Atheists are losers?

So implies The Audacious Epigone:

Mormons are the least likely of the 19 denominations to live alone, but I suspect among the married, they are among the most likely to have a single breadwinner household.
Atheists and agnostics, by contrast, come in at the bottom. The low rates of multiple person households is part of the explanation, but the high number of lone wolves among their ranks illustrates their social marginality in another way relative to the cognitive endowments they enjoy. This does little to dispel stereotype I hold of atheists as cynical, single white guys who live in apartments downtown, work at used record stores, love George Carlin, and watch Adult Swim.

Also see Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations,
and Implications

America, the way we are

Most Americans are not aware that the debtor status of our nation is not particularly novel; we have been a debtor nation for most of our history. This fact serves as one of the major linchipins in Eric Rauchway’s , a economic historical look at how globalization made America then, and is making it now. One of the major points that Rauchway attempts to hammer home is that American exceptionalism is posterior to the conditions which framed the republic, it is not the cause of the peculiarities of the American condition.
One of the major ways in which America is exceptional is its relatively small public sector. In other words, our state doesn’t do nearly as much as is the norm among wealthy countries. Rauchway shows that in 1910 there is a close linear relationship between per capita production and the amount spent by the state per capital. The United States stood outside of this trendline, a wealthy nation which spent relatively little in public monies. And so it still is, more or less.

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Space, the forgotten frontier?

spaceares.jpgI’m old enough to have very faint memories of the very first shuttle missions, though I do not recall the last moon landings. I recently heard a science fiction writer observe that when he was a child the idea of a moon landing was so futuristic. Then it happened…and we stopped going. It’s been over 30 years since humans set foot on the moon.
Granted, there’s been a lot that’s happened since then. Your rescale your awe meter, so the plethora of Mars landings and detailed exploration of the outer planets via the Galileo and Cassini missions don’t register in the same way. Various technologies mean that the increase in knowledge is accelerating, but, the rate of acceleration itself is perhaps not increasing. With the completion of the Human Genome, and the beckoning age of applied genomics, the perpetual promise of a manned Mars mission seems to pale in comparison. Perhaps there are simply constraints of human engineering when it comes to our exploration of space, in particular manned space flight. We are biological creatures, evolved for this earth.
In any case, The New York Times has an interesting piece up, The Fight Over NASA’s Future. It is mostly about the next generation of vehicles which presumably will take us back to the moon. Color me disappointed that the goal is to do what we’ve done before, just better.

Personalized medicine, the long introduction….

Patient’s DNA May Be Signal to Tailor Drugs:

The colon cancer drugs Erbitux and Vectibix, for instance, do not work for the 40 percent of patients whose tumors have a particular genetic mutation. The Food and Drug Administration held a meeting this month to discuss whether patients should be tested to narrow use of the drugs, which cost $8,000 to $10,000 a month.

To some extent this sort of thing is a gimme; intelligent & proactive patients already “help” their medical professionals by channeling them appropriately in terms of decisions because with the veritable tsunami of data no human can truly keep up. One aspect of personalized medicine is population level data. To give an example for myself, my doctor told me that I wasn’t overweight. Well, actually for my population (South Asian) it seems rather clear that heuristics based on BMI normed to European Americans underestimates the risks of conditions heightened at particular weight thresholds (e.g., Type II Diabetes). Combined with family information I’m always trying to keep my BMI on the low end of normal, because there’s normal for one population, and normal for another.
Personalized medicine takes it to the next level. The example above is an obvious one, but what about drug combinations where the differences are on the margins of effect? If you have risks for illnesses a sum of marginal effects is not trivial, but it is probably not realistic to assume that your personal physician will be aware of all these “moving parts.” Welcome to the world where everyone should have a basic familiar with probability and cost vs. benefit, at least if they want to get the maximum bang from the medicinal buck.

Neandertals on a stick

Neanderthal Extinction by Competitive Exclusion:

Despite a long history of investigation, considerable debate revolves around whether Neanderthals became extinct because of climate change or competition with anatomically modern humans (AMH).

We apply a new methodology integrating archaeological and chronological data with high-resolution paleoclimatic simulations to define eco-cultural niches associated with Neanderthal and AMH adaptive systems during alternating cold and mild phases of Marine Isotope Stage 3. Our results indicate that Neanderthals and AMH exploited similar niches, and may have continued to do so in the absence of contact.

The southerly contraction of Neanderthal range in southwestern Europe during Greenland Interstadial 8 was not due to climate change or a change in adaptation, but rather concurrent AMH [anatomically modern human] geographic expansion appears to have produced competition that led to Neanderthal extinction.

