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  • April 19, 2011
  • 05:48 PM
  • 1,583 views

Europeans as Middle Eastern farmers

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression


The Pith: Over the past 10,000 years a small coterie of farming populations expanded rapidly and replaced hunter-gatherer groups which were once dominant across the landscape. So, the vast majority of the ancestry of modern Europeans can be traced back to farming cultures of the eastern Mediterranean which swept over the west of Eurasia between 10 and 5 thousand years before the before.
Dienekes Pontikos points me to a new paper in PNAS which uses a coalescent model of 400+ mitochondrial DNA lineages to infer the pattern of expansions of populations over the past ~40,000 years. Remember that mtDNA is passed just through the maternal lineage. That means it is not subject to the confounding dynamic of recombination, allowing for easier modeling as a phylogenetic tree. Unlike the autosomal genome there’s no reticulation. Additionally, mtDNA tends to be highly mutable, and many regions have been presumed to be selectively neutral. So they are the perfect molecular clock. There straightforward drawback is that the history of one’s foremothers may not be a good representative of the history of one’s ...... Read more »

Gignoux CR, Henn BM, & Mountain JL. (2011) Rapid, global demographic expansions after the origins of agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(15), 6044-9. PMID: 21444824  

  • April 19, 2011
  • 02:08 PM
  • 1,091 views

Supernatural Punishment Theory: History Free Zone?

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Over at the Evolution of Religion Project, Dominic Johnson comments on the first target article which will appear in what promises to be a fantastic new journal, Religion, Brain, and Behavior. Because the first issue has yet to be published, I will have to rely on Johnson’s summary:
Jeff Schloss and Michael Murray have written a [...]... Read more »

Stark, R. (2001) Gods, Rituals, and the Moral Order. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40(4), 619-636. DOI: 10.1111/0021-8294.00081  

  • April 19, 2011
  • 12:12 PM
  • 1,377 views

Creationists, this is the evidence you have to beat

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

The last decades of research on human evolution have provided an astounding body of converging evidence for an African origin of the human lineage just under about 200k years ago, with a subsequent migration across the globe starting around 60k years ago until all the main regions of this planet were inhabited by humans at around 15k years ago. Compare this scenario to the creationist story, where humans were shaped by a magic man out of clay about 6k years ago, which means it happened just after the Sumerians have invented glue.What is the converging evidence telling the "Out of Africa" story?It all started with fossils and artifacts. Archeology, with its own dating techniques and collection methods, suggested a route that looks something like this:(Image source)Later, genetic evidence came along. Geneticists, with their own dating techniques and experimental methods suggested migration routes that looked something like this:(Image source)After the genetic evidence, came evidence from a bacterium associated with humans: Helicobacter pylori. It lives in our guts and can cause stomach ulcers. It's been associated with our digestive tract for many thousands of years. Looking at the different strains of these bacteria, microbiologists, using their own dating techniques and experimental protocols, deduced that this bacterium in our guts must have traveled roughly along these routes:(Image source)Most recently, linguists came along and studied the phonemes that make up 504 of the different human languages around the globe. These linguists adopted the analysis tools from the geneticists to their own dating techniques and sampling methods and came up with a map that suggested the following main routes along which the human languages seem to have developed:(Image source)Clearly, getting the dates correct using phonemes will prove a lot harder than the previously used dating techniques. Nevertheless, these are four independent lines of evidence, collected over many decades by scientists with vastly different backgrounds and training. Yet, the results agree to an astonishing extent.However, this doesn't mean it's 'true' or 'scientifically proven'. It only means that this is the best humans can currently possibly do and anything new that comes along must not only explain the current congruence of disparate data, but also explain more data, than the current 'Out of Africa' theory can explain. A few self-contradictory passages in an ancient text do not even begin to come close to being a contender.Given this sort of evidence, it becomes rather obvious that creationists are either uninformed or unpersuadable. For the former, information like the one in this post should be more than sufficient to falsify the creationist dogma. For the latter, ridicule and derision is the best response.This post was inspired by Lapidarium Notes.Pertinent peer-reviewed literature:Green, R., Krause, J., Ptak, S., Briggs, A., Ronan, M., Simons, J., Du, L., Egholm, M., Rothberg, J., Paunovic, M., & Pääbo, S. (2006). Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA Nature, 444 (7117), 330-336 DOI: 10.1038/nature05336Linz, B., Balloux, F., Moodley, Y., Manica, A., Liu, H., Roumagnac, P., Falush, D., Stamer, C., Prugnolle, F., van der Merwe, S., Yamaoka, Y., Graham, D., Perez-Trallero, E., Wadstrom, T., Suerbaum, S., & Achtman, M. (2007). An African origin for the intimate association between humans and Helicobacter pylori Nature, 445 (7130), 915-918 DOI: 10.1038/nature05562Atkinson, Q. (2011). Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa Science, 332 (6027), 346-349 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199295... Read more »

