Who We Are and How We Got Here; Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Past by David Reich – A Book Review

This review is a companion piece to my earlier review of Gregory Cochran’s “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.”  These two books lay out step by step how the new tool of ancient DNA isolation has allowed geneticists to turn museum fossils into an amazingly detailed history of the inter-relations between and movements of, the various branches of the human species as it emerged out of Africa 50,000 to 150,000 years ago and went on to settle the planet.

It is truly remarkable how comparing DNA sequences between modern and ancient humans has allowed these researchers to answer historical mysteries such as who were the first Indo-European speakers (the Yamnaya) and where did they live (the Russian Steppe).  We can determine if the Native Americans are essentially the direct descendants of the ancestors of the East Asians or was there some other component involved.  We can find out where the blond hair and blue eyes of the Northern Europeans came from.  We can even find out how many concubines Genghis Kahn must have had.

So, this book is full of facts to satisfy our curiosity about where we all came from.  But there is another dimension to this book that is also interesting.  David Reich is an academic scientist.  He interacts constantly with the very politically correct denizens of the social sciences.  He describes his run-ins with anthropologists and bio-ethicists who accuse him of racism for identifying various biological traits with specific human races.  Even though these traits such as sickle-cell anemia are widely known to reside almost exclusively in one racial group or another, these academics were so conditioned to reject the concept of physical race differences that even mentioning them in the context of biomedical research was the equivalent of heresy.

To his credit, Reich recognizes the intellectual weakness inherent in this response but it is obvious by the compromises he will commit to assuage the discomfort of his colleagues that he feels more comfortable himself being on the “side of the angels.”  For instance, after his research clearly showed that the present population of India is the result of the Yamnaya invading from the north and mixing in with the earlier inhabitants he allowed the feelings of his Indian colleagues to force him to rename these groups Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral South Indians.

And Reich is much harsher toward those on the right who speculate about natural selection at work in the differences measured between present day groups.  He is obviously unwilling to assume a neutral position along the spectrum of opinion on human biodiversity and feels more comfortable aligning himself at least in spirit with those whose opinions about human racial differences fly in the face of his own research.

So, Reich’s book is both fascinating and aggravating at one and the same time.  I imagine virtue signaling is the price he thinks he has to pay to get this book accepted by the academic community and then New York Times Book Review.

My recommendation is to read this book.  But be sure to read Cochran’s book along with it to see an opinion that isn’t captured in an orbit around the black hole that is Modern Academia.

07JUN2018 – OCF Update

The summer is now an actual thing and get-togethers and parties are happening.   But things will continue unabated here on OCF, the pulse of the spite filled, unforgiving, vindictive vengeful right.  I’m starting to read David Reich’s book “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past.”  It goes over a lot of the same ground as Gregory Cochran’s book “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution,” but from a very apologetic, politically correct, “diversity is our strength” point of view.  But from of the small parts I’ve read it’s still very interesting to see the pushback he experienced.  Should be instructive.  I’ve got the last Majipoor book to read and the next Galaxy’s edge installment and some other sf and I’ve got some photo projects lined up.  But the elephant in the room should be the DOJ IG’s report coming out this week.  I’m hoping that will trigger a lot of stuff.  Maybe even the end of the Mueller investigation or at least a counter-attack to take him out.  So good stuff coming up.

On a more local note I’ve been intrigued by the general dearth of comments.  Now this is my first blog so maybe it’s how it works but I’m curious, so I have a survey poll on it.  I’ll leave it on the next few posts and I look forward to the info I get.

Kill Team – Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 3) by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole – A Science Fiction Book Review

Kill Team is the third installment of the Galaxy’s Edge science fiction series.  But chronologically it occurs immediately after the end of Legionnaire, the first volume in the series.  Kill Team is a two track story.  One track tells the story of the surviving members of Legion Company Victory after the Battle of Kublar and how they become re-integrated into the task force attempting to prevent a decapitation attack meant to topple the Republic.  The other track is a spy story following an undercover agent working to prevent the same attack.

The story is well told.  But for my tastes the adventures of the Legionnaires is more engaging.  The morally ambiguous role of the spy and the way that the writer portrays his internal conflict isn’t as much fun as the mil-sf adventures of Victory Company.

The story line serves to provide back story to some characters that first appeared in Galactic Outlaws, volume two of the series.  And this was, in my opinion necessary.  Quite a big gap existed between the story lines in Legionnaire and Galactic Outlaws.  Kill Team makes sense of some of the dramatic changes in the intervening period.

My verdict for Kill Team is positive.  Although, as I said I enjoyed the Victory Company track more than the spy track the story holds up well and builds on the strong characters that made Legionnaire so enjoyable.  Kudos to Anspach and Cole.  They’ve extended their winning streak and I’ll go for the fourth volume.  I want to see just how bleak their empire crashing vision will be.

