What exactly were the implications of World War I?

Gws_britprisholland_01Gaby Zipfel at Eurozine:

With contemporary historians like Gerd Krumeich assessing the World War from 1914 to 1918 as “one of the formative experiences of the century, perhaps even the decisive factor in shaping it”, an event that each generation examines anew “in the light of old insights and new experiences, and the theoretical approaches gleaned from their own lifeworld”,[1] it would seem high time to ask about the extent to which this war a century ago influenced the gender hierarchy of the western world. Wolfgang Mommsen goes much further, identifying the First World War as, “in a certain sense, the fatal crisis of old bourgeois Europe”, as a result of which “major parts of pre-war orders and institutions were destroyed, but above all the social structures were changed substantially.”[2] This raises the question of the extent to which these changes affected the way gender characters were shaped, how the sexes related to each other and their options for action. Three aspects are always elementary in determining the subject status of the sexes in a given social system: firstly, the question of economic independence, that is, the possibility of supporting oneself financially; secondly, the question of citizenship rights and possibilities for participating in the public sphere, and thirdly, the question of sexual self-determination, that is, of control over one's own body and reproductive capacity. Accordingly, it must be asked to what extent the First World War influenced, changed or reorganized and fortified the gender hierarchy based on complementary public and private spheres.

more here.

Tomaselli finds visual poetry in the news

627x800xweschler_oct4-2009.jpg,qitok=iWzVTQrt.pagespeed.ic.yBDhpqGTzDLawrence Weschler at VQR:

The Perp Walk of the Shamed proves only one of the leitmotifs running through Tomaselli’s series. Another, which likewise surfaced right from the beginning, is that tendency for formal geometries. Thus, post-​​earthquake Haiti in ruins (Jan. 14, 2010 and Jan. 16, 2010); the bombing attack on Shiite demonstrators in Pakistan (Sep. 4, 2010); the fate of the Guantánamo prisoners (Apr. 25, 2011), in which the geometry becomes almost web-​​like in its constriction; and Syria (July 25, 2012), where evidence of the war’s having reached Aleppo is veritably tessellated over with ornate tilework (note the homonymic pun with the entirely coincidental report beneath the image on a “Mogul’s Latest Foray”).

“With many of those, yes, I am struggling to find a way to channel my horror or grief, and in particular not to play with or play off images of death: to give the dead their due—​​their privacy, as it were, while still acknowledging the scale of the tragedy of their passing.”

more here.

another look at Marguerite Duras’ The lover

Pantheon-coverCynthia Haven at The Book Haven:

Long before most Americans could find Vietnam on a map, the French ruled Indochina, and its Chinese, French, and native Annamese denizens lived in an unequal colonial stew. So when a 15-year-old French schoolgirl had a passionate affair with a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese lover in Saigon, it created a scandal. The affair eventually became a book, and the book became a masterpiece.

The writer, Marguerite Duras, would tell the story again and again, throughout her lifetime, but never more compellingly than in The Lover, which received a prestigious Prix Goncourt when it was published in 1984, and sold two million copies. …

Duras’ simple, terse writing style reads “as if language itself were merely a vehicle for conveying passion and desire, pain and despair,” wrote British author and journalist Alan Riding. “The mysteries of love and sex consumed her, but she had no room for sentimentality in her works, or indeed, in her life.”

more here.

Wednesday Poem

My Thighs are Cold

My thighs are cold.

As is the pucked sag of my belly,
a cool appendage hanging like
a symbiotic twin from my waist,
with two sons-worth of skin stretch.

My fingers are cold.

As are my toes, their ten plus ten
equalling twenty long digits
that grapple at warmth with
a cadaver's marblous grip.

Until my morning bed.

There, heat oozes like piety
to every cranny, making
a smug bitch of me, a pup
languishing in self-made heat.

by Nuala Ní Chonchúir
from Tattoo : Tatú
publisher Arlen House, Galway, 2007
translation by author

Why Oklahoma tried to execute a man with a secret, untested mix of chemicals

Max Fisher in Vox:

ScreenHunter_597 Apr. 30 11.23An execution in Oklahoma went disastrously wrong on Tuesday night, when a state corrections department doctor injected death row inmate Clayton Lockett with a secret and untested chemical cocktail that was supposed to kill him quickly and painlessly. About 15 minutes into the execution, it became gruesomely clear to observers that Lockett was conscious, seizing, and in what appeared to be tremendous pain. Officials halted the execution, but 43 minutes after he had been first injected, Lockett died of a heart attack. A second man who was to be executed the same night, Charles Warner, has been granted a stay of execution for two weeks.

