The Null Device
The taller one is, a common belief goes, the better one's career and romantic prospects are. (There is some truth to this; studies (in America, I believe) have quantified the expected increase in income per inch of height to be in the order of thousands of dollars a year.) In China, this belief has reached its logical conclusion, with height-anxious Chinese investing in torture-rack-style stretching machines and Gattaca-style height-enhancement surgery.
An unexpected dividend from the Enron scandal: the corpus of emails turned over to investigators by the dodgy energy-trading company (which, in this case, includes everything ever emailed through enron.com) fell into the hands of academics and has since proven to be a boon to social network researchers.
Some of the methods in the paper (i.e., automatic community detection) look useful; it'd be interesting to apply them to, say, LiveJournal, Flickr or even inter-blog links.
(via bOING BOING)
A paper recently published by the University of Utah makes several controversial statements: that Ashkenazi Jews have genetic mutations which enhance their cognitive abilities, making them more intelligent than average, that this originated from selection pressures in mediæval Europe (where Jews could only make a living in various cognitively-demanding niches, many of which Christians were barred from), and that the same mutations cause many of the degenerative diseases common among the Ashkenazi population, as well as high incidences of depression (could it be no coincidence that cities with high Jewish populations (such as New York and Buenos Aires) have the most psychiatrists?):
Greg has referred to this hypothesis as "overclocking". The analogy is to overclocking computer processors (computer processing units or CPUs). Some hobbyists turn up the clocks on their desktop PCs to them run faster than they were designed to run. This can cause system instability and other problems. In the case of the Ashkenazis in Europe the hypothesis proposes that selective pressures for higher Ashkenazi intelligence were so high that it caused the propagation of mutations that pushed their intelligence up so quickly (evolutonarily speaking) that the selective pressure overrode the reduction in reproductive fitness caused by the deleterious side effects on some of those who received those mutations. The problem with overclocking is that "Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't."
More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence. One, by increasing dendrite growth: two, by fooling with myelin: three, something else, whatever is happening in torsion dystonia. In some cases the difference is probably an aspect of development, not something you can turn on and off. In other cases, the effect might exist when the chemical influence is acting and disappear when the influence does. In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?The article goes on to suggest that mediæval laws on Christian and Jewish occupations were ultimately responsible for the founding of the state of Israel. Meanwhile, there's a New York Times piece on the paper here, which has a quote from evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker:
"It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, noting that it argues for an inherited difference in intelligence between groups. Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."Anyway, back to selection pressures in medieval Europe; I imagine that the fact that the brightest Christians were put into monasteries and sworn to celibacy could also have had an effect on inherited intelligence among that group. Could it also be that Europeans of Christian descent are (inadvertently) bred for low cognitive ability?
For your daily dose of socially-approvable schadenfreude: bait car videos; video/sound recordings from specially wired "bait cars" left by Canadian police to trap car thieves. Watch the perps squeal like bitches over the movie-hip soundtrack coming from the stereo. (Which makes one wonder whether the cops pre-supply the cars with Franz Ferdinand CDs.)
(via bOING bOING)