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

November 30, 2009

“Old Europe”

Filed under: DNA — Razib @ 9:43 pm

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity:

The little-known culture is being rescued from obscurity in an exhibition, “The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.,” which opened last month at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. More than 250 artifacts from museums in Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are on display for the first time in the United States. The show will run through April 25.

At its peak, around 4500 B.C., said David W. Anthony, the exhibition’s guest curator, “Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world” and was developing “many of the political, technological and ideological signs of civilization.”

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World is a very interesting book. One of the problems with pre-literate civilizations is that they’re only accessible via archaeology, which is a field averse to system-building or theorizing. But it is likely from what we know of pre-literate cultures which Europeans encountered that lots of stuff happened. Perhaps ancient DNA will help resolve some of these questions, at least establishing whether peoples or just pots were on the move.

Diary of an ex-Muslim

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 2:51 pm

A friend of mine pointed me to an interesting weblog, Here in Glitner. From the "About" page:

Reflections from my life as a Muslim, perspectives on Islam in my true life as a non-Muslim. I was a Muslim woman, a Muslim wife, a Muslim mother, a Muslim sister. I wore hijab, abstained from pork, obeyed my husband, studied quran and sunnah, and avoided all forbidden and doubtful things as much as I could. And then, slowly, from the blip of one thought to a full-blown realization more than five years later, I emerged into my true life, into reality, and realized my atheism. As you will read, if you go back to the start, it took a long time - roughly two years, to sort out my lifestyle, the life I was living, my family, and my beliefs. This blog mixes in old journal entries from those times with my thoughts on Islam from the perspective of a kafir - an infidel.

The friend is an ex-Muslim as well, though they keep that information to themselves because of negative experiences. By some definitions I'm an "ex-Muslim," insofar as I identified as a Muslim before the age of eight, at which point I realized I was basically what would be termed an "atheist" (I didn't know that word at that point). But I never had a coherent supernatural world view. Though before the age of eight I could parrot the general cosmology imparted from Islam, my genuine understanding of the world was totally naturalistic. I had always had a deep interest in evolution and astronomy, and even when I wasn't a self-conscious atheist God had no place in my model of the cosmos. Nor am I culturally Muslim, as my social network is almost exclusively non-Muslim (and mostly irreligious to boot). Though I can repeat suras I was taught as a child, I never grew up in a world where Islamic material civilization was prominent in any way. In other words, my lack of connection with my "ancestral religion" has had almost no psychic or social cost, and I do not have any personal history of rupture with a tradition which accompanies apostasy. My shedding of a Muslim identity as a child was plainly superficial, as I had never evinced a deep interest in religion, and generally dreaded the boredom of Islamic holidays.

That is why I am fascinated by the weblogs of both converts and apostates, though naturally I have more affinity with the latter. The psychological experiences are in a sense deeply alien to what I am familiar with. I suspect it is analogous to never having been drunk. The mental shock of going from a world filled with supernatural agents to one without, or vice versa, must be jarring. But from what I can tell most religious people take great solace in their personal beliefs, so losing such an anchor might be analogous to a hangover.

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Coywolves; hybrid wolf-coyotes in New England?

Filed under: Genetics — Gene Expression @ 10:24 am

This article pointed me to this interesting paper, Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves:

The dramatic expansion of the geographical range of coyotes over the last 90 years is partly explained by changes to the landscape and local extinctions of wolves, but hybridization may also have facilitated their movement. We present mtDNA sequence data from 686 eastern coyotes and measurements of 196 skulls related to their two-front colonization pattern. We find evidence for hybridization with Great Lakes wolves only along the northern front, which is correlated with larger skull size, increased sexual dimorphism and a five times faster colonization rate than the southern front. Northeastern haplotype diversity is low, suggesting that this population was founded by very few females moving across the Saint Lawrence River. This northern front then spread south and west, eventually coming in contact with an expanding front of non-hybrid coyotes in western New York and Pennsylvania. We suggest that hybridization with wolves in Canada introduced adaptive variation that contributed to larger size, which in turn allowed eastern coyotes to better hunt deer, allowing a more rapid colonization of new areas than coyotes without introgressed wolf genes. Thus, hybridization is a conduit by which genetic variation from an extirpated species has been reintroduced into northeastern USA, enabling northeastern coyotes to occupy a portion of the niche left vacant by wolves.

Here is a figure which shows the distribution of mtDNA lineages geographically:

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Climate & the Out of Africa migration(s)

Filed under: Evolution — Gene Expression @ 10:07 am

Wet phases in the Sahara/Sahel region and human migration patterns in North Africa:

The carbon isotopic composition of individual plant leaf waxes (a proxy for C3 vs. C4 vegetation) in a marine sediment core collected from beneath the plume of Sahara-derived dust in northwest Africa reveals three periods during the past 192,000 years when the central Sahara/Sahel contained C3 plants (likely trees), indicating substantially wetter conditions than at present. Our data suggest that variability in the strength of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is a main control on vegetation distribution in central North Africa, and we note expansions of C3 vegetation during the African Humid Period (early Holocene) and within Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 (≈50-45 ka) and MIS 5 (≈120-110 ka). The wet periods within MIS 3 and 5 coincide with major human migration events out of sub-Saharan Africa. Our results thus suggest that changes in AMOC influenced North African climate and, at times, contributed to amenable conditions in the central Sahara/Sahel, allowing humans to cross this otherwise inhospitable region.

More details from the discussion:

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November 29, 2009

American data by counties

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 4:55 pm

I've been crunching some county-by-county data at one of my other weblogs:

Where the fat folks live
Diabetes and obesity
The white vote for Obama, by county & correlates
Are over-leveraged counties seeing an increase in food stamp usage?

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American data by counties

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 4:55 pm

I've been crunching some county-by-county data at one of my other weblogs:

Where the fat folks live
Diabetes and obesity
The white vote for Obama, by county & correlates
Are over-leveraged counties seeing an increase in food stamp usage?

Read the comments on this post...

Are over-leveraged counties seeing an increase in food stamp usage?

Filed under: data,Diabetes,Food stamps,Obesity — Razib @ 11:33 am

Since The New York Times put up the csv file which they used to generate their maps of food stamp usage, I thought I’d look at the data a little closer. In particular, look at this graphic of change in food stamp usage by county (dark equals more usage):

I was curious about this part from the story below::

While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.

Thanks to the Census I happen to have 2007 housing value and household income data. Also though it would be interesting to compare with obesity and diabetes rates. Scatterplots & correlations (r) below.

