Of interest around the web & elsewhere – November 22nd, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 22, 2010 12:10 pm

Epilepsy’s Big, Fat Miracle. Two points to note: 1) modern medicine seems to have strongly resisted the ketogenic diet because of ideology, 2) this treatment works, but they don’t really understand why. It shows the importance of empiricism in medicine, but the reality that even an empirical discipline can be shifted by ideology.

Grumpy Kvetching of the Day. One of Sean Carroll’s readers complains about the content he’s posting up. If I ever get one of those blogs where my readers “sponsor” me, then I would listen to this sort of input. You paid for the privilege. Until then, shove it. Anyone who leaves a comment like that would be on my permanent “sh*t list.” I’m not really that disagreeable in person, but in person people rarely make demands on my own time as if such requests are the nature of things. Not so on the internet.

“Operation: Stop Palin” Gets Rolling. I was expecting this to happen some point soon, but my probability that the Republican establishment will be able to crush Sarah Palin is dropping from ~1.0, perhaps moving toward ~0.5. The main issue from what I tell is that the establishment is unlikely to be able to co-opt Mike Huckabee, who is the only other candidate on the horizon that could eat into her base.


Economics & Abstraction. Interesting exchange between Jim Manzi and Karl Smith. The great thing about economics compared to other “social sciences” is the reliance on a common formal language. The bad thing is that the formality hasn’t seemed to be able to remove all these verbal arguments on the margin of what everyone else means.

The most alpha occupations. Sex partners by occupation.

Why are boys’ brains bigger? But the subhead is: “Men cannot multi-task and women cannot read maps – is that a sexist nonsense or scientific fact?” The necessary way to talk about differences between groups today is to make sure that the “privileged group” comes off less flatteringly.

For Russia’s Poor, Blond Hair Is Snippet of Gold. A lot of the world’s wigs and hair extensions are re-purposed Chinese and Indian hair. But with Russians you don’t have to dye their hair necessarily. I believe there’s going to be a premium on that sort of thing because of the importance of authenticity. “Real Blonde HairTM.”

French Professors Find Life in U.S. Hard to Resist. Shocking number: “Of the 2,745 French citizens who obtained a doctorate in the United States from 1985 to 2008, 70 percent settled there, the study found.” It would be interesting to compare international students from various nations and see how many stay in the states and become permanent residents. I predict that the proportion of Chinese and Indian graduate students who remain after receiving their doctorates has been declining, but what about these European nations?

Thirty new loci for age at menarche identified by a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies. I’m curious if the age at menarche is a quantitative trait. It would be interesting to do cross-species tests.

Ancient mtDNA from Sargat culture. I assume that ancient DNA is going to elucidate population flows in the Asian interior a lot in the coming years. The climate is cold and often dry, so ideal for a slower rate of degradation.

The Parental Non-Equivalence of Imprinting Control Regions during Mammalian Development and Evolution. “Our results support the notion that two independent evolutionary forces have led to the numerical and functional dominance of maternal ICRs: a selective advantage of parent-specific regulation of genes important for the fetal-maternal interface and pressure to avoid the mutagenic environment of the paternal germline.”

Second thoughts on Ireland. Sad. Revenge of Raymond Crotty?

Are We Hardwired to Love Taxes? The main reason I call myself a conservative and not a libertarian is that I believe humans are a communitarian species. This does not make me a social democrat, but it radically alters my normatively biased reflexes. Do note that I am talking about the average human. Myself, I’m still relatively detached from the community of man. I simply don’t confuse my own psychological biases for the average human.

Neanderthals Lived Fast, Died Young. Last paragraph: “Smith and her team, however, hint that forthcoming new studies reveal genetic and brain differences that existed between Neanderthals and members of our species, further heating up the scientific debate.” Someone clearly has inside information.

Vague Assertions of Copyright Infringement. The Financial Times claims you can’t quote any of their text. This sounds as dumb as the argument a few years ago that you’d need permission to link to some web sites. The irony is that these stupid copyright cultures simply mean that people will rewrite what other people say, and probably not give them credit as often. I’m not an anti-intellectual property absolutist, but over the years I’m moved more and more in that direction seeing how it hamstrings real creativity.

Deep Sea News. One of the finest “independent” science blogs out there.

Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception. Haven’t read it yet, but seems kind of interesting. One datum the author divulged on the radio is that while men overestimate how many sex partners they have, and women underestimate, hooking them up to lie detectors suggests that women underestimate much more than men overestimate!

Strange Parallels: Volume 2, Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800-1830. Not a front-to-back read, but dense and extremely well worth it. Synthetic world histories with a scholarly focus are rare.

