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Geneticists And Economists Clash Over "Genoeconomics" Paper 213

scibri writes "One side is accused of supporting ethnic cleansing; the other of being intellectually naive. Geneticists and economists are struggling to collaborate on research that explores how our genes influence and interact with economic behavior. Top economists are publishing a paper that claims a country's genetic diversity can predict the success of its economy. To critics, the economists' paper seems to suggest that a country's poverty could be the result of its citizens' genetic make-up, and the paper is attracting charges of genetic determinism, and even racism. But the economists say that they have been misunderstood, and are merely using genetics as a proxy for other factors that can drive an economy, such as history and culture."
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Geneticists And Economists Clash Over "Genoeconomics" Paper

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  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:15PM (#41609497)

    Maybe it's the other way around, I would say it's more likely that economic success causes immigration, and therefore diversity.

    • If you RTFA (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:18PM (#41609543)

      you see the following:

      The paper argues that there are strong links between estimates of genetic diversity for 145 countries and per-capita incomes, even after accounting for myriad factors such as economic-based migration.

      • Re:If you RTFA (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:40PM (#41609815) Homepage

        That's impossible. Immigration is the only cause of genetic diversity in humans.

        • Re:If you RTFA (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:54PM (#41610011)

          That's impossible. Immigration is the only cause of genetic diversity in humans.

          No, it isn't. War, for example, is traditionally a huge cause of genetic diversity (after conquering a place, soldiers would often... well, rape the local women, to be frank, and even in a less-extreme scenario often slept with the more willing local women as they traveled). There is a reason there were often massive population booms after an invading army swept through a country. Any traveler has a possibility of spreading diversity, even if they aren't immigrating, and genes will spread across borders slowly over time even if the population remains relatively stationary.

      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        Yeah, I should've RTFA. The Nature headline misleadingly talks about prediction but there is no mention of that in the article, just pointing out common patterns between economic and genetical data. It's hard to tell what exactly the paper claims without reading it.

    • by mTor ( 18585 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @02:45PM (#41610751)

      I recommend you read this article: Correlation is not causation : The Internet Blowhardâ(TM)s Favorite Phrase

      The correlation phrase has become so common and so irritating that a minor backlash has now ensued against the rhetoric if not the concept. No, correlation does not imply causation, but it sure as hell provides a hint.

      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        By that logic we should get rid of the Pythagorean theorem, it's become too common and irritating. Could it be that the reason so many people point this out is because it's true?

        • by MrHanky ( 141717 )

          On Slashdot, they point to it because they have seen others doing it being rewarded with a +5, insightful. It's nothing but trite meme regurgitation, highly correlated with not having read or understood TFS. Hell, it's almost as if the hurry to be the first one to post it caused them to miss the story. But meh, what do I know. A 1:1 correlation of ignorance and early posting of 'correlation is not causation' does not imply causation. It does, however, imply stupidity.

        • Could it be that the reason so many people point this out is because it's true?

          No, the reason why so many people point out "correlation is not causation" is because it's a convenient way to dismiss inconvenient correlations. In other words, it's a way to play stupid while pretending to be scientific and logical. Which is what's causing the backlash, too.

      • Indeed, but it's worth adding that it doesn't necessarily provide useful clues of the causal chain that it hints to, if any.

        For example, one possible explanation that I can draft off the top of my head without being an expert and without having RTFA, is the following:

        1. Genetic diversity in an area indicates that its population is of genetically diverse descends (duh).
        2. The timescale of genetic drift is far slower than cultural developments.
        3. Based on proposition 2, the genetic diversity of the population descri
        • Oh, come on, Slashdot! I'm not allowed to use an ordered list in my comments? It would have made it more readable, dammit!
          • Oh, come on, Slashdot! I'm not allowed to use an ordered list in my comments?

            You are, but their POS stylesheet hides the numbers. If, for example, I "Disable Styles" in Safari 6's Develop menu, your list magically becomes numbered - the page looks completely like ass, but at least the fucking ordered lists are numbered, not just ordered. At least as I read, for example, the HTML 4 section on lists [], "visual user agents" should "number ordered list items". I guess a stylesheet are supposed to be able to override any aspect of presentation in the spec, but it's still really bogus to

    • There's a lot of possible answers mixed in everywhere.

      1. As you say... success encourages immigration
      2. Perhaps genetic diversity allows different strengths from various genetic backgrounds to manifest themselves.
      3. Perhaps there is a high tie in with culture and genetics... and different cultures interacting and mixing their ideas produce innovative results
      4. Perhaps history is accounted for the spread of empire and the mixing that occurs there is also a cause for prosperity. When the British mixed with th

  • by alan_dershowitz ( 586542 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:20PM (#41609581)

    In an open letter, the group said that it is worried about the political implications of the economists’ work: “the suggestion that an ideal level of genetic variation could foster economic growth and could even be engineered has the potential to be misused with frightening consequences to justify indefensible practices such as ethnic cleansing or genocide,” it said.

