January 7, 2009

Genes being incorporated in federal longitudinal social studies

The federal government runs a number of gigantic multi-decade human sciences studies of Americans, with the best known being the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, which was featured prominently in The Bell Curve in 1994, but is still going on, with IQ scores now available on thousands of the children of the original sample.

Newer studies are including genetic data. In the Chronicles of Higher Education, Christopher Shea reports in "The Nature-Nurture Debate, Redux:"

What has led to the new genetic turn in sociology, at least among a minority? In part it has to do with the availability of important new data sets. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, aka Add Health, for example, at Chapel Hill, was designed from the start to incorporate both sociological and genetic information. It was begun, in 1994, by Bearman, J. Richard Udry, and Kathleen Mullan Harris. The idea was to capture as much information as possible about the social circumstances, friendship networks, and family conditions of 21,000 teenagers in 132 schools, from grades 7 through 12. The survey included a disproportionate number of twins, both fraternal and identical, full- and half-siblings, and adopted kids, allowing preliminary analyses of the heritability of traits. Follow-up interviews were conducted a year later.

Then, for the third wave of the study (in 2002), 2,500 siblings were asked for DNA samples (via cheek swabs). In wave four, now in progress and run by Harris, DNA is being sought for all participants (now they can just spit in a tube.) Many of the papers in the AJS issue draw on the Add Health study.

Various findings on the influence of genes, such as The Gene for Not Getting Any, but I don't like to trumpet early research on behavioral genetics since so much of it doesn't pan out. The important point is that we are slowly developing the tools to answer nature-nurture questions fairly definitively. Of course, this raises the question of whether the results are slanted in favor of those who possess The Gene for Agreeing to Have Your Genes Sampled. (Just kidding).

It should be possible to ask the best known tracked sample, the NLSY79 participants, for genetic samples in an upcoming re-interview, but I don't know of any plans for doing that. The cost of genetic sampling is dropping rapidly but it's still awfully high for doing full scans on thousands.

The upcoming National Children's Study will be gigantic: 100,000 kids (including 3000 pairs of twins), tracked from before birth up through age 21, with participation of mothers and, sometimes, fathers. It will be primarily focused on environmental impacts on kids' health, but it appears that they will have to do both genetic and IQ testing ("cognitive") to answer their questions, such as whether chronic exposure to insecticides hurts cognitive function.

So, as the evidence rolls in, expect persecution of realists by Blank Slate Creationists to rise to new heights.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

19 comments:

John Craig said...

How about the Gene For Being Interested In Genetics, which most of us who hang out here seem to have? Or the Gene For Denying The Influence Of Genetics, which our enemies seem to possess in such abundance?

Anonymous said...

Steve what happened to the idea of giving special status to those of us that donate more than $500 a year? Just have us get a login that makes our posts appear in a different color - something subtle like that - it could have a real impact on the $$ of donations that come in each year.

Anonymous said...

21 years is a long time, and I expect everything will be in the open before then.

If we get another 2 years of progress in DNA sequencing cost-reductions, it will make economic sense for national militaries to collect genetic sequence data on all their soldiers (for medical reasons alone, even ignoring the military advantages of using genetic variation to improve personnel allocation). They already have the IQ scores and outcome data.

Anonymous said...

Why are you kidding? There may well be genes that code for proclivity to participate in research.

Anonymous said...

"Various findings on the influence of genes, such as The Gene for Not Getting Any, but I don't like to trumpet early research on behavioral genetics since so much of it doesn't pan out."

Steve, I recommend that you read through your comments at least once before you hit the "Submit" button.

Anonymous said...

"What has led to the new genetic turn in sociology, at least among a minority?"

What has led to the new the-Earth-is-round turn in geography, at least among a minority?

"...but it appears that they will have to do both genetic and IQ testing ("cognitive") to answer their questions, such as whether chronic exposure to insecticides hurts cognitive function.

Sticking with the analogy, this is like the true shape of our planet being accidentally confirmed as a side effect of an exhaustive world-wide search for pots of gold at the rainbows.

Statsquatch said...

