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Open Thread, 8/10/2014

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download I just want to mention that a friend is coming out with a book soon which many readers might find of great use (I’ve checked out some of the drafts), Bioinformatics Data Skills: Reproducible and Robust Research with Open Source Tools. Talking to some of my colleagues it’s obvious that 10-20 years from now so many of “best practices” will be established, and we’ll laugh at the ad hoc scripting which is so common today. There are some pipelines which are so difficult to implement that I’ve ended up writing my code own code, because I anticipate that it won’t take as much time.

In other news, my post on the Islamic State has been widely distributed, including being referenced in Ross Douthat’s column. I would have chosen a better title if I had known how it would blow up, but who knows such things. Most of the reaction has been positive, but a few have come up with this sort of feedback:

500px-Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Star_Trek_1968The post was long, so this individual may not have read it in full. Or, they may have some issues with reading comprehension, I’m not the clearest writer sometimes (though often it is by design because sometimes I don’t want to be explicit about secondary or sideline issues). But it’s not an uncommon response over the years when I talk about controversial or difficult things. There are several definitions of rationalize, but the key is that often I write in a somewhat bloodless and detached manner about topics which people are emotional about. The problem here is with people who are emotional and allow their emotions to cloud all ability to reason. To understand something you need to engage in Epoche, detach yourself from your conventional perspective and attempt to fly over the landscape. Those who lack emotional self control can’t comprehend that sort of self control in others, and so impute emotional motives. This is unfortunate, since it helps turn everything into screaming match. On the other hand, I do agree with David Hume that reason serves emotions. But that service of reason is rendered null if the two aspects are muddled.

• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Open Thread 
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33 Comments to "Open Thread, 8/10/2014"

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  1. What’s the deal with this letter?

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  2. the great Antonio Damasio on how emotions facilitate decision making:

    unrelated: my emotional circuitry has decided that Alex Honnold should be worshiped as a God what a beautiful, transcendental Being!

  3. Some big names in the biology field recently wrote a short paper titled: Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws. They talk about the unsustainable nature of US biomedical research, of hypercompetitiveness for grants, poor incentives in the field (e.g. publishing in big name journals), overproduction of grad students, etc.

    They make some recommendations at the end of the paper including limiting fund to grad students from fellowships, not grants, increasing pay for post-docs, using more staff scientists, increasing funding for risk-taking experiments, etc.

    It’s good that important people in the field recognize the many problems in the way the biomedical sciences are structured and are talking about it. If anyone can’t access the paper and wants a copy, please let me know.

  4. Even if the critic didn’t read or understand the entire piece, it contained images of children killed by ISIS, monsters and a demon statue made famous in the Exorcist. At lower comprehension or attention levels, visualcy usually kicks in.

  5. In his book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, Gershom Gorenberg observes that people tend to react to religious extremists by calling them “insane” and their acts “senseless.” But these acts often make sense within those extremists’ religious worldviews. If we want to address extremism in the real world we need to understand extremists’ motivations, and this involves trying to understand the internal logic of their actions. Perhaps, sadly, we will sometimes conclude that we cannot reason with them and must oppose them by force; but even this end is better served if we try to understand why they are doing what they are doing and don’t just treat them like an inexplicable force of nature.

  6. Emotional people are why we are not suppose to ever bring up politics or religion in conversations. We are suppose to stick to unimportant and to me boring subjects. I wonder if it is the same way in most other countries around the world.

  7. I found that very interesting: “We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.”

    So there is 0 support for every single one of Wade’s conjectures? That sounds unlikely to me (and IMHO not a very scientific statement to make).

    P.S. If one wants to criticize Wade’s conjectures it would be better to reference the original source rather than someone else’s review.

  8. #8, no time. used to.

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  9. Razib, is there anything in particular you didn’t like about “The Bible Unearthed” by Israel Finkelstein (only two stars on your GoodReads)?

    This book has made quite an impact on the educated public and is commonly referenced in public discussion, so if you found something bad about it that could be quite useful to know!

  10. too maximalist for my take. though to be fair i might have already imbibed the general insight before reading it.

  11. I’m way late but anyone watch Homeland? I recently became addicted. Great suspense!

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  12. Troy, tbh I think that understanding the internal logic of extremists’ worldview is slightly overrated by sensible types like ourselves. Slightly: I mean, we still might as well try to understand the logic. But I just don’t think the logic of ideologies is really the point. I think people have core emotional or practical commitmetns, and then they form ideologies around that, taking elements presented to them from the environment and creating something that works to further their core commitments (I don’t mean to say that this is usually very creative; for most people, it just means accepting the orthodoxy). I suppose religious visionary types tend to focus more on emotional commitments and most other people more on practical commitments. Even the visionaries will tend to get tempered over time by real-life success or failure and become more failure. So, I think it’s important to look carefully at what’s actually being accomplished rather than what the ideology claims is being accomplished.

