I’ve spent a fair amount of time at the Harvard Law School. In fact, I was there when Barack was there. I didn’t attend the school, but I drank beer in the school’s beer hall, lived in a dorm shared by the law school and the science area, and cut through the main law school building on my way to the square when it was raining or really cold.


The main thing I took away from that is how obnoxious and rowdy Harvard Law Students are. They can’t handle their beer at all. I saw several fist fights among the students break out over conversations people were having, not even that late in the evening, not even that far into the beer supply.

So, when I heard about the Stephanie Grace story …. the famous ‘racist’ email and all … I was just glad to hear that no blood was spilled.

Some brain tissue did die though, didn’t it?

“Nothing can be more unfounded and false than the prevelant opinion that all men are born free and equal: it rests upon the assumption of a fact which is contrary to universal observation.”
-John C. Calhoun, 1840

vs

“Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.”
-Stephanie Grace, Harvard Law School, a few days ago

Stephanie: In truth, some of what you are being accused of thinking/saying is a little unfair, but most of what you say about race demonstrates astonishing ignorance on your part. Now, it is not your job to know these things. But it is your job, as a scholar, to shut up about stuff you know absolutely nothing about. Don’t you think? Or, at least, that would be the wise thing to do.

The study you ask for has been done (summarized here). The IQ’s of the different groups in that study were all the same statistically.

Comments

  1. #1 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    Warning scholars they should “shut up” in private emails is ugly. So much for the spirit of free exchange and inquiry. Many scientists are “not 100% convinced” all races are equally intelligent. That you consider Lewontin’s book conclusive indicates you don’t know enough about this subject to be commenting about it. Take your own advice.

  2. #2 daedalus2u
    April 30, 2010

    Greg, unfortunately for her, she is not studying to be a scholar, she is studying to be a lawyer. Unfortunately in this legal system a big part of being a lawyer is being able to BS for your client. The most effective BS comes from someone who actually believes it. That is the problem when non-scientists try to make scientific judgments without the facts or the logic. It is like trying to hear a case without any evidence or legal arguments.

    Political and legal power comes from the top-down. Scientific truth comes from the bottom-up. If you don’t know the facts, and can’t put them together in a logical framework, then you are just believing something because someone told it to you. If a real scientist tells you, then it is probably correct, unless the scientist has made a mistake. If a random BS artist tells you (that would be anyone who doesn’t know the facts and have a logical framework to tie them together), then you have no idea if it is right or wrong.

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin, would you care to name the study that Greg was referring to and describe your problems with it? Whatever you think of Lewontin, Greg is referring to a single study as described in a work easily accessible even to a non-scientist like Grace. Can you even tell me whether it was a study by Lewontin?

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Warning scholars they should “shut up” in private emails is ugly. So much for the spirit of free exchange and inquiry.

    It was not a warning, it was advice. It was not a private email, it was an email sent to all her fellow drunken slaw students. The so called “free exhcnage” you speak of is associated with ideas, not drek. This was drek.

    That you consider Lewontin’s book conclusive indicates you don’t know enough about this subject to be commenting about it.

    Well, it’s a topic I’m thinking of looking into. Don’t be so discouraging. Can you suggest an alternative source or two I should be looking at instead?

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Greg, unfortunately for her, she is not studying to be a scholar, she is studying to be a lawyer.

    Yes, that was said with snark. Perhaps too inside of a joke.

    In truth, there are different kinds of law schools, and different kinds of lawyers, and there is such a thing as legal scholarship. But I suspect our friend wiht the muddled ideas about race is not on that track.

  6. #6 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    Please explain why not beeing “100% convinced” that all races are equally intelligent is blasphemy when there are scientists sharing that view.

    The email was sent to two of her “friends” six months ago. Perhaps universities should review all student emails for content you consider to be outside the bounds of discussion.

    “it is your job, as a scholar, to shut up about stuff you know absolutely nothing about. Don’t you think? Or, at least, that would be the wise thing to do.”

    Watch what you say. You’ve been warned.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin, I was under the impression that scientists were in face pretty much 100% convinced that races themselves are not real, and that intelligence differences like you are talking about are pretty much cultural or learned.

    Do you have citations that suggest that this is wrong that you could point me to?

  8. #8 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    You certainly are aware of the scientists who think race and racial differences in intelligence exist. You know Lewontin has critics.

    “pretty much cultural or learned”

    Pretty much? Careful, that’s dangerously close to “drek”.

    “Do you have citations that suggest that this is wrong that you could point me to?”

    Do you have access to a library?

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin, you look a lot like someone who wants something to be true but who otherwise knows very little about the topic. Otherwise it wouldn’t be impossible to think of even one name or book or paper or something.

    Never mind, I’ll ask someone else.

  10. #10 Patricia
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin’s got nothing.

  11. #11 znz
    April 30, 2010

    Certainly, Steven Pinker, whom no one disputes is a scientist (well, actually, a lot of people would dispute that psychologists are scientists, but that’s not the point here) seemed to think, in 2005, that the question was not 100% settled among scientists:

    http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_3.html#pinker

    Note also that it doesn’t matter whether or not the “races” are “real” (in the sense GL uses) for such a hypothesis to be well-posed: it doesn’t require discontinuous variations in properties between groups, a continuum without boundaries is sufficient to permit innate differences.

  12. #12 enoch
    April 30, 2010

    Please explain why not beeing “100% convinced” that all races are equally intelligent is blasphemy when there are scientists sharing that view.

    Who? Brian Pesta? Hahahahaha!!!!!

    About time we got back on topic here.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    znz: I recommend you do not get your neurobiology from Pinker. If you can’t easily lay your hands on a copy of Deacon’s books (The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain) then search around for one of his more recent overview papers and work your way out from there.

    When you are done, you’ll stop with this silly Steve Pinker thing.

  14. #14 Aaron
    April 30, 2010

    Greg,

    Unless you have a good argument as to why Larry Morgan shouldn’t be considered a scientist than I’d argue the statement “that scientists were in face pretty much 100% convinced that races themselves are not real” is not entirely accurate.

    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/11/is-race-biological-concept.html

  15. #15 Leslie
    April 30, 2010

    I completely agree that the problem with race concepts is that people freely assume basic ‘facts’ without knowledge. This, I assume is the point of the Calhoun quote, right? Truths that are universally evidence are rarely true, universal, or evident.

  16. #16 Andrew
    April 30, 2010

    Aaron, is it not evident that Laden is baiting? And you’re nibbling. I think he was hoping Martin would chomp.

  17. #17 Andrew
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin, not Martin.

  18. #18 znz
    April 30, 2010

    Hey, your claim was that there’s virtually solid unanimity among scientists that the question is virtually settled. My point is that there’s at least one exception, or was in 2005. Not that one exception invalidates the claim, except that I’m inclined to suspect that Steven Pinker is a closer to the scientific mainstream than, say, you are, for example.

    Suggesting I go read Terrence Deacon smacks strongly of changing the subject.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Aaron, I’ve never heard of Larry Morgan.

    If you mean Larry Moran, then, well, you’ve run into a biochemist who wants really hard to believe in races for reasons that elude me. There is no issue there.

    If you look at more recent posts by Larry you’ll eventually run into a regular stream of Greg Bashing from when he realized I was not on his side on that issue.

    Then, the stream stops. Or maybe it was the steam that stopped. Whatever.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    zmz, holy crap. WTHAYTAYM? We are talking about human brains and intelligence. That is Deacon’s area, and he is considered a leader in his field. There has been a Pinker vs Deacon debate going on for years now, and overall, people have come down on Deacon’s side. Deacon is not a change of topic at al.

    But you are starting to annoy me. IN part this is because I’m smelling a lot of shit coming from your direction. Like, cuz you’re full of it. I could be wrong about that, but so far that’s what it looks like. Prove me wrong or move on. My patience is short these days. Not your fault, but well, you’ll have to take my ire if I chose to bestow it on you.

  21. #21 marvin
    April 30, 2010

    “you look a lot like someone who wants something to be true”

    It is true many scientists think race is real, and many scientists think racial differences in intelligence are partly due to genetics. You avoid confronting them, in fact you pretend they don’t exist, while denouncing a law student for statement made in a private email. Yet you can’t possibly be unaware that, as Professor George Gill has said, “Slightly over half of all biological/physical anthropologists today believe in the traditional view that human races are biologically valid and real.” You certainly have heard of A.W.F. Edwards. You know who W.D. Hamilton was.

  22. #22 Therese
    April 30, 2010

    It does seem that the girl in question has been raked over the coals unnecessarily for what is rather run of the mill ignorance. Inexcuable ignorance, but common.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin, you have yet to provide a single reference to support your position. You are useless.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Therese: I tend to agree.

  25. #25 sailor
    April 30, 2010

    Any supposition about race and intelligence is silly. To start off there is only one race the human race, apart from that we have characteristics. Now before we go any further just which of these characteristics are we comparing with intelligence? Skin color – so darker Italians are going to be dumber than whiter swedes? nose elevation? This is totally insane,dumber than dumb.

  26. #26 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    You haven’t provided any references to conclusive proof all human beings evolved to posesses the same intelligence.

    Google the Gill quote. Surely during your time in academia you’ve encountered some of the scientists he refers to.

  27. #27 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    “But you are starting to annoy me. IN part this is because I’m smelling a lot of shit coming from your direction. Like, cuz you’re full of it. I could be wrong about that, but so far that’s what it looks like. Prove me wrong or move on. My patience is short these days. Not your fault, but well, you’ll have to take my ire if I chose to bestow it on you.”

    What a brilliant response.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Marvin 26, actually I have, but if you want to read more, just check the archives of this blog: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/race_and_racism/

    What is really important here is that you’ve still given me nothing.

    Marvin 27: Actually, that was a base insult. The brilliant part of my answer was in the first paragraph, which you seem to have skipped.

    No, really, provide evidence that you have a clue or, yes, dare I say it, shut up. We really don’t need any more of the usual “I know races are different because I know they are, They are they are they are!!!!11!!” I mean really, so far all we’ve got from you is “go google it!!” You are truly a joke! OMG!

    I swear to you, I will take seriously and read any academic reference you point me to (unless I’ve read it already, of course, that would be silly).

  29. #29 Aaron
    April 30, 2010

    Greg,

    My issue is that you’re giving the impression that the idea of race as a scientific concept is complete nonsense and no respectable scientist would ever consider it.

    However, Larry Moran is a biochemist at a respectable University, an atheist, he’s been linked to by pharyngula, I’ve seen Richard Dawkins comment on his blog, and in the link I gave he backed up his argument with a link to peer reviewed research.

    I don’t really see any evidence of Larry Moran holding crazy/unscientific views. If you’re going to argue that this view in particular is crazy/unscientific than you’re going to need to do more to account for Larry’s position. It might be that Larry’s views are wrong but to suggest that no reasonable scientist would hold those views is incorrect unless you can demonstrate he’s not reasonable.

  30. #30 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    “if you want to read more, just check the archives of this blog”

    I was thinking of scientific evidence. Links to articles published in peer reviewed journals, please.

    “you’ve still given me nothing”

    Let’s begin with Professor Gill’s observation. If it is true, then it completely undermines your claims about the unanimity of scientific opinion regarding race and the legitimacy of questioning the Lewontin/Laden/Marxian view. Instead of joining in on the two minutes of hate being directed toward this law school student, why aren’t you busy condemning those professors?

  31. #31 znz
    April 30, 2010


    zmz, holy crap. WTHAYTAYM? We are talking about human brains and intelligence. That is Deacon’s area, and he is considered a leader in his field. There has been a Pinker vs Deacon debate going on for years now, and overall, people have come down on Deacon’s side. Deacon is not a change of topic at al.

    The question was: ‘how much unanimity is there?’ was it not? We are in fact not really talking about brains and intelligence, we are talking about the degree to which there is or is not unanimity. This is why it would make no sense for me to go and read Deacon, unless I want to learn about brains and intelligence. But it does not help estimate the state of consensus in the scientific community, unless a secondary topic of Deacon’s is surveying how much people agree with him. So, yes, of course it’s a change of topic.

    Note that I never endorsed anything Pinker said, I noted that he was saying it. You seem to — by logical processes best known to you — have inferred that because I pointed out his existence it meant I was a backer of his, which really is quite a leap of logic.

    Now if I had gone and said “and we all know Pinker is correct!”, then it might have been relevant to say “go read Deacon”.


    Not your fault, but well, you’ll have to take my ire if I chose to bestow it on you.

    Yeah, I’ve seen your ire before. No offense, but um… I mean, I think I’ll be ok. Unless you’ve been working on your game since I last looked in on your blog.

    Say, why don’t we canvas Bruce Lahn’s opinion on the extent to which the question is 100% settled?

    At any rate, based on your excerpted paragraph above, it seems that you are in agreement that until recently, there was nothing like widespread agreement among scientists until recently. That is, if I understand you correctly, this virtual unanimity that there is virtual 100% uncertainty is an extremely recent development, and just a couple years ago this wasn’t at all the case?

