Open Thread, 10/15/2017

E. O. Wilson has a new book out, The Origins of Creativity. Did you know about it? Honestly totally surprised. Wilson’s been retired for a while now, so his profile isn’t as high as it was. He’s 88, so you got to give it to him that he can keep cranking this stuff out.

The New Yorker introduced me to Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. This is a topic that I’m interested in, but I’m not sure I disagree with the author at all, so I doubt I’d get much out of it for the time invested.

Basically, I agree with the proposition that for the average human being quality of life was probably somewhat better before agriculture, until the past few hundred years when innovation increased productivity and the demographic transition kicked in.

Will be at ASHG meeting Tuesday night until Saturday morning. Going to be at the Helix session on Wednesday and probably man their booth for an hour.

This year seems a little light on evolutionary genomics. Perhaps the methods posters will be good though.

Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild. Basically, it looks like there are some genetically based behavioral differences which makes dogs amenable to being pets and wolves not so much.

Na-Dene populations descend from the Paleo-Eskimo migration into America. Not entirely surprised, but kind of nails it down for good. One thing to remember is that New World and Old World were not totally isolated before the arrival of the Norse and later Iberians. For example, the Asian War Complex shows up in northwest North America 1,300 years ago.

The Decline of the Midwest’s Public Universities Threatens to Wreck Its Most Vibrant Economies. I think it is important to remember that economics is a means, not an ends. There is plenty of evidence that conservatives in the USA see academia as hostile to them and inimical to its values. On a thread where Alice Dreger asserted the importance of truth as the ultimate goal of an academic, one scientist unironically wondered how they could make their research further social justice goals.

So yes, many people who are going to try and defund academia understand that might not be optimal for economic growth. But if they believe that they’re funding their own cultural and political elimination, they don’t care.

An Alternate Universe of Shopping, in Ohio. Another story about the transformation of retail. One thing that is curious and strange to me is the evolution of the idea and perception of the mall over the past 25 years. Back in the 1980s malls were modernist shrines to the apogee of American capitalism. Today they seem mass-market and declasse. Part of it is that you don’t want to be a member of a club that everyone can join.

California Fires Leave Many Homeless Where Housing Was Already Scarce. This is horrible on so many levels.

An Unexpectedly Complex Architecture for Skin Pigmentation in Africans.

Over at Brown Pundits I wrote Race is not just skin color. I didn’t post it here because frankly it just seemed a silly thing to even have to explain.

Variation and functional impact of Neanderthal ancestry in Western Asia .

A few weeks ago over at Secular Right I wrote Why Trump could murder someone and people would still support him.

1977–2017: A Retrospective. Peter Turchin reminds us that for Russians the 1990s were horrible.

This graph from Planet Money blew up for me a bit on sci-twitter. The thing is that it’s easy to talk about racial and sexual diversity (or lack thereof) because it’s visible. On the other hand, people from less affluent backgrounds may not want to advertise that, so many are unaware of the implicit class assumptions that many people make:

Open Thread, 10/01/2017

Thinking about Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. It’s a good book. I’d recommend it. But a lot of the research highlighted pre-dates the era of the “reproducibility crisis.” That is, some of the positive results just didn’t end up being replicated after this book was written (more ethical behavior if you show people false eyes is mentioned, as are priming studies).

I think this is a general issue for anything written before 2015 that deals with psychology (unless it’s a book that to some extent tries to refute the ubiquity of overly sexy ideas, like The Invisible Gorilla).

Patrick Wyman has a podcast, The Fall of Rome Podcast. He comments on this weblog now and then. Recommended.

Over at Anatoly Karlin’s some confusion because his comments, from a Russian IP, were labeled “spam.” He thought I had banned him. Unfortunately, I don’t understand the logic of some comments labeled as spam, and I have to retrieve them many weeks later, as I check the spam folder only once a week or so. The ones with lots of links make sense, but sometimes there must be some semantic similarity with comment spam (and a lot of the spambots for a while had .ru addresses, so that explains why they don’t like Russian IP addresses).

