Friday, June 1, 2018

Genetic Intelligence Tests Are Next to Worthless (?)

I take the title above from the title of a long and very readable article by Carl Zimmer, a NYT journalist.  You could almost predict the title from the fact that he is a NYT journalist.

But the article is extremely well done.  It is something of a triumph of the journalist's art. He explains the facts and issues of his subject beautifully.  I wish I could write as well.  We both try for lucidity and simplicity but he does by far the better job. That he is a journalist and that I am an academic shows. I never could get teddy bears into my writing.

The article is a long one so I am not even going to excerpt it.  Instead I am going  to offer what I hope is a fuller perspective on the matters he raises.  Put simply, he mistakes the major issue involved.

When we look at his title, we have to ask: "Worthless for What? His answer is that currently available genetic information is useless as a substitute for a normal IQ test.  He is absolutely right about that and his warning is well-taken.  People who claim to assess your IQ from your genetic profile are little better than quacks and their results are of no everyday use.

And the reason for that is that IQ appears to be just one aspect of your body's general good functioning.  The brain is just one organ of the body and if the body overall is functioning well the brain should be working pretty well too. And from the research with IQ tests we find an amazing range of good things that high IQ correlates with -- better health, longer life more harmonious marriages etc.  You name it, more or less. 

So that lies behind the fact that there are a LOT of influences on your IQ. They may be scattered anywhere in your body.  What IQ researchers have said for a long time is that IQ is "polygenetic".  It is the sum of a whole lot of little genetic influences.  Almost anything that influences your overall health could also influences your IQ.

At this stage I have to stress that I am talking about the "in general" case.  As elsewhere in life, there are exceptions to the general rule. There are healthy specimens who are as dumb as a brick (some Hollywood actors?) and there are other unfortunates such as Stephen Hawking and Carl Steinmetz where a brilliant brain inhabits a broken body.  Sometimes you need just one faulty gene to have a big influence on your bodily health.

And it is the general case that interests scientists.  They are not actually much interested in YOU.  They are only interested in what emerges from a study of people in general. So when they find some of the many influences on IQ in people's genes they see themselves as being on the right track in seeing IQ as mainly genetic.  And the advances are already exciting.  As each new study comes out, more and more of the genetic influences on IQ are being found.  Genetics generally is in its infancy and the genetics of IQ are no exception. 

And so far there has not been a single study looking at epigenetic influences on IQ.  Epigenetics are bits of your genetic profile which influence how other genes work.  They can even turn a gene "on" or "off".  So to expect that current studies could give us the whole genetics of IQ is very naive.  The fact that we have at this early stage already been able to detect some of the genetics involved is the interesting and exciting part. 

In other words the issue is not whether or not we can measure your IQ from your genes right now but rather whether we are on the right track towards that.  And from a scientific point of view we are doing amazingly well considering the huge difficulty of such research -- JR.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Stop Talking About Race and IQ

Does WILLIAM SALETAN deny the humanity of blacks?

My heading above is copied from a recent, very long-winded article by Saletan, who is a sort of token conservative among prominent journalists. Saletan accepts that there are large differences between black and white IQ averages but thinks we should not talk about it.  To help us think about the matter, let us look at some hypothetical statements about dogs:

Long tails in dogs are hereditary
Great Danes have long tails
Therefore long tails in Great Danes are hereditary

That conclusion seems pretty reasonable, does it not?   From my memory of my studies in formal logic of over 50 years ago, I think it is in fact a valid syllogism.

Here is another very similar syllogism that refers to the centrepiece of the   Saletan article.

Low IQs are hereditary
Blacks have low IQs
Therefore low IQs in blacks are hereditary. 

Is that syllogism not as valid as the first?

Saletan wants to say that that conclusion is NOT logical or is at least unproven.  The only way he can do that, however, is to attack one or both of the premises.  He attacks the statement that low IQs are hereditary.  He says that statement is overly broad.  It may be that among blacks IQ is not hereditary or is hereditary in some different way.

But there have now been many studies of brain function (GWAS studies) which show that IQ involves a large number of brain components and the most recent studies have in fact shown that neuron size is heavily involved in IQ. Smart people have bigger neurons.  And note that the brain is almost entirely composed of neurons.

