Am I misunderstanding something, or is this paper both stupid AND racist?

August 9th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, mondo academico | 63 Comments »

Okay now look. I realise that political correctness has made it difficult to talk around some issues involving race, biology, and culture. I realise that some subjects have been effectively closed to discussion, under fear of accusations of racism. I don’t want to throw these accusations around wildly.

But can somebody please tell me what possible good there is to be found in this paper from the journal Medical Hypotheses, founded by controversialist David Horrobin:

“Down subjects and Oriental population share several specific attitudes and characteristics”
Federica Mafrica and Vincenzo Fodale.
Medical Hypotheses (2007) 69, 438–440
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2006.12.043

The central thrust of their argument is that people with Down’s Syndrome have a lot in common with people from oriental countries.

Here are some examples of the impressive evidence they have amassed to support their argument.

Another aspect of Down person that remind the
Asiatic population, are alimentary characteristics.
Down subjects adore having several dishes displayed
on the table and have a propensity for food
which is rich in monosodium glutamate

I am being deadly serious. This is a proper academic journal, published by ex-arms dealers Elsevier, which I myself have read in the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford.

They go on:

The tendencies of Down subjects to carry out
recreative-reabilitative activities, such as embroi-
dery, wicker-working ceramics, book-binding, etc.,
that is renowned, remind the Chinese hand-crafts,
which need a notable ability, such as Chinese vases
or the use of chop-sticks employed for eating by
Asiatic populations.

I see no evidence anywhere that this is a spoof.

Some attitudes and any daily habitus observed in
Down subjects, recall those of the oriental
population.

Down persons during waiting periods, when they
get tired of standing up straight, crouch, squatting
down, reminding us of the ‘‘squatting’’ position
described by medical semeiotic which helps the venous
return. They remain in this position for several
minutes and only to rest themselves this
position is the same taken by the Vietnamese, the
Thai, the Cambodian, the Chinese, while they are
waiting at a the bus stop, for instance, or while
they are chatting.

There is another pose taken by Down subjects
while they are sitting on a chair: they sit with their
legs crossed while they are eating, writing, watching
TV, as the Oriental peoples do.

Now I don’t want to be unfair. I just don’t know what to make of all this. Medical Hypotheses has legendarily published some pretty far out work, but it has an admirable manifesto:

Medical Hypotheses is a forum for ideas in medicine and related biomedical sciences. It will publish interesting and important theoretical papers that foster the diversity and debate upon which the scientific process thrives.

It’s edited by Bruce Charlton, a reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle, and the editorial board is impressive, including Antonio Damasio, Roy Calne, and others.

Being entirely serious, something about this paper really does make me feel quite uncomfortable. The only way I can feel safe about it is to post the full text here, so you can make your own minds up about it. I would be particularly interested to hear what the Down’s Syndrome Assocation and the Chinese and Japanese embassies have to say on the subject. In fact ‘d be interested to hear what this chap has to say about it too.

Ooh, and in case you forgot: Positive Internet are gods.

Down subjects and Oriental population share
several specific attitudes and characteristics q
Federica Mafrica 1, Vincenzo Fodale *,2
Department of Neuroscience, Psychiatric and Anesthesiological Sciences, University of Messina,
Policlinico Universitario ‘‘G.Martino’’, Via Consolare Valeria, 98125 Messina, Italy
Received 28 November 2006; accepted 18 December 2006
Summary Down’s syndrome is characterized not only by a typical ‘‘habitus’’, mental retardation of variable gravity and several alterations of the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrenteric and immunitary system, but also by specific attitudes and characteristics that are in common with the Oriental population. Starting from the origin of the term mongolism, replaced with other terms such as Trisomy 21, Down’s syndrome, and anomaly of Down because of the racist use made in the last century, we propose, in the light of modern knowledge about the heredity of features, a reflection on those aspects and attitudes which highlight a very particular twinning between a Down person and Asiatic peoples.

Introduction
Down’s syndrome is a condition characterized by a
typical ‘‘habitus’’ and a mental retardation of variable
gravity. The face is oriental: the fissures of
eyes are oblique and present the epicantus; the
nose is short and the root is flat, the knape of the
neck is flat and covered with very loose skin and
subcutaneous. The limbs are short and stocky and
a marked laxity of ligaments is present. Several
alterations of the cardiovascular, respiratory,
gastrenteric and immunitary system can be associated.
In addition, specific attitudes and characteristics
may be shown evidences.
Origin of term ‘‘Mongolism’’
The first description of Down’s syndrome dates
back to 1846 when Seguin [1] spoke about a ‘‘furfuraceous
cretinism’’. In 1866 John Langdon Haydon
Down published an ethnic classification of idiotis.
In this classification, the author distinguished the
idiotis according to an ethnic typology: the Ethiopic,
the Caucasian, the mongoloid. Therefore for
the first time the term ‘‘mongolism’’ appeared [2].

