Less intelligent still oppose gay marriage (on average)


The WORDSUM variable in the General Social Survey has a correlation of 0.71 with general intelligence. That is, IQ. As you can see in the figure above the distribution isn’t quite normal, though those with at least a college degree are skewed toward having higher scores. A 10 out of 10 means getting the definition of all 10 vocabulary words on the test correct. A 0 out of 10 means the converse.

It’s often illuminating to see how WORDSUM tracks social views. My rule of thumb is that if an overwhelming skew of the intelligent is toward one particular opinion, that will determine social policy. To me that explains why Creationism has had only spotty traction in this country’s public schools despite relatively broad avowed support for “equal time” in the classrooms in the interests of fairness. While the liberal elites are uniformly opposed to this, the conservative elites are divided.

Looking at attitudes toward abortion by intelligence also sheds some light why this political debate seems to be an eternal feature of the American landscape since the 1970s. I took WORDSUM and combined 0 to 4, 5 to 7, and 8 to 10. You can think of these as the “dumb,” “average”, and “smart.” Then I compared them to the ABANY variable in the 1980s and 2000s. This asks whether respondents think a pregnant woman should be allowed to have an abortion for any reason. The results are below.


As you can see, there is almost no change over the past generation.

Now what about gay marriage? You can probably guess where I’m going with this. No matter what intellectual Christians say I believe that this generation will come to pass such that the vast majority of Christians will accept gay marriage and their faith as compatible. More precisely, I believe that by the year 2100 the majority of the world’s Christian population is likely to be accepting of gay marriage.

Personally it has been interesting to see how attitudes have changed. In my own family individuals who were opposed to gay marriage ten years ago have now put a rainbow filter on their Facebook profile. More starkly, there are those I know from my adolescent years who are excited about gay marriage now. I grew up in a very conservative area (the county routinely votes 70 percent Republican), and remember debates in classrooms about ballot measures which we all termed “anti-gay”. Now some of those children who argued in favor of these measures are putting rainbow filters on their Facebook profiles!

So how have things changed? The GSS has a variable, MARHOMO, which asks if “Homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another.” It was asked in 1988, and then every few years from 2004 on. I combined those who strongly agree and agree that homosexual couples should have the right to marry. Below is a contrast between 1988, and the 2000s and 2010s, by WORDSUM.


Screenshot - 06292015 - 09:48:18 AMSo what’s next? Some liberals are now opening the debate about polygamy in the interests of fairness and justice (and more broadly construed polyamory). But as you can see from the map to the left polygamy is already legal in much of the world. This experiment has been done. The satirical slogans write themselves: “In the 7th century love for old rich men for many young women won! Back to the future.” A few years ago I put up a post, Monogamous Societies Superior to Polygamous Societies. That’s obviously a judgment that varies by where you stand. If you are the median human, it seems reasonable to me. Polygamous societies have been around for thousands of years. Almost always polygamous means polygynous, not polyandrous or polyamorous. We know the score. Yes, if you take a narrow liberal and liberal hedonic perspective about individual human flourishing it does seem unjust that those who love more than one individual can’t enter into legally binding relationships with those individuals. But the big picture is not so pretty.

220px-Donald_Trump_announcing_latest_David_Blaine_feat_3-altPerhaps this time it will be different. But we have a track record of who enters into polygamous relationships, and who benefits. Polygamy allows extremely powerful and wealthy males to gain access to many women simultaneously. Of course serial monogamy and lack of fidelity show that this isn’t a very tight fix for the perceived problem. But the de jure laws which constrain elite individuals to one official marriage partner serves as a check on this phenomenon.

To put it more plainly, gay marriage has a huge impact on gays, and not much impact on straights (at least non-psychically). Gay marriage is basically an extension of a social-legal apparatus operative among straights to gays. Polygamy is different, in that it tinkers with major parameters of the machinery of the marriage, not simply who can partake. Polygamy does impact straight people, usually in situations where young males must scramble to accrue enough resources to be one of the fortunate men be able to have a wife, and perhaps a few to spare. From the perspective of women they have to consider the option of being a secondary wife of a rich man, as opposed to being the primary wife of a poor man. Enforced monogamy might be a behavioral strategy to dampen status competition and maintain social cohesion for both sexes (in the hunter-gatherer world a sort of serial monogamy was probably the norm). The basic thesis is that mass agricultural society allowed for the evolution of radical inequality, and the social norms of the ethical religions evolved precisely to bring the system back into balance.

