Highlights from 'GNXP 2005'

Well, 2005 certainly proved to be a compelling year here at GNXP. From the Larry Summers “scandal” to Ashkenazi intelligence “overclocking” and on to Bruce Lahn’s research — the year was definitely not a dull one!

Below the fold are some highlights from ‘GNXP 2005’ — this collection is by no means comprehensive — and, no doubt, I’ve left out some really great posts. But, we were spoiled for choice this year and it was difficult to narrow this list down as much as I did. Enjoy! — and see you in 2006.

JANUARY

Anti-Racist Multicultural Math
On getting rid of “old, stodgy racist math” in Newton, Massachusetts.

Drive your kin before you….
Kin-slaughter and increasing individual reproductive capacity (a la Genghis Khan).

A different sort of r strategy in Europeans? -and- The “fertility inversion”
A gene inversion which seems to confer greater fertility most common in Europe (21%), followed by Africa (6%), then Asia (1%).

Much ado about women & Larry Summers
Summation of GNXP’s take on the Larry Summers ‘scandal’.

Ethnic Genetic Interests
On Frank Salter’s idea that every individual has a genetic interest in copies of his own ‘distinctive genes’ found in close relatives AS WELL AS in the wider population.

FEBRUARY

Ladies’ Choice
Jinn’s readers’ poll: Which Intellectual Superstar of Gene Expression Would You Rather Sleep With?

Race is obsolete…?
The battle over race in biomedical research.

Genetic variation is a fact of life
On “Heritibility and genetic constraints of life-history trait evolution in preindustrial humans.”

“Gene expression” might matter
For those who haven’t heard, biology is complex — the genome is not an exact blueprint for how the organism will develop.

Gene + environment interactions….
Nature and nurture and social constraints.

Crime and Punishment
A look at UK prison stats on women from ‘ethnic minorities’.

Taste and behavior genetics
Capsaicin (!) tasters and non-tasters.

MARCH

An explication of assumptions
Blank slate vs. Evolutionary Psychology vs. Human Biodiversity (and so on…).

Love, lust and attachment
On human pair-bonding.

Male brain ~ more sons vs. female brain ~ more daughters?
“Engineers have more sons, nurses have more daughters.”

Colon Cancer is a Socially Constructed Disease
An example of genetic medicine revealing how internal traits can vary from group to group.

APRIL

Dissolving the dominance of dominance
Good reasons for focusing on the idea that in diploid organisms two copies of a given gene are expressed on any locus (rather than the dominant-recessive concept).

Evidence for natural selection between populations
Evidence of selection between three populations — European Americans, African Americans, and Han Chinese from Los Angeles.

More on Social Mobility
LSE study on 8 countries shows highest social mobility in Scandinavia, lowest in the US.

Slow and diverse food
Diet and human biodiversity — Razib on Gary Nabhan’s “Why Some Like it Hot.”

MAY

What’s your s?
The basic paradigm which population geneticists arguing for Out-of-Africa vs. !Out-of-Africa are working with is faulty.

Measuring Genetic Diversity: Lewontin’s Other Fallacy -and- Measuring Genetic Diversity: Part 2
How genetic diversity ‘between populations’ is measured.

Out of Africa by coast…once…maybe???
mtDNA variation in isolated “relict” populations (?) in southeast Asia supports the view that there was only a single dispersal from Africa, most likely via a southern coastal route.

IQ Irrelevancies
Alex’s list of his favorite “arguments against using IQ instruments.”

The Middle Model
Genomics refutes an exclusively African origin of humans.

Altruistic punishment
What is altruistic punishment and why is it important?

JUNE

Group Selection (oh no, not again!)
Why ‘group selection should be regarded as an explanatory last resort.’

Overclocking
On Cochran, Hardy and Harpending’s Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. Don’t miss the discussion.

The Urban Sink
Civilization, urbanization and selection.

Bad science?
On criticisms of Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.

The history of the Jews…a very special people…sort of
On Howard Metzenberg’s Unnatural History of Jewish Population Genetics (a review of Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence).

Breakin’ free of biology?
On the reality of the Biological Species Concept.

JULY

Through the rugged roads of gene land
Razib delves into Epistasis and the Evolutionary Process.

