Roy Moore on the Evils of Evolution

I just saw this video (below) yesterday. It shows Roy Moore, who is currently running for Senator for Alabama, commenting on evolution. Apparently, it dates to 1997, and in it Moore criticized evolutionary biology for the things it allegedly could not explain, such as why mammals, reptiles, and bird all had males and females (it can, in fact, explain this), and that there was no evidence that our ancestors evolved from animals that once lived in the water (there is). 

Moore is not an evolutionary biologist, so I suppose he could be forgiven for having gaps in his understanding of the subject (though we are probably obligated to make an effort to shore up our knowledge before commenting publicly).  However, even though this was twenty years ago, there was another part of his comments that doesn’t sit well with me. Moore also said:

“That’s the kind of logic (biologists have) used in our society today when we have kids driving by shooting each other that they don’t even know each other. They’re acting like animals because we’ve taught them they come from animals.”

The idea that learning about evolution is responsible for society’s ills has a history. As I’ve written before, I think this view is profoundly misguided for a couple of reasons. For one, it is obvious that the human capacity for violence and callousness existed long before evolutionary thinking. The world before Darwin was not a paradise that was ruined by the idea that our species has changed over time or that we are connected to the rest of the natural world.

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No More Trouble

Killing the brother

Destroying the country

For nothing

For nothing

The Suffering of the Rohingya

Smoke and flames in Myanmar are seen from the Bangladeshi side of the border near Cox’s Bazar, Sept. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Two recent videos caught my eye, one from Al Jazeera, the other via the New York Times. They both pertain to the massive number of Rohingya refugees forcibly displaced from Myanmar into Bangladesh, in what the United Nations is calling “ethnic cleansing.” There are many reports of deliberate targeting of Rohingya Muslims by the largely Buddhist Myanmar military, police, and militias.

 

However, only a few voices have been willing to call this a “genocide,” in part because the charge is so serious and the burden of proof is onerous. According to Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, this reluctance may stem in part from a mental image that a genocide requires “one huge act of frenzied violence,” rather than a steady, slow drip of purging. Another factor may be because of legal obligations required to counteract such atrocities once genocide is declared. For example, the U.S. was hesitant to declare the events in Rwanda and Darfur a genocide partly because a finding of genocide might have required the Clinton and Bush administrations “to actually ‘do something.'”

Images from satellites and on the ground confirm that hundreds of Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground in a scorched earth campaign, as a deliberate strategy to deny the Rohingya a home to return to after they are expelled. Refugees have reported that soldiers have killed villagers, gang-raped women, even thrown babies into fires, burning them alive. Despite denials from the Myanmar government, the refugees’ reports seem consistent, corroborating each other. In the video below from the New York Times, the reporter says that “It seems like everyone in the camp has a horror story to tell.

 

Among the survivors, the suffering is not likely to go away any time soon. The distribution of food seems inadequate, overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees. As a form of therapy, children in camps are drawing some of their traumatic experiences in order to cope with them. Several depict soldiers killing civilians and burning houses. 

In a 2009 study of 1,500+ elderly Germans, Philip Kuwert and colleagues found that even after 60 years had passed, people who were forcibly displaced as children during WWII were significantly more likely to suffer from current anxiety, lower life satisfaction, and lower resilience (Kuwert et al 2009). Whether this pattern will recur in the Rohingya is to be seen. There is also a possibility for post-traumatic growth, where individuals can experience positive changes “as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.”

But it seems clear that the Rohingya at least face the potential for a multi-generational trauma. If a high-income nation like Germany, with all of its resources, can be still be affected six decades later, then how much higher are the odds for that same effect in the Rohingya now living in Bangladesh, as well as those who stayed behind in Myanmar. This suggests the need for the world to pay more attention to the plight of the Rohingya to prevent more suffering from occurring.

 

Reference

Kuwert P, Brähler E, Glaesmer H, Freyberger HJ, Decker O. (2009) Impact of forced displacement during World War II on the present-day mental health of the elderly: a population-based study. Int Psychogeriatr. 2009 21(4):748-53. Link

Time to Move On

I’ll get back to writing fuller essays soon. In the meantime, go in peace.

It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going
Broken skyline, movin’ through the airport
She’s an honest defector
Conscientious objector
Now her own protector
Broken skyline, which way to love land
Which way to something better
Which way to forgiveness
Which way do I go
It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going
Sometime later, getting the words wrong
Wasting the meaning and losing the rhyme
Nauseous adrenalin
Like breakin’ up a dogfight
Like a deer in the headlights
Frozen in real time
I’m losing my mind
It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going

If God’s on our side

This is an atypically short post. I don’t have anything to add. Please just listen.

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell.
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell.
The words fill my head
And they fall to the floor.
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war.”

 

PBS Series on the Secret War in Laos

Minnesota PBS has an upcoming documentary on the Secret War in Laos to complement the one on Vietnam by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I’ve been told it will be available on October 3rd

Prenatal “Shocks” and Birth Outcomes

Birth weight is often used as a rough gauge for the quality of the prenatal environment. A newborn who weighs 2500g or less (about 5.5 pounds) is considered to be “low birth weight” (LBW). At the individual level, weight alone is an imperfect measure because of confounders such as gestational length (it’s axiomatic that the less time spent in the womb, the less time there is to grow). However, at the population level, if average birth weight fluctuates, then it is an indication that something in the environment probably has changed.

Sometimes, stressful changes can be low-intensity and chronic; at other times, they can be abrupt and dramatic. Biologists, psychologists, and bioanthropologists might call these changes “stressors” or “insults.” Economists might use the term “shocks.” They’re both getting at the same idea: to what extent can harmful environmental factors affect growth and health outcomes? 

In the case of a natural disaster, the harm done can be substantial. Florencia Torche (2011) found that rates of LBW increased following the 2005 Tarapaca earthquake in northern Chile. Despite the magnitude of the earthquake (7.9 on the Richter scale), the amount of destruction was relatively limited: eleven people died, and 0.035% of the population had to temporarily relocate to shelters. This was attributed to the low population density of the region as well as Chilean preparedness and building codes to withstand earthquakes. Although the damage was not as severe as it could have been, Torche reasoned that the earthquake likely caused acute maternal stress, which in turn could affect prenatal development. 

Looking at over half a million births, Torche used maternal county of residence as an estimate of the earthquake’s intensity across different trimesters of exposure. She found that mothers who were lived in the most intensely affected regions during the first trimester were the most affected. The probability of LBW increased from 4.7% to 6.5%, while rates of pre-term births also increased from 5.2% to 8.0%. Later periods of gestation were not substantially affected, and for infants who were conceived after the earthquake, the probability of LBW returned to baseline.

Again, these outcomes seemed to result primarily from acute psychological stress stemming from the earthquake. Torche reasoned that – given the relatively low amount of damage to infrastructure – the increases in LBW and pre-term births were unlikely to have resulted from other factors such as malnutrition, infection, stress resulting from deprivation, strenuous workloads, or exposure to environmental toxins. In reality, it’s not possible to control for all of these variables entirely, but overall it seems plausible that maternal psychological stress played a substantial role in birth outcomes.

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