Born that way

In the Atlantic Monthly , which no longer has any reason for existence, since there’s really no point in placing a computer screen on the bottom of a birdcage, Jason Silverstein  – a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Harvard –  has a piece explaining that genes don’t cause racial health disparities – society does! Moreover,  it’s immoral to even look for such genetic explanations.

I guess he should have gotten this published earlier, since we’ve already found some of those naughty genes – pretty important ones. So it’s too late.

Probably the biggest well-understood case involves two common variants of APOL1, a gene that mostly transports lipids, but also zaps trypanosomes – the cause of sleeping sickness.  Humans with the standard form of APOL1 are immune to most trypanosomal infections,  but two strains have evolved resistance to  the standard form of APOL1 – they’re the ones that cause sleeping sickness in humans   In response, two variants of APOL1 that block one of the strains of sleeping sickness that infects humans (Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense) have become common in central and west African populations, and their diaspora.

Unfortunately, these  protective variants are hell on your kidneys. And they’re common:    > 30% of African-Americans carry a risk variant.  It increases the risk of kidney failure ( by a lot) in several conditions  (focal segmental glomerulosis(FSGS),  HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN), and diabetes-associated nephropathy).  Altogether, African-Americans  develop kidney disease at a rate 4-5 times higher than other groups.  It is worth noting that African-Americans that don’t have these APOL1 variants appear to have  a risk similar to that of whites.  You have to give the Man credit for focusing the bad health effects of racism in a way that could easily fool people into thinking that genes matter – even more so considering that nobody discovered these APOL1 variants until 2010.  I think we’re talking secret underground labs: probably the same guys that taught chimps to make war and brainwashed chimpettes into liking dolls instead of trucks.

There are of course diseases in which one or a few genes of major effect  play a major role in disease among African Americans, like sickle-cell anemia.  There are other diseases that have very different incidence and outcomes in blacks and whites, but have not been pinned to a single locus. In some of those cases,  the difference may be caused by  several genes, or perhaps many genes of small effect rather than a couple of major-effect variants.  For example, hypertension goes up strongly with the amount of African ancestry: some of that is probably caused by the APOL1 variants, but there is also evidence that differences in how blacks handle salt and water conservation also contribute – they have high-risk angiotensin variants,  and a more active version of NKCC2, a NA,K, Cl cotransporter.  Blacks often have a salt-sensitive form of hypertension. They also have lower urine volume, higher urine concentrations, 30% lower Ca excretion, expanded plasma volume, etc.

Age-adjusted sarcoidosis mortality is 12 times higher in blacks than whites: of course we don’t even know what causes that one.  Hate, maybe.  Or possibly the luminiferous ether.

Historically, we know that many infectious diseases had different courses in blacks and whites – for example, blacks were considerably more likely to survive yellow fever than whites, presumably because of oppression, but there’s been less work on that subject in recent years, partly because many of those diseases are well-controlled and partly because most researchers have enough sense to avoid working with anything so dangerous.

To  sum up, race is indeed a factor in health differences.  We know quite a lot about it , and are learning more.  Sometimes that new knowledge helps you figure out better treatments. I don’t think finding out things is immoral, with the possible exception of an easy method of inducing vacuum decay in the comfort of your own home.

Which means that Silverstein is a jackass. Nothing stopped him from digging into biomedical research to  see if his thesis was substantially true: he didn’t bother.  But why is he a jackass?  Born that way, probably.

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58 Responses to Born that way

  1. JayMan says:

    First of all, readers should see also:

    HBD is Life and Death | JayMan’s Blog

    There is clear global and local variation in health outcomes that can be traced to race and ethnic ancestry.

    An example:

    Related groups around the world cluster together, and diaspora populations resemble those in their home countries.

    In the U.S., among Whites, Scots-Irish ancestry correlates to all sorts of ill health and life outcomes.

  2. JayMan says:

    Here are some gems from that Atlantic article:

    The main reason for the racial mortality gap is heart disease. “There’s a huge number of years of life lost because some people have the black life expectancy and not the white life expectancy,” Kaufman said. “It’s killing people prematurely on the basis of race.”

    After all, it is almost universally agreed that race is a social construct.

    Certain diseases cluster in populations, such as Tay-Sachs, which is most common in people with an Ashkenazi Jewish background. In such cases, some researchers say we should turn our attention away from race and toward ancestry. If it is true that there are differences in disease risk between human groups, then what we need is a more clever way to dice up humanity.

    “We talk about ancestry, we talk about shared genetic backgrounds. That is a better proxy for biology than race.

    “If you look at overall health disparities across the board,” Kittles said, “the bulk of those disparities are not due to any biological difference. The vast majority of health disparities are due to social, behavioral, and environmental components.”

    It’s only too bad the fools banned me from commenting there…

    How do some people have this talent for the type of mental gymnastics neccesary to twist the facts in such a spectacular fashion?

