Genetics and HR

You can think of a political ideology as a set of preferences – ” I Like Candy!” – plus a theory of how things work – “lower marginal tax rates will increase economic growth and technological progress”. Generally, the self-destructiveness of the preferences and inaccuracy of the world-theory associated with a particular ideology are limited by natural selection.

As far as I know, no currently popular ideology acknowledges the results of behavioral genetics, quantitative genetics, or psychometrics. To a limited, inexact extent, some past worldviews did.

Often practitioners of popular ideologies explicitly reject established results from those fields. They say things like “talent is distributed evenly” – but of course that’s not true. They make plans based on such falsehoods, plans that naturally fail, over and over and over again.

But practical people are also influenced by currently fashionable ideologies – their worldview limits what ideas can be discussed or even conceived of.

Obviously (you’d think) companies would like to hire effectively – although you have to wonder if they really care, considering the lackwits they employ in HR.

If they really cared, they would take a leaf from agricultural geneticists. When evaluating a job candidate, don’t just use data on the applicant – fold in data from close relatives. You’ll get a better estimate.

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60 Responses to Genetics and HR

  1. JW Bell says:

    Interviews with tech companies like Google are a thinly disguised IQ test. Prepping is the same as prepping for the SAT.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Griggs v. Duke Power Co does not apply if you have a record of all the judge’s searches.

      • The Monster from Polaris says:

        Please elucidate this. I’ve long had the impression that Griggs v. Duke Power Co was the worst obstacle to sane hiring policies in the USA.

        • Yudi says:

          He’s just making a joke that Google can skirt it because of their powers.

          • gcochran9 says:

            “We would like to extend our deepest apologies to each and every one of you,” announced CEO Eric Schmidt, speaking from the company’s Googleplex headquarters. “Clearly there have been some privacy concerns as of late, and judging by some of the search terms we’ve seen, along with the tens of thousands of personal e-mail exchanges and Google Chat conversations we’ve carefully examined, it looks as though it might be a while before we regain your trust.”

            Added Schmidt, “Whether you’re Michael Paulson who lives at 3425 Longview Terrace and makes $86,400 a year, or Jessica Goldblatt from Lynnwood, WA, who already has well-established trust issues, we at Google would just like to say how very, truly sorry we are.”

            Of course Google would never do this, because it would be wrong. Nor could they benefit from unfounded fears of such invasions of privacy. When someone gets an invite to a Google programming contest after doing a search for “memoization”, that’s entirely different from a case in which you were looking for undetectable poisons. “memoization” is spelled quite differently from “thallium”, you know.

  2. In Japan it is traditional to put one’s family tree (parents, grandparents and their professions) on a resume. Partly this shows that you come from a good family and partly it helps big companies to avoid accidentally hiring low caste burakumin or assimilated Koreans.

    • RandomBrazilian says:

      What the fuck? It’s for real or somekind of urban legend? Give some links our source or didn’t happen.

  3. Ilya says:

    In America? What are you talking about. I’ve just finished watching slides and being tested for understanding of my company’s sexual harassment policy. “Family tree resume:” nothing like this in this crazy country for the foreseeable future.

    • pyrrhus says:

      I have a friend, from Bangladesh!, highly qualified with a Masters in engineering from famous American universities, who was dinged out, with no basis in the final round at Microsoft by one woman from SE Asia, who probably saw him as competition….

  4. Jokah Macpherson says:

    Why would they care about hiring effectively? When you have quasi-monopoly power (which is the only way to make real money), there’s not much competitive advantage in hiring for anything beyond “not a complete waste of space” and the resume and interview system, no better than random chance at higher levels, at least screens well enough for that.

  5. Chasm says:

    HR people are more interested in avoiding disparate impact lawsuits than they are in hiring the best and brightest.

    • pyrrhus says:

      Yes, the number of secret consent decrees, mandating the hiring of anyone except white or asian men, is legion…..

  6. alex2 says:

    To my knowledge, no serious company lets HR have any influence in hiring decisions.

    • pyrrhus says:

      My knowledge is to the contrary, and I was an attorney for a Fortune 100 corporation…

      • Ilya says:

        Yes. That’s one of the reasons headhunter companies have it so good, their niche not only not shrinking, but growing. Most of the time, hiring decisions and screenings of applicants are done by HR, who are mostly clueless, buzzword-consuming bots, themselves a product of equal-opportunity type hiring policies.

