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Scientists Tie 52 Genes to Human Intelligence (nytimes.com)
372 points by ilamont on May 23, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 352 comments

For the curious, this is known as a Genome-wide association study. There's been something of an explosion of these studies done, as cheap genotyping has given us datasets big enough to detect small effects. Wikipedia has an (excruciatingly technical) (edit: not really) overview here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome-wide_association_study

Wikipedia has a fun list of effect sizes here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome-wide_complex_trait_anal...

Unsurprisingly, height is 0.40-0.60 heritable, but did you know that "nostril area" is 0.657 heritable, while cilantro tasting is only 0.087?

The NYT article seems to imply this is the first study of its kind to be done, which is absolutely not the case. The GCTA article linked above cites 18 GWASes on general intelligence, starting in 2011. The abstract on the Nature article focuses on the 15 new SNPs found that affect intelligence, in addition to the 336 already known. It's an incremental advance, not a stunning breakthrough.

HN user gwern has covered this field extensively. Shouldn't be surprised to see him show up in this thread and gently correct some of the confused thinking in the light gray comments.

I would highly recommend reading 'A brief history of everyone who ever lived' by Adam Rutherford. IIRC it contains a whole chapter on GWASs (pronounced jee-wazzes).

There are some phenotypes (characteristics) which clearly can be associated with a small number of genes (e.g. autosomal recessive disorders) , however for many phenotypes such as intelligence, it takes a lot more effort to correlate them with underlying genotypes. The fact that intelligence is approximately normally distributed is an indicator that there are many individual effects at play.

ganonm said "The fact that intelligence is approximately normally distributed is an indicator that there are many individual effects at play."

Intelligence test scores are normally distributed by construction: the weighting of questions is adjusted to ensure normality on a sample population. That test scores are normally distributed in samples other than the normative one tells us nothing other than that the test designers succeeded.

Contrast this with height, the measure of which is not defined in terms of a population distribution.

Could you help explain how to interpret the list of effect sizes? I'm having trouble understanding what the numbers mean. For example, black hair is 0.00 heritable. Does that mean one cannot inherit black hair? (Is this black in the sense of asiatic hair?)

> However, if the GCTA estimate was ~0%, then that would imply one of three things: a) there is no genetic contribution, b) the genetic contribution is entirely in the form of genetic variants not included, or c) the genetic contribution is entirely in the form of non-additive effects such as epistasis/dominance

This isn't GxE heritability (i.e. genetics vs. environment), but rather a metric for how SNPs influence additive traits. It's best considered a lower bound to what we would normally consider heritability.

In this case, it's not an additive, multi-factorial trait; it's epistatic. There's a 'black hair' gene that overrides whatever else is happening in your genome. This is often the case with color traits: a dark color overrides anything lighter. It's the classic example of dominance.

> The abstract on the Nature article focuses on the 15 new SNPs found that affect intelligence, in addition to the 336 already known

It's a little ambiguous, but that's not how I read the abstract. The relevant sentence:

> We identify 336 associated SNPs in 18 genomic loci, of which 15 are new.

That seems to be saying that 15 of the 18 genomic loci are new, not that 15 of the 336 SNPs are new. Given that they "identified" 336 SNPs, presumably they all are new?

I would prefer to read the actual text of the paper, rather than play abstract exegesis. Does anybody have a link to a pdf?

I thought I'd register to add a few interesting points to this thread.

'Classical' GWAS are a top-down approach, where we try to find strong associations betweens a genetic locus and a trait (in this case intelligence), and they rely on very stringent p-value corrections due to the number of tests performed. This is why although height is >0.6 heritable (meaning genetics explain more than 60% of the trait variance in a given population), only 20% of the variance can be attributed to GWAS finds [1], such as the 52 genes in this article. Bear in mind that the height results were obtained with the largest GWAS ever with more than 250,000 samples and 300 institutes [2].

So where is the missing heritability? This is the starting point of a bottom-up approach, where we try to predict a trait from the genotype. With some clever but simple calculation, we know that most heritability can be found in the data (even if it does not pass the stringent significant thresholds). This is what is called 'chip heritability', the heritability explained by all the common genetic variants present on commercial chips taken together. With height, the chip heritability reaches 62.5% [1]. The bottom-up approach is especially looked at for psychiatric disorders, and already delivered some interesting results such as 0.8 genetic correlation between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder [3]. But useful clinical diagnostics based on genetic data are still a long way off.

This should please the HN crowd to know that we still have one tough prediction problem to crack. Current results can be improved either with more sophisticated machine learning methods or by integrating various biological annotations to try to unearth the missing heritability that GWAS can't seem to find with the current sample sizes. Here are a few more links for those interested [4] [5].

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25282103?dopt=Citation [2] https://www.broadinstitute.org/news/giant-study-reveals-gian... [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4797329/ [4] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/gepi.21966/full [5] https://academic.oup.com/bioinformatics/article/29/2/206/202...

>"This is why although height is >0.6 heritable (meaning genetics explain more than 60% of the trait variance in a given population), only 20% of the variance can be attributed to GWAS finds"

I don't see how you can assign numbers like this. As a simple example, say the amount of protein absorbed while growing up affects adult height. Then you can have a certain protein catabolyzing gene that is highly correlated with height when protein in the diet is low, but has little relationship when dietary protein is high (since the person gets enough absorbed protein either way).

So the variance explained (either by a given genetic locus or in total) is not going to be any kind of constant value, and can in fact vary wildly.

He is probably measuring something called "narrow-sense heritability", which just includes just additive genetic effects (Gene A + Gene B = Sum(A, B)) and excludes other things such as gene interaction. Most of the statistical techniques used to estimate the narrow-sense heritability assume environmental and other, non-additive, genetic effects follow a Gaussian. Your example clearly exposes a situation where these studies may not be powerful.

The inability to explain heritability as more than a "sum of the parts" is a problem which I'm not familiar with a solution for at the genome scale.

Do you know of an example of someone doing one of these heritability calculations, saving the model, then plugging in data from a new dataset into the same model? (ie the new data did not exist at the time the model was created)

FWIW, I only read the first couple of sections of your first Wikipedia link (the overview). I didn't find it excruciatingly technical, and have no training in biology other than high school. Anyone who knows words like allele and phenotype from high school can feel free to click. It's interesting.

Ah, somebody's tamed the article considerably since I last read it, a couple years ago. The article for linkage disequilibrium has some of the math I remember being in the GWAS article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linkage_disequilibrium

The genetic variants that raise intelligence also tend to pop up more frequently in people who have never smoked. Some of them also are found more often in people who take up smoking but quit successfully.

The more we look, the more we're likely to find confounding genes like this. Sure, it might be that those genes directly raise intelligence... but it might also be that those genes make the parents less likely to smoke, and the measured difference in intellect is entirely due to exposure to parental smoking.

If there's a gene for "less likely to drop babies on their heads", it will probably show up as being correlated with higher intellect -- even if it has no direct effect on intellect and instead acts solely though yielding improved parenting.

I feel like this is a distinction without a difference. We don't care about the anatomical structure of the brain, we care about measured intelligence, which correlates well with performance on a bunch of important things. You can hypothesize a gene that doubles your IQ, but also deletes your spinal cord, making it impossible to interact with the outside world/take IQ tests. Sure, your IQ is higher, but is it more useful?

If your goal is to select for greater intelligence, then genes which prevent the carrier from smoking and dropping their offspring will increase intelligence, which is the point!

The counter-point being that you'll have people getting vanity tests, and harping on about their smart genes, even though none of them are the sort of gene that confers actual palpable intelligence.

Some of these are not smart genes, if they still result in dimwitted people you'd hate to be trapped in a room with. They may be good genes that promote healthy survival, and statistically stongly correlated with smart people, but if they aren't the crucial genes that result in the sort of person that quickly grasps complex concepts, has nice handwriting and can keep up with high learning curves, then they are helpful health and survival genes, not intelligence genes.

I don't think selection by Mendelian breeding is very relevant here. Direct autosomal genetic engineering is. Your designer baby is not going to get an intelligence boost if the gene you modify actually has an indirect confounding effect via a parent's phenotype.

If we were to embrace genetic engineering as a society, such changes would still be beneficial, it would just take another generation for the effects to become visible.

True, however I think if you're making designer babies you might want to invest in designer parents as well :)

An IQ is never a measure of absolute intelligence. Instead it is a measure of relative intelligence.

Specifically, there is no such thing as an IQ of 100. Instead, there is a mean score on a test within a population. That score might be 80, or it might be 597, or it might 8. By definition, if your score on the test is identical to the mean, then you have an IQ of 100 relative to that population.

If a second population takes the same test, and the mean in that population is different, the score which represents and IQ of 100 is different than the score which represents an IQ of 100 for the first population.

So, it is possible for two people to get the same score on an identical test, and be assigned different IQs.

Because of this, IQ values do not constitute a metric space, and anyone who tries to use it as such, like these studies do, is building their conclusions upon false premises.

If a gene decreases intelligence indirectly via nearsighted, it would be good to know that so you can get people glasses. (Or, actually, you don't really need to know about the genes in that case.)

Timing. Unique "Better baby raising" genes would make better baby's, however, those genes would help you less if you didn't make babies. Thus, Not all things that make smarter kids, make you smarter.

If this study has captured anything beyond systematically correlated measurement errors (a problem which plagues high-throughput sequencing assays), it is almost certainly ancillary population substructure which correlates with socio-economic status.

Alex, why do you say these hurtful things? You know perfectly well that they use principal components to successfully control away population structure, that the genetic correlations between cohorts are high, the hits replicate across populations, the enrichment sets and tissue expression are predominantly in the nervous system as expected, the polygenic scores are predictive of success even looking at just kids in poor families, and the within-family polygenic scores perform fine. No, it's not some measurement error on the several different SNP chips they used in the ~12 different cohorts or the entirely separate GWASes whose results they replicated, and it's definitely not 'residual population structure'. It was silly 4 years ago to write off GWAS results with that sort of logic, and it has only gotten sillier.

