Puzzling Statistics

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Why do the human sciences record pervasive behavioral differences among racial groups, such as in violent-crime rates?

One explanation is that these disparities originate in complex interactions between nature and nurture.

But, of course, only dangerous extremists hold that theory.

The much more respectable sentiment is that statistical differences among the races are the fault of bad white people, such as George Zimmerman and Minnesota policeman Jeronimo Yanez.

Last week, on his way to Warsaw on Air Force One, President Barack Obama was looking at social media. According to The New York Times, he alerted his press secretary that:

He had decided to make a statement himself as soon as they landed, and had told his aides to collect statistics demonstrating racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Now, you might think that’s putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps the administration should objectively evaluate the evidence first, rather than order its media flacks to dredge up some data justifying the president’s prejudices?

But that would be wrong. Everybody knows that culture or evolution can’t have anything to do with hereditary racial differences in performance. If you even consider those possibilities, you must be one of the bad white people you’ve been warned about.

Instead, we know that science has proved that statistical differences among the races are all due to a vast conspiracy to plunder blacks. Nothing makes 21st-century people who think they are white richer than having a lot of black bodies around. Just ask MacArthur genius Ta-Nehisi Coates. He’ll tell you.

“Why are there all these puzzling statistics that don’t agree with the stereotypes promoted by our national leaders?”

And yet, here’s a statistic published in 2011 that doesn’t support the Coates-Obama orthodoxy:

While young black males have accounted for about 1% of the population from 1980 to 2008…(b)y 2008, young black males made up about a quarter of all homicide o?enders (27%)…

In other words, young black males are about 27 times more likely to kill somebody than the average American.

Interestingly, that datum comes from the Obama administration’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, which published a report entitled Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008.

One reason young black males are disproportionately homicidal is that they are young (homicide rates are highest among 18- to 24-year-olds). Another factor is that they are male (according to the BJS, “Males were 7 times more likely than females to commit murder in 2008”).

That the police keep a warier eye on men than women and the young than the old is never seen as offensive. It’s just common sense.

Yet profiling blacks as tending to be more threatening than whites (not to mention Hispanics or Asians) is the worst offense imaginable under today’s ruling ideology. For instance, the day after the Dallas antiwhite atrocity, the first two policy responses that Hillary Clinton recommended in an interview with Wolf Blitzer were: “National guidelines for police about the use of force” and “We need to look more into implicit bias.”

Transplanting Mitochondria

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Transplanting mitochondria extends life — in mice:

Dr Enríquez and his colleagues worked on that scientific stalwart, the mouse. Many genetic strains of lab mice are available, and the team started with two whose mitochondria had been shown by DNA analysis to have small but significant differences—about the same, Dr Enríquez reckons, as the ones between the mitochondria of modern Africans and those of Asians and Europeans, people whose ancestors left Africa about 60,000 years ago. They then copied the procedure for human mitochondrial transplants by removing fertilised nuclei from eggs of one strain, leaving behind that strain’s mitochondria, and transplanting them into enucleated eggs of the second strain, whose mitochondria remained in situ. A group of the first strain, left unmodified, was employed as a control. The researchers raised the mice and kept an eye on how they developed.

While the animals were young, few differences were apparent between modified and unmodified individuals. But as murine middle age approached, at around the animals’ first birthdays, differences began to manifest themselves. Modified mice gained less weight than controls, despite having the same diet. Their blood-insulin levels fluctuated less after fasting, suggesting they were more resistant to diabetes. Their muscles deteriorated less rapidly with age. And their telomeres—protective caps on the ends of their chromosomes whose shortening is implicated in ageing—stayed lengthier for longer.

Not all of the changes were beneficial. Young, unmodified mice had lower levels of free radicals—highly reactive (and therefore damaging) chemicals produced by mitochondria—than did their modified brethren, though even that difference reversed itself after the animals were 30 weeks old. But the combined result of the various changes was that the modified mice lived longer. Their median age at death was about a fifth higher than that of their unmodified cousins.

Given the fundamental metabolic role played by mitochondria, it makes sense that replacing one set with another, more distantly related set causes profound changes. The surprise is that those changes seem largely positive. Most biologists would have predicted the opposite, assuming that nuclear and mitochondrial DNA would co-evolve to interact optimally, so that mixing versions which have not co-evolved would be harmful.

