Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

December 11, 2017

Open Thread, 12/11/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 2:09 am

Thinking back to The Turks in World History the author points out that even the most explicit Islamic of the late Turkic empires, that of the Ottomans, persisted with a customary law similar and cognate to the Mongol yasa. Perhaps then the folkway of the nomadic Turk was sublimated and integrated into the Islamic superstructure of the Ottoman ruling ideology?

I went to a work-related Christmas party thrown by my company’s law firm. There were a lot of VC guys there. Two of them confused me for a blockchain entrepreneur (one of them was asking about a conflict with the CFO). I think I better get into blockchain….

So the website Everyday Feminism has an article, 10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask On a First Date. I only know about this website because of conservative Twitter. It could be that 90% or more of the hits on this website are through viral “hate-clicks”.

Second, I feel the image that goes along with the article is problematic as fuck. The woman pictured seems to be geared toward appealing to cishet male norms of “attractiveness.” On the other hand, if intersectional feminists typically look something like Josie Maran…well, I won’t go there.

I will observe also that I find out about a lot of far-right movements and individuals through Left and Centrist Twitter (the two groups are interested for different reasons).

As noted in the comments, The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland. At this point, I think I can say this: unless it’s ancient DNA I’m done with the historical genetics of the British Isles. We know enough. Period.

Why the #MeToo Movement Should Be Ready for a Backlash. I don’t care too much about Al Franken, but digging a little deeper I think there might be some dirty tricks going on there…. I was rather dim on the prospects for Republicans in 2018, but at this rate, the Dems might “struggle-session” their way into defeat.

India Warily Eyes AI: Technology outsourcing has been India’s only reliable job creator in the past 30 years. Now artificial intelligence threatens to wipe out those gains. When I believed in the End of History and the Last Man this would matter to me. Now it’s all a big shrug.

The ancestral animal genetic toolkit revealed by diverse choanoflagellate transcriptomes.

Another reason that helper-AIs can’t come to medicine soon enough:

Chronicler of Islamic State ‘killing machine’ goes public.

As home DNA tests become more common, people must grapple with surprises about their parents:

Until recently, Andrea Ramirez, 43, thought she was part Mexican.

But the results from an at-home genetic test from 23andMe revealed that she is a mix of Northern European, North African and a little Native American.

And not at all hispanic.

There can be no genetic test for being Hispanic because that is a socio-cultural identity. There are Korean, Arab, and Nordic Hispanics. Even the most common genetic profile varies, from mostly European Argentines to mostly indigenous Bolivians to Afro-Cubans and Afro-Colombians.

When I read stuff like this I really wonder what they teach journalists (the Census explicitly declaims the the idea that Hispanic is a racial category).

I spent a fair amount of time this weekend cleaning up scripts that can batch process 23andMe, Ancestry and FamilyTree DNA input files and push them down the pipeline toward generating admixture percentages. I have posted the most current results from the South Asian Genotype Project have been posted.

Two things

1) I’m not happy with the clusters that I used. I may change them (in which case I’ll rerun everything).
2) Once I’ve done that I’ll probably send some of my scripts to Zack Ajmal and he can run all the Harappa individuals with this new cluster.

Finally, people from the “Cow Belt” don’t get genotyped. No submissions from UP or Bihar so far. Very frustrating.

The word problematic is problematic in my opinion. I really want to punch people when they use that word. But I’ve lost that battle.

My friend Chad Niederhuth is starting his plant genomics lab at Michigan State. He’s looking for graduate students and postdocs.

My friend Nathan Pearson’s HLA genomics start-up, Root is out of stealth mode.

Looking at my Kindle stack wondering about which of these five books to tackle next:

December 4, 2017

Open Thread, 11/4/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 9:45 am

A disproportionate number of submissions to the South Asian Genotype Project have been Bangladeshi. That surprised me. Though I’ve gotten a few obscure submissions, so all for the good. I’ll update submitters by email in the next day or two and probably note something on next week’s open thread.

If my original post wasn’t clear: I really hope to get more samples from the “cow belt.”

Been busy with work and stuff leading up to Holidays. What’s going on?

November 26, 2017

Open Thread, 11/26/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 5:59 pm

A few days ago there was a Twitter thing about top five books that have influenced you. It’s hard for me to name five, but I put three books down for three different reasons:

  • Principles of Population Genetics, because it gives you a model for how to analyze and understand evolutionary processes. There are other books out there besides Principles of Population Genetics. But if you buy this book you don’t need to buy another (at SMBE this year I confused Andy Clark with Mike Lynch for a second when introducing myself. #awkward)
  • The Fall of Rome. A lot of historical writing can be tendentious. I’ve also noticed an unfortunate tendency of historians dropping into contemporary arguments and pretty much lying through omission or elision to support their political side (it usually goes “actually, I’m a specialist in this topic and my side is 100% correct because of obscure-stuff where I’m shading the facts”). The Fall of Rome illustrates the solidity that an archaeological and materialist take can give the field. This sort of materialism isn’t the final word, but it needs to be the start of the conversation.
  • From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. To know things is important in and of itself. My own personal experience is that the returns to knowing things in a particular domain or area do not exhibit a linear return. Rather, it exhibits a logistic curve. Initially, it’s hard to make sense of anything from the facts, but at some point comprehension and insight increase rapidly, until you reach the plateau of diminishing marginal returns.