>use principal components to successfully control away population structure

PCA doesn't perfectly control away population structure, especially if you have cryptic tiny subpopulations in your dataset that only few individuals are in. In that case you don't have enough signal to establish the subpopulations. It's also a function of the way you call your SNPs - if you don't have enough SNPs, or focus on a different method, PCA won't magically know about those unobserved populations.

The most famous recent study used Iceland [0], which is about as homogeneous as you can imagine.

[0] http://www.pnas.org/content/114/5/E727.full

They may not perfectly control, but they do the job well enough that the error from that is minimal and of less importance than other issues like limited SNP panel coverage, sample error, or measurement error (a _huge_ limit on current GWASes and very underappreciated, given how few papers attempt to correct for it or even mention what sort of psychometric properties the available data has). It is certainly not true, as Alex claims, that the results are nothing but systematic measurement error or population structure.

I'm pretty sure he was being sarcastic.

Wow, I actually have no idea if gwern was being sarcastic or not. I didn't consider it until I read your comment. There's a few clues in there that do suggest sarcasm, but I really can't tell, because I know nothing about the field.

I don't think they were being sarcastic though, because the rest of their replies are pretty serious.

He says some things with perfect confidence which are unknowable or false, but you do need a background in the field to see that. Also, he starts out with what seems to be an outrageous appeal to emotion, but I suppose "hurtful" could mean "harmful" rather than "mean."

Man, that burn was orbital.

Comments like these are why I come to HN

>they use principal components to successfully control away population structure

This sounds really interesting, how does that work exactly?

Nothing that special. You take the SNPs, extract the first 7 or whatever principal components, and include them in the regression. To the extent that there's some population structure and subgroups are smarter/richer, it'll get controlled away. No guarantee that it'll work, but it apparently does (probably because most of the structure is in the first few components and including PCs beyond that is harmless).

How much of IQ do you think is correlated to genetics?

Somewhere around 70-80% of variance. People citing 50% as being conservative and generally ignoring measurement error and the heritability increasing with age. The latest GCTA methods, expanding the genetics considered but still far short of all genetic effects, turn in a lower bound of ~50% ("Genomic analysis of family data reveals additional genetic effects on intelligence and personality" http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/02/06/106203 , Hill et al 2017; "Comparison of methods that use whole genome data to estimate the heritability and genetic architecture of complex traits" http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/03/10/115527 , Evans et al 2017), so the true figure is definitely going to be much higher.

According to the NIH:

Researchers have conducted many studies to look for genes that influence intelligence. Many of these studies have focused on similarities and differences in IQ within families, particularly looking at adopted children and twins. These studies suggest that genetic factors underlie about 50 percent of the difference in intelligence among individuals.


So, going with the NIH, I'd say about half.

Well, if you compare any human child with a snail you'll find that the human does almost infinity better at answering questions on IQ tests so we could say it's all genetic. Or we could take a sample of humans and feed the control group but not the other group over a course of a few weeks and see that environment plays a huge role. But over the range of upbringings we see in the US and genotypes we see in the US it's more genetic than not. But that doesn't mean that that's true across the globe. If some dirt farmer from a place with no iodine in the salt, no folate in the bread, and no access to modern public health, medicine, or schooling comes to the US their kids will tend to have an IQ something like 20 points higher.

It's a politically-charged question, so people tend to be very careful to ensure that whatever they say is correct. It's probably difficult to give a convincing argument in the space of an average HN comment.

Is linking genetics to intelligence politically-charged, or just linking race to intelligence?

Why not take a guess and see what happens?

According to this study[0] - and if experts are to be believed - it's not zero (in the case of B-W differences).

"Around 90% of experts believed that genes had at least some influence on cross-national differences in cognitive ability."


Given that the definition of IQ is built upon constantly shifting sands, it's really hard to say.

> ...even looking at just kids in poor families...

At these sample sizes, that is an interesting idea. Has anyone checked?


With what results? No predictive value, in poor families?

(also, do include some marker of sarcasm in your comments, it can get confusing)

No, of course they have predictive value. If they didn't, that would not support my point that the GWAS results are valid. The specific study I had in mind was "The Genetics of Success: How Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms Associated With Educational Attainment Relate to Life-Course Development" https://www.gwern.net/docs/genetics/2016-belsky.pdf , Belsky et al 2016.

I apologize for misinterpreting your response as sarcastic.

Why do you believe that PCA successfully captures all the relevant population structure? Probablistically, it's a Gaussian linear model... no reason to expect allele frequencies to follow that. If that were the case, methods like coalescent theory would be unnecessary.

Why do you believe that high genetic correlations between cohorts is sufficient to ensure safe inference from GWAS meta analysis? These are tiny effect sizes, and the argument is essentially that the correlations with intelligence measurements are statistically significant. Unless you believe that your null model is an otherwise entirely accurate reflection of how the data is generated, of course you're going to see spuriously significant results in huge samples.

I'll respond to your other points when/if I catch up on the literature. I'd be grateful if you could link the papers about the enrichment sets and tissue expression results.

It turns out people with schizophrenia are more likely to smoke because they feel that it helps their symptoms.

woah looks like someone got the gene for "writing this specific internet post"

"But all of these genes together account for just a small percentage of the variation in intelligence test scores, the researchers found; each variant raises or lowers I.Q. by only a small fraction of a point.

'It means there’s a long way to go, and there are going to be a lot of other genes that are going to be important,' Dr. Posthuma said."

Indeed. This result is fully predictable from the several previous GWAS studies on IQ that have been done. Any gene that influences IQ in the general population has at most a small effect, and the variance among human individuals in IQ is the result of interaction of hundreds of genes and the environment the individual lives in.

Here's a link to a lot of good writings by one of the leading researchers on human behavior genetics, for more details. I especially like one particular article I'll link just below the link to his collected writings.


Turkheimer, E. (2000). Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 160-164.


More of Turkheimer's writing here, recently, in Vox:


I assume the authors (all three of them professors of some renown) did not write this headline, because the piece is far better, more careful, and more comprehensive than the title would suggest (I'm no fan of Murray but this is not a typical Vox hot-take).

As a response to the podcast the Vox piece is slipshod. One reads the article wondering if they even bothered to listen to the podcast.

Here's a good takedown of the Vox article: https://medium.com/@houstoneuler/the-cherry-picked-science-i...

> As a response to the podcast the Vox piece is slipshod

Vox is one of my least favorite outlets; not because they're more inaccurate or dishonest than others, but because they intentionally (and somewhat successfully) foster a reputation of facts-first journalism and then use that as a fig leaf for a lot of the same low-quality crap you see everywhere else too.

We can debate as to whether the Vox article is political, but that Medium article certainly is. I feel a bit sick to my stomach after reading the author's Twitter.


This rebuttal is pretty unimpressive:

* It doesn't refute the scientific claims of the authors, but rather takes them to task for disagreeing with points Murray didn't make --- that's fair rhetorically, but fails to address the central thesis of the Vox piece, which is that popular race/IQ ideas are largely junk science.

* It asserts the authority of Charles Murray (for instance, citing him as having written an article rebutting one of Turkheimer's findings), despite Murray not being an expert on the subject --- his scientist coauthor on The Bell Curve is deceased. At one point, in this very takedown, its author even cites Murray observing that he doesn't understand the science.

* It attempts to dismiss the authors by citing James Flynn's critique of black culture, which is ironic on two levels: first, that itself is an argument that Turkheimer and Nisbett didn't make, so the pot is complaining about the kettle, and second because Nisbett himself has gotten into some trouble for making similar critiques of black culture. Memetics isn't genetics.

* It makes seemingly well-grounded arguments about the statistical validity of interventions Turkheimer talked about which, on a second reading, dissipate into handwaving --- what we're left with is a Medium blogger's conjecture against a working scientist's published results.

Turkheimer and Nisbett are at pains to point out that their views aren't uniformly shared by everyone in the field. Rather, they take Murray (and, by implication, Sam Harris) to task for summarizing a contentious scientific debate as if it were settled, but for hysteria in leftist academia. The Vox piece is far more persuasive and credible in this argument than the "takedown" you cite is in its own argument.

1) Re-read Vox piece again, and you will see that aside from the 100% objectively false claim that "no self-respecting statistical geneticist would undertake a study based only on self-identified racial category as a proxy for genetic ancestry measured from DNA", the entire basis of their objection to group differences in IQ are the 5 facts that I spent most of the article responding to.

2) Never said Murray was an authority. I wrote he rebutted Dickens and Flynn on the non-narrowing of the gap in the last 25 years, which is correct, regardless of whether he's an "authority." Also, I didn't say he "doesn't understand the science," I said he doesn't understand the details of the mathematical techniques in a paper regarding the nature of the Flynn effect. This seems unimportant because Wicherts's conclusion -- that the Flynn effect gains have a different structure than the B-W IQ gap -- is uncontroversial.

3) Not really. I was citing Flynn for making the same point as Wicherts's above re: structure of FE gains, a demonstration that it's not just Wicherts's theory. I quoted him saying un-PC things about black culture just to demonstrate that in order to rebut Murray's unPC claims many scientists come up with different unPC hypotheses.

4) Talk about "handwaving": it would be helpful for you to elaborate what arguments you think actually "dissipate" on a second reading but I doubt you will.

And I would care more about your ad-hominem attack were it not for the Rindermann survey. Which brings me to my final point: you have it completely backwards when you say "Turkheimer and Nisbett are at pains to point out that their views aren't uniformly shared by everyone in the field. Rather, they take Murray (and, by implication, Sam Harris) to task for summarizing a contentious scientific debate as if it were settled." The scientists at Vox rather explicitly say that no credible scientists attribute some group IQ differences to genetics, while the survey I cite in the Medium article is convincing that is an inaccurate assessment of the views of researchers in this field. Moreover it's pretty clear that Harris does not believe the science is settled, and Murray also thinks that we should wait for direct DNA evidence to say that it's settled.

I'm not sure why we are spending so much effort on these other GWAS studies when all we need to do is whole-genome sequence HN to figure out where intelligence comes from. I suppose it would be confounded by other behavioral traits that score high here.

