Here’s Steve Hsu on NPR trying to separate reality from hype. Steve is very measured in what he says BGI’s goal is in their project, and also very measured in what he says is currently possible.
Anyone ever thought that girls, on average, talk more than guys? A blank slate view might say that socialization and gender stereotypes cause women to talk more, but science now says otherwise. The gene that codes for FOXP2 has been shown in humans and mice to affect the frequency of speech/vocalization and that gene’s frequency differs by sex.
The new Edge.org question and responses have been posted for 2013. The question is “What should we be worried about?” The first response from Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist, is that we should be worried about Chinese eugenics. The tone of the response is overwrought and somewhat breathlessly alarmist, but in the final analysis the guy has a point, if a minor one.
China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China’s ever-faster rise as the global superpower. I worry that this poses some existential threat to Western civilization. Yet the most likely result is that America and Europe linger around a few hundred more years as also-rans on the world-historical stage, nursing our anti-hereditarian political correctness to the bitter end.
What’s true of today’s political correctness might not be true of tomorrow. Think of all the social change that happened in the 50 years between 1960 and 2010. 50 years from today, maybe we’ll all be hereditarians.
For generations, Chinese intellectuals have emphasized close ties between the state (guojia), the nation (minzu), the population (renkou), the Han race (zhongzu), and, more recently, the Chinese gene-pool (jiyinku). Traditional Chinese medicine focused on preventing birth defects, promoting maternal health and “fetal education” (taijiao) during pregnancy, and nourishing the father’s semen (yangjing) and mother’s blood (pingxue) to produce bright, healthy babies (see Frank Dikötter’s bookImperfect Conceptions). Many scientists and reformers of Republican China (1912-1949) were ardent Darwinians and Galtonians. They worried about racial extinction (miezhong) and “the science of deformed fetuses” (jitaixue), and saw eugenics as a way to restore China’s rightful place as the world’s leading civilization after a century of humiliation by European colonialism. The Communist revolution kept these eugenic ideals from having much policy impact for a few decades though. Mao Zedong was too obsessed with promoting military and manufacturing power, and too terrified of peasant revolt, to interfere with traditional Chinese reproductive practices.
Of course the reformers of Republican China were Darwinians and Galtonians. So were the reformers in every other major nation on earth during that period. And what? And why include the romanizations of Chinese words here? Does every other country not have their own terms for these issues? The author’s purpose in highlighting foreign words here is dubious. He then goes over the gaokao test which he equates, not completely incorrectly, with the past imperial exams. Even so, China is hardly the only nation to use them. On a practical level, there’s no easier way to gauge which students to admit into higher education than a test. The US has plenty of them in the form of SATs, ACTs, MCATs, LSATs, etc. None of this demonstrates a stark difference between China and any other nation. Finally, he mentions the Beijing Genomics Institute.
The BGI Cognitive Genomics Project is currently doing whole-genome sequencing of 1,000 very-high-IQ people around the world, hunting for sets of sets of IQ-predicting alleles… These IQ gene-sets will be found eventually—but will probably be used mostly in China, for China. Potentially, the results would allow all Chinese couples to maximize the intelligence of their offspring by selecting among their own fertilized eggs for the one or two that include the highest likelihood of the highest intelligence. Given the Mendelian genetic lottery, the kids produced by any one couple typically differ by 5 to 15 IQ points. So this method of “preimplantation embryo selection” might allow IQ within every Chinese family to increase by 5 to 15 IQ points per generation. After a couple of generations, it would be game over for Western global competitiveness.
Here is where I believe he has a point. The BGI is indeed hunting for these alleles, and why search for these genes if not to put them to use in the future? The worry here is still overwrought, because it would conceivably take much more than a “couple generations” to have any large effect. In vitro is still extremely expensive ($15-20k per attempt) and a success rate of less than 40% even for young women and that rate drops precipitously by the mid 30s. There’s no way that enough young Chinese women could afford something like that to matter for many generations, even if they wanted it. But if you’re looking at a long enough timeframe, then yes, it will matter. Still, the state of political correctness by that time could be vastly different around the world. There’s little justification in saying the entire Western civilization needs to worry about this today.
Here’s Steve Hsu’s pitch to Google employees to submit their DNA for sequencing to find high IQ genes. You too can submit your DNA for free sequencing if you can prove your IQ is in the neighborhood of +3SD.
Via steve hsu, there’s an article in the south china morning post regarding the sequencing of genomes from prodigy and avg children. i’ve previously mentioned this study with regards to the fearlessness of genetic research in asia.
The study will examine protein coding genes of the extremely smart children, many of whom are expected to enroll at Harvard, Yale or Cambridge. The results will be correlated with each youngster’s school test scores, in hopes of learning how specific genetic variations affect intelligence.
The study, which started in 2009 in Shenzhen, is moving to a new facility in Tai Po. By the end of this month, 115 of the world’s fastest sequencers – the HiSeq 2000 – will have relocated to the city. They will be able to sequence the equivalent of 1,000 human genomes a day, and soon surpass the entire sequencing output of the United States to become the world’s largest sequencing centre.
The study by BGI, which receives strong financial backing from the Shenzhen and mainland governments, will be the largest-scale examination of its kind. Ethical and privacy concerns have hindered such work in America and Europe.
it’s an amazing level of computational power that’s being aimed at this research. what’s interesting is that the genesis of this study was a child prodigy himself.
The idea of probing the genetic basis for human intelligence came after Beijing high school student Zhao Bowen , 17, who came to BGI on a summer internship last year to work on cucumbers, solved an assignment within a few hours that scientists expected to take him weeks.
Zhao is working as a full-time researcher now, and he will study the genes of 1,000 of his best-performing schoolmates from the affiliated high school of China’s prestigious Renmin University, where some of the smartest children from across the country have been sent. It’s a collaboration project between the institute and the high school.
only in china would a researcher be willing to openly study this:
[BGI] is about to embark on a search for the genetic underpinning of intelligence. Two thousand Chinese schoolchildren will have 2,000 of their protein-coding genes sampled, and the results correlated with their test scores at school. Though it will cover less than a tenth of the total number of protein-coding genes, it will be the largest-scale examination to date of the idea that differences between individuals’ intelligence scores are partly due to differences in their DNA.
Dr Yang is also candid about the possibility of the 1,000-genome project revealing systematic geographical differences in human genetics—or, to put it politically incorrectly, racial differences. The differences that have come to light so far are not in sensitive areas such as intelligence. But if his study of schoolchildren does find genes that help control intelligence, a comparison with the results of the 1,000-genome project will be only a mouse-click away.
(first seen at steve hsu’s site)
as a gift to all the disabled veterans (and comic book fans), scientists have found a single gene that when disabled, allows for regen to occur in mice. where normally scar tissue forms, the cells become like embryonic stem cells and heal completely with no scar like salamanders that lose their tail.
there must be some evolutionary reason why this powerful trait was lost in most animals. if the reason is that cancer is more likely to develop, then this treatment might be limited in the future to the severely injured. most ppl wouldn’t want to trade a scar for cancer or other genetic anomaly.
but if it’s due to the high energy costs of rebuilding body parts as an adult, then this could change our way of life. this could be the lazarus pit of our day. no scars, no lost limbs, being able to rebuild organs, grow new skin, etc.