Razib Khan’s predictions for 2012

People often make “year end predictions.” I haven’t done that because I just haven’t bothered. But, it’s probably a nice way to see how full of crap you are. You can look back at how many mistakes you made, suggesting to you that you’re really a lot more ignorant of the shape of reality than you fancy yourself. So I’m going to put some predictions down right now. The title is self-centered, but I want it to be Googleable. There are two classes of predictions. The first class are those which I think have more than 50 percent chance of coming to fruition. I don’t want to pick “sure things,” because what’s the point of that? The second category is different, in that I think the chance of the outcome may be less than 50 percent, and the conventional wisdom is going to be opposite of the prediction, but I suspect the odds are better than people think. I’ll give myself “bonus points” if those come true.

 

>50 percent probability in my estimation

–  Mitt Romney will win the Iowa primary.

– Ötzi will have his genome published.

– A big paper will come out confirming that there has been massive (on the order of 50 percent or more) genetic turnover across Europe over the past 10,000 years.

– There will be more evidence published of “archaic admixture” events in the genomes of modern humans.

– No state will leave the Euro in 2012.

– The “great stagnation” will continue in the USA. GDP growth will not top 2.5 percent in any quarter. Unemployment will not drop below 7 percent by the end of the year.

– Housing will not bottom out in 2012 (Case-Shiller index in December 2012 will remain the same or below December 2011).

– Sprint will continue to lose ground to Verizon and AT&T in relative market share in mobile phones.

– Chrome will continue to gain share, but more at the expense of IE than Firefox. Firefox will remain within 5% of absolute current market share in December 2012 in relation to December 2011.

– There will be at least 150 references to “quantitative genomics” in Google Scholar in 2012 (vs. 70+ in 2011).

– We will see a $3,000 dollar genome (human sequence) for consumers by the end of the year.

– Time/Newsweek will write a long feature “How Facebook is over” in the last 1/3 of 2012 due to stagnation in active customer base.

– Google+ will be transformed from being a “Facebook-killer” to part of Google’s attempt to create a broader online identity (i.e., it will “fail” as a social network).

– Economic pessimism about India will become more prominent in the American media.

– The public offerings of web 2.0 companies will disappoint.

– There will be less talk about “e-books” after a peak over the summer vacations of 2012 because they will be so “normal.”

<50 percent probability, but greater probability than people think

– We will have the $1000 dollar genome by the end of 2012.

– Barack H. Obama will be reelected president.

– The Democrats will keep their Senate majority (almost perfectly correlated with the previous prediction).

– Greece will leave the Eurozone.

– China’s economic growth will be slower than expected, and will hit 5 percent in one quarter.

– 23andMe will shift away from “retail personal genomics.”

– There will be a major Islamic terrorist event in England or the United States (death toll  >10 = “major”).

– A major revision of our understanding of the archaeogenetics of the New World will be published, using ancient DNA

– The genetic architecture of hair curliness will be elucidated.

– Scientists will discover that 50% of more of the ancestry of most Africans is due to an ancient “back migration” event from Eurasian, on the order of 200 thousand years B.P. (which distinguishes Pygmies and Khoisan, who do not bear as much of this stamp).

– A major paper will be published in a high impact journal outlining the genes for major bio-behavioral differences between human populations.

– Siri will get good enough by December 2012 that people will no longer be able to play jokes on it.

– We will have a public discussion about the near future of widespread prenatal screening as part of national healthcare policy in the USA.

Are genes the key to the Yankee Empire?

That’s the question a commenter poses, albeit with skepticism. First, the background here. New England was a peculiar society for various demographic reasons. In the early 17th century there was a mass migration of Puritan Protestants from England to the colonies which later became New England because of their religious dissent from the manner in which the Stuart kings were changing the nature of the British Protestant church.* Famously, these colonies were themselves not aiming to allow for the flourishing of religious pluralism, with the exception of Rhode Island. New England maintained established state churches longer than other regions of the nation, down into the early decades of the 19th century.