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Aaron, a lot of scientists who do not study race (like chemists, engineers, and so on) have similar racialized concepts to the general population.

    Larry is in a limnal area. He is an evolutionary biologist who has yet to find more than one or two other evolutionary biologists who understand evolution, in his view. Which might mean he has … interesting … ideas. And, indeed, I often agree with his ideas. (Though not about race)

    There are in fact a few other scientists (but honestly, it’s a minority these days) who a) study the relevant topics and b) have a racialized view of humans.

    What you see me doing above is bating our friend to come up with evidence to support the view he blundered in here with. So far he is not performing.

    There is a third aspect to this problem which complicates things. Some scientists (and this is where Moran fits in according to the man himself) want to respect the idea of “demes” or genetic groups as potentially valid in the study of any species.

    Now, here we have a problem. It’s like this. Your 13 year old asks you if he can drive the car. You say no. He asks again in six different ways. You say no, very clearly, every single time. Then finally he says something that you think is a very general comment about how responsible people should be able to make their own decisions about stuff, or whatever, and next think you know he’s out in the driveway starting up your car.

    If anyone says “OK, well, demes, or clusters of genes, fine … that’s real” then I absolutely promise you that almost every single individual who has come to the table with a racialized view will simply get in the car and drive of with it. They will take the “ok” to demes and carry that right away to the same old shit, and pretty soon we’ll be talking about intellectually, morally, etc. inferior brown and black people.

    Larry, Henry Harpending (Hey, M, I’m doing your homework for you here), maybe Relethford (The latter two I’ve known for many many years and count a s friends and colleagues) all have this deme/population concept and in my view that in and of itself is very useful, if somewhat overdetermined for species with a lot of biogeographical flux.

    The issue of race is actually fairly complicated. But the “races exist, and I’m in one of the smarter ones” school of thought is very very very oversimplified and 91 percent wrong. But if you give them that 9 percent, the morons will think they are 100% right.

    In the mean time, the reality of both the concept of race and the link between genetics and behavior are fairliy complex. We know enough about these things now to know that the intelligence differences that have been proposed are simply bad ideas. As in scientifically way way off track.

    There is a lot of evidence to support what I’m saying. So far I’ve provided one single study. So far the pro-racist voices have not touched it or provided a single piece off peer reviewed evidence to the contrary. They could do both, but they seem unwilling.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    znz, see my comment above. Mavin, you’re getting weaker. Don’t be telling me to google shit.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    A quick note: Since this comment thread is about race and racism, I’m starting to get some of the usual frightful spam increases that happen in these cases (often about things having nothing to do with race, AFAIK). So sensitivity of the spam filter has been increased. Therefore, some of your comments will be randomly held because our spam filter sucks. I’ll be checking for trapped comments regularly.

  35. #35 daedalus2u
    April 30, 2010

    This reminds me of the how many Harvard undergraduates does it take to screw in a lightbulb joke.

    Just one, he/she holds the lightbulb and the Universe spins around him/her.

  36. #36 Marvin
    April 30, 2010

    “The issue of race is actually fairly complicated”

    If that’s true then perhaps a more measured response to Stephanie Grace’s email is warranted.

    “So far the pro-racist voices”

    Are the slightly over half of all biological/physical anthropologists today believe in the traditional view that human races are biologically valid and real pro-racist?

    “Don’t be telling me to google shit.”

    Once again, I’m impressed by your brilliance.

  37. #37 Aaron
    April 30, 2010

    Greg,

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

    I think my issue is with the concept of
    “91 percent wrong. But if you give them that 9 percent, the morons will think they are 100% right.”

    The more reasonable people I see holding unscientific views often do so because of scientists who follow that rule. They see very good reasons why the 9% is true, than hear scientists dismissing the 9% with questionable arguments/ This makes them conclude that the scientists can’t be trusted and thus the whole 100% is true.

    Unfortunately I don’t really have any real data on whether my interpretation is correct, but on a philosophical basis I feel that the practice of dismissing 100% because 91% is a bad idea and hurts productive dialogues.

  38. #38 Azkyroth
    April 30, 2010

    Please explain why not beeing “100% convinced” that all races are equally intelligent is blasphemy when there are scientists sharing that view.

    The issue is that the overwhelming majority of people who vocally profess this opinion are in fact 100% convinced that some races are more intelligent than others (and the race they identify with is the most intelligent of all), but is also aware that this position is very poorly evidentially supported and has etymological and ideological ties to various levels of poor or even fraudulent “science” misappropriated or manufactured to justify what “everyone already knows” and all sorts of odious social agendas and policies, so they attack a strawman of “politically correct people who dogmatically assert that differences in intelligence between races (whatever that means) are a priori impossible” to make themselves feel better and try to push the Overton window their way a little without drawing attention to themselves as “racists.”

  39. #39 Beave
    April 30, 2010

    Greg,

    It’s a folly to debate with the blind ignorance of the powerful. I wonder, are there any articles about race and the value of whiteness done by anyone other than a white “scientist”? Aw, snap. I better google that.

    I’m an intelligent guy.
    I’m a well read guy.
    I’m going to finalize my argument with this.

    You racist sacks only hope to retain power in an ever browning worl. Look at the stats, asshole. You’re a dinosaur. The change is as inevitable as your fear driven rationalizing racist response.

    I could be more empirical, but I don’t give a fuck. Bigot sacks.

    Digit.
    S.

  40. #40 daedalus2u
    April 30, 2010

    Since Greg is going to get a lot of racists on this thread, it is a good place to post a link to my blog on the physiology of xenophobia so they can understand why they are racists.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    This is why people feel xenophobia. They are unable to understand the “other”, and so via the uncanny valley effect they default to feeling xenophobia. That initial feeling is neutral. If the response is to try and learn about the other, then the feelings of xenophobia will eventually go away. If the response is to wallow in hatred and bigotry, then you will remain a bigot.

    Bigotry can also be learned. It is one of the few things that after you learn it you are more stupid. You are more stupid because then you cannot understand the “other”, and that lack of the capacity to understand becomes permanent.

  41. #41 Bill James
    April 30, 2010

    How many Harvard undergraduates does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    At least two.

    The trick is getting them in there.

  42. #42 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Aaron, I agree, and no one is dismissing the 9 percent.

    But, helping someone to understand why the 9 percent right does not invalidate the wrongness of the the 91 percent that is wrong, but that the typical racialized-thinking person (read: many many people) really really really wanted to have be right is not easy.

    There was a major exhibit built here by the science museum that attempted to do that, but I think it only worked if people were willing to observe and be thoughtful of every exhibit in the hall. I did post-viewing discussion seessions with groups of teenagers …. the immediate effect of that exhibit was nil. I’ve taught entire courses on this, and it takes weeks, really, to undo people’s strongly held misconceptions. People’s thinking really is a century back in time (at best), and there are many many subfields that have to be addressed to make this work.

    I don’t deny the 9% But it is not my job to lead with it, either, and pedagogically, it is simply not workable to do so.

  43. #43 Aaron
    April 30, 2010

    Greg,

    The science museum is a slightly different scenario since it’s not an active engagement. And in the courses you have a lot more time to go into detail to deliver the complete picture.

    I’m thinking more about the scenario of a single conversation, or blog post/comment.

    I’ve found more success in letting people know I agree about the 9% right off the start. This signals to the listener that we have common ground and that I respect them. It also gives me an advantage in being the first to acknowledge the common ground and put social pressure on them to return the favour. I then start to work at the margins of the 9% percent, by goal being that by the end 10% of what they believe is correct rather than 9.

    I’ve found very little success in completely reversing peoples opinions, it can be fun to get exasperated by complete wrongness but it’s not very productive. I have however been able to make them slightly less wrong.

    I know this may sound like an accommodationist position though I don’t believe it is. I never claim to believe something I don’t, nor give the other person the impression I do. However I try to frame the conversation in terms of the minor disagreements where one party may conceivably change their mind.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    April 30, 2010

    Generally, I’m sure you are right. But, my experience with this particular issue is that demes or genetic clusters lead immediately to verification of the same old racist model.

    And I have had reasonable success in reversing people’s opinions. But that does take time.

    I view this blog conversation as a large, slowly moving entity involving a lot of the same people and a steady stream of new people coming and going. Have a look at the archive cited above for just what’s been happening here.

  45. #45 Monado
    May 1, 2010

    One point worth making: there may be minor differences in intelligence of different populations of humans, but they are swamped by individual differences within populations. Therefore, it would be very misguided to base on them any policies that treat people differently because of their supposed average differences.

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    there may be minor differences in intelligence of different populations of humans

    Why? The lack of a gene-intelligence connection and the fact that what we measure when we measure intelligence is does not vary in any way that is linked to any developmental or functional system linked to any allelic variation (other than the cases of broken genes making broken bodies) does not mean that we can assume there is a little. It means that we need to assume that there is none.

  47. #47 daedalus2u
    May 1, 2010

    Greg, I take issue with your 91% wrong idea. I think the break-down is more like 90% not even wrong, 9% wrong and 1% maybe not wrong (but I am not at all sure what that 1% is because the various concepts are so nebulous and poorly defined).

    The fundamental things said to be compared (race and intelligence) cannot even be defined unambiguously, let alone measured, let alone measured accurately. Trying to make a correlation between two things that cannot be defined or measured makes sense in what way? It is not a “wrong” idea, it is a “not even wrong” idea. It is a belief based on feelings, not on data or observations of reality. It is a belief based on faith.

    I think to move the debate, it has to be moved out of the “not even wrong” idea space. I am not sure the proponents of the race/intelligence correlation can do that because they are so caught up in the dogma of their faith based system.

  48. #48 DuWayne
    May 1, 2010

    If Marvin is still about and allowed to comment, I have a question; What is this intelligence you keep going on about?

    If you think that is a stupid question to ask, you honestly have no business trying to engage in this conversation. If you think the answer is simple, you have no business engaging in this conversation.

    Another question; What is this “race” you keep going on about?

    Same caveats to the previous question apply.

    Finally, explain the “traditional” view of race you keep going on about. I am not asking because I am unaware of what Gill was talking about. I am asking because I sincerely doubt that you do. You have given every indication that you are arguing from a position of ignorance.

    These are rather commonsensical terms that unless explicitly defined have no place in a conversation about science. That is not to say that they can’t have a place in the discussion, just that they don’t until they are clearly defined.

    nzm –

    Not that one exception invalidates the claim, except that I’m inclined to suspect that Steven Pinker is a closer to the scientific mainstream than, say, you are, for example.

    Ummm… I hate to break it to you, but when it comes to neurobiologists, Greg is in the mainstream. When it comes to science oriented psychologists/linguists, Greg is also in the mainstream. Pinker is popular because he is a very talented writer who has written several books for lay audiences that have done exceptionally well. He is also popular because he is looking in directions that are not particularly politically pleasant. He is not popular because it is likely he is right.

    The truth is that there are things he is probably correct about, but there is a lot more that the best evidence would suggest he is wrong about. And what he is correct about – for that matter what he is likely wrong about has been mostly misunderstood by most proponents of his position. I.e. if people who tout his work so loudly were to actually closely read what he has to say, they would probably be far less keen on praising him so highly.

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    D4y: I basically agree with you. The small percentage I’m giving is related to the ebb and flow of genes and the occassional temporarary isolation of groups, and major biogeographical barriers tha matter here and there (like the old world/new world split) which, remarkably, is never addressed by the racist scientists, by the way).

    DuWayne, He can still comment, he just hasn’t. I assume this is because he is in the library looking stuff up.

  50. #50 Marvin
    May 1, 2010

    Greg said: “The lack of a gene-intelligence connection”

    It hasn’t been proven there is no gene-intelligence connection. We both know there are scientists who think there might be.

    Greg said: “is never addressed by the racist scientists”

    Who are these racist scientists? Name names.

    Dwayne said: “What is this intelligence you keep going on about” “What is this “race” you keep going on about?”

    There are scientists in good standing who study intelligence, there are scientists in good standing who think race is a valid concept. Let’s ignore them, and jump all over a law student for speculating in an email.

  51. #51 ppnl
    May 1, 2010

    Greg,

    If we assume that there is no genetic cause for difference in intelligence how do you account for differences between individuals? Is it all environment? And how do you account for the fact that identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQ? Much closer than fraternal twins for example.

    Look, I deeply distrust those who get emotionally involved in proving that there must be genetic IQ differences between races. But to insist that genes cannot play a role in IQ differences between individuals seems a little over the top. Once you accept a genetic role for differences between individuals then the possibility exists that there can be a smaller difference between groups. My only comment here is that any such difference is likely small, hard to detect through cultural and environmental differences and in the end who really cares except the racists and the political correctness police?

    I really doubt that IQ is even well defined except operationally. Even trying to separate its measure from culture may be futile. It is also true that race is a poorly defined and not very useful concept. But neither of these imply that there cannot be genetic differences in IQ between groups.

