Showing posts from 2010

The superiority of the Chinese demonstrated

December 7, 2010
Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators
The New York Times

With China’s debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam....

In math, the Shanghai students performed in a class by themselves, outperforming second-place Singapore, which has been seen as an educational superstar in recent years. The average math scores of American students put them below 30 other countries....

In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of second-place Korea with 539. The United States scored 500 and came in 17th, putting it on par with students in the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and several other countries....

In science, Shanghai students scored 575. In second place was Finland, where the average score was 554. The United States scored 5…

More on near term evolution

Solving the Is/Ought conflict~Morality from Science

brain size and social contract/communal bonds

Another article on rapid evolution

August 29, 2010 Fast EvolutionFor the 10th-anniversary issue ofThe Chronicle Review,we asked scholars and illustrators to answer this question: What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why?Jonathan Haidt The Human Genome Project failed to deliver what it promised—a code book in which we could identify the genes responsible for many diseases. But the reason for this failure is itself a major discovery: The genome is far more dynamic and variable than we thought. Gene activity varies within each person, across the life span, and in response to changing environments. Genes vary at high levels across people, ethnic groups, and eras. This is big news, and I predict that it's going to rock many boats, in many academic departments. When I was in graduate school in the 1990s, the prevailing view was that evolution was so slow that there could be no meaningful genetic differences among human groups. The genetic "blueprint" was assumed to have been finalized during th…

Adventures in Very Recent Evolution

Scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute last month discovered another striking instance of human genetic change. Among Tibetans, they found, a set of genes evolved to cope with low oxygen levelsas recently as 3,000 years ago. This, if confirmed, would be the most recent known instance of human evolution....

Coloring the skin may sound simple, but nature requires at least 25 different genes to synthesize, package and distribute the melanin pigment that darkens the skin and hair. The system then had to be put into reverse when people penetrated the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia and acquired lighter skin, probably to admit more of the sunlight required to synthesize vitamin D.

Several of the 25 skin genes bear strong signatures of natural selection, but natural selection has taken different paths to lighten people’s skin in Europe and in Asia. A special version of the golden gene, so called because it turns…

The culture of national traits

Tragic Flaw: Graft Feeds Greek Crisis

Wall Street Journal April 15, 2010
By MARCUS WALKERATHENS—Behind the budget crisis roiling Greece lies a riddle: Why does the state spend so lavishly but collect taxes so poorly? Many Greeks say the answer needs only two words: fakelaki and rousfeti. Fakelaki is the Greek for "little envelopes," the bribes that affect everyone from hospital patients to fishmongers. Rousfeti means expensive political favors, which pervade everything from hiring teachers to property deals with Greek Orthodox monks. Together, these traditions of corruption and cronyism have produced a state that is both bloated and malnourished, and a crisis of confidence that is shaking all of Europe. A study to be published in coming weeks by the Washington-based Brookings Institution finds that bribery, patronage and other public corruption are major contributors to the country's ballooning debt, depriving the Greek state each year of the equivalent of at least 8% of its …

Should We Cure Bad Behavior?

Tough questions about crime and neuro-rehabilitation


Brain and genetic research is also beginning to illuminate some of the neurochemical sources of violence. For example, elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine are associated with impulsivity and violence. The gene for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) comes in two varieties, one of which is four times slower in breaking down dopamine and norepinephrine. Studies indicate that people with the slow COMT variation are more prone to violence. Monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA) is another brain enzyme that inactivates dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. It too comes in two versions. A study in New Zealand found that men who carry the low activity version and who had been reared in abusive households are much more likely  to commit crimes and be violent. The researchers explicitly noted that "these findings could inform the development of future pharmacological treatments."…

Human culture, an Evolutionary Force

by Nicholas Wade
New York Times
March 1, 2010

Genes enabling lactose tolerance, which probably resulted in more surviving  offspring, were detected in cultures like this Kenyan shepherd’s.
As with any other species, human populations are shaped by the usual forces of natural selection, like famine, disease or climate. A new force is now coming into focus. It is one with a surprising implication — that for the last 20,000 years or so, people have inadvertently been shaping their own evolution.The force is human culture, broadly defined as any learned behavior, including technology. The evidence of its activity is the more surprising because culture has long seemed to play just the opposite role. Biologists have seen it as a shield that protects people from the full force of other selective pressures, since clothes and shelter dull the bite of cold and farming helps build surpluses to ride out famine.Because of this buffering action, culture was thought to have blunted the rate of human evo…