Today this syndrome is nominated with other
terms such as Trisomy 21, Down’s syndrome, anomaly
of Down.
Down peoples and Asiatic peoples
The strong characteristic, that leads Langdon to
compare the Down population to the Asiatic one,
is the eyes with a typical almond-form. However,
it is possible to highlight other aspects of Down
subjects which remind the Asiatic population, such
as fine and straight hair, the distribution of apparatus
piliferous, which appears to be sparse.
Some attitudes and any daily habitus observed in
Down subjects, recall those of the oriental
population.
Down persons during waiting periods, when they
get tired of standing up straight, crouch, squatting
down, reminding us of the ‘‘squatting’’ position
described by medical semeiotic which helps the venous
return. They remain in this position for several
minutes and only to rest themselves this
position is the same taken by the Vietnamese, the
Thai, the Cambodian, the Chinese, while they are
waiting at a the bus stop, for instance, or while
they are chatting.
There is another pose taken by Down subjects
while they are sitting on a chair: they sit with their
legs crossed while they are eating, writing, watching
TV, as the Oriental peoples do.
Another aspect of Down person that remind the
Asiatic population, are alimentary characteristics.
Down subjects adore having several dishes displayed
on the table and have a propensity for food
which is rich in monosodium glutamate (a salt of
glutamate), such as parmigiano, beef broth, tinned
food, etc. [3]. The Chinese food abounds in monosodium
glutamate that seems to be responsible for
the fifth taste or ‘‘umami taste’’ [4] and of the
‘‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’’ [5], (a syndrome
characterized by flushing, tightness and breathing-
difficulties). Furthermore, it has been observed
that Down subjects present a deficit of GABA transmission
due to a higher consumption of glutamate.
In fact, it seems that a biological limit keeps the
brain of Down individuals from having too much
glucose, by acting on its intake. Glucose is a precursor
of l-glutamate acid via the Kreb’s cycle
and glutamatic acid, in its turn, is the precursor
of GABA [6].
The incidence of thyroid disease in the Down
population is another aspect that may be highlighted
since it recall the Asiatic population. In
fact, thyroid disorders are common in the Down’s
syndrome. The prevalence of hypothyroidism has
been found to be greater than that of hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism may be either present from
birth or be acquired [7].
In several studies about the incidence of thyroid
disorders in the Asiatic populations, childhood
Grave’s disease has been reported to be rare, but
epidemiological data showed to be higher in Hong
Kong children [8]. Another study observed that
one large Chinese family harboured susceptibility
loci for autoimmune thyroid disease which is distinct
from those previously found in the Caucasian
population. This suggests that different susceptibility
loci exist between different ethnic groups
[9].
The tendencies of Down subjects to carry out
recreative–reabilitative activities, such as embroidery,
wicker-working ceramics, book-binding, etc.,
that is renowned, remind the Chinese hand-crafts,
which need a notable ability, such as Chinese vases
or the use of chop-sticks employed for eating by
Asiatic populations.
Perhaps the explanation for their capacities resides
in the monkey-like cast of the hand or rather
in the single transversal solcus that replaces the
normal creases of the flexion of the hand, and their
laxity of ligaments. Also this characteristic of the
Down syndrome may be considered a point in common
with oriental populations.
The trisomy-16 murine, a biological model,
could be utilized to understand the molecular and
developmental effects associated with abnormal
chromosome numbers. In fact, the distal segment
of murine chromosome-16 is homologous to nearly
the entire long arm of human chromosome-21 [10].
Conclusion
These observations might highlight very interesting
aspects connected to the supernumerary chromosome
21 in Down’s syndrome, whereas they are
natural features of Asians. It would be just as interesting
to understand why the chromosome should
be in triple copy to express ‘‘these coincidences’’
in the Down subject, whereas it is sufficient in double
copy in Asians, who do not show mental retardation
or malformation in various organs or
systems.
Furthermore, it may be interesting to know the
gravity with which the Downs syndrome occurs in
Asiatic population, especially in Chinese population.
This study may offer the possibility of to know
better the neuropathology mechanisms that are
responsible of mental retardation in Downs syn-
drome and to open a new diagnostic and therapeutic
way for to operate precociously.
Perhaps we could even clear Langdon of all
blame from the accusation of being a ‘‘racist’’
for having first observed a sort of twinning which
could be looked at in more depth in the light of
modern knowledge on the heredity of features
and on genic expression and inactivation.
References
[1] Seguin E. Idiocy and its treatment by physiological methods.
New York: William Wood; 1866.
[2] Langdon-Down J. Observation on an ethnic classification of
idiots. London Hospital Reports 1866;3:259–62.
[3] Cocchi R. Food habits in Down of 10 years or more. Int
J Intellect Impair 1994;7:149–57.
[4] de Araujio IE, Kringelbach ML, Rolls ET, Hobden P.
Representation of umami taste in the Human brain.
J Neurophysiol 2003;90:313–9.
[5] Keney RA. The Chinese restaurant syndrome: anecdote
revisited. Food Chem Toxicol 1986;24:351–4.
[6] Cocchi R. Precursori dell’ac. Glutammico e del GABA
e abitudini alimentari nei Down: Indagine epidemiologica
su 460 soggetti. Int J Intellect Impair 1990;3:
307–12.
[7] Prasher VP. Down sindrome and thyroid disorder: a review.
Down Syndr Res Pract 1999;6:25–42.
[8] Wong GW, Cheng PS. Increasing incidence pf childhood
Graves’ disease in Hong Kong: a follow-up study. Clin
Endocrinol (Oxf.) 2001;54:547–50.
[9] Villanueva R, Tomer Y, Greenberg DA, et al. Autoimmune
thyroid disease susceptibility loci in a large Chinese family.
Clin Endocrinol (Oxf.) 2002;56:45–51.
[10] Galdzicki Z, Siarey RJ. Understanding mental retardation in
Down’s syndrome using trisomy 16 mouse models. Genes
Brain Behav 2003;2(3):167–78.


