Open thread 8/15/2012

By Razib Khan | August 15, 2012 12:02 am

The nature of the restrictions of the comments are relatively free-form on this post. You should maintain some decorum as usual. But you can post links, ask me or other readers questions, etc.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
  • Ultan Gannon

    My question is more about politics and the philosophy of science that science.
    I’ve read in your blog that you think that the political left is guilty of science denial, maybe not as much as the rightwing in America, but is dismissive of evidence that contradicts their own sacred values such as research into innate gender differences and race.

    You’re obviously aware of the arguments employed by feminists in the critique of the philosophy of science; that cultural values, in their view patriarchy, could unintentionally contaminate science by affecting how evidence is interpreted and what hypothesises are formed from it.
    This argument is usually combined with the more fundamental problem of using inductive logic in science, especially biology, and how any cultural norms could be mistaken for biological facts.

    My question is how do you separate out the biases from the facts?
    What makes you think that the lefts reservations about the studies into sex and race are the result of their own bias and not a legitimate acusation of bias within science? It is obviously not a totally improbable claim considering the long history of racist science in the two previous centuaries.
    From my own lay mans knowledge of the subject I’ve got the impression the jury is still out on both innate sex difference and the genetic realities of race.

    Finally I’ve also heard you describe yourself as a libertarian-conservative republican on your blog.
    How do you feel about general accusations of unscientific thinking and on occasions outright denial within American libertarianism? I mean for instance the pre-scientific deductive logic of Austrian economics and cases of rightwing libertarians such as Penn Jillette trying to deny the link between second hand smoke and cancer! (I presume this was largely due to his political philosophies distaste for public smoking bans)

    In general my question is ; how objective do you think science can be, how much is it influenced by cultural values and how much do you think people’s understanding and accepting of science is determined by political philosophy and motivated skepticism?

  • Walter

    I have a question with regard to modern humans interbreeding with other hominins (neanderthal and denisova), sorry if it is rather dumb, my background isn’t in biology and English is not my first language.

    If humans and denisovans or neanderthals could produce fertile offspring when interbreeding, does that mean that for example the difference between them was similar to the one that exists currently between coyotes, wolves, golden jackals, dogs, meaning, they will generally kill each other at sight but can interbreed and produce fertile offspring?

  • http://www.facebook.com/doclonglegs Andrew Selvarasa

    Is cow’s milk necessary for reaching optimum adult height, or are the only things that matter calcium, calories and sleep?

  • blindboy

    Walter behaviour does not fossilise so, apart from the genetic evidence for interbreeding, we don’t know much about how these different populations would have interacted. Since the usual definition of a species is based on the ability to produce fertile offspring the Neanderthals and Denisovans should probably be considered sub-species of Homo sapiens.

    Andrew, there is no reason for that to be true. There are many other sources of the necessary nutrients.

  • Darkseid

    I don’t recall any Olympics posts. Any insights? I enjoyed watching all of the different types of humans compete. Lots of manly women…

  • J.

    This is a bit random but I have question on your opinion on an issue discussed in Eric Kaufmann’s book (Shall the religious inherit the earth?), which you reviewed a couple of years back. Kaufmann basically argues that the high fertility of some religious groups is an ideological phenomenon i.e. there’s something inherent to secular modernity that causes people to dislike its vision and retreat into their own communities and try to subvert it by increasing their fertility rates.

    I wonder to what extent the recent examples of very high fertility that he focuses on (in particular that of Ultra Orthodox Jews, my area of interest) are more a function of the perverse incentives provided by the modern welfare state. To illustrate, the Ultra Orthodox Jews who moved to, say, the UK from Eastern Europe pre-WWII generally acculturated themselves in terms of education and fertility patterns to the mainstream. However, post WWII Ultra Orthodox immigrants (who arrived as the modern welfare state was getting started, and who are currently hugely dependent on welfare: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11823332), acculturated to a far smaller degree, with fertility remaining high. So even though without the cultural ideals that value high fertility you wouldn’t see the patterns Kaufmann observes, would it be correct to argue that modern welfare policies are a necessary, although not sufficient condition for the extremely high fertility rate observed amongst Ultra Orthodox Jews today, and what does this mean for higher religious fertility rates in general?

  • Warren

    has there been any futher discusion about about who and what the red deer cave people were?

  • wes

    My question is about reading speeds w/ comprehension. I am a fairly slow reader. And I tend to stop and think about what I’ve just read. On Greg Cochran’s blog, he claimed to be able to read something like 1000 wpm. Yet, everything authoritative I find says humans max out at something like 300-400 wpm. And most quite a bit less.

