Amongst the believers

I don’t post Creationist related stuff often, but Harun Yahya always brings out the funny in people. So check this out, In France, a Muslim offensive against evolution. First, some standard dullness:

Dressed in a traditional black robe decorated with rhinestones and a white veil that she wears “only” when she comes to the mosque, Maroua admits that she has always wondered about “the dinosaurs and the origin of man…but at school, it cannot be refuted: we’re taught that man descended from monkeys. At home and in the Koran, [we’re taught] that we descended from Adam and Eve, and that God created all living beings.”

Ali Sadun Engin, Yahya’s representative in the current tour of French mosques, seems to have convinced the young girl. “I find his explanations logical,” she says. The proof for creationism is demonstrated with some perfunctory presentations of fossils, including bear, crocodile, and tortoise skulls, and can be summarized in a few brief sentences: “If fish left the water to walk, if dinosaurs were transformed into birds, then we should discover fossils of these beings in transition. However this is not the case. Science thus shows one sole truth: creation as we know it from the Koran.”….

But it starts to get really weird:

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Mediterranean men on the move

ResearchBlogging.orgSeriously, sometimes history matches fiction a lot more than we’d have expected, or wished. In the early 2000s the Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes observed a pattern of discordance between the spatial distribution of male mediated ancestry on the nonrecombinant Y chromosome (NRY) and female mediated ancestry in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). To explains this he offered a somewhat sensationalist narrative to the press about possible repeated instances of male genocide against lineage groups who lost in conflicts.

Here is a portion of the book of Numbers in the Bible:

15 – And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

16 – Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

17 – Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18 – But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Then there is the rape of the Sabine women. The ethnogenesis of the mestizo and mulatto populations of the New World in large part was the union between non-European women and European men. These are hard brutal myths and hard brutal facts. But do they reflect an essential aspect of the dynamics which have shaped our species’ past?

I’m not willing quite yet to add a confident weight upon this possibility, but this seems to be part at least part of the picture. You see a major disjunction on male and female lineages among South Asians for example. A new paper in PNAS adds weight to this possibility, albeit only incrementally. Ancient DNA reveals male diffusion through the Neolithic Mediterranean route:

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Ban them! (including ancestry analysis)

Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Neither Accurate in Their Predictions nor Beneficial to Individuals, Study Suggests:

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests give inaccurate predictions of disease risks and many European geneticists believe that some of them should be banned, the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics heard May 31….

Here’s the abstract for the talk which argued that DTC companies don’t give the best disease risk estimates:

Objective: Direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies predict risks of common complex diseases on the basis of genetic markers. Given the low number of markers involved and their small effect sizes, it is unclear whether high-risk groups can be identified. We investigated the risk distributions generated by two DTC companies for 8 diseases.

Methods: We simulated genotype data for 100,000 individuals based on published genotype frequencies. Predicted risks were obtained using the formulas and risk data provided by the companies.

Results: The table presents observed and trimmed ranges of predicted risks. The two companies used different formulas to calculate risks. One company predicted risks higher than 100% for 5 out of 8 diseases, which for AMD concerned 1 in 200 individuals. Observed ranges were smaller for the second company, except for Type 1 Diabetes. Predicted risks higher than 50% were frequently observed for company 1, but were exceptions for company 2. When predicted risks of company 1 were calculated using the formulas of company 2, observed ranges were substantially smaller.

Since I don’t put much stock in the small effect disease risk predictions currently, I am not surprised. But I’d be curious to look at the guts of their results. This was presented at conference, so some caution has to enter into the picture. The main issue I’d always want to emphasize with critiques of the lack of efficacy of DTC is that they need to be evaluated against the baseline of the limits to the efficacy of medical professionals and medicine in general. Genomics and DNA doesn’t make something magical, whether for good or ill.

The second presentation covered in the ScienceDaily release is kind of more disturbing to me. Here’s the abstract:

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The mess that is mouse

Recently an evolutionary geneticist told me that his colleagues who worked with mice really didn’t have their stuff together. Actually, his language was a touch more colorful than that. But the gist of the argument seemed plausible enough to me. I tend to avoid reading papers using the mouse as a model organism in genetics because I recall getting confused by the pedigrees and various strain acronyms and abbreviations (nonstandard acronyms and abbreviations have also been a problem for me whenever I try to read developmental genetics). If I want to look at the genetics of a mammal besides a human being I often like to focus on dogs. The breeds of dogs actually mean something to me. There’s only so many skinned mouse hides I want to stare at.

