Tuesday, December 25, 2012



192 responses from psychologists, psychiatrists, mathematicians, physicists, biologists, writers, entrepreneurs, anthropologists, economists, and more.

1 of the 192:
Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; Author, The Better Angles of Our Nature

Evolutionary Genetics Explains The Conflicts of Human Social Life
Complex life­ is a product of natural selection, which is driven by competition among replicators. The outcome depends on which replicators best mobilize the energy and materials necessary to copy themselves, and on how rapidly they can make copies which can replicate in turn. The first aspect of the competition may be called survival, metabolism, or somatic effort; the second replication or reproductive effort. Life at every scale, from RNA and DNA to whole organisms, implements features that execute—and constantly trade off­—these two functions.

Among life's tradeoffs is whether to allocate resources (energy, food, risk, time) to pumping out as many offspring as possible and letting them fend for themselves, or to eking out fewer descendants and enhancing the chances of survival and reproduction of each one. The continuum represents the degree of parental investment expended by an organism.

Since parental investment is finite, investing organisms face a second tradeoff, between investing resources in a given offspring and conserving those resources to invest in its existing or potential siblings.

Because of the essential difference between the sexes—females produce fewer but more expensive gametes—the females of most species invest more in offspring than the males, whose investment is often close to zero. Mammalian females in particular have opted for massive investment, starting with internal gestation and lactation. In some species, including Homo sapiens, the males may invest, too, though less than the females.

Natural selection favors the allocation of resources not just from parents to offspring but among genetic kin such as siblings and cousins. Just as a gene that encourages a parent to invest in offspring will be favoring a copy of itself that sits inside those offspring, so a gene that encourage an organism to invest in a brother or cousin will, some proportion of the time, be helping a copy of itself, and will be selected in proportion to the benefits conferred, the costs incurred, and the degree of genetic relatedness.

I've just reviewed the fundamental features of life on earth (and possibly life everywhere), with the barest mention of contingent facts about our own species: only that we're mammals with male parental investment. I'll add a second: that we're a brainy species that deals with life's conundrums not just with fixed adaptations selected over evolutionary time, but with facultative adaptations (cognition, language, socialization) that we deploy in our lifetimes and whose products we share via culture.

From these deep principles about the nature of the evolutionary process, one can deduce a vast amount about the social life of our species. (Credit where it's due: William Hamilton, George Williams, Robert Trivers, Donald Symons, Richard Alexander, Martin Daly, Margo Wilson.)

• Conflict is a part of the human condition. Notwithstanding religious myths of Eden, romantic images of noble savages, utopian dreams of perfect harmony, and gluey metaphors like attachment, bonding, and cohesion, human life is never free of friction. All societies have some degree of differential prestige and status, inequality of power and wealth, punishment, sexual regulations, sexual jealousy, hostility to other groups, and conflict within the group, including violence, rape, and homicide. Our cognitive and moral obsessions track these conflicts. There are a small number of plots in the world's fiction, and are defined by adversaries (often murderous), by tragedies of kinship or love, or both. In the real world, our life stories are largely stories of conflict: the hurts, guilts, and rivalries inflicted by friends, relatives, and competitors.
• The main refuge from this conflict is the family—collections of individuals with an evolutionary interest in one another's flourishing. Thus we find that traditional societies are organized around kinship, and that political leaders, from great emperors to tinpot tyrants, seek to transfer power to their offspring. Extreme forms of altruism, such as donating an organ or making a risky loan, are typically offered to relatives, as are bequests of wealth after death—a major cause of economic inequality. Nepotism constantly threatens social institutions such as religions, governments, and businesses that compete with the instinctive bonds of family.
• Even families are not perfect havens from conflict, because the solidarity from shared genes must contend with competition over parental investment. Parents have to apportion their investment across all their children, born and unborn, with every offspring equally valuable (all else being equal). But while an offspring has an interest in its siblings' welfare, since it shares half its genes with each full sib, it shares all of its genes with itself, so it has a disproportionate interest in its own welfare. The implicit conflict plays itself out throughout the lifespan: in postpartum depression, infanticide, cuteness, weaning, brattiness, tantrums, sibling rivalry, and struggles over inheritance.
• Sex is not entirely a pastime of mutual pleasure between consenting adults. That is because the different minimal parental investment of men and women translates into differences in their ultimate evolutionary interests. Men but not women can multiply their reproductive output with multiple partners. Men are more vulnerable than women to infidelity. Women are more vulnerable than men to desertion. Sex therefore takes place in the shadow of exploitation, illegitimacy, jealousy, spousal abuse, cuckoldry, desertion, harassment, and rape.
• Love is not all you need, and does not make the world go round. Marriage does offer the couple the theoretical possibility of a perfect overlap of genetic interest, and hence an opportunity for the bliss that we associate with romantic love, because their genetic fates are bound together in the same package, namely their children. Unfortunately those interests can diverge because of infidelity, stepchildren, in-laws, or age differences­­—which are, not coincidentally, major sources of marital strife.

