Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Genes and education


I have always thought it unseemly to spring psychological tests on my readers, but here is one of my standard annual test items: I manage to extract the slide presentation from a distinguished speaker, who with great aplomb has raced through a complex keynote presentation, and leave you to work out from the slides exactly what she said.

With Prof Yulia Kovas’s ISIR Keynote Address your task will be relatively simple, because after some comments on St Petersburg and Russian science she has listed the key points which come out of genetic research on educational outcomes, and also shows the front pages of many of the key references. If the pages seem familiar the whole talk will dance before your eyes. If some of them are new to you, you know exactly what you need to read next.

You can get the background on Yulia here: http://www.gold.ac.uk/psychology/staff/kovas/

Here is the Powerpoint presentation she kindly sent me, which contains lots of useful information:







  1. I may know bugger all biology, but I used to know a bit of chemistry. On slide 10 "methlation" is wrong. My money's on 'methylation'.

  2. The slide which carries the typo "curricular" for 'curricula' seems to me to be particularly powerful (i.e. the slide Repeated Failure)

    I find it impossible not to relate almost every point to my own experience in school decades ago. Is it even possible not to be so tempted? Anyway, on that basis I am cool to a point made on Motivation and Achievement. At age nine I had studied no "math", only arithmetic. At twelve I was immersed in algebra and geometry; arithmetic must have seemed like a distant memory. Maybe looking for correlations across a break-point in schooling isn't a good idea.

  3. The conclusions slide "Why does this matter .." seemed at first rather banal, and then I realised that it probably agrees with common views in my parents' generation, and is presumably heretical in Eduworld today. "The Blob" must hate this kind of thing.

    Looking back (as advertised above) I'd say that my experience in secondary school (I have few memories of primary school or nursery school) shows that for me:

    I) I could put in an effort at subjects that interested me, even if I lacked much ability at them (e.g. French, German, woodwork).

    2) I couldn't put much effort into a subject if it didn't interest me, even one at which I seemed to be quite good. (e.g. Latin).

    3) In subjects in which I was both interested and able, it all seemed effortless, as natural as breathing. (e.g. Physics, English, History, Geography)
    (In the latter three the teaching was excellent; in the first, lame.)

    4) In one subject, had I gone to another school I might have thought myself pretty darn good: maths. But we had someone in the class who was The Real McCoy, which in maths establishes an unbridgeable gap to the rest. Anyway, I still found that maths came easy, but that's not the same thing at all.

    Anyway, back to our moutons. Your chum Yulia has gone a long way to persuading me that DNA work is going to make a big contribution to psychology. You were right all along, Doc.

    1. "someone in the class who was The Real McCoy, which in maths establishes an unbridgeable gap to the rest". Well said.

    2. Thank goodness I didn't go to a school where I was top dog at maths. I might have gone on to find myself in a maths course at Uni surrounded by McCoys. Oh the agony.

  4. Great presentation. Thanks for sharing!

  5. * What the heck are those non-shared environmental contributions, other than error? There's room for all sorts of odd effects in there. A Hindu psychometrician might claim that non-shared environment corresponds to the baseline intellectual capability of each reincarnated entity and predict better than the tabula rasa enthusiasts.

    * Contributions of X and y chromosomes to intelligence seem to be left out of slide 52. I have speculated that the X chromosome is especially linked to intelligence on the basis of women's lower variance in intelligence. The likelihood is raised by the apparent correlation of chromosome size with having genes especially important to intelligence. (The chromosomes numbers were assigned by size, weren't they?)

    *Slide 57's mention of "epigenome" reminds me of encountering the word "epigenetic" for the first time back in 1990 in Gerald Edelman's "Neural Darwinism" in its precis, which is still the densest prose I have ever encountered. The meaning has shifted quite a bit - Edelman pointed out that there weren't enough bits in the genome to specify the structure of the brain in any but the fuzziest way, so most of the structure must be "epigenetic" or produced by feedback loops similar to the cellular automata that so entranced Wolfram a few years later in his "A New Kind of Science", or shown through fractals or Demoscene tiny-sized procedurally generated videos. This procedural generation was what "epigenetic" used to mean. Now it's one of those words with a technical meaning so specialized that I can never quite remember it -- like "science" or "irony".

    * The twins on the last slide have some great expressions, each worthy of a caption contest.

    * Listening to The Jamies 1958/62 hit "Summertime, Summertime" is a good antidote to recent news. (lyrics)

  6. "The second thing you should know is that
    people are beginning to realize the
    importance of intelligence"

    Yes indeed. Internet is what's making the relevance of intelligence apparent to many more people.
    They compare themselves and their ethnic group with the others... and the wounds of the (individual and collective) ego our age is going to have to deal with, in our triumphantly "multicultural" (the euphemism they chose to use for "multi-ethnic") societies, is growing and going to kpee growing.

    Eating disorders are now paired by new self-esteem disorders accruing from gaps in intelligence.
    Some familiarity with social media a little watch over people of low-IQ ethnicities/races is enough to witness the new raising paranoia.
    Cute how organizations and companies, from Google to NASA, spread memes to celebrate milestone achievements filled with brown/black people, chiefly women.
    I don't think they deserve blame though, nothing harms humans like truth, and philanthropy consists in feeding them with the myths and illusions that help best.

    The unsaid yet apparent purpose of "intelligence studies" is to engineer a more intelligent new human (which may remain the same species as us, or develop into a new one.

  7. Great presentation. Thanks for sharing!

    With Regards, Clinical Psychologist | Clinical Psychologist in Sydney