It does indeed seem that food stamp usage has been increasing in higher income and property value counties. The Census data I used above were collected between 2005-2007, during the height of the late great property bubble. But when I took the ratio of property value by income as a rough proxy for being over-leveraged it didn’t seem to add much.

When I took the partial correlation of home value and increase in food stamp usage controlling for income, it was only 0.11. Here are some other correlations controlling for income:

% on food stamps – obesity = 0.33
% on food stamps – diabetes = 0.44
% of whites on food stamps – white diabetes rates = 0.36
% of whites on food stamps – white obesity rates = -0.05

There’s an obvious correlation between black proportion in a county and food stamp utilization. r = 0.43. So using proportion of blacks as a control:

% on food stamps – obesity = 0.43
% on food stamps – diabetes = 0.51
% on food stamps – white diabetes rates = 0.43
% on food stamps – white obesity rates = 0.06
% on food stamps – median household income = -0.71

It does seem to be correct though that food stamp utilization has been shooting up in more affluent communities. But if it is true that well over 90% of those eligible in places like Missouri are already using food stamps, while only 50% of those eligible in California are, it makes a bit more sense. In wealthier communities likely more people go in and out of eligibility and so never need to make recourse. In contrast, in regions where people are immobile and poverty is chronic there isn’t as much scope to increase the program because most people who are eligible are already on it. That probably explains the triangular geometry of the scatterplot, very low on the affluence latter social services seem to have soaked up all eligible individuals, leaving little room for increase with the recession.

Note: Estimates are white obesity are based on state level variation. Estimates of white diabetes rates are based on national level variation. These two variables need to be appropriately down-weighted in terms of confidence of their accuracy, especially the second.

Update: By coincidence, a reader noted this similarity of maps this morning:

The grain dole of America

Filed under: Politics — Razib @ 10:17 am

Ben points to the a new article in The New York Times, Across U.S., Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades. The county-by-county data are of interest. I’ve just snatched the csv file, which they made available. Andrew Gelman has a modest critique of the assertion that 50% of children are on food stamps at some point in their childhood. The variance in utilization rates of the program by region (50% in California vs. 98% in Missouri) of those eligible, as well as the near saturation of utilization in much of the Black Belt and highland South (the Appalachians and the Ozarks), implies to me that while in some American subcultures the program is seen as a stop-gap in others it is a background condition of life. A minimum income guarantee or grain dole basically. Also, I recently heard a radio interview with Kevin Concannon, an under secretary of agriculture. In response to criticism of misrepresentation of the results of reports of hunger in America his stance was basically “statistics, schmamistics.”

The reason that I’m fixating a bit on the issue of hunger in America is that we’re also told that there’s an “obesity epidemic” in this country, in particular among the lower classes. Often from the same policy elites who point to long lines at soup kitchens as evidence of a surfeit of food! To be hungry sometimes is uncomfortable, I know this personally, I am hungry sometimes. Though for me it has to do with the fact that I don’t think that the immediate response to hunger always has to be food to satiate the pangs (I don’t like to eat past a certain hour). Nutritional belt tightening isn’t necessarily a bad thing, remember that the Great Depression saw an increase in life expectancy.

November 28, 2009

The white vote for Obama, by county & correlates

Filed under: data,Politics — Razib @ 3:01 pm

A friend of mine who was looking at the distributions on obesity and diabetes wondered about their political correlations. To do that and add anything new it seems that it would be best to estimate the white vote for Barack Obama in 2008 by county. This is how I did it:

1) I looked at the exit polls for each state, which has breakdowns by race for each candidate.

2) Since the white vote probably varies more county-by-county than the minority vote, especially the back, I used the state level exit polls and assumed that the minority vote in every county could be predicted by the state level exit poll. So for example, in New York the exit poll suggest that 100% of blacks voted for Obama. So I would weight appropriately.

3) I also weighted by national turnout numbers. In other words, whites were a little overrepresented in the electorate, blacks equal to their demographic weight, and Asians and Latinos underrepresented. So:

% Obama in county = (White turnout)(White %)(White proportion) + (Black turnout)(White %)(Black proportion) + (Latino turnout)(Latino %)(Latino proportion) + (Asian turnout)(Asian %)(Asian proportion)

Many states did not have results for ethnic minorities in the exit polls, so the white vote estimate is identical to the real results in many counties (the correlation between my estimate and the real returns is on the order of 0.99-0.98 north of 85% or more non-Hispanic white). In places like Mississippi where most everyone is either black or white, we can probably be sure that blacks voted well in excess of 90% for Obama, I think the estimate for whites is probably pretty good. The main issue is with Latinos, who I suspect seem to vary quite a bit more than blacks (in fact, they probably tend to follow whites in voting except that they’re more Democratic all variables controlled (again, I had to discard some counties were negative proportions pop up because Latinos are more Republican locally than on the state level).

Fist some maps, then some correlations. Again, note that red is below and blue above whatever threshold I’m using (usually median).

For the correlations, “est” means my estimate. Reduce the confidence in those correlations accordingly, as my data analysis hasn’t gone through peer review! (until you comment)

Here are the summaries for Obama vote estimate:

1st quartile = 0.2240
median = 0.3591
mean = 0.3587
3rd quartile = 0.4754

Since Democratic votes are concentrated in a few highly populous counties the low proportions are not a surprise. Lots of counties with few people are anti-Obama.

White Obama Vote (est)- White Diabetes Rate (est) = -0.26
White Obama Vote (est)- White Obesity Rate (est) = -0.29
White Obama Vote (est)- White Birth Rate = -0.17
White Obama Vote (est)- College Degree = 0.42
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Household Income = 0.28
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Home Value = 0.40

(for whites ancestry are proportion of whites, i.e., Irish/White = Irish proportion)
White Obama Vote (est)- Origins in Britain & Ireland = -0.24
White Obama Vote (est)- English = 0.08
White Obama Vote (est)- Irish = 0.37
White Obama Vote (est)- Scots Irish = -0.13
White Obama Vote (est)- American = -0.50
White Obama Vote (est)- German = 0.38
White Obama Vote (est)- Scandinavian = 0.30

Partial correlations controlling for college degree rate:

White Obama Vote (est)- White Diabetes Rate (est) = -0.30
White Obama Vote (est)- White Obesity Rate (est) = -0.29
White Obama Vote (est)- White Birth Rate = -0.20
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Household Income = 0.00
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Home Value = 0.17
White Obama Vote (est)- American = -0.46
White Obama Vote (est)- German = 0.36

Partial correlations controlling for median household income:

White Obama Vote (est)- White Diabetes Rate (est) = -0.36
White Obama Vote (est)- White Obesity Rate (est) = -0.33
White Obama Vote (est)- White Birth Rate = -0.21
White Obama Vote (est)- Median Home Value = 0.30
White Obama Vote (est)- American = -0.52
White Obama Vote (est)- German = 0.35

The correlation between the white Obama vote and the proportion of blacks within a county is in the range of -0.30 to -0.40 (on the high end), even controlling for income and such (the blacker the county, the fewer whites voted for Obama). Interestingly when I control for black proportion the German correlation for voting for Obama drops a bit to 0.26, and the American correlation drops from the other direction, -0.39. Race can explain some, but definitely not all of these inter-ethnic differences in the white vote.