Green, R., Krause, J., Ptak, S., Briggs, A., Ronan, M., Simons, J., Du, L., Egholm, M., Rothberg, J., Paunovic, M.... (2006) Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. Nature, 444(7117), 330-336. DOI: 10.1038/nature05336  

Linz, B., Balloux, F., Moodley, Y., Manica, A., Liu, H., Roumagnac, P., Falush, D., Stamer, C., Prugnolle, F., van der Merwe, S.... (2007) An African origin for the intimate association between humans and Helicobacter pylori. Nature, 445(7130), 915-918. DOI: 10.1038/nature05562  

  • April 19, 2011
  • 08:41 AM
  • 1,337 views

The Return of the Phoneme Inventories

by Wintz in A Replicated Typo 2.0

Right, I already referred to Atkinson’s paper in a previous post, and much of the work he’s presented is essentially part of a potential PhD project I’m hoping to do. Much of this stems back to last summer, where I mentioned how the phoneme inventory size correlates with certain demographic features, such as population size and population . . . → Read More: The Return of the Phoneme Inventories... Read more »

  • April 19, 2011
  • 08:20 AM
  • 1,223 views

Croatia: Saying NO to the EU

by Anamaria in Eurosymbols

On Friday 15th of April 2011, the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia (ICC) sentenced two Croatian generals to 24, respectively 18, years in prison for war crimes, committed during “Operation Storm” (1995). The decision sent off a wave of shock and disbelief in Croatia, where the general self-perception is that of victim and not [...]... Read more »

Harrison, S. (1995) Four Types of Symbolic Conflict. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1(2), 255. DOI: 10.2307/3034688  

  • April 19, 2011
  • 04:09 AM
  • 1,097 views

Language Is General?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

So according to the authors of a paper in Nature:It suggests rather that language is part of not a specialised module distinct from the rest of cognition, but more part of broad human cognitive skills.The paper is Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals. They found that the various grammatical rules governing the proper order of different words in a sentence changed over time, and crucially that there were no fixed associations between them: no correlations such that when one rule changed, another rule had to change at the same time.This, they say, is inconsistent with the currently dominant linguistic theory of "language universals" fixed by the structure of the human brain/mind. One of the authors has written an excellent explanation here and languagelog has a nice discussion here.Yet I'm not convinced that "broad human cognitive skills" can explain language. I'm not qualified to comment on the details of this study, but, I do know that the average 7 year old kid has effortlessly learned how to use at least one language, with the appropriate grammar, syntax, and a vocabulary of thousands of words.On the other hand, take my phone. My phone can't do that. It can, just about, take my voice and convert it into text. It gets it right most of the time. It has absolutely no idea what those words mean. All it can do is send them to Google and search for them.Speaking of Google, Google Translate is what you get when roomfuls of computers try to "do language". It's useful, it's cool, and it gets it more-or-less right most of the time. But the output it produces is stilted, often ungrammatical, and generally sounds nothing like a native speaker would ever produce.Let me repeat myself:Now my phone. My phone can do. It's just that text into voice can take me. Most of the time it gets to the right. It means what these words have absolutely no idea. It can be searched on Google for them is this. Speaking of Google, Translate Google is what you get when the language "not" show the state of the art computer trying to. It is useful to cool, but it is more or less right, most of the time. However, the output it generates is often ungrammatical exaggerated, what sounded like a native speaker so far generated in general.That's my last paragraph Google Translated to Japanese and right back. Hmm.On the other hand my phone can perform millions of arithmetical operations per second. The 7 year old probably takes a minute or two of hard effort to multiply two digits together. So who's got more "general cognitive ability"?To say that language is a manifestation of human "general" or "broad" cognition is to say that human general cognition is better at learning languages than it is at doing arithmetic: which rather begs the question of how "general" it is.This doesn't mean that language is a special module of the brain, or that there are "language universals" beyond the fact that they're all languages, though that seems like a pretty big one. But it would take very, very strong evidence to make me doubt that the existence of language is somehow built into the human brain.Dunn M, Greenhill SJ, Levinson SC, & Gray RD (2011). Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals. Nature PMID: 21490599... Read more »

