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Ok, I can’t hold back on the cognitive elite post.

In America, science/eng is for losers. Period. Of course, I speak from the biotech/biology point of view, and this is the group to which most of my following comments will apply. However, I believe that my comments largely apply to chemists, engineers and computer people also.

Let’s start with the premise. Twenty years ago, the NSF came out with the famous report that the US was going to run out of scientists. This lie was repeated, even more forcefully in 1989, when the NSF predicted a “shortfall” of 675,000 sci/eng students. The government promptly went into social engineering mode, and grand campaigns (and graduate funding programs) were instituted to ensure the USA wouldn’t run out. Guess what? The faculty retirements never happened, people went into sci/eng and for the past 15 years, we’ve been running around with a huge glut of sci/eng (along with hordes of imported sci/engs)

Now, actually, this is probably good from a societal view, as these surplus sci/eng did go on to help start the biotech/IT boom of recent years as Razib points out (ex-IBMers–“Go start your own companies!”). However, from an individual standpoint, all this overproduction has done is to devalue your skills and increase the risk involved with sci/eng as a career path.

Let’s look at a typical career path for a biotech type scientist:
4 years undergrad. Age 21. Salary: $25-30K if job obtained as tech.

5-9 years grad school. Age 26-30+. Salary as a grad student: $20-25K
Likelihood of finding a job after PhD obtained: about 10-20%, depending on subfield. Salary: about $50-$70K. Alternative when job isn’t found, or job desired is in academia or higher up in industry is a post-doc:

Post-doc: 2-5 years. Age: 28-35. Salary as post-doc: 25-40K (note, this is for a PhD, and a person who is likely around 30 years old. This should be insulting). Likelihood of finding academic position: about 1%. (typical faculty positions advertised receive several hundred applications). Chance of second post-doc because job in industry is also not available: about 40%.

So, at the age of 30ish, and after obtaining an advanced degree as part of 10+ years of post-graduate education and training, you can hope for about a 59% chance of finding a “real job.” This real job pays about $70K in industry (up to 90K for chemists), a bit less for starting professors.

The rest circle around in post-docs or finally leave science in disgust.

Now, plenty of people might say, “what are you complaining about, those salaries are fine?” Perhaps. But the economics should be made clear to aspiring young scientists–expect to work 60-70 hours/week until you’re 35 before you can even hope to have a real job, with benefits, that pays more than a journeyman plumber (but not a fully bonded plumber and let’s not forget the average GM worker earning $68K/yr). These people who can make it in science are typically smart enough to be MDs (salary $100-200+K/yr by age 30 at the latest), lawyers (salary $100K-$400K by age 30), or banker/MBA types ($100K-$1M by 28).

That’s the reality. Science is for losers. If you’re going to go through all that education/training and work 60-70 hrs/wk, at least you should be compensated like MDs, lawyers or investment bankers. If you don’t care about the money, fine, but don’t ever start on the “nobility of science” crap that Gould liked to prattle on about. You’re making an economic decision–“I love science so much that I’m going to give up all this potential income, etc.” If you want to, fine. But go into science knowing that, and knowing that the situation will NOT get better (i.e. what’s going to happen when big Pharma starts outsourcing all their medicinal chemistry R&D to Bangalore and Hyderabad?).

• Category: Science 
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Jdt in the comments brings up some issues with genetic weapons that I’d like to address because they contain common misperceptions:

1) A bioweapon targeted at a specific ethnic group wouldn’t necessarily require “gene variants that are ONLY present in particular ethnic groups”.

Yes it would. Otherwise you’re just as likely to slaughter your own people

1b) We would expect a great deal of intergroup variation in genes related to immune function, since past epidemics will have had strong selective effects and different groups have different disease histories.

Wrong. Humanity’s immune system is pretty much the same. What differs is what diseases a group has been exposed to, hence the disproportional effects of smallpox on an immunologically naive population like pre-Columbian Amerindians. The Spaniards weren’t immune to smallpox primarily because of their genetics, rather it was due to prior exposure to either smallpox or cowpox (Amerindians didn’t have cows either). Most of the variations you can attribute to “strong selective effects” have mainly to do with some blood-type distributions.

1c)it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to me that someone could develop a weapon that affects, say, 50% of the enemy and 5% of their own people.

That may be possible. But why bother when you can develop a nuke for far less (the technology already exists) that will kill 100% of the enemy (if used “liberally” enough) and none of your own population (assuming massive first-strike advantage). Oh yeah, that nuclear winter scenario. so what? If they’re (enemy dictators for the most part) willing to kill 5% (or likely, more) of their own population, why would they care about a hypothetical nuclear winter?

