Category Archives: Fortnights of Links

A Fortnight (or so) of Links – 13 Nov 2013

I am pretty far behind my regularish fortnight link posting.  These have really built up!

Our forefathers were fierce & our foremothers were faithful by Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Reports on a study by Maarten Larmuseau and colleagues that collected information about genetic inheritance (the Y-chromosome) with cultural inheritance (family surnames) in Flanders. They used this data estimated that the amount of cuckoldry in the population, and found it to be quite low.

Bigger groups mean complex cultures by Ed Yong. Two recent experimental studies are out this past fortnight (in Proc B and Nature) providing support for previous models showing that larger groups can maintain cultural traits better than smaller groups (ungated summary).

Such deep roots you have: How Little Red Riding Hood’s tale evolved by Alan Boyle at NBC News. I am skeptical of the claims made by the researchers made in the article. They use phylogenetic trees, which are commonly used to describe relationships between biological species, to analyze the origins of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Phylogenetic techniques are hard for culturally transmitted traits because there can be a lot  more information flow between branches than you can have gene flow between (sexually-reproducing) species  (this is called “reticulation,” see here for more). Modeling historical cultural change with modern data is tricky!

The tribesman who Facebook friended me by  Jonnie Hughes. To me, this has a few good anecdotes about how some cultural traits are adopted between societies more readily than others.

How many genetic ancestors do I have? Posted at UC Davis’s Coop Lab blog. One of my (many) nitpicks with the Di Vinci Code movie (though maybe the book was better) was that a person with Jesus as an genealogical ancestor was unlikely to have him as a genetic ancestor. This post explains why we have many more genealogical ancestors than genetic ancestors.

View From the Inside: How Gang Members Use Secret Codes by Eric Jankiewicz. When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Ms. Dye, used to confiscate notes passed between students in class and post them on the wall. In response, some students started writing their notes in code, which could not be read even if posted on the wall. But then I started breaking the codes and giving the decoded messages to the teacher to post on the wall next to the coded ones.  This story of a police officer who breaks prison gang codes reminded me of that. Still, I bet he is more popular in prison than I was in the fifth grade. (Ms. Dye eventually told me to stop breaking the codes, which I thought was weird at the time, but it was sweet of her to try to help me out.)

Remembering Wallace. John Hawks comments on an Andrew Berry post about the relative obscurity of Alfred Russel Wallace. He points out that Wallace is perhaps better known to anthropologists than biologists because of his willingness to discuss natural selection’s implication for humans before Darwin.

The Math Trick Behind MP3s, JPEGs, and Homer Simpson’s Face by Aatish Bhatia. Spoiler alert: the math trick is the Fourier transform. This is just awesome science writing.

Diagrams for hierarchical models: New drawing tool.  This looks really useful for hierarchical modelers.  I will take these over a coefficient table any day.

Why Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment Isn’t in My Textbook by Peter Gray at Psychology Today.

As always, it is a good idea to check out the weekly links at Evolving Economics [41, 40, 39].

Entertaining (in that internet sort-of way):

Winning “The Price Is Right.”  Ben Blatt makes a handy guide for maximizing your chances on all of the subgames on The Price is Right. I used to watch this show with my grandma all the time at the guide made me a little nostalgic (she used to complain when the prices didn’t match those at the local drugstore). My only quibble is that while the article is billed as a “guide to better bidding through game theory,” only a couple of the games (contestant’s row and the big wheel – those with more than one contestant) are properly “game theory.” The rest are more accurately described as “decision theory.” But this is just a quibble that distracts from the larger view that this may be exactly what the internet was invented for.

Why Wine Cries. An awesome science video.

Millions of Lines of Code. It reportedly takes 5 million lines of code to repair  How many is that?

How long do hard drives actually live?

Exploring The Invisible Universe That Lives On Us — And In Us. A video by Rob Stein at NPR about the microbiome.

Up all Night to Get Data.” A music-video parody by the UCSD Neuroscience program.

