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Thought this was interesting. A review of Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson’s book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behaviour in the new Nature:

There are two remarkable things about Temple Grandin. The first is that she has arguably done more than anyone else in the world to improve the welfare of animals in a practical way. Her major contribution has been to go into places that most of us would probably prefer not to think about — slaughterhouses — and imagine what it would be like to be an animal on its way to being killed. She has dramatically improved the welfare of these animals, not by making any expensive modifications to the slaughter plants but by suggesting simple changes that cost nothing, such as removing a yellow coat hanging over a grey fence, or altering the lighting to eliminate shiny reflections from a puddle. By removing stimuli that frighten cattle and cause them to stop and pile up on one another, the cattle move more easily, they don’t slip and fall, and the use of electric goads is almost unnecessary


Her autism, she believes, gives her a remarkable insight into the way animals see the world. Animals, like autists, concentrate on detail. It is obvious to her that the yellow coat would be a scary stimulus to a cow, but the rest of us, concentrating on the bigger picture, would simply not realize unless it was pointed out to us.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 05:50 AM

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123 years ago today, Charles Darwin died. So grip your glass with your opposable thumb and toast the man who revolutionized biology.

Heres to you, Chuck!

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 05:20 PM

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Earlier this month, Turkey’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry altered the Latin names of three mammal species to expunge “divisive” reference to two of the country’s ethnic minorities — the Armenians and Kurds.

The Turkish red fox subspecies Vulpes vulpes kurdistanica will have its name cut down to just Vulpes vulpes, the deer Capreolus capreolus armenius will be Capreolus capreolus capreolus, and the sheep Ovis armeniana becomes Ovis orientalis anatolicus.

The Ministry’s statement alleges the names were handed out with “ill intent,” and although the official body of animal Linnean nomenclature, the ICZN, does not allow name changes for political reasons, spokespeople say this one might stick because the changes are “scientifically acceptable.”

[via Science (subscription required)]

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 07:33 PM

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This sounds amazingly bad. Algis Kuliukas tells me that Elaine Morgan, leading spokesperson for the horrid “Aquatic Ape Theory”, has a new book out that, in his words, “takes on the accepted wisdom which has lead to each and every aspect of neo-Darwinism being accepted without question in some circles. From E O Wilson’s ‘Sociobiology: The New Synthesis’ through to Hamilton’s Kin Selection and Triver’s Reciprocal Altruism and associated game theories, she turns them over and revisits our assumptions about them. From Dawkins’ meme to ‘The Natural History of Rape’ and from Evolutionary Psychology to ‘The Blank Slate’, Elaine reminds us of anomalies and problems and provides tough, hard-nosed reasons not to get too carried away with all the hype.”

Morgan vs. Trivers and Hamilton. Can you imagine a debate thats anymore intellectually lopsided?

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 09:56 PM

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Those Minnesota behavioral geneticists are at it again. Thomas Bouchard, Laura Koenig, Matt McGue and Robert Krueger have a new paper in The Journal of Personality about the heritability of religiousness that a lot of people have been talking about.

Investigating the heritability of religiousness is nothing new, of course. A host of studies have found values ranging from zero in a sample of Australian men (Truett et al. 1992) to .54 in Americans (Bouchard et al. 2004) — the differences depending mostly on the age of the sample and the type of measure used for the phenotype. Its this first issue (changes with age) that Koenig et al. focused on.