Poking through demographic data, a few things always seem to crop up:

1) Texas isn’t quite like the rest of the South. It is more Republican on the federal level than racial polarization into a white and black party would predict.

2) The Latino counties in Texas are hard to fit into a model which is derived from conditions in the rest of the country. They have lower morbidity and are somewhat more conservative than Latinos elsewhere (in fact, their morbidity is lower than whites in many regions of the country). I often have to discard these counties because estimates using state level parameters are weird (in the case of white voting patterns or diabetes rates, negative values).

3) There’s stuff going on in Appalachia which needs to be explored. I’m going to analyze Appalachian counties specifically in the near future. I had assumed that aside from outliers like Asheville Appalachia was relatively homogeneous. Not so.

A nation without divine favor

Filed under: church-state separation,Culture,Politics — David Hume @ 2:38 pm

Reading Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism I am struck again by the peculiarity of the American nation, and its fundamental radicalism. I have already stated that this is implicitly an Anglo-Protestant nation. As a point of fact Protestant churches were established and supported in most American states at the Founding, with Massachusetts not disestablishing until the 1830s. The emergence of the Roman Catholic educational system was in large part a reaction to the Protestant content which was taken for granted in the public school system. The arrival of waves of Catholic German and Irish immigrants in the 1840s prompted the rise of the “Know Nothing” movement and a deep suspicion of “Romanism.” In 1830 the United States was a deeply Protestant nation within the dissenting tradition.

And yet until the election of Andrew Jackson it is likely that the United States had not had a head of state who could be termed an orthodox Christian, that is, accepting the axioms of Trinitarian Christianity. True, even Thomas Jefferson, whose deism ran deep, would likely have identified as a Protestant Christian, but that was more due to the cultural valence than affinity with the belief content of the majority of the Protestant Christians of the American nation (Jefferson personally assumed that the future of American Protestantism lay with a rationalist Unitarianism, his own personal orientation). And yet Jackson, like his political predecessor Jefferson, refused to proclaim a “day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer” because of qualms with the mixing of church and state.

This sort of behavior was bizarre at the least, for almost all of human history polities drew upon the favor of the supernatural, the gods and fates. The lack of mention of religion in the Constitution except in a negation, the clause banning religious tests, was blasphemous to many, and even perplexing to more. A modicum of religious toleration might have existed in the Netherlands or England from the national confession, but before the United States minority sects had only existed at the sufferance and indulgence of the majority in every society. Polities such as that of ancient pagan Rome which were pluralist patronized a multiplicity of gods, the rise of Christianity was simply a consolidation of the status quo. Even the republic of old which the American Founders looked upon as an exemplar, that of Rome, was laden with traditions of augurs and priests.

In many ways the American nation was an extension of a particular cultural tradition, that of dissenting British Protestants. The formation of the republic could perhaps be conceived of as an echo of the failed republic of Oliver Cromwell. But in other ways it was radical, its massive size was seen to mitigate the likelihood of its long term success, as republics were assumed not to scale. And its lack of formal relationship to religion was a strange and novel innovation born out of the abstractions and fashions of the Enlightenment, perhaps more a matter of historical contingency than inevitability. If the rebellion against the British monarchy had occurred during the First or Second Great Awakenings it may be that the Christian religion would have found a place within the structure of the American government.*

* This was the position of Patrick Henry, that is, state support and sanction for a range of Christian sects as opposed to patronage of one above all.

** Also, the relative lack of religious orthodoxy on the part of the elite is likely not the total story. Frederick the Great was a religious skeptic, but that seemed to have little effect on the relationship between Protestantism ad the Russian state. Similarly, the Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, was personally an agnostic. This did not effect the role of the Roman Catholic religion within the Brazilian Empire.

*** Many customary aspects of public piety associated with the American government are innovations. “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance, “In God We Trust” on the coinage, and the lack of Sunday mail delivery for example.


The limits of pluralism, and the necessity of an identity

Filed under: Culture,EU,History,Islam,Turkey,Vali Nasr — David Hume @ 1:28 am

I just finished Vali Nasr’s Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World. Very much in the mold of Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Nasr is the author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, and the son of the prominent Islamic philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr (of the Traditionalist School). The prose is engaging, and Nasr is both erudite and analytically focused. As an ethnic Persian the depth of his knowledge definitely exhibits particular biases, Asian Islam beyond Pakistan hovers on the margins of his narrative, less out of intent and more out of limitations of the author’s own knowledge base I suspect. Nevertheless, the focus on Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan is certainly not hobbling in any way, as these are very important Muslim nations.

Forces of Fortune is very much about the social implications of material conditions. In other words, the relative economic stagnation of the core Muslim world in relation to the developed world or the BRIC nations. Nasr’s argument is that in the 20th century Muslim elites saw in the West an object of emulation, and fixated on the exoteric aspects without comprehending the deeper structural preconditions of prosperity. Kemal Ataturk exemplified this, he forced Turks to re-conceptualize themselves as Europeans by battering them, both psychologically and literally. He demanded that Turks look the part of Europeans, that they change their dress and switch to a Roman alphabet from an Arabic script. In addition to the cultural shifts Ataturk also set the tone through an emphasis on top-down institutional development, in particular state control and guidance of the economy. In Nasr’s telling Islamic revivalism was a natural and reflexive reaction by the lower middle class and petite bourgeoisie to this assault from on high. They were culturally and economically marginalized by Kemalism, Nasserism and the Shah’s White Revolution, and the present is their revenge. Though we are aware of the international scope of Islamic revivalism, the tendrils of Kemalism, and the example of Turkey as an Islamic nation who beat back European colonialism on the fields of battle, also extend across the world. Not only did Ataturk influence Reza Pahlavi, but his model was influential in the thinking of autocrats such as Pervez Musharraf.