Model rising….(?)
Early modern humans (Out of Africa) and admixture with regional archaic humans.

The paths of polygyny….
Musings on polygyny and the Naturalistic Fallacy.

Inducing disgust
Ewwwww!

Expertise, knowledge….
Biology is a big field. How to keep up with the latest?!

Some musings on patent law
TangoMan on patents, genes and the Common Heritage of Mankind.

Not genes and not environment
Monozygotic twins are not really identical and neither are C. elegans individuals — even when genes and environment are held constant.

Reader survey….
Everything you ever wanted to know about GNXP regular readers!

AUGUST

Drum’s swipe at the Right’s faux outrage
Evolution and politics makes for strange bedfellows….

People classify differently -and- “Asian” and “Western” thinking….
If it looks like a freshwater fish…and swims like a freshwater fish….

Pinker: A lie can’t be left unchallenged
“Summers…never suggested that every man surpassed every woman in mathematical ability….”

Cousin be perty, part n
On being more than kissin’ cousins….

Blonde Australian Aboriginals -and- Black and strawberry -and- Beyond MC1R
All about melanin and the expression of pigment in humans.

A tale of one ratchet
Razib on Tomasello’s The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition.

Cultured chimps
Chimps, humans and ‘cultural conformity.’

What Copernican revolution?
The sun revolves around the Earth…right?

SEPTEMBER

Non-adaptive immune adaptation?
Our innate immune system and admixture between proto-moderns and archaics.

Groups, price and culture -and- The importance of li and social conformity
On group selection and evolutionary cultural anthropology.

Canine theory-of-mind?
Do dogs have a ‘human-biased’ theory-of-mind?

Them and Us
Are we better equipped to deal with external threats rather than internal ones?

This is Bruce Lahn’s brain on ASPM and MCPH1 -and- Bruce Lahn (Scientist interview)
Researchers say human brain is still evolving.

Know thy enemy – “Newton’s rape manual”
TangoMan tortures himself with feminist ideas on science.

Dawkins on kin selection: a correction
DavidB rethinks the evolutionary advantages of incestuous matings.

OCTOBER

Demon primate -and- Orangutans gone wild
Marmosets are chimeras! And, developmentally arrested orangutan males that rape.

A prayer for the Emperor -and- The Sacral State (from Nov)
On state and religion and a pluralistic society. Razib looks at Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom.

Marriage, history, evolution and the unidirectional process….
“Why do people enter into love marriages in the first place?”

Trolley problem
Is the life of one American worth the life of several foreigners?

Genetics in the movies -and- Beyond the Punnett square, part n -and- Skin color loci – older work (from Dec)
DavidB on the “general disregard for genetics in films and TV” … and Razib’s addendum.

Small gains
Jason looks at the efforts of some parents to increase the height (via Human Growth Hormone) of their “vertically-challenged” sons.

Extremism in defense of precision is no vice -and- The True Believer revisited…. -and- I am a believer (from Sept)
Razib on his belief in science.

Chromosomes and evolution
David Boxenhorn muses on the evolutionary implications of chromosomes.

Quantitating the Cult
What, exactly, is diversity?

NOVEMBER

A wrinkled landscape -and- 8th grade math for the rest of us -and- Response, heritability and selection (R = h2 * S), little bits and reiterations
On correlated response, basic maths (don’t be afraid of the math!), and R = h2 * S.

ID vs. creationism, what’s in a name -and- The new center
On some differences between ID and creationism — and why that matters.

10 questions for Derb
Interview with John Derbyshire.

Never be so stupid -and- The bounds of discourse
Razib wastes 30 minutes of his time on someone who hasn’t done their homework.

Is Natural Selection a tautology?
DavidB answers – no.

Religion & evolution
Are religion and evolution at eternal enmity?

Genes and civilisation
Some reasons for being sceptical about any close links between genes and cultural achievement.

Unnatural groups
On the reflexive “groupishness” of humans.

Covering up your face and smothering liberalism
On Muslim women in Europe veiling themselves.

DECEMBER

10 questions for Armand M. Leroi -and- 10 questions for Warren Treadgold -and- 10 questions for Dan Sperber
That’s 30 questions, altogether!