  • April 18, 2011
  • 09:37 PM
  • 1,351 views

What Death Means to Primates

by Laelaps in Laelaps

A picture is worth a thousand words, the old saying goes, though what those words are is not always clear.
In November of 2009, National Geographic ran a stunning photograph of a chimpanzee funeral. Sixteen chimpanzees – arrayed behind a wire fence – look on as workers at Cameroon’s Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center show them the [...]... Read more »

Anderson, J., Gillies, A., & Lock, L. (2010) Pan thanatology. Current Biology, 20(8). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.010  

Fashing, P., Nguyen, N., Barry, T., Goodale, C., Burke, R., Jones, S., Kerby, J., Lee, L., Nurmi, N., & Venkataraman, V. (2011) Death among geladas (Theropithecus gelada): a broader perspective on mummified infants and primate thanatology. American Journal of Primatology, 73(5), 405-409. DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20902  

  • April 18, 2011
  • 05:05 PM
  • 3,547 views

Power, Confidence, and High-Heels

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice


This week AiP investigates our relationship with fashion. Today, we’ll delve into the appeal of high-heels. On Wednesday, we’ll discuss a particular color trend in New York City. And on Friday, we’ll explore the psychology behind brands. As always, comments are welcome.




Cinderella got the prince and Dorothy was envied. Why? They donned fabulous shoes. What’s the deal with women’s relationship to their footwear?

Watch Me Walk Away

Click. Click. Click. Click.

With each measured step, my heels echoed with a finality that emphasized my leaving, which was important: I was angry and I wanted to be taken seriously. The sound of my three-inch heels striking the tiles spoke volumes—and did so much more eloquently than I would have been able to at the moment.

I had just had my first turn-on-your-heel-and-walk-away moment. A meeting with a senior vice president at a leading digital agency in New York City had gone horribly wrong: Her team had asked me to consult on a project they were considering, but within a few minutes it became clear that we would not be able to work together. She was rude to her staff and made two disparaging remarks about anthropologists. Annoyed, and believing that her behavior toward her staff spoke volumes about the sort of relationship we would have, I decided I had had enough. So I picked up my coat, turned on my heel, and walked out. It was empowering. It was a moment I’ll likely not forget soon. And it would not have been the same had I been wearing flats.