2) The obvious example is the effect exposure to European diseases had on Amerindian population of North America. There was no doubt a great deal of genetic variation within the population of Amerindians, but what they had in common was not having been exposed to European diseases.
Again, not a genetic effect. This is what happens when an immunologically naive group is exposed to a very special virus (smallpox).

What you’re talking about is essentially introducing another disease like small pox to an immunologically naive population (all of humanity). With one crucial exception–that the virus is targeted to SPECIFIC genes present in one ethnic group versus another. Not only that, but these genes need to be present in a good number (20%? 50%? 100%?) of the target population. These genes that cause differences between Pygmies and Eskimos may exist, but between Arabs and Jews? Doubtful.

3) For example, the CCR5-32 allele that confers some protection against AIDS

This gene is found in around 20% of the European population to my recollection.
I suppose this could meet your criteria for a gene-based weapon. Although carpet bombing seems a much cheaper and more reliable weapon.

4)The question of whether or not it’s possible is totally seperate from the question of whether or not the Israelis are working on it. Do you have any reason to believe they’re not?

Well, considering it’s widely known that Israel has nuclear weapons, despite denials or prevarications by the government, I doubt they could keep the massive program required to carry out this program secret. But that’s the beauty of conspiracy theories…they’re incapable of being disproved

• Category: Science 
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Ok, I’m going to comment on the genetic weapons post because, well, I’m a card-carrying Molecular Biologist. (Although now I’m converting into a Capitalist, and hopefully soon, a Plutocrat–my new boss says he’d like to convert me to paid, full-time by July:) (knock on wood)

A genetic weapon targeted to a particular ethnic group is so unlikely as to be impossible. Reasons:

1) There are few known gene variants that are ONLY present in particular ethnic groups.
2) Targeting these DNA stretches or the proteins produced would be extremely difficult, and unlikely to kill the desired numbers of people because of inter-group variations.
3) It would be impossible in a large, diverse group like the 300+ million Arabs, who run the gamut from previously Hellenized Levantine Arabs to half-sub-Saharan African Egyptians/Sudanese to completely mixed-up Yemeni Arabs (who probably have Jewish, East African, Indian and Arab genes) to Moroccan Berbers.

This does remind me of a simple conspiracy theory by Arabs and some other Muslims who ascribe every nefarious motive they think of to the Jews.

As an aside, to all the aspiring bioterrorists or weapons makers out there, it’s much much easier conceptually to simply engineer a virus to be fast-spreading and deadly and then vaccinate your own people against it, while releasing it to your enemies. Of course, the Russians failed at that after 40 years or whatever. But they’re Russians. And you’d have to somehow keep it secret from all the intelligence agencies in the world. And assume your enemies couldn’t quickly develop a vaccine to it on their own, in the midst of your attack (while dealing with the attack with traditional quarantine measures, etc).

All in all….keep working on your nukes. Physics is easy and clean. Biology is complex and messy.

• Category: Science 
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Well, I scored an internship at a venture cap firm in San Francisco. So, I don’t know how much I’ll be around, I need to impress so that I can get a job somewhere by fall, when my savings will run out. (I don’t want to have to sell my stocks).

I’d just like to point out some of “Silverrights” problems.

1) S/He claims that the “millions of white” meth users are not “scrutinized” because of their race. I suppose s/he has never heard any “white trash” “cracker” or other jokes about skanky white-trash meth addicts. I suppose s/he advocates throwing the users into prison like ……wait, users usually AREN’T thrown in prison…the DEALERS/TRAFFICKERS are (you can argue about definition of amounts used it “intent to distribute” charges, but that’s the whole point–the small-time users aren’t jailed or aren’t jailed for a long time). Who are the dealers/traffickers (at least in CA, where I live)? Sorry to be politically incorrect, but they’re mainly Mexicans. No, I don’t think that’s due to their race. I think you have a market, (legal or illegal) and people move to fill it.

2) His/Her “rubbish” argument about Mr. Chin is just that….rubbish. A primary problem with people’s understanding of genetics and traits stems from assigning certain INDIVIDUAL traits to a person’s genetic background. At that level of granularity, it can’t be done (with a few exceptions). Of course, there are plenty of high-SAT scoring African-descended Americans. However, there aren’t nearly the same number, even when controlled for income, of high SAT-scoring blacks as there are whites or East+South Asians.

