Saturday, December 31, 2011

A few of my themes for 2012

Yakuzas (Japanese mafia). The largest Yakuza syndicate is over 70% Burakumin. Source

Here are a few themes I wish to write about during 2012:

Archaic admixture: A wild goose chase?

With the discovery that Europeans and Asians are 1 to 4% Neanderthal, there has been a rush to learn more. What genes are involved? Does this admixture explain why Eurasians are, well, hot stuff?

A few words of caution. The estimate of 1 to 4% is based on comparison of the Neanderthal genome with the modern Eurasian genome and the modern sub-Saharan African genome (Green et al., 2010). Neanderthals appear to be genetically closer to modern Eurasians than they are to modern sub-Saharan Africans. This increased closeness is therefore a measure of Neanderthal admixture in modern Eurasians. Right?

Well, not necessarily. It may also be a measure of non-Neanderthal admixture in modern sub-Saharan Africans. We now know that about 2% of the modern sub-Saharan African genome comes from a population that split from ancestral modern humans some 700,000 years ago (Hammer et al., 2011). Another 13% comes from archaics who were much closer to modern humans and probably related to the Skhul-Qafzeh hominins of the Middle East (Watson et al., 1997).

The figure of 1 to 4% Neanderthal admixture in modern Eurasians will thus have to be revised downward, just as our estimate of archaic admixture in modern sub-Saharans will have to be revised upward. This point has been made by Dienekes:

It is no longer tenable to propose that Eurasians are shifted towards Neandertals only because of Neandertal admixture: in fact some of the shift may be due to Africans being shifted away from Neandertals because of admixture with archaic African hominins.

However great or small Neanderthal admixture may be, can it explain why modern Eurasians are “hot stuff”? Doubtful. It’s true that both populations had to adapt to arctic environments, but they did so in very different ways. Neanderthals adapted to the cold through their morphology: thick body fat and dense fur. Modern Eurasians adapted by making tailored clothing and building insulated shelters.

Please don’t get me wrong. If you’re doing research on Neanderthal admixture, I wish you the best of luck. Perhaps you’ll find a thing or two. But don’t get your hopes up.

Whither North Korea?

Whenever an authoritarian leader dies, the door is opened to change, often radical change. The new leader is less able to command authority, and the chain of command itself is called into question at all levels. Pent-up pressure for change can finally be released. This was the case after the deaths of Franco in 1975, Mao Zedong in 1976, and Brezhnev in 1982. Here in my home province, it was the death of Duplessis in 1959 that ushered in the end of Quebec as a conservative Catholic society.

Will we see the same in North Korea? Will the death of Kim Jong Il lead to liberalization and, ultimately, reunification with South Korea?

Yes and no. North Korea will pursue its transition to a market economy. And this process is already making the population more independent-minded. As an observer in Pyongyang recently noted:

The women who daily set out their wares on the streets do so in defiance of police prohibitions. This is one of the clearest indications of the erosion of the regime’s control over its people. (The author observed many others, such as the men who openly smoked under “No Smoking” signs, the peasants who sim­ply ignored the traffic police and trundled their carts across intersections, and the people who—under the very eyes of the police—sat on the escalators in the Metro despite stern signs prohibiting this.) (Everard, 2011)

Private markets are also creating new spaces of social interaction that are independent of the State, and this trend will be assisted by the spread of cellphones and the strengthening of economic and social relations with China—itself a much more liberal society.

Finally, North Korea will drop all pretence of international socialism. This might seem to be just a matter of words—North Korea has long been a de facto nationalist regime—but semantics are important in the way people construct their perceived reality.

But, no, reunification is not in the cards, if only because the Chinese are adamantly opposed. There was a time in the 1990s when they were open to this idea. With reunification, U.S. troops would leave and Korea would become a more neutral country. It is now clear, however, that reunification has produced no such outcome in Germany. The Cold War may be over, but the U.S. still wants to have troops in mainland Eurasia, apparently as part of its geopolitical strategy.