If you haven’t, I recommend you subscribe to Patrick Wyman’s Tides of History podcast. I pretty much wait now for every new episode.

The big Washington food fight. GMO labeling is coming.

In Our Time has two very good episodes recently I recommend on the Picts and Thebes.

The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido. When I read the title I assumed that the piece was somehow informed by evolutionary psychology. No. It’s larded with Freudianism.

Evolutionary psychology has taken its hits over the last 15 years, and rightly so when it’s basically re-warmed social psychology, but the stuff informed by primatology is 21st century science (you can agree to disagree, but there’s something to grab onto there). Freudianism sometimes gets a bad rap even though its origins were not nearly as woolly as we might think, but cutting-edge early 20th century psychology is really beyond its sell-by date today.

This is the stuff that makes me pessimistic that the “replication crisis” is going to have any impact on the media or the public. For example, At Yale, we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals. The results say a lot about our political divisions. The author of the op-ed is a major person in the center of the controversy around replication. In particular, “ego depletion.” This op-ed is based on studies with p-values of 0.034 and such.

Detecting past and ongoing natural selection among ethnically Tibetan women at high altitude in Nepal. It’s polygenic and we don’t understand the architecture of the trait that well it seems. Basically, early selection sweeps detected some major loci, but it’s not the whole story. Reminds me of pigmentation.

An endogenous retroviral envelope syncytin and its cognate receptor identified in the viviparous placental Mabuya lizard. This is pretty cool, the same process seems to be occurring over and over.

Rethinking phylogenetic comparative methods. I think this is will be an impactful paper once it gets published.

Meanwhile, this looks interesting: The role of chromosomal inversions in speciation.

I posted some Taylor Swift memes to Twitter as a joke. They seem quote popular, especially the ones related to string theory and evolution, though the one related to Arminian and orthodox Calvinist soteriology took off in a different sector of Twitter.

The funny thing is several people were angry because they thought I was putting down Taylor Swift.

November 19, 2017

Open Thread, 11/19/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 10:33 pm

So we put up a 3rd reviewer mug. Kind of an “inside joke”, but we liked it. One thing we have noticed: people really like the DNA helix logo. They click it. They buy it. More visual, less wordy.

One thing that’s funny, when it paternal haplogroups I1 clicks a lot, but they never buy (in contrast to R1b).

Thousands of horsemen may have swept into Bronze Age Europe, transforming the local population. The piece is pretty expansive, though something of a mess. But it’s a mess because there are still unresolved issues.

There’s a Digital Media Crash. But No One Will Say It. Privately my friends in the media tell me exactly this. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. There are many reasons, but it’s happening.

The Evolutionary Genomic Dynamics of Peruvians Before, During, and After the Inca Empire. Similar thing in Mexico: old population structure is still there!

Singleton Variants Dominate the Genetic Architecture of Human Gene Expression. Genomics is a little overhyped, at least in evolution, but it can really do incredible things nailing down the specific details of what’s going on.

The nature of nurture: effects of parental genotypes and Estimating heritability without environmental bias.

Don’t throw out the sympatric species with the crater lake water: fine-scale investigation of introgression provides weak support for functional role of secondary gene flow in one of the clearest examples of sympatric speciation.

I’ve spent a little time reading Oathbringer this week, mostly before I go to sleep. It’s a little hard to keep track of everything because it’s been seven years since the first book and over three since the last one. Since Brandon Sanderson projects ten books in the series I doubt I will finish this out. At the current rate of production I will be thinking about retirement when the Stormlight Archive is near completion!

But reading Oathbringer it did come to my mind that Sanderson has done a really good job in building a world which is fundamentally not just a European Middle Ages retread, as is the norm in much of fantasy. There are so many new words and characters to keep track of I think I didn’t internalize this in the earlier books. So I did a little Googling and found that Sanderson was trying to do the same thing that Frank Herbert did in Dune, by creating a whole new and novel ecology.

Secondly, he has mentioned that most of his characters are not white and that he has struggled to make sure that they are not depicted in stereotypical European fashion in cover art. The primary protagonists are in fact a people who he imagines to be a hybrid between East Asians and Middle Easterners (his time in Korea as a Mormon missionary inflected his world-building), though that is simply the closest analog. He specifically states that the one human race without epicanthic folds, and look the most European in feature and complexion, are often assumed to be East Asian in by readers because of their exoticism and name (Shin).

Charles Manson has died. I haven’t read it, but have heard good things about Jeff Guin’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson (it seems like it’s a cultural history).

Precise dating of the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition in Murcia (Spain) supports late Neandertal persistence in Iberia. What we’re learning is that our patchy understanding of the human past also understates how patchy and uneven many dynamics were.

The day the Pintupi Nine entered the modern world. The story of nine people who were totally isolated from the modern world until 1984. They were scared when they met relatives who had lived in a town. To convince them to stay the relatives had them taste sugar.

November 12, 2017

Open Thread, 11/12/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 7:42 pm

One of the major insights of contemporary cognitive psychology is that a lot of human mental processes emerge from the intersection of lower level intuitions/models/instincts. The key is to remember that a lot of mental operations occur implicitly and rapidly, and we often construct ad hoc rationalizations after the fact (see The Enigma of Reason).

Because rationality is such a good talker many of us have deluded ourselves into thinking that instead of being a mouthpiece and a lawyer that gets us out of sticky situations, it’s actually calling the shots. No.