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63 Responses



  1. RS said,

    July 31, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Medical Hypotheses is not a proper journal – it doesn’t have peer review – it is a venue for nutjobs to deposit stuff that wouldn’t get published anywhere else .

  2. prosthesis said,

    July 31, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    We’ve entered a timewarp and it was accepted in 1806? Or it’s April 1st and someone has a poor sense of humour?

    I wouldn’t expect something of this quality to get published in the BNP newsletter, let alone a “medical” journal. Essentially, they seem to have said “mongoloid” was a term for Down’s, and drawn a load of spurious comparisons based on this. Being lenient, it’s a very naive piece, execrably written (that an editor should have binned)…being harsh, well, not sure where to start.

  3. Fyse said,

    July 31, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Er, no. I don’t think you are misunderstanding.

  4. JohnPettigrew said,

    July 31, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Yes, it is both.

    It’s not even close to science – it’s just the authors saying “look, people with Down’s syndrome look like Mongols, and even stand and sit like them.”

    There’s just anecdote with no control – they claim that people with Down’s syndrome tend to crouch when resting but offer no figures to back this up, nor a comparison with their native culture’s use of these postures. Similarly with handicrafts (and, of course, they take no account of the fact that disabled people are often encouraged to take up handicrafts as part of their therapy – accounting in large part for the high indidence of practitioners among those with DS).

    It’s an almost completely ridiculous and risible article. To be honest, it’a barely even racist. It’s so crass that it suggests that the authors have never even heard of racism, so unconsciously stereotyped does their attitude towards race appear to be.

    Move along, nothing to see here.

  5. Wonko said,

    July 31, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Reminds me of that famous hypothesis expounded in November 1941 that Japanese people could never fly aeroplanes because they had no sense of balance owing to being carried around on their mothers’ backs as babies.

  6. Tony Jackson said,

    July 31, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Agree with RS on this one and Ben, I think you’re being far too generous to Medical Hypotheses. It isn’t a serious journal. Here for example is their um… unusual attitude to peer review:

    “Medical Hypotheses takes a deliberately different approach to peer review. Most contemporary practice tends to discriminate against radical ideas that conflict with current theory and practice. Medical Hypotheses will publish radical ideas, so long as they are coherent and clearly expressed. Furthermore, traditional peer review can oblige authors to distort their true views to satisfy referees, and so diminish authorial responsibility and accountability. In Medical Hypotheses, the authors’ responsibility for the integrity, precision and accuracy of their work is paramount. The editor sees his role as a ‘chooser’, not a ‘changer’: choosing to publish what are judged to be the best papers from those submitted.”

    Translation: “we publish any old crap so long as it’s wacky enough to catch the editor’s eye.”

  7. used to be jdc said,

    July 31, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    “A very large number of congenital idiots are typical Mongols. So marked is this, that when placed side by side, it is difficult to believe that the specimens compared are not children of the same parents.”

    From www.neonatology.org/classics/down.html

    ‘Google images’ contains pictures of both Mongolians and children with Down Syndrome if anyone reeaally wants to check.

    Maybe a very large number of congenital idiots have taken to writing studies for Medical Hypothoses?

  8. prosthesis said,

    July 31, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Maybe Prince Philip has a new career in medicine..I was just looking at this again and couldn’t help but think of the famous “slitty-eyed” comment…

  9. randomas said,

    July 31, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    You think that English is bad? I’ve been on linguistic editorial duties for Italians for over 5 years now. You have no clue of how bad it can get.

    Don’t forget that writing in proper scientific English is a nontrivial task for foreigners. Sometimes referees just pull an “Your English sucks” just by looking at the authors’ surnames. Happened to me with my use of the word “arson”, my boss stopped me before I could send a flammable email back …

  10. almagest said,

    July 31, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    This blog seems to be going seriously off the rails.

    You started here and in the Guardian by criticising bad science.

    But now you seem to have moved to criticising politically incorrect science which is totally different concept and diametrically opposed in spirit, although sadly more popular with your readers as the comments above illustrate.

    The low-lying fruit (single mutations) has already been harvested. Genetic conditions like Down Syndrome almost certainly involve many genes. Pinning down which is far from easy. The suggestion that we might look at gene differences between, say, UK and Chinese populations as a way of narrowing down the search is not totally stupid.

    I can think of plenty of criticisms to make of the article above, but this rambling nonsense has nothing to do with whether it is good science

    However, this is far from an isolated case. Because of the absurd pressure to publish, the overwhelming majority of journal articles are fairly useless. But you seem to focus you ire on ones whose conclusions don’t fit your preconceptions. That has nothing to do with whether they are good science.

