October 28, 2012
October 24, 2012
Lise Eliot’s “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” is the most cited work among those arguing against “gender essentialism”, or at least that’s my impression. The most telling argument in favor of gender essentialism is the outcomes of children like David Reimer aka “John/Joan” raised as female after having their genitals removed at a young age. I had heard that Eliot addresses the Reimer case, but hadn’t really investigated further. It turns out the section of her book dealing with it is available through Google Books. Eliot finds the case problematic as illustration of a general principle because the surgery that completely removed his testicles took place too late at twenty-two months (although his parents had already started raising him as a girl at seventeen months), and he had an indentical twin brother raised together with him. To me having an identical twin raised by the same parents but treated as a boy is great for illustrative purposes (and Dr. John Money who publicized David as “Joan” agreed). And if we’re just focused on psychological effects, the age seems reasonable to me in finding the effects of parents raising their child to be a girl*. Admittedly, I am nothing like an expert, David & his brother just didn’t seem to have any conscious memory of him previously being a boy.
The best piece of evidence Eliot has to counter the Reimer case is another (unnamed in her book) case reported in 1998 of a boy who also lost his penis in a botched circumcision and was surgically reassigned at seven months. This one continued to identify as a normal woman. I find her citation of a 2005 review by Heinz Meyer-Bahlburg (finding that only seventeen of seventy-seven boys raised as girls for a variety of reasons reverted to females) less persuasive, because as she notes only a minority were cases of “penile ablution”, with most being intersex. This is important, because Money critic Milton Diamond (cited in Colapinto’s linked article above) had started out complaining that all the “successful” cases cited by the Money camp thus suffered a “genetic or hormonal imbalance in the womb”. Since Diamond’s focus was on pre-natal hormonal exposure, his theory would then be falsifiable with an experiment varying the age of post-natal reassignment, even if the change was purely “biological” rather than psychological.
*Interestingly, Eliot’s footnote states that none of the genetic boys raised as males later reverted to female. Her recommendation if you have an intersex child is to raise them as male “if the urogenital system can be adequately reconstructed through surgery”.
I don’t write this to attack Eliot, I find it commendable that she not only addressed Reimer but pointed out the problem with using reassigned intersex children rather than those purely biologically male/female. She is also no strawman (straw-woman?) who claims babies start out identical. Instead the title of her book refers to the small differences at early ages becoming magnified later on. This in itself doesn’t mean much to me because the heritability of many traits increase with age (and puberty obviously plays a role in gender differentiation over time). Judith Harris pointed out in “The Nurture Assumption” that many correlations based on parental treatment are misleading because parents treat children differently as a result of the child’s (heritable) traits. This is just what Eliot believes, although actually untangling the treatment effect of such a feedback loop sounds tricky to me. Unfortunately we don’t allow scientists to give children to robots to raise, completely unaware of the child’s actual gender. It would make for a great sitcom.
October 20, 2012
I read Robert Crew’s “For Prophet and Tsar” because it was recommended by Razib. As a westerner, the histories of Russia and Islam are unfamiliar to me, that of Islam in the Russian empire even moreso. Unfortunately the book had more information about Russian Islam than I cared to know and was trying to push an optimistic narrative (for politically correct modern times) that I didn’t quite buy. The interesting thing about the Russian empire is that it was a Christian state with Muslim subjects for a much longer period than any other. Unfortunately, the book really only covers the period starting with Catherine the Great’s edict of toleration, several centuries after Muslim subjugation began and not really any earlier than the British & French experience (although with the loss of its Indian territories, I believe France went through an intermission without Muslims). Crews is setting out to argue against Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” by pointing out that a period of cooperation once existed, but Huntington was explicit that civilizational salience was a change from prior divisions by ideologies, nation-states, kingdoms & empires. Crews repeatedly takes care to suggest that Russian state authorities need to treat Muslim subjects well so that new Muslim territories would surrender to them, but the impression I tended to get was that Russian officials treated complaints from Muslim authorities (including ones they had put in power) with indifference at best and expressions of annoyance more often. Near the end he draws a parallel to modern cultivation by European governments of “moderate” Muslims, but imperialists had a different attitude about things. It is true that Slavophiles complaining about the existence of Muslims and demanding they all be converted to Orthodoxy didn’t get their way, but they often seemed to be taken more seriously than Muslims. (more…)
September 30, 2012
September 26, 2012
I’d been planning on reading Elinor Ostrom for a while, possibly (though less than probably) before she and Oliver Williamson won the econ Nobel (there not being a poli-sci fauxbel, it was a decent enough fit). Peter Boettke had been writing about her and the “Bloomington School”, but it seemed best to go to the source. A lot of the work she’s known for centers on common pool resources, so “Governing the Commons” seemed the best single text to go for.
