Open Thread, 11/26/2017

A few days ago there was a Twitter thing about top five books that have influenced you. It’s hard for me to name five, but I put three books down for three different reasons:

  • Principles of Population Genetics, because it gives you a model for how to analyze and understand evolutionary processes. There are other books out there besides Principles of Population Genetics. But if you buy this book you don’t need to buy another (at SMBE this year I confused Andy Clark with Mike Lynch for a second when introducing myself. #awkward)
  • The Fall of Rome. A lot of historical writing can be tendentious. I’ve also noticed an unfortunate tendency of historians dropping into contemporary arguments and pretty much lying through omission or elision to support their political side (it usually goes “actually, I’m a specialist in this topic and my side is 100% correct because of obscure-stuff where I’m shading the facts”). The Fall of Rome illustrates the solidity that an archaeological and materialist take can give the field. This sort of materialism isn’t the final word, but it needs to be the start of the conversation.
  • From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. To know things is important in and of itself. My own personal experience is that the returns to knowing things in a particular domain or area do not exhibit a linear return. Rather, it exhibits a logistic curve. Initially, it’s hard to make sense of anything from the facts, but at some point comprehension and insight increase rapidly, until you reach the plateau of diminishing marginal returns.

If you haven’t, I recommend you subscribe to Patrick Wyman’s Tides of History podcast. I pretty much wait now for every new episode.

The big Washington food fight. GMO labeling is coming.

In Our Time has two very good episodes recently I recommend on the Picts and Thebes.

The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido. When I read the title I assumed that the piece was somehow informed by evolutionary psychology. No. It’s larded with Freudianism.

Evolutionary psychology has taken its hits over the last 15 years, and rightly so when it’s basically re-warmed social psychology, but the stuff informed by primatology is 21st century science (you can agree to disagree, but there’s something to grab onto there). Freudianism sometimes gets a bad rap even though its origins were not nearly as woolly as we might think, but cutting-edge early 20th century psychology is really beyond its sell-by date today.

This is the stuff that makes me pessimistic that the “replication crisis” is going to have any impact on the media or the public. For example, At Yale, we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals. The results say a lot about our political divisions in The Washington Post. The author of the op-ed is a major person in the center of the controversy around replication. In particular, “ego depletion.” This op-ed is based on studies with p-values of 0.034 and such.

That being said, Radiolab has an episode on Stereotype Threat which acknowledges worries about its replication. Really all that matters to me is the funnel plot.

Detecting past and ongoing natural selection among ethnically Tibetan women at high altitude in Nepal. It’s polygenic and we don’t understand the architecture of the trait that well it seems. Basically, early selection sweep analysis detected some major loci, but it’s not the whole story. Reminds me of pigmentation.

An endogenous retroviral envelope syncytin and its cognate receptor identified in the viviparous placental Mabuya lizard. This is pretty cool, the same process seems to be occurring over and over.

Rethinking phylogenetic comparative methods. I think this is will be an impactful paper once it gets published.

Meanwhile, this looks interesting: The role of chromosomal inversions in speciation.

I posted some Taylor Swift memes to Twitter as a joke. They seem quite popular, especially the ones related to string theory and evolution, though the one related to Arminian and orthodox Calvinist soteriology took off in a different sector of Twitter.

The funny thing is several people were angry because they thought I was putting down Taylor Swift. I was just making fun of the media fixation on famous people and their stupid thoughts.

My friend D. Allan Drummond has gone “full artiste.” He’s now selling some of his incredible biologically-themed 3-D printing. You can read about his work in this profile at Nerdist (by day he’s a biochemist who used to be an evolutionary geneticist who used to be an engineer).

17 thoughts on “Open Thread, 11/26/2017

  1. “At Yale, we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals.”

    As George Will wrote*: “Professors have reasons for their beliefs. Other people, particularly conservatives, have social and psychological explanations for their beliefs.”

    *August 8, 3003 link rotted

    Personally, I was part of an experiment that turned me into a conservative. It was called working for a living, raising a family, and living in Urban America for the past 50 years.

  2. “Freudianism sometimes gets a bad rap even though its origins were not nearly as woolly as we might think”

    That’s not really true at all. Fred Crews’ recent biography lays that Freudian myth, among many others, to rest. Psychoanalytic theory was really based on Freud’s personal sexual neuroses which he dressed in this romantic, literary garb. Freudianism dates back to an era when medicine and (part of) psychology were becoming real sciences, but Freud rejected that approach (such as the experimental method) and relied on his own (absurd) intuitions about human nature.

  3. much lying through omission or elision to support their political side

    This is different from signaling to prevent backlash. For example, “This is the history, but don’t forget that they were slave-owners, mean to women, etc., etc.” The situation is similar to the current NYT’s article about an American Nazi that supposed failed to point out how terrible Nazism is.

  4. Taylor Swift’s silence on the nonclassical carbonium ion controvercy indicates that she believes the 2-Norbornyl cation is best represented as 2 equilibrating Lewis structures.