Between 1630 and 1640 about ~20,000 English arrived on the northeastern fringe of British settlement in North America. With the rise of co-religionists to power in the mid-17th century a minority of these emigres engaged in reverse-migration. After the mid-17th century migration by and large ceased. Unlike the Southern colonies these settlements did not have the same opportunities for frontiersmen across a broad and ecological diverse hinterland, and its cultural mores were decidedly more constrained than the cosmopolitan Middle Atlantic. The growth in population in New England from the low tends of thousands to close to 1 million in the late 18th century was one of endogenous natural increase from the founding stock.


This high fertility regime persisted down into the middle of the 19th century, as the core New England region hit its Malthusian limit, and flooded over into upstate New York, to the irritation of the older Dutch population in that region. Eventually even New York was not enough, and New England swept out across much of the Old Northwest. The last became the “Yankee Empire,” founded by Yankees, but later demographically supplemented and superseded in its western reaches by immigrants from northwest Europe who shared many of the same biases toward order and moral probity which were the hallmarks of Yankees in the early Republic.

While the Yankees were waxing in numbers, and arguably cultural influence, the first decades of the American Republic also saw the waning of New England power and influence in relation to the South in the domain of politics. This led even to the aborted movement to secede from the union by the New England states in the first decade of the century. By the time of Andrew Jackson an ascendant Democrat configuration which aligned Southern uplanders and lowlanders with elements of the Middle Atlantic resistant to Yankee cultural pretension  and demographic expansion would coalesce and dominate American politics down to the Civil War. It is illustrative that one of the prominent Northern figures in this alliance, President Martin Van Buren, was of Dutch New York background.

But this is a case where demographics was ultimate destiny. Not only were the Yankees fecund, but immigrants such as the German liberals fleeing the failures of the tumult of 1848 (e.g., Carl Schurz) were aligned with their anti-slavery enthusiasms (though they often took umbrage at the anti-alcohol stance of the Puritan moralists of the age, familiarizing the nation with beer in the 1840s). The Southern political ascendancy was simply not tenable in the face of Northern demographic robustness, fueled by both fertility and immigration. Because of overreach on the part of the Southern elite the segments of the Northern coalition which were opposed to the Yankees eventually fractured (Martin Van Buren allowed himself to be candidate for the anti-slavery Free Soil party at one point). Though there remained Northern Democrats down to the Civil War, often drawn from the “butternuts” whose ultimate origins were in the Border South, that period saw the shift in national politics from Democrat to Republican dominance (at least up the New Deal). Curiously, the coalition was an inversion of the earlier coalition, with Yankees now being integral constituents in a broader Northern and Midwestern movement, and Southerners being marginalized as the odd-men-out.

 I review all this ethno-history because I think that to a great extent it is part of the “Dark Matter” of American political and social dynamics. Americans are known as “Yankees” to the rest of the world, and yet the reality is that the Yankee was one specific and very distinctive folkway on the American scene. But, that folkway has been very influential, often in a cryptic fashion.

Both Barack H. Obama and George W. Bush are not culturally identified as Yankees in a narrow sense. Obama is a self-identified black American who has adopted the Chicago’s South Side as his community. The South Side is home to black culture which descends from those who arrived at the terminus of their own Great Migration from the American South. George W. Bush fancies himself a West Texan and a cowboy. He was governor of Texas, and makes his residence in Dallas, while much of his young adulthood was spent in Midland. But the reality is that both of these men have Yankee antecedents. This is clear in Bush’s case. His father is a quintessential Connecticut Yankee. Bush is the product of Andover Academy, Yale, and Harvard (by and large thanks to family connections). Barack H. Obama is a different case entirely. His racial identity as a black American is salient, but he grew up in one of the far flung outposts of the Yankee Empire, Hawaii. But perhaps more curiously, many of his mother’s ancestors were clearly Yankees. Obama has a great-grandfather named Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham.