Anyone interested in these topics should check out Paul Bloom’s Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human (or his other books).

This comes to mind when thinking about issues that have been bubbling up in our society. A friend on Facebook who is an evolutionary anthropologist wondered about the context of Harvey Weinstein’s serial rapes. I think A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion get’s a bad rap because of the incendiary topic, but in this case, I think cognitive psychology yields a quicker and clearer answer. Weinstein is a very wealthy man, so if it was sex with nubile women he could have paid for high-priced escorts (and it seems he did on occasion). But cognitive psychology suggests that people crave “authenticity.” Weinstein’s targeting and abuse of women he knew professionally and personally clearly provided for him an addictive frisson that paying for sex wouldn’t have given him.

Today people are passing around this “shock poll,” Poll: 37 percent of Alabama evangelicals more likely to vote for Moore after allegations. Probably most of these people think this is a politically motivated hit. That being said, it brought to mind a passage from In Gods We Trust where respondents asserted that disconfirming evidence in regards to their beliefs actually made them stronger in their beliefs.

In other words, when it comes to deeply held beliefs people aren’t going to react in a straightforward manner to reason and logic. Don’t be surprised if they behave irrationally. If the irrationality is consistent across individuals there’s probably some deeper psychology you aren’t accounting for.

The problem of doctors’ salaries. The AMA licensing cartel is keeping the supply of medical services constrained. Yes, we need more doctors. But we need more non-doctors to be able to do things that only doctors can do right now.

On the other hand, medical doctors have on average $200,000 of educational debt when they graduate. The high debt load is probably in part because there is the assumption that they will be making between $200,000 and $400,000 per year (though with income tax rates, as well as malpractice insurance, remember their net take home is considerably less).

These sorts of structural features are why we can’t have nice things. I suspect most people agree that the American tax code should be reformed…but peoples’ choices have been made with deductions in mind!

We’re rolling out more shirts for DNAGeeks. Eight people have bough GNXP t-shirts. Would be curious to post a picture of someone wearing one of those. A little surprised, but the Evo-Devo t-shirts are selling well. Anyone have any ideas for something more pop-gen related?

I love maps which have more granularity than country vs. country comparisons. I really hate when people compare the USA to European countries. California alone is nearly as populous as Spain, which isn’t even a small European country.

The map to the left shows the areas of high GDP in South Asia, though resizing region by the size of the population would help give a better sense. The distinction between urban and rural is very stark in Bangladesh.

I predict Twitter will be clearly in a death spiral in a year. The proportion of highly polarized political chatter on my timeline keeps increasing, even though I’m not following anyone different. The vibrant years of “genomics twitter” seem to be a thing of the past.

The above tweet has gone somewhat viral. What did I mean above? The sort of thing in The End of History and the Last Man, that the terminal stable state of humanity would be post-materialist secular individualist liberalism. Though secularism seems to remain ascendant in the West, for now, the post-materialist individualism liberal project seems to be fraying. Instead of Western culture being a stand-in for global culture, it may be in the near future it will again be just another culture among cultures.

November 5, 2017

Open Thread, 09/05/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 7:07 am

Over the weekend DNAGeeks put up some Gene Expression t-shirts. Check it out!

Saudi Crown Prince’s Mass Purge Upends a Longstanding System. This is a big deal with major ramifications.

Genomic Signatures of Sexual Conflict.

Finished Red Flag: A History of Commumism. Recommedned.

October 29, 2017

Open Thread, 10/29/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 9:33 pm

Read some of The Red Flag: A History of Communism. In the interests of being candid, I do have to say that many intellectuals today who are skeptical of Communism might be much more open to the ideology in the early 20th century. Marxism literaly hadn’t been tried.

The key issue is that it has been tried.

Kids very excited about Halloween.

The CRISPR stuff is exciting.

October 22, 2017

Open Thread, 10/22/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 2:04 pm

Reading The Turks in World History and confused how any state whose elite were non-nomads held out before the gunpowder revolution. Also, the persistent defection of Chinese generals and soldiers to the side of the barbarians is interesting light of other conversations we’ve had.

Are there any (post-)Roman examples of this? I know that an early Dark Age a major Slavic warlord was actually a Frankish merchant (Samo). But did whole units “go native”? Seems likely in Francia and Britain.

ASHG in Orlando is over. Much more excited by ASHG in San Diego next year, because it’s in San Diego. That being said the conference seems to be moving into a strong clinical genomic direction.

Lots of stuff going on. Still recuperating. My company released a Metabolism app.

A paper from a few years ago argues that we could sequence the whole world by 2025 (capacity).

This paper argues 60 million will be sequenced in healthcare context by 2025. Seems conservative.

Went to a Broad Institute presentation where they said they had 300,000 exomes and 85,000 whole genomes sequenced.

Now that researchers are converging in the likelihood that  modern humans spend the vast majority of their time in Africa, it looks like evolutionary population genomics in the next 10 years will really focus on that continent.


October 15, 2017

Open Thread, 10/15/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 6:09 pm

E. O. Wilson has a new book out, The Origins of Creativity. Did you know about it? Honestly totally surprised. Wilson’s been retired for a while now, so his profile isn’t as high as it was. He’s 88, so you got to give it to him that he can keep cranking this stuff out.

The New Yorker introduced me to Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. This is a topic that I’m interested in, but I’m not sure I disagree with the author at all, so I doubt I’d get much out of it for the time invested.

