In the wake of the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s, genome pioneers and social scientists alike called for an end to the use of race as a variable in genetic research. Unfortunately, by some measures, the use of race as a biological category has increased in the postgenomic age. Although inconsistent definition and use has been a chief problem with the race concept, it has historically been used as a taxonomic categorization based on common hereditary traits (such as skin color) to elucidate the relationship between our ancestry and our genes. We believe the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research—so disputed and so mired in confusion—is problematic at best and harmful at worst. It is time for biologists to find a better way. - An editorial in Science exploring the conundrum facing genomic researchers where race is both fundamentally flawed as a scientific model and violently dangerous but still the only consistent lens through which study participants understand the information they have about their own connection to human diversity [more inside]
This is Science Magazine; this is one of their featured front-page stories (date stamped 17 September 2014 8:00 am): "The top 50 science stars of Twitter", by Jia You. The list has 46 men and 4 women. [more inside]
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
How often does a great story dominate the headlines, only to be dropped from the news cycle? How often do journalists tell us of a looming danger or important discovery – only to move quickly to the next new thing? What really happened? How did these events change us? And what are the lingering consequences that may affect our society to this day? These are the questions we are answering at Retro Report, an innovative documentary news organization launched in 2013 as a timely online counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle. Combining documentary techniques with shoe-leather reporting, we peel back the layers of some of the most perplexing news stories of our past with the goal of encouraging the public to think more critically about current events and the media in ~10 minute segments. [more inside]
Dr. Carl Hart, psychopharmacologist at Columbia, bust pernicious drug myths and talks provocatively about race and the "War on Drugs."
From the mid 40s to the mid 50s Coronet Instructional Films were always ready to provide social guidance for teenagers on subjects as diverse as dating, popularity, preparing for being drafted, and shyness, as well as to children on following the law, the value of quietness in school, and appreciating our parents. They also provided education on topics such as the connection between attitudes and health, what kind of people live in America, how to keep a job, supervising women workers, the nature of capitalism, and the plantation System in Southern life. Inside is an annotated collection of all 86 of the complete Coronet films in the Prelinger Archives as well as a few more. Its not like you had work to do or anything right? [more inside]
The SF Signal Mind Meld feature poses science fiction related questions to a number of SF luminaries and the scientist, science writer or blogger. Subjects have included the best women writers in SF, taboo topics in SF, underated authors and the most controversial SF novels of the past and present. The also cover lighter topics, such the role of media tie-ins, how Battlestar Galactica could have ended better (bonus Geoff Ryman) and the realistic (or otherwise) use of science on TV SF shows.
'Race' graphically illustrated - "most Europeans" vs. Ashkenazim (previously; see also IQ & Gladwell, viz. ;) [more inside]
Engineering Perfect Americans Were your immigrant ancestors considered genetically predisposed to become criminals? Were your mixed-ethnic ancestors thought to be polluting the nation's 'germ-plasm'? The Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement presents a well-put-together online exhibit/walkthrough of this disturbing vein in American history.
Genes Reveal Recent Human Brain Evolution. Two important new papers in the journal Science (available here) from the evolutionary geneticist and rising star, Bruce T. Lahn (see this recent profile from The Scientist), are potentially the tips of some very large icebergs. The papers document how two genes related to brain properties that underwent strong selection during the course of hominid evolution, have continued undergoing strong selection since the emergence of anatomically modern man. The papers wonderfully illustrate how biological evolution is an ongoing process as well as the artificial distinction between “micro” and “macro” evolution, and promise to be controversial for two reasons: First, the brain genes underwent the strongest selection during two periods of cultural and technological efflorescence (roughly 37,000 and 5,800 years ago). Second, the genes are distributed very differently in modern human population groups, existing at very high frequencies in some groups and being very rare in others, ensuring that the modern function of these genes will be a source of more research and much impassioned debate. More observations from anthropologist John Hawks.
Pharmaceutical company seeks approval for controversial heart drug BiDil for blacks only, even though the connection of a nitric oxide deficiency to the genetic makeup of the African-American population is an unsubstantiated hunch, in the words of the drug's own developer — and the drug had already once been denied approval. Is the FDA doing good science or ignoring science under the pressure of big business wanting to sell BiDil to a US$1Bln demographic?
The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence (PDF). A fascinating new theory from physicist turned renegade evolutionary theorist, Gregory Cochran (see this Atlantic Monthly cover story on Cochran's already path-breaking germ theory of disease), and genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending, proposes that a unique evolutionary history, and a number of improbably clustered neurologically related genetic diseases among Ashkenazi Jews could help explain their incredible intelligence test scores and extraordinary intellectual achievements (e.g. Ashkenazi Jews are 3% of the American population but win 27% of the Nobel Prizes). The paper is set for publication in the Journal of Biosocial Science, and is already getting major press in the New York Times and The Economist. Does the recent Harvard fracas over Larry Summers herald a new "arms race" in academic debate about genetics, man and society for the 21st century? [compelling post by Jason]
A hundred social scientists and geneticists gathered this week in Alexandria to sort out the meaning of race, and didn't, quite.
DNA used to ascertain race of unidentified serial killer. Florida company DNAPrint Genomics claims their test can identify the race (ie, African, Caucasian, East Asian or American Indian) of a person from their DNA. CEO Tony Frudakis says that "of over 2,200 blind samples tested, the test is yet to get one wrong."
Seattle PI have picked up the news that there's now competition in the race to build a space elevator. Liftport are the new kids on the block, with a website that only went online about 24 hours ago. I'm watching them build the message board as I type. Nothing like a bit of uplifting science news (pun unavoidable).
White couple gets black twins, sue IVF clinic. Experts say a mistake could have occurred in one of three ways.The wrong sperm could have been used to fertilise the right egg, the right sperm could have been used to fertilise the wrong egg, or the embryo implanted in the woman may have been another couple's altogether. Although it is not clear whether another couple has laid claim to the children, legal experts say the judge will be expected to make a modern-day judgment of Solomon on who should be considered the babies' legal parents. This is unploughed legal ground. Is there a fair way to sort this out?
Race-based Science Project Banned Forgetting for a moment how flimsy the premise of science projects at the 5th grade age can be, I think this is a great project. Does anyone find this offensive? Should children be allowed to discuss race and racism in broad daylight and among their peers?