A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘human beings

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that stars commonly ingest hot Jupiters.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the spread of robots.
  • Far Outliers shares terms for making shoyu.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Ashley Madison nearly bought Grindr.
  • Language Log notes the changing usage of “hemp” as a political term.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the plan to save New Orleans by abandoning the Mississippi delta.
  • The Russian Demographics blog notes the genetic distinctiveness of the Denisovans.
  • Towleroad notes the pulling-down of a Warsaw rainbow monument.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the American debate over birthright citizenship.

[REVIEW] Ed Wright, A Left-Handed History of the World

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I have been waiting for International Lefthanders Day just for the chance to review this one book.

I belong to a minority group, one that has long been unfairly subjected to prejudice on the basis of our shared innate difference and that has only recently been freed from this prejudice. I speak, of course, of left-handers, amounting to between 7 and 10% of the human population. There’s nothing sinister about being left-handed, I’ve joked, yet for millennia there has been much prejudice, much hindrance. Were I born a generation earlier, I might have gotten off lightly by being forced to write with my right hand. Researches on handedness don’t reveal any outstanding reason for this prejudice: Perhaps left-handers in the aggregate exhibit greater aptitudes for language or math or spatial relations, certainly left-handers are more likely than right-handers to be non-heterosexual, but nothing outstanding appears to justify this prejudice. Only a patchwork of biographies to testifies to the past.

Australian writer Ed Wright‘s 2007 A Left-Handed History of the World (Pier 9) deals successfully enough with this gap, assembling short biographies of prominent left-handers through history from Ramses the Great to the current crop of American presidents. (Barack Obama, I was pleased to learn, is one of my kind.) The left-handed content of I>A Left-Handed History of the World comes with the sidebars to the individual biographies, exploring the extent to which traits associated with left-handed people manifested in the lives of individuals profiles. We are, apparently, great conquerors, and experimenters, and good at seeing the world in new ways.

This was a fun book, all said. Recommended.

(See also this note from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)

Written by Randy McDonald

August 14, 2015 at 2:19 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes that ferry tickets for the Toronto Islands can now be bought online.
  • Discover‘s Crux considers SETI.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper considering habitable exoplanets around nearby red dwarf stars, defends the potential existence of exoplanets at Kapteyn’s Star, and looks at the Epsilon Eridani system.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that a second Scottish referendum on independence is possible, according to Alex Salmond.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Mormons are unhappy with the Scouts’ gay-friendly shift.
  • Language Hat considers the history of family name usage in Russia.
  • Languages of the World examines in two posts the argument that primitive peoples have simple languages.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the strategies of Spanish populist group Podemos.
  • Peter Watts considers the peculiar thing of people lacking large chunks of the brain who nonetheless seem normal.
  • Diane Duane, at Out of Ambit, is quite unhappy with an impending forced upgrade to Windows 10.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw notes how labour-saving technologies improved the lives of women.
  • The Planetary Society Blog considers proposals to explore small solar system bodies.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer considers what would happen if Bernie Sanders won the nomination of the Democratic Party.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog links to statistics on the population of Abu Dhabi.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the depopulation of South Ossetia and looks at the Russian Orthodox Church’s hostility to Ukraine’s Uniate Catholics.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes that although Labour apparently did a good job of convincing potential voters it was right, it did a worse job of getting them to vote.

[LINK] On evidence of Australian Aborigine ancestry in Amazonia

The Nature paper “Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas” has a remarkable abstract.

Genetic studies have consistently indicated a single common origin of Native American groups from Central and South America. However, some morphological studies have suggested a more complex picture, whereby the northeast Asian affinities of present-day Native Americans contrast with a distinctive morphology seen in some of the earliest American skeletons, which share traits with present-day Australasians (indigenous groups in Australia, Melanesia, and island Southeast Asia) Here we analyse genome-wide data to show that some Amazonian Native Americans descend partly from a Native American founding population that carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans. This signature is not present to the same extent, or at all, in present-day Northern and Central Americans or in a ~12,600-year-old Clovis-associated genome, suggesting a more diverse set of founding populations of the Americas than previously accepted.

The Smithsonian goes into more detail.

Genetic studies have since connected both these ancient and modern humans to ancestral populations in Eurasia, adding to the case that a single migratory surge produced the first human settlers in the Americas. Aleutian Islanders are a notable exception. They descend from a smaller second influx of Eurasians 6,000 years ago that bear a stronger resemblance to modern populations, and some Canadian tribes have been linked to a third wave.

[David] Reich’s group had also previously found genetic evidence for a single founding migration. But while sifting through genomes from cultures in Central and South America, Pontus Skoglund, a researcher in Reich’s lab, noticed that the Suruí and Karitiana people of the Amazon had stronger ties to indigenous groups in Australasia—Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders—than to Eurasians.

Other analyses haven’t looked at Amazonian populations in depth, and genetic samples are hard to come by. So the Harvard lab teamed up with researchers in Brazil to collect more samples from Amazonian groups to investigate the matter. Together they scrutinized the genomes of 30 Native American groups in Central and South America. Using four statistical strategies, they compared the genomes to each other and to those of 197 populations from around the world. The signal persisted. Three Amazonian groups—Suruí, Karitiana and Xavante—all had more in common with Australasians than any group in Siberia.

