Bharat’s Pocket Scraps: Jeans, not Genes!

More genetics, and ebird and food

Hello April, you’re one long slow exhale and multiple breaths of fresh air after what was (for me), a long held March breath, anyway, here we go.

You may have read this article in the New York Times recently…

How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’

Recent genetic studies have demonstrated differences across populations not just in the genetic determinants of simple traits such as skin color, but also in more complex traits like bodily dimensions and susceptibility to diseases.

Read How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’

David Reich, a prominent scientist at the intersection of genetics  and human history wrote it, presumably to promote his new book, and in doing so, stirred the pot on this ongoing debate on human genetics. While he was careful and measured in his statements, the article was mainly a scolding of

well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science

He did end his post by alluding to an issue that comes up often:

What makes Dr. Watson’s and Mr. Wade’s statements so insidious is that they start with the accurate observation that many academics are implausibly denying the possibility of average genetic differences among human populations, and then end with a claim — backed by no evidence — that they know what those differences are and that they correspond to racist stereotypes. They use the reluctance of the academic community to openly discuss these fraught issues to provide rhetorical cover for hateful ideas and old racist canards.

I mentioned this in a previous scrap, but open discussion about issues is difficult in a space where small openings are exploited by people determined to push their political agenda, in this case, the racial inferiority of black people, so every side digs in. However, Reich overstated the occurrence of this tendency. Also, Reich did go too far in conflating race and population, race is most definitely a social construct, populations, especially those defined by geographical boundaries and long periods of stability will be subtly different from each other, random mutations, selection and all. This is not controversial. Reich kept skirting the erasure of these distinctions, but was careful to not cross the line.

A number of scientists signed on to this response article, I’ve pulled a quote, but really, should be read in full.

How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics

This misrepresents the many scientists and scholars who have demonstrated the scientific flaws of considering “race” a biological category. Their robust body of scholarship recognizes the existence of geographically based genetic variation in our species, but shows that such variation is not consistent with biological definitions of race. Nor does that variation map precisely onto ever changing socially defined racial groups.

How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics

What I said on the conflation of race and geography, except with better editing :)

Ezra Klein over at Vox (I do read Vox a lot) had this rather long essay partly in response, though more riffing on his interactions with atheist pundit Sam Harris, pointing out that Reich had been very careful to dismiss any connections between race and intelligence, and that “intellectuals” have to be very careful to not give supremacist ideologues any oxygen by claiming that this is just a “provocative” debate.

Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the allure of race science

What bothered me most about Harris’s conversation with Murray was the framing. There is nothing more seductive than “forbidden knowledge.” But for two white men to spend a few hours discussing why black Americans are, as a group, less intelligent than whites isn’t a courageous stand in the context of American history; it’s a common one.

Read Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the allure of race science

Reich’s research findings at the intersection of genetics, archeology and human history are fascinating, I might read his book, but looks like his publisher and publicist were well aware of needing to spark sales, nothing moves non-fiction like a little controversy.

I see that Reich responded to some criticism a week later . As expected, more nuance and accuracy than the previous week’s “provocative hot take”.


Comment: Pipeline won’t keep gasoline prices down; there’s no supply shortage

Re: “Why gas prices spike in spring — and why they might stay high,” March 24. This article is an exercise in unsubstantiated claims generating erroneous and alarmist conclusions.

I find most of our discourse on resource economies to be startlingly simplistic, verging on dishonesty. The contention that BC gas prices are high due to a shortage of gasoline from Alberta is one of them. This article by Robyn Allan sets some of the rhetoric around pipelines and gas prices straight by committing basic journalism, going straight to the source documents rather than faithfully parroting the words of people with axes to grind.

Read Comment: Pipeline won’t keep gasoline prices down; there’s no supply shortage

Some e-cigarette ingredients are more toxic than others

As e-cigarette use becomes more popular, particularly among teens and young adults, a new study shows that e-liquids are potentially far from harmless and contain ingredients that can vary wildly from one type of e-cigarette to another.

Hey, look what my friend Rob Tarran got published, a comprehensive study on the toxicity of components of e-cigarette liquids  (Open Access, so, click away and read the article). They found that the main components (the vehicle) propylene glycol (not to be confused with its younger sibling ethylene glycol aka antifreeze) and vegetable glycerin themselves had a significant effect on cell viability, and that the more complex the liquid, the more toxic it tended to be. Also, how often do you get to see the phrases Bahama Mama and Lemon Meringue Pie make it into scientific publication

Read Some e-cigarette ingredients are more toxic than others

Hi-vis clothing Law has ‘little to no impact’ on crashes

Italy has a law forcing cyclists to wear hi-vis clothing at night, but a new study has found that this law has had little to no impact on the numbers of road crashes in which cyclists were killed or injured.

The study has been published in the latest Journal of Transport & Health. It was authored by Gabriele Prati of the University of Bologna’s psychology department. She found that “bicycling visibility-aids law had no influence on bicycle crash[es].”

In many discussions around injuries to people on bikes or on foot, the discussion swiftly veers to what the person was wearing or doing at the time. This is, of course, victim blaming, and ignores well-known facts around who is at fault in most of these cases, the person driving the motor vehicle. So, here’s another study that concludes that legislating what you were wearing had no impact on the frequency or severity of your injury.

Read Hi-vis clothing has ‘little to no impact’ on crashes

The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right

It’s beyond strange that so many humans are clueless about how they should feed themselves. Every wild species on the planet knows how to do it; presumably ours did, too, before our oversized brains found new ways to complicate things.

This is great, especially on dieting and the need to stop worrying and just eat! Except for that bit about glyphosate, where I believe they overstate harm, especially in not comparing with other ‘icides that it replaced. Glyphosate is far less toxic than previous generations of chemicals, for example. The issues around glyphosate/GM crops, etc. are that they perpetuate fossil fueled, chemical input-driven, assembly line agriculture, which comes with a set of harms (and benefits, I might add). Replacing this fossil fueled assembly line agriculture is a huge challenge, and unless we solve it, the glyphosates of the world will be there, and harm reduction, not abolition is the way to go.

Read The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right

Citizen science birding data passes scientific muster

As long as there have been birdwatchers, there have been lists. Birders keep detailed records of the species they’ve seen and compare these lists with each other as evidence of their accomplishments. Horns and colleagues report that eBird observations match trends in bird species populations measured by U.S. government surveys to within 0.4 percent. Many nations don’t conduct official bird surveys, Horns says. “In a lot of tropical nations that’s especially worrisome because that’s where most birds live.” But he’s now shown that eBird data may be able to fill that gap.

I love using eBird to make birding lists, though given I’m not very good at identifying the less common birds, I end up confirming that indeed, there are many red-winged blackbirds! Great to know that eBird tracks official surveys well.

Read Citizen science birding data passes scientific muster