Bleg: Tiny Rhine Numbers

While biking yesterday, along the Rhine frontage of the Urdenbach nature preserve, I came across this small number on the shore of the Rhine:


Rhine Number 1

It was about 100 meters from the eastern shore, about where the gray location pinpoint is:

Rheinchild

As I rode the trail north, there was a "2" sign after about 100 meters, then a "3", then a "4", but then I turned off the riverside trail.

These are obviously not the large black-and-white kilometer markers along the Rhine (g). Does anyone know what purpose they serve? Thanks in advance for any help.

Shiny Happy Dutch People Make Shiny Happy Dutch Babies

Dutch children are the happiest in the developed world. A Brit and an American raising children in the Netherlands ask why:

When it came to Dutch children rating their own happiness levels, more than 95 per cent considered themselves happy. Several other research surveys have likewise highlighted the positive benefits of growing up in the Netherlands – Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group and the World Health Organisation, for example. The Unicef report was a follow- up to one conducted in 2007, in which the Netherlands were first heralded as a prime example of childhood prosperity. The UK and the US ranked in the two lowest positions.

In addition, new research also suggests that Dutch babies are happier than their American counterparts. After examining the temperamental differences between babies born in the US and the Netherlands, Dutch babies were found to be more contented – laughing, smiling and cuddling more – than American babies. Dutch babies were also easier to soothe, while American babies displayed more fear, sadness and frustration. Psychologists attribute this discrepancy to the different cultural mores of child-rearing in the two countries. It’s quite astonishing to us that no one seems to be making more of a fuss about this.

  • Dutch babies get more sleep.
  • Dutch kids have little or no homework at primary school.
  •  Are not just seen but also heard.
  • Are trusted to ride their bikes to school on their own.
  • Are allowed to play outside unsupervised.
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Get to spend more time with their mothers and fathers.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures and are happy with second-hand toys.
  • And last but not least, get to eat chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for breakfast.

The Netherlands have a reputation for being a liberal country with a tolerance of sex, drugs and alcohol, yet beneath this lies a closely guarded secret: the Dutch are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who place the child firmly at the centre. Parents have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals rather than as extensions of themselves. They understand that achievement doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness can cultivate achievement. The Dutch have reined in the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves.

The first caveat is, as always, genetic confounds. The main reason Dutch children are happier is that they were born to Dutch parents. The Netherlands has been one of the most successful societies on earth — often the most successful — for 5-6 centuries now. The Dutch are tall, good-looking, smart, happy, healthy, and have moderate, prudent, sensible habits. They avoid unnecessary risk, have strong sense of social responsibility, accept limits on their freedom (such as high taxes or bicycle lanes crowding out cars) to enhance overall flourishing, and take care of each other. These are all hallmarks of societies made up of people with high general levels of intelligence, risk-avoidance, ability to delay gratification, and impulse control. As this landmark 2015 study (whose lead authors are Dutch!) shows, all of these traits are heritable to a certain extent, usually between 30 and 50%.

But still, I'd be willing to bet there's a pretty big environmental component. There are hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch babies being raised in the Netherlands. My guess would be that they tend to do worse than ethnically Dutch children, but better than children in their own home cultures. We can safely assume that their own home cultures are more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands, because almost every other country on earth is more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands.

If anyone knows any good studies on this, I'd be interested to learn of them.

Genetic Confounds and the Causes of Crime

Criminologist Brian Boutwell on the genetic influences on behavior, including criminal behavior:

Variety in our gene pool matters when we seek to understand why some people can dunk a basketball or compose a sonnet, and why some people persistently break the law. The effects of genetic differences make some people more impulsive and shortsighted than others, some people more healthy or infirm than others, and, despite how uncomfortable it might be to admit, genes also make some folks more likely to break the law than others.

…Imagine that you’re curious whether certain parenting styles influence self-control in children. It’s not hard to find evidence that the way parents treat their children is associated with the child’s level of self-control later in life. But parents don’t just pass on life lessons for learning self-control to their kids, they also pass along their genetic material. Half of your genetic material was inherited from Mom and half came from Dad. If you ignore the element of genetic transmission, you might falsely attribute any correlation between parent and child as being due to social transmission.

