Kunstkamera: News from Around the Web
1. Patagonian Monsters. A new website run by Argentina-based Austin Whittall is a wealth of sharp analyses of human genetic variation from an intellectual point of view that’s close to out-of-America II. Whittall is critical of the mainstream interpretations of human genetic variation and explores the possibility of an early peopling of the Americas by Neandertals and /or Homo erectus and a back migration from America to Asia (here and here). The blog’s name is the reverse from the objective, formal and dispassionate content that the professional engineer Whittall produces when he submits mainstream academic publications dealing with human origins to razor-sharp critique. According to some forum chatter, it’s confusing to readers and scares off those who are too impatient to peel off an onion. Of special interest are Whittall’s reading of publications tackling global variation in “niche” genetic and biological systems that fall outside of the “usual suspects” such as mtDNA, Y-DNA and autosomes. Among the biological/genetic systems that Whittall has audited and adduced in support for an early peopling of the Americas (and sometimes an out-of-America scenario) and “special affinity” between Amerindians and Eurasian hominins are Tuberculosis (here and here), Syphilis (here and here), DXS225 locus on X chromosome (here), miR941 gene (here), Helicobacter pylori bacteria (here and here), MAPT gene (here), ADH and ALDH enzymes (here), IBD on chromosome 1 (here), lipid catabolism (here), HLA (here) and others. Critical review of general inferences from genetic data can be found here, here, here and here (the latter two on the infamous “molecular clock”). I welcome Whittall’s writings and have to admit that the command of population genetics showed by a “randomly picked” engineer with a passion for Patagonian nature and antiquities seems to be more sophisticated and worldly than the pop genetic prose by such “geneticists-in-training” as Razib “Cat Lady” Khan.
2. A new “kid on the genome block(g)” is Alexander Kim, Staff Scientist at the David Reich’s Lab at Harvard, who started a website called Sarkoboros. As it is typical of academia-locked bloggers, Sarkoboros will unlikely advance novel interpretations, offer rarely tackled types of data or entertain the reader with wild debates in the Comments sections, but it will surely furnish him or her with a random collection of uncontroversial points of view, sectarian erudition and cavalier armchair “slam dunks” against misguided dissenters. Sarkoboros’s blogroll (see on the left) features the usual comfort food menu including such fattening or even stale items as GNXP and West Hunter (customer service is pretty bad at those joints, too). Sarkoboros’s Origins theme is clearly borrowed from Anthropogenesis, which makes for a better compliment than a place on a blogroll. Just like John Hawks, Alexander Kim has a travelogue, which is apparently becoming a signature cost-of-entry for celebrity academics. I travel around the world therefore I am a world-famous academic. Just kidding! It’s good to have Sarkoboros around!
3. I’ve been posting at Forum Biodiversity where I was invited to “defend” out-of-America. Again, it’s remarkable what pernicious effects out-of-Africa has on lay people. What I like about forums is that you get access to pretty intricate profiles of participating consumers. Apparently, out-of-Africa appeals to two segments of human origins consumers: Out-of-Africa Conservatives interpret the greater genetic proximity of African blacks to African archaics and big apes as proof of Africans’ inferiority, or as one poster put it,
“SSAs [Sub-Saharan Africans] with their lower IQs, thicker skulls, higher testosterone etc are closer to primates on the evolution scale so it makes perfect sense that more evolved races are built on top of that ancestry.”
Out-of-Africa Optimists (oftentimes of African descent proudly sporting L0a1a1a2a5 mtDNA haplotypes), on the other hand, revel in the idea that they stem directly from First Humans who have been most genetically diverse and darkest-skinned people and from whom all other, non-African, humans derive through progressive bottlenecks and inexorable skin whitening. From their perspective, Amerindians are the furthest removed from the “original fully human” signal, which is still vigorously resonating across Sub-Saharan Africa but got watered down as humans colonized such remote places as the New World, lost their genetic diversity along the way and did not have enough time to brown back up.
“From Africa, Arabia and Indian into South East Asia and the South Pacific. Dark skinned people all along the way….except for the Americans.”
The “African archaic admixture” hypothesis that the out-of-America framework is using to explain African genetic specificity is received equally belligerently by both Out-of-Africa Conservatives and Out-of-Africa Optimists, but for two radically different reasons. The Conservatives hate losing the rewarding linear evolutionary logic behind the perceived genetic differences between the Blacks and the rest, while the Optimists feel that the African admixture hypothesis deprives Africans of genetic holiness and the African phylogeny of its messianic depth. Dark, ignorant and aggressive, Out-of-Africa Optimists are supported by possibly more enlightened genome bloggers with derived mtDNA lineages (such as Polako/Davidski or one Zakar Baal) who also serve as “moderators” in those forums and who make sure that the rules of the forum whereby “don’t call a model idiot ‘idiot’ but call an expert ‘idiot’ instead” are strictly observed.
Some common representatives of the out-of-Africa species of human origins consumers can be seen below. Long live Kunstkamera!Readers who like this post may also like “Kunstkamera: A Sample of Mental DNA Found Among the Consumers of Online Science Content.”
Kudos for giving recognition to Austin’s excellent blog. His recent posts on tb and syphilis shed light on murky interpretations of ancient epidemiology, and the early peopleing of the Americas.
I almost spit out my beverage, when I read the newest tb paper, and their finding that tb is only 6k years old and originated in south American pinnepeds, even in the face of ample examples of tb in the fossil record of north American bovines 17k year ago.