Pajamas Media goes down….

Well, it isn’t just the old media that’s having issues. A few days ago Culture11 folded. Now it looks like Pajamas Media network is shutting down (they’re going to go into vlogging fulltime?). I got a few links from PM back in 2005-2006, very little traffic. It didn’t seem like the aggregation was adding any value to the constituent weblogs. Additionally, a lot of their stuff is 2001-2004 vintage Right-of-Center media commentary, the sell-by date has long passed. Something like The Next Right is what circa 2010 conservative weblogs are going to look like, at least the good ones. Look at this DJ Drummond level of idiocy last fall at PM:

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Picking the perfect baby

A few years ago I had a semi-serious post up making fun of Armand Leroi for broaching the topic of neo-eugenics. Now there are reports of elective pre-implantation screenings:

Genes determining sex, hair and eye colour can be identified, alongside any DNA red flags for diseases such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and Down’s Syndrome.

“Basically any genetic ailment, and there are thousands of them. We find the genetic error responsible for that in the embryo,” Dr Steinberg says.

Only those embryos free of problem genetic markers and matching parental wishes, if stated, are then implanted in the mother.

“To deny them the ability to do that when the technology is there is to me unethical,” Dr Steinberg says.

“You can say eye colour and hair colour are not diseases, no they’re not, and there is a cosmetic element to it, but we fix crooked noses all the time.

He says he’s concerned Australian women are risking their health by undertaking IVF overseas for “frivolous” reasons, using a process that raises the moral issue of “deliberate embryo loss”.

“But the main issue is the idea of treating the child as an object, as product for which you are seeking quality control,” Dr Tonti-Filippini says.

1) Part of this is publicity, you can get only so much information out of genetic tests right now (see Genetic Future). Take a look at Genetic determinants of hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Europeans, and note how much higher the odds ratio (20-30 vs. ~5) for OCA2 “blue-eye” markers are vs. the ones which might give some information about hair color. The same differences in effect size apply to disease loci. I suspect many people will balk at paying up when confronted with the provisionality of some of the inferences.

2) It isn’t as if these fertility technologies aren’t without downsides (not to mention the cost).
I’m tempted to say we’re barely past the Difference Engine era when it comes to these technologies. But it probably does make sense to have the bioethics people talk through these issues through now, the general outlines are already discernible. Of courseƂ it isn’t as if many parents didn’t view their children as accessories before these sorts of technologies.
Note: The link above is to an Australian newspaper. So I don’t take everything they report literally…perhaps they spiced up a quote here and there?
H/T FuturePundit

Herding cats

Just watched the film Today’s Man, which is about an individual, Nicky Gottlieb, with Asperger Syndrome. Near the end of the film he attends a meeting with others who are not “neurotypicals.” Gottlieb has some weird ticks throughout the film which shows quite clearly that he’s not “all there” (or, more precisely, no one else is there in his own mind). But it was really interesting to see a meeting of people with the same lack of normal social skills…they all seemed “out of sync” with each other (or, perhaps they were in sync in a different way which I wasn’t able to perceive). The most peculiar aspect for me was that physically these were all human beings, but their manner, gestures (or lack of) and social fluidity was almost like that of alien species. I’ve met people who have major social skill deficits before, but I haven’t observed dozens trying to interact. The closest thing I’ve seen in my own life are interactions with Singularitarians and some Perl Mongers. But these events & groups were tied together by a common theme or topic around which verbal exchanges invariably circled in a structured manner. Nicky Gottlieb going to be a meeting with other individuals suffering Asperger Syndrome and talking about their lack of social skills and attempting to grapple with the fact that most humans view them as abnormal freaks was different. It was like peering into the psychology of a species running radically different software.

Note: I’m not too interested in whether there really is unitary Asperger Syndrome rooted in specific neurological dysfunctions. Rather, it’s clear that a minority of humans are noticeably socially retarded enough that when they interact together with others who lack normal social skills the communal synergy, or lack thereof, is definitely not a scene you see everyday.

