Fuller full of himself

The Guardian has a piece titled Steve Fuller: Designer trouble, in reference to testimony that the aforementioned professor gave to the Dover court. After reading the article I have to say that I’m not surprised that he testified, he seems to not be of any camp aside from that of Steve Fuller, and oh how he loves himself. Fuller notes that “It is not like people love you for doing this” in reference to his pro-ID testimony at Dover. Sure, but it gets you 1400 word write ups in The Guardian, along with putting “social epistemology”1 on the map that has to make you somebody.
Addendum: Fuller repeats the common assertion by many that monotheism is a necessary condition for the initiation of science (see Rodney Stark’s recent books for a strong form of this argument). I’ve seen this contention before, and I’m not convinced, though I don’t discount it. Of late my main problem has been the tendency of some historians and sociologists to make inferences from perceptions and assumptions about mental states when I sense that these scholars aren’t up to speed on the latest work in cognitive psychology which tells you to be cautious about conclusions you derive from introspective common sense.2 This sort of abduction should be treated with care, but my impression is that Fuller has used the Christianity ~ science connection in debates several times. That makes his defense of Intelligent Design all the more irritating, because the high standard of proof and certitude that he holds evolutionary theory to doesn’t extend to his own views, which in this case seem to be far more tendentious.
1 – If Wikipedia is to be believed a lot of social epistemology is pretty sensible (and some not). Some of my more off the wall posts definitely assume a sort of social epistemology framed by a transhumanist teleology. It just goes to show you that it is how you use a tool, not the tool itself, that is problematic.
2 – Example (roughly adapted from Stark) – Chinese believe in an unknowable essence, Christians believe in a comprehendible personal God, ergo, Christian universe is comprehensible, making science possible. Chinese universe is unknowable, it just is, making science impossible. Leaving aside the assertions about the character of Chinese and European religious worldviews for a moment, I am skeptical that Chinese and European intellectuls really had a non-nominalist sense of what these terms meant and cognitively represented higher powers any differently. I believe in these generalizations as much as I do in Max Webers work where he predicted that East Asia would never develop economically because of Confucian values (now Confucian values are the reason for development!).

Evolution bites on the web

When I use terms not in regular circulation like linkage disequilibrium, or those which I suspect aren’t as well understood as I think they should be, like random genetic drift, I usually make reference to the companion website to Mark Ridley’s text Evolution (if you followed the links to the terms you will note this). If you have a little spare time you should check it out, it isn’t too taxing. Of course, those with a strong lay interest in evolution might want to purchase Ridley’s Oxford Reader anthology, Evolution. This is the closest thing to “airport reading” that I’ve seen that still remains technical enough to add value to your knowledge base.

Transhumanist delusions about the first derivative?

In response to a skeptical response to my post below from RPM I have posted an entry on my other weblog asking whether I am deluding myself in thinking that our generation is at an axial pivot in the progression of ages. If previous posts on this topic are any clue, the discussion should be spirited.

Fuller full of himself

The Guardian has a piece titled Steve Fuller: Designer trouble, in reference to testimony that the aforementioned professor gave to the Dover court. After reading the article I have to say that I’m not surprised that he testified, he seems to not be of any camp aside from that of Steve Fuller, and oh how he loves himself. Fuller notes that “It is not like people love you for doing this” in reference to his pro-ID testimony at Dover. Sure, but it gets you 1400 word write ups in The Guardian, along with putting “social epistemology”1 on the map that has to make you somebody.

Addendum: Fuller repeats the common assertion by many that monotheism is a necessary condition for the initiation of science (see Rodney Stark’s recent books for a strong form of this argument). I’ve seen this contention before, and I’m not convinced, though I don’t discount it. Of late my main problem has been the tendency of some historians and sociologists to make inferences from perceptions and assumptions about mental states when I sense that these scholars aren’t up to speed on the latest work in cognitive psychology which tells you to be cautious about conclusions you derive from introspective common sense.2 This sort of abduction should be treated with care, but my impression is that Fuller has used the Christianity ~ science connection in debates several times. That makes his defense of Intelligent Design all the more irritating, because the high standard of proof and certitude that he holds evolutionary theory to doesn’t extend to his own views, which in this case seem to be far more tendentious.

Update: Since I mentioned Rodney Stark’s work, here is a somewhat overwrought review in TNR of his newest book. Stark’s contention that the Greeks didn’t have science and that only Christianity has theology are provocative (depending on how you define “science” I could accept the former, though the TNR reviewer points out Stark’s tendency to vary the definition depending on how it fits his thesis that Christianity was directly, fundamentally and necessarily responsible for the modern world as we know it). Unfortunately, he has started to take a progressively more polemical tone recently. This does not necessarily invalidate his thesis exposited in his recent books (One True God and For the Glory of God make the same argument), but it does undermine his pretensions toward scholarship (as does dismissing those who disagree with him as believing in “nonsense!”). His claim to erudition was definitively burst for me on page 130 of For the Glory of God where he repeats established orthodoxy of the 1960s in regards to the great “stirrup controversy”, as if that is the state of knowledge presently, a few pages after claiming to have immersed himself in the historical literature and criticizing other scholars for relying on out of date models! (he could be selectively using this out of date material to back up his thesis of course, but then he is guilty of what he decries) Though I fully grant that the propogandistic arguments of secularist scholars (see David Gress’ critique of Will Durant in From Plato to NATO), there is no reason now to veer to the other extreme in the interests of “balance.”

