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Biotech

Root of Maths Genius Sought 251

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the army-of-cloned-math-nerds-not-very-terrifying dept.
ananyo writes "He founded two genetic-sequencing companies and sold them for hundreds of millions of dollars. He helped to sequence the genomes of a Neanderthal man and James Watson, who co-discovered DNA's double helix. Now, entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg has set his sights on another milestone: finding the genes that underlie mathematical genius. Rothberg and physicist Max Tegmark, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, have enrolled about 400 mathematicians and theoretical physicists from top-ranked US universities in a study dubbed 'Project Einstein'. They plan to sequence the participants' genomes using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed. Critics say that the sizes of these studies are too small to yield meaningful results for such complex traits. But Rothberg is pushing ahead. 'I'm not at all concerned about the critics,' he says, adding that he does not think such rare genetic traits could be useful in selecting for smarter babies. Some mathematicians, however, argue that maths aptitude is not born so much as made. 'I feel that the notion of "talent" may be overrated,' says Michael Hutchings, a mathematician also at Berkeley."
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Root of Maths Genius Sought

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  • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @10:54AM (#45280317)
    Second step, treat them differently.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by SirGarlon (845873)
      I think that second step has already been done: in elementary school, high school, college, and the workplace, for starters. Not all that different treatment is for the worse.
      • by ranton (36917)

        Considering we already do separate kids into different tracks, and this does give an advantage to those put in these tracks, it is a noble goal to identify as many students as possible who may not have been selected for advanced tracks but should have been. Early signs of aptitude can be hard to identify.

      • by alexander_686 (957440) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:52AM (#45281155)

        First I find this kind of ironic that they are calling this “Project Einstein”. Einstein was not considered that smart when he was young.

        Second, I am little skeptical of the project. I fear the results with be over simplified and applied wrongly. I think there are different types of intelligence. Language, mathematical, etc. I think intelligence comes from a subtle interplay between genetics and environment. I think character (drive, deferred gratification, etc.) is just as important.

        But somebody is going to find a gene that explains 5% of intelligence (or lack of) and society will start focusing on that factor. Toddlers we be routed to different schools based on this thin evidence, prejudices will be formed, etc.

        I think the research should be done but I do fear a dark period.

    • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:06AM (#45280479)
      Hell no, we need to integrate them in!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Garridan (597129)
      Disclaimer: I'm a mathematician. Great! Let's take a class of people that predominantly arise in highly privileged segments of society, and study their genetics! And only study them, instead doing a broad survey and looking for outliers in the data. Great fucking science, folks.
      • by ranton (36917)

        And only study them, instead doing a broad survey and looking for outliers in the data. Great fucking science, folks.

        I just assumed that we already have many genomes sequenced that came from the general population that they could compare their results to.

      • by Virtucon (127420)

        I hope this doesn't mean we'll start getting like a telekinetic Hitler [boingboing.net] or something right? I mean we already had Teller and his wacko theories like "Plowshare" [google.com] and he was supposedly a smart guy, right?

        • Project Plowshare was not a wacko theory. It is based on sound principles and it probably would have worked. Of course back then they gave lesser weight to the radiation risks then we do today

          Also there is an important but subtle difference been intelligence (how to do something) and wisdom (what should be done.).

      • When you sell off two successful companies you can take all that money and burn it if you like. Rothberg chose his route.
        • At least he isn't building weird 'yachts' or running around in his own personal 767. This doesn't sound like particularly good science, but it is a testable hypothesis.

          It's the modern thing to do after the hookers and blow get a little old.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:59AM (#45281227)

        Great fucking science, folks.

        Isn't that what genetics is all about? Mating?

    • by disposable60 (735022) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:12AM (#45280551) Journal

      As long as you keep watching the less-developed minds for signs of the lights coming on later than average. Not all people develop according to schedule, and some late bloomers come on strong.

      I know somone's going to say something about so few people accomplishing anything monumental after age 25 that you don't need to bother, but one should notice how few people accomplish anything at all BEFORE they turn 25.