I’d first like to get out of the way the canard that Ostrom somehow debunks Garett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” or shows it to be a non-issue. She regards it as one possible outcome, and some of the examples in the book are of people that failed to prevent it from happening. Her complaint is that policymakers jump to assume firstly that it will happen if they don’t intervene, and secondly that their intervention will fix things. The people on the ground who actually use the resource often notice the problem and come up with systems that they have the capability of carrying out (for the most part) for themselves, and outsiders intervening sometimes makes things worse. One of my links earlier suggested that Ostrom is arguing for anarchy, and anarchists can certainly rely on some of her arguments, but that would not be an accurate representation of her position. The beneficiaries of common pool resources often make use of government resources (as in her first study, California water basin management), but they can also achieve government backing and still fail (as with some of those very basins). (more…)
August 30, 2012
August 18, 2012
You’ve probably heard the story of Austrian monk Gregor Mendel who experimented with the breeding of wrinkly peas, but whose research was unfortunately ignored for decades after Darwin until their insights were synthesized together in the twentieth century. What you probably haven’t heard is the allegation dating back to R. A. Fisher that he faked his data. Everyone uses his insights, if not the exact values of all his estimates, so not surprising that gets dropped down the memory hole. The page linked from there quotes some authors saying “[F]or the moralist, no distinction can be made between an Isaac Newton who lied for truth and was right, and a Cyril Burt who lied for truth and was wrong”", which I found amusing because I’d always heard that Burt’s heritability estimates match up fairly well with modern twin-adoption studies.
August 15, 2012
After almost a year’s absence, he does the meta-analysis of Irish IQ data that Lynn didn’t bother to do.
August 7, 2012
Amanda Marcotte in Slate argues that hardcore punk (at least archetypically) is left-wing, therefore Wade Michael Page was not hardcore. To me, that’s a no-true-Scotsman. Punk is a musical genre, and while some subsets of it like straight-edge have a more normative component, merely being hardcore just indicates the musical qualities. And more ironic than neo-nazi hardcore punks building on the legacy of the Bad Brains (at least they can agree on the gays) is that the skinhead subculture itself began with white Britons imitating Jamaican dock-workers, flocking to reggae acts like Symarip at dancehalls.
Title courtesy of a song by Kill the Man Who Questions, a band I think would have been right up Marcotte’s alley.
UPDATE: Check out Scott Galupo’s elaboration, with some citation of Crispin Sartwell.
August 6, 2012
Commenter “ThePolyCapitalist” at Marginal Revolution stated that Stephen Broadberry (who I had not heard of before) had given a critique of “Why Nations Fail” that James Robinson was not prepared for. I decided to contact Broadberry and see if his argument was available anywhere online. He sent me a powerpoint, but since there weren’t graphics or anything I think his notes will work fine as text in a blog post: (more…)
August 2, 2012
Among the gripes to be had about changes in intellectual fashion since the second world war (or particularly since the 60s) is how boring it can be to repeatedly rebut it. That’s particularly the case with Peter Heather’s “Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe”. What Heather calls the “invasion hypothesis” was once the dominant explanation for how parts of Europe shifted from Roman to Germanic or Slavic domination. That particular case is also known as “Volkwanderung”. I was introduced to the book through Razib at Gene Expression, where the term for a maximalist version of that hypothesis would be “population replacement”. The opposite scenario would be mere cultural emulation (perhaps entirely peaceful) or a small elite transfer. The point of Heather’s book is to argue that there were in fact large movements of people (mixed groups including women, rather than just small male raiding parties), but there is such a stigma against the old theory that he repeatedly bends over backward to claim his version is different. Unfortunately he’s far less keen to cite specific examples of the old theory, in contrast to newer ones he argues against, that it comes off as a strawman for the point of triangulation. For example, he repeatedly insists that these were not atomic units like billiard balls, but who said they were? He also emphasizes that these migrating groups interacted with indigenous populations, but wouldn’t even killing off the old population and seizing what was once theirs count as a kind of interaction? (more…)
August 1, 2012
It wasn’t too many posts ago that I last discussed the “Why Nations Fail” blog but via Cheap Talk I see it has become relevant to the news-cycle. They respond to Mitt Romney’s claim that Israel is wealthier than Palestine (wealthier than Mitt Romney even claimed) because of culture by instead blaming institutions, tying that in with the Israeli occupation. David Bernstein, on the other hand, would point out that the standard of living in the West Bank and Gaza actually improved after the occupation, and that (at least as of 1993) the per capita GDP was higher in those territories than Egypt or Jordan (from which they originally came). Eli Dourado is unsatisfied with either explanation and wants to know the upstream variables for both institutions and culture.