They report:

When rating retrospectively, the MZ correlation for religiousness was .69, and the DZ correlation was .59. The difference between these correlations was not significant (Z=1.35, p>.05). When rating current religiousness, however, the MZ and DZ correlations were .62 and .42, respectively, and were significantly different (Z=2.18, p

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Looking again at my old Psych 101 textbook earlier today, I found this passage:

Consider, first, not people but tomatoes. (This “thought experiment,” illustrated in Figure 6.5 on the next page, is based on Lewontin, 1970.) Suppose you have a bag of tomato seeds that vary genetically; all things being equal, some will produce tomatoes that are puny and tasteless, and some will produce tomatoes that are plump and delicious. Now you take a bunch of these seeds in your left hand and another bunch in your right hand. Though one seed differs genetically from another, there is no average difference between the seeds in your left hand and those in your right. You plant the left hand’s seeds in pot A, with some soil that you have doctored with nitrogen and other nutrients, and you plant the right hand’s seeds in pot B, with soil from which you have extracted nutrients. When the tomato plants grow, they will vary within each pot in terms of height, the number of tomatoes produced, and the size of the tomatoes, purely because of genetic differences. But there will also be an average difference between the plants in pot A and those in pot B: The plants in pot A will be healthier and bear more tomatoes. This difference between pots is due entirely to the different soils — even though the heritability of the within-pot differences is 100 percent.


For example, in the much-discussed book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994), the late psychologist Richard Herrnstein and conservative political theorist Charles Murray cited heritability studies done mostly with whites to imply that the gap in IQ scores between the average white and the average black child can never be closed. Wade & Tavris, Invitation to Psychology, 1999, pg. 212

Compare that with this:

As we discussed in Chapter 4, scholars accept that IQ is substantially heritable, somewhere between 40 and 80 percent, meaning that much of the observed variation in IQ is genetic. And yet this tells us nothing for sure about the origin of the differences between races in measured intelligence. This point is so basic, and so commonly misunderstood, that it deserves emphasis: That a trait is genetically transmitted in individuals does not mean that group differences in that trait are also genetic in origin. Anyone who doubts this assertion may take two handfuls of genetically identical seed corn and plant one handful in Iowa, the other in the Mojave Desert, and let nature (i.e., the environment) take its course. The seeds will grow in Iowa, not in the Mojave, and the result will have nothing to do with genetic differences. Herrnstein & Murray, The Bell Curve, 1994, pg. 298

Oopsie. Isn’t there also a discussion, on page 313, of how heritable group differences are not necessarily any more or less immutable than environmental differences?

Its shocking to me — shocking — that the authors of a textbook couldn’t be bothered to actually read their sources and/or report them accurately.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 06:18 PM

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From the press release:

A total of 12 early hominid fossil specimens were discovered, including parts of one individual’s skeleton. Portions recovered thus far include a complete tibia, parts of a femur, ribs, vertebrae, clavicle, pelvis, and a complete scapula of an adult whose sex and stature are yet to be determined, although it is already clear that the individual was larger than Lucy. In addition to this discovery, skeletal parts of other individuals were found in different localities in the area. These discoveries include isolated teeth, and elements from below the neck (arm bones, leg bones, phalanges).


Based on the associated animal remains, the team believes that the hominid fossils are likely between 3.8 to 4 million years old. This will place the new fossils in time between the earlier 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus partial skeleton and the younger 3.2 million year old “Lucy” partial skeleton of A. afarensis. The team hopes that the new discoveries will allow scientists to connect the dots — furthering our knowledge of this important time period in human evolution.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 04:19 AM

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Wassersug et al. (2004) have a (interesting? painful?) survey of 134 men with an interest in castration. Here are some numbers:


Under 25: 4%
25–35: 16%
35–45: 23%
45–55: 38%
Over 55: 17%
No answer provided: 2%


Non-HS: 1%
HS graduate: 16%
2 yrs college: 22%
4 yrs college: 25%
Postcollege: 25%
Doctoral degree: 9%
No answer provided: 3%

Reasons respondents desire castration (by number of responses)

A feeling of calm, often called the eunuch calm: 42
A sense of control over one’s sexual urges and/or sexual appetite: 41
The excitement of the castration scene itself: 32
Cosmetic effect. Just like the look: 31
Feeling a deep desire to be submissive to partner: 26

Interesting that they have a much higher rate of advanced education than the general population.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 04:42 AM

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Back in 2002, Richard Lynn published an investigation of racial differences in psychopathology. Arguing mostly from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI/MMPI-2) Psychopathic Deviate scale and a host of social factors like school suspensions, crime rate, long-term monogamous relationships, extramarital sex and “moral understanding,” Lynn concluded the trait’s distribution was in line with what Steve Sailer calls “Rushton’s Rule”: psychopathology is most prevalent among individuals of African descent, least among Asians, and Caucasians intermediate.