  52. #52 mimi K
    May 1, 2010

    When did she carry out a genetic test on African Americans to arrive @ her conclusion. Would she be willing to be subjected to a genetic test with her African American peers in Harvard?
    Did she think seriously as a future legal custodian that this will just slip under?
    Is it this why American remains polarized with generational racial bigotry? Isn’t this genealogical attitude the basis of legal and police bias on African Americans?
    Is slavery a genetic or social economic historical mistake?

  53. #53 Pen
    May 1, 2010

    Perhaps more worrying than whether she’s right or wrong in her facts is her apparent misunderstanding of the concept of equality. Whether or not we’re identical (regardless of race) has got nothing to do with the fact that we are equal. I always took that to mean that we are equal before the law and as regards our rights. And this is a future lawyer?

  54. #54 Otto Kerner
    May 1, 2010

    You know, the merits of her specific arguments are of no concern to me at all. Anyone who reads her e-mail can see that her tone is not malice but inquisitiveness. Whether she got the science right in a private e-mail about something that is not her area of study is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is the knee-jerk “burn the witch” reaction that is has caused. Anyone with a shred of decency, at long last, should be turning out to defend her right to free speech, not complaining about the content of what she said.

  55. #55 daedalus2u
    May 1, 2010

    Greg, I know we are in agreement, but putting the debate in the right/wrong category is to give it more credibility than it deserves.

  56. #56 Stephanie Z
    May 1, 2010

    Otto, she has exactly the same right to free speech that all of us who criticize her views have. And that right isn’t what you seem to think it is. What governmental agency is threatening to sanction her speech?

  57. #57 DuWayne
    May 1, 2010

    ppnl –

    If we assume that there is no genetic cause for difference in intelligence how do you account for differences between individuals? Is it all environment?

    There may or may not be some genetic influence, but the plasticity of the human brain is more than enough to account for differences. However, you are using a lot of terms here that really do need to be defined explicitly to even have a conversation.

    I know it is frustrating, but “intelligence” is completely meaningless in and of itself. “Environment” is also a term that requires explicit definition, because in the field of psychology it actually encompasses several concepts. Differentiating is important, because it has several contextual meanings that are relevant to this discussion.

    And how do you account for the fact that identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQ? Much closer than fraternal twins for example.

    There is a very serious problem with these sorts of twin studies. I would highly recommend that you actually take a close look at some of the more famous twin studies. Specifically, look at sample sizes. There are simply not enough twins raised separately who can be found for the sake of a study, to even come close to a reasonable sampling.

    But to insist that genes cannot play a role in IQ differences between individuals seems a little over the top.

    To be very clear, I actually believe that genetics does play a role in intellectual development. The problem with claiming genetics plays a role in IQ, is with IQ testing. It is simply not a reasonable metric for much of anything, outside the context of determining with a moderate degree of accuracy what kids might need some extra help in school – and that includes kids who test exceptionally high, who are nearly as likely to drop out of primary education as kids who are below average.

    IQ changes over time, depending on education. It can also change significantly, if the day someone happens to take it is a bad day for them. This is why when it is used at all, it should be taken in more than one sitting and should be taken in conjunction with several other tests. And yes, “environmental” influences (in this case, influences outside of school – primarily home life) play a major role, as does economic status.

    Bottom line, the only functional use for IQ is in the context of education and determining the possible special needs of a given child. While there have been some studies that indicate IQ is predictive of later success in life, these are confounded by several factors – the explanation fo which would make a decent paper.

    Once you accept a genetic role for differences between individuals then the possibility exists that there can be a smaller difference between groups. My only comment here is that any such difference is likely small, hard to detect through cultural and environmental differences and in the end who really cares except the racists and the political correctness police?

    The problem and the reason I care, is that there are a lot of proponents of this bullshit who want to use their assumptions to influence public policy in very ugly ways. And keep in mind that these “political correctness police” you are decrying have very reasonable motivations – such as not making certain minority groups assume they are inferior. This is important because there are a lot of members of various groups who believe this crap, assume there are significant differences and either feel superior for no reason or assume they have an excuse to fail for no good reason.

    The bottom line is that there may be some differences between various groups that were isolated for some period of time. The prevalence/lack of certain neurological issues between groups would indicate it is a distinct possibility. But there is absolutely no evidence that there are any differences in various types of problem solving that cannot be easily accounted for by culture.

    I really doubt that IQ is even well defined except operationally.

    It isn’t particularly well defined operationally either.

    But neither of these imply that there cannot be genetic differences in IQ between groups.

    No. But because of the ambiguous nature of both concepts, it is an entirely meaningless question.

  58. #58 DuWayne
    May 1, 2010

    Otto –

    Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. I defend the right of holocaust denying, straight up neo-Nazis to have their say. I have spoken out against laws curtailing some of the most vile expressions possible, innumerable times.

    That does not mean I won’t roundly criticize the content of their speech.

  59. #59 Bill James
    May 1, 2010

    All dogs are equally intelligent.

  60. #60 Otto Kerner
    May 1, 2010

    Sorry, freedom of speech was a poor choice of words on my part. What I meant is that we should defend her against breaches of privacy, harassment, libel, and hysterical overreactions which seriously threaten her reputation and livelihood as well as potentially endangering her physical safety. I would assuredly afford you the same courtesy.

  61. #61 DuWayne
    May 1, 2010

    Otto –

    Honestly? I think that Greg’s post was rather well reasoned and most assuredly not an attack on this woman.

    My own take would be that she is more guilty of ignorance than anything else. Yes, what she said indicates a propensity for some measure of racism. I am not however going to knock her for it. We all have some measure of bigotry – every single one of us. I would love to be able to say I am not the least bit racist, but in spite of having a partner who is in fact a lovely shade of brown, I am in my own way guilty of a certain measure of racism.

    So I would tend to argue that here at least, she has received a measure of damage control.

    As for privacy? You give that up when you click send. I rarely do so, but I totally reserve the right to post any* email sent to my personal email account, including if I so choose, all identifiers I can find about the sender. I also reserve the right to post certain types of emails sent to my school address – though I am far more circumspect about what I have a right to publicize.

    Had I been sent the email in question, I would not have publicized it. I don’t think what she said warranted the reaction that it seems to have garnered and hope that she comes out of it ok. But I do not buy the notion that one has an expectation of privacy when they send an email out. I think it sucks to be her, but this is why I am very careful not to send out shit that I would rather not see made public, unless I am reasonably certain that the person I am sending it to will keep my confidence.

    * As I blog rather a lot about addiction and psychology, I have committed to not posting emails from people who request confidentiality, asking questions about or talking about addiction or other mental problems. I get many such emails and would never even consider posting anything from any of them without the sender’s permission and even then I would not disclose any identifiers.

  62. #62 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    ppnl: “Twins separated at birth” includes people like my brother and me. (We aren’t twins, but you’ll see the point..) After I was born, he was displaced to an upstairs bedroom. It happens that upstairs and down stairs in that house are two different addresses in a duplex.

    Many many twins separated at birth are cases where the two twins were raised by different family members in the same physical building, or on the same street. Others are “separated” according to the definition used for a certain amount of time per year and that counted. The twins separated at birth data is not convincing of anything.

    There could be a genetic conneciton. But why should one be postuated in the absence of evidence for it? Seriously. Think about that exact question. Why is there a biological phenomenon presumed to exist without evidence? Why? Because people assumed it to be true, want it to be true, need it to be true.

    Sorry, without evidence, there is not a thing.

    Marvin, I declare officially that you are at a dead end. You had nothing, you still have nothing. Don’t start telling me to tell you stuff.

  63. #63 Otto Kerner
    May 1, 2010

    I don’t mean to say that Greg’s post was itself an attack on this person, although I am in fact ambivalent on this point. To describe the e-mail as “racist” sounds like an attack; Greg uses scare quotes when using that term in the body of the text, but it stands, cheerfully indicative, in the headline. However, Greg Laden is not really the problem here.

    If I send an e-mail to a few friends discussing some scientific question about which I am not expert, and then a scientist (not one of the recipients) takes the time to point out publicly that I’m wrong, that seems kind of pointless. But if, in doing so, he ignores the more pertinent related issue — the question of whether I can send e-mails to discuss science without being treated like a hate criminal — it implies a lack of perspective.

  64. #64 DuWayne
    May 1, 2010

    Damn, I missed your comment Marvin.

    There are scientists in good standing who study intelligence, there are scientists in good standing who think race is a valid concept.

    I am not asking if there are scientists who study intelligence and/or who believe in race. I am asking you to define your fucking terms. If you cannot, and I believe you cannot, then you have absolutely no business trying to have this conversation.

    Let’s ignore them, and jump all over a law student for speculating in an email.

    First of all, I am not and neither is Greg, jumping on this law student. To the contrary, Greg was clear that he thought she was being accused of shit rather unfairly.

    But the more important thing is your notion of “lets ignore them.” I can assure you that I do not ignore them. I am studying neuropsychology and linguistics. While I have some focus on addiction and probably will maintain that to some degree when I am fully vested some years from now, I am going to be engaging in research into evolutionary psychopathology. Be assured that this conversation we are having and the science involved is quite relevant to my current studies and my future career.

    I most certainly have not ignored these “scientists in good standing” that you speak of. I do however, think they are wrong and I think they are wrong for very good reasons. The main reason is because I have seen the evidence presented by both sides of this debate and the evidence is pretty straightforward about the fallacy of race. Even Steven Pinker, also invoked in this discussion, doesn’t buy into race as anything more than a social construct. The only scientists who are seriously making claims about race, are scientists in unrelated fields who have absolutely no basis in their own research for making claims about race.

    And when it comes to intelligence, yes – there are scientists who research intelligence. They also explicitly define it when they talk about it. That is because there are a lot of different and very distinct concepts that are labeled “intelligence.”

    There are even a few scientists who research what is measured by IQ tests. A very few of them believe that such intelligence is at least partly determined by genetics. The problem with that belief, is that neuroplasticity and a myriad of non-genetic influences can more than account for differences. This is further backed up by the lack of definitive IQ. If you give a child of eleven an age appropriate IQ test, test them again at fifteen, then again at eighteen you are quite likely to get rather significant variation in scores.

    Neuroplasticity is great enough that there are a lot of reasons that one will see such significant changes. So are people’s moods. Certain people with specific neuropathologies will see huge differences based on things as seemingly benign as a fluorescent light that is imperceptibly (to most people) out of tone with the other lights in the room. The metric you are talking about is simply not useful as a measure of what you think it is.

  65. #65 Marvin
    May 1, 2010

    “Marvin, I declare officially that you are at a dead end.”

    Of course you do.

    “There could be a genetic conneciton”

    That’s what Stephanie Grace wondered.

    “Sorry, without evidence, there is not a thing.”

    The disproportionate and dishonest reaction to her email suggests otherwise.

  66. #66 Paulus Secundus
    May 1, 2010

    Some people are asking for empirical studies about race and I.Q. gap. I recommend the following texts:

    (i) On Race
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1196372/?+tool=pubmed

    and

    http://hapmap.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ethicalconcerns.html.en

    (ii) On I.Q. gap between races in America
    Actually there is a large consensus in this issue. The relevant discussion here is about the CAUSES of this gap, not about its existence. So I’ll just link the wikipedia article about “a public statement issued by a group of scholars in fields allied to intelligence research which claims to present those findings which are widely accepted in the expert community.” This study acknowledges the existence of an I.Q. gap between races, but also observes the indeterminancy about its causes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainstream_Science_on_Intelligence

    As for the witch hunt that ensued the unwarranted publication of a Harvard’s student private mail, I recommend the following article by Adam Kissel, member of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (“FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation devoted to free speech, individual liberty, religious freedom, the rights of conscience, legal equality, due process, and academic freedom on our nation’s campuses.”)

    http://www.thefire.org/article/11824.html

    Finally, I’d like to remark that apparently lots of people that are disparaging this girl’s personal (and private) opinions didn’t actually read her e-mail in full, which is very strange since they are trying to burn the girl’s reputation on this basis. The opinions stated in her private email are unusually well argued and balanced, specially considering that it was an informal (and PRIVATE!!!!) discussion, without pretention to high science.

    Respectfully,
    Someone That Obviously Will Not Indentify Himself (Political Correctness Gone Mad can be very, very frightful…)

  67. #67 ppnl
    May 1, 2010

    Greg,

    I don’t think you addressed my question at all. There can be differences between people like you and your brother that are environmental. No question.

    But my question was how do you explain the DIFFERENCES between identical twins separated at birth and others separated at birth.

    DuWayne did at least respond to the question I asked. Maybe the sample size is to small. But the differences seem fairly large and twin studies have been going on for some time. I find it a little hard to believe that it goes away with such a simple criticism. I am not in a position to check such things anyway. Maybe you need to post on twin studies and tell what they do and don’t show.

    I do agree with DuWayne that the political correctness police generally do have good motives for their position while there are many on the other side that I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. But if we are to honestly discuss the science we need to move past motivations. But then my main point is that once you get past motivation the question isn’t really that interesting anyway.