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. I wish the book wasn’t so padded with vignettes. The core data is interesting though.

Less Wrong. If you love Heuristics & Biases you’ll find this weblog of interest. Also, if you’re a 17 year old nerdy virgin and feels isolated from your bestial classmates across the chasm of genuine sentience, you’ll find fellow travelers. You can actually increment the age up to 100 and substitute classmates for colleagues.

Researchers Kick-Start Ancient DNA.

Sleep Program Needed for IT Engineers. A study for this, really?

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  • Katharine

    But the subhead is: “Men cannot multi-task and women cannot read maps – is that a sexist nonsense or scientific fact?” The necessary way to talk about differences between groups today is to make sure that the “privileged group” comes off less flatteringly.

    First of all, those two statements are entirely inaccurate, besides indeed being sexist nonsense – there are men who can multitask and women who can read maps, and indeed, a lot of them. I’m a woman who is quite good at navigating using a map and manipulating molecules and anatomical features in space. Multitasking I can only do to a certain extent if I want things done right.

    Ability to do both falls along a continuum.

    Second of all, I would venture to suggest that one must suss out just how genetic tendencies and environment contribute to these things. I would wager that gender has less impact on it than you think.

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

    I would wager that gender has less impact on it than you think.

    didn’t know you were a specialist in my thoughts ;-)

    p.s. i’m pretty convinced that almost no one can really multitask in a fundamental sense, though operationally there might be variation in outcomes

  • Roy

    As far as I am aware, at present there is no region on earth where natural blondes are in the majority. Has there ever been an all blond population? If not then natural selection is not a likely cause of blondes I think.

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

    ? If not then natural selection is not a likely cause of blondes I think.

    don’t offer your opinion, offer your rationale. if blondism is a frequency dependent trait then it would make sense why the frequency “tops off.” i happen to think though that it’s mostly a side effect of the lightening of skin (several of the loci which effect skin color effect blondism, oca2 & kitlg).

  • deadpost

    Multitasking is just too general of a word to be meaningful methinks. It can mean almost anything and whenever I see all this publicity in the media about women being better at it, they really ought to clarify the skill sets (perception, motor skills etc.) that occur together and try to explain from there.

    I don’t see how “doing things at once” is a helpful generalization, and even if you do a study that some people are better at doing 2 particular tasks together, you would have a good reason to suggest that they do better at any other couple of skilled tasks chosen at random.

  • Roy

    The rationale is that even a slight advantage in a certain region would make the population all blonde over time. Skin lightening is not a parsimonious explanation, given the dark skinned blondes in Melanesia would require a different rationale entirely.

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

    The rationale is that even a slight advantage in a certain region would make the population all blonde over time.

    balancing selection?

    Skin lightening is not a parsimonious explanation, given the dark skinned blondes in Melanesia would require a different rationale entirely.

    no shit they’d require a different explanation. but the genetic architecture of europeans is very well elucidated. and it is moderately well elucidated in east asians. the architecture is different across populations, so why is it so inconceivable that melanesians would exhibit different architectures? i’ve blogged it, google it,but aboriginal blondes seem to have different inheritance patterns too.

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    If not then natural selection is not a likely cause of blondes I think.

    Natural selection vs. what – I mean, what would be an alternative mechanism?

  • http://ecophysio.fieldofscience.com/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    Now I’m stuck wondering how many standard deviations I am away from my occupation w/r/t partners. They should post more data.

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

    ziel, relaxation of constraint could lead to build up of loss of function mutations.

  • Zach K

    Hey! Not all LessWrong readers are virgins!

  • Sandgroper

    “There are more than 100 known Neanderthal fossil juveniles,” Smith noted, “a relatively large number when compared with all known Neanderthal individuals, which may imply that childhood mortality was high.”

    Injury patterns suggest that Mum used to go out hunting big game with Dad, up close and personal using thrusting and chopping weapons. If Neanderthals died too young for kids to know their grandparents, that could help to explain high childhood mortality. You know, the grandmother theory for post-menopausal longevity.

    But then, that’s a Neanderthal stereotype – some ate oysters, salmon and salad. Yum.

    #2 – You and I are probably equally sick of reading this stuff. In my career, (no exaggeration) I have interviewed several hundred young civil engineers and engineering graduates, and engineering geologists and mapping geologists also, a substantial and increasing minority of whom are female. On map and plan reading ability (which are learned skills), the correlation is not with gender, it is with cognitive ability. And you don’t need to be a high end math genius to be a good engineer, just good enough at engineering math, so even if that stuff about the tails of the distribution is true once cultural factors are eliminated, cognitive ability in a civil engineering context is not gender-biased – if anything, the girls are gaining the upper hand over the boys, now that the shackles are off and the harrassment illegal. Geologists don’t do math, but they do need to map very well. That’s the other gender myth that needs to be exploded – that girls are not up to field work in dirty conditions and rough terrain. It is absolutely not true.