Also, since for a while they thought I banned him some of his commenters who I had probably legitimately banned at some point decided to rant about how I don’t know anything about genetics or history and I’m a poo-poo head. There are lots of things you could criticize me for…but not knowing genetics or history are weird ones to fix upon. But hey, perhaps I’m the stupid one here with the blog that they were reading, while they, the anonymous commenters, are really so genius I can’t even Grokk their incandescent brilliance (there is a strange similarity in criticisms from both frog-Nazis and SJWs directed toward me as to my ignorance of all the facts they know).

Emails Show How An Ivy League Prof Tried To Do Damage Control For His Bogus Food Science. And Why We Find And Expose Bad Science. The researcher at the center of this scientific scandal actually seems like a decent human being from what I can tell. Unfortunately, he also seems to have likely been committing very basic statistical errors in his research and enabled a culture of sloppiness. The problem with not coming down with a hammer on a prominent professor at Cornell is that leniency will give the green light to more researchers that sloppiness and statistical shoddiness will “pay.”

If you don’t follow my RSS you might know, but I’m posting more at Brown Pundits and Secular Right.

I do have one opinion on Catalonia: seems like the government in Madrid took a low flame and sprayed gasoline all over it.

People regularly confuse that Africa has the most genetic diversity with the idea that African populations have the most genetic diversity among them in terms of ‘genetic distance.’ I realized an easy way to explain why this does not follow: Bantu populations diverged over the past 3,000 years, Eurasians over the past 40,000 years. The Eurasians went through a massive bottleneck, and so are less genetically diverse than all Sub-Saharan Africans. But the genetic distance between two Eurasian populations can be greater than between two Bantu populations because there is ten times as much time to accumulate between-group differences in the case of Eurasians than Bantus (in contrast, the high between-group difference among San Bushmen indicates really deep divergences).

Open Thread, 09/24/2017

Reading Harold Marcus’ A History of Ethiopia. So far a little too heavy on diplomatic as opposed to social history. My curiosity was piqued when reading The Fortunes of Africa when the author observed that the geopolitical extend of the modern Ethiopian state was partially a function of a relatively late state expansion in the 19t and 20th centuries from the Abyssinian highlands.

It’s one of those facts which allow other facts to snap into place. I’ve always been curious about the huge number of Muslims and Somalis in modern Ethiopia. Well, it turns out to be a function of the fact that the borders were drawn at a particular moment and time.

Neolithization of North Africa involved the migration of people from both the Levant and Europe.

A stray thought I had. For years people have been wary about Richard Dawkins’ conflation of atheism with science, and evolution more particularly. I am starting to wonder if the more self-conscious political activism of scientists, almost uniformly on the Left, will start to have an impact.

The problem is that at for now scientists depend on the public for their funding by and large (there are exceptions obviously). A polarized public which does not esteem science and has a faction which sees it as hostile may be less interested in cutting checks for “blue sky” projects (i.e., NIH will be fine, but the NSF….). Since academics are overwhelming of one political orientation I suspect they have a poor intuition of how quickly such a change could come about (there is more real diversity there than is vocalized, but many people I know personally have no inclination for public denunciations due to any heterodoxy, so they keep their mouths shut).

Going to the ASHG meeting in one month. I doubt I will venture out into Orlando. I have been to a conference in that city before, but never left the convention center attached to the airport! Am I missing something?

In general, I avoid national politics. But the whole controversy around football is curious because I’m skeptical that the sport will be around in a generation.

One thing that I have been thinking recently is dropping my Twitter follow back down to 300 or so. I still use Twitter obviously…but it’s getting too dumb. And lots of interesting and smart voices are going passively into lurk mode because it’s exhausting having to deal with dumb people.

Open Thread, 9/17/2017

Reading Vietnam: A New History. The author has an apologia/explanation for why he is focusing not just on European colonialism, but the history of what became Vietnam back to the first contacts with Han China (with some perfunctory archaeological passages). This is great in theory, but from what I have read so far we’re going to have a tryst with the French sooner than later. So I don’t think he really delivered here (though perhaps “normal” people want to read about evil European colonialism immediately?).