Are IQ tests even accurate enough to measure within a fraction of a point?

They don't need to be, at sample sizes in the 100,000s. Most of these studies are not even using IQ tests but "years of education" which is a measure of IQ with a laughably large standard error - but with very large sample sizes very precise estimates can be made of the effect of a particular SNA on the affected people's intelligence.

Using "years of education" as a measure seems like it might just end up measuring how well you can use genes to identify whether someone's of the right socioeconomic class to get their children into university. I can't really see any way around this.

Well I believe they control for social status. And also a lot of other things, see gwern's comment above. In any case, I don't expect there to be genes that predict social class. And if there were, that would be super interesting in itself.

>I don't expect there to be genes that predict social class

Genes for skin pigment

>super interesting

If you've never heard of inequality before, I guess

But they control for race, and picked results that generalize across different populations.

The most impactful technology that will ever exist is "engineering human beings". This becomes possible as we identify genes for things like intelligence and with CRISPR.

Intelligence is of course huge. Trustworthiness is huge. Probably 20% of GDP is related to trust whether it's paying for security, police, the military, $100s of billions of excess health care spending from over-billing and over-testing.

I think engineered human super-intelligence will have inestimably more impact than AI...but it enables AI because in a world of a few billion Leonardos, everyone will have figured out ways to solve repetitive work.

We don't need smarter people, we need better ethics. Many of the monsters from history were highly intelligent. Many of the world's problems have ready solutions which are not applied because people are being clever. Think of intelligence as a force multiplier, if you apply it to a bad person they become a terrible person. It would be disastrous to start genetic engineering for intelligence prior to tackling the ethics problem.

The biggest issue with better ethics is that we can't define them, so we couldn't optimize for them. Nobody agrees on what a good person is because nobody agrees on the meaning of good. But meanwhile the real world outcomes are decidedly not good.

This is a false choice. Society would almost certainly benefit from a larger proportion of highly intelligent people, and doubly so if they were also engineered with a genetic predisposition toward cooperation and prosocial behavior.

>Society would almost certainly benefit from a larger proportion of highly intelligent people

Why would it? Don't we have enough smart people? Smarts come at a cost. Its usually tied with anxiety disorders, neuroticism, poor ability to develop social skills, limited emotional expression, lack of empathy, autism, etc.

We are also discounting things like emotional intelligence and other types of intelligences we may not fully understand yet or even recognize!

I'm not sure if the world needs a bunch of cold and emotionally stunted people taking the place of more well-rounded people. I think its questionable to think evolution didn't account for the diversity of personality types needed for a successful human society. Claiming "This type one here, this is the only good one, so we'll make everyone like this," seems foolish if not disastrous. Personally, I'd gladly shave off more than a few IQ points to be more empathic and social.

Not to mention, society already tried this with eugenics fairly recently. Its not "smart" to repeat the mistakes of history.

You can have both. Not everyone intelligent is neurotic, and personality traits like baseless anxiety may be things that can be adjusted to some extent as well.

>Not to mention, society already tried this with eugenics fairly recently. Its not "smart" to repeat the mistakes of history.

When did we "try this" with eugenics "fairly recently"?

I'm almost certain you're referring to Nazism. But was Hitler really killing all the Jews for some sort of eugenics experiment? No, I don't think so. Were his actions genuinely scientific at all? Nope. He believed that raw power conquered all and that anyone weak should be murdered. That's different than eugenics.

We need to get past this kneejerk reaction comparing doing anything beneficial within the human genome to Nazi eugenics. It's a completely absurd comparison, especially considering that the average intelligence of Jews is very high.

Hitler was evil because he was a mass murderer, it's as simple as that. I really shouldn't have to clarify this on YC of all places.

The US had eugenics programs up until I think as late as the 60s, as did some other countries. Look up for example Buck vs. Bell. The Nazis were inspired by the existing US eugenics programs, not the other way around.

>I'm almost certain you're referring to Nazism.

No Eugenics.


It seems "smart people" need to start reading some history books.

Almost certainly not. That gives us 'politically correct police states'. Put everybody in a rubber room and make sure they are nice to one another. A recipe for the downfall of society, collapse of the economy, end of social evolution.

Its complicated to nation-build. Any that work now, do so because of competition and selection. Remove that with 'intelligent design' and all adaptation stops. Fitness plummets.

I suppose the devil is in the details. I'm not thinking of something like the genetically engineered humans of Brave New World, where docility is hard-wired into the lower classes.

I'm thinking more along the lines of attenuating certain (hypothetical) genetic contributors to antisocial personality disorder, violent psychosis, etc.

Not engineering docile perfection, just less of the obviously really bad stuff.

Edit: I do share your concerns about stopping Darwinian selection, though. Choosing local optima for cooperation might come back to bite us in the coming TransNeptunian War of 2217, e.g., when psychopathic, ruthless strategy is all that saves the human race from the conflict of first alien contact.

...in the coming TransNeptunian War of 2217...

If we don't achieve a technological singularity in the next couple decades, I doubt that an alien invasion will be a worry a couple centuries from now. I say this because of impending ecological collapse, which will end human civilization as we know it... if not humanity in total.

And I'll save for another time a rant about how expensive it is for anything to cross interstellar distances. At most we'll see a self-replicating probe that tries to subsume all matter in the solar system, the "invaders" won't physically travel here.

...unless the probes reconstitute them upon arrival?

That could happen, but I judge it more likely they'd just live as software instead of physically instantiating into something you'd see on a SF TV show.

And even as software, I predict that new colonists would likely arrive by communications laser, well after the local infrastructure has been built. Why bother coming over during the boring building phase?

>choosing local optima for cooperation might come back to bite us in the coming TransNeptunian War of 2217, e.g., when psychopathic, ruthless strategy is all that saves the human race from the conflict of first alien contact.

lol, that's a great line.

I disagree, although obviously this kind of manipulation and even ultimately what is being manipulated is going to be complex and fraught with false steps and unknowns.

While you may be right that our current genetic state, attained through generations of ruthless competition and selective pressures, is optimal for some things, it is harmful for others. Notably, the health of biosphere and many millions/billions of other humans. What good does nation-building do if our actions destroy each other through war or create an ecosystem unable to sustain advanced life? I would rather engineer for increased prosocial behavior and take our chances down that route than where we are headed now.

Elitism needs people to be unequal. That will weaken as an ideology when people can copy each other's genes. Inequality might still be retained by carefully guarding information and knowledge that confers an advantage.

Oh man, I can't wait to go to jail and/or be deleted when I reincarnate with pirated DNA.

Real life rogueli[k|t]e.

I have good news: if we get smarter people, it seems that we may get better ethics too.


I see this error so often on hn. You say, "we don't need x, we need y." When in reality we need neither, and both would be highly beneficial.

Being 'bad' is IMO a consequence of two things:

- You can be bad (i.e., lack of consequences)

- You want to be bad (i.e., some sort of reinforcement, often $).

Now both of these are de facto there if you become a high level politician and that's IMO the reason for real world outcomes [...] decidedly not good

Some people are constantly bad even though they know they will have to answer for their actions.

Some people are bad and don't want to be and it is a struggle.

Some people just do what they need to to survive, for whatever survival means to them at any given time.

Some people test the limits of their, and societal, boundaries.

This is too complex of a concept to limit it to two coinciding factors, IMO we are all all of these things in differing quantities.

Hopefully people learn that the consequences of bad actions are rarely beneficial long term and develop processes to mitigate.

> Some people are constantly bad even though they know they will have to answer for their actions.

So you say. I'm much more inclined to believe they believe they'll get away with it.

> Some people are bad and don't want to be and it is a struggle.

Sure, but that's almost exclusively due to mental illness, not "rationality".

> Some people just do what they need to to survive, for whatever survival means to them at any given time.

Survival is reinforcement.

> Some people test the limits of their, and societal, boundaries.

Mostly because closer to the limit means more reinforcement. Simple risk/reward.

I want to think that being good is non-religiously rewarded (ie. in this life), but I'm not entirely sure that's true. I think it takes effort not to take unethical shortcuts or make profitable but hurtful decisions.

>> Some people are constantly bad even though they know they will have to answer for their actions.

> So you say. I'm much more inclined to believe they believe they'll get away with it.

Says Dylann Roof (convicted of mass shootings at a church in South Carolina), "I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry."

Is that not reasonably a case of mental illness though?

How is changing the label from "quirk of psychology" to "mental illness" changing anything? It still exists.

Very intelligent monsters in very intelligent society are still less of a problem, than very intelligent monsters in an average society.

Many of the monsters from history also operated in a world order which rewards monstrous behaviour and kills Ned Stark.

It seems to me that you are arguing for wisdom. Ethics are a product while wisdom is an ability, like intelligence.

It would really be interesting to know if there was a correlation between genes and ethics.

There is. The question is how much. There are various studies regarding this, I haven't read them (any of them):


Smarter people will be at least harder to propagandize, brainwash and so on.

Actually, there is a lot of literature that indicates the opposite. Informing people of bias makes them more susceptible to it (by making them better at rationalizing away their bias). And the backfire effect causes people to become more certain of wrong opinions when presented with evidence to the contrary.

The idea that intelligence produces rationality is a myth.

Sure, probably there is a valley.

But it'd be pretty strange that IQ would not correlate with real world adaptation efficiency. After all, intelligence is useless if you can't use it to better navigate the world, because it itself misleads you (then you are better off with just fight-or-flight instincts).

And probably tendency for rationality has a genetic component too.

As you approach the limit of intelligence the danger that you'll realise altruism works for the whole but not the individual must increase, right?

Are you saying that as people get smarter they're less likely to think satisfaction in life comes from being someone who makes the world better? That they're more likely to think that satisfaction in life comes from getting more stuff than the next guy?

I think if you engineer for maximum intelligence, yes.

I want to make the world better but it's a bad use of my time from an individual perspective.

I'd say we need both.