The way parents treat children is, in part, a product of their own personality and temperament. Personality is partly heritable, so the observation that parents and children tend to have similar levels of self-control could be due to social transmission, genetic transmission, or both.

Most of the evidence about the causes of crime overlooks genetic transmission. Yet, some research has found that once you account for genetic influences on self-control, previously identified social transmission effects (read: parenting) on the child’s self-control become unstable. In other words, when you control for genetic transmission (the alternative explanation that most criminologists overlook), the effect of parenting on self-control diminishes or goes away entirely.

Consider another type of parenting effect — one that shows up in the news frequently — spanking. Not long ago, we examined the relationship between spanking and behavioral problems in children. Once we controlled for genetic transmission, there was no spanking effect in the way that most scholars think about spanking effects. Put another way, our evidence did not support the conclusion that spanking causes behavioral problems in the sense that most psychologists would argue.

The conundrum of heritability transcends parenting. For instance, it’s obvious that crime isn’t randomly distributed across neighborhoods. It seems to be a relatively stable factor that defines an area over many generations. Equally nonrandom, though, is the process by which people sort themselves into neighborhoods. People cluster into areas based on a host of factors, including the primary factor of income. Here’s the kicker, if any of the traits that affect residential choices are heritable and you ignore that influence, your findings regarding the impact of neighborhood factors on crime could be in jeopardy.

A remarkable study in Sweden recently found that highly disadvantaged neighborhoods had more crime. Yet that neighborhood effect disappeared when risk factors concentrated within certain families were taken into account. Once again, social transmission effects weakened (and, in this case disappeared) when other factors like genetic transmission were controlled for. Does this finding guarantee that similar results will emerge in other samples around the world? No. But criminologists rarely consider the possibility that their own studies could be polluted by hidden genetic effects.

The more technical term for this phenomenon is genetic confounding, and there is reason to believe that it is endemic to much of the research coming out of the social sciences in general, and criminology in particular. Our own research into the issue suggests that even a modest amount of unmeasured genetic influence can pollute and infect your findings. As a result, much of what we think we know about the causes of crime could be overstated or just flat wrong.

I first became interested in genetic influences on behavior and opinion when I was writing my book on the death penalty. I wanted to know what kinds of argument and information change peoples' views on capital punishment, and found that the answer was, basically, none. The typical arguments people use against capital punishment are human rights, cost, reliability, deterrence, possibility of executing the innocent. And study after study showed that these arguments usually only changed a small percentage of peoples' minds, and that the changes were often temporary.

One reason for that is that your views on capital punishment are influenced by your genes. Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 — the most important scientific achievement of the past 20 years — researchers have been able to tease out the genetic influences on all sorts of behavior and personality traits. There's no reason that should exclude crime — in fact, the kinds of personality traits which lead to a higher likelihood of crime are well-known to be heritable.

Every time you read about a social-science survey on the effects of education, parenting, or environment on this or that human trait, you should scan the report for any signs that the authors took genetic confounds into account. If they didn't the report is worthless. It's that simple.

Germany: Less Perverted Than You Think. Despite All the Apotemnophiliacs.


sprockets germany's most disturbing videos von pentakatharidis

Canada's National Post fills us in on the latest in the field of apotemnophilia, which we're now apparently supposed to call "transability":

People like Jason [who chopped one of his arms off] have been classified as ‘‘transabled’’ — feeling like imposters in their bodies, their arms and legs in full working order.

“We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,” says Alexandre Baril, a Quebec born academic who will present on “transability” at this week’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa.

“The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It’s a really, really strong desire.”

Researchers in Canada are trying to better understand how transabled people think and feel. Clive Baldwin, a Canada Research Chair in Narrative Studies who teaches social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., has interviewed 37 people worldwide who identify as transabled.

Most of them are men. About half are in Germany and Switzerland, but he knows of a few in Canada. Most crave an amputation or paralysis, though he has interviewed one person who wants his penis removed. Another wants to be blind.

One stereotype many Germans aren't aware of is "the German-speaking parts of Northern Europe are hothouses of the most exotic perversions known to humanity — second only, perhaps, to Japan".

