There are probably no cognitive benefits to bilingualism

About one week ago I wrote about bilingual education, and I admitted my mild skepticism about the research about the benefits of bilingualism. A friend emailed me and wondered why I was only “mildly skeptical.” Partly I didn’t want the comments to get sidetracked, but recently friends on Facebook have started to get exercised that Ron Unz is running for the Senate, and how bad he is for not giving the children the opportunity to be bilingual. And of course all the research that confirms how great bilingualism is referenced.

So here’s an article from last month that my friend sent me. I’ll quote the appropriate section, you’ve seen this movie before, The Bitter Fight Over the Benefits of Bilingualism: For decades, some psychologists have claimed that bilinguals have better mental control. Their work is now being called into question:

But a growing number of psychologists say that this mountain of evidence is actually a house of cards, built upon flimsy foundations. According to Kenneth Paap, a psychologist at San Francisco State University and the most prominent of the critics, bilingual advantages in executive function “either do not exist or are restricted to very specific and undetermined circumstances.”

Paap started looking into bilingualism in 2009, having spent 30 years studying the psychology of language. He began by trying to replicate some seminal experiments, including a classic 2004 paper by Bialystok involving the Simon task. In that task, volunteers press two keys in response to colored objects on a screen—for example, right key for red objects, left for green. People react faster if the position of the keys and objects match (red object on right half of the screen) than if they don’t (red object on left). But Bialystok found that twenty Tamil-English bilinguals from India were faster and more accurate at these mismatched trials than twenty English-speaking monolinguals from Canada. They were better at suppressing the location of the objects and focusing on their color—a sign of superior executive function.

“It was a really exciting finding and one that I thought would be easy to study with my students,” says Paap. “But we just couldn’t replicate any of the effects.” After years of struggling, he published his results in 2013: three studies, 280 local college students, four tests of mental control including the Simon task, and no sign of a bilingual advantage.“That broke the dam,” he says. “Others started submitting negative results and getting their articles published.”

Jon Andoni Duñabeitia, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language, was one of them. In two large studies, involving 360 and 504 children respectively, he found no evidence that Basque kids, raised on Basque and Spanish at home and at school, had better mental control than monolingual Spanish children. “I am a multilingual researcher working in a multilingual society,” says Duñabeitia. “I’d be very happy to see an advantage for bilinguals! But science is what it is. We find no difference and we have replicated it several times, in older adults, kids, and young adults at university.”

For example, one group of researchers analyzed 104 abstracts on bilingualismthat were presented at scientific conferences. They found that 68 percent of abstracts that found an executive-function advantage were eventually published in journals, compared to just 29 percent that found no advantage. This publication bias, a common problem in psychology and science as a whole, means that the evidence for the phenomenon seems stronger than it actually is.

But Paap doesn’t think much of the published evidence either. He found that a bilingual advantage only shows up in one in six tests of executive function, and mostly in small studies involving 30 or fewer volunteers. The largest studies, involving a hundred or more, all found negative results.

The proponents of bilingualism as a cognitive benefit have reacted angrily. Read the whole thing. But it’s probably not a real strong effect if there is any at all. Just another battle in the replication wars….

ISIS has long fixated on the “Far enemy”; the media is not doing their job

One of the major distinctions pundits made between Al Qaeda and ISIS until recently is that the latter was not as fixated on the “far enemy” (the West) as the former. That seems born out by the evidence of their behavior, focusing on conquests in the Levant and Iraq, as well as ideological arguments (e.g., What ISIS Really Wants). The New York Times now seems to be making the case that that was all wrong, How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under Europe’s Gaze:

For much of 2012 and 2013, the jihadist group that eventually became the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was putting down roots in Syria. Even as the group began aggressively recruiting foreigners, especially Europeans, policy makers in the United States and Europe continued to see it as a lower-profile branch of Al Qaeda that was mostly interested in gaining and governing territory.

“All of the signals were there,” said Michael S. Smith II, a counterterrorism analyst whose firm, Kronos Advisory, began briefing the United States government in 2013 on ISIS’ aspirations to strike Europe. “For anyone paying attention, these signals became deafening by mid-2014.”

In June of 2015 The New York Times wrote about the decapitation:

… Mr. Cazeneuve emphasized that while Mr. Salhi was known to have links to Salafists, he was not believed to have links with terrorist groups.