  11. Fralen said,

    July 31, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    “Genetic conditions like Down Syndrome almost certainly involve many genes.”

    You pompous moron. Yeah Down’s does involve “many genes”. All the ones on chromosome 21 in fact. And I don’t fully understand why your embarrassing ignorance – and views on what this blog ought to cover – should get in the way of us poking fun at wops.

  12. terryhamblin said,

    July 31, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    David Horrobin was a strange chap. Medical Hypothesis is a strange journal. Probably not worth the column inches.

  13. Matt Black said,

    July 31, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    How quaint. It reads like one of those anthropological papers from the mid 1800s.

    What are the usual criteria to having something published in ‘Medical Hypotheses’? Is it usually just postulation and anectode or is this of lower standard than usual?

  14. used to be jdc said,

    July 31, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    New competition – which blog poster can be the first to have a spoof paper accepted by MH? Ooh – I hope there’ll be a prize!

  15. RS said,

    July 31, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Some previous papers:

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=15325026&ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    This is my favourite as it is clearly a spoof poking fun at schizophrenia researchers.

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=8676758&ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    This one is by a real psychiatrist.

  16. RS said,

    July 31, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    www.fodale.com/

  17. Lise said,

    July 31, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    “Oriental peoples”? Wot, all 4 billion of them? There’s some gross generalisations going on with the lumping together the populations of over 40 countries spanning a third of the earth’s land surface, before we even get to comparisons with any other group. But, apparently, they all sit cross-legged or squatting while eating their MSG-infused foods. Sheesh.

  18. Richard said,

    July 31, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    You know, despite not having Down’s syndrome or hailing from the far east, I also rather like having several dishes of food on the table and enjoy chinese food.

    I’ve often seen English made embroidery, wicker work, ceramics and the like for sale at craft fairs here in England.

    Furthermore, when I’m watching TV or reading a book, I often sit with my legs crossed.

    Perhaps we could have a paper entitled “Englishmen and Oriental population share several specific attitudes and characteristics”. Or perhaps, “Different humans share similar attitudes and characteristics”. It could be accompanied by a paper entitled “Bear shits in woods”.

  19. Pedantica said,

    July 31, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I think he could be on to something. Britain is suffering from an economically damaging balance of trade deficit with the handicraft-exporting Down syndrome community. I recommend selling them Opium to redress the balance.

    But no doubt the namby-pamby do gooder liberals will say this is against their Human Rights or some such nonesense. It’s Political Correctness gone mad.

  20. Coobeastie said,

    July 31, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    This is even sloppy as Victorian science – they at least got off their arses to make spurious measurements of head circumference to back up their racist theories.

  21. Gimpy said,

    July 31, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    oops this sentence should be corrected as follows……

    there is plenty of evidence that Ashkenazi Jews are more prone to certain mental disorders compared to the surrounding population so why not a positive trait, such as intelligence, as well as negative traits?

  22. diogenes said,

    July 31, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    No doubt this paper is idiotic. But, as i think most comments do recognise, what is wrong with it is surely that it is scientifically defective rather than morally defective. Its a touchy subject, for good reason, but I don’t believe that if a conflict were to arise between our shared moral beliefs and a rigourous empirical study we should automatically favour the moral beliefs; quite the reverse.

    Generally, and happily, enlightened ethical thinking tends to go hand in hand with balanced empirical study and is supported by it. But if this were not the case, serious questions would have to be tackled, and allegations of racism would be out of place.

  23. calvin said,

    July 31, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    “calvin have you got an axe to grind here?”

    Not really, I just get a kick out of hearing Guardian readers supporting racial science.

  24. Gimpy said,

    July 31, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    36. calvin could you explain what you mean by ‘racial science’? Go as heavy as you like on the eugenics and genetics. Do you agree with what I said about the Ashkenazi intelligence hypothesis being scientifically valid? Can you see the difference between that and the above article on Down’s?

  25. maninalift said,

    July 31, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    #35 Yes the critical point is that it is nonscience. But then the question arises as to what it is. Either it is a parody or it is one of those idiots who manage somehow manage to continue under an illusion of their own intelligence. The type of people I am talking about are those who are very proud of the fact that they are able to argue what they believe to be a watertight case for just about any theory that might come to their mind, unaware that that is only a symptom of their defective understanding of logic and evidence. In this case it seems that what has particularly attracted the writer to the theory is the frisson of it’s racist connotations.

  26. jackpt said,

    July 31, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Ben, I don’t think you’re misunderstanding the paper. You’re right to blog it. It is bad science, and it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s either clever satire of a certain wacky minority of academics by someone with skills akin to Chris Morris, or complete bullshit. I hope any subscribers to the journal take note.

  27. JohnD said,

    July 31, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    Why is it non-science?