Genome architecture in Caenorhabditis

450px-Adult_Caenorhabditis_elegansC. elegans is kind of a big deal, because it is a model organism. Model organisms are a big deal because they illuminate general principles in biological processes, and allow life science to become more than “stamp collecting.” As a practical matter it is also great be part of a model organism community because they are communities. And these scientific cultures have come a long way. It used to be that you had the “fly room.” Today you have the “fly meetings”, which boast ~1,500 scientists attending! (the fact that these meetings are sponsored by the Genetics Society of America should make it quite clear how central Drosophila are in the world of genetics)

51DX03NQH6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For C. elegans Andrew Brown’s In the Beginning Was the Worm: Finding the Secrets of Life in a Tiny Hermaphrodite is the best treatment I know. It’s an organism whose every cell has been mapped, thanks to the sort of bench science labor that’s unlikely to be repeated in the near future. This pinpoint precision in the cytological and morphological structure is one reason my friend Armand Leroi can wax eloquently about elegans. He’s a developmental geneticist. But as Patrick Phillips admitted to me years ago a hermaphroditic selfing species exhibits some deficiencies from a population genetic perspective. C. elegans just doesn’t have that much genetic diversity. Not a big deal if you are exploring molecular genetic mechanisms, but kind of a problem for exploration population variation (unless you are studying H. sapiens, in which case all is forgiven). Luckily, there are “outcrossing” variants of Caenorhabditis out there. These outcrossing lineages are more amenable to traditional population genetic theory, which was developed in the context of sexually reproducing diploid organisms such as Drosophila and humans.

originsgenomearchitectureThis being 2015, to do cutting edge population genetics you need to also develop genomic resources for these exotic outcrossing species of worms. That seems to be exactly what’s happening, as highlighted in a new paper, Reproductive Mode and the Evolution of Genome Size and Structure in Caenorhabditis Nematodes. While elegans is very low in variation (many researchers like to work on isogenic lines which differ by a mutant here and there), some of the outcrossing lineages are very polymorphic. This makes assembly of the genome more difficult for various technical reasons (ergo, for de novo assembly you usually attempt to find an extremely homozygous individual of a given species). On Twitter Patrick offered that they “generated more than 2,000 inbred lines for sequencing and genetic map”, and that over “90% went extinct.” Obviously they got it done, but it was tedious.

Citation: Fierst JL, Willis JH, Thomas CG, Wang W, Reynolds RM, Ahearne TE, et al. (2015) Reproductive Mode and the Evolution of Genome Size and Structure in Caenorhabditis Nematodes. PLoS Genet 11(6): e1005323. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005323
Citation: Fierst JL, Willis JH, Thomas CG, Wang W, Reynolds RM, Ahearne TE, et al. (2015) Reproductive Mode and the Evolution of Genome Size and Structure in Caenorhabditis Nematodes. PLoS Genet 11(6): e1005323. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005323

The above wasn’t a population genomic paper. They didn’t have large sample sizes, nor were they focusing on questions that applied to the microevolutionary scale (within species level lineages). Rather, they were comparing the genomes of Caenorhabditis lineages which diverged on the order of ~30 million years ago. The effective population size difference between selfing and outcrossing lineages is huge, with the authors reporting Ne < 10,000 for C. elegans Ne > 1,000,000 for C. remanei. This is a big deal because variation in effective population size has been argued by many, foremost Mike Lynch, as one of the drivers of the phenomenon of huge genome size differences. Lynch is a fertile mind with many ideas, and if you are curious about them I’d recommend a purchase and read through of The Origins of Genome Architecture. But the upshot from this paper seems to be that the broader thesis of Lynch and his supporters is not favored by these specific results utilizing comparative genomics. Every few years I reread Lynch’s 2005 paper, The Origins of Eukaryotic Gene Structure, because genomics is a rapidly changing field, and many of the predictions and conjectures are now being tested.

Ideally genetics is a science which produces powerful general theories. Actually, it’s not an ideal. It’s the concrete aim. Genetics as a science was forged in the fires of Mendelism. It was a formal and abstract advance over intuitive models of blending inheritance. It worked for 50 years without any knowledge of its concrete biophysical mode of transmission, DNA. With the emergence of genomics, and the fusing of this field with classical genetics, it is expected that one would probe the bounds of generality. E.g., what population genetic parameters influence genome size, or the proportion of the genome that is intergenic, and the number of self genetic elements? The genomic is a rich multi-dimensional topography, and for many organisms we have poor singular drafts. That will change. The quest for the abstract frameworks from which we can deduce and predict will probably come with more data, and the computational power to analyze that data. Almost certainly this will start with the model organisms in the wake of the maturing of human genomics. I’m not sure that the reduction in genome size of selfing organisms says much generally about evolutionary processes, but it’s part of a broader puzzle which needs to be assembled so that genomics moves beyond its exploratory phase of description.

