Perhaps people like to memorize stuff?

Steve brings up the fact that there is a trend in Indian culture toward memorizing stuff as a way of showing off one’s intellect. This seems plausible. But, I think a bigger point might be that rote learning and feats of memory have traditionally been more important in human history than they are now, and Western societies in particular are on the cutting edge on placing more of an emphasis on creative original thinking which illustrates the ability to reconstitute concepts into a novel synthesis as opposed to regurgitating ancient forms. In fact before the printing press made books much more common there was a whole field termed the Art of Memory in the West.
Note: I would also add that memory has different utility in different fields. Physicists who I’ve known seem to be rather slack about memorization, but then their field is one where theory is robust enough to generate useful inferences. In some ways the rise of mathematical science is the story of the decline of memory.

Copy Number Variation in African Americans

The paper is pretty straightforward, Copy number variation in African Americans:

Employing a SNP platform with greater than 500,000 SNPs, a first-generation CNV map of the African American genome was generated using DNA from 385 healthy African American individuals, and compared to a sample of 435 healthy White individuals. A total of 1362 CNVs were identified within African Americans, which included two CNV regions that were significantly different in frequency between African Americans and Whites (17q21 and 15q11). In addition, a duplication was identified in 74% of DNAs derived from cell lines that was not present in any of the whole blood derived DNAs.

Also see ScienceDaily. The authors are interested for purposes of disease, one of the loci which exhibit a CNV difference seem to be related to a variant of mental retardation. They suggest that differences between whites and blacks on this locus might be due to difference in the frequency of duplication between the two groups (45% vs. 8% respectively). Though remember that we have a non-pathological example of CNV polymorphism in human populations. As the field gets saturated by analyses of SNPs one assumes that there will be more investigation of other types of genetic variation, such as CNVs.

Every Man A Media Mogul!

Portfolio & Wired have a one-two punch on the future of broadband up. I’ve read that it takes 3-4 months for a salary increase to be “discounted” so that individuals move up the consumption ladder and no longer feel flush. With internet speed the latency seems far more attenuated; there’s always a new application around the corner. The Portfolio piece notes:

Spurred by a new wave of Skype-linked families, Hulu-watching flash mobs, and HD-video downloaders, global internet traffic is likely to quadruple by 2012. That’s an internet 75 times larger than it was just five years ago. It will be generating 27 exabytes–nearly 7 billion DVDs worth–of data each month. Start stacking those DVDs on January 1, and you’d be at the moon by tax time.

Technology moves fast. Can you believe that it was as recently as 2003 that sales of DVDs surpassed VCRs? Remember VCRs? Yeah, vintage technology for antiquarians.
The Wired piece is more of a speculative think piece:

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Science & liberalism

Faith in science and social conservatism:

Except for crime and gun control, faith in science is associated with socially liberal positions. For guns and crime, the direction of the relationship is liberal, but the relationships are not statistically significant.

I’ve dug through the GSS on this and this seems about right. Even on topics where many would assume that conservatives trump liberals, there isn’t a strong difference. For example, Genetically Modified Foods:

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Creationism in America & Europe

So I’m reading/hearing about something flaring up in Texas again in regards to Creationism. I always get these strange “articles” in my RSS for the “evolution” query on Google Alerts where an uninformed columnist rambles on how the theory has been disproved or brought into doubt. These arguments are not my brief, I’ll leave that to Josh Rosenau et al. Nevertheless one of the interesting things about the discussion in regards to Creationists has been the reality that the United States is swarming with them, though there are Creationists elsewhere, especially in the Islamic world. It is a difference of degree, not kind.
Attitudes toward Creationism vary across European countries, and even within European countries. But what about the United States? It’s not a coincidence that the same states crop up when it comes to Creationism vs. Evolution flair ups.
The General Social Survey has several variables which ask about evolution. SCITESTY, SCITEST4, EVOLVED and CREATION. Additionally it has regional divisions which break down along Census parameters:

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Environment as the gene's handmaid

A few days ago The New York Times had a blog post up which addressed the relationship between genes & environment in shaping our behavior & choices (see Genetic Future). One of the authors even posted a follow up comment where they evinced some surprise at the bile of the responses. I have to say that some people are naive; statistical sciences are a good reflection of the tenor of society. If you say a trait is 50% heritable, that is a statement of fact, but individuals will “spin it” however they want to based on their own outlook and the preferences of their target audience. Years ago Steven Pinker recounted to Robert Wright that when he states that a trait is 50% heritable he is often accused of being a genetic determinist, even though it is a logical implication of his assertion that 1/2 of the variation in the population is due to non-heritable factors. In fact a regular reader of this weblog labeled me as a “genetic determinist” years ago (on his deleted weblog, so I can’t link to the exchange) when I suggested that only 50% of variation in religiosity was due to environment (since he held that 100% was due to environment, he was of course an environmentalist).

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Finnish Type A personalities have more offspring

Adolescent Leadership and Adulthood Fertility: Revisiting the “Central Theoretical Problem of Human Sociobiology”:

Human motivation for social status may reflect an evolved psychological adaptation that increased individual reproductive success in the evolutionary past. However, the association between status striving and reproduction in contemporary humans is unclear. It may be hypothesized that personality traits related to status achievement increase fertility even if modern indicators of socioeconomic status do not. We examined whether four subcomponents of type-A personality-leadership, hard-driving, eagerness, and aggressiveness—assessed at the age of 12 to 21 years predicted the likelihood of having children by the age of 39 in a population-based sample of Finnish women and men (N=1,313). Survival analyses indicated that high adolescent leadership increased adulthood fertility in men and women, independently of education level and urbanicity of residence. The findings suggest that personality determinants of status achievement may predict increased reproductive success in contemporary humans.

In Finland a “Type-A Personality” presumably refers to someone willing to make eye contact with family members. In any case I think this table is probably the most informative:

The main caveat which is stated in the paper is that we’re talking about Finland today. How generalizable is this? If leadership was a primary factor behind reproductive success over long periods of time how come we’re not all Type A personalities? I think it seems likely that the fitness of these individuals and their morph exhibits frequency dependence. Additionally the longer term volatility of this strategy probably differs from more retiring personal profiles. The Type A strategy seems more likely to be subject to winner-take-all dynamics; there were many prominent leaders on the Mongolian plain of 1250. Very few of them have descendants due to the fact that one Type A eliminated all the rest. In Farewell to Alms Greg Clark reports data which illustrate that before the 19th century the blooded military nobility might have had below average replacement because of morality during war. In contrast, the gentry were fertile. Not to nerd out, but this shows that the Hobbit strategy can beat the Numenorean over the long term. Modern post-industrial societies have a particular social ecology, and are subject to a dynamic contingent upon that ecology. Let’s not overgeneralize.