  7. King of Jeans says:

    You should check out the writing of Mencius Goldbug (Curtis Yarvin). He fleshed out the Neoreactionary ideology. HBD has a big influence, as well as his take on history.

    Rough idea:

    “… an anti-democratic and reactionary movement that broadly rejects egalitarianism and Whig historiography.[1][2][3] The movement favors a return to older societal constructs and forms of government, including support for monarchism and traditional gender roles, coupled with a libertarian or otherwise right-wing or conservative approach to economics.”

    • gcochran9 says:

      From Moldbug I can learn how the Unitarians turned the Jews into Mensheviks.

      He’s worthless. I’ve argued with him: reliably wrong. As for those that think he’s the bee’s knees, well…..

      • gcochran9 says:

        Implicit in this exchange is a request for me to develop an attractive, semi-coherent ideology that sells itself and doesn’t automatically lead to cutting the balls off of Western Civilization.

        I. Why do I have to do everything?

        II. Show me the money!

      • Scott Locklin says:

        The upside to Moldbugism: it selects for people with decent IQ, fairly high credulity, and long attention span/high conscientiousness. Since it’s a self-described ideology for a future elite, at least it removes a certain number of people from standard shitlibbery “elites.” Maybe some of them will get better, and reading Carlyle is healthier than the standard alternatives. Plus it would be hilarious if pogroms against Unitarians were implemented.

    • Leonard says:

      That’s “Moldbug”.

      I am afraid Moldy and Greg never hit it off, both being prickly in their way but Moldbug in addition being sarcastic and disrespectful. This is a pity, since I would have loved to see Cochran engage with Moldbug on more than relatively minor details. Read this thread. Not much of a meeting of minds.

      I think both of them are the bee’s knees.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Moldbug’s overall thesis is useless crap.

        Who cares about disrespectful? I certainly don’t. Problem was, in that argument, every single thing that Moldbug said was wrong – every fact, every inference. Baathist Iraq as a theocratic state??

        You can’t come up with a useful overarching theory when you don’t know anything.

    • antimony77 says:

      You mean this?

      Some people recommended it to me as source of all wisdom, but i found only extremely long and tedious conspiracy theory interspersed with pornographic language. Maybe the problem is with me…

      Does the “Neoreactionary ideology” makes any falsifiable predictions?
      Like Marxism predicted general decline of profit, impoverishment of working class, vanishing of middle class and monopolization of all industry.
      Like Leninism predicted when capitalist imperialist countries lose their colonies, they will no longer be able to bribe working class with colonial super profits and become utterly impoverished.

      “… an anti-democratic and reactionary movement that broadly rejects egalitarianism and Whig historiography.[1][2][3] The movement favors a return to older societal constructs and forms of government, including support for monarchism and traditional gender roles, coupled with a libertarian or otherwise right-wing or conservative approach to economics.”

      If “the movement” wants this, then “the movement” is utterly deluded. Free market capitalism is the most revolutionary thing in history, not a conservative bone about it. “Monarchism and traditional gender roles” and libertarianism are like oil and water.

  8. jms says:

    Would be limited use for prospective employers in my case. My grandfather was a GP (or physician to you Americans), my old man’s an Emeritus Professor but, sadly, Im 1.5 SD or so more stupid.

  9. Brett says:

    Depends on the accuracy and reliability of your evaluation process. You only care about individual job performance, not breeding value, since I think Google’s employee breeding scheme is still in its pilot phase. If you’ve got an easily measured metric for job performance – like if you need someone to get stuff off of a tall shelf – then just measure them and hire the ones that are up to snuff. Who cares how tall their dad is? You’re only trying to breed tall employees if you’re the Chinese government.

    If your test has some noise and you need to find the signal then family information gets useful. If you give an IQ test to someone where the same guy’s score has a 10 point SD depending on how long it’s been since lunch or how bad he needs to pee, then knowing his family average helps you figure out how much of his good score is probably just getting lucky on the test. Of course, to do that you’ve gotta know the repeatability of your test, and I doubt HR would pony up the funds to do that either.

  10. caethan says:

    Depends on the accuracy and repeatibility of your test. It’s not like employers care about breeding value, since I’m pretty sure Google’s employee breeding scheme is still in the pilot stage. If you’ve got an accurate measure of future job performance – like maybe you need someone to get stuff off the tall shelves at your office – then just hire the tall guy. What do you care how tall his dad is? The Chinese government’s the only one trying to breed the next generation of tall guys.

