Torsion Dystonia

There’s a mutation found in Ashkenazi Jews (not common – maybe 1 in 2000 frequency) that, in the opinion of a number of a number of those that have dealt with patients, makes you smarter. It’s a low-penetrance dominant. Some people never have trouble with it, some have moderate trouble (writer’s cramp), some end up with crippling muscle spasms. A friend of a friend has it – just writer’s cramp – but her neurologist comforted her a bit by pointing out that “it makes you smart”.

You’d think that people would be super-interested in this – but they’re not. I talked to a guy who, years ago, stumbled onto torsion dystonia at NIH and was quite excited, but nobody else here wanted to investigate it. Too interesting, probably.

Do I think that higher-than-average Jewish IQ is mediated by single-gene effects like this? Probably not most of it – probably the main thing is slightly higher frequencies of the kind of IQ-plus variants we’re getting from GWAS studies. Maybe some of it – some of the mutations causing relatively common Ashkenazi genetic diseases ( like Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s disease) sure have unusual neurological effects.

Like anything that hurts children, it’s hard to read about. For example:

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The Replication Crisis in Sociology

There isn’t one, as far as I can see, because sociologists, on the whole, don’t give a shit about being wrong. They like it.

Social psychologists inhabit the uncanny valley – highly susceptible to going astray, but embarrassed when it comes out.

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No Child Left Behind

Some time ago, around the time hat Congress passed No Child Left Behind, a reporter asked me what I thought its effect would be. I said I didn’t think it would have any.

Judging from the NAEP long-term trend scores for 17-year olds, I was right. They have hardly changed in more than 40 years. Naturally that’s what you would want to look at, rather than the scores for 4th graders or 8th graders. If they go up while graduates stagnate, it doesn’t matter. Only an idiot could get excited over that kind of sterile improvement – but since nearly everyone involved with this question is an idiot, they go on and on about it.

Reminds me of the way in which the Soviets kept increasing the production of steel, rather than steel products…

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Everything is different, but the same

Another new paper finds that the GWAS hits for IQ – largely determined in Europeans – don’t work in people of African descent. That was always a possibility: I’ve talked about it. If you look at the frequencies of height alleles (determined from GWAS in Europeans) you would predict that Pygmies are pretty short – but they’re considerably shorter than that. They have their own private alleles influencing height, which make them even shorter than you would think. Or, if you tried to estimate skin color in Koreans by the frequencies of variants that cause light skin in Europeans, you would conclude that they were black as night – but they’re not. They’re pretty light-skinned, but that’s caused by light-skin alleles common in East Asia, almost completely disjoint from the common light-skin alleles in Europeans.

So you can’t use those GWAS hits to tell how smart sub-Saharan Africans are, at least not today. All you can use are IQ measurements and achievements. It is as if the only way we could determine your height was by using a ruler, instead of GWAS predictions.

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Missing Heritability – found?

There is an interesting new paper out on genetics and IQ. The claim is that they have found the missing heritability – in rare variants, generally different in each family.

Some of the variants, the ones we find with GWAS, are fairly common and fitness-neutral: the variant that slightly increases IQ confers the same fitness (or very close to the same) as the one that slightly decreases IQ – presumably because of other effects it has. If this weren’t the case, it would be impossible for both of the variants to remain common.

The rare variants that affect IQ will generally decrease IQ – and since pleiotropy is the norm, usually they’ll be deleterious in other ways as well. Genetic load.

This explains a few things. Studies have shown that people with high IQs are healthier and live longer. It doesn’t really look as if this was caused by smarter health decisions – so probably it’s because smart people, on average, have less genetic load. This explains why girls always run after the smartest guy in the room – at any rate it would explain that if it happened. It doesn’t.

There is a report of better sperm quality in high-IQ guys: that fits lower genetic load.

How does fit into observed IQ differences between groups? Well, selection could have favored IQ more in some places than others – or the mutation rate could have varied – or the efficiency of selection against deleterious mutations could have varied (more or less truncation-like) – or perhaps some mix of all three.

