Err, no Polly, no

Like Cummings, I am not qualified to interpret genetic research, so I asked Professor Steve Jones, the celebrated geneticist at University College London, what it means. Cummings, using the work of the behavioural geneticist Robert Plomin, badly misinterprets it, says Jones, and “fundamentally misunderstands” how biology works. That 70% is, crucially, “a statement about populations, not individuals. It certainly does not mean that seven-tenths of every child’s talents reside in the double helix.” Teachers become more, not less, important, Jones says, when examining the close interaction of environment and genes. Even in the simple matter of height, environment plays its part: with no DNA change, his native Welsh population has grown two inches and increased its IQ since the 1950s. Moving to affluence increases a working class child’s IQ by 15 points.

The effect is not upon the IQ of that one working class child that moves into affluence. It i exactly as you are criticising Cummings for: it’s the Flynn Effect and it works on populations, not individuals.

And as to this:

With destiny all but set by five years old

If destiny is set before the education system even sees the child ten it’s clear and obvious that it’s not the education system that influences destny, is it?

19 comments on “Err, no Polly, no

  1. “with no DNA change, his native Welsh population has grown two inches and increased its IQ since the 1950s.”
    I would bet that the average Welsh skin colour has darkened a bit over the last 60 years as well; so that must have been caused by the education system then?

  2. I think Dawkins would have something rather harsh to say about the suggestion that genetics works at the group, rather than the individual, level.

  3. Lefties hate the idea that anything could be out of their potential control. That’s why they can’t accept this I think.

  4. “If destiny is set before the education system even sees the child then it’s clear and obvious that it’s not the education system that influences destiny, is it?”

    Er, no. Suppose there are two types of school, good and bad, and your expected income E(Y) is a function of school, and you are allocated to a school at the age of 5. In this case your destiny is determined age 5 before you enter education system.

  5. But Luis, Poll is always telling us the state education system is uniformly excellent. “Hardworking teachers” is a phrase sounds familiar.

  6. Professor Steven Jones is an expert on the ecological genetics of snails and fruit flies.
    When talking about the performance of schoolchildren “snail” is a metaphor. Maybe Polly doesn’t realise that?

  7. Polly won’t admit to reading “The Independent”, which tries to make a living without a government subsidy (the New Labour policy of only advertising public sector jobs in The Guardian combined compulsion on would-be applicants to buy The Guardian as well as the direct subsidy through advertising revenue and since the election The Guardian has never made a profit).
    If she had done so she might have noticed that Gove’s spokesman is quoted as saying:
    “”[He] suggested lots of different things, for example, that genetic research might allow us to help those with learning difficulties much earlier and more effectively.”
    Gove wants to use Plomin’s research to help kids at the bottom end of the spectrum as well as those at the top.

  8. Alex is, of course, wrong.
    The closure of the coal mines means that, despite the DNA change that Alex implies and Jones ignores, the average Welsh skin colour is paler due to the almost-complete abolition of ingrained coaldust.
    The increase in IQ is largely, if not wholly, due to the reduction in childhood malnutrition, thanks to Churchill (who introduced free school milk when children were malnourished and abolished food rationing). [There is also an increase in *reported* IQ as a result of people practising taking IQ tests - once you've sussed out what questions are all about, they get easier.] The increase in height is partly due to the change in DNA, but more of it is due to better childhood nutrition (and a little may be due to persuading pregnant women to cut down on smoking and alcohol).

  9. Welsh DNA.

    The point missed.

    The Welsh did not grow two inches, they were two inches too short due to poor diet, so did not reach their potential height determined by their DNA. (You can’t make midgets taller by feeding them more.)

    They achieved their potential with improved diet.

    IQ is a function of the advance in science and the access to it. How well that is assimilated is dependent on ability, interest in and willingness to process information determined by DNA.

    People in the past had less access to less information, and also poor diet blunted mental powers, so could not exploit their potential.

    DNA works on individuals not groups. Natural selection means some individuals reproduce more successfully and so will dominate any group.

    Dawkins explains it is genes that survive, not individuals who are disposable, just ‘carriers’ once the gene has been passed on. As far as the gene is concerned out of ten million individuals carrying it, only one need be successful.