The main problem I’ve always had with “the climate did it!” explanations for megafaunal extinctions is that it isn’t as if the climate didn’t vary quite a bit across the Pleistocene. For example, the warmest phase of the Eemian interglacial 125,000 years ago saw forests in what is today tundra in northern Norway. So there was a different parameter on the scene more recently which did the big wildlife, including Neandertals. in….
More readable ScienceDaily summary….

Facial Expressions Of Emotion Are Innate, Not Learned

Spontaneous Facial Expressions of Emotion of Congenitally and Noncongenitally Blind Individuals:

The study of the spontaneous expressions of blind individuals offers a unique opportunity to understand basic processes concerning the emergence and source of facial expressions of emotion. In this study, the authors compared the expressions of congenitally and noncongenitally blind athletes in the 2004 Paralympic Games with each other and with those produced by sighted athletes in the 2004 Olympic Games. The authors also examined how expressions change from 1 context to another. There were no differences between congenitally blind, noncongenitally blind, and sighted athletes, either on the level of individual facial actions or in facial emotion configurations. Blind athletes did produce more overall facial activity, but these were isolated to head and eye movements. The blind athletes’ expressions differentiated whether they had won or lost a medal match at 3 different points in time, and there were no cultural differences in expression. These findings provide compelling evidence that the production of spontaneous facial expressions of emotion is not dependent on observational learning but simultaneously demonstrates a learned component to the social management of expressions, even among blind individuals.

Also see ScienceDaily.

Episcopalians vs. Jews

A few days ago the Audacious Epigone pointed out that Episcopalians are in the same neighborhood as Jews in the United States on intelligence tests; i.e., on the order of a bit more than 2/3 of a standard deviation above the norm. The recent paper on religion & IQ confirmed these findings. One of the peculiarities of American Jews is how liberal they are; the old saying was that they “live like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans.” With the rise of the Religious Right Episcopalians are actually starting to vote more like Jews; the Pew Religious Survey suggests that 49% are now Democrats or Democrat leaning, while 42% are Republicans or Republican leaning. But in any case, I was curious, how different are Jews and Episcopalians? And, how do both these groups relate to white Protestants as a whole, who I tend to think are the archetypical “control” in the American context. So I you probably know what I did next: looked in the GSS. If you click to read the whole post, a whole lot of charts….

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Origins of the Gagauz people – a Turkish dynamic

Dienekes points me to a new paper, Searching for the origin of Gagauzes: Inferences from Y-chromosome analysis:

The Gagauzes are a small Turkish-speaking ethnic group living mostly in southern Moldova and northeastern Bulgaria. The origin of the Gagauzes is obscure. They may be descendants of the Turkic nomadic tribes from the Eurasian steppes, as suggested by the “Steppe” hypothesis, or have a complex Anatolian-steppe origin, as postulated by the “Seljuk” or “Anatolian” hypothesis. To distinguish these hypotheses, a sample of 89 Y-chromosomes representing two Gagauz populations from the Republic of Moldova was analyzed for 28 binary and seven STR polymorphisms. In the gene pool of the Gagauzes a total of 15 Y-haplogroups were identified…The present Gagauz populations were compared with other Balkan, Anatolian, and Central Asian populations by means of genetic distances, nonmetric multidimentional scaling and analyses of molecular variance. The analyses showed that Gagauzes belong to the Balkan populations, suggesting that the Gagauz language represents a case of language replacement in southeastern Europe. Interestingly, the detailed study of microsatellite haplotypes revealed some sharing between the Gagauz and Turkish lineages, providing some support of the hypothesis of the “Seljuk origin” of the Gagauzes. The faster evolving microsatellite loci showed that the two Gagauz samples investigated do not represent a homogeneous group. This finding matches the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of the Gagauzes well, suggesting a crucial role of social factors in shaping the Gagauz Y-chromosome pool and possibly also of effects of genetic drift.

The Turkic peoples have their origins in the Trans-Siberian regions. Until the rise of Genghis Khan the western half of what is today Mongolia was dominated by Turks. Though the Turks of Turkey itself might resemble Europeans both physically and genetically, Turkic populations in Xinjiang and Central Asia exhibit a much stronger exterior affinity to East Asians. The Uyghurs are in fact nearly prefect hybrids insofar as their genetic background is equally balanced between alleles which have presumed origins in western Eurasia and eastern Eurasia. Various genetic and historical data suggest that the original nature of the Turkic speaking peoples in Central Asia was similar to that of eastern, not western, Eurasians.

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