Thursday 31 December 2015

Farewell 2015 and Happy New Year

Milometre events like a new year are of little consequence compared to those moments of history when things really change, but they trigger reflection nonetheless. The progession round our star completed, it is time for a quick roundup of the outgoing year.

For me, with regard to this blog, the major feature of 2015 was that it became usual to read papers on the genetics of human behaviour based on 100,000+ samples showing high heritabilities and low contributions of shared environmental effects. My subjective impression was that a substantial paper was published once a month on either intelligence, personality or psychiatric disorders, all showing that they had substantial genetic components. I sense that the pace of discovery is accelerating, but have no idea how long it will take to be able to predict intellectual levels from genetic data alone.

How does one determine “when things really change”. Wars are the friend of the historian in this regard: they provide key dates around which narratives can be hung. Science is less dramatic, more “drip, drip, drip” than “bang, bang, bang”. However, perhaps 2015/2016 will be seen as the moment when the drips coalesced into a stream.

On a more punctual note, I am reading new papers on the genetics of intelligence, checking back on the links between schizophrenia and violence, trying to review a few books on intelligence, and all this may change when yet another paper gets sent to me by a researcher, which rightly jumps the queue.

Here is the snapshot of blog readership right now, just before going off to celebrate the new year on Bikini Beach. Happy New Year to you all.



  1. Happy New Years 2016! Looks like you just got there in Merrie England, assuming you're home (Bikini Beach?). I've got 5 hours to go.

    Whenever you get a chance, I'd be interested to get a review of the data types you referred to having "100,000+ samples".

  2. Happy New Year's doc.

    I'm hoping this year some of your colleagues get on the internet and start jabbering so us prole types can listen in.

  3. @James - Thanks for maintaining this valuable blog.

    I would, however, disagree about the *scientific* importance of these mega-papers - they are probably the beginning of the end of real intelligence science; since I would interpret them as merely increasing the statistical precision of measuurements of effect size: the causality which they investigate was mostly defined a century ago.

    I see a recapitulation of what happened to epidemiology when 'mega-trials' became regarded as the 'gold standard' for measuring therapeutic benefits - a disaster! I was writing about the theoretical aspcets of this twenty years ago


    And at the end of the day, the cost and rarity of such methods put medical research (and the treatment of actual pateints) into the hands of those who funded the research - which is mostly Big Pharma. This 'evidence' is now enforced on doctors and patients via 'guidelines'.

    I can see the same happening in Intelligence research - what counts as 'true' (i.e. 'interesting', high status, professionally useful wrt jobs, publications and promotions) is already being defined by a discrete cartel of funders/ researchers/ journal editors/ publishers/ conference managers.

    The actual 'research' then stops being real science, gets done mostly by teams of 'drones', and becomes just one step of a complex and expensive bureaucratic process which (due to the way in which bureacracies link-up) becoming increasingly politicized.