So Saletan is saying that all those GWAS features are different in blacks.  He is denying the humanity of blacks. He is in effect saying that blacks are a different species, almost something extra-terrestrial.  I am betting that he does NOT want to say that but his argument leads to it.  He would not want to say that because he places great stress on kindness to blacks as being a big issue in the debate. Telling blacks that they are on average dumber and can't change that is unkind. 

I don't think it is unkind.  It is lies that are unkind.  As Eysenck often said, the policies you derive from low average black IQs could as well be kind as anything else. By having lower expectations of blacks, you could be relieving stresses on them to keep up in various ways, for instance.

And we do in any case ordinarily make it very clear to all blacks that they are on average dumber.  That is the famous educational "gap". In their school studies, blacks lag behind white pupils by about the degree you would expect from their much lower average IQ.  And the best brains among American educators have for years striven mightily to find ways of closing that gap.  Many things have been tried but nothing works.  The gap remains no matter what is tried.  It remains just as it has to be if it is genetically-based on IQ.

And all that educational failure is vividly brought home to blacks time and time again.  They are repeatedly shown that they are on average dumber than whites and that nothing will fix that.  Many blacks drop out of education as as result.  They just can't do the work but know that whites can.

So we already make plain to blacks exactly the message that Saletan want to avoid.  So the lies about black IQ come to naught anyway.

Saletan also bows down to convention in saying: “Race science, the old idea that race is a biologically causal trait, may live on as an ideology of hate. But as an academic matter, it’s been discredited"

It is Saletan who has been discredited.  In recent years, there have been  a number of factor-analytic and other studies which have shown that the traditional racial categories do emerge in international data. Saletan might want to start here if he wants to catch up with the research concerned.  Does he really believe that there is no biological cause for the many obvious differences between blacks and whites?  Do you get born black or white at random?  Insane.

Note that I am not the lone psychometrician in pointing to genetics as the cause of black/white IQ differences.  In 2013, a survey of 228 intelligence researchers found that the typical scientist in this field agrees:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Secret to intelligence? New link between brain cell size and IQ may help scientists find a way to enhance human intellect

For the first time, scientists have discovered that smart people have bigger brain cells than their peers. 

As well as being bulkier, the cells are better connected to their neighbours, allowing them to process more information at a faster rate.

If results of the study are confirmed, it could help researchers find a way to enhance our intelligence.

A study, led by Natalia Goriounova at the Free University Amsterdam, gave an IQ test to 35 people who were due to undergo brain surgery, according to report in New Scientist.

During surgery, doctors took a small sample of healthy brain tissue from the temporal lobe of the volunteers. This piece of human brain was then kept alive for testing in a lab.

Dr Goriounova compared the size and shape of the brain cells with volunteers' IQ scores. They found that the brain cells are significantly bigger in people with higher IQs.

Brain cells from smarter people also have more dendrites, which are short extensions of the main neuron that connect to other cells. These tiny projections are important in transferring information from one cell to another.

The study is the first to ever show that the  physical size and structure of brain cells is related to a person's intelligence levels. 

Christof Koch at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle told New Scientist:  'We've known there is some link between brain size and intelligence. The team confirm this and take it down to individual neurons.

The concept of intelligence being derived from brain structure could ruffle feathers among some in the academic field.

Dr Koch said: 'Some people will say intelligence is so elusive and complex that the idea it can be tied to individual neurons is implausible.' 

The research team also tested people's ability to transmit electrical signals, mimicking the processing of information.

What they found was that people with a low IQ coped at a low frequency, but rapidly became fatigued. The smarter people did not slow down and continued to transmit even at a high rate of stimulation.   

'What they did here is extraordinary neuroscience,' says Richard Haier at the University of California, Irvine. 'It's the beginning of being able to study intelligence neuron by neuron, and circuit by circuit.

'This research could lead to neuroscience-based ways to enhance human intelligence – perhaps dramatically. 'We might be able to treat intellectual disabilities or prevent them from occurring.'

