After a long and difficult pregnancy, Nature Genetics finally gave birth to a big paper about genetic influences on educational achievement. Now we know more of the genes that result in high heritability of phenotypes like educational attainment – including something about the metabolic paths involved. These results don’t explain all the heritability we see – in particular the part due to rare deleterious variants – but they explain some. Now, from a gene sample, knowing nothing else, we can say something about some kid’s likelihood of completing college. People in the bottom quintile of the polygenic score had a 10% chance of graduating, those in the top quintile had a 55% chance. Obviously if we knew his grades, test scores, permanent record and genotype, we could make an even better prediction: still, this is interesting.
As usual we have public intellectuals fulfilling their duties: trying to stuff falsehoods into the heads of the general public.
Paige Harden has a piece in the New York Times. She has a hard row to hoe: she’s trying to convince her fellow ‘progressives’ that they need to recognize that genetic influences on personality and talent are real and strong. She bullshits on some topics in order to reassure them: mentions the awful idea that inferior genes explain poverty, and evil old eugenics. But of course genes do have a role in inequality, while there’s nothing wrong with non-coercive eugenics, as long as you know what you’re doing.
She mentions that a number of leftists that have opposed this kind of biological research, for instance on education. Which is fairly weird, really: clearly those objecting believe that the theories they base their favorite programs on, and teach, are false. Which means their programs won’t, can’t achieve their stated goals – but that’s apparently no reason to abandon them. Means justify the ends ?
I can imagine someone opposing certain kinds of research because the results might be dangerous – say an easy way to make a total conversion bomb out of the green stuff in the back of the fridge, or a complexly-wired helmet that confers the power of telepathic hypnosis, so that the wearer automatically becomes Supreme Ruler of Everybody, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.
Harden argues that genetic inequality is unfair, and so -> redistribution. The earlier argument was that everybody is really the same, and so -> redistribution. I’m pretty sure that if the astronomers found that an asteroid the size of Texas was going to hit us in twenty years, that answer to that would also be massive redistribution. What does she says about the boring topic of making society actually work better – where well-understood genetic influences could have a role? Nothing, of course.
Lastly, Harden says that a better understanding understanding of genetic influence will let us develop a better understanding of which effects are genetic and which are not ( ” the causal effects of the environment are thrown into sharper focus”). So we can find the environmental interventions that work !
That, lady, is bullshit. Essentially every conceivable social intervention is like things parents do – shared family environment. And every decent study indicates that shared family environment doesn’t matter much. Now, I suppose we could try to develop a new social program that mimics the effects of non-shared environment – which effects are significant – but we are handicapped by not knowing what the fuck those non-shared environmental influences even are.
Of course, If I were a professor of psychology, that would be a pleasing prospect. ” More research is needed” – until the end of time.