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

July 31, 2012

Open thread 8/1/2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Razib Khan @ 11:00 pm

The nature of the restrictions of the comments are relatively free-form on this post. You should maintain some decorum as usual. But you can post links, ask me or other readers questions, etc.

Gore Vidal

Filed under: Books,Gore Vidal — Razib Khan @ 8:36 pm

Gore Vidal has died. As a younger man I found his heterodox views bracing, but I would commend to readers two books Vidal wrote which I feel often get forgotten in the shadow of his American historical novels, Creation and Julian. As a polemicist one must always view Vidal’s claims of fact with some suspicion (granted, I suspect I’m in more sympathy with some of his interpretations of history than most), but his historical fiction can rise above such a critique.

Obscure Indian actress in Playboy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Razib Khan @ 8:20 pm

Seems like Playboy is making a play for relevance. When was the last time it was in the news? Also, observe that the commentator below has to note the woman’s religious background. Is it because one of her breasts is Christian and the other Muslim?

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An ethnography: N = 1

Filed under: Anthroplogy,German Dziebel — Razib Khan @ 6:53 pm

This is an “inside baseball” post for regular readers, but looking through site referrals I’ve noticed that German Dziebel has started to blog regularly again. For those who don’t know Dziebel is the author of The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies. Here is the summary from Amazon:

This highly acclaimed book brings the cumulative results of a century and a half of kinship studies in anthropology into the focus of current debates on the origin of modern humans in Africa and on an entangled bit of human evolutionary history commonly subsumed under the heading of the “peopling of the Americas.” This erudite study is based on a database of some 2,500 kinship vocabularies representing roughly 600 African languages, 140 Australian languages, 500 Austronesian languages, 200 Papuan languages, 350 languages of Eurasia (excluding Indo-Europeans), 440 North and Middle American Indian languages, and 200 South American languages. This valuable reference will take the reader to the dawn of kinship studies in the 19th century Western science in order to elicit the wider context of anthropological interest in kinship systems and the interdisciplinary salience of the phenomenon of kinship. The book also examines the founder ...

Equilibration of attitudes toward divorce

Filed under: Divorce,Social Science,Social statistics — Razib Khan @ 7:05 am

One thing that people occasionally mention in the comments on this weblog is that it seems futile to be “conservative” because the arrow of history goes in one direction. Even many conservatives, including myself, have fallen into this assumption. But upon a closer inspection of history I think we need to be careful about this, as the truth can sometimes confound our coarse models. For example, I strongly suspect that when it comes to love and marriage the realized element of individual liberty has not had a monotonic trajectory over human history. More plainly, free choice declined over the past 10,000 years, and has reemerged in the past few centuries. Whether this is liberal or conservative is less relevant than that it shows that attitudes, beliefs, and practices, do not always change in magnitude in one direction, only at different rates. More recently, sexual mores in the West shifted to a more puritanical direction between 1750 and 1900, only to switch back to a more relaxed attitude over the 20th century (with a punctuated shift in the 1960s).

And these sorts of trends are evident even over a shorter time scale. So it may be with attitudes toward divorce. One ...

23andMe and the FDA clearance

Filed under: Bioethics,FDA — Razib Khan @ 12:18 am

As they say, read all about it. I’m rather ambivalent. 23andMe has a business rationale to go in this direction, so I don’t begrudge them their decision. The problem, at least from a legal perspective, is that they’re providing medical advice at least implicitly. And I think this medical direction is really where the big money is in any case. There’s no angle standing on principle.


But, I still believe that on a deep level regulatory agencies don’t “get it.” Our own genotype and genome is going to be a cheap commodity in the next few years. Services like Promethease will proliferate to provide people open source information. Is openSNP going to the FDA anytime soon? The main reason that firms like 23andMe will go through regulatory hurdles is that they are, or aim to be, legitimate public entities. In other words this is an artifact of our institutions. Mind you, 23andMe et al. will probably always have slicker user interfaces, and there’s some value in that. But that doesn’t entail FDA oversight, does it?

The shift toward automation and computation are real ones, and I have a difficult time how seeing regulation developed in the 20th century ...

July 30, 2012

Human version 2.001

Filed under: Human Evolution — Razib Khan @ 6:09 pm

Dienekes reflects on the seemingly simultaneous appearance of behavioral modernityin South Africa and Europe and Australia, pending the acceptance of the most recent finds. This part is very important in my opinion:

The San people still live in several countries of southern Africa, and until the latter part of the 20th century were still mainly hunter-gatherers. But Dr. Stringer cautioned not to think of them as “living fossils,” unchanged by time. “Their genes, cultures and behaviors have undoubtedly continued to evolve in the intervening millennia,” he said.