When Germans think of Kraut stereotypes, they generally imagine Alphorns, Bavarian dress, punctuality, precision engineering, Nazis, beer, sausage, pretzels. But not necessarily perversion.

But that is indeed one of the stereotypes. Where does it come from? Perhaps an amalgam of:

  • Weimar-era transvestitism, rape-murders, and Expressionist documentation of same
  • Nazi sadists and homosexuals, and the weirdly sexless Hitler
  • A long — and continuing — history of legalized prostitution
  • Freikörperkultur, i.e. hanging around in large groups naked
  • Extreme German performance and body art (I'm looking at you, Nitsch and, to a much lesser extent, Beuys)
  • Freudian theory and Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis
  • Elfriede Jelinek
  • Armin Meiwes (you know, the cannibal)
  • Berlin gay sex clubs

I could go on. Stereotypes are generally accurate, but I think this one ain't. It's a matter of selection bias and self-fulfilling prophecies: sex sells, so anything happening in Germany which has to do with sex gets reported to the outside world. Germany, like most European cultures, is fairly sexually conservative compared to the United States or Britain. Germans who travel abroad (both men and women) are usually shocked, even primly dismayed, by how promiscuous Anglo-American city-dwellers are. Not to mention all the irresponsible drinking and drug use.

Truth to tell, the kind of Germans in my social circle tend to combine a lack of prudishness with a sensible moderation in matters genital. It's quite admirable. And even the ones who might go in for a suckling-pig swinger orgy (g) or two (as a friend of mine once quipped, this would be the ultimate integration test for foreigners) are unrecognizable outside the club. You get the definite impression that their second-favorite activity, after swinger orgies, is scoring excellent deals on equipment to re-grout their bathtubs.

Germany, I pronounce thee no more perverted than any other advanced country, and a lot less perverted than some. You're welcome!

Lead Exposure and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa — And Now Germany

Kevin Drum has an important point about levels of violence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). First, an image showing the time frame in which MENA countries phased out leaded gasoline:

Blog_middle_east_leaded_gasoline_phaseout_0

Drum explains why this is important:

[T]here's a lot of evidence that leaded gasoline produced a wave of violent crime between 1960-1990 in the developed world, and that the introduction of unleaded gasoline eliminated that wave and eventually brought crime rates down nearly to 1960 levels. In most developed countries, leaded gasoline was phased out starting around the mid-70s, which benefited children born after that. When those children reached their late teenage years in the early 90s, they were much less prone to impulsiveness and aggression, which led to lower crime rates.

But not every part of the world followed that timetable. In particular, leaded gasoline continued to be used in the Middle East up through the late 90s. Egypt began phasing it out in 1998, and most other countries followed over the next decade or so. Only a few—including Iraq and Afghanistan—still sell significant amounts of leaded gasoline.

Since lead poisoning affects infants, its affects show up about 18-20 years later. What this means is that in the bright red countries, the cohort of kids who reach their late teen years around 2020 should be significantly less aggressive and violent than previous cohorts. Around 2025 the countries in lighter red will join them. Around 2030 the countries in pink will join. By 2040 or so, the process will be complete.

If you want the longer version of Drum's argument, go this this article, which contains ample citations and further sources. Suffice it to say that I am convinced lead exposure is the main environmental factor in increasing violent crime.

As for the picture, you will no doubt notice that these are precisely the countries from which young males streamed into German in 2015. They are, of course, committing large numbers of all kinds of crimes here in Germany, as you would expect from young males anywhere. That is not open to dispute.

It's still too early to determine whether they are committing proportionately more violent crimes than people who grew up in (relatively) lead-free Germany. I have my suspicions that there are a large number of mentally-disturbed people among the new arrivals, judging by thousands of incidents of criminal and/or bizarre behavior, including public masturbation. Childhood lead exposure leads to lifelong permanent increases in impulsive behavior, and what could be more impulsive than deciding to whip out your penis and masturbate in front of a crowd of strangers?

In any case, if the lead-crime hypothesis is right, and I think it is, then young males from these countries will show an above-average tendency to commit impulsive violent actions which will probably persist until their testosterone levels drop when they reach their 40s. Of course, this doesn't mean most of them will commit violent crimes, only a minority will. Lead exposure varies considerably by geography. Nor does lead exposure turn everyone it affects into monsters, of course. It has marginal, population-wide effects of increasing the incidence of violent actions in a given cohort. But still, the increase is very noticeable and very measurable.

