Category: Culture

Open Thread, 11/3/2013

By Razib Khan | November 3, 2013 12:34 pm

Origins-of-the-Irish1After reading Ancestral Journeys, I decided to get J. P. Mallory’s The Origins of the Irish. A bit on the academic side for some, but definitely a good dive into the literature. Mallory is well aware of the latest genetic research, so this is as up-to-date as it gets. It’s a good case study in how multidisciplinary prehistoric studies should be done.

As I’ve suggested earlier prehistory looks to be a good deal more complex than we had previous thought, so expanding beyond single methodological perspectives is probably essential if we really care about truth.

In other news, a short piece in The New York Times refers to Salafis as ‘ultraconservative.’ I think this misleads most people about the nature of Salafism: it is a radical utopian system which recently arose out of Islam’s confrontation with Western derived modernity. It isn’t conserving anything. This aspect of Salafism explains why Saudi Arabia condones the bulldozing of Muhammed’s tomb and celebrates modern monumental architecture in Islam’s holy city.

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Open Thread, 10/27/2013

By Razib Khan | October 27, 2013 5:33 am

I’ll be on the Kathleen Dunn Show on Monday, 2 to 3 PM Central Standard Time. You’ll be able to listen to the show after it airs on the website. It will be about my piece in Slate.

AJjacketI recently read Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings by Jean Manco. You can find more information at her website, but I pretty much would recommend this book to all my non-scientist readers. I’d recommend it to many of the scientists too, if you are rather weak on archaeology, because that’s where Manco’s knowledge is really impressive. It’s not a perfect book, and I don’t agree with all the details, but it’s a very detailed, dense, and fast read.

There was a question below in regards to the Fast Company profile of 23andMe and what they’re trying to do. A major ethical issue brought up is whether it is acceptable to type children and disclose possible disease risk later on in life. As an extreme case, what if you find out that your child is going to develop a life threatening disease by the time they’re 40? My own perspective as a parent is that I’d like to know, and I’d probably want to tell my child as soon as I think they can handle it. The reason is simple: you base your life decisions on various aspects of life expectancy. People put things off, or forgo consumption, all the time.


A golden age of the mind, if you want it

By Razib Khan | October 5, 2013 11:16 pm

I am old enough to remember card catalogs. They did not make me happy. As a small child I noticed omissions and incorrect classifications so often that for long periods of time I would simply avoid the catalog, and methodically consume books from whole sections of the public library in line with my preferences through tedious manual browsing. I am also old enough to remember when the internet was still  primitive in its data organization and storage capacity (i.e., pre-Google, pre-Wikipedia), and the library was the first, last, and best, recourse toward retrieving data. When Braveheart was released in 1995 I ran down to the local university library to see if I could find more about the protagonist’s biography than was present in Britannica. By chance there was a book available on the life and times of William Wallace, but it was checked out, and there were more than 10 holds ahead of me! This was not an uncommon occurrence in the age before the data rich internet. The reality is what I wanted to know about Wallace is probably found in the Wikipedia entry, but then there was no Wikipedia! These are just a few of the reasons that I have little patience for neo-Luddites such as Nicholas Carr. When I read Carr’s “old man” jeremiads I always wonder, “son, were you even around back in my day?”*

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The fox and Stonehenge

By Razib Khan | September 13, 2013 2:04 am

Unless you are under a rock you are aware of the controversy around the sound that the fox makes. But did you know about Stonehenge?

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Circumcision rates: averages which deceive

By Razib Khan | July 30, 2013 2:40 am

Update 2: No longer accepting comments on this post. Please stop submitting. Thanks.

Update: Due to the vociferous and emotive nature of many comments, I am not publishing over half submitted on this post. Just so you know your chances…

One thing that I have read repeatedly is that circumcision rates in the United States have fallen over the past generation. For non-Americans in the readership, yes, American males are customarily circumcised even if they are not from a religious or cultural tradition where this is the norm (i.e., they are not Muslim, Jewish, or East or West African). For Americans, yes, circumcision has nothing to do with Christianity (something that would be obvious if more Americans actually read the New Testament, instead of just quoting selective passages from it). But looking more closely at the data it seems that the decline in circumcision is predominantly a function of its collapse as a normative practice in the western states!

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Open thread, 7/30/2013

By Razib Khan | July 30, 2013 12:09 am

Sorry, this was late. Was out of town, showing my daughter the sites of the world….

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From the other 95% on the AHA’s embargo policy

By Razib Khan | July 25, 2013 11:55 am

Update: Also see, Pimpin’ the ghetto:

Pimps who run what little economy exists in the ghetto. They control the humanities ghetto, have old boys patronage networks to fall back on, and have a great deal in a slummy part of town. In other words, folks who get tenure-track PhDs at research universities.

The American Historical Association is run by pimps for pimps — by professors at research universities, for professors at research universities. That their policy does not help the public or most PhD graduates of history programs is besides the point. They are an old boys network protecting themselves.

The AHA isn’t out ot protect disaster tourists, or losers, or escapees. The AHA is by, for, and of pimps.