Good thing we can max out all the good genes. I suppose it will have secondary effects but in small steps it should work.

spot on

I strongly agree with you on this being one of the most impactful technologies the world has ever seen. In fact, it may be the only thing that prevents the destruction of our species from our own selfish actions. Humans are proving to not be sustainable, precisely because we have been designed altogether too well by natural selection to be selfish and guided fundamentally to maximize our inclusive fitness. Even displays of incredible human altruism are ultimately forms of very clever genetic selfishness. Combine these facts with our current state of technology, and this is a perilous situation that no amount of cultural evolution is going to resolve.

Intelligence and trustworthiness are not what you're looking for. Obviously we would love to engineer humans to be healthier, smarter, etc, but these do little to enhance our long-term survivability in the face of human on human and human on environment domination that we see today.

What we are most in need of is to engineer a more compassionate human than exists now, by modifying key genes for species-typical behavior. All humans have a tremendous and largely unconscious ability to tune out highly-destructive socioecological acts. We might expect these problematic genes to occur with little variation across all human populations.

Ethics too -- lest we get super good at fucking each other over.

I hope nothing bad happens to the scientists for pursuing this line of inquiry. Charles Murray basically got excommunicated for work in the general area of intelligence and populations; this is different, but could be viewed as worse by some people too.

James Watson lost his job just for making an offhanded remark about this subject. He had to sell his nobel prize to stay afloat. And still gets a ton of shit for it whenever his name comes up. Even on this website. It's dangerous to have opinions about this.

Come now, Watson, when selling his medal, said he wanted to buy a painting and donate some of the money to charity [0], saying he needed it to stay afloat is disengenuous. If you can find support for Watson's statements, which he apologized for, regarding Africa's progress being correlated largely to their lower intelligence [1], I would love to explore it more.

[0] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11261872/James-Watso...

[1] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2007/10/watson-loses-cold-spr...

I read that he said he was selling it because of his severely diminished income, which is true. But I guess he had enough saved and it was just for charity.

It will be interesting to see how many people immediately accept the genetic influences on intelligence when it becomes possible to do something about it.

When safe, effective germline engineering for greater intelligence and health is possible, I predict that it will be embraced as enthusiastically by the majority of society as indoor plumbing was.

I am kind of disappointed by the community's response to his remarks.

Yes, some of them were quite inappropriate, such as:

>His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

However, after that he says:

>There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.

Now, this latter quote is in my opinion a perfectly reasonable presumption, considering that hundreds of millions of humans historically lived in a myriad of drastically different environments and circumstance. These genetic differences among populations (I'm not talking about the rigid contemporary interpretation of "race", I'm talking about geographical populations) do exist, and it would be absurd to presume that for some magical reason it wouldn't affect cognitive ability as well.

And yet people would still get emotionally triggered and shoot this hypothesis down, just because of the way they are socialized and because it strongly deviates from the mainstream idealization of equality.

Not related to this issue - reality generally is not simple, and I am sad that even contemporary developed societies nurture expectations that are so simplified, idealistic, fictitious instead of being more mature and grounded in scientific reality, regardless of the topic at hand. I just wish that more people were more educated and scientifically literate, and that this would translate into better, proper political positions, instead of the idiotic clusterfuck we have today.

Obviously, these concerns will be a thing of the past considering the future potential of genetic engineering to amplify intelligence, and presuming that eventually such services would be available to your average person.

He lost his job because he said some incredibly ignorant racist things and treats women like objects. He deserves all the shit he gets. Yes, it is "dangerous" to have opinions like that black people aren't as smart as Britons. Here's an "offhanded remark" -

>He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”

You are exactly the kind of person I am complaining about. Watson didn't even say anything about genetics in that quote, which is the most controversial aspect. Possibly a majority of the IQ gap is caused by environmental effects. But no one disputes the IQ gap exists, because it's easy to measure.

He singlehandedly wrote off an entire continent's intelligence while hinting that it was genetics. Furthermore IQ tests are bullshit - Feynman scored a 125 on them which doesn't even qualify him for MENSA.

IQ is not bullshit. It's incredibly well studied and respected academically. IQ correlates very well with just about everything from very different cognitive abilities to your success in life. Seriously do some research on an entire academic field before dismissing it out of hand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics) And read the rest of this thread for starters.

An IQ of 125 is well above average and puts him in the top 5% of the population. And on an individual basis, IQ tests have some degree of error and aren't perfect. But they are very useful statistically, especially on a population level where these errors average out.

>It's incredibly well studied and respected academically.

So was phrenology. This search for the g is just cargo cult science.

Phrenology never had any scientific basis whatsoever. G has enormous amounts of evidence supporting it. It has lots of predictive and statistical value, and would be easy to falsify if it didn't exist. Please actually research scientific fields before declaring them bullshit. This kind of ignorant science denialism doesn't belong on HN.

Lol okay pal have fun worshipping the "g" factor of a dude who thinks black people and the entire continent of Africa aren't as intelligent as others

They should be safe given that, um, race is not a scientific concept and has no genetic substrate.

Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said ...

Keep in mind that all they were likely doing was correlating the presence of certain genes with intelligence.

They couldn't begin to start determining combinations of those genes 50.

It will certainly be the case that the combination of the genes matters. What if gene A gives you a little boost by itself and gene B gives you a little boost by itself, but genes A & B together actually lower your IQ?

With just 50 genes (assuming no mutual exclusions), you'd have 1.1258999e+15 different combinations of them.

Then as the article mentions, they think that there may be many more intelligence genes to find.

There's reason to believe that the combined effect from all these different gene variants is approximately linear. Effects caused by multiple variants interacting are difficult for natural selection to operate on because of the way sexual reproduction works. See section 3.1 of this paper, "On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits":


BTW the author of this article, Stephen Hsu, has a blog which frequently has interesting comments on such things (and AI, and much else):


The effect is usually compounding because of how evolution by natural selection works. For example, if gene A gives a tiny 0.1% boost and gene B gives a tiny 0.1% boost, the combined effect is a 0.2001% boost (slightly greater than the sum).

Why would natural selection imply compounding?

The combined effect from multiple genes is either linear (assuming no interaction) or superlinear (assuming some interaction) because other nonlinear effects are difficult for natural selection to operate on. Natural selection is the only process known to cause adaptations.

but my question was, why should it be superlinear?

Genes with linear interactions would still grant evolutionary advantages.

Sure, considering all combinations is impossible, but the second order expansion, ie the interaction matrix, should only require 1225 values to be estimated. You could reduce that even further if you restrict the rank of the matrix.

> What if gene A gives you a little boost by itself and gene B gives you a little boost by itself, but genes A & B together actually lower your IQ?

Seems like a good application for NNs?

Unless you could produce identical clones that only differed in terms of the relevant genes in question, and raised them in very similar environments, then neural nets will have extreme difficulty factoring out all the confounding variables. Even with large sample sets, given all rarity of the genetic combinations etc.

Given the vast complexity of all this, really the only low hanging fruit could come from determining modal genes, and eliminating all the many mutants since the overwhelming majority will be deleterious.

If you could run such a spellcheck on a person's entire genome, the results could be very impressive. Although, I admit that if done at large scales you'd essentially be creating a monoculture species. Of course, people are unlikely to all voluntarily opt for having the same genes, so under a voluntary gene therapy system this is an unlikely outcome... stratification is more likely.


IQ test results are not completely valid in all cases. Feynman was tested at 125. He wouldn't qualify for MENSA. It is thought by some Feynman may have done exceptionally well in the areas that deal with numbers, logic, pattern matching but poorly in the verbal areas of the test, thus suppressing his overall score. How many people here have a tested IQ higher than 125 want to say they're smarter than Feynman?

IQ test are also not completely accurate for those that are gifted and have a learning disability. Kids that are gifted + LD'd may not even be put in gifted programs because their IQ scores are too low, but too high to put in an LD program, so they are stuck in normal class rooms where it isn't a good fit for them. Imagine being just as intelligent, if not more so, as the students in the gifted classes but denied access. That's what IQ scores do for some of those kids.

IQ test tend to work for gifted people that answer questions quickly and those without lopsided talent. If you are gifted + LD, or gifted but have really slow processing speed, then IQ test will not identify you as really that gifted, despite being so.

They aren't "completely" valid, but we have all seen large cognitive differences between people we know. What is that phenomenon? How do we measure it?

IQ tests are (imperfectly) correlated to grades, and income, but these things are also correlated to, for example, how quickly you can tap your finger. You could probably use that as a measure as well.

There are some people who might have a joint problem, and they would do horribly on finger tapping.

The point I am making is that all we have are imperfect measures. There is some underlying matter of fact. Maybe we need a better understanding of what intelligence is.

The Feynman anecdote is irrelevant. I've discussed this before, on HN even: it was a single unspecified test as a kid for middle school. For all anyone knows (and I have looked into all discussions of this, finding no sources beside the brief mention in Gleick), 125 IQ was the ceiling of that test - school tests, starting from the original Binet test, are often not intended to measure gifted children but in the normal or low range.

Feynman at 125 on an IQ test is bullshit. You know this if you've ever taken a test and read his books.

Douglas Hofstadter describes Feynman as acting out a sort of deliberate "village idiot" in a lecture on intelligence and patterns, by giving deliberately simplistic answers. With no proof, I think this is what Feynman must have been doing on the IQ tests, being deliberately but defensibly pedantic. I know that scoring 125 on an IQ test requires no skill that Feynman wasn't near the limits of human capability at.

The passage I'm talking about, from Hofstadter's amazing "Metamagical Themas": https://books.google.ca/books?id=NSpMDQAAQBAJ&q=feynman+sat

The most amazing thing about IQ tests are that some social (really pseudo--they cant really experimentally test theory) scientists convinced the world these things matter.

If you go and read the literature the idea is that thete is a concept called g, general intelligence, and that IQ tests dont test that, but produce a result which correlates with g. In this framework it is acceptable that Feynman's g is different from his IQ score--they were only ever meant to be correlated.