Oklahoma was using the experimental formula because pharmaceutical companies increasingly refuse to supply “safe” lethal injection chemicals. That's left capital punishment states to choose between executing inmates under dangerous conditions or not executing them at all. Many states have chosen to go ahead, and some have adopted secrecy laws that shield the chemical compounds used for the executions.

The key chemical in lethal injections is sodium thiopental, originally invented as an anesthetic. But US manufacturers of the drug have been increasingly refusing to sell it, either out of opposition to the death penalty or concern about association with executions. In 2011, the last US supplier, a company called Hospira, stopped making it.

More here.

Studying the Rich: Thomas Piketty and his Critics


Mike Konczal in Boston Review (Photo: Emmanuelle Marchadour):

If economists to Piketty’s right are concerned that he doesn’t ground his theory deep enough in economic models, economists and others to Piketty’s left are concerned that he concedes too much to mainstream economics and not enough to politics.

Recently, there has been a strong recent resurgence on the left in emphasizing the way the state, through law, regulation, and public policy, necessarily structures markets. In this telling there is no such thing as a “free” market, just different choices about how to structure markets fundamentally based in politics and power. The idea of a “free” market is a vacuous, question-begging abstraction, invoked to defend the status quo or the interests of the wealthy. (A quick look at the titles of current academic works like The Illusion of Free Markets, The Myth of Ownership, and The Progressive Assault on Laissez Faire give a sense of the argument.)

This context explains what is at stake in the left critique of Piketty. Some economists, like Dean Baker, have argued that Piketty doesn’t do enough to explain how financial regulations or patent protections could help deal with the problems he identifies. Others,like James Galbraith, invoke debates among midcentury Keynesians to argue that adding up capital and assigning it a return doesn’t make sense as a model. More broadly, Piketty has been criticized for not acknowledging how institutions and politics influence the returns on capital: his theory of the dominoes is too focused on economic forces.

So, while economists to Piketty’s right think he should create a model that predicts the rate of return on capital (his r) based on the state of the economy, rather than historical data, economists to Piketty’s left want him to emphasize the idea that many different rates of return are consistent with the character of the economy; “r” is a function of institutions and political decisions. Those on the left also worry that the debate over Capital could devolve into, as the economist Suresh Naidu argues, a “bastard Pikettyism” that just navel-gazes at the mathematical economic models discussed above, instead of a more critical, broader inquiry of how capital works in economies and societies.

More here.

A Philosophy of Walking

James Attlee in The Independent:

WalkingEvery action has an equal and opposite reaction, Isaac Newton told us long ago. As we enfold ourselves more and more in the digital world a contrary impulse has arisen, the desire for a direct re-engagement with the physical world through activity, whether it be mountaineering, potholing, cycling or walking. Walkers, and those who have written about walking, tend to fall into two camps: urban flâneurs, descendants of Baudelaire and the Situationists, and those striking out into the countryside in the footsteps of Rousseau, Thoreau and Edward Thomas. So far, so pedestrian. Several histories of walking and its relation to literature exist already and our bestseller lists are regularly topped by ambulatory writers repackaging their journeys for a sedentary audience. What then can Gros, a professor of philosophy from Paris, add to our understanding? Inevitably there is crossover in his selection of authors and philosophers from the past who have been advocates of walking with other such studies such as Rebecca Solnitt's Wanderlust.

However, his perspective does add something to Anglophone commentaries, for instance in his insight into new and old world attitudes to nature. For a European, he points out, a journey into the wilderness is a return to an ancient, ancestral home, while for a North American like Thoreau it represented the future. Gros is a practitioner as well as a theorist, by choice a member of the rural walking school, claiming that navigating the city on foot is “torture to the lover of long rambles in nature because it imposes…an interrupted, uneven rhythm”.

More here.