  5. You and me both on Wyman’s podcast. It might be why my reaction to Fall of Rome was relatively muted – I already knew most of what he ended up saying in it from Wyman’s podcast.

    I hope the GMO labeling isn’t too scare-monger-y. Just small text by the ingredients list saying that this product contains ingredients from genetically-modified organisms. I still think it’s wholly unwarranted from what we know about the safety of GMO crops, but it seems to be a consumer choice at this point.

    Besides, if climate change hits the crops hard in the coming decades, we’ll be forced to revisit GMO crops in a serious way. Probably the same for nuclear power if we’re in a desperate rush to get emissions down 15 years from now.

    A few days ago there was a Twitter thing about top five books that have influenced you.

    I’d probably go with

    1. The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
    2. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    3. End of Evolution by Peter Ward
    4. 1493 by Charles Mann
    5. Ice Age (author unknown)

    That’s not necessarily a reflection on their quality, just their influence on my intellectual development. If I had to pick five books that sum up my worldview now, I’d probably go with #1, #4, Railroaded by Richard White, An Extraordinary Time by Marc Levinson, and Dawn of Innovation by Charles Morris.

  6. I had a dish with a lot of Szechuan pepper recently. It was interesting. Having my mouth feel numb was a weird experience. It kind of took away from the dish. However, I’ll give them another try in the future.

  7. Last week I noted that there was some interesting material about transgenderism.

    Over Thanksgiving I had a chance to discuss it with my MD/PhD s-i-l. His research was about the genetic basis of a particular disease. He, like me, and, I think like you, has a materialist realist view of the world. As he pointed out the articles, cited by the ANU person, did not prove what she wanted to prove. They show that 99.9% of the time the genetic mechanism works like we expect it to. The other occasions show the power of mutations, chimerism, and developmental misfires (that maybe genetic in origin) of various sorts.

    I also noted that “pro LGBTQI2S people asserted that ‘gender identity’ is inborn, but not biological, nor is it learned. And I commented that I always thought that nature (DNA) and nurture (learning) were the choices, there was no Door Number 3.

    Finally the light went on. Ever since Plato, there have been thinkers who asserted the existence of two substances in the world. One is the physical, the material, the body. The other is mental, the soul, the spiritual, the mind. Descartes tried to reconcile the two substances by proposing that the soul is connected to the body through the pineal gland.

    I believe that modern transgenderists have reinvented or rediscovered an older tradition — Gnosticism. In the Western world, Gnosticism presented itself in the form of heresies of the Christian religion. The Manicheans and the Cathars are the best known sects. They saw the world absolutely divided between the upper spiritual realm where virtue and light resided and the lower material realm where darkness and evil dwelt. Gnostics believed in an absolute separation between mind and matter.

    Modern gender theorists posit that mind is in the body but exists independently of the body. A woman’s mind can find itself in a male body completely by accident. Having no system of metempsychosis they cannot explain why it would happen.

    As this is a fundamentally religious system, it is not readily refuted. (After learning of Bishop Berkeley’s doctrines, Dr. Johnson kicked a rock and said I refute it thus). You cannot argue a man out of a belief that he was not argued into.

    One of the true ironies is that the Left continues to say that it is scientific and rational, but many of its most sacred doctrines such as transgenderism and Global Warming are fundamentally religious.

  8. One of the true ironies is that the Left continues to say that it is scientific and rational, but many of its most sacred doctrines such as transgenderism and Global Warming are fundamentally religious.

    That’s very insulting to actual religions, which seem to derive deeply within human psyche (whether or not the tenets are actually true) and are repositories of much wisdom, tradition, history, and poetry of nature and life.

    Transgendrism is more mental illness than it is religion.

  9. Razib,

    What’s your opinion on genetic counselors? You might have seen this already, but Jennifer Raff tweeted in their favor wrt pre-natal testing.

    I think they could be very useful for the average person, who isn’t savvy enough to understand what to look for, or even what the results would mean. However, I would think that someone like her or you, would absolutely not need one, unless it was a convenience factor, i.e. you don’t have the time to do the work yourself.

    In general I respect M.D.s, but there are times when the patient knows best. I’m thinking of rare diseases and when patients find new doctors, or simply do more research.

  10. However, I would think that someone like her or you, would absolutely not need one, unless it was a convenience factor, i.e. you don’t have the time to do the work yourself.

    there’s a wide variance in GC from what i can tell. but in general, yes, was not necessary for me. but i take a deeper interest in personal genomics than most geneticists.

  11. Jared Diamond famously (or infamously, depending on how you see it) said that agriculture was the biggest mistake humans ever made. Seems like Scott might agree. Having reached a time and place when/where I no longer think hunting for tomorrow’s breakfast is an engaging and rewarding exercise (I used to, particularly when I was farming and got sick of eating nothing but mutton, and there was a useful dog around who was enthusiastic about going along to help and knew how to, expertly), I’m ambivalent about that.

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