I see no reason to think that these were the ancestors of the San. Over 45,000 years I think the most likely option is that genetic and cultural continuity will not be maintained, and these are probably a sister group to the modern peoples of Southern Africa. In any case, to address Dienekes’ confusion, I think this is one case where his non-American background shows. We know exactly what happened so long ago to kick-start modern humanity. The answer has been with us for over 40 years.

July 29, 2012

College makes you believe in marriage!

Filed under: Data Analysis,Divorce,marriage — Razib Khan @ 10:05 pm

There’s a cliche, which isn’t totally false, that more education tends to lead one toward heterodox viewpoints which challenge conventional norms. But one issue that has been coming to the fore over the last 10 years or so is that college educated Americans tend toward social liberalism, and yet often continue to live very bourgeois lives. In other words, the freedoms which they favor are those freedoms which are ever operative in their own lives. In contrast those Americans without college educations tend to have a less libertarian attitude toward personal mores, but have lives characterized by greater disturbance and disastrous choices.

And yet this does not hold in the case of what articles such as this report, How Divorce Lost Its Groove:

Though she wasn’t entirely surprised. Ever since her divorce three years ago, Ms. Thomas said, she has been antisocial, “nervous about what people would say.”

After all, she had gone from Park Slope matron, complete with involved husband (“We had cracked the code of Gen X peer parenthood”) and gut-renovated brownstone, to “a Red Hook divorcée,” she said, remarried with a new baby and two children-of-divorce barely out of preschool. “All of a sudden, this community I’d lived in ...

July 28, 2012

Humanity 2.0

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Genetics,Genomics,Human Genetics,Human Genomics — Razib Khan @ 8:37 pm

Dienekes points to a David Reich video where he shows his hand as to future possible results to come out of his lab. The short of it is that it seems likely that most agricultural populations exhibit the same dynamic outlined in Reconstructing Indian History. At the least you have an intrusive group admixing with indigenes. At the extreme you have total replacement. The pattern is confirmed for India, Ethiopia, and Southeast Asia. It seems highly likely in Europe. There are other rumored results in East Asia which might shake things up.

On a minor note, I do want to add that I think many archaeologists aren’t going to be totally surprised that modern Europeans don’t derive by and large from Aurignacians. But, the relatively recent nature of the map of genetic variation which we take for granted probably will shock, and result in a high degree of skepticism. Yet if I had to bet I would bet on the model being sketched out by David Reich. These admixtures and replacements are likely to resolve some confusions of our understanding of the settlement of the world using simple tree models with branching points tens of thousands of ...

July 27, 2012

We are all Anglo-Saxons now

Filed under: Anglo-Saxon,History — Razib Khan @ 10:21 pm

I’m kind of wary of getting into political debates at this point because it’s not my primary interest (additionally, people with stronger political views often end up willfully misrepresenting me because they think I’m taking specific sides, even if they actually guess my preferences incorrectly!). But the whole Mitt Romney-Anglo-Saxon heritage kerfuffle has now gotten under my skin. What prompted my agitation is a post over at The Atlantic by Max Fisher, Sorry, Romney: Neither America Nor the U.K. Are ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Countries. There are two dimensions to this, the positive and the normative.

Most of you are probably aware of David Barton, the conservative Christian scholar whose bread and butter is a revisionist history of the United States which rewrites the past into a fiction to serve his own political ends, in a manner which would make Michel Foucault proud. But believe it or not conservative Christians are not the only group wont to rewrite the past to serve  their own contemporary political preferences. In the case of Max Fisher what you have is a conclusion in search of support, and so our enterprising young man went out looking for it in classic hack style. Reading through ...

Azores to Atlantis: Africa through the shadows

Filed under: Africa,Anthroplogy,Genetics,Genomics,Human Genetics,Human Genomics — Razib Khan @ 8:55 pm


In many ways the image of Africa in the minds of Westerners has become a trope. The “Dark Continent,” eternal, and primal. Like many tropes the realized existence of this Africa is only within the imagination. The real Africa is far different. For there is no real Africa, there Africas. This truth is on my mind this week as two papers of great importance in understanding African genetic history finally saw the light of day. First, Dr. Joseph Pickrell et al. posted their preprint, The genetic prehistory of southern Africa, to arXiv. Second, out of the Tishkoff lab came Evolutionary History and Adaptation from High-Coverage Whole-Genome Sequences of Diverse African Hunter-Gatherers. Let me step aside here and observe a secondary, but non-trivial, detail. The former is an open access preprint. The second is a complete paper published in a relatively high impact journal, Cell, for which the paper itself does not seem typical or appropriate. This is fair enough, most people do not read journals front to back in this day. But unlike Dr. Joseph Pickrell’s paper the paper in Cell is paywalled, and from what I ...