Many Western women make high-heels a part of their daily wardrobe. The relationship women have with their shoes often becomes the butt of jokes and a point of dismissal, often on the following points:
Do women need to own so many shoes? Many men admit to have having 3-4 pairs of shoes: boots, sneakers, and a pair or two of dress shoes in black and brown. Women on the other hand can easily have 3-4 times as many.
Do they need to be so high? Culturally, we’re primed to note the Buffy heel and the red sole of Louboutin, but it defies logic: High-heels can damage feet, which were not meant to be crammed into too tight quarters for eight hours a day (at least) or be balanced precariously on skinny supports.
Is it really sensible to spend so much on shoes? Forbes reports that women spent $17 billion on footwear between Oct. 2004 and Oct. 2005. More recent data seems to suggest that women aren’t spending quite so much—though popular opinion disagrees (1,2).
I’ve been thinking about this moment with the SVP and my relationship with heels recently. And so it appears have others around me—been thinking about my relationship with my shoes, I mean. I’ve only recently joined the ranks of the well-heeled. I was actually schooled in the “sensible shoe” philosophy, and will admit to be being more at home in sneakers than in three-inch heels. But I’ve found that when you stand at 4’11” in flats, the world tends to overlook you—a point that a few friends have disagreed with, but then again, they’re all taller than 4’11”. Apparently, my rising heel has elicited some commentary between a subset of friends who are rather surprised that a smart, sensible woman such as myself would subject my feet to such a tortuous experience. But I am not alone: on the subway and on the street, on their way to the office or a night out, there appears to be any number of women for whom shoes are an important aspect of dress. While it’s true that an individual woman’s presence is so much more than the footwear she has chosen for the day, shoes can influence our interactions with others: they change how we walk, how we stand, and how others perceive us.

A Short History of the High-Heel



Sagebrush bark sandals from Fort Rock Cave,
similar to specimens radiocarbon
dated from 10,500-9,300 years old.
Credit: University of Oregon
Our early ancestors didn’t concern themselves with stilettos or the spring collection of Manolos. In all likelihood, they went barefoot. Shoes in the form of sandals emerged around 9,000 years ago as a means of protecting bare feet from the elements (specifically, frostbite) (3). The Greeks viewed shoes as an indulgence—a means of increasing status, though it was a Greek, Aeschylus, who created the first high heel, called korthonos for theatrical purposes. His intent was to “add majesty to the heroes of his plays so that they would stand out from the lesser players and be more easily recognized” (4). Greek women adopted the trend, taking the wedge heel to new heights—that the late Alexander McQueen would have likely applauded. Still, being unshod was the norm in Grecian culture (from Wikipedia):
Athletes in the Ancient Olympic Games participated barefoot—and naked. Even the Gods and heroes were primarily depicted barefoot, and the hoplite warriors fought battles in bare feet and Alexander the Great conquered half of the ancient world with barefoot armies.The adoption of shoes, and the heel, for Greeks appears to coincide with Roman influence, and ultimately Roman conquest. Roman fashion was viewed as a sign of power and status, and shoes represented a state of civilization.

In Europe, it was common for women to use a patten to help keep their skirts and soft slipper shoes clean as the streets weren’t paved. Pattens were slightly elevated platforms that were worn over the slipper-type shoes that were common at the time. Heels served a functional purpose. However this begins to shift during the High Renaissance, when the Venetian courtesans began to wear chopines: extremely high platform shoes. Chopines could add 30(!) inches to a woman’s height, and were quickly adopted by the wealthy as a means of showing status—the higher one’s chopines, the higher one’s place in society. They were so difficult to walk in that women often needed a female servant to help keep them upright, and were ultimately banned for pregnant women as a number of women in Venice suffered miscarriages after falling (5).



Line drawing of chopines.
Credit: Wikipedia commons.
Chopines remained in vogue, however, because they proved effective at keeping clothes (and feet) clear of the muck that covered the streets. The widespread popularity of the heel is credited to Catherine de Medici who wore heels to make her look taller. When she wore them to her wedding to Henry II of France, they became a status symbol for the wealthy, and commoners were banned from wearing them—though it’s doubtful that they would have been able to afford them anyway. Later, the French heel—predecessor to the narrow, tall heel of today—would be made popular by Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. These shoes initially required women to use walking sticks to keep their balance until the height of the heel was reduced.

