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Education Science

Researchers Find Dozens of Genes Associated With Measures of Intelligence (arstechnica.com) 267

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We don't know a lot about the biological basis of our mental abilities -- we can't even consistently agree on how best to test them -- but a few things seem clear. One is that performance on a number of standardized tests that purport to measure intelligence tends to correlate with outcomes we'd associate with intelligence, like educational achievement. A second is that this performance seems to have a large genetic component. But initial studies clearly indicated that the effect of any individual gene on intelligence is small. As a result, the first genetics studies found very little, since you needed to look at a large number of people in order to see these small effects. Now, a new study has combined much of the previous work and has turned up 40 new genetic regions associated with intelligence test scores. But again, the effect of any individual gene is pretty minor. The team behind the new work took advantage of open data to pull together information from 13 different studies, which cumulatively looked through the genomes of over 78,000 individuals. While those individuals had been given a variety of tests, the authors focused on measures of general intelligence or fluid intelligence (the two seem to measure similar things). The genomes of these individuals had been scanned for single base pair differences, allowing the authors to look for correlations between regions of the genome and test scores. Two separate analyses were done. The first simply looked at each base difference individually. That turned up 336 individual bases, which clustered into 22 different genes. Half of these had not been associated with intelligence previously. To provide a separate validation of these results, the authors did a similar analysis with educational achievement. They found that nearly all of the sites they identified also correlated with that. In a second analysis, the authors tracked base differences that cluster in a single gene. Since there are more markers for each gene, this tends to be a more sensitive way of looking for effects. And in fact, it produced 47 genes associated with the intelligence test scores. Seventeen of those had been identified in the earlier analysis, which brought the total genes identified to 52, only 12 of which had been previously associated with intelligence test scores.
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Researchers Find Dozens of Genes Associated With Measures of Intelligence

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  • by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @11:37PM (#54474763)

    You're not allowed to talk about the possibility of there being a genetic basis for variations in intelligence. Because some genes are more common in certain ethnic groups than others, and then all hell will break loose and you'll get Bellcurved.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Top scientists who want to keep their jobs at universities agree: evolution stops at the neck.

    • It's more about being domesticated. Why would humans be exempt from this phenomena?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Domesticated_Red_Fox
    • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @03:06AM (#54475427)

      You're not allowed to talk about the possibility of there being a genetic basis for variations in intelligence.

      The real problem here is that this is no absolute definition for intelligence because it's a quality. There is a lot of neuroscience that needs to be done before we should even broach the issue of genetic associations because "intelligence tests" are no more than crude attempts to quantify this quality that we cannot define.

      And remember, correlation does not imply causation. [wikipedia.org]

    • That's not really the issue.

      The issue is racists have used psuedo science too many times to justify unequal treatment under the law, unequal treatment in schooling and even eugenics (more than once too).

      Good solid science will be helpful. But racists using bad science to justify for horrific evil behavior means we have to use caution going forward.

      I *agree* that the far left often suppresses free speech but that is partially due to decades of bad behavior in the past around pseudo science by racists.

      • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @10:27AM (#54476957) Journal

        I would say the problem we encounter today is leftists suppressing science to justify horrific evil behavior, so we need an honest evaluation of the truth going forward.

        It goes something like this. Assume there are no genetic differences in intellectual ability between people of recent European and African descent. Notice there is a difference in group average outcomes (income, test scores, job placement, etc) in the United States between people of recent European and African descent. Since you've already established (without proof, and contrary to empirical evidence as well as basic understanding of evouationary biology) that there is no difference in these populations' average natural ability, the difference in outcomes must be because of racism on the part of the European-Americans against the African-Americans. This justifies hatred and resentment against the European-Americans, and the use of government force to extract resources from the European-Americans or enforcement of different behavioral standards to "correct" their oppressive misdeeds. Naturally this will also be profitable for the people pushing this narrative.

        If it turns out that no, in fact the reason for the difference in outcomes are largely genetic, then the entire justification for the redistribution and vilification falls apart. This is very bad for the left, so they have to forcibly shut down anyone who tells the truth about genetic differences between human haplogroups, insisting they are not just wrong, but also evil. This all ends very poorly.