July 26, 2012

The New York Times is ginning up fake controversy

Filed under: Anthroplogy,paleontology,Richard Klein — Razib Khan @ 9:46 am

Update: That charlatan David Klinghoffer seems to be enjoying this. As a rule I don’t follow dishonest propagandists, but it’s interesting how appealing this sort of “two sides” story is to Creationists. End Update

Reading this article this morning, DNA and Fossils Tell Differing Tales of Human Origins, really aggravated me. I believe that it’s totally misrepresenting the tensions in the scientific process here, and misleading the public. The standard conflict/”two views” format is used, and to disastrous effect. Here are some of the sections which I found alarming:

The geneticists reached this conclusion, reported on Thursday in the journal Cell, after decoding the entire genome of three isolated hunter-gatherer peoples in Africa, hoping to cast light on the origins of modern human evolution. But the finding is regarded skeptically by some paleoanthropologists because of the absence in the fossil record of anything that would support the geneticists’ statistical calculation….

In a report still under review, a third group of geneticists says there are signs of Neanderthals having interbred with Asians and East Africans. But Neanderthals were a cold-adapted species that never reached East Africa.

Although all known African fossils are of modern humans, a 13,000-year-old skull from the Iwo Eleru ...

The punch first culture

Filed under: science — Razib Khan @ 9:07 am

Dr. Daniel MacArthur has a nice write-up in Nature, Methods: Face up to false positives:

Few principles are more depressingly familiar to the veteran scientist: the more surprising a result seems to be, the less likely it is to be true. We cannot know whether, or why, this principle was overlooked in any specific study. However, more generally, in a world in which unexpected results can lead to high-impact publication, acclaim and headlines in The New York Times, it is easy to understand how there might be an overwhelming temptation to move from discovery to manuscript submission without performing the necessary data checks.

This is not just an issue in genomics. I’ve discussed it before as being a major problem in psychology. Though the infamous centenarian study will do nothing for the careers of the scientists involved, I do wonder what the effects of publishing large numbers of false positive results in science are on an individuals’ career when it isn’t so inexpertly executed (i.e., in this particular case the technical errors were so glaring that the authors should never have submitted their findings). I wonder because apparently major newspapers are now running with stories which they ...

July 25, 2012

Hindus earn like Episcopalians, vote like Puerto Ricans

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 9:24 pm

A few years ago I pointed out that as among American whites religious affiliation was often the best predictor of voting patterns among Asian Americans. The Republican party is for all practical purposes the white Christian party, but the minority of Asian Americans who are conservative Protestants are quite congenial to the Republicans. Their common religion transcends the racial gap. It is also no surprise that the two most prominent Indian American politicians who are Republicans are both avowed Christians (converts). It is unlikely that a non-Christian Indian could achieve national prominence as Republican; they would have two strikes against them, their race and their religion.

Pew’s new report on Asian American religiosity, Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths, highlights this well. American Hindus are stridently partisan Democrats. In contrast, evangelical Asian Americans leaned toward John McCain even in 2008 (though not as much as white evangelicals). People have made comparisons between Indian Americans and Jews before, and in some ways this is facile, but when it comes to socioeconomic status and politics the similarities are striking. Like Jews, American Hindus are well off and well educated. And like ...

The Genographic Project: on to the autosome!

Filed under: Geno 2.0,Genomics — Razib Khan @ 10:20 am

The Genographic Project is now moving beyond uniparental lineages with Geno 2.0. Spencer Wells kindly invited me to a conference call last month where he outlined a lot of the details, so I’ll hit the salient points for readers of this weblog:


* They’re unveiling a new SNP-chip and a new project which moves beyond the Y and mtDNA to the autosome. But they’re also expanding their coverage of uniparental markers.

* Though there are “only” autosomal 130,000 markers, Wells and his collaborators have selected a subset of markers which are highly informative of population structure (e.g., high Fst). Their SNPs are biased toward those with moderate levels of polymorphism across many populations to maximize the power of diagnosis of differentiation.