'Theoretically, we can say that with both pluripotent and embryonic stem cells that we can create larger brain cells which, when combined with this recent research, would indicate that we could increase intelligence,' Michele Giugliano, co-author and professor at the University of Antwerp told MailOnline.

'This was shown in rodents as we grafted these cells into the brain of mice.

'The problem is that we do not know if the size of the cell is from genetic cause or neurophsycical cues.

It does seem that it would be theoretically possible to restore human brain matter in the next 50 years to restore cognitive deficit. Ethically, I am not sure if that would be allowed.'


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Social class in Australia

To advance economically in Australia, you are often told to get lots of education.  And it's true that the higher you go educationally, the better paid you will usually be.  But is it actually education at work?  The great predictor of educational success is IQ -- so those who go furthest through the educational system will be those with the highest IQ. So it is most probably your IQ that gets you that good job.  Education is just an IQ marker that anyone can read.

As a result of that, some thinkers say that the class system is  a series of IQ levels.  What we see as Upper class and what we see as lower class will be effects of IQ, and not much more.  That is why social mobility is so poor.  IQ is highly hereditary so if you are born into a poor family you are unlikely to have the IQ assets to rise above your parent's station.

A curious example of class characteristics in fact being IQ characteristics is from the findings about breast feeding. Affluent mothers make quite a point of breast feeding these days.  To put your baby on the bottle will get you scorned and seen as uncaring, ignorant and very low class. Yet We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So it's all IQ.

So your eventual place on the socio-economic scale will be where your level of IQ places you, with education being a marker, not a cause.  And your IQ is essentially unalterable. So rising up socially will only happen if you are one of the unusual people who come from a humble background but are lucky enough to be born with a high IQ.  Your IQ will place you in the right social rank for your level of ability.

Toby Young

sets out in more detail the case for society being invisibly ranked by IQ

Social class in Australia is a topic that often goes undiscussed — but if the response to our series on class is anything to go by, some of you are ready to start talking about it.

Some people got in touch to say they believe the archetype of Australia as the lucky country, where opportunity abounds, rings as true as ever.

But others told us the idea that hard work and application are the only barriers to social mobility is laughable.

What was constant is that everyone had an opinion.

The ABC's recent class quiz prompted a number of curious results.

More than a few people were surprised to find their tastes, according to data compiled as part of the detailed Australian Cultural Fields project, aligned them with middle or upper-class woman aged between 40-59.

Taste — whether you'd rather see a pub band than go to opera, for instance — only explains so much of course, and there are many other factors that help explain where we each sit within Australia's complex and confusing class structure.

Sue, a public servant from Darwin, describes herself as a "late baby boomer". She once lived in Sydney, but moved to the Northern Territory with her husband for his job in construction work. "I'm definitely a middle-class person," she said.

"Class in the NT looks much different to what it would in New South Wales. In terms of access to housing, education, employment, health outcomes — it keeps class very much at the forefront of your mind."

Julie wrote in to tell us about her family full of "shop-stewards, miners, railway workers, shipbuilders and plumbers".

"All politically aware, self-educated and proud of their working-class community solidarity," she said.

"My grandfather would say to explain wealth and class: 'Remember no-one is better than anyone else, it is just some people are better off'."

Education opens doors

A running theme through the conversations was the notion of education as being key to class mobility.

Greg, from Melbourne, comes from a working-class background.

"Education was the 'mobility enabler' for me. A beneficiary of Whitlam's education reforms in the 1970s, access to university was merit-based. It opened the door to me," he said.

Brisbane-based policy officer Chris believes his upbringing and education provided him with a platform that's not necessarily attainable for all Australians.

"I have relatively secure professional work and I'm paid reasonably well, I'm aware of my privileged position in the social hierarchy," he said.

"It was impressed on me that I should go to university, that I should improve myself intellectually, financially."

But education isn't always easily accessible.

Alice comes from a modest background and decided to go to university after achieving a UAI of 97.7.

Throughout her time at university, she has struggled to make ends meet, despite working multiple jobs.