        • Yes, it must be racism because blacks from european cultures and later immigrants from african countries do much better than descendents of blacks descended from slaves and blacks in southern states.

          One of the largest problems with assistance based purely on race is that it means well connected wealthy blacks get extra money while poor blacks (and other minorities and whites) do not get extra money.

          Assistance should be based on economic status- not the color of a person's skin.

          And many awards have come to r

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by meta-monkey ( 321000 )

            Yes, it must be racism because blacks from european cultures and later immigrants from african countries do much better than descendents of blacks descended from slaves and blacks in southern states.

            Think there might be some self-selection going on there? That is, only the wealthier, and therefore likely more intelligent blacks from Africa and Europe are able to immigrate to the US these days?

            Your entire post just reeks of racism and begs exactly the point I was making above. Racists (as you appear to be) argue for changes RIGHT NOW cutting benefits for minorities based on an insufficient and biased set of data and on culturally biased and primitive "intelligence" tests.

            Except the data is not insufficient, and the tests are not biased. You are not the first person to suggest this, so researchers have gone to great lengths to make and administer unbiased tests.

            Science is a real thing. Genetics are real things. Evolutionary biology is a real thing.

            Intelligence correlates with incom

            • Culture has a lot to do with income and education. My son was selected for a special program for talented young mathematicians. The selection was based on a test designed to be as culture- and education-neutral as they could (plus a a free-form question about why the kid wanted to join the program). Nomination was primarily by teachers looking at students' math abilities.

              The test was pretty well swamped by people of Asian descent, and most of them simply didn't get in. They presumably excelled at mat

        • Basic understanding of evolutionary biology suggests that genetic differences between the intelligence (or any other genetically complex quality) of races is probably very small, if it exists. We divide races with some fairly simple genetic markers, and other than those the genetic differences between races are swamped by genetic differences within races.

          We also know that the average European-American lives in a more favorable development environment than the average African-American, leading to higher

      • Are you kidding? Progressives and the American left have been the primary proponents of government treating people differently based on race. Segregation and anti miscegenation laws were progressive policies supposedly intended to help everybody. Today, affirmative action and racial quotas are again favorites of the left.

        With the left, it's always good intentions and lousy outcomes.

        • You might want to check the 1950s and 1960s to see which people were involved in the big change in the legal climate that occurred then.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @06:46AM (#54475865)

      However showing that there are dozen of genes. It would make sense racial factors would be a minor aspect. Also many of our racial distinctions have less to do about genetics and more about culture.
      Intelligence is complex, while we may measure it in terms of IQ but there are many variations of it and a lot of it is also based environment.
      You could have genes that would make you the strongest person in the world, but you never exercised so they are genetically inferior people who are stronger than you because they maximize their potential while you didn't. The same with intelagance you can have the won the genetic lottery in terms of intelligence. But you may not have worked it out, so if you take that IQ test your score wouldn't reflect your full potential.
       

    • You're not allowed to talk about the possibility of there being a genetic basis for variations in intelligence.

      But it's already accepted that the g-factor is heritable to a significant extent, isn't it?

      • A long time ago, I was told about a study done with child protection. There were a large number of women who were basically unfit to raise their children, and so the children were taken and placed in generally similar white middle-class households. The tested IQ of the mother plus twenty points was a good predictor of the child's IQ.

    • by agm ( 467017 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @07:06AM (#54475923)

      Charles Murray knows this all too well. He's been treated very poorly because of the controversial nature of his research. And from what I can tell he was meticulous in collecting and processing the data that lead him to the conclusion that intelligence has genetic factors. It would be a fluke for anything that has genetic factors to not express some divergence across populations. If your parents are tall there's a higher chance you will be tall. If your ethnicity is known for having dark hair the high chances are your hair will be dark. Similarly with IQ. Murray sought the data, came to this obvious conclusion and has been castigated for it for many years by SJWs who can't handle the truth.

      • If your parents are tall there's a higher chance you will be tall. If your ethnicity is known for having dark hair the high chances are your hair will be dark. Similarly with IQ.

        But the problem with that argument is that heritability is not the same as genetics. If your parents have tattoos, their children are more likely to have tattoos. If the parents drive a fancy car, the children are more likely to drive a fancy car. Same can be said of IQ.

  • p hacking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eis2718bob ( 659933 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @11:42PM (#54474789)

    This is a textbook example of p-hacking. Note the plural in "measures of intelligence", along with "educational achievement" as dependent variables. Something was gonna show a correlation, to the vaunted oh point oh five. What a crock.

    882. We don't even need the links for these anymore, just the number.

    • Re:p hacking (Score:5, Interesting)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:38AM (#54474999) Journal
      It's very possible. The effect found by each of these genes was very small, a fraction of an IQ point. At that small size, I would doubt that I had accounted for all confounding variables. Something as simple as hair color might be a confounding factor, and height certainly would be [wikipedia.org].
      • Re:p hacking (Score:5, Informative)

        by parkinglot777 ( 2563877 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:07PM (#54477619)

        It's very possible. The effect found by each of these genes was very small, a fraction of an IQ point. At that small size, I would doubt that I had accounted for all confounding variables. Something as simple as hair color might be a confounding factor, and height certainly would be [wikipedia.org].

        However, if you really look at the study, you should see that it has NOTHING to do with the GP accusation. I have no idea why the GP is so negative on the study??? Also, how could the post be insightful??? Abstract below...

        Intelligence is associated with important economic and health-related life outcomes. Despite intelligence having substantial heritability (0.54) and a confirmed polygenic nature, initial genetic studies were mostly underpowered. Here we report a meta-analysis for intelligence of 78,308 individuals. We identify 336 associated SNPs (METAL P < 5 × 10^-8) in 18 genomic loci, of which 15 are new. Around half of the SNPs are located inside a gene, implicating 22 genes, of which 11 are new findings. Gene-based analyses identified an additional 30 genes (MAGMA P < 2.73 × 10^-6), of which all but one had not been implicated previously. We show that the identified genes are predominantly expressed in brain tissue, and pathway analysis indicates the involvement of genes regulating cell development (MAGMA competitive P = 3.5 × 10^-6). Despite the well-known difference in twin-based heratiblity for intelligence in childhood (0.45) and adulthood (0.80), we show substantial genetic correlation (rg = 0.89, LD score regression P = 5.4 × 10^-29). These findings provide new insight into the genetic architecture of intelligence.

        And the title of the study is "Genome-wide association meta-analysis of 78,308 individuals identifies new loci and genes influencing human intelligence" which has nothing to do with the GP accusation (again)...

    • It passed peer review in a high quality journal. While this doesn't completely rule out p-hacking, at the very least it means you shouldn't make the accusation without closely reading the paper.

      • The paper is probably false [nih.gov], with a P value < .05 [sciencenews.org]. Sad but true.
        • Did you look at the p values for this study? Are they only .05?

          • by pesho ( 843750 )
            p-values for individual SNPs range from 5*10^-4 to 9*10^-14. Considering that all of the genome regions they identify are marked by clusters of SNPs that show correlation with intelligence, I would say that their results are statistically significant.
          • Note that when I say "p hacking" I don't mean that they intentionally lied, just that statistics is hard and sometimes these effects will come out. I think that the hacking technique they used (and I say this without getting my equipment to reproduce, so caveat emptor) is to accept only a very small difference, so if a gene made even the difference of a small fraction of an IQ point, they counted it. It is hard to separate counfounding factors at such a small level. In addition, they didn't give these peopl
            • But if you look at the study, the p-values for individual SNPs range from 5*10^-4 to 9*10^-14.

              Sure, absolutely, do further research. But to start accusing them of p-hacking when in fact their p-values are absolutely fantastic (ten to the minus fourteen?!) is incredibly unfair on your part. Maybe some motivated reasoning on your part here?

    • Even if they didn't do anything else, their p-levels are 10^-6 to 10^-8. You're welcome to try to explain how to produce that with "p-hacking" in this study.

      In addition, it's clear that intelligence is highly heritable, so why wouldn't the default conclusion be (absent other evidence) that the most strongly correlated markers are the ones that are responsible?