    If your test isn’t as accurate, then the family data starts getting useful. If the standard distribution for a single guy’s score is, say, half the size of the population standard deviation, depending on how lucky he got guessing and whether he has to pee during the test, then you might want to know whether the high score he got is mostly luck or mostly real. If he’s from a family of dullards, you might figure that high score is mostly luck. If they’re all bright, it’s a lot more likely to be real. Of course, to do this adjustment well, you’d have to know the population SD and the individual repeatibility, as well as all the family data. Other data might be useful here too – if they’re coming in with a political science degree, well then you know they’re just a lucky fool.

  11. ohwilleke says:

    The vast majority of the jobs in the United States involve employment at will or independent contractors hired on a transaction by transaction basis. And, while some jobs involve a high cost of training, a great many do not. Also, most employers engaged in satisficing behavior because the objective is merely to get someone who is adequate to the job and there is little added value associated from someone who is actually optimal for the job.

    In the rare jobs where optimal qualifications really do matter and it is also the case that the investment in a high (so firing screw ups ruthlessly is not a great option), vetting can be quite thorough. But, in those cases past performance history and thorough third party vetting (e.g. through college admissions and graduation from a particular school) is generally more accurate than an information to be obtained from close family. This is because the within family variation in performance at the task in question is usually greater than the inaccuracy of evaluations based upon past performance.

    For example, I do quite a bit of succession planning for wealthy individuals who own businesses. It is very rare that a business owner with multiple children will have more than one child suited to take over the business and in something like a third to a half of cases (at least) none of the children are suited to do so. Likewise, the percentage of successful businessmen who are better than their parents at business and had parents who were likewise better than their own parents at business, are few and far between. Reversion to the mean is much, much more common in the case of very successful business owners.

    Family legacies in professional capacities are most common in professions where there are long periods of poor compensation where anyone talented enough to be at the top of the profession later on could get a better job elsewhere, because ideological commitment to that profession keeps them toiling away in their chosen vocation, rather than defecting before achieving great success. Hence, some of the strongest family legacies are in areas like politics and the military which have career paths like that.

  12. Yudi says:

    “But practical people are also influenced by currently fashionable ideologies – their worldview limits what ideas can be discussed or even conceived of.”

    Great post. One thing you didn’t mention is that worldviews are also mash-ups created by historical and present-day contingencies. Was it inevitable that the Religious Right would ally themselves with small-government advocates?

  13. says:

    Re: “talent is distributed evenly”

    Compare to UK the US situation is more rhetoric rather than actual. The OECD PISA gave a breakdown of the percentage of the 15 yo into respective grade levels. In UK a solid block of 95% of the 15 yr are in Grade11 whereas in US only 71% are in Grade10 with the normal tail
    distributions on either sides.

    Country, Pct
             G9    G10  G11  G12
    UK       0.03 1.34 95.02 3.61
    USA      11.74 71.21 16.58 0.21
    Shanghai 39.56 54.19 0.58 0.08

    From another study the IQ distribution for Shanghai is known. Not sure if they planned for this but it appeared that those with iq110 were in grade10 and above. Though they have to sit for university entrance exam, it is generally assumed that that those with iq>110 will enter university.

    region   mean  sd   i60 i70 i80 i90  i110 i120 i130
    Shanghai 115.3 14.1 0.2 0.4 2.2 33.2 26.1 20.4 17.4

    The Shanghai data is a outlier as the national average is 103.

  14. dearieme says:

    “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

  15. Sam says:

    The fact that it took the Supreme Court to change company hiring practices suggests that companies would use IQ if allowed.

  16. RCB says:

    As others have pointed out, this doesn’t make much sense. Animal breeders use phenotypes of family members because they want to get a better estimate of an individual’s breeding value. That’s because they care about the future generations of the individual. But a company hiring an engineer doesn’t care about breeding value. It cares about phenotype.

    Now if the phenotype estimate is somewhat erroneous (e.g. a noisy IQ-test-like interview), then family members could provide some information, as I think another person also noted. But not much: now the inferential chain is, say, sibling-phenotype -> sibling-genotype -> parent-genotype -> ego-genotype -> ego-phenotype. (Okay, I guess shared family environment effects could lead to a direct phenotype -> phenotype link.)

