Why is it always the progressives framed as the problem?


WTF? She can’t afford shoes? Or a broom?

There’s this new book on behavioral genetics out, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality, by Kathryn Paige Harden. I am not going to read it. I’ll never read it. If I were sent a free copy, I’d just throw it in the trash.

I know! I sound like I’m pre-judging it! But I can’t help it, everything I’ve read about it makes it clear that Harden has Steve Pinker disease. That’s the habit of creating a false dichotomy and stuffing any hint of leftist ideology into the extreme, just so you can easily dismiss it, and making those damned progressives the enemy of science, no matter what their views. Pinker did that with his terrible “blank slate” nonsense (no, no one believes that human beings are born with a complete absence of predispositions, or that genes don’t influence behavior). Why should I read something that has declared people like me to be bad by stuffing words in our mouths?

For a perfect example of this bullshit, here’s a profile in the New Yorker.

Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?
The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant, on her right those who insist that they’re everything.

Well fuck you too, New Yorker. I’m a fairly typical progressive, you don’t have to work at all hard to convince me that genetics matters. It does. But hey, sure, claim that I think genes are irrelevant, so you can claim that sweet centrist middle ground. Who are you arguing with, anyway?

To be fair, I’d also point out that on the far right, even among the most ridiculous bigots, they don’t believe that genes are everything. They’d also tell you that money matters.

Here’s the real difference:

Ask me if genetics matters, and I’d say yes, but that the interactions between genes and environment are so deeply intertwined that you can’t separate them out, and I don’t know precisely how genetics matters, and neither do you.

Ask someone on Harden’s side the same question, and they’ll say yes (Agreement! Consensus!), but that they think they know how, or are at least working on figuring out all the answers, which will show that vague properties like “educational attainment” have a robust genetic component. And I will argue that no, they aren’t even close.

I will roll my eyes especially hard when they try to tell me they’re figuring it out with GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Studies), twin studies, and polygenic scores, and that they affirm long-held assumptions by the privileged white class in our country. Yeah, no. Here’s a good article that, unlike the New Yorker, isn’t fawning over her fuzzy genetic determinism.

Rather than admit that these studies feed fascistic and racist ideas, she attempts to “both-sides” the issues, focusing on leftists, for whom she appears to have some disdain, fancying herself as some kind of sensible centrist, by contrast. Case in point is her interpretation of a study related to bias towards genetic determinists:

“… a scientist who reported genetic influence on intelligence was also perceived as less objective, more motivated to prove a particular hypothesis, and more likely to hold non-egalitarian beliefs that predated their scientific research career…people who described themselves as politically liberal were particularly likely to doubt the scientist’s objectivity when she reported genetic influences on intelligence.”

Her point here is to paint the left as hopelessly biased on this subject, but despite Harden’s dubious effort to paint herself as a leftist, many individuals touting genetic determinist views also harbor racist and classist views that are hardly egalitarian. There are obvious reasons for this and it doesn’t take a leftist to distrust their motives, nor should one expect leftists to embrace a sugar-coated version of genetic determinism.

Isn’t it curious how these gene-crazy people always try to find ways to demonize the people who aren’t racist/fascist/bigots? It would be nice if they were even more fastidious about the racists who do so love their work.

And there’s the science behind their claims. There is a place for GWAS studies. If you’re using them as a tool to trace lineages, fine. If you’re using them to identify candidate genes that you’ll then analyze with experimental work, great. If you instead are using them to label some marker as a potential causal agent for some complex behavioral phenomenon, no thank you very much go away now.

The actual science is far less impressive, and for those not familiar, it essentially relies on establishing genetic “correlations,” without defining what or how these genes might influence a particular trait. The principle behind the studies is not much different than what commercial genealogy sites like Ancestry.com do, but instead of establishing ethnicity or ancestry, they correlate the genetic variants that are more common in one group than another for a particular behavioral trait, or just about anything that can be designated on a questionnaire. Then they score the total number of these correlated variants a person has for a “polygenic score,” the idea being that a higher score makes it more likely you will have the trait. This is based on the hypothesis that traits are “polygenic,” consisting of hundreds or thousands of genetic variants. It is a probabilistic assessment, with no definitive set of genetic variants that would confer a trait or explanation of how any of these variants would contribute to the trait, nor explain why many with high scores do not have the trait and many with low scores do.

In truth, applying a polygenic score for a trait isn’t a whole lot different than commercial genealogy sites assessing whether someone has genetic variation that is more common for, say, Italian or Korean people. The difference is that Ancestry.com is not absurdly claiming that these genetic variations are causing Italians to like pizza or Koreans to use chopsticks. That, however, is essentially what behavioral geneticists are trying to claim, but instead of pizza or chopsticks, Harden is focused largely on so-called “educational attainment.”

Everything is polygenic. The relationships between different genes are also certainly non-linear, so you can’t just add up slight effects to claim the whole of the outcome is predictable or important. You definitely can’t talk about causality (oh, and Harden backs up frantically every time anyone mentions the “causal” word, with good reason.)

Thus, we have the circular argument that keeps the field of behavioral genetics alive: The heritability of a trait seen in twin studies proves there is a genetic basis for that trait, and the fact that we are not able to confirm twin studies via genetic studies shows only that we haven’t found the genes we expected yet, but we know must exist because of twin studies. Such circular assumptions are then presented as established science. For example, Harden claims as fact that behavioral traits are “polygenic”:

“Schizophrenia and autism and depression and obesity and educational attainment are not associated with one gene. They are not associated with even a dozen different SNPs. They are polygenic – associated with thousands upon thousands of SNP’s [genetic variants] scattered all throughout a person’s genome.”

These contradictory assumptions leave us with a “polygenic” model with thousands of genetic variants adding up to a tiny bit of heritability, and unidentified “rare variants,” to be found at a later date, accounting for the remaining huge chunks of missing heritability. This is simply wishful thinking.

Nonetheless, Harden embraces the idea that these genetic studies will someday close the gap on this missing heritability, touting a recent study for educational attainment in which she claims, “You can account for 13% of the variance.” Although this is not anywhere near what one would expect from twin studies, on the surface it is significantly better than the usual 2 to 3% that such studies generally yield. It is a bit of sleight hand, however, for Harden to tout this figure, when she also touts within family studies (comparing the genetics of siblings and their parents and then assessing their educational attainment polygenic score), as a way to strip down to the actual causal genes, and such a study was conducted and brought this figure back down to 2 or 3%. Such decreases are merely a flesh wound for Harden, though, who notes that, “… the heritability of educational attainment is still not zero.”

Here’s the thing, though. I’m going to be hearing about this book for years to come, all from the alt-right and right-wing losers who promote the kind of racial determinism underlying its theme, and what I will see from us horrible lefties is dismissal and rightful recognition that it doesn’t demonstrate what it claims…which will lead to people like Harden or Charles Murray or Steve Sailer claiming that we’re the bad guys, and siding with Harden. Yet Harden will insist that her sympathies are with progressives and social justice, and oh no, she doesn’t see anything wrong with her most ardent supporters finding affirmation of their racist views in her book.

Hey, has she done an interview with Joe Rogan or Jordan Peterson or Bret Weinstein/Heather Heying yet? They’re going to love her.

Comments

  1. says

    And to add a very important point: genes are only associated with a particular phenotype ,given a particular environment. To take a simple example, Native Americans are at elevated risk of diabetes, but not in the environment they lived in before the Europeans came. What combination of genes is associated with a given outcome depends on the organism’s environment and history. Genes that predispose to a given outcome in one environment will predispose to a different one in another. You can’t separate nature from nurture..

  2. snarkrates says

    One problem is that good science writing is hard work–and most writers don’t have the skill and the motivation to put in that kind of effort. The other problem is that if you are writing about science for the layman it is irresponsible to present anything other than the scientific consensus, with perhaps a couple of paragraphs devoted to those that dissent from that consensus. That is a tall order–even many of the scientists working in the field may not fully understand the consensus. The only way for a nonscientist to get the proper perspective is to understand the few scientists who have the breadth of understanding as well as the ability and inclination to put their own prejudices aside and try to give an objective survey. Unless the journalist is actively covering the field on a regular basis over a period of years, they won’t even know who these people are. And frankly most are too lazy to be arsed to find out.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    snarkrates @ 2
    “most are too lazy to be arsed to find out”
    Goddammit, you beat me by minutes making that argument.

  4. kathleenzielinski says

    I don’t believe in free will, so I’m definitely a determinist, but I don’t see that leading to the conclusion that the social order is as it should be. It’s possible to believe, as I do, that between genetics and environment your major life decisions are made for you, while at the same time saying that that it’s pure luck that one person was born rich and another is a meth orphan from Appalachia, and that neither has the station in life they have because they deserve it. It was pure blind luck in both cases. And that we should strive for a social order that takes care of everybody no matter where they ended up on the ladder of fate, and that those on the upper rungs should stop pretending that they’re there because they’re better than anybody else.

  5. beholder says

    @2 snarkrates

    Unless the journalist is actively covering the field on a regular basis over a period of years, they won’t even know who these people are. And frankly most are too lazy to be arsed to find out.

    Another problem is that there’s a lot of money behind some of the pseudoscience out there. Enough that the typical unscrupulous PR hack masquerading as a science journalist provides a critical service in burnishing the ideas of frauds, and is well-rewarded for it.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Progressives?
    Tell Harden to follow the example of commissioner Gordon instead. Blame Batman – he can take it.
    Re. no shoes -it is a smart move. There is a whole demography that are “into” feet*.
    *God Awful Movies has been a bad influence on my morals.

  7. says

    Or, you know, magazines that care about their reputation could just hire people with actual science backgrounds (minimum of a minor in a field related to what they’re writing about — geologists shouldn’t be writing about molecular biology, and vice versa) to write those articles. It’s not a guarantee (especially when the advertising department sticks its nose into editorial’s business), but it’s a start.

  8. says

    And to add a very important point: genes are only associated with a particular phenotype ,given a particular environment.

    I’ve made the same point myself, using hypothetical genetic traits that protect against the neurotoxicity of lead. If you grew up in a USA that used lead paint and leaded gasoline, such traits and their underlying genes would be associated with increased average educational attainment in a large population. But those aren’t genes for intelligence, much less genes for “educational attainment”, and they would never have shown up at all as having any effect without lead in the environment.

  9. raven says

    The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant…

    Those on the left who assume genes are irrelevant are…the Strawpeople.

    They don’t actually exist except as poor Strawpeople that people like Kathryn Harden can create and then set on fire.
    Won’t someone think of the unfortunate murdered Strawpeople?

  10. James Fehlinger says

    I don’t believe in free will, so I’m definitely a determinist. . .

    They’re not precisely the same thing, you know.

    You can believe that randomness (quantum indeterminacy) enters
    into the unfolding of events, and hence puts the kabosh on the
    old sci-fi notion that if you had a supercomputer and all the
    initial positions and velocities of all the particles in the
    universe you could predict the future to the end of time.
    In that case, you would not be a determinist.

    But the above would still not constitute an argument for “free will” —
    the notion that there’s a “will” operating from an uncaused
    vantage point inside a human brain (or “mind” or “soul”) that
    can choose this or that course of action, vanilla or chocolate,
    “right” or “wrong”, all by itself.

  11. says

    Can I please go one week without being accused of some sort of dystopian eugenic agenda? The racist right are the ones who judge genetics based on skin color. The left just has no fucks to give. Who cares about genes? I don’t and I’m a fucking socialist. You know who really wants to influence the genetic makeup of the American population? Tucker Carlson. People like me are OK just standing by and watching the population change. Racist thugs promote “White replacement”.

    “White Replacement” implies the existence of a white race. I do not believe that. Every one is a bit brown and a bit white and a bit whatever. Conversations about genetics only exacerbate the inherent racism when you use right wing terminology and language. Those of us who actually study biology and genetics don’t care.

  12. says

    Sorry, I’m rambling, but I guess what I’m angling toward is how we’ve allowed Fox news and the GOP dictate our actual language. On an academic level, we can still talk about these sorts of things, but they have corrupted the language to the point that we can no longer have a civil conversation in public. Worse, we just stood by and watched them do it. We allowed them their First Amendment right and allowed them to twist and contort the narrative. It seemed fair enough, but none of us could have guessed the damage from the massive collective delusion that is Trump’s America.

  13. Sonja says

    As the youngest of 5 children, it has puzzled me that I got the best grades in school, and, after a recent conversation with my brother*, I finally figured out that I was the only one, based on our birthdays (mine being in October), who was amongst the oldest of my classmates, whereas my siblings were the youngest. And this is just one factor on educational attainment being far more significant than our genes.

    *My two brothers with September birthdays (born in within 12 months of each other), were both pushed ahead into Kindergarten, one missing the cut-off by a day.

  14. Tethys says

    In addition to casting herself as as rebel maverick scientist who is trying to convince those evil progressives that genes make some people inherently superior to those other people, I note that she is also “fighting a two-pronged campaign” against the various straw persons.

    Military language aside, it is bizarre that conservative or progressive are being bandied about within the context of scientific research.
    Clickbait makes them lots of money however, so bashing those libs is the tried and true method to profit.

    The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.

    Greed is right.

    Greed works.

    Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

    Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.

    And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

  15. logicalcat says

    PZ they are talking about progressives on twitter many of whom definitely believe genes don’t matter. In the past antiprogressives used to cherry pick idiots with bad takes on tumblr or twitter and pretend that’s the norm. Now those bad takes get a lot of attention on twitter. They used to get like a dozen retweets at best but now they got thousands. They can and should be ignored but people dont. Way too many people care what idiots on twitter think.

  16. logicalcat says

    And for the record I’m not saying this as an endorsement or defense of Harden. Dont really know anything about her. Im just saying that progressives who really think genes dont matter are far numerous now than in the past and while they should be ignored people dont.

  17. acroyear says

    Related to “genes” showing impact “in a particular environment” (#1 above) was the arrival of near-sightedness to Native Americans after we introduced our literacy-focused school approach to them.

  18. PaulBC says

    Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?

    A label like “progressive” is subject to a No True Scotsman fallacy, and I personally don’t self-identify as one (“bleeding heart liberal” nails it just fine, though that bleeding may have been cauterized in a few places over the years).

    But fuck yeah, “genetics matters.” I mean it obviously affects height and hair color, or lactose tolerance. And certainly, cognitive characteristics can be passed on. There’s a reason the Bernoullis and Bachs had a lot of mathematicians and musicians in their respective lineages (some of which could of course be upbringing, but I’ll go out on a limb and say, yeah genetics. Nothing would have made me into a Bach or a Bernoulli).

