Daily Data Dump – Friday

Have a good weekend.

Death of A Language. Since I started being more pro-active about my general lack of respect for modern American cultural anthropology I’ve gotten a lot of response. On the specific question of whether linguistic diversity is inversely proportional to economic growth, I’ve gotten some mixed-responses, and find all the conclusions inconclusive (I’ve had some r-squared results sent to me privately). Here’s A Replicated Typo reviewing a paper which tentatively supports my theoretical inference empirically. As I said, looking at the correlations are now in my “stack” of “TO-DO”‘s. But more broadly the normative gap between myself and my critics remains. So in the post I point to here, the author paraphrases a linguist as saying: “The languages spoken on the islands are considered to be almost 70,000 years old and are theorized to have African roots.” My comments about this sort of stuff are dismissive, and this experience only reinforces my disrespect for the “discourse” which linguistic anthropologists are introducing into the public domain. There are intellectual reasons to be interested in linguistic isolates not part of the big language families (e.g., Semitic, Indo-European, Niger-Kordofanian, etc.), but no language is “70,000 years old.” The Andaman Islanders are not black-skinned elves, immortals who brought their culture in toto from the ur-heimat of Africa, genetic and cultural fossils who have been in total stasis. Cultural anthropologists presumably understand that all humans are equally ancient, derived from African ancestors, and that all languages and peoples are African (or at least 95% so within the last 100,000 years), but their communication to the public confuses the issue and presents some groups as “pristine.”  As it is, Andaman Islanders have a major issue with high mortality levels due to being exposed to Eurasian pathogens. Language death is a relatively secondary issue for a group which had to be forcibly in the 1960s for their own survival as a biological group.

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Koreans, not quite the purest race?

ResearchBlogging.orgPLoS One has a paper out on Korean (South) population genetics and phylogeography, Gene Flow between the Korean Peninsula and Its Neighboring Countries:

SNP markers provide the primary data for population structure analysis. In this study, we employed whole-genome autosomal SNPs as a marker set (54,836 SNP markers) and tested their possible effects on genetic ancestry using 320 subjects covering 24 regional groups including Northern ( = 16) and Southern ( = 3) Asians, Amerindians ( = 1), and four HapMap populations (YRI, CEU, JPT, and CHB). Additionally, we evaluated the effectiveness and robustness of 50K autosomal SNPs with various clustering methods, along with their dependencies on recombination hotspots (RH), linkage disequilibrium (LD), missing calls and regional specific markers. The RH- and LD-free multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) method showed a broad picture of human migration from Africa to North-East Asia on our genome map, supporting results from previous haploid DNA studies. Of the Asian groups, the East Asian group showed greater differentiation than the Northern and Southern Asian groups with respect to Fst statistics. By extension, the analysis of monomorphic markers implied that nine out of ten historical regions in South Korea, and Tokyo in Japan, showed signs of genetic drift caused by the later settlement of East Asia (South Korea, Japan and China), while Gyeongju in South East Korea showed signs of the earliest settlement in East Asia. In the genome map, the gene flow to the Korean Peninsula from its neighboring countries indicated that some genetic signals from Northern populations such as the Siberians and Mongolians still remain in the South East and West regions, while few signals remain from the early Southern lineages.

I can’t comment too much on the inferences they make from the results because I’m not familiar with the geography of South Korea, or particular historical details. But more generally the genetics of Korea are of particular interest for social reasons:

South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world with more than 99 per cent of inhabitants having Korean ethnicity…The Koreans call their ethnic homogeneousity of their society using the word, 단일민족국가 (Dan-il minjok gook ga, literally means the single race society.)

Korean racialism has recently gotten the spotlight in works such as , articles in The New York Times about South Korean prejudice against dark-skinned people, and the rise of mixed-origin Koreans nationals due to the large number of Vietnamese brides in rural areas. Here’s an interesting comment on South Korean race consciousness, Western Mixed-Race Men Can Join Military:

Western mixed-race men can join the military beginning next year.

Currently, Asian mixed-race men, dubbed “Kosians,” are subject to the country’s conscription system, but “Amerasians” or “Eurasians” are exempted from the mandatory service.

The parliamentary approval of a bill proposed by Rep. Yoo Seung-min of the governing Grand National Party has paved the way for them to join the military.

Western mixed-race men, who have distinctive skin colors, had been exempted because they could have experienced difficulty mixing with Korean colleagues in barracks, the defense ministry had said previously.