    It makes an observation, on which it bases a theory that there is some association with characteristics of Downs and Asdian people. It tests the theory by offering some references that agree with the theory, though several assertions (eg laxity of ligamanets) are unsupported. And it also suggests a mouse model that could be used for more tests. (Not sure if an association between human super-families can be stretched to mice, but there you are)
    Their intention would seem to be to find out more about Down’s syndrome, not cast aspersions on Asians, and as RS found they do have a history of work with Down’s patients’ neurology and pharmacology, in line with the title of their Department, where Dr.Fodale is an “Aggregated [?Associate?] Professor of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care”.
    See his web page: www.fodale.com/

    John

  28. InAStraitJacket said,

    August 1, 2007 at 12:48 am

    As an “Asiatic,” I must confess that I do not find it particularly offensive, and am more concerned with the total lack of science.

    They note the apparent similarities between Asians and people with Down’s syndrome, but so what? Should Asians be offended for being compared to Down’s syndrome patients? Should people with Down’s syndrome be offended for being compared to Asians? Being Asian is a sort of disease? Is it contagious? Down’s syndrome is spread by Asians to increase our kind in this world? How can we get offended if we don’t know what to get offended about?

    If we’re gonna put effort into being offended by racist research, it should at least be directed at research that at least resembles science. After all, this paper doesn’t go past sharing their apparent observations, and all they do is “conclude” that their observations are interesting. They don’t make any hypotheses about why they’re similar, they don’t present any sort of experiment, they don’t provide empirical data, and there isn’t anything to analyze.

    I would heartily agree that this paper is stupid, but for the accusations of its being racist, it is severely lacking. I can think of numerous racist remarks directed at me in my life, and “Down’s syndrome resembler” is comparably not significantly troubling.

  29. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 1, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Does being cited in Bad Science count as impact? And are our so-called Down cases actually secret infiltration agents working for the Orient? (No to the second in almost all cases, I’m sure. You could be both.)

  30. lena said,

    August 1, 2007 at 2:10 am

    OK, so many people have posted on this, I’m probably just piling on, but I grew wary of this journal after my first exposure to it. I was trying to run down something about a paper they said was the year’s best, by Judith Rich Harris, suggesting that human hairlessness and pale skin in Europeans was partially because mother’s practice infanticide selectively to favor those two traits. It was a weird paper in that there was little actual evidence cited by the author, few previous publications referred to, no data, and not much recognition of any other research on this topic. I talked to a couple experts in the field of the evolution of human skin color and the few who didn’t simply dismiss the paper’s arguments out of hand as silly and lacking any support basically sputtered in outrage that anyone would bother to print something with so little evidence. Anyway, it left a very bad taste in my mouth, and I’ve since looked askance at anything this journal publishes. It’s one thing to publish unusual ideas, it’s something quite different to publish unsupported assertions. You know, unless it’s my personal invention of a perpetual motion device that I’m sure would have been patented by now if it wasn’t for this conspiracy against me.

  31. Tom P said,

    August 1, 2007 at 3:12 am

    To spell it out for calvin: “racial science” is a daft notion, but “population genetics” is, you’ll be astonished to hear, actually quite a well understood actual branch of actual science. And occasionally, identifiable genetic populations will correspond well with culturally identified notions of “race” (even though most of the time no such neat correspondence occurs). Ashkenazi Jews, for example. In situations like this, it will suddenly be hard for you to tell population genetics and “racial science” apart, providing you are very silly person who doesn’t understand what they’re talking about and can’t be arsed to look at the context.

    Or, to put it another way, Guardian readers are all closet racists and all scientists are secretly trying to breed a super race of nine-foot-tall flying Jewosaurs.

  32. Filias Cupio said,

    August 1, 2007 at 5:42 am

    I came across a vaguely similar thing the other day. Someone is hypothesising that Aspergers/Autism is inherited from Neandertals, and that these traits were evolutionary advantageous for them.

    www.rdos.net/eng/asperger.htm

    I only skimmed over it. There are lots of references, but it looked to me like they’ve been cherry-picking results – any controversial claim which supports their theory is reported as fact. They also seem positive towards Autism-spectrum conditions and Neandertals.

  33. hadfield said,

    August 1, 2007 at 6:04 am

    Re: “Should Asians be offended for being compared to Down’s syndrome patients? Should people with Down’s syndrome be offended for being compared to Asians? Being Asian is a sort of disease?”

    Well, no, being Asian is not a disease, But as comment #8 pointed out, Dr Downs believed that “Mongolism” (the term that was used for the syndrome until the last decade or 2) represented a regression towards an earlier, inferior form of humanity (so Asians couldn’t suffer from the syndrome, obviously). If I were Asian or had Down’s syndrome I might be offended by that suggestion, if it weren’t so damned stupid.

  34. Nellie Dean said,

    August 1, 2007 at 7:33 am

    Medical Hypotheses was founded by the late Dr David Horrobin, the evening primrose oil supremo. Not withstanding their eminent editorial board – do they have to do anything except lend their names? – they publish crackpot stuff. They charge for publising – someone I knew paid “a couple of thousand dollars” to have his hypothesis published, and then said his idea has been ripped off by a pal of Horrobin’s.
    So, I wonder how much this author paid for the oxygen of publicity? Who did the peer-reviewing? Maybe you can find out from the journal’s eminent editorial board?
    Do board members even realise that the paper is published?

  35. Roger Macy said,

    August 1, 2007 at 9:22 am

    “we propose, … a reflection on .. twinning between a Down person and Asiatic peoples”

    This isn’t science, and reinserting the omitted phrases in their ‘hypothesis’. doesn’t make it any closer.

    nuff said.