    As a progressivish bleeding heart liberal though, I find that people who lean heavily on the genetics argument are really going for a claim of genetic determinism (as opposed to correlation) and nearly always have an agenda that favors their genetically linked group. When it comes to “IQ” the answer is almost always that we “need” to measure this quantity and that we “need” to favor those who possess it at the highest percentiles. Neither of these claims is backed up merely by conceding that people differ genetically in many ways.

    I don’t believe that education could make everyone as smart as Einstein (or name your favorite genius). But could education make nearly everybody as smart as your high school physics teacher? (keeping with the physics theme). It’s unclear to me whether it could, but there’s no obvious way to rule it out. It has never been tried. That is the agenda I propose: saturation-level education so that everyone can reach their potential, not rationing to the “most worthy.” When you find someone with weak musculature you don’t deprive them of protein to save it for this year’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nor do you take books away from people with poor vision. You give them glasses. This is what we are supposed to do as a society: support people and make them better than they would be without support.

    It may be true that not all citizens will even be stellar critical thinkers (I have no idea) but a lot of them could be much better at it, and if the goal is an informed citizenry, that’s where we should be aiming. There will always be programs for the elite, so the “genes matter” coalition need not worry. It’s “almost” as if their goal is not to support the gifted, but to deprive those who might better themselves.

  19. PaulBC says

    logicalcat@16 There is a distinction between “all progressives” and “some examples of progressives found on twitter.” I realize that natural language often elides the very important quantifiers “for all’ and “exists”, leaving room for deniability. I read the New Yorker headline as an implied “for all.”

    Suppose it said “When will progressives stop believing in crystal healing?” I mean, I’m sure some progressives do. I bet some outright fascists do. But the question asked that way suggests it’s a defining property of progressives. Is disbelief in heritability a defining property of progressives? I kind of doubt it. Most people across the board would acknowledge the existence of seemingly innate talents among their peers (though progressives would be less likely to weave it into a racial theory).

    If I rephrase it as “When will crystal-healing believers stop believing in crystal healing?” I admit it loses some of its punch. Likewise, “When will those who don’t believe genes matter be convinced that genes matter?” is not a punchy headline.

    But PZ’s point stands: Why the fuck are progressives always to blame?

  20. PaulBC says

    And, pardon the triple post, but let’s grant that some combination of genes can make one person “smarter” than another. Essentially, it means that some protein variants were expressed that caused their neurons to grow differently, maybe a little bushier in one place that matters for some kind of thinking (visualization, symbolic manipulation, memory). I mean some genes make a chihuahua have straight hair and a poodle have curly hair. Some stone fruits are freestone and others are attached to the pulp. Basically, an analogous development process might give you a differently organized brain, but so the fuck what? I mean it’s not like you had any choice in it. We have the same obligation as a society to all individuals. There is nothing “magic” about the gene to “IQ” connection. It’s also clearly very malleable and the goal of education should be to work with such malleability as exists, not cherry-pick the group of people who respond to our current methods.

  21. logicalcat says

    @PaulBC

    To answer the question at the end of your response, its because anti-progressives set the narrative. That we allow it is one of our biggest problems as progressives. Funnily enough the prevalence of current progressives with bad or stupid takes is more common now than in the past strictly because the anti progressives gave them a platform. Like I said they used to get like a dozen retweets. Now its several hundred and maybe even thousands. They look good by comparison to the normally bigoted anti progressives.

    But you are right that the article was written badly and made big hasty generalization. I didn’t see it at the time but now that PZ pointed it out it does sound like farming for centrist points. Also I’m always skeptical of any article that paints an established institution as something (in this case extremely biased towards progressive shit) because there is way too much bullshit revolving around anti establishment sentiment. I’m just saying that its fast becoming not the strawman it used to be. Believe it or not I’m sugar coating what I see on twitter being passed off as legit progressive-ism. If its not a problem now it will be.

  22. unclefrogy says

    the way it looks to me is we do not even know what we are measuring let alone how any of it is related to DNA when we start talking about “educational attainment” and other differences in human beings.
    I would not even think about this subject much if the Doc did not bring it up. We do not even know what intelligence is or how to measure it without being deeply embedded in culture and all of its influences both on the individual and the population as a whole.
    the only time I ever think about this is in relation to AI and what it is, when and if we ever manage to come up with one we probably wont even recognize it.
    looking over these kind of ideas and the people so enamored of them that they devote time to studying and promote them reminds me of Phrenology, it was also promoted and had “correlations” so many claimed no one today save some one like Ken Ham or David Duke would entertain such ideas. Out of such thinking these ideas spring that there are big differences in people and it must be this is the reason.
    Never once asking what are the actual differences outside the superficial ones identified by culture and individual history.

  23. lanir says

    So… silly question. Is it safe to assume anyone who doesn’t understand that correlation is not causation is pretty rubbish as a scientist? I kind of assume this is a 101 intro course style idea. Maybe a 200 course if you want to really delve into more complex examples than this one. I mean, really. The damn book title is an argument. That is obviously wrong.

    Nobody with any political view thinks DNA matters for social justice. Who cares if I have genes for let’s say down syndrome? Sure I would and so would anyone I might make babies with and possibly even people sharing my DNA. But as a political stance? Yeah no. I don’t express that particular trait so it doesn’t matter. If I have kids with it then I want them treated well, not me. What a rubbish, pointless, nonsense argument to make. Don’t need to read her book, she’s already made that argument with the title alone, quite deliberately I’m sure. I guess by putting that sort of rubbish on the cover she’s at least doing truth in advertising but it’s still garbage.

  24. atomjz says

    It’s important to remember that all conservative belief is shrouded in code, to hide how gross their beliefs are to most people. In 2021, arguments involving genes from conservatives always seem to be some long and convoluted gibberish that leads to “see, genes matter, nature over nurture” which then takes them immediately to “trans people don’t deserve rights.” Everything else is just for show, they write entire books and articles as long-form code to say they hate anyone trans (or non-white, or LGBTQ+, etc).

    To even address their arguments at face value is going along with the disingenuous code-talk. Don’t engage with it, that’s what they want. The moment they start talking about the importance of genetics, immediately call them out with “this is some kind of winding nonsensical path to let you argue for a bathroom bill, isn’t it?”

  25. PaulBC says

    atomjz@26

    The moment they start talking about the importance of genetics, immediately call them out with “this is some kind of winding nonsensical path to let you argue for a bathroom bill, isn’t it?”

    Good idea. Though I don’t get this much I admit. (I love my bubble!)

    Lots of things matter. When someone repeatedly identifies one specific thing that matters, the interesting question is not that thing, but their agenda, which is what they should be disclosing up front.

  26. Jazzlet says

    PaulBC
    “There’s a reason the Bernoullis and Bachs had a lot of mathematicians and musicians in their respective lineages (some of which could of course be upbringing, but I’ll go out on a limb and say, yeah genetics. Nothing would have made me into a Bach or a Bernoulli).”

    Utter rubbish and completely missing the point of what PZ is saying. I knew an eminent mathematician who said they could make any child into a mathematical prodigy; he chose not to do so with his own children because he considered the techniques necessary to do so to be child abuse. He also always voted against the admittance of such under age prodigies to Oxford where such admittances were voted on by the university Congregation at the time of which I write.

  27. PaulBC says

    Jazzlet@28

    Utter rubbish and completely missing the point of what PZ is saying.

    I am pretty sure I got PZ’s point and that I agree with him entirely. You’re taking one comment out of context, by the way, and I assume you realize that.

    You’re free to disagree with my claim about innate talent. I don’t know. I very much doubt that I could be a great mathematician under any circumstances, and it’s not like I didn’t try to be a good one, or close enough, a theoretical computer scientist, which I am (or was). I feel I have a good handle on my abilities and limitations. My intuition is often sound. The follow-through in formalism is slow and arduous, but I compensate by always checking my work (I wish my kids would!). I know plenty of people who are “smarter” than I am, who lacked my advantages, growing up with a father who was a mathematician and inspired me with puzzles and paradoxes.

    As I like to say, the only thing worse than the sense you’ve failed to live up to your potential is the gnawing suspicion that maybe you actually have. That’s me in mid-life.

    I’d be a better mathematician with more early drilling, sure. I’d have some musical literacy if that had been part of my early education. I very much doubt I would fall into an elite of either (particularly music). “Anybody” can’t be an NBA-level basketball player (or if so, it remains to be demonstrated). I doubt “anybody” can be Jacob Bernoulli, Sophie Germain, John von Neumann, Srinivasa Ramanujan, etc. They benefited from a confluence of factors, culture and upbringing to be sure, but probably innate talents. (Note that you don’t even have to discount individual innate talents to understand that racial essentialism is a load of hateful BS.)

    I knew an eminent mathematician who said they could make any child into a mathematical prodigy

    For this, I’d need some context. Many “prodigies” are distinguished as lightning calculators, and that’s probably trainable. Even the most promising young mathematicians who grasp theory perfectly often hit a wall where they don’t seem to have the kind of original contributions that would make them “great” (now that could be a lot of things, and I doubt there is genetic originality, only opportunity met with potential).

    If you read further, I did say a reasonable goal might be to try to make everyone as good at physics as a high school physics teacher even if they will never be Einstein. I mean, we’re nowhere close to that, are we? I also don’t think the reason is that we don’t abuse kids enough. It’s because we leave many people behind, thinking them incapable of it.

  28. PaulBC says

    Another thing about “nature vs. nurture.” This is not a simple dichotomy of genes and education. There is also prenatal health, being born at term, early nutrition, and not growing up around toxins like lead. These things obviously matter, are fixable, and indeed we have an obligation as a society to fix them.

  29. stroppy says

    @ 29
    Nicely put.

    @30
    “I knew an eminent mathematician who said they could make any child into a mathematical prodigy.”

    Was he falling off his barstool when he gifted that anecdote?

  30. Jazzlet says

    The kind of prodigy that gets admitted to Oxford University at twelve is not merely a lightening calculator. I still think you miss the point, if you start a child with numbers before language, with numerical patterns before art, you literally shape the way the child’s brain develops so that it thinks in mathamatical terms before translating to language. I did say this was child abuse. You can do the same with learning the violin, the Suzuki technique is a relatively benign version of the process. The point is that if as a parent you decide to focus on a particular subject area you can make the vast majority of children a prodigy in that area, because of the plasticity in the way our brains develop. The same is not as true of sports as final body type will have an effect at the elite level, but it’s also something that you see more often as it is considered more acceptable by many people.

  31. says

    The whole idea of a genetic determinant for “intelligence” or “educational attainment” is pure horseshit. Intelligence or education is what we learn at the conscious-rational-mind level; and NO ONE is born knowing anything at that level. Anyone with a scrap of intellectual honesty would be talking about specific biological or neurological traits that affect the ability to learn, and seeking genetic determinants for those physical traits.

    If this book is talking about genetic determinants for “intelligence” or “educational attainment” (how do genes determine what you “attain” after you’re born?), then you’re right not to bother with it. The author(s) are pandering to, or caving to, lazy-assed racists and reactionaries who’d rather write off “those people” as genetically-hopeless than lift a finger to address any of the really tough environmental factors, including (but not limited to) those mentioned by PaulBC @30 above.

  32. Jazzlet says

    stroppy @32/3
    No, this was a view he had developed as a result of decades of teaching mathematics at Oxford, which in the UK is one of the two universities you might try to get your young prodigy into – most UK universities don’t admit students under eighteen as it saves all sorts of hassle dealing with being in loco parentis. His experience was that the prodigies were all unblanced in their development, and his colleagues agreed, they had a system to try to, among other things, socialise the prodigies so they could deal with people and life apart from mathematics; things like having them to family dinners so they learnt acceptable table manners. And when I say “I knew a mathematician who…” I am talking about my father, he didn’t drink much and I learnt about the prodigies because they were expained to us before the family dinners they attended from when I was under ten to sometime in my teens. Even my father realised we would have ripped them to pieces otherwise, my family are verbally combatative. As I said the process to achieve the prodigy was seriously abusive in that the parents concentrated on that above everything else. For a relatively mild version have a look at Ruth Lawrence’s early time at Oxford, she arrived after the days our family took part in the socialisation programme so I never met her.

  33. Jazzlet says

    Raging Bee @ 34
    One of the things I would look at is our pattern descerning ability, the whole thing that makes us see patterns even where there are none, supposedly because our ancestors that detected “lions” when there were none survived whereas those that failed to detect lions when they were there didn’t. I wonder for instance how far this goes, it’s really obvious in many of the conspiracy theories around, especially at the moment, that pattern descernment can go too far, resulting in both wasted energy and dangerous decisions. But I’m probably not thinking about what they mean in the right way.

  34. PaulBC says

    I started and deleted a longer post, but I guess I’ll just observe that the tabula rasa notion of the brain dies hard.

    I’m perfectly content with a brain that pretty obviously would never have been able to duplicate the legendary feats of John von Neumann no matter how I had been educated. It works well enough. It’s an organ, just as my kidneys are. Last time I had creatinine checked, that too was perfectly fine for my age, but I am sure I could be outmatched on kidney function as well and only some of that is within my control.

  35. James Fehlinger says

    I knew an eminent mathematician who said they could make
    any child into a mathematical prodigy; he chose not to do
    so with his own children because he considered the techniques
    necessary to do so to be child abuse.

    I seem to recall reading that Norbert Wiener ( Ex-Prodigy ,
    I Am A Mathematician ) attributed his gifts to the deliberate
    hot-housing of his father.

    Genius Explained , Michael J. A. Howe
    “Maufacturing Genius”, p. 119
    ++++
    Norbert Wiener’s experiences as a young person left him acutely
    aware of the problems that can make life difficult for a child
    raised by parents who have set out to create a superior person.
    Compressing his feelings into one eloquent admonitory sentence,
    he advised, ‘Let those who choose to carve a human soul to their
    own measure be sure that they have a worthy image after which to
    carve it, and let them know that the power of molding an emerging
    intellect is a power of death as well as a power of life.’

    It is a warning worth heeding.
    ++++

    The Search for a Theory of Cognition
    Stefano Franchi, Francesco Bianchini, eds.
    p. 56
    ++++
    Norbert Wiener’s upbringing resembled none so much as
    John Stuart Mills’s. His father, Leo Wiener, was an erudite
    and driven Harvard Slavicist who was determined that his
    son know languages, mathematics, and the sciences long before
    he was old enough to attend grade school. . .
    ++++

    https://owlcation.com/stem/Norbert-Wiener-Father-of-Cybernetics
    ++++
    When asked about his father later in life, Norbert always mentioned
    Leo as being a very kind, calm and composed man. He said the only time
    his father showed anger was in moments when Norbert gave him a
    wrong answer to a question!
    ++++

  36. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:

    There’s a reason the Bernoullis and Bachs had a lot of mathematicians and musicians in their respective lineages (some of which could of course be upbringing, but I’ll go out on a limb and say, yeah genetics. Nothing would have made me into a Bach or a Bernoulli).