But to a great extent Kemalism and its imitators, such as Arab Nationalism, have failed. Iran has an Islamic Republic, Pakistan’s infatuation with Islamic identity seems to grow apace, while most of the Arab world has repudiated secularism. It is ironic and oft-observed that the 2003 invasion of Iraq toppled one of the more secular regimes of the Arab world, and it is surely no coincidence that the past 6 years have seen a mass emigration of Christians and Mandaeans from Iraq. In Turkey an Islam-tinged party is now in power, and seems likely to be so for the foreseeable future.

What does this “mean for our world”? Forces of Fortune does not pull its punches, Nasr asserts again and again that the new regimes predicated on conservative Islamic values and neoliberal economics driven by bottom-up forces will be more prudish and misogynistic than what has come before, the dirigiste and secular autocracies. Whereas in The Future of Freedom Fareed Zakaria expresses concern over “Illiberal Democracy,” Nasr welcomes it more or less, because he sees no alternative. Top-down attempts to modernize Muslim nations have failed. Bottom-up processes whereby development is driven by capitalist forces may well succeed over the long term. Forces of Fortune observes that the Calvinist capitalist revolution was only a sequel of massive Wars of Religion and factional strife touched-off by the Reformation. What Vali Nasr is proposing is that there is no historical “Free Lunch,” no gain without pain.

At the end of the book I was convinced as to the descriptive truth of the argument. It seems clear that top-down autocracies have “sell-by” dates. In particular, the ideological gruel which the ruling elites of Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan provide is too thin to offer a viable long term alternative to Islam for the masses. In the case of the French Revolution, or communism, or even socialist or labor movements, there was an ideological alternative to religious institutions. With the expiration of the radical Left, and the lack of appropriate economic preconditions for liberal democratic pluralism, it seems that the question is not Islamism, but what type of Islamism. That is certainly the answer of Iraq, which presents an Islamism with a more human face than Iran, Sudan, or even our ally Saudi Arabia. Nasr also makes the case that the AKP, the party in power in Turkey, is fostering a more vibrant economic system precisely because of its origins in the non-governmental commercial class, which grew up without the patronage of the state because of their Islamic, and therefore outsider, identity.

One reason that the AKP has been able to hold onto power is pressure from the United States and the European Union. In return the AKP has not enacted a broad Islamic program, though there has been shifts toward cultural conservatism (e.g., misogynistic rape legislation, the widespread teaching of Creationism in schools). It seems quite clear that the more entrenched public Islam becomes in Turkish life, the less likely it is that Turkey will become a member of the European Union. And yet it is also clear that enforced top-down secularity through military fiat is also not a condition which will allow Turkey to join the European Union. Ataturk may have declared Turkey European, but history and structural conditions on the ground contradict such an assertion. Nasr seems to suggest, and envision, a future where Islamic nations might have a recognizably liberal order, predicated on individual rights, free enterprise and acceptance of pluralism. But this is the future, and not a near one. Rather, societies need to evolve in a matter which admits to the reality of path dependency and keeping with their traditions and customs.

As a secular person I do not believe in supernatural entities. And yet empirically it seems clear that a society not dominated by supernatural presuppositions is a peculiar thing, and they have become numerous only within the past few decades. There are obviously certain preconditions which are necessary, and it does not seem that any Islamic nation fulfills those preconditions. Within the broad commonwealth of Western nations there are variations in terms of the ubiquity of secular presuppositions, from the United States and Poland, to Sweden and France. But the presuppositions which one accepts or neglects are the same, that is, Christian or Christianesque presuppositions. In the Islamic world the presuppositions are different, and the spectrum of religiosity explores a relatively alien dimensionality. The secularism of the Epicureans (Greek), Carvaka (Indian) and that of Xunzi (Chinese) exhibit family resemblances because secularism is a spare and clean universe. But religious beliefs and practices are more diverse, and can often seem unintelligible. Civilizations can operate with a spectrum of piety, but I suspect that tensions among pieties would add too much to the mix.


Reality check on American “hunger”

Filed under: Hunger — Razib @ 12:12 am

Hunger here vs. hunger there:

There has been a fair amount of buzz lately (examples here, here, here, here) about “food insecurity” in the U.S. According to the Reuters headline, one in seven Americans is short of food. In looking into the data, what has surprised us is how different the meaning of “hunger” is when we’re talking about the U.S. vs. the developing world.

Developing-world hunger: 30% of children underweight

The “food insecurity” categories are derived from people’s answers to questions like “We worried about whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more” and “We couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals” (full list on pg 3). The details of the answers are found on page 45:

Note in particular the difference regarding children. In the developing world, as shown above, severe child hunger is rampant. In the U.S., even in “food insecure” families, it’s extraordinarily rare for children to go hungry even temporarily. And indeed, World Bank data estimates that 1.3% of U.S. children under 5 are “underweight” – less than the 2.3% that would be expected in a fully normal distribution.

On the one hand the poor supposedly live in “food deserts” and so get fat. On the other hand, there’s a lot of hunger in America. Something doesn’t make sense. As someone whose family is from Bangladesh I have seen plenty of hungry people face to face. They look really hungry. If you’re really chronically hungry you can’t mask it with a stiff upper lip, you just look starved out, and a bowl of rice with salt is a luxury. They’re really short too. When I went to Bangladesh in the late 1980s for a visit I was much taller than many adult beggars despite being a pre-teen, and I was always around the 50th percentile on the height distributions in elementary school.

The fact that fewer American children are very light than would be expected under a normal distribution is also interesting. Assuming weight is a quantitative trait, like height or IQ, one would expect the deviation from the normal distribution to produce a “fatter tail”, not an attenuated one.

November 27, 2009


Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 7:36 pm

Felines worked part-time this week due to the holiday....

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Diabetes and obesity

Filed under: Diabetes — Razib @ 1:09 pm

Update: I made a major error in the algebra of estimating “white diabetes rates” per county. So the last set of correlations was junk. I think fixed the issue. Thanks to “bayesian” who noted that something was off with them.

The CDC provides data on diabetes by county as well as obesity.

Some Correlations:

Diabetes-Obesity = 0.72
Diabetes-Black = 0.65
Diabetes-Latino = -0.14

What’s going on with the last? Latinos, in particular Mexican Americans, are more susceptible to diabetes than whites. So it must be that in counties where there are many Mexican Americans, white have particularly low prevalence of diabetes.