  36. Gimpy said,

    August 1, 2007 at 11:16 am

    51. jessina, i’m well aware of the limitations of IQ testing, however, IQ distribution in a population does take the form of a gaussian curve suggesting it is a natural measurable trait. It may not be possible to reliably measure IQ in an individual but it is in a population. Going back to calvin’s posts I was simply trying to make the point, without going into too much detail, that the Ashkenazi intelligence hypothesis is scientifically valid because it is falsifiable and measurable and based on evidence whereas the Down’s one isn’t.

  37. Dr Aust said,

    August 1, 2007 at 11:22 am

    John D wrote:

    “…Dr.Fodale is an “Aggregated [?Associate?] Professor of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care”.
    See his web page:

    www.fodale.com/

    ….”

    Dottore Fodale is an impressively prolific man, by the look of it. Among the many papers listed on his website, and also in our new favourite journal, is the eye-catchingly titled:

    “Viagra, surgery and anesthesia: a dangerous cocktail with a risk of blindness.”

    Fodale V, Di Pietro R, Santamaria S.

    Med Hypotheses. 2007;68(4):880-2.

    linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0306-9877(06)00630-X

  38. Geeb said,

    August 1, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    JohnD (40): “Why is this non-science? It makes an observation…”

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t. An observation would have involved actually observing something, and perhaps even publishing some data.

    From the article:
    “There is another pose taken by Down subjects while they are sitting on a chair: they sit with their legs crossed while they are eating, writing, watching TV, as the Oriental peoples do.”

    What proportion of Down subjects adopt that specific pose, under what circumstances? Any observational data, or a reference to a study of seating habits? What proportion of the Oriental people adopt that specific pose? When? Based on what evidence? What proportion of OTHER groups use that specific pose?

    It’s non-science because it contains no evidence, only a string of completely unsupported assertions. If he had bothered to collect some data and had found a statistically significant correlation, then it might have been science.

    The title “Down subjects and Oriental population share several specific attitudes and characteristics” is just plain wrong, or at the very least completely unsupported.

    It should have been “The author’s preconceived stereotypes of Down subjects and Oriental population share several specific attitudes and characteristics, and this paper contributes nothing more to the debate than these stereotypes.”

  39. maninalift said,

    August 1, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    #52 gimpy: You seem to talk sense most of the time but what the hell are you on about here:

    “IQ distribution in a population does take the form of a Gaussian curve suggesting it is a natural measurable trait”

    What exactly is a natural, measurable trait and why should the distribution of a measurement being Gaussian suggest that it is such? Does the density of hair follicles on vertebrates count as a natural measurable trait? I certainly wouldn’t expect it to be Gaussian distributed. If you ran a test where you asked each subject to hold their hands up as if they were demonstrating the size of a moderately sized fish they had just caught you would probably come up with something like a Gaussian curve. Does that mean that this is a “natural measurable trait”.

    I would suggest that there is actually MORE of a problem using IQ tests to compare populations than to compare individuals within a population. Read through a Mensa IQ test it is riddled with inaccuracies, ambiguities and cultural references. If you know what sort of an answer is expected or you think in the way the setter expects you to think then most of these can be avoided.

  40. Gimpy said,

    August 1, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    55. Oops I think I’ve poorly argued my point. I was thinking along the lines of height distribution in plants, animals or whatever. The distribution of height in a population takes the form of a bell curve but the shape of this bell curve alters in response to genetic and environmental factors. You can do all kinds of experiments by overlaying curves from genetically different populations grown in the same environmental conditions or vice versa to analyse the contribution of genes and environment to normal distribution. Am i any clearer? I’m not arguing that the conclusions of the paper were correct or not, just that it is perfectly acceptable to propose the Ashkenazi intelligence hypothesis based on established evidence and principles. Now we can argue over the acceptability of the methodology and testing regime and so on but that is irrelevant to the point of calvin’s that i was responding to regarding whether or not it is good science or bad science.

    Anyway, don’t get me started on the accuracy of IQ tests or MENSA. But surely you are not denying that there is a hereditary component of intelligence and that intelligence is incapable of being measured (even if there is not yet a reliable test or semi-reliable test)? In fact IQ tests are considered accurate to an extent in psychology because a diagnosis of certain types of dyslexia is made partly on the basis that there is a larger difference between different types of IQ tests in a dyslexic individual compared with a non-dyslexic individual.

  41. maninalift said,

    August 1, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    #56 A Hereditary component of intelligence? In some sense this has to be true in that there is a genetic encoding that causes our brains to develop as human brains not chi-wa-wa brains. Of course the question is whether a significant part of the variation in intelligence of individuals is the result of genetic variation. I wouldn’t like to place a bet on this. Knowing something about brain development I’d say that I’m pretty sure that aspects of the character of a person’s intelligence are probably genetically determined but as for overall intelligence I don’t know. Even if I try not try not to be pedantic about the possibility of measuring this “intelligence” I really don’t know. It may be pretty much all developmental, by which I don’t necessarily mean which school you go to, I mean every aspect of environment and random chance and the interactions thereof from conception onwards.

