Some Thoughts About Polygenic Scores

Since everything seems to be heritable, in principle you could construct polygenic scores to measure any human trait. But there are a couple of problems, one is the very large sample size, the other is the problem of measuring certain traits. How do you measure “honesty?” Loyalty? Conscientiousness? Personality tests are vulnerable to social desirability bias and self deception. Even if you have an ironclad test, the large sample size required means it can be very costly to take such a sample. This is one reason polygenic scores for educational attainment work better than polygenic scores for IQ itself, it is easier to just ask people about educational attainment than it is to give >100,000 people an IQ test.

Because of this, it will be easier to construct polygenic scores for demographic variables. Has anyone tried to construct a polygenic score for divorce? I’m sure the data to do so is out there. Polygenic scores for self-reported alcohol consumption have been constructed. What about for one’s risk of ever getting arrested? On this, people could lie, but one could work with a background check company to determine the true records. Or what about a polygenic score for one’s credit score? The IRBs aren’t going to like some of these studies, you can be sure of that.

To measure things like honesty, one can imagine all kinds of clever experiments. Bring test subjects into a room where they will “find” a “missing” wallet. But the problem with this is that at least some of the test subjects will see through such trickery, thus reducing the test to one of IQ and familiarity with research practices. It’s easier to manipulate children, however, and, through the school system, easier to get a representative sample.(The IRBs are an ever present headache, though.) One can imagine things like the marshmallow test, used to construct polygenic scores, which are then measured against the performance of adults. If your hypothesis is that the marshmallow test will correlate with income because of genetic factors, there will be no more need to wait decades for the original test subjects to grow up to put this to the test.

Would it work? Maybe or maybe not.(The original marshmallow test didn’t work.) It’s not obvious that someone’s behavior as a child in a test environment will correlate much with their behavior in the real world as an adult. But if these studies prove unimpressive, or the IRBs stymie efforts to do them, academic fraudsters and trolls could just make up fake polygenic scores. There will be known variants which have greater weight in the polygenic scores for income or educational attainment than they do for intelligence, thus it will be known that they cause higher income or educational attainment through some trait other than intelligence as measured by IQ tests. Maybe it’s honesty, maybe it’s popularity, maybe it’s how hardworking one is. Academic fraudsters could simply take these “mystery variants” and pretend that they were “discovered” by their clever experiment, with some variants which affect neither IQ nor income thrown in to make it look believable. Trolls could “anonymously” release such “research” with the claim that it is being suppressed. They would be especially likely to get away with it if they claimed the scores were constructed using unethical (and thus hard to reproduce) experiments. For instance, they could say they or some other anonymous person did a test where children in a classroom where asked to rate the popularity of other children they know, with the resulting scores used to construct polygenic scores for popularity which predict income for adults. No IRB would approve of a replication of such an experiment.

A limiting factor here, however, will be the sample size required for such experiments. It is believable that someone secretly did an experiment on 100 children, but not on 10,000 if that is how many scientists believe will be needed to create polygenic scores for such a trait. Thus, it will depend on to what extent the algorithms will improve. If a high sample size is needed, the trolls will take to claiming the fake polygenic scores are the products of experiments in foreign countries, particularly those known to be hostile to or inaccessible by foreign media. One will wonder how much the conspiracy theorists will become interested in this subject. I could imagine claims that North Korea has factored some weird polygenic score into its Songbun system. But on the whole they won’t be very interested in it, as it will be too technical for their target audience.

Once they are created and widely known to society, trolls will use polygenic scores to harass people by leaking their scores. These scores won’t really be that meaningful on an individual level, with only weak predictive power. An IQ test will probably always work better than a polygenic IQ score in predicting real-world intellectual achievement, as it will account for the unshared environmental variance in intelligence. But that won’t really be the point. Suppose there’s a politician or celebrity you think is an idiot or dishonest or whatever. You can’t force them to take an IQ test, but you could acquire a swab of their saliva, test it, and then release the polygenic score. Or you could not do it, but claim that you did. When a couple gets married and you strongly suspect they are going to eventually get divorced,(such as, to pick a random example, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) you could gleefully release the couple’s combined polygenic score for divorce risk. Of course, like most methods of trolling, this only works to the extent that the targets decide to be offended by the trolls’ actions. But you can count on the fact that many will be offended.

