The impact of genetics on outcomes

A very very lengthy but fascinating article in the New Yorker on the impact of genetics on outcomes, and the depressing attacks on the science from both the left and the right.

A couple of extracts:

On her left are those inclined to insist that genes don’t really matter; on her right are those who suspect that genes are, in fact, the only things that matter. The history of behavior genetics is the story of each generation’s attempt to chart a middle course. 

So where do they matter:

Polygenic scores can now account for a good deal of a population’s variance in height and weight, and have been shown to predict cardiovascular disease and diabetes. “This is really a cause for celebration,” Plomin told me. “Imagine the advent of predictive medicine—to be able to identify medical issues before they occur.” Researchers have also found links with complex behavioral traits. “Significant hits have been reported for traits such as coffee and tea consumption, chronic sleep disturbances (insomnia), tiredness, and even whether an individual is a morning person or a night person,” Plomin notes, in his 2018 book, “Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are.” The new research, he writes, “signals the start of the DNA revolution in psychology.”

This has huge potential.

The largest gwas for educational attainment to date found almost thirteen hundred sites on the genome that are correlated with success in school. Though each might have an infinitesimally small statistical relationship with the outcome, together they can be summed to produce a score that has predictive validity: those in the group with the highest scores were approximately five times more likely to graduate from college than those with the lowest scores—about as accurate a predictor as traditional social-science variables like parental income. 

Fascinating, to put it mildly. This might partially explain why boys do far worse at school than girls?

As she put it to me in an e-mail, “Even if we eliminated all inequalities in educational outcomes between sexes, all inequalities by family socioeconomic status, all inequalities between different schools (which as you know are very confounded with inequalities by race), we’ve only eliminated a bit more than a quarter of the inequalities in educational outcomes.” She directed me to a comprehensive World Bank data set, released in 2020, which showed that seventy-two per cent of inequality at the primary-school level in the U.S. is within demographic groups rather than between them. “Common intuitions about the scale of inequality in our society, and our imaginations about how much progress we would make if we eliminated the visible inequalities by race and class, are profoundly wrong,” she wrote. “The science confronts us with a form of inequality that would otherwise be easy to ignore.”

This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try to reduce inequalities between sexes, races and socio-economic status. But it is a useful reminder that focusing solely on them is not a good idea.

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