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Malthusian pressures influences natural selection creates modern nations
August 7, 2007 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Theory of history by Dr. Gregory Clark in his new book A Farewell to Alms 1. The English Industrial Revolution was caused by changes in the make-up and behavior of the population, which was caused by natural selection, influenced by cycles of Malthusian booms and busts between 1200 and 1800. The implications for modernizing other nations through institutions such as the World Bank are like " pre-scientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand".
posted by stbalbach (67 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the NYT article:
“Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world .. The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.”

Many [historians] are skeptical of .. his suggestion that evolutionary change is a factor to be considered in history.. they seek to explain events like the Industrial Revolution in terms of changes in institutions, not people. Dr. Clark .. likens the “cult centers” of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to prescientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand.

“The actual data underlying this stuff is hard to dispute,” Dr. Clark said. “When people see the logic, they say ‘I don’t necessarily believe it, but it’s hard to dismiss.’ ”
posted by stbalbach at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2007


I personally find this fascinating as it uses the theory of evolution to explain forces of history, something that is very controversial and rarely done (per quotes above, history is explained by the development of institutions). Another new book coming out soon along these lines is On Deep History and the Brain which also incorporates the latest research in brain development studies, as well as evolution, to examine history.
posted by stbalbach at 6:47 AM on August 7, 2007


If the IR occurred because all the dumb people were weeded out, why is invention still occurring now that they are kept alive on welfare and via healthcare? He's not allowed to use institutional inertia as an answer.

This should end well.
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2007


A problem thse days is that everyone (includin g ev en lit scholars) getting on the evolution bandwagon and explaining all things by quick references to Darwinian thought. Can all things be so readily understood in this manner? Whereas most sociial science people explain all things by culture, I have found that most evolutionary thinkers more often cite the mix of genes and cultyrure. And, after all, what is sometimes referred to as meme theory is but a form of cultural evolution...things change and the useful drives out the obsolete (as in my 2nd marriage)
posted by Postroad at 7:03 AM on August 7, 2007


I swear to God that Jeffrey Sachs makes the bloodletting analogy with regards to the IMF in The End of Poverty.
posted by dismas at 7:07 AM on August 7, 2007


The implications for modernizing other nations through institutions such as the World Bank are like " pre-scientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand".

Well that's probably true. However, the insane racist bullshit is less then compelling.

People from other countries come to the west and prosper, if his evolutionary hypothesis were true, why would that be the case?

Look, this guy is making a genetic argument based on a sample of hereditary not actual DNA. It's the kind of argument that only a non-scientist could make.

I'm sure Andrew Sullivan and all the cryptoracist intelectuals will be all over this declaring the book an "Important work" and that we must be "intellectually courageous" enough to embrace pseudoscientific nonsense.

Nicholas Wade, the Timesman who wrote this article interviewed a couple other historians, but didn't bother interviewing a single actual scientist.
posted by delmoi at 7:13 AM on August 7, 2007 [4 favorites]


I prefer the industrious revolution interpretation.
posted by Abiezer at 7:15 AM on August 7, 2007


I find it very strange, and very difficult to believe, that genetic drift had anything to do with the industrial revolution. His argument seems to be that the rich had more children than the poor, thus "rich genes" spread through the population more. This would require a) genes that influence behavior towards altruism in ways even more powerful than we see in pre-industrial human societies and b) those genes to be preferentially occuring in the upper classes. Both of those assumptions seem huge to me, and likely wrong. Indeed, that the rich were somehow genetically distinct from the poor in ways that conferred benefits strikes me as downright ridiculous. Disease exposure might be an exception, but that is largely non-genetic in how it passes down. I seriously doubt that many of the early rich got that way through nonviolence and an eye towards savings.

Cultural changes seem to generally dominate over genetic predispositions in behavior on the scale of societies. It seems much more reasonable to attribute this cultural drift driven perhaps by upper class domination of the cities. Still, I'd be curious to read the book to see how similar his actual argument is to the snippet presented here.
posted by Schismatic at 7:16 AM on August 7, 2007


I think the main argument against this is the modern rise of China. There's not a lot of middle-class natural selection pressure on the rural poor in China, but they sure are becoming middle class in a hurry. Cultural changes are a much better explanation of this.

