Friday, February 10, 2017
The Bermuda Triangle of Science
by Brian Boutwell
This is an essay about how to avoid carpet-bombing your career as a scientist. The academy, in general, is a wonderful place to work, but not everyone plays nice. Veer too far from carefully charted courses and someone may slip quietly up behind you and slide a cold piece of steel in between the ribs of your budding research career.
They’ll do this believing that they are serving public interest by snuffing out dangerous research agendas, but that won’t make any difference to you. It’ll be your reputation that will suffer grievous injury. What in the world might elicit such harsh rebuke from a community of otherwise broadminded, free speech spouting scholars? What is so verboten that it constitutes academia’s Bermuda Triangle, a place where careers disappear more often than ships in the actual Bermuda Triangle? In one word, it’s race.
Now, had I written this a decade or more ago, general intelligence would have topped the list of forbidden academic fruit. This is not to say that intelligence research has magically become mainstream. It still carries its fair share of controversy. On one level, the continued debate about intelligence strikes me as quite funny, honestly. If you want to watch academics glorify a trait that many still think, “doesn’t exist” or “doesn’t matter”, hang around them when student applications are being reviewed. It’s hilarious to watch folks froth at the mouth over sky-high test scores that they would otherwise tell you measure nothing at all.
Nonetheless, the evidentiary base regarding the existence of general intelligence and its ability to predict important life outcomes — including health, longevity and mortality, as well as other key variables — is beyond compelling, it’s overwhelming. And if you find yourself feeling like you can do damage to this evidence base by invoking arguments about “multiple intelligences” or something of the sort, let me save you the effort. Those urges illustrate unfamiliarity with any of the serious research done on the topic in the last several decades. If those urges haunt you, I’d recommend Stuart Ritchie’s excellent primer on the topic. The waters of intelligence research, though controversial, no longer require that you be Magellan to navigate them. As we will see below, however, it is only one small step from banal psychometric work on IQ, to the mother-load of academic controversy. Stay tuned.
Quantitative genetic work on human behavior has also had its time in the spotlight as arguably the most controversial subject in science. Like intelligence, the evidence base regarding the heritability of human outcomes is beyond reasonable dispute. However it hasn’t always been like that, as folks like Thomas Bouchard can rightly attest. Some controversy still erupts from time to time, but the general themes of these controversies often have more to do with fine-grained methodological points, and not the wholesale dismissal of the notion that human behavior is heritable. So, while not exactly free from rancor, behavior and molecular genetics represents a sea of much calmer waters than in prior years.
Evolution, as it applies to the social sciences, would have also made the list some decades back. But pioneers like E.O. Wilson, Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, David Buss, Margot Wilson, and Martin Daly (as well as a number of others) have absorbed many punches and blows for us younger generation of scholars. Their efforts produced a sizeable evidentiary base regarding the role that evolutionary processes have played (and continue to play) in sculpting human psychology. Debates still rage, and controversies still exist, but nowadays arguing that natural selection played some role in molding human psychology will no longer jeopardize your career.
There have, of course, been other controversial issues that have popped up. I might have talked about the study of sex differences for example, which has drawn the ire of critical scholars for years. Yet much of that discontent was because people were approaching the subject in an evolutionary/biologically informed framework (for more broad insight on academic controversies see Steven Pinker’s discussion in The Blank Slate).
So this brings us back to the notion that race represents academia’s true Bermuda Triangle. Perhaps never has the topic of genetic ancestry been so important, yet despite its relevance, bright scholars continue to stay away from it in droves. Who can blame them, really? As John McWhorter has pointed out, screaming “racist” at every one who dives off into this topic has become a religious rite, of sorts. It will not matter how noble you think your motives are, if you factor in race as a variable, your actions are subject to impeachment, and your reputation may be sacrificed as a burnt offering to our new religion. Let me give you an example.