3) As for criminality in general, it’s clear that blacks commit proportionately more crimes than whites and Asians. That’s a fact. Period. The pertinent question is why. I differ from some of my blogmates here in ascribing most of the blame to the huge number of fatherless young black men, the main cause of that being, in my opinion the highly destructive effects of welfare (again, economics matter, as much as our Marxist friend over at SilverRights would like to ignore them).

Anyhow. just some venting. I don’t know how much I’ll be posting, as I need to get up to speed on these business plans to look over, proffer opinions on how many millions to throw at them and the like. Which is much more rewarding than arguing with a religiously fanatic Leftist/Marxist. (who doesn’t have comments at his/her site–indicative of the depths of his/her Maoism).

• Category: Science 
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Well, the comments about “group evolutionary strategies” led me to think a little. I don’t think this is a new idea, but what are the effects, if it’s a valid hypothesis, on welfare states?

In other words, welfare states do their best(?) in countries like Sweden, it seems, where the population is nearly ethnically homogenous. They don’t do well in Brazil or the USA, where it isn’t. One ethnic group (in the US, European-descended whites) don’t want to “spend their money on blacks” for example. For those who would bring up Switzerland as a multi-ethnic welfare state, I don’t think their welfare system is as extensive as Sweden or even neighboring Germany’s. (correct me if I’m wrong)

Again, I don’t think this is new, but it is one social hypothesis that we can actually see tested, I think. Europe is now importing huge numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from South Asia, the MidEast, and Africa. Many of these immigrants are on welfare. Now, even politicians like Schroeder are talking about reducing welfare. Why now? Is the economy THAT much worse than the malaise of the ’70’s? or ’30’s?

I wonder if it’s because native German, French or Dutch citizens don’t want their huge tax bills going to the “other.”

Just some musings. Discuss amongst yourselves.

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Well, returned from my interview. Mostly “fit” questions. So, I probably flunked because of my lousy personality;).

I notice that Beyonce Knowles is now considered “hefty,” and I’m supposed to stand up for my mixed sistahs. Clearly, I wish that all American women were as overweight as Ms. Knowles.

One observation. I’ve noticed in repeated flights across the country, that the major airports in the Midwest and Northeast are employing large numbers of Ethiopian/Eritrean immigrants in the shops. Clearly the racist American society isn’t willing to give blacks a chance…..erm….oh well.

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I’m flying out to Boston tonight for a job interview. Apologies to Beantown bloggers, but I’m going to be anti-social this visit and decline to go out. Three reasons for this: 1) it’s a red-eye flight, so Sunday I’ll be groggy and going to bed early, 2) I’ll be prepping for the interview as much as possible and 3) I leave immediately on Monday afternoon after the interviews, so not much play time anyway.

Apologies for not blogging much, but it’s been wahnsinnig fleissig (crazy busy) out here. I will leave you with something to ponder….the fat Euro.

The Euros comment about fat Americans…when 1/3 of them are obese. Potbelly, meet kettle ass.

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In the review mentioned below, the author mentions Gould’s “spandrel argument” for the occurrence of “by-products” of evolutionary processes–i.e. the ability of humans to play chess is not a gene that has been selected for, it is the by-product of spacial reasoning:

“Snails build their shells by winding a tube around an axis of coiling. This geometric process leaves an empty cylindrical space, called an umbilicus, along the axis. A few species of snails use the umbilicus as a brooding chamber for storing eggs. But the umbilicus arose as a nonadaptive spandrel, not as an adaptation for reproduction. The overwhelming majority of snails do not use their umbilici for brooding, or for much of anything.”

My response to this argument (also brought up by the esteemed Richard Bennett) has always been:

If you can imagine these structures, why can’t you imagine that certain groups acquired a structure that gives them a bonus in ‘g’? Intelligence past a certain point doesn’t necessarily afford a reproductive advantage, especially in pre-agricultural societies. (hell, it doesn’t really provide any advantages now) What if other selections provided the brain architecture that allows certain groups to surpass others in particular mental exercises?

Gouldites are logically inconsistent. Am I the only one (besides our esteemed authors and readers) who can see this?

Update from Razib: Check out Randall Parker’s comment-very informative on the idea of fitness & IQ.

• Category: Science 
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What I’ve been saying….does it benefit minorities to be admitted to colleges they don’t do well in?

“Preferential admissions keep drawing many insufficiently prepared blacks and Hispanics onto selective campuses where their chances of succeeding drop dramatically. In what sense is this a progressive idea?”

Razib adds:

And why would university presidents care about graduation rates or GPAs if their #1 criteria for evaluation of “diversity” is the freshmen or even general student body head counts?