Basically, I agree with the proposition that for the average human being quality of life was probably somewhat better before agriculture, until the past few hundred years when innovation increased productivity and the demographic transition kicked in.

Will be at ASHG meeting Tuesday night until Saturday morning. Going to be at the Helix session on Wednesday and probably man their booth for an hour.

This year seems a little light on evolutionary genomics. Perhaps the methods posters will be good though.

Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild. Basically, it looks like there are some genetically based behavioral differences which makes dogs amenable to being pets and wolves not so much.

Na-Dene populations descend from the Paleo-Eskimo migration into America. Not entirely surprised, but kind of nails it down for good. One thing to remember is that New World and Old World were not totally isolated before the arrival of the Norse and later Iberians. For example, the Asian War Complex shows up in northwest North America 1,300 years ago.

The Decline of the Midwest’s Public Universities Threatens to Wreck Its Most Vibrant Economies. I think it is important to remember that economics is a means, not an ends. There is plenty of evidence that conservatives in the USA see academia as hostile to them and inimical to its values. On a thread where Alice Dreger asserted the importance of truth as the ultimate goal of an academic, one scientist unironically wondered how they could make their research further social justice goals.

So yes, many people who are going to try and defund academia understand that might not be optimal for economic growth. But if they believe that they’re funding their own cultural and political elimination, they don’t care.

An Alternate Universe of Shopping, in Ohio. Another story about the transformation of retail. One thing that is curious and strange to me is the evolution of the idea and perception of the mall over the past 25 years. Back in the 1980s malls were modernist shrines to the apogee of American capitalism. Today they seem mass-market and declasse. Part of it is that you don’t want to be a member of a club that everyone can join.

California Fires Leave Many Homeless Where Housing Was Already Scarce. This is horrible on so many levels.

An Unexpectedly Complex Architecture for Skin Pigmentation in Africans.

Over at Brown Pundits I wrote Race is not just skin color. I didn’t post it here because frankly it just seemed a silly thing to even have to explain.

Variation and functional impact of Neanderthal ancestry in Western Asia .

A few weeks ago over at Secular Right I wrote Why Trump could murder someone and people would still support him.

1977–2017: A Retrospective. Peter Turchin reminds us that for Russians the 1990s were horrible.

This graph from Planet Money blew up for me a bit on sci-twitter. The thing is that it’s easy to talk about racial and sexual diversity (or lack thereof) because it’s visible. On the other hand, people from less affluent backgrounds may not want to advertise that, so many are unaware of the implicit class assumptions that many people make:

October 8, 2017

Open Thread, 10/08/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 5:37 pm

What’s going on?

October 1, 2017

Open Thread, 10/01/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 7:57 pm

Thinking about Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. It’s a good book. I’d recommend it. But a lot of the research highlighted pre-dates the era of the “reproducibility crisis.” That is, some of the positive results just didn’t end up being replicated after this book was written (more ethical behavior if you show people false eyes is mentioned, as are priming studies).

I think this is a general issue for anything written before 2015 that deals with psychology (unless it’s a book that to some extent tries to refute the ubiquity of overly sexy ideas, like The Invisible Gorilla).

Patrick Wyman has a podcast, The Fall of Rome Podcast. He comments on this weblog now and then. Recommended.

Over at Anatoly Karlin’s some confusion because his comments, from a Russian IP, were labeled “spam.” He thought I had banned him. Unfortunately, I don’t understand the logic of some comments labeled as spam, and I have to retrieve them many weeks later, as I check the spam folder only once a week or so. The ones with lots of links make sense, but sometimes there must be some semantic similarity with comment spam (and a lot of the spambots for a while had .ru addresses, so that explains why they don’t like Russian IP addresses).

Also, since for a while they thought I banned him some of his commenters who I had probably legitimately banned at some point decided to rant about how I don’t know anything about genetics or history and I’m a poo-poo head. There are lots of things you could criticize me for…but not knowing genetics or history are weird ones to fix upon. But hey, perhaps I’m the stupid one here with the blog that they were reading, while they, the anonymous commenters, are really so genius I can’t even Grokk their incandescent brilliance (there is a strange similarity in criticisms from both frog-Nazis and SJWs directed toward me as to my ignorance of all the facts they know).

Emails Show How An Ivy League Prof Tried To Do Damage Control For His Bogus Food Science. And Why We Find And Expose Bad Science. The researcher at the center of this scientific scandal actually seems like a decent human being from what I can tell. Unfortunately, he also seems to have likely been committing very basic statistical errors in his research and enabled a culture of sloppiness. The problem with not coming down with a hammer on a prominent professor at Cornell is that lenience will give the green light to more researchers that sloppiness and statistical shoddiness will “pay.”

If you don’t follow my RSS you might know, but I’m posting more at Brown Pundits and Secular Right.

I do have one opinion on Catalonia: seems like the government in Madrid took a low flame and sprayed gasoline all over it.

People regularly confuse that Africa has the most genetic diversity with the idea that African populations have the most genetic diversity among them in terms of ‘genetic distance.’ I realized an easy way to explain why this does not follow: Bantu populations diverged over the past 3,000 years, Eurasians over the past 40,000 years. The Eurasians went through a massive bottleneck, and so are less genetically diverse than all Sub-Saharan Africans. But the genetic distance between two Eurasian populations can be greater than between two Bantu populations because there is ten times as much time to accumulate between-group differences in the case of Eurasians than Bantus (in contrast, the high between-group difference among San Bushmen indicates really deep divergences).

