Harper Lee wrote two books!

I know what I’ll be reading in July: Go Set a Watchman, the old new novel from Harper Lee.

"Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus," the publisher’s announcement reads. "She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood."

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Dobbs vs. Wade

David Dobbs reviews ‘A Troublesome Inheritance’ in the NY Times. Once again, Nicholas Wade falls flat.

If Wade could point to genes that give races distinctive social behaviors, we might overlook such shortcomings. But he cannot.

He tries. He tells, for instance, of specific gene variants that reputedly create less trust and more violence in ­African-Americans and, he says, explain their resistance to modern economic institutions and practices. Alas, the scientific literature he draws on is so uneven and disputed that many geneticists dismiss it outright. Wade also cites a 2008 paper that analyzed the genomes of almost 1,000 people from 51 populations around the globe. That paper found that people from different regions do indeed tend to have distinctive genomes. But Wade errs in saying the paper supports his idea that genetic selection has created races with particular social inclinations.

To begin with, the 2008 study mentions nothing about race. It merely establishes that many of the slight differences between human genomes cluster by geography at many scales, including continents, and that genomes from any given location will most likely be similar, just as two people from a particular place will most likely speak with similar accents.

Second, and far more serious, the paper’s authors specifically state that while selection may sometimes create genetic differences between populations, they saw little evidence that selection shaped the small genetic differences they found. In fact, they say the differences can be largely explained by “random drift” — arbitrary changes in genes having little to no effect on people’s biology or behavior. All of this directly contradicts Wade’s argument. Yet he baldly claims the study as support.

And he does this sort of thing repeatedly: He constantly gathers up long shots, speculations and spurious claims, then declares they add up to substantiate his case.

You know, mangling peer-reviewed articles and throwing a prejudicial slant on science that ignores the totality of the evidence is what creationists do, but I’m sure Wade’s HBD supporters will be along shortly to accuse Dobbs of being a ‘new creationist’.


Check out Dobbs’ blog post on the article. Very first comments are tiresome cliches from the same usual bores who show up to defend racism, flinging around accusations of “New Creationism” and “Cultural Marxism”. Prediction fulfilled.

Get ‘em young

I got to meet someone in Seattle who is working on an evolution book for four year olds — this is a great idea, because I remember shopping for kids’ books and their usual idea for introducing zoology was something about Noah’s Ark. But the real story is so much more interesting!

Rough sketches of the book, Grandmother Fish, are available online; those aren’t the final drawings, and the work will be done by KE Lewis, once funding is obtained. You can see the challenges of getting a sophisticated scientific concept across to very young children, but I think the current story does the job very well.

squeak

There will be a kickstarter later this week to get the project off the ground.

I wonder if there’s a gene for thinking there’s a gene for everything

It’s so predictable. Every time a book on “scientific racism” appears, you can trace its roots right back to the same small number of familiar racists. The SPLC reviews Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance.

Wade bases his belief in genetically-enhanced Jewish intelligence on a single paper, which he describes as “[t]he only serious recent attempt by researchers to delve into the links between Jewish genetics and intelligence.” This paper, from University of Utah researchers Henry Harpending, Gregory Cochran, and Jason Hardy, “elaborates the hypothesis that the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence.”

That hypothesis is the brainchild of Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist and director of the racist American Freedom Party (formerly “American Third Position”), which he founded with lawyer William D. Johnson, who has proposed repealing the 14th and 15th Amendments, replacing them with a Constitutional amendment which reads:

No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.

MacDonald has published several books arguing that the Ashkenazim eugenically self-selected for high intelligence over several centuries, thus explaining the modern Jewish community’s “general disproportionate representation in markers of economic success and political influence,” and ability “to command a high level of financial, political, and intellectual resources in pursuing their political aims.”

It’s all fruit of a rotten tree, carrying the taint of human xenophobia, and now all tied up in a twisted view of the all-powerful gene. Language Log also has a round up of reviews, but I found most valuable this older documentation of Wade’s gene-centric obsessions. It begins like so:

Nicholas Wade is an inveterate gene-for-X enthusiast — he’s got 68 stories in the NYT index with “gene” in the headline — and he’s had two opportunities to celebrate this idea in the past few days: “Speech Gene Shows Its Bossy Nature”, 11/12/2009, and “The Evolution of the God Gene”, 11/14/2009. The first of these articles is merely a bit misleading, in the usual way. The second verges on the bizarre.

That gene-for-X nonsense is everywhere, and it drives me nuts, too. Although I’ve got to say that Liberman’s hypothetical hat gene does mesh well with my fictional experiences.

What are we going to do about Amazon?

I was reading a summary of Amazon’s bullying of Hachette — basically, Amazon used it’s near-monopoly power to shut out an independent publisher — and that, on top of it’s labor practices, tells me I need to find a way out of the Amazon trap before they become a full monopoly.

But here’s the catch: I live out in the boondocks. The nearest bookstore is a 50 minute drive away. I am addicted to the Kindle app — I can use my iPad to click on a title and get it zapped into my hands in 30 seconds, like magic. So I went searching to see if any other bookseller has similar functionality. Barnes & Noble has an app that will let you search their inventory and find a nearby store (I looked. Two hours away.) Powell’s is even worse: it assumes you will show up at their door in Portland, Oregon, and their app provides an interactive map to help you find your way around their store.

These are not useful for me.

Does Amazon already have an effective monopoly on e-books? To rebuke Amazon, am I going to get off my e-book addiction and start reading those old-fashioned things with ink and paper again?