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October 31, 2018

The Insight Show Notes — Season 2, Episode 6: Halloween genetics, fact or fiction

Filed under: Halloween,life-lessons — Razib Khan @ 2:06 pm

The Insight Show Notes — Season 2, Episode 6: Halloween genetics, fact or fiction

This week on The Insight (Apple Podcasts and Stitcher) Razib Khan and Spencer Wells discuss human genetic diversity, and how it might feed into the myths and legends that crop up around Halloween.

Tall person, short person

We spent a fair amount of time talking about Mendelian mutations. Polydactyly, achondroplasia, and hyperstrichosis. That is, having more than the usual number of fingers, dwarfism, and having hair all over one’s face.

Then we talked about normal variation, and how it might also seem surprising to us. In particular, Shawn Bradley’s polygenic risk score for height, which predicted he’d be taller than average.

We talked about how the Yamna people might have been taller than early European farmers, and the “wild men” of China.

The implications of Xeroderma pigmentosum and albinism were also discussed.

In relation to Neanderthal-human contact, we brought up the Michael Crichton novel Eaters of the Dead, which was also turned into a film, The 13th Warrior.

Herodotus and his legends of “troglodytes” were mentioned, as well as the fact that until recently many humans did live in caves and underground.

We also discussed the possible connection between centaurs and mounted horsemen, such as the Huns.

The implications of the long-term coexistence of farmers and hunter-gatherers in Europe came up, as well as the interaction between the Jomon people and the Yayoi rice farmers in Japan 2,500 years ago.

Finally, Razib talked about the importance of “minimal counterintuitiveness” in the formation of story and myth and human psychology.

Interested in learning where your ancestors came from? Check out Regional Ancestry by Insitome to discover various regional migration stories and more!


The Insight Show Notes — Season 2, Episode 6: Halloween genetics, fact or fiction was originally published in Insitome on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

October 27, 2017

Without a sense of what is right everything is wrong

Filed under: Culture,Halloween — Razib Khan @ 10:50 pm

When I was a kid Halloween was my favorite holiday. First, candy! Second, costumes! Third, you could be a little naughty!

Finally, my parents were not the most inquisitive people and didn’t realize the pagan and Christian influences on the holiday. They liked it because unlike Christmas, at least to their perceptions, it didn’t have a religious connotation which conflicted with Islam. They allowed me to participate with any guilt.

I try not to live through my kids, so holidays for me are not about recreating my own childhood. It’s for allowing them to have fun. Holidays are a big deal for kids.

With Halloween coming up we’ve been giving thought to our kid’s costumes. My daughter and elder son have some opinions. There was some mention that perhaps my daughter could be Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. My daughter is not really too into princesses. I’ve heard her spend more time talking about dwarf planets than princesses (especially her favorite, Haumea). But she likes Tiana, and we’ve watched the movie together.

Ultimately we went with something animal related (in keeping with some previous years when she was a lion and a duck).

Nevertheless, this email I received from her elementary school today is deeply annoying to me:

It’s Halloween, but we can’t scare the kids too much? (fake blood does seem like it would be a huge mess so I can understand that) No masks, of course, nixes many costumes, but I guess I can go along with that for security reasons?

But the part about “No costumes representing an ethnicity, race, religion or culture, other than your own” kind of rubbed me the wrong way. My wife was livid. Our children are mixed race, so what does that mean for them? In fact, half of my daughter’s elementary school class is mixed race. Also, my daughter already knows she is an atheist. Does that mean she couldn’t dress up as a nun like Mother Theresa if she admired her? The whole email seemed to presuppose that the world consists of discrete and separable races and cultures. You simply identify with one, and that delimits your possibilities.

My daughter attends an Asian language immersion school where one of the teachers is a recent immigrant who clearly does not understand American culture very well. She wouldn’t have even known to write about much of this. This mandate was clearly written by an administrator. The aim of the whole email was to head off any complaints from parents. But it’s written in such a heavy-handed and general manner that it’s bound to cause widespread irritation.

We’re a diverse country with many ethno-racial, religious, and ideological groups. There are no common standards at this point on what is and isn’t offensive. Perhaps some Christian parents would be offended if a little kid showed up at a school-sponsored Halloween party as the devil? I strongly suspect that the race and religion bans above really target mostly white kids who dress up as racial minorities…but it’s written in a general way so as not to offend those parents too (but in the process irritates others).

Whatever we’re doing, it’s not making many people happy, though it is insulating administrators from making personal judgments. My daughter is a smart kid (she has shocked even me in her ability to infer general principles from specific cases), and my wife and I have already had conversations about how to insulate her or make her aware of the low level of intellect which now dominates our public ideologies. My wife has studied the Chinese language and the history of the Cultural Revolution, and though obviously there is a difference of degree she regularly contends that there are analogies between what is now happening in the United States and what happened in China in the 1960s. I do unfortunately believe that my daughter will grow into maturity into a country which is in many ways second-rate and mediocre in the things which our family values. We are thinking hard about how to prepare her for a different future than the ones we expected when we were children in the 1980s.

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