Theological incorrectness – when people behave how they shouldn’t…sort-of -and- Intercultural variance
On our models of other groups & how individuals within those groups behave. And, on evoked and epidemiological aspects of culture.

We are born Manichaeans -and- The gods of the cognitive scientists
“Just how banal and conventional many of the cognitive processes are which result in normal theism.”

Nordic beauty wins again! -and- Gotta luv those Irish genes…
A little eye-candy.

Race is skin deep
On SLC24A5 and pigmentation in zebrafish and humans.

Endless forms most continuous
“Species are problems.”

The Anglican origins of neo-Darwinianism?
The relationship between religion and “neo-Darwinianism” — and why people do, or do not, accept evolutionary theory.

Evoking the season
“Culture is a bugger.”

Books for the New Year

What books are you going to be reading as 2006 unfolds? I suspect most of us are always behind and short of time, but I am curious as to what has caught the attention of GNXP readers. I’ll be working my way through Will Provine’s The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, somewhat parochial of course, but that’s why I’m asking what you’ll be reading….

Evoking the season

Culture” is difficult to define. Sometimes it is used to indicate a particular mix of preferences which have a strong correlation with the social elites, i.e., those who enjoy opera, live theater or classical music. In a more prosaic context it is usually thought of as socially transmitted behaviors and folkways that are particular to groups of humans. Some aspects of culture are universal, for instance, artistic expression. But the details of artistic expression allow us to demarcate various cultural units. Many pieces of cultural expression can be bundled together into a cultural unit, for example, the modes of behavior which are dictated by rabbincal Judaism and traditional Islam. But for each individual there are often multiple bundles of culture which coexist, axes of identification. For example, despite the common norms imposed by Rabbnical Judaism there are differences between Yemeni Jews and Ashkenazi Jews. Some of these differences might be the result of the broader cultural matrix in which these two Jewish cultures evolved, for example, Ashkenazi Jewish law forbade polygyny from the 10th century onward, while Yemeni Jewish law did not. It might not be coincidental that Yemeni Jews were embedded in an Islamic social matrix where polygyny was accepted while Ashkenazi Jews interacted with a larger Western Christian culture where monogamy was normative. In short, culture is a bugger.

This makes discussions about culture extremely slippery, and the potentional for miscommunication and misunderstanding are manifold. Discussions aboiut “Christian culture” or “Western culture” or “Islamic culture” are frought with difficulties in defining boundaries, or ascribing to a particular culture a fundamental diagnostic characteristic. I believe one flaw in most discussions is that the tendency to speak in terms of idealized types translates into a neglect of the reality that culture is a distribution of behaviors which ultimately exist in a flux within the minds of humans. Our discourse is often predicated on particular texts, or outward physical manifestations of cultural expression, but we neglect that much of what culture is can only be understood as a dynamic process which emerges out of the swarm of human social interaction, mediated by cognitive preferences.