It seems like this is the sort of thing policymakers might want to have considered before letting hundreds of thousands of young males from these areas into the country, no?

“Substantial” Genetic Influence on Choice of A-Levels

Your genes play a key role in deciding whether you decide to take A-levels and which subjects you decide to take them in:

We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable throughout compulsory education. After completing compulsory education at age 16, students in England can choose to continue to study for two years (A-levels) in preparation for applying to university and they can freely choose which subjects to study. Here, for the first time, we show that choosing to do A-levels and the choice of subjects show substantial genetic influence, as does performance after two years studying the chosen subjects. Using a UK-representative sample of 6584 twin pairs, heritability estimates were 44% for choosing to do A-levels and 52–80% for choice of subject. Achievement after two years was also highly heritable (35–76%). The findings that DNA differences substantially affect differences in appetites as well as aptitudes suggest a genetic way of thinking about education in which individuals actively create their own educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

This result would surprise and probably alarm many Germans, but they won't hear about it. One of the problems with the insular clique of German mainstream journalists is the blinders they wear. The majority studied sociology, German literature, comparative literature, political theory, history, philosophy, or some other liberal-arts subject. There, they learned plenty about Kant and Mann, but nothing about economics, the military, or hard science.

I think this explains why German journalism on these areas is often terrible. Conditioned by their highly moralized culture and the ideological slant of liberal-arts education, they immediately seek out the underlying moral 'lesson' to be drawn from nuclear research, or the Higgs boson, or gene therapy, etc. They may spend a few paragraphs actually explaining what is going on from a scientific perspective (often getting key things wrong), but before they're even done with that, they start reciting their tired old platitudes (this is what mankind gets for trying to play God, nature's way is always the best, human dignity is the prime directive, etc.) and canned Lessons of History™.

And that goes triple for genetics. If they did learn anything about genetics in their seminars, it was usually accompanied by stern, moralizing lectures about how the Nazis used genetic pseudo-science to justify genocide. The result is a nearly-unshakable belief in the discredited 'blank slate' theory of human variation (i.e., that it's all caused by nurture, not nature). Anyone who points to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that genes play a crucially important role in human personality, achievement, and behavior is automatically assumed to be a crypto-eugenicist until proven otherwise.

I don't have a solution to this problem, but I suppose scholarships and training programs for aspiring science journalists might be something to think about.

James Flynn on Humanity’s Huge Cognitive Leap

I know, it's one of those easily-mockable TED talks. But hey, just because they're easily-mockable doesn't mean they're worthless. This one is fascinating, even if cognitive ability isn't one of your hobbyhorses (it is one of mine). I even added German subtitles.

The 'Flynn Effect' is named for James Flynn, the man in this video. The Flynn describes the fact that in an absolute sense, humanity as a whole has become smarter every decade of the recent past. In the past 150 or so years, humanity has enjoyed steady increases in cognitive ability. Literacy has become almost-universal, average numbers of years educated has increased, the number of people engaged in cognitively demanding professions has skyrocketed, and the median level of cognitive ability has increased, making it normal and routine for people to think in abstract categories that would be unintelligible to people living in, say, 1890. The effects are concentrated mostly in the global North, of course, but they're spreading everywhere.

Forget just about everything you learned in sociology classes, this is probably the most important change in the human condition since the Renaissance. And most people have no idea it happened.

China Will Soon Be Genetically Engineering Smarter, Sexier People

No matter how irreligious Germany gets, it shares with many Western European countries a common cultural heritage of Christian natural law thinking, especially about human dignity. This makes Germany queasy about things such as in vitro fertilization, surrogate parenting, embryo research, and pre-implantation genetic diagnostics. Some of these new technologies are banned, others allowed, all are regulated. It’s all a bit stuffy and old-fashioned, like the basement of an ecumenical summer camp building, with its ping-pong tables, disintegrating board games, and lukewarm cola.

China doesn’t share this heritage, increasingly doesn’t have to listen to the West’s lectures, and has little squeamishness about designing smarter humans:

China is spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually in an effort to become a leader in biomedical research, building scores of laboratories and training thousands of scientists.