By coincidence, there is a Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War now. One of my friends from when I was a kid had (has) a dad who was a Vietnam vet. He’d have night terrors. Only now do I realize how recently in the past it was for him back in the 1980s.

I did enjoy The Best and the Brightest.

Sent out my second newsletter. Here’s a stat that I divulged: more than 50% of traffic to this site is directly due to Google+Twitter+Facebook. In 2011 it was 35%. Much of the difference is due to the decline in RSS feeds, and the rise of mobile.

Why is Twitter not what it was in the early 2010s? I think part of it is that there are too many people on Twitter, and the average user is less intelligent overall. Unlike Facebook on Twitter the “genius” is anyone can talk to you. This is a problem.

The grandmaster of Mormon dweeb fantasy (I say this affectionately) Brandon Sanderson is coming out with the third book in his projected ten book Stormlight Archive series.

I’m at peace with the likelihood that I won’t finish this series. Sanderson is a great world-builder, so I’m looking at these books more as fictional ethnographies. Just along for a short ride.

Finally in the homestretch of A New History of Western Philosophy. After the classical period I haven’t really enjoyed this book, it was a slog. I began to read it at the same time as I read Consciousness and the Brain, which I finished in a week. Two years on I’m finally finishing the other book I started then.

Finally, again I highly recommend The Fortunes of Africa. Great read. I do have to say that it was hard not to be particularly appalled by Arab slave traders. It’s not like the European trade isn’t appalling, but that’s widely known. In contrast the driving of black Africans across the Sahara is less in the Western consciousness.

Open Thread, 09/10/2017

Read The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith this weekend. It’s a quick read, and a pretty good concise survey of the religion and its history. Recommended.

Next up I think I’ll tackle Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa.

Genomic evidence for population specific selection in Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo linguistic groups in Africa. The title gets at the interesting parts (though unsurprising). Not sure about the phylogenomic/population history aspect…for example, contends that Sub-Saharan ancestry mostly derives from Nuba mountains. I don’t think that’s true.

“Open Threads” seem to have a huge variance in number of comments. Perhaps what I prime has a big impact?

Why I am not blogging anymore. I am one of a dying breed.

In relation to why Twitter is getting dumber, there are five times as many users as in 2010. Can the platform really keep quality up? What I like to think of as “dumb Twitter” is getting to be a bigger and bigger proportion, and the bigger it gets the more people go silent who are of high quality.

Posting on the Rohingya controversy the last few days has convinced me that most people who express opinions are mostly interested in posturing. People of conscience can agree that killing of civilians is wrong. But the details of action from that premise vary wildly. Also, my attempt to get at the facts of contextual elements apparently make me suspicious to many people!

In relation to foreign policy, I think that distrusting “elites” is probably for the best. The primary thing they know is their own interests.

The Last Days of ISIS’ Capital: Airstrikes if You Stay, Land Mines if You Flee.

PETA versus the postdoc: Animal rights group targets young researcher for first time. I think this sort of behavior is more acceptable in the world of ‘social media shaming.’

Americans Losing Faith in College Degrees, Poll Finds. Not all Americans:

Today, Democrats, urban residents and Americans who consider themselves middle- and upper-class generally believe college is worth it; Republicans, rural residents and people who identify themselves as poor or working-class Americans don’t.

Also, colleges don’t get it:

Schools such as Michigan State, the University of Wisconsin system and the University of Florida are trying to improve their public standing with marketing efforts. In Wisconsin, the university system has taken out billboards across the state highlighting the impact alumni have had on the local economy.

The problem isn’t in marketing, it’s in the product.

On a related vein, over at Oberlin, Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall. In the Pacific Northwest, After a turbulent spring, Evergreen faces enrollment decline, budget woes. Finally, Long After Protests, Students Shun the University of Missouri. Hyper-politicization does not seem good for the product.

Finally, interested readers should consider getting a copy of Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. The next five years or so will be saturated with results coming out of massive genomic studies which will make much more sense if one has a theoretical framework with which to interpret the them.

Open Thread, 9/3/2017


I found the above video through Rod Dreher. It touched me on a visceral level because the baby in the first portion looks strikingly like my youngest. He’s sitting and smiling so much now. Really appreciating his infant-hood, as this is the third time we’re going through this.