With that in mind, I want to review a distinction I have made before between evoked and epidemiological culture. Evoked culture can be thought of as human universals which are naturally expressed when one develops within a conventional social and physical environment. Consider language, in the context of human socialization it seems to be an inevitable development. Though a particular language is not hard-wired, the consensus seems to be emerging that a powerful cognitive bias exists to generate complex and recursive syntactical structures buttressed by an enormous lexical memory. In a milder fashion, religious belief can also be thought of as an evoked cultural phenomenon, the existence of an agency detection bias in congress with various other cognitive processes might naturally result in the conception in one’s mind that supernatural agents must exist. But, though these general tendencies are universally evoked, how they express themselves in the details may differ greatly. Chinese or English are not hard-wired in the brains of people speaking those languages, and belief in the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob must also be learned (I know some theists would disagree with this, but I would argue that the ‘innate’ god does not exhibit the details of particular religions but is a generic entity). These details must spread by person to person communication, and this is where epidemiological culture comes into play, as it defines the texture and diversity across the cultural landscape. Though the constraints defined by our mental architecture seem to limit language toward particular canals of development and expression, why a language spreads or does not spread is likely not due to cognitive variables.1 Why have English and Mandarin Chinese spread? For that matter why have Indo-European languages been so successful? There are several variables that likely influenced the success of these languages in spreading, but the key one is likely historical luck, the people who spoke English (British conquerors) and Mandarin Chinese (bureaucrats of the Chinese Empire) were of high and successful status and so emulation and imitation resulted in the spread of these languages. Additionally, the tendency to emulate majority preferences amongst individuals would likely result in a ‘tipping point’ effect so that the process of linguistic spread would be somewhat sigmoidal as the defection of local elites and peers would result in accelerated transition from the old language to the new. But in some cases innate cognitive factors can play a role even in epidemiological culture. Consider Calvinism. Jean Calvin elucidated a neo-Augustinian view that rejected Free Will in his Reformed theology. In response to this theology there arose a faction within Reformed Protestantism of Arminianism, which rejected the logical conclusions of Predestinary Calvinism. To make a long story short, Arminianism won out in the Church of England, and to a large extent in American Protestantism (despite the Calvinistic roots of many denominations). Operationally Arminianism is the dominant system which humans seem to be working under, even if they verbally espouse an Predestinary theology (as many Reformed denominations and Muslims do). The point here is that the relative success of many Christian denominations at the expense of strict Reformed sects might simply be due to the fact that the compromises with operational Free Will that the former have made is more cognitively optimal than strict Calvinist Predestinarian theology. Finally, another way that a cultural trait can spread is through typical functional benefits. For example, agriculture likely spread simply because the fitness of individuals who adhered to this style of subsistence was higher than that of those who did not (as defined by descendents). Many early theories in regards to religion were functional in that they held that common gods served as expressions of communal unity which served to cohere the group against outside threats. In this paradigm the details of culture are less relevant than that individuals within a group share common norms and trade in interchangeable cognitive currency (swearing oaths to the same god, or fighting under the protection of a tribal god).

Which brings me to Christmas. As an atheist from a non-Christian cultural background who was raised not celebrating the holiday within the family (but partook of the general cultural zeitgeist) I have a peculiar perspective. On the issue of whether to say “Merry Christmas” or not, I generally take it as a default setting unless there are other factors which suggest it should be more appropriate to say “Happy Holidays” (reader surveys suggest that most readers of this weblog are not religious, so I would probably say “Happy Holidays” since I suspect that they have as little attachment to the name Christmas as I do). A few weeks ago I was in an email correspondence with a friend of mine who is an evangelical Christian, and I wished him a “Merry Xmas.” He asked me if I celebrated Christmas, and how I felt about that if I did since he knew I was an atheist. The gist of my response was that I did celebrate Christmas, but, I did not th
ink that Christmas was fundamentally a Christian holiday in any case, and I have no aversion to the name Christmas, just as he, a non-Catholic Christian, likely did not object to the historical relict of the Catholic mass that is still embedded within the term. I also explained that though I understand that most Christians assert that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” I believe that he became the reason for the season. That is, the pagan origins of many Christian traditions are well known, and the association with Yule, Saturnalia and Natalis Sol Invictus are also common knowledge.

Which brings back to some of the ideas I introduced earlier: the public discourse tends to fixate on Christmas as if it is an idealized unitary type that we all have a common understanding of. Pagans will assert that Christmas is a pagan holiday (they’ll change the name). Most Christians will assert it is a Christmas holiday. Some Christians will assert that it is a pagan holiday. Many will contend that it has been distorted and become a celebration of the God of the Market. And so on. The amusing reality that mostly Muslim African Senegal has taken up Christmas (as has Shinto-Buddhist Japan) should point us to the possibility that Christmas is a far messier and diffuse concept than the talking points that have erupted would let on. Going back to the idea of “evoked” cultural traits, I began to wonder if it was not inevitable that a prominent holiday would exist in the darkest days of winter amongst agricultural peoples in Europe. Saturnalia was a Mediterranean Latin affair. Yule was a northern European affair. The American Christmas seems to exhibit aspects of both. In a manner it might have been inevitable that the rise of Christianity as the dominant religious mode amongst Europeans would result in the transition of many non-Christian cultural elements into the Christian pantheon, that it would coopt cognitively optimal features of the native cultures. It is to me no surprise that the Christians who have been most prominent in rejecting Christmas as a pagan holiday are descendents of the Radical Reformation which explicitly attempted to revert back to “primitive” Christianity, shorn of cultural accretions and adhering to strictly scripturally approved norms and motifs.2 Some Christian thinkers have attempted to dismiss the pagan aspects of the Christmas holiday as minor trivialities, but the laundry list of holiday “traditions” which have pre-Christian roots is rather long (Christmas cookies, gift giving, the yule log, excessive celebration). I was surprised that even The Catholic Encyclopedia expressed a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the holiday.