    You say “upbringing,” which sounds like it’s about parenting or something like that, but that may be playing a pretty minor role a lot of the time. When you have a sort of caste system in a society which systematically funnels people into certain types of careers, you shouldn’t be surprised when there is sometimes a family with a bunch of musicians (for example). And if some of them turn out to be good (or at least famous), that’s not a surprise either, because there are so many such people that this is bound to happen occasionally. Consider that you’ve only ever heard about a handful, when there have been millions of cases to look at throughout history, and you should start to worry a little about how you’re biasing this judgment.

    Meanwhile, if the family business was related to farming or pottery or whatever, even if some happened to be particularly successful at it, I doubt you’d have strong suspicions that this is due to genetics. The society they’re in simply put them there (as if it were an arranged marriage, sometimes also literally the result of an arranged marriage). And it was typically whether or not they were any good at the job or had any interest in doing it. This was just your station in life, like it or not, so you had better figure it out, or else things will get even worse for you. Genes had nothing to do with that.

    Also, let’s be honest: name one piece by another Bach who isn’t J.S., without looking it up. If you do cheat as most would need to and google an example, you’ll find that none of it is very remarkable. Not that they were particularly awful either, but the sort of legendary story that has built up about them is much more impressive than the reality.

    (Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn are maybe a better example, if you’re looking for one … still just a sample of two people though. Both did write some really great stuff. However, their family’s social status had plenty to do with it. Genes? Well, we don’t know anything about their genes.)

    Even J.S. Bach himself wasn’t such a revolutionary genius as some people make him out to be. (I suspect it’s because they rarely ever get much of an education in music history. But others are just super-fans who love what the guy made and maybe should expose themselves to more music some time.) He was certainly prolific, he was good at incorporating ideas from many other Baroque musicians who had come before him, and he happened to be in a position where that work could have a big influence on later musicians (especially Protestants).

    His collected works were a great resource, if you were looking for a one-stop shop where you could learn about many of the compositional practices which were important in that place and time. That is nice. But that’s a bit like saying your local Walmart is conveniently located and has a bunch of useful products on its shelves. Maybe that’s true, but you don’t have to lay it on so thick and pretend like it’s the greatest thing ever, you know?

  37. PaulBC says

    James Fehlinger@38 And Norbert Wiener was no John von Neumann either! I actually read Ex-Prodigy as a teen. It was in my father’s book collection. I didn’t read the second part. All I remember now is that he used to take a leisurely walk to eat a liverwurst sandwich with a pickle (and I am not even going to Google to fact check that).

    Just because Wiener says so doesn’t make it so. He probably underestimated his innate capacity just as many “smart” people do. But sure, the upbringing helped. It is just unlikely to have helped everybody to the same degree.

    The only other thing I remember about Norbert Wiener was that Alan Turing found him pretentious. Is that in Andrew Hodge’s biography? (Again, no fact checking, so maybe I’m imagining all of this).

  38. PaulBC says

    consciousness razor@39 No real argument from me. I still very much doubt any set of circumstances would have me duplicating even the accomplishments of lesser Bachs or Bernoullis whatever they may be. (There is CPE Bach and I’m sure I heard something by him on public radio once. (Also that it was a lot better than I can do.) I didn’t Google and that’s about my limit.) Note also that “innate” doesn’t even mean heritable. We’re all dealt a genetic hand when we’re born, at least partly shuffled, since we’re clones of neither parent. I’m entirely uninterested it correlating it to “race” and distrust the motives of those who are.

    It does not matter from an ethical standpoint, and the above was a caveat, not my point. My point is that whatever anyone’s innate capacity, we should be helping them achieve their potential and not cherry-picking the easy cases who would probably do fine anyway.

  39. PaulBC says

    me@40 Well this is embarrassing. I can’t find any reference to liverwurst with either a pickle or a large onion in any connection to Norbert Wiener. But I vividly remember some mathematician recounting a childhood that involved a daily walk to eat a similar combination outdoors for lunch. Looking over Ex-prodigy, it’s at least in keeping with the autobiographical tone, so maybe I fell asleep while reading it as a teen and only dreamed about the liverwurst.

    I’m still pretty sure Turing found him either pretentious or pompous. The most I can document is that they did indeed meet.

  40. James Fehlinger says

    All I remember now is that he used to take a leisurely walk to eat
    a liverwurst sandwich with a pickle. . . The only other thing I remember
    about Norbert Wiener was that Alan Turing found him pretentious.

    At any rate, he was not a happy camper.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/opinion/the-2015-sidney-awards.html
    ++++
    The 2015 Sidney Awards
    David Brooks
    DEC. 18, 2015

    . . .

    In “The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World With Logic”
    in Nautilus (Issue 21), Amanda Gefter described the partnership
    between Walter Pitts and Warren McCulloch. These two
    geniuses fit together perfectly. They performed amazing
    intellectual feats, the first of which was coming up
    with a working model for how the brain works and laying
    the groundwork for artificial intelligence.

    They also developed an amazing friendship. At one point
    when they were apart, Pitts wrote McCulloch, “About once a
    week now I become violently homesick to talk all evening
    and all night to you.”

    Only one person was unhappy with this arrangement: the
    wife of a third colleague [Norbert Wiener] who was jealous of
    her husband’s academic relationships. She told her husband, falsely,
    that their daughter had been seduced by his colleagues.
    That ruptured the whole network of ties.

    Pitts was abandoned. He began drinking heavily. He withdrew
    from most social contact. As Gefter writes, “On May 14, 1969
    Walter Pitts died alone in a boarding house in Cambridge,
    of bleeding esophageal varices, a condition associated with
    cirrhosis of the liver. Four months later, McCulloch passed
    away, as if the existence of one without the other were
    simply illogical, a reverberating loop wrenched open.”
    ++++

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/20/books/review/dark-hero-of-the-information-age-the-original-computer-geek.html
    ++++
    ‘Dark Hero of the Information Age’: The Original Computer Geek
    By Clive Thompson
    March 20, 2005
    [review of
    Dark Hero of the Information Age: In Search of Norbert Wiener
    the Father of Cybernetics

    by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman]

    . . .

    But the real problem, the authors argue, was personal.
    At the crest of his career, Wiener’s life imploded, almost
    like a feedback system falling out of equilibrium with
    itself. And this is where the book really shines, because
    it offers a fascinating account of how a personal crisis
    can destroy a scientific revolution.

    The catastrophe emerged from Wiener’s German-born wife, Margaret,
    and their almost gothically weird relationship. Though Wiener
    was Jewish, Margaret became an outspoken Nazi supporter during
    World War II. (She kept a copy of “Mein Kampf” on a dresser at
    home.) She was even more hostile to her daughters, and accused
    the elder of inspiring “unnatural” sexual feelings in her father.
    As Wiener’s reputation grew and he crisscrossed the globe on
    lecture circuits, Margaret attempted to trigger his depressions
    with undercutting remarks.

    At the peak of Wiener’s fame, she told an audacious lie that
    destroyed his relationship with his closest scientific
    collaborators. One of Wiener’s daughters had interned for
    a spring with the colleagues; Margaret told Wiener that
    their daughter had had sex with several of them. Wiener
    chose to believe the falsehood. He immediately cut off
    all contact with his collaborators, never explained the
    accusation and never spoke to them again.

    And that, the authors contend, is the real reason
    cybernetics died. Wiener’s colleagues were shattered,
    and without his participation, their explorations of
    his ideas quickly atrophied. One of Wiener’s former
    protégés, the young mathematical genius Walter Pitts, was
    so scarred that ultimately he drank himself to death.
    By the time of Wiener’s death in 1964, there were few
    proselytizers left; Soviet scientists were interested,
    but this only served to give cybernetics a “red” tinge.
    ++++

    Dark Hero of the Information Age
    ++++
    From a tender age, [eldest daughter] Barbara witnessed her father’s
    combustible states at close range. She recalled his “sudden explosions”
    around the house, and more severe response which she described
    as “emotional storms.” Wiener’s emotional life during those years
    revolved around his professional frustrations, which he felt
    deeply despite his successes. “The world was against him, his
    colleagues were betraying him, he was going to resign his professorship
    or resign from this or that position,” said Barbara. . .

    “Sometimes it got very dangerous to talk about poetry around my
    father. He would start to recite some poem and then he would
    start ranting and then he would start crying and he would be
    in a total state. . . With English verse and the classics he was
    usually okay, but when he would recite in German, he would. . .
    go entirely out of control.” . . .

    “He would stand in the front hall shouting and crying while I tried
    to pull him back onto solid ground before he went over the cliff,”
    Barbara recalled. “My mother hid in the kitchen, but I tried to
    stick it out with him.” . . .

    While Margaret hid in the kitchen and Peggy shuddered on the stairs,
    Barbara stood by her father. In time, she found the way to steer
    Wiener through his “tailspins.”

    “My father always required vast amounts of praise and reassurance,
    but he required even more when he was in one of his tailspins. . .”

    “After the storm crested, he usually would return to speaking English
    and retire to his room with a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk.” . . .

    Margaret. . . could not grasp her empathetic child’s ability to calm
    and reassure Wiener in his time of turmoil. . . “She would come
    out of the kitchen and tell me that the only reason I was able to
    cope with him when he was in such a state was because I was
    encouraging his ‘unnatural’ feelings for me. . . [I]t could only
    be because, in her eyes, I was using some sexual technique. . .”
    ++++

  41. DanDare says

    Tangent. @PZ and other scientists here.
    What is the good science about the genetic influence on behaviour? It is an interesting subject and the complexity I would find enjoyable.
    There must be some since choosing to mate and have babies would be purely arbitrary otherwise and not sustainable.
    I would like it if discussion of the real science could just drown out the pseudo science.

  42. leerudolph says

    Jazzlet@35: Ruth Lawrence rather fizzled out, though; she’s hardly in the very top class of Atiyah’s students, at least as far as I can judge from her publications after her thesis (and direct developments therefrom). Which might well just mean that she has found other things she prefers to do! Or it could even mean that she’s working away privately on something that, when it’s complete, will blow us all away! (I’m a braid theorist—though of a quite different flavor than her—so I have some standing to have opinions on such things, though the opinions may be quite wrong. And I’ve only met her once, at a small conference on braid theory.)

    Incidentally, of the numerous more or less eminent topologists I’ve known more or less well in the last 57 years, one is a son of two eminent mathematicians (and is more or less as eminent as they were) and two or fthree are the parents (fathers) of mathematicians who are … not.

  43. consciousness razor says

    I still very much doubt any set of circumstances would have me duplicating even the accomplishments of lesser Bachs or Bernoullis whatever they may be.

    Hmm. Does Jermaine Jackson seem doable?

    Or I have no idea…. Which one is lesser, Miley or Billy Ray Cyrus?

    (There is CPE Bach and I’m sure I heard something by him on public radio once. (Also that it was a lot better than I can do.) I didn’t Google and that’s about my limit.)

    It’s not a title, but it is something.

    I just realized that, given the way I phrased it, you technically could’ve mentioned anything by P.D.Q. Bach. It’s a good thing you didn’t. Points would be docked.

    I’m entirely uninterested it correlating it to “race” and distrust the motives of those who are.

    Add gender and class to the list, and that’s at least a good start.

  44. unclefrogy says

    @36
    those are the interesting questions.
    there is also our ability to tell stories (it is almost a compulsion) not sure if any other creatures can do that
    there is how we learn as well it is not just by observing others but by others actively show us how to do things
    I can see that those abilities are all tied together with our pattern recognition ability
    it is in the fundamentals where we will see what we are looking for
    there is an art to being a farmer every bit as hard as being a musician with the added variable of a changing environment to contend with. the genius farmer is seldom recognized though we all have benefited from those who made those preliminary great discoveries.

  45. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    I love how people who say that they are liberals or leftists in this vein essentially never advance a single leftist point, letting the right frame the issue.

    Like

    It doesn’t matter if there are differences in educational attainment: that isn’t a reason to put *less into educating those with worse outcomes, it’s a reason to do more
    *If there are genetic inequalities, shouldn’t the research into gene therapy be deployed to close those?
    *If people don’t control their genetic inheritance, shouldn’t society be built to accommodate their talents and skills?

    People like Harden just assume right-wing economic, social, cultural and philosophical dogma.

  46. chrislawson says

    For a geneticist, Harden seems to have a very poor understanding of SNPs, not to mention correlation vs. causation.

    [1] SNPs are nothing more than single-point variations on small sections of DNA. Many SNPs are completely neutral, so it’s hard to see how they could influence anything. They are very useful for studying family trees or, on the wider level, population migrations and intermixings because you can track the changes in populations. That is, even the neutral mutations are very helpful for the purpose of tracking. SNP analysis is not useful for genetic testing in individuals even for well-known single-gene diseases like cystic fibrosis. So why would they be helpful for understanding community-wide influences?

    [2] Harden also seems not to understand that since SNPs tend to follow family trees, then there will be correlations with some genetic traits even if that SNP is completely unrelated. She also really, really doesn’t seem to understand that since SNPs tend to follow family trees, they will also correlate with non-genetic conditions that also follow family lines such as, oh I don’t know, inherited wealth and educational attainment. I mean, don’t try to tell me that Dan Quayle Bush, one of the stupidest people ever to walk the planet, managed to get through a university degree and win both state and federal elections because he had a lot of SNPs in common with his much smarter grandfather!

    [3] If conditions like schizophrenia have “thousands upon thousands” of tiny correlations with SNPs, then I think it’s fair to argue that those correlations are effectively meaningless. And how is any of this SNP stuff supposed to help guide policy? Even if we use a completely deterministic model with zero environmental influence, this makes schizophrenia is an unlucky assortment of genetic influences which will lead to largely unpredictable incidences that tend to run in families…well we already know that! Any meaningful policy decisions will still have to work on the level of social interventions even if schizophrenia were 100% genetic, which it isn’t.

  47. chrislawson says

    Oh, also, that Amazon link shows that a lot of customers who buy Harden’s book also buy The Bell Curve. She sure knows where the money trough for bad science is.

  48. beholder says

    @48

    I love how people who say that they are liberals or leftists in this vein essentially never advance a single leftist point, letting the right frame the issue.

    PZ and a good deal of the commenters here have a blind spot when it comes to the institutional failings of academia, because they are inside of it; it takes a lot of extra work to get past seeing criticism of the institution as an attack on your profession.