Citation: Fierst JL, Willis JH, Thomas CG, Wang W, Reynolds RM, Ahearne TE, et al. (2015) Reproductive Mode and the Evolution of Genome Size and Structure inCaenorhabditis Nematodes. PLoS Genet 11(6): e1005323. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005323

Open Thread, 6/28/2015

What_Hath_God_Wrought_-_The_Transformation_of_AmericaSectionalism is derived from what I term the “Dark Matter” of American history. These are deep social-cultural norms and values which predate the American Founding, and differentiate disparate regions of our nation. In fact, some of the norms likely predate the discovery of the Americas, and are rooted in ways of life which differentiated British regions by the late medieval period (e.g., independent agro-pastoralists vs. serfs). The books Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America, are good primers on the deep structure in an American context of what I’m referring to. I hadn’t totally realized how important these folkways were in determining one’s world view until I’d read Dianne Purkiss’ The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewomen, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain, as I had a very difficult time not seeing the Puritans in this long forgotten (in the United States) conflict as the “good” side. Why? I had to admit it had a lot to do with the fact that I was American, and in particular, grew up in my formative years in a part of America which was in the shadow of the Puritan legacy. Similarly, when we learned about the Civil War there was no doubt which side was the good side, not just because that’s what seems on the “right side of history” today, but because so many young men left the local area to fight battles far away from their family

903564But what about after the Founding? Two books which are really influential in my thinking about the antebellum republic are The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln and What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. These works take slightly different perspectives. The author of the first, Sean Wilentz, seems to be broadly sympathetic to the transformation of the American republic, whose democratic pretensions were far more understated and disputed in 1800, to a full fledged democratic republic under Andrew Jackson (The Rise of American Democracy can be thought of as an homage to earlier The Age of Jackson). Daniel Walker Howe’s What God Hath Wrought is a more equivocal work, insofar as it seems to tell more the story of the era’s political losers and underdogs, the Whigs and the Northeast. The irony here is that ultimately the Whig views on American political economy arguably won after the Civil War, or were at least dominant. And culturally the industrious and technological society of the North, with roots in Greater New England, but eventually to wash over the Mid-Atlantic, emerged victorious by the end of the 19th century (the failure of the Populists confirms this).

It goes without saying that the Civil War was the great watershed of American history. After this event the idea of the United States as a singular and unitary nation, despite its federal structure, was ascendant. The older model of the United States as a loose federation of states, went into decline (I have heard it stated that the Civil War marked the period when the United States superseded the phrase these United States). To a great extent the arc of history before the Civil War is surprising and alien to moderns. Many college educated Americans are aware of the nadir of American race relations in the late 19th century. But despite the importance of Dred Scott, they are less cognizant of the fact that the 1850s was arguably the first nadir of race relations. Over at Scholars Gate there is a post, There Is No “Right Side” of History that highlights the fact that it was between the Founding and the Civil War that the “Slave Power,” and a fully elaborated formal system of white racial supremacy, emerged in these United States. It was not there at the Founding, though it was already present in chrysalis in many regions of the South with black demographic majorities.

Most educated Americans are aware that there was a hardening of attitudes toward racial slavery in the American South across this period. In the earlier decades the fact of white supremacy was clear and understood, but its implementation was rather fluid. In the 1830s Richard Mentor Johnson was the Vice President of the more avowedly white supremacist party of the time, the Democrats. He also happened to be a man who was well known to have had a common-law marriage with a mixed-race slave, whose daughters he acknowledged as his own. The point in illustrating this anecdote is that it seems likely a man with his biography could not get nominated for high office in the 1930s, but could in the 1830s! Second, along with the rise of white supremacism in the South, the rise of Democratic party populism across much of the North, especially outside Greater New England, produced the concurrent phenomena of dropping of property qualifications from white men along with the abolition or curtailment of voting rights from blacks who had earlier had suffrage (and in some cases women as well!).

Nonzero_-_The_Logic_of_Human_Destiny_coverThis is all relevant because it is rather common today to assert that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” A cursory examination of American history tells us that this is often not true on the 100 year scale. I would agree with the broader thesis outlined by Robert Wright in Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, that non-zero sum interactions result in increased human flourishing over the long term. But, that is on the scale of 1,000 years, not 100 years. You can ask the Romans of St. Augustine’s day, or those who watched Argentina’s decline in prosperity across the 20th century. A little history would help, because it keeps our “theory” in check. Unfortunately our social and political elites are history-poor, let alone the average person on the street.

Second, I have a piece in USA Today: Dolezal’s delusion, with Alex Berezow. It’s short & sweet, and I doubt regular readers will be illuminated by novel insights. Our basic contention is that race is both biological and social, and you can’t reduce it to either. This strikes me as common sense, but it does have to be restated in our day and age. Despite the fact that we are a young and relatively homogeneous species, genetic variation apportioned by geography and shaped by history is real, important, and non-arbitrary.

People keep asking me if there is an update to History and Geography of Human Genes. I keep saying wait until next year, because there’s a prominent geneticist working on such a book. But, the “problem” is that there are so many results right now that it might be more advised to simply wait five years or so until the rate of change has leveled off.