Natural history: A scientist’s eye

Linda Lear in Nature:

PotterIn January, the British press reported the discovery of a rare parasitic fungus on the Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire. Liz Holden, an independent field mycologist, spotted the small jelly fungus Tremella simplex growing on the pink blobs of another rarity, Aleurodiscus amorphus. When she checked, she discovered that T. simplex had first been drawn in the late 1890s, by Beatrix Potter (1866–1943). Before Potter became a famous children's author and illustrator, she was a pioneering naturalist and amateur mycologist, although later discouraged by professionals in Britain's natural-history establishment. It was her habit to draw everything she saw under the lens, so Potter included the Tremella in her study, although she could not have recognized it then as an independent parasitic fungus. Potter was an extraordinary observer whose many contributions to natural science are only now becoming more widely recognized. Along with women such as Margaret Gatty, author of The History of British Seaweeds (1863), Potter was part of a generation of female naturalists whose work contributed to the advancement of professional science, whether acknowledged or not.

Potter always prized the tribute paid to her by family friend John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelite society painter: “plenty of people can draw, but you … have observation”. All her life, she exhibited a meticulous concern for factual evidence.

More here.

Most of What You Think You Know About Sex Trafficking Isn’t True


Amanda Hess in Slate (Photo by aerogondo2/Shutterstock):

In the resulting study, “Conflict and Agency Among Sex Workers and Pimps,” released in this May’s ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Marcus and Curtis (along with researchers Amber Horning, Jo Sanson, and Efram Thompson) interviewed a total of 372 sex workers (262 of whom were minors and 70 who had previously worked as minors) to present a more complicated idea of how the market for underage sex work functions, one that some well-meaning activists—and legislation like the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act, which seeks to prosecute pimps to save underage sex workers—may not fully understand. Previous research in the area, much of which relied on interviews with a handful of underage sex workers who turn up in rescue institutions, rehabilitation programs, or in jail, “paints a skewed picture of the complex environment of prostitution,” they wrote. Really, “stereotypical pimps are far less common and important to street sex markets than would be expected.” In their sample, only 14 percent of female underage sex workers in New York City (and 6 percent of the males) had a pimp. Some testified that they had recruited their friends and boyfriends to help them with their business. And “all sex workers in both Atlantic City and New York City described experiencing increasing, rather than decreasing, agency and control over their work over time.” Many of the girls and boys they interviewed “had left pimps because they were violent, mentally abusive, lazy, poor business associates, unable to protect them, extracting too much money, or no longer fun to be around,” sometimes within days or weeks of meeting. One 17-year-old sex worker in New York says her boyfriend tricked her into sex work at the age of 12. But he’s not the one keeping her on the street—she left him and began working independently less than a year later. Another 17-year-old sex worker in Atlantic City says that she was initiated into sex work by a pimp, but dropped him after her first gig. “I’d rather work for myself,” she told them. “It’s more money.”

Pimps, too, failed to fit the stereotypical mold. “We were told pimps were not approachable because they were too dangerous and didn’t want to talk,” Marcus told me. “But all they wanted to do was talk, talk, talk—that’s what they do for a living.” Many pimps referred the researchers to their sex workers if they approached them in the right way, no cuts on the face required. (In addition to interviewing pimps in Atlantic City, the researchers spoke with 85 male pimps working in New York.) One pimp told them that going after underage girls constituted “pimp suicide,” not because it makes pimps vulnerable to harsh anti-trafficking laws, but because “teenage prostitutes don’t earn enough money,” Marcus says.

More here.

The Global Land Grab


Karen J. Coates in Slate (Photo by Jerry Redfern):

Chhek Sambo works a little farm on the fertile plains stemming from a sacred Cambodian mountain known as Phnom Kulen. For 17 years this tropical plot has given Sambo and her family rice, cassava, mangoes, bananas, lychees, “everything we can eat.” She and her neighbors raise chickens and ducks (free-range) and cows (grass-fed). The land provides her daily sustenance, and farming is the only job she’s ever known. There is nowhere else Sambo would rather be, nothing else she would rather do, than “live here forever,” working this dirt until the end of her days.

But Sambo has a problem: She might lose this land. Like millions of subsistence farmers worldwide, Sambo and the 117 families in her rural community of Skuon have no formal title to their farm fields. And now, someone else wants her 2.5-acre patch.

