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

January 31, 2010

Strange use of the word “conservative”

Filed under: Culture,Islam — David Hume @ 2:49 pm

Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest:

Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.

Saturday’s celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran’s once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country’s ancient traditions.

At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Iranians buy fruit, nuts and other goodies to mark the feast of Chelleh, also known as Yalda, an ancient tradition when families get together and stay up late, swapping stories and munching on snacks.

Both were discouraged by authorities in the early years after the Islamic Revolution by the conservative clerical regime, but without success.

Islamists and their ilk are regularly termed “conservative,” but they’re actually often enemies of the old and traditional. Consider the proactive destruction of Ottoman-era architecture from Mecca by the “conservative” Saudi regime.


Bonus Katz

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 8:09 am
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Jersey Shore coming back

Filed under: Uncategorized — Razib @ 12:56 am

They’ve been signed for $10,000 per episode the next go around. Years ago Joel floated the idea of using Reality TV to test theories in social science. Paying the cast of Jersey Shore this much is going to mean that they’ll be under serious pressure to produce high quality “product.” I assume that means they’re crank up the magnitude of their “character.” For example, Ronnie Magro will be under pressure to beat up more d-bags next season. “The Situation” is going to have to do the nasty with even nastier.

January 30, 2010

The business cycle, then and now

Filed under: Economics — Gene Expression @ 1:31 pm

Two interesting graphs from Calculated Risk. The first shows that the changes in GDP seem during the last recessive are on a par with those of the early 1980s and before (though we don't know if we're in a U or V shaped recession yet, though the odds are probably more U than V right now). But the second shows that in terms of employment we may be in uncharted territory, the worst of both worlds in terms of the jobless recoveries of the shallow recessions of the 1990s and early 2000s as well as the deep declines in employment of earlier recessions.

I've been hearing about the soon-to-come structural realignments in the economy resulting in a higher basal rate of unemployment for nearly 20 years. Economists will of course scoff at this sort of fatalism, pointing out such prognostications have always been falsified in the past. We'll see....



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Asia, land of the godless & godly

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 2:57 am

A comment below prompted me to slap together a post quickly displaying some data which illustrates just how religious South Asians are compared to East Asians. Anyone with an interest in world history will not be surprised by this assertion. When reading surveys of East Asian history I would occasionally reach a chapter titled "Religion," and the author would offer a quick explanation and apologia for why the topic was not given pride of place. By contrast, some have argued to a first approximation South Asian history is a history of South Asian religion. (Though I do not focus on that issue in this post, the "Islamic world" is strongly defined by religious identity as well)

But how about the Diaspora communities? Where I have seen data the patterns seem to recapitulate themselves, more or less. Singapore, Canada and the United Kingdom collect data broken down both by religion and ethnicity. The United States has surveys performed by academic institutions, but unlike a national census the sample sizes are modest enough that I would not trust them much when it comes to very small minorities. Finally, I can use the World Values Survey to look at religious attitudes in the "homelands."

First, Canada:

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January 29, 2010

Financial stress correlated within families

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 5:26 pm

Jobless Turn to Family for Help, Often With Complications:

More than half of the respondents to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll of 708 unemployed adults nationwide said they had borrowed money from friends or relatives. In most cases, their financial pictures were bleak. Nearly 80 percent of those who reported borrowing money said their family's financial situation was "fairly bad" or "very bad," a significantly greater proportion than among those who had not had to borrow.

The numbers here might exaggerate the effect some, as an individual who is going through financial turmoil may assess the world more darkly than one who isn't. That being said, it is pretty obvious that income is not randomly distributed across familial networks, and those with resources who are less likely to require aid are actually the ones who will have family in a position to offer it if needful. By contrast, those on the margins are the most likely to have family on the margins.

In pre-modern societies this likely explains how inequality across lineages becomes amplified. Families with more buffer on the margin are less likely to become dispossessed through inclement shocks, and can use their surplus to acquire the property of those lineages which have become impoverished.