So for now at least the Chinese will try to strengthen North Korea as a friendly buffer state. To this end, they will prod Pyongyang to pursue economic reforms and shed its pariah image, particularly by dismantling its nuclear program. In exchange, the Chinese may offer the protection of their own nuclear umbrella, as well as full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

It’s also unlikely that liberalization will lead to North Korea becoming more Westernized and Americanized. By “liberalization,” I mean the right of people to live their lives according to their own values—and not those imposed by the State or by a globalist elite. Hence, the Arab Spring has brought the triumph of Islamist political parties who promise to introduce stricter adherence to Shariah law. This has been a surprise to Western observers, but it should not have been.

The Burakumin

Although Japanese society is often seen as being very homogeneous, it does have a distinct class called the Burakumin who were officially outcastes until 1871 and are still widely looked down upon. They seem to descend from Japanese who held stigmatized occupations that involved the taking of life or contact with dead bodies, like butchery, leather making, and preparation of corpses for burial. Today, despite many remedial efforts, an academic gap persists between the Burakumin and other Japanese:

According to research on Buraku pupil/students' scholastic ability conducted in the post-war period, nearly 1 standard deviation difference in achievement scores was found between Burakumin and non-Burakumin pupil/students regardless of when and where the research was conducted. This meta-analysis on Buraku pupil/students' scholastic ability leads us to conclude that the relative difference in scholastic achievements between the Burakumin and non-Burakumin pupil/student has been maintained to a considerable degree through the post-war period. (BLHRRI, 1997)

In 2012, I will try to shed new light on this question by applying Greg Clark’s model. Clark (2007) argued that the English gene pool in 1800 was quite different from what it had been only a few centuries earlier. Over the years, the English middle class had expanded demographically and, through downward mobility, had largely replaced the English lower classes. I will suggest that Japan followed a similar evolution but with an interesting twist. As outcastes with a monopoly on certain occupations, the Burakumin were spared this demographic replacement. They may thus represent the Japanese population as it existed several centuries ago.


BLHRRI (1997). Practice of Dowa Education Today, Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Institute.

Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Dienekes. (2011). Neanderthal admixture. Why I remain skeptical, December 19, 2011.

Everard, J. (2011). The markets of Pyongyang, Korea Economic Institute, Academic Paper Series, 6(1), 1-7.

Green, R.E., J. Krause, A.W. Briggs, T. Maricic, U. Stenzel, M. Kircher, et al. (2010). A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome, Science, 328, 710-722.

Hammer, M.F., A.E. Woerner, F.L. Mendez, J.C. Watkins, and J.D. Wall. (2011). Genetic evidence for archaic admixture in Africa, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA), early edition,

Watson, E., P. Forster, M. Richards, and H-J. Bandelt. (1997). Mitochondrial footprints of human expansions in Africa, American Journal of Human Genetics, 61, 691-704.


Sean said...

Archaic admixture is some people's special subject. Maybe they know what they're talking about (about that).

The US doesn't want to keep troops in Europe and Korea, it has to do so to prevent military rivalries and keep everything quiet.

After WW2 the conventional wisdom was that Germany could not be held down for ever; it would want to acquire nuclear weapons eventually. (Eisenhower began to implement a withdrawal of US forces from Germany, but it was unacceptable to the USSR - hence the Cold War).

The US understands that China will not accept N. Korea falling under the sway of the West (the Chinese are really worried about Japan).

"I mean the right of people to live their lives according to their own values—and not those imposed by the State or by a globalist elite."

The US ostensibly believes in generic humanity and trying to get everyone to accept a universal regime based on the US system. But the use of force in the Middle East is not really part of that. There's an ulterior motive. Once toppled the Iranian state will dissolve into a cauldron of feuding sects. That will be the end of the country as a military force. That hasn't happened in Egypt admittedly but Egypt is a real country. Iran is a synthetic patchwork of rival groups with traditional rivalries (like most Arab states). That inherent instability makes its destruction inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Burakumin as a frozen population rather than specifically selected for lower academic achievement?


