Organ donation & brown people

OK, most of you know some genetics. You know that immunological profiles are very diverse, and you know that because of the mathematics of this diversity matches aren’t easy. The problem increases in magnitude when you can not look within your ancestral population because the combinations will tend to draw from the modal alleles within that population. If that isn’t clear: many small minorities in the United States are faced with the prospect of very long odds when it comes to tissue matches because of low numbers. This means proactive drives are necessary, as a matter of life & death. With that….
A young man needs your help, within the next 6 weeks. If you’re brown, drives are planned in Fremont, Cerritos Anaheim and Livermore; additional information may be found here.
More info on this case.

Are conservatives not crazy?

Chris of Mixing Memory has a post up titled Are Conservatives Less Creative?. I joked with him that basically creativity is strongly coupled with being mentally on edge, after all, who would really follow their muse on the high risk stakes of a creative career which will likely be characterized by penury? But in any case, check it out. I’ve seen other stuff which show small correlations like this, but, as I mentioned to him what really matters are the tails. Sure, a statistically significant greater number of Leftish folk might cough up the cash for the rec center finger-painting class, but the more important possibility is that the threshold above which one sees artistic virtuosity might be overwhelmingly dominated by those of Left sensibility. This matters of course over the course of history as art is an essential propagandistic tool. Similarly, the recurrent finding that amongst the high IQ those more verbally adept tend to be on the Left and those with stronger mathematical aptitudes tend to be on the Right is also significant in terms of modeling the trajectory of societal evolution and dynamics.

Posted in Uncategorized

Sam Brownback & evolution

Sam Brownback offers a cryptic op-ed in regards to his attitude toward evolution (he, one of the three Republican candidates for president who raised their hand when Chris Matthews asked if any of them do not believe in the theory of evolution). As they say, read the whole thing, Brownback is definitely a politician. He seems to have believed that Chris Matthews asked if any of the candidates rejected scientific materialism. Nary a word about common descent in the op-ed, the typical genuflections toward microevolution, and a peculiar objection to both “determinism” and “chance.”

Glia are just support cells

People who study glia are getting all excited about the ‘tripartite synapse’ where astrocytes that wrap around the synaptic cleft play an active role in controlling neurotransmission. Well TAKE THAT glia researchers!

Selective Stimulation of Astrocyte Calcium In Situ Does Not Affect Neuronal Excitatory Synaptic Activity

Todd A. Fiacco, Cendra Agulhon, Sarah R. Taves, Jeremy Petravicz, Kristen B. Casper, Xinzhong Dong, Ju Chen and Ken D. McCarthy


Astrocytes are considered the third component of the synapse, responding to neurotransmitter release from synaptic terminals and releasing gliotransmitters—including glutamate—in a Ca2+-dependent manner to affect neuronal synaptic activity. Many studies reporting astrocyte-driven neuronal activity have evoked astrocyte Ca2+ increases by application of endogenous ligands that directly activate neuronal receptors, making astrocyte contribution to neuronal effect(s) difficult to determine. We have made transgenic mice that express a Gq-coupled receptor only in astrocytes to evoke astrocyte Ca2+ increases using an agonist that does not bind endogenous receptors in brain. By recording from CA1 pyramidal cells in acute hippocampal slices from these mice, we demonstrate that widespread Ca2+ elevations in 80%–90% of stratum radiatum astrocytes do not increase neuronal Ca2+, produce neuronal slow inward currents, or affect excitatory synaptic activity. Our findings call into question the developing consensus that Ca2+-dependent glutamate release by astrocytes directly affects neuronal synaptic activity in situ.

I kid. I’m sure glia are more than support cells. They really are more active and reactive than people had given them credit for. Perhaps if they don’t directly affect fast neurotransmission they could modulate glutamate driven synaptic plasticity.

Posted in Uncategorized

Modernization = religion in South Korea?

In my post Why the gods will never be defeated I made many references to the rise in religiosity concomitant with modernization in South Korean. Here is an article which illustrates what I’m talking about:

As recently as 1964, only a little over 3.5 million South Koreans, out of a total population of almost 28.2 million, noted a religious affiliation on government census forms. In other words, less than four decades ago, only a little more than 12% of the South Korean people declared themselves to be Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, or a follower of one of Korea’s many other organized religions. By 1983 more than 15.5 million South Koreans, close to 40% of a population of over 39.6 million, responded in the affirmative when their government asked them if they professed faith in any particular religion. That was more than a four-fold increase over the number of believers two decades earlier. By the 1990s, those willing to identify themselves as members of a specific religious community had risen to between 47 (in 1997) to 54 (in 1991) percent of the total population of South Korea. The size of the self-proclaimed religious population had risen from less than 16 million to between 21 to 23 million in a little more than a decade. Moreover, according to the 1997 Gallup poll, almost half of those who said they had no religious affiliation at that time confessed that they had once considered themselves Buddhists, Catholics, or Protestants….

Read More

Lenin vs. God

Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Society has an interesting article up based on And God Created Lenin: Marxism vs Religion In Russia, 1917-1929, which chronicles the futile attempt by the Communists to exterminate religion. One must make a distinction here between religion and a specific religious system and organization.

