Swimming in the Educational Gene Pool? How Far Can Children Go With the Genes They Have? (The Huffington Post)

It seems so sci-fi! First there were educational toys, then educational apps and now educational genes. A recent paper published in the journal Developmental Psychology finds that there are three genes associated with academic achievement. Florida State University, Professor Kevin Beaver headed the team reporting that certain forms (alleles) of the genes DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4 predicted the level of education individuals would reach. Imagine genes in a Petri dish telling whether you were going to get your high school diploma or graduate from Harvard Law (OK, not quite that level of precision). So does this mean you should run out and have your children’s genomes sequenced, which by the way is getting cheaper and cheaper? Will submitting your genome be a requirement in the preschool and college admission’s process? NO! As even these researchers remind us, genes are not destiny. Just because something has a genetic basis doesn’t mean it will come to pass.
Take health for example. Many of us carry genetic potential for heart disease or cancer. It was in our family tree. But we don’t just throw in the towel and wait for the disease to strike. Instead, we alter the environment in ways that reduces risk by exercising and avoiding that buttery popcorn at the movie theaters that tastes so so good.

Read the whole story here
It seems so sci-fi! First there were educational toys, then educational apps and now educational genes. A recent paper published in the journal Developmental Psychology finds that there are three genes associated with academic achievement. Florida State University, Professor Kevin Beaver headed the team reporting that certain forms (alleles) of the genes DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4 predicted the level of education individuals would reach. Imagine genes in a Petri dish telling whether you were going to get your high school diploma or graduate from Harvard Law (OK, not quite that level of precision). So does this mean you should run out and have your children’s genomes sequenced, which by the way is getting cheaper and cheaper? Will submitting your genome be a requirement in the preschool and college admission’s process? NO! As even these researchers remind us, genes are not destiny. Just because something has a genetic basis doesn’t mean it will come to pass.

Take health for example. Many of us carry genetic potential for heart disease or cancer. It was in our family tree. But we don’t just throw in the towel and wait for the disease to strike. Instead, we alter the environment in ways that reduces risk by exercising and avoiding that buttery popcorn at the movie theaters that tastes so so good.

When it comes to IQ or educational attainment, people are often willing to jump on the genetic bandwagon and think that genetics completely determines our future. Yet, what Professor Beaver said in an interview with the American Psychological Association was perfectly clear: “No one gene is going to say, “Sally will graduate from high school’ or ‘Johnny will earn a college degree.”

Having genes for educational attainment just increases the probabilities. Remember Mendel’s pea plants? The plants raised in strong and healthy environments grew taller and heartier than those — with the same genetic potential — that were raised in less healthy environments. And even some of those plants raised in terrible environments did well. So it is with our children.
The genetic profile gives us a starting point from which we can strengthen our potential to succeed or waste it. When we were growing up there were a lot of brilliant immigrant grandparents who never made it to college. And today colleges are flooded with first generation successes who went “beyond” their genetic odds. In our day, they used to call those overachievers.

True, we can’t change our genes. We can, however, provide the kinds of interventions that help people become those overachievers.

The kind of data that Beaver presented is extraordinary and it helps us better understand the human blueprint. It also comes with a warning sign to those who think that biology determines our life path. Some might take this data in unintended ways concluding that low-income children just cannot rise above the poor educational experiences we give them. Why spend public dollars if they will be biologically squandered? As more and more of our kids are sliding into poverty, this wrong-headed belief has serious implications for our human capital — the next generation.

To maximize everyone’s genetic potential we need to provide the best education we can — both in and out of school — for kids of all economic stripes. Better environments make for better educational attainment as the writer David Kirp has talked about in his aptly titled article, “After the Bell Curve.”

So, be the first one on your block to know that science has uncovered genes that predict the educational level people can reach. But also be the first ones to know that such clear-cut predictors only occur in the movies — not in reality. Our educational attainment is a mix of our biology and what we do with it. Let’s help all children reach their highest potential and not blame them for the genetic pool they swim in. Genes are not destiny.
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Critics Say Cal’s Genetic Tests Ignore ‘Asian Flush’ Risks by Jeremy Hsu

“WHY DO ASIANS DO WELL AT SCHOOL?”
Setsuo Otsuka

The Myth of the Math Gene

“As a high school math teacher, I have become very weary of hearing the myriad of excuses that parents and students alike make to explain poor math performance. As with reading, there are two main things that we as a society and we as a collective American educational system need to adopt in order to address the math deficiencies of our students. First, we need to change our mindset about one’s ability to learn mathematics. Just as we believe with reading, with math one becomes proficient through practice, time on task, the expectation of success and the belief that learning math is within everyone’s grasp.

The math gene theory needs to be retired as our national scapegoat regarding our children’s performance in math. We need to stop giving our kids permission to give up on a topic that can be learned and mastered with practice, perseverance and the proper “can do” mindset. Let’s support our kids with a positive attitude towards math and encourage them to succeed in mathematics instead of making up excuses and being tacitly complicit in their failure.”

How Much Hard Evidence Do You Need?