There was no indication that Mr. Salhi was aligned with the Islamic State….

Basically the media became a telegraph service for craven politicians who didn’t want to face the crisis. I observed that The New York Times recently referred to Molenbeek as a “fifth column.” That sort of language is something that politicians and the media try to avoid, both for prudential and ideological reasons. When these “isolated” attacks occurred a few years ago the conservative press ridiculed the characterizations of the politicians and the media. It turns out that they were right, and The New York Times is admitting it. This should give us even more pause in accepting the “analysis” of the established outlets. When the evidence is confronting them this starkly they’ve had to fess up that they weren’t scratching below the surface, and perhaps even had become a cat’s-paw in the toolkit of the political class. Though I will credit The New York Times that there has been a change of direction internally when you allow Muslim communities in the West to be characterized as a possible “fifth column.” Unfortunately in Molenbeek’s case that seems operationally correct, and the evidence was too strong to obfuscate for reasons of political and ideological expedience.

David Reich has Two Post-doctoral positions

It has recently come to my attention that David Reich has two post-doctoral positions open which might interest readers of this weblog. Since I really enjoy writing about the research that his lab produces it is in my interest that he find the right people to work on the projects that he has. If you are one of those rare people in the world who has a background in history and statistical population genetics or data science this might be for you! Here are the listings, ignore the deadline date as they have been extended:

1) Post-doctoral fellow: Ancient DNA

Our ancient DNA laboratory has pioneered large-scale studies of human population history with large numbers of samples simultaneously and we are looking for a highly motivated post-doctoral researcher with appropriate experience and interests to work on analysis of these data.

The successful candidate will have previous experience in a world class ancient DNA laboratory, as well as analytical and computer skills that allow exploration of large and complex genetic data sets.

Description of additional projects in our lab, as well as papers we have recently published, is provided here.

The position will be supervised by Dr. David Reich.

Please write to reich at genetics [dot] med [dot] harvard [dot] edu by March 1, 2016 if you are interested.

2) Post-doctoral fellow: Learning about history using genetic data

We are searching for a highly motivated post-doctoral researcher to join our group.

The successful candidate will have exceedingly strong statistical / mathematical / computational skills, and an interest in history. While a background in population genetics, bioinformatics or experimental biology is advantageous, it is not necessary. Our lab has the resources to not only analyze large public data sets, but also has access to some of the world’s best new genetic data, whether generated by collaborators or in our own laboratory. Possible projects are:

• Studying human history using data from present-day populations

• Studying human history using ancient DNA

• Studying the process of speciation and the mechanisms of natural selection and mutation using genetic data

Description of projects in our lab, as well as papers we have recently published, is provided here.

The position will be jointly supervised by Drs. David Reich and Nick Patterson, and will involve work at both Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

Please write to reich at genetics [dot] med [dot] harvard [dot] edu by March 1, 2016 if you are interested.


Human ancestry is complex with ancient DNA


The Combined Landscape of Denisovan and Neanderthal Ancestry in Present-Day Humans:

Some present-day humans derive up to ∼5% …of their ancestry from archaic Denisovans, an even larger proportion than the ∼2% from Neanderthals…We developed methods that can disambiguate the locations of segments of Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry in present-day humans and applied them to 257 high-coverage genomes from 120 diverse populations, among which were 20 individual Oceanians with high Denisovan ancestry…In Oceanians, the average size of Denisovan fragments is larger than Neanderthal fragments, implying a more recent average date of Denisovan admixture in the history of these populations (p = 0.00004). We document more Denisovan ancestry in South Asia than is expected based on existing models of history, reflecting a previously undocumented mixture related to archaic humans (p = 0.0013). Denisovan ancestry, just like Neanderthal ancestry, has been deleterious on a modern human genetic background, as reflected by its depletion near genes. Finally, the reduction of both archaic ancestries is especially pronounced on chromosome X and near genes more highly expressed in testes than other tissues (p = 1.2 × 10−7 to 3.2 × 10−7 for Denisovan and 2.2 × 10−3 to 2.9 × 10−3 for Neanderthal ancestry even after controlling for differences in level of selective constraint across gene classes). This suggests that reduced male fertility may be a general feature of mixtures of human populations diverged by >500,000 years.