"I'm safe for now. But should I choose to embark upon a Master's component, and my benefits are taken away … who knows where I'll end up. As an intelligent woman in her mid-thirties, I shudder to think that my future may very well lie in the streets as a homeless person, making me yet another uncomfortable statistic for everyone else to gawk at."


Sunday, April 8, 2018

It's all in the genes

In their never ending quest to pooh-pooh the genetic influence on IQ (and everything else), a common Leftist suggestion has been that the genetic influence is "moderated" by environmental factors.  Socio-economic status has been nominated as such an environmental influence.  That has just had a big test and the answer found is that genes rule.  Their effect is not moderated by environmental influences.  Article below followed by journal Abstract

It's amusing that the authors don't want to believe their own results.  They seize on things that might rescue their hypothesis. They say, for instance, that "Among twins and siblings pairs who were close in age, standardized math and reading scores increased proportionally along with mothers' years of education beyond high school"

They attribute that to an environmental influence when it could better be explained by saying that smarter mothers undertake more education. And smarter mother have smarter kids of course.

They really are pathetic in their attempt to hang on to political correctness

Genes and environment have equal influence in learning for rich and poor kids, study finds

More than 40 years ago, psychologist Sandra Scarr put forth a provocative idea: that genetic influence on children's cognitive abilities is linked to their family's income. The wealthier the family, the more influence genes have on brain development, the thinking went.

Scarr turned the nature-nurture debate on its head, proposing that how much "nature" matters varies between environments. Scarr's research has since been roundly debated and thoroughly studied by other researchers with mixed results, including reaffirmation by another American psychologist, David Rowe, in 1999.

The line of research has come to be called the Scarr-Rowe hypothesis—that parents' socio-economic status moderates genetic contributions to variation in intelligence. The thinking was that, for people of lower socio-economic status, a person's intelligence is influenced more by his or her environment than by genetics, meaning whether a child reaches full potential depends on economic standing.

I have been studying the relationship of early health conditions to subsequent school performance for 25 years and been fascinated by the role that genetics and environment play in student achievement.

A group of us set out re-examine the question: Are genetic influences on cognitive abilities larger for children raised in more advantaged environment? To get that answer, I collaborated with colleagues at Northwestern University and Stanford University.

Studying twins, siblings gives insight

We analyzed birth and school records of 24,000 twins and nearly 275,000 siblings born in Florida between 1994 and 2002. As did previous researchers who examined genetic and environmental influences of cognitive development, we focused on a very large set of twins and siblings.

Twins and siblings close in age allowed us to disentangle the role of genes and environment in development of cognitive ability. We found no evidence that social class played more of a role in educational performance for poor kids than for rich ones.

While students in the higher income groups performed better than students in the lower income groups, the relative influence of genetic and environmental differences was the same across groups. The results were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A complex gene-environment interaction

What is the significance of our findings? According to David Figlio, dean of the School of Education at Social Policy at Northwestern and lead author of the study, we did not confirm that environmental factors mitigate the effects of genetics on cognitive development. Environmental differences are just as important for students from affluent backgrounds as students from poorer backgrounds.

Recent research has found evidence of a difference in genetic influence on academic performance between rich and poor families in the United States, when compared with families in Australia or Western Europe.

However, our research did not replicate the U.S. findings, in part because our large data set from Florida represented a very socio-economically diverse set of families.

Our findings, however, do not contradict the overall pattern that parental socio-economic status is associated with children's cognitive development. Among twins and siblings pairs who were close in age, standardized math and reading scores increased proportionally along with mothers' years of education beyond high school.


Socioeconomic status and genetic influences on cognitive development

David N. Figlio, Jeremy Freese, Krzysztof Karbownik and Jeffrey Roth


Accurate understanding of environmental moderation of genetic influences is vital to advancing the science of cognitive development as well as for designing interventions. One widely reported idea is increasing genetic influence on cognition for children raised in higher socioeconomic status (SES) families, including recent proposals that the pattern is a particularly US phenomenon. We used matched birth and school records from Florida siblings and twins born in 1994–2002 to provide the largest, most population-diverse consideration of this hypothesis to date. We found no evidence of SES moderation of genetic influence on test scores, suggesting that articulating gene-environment interactions for cognition is more complex and elusive than previously supposed.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Another confirmation: High IQ goes with better health and longer life

And a further advance in finding the genes behind IQ

Clever people live longer due to so-called 'intelligence genes' that promote old age, new research suggests.