All I can say in relation to having children is that now I know what matters, all that matters, and that none of the rest matters.

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones has come and gone. They’re really compressing a lot of material into only a few episodes. I didn’t watch the earlier seasons before the show got ahead of the books, but I have to think they were more leisurely. I’ll watch the final season to get a sense of the ending in the books in case George R. R. Martin doesn’t finish them, but I think the sprint to the finish line means that if he does write the remaining books he’ll have a lot of free territory to himself.

Now on Stage: The Countdown to a New Taylor Swift Album. Streaming has gone from 23 to 63 percent of the market in three years.

Neanderthals and Denisovans as biological invaders.

Evolutionary biology today and the call for an extended synthesis.

The second sage. The fact that Westerners don’t know who Mencius is (a premise of the piece) is ridiculous. But probably true. I would still recommend Xunzi: The Complete Text for another early Confucian viewpoint.

I added a disclosures page. Mostly all that matters right now is that I work at Insitome, trying to do interesting things in the personal genomics space (and now that the Helix store is open you can purchase our first offering).

If you haven’t, please sign-up for my newsletter. I’m seeing more and more despondency on the nature of Twitter from the people who use it the most and produce the vast majority of the content. I suspect it will collapse sooner than later….

The Looming Decline of the Public Research University. As someone with intellectual aspirations but a conservative political viewpoint I’m conflicted. On the one hand the academy produces great work. On the other hand a lot of academics don’t see a difference between someone like me and Nazis (judging by “likes” of things I’ve retweeted to test the waters in relation to those promoting the proposition). Like it or not many conservatives perceive that a subset of the academy is dangerous to us on existential grounds. Why should we pay for our own destruction? If we could surgically remove these departments then the university could maintain itself, but that seems impossible. So you see where the future leads.

This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same. “…Houston may not be a nice place to visit, but you would want to live there. I do.”

The Best DNA Ancestry Testing Kit. There is some good and some bad in this review. But it’s thorough.

Fun fact, 44% of this site’s traffic is now mobile.

Open Thread, 08/27/2017

Razib & Dr. Ghulam Sarwar (1896-1996)

I showed my daughter a photo of my maternal grandfather yesterday. He was holding me in his lap. It’s probably about 1981, so he would have been about 85 years old then. I was his first grandchild, as he had a family late in life. He saw a lot of changes in his life. Born into the British Raj during the late Victorian period, he died when I was using the internet regularly to email friends and relatives.

In his home village they called him the “Goony Doctor”, as Ghani was part of his longer surname.

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. Seems like an interesting and relevant book. On the other hand, we always have to keep in mind that China’s labor force peaked several years ago. The demographic pressures on China in the 21st century will probably always mean that it won’t exhibit the vigor of a nation like the United States of America during the baby boom.

Hurricane Harvey has been a big deal. In Central Texas we’ve been hunkering down, but it’s Houston that is in real danger. America’s 4th largest city.

Still soliciting sign ups for my newsletter. It’s more of a “hey Twitter has disappeared here is where I am on the web” notification system. Have only sent one mailing so far. Will increase frequency in future, but probably max once a month.

A lot of discussion on “science Twitter” about getting rid of GREs. Scientists are smart, but they don’t know everything. To understand ‘intelligence testing’ I recommend people read Intelligence: All That Matters or The Neuroscience of Intelligence. People throw around ideas like “GRE is culturally biased,” but cultural bias on testing is a whole topic with a specific meaning. That is, are the tests able to predict future performance on tasks to the same extent across groups?

I suspect that the GRE is on its way out though. Many scholars don’t support the shift, but they won’t say much in public lest they be attacked. Of course that will lead to greater emphasis on undergraduate school attended as well as the eminence of those giving recommendations.

(note, if a university uses the GRE appropriately there should be no correlation between outcome and GRE score, as they filter out all the students that need to be filtered out)

Open Thread, 08/20/27

I’ve been off the map for a bit because I’m eclipse chasing. #TotalityOrBust as they say. The whole family has been converging on zone of totality, and now we’re there. Obviously I’m excited.