    On my point about the Gaussian distribution: It is a truly remarkable piece of mathematics but it is much misused, particularly by people in the biological sciences, I tend to pounce on anyone who seems to be waving it around in a vague sort of way.

    “IQ tests are considered accurate to an extent in psychology” that is no reason at all for scientists to consider them accurate. I am officially dyslexic because my reading and writing IQ is about 35 points lower than my IQ in other tasks but I’m not sure that I really “believe in” Dyslexia.

    This isn’t just a matter of whether a test is a _good_ or _bad_ measure of intelligence, it is a matter of trying to be clear about exactly what we are really trying to measure. You will never invent a measure that will contain all of the meaning associated with the term intelligence.

    Having said that I do sort-of agree with your original point in #52.

  42. Gimpy said,

    August 1, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    57. hey i’ve been careful not to make any statement based directly on the Ashkenazi research. I’m not remotely suggesting that there is a ‘gene’ for intelligence. Just arguing that variations in intelligence are conceivably measurable within and between populations. Note the use of the word conceivably.

    my dyslexia post was intended to convey that because some fields treat IQ tests as reliable it is reasonable to assume IQ is measurable when developing a hypothesis. I’m not making any claim for their accuracy. In fact as a regular subject of psychologists during my development I’m well aware of the oddities of psychological tests and the possibilities for taking the piss.

  43. bootboy said,

    August 1, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Brilliant paper, it gives me new hope of publishing some of my excellent scientific papers in a place where the PC thought-police can’t censor me.

    In particular, my ground-breaking new paper “Kalahari Bushmen and feral dogs share several specific attitudes and characteristics”

    A brief taster:

    “Feral dogs are known to form nomadic packs which forage for food on the edges of population centres. They also supplement their diet with occasional hunting forays [1]. This is the very same food-seeking behaviour that has been observed for centuries in the Kalahari Bushmen [2,3,4].

    Both feral dogs and Kalahari Bushmen are known to be genetically similar to mainstream dog and human populations respectively. However, their behavioural divergences from mainstream populations occur in similar areas – they are more savage, vicious, dangerous and of an altogether less pleasant disposition.”

  44. maninalift said,

    August 1, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    #58 I’m sorry I did mean to make it clear that what I was writing was not directed against you. I don’t think your an idiot and neither was I criticizing the Ashkenazi research.

    I am trying to make the general point that developing insightful scientific experiments or trials or whatever requires one to carefully consider what one is trying to measure and how it can achieved.

    I’m trying to say don’t ask “I want to measure intelligence, what practical way is there to do that”, rather ask “what do I really mean by intelligence”. If someone can define it clearly enough then they be able to measure it, then they may have an insightful piece of research. Otherwise all you have is “X correlates with Y”.

  45. Don Cox said,

    August 1, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    “I don’t really accept that there is any reliable way to measure intelligence.”

    How about measuring it by the number of papers published in the Top 200 Journals per thousand (or ten thousand) adults in the population?

  46. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 1, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    My second reaction, on reflection: we all should write letters to this journal expressing apparently sincere appreciation of the short humour piece published in the latest edition. We should describe how we read it aloud in the common-room or the pub or in A and E on a quiet night and had all of our colleagues and a few conscious patients in – so to speak – stitches. We should quote our favourite little gems of scintillating wit in the piece. We should express the hope of seeing the live performance of the work on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And we should try not to be caught out.

  47. mch said,

    August 1, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Doesn’t this ‘study’ compare with culture rather than race? Habits of cultures shouldn’t be confused with genetic race traits, and similarly ‘studies’ shouldn’t be accused of racism, even if they’re making odd observations of cultures.

  48. Geoff_S said,

    August 1, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    ‘Down persons during waiting periods, when they
    get tired of standing up straight, crouch, squatting
    down, reminding us of the ‘‘squatting’’ position
    described by medical semeiotic which helps the venous
    return. … this
    position is the same taken by the Vietnamese, the
    Thai, the Cambodian, the Chinese, while they are
    waiting at a the bus stop, for instance, or while
    they are chatting.’

    Or indeed by the miners in my home town in the 40s and 50s. If you’re used to it, the so-called ‘miner’s squat’ is very comfortable. It had to be – the men had to work in that position for an entire shift.

    I am (was) an engineer rather than a scientist, but the whole thing reads as nonsense and superficial to me.

    Geoff

  49. mikestanton said,

    August 2, 2007 at 12:39 am

    Regarding jckpt’s comment about IQ tests, in 1963/4 in Licolnshire the 11 plus exam was virtually an IQ test. We had a mock exam in Class 4A and only 1 pupil (not me) scored enough to pass. So we had regular coaching lessons from the headteacher every Thursday aftrnoon and 15 of us made it into the grammar school. I think the guy in 4B who passed his 11 plus without the benefit of additional coaching must have had the best brain.

  50. calvin said,

    August 2, 2007 at 11:02 am

    If IQ tests weren’t a valid test of intelligence wouldn’t it be the case that a random testing of people who work in jobs that are generally associated with high intelligence (scientist, etc.) would find no general correlation of professional status and high IQ?