26MAY2018 – OCF Update

The thirty degree mornings have relented.  There is a break in the seemingly endless succession of torrential rain and wind storms.  I have a non-work day where I can cut the grass and put the yard in post-winter order.So today may be a bit slow.  What’s on tap and coming up soon:

  1. Photos from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
  2. Photo essay on the Sigma 150-600 Sports lens on the A7 III.
  3. Book Review on Robert Silverberg’s “Valentine Pontifex.”
  4. Book Review on “Kill Team (Galaxy’s Edge Book 3).”
  5. Book Review on “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past.”
  6. Review of the Vanguard Alta GH-300T Grip Head for heavy lens shooting.
  7. Review of Deadpool 2.
  8. Review of Capture One 11 Photo Editing Software.
  9. President Trump’s summary firing of the intelligence agency conspirators.  Wait I’m not supposed to write that.  Let’s call that Trump Humor.

And some of these may not be in this order.  I am human after all and sometimes the mood strikes me to switch stuff up.  So stay tuned.

The 10,000 Year Explosion – A Book Review

I just finished reading Gregory Cochran’s and Henry Harpending’s 2010 book “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.”  In some senses this book seems to be a rebuttal of Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies.”  Diamond’s thesis was that geography was the basis for all the differences between the levels of human technological progress across the world.  The underlying message of Diamond’s book is that all humans are exactly the same biologically.  An Australian Aborigone and Albert Einstein are equally likely to discover general relativity as long as they were both living in Eurasia at the right time in the right place.  In my review of Diamond’s book I stated that the results of geographic isolation clearly had great impact on the ability of neighboring peoples to benefit from the latest technological technology discoveries.  But I also doubted that this provided any proof that there were no meaningful differences between different human population groups.

“The Ten Thousand Year Explosion” is the answer to Diamond’s assertion on equivalence of human populations.  Cochran and Harpending provide a thesis on why human populations would differ and then a litany of examples of where they do.  The book is a fascinating story of how modern humans expanded out of Africa at the end of the last Ice Age and interacted and replaced the archaic humans who preceded them in colonizing Eurasia.  It is truly amazing that in a few short years Neanderthals and other archaic humans have gone from a few bones sitting in a museum display to creatures whose DNA can be compared gene by gene with our own.  Cochran and Harpending examine the genetic evidence and put forth the case that hybridization of modern humans with Neanderthals in Europe is the most likely explanation for the explosion of genetic and cultural changes that occurred when these two human populations interacted.  Their thesis is that the introduction of new alleles (genetic options) gave these humans added flexibility to adapt to their new environment and this led to selection for physical and mental characteristics that in turn gave rise to advances in agriculture, technology, culture and language.

Another message that Cochran and Harpending stress is that human evolution has not slowed even now.  A final example to reinforce this idea is the case of the Ashkenazi Jews.  Cochran and Harpending analyze the history of the Ashkenazi people and the genetic linkage between their higher average intelligence as a group and a number of genetic diseases that are linked to brain function.  He points out that these changes occurred in a period of less than a thousand years and are the result of natural selection reinforced by reproductive isolation and selective advantage based on occupation.

The 10,000 Year Explosion is a fascinating book.  You’ll learn that there literally was a tribe that gave rise to all the Indo-European speaking tribes (Celts and Greeks and Romans and Slavs and Germans and Aryans) and that this pastoral tribe went on to conquer and mix with people over half of Eurasia because they could digest lactose in milk.  And they were epic poets in Ireland, Greece and India.  The book is full of interesting facts and thought provoking ideas.  And I think it will convince most people that Jared Diamond is only looking at half the story by neglecting the genetic and other physical evidence about human history that is now available to scientists.  It turns out nature and nurture are inextricably linked and progress breeds change and vice versa.  We continue to change and to deny this is silly and counterproductive.

17MAY2018 – Quote of the Day

Heinlein was probably exclusively thinking of religion but the relevancy to the Left’s brand of politically correct propaganda is extremely obvious to me.

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creeds into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.

Robert A. Heinlein

Good Grief! Another Book I Have To Read! The Great Revolt by Selena Zito

The link is to an article by the author giving the fifty cent summation of her book.  Well, here’s more sleep deprivation for yours truly.  This book rightly concentrates on the people who voted Trump in and looks at the constituency instead of the man who figured out it was there.  Should be an interesting read if it is substantive.  After all if all that is needed is a simple why then I can answer that.  It’s because the Left was trying to bury us.

https://townhall.com/columnists/salenazito/2018/05/15/the-great-revolt-n2480737