    Suffice to say, even if we were able to demonstrate that educational attainment had nothing to do with genes, there are other rather obvious ways that some people are born at an advantage, or disadvantage. Being born to rich parents always helps with educational attainment, for example. Alternatively, being born in an area with high lead exposure, or being born to uneducated parents does not. The leftist solution presents itself simply: make sure the disadvantaged get all the social and material support they need to facilitate a quality education.

    Are we anywhere close to that? No, and unfortunately there’s a lot of resistance within academia to that kind of change; meritocracy is still implicity assumed, and most of the disadvantaged are characterized as dropouts, delinquents, or other pejoratives that foreclose any empathetic approach.

  49. beholder says

    Apologies for the double post.

    The other leftist approach is to accept that there will be variation in educational outcomes, and to mitigate the harm society currently does to those who, for whatever reason, didn’t do well in school. We’re nowhere close to that either; today’s society frames it as a personal failing and a just punishment.

  50. unclefrogy says

    society also takes class and wealth as a personal failing as well level of employment status

  51. leerudolph says

    beholder@51: “Being born to rich parents always helps with educational attainment, for example.” That’s a strong (because universal) claim, when “always” is interpreted strictly (as in, “in every single goddamned instance”).

  52. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @51: I agree with your broader points, but… I don’t see the blind spot among people here. PZ constantly criticizes academia and recognizes that criticisms of academia, right or wrong, aren’t necessarily attacks.

    Yes, you are wholly right in addition to my points, and I still think that shows how commonly the trope of “Iḿ a liberal, but,…” that comes up in conversations like this in mainstream are so disingenuous. Actual liberals would reflexively be able to point out everything you and I did, and frame the conversation from the outset that way. Only people who are ideologically conservative (but want to virtue signal to others and/or pretend to themselves) would begin from the idea that we should prioritize meritocracy over everything else, not change institutional norms, value equity and limiting variance of results (even if not enforcing actual equality of results), etc. Without that, the entire alt-right framing doesn’t make sense.

    Another point is, “Why do we care so much about intelligence?” Like, what about emotional intelligence? What about morality? If we’re going to say that there is something genetic about the poor that produces poverty, what about looking at the rich and their capacity for rapacious behavior, the capacity of those in European cultures to engage in the most horrific genocide, etc. Those questions are never asked because the out-group biases don’t trigger the same way.

    @54: “Always” meaning “in so many instances that the exceptions are barely worth mentioning”, which is the only way one can ever use “always” in social affairs.

  53. consciousness razor says

    leerudolph:

    That’s a strong (because universal) claim, when “always” is interpreted strictly (as in, “in every single goddamned instance”).

    Then it’s a strong claim. Who cares?

    You’re suggesting that there exist (possibly rare) instances when it doesn’t “help.” So, give a single example where it doesn’t help at all. Or failing that, just try to describe what you think one might be like, even if it never actually happens.

  54. PaulBC says

    Frederic Bourgault-Christie@48

    It doesn’t matter if there are differences in educational attainment: that isn’t a reason to put *less into educating those with worse outcomes, it’s a reason to do more
    *If there are genetic inequalities, shouldn’t the research into gene therapy be deployed to close those?
    *If people don’t control their genetic inheritance, shouldn’t society be built to accommodate their talents and skills?

    I agree with all that. I’m sure that correctable visible problems were once a “learning disability” and a hard barrier to ever learning to read. Fortunately, we now understand that the solution is to check eyesight and provide glasses (though with US healthcare, even this is done inequitably).

    There are people with more subtle issues like dyslexia, who can do well if the problem is discovered and dealt with. Honestly, I think there are a host of “learning disabilities” that go unrecognized in mathematics in particular leaving “mathophobes” high and dry while the right help would clear things up.

    The best thing that ever happened to me was to discover computers at age 12 (in the late 70s when they weren’t ubiquitous). Watching me trying to work out an algebraic derivation on paper is painful. I will get the answer (probably) but it involves a great deal of erasure. It was good enough for school, but that’s only because it was important enough to me to compensate. I believe many people face mechanistic and not conceptual barriers, but education assumes one-size-fits-all. The guiding principles are also generally determined by those who made it though the system with a good experience.

    I really believe strongly that all of our brains are innately different and no amount of education changes that. I have a good friend from grad school who was a “prodigy”, graduating college at 16 and much better at any kind of symbolic or formal reasoning than I am. We were at an art museum and I was explaining to him how a corner mirror worked in an exhibit and he was blown away like it was something he never thought of. He emailed me days later about how exciting my explanation was like it was something deep. I’m not the world’s best visualizer either, but my skills in that direction work ahead of what I can fill in symbolically.

    I also believe the differences in our brains should not be a source of competition, let alone shame, any more than eyesight or kidney function. The brain is an organ that grows under environmental and genetic constraints (and even those are not tied very closely to ancestry; many people are “smarter” than any recent ancestor).

    It is not a tabula rasa or empty vessel. It has specific functions such as acquiring language, visual models, and social relationships. So if it starts empty, it starts with a plan for filling itself. The bit that we add through formal education is just the last drop in this vessel, and a lot of that can now be done more reliably with computers.

    Jazzlet@33

    The same is not as true of sports as final body type will have an effect at the elite level

    After some thought, I want to address this. I also lack the brain of a professional basketball player (or even a competent amateur). I have never been good at sports, particularly team competitive sports. I don’t only mean motor coordination, but just the level of quick decision-making and perceiving what the other team is trying to do and how I can work with my team to do something about it. I mean, I did some AYSO refereeing when my kids were playing soccer, and what a joke that was.

    You could claim that’s all correctable with early training, and I can’t refute this with data. However, I really think that an elite NBA player is someone with an amazing brain capable of feats that my brain would not attain under any circumstances. It does professional athletes a disservice to reduce their talent to “body type.”

    As to prodigies, count me skeptical that “anyone” could be trained to be a math prodigy (I doubt I could). You presented a sampling of kids with pushy parents. I agree that it’s abuse (of the “tiger mom” kind), and as you yourself pointed out, it often turns out badly. But a lot of great mathematicians have a talent that flows naturally. They may be juggling things in working memory without having any idea how hard this would be for others. And it may be a rather small difference, but just at the margin will turn educational torture into a delightful puzzle.

  55. chris61 says

    I wonder how many of you have actually read Harden. I wonder because many of the positions you claim she would adopt if she were really a progressive are positions she does in fact espouse in this book.

  56. PaulBC says

    chris61@58

    I wonder how many of you have actually read Harden.

    True, I have not. But the New Yorker headline associates her with the claim that “progressives” (I filled in the unstated “all or most”) do not believe “genetics matters.” That’s the claim I’m disputing. At the very least, it is clear to me that people are dealt a genetic hand at birth (not to mention the prenatal environmental conditions) that has an undeniable effect on their future success. The same goes for early childhood development, and a great deal is established fact before anyone reaches the maturity to take their own action against it.

    For purposes of this discussion, I self-identify as progressive (I am honestly happier with “liberal” or even “left”). The existence of these uncontrollable factors motivates my deep belief that society ought to provide more help to its members and not less. We should not be rationing education for a cherry-picked elite, as we do now. That’s what makes me liberal, not a proposed explanation for the existence of an elite.

    I have no information about what Harden thinks of that. My primary target is whoever wrote the New Yorker headline.

  57. chris61 says

    Harden believes education should be provided in such a way as to benefit everyone including the most vulnerable members of society. That those who might most benefit from advanced education should be provided with it only to the extent and for the purpose of benefiting society as a whole, including its most disadvantaged members. Her argument that progressives believe “ genetics doesn’t matter” is more that by trying to improve the lives of the disadvantaged by focusing on enriching environments while ignoring genetic differences or by arguing we shouldn’t study genetic differences because eugenicists misuse such studies we are ignoring information that can be used to promote progressive values.

  58. chris61 says

    @49 chris Lawson

    If conditions like schizophrenia have “thousands upon thousands” of tiny correlations with SNPs, then I think it’s fair to argue that those correlations are effectively meaningless. And how is any of this SNP stuff supposed to help guide policy?

    Well for one thing if we identify genes that make some people more susceptible to schizophrenia it makes it easier to identify ( and possibly intervene) in environmental factors that might exacerbate susceptibility.

  59. says

    Independent of the larger discussion, the thing about forcing prodigies through abuse rings true.l I grew up in a conservative protestant military culture and despite my efforts to do something different than the majority of my ancestors (military or religion), here I am figuring out how to use advantages in conflicts because I grew up among the people with the problem behavior. I’m right now working out how the means of punishment, the social fear, and the peer abuse shaped my senses.

    And I’m pretty sure adhd runs on both sides, and the tourette syndrome via mom, and grandpa. If the social social reinforcement of behavior has epigenetic components, that is part of how the culture works. This is quite a messy place.

  60. unclefrogy says

    by arguing we shouldn’t study genetic differences because eugenicists misuse such studies we are ignoring information that can be used to promote progressive values.

    that right there is what the objection to her thesis is about.
    that is framing the question that there is a difference caused by genetics when there is no clear understanding what intelligence is or what it is based on, that the outcome has major genetic components and has little to do with culture.

    I think that to be a star NBA player or even a starter the major advantage any individual player must have today is size.
    The situational awareness, and quick understanding and decision making is well demonstrated in computer gaming, physical fitness and dexterity are also very widely distributed across the population and they can be learned. being 7 feet tall is not How many 5’6″ players are there?

  61. PaulBC says

    unclefrogy@63

    The situational awareness, and quick understanding and decision making is well demonstrated in computer gaming, physical fitness and dexterity are also very widely distributed across the population and they can be learned. being 7 feet tall is not How many 5’6″ players are there?

    Conceded. On the other hand, size alone is insufficient. Professional basketball in particular may be a poor example given the physical constraints on top players. However, it’s hard for me to think of any field in which the brain does not play an important role. E.g., many years back I used to watch America’s Top Model with Tyra Banks (it was my wife’s thing, I swear). You’d think modeling is just about how you look in a photo, but it really a lot about awareness of the audience and expressiveness. Yes, your looks can rule you out but they are insufficient to make a career. Brains do all kinds of amazing things, and it bothers me (maybe because I used to think this way) when people limit “brain” to “rational thought.”

  62. consciousness razor says

    chris61:

    Her argument that progressives believe “ genetics doesn’t matter” is more that by trying to improve the lives of the disadvantaged by focusing on enriching environments while ignoring genetic differences or by arguing we shouldn’t study genetic differences because eugenicists misuse such studies we are ignoring information that can be used to promote progressive values.

    Maybe you need to fill in some more details. It seems like a step could be missing in this plan.
    1) Don’t try to improve the lives of the disadvantaged by focusing on enriching environments, unless you also buy her book.
    2) Hunt for correlations.
    3) ???
    4) Promote progressive values.

    I assume I’m the first to think of it, but we might just go straight to the fourth step, since that seems like a good one. No? That sounds like a pretty solid plan to me.

    Does she think that she needs the left to ask her for this supposedly valuable “information”? It doesn’t seem like it. I mean, for one thing, there’s already a big enough market out there for books, paid speaking gigs, etc., so it’s not like this is critical to her own success. Is that not enough?

    And she definitely knows that nobody ordered this. That we’re allegedly “ignoring” these contributions is after all one of her big complaints.

    But what’s supposed to convince us that we ought to be asking her for her assistance at carrying out our own political projects, which aren’t related to genetics? Why would we do that? Is there an argument for this, or is there just consternation about the fact that we’re not convinced yet?

  63. Rob Grigjanis says

    unclefrogy @63:

    The situational awareness, and quick understanding and decision making is well demonstrated in computer gaming, physical fitness and dexterity are also very widely distributed across the population and they can be learned.

    I smell ridiculous oversimplification. I can’t speak to basketball, but if what you wrote were true, there would be many more soccer players who could match the talents of Pelé, George Best, Maradona and Lionel Messi. If you could appreciate what they could/can do, it would be absurd to put it down to simply learning.

  64. unclefrogy says

    @65
    those are abilities or skills needed for many things we do that all come from the brain activity. It does stake that level of awareness in many activities that do not have much of any academic prerequisites at all. Every craft requires all of those mental skills the higher level of the craft the more all of those mental abilities are required.
    the whole basis of this genetic thesis is based on cultural values and wishful thinking in support of class distinctions in my view.

  65. chris61 says

    @63 uncle groggy
    If genetics doesn’t contribute to educational attainment then the studies to assess a proposed relationship should bear that out. To date they don’t. And nobody, especially not Harden, is arguing that environmental factors play a huge role in one’s educational success. She’s arguing that focusing exclusively on environmental factors is as wrong as focusing exclusively on genetics would be.

  66. consciousness razor says

    I can’t speak to basketball, but if what you wrote were true, there would be many more soccer players who could match the talents of Pelé, George Best, Maradona and Lionel Messi.

    That doesn’t follow.

    Are such skills only useful for soccer?
    Is everyone uninterested in other activities besides soccer, or in developing other skills which aren’t associated with soccer (even though they could commit time to them, if they had an interest)?
    Are there no economic or sociological factors which prevent some from reaching the highest tiers of soccer, despite having developed the skills to do so and a strong interest in the sport?

    No, no, and no. So it doesn’t seem like there’s any problem explaining the small number of soccer greats, which you think couldn’t be explained if that’s true.

    If you could appreciate what they could/can do, it would be absurd to put it down to simply learning.

    Who’s not appreciating what now?

    There’s nothing absurd about appreciating it when things are learned. Indeed, doing so takes actual work which is something that can merit appreciation and admiration and so forth, unlike stuff that took no effort whatsoever.

    Also, there’s nothing absurd about appreciating skills developed by a large number of people (because what they’re doing is intrinsically valued), as opposed to appreciating those of a tiny number of people (relatively, because they are thought to be superior to many others).

  67. Tethys says

    The studies show that genes contribute 2-3% to educational attainment. Thats why we ignore people who think genes are the relevant factor in higher education, rather than the cultural components of money and a family environment that values college degrees.

    Her attempt to politicize it is just clickbait to sell her book. Progressives are more concerned with cultural equity than rehashing nature vs nurture.

  68. PaulBC says

    chris61@69 You can address educational issues that might be gene-linked without developing models that try to explain them in terms of large groups (i.e. “races”). If someone has ADHD, is dyslexic, learns better hands on than in lectures, etc., conceivably there could be a loose genetic correlation, and it might indicate adjusting the educational style. But why not look at the individual, see what they need, and address that?

    First off, I don’t think it would reduce the effectiveness of the action taken, assuming you honestly had the student’s best interest in mind. Second, I’m not going to deny the fraught nature of doing anything that smacks of eugenics. It will make people angry, and they will (with good reason) distrust your motives.