I do like the analysis that shows that the Rich have more surviving children than the poor, though. Sorta kills the idiocracy argument that the stupid will outbreed the intelligent.
posted by freedryk at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2007


Well, not that the rich are all intelligent. You know what I mean.
posted by freedryk at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh god. I am not an economist or a scientist or even a historian, and I was able to poke holes in his argument immediately. Argh. I hate this biological determinist crap.
posted by jokeefe at 7:44 AM on August 7, 2007


Comparisons with modern China don't really make sense as I see it freedryk, as that happened within the context of an already industrialised world with a far more highly developed network of international trade. England and those other regions in the Low Countries were bringing forth something entirely new. (Though I believe that's also disputed by some).
posted by Abiezer at 7:45 AM on August 7, 2007


I wonder how he'd explain Metafilter and what he'd say about it.
posted by davy at 7:46 AM on August 7, 2007


The idea came from Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which argues that Europeans were able to conquer other nations in part because of their greater immunity to disease.

And to think, up until that sentence I was under the impression this was a scholarly, perhaps even peer-reviewed theory.

Just imagine how many historians, evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, and epidemiologists are snickering at Dr. Clark...
posted by jckll at 8:11 AM on August 7, 2007


Hm.
posted by absalom at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2007


The argument is predicated on the fact that there was a real and intrinsic genetic difference between rich and poor. Subsequently, the poor died in their droves and the children of the rich ultimately filled the resultant population space. However, this would mean that the rich were under very little selection pressure, as they merely expanded into vacant space. The poor, on the other hand, would clearly be under intense selection pressure which would promote the emergence of desirable traits.

He then goes on to use phrases like "Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving."

Most pre-industrial people were flat broke. How can that allow you to be a spendthrift? They majority of work was outdoor food production; no light = no work. No surplus = restricted trade/negotiation. The guy's clearly a wingnut.
posted by Jakey at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2007


Well, just downloaded the PDF of the intro that Dr Clark makes available on his homepage (links to other sample chapters seem broken). Reading that I suspect I will remain more persuaded by de Vries, but he doesn't come over as the arsehole you might expect from the write-up and I liked this:
This book takes a bold approach to history. It discerns in a welter of often sketchy and sometimes conflicting empirical evidence simple structures that describe mankind’s long history: structures that can accommodate the startling facts about human history and the present world detailed below.
Doubtless some of the arguments developed here will prove over-simple, or just false. They are certainly controversial, even among my colleagues in economic history. But far better such error than the usual dreary academic sins, which now seem to define the humanities, of willful obfuscation and jargon-laden vacuity. As Darwin himself noted,
false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness: and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened (Darwin, 1871, Ch.1).
Thus my hope is that even if the book is wrong in parts, it will be clearly and productively wrong, leading us towards the light.
Looks like it will be a stimulating read and packed with solid research.
posted by Abiezer at 8:18 AM on August 7, 2007


Yes, but did all this Darwinian change occur in homogeneous or diverse societies?
posted by caddis at 8:21 AM on August 7, 2007


insane racist bullshit

I don't think he discusses "race", if anything science has show the concept of race to be irrelevant, ethnicity is the new model, but even then I don't think he is looking at ethnicity. Will there be crackpots who make it into a racists issue, sure, but that is true of just about everything.
posted by stbalbach at 8:22 AM on August 7, 2007


I'd like to read the book, but it's interesting to see the questions about his theory just in this thread.

If it's true that “thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work" were the dominant values that ensured the development of super-rich societies in the 19th century, what does it say about the future that precisely the opposite values ("spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving") have been on the rise (for decades in some societies)?

And can't at least some of these values exist in tension with one another -- do they have to be dichotomous? For example, there are any number of societies that are both hard-working and leisure-loving. Are those values mutually exclusive? Of course not.
posted by blucevalo at 8:23 AM on August 7, 2007


Ignoring the genetic arguments - which seem weak at best, ridiculous at worst - Clark may have a point:
"Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped."
Literacy and numeracy were crucial factors in the IR, but this is societal evolution - not the biological evolution of the hairless ape.
posted by speug at 8:37 AM on August 7, 2007


Delmoi, often people who come to the west don't prosper—middle eastern and north African immigrants to Western Europe, for example. Or, if you count America as the "West", the descendents of the Africans who were forcibly brought as slaves.

Not that I buy the evolutionary argument, for many reasons already canvassed here. Also: what about Rome, which as I recall had a crippled upper-class birthrate because of the lead pipes or whatever the explanation is and recruited its elite classes by constant infusions from below?
posted by sy at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2007


The implications for modernizing other nations through institutions such as the World Bank are like " pre-scientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand".