Within and outside of the United States there is often a stereotype that white Americans are an amorphous whole, a uniform herrenvolk who oppressed the black minority. This ideology was actually to some extent at the heart of the dominance of the early Democratic party before the rise of the Republicans fractured the coalition along sectional lines. In many Northern states one saw populist Democrats revoking property rights which were race-blind with universal white male suffrage.  But white Americans, and Anglo-Americans of British stock at that, were not one. That was clear by the 1850s at the latest. And they exhibit a substantial amount of cultural variation which remains relevant today.

New England in particular stands out over the long historical scale. In many ways of the all the colonies of Great Britain it was the most peculiar in its relationship to the metropole. Unlike Australia or Canada it was not an open frontier, rich with natural resources which could absorb the demographic surplus of Britain. Unlike India it was not a possible source of rents from teeming culturally alien subjects. Unlike the South in the mid-19th century there was no complementary trade relationship. In economic terms New England was a potential and incipient rival to Old England. In cultural and social terms it may have aped Old England, but its “low church” Protestant orientation made it a throwback, and out of step with a metropole which was becoming more comfortable with the English Magisterial Reformation (which eventually led to the emergence of Anglo-Catholicism in the 19th century). Like modern day Japan, and England of its day, New England had to generate wealth from its human capital, its own ingenuity. This resulted in an inevitable conflict with the mother country, whose niche it was attempting to occupy (albeit, with exceptions, such as the early 19th century, before the rise of robust indigenous industry, and the reliance on trade). Today the American republic has pushed England aside as the center of the Anglosphere. And despite the romantic allure of the frontier and the surfeit of natural resources, it is ultimately defined by the spirit of Yankee ingenuity (rivaled by the cowboy, whose violent individualist ethos seems straight out of the Scots-Irish folklore of the South, transposed to the West).

What does this have to do with genetics? Let’s go back to the initial colonial period. As I’ve noted before: the Yankee colonies of New England engaged in selective immigration policies. Not only did they draw Puritan dissenters, but they were biased toward nuclear family units of middling background. By “middling,” that probably refers at least toward the upper quarter of English society of the period. They were literate, with at least some value-added skills. This is in contrast with the Irish Catholic migration of the 19th century, which emptied out Ireland of its tenant peasants (attempts to turn these Irish into yeoman farmers in the Midwest failed, with fiascoes such as the consumption of their seed corn and cattle over harsh Minnesota winters).

So the question is this: could “middle class” values be heritable? Yes, to some extent they are. Almost all behavioral tendencies are heritable to some extent. Adoption studies are clear on that. But, is one generation of selection sufficient to result in a long term shift? First, let’s dismiss the possibility of random genetic drift and therefore a bottleneck. The one generation shift in allele frequencies due to drift is inversely proportional to effective population. If you assume that effective population is ~5,000, then the inverse of that is 0.0002. So you’d expect the allele frequency at any given locus shift by only a tiny fraction. So we have to look to selection.

Let’s do some quick “back of the envelop” calculations. We’ll use IQ as a proxy for a whole host of numbers because the numbers will at least be concrete, though the underlying logic of a quantitative continuous trait remains the same. First, the assumptions:

– Truncation selection on the trait which lops off the bottom 75 percent of the class distribution

– A correlation between the trait and genetic variation, so that you lop off the bottom 50 percent of the IQ distribution

– A heritability of IQ of 0.50

The top 50 percent of the IQ distribution has a median/mean IQ of ~110. Assuming 0.50 heritability implies half way regression back to the mean. Therefore, this model predicts that one generation of selection would entail a median IQ of 105 in the second generation, about 1/3 of a standard deviation above the norm in England.

Is this plausible, and could it result in the differences we see across American white ethnic groups? It is possible, but there are reasons to be skeptical. I think my guess of the top 25 percent of the class distribution is defensible from all I’ve read. But the correlation of this with IQ is probably going to be lower in the pre-modern era than today, where you have meritocratic institutions which channel people of different aptitudes. Second, the heritability of IQ was probably lower back then than now, because of wide environmental variance. Please note, I don’t dismiss the genetic explanation out of hand. Rather, this is a case where there are so many uncertainties that I’m not inclined to say much more than that it is possible, and that we may have an answer in the coming decades with widespread genomic sequencing.