In the US, the French heel was popularized in the late 19th-century by a brothel, Madam Kathy’s, where the proprietor noted that upon employing a French woman who wore high-heels, business boomed. So she ordered shoes for all of her girls—it seemed the “the leggy look and mobile torso derived from wearing high heels was of considerable interest to patrons,” who then ordered these French heeled shoes for their wives (6). Heel height would fall and rise again through the subsequent decades leading ultimately to the various options available today, As we turn our attention to the next section, it should not escape the Reader’s notice that heels have been linked to “professional” women as well as the aristocracy. Hold onto this thought, Readers, as we wil... Read more »

E.O. Smith. (1999) High Heels and Evolution: Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, and High Heels. Psychology, Evolution, and Gender, 1(3), 245-277. info:/

  • April 17, 2011
  • 12:11 PM
  • 1,773 views

Calculating the value of a year of human life in $US

by Neurobonkers in Neurobonkers

do_sud_thumb("http://neurobonkers.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/wtfthumb.jpg","Calculating the value of a... Read more »

Tengs, T., Adams, M., Pliskin, J., Safran, D., Siegel, J., Weinstein, M., & Graham, J. (1995) Five-Hundred Life-Saving Interventions and Their Cost-Effectiveness. Risk Analysis, 15(3), 369-390. DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1995.tb00330.x  

Mohammadi, & Sadeghian. (2011) iFAST: An Intelligent Fire-Threat Assessment and Size-up Technology for First Responders. Proceedings of IEEE Symposium Series in Computational Intelligence. info:/

  • April 16, 2011
  • 02:51 PM
  • 1,536 views

Tricksters, Selfishness & Altruism

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

In evolutionary biology, few issues have caused more debate than altruism or what appears to be altruism. It is generally accepted that selection operates on individual organisms and that these organisms are selfishly interested in their own survival and reproduction. Another way of stating this is that individual organisms are interested solely in passing along [...]... Read more »

  • April 15, 2011
  • 02:21 PM
  • 1,393 views

The Allure of Gay Cavemen

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Neuron Culture at Wired:In 1993 the reputable German weekly Der Spiegel reported a rumor that Otzi, the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy discovered in the Otztal Alps two years earlier, contained evidence of the world's earliest known homosexual act. "In Otzi's Hintern," wrote the editors, referring to the Iceman's hinterland, "Spermien gefunden worden." (If you require a translation, chances are you didn't want to know anyway.) The rumor quickly spread on computer bulletin boards as the recently unveiled World Wide Web inaugurated a new age in the free flow of misinformation. The origin of the rumor, as Cecil Adams discovered, turns out to have been an April Fool's prank published in the Austrian gay magazine Lambda Nachrichten. The joke about our ancient uncle being penetrated deep in the Alps was then picked up by other periodicals, but with a straight face.Twenty years later it appears that little has changed. Last week Czech archaeologist Katerina Semradova spoke with the Iranian news service PressTV about their ongoing excavation of a burial in Prague that contained evidence suggesting a "third gender" identity. Dated to approximately 4,700 years ago, the archaeologists found what they said was a man from the Corded Ware culture who had been buried in a way that was highly uncharacteristic for the time. Typically, males from this Chalcolithic society were interred laying on their right side facing east while women were placed on their left side facing west. Accompanying the bodies would be gender specific grave goods that the deceased individual would presumably need in the afterlife (weapons or tools in the case of males and jewelry or domestic jugs for women)."We found one very specific grave of a man lying in the position of a woman, without gender specific grave goods, neither jewelry nor weapons," said Semradova. "[I]t could be a member of a so-called third gender, which were people either with different sexual orientation or transsexuals or just people who identified themselves differently from the rest of the society."Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.Will Roscoe (2000). Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America, Palgrave Macmillan.Joan Roughgarden (2004). Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, University of California Press.... Read more »

Will Roscoe. (2000) Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. Macmillan. info:/

