Monthly Archives: December 2011

$4 Million Raised for Kentucky Ark Park

Unfortunately, the fundraising goal for this creationist project was $24.5 million. The groundbreaking of the park has been delayed numerous times.

LEO Weekly tried to find out from the state Tourism Cabinet what was going on, and their representative claimed that they’d heard nothing from Ken Ham’s organization. But, they lied. Emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act indicate that there has been communication, and that the situation for the Ark Park is not good: Continue reading $4 Million Raised for Kentucky Ark Park

“Undercover police cleared ‘to have sex with activists'”

From The Guardian:

Undercover police officers routinely adopted a tactic of “promiscuity” with the blessing of senior commanders, according to a former agent who worked in a secretive unit of the Metropolitan police for four years.

The former undercover policeman claims that sexual relationships with activists were sanctioned for both men and women officers infiltrating anarchist, leftwing and environmental groups.

Sex was a tool to help officers blend in, the officer claimed, and was widely used as a technique to glean intelligence. His comments contradict claims last week from the Association of Chief Police Officers that operatives were absolutely forbidden to sleep with activists.

What the cops don’t know is that this is how activists can identify the cops!!!!

GRAIL closing in on Moon

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, which will neither be recovering gravity or being inside the moon but “GRAIL” apparently sounds good, is coming into Lunar Orbit as I write this.

As you know from watching Apollo 13 the travel distance to or back from the moon is a matter of several days … Apollo crews got there in about three Earth Days. But the GRAIL mission has taken months to get there, because of the kind of orbit they wanted to achieve. Also, the long duration allows for other things to happen, like temperatures to stabilize within the machinery.

GRAIL is two space ships flying together and will achieve a more or less polar orbit around the moon, going around the moon ever 11.5 hours. Over time, the period of the orbit will be reduced to about 2 hours. Then, GRAIL will start mapping the Moon’s mass.

When science collection begins, the spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them as they orbit the moon. As they fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity, caused both by visible features such as mountains and craters and by masses hidden beneath the lunar surface. they will move slightly toward and away from each other. An instrument aboard each spacecraft will measure the changes in their relative velocity very precisely, and scientists will translate this information into a high-resolution map of the moon’s gravitational field. The data will allow mission scientists to understand what goes on below the surface. This information will increase our knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today.


Pull NVIC’s anti-vaccine ad from the ABC Screen in Times Square

Check it out:

National Vaccine Information Center’s ad running on the ABC Full Circle Screen in Times Square spreads needless fear about childhood vaccinations.

An ad by the NVIC earlier this year on a different screen in Times Square and an NVIC PSA that was playing on Delta Airline flights was condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics as being harmful, unfounded, unscientific and misleading.

The NVIC is a notorious anti-vaccine organization, whose name and website are designed to give the impression that they are a legitimate government agency. However their “vaccine information” is designed to frighten the public and encourage individuals to opt out of protecting themselves and their children through immunization.

This is an especially dangerous time to be spreading fear about vaccines in New York City, where the NYC Department of Health has confirmed 126 cases of whooping cough since August 2011. Whooping cough is a serious disease and infants are especially at risk of serious illness or even death. Vaccines are our most powerful tool in defense against diseases like whooping cough. However, if NVIC’s ad is successful, we may see more people refusing vaccinations for themselves and their children, and a rise in illness and death within the US.

NVIC’s Times Square ad is misleading and downright dangerous. ABC and Disney, you need to take responsibility for protecting public health by pulling NVIC’s harmful ad before it can do more damage.

This petition was created by the Women Thinking Free Foundation. For more information, please visit the

Hat Tip: Bob

Can a Panda be a Yoo-Man Girl?

Imma leave this one up to my readers: Why is this wrong? Or is it not wrong? Please enter your verdict and the reasoning behind it below:

Outrage as BBC chooses panda as 2011 female face

LONDON (Reuters) – The BBC has ignited its second sexism spat in the space of a month by choosing a panda as one of its 12 female faces of the year.

Last week, it was criticised for choosing its annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year from an entirely male shortlist.
The decision to include the face of Tian Tian (Sweetie), a female panda whose arrival at Edinburgh Zoo on loan from China generated huge publicity earlier this month, has provoked a storm of angry tweets, including one from former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

To me, this may depend on context and background to be found deeper in the article, so do have a look.

…a quarter of the female faces this year were chosen for their involvement in marriages.

They include Prince William’s new sister-in-law Pippa Middleton, South African Charlene Wittstock who married Prince Albert of Monaco and Spanish billionaire the Duchess of Alba, 85, who tied the knot with a civil servant 24 years her junior.