This is why economic growth and gains in productivity are essential. In a Malthusian world the way that a high tension state of high inequality eventually "corrected" itself was for massive institutional collapse and general chaos to level the playing field. Of course, the playing field was far more barbarous than it had been previously, so there was probably a trade off between cultural creativity and equality.

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Proud to be red

Filed under: Uncategorized — Razib @ 2:15 pm

A friend pointed me to this YouTube clip of a young red-haired man objecting to the term “ginger,” and the opprobrium he’s been subjected to since the South Park episode “Ginger Kids” popularized ideas such as the possibility that redheads have no soul. I assume the kid is joking. On the other hand, I have read that red-haired males are at some disadvantage on online dating sites, just like non-white males. Have any readers of the red persuasion ever felt put upon due to their rare pigment status?


Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 1:42 pm
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Darwin wuz wrong, part n

Filed under: Evolution — Razib @ 12:44 am

A review of a new book, What Darwin Got Wrong. Co-authored by Jerry Fodor, who has been continuing his war against natural selection. I’ve already read Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution (at the suggestion of a reader who found the arguments within incredibly persuasive, convincing me to simply ignore anything that reader ever asserted after finishing the book), so I think I have my quota of philosopher-declaring-evolution-the-naked-emperor under my belt. Meanwhile, there are real scholars grappling with the issues which emerged in the wake of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis and its discontents, and pushing science forward.

Yes, Darwin was wrong about many things. But how many scientists will still have such an impact 150 into the future? He’s a big enough figure that people can sell books just by putting his name into the title! Only a few others fall into that class.

Note: Here you can read a draft of the third chapter of What Darwin Got Wrong.

January 28, 2010

Peer groups & bourgeois virtues

Filed under: Culture — Razib @ 5:36 pm

Self-Control and Peer Groups:

However, according to a new study by Michelle vanDellen, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, self-control contains a large social component; the ability to resist temptation is contagious. The paper consists of five clever studies, each of which demonstrates the influence of our peer group on our self-control decisions. For instance, in one study 71 undergraduates watched a stranger exert self-control by choosing a carrot instead of a cookie, while others watched people eat the cookie instead of the carrot. That’s all that happened: the volunteers had no other interaction with the eaters. Nevertheless, the performance of the subjects was significantly altered on a subsequent test of self-control. People who watched the carrot-eaters had more discipline than those who watched the cookie-eaters.

I assume time preference is heritable (at least via its correlation with other traits such as IQ), but, that assumes you control background social and cultural variables.

Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Kane @ 2:19 pm

What is the single best reference for refuting the notion that “race is only a social construct” for a non-scientist? I don’t know. (Suggestions welcome in the comments.) But Neven Sesardic (previously praised here) does a marvelous job in “Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept,” (pdf) Biology and Philosophy (2010, forthcoming).

It is nowadays a dominant opinion in a number of disciplines (anthropology, genetics, psychology, philosophy of science) that the taxonomy of human races does not make much biological sense. My aim is to challenge the arguments that are usually thought to invalidate the biological concept of race. I will try to show that the way ‘‘race’’ was defined by biologists several decades ago (by Dobzhansky and others) is in no way discredited by conceptual criticisms that are now fashionable and widely regarded as cogent. These criticisms often arbitrarily burden the biological category of race with some implausible connotations, which then opens the path for a quick eliminative move. However, when properly understood, the biological notion of race proves remarkably resistant to these deconstructive attempts. Moreover, by analyzing statements of some leading contemporary scholars who support social constructivism about race, I hope to demonstrate that their eliminativist views are actually in conflict with what the best contemporary science tells us about human genetic variation.

Nothing new for the GNXP faithful, but the presentation is clear and compelling throughout. He opens with “Those who subscribe to the opinion that there are no human races are obviously ignorant of modern biology.” — Ernst Mayr, 2002. Great quote!

Reflections on The Jihadist Next Door

Filed under: Culture — Gene Expression @ 1:41 pm

The New York Times Magazine has a long profile of an American from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who is now fighting for the Islamists in Somalia, The Jihadist Next Door. The optics of his family background seem tailor-made for a compelling narrative (or a TV-movie). A father who is a Syrian immigrant, a standard-issue American Muslim and professional. A mother who is a Southern Baptist and native Alabaman. The childhood is framed as "torn-between-two-worlds." Both his parents were members of exclusive religious traditions. Apparently Omar's was raised in both his parents' religions, and both sides of the family held views whereby unbelievers would be consigned to hell. This is what you might term an unstable equilibrium.