    I also agree that the brain is very plastic. But there are thousands of genes associated with brain function. This implies large variability in any and all aspects of brain function from emotion, memory and intellect to vision and hearing. The body is also extremely plastic yet it would be hard to argue against genetic differences in athletic performance. It is likely that no amount of remedial training would turn me into Tony Romo and it is likely that no amount of remedial training would make me into another Einstein.

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    Actually there is a large consensus in this issue. The relevant discussion here is about the CAUSES of this gap, not about its existence.

    Indeed. And the ORIGINALLY proposed cause was an evolutionary difference between Europeans and Africans. That idea has been utterly debunked. It relied on the mulitiregional model, which has been rejected.

    The idea subsequentl persisted not because evidence existed to support it, but because people really really really wanted it to be true, and that is pretty much how it stands today. There are people who want to beleive in an organic, evolutionary difference between europeans and africans that is described here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/01/average_brain_size_for_the_thr.php

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/01/rushton_on_race_and_iq.php

    But no allelic variation that can explain that is evidence. Yet, where real data (and most of the data is not real) supports intergroup differences that resemble this, those differences are added to the list of evidence supporting the genetic basis (even when there is no actual genetic evidence) and when evidence is found that falisifies the idea it is ignored (see the very first few comments on this very thread, where a key study is cited by me and dismissed summarily without any valid critique by racist commenters).

    And so on and so forth. Same old story, same old shit.

  69. #69 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    ppnl: environmental. No question.

    But my question was how do you explain the DIFFERENCES between identical twins separated at birth and others separated at birth

    This is not hard. The twins separated at birth studies are among the most egregious academic frauds ever perpetuated that still stand today. One has to ask why people still cite them without question, as though there really were twins who really were separted at the time of birth and subsequentl raised in different environments. One has to ask about the motivations of people who still cite this work as though it was real. It makes me wonder about your motivations, in fact. Are you acting here in a nefarious way, or are you simply uninformed? At present, your credibility is hanging in the balance.

    They are lies, made up, shit. Asking for an explanation of the assertions from those studies is like asking for details on various big foot studies. Bigfoot is not real. Twins seprarated at birth are not real.

  70. #70 ppnl
    May 1, 2010

    Greg,

    First, I have no credibility to lose. I’m some random twit on the internet trying to make sense of things. I have no motivation other than that.

    While you may be correct that the twin studies are a farce a bald statement that that is so does me no good. I understand that you do not lose sleep over the fact that you have not served me. But the fact remains that simple saying it does me no good.

    As far as I have been able to determine it is simply not the case that twin studies are viewed as worthless. I could very well be wrong. I have seen the nonsense that has been passed along as skepticism over global warming and I understand how the public can be deceived about the scientific consensus. If the only response to the denialists was an argument to authority I would probably be a denialist. Instead there are many blogs by actual climate scientists who take the time to explain in great detail why the arguments are not only wrong but usually dishonest.

    As I said before maybe you need to do a post on the twin studies and what is wrong with them. After all you are the one who was critical of the LHC people for not taking more time to explain why it wasn’t going to destroy the world.

    I have seen many criticisms of the twin studies on particular points and have argued against a few conclusions based on them myself. But I have honestly never seen them simply dismissed as lies.

  71. #71 MPL
    May 1, 2010

    Warning scholars they should “shut up” in private emails is ugly. So much for the spirit of free exchange and inquiry.

    Dear internet, let me make this clear: when they sent police to tell you that you must shut up, that’s censorship. When a blogger suggests you should shut up, that is not censorship. When a scholar’s boss tells them to shut up, that’s censorship, when a stranger they’ve never met tells them to shut up, that’s an opinion.

  72. #72 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    ppnl: In reference to the twin studies where the twins are separated at birth, how do you suppose research scientists went about finding those twins? Think about that for a little while. Hard to imagine how that would work.

    The simple fact is that the criteria for separated at birth are very very lax, and many many pairs of twins separated at birth in those studies knew each other for their entire lives. That is a truth that one would be surprised to know given the way that particular bill of goods has been sold.

    I don’t care what people do or do not think about the worth or worthlessness of these studies. They are not presented for what they are, and they are something very different than they would need to be to serve the purpose for which they are presented.

    Actually, I’ve been looking for a good reference for this, but can’t lay my hands on the one I’m thinking of. But I’m sending an email off to the author and if we touch bases I’ll post it.

    Just one more thing about this sort of study (because there are a lot of relatedness studies, including twins not separated). There is nothing wrong with this methodology in general. However, the studies ask this question:

    Give A, which is a genetic source of variation, and B, which is an environmetnal source of variation, which one has how much influence (usually in terms of percentage).

    The studies to NOT ask, or demonstrate, or address this question:

    We have A and we have B as possible sources of variation. Is either one or both involved?

    And it they do not address this question:

    Is there a genetic component or not? And if so, at what percentage?

    We are assuming, not discovering, a genetic component in these studies.

  73. #73 John Smith
    May 1, 2010

    Didn’t James Watson say pretty much the same thing? No, he actually concluded that blacks were on average less intelligent than whites. And, he said, he based this opinion with a lamentable reference to “most of the data [that] says [blacks aren't as intelligent as whites].” I think Watson is a scientist. Now who are you exactly? Which science awards have you won? Let the attack on Watson begin.

  74. #74 John Smith
    May 1, 2010

    The attacks on this woman, and the proposition she suggested, are being attacked politically because it’s on the subject of race. If the statement were on any other subject, no one would bat an eye. Of course, it’s an open question. But if you voice this fact, you must be killed as a deterrent to others.

  75. #75 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2010

    John, you are quite late to the party.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/06/james_watson_please_bend_over.php

    Go read that and report that.

    Oh, and for everyone else: Yes, this is why I kicked Watson’s ass. Because morons like John are out there sucking up Watson’s racist shit.

    Why is this stuff so easy to learn?

  76. #76 Marvin
    May 1, 2010

    Watson observed:

    “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically.”

    In your name-calling rant about Watson you quote that, yet fail to address it. You’ve never explained the basis for your equality assumption, or provided any proof of equality.

  77. #77 ppnl
    May 2, 2010

    Greg,

    Lets replace intelligence with height.

    As I understand it twins are selected as orphans who were adopted separately. There are many ways you can screw this up but the basic idea is sound. If identical twins raised separately grow to different heights then it is reasonable to assume that the difference is caused by environment. This can be checked by looking at identical twins raised together. This can in turn be compared to brothers separated at birth and brothers raised together. Also half brothers and then to random strangers.

    Now this does not allow us to tell how much of your height is genetic. As stated that isn’t even coherent. What it allows us to calculate is what percentage of the DIFFERENCE in height is due to environment and what percentage is due to genetics.

    But the thing is the number you get isn’t a genetic constant. It depends on both the genetics and the environment in which you did the experiment. For example if everyone was raised in the exact same environment then by definition the differences in height are 100% genetic. As you allow more variability in environment the differences will be less genetic.

    This is how I understand it anyway.

    Now you seem to be claiming that they never asked if there are genetic causes of height but just assumed it. But if identical twins raised in very different environments are far more similar in height than random strangers or even fraternal twins isn’t that strong evidence of a genetic component in height difference?

    Now this is a complex study and maybe they screwed it up somehow. But I cannot agree that they simply assumed a genetic component. What other explanation do you have for the similarity in the height of identical twins despite environmental differences? The whole study seems to be actively looking for that which you claim they simply assumed.

    How is this changed when we switch from height to intelligence? I agree that if they were lax about what separated at birth means then that is a problem to be addressed. But can it be shown that its a big enough problem to account for the difference? Is it possible to do a reanalysis of the data that corrects for this?

    Anything you can post on twin studies will be useful for reasons that go far beyond race and intelligence. I’m really just here to learn.

  78. #78 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    Yes, you are mostly getting the methodology, but what is the environment, and how are you measuring it? Say two kids are raised in the same family but both are adopted. SO, you’d expect differences in the hypothetical genetic trait to be genetic and not environmental, mostly.

    But we know that familial order (oldest, middle, youngest kid) affects all sorts of behavioral variables including IQ. We know that home environment affects IQ. So the older kid is raised by a father with a professional degree and a mother with professional degree. Then the father dies when the second kid is 3, and the mother marries a guy who never went to college, and he actually knocks the kid around a bit so there’s some frontal lobe damage. And the nutrition is poor because he can’t keep a job.

    On average, of course, we can expect a) what I describe to be an extreme and b) causal effects to shift randomly, not always in one direction.

    But we can not a priori know the AMOUNT of variation within the “same environment” (and in these studies the household is considered to be constant). Therefore, we can NOT measure the amount of variation caused by variation internal to the environment.

    And, this is not measured in the studies we are referring to.

    Yeah, it may be possible to correct for this so some extent with some data sets (though I’m doubtful), but here’s the thing: The psychometric twin studies phych people have written off the constructivists and won’t talk to them. The constructivists have written off the psychometric and twin study sorts and have moved on to other things.

    And really, there is no need for it. The more you control, the more closely you look, the more diligently you weed out the bad data and the bad methods, the more that the gene-IQ connection fades. It does not get stronger, it gets weaker. Despite rumors being spread on this very thread, if you developed a major grant proposal to settled this issue by taking everything into account, etc. etc. and applied to NIH/NSF for the money, you would have a hard time getting the funding. Most of this research is funded these days by either right wing foundations like Pioneer or by big companies who throw some cash in this direction because they think the psychometrics would be useful in the brave new world where they give tests to incoming employees to avoid having put the wrong person in the wrong job (in their view).

    Seriously. As a scientific issue, this really isn’t anywhere. It only remains as a conversation among people with either nefarious intentions, deep ignorance, or people who are just showing up to the game and are just finding out about it.

    By the way, the variation in height that we measure most of the time within western populations (like if you measured all the seniors in a set of ten high schools every two years for 20 years and developed a data set from that) is not genetic.

    Yes, genes help determine height. Broken genes make for extra tall or extra short. Yes, children resemble their parents, but MOST of the “heritability” in height is NOT genetic. Not. Not genetic.

    (I usually have to say that a bunch of times.)

    It is environmental, yet there is a familial effect, and in fact there is probably a maternal effect. Yet it is not caused by alleles for height (tall vs short, etc.) being passed from parents to offspring.

    So, height and IQ are very similar in these ways:

    Both vary

    Both vary for reasons that everyone assumes is genetic

    Both vary for reasons that are in fact not genetic most of the time

    People who just learn that the genes are not implicated will tend to cling to the “rest of the time” bits and insist that the world is as they always thought it was, that IQ is estimable by skin color because of underlying genes, and height is caused by genes.

    Interestingly, people will get almost as mad about finding out that variation in height is not particularly genetic as they do when they find out that it is quite possible that in two generations from now, their pinkish-white grandchildren are going to be living in a world in which they have significantly lower IQ’s than their brown overlords. Or whatever white nightmare one likes to substitute.

  79. #79 MPL
    May 2, 2010

    But…but…if heritable traits aren’t 100% genetic, how will I ever know that it wasn’t the milkman?

  80. #80 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    Marvin: Do you know what a null model is? Given what we know about how brains form in humans, racial differences in intelligence caused by differences in genets would be the exception that needs to be demonstrated against the null model based on the neurobiology.

    Why is it that you need to have black people inferior to you? Are you still working on that Civil War thing? Do you want your grand daddy’s slaves back? is that it?

    Sorry, Marvin, but you don’t get to demand that I disprove your fantasy of the inequality of humans based on skin color.

    The only reason I’m allowing you to continue commenting is because I want people to see what this racist idea looks like in its pure, bald-faced most ignorant form. You’re doing a great job of characterizing the typical KKK graduate.

  81. #81 Observer
    May 2, 2010

    ***Didn’t James Watson say pretty much the same thing? ***

    As did Francis Crick. http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/SC/

    Also, in ‘A Darwinian Left’ Peter Singer notes that a Darwinian left would not:

    “Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in every case”

    University of Chicago Geneticist Bruce Lahn & Lanny Ebenstein last year wrote in Nature that recent genetic findings show that the assumption of biological sameness is becoming untenable.

    ‘Let’s celebrate human genetic diversity’

    Nature 461, 726-728 (8 October 2009)

    Also, scientists are people. People are social creatures and don’t want to attract moral opprobrium. So they may hold views on controversial topics that they don’t present in public. See the Snyderman Rothman survey of 661 members the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, the Behavioral Genetics Association, and the Cognitive Science Society:

    “Respondents were asked to express their opinion of the role of genetic differences in the b-w IQ differential. Forty-five percent believe the difference to be a product of both genetic and environmental variation, compared to only 15% who feel the difference is entirely due to environmental variation. Twenty-four percent of experts do not believe there are sufficient data to support any reasonable opinion, and 14% did not respond to the question. Eight experts (1%) indicate a belief in an entirely genetic determination.”

  82. #82 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    Obserer, you are instructed to read the section titled “Commenting and Privacy Policy” on the about page of this blog.