Other correlations:

Diabetes-Obama Vote = -0.01
Diabetes-College Educated = -0.46
Diabetes-Median Household Income = -0.45
Diabetes-Median Home Value = -0.42

I’m struck by the fact that the correlations are higher than for obesity (if you think about it in terms of r-squared, the square of the correlation explaining the variance of Y by X, it’s even more striking). Probably has to do with the fact that only a subset of the obese are diabetic, as diabetes is a more extreme manifestation of morbidity. Let’s control for the % black in a county with partial correlations:

Diabetes-Obesity = 0.63
Diabetes-Obama Vote = -0.28
Diabetes-College Educated = -0.52
Diabetes-Median Household Income = -0.41
Diabetes-Median Home Value = -0.43

Not much change in the correlations really. Also, now there is a modest correlation between political liberalism and lower levels of diabetes now that the black proportion is controlled (the correlation with black proportion controlled for obesity and Obama vote is -0.24, same magnitude and direction).

I also tried to estimate white diabetes prevalence by county. The national data suggest that blacks are 1.7 times more likely to be diabetic, and Latinos 2 times more likely. Obviously there’s going to be some variance for these two groups, so I don’t know how useful this estimate for whites is going to be. But, it should put into stark relief the negative correlation between the proportion of Latinos and white diabetic rates (note: again, Latinos seem to vary quite a bit and there are many counties along the Mexican-American border, as well as on the East Coast, where Latinos are so far deviated from the aggregate risk that I had to dump the data).

Here are some correlations (again, white county proportions are estimates):

White diabetic proportion-White obesity rate (estimate from previous post) = 0.47
White diabetic proportion-College Educated = -0.46
White diabetic proportion-Obama Vote = -0.18
White diabetic proportion-Median Household Income = -0.39
White diabetic proportion-Median Home Value = -0.44

OK, enough with correlations. Maps. Diabetes for all groups:

Now, my estimates for whites:

I think the assumption of an invariant relationship between white and non-white rates (i.e., blacks = 1.7 X whites) is causing problems. The white areas underneath the median suspiciously concentrated in the Black Belt.

So let’s just focus on counties which are 85% or more white:

Where the fat folks live

Filed under: data,Health,Medicine — Razib @ 12:44 am

Since it’s after Thanksgiving and I’m feeling bloated, I figure a follow up to the post on obesity and diabetes might be apropos. I want to focus on obesity. I have the raw county-by-county data, but obviously it isn’t broken down by race. But, I do have the proportions for reach race by county, and, the CDC provides state-by-state breakdowns of the proportion of obese by race. So I decided to “estimate” the proportion of whites obese by county.

1) By “white,” I mean “Non-Hispanic white.” I’m going to say “white” from now on exclusive of Hispanics.

2) Some states, such as Vermont, do not have a large enough sample to estimate the obesity proportion of blacks. I just used a neighboring state to fill in the numbers. This guesstimate is really not much of an issue because the proportion of blacks is so low in the states I had to estimate that the estimate of obesity for whites and estimate of obesity for all races is the same in these counties anyhow.

3) Simple algebra. Total Obesity Percent In County = (Obesity Percent Whites) X (Percent Whites) + (Obesity Percent Blacks) X (Percent Blacks) + (Obesity Percent Latinos) X (Percent Latinos)

For the obesity percent of blacks and Latinos I only have state level data, so this is going to be a rough estimate. And it’s going to result in the variation exhibiting state-to-state discontinuities, since the county variable is dependent on a state level variable. Also, I discarded some counties where the usage of state level data caused really big distortions. Along the Mexican border Latinos are not nearly as obese as they are further into the United States, so I end up with numbers where whites have negative obesity percentages to make the math work out. These are counties which are 90% or more Latino with relatively low obesity numbers.

I did the map shading the way I normally do. Blue is above the median value, and red below the median value, with the scale being set to their max and mins respectively. Unfortunately this causes a problem in the scaling in terms of an asymmetry because one side of the distribution will tend to have a more extreme outlier (usually the above median is where the skew is).

Here’s the map with all the populations:

This is basically the earlier map except shaded differently. Here are the summary statistics for obesity by county:

min = 12.40
1st quartile = 26.60
median = 28.40
mean = 28.25
3rd quartile = 30.20
max = 43.70

Now for my estimate of whites only:

As you can see, the use of state level is causing some distortions. Also, you see something peculiar in the summary statistics:

1st quartile = 25.54
median = 27.62
mean = 26.71
3rd quartile = 29.47
max = 58.11

These averages don’t align with the CDC values aggregated. But that’s because I’m looking at county level data, and not weighting by population. Lots of low density counties with few people have many obese people. Instead of looking at national averages, we’re looking at regional variations.

On the estimates, Texas probably jumps out at you. To my surprise it turns out that whites in Texas are a touch lighter than the national average for whites! For me the big thing that sticks out is that Appalachia seems to be split in two, along the Appalachian Trail (I feel funny mentioning the Appalachian Trail….). Some areas, such as New England, Colorado and California do not surprise in terms of whites who are below the national median. But again there is a pattern of some pockets in the Upper Midwest being relatively under the norm in the proportion of obesity. Some of you might be surprised by the Pacific Northwest, but this region is characterized by urban-rural polarization.

What are the correlations by ethnicity? Here are the correlations with white obesity in terms of ancestral proportion (the proportion of ethnicity X as a proportion of whites):

English = -0.17
German = -0.02
American = 0.07
Scots Irish = -0.13
Irish = -0.19

These are very modest correlations. Probably mostly explained by geography. How about voting?

Obama vote = -0.21

Again, modest. Median Family Income? Only -0.14! That surprised me. Interestingly, Median Home Value had a -0.26 correlation with obesity. Of course the “Dirt Gap” tracks this; in places where people are thinner property values are higher, and rose higher in the past decade. The proportion who have a college degree is like home value, a correlation of -0.25.

None of this is really surprising, on the aggregate level you know that wealthier and more educated people are thinner. So I might as well do something that’s not totally predictable. Most of the variance of obesity on the county level isn’t predicated by educational levels, but a non-trivial fraction is. I decided to fit a loess curve to the plot of obesity (white) who are college educated. Then I simply took the residuals above and below the line and shaded them blue and red respectively. In other words, blue areas have a lot of fat people for the number of college graduates, while red areas have relatively few fat people for the number of college graduates.