Things progressed a bit since then, and [IQ, but let's say SAT] test scores correlate very well with a lot of things. Even after controlling for as much socioeconomic and other confounding factors as you can. (Sure, that's still not a conclusive experiment.)

We agree they do correlate, but there is actually some debate about just how well intelligence tests do correlate with success, but the general idea of them remains the same as described above afaik, unless you'd like to point what has changed?

Many things correlate with successful life outcomes. Height for instance correlates with income.

IQ is a perfectly valid population metric that correlates very strongly with many traits that we associate with general intelligence.

Unsurprisingly, a single metric does not encompass the entirety of human intelligence. Failure to identify a particular gifted individual does not in any way make it an invalid metric. It means that you don't understand what a population metric is and what it's useful for. To be fair, many people don't understand this and the layperson understanding of IQ isn't valid, but that has no bearing on the 'proper' IQ.

Generally, whenever considering methods addressing evolution or heritability, you cannot confuse individuals and populations.

It's kind of like BMI. There are some outliers who are incorrectly classified as overweight due to being unusually muscular, but if the whole population's average BMI goes up, it's almost certainly because of people being fat.

IQ tests have improved since the 1930s when Feynman took one. They aren't everything, but they aren't nonsense.

It's a little tricky to answer without knowing what your specific problem is.

It's a politically sensitive topic, so articles play up problems with IQ while playing down it's predictive success.

But even one of the articles you quote admits "The difference between a 79 and a 69 is highly noticeable, and the test can determine which is which and the reasons why."

Tests like ACT and SAT are highly correlated with IQ. As is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) that the military uses. So when Google checks applicant's SAT scores, they're checking their IQ.

One important thing to note is that it's a better prediction of performance of a group than an individual.

Anyways Feynman's purported 125 IQ score translates to an expected SAT score (V+M) of 1210. Which won't even get you into any of the schools he excelled at.

If your issue is my comment about IQ tests in the 1930s, I can't actually back that up. I have no idea what test he took. But psychologists have done a lot of work on the tests since then.

And with another nail in the blank slate coffin, let the prevarications begin, e.g.

"Feynman was tested at 125"

and yet

There are some points to consider. There are and have been various publishers of IQ tests over the years and various forms of test. We don't have any clear idea what IQ test Feynman took or what it emphasized.

The IQ test that Feynman took was probably scored by the quotient method, meaning that an attempt was made to estimate his 'mental age' and the result was then divided by his chronological age and, finally, multiplied by 100.

IQ tests aren't scored that way any more—instead, a distribution of test scores is formed by giving the test to a large sample of test takers. A result one standard deviation above the mean of the sample group gives an IQ of 115, and so on.""


I suspect you're simply lucky if your brain is wired in a manner that is particularly relevant to the period of societal time. In that, I mean "IQ" is related/tied to a period of time. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSy685vNqYk

This is about what you'd expect based on how behavioral geneticists are thinking these days:

"A typical human behavioral trait is associated with very many genetic variants, each of which accounts for a very small percentage of the behavioral variability."


Imagine if you could choose exactly how smart you want your son or daughter to be - but only via a set of genes that also directly correspond to laziness.

This sounds silly, doesn't it? But you can't deny that this article is a firm step in that direction. It's not crazy to think that parents may make gene choices in the future.

This would be not just a new stage, but a new kind of evolution. (Not too scary in the form we're reading about, and close to everyday sexual selection of mates anyway.)

I am curious, what is the definition of human intelligence? Blanket statements like A being more intelligent than B don't mean much outside of specific context. It is likely that certain kind of genes influence certain specific ability like math or soccer more than others. The idea of blanket intelligence does not provide much room for us to optimise for specific areas of intelligence.

That's why I prefer using the context of that intelligence as a prefix. Like Messi is a "soccer" genius. Messi will probably score less than average in general intelligence tests.

> Messi will probably score less than average in general intelligence tests.

Why? Without support it looks like a "just world fallacy." He's good at physical activities so he must be bad at thinking.

Never said he is bad at thinking. All I said is there is a chance he can score less than average in IQ test. Even way less if the test is in English, which he can't communicate wih. I am against IQ as a single measure of intelligence and will never call someone dumb for scoring less than average. IQ tests aptitude of a person.

He certainly failed in basic understanding of tax law!

In his defence -> His father was responsible for his taxes. Wait a minute, am I admitting that his predecessor is dumb? He is probably dumb.

Sidenote: I am a Messi fanboy.

Wasn't his defence basically "I sign what my father tells me to sign without reading it"?

NB I don't follow football but I've just finishing reading a book on the Panama Papers that features a section on him.

The phrase that determines the total pain of basically all systems biology is "combinatorial explosion".

The gap between genes and intelligence is the same as between individual characters and poetry, or even bits of UTF-8 encoding. But it is fun to watch these "0.40 heritable" meaningless statements.

This is the same as to claim that a particular tech-process of a CPU and its particular instruction set defines what kind of porn would be watched on a laptop. While there are few statistical correlations, say, between the cost of a CPU and statistically significant preference to, say, MILFs, a direct causality is still rather difficult to establish, at least for people of some intelligence.

I recall seeing this Google Tech Talk by Steve Hsu on how they are in the process of finding out basically all the additive genes that contribute to intelligence in China at the BGI research institute: https://youtu.be/62jZENi1ed8

They would take roughly a thousand people who are >=3 standard deviations smarter than average and compare their full genomes against people who are of average intelligence. This way they expect to find out all the "easy" genetic determinants of intelligence.

Kinetic ability vs potential ability (should reduce the fear/hatred of differences in IQ): People overestimate the value of Intelligence in comparison to motivation, delayed gratification. How many people do you living up to their potential? Is it because they don't know what to do, or because they won't do what they should? If the difference in results is traction, not horsepower, then don't worry so much about someones bigger or smaller motor.

Cascading advantage: People underestimate the value of small changes in some types of intelligence. They cascade. If you learn how to learn faster, or better, it cascades across all the new learning. Imagine a bookshelf vs a stack of books. Some people develop tricks early on that are the the shelves. Hit a golf ball a little crooked and see how crooked it ends up 100 yards away.

Different is better: This social programming to search for equality amongst men ignores the value of evolution, competition, meritocracy, and the resultant emergent fitness and excellence that results. Different, sometimes better, sometimes worse, is a requirement for robustness and progress.

See higher resolution: Measure mental ability more like physical ability. Look at the detail measured in the nfl combine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_Scouting_Combine

When you create an IQ test, you use specific stratagies to avoid cultural bias, and measure useful traits, like memory, speed, visualization, rotating objects in ones mind, etc. Why not just declare the results by category. The test maker knew what he was measuring. There's no reason to mush it all together.

In Vernor Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky", the villains use a kind of mind enhancement called Focus which isn't really mind enhancement at all, it just makes you obsessively focused on whatever task they give you. I've long thought that the first "mind enhancement" tech to appear would be like that, because it seems easier than hacking g.

In "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow", the sequel to Sapiens, the author describes a "focus helmet" being developed by the US armed forces that provides a degree of Vinge-like focus.

Have you tried Modafinil? It didn't make me smarter, but it made me very persistent (to the point of missing sleep).

Obviously not ideal, but a step in the right direction imo.

Conscientiousness is estimated to be 44% heritable.


Last week I read an [article][0] critiquing Charles Murray's work, largely in response to a [podcast][1] he did with Sam Harris. One of the assertions in the article was:

> There are no “genes for” IQ in any but the very weakest sense.

I'm not super knowledgeable about this stuff. I'm not trying to kick a hornet's nest; just trying to point out how I found this news to be particularly relevant in light of what I'd been reading recently. I'd be interested in seeing the Vox article's authors would fit this news into their thesis.

[0]: https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/5/18/15655638/charles-... [1]: https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/forbidden-knowledge

That Vox article is profoundly dishonest. The sentence immediately preceding the one you quoted is "Virtually none of the complex human qualities that have been shown to be heritable are associated with a single determinative gene!"

That is the most ridiculous straw-man in the history of straw-men. No one thinks IQ is determined by a single gene. In reality it's probably caused by a large number of small-effect genes, leading to the characteristic "bell-curve" distribution. To oversimplify - within a population let's say there are a thousand genes or SNPs that each affect IQ by a small amount. If you have 500 "plus" (good) and 500 "minus" you end up with an IQ of 100 (average). If you have 450 "plus" and 550 "minus" you have 90 IQ. If you have 550 "plus" you end up with 110 IQ. If you have 800 you are Newton or von Neumann. The numbers are obviously simplified and made-up, but that's the general idea. Of course this is assuming the nutrition and environment to allow that IQ to develop.

Since the individual effect sizes are tiny, you need a large number of people in a study to find them. But as big data gets better, we're going to find them, and the anti-science left will have to figure out a way to deal with it.

This is nonsense. Genes don't work by some sort of "total weight" principle like pebbles on a balance.

And intelligence has noting to do with "right" vs "left". That sort of political framing language is an excellent smell test for bad scientific information.

Genes work in whatever way is easiest for evolution to work, and linear improvements are pretty easy to find this way, so can you rule it out?

Yes I can. The definition of a gene is unit of hereditary information that determines a specific characteristic of an organism. Inherent in that definition is that each gene, and the characteristic it encodes, is distinct.

So when many genes are expressed simultaneously, you can get complex interactions between these distinct characteristics. But not a straight linear additive effect. If 5 genes all encode the same characteristic, then by definition they are actually just 5 copies of the same gene.

Intelligence is not related to genetics through some simple scalar factor. It is far, far more complex than that.

> But not a straight linear additive effect.

It mostly is when you're talking about "why person X has a higher IQ than person Y". It's not when you're asking why or how humans have intelligence at all, obviously.


The vox article is mostly political, and offers misleading descriptions of Harris and Murray's conversation in many placement, and falsely represents it in a couple places. Some of its interpretation of science is questionable, but it does offer a solid piece of critique.

