Daily Data Dump – October 20th, 2010

By Razib Khan | October 20, 2010 11:43 am

My DonorsChoose page. Compared to previous years I’m kind of under-performing. I haven’t done any PBS-like incentives before, but perhaps I should. For example, anyone who gives $250 is owed a post from me on a topic of their choice of at least 2,000 words excluding quotations within the next 3 months. Those are just stray numbers thrown out there, but anyone interested? You’d have to rely on my good faith obviously, as I’m the final arbiter as to whether I’m gaming the metrics, but I’m an honest person about these sorts of things. It would probably be reasonable to do a graduated scale above a minimum threshold too.

Achievement gap achieved household status a decade ago. Seems like the rise of high-stakes testing means that “the gap” is now in widespread circulation as a meme…but I doubt most people know the quantitative details. According to the The Journal of Black Education in 2006 ~48,000 whites scored above a 700 on the Verbal SAT, while ~1,200 blacks did. For the math the figures were ~55,500 and ~1,100. A 700 is about at the 25th percentile of a Harvard undergraduate.


American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. ” But after 1980, both churchgoing progressives and secular conservatives became rarer and rarer. Some Americans brought their religion and their politics into alignment by adjusting their political views to their religious faith. But, surprisingly, more of them adjusted their religion to fit their politics.” It’s notable that politically conservative Jews such as Frank Meyer and Howard Phillips embraced Christianity during adulthood (Meyer just before his death). Similarly, Mortimer J. Adler joined the Catholic Church at the very end of his life. I think that to some extent these religious affiliations are a signal to emotional tribal loyalties. So I’m not that surprised. I have known of very liberal Roman Catholics who left the church eventually because the juxtaposition of their radical politics and the limits of their faith became too difficult for them to reconcile. Of course there’s the issue of psychological disposition. There are atheists I’ve met who I generally peg as likely to become religious at some point because they seem to be rather “weak-minded” in the manner that Jesse Ventura implied years ago. When such individuals later tell me about their conversion and ask if I’m surprised they seem confused as to my general lack of curiosity as to the details. The reality is that for such individuals it isn’t a matter of whether they’ll join a religion or movement, it’s which one. Religion has good psychological coping mechanisms for the mentally unstable, and it provides communal affirmation for even the “least among us.” And there are many people out there who are very “least,” both in their morals and objective measures of worth. And I say all this as one of the few atheist conservatives out there. I’m not going to be bending my knee to tribal gods anytime soon.

Gene Activity in the Brain Depends on Genetic Background: Implications for Individual Differences in Drug Safety and Efficacy. So is the efficacy of psychoactive drugs confounded by the fact that different segments of a treatment group may react in opposite directions?

Astronomers Find Weird, Warm Spot on an Exoplanet. “Observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope reveal a distant planet with a warm spot in the wrong place.” Uh, aliens?!?!?! Am I the one who has to say it?

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  • trajan23

    Razib:”It’s notable that politically conservative Jews such as Frank Meyer and Howard Phillips embraced Christianity during adulthood (Meyer just before his death). Similarly, Mortimer J. Adler joined the Catholic Church at the very end of his life. ”

    Adler: As a side note, his conversion process was two-fold, as he first converted to Episcopalianism, then to Roman Catholicism.

    Personal note: As a conservative atheist/agnostic of Jewish/ Christian parentage (Jewish mother, Christian father), I’ve always felt a curious affinity for Roman catholicism/High Church Episcopalianism. Evangelicalism, in contrast, leaves me quite cold.

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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Personal note: As a conservative atheist/agnostic of Jewish/ Christian parentage (Jewish mother, Christian father), I’ve always felt a curious affinity for Roman catholicism/High Church Episcopalianism. Evangelicalism, in contrast, leaves me quite cold.

    american evangelicalism is “low church” and tends to exhibit a proud anti-intellectual strain because of their rejection of the high protestant theological tradition. phillips became a right-wing calvinist, which i think is the exception to the general trend among conservative american protestants. obviously i don’t have a religious bone in my body…but i’ve always thought it a little strange that american patriots would convert to the roman church :-)

  • John B.

    You’re not the only atheist conservative out there. I’m one and I know several others.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Re: Hotspot, I’m more amazed that we can get that much information about the planet. That said, the “aliens” explanation doesn’t make much sense in this context. There’s no obvious reason to heat up the side of a gas giant.