November 26, 2009

The wealth of politicians

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 7:09 am

Open Secrets has data on members of the House and Senate in relation to their net worth. Here are some descriptive statistics:

Democrats & Republicans:
25th percentile = $228,006
Median = $791,004
75thth percentile = $2,962,519
Mean = $6,438,210

25th percentile = $269,007
Median = $999,381
75thth percentile = $3,421,512
Mean = $6,010,456

25th percentile = $217,001
Median = $718,756
75thth percentile = $2,516,033
Mean = $6,731952

Let's limit to those who have positive net worth (greater than zero) and less than $50,000,000. This is about two standard deviations above the median, so it removes the top ~2% who tend to skew the results.

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Liberty or Libel?

Filed under: Uncategorized — DavidB @ 4:02 am

There has been much discussion in the blogosphere (for example by Olivia Judson here) of the current libel case between the science writer Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association. Most of the comments have supported Singh and criticised both the BCA and the trial Judge, Sir David Eady. Science writers complain that the libel laws are stifling fair criticism of unscientific claims (which makes this at least marginally relevant to gnxp).

I have no interest, of any kind, in chiropractic, and I support freedom of speech, so you might expect me to join the chorus of Singh-lovers and Eady-haters. Unfortunately, much of the commentary has been ill-informed or self-interested (since journalists and bloggers view the libel laws much as turkeys view Christmas). The British press has other motives for attacking Judge Eady, who has extended the legal right of privacy against paparazzi and tabloid journalists. So protestations of concern for ‘free speech’ need to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt…

Some red herrings to dispose of. First, there is a legitimate debate over the practice of ‘libel tourism’ or ‘forum shopping’. But this issue does not arise in the Singh case, where a British writer made comments about a British organisation in a British newspaper. There is no question that a British Court is entitled to try the case.

Second, on libertarian grounds I would be willing to argue for complete freedom of speech, with no restrictions on libel. But that is not where we start from. Every country has some kind of libel law. The details vary, and the balance between freedom of speech and protection of individual reputation is struck in different ways. It is arguable that American law leans too far in favour of the libeller, while English law leans too far in favour of the libelled. But Eady’s critics argue that even within the general framework of English libel law his rulings are dangerous to freedom of speech. I will therefore take that general framework as given.

What then are the issues?

Here is the key passage from Singh’s article, which prompted the libel action:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organization is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

Before going any further it is necessary to set out the various stages of a libel action under English law, since some of the critical commentary seems to misunderstand this. A case can be divided into four main stages:

Stage 1: It must be established what was said or written, who said it, and who was its ‘target’. In the present case this is straightforward.

Stage 2: It is necessary to decide whether what was said is defamatory. Roughly, this means whether or not it is damaging to the reputation of the complainant. At this stage, under English libel law, the truth or falsity of what was said is irrelevant. [Note 1] Much of the comment on the case has failed to grasp this. A true statement may be defamatory, and a false statement may be non-defamatory. The point at issue is not its truth, but whether it is damaging.

Stage 3: If it is decided that a statement is defamatory, the person responsible for the statement may then defend it. Except in certain special circumstances, the defence is either that the statement is true (the defence of ‘justification’), or that it constitutes ‘fair comment’. In the English system it is usually for a jury to decide whether the defence is convincing.

Stage 4: If the jury finds in favour of the complainant, a decision is then needed on the amount of damages or other remedial action. Damages are decided by the jury. All costs of the case are usually paid by the losing side. It has been suggested in some commentaries that it is cheap to bring a libel action, because the complainant can hire a lawyer on a no-win no-fee basis. But this is only true if the complainant has a strong case; otherwise no lawyer will touch it.

The basic complaint of the BCA is that Singh’s article accuses them of dishonesty, by promoting treatments which they know to be ‘bogus’.

Judge Eady was asked to give preliminary rulings on two issues: what Singh’s words meant; and whether they amounted to an assertion of fact or merely an expression of opinion. On the first point, he decided, agreeing with the BCA, that Singh’s article accuses them of dishonesty, saying: ‘[the quoted passage] is in my judgment the plainest allegation of dishonesty and indeed it accuses them of thoroughly disreputable conduct.’ After this, it was straightforward to take the further step of deciding that the passage is defamatory, since an accusation of dishonesty could hardly not be. On the second point, Judge Eady concluded that the passage amounts to an assertion of fact. The importance of this is that if the defamatory passage is an assertion of fact, the defence of ‘fair comment’ is not available, and the only defence (usually) is to show that the assertion is factually true, or ‘justified’. This defence remains open to Singh.

The case so far therefore raises two issues:

1. Was Eady right to conclude that Singh had accused the BCA of dishonesty?

2. Was Eady right to conclude that the accusation was an assertion of fact, rather than merely an expression of opinion?

On the first point, the matter is perhaps not as clear-cut as Eady’s ruling suggests, but on a common-sense reading of Singh’s passage it is at least a very reasonable interpretation. Singh’s words are strong: he says there is ‘not a jot of evidence’ for the BCA’s claims, and that while it is the ‘respectable face’ of chiropractic, it still ‘happily promotes bogus treatments’. Whether or not Singh intended this to be an accusation of dishonesty, it is a natural inference for the reader to draw. The word ‘bogus’ by itself usually has an implication of dishonesty; the dictionary gives synonyms such as ‘sham’, ‘spurious’, and ‘counterfeit’. To say that someone promotes bogus treatments therefore might in itself be taken as implying dishonesty. This interpretation is reinforced by the contrast Singh draws between the ‘respectable face’ of the BCA and its ‘happily’ promoting ‘bogus treatments’. The contrast between ‘respectable face’ and ‘bogus’ seems to imply that the BCA is not, after all, as respectable as it may appear. If Singh did not intend an imputation of dishonesty, he expressed himself carelessly. An alternative possibility is that he did intend to impute dishonesty, but chose his words so as to insinuate that conclusion without making it explicit. In any case, under English libel law, Singh’s intention is irrelevant: what matters is the interpretation that reasonable readers are likely to put on his words.

On the second point, namely whether the defamatory claim was a matter of fact or opinion, the issues are more technical, and I do not pretend to understand all the legal subtleties. According to Eady’s ruling:

It will have become apparent by now that I also classify the defendant’s remarks as factual assertions rather than the mere expression of opinion. Miss Rogers reminded me, by reference to Hamilton v Clifford [2004] EWHC 1542 (QB), that one is not permitted to seek shelter behind a defence of fair comment when the defamatory sting is one of verifiable fact. [Note 2] Here the allegations are plainly verifiable and that is the subject of the defence of justification. What matters is whether those responsible for the claims put out by the BCA were well aware at the time that there was simply no evidence to support them. That is an issue capable of resolution in the light of the evidence called. In other words, it is a matter of verifiable fact. That is despite the fact that the words complained of appear under a general heading “comment and debate”. It is a question of substance rather than labelling.