Though unsure what to make of his discovery, Dr Enríquez suggests that a concept called hormesis might offer an explanation. This is the observation that a small amount of adversity can sometimes do an animal good, by activating cellular repair mechanisms that go on to clear up other damage which would otherwise have gone untreated. The biochemical cost of coping with mismatched mitochondria might, therefore, be tempering the animals’ metabolisms in ways that improve their overall health.

Is transgenderism an autism spectrum disorder?

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Steve Sailer has a vague hunch that the transgender movement is somehow related to what he calls the Nerd Liberation movement, the most unexpectedly successful identity movement of his lifetime:

It’s not clear if autism, Asperger’s, and/or nerdism is becoming more common, but it’s definitely more of an identity than it once was.

There has been a little research into this subject, breaking trans people up into three main categories:

  1. Effeminate early transitioning male to female trans individuals (ladyboys) are of course not very nerdy at all. They tend to be people persons (e.g., prostitutes) and not big on logic.
  2. Female to male trans are very nerdy.
  3. Late transitioning masculine male to female trans people (the Wachowskis, the baseball stats person, my MBA school teammate, the economist, etc.) tend to be at least as nerdy as the average man and much more nerdy than the average woman.

I’ve found that the third category, which includes most of the celebrities and high achievers, tends to have a science fiction aspect to their interests. They often seem like characters from old Heinlein sci-fi stories.

Heinlein, a dedicated professional writer, believed in fan service and studied the wants of his various kinds of fans. In 1941 he was both guest of honor and de facto host of a convention for sci-fi fans at which he emphasized to the attendees that, sure, they might be social outcasts today, but they would be a world-changing elite tomorrow!

It doesn’t strike me as absurd that Heinlein would have sensed a market for these kind of fantasies among some sci-fi fans as early as 1958, the year of his solipsistic transsexual time travel short story “All You Zombies.”

In general, much of transgenderism seems like a weird flavor of a sci-fi fan’s traditional interest in Subduing Nature through New Technology.

Our Dumb World

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

As far as average IQ scores go, Gregory Cochran notes, this is what the world looks like:

national_iq_per_country_-_estimates_by_lynn_and_vanhanen_2006

But there are two relevant tests: the Stanford-Binet, and life itself. If a country scored low on IQ but at the same time led the world in Cavorite production, or cured cancer, or built spindizzies, we would say “screw Stanford-Binet”, and we would be right to do so.

Does that happen? Are there countries with low average scores that tear up the technological track? Mostly not – generally, fairly high average IQ seems to be a prerequisite for creativity in science and mathematics. Necessary, although not sufficient: bad choices (Communism), having the world kick you in the crotch (Mongols), or toxic intellectual fads can all make smart peoples unproductive.

[...]

You could improve the situation, raise the average, by selection for IQ. But that takes a long time, and I know of no case where it was done on purpose. You could decrease inbreeding, for example by banning cousin marriage. That only takes one generation. You could make environmental improvements, iodine supplementation being the best understood. People assume that there are a lot of other important environmental variable, but I sure don’t know what they are. In practice the rank ordering of populations seem to be the same everywhere, which is not what you would expect if there were strong, malleable environmental influences.

Is it easy to notice such differences? Well, for ordinary people, it’s real easy. Herero would ask Henry why Europeans were so smart – he said he didn’t know. But with the right education, it apparently becomes impossible to see. Few anthropologists know that such differences exist and even fewer admit it. I’m sure that most have never even read any psychometrics – more importantly, they ignore their lying eyes. Economists generally reject such explanations, which is one reason that they find most of the Third World impossible to understand. I must give credit to Garret Jones, who is actually aware of this general pattern. Sure, he stepped on the dick of his own argument there at the end of his book, but he was probably lying, because he had to. Sociologists? It is to laugh.

Generally, you could say that the major job of social science is making sure that people do not know this map. Not knowing has its attractions: practically every headline is a surprise. The world must seem ever fresh and new to the dis-illuminati – something like being Henry Molaison, who had his hippocampus removed by a playful neurosurgeon and afterwards could not create new explicit memories.

So when we tried a new intervention aimed at eliminating the GAP, and it failed, Molaison was surprised, even if 47 similar programs had already failed. Neurologically, he was much like a professor of education.