Ultimately I suspect that pagans, Christians and non-theists who celebrate “Christmas” (whatever you call it) are evoking common cognitive states and recapitulating many of the cultural motifs which were in circulation across much of Europe prior to the rise of the Christian religion. The fact that Christmas trees can be perceived to be fundamentally Christian is an interesting commentary on the fluidity of cultural motifs. The debates over Christmas are not truly about Christmas, since the holiday itself is a melange of various cultural streams, and like a kaleidoscope can impart to the perceiver multiple conformations. It is an outgrowth of social anomie that results from disputes over who owns the meaning of particular cultural currencies. Though I have asserted multiple times that I believe that religious believers actually believe in the same cognitive God, that does not negate the reality that they will kill each other over disputes predicated on the particular abstract nature of that God, or the term they use for that God (in reality I suspect that the theological disputes are simply masks for a host of cleavages that make intergroup conflict inevitable). Though the general expression of Christmas is rather the same across various groups, what Christmas “means” has crucial significance as a group marker, just as whether the Son was inferior & created or coequal and eternal with the Father corresponded with barbarian-Roman divisions in late antiquity.

As a non-Christian who is part of the majority consensus in regards to the generality and details of the God hypothesis I am attuned to the dynamics of cultural ownership of symbols and ideas.3 But, I do not believe that Christmas is a particular prudent battle which should be waged by unbelievers simply because no matter what people might say, the practice of the holiday tends to exhibit cross-group similarities which bespeaks to the fact that is drawing upon universal evoked sentiments and cultural traits. Granted, non-Christians who adhere to alternative religions have a greater stake in the “meaning of Christmas,” whether they want to reappropriate it (as the pagans do) or deny it its central place (as Jews or Muslims or Hindus might), but to me as an unbeliever such debates seem to be lexical details, not substantive differences.

1 – In The Symbolic Species Terrence Deacon does suggest that languages have been reverse engineeringed by our cognitive architecture to “fit” them optimally. But, Deacon is not suggesting here that modern languages are variant in their cognitive optimality, rather, this is a contention that is only intelligible in the grand evolutionary context.

2 – I recommend Antonie Wessels’ Europe, was it ever really Christian?: The interaction between gospel and culture for the logical conclusion of Reformed examination of the fundamentals of Christianity. Wessels’ examination of the pagan antecedants of many cultural motifs in “Christendom” is enlightening.

3 – From what I can see the “War against Christmas” is in large part driven by corporate-capitalist concerns of minimizing the risk of any offense.

A neo-neo-Darwinian Synthesis?

Mike Lynch has a new sweeping paper titled The Origins of Eukaryotic Gene Structure over at Molecular Biology and Evolution. In it he attempts to marry population genetic theory with a broad evolutionary view of genomic architecture. I won’t really attempt to summarize Lynch’s paper, but if you have a biological background I highly recommend it. For those of you who aren’t as fluent in the language of biology the last 2/3 of the paper which focuses on molecular genetics might seem a bit of an alphabet soup (TATA, UTR, mRNA, etc.). But I don’t think the material is fundamentally difficult, and I believe that attempting to digest the details of genuine evolutionary biology which grapples with the microevolutionary dynamics that lay at the root of macroevolutionary diversity can impart to one a better sense of what the science of evolution is all about. For those without access I have uploaded the file as “lynch2005” in the gnxp forum. Don’t be daunted when the Adobe tells you that it is “38 pages,” as only 18 of them are text (the rest being citations and figures). I will quote a portion of the conclusion though that communicates the thrust of his argument:

Because evolution is a population-level process, any theory for the origins of the genetic machinery must ultimately be consistent with basic population-genetic mechanisms. However, because natural selection is just one of several forces contributing to the evolutionary process, an uncritical reliance on adaptive Darwinian mechanisms to explain all aspects of organismal diversity is not greatly different than invoking an intelligent designer.

