Posts Tagged ‘Social Sciences’

Nutrition rather than genetics when it comes to height over the last 100 years

September 2, 2013

Nutrition – and especially nutrition in the early years of life – has dominated the development of human height over the last 100 years. An average growth of 11 cm in the last 100 years. One hundred years is just over 5 generations and far too short a time for Darwinian genetics to have had any significant impact. This increase in height, rather than being hampered, actually accelerated during 2 World Wars and the Great Depression in the 15 European countries studied.

But now as the height impact of improved nutrition plateaus, perhaps the next 100 years and five generations of fast food will bring an 11cm increase in human width!!

In the “nature” versus “nurture” debate it only convinces me further that for all genetic traits, the particular set of genes in an individual only provides a Bell curve of the available framework for the expression of that trait. And there will be a Bell curve for each “trait” which is genetically determined. Thereafter it is “nurture” and/or the existing environment which determines the level to which that trait is expressed.

Nature and Nurture

Nature and Nurture

Science Codex: 

The average height of European males increased by an unprecedented 11cm between the mid-nineteenth century and 1980, according to a new paper published online today in the journalOxford Economic Papers. Contrary to expectations, the study also reveals that average height actually accelerated in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Timothy J. Hatton, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex and the Research School of Economics at Australian National University in Canberra, examined and analysed a new dataset for the average height (at the age of around 21) of adult male birth cohorts, from the 1870s to 1980, in fifteen European countries. The data were drawn from a variety of sources. For the most recent decades the data were mainly taken from height-by-age in cross sectional surveys. Meanwhile, observations for the earlier years were based on data for the heights of military conscripts and recruits. The data is for men only as the historical evidence for women’s heights is severely limited.

Professor Hatton said, “Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations. The evidence suggests that the improving disease environment, as reflected in the fall in infant mortality, is the single most important factor driving the increase in height. The link between infant mortality and height has already been demonstrated by a number of studies.” Infant mortality rates fell from an average of 178 per thousand in 1871-5 to 120 per thousand in 1911-15. They then plummeted to 41 in 1951-5 and 14 in 1976-80.

In northern and middle European countries (including Britain and Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and Germany) there was a “distinct quickening” in the pace of advance in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression. This is striking because the period largely predates the wide implementation of major breakthroughs in modern medicine and national health services. One possible reason, alongside the crucial decline in infant mortality, for the rapid growth of average male height in this period was that there was a strong downward trend in fertility at the time, and smaller family sizes have already been linked with increasing height.

Other factors in the increase in average male height include an increased income per capita; more sanitary housing and living conditions; better general education about health and nutrition (which led to better care for children and young people within the home); and better social services and health systems.

Source: Oxford University Press

Social psychology may be rigorous but it is not a science

August 18, 2013

Scientific American carries an article by a budding psychologist who is upset that many don’t accept that it is a science – but I think she protests too much. I have no doubt that many social psychologists study their discipline with great rigour. And so they should. (And I accept the rigour of most of the researchers in this field notwthstanding the publicity seeking, high profile fraudsters such as Stapel and Hauser who did not).

But it is not any lack of rigour which makes psychology “not a science”. It is the fact that we just don’t know enough about the forces driving our sensory perceptions and our subsequent behaviour (via biochemistry in the body and the brain) to be able to formulate proper falsifiable hypotheses.  Behaviour is fascinating and many of the empirical studies trying to pin down the causes and effects are brilliantly conceived and carried out. But behaviour is complicated and we don’t know the drivers. Inevitably measurement is complicated and messy.

Even the alchemists made rigorous measurements. But they never knew enough to elevate alchemy to a science. And so it is with psychology and with social psychology in particular. We are waiting for the body of evidence to grow and the insight of a John Dalton and a Antoine Lavoisier to lift psychology from an alchemy-like art to the true level of a science.

Her article is interesting but a little too defensive. And she misses the point. Just having rigour in measurement is insufficient to make an art into a science.

Psychology’s brilliant, beautiful, scientific messiness

 Melanie Tannenbaum

Melanie TannenbaumMelanie Tannenbaum is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received an M.A. in social psychology in 2011. Her research focuses on the science of persuasion & motivation regarding political, health-related, and environmental behavior.