    I can’t speak for Harden, but usually when people start talking about “correlations” between academic performance and ancestry, they have a clear agenda of favoring their own group and abandoning another as largely ineducable, or suited for menial tasks. I mean we have centuries of this already masquerading as science. We don’t need any more of it. Address the problems faced by individuals. There is zero reason to generalize here.

  69. Jazzlet says

    leerudolph
    That was rather my point about Ruth Lawrence ;-) It also seems to be a sadly frequent trajectory amongst the kind of mathematical prodigy my father saw, too many didn’t have much staying power. Whether that was because they couldn’t cope with the world once left to their own devices or because they chose ot to continue with the kind of regime that had brought them prodigy or for other reasons varying from one to another there is a bit of a pattern there.

  70. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @70: What the fuck are you babbling about? If anyone understands, I’d appreciate a translation.

  71. Jazzlet says

    unclefrogy
    Story telling does have patterns, I hadn’t thought of the link, but you’re right, and a lot of the time what we learn are the ptterns of how to do something. Interesting indeed!

  72. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@74 Err, well, I thought at least part of what CR said was pretty clear and I agree. Or at least I agree with how I would paraphrase it: we should appreciate teachable skills that have value to society more than elite skills that serve no practical purpose. (Though I think it would be wrong not to appreciate the latter as well.)

    I didn’t completely follow the first part. The best soccer players apply skills that would serve them well in other contexts. Agreed. I would still guess that Rob’s list of players represents a rare combination of abilities. Given that they are legendary in soccer, it might even be reasonable to suppose that the combination is more useful in soccer than other things. (This completely ignores how they acquired their abilities. E.g., if Pelé had an identical twin, there’s no reason to assume he’d turn out to be a soccer player at the same level.)

  73. Rob Grigjanis says

    PaulBC @78:

    if Pelé had an identical twin, there’s no reason to assume he’d turn out to be a soccer player at the same level.

    More to the point I thought I was obviously making; given the huge number of people from the same background, dedication and love of the sport as Pelé (or the other players I mentioned), why haven’t many more “learned” the same level of skill?

  74. unclefrogy says

    no! Rob there is a large part that emotions and psychology play in sport as well as a physical body. drive as a simple example. I do not disagree in principle the latent abilities for most things are baked in it is the individual history and interests and other emotional and psychological make up as well as the social context that is the determinant of outcome and I have yet to see anyone try to tease all of that apart, I just hear ideas where they just lump them all together and call it DNA

  75. Rob Grigjanis says

    unclefrogy @78:

    I just hear ideas where they just lump them all together and call it DNA

    Of course it’s not all DNA. The players I mentioned worked their arses off. But neither are their gifts purely learned, which you strongly implied in your #63.

  76. says

    …He said the only time his father showed anger was in moments when Norbert gave him a wrong answer to a question!

    Oh, well, that hardly ever happened, so it mustn’t have been so bad, right?

    As Ike Turner said, violent abuse builds character! /s

  77. Tethys says

    Are elite athletes a valid comparison to a Mozart or Einstein? It’s easy to see the genetic component of a certain physique, but not every human with that physique will grow up to become an elite athlete. Interest and dedicated training for years aren’t behaviors that can be traced to genes or predicted by them.

  78. James Fehlinger says

    Ruth Lawrence rather fizzled out, though. . .

    It. . . seems to be a sadly frequent trajectory amongst
    the kind of mathematical prodigy my father saw, too many
    didn’t have much staying power. . . Whether that was because
    they couldn’t cope. . . or for other reasons varying from one
    to another there is a bit of a pattern there.

    It would certainly take a certain kind of stamina to
    survive in environments such as the following:

    http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-230-10298-9_6#page-1
    ++++
    Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg
    Tom Wells
    Chapter 5, “Supergenius”

    The intellectual environment at RAND was loose. . . But interdisciplinary
    work was hazardous, as the place was cliquish. . .

    “It was a very competitive, vicious environment,” . . . a RAND sovietologist
    at the time remembers. “RAND was a ball-busting place.” . . .
    When one abrasive RAND mathematician attacked another man’s presentation,
    the presenter “grew so nervous that he finally fainted.” . . .

    One of the sharpest knives at RAND was wielded by Albert Wolhstetter,
    a powerful and controversial figure. . . “He did it with style. . .
    walking in very late, looking at the victim — then destroy. . .
    He was nasty. Ruthless and nasty.” Many analysts were intimidated
    by him. “He managed to have an enormous store of facts at his
    fingertips. . . If you raised an objection to something he was saying
    or proposing, he could bring out that stack of facts with amazing
    facility.” The nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie, who became an
    enemy of Wolhstetter, almost had a nervous breakdown because of
    him. . . “He became so broken down in the presence of Albert,” Thomas
    Schelling remembers. “Just tongue-tied. And I’m sure Dan [Ellsberg]
    never did. Dan would just never be intimidated by somebody like
    Albert.”

    A mathematical logician. . . Wolhstetter was brilliant, suave,
    sophisticated, a Renaissance man. A perfectionist, he had problems
    completing work and was difficult to work with. . .

    Wohlstetter and his wife. . . also a talented RAND analyst, and their
    unconventional daughter lived in a glamorous, distinctive home in
    the Hollywood hills. It had a spiral stairway, pool, bamboo, view,
    the whole bit. [They] entertained frequently, in high style.
    Albert liked to hold court and be the center of attention. He would
    “talk. . . at nauseating length about a fine little wine or some
    cuisine. He was. . . a monomaniacal monologuer” . . . [and]
    a big name-dropper. But he could be charming. . . “If you’re willing
    to listen, he gets to like you.” Wohlstetter’s ego was gargantuan.
    “His attitude was sort of, ‘I’m the only smart person there is,”
    a former RAND engineer remembers. “And when you listened to him
    carefully, what he would really be saying is, ‘Those other guys
    are pretty dumb, aren’t they?’ . . .
    ++++

    ++++
    “A Beautiful Behind”
    Book Review:
    Sylvia Nasar: A Beautiful Mind , a biography of
    John Forbes Nash, Jr.
    from Ferment
    VolXII #4
    September 9, 1998
    Roy Lisker, Ed.

    [John] Nash joined the faculty of MIT in 1951, where he remained until
    quitting in 1959. From Nasar’s account we learn that Nash carved out a
    special niche for himself in the pantheon of the world’s worst
    mathematics instructors. Students in his classes were regularly
    derided and ridiculed. He called them “stupid” and “idiots” – to be
    fair, he didn’t treat his colleagues any better. He ignored both
    questions and requests. . .

    [A] typical afternoon in the common room of a typical mathematics
    department at a major university [is] something that can only
    be understood from direct experience. . .

    As a class, research mathematicians are competitive, rude,
    introverted, irritable and poorly endowed by disposition or training
    with the conventional social graces. It is a noisy silence, rather
    than voluble discourse, that fills the corridors and common rooms of
    research departments. People in divergent disciplines, logic and
    differential equations for example, use such incompatible
    vocabularies that they, literally, have nothing to talk about. . .

    Persons in exactly the same area of research also don’t tend to talk
    to each other. On one level they may be concerned that others will
    steal their ideas. They also have a very understandable fear of
    presenting a new direction of inquiry before it has matured, lest the
    listening party trample the frail buds of thought beneath a sarcastic
    put-down. . .

    Above everyone’s head at a gathering of mathematicians hangs the
    scimitar of exposure of ignorance. Say you get into conversation with
    someone who brings up the concept of a “Riemann surface”. You decide
    to risk all by confessing that you don’t know what a Riemann surface
    is. The words are barely spoken when already the eyes of almost
    everyone else in the lounge is fixing you with a look of
    long-suffering, malevolent and self-righteous disgust. Never mind
    that your field is mathematical logic, or discrete semi-groups, or
    computability, or combinatorics, in which the concept of a Riemann
    surface rarely, if ever, enters. You are now forever type-cast as
    ignorant. Excessively insecure individuals, notably graduate
    students, may even start wondering aloud, (behind your back
    naturally), what somebody like you is doing in their great department
    in the first place.

    Because just about everyone fears lest his ignorance be disclosed,
    people rarely open their mouths for any purpose other than that of
    speaking innocuous banalities. Or sometimes they may venture to talk
    about other subjects altogether, music, or politics, or Elizabethan
    drama. Yet one must be careful not to do too much of this, since
    there are some sorts who may begin suggesting that he’s covering up
    his ignorance of ‘real mathematics’ by vaunting his knowledge of
    something else. Furthermore since many mathematicians do not
    cultivate interests outside of mathematics, such conversations on
    complementary subject matter soon peter out.

    Departmental teas tend to be held around 3:30 or 4:00, just before the
    afternoon seminars and colloquia. People sit apart, or in little
    groups, their minds consumed by calculation:

    (1) The obsessive-compulsive calculation of solutions to problems and
    equations. This goes on relentlessly, even in dreams.

    (2) The calculation of how much of what one thinks or knows may be
    safely revealed in a room of many potential enemies and few allies. At
    those times the climate of a mathematics lounge will be crippled by an
    oppressive and surly silence. Conversations will be punctuated with
    long, vacant silences, abstract gazing at the empty walls or out the
    windows, and excessive caution in speaking out. Hostility in all of
    its forms, subtle or crude, is omnipresent. Indeed the atmosphere may
    be so thick with tension that only a saber could cut it. . .
    ++++

  79. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:

    we should appreciate teachable skills that have value to society more than elite skills that serve no practical purpose. (Though I think it would be wrong not to appreciate the latter as well.)

    I was going for a different distinction which wasn’t about practicality or the lack thereof. (And, well … I’m a musician, which is not especially practical in the sense that you mean, so it’s not really my style to harp on that sort of thing. Of course, if we’re talking about building designs or the tax code or what have you, then practicality is desirable, so I’ll certainly rail about impracticality in cases like that.)

    What I’d say about elites is that they’re typically not as smart or as skilled as they think they are. Their whole theory about how they are what they are is generally bullshit. And I think it’s no coincidence that they have given themselves this task of making such pronouncements about everyone’s worth (generally in capitalist terms), even those about whom they know nothing, while also putting themselves at the top of the list.

    To clarify the distinction I was making at the very end of my last comment, which I guess is what you’re talking about:
    1) You can appreciate that someone learned to do something well – cooking, for instance. This doesn’t depend on you even knowing how many other people are able to do it well. They are not involved. It is just a thing to appreciate for its own sake, without comparing it to anything else (which you may not know how to do anyway), because you simply like good cooking and that’s it.

    2) You can appreciate that someone learned to be “the best cook” (or one of the few elites) compared to all others. As with perhaps an antique vase, the rarity of it (not necessarily any property it has) is what is associated with the value. When we’re talking about a person, not a one-of-a-kind object, there’s a comparison to make with other people. This one is more rare/precious than the others precisely because the others aren’t like it (or they’re not assumed to be).

  80. PaulBC says

    chris61@60

    Her argument that progressives believe “ genetics doesn’t matter” is more that by trying to improve the lives of the disadvantaged by focusing on enriching environments while ignoring genetic differences or by arguing we shouldn’t study genetic differences because eugenicists misuse such studies we are ignoring information that can be used to promote progressive values.

    Another thought just occurred to me about this. Let’s take a well-known instance where we uncontroversially pay attention to “genetic differences” and it’s even uncontroversially “racially” corollated, namely sickle cell disease, which occurs disproportionately in people of African descent. We all learned this in grade school, right? I did and that was in the 70s.

    I think that it’s vital that doctors not only know about sickle cell but have a clear idea of the genetic risk factors in order to provide better treatment to their patients. I’m also pretty sure (but I don’t have data) that this view is widely held across the political spectrum and by both Black and white Americans.

    Does that mean the information is not misused? Well, as a white person I admit I never gave it much thought, but according to this NYT article, it turns out to be remarkably common “reason” that Black people “just happen to die” in police custody.

    So is it possible that there’s a trust issue here that is not silly and irrational. Is it conceivable that the more things you try to link to race, the more creatives uses will be found not by those who just want to “improve the lives of the disadvantaged” but may have another agenda that does not “promote progressive values”?

    In short, I think if you’re going to bring genetic differences into the policy picture, there had better be a hell of a good reason you cannot do the same job some other way.

  81. chris61 says

    @84 PaulBC Is ignorance ever better than knowledge? White supremacists misuse evolutionary theory to justify all sorts of nonsense. Does that mean we should eliminate the teaching and study of evolution?

  82. PaulBC says

    chris61@85 I said nothing about ignorance or knowledge. What I said was

    In short, I think if you’re going to bring genetic differences into the policy picture, there had better be a hell of a good reason you cannot do the same job some other way.

    I don’t see how you read this as eliminating the “teaching” of anything.

  83. consciousness razor says

    chris61:

    Does that mean we should eliminate the teaching and study of evolution?

    Oh, so you’re only suggesting that genetics be taught and studied?

    I thought the idea was that there’s some (promised, unspecified) knowledge about genes and intellectual ability, which could somehow be used to advance a nebulous set of political goals.

  84. consciousness razor says

    A question….

    For better or worse, people already disregard most (if not all) of what political philosophers have to say about political philosophy.

    Why should we take the political philosophies of geneticists more seriously than that?

  85. chris61 says

    @86
    If there are genetic differences associated with differences in human behaviors and you suggest that they should be ignored ( I.e not brought into the policy picture) aren’t you in effect suggesting that they shouldn’t be studied/ taught?

  86. PaulBC says

    chris61@89

    aren’t you in effect suggesting that they shouldn’t be studied/ taught?

    People are going to study what they want, publish books about it, go on the lecture circuit, etc. I’m not “suggesting” they stop. I mean, what am I supposed to do about it? Note that I can’t study everything myself. I don’t have time. That automatically gives me the prerogative to set priorities in what I study.

    I am suggesting that genetic correlations are a blunt instrument that are often misused, and I’m not interested (again, unless there’s some really compelling reason) in hearing about it. So no, I am not “in effect” suggesting anything other than what I’m actually suggesting. And yes, I believe “genetics matter” in that they’re one of the explanations for differences in life outcomes among people. I can just think of other things that matter more.

  87. unclefrogy says

    @79
    well I can see how I could sound like that. trying to sound smart and all.
    What I was thinking about was the situational awareness that was mentioned with regards to basket ball. It struck me that the mental abilities needed were widely distributed and not restricted to basket ball. To excel in sports you need those kinds of skills, you also need the psychological and emotional understanding and motivation to “work your ass off” (learn the games skills required) you also need the physique required.
    save the physique most of the stuff is also useful and to reach the master level may even be required to the same degree many if not most endeavors including academic achievement. Picking on DNA as significant because we can “see” and measure it makes about as much sense as phrenology does to me.

  88. Tethys says

    Chris61

    If there are genetic differences associated with differences in human behaviors

    .