Take a look at the supplements for the functional stuff. I am not going to address that. Much of those results have been circulation or in other papers over the years. Rather, I want to highlight the variation in patterns of Denisovan admixture in non-Oceanian groups. Here is an important section:

Taken together, the evidence of Denisovan admixture in modern humans could in theory be explained by a single Denisovan introgression into modern humans, followed by dilution to different extents in Oceanians, South Asians, and East Asians by people with less Denisovan ancestry. If dilution does not explain these patterns, however, a minimum of three distinct Denisovan introgressions into the ancestors of modern humans must have occurred.

You see it on the figure above. The South Asian groups consistently jump well above the trend line for inferred Denisovan as a function of shared ancestry with Australians non-West Eurasian ancestry. Also, if you look at the admixture patterns for Denisovan ancestry in South Asia you see they follow the ANI-ASI cline. That is, it seems to come into the South Asian populations through the “Ancestral South Indians.” Interestingly, the Onge sample of Andaman Islanders has less Denisovan than low caste South Asian groups, reminding us that though the Onge and their kin are the closest modern populations to the ASI, they are not descended from the ASI. The highest fraction of inferred Denisovan is in the Sherpa people of Nepal.

sherpaThe figure to the right is from Admixture facilitates genetic adaptations to high altitude in Tibet, and the authors find that the Sherpa are at one extreme in an ancestry cline in comparison to other East Asians. The figure is hard to make out, so I will tell you that many of the Sherpa are fixed for the red component, while other Tibetans are in positions in the middle, and most East Asians have low fractions of the red, with the Dai having none. The Gujarati sample form the HapMap have low fractions of both East Asian components. This is almost certainly an artifact of the shared ancestry of all eastern Eurasians (and perhaps Oceanians), of which the ASI were one descendant group. The proportion of Denisovan in low caste South Asians indicates that the fraction in ASI was about at the same level as the Sherpa. I suspect that ASI and the Tibetan groups got their Denisovan via different paths, but it doesn’t seem like we know yet.

Overall I do marvel at what ancient DNA can tell us. Without it we wouldn’t be talking about any of these admixture events; they’d be signals too weak to have left an obvious mark in the genome.

Are all DTC firms underestimating African ancestry in Southern Europeans?

Sardinian actress
Sardinian actress
Several years ago a paper was published, The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines, and Jews:

Previous genetic studies have suggested a history of sub-Saharan African gene flow into some West Eurasian populations after the initial dispersal out of Africa that occurred at least 45,000 years ago. However, there has been no accurate characterization of the proportion of mixture, or of its date. We analyze genome-wide polymorphism data from about 40 West Eurasian groups to show that almost all Southern Europeans have inherited 1%–3% African ancestry with an average mixture date of around 55 generations ago, consistent with North African gene flow at the end of the Roman Empire and subsequent Arab migrations. Levantine groups harbor 4%–15% African ancestry with an average mixture date of about 32 generations ago, consistent with close political, economic, and cultural links with Egypt in the late middle ages. We also detect 3%–5% sub-Saharan African ancestry in all eight of the diverse Jewish populations that we analyzed. For the Jewish admixture, we obtain an average estimated date of about 72 generations. This may reflect descent of these groups from a common ancestral population that already had some African ancestry prior to the Jewish Diasporas.

At the time Dienekes had a pretty strong critique of the paper: the authors assumed that Northern Europeans were an unadmixed reference population, when in fact these populations may have had mixture from East Asians. He presented PCA plots which illustrated the fact that CEU (whites from Utah with British and German ancestry) sample were shifted toward Chinese in comparison to Sardinians. All these years later I think that in fact there is another explanation besides East Asian admixture to explain this: the Chinese themselves have some admixture from West Eurasians. The Sardinians are notably lacking in some admixture components common among mainland Europeans, so the West Eurasian admixture into Chinese probably is closer to mainland Europeans than it would be to Sardinians.

So what about the Sardinian admixture from Africans? The same dynamic might be at play here: old admixture from “Early European Farmers” into Africans might explain why they’re closer to Africans.