    • Toddy Cat says:

      “We talk about ancestry, we talk about shared genetic backgrounds. That is a better proxy for biology than race.”

      And race is based on what, exactly, besides shared genetic backgrounds? The Atlantic has published some crap in its time, but this level of obfuscation is astonishing, even for them. Being banned by them is an honor, Jayman…

    • jamzw says:

      “How do some people have this talent for the type of mental gymnastics neccesary to twist the facts in such a spectacular fashion?” The wish is the father of faith–von Mises

      FRANCOIS RENE DE CHATEAUBRIAND
      There are fits of forgetfulness or deceit which terrify; you open your ears, you rub your eyes, not knowing whether you are awake or asleep. You follow him with your gaze, suspended as you are between a kind of astonishment and a sort of admiration; you are unsure whether the man has not received some authority from nature giving him the power to recreate or annihilate the truth.

  3. If it’s all in the environment, then I wonder if Silverstein predicts Blacks will suffer more and more from afflictions that disproportionately affect whites as the environment of the former improves.

  4. Missingdata says:

    As usual, inconvenient group differences (Asians and Latinos, in this case) have been erased.

    [Silverstein said:] “It is no secret that a longer life is a white privilege in the U.S.”

    Life Expectancy in U.S.

    Asians 86.5 years
    Latino 82.8 years
    White 78.9 years
    Native American 76.9
    African-American: 74.6

    http://kff.org/other/state-ind

    • Missingdata says:

      Dr. Cochran, do you have any story for why Latinos in the U.S. have higher life expectancy than any of their ancestral populations alone? Perhaps because unhealthy people are less likely to travel to the U.S. and do heavy physical labor?

      • It’s a good question. The paradox is apparently real. I checked multiple sources. Some speculation here. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/storyline/wp/2014/10/02/hispanics-in-the-u-s-live-longer-than-white-people-why/

        • JayMan says:

        • gcochran9 says:

          It’s a paradox if you believe that differences in income/SES are themselves main drivers of health differences. But, considering that the death rates tend to go down during a doctors’ strike, this may not quite be so.

          People talk a lot about access to prenatal care, for example: Hispanics have somewhat less access to it. But there’s not much evidence that it has favorable effects on birth outcomes.

          “Most research on the effectiveness of prenatal care in developed countries has focused on birth outcomes (generally birthweight or infant mortality) and has found small or no effects. For example, using econometric techniques to address the potential endogeneity of prenatal care, Reichman et al.5 found that first trimester care increases birthweight by only 20 grams, and Evans and Lien6 found that prenatal visits do not have a significant effect on birthweight overall, but have a positive effect among mothers early in their pregnancies. The finding of small effects of prenatal care on birthweight are consistent with a recent review in the medical literature indicating that few features of prenatal care would be expected to increase birthweight at the aggregate level.7 Reichman et al.5 also found that prenatal care has no effects on a more direct measure of infant health—whether the child had any serious abnormal infant health condition, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, that was unlikely to be a random shock. Although studies indicate that prenatal care may improve birth outcomes in lesser-developed countries, 8–10 the evidence that early or adequate prenatal care improves aggregate birth outcomes in the developed world is less than compelling. ”

          I knew this already, but probably Jason Silverstein does not. People with lower SES have worse health, but somehow winning the lottery does not help [David Cesarini] .

          If we had effective therapies for common disease syndromes that worked, significantly extended life, and cost like the dickens, presumably extra money would extend the lifespan. But not much of medicine is like that: the most effective parts of medicine are also cheap.

        • Jim says:

          I recall reading somewhere in the actuarial literature a comparison of mortality rates by cause between different races in the US. I recall that compared to whites, Hispanics and Amerindians had lower mortality for heart disease and most cancers but higher mortality for diabetes and alcohol related diseases. The overall mortality was from highest to lowest – Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Amerindian, Asians. My memory is that overall Amerindian mortality was lower than Hispanic but maye I misremembered that.

      • harpend says:

        Several of us wrote a paper proposing a model for this. It was essentially that SS Africans have a long history of exposure to infectious disease, Europeans and Asians not so much, and Amerindians least of all because of their passage through the Beringian filter. This leads to inflammation responses that are cranked up in US Blacks, midway in Anglos, and cranked down in Hispanics. It I did it right (let me know if I didn’t SVP) it is available at
        https://www.dropbox.com/s/2smar91c0sft3ol/inflammation.pdf?dl=0 .

        I have brought up the “Hispanic Paradox” to a number of “social causes” academics. Their response is a kind of fear grimace and vehement denial that it can be true.

        A student brought up this paper to a relative who is a professor of medicine at an Ivy League university. He liked it a lot but said that nothing like that could be taught to his students nor even to residents. He did go over it with his fellows he said.

