff could easily be considered management-related stuff. This is an important point and I’m not sure I emphasizedit sufficiently in my last reply: Grossly simplifying, on a methodological level ‘management’ spans quite widely and relates to both (fluffy) business-school-related ’employee-employer interaction’ type stuff and to (decidedly non-fluffy) ‘formalized decisionmaking models’ (contract theory, applied microeconomics, industrial organization, etc.) – the second is handled mainly by economists (and mathematicians – lots of mathematicians have done work in game theory). Thinking systematically about which tradeoffs are important to have in mind when you’re making decisions about stuff like wage compensation and layoffs, which factors you need to have in mind when you deal with those tradeoffs, how to weigh them, etc. is management stuff as well, and if you study this stuff you can learn a lot of useful tools that will enable you to make better decisions.

          So yes, I’m sure some ‘management skills’ can be learned and that at least some of these skills are potentially very valuable to some firms. You have some selection bias going on making wages a quite noisy signal of the value of some of those skills because stupid people don’t study applied micro because it’s quite hard, but even so I think it’d be very wrong to think (‘management’) education like that is pure signalling. The ‘business school type approach to management’ seems to me much more fad-driven and unstructured than the formalized ‘pure econ’ stuff, so signalling/credentialism is probably a greater problem there.

          But as I already mentioned you’re asking the wrong guy. On a personal note I think a lot of the ‘business management’ stuff is BS, but I haven’t read the studies so I don’t know to which extent the stuff’s actually found to be useful/valuable.

        • TGGP

          If you check out my post I linked to above, it discusses how Google detected which managers were underperforming and got them to improve.

    • TGGP

      I’d be interested to hear what studies of teachers you’re referencing, merit pay in India seems to have very positive effects (in getting teachers to show up in the first place!).

      I’ve written a bit on evidence that managers add value:

      • Karl Zimmerman

        Bob Sutton goes over the evidence that providing incentives for teacher performance doesn’t work pretty comprehensively. He is coming out of a management background, not a left one, as well.

        Actually, a lot of Bob Sutton’s writing, looking further into his links, answers some of my questions. There seem to be very few people like him in the business world though.

        • TGGP

          Thanks for the link.

  • JonFrum

    Dennis Drayna’s lab has begun the work of gene-hunting for stuttering.

    (There are also many brain scan studies being done, with varying results).

    A few quick facts: found world-wide, incidence is approximately the same everywhere ( around 1% of adults), and outside of variation of severity, is pretty well the same everywhere – it is a single condition.Drayna claims genes that represent 5-10% of all stutterers, so there’s obviously no big ‘stuttering genes.’ This is as would be expected for such a condition.

    What I puzzle over is that it’s not a simple pathology with a single expression. Stutter is a failure of the natural speech motor plan at some level, yet the expression is biased towards content (noun, adjective, adverb) over function (preposition, conjunction) words. It is intermittent, usually expressed in 5-10% of words, and can be triggered by psycho-social cues (saying ones name, speaking to authority figures).

    So to the degree that the pathology is of genetic origin (lots of evidence), how is it that this suite of facts is consistently produced? If a single mutation is causing the condition, how does it consistently produce this mess of symptoms? And if their are multiple interacting genes, how is it that the multiple symptoms are always observed together, and not individually, or in different combinations? I took a lot of genetics classes, and i can’t think of any phenotype that looks like this one.

  • Zeferis Herrera-Cruz

    Hi Razib

    I just stumbled upon your work regarding white Cubans genetics. I’m Cuban myself and live in Miami.

    We are a mestizo country. In Cuba there is a saying: “Aquí el que no tiene de Congo, tiene de Carabalí*”. (My translation: In Cuba you either have Congolese or Nigerian blood) I believe that the biggest group are the Yoruba.

    Of course, the same applies in reverse, there are Afro-Cubans with Spanish roots. I bet that many Cubans of very dark skin can mention of having a white or mestizo grand or great grand parents.

    However the mix has many degrees.

    Many of the white Cubans descent from Canary islands, an African archipelago with strong north African component: The Guanche native population which is related to the Imazighen.

    Isleños or Canarios, as Canary islanders are known, were mostly tobacco farmers. Small size farms.