Not surprisingly, Lynn’s paper received a lot of criticism. Zuckerman (2003) argued Lynn did not clearly draw a distinction between the psychopathic personality and criminality:

Although criminal history is often used as a surrogate for APD, actual diagnosis must inquire beyond the mere history of arrests and convictions. Otherwise there is no point in the distinction.

This conceptual confusion leads Lynn to neglect statistics that potentially conflict with his view — namely — the incidence of diagnosed Antisocial Personality Disorder. The largest such study of this kind, Robins and Regier (1991), failed to find any significant racial difference.

In October’s issue of Law and Human Behavior, the authors of a new study go one step further and conduct a meta-analysis of the pertinent literature. 21 studies, all relying on Hare’s widely used Revised Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) or its derivatives, were included.

Their results are interesting, and worth quoting at length.

Our chief finding is that there is little evidence that Blacks are more psychopathic than Whites in the aggregate. The strongest foundation for an argument that ethnic groups differ in psychopathy would be a finding of large and reliable group differences on the interpersonal and affective characteristics of Factor 1, given the relative nonspecificity of the behavioral features of Factor 2 (see Lilienfeld, 1994; Skeem & Mulvey, 2001). The results of this study directly counter this argument. On the basis of homogeneous effect sizes from studies of 8,890 individuals, we found that Blacks are no more “emotionally detached” (Patrick, Bradley, & Lang, 1993) than Whites. When considered in conjunction with the results of Cooke et al. (2001), who found minimal differences in PCL-R factor structure and in the meaning of Total scores between these ethnic groups, there seems little reason to believe that there are significant ethnic differences in “core psychopathy” in this population.


This may well be true of psychopathy, more broadly construed. Although statistically significant, the size of the effect for PCL-R Total scores (d = .11) is about “half as small as small” (Kenny, 1999, p. 6), according to Cohen’s (1988) interpretive guidelines. On the 40-point PCL-R, Blacks obtained scores that were a weighted average of 0.7 points higher than Whites. To place the absolute magnitude of this difference into a practical context (American Psychological Association, Board of Scientific Affairs, 1999), it is less than one-fourth the size of the standard error of measurement (SEM) for the PCL-R. The SEM for PCL-R total scores is 3.1 points, meaning that “if 100 trained raters assessed the same subject (sic) at the same time, about 68% of the scores would fall within +/− [3.1 points] of the subject’s (sic) obtained Total score . . . ” (Hare, 1991, p. 36).

In other words, “blacks exceeded Whites by an average of less than one point on the PCL-R”.


Lynn, R. 2002. Racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality. Personality and Individual Differences 32: 273-316

Skeem, J.L. et al. 2004. Are there ethnic differences in levels of psychopathy?
A meta-analysis. Law and Human Behavior 28: 505-527.

Zuckerman, M. 2003. Are there racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality? A critique of Lynn’s (2002) racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality. Personality and Individual Differences 35: 1463-1469.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 09:38 PM

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Hot on the heels of the Summers controversy, researchers at the University of Heidelberg have found a “hidden” stretch of a half million base pairs on the Y chromosome. As Nature News reports:

The DNA that makes up the chromosome is highly repetitive, making it very difficult to sequence. But in June 2003, researchers in the United States announced that they had done so, and had found 78 genes, including several involved in sperm production.

Now, however, scientists at the University of Heidelberg in Germany have given it another go and found a region of the chromosome that originally went undetected.