This paper represents a first step towards the formal development of the general theory for the evolution of the gene that incorporates the universal properties of random genetic drift and mutation pressure…A significant area of future research will be take these observations on gene and genome complexity to the next level, to evaluate whether natural selection is a necessary and/or sufficient force to explain the evolution of the celluar and developmental complexities of eukaryotes

A few points on this conclusion. Molecular Biology and Evolution is not a popular press publication, so Lynch’s jab at adaptationists is not meant to give comfort to Intelligent Design. Rather, much of his work over the past few decades has been to emphasize that random genetic drift is a very powerful force. The mutational meltdown theory is a case in point. It is interesting to me that Lynch is echoing some of the sentiments expressed in Why Men Don’t Ask for Directions, making an analogy between strong adaptationism and Intelligent Design (The Blind Watchmaker is a lucid and accessible exposition of the adaptationist paradigm). I think the important point about Lynch’s paper is tha it is reflective of the same mentality which suffuses Armand Leroi’s The scale independence of evolution, that macroevolution and microevolution are operational categories which exist for sake of verbal convenience, not fundamentally distinct processes. In discussions with many lay persons who have some familiarity with the “evolution controversies” we almost always stumble over the problem that I do not assume anything of the kind, and I need to go back to ground zero and rework their perception of the models which are genuinely assumed in evolutionary biology. Even if an individual does not subscribe to a Creationist or Intelligent Design theory, they usually accept the terminology, distinctions and arguments put forward by Creationists and ID theorists as coherent and relevant. In reality these talking points emerge out of a parallel intellectual and theoretical culture from that of mainstream evolutionary biology, which, unfortunately, is much more intuitively comprehensible (see my argument in Endless forms most continuous?). In any case, though Intelligent Design proponents argue that evolution is on its last legs it seems to me that the rise of the post-genomic era, bioinformatics and evo-devo all point to a future where evolutionary biology becomes even more robust, with tendrils of consiliated unity arising from the common substrate of molecular biology and the formal language of population genetics.

Tis the Season to Learn Better

With Christmas here, I have to wonder, how many kids recognize the parallels between Jesus and Santa and discard the former with the latter. I honestly don’t know. It seems like it should be a lot, but doesn’t seem to be that common. I was raised reform Jewish, so it took me a long time to figure out about Santa, but by that I mean it took me a long time (until I was 11 or so) to figure out that some children *did* believe in Santa. It took me much longer to figure out that actually the overwhelming majority of adults believed something even more silly, and still longer (until late in college) to figure out that no, they don’t, at least if their beliefs are judged by their actions.

As I think about this, I realize that young kids really do believe in Santa however, and I wonder whether this is a function of neotony. Might it be the case that more neotanous people are worse at double-think, and thus that the cost of religion is much greater for them than for their less neotanous companions? Might this also make them less capable in politics and certain other sorts of leadership? Any ideas on any of this?

Posted in Uncategorized

Bigger is better

Sandra Witelson (who examined Albert Einstein’s brain), et al., have a paper in Brain which reports on their study on intelligence and brain size in 100 postmortem brains. They conclude that bigger is indeed better; however, they found differences between men and women.

From EurekaAlert:

In women, verbal intelligence was clearly correlated with brain size, accounting for 36 percent of the verbal IQ score. In men, this was true for right-handers only, indicating that brain asymmetry is a factor in men.

Spatial intelligence was also correlated with brain size in women, but less strongly. In men, spatial ability was not related to overall brain size. These results suggest that women may use verbal strategies in spatial thinking, but that in men, verbal and spatial thinking are more distinct….