The evidence conclusively shows

1. Intelligence is largely genetically determined

2. There is some genetic difference between races

3. Races differ in mean intelligence

As a result, Harris and Murray are correct in saying that it would be a miracle if none of the racial difference in intelligence is attributable to genetics, but that's not a very substantial claim. While they were clear about how differences within racial groups are much larger than differences between, it would have been better if they had taken care to also point out that we simply do not know how much of the difference between races is attributable to genetics, except to say that it's extremely unlikely that the answer is "none" or "all".

By identifying genes relevant to intelligence, we can start to answer this question. That will require someone to perform such an analysis, however, and seeing how Murray has been treated, few people besides him and some actual white supremacists are likely to be interested in doing such an analysis.

"The evidence conclusively shows" is not the way science works. I think your overview is well-reasoned, and ripe with good intentions, but that comment is what white supremacists use to justify their nonsense. Correlation is not causation, and a majority of the HN community understands this point (we keep revisiting it, so I'm making a weighted assumption.)

The more important question is why would it matter? Who cares if there are differences within or across racial groups with regards to intelligence? What reasonable social benefit is there in researching this? Intelligent people should seek ways to enrich the lives of others through their intellect, not find ways to build gates and limit possible outcomes.

The idea that there are no genes for IQ is completely ludicrous. Humans are clearly smarter than every other animal; this is entirely because we have different genetics. Additionally, the only possible way humans could've become smarter than other animals is that natural selection operated over time so as to increase the frequency of human genetic variants responsible for increased intelligence. This means there must also be genetic variants within our species that affect how smart we are relative to other humans, or this could not have happened.

The fact that intelligence is highly genetic in origin is extremely obvious. But the implications this fact has on how people interact with each other are extremely disturbing.

How is it disturbing? Almost every aspect of human individuals is a random variable. What's wrong with intelligence being a random variable too, which could depend on some other aspect of the individual? I think making this a scary fact is what promotes the problems in discourse we see on this topic.

Intelligence is essentially what separates humans from other animals, and why we believe human lives to be more morally significant than the lives of other animals. To acknowledge that some people are smarter than others is essentially to acknowledge that their lives are worth more under humanity's current moral system.

Not only that, it also means people will likely try to "solve" poverty in Africa and elsewhere by getting rid of the natives and populate it with higher IQ people, as eugenecists were proposing right after Darwin came up with his theory of evolution.

And if you read the above statement and think "I certainly do not think that way, that's nuts", keep in mind how many others may read it and think "Well, that's science for you; heartless but honest."

That is my primary issue with this line of research. Clearly it can't be banned or made illegal, but I think it's worth acknowledging that racism and sexism are significant problems and to spend a little time considering how this line of research will make these problems even more intractable.

> Almost every aspect of human individuals is a random variable.

that's not even close to true. on the most basic level, you agree that certain traits are heritable in totally predictable ways, yes? eye color is an example of this.

> that's not even close to true. on the most basic level, you agree that certain traits are heritable in totally predictable ways, yes? eye color is an example of this.

Eye color inheritance isn't "totally predictable"; this is so obviously wrong to anyone who's ever met more than a couple humans that perhaps I'm misunderstanding the assertion you're making here.

Come to think of it, I think you might be saying that _conditioned on the alleles you receive_, there are traits that are fully predictable. In that case, I think you're just misunderstanding the comment you're responding to, since conditioning on the alleles received is begging the question.

Alternatively, you may not know what a random variable is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_variable. It doesn't mean that the trait is "random" in the colloquial sense of uniform distribution across all possible values.

Eye color in humans pretty closely follows the Dominant/recessive allele characteristics from classic Mendelian genetics. If you show me a person's family tree and I notice that all 4 of their grandparents have brown eyes I can predict with almost total certainty (barring new mutations or epigenetic effects) that they will have brown eyes.

other combinations of eye color at the grandparents lead to predictable distributions of the expression of that trait in the grandchild generation. this may be what was meant by "random variable", but it's really a population effect so modeling it as a random variable is peculiar. it's not random at the level of the individual, or at least it isn't after the recombination phase of fertilization in the embryo.

given a genetic sample of an individual it is totally predictable what their eye color will be based on examining their genes. I don't see how this is begging the question.

> given a genetic sample of an individual it is totally predictable what their eye color will be based on examining their genes. I don't see how this is begging the question.

Right, this is what I suspected you may have been saying. I think we were talking past each other a bit.

I still don't think it makes much sense to challenge someone who says "X is a random variable" by saying "that's not remotely true, X is not a random variable if you condition on the probabilistic component of X". Well, duh.

And people who have mismatched eye color? Totally predictable?

There's more to the output than the blueprint.

Sexual selection contains much of that randomness.

When people talk about "genes for IQ" they mean genes that account for differences between people.

The genes that all humans share (most of them) contribute a lot more to intelligence. That's a different subject altogether.

Natural selection to increase intelligence on a group level is impossible unless there's variance in the group for natural selection to operate on.


"The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variance in fitness at that time."

The genetic variation that got us here isn't necessarily the same as the variation that remains, though. Perhaps there used to be more variation?

(There is the Flynn effect, but that's too quick to be genetic. Whatever its cause is apparently more important than genetics?)

That's a good point, the amount of variation changes over time. I'd be extremely surprised if the current amount somehow fell all the way to zero though.

There's apparently some speculation (according to the Wikipedia article on the Flynn effect at least) that the Flynn effect is due to non-genetic factors, in which case the underlying genetic trends are being obscured. There's a claim that genotypic IQ could be decreasing but we're not seeing that reflected effect in phenotypes due to environment improvements (which probably won't continue forever).

Haven't we really put the nature/nurture debate to rest with twin studies, separated twin studies, adoption studies, etc?

Bickering over the exact mechanism and arguing that our current ignorance of those exact mechanisms still casts doubt on the very existence of the observed differences isn't logical.

The vox article is very politically charged and admits to an unscientific politically correct approach to the whole subject. If your concerns are emotional and political, I guess it would be persuasive. If your concerns are scientific, there isn't really anything there that is an argument against anything said by Murray or Harris.

It's not a political article, it's effectively an open letter from three professors in the field, at least two of whom are renowned for studying it. And it addresses your "twin studies, separated twin studies, adoption studies" dismissal, rather directly.

I think you should read it again more carefully. I can understand the inclination to dismiss Vox articles. This isn't a typical Vox article, and it clearly isn't an appeal to emotion. Its authors have almost certainly studied these issues far more carefully than any of us.

I read the Vox article pretty carefully and I thought it seemed very misleading. On the key question of, how much does genetics influence intelligence, the Vox article states:

Modern DNA science has found hundreds of genetic variants that each have a very, very tiny association with intelligence, but even if you add them all together they predict only a small fraction of someone’s IQ score.

That is true, but, it's evading the overall question of "how much does genetics affect intelligence". It's focused only on the question of "how many specific genes have we identified".

As far as I can tell, it shouldn't be controversial to say that genetics has a huge effect on intelligence. For example, the NIH states on their website:

These studies suggest that genetic factors underlie about 50 percent of the difference in intelligence among individuals.


Sounds like our best scientific knowledge is pretty simple - intelligence seems like it's half genetic. The Vox article is quite misleading because it dances around this simple statistic.

Did you listen to the podcast? My main beef with the Vox piece is how it mischaracterized what Murray and Harris were saying. I'm not competent to judge the science, but I can tell when somebody's lying to me and that's how the Vox piece came across.

It's not a political article

You were correct in your other comment that I skimmed the article the first time. It set off my BS detector and I didn't bother to painstakingly scrutinizing it to see if it had some other value.

Taking your challenge, I re-read it and now I'm going to go one further. This was a hit-piece article that was designed to go after Murray and satisfy the typical Vox liberal red meat audience. The science that was in the article was incidental and the best they could do given their overall motive of striking at Murray while generating hits from their typical readership.

The title of the article is "Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ"

I think that someone came up with the title of the article first to capitalize on the Middlebury College controversy and then sought to justify that title with as much science as they could muster. Vox knows that they'll get tons of hits just from the title and that the information in the article won't be judged too harshly by their typical readers. My guess is that after coming up with the title, Vox editors got some scientists in the field who are critics of Murray to write up a justification.

Despite the article's title, the scientists admit: "Some well-informed scientists hold views closer to Murray’s than to ours. And there are others who challenge views that we accept about the utility of the general concepts of intelligence and heritability."

So which is it? Is it junk science or do some well-informed scientists agree with Murray more than they agree with the authors of this piece while some other well-informed scientists consider the authors of this piece to have flaws in their basic understanding of concepts that they touch on? My guess is that the scientists wanted this disclaimer in there but that the Vox editor would have preferred to not even make that admission. Those two short sentences in the article completely destroy the title and show that this article was politically (or financially, depending upon how you look at it) motivated.

And it addresses your "twin studies, separated twin studies, adoption studies" dismissal, rather directly.

Well, it agrees with them and even admits: "These “DNA-based” heritability studies don’t tell you much more than the classical twin studies did, but they put to bed many of the lingering suspicions that twin studies were fundamentally flawed in some way."

I wrote more but while trimming it up realized that this nonsense political hit piece has already wasted too much of my time. My BS detector was functioning perfectly the first time and I should have trusted it and avoided going back to that link and contributing to Vox's ad revenue.

edit: typo

If all you have is an attack on the title, which, again, the authors probably didn't even write, I don't know that we're getting any closer to a place where we can discuss the article.

Why would I spend my time discussing a political hit piece with weak science thrown in just to justify generating hits on a known-crappy web site?

As I mentioned, I had a bunch more that I threw away while editing. To summarize, I mostly pointed out how their "science" was straw men and other misleading statements. As I was editing my responses, it occurred to me why the logic was so poor. It was obviously constructed after the headline was created and so they were working really hard to put something out there.

Other responders in this thread spent their time pointing out some of the logic flaws I also saw. Take it up with them if you think this is a good use of your time. I've now wasted even more time on this, but I normally respect your posts - especially when you're discussing security. I thought I would at least give you an explanation as to why I won't be spending further time on the Vox article.

Update: I just skimmed through the HN discussion on this. You have plenty of other people who have responded to the Vox article quite thoroughly. HoustonEuler in fact looks to have specific knowledge on this subject.