1 – If Wikipedia is to be believed a lot of social epistemology is pretty sensible (and some not). Some of my more off the wall posts definitely assume a sort of social epistemology framed by a transhumanist teleology. It just goes to show you that it is how you use a tool, not the tool itself, that is problematic.

2 – Example (roughly adapted from Stark) – Chinese believe in an unknowable essence, Christians believe in a comprehendible personal God, ergo, Christian universe is comprehensible, making science possible. Chinese universe is unknowable, it just is, making science impossible. Leaving aside the assertions about the character of Chinese and European religious worldviews for a moment, I am skeptical that Chinese and European intellectuls really had a non-nominalist sense of what these terms meant and cognitively represented higher powers any differently. I believe in these generalizations as much as I do in Max Webers work where he predicted that East Asia would never develop economically because of Confucian values (now Confucian values are the reason for development!).

Perception of change, reality or illusion?

Over at my other weblog I have posted an item titled Blogs of the Union in response to a call from Radio Open Source (listen live to see if Brendan notes my BOTU). The gist of it is that I believe we are the last generation of the old human, and might be the first generation of the new. JM Keynes said of Newton “He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.”1 I believe somethings similar applies to humanity as a whole in our age. Roughly, my contention is that in the information saturated universe, where obesity is starting to be seen a worldwide problem, mass culture is finally decoupling itself from the sensibilities that have grounded us in a common human experience for the last 50,000 years. True, a minority of humanity has always lived apart, whether it be in monasteries, or in unimaginable luxury, or the case of the likes of Newton, minds whose virtuosity bears no comprehension. But the mass consumer society is taking novel change to the people and consuming them. Roughly, I believe that the rate of the rate of change is increasing (i.e., derivative of change, change’, is > 0).

Of course, this could all be an illusion, a conceit held by every generation. Let me offer two rejoinders, one somewhat esoteric, the other mundane. First, we are not a particularly unique sample of humans who are that privileged at being born when we are,2 a large fraction of the individuals who have ever lived are alive today, 1 out of 20 to be precise.3 Second, walking on a college campus is a surreal experience, gone are the days when a stroll between buildings entailed a possible encounter with a stranger, eye contact with humans of unknown provenance. Rather, it is a time when you withdraw into a familiar cocoon and pull out the cell phone to talk to those who are near and dear. This wasn’t so 10 years ago. It wasn’t so 100 years ago. Or perhaps nearly 1,000 years ago at the University of Paris.

So do I live in a dream world? Do I simply not know what I think I know? Do you share RPM’s unbelief? As I tell Michael Vassar, I don’t go to church often, I don’t know the scripture and the portents, but I do believe….

Related: Tigers of the future, Why the inflection.

1 – Keynes’ assertion was made after his purchase of Newton’s papers, he knew of what he spoke, for he had seen into the dark mind of the mad genius.

2 – Certainly those of use born into the first world are the lucky subset, but, I would argue that an age where famine is an aberration means even those who live in Bangladesh (for example) are graced.

3 – Due to the world wide drop in fertility we are also near the mode of the probability distribution of the likelihood of a human to be alive at in any given age. I believe that 100 years from there humans as we know it probably won’t exist, or that that those who remain will be less numerous than those at the mid-21st century peak (for whatever reason, ill or good).

Blogs of the Union

Radio Open Source is calling for Blogs of the Union ()posts. So here I go….
Ten years ago the internet was a new and innovative technology that was going to change our lives as it entered into mass culture. Today I doubt most citizens of this union could imagine a world without the internet or wireless technology. What was once cutting edge is now banal. No doubt when we reflect on our lives many of us old enough to remember the Jetsons wonder why so little has changed, but I believe that is a false perception, for when the future is the present it fails to elicit awe. We may not live in an age of flying cars, but we live in one where Google has made old-fashioned erudition obsolete. Today we can foresee a day when total knowledge of our personal genetic code is within reach. We have even sent a probe to the outermost planet. The rate of change that we take for granted in our lives was unimaginable even a generation ago, and it seems likely that the rate of this rate of change is increasing ever more. We should appreciate the lives we lead because it seems likely that our generation is the bridge between the vast epochs of man’s past when he was still a creature of his nature, limited by the tools that evolution provided, and the post-human future when the melange of bioengineering and cybernetics consumes us. Let us give thanks for the affluence that technology affords us. And let us look to the past and cherish who we were as a people, for it may be that we will be the last who will be able to relate in any fundamental way with the experience of what it has meant to be human for the last 50,000 years. We are the end, and hopefully the beginning.