    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:17AM (#45280637)

      1 - Define "smarter".
      2 - ID the smarter people.
      3 - Treat them differently.

      I think currently the main point of failure is at the first step.

      For some reason, most people are afraid of any definition of "smarter" that also defines lots of children as "less smart". As long as we're not honest with ourselves, we'll never reach the second step properly.

      I think they actually used "Math genius" to avoid the useless debate of "My kid isn't less smart. He's a different kind of smart".

      • If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree ....

        • by Thanshin (1188877)

          As long as we keep caring about the opinion of the fish who can't climb trees, we'll never find the best tree climber fish.

      • by P-niiice (1703362)
        I've been given a consistently high IQ, but when I started as an engineer, I had to be taught to think like one, regardless of how 'smart' I thought I was. Why is the "able to think through mathmatical stuff " measure of intelligence for IQ the only one that counts? Thinking is a skill - you have to learn to do it a certain way to function in a certain way, and if you don't use it, or aren't allowed to use it, you lose it. The IQ test is garbage, in my opinion.
    • by Virtucon (127420) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:36AM (#45280935)

      Yeah, smart people looking for traits in people to better mankind. It's called Eugenics, and It's been done before in the United States. [wikipedia.org] We need to foster creativity and allow each person to develop towards interests that they feel most comfortable with not create programs to identify what genetic traits lead to people being great at any particular thing because that's a slippery slope.

      • by Xaedalus (1192463) <Xaedalys.yahoo@com> on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @12:07PM (#45281343)
        And it will be done again. There are people out there, whose notions of happiness are conjoined with the reliable structure of a caste-based society will drive them straight to this. Their happiness and contentment relies in part upon being superior to some defined "other" and they will not stop until they can perfect a reliable means of ensuring that distinction.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @12:29PM (#45281649)

        No, Eugenics is about forcing people with desirable traits to breed, and preventing people with undesirable traits from reproducing. It has nothing to do with the development of people already born, other than picking through them to find the best breeding stock.

        not create programs to identify what genetic traits lead to people being great at any particular thing because that's a slippery slope.

        No, it's not. Your argument amounts to "someone might do something dastardly with the data, so we should remain ignorant". It's not any different than research into what makes someone physically stronger or more resilient to disease. Since you want to rely on ultimate worst-case scenarios without any possibility of a middle ground (aka the slippery slope fallacy) then using your logic we should immediately halt all biological research.

    • No, first step is to pronounce it "math" and not "maths," [youtube.com] you fucking limeys.
  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:04AM (#45280459)

    You've got two human worlds:

    On one they learn how to genetically select smarter babies and when those babies they improve the technique, and so on.

    On the other world, they invent an AI that's able to build AIs better than itself, and it does so over and over.

    Speculative question 1: Which of those worlds reach the singularity first.
    Speculative question 2: Which of those worlds get to a point where the only way to keep advancing is to switch to the other world's path (i.e.: Will genetically engineered smarter humans reach the singularity by building better AIs or Will exponentially smarter AIs reach the singularity by finding a way to improve humans so they can solve a problem that the AI can't bypass.)

    • Option 3: The AI nukes the humans and then dies slowly with no one to maintain it. The resulting radiation leads to a sentient cockroaches which proceed to conquer the galaxy.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      You seem to think of the Singularity as a good thing. This is not sure. The only reason to hope for it is that human rulers are clearly insane, and we can't expect to live out the century unless something else replaces them.

  • "I feel?" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by c0d3g33k (102699) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:08AM (#45280507)

    Some mathematicians, however, argue that maths aptitude is not born so much as made. 'I feel that the notion of "talent" may be overrated,' says Michael Hutchings, a mathematician also at Berkeley."

    Data trumps 'feelings' and 'opinion' every time. Inconclusive data is better than no data. More data can always be gathered if the results look promising. The mere act of looking might serendipitously turn up something else of interest. Let them conduct their study if they want to and then argue about the results if that's your thing.