Travellers in Britain and Ireland seem to be an analogous group.

Grey said...

"As outcastes with a monopoly on certain occupations, the Burakumin were spared this demographic replacement. They may thus represent the Japanese population as it existed several centuries ago."

Interesting idea.

Peter Frost said...


Do you think that Neanderthal admixture explains the higher intelligence of modern humans, and modern Eurasians in particular? I have serious problems with the idea.

The US wishes to maintain a military presence in mainland Eurasia for reasons that are not clearly stated.

Anon and Grey,

Thanks! I hope to have more about the Burakumin later this year.

Sean said...

Re. Neanderthals, IMO just having an extra dose of archaic genes does not confer an advantage. But in the north intense selection (maybe sexual selection) could pick up on the few individuals in whom a 'silent' Neanderthal gene had come through to expression and produced a useful (and possibly completely novel) trait. Maybe.

When I read about people who've achieved something notable through intellectual activity it always strikes me how very rarely they come from a solid working class background.

Funny how hard core criminals are so keen on being tattooed. They often have broad faces. I've read that in every country in the world the upper classes have narrower faces than the lower orders.

Chris Crawford said...

As I've written before, I am most skeptical of Clark's hypothesis that genetic factors underlay the Industrial Revolution. I cannot accept that the selection effect was strong enough, or of sufficient duration, to produce the changes leading to the Industrial Revolution.

I've been following up on this by reading Pomeranz's The Great Divergence, as well as dusting off an old work, How the West Grew Rich, by Rosenberg and Birdzell. My own preferred explanation is that the West invented rationalism (starting around 800 BCE in Greece), and then refined and advanced it until it started to pay off in a big way in the aftermath of the Enlightenment. Certainly the most striking difference between Western writings and Chinese writings of the nineteenth century is the logical rigor of the former compared to the holistic, non-analytic style of the latter.

Ben10 said...

You can't ask for a grant to set up an expedition in Tibet to look for remains (and DNA) of the Yeti/Migou/abominable snowman?
Look at this cranial scalp,
some DNA might be recovered from that.

Sean said...

I think the process Clark describes was responsible. I also think the process has gone into reverse. "A sample of 104 British parents with criminal convictions had an average fertility of 3·91 children as compared with 2·21 for the general population".

Peter Frost said...


There is no doubt that the English population of 1800 was disproportionately descended from the middle classes of previous generations. That is an observation, not a "hypothesis."

The debate is over the genetic significance of this demographic replacement. Did the social classes differ in terms of different genetic predispositions? We're talking here about thresholds for violence and violence ideation, future time orientation, altruism, etc.

Clark himself is reluctant to come down on either side of this debate. He says that these predispositions were passed on genetically and culturally.

Of course, no one is saying that the middle class went from 5% to 100% of the English population. The shift was more modest, but it was enough for England (and societies like the U.S.) to impose middle-cass behavioral norms on the entire population.

Chris Crawford said...

Peter, I think our difference here is that I'm referring to the causes of the Industrial Revolution and you are referring to something else. For example, I wrote:

"Clark's hypothesis that genetic factors underlay the Industrial Revolution."

and you responded with:

"There is no doubt that the English population of 1800 was disproportionately descended from the middle classes of previous generations. That is an observation, not a "hypothesis.""

Your other comments are similarly disposed to consider phenomena other than the Industrial Revolution.

Fenris said...

I generally respect your analysis here Peter, but the repeated description of neanderthals as thickly furred without any soft tissue evidence strikes me as excessively confident. What evidence is there for this besides the lack of evidence of sewn clothing?

Ben10 said...

Good luck If you can't make fire, wear clothes AND you don't have any fur in postglacial europe.

Also, their mitochondrial metabolism was apparently made to leak more heat than ours. A body adaptation rather than technological adaptation suggests fur rather than cloth. Then there is the big brow ridge and the big brain which was probably not bigger to be smarter but warmer.
But, OK, those are just circumstantial evidences.

