Open Thread, 05/01/2017


The survey suggests that 14% of my readers (or at least 14% of the 425 people who responded to the survey) consider themselves geneticists in some fashion. Above you see all the types of geneticists read this weblog. Remember that people can, and did, check more than one box. Not surprisingly, 75% of people who said they are “genomicists” also stated they were “computational biologists.”

In terms of knowledge, only 50% of geneticists who read this weblog could recall Hamilton’s Rule or the rate of substitution in a neutral model. Somewhat surprising to me, but only one out of three geneticists reading consider themselves a population geneticist so it is not entirely unreasonable.

If you have read me for a long time you know I’m a fan of alternative history, and alternative history fiction (some of you have followed me from USENET from those groups).

Though I think Harry Turtldove has gotten a little hackish recently (too much quantity, not enough quality), his older stuff is good. Agent of Byzantium in particular is good, not taking the easy way out of later books, which basically dress up events from our timeline in somewhat different garb. For the mainstream science fiction reader Years of Rice and Salt is probably what they are most familiar with, though I think it’s a little overrated. The Uchronia website has a good list of books and works, but I thought I’d pass something else along I found on Twitter, Clash of Eagles, which is volume 1 of a trilogy. Too bad I don’t have much time to read fiction…it looks like there’s some really good work being produced today.

A question in the comments below, isn’t 2007’s Principles of Population Genetics a bit on the old side? I don’t think this is a big issue. But if you want a more recent book, 2013’s An Introduction to Population Genetics: Theory and Applications is more what you are looking for I guess. Here is the publisher introduction:

“A text for a one-semester course in population genetics. It introduces students to classical population genetics (in terms of allele and haplotype frequencies) and modern population genetics (in terms of coalescent theory). It presents numerous applications of population genetic methods to practical problems, including testing for natural selection, detecting genetic hitchhiking and inferring the history of populations.

Basically the reason this book exists, in my opinion, is that older works don’t explore in much detail genomic applications of population genetic theory. And that’s the main reason you would be unsatisfied with an older work, because it doesn’t grapple with genome-wide data, because that was not a major concern when population genetics was being developed as a field. Even a book that was published in 2007 just isn’t really going to be up to date when it comes to genomics, because 2017 is so much further along.

But ultimately genomics isn’t really necessary to understand population genetics. Kimura and Crow’s Introduction to Population Genetics Theory, written in the late 1960s, would be more than sufficient I would think (though I do have to say that An Introduction to Population Genetics is very good about integrating a coalescent framework into one’s thinking, which is obviously not the case with older texts).

I think I figured out the way to resolve the 503 error problem (more precisely, I figured out how to set up the script that checks for 503 errors and restarts varnish if it’s giving 503 errors). I’m also working on restoring the full archives of my content (have to get the MySQL tables working in my database for this weblog).

Lee Alan Dugatkin’s How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution is out. I’ve enjoyed three of the author’s books, The Imitation Factor: Evolution Beyond The Gene, The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness, and Game Theory and Animal Behavior. He’s a great writer, and an accomplished scientist, so I’m sure How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) will be good.

King James asserted “No bishop, no king.” I would say, “no science, no liberal democracy.” Not that I think science is the root cause of liberal democracy, I think the two emerge from a particular view of the world and how to engage it and talk about it. The decline in scientific discourse then won’t cause the decline of liberal democracy, but will signal the diminishing of the fuel which fires both. More on that later.

I said this on Twitter because I think this might be a serious idea:

People are saying I should read something “out of the norm.” I used to do that more often in the past. For example, I read The World Beyond the Hill – Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. Though I guess it was literary analysis and history of a genre which I found interesting. But what specific books should I read? I’ll pick one and get back to you with my opinions….

The Evolution Of Covert Signaling. Rule-of-thumb, if it has Richard McElreath on the author list, it’s worth reading.

My request for readers to buy things from Amazon through the links on this website has been modestly successful. I didn’t make a “record” amount of money, but I did notice more “random” things than usual, which suggests to me that I pushed more revenue through that avenue than would be otherwise expected.

If winning is all that matters, then there are no rules in the game.

Now and then I wonder why I’m still blogging all these years later. I don’t make much income off it. If I wanted to be “famous” I would have been much more careful about what I said over the years. Part of it is that I get some interesting comments from readers who aren’t stupid, unlike most humans, who are basically the literal definition of vacuous. But part of it is that I don’t quite see anyone else saying some of the things I say or occupying the same space. So here I am. For now. If someone else is occupying the same space…, tell me and I’ll perhaps retire.