Another thing-this article is a longer exploration of the book. There are many choice quotes on both sides. But this caught my attention:

“It is blatantly indefensible to suggest that black and Latino students never experience discrimination in grading,” he says. “There are stereotypes about their abilities and subterranean animosity towards these kids by professors.”

Well, yeah, if you mean soft fields, but if you take math, physics or chemistry, and most biology the grading is pretty straightforward (to the irritation of many students), but I don’t think those were the classes the person in question was talking about[1]. Also note that more whites (43%) had higher GPAs than Asians (40%). I suspect this might be attributable to the fact that Asians take hard science and engineering majors more often, which have lower GPAs on average. Also, the perception that black & Latino students are on average less capable is probably grounded in the fact that these kids come in with lower GPAs and test scores and almost surely tend to cluster in the bottom of the curve in any grade distributions (this applies mostly to selective/elite schools especially).

[1] I am sure there are old school professors that can’t judge the essays of people from other cultures very well-I have heard Korean theology students complain that their white professors simply don’t have a good understanding of their conception of the religion and so grade them down as not having a good grasp of the material. On the other hand, this should be balanced out by diversity tokenism in this day & age.

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From the journal Cell (one of the holy Trinity of journals…at least to biologists), we have the following article on the BDNF gene (subscription required). A juicy excerpt for our crew of bloggers:

“Our results also speak to a current debate about the genetics of human intelligence. Specific cognitive abilities are partially correlated, and the extent of this correlation is referred to as ”g”, synonymous with IQ. Much genetic epidemiological data suggest that the genetic determinants of different cognitive abilities largely overlap with each other and with IQ. In other words, genes influence specific cognitive traits by virtue of their ”top down” effects on g (Plomin, 1999 ). The alternative ”bottom up” view that genes contribute to IQ primarily through their unique and more direct effects on specific cognitive modules has found little support. The present data are consistent with the latter formulation. We did not detect an effect of BDNF on IQ or any other cognitive ability (although we did not examine some other types of memory, such as priming, skill and habit acquisition, and fear conditioning). A recent study of the role of the COMT gene on working memory and prefrontal physiology, but not IQ, provides further evidence for this view (Egan et al., 2001b ). While COMT and BDNF may ultimately be shown to exert small effects on IQ, our current data suggest that their effects are somewhat specific and mediated through ”modular” cognitive elements.”

So, what Egan et al are trying to say is that (in their view, and this research) genes that create brain architecture exist primarily to perform that function–in this case, allowing for memory. Effects on actual IQ are secondary (and therefore probably not selected for). Interestingly, this is one of the comments I left on Richard Bennet’s blog–in my opinion, after a certain point, IQ is not really “needed” for survival advantage. If this is true, group differences in IQ may purely be due to genetic drift, sexual selection, or a combination thereof.

In the behavior department, another article on genes and aggressiveness came out.
An excerpt:

“People who are over-aggressive or excessively anxious may be missing a gene, say scientists who conducted experiments on mice. The gene, called PET-1, was removed from specially-bred mice by scientists at Case Western Reserve University in the US. They found that the mice had heightened levels of both anxiety and aggression – when the mice were given a “territory”, their response time to attack an intruder was significantly lower than a normal wild mouse, and they tended to launch an attack more often. “

Again, deleting a gene is a far cry from likely naturally occuring human variants, but this research is pointing to some genetic reasons for differences in aggression levels in humans.

Oh, by the way, the original article is in Neuron (one of the holy Trinity of journals for neuroscientists)

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How many euphemisms for “fat” can you spot in this article on “young and chubby” chicks?

“chubby,” “curvy,” “zaftig,” “healthfully big,” “rounded feminine beauty ideal,””larger feminine form,” “full-figured,” “voluptuous,” “natural body type.”

Ok. Reality check. Five-foot-five and 200 pounds is FAT. You’re not a “natural body type;” you’re not just big-boned. You’re FAT. One girl mentioned how she “dieted to a size 8” and could “see her collarbone” and didn’t like it. I’m sorry, honey, but you can see collarbones in NORMAL-SIZED people. I can see my collarbones (I’m 6’2″ and 180 lbs). Janell Tatis (5’8″ and 170–note–half a foot shorter than me, female and only 10 lbs lighter) “I just look like I eat.” No S***, Ms. Sherlock. You eat TOO DAMN MUCH.