But let’s assume that the Sardinian admixture from Africans is legitimate. What does that mean for estimates of ancestral derivation from continental populations than you see in the DTC personal genomics firms that report ancestry results? It can only mean that among people of Southern European ancestry a few percent of African ancestry is being “masked” because it is part of the reference population set. This came to my mind because a half Cuban friend of mine had ~2% African ancestry. Reasonable. When I checked by running unsupervised ADMIXTURE he had ~4%. Then I noticed that the Sardinian reference set was often in the 1-2% range. One explanation for the discrepancy then would be that a few percent of African ancestry in his genome was simply swallowed up by the reference population in the supervised learning framework.

Open Thread, 3/27/2016

1984-Big-BrotherTo me 1984 is really insightful not for its depiction of totalitarianism, but the way in which modern American democratic politics cynically re-imagine the past. I have always been intrigued by George H. W. Bush (and more broadly the politicians within the family) shifting from a pro-choice supporter of planned parenthood sympathetic to population control, to a conventional acolyte of New Right pro-life positions around 1980. Though some people bring this up occasionally, the reality is that there seems to be an agreement to act as if that past no longer exists (also, in the 1980s Jesse Jackson and Al Gore went from pro-life to pro-choice). Similarly, Hillary Clinton waited until 2013 to support gay marriage, after a decade opposing it. Privately I assume she supported gay marriage, but spoke against it for political expediency. When the winds had changed she shifted her public view, and now would no doubt condemn in visceral terms those who promoted a position that she herself held three years ago! A position held by most Democratic politicians in the aughts on cynical grounds of political necessity is now scourged by those same politicians as being beyond the pale.

51WPYFJQQmL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Got Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib after it was mentioned on Facebook. The more you know.

In The New York Times, Brussels Attacks Underscore Vulnerability of an Open European Society:

The cultural code of silence in the heavily immigrant district, as well as widespread distrust of already weak government authorities, has provided what amounts to a fifth column or forward base for the Islamic State.

This is in The New York Times. If Fox News said something like this the squealing about “Islamophobia” would never end. One thing that some have observed is that the terrorist networks in Belgium seem to be almost exclusively Moroccan, not Turkish. Also, there are many friends and family members involved. If you read Scott Atran’s work on terrorism these facts are not surprising. One of the most annoying things about Sam Harris’ New Atheism is that he talks as if the Koran magically transmutes normal people into ticking time bombs. The ethnographic data present a different picture, where Islamic terrorism takes root in tightly integrated social networks which exclude outsiders. As Peter Turchin says, a widening precipitation of the Islamic jihadi phenomenon was easy to predict as an outcome of the events of the past 15 years because of the historical-social premises of this civilization.

ThetippingpointThough overall I’m not a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, his book from 15 years ago, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, did describe a phenomenon which I think can shed some light on why Moroccan, but not Turkish, networks in Belgium are being sucked into the jihadi milieu. To some extent this is stochastic in terms of where the phenomenon begins, but once there is a large social network present to allow it to take off, then positive feedback loops kick in. There is a lot of talk about the causal factors for why some countries, such as Tunisia, send so many Muslims to fight for ISIS, while others, such as India, do not. There are some predictive variables here that are worth talking about, but some of it might just be random chance. But once participation in the Syria war on the side of ISIS becomes meritorious in one’s social network, then the dynamic might just feed back into itself if there are no dampening mechanisms.

Ethnic_composition_of_Muslim_AmericansWhich gets to one of the major reasons that American Muslims are probably underrepresented in international jihadi activity: they lack asabiyyah due to ethnic diversity. The chart to the left actually oversimplifies. Though South Asian Muslims share a lot culturally for example, there is definitely an “inner circle” of cohesion defined by Pakistanis and Urdu speakers from India into which Bengali or South Indian Muslims, for example, are not totally integrated. Converts for obvious reasons often create their own communities of affinity unless they marry into a family, while black Americans have a separate culture altogether. The ethnic diversity combines with economic diversity to fracture Muslim-American identity in a way that makes cultural complexes like that of Molenbeek, where underclass and working class Moroccan Muslims set the tone, or Tower Hamlets, where Bangladeshi Muslims from Sylhet set the tone, very rare. Even the town of Hamtramck, Michigan, where Muslims are demographically very notable in the aggregate, exhibits a lot of ethnic diversity within the religion. The importance of ethnic homogeneity as an amplifying effect can be seen in the Buffalo Six, who grew up in a tight-knit Yemeni-American community, or the “Minnesota men” who are routinely reported to have died fighting for the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab in Somalia, who come out of the Somali refugee community.

