Category Archives: Science

First Synthetic Chromosome in Functional Yeast Cell Milestone

The BBC reports that for the first time a synthetic chromosome has been successfully manufactured and integrated into a functional yeast cell.

Is this really a positive?

I’m not sure I like him, but Heidegger’s ”dasein” roughly means “being”. The Irish Wolfhound is part of the Irish dasein. The English Bulldog is part of the English dasein. These pets connect us to our ancestors who bred them; they connect us to God who created them. More than the outright engineering of sentient beings threatens man’s dasein.

Synthetic goes further than transgenetics. This doesn’t merely meddle with God’s work; it replaces it. Biotech cannot be stopped, but the threat should at least be understood.

Irish Wolfhound

English Bulldog

Rod Dreher Has Invoked the Wrath of the PC Crowd

Rod Dreher, who is normally pretty squemish regarding un-PC topics, has stirred up a hornets nest with a recent post about evolution and the culture wars. His blog post has 348 comments at the time of this writing. Brad Delong has responded with typical PC outrage. I don’t know how many comments his post has because I can’t see where they are numbered, but Steve Sailer says there are 250+.

I have not read the comments at either site yet. I wasn’t even aware that there was a raging Dreher post at TAC until I read the Sailer article above. I’m just passing along the controversy for now. I’ll try to wade through some of the hysteria when I have time.

Dreher has replied here.

Why Inbreeding is Unwanted

Razib Khan has a recent post at The Unz Review entitled “Why Inbreeding is Bad“, which links to a shocking Australian case of multigenerational first-degree incest, where many of the children are impaired.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Inbreeding doesn’t create mutations; it reveals them if two copies of a preexisting recessive gene are expressed. Inbreeding to the Colts’s extent is shocking and especially bad for the social issues. A parent should never sleep with his children, nor siblings with one another!

However, the term “inbreeding” can refer to varying degrees of relatedness. A false implication from today’s condemnation of “inbreeding” is that the less related a couple is, the stronger their children will be. The result: increased miscegenation and a population that holds a more globalist, less clannish, less nationalist worldview.

HBD Chick recently posted a quote from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica (pg. 2749) on inbreeding:

“Hence in olden time marriage was forbidden … within … degrees of consanguinity, in order that consanguinity and affinity might be the sources of a wider friendship”.

So, the motive then was to discourage clannishness.

Aquinas continues with:

Afterwards, however, towards these latter times the prohibition of the Church has been restricted to the fourth degree, because it became useless and dangerous to extend the prohibition to more remote degrees of consanguinity. Useless, because charity waxed cold in many hearts so that they had scarcely a greater bond of friendship with their more remote kindred than with strangers: and it was dangerous because through the prevalence of concupiscence and neglect men took no account of so numerous a kindred, and thus the prohibition of the more remote degrees became for many a snare leading to damnation.

So the ideal, as with most things, is moderation.
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Gay Athletes and Stereotypes

One of the alleged benefits of NBA player Jason Collins coming out of the closet is that it will contradict the stereotype of the effeminate homosexual. At the same time homosexuals want us to believe that homosexuality is biologic and not just a choice. Well I’ve got news for the homosexual lobby. They are trying to have it both ways. Some of the strongest evidence that homosexuality is biologic is that it is generally accompanied by other traits. Low and behold, effeminate boys often grow up to be gay men. So the reason there is a stereotypes is because it happens to be true, something I’m sure most gays intuitively understand. So the gay lobby needs to make up its mind. Do they want to abolish stereotypes or do you want people to acknowledge that homosexuality is biologic? They can’t have it both ways.

Unz vs. Cochran Smackdown on “‘Gay Gene’ vs. ‘Gay Germ’” Theories

Nobody seems to stir up a good internet nerd fight quite like Unz. Here he is taking on Gregory Cochran on the gay gene vs. gay germ theories.

First of all, the gay gene theory was only an ancillary part of the Cochran article Unz is criticizing, and Unz seems primarily motivated by his desire to defend E.O. Wilson. Cochran is going after this article by E.O. Wilson that argues that scientists don’t necessarily need to be good at math. He uses Wilson’s “gay uncle” theory to illustrate why he thinks it is wrong.

On that issue, I tend to agree with Wilson. I’m not bad at math. I took AP Calculus in high school. But I’m relatively better at language skills than I am math. I made higher on the verbal SAT than I did on the math SAT which is unusual in males. Linking science and math skills never made much sense to me. Physics and math yes. Chemistry and math yes but less so. But biology and math, not so much. I always saw more commonality between history and social studies and biology than I did biology and algebra. I recall reading once that the “reading” portion of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) best predicted success in medical school rather than the subject matter subsets. (The test has since changed formats.) I also agree with Unz that Cochran’s attack was unnecessarily nasty.