September 24, 2017

Open Thread, 09/24/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 2:22 pm

Reading Harold Marcus’ A History of Ethiopia. So far a little too heavy on diplomatic as opposed to social history. My curiosity was piqued when reading The Fortunes of Africa when the author observed that the geopolitical extend of the modern Ethiopian state was partially a function of a relatively late state expansion in the 19t and 20th centuries from the Abyssinian highlands.

It’s one of those facts which allow other facts to snap into place. I’ve always been curious about the huge number of Muslims and Somalis in modern Ethiopia. Well, it turns out to be a function of the fact that the borders were drawn at a particular moment and time.

Neolithization of North Africa involved the migration of people from both the Levant and Europe.

A stray thought I had. For years people have been wary about Richard Dawkins’ conflation of atheism with science, and evolution more particularly. I am starting to wonder if the more self-conscious political activism of scientists, almost uniformly on the Left, will start to have an impact.

The problem is that at for now scientists depend on the public for their funding by and large (there are exceptions obviously). A polarized public which does not esteem science and has a faction which sees it as hostile may be less interested in cutting checks for “blue sky” projects (i.e., NIH will be fine, but the NSF….). Since academics are overwhelming of one political orientation I suspect they have a poor intuition of how quickly such a change could come about (there is more real diversity there than is vocalized, but many people I know personally have no inclination for public denunciations due to any heterodoxy, so they keep their mouths shut).

Going to the ASHG meeting in one month. I doubt I will venture out into Orlando. I have been to a conference in that city before, but never left the convention center attached to the airport! Am I missing something?

In general, I avoid national politics. But the whole controversy around football is curious because I’m skeptical that the sport will be around in a generation.

One thing that I have been thinking recently is dropping my Twitter follow back down to 300 or so. I still use Twitter obviously…but it’s getting too dumb. And lots of interesting and smart voices are going passively into lurk mode because it’s exhausting having to deal with dumb people.

September 17, 2017

Open Thread, 9/17/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 8:12 pm

Reading Vietnam: A New History. The author has an apologia/explanation for why he is focusing not just on European colonialism, but the history of what became Vietnam back to the first contacts with Han China (with some perfunctory archaeological passages). This is great in theory, but from what I have read so far we’re going to have a tryst with the French sooner than later. So I don’t think he really delivered here (though perhaps “normal” people want to read about evil European colonialism immediately?).

By coincidence, there is a Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War now. One of my friends from when I was a kid had (has) a dad who was a Vietnam vet. He’d have night terrors. Only now do I realize how recently in the past it was for him back in the 1980s.

I did enjoy The Best and the Brightest.

Sent out my second newsletter. Here’s a stat that I divulged: more than 50% of traffic to this site is directly due to Google+Twitter+Facebook. In 2011 it was 35%. Much of the difference is due to the decline in RSS feeds, and the rise of mobile.

Why is Twitter not what it was in the early 2010s? I think part of it is that there are too many people on Twitter, and the average user is less intelligent overall. Unlike Facebook on Twitter the “genius” is anyone can talk to you. This is a problem.

The grandmaster of Mormon dweeb fantasy (I say this affectionately) Brandon Sanderson is coming out with the third book in his projected ten book Stormlight Archive series.

I’m at peace with the likelihood that I won’t finish this series. Sanderson is a great world-builder, so I’m looking at these books more as fictional ethnographies. Just along for a short ride.

Finally in the homestretch of A New History of Western Philosophy. After the classical period I haven’t really enjoyed this book, it was a slog. I began to read it at the same time as I read Consciousness and the Brain, which I finished in a week. Two years on I’m finally finishing the other book I started then.

Finally, again I highly recommend The Fortunes of Africa. Great read. I do have to say that it was hard not to be particularly appalled by Arab slave traders. It’s not like the European trade isn’t appalling, but that’s widely known. In contrast the driving of black Africans across the Sahara is less in the Western consciousness.

September 10, 2017

Open Thread, 09/10/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 7:06 pm

Read The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith this weekend. It’s a quick read, and a pretty good concise survey of the religion and its history. Recommended.

Next up I think I’ll tackle Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa.

Genomic evidence for population specific selection in Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo linguistic groups in Africa. The title gets at the interesting parts (though unsurprising). Not sure about the phylogenomic/population history aspect…for example, contends that Sub-Saharan ancestry mostly derives from Nuba mountains. I don’t think that’s true.

“Open Threads” seem to have a huge variance in number of comments. Perhaps what I prime has a big impact?

Why I am not blogging anymore. I am one of a dying breed.

In relation to why Twitter is getting dumber, there are five times as many users as in 2010. Can the platform really keep quality up? What I like to think of as “dumb Twitter” is getting to be a bigger and bigger proportion, and the bigger it gets the more people go silent who are of high quality.

Posting on the Rohingya controversy the last few days has convinced me that most people who express opinions are mostly interested in posturing. People of conscience can agree that killing of civilians is wrong. But the details of action from that premise vary wildly. Also, my attempt to get at the facts of contextual elements apparently make me suspicious to many people!

In relation to foreign policy, I think that distrusting “elites” is probably for the best. The primary thing they know is their own interests.

The Last Days of ISIS’ Capital: Airstrikes if You Stay, Land Mines if You Flee.