That's funny, they look like very well-thought out schemes for bleeding third-world countries dry and transferring their wealth to first-world multinational corporations. They're extremely good at that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2007


Clark does allow for cultural transmission, versus biological transmission. From the same NY Times article:

Because they grew more common in the centuries before 1800, whether by cultural transmission or evolutionary adaptation, the English population at last became productive enough to escape from poverty, followed quickly by other countries with the same long agrarian past.

Someone mentioned China, but incidentally, its the wealthy who are avoiding the birth control/limitations best presently, not the poor.

Not that I'm sold on this idea, but its an interesting perspective.
posted by Atreides at 10:00 AM on August 7, 2007


I do like the analysis that shows that the Rich have more surviving children than the poor, though. Sorta kills the idiocracy argument that the stupid will outbreed the intelligent.

The rich had more surviving children. That's obviously not the case today, when almost all children survive, and the poor have more.
posted by delmoi at 10:29 AM on August 7, 2007


Delmoi, often people who come to the west don't prosper—middle eastern and north African immigrants to Western Europe, for example. Or, if you count America as the "West", the descendents of the Africans who were forcibly brought as slaves.

You can't discount hundreds of years of institutional oppression so simply, to do so would be absurd. For one thing, studies show that modern African immigrants do fine, just as well as other immigrant groups.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2007


I don't think he discusses "race", if anything science has show the concept of race to be irrelevant, ethnicity is the new model, but even then I don't think he is looking at ethnicity. Will there be crackpots who make it into a racists issue, sure, but that is true of just about everything.

Well he doesn't come out and say "race" but the implication of his argument is that western Europeans are genetically superior to people from other parts of the world, which is the basic racist position.
posted by delmoi at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2007


It's worse than that. He's arguing that rich English people are genetically and/or culturally superior to the rest of humanity.

And I just discovered he went to the same school as me.

Ah, well, even in a Malthusian economy there's no shortage of arseholes.
posted by Jakey at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


I did in fact mean the example of the descendents of slaves as a reductio ad absurdam. Should have said so explicitly. My argument was that pointing to the success of individual immigrants and immigrant groups in rich countries today isn't the strongest argument against Clark's theory.
posted by sy at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2007


But the proposed medicine of institutional reform “has failed repeatedly to cure the patient,” Dr. Clark writes. He likens the “cult centers” of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to prescientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand.

the solution is clear:

"Kill The Poor"

Efficiency and progress is ours once more
Now that we have the Neutron bomb
It's nice and quick and clean and gets things done
Away with excess enemy
But no less value to property
No sense in war but perfect sense at home:

The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight

Gonna
Kill kill kill kill Kill the poor:Tonight

Behold the sparkle of champagne
The crime rate's gone
Feel free again
O' life's a dream with you, Miss Lily White
Jane Fonda on the screen today
Convinced the liberals it's okay
So let's get dressed and dance away the night

While they:
Kill kill kill kill Kill the poor:Tonight
posted by geos at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just read the NYT review, but is he necessarily talking about genes? Parents can pass valuable characteristics on to their children by nurture as well as nature.
posted by ~ at 10:54 AM on August 7, 2007


The implications for modernizing other nations through institutions such as the World Bank...

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are philanthropic organizations who want to provide easy cash to help developing nations. The goal of the World Bank and the IMF is to force developing nations to bow to the will of its backers, mainly the U.S. and its contracting companies.

They accomplish this with the following strategy:

1. Produce economic forecasts that promise amazing gains if a developing nation follows the IMF's modernization plans.

2. Loan the developing nation the money to pay for the construction. (of course with the caveat that only certain, mainly U.S. based, contracting companies will be hired)

3. The World Bank economic forecasts are, of course, overstated. So after construction, this leaves the developing nation unable to pay back the loans and the interest.

4. The developing nations are therefore forced to negotiate inequitable access to their natural resources and work forces. And guess who gets the contracts to exploit those resources? The same major contracting firms that produced the inflated forecasts.

It's how Halliburton, Bechtel, et al. make their money when a war isn't going on. For a detailed account of how this works by someone who essentially invented the practice, read Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.
posted by jsonic at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2007


"Dr. Clark has found data showing that their richer classes, the Samurai in Japan and the Qing dynasty in China, were surprisingly unfertile and so would have failed to generate the downward social mobility that spread production-oriented values in England."