Would You Live in a Hexagonal House? Answer: yes.



A Fortnight of Links – 26 Oct 2013

The Monkey Cage Gender Gap Symposium There is a gender gap in academia. Articles from this symposium addresses it, specifically in political science.

One thing about posting links every two weeks is that I am sometimes behind on the major issues. By now most of you have likely heard about the sexual and racial harassment issues surrounding Scientific American that have prompted many scientists and science bloggers to share their own stories. All of these stories are devastating, but it is especially salient when it is someone you know.

Darwin’s Business Conference.   Short videos from many of the distinguished participants.

Memes via telegraph!

The F Problem With The P-Value Sciences by Neuroskeptic

Trouble at the Lab. An article in the Economist questioning whether science is self-correcting.

Twenty Things Most Chiropractors Won’t Tell You by chiropractor Preston H. Long.

Numberphile explains the maths and politics behind the Number 666.

Unusable Words by Brad Leithauser

As always, it is a good idea to check out the weekly links at Evolving Economics.

Entertaining (in that internet sort-of way):

8 Unlikely Animal Friendships

The Evolution of Popular Music visualization.

This is, surprisingly, a straight line.

A Fortnight of Links – 11 Oct 2013

Winning At All Costs Will Make Winning Costlier (Than It Needs To Be). John Patty at the Math of Politics blog describes the logic behind the recent US government shut down in terms of a hawk-dove/snowdrift/chicken game. It is especially nice when someone trained in economics thinks about an equilibrium’s stability.

The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAH!) is over, but the videos will be posted soon.  It was organized at MIT by cartoonist Zach Weinersmith and (my fellow UC Davis Graduate Group in Ecology 2007 cohort member) parasite ecologist Kelly Weinersmith. (They are interviewed here.) The festival included distinguished judges, sponsors and speakers who presented “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory.” The prize for best talk? “A sculpture of Darwin shrugging skeptically.”

Mark Lubell addresses three hard questions about network science.

An epic BBC video on the science of chance.

My recent NIMBioS talk is posted online.

Should I Ask a Question During Seminar? A PhD Comics decision-tree.

As always, it is a good idea to check out the weekly links at Evolving Economics.

Having Recently Completed a Doctorate:

What Exactly Is a Doctorate? by Matt Might

I Fear My Dissertation Is Not Having the World-Changing Impact I Thought It Would by Josh Freedman

Entertaining (in that internet sort-of way):

Alternate reality electoral college map where the fifty states all have equal population.

Journal Article of the Fortnight:

Ethnic dominance damages cooperation more than ethnic diversity: results from multi-ethnic field experiments in India.  Tim Waring and Adrian Bell.   

Abstract:  Research in many societies shows that ethnic diversity correlates with a decline in cooperation at the community level. This literature neglects cases in which ethnic heterogeneity is hierarchically structured. Power and status differences between ethnic groups, or ethnic dominance, may play an important role in determining cooperative outcomes. We test this hypothesis using public goods experiments with caste groups in India in which we manipulate the caste composition of experimental groups. Conservative estimates show that ethnic dominance between high and low ranking castes has a much larger negative effect on contributions in the public goods experiment than does caste diversity. We argue that ethnic dominance interactions such as ethnic discrimination constitute a type of antisocial punishment between groups. We also find that conditional cooperation is limited to within ethnic groups, revealing ethnocentric cooperation preferences. These results confirm the importance of group structure in human cooperative patterns, and help bridge the gap between evolutionary theory and cooperation dynamics in multi-ethnic real world settings.



Some fortnights of links – 28 Sep 2013

It has been awhile since my last link round-up.  I few months ago I had gotten in the habit of book-marking items I came across online that I thought were interesting or relevant to the topics of this blog, and then posting them online every two weeks.

Jason Collins over at Evolving Economics posts a similar round-up of links weekly. A few months back, when I went to post my bi-weekly list, I discovered that he had already posted ~90% of them. So, as not to be redundant, I gave up for awhile and decided to finish my dissertation instead.