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Review of the Hobbit paper

Filed under: Anthroplogy — Gene Expression @ 12:41 pm

Excellent one at A Primate of Modern Aspect:

Okay, so we've got lots of increases in brain size, and a few decreases. In the cases where we have decreases, we usually have body size decreases as well. More often than not, we have body size decreases which result in a disproportionately large brain size, but occasionally we have a body size increase which results in a disproportionately small brain size. And all of that brings us to the Hobbit.

The authors looked at Homo floresiensis in relation to the Dmanisi hominids, Homo habilis, and a Homo erectus from Ngangdong and found that if we use Dmanisi or habilis as an ancestor, the decrease in brain size and body size isn't exceptionally weird when compared to other primate groups. The mouse lemur decreased in both to a greater degree, for example.

But if you use the Ngangdong erectus as the ancestor, it is a really weird decrease.

So, I guess the question is, is it reasonable to use Dmanisi or Homo habilis as the ancestor and not Homo erectus? And of course, we don't know that yet!

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Question about Google Chrome Extensions

Filed under: Technology — Gene Expression @ 1:43 am

I've got a few installed now. Has anyone had any issues with performance yet? I recall back when I used Firefox that was the main downside of having extensions.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, see TechCrunch. Or just update your browser and Google will start telling you all about it, in Settings -> About Google Chrome.

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The thorium revival

Filed under: Technology — Gene Expression @ 12:37 am

Mike the Mad Biologist points me to an interesting article in Wired, Uranium Is So Last Century -- Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke. Of course Wired is a booster of many things which never take off, but in general I think it's probably safe to bet on nuclear power becoming more prominent in the near-to-medium-future. I recently have been reading a bit about oil, stuff that's not written by Daniel Yergen, and was fascinated by this chart of long term crude prices:

The inflation adjusted values are of interest. But look at the lack of volatility before 1974! My whole life has been characterized by volatility of crude oil prices, so I simply assumed that that was the nature of the beast....

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January 27, 2010

Maps of white teen birthrate and abortion rates by state

Filed under: Teen Pregnancy — Razib @ 8:55 pm

A supplement to the previous two posts. Below are maps which are shaded proportionally. Note how New York seems to be the abortion capital of the USA. Total surprise to me. Remember that these data are for white females from the ages of 15-19.

Red State, Blue State, Teen Birthrate, Teen Abortion rate

Filed under: Teen Pregnancy — Razib @ 7:58 pm

A reader pointed to this post in Free Exchange:

Here are the 15 states with the biggest percentage drop from 1988-2005 in the ratio of teen abortions—the percentage of teen pregnancies that ended in abortion, not counting miscarriages. Crudely put, these are the states where pregnant white teens stopped having abortions between 1988-2005.

1. Kentucky
2. Nebraska
3. Arkansas
4. Oklahoma
5. South Dakota
6. Tennessee
7. Kansas
8. Iowa
9. Texas
10. North Dakota
11. Alabama
12. Indiana
13. Missouri
14. North Carolina
15. Utah

I have 2008 exit poll data handy by state, as well as the 2005 birth and abortion data. Abortion ratio = (Abortion rate)/(Abortion rate + Birthrate); basically pregnancy rate minus miscarriages. “Teen” here defines females in the age range 15-19. As you’d expect:

1) Whites voting Democrat is correlated with lower white birthrates
2) Whites voting Democrat is correlated with higher white abortion rates
3) Whites voting Democrat is correlated with higher white abortion ratios

#3 is stronger than #2, and I believe that’s because teen pregnancy rates are lower in areas where whites are strongly Democrat, so the abortion rates are also going to be lower. The abortion ratio is somewhat normalized to pregnancy rate.

