Daily Data Dump – Wednesday

Another reminder, if you are a regular reader, and have not done so, please take the Summer 2010 Gene Expression survey.

Assortative mating, regression and all that: offspring IQ vs parental midpoint. Very sad: “For n = 3 (parental midpoint of 145) the mean for the kids would be 127 and the probability of exceeding 145 less than 10 percent.”

On individuality, stochasticity and buffering. I think this is relevant at higher levels of organization than cell biology as well.

How far will the homeownership rate fall? This is not necessarily a disaster. People are less rooted, but that means there is more fluidity in labor mobility.

Get a Blazing-Fast Computer for Free. I’ve been using Ubuntu (dual boot) for years. I think perhaps it is ready for “prime time” in relation to ease-of-use for your grandmother. At least if she likes to perform BIOS upgrades!

Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. We’re a social animal. I think that the methodological individualism at the heart of American politics, liberal, libertarian, and conservative, may not be rooted in human nature. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But good to know.

Investing in a nanny state for social returns

Jonah Lehrer has a post up, How Preschool Changes the Brain over at Frontal Cortex. He reports on a paper, Investing in our young people, which has been around for about 5 years. The top line of it is this, an investment in a $2,500/year (inflation adjusted) pre-school program in the early 1960s seems to have been effective in improving the life outcomes of at-risk low SES young black Americans tracked over their lives up to the age of 40. Their measured I.Q.s were not initially high, 85-75, 15th to the 5th percentile (though the median black American IQ is ~85, so not so low within ethnic group). They did gain an initial I.Q. boost, but like most of these programs that boost disappeared over time. But in terms of their non-cognitive skills there remained an appreciable effect which impact their life outcomes. What were these non-cognitive skills? To me they resemble classical bourgeois values rooted in low time preference. Willing to be a “grind,” work hard and forgo short-term pleasures and not cave in to impulses with short-term gains and long-term costs.

Here’s a figure from the paper which I’ve reedited with labels:

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Daily Data Dump – Tuesday

First, if you are a regular reader, and have not done so, please take the Summer 2010 Gene Expression survey.

A horse is a horse, of course of course. Horses, like dogs, may be able to “read” human cues. In general intelligence dogs are less intelligent than wolves, but geniuses at this. In fact before this highly provisional finding they were the only non-human species able to engage in this sort of behavior. Horses are less intelligent than donkeys, but I wonder if they’re more intelligent in this domain than donkeys. Donkeys are more like cats, and horses more like dogs, if we’re going to do analogies. The latter have a much tighter connection with humans. From the perspective of aliens I wonder if humans their co-evolved organisms (dogs, horses, chicken, wheat, rice cow, pig, etc.) are like a movable ecosystem.

Thirteen new sample sets make their debut on the population genetics scene (Xing et al. 2010). I agree with the skepticism of the interpretation of the hypothesis that the ANI were Middle Eastern, for what it’s worth.

Human Induced Rotation and Reorganization of the Brain of Domestic Dogs. If humans can induce this sort of evolution of dogs, why not on themselves?

Leak May Hurt Efforts to Build War Support. I thought that was the point?

Learning Multiple languages from Multiple teachers. Looks like there are different “equilibrium states.” So what shocks societies from state A to state B?

Summer books, what's readable?

Danny reminded me that I still hadn’t read Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. Since I know him a bit (at least internet “know”) I’ve decided I can’t put it off any longer, and I’ll tackle it soon. I just finished two books, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, 1783-1939 and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire. I can recommend the first, but not the second. Since I will (or plan to) review Replenishing the Earth, I won’t say more about it here. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens was written by the author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. The author is a bit on the pro-Mongol side (he always ends up making Genghis Khan a benevolent warlord!), and his writing style doesn’t have the density which I prefer in these sorts of works, but Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World was a serviceable book. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens on the other hand is too sensational, and it seems rather obvious that the source material was much thinner than for Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (he admits as much repeatedly), so he had to include a lot of apocryphal material, with caveats, to fill it out. I much preferred The Cambridge History of Inner Asia: The Chinggisid Age, which I read earlier this summer. A naturally more turgid work without a central narrative (each chapter was written by a different academic), but lots of dense data.