However, now that the dissertation is over, I am getting back to blogging. I also have not been reading as much on the internet lately, so this week’s list will be relatively short:

Florid or falsifiable? The use of metaphors in science. Cultured Primate’s discussion of the “ratchet effect.”

Steven Pinker embraces scientism. Bad move, I think. The internet seems to be well over Pinker’s seemingly humanities-dissing essay.  But I think Massimo Pigliucci’s response is worth a link.

Neville Chamberlain Was Right: The maligned British prime minister did what we would want any responsible leader to do.

Some friends may have moved to the Switzerland of Europe, but I have moved to East Tennessee, the Switzerland of America.

Journal article of the week (a new feature):

War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies by Peter Turchin, Tom Currie, Edward  Turner, and Sergey Gavrilets (disclosure: Gavrilets in my post-doc mentor) in PNAS.  The article is open access. It was covered in Wired and a lot of other outlets. Peter Turchin blogs about it here and here.

Entertaining in that internet sort-of-way:

Every Second on the Internet

A Fortnight of Links – 13 May 2013

Charlemagne’s DNA and Our Universal Royalty. Carl Zimmer on why, if you are of European descent, you are descended from Charlemagne.  This 2004 paper explains why everyone who was alive 3000 years ago who has living descendents, are the ancestors of everyone living today. Coalescence! I really like that they present results from a series of models along the realism/tractability continuum – from a simple analytic treatment to a very complicated world-wide simulation. This is pretty mind-blowing stuff.

Fact of Fiction? The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard is often used as an example of an inefficient technology persisting through institutional inertia. The popular legend is that the QWERTY Keyboard was designed slow down typists so they would not jam mechanical typewriters. It looks like its design was really influenced to help those transcribing Morse code from telegraph machines.  Note that this still leaves the institutional inertia story intact.

The Groundbreaking Isaac Newton Invention You’ve Never Heard Of. Did Newton really invent the idea of averaging data to reduce variance?  That would be pretty neat, but it seems like someone would have come up with that earlier.

A Congressman’s Own Peer Review. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson may be my new favorite lawmaker.

What China and Russia Don’t Get About Soft Power. An interesting discussion of the pitfalls of soft power.

Science Communication Round-Up:

Why do kidneys need cells? “One person’s jargon is another person’s technical vocabulary”

Defensive Scholarly Writing and Science Communication. Kate Clancy on why scientists often write the way they do.

Over this past fortnight, members of the UC Davis Human Behavioral Ecology Lab group have been emailing around their favorite references on good writing: Politics and the English Language, George Orwell;  Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences, Mark Twain;  Economical Writing, Deirdre McCloskey; The Elements of Style, Strunk and White

Bonus Links (entertaining in an internet sort-of-way):

Is Your State’s Highest-Paid Employee A Coach? (Probably)

How long is the average dissertation?

A Fortnight of Links – 29 April 2013

E. O. Wilson is Wrong Again —  About Collaboration – Jon Wilkins on E.O. Wilson’s WSJ op-ed I briefly mentioned a fortnight ago.

Why I Let My Students Cheat On Their Exam – This article has really been making the rounds! I have seen many positive responses. Negative responses have generally been fixated on all the free-riders. I think the main difference in attitude stems from whether one thinks the primary goal of undergraduate education is “separating the wheat from the chaff” or “maximizing student learning.”

Evolutionary psychology: You’re doing it wrong (but you could do it better!) – In my experience, evolutionary psychologists tend to think of themselves as the antidote to “standard” social scientists who deny or ignore the power of evolutionary thinking. Problematic for this self-conception is that evolutionary psychology research often rubs standard evolutionary biologists the wrong way as well.

James D. Fearon: Anarchy is a Choice – A video of political scientist James Fearon discussing “anarchy” in international relations.  This is roughly the observation/idea that altruistic cooperation between countries is difficult to achieve because there is no law-giving-and-enforcing body (leviathan) that is above and constrains the actions of countries.  The actions of countries must be constrained by other things.