  • April 15, 2011
  • 02:21 PM
  • 1,228 views

The Allure of Gay Cavemen

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Neuron Culture at Wired:In 1993 the reputable German weekly Der Spiegel reported a rumor that Otzi, the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy discovered in the Otztal Alps two years earlier, contained evidence of the world's earliest known homosexual act. "In Otzi's Hintern," wrote the editors, referring to the Iceman's hinterland, "Spermien gefunden worden." (If you require a translation, chances are you didn't want to know anyway.) The rumor quickly spread on computer bulletin boards as the recently unveiled World Wide Web inaugurated a new age in the free flow of misinformation. The origin of the rumor, as Cecil Adams discovered, turns out to have been an April Fool's prank published in the Austrian gay magazine Lambda Nachrichten. The joke about our ancient uncle being penetrated deep in the Alps was then picked up by other periodicals, but with a straight face.Twenty years later it appears that little has changed. Last week Czech archaeologist Katerina Semradova spoke with the Iranian news service PressTV about their ongoing excavation of a burial in Prague that contained evidence suggesting a "third gender" identity. Dated to approximately 4,700 years ago, the archaeologists found what they said was a man from the Corded Ware culture who had been buried in a way that was highly uncharacteristic for the time. Typically, males from this Chalcolithic society were interred laying on their right side facing east while women were placed on their left side facing west. Accompanying the bodies would be gender specific grave goods that the deceased individual would presumably need in the afterlife (weapons or tools in the case of males and jewelry or domestic jugs for women)."We found one very specific grave of a man lying in the position of a woman, without gender specific grave goods, neither jewelry nor weapons," said Semradova. "[I]t could be a member of a so-called third gender, which were people either with different sexual orientation or transsexuals or just people who identified themselves differently from the rest of the society."Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.Will Roscoe (2000). Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America, Palgrave Macmillan.Joan Roughgarden (2004). Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, University of California Press.... Read more »

Will Roscoe. (2000) Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. Macmillan. info:/

  • April 14, 2011
  • 03:07 PM
  • 1,625 views

Mountain Dwarfs & Earthquakes

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Before there were materialist explanations of nature’s unpredictable fury, there were stories. These stories were not mere entertainment, but were attempts to make sense of that which was inexplicable. The world is of course an unpredictable place. We were powerfully reminded of this but one month ago, as an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan.
Modern Japanese [...]... Read more »

Cruikshank, Julie. (1992) Invention of Anthropology in British Columbia's Supreme Court: Oral Tradition as Evidence in Delgamuukw v. B.C. BC Studies, 25-42. info:other/