Furthermore, from the journal abstract:

We report the results of such a study on 100 cases (58 women and 42 men) having prospectively obtained Full Scale Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale scores. Ability correlated with cerebral volume, but the relationship depended on the realm of intelligence studied, as well as the sex and hemispheric functional lateralization of the subject. General verbal ability was positively correlated with cerebral volume and each hemisphere’s volume in women and in right-handed men accounting for 36% of the variation in verbal intelligence. There was no evidence of such a relationship in non-right-handed men, indicating that at least for verbal intelligence, functional asymmetry may be a relevant factor in structure-function relationships in men, but not in women. In women, general visuospatial ability was also positively correlated with cerebral volume, but less strongly, accounting for 10% of the variance. In men, there was a non-significant trend of a negative correlation between visuospatial ability and cerebral volume, suggesting that the neural substrate of visuospatial ability may differ between the sexes. Analyses of additional research subjects used as test cases provided support for our regression models. In men, visuospatial ability and cerebral volume were strongly linked via the factor of chronological age, suggesting that the well-documented decline in visuospatial intelligence with age is related, at least in right-handed men, to the decrease in cerebral volume with age. We found that cerebral volume decreased only minimally with age in women. This leaves unknown the neural substrate underlying the visuospatial decline with age in women. Body height was found to account for 1-4% of the variation in cerebral volume within each sex, leaving the basis of the well-documented sex difference in cerebral volume unaccounted for.

Hat tip to Fly.

Moyzis paper

There’s an interesting article (by Eric Wang, Bob Moyzis and company, using HapMap data) coming out in the next day or so in PNAS. It’s covered by Science: http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2005/1220/2

Seems that they’ve found some 1800 human genes currently undergoing selective sweeps: most are regional. The gene functions ae highly concentrated in host-pathogen interactions, reproduction, DNA metabolism/cell cycle, protein metabolism, and neuronal function.

Update from Razib: Here is the link to the abstract, it is “open access” so you can read the full PDF.

Update from Razib II: More from John Hawks & Steve. Also, check out Civilization has left its mark on genes.

Update from Razib III: Related item from Dienekes on a specific locus that suggests selection on early farmers….

Update from Razib IV: Agnostic has an interesting article.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Anglican origins of neo-Darwinianism?

In terms of the relationship between religion and “neo-Darwinianism,” it is interesting to remember that R.A. Fisher, the mathematical geneticist who fused quantitative (biometrical) genetics with Mendelian theory and data, and served as the driving force and spark being the Modern Synthesis,1 was a conventional Anglican. The gradualist-selectionist orthodoxy elaborated by Richard Dawkins is a direct descendent of the ideas that Fisher elucidated in The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. In fact, in Why Men Don’t Ask For Directions, Richard C. Francis argues that the entire adaptationist-selectionist school can be derived from the Argument for Design elaborated by the Anglican clergyman William Paley (recall that Darwin initially considered the Church as a career). Francis’ thesis seems to be that modern biology should shift away from “why” (i.e., the ultimate) questions to the “how” (i.e., the proximate) questions. The various interrelationships between these schools of ideas can be more difficult to untangle than one might think. In The Ancestor’s Tale Richard Dawkins praises the ideas of Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist who emphasizes the power of selection and its inevitabilities to a far greater extent than the late Stephen Jay Gould of contingency fame. One might be surprised that P.Z. Myers suggests that Morris’ religious sensibilities have have influenced his science! You see, Morris, a theistic evolutionist, seems to favor some sort of teleology in his system (you hear none of this in Dawkins’ praise).

I don’t want to split hairs and parse the details, rather, I simply wanted to survey that complexities of the landscape above because of the perception that Dawkins’ militant atheism has always been the public face of evolutionary theory, and that Creationism and Intelligent Design are in large part responses to evolutionary scientism. The reality though is that the polls do not show a great deal of change in terms of how many Americans accept evolutionary theory as a function of time. In cases where there has been a shift, i.e., the transition from a predominantly theistic student body at BYU to a predominantly Creationist one over the past 70 years, the causative factors are usually ascribed to sociological dynamics, not the rise of evolutionary scientism.2 Physical scientists, like Steven Weinberg and Peter Atkins have been just as candid about atheism being coupled with a deterministic scientific materialism as Dawkins, but concomitant public movements opposed to various physical scientific paradigms do not emerge.3 Atkins in fact tends to speak mostly about evolutionary theory, though he is by training a physical chemist, when he takes up the role of godless bulldog.