Given the assumption that there was an accusation of dishonesty, this seems a reasonable enough decision. The defence of ‘fair comment’ is more narrowly circumscribed than the layman might imagine. The test of whether something is ‘opinion’ depends on the substance of the alleged disreputable conduct, and not on the form in which the allegation is made. It does not become a matter of opinion just because the author uses the words ‘in my opinion’ or some other verbal dodge.

Clearly the whole case (so far) hinges on the question whether a reasonable reader would interpret Singh’s words as containing an accusation of dishonesty. Much of the commentary has either missed this point, or strained to find alternative interpretations. For example, the words are interpreted as imputing mere gullibility or ignorance, rather than dishonesty. In some circumstances that might be the most natural interpretation of the same or similar words. For example, it might be said that exorcism is a ‘bogus’ treatment for mental illness, yet that some religious sects ‘happily promote’ this bogus treatment. In this case it might plausibly be argued that the implied accusation is one of gullibility or ignorance rather than dishonesty. But this interpretation relies on the background knowledge than religious sects are commonly ill-informed and gullible. In the case of the BCA, the contrast that Singh himself makes is between the BCA’s position as the ‘respectable face’ of a medical profession, and its willingness ‘happily’ to promote ‘bogus’ treatments for which there is ‘not a jot of evidence’. It is difficult to regard this merely as an accusation of gullibility. According to Judge Eady’s ruling:

It is alleged that the claimant promotes the bogus treatments “happily”. What that means is not that they do it naively or innocently believing in their efficacy, but rather that they are quite content and, so to speak, with their eyes open to present what are known to be bogus treatments as useful and effective. That is in my judgment the plainest allegation of dishonesty and indeed it accuses them of thoroughly disreputable conduct.

The critics complain that this is reading too much into the word ‘happily’, which could have a variety of other meanings. But again the question is not what the word might conceivably mean, but what a reasonable reader is likely to take it to mean. The meaning of words often depends on their context. In this case, the word ‘happily’ does not have its literal meaning as a description of an emotional state. The word must in some way describe the collective state of mind of the BCA in promoting ‘bogus’ treatments, and in the context it does (it seems to me) have a strong suggestion of dishonesty. The alternative is to suppose that it has a weaker connotation of recklessness or irresponsibility, but not of conscious dishonesty, or that it leaves several possibilities open, meaning (roughly) ‘dishonest or gullible or reckless or irresponsible…’. These interpretations are not impossible, but Singh himself has made it more difficult to accept them by saying that there is ‘not a jot of evidence’ for the ‘bogus’ treatments. If this were true, then the BCA, as a body of specialists in the field, could hardly be unaware of it, and their promotion of such treatments would go beyond mere recklessness into conscious dishonesty. Judge Eady’s interpretation is therefore not unreasonable.

Nor does the case have the far-reaching implications for freedom of speech or scientific research that some critics claim. No-one is suggesting that it is improper to criticise chiropractic or other alternative therapies. The only lesson to be drawn is that if you wish to accuse someone of dishonesty, at least in England, you must be ready to back up your accusation with evidence; and if you do not wish to accuse someone of dishonesty, you should choose your words with care.

Note 1: This is the position in most of the Common Law world. It was also the position in the United States until a series of Supreme Court decisions shifted the burden of proof onto complainants, where they are ‘public figures’, to show that the words complained of are not only defamatory but deliberately false. A useful account of American libel law is here.

Note 2: Out of curiosity I looked up this case. British readers may recall the incident when the former MP Neil Hamilton and his wife were accused of having raped a woman. The accusation was investigated by the police and disproved. The accuser was subsequently prosecuted and jailed for making false accusations. But before this, she had sold her story to the tabloids, using the PR consultant Max Clifford as intermediary. During the police investigation Max Clifford had gone on television to defend the woman’s claims, and among other things said he personally believed the claims were true. This was what led to the libel action, as the Hamiltons claimed that by endorsing the woman’s accusations Clifford was himself in effect accusing the Hamiltons of rape. Clifford argued in his defence that he was merely expressing an opinion, but the Judge ruled that he was making an assertion of fact, and could not shield behind the defence of ‘fair comment’. And who was the Judge? – step forward, Mr Justice Eady!

Added on 27 November: it has been pointed out that Simon Singh has recently been granted leave to appeal on some of the issues raised by the case. The Appeal Court may well reverse Judge Eady’s rulings on some or all matters. In my post I did not suggest that Eady was necessarily right, just that his rulings were a lot more reasonable than some commentators have claimed. As I said at the outset I have no interest in chiropractic. I have only commented on the case because I was getting tired of misrepresentations of it, which recur in an article in the (London) Times yesterday. Two things in particular have irritated me. One is the one-sided presentation of the case by the commentators. I have not seen a single comment which recognises that the BCA might just have a legitimate complaint when they are, arguably, accused of dishonesty. You can argue about the precise meaning of the words used by Singh, but no-one can sensibly deny that they could be used to make an accusation of dishonesty. Second, I am concerned that scare-mongering about the effects of the case on free speech and scientific enquiry could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If scientists and science writers (including bloggers) are led to believe that they cannot make strong criticisms of pseudo-science without facing a libel action, freedom of speech and enquiry really will be inhibited. For the reasons given in my post, I do not think that the Singh case has these implications, and those who claim that it does are harming the cause they wish to defend.

I am also happy to acknowledge that I obtained the text of Judge Eady’s ruling through JackOfKent’s blog, via Olivia Judson’s blog, which is linked in my post. I would also stress that my criticism of ‘ill-informed’ commentators does not include JackOfKent. I don’t agree with his assessment of the case, but he is certainly well-informed about it – far more so than me.

Added on 29 November: I hold no brief, in any sense, for the BCA, but it seems to me that in fairness one should not accuse them of ‘litigiousness’, without at least checking their own statements of position. Here is one of their press notices on the Singh case. I do not know (obviously) whether the quote they attribute to Simon Singh at the end of their statement is true, but if it is, it puts Singh in a very different light from that presented by his cheerleaders.