Advertisements

Fake News in the Washington Post

Wapo claims that “the least-gifted children of high-income parents graduate from college at higher rates than the most-gifted children of low-income parents,” basing “giftedness” on polygenic scores for educational attainment. The author is either intentionally being deceptive or hasn’t thought through regression toward the mean. Polygenic scores are currently very imperfect, meaning that the true genetic potential of someone who scores high or low will on average be closer to (regress toward) the mean. If there are two groups with two different means, then they will regress toward different means. Thus, a high-scoring individual in a group with higher genetic potential should be expected to be, on average, genetically smarter than an individual with the same score but whose group has lower genetic potential.

To give a concrete example, suppose you take a group of people who are, on average, 5 feet tall and measure their height, but add some random “error” onto the measurements of each person. Then you take the “tallest” people in the group using your measure, who are between 5’10” and 6″2. On average, these individuals will have gotten “lucky” in both actual height and the “error” which was added to their measured height, so their real heights will be lower than the measurement though still higher than the average for their group. But suppose you do this for a group which averages 6 feet tall, from which you select the group of people measured to be between 5’10” and 6″2. Someone in this group will be just as likely to be a tall person who got inches knocked off as short person who got inches added on, so his true height will be about 6 feet.

 

President Michael Bloomberg?

According to a recent report for the Times of London, Michael Bloomberg is planning to run for president in 2020 as a Democrat. I find his candidacy to be unlikely and his victory even more so, for a number of reasons. First, why he won’t win the Democratic nomination if he does run:

  1. He’ll be running as a centrist(or be pigeonholed as one even if he tries to avoid the word) at a time when the Democratic party is in a radical mood.
  2. Like Bernie Sanders, he’ll be perceived as a white male, but unlike Sanders he wouldn’t be able to fall back on being more Leftist than thou.*
  3. He’ll already have written off the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, but his appeal to centrist Democrats will run into the problem that many are “centrist” on some issues but “Leftist” on others. The blue-collar Democrats who vote for the Democrats for economic reasons but are hostile or indifferent to their social views will be turned off by the fact that he’s a formerly Republican billionaire. At the other end of the spectrum, economically moderate Leftists who take “white privilege” seriously will be turned off by his prior support for stop-and-frisk and ties to Rudy Giuliani. He will only appeal to those who are both economically and socially centrist.
  4. The unions will hate him for his support for education reform.
  5. He’ll have no special appeal to Blacks, being rich, white, and centrist. He will be compared to Hillary Clinton, who won overwhelmingly among Blacks, despite being white, wealthy, a “centrist,” and attacked by the far-Left for her previously expressed un-PC views.(“Superpredators,” ect) But there are some important differences here. She was a lifelong creature of two institutions Blacks tend to view positively, government service and the Democratic Party. Bloomberg, in contrast, is a businessman who has continually changed his party affiliation. His centrism will bother them much moreso than hers.
  6. While they would be happy to take his money, Democratic elites in the party and the media will balk at letting a man who as recently as 2016 donated to both Democratic and Republican candidates have the nomination. Thus, every factor outlined above will weigh against him even more. His wealth, his centrism, his previous ties to Trump, will be continually highlighted by the media, in great contrast to their treatment of Clinton.

Thus, I give him a 5% chance of winning the Democratic nomination, assuming he runs.