In my post below I point to species concepts and intuitions as barriers toward acceptance of evolutionary theory. I suggest that “under the cognitive hood” processes and architectures are in large part the necessary conditions which social and historical factors work upon to generate anti-scientific movements. Some of the comments I see about the web seem to imply that Dawkins’ militant atheism is a major factor (though not sole) in why Creationism and Intelligent Design is so vibrant in the United States, in other words, it is a natural reaction by Christians to atheistic scientism. The implication is that if Dawkins would shut his mouth than the problem would be partly solved. I am skeptical of this because of the research which shows that children from non-Creationists backgrounds naturally think like Creationists. In other words, an innate neural substrate is being “triggered” by particular inputs, and I suspect that the inputs are far wider in range and number than atheist intellectuals few people read (Dawkins, Dennett, etc.). Creationist sentiment predates by decades the rise of Dawkins and company. An implication of what I am saying here is that the broad acceptance of Darwinian theory in places like England or China, as opposed to the United States, is on some level rather shallow. It is a tacit acceptance of elite speciality and the lack of social channels to express innate cognitive biases. In the United States, for whatever reason, a vigorous and proudly anti-modernist fundamentalist movement exists. Though its absolute numbers are small (most evangelicals are inerrantists, not fundamentalists), its influence is wide. Historian Ronald L. Numbers has documented how the theories of Seventh Day Adventists have gained wide currency in evangelical circles without those who accept these theories having any knowledge of their provenance. In sum, the anti-evolutionary opinions of the broad American public can not be solved by simply changing the way evolution is taught, or how public intellectuals behave themselves, or reasoning with clerical luminaries. The ruling in Dover is the latest in a long line of elite rebuttals of populist attempts to push forward anti-evolutionary theories. Though some on the Right flirt with Intelligent Design, even the conservative elites tend to reject the popular intuitions when it comes to biology. The lasting power of Creationism (and Intelligent Design) on the American scene might be a function mostly of the powerful channels for the expression of popular sentiment particular to our culture. In a decentralized nation of a thousand denominations and a rejection of elite specialist status one might find the perfect seedbed for the spread of cognitive representations which are easily slotted into intuitions.4

1 – In Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology William Provine argues that it was Wright, not Fisher, who was the most central personality within the great span of 20th century evolutionary biology. I think Provine makes a good case, and ultimately, comparing Fisher to Wright is an apples to oranges exercise. Rather, I think that both Fisher and Wright were fundamental to the resurrection of evolutionary theory driven by natural selection upon heritable variation. Wright was a trained biologist, so his natural and empirical intuitions were I think more solid, while Fisher’s mathematical background spurred Wright to refine his models in a more precise and formalized fashion.

2 – See Ronald L. Numbers The Creationists. Over the past 3 generations Mormons have assimilated into the conservative Protestant subculture to some extent, without being Protestants. Numbers seems to argue that acceptance of Creationism, despite the lack of direction from the elites of the Church, is symptomatic of an identification on many cultural issues with the Christian Righ
t.

3 – I am not proposing any overwhelming principle component to explain the emerge of anti-scientific theories driven by public support. There are obvious problems with imagining an anti-Grand Unified Theory movement which holds that the forces of nature are fundamentally divisible and distinct.

4 – There are certainly Creationists in other nations. Consider England, which does have a Creationist movement, though polls regularly suggest that ~80% of British accept evolutionary theory (vs. ~40-50% of Americans). When it comes to the spread of intuitionally appealing ideas I would argue that in America the fitness landscape for these ideas is far more congenial to their spread. While in England Seventh Day Adventists are a very marginal group with little social influence, in the United States there are a number of denominations which are to their “Left” which may serve as conduits for their ideas to the evangelical mainstream, which itself is relatively respectable. In other words, in England explicit systematic Creationist ideas do not spread in part because of a deep fitness valley around the locus of their genesis in fundamentalist subcultures. Additionally, the fitness of the ideas themselves might be instrinstically lower because of correlated negative selection (i.e., more shame attached to fundamentalist viewpoints in England than the USA).

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