Why aren't you hashing it out with him and others?

Yes, it's a politically charged subject, but if you want to know what some actual scientists think about such things, it's not a bad place to start.

Consider that the issues involved (and the flaws they see in Murray's arguments) are fairly subtle, so this "bickering" as you call it is actually pretty important to understanding what's going on.

The article stated pretty clearly that its concerns were social/political, not scientific.

It called Murray's conclusions "dangerous". What place does an accusation like that have in the assessment of his scientific findings? You can't have a credible scientific discussion about a subject like the racial correlations of intelligence without a high degree of detachment and willingness to go wherever the data leads.

On top of that, the article was disingenuous. I listened to the podcast a couple of weeks ago and I recall a very interesting statement by Murray to the effect that "the IQ differences between members of each specific race are greater than the IQ differences between the different different races." And yet the Vox article implied that Murray was making sweeping and damning generalizations about the races.

> statement by Murray to the effect that "the IQ differences between members of each specific race are greater than the IQ differences between the different different races." And yet the Vox article implied that Murray was making sweeping and damning generalizations about the races.

Because the statement that there are any differences between population groups still leads to sobering/disconcerting conclusions for the top (Phds, C-level executives) and the bottom (poverty/crime) in a meritocratic society. (And if people are marrying only inside their class (or education level) this is self-sorting over time)

That you can't conclude that your neighbor in the subway is a genius or dumb as a brick just from her ethnicity (and vice versa) doesn't change these extreme edge cases.

As you say, it's not a purely scientific article and doesn't limit itself to scientific claims.

But talking about the disturbing ways misleading scientific claims get used is on-topic. They do talk about the science since that's essential to making their argument.

No, it doesn't. You're mischaracterizing the article. Again, I gingerly suggest that you probably skimmed it, thinking it was standard Vox fare and not what it actually was: an open letter through Vox by subject matter experts. If I'm wrong and you read it carefully, I apologize. I only have your comments to go by.

The first 2/3 of the piece is entirely about the science itself. Obviously, even a glance at the piece reveals that it begins with a hierarchy of assertions about the science of genetic bases for intelligence, ordered by their acceptance in the field. Its conclusion includes this graf:

> Asserting that the relatively poorer intellectual performance of racial groups is based on their genes is mistaken theoretically and unfounded empirically; and given the consequences of promulgating the policies that follow from such assertions, it is egregiously wrong morally.

(emph. mine)


> Moreover, a reflexive defense of free academic inquiry has prompted some to think it a mark of scientific objectivity to look at cognitive differences in the eye without blinking. To deny the possibility of a biological basis of group differences, they suggest, is to allow “moral panic,” as Harris puts it, to block objective scientific judgment. But passively allowing oneself to be led into unfounded genetic conclusions about race and IQ is hardly a mark of rational tough-mindedness. The fact is, there is no evidence for any such genetic hypothesis — about complex human behavior of any kind. Anyone who speaks as if there were is spouting junk science.

(emph. mine)

This is hardly a stipulation that the science behind this debate is settled and the issues are political and social, and it's the graf that opens the conclusion of the piece.

It is actually quite disappointing that they make these broad conclusions after being quite careful to qualify earlier.

Earlier they state: "That is not to say that socially defined race is meaningless or useless. (Modern genomics can do a good job of determining where in Central Europe or Western Africa your ancestors resided.)"

"In reality, the racial groups used in the US — white, black, Hispanic, Asian — are such a poor proxy for underlying genetic ancestry"

What they don't do is link these statements. That a persons genetic ancestry to the three major groups: African, Caucasian or East Asian is strongly established as they admit. And that difference in IQ test scores linked to this ancestry is based in fact. They use the words "socially defined races" to avoid this but later make a much more broader conclusions of Murrey doing "junk science"

There are good counter arguments to each of their bullet points. Specifically this one: "Murray’s assertion that it is hard to raise the IQs of disadvantaged children leaves out the most important data point. Adoption from a poor family into a better-off one is associated with IQ gains of 12 to 18 points."

They don't mention that the studies of high SES black vs low as a counterpoint to how this increase is gained.

None of the arguments they made falsify Murray's hypothesis. Murrey does not state that environment doesn't matter. He uses evidence from Twin studies and Adoption studies to show that genes matter more. We also know how to reduce intelligence via environment far better than we know how to increase it.

In the most recent podcast (I think released today or last night), Harris discusses the Vox article and why he thinks it is exactly the sort of intellectual dishonesty that they were pointing out in the first place. He also gets into the topic a bit with his guest Sidartha Mukherjee in the second half of their discussion.


After Murray stirred up such a fuss with his publication of The Bell Curve, the APA (the main organization of psychologists in the US) put together a task force to determine what mainstream, scientific, orthodox thoughts were about intelligence. The report is called "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns" and is probably your best bet for answering your question. The Wikipedia page on it highlights its findings. It's 20 years old at this point but I don't think too much has changed since then.


It's worth pointing out that even if it's true that environment may not increase someone's measured intelligence (as evidenced by someone's performance going up when in a controlled, artificial environment, and then going back down when removed from that environment), it's certainly possible for someone's measured intelligence to decrease due to environment (lead poisoning, other substances, repeated head trauma).

Where that point gets political is if people believe that the "environment" commonly surrounding certain socio-economic populations is the natural baseline for that population, or instead an environment that is depressing their likely natural performance.

Like, if you move someone from their status quo, then is that putting them in an artificial environment that ultimately will not help? Or is that removing them from an artificial environment that is artificially depressing their performance, thereby giving them a permanent relative boost when you move them?

Where it gets even more political is when people believe that certain disadvantaged environments are "natural" specifically because the intelligence of that population leads them there.

Thanks for this. I'm (perhaps unduly) annoyed that this article went with "Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment." 50/50 genes/environment has become a safe way to avoid outrage, but as far as I know it's not something any actual academics believe - genes and environment cause qualitatively different effects with substantially different variance. (Environment in particular appears strongly capped on upside.) Summarizing that as "just as important" is sloppy and unhelpful, even without taking a politicized stance.

Let's be accurate about that quote, though - that Vox article itself says that a lot of what goes into IQ is heritable, and comes through DNA.

"No genes for IQ" is better interpreted as a statement that it's not just a small handful of genes that determine IQ (or any behavioral trait), but very, very many (plus nurture, but that goes without saying). It cites http://europepmc.org/articles/pmc4635473, which mentions:

The SNP rs9320913 is estimated to account for only 0.02% of the overall variability in educational attainment, but biometrical studies show that the total percentage of variability owed to genetic differences is three orders of magnitude larger (Heath et al., 1985; Rietveld et al., 2013). Since the SNPs with the largest effects are the easiest to find, these results suggest that educational attainment is a phenotype affected by thousands of undiscovered genetic variants, each responsible for a minuscule fraction of individual differences.

...which is not to say that Murray's claims that intelligence and race correlate strongly have merit, since as the article you posted points out, his argument has some severe deficiencies.

Specifically (and this is coming from me, not the article), when a measured trait (say IQ) is a function of a large number of genes, then unless that trait has highly variable selective importance depending on habitat, we would not expect it to diverge significantly between races. Traits that do diverge significantly tend to be either subject to different selection pressures between environments, or involve a small number of genes (with a small number of genes, it's easy for random noise to freeze unusual variants into segregated populations, but as the count goes up the law of large numbers kicks in and we see similar bell curves in all populations). This is almost trivial to prove.

I thought the Vox article explained the issues involved pretty well.

As I understand it (and I'm not that knowledgeable either), people who are more closely related (from a genetic point of view) are likely to have more similar intelligence. However, that's pretty much all you can say. How closely related you are doesn't map to anything else cleanly.

It seems like that's pretty much what you'd expect from a lot of genes that contribute a tiny effect and are nearly randomly passed on to descendants.

> people who are more closely related (from a genetic point of view) are likely to have more similar intelligence.

This may seem almost trivial, as most people probably have this opinion anyway. But it still has inconvenient ramifications for egalitarism. For example: is someone in Harvard because their filthy rich family bought them a place and had connections ... or are they maybe clever because they come from a clever family?

> How closely related you are doesn't map to anything else cleanly.

What do you mean?

People who are more related tend to be of similar height. Also, people who are related tend to have similar IQ. But that doesn't mean height correlates with IQ because they're not necessarily the same genes.

And similarly for other traits you might notice.

A scottish study found though a slight correlation between IQ and height:


The hot potatoe is of course "race" (what US-Americans equate for some reason with skin color), or more specifically shared-ancestry-ethnicity (northern european vs southern europeans vs slavs vs ashkenazi jews vs sephardi jews vs south eastern asians vs east asians … etc)

Currently reading The Bell Curve to see what all the fuss is about. I'm not far in, but their hypotheses about intelligence stratification and poverty seem to make sense and they seem to have been very careful in their analysis.

Anyone know if the SNP list is publicly available? I'd love check my numbers against my raw 23andMe data to see if I'm smart :)

The summary statistics are in fact available on the CTG website, but I'm not sure why you would want to bother. The performance of the polygenic score is about the same as the SSGAC polygenic score for Okbay/Selzam et al 2016, so Sniekers et al 2017 isn't all that helpful in that regard. (And in any case SSGAC is expected to come out with a paper this year with n=1m (!) http://programme.exordo.com/bga17/delegates/presentation/214... which is expected to at least double the polygenic score performance, so it'll be obsolete soon. And I hear there may be a second group with as large a sample size...)

Could you explain this like I'm fifteen?

There's this dude whose results are already about as good as this new dude's plus this other dude is gonna come out with a totally rad new set of results so you should just wait for those bro.

If your GWAS has more people, the results are more accurate, and you can detect smaller effects, finding more SNPs that do something. The CTG study had 78,308 people in it, the SSGAC study will have 1,000,000.

It's nice to identify genes that have influence, but I wouldn't cal it an "Enormous Success" by any means. Given the following:


It turns out that one genetic variant has caused two different mental illnesses and they still don't know why. The treatment for them is the same though. Of course they are not twins, so there may be other genes in play that may account for the difference in manifestation.

