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Jonathan Gitlin
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The more I think about Prometheus the angrier I am about it's horrible attitude towards science. Would it really have been so hard, in that first scene, to have shown enzymes pulling apart and rearranging the DNA rather than just having it dissolve and join up again? 

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There's been some discussion about +Chris Mooney's new book, The Republican Brain online, and 140 characters aren't really long enough to explain why I'm more sympathetic to his arguments than to those of his critics (e.g. +Kevin Drum in this post: So, through the magic of Google+, I'll expound a little.

"but European conservatives don't do it too"

I don't know that you can say that you're actually comparing like with like - the biological component that contributes towards the "US anti-science reactionary" phenotype might not find its most comfortable niche within european conservative political circles; before the late 1970s and the activation of the US evangelicals as a voting block it wasn't that well expressed in US politics. Plus the US political environment is quite different now than it was in the 1960s - political culture is subject to much greater evolutionary pressure than human behavioral traits.

Moreover, how completely true is this as a statement? What about the culture war going on in Poland?

"it's too complex"

Political behavior is a complex phenotype but it's culturally specific. So was genomics (complex, that is, not culturally specific). So was any type of massively multivariate analysis. But that's no longer going to remain true. And even if complete explanation of a phenotype is highly multifactorial, that's not to say there won't be individual contributors whose effects we can tease out. Kevin Drum accepts the broader point that "[t]here's a complex interplay of biology and culture that produces liberals and conservatives in the first place." It's unreasonable to expect that we're not going to start finding the highly penetrant contributors early on in the same way we found highly penetrant mendelian-disease causing genes.

"Liberals do it too"

This gets back to my point that political behavior is a complex phenotype that's specific to the cultural environment within which it's being expressed. Lets say a contributing factor is a set of personality traits that make you resistant to accepting change, but it's modified by your propensity towards accepting or rejecting authority (both of these are behavioral phenotypes that I think we can agree are well accepted and that have plausible biological mechanisms behind). so, for example, 'rejects change' and 'accepts authority' are both expressed in a religiously conservative environment gets a different outcome to 'rejects change' and 'rejects authority' in the same environment, and 'rejects change' and accepts authority' in a secular conservative environment. Yes, it's going to be more complex than a three-factor problem, but the answer is more data.

Human behavior might be a very complex thing, but humans are biological organisms, and our behavior and personalities, and the way our brains work are governed by the same basic set of biological rules that are true for every other species. We know we can modify behavior with drugs, with infection, with disease, with training or conditioning, and we know we're not all the same blank slate to begin with, although this raises the question 'where do you even set the start line at?' Brain development and neuronal plasticity happens throughout childhood, some predisposing factors might be genetic and there at conception, others might be environmental but also there from conception, or are introduced during gestation, or in infancy or later.

The idea that our behavior isn't purely metaphysical but has deep roots in biology is challenging and in some ways unpalatable to concepts central to ideas around equality and democracy, but heliocentricity was seen as central to mainstream political culture 400 years ago. The Church could ban telescopes but that didn't stop the earth revolving around the sun (this is not a perfect analogy but you ought to be able to get my point). I'm not arguing that there aren't ethical/legal/social implications of this kind of research, there are, but the ethical, legal, and social frameworks that are affected are human constructs and not universal - China and the US, for example, don't have the same bioethics governance of human subjects research. Some societies might choose to ask questions that others don't, and those questions might be explored in ways that are or aren't scientifically valid, but that doesn't mean there aren't actual answers out there that are beyond our reach.

Is political behavior a much more complex phenotype than criminal behavior? We're starting to build up a knowledge base about the latter, even if it is early days: (there was a good discussion about the current limits of this sort of work, as well as emerging trends and the implications at a Bioethics Commission meeting last year: Is political behavior a much more complex phenotype than sexual behavior? That's another area where we're starting to explore the biology behind it:

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Anyone in the DC/VA/MD area able to adopt a sweet cat with kidney disease? go on people, you know you want to...

Yesterday's execution has presented me with a moral quandary with regards to completing my citizenship application. Actively becoming a citizen means actively identifying as a member of a nation with a barbaric approach to criminal justice, and I don't know how completely comfortable I am with that.

On the other hand, the only way I'd ever be able to change it would be by voting (although I live in DC, so not really).


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A paper in Science Translational Medicine yesterday suggests that cimetidine (Tagamet, off-patent and OTC histamine H2 antagonist used to decrease stomach acid production) may be an effective treatment for lung cancer. Seriously cool stuff!

Paper's behind the paywall, sadly:

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"Since her election to Congress in 2006, Bachmann has earned a reputation as one of the lower chamber's biggest bomb throwers. She has accused the president of harboring "anti-American" views, warned that census data could be used to round up dissenters into internment camps, and declared that the Treasury Department is quietly planning on replacing the dollar with a global currency. To her critics, Bachmann is flat-out crazy, a purveyor of, as Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) put it, "psycho talk.""

That's what terrifies me most. Conservative doublespeak often provides their cover to do exactly what they accuse their foes of, and if President Bachmann already thinks it's current practice to use census data to intern citizens with dissident views, she'll be that much more inclined to think that's a legitimate exercise of her power.

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This is one of the better things I've read about the riots so far:

"In themselves, these riots may indeed be about inequality: the concentration of wealth and power may simply have become too unwieldy, regardless of what the rioters think is going on. But for themselves, they are about power, hedonism, consumption and sovereignty of the ego. Anyone who disagrees with that is simply not crediting the participants with being able to make sense of what they're doing. And if there's one thing likely to incite even more rioting, it's treating the participants as lacking independence of thought. In many ways, blame is what they each individually deserve, because recognition of their own individual agency is what they most desire."

Read the whole thing.

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Great piece by +Peter Bright on the London riots and social networking:

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