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RKUL: time well spent 11/11/2021
Recommendations for everything, pre-Thanksgiving edition
Your time is finite. Your phone and the internet stand ready to help you squander it. Here are my latest picks for spending it well instead. Feel free to add more in the comments.
Books, what else?
A very strange question from a reporter at The New York Times:
Why do dog breeds differ so widely, and why do specific breeds have specific characteristics (labrador retrievers love to eat, poodles are geniuses)?
The short answer is the multivariate breeder’s equation:
But the longer answer is that breeders use the simple mechanics of the evolutionary process, selection on heritable variation, in a controlled fashion. This is the same basic idea I outlined in my recent post The Heritability of Height. You just look for natural variation within a population and select from a subset different in their distribution from the majority. If the characteristic is inherited, then you will see some change on that trait in subsequent generations.
Though this seems eminently obvious on some level, the whole field of statistical genetic inference emerged over the last century expressly to quantify and predict selection within populations for purposes like animal breeding. As well as to understand how Charles Darwin’s theories work operationally in nature. The classical text for this field has been Douglas Falconer and Trudy Mackay’s Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. But the first edition dates to 1960, and despite revisions it shows its age.
In contrast, Armando Caballero’s Quantitative Genetics came out in 2020, so it is much more up-to-date. If there is one successor to the Falconer and Mackay book (Falconer died in 2004), it is Caballero’s.
On the other hand, if you want to use quantitative genetics as a tool towards illuminating evolutionary biology more fully, then Michael Lynch and Bruce Walsh’s Evolution and Selection of Quantitative Traits is what you want. But be warned, Walsh and Lynch unload a lifetime’s worth of evolutionary quantitative genetic knowledge on you over 1,500 pages. Derek Roff’s Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics is more manageable, but unfortunately, affordable copies of this one are hard to find (check your university libraries, though!).
Adrian Wooldridge’s The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World may not seem to have much to do with quantitative genetics, but the same underlying dynamics that apply to evolution apply to the meritocracy: selection. Whereas in the ancient world, individuals were born to rule, today we have the conceit that those chosen to lead were selected through processes that vetted their aptitudes and capabilities. In the process, the meritocracy itself is shaped by characters that are heritable: intelligence, executive function and personality. A perfect meritocracy is arguably a fuller expression of Social Darwinism than an aristocracy is.
Though meritocracy is a recent phenomenon in the history of the West, it is old in China. Elements of selection for effective administrators date back 2,000 years, but the real inflection point was the Song dynasty, 1,000 years ago. The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China, outlines the formative stage of the Chinese imperial bureaucratic system which became familiar to Europeans in later centuries. Perhaps the most memorable fact for me from this book is that because of the overperformance of candidates from Fujian, the authorities imposed a ceiling on the number of officials from this province.
While The Age of Confucian Rule shows you how imperial China in its full bureaucratic flower began, China's Last Empire: The Great Qing, is a narrative of how it ended. The irony is that the Qing were themselves not ethnically Han Chinese, but Manchus. Another testimony to China’s absorptive capacity.
This historical reality was at the heart of my most viral piece since starting this Substack almost a year ago: Applying IQ to IQ.
Full Stack Economics is a newsletter that’s worth subscribing to. Tim B. Lee and Alan Cole cover a wide array of topics, from real estate to inflation, in a depth you won’t find in The Wall Street Journal (yes, I subscribe to that too).
The masculinity gap. Noah Carl talks about the gender polarization of modern political parties. This is a new thing and may have many long-term consequences.
Whose Promised Land? A Journey Into a Divided Israel. This is an excellent piece that is a good complement to my earlier posts on various types of Jews.
America Needs a New Scientific Revolution. I think anyone within science will know that this piece is correct on some level.
Secrets of the Great Families. Scholars have been interested in topics like “hereditary genius” for a while, and Greg Clark will tell you that a lot of eminence seems heritable.
The Rise of the Republican Class Warrior: How the GOP ditched trickle-down economics and embraced populism. This is mostly optics and rhetoric right now. We’ll see if the party really changes and pivots away from economic libertarianism.
"Critical Race Theory" and actual education policy, part two - The core problem is a dangerous attack on efforts to measure learning. See no evil, hear no evil. Anyone with children in public schools knows that this is happening.
What if Xi Jinping just isn't that competent? Who knows? China is kind of a cipher to many of us, and Americans seem to be groping in the darkness when they actually wonder.
The Scout Mindset—A Review. My relatively positive review of Julia’s solid book, though I note that some of the material may be old hat to readers familiar with the rationalist community.
Ancient genomes from the last three millennia support multiple human dispersals into Wallacea. Publications of Mark Stoneking’s lab are often important, but to be frank they can be a bit impenetrable to me. But I recommend reading this one, as Wallacea is very important in the history of human evolution.