    I don’t want this to be a forum for guys to brag about how smart they are – can you all give me reasonable estimates as to your reading comprehension speeds? I find it fascinating because if the claims of a few are correct, there almost an order of magnitude difference between a normal person and a fast reader. I am willing to believe a few people really do read super fast, but if true, we need to study it. Greg thought he could read War and Peace in two days and pass a comprehension test on it. He thought his daughter might could to it in a long day.

    That is way beyond me.

  • Stan Tsirulnikov

    What is your take on Colin Woodard’s “American Nations”? I’m reading it for a reading group so I might pull a Fareed Zakaria on your answer.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    is this the ‘ax razib’ thread now? :-) in any case, gotta run to work, but i’ll get to most of these questions later. #9, haven’t read it, though may…the issue is that this not the first book in this genre, so what’s new about it? the outline seems broadly creditable, though people need to be careful of overreach classification systems (same prob in biology).

  • Darwinist

    What is your opinion on dysgenics? Is it a real phenomenon, should something be done about it, or should we avoid interfering with evolution no matter what direction it takes?

  • Grey

    @1 “I’ve got the impression the jury is still out on both innate sex difference”

    Then the jury is deliberately ignoring the male and female versions of olympic events.

    @5 “I don’t recall any Olympics posts. Any insights?”

    A lot of the medal winner’s podiums seemed to be filled with three people with almost the exact same body shape (although the exact shape varies from event to event).

    http://www.flirtyfleurs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Means-Weightlifting-69kg-medals-winners-take-to-the-podium.jpg

  • toto

    “The emperor of all maladies” (Razib, feel free to amazon-linkify this) is just as nice as they say. Especially if you’re a Bostoner working in the Longwood medical campus.

  • Stan Tsirulnikov

    Razib, I’m pretty ignorant of the whole issue and this is my first book on the topic. Some of the reviews I’ve skimmed say that the author applies the framework to contemporary America. Michael Barone in the WSJ says that this is somewhere between Hackett Fischer and Garreau, but that probably means more to you than to me:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204422404576594843203282876.html

  • http://contemplationist.wordpress.com Contemplationist

    Did you blog on this? If not, whatchu think?

    http://www.nature.com/news/human-cycles-history-as-science-1.11078

    Peter Turchin has predictions!

  • Ultan Gannon

    @Grey LOL, yeah good one. I’d assumed everyone would’ve understood that I meant innate differences in personality traits and cognitive styles not just physicality. I might not be a biologist but I now the difference between boys and girls thanks

  • http://educationrealist@wordpress.com Education Realist

    Wes, I was one of the posters in that conversation, and I do read 1000 wpm, clocked and reclocked. Even using those machines, in which I had to read each word as it came by, not scanning as I usually do, I hit 800, and my reading comp speeds are off the charts. I don’t know where this 300-400 “limit” came from or what the theory is behind it, although I’ve heard of it before.

    On the “order of magnitude difference”, I’ve actually written a pice (and Razib put it on his pinboard, I think) on “The Gap in the GRE” (http://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/the-gap-in-the-gre/) , about the ongoing dearth of high verbal scores (that predates the influx of Asians by 30 or more years). I think that high verbal scores are far rarer than high math scores and yes, the people with truly huge vocabularies or reading speeds are probably an order of magnitude different. (Except as someone who has stronger verbal skills than math, I’m always fuzzy on order of magnitude. Joke. Kind of.)

  • http://educationrealist@wordpress.com Education Realist

    Um, piece. I’ve written a piece.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doclonglegs Andrew Selvarasa

    #4. Thanks for replying, dude. I’d love for others to give their input as well. :D

    #17. I went ahead and YouTube’d “1000 wpm”, and found this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ign_zLYNCSY

    Surprisingly, I was able to keep up; there’s my confidence booster for the day.

  • TonyGrimes

    What are the genetically most distant human groups? I’ve heard it was Papuans and San. Have they ever produced offspring together?

  • Grey

    @3 “Is cow’s milk necessary for reaching optimum adult height, or are the only things that matter calcium, calories and sleep?”

    @4 “Andrew, there is no reason for that to be true. There are many other sources of the necessary nutrients.”

    This gave me a thought relating back to the height post.