    Well, I guess scientists had better go back and un-invent and un-discover any empirically verifiable or useful thing they may have invented or discovered that has the potential for misuse.

    • by jythie ( 914043 )
      To be fair, this topic had a rather dark history and, even when researchers were well intentioned, stuff like this has been used as the basis for eugenics multiple times already, including within the US. So their concern is rooted in some pretty solid history..... not hypothetical misuse.
    • Replace "economic" with "academic" and water down the list of indefensible practices; you have our modern college admission policies, and the same people furious over studies like these advocate the hell out of practices like that.

  • I thought we already determined that humans were as stupid as Monkeys when it came to economics and assessment of economic risk. []

    The stupidz. Itz in ur geenz.

  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:26PM (#41609657)

    It's ok for genes to predicate athletic ability, but not other abilities or behaviours?

    Obviously our genes influence other behaviours. The small minded might not like that, but that's the way it is. Those who cry "racism" do a diservice to humanity in general - the bell curve applies to all populations, and the distribution of genes within a population is widely distributed. Studying how those genes interact is a good thing!

    • I think the difference is really a discussion of whether genes affect behavior as they do physical characteristics. It's the nature vs. nurture debate in (slightly) different clothes. Even that question boils down to one of whether we are more than complex chemical reactions; if there is some "self" that isn't a physical construct.
      • Yeah, Genes don't necessarily determine behavior, but they can play a big part in encouraging behavior.

        My brother has genes for both a lean, athletic build, and ADHD, therefore he plays soccer due to his genes both giving him an advantage and a desire to run off steam.

        I have a gene for very fair skin. I sunburn quickly, therefore my behavior is influenced towards wearing long sleeves or staying indoors on bright sunny days.

        I know all living things including humans are just big, complex chemical and physica

        • by hazah ( 807503 )
          The uncertainty principle called. It challenges your assertion of "essentially deterministic". If we can't trace the compononents we will not trace the outcome. It's statistical, not deterministic.
    • Yeah, and origin of silicon is supposed to determine the frequency of a processor made of it.

      Some things are KNOWN to have no dependence either observed or possible, and people like you should shut the fuck up instead of talking about them.

      • Some things are KNOWN to have no dependence either observed or possible, and people like you should shut the fuck up instead of talking about them.

        So... genetics is known to have no influence on behavior? I'd definitely like to see that research. Or by "known" do you mean "not actually known but held by people so they appear not to be racist"? On the contrary, I can say that it very much is known that genetics will have an influence on behavior. People born with more testosterone will be more aggressive, people with dopamine dysfunctions tend to have certain psychoses, etc., and such things can be cause by genetic traits. Now, whether those traits can

        • So... genetics is known to have no influence on behavior?

          There is no evidence for any of that in humans (who are not noticeably genetically diverse to begin with), and no proposed mechanism for such influence other than handwaving.

          • Many mental illnesses (edge case examples of behavior) have known genetic components.

            I got a bad case of pyromania from my dad. My mom forced him to never mention his bomb making youth to us as kids. But was he ever happy when I came to him looking for the ingredients to make nitroglycerin. Once I got there on my own he was able to tell me his stories. He also told me that nitrocellulose was much much safer then nitroglycerin.

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      You're absolutely right.

      However, I'd caution that predicting athletic ability is a little easier since you can trace the genes directly involved in making a person able to do physical labor. Genetics almost certainly affects just about everything in some form, but the effects are much more indirect in cognitive skills, and direct genetic factors could be completely overwhelmed by other factors.

      That said, I also agree that we should not let racism shut down what is, in effect, an empirical truth: people hav

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Yes, genes influence intelligence and behavior, but environmental factors have a much larger role. Not so with atheletic ability.

    • So what you're saying is that all or at least the majority of Olympic athletes came from or were closely related to a long line of people who specialised in the same sport?

      I'm gonna need a link there, champ.

  • It doesn't take a genius to foresee the sort of controversy this study might raise in the hands of the media. I'm sure the researchers themselves were very careful and conservative with their conclusions, but using race or genetic data as a proxy for something as easily obtainable as immigration history is just inviting trouble.
  • Country seems such an arbitrary scale, especially since they vary in size so much. On larger scales this is nonsense, as Africa is the continent with highest human genetic diversity.
    • Africa, really? I would think that would have been America. The melting pot of the world and all that. Essentially, racial lineage diversity is a result of migration and trade. When people have a reason to move vast distances and intermingle with other cultures, births can become of such activity.