When they initially compared the physical map of the chromosome with the cloned sequence, the sequence didn’t seem to be long enough, explains team member Gudrun Rappold. “So we took the effort to sort out what was going on.”

Gudrun Rappold, one of the scientists involved, says there appears to be eight genes in the region. Though she guesses they might have something to do with male height and disease, we obviously cant rule out influences on cognitive or behavioral patterns just yet.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 03:44 PM

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A group of Israeli researchers have a very interesting paper available as an advance online publication from Molecular Psychiatry. Noting that two dopaminergic genes (DRD4 and the microsatellite variant DRD5) have been implicated in ADHD and antisocial behavior, the authors hypothesized that “if one variant contributes to antisocial traits, then conversely the absence of this variant or the presence of other variants might contribute to altruistic behavior.”

Together with the insulin-like growth factor 2 gene (IGF2), they find significant associations between scores on the

Selflessness Scale and the DRD4 exon III (D4.4), the IGF2 Apa I (‘G’) and DRD5 (146 and 148 bp repeat) polymorphisms. Univariate analysis also showed significant associations with the most common D4.4 allele, the IGF2 ApaI (‘G’ allele) and DRD5 (148 bp repeat, negatively associated) for all three factors (KIN, NON-KIN and NON-CARING). We also found a significant association (P¼0.002) between the D4 4/4 genotype and TPQ reward [Cloninger’s TPQ4 subscale related to empathy]

This association with the “feel good” chemical dopamine would appear to provide the sort of proximate mechanism necessary to compel people to act contrary to their fitness. Also of interest, all three of the genes were associated with altruistic behaviors toward both kin and non-kin.

Addendum from Razib: A few years ago Greg Cochran & Henry Harpending pointed out that the DRD4 alleles vary widely in frequency, and suggest that the 7R allele has been under positive selection (possibly frequency dependent, that is, multiple “morphs”) in some populations. You can find a comparison chart here for the particular class of polymorphisms Greg & Henry are talking about (4 repeat is ancestral, 7 repeat is the selected variant, these are on exon III, just as above).

Money quote:

It is probably no accident that two of the best known ethnographies of the twentieth century are titled “The Harmless People,” about the !Kung who have few or no 7R alleles, and “The Fierce People,” about the Yanomamo with a high frequency of 7R.


Bachner-Melman, R. et al. 2005. Dopaminergic polymorphisms associated with self-report measures of human altruism: a fresh phenotype for the dopamine D4 receptor. Molecular Psychiatry: advance online publication 18 January 2005.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 05:40 PM

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I got The Flight from Science and Reason with some Christmas money. Although its a fine collection of essays overall, there is a hilariously bad contribution from Mario Bunge, a philosophy professor at McGill.

It starts off good enough, attacking Heidegger, “radical feminist theory” and other brands of academic nonsense. Eleven pages into it, however, we find this:

Example 6: “Scientific Racism”

Racism is very old, but “scientific” racism is a 19th-century invention that culminated with the Nazi Rassenkunde and the accompanying extermination camps. The American version of this doctrine was introduced by some psychologists on the basis of flawed IQ measurements, and it was entrenched in the American legislation restricting immigration from Southern Europe and other regions. It was muted for a while in the wake of the revelation of the Nazi horrors, but it was resuscitated in 1969 by the Harvard professor Arthur Jensen, who, on the basis of some IQ measurements, asserted the innate intellectual inferiority of Afroamericans. This “finding” was unanimously rejected by the scientific community. In particular the Genetics Society of America warned against “the pitfalls of naive hereditarian assumptions”

Yaron Ezrahi, a member of the constructivist-relativist pseudosociology of science, claimed that this denial was due to ideological reasons. He held that the geneticists were particularly vehement in their criticisms of Jensen’s work for being concerned, at least in part, with their own “public image and support.” Ezrahi did not bother to analyze the very IQ tests from which Jensen had derived his “conclusions.” Had he done so he might have learned that (a) such tests were indeed culture bound and thus likely to favor whites over blacks, and (b) no IQ test will be fully reliable unless it is backed up by a well-confirmed theory of intelligence–a theory that is lone overdue.