And the author of the piece noted: “I didn’t choose the BBC women faces of the year subjects — just wrote them. Two black eyes from wife though. Pandamonium!”

All I can say is that I hope Amanda does not catch me writing this blog post about Pandas!

And there’s more.

Three shot, one dead, because the NRA owns us.

The National Rifle Association insists that unmitigated stupidity and unchecked use of deadly weapons shall not be infringed. They call it the Second Amendment, I call it an assault on the American People. Perhaps when Jahmesha McMillan and Treka MacMillan recover from their wounds, they can join in that discussio . Jasmine Thar, though, is dead and won’t be able to. And her only crime was standing in her driveway with her family, about to leave on a trip to the nearby beach.

That’s when James Blackwell, gun nut, was cleaning his high powered rifle, or so he says, across the street, and accidentally discharged, or so it is assumed, a single round which passed through the bodies of all three aforementioned victims.

But really, this was not an accident. It is not an accident that people unable to safely clean a gun own very dangerous weapons and are allowed to play with them in populated areas. That is quite intentional. The NRA has taken down another American Citizen.

Details here.

Call to action on gun violence

From Dennis Henigan:

Some would suggest that American gun violence is an intractable scourge, with obstacles to progress that are just too high and too numerous. The American people don’t believe that, not for a minute. There is no better time to make that clear than January 8, 2012, the first anniversary of the Tucson shooting.

We urge people across this nation, in cities, suburbs and small towns, to join with the Brady Campaign, and many others on that day, to stand as one to remember the victims of American gun violence and to say, with one simple act, that we will no longer tolerate the relentless loss of innocent lives to gunfire.

That simple act is to light a candle. Join us by participating in a nationwide candlelight vigil, to proclaim that there have been too many victims of gun violence for our nation to endure.

We were experiencing difficulties. And Cookies.

You may have noticed very little activity on this blog (and other Scienceblogs) over the last few days. We had a technical difficulty somewhere around the Christmas. What happened was our main communication antenna was sheered off by an unidentified flying object. After the reindeer and elf parts were removed, it was discovered that a couple of parts had to be upgraded, and then, of course, all the connections to the SQL database were borked so it took a little time to fix. Our front end kept running but I believe commenting and certainly new blogging was impossible for a while.

I am pretty sure everything is back in place now, thank you for your patience.

Or, if you are like me, you didn’t even notice because you had relatives in town and you’ve been hanging out eating and drinking and exchanging presents and playing Rummykub and so on and so forth.

And then there are the cookies.

For many years now, my bff and occasional co-author, Ana Miller has brought me cookies at Christmas, sneaking over to my house in the middle of the night and leaving them on the doorstep. I’ve mentioned this before. This year, we had a Sponge Bob Square Plants table outside and that’s where Huxley and I found them this morning:

There are a hundred ways in which I love Ana, and about forty of them were in that package. Huxley is, of course, too young to eat these cookies (though he is also a great fan of the baker herself) and we don’t even want him to know about this aspect of life yet. So, for several minutes after bringing the cookies into the house, Huxley watched as Glen, Bunny, Amanda and I sat around munching on them saying “Ick, these are icky” and making bad faces. Finally, Huxley, initially very interested in the cookies, took a step back and pointed at them and said “Icky” and wandered off to do his own thing.

Thank you Ana.

In more recent years, Ana’s largess has been matched by the efforts of Stephanie Zvan, whom you know, who also delivers her cookies in the night on the 25th but earlier and she stops in to say hello.

Stephanie’s cookies are entirely different than Ana’s. They are both like the people who make them in many ways, in ways that I generally don’t want to describe because it is rather personal. Each set of cookies is diverse, yet there is absolutely no overlap in style, appearance, texture, or flavor, between the two sets. Ana’s are challenging to the eye (“I can not figure out how she made something that looks like that!”), sensuous, and frankly, almost seductive. For several hours after they arrive it is probably true that my marriage in a little bit of danger (and I’m not speaking only of myself here) so it is probably good that Ana comes by and leaves unseen and then stays away for a while. Stephanie’s are challenging to the taste (“I can not figure out how she made something that tastes/smells like that!”) and are startlingly exotic almost in a dangerous way. You expect eating one of them to have a strong effect, like there was a magic potion in there waiting to change you, or change the rules, or change something. We all made sure to not eat any of them while alone.

All of the cookies were excellent, and I can not imagine creating all these wonderful and amazing different kinds of edibles within a few days and with mere earthly ingredients. I assume both Ana and Stephanie have elves working with them on this.

So, Happy Holidays everybody, and blogging will remain sparse for a couple of more days, but again, I doubt very much you are paying much attention so it is not likely you will even notice.