    • The education system routinely takes people who might grow to enjoy maths, and obliterates that interest in math with repetitive, contrived, formulaic, drilled problems done with pen and paper, taking great care to avoid talking about where maths come from and what math aims to do. We aren't even teaching math, we're teaching arithmetics, the most boring and most easily automated part of math. It happened to me, I'm sure it happens to tons of people. Some probably grow convinced that they never could've lik
      • OK, see my comment below. Intense interest in science and problem solving, bad training in math. What is it that "math people" are taught about the subject that "non-math people" don't get exposed to?

        • by c0d3g33k (102699)

          OK, see my comment below. Intense interest in science and problem solving, bad training in math. What is it that "math people" are taught about the subject that "non-math people" don't get exposed to?

          The comment is titled "What about teaching/exposure?", for those that want to find it easily.

    • That was my impression of the detractors as well. What would be the point of doing experiments if something is well understood? You have to start somewhere...

    • "I like the results I'm getting from my self selected direction of study."

      Fucking Humans. Every damn time. Gathering the data should not be done for a purpose. I swear, you'll end yourselves yet.

  • by msauve (701917) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:10AM (#45280521)
    Why is it "maths" in British English, but "math" in American English? In America, it's "mathematics," "physics," "electronics," etc. Only "math" is singular.

    I suspect we need a liberal arts person to explain it.
    • Re:Wondering... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:13AM (#45280569)

      Language is like DNA: sometimes it mutates by accident, and sometimes the mutation sticks because there's no selective disadvantage.

    • According to this thing I just Googled [word-detective.com], "math" actually predates "maths". Before that, it was "math.", with a period to note that it was an abbreviation.

      Personally, I find the "ths" sound difficult to wrap my tongue around.

      • by TeknoHog (164938)

        According to this thing I just Googled [word-detective.com], "math" actually predates "maths". Before that, it was "math.", with a period to note that it was an abbreviation.

        IMHO, "maths" makes sense when used as an abbreviation of mathematics, and "math" in cases like "math formula".

        Personally, I find the "ths" sound difficult to wrap my tongue around.

        Me too, I often confuse it with "mass", especially when said by native speakers. Foreign language students seem to care about the separate "th" and "s" sounds, even if the result is much less fluent. (Similarly, I think saying "sixth" as "sikth" sounds weird.)

    • "Mathematics" is a singular word, not a plural.

      Do not confuse an 's' on the end of a word as making it plural.
      Otherwise, 'this', 'as', 'was', would all be plural, and they are not.

      • by msauve (701917)
        I believe it's collective noun, so it's more commonly used as a singular in the US. Britain may be different, they tend to treat collective nouns as plural "The team are playing..."
    • by mcmonkey (96054)

      Why is it "maths" in British English, but "math" in American English? In America, it's "mathematics," "physics," "electronics," etc. Only "math" is singular.
       

      I guess you never studied chemistry or biology. Or would that be chems and bios?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tie_guy_matt (176397)

      In the US, jocks pay attention to sports while geeks pay attention to math. In the UK, jocks pay attention to sport while geeks pay attention to maths. Clearly at some point in the past US jocks beat up the geeks at took their "s."

    • by Ogive17 (691899)
      How is "school" pronouned in British English? I know the difference in "schedule" between British and American English, does it carry over to "school"?

      I guess it's wrong to assume you are British.
    • by Petron (1771156)

      Here is a video from Numberphile on the subject.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbZCECvoaTA [youtube.com]

      The short version is: Mathematics isn't plural. There isn't "One Mathematic, two Mathematics". The word mathematics comes from a translation where an X was changed to ics, and when somebody came up with the abbreviation for it, they made assumed it was plural, and made the abbreviation plural too (Maths), while others saw it singular and kept it that way (Math).

    • STFI [youtube.com].
  • by qubezz (520511) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:10AM (#45280527)
    Is it odd that the "root of maths genius" is actually the inverse function of multiplying two maths geniuses together?
  • Many years ago I received several courses of what was then considering to be cutting and experimental gene therapy. It was a carefully constructed gene made from parts of human and non-human DNA carefully sewn together. The objective was to modify my immune system due to a nasty medical disorder. It worked like magic. Despite the fact that it did not actually integrate into my genome, it persists in my body to this day.

    I know it's not the same, but wouldn't it be great to get an infusion of math genes? If
    • That's starting to sound like I should rent a sub and start looking for Rapture.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      >wouldn't it be great to get an infusion of math genes?

      Perhaps. The question we would want to ask is what is the cost? If there are genes that predispose people to being a math genius, and being a math genius is advantageous, then why aren't we already all so predisposed? It's possible that that genius come at the expense of some other valuable trait. Empathy perhaps, or intuition, or.... I don't know, are there common weaknesses associated with math genius as well? It would be a shame to saturate

      • by wjcofkc (964165)
        There is likely an extent of truth to the dangers you suggest. I will admit that some math geniuses are genuinely deficient in other cognitive and even fundamentally existential areas, leaving the brain focused and specialized on one area. However, which is the result of which - genetically speaking - is unknown. I suppose that is what the project we are discussing will reveal. I will suggest that some of the shortcomings of being a math genius stem from the social isolation and ridicule very smart people
        • Einsteins' sartorial abilities seemed rather sub par....

          • by wjcofkc (964165)
            It has been shown that Einstein's brain was substantially abnormal in multiple respects. He was a genuine mutant so I don't think he applies. Also, we are not talking about Einstein level genius. There is also overwhelming evidence that he had Aspergers syndrome, and as I have already said, I am personally keeping them out of this discussion since I think that's an entirely different ballgame.
  • Slightly off topic, maybe, but I was immediately reminded of the book: Flowers for Algernon [wikipedia.org].

    It was required reading in one of my classes back in high school. I found the story to be quite thought-provoking; made me realize how ephemeral intelligence could be. It was humbling for me to realize how much one accident could dramatically change my life. Yet, I cannot live in constant fear of its happening, but instead just try to do as best I can with what I have this day. To try and help others. To hope

  • by tchuladdiass (174342) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:15AM (#45280609) Homepage

    I believe that for the most part, people don't have a "natural" talent for what they are good at -- instead, they have a strong desire for it, which makes the many hours of work they put in seem more like fun than work. In order to be good, you have to put in many hours (4 hours a day, for 10 years) of progressive practice -- constantly working at the edge of your current skill, and pushing that edge slowly forward. It is that way with programming, math, music, art, etc. But to dedicate 10,000 hours, you have to be able to somewhat enjoy what you are doing, or you will give up.

    • by invid (163714)

      I believe that for the most part, people don't have a "natural" talent for what they are good at -- instead, they have a strong desire for it, which makes the many hours of work they put in seem more like fun than work..

      Is the "strong desire" for particular things genetic? For instance, programming is fun for me, and was fun the first time I tried it. But I know many people who consider it some kind of punishment.

    • I wanted to major in physics (got an A) but couldn't because I couldn't pass 2nd year maths. I enjoy maths, but I have my limitations, especially with those damned proofs and advanced matrices.

      On the other hand, my youngest cousin would miss his maths lectures 'cos he couldn't get out of bed in time. By the time he'd arrive at uni, his class mates would be waiting for him so they could ask him to explain the lecture. He'd spend a few minutes reading through the chapter (1st time) then proceed to explain

  • There may be a "math genius" set of genes somewhere in our DNA, and I think that makes sense because some people are better visualizers and problem solvers than others, regardless of education. But one thing that I think gets overlooked is whether the early interest in math gets nurtured by a good teacher or wiped out by a bad one.

    My personal experience seems to indicate there might be something to this. I've always been a very good problem solver, and I get to keep my systems engineering job in an increasi

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      Good questions. I don't have any good answers, but I have a few anecdotes.