Why don’t I think he’ll run? The logic above has likely occurred to him. Maybe he sees it differently than I do, and thinks these obstacles can be overcome. If this is the case, he should be trying to do so now. But he isn’t. “I’ve never thought that the public is well-served when one party is entirely out of power, and I think the past year and half has been evidence of that,” is not something he’d say if he were thinking seriously about convincing Democrats he’s one of them. So the probability he will actually run for President as a Democrat? I give it a 10%.

* I loved watching the Sanders people squirm whenever he was referred to as a “white male.” They couldn’t let the mask slip, but very much wanted to.

 

 

What Should We Expect From China and India’s Imbalanced Sex Ratios?

In his 2002 book Our Posthuman Future, Francis Fukuyama predicted dire consequences for China and South Korea due to their high sex ratios:

There are precedents, however, for new medical technologies having population-level effects as a result of millions of individual choices. One has to look no further than contemporary Asia, where a combination of cheap sonograms and easy access to abortion has led to a dramatic shifting of sex ratios. In Korea, for example, 122 boys were born in the early 1990s for every too girls, compared with a normal ratio of 105 to too. The ratio in the People’s Republic of China is only somewhat lower, at 117 boys for every too girls, and there are parts of northern India where ratios are even more skewed. This has led to a deficit of girls in Asia that the economist Amartya Sew at one point estimated to be 100 million. In all of these societies, abortion for the purpose of sex selection is illegal; but despite government pressure, the desire of individual parents for a male heir has produced grossly lopsided sex ratios.

Highly skewed sex ratios can produce important social consequences. By the second decade of the twenty-first century, China will face a situation in which up to one fifth of its marriage-age male population will not be able, to find brides. It is hard to imagine a better formula for trouble, given the propensity of unattached young males to be involved in activities like risk-taking, rebellion, and crime. There will be compensating benefits as well: the deficit of women will allow females to control the mating process more effectively, leading to more stable family life for those who can get married.*

‘Marcia Guttentag and Paul Secord have suggested that the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the traditional family in the United States was produced in pan by sex ratios favoring men in the 196os and 79705. See Marcia Guttentag and Paul F. Secord, Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1983). (Fukuyama, 2002, pp. 80–81)

A child born in the 1990s would see his inclination to criminality peak in the 2010s. So what happened?

korea-homicide
(Stiles, 2016)
China homicide rate
Murder rate by year in China.(World Bank, 2018a)

Fukuyama’s prediction of “more stable family life” in China and Korea has similarly proven wrong, divorce rates in both countries have increased.(Dong-hwan, 2017; Zhou, 2017) Why was he wrong? While the prediction about crime was IMHO defensible, the prediction about how “females controlling the mating process more effectively” would lead to “more stable family life” reflects a fundamentally flawed view of human nature, one which led to a laughably wrong prediction.

In South Korea, the sex ratio at birth has declined since the 1990s, approaching the “natural” ratio of 1.05 boys per girl. Its situation thus will improve with time. In China and India, by contrast, the worst has not yet been seen. In India, the ratio rose until around 2002 and then leveled off. In China, it rose until 2007 and then declined thereafter.(World Bank, 2018b, 2018c) But the example of Korea shows we should be very skeptical of the dire predictions which are regularly made about these countries. If the crime rate is affected one way or another, it will be swamped by other effects.

Works Cited

Dong-hwan, K. (2017). Spiking divorce rate changes law, marriage style. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2017/01/116_221348.html

Fukuyama, F. (2002). Our posthuman future : consequences of the biotechnology revolution.