    This policy is not open to discussion, and you have violated it repeatedly. I’ll give you this one comment, but otherwise you are simply not welcome on this blog. But I’m certainly not one to quite your voice. You do have an alternative. I urge you to Click on this link and find out what it is.

    It is not at all surprising that the APA has these numbers (in fact we have been over this on this blog before) considering how many psychologists make a living with that presumption. If you asked the same of evolutionary neruobiologists you would get a very different result.

  83. #83 DuWayne
    May 2, 2010

    ppnl –

    As far as I have been able to determine it is simply not the case that twin studies are viewed as worthless. I could very well be wrong.

    Honestly? Yes they are. You need to keep in mind that there were a lot of really shitty studies done up into the seventies, in the field of psychology. There were some few that were actually quite good, but for the most part psychology was still a cult of personalities and these studies were just a way to make it look like a science. The shitty studies are the exception today, but that cult of personalities still has some degree of influence even today.

    There are some few psychologists out there today who still buy into this garbage, but they are a very distinct minority – right there in numbers with folks who think Freud was particularly clever. Seriously – we talk about twin studies in my various psych classes and consistently it is to point out the fatal flaws.

    Lets replace intelligence with height.

    We can’t reasonably do that, because we are talking about apples and bananas then. There are some rather extreme things one can do to cause significant differences to height, but the rest of the body just doesn’t have the plasticity of the brain. Not even close.

    As I understand it twins are selected as orphans who were adopted separately.

    Not true actually. There are some few of them that fit this paradigm, but they are a minority in already infinitesimal samples.

    But I cannot agree that they simply assumed a genetic component.

    When I have some time, I will write a post about some of the “studies” and “science” in my field. Things have improved a great deal and psychology education is considerably more focused on science. But there is still a bit of it and up to some few decades ago, bullshit science was the fucking rule.

    There have been many psych studies done not to prove or disprove a hypothesis, but rather to prove what the study designers knew to be true. This is not science, it is not how science is done. You cannot take anything that comes from such bullshit being paraded as science as meaningful in the least.

    To make this perfectly clear – there are too many variables involved that we can’t clearly untangle to make absolute claims about genetic influences on neurodevelopment. Neuroplasticity can easily account for these differences with room to spare. As we learn more and more about the brain, it is becoming apparent that contrary to the popular belief that the brain is developing until the very late teens to early twenties, the brain never stops developing. It stops growing, but neuropathways are constantly being influenced and changed by our life experience.

    And I don’t mean by nutrition or trauma. Something as innocuous as learning another language has a profound effect on the brain. Finding religion or losing it has a profound effect on the brain. Even moderate changes to one’s world view can cause significant changes. The human brain is incredibly malleable.

  84. #84 ppnl
    May 2, 2010

    Greg,

    I understand that there can be differences even in what looks like the same environment. But if these differences are random then they can be ignored because they are statistically self canceling.

    If identical twins separated at birth are statistically more similar in height than random strangers or even brothers then I have no choice but to see this as strong evidence for a genetic component. Random differences add noise but cannot create a false signal. They are not assuming a genetic component They are detecting a signal believed to be genetic.

    In order to create a false signal you need nonrandom noise. Its kind of hard to imagine sources of nonrandom noise that affect height this way. It seems to me that it is up to you to propose sources of nonrandom noise. They could then be measured and filtered out.

    Intelligence measures are far more complex than height and any conclusion is far less certain and far far harder to correct. But still your criticism that they are simply assuming a genetic component does not seem to hold.

    If it is true that most twin studies are funded by right wing think tanks that is a problem. I have never heard that and would need documentation. But then it wouldn’t really shock me either.

    “Interestingly, people will get almost as mad about finding out that variation in height is not particularly genetic as they do when they find out that it is quite possible that in two generations from now, their pinkish-white grandchildren are going to be living in a world in which they have significantly lower IQ’s than their brown overlords. Or whatever white nightmare one likes to substitute.”

    Uh, well president Obama has brown skin and is probably much smarter than I am. So I’m totally there. I just don’t see it as a nightmare. But the tea party is pretty much driven by this racial angst. So I see your point. If you go back a few generations and tell people how the world is today they would probably freak out. I think its pretty funny to think about.

    I’m not qualified to decide these scientific questions. But if scientists stop talking to each other as you say then I have little choice. You people need to get your shit together.

  85. #85 DuWayne
    May 2, 2010

    Observer –

    You are citing a survey from 23 years ago and before the mapping of the human genome. Do you have the foggiest clue how much research has been published in that 23 years? In 1987 we really had no clue about the extent of neuroplasticity. We also hadn’t mapped the human genome. At that point the notion of race as a social construct was barely on the radar. Today it is pretty damned solid science.

    The other problem being that the respondents are mostly psychologists and sociologists. While things have been improving in the quality of science on both fields, there are still problems and there were more then. Couple that understanding with what we have learned about race and neuroplasticity in the past 23 years and that survey isn’t all that impressive.

    This survey was a lot like the notion of asking attendees of a medical conference if they believe that susceptibility to chronic pain has a genetic component. To put it very bluntly, most of those attendees aren’t any more qualified to answer that question, than most biomed researchers are qualified to diagnose heart disease. What makes you think psychologists and sociologists – most of whom have little to no more understanding of the research than the general public – are particularly well qualified to answer that question?

  86. #86 Stephanie Z
    May 2, 2010

    ppnl, Greg and DuWayne have explained to that twin studies do not actually use identical twins separated at birth. You continue to refer to them as though they did. It has been pointed out to you many of the factors that affect IQ. You continue to refer to anything non-genetic as random. Greg has given you the name of one of the entities funding race-IQ research. You’ve done nothing to follow-up and insist you haven’t been given documentation.

    Do you really want to try telling other people to get their shit together?

  87. #87 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    But if these differences are random then they can be ignored because they are statistically self canceling.

    Please re-read my comment. I quite explicitly addressed this. The key variable is VARIANCE. The differences do not “self cancel” statistically when it comes to variance.

    If identical twins separated at birth are statistically more similar in height than random strangers or even brothers then I have no choice but to see this as strong evidence for a genetic component.

    Why? Because of stronly held preconceptions that you have? Are you not even a little interested in asking about the enviornment in which they are raised?

    You see, “separated” does not mean “separated and then placed in randomly chosen environments from a selection of all relevant environment”

    Please actually read what I’ve said above, and read DuWayne’s comment as well.

    And let’s toos in the person’s skin color as a feature of their environment. Let me ask you this: Do you realize how a person’s skin color determines important aspects of their own environment? You need to understand that. If you don’t get that then we have a very very long way to go.

    If it is true that most twin studies are funded by right wing think tanks that is a problem. I have never heard that and would need documentation. But then it wouldn’t really shock me either.

    Now you are annoying me to the point where you are going to start ignoring you. I didn’t say that. You have a) taken bits and pieces of what I’ve said and constructed a straw man that you now demand that I prov and b) you are actually telling me to do your research for you.

    Thus far you have demonstrated nearly zero interest in comprehension. Why are you doing this?

    Actually, I’m not sure who funds the twin studies that are being done currently. Maybe someone will chime in on that. It is not hard to find out.

  88. #88 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    ppnl: Please head what Stephanie said.

    Oh, and I’m not qualified to decide these scientific questions.

    Yes this is true. But that does not mean that you can’t discuss them, but yo have to do so in a way that is respectful to those with whom you are conversing.

  89. #89 daedalus2u
    May 2, 2010

    Ppnl, identical twins share an in utero environment; that is the environment in which they grow from a single cell to a newborn infant. It is while in that environment that the major structures of the brain form, that neurons and other cells in the brain are epigenetically programmed, and that lots of stuff happens which we don’t really understand (like 99.999%+ we don’t understand).

    In utero, the brain increases from a single cell to about 10^11 cells. At age 2, the brain is 80% of the size of the adult brain. We know that there are a zillion environmental effects that can change brain function in characteristic directions. How many genes are known to change brain function in a characteristic direction? Zip, other than the “broken” genes producing “broken” bodies with “broken” brains that Greg talked about. “Broken” environments can produce “broken” bodies with “broken” brains too; trivially, in a zillion ways.

    When identical twins share the same environment where 99.999%+ of their neurodevelopment occurred, why should we be surprised when they are pretty similar? When monochorionic identical twins can be discordant for neurological disorders such as anencephaly, presumably that difference is not due to a “genetic effect”, but is due to an in utero “environmental effect”. Why should we consider that subtle fine details of brain function are not due to environmental effects when we know that enormously larger effects are known to be due to environmental effects? Particularly when there are plenty of known environmental effects that are known to produce very large and characteristic brain function effects?

    The whole race-genetics-intelligence “debate” is driven by racism and bigotry. Maybe there are some ignorant and naïve individuals who do not consider themselves racist bigots but who simply haven’t looked at the science well enough to understand the science. They don’t get a free pass in my view because if you haven’t looked at and understood the science, you don’t have a scientific opinion. Until you have looked at the science you can’t have a scientific opinion and should keep your mouth shut in a scientific debate. The scientific default is always “I don’t know”.

    In my opinion the goal of those pushing the race-genetics-intelligence “debate” is to divert public resources away from providing environments that nurture and fosters intelligence in “races” that are different than the “races” of the individuals doing the pushing. The goal is to push some “races” down, and to keep them down by denying them environments that foster them moving up. The goal is to keep certain “races” “broken” by only allowing them to exist in “broken” environments.

    Even if we did know that genes were important, and even if we did know what genes were important, we still know that a “broken” environment will lead to a “broken” body with a “broken” brain. Logically, we should want to fix what we have the capacity to fix. Since we don’t know how to “fix” unknown and still hypothetical genes, but we do know how to “fix” a “broken” environment. “Fixing” “broken” environments is what we should be spending our efforts on. But those pushing the race-genetics-intelligence debate don’t want to spend resources on fixing the “broken” environments that we know that certain “races” are forced to live in, while we know that living in those “broken” environments does lead to “broken” outcomes. To me, the reason is clear, it is due to racist bigotry.

  90. #91 DuWayne
    May 2, 2010

    You bastard!!!

    I am beginning to suspect that those folks just don’t like you Greg…

  91. #92 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    DuWayne, go tell them that! I left a comment but it is in moderation.

  92. #93 DuWayne
    May 2, 2010

    Mine is too…

  93. #94 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    THEY ARE FORZING US TO SHUT UP!!!11!!

  94. #95 DuWayne
    May 2, 2010

    Since it is apparent that they are not keen on responses to their bullshit, here is the comment that doesn’t seem to be coming out of moderation over there. Of course it could also be that I am too much the asshole for their taste…

    Good grief what a selfrighteous jackass you are. Why don’t you just write a post explaining that you don’t like Greg, rather than rambling on about something ridiculous.

    An email to two friends? Considering she felt compelled to send that email to explain some comments she had made that bothered them and one of them felt compelled to forward it to a listserv, my guess would be at least one of them wasn’t much of a friend.

    I disagree with Greg’s line that she shut up, but I understand it and given the overall tenor of the post, he was overall rather kind to her. Considering the whoopla that this email has created, Greg was performing damage control of a sort, pointing out that there was a lot of crap being spewed at her that was rather unwarranted. But for you it is a whole fucking blogpost?

    Seriously?

    As for the comments section, you know what? When you are engaged in a conversation with someone who has demonstrated repeatedly their complete and absolute ignorance of a topic and refusal to either make an actual argument – telling them to shut up about it isn’t unreasonable. It might just be that someone who knows nothing about a topic and who is telling a scholar in the field they are wrong, might just be a little irritating. Especially when you are explaining why you aren’t wrong and they aren’t even trying to explain why you are.

    I hate to say it, but you really aren’t helping either…Whatever it is you think that you are…

  95. #96 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    That should help.

  96. #97 Bill James
    May 2, 2010

    There is no such thing as different breeds of dog. They are all the same breed.

  97. #98 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2010

    No they aren’t. they’re real, and they’re like races. But if you leave the dogs to themselves for a very short amount of time, all that hard work done to maintain the distinct breeds, creating very very unnatural circumstances, is ruined and you’ve got a bunch of yaller dogs.

  98. #99 Yan Shen
    May 3, 2010

    Greg, hypothetically speaking, can you think of any particular experiment or evidence that might convince you to change your mind? For instance, Karl Popper defined a valid scientific hypothesis as one which could be falsified by some particular experiment or observation. Or do you believe that it is impossible to isolate the effects of environment from that of genes, and therefore that we cannot state with any degree of certainty the extent to which genes and environment contribute to the observed racial disparities?

    Also Greg, I noticed an inconsistency in Post #7 where you address to Marvin the following…

    “Marvin, I was under the impression that scientists were in face pretty much 100% convinced that races themselves are not real, and that intelligence differences like you are talking about are pretty much cultural or learned.

    Do you have citations that suggest that this is wrong that you could point me to?”

    In post #81 observer more or less addressed that issue.