I thought that was a kind of strange statement. So they didn't like to have sex, or for some strange reason just weren't able to produce a lot of offspring?
posted by vodkadin at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2007


I suppose I'd have to read the book to know if this is addressed, but this quote
“Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving,” Dr. Clark writes.
says to me that immigration to the US of the more violent, freedom-loving peoples of England may have also contributed to the society-wide changes in social values.
posted by frecklefaerie at 11:05 AM on August 7, 2007


It's worse than that. He's arguing that rich English people are genetically and/or culturally superior to the rest of humanity.

Exactly. And I thought that all that "the British Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton" garbage was a historical relic. Goes to show what I know, I suppose.

I can't believe a legitimate academic publisher accepted this book.
posted by jokeefe at 11:12 AM on August 7, 2007


From this guy's bio:

My grandparents came from Ireland to work in the coal mines and steel mills of the Clyde Valley, as part of the great diaspora of the Irish triggered by Ireland’s failure to industrialize in the nineteenth century.

And here I thought that the potato famine had a leedle something to do with the Irish diaspora. It was certainly why my great-great-grandparents got the hell out of Limerick. Plus, you know, all that being occupied and oppressed by the English thing. Sheesh.
posted by jokeefe at 11:16 AM on August 7, 2007


It's worse than that. He's arguing that rich English people are genetically and/or culturally superior to the rest of humanity.

Before you get too up in arms, realize two things. First, journalism on academic work is universally awful, and doubtfully represents what he's actually saying in the book. Second, he's not arguing that wealthier English people are superior, but that they made for a society more condusive to industrialization. The industrial revolution wasn't an accident from out of the blue. It had causes, and many of them came from the culture and structure of society. To understand them isn't to claim superiority in any moral sense, and to deny them would be blinding yourself to an important question.
posted by Schismatic at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2007


the implication of his argument is that western Europeans are genetically superior to people from other parts of the world

Not really. I agree it's a train of thought certain people might make, just as people leaped on the Social Darwinian bandwagon in the early 20th century. But Social Darwinism is wrong, so is the concept of "genetic superiority". It's one thing to say evolutionary forces brought about certain historical events, it's another thing entirely to assume Europeans are genetically "superior". That would be like saying European are genetically superior because they have greater resistance to smallpox, unlike New World people who were mostly wiped out by it. It's just an accident of history, we can still talk about it like adults without being worried about "superiority", which has nothing to do with science.
posted by stbalbach at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2007


I thought that the potato famine had a leedle something to do with the Irish diaspora

I'm pretty sure his argument would be that the severity of the famine was a consequence of not being industrialized. Or, phrased differently, that if Ireland had been industrialized the famine would have sucked but not been quite so destructive.

...not that I'm necessarily espousing that view (since I have essentially no knowledge of the famine) -- it just seems like the way he'd frame it. Eh, I could be wrong.
posted by aramaic at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2007


From the book's introduction:

"The embedding of bourgeois values in the culture, and perhaps even the genetics, was for these reasons the most advanced in England"

He is arguing that their society was conducive to the evolution of traits that led to the Industrial revolution, by virtue of the fact that the rich outbred the poor. If you read the pdf of the introduction (linked on this page), you can see he is quite explicit about this. I think he's quite clearly asserting a moral case for genetic/cultural superiority.
posted by Jakey at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2007


It's worse than that. He's arguing that rich English people are genetically and/or culturally superior to the rest of humanity.

That's a pretty hyperbolic overstatement of his views. (And, of course, remember that your opinion is based on a newspaper review of his work).

It seems not unreasonable to suggest that, since the Industrial Revolution began in England and not elsewhere, England must have been 'better' than other comparable countries at something in the mid 18th century. Evidently, there was something about England (culture, society, institutions, people) that allowed it to break out of the Malthusian trap while the rest of the world didn't.

