The Church teaches Muslims evolution?

The New York Times has an article up about how French Muslim girls are enrolling in Catholics schools, in part because of the relatives freedoms these religious schools offer in terms of their dress vis-a-vis the normal public schools. I found this portion interesting:

The biology teacher at St. Mauront has been challenged on Darwin’s theory of evolution, and history class can get heated during discussions of the Crusades or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Muslim students shocked the staff by showing glee, Mr. Chamoux recalled.

I am not one of those atheists who has a realistic hope that religion will ever truly recede from the world. Rather, I do believe that religious institutions adapt to the Zeitgeist because they are of this world, whether they accept that claim or not. Somewhat crassly I have occasionally suggested that European Christianity has been gelded by the Enlightenment, and Islam is having to go through that process right now. I do think that strident anti-religious diatribes may play a role in pushing the boundaries of the ecosystem of the discussion, but ultimately most of the change will likely occur endogenously, in the form of individuals who share the religious presuppositions of the retrogrades whom they are trying to reform. If Muslims see in Christians as a model of worshiping their One True God in a manner that is less barbaric and primitive as they are now I see no harm in that, and only good.

Selectives sweeps and the alleles that love them

Another paper with another technique to detect positive selection in the human genome, Identification of local selective sweeps in human populations since the exodus from Africa:

Selection on the human genome has been studied using comparative genomics and SNP architecture in the lineage leading to modern humans. In connection with the African exodus and colonization of other continents, human populations have adapted to a range of different environmental conditions. Using a new method that jointly analyses haplotype block length and allele frequency variation (F(ST)) within and between populations, we have identified chromosomal regions that are candidates for having been affected by local selection. Based on 1.6 million SNPs typed in 71 individuals of African American, European American and Han Chinese descent, we have identified a number of genes and non-coding regions that are candidates for having been subjected to local positive selection during the last 100 000 years. Among these genes are those involved in skin pigmentation (SLC24A5) and diet adaptation (LCT). The list of genes implicated in these local selective sweeps overlap partly with those implicated in other studies of human populations using other methods, but show little overlap with those postulated to have been under selection in the 5-7 myr since the divergence of the ancestors of human and chimpanzee. Our analysis provides focal points in the genome for detailed studies of evolutionary events that have shaped human populations as they explored different regions of the world.

Below the fold is a table with the candidate genes they picked up….
Update: John Hawks comments.

Read More

Graphs on the rise of scientific approaches to humanity

Well, with the first post and a response to criticisms out of the way, I’ll conclude with the graphs on some ideas that are gaining in popularity in the study of mankind. Where it says “social sciences,” I’ve only searched JSTOR for the following journal categories: anthropology, economics, education, political science, psychology, and sociology. The social sciences, basically. (And I’ve used appropriate neutral comparisons as before.) The reason is that if “heritability” increases in usage, that could be due to its use in genetics — I want to see how popular it is when talking about humans. (As before, graphs have simple titles, while the full search terms are listed in an Appendix.)

Contrary to what you might think, since about 1950 academics have become increasingly interested in the genetic influence on human nature, reversing a period of decline from roughly 1930 to 1950. There is also an apparent cyclical pattern on top of the increasing trend. Just make sure you refer to the heritability of “cognitive ability” rather than of “IQ” (see below).

I’ve broken up the graphs on Darwin in the social sciences to make the trends clearer. There is an early phase in Victorian times when Darwin’s thoughts were everywhere, especially in discussing human beings. Around the turn of the century, his ideas become less popular, as mentioned above. Around 1940, when his ideas come back due to the modern synthesis in biology, they become more popular in the social sciences as well. Indeed, since the mid-1940s, his ideas have only become more important to social scientists — whether they like it or not.

Notice that while “IQ” goes through cycles about an increasing trend, its synonym “cognitive ability” shows exponential increase. I assume that this is because “cognitive ability” is not a politicized term, while “IQ” is, resulting in outbreaks of hysteria where many more people of any ideological background begin talking a lot about it.