31 thoughts on “Open Thread, 05/01/2017

  1. My uncle really liked your post “10 things you should know about human genetics” (or whatever it was called.) Granted, it was the re-written one, but I also really liked it because it gave me a chance to audit my knowledge to make sure it was accurate. It’s hard to keep track of the back and fourthing of some of this stuff since there are so many new archeological discoveries. Even something like the wolf genome research is hard to keep track of – which source is more accurate, etc. Sometimes those old memories don’t get overwritten and bad info is stuck in my head. A short outline every now and then is nice.

  2. just use the 1000 genomes browser, it has superseded the hapmap

    http://phase3browser.1000genomes.org/index.html

    and it used to be a great way to introduce the idea of humanbiodiversity to people,

    are you a net-nazi out of curiosity? if not, i would steer them to science and not hbd stuff, because it’s dominated by net-nazis. sorry, that brand has been captured by the stupids.

  3. “But what specific books should I read?”

    Might I recommend, as I did before, “The Transformation of War” and its sequel of sort, “The Culture of War” by Martin van Creveld?

  4. 1) nice to see your comment here. i was worried you’d not follow me from unz!

    2) you made the first comment, so the prior is set to your suggestions. we’ll see if anyone offers up something suitably different to make me ‘update’

  5. now that i think about it should read some literary fiction so i can appreciate average human psychological interiority. how about *brideshead revisited* and *ulysses*?

  6. “Ulysses” is kind of starting on hard mode. Even veteran lit readers have some trouble wrestling with that one. “The Dubliners” is a bit easier to digest if you’re trying to get a taste of Joyce. If you were into Russian Lit I’d recommend Bely’s “St. Petersburg” over Ulysses, for the same sort of stylistic and structural experimentation, only with more of a bent towards the maths.

    Waugh is good, but somewhat atypical of the millieu he was writing in.

    Best of luck in what ever novels you choose for it.

  7. Re: Alternative History

    The Merchant Prince series by Charlie Stross is smart alternative history with a Lief Erikson divergence date. S.M. Sterling also has some good stuff “The Difference Engine” and Sterling’s Draka series is notable. Peter Watts (e.g. Blindsight and Echopraxia) has some of the smartest hard sci-fi in the near future; hell, his fiction has extensive end notes. Kate Elliott’s Jaran series is also one of the best quasi-historical takes on Indo-European expansion (written by someone who is actually competent with swords, has done actual history research from primary sources, and spent years around archaeological digs).

    Re: “no science, no liberal democracy”

    Oil is the greatest poison in a democracy (or actually, any natural resource). The more oil resources a country has relative to the rest of its economy and its population, the less democratic and free it is. The proximate cause of democracy in France, England, Afghanistan and many other cases was a monarch that could no longer finance government with land and natural resources alone and needed to tax the commercial wealth of the middle class and so offered freedom and democracy in exchange. The fundamental premise of absolutism is no taxation and no representation.

  8. Has anyone heard any rumors about when the Bell Beaker ancient DNA paper and the Harappan ancient DNA papers, respectively, are coming out? Does anyone know if an Anatolian ancient DNA paper is really in the works?

  9. I know I’ve told you in the past that the crowd that was on soc.history.what.if migrated over the years to alternatehistory.com. I know you have mentioned before that you knew Jonathan Edelstein at that time. I wonder if you knew Jared (the writer of Decades of Darkness) at the time as well? He’s still active (at a low level) on alternatehistory.com. His timeline about an agricultural Australia, the Lands of Red and Gold, has become so well known that it has its own tropes page. Jared spent a lot of time researching everything from potential plant domesticates to the details of 17th century European culture, and it shows. Honestly his work, along with a few of the others (like Jonathan) outshine most published AH novels I have read.

    Of course, like all writing 90%+ of what’s on AH.com is crap, mostly written by high school and college students who know very little about history. But it’s worth sifting through for the gems.

  10. I’d recommend:
    – Arthur Koestler: The gladiators; Darkness at noon (the first a novel about Spartacus’ revolt, the second about an old Bolshevik purged in the 1930s).
    – Joseph Conrad: Nostromo (great novel about Latin America, torture, revolution and nihilism leading to suicide).
    – Victor Serge: The case of comrade Tulayev (interesting, though more as an artefact of the time it was written in, doesn’t have the same enduring quality as the works above imo).

  11. I recommend for you first:

    Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban.

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that, “The force and beauty and awfulness of Hoban’s creation is shattering”

    If you read this book you’ll be transported via the eyes of a post-literate society pubescent boy-child, who is seeing the real what-is of his world so very keenly, as boys of that age must.

    Just get it, don’t read reviews, don’t even look at subject. Just start reading, start struggling with the language; then your mind will click into the language, and you’ll be there, inside a very plausible human future.

    You won’t ever forget this book. It’s a template for viewing base human cognition and enriches the mind in the way only new language can.

