Singularity Institute Research Challenge

Ends today. Last Chance to Contribute to 2010 Singularity Research Challenge!:

Thanks to generous contributions by our donors, we are only $11,840 away from fulfilling our $100,000 goal for the 2010 Singularity Research Challenge. For every dollar you contribute to SIAI, another dollar is contributed by our matching donors, who have pledged to match all contributions made before February 28th up to $100,000. That means that this Sunday is your final chance to donate for maximum impact.

Since ~1/3 of readers of GNXP are sympathetic to transhumanism I thought it might be worthwhile to post this….

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Singularity Institute Research Challenge

Ends today. Last Chance to Contribute to 2010 Singularity Research Challenge!:

Thanks to generous contributions by our donors, we are only $11,840 away from fulfilling our $100,000 goal for the 2010 Singularity Research Challenge. For every dollar you contribute to SIAI, another dollar is contributed by our matching donors, who have pledged to match all contributions made before February 28th up to $100,000. That means that this Sunday is your final chance to donate for maximum impact.

Since ~1/3 of readers of GNXP are sympathetic to transhumanism I thought it might be worthwhile to post this….

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Graphs lack mass appeal?

Andrew Gelman, Red State, Blue State sales are a factor of 2^100 lower than they should’ve been:

In his forthcoming book, Albert-László Barabási writes, “There is a theorem in publishing that each graph halves a book’s audience.” If only someone had told me this two years ago!

More seriously, this tongue-in-cheek theorem, if true, defines an upsetting paradox. As we discussed at the beginning of the Notes section of Red State, Blue State, we structured the book around graphs because that seemed to be the best way to communicate our findings. Tables are not a serious way of conveying numerical information on the scale that we’re interested in, and, sure, we could’ve done it all in words (even saying things like “We ran a regression and it was statistically significant”), but we felt that this would not fully involve readers in our reasoning. The paradox–or maybe it’s not such a paradox at all–is that graphs are grabby, they engage the reader, but this makes reading the book a slower, more intense, and more difficult endeavor.

I recall hearing about the lack of appeal of equations, and their negative impact on book sales, but not graphs. Then again, I remember that the author of Calculated Exuberance was a bit perplexed when I enthused about his chart & graph heavy posts.

Here’s a chart from from a paper in Current Biology, The Evolution of Human Genetic and Phenotypic Variation in Africa:

All that information in prose would take up more time, and be way less precise.

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Pacific Biosciences: is the hype for real?

Check out Dr. Dan MacArthur’s assessment of the Pacific Biosciences presentation at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference. Also check out Genetic Inferences take on AGBT (yes, they’re really original with catchy blog names at the Sanger Institute!). In any case, a friend of mine was raving about Pacific Biosciences a few months ago, so I assumed it would blow up soon.

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Quantitative genetics strikes back! (?)

The Genetics of Human Adaptation: Hard Sweeps, Soft Sweeps, and Polygenic Adaptation:

There has long been interest in understanding the genetic basis of human adaptation. To what extent are phenotypic differences among human populations driven by natural selection? With the recent arrival of large genome-wide data sets on human variation, there is now unprecedented opportunity for progress on this type of question. Several lines of evidence argue for an important role of positive selection in shaping human variation and differences among populations. These include studies of comparative morphology and physiology, as well as population genetic studies of candidate loci and genome-wide data. However, the data also suggest that it is unusual for strong selection to drive new mutations rapidly to fixation in particular populations (the ‘hard sweep’ model). We argue, instead, for alternatives to the hard sweep model: in particular, polygenic adaptation could allow rapid adaptation while not producing classical signatures of selective sweeps. We close by discussing some of the likely opportunities for progress in the field.

The whole review is well written & open access, so I would recommend just reading the whole thing. I would though add that obviously population and quantitative genetics complement each other because they approach the same phenomenon from opposite ends. Additionally, one of the major criticisms of Charles Darwin’s original work was its heavy reliance on domesticated lineages which had been subject to artificial selection on quantitative traits. I suspect in many ways humans are themselves “self-domesticated,” and the protean nature of the selection regimes shaped by rapidly changing culture makes it more likely than not that we adapt through tweaking standing genetic variation.

Citation: The Genetics of Human Adaptation: Hard Sweeps, Soft Sweeps, and Polygenic Adaptation, Pritchard, Jonathan K.; Pickrell, Joseph K.; Coop, Graham, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.11.055

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Blacks aren’t that much more pro-life

For a hot-button issue which is arguably the social lodestar for American culture-wars people make a lot of unfounded assertions and assumptions about abortion. For example, poking around the GSS data set it’s pretty evident that there isn’t a sex difference in regards to the legal status of abortion. What I have found is that there may be an intensity difference between men an women among the educated pro-choice segment of the population, which might give pro-choice women the impression that there is a general difference (as people tend to extrapolate inordinately from their social milieu).

What about race? One of the occasionally resurrected talking points from conservative Republicans is that black Americans should be targeted because their social values are more aligned with the Republican party. You do see some of this when it comes to gay marriage, though I judge the difference to be relatively modest. But a new story in The New York Times made me wonder about abortion, To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case:

For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions. But, staff members said, they found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences.

So in 2009, the group took money that it normally used for advertising a pregnancy hot line and hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator.

Ms. Davis traveled to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.

The black abortion rate is eye-popping:

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