More than 500 genes linked to people having greater IQs have been identified by scientists, which is 10 times higher than previously thought.

It raises the possibility of testing for intelligence using simple saliva DNA tests.

Past research suggests intelligence genes boost the transmission of signals between different regions of the brain, as well as protecting against dementia and premature death.

Study author Dr David Hill from Edinburgh University said: 'Intelligence is a heritable trait with estimates indicating between 50 and 80 per cent of differences in intelligence can be explained by genetic factors.

'People with a higher level of cognitive function have been observed to have better physical and mental health, and to have longer lives.'

Their IQ was investigated by assessing their arithmetic, vocabulary and understanding of information, as well as their ability to arrange images and sort codes.

Results further suggest 538 genes play a role in intelligence, while 187 regions of the human genome are associated with thinking skills.

Dr Hill said: 'Our study identified a large number of genes linked to intelligence.  

'First, we found 187 independent associations for intelligence and highlighted the role of 538 genes being involved - a substantial advance.

'We used our data to predict almost seven per cent of the variation in intelligence in one of three independent samples.

'Previous estimates of prediction have been around five per cent at most.'

The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The researchers analysed DNA variations in more than 240,000 people from around the world. Gene samples were taken from the UK Biobank, which assesses the role of genes in health and disease.  The researchers then compared people's DNA against their IQ scores on verbal and numerical tests.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review of "Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What to Do about It" by Richard V. Reeves

What reviewer Robert Whaples reports below is a fairly conventional sociological analysis of social stratification in America.  And there is undoubtedly something in it.  The big problem is said to be that the people who have already got to the top of American society tend to keep it for themselves and their children.  There is little social mobility upwards from lower down in the social hierarchy.  And you will read below about a variety of ways in which that "closed shop" is maintained.

I think that sociological account does however miss a large elephant in the room.  And to see that elephant you need to go to psychology.  A couple of decades ago Charles Murray showed that IQ was a strong predictor of economic success.  So the existing elite will already be high IQ people and it is actually their high IQ that gives them their dominant position, not what schools they went to etc. 

Toby Young offers a very extensive exploration of that possibility.  He thinks we already have a ruling INTELLECTUAL elite.  That being so, nothing will help you to get into that elite unless you have the requisite high IQ.  With that everything is possible; without it very little is possible

The American labor market “does a good job of rewarding the kind of ‘merit’ that adds economic value—skills, knowledge, intelligence” (p. 75). “The idea of moving away from a market economy is foolish as well as far-fetched. Markets increase prosperity, reduce poverty, enhance well-being, and bolster individual choice” (p. 77). These aren’t the words of someone from Cato, the AEI or the Heritage Foundation, but from Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. But, warns Reeves, this “meritocratic market” is embedded in an unfair society. Meritocracy is great for adults, but not for children. The problem is that upper middle class parents have built a system that gives their own children massive advantages—they hoard the prerequisites for the American dream and block the children of others from flourishing.

Market merit is a great thing, but we need to reform our social institutions so that they “aggressively equalize opportunities to develop market merit” (p. 84). “The problem is not that society is too competitive. It is that it is not competitive enough, partly because of ... anticompetitive opportunity hoarding ... but mostly because the chances to prepare for the competition are so unequal” (p. 124). Reeves seems to realize that it would be exceptionally difficult (and probably quite destructive) to eliminate all the advantages that children of successful parents have over other children. These advantages include having caring parents (two of them, not just one), who are good role models and spend time simply talking to their children—one study he cites examines the “conversation gap” and estimates that children in families on welfare hear about six hundred words per hours, working-class children about twelve hundred words per hour, and children of professionals about twenty-one hundred words per hour. Reeves doesn’t aim to undo these immense advantages. Rather, he takes aim at a higher level—at legal rules and institutional arrangements, constructed by the upper middle class to make life better for themselves and their children without considering the potential harm imposed on others—and suggests that we could use “more downward mobility from the top” (p. 58).