    If is the relevant word. No gene studies have ever been able to link genes to any behavior.
    Twin studies routinely show a very small variance of 2-3%. Since that’s a paltry genetic contribution, it can be dismissed for the purpose of educational attainment.

    Correlation is not causation. Too bad this particular scientist doesn’t understand the basic science of statistical analysis, and her attempt to politicize gene research is simply obnoxious.

  89. consciousness razor says

    Twin studies routinely show a very small variance of 2-3%. Since that’s a paltry genetic contribution,

    Yeah, at best. Or maybe it’s just noise. Either way, not useful.

    And this obsessive focus on boosting “educational attainment” doesn’t seem to connect up with leftist goals anyway. I mean, everybody has a right to an education, and we should certainly promote that. That’s not what I’m talking about.

    However, I want janitors and truck drivers and such to have a decent life and be treated fairly, like human beings. It’s that simple. If they’re not climbing the ladder, by getting some degree in order to (maybe) end up in some sort of elite job, that’s totally okay. Why wouldn’t it be? Some just don’t want that. And who did you expect to do that kind of work anyway, or were you expecting such people to remain invisible while you pretended to make a difference somewhere else?

    It’s as if some think that the goal is to make more capitalists or a more diverse array of capitalists (that way, those people aren’t the ones who will be exploited) by feeding them more efficiently into the system we already have, instead of changing that system so that no one is a capitalist.

  90. Tethys says

    I think higher education should be free for anyone who demonstrates they are willing and able to learn the subject. I personally would continuously take free college classes simply because I enjoy learning.

    Trade schools and the skills to make things are just as important as doctors and professors.
    There is a real prejudice towards people who do manual labor, it’s sad but true. The janitors and garbage haulers and construction workers aren’t any less worthy of education. Maybe we as a culture need to place more emphasis on learning for self-improvement or pure enjoyment rather than solely a means to a paycheck. I’m sure many people would choose to learn to play a musical instrument or learn to code if the education was freely available.

  91. leerudolph says

    James Fehlinger @ 82 quoting someone’s book review: “[A] typical afternoon in the common room of a typical mathematics department at a major university [is] something that can only be understood from direct experience. . .” I can attest to that (for a broad value of “afternoon”): I spent many such afternoons at Princeton for my four undergraduate years (though old Fine Hall did have a “Senior Common Room” from which students, including graduate students, were excluded; but I don’t think it ever got much use), many more at MIT for five years as a graduate student, 3 at Brown as a “named Instructor” (what would now be a non-tenure-track assistant professor), 5 at Columbia as a vanilla non-tenure-track assistant professor, and more yet during a large number of non-contiguous years in various major university mathematics departments abroad (in Switzerland, France, Spain, and Mexico), both before finally getting a tenure-track-leading-to-tenured job at a distinctly minor university and after finally retiring from it.

    However, what I understood and understand from my experiences is very different from what the author of the review claims as a universal of such environments: everything from “As a class, research mathematicians are competitive” to the end is hyperbolic pastiche (though “competitive” is the least hyperbolic, and examples of everything else attributed to the class certainly do exist, and are not even rare). The rudest thing I can remember ever seeing was at Princeton during the afternoon tea (the food at which was supported by an intradepartmental fund, not by the university budget) when one of the topology graduate students (Sylvain Cappell) approached an extremely eminent topology professor (John Milnor) and asked, cheerily and politely, “Would you like to donate to the tea fund?”, to which Milnor answered simply “No.” Not all that rude. (At a celebration of Milnor’s Abel Prize and his 80th birthday, held at the University of Minnesota and funded by the NSF so lavishly and promiscuously that even I got to attend expense-free, I reminded Sylvain of this event during the celebratory dinner—held in a bizarre alumni facility featuring such exhibits as an early typewriter of Garrison Keillor’s and an entire wall-merging-vertiginously-into-ceiling decorated by decommissioned library copies of hundreds or thousands of bound UM doctoral theses glued together cover to cover in serried rows—but he denied having any memory of it.)

  92. consciousness razor says

    Tethys:

    I think higher education should be free for anyone who demonstrates they are willing and able to learn the subject.

    Yes. I’m sure a lot more would do it, which would be great.

    But clearly Congress just wasn’t built with the right genes which would allow them do that. The correlations are very unfortunate.

    Maybe we as a culture need to place more emphasis on learning for self-improvement or pure enjoyment rather than solely a means to a paycheck.

    Yes again.

    Also, universities shouldn’t be there so you can watch young people play sports on the TV. But of course, for the athletes themselves, it’s basically the same thing: hoping to receive a paycheck as a pro.

  93. Tethys says

    CR

    But clearly Congress just wasn’t built with the right genes which would allow them do that. The correlations are very unfortunate.

    Oh, there are 2-3% who are pushing for free higher education and abolishing the absurd student loan program that allows you to graduate from college with staggering debts for careers which never required a four year degree.

    I can see this going the same way as gay marriage or universal health care. There will be a lot of drama and grandstanding, but eventually the current broken system will have to adapt to reality as the benefits of free college education are realized in socialist countries.

    I don’t mind that sports are part of some colleges. It might not be my preferred focus, but I know many athletes who got good college educations because they excelled at sports, but didn’t go on to become professional athletes.

    I personally have never understood the appeal of cross-country running or team sports, but lots of people seem to enjoy them. Genes?

  94. chris61 says

    @93 Tethys

    Twin studies routinely show a very small variance of 2-3%.

    I believe you are mistaken about that. Or rather twin studies using GPSs derived from GWAS studies show very small variance but twin studies themselves (monozygotic versus dizygotic) suggest genetic factors contribute to up to 40% of variance. The current GPSs are still only capturing a small proportion of the relevant variants that contribute to heritability.

  95. Tethys says

    Chris61

    I believe you are mistaken about that.

    I believe you are trying to dazzle with acronyms, and have not read the article under discussion.

    The 2-3% figure comes from PZ’s post above. The second link is written by Gregory, who answers your claims in the comment section.

    I trust that our host is accurate in his assessment of the claims about gene linked human behaviors.

    2) You seem to be almost wholly unfamiliar with the assumptions of GWAS and heritability estimates: The partitioning of variance into independent and additive genetic factors. makes developmental assumptions that the causal contribution of genes and environments can be independent and additive. This means that regardless of other organismal considerations any mix of gene/PSG/whatever-the-unit-is-now X with any other function Y, Z, U, ect, will always result in functional outcome X, or more of X, or a slight variant of X. However, research in developmental genetics and developmental psychobiology has unequivocally demonstrated that independence and additivity conflict with the very process that genes operate in developmental systems. It always dependent and often multiplicative. This means if you have gene/PSG X and context Y you get function L, wherein in context B you get function R. This basic fact is a huge upset for application of heritability estimates in uncontrolled settings, as it makes it impossible outside a lab to know what factor “difference that is making a difference”. Harden completely ignored this in her book, as you did in your book. Thus, behavioral genetics has not lived up to its name, it’s not genetics, indeed it is little more than “family studies” and the core finding in the last 30 years has been the banal point that some things “run in families”.

  96. consciousness razor says

    I don’t mind that sports are part of some colleges. It might not be my preferred focus, but I know many athletes who got good college educations because they excelled at sports, but didn’t go on to become professional athletes.

    Sure. I don’t care if colleges happen to have sports teams, or for that matter, lots of other activities/organizations which exist outside the classroom. But the thing we’ve got now is a monstrosity that drives colleges away from actually doing their educational mission. You don’t see any shit like that because of chess teams or campus radio stations.

    I can see this going the same way as gay marriage or universal health care. There will be a lot of drama and grandstanding, but eventually the current broken system will have to adapt to reality as the benefits of free college education are realized in socialist countries.

    I hope so. Without some kind of outside pressure (like from those countries perhaps), I don’t see it happening, because there’s just nothing else to adapt to…. I guess that’s how I’d put it. The thing with politics is that people are the ones who create that reality, so things can stay just as they are for a long time. It seems like every country’s history has centuries of stagnation like that, with very little progress — and even then, usually a lot of backsliding too.

    But we do have some really enormous problems to sort out (climate change, to name just one), so maybe this time, it simply won’t be able to last for very long. Because it’s either that or total collapse. Not an optimistic picture, but it’s something.

    I personally have never understood the appeal of cross-country running or team sports, but lots of people seem to enjoy them. Genes?

    Electromagnetism. Unless it’s gravity, the answer is almost always electromagnetism.

  97. forensical says

    PZ: “WTF? She can’t afford shoes? Or a broom?”

    What’s with the gratuitously snide comment there? Since when is wearing shoes or affording them any kind of signifier of personal or moral character or worth? That’s not a progressive value I’m familiar with.

  98. PaulBC says

    leerudolph@45

    Ruth Lawrence rather fizzled out, though

    Reading her wikipedia page, I wonder about your definition of “fizzled”. “Associate professor of mathematics at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem” sounds like a pretty solid accomplishment to me (I know, I know, relative to expectations and her famous PhD advisor).

    I still get giddy when I see people continuing to cite my computer science PhD research from the early 90s. I mean, I don’t do that anymore. I am a software developer. I know many CS PhDs who never expected their dissertation to be more than a degree requirement. If Lawrence fizzled, then what is the rest of the human freaking race?

  99. chris61 says

    @101 Tethys

    I trust that our host is accurate in his assessment of the claims about gene linked human behaviors.

    Appeal to authority. Okay.

  100. chris61 says

    @101 Tethys
    The appeal to authority is particularly impressive as our host freely admits he has not and will never read the book he is criticizing.

  101. Tethys says

    Lol. I’m perfectly capable of understanding statistical analysis. I’m not a developmental biologist or a geneticist, so I am deferring to their expertise on the subject on behavior being caused by genes.

    I also quoted why Harden is wrong, and note the Chris61 hasn’t provided any proof of their assertion that I am mistaken. Just as Ms Harden hasn’t shown any links between genes and behavior, so her book claiming they exist can be dismissed as irrelevant.

  102. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @57: Agreed. You also reminded me to make another point about this issue. It’s commonly accepted by psychometricians that it is not ethical to use your psychometric data to deny people opportunities or dehumanize them in any way. But that is what IQ tests are used for in discussions like this. So people discussing cognitive differences without the context we’re adding are actually violating basic academic ethics.

    @60: Which isn’t the same as saying we should actually put more effort into educating those who are cognitively worse off, not less. See the difference? See that all that is a big ol’ shell game? There’ s a great episode of NUMB3RS with a relatively young Joseph Gordon-Levitt who ends up being the murderer because a researcher was abusing sabermetrics to try to create a predictive model for success. JGL’s character pointed out that the inevitable use of that model would have been to deny his school the computer lab that got him out of poverty and into academia. That’s why leftists focus on environment: What nature fucked, we can unfuck. Harden desperately trying to shift frames is not a good look.

    And, no, I have not read Harden. But the article and interview above is not great. And I know the broader context here. Nothing you’re saying rebuts that broader context. She has a duty to message on her work properly. There are people who can do that.

    @61: Assuming you get a massive genetic databank, or just start inferring the gene’s presence without it. Again, see the problem? Huge public attention is being poured into low-impact correlations instead of, you know, functional care.

    @79: The problem isn’t that there’s RNA or whatever else. The problem is that environment, both prenatal and otherwise, both physical and social, is so overwhelmingly determinative (don’t feed a genius and that genius dies), is so determinative that the genetic signal actually is basically noise in all of it. The genetic signal only starts mattering at the point that you have controlled so much for the environment that you can see other factors coming into play. We still haven’t done that even with sports. That’s why Gould famously noted that Einstein’s brain mattered a lot less than the fact that a lot of people with his potential lived and died in plantations.

    @89: Study Nazis. Don’t bring them into the policy picture except to crush them. Study black holes. They don’t matter to policy. See the point? “This is worthy of study” doesn’t mean you can ethically take what you study and apply it to policy. Because policy is a form of human experimentation. Right now, any sociological claim is so fraught with error bars that we have to be careful with applying even really good data. Approaches like Harden’s that are contradicted by all the fields studying the phenomena she claims to be investigating that combine the error margins of biological anthropology* and* cultural anthropology are even worse. That’s the thing with evopsych. I’m not at all against the idea, once one fixes things like the obsessive focus on adaptation. But how it is used at present is to produce studies that at best would be incredibly tentative, then let the media rant on about the hidden truth discovered by science that destroys all that irrational social science work we did, then let the alt-right parrot the bullshit and then signal boost conservative ideas that way. People like Harden have a duty to short-circuit that cycle. She doesn’t seem to be.

    @106: Except the host put up two articles that summarizes it. So you have two options. Either explain what is wrong using quotes from the book, or give up. I have seen bad reviews and am not impressed. Thus far, most folks here are talking about the ideas broadly and responding to the claims they have seen put forward. The fact that you haven’t been able to correct them with anything salient doesn’t actually prove them wrong.

    But, hey, maybe you’re right. What will end up happening is that someone here will find the book and read it, at least in part. And what I think will happen is you will then start making excuses on that score. Because I’ve had this dance before. I’ve had someone try to pretend that the assessment of someone like Harden by the left was unfair without actually pointing to page numbers, then I read it and saw that that wasn’t true, then they started whining about the context of the entire book or other books the person wrote.

    So, for example, does she use twin studies, Chris, yes or no? And if she does, does she take into account that twin studies are still methodologically unsound because you never actually find twins that are that different in terms of environment, because we don’t lie in a cartoon universe where one twin goes on to be in the royal family and the other goes on to live in Somalia?

  103. Tethys says

    I don’t need to read the books of clickbait scientists who can’t do math, invent their very own statistics, or claim progressives are evil. That which is asserted without evidence…

    I haven’t read Mein Kamph either.

  104. chris61 says

    @110
    Personally I find it discouraging the number of people who are willing to pass judgement on a book without ever bothering to read it, but you do you as they say.

  105. Tethys says

    Why would I wish to waste my time reading an explanation of conclusions drawn from flawed methodology? HER MATH IS WRONG

    She failed with her premise, don’t try to paint the people who noticed that fact as close-minded.

  106. leerudolph says

    I see that this comment thread is still (barely) alive, so I’m getting back in to address, partially, a couple of things in consciousness razor’s comment @61. (I had started an even longer reply, but a number of necessary off-line tasks kept getting in my way. Probably just as well.)

    The claim had been made (by beholder@51) that “Being born to rich parents always helps with educational attainment, for example”. I asserted that it was “a strong claim”; consciousness razor replied

    Then it’s a strong claim. Who cares?