The same is true of “sociobiology,” which Leftist academics such as the Sociobiology Study Group tainted with negative political associations, compared to its synonym “evolutionary psychology.” Now, someone will say that evolutionary psychology is different — that it studies the mental, psychological processes rather than just observed behavior. But that’s nonsense — if you’ve read one of the many evolutionary psychology articles about digit ratios, waist-to-hip ratios, whether the female orgasm is adaptive, and so on, you know that mental processes and cognitive science models rarely come up, except in the study of vision.

Indeed, “evolutionary psychology” increases at just the time when “sociobiology” decreases, in the mid-1980s, showing that the former is simply replacing the latter as the preferred term.

As further evidence that a decline in usage means a decline in popularity, “evolutionary psychology” gets lots of hits in the 1890s when pioneers of psychology like William James were obsessed with integrating evolution and the study of the human mind, and takes a nosedive and lies dead once behaviorism takes over in psychology around the 1920s.

Because “evolutionary psychology” and “cognitive ability” are safe terms politically, these are the obvious choices for people who don’t want to have water poured over their head at a conference — and the data show this rational choice. Interest has continued to skyrocket, although people use different codewords. Nothing like this turned up in the first post because it is not political suicide to talk about postmodernism or Marxism in academia — but just try bringing up “IQ”. It is fascinating that academics can adhere to the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin and be taken seriously, while anyone who would do so for the ideas of Mussolini or Hitler would be made a total pariah. I wouldn’t take either numbskull seriously, but most educated people will, perhaps grudgingly, give a free pass to those who revere the ideological or political figures associated with The Other Great Dictatorships and Mass Murders.

I’ve already made general observations in the first post, and they carry over here, especially the fact that the history of ideas seems so unaffected by the history of the entire outside world — one more idea that Marx got wrong. There is clearly change, struggle between groups, and so on, but they are largely internal to academia. The future — or the near-future anyway — looks pretty bright for those interested in the biological approach to studying humans and their ways, and who believe things like IQ are important. Any students who are still considering the social constructionist, Marxist, feminist, or Whateverist approach should at least learn the new theories, if for no other reason than to be employable in 5 to 10 years. Hell, you might even consider it a kind of Pascal’s Wager.


Here are the search terms I used, once again searching the full text of articles and reviews:

“cognitive ability” OR “cognitive abilities”

“darwin*” NOT “social darwinism” NOT “social darwinist” NOT “social darwinists”

“evolutionary psychology” OR “evolutionary psychologist” OR “evolutionary psychologists”

“heritability” OR “heritable”



Response to criticism on the death of academic -isms

My first post detailed the demise of wooly-headed theories in academia. In this post, I’ll also address some common criticisms that have come up so far. In the third post, just above this one, I will look at a rival class of theories, namely the scientific and in particular biological approaches to studying humanity. The take-home message is that, while the Blank Slate theories are slowly being driven out of academia, new ones based on the biological sciences are becoming ever more popular. But let’s start with the criticisms:

1) You’re confusing popularity with accuracy, truth, etc.

I never said anything to this effect. I am just interested in whether certain theories are becoming more or less prevalent. Now, I happen to believe that in the case of, say, psychoanalysis or Marxism, the theories are becoming less popular because people realize that they’re not very insightful. And certainly what I think is a great theory could become unfashionable for whatever reason. Whether you’re celebrating or mourning the death of some theory, I don’t care — I just want to show whether it is or is not dying.

2) You didn’t account for the lag between when an article is published and when it is archived in JSTOR.

I did do that, but I was only explicit about it in the comments to the first post. Journals in JSTOR have a “moving wall” between original and archived dates, with most having a lag of 3 to 5 years. Here is the distribution of lag times. By excluding data from 2003 onward, I’ve taken care of 88% of journals. And I don’t want to hear a non-quantitative objection that “the remainder could be affecting the results” — tell me what you think the data-point should be for, say 2001, and then derive how large of an effect the 12% of journals would have to have in order to get that value. We’ll see how reasonable that sounds. Moreover, since no moving wall is greater than 10 years, any decline that started before 1998 is not subject to even this vague objection — for example, Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis.