To not put too fine a point on it, I think the high frequency of snitching by American Muslims is a function of the low ethnic cohesion of the religion in the United States. This is one reason why arrival of refugee communities in toto is going to be a problem in Europe. Sweden, for example, has just imported a piece of Syria, not individual Syrians. Good luck with that.

I think it’s time for Twitter to admit that it is a specialized service and focus on its core constituency.

The Rise of Donald Trump. Important:

Many of Trump’s supporters are already convinced that mainstream America is against them. They believe, with justification, that they are mocked and ridiculed. And they are especially indignant that they are not allowed to voice their concerns about immigration, about Black Lives Matter, and about globalization and multiculturalism more broadly, without being called racists or bigots.

At minimum Trump will do better in the general elections than polls predict.

No evidence for extensive horizontal gene transfer in the genome of the tardigrade Hypsibius dujardini. “We show that the extensive horizontal transfer proposed by Boothby et al. was an artifact of a failure to eliminate contaminants from sequence data before assembly.” Oops!

Why won’t you pay to read? I’m lucky to have been paid to blog for many years (and thanks to Ron Unz in particular, obviously!). I’m also lucky that this is not, and has never been, my primary source of income. That gives me a lot of freedom to say whatever I want.

Speaking of which. “Disclosure notice,” I am joining Embark, a genomics firm which will focus on dogs for my “day job.” Also, I’m still finishing up my Ph.D., doing some consulting for Gene by Gene, and writing for publications now and then. On the last issue, please make sure to subscribe to my total feed, as I am pretty busy and might not remember to post stuff here as a link all the time. Here’s an article on what Embark aims to do: Doggie DNA startup wants to learn about human diseases from dog drool.

Researchers Find Fish That Walks the Way Land Vertebrates Do.

If you are interested, Support Gila monster research.

Also, I should be at the Evolution Meeting this June in Austin.

Millennial-scale faunal record reveals differential resilience of European large mammals to human impacts across the Holocene.

Adaptation in protein fitness landscapes is facilitated by indirect paths.

In Facebook’s Hometown, the First Responders Aren’t Local. One reason I’m leaving California is that it’s not really congenial for young families. I was talking to a friend whose family has been living in San Francisco for four generations, and we got to discussing real estate. Her family own houses because their roots are so deep in the region, and I told her it was critical to start building vertically if the area wanted newcomers to stay for the long haul. Her response was “but it would ruin the views.” My response was “views are why San Francisco is so expensive.” Basically if there was more vertical development allowed in the Bay area, as is common in an Asian city, then there’d be more housing supply. But regulatory, cultural, and contingent (i.e., stakeholders who dominate zoning boards and benefit from inflated rents and property values) make it almost impossible to change the situation in California.

It’s a great state, but if you are middle class, you had better be single, or dual-income-no-kids, or have deep roots in the state so you can inherit property your parents purchased when it was affordable to do so on less than $300,000 per year in income. Otherwise, come for your 20s if you are a professional, but move elsewhere to raise kids. Perhaps if you become wealthy you can move back to Carlsbad when you retire.

Biologists Have Learned Something Horrifying About Prairie Dogs. Vegetarians can be violent. Hitler was a vegetarian by the end of his life.

616wAHLvMaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda. Is anyone surprised he had a soft spot for the RPF? What exactly was he supposed to do? This gives me an opportunity to promote Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. Great book that everyone should read, especially in light of what’s going on in Syria now.

It turns out there are no saints, though there are many sinners. Too often today the past and present gets reduced to Manichaean caricatures, but there’s a reason that Manichaeanism is a recurrent feature of religion, but it tends to whither over time. It doesn’t engage with reality, and appeals just to our hopes and idealism.

This is an important paper: Genetic risk for autism spectrum disorders and neuropsychiatric variation in the general population.

Minding the Beeswax. Farmers and bees have a long history together.

PCASO has already been great for collaboration/data sharing:

The long terror of the warrior


warbeforeOver then years ago The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols was published. This paper illustrated the surprising genetic effects that historical demographic events might have; the authors found that one particular Y chromosomal lineage was extremely common in Central Eurasia, and, that lineage exhibited an explosive growth over the past 1,000 years. Combined with the high frequency in the Khalkha Mongols in particular the natural inference made was that this lineage was reflective of the reproductive success of the group of warrior elites descended from Genghis Khan.