It is already known that educational attainment and income are highly heritable. However, finding specific genes linked to cognitive and behavioral traits has been difficult. This is primarily because most traits arise not from a few genes with large effects, but from many genes with small effects (and from many genes with effects similar to those of other genes). Hence, figuring out what alleles are linked to what behaviors against the backdrop of the tens of thousands of genes in the genome—and the many more variants of such—is by no means an easy task.

None the less, a few such links have been identified, which I talked about in my earlier post about free will. A recent paper was released that took a look at genes that play a role in education attainment. This study looked at three genes involved in the production and control of dopamine, one of the brain’s “reward” hormones.

They did this by looking the Add Health study, a national longitudinal study of adolescents, done in four waves. This is the same study that much maligned evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa relied on to make his infamous blog post about the physical attractiveness of Black women—which landed him in so much hot water (more on that soon). Wave 3 of the study however included a DNA sample of the participants. From this, the researchers were able to make links between genes and the behavior and outcomes of the study participants.

You’re probably now thinking what I was thinking when I first read this: since the Add Health study contained participants of various races, a genetic analysis could be used to identify genes that impact behavior that differs between the races.

And it seems that they have done just that. They found that the three dopamine genes they examined, the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1), the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2), and the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4), had small but reliable effects on educational attainment, such that those with a higher “dopamine index” tended to attain less education.

Presumably, this is because those with higher “dopamine indices” (based on having more of certain alleles of these three genes) are more much impulsive/novelty seeking, and in general derive much less satisfaction from things that don’t offer immediate rewards.

But what’s much more interesting is that they found significant differences in the prevalence of the alleles of theses genes between the White and the Black subjects, with Blacks having tending to have higher dopamine indices. The differences are small, but solid.

This finding, as significant as it seems, is but one of many pieces of evidence demonstrating genes that affect behavior that differ in prevalence between racial groups. Here are just a few others:

Researchers have found a correlation between a serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and whether a society is individualistic or collectivist; Anglo countries are on one end of the distribution while East Asian countries are on the other.
The “Warrior Gene”, monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A): This gene is known to be associated with a host of anti-social behaviors, and varies considerably around the word. Certain variants of this gene were found to be quite prevalent among the Maori of New Zealand, a people with a reputation for fierceness and who today have significantly higher rates of violence than White New Zealanders.
Genes for myopia, a condition which is known to be associated with increased intelligence (there is a reason that wearing glasses makes one look more intelligent). The prevalence of myopia varies greatly around the world, being higher in European and Asian countries, reaching as high as 80% in Singapore. Singapore also has an average IQ of 108!
The aforementioned DRD4 gene, which Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending discuss (along with many other genes that vary among different populations) in The 10,000 Year Explosion (pg 112):
the 7R (for 7-repeat) allele of the DRD4 (dopamine receptor D4) gene. It is associated with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a behavioral syndrome best characterized by actions that annoy elementary school teachers: restless-impulsive behavior, inattention, distractibility, and the like. The polymorphism is found at varying but significant levels in many parts of the world, but is almost totally absent from East Asia. Interestingly, alleles derived from the 7R allele are fairly common in China, even though the 7R alleles themselves are extremely rare there. It is possible that individuals bearing these alleles were selected against because of cultural patterns in China. The Japanese say that the nail that sticks out is hammered down, but in China it may have been pulled out and thrown away.

About that DRD4 gene, the presence of longer copies of the gene are found to vary across the world, and is found to increase as migratory distance from Africa increases.
A staunch critic might (correctly) point out that our knowledge of how behavior is derived from these genes is incomplete at best, and hence (incorrectly) conclude that it’s hasty to conclude that we have proved concrete innate behavioral differences thanks to genetic differences. They might point to the oxytocin receptor gene, where the same alleles leads to different behavior for Koreans than it does for Americans, presumably confounding research linking genes and behavior. That study is used to demonstrate the importance of “culture” in determining behavioral differences between groups.

Of course, the problem with that line of reasoning—which is used to support the importance of culture in the above example—is that the OXTR gene cited doesn’t just operate in different cultures between Koreans and Americans, but in different genomes as well. It shouldn’t be horrendously surprising that the same alleles have different effects in different groups, thanks to the mediation of other genes that differ between those groups.

But effects such as these do make it difficult to draw straight comparisons between genetic differences between groups and behavioral differences between those groups, as inferred by the behaviors these genes appear to be associated with. (Some “low-activity” MAO-A genes are common among East Asians, for example.)

But this criticism completely misses the point. We know of genes that are linked to behavior and intelligence, and we know that those genes differ in prevalence between racial groups. Hence, unless the rest of the genome operates in such a way to cancel out the effect of the genes we have isolated (which is essentially impossible), then some of the behavioral and cognitive differences between groups must be due to genetic differences. There is no way every group is going to be dealt a different hand of cards and have those cards all work to operate the same basic way. It simply could not have happened. Ergo, demonstrating these genetic differences and their links to behavioral differences are a proof-of-concept of heritable behavioral/cognitive differences between racial groups, as Half Sigma noted. And if these differences could have something to do with heredity, why can’t other differences?