Lifetime Violence and IQ

Monday, July 11th, 2016

One of the most consistent findings in the criminological literature is that African American males are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates that far exceed those of any other racial or ethnic group, but this racial disparity was completely accounted for after including covariates for self-reported lifetime violence and IQ.

Garwin and the Mike Shot

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

In Building the H-Bomb: A Personal History, Kenneth Ford explains how Richard Garwin designed the first H-Bomb, based on the Teller-Ulam mechanism, while still in his early twenties:

In 1951 Dick Garwin came for his second summer to Los Alamos. He was then twenty-three and two years past his Ph.D. Edward Teller, having interacted with Garwin at the University of Chicago, knew him to be an extraordinarily gifted experimental physicist as well as a very talented theorist. He knew, too, that Fermi had called Garwin the best graduate student he ever had.

So when Garwin came to Teller shortly after arriving in Los Alamos that summer (probably in June 1951) asking him “what was new,” Teller was ready to pounce. He referred Garwin to the Teller-Ulam report of that March and then asked him to “devise an experiment that would be absolutely persuasive that this would really work.” Garwin set about doing exactly that and in a report dated July 25, 1951, titled “Some Preliminary Indications of the Shape and Construction of a Sausage, Based on Ideas Prevailing in July 1951,” he laid out a design with full specifics of size, shape, and composition, for what would be the Mike shot fired the next year.

Researchers Examine Family Income And Children’s Non-Cognitive Skills

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Why do children of the successful do better than children of the unsuccessful?

VEDANTAM: Well, we’ve known for a very long time that family income really matters. This could be because schools in richer neighborhoods are better schools. But it could also be that rich parents are able to give their children more learning opportunities outside of school. I was speaking with the economist Barbara Wulf. She’s at the University of Wisconsin. Along with Jason Fletcher, she recently decided to explore another explanation. She asked if income disparities might also be linked to disparities in what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills. Many researchers think that it’s these skills that undergird not just academic performance in school but a host of other abilities later in life, including in the workplace. Here’s Wulf.

BARBARA WULF: When we think about who is a good employee and who’s likely to succeed in the workplace, you hear a lot of attention paid to these what I’ll call non-cognitive skills. So they pay attention, they are persistent, they are eager. So they have a set of characteristics that make them good employees.

GREENE: OK. So people who have these non-cognitive skills – better employees. But tie this to American education and sort of the income disparity.

VEDANTAM: Wulf and Fletcher analyzed data from a national survey, David, that tracked children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The survey data allowed the researchers to track the effects of family income on what parents and teachers were reporting about these children as they went through elementary school. The researchers find there’s a very strong correlation between family income and these non-cognitive skills. In other words, when it comes to being cooperative or dealing with conflict productively, children from wealthier families on average seem to have more of these skills than children from poorer families.

GREENE: OK. So this is actually making the connection. We’ve always known that there’s this income disparity. Now we’re sort of understanding that income disparity might be because if you’re less affluent, I mean, you’re just not developing these skills you’re talking about.

“NPR searches valiantly, blindfolded,” in Charles Murray‘s words.

Cerium-141

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

In 1945, Eastman Kodak suddenly received a flood of complaints from business customers who had recently purchased sensitive X-ray film:

Black exposed spots on the film, or “fogging,” had rendered it unusable. This perplexed many Kodak scientists, who had gone to great lengths to prevent contaminations like this.

Julian H. Webb, a physicist in Kodak’s research department, took it upon himself to dig deeper and test the destroyed film.

[...]

According to an article Webb would write in 1949 for the American Physical Society, the paper and cardboard used for packaging in the ’40s were often salvaged from wartime manufacturing plants where radium-based instruments were also produced. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that can cause flecks of spots or fogging when “in intimate contact with (sensitive film) for a period several weeks.” During wartime, Kodak took precautions to avoid radium contamination. It moved packaging manufacturing to mills where Kodak had full control over the raw materials.

One of these mills was located along the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana; it specialized in producing strawboard, used as a stiffener board between sheets of film. When Webb investigated the mysterious fogging in 1945, he found that it originated not from the X-ray film itself but the packaging, which he tracked to this particular mill, and specifically, the production run of strawboard from August 6, 1945. After testing the radioactive material on the strawboard, he discovered — rather alarmingly — that the spots on the film were not caused by radium nor any other naturally occurring radioactive material, but “a new type radioactive containment not hitherto encountered.” What was this unknown radioactive material, he must have wondered, and what was it doing in southwest Indiana?