I haven't read his book yet, but I'm not sure how well his arguments explain why it was England in particular that industrialised first, as opposed to other European nations.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:50 AM on August 7, 2007


Jakey - if I have a decent grasp of his theory, I'm pretty sure he'll turn out to be wrong as regards that being a primary factor, mostly because his 'perhaps' isn't even possible for me. As I said, I prefer de Vries' (I linked above) sense of a convergence of factors (goods from new colonies, certain technologies and techniques, ideological shifts iirc) creating a tipping point for great expansion.
I have a fairly visceral dislike of anything that smacks of genetic supremacism, but you get the sense from the contents/intro that he's going to lay out a decent amount of research to back up his claims which will make the book worth reading, if only to agree with.
I suppose I'm saying I feel he falls on the side of the line where he has research, which has led to a theory he thinks can be supported by evidence, and has presented that; rather than an Irving, who has a position and will be bending his research to fit it. No harm there, however objectionable his theory may be.
posted by Abiezer at 12:00 PM on August 7, 2007


*if only to disagree with*
Bleh
posted by Abiezer at 12:01 PM on August 7, 2007


If Olduvai Theory of societal life-span is correct (previously), and if Clarke's theories about the dispersion of certain attitudes and economic and interpersonal dispositions by the reproductive success and subsequent downward mobility economic upper classes is correct, where are we left in the (ex hypothesi inevitable) post-industrial, perhaps neo-agrarian society? Are the dispositions that have been selected for such that they would benefit that sort of society and its members?
posted by Wash Jones at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2007


Aloysius, the conclusion that I am drawing is from direct quotes and from the introduction to the book. His contention is that the primary factor in the world breaking out of the Malthusian trap was the culture and/or genetics of the English, specifically the rich. He is explicit in this.

My major issue with this is that there is no reason to even mention genetics in this argument. The only reference for this that he mentions is a theoretical paper by (economists) Galor and Moav. That paper (bad pdf-to-html anti-paywall link) talks about 10,000 year timescales and even then references almost no biology works other than Darwin. It's a massive stretch, requiring convincing supporting data, to parlay that into a specific genetic change over hundreds of years causing the IR.

At the very least, the genetic speculation is ill thought out. More likely, it's fuel on the publicity fire. At worst, it lends itself to racist interpretation.

Like Abiezer, I get the feeling that he's less objectionable than the likes of Irving, but nevertheless think that I'm unlikely to be convinced.
posted by Jakey at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2007


Here is another New York Times positive review of this book from last November. Many high status economists and biologists are expressing appreciation for this book.

I just ignore delmoi in any human science thread. It's like a broken record. (This is an affliction of Mefi in general but delmoi is the worst) He mistakes his cynicism for skepticism, and ignorance for evidence. 'Nuh-uh' or 'omg racist!1!' is not a journal references or counter-evidence.

My major issue with this is that there is no reason to even mention genetics in this argument.

Actually there is a really good reason: genetics are far more plausible than culture, because adopted children only resemble their biological parents in economically useful traits, and not their adoptive parents at all. This undermines much of the dogmatic status quo of "culture" theory.

Furthermore, the heritability of certain traits and differential reproduction make Clark's theory almost necessarily correct to some degree. Genetic variation + selection = evolution. Humans are not exempt, and more scientists are starting to take this very seriously. It's not a trivial fact, and it won't be less true just because some people find it distasteful.
posted by dgaicun at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2007


Metafilter: Clearly and productively wrong, leading us towards the light.
posted by eclectist at 1:05 PM on August 7, 2007


As an aside, Tyler Cowen is planning on doing a 'book forum' over at Marginal Revolution, so maybe he will expand on his positive NYT review.
posted by rider at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2007


Here is another New York Times positive review of this book from last November. Many high status economists and biologists are expressing appreciation for this book.

I read your link and saw no mention of biologists.

I can't believe you people are seriously dicussing the zombie of "anglo-saxon" social darwinism, much less the idea that the english gentry are *biologically* superior.

This is insane crap and just goes to show just how little has changed from Edwardian period, at least in Princeton (they published this book.) I guess next he's going to blame the fall of the British Empire on National Health; what happened to all those English super-men? Too much faggotry in Oxbridge thinned out the gene-pool?
posted by geos at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just ignore delmoi in any human science thread. It's like a broken record. (This is an affliction of Mefi in general but delmoi is the worst) He mistakes his cynicism for skepticism, and ignorance for evidence. 'Nuh-uh' or 'omg racist!1!' is not a journal references or counter-evidence.

Just for the record, dgaicun apparently believes:
1) The idea that sperm is addictive and mood altering for women is good science

2) The idea that British attained genetic superiority during the industrial revolution is good science (dispite being proposed by a historian rather then an actual scientist)

3) I don't know what I'm talking about with respect to social sciences.
I find myself unconcerned.