Also, re: gay marriage. At the secular humanism conference a few years ago I made the case that rather than focus on gay marriage as a route purely to individual happiness and autonomy, it was important to focus on the issue of what we want a flourishing society to be. That is, evaluate utility as more than the sum of its parts. With less than ten percent of the population being gay, and legal monogamy being the aim, unlike many social conservatives I don’t see this as the End Times for Western civilization. Contra Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, I also think Christians will quickly make peace with gay marriage.

Something which has cropped up on Facebook among some of my more culturally radical friends is the idea that the problem with gay marriage is that it is a victory for a particular vision of straight monogamous fidelity and the nuclear family. Anyone who is familiar with the most radical currents of sexual liberation of the 60s and 70s knows where this is coming from. Freddie deBoer elaborates a more straightforward liberal individualist argument in favor of polygamy, which is actually a traditional form of marriage in much of the world. The key point to emphasize is that love doesn’t, and shouldn’t, win always. To give a currently non-controversial example, sexual relations between people with differing levels of powers, or radically different ages, was more acceptable among cultural liberals than gay sex in the 1970s. Today gay sex between adults is not that controversial, but sex between minors and adults is even more controversial. Similarly, despite more toleration of premarital sex among younger generations, they have fewer partners than in the past. I suspect social conservatives are going to be happily disappointed with how little impact on cultural mores the legalization of gay marriage is going to have, while sexual radicals will also observe that the co-option of “queer culture” will proceed rapidly over the next generation.

Sorry I haven’t been very engaged in comments recently. I was traveling up the California coast, and was monitoring comments mostly through my phone. I haven’t been able to even fully digest some of the comments, so that’s why I haven’t responded.

First Peoples: it’s complicated

"Sapiens neanderthal comparison" by hairymuseummatt - http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmnh/3033749380/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sapiens_neanderthal_comparison.jpg#/media/File:Sapiens_neanderthal_comparison.jpg

First Peoples is PBS’ attempts to update the story of human evolution for 2015, particularly informed by the ancient DNA revolution of the past 5 years. It is worth watching, but not without its faults. The first two episodes are online, and I’ve watched them. Kristina Kilgrove at Forbes has a review of the whole series up. Below are some impressions of the first two episodes.

300px-Namibian_Bushmen_GirlsOne immediate problem is that modern actors have to play the “First Peoples” in reenactments. This imposes limitations. The Africa episode begins with Omo 1, one of the first anatomically modern humans in the fossil record. When dramatically depicting his life and death the actors used looked vaguely East African to me. This stands to reason because Omo 1 died in southwest Ethiopia. But this individual died between 100 and 200 thousand years ago! There’s been a lot of population movement, and evolutionary change, between then and now. There’s no reason to assume that modern Africans are a good representation of ancient hominins who were resident within Africa. The Khoisan people of southern Africa, whose ancestry diverged first from the rest of modern humanity 150 to 200 thousand years ago, look notably different from their Bantu speaking neighbors. The Nilotic Luo of Kenya look different from their Bantu speaking Kikuyu neighbors. And so forth.

To be fair, there is a vaguely similar phenotype among some non-African people in relationship African groups. Melanesians and Andaman Islanders come to mind. Remember, these “African-looking” Asian and Oceanian groups are genetically no closer to Africans than a Swede or Native American (Oceanians are actually somewhat further because of more Denisovan admixture). The best modern genetic data point to common descent for non-Africans from one ancestral population, so that their descendants are symmetrically distinct from all Africans without recent Eurasian admixture.

The important point to remember with these phenotypic racial categories is that these groups are only vaguely similar. Even a geneticist like me can tell that Papuan Highlanders look quite distinct from any African group. Phenotypic variation among Sub-Saharan Africans, Oceanians, and Negrito Asian peoples, should tell us that the human populations of African 100 to 200 thousand years ago were probably also somewhat diverse, even if their expected range of variation is not arbitrary (e.g., it is likely that their skin was on the dark side; loci for pigmentation are somewhat functionally constrained around the tropics). But the expectation should not be overwhelming that modern Africans more accurately reflect the ancestral phenotype of tropical adapted modern humans than, say, Bogainville Islanders.*

My nit with this issue is that it feeds into a larger narrative of “ancient people” and “living fossils.” In the Africa episode the narrator states that Pygmies are closer to the earliest anatomically modern humans. This is wrong. All modern human populations are about equal close to the earliest anatomically modern humans. The main qualification here is that likely all of us have different proportions of ancestry form distinct “archaic” lineages. That is, hominin groups which are outside of the main branch that contributed between 90 to 99 percent of our ancestry. It does seem that the ancestors of the Pygmy groups of Central Africa are the second most basal group of humans in comparison to non-Africans (the most basal being Khoisan). But the generations between early humans and modern Pygmies is about the same as that between early humans and Europeans or Asians or Oceanians. Though we aren’t totally sure from what I know, it also seems likely that the earliest modern humans were residents of the open woodland ecology, and not the deep forest. The presence of Pygmy-like groups across tropical forest biomes from Gabon to the Philippines suggests that in fact this is a derived phenotype. An evolutionary change from the ancestral state.

519gldjJoAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In general First Peoples does a rather good job by the standards of the media not recycling older models which have embedded an implicit “Great Change of Being.” Though I would find some minor fault in their depiction of the phylogenetic relationship of Pygmies and the first humans and humans more generally, their treatment of hybridization was mixed as best, and misleading at worst. In particular, the attitude toward the idea of species was confused and incoherent. The biological species concept (BSC) comes closest to colloquial understandings of what species are, but First Peoples seems to crystallize this framework as if it was an indubitable iron law of nature. With that in mind, rather frequent instances of hybridization between divergent hominin lineages seem more startling, adding dramatic twists to the narrative. The problem I have with this is that most biologists I know view the BSC as just one of many species concepts. It’s not written in stone, but rather, an instrumental device in getting science done. Obviously the biological species concept, predicated on sexual reproduction, is irrelevant for asexual organisms. Additionally, there are wide swaths of the tree of life where hybridization is ubiquitous. In particular, plants. It is in mammals, with our peculiar system of reproduction which involves rather complex mechanisms of gestation, that hybridization barriers are particularly high. But even among mammals there is variation in obstacles to hybridization conditional on placenta type.

With all that in mind it’s pretty unsurprising, with hindsight, that there was gene flow across diverged hominin lineages. First Peoples itself acknowledges this likelihood by referencing research on baboon hybrid zones, and asserting that this phenomenon might be totally par for the course among primates. There’s nothing special about humans biological makeup then that would preclude hybridization.

Not only does hybridization play a role in the emergence of new human traits (one researcher seems to imply that human faces are subject to a liger-like effect), but John Hawks seems to posit a multi-regionalist like model for the origin of modern human within Africa, whereby hybridization between lineages eventually produced a complex suite of characters which define modern humans. More specifically Hawks points to the archaeological record that suggests contacts all across the continent, which would also likely mediate gene flow from different African hominin groups. This is set as a counterpoint to the classic “African Eve” narrative, informed by mtDNA, in the 1980s. This model is illustrated by an explosion from a small East African group 50 to 100 thousand years ago, as it swept across the continent, and then the world. Today, we know the reality was more complex, and Hawks presents a reasonable contrast in perspective.


The most recent evidence, informed by genomics, indicates that the migration out of Africa was the major bottleneck. Within Africa the situation is less clear. Hawks thesis of a sort of multi-regionalist network of hominin lineages may be correct. In fact much of human evolutionary may be characterized by a series of alternating phases of multi-regional evolution mediated by gene flow and admixture, along with rapid demographic expansions whereby one lineage overwhelms the others (much of this may be due to cultural changes and inter-group dynamics). This is a complicated model, and hard to render in TV-friendly units of consumption. I feel for the producers of First Peoples.

Which brings me to a quibble about the America episode. Overall I really enjoyed how they framed the slow erosion of the Clovis overkill hypothesis. I’ll be honest that the “unveiling” of the Kennewick Man results, which suggest that he was the ancestor of modern groups in the region, was overly dramatic for me. But the biggest issue I had is that it oversimplifies the peopling of the Americas. It does seem that the New World was predominantly populated by the first wave out of Berengia, but there is also genetic evidence that later waves were significant, even in the Kennewick results themselves!

First Peoples is worth watching. Definitely a step forward, as they put a lot of new concepts in front of the general public. But everyone is still figuring things out, the science, and how to present it to people. I’d say that you just have to remember this is an alpha version, and if you want to know the whole story you had better do your follow up.

* Let me be clear here that I understand that some prejudice should be given to the African phenotypes as being more likely, as that continent was the ancestral home with particular environmental conditions which have not varied. And, Oceanians have admixture from other hominin lineages. But to me the priors are not such that the case is overwhelming. Ancient modern humans may have looked nothing like any extant population!

The False Dawn of modern humans in Eurasia


A little over a month ago I asserted that “The Cro-Magnons Have No Descendants in Europe Today”. By “Cro-Magnon” I really meant the modern humans who spread the Aurignacian culture through the continent ~40,000 years ago (that is explicitly stated in the post). This was the first human culture across the continent associated with populations which had recently expanded out of Africa, and are termed “anatomically modern.” A few weeks ago in The New York Times Carl Zimmer on recent ancient DNA results from the past 10,000 year clarifying ancient and modern population relationships had a line, “The first [“Western European hunter-gatherers, WHG, -Razib] were hunter-gatherers who arrived some 45,000 years ago in Europe. Then came farmers who arrived from the Near East about 8,000 years ago.” I responded on Twitter to Carl that it seemed very unlikely that the ancestry of European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers dated to the initial settlement of the continent 45,000 years ago. On Twitter I offered up that a proportion of ancestry on the order of 1% might be possible to Chris Stringer.