None of this implies that people are robots controlled by their genes, that complex traits are determined by single genes, that people may be morally excused for fighting, raping, or philandering, that people try to have as many babies as possible, or that people are impervious to influences from their culture (to take some of the common misunderstandings of evolutionary explanations). What it does mean is that a large number of recurring forms of human conflict fall out of a small number of features of the process that made life possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Multiple Victim Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement

12/20/12. This is a widely quoted study by William M. Landes and John R. Lott Jr. The results are disburting to gun control advocates.


Few events obtain the same instant worldwide news coverage as multiple victim public shootings. These crimes allow us to study the alternative methods used to kill a large number of people (e.g., shootings versus bombings), marginal deterrence and the severity of the crime, substitutability of penalties, private versus public methods of deterrence and incapacitation, and whether attacks produce copycats. Yet, economists have not studied this phenomenon. Our results are surprising and dramatic. While arrest or conviction rates and the death penalty reduce normal murder rates, our results find that the only policy factor to influence multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws. We explain why public shootings are more sensitive than other violent crimes to concealed handguns, why the laws reduce both the number of shootings as well as their severity, and why other penalties like executions have differential deterrent effects depending upon the type of murder.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Potential Killers We Let Loose

12/19/12. Our mental health system is broken.

There are many good reasons to improve gun control in the United States, including the obscene firepower available in many weapons. But better gun control will do little to prevent many mass killings, such as occurred last week in Newtown, Conn. Even if you ban guns completely, there are many alternative weapons available for use by untreated severely mentally ill persons who are so inclined.

Knives, for example. On the same day Adam Lanza killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Min Yingjun stabbed 22 children at an elementary school in central China. Similar assaults using knives killed about 20 and wounded more than 50 children in China last year. Almost all the attacks were carried out by severely mentally ill men. So maybe we should ban knives.
What about cars? In 1999 Steven Abrams, diagnosed with schizophrenia, drove his car onto a school playground in California, killing two young children. He had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems and had talked of killing children. Also in California, Marie West, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and with 19 previous hospitalizations, intentionally ran over an elderly man in 2000. The following year David Attias, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and previously hospitalized, drove his car onto a sidewalk in the Golden State, killing four and injuring nine. He then got out of his car and said he was an "angel of death." Perhaps we should ban cars as well.

The heart of this problem is not the availability of weapons but the abundance of individuals with severe mental disorders who are not being treated.

Severe mental disorders are defined by the National Advisory Mental Health Council as including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, autism and the severe forms of major depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 7.7 million Americans currently qualify for the first three diagnoses, with 3.5 million of them receiving no treatment at any given time.

Among this 3.5 million, approximately 10%, or 350,000 individuals, become societal problems because of their untreated severe mental illness. According to federal statistics or academic studies, they comprise one-third of the homeless population and one-fifth of the inmates of jails and prisons, and they are responsible for at least 10% of all homicides in the U.S.

Mass killings by individuals with severe mental illness are one tragic symptom of a much larger problem. Over the past half-century, the availability of public psychiatric beds in the U.S. has decreased to 43,000 from 559,000, even as the population has increased. When individuals with severe mental illnesses are hospitalized at all, they are not kept long enough to become stabilized because of the bed shortage. Many are eventually incarcerated for petty crimes or worse.

A 2010 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center reported that there are over three times more severely mentally ill individuals in jails and prisons than in hospitals. The problem is further exacerbated by state commitment laws that impede the hospitalization of those who resist treatment.
At this time, Adam Lanza's psychiatric diagnosis is not publicly known. Published accounts suggest that he fits into the autism spectrum, and it is known that a small number of such individuals become violent as adults. Such individuals require medications to control their behavior.