PETA versus the postdoc: Animal rights group targets young researcher for first time. I think this sort of behavior is more acceptable in the world of ‘social media shaming.’

Americans Losing Faith in College Degrees, Poll Finds. Not all Americans:

Today, Democrats, urban residents and Americans who consider themselves middle- and upper-class generally believe college is worth it; Republicans, rural residents and people who identify themselves as poor or working-class Americans don’t.

Also, colleges don’t get it:

Schools such as Michigan State, the University of Wisconsin system and the University of Florida are trying to improve their public standing with marketing efforts. In Wisconsin, the university system has taken out billboards across the state highlighting the impact alumni have had on the local economy.

The problem isn’t in marketing, it’s in the product.

On a related vein, over at Oberlin, Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall. In the Pacific Northwest, After a turbulent spring, Evergreen faces enrollment decline, budget woes. Finally, Long After Protests, Students Shun the University of Missouri. Hyper-politicization does not seem good for the product.

Finally, interested readers should consider getting a copy of Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. The next five years or so will be saturated with results coming out of massive genomic studies which will make much more sense if one has a theoretical framework with which to interpret the them.

September 3, 2017

Open Thread, 9/4/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 10:23 pm

I found the above video through Rod Dreher. It touched me on a visceral level because the baby in the first portion looks strikingly like my youngest. He’s sitting and smiling so much now. Really appreciating his infant-hood, as this is the third time we’re going through this.

All I can say in relation to having children is that now I know what matters, all that matters, and that none of the rest matters.

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones has come and gone. They’re really compressing a lot of material into only a few episodes. I didn’t watch the earlier seasons before the show got ahead of the books, but I have to think they were more leisurely. I’ll watch the final season to get a sense of the ending in the books in case George R. R. Martin doesn’t finish them, but I think the sprint to the finish line means that if he does write the remaining books he’ll have a lot of free territory to himself.

Now on Stage: The Countdown to a New Taylor Swift Album. Streaming has gone from 23 to 63 percent of the market in three years.

Neanderthals and Denisovans as biological invaders.

Evolutionary biology today and the call for an extended synthesis.

The second sage. The fact that Westerners don’t know who Mencius is (a premise of the piece) is ridiculous. But probably true. I would still recommend Xunzi: The Complete Text for another early Confucian viewpoint.

I added a disclosures page. Mostly all that matters right now is that I work at Insitome, trying to do interesting things in the personal genomics space (and now that the Helix store is open you can purchase our first offering).

If you haven’t, please sign-up for my newsletter. I’m seeing more and more despondency on the nature of Twitter from the people who use it the most and produce the vast majority of the content. I suspect it will collapse sooner than later….

The Looming Decline of the Public Research University. As someone with intellectual aspirations but a conservative political viewpoint I’m conflicted. On the one hand the academy produces great work. On the other hand a lot of academics don’t see a difference between someone like me and Nazis (judging by “likes” of things I’ve retweeted to test the waters in relation to those promoting the proposition). Like it or not many conservatives perceive that a subset of the academy is dangerous to us on existential grounds. Why should we pay for our own destruction? If we could surgically remove these departments then the university could maintain itself, but that seems impossible. So you see where the future leads.

This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same. “…Houston may not be a nice place to visit, but you would want to live there. I do.”

The Best DNA Ancestry Testing Kit. There is some good and some bad in this review. But it’s thorough.

Fun fact, 44% of this site’s traffic is now mobile.

August 27, 2017

Open Thread, 08/27/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 8:06 am
Razib & Dr. Ghulam Sarwar (1896-1996)

I showed my daughter a photo of my maternal grandfather yesterday. He was holding me in his lap. It’s probably about 1981, so he would have been about 85 years old then. I was his first grandchild, as he had a family late in life. He saw a lot of changes in his life. Born into the British Raj during the late Victorian period, he died when I was using the internet regularly to email friends and relatives.

In his home village they called him the “Goony Doctor”, as Ghani was part of his longer surname.

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. Seems like an interesting and relevant book. On the other hand, we always have to keep in mind that China’s labor force peaked several years ago. The demographic pressures on China in the 21st century will probably always mean that it won’t exhibit the vigor of a nation like the United States of America during the baby boom.

Hurricane Harvey has been a big deal. In Central Texas we’ve been hunkering down, but it’s Houston that is in real danger. America’s 4th largest city.

Still soliciting sign ups for my newsletter. It’s more of a “hey Twitter has disappeared here is where I am on the web” notification system. Have only sent one mailing so far. Will increase frequency in future, but probably max once a month.

A lot of discussion on “science Twitter” about getting rid of GREs. Scientists are smart, but they don’t know everything. To understand ‘intelligence testing’ I recommend people read Intelligence: All That Matters or The Neuroscience of Intelligence. People throw around ideas like “GRE is culturally biased,” but cultural bias on testing is a whole topic with a specific meaning. That is, are the tests able to predict future performance on tasks to the same extent across groups?

I suspect that the GRE is on its way out though. Many scholars don’t support the shift, but they won’t say much in public lest they be attacked. Of course that will lead to greater emphasis on undergraduate school attended as well as the eminence of those giving recommendations.

August 20, 2017

Open Thread, 08/20/27

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 4:46 pm

I’ve been off the map for a bit because I’m eclipse chasing. #TotalityOrBust as they say. The whole family has been converging on zone of totality, and now we’re there. Obviously I’m excited.

