What could be a more interesting question?

Friday, January 13th, 2023

There are people who are really trying to either kill or at least studiously ignore all of the progress in genomics, Stephen Hsu reports — from first-hand experience:

My research group solved height as a phenotype. Give us the DNA of an individual with no other information other than that this person lived in a decent environment—wasn’t starved as a child or anything like that—and we can predict that person’s height with a standard error of a few centimeters. Just from the DNA. That’s a tour de force.

Then you might say, “Well, gee, I heard that in twin studies, the correlation between twins in IQ is almost as high as their correlation in height. I read it in some book in my psychology class 20 years ago before the textbooks were rewritten. Why can’t you guys predict someone’s IQ score based on their DNA alone?”

Well, according to all the mathematical modeling and simulations we’ve done, we need somewhat more training data to build the machine learning algorithms to do that. But it’s not impossible. In fact, we predicted that if you have about a million genomes and the cognitive scores of those million people, you could build a predictor with a standard error of plus or minus 10 IQ points. So you can ask, “Well, since you guys showed you could do it for height, and since there are 30, or 40, or 50, different disease conditions that we now have decent genetic predictors for, why isn’t there one for IQ?”

Well, the answer is there’s zero funding. There’s no NIH, NSF, or any agency that would take on a proposal saying, “Give me X million dollars to genotype these people, and also measure their cognitive ability or get them to report their SAT scores to me.” Zero funding for that. And some people get very, very aggressive upon learning that you’re interested in that kind of thing, and will start calling you a racist, or they’ll start attacking you. And I’m not making this up, because it actually happened to me.

What could be a more interesting question? Wow, the human brain—that’s what differentiates us from the rest of the animal species on this planet. Well, to what extent is brain development controlled by DNA? Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could actually predict individual variation in intelligence from DNA just as we can with height now? Shouldn’t that be a high priority for scientific discovery? Isn’t this important for aging, because so many people undergo cognitive decline as they age? There are many, many reasons why this subject should be studied. But there’s effectively zero funding for it.


  1. Altitude Zero says:

    The left will block funding for stuff like this, because they are terrified of what they might find. Right-wingers may or may not believe in racial differences in intelligence, some do, some don’t, but lefties most certainly do – if they really believed in the blank slate, they would be happy to have people look into stuff like this. I mean, if there really are no differences, why not look into this and dispel the myths once and for all? We all know the answer.

  2. Adept says:

    “Right-wingers may or may not believe in racial differences in intelligence, some do, some don’t, but lefties most certainly do”

    I believe that, to a fair approximation, all people believe in racial differences in intelligence, regardless of where they happen to be located on the political spectrum. Some right-wingers are honest with themselves, and some are not. That is all.

  3. McChuck says:

    “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
    – ancient proverb

  4. Mike-SMO says:

    Genetics is “cool”, but it is a crap shoot. I suspect that we could produce a mass of brilliant drknes, but creativity and leadership still seem to be elusive. We can probably eliminate the defectives and diseases but most glorious dynasties soon run their course. Schools accept multitudes, fewer graduate and eveb fewer accomplish ebough to be notable. We have no idea what to select for and even less idea of what would be “needed” several decades in the future. I’d guess that eliminating the medical problems while maintaining an effective education and selection process would be more likely to assist our species to prosper than would a program designed to produce “smart idiots”. Godd luck designing a new man when we bave no idea what we want or will need.

  5. Jim says:

    There hasn’t been a dumb Sassoon, Rothschild, Strakosch, Roosevelt, Baruch, Morgenthau, Cohen, Lehman, Warburg, Kuhn, Khan, Baruch, Schiff, or Sieff for three hundred years.

    Why is that?

  6. Bomag says:

    “We have no idea what to select for and even less idea of what would be ‘needed’ several decades in the future.”

    Well, we kinda know what we don’t want.

  7. Michael van der Riet says:

    Genetics is a crap shoot. Great. There goes the entire discipline of statistics. Heredity isn’t a great predictor for individuals, look at me for example, but it seems to work well in aggregate.

  8. Steven C. says:

    The Chinese government might be willing to fund that kind of research, but even more willing to fund research on how to make their own people smarter.

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