    Imagine a time and place in the past where a population is living in an environment where
    1) Foraging is okay
    2) Crop growing isn’t very productive because of latitude or climate
    3) Cattle-raising is productive

    Then you could imagine a hybrid foraging / cattle-raising culture for example

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funnelbeaker_culture

    “With the exception of some inland settlements such as Alvastra pile-dwelling, the settlements are located near those of the previous Ertebølle culture on the coast. It was characterised by single-family daubed houses ca 12 m x 6 m. It was dominated by animal husbandry of sheep, cattle, pigs and goats, but there was also hunting and fishing. Primitive wheat and barley was grown on small patches that were fast depleted, due to which the population frequently moved small distances.”

    Say part of the diet involved drinking milk – maybe in the form of bowls of milk with added cereals and foraged seeds, nuts and berries like a kind of neolithic granola / muesli.

    Now usually if a population is producing a surplus amount of calories you’d expect the population to grow to match it but what would happen in this scenario if only 10% were lactose tolerant? The food, including the milk component, would be shared out on the basis of what was needed to live so it would be based on the lactose intolerant group only getting part of the benefit from the milk they drank i.e. say for example each lactose intolerant adult got 1700 calories from fish, meat, cereals, berries etc and 300 calories from milk for a total of 2000 calories then that same quantity of milk would be worth 500 calories to a lactose tolerant person which would mean the lactose tolerant people would be getting 2200 calories from the same share of food.

    http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-indo-european-advantage/

    “Consider that 1 Liter of cow’s milk has

    * 250 Cal from lactose
    * 300 Cal from fat
    * 170 Cal from protein

    or 720 Calories per liter. But what if one is lactose intolerant? Then no matter whether or not flatulence occurs that person does not get the 250 Calories of lactose from the liter of milk, but only gets 470.”

    (So roughly 60% and 40%.)

    So, all else being equal wouldn’t that make the lactose tolerant percentage of the population taller?

    (If so this might have added some sexual selection into the spread of LP?)

    So, maybe not the case that milk is neccessary to reach the “default” human height – despite what my extended family has always told their kids – but maybe historically heavy milk producing and consuming has correlated with greater height as a side-effect of lactose tolerance?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    average human height peaked during the last ice age. no one drank milk back them ;-) so i guess igf in milk is not necessary?

    From my own lay mans knowledge of the subject I’ve got the impression the jury is still out on both innate sex difference and the genetic realities of race.

    1) i think most biologists and psychologists would accept innate differences in sex

    2) i think most biologists and psychologists would reject innate differences in race

    the main qualifier on #1 is that because of social pressure you need to be careful how this is couched. additionally, many people who accept this proposition in the abstract will dispute the majority of cases, especially where it might introduce difficulties in the project of gender egalitarian outcomes. but, when it doesn’t trigger skepticism. for example, during the financial crisis people like michael lewis bandied about the plausible pop-evo psych hypothesis that men are more prone to risky financial behavior, etc. liberal pundits, such as matt yglesias, freely repeated this model approvingly. why? because it didn’t trigger normatively biased skepticism.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    I’ve heard it was Papuans and San.

    might be them. or might be some south american tribe. the issue here is that there is a distinction between genetic distance, due to the power of drift to create long branches, and geographical separation and then time elapsed, when you have large populations.

  • Dylan

    Will you be able to resist using Steve Sailer’s latest Olympics post as the impetus for more Finn baiting?

  • wes

    Education Realist, thanks for the response. That is remarkable. To me, the ability to read War and Peace in a day or two, and truly understand it, is mind-boggling. I can certainly skim something that has a lot of familiar material, but that’s not the same as reading something brand new – and I find I have to read all of fiction because it is all new.

  • Isabel

    I’ve often wondered if the origination tales and other myths people tell their descendants have ever been found to have even a kernel of truth…any stories of long voyages or of encountering different peoples that might correspond to migrations or actual larger/smaller peoples they encountered (giants, ogres) etc? How long before oral history loses it’s original signal completely?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    how objective do you think science can be, how much is it influenced by cultural values and how much do you think people’s understanding and accepting of science is determined by political philosophy and motivated skepticism?

    most people don’t understand science. acceptance is mostly shaped by engineering, medicine, etc., and tribal markers.

    I mean for instance the pre-scientific deductive logic of Austrian economics and cases of rightwing libertarians such as Penn Jillette trying to deny the link between second hand smoke and cancer

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2008/01/so-why-isnt-austrian-school-of.php

    What is your opinion on dysgenics? Is it a real phenomenon, should something be done about it, or should we avoid interfering with evolution no matter what direction it takes?

    smart people should breed more. yes, i think it’s real.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    How long before oral history loses it’s original signal completely?

    i’ve heard/read eight generations. but a lot of stuff which were ‘myths’ turn out to have kernels of truth, so we need some clarifications on this. i think SOME ideas/concepts decay fast, but others may not.