3) You don’t have a neutral control case to show that Marxism is “really” decreasing in popularity.

I did admit in the first post that ideally we’d have the total number of articles that JSTOR has for a given year, and that we’d divide the number of articles with Marxism by the total number of articles to get a frequency or prevalence. We can estimate the total by searching for articles with some highly frequent word, such as “the”, so that the number returned is very close to the total. For “the”, this approach is almost guaranteed to work, since almost no article would slip through the net.

However, JSTOR has a list of highly frequent words that it doesn’t allow. Still, not all common words are blocked. I consulted a frequency list compiled by Oxford Online, and chose the highest-ranking words there which are not blocked by JSTOR, though I excluded the personal pronouns and “people,” since I don’t expect those to show up much in hard science or social science journals. This gives the variants of “time,” “know,” “good,” and “look.”

So, I’ve estimated the total number of articles for a year by searching for “time” OR “know*” OR “good*” OR “look*”, where the asterisk means the word-ending can vary. How closely this estimates the true total is not of interest — the point is that it serves as a common, neutral yardstick to measure the change from one year to the next.

Interestingly, using this control has almost no effect on the shape of the graphs from the first post. That is because the increase in the total number of articles increases only linearly from about 1940 onward, whereas the articles on postmodernism increase or decrease exponentially — and an exponential divided by a linear is still growing or dying very fast. I’ve redrawn the original graphs and posted them here because it’s easier for me; sometime soon, I’ll substitute them into the first post for the record.

The only change I make to my original observations is that social constructionism is not so obviously declining anymore, although it is plateauing and apparently declining since 1998. If I had to guess about its behavior after 2002, I would say it’s downward simply because none of the other theories plateaued for very long — they quickly hit a peak and declined, so a steady high value does not appear to be stable for such theories.

4) You’re mistaking a decline in usage with a decline in belief — once the idea becomes taken for granted, practitioners stop referring to it explicitly.

Just on an intuitive level, we know this is horseshit — do physicists not use the words “gravity” or “electricity” anymore, or no longer refer to Newton? This objection exemplifies the problem with the average arts and humanities major: he is content to build a logically coherent argument without doing a quick reality check for its explanatory plausibility. I guess that’s why they end up in law firms.

But to provide evidence that usage tracks belief, here are some graphs for hard science keywords. In the case of Darwin, I excluded articles on “social Darwinism,” which appears to be a, er, social construction in academia. See here. I have data on academic scarewords like “biological determinism,” and perhaps in a future post I’ll show those. Right now, I want to focus on articles that are at least somewhat level-headed. For ease of inspection, I’ve given each graph a simple title, and list the search terms at the end of this post in an Appendix.

As the disciplines of population genetics and sociobiology have become staples of biology, mentioning them by name has not declined — just the opposite. Because they are such thriving fields, writing about them explicitly has shot up. Darwin’s thoughts were immensely popular in Victorian times, but they languished because no one could tell how to unite them with the study of heredity. That was, until the modern evolutionary synthesis, which began in the late 1930s — since then, interest has exploded. The same goes for Mendel’s thoughts — no one knew what the physical basis for his “gene” idea was, until the relationship between the genetic code and DNA was laid out in the late 1950s.

This shows that even hard science ideas can rise and fall and rise again, in these cases probably because some key aspect was found unsatisfying, until a later discovery fixed the problem, allowing the idea to become popular again. So there’s hope for the unemployed psychoanalyst yet, assuming he can stick around for a half-century.


Here are the search terms I used:

“population genetic” OR “population genetics” OR “genetics of populations”


“darwin*” NOT “social darwinism” NOT “social darwinist” NOT “social darwinists”

“mendel” OR “mendelian*” OR “mendelis*” NOT “mendelss*”

I put the last restriction on the Mendel search because I got a lot of results about the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

As with the first post, I searched the full text for both articles and reviews.