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Snap, phenotype, genotype and fitness

Snapdragon,_smallOne of the main criticisms of the population genetic pillar of the modern evolutionary synthesis was that too often it was a game of “beanbag genetics”. In other words population geneticists treated genes as discrete independent individual elements within a static sea. R.A. Fisher and his acolytes believed that the average effect of fluctuations of  genetic background canceled out as there was no systematic bias, and could be ignored in the analysis of long term evolutionary change. Classical population genetics focused on genetic variation as abstract elementary algebras of the arc of particular alleles (or several alleles). So the whole system was constructed from a few spare atomic elements in a classic bottom-up fashion, clean inference by clean inference. Naturally this sort of abstraction did not sit well with many biologists, who were trained in the field or in the laboratory. By and large the conflict was between the theoretical evolutionists, such as R. A. Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane, and the experimental and observational biologists, such as Theodosius Dobzhansky and Ernst Mayr (see Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology for a record of the life and ideas of a man who arguably navigated between these two extremes in 20th century evolution because of his eclectic training). With the discovery that DNA was the specific substrate through which Mendelian genetics and evolutionary biology unfolded physically from generation to generation a third set of players, the molecular biologists, entered the fray.

The details of genetics, the abstract models of theorists, the messy instrumentalism of the naturalists, and the physical focus of the molecular researchers, all matter. Through the conflicts between geneticists, some arising from genuine deep substantive disagreement, and some from different methodological foci,  the discipline can enrich our understanding of biological phenomena in all its dimensions. Genomics, which canvasses the broad swaths of the substrate of inheritance, DNA, is obviously of particular fascination to me, but we can also still learn something from old fashioned genetics which narrows in on a few genes and their particular dynamics.

ResearchBlogging.orgA new paper in PLoS Biology, Cryptic Variation between Species and the Basis of Hybrid Performance, uses several different perspectives to explore the outcomes of crossing different species, in particular the impact on morphological and gene expression variation. You’ve likely heard of hybrid vigor, but too often in our society such terms are almost like black-boxes which magically describe processes which are beyond our comprehension (hybrid vigor and inbreeding depression freely move between scientific and folk genetic domains). This paper attempts to take a stab at peeling pack the veil and gaining a more fundamental understanding of the phenomenon. First, the author summary:

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The rise (and fall?) of second-tier lingua francas

The New York Times has an interesting piece, As English Spreads, Indonesians Fear for Their Language. It is dense with the different strands of this story. Basically, upper and upper middle class Indonesians are switching from Bahasa Indonesian to English to give their children a leg up, and are sending their children to English-medium schools. Because these children have a weak command of Indonesian some authorities are fearing for the cohesion of the Indonesian nation. Though the piece alludes to other languages in Indonesia, such as Javanese, it does not emphasize the fact that the widespread knowledge of Bahasa Indonesian was the outcome of a top-down project of nation-building, and that that language is the native tongue of only a minority of the citizens of Indonesia!

From Wikipedia:

Whilst Indonesian is spoken as a mother tongue (first language) by only a small proportion of Indonesia’s large population (i.e. mainly those who reside within the vicinity of Jakarta), over 200 million people regularly make use of the national language – some with varying degrees of proficiency. In a nation which boasts more than 300 native languages and a vast array of ethnic groups, the use of proper or ‘good and correct’ Indonesian (as opposed to Indonesian slang or regional dialects) is an essential means of communication across the archipelago. Use of the national language is abundant in the media, government bodies, schools, universities, workplaces, amongst members of the Indonesian upper-class or nobility and also in many other formal situations.

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Daily Data Dump – Monday

Hope the heat is treating you well (if you live in the northern hemisphere). If you are a regular reader and haven’t taken the summer 2010 reader survey, click here.

Cultural Diversity, Economic Development and Societal Instability. A post which addresses some of the issues emerging out of my comment about the relationship between linguistic diversity and economic growth. I’ll have more to say about this later…but I want to reiterate that my assumption as to the direction of correlation and conjecture as to the nature of causation is secondary. I’m really rousing myself from avoiding with engaging a particular “discourse” because of the intellectual exhaustion which ensues. Cultural anthropology is too important to leave to the….