And yeah I am cynical about social sciences, there is a lot of noise and immeasurable variables involved. I certainly think that social science can be useful and valuable, but often times there is an inappropriate reliance on metaphor and anecdotes. If Clark's work was published in a real biology journal, with real genetic results I might lend it more credence.

And look, I don't doubt that behavior changed during the industrial revolution, that seems obvious to me. I doubt that it has anything whatsoever to do with genetics, while Clark (who's not a biologist) doesn't really have any evidence that it is genetic, rather then a simple result of parent to child acculturation. Maybe he does in his book, but I'm certainly not going to bother reading it.
posted by delmoi at 1:47 PM on August 7, 2007


I can't believe you people are seriously di[s]cussing ... the idea that the English gentry are *biologically* superior.

Superior to whom? If you mean the rich tend to be biologically better off than the poor, then of course that's true.

Healthy people are more likely to get rich than sick people. Intelligent people are more likely to get rich than stupid people. On average, rich people, through diet, living conditions and healthcare, are more likely to be healthy than poor people. Healthy, intelligent, rich people marry other healthy, intelligent, rich people and go on to produce children who, thanks to genetics and nurture, tend on average to be healthy, intelligent and rich.

It's absurd to claim that there are no hereditary health and IQ differences between the average rich man and the average poor man.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 2:00 PM on August 7, 2007


The rich people I know look pretty wimpy to me. I don't think my boss could last 24 hours in the Australian outback or in the Nortwest Territories in Canada.
posted by bukvich at 2:21 PM on August 7, 2007


delmoi, if I have to choose between your opinions of what is "good science", and say, the peer reviewers at The Archives of Sexual Behavior and the reviewers of the numerous other published studies I've seen you glibly hurumph away over the years, then, yeah, I'm going with the peer reviewers. No contest. Even worse, I often do have familiarity with the research you diss, and a lot of times it's clear you don't have the first idea what you are talking about.

More to the point, you have an exceedingly closed mind and poor understanding of what constitutes normal science and induction in general. Clark is not a biologist, but few behavioral geneticists, in particular, would find any dispute with his logic and evidence. Besides interdisciplinary researchers often have the biggest impact on the scientific and intellectual culture. (Guns, Germs, and Steel being a good example) The top geneticists of our age are already trying to tease out the genetic differences between populations, but many are, well, bullied away by dogmatists like you. But Clark's book, and it's welcome reception will help empower them, and give them novel ideas to test and things to look for, and I welcome that.

Your arrogant, closed-minded, and often ignorant approach to the intellectual landscape is irritating. Sadly, you aren't interested in ideas, and the most you can say about the life-work and evidence collection of nearly all research academics is 'That don't prove nuttin' or 'That's crazy', or 'That's [insert comment about how it sucks because you feel it does not support your narrow litany of political/ethical a prioris]'. Most of the time 'substantive' criticism never rises above 'correlation doesn't equal causation' and brief mention of a 'more plausible' variable that was almost always already tested and rejected in the work under question!

People like the above-mentioned Tyler Cowen, or say Dennis Dutton of Arts and Letters Daily, on the other hand, are often pleasing to pay attention to exactly because they are interested in the full range of academic theories and ideas. They are the anti-delmois: people in love with what others have thought about deeply, researched, and have to say; regardless if they disagree.
posted by dgaicun at 2:42 PM on August 7, 2007


Just for the record, dgaicun apparently believes...

I don't have to "believe" the underlying theory behind every bit of reserach. Indeed this statement reveals why you don't understand induction, and why you feel like you have to be so combative and hostile to every piece of research linked on MeFi. It's like you feel mind raped by every scientific experiment like it's an act of coercion.
posted by dgaicun at 2:48 PM on August 7, 2007


Brad DeLong says: "...the book is brilliant."

DeLong and The New York Times: "cryptoracist intelectuals" [sic]

QED.
posted by dgaicun at 3:06 PM on August 7, 2007


I haven't read the book, but I've read the two chapters available on the author's homepage; and as far as I can see, Clark is not arguing what most of you suppose him to be arguing. He is proposing a strong cultural explanation for the Industrial Revolution, with only the occasional nod in the direction of genetics. (Thus p. 13: '.. the culture, and maybe even the genes .. the embedding of bourgeois values in the culture, and perhaps even the genetics ..' Italics mine.) The NYT article plays up the genetic angle but finally acknowledges, rather reluctantly, that this isn't the whole of Clark's argument. ('Dr Clark says the middle-class values needed for productivity could have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation.' Again, italics mine.)

