Working Sort of Hard to Find a Serial Rapist/Murderer

Freiburg, Germany, is an idyllic university town located at the edge of the Black Forest. It is the sunniest spot in Germany. And the site of 4 brutal crimes in the past 6 weeks. One man was beaten to death near the main train station. One 13-year-old girl gang-raped by four young men.

And most disturbingly, two young women, one 19 and on 27 years old, were raped and murdered in apparent random attacks -- one just behind the main football stadium, one in a small community 30 kilometers from Freiburg. Police think it's possible the same man might be behind both attacks. So, there may well be a serial rapist/murderer currently active in Freiburg now. Or perhaps two. I would say this kind of thing is almost unknown in Germany, but we all know that's no longer the case. Still, it's got all of Freiburg on edge. 

And as the video below from the conservative weekly Junge Freiheit shows, the police are being hampered by German law from pursuing the killer. They found a DNA sample which they believe is from the killer at one of the rape/murder crime scenes. Using modern DNA technology, it's possible to determine the eye color, hair color, and ethnicity of someone from a good DNA sample. In fact, it's possible to generate a fairly good likeness of their face, as this photo accompanying a New York Times article shows:


As you can see, the images aren't perfect, but they are certainly a far cry better than the recollection of a traumatized witness or someone who saw a man run past them in a dark alley. In particular, DNA is extremely good at predicting ethnicity and skin tone, which can allow investigators to immediately cross huge pools of suspects off their list and focus only on a narrow subset. Another article looks at the use of this technology in an American criminal case.

But not in Germany.

According to Section 81(e) of the Criminal Procedure Code, DNA can be used only comparison to potential suspects, determining family relationships, and determining gender. Every analysis going beyond these is expressly forbidden. Here is the provision in English:

(1) Material obtained by measures pursuant to Section 81a subsection (1) may also be subjected to molecular and genetic examinations, insofar as such measures are necessary to establish descent or to ascertain whether traces found originate from the accused or the aggrieved person; in so doing the gender of the person may also be determined by examination. Examinations pursuant to the first sentence shall also be admissible to obtain similar findings on material obtained by measures pursuant to Section 81c. Findings on facts other than those referred to in the first sentence shall not be made; examinations designed to establish such facts shall be inadmissible.

The prohibition, like so many others in German law, is based on the idea of data protection -- in a society in which mass surveillance caused so much harm last century, there must be strict limits on the amount of data the state can gather on its citizens. As I've pointed out before, this idea trumps many other legitimate public concerns, such as preserving historical monuments. And here, it trumps public safety. Here's a video from the conservative website Junge Freiheit featuring an interview in which the Freiburg policy confirm that they are obeying this restriction. The head of the German police union complains about it, and citizens interviewed in Freiburg are dumbfounded that the law prevents police from using a reliable, proven strategy which could lead to the apprehension of a possible serial killer in their midst. 

This is yet another cultural mismatch between the USA and Germany. I have explained restrictions such as this to many colleagues in the USA. These colleagues are mostly criminal defense lawyers and civil libertarians. That is, they spend each day defending the rights of criminals, and forcing the state to uphold its case. To say they don't have an authoritarian bone in their body is an understatement -- they don't have an authoritarian cell in their body.

Yet when I describe things like this, many of them register, to their own shock and amazement, disapproval and consternation. Sure, DNA isn't miraculous, it has to be handled carefully, it's not a panacea. But it is an extremely powerful tool which, used properly, can help ensure the guilty are imprisoned, and which has been used now hundreds of times to free the innocent from unjust confinement. Building a profile from DNA, as long as it's done responsibly according to the best scientific protocols, is definitely a legitimate means of law enforcement. Especially since it is likely to be much more reliable than eyewitness testimony.

Yet in Germany, only the right-wing website Junge Freiheit considers this an important policy issue. I have never seen it addressed by the more left-liberal press.

So there you have it: DNA profiling is so mainstream in the USA that even most civil libertarians approve of it. In Germany, apparently, only the right-wing does.

Bayer buys Monsanto: 'Und es mag am Monsanto'schen Wesen Einmal noch die Welt genesen.'


[One of countless German anti-Monsanto memes; 'Tod' = is German for 'death'. Source

That faint popping sound is heads exploding all over Germany, as Bayer -- known to Germans as that Solid, Responsible, Traditional German Company Which Practices Soft, Gentle, Humane Rhineland Capitalism™ -- buys Monsanto, known to Germans as the Soulless American Hyper-Capitalist Death-Juggernaut Which Drives Indian Farmers to Suicide, Forces Frankenfoods Down Our Throats, and Poisons our Children's Ice Cream, Mandrake™.