Where are the Libertarians at Netroots Nation?. No idea where the causation is, but my personal experience as a libertarian-leaning individual (though less so as the years go by) among liberals is that I’m classed as a “Neandertal conservative” by my intellectual and moral superiors. Of course libertarians generally have the same attitude toward social conservatives, but a modus vivendi has developed between the two subculture which allows for collaboration despite personal distaste (in fact, liberals and libertarians tend to socialize more in urban areas because of shared cultural values, which I think may explain part of the issue: they know each other too well, and the differences are magnified!)

New Orleans’s Gender-Bending Rap. “Sissy bounce.”

Britain Plans to Decentralize Health Care. Violation of O’Sullivan’s Law?

The Moral Naturalists. Much more over at Edge. Our moral nature does not entail the moral systems upon which agree, but, it is a starting point for any realistic discussion.

Saving is heritable, but culture matters a lot

The nature and character of your financial decisions is shaped by your genes. That shouldn’t be too horrible. Many decisions are the outcome of a combination of heritable and non-heritable predispositions. But I have to honestly express a bit of alarm at this segment I just heard on Marketplace, There’s only so much you can teach your kids. Here’s the subhead:

For better or for worse, kids take after their parents — but studies show parental influence only goes so far when it comes to how your children will handle money.

I’m not one to be worried about “genetic determinism” (usually just an insult which describes very few scholars), but this is a bit ridiculous. First, the primary research, of which you can find a pre-print online, seems to indicate that around ~30% of the outcome of financial decisions are heritable. That is, that ~30% of the variation in financial decisions within the population can be accounted for by variation in genes within the population. Additionally, there’s some context missing. The researcher expresses surprise that monozygotic twins converge in behavior as they age, and that parental influence tends to wear off as people leave the home. I don’t know if the researcher was taken out of context, but this is a totally unsurprising result. Over time shared home environment, what your parents model and teach you, tends to wear off, and gene-environment correlation increases the correspondences between particular genetic makeups and behaviors (i.e., identical twins resemble each other more at maturity than in their youth). For most behavioral traits heritability increases with age.

But the problem that microeconomic analyses like this create is that they confuse the public as to the relevance of charts such as this:

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Diseases of the Silk Road

behcetprev1Nature has two papers out about something called “Behçet’s disease.” It has apparently also been termed the “Silk Road Disease”, because of its associations with populations connected to the Central Eurasian trade networks.Though described by Hippocrates 2,500 years ago, apparently it was “discovered” only in the 20th century by a Turkish physician. The reason that that might be is obvious; the prevalence of Behçet’s disease is far higher in Turkey than any other nation. Two orders of magnitude difference between Northwest Europeans and Turks. East Asian populations are somewhere between Europeans and Turks, while the coverage of Inner Asia itself is thin (the first case diagnosed in Mongolia was in 2003). Additionally, the relatively similar frequency in Morocco and Iran, despite the latter nation being strong influenced by Turkic migration (25-30% of Iranian citizens are ethnically Turk), and the former not at all, leads to me wonder if there may be convergence or parallelism, rather than common ancestry, at work (or, more likely, a combination of both). The relationship between Morocco and Japan to the Silk Road in a direct fashion is tenuous at best. These were two polities which managed to be just outside the maximum expanse of Turanian empires. The Japanese famously repulsed the Mongol invasion ordered by Kublai Khan, while the Arab rulers of Morocco never fell under Ottoman control.And the early documentation by Hippocrates makes me wonder at the frequency of the disease in Greece itself. Greeks presumably contributed to the ancestry of modern Anatolian Turks, but it is far less likely because of the nature of the Ottoman system that Turks would have contributed to the ancestry of Greeks. I can’t find prevalence data for Greece, but it may be an open question in what direction the disease spread along the Silk Road.

ResearchBlogging.orgBut studies like these are nice because they are steps to overcoming one of the main issues with genome-wide associations: they use a narrow population sample, and so are not of necessary world wide relevance. Remember that even if a risk allele is not the direct cause of the disease, if it is closely associated with that alleles which are, it is of diagnostic utility. At least within that particular population. This study used groups from western and eastern Eurasia to check the power of particular single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to predict disease risk. First, Genome-wide association studies identify IL23R-IL12RB2 and IL10 as Behçet’s disease susceptibility loci:

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