Why did I say this? Because ancient DNA over the past few years has indicated that across much of Eurasia population turnover has been very common on a 10,000 year time scale (see Joe Pickrell and David Reich’s review for details). With that in mind, why would one expect that European hunter-gatherers would exhibit population continuity across the more than 30 thousand years between the initial replacement of Neanderthals ~40 thousand years ago, to the first arrival of farmers? Not to mention the non-trivial fact that the Last Glacial Maximum was situated right in the middle of this period. The fact is that many of the ancient DNA results suggest that the populations which defined the range expansion of humans across Eurasia were characterized by very small breeding populations. Not only would these be subject to genetic risk of extinction via mutational meltdown, but small populations are more vulnerable to stochastic environmental events which result in range contractions. This also applies to “archaic” hominins; Neanderthals and the Denisovan human seem to be either inbred or genetically homogeneous. The Neanderthal samples from the Altai all the way to Western Europe are much more closely related than is plausible for a lineage whose regional geographic populations exhibit time depths of hundreds of thousands of years (at minimum Neanderthals flourished for ~100 thousand years, but to my knowledge the extant individuals are not that different at all).

Another reason I made that statement is that people have been leaving telltale clues for a while. Nothing explicit, but sometimes you can infer things from radio silence. In any case, here’s the Nature paper on the Romanian ancient sample dating from ~40,000 years before the present, An early modern human from Romania with a recent Neanderthal ancestor. From the last paragraph of the discussion:

The Oase 1 genome shows that mixture between modern humans and Neanderthals was not limited to the first ancestors of present-day people to leave Africa, or to people in the Near East; it occurred later as well and probably in Europe. The fact that the Oase 1 individual had a Neanderthal ancestor removed by only four to six generations allows this Neanderthal admixture to be dated to less than 200 years before the time he lived. However, the absence of a clear relationship of the Oase 1 individual to later modern humans in Europe suggests that he may have been a member of an initial early modern human population that interbred with Neanderthals but did not contribute much to later European populations….

Modern Europeans can be thought of as compounds. The first element are a set of populations which descend from, or are genetically very close in nature to, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who likely descend from groups extant during the late Pleistocene on the fringes of the continent. The second element seems to be a population which is an outgroup to all other non-Africans. That is, this group diverged from the ancestors, jointly, of European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, the people which gave rise of the Mal’ta boy, as well as Oceanians, East Asians and Andaman Islanders. Like the “Ancestral South Indians” my impression is that this group does not exist in “pure” form today, but rather must be inferred. As this 40 thousand year old individual from Peştera cu Oase, Romania, is no closer to Europeans than to East Asians, it seems implausible that it was ancestral in any substantial fraction to modern Europeans. The third element has affinities to central Eurasian groups.

51yuNuckdiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Influenced in part by Clive Finlayson’s The Humans Who Went Extinct, I think it seems likely that the earliest group in western Eurasia to contribute substantial ancestry to modern Europeans are the Gravettians. Though even they flourished prior to the Last Glacial Maximum, so this is not assured in my mind. But it seems plausible to me that the population cluster which David Reich’s lab term “Ancient North Eurasian” (ANE) may have diverged from that ancestral to Mesolithic Western European hunter-gatherers as the Gravettian culture spread and subdivided.

The main fly in the ointment of this narrative is the Kostenki 14 remains, which date to a few thousand years later than Oase 1, and is from its north and east (the Don river valley). Kostenki 14 seems to exhibit all the hallmarks of carrying the signatures of ancestry which define Northern Europeans. That is, the hunter-gatherer heritage, the mysterious Eurasian element defined by the Mal’ta boy and found in Native Americans and brought to Europe by groups from the east ~4,000 years ago. So where does that leave us? My understanding is that people don’t have good clarity on Kostenki 14 right now. But the possibility that most ancient human populations left no descendants would be an easy explanation. It was an earlier admixture of the basic elements which came together again during the Holocene.

Addendum: A minor aspect is to note how Y and mtDNA may give different inferences. I suspect that that is a function of the fact that we don’t know about the ancient distribution of the Y and mtDNA well enough.

Why CGI will not eliminate porn actresses

4146cuHZENL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Strange as it may be to say this, but the film San Andreas made me reflect on the nature of particular service sector professions, and their future, recently. It was typical for its genre. Very little plot or characterization (less than a week out I’m still vague on these aspects), and a lot of CGI. A lot. Dwayne Johnson plays the father of Alexandra Daddario, with Carla Gugino plausibly cast as the mother. In fact, Daddario resembles Gugino enough that you might wonder about the possibility of genomic imprinting. But the real star was the CGI.