Yikes. Bunge couldn’t even be bothered to get Jensen’s institutional affiliation right!

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 03:45 PM

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Tucker Max runs what has to be one of the top five funniest sites on the net. His tales of debauchery are legendary — he has a book and an MTV spot devoted to them. But it was nice to see some of his recommended books:

The Moral Animal, Robert Wright: A great intro to evolutionary psychology for the non-scientist. The beginning is boring, but after Chapter One it gets really good.

The Adapted Mind, Cosmides and To[o]by: The defining book on evolutionary psychology. This is where it all began, but it takes some background before you can really digest their writing.

Why we get sick, Neese and Williams. The best book you will ever read on medicine.

Most of Stephen Pinker, Mark Ridley, and Richard Dawkin’s work, especially The Red Queen, The Selfish Gene, and The Language Instinct

Hopefully his audience will get turned onto good science.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 03:52 PM

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Just found a table compiled by Martin Voracek on national IQ and suicide rates. Across the 85 countries he looked at, national IQ (from Lynn and Vanhanen’s book) is significantly and positively correlated with suicide rate in both men (.39) and women (.46). The relationship still held, albeit more weakly, when GDP was controlled for.

He takes this as corroborating part of de Catanzaro’s theory of suicide, in which “it may take an intelligent animal to know when the situation is hopeless, to realize that purpose for life is removed in those circumstances, and that death can be self-induced.”

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 11:39 PM

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Little boys like to play with toy cars and girls with dolls. These sexually dimorphic toy preferences extend to non-human primates.

Alexander & Hines (2002) gave 44 vervet monkeys of each sex six toys to play with; two male-typical (a toy car and ball), two female-typical (a doll and pot) and two sex-neutral (a book and stuffed animal). Male ververts were more likely than females to engage the car and ball while females were more likely to play with the doll and pot. No difference was found in the neutral toys.

These findings make gender socialization theories of play behaviors increasingly untenable. Even though pre- and neonatal androgen exposure has been linked to play preferences in rats, rhesus monkeys, and human females with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, blank slaters like Fausto-Sterling remain unimpressed. Phenotypic masculinization, they suggest, could be altering socialization by parents and peers. Gender self-identification could be weakened by sex hormones and not affecting the neural processes of play as such. But vervets are neither subject to the human socialization process or (so far as we know) capable of gender self-identification.

Why then to girls and boys prefer the toys they do? One possibility is what the authors refer to as object categorization, whereby a stimulus possesses “a sufficient cue or number of cues from some larger set of characteristics that define a class.” In the case of females, for example, their toys “have been described as objects that afford opportunities for nurturance (Campbell; Eisenberg and Miller), and selection pressures may favor responsiveness to object cues (e.g., an animate-like form) that signal maternal behavior because these cues enhance infant survival.” Male-typical toys, on the other hand, “have been characterized as objects with an ability to be used actively (O’Brien & Huston, 1985) or objects that can be propelled in space (Benenson, Liroff, Pascal, & Cioppa, 1997). Preferences for such objects may exist because they afford greater opportunities for engaging in rough or active play.”

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 10:46 PM

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The creationists over at the Discovery Institute have a new blog devoted to, in their words, correcting the “misreporting of the evolution issue” in the newsmedia.

Not surprisingly, there is no comments section.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 02:21 PM

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Talking to Ingo Brigandt about his ethnic nepotism paper, he brought up an interesting concern about evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology postulates mental or behavioural modules based on alleged selective demands. Note that these modules are functionally defined and that the assumption is that for each important ecological and behavioural function there is a *distinct* mental module. (E.g., as jealousy has an important social effect on reproductive success, evolutionary psychologists postulated the existence of a jealousy module). Evolutionary developmental biologists talk about ‘modules’ as well. however, they have a structural-developmental understanding of module. A module is a homologue, i.e., a structure that is structurally-developmentally defined and a character that exists across species as it is inherited from a common ancestor. On this account, something is a unique module if it is a single character that may vary relatively independently from other characters. To figure out whether something is a unique character one has to study its evolution on a phylogenetic tree (or its variation within a species). In addition to this standard comparative method, evolutionary developmental biology offers insights as to whether a module is developmentally individualized so that it evolves as a real unit or character.