But on the gay germ vs. gay gene argument, I tend to agree with Cochran. Taking a shot at Wilson’s “gay uncle” theory is shooting fish in a barrel. I don’t think people have taken the gay uncle theory seriously for a while, because the math doesn’t work. But I’m not sure Unz is getting the gay germ theory right. My understanding of the gay germ theory is that it is likely some pathogen that infects the mother while the baby is in utero or maybe the baby shortly after birth. I think Unz is suggesting a combination of some sort of genetic predisposition combined with an environmental factor, possibly including a germ. Something similar has been proposed for schizophrenia, which is highly heritable but also tends to happen more commonly in winter births suggesting an environmental component particularly a germ. I don’t think the two are incompatible. A predisposition + a germ is still a germ theory. Is Cochran insisting on just a germ? Is Unz ruling out a germ? I’m not sure what they are arguing about. As with most complex phenomenon that isn’t simply an either or, a combination of genetic predisposition and environment seems likely.

Regarding Scientific Objectivity (Or Lack Thereof)

From Bonald, resident physicist for The Orthosphere:

[T]he thing that irritates me about biologists and anthropologists is that they’re trying to manipulate me rather than teach me. They don’t want me to know things about the predators or cannibals they’re studying because their only goal in communicating with me is political advocacy [...]

Somehow the language of “discrimination” and “prejudice” has leaked into the natural sciences.  It’s the same thing with medical scientists and health agencies, as I’ve said before when discussing leprosy.  They’re not trying to tell me things I want to know–like how to actually avoid catching the disease.  All they’re interested in is curing me of my prejudice, teaching me not to fear or shun lepers, say (no matter how rational such behavior might actually be).

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End stigma of cousin marriage

People have long intuitively known that marrying co-ethnics is healthy, as it increases one’s inclusive fitness. Furthermore, the more closely related to the child a parent is, the more the parent is likely to care for the child.

But while co-ethnic marriages have long been praised, cousin marriage has  been criticized for the past century or two on the grounds that it is “unhealthy.”  Looking at genetic research, however, it turns out that these claims are largely mythological.  Alan Bittles has a new book out by Oxford University press, Consanguinity in Context, which shows that the harms of cousin marriage are largely exaggerated and that cousin marriage might have certain genetic benefits, such as increased cooperation.

JetBlue Pilot Situation Was Almost Certainly Medical and/or Psychiatric

Sometimes it’s difficult being a physician because you become aware of situations and know intuitively it’s in your ballpark, but others don’t think that way first and assume malevolence or whatever. (I saw the pilot situation frequently described as a “meltdown.”)

When I first heard about the JetBlue pilot who “went crazy” on a flight I knew it was almost certainly going to be discovered to be a medical and/or psychiatric (not that the tw0 are totally unrelated) issue, before I heard any of the details.

They don’t just let anybody, medically or mentally, become an airline Captain. Many (probably most?) are ex-military pilots. All have many hours in a cockpit before they become Captains. All undergo FAA mandated routine medical assessments and random drug and alcohol testing. The idea that a Captain would just emotionally lose it on the plane in midair is just too hard to believe. It is not beyond the realm of possiblity I don’t guess, but a medical explanation seems much more likely.

Now the JetBlue CEO has essentially confirmed my initial suspicions.

The captain, Clayton Osbon, became incoherent and the co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit. Osbon began shouting about threats from al-Qaida, Iran, Iraq and bombs aboard flight, and was subdued by several passengers, including an off-duty police officer. He was strapped down and later transported to a local medical facility.

Barger said Obson was “under the custody of the FBI.”

“I’ve known the captain personally for a long period of time,” Barger said. “There [was] no indication of this at all in the past. Consummate professional.”

On Tuesday, JetBlue’s stated that Osbon had a “medical situation,” but the CEO admitted it was more than that.

“What happened at altitude and the call into the FAA is that we had a medical situation and that’s how we responded,” Barger said. “Clearly, especially in today’s [real-time] media, we know that it also became a security situation. I think as we know less than 24 hours later, it started medical butclearly more than that.”

The key indication here is “became incoherent.” This is clearly most likely not a guy who is going through a divorce or whatever and is having an emotional outburst. This is describing a man who is not in his right mind.