Linda Gottfredson is a brilliant, productive, and innovative scholar. Dr. Gottfredson, however, found herself in the Bermuda Triangle some years back, and her story should serve as a lighthouse for those looking to avoid the same fate. In an article published in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences a few years ago, Gottfredson described her ordeal with the University of Delaware. I would encourage you to read her paper; it’s very accessible and non-technical. In it, Gottfredson unleashes an account of gross academic freedom violations, owing to a research program tainted with the stain of connections to race. After having grant dollars denied, which resulted in an initial complaint filed against the university, four more separate cases were also filed by Gottfredson and her collaborator Jan Blits. All told, the cases levied against the university detailed instances of denied promotions, removal of a course from course listings, and an atmosphere of general harassment on the part of the chair.
As I write about Gottfredson and Blits, and again read about their ordeal, I can’t help but recall many of the more recent, yet equally obscene, violations of free speech on college campuses. I am nonetheless encouraged of late to witness what seems to be a rising tide of support for the fundamental principals that should govern academic life; classical liberalism, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech. Yet, should those voices only be selectively employed? Should they only apply to topics that are fashionably controversial? I can assure you that few rush to the defense of someone who has drifted out into the Bermuda Triangle of academia. No flare is strong enough to cut the fog, no distress beacon can be seen, and no one is likely to welcome the call for assistance that crackles in over a weak radio signal; but why not?
For starters, crossing the boundaries of the Triangle (even if only to defend a colleague) can be frightening. Angry invectives hurled in your direction will come so fast, and so fierce, it will likely leave your head spinning, as Gottfredson illustrates (p.276):
News coverage was often lurid. The UD African-American Coalition argued that my work was not just offensive, but dangerous. My ‘‘so-called research” and the social policies I ‘‘was likely to propose” were ‘‘liable to threaten the very survival of African-Americans” (Tarver, 1990, p. 6A).
Within the Bermuda Triangle, you see, it is a free for all when it comes to accusations and motive indictment. There is no suitable defense, trying to mount in fact one will only fan the flames. Consider the following:
An allegedly dishonest or malevolent scholar who appeals to the protections of free speech or academic freedom is said to be ‘‘hiding behind” them, which provokes further scorn. Every attempt at self-defense becomes another offense. Intimations of immorality, mean-spiritedness, perverse tendencies (‘‘preoccupation” with race), and the like all mobilize distaste for targeted scholars, relax scruples in dealing with them fairly, and cause associates to shun them. (p.276)
There is quite literally, nothing you can do.
Perhaps the invective aimed at scholars such as Gottfredson comes from a “good” place. Many are concerned about what research into race differences might inspire in the form of prejudice and discrimination among the populace. Techniques to preclude such dangerous knowledge from seeping out of the Ivory Tower don’t even have to take the form of a full frontal ad hominem assault (recall our earlier imagery of the knife slid silently in the back). As Gottfredson notes (p.277):
Some critics avoid making ad hominem claims by asserting that, although the researcher may not be evil, their work can be used for evil purposes. The supposed dangers of the research are seldom explained, however, but just connoted. For instance, assertions that certain conclusions about intelligence or genetic influences are ‘‘obviously” harmful or dangerous are virtually never supported by any argument or evidence. Owing to constant repetition of such claims, however, it has become intellectual reflex in most quarters to associate the word intelligence with ‘‘hereditarianism” and, next, ‘‘hereditarianism” with evil (the Nazis), and ‘‘environmentalism” with benevolence (despite its disciple Stalin’s even larger genocide). So, although my intelligence research dealt exclusively with phenotypic differences between races, I was accused of espousing unsavory genetic policies.
Gottfredson also reveals to us (p.277, below) a different piece of weaponry popular for sinking ships that have meandered into troubled waters.
Another common retort to scholars who assert a right to investigate socially sensitive issues is that ‘‘with rights come responsibilities.” That is, one retains or deserves the right to speak freely only if one speaks ‘‘responsibly.” This hedge is usually asserted by university faculty and administrators because they are professionally obliged to pledge allegiance to the general principle of academic freedom. But being responsible is as much in the eye of the beholder as being dangerous. The former is only a muted form of the latter, as its antonym (‘‘irresponsible”) illustrates. Demanding ‘‘responsible” scholarship on selected topics simultaneously invites and legitimates burdening that research, and it thereby selectively skews the menu of ideas available for public consideration.
For years during this ordeal Gottfredson and Blits were prevented (at least partially) from doing their jobs of teaching and researching freely and without restriction. The erosion of academic freedom is a topic for another day; the point now was to illustrate the perils one faces if they choose to work in this specific area. Can any good come from pursuing a research agenda like this? Is it worth it to explain to your family, or your significant other, that your career is in crisis because you decided to pursue a specific scholarly topic?
I would advise young scholars not to study race, and it’s not because the area is unimportant. Understanding genetic differences between human populations is critical. My warnings come because if you’re not careful, you may very well have your career stripped away from you. Your vessel may take on water faster that the bilge pumps of academic freedom can pump it out. The wreckage of your reputation may sink quietly to the inky, black, bottom of history.
It need not be this way, the currents could change, the storms could clear, and the legitimacy of the topic be restored. That is partly my goal in writing this essay, to plead with you to stop demonizing scholars who engage in politically controversial work, yet do so within the ethical confines of science, as Linda Gottfredson and Jan Blits did. Must we continue to embarrass our liberal, freethinking, democratic values by telling our scholars that some topics are off limits to them? For now, view this as one signal that’s managed to penetrate the fog of the Triangle, sent from someone [the author of this essay] whose ship sailed into to it a few years back.
You should steer clear, however, if you decide to cross the border regardless of my advice, just know that even the staunchest of free speech defenders (those who would otherwise advocate for your right to study whatever you want), will very likely abandon you to the depths. There is no Coast Guard coming to rescue us, we are alone, adrift in this desolate ocean of political correctness. With that in mind, I think it’s appropriate to let Linda Gottfredson have the last word, I’m quite sure she has earned it (p. 273):
“Americans have a constitutional right to speak their mind in the public sphere, and their ability to enjoy that right is similarly vulnerable to improper constraint. It is the scholar’s job, however, to think and speak freely nonetheless.”
Posted by jonjayray at 8:25 PM
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Psychopathy and IQ
Leftists such as the Clintons have a lot of psychopathic traits and it is clear that most psychopaths don't get into trouble with the law and can be fairly successful in business and politics. So it is a condition that we do well to know about.
Because of some prominent examples of psychopaths who have high IQs, there has developed an impression that psychopaths are generally of above average IQ. It is always unsafe to generalize from a few examples, however, so a paper that looks at a full range of the evidence on the subject is very welcome. And the finding (see below) is that ON AVERAGE, psychopaths are in fact a bit dim.
There is a fuller discussion of the matter here
On the relationship between psychopathy and general intelligence: A meta-analytic review
Olga Sanchez de Ribera et al.
Over recent decades, a growing body of research has accumulated concerning the relationship between indicators of general intelligence and the personality construct known as psychopathy. Both traits represent key correlates of life outcomes, predicting everything from occupational and economic success, to various indicators of prosocial behavior (including avoiding contact with the criminal justice system). The findings to date regarding the association of the two traits, however, have been somewhat inconsistent. Thus, there remains a need for a more systematic investigation of the extant empirical literature. The current study reports a meta-analysis conducted to evaluate the direction and overall effect size of the relationship between these two constructs. Our analyses revealed a small, but significant, negative effect of intelligence on psychopathy. The results and impact of possible moderating variables such as type of intelligence test used are discussed. Finally, the study limitations, and possible directions for further research on this issue are detailed prior to concluding.
Posted by jonjayray at 8:13 PM
Friday, January 20, 2017
We’re evolving stupid: Icelandic study finds gradual decline in genes linked to education, IQ
This has long been predicted. Robert Zajonc highlighted the problem way back. That the dummies have most of the children would seem to make a decline in average IQ inevitable in a world where welfare policies make sure that the feckless no longer starve.
EVOLUTION is continuing to shape our future, research from Iceland has found. But not in the way we want. We’re losing our ability to learn.
A study from the genetics firm deCODE in Reykjavik has uncovered an emerging change in our brains.
Put simply, those born in 1910 were more likely to stick with education for longer than those in 1975.
And it’s not just a matter of changing attitudes. The gradual demise of a cluster of genes is being blamed for the slow but steady drop in IQ.
At the researchers fingertips was a genetic database of more than 100,000 Icelandic citizens. They matched this against a set of 74 genes identified early last year as being involved in brain development during pregnancy.
Put together, their presence — or absence — could be used as an indicator for how long an individual was likely to spend going through the school and university systems. This is what the Icelandic researchers sought to test.
Their study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, uncovered the decline.
“As a species, we are defined by the power of our brains,” deCODE CEO Kari Stefansson said in a statement. “Education is the training and refining of our mental capacities. Thus, it is fascinating to find that genetic factors linked to more time spent in education are becoming rarer in the gene pool.”
It’s a revelation, if proven true, that has dire implications. But it is supported by circumstantial evidence. It’s long been noted people who seek higher education tend to have fewer children.
This, the researchers say, means Iceland’s smarter population have been contributing less to the nation’s gene pool. And it’s beginning to show.
“The rate of decrease is small per generation but marked on an evolutionary timescale,” the paper reads.
The researchers argue that time spent in the education system itself does not appear to be to blame for the fall in fertility.
It’s all in the genes. Those predisposed towards education appear also to have a predisposition towards having children later in life.
“In spite of the negative selection against these sequence variations, education levels have been increasing for decades,” Dr Stefansson notes. “Time will tell whether the decline of the genetic propensity for education will have a notable impact on human society.”
Posted by jonjayray at 8:14 PM
Monday, December 26, 2016
The rich live longer
Life isn't fair. With a difference of up to 14 years between rich and poor. And it's not as mysterious as they make out. This is just the old trilogy of IQ, wealth and health. IQ is the key variable. Smart people are better at getting rich and going far in education. High IQ also appears to be in most cases just one indication of general biological fitness. The brain is just another organ of the body, after all. So the fitter live longer
The correlation with immigration and life expectancy among the poor presumably stems from immigrants having social disadvantages (language skills etc.). They were poorer than their genetics would explain. Had they been native-born they would have been richer
The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014
Raj Chetty et al.
Importance: The relationship between income and life expectancy is well established
but remains poorly understood.
Objectives: To measure the level, time trend, and geographic variability in the association between income and life expectancy and to identify factors related to small area variation.
Design and Setting: Income data for the US population were obtained from 1.4 billion deidentified tax records between 1999 and 2014. Mortality data were obtained from Social Security Administration death records. These data were used to estimate race- and ethnicity-adjusted life expectancy at 40 years of age by household income percentile, sex, and geographic area, and to evaluate factors associated with differences in life expectancy.
Exposure: Pretax household earnings as a measure of income.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Relationship between income and life expectancy; trends in life expectancy by income group; geographic variation in life expectancy levels and trends by income group; and factors associated with differences in life expectancy across areas.
Results: The sample consisted of 1 408 287 218 person-year observations for individuals aged 40 to 76 years (mean age, 53.0 years; median household earnings among working individuals, $61 175 per year). There were 4 114 380 deaths among men (mortality rate, 596.3 per 100 000) and 2 694 808 deaths among women (mortality rate, 375.1 per 100 000). The analysis yielded 4 results.
First, higher income was associated with greater longevity throughout the income distribution. The gap in life expectancy between the richest 1% and poorest 1% of individuals was 14.6 years (95% CI, 14.4 to 14.8 years) for men and 10.1 years (95% CI, 9.9 to 10.3 years) for women.
Second, inequality in life expectancy increased over time. Between 2001 and 2014, life expectancy increased by 2.34 years for men and 2.91 years for women in the top 5% of the income distribution, but by only 0.32 years for men and 0.04 years for women in the bottom 5% (P < .001 for the differences for both sexes).
Third, life expectancy for low-income individuals varied substantially across local areas. In the bottom income quartile, life expectancy differed by approximately 4.5 years between areas with the highest and lowest longevity. Changes in life expectancy between 2001 and 2014 ranged from gains of more than 4 years to losses of more than 2 years across areas.