But there’s another option, which is on the face of it is more easy to take in because so many of the parameters are well known and have been thoroughly examined. And that’s cultural selection. While we have to guess at the IQ distributions of the early Puritans, we know about the distribution of their cultural tendencies. They were almost all Calvinists, disproportionately literate. Because of its flexible nature culture can generate enormous inter-group differences in phenotypic variation. The genetic difference between New England and Virginia may have been small, but the cultural difference was wide (e.g., Yankee thrift vs. Cavalier generosity). Yankees who relocated to the South would assimilate Southern values, and the reverse (there is some suggestion that South Carolinian John C. Calhoun’s Unitarianism may have been influenced by his time at Yale, though overall it was obviously acceptable to the Deist inclined Southern elite of the period).

Before New England human societies had an expectation that there would be a literate segment, and an illiterate one. By and large the substantial majority would be illiterate. In the Bronze Age world the scribal castes had almost a magic power by virtue of their mastery of the abstruse cuneiform and hieroglyph scripts. The rise of the alphabet (outside of East Asia) made literacy more accessible, but it seems likely that the majority of ancient populations, even in literary capitals such as Athens, were functionally illiterate. A small minority was sufficient for the production, dissemination, and propagation of literary works. Many ancient books were written with the ultimate understanding that their wider “reading” was going to occur in public forums where crowds gathered to listen to a reader. The printing press changed this with the possibility for at least nominal ownership of books by those with marginal surplus, the middle class. By limiting migration to these elements with the means to buy books, as well as an emphasis on reading the Bible common to scriptural Protestants, you had a society where the majority could be readers in the public forum.

What were the positive cultural feedback loops generated? And what sort of cultural dampeners may have allowed for the new stable cultural equilibrium to persist down the centuries? These are open questions, but they need to be explored. I’ll leave you with a map of public school expenditures in 2003. In the 1840s and 1850s one of the more notable aspects of the opening of the Western frontier with the huge difference between states settled by Yankees, such as Michigan, and those settled by Southerners, such as Arkansas. Both states were settled contemporaneously, but while Michigan had numerous grammar schools, Arkansas had hardly any….

* British Protestantism has shifted several times from a more “Catholic” to “Radical Protestant” direction. Its peak in officially sanctioned Radical Protestantism was probably during the reign of Edward VI, decades before the Stuart kings (the exception being the republic)

The South Asian libertarian newspaper of record

As I’ve joked before, The New York Times always seems to be pushing free market private sector solutions in South Asia. Many of India’s Poor Turn to Private Schools:

For more than two decades, M. A. Hakeem has arguably done the job of the Indian government. His private Holy Town High School has educated thousands of poor students, squeezing them into cramped classrooms where, when the electricity goes out, the children simply learn in the dark.

Parents in Holy Town’s low-income, predominantly Muslim neighborhood do not mind the bare-bones conditions. They like the modest tuition (as low as $2 per month), the English-language curriculum and the success rate on standardized tests. Indeed, low-cost schools like Holy Town are part of an ad hoc network that now dominates education in this south Indian city, where an estimated two-thirds of all students attend private institutions.

“The responsibility that the government should shoulder,” Mr. Hakeem said with both pride and contempt, “we are shouldering it.”

The issue seems to be that in terms of what it provides the masses India’s public sector is an unmitigated joke verging on disaster. What India needs is greater federalism, as it seems that coordination from the center is just not possible with all the special interests tugging at it.

Top 25 referral keywords in 2011 to GNXP

About ~25 percent of the traffic to this website search engines. Mostly Google. Below are two sets of top 25 search results. The first is pretty straightforward. But the second has all the key words which are probably by and large people just looking for weblogs removed. The links are to search results are on Google.