Alexandra_Daddario_April_2015And the effects overwhelmed the acting so much that it made wonder again when actors will become totally dispensable. The “comic book movie” genre is already known for being driven more by special effects and the characters than the actors who play them (with the notable exception of Robert Downey Jr.). Which brings me to porn. Recently a controversial documentary came out, Hot Girls Wanted, about a group of young women living a house and trying to break into the industry (the controversy is not the porn, but rather how the women and the industry were depicted). One event in the film is that one of the actresses quits because of family pressure. It has to be admitted that In relation to porn many men are quite happy for it to be around, but would be aghast if any women in their personal social network participated in the industry. So perhaps CGI the answer to this tension? Once you have CGI good enough to simulate real actors, it would be pretty easy to apply to pornography. And porn has some major downsides which would be obviated by CGI “performers.”

But it wouldn’t be so easy, and that is because demand for flesh & blood performers will always be there. In How Pleasure Works Paul Bloom teases out the implications of the latest cognitive psychology in this domain, making extensive recourse to concepts such as “aliefs.” The easiest way for me to illustrate what an alief is is to give an example. Imagine that you see someone use the raw ingredients of fudge brownies to construct the simulacrum of feces. You know for a fact that the faux-feces are not feces, and in fact are delicious fudge brownies…which happen to look like feces. Your beliefs about this are informed by copious facts at hand. But many individuals would nevertheless exhibit difficulty and aversion in consuming these faux-feces. Deep in your bones are concepts and ideas about entities which inform how you react to them. In simple “objective” hedonic units of sensory qualia a $200 dollar wine may not be superior to a $10 wine, but the knowledge that the $200 wine is expensive, rare, and from France (as opposed to California or Australia for the $10 wine), can actually impact how you experience the taste.

414IU4oOQnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Paul Bloom asserts that we are all born essentialists (see Descartes’ Baby). And this fact about human nature is probably why we pay so much for “artisanal.” Artisanal isn’t necessarily better in a reductionist sense that Jeremy Bentham would recognize. But people appreciate the products better because of their history of production, and who made them. In short, a service isn’t just about what, it’s about who. Which brings me back to porn. At some point in the very near future software will get good enough to mass produce pornography where the performers are virtual. Likely these performers will be produced “on the fly” by consumer preferences (e.g., there almost certainly is someone out there who prefers blonde Asian females with small breasts and large buttocks). In terms of raw dimensions, and flawlessness of skin, they will blow real actresses out of the water. But one of the appeals of “amateur porn” for many consumers is who the performers are. That means there will be a demand for “real” porn by “real” women. Artisanally produced porn, not the faceless (in a metaphorical sense) output from a well tuned algorithm. Of course the CGI can simulate the more rough and natural “artisinal” look, so there will be authenticating agencies or firms so that consumers know that these girls are actually “real amateurs.”

This line of argument could apply to many service sector activities. In the near to medium term future it seems plausible that the bottom 90% of the population will be employed in occupations which serve the demand of the top 10% for “authentic” human servility and handcrafts.

Open Thread, 6/21/2015

CoverReadingInTheBrainThe experience of Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read is strange. After all, you are reading about the science of reading. So as you read, you become more explicitly conscious of the cognitive processes which allow you to read in the first place. I encountered Dehaene first via the The Number Sense 13 years ago. Why the big gap between reading him again, despite my appreciation for this dense by accessible prose? It reflects the fact that my “book diet” has shifted away from cognitive neuroscience a lot since then. In particular, since I started on my journey toward becoming a professional geneticist I’ve been subject to a sort of tunnel vision . There’s something about academic science is sucks many people into hyper-specialization, and I’m not immune obviously. Other areas of biology outside of genetics, and in particular genomics, strike me as terra incognita now. The same problem doesn’t hit me when it comes to history, religion, philosophy, etc. Perhaps because these are less technical fields more open to generalists.

I’ve been away from the internet mostly this week, except my phone. Speaking of which, going to a child-friendly museum or park is somewhat difficult today because so many people are taking pictures with their phones. To be polite you have to stop a lot so as not to occlude the photo, but after a while it gets kind of ridiculous, as you are dodging so many lines of sight. I think “Google Contacts”, where individuals can snap photos sliced out of their day to day perception would be an improvement on this.

Finally, the Kennewick Man paper is out. It’s open access, so read it. The basic results were leaked by the press a while back. Kennewick Man seems to be ancestral to modern Native American stock. Intriguingly though he is not symmetrically related to all Native Americans, not even all “First Americans” (a la Reich lab terminology for the descendants of the first wave out of Berengia, who contributed most of the ancestry of Amerindians). Also, the morphology as reflected in skeletal features would not have resolved these issues definitively. On an individual level these phenotypes are too noisy to make robust population level inferences in many, though not all, cases.