In America, this would be the equivalent of the Little Debbie Snak Cake Company merging with the Church of Satan and the North American Man-Boy Love Association and announcing a line of Little Debbie Sphincter-Shaped Sweet Sugary Sodomy Stars™, to go with this other product:

Little debbie devil squares

Germany, I love you, I really do. But the only way to stop me from mocking your disingenuous faux-naïveté will be to pry the jokes... 

"Substantial" Genetic Influence on Choice of A-Levels

Your genes play a key role in deciding whether you decide to take A-levels and which subjects you decide to take them in:

We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable throughout compulsory education. After completing compulsory education at age 16, students in England can choose to continue to study for two years (A-levels) in preparation for applying to university and they can freely choose which subjects to study. Here, for the first time, we show that choosing to do A-levels and the choice of subjects show substantial genetic influence, as does performance after two years studying the chosen subjects. Using a UK-representative sample of 6584 twin pairs, heritability estimates were 44% for choosing to do A-levels and 52–80% for choice of subject. Achievement after two years was also highly heritable (35–76%). The findings that DNA differences substantially affect differences in appetites as well as aptitudes suggest a genetic way of thinking about education in which individuals actively create their own educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

This result would surprise and probably alarm many Germans, but they won't hear about it. One of the problems with the insular clique of German mainstream journalists is the blinders they wear. The majority studied sociology, German literature, comparative literature, political theory, history, philosophy, or some other liberal-arts subject. There, they learned plenty about Kant and Mann, but nothing about economics, the military, or hard science.

I think this explains why German journalism on these areas is often terrible. Conditioned by their highly moralized culture and the ideological slant of liberal-arts education, they immediately seek out the underlying moral 'lesson' to be drawn from nuclear research, or the Higgs boson, or gene therapy, etc. They may spend a few paragraphs actually explaining what is going on from a scientific perspective (often getting key things wrong), but before they're even done with that, they start reciting their tired old platitudes (this is what mankind gets for trying to play God, nature's way is always the best, human dignity is the prime directive, etc.) and canned Lessons of History™.

And that goes triple for genetics. If they did learn anything about genetics in their seminars, it was usually accompanied by stern, moralizing lectures about how the Nazis used genetic pseudo-science to justify genocide. The result is a nearly-unshakable belief in the discredited 'blank slate' theory of human variation (i.e., that it's all caused by nurture, not nature). Anyone who points to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that genes play a crucially important role in human personality, achievement, and behavior is automatically assumed to be a crypto-eugenicist until proven otherwise.

I don't have a solution to this problem, but I suppose scholarships and training programs for aspiring science journalists might be something to think about.

The Cheapest Suffering Preventer

Via Steve Sailer, by means of comment on the Somali man who went on a stabbing frenzy in Russell Square, this BBC piece from a few years ago:

The scenario is familiar in Somalia. A man has become possessed by spirits and the only option for his family is to restrain him and call the sheikh. But as the young man protests, a voice that challenges Somali tradition booms out.

"Stop with the chains!" the voiceover orders. "Take him to Dr Hab's hospital! If he's having mental problems, take him to Dr Hab. He won't chain him, he'll help him."

Dr Hab is not actually a real psychiatrist. Rather it's the persona of Abdirahman Ali Awale, a nurse who after three months of specialist training from the World Health Organization (WHO), has made it his mission to rescue Somalia's mentally ill. He claims he is able to treat everything from post-natal depression to schizophrenia....

"There is a belief in my country that hyenas can see everything including the evil spirits people think cause mental illness," says Hab. "So in Mogadishu, you will find hyenas that have been brought from the bush and families will pay £350 ($560) to have their loved one locked in the room overnight with the animal."

"We are trying to show people that this is nonsense," says Hab. "People listen to our radio advert and they learn that mental illness is just like any other and needs to be treated with scientific methods."

Hab's campaign was prompted by an incident in 2005 when he witnessed a group of female patients being chased through the streets by youths. "There was no-one to help them," he says. "I decided after that I would have to open Somalia's first mental hospital."

The Habeb Public Mental Health Hospital in Mogadishu became the first of Hab's six centres across Somalia. Together, they have now treated over 15,000 patients.