 

gene expression
gnxp
razib khan
linkage disequilibrium
gnxp discover
china provinces
sara sidner ethnicity
gene expression discover
discover gnxp
bad astronomy
razib discover
ashkenazi
game of thrones
discover blogs
ashkenazi jews
black and white twins
+”the 10,000 year explosion”
sandra laing
aziz ansari muslim
genghis khan descendants
razib
gene expression blog
sandra laing genetics
tiger pictures
cuckoldry

Key words pruned of people probably looking for weblogs

linkage disequilibrium
china provinces
sara sidner ethnicity
ashkenazi
game of thrones
ashkenazi jews
black and white twins
+”the 10,000 year explosion”
sandra laing
aziz ansari muslim
genghis khan descendants
sandra laing genetics
tiger pictures
cuckoldry
basque
why are jamaicans so fast
are we still evolving
genetic map of europe
neanderthal
diederik stapel
personality trait
23andme
descendants of genghis khan
is aziz ansari muslim
western culture

Top 25 referral sites in 2011 to GNXP

A few qualifications. First, I removed all Google referral sites except for G+. Second, I removed Discover Magazine urls. Some of these sites should perhaps have been omitted from the list as well because of my past or current association with them (gnxp.comSecular RightSepia Mutiny and Brown Pundits). ScienceBlogs is mostly, though not exclusively, from my old website there. I’m a little amused that razib.com is rather high on the list, but that site is the first hit usually for querying my name on Google (and therefore Bing, which seems to just copy Google’s results).

StumbleUpon
reddit
Facebook.com
ScienceBlogs
Fark
gnxp.com
pulsenews
Steve Sailer
Marginal Revolution
t.co
John Hawks
Twitter
Intsanpundit
Digg
razib.com
Brown Pundits
archaeologica.org
Real Clear Science
Dienekes
Hacker News
Secular Right
Google Plus
Andrew Sullivan
Sepia Mutiny
high-technology.info

Top 20 posts in 2011 by comments for GNXP

In this list I’ve limited it to posts which were published in 2011. For much of the blog’s history I didn’t autoclose comments after 2 weeks, so the comparisons aren’t appropriate. And comments tend to be less timeless in any case. Comments are a double-edged sword on a weblog, because they often invite the stupid to come out and play in people. But there are a non-trivial subset from whom I’ve learned a fair amount from. That learning doesn’t always have to be a case where you even change your mind. Discussion in good faith can usually sharpen comprehension of your own perspective.

Your genes, your rights – FDA’s Jeffrey Shuren misleading testimony under oath
Which undersampled groups would you like to see?
Relative angels and absolute demons
On structure, variation, and race
Culture differences matter (even within Islam)
A college degree as contraceptive
Richard Feynman’s intelligence
Real three dimensional PCA!
Think right, not deep
The perils of human genomics
Is “Game of Thrones” racist? Not even wrong….
Atheism as mental deviance
America has had ‘non-Christian’ presidents!
The end of Arab Christianity
The poverty of multiculturalist discourse
The Assyrians and Jews: 3,000 years of common history
Rick Perry is not too smart
A game of numbers, a matter of values
The Republican fluency with science
The last 100,000 years in human history

Top 20 posts in 2011 by traffic for GNXP

Below are the top 20 accessed posts on this website over the year 2011. Note that some of them predate 2011, but due to search engines or other forms of referral they remain highly accessed.

Your genes, your rights – FDA’s Jeffrey Shuren misleading testimony under oath
Which undersampled groups would you like to see?
Relative angels and absolute demons
On structure, variation, and race
Culture differences matter (even within Islam)
A college degree as contraceptive
Richard Feynman’s intelligence
Real three dimensional PCA!
Think right, not deep
The perils of human genomics
Is “Game of Thrones” racist? Not even wrong….
Atheism as mental deviance
America has had ‘non-Christian’ presidents!
The end of Arab Christianity
The poverty of multiculturalist discourse
The Assyrians and Jews: 3,000 years of common history
Rick Perry is not too smart
A game of numbers, a matter of values
The Republican fluency with science
The last 100,000 years in human history

Charitable donations for the long term

My friend Holden Karnofsky always pings me at this time of the year. Holden is co-founder of GiveWell. If you’re curious, you can look up more on the outfit yourself, I’ve talked about it enough over the years for you to get why I’m interested and a supporter. Holden is a numbers and data driven guy, and it turns out that 25% of the money given through their website last year was on December 31st. Here are their top charities.