ResearchBlogging.orgWith all that said there is a huge scientific complex devoted to the mouse. If the house of mouse is a mess, then someone needs to do cleaning at some point. A new paper in Nature Genetics starts the process, using SNPs and variable intensity oligonucleotides (VINOs) to assess the relationships between distinct lab strains as well as wild subspecies. Ignorant as I am of the biology of the mouse I was vaguely aware that like elegans much of the laboratory stock derives from a very small founding population. In psychology there’s the problem of the outlook and dispositions of Western university students getting extrapolated to the whole species of man, so I have wondered about this problem for some of the model organisms now then. If you’re studying very general biological processes this shouldn’t be that big of an issue, but for evolution obviously characterizing the nature of variation is of the essence.

The paper title & the abstract, Subspecific origin and haplotype diversity in the laboratory mouse:

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Hope before the fall

I think it is pretty irrational to bet on the Mavericks against the Heat in the NBA Finals. And since my Celtics lost I haven’t been following what’s going on closely, but I hope Jason Kidd gets his ring. He’s had some ups and downs, but I do remember being amazed by him when he was a freshman at Cal (though watching tape of Magic it was clear that he had the same panache when it came to assists):

Incredible human journeys (and more)

A reader pointed out that the BBC series The Incredible Human Journey is online on YouTube thanks to the WhyEvolutionIsTrue channel. You can find all the episodes here. I’ve embedded episode 1 below. For what it’s worth I am no longer am confident that we should start these sorts of narratives like the presenter does, by suggesting that “a handful of African families could become a whole world of people.” I suspect that the emergence of modern humans is not so neat & tidy.

The rise and fall of societies in Greenland

I have no idea when the paper will be on PNAS‘s website, so I thought I would at least point to the ScienceDaily release, Climate Played Big Role in Vikings’ Disappearance from Greenland:

Greenland’s early Viking settlers were subjected to rapidly changing climate. Temperatures plunged several degrees in a span of decades, according to research from Brown University. A reconstruction of 5,600 years of climate history from lakes near the Norse settlement in western Greenland also shows how climate affected the Dorset and Saqqaq cultures…..

The Dorset were the non-European population which preceded the Inuit, and the Saqqaq preceded them. Last year Nature published a paper based on 350,000 SNPs from an ancient Saqqaq male which showed that he was related to modern Siberian peoples, and not to the later Inuit. That’s at least a very clear argument for why we should be very cautious about extrapolating from the genetic patterns of the present back to the past (and to be fair, poking around Google Books it seems that the archaeologists were skeptical of continuity between Saqqaq and Dorset cultures on empirical grounds, even if their theoretical disposition tended toward establishing an evolutionary relationship between the two).

One major issue which always seems to crop up when it comes to climate & culture is that Greenland seems to be the favorite example of a given pet theory for the rise & fall of societies. This is because in Greenland’s case it’s obviously really on the margin of habitability, so a slight shift in the climatic regime may drive a population to extinction. I hope that the paper has a sophisticated accounting of this possibility though, because it is kind of useless to talk about an exogenous factor like climate without also considering the contextual issues. Some historians argue that one reason the Norse of Greenland “died out” is that at the end of the day they didn’t need to adapt, they could evacuate to nearby Iceland, which is what some scholars argued occurred in the early 1400s. The church records clearly indicate that there were marriages between Greenlanders and Icelanders during that period.

Fun with Google Correlate

A few people have pointed me to Google Correlate. Google says that this tool is like “Google Trends in reverse.” You know I love Google Trends, so of course I’m going to poke around Google Correlate. The tool shows you the strongest correlations by query over time, as well as concentrations and correlations of the query by state. So here’s the distribution for “Jesus”:

If you know something about the United States, I assume you aren’t surprised. But how about something like “Krishna?”

Does this make sense to you? What’s up with New Jersey? As a proportion it has by far the greatest number of Indian Americans. (the #1 correlate is “Radha,” which makes sense)

How about something more obscure? OK, “Ludwig von Mises”:

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Less fear of the flu for asthmatics?

One of the reasons I tend toward a bit of hypochondria is probably the fact that what for others are inconvenient minor ailments often trigger my asthma. So nice to see this, Why Does Flu Trigger Asthma?:

When children with asthma get the flu, they often land in the hospital gasping for air. Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston have found a previously unknown biological pathway explaining why influenza induces asthma attacks. Studies in a mouse model, published online May 29 by the journal Nature Immunology, reveal that influenza activates a newly recognized group of immune cells called natural helper cells — presenting a completely new set of drug targets for asthma.

If activation of these cells, or their asthma-inducing secretions, could be blocked, asthmatic children could be more effectively protected when they get the flu and possibly other viral infections, says senior investigator Dale Umetsu, MD, PhD, of Children’s Division of Immunology.

Although most asthma is allergic in nature, attacks triggered by viral infection tend to be what put children in the hospital, reflecting the fact that this type of asthma isn’t well controlled by existing drugs.

For various reasons I’m moderately skeptical of incremental improvements in life expectancy in developed nations through drugs. But, I do think there are plenty of possibilities when it comes to reducing morbidity, and therefore increasing productivity of a life well lived.