You could do an admixture analysis (how does IQ vary with different amounts of ancestry from group A and group B) without knowing the exact cause – it would still tell you if and to what extent racial genetic differences influenced IQ, even if you didn’t know the exact SNPs that made the difference.

In principle, you could get rid of the load by a kind of averaging process. More fun if the superman you create comes from way out in left field – say a super-Neanderthal, as I once suggested.

The rate at which new genetic load is generated, per generation, does not look to be too high (from the info we have), since the amount of observed IQ depression in the children of older fathers is, at this point, unobservably small.

If selection favors lower IQ, as it does today, you should see every IQ-negative allele increasing in frequency ( assuming that the side effects are not too awful): all of the GWAS fitness-neutral hits, and probably some of the mutational load alleles as well.  You can be sure that the current dysgenic trend (~ 1 point drop per generation, not counting immigration)  has not been operating too long, because if it had, we’d all be idiots, unable to read and understand past works of genius.  Hasn’t happened. Michael Woodley and Bruce Charlton think so, but they are mistaken.  Badly mistaken.

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Once upon a time, very substantial spinoffs from investments in military technology were fairly common. This trend is not new: for example, John Wilkinson developed a technique for boring iron guns from guns from a solid piece, which led directly to boring precision cylinders for James Watt’s steam engines.

In WWII and the Cold War generated many spinoffs. The cavity magnetron was developed for centimetric radar, but later made an even greater contribution by warming up pizza [microwave ovens]. The diesel-electric transmission used for US submarines also had an application in locomotives. The development of military rockery and ICBMs led to civilian applications such as comsats and weather satellites.

Work in military jet engine technology has often had civilian payoffs.

Integrated circuits were not at first cost-competitive in most commercial applications, but the Air Force wanted them, for Minuteman guidance systems, where reliability and miniaturization were of utmost value: that market helped them get started.

One of the more famous and lucrative spinoffs was the KC-135. The Air Force wanted long-range bombers, and the RAND corporation showed that this could be done more efficiently using aerial refueling [ saved something like $20 billion]. The 707 was a derivative of the KC-135 design, and made Boeing gobs and gobs of money.

Packet switching was developed by the USAF, in search of a system that might survive a nuclear attack.

In the past few decades such spinoffs have become less common. Around 1980, people began to notice that military semiconductor technology was slipping behind civilian semiconductor technology – in part because DOD is bureaucratic and slow, partly because of specialized miltech requirement [radhard] , but for other reasons as well. There were some effort to catch up [VHSIC, the NSA’s support of a superconducting-switch computer] but it didn’t happen. Although if someone gets a quantum computer working, the NSA will have come through.

Today, cutting edge computing technology builds on devices whose original purpose satisfied gamer lust for high-resolution depictions of exploding zombies [GPUs], people searching for porn, and viewing gossip. Nothing wrong with that. Still, it would be nice if we got more civ value out of military research, the way we once did, since we’re going to be doing a lot of military research in any event. Twofers like the KC-135 would be good for the US economy. And unless I’m mistaken, there was a certain tendency for the spinoffs of military R&D to be more ‘real’ than today’s porn&gaming spinoffs.

How can we produce more cool civilian spinoffs from military research?

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The Great Filter

Let us imagine that we found out that nervous systems had evolved twice (which seems to be the case). And suppose that you spent a lot of time worrying about the Fermi Paradox – and had previously thought that nervous system evolution was the unlikely event that explains the great silence, the bottleneck that explained why we don’t see signs of alien intelligent life. Thus in our past: we’re safe. Now you’re worried: maybe the Great Filter lies in our future, and the End approaches. But not just that: you assume that the political class noticed this too, and will start neglecting the future (cough, cough) because they too believe that isn’t going to be one.
Worrying about the Great Filter might not be crazy, but assuming that politicians are hep to such things and worry about them is. If you think that, you have less common sense than a monotreme. And that’s real common. I’ve had analogous arguments with people: they didn’t have any common sense either.

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