[...]

While he was studying the Indiana samples, Webb got word that a particular production run of strawboard from a plant in Tama, Iowa was also contaminated and fogging the Kodak film it carried. While Tama was 450 miles from Vincennes, there were striking similarities. The two production runs of strawboard had been completed within a month of each other. Tama’s radioactive spots also failed the radium test, meaning the cause was something else. Most telling, however, was that both mills sat next to rivers, with Vincennes on the Wabash River and the Iowa River cutting through Tama.

Webb found that the strawboard from both mills had a significant concentration of beta-particle radiation activity but little to no alpha-activity. (Beta-particle radiation can penetrate paper, human skin and are sometimes considered dangerous. Alpha-particle radiation is stopped by paper, easily absorbed and generally considered safe if not ingested). Additionally, photographic evidence allowed Webb to estimate the half-life of the artificial radioactive material he was seeking at approximately 30 days. The results corresponded to the presence of an artificial radioactive material he would later identify as Cerium-141, which is “one of the more prolific fission products of the atom bomb.”

Furthermore, Webb concluded there was no possible way the straw could be the carrier of the containment, since it was stored in warehouses (and not outside) for a considerable amount of time prior to being used. Had the Cerium-141 gotten directly into the straw, it would have decayed by the time the straw was processed, rendering the radiation hardly detectable. This brought Webb to a frightening explanation: The contamination came from the river water. Additional evidence would fall in the rain. According to Webb, “stronger activity occurred in the strawboard” after periods of heavy precipitation, establishing that the radioactive material was being deposited via precipitation and came from a far-flung place.

While it is unclear whether Webb knew about the Trinity test when he was conducting his research in 1945, his report from 1949 is unabashedly clear: “The most likely explanation of the source of this radioactive contaminant appears to be that it consisted of wind-borne radioactive fission products derived from the atom-bomb detonation in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.”

The problem came up again later:

On January 27, 1951, the first atomic detonation at the new Nevada Proving Ground took place. Days later and 2,500 miles away, a Geiger counter at Kodak’s headquarters in New York state measured radioactive readings 25 times above normal after a snowstorm. Declassified 1952 documents obtained by Popular Mechanics reveals that Kodak alerted the Atomic Energy Commission about this out of concern this testing would wreck its film just as had happened in 1945. The AEC responded that it would look into it, but assured Kodak there was little reason to worry, even allowing the company to issue a press release to the Associated Press stating that snow “that fell in Rochester was measurably radioactive…” but “there is no possibility of harm to humans and animals.”

In March 1951, a frustrated Kodak threatened to sue the U.S. government for the “considerable amount of damage to our products resulting from the Nevada tests or from any further atomic energy tests…” Finally the company and the government came to an agreement. The AEC would provide Webb, by now the head of Kodak’s physics division, with schedules and maps of future tests so that Kodak could take the necessary precautions to protect its product. In return, the people of Kodak were to keep everything they knew about the government’s Nevada nuclear testing a secret.

Psychedelics Make People Weird

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Early psychedelic research took in brilliant scientists and spit out crazy weirdos:

A 2011 study found that a single dose of psilocybin could permanently increase the personality dimension of Openness To Experience. I’m emphasizing that because personality is otherwise pretty stable after adulthood; nothing should be able to do this. But magic mushrooms apparently have this effect, and not subtly either; participants who had a mystical experience on psilocybin had Openness increase up to half a standard deviation compared to placebo, and the change was stable sixteen months later. This is really scary. I mean, I like Openness To Experience, but something that can produce large, permanent personality changes is so far beyond anything else we have in psychiatry that it’s kind of terrifying.

(Related: 1972 study finds LSD may cause permanent increase in hypnotic susceptibility, which other sources have linked to being “fantasy prone” and “creative”)

And that’s one dose. These researchers were taking psychedelics pretty constantly for years, and probably experimented with the sort of doses you couldn’t get away with giving research subjects. What would you expect to happen to their Openness To Experience? How many standard deviations do you think it went up?