    Regarding people bringing religions into line with their politics, when I was an undergraduate at Yale, it was very interesting to see how many Jews who were atheists or agnostics going into college but with very conservative politics ended up converting to Catholicism or Russian Orthodoxy by the end. Multiple personal acquaintances.

  • http://shinbounomatsuri.wordpress.com Spike Gomes

    I’m one of those “weak-minded” atheists (man, do we need a better name!). The fact that I know I’m weak-minded and have a neurological disposition towards “mystical” experiences has pretty much kept me on the earth, sadly enough.

    What I’d be curious about is whether weak-minded atheist conversions are ones where the person constantly wrestles with doubt, as opposed to a rock solid faith. There are however many factors involved, one of the major ones is, of course, the communitas aspect. You have to admit, the believers have got the social network thing down a lot better than atheists do!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: social network, yes. likable and socially outgoing atheists like me aren’t missing much from the structure and channeling of church and what not. the less outgoing atheists may be. if they’re insecure about it, it’ll probably put long term pressure on them. also, in my experience people who behave immorally, that is, they know that they behave badly and feel bad about it, but can’t control it, may benefit from the structure and peer pressure of religious groups. the g. k. chesterton types. OTOH, people with self-control and who generally act in an upright manner no matter their religious or irreligious belief are going to have less pressure. finally, you have the sociopaths, and i don’t know where they fall in. it seems like plenty of religious hucksters are sociopaths who take advantage of the institution.

    i wasn’t really talking about the mystics like you. i don’t have that personally, but i don’t think mysticism needs organized religion at all. on the contrary, your kind may chafe from that. supernatural is a different issue. what i’m getting at is that incorrigible sinners are going to have to find something which can absolve them of the sins, and straightjacket them into proper behavior.

  • http://shinbounomatsuri.wordpress.com Spike Gomes

    Well, I’d like to add that likable and socially outgoing atheists while being more apt to be able to construct their own social network of meaning than misanthropic loners, might also feel a need for ritual and/or tradition that might be a draw. We all know of church/synagogue/temple going atheists. By mere fact of social association for other purposes, inward belief could possibly change over time. An interesting digression from that subject I would like to explore someday is looking into that old saw that people get more religious/find religion as they age. Is it a matter of actually growing more religious, or simple ossification of whatever preexisting belief framework was there before?

    On the subject of mysticism, whatever was there seems to have burned out in my 20s, which leads me to other more salient questions of cognitive function and religiousity. It sucks that I couldn’t explore any of these sorts of questions at the university, which is probably why I didn’t get the Ph.D

    But I’m drifting off topic so I’ll stop there.

  • Alex Young

    It’s not just religion that “weak minded” atheists turn to: there’s alternative medicine, conspiracy theories and far-left political ideologies, if you’re that way inclined.

  • Chris T

    Unitarianism: Liberalism turned into a religion. Environmentalism has become a religion in all but name for many (the discussions and arguments can get quite mystical).

    I personally am an atheist brought up Catholic. I still feel an odd connection to the Catholic Church.

  • cesar

    I wonder how much family structure affects the achievement gap. Are there more wealthier blacks in single parent homes than poor whites? What are these groups’ educational experiences like at home? Also, to what extent does gender play a role in the scores? I know males generally outperform females, but how is that confounded with race and wealth?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    cesar, controlling for wealth closes the gap. controlling for income does not.

  • nebbish

    “Regarding people bringing religions into line with their politics, when I was an undergraduate at Yale, it was very interesting to see how many Jews who were atheists or agnostics going into college but with very conservative politics ended up converting to Catholicism or Russian Orthodoxy by the end. Multiple personal acquaintances.”

    I’m not totally surprised. I’m a politically conservative atheist who was raised nominally Reform by two parents of Jewish ancestry. In Judaism, the two poles are atheist + politically leftist and extremely religious/observant + politically conservative. I certainly don’t feel like I have a “home” within Judaism. I haven’t converted to something with a better balance (some form of moderate Christianity, I suppose) because it would infuriate my parents and because I just can’t feign belief and don’t have much desire to pretend. However, I can’t say I’d be too upset if any children of mine (that I’ll probably never have) turn out to be mild Christians rather than Reform Jews. I would be much, much more upset if they became Orthodox Jews.

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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 http://www.razib.com

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