  12. Addendum: Oh yeah and the reason I recommend Riddley Walker in your case is 1) Not too long (I know you’re busy with the 3 kids!) yet packs much punch, and 2) The novel hinges on concepts of Science-as-gatekept-cultural-process.

    Also by the way have you read Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World? Very explicitly and trenchantly and pithily addresses questions of cultural-historical underpinnings of origins of science-mind as nurtured over millenia via dark ages church-deistic mindspace, monotonic causal reasoning, exploding into The Enlightenment’s ‘Faith in Reason’ wedded to hardcore empirical no-nonsense-ism…since you no doubt want to put CT-Postmodernism and false philosopho-academical complexities entirely aside, Whitehead’s assured declarative style might help to sidestep need to re-invent that historiographic wheel. In any case I’m looking forward to your addressing interdependence of Culture of Science/Culture of Liberal Democracy.

  13. Not a net-nazi. For example, last year my linguistics professor professed in class that the east/west collectivist/individualist divide was only culturally determined. I showed her studies providing evidence for a genetic basis, but it was difficult for her to get her head around because she did not understand the idea of evolution and HBD. I think HBD, which of course was originally explained by Darwin within his larger theoretical framework, is a useful learning tool that can help people understand the history of human development, as well as current societal trends, regardless of who might be using it to support their ideologies.

  14. what research are u talking about?

    . I showed her studies providing evidence for a genetic basis,

    i think those studies are suggestive. but honestly i think they are the weak side compared to behavior genetics. though it depends on what study you mean.

    I think HBD, which of course was originally explained by Darwin within his larger theoretical framework, is a useful learning tool that can help people understand the history of human development, as well as current societal trends, regardless of who might be using it to support their ideologies.

    right. but you don’t need the term. i think it was originally useful. but at this point it’s totally co-opted by dumbshits; basically the hereditarian funhouse reflection of blank slaters.

  15. Sent you an email from yahoo.com account, if you care to you can fish it out of junk and delete this comment.

  16. Thank you for the very warm welcome. The site looks great.

    Not only do I think that the two van Creveld books would be helpful/useful to you, *I* would love to read your thoughts on them.

  17. “how about *brideshead revisited* and *ulysses*?”

    Can’t argue with such gems of literature! But I have another odd suggestion, and it will be a very fast read as it is a children’s book: Rosemary Suttcliff’s “The Lantern Bearers.” And if you like it, you can read to your children as they grow older.

  18. Not toolish at all. I attempted to post a couple of suggestions for improvement to oral delivery, but they got 503’d. No matter.

  19. Chiao, J.Y. and Blizinsky, K.D., 2010. Culture–gene coevolution of individualism–collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 277(1681), pp.529-537.

    Walsh, A. and Yun, I., 2016. Evoked Culture and Evoked Nature: The Promise of Gene-Culture Co-Evolution Theory for Sociology. Frontiers in Sociology, 1, p. 8.

    Way, B.M. and Lieberman, M.D., 2010. Is there a genetic contribution to cultural differences? Collectivism, individualism and genetic markers of social sensitivity. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 5(2-3), pp.203-211.

    Ishii, K., 2013. Culture and the mode of thought: A review. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 16(2), pp.123-132.

    [i need to reread them. these are not horrible pubs. but honestly they aren’t particularly great (at least the genetics part) -razib]

  20. I’m halfway through Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order.” Not really out of the norm but it’s pretty good – although, it probably mostly stuff you already know.

  21. This is a complete and total aside, but this morning I was thinking about, after a discussion with a friend, the disruption of the “natural” communal manner of living in modernity, and the slow erosion of social ties which has been noted on the right and the left. I considered that there is one hypothesis I have not seen discussed everywhere else – that pop culture essentially “crowds out” the social module of our brain.

    From what I have read in the past, the average human has the ability to keep track of roughly 150 social relationships unconsciously in their brain, and recognize around 3,000 faces and names. Once we go above that, things tend to fall apart, which is why hunter-gatherer bands tend to spontaneously split if they grow above this number. We have developed ways to get around this of course with civilization, including social hierarchies, where a person in a position of power only needs to interact with other people on their level, and can basically abstract away the proles.

    From the mid 20th century onward, there has been a marked drift towards social isolation. There’s also been a rise over the period in interest in celebrity gossip, and even gossip involving imaginary people (e.g., fandom and fanfiction). Even a lot of political news could count, insofar as following the news requires you to track interpersonal relationships between politicians and their aides. Does doing this result in cognitive “slots” which would otherwise be used for our neighbors and family to be hijacked? I could think of ways this could be tested – see if those more insulated from popular culture show greater social ties with their neighbors, once you filter out those who are from obviously more communal and isolated subcultures (e.g., Amish, Hasids, various fringe Christian religious groups). It certainly could be an interesting study for a social scientist.

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