This is really a ridiculous article. Of course, to the NYTimes these young women are “empowered” and non-conformist–refusing to slim down for some man (or Western, patriarchal, woman-hating standard of beauty). There are perfunctory references to adult onset diabetes hitting obese teenagers and other health problems associated with being FAT, but in general it’s a celebration of fat chicks. Now they have self-esteem in scads and this lovely quality allows them to chow down on the Twinkies. Brilliant.

I’m sorry (to those of you who might fit this definition, and men too) but you’re FAT. And being FAT is UNHEALTHY. My tax dollars are going to go to your Medicaid-funded kidney dialysis when you get diabetes. Or your Medicare-funded heart surgery. Or your knee replacements. All because you CAN’T put the chips down and get off your FAT ass and go for a walk.

Screw you.

And to tie this in to gene expression. Yes, I know different body types exist. Yes, I know some people are predisposed to being overweight. You know what? People whose grandparents all died of heart attacks are likely predisposed to heart disease. MAYBE you should look into taking care of your heart if that’s the case. Similarly, you should watch your diet and exercise even more if your ancestors are Pima Indians (look it up, it’s Saturday, and I’m going out).

God I’m sick and tired of this unjustified “self-esteem” crap.

(yes this applies to guys too, who are sitting around shoving Doritos in their faces and drinking 6-packs of barley pop and weight 215 lbs at 5’9″).
(no this doesn’t apply to the truly “athletic” body types who are mostly muscle, like the Williams sisters who are mentioned in the article–I’m willing to bet 10 large that the fat chicks they talked to in the article have body fat percentages around 33% and higher, whereas the Williams girls are probably under 20%, and even more likely less than 15%).

Time to go drinking.

• Category: Science 
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Scientific American has a little article on suicide. Some quotations: “I’m not saying that suicide is purely biological, but it starts with having an underlying biological risk.” What’s the biological risk? “At a conference of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in 2001, Arango reported that the brains of people who were depressed and died by suicide contained fewer neurons in the orbital prefrontal cortex, a patch of brain just above each eye. What is more, in suicide brains, that area had one third the number of presynaptic serotonin transporters that control brains had but roughly 30 percent more postsynaptic serotonin receptors.”

As we discover more about brain architecture, we’ll be seeing more discussions on the chemical basis for emotions and intelligence. Of course, the chemistry is controlled to a large degree by genetics…

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For those of you who have read some of my comments and posts, you know I’m desperately seeking employment as I wrap up grad school. I’d prefer a job in strategic/management consulting for biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies or in the analysis of equities in those categories.

If you’re in that field, or know someone who is and can connect me up with him/her, I’d appreciate any leads.


Here is the resume-also present to the left indefinitely….

E-mail me at [email protected]

Razib adds: “GENE EXPRESSION helping the cognitive elite get their foot in the door of life….”

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While perusing another of my favorite blogs, littlegreenfootballs, I came across a link to this article.

The author writes about the psychological trauma of growing up in the PLO-controlled areas of the West Bank/Gaza.

An excerpt:
“Survival in such a culture necessitates some numbing. But this psychological component might be insignificant relative to the neurobiological effects of being beaten and tortured in childhood. It was Harvard researchers who first revealed that stress hormones released when children experience physical and sexual abuse actually impede development of that part of the brain responsible for empathy and conscience. ”

Brain scans of those who suffered through events common in the childhood of Palestinian children reveal an underdeveloped hippocampus and vermis. Among the behaviors associated with this sort of brain damage: impulsivity, sadism, and suicide.”

The conditions of the West Bank and Gaza certainly mirror some African societies. So, we come back to the chicken-and-egg question. What part of Africa’s woes are genetic and what part are environmental? Which came first? The best “control” we have continues to be the African diaspora–where we still see blacks continuing to do more poorly in measures of cognitive skills. However, they do better in America than their (malnourished) African counterparts living in war-torn countries. What would Africa be like with an “equality of opportunity”? What is the potential? After decades of mismanagement, will some countries like Ghana eventually join the world economy and trade in proportion to its size? After all, Russia’s economy is currently size of Holland’s after Communism’s reign. Or is Africa doomed to labor with a genetically determined cognitive deficit?

Just some Saturday ramblings.

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Hey loyal readers. Razib et al have graciously decided to let me post on here occasionally. I’m a biochemist by training but hopefully will be moving on to other, more profitable pursuits in the near future.

Happy New Year to those following the Western calendar:)

[Dave, remember to select “Publish”-I assumed that you made a mistake and left it at draft. Also, now we have our first African-American contributor if my ass isn’t black enough for you 🙂 -Razib]

• Category: Science 
The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution