Monday, May 21, 2018

MIT professor Eric Lander apologizes for praising controversial Nobel winner James Watson

Watson's statements on IQ were well-grounded in psychometrics

Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, has apologized for toasting 90-year-old Nobel Prize winner James Watson over the weekend.

In a contrite e-mail to colleagues, first reported Monday by Stat, Lander said he was aware of Watson’s racist and misogynist views, and had even been present when the celebrated scientist made anti-Semitic statements, but ultimately agreed to praise Watson for his role in the Human Genome Project.

In his tribute to Watson at a Biology of Genomes meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Saturday, Lander credited Watson for "inspiring all of us to push the frontiers of science to benefit humankind." He neglected to mention that the man who helped discover the double helix also has suggested there’s a link between exposure to sunlight and sexual urges, and argued that there is racial disparity in intelligence based in biology.

In his e-mail Monday, Lander said he should not have toasted Watson. Though he did make an oblique reference to Watson’s past statements when he called him "flawed," that wasn’t enough, Lander said.

"I’d like to do that now: I reject his views as despicable," Lander wrote, according to Stat. "They have no place in science, which must welcome everyone. In retrospect, I should have followed my first instinct, which was to decline the invitation. As someone who has been on the receiving end of his abhorrent remarks, I should have been sensitive to the damage caused by recognizing him in any way."

Before the apology, social media reacted angrily to Lander’s remarks.

"By toasting Jim Watson, Eric Lander is saying that sexism, racism, anti-semitism, and all sorts of forms of harassment and vile behavior by someone in power in science is A-OK — disgusting," tweeted University of California-Davis professor Jonathan Eisen, who also posted a video of Lander’s tribute, calling it "a horrific action."

"I hope we can all pause and think deeply about which scientists we choose to honor & why," tweeted Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley. "How it is that someone everyone knows to be racist, sexist & anti-semitic is still among us, let alone toasted. And how many lives and careers have been & are being ruined by our silence?"


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.'