Hsu on intelligence and genomics

Steve Hsu talks about intelligence, genomics and selection of embryos.

Trying to unravel the genetic architecture of intelligence is a very worthwhile investigation. I have always supported smart kids and adults and I will go on doing so. Hsu is talking as usual about Von Neumann, according to many the greatest mind of the last century (with greater cognitive power than Einstein according to the same people).

A few bites:

"We can’t predict the sample size required to obtain most of the additive variance for g (this depends on the details of the distribution of alleles), but I would guess that about a million genotypes together with associated g scores will suffice."

"I would be surprised if, after analyzing millions of genotype-phenotype pairs, we were not able to produce a predictive model that captures, say, 50% of variance in g. That means, roughly, we might be able to predict g from genotype with standard error of somewhat less than a population standard deviation (e.g., 10 IQ points; note I don’t think the real world “meaning” of g is better defined than within an error of this size). This means that selection on g can proceed relatively efficiently, assuming the basic reproductive technologies are under control."

"At the extremes, there are some academics and social activists who violently oppose any kind of research into the genetics of cognitive ability. Given that the human brain — its operation, construction from a simple genetic blueprint, evolutionary history — is one of the great scientific mysteries of the universe, I cannot understand this point of view."

I totally agree.

"In addition to his abstract reasoning ability, von Neumann had formidable powers of mental calculation and a photographic memory. In my opinion, genotypes exist that correspond to phenotypes as far beyond von Neumann as he was beyond a normal human."

I was wondering whether the same is true for sports performance. Let's take Usain Bolt, a talent never seen before. Perfect body type (although he was too tall according to pre-Bolt standard. Shorter levers help in the first 20 meters of the 100 m dash), fantastic anaerobic power, not injury-prone in the first part of his career, high tolerance to volume in training. Possibly (probably) Bolt is between +6 and + 6.5 SD  with respect to the general population (1 in 500 million people to 1 in 10 the billion people).

I don't exclude that new doping agents, some new training methods as well optimal conditions will allow someone to go below 9.50 in the near future, but much more than that? Unlikely. There are many more tradeoffs in sports performance (e.g. optimal height not maximum height) than in in intelligence (although greater mean intelligence in Ashkenazi Jews, as also suggested by the over-representation of the group among Nobel Prize winners, seems to be causing - in the sense that there is a common biological underlying cause - a greater prevalence of the Tay-Sachs disease Ashkenazi Jews).


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