He goes on:

The point of this is that whether there is really a jealousy module (distinct from other postulated modules) depends on whether the *material * basis of this feature can actually vary and change in evolution without affecting other traits. But this can only occur if this module is developmentally dissociated from other modules. Mainstream evolutionary psychology does not address any of these questions, that’s why I think that this approach and relate[d] ones (Salter, etc) are scientifically not fruitful. What one has to do is to view behavioral features, emotions, and the like as modules in the sense of homologues, and study their variation in humans and homologize them with the corresponding traits in closely related organism. Once one has an idea as to how these characters have changed on the phylogenetic tree and what their developmental underpinning is, scientists are in a position to actually explain the evolution of behavior.

I’m not so sure about this last part. Investigating the underlying neurophysiology of behavioral/psychological adaptations seems like something that can be teased out independent of their actually being adaptive, in the same way one can investigate the heritability of general intelligence without necessarily trying to find high-IQ QTLs. In other words, evolutionary psychology seems to work on a different explanatory level (i.e. this behavior is or is not an adaptation) that would exist with or without modern evo-devo.

He does seem right in suggesting that it may be premature to label any of these adaptations modules, though.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 06:07 PM

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I thought this was pretty cute. After explaining some recent behavior genetic research into female infidelity and telling their readers that “it certainly would not be a threat to a biblical worldview,” the creationists at Answers in Genesis go on to give their own explanation of heritability:

In a fallen world, in which genes are corrupted by random copying mistakes, there may well be adverse effects of such mutated genes on behavior. Pastors know that certain parishioners are more predisposed to a certain class of sin than others. When person ‘X’ falls, it is generally in the same direction—whether that be stealing, pride, gluttony, substance abuse, spousal abuse, infidelity, etc. Person ‘Y’ in the same congregation tends to fall in a consistent direction, too, only it’s not the same direction as for ‘X’. They both have recurring weaknesses, but each is for a different class of sin. Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 01:54 AM

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Although no disparity in the general factor was found, Demetriou et al. (in press) uncovered large differences in visuo/spatial abilities between their Chinese and Greek samples.

Not very exciting in itself. But what I did find interesting was their perferred explanation, which I haven’t seen (or don’t recall having seen) before.

In the present case, the assumption would be that the experience of learning the Chinese logographic system generates a special inter-wiring in the brain that supports and facilitates visuo/spatial processing. Indeed, recent neuroimaging studies show that thinking about Chinese (Tan et al., 2001) or Kanji characters (Bihan, Klein, & Dohi, 2002), which is the Japanese system of writing that is very similar to Chinese, activates many more brain areas in both the right and the left hemispheres than when thinking about phonetic characters. Interestingly, thinking about Chinese logographs activates an area in the frontal cortex (Tan et al., 2001) that is involved in executive control and the integration of different processing components (Goldberg, 2002). This is in line with the finding of the present study that Chinese excel in interference control. It is worthwhile to suppose that this kind of differentiation, even if local and domain-specific at the beginning, may eventually be reflected into more general intellectual characteristics, such as the overall thinking styles that may characterize different cultural groups. For instance, visuo/spatial processing, which is known to have a wholistic style of representation and processing (Corballis, 2003 and Hoffman, 1998), being a powerful mode of thinking in Chinese and other eastern cultures which share similar logographic systems, may be responsible, to some extent, for the qualitative differences between thinking in the east as compared to the west, mentioned in the introduction (Nisbett, 2003).