Interracial sex or Mendelian segregation?

sandrawithparents.jpgOver at The Root Keith Adkins has a post, Sandra Laing: Born Black with White Parents:

I’m no geneticist or biologist, but it looks like Sandra is a product of an black South African and maybe a white Afrikaneer. I’m saying, it looks like somebody in her family was lying. The tests they used to prove her father’s paternity could have been faulty. And what about proving her mother’s maternity? Is it possible she was adopted? Is it possible Sandra’s mother was “getting love” from a undeniably-black man on the side? I’m not trying to throw salt on Laing’s game, I’m just not convinced the complete truth has been unearthed. I need to see more cases like this to be convinced these particular extremes are probable. Again, I know anything it could be true, but Laing’s story is extreme. If you’re in the Los Angeles Skin screens next month at the Pan African Film Festival before getting wider release.

The film which Adkins refers to is Skin, a biopic based on Sandra Laing’s life. A few years ago I thumbed through a book which detailed Laing’s tumultuous life, . Obviously the fact that a child who was obviously of non-white ancestry was born to conservative Afrikaner parents during the period of apartheid is a story which elicited some interest in South Africa at the time, and the “talk of the town” very literally. Sandra Laing’s paternity was under some debate, and it was a working assumption by many that the mother was unfaithful. Rather primitive blood tests did not reject that Laing’s putative father was her father, and one should probably modulate down the likelihood of a white woman having an affair with a black man in apartheid South Africa, and, keeping the child. How do we assess the probabilities of paternity vs. re-expression or recombination of genetic variants which code for African phenotypes within the Afrikaner population?

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By other means necessary?

My friend Aziz Poonawalla has a post up, is evolution sufficient? No, it’s not the standard Creationist cant:

The implication of such rapid evolution is that we should actually notice it on human timescales. And that there is actually is some mechanism of action that is actually driving the mutations themselves – cosmic rays? transcription errors? normal statistical variance?
It seems that if we aren’t mutating at a rate comparable to above, then some sort of alternative mechanism must also be operating to accelerate the changes in DNA required to evolve from one species to another. There’s certainly some evidence that there are such “neo-Lamarckian” processes at work, The case of the humble water-flea certainly is not explicable by normal Darwinian processes.

The general question is tackled in 10,000 Year Explosion. I haven’t kept up on the literature of human evolution in the context of our separation from the lineage that led up to chimpanzees to comment in detail, but the big issue I would say to a physicist like Aziz is that there more degrees of freedom in biology than can imagined in your philosophy my friend! Leave a comment over at Aziz’s.
Related: Also at Talk Islam.

Australian Aboriginal morbidity & mortality

A few years ago PLoS Medicine published Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States. The results were:
— Asian-Americans, per capita income of $21,566, life expectancy of 84.9 years.
— Northland low-income rural Whites, $17,758, 79 years.
— Middle America (mostly White), $24,640, 77.9 years.
— Low-income Whites in Appalachia, Mississippi Valley, $16,390, 75 years.
— Western American Indians, $10,029, 72.7 years.
— Black Middle America, $15,412, 72.9 years.
— Southern low-income rural Blacks, $10,463, 71.2 years.
— High-risk urban Blacks, $14,800, 71.1 years.
That’s a 13.8 year difference between inner city blacks and Asian Americans.
Now, from The health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 2003:

…Indigenous life expectancy at birth is 20 years less than for the total
population, 56 years for Indigenous males compared to 77 years for all
Australian males and 63 years for Indigenous females compared to
82 years for all Australian females for the period 1999-2001….

Read the whole report for the greatly increased rates of alcoholism and other morbidity and mortality enhancing behaviors among indigenous Australians, but check out this breakdown of various increased risks for diseases (adapted from Wikipedia, but the source is the report linked above):

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Has it awakened?

Mars Rover Disoriented Somewhat After Glitch:

More strangely, the Spirit had no memory of what it had done for that part of Sol 1800. The rover did not record actions, as it otherwise always does, to the part of its computer memory that retains information even when power is turned off, the so-called nonvolatile memory. “It’s almost as if the rover had a bout of amnesia,” said John Callas, the project manager for the rovers.
Another rover system did record that power was being drawn from the batteries for an hour and a half. “Meaning the rover is awake doing something,” Dr. Callas said. But before-and-after images showed that the Spirit ended the day exactly where it started.