    The reason I care (and think others here should care) is that it’s usual (and I think correct) to assert that strong claims require strong evidence. I didn’t (and looking back, still don’t) see that beholder had provided “strong evidence”, or indeed any evidence at all, for the claim. In the intervening days, it also, belatedly, occurred to me that (as far as I can tell) no interpretation for (or definition of) the phrase “educational attainment” has been given by anyone in these comments.

    You’re suggesting that there exist (possibly rare) instances when it doesn’t “help.” So, give a single example where it doesn’t help at all. Or failing that, just try to describe what you think one might be like, even if it never actually happens.

    I can easily give at least three cases in which, on my (present) interpretation of “educational attainment”, I cannot imagine how increased parental wealth (all other things being equal) could possibly have improved the educational attainment of those parents’ child(ren).

    The example I know best is myself. My parents were (low-to-middle) working class when I was born (1948), and were middle middle class when I began graduate school (1969). My pre-college schooling was under the auspices of the Cleveland (Ohio) Board of Education (which also employed my mother, the first in her family to go to college; my father had no post-secondary schooling, and his sister was the first in his family to go to college; three of my four grandparents had 8 years of schooling or less, and the fourth, my mother’s mother, had a Teaching Certificate). The Cleveland BOE early on identified me as a “gifted child”, and put me into “Major Work” classes starting in kindergarten (aside to sonja@14: until sometime in the early 1960s, Cleveland BOE had classes, K through 12, that started both in the fall and the spring semester [there must be a better phrasing]; I started in the fall, got bumped up one semester in the middle of 6th grade—so I started junior high school in mid-winter as a 7th-grader in the top of the 3 “Academically Talented” tracks, out of, I think, 9 or more tracks altogether —and then got bumped up another semester in the middle of 9th grade, so that I was a 10th grader in the fall when I began high school). Everyone in Major Work and AT tracks had access to (and as far as I know, were able to take advantage of) enrichment programs, in and after school (and some on the weekend). There is no possible doubt that there were tremendous social injustices (both racial/ethnic and class) perpetrated by this public system: but there is also no way (that I can see) that any individual pupil’s parents’ increased wealth could have increased their child’s “educational attainment” in the sense of educational credentials, which is how I read “attainment” (this may be an error). (Richer individuals might, of course, have sent their children to private schools, or moved to one of the rich East Side suburbs. Added in proof: I left out parochial schools! One of my high school classmates, Franny G., had long participated in the Catholic football league; his team was a great rival of Brian Dowling’s team, and they had their own private rivalry. Brian went to St. Ignatius for high school, while Franny stayed in the public system. Both were accepted at, and went to, Yale! Brian was the model for Doonesbury’s BD, but Franny never got into the strip.)

    If my parents had had more money, they would have no doubt been able to “enrich” my education in many ways (though, given who they were, they would not have done so in some of those ways). But I cannot imagine how any use of their hypothetical higher wealth could have made my ultimate “educational attainment”s much higher than what they are: I attended Princeton University (where I took all courses pass/fail after my first year), where I was a “University Scholar” (curiously the web seems to be nearly scrubbed of any references to that program as it existed in the 1960s; a few sparse mentions in old issues of the Princeton Alumni Weekly are all I can find) subjected to essentially no academic requirements—in particular, University Scholars could enroll in as many courses as they liked, and take them all pass-fail if they liked) and graduated 9th in my class (I wondered at the time how that was calculated; 30 years later, going through my just-dead mother’s papers, I learned that the university had been keeping grades on me the whole time, lying fuckers), then got a Ph.D. at MIT (thanks entirely to the National Science Foundation). No educational attainments after that (by my definition).

    My other two examples are quite similar: one boy from the class ahead of me (roommate for two years), another from my class (roommate for one year, but closest friend for all four); both from public school systems in New Jersey (Union City and Bricktown respectively), distinctly non-rich parents (widowed mother on a pension, I think, and postal employee/homemaker, respectively). Both University Scholars. Educational attainments equal to or better than mine (the latter, in particular, was first in our class…). Career attainments much higher (and Wikipedia pages too!). Again, richer parents couldn’t have improved their educational attainments one iota, nor (to my mind) their career attainments either.

  107. PaulBC says

    leerudolph@114 My take-away from your personal story is that parental wealth doesn’t necessarily help if there is sufficient public support (generalizing this to include institutions other than government like parochial schools).

    Considering that the agenda of the American right since at least the 80s has been the elimination of public sector programs and a preference for “market” solutions, one can infer that the claim “wealth matters” is at least an aspirational view on the right. They sure aren’t doing anything to make it matter less.

    I think “educational attainment” may be the wrong metric anyway. The best academics have never been exclusively from the highest socioeconomic status. Going way back, you can find nobility who were great thinkers, but you find more of them who simply paid for the the thinking and took credit. So I think wealth has diminishing returns in the “smarts” department.

    How about a different claim: “Being born to rich parents increases the likelihood of being a rich person yourself, and is more significant than other factors, including educational attainment.” I don’t have the strong evidence to back that up, so I’ll call it a hypothesis, not a claim.

    Since I know nothing of your personal finances, I can only speculate. But I would guess that you’re probably reasonably well off and content, but wouldn’t be able to go buy a 50-foot sailing yacht on a whim.

  108. consciousness razor says

    leerudolph, #114:

    Everyone in Major Work and AT tracks had access to (and as far as I know, were able to take advantage of) enrichment programs, in and after school (and some on the weekend). There is no possible doubt that there were tremendous social injustices (both racial/ethnic and class) perpetrated by this public system: but there is also no way (that I can see) that any individual pupil’s parents’ increased wealth could have increased their child’s “educational attainment” in the sense of educational credentials, which is how I read “attainment” (this may be an error).

    I’m sure you can recognize that your argument is driven by incredulity — not a strong argument.

    You say everyone was “able to take advantage” of those enrichment programs. I take it that this only really means those program didn’t require the parents to pay, nor was it only open to those with a certain level of income or wealth.

    However, that doesn’t imply that being more rich didn’t help in all sorts of other ways. Kids need food, clothing, healthcare, shelter, transportation, security, and many other things in life. A relative lack of those things hinders their ability to get the most out of whatever sort of education may be available to them. Having access to that sort of program doesn’t mean that they’re not deprived of many other things like the ones I mentioned.

    That sort of program merely represents a single specific way in which it didn’t happen to help, at least if we’re to believe that those programs were totally equitable (which I’m only willing to assume for the sake of argument). But all of the other ways it helps to be more rich were still playing a major role. I didn’t claim that no such programs exist or that they’re never helpful to the non-rich, so this is all beside the point.

    It’s kind of strange…. You yourself even brought up the fact that some richer parents send their kids to private schools, which may provide better educations and/or access to more elite institutions. Aside from that, they also live in wealthier areas which have better facilities and attract more experienced teachers. These places also tend to have nice programs like the ones you’re talking about, while many other places do not. (It was even worse many decades ago when you were getting an education, but it’s still the case now.) Like many larger cities, Cleveland has had some nice things like that — no surprise. Did you live in a poorer area than the one you actually lived in? No, of course not. And anyway, I’m not claiming that it isn’t also helpful to be rich-adjacent (and middle class) or that lots of other factors may be helpful too.

    The claim is just that being more rich is helpful. It certainly is, because money is absolutely essential for everybody in the world we live in, and having it makes a huge difference in all sorts of ways, including specifically education. If you honestly don’t think there is “strong evidence” for this, I don’t even know where to begin…. Have you ever tried not having any money?

  109. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @111: How very strange that you decided not to meet the challenge of the person who offered to, for you, read the book despite having seen it summarized and seeing quotes from it. It’s almost as if you can use the idea that everyone is being closed-minded as a rhetorical talisman until someone calls your fucking bluff.

    So I read some of the book. It’s not all bad. She opens by acknowledging the horrible history that underlies people who have undertaken projects like her: Eugenics, racism, pseudoscience, etc. But on page 16, she then says “Can we peel apart human behavioral genetics, beginning with Galton’s observations…”

    Nope. Nope, nope, nope. The problem with Galton’s observations weren’t just that he coupled racism with them. This is something people like Harden try to do, ignoring what Gould and Lewontin and others did, and try to just bracket the immoral stuff aside. But Galton’s science sucked. Do people really differ genetically? Galton didn’t know that. He could only see them phenotypically. People like Galton not only gathered data terribly (see Morton’s skulls – and no, Morton was not rehabilitated from Gould, the study that claimed to do that not only ignored Gould’s methodology while then trying to disprove him which was dishonest as hell but also still confirmed that Morton screwed up the data), they also imposed bad a priori assumptions onto the issue.

    What do you know? They’re the same bad a priori assumptions that Harden is imposing!

    Then she starts talking about the Bell Curve. But, again, the problem with the Bell Curve isn’t that Murray and Herrnstein retreat to inegalitarian ideas after briefly invoking Rawls. The problem is that the science sucks. They derived their research from the racist lunacy of Rushton and Lynn, who have now been so thoroughly destroyed by Wicherts and his colleagues that Wicherts got to write an article about how to avoid such garbage entering the literature again. Marks found that IQ differences disappear when you control for literacy, and literacy is well known to be eminently controllable. When you correct for Rushton and Lynn’s outright fraud (they literally cheated some of their data) and their dishonest racist methodology (like extrapolating from individual schools for the mentally disabled to entire countries), the sub-Saharan IQ gap is not 30, it is 15. Which is firmly within the Flynn effect. Murray and Herrnstein make vague nods toward controlling for environment and everything else, but they can’t do that. (And also, it’s super suss how Murray used to be a culture of poverty guy, then became a bio-truth guy. It’s almost like conservatives pick which lie they want to tell about the poor based on what’s convenient at the time, because their actual belief, that the poor suck, was held ahead of time!) Harden barely engages with the massive criticism of the Bell Curve, or why it’s not respected in the actual sociological and social science establishment.

    So. I read it. Not cover to cover, but I gave Harden a chance. And I found roughly what I expected: That she sounds much nicer than Murray and Herrnstein, but that she is still coming into the conversation with a strawman of the left-wing position, and frames the discussion from the start exactly to make her argument as easy as possible despite there being objections to her framing at every step. Exactly like what our host said.

    So, want to retract your bullshit? Or are you going to be like Harris’ acolytes and insist I parse every word of what Priestess Harden wrote in perfect charity to her, ignoring all my training and all the evidence I know she is leaving out?

    Her project isn’t a bad idea in isolation. She’s just doing it poorly because she’s once again assuming that the reaction to the legacy of Galton is just one based in feelings and moral objections, and not the science. That is the assumption of the alt-right. And it says she has not listened to any of her colleagues.

  110. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @114: I’ll happily list you some advantages that would apply in cases like the ones you list!

    Being able to afford going to things like debate camps. The thing I had to bust my ass to be able to go to, while rich fellow debaters got to do for free, and I couldn’t afford to go to multiple ones in the summer, giving me less time to practice.

    Being less likely, if a middle-class family has a bad time, to have to pick up a job to help out.

    Parents being able to afford all sorts of test preps for standardized tests, tutors, etc.

    Not having the stereotype threat that accrues to the poor and middle-class. (The same analysis applies to otherwise-affluent black and female students).

    Not living in a shittier neighborhood to begin with.

    Having your parents be able to bribe your way into college.

    Better access to pre-college prep programs that go beyond even AP and Honors classes (which the poor also are disproportionately less likely to get).

    I can keep going on and on. You’re only looking at the immediate system of formal education. Even there, you’re not doing it well. I’ve personally, in my high school debate, visited affluent “public schools” in areas that have million-dollar median incomes. They have the resources of private schools. Massive stocked computer labs.

    So, yes, every time. Even in your case, a more affluent student in your same situation would have had more assets to use to improve their educational advantages.

  111. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @94: Your point is well-taken, but…

    A) As a pareconist and anarchist, I want to see onerous, stultifying work both go down in amount and be shared more equitably, which necessitates that truck drivers and janitors and everyone else have proper educational access
    B) Even if one doesn’t share that agenda, obviously if someone is a truck driver or janitor they should only be so because they really don’t mind doing it and not because they had educational potential to do something they loved that they didn’t want
    C) In practice, defeating the meritocratic ideology of liberalism will involve having to prove that education doesn’t close gaps
    D) Educational attainment isn’t just for jobs, it’s a human right, and we should be hoping that even truck drivers and janitors can have read Sartre and learned stats and been ready to do whatever they want to do and study whatever they want to study on their own time

  112. leerudolph says

    @118: “So, yes, every time. Even in your case, a more affluent student in your same situation would have had more assets to use to improve their educational advantages.” You miss my point: whatever my educational advantages or lack thereof, my educational attainments (which is what I thought we were discussing) appear nearly maximal to me!

    Yes, I wasn’t quite at the top of my Princeton class: but I got a superb introduction to modern mathematics (which may have benefited slightly from wealth—but not my family’s!: see footnote [1] below), with every class taught by faculty, not graduate students. Nothing anyone could have paid extra for could possibly have improved it. (Trust my judgment on that.) … And then I got to spend 5 years hanging out with even more mathematicians at MIT, all paid for by the National Science Foundation [2], at the end of which I became an MIT Ph.D. (M-O-U-S-E)! I can imagine various educational “attainment”s that I might have gotten instead (if I were someone different), some of which would have required my family (or some anonymous benefactor) to have spent more money on my educational activities, and some of those other “attainments” might have been incompossible with the “attainments” I did get; but none, I claim, would be indisputably better. (Again, I really think you ought to trust my judgment on that. If you don’t, at least be detailed in any critique, adducing only specific evidence from mathematicians of approximately my generation.)

    [1] The “advanced calculus” course I took my freshman year at Princeton was taught (to the dismay of many of the students, particularly engineering students) from Dieudonné’s Foundations of Modern Analysis. I don’t know what my reaction would have been if I had not been lucky enough to have had a much more standard introductory two semester calculus course in my senior year at high school, and I had that luck only because a friend and classmate of mine (since elementary school) was the son of an upwardly mobile couple (father was a Junior Executive who worked for Sherwin-Williams; mother was a Housewife, as we said in those days) who wanted their son to be an engineer like one of his uncles, who worked at En-A-Ess-A (as we, the engineers, and the bureaucrats all said in those days: the pronunciation “Nassa” is an abomination). There was no way that the Cleveland Board of Education was going to introduce a calculus class (their science and mathematics teachers were pretty bad), but the Junior Executive did persuade our Principal to let my friend and me leave our West Side high school early on MWF so that we could take Cleveland Transit 15 miles to Case Institute of Technology on the East Side, where we and 7 boys from the assorted East Side suburbs (Shaker Heights, Beachwood, I forget which all) were taught a later-afternoon section all of our own, by a rather bored assistant professor (a student of the mathematical logician Kleene, whose interests were certainly very very far from calculus or engineering). But neither my parents nor my friend’s parents paid for that; I assume that the principal found some money somewhere. My parents did pay (a small sum) for me to take the same ride over myself during Case’s summer semester, so I could take Introduction to Differential Equations. It was a waste of my time and their money; on the other hand, it let me continue to borrow books from Case’s library. But (given everything that came after) its contribution to either my advantages or my attainments was ε.