Had this happened on the street the cops would have been called and the guy would have been taken to the local ER as should happen and hopefully he would get a thorough work up and eval and no one would think anything of it. But since it happened to a Captain in midair and he happened to be babbling about terrorism, then it’s a national story.

The guy needs brian imagining, labs, a physical exam, etc. This feels organic. (Meaning in doctor speak having an underlying medical cause as opposed to being primarily psychiatric.) Did he have a medication reaction? Was he having a seizure? Did he have a stroke? Did his blood sugar drop? (Presumably he isn’t a known diabetic.) Does he have a tumor? Did he have a metabolic abnormality of some sort? Etc. There has to be an explanation for becoming incoherent. If all that checks out it is possible he has a primary psychiatric diagnosis, but it would be rare to develop a severe psychiatric disorder later in life after a life of presumed good mental health.

He is now “under the custody of the FBI.” While there is probably no way around this, it is unfortunate. I hope the FBI and whoever makes these decisions has the good sense to see this for what it almost certainly is and won’t be pressured to throw the book at the guy due to the high profile of the case. Given some of my interactions with the legal system (professional not personal) I’m not optimistic.

First “ClimateGate,” Now “FakeGate”

Have you been following the “FakeGate” climate change scandal? For those who haven’t, here is a brief recap.

First, some documents (see attachments at bottom of post) from the Heartland Institute, a think tank well know for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) skepticism, were leaked.

AGW skeptics quickly suggested that one of the documents, the one labeled 2012 Climate Strategy, was a rather ham-handed forgery. (See here, here and here.) Some even speculated that Peter Gleick, a prominent AGW believing scientist, was the source of the leaked documents (Heartland does not deny the authenticity of the documents other than the allegedly forged Climate Strategy memo.) and likely the forger of the Climate Strategy memo.

Now Gleick has confessed to impersonating a Heartland Board Member to obtain the leaked documents. He has not confessed to the forgery.

As I have said repeatedly, I have stayed away from the AGW debate to some extent because I don’t like politicized science. I agree with Rod Dreher that simply believing that AGW is likely true should not be ”a test of ideological purity” on the right as some have tried to make it. For example, that Newt Gingrich seemed to affirm AGW in his now infamous commercial with Nancy Pelosi has been used by many as proof that Newt is no conservative. Of course Newt is no conservative and the wisdom of doing that commercial can surely be questioned, but acknowledging the possible reality of AGW alone does not tarnish someone’s conservative credentials.

That said, again as I have said over and over, the claim by AGW believers that the scientific debate is settled is obnoxious and maddening. The scientific debate is manifestly not settled or we wouldn’t still be fighting about it. I don’t know enough about climate science to comment in an informed manner on the technical issues involved, but I do follow the debate enough to understand the state of the debate, and the debate is not settled regardless of how smugly the AGW believers insist that it is. (The link at “some documents” above is a textbook case of such smugness.)

What I have been fascinated by is the politics and psychology of this debate. There is clearly a network of AGW true-believers who are on alert to pounch on any AGW sketicism wherever it appears. See for example the Kaminsky AmSpec post. There isn’t a similar crew of Internet commandos who respond to every post on Austrian economics for example. There was a similar crew combatting birtherism as we have even seen on this little ol’ blog. This suggests to me that there is an emotional component motivating the AGW true-believers beyond the alleged integrity of science and saving the planet. My sense is that a lot of the AGW true believers are more motivated (consciously or not) by proving their “I’m not one of those ignorant climate change denialists” bona fides than they are by saving the planet. Being an AGW believer has become for them a sort of badge of enlightenment that separates the believer from the ignorant masses. Accepting AGW has become a sort of class marker for them.

I believe that the insufferable smugness of the AGW crowd has actually hurt their case. Their rhetorical bullying and casual and/or angry dismissal of all skepticism out of hand has cause the skeptics to dig in their heels and gives the impression that they are not as confident as they let on. If the evidence is so overwhelming then why not welcome debate instead of trying to stamp out dissent?

Polls show that the AGW believers are losing ground with the public and even some believers have been willing to admit this. You would think that some of them might get the message and try a different strategy. “Gee, maybe being a pompous know-it-all scold looking down my nose at “anti-science” skeptics isn’t the best rhetorical posture.”

Editor’s Note: I just added a “Climate Change” category.

Patrick Deneen On Transhumanism

This article by Patrick Deneen is one of the best analyses of transhumanism I’ve seen.  Deneen contrasts classical, ancient anthropology with the new anthropology that has given rise to the transhumanist agenda.  Choice quote:

The most thoughtful liberals — perhaps above all, Tocqueville — recognized that liberalism contained an internal logic that threatened its own self-destruction.