    In the case of the Islamic State, it needs the caveat that the situation is still in flux and lot of different things are trying to happen, but it appears to me that perhaps the main thing happening on the ground is an attempt at Arab national consolidation via ethnic cleansing and elimination of Arabs who won’t get with the program. On the surface, that doesn’t explain why internationals such as Chechens fight for Isis, so maybe that’s in the “other” pile. On the other hand, maybe if you’re a Chechen radical, you believe in the back of your head that a powerful Sunni Arab religio-nationalist revival would be able to intimidate Russia into quitting Chechnya … and thus, helping Arab national consolidation is a means to the end of Chechen national consolidation.

  13. “I’m way late but anyone watch Homeland?”

    The Israeli original “Hatufim” (at least the 1st season, haven’t seen the 2nd yet) is much superior and actually quite thoughtful (though at times difficult to watch because of the torture scenes).

  14. Hi Greg,

    I do agree that religious ideologies are often not the only motivations on which extremists act, and that it is important to recognize practical and secular motivations as well. For example, many of those who join a militia for a group like ISIS may just like killing. Perhaps so. But often extremists’ religious beliefs are genuine and understanding those beliefs is important for understanding why they do what they do. Gorenberg gives an example of a group of Israeli settlers who, in 1979, plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, but continually delayed their plan because they worried that it was religiously unacceptable to enter the Temple Mount without being cleansed by the ashes of a red heifer (which they could not find)—a religious requirement for purity. You simply can’t understand that delay unless you accept that they really believed in and were motivated by their extreme brand of Judaism. And understanding the religious motivation of such people is important if you wish to stop them: for example, if you negotiate with them you want to give them a religiously acceptable way to accept compromise, and if you fight with them you want to know what kinds of losses will be the most serious from their religious point of view.

  15. Apparently, “starting with those born in the 1970s, people with college degrees are more likely than others to have religious identification.”

    They used data from the GSS.

  16. Thanks for your cogent response, Troy. Interesting example. I think you and I are basically on the same page. I could sum up my thoughts by saying that typically the inner ideological logic matters tactically – that is, in the relative short run, that is – much more than it does strategically.

  17. The best way to stop islamist expansion from westafrica to central/east Asia would be in my opinion to ridicule it. Atatürk wanted to abandon Islam, because he was ashamed of it, as he saw how much more advanced western christian/atheist societies were.
    If the West would stop allowing immigration of Muslims, would stop development aid, would stop technological transfer, would stop talking with them AS EQUALS the majority would soon understand: they can do without us, but we can´t without them. The violence would stop within a few years.

  18. Only the first season of Homeland is good. “The Americans” became such a superior spy show the former ought to be ashamed.

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  19. you think so? i’m still enjoying the 2nd season but i agree the 1st was better. anyway, thanks for the tip i’ll definitely check out The Americans.

  20. Yes, please.

  21. Hello Razib, I note “The Millennial Project” in your goodreads list. I remember reading it a long time ago. It was such a hopeful book. It certainly left me with a buoyant our future is ours to choose feel. Alas the OTEC powered future does not look bright. I have not lost all hope though perhaps Elon can get us there in his own inimitable “Man Who Sold the Moon” sort of way.

  22. Contact me and I’ll email you the PDF

    hexavalent.atom at gmail dot com

  23. Can you tell us if whole genome studies improve our knowledge (i.e., what do thy show), as in
    “The South Asian Genome” by John C. Chambers, et al.

    They talk about Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular disease, but do not correlate to anyrthing genomic.

  24. Done. Thank you.

  25. Morality and logic are independent of each other much of the time. When thinking of the “optimal move”, sometimes it ends up being something unsavory. Anyways, Don’t let the criticism get to you. Seeing things from a different perspective is always useful.

  26. Thanks for the book suggestion. I am self-teaching R and related tools, and it seems useful.

  27. I wonder how genetics influences optimal diet for humans; for example when it comes to macronutritient ratios. We know for example that Europeans inherited fat catabolism genes from Neanderthals – how does that influence the optimal diet, as compared to Northern Asians or Africans? Like all this love for cheeses, butter, fattening animals, pates, whole sweets traditions based on cream (like Austrian cakes) etc. in european cousines, 50% of energy from fat in Frech cuisine etc.?

    Let’s look at an N=1 example of a person who is both a diet creator and a descendant of Neandethals at 4,5% – Dave Asprey. His idea for a breakfast is a butter or ghee plus MCT Oil added to a coffee.

    Overall a diet quite low in starch carbs, reasonable in protein and high in fiber. “Target 50-60% of calories from healthy fats (this is easy and tastes good), 20% from protein, and the rest from vegetables.”

    In his videos he generally complains that on a govnerment recommended high-carb, low fat diet he was not only weighting like 300 pounds, but also having a bad health and cognitive results compared to now on his new diet.

    Source for the 4.5% Neanderthal genes and european origin:

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