  • April 13, 2011
  • 01:49 PM
  • 1,081 views

Who Gets Autism?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a major new report from Australia, social and family factors associated with autism are associated with a lower risk of intellectual disability - and vice versa. But why?The paper is from Leonard et al and it's published in PLoS ONE, so it's open access if you want to take a peek. The authors used a database system in the state of Western Australia which allowed them to find out what happened to all of the babies born between 1984 and 1999 who were still alive as of 2005. There were 400,000 of them.The records included information on children diagnosed with either an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disability aka mental retardation (ID), or both. They decided to only look at singleton births i.e. not twins or triplets.In total, 1,179 of the kids had a diagnosis of ASD. That's 0.3% or about 1 in 350, much lower than more recent estimates, but these more recent studies used very different methods. Just over 60% of these also had ID, which corresponds well to previous estimates.There were about 4,500 cases of ID without ASD in the sample, a rate of just over 1%; the great majority of these (90%) had mild-to-moderate ID. They excluded an additional 800 kids with ID associated with a "known biomedical condition" like Down's Syndrome.So what did they find? Well, a whole bunch, and it's all interesting. Bullet point time.Between 1984 to 1999, rates of ID without ASD fell and rates of ASD rose, although there was a curious sudden fall in the rates of ASD without ID just before the end of the study. In 1984, "mild-moderate ID" without autism was by far the most common diagnosis, with 10 times the rate of anything else. By 1999, it was exactly level with ASD+ID, and ASD without ID was close behind. Here's the graph; note the logarithmic scale:Boys had a much higher rate of autism than girls, especially when it came to autism without ID. This has been known for a long time.Second- and third- born children had a higher rate of ID, and a lower rate of ASD, compared to firstborns.Older mothers had children with more autism - both autism with and without ID, but the trend was bigger for autism with ID. But they had less ID. For fathers, the trend was the same and the effect was even bigger. Older parents are more likely to have autistic children but less likely to have kids with ID.Richer parents had a strongly reduced liklihood of ID. Rates of ASD with ID were completely flat, but rates of ASD without ID were raised in the richer groups, though it was not linear (the middle groups were highest. - and effect was small.)To summarize: the risk factors for autism were in most cases the exact opposite of those for ID. The more “advantaged” parental traits like being richer, and being older, were associated with more autism, but less ID. And as time went on, diagnosed rates of ASD rose while rates of ID fell (though only slightly for severe ID).Why is this? The simplest explanation would be that there are many children out there for whom it's not easy to determine whether they have ASD or ID. Which diagnosis any such child gets would then depend on cultural and sociological factors - broadly speaking, whether clinicians are willing to give (and parents willing to accept) one or the other.The authors note that autism has become a less stigmatized condition in Australia recently. Nowdays, they say, a diagnosis of ASD may be preferable to a diagnosis of "just" "plain old" ID, in terms of access to financial support amongst other things. However, it is also harder to get a diagnosis of ASD, as it requires you to go through a more extensive and complex series of assessments.Clearly some parents will be better able to achieve this than others. In other countries, like South Korea, autism is still one of the most stigmatized conditions of childhood, and we'd expect that there, the trend would be reversed.The authors also note the theory that autism rates are rising because of some kind of environmental toxin causing brain damage, like mercury or vaccinations. However, as they point out, this would probably cause more of all neurological/behavioural disorders, including ID; at the least it wouldn't reduce the rates of any.These data clearly show that rates of ID fell almost exactly in parallel with rates of ASD rising, in Western Australia over this 15 year period. What will the vaccine-vexed folks over at Age of Autism make of this study, one wonders?Leonard H, Glasson E, Nassar N, Whitehouse A, Bebbington A, Bourke J, Jacoby P, Dixon G, Malacova E, Bower C, & Stanley F (2011). Autism and intellectual disability are differentially related to sociodemographic background at birth. PloS one, 6 (3) PMID: 21479223... Read more »

Leonard H, Glasson E, Nassar N, Whitehouse A, Bebbington A, Bourke J, Jacoby P, Dixon G, Malacova E, Bower C.... (2011) Autism and intellectual disability are differentially related to sociodemographic background at birth. PloS one, 6(3). PMID: 21479223  

  • April 12, 2011
  • 03:32 AM
  • 650 views

Experimental Biology Blogging: On Thick Skulls and...Chewing.

by Scicurious in Neurotic Physiology

People often complain to their friends when others don't "get" something they are trying to say "they can't get it through their thick skulls". Words like "boneheaded" and "numbskull" are things we all recognize. But it might surprise you to realize that our skulls are, on average...very thin. At least compared to our ancestors. In [...]... Read more »

  • April 10, 2011
  • 03:29 PM
  • 1,290 views

Gay Cavemen & Buried Shamans

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

This past week, British newspapers carried sensational headlines about an archaeological find in Prague: “First Homosexual Caveman Found” (The Telegraph) and “Oldest Gay in the Village: 5,000 Year Old is ‘Outed’ By the Way He Was Buried” (Daily Mail). Although the assemblage in question has not been published in a journal, the archaeologists called a [...]... Read more »

Grosman, L., Munro, N., & Belfer-Cohen, A. (2008) A 12,000-year-old Shaman burial from the southern Levant (Israel). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(46), 17665-17669. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0806030105  

  • April 9, 2011
  • 05:25 AM
  • 1,970 views

Detecting pathogens in medieval Venice

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

Medieval Venice was a trading empire, one of the busiest ports of the late medieval world. As a hub of commerce waves of plague visited and revisited Venice in 1348, 1462, 1485, 1506, 1575-1577, and 1630-1632 with the last two producing mortality rates around 30% of the population (Tran et al, 2011). As we all [...]... Read more »

Fournier PE, Ndihokubwayo JB, Guidran J, Kelly PJ, & Raoult D. (2002) Human pathogens in body and head lice. Emerging infectious diseases, 8(12), 1515-8. PMID: 12498677  

