Thrall’s Saga

There’s a new paper out on Iceland’s demography. Originally, Iceland was roughly half Scandihoovian and half bog-trotters. But today, the islanders are about 70% Norse.

The authors think that this was probably genetic drift. They are wrong.  Those Gaelic ancestors came in as thralls: they didn’t own land.  Iceland was a tough place to survive in: landowners did better.

This should be obvious, particularly since the authors are themselves Icelandic. Perhaps they are not descendants of Aud the Deep-Minded (Ketilsdottir).


Correction: I foolishly believed the short description by Michael Price, rather than reading the whole article, which is behind a paywall. Price misunderstood the article: the authors do not think that the shift towards Scand was caused by drift, but rather by reduced opportunities for slaves – perfectly sensible.


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GWAS studies are rapidly establishing the role that common gene variants play in individual variation in complex traits.  Height, educational attainment, IQ, various health risks. They can also be used to investigate average trait differences between groups. There are technical complications in doing that –  GWAS might have found a SNP that is only linked to the causal SNP, and that linkage may be different in another, fairly distant population.  A very [genetically] distant population might have a significant number of entirely different variants influencing the trait.  In other words, Bushmen may be so genetically different on some trait that you can’t use a GWAS score to show that they’re different. So different that they might be the same.

But I’ll bet that the great majority of the time, people that look short – especially if they look short in a wide range of environments – actually are genetically inclined to be short.  I think we will find that populations that show high intellectual performance in a wide range of environments actually are genetically inclined to be smart, and those that show low performance in a wide range of environments mostly won’t be.

What you see is what you get.  David Reich  may say that nobody knows, but it’s the way to bet.





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In the Pleistocene there was no beer

If we were to clone up some Neanderthals, they would almost certainly have a strong tendency to become alcoholics.  Teetotalers or drunks.

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ΔF508 is a Yamnaya mutation

Probably.  Look at the distribution – it’s in India & Pakistan, too.


While 35delG  deafness is probably an EEF thing.



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GWAS for horsies

If we do the proper genetic studies on horses, lots of them ( > 10^6) we will eventually be able to find variants that predict how large or how fast individual horses are, and ( dare I say it) we will eventually be able to tell if certain breeds of horses are genetically big or small, fast or slow. People have always wondered if Percherons are really larger than Shetland ponies – or if that’s just a stereotype.  Some say that Thoroughbreds are faster than Clydesdales – wouldn’t it  be nice to actually know for sure?  Of course there are deep philosophical questions about what ‘ genetically different ‘ really means – and we wouldn’t really know that two breeds were different unless we also understood the mechanism of each and every common variant that boosted or reduced size or speed. Since quantitative selection boosts any variant that favors the trait under selection,  and those variants work through many different biological pathways, we have some work  to do. But we still won’t really know that my Prince (a Shetland) was inherently*  slower than Secretariat unless we understand every one of those mechanisms.  And their interactions.  And their little dog, too! We also need to understand the historical reasons for any differences – what selective pressures drove those differences, how those pressures varied over  space and time – or we don’t really know anything.

Admixture studies might be useful, but they’re icky.


And we need to motorize those fences at Wrigley Field.


* Maybe Prince was deprived due to my cousins shooting him with their BB guns. He caught one of them later, kneeled on her, and broke her collarbone.  Depraved on account of being deprived?


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19th Century History

Someone should develop a course based entirely on the Flashman novels.

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Brooklyn Project

In your opinion, what technical efforts A. would have world-shaking consequences and B. are clearly feasible?

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