As Deneen points out, transhumanists are naive (or, I might add, in some cases lying) when they assure everyone that of course the genetically/cybernetically transformed homo superior will respect liberal principles.

Good fences, good neighbors

The New England Complex Systems Institute is an independent research facility staffed by faculty from MIT, Harvard, and other universities. Its focus is the study of social organization. The Institute has issued a paper on the political conditions that promote peace. The title of the study is Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence. From the abstract:

Our analysis supports the hypothesis that violence between groups can be inhibited by physical and political boundaries. A similar analysis of the area of the former Yugoslavia shows that during widespread ethnic violence existing political boundaries did not coincide with the boundaries of distinct groups, but peace prevailed in speci?c areas where they did coincide. The success of peace in Switzerland may serve as a model to resolve con?ict in other ethnically diverse countries and regions of the world.

Based on the lessons of real-world examples, then, forced integration, affirmative action, and the dissolving of ethnic boundaries lead to ethnic conflict. What promotes peace? Simple: The right of every people to self-government. Or, as it was expressed 235 years ago:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Switzerland is a confederal, rather than a centralized system. Its standard of living, as well as its enviable record of living in peace with its neighbors, are well worth studying. Here’s an earlier study on the implications of complex systems studies for commercial and political organizations.

P.Z. Myers – Another Foot-stomping Global Warming Believer

As I have said before, I don’t deny anthropogenic global warming (AGW) out of hand. It’s a plausible theory on its face. What bothers me is the global warming believers like Al Gore who think foot-stomping that the scientific debate is settled is a substitute for actual debate. Apparently the fundamentalist evolutionist P.Z. Myers is a fundamentalist AGW believer as well.

… the author is trying to set himself up as a defender of good science, but he does it by … being a denialist about climate change. Scientists are certain (to a reasonable degree) about predicting the future in this case because all the data points in this direction — you have to willfully reject the evidence in order to disagree.

“because all the data points in this direction.” Umm … no it doesn’t. This is the typical AGW believer foot-stomp. Unfortunately for their case it manifestly just ain’t so. I’m a medical doctor, so I’m no expert on climate change science, which is one reason I don’t deny AGW out of hand. I know my limits. But P.Z. Myers is a biological scientist and likely doesn’t know much more about climate science than I do unless he has taken a special interest to learn about it on his own. But you don’t have to be a climate scientist to understand the state of the debate. The state of the debate is all around us. And it so obviously ain’t settled that I wonder why people like Myers still think they can bully people into believing that it is. If anything, this makes them look even more clueless because the state of the public debate has been turning decidedly against AGW in recent years. Do people like Myers and Gore only talk to each other? Did Myers not hear about that whole suppression of dissent and data cooking we learned about in that little affair commonly referred to as Climate Gate?

I’m sorry to break it to Myers but the AGW skeptics have raised points that actually have to be answered. Covering your ears and going “LA LA LA LA LA…” at the top of your lungs does not make those objections go away.

Al Gore is Losing It

Al Gore recently went on an expletive laden tirade against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) skeptics. The guy, like much of the AGW industry, is losing it because they know they are losing the public debate and they can no longer count on the uncritical acceptance of their theory.

I have generally avoided saying much about this debate because I hate politicized science. A scientific theory isn’t correct because you like its political implications or incorrect because you don’t like its political implications. AGW is either a good theory or a bad theory or some combination of both based on the science, not politics.

What I have always objected to about the debate is the foot-stomping by AGW believers, notably Al Gore himself, that the scientific debate is settled. No it isn’t and no amount of foot stomping will make it so.

Check out the comments below the article which are almost unanimously against Al Gore and his pet theory. I’m sure not all the posters really understand the science, but what this means is that the anti-AGW science is making its way into the public consciousness, and that is something Al Gore clearly can’t tolerate. He is supposed to have the bully pulpit all to himself you see, not have to compete against a bunch of yahoos.

Update: Apparently word of Gore’s rant is getting around. “Al Gore rant” was #1 on the Yahoo “Trending Now” section.

Stephen Jay Gould, Incompetent or Scientific Fraud?

It was discovered in 2002 that famed anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) “shaded” (i.e. fabricated) the results of his famous study (one of the most influential studies used to prop up the “race doesn’t exist” myth) to disprove the existence of racial differences of cranial forms.  In a similar vein, a new study by Jason E. Lewis et al. shows that celebrity Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) either was completely incompetent or also fabricated his own results to disprove racial differences in skull measurement.  Dienekes has the full story here.