Some have been skeptical of this relationship. Part of this is due to ignorance or skepticism of what one can learn from genetics broadly among some scholars. In a discussion with John Horgan the cultural anthroplogist R. Brian Ferguson dismissed the possibility of something like the Genghis Khan modal haplotype. This makes sense. Here is a quote from George Orwell’s 1984:

Anything could be true. The so-called laws of Nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. ‘If I wished,’ O’Brien had said, ‘I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.’ Winston worked it out. ‘If he thinks he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens.’ Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: ‘It doesn’t really happen. We imagine it. It is hallucination.’ He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a ‘real’ world where ‘real’ things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens.

Even cultural anthropologists who reject the “Post-Modern” tendencies common in the United states in this field often live at some remove from an enterprise where data dictates the set of plausible models about the world. If science fiction is a vision of the future conditioned on the priorities of the present, cultural anthropology is an ethnography of the present and history of the past conditioned on the ideological values of the present.

In 1984 the dictates of the present determine the past. One of the reasons it is useful to read Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage is that it serves as a record of the stated positions of many cultural anthropologists, and how they have evolved over the years in light of new evidence, without any acknowledgement that their past positions were obviously false. In a progressive conception of science error is essential for the field to slowly converge upon reality as it is over time. But one must admit that one has made errors, and is changing one’s views to match the facts. Often cultural anthropologists strike a pose that “we always knew/believed that.” Many cultural anthropologists have given upon on any pretense that learning about the world out there is possible, and at the extreme even meritorious.

The conclusions of The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols are more plausible in light of a paper which was published last year, A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture. In the paper the authors show that a massive bottleneck and subsequent explosion of very common Y chromosomal lineages such as R1b and R1a seems to have occurred on the order of 5,000 years ago. The star-shaped phylogeny is not just the legacy of Genghis Khan.

How did this situation come to be? Read Andrew Currey’s Slaughter at the Bridge in Science. It’s riveting. Here are some interesting passages:

Before the 1990s, “for a long time we didn’t really believe in war in prehistory,” DAI’s Hansen says. The grave goods were explained as prestige objects or symbols of power rather than actual weapons. “Most people thought ancient society was peaceful, and that Bronze Age males were concerned with trading and so on,” says Helle Vandkilde, an archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “Very few talked about warfare.”

DNA from teeth suggests some warriors are related to modern southern Europeans and others to people living in modern-day Poland and Scandinavia

The precis: 3,200 years ago thousands of men clashed around a bridge in a narrow valley in northeast Germany near the Baltic sea. Hundreds of these men died. Their skeletons yield the facts that they were in their 20s, were often killed in the brutal manner that occurs in pitched battle, and isotope analysis suggests that most of them came from hundreds of kilometers away. Both DNA and analysis of their bones to infer their diet suggest that some were similar to modern Southern Europeans, and may have been Southern Europeans in terms of their provenance, though I do not discount that there were pockets of people who were similar to the descendants of the European European Farmers (EEF) who persisted down to that period.

What does this tell us? In The Shape of Ancient Thought, most of which was written decades ago, there are presumptions about the nature of transmission of ideas from civilized (e.g., Mesopotamian) to non-civilized (e.g., archaic Greeks and Vedic Aryans) peoples. But what these results, and books such as War Before Civilization, remind us that writing and literacy is only one of the aspects of complex human organization. Complex societies seem necessary for literacy, but literacy is not necessary for social complexity (E.g., the Inca domains). Keeley documents suggestive evidence of large-scale conflict between the first farmers to arrive in Central Europe and marine foragers along the coastal littoral thousands of years before the slaughter at the bridge. Rather than being the start of something new, I suspect what occurred at Tollense was the later stages of a tradition of preliterate conflict and competition which persisted down the period of Christianity.

It’s not a Marvel film

A friend invited me to watch the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie with him on a spur of the moment. I won’t say much about the film (it was OK, but way, way, too much prologue, and too little Wonder Woman). A bunch of us waited during the credits for teasers afterward. At some point an attendant came out, and told us that “this isn’t a Marvel film, there are no teasers….” I got up to leave but noticed that half the audience stayed in their seats as the attendant explained that he’d “watched the film twice already, there are no teasers. Really.” As I was exiting I looked back and it was clear that some people were stubbornly staying in their seats, and the attendant was cleaning up and mumbling there were no teasers and everyone should just go home now.