    • by pesho ( 843750 )
      I don't think so. For their SNP (DNA variant) discovery tests they used 12 cohorts tested, depending on the cohort by 8 different measures of intelligence. The cohorts had mean ages from 6 to 62 years. Then they took the genes associated with the DNA variants they discovered and check correlation with various traits - ranging from waist-to-hip ration, through neurological disorders to educational attainment. The strongest positive correlation is with educational attainment. Top negative correlations are wi
  • Intelligence is heritable and we are not born equally intelligent. It is normally distributed and unless selected for results in regression to the mean in the offspring in general population.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The other test is the US spending per student on education over the decades. Not many other nations had the funds to try and spend on new methods.
      On computer labs, new books, lots of funding, support by experts in emerging educational computer languages, arts, languages, math, science, computer networks per school, new robot kits, GUI code, US wide math and science funding since the 1950's, extra staff per class.
      Better daily food, generations of well educated teachers, the ability to be granted easy acce
  • by WolfgangVL ( 3494585 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:01AM (#54474843)

    I'm off to the feelies. I'm so glad I'm an Alpha.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:11AM (#54474889) Homepage

    When I was born, I was the poster child for mongolism (the proper term in the 1970's) and promptly mentally declared retarded to because I had a speech impediment in kindergarten. You could say I was slow on the uptake. I also had an undiagnosed hearing loss in one ear that wasn't diagnosed until much later. Each year I had the annual evaluation. Each time I scored on the genius side of the scale. Each time the tester noted it was statistical fluke and reconfirmed that I was mentally retarded. That the school got extra funding for having a well behaved idiot in Special Ed classes wasn't a factor. I graduated the eighth grade with a college-level reading comprehension and fifth grade skills in everything else. School officials couldn't explain how that happened and they were also disturbed that my skinny parents had a fat kid. A half-dozen blood tests revealed nothing. No one knows how genes played a role in my intelligence.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:29AM (#54474961) Journal
    This quote from the article [nytimes.com] is really interesting:

    “If you try to predict height using the genes we’ve identified in Europeans in Africans, you’d predict all Africans are five inches shorter than Europeans, which isn’t true,” Dr. Posthuma said.

  • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:43AM (#54475019) Journal

    These results are from using SNP chips. To make a SNP chip, a sample of individuals from a population (in this case, humans of European descent) are sequenced, then the sequences are compared to find SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism: i.e. a place where some individuals have one DNA base and others have a different one.) Then some hundreds of thousands of those SNPs are selected (we want something like an even spread of SNPs over the genome, and we want to chose SNPs which have a fairly high degree of polymorphism - we'd rather something which was 50:50 rather than 99:1.) A SNP chip is designed which when exposed to DNA from an individual will say yes/no for each SNP. (Scanning the paper, I see two of the SNP chips they used were UK BiLEVE Axiom array and the UK Biobank Axiom array which have over 820,000 SNPs each.)

    This has several consequences. One is that the SNP chip is of limited use for populations other than the one for which it was designed. Another is that seldom is the SNP on the chip directly related to the feature/quality (intelligence in this case) that we are trying to correlate with. Rather, the SNP which correlates positively with IQ is probably just nearby the genetic difference which matters. Because they are close, recombination (shuffling of the two genome copies you have, which happens in the production of gametes) is unlikely to separate them. Because they will occasionally get separated, the correlation of IQ with the SNP is going to be a little less strong than the correlation of IQ with the actual variant gene (allele). A SNP chip is less informative than a full genome sequence, but is much cheaper, and much easier to analyse.

    A final point is that genome wide association studies like this have in the past been plagued with false positives. When there are so many variables being tested (hundreds of thousands of SNPs on the SNP chip) some will strongly associate with your measured quality (IQ) by chance. This is even more so if you use sophisticated analyses which look for combinations of SNPs as predictors. I will provisionally accept that they've accounted for this correctly, as I lack the expertise to judge for myself.

    I work in a tangentially associated field (phylogenetics) so my knowledge has some professional basis, but is well short of that of an expert in the field.

    • Also worth mentioning the effect here was very small, each gene just a small fraction of an IQ point. And I think they used education level as a proxy for IQ test, since they didn't test everyone in the sample set.
    • All true, but not really all that relevant. They weren't trying to show that IQ has a strong genetic component, that's been established for a long time, they were trying to identify genes that actually were responsible for that genetic component. As such, finding many genes, each of which has a small effect, is consistent with what we already know about the genetics of IQ. That is, their paper effectively says "this set of genes (and more like them) could account for the genetics of IQ that we actually obse

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @12:46AM (#54475033) Homepage

    ALL the genes put together had a total of 5% impact on Intelligence. That means an IQ of 105 vs 100. That is a minor effect.