  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @02:13PM (#41610277)

    Sorry, but this is yet another modern version of Eugenics being pushed in to your face. Just like "using DNA to determine future criminals" and "Detecting psychopaths by Tweets".

    The people working on these papers expressing opinions like this are dangerous and should be locked up. Yes, it's that simple and yes, the propaganda they are spreading is extremely dangerous. If you don't understand the danger, go read a fucking history book and see what happens when people are convinced that genocide or racial superiority are good things.

    Education and Society dictate a persons capabilities. If a person has a good education and ample opportunity, they tend to work for the betterment of the society they received their education in and have the opportunities in. If a person lacks education, how can they better society? If a person has education and no opportunity, what choice do they have other than harming society to survive? (And to usurp any stupid arguments you may have regarding farmers not needing education or some such, you are wrong. Farmers need to know how to be farmers, and need to know how to be content to be the best farmer possible. That requires as much education regarding society as a rocket scientist requires, but of course lacking the sciences required by the rocket scientists.)

    This is basic sociology and psychology, with countless historical examples showing both sides of the argument. Hell, Socrates discussed the same thing in "The Allegory of the Artisan" (go read Plato's "The Republic" you lazy bastards!) well over 2 thousand years ago. It's not new, yet we still fall prey to the rhetoric of evil greedy people.

    • by claytongulick ( 725397 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @02:22PM (#41610401) Homepage

      Education and Society dictate a persons capabilities.

      Do you have any supporting evidence of this other than a naive "I wish it were like this so it must be so!"

      Want to throw out decades of research that support genetic influence of behavior on such diverse issues as alcoholism, personality disorders, etc...

      A simple search of scholarly articles will give you plenty of studies conducted on identical twins raised in diverse social and economic situations, that have a genetic predisposition towards specific behaviors.

      According to your point, if I had the right education, in the right society, I could be a NFL linebacker, correct?


      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        Naw, hell we have never ever had educated functional societies. History has never recorded anything for us to review, it's all just delusion based just like Carnegie Melon and Rockefeller tell us right?

        Sarcasm aside, there is a tremendous amount of research backing my statements. If what I stated was false, we would never have seen a successful black person in America. It would have been impossible, because social opportunity and education would have no bearing on their abilities to move within society.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The people working on these papers expressing opinions like this are dangerous and should be locked up.

      People shouldn't be locked up just for having opinions. In fact, on the scale of dangerous ideas, these papers are nothing compared to what you just wrote in that quote.

    • The people working on these papers expressing opinions like this are dangerous and should be locked up.

      I think they would argue it's not opinion but data.

      Facts are sometimes repugnant to our worldviews, but it must be our worldviews that are adjusted in response to facts, not denying the facts.

      I have no idea whether or not the paper in question IS factual or whether it's flawed. Just pointing out that this is an incorrect response.

    • "The people working on these papers expressing opinions like this are dangerous and should be locked up. "

      Let me get this right: You want to put someone in jail for something they might be able to do because it may allow other people to be put in jail for what they might be able to do.

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        For advocating and spreading propaganda supporting eugenics, society should be demanding they be locked up.

  • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @02:31PM (#41610537)

    The authors of the paper come right out and say that they are not arguing for a genetic *cause* to the correlations they measure.

    Rather that since genetics and culture are both transmitted along family lines, that genetic diversity within a country is a useful proxy for cultural diversity, and that certain degrees of cultural diversity correlate with improved economic performance.

    This has nothing to do with eugenics, and everything to do with a more quantifiable way to study the effect of culture clashes on a country's economy.

  • Only one of those 3 propositions is correct :
    * infinite growth is possible is a finite world
    * economics is a science
    * Duke Nukem Forever has been released

    • Only one of those 3 propositions is correct : * infinite growth is possible is a finite world * economics is a science * Duke Nukem Forever has been released

      I had no idea DNF had been released!

  • The greatest thing that could happen to humanity is for scientists to find the set of genes that causes excessive greed, xenophobia, anti-social behavior, excessive religiosity and piousness, excessive selfishness , and especially the one that causes people to reject rational evidence in favor of "things that make me feel happy and special" .

    Don't tell me there's not a genetic component to any of this, because there is. Women are less greedy, less warlike, less anti-social, more responsible, more cooperat

  • Note: I do not condone slavery or appartheid as a form of politics, but it is just a theory for the results

    Maybe what the researchers have found (given the history of humanity) is that in a country with several ethnics groups you can have a ruling elite that concentrates capital and act as a whole to keep their privileges, and an oppressed, cheap workforce without rights to be used as a source of "profits"

    That said, anyway it probably is just a structural development; Great Britain and Germany in XIX centur

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