      Anecdote 1: I never enjoyed math for it's own sake either - took the biology/chemistry route as well (also due to the influence of a good teacher). Did decently in school, but always had to work hard at it and spend a lot of time studying. In retrospect, a lot of that was due to how it was taught. In calculus class back in college, the instructor was a graduate student who clearly loved the subject and enjoyed teaching it. One o

  • by buddyglass (925859) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:30AM (#45280831)

    Some mathematicians, however, argue that maths aptitude is not born so much as made. 'I feel that the notion of "talent" may be overrated,' says Michael Hutchings, a mathematician also at Berkeley."

    Talent probably isn't the main thing separating your Fields Medal recipient from your average "math prof. at a major research university". That's probably hard work and circumstance. But inborn talent probably is one of the main things separating "guy who has trouble grasping the concept of a square root" and "guy who goes on to become a math prof. at a research university". In some sense, inborn talent puts a soft cap on what someone is likely to achieve. In some situations you can overcome lack of talent with hard work and perseverance, but the closer you get to the upper limit of your natural ability the more difficult that becomes. You see this when someone guts it out in high school and aces their math classes, then tries to the same thing in an advanced undergraduate class and it no longer "works".

  • Beware of enhancing one aspect of the human condition and creating more problems. (A scifi plot all the way back to Frankenstein).

    If nerds do have more autistic children, the following explainations have been offered:
    - Some nerds already have a mild form of the condition and it expressed more their offspring.
    - Austism has been linked to older fathers. And nerds may reproduce later in life.
  • He is trying to identify high IQ genes. They are in the processes of sequencing hundreds of geniuses.
    I and others have doubts for a couple reasons:
    - IQ inelligence may reside in hundreds of genes. May be very difficult to data-mine.
    - The tendency for children of smart parents to veer back to average intelligence.
  • by retroworks (652802) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @11:47AM (#45281077) Homepage Journal

    Funny, I just read this article last night. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/ [theatlantic.com] It says there probably are some "math geniuses" out there, so doesn't totally contradict the Rotherberg/Tegmark research. But the thesis indicates we have plenty of computers for the genius level math, and that most of the problem (weakness in general population) derives directly from the myth that innate/genetic "math ability" exists at all.

    And if the math ability is God-given, there are computer programs now to discover even that (computer proves God article in Der Spiegel). http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/computer-scientists-prove-god-exists/story?id=20678984 [go.com]

    • by Joining Yet Again (2992179) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @12:06PM (#45281333)

      most of the problem (weakness in general population) derives directly from the myth that innate/genetic "math ability" exists at all.

      Bingo. We're crap at teaching it, so if someone doesn't accidentally "get it" at a young age, we assume they're idiots and throw them on the scrap heap of society.

      Aptitudes don't test potential - they merely confirm what variety of shit education a person has been exposed to up to now. Coincidentally, most "brilliant minds" tend to be ones which have had good upbringings and gone to good schools.

  • Currently it is politically incorrect to consider eugenics. I personally think that our view of this will gradually change as our knowledge of genetics increases. Suppose it becomes easy to select traits like athletic ability, appearance or intelligence in children. Some people will certainly try to give their child an advantage in life. It will happen like steroids in sports. Once some children are born with better traits, others will be tempted to do the same with their children. The ugly part of eu
  • Root of Math Genius sought? If math genius can be quantified, then there's certainly multiple roots that should be considered. Some might seem irrational or even imaginary on the surface, but it should be easy to verify that these are indeed roots. I doubt that this study will result in anything transcendental in understanding the roots of math genius.
  • ...using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed.

    Told you there was a legitimate use for torrents.

    Also, a marginally related image [botaday.com] that I just posted this morning!

    Sha! Pocket sand!

  • Math is a language, not a metaphysical fact.

    What Happens When a Language Has No Numbers? [slate.com]

    The "researchers" would probably think this is a society of retards, when actually it's just a different way of living and thinking. Numbers don't exist. The universe is not mathematical. Those are both stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world...

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