So, how do upper middle class professionals—“journalists, scholars, technocrats, managers, bureaucrats, the people with letters after their names” (p. 4) hoard the dream? Reeves focuses on three tactics—exclusionary zoning, college admissions policies, and the allocation of good internships. The most important of these is the first. The upper middle class have segregated themselves into towns and neighborhoods where the cost of living is high, mainly by using zoning rules that make it impossible for poorer people to be their neighbors and enjoy these communities’ amenities—especially good schools. The rich practice an “inverse ghettoization” (p. 102)—building enclaves where they live healthy, safe lives together and don’t have to deal with the annoyances of non-elites and their children, to the detriment of everyone else, argues Reeves. These zoning practices—such as banning multi-family dwellings and setting high minimum lot sizes—mean that those outside the top groups cannot afford to live in the most economically prosperous places. And the dirty secret is that these zoning requirements are stricter in cities with more left-of-center voters. Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh have estimated that if only San Francisco, San Jose and New York adopted zoning regulations of the median American city, the entire U.S. economy would be 10 percent larger because more people would be able to afford to move to opportunity.

The problem with higher education, as Reeves sees it, is that the game is rigged so that children of the upper middle class have huge advantages in getting into the best colleges and universities—because they live near the best high schools and because, for example, their parents have the wherewithal to spend money on college admissions consultants (who can charge over $10,000 for their top tier of services). “Post-secondary education ... has become an ‘inequality machine” (p. 11), as it “takes the inequality given to it and magnifies it” (p. 55). Elite schools pay lip services to serving all of society, but they are “locked into an equilibrium that militates against serious reform efforts” as it “is simply not in the interests of the most powerful institutions to change things very much” (p. 88-89). Reeves offers a tantalizing sentence or two about supply-side reforms to improve opportunity and access to higher education but doesn’t press the issue. Instead, he focuses on an interesting, but probably not very important, symptom of dream hoarding in higher education—policies that make it easier for “legacy” students, the children of alumni, to be accepted to the top colleges. He makes a strong case that this practice is immoral and downright un-American, citing evidence from a couple cases where abolishing the practice has not reduced alumni giving. He’s a fan of extending affirmative action to encompass social class. He also advocates the abolition of granting special advantages for well-connected students who apply for internships at top firms, non-profits and government positions. The playing field needs to be leveled—so that having parents who know the right people doesn’t give applicants a leg up.

As you can see from my overview of Reeve’s arguments, this is a book that will appeal to people across the political spectrum—in fact, it will probably appeal more to conservatives and libertarians than the “progressives” who run our colleges and have enacted these zoning laws. Reeves’ policy proposals strike me as mostly mild afterthoughts—his primary goal seems to be to open “dream hoarding” up to the disinfectant of sunlight, to encourage us to realize the inconsistencies between our stated creeds and our practices, so that we begin to voluntarily give up our hoarding. In this task he may have failed. I conclude this after having discussed Dream Hoarders with a group of students at an elite college (Wake Forest University). They accepted many of his arguments but ultimately few saw a burning need to give up on legacy admissions (which might benefit their own children) and using special connections to snag good job internships.

I won’t enumerate his proposals, but will object to his take on contraception for teenagers, when he declares that “Causal sex is fine. Casual child bearing is not” (p. 127). One doesn’t have to dig too deep to realize that treating other people so casually, so disposably, as if they are just there for one’s own pleasure, is the root of many of the problems he discusses. Would he advise his own children that “casual sex is fine”? Do parents now say this to their children? The thought of this saddens me deeply.

Finally, Reeves has a fresh take on John Rawls. Rather than considering how we would want things to be arranged if we didn’t know our own original position (shrouded behind the veil of ignorance), Reeves asks us to think about the best arrangement if no one knows his “children’s place in society, their class position or social status; nor does he know their fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, intelligence and strength and the like” (p. 72, emphasis in the original). He senses that if this were the position facing us, we’d be more supportive of redistributive policies and institution, if we were less certain where our own children were going to end up. I’m not so certain.