        I have always regarded ignorant talkers like the author of the Atlantic article as harmless twits, like the early childhood education pushers. I am changing my mind because his kind of ideology literally can kill people.

    • pyrrhus says:

      It’s really difficult for a PhD candidate to be THAT stupid and ignorant, but in anthropology they have always managed to produce spectacular examples…

  5. Helter Ventor says:

    Doctors use race and ethnicity in diagnosing and treating all the time. Just a small example using myself: I suffer from mild rosacea, a common skin disorder in people of Northwest European origin. If my ancestors were from China instead, he might have a different diagnosis and treatment.

  6. Unladen Swallow says:

    Further proof not that any was needed that scientifically oriented anthropology is dying a slow, decades long death due to various leftist ideologies and their anti-scientific outlooks. The faculty of the Harvard Anthropology Department isn’t much better, most of the professors are stepped in various quasi-Marxist and post modern philosophies, even Richard Wrangham who seems like a pretty sensible liberal academic is in a department called Human Evolutionary Biology, so even though his professorial chair is in Biological Anthropology, he isn’t in the actual anthropology department at all, not even as an affiliate. Saw only four faculty members out of twenty-eight with what could be considered scientific interests and one of them was merely a senior lecturer. It’s like an academic Gresham’s Law: Bad anthropology drives out Good.

  7. Whoa! There’s a gene for going into anthropology? Or just one for trying for a PhD?

    Y’know, it could be, in a general way. A type of personality according to Big Five (Staffan says Six) that is demonstrably heritable and also predisposes to feelgood social science reinforcement of one’s favorite ideas.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the “Sensitive vs Utilitarian” axis on a certain 16-factor personality test directly relates to this.

    • gcochran9 says:

      And so it’s harder to fix things than one might think. There have been scientific mistakes that were just mistakes, not markers of general nuttiness. For example, there was a notion that the iridium in the K-T clay layer (and the K-T extinction itself) might have been the product of a nearby supernova. In that case, though, there would also be a measurable amount of plutonium-244 in that layer. They checked, it wasn’t there. A colleague wrote Alvarez ” Dear Luie: You are right and we were wrong. Congratulations!” That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

      Somehow, though, I can’t imagine the experimental result that would change Jason Silverstein’s mind.

      Generally, the people who find the social sciences attractive today are all too often nutty rather than just wrong. Unfixable.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      “A type of personality… that is demonstrably heritable and also predisposes to feelgood social science”

      I’d guess that it’s less about feel-good, than about petty malice and aggression towards perceived enemies.

      The social sciences crowd thinks that we’re Dr. Mengele, sabotaging “progress”.

      • another fred says:

        “I’d guess that it’s less about feel-good, than about petty malice and aggression towards perceived enemies.”

        Most of them make me think of Maximilian Robespierre.

        I’m an old fart, but I loved anthropology and ethology when I was young and in college (the ’60s) until I ran into more than a few of these types at school. I let the assholes run me off and I’m an engineer instead. I really admire those who stuck it out and are turning the tide

  8. Larry, San Francisco says:

    I started reading the Atlantic when the David Stockman interview came out in the early 1980’s but I got so disgusted with the stupidity of James Fallows (still there) that I stopped reading it. I restarted reading it in the late 90’s when Michael Kelly was editor but after he died it went down fast.

    • gcochran9 says:

      But Fallows warned you about how Japan was going to economically dominate the world any day now!

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Fallows is like a compass pointing south. He was nattering on about Japanese superiority just before the great Japanese stagnation started in the 1990’s, he was writing about how ineffective American weapons were compared to Soviet Bloc stuff just before the Bekaa valley and Gulf War I, and he argued for re-imposing the draft just about the time the U.S. started drawing down its ground forces in the Mideast. Can we get this guy to start picking stocks, or horses?

        • gcochran9 says:

          I had the same impression, called him an inverse weathervane. He could be a huge national asset if properly used.

          • Anonymous says:

            An oracle that is always wrong is just as useful as one that is always right. It’s the oracles that are sometimes right and sometimes wrong that cause problems.

          • Rifleman says:

            Fallows was an early promoter of the “George Zimmerman, a White Southerner, murders black child in Florida = RACISM!!” narrative.

  9. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Moreover, it’s immoral to even look for such genetic explanations.”

    They are actively seeking to prevent medical treatment for millions of people – billions if you extrapolate it to future generations. It’s pretty evil when you think on it.

    .

    It’s like the denial that LP was selected for

    http://dienekes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/natural-selection-and-ancient-european.html

    I expect it was mostly about calories but if there is some extra advantage on top of that then the LP gene itself doesn’t confer the advantage; an ingredient in milk or dairy confers the advantage and LP simply provides access to that ingredient. The sooner they stop denying the obvious and look for that ingredient the sooner everyone could have it.