It seems possible to me that psychedelics have a direct pharmacological effect on personality that causes people to be more open to unusual ideas. I know this is going against most of the latest research, which says psychedelics have no long-term negative mental health effects and do not cause psychosis. But there’s a difference between being schizophrenic, and being the sort of guy who is still a leading neuroanatomist but also writes books about the geometric relationships between consciousness and the space-time continuum.

I’m not sure anyone has ever done studies to rule out the theory that psychedelics just plain make people weird. Indeed, such studies would be very difficult, given that weird people with very high Openness To Experience are more likely to use psychedelics. This problem would even prevent common sense detection of the phenomenon – even if we noticed that frequent psychedelic users were really weird, we would attribute it to selection effects and forget about it.

In this situation, the early psychedelicists could be a natural experiment giving us data we can’t get any other way. Here are relatively sober scientists who took psychedelics for reasons other than being weird hippies already. Their fate provides signal through the noise which is the general psychedelic-using population.

Ten to Twelve Percent Slower

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Transgender athlete Joanna Harper explains what happened after her transition:

In 2005, nine months after starting HRT, I was running 12% slower than I had run with male T levels; women run 10-12% slower than men over a wide range of distances. In 2006 I met another trans woman runner and the she had the same experience. I later discovered that, if aging is factored in, this 10-12% loss of speed is standard among trans women endurance athletes. The realization that one can take a male distance runner, make that runner hormonally female, and wind up with a female distance runner of the same relative capability was life changing for me.

Hyperandrogenism and women vs women vs men in sport

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Ross Tucker discusses hyperandrogenism and women vs women vs men in sport before going on to interview Joanna Harper:

Caster Semenya is about as sure a gold medal bet as there is at this year’s Olympic Games.  If I had one bet to make, and my life was at stake, I’d put in on her to win the 800m.  This past weekend she just missed out on the Diamond League record, running 1:56.46, at a jog.  A month ago, she won the 400m, 800m and 1500m at the SA champs, all on the same day.  The 400m and 800m, 50 minutes apart, were run in 50.7s and 1:58, with a second lap faster than 60 seconds, suggesting that she could go much, much faster.  I watched them in Stellenbosch and have never seen anything like it.  The 400m was jogged until the last 100m, and could have been under 49 seconds, and the 800m could have been run in 1:55 if it was needed.

Caster Semenya could, and should, break the 800m world record.  It’s the oldest record on the tracks, held by one Jarmila Kratochvilova, and if you know anything about the sport, you know that whoever it was who broke that record was going to be faced with a few probing questions.  Most of them would have been doping-related, but in the case of Semenya, thanks to the public drama that played out in 2009, they’re related to sex/gender.

Specifically, we know that Semenya was identified as having elevated testosterone levels after her gold medal in Berlin (1:55.45, as an 18-year old).  We know that some intervention was applied, and we can, through pretty basic deduction, figure out that it involved lowering her testosterone levels.  How?  Well, at the time Semenya emerged, from nowhere, the IAAF and IOC policies on gender verification (they should call it ‘sex verification’, by the way, because sex is biological, gender is social, but anyway) were vague and unrelated to testosterone.

It was as a result of Semenya, and the absolutely disastrous handling of that situation, that the policy changed, and until last year, the policy in place said that women could compete only if their testosterone levels were below an upper limit.  That upper limit, 10 nmol/L, was set up based on a study done on all the women competing in the World Championships in 2011 and 2013.  The researchers took the average testosterone levels of women with a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which was already elevated at 4.5 nmol/L, and then added 5 SD to it.

The addition of 3 SD (which created a level of 7.5 nmol/L) would have meant that 16 in 1000 athletes would exceed the cutoff.  That’s why the extra 2 SD were added, to make sure that the upper limit would apply only to those with hyperandrogenism (or those who are doping).

99% of female athletes, by the way, had testosterone levels below 3.08 nmol/L. So the upper limit of 10 nmol/L was three fold higher than a level that applies to 99 in 100 women participants.

Semenya’s performances, under this policy of reducing testosterone, dropped off in a predictable manner.  Having run the 1:55.45 at 18, she never got close again, though did win Olympic silver in London (behind a doper), and a World silver in 2011.  Last year, she failed to advance beyond the semi-finals in Beijing, and hadn’t even made the qualification mark for the preceding year’s Commonwealth Games.  2:00 had become a significant barrier, when the world record had been plausible at 18.