But the rush to the front ranks of science may come at a price: Some experts worry that medical researchers in China are stepping over ethical boundaries long accepted in the West.

Scientists around the world were shocked in April when a team led by Huang Junjiu, 34, at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, published the results of an experiment in editing the genes of human embryos.

The technology, called Crispr-Cas9, may one day be used to eradicate inheritable illnesses. But in theory, it also could be used to change such traits as eye color or intelligence, and to ensure that the changes are passed on to future generations….

“The consensus among the scientific community is, ‘not for now,’ ” said Huso Yi, the director of research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Center for Bioethics.

Yet Chinese scientists seem in no mood to wait.

“I don’t think China wants to take a moratorium,” Mr. Yi said. “People are saying they can’t stop the train of mainland Chinese genetics because it’s going too fast.”

CRISPR is the stunning new gene-editing technique that makes editing animal and human genomes easy, precise, fast, and cheap. It may also allow us to resurrect extinct species.

Intelligence  is about 70-80% heritable, but is highly polygenic; we are only now beginning to isolate a few of the genes responsible for it. But research is rocketing forward so fast that it’s not out of the question to imagine genetic procedures to eliminate disease and boost intelligence within 20 years. When that happens, I am sure China will start doing it. After all, highly intelligent people are more orderly, more innovative, more law-abiding, and disproportionately responsible for economic growth and development. Once you set aside ethical quibbles, what's not to like?

If I had extra money lying around, I would invest it in (1) ultra-realistic Japanese sex dolls; and (2) Chinese genetic engineering. Those will be the growth industries of the next few decades.

Intelligence is in the News Again

And now, hot on the heels of an entire issue of Die Zeit, a 3sat documentary special (g) on intelligence called (my translation): 'Born Dumb, and Haven't Learned a Thing? Intelligence Research between Racism and Flexible Genes'. OK, it's from last year, so not really a trend-confirmation. I haven't watched it yet, but I am wary of the fact that they've chosen rabble-rouser Thilo Sarrazin to state the hereditarian case, since there are many actual scientists who are likely much better-informed and not given to stupid generalizations. 

I wonder if what we're seeing is the Western mainstream press in delayed reaction to the scientific consensus, now pretty much ironclad, that intelligence is strongly influenced by heredity. And to the reality that the scientists who've found this out are quite likable, normal men and women, not cackling Peter-Lorre-esque mad scientists with terrifying underground 'la-BOR-a-tories' crammed with formaldehyde-filled jars full of aborted genetic experiments.

IQ is the Best Predictor of Human Achievement

For a bit of context, the good Dr. Thompson, on his excellent blog, gives a brief summary of the most important things to know about intelligence (emphasis added):

Intelligence does not guarantee good decision-making in all circumstances, simply better decision-making in more circumstances than a duller person.  Some problems forms are inherently difficult and ambiguous. For example, it is easier to understand natural frequencies than percentages with decimal point. Apart from intelligence, social pressures and emotional attachments influence decisions.
 
Modern IQ tests give one overall figure, and also figures for 3 to 4 component indices, usually verbal comprehension, perceptual organisation, working memory, plus processing speed. The single figure is usually the best predictor, but the others have their place in specific circumstances. The fact that one single number is the best predictor of human achievements is testimony to its power.
 
40% is the heritability estimate for children, but it rises to 60% plus for adults.  70/30 is not a bad estimate for wealthy countries, 50/50 for very poor ones…. People from profoundly different cultures make the same sorts of errors on culture reduced tests, and the pattern suggests a largely universal problem-solving capacity. The predictive power of intelligence is similar in culturally different countries.
The point in bold is key. Out of all the factors that people think explain why certain people fail at life and others succeed, intelligence, even as imperfectly but reliably measured by one simple number, is the most important. The way science discovered this is also interesting: by controlling for intelligence in studies of other factors. Level of education, parental socio-economic status, reaction times, etc. turn out to be strongly correlated with, and very likely caused by, intelligence. On average, in the aggregate, the wealthier you are, the smarter you are, and wealthy parents pass those genes onto their children.
 
This is very different from what many people believe, or wish were true.