Benchmarking statistical methods for analyzing parent-child dyads in genetic association studies. Benchmarking papers are not the most lively prose, but they’re essential to figuring out the fastest methods to obtain the most accurate results for many scientific tasks.
Gene recruitments and dismissals in argonaut octopus genome provide insights to pelagic lifestyle adaptation and shell-like eggcase reacquisition. Really surprised about the reacquisition.
Parallel-Cousin (FBD) Marriage, Islamization, and Arabization. Marriage between cousins who are related through two brothers is a feature of Islamic societies. In most other societies where cousin marriage is licit, this particular type of pairing is forbidden. But this paper argues that it’s not just a feature of Islamization, but Arabization in particular.
Sex differences in the strength of selection under facultative sex. The study of the origin and maintenance of sex is still one of the most fertile subdomains of the discipline of evolutionary biology.
Triangulation supports agricultural spread of the Transeurasian languages. A paper that purports to solve the question of the origin of Altaic languages. Not sure if they figured it out, but someone has to try.
Revisiting the out of Africa event with a deep-learning approach. The result here is less important than the method. Deep-learning is going to be big, but I welcome the day when we stop treating it like a dark art.
Diverse northern Asian and Jomon-related genetic structure discovered among socially complex Three Kingdoms period Gaya region Koreans. The Jomon are the indigenous people of Japan who were present long before the arrival of rice farmers. This may really be a game-changer.
My Two Cents
There’s still no free lunch, free subscribers; my most in-depth pieces for this Substack are beyond the paywall. The main paid piece I’ve put out since the last “Time Well Spent” is Heritability of height: the long and the short of it - The genomics of stature in 2021:
In the 19th century, height was the perfect trait to test emerging models on because of the primitive methods of measurement of the time. Galton himself had to invent techniques in a world where inference had only been ad hoc and intuitive. Today we have a veritable laundry list of quantifiable characteristics: IQ, body-mass-index, not to mention risk for schizophrenia, type 2 diabetes or autism. The entire field of complex-trait genetics has emerged in the 21st century to synthesize statistical insights from the 20th century with the genomics and computational power of the last few decades. This discipline has practical ramifications in terms of treatment, diagnosis and prediction for disease, and is of keen personal interest for many in terms of the sort of outcomes you might see in your own offspring. But complex-trait genetics also brings the insights derived from Mendel’s original model of particulate inheritance back to their evolutionary relevance. Why is there variation in intelligence, skin color, and schizophrenia risk? You may not care how tall or short your children are, or why Efe and Dinka differ so much in height, but answering these questions will allow us to understand Darwin’s powerful theory of evolution down to its very bones.
All my podcasts go ungated two weeks after their Substack release. So I encourage subscribers on the free plan who’d like to automatically get them to subscribe to that podcast stream (Apple, Stitcher, and Spotify).
Here are my guests since the last Time Well Spent:
And here are the currently ungated podcasts all in one place.
For subscribers, I’ve now been posting transcripts (automatically generated, though I have someone going through to catch errors).
Again, I talk most Fridays on Clubhouse about some genetic or historical topic. Join my club for notifications. These conversations are more unscripted and free-form than podcasts. I can report that I have been hailed for my assertive use of the mute option. It’s best for everyone, I swear. I also heckle my friends. Not a fan of the “this is more of a comment than a question...” contributions, but I do always take legit questions!
You can’t make this up
And you don’t have to because my children attend American public schools. This passage is an example rough draft for fourth graders writing a narrative. It’s not for them to practice copyediting. It’s this unreadable… just to keep it real? My child notes smirkingly that Pedro is otherwise only ever shown haranguing said sister about her supposed trespasses against English grammar.
. You’ll find links to the few different podcasts I’ve contributed to or run, my total RSS feed, links to more mainstream or print articles when I remember to post them, my Twitter, the occasional guest appearance here and there, etc.
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My long-time blog, GNXP
A group blog, Secular Right, vintage at this point, but worthwhile for Heather Mac Donald’s prescience
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My podcast today, Unsupervised Learning
On the blog
But a bittersweet aspect of this all is that when you banish rigorous debate as the ultimate arbiter of intellectual discussions what you have left is pure power. When Dr. Cohen says that her most “productive and engaging ” intellectual advances “have not been based in conflict, but instead in collaboration,” listen. This is the velvet glove of power. If you disagree deeply, you are not a collaborator. If you are not on her team, you are problematic. They come not to bring peace but a sword. They will burn these institutions to the ground, and we will stand and watch because the courage of men has failed. We have only ourselves to blame.
In the process of righteously denigrating the achievements of white males, many progressive intellectuals have transformed all other cultures into Noble Savages, innocents incapable of evil before the arrival of Europeans. In the process, they devalue the contributions of non-European civilizations to our broader culture. It’s a very strange phenomenon, and I don’t see it abating any time soon.
Over to you
Comments are open to all for this post, so if you have more reading/listening suggestions or tips on who I should be talking to or what I really should be writing for you, lay it on me.