Now, she is untouchable.  People will (and have said) that it’s down to her focused training, recovery from injury and so forth, but I’m not buying that.  The change has happened for an obvious reason – the restoration of testosterone levels, and that is thanks to the courts – CAS, the Court of Arbitration for sport, last year ruled that the IAAF could no longer enforce the upper limit of testosterone, and in so doing, cleared the way for Semenya, and at least a handful of others, to return to the advantages that this hormone clears provides an individual.  That CAS ruled this way because they felt that there was insufficient evidence for the performance benefits is one of the stupidest, most bemusing legal/scientific decisions ever made.

In any event, the situation now is this – Semenya, plus a few others, have no restriction.  It has utterly transformed Semenya from an athlete who was struggling to run 2:01 to someone who is tactically running 1:56.  My impression, having seen her live and now in the Diamond League, is that she could run 1:52, and if she wanted to, would run a low 48s 400m and win that gold in Rio too.

Semenya is of course not the only such athlete.  And in the absence of a policy, I fully expect more in future.  However, right now, Semenya is the unfortunate face of what is going to be a massive controversy in Rio.  That’s because she was so unfairly “outed” in Berlin in 2009, when what should have been handled discreetly became a public drama, thanks to inept/arrogant SA officials.  It won’t be any consolation to Semenya, and the media, frankly, have no idea how to deal with this – nobody wants it to be about the athlete, and it certainly is not her fault.  However, it is a debate we must have, and I want to try to have it from the biological, sporting perspective, and steer clear of the minority bullying that so often punctuates these matters.

Harvard’s Eugenics Era

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Adam Cohen looks back in horror at Harvard’s eugenics era:

Eugenics emerged in England in the late 1800s, when Francis Galton, a half cousin of Charles Darwin, began studying the families of some of history’s greatest thinkers and concluded that genius was hereditary. Galton invented a new word — combining the Greek for “good” and “genes” — and launched a movement calling for society to take affirmative steps to promote “the more suitable races or strains of blood.” Echoing his famous half cousin’s work on evolution, Galton declared that “what Nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly.”

Eugenics soon made its way across the Atlantic, reinforced by the discoveries of Gregor Mendel and the new science of genetics. In the United States, it found some of its earliest support among the same group that Harvard had: the wealthy old families of Boston. The Boston Brahmins were strong believers in the power of their own bloodlines, and it was an easy leap for many of them to believe that society should work to make the nation’s gene pool as exalted as their own.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. — A.B. 1829, M.D. ’36, LL.D. ’80, dean of Harvard Medical School, acclaimed writer, and father of the future Supreme Court justice — was one of the first American intellectuals to espouse eugenics. Holmes, whose ancestors had been at Harvard since John Oliver entered with the class of 1680, had been writing about human breeding even before Galton. He had coined the phrase “Boston Brahmin” in an 1861 book in which he described his social class as a physical and mental elite, identifiable by its noble “physiognomy” and “aptitude for learning,” which he insisted were “congenital and hereditary.”

Holmes believed eugenic principles could be used to address the nation’s social problems. In an 1875 article in The Atlantic Monthly, he gave Galton an early embrace, and argued that his ideas could help to explain the roots of criminal behavior. “If genius and talent are inherited, as Mr. Galton has so conclusively shown,” Holmes wrote, “why should not deep-rooted moral defects…show themselves…in the descendants of moral monsters?”

As eugenics grew in popularity, it took hold at the highest levels of Harvard. A. Lawrence Lowell, who served as president from 1909 to 1933, was an active supporter. Lowell, who worked to impose a quota on Jewish students and to keep black students from living in the Yard, was particularly concerned about immigration — and he joined the eugenicists in calling for sharp limits. “The need for homogeneity in a democracy,” he insisted, justified laws “resisting the influx of great numbers of a greatly different race.”

Lowell also supported eugenics research. When the Eugenics Record Office, the nation’s leading eugenics research and propaganda organization, asked for access to Harvard records to study the physical and intellectual attributes of alumni fathers and sons, he readily agreed. Lowell had a strong personal interest in eugenics research, his secretary noted in response to the request.