Foucault C, Brouqui P, & Raoult D. (2006) Bartonella quintana characteristics and clinical management. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(2), 217-23. PMID: 16494745  

  • April 6, 2011
  • 06:01 PM
  • 1,507 views

Sleepy or Empathetic: What Does Yawning Mean?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal



You know that old phrase, "monkey see, monkey do"? Well, there might be something to it, except that chimpanzees aren't monkeys. (Sadly, "ape see, ape do" just doesn't have the same ring to it.) A new paper published today in PLoS ONE has found evidence that chimpanzees have contagious yawning - that is, they can "catch" yawns from watching other chimpanzees yawning - but (and here's the interesting part) only when the chimp that they're watching is a friend.

At first, scientists thought that contagious yawning was the result of a releasing mechanism - in other words, seeing someone yawn flips the yawning-switch in the brain, and that makes you yawn. Others proposed that yawning was a mechanism designed to keep the brain cool. But it actually turns out that there is a correlation between the susceptibility for contagious yawning and self-reported empathy. Humans who performed better at theory of mind tasks (a cognitive building block required for empathy) also yawn contagiously more often (PDF). And two conditions that are associated with a distinct lack of empathy are also associated with reduced or absent contagious yawning: schizotypy and autism.

So far, contagious yawning has been observed in five mammals: humans, chimpanzees, stumptail macaques, gelada baboons, and domesticated dogs, though the interpretation of the data has been inconsistent. There is still no consensus on the function of contagious yawning, or even whether it exists in the first place.

But now, Matthew W. Campbell and Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University have proposed a more nuanced view of contagious yawning. They wondered if social group membership could affect the transmission of a contagious yawn. After all, if empathy is indeed the thing underlying contagious yawning, then contagious yawning should show many of the same behavioral signatures that empathy itself does. For example, it is known that certain parts of the brain (the anterior cingulate and the anterior insula) activate both when people experience pain as well as when another person experiences pain (other parts of the brain only activate in response to personal pain, not to others' pain). From this data, researchers suggested that humans are able to share the emotional aspects of pain, but not the physical aspects of pain, with others. This, of course, is the basis for empathy. But additional fMRI studies have further refined these findings: activity in the anterior cingulate is greater in response to watching an in-group member experience pain than in response to the pain of an out-group member. So if contagious yawning reflects empathy, and empathy varies on the basis of social status, then it is possible that contagious yawning will vary on the basis of social status as well.
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Matthew W. Campbell, & Frans B. M. de Waal. (2011) Ingroup-Outgroup Bias in Contagious Yawning by Chimpanzees Supports Link to Empathy. PLoS ONE, 6(4). info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0018283

  • April 6, 2011
  • 12:00 PM
  • 1,350 views

If I objectify you, will it make you feel bad enough to objectify yourself? On shopping, sexiness and hormones.

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

This post critiques recent work on "sexy" shopping behavior during high and low fertility periods in the menstrual cycle.... Read more »

Durante, KM, Griskevicius, V, Hill, SE, Perilloux, C, & Li, NP. (2011) Ovulation, female competition, and product choice: hormonal influences on consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(6), 921-934. info:/

Fehring, R., Schneider, M., & Raviele, K. (2006) Variability in the Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, Neonatal Nursing, 35(3), 376-384. DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2006.00051.x  

  • April 5, 2011
  • 07:42 AM
  • 1,031 views

In the EU neighborhood: Eurosymbols in Chisinau and Chernivtsi

by Anamaria in Eurosymbols

While searching for traces of the past in the current make-up of Chisinau and Chernivtsi, I was also holding an eye out for the presence of eurosymbols. Defined as any variation on the European Union graphical presence as represented by the flag as well as the inclusion of the particle “euro-”, eurosymbols are connected with [...]... Read more »

Klumbyte, Neringa. (2009) The Geopolitics of Taste. The 'Euro' and 'Soviet' Sausage Industries in Lithuania. Caldwell, Dunn and Nestle (eds.), Food , 130-153. info:/

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