In some ways this is a curiously old-fashioned argument, which seems to hark back to Max Weber in its theory that bourgeois values were the precondition for economic success. Without reading the whole of Clark's book, and following up his footnotes, it's difficult to see how he places himself in relation to the existing literature, or what he thinks of (e.g.) the Weber thesis. But my initial reaction is to distrust the rather monocausal nature of his arguments -- and speaking as a historian of early modern Britain, I also feel that there's something slightly dubious about his theory that pre-industrial England was characteristed by downward social mobility, with the younger sons of the elite constantly moving down the social scale (and carrying their elite values with them). If anything, the reverse seems to me to be the case, with the rising value of land helping to drive upward social mobility.

There's a famous article by David Cannadine in which he argues that historians' interpretations of the Industrial Revolution are unconsciously influenced by their own economic circumstances. Clark's book looks as though it might well be another example of this phenomenon. Writing at a time of exceptional economic prosperity, he naturally tends to assume that wealth, and wealth-creation, are the key measures of society. If we want to criticise Clark's thesis, that's the aspect we should be focusing on -- not all this stuff about genetics, which is just a side-issue, and not even a very interesting one.
posted by verstegan at 3:47 PM on August 7, 2007 [3 favorites]



It seems to me that an epigenetic argument would be a lot better: economic advantage produced an environment conducive to passing on "middle class" values. If you consider that early childhood sets the tone of the stress system for later life-- making a child (to massively oversimplify) either reactive and primed to see everything as a threat or able to deal with things more calmly and thoughtfully because his early experience of the world was nurturing, and that such a parenting style can be passed on, that might make for a more sensible explanation without requiring genetics at all.

In rats, for example, extra grooming by mom sets up pups to be less agressive and stressed-- and babies who get this extra grooming (even if they aren't genetically related to mom) give it to their babies in turn. This could set up a "virtuous" cycle in which more reflective, more gratification-delayed, less violent people came to dominate and this sort of trust allowed increased invention and trade. No genes or race involved!
posted by Maias at 4:27 PM on August 7, 2007


I'm still pondering this, but I would venture an off-the-cuff guess that the most successful industrial countries are also the most militaristic countries. I see nationalistic power as a great driver behind industrializing - as least as powerful as saving money.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:29 PM on August 7, 2007


Verstegan, more than old-fashioned, it's amusingly familiar. Although I haven't read all of it, there's an article on the author's homepage, The Great Escape: The Industrial Revolution in Theory and in History, that may present some details of the author's take on the institutional basis of industrial revolution. It turns out that the main thing is that TFP (productivity) increased. :)

Sometimes economists are like that. Arguably modern macroeconomics was invented to study the great depression, and still the most it typically ventures as an explanation for 1929 is that TFP shrunk.

The book may be different; I haven't read it. My experience reading institutional economics is usually a general value-neutral discussion of the institutional effect being argued, and then a throw-away example such as "thrift". Rather than reflecting the bourgeous nature of the author, it may just reflect an economist's dorkish cautiousness when it comes to the meat of the institutional argument.
posted by ~ at 6:50 PM on August 7, 2007


It's absurd to claim that there are no hereditary health and IQ differences between the average rich man and the average poor man. -- Aloysius Bear
Tell me, where did you get your biology degree again?
Clark is not a biologist, but few behavioral geneticists, in particular, would find any dispute with his logic and evidence. -- dgaicun
Well, see this is an assertion for which you provide no actual evidence. The one link you posted purporting to show biologists viewing Clark's work favorably in fact did not.
Your arrogant, closed-minded, and often ignorant approach to the intellectual landscape is irritating. Sadly, you aren't interested in ideas, and the most you can say about the life-work and evidence collection of nearly all research academics -- dgaicun
Well now I'm a little confused, how is complaining about a few specific studies denigrating the "life-work and evidence collection of nearly all research academics". What absurdly melodramatic comment.
I don't have to "believe" the underlying theory behind every bit of reserach. Indeed this statement reveals why you don't understand induction -- dgaicun
Go read what I wrote again. I said you thought it was "good science" not that you believed the theories were true. Indeed his statement reveals you can't apparently read.

By the way, could explain what you mean by "induction" I certainly understand mathematical induction. Are you talking about inductive reasoning where each observation increases the likelihood of something being true? What exactly am I supposedly missing here?
Brad DeLong says: "...the book is brilliant."