The argument that different races have genetically determined differences in intelligence

The presumption being examined here is that humans are divisible into different groups (races would be one term for those groups) that are genetically distinct from one another in a way that causes those groups to have group level differences in average intelligence, as measured by IQ. More exactly, this post is about the sequence of arguments that are usually made when people try to make this assertion.

The argument usually starts out noting that there are dozens of papers that document group differences in IQ. I’ll point out right now that most of those papers are published in journals with editorial boards staffed in part or in total with well known racist scientists such as J. Philippe Rushton. That fact is not too important to what I have to say here, but since the usual argument about race and IQ starts out with “Hey, look at all these papers in these great journals” it is worth noting.

Heritability of IQ measures is then proffered, often in reference to the famous “twin studies” which show a high heritability for IQ. Heritability is a measure derived from covariance between relatedness and some phenotype. Heritability is not genetic inheritance. It is scientifically incorrect and probably academically dishonest to assume or insist that a high heritability value means that something is genetic. It often is, but it need not be. The truth is, that there are many things that could have a high heritability value but that we know are not genetic, so we don’t make a heritability estimate. There are other things for which we have strong a priori biological arguments that hey are genetic, and we thus make heritability estimates as part of the research on those things. Then there are things that we don’t know the cause of, and in those cases, making an estimate of heritability is useful as an exploratory tool. But, and this is important, arriving at a high value for heritability does not indicate genetic inheritance.

If you apply the methodology of the twin studies to language, you would find that having the capacity of language is of a similar heritability of having one head (as opposed to zero or two heads, for instance): Undefined. The number of heads does not vary, and heritability is a measure of covariation (I use the term “covariation” in a non-technical sense here). If you apply these methodologies to what language someone speaks, the heritability for that trait is very high, much much higher than for IQ. If you apply the same method to heritability of geography (the lat/long of where someone lives), it is even higher, especially for babies or people living in traditional societies.

Does everyone understand why that is the case? Familial or cultural causes may be very strong but not genetic. Using this method, if high heritability means that IQ is genetic, then so is which language you speak and so is what part of the world you live in.

The smoke and mirror part of this is equating heritability with inheritance. We speak the language we speak because it is the language of the culture we grow up in, not because of a gene for speaking French vs. a gene for speaking Sumerian.

This makes sense because we know how a person acquires language, so no one even tries to measure heritability of which language someone speaks. (Same with heritability of geographic location. It would be an absurd measure.) But people make the assumption that intelligence is inherited. Why do they make that assumption? Because lots of people for a long time wanted to, and in some cases, needed to believe this so, and thus it has become part of our culture. It is part of our uncriticized received knowledge, along with other racialized ideas and various sexist ideas, and so on. But recent research (meaning over the last 30 years) has shown us that other than in the case if inherited neuro-developmental diseases, it is impossible to imagine how intelligence can be inherited in such a way as to explain the variability we see in the most inter-group differences. Maybe a little, but not that much. That there is some genetic component is not impossible, but it is very hard to maintain the idea that it is genetic and ethnic, or genetic and racial, or genetic and explanatory of more than a few IQ points in most people. There are no genes, there are no developmental mechanisms, that have been identified. So, to many the issue of inheritance (not heritability, but inheritance via genes) of intelligence is not really an issue.

However, there are many who still need to hang on to this belief. Why they need to hang on is itself an interesting question. I can’t say for a given individual but I’ve been engaged in this conversation for 30 years and in my experience it is very often because of a desire to support a racialized model of human behavior.

The evidence for the usual IQ/Group/Race/Ethnicity/Genetic model we see is always given first as group differences. When the language and geography analogs are brought up, we always see the twin studies brought in. But twins are raised together in the same environment. So they have the same language, the same cultural customs, the same geography etc. That they have the same IQ is not surprising.

There is an interesting set of interactions between familial effects and environmental effects with any of these twin studies results, but it has to be understood that heritability is not inheritance. If you have a genetic mechanism that is real (not inferred or made up) that integrates with a developmental process that can manifest a phenotype based on a genotype (that is real, not made up or inferred) then you can translate heritability to genetic inheritance, roughly. We seem to see this in a number of psychological conditions/diseases, for instance, and obviously we see it for a lot of physical traits. If on the other and you have familial effects that would cause offspring to resemble their parents without genes then cultural/social/familial context is more likely to be the explanation.

Variation in IQ across groups in a single society (like in the US) (which is not the same as a single culture) is known to be primarily caused by SES and home environment, and is indicated by such things as parents’ educational level. Educational levels of Americans have been going up for a hundred years. So has IQ. IQ can jump up in a generation if one generation is educated and changes home environment and SES etc., and thereafter those offspring and grand offspring have higher IQ’s. No new alleles were introduced to cause those changes. Cultural differences were introduced, and we have a concept of the mechanism by how that works.