This isn’t too criticize pimps — if you actually love the ghetto, why not be successful in it? — but to say that not everything they do is in your best interests.

If you are in the AHA, here is your choice: You can like that, or you can get out.

To extend the analogy, do pimps facilitate good healthy sex for society, or do they encourage the spread of unpalatable contagion by perpetuating the ghetto and its conditions? You know where I stand….

End Update

In relation to the AHA’s bizarre embargo policy Patrick Wyman left a long comment which I think is worth promoting up. Observe that some of the same could be applied to the natural sciences (recall the Carl Sagan fiasco). So here you have it….

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The American Historical Association seems nuts to me

By Razib Khan | July 23, 2013 9:59 pm

Why the title? Read it for yourself: American Historical Association Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations. Here’s the conclusion:

By endorsing a policy that allows embargos, the AHA seeks to balance two central though at times competing ideals in our profession–on the one hand, the full and timely dissemination of new historical knowledge; and, on the other, the unfettered ability of young historians to revise their dissertations and obtain a publishing contract from a press. We believe that the policy recommended here honors both of these ideals by withholding the dissertation from online public access, but only for a clearly stated, limited amount of time, and by encouraging other, more traditional forms of availability that would insure a hard copy of the dissertation remains accessible to scholars and all other interested parties.

I’m going to try hard not to go “Michael Eisen” on this: did the AHA just compare the dissemination of knowledge with careers? It strikes me that if you do scholarship of any sort the discovery and dissemination of knowledge is all, it is the summum bonum. All else is secondary and marginal. As it is the academic job market is brutally Darwinian in the most extreme sense, and more so for humanities scholars. Can you truly push this thread any further by open access requirements for dissertations? I doubt it. But let’s test this proposition.

Note: I am granting many of the premises of the argument in the statement for the purposes of this post. Even allowing for those premises, when a scholarly discipline goes too far down the careerist rabbit-hole, then it is time for people to start thinking about become actuaries to put bread on the table.



By Razib Khan | July 20, 2013 4:23 am

My personal preference would have been that they somehow extend the plot line of The Chronicles of Riddick. As Brian Switek suggested this seems like Pitch Black, but with much better special effects. Though how many they have left after this trailer, I don’t know.

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The neglected regionalism of these United States

By Razib Khan | July 2, 2013 6:37 pm

Non-Hispanic White vote for John McCain 2008 according to National Exit Polls
Red = 100% for McCain
Blue = 100% for Obama

As we come up to the day celebrating American independence from the Britain there will be the standard revelries and reflections. Personally, I have no problem with that. A modicum of patriotism seems healthy in all, and if appropriately channeled a surfeit is often useful in the populace as a way to maintain civic engagement. That being said I did admit that in the positive and descriptive sense I am far more ambivalent about the consequences and rationale for the rebellion than I was as a child. I don’t accept that the American revolution was indisputably about Virginia gentry who wished to avoid financial ruin, New England fundamentalists yearning for oppression of Quebecois Catholics, or upcountry Scots-Irish chafing at the bit to explode into the western hinterlands, heretofore restrained by the Empire. But I believe that this narrative is as true as the story I was told as a child about an unjust and oppressive British monarchy battling the cause for the cause of freedom and liberty. When Patrick Henry declared ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’, it was not a universal declaration. It was implicitly a call to arms for the rights of white male property holders in the context of colonial Virginia. This is not a palatable message for elementary school age children, so such subtle but true details are neglected in the standard narrative.

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Open Thread, 6/30/2013

By Razib Khan | June 30, 2013 1:15 am

Independence Day is coming up. Very excited to celebrate with my daughter. She may be old enough not to be frightened by the noise. On the other hand I came to the conclusion a few years back that the world might not be a worse off place if the American colonies had remained colonies for a while longer (to be honest my thoughts were triggered over a decade ago when I watched The Patriot and reflected on its misrepresentation of the British armed forces for dramatic effect).

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The twilight of Lady Gaga

By Razib Khan | June 23, 2013 8:59 pm

The other day my office mate wondered “what ever happened to Lady Gaga?” Obviously Lady Gaga is still around and making plenty of money, it doesn’t seem like she’s the pop culture phenomenon she once was. Of course you can live for decades off your early notorious culture changing explosion onto the scene. Madonna is proof of that. But it’s still of interest to know when someone is, or isn’t, the “It” thing. I don’t follow pop culture that closely, but I can say that I remember Gaga before she was Gaga. I was hanging out on the Lower East Side in January of 2006, and there were Gaga posters announcing her opening a show somewhere nearby. One of my friends was freaking out, because she was apparently a big deal. A few years later she did become just that. But somewhere along the way it seems that Lady Gaga has gone from the foreground to the background.

As is my wont I wanted to quantify this. I pulled Google Trends data for Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Adele from July 2008 to January 2013. I then plotted them with a loess smoothing function. You can see the results below. Nothing that surprising (though if you limit the search results to the United State Taylor Swift becomes a much bigger deal):

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Pop Culture
MORE ABOUT: Lady Gaga, Pop Culture

Gorging Gudea style

By Razib Khan | June 18, 2013 10:11 am

He liked a good brew!

