Einstein, math, genius and strange people

From Nature News (paywalled as far as I know), Steve Hsu's comments are here

Entrepreneur’s ‘Project Einstein’ taps 400 top academics for their DNA

He founded two genetic-sequencing companies and sold them for hundreds of millions of dollars. He helped to sequence the genomes of a Neanderthal man and James Watson, who co-discovered DNA’s double helix. Now, entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg has set his sights on another milestone: finding the genes that underlie mathematical genius.

Rothberg and physicist Max Tegmark, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, have enrolled about 400 mathematicians and theoretical physicists from top-ranked US universities in a study dubbed ‘Project Einstein’. They plan to sequence the participants’ genomes using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed.

I like his attitude, a little bit less his calculations:

Rothberg is pushing ahead. “I’m not at all concerned about the critics,” he says, adding that he does not think such rare genetic traits could be useful in selecting for smarter babies. Influenced by a college class he took from a pioneer in artificial intelligence, and by the diagnosis of his daughter with tuberous sclerosis complex, a disease that can cause mental retardation and autism, Rothberg has long been interested in cognition. He is also in awe of the abilities of famous scientists. “Einstein said ‘the most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible’,” he says. “I’d love to find the genes that make the Universe comprehensible.”

[...]

Project Einstein “is unlikely to have any statistical power”, says geneticist Daniel MacArthur at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who, with colleagues, has amassed a pedigree of 13 million related people to try to tackle the heritability of complex traits (see Naturehttp://doi.org/ppj; 2013)

Here for the strange people:

Others say they wouldn’t be surprised if the study found that maths aptitude was not born so much as made. “I feel that the notion of ‘talent’ may be overrated,” says Michael Hutchings, a mathematician also at Berkeley. He adds that even if genetic markers are found, they could be used for good — not to pre-select for maths geniuses, but to help parents to understand the particular abilities of their children and give them the support they need.

The fact that talent does not exist is pathetic lie and it is ever more pathetic when it is coming from someone who is clearly talented. I think that some people will never jump over political correctness (or so called PC, since I do not see how saying that some people in specific fields or across certain fields are more talented than others might be not respectful of people. I am clearly enormously less talented than LeBron James for playing hoops. Should I feel less worthy when someone is pointing that out? I do not think so).

Rothberg is adamant that the project is well worth the time and the money, whoever is paying for it. “This study may not work at all,” he says — before adding, quickly, that it “is not a crazy thing to do”. For a multimillionaire with time on his hands, that seems to be justification enough.

It should be.

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