The DNA that links these groups had to come from somewhere. Because the groups have about as much in common with Australians as they do with New Guineans, the researchers think that they all share a common ancestor that lived tens of thousands of years ago in Asia but that doesn’t otherwise persist today. One branch of this family tree moved north to Siberia, while the other spread south to New Guinea and Australia. The northern branch likely migrated across the land bridge in a separate surge from the Eurasian founders. The researchers have dubbed this hypothetical second group “Population y” for ypykuéra, or “ancestor” in Tupi, a language spoken by the Suruí and Karitiana.

When exactly Population y arrived in the Americans remains unclear—before, after or simultaneously with the first wave of Eurasians are all possibilities. Reich and his colleagues suspect the line is fairly old, and at some point along the way, Population y probably mixed with the lineage of Eurasian settlers. Amazonian tribes remain isolated from many other South American groups, so that’s probably why the signal remains strong in their DNA.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 22, 2015 at 10:42 pm

[URBAN NOTE] On how Torontonians (and other humans) benefit from trees

A post on Discover magazine’s Inkfish blog alerted me to some interesting research.

What’s a tree worth to you? According to a large study in Toronto, trees may increase both how healthy you feel and how healthy you really are. Having some extra foliage on your block could be as good for your health as a pay raise–or an anti-aging machine.

It’s a complicated relationship to figure out, because variables that affect how many trees you see each day could also affect your health. The population of a concrete, inner-city apartment complex may have socioeconomic differences, for example, from the population of a leafy, well-tended suburb. University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman and his colleagues used a detailed analysis to try to tease out the impact of trees themselves.

They started by going to Canada. In a country with universal health care, they figured, access to doctors isn’t as much of a variable as in the United States. Since socioeconomic status can still affect how people use doctors, the authors also gathered information on their subjects’ income and education. And rather than comparing people from multiple areas, they focused only on the city of Toronto.

From a large-scale, ongoing project called the Ontario Health Study, the authors collected data on over 31,000 adult residents of Toronto. In addition to household income and years of education, they looked at subjects’ sex, diet (self-reported servings of fruits and vegetables per day), and neighborhood. The Ontario Health Study questionnaires also asked subjects whether they’d ever been diagnosed with various physical and mental health conditions.

The final measurement was health perception: how healthy do subjects feel they are, on a scale from 1 to 5? It sounds vague, but this measurement has been found to strongly predict actual health, the authors write.

The Toronto Star‘s Geoffrey Vendeville went into more detail.

Using data from Toronto, a team of researchers has found that having 10 more trees on your block has self-reported health benefits akin to a $10,000 salary raise or moving to a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger.

By comparing satellite imagery of Toronto, an inventory of trees on public land and general health surveys, the team, led by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, found that people who live on a tree-lined block are less likely to report conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease or diabetes.

Their findings appeared last week in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.

The study suggests “pretty strongly” that planting 4 per cent more trees would have significant health benefits, Berman said.

Researchers don’t know why, exactly, trees seem to be good for people’s health.

“Is it that the trees are cleaning the air? Is it that the trees are encouraging people to go outside and exercise more? Or is it their esthetic beauty? We need to understand that,” he said.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 15, 2015 at 6:49 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • Centauri Dreams argues that humans have a deep-seated instinct to explore.
  • Crooked Timber looks at how Greek debt is a political problem.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes an unsuccessful search for gas giant exoplanets around a white dwarf and looks at a new system for classifying exoplanets by mass.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at a report that a Patriot missile battery in Turkey got hacked.
  • Geocurrents notes how the eastern Yemeni region of Al Mahrah is seeking autonomy.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the failure of the United States’ Cuban embargo.
  • Marginal Revolution speculates as to the peculiar dynamics of political leadership in China.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw reflects on Greece.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes that Pluto can now be explored via Google Earth.
  • Registan looks at the decline of Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party.
  • Strange Maps shares a map that charts out the City of London and its threats.
  • Towleroad notes an upcoming vote over a civil partnership bill in Cyprus.
  • Window on Eurasia reports that most books published in Russia have small print runs.

[LINK] “Ancient Romanian jawbone sheds light on Neanderthal interbreeding”

The Globe and Mail hosts Will Dunham’s Reuters article reporting that an ancient Homo sapiens skeleton in Romania has substantial Neanderthal ancestry. That this skeleton does not belong to a population that left descendants in contemporary Europe is also noteworthy, IMHO.

You may not know it, but you probably have some Neanderthal in you. For people around the world, except sub-Saharan Africans, about 1 to 3 percent of their DNA comes from Neanderthals, our close cousins who disappeared roughly 39,000 years ago.

Scientists said on Monday a jawbone unearthed in Romania, of a man who lived about 40,000 years ago, boasts the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen in a member of our species.

[. . .]

“We show that one of the very first modern humans that is known from Europe had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back in his family tree,” said geneticist Svante Pääbo of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“He carries more Neanderthal DNA than any other present-day or ancient modern human seen to date.”

Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich said 6 to 9 percent of this individual’s genome derived from a Neanderthal ancestor.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 22, 2015 at 7:04 pm

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