Kevin Zelnio recently made me aware of this fascinating piece in The New York Times, For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archaeology. Here’s the catchiest aspect: a microbrewery is attempting to recreate the taste of ancient Sumerian beer! Why? Though it’s purportedly educational, obviously it’s also the “cool” factor which is at the root of this enterprise. The brewery doesn’t aim to sell this. I say why not!

A few years ago Paul Boom wrote the book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like. This may seem like a trivial exploration of a topic, after all, who doesn’t know how pleasure works? But when you plumb the depths of genuine hedonism there are often rapid diminishing marginal returns when you simply apply a robotic calculus of more sensory vividness. Rather than a stronger chocolate, sometimes you want a finer chocolate. But what does that even mean? One thing that a standard hedonistic account of pleasure often underplays is that it is not a simple toting of sensory qualities. Rather, it is the essence of the thing that matters.

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MORE ABOUT: Beer, Food, Sumerians

Open thread, June 16th, 2013

By Razib Khan | June 16, 2013 6:47 pm

It’s father’s day. I stated earlier I can’t remember what it was like to not have my daughter in my life, but it is still strange to me that I’m a father, of all people.

For the record, I don’t think we should intervene in Syria at all. Most Americans seem to agree with me. But it may not matter. The establishment may force intervention.

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Open thread, June 9th, 2013

By Razib Khan | June 9, 2013 1:45 am

It was >100 degrees where I live today.

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Seven hot sauces, many tastes

By Razib Khan | June 3, 2013 5:35 am

First, I recommend this article in The Smithsonian, The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers. Recently due to my foolishness I took a teaspoon of Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Sauce. The problem is that though my tongue has developed a very high tolerance to capsaicin, my stomach has not. Tasting a teaspoon of Dave’s Ultimate was actually tolerable in regards to the sensation in my mouth, but my stomach did not agree.

With that out of the way, for the past few months I’ve been sampling seven purportedly very hot sauces with a group of friends on various dishes. The seven are:

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The long rise of genetics

By Razib Khan | June 1, 2013 5:45 am

I was curious about the broader interest in various fields of biology over the course of the 20th century, so I looked at Ngram. In case you aren’t aware this is a tool that Google set up so you can query the frequency of a particular word or phrase (actually, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the most elementary use). The limitations here is that these books are all English. Overall, the results surprised me.

Obviously you need to click the image to see the bigger version. But you’ll notice that between 1967 and 1974 there was a sharp rise in interest in ecology. I suspect this is the conflation of environmentalism with ecology which only came to the fore with the 1960s counter-culture revolution. Also, while genetics has been slowly gaining over the 20th century, biochemistry has been going into decline after 1985. This is also the same time that physiology began to drop in mentions. Hypotheses?


A little knowledge is dangerous

By Razib Khan | May 23, 2013 6:36 pm

Being public on the internet means having to interact with many different sorts. Recently I’ve been having to deal with a heckler on Facebook. The heckler is actually of a particular type. I’m still trying to learn genetics at this point in my life, so I don’t propose to assert that my opinions are beyond dispute. But there is a variety of discussion which is not fruitful.

An interesting aspect of talking to people about genetics is that totally novice intelligent lay people are often very easy to communicate with. Genetics isn’t that hard, and when people want to learn new concepts and have the ability to it can be a great joy. Similarly, the numerous people who know much more genetics are easy to talk to, because they operate on a domain of fluency which makes conversation effortless (obviously this may not be reciprocated on their part in terms of their perception of your lack of knowledge!).

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How the sauce is made

By Razib Khan | May 11, 2013 3:48 pm

(via The Festival of Patience)


Is the pornographic singularity real?

By Razib Khan | May 11, 2013 2:55 pm

The above figure displays results from males in the General Social Survey who answer yes to the proposition that they’ve watched a pornographic film over the past year. This fact was cited in my post Porn, rape, and a ‘natural experiment’, to disabuse people of the notion that porn consumption has increased radically the past generation. I was aware of this finding, and so generally am careful to focus on the quantity of porn consumed, rather than the social penetration of porn consumption. No matter what the “survey says,” the IT sector is quite aware of the fact that pornographic material is a very high fraction of internet traffic (e.g., more people check Pornhub than BBC).

But I am not sure sure we should trust the GSS results any more at this point. I did some cursory poking around and last month there was a large sample size survey of Dutch youth to investigate the effects of porn consumption, Does Viewing Explain Doing? Assessing the Association Between Sexually Explicit Materials Use and Sexual Behaviors in a Large Sample of Dutch Adolescents and Young Adults:

The study found that 88% of men and 45% of women had consumed SEM [“sexually explicit material”] in the past 12 months. Using hierarchical multiple regression analyses to control for other factors, the association between SEM consumption and a variety of sexual behaviors was found to be significant, accounting for between 0.3% and 4% of the total explained variance in investigated sexual behaviors.

How the sample was collected is important for generalization, so I want to reproduce that part of the method in case you don’t have access:

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MORE ABOUT: Porn, Pornography

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