Of course, they could not rule out heritable differences. North Asians could be culturally capitalizing on their already-present abilities in the form on complex written scripts.


Demetriou, A. et al. In press. The architecture, dynamics, and development of mental processing: Greek, Chinese, or Universal? Intelligence.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 08:52 PM

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Sailer and Salter’s advocacy of kin selected ethnic nepotism using similarity data faces a major theoretical hurdle.

Evolution by natural selection concerns the change of the frequency of a specific allele at a given locus. In this sense, an allele competes with other alleles at this locus. It does not matter whether the effects of an allele increase the frequency of some alleles at other loci, a gene simply has to augment its own frequency to be evolutionary successful. For this reason,an allele that influences an organism in a manner that this individual behaves altruistically towards other individuals which are genetically similar to it with respect to other loci is neither selected for nor against. But genetic similarity theory focuses on overall genetic similarity, which basically includes all these irrelevant genes or loci. Instead, the question should be whether a gene is able to detect (based on phenotypic effects) whether another organism also has this allele at the same locus, then preferential behavior towards this organism is actually a better strategy than towards other organisms. But this scenario is simply the green beard effect, which as above said is usually excluded as a real possibility. This criticism has already been put forward by other authors (e.g., Mealey, 1985)…Standard kin selection theory, however, is able to give a possibility of the evolution of altruism. When a gene causes altruism towards a relative, this relative has—with a determined probability—the same gene identical by descent, and a fortiori identical in state. This is a clear way in which an allele can benefit the same allele in another organism (at least with a certain probability). (Brigandt in-press, pg. 10)

Dr. Harpending agrees with this criticism, but unlike Brigandt, apparently sees green beard effects as a possiblity. I want to take a look at this.

In some ways, green beard effects can better account for the peculiarities of ethnic conflict. Brigandt writes, with respect to van den Berghe’s more traditionally Hamiltonian approach[1], that we would expect to see gradients of nepotism and ethnic conflict depending on how large the kinship coefficient is in any particular case. For example, we would expect Frenchmen to behave more altruistically toward each other than toward Englishmen, but more altruistically toward Englishmen than toward Poles. Wilson & Daly (via Jason) take this to its logical conclusion by suggesting “selection would have also favored altruism towards monkeys over dogs and mosquitoes over marigolds.” However, “ethnic phenomena as ethnocentrism often have not only rather clear, but also distinctive boundaries. Either you are accepted as a fellow ethnic, or you are not. This does not conform to homeopathic altruism.”

But this wouldn’t be so strange if they are green beard effects. Ingroups and outgroups, according to the green beard hypothesis, are clearly delineated; either you are a member of the group (have the green beard gene or genes) or you are not (lack the green beard gene). Still, I see more problems and inconsistencies than solutions. For example:

1) If ethnic nepotism is a green beard effect, similarity data is still irrelevant. What matters is the presence or absence of the green beard gene (or tightly linked genes) but not similarity of other alleles across all loci.

2) Though possible, green beard effects are very rare. Dr. Harpending mentioned the fire ant gp9 locus, but an additional search of the literature yeilded only two more examples, within the slime mold Dictyostelium and possibly the poison-antidote system of bacteriocin producing bacteria.

3) The hypothesis would require the parallel acquisition of different versions of these genes in all ethnic groups that exhibit nepotism. Coupled with the second point, it seems highly unlikely that an ultra-rare phenomenon would repeatedly evolve in such a short amount of time, within such a phylogenetically exclusive group.

Minimally, this needs to be subjected to experiments before we jump on the bandwagon.

Ethnic Genetic Interests: Part 2
Ethnic Genetic Interests
Interracial Marriage: Salter’s fallacy
Limits to Hamiltons Rule
On Genetic Interests
Dissin’ Dawkins

[1] I say Hamiltonian approach because van den Berghe, unlike Rushton and (apparently) Salter, relies on the relatedness of individuals by descent and not their allelic similarity across all loci.

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 03:57 PM

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