Alternative Ambitions: Low Educational Ambition as a Form of Strategic Adaptation among
Chinese Youths in Spain  By Jessica Yiu
Warrior gene’ predicts aggressive behavior after provocation (Physics.org, Jan 21, 2009)

(PhysOrg.com) — Boys who carry a particular variation of the gene Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), sometimes called the “warrior gene,” are more likely not only to join gangs but also to be among the most violent members and to use weapons, according to a new study from The Florida State University that is the first to confirm an MAOA link specifically to gangs and guns. A
Findings apply only to males. Girls with the same variant of the MAOA gene seem resistant to its potentially violent effects on gang membership and weapon use. Led by noted biosocial criminologist Kevin M. Beaver at FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the study sheds new light on the interplay of genetics and environment that produces some of society’s most serious violent offenders. “While gangs typically have been regarded as a sociological phenomenon, our investigation shows that variants of a specific MAOA gene, known as a ‘low-activity 3-repeat allele,’ play a significant role,” said Beaver, an award-winning researcher who has co-authored more than 50 published papers on the biosocial underpinnings of criminal behavior. “Previous research has linked low-activity MAOA variants to a wide range of antisocial, even violent, behavior, but our study confirms that these variants can predict gang membership,” he said. “Moreover, we found that variants of this gene could distinguish gang members who were markedly more likely to behave violently and use weapons from members who were less likely to do either.” The MAOA gene affects levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that are related to mood and behavior, and those variants that are related to violence are hereditary. Some previous studies have found the “warrior gene” to be more prevalent in cultures that are typified by warfare and aggression.

Read more here

Race differences in intelligence: how research changed my mind to overcome the “all races are equal” dogma.

Success of Asian students: Culture or genes?

How one can conclude from the fact that 46% of students at Berkeley being Asian “proves” anything about America’s attitudes toward meritocracy over steps the boundaries of sound reasoning.

[Jews have a culture and tradition of debate, law, and analysis. Asians don’t.]

This quote speaks of flagrant ignorance of both Asian and Jewish traditions. One can also construe the Jewish religious tradition as orthodox, rigid, dogmatic and unquestioning while the Confucian tradition of meritocracy and philosophical dialogue as a tradition of debate and analysis. (Hundred Schools period of the Waring States?, The Mandarin system of hiring government officials?). The list below the quote is simply a list of slogans and stereotypes of American values that lack all content. I’m very wary of these kinds of cultural simplifications as they are not only grossly simplicity and unilluminating but almost always wrong.

[In my opinion, every selection activity (whether of students, or of leaders in a corporation) is always a form of genetic selection. ]

How you reached this claim is beyond comprehension. But one only needs to look at the ridiculous byline of his blog to see how sophomoric your understanding of genetics and your naive genetic determinism is when you say: “We are free to choose what we want, but we are not free in our wants themselves (desires and motivations), which are innate and vary across the population”. And this part of his post suggests likewise: “You can’t have talent without genes, because talent emanates from motivation and desire, which is always innate.”

Of course we are free to choose many of our wants and desires. Also, many of our desires and motivations are clearly *not* “innate”. That’s obvious. Corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year creating desires for things or services no one had an innate desire for or innate motivation for doing. This is shockingly simplistic thinking even by American standards.

[You can’t have talent without genes, because talent emanates from motivation and desire, which is always innate. And a recent scientific publication reports that 25% of genes studied differ in their level of activity between Europeans and Asians.]

I just read the abstract of that study and no where does it say anything about Asian’s and student academic success and alleged genetic relata. It simply says that gene expression is statistically different for different populations in many of the genes (about 25%) they studied. No surprise there. You don’t need to be a geneticist to know that many diseases and superficial traits like hair color, skin color, eye color etc, differs across ethnicities and that the differences are attributable largely to genes. But the question you beg is (the sixty four thousand $ question), is there a difference in Asian temperament and/or academic success due to genes? No evidence has ever been adduced from any published study I’m aware of which suggested that for any social trait that differs across ethnic groups has a genetic component. Mightn’t there be these differences genetically across ethnicities? Mightn’t Asians be more genetically predisposed for academic motivation, social shame, fear of standing out, difference to authority, reserved, adept at memorizing, defer gratification? Sure, but they could also be *less* inclined to these traits for all we know or there might not be any genetic dispositional directions either way. Which ethnicity is more “predisposed” to be more studious, e.g.,? In which environments are they more studious? Are there some environments they are disposed to be more but in other less so? These questions have never been answered for any quantitative social trait such as “respect for authority, calmness of disposition, greater willingness to defer gratification and work hard,” etc. In fact, I’m not even aware that there is any evidence for differences between Asians (esp. Asian Americans) and others in some of the traits you mentioned never mind evidence supporting a far stronger claim that the differences are genetic in origin.

In conclusion, how is this post any more than a rehashing of old (model minority) stereotypes without any further analysis? The real question is, like it always has been, are these claims true and what reasons may we have in believing them?

Why Asians are so smart