In purely selfish news (yes, I’m a heavy user) Wikipedia is also in need of cash. And yes, I give! (though that doesn’t stop the constant stream of begging headshots)

Vocab by ethnicity, region, and education

A questioner below was curious if vocabulary test differences by ethnic and region persist across income. There’s a problem with this. First, the INCOME variable isn’t very fine-grained (there is a catchall $30,000 or greater category). Second, it doesn’t seem to control for inflation. But, there is a variable, DEGREE, which asks the highest level of education attained. I used this to create a “college” and “non-college” category (i.e., do you have a bachelor’s degree or not). Because of sample size considerations I removed some of the ethnic groups, but replicated the earlier analysis.

Below are two tables. One shows the mean vocab score for region and ethnicity (for whites) for those without college educations, and another shows those with college educations. I decided to generate a correlation over the two rows, even though it sure isn’t useful as a quantitative statistical measure because of the small number of data points. Rather, I just wanted a summary of the qualitative result. The short answer is that the average vocabulary difference seems to persist across educational levels (the exception here is the “German” ethnicity).

Mean WORDSUM Score by Ethnicity and Region
No college education

Northeast

Midwest

South

West
German 6.05 5.81 5.79 6.11
Eastern Europe 6.17 6.16 6.18 6.29
Scandinavian 6.35 5.97 6.23 6.35
British 6.6 6.21 6.02 6.57
Irish 6.66 5.83 5.69 6.58
Italian 6 5.85 5.8 6.18

College educated

Northeast

Midwest

South

West
German 8.03 7.48 7.63 7.33
Eastern Europe 7.7 7.37 7.5 8.09
Scandinavian 8.5 7.82 7.86 7.92
British 8.44 8.06 7.76 7.95
Irish 8.03 7.79 7.39 7.59
Italian 7.45 7.75 7.6 7.87

Correlation of college and non-college
German 0.08
Eastern Europe 0.92
Scandinavian 0.57
British 0.70
Irish 0.57
Italian 0.40

The bush & the bramble of the human family

I wonder if in future years we’re going to look at “species debates” in the context of human evolution like we look at counting angels on the head of a pin. Over at BBC News Clive Finlayson has a rambling opinion piece up, Has ‘one species’ idea been put to bed? Finlayson, the author of The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived, doesn’t seem to have a tightly focused point and the end of it all (I think warranted, considering how unsettled this area is). But he does conclude:

And a major conference is planned for September next year when experts from all over the world will meet in Gibraltar to revise our ideas about “the human niche”. After decades of bad press we are finally getting round to humanizing the enigmatic Neanderthals.


In my post below I argue that it’s most useful to reconceptualize “human” as an ecological niche, rather than a descent group. All the confusion as to whether Neandertals, or any other group of divergent hominins, were, or weren’t, “humans like us,” exists in the context of the idea that “humans like us” are a very specific and sui generis clade with special traits. I think “we” need to get a little off our high horse here.

A few years ago Bruce Lahn got a lot of scorn for positing the idea that different modern human lineages might have been in the process of speciating, at least before the Columbian Exchange and Globalization. Whether the concept is correct or not, I suspect part of the issue is that speciation implies that some human lineages are de-humanized, because there can be only one human lineage. I think this is wrong. I obviously think there’s been a lot of abuse of postmodernism, especially when it comes to natural science, this is an area where human concerns rather than objective reality have historically been drivers of many debates. We can see that clear from the present looking back to the past, but decades from now I suspect that we’ll be subject to the same hindsight wisdom.