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

September 28, 2020

Let’s read!

Filed under: Book reviews,Books — Razib Khan @ 10:46 pm

Anyone who has read this weblog over the last few years has sensed my hopelessness and despair about the fallen world and in particular the American republic and Western civilization. I have told Rod Dreher many times privately that we irreligious also need our “Benedict option” in a “darkening world.” But while the Roman Empire fell due to the exogenous shocks of barbarian invasions, as well as internal decay, I feel the exogenous shock of coronavirus just exposed our societal ills, and we’re committing suicide all by ourselves.

My wife is reading The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. When I first heard the author, Nicholas Carr, talk about his book in 2010 on a podcast I was walking up Cedar street in Berkeley. I remember this moment so well because I laughed loudly. I scoffed. I almost dropped my iPod shuffle. Those were the days.

Unfortunately, though Carr’s book is dated, and some of the research seems tenuous, I am beginning to accept more and more of his conclusions. A few years ago I expressed some alarm at the rise of YouTube commentators. They are fine as far as it goes, but they are extremely popular and often informationally vapid.

Today, we have TikTok, where some of my younger friends admit to me that they spend hours and hours watching sequences of videos such as this.

But despair isn’t the point of this post. I’m almost done with The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century. The question then is, what do I read next? But then I thought, why just me? I haven’t done anything like a “book club” in many years. But why not? There isn’t a reason I have to march alone through the TikTok world.

so here’s the plan: I will pick a book, and read one chapter a week, and write a blog post about it. And those of you who also want to read the book can comment (if you have a blog or something you can post and I will link to that post; but who has blogs now?).

So here are some options, and I’ll let readers in the comments help choose:

The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War

The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge

The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia

Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders

The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution

Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity

Champlain’s Dream

Against Fairness

I’m open to selections outside of this list…but I would prefer something on this list unless you have an awesome idea. These are books I already own and are in my “stack” of to-reads. Also, obviously remember that books written by academics are going to be much more dense than those written by journalists and commentators, which will be “quick reads.”

White men invented everything!

Filed under: Epistemology — Razib Khan @ 1:13 pm

Over the last decade or so I’ve seen a very strange pattern that was once at the margins, but is now at the center of culture. Take something banal, such as literacy or war, and claim that it was invented and perpetuated by heterosexual white men. In the late 2000s, this started happening in academic and para-academic circles, and usually, I would laugh because the assertions were ludicrous on the face of them to anyone who knew people from various cultures (I’m the child of immigrants from Bangladesh) or who read history (I do). In fact, at the time I assumed most people were engaging in rhetorical flourish and signaling. They couldn’t actually believe these things, right?

Things have changed in 2020. What was once a source of amusement is now part of the cultural script. White heterosexual males are now seen to the Prime Mover in human history. Or perhaps evil demiurges responsible for our fallen world? There are young people who I have talked to who are amazed to learn that white males did not invent oppression. The first time I experienced this a few years ago I still laughed and found it strange, but now I’m rather alarmed. It’s ubiquitous. A fair number of young people who see through the mirror of lies reach out to me alarmed and disturbed once they know the “truth.”

What was once useless signaling is now taken as truth. Here is an NPR interview with James Hamblin, M.D., a writer at The Atlantic who is promoting a new book, Clean: The New Science of Skin:

How did your identity as a cisgendered white male influence your reporting on this subject?

Probably one of the main reasons I’ve been able to go so long without using [shampoo and deodorant] is because of the privilege of my position in American society. To the degree that these standards are culturally determined, I am coming from the group that has created these norms. That is why I believe I was able to push against them without more discriminatory consequences. I mean, people call me “gross.” But I didn’t suffer professionally to my knowledge. And other people would have.

Shampoo is originally a Hindi word. Even if Hamblin is thinking narrowly about the particular cultural details of American consumer capitalism which promotes a “hygiene script”, many younger people reading or listening to him won’t pick up on that. Rather, they will take him seriously and literally.

This is a small detail that illustrates a broader cultural problem: the abolition of knowledge independent from ideology. I am pretty much without hope that this can be generally turned around. Most people listen to what the elites tell them, and our cultural elites now turn all factual claims explicitly into instruments of ideology. Facts are always vetted based on their ideological utility. This is, I think, a fact of life itself. To some extent, it was always like this, but in 2010 elites might express some chagrin at their behavior. Today there is no shame.