  51. Evilsteve said,

    August 2, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Sorry that should be “(like a Muslim)”.

    It still can only mean one thing.

  52. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 2, 2007 at 11:49 am

    What the hell is an evolutionary psychiatrist?

  53. calvin said,

    August 2, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Reconstructions of trousers from the dark ages (based on grave finds) indicate that their difference in construction from modern trousers was necessary because the vast majority of work during this period was done in a squatting position. Dark age trousers have a panel sewn into the backside that is absent in modern design. Chairs seem to be a product of urbanisation.

  54. GoldenNinjaWarrior said,

    August 2, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Obviously this paper is total guff with not a hint of science contained within.

    I do worry, however, about who is being offended. Is it offensive to Asian people because Downs persons are somehow inferior to ‘normal’ people?

    This ‘paper’ achieves nothing and is full of offence in that it stereotypes whole groups of people. Stereotyping is almost always offensive.

    I don’t think, however, that claiming the comparison is offensive to Asian people is anything other than being offensive to Downs people.

  55. RS said,

    August 2, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    “If IQ tests weren’t a valid test of intelligence wouldn’t it be the case that a random testing of people who work in jobs that are generally associated with high intelligence…”

    Not necessarily. Performance on an English GCSE might well correlate with mathematical ability, even though it is not a valid test of mathematical ability per se – correlations, particularly weak correlations, do not imply that you have a good measure of something. Conversely, even if it is a good measure, you might be restricting the range because everyone in the field has to have an IQ above X, but after that you have both a restricted range of IQs (thus getting a reduced correlation) and maybe other skills (say in science, self promotion) are more important within that population once they have demonstrated a requisite degree of ability (in say maths).

    “Also, not a single one of him drinks alcohol like a Muslim.”

    Lots of people with Down’s that I know drink alcohol – are you sure you aren’t thinking of children with Down’s?

  56. Pro-reason said,

    August 3, 2007 at 7:53 am

    A rather obvious flaw, which no one seems to have pointed out, is that they go on and on about “Asians” and “Asiatics”, and yet it is clear that they actually mean Oriental people.

    It’s like writing a paper on how “mammals” purr, when you actually meant to talk about cats.

  57. jessina said,

    August 3, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    argh sorry to return so late the fray! I do believe that intelligence is, to a certain extent, heridtary. But there are so many different types of intelligence..people who are good at maths but awful at English and vice versa. Or highly articulate people who cannot understand science. I describe people as ‘intelligent’ or ‘thick’ but tuese are hardly accurate assessments of people’s true abilities. I still do not agree that there is one, set measure of intelligence that can be divined in some sort of standardised test.

  58. nekomatic said,

    August 6, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    “If IQ tests weren’t a valid test of intelligence wouldn’t it be the case that a random testing of people who work in jobs that are generally associated with high intelligence (scientist, etc.) would find no general correlation of professional status and high IQ?”

    If wearing a suit wasn’t a valid measure of high intelligence wouldn’t it be the case that a random testing of people who work in jobs that are generally associated with high intelligence (scientist, etc.) would find no general correlation of professional status and wearing a suit?

    If I haven’t not failed to figure out your multiple negatives incorrectly, then no, this is a schoolboy correlation/causation error: wearing a suit is not a valid measure of “intelligence” and neither is success in IQ tests, although both of them may correlate with professional status…

  59. stevejones123 said,

    August 7, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    I reckon the article is a deliberate spoof written by someone who wished to discredit the journal, in which endeavour he has succeeded admirably.

  60. atavachron said,

    August 12, 2007 at 12:14 am

    I thought Down’s syndrome was an error in replication of the 21st chromosome (trisomy). I don’t think an extra chromosome would make me Chinese. Maybe they’re confounding the old-fashioned term ‘mongoloid’ with ‘mongolian’. Or maybe they’re just twats.

  61. Zorn said,

    August 12, 2007 at 12:38 am

    36. Gimpy- It’s not so much the idea of the scienfic validity with this garbage and the Ashkenazi paper. Hell, I really think the Cochran/Harpending piece is true. It’s just that, regardless of scientific validity, at it’s heart, it’s no different from the Bell Curve, no different from Rushton’s work, no different from any other racialist pieces out there, and yet…. There was hardly a wimper of dissent. Granted, doing a google search on “ashkenazi intelligence” brings you alot of various different online media outlets that just take an agnostic tone, along with various GNXP community sites that hook up with eachother, and about a third being random articles involving Israeli politics, but jesus….

    Pinker latched onto it. It got a treatment in the Economicist. It got an applauding frontpage piece in New York Magazine. I’m glad it wasn’t met with insane condemnation like the Bell Curve or Rushton’s work, but people basically LAUDED IT. Am I REALLY the only one who’s distrubted by this? Disgusted? The air of encouragement that met it? I hope to god not. I’m honestly scared with the way the intellectual community is heading when things like that are now met with these kind of responses.

  62. Pennant said,

    August 17, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Reminds me of The Onion – “DNA Evidence Frees Man From Zoo” where a man was mistaken for a giraffe.

    Understandable considering both have one head, have to bend down to drink from a pond and are afraid of lions etc.

    tinyurl.com/2cjbtt

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