  10. @ John B
    “The point missed” – not good wording when you missed reading my last sentence.
    DNA is possessed by individuals. Groups may have DNA that is similar but rarely identical
    “IQ is a function of the advance in science and the access to it.” Completely and utter bullshit. IQ is a (admittedly pretty lousy) measure of intellectual capacity of an individual that is, at least in theory, completely independent of the environment including the progress in science over the last few millennia and/or access thereto.
    Natural selection stopped affecting reproduction centuries ago and virtually stopped affecting the more important survival rates two generations ago in the richer countries who introduced welfare states. There is now actually a downward drift in hereditary-based IQ in the UK

  11. Not only is there no evidence of a “downward drift in hereditary IQ in the UK”, neither is there any reason to believe in one.

    However, there is a long-standing belief in the rise of the feeble minded. I pull this link out too often, I know, but here is GK Chesterton addressing exactly the same hysteria a century ago, long before the welfare state-

    Eugenics And Other Evils

  12. That 70% is, crucially, “a statement about populations, not individuals. It certainly does not mean that seven-tenths of every child’s talents reside in the double helix.”

    A population average may not apply to every child, but it surely a hell applies to a lot of them. And for every child above the average, there has to be one below as well.

  13. John B – “The Welsh did not grow two inches, they were two inches too short due to poor diet, so did not reach their potential height determined by their DNA. …They achieved their potential with improved diet.”

    Which is reassuring if the Third World immigrants we have let into this country do actually converge to the norm. But I don’t think there is any reason to think they will. Black Americans are fed as well as non-Black Americans. Better than many first generation Chinese immigrants. But Black Americans are still about one standard deviation – 15 IQ points more or less – behind White Americans who are about the same behind East Asians. We all may be near the top of what our genes permit.

    john77 – “IQ is a (admittedly pretty lousy) measure of intellectual capacity of an individual that is, at least in theory, completely independent of the environment including the progress in science over the last few millennia and/or access thereto.”

    Actually IQ appears to be an excellent predictor of future success in college and in life so it appears to be a fairly good measure. In fact I doubt that anyone in the actual field of intelligence would deny that IQ measures something. It is the sociologists who stick their fingers in their ears and shout “la la la la la”.

    And IQ tests should be independent but they are not. What they probably the best measure of is experience in doing IQ tests and willingness to work hard at them. But that is a good measure of something in itself.

    “Natural selection stopped affecting reproduction centuries ago and virtually stopped affecting the more important survival rates two generations ago in the richer countries who introduced welfare states.”

    Well no. You may be right about the good sort of natural selection, but natural selection is still going on. Women no longer die in child birth as often. The size of a woman’s hips was a limit on how big human brains could get. That no longer applies. So people are living to reproduce who would have died in the past. Natural selection, of a sort, at work.

    There is also something akin to past behaviour. We evolved to like and want certain things. Women, presumably, evolved to like men who could wrestle a sabre toothed tiger with their bare hands and so protect their families. But civilisation gave a leg up to dorks in their effort to get a leg over because suddenly having a good job became important. A large part of female romance literature, used in a loose sense, is about the conflict between what their genes tell them is good and what they need to get to survive in a modern society. The welfare state has removed the concern for a husband with a good job. So women are free to choose the sort of men who might wrestle cave bears – thugs with criminal records for instance who definitely appeal to a lot of the underclass, especially those of immigrant origin. Anyone surprised that Rhianna took Chris Brown back?

  14. The increase in height is partly due to the change in DNA, but more of it is due to better childhood nutrition

    That can’t be true. The left keep claiming that everyone was much healthier during WWII due to rationing that ensured they only ate what the government said was good for them.

  15. @ Ian B
    The sun rose every morning in the nineteenth century, so you might as well dismiss my observation that it still separates day from night as “nothing new”.
    In fact the vast increase in comfortable interesting jobs for middle-class women has helped to decrease birth-rates in that class to significantly below replacement rates.

  16. My other half, who teaches Psych to 6th-formers, was so appalled by the Indie’s reporting of Plomin she’s given her students the article & asked them to write an essay about it. She says she tried no to show what she thinks of it but I’m not sure she would have been able to control her spitting,

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