Stiles, M. (2016). Murder Rates in the U.S., Korea | The Daily Viz. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from http://thedailyviz.com/2016/05/24/murders-united-states-south-korea/

World Bank. (2018a). Intentional homicides (per 100,000 people) | Data. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/VC.IHR.PSRC.P5?locations=CN&view=chart

World Bank. (2018b). Sex ratio at birth (male births per female births) | Data. Retrieved August 11, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.BRTH.MF?locations=CN&view=chart

World Bank. (2018c). Sex ratio at birth (male births per female births) | Data. Retrieved August 11, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.BRTH.MF?locations=IN&view=chart

Zhou, V. (2017). Marriage rate down, divorce rate up as more Chinese couples say ‘I don’t’ or ‘I won’t any more’ | South China Morning Post. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2109868/marriage-rate-down-divorce-rate-more-chinese-couples-say-i-dont

My Book *Posthumanity, Anticipations of the Next Historical Era*

Description

Human history can be divided into three eras, the foraging, farming, and industrial eras, separated by the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Given that such drastic change has occurred in the past, many predict similarly drastic changes in the future, with a future era as different from ours as ours is from the preindustrial eras. What will be the catalyst for the next era? One possibility is biological superintelligence, where humans, through genetic engineering, have achieved very high levels of intelligence. Due to rapid advances in genomic prediction and gene editing, this may become possible within the next five years.

In Posthumanity, I attempt to foresee the era that will result from biological superintelligence, the era of the posthuman. I describe not just the technology that they will possess, but also their economics, politics, sociology, culture, and belief systems. How will they see themselves, and how will they see us? How different from us will they be?

How to read

PDF (Preferable, if you’re comfortable reading PDFs.)

As a series of blog posts.

As a printable book – Coming soon!

Comment on the book and report spelling and grammatical errors below.

A Question

Suppose I am a programmer with a degree in Computer Science. As a programmer, I value what I learned in school, at the very least, I value two or three years of it. Suppose, after I graduated, I was told I could not work as a programmer unless I got a degree in theoretical physics, despite the fact that it would be very difficult for me to accomplish relative to the ease of computer science, would be irrelevant to my future jobs, and would cost me four years of lost wages on top of the cost of tuition.

Would you expect me to be happy about this development?

If no, would you interpret my unhappiness as a sign that I’m lazy, anti-intellectual or that I don’t think physics has any value?

If no, what should you say to the man who doesn’t want to get any college degree but is frustrated that employers require it, as getting a degree would be difficult for him to accomplish, irrelevant to his future jobs, and would cost him four years of lost wages on top of the cost of tuition?

Were People Rational During the Cold War?

If you play Russian roulette and don’t die, it’s not proof playing Russian roulette was not a bad idea. Similarly, the fact that there was no nuclear exchange during the Cold War does not prove that the probability of it occurring was low. We know that it very nearly did happen, see Vasili Arkhipov. And people in that era gave high probabilities that it would happen.

So why didn’t they prefer to live in rural areas, or neutral or third world countries, places less likely to be hit? Many believed the media-promoted lie that the entire world would be destroyed by a nuclear exchange. But many didn’t.

For some, they could make the argument that to leave their friends and family for low wages in the middle of nowhere in America or a third-world malarial jungle is worse than a 1/3rd chance of death where they are. But they still should have been more eager to migrate if the right opportunity presented itself. There were many Americans willing to live in the third world, to work for wages higher than those in America, enjoy a lower cost of living, study abroad, or simply “to get away.” Yet it doesn’t appear that avoiding death in a nuclear holocaust was one of the motivators.

Perhaps they didn’t want to vocalize it. They don’t want to write to their mothers “hey, India’s great, my company’s paying me more, the culture is interesting, and if there is a nuclear exchange you’ll get fried and I won’t.” But some would have made the point less explicitly. Few of the sexpats are clear about their motivations, yet it became a common fodder for jokes. But there were no jokes about the guy holed up in the Philippines because he was convinced a nuclear war would occur. Why?

People are bad at judging abstract risks. The dangers of smoking, obesity, and crime are salient to people because they see them in their personal lives, but they subconsciously devalue the risks of nuclear war, placing it in the same part of the brain as the doomsday predictions of the local shaman which never got around to occurring. This will be relevant when hostile artificial intelligence becomes a real risk. Then, as during the Cold War, people will give high probabilities to the doomsday scenario. Yet many will not advocate the rational response of not building any AI.