* They tried really hard to get rid of ascertainment bias. This means that in many previous chips there is a tendency to work off the polymorphism in Europeans, and then examine worldwide variation using this ruler. The problems with this method are obvious. One of the scientists on this project outlined how they worked to look for SNPs which are very informative for populations where ascertainment bias is a particular problem, Oceanians and Amerindians. I was impressed ...

A little food & medicine go a long way

Filed under: Caste,Lower Caste,Prejudice,race — Razib Khan @ 7:45 am

I clicked through on the links to Zack’s post below and was pretty shocked. I know this somewhat, but not having grown up around many Indians (or South Asians generally) I didn’t have a good sense. That being said, a few years ago I stumbled on a book at the local book store, Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir. The author was an adopted woman of Indian heritage from Spain. Skimming through, her family seems to have been peasant cultivators in Maharashtra. Therefore, I was struck by her photo. She is rather attractive and not “worn down” by the life of extreme subsistence.

This is not to take anything away from Zack’s post, and she obviously does not look like the typical upper caste NRI even to my unsubtle eyes. But a great deal of the physical difference in terms of perception is environmental. Though I do think it is telling that a woman who looks like this could never be a leading lady in a Bollywood film.


Asha Miro

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No vindication of Joseph Greenberg?

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Linguistics — Razib Khan @ 2:06 am

A reader pointed me to this critique of Nick Wades’ telling in The New York Times Reports that the recent Reich et al. paper on Native Americans is a vindication of Joseph Greenberg’s ideas on the languages of the Americas. 90-Year-Old Consensus:

Nicholas Wade’s reported the Reich et al. research in the New York Times (July 11, 2012). Wade treats it as a vindication of a three-way genetic (historical linguistic) distinction among languages of the Americas proposed in Joseph Greenberg’s (1987) book of the same name, although Reich et al. do not cite it in their paper in Nature. (The only reference to Greenberg by Reich et al. is to a paper coauthored with Turner and Zegura and published in 1986 as one of the proponents of the three-way split.) The “vindication” here is entirely Wade’s. The bottom line is that this three-way distinction was known linguistically since the 1920s (for example, Sapir 1921). Basically, it’s a division among the Eskimo-Aleut languages, which straddle the Bering Straits even today, the Athabaskan languages (which were discovered to be related to a small Siberian language family only within the last few years, not by Greenberg as Wade ...

A horrible “natural experiment”

Filed under: Behavior Genetics — Razib Khan @ 1:13 am

Spanish Baby-Snatching Victims Seek Answers and Justice:

Most of these stolen children were entrusted to the care of Catholics loyal to the regime. The aim behind this was to rid an entire people of the “Marxist gene,” at least according to the theories of Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, the national psychiatrist of Francoist Spain, that were widespread at the time.

More accurately it should be Marxist meme. But it brings up the question of looking into the correlation between the traits of biological parents and their long-lost children.

Via Dispatches From Turtle Island.

Rousseau vs. Descartes & incest

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Evolutionary Psychology,Sociology — Razib Khan @ 12:57 am


Greta Scacchi, cousin-lover

There has been some discussion in the comments why the posts on inbreeding are getting so much attention. I think this is a milder form of the same sort of curiosity about why young males have a fascination with pornography: we are obsessed with sex. This is not an arbitrary fascination, nor is it a loss of innocence which may have been avoided. Sex is our raison d’etre as sexual organisms. Evolutionary psychology gets a bad reputation for positing adaptive explanations for everything under the sun, from dancing to migraines. But, if there is anything which is the target of adaptive constraint and selective pressures, it is the suite of traits which relate to sex and mating in a direction fashion. It is sometimes stated that sex is about power, but the bigger reality is that power is about sex.

But reducing human behavior purely to one explanatory framework is too reductive even for me. An individualist framework where singular males and females operate as evolutionary versions of rational H. economicus, always optimizing fitness through subterfuge and inducement, leaves something to be desired in characterizing the true rich ...

July 24, 2012

Open thread 7/25/2012

Filed under: Blog — Razib Khan @ 11:01 pm

I need to rationalize my process of modulating the stream of comments I get. Toward that end I am going to be posting an “open thread” once every week (I’ve scheduled the next month already). If you have the urge to leave an off-topic comment on a post immediately, just put it here. You can of course contact me, but I understand that is often suboptimal, insofar as you may wish for input from other readers. Because this option is available I am inclined to simply delete off-topic comments more aggressively now, with repeated violations resulting in banning.

The nature of the restrictions of the comments are relatively loose on this post. You should maintain some decorum as usual. But you can post links, ask me or other readers questions, etc.

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