    Reminds me – I once interviewed a very pretty and intelligent y0ung female Chinese engineer, and said “So what have you been working on recently?” and she said “Well, for the past 12 months I’ve been out on site up to my knees in shit every day.” The seawater around Macau is diluted human shit. I employed her.

    And I can hold the baby while I stir the soup – been there and done that. I did it once when it was hot and I was shirtless, and she suddenly fastened like a little suction cup onto one of my unfortunately useless male nipples (I have good pecs from weight training, and my dear wife is, shall we say, on the under-endowed side, so the baby could be forgiven for getting confused), which was utterly embarrassing and awful for me and very disappointing for her. I am not THAT well equipped for multi-tasking :)

  • Katharine

    didn’t know you were a specialist in my thoughts ;-)

    Chalk it up to my own probable bias in this area. My first impulse is to think, if anyone says they’re conservative, that they’d necessarily be biased toward some sort of innate gender difference which almost always puts women in the disadvantaged position. Not necessarily true, of course, but my first impulse in this respect, while not justified, might be explained by the predominantly misogynist attitude of conservatism in general, specifically the morally authoritarian aspects of it.

    (On a bit of a tangent, fundies are like commies: fundies are morally authoritarian, commies are economically authoritarian – although Stalin and his lot were kind of morally authoritarian too. Also, I think libertarianism is a wonderful thing to eventually work toward as a civilization when we don’t actually NEED the things economically liberal-to-moderate folk want the government to pay for, but right now implementing libertarianism is kind of like taking the training wheels off a bike when a kid’s only just started riding it with training wheels. And even then, there are some things that should perpetually have government support, such as education and research.)

    Regardless, we haven’t really created nor have been truly able to create a situation yet in which one could really discount environmental influence due to inability to control for previous experience, though there has been some altering of conditions in some examples (e.g. girls and math in the Middle East) which has shown that environment has a frustrating amount of negative influence on kids out there and reducing that negative influence goes a long way toward solving the problem.

    True, sandgroper, it is a cognitive thing, but here’s the problem: there is culturally-biased comment about these cognitive abilities, a whole lot of which is unsubstantiated by fact.

  • Katharine

    And I know you mentioned that you don’t think libertarianism is communitarian, but I’m talking more about a communitarian-esque society that eventually manages to unite social liberalism and economic libertarianism with equity of outcome for everybody (not equality, necessarily; I mean that one’s outcome would ideally only be predicated on one’s brainpower, discipline, and drive).

  • Roy

    ” inconceivable that melanesians would exhibit different architectures?”

    OK it’s not, but whatever the advantage of having blonde hair and somewhat lighter skin where the sun is as strong as it is in Melanesia is, it can have nothing to do with balancing UV protection/ vitamin D synthesis. Therefore it’s not just the architecture of hair pigmentation that is different it’s what the purpose of it is; the genes which result in blonde hair in Melanesians must be conferring a fitness advantage by doing something completely different to the ones in Russians.

    Rather than blonde hair in Russia resulting from a different mechanism aimed at solving a totally different problem to blonde hair in Melanesia (which just happens to produce similar looking hair), is it not at least as likely that blondes around the world are just different solutions to a somewhat similar problems?

    Sexual selection and/ or “parental selection” could be a super parsimonious explanation which also explains why albinism is so common in Africa. Statistically, the chances of a child being born with albinism are 1 in 17000 but one in every 4,000 Africans is born with albinism. That points towards an non-natural selection advantage for light skin precisely where it is rarest (and given African solar irradiation, the biggest handicap ).

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

    albinism is usually recessive. interesting that for a person who acknowledges parsimony you don’t except the rationale of inbreeding (which is the one i’ve seen in the literature). i believe there’s great variance in africa on that trait between groups. also, you do know that in some african societies albinos are killed and used as folk medicine?

  • Clark

    I’m becoming terrified that Sarah Palin will get the nomination. I think she’s the only candidate I’d be scared of having as President worse than McCain! Here’s hoping she falls the way Romney did last cycle… It’s too bad. As I’ve frequently mentioned at Secular Right, it’s been a long time since a candidate won the Republican nomination I felt even moderately happy about. Republicans have had a pretty bad time with candidates the past decades.

