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August 2, 2011

Old Man’s Culture

Filed under: Aging,Anthroplogy,Culture,Grandmother hypothesis,Human Evolution — Razib Khan @ 11:51 pm

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A few readers reminded me of the recent Rachel Caspari article in Scientific American, The Evolution of Grandparents. It’s actually based on her earlier research, published in PNAS in 2004, Older age becomes common late in human evolution. I was already pointed to this paper by Milford Wolpoff, who seems to be of the opinion this is a very underappreciated dynamic in our species’ history (note: he’s married to Caspari). And Wolpoff sent me a copy of the Scientific American article too, so it’s been in my “to read” folder for a bit.

Honestly it’s a lot more persuasive than the scientific paper because it’s so non-technical. It really makes me appreciate the power of science communication. I don’t know anything about the analysis of dental remains, so I really hummed along through a lot of the paper with minimal comprehension. With the article Caspari could present her results and interpretation more cleanly.

The major finding in the PNAS finding, which is reported in the Scientific American article, is the ratio of parents to grandparents in a total sample of ~750 remains separated by population class varies a great ...

August 14, 2010

Japanese as Solarians

Filed under: Aging,Culture,Japan — Razib Khan @ 4:54 am

ProjectAiko2007BOne of the podcasts I subscribe to is Thinking Allowed from Radio 4. The most recent one was on the role which robots are envisaged to play in the future of Japan:

Also, the rise of the ‘fembot’. The Japanese government is investing billions in the development of robotic technology. They think the robot will do for the 21st century economy what the automobile did for the 20th. However, Jennifer Robertson thinks that as female robots are developed to perform some of the functions traditionally performed by women, it bodes ill for the future of Japanese society.

The guest was very negative about Japan’s plan to substitute robots for immigrants. Basically, she perceived that there was a risk that the Japanese were going to turn into technologically enabled inward-looking xenophobes, closing themselves off to the rest of the world and interacting only with their robot minions. If so, it’s their right as a nation to do so, and I don’t see why all nations should adopt the same policies in regards to globalization. It isn’t as if Japan’s Human Development Index was similar to that of North Korea.

Though science fiction has a generally bad track record as prediction, I couldn’t help but think of Isaac Asimov’s Spacer society of Solaria, from his Robot Series. There’s already a fair amount of media reports about antisocial personality disorders becoming very common in Japan, the sort of stuff that Asimov describes as normal on Solaria. Here is Wikipedia description of the Spacer worlds, of which Solaria was the most extreme case:

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation/Empire/Robot series, the Spacers were the first humans to emigrate to space. About a millennium thereafter, they severed political ties with Earth, and embraced low population growth and extreme longevity (with lifespans reaching 400 years) as a means for a high standard of living, in combination with using large numbers of robots as servants. At the same time, they also became militarily dominant over Earth.

In many ways the Spacers, and what Japan aims to become, seems to be the realization of what the ZPG movement was pushing for in the 1970s. I’m moderately skeptical that they can pull it off as a practical matter, projections of the feasibility of humanoid robots have been overly optimistic for decades, but it would be an interesting development for a nation which prides itself on its peculiar distinctiveness to be the first to “merge” man and machine into a social ecology.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

July 7, 2010

Malnutrition now, arthritis later?

Filed under: Aging,Medicine — Razib Khan @ 1:03 am

Of Moose and Men: 50-Year Study Into Moose Arthritis Reveals Link With Early Malnutrition:

“As the study entered its second decade there was increasing evidence of Osteoarthritis (OA) in the moose population,” said lead author Rolf Peterson from Michigan Technological University. “OA is a crippling disease and is identical to that found in humans. It is commonly believed to be caused by ‘wear and tear,’ but the complex causes have remained poorly understood.”

Over the course of the study the team discovered a rise in OA as the moose population increased, and a decrease when the population fell, leading to the idea that OA is linked to moose malnutrition when food is scarcer. The team found moose that were malnourished when young would develop OA in older age.

“We have shown how malnutrition early in life increased the risk of OA later in life, but this also applies to humans as much as to a herd of moose in the wild,” said Peterson.

“These findings cast new light on how early humans first developed OA,” said co-author Dr Clark Spencer Larsen, an anthropology expert from Ohio University. “The study of human remains from archaeological contexts reveals OA increased where societies changed from foraging plants and animals to an increased dependency on farming.”

Such changes were documented in a mid-continental population of Native Americans 1000 years ago. In this group arthritis increased by 65% as society turned from foraging and hunting to agriculture and the cultivation of maize.

“Initially the increase in OA was put down to increased joint stress due to the labour of agriculture. However research now shows that, like the moose in Isle Royale, nutritional deficiencies early in life may have been the main cause. Early malnutrition was certainly a part of existence for many pre-historic human societies, and remains a fact of life for millions of people across the world, so this study is also relevant for modern human society.”

The original paper is in Ecology Letters, and it should be online at this address. I do wonder if more detailed understanding of the long term impact of early life nutrition is going to drive parents crazy with alarm as every new study which comes out produces a shift in recommendations.

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