The Harvard faculty contained some of nation’s most influential eugenics thinkers, in an array of academic disciplines. Frank W. Taussig, whose 1911 Principles of Economics was one of the most widely adopted economics textbooks of its time, called for sterilizing unworthy individuals, with a particular focus on the lower classes. “The human race could be immensely improved in quality, and its capacity for happy living immensely increased, if those of poor physical and mental endowment were prevented from multiplying,” he wrote. “Certain types of criminals and paupers breed only their kind, and society has a right and a duty to protect its members from the repeated burden of maintaining and guarding such parasites.”

Harvard’s geneticists gave important support to Galton’s fledgling would-be science. Botanist Edward M. East, who taught at Harvard’s Bussey Institution, propounded a particularly racial version of eugenics. In his 1919 book Inbreeding and Outbreeding: Their Genetic and Sociological Significance, East warned that race mixing would diminish the white race, writing: “Races have arisen which are as distinct in mental capacity as in physical traits.” The simple fact, he said, was that “the negro is inferior to the white.”

East also sounded a biological alarm about the Jews, Italians, Asians, and other foreigners who were arriving in large numbers. “The early settlers came from stock which had made notable contributions to civilization,” he asserted, whereas the new immigrants were coming “in increasing numbers from peoples who have impressed modern civilization but lightly.” There was a distinct possibility, he warned, that a “considerable part of these people are genetically undesirable.”

In his 1923 book, Mankind at the Crossroads, East’s pleas became more emphatic. The nation, he said, was being overrun by the feebleminded, who were reproducing more rapidly than the general population. “And we expect to restore the balance by expecting the latter to compete with them in the size of their families?” East wrote. “No! Eugenics is sorely needed; social progress without it is unthinkable….”

East’s Bussey Institution colleague William Ernest Castle taught a course on “Genetics and Eugenics,” one of a number of eugenics courses across the University. He also published a leading textbook by the same name that shaped the views of a generation of students nationwide. Genetics and Eugenics not only identified its author as “Professor of Zoology in Harvard University,” but was published by Harvard University Press and bore the “Veritas” seal on its title page, lending the appearance of an imprimatur to his strongly stated views.

In Genetics and Eugenics, Castle explained that race mixing, whether in animals or humans, produced inferior offspring. He believed there were superior and inferior races, and that “racial crossing” benefited neither. “From the viewpoint of a superior race there is nothing to be gained by crossing with an inferior race,” he wrote. “From the viewpoint of the inferior race also the cross is undesirable if the two races live side by side, because each race will despise individuals of mixed race and this will lead to endless friction.”

Castle also propounded the eugenicists’ argument that crime, prostitution, and “pauperism” were largely due to “feeblemindedness,” which he said was inherited. He urged that the unfortunate individuals so afflicted be sterilized or, in the case of women, “segregated” in institutions during their reproductive years to prevent them from having children.

[...]

Davenport wrote prolifically. Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, published in 1911,quickly became the standard text for the eugenics courses cropping up at colleges and universities nationwide, and was cited by more than one-third of high-school biology textbooks of the era. Davenport explained that qualities like criminality and laziness were genetically determined. “When both parents are shiftless in some degree,” he wrote, only about 15 percent of their children would be “industrious.”

But perhaps no Harvard eugenicist had more impact on the public consciousness than Lothrop Stoddard, A.B. 1905, Ph.D. ’14. His bluntly titled 1920 bestseller, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, had 14 printings in its first three years, drew lavish praise from President Warren G. Harding, and made a mildly disguised appearance in The Great Gatsby, when Daisy Buchanan’s husband, Tom, exclaimed that “civilization’s going to pieces” — something he’d learned by reading “‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard.”

Basketball Genes

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, almost half of NBA players are related to elite athletes — defined as anyone who has played a sport professionally, in the NCAA, or at national-team level:

While other leagues feature notable dynasties — the Manning’s of the NFL or the Griffey’s in baseball — only about 17.5% of NFL players and 14.5% of MLB players are related to other elite athletes, based on a similar study.

The connectedness in the NBA likely comes down to the importance of height in elite basketball. The average NBA player is about 6-feet, 6-inches tall, which is 11 inches taller than the average American male, according to Census data.

Magic Mushrooms Lift Depression

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Nature reports that “magic” mushrooms do indeed lift depression:

Researchers from Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms. All had been clinically depressed for a significant amount of time — on average 17.8 years. None of the patients had responded to standard medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or had electroconvulsive therapy.