Genetic engineering in the service of social engineering?

FuturePundit comments on the recent story about the shift away from the “Mediterranean diet” in the Mediterranean, specifically Greece. This is naturally leading to greater obesity. FuturePundit states:

Fresh produce and olive oil can’t compete with hamburgers and fries. We need to either genetically engineer ourselves to dislike junk food or we need to genetically engineer our metabolisms to handle junk food without harmful effects.

le_grand_comptoir_duck_conf.jpgI’ve been trying to avoid fried foods myself; but one thing that I have been noting is that when I walk by a restaurant where there’s a lot of frying going on I get really, really, curious about what it might taste like. Tastes and impulse control exhibit variation, but the mean is simply going to cause a whole lot of chronic health trouble in a world of cheap calories.* Nevertheless, we need to admit that there’s a big utility return here. People really like fatty fried foods, though I think in classic Epicurean fashion the optimal pleasure is obtained by alternating between lightly cooked dishes rich in green vegetables with meat-centered items fried in saturated fats. But the optimum mix is probably still way too heavy on saturated fats.
Below the fold I’ve posted the chart of obesity rates by nation rank-ordered. I suspect some will be surprised by #2.
* I do think we should keep in perspective that the “obesity epidemic” is an unfortunate byproduct of a wealthy and well-fed society.

Read More

Feeling sleepy?

Nature Genetics this week has published a genome-wide association study of narcolepsy in the Japanese population. The finding in the paper is a variant that confers a modest risk of narcolepsy, but personally, I was blown away by Figure 1, reproduced above. The figure shows the strength of association of each of 500,000 SNPs with narcolespy, and the novel reproducible finding is on chromosome 22 (ie, it doesn’t stand out all that impressively in this plot). The major signal, absolutely swamping everything else, is in fact in the MHC region (called HLA in humans).

This region, of course, contains risk factors for type I diabetes, crohn’s disease, and most (all?) other autoimmune diseases. A quick google confirms that, indeed, thinking of narcolepsy as an autoimmune disease is not new, but it’s definitely new to me, and it’s pretty striking to see just how much more important the risk factors in HLA are compared to everything else.

The sexes do not differ on science

When I look through the GSS I am struck, and sometimes disturbed, by the way attitudes toward science track various demographic slices. It is no surprise that Fundamentalist Christians tend to be suspicious of science, but blacks and the poor also tend to be much more hostile than whites and the middle and upper classes. So I was curious as to whether there was a systematic sex difference as there are on some issues (astrology) but not on others (abortion). What differences there are seem very modest. In fact, I am struck that the difference in daily familiarity with science does not result in proportionally a greater unease with science on the part of the sex which is less familiar on average on a day to day basis with science (females). If you want to replicate what I did below, the “ROW” variables are: DOUBTS3 SCI30 TRUSTSCI SCISOLVE SCICHNG SCIMORAL NEXTGEN TOOFAST SCIFAITH HARMGOOD SCIGRN SCIPRY (you can just cut & paste this list). And the “COLUMN” was obviously SEX.

Read More


I have turned on moderation for all comments. This means that you may have to wait a considerable amount of time before I publish them on the weblog (I will not be checking and approving on an iPhone for example). If your comment is not published within about 1 day then you may assume I have deleted it. Comments which add value, address the post and are delivered courteously will be published. Those which do not meet all three criteria will not be published. So if you are courteous but do not address the post you will not be allowed through the moderation queue. If you do not add value then you will not be allowed through the moderation queue; e.g., a comment of the form “Great post!” is not necessary and I will not publish it despite the fact that it nominally addresses the post and is courteous. If you make an uncivil argument the substantive nature of your comment will be irrelevant; you will not make it through the comment queue. I will make more than a cursory examination of comments by anyone who is not a “regular” and/or known to me personally. The primary exception to these stipulations are humorous comments, which need not add value only through a direct engagement with the post.