The Aryan Invasion Was Not Fantasy

51IQSePVDRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If there is one Peter Heather book you should read because it is timely, it is Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe. In it Heather makes an apologia for a revisionist view which resurrects some aspects of the old folk migration theories, and understandings of the arrival of barbarians into the collapsing Roman order of the middle of the first millennium. This is in contrast to the conventional view of modern archaeologists and historians which posits that the barbarian invasion was more a change of power to the elites, with the emergence of ethnic identities and coalitions almost in an ad hoc fashion among groups of mercenaries who took control from their paymasters. Heather does not posit total replacement of the indigenous population. In fact, it turns out in the best case scenario for such an event, in what became Anglo-Saxon England, the genetic data does not support such a proposition. Rather, there was an amalgamation between a culturally dominant intrusive minority, and the indigenous majority. The evidence from the rest of Western Europe is much more equivocal, suggesting that the demographic impact of the barbarians was minor (this not the case in Eastern Europe, where the Slavic migrations are associated with signals of strong genetic correlations between recently settled populations in the wake of German and Roman declines on the eastern frontier).

Heather’s position is really one of moderation or the Golden Mean. It is rather like those who do not take a pure hereditarian or environmentalist position in behavior genetics. In Empires and Barbarians he marshals evidence which points to the reality that the barbarian groups entered the Empire as self-conscious tribal-ethnic entities, with whole families on the move, and that they were not created de novo within the Empire. This is not to deny the reality of cultural shifts in identity, with Roman elites in Gaul taking to trousers and referring to themselves as “Franks,” and German tribal leaders attempting to accrue to themselves the glamour and respectability of Romanitas. But the fundamental identities which are combined were distinct, and organic, not recently constructed and inchoate.

51sBGrYcIEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The most recent work from ancient DNA, which I wrote about extensively this weekend, support Heather’s contentions broadly, if not specifically. The evidence from prehistory indicates far more demographic disruption than during the fall of the Roman Empire. That is, folk wanderings were much more significant in prehistory than in antiquity. That probably has to due social-demographic changes that occurred in the first millennium before the Common Era, as ruling elites became decoupled from the population they ruled in many ways, though often bound together by a religious ethos. The fusion of the conquered and conquerors was a process made much more feasible by the emergence of “meta-ethnic”, to use Peter Tuchin’s terminology, religious ideologies which transcended folk boundaries.

The reality of new facts means that we need to reinterpret aspects of archaeology and myth in terms of the dynamics which are reflected by our new understanding. One side aspect of my writings on these topics is that many Indians are not very happy with the newest results, because they validate threads of a frankly colonialist model of an Indo-Aryan invasion. The model is that a European-like population invaded the Indian subcontinent, imposed the caste system, and imparted many aspects of high culture upon the natives. Despite racial mixture between the indigenous and intrusive elements, the higher castes and peoples of the Northwest had more Aryan ancestry.

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Open Thread, 6/14/2015

41hdiv6SmHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you haven’t read Prehistory of the Mind, it’s an interesting book, even if somewhat dated. The same author’s After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC is also recommended. Obviously this sorts of works attempting to synthesize evolution, psychology, and archaeology, are a lot more relevant right now since ancient DNA is introducing a whole new landscape to us. There’s a lot that gets out of date fast. On Twitter I mentioned that Barry Cunliffe’s Britain Begins gets the archaeogenetics wrong because it was published a year or two early.

511QYJbvkBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Obviously I spent a day writing the post below, Genetics Allows the Dead to Speak from the Grave. I don’t do research myself in ancient DNA and don’t plan to. But it’s a hot field producing a lot of results, and I know a fair amount of history, so I thought a “core dump” of some sort was useful, at least for Google. Unfortunately I don’t have that good of an intuition for prehistory, so perhaps I’ll have to read some archaeology books front to back. History is being made literally right now, so it is important make appropriate interdisciplinary connections. Even with nearly 10,000 words I left out a lot of important issues.

If you want to some enjoyable summer reading with a topic focus, I’d suggest Africa: A Biography of the Continent, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, and China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa. Important topics.

Two papers of interest, Attention Decay in Science, and Leveling the Playing Field: Longer Acquaintance Predicts Reduced Assortative Mating on Attractiveness.

I’ve been adding to my Good Reads list as I think of books. I could probably swell the list of fiction (mostly science fiction & fantasy), but that’s not a priority. Almost surely there’s an ascertainment bias here; I remember books I liked or were memorable. Seems pretty obvious from the relatively high star mark. Also, I added most of the books in about three or four bursts. The list grew to ~750 or so from what I can recall, and now it’s just slowly growing, as I’ve added only 100 since then (some of the new books I’ve read, but not most).

I’ll be spotty in terms of internet connection for a week.