Nevermind That Roar You Hear in the Background…

…it’s just the Cicadas.

It’s Cicada year here in Georgia and everywhere you go there is a roar in the background as our Cicada friends seek to find themselves a mate. If you have never been down south during Cicada season, it is something to behold. But you better hurry, this brood won’t be back until 2024.

“There was a numerous company of Flies, which were like for bigness unto Wasps or Bumble-Bees, they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them, and ready to deaf the hearers.”

That quotation was one of the earliest written accounts of periodical cicadas by New England colonists in the early 1600s.

Read more…

Save the Redheads!

Redheads are going extinct due to people with red hair and from red hair endemic regions increasingly outbreeding with mates from regions where red hair is not endemic.

The disappearance of redheads would be a tragedy. It is up to young as yet unmarried redheads to keep our numbers going. If you are redheaded, marry another redhead or at least someone with red hair in their family tree. Our future existence depends on you.

The FDA cracks down on genetic testing

As noted by Razib Khan and Henry Harpending, the FDA is attempting to crack down on genetic testing.  Khan writes:

In the very near future you may be forced to go through a “professional” to get access to your genetic information. Professionals who will be well paid to “interpret” a complex morass of statistical data which they barely comprehend. Let’s be real here: someone who regularly reads this blog (or Dr. Daniel MacArthur or Misha’s blog) knows much more about genomics than 99% of medical doctors. And yet someone reading this blog does not have the guild certification in the eyes of the government to “appropriately” understand their own genetic information. Someone reading this blog will have to pay, either out of pocket, or through insurance, someone else for access to their own information. Let me repeat: the government and professional guilds which exist to defend the financial interests of their members are proposing that they arbitrate what you can know about your genome. A friend with a background in genomics emailed me today: “If they succeed in ramming this through, then you will not be able to access your own damn genome without a doctor standing over your shoulder.” That is my fear. Is it your fear? Do you care?

N.B.  On a related note, The Economist two years ago predicted a crisis in human genetics:

Human geneticists have reached a private crisis of conscience, and it will become public knowledge in 2010. The crisis has depressing health implications and alarming political ones. In a nutshell: the new genetics will reveal much less than hoped about how to cure disease, and much more than feared about human evolution and inequality, including genetic differences between classes, ethnicities and races.

We will also identify the many genes that create physical and mental differences across populations, and we will be able to estimate when those genes arose. Some of those differences probably occurred very recently, within recorded history. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending argued in “The 10,000 Year Explosion” that some human groups experienced a vastly accelerated rate of evolutionary change within the past few thousand years, benefiting from the new genetic diversity created within far larger populations, and in response to the new survival, social and reproductive challenges of agriculture, cities, divisions of labour and social classes. Others did not experience these changes until the past few hundred years when they were subject to contact, colonisation and, all too often, extermination.


Are we hardwired to be ethnocentric?

Are we hardwired to be ethnocentric? After all, birds of a feather flock together. Steve Sailer has tirelessly reported on findings in sociobiology that demonstrate the biological basis for ethnocentrism (i.e. preferring others of one’s own ethnicity/race), such as applications of William D. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection and inclusive fitness—the more genes we share with another individual, the more altruistic we feel toward him.

And now there is yet another study proving this insight. Nicholas Wade at the NY Times reports on a Dutch study where subjects were given oxytocin and then had to select their preferences.

Dutch students were given standard moral dilemmas in which a choice must be made about whether to help a person onto an overloaded lifeboat, thereby drowning the five already there, or saving five people in the path of a train by throwing a bystander onto the tracks.

In Dr. De Dreu’s experiments, the five people who might be saved were nameless, but the sacrificial victim had either a Dutch or a Muslim name. Subjects who had taken oxytocin were far more likely to sacrifice the Muhammads than the Maartens.

Wade continues:

What does it mean that a chemical basis for ethnocentrism is embedded in the human brain? “In the ancestral environment it was very important for people to detect in others whether they had a long-term commitment to the group,” Dr. De Dreu said. “Ethnocentrism is a very basic part of humans, and it’s not something we can change by education. That doesn’t mean that the negative aspects of it should be taken for granted.”

If these findings are correct, then the war against ethnocentrism (often labeled as a war against “racism”) may itself be a  war against human nature.


Carsten K. W. De Dreu’s paper, “Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism

Allan C. Park’s take on the experiments.