The difference in IQ across time within a given population is sometimes much greater than the difference in IQ across the usual groupings of people (i.e., “race”). When scientist seek societal, cultural, nutritional and educational explanations for differences in IQ they find them easily. When scientists who have this need for group differences to be genetic seek those genetic explanations for differences in IQ they have to invent new and shall we say “interesting” statistical techniques to justify how their usually cooked data underlie their biologically implausible explanations. The latest is “there are thousands of genes and there are so many we can’t see the pattern,and that is the pattern.” Funny that. The number of genes with tiny variants that “must be” the cause of variation in IQ is going up and up and up and the number of genes that are estimated actually exist in the human genome has gone way down. At this point, we are very close to saying that individual variation in IQ is best explained by … which individual you measured the IQ in!

Let me explain that in another way, which is an analogy though it looks like a statistical argument (don’t mistake the two). If I show you two points on a graph, I can describe a line indicating their relationship with the formula Y = mX + b (the formula for a line). I can use the same formula to describe the line representing a scatter of points, but the line might be a poor describer of the scatter. How bad it is may be indicated by a statistic (a correlation value or a “R” value or something). But, if I change the formula to Y = m1X1 + m2X2 + b then I get a curvy line that may match the points better. But it will still be imperfect. But, if I add even more coefficients so there is one coefficient per point, then I go back to a (nearly) perfect describer of the line once again. Because, I’ve drawn a line (more or less) that starts with the first point, then goes to the second point, then to the third point, etc. etc.

And that would be cheating.

And that would be pretty close to what some of the more recently implemented statistical models of genes and IQ do. If I include every allelic variation in humans (hypothetically) and correlated that to individually measured IQ, I’ve drawn a line from one human’s genetic value (along one axis) and IQ value (along another axis) to the next person, the next person, and then the next person so on down the line. At this point, ladies and gentlemen, we show that IQ correlates (almost) perfectly with fingerprint.

The next argument in favor of the genetic inheritance of intelligence is often to link IQ to head size or brain size. However, much of the data related to this research is very made up or cooked, and the causal arrow is problematic. Also, a third or fourth level factor in IQ is diet, which may affect brain size. Separately, a primary factor in skull shape and bone thickness is also diet (though in totally unrelated ways) which in turn is ethnic/regional… Bottom line, the system is complex, but the data do not support the assertion unless you make a big part of the data up, and Rushton has famously done so.

Another argument that is often made to salvage the genetic determination (by racial group) of intelligence is the between national data that has been more recently assembled and foisted on us. This is no different than ethic groups in the US. IQ is a standard measure, and groups vary in this value. Other measures will also result in variation. The variation is there, and the group level distinction is there. But finding more examples of that does not lead towards the conclusion that this is racial or genetic. Across nations we see a lot of measures that we know change (often in predictable directions) over time with industrialization or various other transitions. National IQ, fertility, various health measures, and so on all do this. And, of all these measures, the most suspect in terms of quality of data is IQ (excepting some more obscure health related data). These IQ comparisons don’t tell us much.

The final argument in favor of the inheritance of IQ via genes passed on from parent to offspring is usually to cite the twins separated at birth studies. These studies, however, simply do not show this. These twins are not separated at birth in the way most people think they are. Usually, the twins knew each other as they grew up, and/or knew commonly held family members. They lived in the same culture, usually in the same city, often in the same neighborhood, and sometimes even in the same physical house. They went to the same school and had the same diet. Separated at birth in these studies usually means grandma and grandpa took one of the twins to raise because mom and dad were strapped. Grandma and grandpa may have lived down the street. The kids may have attended the same school, even the same classes, and spent a lot of time together outside of school.

I was separated (though not from birth) from my older brother, because he lived on the second floor of a two family house, and I lived on the first floor. By the exact criteria of the twin studies, we would be counted as separated because it happened early enough in my life. But, that household I grew up in was a single household that happened to be set up in a two family house. The two floors were connected by an internal rear stairway that led to locked doors (had we locks). I was rather shocked to realize at one point as a child that we were the only family in my neighborhood with two kitchens. (Or two bathrooms, for that matter.)

There may be a small component of intelligence that is inherited, but it seems to be swamped by other factors. The insistence that genes determine intelligence and that these genes are divided up in our species by groups that are often defined racially is usually misguided, and is scientifically wrong. The supra-ultimate argument, after the final argument, brought up in this sort of conversation is usually that the anti-racist argument is a Politically Correct argument, yada yada yada. But it is actually a scientific argument, and the racialized intelligence argument is not. Making the latter a politically incorrect argument.

Which is kind of funny.