Their response either interrupted or marked the end of a series of posts on post-apartheid South Africa. Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson seemed to be chiefly concerned with inequality, while when I typically read someone worried about South Africa the fear is generally focused on power plants shutting down, HIV epidemics, or a supposed genocide of Boer farmers. They reference the fear of Zuma (and his machine gun song) going the way of Zimbabwe, but they think that the cautious avoidance of frightening the white elite led to insufficient land reform and the co-opting of black politicians. Oddly enough they praise the creation of a “vibrant” democracy even though it effectively seems a one-party state. Singapore is a very well functioning one-party state, and I would have said the same thing of Japan before their Lost Decade, but I don’t put that much weight on vibrant democracy. I’m also confused by their use of acronyms in the last post, I assume “NIC” means “newly industrializing country” but “newly latinamericanized country” makes little since there is a continuation of long pre-existing inequality, and Brazil of the BRIC group is quite “latin american” already in that respect. The comparison with Germany in that post is also off since it was already a fairly wealthy country before the world wars broke out. The original posts can be found here, here, here, here and here, but I figure they should be compiled into one so they can be read in one place and in order. (more…)
July 27, 2012
July 18, 2012
A couple months ago Mike Martin wrote about the strange story of untrained evolutionary biologist Margie Profet and her disappearance. It was only because of its publication that Profet became aware her family was looking for her and reunited with them, and good thing they were since she had been living in poverty and with ailments as yet unrevealed. I’m sure Martin feels some warm fuzzies that his work had a positive impact (an on rather short notice too), but as a member of the younger generation it seems somewhat ridiculous that should be necessary. Shouldn’t anybody be able to set up a free email account they can access from a public library or something? And I guess there’s that Facebook thing if you’re into that. The optimal possibility from my perspective would be maintaining an open-comments blog about evolved defenses against pathogens, which I’d read even (or especially) if she was crazy.
July 1, 2012
I’ve finally read a book by Carl Zimmer, after seeing his (and his brother’s) byline on numerous pieces online. For some reason I thought he had also written “Survival of the Sickest”, but that’s apparently by somebody whose name rings no bell. Much of the book is sort of a complaint that people haven’t found parasites very interesting even though they really really are (did you know that most species of animal are parasites? I didn’t), but I’m going to write about that things that stuck in my head rather than what Zimmer may have wanted to emphasize.
Bit one is that the term “parasite” is not used to apply to everything occupying what we might call the parasitic ecological niche. Only eukaryotes & multicellular organisms are given the name, for reasons of historical accident rather than because it carves reality at the joints. Zimmer says this lead to parasites being neglected by scientists, because europe is more afflicted by bacteria & virii while tropical reasons have “parasites” proper. This made me wonder why that was the case. The classic explanation for the prevalence of tropical disease is that many species have to live in water (it is useful for carrying in nutrients and carrying out waste) and warmth is also better for most life than cold. But I would think that would apply especially to single-celled organisms (and eukaryotes admittedly qualify), while colder weather is associated with larger size. I mentioned earlier William McNeill’s claim that microparasites result in less selection for IQ relative to macropredation, and it occurs to me that a number of the macroparasites in the tropics actually should be visible without a microscope. But perhaps the overall fitness cost from all entities in the “parasite” ecological niche is still lower in northern europe.
Continuing on with the eukaryotic distinction, Zimmer argues that such parasites are more likely to manipulate their host than bacteria/virii. The reasoning seems to be that many “parasites” proper need multiple hosts for the different generational stages of their life cycle (the different forms generations can take made it difficult to tell at first different organisms were one species and satisfy Koch’s postulates, I was surprised to learn that Plasmodium have a sexually reproducing generation inside mosquitoes since they are single-celled). Could it also have to do with the complexity of the organism allowing for more complicated effects on a host, or am I placing too much weight on a fuzzy notion of “complexity”? At an rate, I was under the impression that a number of venereal diseases like syphilis (bacterial) affected their host’s behavior to spread more easily, as discussed in one of the chapters from “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” by Oliver Sacks. I assume most readers are familiar with the Red Queen theory of infections giving rise to sexual reproduction, but Zimmer adds that William Hamilton & Marlene Zuk also argued that showy displays for sexual selection would be particularly common in response to “parasites” proper because bacteria/virii tend to just kill their hosts or get promptly eliminated themselves. I don’t know why one would expect that to be the case. Helicobacter pylorii and other bacteria can persist in hosts for a long time, and H.I.V is a well known persistent virus. Furthermore, one of the most well known examples of showy mate display is the peacock’s tail, which I had originally heard was supposed to be a credible signal that the peacock was not afflicted with diarrhea, which can often result from bacteria such as cholera (though I don’t know if cholera specifically is a common affliction of peacocks). (more…)