Horse, donkey, and zebra karyotypes

Evolutionary movement of centromeres in horse, donkey, and zebra:

Centromere repositioning (CR) is a recently discovered biological phenomenon consisting of the emergence of a new centromere along a chromosome and the inactivation of the old one…Even more surprisingly, five cases of CR have occurred in the donkey after its divergence from zebra, that is, in a very short evolutionary time (approximately 1 million years).These findings suggest that in some species the CR phenomenon could have played an important role in karyotype shaping, with potential consequences on population dynamics and speciation.

I though this was interesting because a) I don’t know much about higher order genetic changes (chromosomal rearrangements, etc.) b) we’ve talked about chromosome # differences between wild and domestic horses before (they are full interfertile). Anyway, I know aneuploidy is usually the problem, but I think there will be some really interesting stuff coming out of this area (I wonder if RPM could offer more?).

Wet or dry ear wax?

Life can be really funny. When I was in college I was incorrigibly curious and I asked a Korean American friend if his ear wax was dry (I’d read that East Asians had dry ear wax once) and his response was, “Isn’t everybody’s?” When it comes to interpersonal differences there are many things we take for granted and extrapolate to others that aren’t necessarily true.1 Nick Wade in The New York Times has an interesting write up about the genetics of the ear wax phenotype. While the populations of Europe and Africa have wet ear wax, those of East Asia have dry ear wax. Other populations are somewhere in between. Nature Genetics has the original paper (don’t be surprised if the link takes a while to load).
Here are the worldwide distribution of the alleles:
earwaxmap.jpg
The trend is pretty clear, modal in Northeast Asia and decreasing everywhere else. These figures show why the authors assume that selection is at play here, linkage disequilibrium implies that recombination has not had time to break apart the correlations as neighboring portions of the genome were dragged along with the increase of frequency on the single nucleotide of interest. Wade finds a quote from a scientist who says this could be the result of random genetic drift. I don’t buy it, because drift is a default explanation offered by many when they don’t have any other plausible model on hand (runaway sexual selection is another explanation of this sort). The LDE noted above suggests that positive selection was occurring at that locus. One can posit models that generate these distributions via drift, perhaps fixation in a small population which has an enormous demographic expansion into the surrounding populations. This would have had to have happened before 8-10,000 years BP because the New World populations in North America possess the allele. It just seems more parsimonious, along with the LDE data, that selection is at work (rather than reinvent the wheel, here is RPM’s “Detecting Natural Selection” series, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII).
The authors posit many hypotheses for why selection for dry ear wax, or, more properly for the allele, A, which in the homozygotes generates dry ear wax, should have increased its frequency in Northeast Asia. To them it seems likely that the ear wax phenotype is a byproduct of pleiotropy, that is, another trait was generating the fitness differentials correlated with this allele, and the fact that it had other phenotypic effects was incidental. I found this “fact” amusing:

They write that earwax type and armpit odor are correlated, since populations with dry earwax, such as those of East Asia, tend to sweat less and have little or no body odor, whereas the wet earwax populations of Africa and Europe sweat more and so may have greater body odor.

The adults I have known who do not need to make recourse to deodorants to ward off body odor have all been East Asian females. No surprise.
Addendum: One point made Wade’s article is that South and Central Asians who exhibit intermediate frequencies of the alleles might have gotten them via admixture. In the case of Central Asians this is plausible, genetically and historically they tend to bridge East and West. I am skeptical in the case of South Asians, it seems more plausible to me that the same selection pressures which benefited the allele in East Asians might have some advantage in Southern Asia, as Indians are not a recently admixed population (at least that the balance of the current research).
Via John Hawks.
Reference: Yoshiura et al. 2006, An SNP in the ABCC11 gene is the determinant of human earwax type, Nature Genetics.
1 – Another example seemed to be that many of the females in my dorm assumed that men had an urge to urinate when they laughed hard, while most of the males were pretty confused about this.

Volokh on Rape

Imbler Volokh does an admirable job of correcting the math regarding rape statistics and demolishes the claim, made by the Women’s Center, that 2,000 rapes occur every 5 minutes.

What he didn’t touch on, I will, and that is the demography of the victims. I’m quite sure that John Derbyshire must have had these FBI statistics in mind when he made his “salad days” comment that touched of a firestorm of knownothing commentary from people who are always inclined to think the worst rather than do a minute’s checking to see what other implications arise from one’s comments.

This site highlights data from the National Victim Center, which in 1992 published Rape in America: A Report to the Nation.

60% of the women who reported being raped were under 18 years old
29% were less than 11 years old
32% were between 11 and 17
22% were between 18 and 24
7% were between 25 and 29
6% were older than 29
3% age was not available

Derb seems to have been off by about 4 years, in that it’s not 15-20, but 15-24, that sees the bulk of sexual attacks. If we look at the rapes that occur to women over the age of consent, (which I’ll assume to be 18, simply so that this analysis can make reference to the crime statistics) and which amount to 35% of all rapes, less than 17% of rapes of adult women are of women over the age of 29.

I don’t really have an overarching theme that I want to develop here other than to point out the startling incidence of rape on young women, especially pre-pubescent girls. Even if we account for accurate reporting of statutory rape and under-reporting of adult rape these numbers are startling. The other point that should be clear is that rapists are driven to targeting young women rather than old women, or in other words, women in their salad days.

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