Hab faces a near insurmountable task. WHO estimates that one in three Somalis either is or has been affected by mental illness, compared to a global average of one in 10. In parts of the country, where the population has been the most psychologically scarred from decades of conflict, the rate is even higher. Cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are common and the situation is further complicated by widespread substance abuse.

As I've argued before, I think Germany got an unusually high number of young males with mental illness in 2015, judged by the frequency of reports of irrational and violent behavior. Assume you live in a country with rates of mental illness 3 times the global average, and a mental health system in which chaining people to trees and letting them be mauled by a hyena are frequent responses. 

If you have a young son who seems to be headed down this path, why not set him on a path north to potentially get asylum in Northern Europe? Assuming his illness is not so severe that he can't follow basic instructions, he might just be able to land in Northern Europe and, with luck, bring some family members with him. At the very least he'll be able to send some money back, at some point. And even if he lands in an institution up there, he'll be out of your hair, and getting far superior care to anything he could get back home. It's win-win.

For the Somali/Iraqi/Algerian family, that is.

For Germany, which is now burdened with lifetime care for someone who will never contribute to society and who will also present a higher risk of crime, including unpredictable violent outbursts, it's lose-lose.

You know what might be a better investment than spending millions in German taxpayers' money in lifetime court cases, social worker counseling, and psychiatric treatment for one Somali male in Germany? How about using that money to support the efforts of people like Dr Hab, which have the potential to help countless thousands of people in Somalia? With no risk additional risk to Germans?

In law and economics, there is the notion of the "cheapest cost-avoider". The idea is that if you want to reduce risks or costs (often the same thing), you should put the burden of reducing risks or costs on the person or organization which can prevent them most efficiently.

Example: Assume a refinery is emitting a harmful gas as a by-product of making a product everyone needs. The emission can be stopped by forcing the refinery to install a new filter which costs a million dollars and reduces efficiency by 5%. The alternative is to not force the refinery to install the filter. But that means that the 10,000 houses in the surrounding area will each need to put special filters on their windows, that residents will need to limit the time spent outdoors, and the number of respiratory diseases will increase. The total costs merely in updating the houses will be $10 million, and the costs for more medical treatment $5 million. The costs in diminished life expectancy and in having to limit time outdoors may not be readily quantifiable, but they are obviously huge. In this case, the refinery is the cheapest cost avoider, and it should be required to install the filter. You can even, if you wish, fully compensate the refinery owner for his extra expenses and still end up far ahead. 

This is why allowing unscreened, mentally ill people into Germany is a terrible decision not only from Germany's perspective, but from the perspective of the country which sent them. Improving conditions for treating the mentally ill in Somalia is incredibly easy, because they are so primitive now. Literally anything other than hyena-mauling and tree-chaining is an improvement. You could probably fund 400 patient beds in a cheap place like Somalia for what it takes to house one mentally ill Somali in a German psychiatric hospital for a year.

Plus, no Germans will ever be harmed by a mentally ill Somali man who never enters Germany.

James Flynn on Humanity's Huge Cognitive Leap

I know, it's one of those easily-mockable TED talks. But hey, just because they're easily-mockable doesn't mean they're worthless. This one is fascinating, even if cognitive ability isn't one of your hobbyhorses (it is one of mine). I even added German subtitles.

The 'Flynn Effect' is named for James Flynn, the man in this video. The Flynn describes the fact that in an absolute sense, humanity as a whole has become smarter every decade of the recent past. In the past 150 or so years, humanity has enjoyed steady increases in cognitive ability. Literacy has become almost-universal, average numbers of years educated has increased, the number of people engaged in cognitively demanding professions has skyrocketed, and the median level of cognitive ability has increased, making it normal and routine for people to think in abstract categories that would be unintelligible to people living in, say, 1890. The effects are concentrated mostly in the global North, of course, but they're spreading everywhere.

Forget just about everything you learned in sociology classes, this is probably the most important change in the human condition since the Renaissance. And most people have no idea it happened.

China Will Soon Be Genetically Engineering Smarter, Sexier People

No matter how irreligious Germany gets, it shares with many Western European countries a common cultural heritage of Christian natural law thinking, especially about human dignity. This makes Germany queasy about things such as in vitro fertilization, surrogate parenting, embryo research, and pre-implantation genetic diagnostics. Some of these new technologies are banned, others allowed, all are regulated. It’s all a bit stuffy and old-fashioned, like the basement of an ecumenical summer camp building, with its ping-pong tables, disintegrating board games, and lukewarm cola.