Fourth, geographic differences in life expectancy for individuals in the lowest income quartile were significantly correlated with health behaviors such as smoking (r = −0.69, P < .001), but were not significantly correlated with access to medical care, physical environmental factors, income inequality, or labor market conditions.
Life expectancy for low-income individuals was positively correlated with the local area fraction of immigrants (r = 0.72, P < .001), fraction of college graduates (r = 0.42, P < .001), and government expenditures (r = 0.57, P < .001).
Conclusions and Relevance: In the United States between 2001 and 2014, higher income was associated with greater longevity, and differences in life expectancy across income groups increased over time. However, the association between life expectancy and income varied substantially across areas; differences in longevity across income groups decreased in some areas and increased in others. The differences in life expectancy were correlated with health behaviors and local area characteristics.
JAMA. 2016;315(16):1750-1766. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.4226
Posted by jonjayray at 8:27 PM
Sunday, November 27, 2016
People are hardwired to fall in love with partners who have a similar level of educational aptitude
The effect sizes noted in the journal abstract below are very small but that may reflect our still rudimentary ability to isolate the genes responsible for IQ. The very weak tendency so far is for the evolution of a genetic elite
A study co-led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) has found that people with genes for high educational achievement tend to marry, and have children with, people with similar DNA.
Humans generally do not choose their partners randomly, but rather mate 'assortatively', choosing people with similar traits. Among the highest ranking qualities people look for in a potential partner are intelligence and educational attainment.
While it is well known that humans mate assortatively in relation to education - people with similar education levels marry each other - this is one of the first studies to show that this has significance at a DNA level.
The researchers argue that this could increase genetic and social inequality in future generations, since children of couples who mate assortatively are more unequal genetically than those of people who mate more randomly.
The study, published in the journal Intelligence, was co-led by Dr David Hugh-Jones, from UEA's School of Economics, and Dr Abdel Abdellaoui, of the Department of Biological Psychology at VU University in The Netherlands.
They examined whether assortative mating for educational achievement could be detected in the DNA of approximately 1600 married or cohabiting couples in the UK. The sample was drawn from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, a survey that aims to be representative of the population.
Dr Hugh-Jones, a senior lecturer in economics, said: "Our findings show strong evidence for the presence of genetic assortative mating for education in the UK. The consequences of assortative mating on education and cognitive abilities are relevant for society, and for the genetic make-up and therefore the evolutionary development of subsequent generations.
"Assortative mating on inheritable traits that are indicative of socio-economic status, such as educational achievement, increases the genetic variance of characteristics in the population. This may increase social inequality, for example with respect to education or income.
"When growing social inequality is, partly, driven by a growing biological inequality, inequalities in society may be harder to overcome and the effects of assortative mating may accumulate with each generation."
The researchers used polygenic scores that predict educational attainment to see whether they predicted the partner's own educational attainment and polygenic score. They found that the scores correlated between partners and significantly predicted partners' educational outcome, for both sexes, in that individuals with a stronger genetic predisposition for higher educational achievement have partners who are more educated.
The researchers also tested whether their data could be explained by other factors, for example by people simply meeting their partners because they lived in the same county. They re-matched individuals with random partners within the same educational levels and geographical locations. However, they found that the scores of the original couples showed greater similarities than the randomly generated pairs, indicating significant genetic assortative mating for educational attainment regardless of educational level and geographic location.
Assortative mating on educational attainment leads to genetic spousal resemblance for polygenic scores
David Hugh-Jones et al.