Those of us who are not happy with this situation need to figure out how to survive, persevere, and find others who don’t enjoy lying constantly and effortlessly.

September 25, 2020

Open Thread – 9/26/2020 – Brown Pundits

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 4:01 pm


I have mixed feelings about casting Dev Patel as Gawain. Though my feelings are not strong, they are similar to my feelings about casting white actors as non-Europeans in the past: you get over it, but it takes away from verisimilitude.

Please make sure that you subscribe to the podcast (there are links to various platforms on the main website at the link). We don’t always post show-notes due to being busy.

The great panmixia

Filed under: Human Evolution — Razib Khan @ 10:17 am


Human inbreeding has decreased in time through the Holocene:

The history of human inbreeding is controversial. The development of sedentary agricultural societies may have had opposite influences on inbreeding levels. On the one hand, agriculture and food surplus may have diminished inbreeding by increasing population sizes and lowering endogamy, i.e. inbreeding due to population isolation. On the other hand, increased sedentism, as well as the advent of private property may have promoted inbreeding through the emergence of consanguineous marriage customs or via ethnic and caste endogamy. The net impact is unknown, and to date, no systematic study on the temporal frequency of inbreeding in human societies has been conducted. Here we present a new approach for reliable estimation of runs of homozygosity (ROH) in genomes with ≥3x mean coverage across >1 million SNPs, and apply this to 440 ancient Eurasian genomes from the last 15,000 years. We show that the frequency of inbreeding, as measured by ROH, has decreased over time. The strongest effect is associated with the Neolithic transition, but the trend has since continued, indicating a population size effect on inbreeding prevalence. We further show that most inbreeding in our historical sample can be attributed to endogamy, although singular cases of high consanguinity can also be found in the archaeogenomic record.

I think it is hard to think this is unrelated to decreased pairwise Fst between populations over the Holocene. Fst is a statistic that measures the proportion of genetic variation across two populations in relation to the total variance. In a Pleistocene world of small clans occupying a thinly populated landscape, one can envisage a scenario where gene flow is far more viscous than the more sedentary, but interconnected, world of agriculturalists.

Hunter-gatherers were probably not more xenophobic. Rather, increasing populations by an order of magnitude increases the number of potential geographically close mates a lot.

Another consequence of more gene flow and more partners is that inbreeding also declines, as people have more recent ancestors in their pedigree.

The main caveat I would put into this though is that this applies to dense Eurasian time transects. There is some reason to think that hominins on the northern Eurasian fringe were always on the knife’s edge of sustainability.

September 24, 2020

Neanderthal Y chromosomes are paleo-modern?

Filed under: Human Evolution,Neanderthals — Razib Khan @ 2:41 pm

I don’t have time to blog in detail today so I’ll point you to Ann Gibbon’s story, How Neanderthals lost their Y chromosome. You can find the link to the paper in there. The big issue here is that both mtDNA and Y chromosomes were replaced due to introgression from a population closer to modern humans than the Neandersovans, though basal to any modern humans alive today. This new group may actually be basal to the “basal human” group hypothesized by some scholars (there are suggestions of its existence in autosomal admixture into Neanderthals).

The probability of fixation of a newly introduced allele is the frequency of that allele, so how is it that these paleo-modern variants swept into Neanderthals? Perhaps on one locus, but two? One solution offered is naturals selection. This seems plausible, but the possibility of natural selection on Y and mtDNA lineages has always been a “wild card” that would make us rethink a lot of our phylogeography in general.

Finally, though it looks like the vast majority of modern ancestry outside of Africa is derived from a relatively recent (60,000 years ago) rapid expansion, it is clear that the picture at any given time is more complex than the signal we see today. It seems more and more likely that there was more a continuum between the African and Neandersovan lineages, and I strongly suspect that some of the paleo-modern lineages will at some point be detected in some modern groups once we have ancient DNA (the closer genetic distance and low fraction makes it hard for these segments to be identified in extant modern lineages using standard inference).

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