The (sigh) Psychopath Brain – This post gets to one of my pet peeves of science reporting – assuming that because something shows up on a brain scan it is somehow “innate” or “genetic.” I plan a blog post on this soon (read: after dissertation.)

On Copycat Whales, Conformist Monkeys and Animal Cultures – A great discussion about culture in non-human animals. I would have liked something about cumulative vs simple cultural evolution – but that is really nit-picking.

Why are your friends more popular than you? – Spoiler Alert: Because people with more friends are, on average,  more likely to be friends with you

Replicated typo: Numerical vs. analytical modelling – A focus on linguistics, but a good discussion on the tractability/realism trade-off for different styles of modelling.

Cyberwar in the Underworld: Anonymous versus Los Zetas in Mexico – Cyberwarefare between non-state actors.

Are the Digits of Pi Random? – Well, what do you mean by random?

Numberphile: Why are there Infinite Primes?

Fun (most fun things are apparently space-related):

Kepler’s Tally of Planets – NYT visualization of all extrasolar planets discovered so far.

How Far Away is the Moon?

Wringing out Water on the International Space Station – for Science! 

Make XKCD-style Plots in Matlab

A Fortnight of Links

I finally have my web bookmarks sinked between computers which will make it much easier to share recent and relevant links.  I hope to make this a regular feature of this blog, especially since I need to finish a dissertation by this summer…

Mathematicians Predict the Future With Data From the Past. An article in Wired about Peter Turchin and cliodynamics – a scientific/mathematical to the dynamics of human history.  This is an interesting article. However, in the Social Evolution Forum, he points out that the title is misleading.  His models are not primarily for prediction, but for understanding historical processes. I am a big fan of Turchin’s work – especially his books Historical Dynamics and War, Peace and War. [via]

We Aren’t the World. A magazine article on the work of Joe Henrich and colleagues on comparing Western Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies to others using economic and psychology experiments.  I am also a big fan of this work.

They’d Rather Be Rigorous Than Right. Andrew Gelman in Chance Magazine on the statistics of Ashraf and Galor. I wrote about their paper here. [via]

False discovery: How not to find the genetic basis of human intelligence. We have a lot of nucleotides.  This makes causal claims based on correlations of things with specific sequences of  nucleotides fraught with peril.

The bad science of Satoshi Kanazawa. The blog post that prompted The Big Think to end its relationship with evolutionary psychologist Satosh Kanazawa.

Great Scientist ≠ Good at Math. This article, by E.O. Wilson, has caused quite a stir.  Mathematical theorizing can be replaced by intuition and daydreams. “Everyone sometimes daydreams like a scientist. Ramped up and disciplined, fantasies are the fountainhead of all creative thinking. Newton dreamed, Darwin dreamed, you dream.” I think it is possible to be a great scientist without being good at math (see Darwin, C.).  I think it is possible to both daydream and make some valuable contributions to mathematics (see Newton, I.)  But without some mathematics, don’t expect that you will be able to test the logical consistency of your daydreams (see Fischer, R.A. saving Darwin’s theory from genetics.)  If E.O. Wilson understood the mathematical theories of kin and group selection, for example, he might not be going around saying incorrect things about them.

Resurrecting a Forest. Most American Chestnut trees were wiped out by a fungus from Asia in the 20th centruty.  For my circa 1997 Eagle Scout project, I helped plant 300 trees to use as genetic stock for bringing them back.  My impression at the time was that there were two major efforts.  The first, more mainstream, effort was to breed American and fungus-resistant Asian chestnut trees to make fungus-resistant hybrids.  The second, less mainstream, effort was to accomplish similar goals through genetic engineering.  My project was part of the later effort and I have not followed up on it until seeing Carl Zimmer’s article.

Bonus Links (entertaining in an internet sort-of-way):

Thumbs and Ammo. Real tough guys don’t need guns,  they just need a positive, can-do attitude.

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. Pretty much what it sounds like.