—We Also Wok Dogs

Using CRISPR, Chinese researchers have produced overly-muscled beagles,  by knocking out myostatin.  They say their goal is to create dogs with mutations that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy, for medical research, but I’m not 100% sure that’s what they really have in mind.


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Pre-K revisited

There was a nice study of pre-K in Tennessee.  People applied for pre-K , more than could be accommodated, so some were admitted (randomly) and some were not. Then the kids admitted were compared with the control group, those not admitted. This nicely controls for any systematic differences among volunteers, which often exist.  By third grade the pre-K kids were doing worse, although I think not hugely worse.  So pre-K is pointless (big surprise, considering that shared parental environment doesn’t affect smarts)- not that this or anything else is going to change James Heckman’s mind.

But then, I don’t think that most proponents of this kind of intervention have ever cared a whole lot about efficacy, because if they had, they would have run statistically powerful studies of the effects of pilot programs. I mean, it’s not as if statistical methods are a secret.  If they were serious they would stop spending money on approaches that have been seen to fail and try to spend it on something that worked, or might work – but  I don’t see that happening.




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Hot enough for you?

There’s a new study out in Nature, claiming that economic productivity peaks at 13 degrees Centigrade and that global warming will therefore drastically decrease world GDP.

Singapore.  Phoenix. Queensland.  Air-conditioners!

Now that I’ve made my point, just how stupid are these people? Do they actually believe this shit?  I keep seeing papers by economists – in prominent places – that rely heavily on not knowing jack shit about anything on Earth, papers that could only have been written by someone that didn’t know a damn thing about the subject they were addressing, from the influence of genetic diversity on civilization achievement (zilch)  to the massive race-switching that happened after the Civil War (not).  Let me tell you, there’s a difference between ‘economic imperialism’ and old-fashioned real imperialism: people like Clive of India or Raffles bothered to learn something about the territory they were conquering.  They knew enough to run divide et impera  in their sleep: while economists never say peccavi, no matter how badly they screw up.

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Not Even Yong

There was some noise at ASHG about someone (Tuck Ngun) claiming that he’d found evidence supporting that idea (published a couple of years ago) that homosexuality might be caused by epigenetic leakage. Which I doubted.  Everyone seems to have disbelieved Ngun’s claim, mainly because the study had no statistical power. He looked at discordant identical twins (which I think could be very informative if done right, although low N) and tried to see if some subset of the epigenetic state of thousands of loci might predict homosexuality.   Multiple hypothesis testing, uncorrected, bad.

Ngun’s work is probably worthless. It doesn’t disprove the leaky-epigenetics theory, it’s just no evidence at all.

What you want to do is look for is a difference in the brain between those discordant identical twins. Sure,  geneticists want to do genetics, but that’s not the way to go in this case. Look at neuron subpopulations, something like narcolepsy.  More likely in the hypothalamus than the frontal lobes.  While you’re at it, you’ll likely find out quite a bit about the neuroanatomical basis of male sexual behavior.

Of course, no one could get funding for this, and if someone did succeed, he would become an unemployable pariah… Not every researcher is that curiosity-driven.

Here is one scenario for the discovery of the cause that actually could happen – although there are others..  Consider the case of MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine), a synthetic street drug that, by accident, zapped the neuron subpopulation involved in Parkinson’s disease.  Instant Parkinson’s, in young people. We learned a lot about the disease from those brave junkies.

Posit a new synthetic heroin, another China White, that by sheer accident zaps the particular neuron subpopulation that triggers/implements male sexual attraction (and nothing else) .  Suddenly, Bob’s not just your uncle any more. With that kind of clue, we’d get to the bottom of things in no time.  There would be no fundamental difficulty in determining the naturally-occurring causes of that particular neural ablation, such as infection, toxins, or in rare cases mutation (all of which we have seen with Parkinson’s disease).

Then we would understand.

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Way Down South

I hear (tweets by Razib Khan ,  concerning Sankararaman’s talk at ASHG) that the Denisovans had substantially more genetic diversity than Neanderthals ( determined mainly by the variety seen in admixed segments). It makes sense that the Neanderthals should have low  diversity: at glacial maxima, they had to retreat into small refugia.  As John Hawks says, a northern population.  While the Denisovans could have spent the cold times in southeast Asia and Sundaland. The largest long-term population of modern humans outside Africa was in southern Asia during glacial maxima (judging from Bayesian skyline analysis of mtDNA) .

The high level of Denisovan admixture seen in Melanesians and Philippine Negritos may also argue for plenty of Denisovans in Sundaland.

We don’t know who was in India – but since it would have a big refugium, it probably wasn’t Neanderthals.

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The Mating Mind

Do women find high  intelligence attractive?  Apparently not (MALE GENERAL INTELLIGENCE (G) DOES NOT INCREASE FEMALE SEXUAL ATTRACTION), as discussed on James Thompson’s blog.  I think I already knew this, to the extent that I thought Geoffrey Miller’s book on the subject a barrel of crazy.

I’m pretty sure that, on average, men don’t find intelligence attractive in women, either.  Although a few do (like me).

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The Wrong Guys

The social sciences have developed in ways that are not necessarily to our advantage. How to fix?

Jonathan Haidt thinks that social psychology has problems (I might put it a bit more strongly) that might be ameliorated by adding ideological diversity – Republicans or Jacobites or whatever.

Personally, I doubt it.  I don’t think that the guys who produce all those unreplicable results were driven by the search for that Eureka moment when you finally figure it out, finally see it clearly.  I don’t think it’s really a product of people with the right motives whose statistics are sloppy, which we do see in some other fields and can sometimes fix.

I think they’re just no damn good.




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