One week after receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, all patients experienced a marked improvement in their symptoms. Three months on, five patients were in complete remission.

This study was not easy to administer:

Magic mushrooms are categorized as a Class A illegal drug in the United Kingdom — the most serious category, which also includes heroin and cocaine.

The ethics committee that granted approval for the trial was so concerned that trial volunteers could experience delayed onset psychotic symptoms that it requested a three-month follow-up on the subjects.

“This was unprecedented,” says neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt at Imperial, who is senior author of the study.

It took 32 months between having the grant awarded and dosing the first patient, says Nutt. By comparison, it took six months “to get through the machinations” for his team’s previous studies using the equally illegal drugs LSD and MDMA, he says.

“Every interaction — applying for licenses, waiting for licenses, receiving the licenses, applying for contracts for drug manufacture, on and on — involved a delay of up to two months. It was enormously frustrating, and most of it was unnecessary,” says Nutt. “The study result isn’t the remarkable part — it’s the fact that we did it at all.”

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

Ecco the Dolphin

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

I never played Sega’s Ecco the Dolphin, but I’m not surprised that it would be linked to John C Lilly:

Lilly was once a renowned and respected American scientist, with a particular interest in marine biology and interspecies communication. In the early 1960s he was given funding by NASA to research whether it was possible to teach dolphins to speak. NASA’s logic was that if we could learn to communicate with dolphins, we would have a better understanding of how to converse with extra-terrestrials if they were to ever pop down for a visit.

Lilly flooded a house in the Caribbean so that dolphins could live as closely as possible with him and his team, amongst them Margaret Howe Lovatt, who apparently had sex with one of the animals. The experiment fizzled out as, unsurprisingly, nobody was able to get any of them to talk – although check out YouTube for one of his subjects attempting a pretty close “Hello Margaret”. Useful, if all aliens were called Margaret. Lilly lost funding for the project, moved away from traditional science and threw himself further and further into 1960s pseudo-mysticism and chemical experimentation.

Around 1971 Lilly was looking for a cure for his chronic migraines, and a friend suggested that ketamine could help get rid of them. Back then ketamine wasn’t a widely used drug, probably only used recreationally by a small group of dedicated trippers, quite unlike its status today as a popular party drug. When he was under the influence of a small dose of K, Lilly said that he felt the migraine being pushed out of his body and, miraculously, he never had one again. Encouraged by this, he developed a longstanding affection for the substance he dubbed “Vitamin K”, and started taking it regularly, gradually injecting it in higher doses.

Just shooting up ketamine on its own wasn’t enough for Lilly, though, and soon he was IV-ing it inside a sensory deprivation tank with the help of his friend, Dr Craig Enright. They thought that by using the tank external stimulation would be significantly reduced, giving a psychedelic or, in this case, a dissociative experience at a higher level of intensity. Neither appreciated that what they were doing was incredibly $#@!ing dangerous – tranquilising drugs and floating on water aren’t to be mixed under most circumstances, and sure enough Lilly’s wife, Antonietta, had to resuscitate him on one occasion where he nearly drowned. These experiments would form the foundation for Paddy Chayefsky’s 1978 novel Altered States, later adapted into a movie by director Ken Russell.

During his sessions, Lilly came to believe that he was being contacted by an organic extra-terrestrial entity called the Earth Coincidence Control Office – ECCO. This alien group was benevolent, omniscient and in control of all earthly matters. Except for when they weren’t quite so friendly, as at one point Lilly thought they’d made off with his penis.

The similarities between Sega’s Ecco the Dolphin and Lilly’s ketamine fantasies are undeniable. It’s almost like the game’s story is an amalgamation of his interest in dolphins and the wacky philosophy he spouted when returning to reality from his phenomenal K-hole trips.

Alongside ECCO, Lilly encountered another alien life force, which he called the Solid State Intelligence. Unlike the entities from ECCO, the SSI were spawned by a mechanical solar system, and their main aim was to ravage the earth and destroy mankind. It’s not unlike the much-documented cinematic battles between us fleshy creatures and advanced AI turned malevolent, and it’s no stretch to compare the SSI with Ecco’s Vortex enemies, those evil, dolphin-kidnapping, interstellar villains.

(Hat tip to Scott Alexander.)