    I noticed the Maya genes and yes, Yucateco (Yucatan peninsula inhabitants) labor was brought to Cuba. Many settled in the southern parts of Havana province.

    Aboriginal Cubans, Taino, are found in the eastern part of Cuba, generally in the mountains. Specifically around Yateras, Guantanamo Province.

    There is also a strong Chinese component that melted in the Cuban population. I wonder what your finding are on this group.

    Yes, many Cuban of Spanish descent have African genes: The Moors and Arabs lived in Spain for 800 years. There have to be some Berber mix since the Arabs were notorious in the trade of Sub-Saharan slaves.

    There were also black African slaves in Spain even before the discovery of America.

    African-Phoenician Carthage ruled the Iberia peninsula before the Rome and the Romans would enslave any Barbarian regardless of their skin color. They would enslave themselves for that matter!

    Another European group that populated Cuba were the French Haitians. They fled from Haiti during the Haitian Revolution and settled throughout Cuba. Mostly as coffee farmers.

    Also French colonist from Louisiana moved to Cuba after the US purchase of the territory. They found the city of Cienfuegos.

    The fear of a slave revolt like the Haitian revolution, lead to a constant demographic watch in Cuba: every time the black population was approaching the same number of the white population, more white settlers would be brought to the island. The purpose was to have more white people than black. They intended ratio was 60% white.

    Of course, in the second half of the XX century the ethnic composition has changed, as it did in Europe and the US. Different birth rates, due to birth control usage may explain it.

    The Spanish regions more frequently found in Cuba: Canary Islands, Galician, (and Portugual**) Asturians, Catalonia and Vasque. There was a time when there were more vasques living in Cuba that in the Vasque country.

    More components of Cuban populations: Black Haitians and Afro-Caribeeans (Jamaican and other West Indies) , Irish, Italians, Jews, both Sefaradic and Ashkenazi and Lebanese, mostly christian and Japanese, Rusian, Eastern European and other Ex-Soviet Union nations.

    And of course Gypsi, both Spanish gypsy and Romani. I believe they originated in Rajastan, India. I wonder what the DNA evidence says.

    I hope that this brings some relevant information to your analysis of my ethnic group.

    If you are interested in Cuba’s anthropology I would suggest this author: Fernando Ortiz

    Thanks for the study!

    Zeferis Herrera-Cruz

    *Lucumi and Yoruba are both from southern Nigeria but different ethnic groups.

    *** Yes, Portugal is not a Spanish region, but Galicians and northen Portuguese share the same roots.

    ****The Irish were welcome in Catholic Spain as victims of England. Many developed careers in the military and reached high rankings. Their roots in Cuba can be traced to the XIX century. We had Spanish Governors L. O’Donnell and A. O’Reilly. If you prefer salsa music then you can chose A. “Chico” O’Farrill.

  • Sandgroper

    Lock and load.

    24/24 (actually 28 wins from 28 starts if you count the 4 trials she ran before she began formal racing). What I see is confirmed by Those Who Know – she’s now in the best form of her life, which is a bit scary.

  • M. Möhling

    Sandgroper, you once dissed 3-D printing (remember that Quattroporto affair?). Here’s Jay Leno on what (US made) 3-D printing does for his garage; no Quattroporte yet, but it’s quite impressive already, some slick self assembly included. Also, I read about a German company that already prints aircraft turbine parts using cobalt based alloys. Give them 10 years and they’ll print us Quattroportes at the push of a button with whatever krazy kustom built-in vowels we may fancy. Vorsprung durch Technik for the win!

    • Sandgroper

      Not dissing it, MM, it’s going to become very important. In civil engineering we’ve been using laser scanning for decades on a much more impressive scale than that, e.g. producing complete, accurate and very detailed 3D scans of historic buildings. That’s not what I use it for, but it is done and the results are very impressive.

      I’m just saying that I’m not ready to buy a 3D printer for home use yet, and don’t think I will be tempted for quite a while yet. I know a bit about materials engineering.

      But this application, reproduction of impossible to obtain replacement parts, is potentially very big for home application – I just hope they got the metallurgy right for the steam engine part.


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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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