For me the bottom line is that evolution is still hard at work changing the human brain to work the way we need it to in modern times.

"…they had identified 52 genes linked to intelligence in nearly 80,000 people. These genes do not determine intelligence, however."

Is human intelligence really a thing? Sure, we can all tell the difference between a mathematics savant and a mentally challenged person. But is there really a reason to think that a single number can capture with any degree of accuracy some property of the connection structure of 10^11 brain neurons?

It's an approximation, of course, but a surprisingly good one: loads of predictive value, very strong correlations with things people care about, and so on. For some quality pondering on the epistemology here, see


The best analogy is with general athletic ability. Yes of course, athletic ability is a multi-faceted thing; yes you can be good in different ways; yes, being the very best as baseball does not make the you very best at football; etc. Nonetheless, athletic-ness is a robust, real concept, which is very heritable, predictive of athletic success. Importantly, it encodes the empirical fact that if you are good at X compared to the general population, you are more likely to be good at Y, where X and Y can be almost any athletic activity.

To tie your analogy back in: There is correlation in intellectual capacity between categories of intelligence (linguistic, mathematic, spacial, etc.). Individuals capabilities vary, but on average individuals high in one area are rarely below average in other area.

(Anecdote: I found it no problem to get degrees in both Computer Science AND English with minors in French and Philosophy. Some people find it strange that someone could do both types of things, but I just like learning everything!)

My friend, a math teacher, had this saying: only 5% are good at math, but those 5% are good at anything.

I was told this was the reason people study math, and companies hire those people:

"If you can get a degree in math, you prove yourself to be intelligent and hard working. Companies like those kind of people."

Same with philosophy. My schools philosophy department had stats showing their students had higher writing scores than English students and didn't have significant unemployment (I forget what they compared employment to).

Very modest

My favorite picture of this is Rob Gronkowski as a 12-year-old[1]. Getting into the NFL requires hard work, but it's not sufficient; without the genetic athleticism, you aren't getting in.

[1] https://sportsofboston.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/gronk-...

I used to somewhat dismiss IQ for this reason, but the thing is, though the concept of "General intelligence" as a concept is, perhaps loaded, it's really an average of a number of independent measurements, each more well defined than general intelligence, and each easier to measure... there's a few different systems but WAIS breaks it up into 4 indices, divided between verbal and performance IQ[1]... much of the population seems to have all 4 of these indices closely correlated with each other, though I became interested in this partly when I discovered I was an exception... I have dramatically higher verbal comprehension index than I do processing speed, if I recall correctly, with, I think, the former perhaps two standard deviations above average and the latter perhaps a full standard deviation below average. I don't know what the correlation means for most people, or what my deviation means for me, but the test is at least capable of seeing differences, so the fact that it doesn't typically see them probably means something, though I don't know what. [1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wechsler_Adult_Intelligence_Sc...

According to several people I'd consider authorities on the subject matter, yes it is really a thing. You can measure any aspect of intelligence you want, but in the end all aspects correlate strongly together, and they have predictive power in terms of success in life.

No, dude. Everyone's the same. You obviously haven't been reading enough left-wing news publications. NYT, The Guardian et al.

IQ is alt-right propaganda. Definitely no IQ. As such, we need to teach everyone to code. If only the evil white men would let everyone spend 60 hours a week coding.

And the reason some people go to top universities isn't because they're smart. It's their class. Their class allows them to handle abstraction & complexity dude! We need to level the playing field & equally distribute ability to learn via capital redistribution. Being able to buy better brands is def going help shepherd us into a nu-world of equality.

I usually score higher when taking intelligent tests, but I dismiss all the intelligent tests I have taken. I know people who are more intelligent than me who can score higher if they are tested in their own indigenous languages and on subjects that are important to their cultural backgrounds.

For someone who lives in a remote area and survives on hunting wild animals, being able to tell where game is situated, is more valuable than matching some geometrical figures or knowing capital city of a country he will never visit. Such tests that take into account language and cultural differences don't exist.

Not knowing something you are not interested in, doesn't make one dumb. It is just not important to that person. I also noticed that the older I grow, the higher my IQ due to voraciously reading technical books and articles.

> For someone who lives in a remote area and survives on hunting wild animals, being able to tell where game is situated, is more valuable than matching some geometrical figures or knowing capital city of a country he will never visit. Such tests that take into account language and cultural differences don't exist.

If you have studied engineering or simply maths, and like learning maths, you already have some background on geometry, algebra, etc. (and specially geometry/spatial stuff). At least the tests I've seen have some stuff that seems quite obviously been taking from maths... So, IMO, you can obviously score higher than someone that is, perhaps, as intelligent as you are, yet doesn't know or care about maths, or sorting things in certain way, or whatever.

While I don't really know much about the topic, IMO these tests ignore the fact that you can learn to solve certain problems, and yet "experts" still say they are about general intelligence. And by that logic, if you weren't to measure intelligence by a set of arbitrary characteristics, some of which can be learned in some specific social contexts... How would you even measure general intelligence? As you say, intelligence is relative to context. You can "learn" intelligence measured by these tests, or you can be "dumb" according to these tests, simply because you are ignorant of some things.

> As you say, intelligence is relative to context. You can "learn" intelligence measured by these tests, or you can be "dumb" according to these tests, simply because you are ignorant of some things.

This part sums up what I was trying to say.

Proper well-designed IQ tests have nothing to do with language; they are purely visual pattern recognition challenges. These tests are highly culture-independent and correlate highly with practically any other reasonable measure of intelligence.

Being able to tell where the game is situated is not intelligence. It's a domain-specific skill. Intelligence is a general ability that makes one better at learning any domain-specific skill that utilizes cognitive capabilities.

What I do find puzzling is why people seem so emotionally attached to the idea of general intelligence measured as a single number. Is there some political/educational aspect that I'm missing out on - I'm from the UK where IQ tests seem to be generally regarded with a high degree of healthy scepticism.

No, it's just the opposite. There is emotional attachment to the idea that intelligence cannot be measured with a single number - the idea that everybody is "good at something" with regard to cognitive skills; that there are different kinds of intelligence that are mostly orthogonal or even mutually exclusive. A mathematically highly skilled individual must be socially awkward or have poor language skills and so on. It would be unfair otherwise, after all.

On the other hand, the idea that there is a single number that correlates highly with most other definitions or aspects of "intelligence" has strong experimental backing, like it or not.

So what do you do with this number? I'm genuinely puzzled as I've never encountered a situation where IQ was used for anything.

If you are talking about the same 'general' tests that I have seen, I think the idea of a synthesized problem with abstract concepts is already a strong cultural filter. They may seem very general and obvious to you, but someone not used to such a premise might well be completely thrown off, without necessarily being less 'intelligent' as it were (powers of deduction and reasoning, problem solving, etc.).

These tests are highly culture-independent

While that is certainly the goal and ambition of the people creating the tests, there still seems to be much debate as to what extent they are succeeding.

Wait until you are expected to complete an IQ test compiled using Swahili or some other language you can hardly communicate with.

>I also noticed that the older I grow, the higher my IQ due to voraciously reading technical books and articles.

I can guarantee you this is not the case. This comment is honestly so thoroughly full of misconceptions about the nature of IQ and IQ testing that it reads like a troll.

Please enlighten me about those misconceptions you are talking about. While at it, show me an IQ test that was compiled using my first language since you are dismissing facts I put on the table.

IQ is a relatively stable attribute after adolescence. it begins declining around 60. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/ageing-and-skills_5k9...

IQ is meant to measure g, or 'general intelligence'. it's roughly the ability to solve complex tasks, and tends to span across domains (ie, if you are above average in one area of problem-solving, you are likely to be above average in others): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics)

>While at it, show me an IQ test that was compiled using my first language since you are dismissing facts I put on the table.

just for instance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raven%27s_Progressive_Matrices

Well, for every link you paste to prove that IQ is a credible measure for general intelligence, I can also paste links of studies rejecting the use of IQ as the measure of intelligence.

1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/iq-tests-are-funda...

2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2250681/IQ-te...

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_quotient#Criticis...

the position that IQ isn't a measure of intelligence is misinformed at best or psuedoscientific at worst. we have a century of research on the topic, and very strong correlations with everything from life expectancy[1], to job performance[2], to educational attainment[3]. pretty strange that something that doesn't measure anything meaningful would be consistently tied to these other traits, no?

it looks very defensive to simply ignore my responses that directly answered your challenges and say 'oh yeah well i can google things'. you may also try not to rely on tabloids for science reporting.

[1] https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=iq+and+life+expectancy&...

[2] https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=iq+and+job+performance&...

[3] https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=iq+and+education&btnG=&...

So we'll be able to assign jobs at birth? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/

How do they control for environmental influence and correlations between environments and particular genes? Can someone elaborate on the "new statistical methods" briefly mentioned in the article.

"All association studies were performed on individuals of European descent; standard quality control procedures included correcting for population stratification and filtering on minor allele frequency"

a pill that increase intelligence is a wet dream. but imagine the placebo effect - it should not be underestimated.

Lord help us if intelligent is correlated some how with neanderthal, denisovan, etc genes.

Don't worry, they're probably not. Denisovan admixture is minimal, and the more substantial admixture with Neanderthal genes appear to be evolutionarily selected against, and the genetic correlations people have computed so far have generally been bad ones. I haven't seen a specific education-IQ/Neanderthal correlation reported yet, but no one has reported noting the education-IQ PGSes as being oddly enriched in Neanderthal variants, and the Neanderthal genetic correlation papers haven't said anything about education-IQ despite the PGSes being publicly available & on LD Hub etc, so arguing from silence, I think there's probably either no correlation or it's negative.

There's an interesting debate about why this is the case: were Neanderthals sufficiently distant from humans that their genetic variants tend to be incompatible, or was it because the smaller Neanderthal population made it harder to purge bad mutations so more of their variants were simply bad in general, or something else entirely?

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