It’s a familiar story in Cambodia, where land disputes have disrupted the lives and livelihoods of half a million people. Many of the affected are small-scale farmers who grow their own food. “Without land, they no longer have the means to provide themselves with the basic requirements for a decent life,” according to Naly Pilorge, director of the human rights group LICADHO.

Many land feuds in Cambodia begin on paper but lead to physical fights. The worst end in death. Villagers often protest against forced evictions, but they typically fail when faced with police or soldiers. “The people have knife and fork, but the soldiers have gun,” says Chao Leak Vanna, a LICADHO human rights monitor.

This is a global humanitarian crisis. An unprecedented worldwide scramble for land—predominantly for agriculture—has spurred a new era in the “geopolitics of food scarcity,” according to Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute. That scramble escalated dramatically with the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent rise in food prices. Countries that export food began to limit how much they would sell. Countries that import food “panicked,” Brown writes, and started buying up or leasing other countries’ cheap land on which to produce their own food. Hardest hit were poor countries like Cambodia, where the elite eat abundantly and the poor already struggle to feed themselves.

More here.

How Sex Rules our Dreams


Patrick McNamara in Aeon (In dreams; a beach-roamer, Germany, 1933. Photo by Herbert List/Magnum Photos):

In one dream from the archives, for instance, a male college student explains that he was in a theatre restaurant with his date when she mentioned that a man on stage had previously insulted her and severely beaten her escort. ‘I climbed up on the stage and attacked him,’ the dreamer wrote. ‘He was about 25 and very formidable-looking but catching him by surprise I succeeded in knocking him down. The audience thought it was part of the performance and applauded.’

Now look at a dream from a female college student, drawn from the same group of subjects: ‘I dreamt that a friend of mine who graduated last year came back to the dorm for Stunt Night. Another friend took care of her and gave her my bed to sleep in. Meanwhile another girl whom I’m not too friendly with was engaged to a boy whom she was not very much in love with. He was very wealthy and her ring was so beautiful that she didn’t want to wear it around school. She was always putting her arms around me … a very affectionate girl. … Later I went downstairs and my friend who took care of the visitor and I proceeded to tell her about our affairs at school and our respective boyfriends.’

While both dreams included romantic targets, the male dreamer describes aggression against potential competitors while the female dreamer subtly denigrates her competitor, the girl who received a beautiful ring. After I became a professor at Boston University in the mid-1990s, I confirmed these observations in rigorous studies: men dream more often of other men than they do of women, while women dream equally often of men and women. In addition, men more often engage in physical aggression against other men in dreams, while women more often engage in non-physical forms of aggression, for instance verbal rejections and exclusions of others.

But did these reports support Freud’s claims that dreams were essentially all about sex?

More here.

Congress is Dead; Long Live Congress


Thomas Crowley in Jacobin:

“Congress does not exist. It is finished.” “Congress will be decimated.” So say the political opponents of the Indian National Congress party. While hardly unbiased, they’re expressing a sentiment common in India today. Newspaper headlines tell the same story: “A Fast Fading Party”; “Tryst with Decline.”

But it’s too soon to write the obituary of the party that once dominated Indian politics. After all, Congress has been written off before, only to somehow resurrect itself.

In India’s national elections ten years ago, the polls and the media predicted a resounding defeat for the party, which had already been out of office for eight years. The once-mighty Congress was thought to be a spent force. But the party received a plurality of votes and was able to cobble together a coalition government. Five years later, in the next national election, Congress surprised many observers by winning even more handily.

Now, with the national election of 2014 in full swing (it takes place in nine phases in April and May), some within Congress are predicting another victory.

There are a few reasons, though, to think that lightning will not strike thrice for Congress. The last five years of Congress rule, under the banner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), have been marred by scandals, economic woes, and governmental dysfunction. It is of little import that the other major national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), supports the same flawed economic policies and has shown itself to be quite adept at corruption itself. The UPA has been heading the national government for the past decade, and any blame for the missteps of the previous ten years are laid squarely at its feet.

More here.

The Reformation: Can Social Scientists Save Themselves?


Jerry Adler in Pacific Standard [h/t: Lindsay Beyerstein] (Photo: Pacific Standard):

[E]xperimental science, it turns out, is no less susceptible to a good, thorough hoaxing than postmodern blather was.