China doesn’t share this heritage, increasingly doesn’t have to listen to the West’s lectures, and has little squeamishness about designing smarter humans:

China is spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually in an effort to become a leader in biomedical research, building scores of laboratories and training thousands of scientists.

But the rush to the front ranks of science may come at a price: Some experts worry that medical researchers in China are stepping over ethical boundaries long accepted in the West.

Scientists around the world were shocked in April when a team led by Huang Junjiu, 34, at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, published the results of an experiment in editing the genes of human embryos.

The technology, called Crispr-Cas9, may one day be used to eradicate inheritable illnesses. But in theory, it also could be used to change such traits as eye color or intelligence, and to ensure that the changes are passed on to future generations….

“The consensus among the scientific community is, ‘not for now,’ ” said Huso Yi, the director of research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Center for Bioethics.

Yet Chinese scientists seem in no mood to wait.

“I don’t think China wants to take a moratorium,” Mr. Yi said. “People are saying they can’t stop the train of mainland Chinese genetics because it’s going too fast.”

CRISPR is the stunning new gene-editing technique that makes editing animal and human genomes easy, precise, fast, and cheap. It may also allow us to resurrect extinct species.

Intelligence  is about 70-80% heritable, but is highly polygenic; we are only now beginning to isolate a few of the genes responsible for it. But research is rocketing forward so fast that it’s not out of the question to imagine genetic procedures to eliminate disease and boost intelligence within 20 years. When that happens, I am sure China will start doing it. After all, highly intelligent people are more orderly, more innovative, more law-abiding, and disproportionately responsible for economic growth and development. Once you set aside ethical quibbles, what's not to like?

If I had extra money lying around, I would invest it in (1) ultra-realistic Japanese sex dolls; and (2) Chinese genetic engineering. Those will be the growth industries of the next few decades.

Intelligence is in the News Again

And now, hot on the heels of an entire issue of Die Zeit, a 3sat documentary special (g) on intelligence called (my translation): 'Born Dumb, and Haven't Learned a Thing? Intelligence Research between Racism and Flexible Genes'. OK, it's from last year, so not really a trend-confirmation. I haven't watched it yet, but I am wary of the fact that they've chosen rabble-rouser Thilo Sarrazin to state the hereditarian case, since there are many actual scientists who are likely much better-informed and not given to stupid generalizations. 

I wonder if what we're seeing is the Western mainstream press in delayed reaction to the scientific consensus, now pretty much ironclad, that intelligence is strongly influenced by heredity. And to the reality that the scientists who've found this out are quite likable, normal men and women, not cackling Peter-Lorre-esque mad scientists with terrifying underground 'la-BOR-a-tories' crammed with formaldehyde-filled jars full of aborted genetic experiments.

IQ is the Best Predictor of Human Achievement

For a bit of context, the good Dr. Thompson, on his excellent blog, gives a brief summary of the most important things to know about intelligence (emphasis added):

Intelligence does not guarantee good decision-making in all circumstances, simply better decision-making in more circumstances than a duller person.  Some problems forms are inherently difficult and ambiguous. For example, it is easier to understand natural frequencies than percentages with decimal point. Apart from intelligence, social pressures and emotional attachments influence decisions.
Modern IQ tests give one overall figure, and also figures for 3 to 4 component indices, usually verbal comprehension, perceptual organisation, working memory, plus processing speed. The single figure is usually the best predictor, but the others have their place in specific circumstances. The fact that one single number is the best predictor of human achievements is testimony to its power.
40% is the heritability estimate for children, but it rises to 60% plus for adults.  70/30 is not a bad estimate for wealthy countries, 50/50 for very poor ones.... People from profoundly different cultures make the same sorts of errors on culture reduced tests, and the pattern suggests a largely universal problem-solving capacity. The predictive power of intelligence is similar in culturally different countries.
The point in bold is key. Out of all the factors that people think explain why certain people fail at life and others succeed, intelligence, even as imperfectly but reliably measured by one simple number, is the most important. The way science discovered this is also interesting: by controlling for intelligence in studies of other factors. Level of education, parental socio-economic status, reaction times, etc. turn out to be strongly correlated with, and very likely caused by, intelligence. On average, in the aggregate, the wealthier you are, the smarter you are, and wealthy parents pass those genes onto their children.
This is very different from what many people believe, or wish were true.