Anonymous said...

Neanderthal fire: - "A new study involving the University of Colorado Boulder shows clear evidence of the continuous control of fire by Neanderthals in Europe dating back roughly 400,000 years, yet another indication that they weren't dimwitted brutes as often portrayed." seems relevant.

Although "The second major finding in the PNAS study -- perhaps even more surprising than the first -- was that Neanderthal predecessors pushed into Europe's colder northern latitudes more than 800,000 years ago without the habitual control of fire, said Roebroecks." And the Neanderthals may have been descended from these people and so have similar traits for that reason.

But then we don't know why humans lost their fur in the first place. - "Incontrovertible evidence of widespread control of fire dates to approximately 125,000 years ago and later.[2] Evidence for the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus beginning some 400,000 years ago has wide scholarly support, while claims regarding earlier evidence are mostly dismissed as inconclusive or sketchy.[3]"

As for Neanderthal clothing, we do not know either way, seems to be the consensus.

Apparently the lice evidence seems to suggest an origin for clothing in the anatomically modern homo sapiens lineage at 170000 years BP, around the time of the "origin" of AMHS. What this means for Neanderthals is not clear.

We do also know that the Neanderthals had hide scrapers. I suppose these may have been used for butchering only. Apparently Neanderthals did not have needles to stitch clothing (most sources seem to support), so whatever clothing they did have was apparently relatively loose fitting and was tied rather than stitched (although it seems like they had some tools - borers - used to make holes in leather and to allow them to bind it).

Neanderthal physical adaption is tenable (the only other suggestion for their limb proportions, for example, is a rugged and mountainous terrain), but whether it stretched to fur, rather than alterations in proportions, subcutaneous fat and metabolic increase, does not seem clear.

Peter Frost said...


The Industrial Revolution was the culmination of a series of cultural and behavioral changes within English society. These changes were, in turn, the result of the demographic expansion of the English middle class. That's Clark's argument.

We can argue back and forth over whether these behavioral changes were genetically or culturally transmitted. Even Clark is reluctant to give a definitive answer.


There are three lines of argument:

1. Neanderthal sites show no evidence of tools for making tailored clothing. There are only hide scrapers, which might have been used to make blankets or ponchos. This is in contrast to Upper Paleolithic (modern human) sites, which have an abundance of stone needles and bone awls.

2. The human body louse (which lives in clothing) seems to date back no earlier than the transition from Neanderthals to modern humans.

3. A third reason is given by Cochran and Harpending in their book The 10,000 Year Explosion: "We don’t yet know for sure, but it seems likely that, as part of their adaptation to cold, Neanderthals were furry. Chimpanzees have ridges on their finger bones that stem from the way that they clutch their mother’s fur as infants. Modern humans don’t have these ridges, but Neanderthals do."

Stephen said...

Aboriginal Tasmanians and Fuegians managed to survive cold winters without stitched clothing using simple cloaks or just smearing themselves with fat.

It is possible to lace clothing together without sewing needles. It would still be a bit more breezy than a stitched one but you could still make a suit. Finger bone ridges could just be vestigials.

But on the other hand the general simplicity of neanderthal technology and there small group size suggest something more than a poncho would too complicated.

I think you are probably right about there hairiness but it is still possible you are wrong. They were descended from Erectus that seems to be adapted for running on the savanna probably sweating allot. maybe using furs and fires to keep themselves warm at night instead of hair.

Anonymous said...

If, indeed, the european neandertals had to be furry, could the arabian ones' not having to possibly explain why all supersaharan humanity seems to be equally neandertal?

FredR said...

"Clark himself is reluctant to come down on either side of this debate. He says that these predispositions were passed on genetically and culturally."

I don't have a reference at the moment, but I'm almost positive that since writing the book Clark has come out very definitively on the genetic side. I think I heard that in an australian interview, but I'm not sure.

FredR said...

"There’s absolutely a genetic link. We absolutely have changed genetically over this pre-industrial period."

-Gregory Clark