Today, sitting down to my Twitter feed, I saw a new link to Dr. Alex Berezow’s old piece on why psychology cannot call itself a science. The piece itself is over a year old, but seeing it linked again today brought up old, angry feelings that I never had the chance to publicly address when the editorial was first published. Others, like Dave Nussbaum, have already done a good job of dismantling the critiques in this article, but the fact that people are still linking to this piece (and that other pieces, even elsewhere on the SciAm Network, are still echoing these same criticisms) means that one thing apparently cannot be said enough:

Psychology is a science.

Shut up about how it’s not, already.

But she gets it almost right in her last paragraph. Indeed psychology is still an art – but that is not additional to its being a science (by definition).

.. The thought, the creativity, the pure brilliance that goes into finding measurable, testable proxies for “fuzzy concepts” so we can experimentally control those indicators and find ways to step closer, every day, towards scientifically studying these abstractions that we once thought we would never be able to study — that’s beautiful. Quite frankly, it’s not just science — it’s an art. And often times, the means that scientists devise to help them step closer and closer towards approximating these abstract concepts, finding different facets to measure or different ways to conceptualize our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? That process alone is so brilliant, so tricky, and so critical that it’s often worth receiving just as much press time as the findings themselves.

To keep psychology in the realms of art rather than science is not to demean the discipline or to attack the rigour of those working the field. And maybe psychologists should consider why they  get so upset at being called artists rather than scientists and why they wish to be perceived as something they are not.

There is much of the study of psychology which is brilliant and beautiful and messy – but it is not a science – yet.

Diederik Stapel faked at least 30 papers

October 31, 2011

Social psychology is going to take a beating over the Diederik Stapel fraud. It provides ample fuel for the view that social psychology is no science but merely the half-baked opinions of narcissists and charlatans. Ego trips and TV appearances have governed the field rather than any scientific rigour.

The interim report of the investigation being carried out by the of Universities of Tilburg and Groningen which started in mid September is now out.

Diederik Stapel

The interim report (in Dutch) is here:

pdf Stapel interim-rapport

The extent of the fraud is breathtaking and the investigation is far from over. At least 30 papers have been found to contain fraudulent data, at least 14 doctoral theses that he supervised are compromised for using fabricated data and in all about 150 papers going back to 2004 are being investigated. Legal action is to be taken. This one is going down in the history books.

(Update! 1st November: Science Insider carries the story here)

Dutch News writes:


Magna Germania: Ptolemy’s map deciphered

October 2, 2010

Der Spiegel reports: Berlin Researchers Crack the Ptolemy Code

A 2nd century map of Germania by the scholar Ptolemy has always stumped scholars, who were unable to relate the places depicted to known settlements. Now a team of researchers have cracked the code, revealing that half of Germany’s cities are 1,000 years older than previously thought.

Magna Germania

Link to larger map.

A group of classical philologists, mathematical historians and surveying experts at Berlin Technical University‘s Department for Geodesy and Geoinformation Science has produced an astonishing map of central Europe as it was 2,000 years ago.

Ptolemy: Bildarchiv Hansmann/Interfoto

The map shows that both the North and Baltic Seas were known as the “Germanic Ocean” and the Franconian Forest in northern Bavaria was “Sudeti Montes.” The map indicates three “Saxons’ islands” off the Frisian coast in northwestern Germany — known today as Amrum, Föhr and Sylt.

It also shows a large number of cities. The eastern German city that is now called Jena, for example, was called “Bicurgium,” while Essen was “Navalia.” Even the town of Fürstenwalde in eastern Germany appears to have existed 2,000 years ago. Its name then was “Susudata,” a word derived from the Germanic term “susutin,” or “sow’s wallow” — suggesting that the city’s skyline was perhaps less than imposing.

This unusual map draws on information from the mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy, who, in 150 AD, embarked on a project to depict the entire known world. Living in Alexandria, in the shadow of its monumental lighthouse, the ancient scholar drew 26 maps in colored ink on dried animal skins — a Google Earth of the ancient world, if you will.

Read the full article

The Roman Empire in 116 AD and Germania Magna,...

Image via Wikipedia. Roman Empire in 116 AD

Mapping Sterotypes

September 21, 2010

Yanko Tsvetkov, a Bulgarian designer and illustrator living in London, has produced seven maps in which countries and regions are labelled according to the stereotypes of their inhabitants held by the people of other.

Excellent stuff.


Europe from the US



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