    “‘Let’s celebrate human genetic diversity’

    Nature 461, 726-728 (8 October 2009)

    Also, scientists are people. People are social creatures and don’t want to attract moral opprobrium. So they may hold views on controversial topics that they don’t present in public. See the Snyderman Rothman survey of 661 members the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, the Behavioral Genetics Association, and the Cognitive Science Society:

    “Respondents were asked to express their opinion of the role of genetic differences in the b-w IQ differential. Forty-five percent believe the difference to be a product of both genetic and environmental variation, compared to only 15% who feel the difference is entirely due to environmental variation. Twenty-four percent of experts do not believe there are sufficient data to support any reasonable opinion, and 14% did not respond to the question. Eight experts (1%) indicate a belief in an entirely genetic determination.”

    You said that it was not surprising that the APA had those numbers and that you had covered the issue on your blog before. Wouldn’t that suggest that contrary to what you stated to Marvin, you were at least aware of the fact that there were scientists who harbored the opposing point of view, whether or not you agreed with them? Seems bit disingenuous there to me. In fact, it seems like you outright lied.

  99. #100 bethK
    May 3, 2010

    Given that race is socially constructed it seems rather tone deaf of this student (if not atypical) to refer to “white” or “African American” infants. Infants do not have the capacity to self identify with a construct. One might as well speak of raising liberal or conservative infants in Disneyland

    Also @Greg78 if you have one at hand I would be very interested in a reference or two about human height being non or trivially heritable(in the quantitative genetics sense).

    I was (being bored on maternity leave) briefly diverted a month or so ago on the topic of the heritability of human height (after a comment by my daughter’s paediatrician). I read a few GWA studies(using SNPs) and was not left with the impression that there was controversy regarding the existence of allele variants differentially affecting human height (or even that the relatively high estimates of heritability were controversial) and would like to improve my understanding. I have some knowledge of quantitative genetics in animals but have little understanding at all how human population structure affects the use of quantitative genetic techniques, although I expect the affect would be substantial. (Should I perhaps read Professor Lewontin’s book?)
    Please don’t go to any trouble, I was merely hoping to exploit any penchant you have for educating the ignorant after a Pubmed search failed me.

  100. #101 ppnl
    May 3, 2010

    Greg,

    Sorry if I seem dense. I’m really trying here believe it or not.

    First I am talking about height because it is easy to measure with no ambiguity and fewer emotional entanglements. I do this to try to understand your statement that they are simply assuming a genetic cause for differences in height(intelligence). That seemed to me like a criticism of methodology. Yet you seemed to agree that the methodology was in principle valid. This confused me.

    Ok, variance. If I understand you here you are saying that unpredictable differences in what seems to be the same environment inject noise into the study that reduce the statistical significance of the result? If so I’m sorry for the confusion.

    I really don’t know how many studies on height have been done. I have always assumed a reasonably large number. If they all show the same or similar results that would suggest that variance isn’t that big of a problem. Again I have no access to actual published papers and I’m probably not up to making sense of them anyway. I can only repeat that as far as I can tell there is consensus that differences in height are 60% to 80% genetic.

    And on to intelligence differences between individuals.

    Without a doubt intelligence is harder to measure, poorly defined and can be influenced by a far larger range of environmental things. Yes any conclusion is far less certain and probably far fewer studies have been done. But again as far as I can tell there is general consensus that a genetic signal has been detected. It is a much weaker signal.

    Daedalus2u raises the issue of epigenetic effects. That is an important possibility. It could be a source of nonrandom noise. I’m not sure how you would detect or correct for it.

    But then I’m not sure anyone would feel better being merely epigenetically stupid rather than genetically stupid.

    On to intelligence and race.

    Showing genetic differences in intelligence between groups is far harder than finding it between individuals. To the best of my ability to determine it there is consensus that published studies fall far short of that goal. I have no problem with that. And as I have said I don’t even think it is a scientifically interesting question.

    And yes I do understand that the color of someones skin is part of their environment that may affect their performance on IQ tests. Untangling the genetic signal from the cultural and environmental noise is a difficult task that I doubt anyone will do any time soon if ever. If you think I am defending the studies that claim to have found a genetic signal you have misunderstood me at least as much as I have misunderstood you. As far as I know these are not even twin studies. I absolutely do not defend them.

    My only point here is technical. If there are differences between individuals that are genetic then there is no reason that there cannot be differences between groups. I would expect the differences to be much smaller than the differences between individuals. If it is that small it may not shake out the way some expect anyway.

    Stephanie:

    “Do you really want to try telling other people to get their shit together?”

    That comment was in response to Greg’s claim that two groups of scientists had stopped talking to each other. It was absolutely not intended as a dig at Greg. I do not mind when scientists disagree. I do not mind when scientists argue. I actually enjoy it when they get pissed and scream at each other. It bothers me greatly when they stop talking completely. I depend an that dialog to make sense of what they are doing.

    I have no idea how the twin studies were done or even if twins were used to measure intelligence, height or whatever. That’s why I encouraged Greg to do a blog post on the twin studies. In any case my posting on twin studies was only to establish an understanding of a hypothetical methodology. Determining how well a given study follows that methodology is a job for scientist. I just try to follow the process from afar.

  101. #102 ppnl
    May 3, 2010

    Bill James,

    “There is no such thing as different breeds of dog. They are all the same breed.”

    I think some discussion about what exactly people mean when they claim that “Race does not exist.”

    Imagine a featureless planet without geological boundaries and the same weather everywhere. Since people are free to move around and there is no differential selection you would only have one “race”.

    Now put in hot zones with lots of sun and cold zones with less and you have differential selection. You would then tend to get differences in people based on location. But the groups meld into each other as a continuum. It is useful to note the differences but race is still not well defined.

    Now put in impassible geographical boundaries. This creates discontinuities in the continuum of genetic variance. But people can still go around boundaries even if it takes longer. So while you have definite dissimilar groups they still cannot be divided up into race in a unique way. Race has some utility but is mostly an illusion.

    Now add mass migrations, war, slavery and people getting really pissed at each other. Now race has more to do with politics and history than biology. It becomes a social construct. Whatever limited scientific utility it ever had is gone.

    As I understand it humans are different from most species in that we have very little genetic variability. I think we nearly became extinct not very long ago. We are all very closely related.

  102. #103 daedaalus2u
    May 3, 2010

    Ppnl, you might want to look at how adult height has changed over the last 150 years. In quite a few places it has gone up by a lot, 10% in the Netherlands (from 165 to 181 cm).

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2712240/?tool=pubmed

    Is that change due to “genetic effects”? Presumably not because the gene pool doesn’t change that rapidly without massive selection pressure which has not been observed. If unknown non-genetic effects can achieve 10% changes, what basis is there for assuming that smaller changes within a population are due to genetic effects?

  103. #104 ppnl
    May 5, 2010

    Dadaalus2u,

    People are taller because the eat better. As far as I know nobody has ever argued that height is purely genetic. As I have said the consensus seems to be that the differences in height between individuals is 60% to 80% genetic. Before food was distributed more equitably it may have been only 40% genetic. Do away with the environmental variables that generate differences and that increases the importance of genetic differences.

  104. #105 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2010

    ppnl: Do you have a source for these genetic percentages for height? And, do you understand what you are saying?

    If height is 40% genetic, does that mean that if I am currently 2 meters tall, and if Ihad never eaten anything, that I’d now be 80 cm tall?

    Or are you referring to VARIATION in height? (Which would be what you should be referring to, but since you didn’t use the word, I’m guessing you don’t get the concept).

    If variation in stature is abut half genetic (which seems to be what you are saying) than you still need to show me the short people graveyards from the first half of the 20th century in all those European immigrant neighborhoods.

    (IOWYATOOYAA)

  105. #106 kinem
    May 5, 2010

    Greg Laden wrote:
    “It is environmental, yet there is a familial effect, and in fact there is probably a maternal effect. Yet it is not caused by alleles for height (tall vs short, etc.) being passed from parents to offspring.”

    What studies show that? I would like to see this! I think it is not unreasonable to cite here the well known aphorism “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Of course, extraordinary claims that are true exist and science will inevitably supply the evidence. This could be one of those cases. So?

    Dog height involves a strong genetic component, surely, which we know from selective breeding. The same is true for canid behavioral tendencies in terms of agressiveness towards humans.

    In many other species, too, selection pressures have been shown to act quickly on all sorts of characteristics. This requires a genetic influence on those characteristics. When the environment changes, evolution by natural selection can act quickly – hence the punctuated equilibrium that confuses creationists so.

    How then could it be remotely plausible that the same is not true in humans?

    Of course, luckily, there is no sustained selection pressure similar to dog breeding in humans, so human populations tend to be about the same, just as wild dogs are about the same anywhere in the world.

  106. #107 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2010

    Kinem, what mammal model of allelic change matches the observed human pattern? None. The demographic transition writ large is associated with a number of physical changes that do not show a genetic pattern at all, and there are no candidate genes.

    The only thing extraordinary here is your insistence that in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, the explanation for a claim MUST BE genetic. That,I’m afraid, is a matter of faith on your part. There are a lot of things that can change causes of average phenotypic traits in a population. There is no reason to assume that in the absence of knowledge one of those causes is the default. Well, there is a reason but not a good one. And the reason is rather pathetic.

  107. #108 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2010

    Oh, and this:

    The same is true for canid behavioral tendencies in terms of agressiveness towards humans.

    Other than a general trend that small breeds tend to bite more than big breeds (maybe) this is not demonstrated at all. There are several breeds that have been used as agressive breeds, but wherein individuals can be raised (and often are) to not be agressive. I would not want to rule out the idea, but you’d better get on the ball in defining what aggressive means, and in truly demonstrating a genetic vs. environmental component.

    Again, you seem to have a need for genetic explanations. Why? (Perhaps you have a gene that drives you to do this. What race are you? Maybe you’re from that race I heard of where everybody thinks everything is genetic.

  108. #109 kinem
    May 5, 2010

    The demographic transition writ large is associated with a number of physical changes that do not show a genetic pattern at all,

    Greg, that proves that environmental factors affect height. It does not provide evidence that genetics factors either do or do not.

    there are no candidate genes

    A google search soon turned the following article, which claims that one such gene was found in ’07:

    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/1558/gene-human-height-revealed

    The article seems quite plausible. It does note that “finding ‘height’ genes that are common across the population has been strangely elusive”, but also says that the researchers believe that “This is just the first of many that will be found”. These researchers seem to know what they are doing, and if so it would mean that there are no scientific reasons to believe that there can’t be more such genes.

    Other than a general trend that small breeds tend to bite more than big breeds (maybe) this is not demonstrated at all

    What I had in mind is the Russian silver fox study which was cited by Richard Dawkins in “The Greatest Show on Earth”. The results were quite dramatic:

    http://www.overpill.com/2009/12/21/soviet-scientist-turns-foxes-into-puppies/

    The only thing extraordinary here is your insistence that in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, the explanation for a claim MUST BE genetic.

    I never said anything at all like that. What I did say is that your claim that there is little or no genetic influence on height is implausible. I specifically noted that you could be correct – implausible does not mean impossible – and if so, that science would back you up.

    Specifically, I asked you to name a paper that shows it. You did not; instead, you resorted to attacking your straw man idea of my motivations. That response demolishes much of your credibility in my book, although I realize that this is the internet, which can turn anyone into a ranter.

    Again, you seem to have a need for genetic explanations.

    It must be because I’m a big Dawkins fan.

    Seriously, I have no such “need”. I just have the starting assumption – derived from common media stories and things like that – that genes can be important, and which as I indicated, I’m perfectly willing to modify if presented with actual evidence such as a convincing scientific paper that backs you up.

    Your assumption that anyone who doesn’t just take your word for something so counterintuitive has some kind of “need for genetic explanations” seems rather insane.

  109. #110 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2010

    It does not provide evidence that genetics factors either do or do not.

    Um… well, it could also be leprechauns. My point is that we have no reason to a priori assume a genetic cause, so proof that there is not one is unnecessary.

    Yes, it is indeed groupthink of some sort that is making you (and you are not alone) assume that if it’s a feature you see in a life form that it is a simple (or even complex) genetic relationship and nothing else.

    The truth is more interesting. For example, there are probably some mammals that vary in size because of slow, long term selective forces, others with a genomic “ability” to change quickly, and still others that seem to adapt physiologically without without genetic change.

    Many human populations seem to go up and down in stature without genetic change. Some human populations, of small stature, seem to have undergone a one way shift and have, plain and simple, genetic short stature. The latter do not grow taller when dietary conditions change (though they may grow fatter).

  110. #111 bpesta
    May 5, 2010

    Lol. I see the anthro-babble continues here.

    Hi all!

    What color is the sky in your world, Greg?

    You’re really claiming that height is not genetic? I don’t want to debate it, just gawk.

    Go scienceblogs!

  111. #112 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2010

    Brian Pesta, why would you think, after all your threats to sue me, Seed Magazine and Scienceblogs.com over our disagreements regarding race and IQ, and the nasty emails your wife and you wrote me, and so on and so forth, that you are welcome here?