There are lots of things going on in the world. One thing though that I’m beginning to think is that people would benefit reading more cognition science. I know I certainly did years ago. The main issue is that we’re not rational in the way we think we’re rational, and that leads to a lot of confusions why other people behave the way they do. Check out Enigma of Reason (I came upon a lot of this literature through the study of the cognition of religion).

Complex Patterns of Admixture across the Indonesian Archipelago. Someone who knows archaeology should read this….

The genetic history of Ice Age Europe. This was published last year. But it should be re-read. Closely.

August 13, 2017

Open Thread, 08/13/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 1:17 pm

Busy with kids and life. But perhaps time to read Peter Turchin’s Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History. I was skeptical when Peter presented this idea years ago. Less so now.

I’m on the eclipse train. The whole family will be chasing it soon.

Paul Thompson is on Twitter. If you read this blog in the early/middle 2000s it will be a familiar name. Paul had thought I had stopped blogging! Moving platforms every few years does that.

So a friend of mine was advising that I should push sign-ups to my newsletter, as he too believes that Twitter’s days in its current form are numbered. I’ve only sent out one mailing so far, but may increase the frequency to once a month or so. Mostly I’m a little worried that without Twitter people like me who produce content, but aren’t affiliated with a media distribution channel, are going to get lost in the din.

Anyway, please sign up if you don’t follow me on Twitter (or if you do).

August 6, 2017

Open Thread, 07/06/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 7:58 pm

I know that George R. R Martin has stated that the ending to A Song of Ice and Fire is going to be bittersweet. R. Scott Bakker’s conclusion to the Aspect Emperor tetralogy ends with a bittersour ending. Fair warning.

Also, the writing of the last third of The Unholy Consult was good in terms of packing a lot of action and plotting, but it was hard to keep track of all the obscure names.

The new episode of Game of Thrones is very good. Nice for things to actually happen.

I’ve been offline most of the weekend. Several people asked me about the Google Memo. Here’s the weird thing: huge subcultures within the organization aren’t even American. Several friends for example have been token Americans on Chinese teams. Their values and priorities are obviously very different even if they don’t inform the ‘public face’ of the company. It’s all rather strange (yes, whoever wrote that memo will surely be fired).

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. I think Matt Stoller’s anti-monopolist views have should appeal to many people on the Right as well as the Left. Google and Facebook are arguably much more powerful than any state government when it comes to shaping our culture.

A. N. Wilson spent five years working on a biography of Charles Darwin that is coming out next year. So he published It’s Time Charles Darwin Was Exposed for the Fraud He Was. I find Darwin idolatry a bit much sometimes personally. And I’m  not deeply versed in his intellectual biography. I’ve read The Origin of Species, and have read several of Peter J. Bowler’s works.

I can only comment on what I know in more detail. At some point Wilson tries to tag Neo-Darwinians with Dawkins’ atheism. But Dawkins is an extreme case. Arguably the god-father of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, R. A. Fisher, was an Anglican and a Tory. No offense to Dawkins, but his substantive scientific contribution is dwarfed by Fisher. And yet Wilson is pushing Dawkins to the front as an exemplar of Neo-Darwinism.

Wilson also says that Neo-Darwinians couldn’t therefore revere Gregor Mendel because he was a monk. It’s all rather strange because it’s called “Mendelian Genetics.” Not mention that biographies I’ve read suggested that Mendel himself was not excessively pious. Rather, his monastic vocation freed him from financial worries, allowing him sufficient leisure to engage in studies. But perhaps I’m wrong in this, after all Wilson has studied Darwin for five years!

Finally, there is the utilization of Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge to attack Darwinian gradualism. I’m not a big fan of all this macroevolutionary talk, but the late Gould and Eldridge would not be happy to be drafted in this way. Charles Darwin was wrong on a lot of things. That’s because he had a lot of ideas.

The central deep insight from Darwin’s theory was the power of natural selection to shape variation and drive adaptation. One can argue about the importance of this dynamic in evolutionary process, but the fact that it is still being studied shows how fruitful Darwin’s theory was in generating a living program of science.

What the company I work for is working on.

July 31, 2017

Open Thread, 07/31/2017

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 1:25 am

Read a bit of The Unholy Consult. People who say George R R Martin’s work is too dark? They need to really read a bit of R. Scott Bakker, and Martin will seem to like someone who sees the world through rose-colored glasses.

I’m thinking of reading The Witchwood Crown later because I might need a pick-me-up after The Unholy Consult. I’ve also had The Wise Man’s Fear in my Kindle stack for over five years now, but I plan on reading it when Patrick Rothfuss finishes the series with book 3.

Speaking of fantasy, there is a lot of commentary on Game of Thrones. Always. Some of it is quite dumb. For instance, Game of Thrones and race: who are the non-white characters and where are they from in the books and show? To make a sound argument you actually need to know something about the books. The writer does not. For example, “The Targaryen monarchs, who ruled Westeros for hundreds of years but, thanks to their thing for incest, never really bred all that much with the locals.” This is false. Daenerys is only 1/8th Valyrian (at most). Half her recent ancestry is from a First Men house, the Blackwoods (though it surely has much Andal blood too). About 3/8th of her recent ancestry is Dornish, so a mix of Andal, First Men, and Rhoynish.