There are lots of things going on in the world. One thing though that I’m beginning to think is that people would benefit reading more cognition science. I know I certainly did years ago. The main issue is that we’re not rational in the way we think we’re rational, and that leads to a lot of confusions why other people behave the way they do. Check out Enigma of Reason (I came upon a lot of this literature through the study of the cognition of religion).

Complex Patterns of Admixture across the Indonesian Archipelago. Someone who knows archaeology should read this….

The genetic history of Ice Age Europe. This was published last year. But it should be re-read. Closely.

Open Thread, 08/13/2017

Busy with kids and life. But perhaps time to read Peter Turchin’s Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History. I was skeptical when Peter presented this idea years ago. Less so now.

I’m on the eclipse train. The whole family will be chasing it soon.

Paul Thompson is on Twitter. If you read this blog in the early/middle 2000s it will be a familiar name. Paul had thought I had stopped blogging! Moving platforms every few years does that.

So a friend of mine was advising that I should push sign-ups to my newsletter, as he too believes that Twitter’s days in its current form are numbered. I’ve only sent out one mailing so far, but may increase the frequency to once a month or so. Mostly I’m a little worried that without Twitter people like me who produce content, but aren’t affiliated with a media distribution channel, are going to get lost in the din.

Anyway, please sign up if you don’t follow me on Twitter (or if you do).

Open Thread, 08/06/2017

I know that George R. R Martin has stated that the ending to A Song of Ice and Fire is going to be bittersweet. R. Scott Bakker’s conclusion to the Aspect Emperor tetralogy ends with a bittersour ending. Fair warning.

Also, the writing of the last third of The Unholy Consult was good in terms of packing a lot of action and plotting, but it was hard to keep track of all the obscure names.

The new episode of Game of Thrones is very good. Nice for things to actually happen.

I’ve been offline most of the weekend. Several people asked me about the Google Memo. Here’s the weird thing: huge subcultures within the organization aren’t even American. Several friends for example have been token Americans on Chinese teams. Their values and priorities are obviously very different even if they don’t inform the ‘public face’ of the company. It’s all rather strange (yes, whoever wrote that memo will surely be fired).

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. I think Matt Stoller’s anti-monopolist views should appeal to many people on the Right as well as the Left. Google and Facebook are arguably much more powerful than any state government when it comes to shaping our culture.

A. N. Wilson spent five years working on a biography of Charles Darwin that is coming out next year. So he published It’s Time Charles Darwin Was Exposed for the Fraud He Was. I find Darwin idolatry a bit much sometimes personally. And I’m  not deeply versed in his intellectual biography. I’ve read The Origin of Species, and have read several of Peter J. Bowler’s works.

I can only comment on what I know in more detail. At some point Wilson tries to tag Neo-Darwinians with Dawkins’ atheism. But Dawkins is an extreme case. Arguably the god-father of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, R. A. Fisher, was an Anglican and a Tory. No offense to Dawkins, but his substantive scientific contribution is dwarfed by Fisher. And yet Wilson is pushing Dawkins to the front as an exemplar of Neo-Darwinism.

Wilson also says that Neo-Darwinians couldn’t therefore revere Gregor Mendel because he was a monk. It’s all rather strange because it’s called “Mendelian Genetics.” Not mention that biographies I’ve read suggested that Mendel himself was not excessively pious. Rather, his monastic vocation freed him from financial worries, allowing him sufficient leisure to engage in studies. But perhaps I’m wrong in this, after all Wilson has studied Darwin for five years!

Finally, there is the utilization of Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge to attack Darwinian gradualism. I’m not a big fan of all this macroevolutionary talk, but the late Gould and Eldridge would not be happy to be drafted in this way. Charles Darwin was wrong on a lot of things. That’s because he had a lot of ideas.

The central deep insight from Darwin’s theory was the power of natural selection to shape variation and drive adaptation. One can argue about the importance of this dynamic in evolutionary process, but the fact that it is still being studied shows how fruitful Darwin’s theory was in generating a living program of science.

What the company I work for is working on.