In The Rise of Western Christendom by Peter Brown I was struck by two simultaneous processes as the Roman Empire withdrew from portions of Germany and Britain and the barbarians rushed in. First, there is the archaeological record of the persistence of folk Christianity for centuries (e.g., amongst the presumably post-Roman peasant subjects of the Avars, or the British remnant under pagan Anglo-Saxon rule). But second, there is the almost invariable creeping advance of doctrinal deviation and religious syncretism once the institutional “police” disappear from the scene. This was in clear evidence in portions of Germany which came under Carlognian direct rule after a long period of Merovingian neglect. St. Boniface records nominally Christian priests regularly taking part in pagan cults and garbling the most basic professions of their faith. A more recent example are the Kakure Kirishitan, Japanese “Hidden Christians” who reemerged after the opening of their nation to the West during the 19th century. In the early 17th century hundreds of thousands of Japanese on Kyushu were at least nominal Roman Catholic Christians (Nagasaki was a Catholic city). The victorious Tokugawa Shogunate persecuted and suppressed Catholicism because of its perception as a “foreign” religion and made every Japanese family register with a Buddhist temple. Though the vast majority of Christians seem to have left the religion (many of these were only notional in any case), a small minority kept their religious identity as Catholics under a mask of crypto-Buddhism. Over the centuries they absorbed outward Buddhist motifs and passed on their Christianity orally. By recontact many of these “Christians” needed to be reoriented toward orthodoxy, so deviated had their religion become from its original character without institutional support. Note that though the surface layer of ritual and belief became distorted rather quickly, the basal psychological attachments with the ancestral faith along with the religious impulse still drove these believers forward to put their lives at risk (one can see this clearly among “Hidden Jews” as well).

Earlier, I have pointed to the fact that Russia seems to have gone through religious “awakening” in the last 15 years. This, despite 70 years of state supported atheism. Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin were both baptized into the Orthodox Church & professed believers, a signal as to the direction of the wind. But, I will not reject the assertion that many of these “conversions” are superficial. A few years back I read a piece which pointed out that a disproportionate number of devout Christians during the Soviet period were of Jewish ethnic origin, a group already under suspicion during the later phases of the Communist state which looked toward Russian Orthodoxy as a source of solace. With the reconversion of much of the non-Jewish Russian elite after the fall of Communism many of these Jewish Christians were shocked to observe that those who had once persecuted them on account of their religious convictions were now attempting to marginalize them within the Russian Orthodox Church itself, presumably driven by anti-Semitic convictions. In Evolution for Everyone David S. Wilson holds out the hope that a non-theistic “religion” may serve some of the same group cohesive functional roles (the “horizontal” aspect) without any nod to a supernatural element (the “vertical” dimension). To some extent I think the reassertion of religious identification in places like Russia and Serbia fits this mold in that many people who affiliate with the Orthodox religion are likely only minimally interested in, or believers in, the supernatural. Slobodan Milosevic never disavowed his atheism, but during the late 1980s he built up his power within what was then Yugoslavia by aligning himself with the Eastern Orthodox religion, even attending ceremonies presided over by clerics. Of course, what one generation might do out of expedience another might accept with sincerity. The conversion of the pagan aristocracy of Rome to Christianity in the early 5th century was a forgone conclusion, their own religious traditions to which they had stubbornly clung to in the face of a century of Christian Roman Emperors was simply no longer a viable option in a polity which now proscribed their rituals and persecuted their beliefs. But by the 6th century no doubt the descendants of once proudly pagan families were now sincere and devout Christians (as attested by their patronage of the Church).

The point here is that religious systems and beliefs are embedded within functionally relevant institutional structures. Even if the former are altered or eliminated, the latter are often needful. Observe the cults of personality, mass rallies and cultivation of youth within the Party structure within Communist states which ostensibly have banished religious feeling. Similarly, even with the collapse of the latter as scaffolding the basal religious impulse will seek outlet in the psychology of a great many human beings. The synergy of both have often been powerful and historically significant forces, as attested by the relationship between Christianity and the rise of monarchy in northern Europe or the spread of Islam during the 7th century.

Steven Pinker's new book

Just noticed that Amazon is taking pre-orders for The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Steve Pinker’s latest. His website states that Pinker will start his book tour on the publication date listed on Amazon, a little over 3 months from now, so that seems sufficient confirmation. Here is Steven Pinker on The Stuff of Thought from his 10 Questions last year:

(10) Most GNXP readers probably know you for The Blank Slate and your work as a public intellectual. However, your next book (entitled The Stuff of Thought) returns to the themes of language and cognitive science. Now, as you may or may not know, GNXP readers are interested in genetics and evolution; politics, religion, and world affairs; and the past, present, and future of the human species. What can you tell us about your upcoming book that might whet the appetites of GNXP readers?

The subtitle of the book is “Language as a Window Into Human Nature,” and The Stuff of Thought deals with many aspects of human cognitive and social evolution–how a mind that evolved to think about rocks and plants and enemies can invent physics and math and democracy; why people impose taboos on topics like sex and excretion and the divine; why they threaten and bribe and seduce in such byzantine ways. I also discuss many real-world applications of semantics–words that have impeached one president and that many feel should impeach another; language that continues to embroil the Middle East; whether Democrats can win back the White House by winning the metaphor wars; whether language traps us in a self-referential circle (as the postmodernists believe) or offers us contact with truth and reality.

Epistatic variance to additive variance

A few weeks ago I posted on how population bottlenecks can convert dominance variance into additive genetic variance. This is important because it is additive genetic variance that is relevant for population level directional selection upon quantitative characters. Now agnostic posts on how epistatic variance can be converted into to additive genetic variance.