The prank announced itself at the outset: In 2011, a psychologist named Joseph P. Simmons and two colleagues set out to use real experimental data to prove an impossible hypothesis. Not merely improbable or surprising, but downright ridiculous. The hypothesis: that listening to The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” makes people younger. The method: Recruit a small sample of undergraduates to listen to either The Beatles song or one of two other tracks, then administer a questionnaire asking for a number of random and irrelevant facts and opinions—their parents’ ages, their restaurant preferences, the name of a Canadian football quarterback, and so on. The result: By strategically arranging their data and carefully wording their findings, the psychologists “proved” that randomly selected people who hear “When I’m Sixty-Four” are, in fact, younger than people who don’t.

The statistical sleight of hand involved in arriving at this result is a little complicated (more on this later), but the authors’ point was relatively simple. They wanted to draw attention to a glaring problem with modern scientific protocol: Between the laboratory and the published study lies a gap that must be bridged by the laborious process of data analysis. As Simmons and his co-authors showed, this process is a virtual black box that, as currently constructed, “allows presenting anything as significant.” And if you can prove anything you want from your data, what, if anything, do you really know?

More here.

Inequality, Belief and Elections in India


Maha Rafi Atal in The Monkey Cage (image EPA/Sanjeev Gupta):

[T]he growth India has experienced in the past two decades is unevenly distributed, and may be exacerbating structural inequalities between groups. Themost recent National Sample Survey concluded that the monthly per capita household expenditures (MPCE) of Muslim families are 14 percent lower than they are for Hindu families. The gap is worst in cities: urban Muslims have an MPCE 30 percent lower than their Hindu counterparts. Given that much of India’s economic development has taken the form of urban job growth and migration, the impression is that the benefits have accrued primarily to the majority.

Just as important are divisions between Hindu castes. Of particular interest are studies that investigate the relationship between caste and social class, where the consensus is divided. Divya Vaid argues that class and caste are more congruent at the extremes of the caste system than in the middle, and that this congruence has weakened only marginally over time. By contrast, Samuel Stroope contends that class and caste are becoming more distinct from one another in urban areas. But Stroope also finds high-caste individuals are gravitating toward religious exclusivity: that might be a reaction against the erosion of high-caste economic privilege.

In rural areas, meanwhile, growth has taken the form of large-scale industrial development on land purchased under eminent domain-style legislation, with this property bundled into ‘Special Economic Zones’ offering a range of tax incentives.Lancy Lobo and Shashikant Kumar’s landmark study on land politics in Gujarat has shown that the burden of displacement has fallen disproportionately on disadvantaged castes, many of whom had customary, rather than written, rights to land and were left out of compensation schemes.

Economic growth is not eliminating the differences between religious and caste groupings. Moreover, a number of studies suggest sectarian violence may itself be a consequence of uneven development.

More here.

goethe’s stupendous claim: everything is leaf

Autumn leavesStefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

Found among the notes of the poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe is a stupendous claim: Everything is leaf. This is a statement that seems too beautiful to be science. Goethe came to this idea on a trip to Italy in the late 1700s. The more Goethe looked at plants, and lived and breathed with plants, the more profoundly he felt poetry’s limits. He turned to botany and began publishing scientific works. He created his own study of seeing, which he called “morphology.” In this, Goethe’s love of plants followed the same path that all lasting love must take. Goethe wanted to know plants from their most essential beginnings, wanted to touch their seeds, follow their cycles. He couldn’t be satisfied just wandering around parks, glancing at the flowers and pronouncing metaphors upon them — Goethe had to understand what a plant truly is. Everything is leaf, he discovered at last, every part of a plant is leaf. The cotyledon, the foliage, the cataphylls, the petals — a plant is fundamentally leaf. Goethe published this intimate memoir of his relationship with leaves and named it The Metamorphosis of Plants.

It’s unsurprising that Goethe came to his idea about the everythingness of leaf while wandering the lush countryside of Naples. I wonder if he could have had his realization trudging through the barren early spring gardens of Weimar. “The Neapolitan firmly believes that he lives in Paradise and takes a very dismal view of northern countries,” Goethe wrote in his notebook.

more here.

On Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy

0375712305.01.LZZZZZZZMatt Seidel at The Millions:

These and other sketches of Transylvanians gone wild demonstrate a benign ridiculousness, but Bánffy also sees the corrosive effects of comedy. (Tellingly, one of the novel’s villains, Pal Uzdy, occasionally bursts out in strange, meaningless laughter.) When a newly-appointed Prefect is pelted with eggs in Parliament, Abady laughs along with the others before becoming overcome with sadness: “He thought only of the fact that an innocent man had been humiliated, and that it was callous and distasteful that everyone should think the whole affair a tremendous joke and nothing more.”

His Hungarian colleagues think most everything is a tremendous joke, a quality directly related to their failure to take the gathering international storm seriously:

The sad truth was that all of them found anything that did not concern their own country fit only for mockery and laughter. To them such matters were as remote from reality as if they had been happening on Mars; and therefore fit only for schoolboy puns and witty riposte.

Abady mistrusts his countrymen’s love of the comic as a form of irresponsibility.

more here.

How To Think Like A Neandertal

NeanderthalEva McGuire at Dublin Review of Books:

One of the most famous Neandertal individuals, and the most complete Neandertal skeleton that has been found, is Shanidar 1, who lived and died in Iraqi Kurdistan about fifty thousand years ago. Shanidar 1 was male, between thirty and forty when he died, about 5’8” tall. His skeleton also reveals the many physical traumas he suffered during his life. His right arm had been injured beyond use or else amputated above the elbow many years prior to death. Several bones in his right foot had been badly broken leading to serious arthritic degeneration in his right ankle and knee, while his left leg, knee and foot were normal. He had received a devastating blow to the left side of his face which had crushed his left cheekbone, the left side of his cranium and probably blinded him in his left eye. This facial trauma had also healed many years before his death. He had received a separate wound to his right scalp, deep enough to cut the bone. This too had healed before his death. Whether these injuries occurred due to a single incident or separate events is not known. They may have been the result of a hunting accident or have been due to a violent interaction with another Neandertal. After all, interpersonal violence is a characteristic not only of modern humans but of many non-human primates, including chimps, our closest cousins. While his injuries demonstrate that Shanidar 1 had a very tough life, perhaps what is most significant about them is the fact that he survived them. He must have been cared for and this is a huge clue to the Neandertal mind. He would have, for some time at least, been incapacitated, unable to take part in hunting and unable to care for or feed himself.

more here.

Has wealth made Qatar happy?

Matthew Teller in BBC News Magazine:

_74500329_camel_car_afp624From desperate poverty less than a century ago, this, after all, has become the richest nation in the world, with an average per-capita income topping $100,000 (£60,000).

What's less well understood is the impact of such rapid change on Qatari society itself.

You can feel the pressure in Doha. The city is a building site, with whole districts either under construction or being demolished for redevelopment. Constantly snarled traffic adds hours to the working week, fuelling stress and impatience.

Local media report that 40% of Qatari marriages now end in divorce. More than two-thirds of Qataris, adults and children, are obese.

Qataris benefit from free education, free healthcare, job guarantees, grants for housing, even free water and electricity, but abundance has created its own problems.

“It's bewildering for students to graduate and be faced with 20 job offers,” one academic at an American university campus in Qatar tells me. “People feel an overwhelming pressure to make the right decision.”

In a society where Qataris are outnumbered roughly seven-to-one by expatriates, long-term residents speak of a growing frustration among graduates that they are being fobbed off with sinecures while the most satisfying jobs go to foreigners.

The sense is deepening that, in the rush for development, something important has been lost.

Read the rest here.

The Continuing Evolution of Genes

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:

GeneEach of us carries just over 20,000 genes that encode everything from the keratin in our hair down to the muscle fibers in our toes. It’s no great mystery where our own genes came from: our parents bequeathed them to us. And our parents, in turn, got their genes from their parents. But where along that genealogical line did each of those 20,000 protein-coding genes get its start? That question has hung over the science of genetics ever since its dawn a century ago. “It’s a basic question of life: how evolution generates novelty,” said Diethard Tautz of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany. New studies are now bringing the answer into focus. Some of our genes are immensely old, perhaps dating all the way back to the earliest chapters of life on earth.

But a surprising number of genes emerged more recently — many in just the past few million years. The youngest evolved after our own species broke off from our cousins, the apes. Scientists are finding that new genes come into being at an unexpectedly fast clip. And once they evolve, they can quickly take on essential functions. Investigating how new genes become so important may help scientists understand the role they may play in diseases like cancer.

More here.