We examined whether assortative mating for educational attainment (“like marries like”) can be detected in the genomes of ~ 1600 UK spouse pairs of European descent. Assortative mating on heritable traits like educational attainment increases the genetic variance and heritability of the trait in the population, which may increase social inequalities. We test for genetic assortative mating in the UK on educational attainment, a phenotype that is indicative of socio-economic status and has shown substantial levels of assortative mating. We use genome-wide allelic effect sizes from a large genome-wide association study on educational attainment (N ~ 300 k) to create polygenic scores that are predictive of educational attainment in our independent sample (r = 0.23, p < 2 × 10− 16). The polygenic scores significantly predict partners' educational outcome (r = 0.14, p = 4 × 10− 8 and r = 0.19, p = 2 × 10− 14, for prediction from males to females and vice versa, respectively), and are themselves significantly correlated between spouses (r = 0.11, p = 7 × 10− 6). Our findings provide molecular genetic evidence for genetic assortative mating on education in the UK.
Intelligence, Volume 59, November–December 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2016.08.005
Posted by jonjayray at 8:17 PM
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Children born with big heads have higher IQs and thus a better chance of a successful future
The connection between larger head size and higher IQ is well-known but is usually given as a correlation around .3. But in this very careful research it came out at .5, which is a major effect. Interestingly, autistic people tend to have big heads too, and they often have quite extraordinary abilities in some field. The study mentioned below was not confined to head size. It looked at many physical attributes -- and many were intertwined with IQ and achievement. IQ is a physical reality and an important one. All men are not equal
Babies with big heads are more likely to be clever and have successful futures, a study has shown. Research carried out by UK Biobank has strongly linked higher intelligence with large head circumferences and brain volume.
Half a million Brits are being monitored by the charity to discover the connection between their genes, their physical and mental health and their path through life.
The latest evidence is the first finding to emerge from the study that aims to break down the relationship between brain function and DNA.
Researchers in a paper published by the Molecular Psychiatry journal said: 'Highly significant associations were observed between the cognitive test scores in the UK Biobank sample and many polygenic profile scores, including . . . intracranial volume, infant head circumference and childhood cognitive ability.'
Professor Ian Deary, of Edinburgh University, who is leading the research, said gene variants were also strongly associated with intelligence, according to The Times.
The new evidence is so accurate that experts claim it could even predict how likely it was that a baby would go to university based on their DNA.
Posted by jonjayray at 8:20 PM
Monday, September 19, 2016
IQ rediscovered yet again. You can't suppress reality for long
They account for around one per cent of the population and much of their success has been put down to dedication and perseverance.
But new studies are now challenging the notion that extremely intelligent children earn their achievements through hard work.
Instead, they suggest that they may have a genetic advantage from birth, and that success is built on this early head-start.
Two clusters of genes have been found that are directly linked to human intelligence.
Called M1 and M3, these 'gene networks' appear to determine how smart a person is by controlling their memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning.
Crucially, scientists have also discovered that these two networks - which each contain hundreds of genes - are likely to be under the control of master regulator switches.
Researchers from Imperial College London are now keen to identify these switches and explore whether it might be feasible to manipulate them.
The research is at a very early stage, but the scientists would ultimately like to investigate whether it is possible to use this knowledge of gene networks to boost cognitive function.
The investigators analysed thousands of genes expressed in the human brain, and then combined these results with genetic information from healthy people who had undergone IQ tests.
Remarkably, they found that some of the same genes that influence human intelligence in healthy people were also the same genes that cause impaired cognitive ability and epilepsy when mutated.
In the US, there are several universities that look out for early talent and have been tracking where high-achieving children end up. Their results show that those who succeed have an early cognitive advantage.
Johns Hopkins University in Maryland runs a talent programme which is open to adolescents who scored in the top one per cent in maths and English. Notable alumni include Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, and Lady Gaga.
While many of the children on this programme have gone on to achieve great things, Jonathan Wai, a psychologist in the Talent Identification Programme at Duke University in North Carolina, wanted to test whether childhood aptitude was a guide to success in general.
He looked at five subsets of the US elite – federal judges, billionaires, Fortune 500 chief executives and members of the Senate and House of Representatives. He found that in each subset, those in the top one per cent of ability were over-represented.
While these people could have pushy parents, or have attended top schools, Mr Wai argues that environment factors alone cannot account for success.....
While these studies do suggest that intelligence has a high genetic basis, education and opportunity could still lead to success for those without a strong genetic basis.
Posted by jonjayray at 8:22 PM