    It is weird that perceived power of groups affects so significantly how we can speak about them. On the one hand it makes a lot of sense given the crap marginal groups typically have to put up with. On the other there’s something really disheartening about not being able to have a straightforward discussion without fear about connotations be created out of power relations and dominating over more “literal” discussion.

    Regarding the FT and many other sites that limit cut and paste, there are plugins for Firefox and Safari that disable the associated Javascript.

    I’m really shocked about that statistic on France. It’s always interesting talking to educated immigrants and why they immigrate. I’ve friends who’ve moved from the US to Canada and are quite happy. I went the opposite direction. What’s more interesting yet are those who moved, are unhappy, yet inexplicably stay. I knew some people from South America like that who loved to complain about the US. I never understood that.

    Regarding multitasking, I think there are two groups. Those who think they can multitask well but can’t and those who just recognize they can’t. Debate about what group multitasks best is like arguing over what kind of cat plays the piano best.

  • pconroy

    Katherine,

    In general women have more problems reading maps than men, as this skill directly correlates with visuospatial skills, and men have the advantage here. Of course if you work in the hard sciences, you already have better than average visuospatial skills, so this wouldn’t apply to you or your colleagues, male or female.

    I have very high visuospatial skills (> 1 in 10,000), and am something of a cartophile, while my wife, whose background is medicine and public health, while a smart person who can do stats, has poor visuospatial skills. So it’s comical when we go on a trip, I look at a map and get a gestalt image of where we are, and she doesn’t pay any attention to the map, only turn by turn directions. So if we get lost and I say, I think we should head in a more NE direction, it means absolutely zero to her, meanwhile I don’t remember landmarks at all. So neither of us can give the other directions that make sense for our own cognitive profile.

    Incidentally, our local Mexican limo service have poor English skills, so when going anywhere out of the way, I print a map for them, but after a while I noticed that NONE of them can read a map – so yes map reading is linked to cognitive ability, but more particularly visuospatial skills.

  • pconroy

    In terms of Ireland – they are headed for a few years of extreme belt tightening.

    I was talking to a sister who is a elementary (primary) school teacher, over the weekend. Irish school teachers are were some of the best paid in the world, but she said that she had to take a 12% pay cut 6 months ago, then they fired her teaching assistant, then fired a few teachers and consolidated classes, to give her 37 pupils in her class. Now the latest is that if a bill passes in early December, she will have to take a FURTHER 30% PAY CUT!!!

  • Sandgroper

    #14 – Katharine, yes, don’t I know it. But I arrived at a discovery. After doing a couple hundred recruitment interviews for engineers, I did some simple analysis of candidates’ performance in public examinations at age 15 in English, Chinese, Math, Physics and Chemistry, and their scores in the recruitment interviews (we were using a formal scoring system) and, no real surprise, I got a near perfect correlation – the people who were straight A students and got the highest aggregate marks at age 15 got the highest scores in interview as professionally qualified engineers at age 27-28. I could have skipped the interviews completely and just employed people based on their exam results when they were 15, and ended up with the same recruits, with only one exception. And the recruits I ended up with were 18 girls and 17 boys.

    Of course I immediately got labelled by the phallocracy: “Sandgroper likes to employ girls.” But it was just silly trivial commentary, because I had an interview board, I was just the lead interviewer, and we were scoring independently and aggregating. The two highest scorers in interview, the real stars, were both female. You could posit that females have better interview skills, and I wouldn’t disagree, but we were asking hard technical questions to which there were right and wrong answers that needed to be thought through on the spot.

    We had over a thousand applications, short-listed about 200 for interview, and ended up employing 35. The one gender-biased comment I will make is if they all get pregnant and go on maternity leave at the same time, we’re screwed, which is a real possibility among Chinese. One year not too long ago was a Golden Pig year, which is apparently a good year to have a baby, and suddently 5 of our female engineers were all waddling around with big tummies and then on maternity leave, while their male colleagues worked extra hours to cover for them. What surprised me a bit was that the male colleagues didn’t mind. They were even discouraging the more pregnant of their female colleagues from doing arduous field work and saying “I’ll do it for you.”

    Maybe Paul is right and it’s the subset who are attracted to the science stream, I don’t know. I don’t have any numbers for the others. And I’m talking about 100% Chinese people, if that makes a difference. Well, it does make a cultural difference for sure.

  • Sandgroper

    And speaking of cognitive differences, why am I the only person who spells Katharine’s name right? :P

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    “I predict that the proportion of Chinese and Indian graduate students who remain after receiving their doctorates has been declining”

    A PhD friend of mine, who is now a director at a major Chinese Institute, loves coming to American meetings to lure people back.

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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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