    Worst of all, minor effects like this, are typical of false positives. That is, most scientific tests use a significance threshold of no more than 4%, which is one in 25. That means if you test 25 different random alcoholic drinks, one of them, by random chance, will be shown to cause a minor increase in intelligence. This would be a false positive.)

    And they did over 300 tests. So if they are using a 4% significance, that would be 4*3= 12 false positives.

    This article looks like the worst kind of fake science news. You know, the kind that a President would quote (Pick Trump/Obama, whichever your personal bias thinks would do that).

    • by SLi ( 132609 )

      You cannot calculate with it IQ scores like that. A 50% impact does not mean the difference of 150 to 100, or a 100% impact does not mean 200 to 100. For one thing, while the mean IQ is 100, that in itself means nothing unless you also pick a standard deviation, which is an arbitrary choice. I think 15 is the most commonly used, but by no means only, choice for IQ nowadays. This would mean that a score of 115 is one standard deviation above average, or that 68% of people fall below it, and a score of 130 is

    • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @10:33AM (#54476993)

      ALL the genes put together had a total of 5% impact on Intelligence. That means an IQ of 105 vs 100. That is a minor effect.

      They aren't asking the question of whether IQ has a strong genetic component, that's already known. They are asking which genes might be responsible for the genetic component that we already know exists.

      And they did over 300 tests. So if they are using a 4% significance, that would be 4*3= 12 false positives.

      Why don't you read RTFA? Their p-values are 10^-6 to 10^-8. In addition, they seem to be using software and techniques specifically intended for these kinds of analyses. Now, there could still be plenty of things wrong with their analysis, but your criticism is not valid.

      Furthermore, they are not asking "are there any genes that influence IQ", they are asking "given that we know that IQ has a strong genetic component, which genes might be responsible".

      The fact that they didn't find any strong correlations but a lot of weak correlations is a useful result in itself; you simply seem to misinterpret what the result actually means.

  • ...that in some people, they are all switched off. Sad.

  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @03:40AM (#54475499) Homepage Journal

    IQ test is an aggregate, a lot of questions testing different aspects of logical thinking and pattern spotting. Trying to find a single gene for IQ is a bit like trying to find which single screw makes a car engine work.

    Instead, try correlating the genes against results from distinct questions from the IQ test. That way you can get genes responsible for specific aspects of IQ. Otherwise... found any singular gene that makes people perform well at chess-boxing?

    • by SLi ( 132609 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @05:18AM (#54475679)

      This "theory of multiple intelligences" is a quite popular narrative, but it's not empirically supported by studies. Rather, it seems that there is one "g factor", or general cognitive ability, that tends to explain quite well the "different kinds of intelligence". That is, any IQ test seems to be a good predictor of performance in any other IQ test, whether testing logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial or some other "kind" of intelligence.

    • IQ test is an aggregate, a lot of questions testing different aspects of logical thinking and pattern spotting.

      That's what IQ tests do, but that's not what they measure. What IQ tests measure is the factor that's common to all those different expressions of intelligence.

      Trying to find a single gene for IQ is a bit like trying to find which single screw makes a car engine work

      Researchers aren't trying to find "a single gene", they are looking for many genes, each of which individually contributes a little to

  • by clickety6 ( 141178 ) on Wednesday May 24, 2017 @05:34AM (#54475697)
    I sometimes think it would be more useful to discover the genes for common sense because I know quite a few highly-intelligent people who could do with having a bit more of it.
    • I would think that common sense in terms of having a good general set of priorities for dealing with unfamiliar situations is probably trainable and seems a reasonable thing to develop

      But too often the people I hear complaining about lack of common sense are those that deride actual experience and knowledge of what to do in a given situation

      present company excepted of course

  • Is there a gene for using paragraphs instead of a wall of text?

  • For crazy scientists applying these genes to other species might end up in scary or interesting results.

    Imagine raccoons with the IQ level of Einstein.

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