If you haven’t, check out the Leigh Van Valen obituary in The New York Times. I hadn’t been aware of the breadth of his work, and the disciplinary range he showed over his career.
Month: October 2010
On the "liberal gene"
Jim Manzi has already posted on the warranted skepticism of DRD4 being reported in the press as the “liberal gene.” Here’s the original paper. The main issue I have is not with the original research, but the inevitable confusions in the media which always arise. First, we know that complex behavioral phenotypes such as religiosity and personality seem to be heritable. That is, a set of genetic variants within the population seems to track the variation in the trait (just as with I.Q.). But, it’s been a much longer haul to actually connect a specific genetic locus to said variation, though the dopamine related genes are always brought forward as candidates. Additionally, particularly when it comes to politics there’s the norm of reaction looming. One might grant that same genetic variation which predisposes Swedes in Sweden to being on the Left or the Right is operative among ethnic Swedes in Minnesota, but most of the difference is actually between population, and a function of the differing environmental milieus of the Upper Midwest and Scandinavia (though perhaps there were strong selection effects operating upon those who chose to leave Scandinavia for the USA). Finally, as with personality, there’s the problem of characterizing the phenotype in the first place in political orientation. Not insoluble in my opinion, but far less clear than something like height, or even intelligence.
The big picture is that variation on most complex behavioral traits has some upstream genetic correlates. And, we can get some sense of the magnitude (or lack thereof) of the effect in a given environment. But like fMRI the introduction of DNA probably adds more glitz than substance at this point. We’ve long known many traits which we think as purely reflective and environmental have a partial biological basis in disposition. Clearly an area to be continued….
Election 2010 Predictions
For Congress, I think that the breakdown will be:
Senate – 50 Republicans, 50 Democrats
House – 240 Republicans, 195 Democrats
My reasoning? I just took FiveThirtyEight‘s numbers and shaded them a bit to the Republican side. There’s no point in making predictions unless you predict something novel and a bit off expectations. Additionally, since the readership here leans a little Left I am inclined to tweak you guys a bit and make the political Götterdämmerung even more terrifying, though I didn’t want to push my luck and give you an implausible value which you’d reject on the face of it.
Image Credit: Therealbs2002, Wikimedia Commons
Have ADMIXTURE run on your genetic data
The last 24 hours of the initial sample collection phase of the Dodecad Ancestry Project are upon us. So if you have raw 23andMe data, you got a day to send it in, if you’re of the following groups:
-Greeks (not necessarily from Greece: Cypriots, Pontic Greeks from the former USSR, North Epirotes, Griko speakers from Italy, -Muslim rumca speakers from Turkey, etc. are all accepted)
-People from the Balkans
-People from Anatolia
-People from the Caucasus
-Non-Indo-European speakers from Europe (e.g., Finns, Hungarians, Basques)
-Scandinavians and Icelanders
-Jews from Italy, the Balkans, or Anatolia
The point of the project is to get a better picture of genetic variation in Eurasia, especially in undersampled groups.
The global human – II
A reader pointed me to a second composite image of a “global human.” It is “a composite itself from four composite of Northwest European, South & West Asian, East Asian and African faces….” I was very taken aback by this face, because it was familiar: staring back at me is a younger variant of the faces of my maternal uncles! I asked a friend who has met my family their impression of the photo without a preface, and they immediately wondered if it was a stylized representation of one of my mother’s male relatives.
The possible impossibility of truth and the importance of incorrectness
In the post below on the genetic history of India, or earlier when discussing the revisions of European prehistory, one general trend that is cropping up is that the future seems more complex and muddled than we’d presumed. This introduces the real possibility that in the foreseeable future we won’t be able to opine with any credibility about the nature of the pre-literate past, because our tools are good enough to falsify simple models, but not powerful enough to distinguish between the set of more complex models. In contrast, ten years ago when it came to the expansion of farming in Europe on offer we had simple and clear dichotomies; demic diffusion of Anatolian farmers vs. cultural diffusion of farming techniques along trade routes. Ten years ago when it came to India we are mooting the possibilities between elite transmission of Indo-European language, versus demographically significant migrations into South Asia bringing the Indo-Aryan dialects.
Open Thread – October 30th, 2010
Oren Harman, author of The Price of Altruism is on BHTV. Recommended.
Coon and friends
This week’s episode of South Park was OK, but I really loved this take off on a scene from A Clockwork Orange:
My Dodecad results
A few days ago Dienekes opened up the Dodecad project to a wider range of Eurasians. I decided to send my 23andMe sample to Dienekes ASAP, and the results came back today. I’m DOD075. Dienekes also just put up an explanation of the 10 ancestral components he’s generating from ADMIXTURE (along with tree-like representations of their distances). Below I’ve placed myself in the more local context of populations to which I’m close to:
Friday Fluff – October 29th, 2010
1. First, a post from the past: Atheism, Heresy and Hesychasm. I used to post about religion a lot more, especially in the fall of 2006. That was back when ScienceBlogs was small enough and tight enough to have a back & forth discussion among the weblogs pretty easily. I also was working a lot of hours at my job at the time and that imposed a sort of tight discipline on me, I remember hustling off posts after work, before sleep, and on Saturday (into schedule queue).