I hope to live long enough to experience Bell Curve War II. The strawmen , the ad hominem, the turgid obfuscation, it will be delicious. Right now there is some nascent Steven J. Gould waiting to explain to layman that the genetic tools developed in the previous 30 years are rubbish and that human equality is a historical fact of human contingency (or something like that).

SFG said...

I wouldn't get too sanguine, guys. The Catholic Church squashed astronomical research for how many years?

Ron Guhname said...

On the one hand it's encouraging to see some sociologists take genes seriously, but really it's the wrong discipline conducting these expensive longitudinal surveys. Sociologists simply cannot be trusted.

It's clear from the article that one major motivation is to use these data to show that genes are not the powerful force that people fear they are. They cite findings showing how environment nullifies the impact of genes.

And I'll bet a stack of money that they will repress, distort, and outright lie about unwanted findings. Only findings which do not threaten cherished beliefs will be published.

The sociologists involved have refused to even look at race. They absolutely will not be honest about these topics. I am speaking of the discipline and not a rogue researcher.

Having sociologists do these kinds of studies is like putting fundamentalists in charge of investigating the truth of the Bible. They are zombified ideologues.

Just the other day I got chewed out by a couple of them for telling a joke. One prof drove our rental car and had an uncanny ability to find our destinations in a strange city. I said he must have Native American ancestry, and the two women sociologists let me have it.

headache said...

Ron Guhname:
"and the two women sociologists let me have it."

Tough company to hang out with. Find some engineers. They even get funny after a few beers. Of course you need some tech knowledge yourself for it to work.

headache said...

Honest genetic reasearch AND publication coupled with guys like Steve applying it to real-life situations, drawing policy conclusions and explaining it to the unconcentrated avg joes like us will go a long way. But in the end the internal logic and math of the elite needs to change before we see new laws. As long as the Kennedys, the Bushs, the Boxers, the Gates make a buck out of the current system, all this new development will not will pass them by like fog.

Black Sea said...

"I said he must have Native American ancestry, and the two women sociologists let me have it."

Humorless academics, but then I repeat myself . . .

Scott said...

Blank slate Creationists? Most Creationists would agree that humans are flawed from birth due to original sin. Other than that, fascinating post, Steve!

RobertHume said...

Will the raw data be openly available? If so, others can investigate questions from a scientific, open-minded point of view.

MQ said...

ummm, the data will eventually be publicly available and anyone can use it. Steve could use it. You could use it. The Federal data infrastructure is an unambiguously good thing.

Matt Parrott said...

To borrow a phrase from your favorite philosopher, I believe we'll reach a "tipping point" after which the elites will decide to ride the tiger rather than shoot at it.

We sort of have a context, because this egalitarian dogma originally defined gender as strictly environmental. Shortly after the botched circumcision experiment disasters and laughably obvious data about gender differences piled up, they got very silent about it and have largely went along with it.

That's what happens when you're up against people who use science and reason as weapons. They fall back, they regroup, they move to higher ground.

While they've quietly accepted defeat on gender sameness, you'll notice that they've successfully managed to keep all the policy changes which were enacted during the mass delusion. So they won.

You still have a male and female military. You still have affirmative action for females. You still have Title IX. That's how it will likely be with this new wave. They'll let us win the debate but refuse to accept the results in formulating policy.

We'll eventually win this debate, but it will be like Napoleon taking Moscow. As long as we continue refusing to name the opponent, as long as we keep being distracted by their proxy battles, we'll continue losing.

albertosaurus said...

How is the genetic data represented? All DNA sequences are made of up four bases of which two complement two others. Therefore DNA encoding is discrete and digital.

If we were to represent DNA information at the base pair level we could use the database as a resource in the future to study genetic patterns of which we are currently ignorant.

If the data is encoded at a higher level we will be restricted to patterns of only those genes identified to date.

I imagine capturing and storing data at the base pair level is impractical today.

Markku said...

The important point is that we are slowly developing the tools to answer nature-nurture questions fairly definitively.

Not slowly. Rapidly. And the rate of progress is increasing exponentially.

Anonymous said...

I imagine capturing and storing data at the base pair level is impractical today.

Not impractical at all.

ftp://ftp.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genomes/H_sapiens/