While it isn't yet known whether Lanza was being treated, it is known that Connecticut is among the worst states to seek such treatment. It has among the weakest involuntary treatment laws and is one of only six states that doesn't have a law permitting court-ordered "assisted outpatient treatment." In study after study, AOT has been shown to decrease re-hospitalizations, incarcerations and, most importantly, episodes of violence among severely mentally ill individuals.

Would we have fewer mass killings in the U.S. if we made sure that individuals with severe mental illnesses were receiving treatment? Examining the other 10 largest mass killings suggests that the answer is yes.

Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 at Virginia Tech; Howard Unruh, who killed 13 in Camden, N.J.; and Jiverly Wong, who killed 13 in Binghamton, N.Y., all had untreated schizophrenia. James Holmes, who killed 12 in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater almost certainly was severely mentally ill, but clinical information has not yet been released. George Hennard, who killed 23 in a Killeen, Texas, cafeteria, had definite paranoid thinking. Patrick Sherill, who killed 14 in an Edmond, Okla., post office, was known as "crazy Pat" by his neighbors but never formally diagnosed.

By contrast, little or no evidence of severe mental illness exists for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 13 at a high school in Littleton, Colo.; James Huberty, who killed 21 at a McDonald'sMCD -0.81% in San Ysidro, Calif.; and U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. Yet Charles Whitman, who killed 14 in Austin, Texas, was found at autopsy to have a tumor in the part of the brain that controls aggression.

It is now clearly established that people with severe mental illnesses who are being treated are no more dangerous than the general population. But some with severe illnesses who are not being treated are more dangerous. Therefore, if we ensure treatment for those who are known to be potentially dangerous, we may not eliminate mass killings but we would reduce them significantly. And perhaps if we had already done so, 20 small children in Newtown, Conn., might be alive today awaiting Christmas.

Dr. Torrey is the founder and Ms. Fuller is executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va.

A version of this article appeared December 18, 2012, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Potential Killers We Let Loose.



The Individuals in the World Are Getting Wider

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Newtown --- A Path Forward

12/18/12. Wall Street Journal writer Peggy Noonan gets to the heart of what we should do after the killings in Newton. No easy answers.


Book Review: "Far From the Tree"

12/18/12. Psychiatrist Paul McHugh reviews Andrew Solomon's "Far From the Tree."

Dr. McHugh:

"...Children 'wanting' transgender treatment are responding not to pressure from a 'needful' identity, as Mr. Solomon implies, but to their thought that they can better resolve psychosocial problems by living in the other sex. They are, in this regard, like anorexic girls and require parental—and sometimes professional—redirection to avoid developmental confusions and struggles. The long-term follow-up of "reassigned" transsexuals reveals high risks for misery and suicidal behavior..."


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Battle at the Kitchen Table

12/10/12. Every night, millions of parents sit around their kitchen tables helping their kids do their homework. For some kids, one hour of homework turns into four hours of misery, frustration, arguing, tears, and turmoil.

Many of these youngsters suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder -ADHD --- undiagnosed and labeled by other names such as lazy, stupid, stubborn, or defiant.

When a child suffers, the whole family hurts. There is so much concern about the over-diagnosis of ADHD  and other childhood maladies, but in truth, most kids with ADHD or other psychiatric disorders never get the proper diagnosis and treatments.

The Psychiatric "Bible": Controversy and the DSM-V

12/10/12. The 5th revision of the psychiatric diagnostic manual will be released in the Spring of 2013.

The growing number of psychiatric maladies in this edition consist of symptom lists or ingredients for each disorder --- except we have no idea what the recipes or biological etiologies are for any mental illness.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: Camille Paglia

12/9/12. The political left despises her and the political right is not sure where she stands --- my kind of writer.

James Panero:

"When Camille Paglia published Sexual Personae, her 1990 study of “Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson,” she became an unexpected combatant in the cultural wars. . ."


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Demand Curves


30 ways your spending habits change with age.


Fiscal Cliff Notes

12/4/12. Thomas Sowell reminds us how far we have fallen --- and that reality is not optional.


Part II:


Thomas Sowell:  

"...What both the statistical tables in the "Economic Report of the President" and the graphs in Investor's Business Daily show is that (1) tax revenues went up— not down— after tax rates were cut during the Bush administration, and (2) the budget deficit declined, year after year, after the cut in tax rates that have been blamed by Obama for increasing the deficit..."

APA Monitor: Interview with Professor Jerome Kagan and My Letter to the Editor


The Plight of the Alpha Female