    Since the previous paragraph might be a little too subtle for you, let me be very clear. You are not welcome here.

  112. #113 Brian
    May 5, 2010

    Other than a general trend that small breeds tend to bite more than big breeds (maybe) this is not demonstrated at all. There are several breeds that have been used as agressive breeds, but wherein individuals can be raised (and often are) to not be agressive.

    Greg, I love you to death, and generally agree with you, but here I think you might be out of your purview.

    Dog aggression, obviously, has a host of contributors, but to state that it is “not demonstrated at all” that there is a genetic component to dog aggression is just plain wrong.

  113. #114 Greg Laden
    May 6, 2010

    Brian, sorry, dog breeds and their meaning in relation to evolution is a long time interest of mine. I’m quite aware of the literature. But I’m not aware of any studies that demonstrate that the overall pattern of variation across known breeds in breed aggressiveness (attack dog breeds vs. not) is well correlated with underlying known genetic variation.

    As usual, the situation is more complex than these bloggy conversations often allow. There are some interesting examples that are alleged, and some demonstrated. The gene-aggressiveness connection in canids is real. Wolves and half-bred wolves are more aggressive than domestic dogs, for instance. There are some quirky but interesting examples. For instance, great danes are said to have been raised as “war dogs” and to be a very aggressive breed, and the modern great dane has had aggression “bred” out of them. Maybe. But I know of no study that controls for environment and tracks and measures aggression over the course of this breeding project.

    In contrast, I do know that certain breeds (shepherds, Doberman, etc) are used as attack dogs, or even “one man” attack dogs, and even bred for that role quite explicitly in some cases, and do well in that role if raised that way. But, if they are raised to be docile and not to be attack dogs, they have no more aggressive behavior than dogs in general, or if they do, it is hard to find it. The Doberman is a great example. Bred for years to be an attack dog, globally feared, even raised as one-man dogs that would have to be put down if their owner died. But if they are raised as nice dogs they grow up as nice dogs. I would estimate the genetic contribution to that variation is as close to zero as behavioral genetics can get.

    Yes, there is a great deal of folklore about this, and there are breeding experiments that show that breeding can affect this aspect of behavior, and there is the wolf/dog difference and the fox experiments. But that is not what was proposed. What was proposed is that we can explain purported dog breed differences in aggression by gene pool differences. That simply is not demonstrated convincingly or overwhelmingly. There *might* be a couple of examples (just enough for those who MUST believe in this model to go home convinced, not enough for someone who comes to the table as a skeptic to be convinced).

    I’m sure you know of the good examples and are prepared to produce the peer reviewed citations.

    It may be that I narrowed down the original assertion to refer to a dog breed model where different dog breeds have different genetic traits, but what was originally being stated was somewhat differnt.

    But one has to admit the breed-trait-race model is really what is at stake here, and it is the (misguided and incorrect) take home message that I’m trying to criticize here.

  114. #115 daedalus2u
    May 6, 2010

    Here is quite a large genome-wide scan of 9,371 individuals for loci associated with height and they come up with essentially nothing, nothing that accounts for more than a few percent of variation.

    http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v17/n2/full/ejhg2008152a.html

    They spend a lot of effort to explain why they might have come up with what they call a false negative. They don’t mention the obvious explanation, that the variation in height that they are seeing isn’t due to genetic differences at all and what they actually have is a true negative.

  115. #116 Stephanie Z
    May 6, 2010

    daedalus, a few percent is still greatly overstating the case. Even the authors’ no more than 1% language is too strong when applied to height. The one location that’s had a replicated result is claimed to affect height by 1 cm. Given a normal variation in height that approaches a meter, and between group differences that approximate half a meter, we’re talking about an invisible effect.

    The equivalent in claimed between-group differences for IQ would be a gene that explained a difference of a third of an IQ point. And with the brain, we’re still talking about a system that’s incredibly more plastic than anything that’s been identified as controlling height.

  116. #117 Greg Laden
    May 6, 2010

    Yeah, that is an interseting article. It reads like an old medieval document trying to support a certain argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a certain pin.

    It also shows something else interesting: Black/white differences are not anything close to overwhelming the data. Also, the sex differences which give the haritibilty values that will certainly be cited by someone to “prove” that we “know” that stature is inherited are abserd. Yes, the testes determining gene does indeed have a strong effect on developmental processes!!!!

  117. #118 kinem
    May 6, 2010

    Here is quite a large genome-wide scan of 9,371 individuals for loci associated with height and they come up with essentially nothing, nothing that accounts for more than a few percent of variation.

    Thanks for the link, daedalus2u. At least you are trying to provide actual information. However …

    They spend a lot of effort to explain why they might have come up with what they call a false negative.

    That is not true at all. They didn’t have to spend any effort on that because their main explanation is exactly what I expected: If there are numerous genes that affect height, which is exactly what geneticists thought all along, then it’s hard to single out any genes in particular. These kinds of studies only work well when there are common variants of a few genes that each have a large effect.

    So is there a simple experiment that could settle the question? Yes, but it would be obviously unethical and take a long time: Selective breeding. We know it works in dogs and other animals. I suspect the results of such an experiment in humans would be quite dramatic after about 10 generations. I suppose such an experiment could be done with chimpanzees (though I don’t think it would be ethical).

    So we are back to consideration of Bayesian priors. And given the evidence from animal breeding, it seems virtually certain that genes have a huge effect on human traits like height (and probably intelligence). Certainly the vast majority of geneticists seem to think so.

    So, Greg, given that the consensus of the scientific community is against you, the burden of proof is entirely on you. You made a very stong claim: that genes don’t have a significant effect on height. Your only attempt to back up that strong claim is to note that there is no real experimental evidence one way or the other.

    That won’t cut it: there is plenty of scientific motivation for the idea that genes do have a strong effect in humans, just as they do in animals, which we know from selective breeding. Why should humans be different? And unlike with leprechauns, there is no lack of plausible physical mechanisms for genetic effects.

    And, Greg, your own bias is rather obvious: You can’t stand the idea that genes are important because you’re afraid it will lead to racism. Now, combating racism is certainly a laudable goal and is one that I think we all share here.

    However, kicking science to the curb like you are (I suppose unknowingly) doing, in the belief that it will further your political ends, is not the way to go about it. You are no different from the global warming “skeptics”. You point out that there are other causes of variation (for GS skeptics it’s natural fluctuations, for you it’s environmental influences) and declare that because of that there is no proof that (global warming/genetic influence) is real. To any objective person, the claimed effect (greenhouse/genes) is utterly plausible and the burden of proof is obviously on the “skeptics”, but your motivated reasoning blinds you.

  118. #119 Greg Laden
    May 6, 2010

    kinem, I’m afraid you would look much less foolish if you had read the paper before you told us what was not in it.

    The burden of proof on anyone claiming that there is a genetic cause for something is on them, and the proof is the gene.

    You made a very stong claim: that genes don’t have a significant effect on height.

    That is not what I said. At a very basic level, you fail to understand what we are talking about here.

    I’m not pointing out that there are “other” causes of variation, in the AGWD mode (and I find that assertion of your sufficiently offensive to write you off, BTW). I am, rather, pointing out that there are DEMONSTRATED causes of variation in IQ and human stature that EXPLAIN MOST IF NOT ALL OF THE VARIANCE IN MOST IF NOT ALL CASES.

    This is not hard if you don’t come to the table with a predetermined conclusion.

    Even if you do, actually, or at least I would think. But apparently not.

  119. #120 kinem
    May 7, 2010

    Of course I read it, Greg. Yes, they spend some paragraphs on explaining it, but the basic reason is the one I cited and expected: “The existence of major genes is critical for successful genetic mapping at least in out bred populations. We believe that our results do support Fisher’s infinitesimal model, where in the human population the genetic background of stature and BMI is controlled by a large number of genes each having a minute effect on the phenotype.”

    The fact that environmental factors affect height, while it certainly complicates things, also suggests that height is not that hard to affect. Genes affect the internal environment (hormones and other chemicals). Therefore it’s hard to believe that genes don’t have much effect.

    Surely no one can doubt that skin color is strongly affected by genetics. However, genes for skin color have also been rather elusive. There are only a few known and these don’t explain much of the variation. Why is that important? Because it proves the ineffectiveness of genetic studies when it comes to traits that are determined by many genes.

    If the genes for skin color HAD been found, Greg, that would have supported your view that the fact that genes for traits such as height have largely not been found actually means something. It would be an important difference between skin color and height. It might have been enough to convince me that you are right. It is just not the case.

    You also have not addressed the selective breeding of animals analogy to the human case, which strongly suggests it would work in humans.

    there are DEMONSTRATED causes of variation in IQ and human stature that EXPLAIN MOST IF NOT ALL OF THE VARIANCE IN MOST IF NOT ALL CASES.

    Where is the evidence for that? We know that environment can affect height, but what you claim here is that the causes of “most” height (and IQ) differences have been identified. So what exactly are the causes, and where is the paper with the evidence? If you can’t supply it, you are full of nothing but hot air.

  120. #121 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2010

    Actually, the genes for skin color are not especially elusive. There are genes for skin color that can be isolated, turn on or off, etc. We know the physiology of pigment.

    I have addressed the selective breeding of animals in a number of places.

    Are you aware of the secular change in height in european and north amnerican populatinos from the 19th trough the mid 20th century? Are you honestly telling me that that phenomenon is a matter of changes in allele frequency over several decades? Seriously? How does that work exactly?

  121. #122 Irene
    May 7, 2010

    kinem,

    I think you are very much missing Dr. Laden’s point. He is not saying that there are no genes involved in stature in humans. He is saying that in the comparison of different populations of humans where there is a stature difference, it is often not the case that the difference is caused by different genes.

    This is important because the assumption that traits such has stature are caused by differences in genes in different populations is one of those “look, see!” examples used by those pushing the race/IQ. But pointing to stature differences between populations for support of a that link is very weak if group stature is not caused by genetic variation.

    Of course genes are involved in stature. This not being disputed.

  122. #123 Lesacre
    May 8, 2010

    “Stephanie: In truth, some of what you are being accused of thinking/saying is a little unfair, but most of what you say about race demonstrates astonishing ignorance on your part.”

    The question is, what are you doing on a science blog? — Especially with that silly reference to Lewontin. Here, I outlined the position. I will be happy to debate the coherence of it.

    http://lesacred.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/hereditarian-hypothesis-for-idiots/

  123. #124 ppnl
    May 10, 2010

    Greg,

    I have said repeatedly that it is the DIFFERENCES in height between individuals that are argued to be genetic. I am six inches taller than my brother. If we were random individuals genetics would be about four inches of that. Because we grew up in similar environments you could argue that even more of that was genetic. I was born premature and sick to the point that one relative refused to hold me for fear of getting attached. Then as a toddler I contracted a rare parasite that took many months to diagnose. My brother has never been sick beyond common colds and went with his high school football team to state playoffs. Yet I am six inches taller.

    Now it could be a subtle nonlinear effect of some tiny environmental difference. It could be some effect from being first born. But what is the simplest explanation?

    But I wonder, what about the so called gay gene? I have no idea how well accepted this idea is. I ask because it is a case where the political spectrum of those who accept the “genetic determinism” argument is often inverted.

  124. #125 Greg Laden
    May 10, 2010

    ppnl, you realize that what you are saying here makes very little sense unless you and your brother are not related.

    Thankfully, we no longer base major areas of understanding and practice in science and engineering on the personal experience and proclivities of one or two individuals.

    (Unless, of course, we’re talking about major proprietary IT enterprises.)

  125. #126 daedalus2u
    May 10, 2010

    ppnl, we appreciate that you want a simple answer. The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. Nothing about physiology is simple. It is a complex system of thousands of coupled non-linear parameters. The system is fundamentally chaotic. It exhibits the “butterfly effect” where differential changes can be amplified to become macroscopic.

    This is how identical twins can be discordant for gross disorders like anencephaly. There is a lot of epigenetic programming in utero that has life-long effects.

  126. #127 bethK
    May 10, 2010

    I think I might still be misunderstanding here (regarding height). Are we talking about
    a rejection of the idea that there might be additive variation caused by small effects from a large number of alleles (in addition to variation caused by environmental, dominance and epistatic effects)

    or are we saying that until there is direct evidence of exactly what these alleles are (preferably with understanding of how they function biochemically) that we should retain a null hypothesis that variation in human height is entirely environmental in origin, given we KNOW environmental factors can effect human height and we only SPECULATE (with heritability estimates etc.) that there might be additive variation.
    (Presumably then heritability estimates as defined by the proportion of additive variation to total phenotypic variation are not enough evidence, either because they are not in of themselves sufficient to override the null hypothesis or they are unable to truly differentiate additive variation from variation arising from the environment – if the latter, is this unique to humans due to family/population structure?).

    My thesis in progress involves heritability estimates (in dogs) and so the underlying argument is not trivial to me (even though I don’t care about the inheritance of human height itself. I only started looking into it because I was annoyed with my daughter’s paediatrician). I would therefore really appreciate it if some kind soul could hit me over the head with a clue stick.