Teen birthrates and abortion rates

Filed under: Teen Pregnancy — Razib @ 2:46 pm

The New York Times has a new article, After Long Decline, Teenage Pregnancy Rate Rises. The graphic is OK, but it focuses on aggregate teen pregnancy rates (age group 15-19) instead of splitting it out so as to show births and abortions. The original report is chock full of tables, but not the charts I was looking for. So I decided to go ahead and create them. All the “teen” data is for the 15-19 age range. The trends are a bit difference from that in the chart because I split up births and abortions, and also added in “abortion ratio,” which simply illustrates the proportion of pregnancies which result in abortions excluding miscarriage and stillbirths. The other rates are per 1,000 of females of the given age range. First, the overall trends by time, broken out by race & ethnicity. White = Non-Hispanic white in all that follows.

Since Latinos have high birthrates, so surprise that their abortion rate is higher than whites. On the other hand, the relatively low abortion ratio vis-a-vis white teens points to some cultural expectations among this group which we’d expect from Roman Catholics (though more generally Catholics don’t differ much from Protestants in the United States in regards to abortion, so I think that this is less causal than correlated).

There is also state level data, though it is spotty in regards to abortions. I decided to see if the different groups tracked each other in regards to rates. Here’s what I found:

White Birthrate – Black Birthrate 0.41 0.17
White Birthrate – Hispanic Birthrate 0.44 0.19
Black Birthrate – Hispanic Birthrate 0.42 0.18
White Abortion rate – Black Abortion rate 0.6 0.36
White Abortion rate – Hispanic Abortion rate 0.79 0.62
Black Abortion rate – Hispanic Abortion rate 0.8 0.64
White Abortion rate – White Birthrate -0.44 0.19
Black Abortion rate – Black Birthrate 0.01 0
Hispanic Abortion rate – Hispanic Birthrate -0.07 0

And the scatterplots, as well as some dot plots which show the ratio of the rates of two minority groups, as a function of geography.

Looking closely at the data it seems that that local state law/and/or/culture matters a lot for teen abortion ratios. Vermont for example has a very high abortion ratio. Might look at it later….

Note: I excluded DC from the state level analysis because it’s a bizarre outlier. White teen birthrates of 1 per 1,000, black & Hispanic above 100.

The World Space Agency a comin’?

Filed under: Space — Gene Expression @ 12:58 pm

NASA to Review Human Spaceflight:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is preparing for a major evaluation of its human spaceflight program, even as many who will conduct the survey have yet to be informed of the agency's revised mission.


The administration might also enlist the help and financing of other nations to handle parts of space exploration -- perhaps giving the European Space Agency the job of building a lunar lander, for example.

Perhaps China vs. the world? Fodder for near-future science fiction.

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January 26, 2010

Hobbits small brains not so anomolous

Filed under: Ecology — Gene Expression @ 11:35 pm

Is the Hobbit's Brain Unfeasibly Small?:

Brain expansion began early in primate evolution and has occurred in all major groups, suggesting a strong selective advantage to increased brainpower in most primate lineages. Despite this overall trend, however, Mundy and his colleagues have identified several branches/lineages within each major group that have shown decreasing brain and body mass as they evolve, for example in marmosets and mouse lemurs.

According to Mundy, "We find that, under reasonable assumptions, the reduction in brain size during the evolution of Homo floresiensis is not unusual in comparison to these other primates. Along with other recent studies on the effects of 'island dwarfism' in other mammals, these results support the hypothesis that the small brain of Homo floresiensis was adapted to local ecological conditions on Flores."

The paper will show up in BMC Biology at some point. The main question I have is in regards to the purported tool use of the Hobbits. I can believe that a local adaptation toward small brains, Idiocracy-writ large, occurred. Brains are metabolically expensive, and it isn't as if the history of life on earth has shown the massive long-term benefits of being highly encephalized (though I think one can make a case that there has been a modest trend, with primates, and especially H. sapiens as extreme outliers above the trend). But could small brained creatures maintain the relatively advanced toolkit which the Hobbit finds have been associated with? Seems to me that there's a high probability here of some sort of contamination, but I'll be happy to be put in my place by anthropologists in-the-know....

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