Second, George R. R. Martin published the first book in the series in 1996. It was on his mind for years before that. Obviously if he was writing these books today he’d tune them so they were more in sync with the cultural politics of the contemporary Left (since that is where his own personal sympathies lie). But it isn’t as if he can go back and rewrite the major characters and add some diversity which some of his fans might now want. The 1990s were a different time. I recall back on some message boards that Renly’s sexual orientation was an issue for some readers. Martin was arguably ahead of the times on that score.

There are fantasy works where the central characters are nonwhite. Both Judith Tarr in Avaryan series and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series have been around for a while. And both these worlds have the added benefit of not being standard Tolkienesque medieval settings.

Inside Facebook’s Rapid Growth in Austin. Their presence is felt.

Kimura & Crow: Infinite alleles. Really great piece on the working relationship between Motoo Kimura and James F. Crow. About 11 years I emailed Crow 10 questions on a lark. He responded in less than a day. Also, Kimura and Crow’s An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory is worth getting (it’s cheap).

Divorce and Occupation. No surprise that there’s a correlation between income and divorce rate (negative). But some professions are outliers. Bartender and nurse anesthetists are above the trend line (more divorce than their income predicts). Clerics and actuaries are well below it.

Postdoctoral positions in human population genomics, nutrigenomics, & association studies at Cornell in Alon Keinan’s lab.

How evolution draws trade-offs.

The TakingHayekSeriously Twitter account has been passing along pieces and posts around the controversy surrounding Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. The book is ridiculous. So ridiculous that Vox published a piece Even the intellectual left is drawn to conspiracy theories about the right. Resist them.

I’ve been very loosely associated with libertarians because of my political sympathies for a long time. Years ago I actually visited The Center for Study of Public Choice where James Buchanan had his office because my friend Garett Jones had his office there. There’s no conspiracy here, or secret cabals under the radar. Libertarians are by and large a nerdy group of radicals fixated on stuff like the nonaggression principle. Just like you see on the internet. Kooky. Yes. But a cabal? Have you met libertarians? They don’t have the aptitude for that sort of coordination (Radicals for Capitalism is really the book to understand libertarianism, in particular because Buchanan and public choice theory have a minor role at best to play in libertarianism).

But that doesn’t matter. Democracy in Chains will validate the suspicions and beliefs of many people. And it’s a footnoted academic work. Unless it’s obvious fraud it’s going to be a success in influencing people.

Remember that Arming America won the Bancroft Prize for outstanding work of American history in 2000. Arming America was likely a work of fraud in large part. But its thesis, that America’s gun culture did not date to the colonial era, was congenial to the political ideology of many historians. Therefore even though it did not pass the smell test they gave the book rave reviews. I’d be surprised if  Democracy in Chains is a work of fraud. The author just doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but she is telling a story her audience wants to hear, with some academic credibility to boot (and so far historians have supposedly supported her).

The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia: Investigation of ancient substructure using imputation and haplotype-based methods. I think these dynamics are going to be relatively common.

I must say, I don’t recommend All Things Made New: The Reformation and Its Legacy. The title suggests a broader work than it is. Far too much space is given to the English Reformation. Just thought I’d mention that.

Reading some of Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. Broadly agree with the thesis I think…but wondering about the replication of some of the experiments cited.

Also in my stack, The Red Flag: A History of Communism.

Andrew Sullivan notices in this week’s column that Islam seems to now be untouchable on the Left. This is going to too far, but liberals who express anti-Islamic sentiments are getting rather rare, and though privately many on the Left have serious issues with Islam (I know, because they tell me privately) they’re careful not to say it out loud lest they be attacked as racist. My own view is that there are 1.6 billion Muslims, so it makes sense for the Left to align with them. Isn’t world domination worth a hijab?

Don’t blame the Empire. Alex Tabarrok takes some deserved shots at Shashi Tharoor’s An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India. The anti-colonialism tick often gets out of control among Indians, to the point where all evils are heaped upon the British. This is a major aspect of post-colonialism, which “erases” all identity-forming events before the arrival of Europeans.

Twitter lost 2 million users in the U.S. last quarter. Shit’s getting real Jack. If you use RSS, subscribe to my feed! I also have a mailing list, where I’ve sent out exactly one email so far. But if Twitter goes down….

Can 23andMe Tell Us If Jews Are A Race — And Is That A Good Thing? The author interviews scientists who know the science, but he still manages to garble and confuse everything. First, Ashkenazi Jews descend from a endogamous community which flourished in Central Europe probably no earlier than ~1000 AD. That is why a Ashkenazi Jewish cluster emerges naturally out of the population genetic data; there’s a real coherent demographic history being reflected. Whether that’s a “race” or not I’ll leave to the reader.

Second the story states that “Sephardic Jews are not considered a distinct population by either company, or by researchers — their genetic make-up is not sufficiently different from surrounding North African, Iberian and Greek populations.” This very misleading. To a great extent Sephardic Jews are rather distinct from the surrounding populations. There is some evidence of shared ancestry in Moroccan Jews with Moroccan Berbers (I know because I’ve looked at a lot of this data), but it’s a small proportion. Similar things can be said about most Sephardic communities. But, they are not nearly as coherent a genetic cluster as Ashkenazi Jews. There has been some gene flow and assimilation with many local Jewish populations (e.g., the Syrian Sephardic Jews absorbed a local Levantine Jewish community, which had its own liturgy until the 19th century).

Neanderthal-Derived Genetic Variation Shapes Modern Human Cranium and Brain. Many people skeptical of the robustness of this result.

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