  • Isabel

    ” but a lot of stuff which were ‘myths’ turn out to have kernels of truth”

    Really?? can you share any examples? Or recommend any reading on the subject? Thanks, it’s such an intriguing subject. I have always had a hard time believing that the stories were completely made up, or were all simply dreams or other “visions”.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #29, the etruscan genetics story (though this may not pan out, depends on the papers coming out this year). oral tales of dingos moving in southeast asian boats in australia, later being confirmed by weird cave paintings of similar form. the trojan war was a famous example. stuff that is preserved in the bible, and seems to check out in archaeology, was obviously only written down centuries later (you can tell by the other scaffolding references).

  • http://tmbridgeland.hubpages.com/ Tom Bri

    Re reading speed, Google ‘Renshaw Reading Speed’ or anything similar. He was a psychologist in the 1930s/40s who developed a method of increasing reading speed. Interesting for me, because we used a similar system in my jr high school in the 1970s. http://www.enter.net/~torve/critics/Renshaw/renshaw.htm

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Returning to politics for a second…

    I understand why you don’t define yourself as a liberal in the U.S. sense of the term. I also understand why you aren’t a libertarian. But I’m curious why you don’t consider yourself to be a classical liberal (as Stephen Pinker does) rather than a conservative.

    I understand that although you’re a proponent of the enlightenment traditions in a broad sense, you are skeptical of their universal application. But it’s not as if the original liberal thinkers were arguing from the basis of all cultures when crafting what became liberal thought – they were either talking about their particular societies, or at most “the West” (although it wasn’t called that at the time).

    You don’t need to answer right away – I know you have a planned review of The Better Angels of our Nature coming, and I think your partial critique of the book (which I saw in part to be Pinker re-embracing liberalism after flirting with conservativism in The Blank Slate) will probably get into it.

  • http://educationrealist@wordpress.com Education Realist

    The meme about “no one can read more than 600 wpm” was popularized by Tim Noah at Slate, back in 2000. But even Noah said the research argues that 95% of the population reads within that level, leaving 5% to read faster. That sounds about right for me. And it’s probably not a linear improvement–that is, if there’s a big gap between the 95 and the 5 in both reading speed and active vocabulary, I would not find it surprising.

    I actually read War and Peace back in high school, and I certainly didn’t read it all in one sitting. I wasn’t all that interested, particularly in the second half. I read it in hour, two-hour chunks. Now, I did far fewer of those chunks than anyone else, but in order to think about the ideas, mull through the characters, and find it enjoyable, I had to put it down. And long-term memory is on a different track.

    Another example: I read Game of Thrones when it came out. I found it well-written, but too plot heavy, and read it in a couple chunks. I no doubt read it faster than most people in terms of elapsed time. But I hadn’t really been struck by anything in it, so when the next one came out (Clash?) I read Game again and then went onto Clash. then when the third one came out, I did the same thing. Martin is notorious for the gap between his books, but my relative lack of recall also has to do with the fact that I am not a big one for plot details–plus, he makes everyone evil or dead eventually, which I don’t much like.

    So just because I can read really fast doesn’t mean I scan all books that quickly. I read an average book that I enjoy in under 2 hours. Longer books–which as a rule, I don’t enjoy–I will usually put down and come back to.

    Where reading speed really is noticeable is in shorter reading. I’ve read an op-ed, read it twice, read it three times, mulled over what I thought about it, and researched any interesting facts while most people are still reading it the first time.

  • Joe Q.

    #29 Isabel, you might enjoy reading “When They Severed Earth From Sky”. It was a “game-changing” read for me.

  • Isabel

    @30 The ancient text comparisons are interesting, and apparently the Hopi and others passed down very accurate oral histories spanning centuries also, which helps give a baseline. I guess I was thinking more on the order of thousands, or tens of thousands of years. Like if there was any signal left of ice ages, or of having originated (migrated from) from the north (Americas) or of living in proximity to other human species, even if the events have been incorporated into myth.
    @34 that looks really interesting, thanks!

  • Riordan

    Razib,

    Bit of a offbeat question, but how many of the ancient Greek/Roman historians (i.e. Livy, Tacitus, Herodotus, Thucydides, etc.) have you managed to read (in translation, I assume) to completion (more or less)? Of those that you’ve completed, which were your favorites?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #36, i don’t know about complete, but lots of livy, tacitus, ammianus marc., thucydides, plutarch, polybius. not too much herodotus except via secondary sources. i used to like thycidides the most, but probably now ammianus. not too much seutonius.

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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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