Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Issues Worth Examining

Usually I discuss new findings in science. Today, I'll identify a number of issues that science has, nearly has, and may have the tools to answer, but have not yet been resolved.

1. Is there any archaeological evidence of Sumerian or Egyptian cultural influence to the north of the Aegean and Anatolia and the Mediterranean Coast?

We know that the area north of the Aegean and Anatolia, particularly the Balkans, was a stopping off point for the further Neolithic settlement of Europe by farmers and herders the earliest of which is the Linear Pottery Culture (LBK). There is a "fan" of population genetic influence (e.g. Y-DNA haplogroup E) that appears to be North African in origin that extends well into the Balkans. There are multiple eras when this could have arrived: early Neolithic, during the Greek silver and golden ages, during the Roman era, during the Byzantine era, as part of Slavic expansion, or under the Ottoman Empire. But, population movements in the region after the LBK and prior to any potential Greek influence are obscure.

The Egyptian and Sumerian empires are not known to have ever extended beyond Southern Anatolia and perhaps a few fringe Aegean islands in recorded history.

There are some suggestive cave paintings in the Caspian Sea that would seem to show Egyptian style boats at a time when the Egyptians would have had that kind of boat. There is some evidence of fairly sophisticated canal system connecting the Black and Caspian Seas at some point in history. There have also been some suggestions of a Sumerian linguistic influence on some or all Uralic languages.

As one of the earliest loci of Indo-European language speakers, these traces would have to be quite early. Also, Egyptian record keeping and Sumerian records, to my knowledge, do not document these kinds of expeditions, but these records were hardly comprehensive, particularly in the earlier eras.

Finding such a link, or definitively ruling it out, would be helpful either way in piecing together chains of causation in prehistory.

2. The sporadic v. familial model in evaluating the etiology of IQ.

Considerable research has been devoted to the causes of mental retardation, particularly where it arises without a family history of it, and considerable research has been devoted to establishing that IQ, in general, has a strong hereditary component that can be discerned from familial similarities in IQ at different degrees of relatedness.

One area that probably deserves more research is to examine "sporadic" instances of high IQ. In other words, what can we learn about the nature of IQ from looking genetically and from a nurture perspective at very high IQ people with much lower IQ parents. Are these mostly cases of parents who had good genes that were suppressed by bad environments that were not shared by the child? Are these cases of new mutations in the child that were not present in the parent? Are these cases of recessive genes that did not express in either parent? Are these casees of exceptionally good parenting choices? Are these cases of inaccurately assigned paternity? Or what?

3. Where does South Asian Y-DNA haplogroup T come from?

Areas more or less similar to the proto-Dravidian area of South Asia, and also certain tribal groups in Eastern South Asia, have high concentrations of Y-DNA haplogroup T. What kind detailed subtyping of these haplogroups tell us about where they fit in the phylogeny of Y-DNA haplogroup T and whether these Y-DNA types are autochronous or have some specific geographic origin elsewhere? What can study of these haplogroups tell us about time that this haplogroup emerged in that location?

It does not appear to have origins in Pakistan and is centered on the Eastern side of South Asia with a stark discontinuity between it and the Northwest. If it is part of either an Ancesteral North Indian or Ancestral South Indian genetic package at all, it is a part of the Ancestral South Indian genetic package that is not associated with Harappan or Indo-Aryan influence. Yet, ASI is often seen as indigeneous to the subcontinent, while Y-DNA haplogroup T has clear affinities to the European/West Asian/Northern and Eastern African region (i.e. "Western influence.") It could be that autosomal analysis is conflating Western influence via Harappan and Indo-Aryan populations and Western influence associated with Y-DNA haplogroup T associated with a separate, distinct and earlier migration, since the two Western influences may be closer genetically to each other than they ANI and ASI are to each other.

My intuition is that detailed study will show origins of the South Asian subtypes in phylogenies rooted in Southern Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somolia, and that an appropriately chosen mutation rate aging methodology will be consistent with the South Asian Neolithic and proto-Dravidian language, suggesting that migrants from South Asia were instrumental in this historical events. But, population genetics can shed much better light on the question. Detailed phylogenies of Y-DNA haplogroup T have been done, but they did not extend to South Asian samples, so study of those samples is a final step necessary to prove or disprove the hypothesis that Y-DNA haplogroup T men were instrumental in the formative period of Dravidan culture.

4. What distinguishes socioeconomically successful people who are similar in IQ, have only a high school education and have similar socioeconomic status to begin with?

A junior high school or high school teacher in a low income neighborhood has a great many students of the same socioeconomic status, and whatever environmental influences out there impact IQ have already transpired for the most part. These teachers have the hand that they have been dealt and so do their students at that point.

Lots of studies show education and IQ as pivotal for success in low socioeconomic status kids. But, what about the kids for whom earning a college degree is not a realistic option given their mediocre academic performance to date, even if they are able to stick it out and graduate from high school?

What choices and factors distinguish the winners and losers in life, in terms of socioeconomic success, once these parameters are set?

Insufficient good research looks at this issue which is a practical concern to a very large numbers of teachers, mentors, and kids. Good research on this point could provide an empirical basis to enhance middle school and high school curriculums for a group of students who often simply receive a watered down version of a college preparatory curriculum directed towards an educational trajectory that they are very unlikely to follow with success.

A great deal of effort has been devoted to researching how to improve academic performance, but despite study after study that shows that very little consistently improves academic performance in a consistent way once variables like socioeconomic class and past academic performance and IQ are controlled for, despite herculean efforts to find approaches that do, perhaps at least a little more research should be devoted not to improving the academic performance of these academically mediocre kids, but to accept for a moment that some kids, indeed a great many kids, are going to be academically mediocre, and to figure out in a way that accepts this as a given, what their best options in life are and what choices are most important to their lifetime prosperity.

Also, to the extent that there are inborn personality traits that have an impact on this result (something shown in high IQ individuals already by the Termain study, for example), what can we say about optimal approaches for kids with different personalities profiles?

Perhaps some of these lessons can be replicated.

5. What distinguishes misdemeanor recidivists?

Felony recidivism is heavily studied.

Misdemeanor recidivision (and misdemeanor sentencing in general) is not. We need more basic information about who misdemeanor recividists are, how differential treatment of them in the criminal justice system can impact crime rates and criminal justice system resources, how authorized sentences differ from imposed sentences by offense type, offender type, and aggravating circumstances, and how discretion in the criminal justice system is exercised both in bond matters and plea bargaining and sentencing in misdemeanor criminal matters.

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