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January 25, 2006

Comments

Andrew

This appears to be as much a case of a poorly written abstract as bad science - in the full paper, they did actually test 7 Africans and the relevant haplotype was not present in them. So really the abstract should read "Europeans and Africans." 7 seems like a suspiciously small sample size (and they didn't say what part of Africa), and Europe and Africa still don't equal "worldwide," but I guess it's not as bad as it seems at first...

Abiola

Alright then, I'll grant you that the paper isn't *quite* as bad as its abstract indicates, but that still isn't saying much: as you yourself note, a mere 7 "Africans" of unstated geographical origin doesn't mean much (Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians were Africans, last I heard, as were white South Africans, for that matter), and there's still the not insignificant populations of the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia and Southern America to consider. East Asians are the most genetically homogenous of the major "racial" groups, but in all sorts of ways (e.g. stupid disputes over "Memoirs of a Geisha") many of them betray a belief that the facts are actually the direct opposite, and the galling thing to me is just how widespread such delusions are even amongst those well educated enough to know better.

Jim

"many of them betray a belief"

Belief being the operative word - all the hype and hysteria over Darwin and creationism in the US is at least matched by hype and hysteria over theories of national origins in Japan and the rest of the area. There was all kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth when some textbook writer included the fact that there had ben Korean cultural impulses in the formation of early Japan. In China there is heartburn over the Out of Africa proposal. It is a matter of religious belief, even in supposedly atheist China.

"even people with PhDs equate "Europeans" with a "worldwide" population:"

Binary distinctions make everything easy, and even people with PhDs can be very lazy.

Abiola

"hype and hysteria over theories of national origins in Japan and the rest of the area. There was all kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth when some textbook writer included the fact that there had ben Korean cultural impulses in the formation of early Japan. In China there is heartburn over the Out of Africa proposal."

Yes, this is *exactly* the sort of rampant lunacy I'm talking about - in no other part of the world would it be controversial to state that peoples who have long neighbored each other have shared origins and similar physical features, as if anything else could reasonably be expected.

"even people with PhDs can be very lazy."

What's truly shameful is that the gatekeepers for Western journals, who ought themselves to know better, just let such nonsense pass. In this I see shades of Hwang-gate - far from discriminating against Asians, I suspect quite a lot of Western reviewers and journal referees are reluctant to apply quite the same level of critical scrutiny to much of the research coming from that part of the world as they would to the work of scientists from Europe or America, no doubt partly out of a desire to encourage scientists from developing countries, but also largely out of a fear of being thought "racist."

Andrew

Actually, I think this paper is more an example of bad reviewing than the Hwang case. Reviewers aren't supposed to look for fake data, they're supposed to look for faulty interpretations of the data as presented. The Hwang papers slipped past peer review not because they were from a Korean lab, but because the conclusions made sense given the data presented - the problem was that the data presented were fake. Probably another factor with the Hwang papers is that the claim was something people wanted very badly to believe. (And then there is the "reputation" factor... papers from famous labs are often subjected to less scrutiny, consciously or unconsciously.) I'm not sure we need to invoke the "soft bigotry of low expectations" when confirmation bias and the limited nature of peer review suffice. Whereas this case is an example of conclusions that don't follow from the data presented, so peer review should have caught it.

As for the reviewers of this paper: I don't know how the review process at AJHG works, but it's entirely possible that the paper was reviewed by Chinese scientists, since reviewers are often randomly assigned (out of a pool of people qualified, obviously). Or maybe the paper's authors specifically asked for someone known to be very skeptical to be excluded from the reviewer pool (this is common practice).

Jim

"As for the reviewers of this paper: I don't know how the review process at AJHG works, but it's entirely possible that the paper was reviewed by Chinese scientists, "

This is how it works in general in China and always has - science serves politics, period. Often that is good, as with all the huge effort over the years in agricultural methods improvement and enviromental remediation. Sometimes it's bad. Sometimes the results have to buttress received opinion, as in this case. It has been this way for a long, long time - in the Han dynasty a big purge broke over the methods used to calculate the calendar - a real purge, with executions of family members and everything.

Andrew

"This is how it works in general in China and always has"

That wasn't my point - this journal is an American journal, headed by someone at B&W's hospital in Boston. My point was that it could be that the paper was reviewed by Chinese scientists just by random chance

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