    [2] That isn’t quite right. My first four years (which should have been enough to get a Ph.D., by the NSF’s reckoning) I had an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF Graduate Teaching Fellowships came with draft deferments, and I wasn’t that promising; so I was never taught how to teach, alas); the fifth year my advisor got me a Sloan Research Fellowship. Also, in my first year, I had support (a princely $3,000, equivalent to $22,000 today) from a Book-of-the-Month-Club/College English Association Writing Fellowship, to keep writing poetry. (I did, and do.)

  113. PaulBC says

    leerudolph@120 Would you entertain the possibility that your situation was not typical even for the same time period (before the intentional gutting of government programs because “gummint is always the problem”) and for a student showing the same promise? It sounds to me that while you did not have the wealthiest parents, you benefited from a combination of factors entirely beyond your control.

    But I accept the point that wealth is not necessarily a deciding factor. It definitely helps a lot, and may be a deciding factor more often than not.

  114. PaulBC says

    And to repeat what I was trying to say in @115, why are we narrowly focused on “educational attainment”? For the vast majority of people, that is at most a means to an end and not the measure of successful outcome. If your dad owned the county’s biggest auto dealer and you inherited it and continued to run the family business, that may be entirely satisfactory to you even if you never went to Princeton and actually struggled with Algebra 2 in high school. Wealth definitely propagates wealth. Education is one means out of poverty, and far from guaranteed. It is also one (but not the only) means of preserving intergenerational wealth and status.

  115. consciousness razor says

    “So, yes, every time. Even in your case, a more affluent student in your same situation would have had more assets to use to improve their educational advantages.” You miss my point: whatever my educational advantages or lack thereof, my educational attainments (which is what I thought we were discussing) appear nearly maximal to me!

    This is getting ridiculous. Did MIT and Princeton and so forth not prepare you for this?

    The question is whether being more wealthy always helps with said attainment, or whether there are any cases when it doesn’t.

    That’s what you were disputing originally: you suggested the claim was “too strong,” because you think it doesn’t “always,” that it’s not “universal,” that it’s not so “in every single goddamned instance.”

    You were very emphatic about that. It was the entire content of your comment #54. Nothing else.

    So is it high attainment, maximal attainment, or some very specific kind of attainment? You’re free to pick any level or kind of attainment that you wish to consider. It could just be graduating high school, for all I care. Being more rich always helps, with any of it.

  116. consciousness razor says

    Too strong wasn’t an actual quote like the others, but that was the implication.

  117. leerudolph says

    Paul@BC @ 121: “It sounds to me that while you did not have the wealthiest parents, you benefited from a combination of factors entirely beyond your control.” Absolutely! Everybody, everywhere and always, is being effected by such a combination of factors beyond their control (often beyond anyone’s control; and often not even reliably recognizable as ‘factors’ by any contemporaneous observer). I am constantly aware of the contingency of many of (what I perceive and conceptualize as) my traits, habits, behaviors, and so on; and surely unaware of many more. (Sometimes, particularly when I’m prompted to go into rants as I’ve been doing in this comment thread, some new such example of such a contingency floats up.)

    @122: “And to repeat what I was trying to say in @115, why are we narrowly focused on “educational attainment”?” Hey, I’m just going with the flow, man. I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen the phrase before it showed up in PZ’s quotation from a review of Harden. I suppose Harden, and people with similar aims, find it easier to find some (pseudo-)measure of “attainment” that isn’t so transparently culture-laden as “advantage” necessarily is. (Spoiler: they’re both culture-laden.)

  118. leerudolph says

    cr, I agree the argument is (or has become) ridiculous, though presumably for reasons different than yours. My most recently noticed reason is this statement of yours (reflecting sentiments others have also expressed): “Being more rich always helps, with any of it.” How do you know that?

    How do you even begin to make sense of the statement? What does “A. is more rich than B.” mean (where A. and B. might name individuals, families, legal entities like trusts, etc.) ? It can’t (surely) mean something like “when the net worths of A. and of B. are calculated by a specified algorithm, the net worth of A. is strictly greater than the net worth of B.”—how could anyone say with a straight face that, in those circumstances, “The net worth of A. helps A. more than the net worth of B. helps B.” always? You’ll also have to quantify “help” (or at least, make it subject to some coherent notion of “more” that can be applied to any pair of instances of “help” subject to general principles).

    However, suppose I agree that “Being more rich always helps”. We still have (well, I still have) a problem with “So is it high attainment, maximal attainment, or some very specific kind of attainment?”. That question presupposes that there is a linear order on the collection of “attainments”, while I don’t even have any remaining idea of what an “attainment” is. I have been assuming that having degrees in a subject is one kind of attainment. But (fixing the type of degree, say, and considering two instances of it, say X and Y) how do you decide whether the attainment of X is greater than, smaller than, or equal to the attainment of Y? Maybe consult USN&WR?

  119. John Morales says

    I imagine that being rich and secure with it (trust fund kid) can help with education and training, but it also means that education and training are optional. Party party party!

    (So, not necessarily helpful unless one is that way inclined)

  120. PaulBC says

    I was about to try to make a point about incentives and class differences, but then I realized Jared Kushner blows up a lot of my claims. That’s a case in which wealth was extremely influential in furthering the “educational attainment” of someone who would have been wealthy no matter what and didn’t need a Harvard degree to enhance his income prospects. Even there, Kushner’s ultimate attainment (law and business degrees) isn’t the kind that are likely to lead to a career doing original research (which is what leaps to my mind when I think of educational attainment).

    I would speculate that the more wealthy an American’s family beyond a certain point, the less likely they are to pursue an advanced STEM degree in particular. E.g., unless computer science departments have changed since I stopped paying attention, many PhDs are awarded to international students from comparatively modest backgrounds. The Americans I knew weren’t unusually wealthy either. I sure wasn’t.

    I assume educational attainment is supposed to be a proxy for something so Harden can correlate it to genes? Is that why we’re discussing it and not a more general concept of a successful outcome as perceived by the individual and society? The latter obviously benefits from family wealth.

    To say more money always helps, all other things equal, depends a lot on how you stipulate “all other things equal”. I believe it helps for the merely affluent including those with assets in the millions, and breaks down many barriers (like how much you can afford for “enrichment” activities, travel abroad, etc.). Beyond a certain point, “all other things equal” becomes absurd. There is no one who is exactly like an ordinary middle class kid except that their family has tens of millions of dollars.

  121. consciousness razor says

    John Morales:

    I imagine that being rich and secure with it (trust fund kid) can help with education and training, but it also means that education and training are optional. Party party party!

    (So, not necessarily helpful unless one is that way inclined)

    Sure. If you want to accomplish something else like partying, then it typically helps with that too. But of course, I don’t need to assume that their goal is to be educated. (Also, you’ll notice that I was saying as much in an earlier comment — not everybody’s interested.)

    However, if it were a thing that you wished to attain (maybe before, after and/or during some partying), then the richness would be helpful. It does not fail, given the chance.

    Also, I think it just is helpful, not that this is “necessarily” so.

  122. John Morales says

    Sure. But that’s the thing, no?

    There’s merit whether or not one has advantages; more advantage, less comparative merit, perhaps… but merit nonetheless.

    In particular, dissing someone merely because they had advantage is not a seemly stance.

    (To tie it back to an earlier post, William Shatner was dissed because he’s merely an actor. But hey, he could have retired long, long ago. Still works, still does his thing.

    So… respect)

  123. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @120: It appears maximal to you because you’re not being very creative. For one, how the heck do you know that you wouldn’t have had even greater access? Imagine if you could have talked to the people who are writing the best work in the field. That’s the advantage of going to the elite schools: You have the ability to study under people with huge prestige and who are legitimately having a huge impact on the world. Would you have benefited from an even broader array of extracurricular options, all of which have attendant social capital advantages (e.g. you spend time at elite high school debate, you inherently meet attorneys and political figures who came from the same environment)? Would you have benefited from elite test prep? To say that the answer to all that is “No” is just comical, man.

    You yourself described how you weren’t at the top of your class. You needed special support which required doing work outside your field. (The fact that I am sure you found the poetry enriching is irrelevant: A rich kid could have written the same poetry, without the need to do so as a grant). You didn’t have a calculus class at your school (I did, and I come from an only-moderately-affluent rural area in the California foothills!) It sounds like your school wouldn’t have had AP and Honors courses, so if you were competing in the market today, you literally may have not had the GPA to make it into Princeton. Your parents had to spend money out of pocket. You are listing the fucking barriers you had to go through from class disadvantages, and I guarantee you that you are missing a ton of them. The fact that you overcame them is because of, well, this thing called actual fucking merit. But they were there, by your own admission.

    Now apply a little sociological imagination (you are clearly way smart enough to do that) and think of the filtering effect that could have pushed some people with your merit, or greater merit, out of an elite track if just a few things had happened: If their family had lost a job at a critical point, or had to declare bankruptcy; if something went wrong with your health and you didn’t have millions in the bank to pay for it; etc.

    By excluding the risks that you could have encountered and only looking at how things did in fact happen, you’re eliminating, you know, all the things that matter in the analysis, which is a huge swath of the class advantage. It’s obtuse.

    @122: Well, educational attainment and its outward signifiers are a big thing. The big problem that leu is having and you seem to be missing too (which is surprising given that you’re usually super astute) is that you can’t separate educational attainment in the sense of formal knowledge or what not from the advantages of being in educational programs. You can’t separate extracurriculars and the regular curriculum, you can’t separate the social capital advantage of attending an elite college with the fact that such colleges can also have some advantages on the ground, etc. The Kushners of the world aren’t any smarter, and in some cases they didn’t even get a better education in actual fact in terms of their knowledge and creativity, but they did have the option of spending time with some of the premier scholars on the planet even if they ultimately didn’t do that, and they get to have their Cheeto father-in-law justify giving them huge power because of their degrees. The traditional access that Ivy League schools have had to the halls of power in law and politics is a big example (not just formal politics but also think tanks and advisory roles).

    @125: So… you concede the point, then? Yes, there’s lots of factors outside your control. One of them was class. You had some scale of class advantage but others have more, and that matters. Why is that such a sticking point for you? No one is saying that socioeconomic status is the only factor that contributes to any phenomenon, educational attainment aside. But all else held equal (you know, how you discuss variables), being more affluent is always an advantage for education. There may be exceptions just like there are exceptions to virtually every rule outside the laws of physics, but they’re so few and far between as to not be worth studying.

    For example: I had a friend who came from an immensely wealthy background but that was quite abusive as a result of that wealth. Is that an exception? Well, no, not really. Because quite poor people can be abusive too. And her affluence still meant she had advantages a poor victim of the same abuse didn’t.

    @126: People have studied the topic, dude. That’s how we know. Start with Paul Street’s Segregated Schools, which has a very good summary of the deeply systemic nature of class, race and education. It’s harder to study the rich and ultra-rich because they’re not captive audiences the way the poor are for study (e.g. the poor are more likely to be on welfare rolls), but it’s still be done. The overwhelming consensus is that affluence is so often an advantage that trying to fish for exceptions is just silly. Your initial examples were hampered in ways that I don’t think are silly at all: They just assumed away key problems and ignored others.

    @128: It has always been true that the ultra-elite don’t need to worry about college that much. They’ll get a business degree or whatever else. But a) the option is still far more open to them than anyone who is poor, b) educational attainment still matters for the ultra-elite because that’s always been the way they’ve partied and rubbed shoulders to build social capital (which has always been a stumbling block for the liberal notion of education being a great equalizer – it hinged on thinking education was about education rather than about your Rolodex), and c) the less-affluent but still very rich certainly can help there. You can get people like your Bill Gates who can learn enough formally and informally to be in positions to launch businesses.

  124. John Morales says

    Frederic Bourgault-Christie, I’ll just note that a good heuristic is that people with hyphenated names are not typically in the lower classes.

  125. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @132: And I’m not. But I’m also not rich. My name isn’t actually legally hyphenated; I chose to do it myself when I realized that my parents hadn’t done it by default as an early feminist move. My parents were in a spiritual group early in my life, and so they hadn’t built a lot of assets. It took awhile for my Mom and Dad to get firmly middle-class jobs. My earliest home was rented in a house that was old enough to be cold. I’ve had to work throughout my life. I’ve never known hunger, but I have had to manage rent and being broke myself.

  126. forensical says

    Tethys@110

    I don’t need to read the books of clickbait scientists who can’t do math, invent their very own statistics, or claim progressives are evil. That which is asserted without evidence…

    Have you read anything at all by her? If not, where’s your evidence that she’s guilty of all your accusations?

  127. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @134: In the two articles linked up top, one of which showcases her views (which are badly argued) and one which critiques her with citations. Not noticing the OP is not a good sign for intellectual honesty.

    Also, I read the intro to the book and skimmed what else was available on Google Books and his criticism is spot on. So… have any more objections?

  128. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @132:

    I’ll just note that a good heuristic is that people with hyphenated names are not typically in the lower classes.

    My first chuckle of the day! Do you mean that you picked up the notion from representations in fiction, like the Monty Python sketch Upper Class Twit of the Year (where we see names like Incubator-Jones, Brook-Hampster, St John-Mollus, etc), and assumed it corresponded to reality?

    Double or hyphenated names are not that uncommon in the UK, especially Wales, where the high frequency of a few names encourages adding a name to distinguish oneself from other people with the same last name. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s grandad was a plumber.

    In the last few decades, taking a double last name has become quite common among hoi polloi. One of my nephews has a hyphenated surname, and his (and my) ancestors were as common as muck.

    So, no, it’s not a good heuristic.

  129. Tethys says

    @forensical

    My evidence is the obnoxious title of her book, as progressives aren’t suppressing her science. My evidence is the fact she has published an entire book of false conclusions based on flawed statistical notions of behavioral inheritance.

    I read her statistical analysis, and then read Gregories explanation at the second link (and quoted him at length) to confirm what I first concluded after reading the methodology.

    Her math is wrong. Her assertions are based on factually incorrect assumptions.

    I remain convinced of the progressive and scientifically well supported idea that environment and culture far outweigh any genetic component to academic achievement.

    It was not random chance or genes that resulted in the gifted math class of 7 boys described by Leerudolph above. It was male privilege. I too was in the gifted program, but choose not to continue being the sole girl in that class of rather abusive boys after being told by a male math teacher that it wasn’t important for me to learn advanced math, because I was a girl.

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