DeLong and The New York Times: "cryptoracist intelectuals" [sic]
1) "cryptoracist intellectuals" will like this book
2) therefore, everyone who likes this book is a "cryptoracist intellectual".

And you say I'm having trouble with my logic. I was talking about people like Steve Sailer, Andrew Sullivan, the Bell Curve guy, etc.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 PM on August 7, 2007


I have looked and looked, but delmoi's comments lack a very necessary - (minus) sign. How can I add them to my Loathed Comments list?
posted by Dataphage at 2:24 AM on August 8, 2007



delmoi does not like articles that may suggest that genotyps has anything to do with intelligence or wealth, but readily says "I think studies show women lie more often then men, actually."

delmoi on induction:
"Lots of people die from experimental drugs. ... One guy couldn't get into a trial, and the doctor felt that if he had, he probably would have lived. Another patient got into a trial, and died like most of the people who tried the drugs."

Where delmoi is coming from when criticizing other people's science:
On a comment about Popper saying that theories can not be proven, just falsified: "Interesting. I hadn't heard that before, what is the proof?"
posted by Dataphage at 2:24 AM on August 8, 2007


Talk about taking things out of context.
delmoi does not like articles that may suggest that genotyps has anything to do with intelligence or wealth, but readily says "I think studies show women lie more often then men, actually."
Right, women are also taller and more likely to have breasts.
delmoi on induction:
"Lots of people die from experimental drugs. ... One guy couldn't get into a trial, and the doctor felt that if he had, he probably would have lived. Another patient got into a trial, and died like most of the people who tried the drugs."
Right, some experimental drugs work out, and others do not. What does that have to do with induction? Without the elipsies the comment was
Lots of people die from experimental drugs. There was an interesting article a while back about a doctor who was treating AIDS patients in the 80s. One guy couldn't get into a trial, and the doctor felt that if he had, he probably would have lived. Another patient got into a trial, and died like most of the people who tried the drugs.
I was simply summarizing an article. A doctor wasn't able to get one of his patients into a clinical trial for a drug that ended up being approved and being a godsend for AIDS patients. He was able to get one of his patients on another experimental drugs that ended up killing his patients and most of the people who took it with a specific kind of disease.
On a comment about Popper saying that theories can not be proven, just falsified: "Interesting. I hadn't heard that before, what is the proof?"
That's just completely false. Obviously I had "heard" the argument about falsifiability. The comment (actually a quote from the article) I was replying too didn't say anything like that at all. In fact, what it said was
But, in 1934, Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of our time, argued that the mathematical probability of all theories, scientific or pseudoscientific, given any amount of evidence is zero.
The statement had nothing to do with proof, disproof or falsifiability, but rather the probability of certan things being true. Your comment is basically just a lie. And the reason I asked wasn't because I didn't belive it or because I thought it sounded unresonable, but because I actually wanted to read the proof.
I have looked and looked, but delmoi's comments lack a very necessary - (minus) sign. How can I add them to my Loathed Comments list?
Anyway, if I annoy people who believe that Europeans are genetically superior to other people, I think that's something I can live with.
posted by delmoi at 6:31 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Let me restate what I said earlier in stronger terms Dataphage is a liar. Two of the three quotes, the second three he completely died about what I was saying and what I was talking about. In the first instance, he cut out a key sentence, and in the third case he said I was referring to something that I wasn't actually referring too. He lied about what I wrote in order to make me look stupid.
posted by delmoi at 7:19 PM on August 8, 2007


:)

I had forgotten this thread. How did it taste delmoi? I am glad I could be of help making you look stupid.

Just a sincere question, regarding the sentence I cut out: Did the author of the paper reach the conclusion that "lots of people die from experimental drugs"? Or is that the conclusion you reached after reading the paper?
posted by Dataphage at 1:51 AM on August 9, 2007


And delmoi is making me look RACIST!!!! I did not say I believe Europeans are genetically superior!

I believe that people who are more successful at passing on their genes to future generations are genetically superior.
posted by Dataphage at 1:53 AM on August 9, 2007


I am glad I could be of help making you look stupid.

Well obviously if you're willing to lie about what people say, you can make them appear however you wish. Congradulations on your deceit, you seem quite pleased with yourself.
posted by delmoi at 11:57 AM on August 12, 2007


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