    Also, where on earth is the money coming from to do studies like the one linked above? I am having a total failure of imagination about the utility of research into human height in the first place.

  127. #128 Greg Laden
    May 10, 2010

    Beth: Generations after generation of populations in various well documented historical contexts have changed their stature (often increasing in recent centuries/decades, but not always) a large amount under conditions that we KNOW are not changes in allele frequencies in the populations in question (or at least, the vast majority of that change is not).

    What I find amazing, simply astonishing, is that a phenomenon like that can be observed by everyone, very easily, and the demand for a genetic explanation is so strong still.

    It’s like truly, deeply, almost religiously believing that a particular person is going to die of a heart attack. then you see them waking across the street and get flattened, kiled, mushed, by a truck. Then we start looking for an explanation of how a heart attack could have caused the truck to run the person over.

    Having said that, I don’t know that this has anytying at all to do with dogs.

    There are many species of mammals where we see over secular time a tracking of environment with body size, and many where we see a tracking across space (of habitats) as well (famous examples = African elephants and African buffalo, etc.)

    Given that humans clearly, undoubtedly, shift stature over generational time … and I have no doubt that this is a biological phenomenon … without shifting allele frequencies (most of the time, in most cases, though there are “candy bar” exceptions) then perhaps it is possible that some of these other mammals also track the environment and change body size intergenerationally. Perhaps several species do this. Perhaps it is rare. Perhaps its a primate thing. Whatever.

    There is no reason to force a genetic explanation on one species becasue one sees it in another. Lots of phenomena on the surface seem very similar but have different causes. It’s called equifinality.

    I’d be interested to hear more about your dog study.

  128. #129 bethK
    May 10, 2010

    Thank you for the response Greg. I fear I have been unclear and apologise for that. I agree that historical trends in height are certainly environmental in origin and that the cause of any differences in average height between geographical locations are also environmental in origin.

    Also, my study in dogs is not on the heritability of height but on the heritability on a continuously varying disease trait, which is widely felt to have a polygenic causative component (in addition to environmental causative components). I took your (and other posters) comments to mean that the concept of polygenic inheritance and heritability estimates of ANYTHING in ANY species might be bunk (that you might be challenging the validity of the polygenic model and heritability estimates themselves rather than their application for this particular trait in this particular species – which, if true, would torpedo my thesis a bit, so I wanted to clarify the exact nature of the objection).

    You are quite right that the presence of additive variation in one species would not imply it in another (indeed, in dogs I argue that the presence in one BREED does not imply it in another). I apologise for being unclear and for misconstruing (I think!) your argument.

  129. #130 Greg Laden
    May 10, 2010

    Sounds like you have an interesting project.

  130. #131 daedalus2u
    May 10, 2010

    All I want is for people to keep an open mind and be able to say they don’t know what is causing things. There is such a fetish for genes these days that you can’t propose any research that doesn’t involve genes, even when we know there isn’t a genetic component.

    Height is a good example. There are effects on height that are not due to genetics and are not due to food consumption. But forget about trying to get funding to study them. The secular change in the past 150 years is a good example. People always say “diet”, but people were not starving 50 years ago.

    There is a related effect on the size of farm animals that is known to not be genetic and is also not due to food availability. When farm animals are given antibiotics, they grow faster, mature sooner, and end up bigger while eating less feed. It can’t be genetic because it happens to cows, pigs and chickens. All of those animals are fed “ad lib”, that is they can eat as much as they want. Why does feeding antibiotics make them grow faster? Good question, that no one knows the answer to.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC153145/?tool=pubmed

    I think it relates to nitric oxide, and that antibiotics are doing to farm animals what anionic alkyl sulfonate detergents, conditioning shampoo, and anti-microbial everything is doing to humans, making them grow faster, mature sooner, end up bigger while eating less feed.

  131. #132 kinem
    May 11, 2010

    Greg wrote “Actually, the genes for skin color are not especially elusive.”

    My google-fu disagrees:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC212702/

    Let me be clear: prior to this discussion, I did not know that genes for skin color were hard to find. I looked it up once I realized that it would be a good benchmark for the utility of genetic studies for height. I was open to results that either supported one view or the other.

    The result I found was as I stated. There are a few known genes but they account for only a small part of the variation in skin color.

    Now, it may be that some progress has been made on it since ’03 but even if so the fact that it was so hard to make that progress shows that genetic studies have a really hard time with finding genes for traits that are determined by numerous genes.

    “I have addressed the selective breeding of animals in a number of places.”

    Only to give your opinion – with nothing to render it remotely palusible – that humans and animals might be different in this regard. Also, you argued that certain dog traits might not be as genetically determined as people think. Height was not one of them.

    “Are you aware of the secular change in height in european and north amnerican populatinos from the 19th trough the mid 20th century?”

    Of course. Accordingly, I have stated a number of times that the environment does have an effect. I never disputed that. The question is whether genes also have a significant effect.

    daedalus2u wrote: “All I want is for people to keep an open mind and be able to say they don’t know what is causing things.”

    That certainly puts you in direct opposition to Greg’s strong claims. I would say, though, that there is enough evidence to go further.

    Let me summarize:

    There are 3 basic hypotheses about height (and IQ, etc., but let’s stick with height):

    G: It is mostly determined by genetics.
    E: It is mostly determined by the environment.
    B: Both are important (I’ll assume the effects are similar).

    There are 4 lines of evidence (and a bonus factoid) that potentially bear on the question:

    1) Genetic studies, which have found little.

    Result: Inconclusive. Genetic studies don’t work well at all for multi-gene traits.

    Conclusion: none

    2) The secular increase in height from 19th-20th century.

    Result: Rules out G. G is a straw man.

    What about E vs B? It really doesn’t tell us anything.

    Yes, environmental influence can be strong. And yes, variation in the environment would be enough to create differences between people in the same town.

    But remember, the deviation due to independent variables adds in quadrature. That means that if the environmental variation creates a standard deviation of 5 inches, and if the effect of genetics is equally strong, then the net standard deviation becomes 7 inches. In practice, we couldn’t tell the difference.

    Conclusion: E or B

    3) Height tends to be similar in related individuals.

    This would seem to favor genetics, but it has been argued that environment would also tend to be similar for related individuals. I think the trend is far too strong for that excuse to work, but I don’t have proof at hand.

    Conclusion: Disfavors E, but not conclusive

    4) Animal models; selective breeding has a powerful effect on height in various animals.

    It’s true that not all species are the same, and humans could concievably be different from most animals in this regard, but that seems rather unlikely.

    Conclusion: Strongly disfavors E (and strongly disfavors G, if we consider the details)

    bonus) Hormones and other chemicals affect growth. Genes can certainly the relevant chemicals, as can environmental chemicals.

    Conclusion: This is a hand-waving argument, but for whatever it’s worth, it favors B.

    Net conclusion: B is the most likely hypothesis.

  132. #133 Stephanie Z
    May 11, 2010

    kinem, you do understand just how clearly your argument above boils down to “I think” and “seems,” yes? That’s all you have holding up those critical decision points.

  133. #134 Greg Laden
    May 11, 2010

    kinem, skin color in humans varies as a result of three proteins varying in how close to the surface they are, and how much they are. One “color” is made by exactly two or three (can’t remember, but it is known) genes, but the cause of variation in depth is probably unknown. Another is caused by a lot of genes, but for some of those genes we know exactly what they are. For the third color, I’ve not studied it, so I don’t know.

    Skin color is complex, there are unknowns, we’d like to know more, but that allelic variation causes a measurable part of the variation (the “underarm” color, we biological anthropologists call it), what the proteins involved are, and what many of the genes involved are … and, most importantly, the basic biological story … genes to proteins to phenotypes … is understood and modeled.

    For something like intelligence, we lack the genes, we lack the proteins ,we lack the developmental mechanism, we lack a measure or even a vague sense of what the different sources of variatoin might be. All we really know is that a huge

    HUGE!!!!!!!

    amount of variation is caused by environment, and the search for genetic causes has been all about familial studies and phenotypes, not about proteins (gene products) and genes.

    In less than 30 seconds I located a dozen papers on genetics of skin color in humans published since 2003, so yeah.

    Regarding dogs, you are now using the argument that since I did not spoon feed you data or a reference I must be wrong.

    Have you ever seen a dog? Do you know what a mutt is? Ha!

    Anyway, the not-as-genetic-as-people-think trait I mentioned in dogs is aggressive behavior. You realy won’t have to work very hard to verify what I said on that.

    Of course. Accordingly, I have stated a number of times that the environment does have an effect. I never disputed that. The question is whether genes also have a significant effect.

    You are not doing your homework. The secular trend has caused a HUGE variation in height. No genes. Just environment.

    But there is a gene for stature .. a gene with two alleles, one for short and one for not short, in humans. I would think that if you were serious about what you are arguing here you’d have google-fu’ed that by now.

    I’m not going to address (or even read) this strange sophistic rant on D2Y vs. me.

  134. #135 daedalus2u
    May 11, 2010

    No kinem, the paper you linked to was 7 years old. There has been a lot of work on human genetics since then. A lot is known about the genes for skin color. A paper that is only a year old shows a lot of genes and gene frequencies in different populations.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19297406

    There is nothing approaching this in genes for height or “intelligence” or even what are called “complex genetic diseases”. Even though much more effort has been put toward them than has been put toward skin color. Skin color is trivial compared to height, and height is trivial compared to “intelligence”.

    Gene skin color: 635 PubMed
    Gene height: 2786
    Gene intelligence: 2633
    Complex genetic diseases: 24889

    I think that Greg and I are on exactly the same page, but that is only going on what I have read on his blog. We have never talked or met in meat space (as far as I know), so my knowledge of his positions on things is quite incomplete and I haven’t gone back in his archives to figure it out better. His language is pretty clear. He is not saying that genes play no role, just that no one has shown that genes play as big a role as they claim, and that the data so far seems to indicate (very strongly) that genes play less of a role than people seem to think and claim. I agree with this, not because Greg has said it, but because my independent reading of the literature leads me to the same conclusions.

    Why out of the infinite universe of potential hypotheses did you pick those 3? Probably because most everyone these days has a gene fetish. There is lots of neat new gene-crunching equipment, so everyone wants to be “first” at pushing cells through DNA crunching machines so they can be “first” at discovering “the gene” for “everything” so they get a ticket to Stockholm, 11!!!!!

    Why out of the very large number of different ways that “genes” and “environment” could interact you chose this model?

    “But remember, the deviation due to independent variables adds in quadrature. That means that if the environmental variation creates a standard deviation of 5 inches, and if the effect of genetics is equally strong, then the net standard deviation becomes 7 inches. In practice, we couldn’t tell the difference.”

    You are assuming a linear combination. Why are you assuming a linear combination? Only because non-linear combinations are too hard (said with slight nasal whine). Is there any evidence that gene-environment interactions are linear (what ever that actually means)? No, there isn’t for the handful of known gene-environment interactions (PKU for example). How about for the zillions upon zillions of unknown gene-environment interactions? There is not a clue that they are linear. How about for gene1-gene2-gene3-gene4-environment1-environment2-gene5-environment3-gene6 interactions? I don’t know what those 6 genes or 3 environmental factors are, but I am pretty sure (99.999% sure) their interaction is not linear. It pretty much can’t be linear because of the way that DNA is processed. DNA codes for RNA, which is used to make proteins. A discrete number (i.e. an integer) of protein molecules is made each time a gene is transcribed (more or less).

    One of the genes I have spent a lot of time thinking about is the MeCP2 gene (because it relates to autism). This codes for the MeCP2 protein and is on the X chromosome. The loss of this gene causes Rett Syndrome in females and fetal death in males. The presence of the extra X chromosome in females rescues the female phenotype even though half the X chromosomes are silenced. RS female usually appear normal until about 18 months when they regress into the RS phenotype. The MeCP2 protein binds to methylated DNA, that is DNA that has been epigenetically programmed by being methylated. There are probably at least thousands of genes and many other spots of DNA that are methylated and so are differentially regulated by the MeCP2 protein, in different cells and in different tissue compartments.

    What would be the result of a linear interaction of the MeCP2 deletion with the environment? I have a hard time imagining what a linear model of the interaction of MeCP2 with the environment would even look like. Maybe like a one-dimensional map of the Earth’s surface? Good luck using a one-dimensional map to figure out where you are in four-space.

    This is what using a unitary measure for height and IQ is like, a one-dimensional mapping of something much more complicated. Height is the linear sum of the lengths of the leg bones, the pelvis, each spinal vertebra, the skull, the scalp, the foot. The knee fits in there too. Is there a foot-bone-length gene? A skull thickness gene? A leg-bone-length gene?

    There are some things that cannot be understood in a simplified form. Many multi-dimensional systems are like that. If you don’t understand a two-dimensional painting, simplifying it to one-dimension isn’t going to make it easier to understand. Many (all?) multi-dimensional non-linear systems are like that.

    If you don’t understand something, don’t make something up and pretend that you do.

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