    • gcochran9 says:

      The genetic influence increases with age.

      • RCB says:

        … one’s breeding value can be a better predictor of future performance than current phenotype?

        • gcochran9 says:

          Early enough in life, perhaps. But it’s not one or the other: you could supplement phenotypic measures with estimates of the genotype. Would have to improve your predictive accuracy somewhat.

          For example, the first day in my geometry class in high school, the teacher said that he was sure that I would do fine. Because he’d taught my mother.

          • RCB says:

            Speaking of family:
            I suspect I have a low breeding value in IQ, relative to other folks of the same phenotypic IQ: I’m a bit of an outlier among my siblings, all of whom of are girls. My dad is smart, though. This has also led me to wonder whether the particular brand of intelligence in our nuclear family is somehow activated by testosterone…

  17. Matt says:

    What’s the relevant means (from ag.) that you’d envision this working on?

    Candidates come from different family sizes, so would information folded in from relatives tend to advantage larger families (because more information is present) or smaller families (less of a statistical return to mediocrity with smaller families)?

    With your cell and seed lines, you can breed more, get stable n to compare between your lines, draw statistical inference. People less so.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Sure, people less so… but some. If I were hiring someone to be captain of a Trident boat, I would be interested in knowing if his twin brother was schizophrenic – or if other close relatives were.

      I’ll bet money that we don’t do this. The potential payoff for more accurately discriminating against Buck Turgidsons? Rather large.

  18. Sean says:

    “A dozen countries, not including the United States, have banned germ-line engineering…people might pick and choose eye color and eventually intelligence.”

    Google would have the edge with artificial intelligence, so I expect they and the rest of the tech sector will throw all their weight behind a campaign to ban genetic engineering. of humans.The executive-cognitive elite will also have more to lose if GE is allowed, so they as a class will (continue to) discredit the science behind it.. I predict autocomplete ect will be subtly disabled for searches related to genetic engineering of intelligence. But if Trump could get in , his shakedown of the big tax avoiders (offer of a one-time special low rate if they bring the money back and bone breaking enforcement if they decline) will give GE a chance to get off the ground.

  19. Glengarry says:

    For what it’s worth, I nowadays do look at the relatives of the girl when a relationship turns more serious. Alas, I’m not always of steely resolve when evaluating the candidate.

  20. Roberto641 says:

    I like your posts because they don’t go along in the established grooves. Obviously, not do I. My questions never seem to fit into the traditional academic categories. For example, instead of being fascinated by “conservative” ideology”, I ask what makes someone think in a certain way, i.e. “repugnican” or “democratic”? Now that should be the real question for the”POLS” to ask, if they really want to win an election. Robert Keith Brooklyn, NY

  21. Bruce says:

    Guess I’d be screwed. Scored 136 on Otis-Lennon at age 7, 1270 on pre-’95 SAT but Mom seems to have trouble with fractions.

  22. Anna says:

    “As far as I know, no currently popular ideology acknowledges the results of behavioral genetics, quantitative genetics, or psychometrics.”

    The Libertarians do, they’re just way too smart or ruthless to say so.

    They blandly call for universal open immigration, spread of the US Bill of Rights/less-government free enterprise to all nations, and voluntary action to use genetic engineering and the High-IQ having more kids to bring the average IQ to 120 or 130.

    To me it all adds up to massive high-IQ white emigration and population expansion into every country, while carefully protecting their native peoples…a US of the world…

  23. Peter Gerdes says:

    Obviously the value of information must be traded off against the cost of gather it.

    While influences like genetics might have a large impact on the expected IQ of an individual they will likely have a small (and more importantly unknown … even down to the sign) effect once things like individual accomplishment and performance on interviews are conditioned on.

    Frankly, I don’t understand why people keep claiming things like this should be considered while consistently failing to produce evidence that they are useful predictors once easy to gather information is conditioned on. It’s almost as if they were wed to the idea of certain things being true for political/signalling reasons and weren’t bothering to check if they were actually the case.

    I’m sure there are some factors that we ignore that would be useful predictors. I also suspect they might not be at all what we would suspect.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Think for a minute. Suppose that education is mostly signaling. It takes years, and it’s expensive. If you had a genetic test that told you a fair amount about someone’s potential, it’s just possible that it would be a little cheaper than a college education (say, 1000 times cheaper) and take a few days, instead of four or five years.

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