Middlebury Talk

It should have been me, rather than Charles Murray, giving that talk at Middlebury.

Because I would have enjoyed it.

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Charm Offensive

There was a paper out late last year that discussed sex ratio effects in the population of Europe. They found that the Neolithic farming immigrants apparently settled as whole families, and were more likely to incorporate females than males from the pre-existing hunter-gatherers. Which sounds reasonable. The analysis looked at the X chromosome, which will have different levels of ancestry from the autosomes if there is sex-biased gene flow. Seems to me that the authors [Amy Goldberg, first author] should have included stats on uniparental markers [mtDNA and Y-chromosomes] as a sanity check, but they did not, for some reason.

They found that the later gene flow from the Pontic Steppes was large and overwhelmingly male, so much so that it couldn’t be modeled by a single event in which the Steppe men complete replaced the local men – no, there had to be further steppe male inflow after that. Interesting, sufficiently so that I wonder whether it’s correct.

The authors suggested this might have involved chariot-borne warriors, but that’s wrong – way too early for chariots. Wagons, men on horseback, possible and likely: no chariots. But when someone says something lie that, you wonder about their general knowledge of prehistoric archaeology – relevant in figuring this out. Actually you don’t wonder.

In an interview, Rasmus Nielsen (not part of the study) said that the Yamnaya men might have spread because they were “more focused on warfare, with faster dispersal because of technological inventions”. Which isn’t crazy. Amy Goldberg suggested that there were other possible explanations – the Yamnaya men could have been more attractive mates than European farmers because they had horses and new technologies, such as copper hammers. Now that is crazy.

First, to be boring about it, copper metallurgy had already been developed [in the Balkans] by the early farmers – they may have done so earlier than in the Middle East. Certainly long before the Yamnaya invasions.The Iceman had a copper axe.  Second, the idea that a complete replacement of y chromosomes could be driven by female choice – presumably while the local men stand aside and play video games – is nuts. Sure, it might happen today, but it’s the sort of complex nonsense that could only be embraced by college graduates. Back in the day, the only way those Yamnaya men scooped up the local sheilas was over the dead bodies of the local G2A farmers.

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There is a range of psyches that has been favored by natural selection, maybe somewhat different in different parts of the world. Some people are outside that set: their minds are different, different in ways that were never favored by Darwinian selection*. Now some traits we don’t like are probably in the set favored by natural selection: some kinds of unpleasantness probably work, at least at low frequencies. Sociopaths might fall in this category. There certainly are species with adaptive genetic behavioral variation – alternate male morphs, for example.

Moreover, standard psyches have their limitations. There are tasks that normal humans are bad at – think of optical illusions, or the Monte Hall problem. Or making sense.

Then there are special cases where people with psyches that clearly are out of whack are particularly good at some task, like bipolar poets.

Does this mean that we should say that having a Darwinian mental disease is hunky-dory? Should we refrain from trying to develop treatments or cures? Should we consider all possible mental states equally ‘valid’ ( whatever that means) ?

Of course not: only a loon would believe that. Being a normal human being isn’t a panacea, but adding gobs of genetic noise (or environmental insults like prenatal rubella or cytomegalovirus) isn’t going to make things better. That pattern at least survived all the tests of the past.

Having an accurate evaluation of a syndrome as a generally bad thing isn’t equivalent to attacking those with that syndrome. Being a leper is a bad thing, not just another wonderful flavor of humanity [insert hot tub joke] , but that doesn’t mean that we have to spend our spare time playing practical jokes on lepers, tempting though that is.. Leper hockey. We can cure leprosy, and we are right to do so. Preventing deafness through rubella vaccination was the right thing too – deafness sucks. And so on. As we get better at treating and preventing, humans are going to get more uniform – and that’s a good thing. Back to normalcy!

* Their minds ain’t right.

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Torsion Dystonia

There’s a mutation found in Ashkenazi Jews (not common – maybe 1 in 2000 frequency) that, in the opinion of a number of a number of those that have dealt with patients, makes you smarter. It’s a low-penetrance dominant. Some people never have trouble with it, some have moderate trouble (writer’s cramp), some end up with crippling muscle spasms. A friend of a friend has it – just writer’s cramp – but her neurologist comforted her a bit by pointing out that “it makes you smart”.

You’d think that people would be super-interested in this – but they’re not. I talked to a guy who, years ago, stumbled onto torsion dystonia at NIH and was quite excited, but nobody else here wanted to investigate it. Too interesting, probably.

Do I think that higher-than-average Jewish IQ is mediated by single-gene effects like this? Probably not most of it – probably the main thing is slightly higher frequencies of the kind of IQ-plus variants we’re getting from GWAS studies. Maybe some of it – some of the mutations causing relatively common Ashkenazi genetic diseases ( like Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s disease) sure have unusual neurological effects.

Like anything that hurts children, it’s hard to read about. For example:

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The Replication Crisis in Sociology

There isn’t one, as far as I can see, because sociologists, on the whole, don’t give a shit about being wrong. They like it.

Social psychologists inhabit the uncanny valley – highly susceptible to going astray, but embarrassed when it comes out.

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No Child Left Behind

Some time ago, around the time hat Congress passed No Child Left Behind, a reporter asked me what I thought its effect would be. I said I didn’t think it would have any.

Judging from the NAEP long-term trend scores for 17-year olds, I was right. They have hardly changed in more than 40 years. Naturally that’s what you would want to look at, rather than the scores for 4th graders or 8th graders. If they go up while graduates stagnate, it doesn’t matter. Only an idiot could get excited over that kind of sterile improvement – but since nearly everyone involved with this question is an idiot, they go on and on about it.

Reminds me of the way in which the Soviets kept increasing the production of steel, rather than steel products…

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Everything is different, but the same

Another new paper finds that the GWAS hits for IQ – largely determined in Europeans – don’t work in people of African descent. That was always a possibility: I’ve talked about it. If you look at the frequencies of height alleles (determined from GWAS in Europeans) you would predict that Pygmies are pretty short – but they’re considerably shorter than that. They have their own private alleles influencing height, which make them even shorter than you would think. Or, if you tried to estimate skin color in Koreans by the frequencies of variants that cause light skin in Europeans, you would conclude that they were black as night – but they’re not. They’re pretty light-skinned, but that’s caused by light-skin alleles common in East Asia, almost completely disjoint from the common light-skin alleles in Europeans.

So you can’t use those GWAS hits to tell how smart sub-Saharan Africans are, at least not today. All you can use are IQ measurements and achievements. It is as if the only way we could determine your height was by using a ruler, instead of GWAS predictions.

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