  10. “Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.” Friedrich Schiller

  11. dearieme says:

    A bacteriologist friend once attended a Soc Sci seminar where the speaker explained that almost everything that affected health and behaviour was social in origin. My friend : “What about hormones?” Answer: “Hormones are a social construct.”

    It’s not even childish.

  12. RCB says:

    Does anyone have a good sense – better yet, numbers – of how the prevalence of this public PC ignorance is changing through time? I wish a Crazy Test were given to “intellectuals” every year, so we could gauge how well we are doing. (Ideally we would ask “what do you believe about X?” and then “What do you ACTUALLY believe (in private)?”)

    I ask because I’m not sure if things are getting better or worse, as of the last few years. I haven’t lived long enough to have a long view of things, but I’m pretty confident that the general trend since the 1960’s has been bad. But what about the last ten years? Gould is no longer around, after all.

    • dearieme says:

      “(Ideally we would ask “what do you believe about X?” and then “What do you ACTUALLY believe (in private)?”)” Better: ask ’em what they believe, and compare it with the beliefs you can infer from their behaviour. Talk is cheap.

    • Anonymous says:

      Even the change since the early 90s has been dramatic — read anything written at that time and the contrast is rather sharp. I think the backlash to “The Bell Curve” contributed to it, but most of it is unrelated to that. At some point, media and public discourse stopped being for grown-ups.

    • The news isn’t all bad. New stupidities arise, but some old ones have been crushed in recent memory. Today one finds articles about “human nature” in the popular media as if it were a given, and never the least bit controversial. The Blank Slate orthodoxy has been smashed, except in the more obscure haunts of obscurantism, like Harvard. Twenty years ago the authors of such articles would have been denounced as racists and fascists. There was something of a sea change at about the turn of the century, give or take a few years. You can find artifacts of the change in the NPR series about early man. In the one done in the late 90’s, he was a scavenger. In the next series, some years later, he was a hunter. The hunting transition from ape to man was anathema to the Blank Slaters. Now one even finds it spoken of matter-of-factly in articles in, of all places, “Scientific American.”

  13. Beyond Anon says:

    But why is he a jackass? Born that way, probably.

    However, what genetically-determined trait are we looking for?

    Inability to think deeply or strongly selected urges to go along with the cultural norms of his teenage years?

  14. The Blank Slate is dead, but its zombie staggers on.

  15. Rifleman says:

    Born that way, probably.

    Are you implying Jason Silverstein is some kinda fag? LOL.

  16. I once read–where, unfortunately, I don’t recall–that the Ancients (Galen?) had a well-articulated germ theory. It was suppressed, as heresy, in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church, which taught that the cause of disease was God’s punishment for sin, or else malevolent demons. Apparently, our own epoch’s self-appointed guardians of public morality, “secular” academics,” are carrying on their forebear’s tradition of obstructing science that conflicts with their prejudices–even at the cost of human life and wellbeing.

  17. swampr says:

    Why do so many really old people seem to be black? For a brief period recently the three oldest living humans were black Americans. Number five was Jamaican. There is a well known paradox that 80 year old black Americans have a longer life expectancy than whites. Also is it really true that black Cubans have the same life expectancy as whites? I’ve seen that claimed based on official stats.

    • Sam says:

      “Why do so many really old people seem to be black? For a brief period recently the three oldest living humans were black Americans. Number five was Jamaican.”

      That is not too surprising. Blacks have lower life expectancy than whites at birth. But the gap narrows when you take the life expectancy at later years. In fact, life expectancy for blacks at age 60 exceeds that of whites. This phenomenon holds globally. Differences in life expectancy among different group decrease at higher ages. This is because most of the differences in life expectancy at birth is driven by child mortality.

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  19. ton says:

    Brilliant. Thank you.

  20. no name assigned to this says:

    with the subtlety of a falling anvil… You are saying that Aski Jews are predisposed to cognitive narcissism and have a cat-nip like attraction to left wing banalities. Are the political biases a result of (1) hostile conquest of Lithuania by Russia and regional, (2) a vast Jewish evolutionary conspiracy to help their own baked into the religion’s nature or (3) simply a genetic defect,

    1) Would seem to be backed up by Winston Churchill (a regional issue).http://www.fpp.co.uk/bookchapters/WSC/WSCwrote1920.html
    The fact that Israel is the most conservative Western nation by many metrics seems to support a regional political bias among Jews. The Bund was very regional.

    2) Is very trendy with Oriental Observer, but this seems to be an issue from 50+ years ago. Leftist Jews are often anti-Israel nowadays.

    3) Would seem to be a corollary of your prior thesis regarding Aski IQ. However, if you listen to Stephen Hawking or similar non-Jewish intellectuals on the right tail of the IQ scale, they seem to be sound like maddening Aski leftists..

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