Open Thread, October 18th, 2015

I’ve obviously been a bit remiss with the blogging. That will change in the near future. First, ASHG was the bomb. I also hit D.C., New York, and Cambridge, in rapid succession. Lots of people to meet and catch up with. But a week away meant that other responsibilities built up and I’m just trying to make it through the enormous backlog.

So I recommended Bobbi S. Low’s a few months ago to a friend who was curious about this topic. But I realize it’s way out of date. I’m not really super interested in sex differences because the basic outlines, like psychometrics (to name another example), seem to be pretty well established. There are some traits, like intelligence, when on average men and women are about the same (granting likely tail differences). There are other behavioral traits where the distributions differ. And, there are traits like upper body strength where men and women are nearly disjoint in their distribution. But in today’s world these sorts of issue are not treated dispassionately nor are they disputed. Rather, there’s a confusing morass where gender and sex are are play. On the one hand gender is a social construction, but on the other hand some transgender individuals are “born” with “female” brains. The quotations here because this sort of phrasing would not be socially acceptable in other contexts, but becomes magically normative in transgender contexts when one goes to arguing the equal standing of trans-women (those born biologically male) to cis-women (those born biologically female).

I’m not particularly interested in this social or political debate. But, I’m curious if there is a up-to-date monograph on sex differences. That way I could recommend something more contemporary to people who are interested, since this is a field that needs to be rediscovered by youth.

I’ve been reading in passing now and then when I have a little time. When I was a small child I was a big admirer of Alexander the Great. After all, when it came to conquering he exhibited virtuosity. But as I have matured into adulthood I’ve come to be more wary of the rather unsavory aspects of the Macedonian warlord’s character (e.g., killing close friends in drunken rages). Marcus Aurelius stands in contrast to Alexander in many ways. While the Macedonian aspirant world emperor burned bright and chaotically, the last of the Good Emperors spent his reign attempting to maintain the semblance of the peace which he had inherited against the inevitable forces of chaos and disorder which were creeping into the sclerotic system of the polity which had arisen in the time of Augustus over 150 years before.

Marcus Aurelius was no saint. He was a man of his times, who countenanced persecution of Christians, and did nothing to end practices such as slavery which we today would consider abominations. Additionally, itself was a piece of personal propaganda, meant to be read by others. It was never the unguarded thoughts of the most powerful man in the world. But, a man like Marcus Aurelius reminds us that in some things the ancients may have been superior to the moderns. Set him against the politicians of the liberal democratic states of our day, and I believe that he would be superior to them all. Of course, a man like him would probably not go into politics in our day.

Everyone is talking about Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent. I think the results are fine, but the interpretation is wrong. Africa is big, and the admixture is too recent and even outside of Northeast Africa. I will probably say more soon.

Also, ~80,000 year old modern human remains from China. Let’s take the estimates at face value. Considering that the Aurignacians left no genetic imprint on Europe, it is not implausible to me that this population, two times as old as that group, left no imprint on East Asia. In fact, one might posit a model where “modern humans” on the edge of the range expansion in Eurasia generally left no descendants, and that modern West and East Eurasians descend by and large from a later pulse from somewhere around the Middle East.

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