It’s going to be a long weekend for that guy.

Open Thread, 3/21/2016

shape-ancient-thought-comparative-studies-in-greek-indian-thomas-mcevilley-hardcover-cover-artReading The Shape of Ancient Thought. Not a light read, but worthwhile so far. I’m not a big fan of metaphysics in general, but the empirical patterns are interesting. Surprised at the likely Mesopotamian influence on both India and Greece, though in hindsight it makes sense. More to say on this later….

Some people are asking me about this Jeff Jacoby column, Sex is etched in our DNA, but race is all in our heads. Actually, everything is in our heads. Everything is socially constructed. It just so happens that some social constructions (e.g., gender binary) robustly map onto patterns in reality, while others (e.g., gender is purely a function preference) do not. The idea that “our racial and ethnic identities are purely subjective” seems to be pretty false if you think of it as a prediction you can use. Someone of my physical appearance could plausibly “pass” as a range of ethnic groups across the 10/40 Window, but no one is likely to accept that I’m ancestrally Chinese, Swedish, or Dinka.

Rakhigarhi ancient DNA paper probably a while away.

A suggestion for debaters. Basically, debate science in your own specialization and don’t claim broad knowledge you lack.

34% of my readers supported Donald Trump in the survey last month. Over 50% had graduate degrees. A bit lower than the average proportion for readers of this weblog, but not that much.

Poll: Utah would vote for a Democrat for president over Trump. I don’t accept this poll. I think Trump will get nominated, and he will win Utah. But, this poll, and results from Idaho, suggest that Mormons have a particular antipathy toward Donald Trump. Reiterates that though Southern Evangelicals and Mormons are allies in the political realm, there are deep cultural differences between the two groups.

Global median income has doubled in the last 13 years.

Article on why Bangladesh does so much peacekeeping. My cousin is in Bangui right now, so on my mind.

Stannis died in the show. How about the books? I guess we’ll know in the 2020s….

Statisticians issue warning over misuse of P values. R. A. Fisher warned about this.

Causes of molecular convergence and parallelism in protein evolution.

Smart people with more friends may be more satisfied with their lives


A new paper on which has some results on life satisfaction, intelligence and the number of social interactions one has has generated some mainstream buzz. For example, at The Washington Post, Why smart people are better off with fewer friends. I looked at the original paper: Country roads, take me home… to my friends: How intelligence, population density, and friendship affect modern happiness. The figure above shows the interaction effect between intelligence, life satisfaction, and number of times you meet up with friends over the week. What you see is that among the less intelligent more interactions means more life satisfaction and among the more intelligent you see the reverse.

webpreview_htm_ece4380546ed7237But take a look at the y-axis. It cuts off at 4.10. The scale is: 1 = very dissatisfied, 2 = dissatisfied, 3 = neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 4 = satisfied, and 5 = very satisfied. The effect here is very small. The less intelligent group had a mean IQ of 81. This is over 1 standard deviation below the norm, at about the 10th percentile. The intelligent had a mean IQ of 115, 1 standard deviation above the norm, so at the 84th percentile. When looking at the two groups divided between the prosocial (nearly 1 interaction per day) and antisocial (about 2 per week), the Cohen’s d for the low IQ was 0.05 and for the high IQ was 0.03. A d of 1 would mean one standard deviation difference between the two distributions in life satisfaction. In other words, the difference here is very minor.

The authors corrected for a bunch of variables, like sex, marital status, education, and ethnicity. But the data were from the NLSY, so the mean age was about 22. I wonder if the results would be different if you had an older age cohort. The authors themselves are quite guarded about their interpretation: “Given that our data are correlational and frequency of socialization with friends and life satisfaction were measured at the same time, we cannot rule out an opposite causal order to what we hypothesize, where happier people choose to socialize with their friends more frequently.”

The study may be reporting a true result, even if the effect is modest. But I’m quite confident that my inverted title may also be correct, though again, I suspect the effect will be modest. These are not actionable results for anyone. That is all.