Marriage equality, inbreeding style

Filed under: Genetics — Gene Expression @ 2:28 am

The New York Times has an article on cousin marriage that's up. Here's some important bits:

Shane Winters, 37, whom she now playfully refers to as her "cusband," proposed to her at a surprise birthday party in front of family and friends, and the two are now trying to have a baby. They are not concerned about genetic defects, Ms. Spring-Winters said, and their fertility doctor told them he saw no problem with having children.

The couple -- she is a second-grade teacher and he builds furniture -- held their wedding last summer on a lake near this tiny town in central Pennsylvania. But their official marriage took place a month earlier in Maryland, at Annapolis City Hall, because marriage between first cousins is illegal in Pennsylvania -- and in 24 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures -- under laws enacted mostly in the 19th century.


For the most part, scientists studying the phenomenon worldwide are finding evidence that the risk of birth defects and mortality is less significant than previously thought. A widely disseminated study published in The Journal of Genetic Counseling in 2002 said that the risk of serious genetic defects like spina bifida and cystic fibrosis in the children of first cousins indeed exists but that it is rather small, 1.7 to 2.8 percentage points higher than for children of unrelated parents, who face a 3 to 4 percent risk -- or about the equivalent of that in children of women giving birth in their early 40s. The study also said the risk of mortality for children of first cousins was 4.4 percentage points higher.

More-recent studies suggest that the risks may be even lower. In September, Alan Bittles, a researcher at the Centre for Comparative Genomics at Murdoch University in Australia and one of the authors of the 2002 study, published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reported that the mortality rate was closer to 3.5 percentage points higher. He said he expected ongoing research to find the risk of defects to be lower than previously assumed as well.

"It's never as simple as people make it out to be," said Dr. Bittles, noting that very early studies did not account for factors like access to prenatal health care, and did not distinguish between couples like Ms. Spring-Winters and her husband, the first cousins in a family to marry, and those who are part of groups in which the practice is common over generations and has led to high rates of genetic disorders. "But the widely accepted scare stories -- even within academia -- and the belief that cousin marriage is inevitably harmful have declined in the face of some of the data we've been producing," he said.


Diane B. Paul, a professor emerita of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a research associate in zoology at Harvard, was an author of a paper published last year in the journal PLoS Biology that described the difficulty of generalizing about the potential for birth defects or increased mortality in the children of cousins. Each couple's risk depends on the individuals' particular genetic makeup, she said, which means "it's very difficult to determine." And even the small average risk of defects reported in the 2002 study, she added, represents nearly double the risk to children of unrelated parents.


As a religious Methodist, she said, she also worried that marrying her cousin would be wrong in the eyes of her church. But as it turned out, the Methodist Church has no official position on marriage between cousins, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which requires cousins to obtain dispensation before marrying. And after talking to a relative who is a Baptist minister, Ms. Spring-Winters said, she discovered that the Bible does not say anything explicitly negative about cousin marriage, although it does list examples of sexual impurity, including relations with "close relatives," like sisters, stepchildren, grandchildren, aunts and stepsisters; and those between mothers and sons, and fathers and daughters.

"If the Bible said no, we wouldn't have done it," she said.

A few salient points noted above:

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Egypt & evolution & the Muslim world

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 12:31 am

Last week I pointed to numbers on evolution and the Muslim world. The New York Times has an article up about the conference which inspired my investigation into that topic. The reporter focuses on the rote learning and creativity as the factors behind a lack of knowledge or understanding of evolutionary theory. Plausible, but really unlikely. East Asian nations have the same issues (which they are trying to reform), but acceptance of evolution is high there. In fact, even in non-developed nations such as the Philippines acceptance of evolution can be high. It is higher than in the United States! In Russia there is surprisingly low level of acceptance of evolution, though that might be the aftereffect of the Lysenko interlude, when conventional evolutionary biology was rejected. In other words, the reasons for skepticism of evolution are somewhat diverse, though rote learning and lack of creativity are surely neither necessary nor sufficient.

I suspect that the best analogy for what's going on with Muslims, even elite Muslims (the samples I pointed to last week were elites), is what occurred with conservative Protestants as they faced the forces of modernism in the 20th century. Some aspects of the modern world they accepted, and others they rejected. The historical sciences, and in particular those which bear upon human nature and origins, they reject with particular vehemence. Despite the pleas of a minority, such as Francis Collins, most American Evangelicals seem to believe that rejection of evolutionary theory is necessarily entailed by their religion. Similarly, most Muslims seem to feel the same way. Even American Muslims seem to have this attitude, though not as much as American Evangelicals. While 33% of American Evangelicals accept that evolution as the best explanation for the origin of human life, 45% of Muslims do (vs. 48% of all Americans). Yet 80% of Hindu accept evolution as the best explanation for the origin of life. In any case, the citizens of Muslim nations seem to assert that religion is very important in their lives, so naturally they would be skeptical of ideas which they believe contravene the precepts of their religion.

Below the fold are results where individuals were asked how important religion was in their life from the World Values Survey 2005 by country....

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November 25, 2009

The malleability of political religion

Filed under: Culture — David Hume @ 10:26 pm

The Big Money has an entry up, Karl Who? China is a Communist country, but I have yet to meet an actual Communist. After reading the first paragraph I began to think of the clear analogies between conventional supernatural organized religion and Marxist-Leninism, in particular, in its ideological flexibility (e.g., the transformation of the cult of a pacific Jewish prophet into a universal religion of a martial empire). The Chinese see the analogy too:

Xu boasted China’s engineering triumphs: the 88-story building in Shanghai, designed by an American architectural firm but built by Chinese engineers; the 67 bridges over the Yangtze River; the Olympic structures; high-speed rail; supercomputers. And when we asked how we would square the experience of modern China—parts of Beijing are a luxury retailer’s paradise—with Communist Party doctrine, he had a ready response. Karl who? “We’re not a bookish party,” he said. Besides, the Communist Party has always been flexible when it comes to dealing with national priorities. It cooperated with the Kuomintang to fight the Japanese. “Mr. Marx is still widely respected by the party and the party members. He’s a great mind in the people’s history.” Just because many of his ideas are outdated—they were devised in a period without today’s developments in science and technology—it doesn’t means he’s forgotten. “I want to compare it to God in your mind. Maybe you don’t go to church every week. But that doesn’t follow that God is not in your heart.” Marxism, like religion, is “still a power that controls the morality of the people.”

Though I do not think that the Chinese state is qualitatively different in the liberties it takes with Marxism on a historical scale, only quantitatively. The shift from Communism as an international movement with anti-nationalistic overtones toward being a tool of geopolitical influence utilized by the Soviet state was itself innovative in the early 20th century.


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