The article was published in January of 2010. And that’s not the weirdest idea to come out of the Korean peninsula. With all that in mind, the distinctiveness, or lack thereof, of the Korean nation as adduced from scientific genetics is of particular curiosity, as it is a clear example of the intersection of science and culture. First, here’s the figure which shows where in Asia & South Korea they got their samples from:

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Remote control neurons

Mirrored from http://wiringthebrain.blogspot.com

Clever, elegant and extremely powerful – techniques to activate specific sets of neurons with light have the potential to revolutionise cellular and systems neuroscience. Optogenetics has already been used to address a number of questions which have been resistant to answer by other techniques, and also holds great promise for neurotherapeutics and prosthetics. A new paper adds another approach to the toolkit – the ability to activate neurons with a radio frequency magnetic field. While very much a proof of principle, with a ways to go before it proves its worth, this approach offers some obvious advantages over optogenetics, most obviously that magnetic fields pass into brains much more readily than light.

When trying to figure out what different brain circuits do, one of the most obvious experimental approaches is to ask: what happens if I make these neurons fire? Neuroscientists have traditionally used electrodes to activate neurons in the brain or in slices of brain tissue. This approach is powerful but crude – even with microelectrodes it is difficult to stimulate just the neurons you want. In fact, in many cases it is impossible as different types of neurons tend to be intermingled with each other. If you want to figure out the job of just one of those types then it’s no good sticking an electrode in that part of the brain and zapping all of them at the same time.

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Finland, still going its own way

Dienekes points to a new paper which highlights genetic variation in Fenno-Scandinavia (or in this case, Finland, Sweden and Denmark). A two-dimensional plot with the variation is pretty illustrative of what you’d expect:


Finns are genetic outliers in Europe, to some extent even in comparison to Estonians, who speak a very similar language. But, I wonder if the situation will change a bit when we have more samples from Finnic populations of northern Russia. Remember that the nature of these representations is sensitive to the variation which we throw into the equation in the first place.

Reader survey results: politics

Since the reader survey is topping out in response, I though I’d report some of the results. Since I’ve been doing these surveys my readership has exhibited a few patterns, and I was curious as to any changes since moving to Discover. Not too much has shifted. Instead of 15% female, as was the case for years, the readers are now 25% female. It looks like ~10% of the readers know this website only through Discover. Feel free to browse the results yourself.

I think the most interesting aspect for many is the political diversity. Generally the readership is split between Left liberals and libertarians. Though there are a small number of conventional conservatives, it is very rare to find those who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal. These “populists” tend not to be as intelligent as the other combinations, and so I suspect that’s why they’re not well represented on the web, among my readership, or the political elite of the United States in general (for what it’s worth, I’ve been moving in a more populist direction over the years, starting from a libertarian stance).

First, a few summary statistics. I asked readers their index of liberalism, with 0 being as conservative as possible, 10 as liberal, and 5 in the middle. I asked on two dimensions, social and economic.

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Daily Data Dump – Thursday

If you are a regular reader, and have not done so, please take the Summer 2010 Gene Expression survey. N = 300, so I’ll stop buggin’ now and start posting results in the next day or so.

Ancient iceman’s gene map underway. Does anyone have any inside dirt on Otzi? His mtDNA was an outgroup to any modern Europeans, but we know that there’s sometimes a disjunction between mtDNA and autosomal results.

Protecting consumers from their own genetic data will come at a cost. Regulations have costs. Sometimes those costs are worth it (and result in long-term gains due to buffering of short-term volatility and such).

Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Arterial Stiffness in Black Teens. There has been some concern about supplementation in colored people based on studies with whites, so this is important. Many people with darker-skins, including me, have been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and have started to take supplements. Anecdotally many of us report a decrease in respiratory infections and such. But it will be good when we have more rigorous studies.

Study says Amish expanding westward. Amish future!

Ancient DNA Identifies Donkey Ancestors, People Who Domesticated Them. Any surprise that domestication was a bottom-up, not top-down affair? Command economies are good at increasing factor inputs, but not necessarily driving innovation.

The Anglo Revolutions

Over my lifetime in the United States there has been a shift toward a set of values which emphasize diversity, understood as being expressed along a few particular parameters: racial, sexual and ethnic. Part of the project is obviously concrete: increased representation of various segments within American society at the commanding heights of institutions and in positions to operate levers of power. But part of the project is intellectual and didactic. In the domain of history the past is reshaped and mined to create myths which serve as foundations for our understanding of how we got here, and why we value what we value. It is true that some reject the Founding Fathers as “Dead White Males,” and repudiate the history of the United States, and damn America. But others see in aspects of the founding project, and in the lives of the founders of the American republic, the roots of the modern liberal democratic order. Even the progenitors of multiculturalism. I would say that the latter position, of reappropriation and reinterpretation, is the dominant mode. But it is clearly myth-making. Those who repudiate the foundation of the American republic as a project of white supremacy, Eurocentrism, and ethnocentrism, have a great deal of reality to draw upon. The personal correspondence of men who were self-identified and perceived radical liberals for their time, such as Thomas Jefferson, attest to this reality.

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