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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Learning can hurt: UK edition

This BBC Radio 4 discussion focuses on the recent kerfuffle in the UK over revelations that *gasp* genes affect cognitive ability. "Combative, provocative and engaging debate" :-)  @28:28 ad hominem attack on Plomin and BGI by leftist activist David King, well handled by moderator.
Genetics and education (BBC Radio 4)

Duration: 43 minutes
First broadcast: Wednesday 30 October 2013

For centuries philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the question of nature versus nurture. Increasingly and for some controversially, the science of behavioural genetics is starting to come up with some of the answers. The argument is perhaps at its most sensitive when applied to education. When it was revealed that Education Secretary Michael Gove's outgoing special advisor, Dominic Cummings, called for education policy to incorporate the science behind genes and cognitive development he broke a modern taboo and there was a predictable outcry. In a wide ranging paper Mr Cummings cited the work of Professor Robert Plomin who's about to publish a book with psychologist Dr Kathryn Asbury which calls for "genetically sensitive" schooling. It's based on a study of how genes and environment have shaped the development of over 10,000 twins who were studied from birth to early adulthood. The scientists say their work is about probability not prophecy and can be used to personalise education and create better outcomes for all, but fears of genetic determinism are deeply ingrained. How should we use genetics in education? Science is a very long way from knowing exactly which genes influence individual differences in learning but as knowledge in this field advances that time will surely come. We already use genetics to screen for various medical conditions, so why not for learning abilities? And what happens if, or when, the science of genetics becomes so powerful that we can identify different populations that are endowed with different genetic make-ups that we believe are more or less desirable? Is that just a scientific inevitability that we have to come to terms with, or does it open the door to eugenics? How should we use the science of genetics?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. DR KATHRYN ASBURY - York University, co-author of 'G is for Genes', DR ANDERS SANDBERG - Research Fellow at the 'Future of Humanity Institute', Oxford University, DR DAVID KING - Founder and Director of the campaign group 'Human Genetics Alert', STEVE DAVY - Teacher at the Wroxham school, Potter's Bar.
It was Dominic Cummings' long essay Some Thoughts on Education and Political Priorities ("leaked" by the Guardian!) that sparked this controversy. See fun Endnote and a few references to this blog.
Dominic Cummings, Genius or Menace? (Guardian): Dominic Cummings is arguably the most brilliant and most controversial special adviser in the coalition. Long seen as a driving force in the Department for Education, he demanded more from a bureaucracy that Conservatives believe was temperamentally sympathetic to Labour.

Some see him as a menace, given to frank exchanges with civil servants and, on occasions, journalists. Others see him as a genius, consistently driving higher standards, clearer exams and taking on the "blob", the Tory term of abuse to describe the educational establishment.

Born and educated in Durham, he secured a first in ancient and modern history from Oxford and worked for Iain Duncan Smith when he was leader of the opposition. In his portrait of the coalition, In It Together, Matthew d'Ancona describes Cummings as being "mild mannered by temperament except when he was not. His volcanic outbursts had astonished Duncan Smith in 2002 when he had briefly been the party's director of strategy". Post-election, Andy Coulson, director of communications, blocked Cummings' appointment as a government adviser on the basis that he might be too independent and a disruptive force. But Michael Gove continued to rely on him from afar and, when Coulson resigned, the education secretary rapidly appointed him.

His 250-page screed sprawls across a vast canvas about the future, education, Britain's place in the world and disruptive forces ahead. Quite frankly, much will pass over the average reader's head. It is either mad, bad or brilliant – and probably a bit of all three.
Ideas and scientific evidence matter, especially (hopefully!) in the long run.
Keynes: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas."

41 comments:

Diogenes said...

steve makes an utter fool of himself here.

any ad hominem attacks whether true or not are justified in opposing the malignant anglo-american ideology of which steve is blissfully ignorant.

when the researchers are british they can be dismissed summarily.

why? because iq is just as heritable in denmark, japan, etc. yet intergenerational income elasticity in these countries is negligible. and now the supply side uk is poorer than statist france. would a british pm ever say he disliked rich people as hollande has said?

both les etats unis merdeux and royaume-uni merdeux are distinguished from all other developed countries in that their political AND business elite has almost no technical people. angela merkel, phd p chem, could never be elected to dog catcher in these two shittiest countries in the developed world led by talkers.

"for those who have eyes to see...the writing is on the wall."

Diogenes said...

steve makes an utter fool of himself here, and i don't have to read the whole post or listen to the radio show to say this. there are certain "meta-rules" of which steve is unaware.

any ad hominem attacks
whether true or not are justified in opposing the malignant
anglo-american ideology of which steve is blissfully ignorant.

when the researchers are british they can be dismissed summarily.

why? because iq is just as heritable in denmark, japan, etc. yet
intergenerational income elasticity in these countries is negligible.
and now the supply side uk is poorer than statist france. would a
british pm ever say he disliked rich people as hollande has said? would an american president? yet france tops the uk despite its gauloises and "work less live more" and french language disadvantage.

both les etats unis merdeux and royaume-uni merdeux are distinguished from
all other developed countries in that their political AND business elite
has almost no technical people. angela merkel, phd p chem, could never
be elected to dog catcher in these two shittiest countries in the
developed world led by talkers.

"for those who have eyes to see...the writing is on the wall."

the bottom line: the us is shit. the uk is shit. the anglo-american ideology should be burnt to the ground.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UceGF3M56bE

Diogenes said...

"...he secured a first in ancient and modern history" = talker.


btw, your use of "hopefully" is frowned upon by these same takers (oops, freudian slip). i meant talkers.

CIPig said...

I don't understand your title.

Diogenes said...

why the modest 52% heritability of gcse's and other such tests is almost totally meaningless:

modern american public school classroom

cinder blocks, fluorescent lights, industrial carpet, and that's without the pimply strangers wearing legible clothing and the fat lazy moron at the front of the class. even the best american public schools are dungeons of child-abuse except for amoral extroverted pushy strivers with no aesthetic sense whatsoever who have always loooooved school. then imagine tuition in your own home, which was once universal among those with any education. steve still doesn't "get it". apparently he can't.

on why the 52% figure is meaningless for two small minorities in british education: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/aug/16/oxford-university-privately-educated

and when is it ever legitimate to make decisions for individuals based on their membership in a group? this is exactly what streaming the individual based on his iq score is. all one can do is say: "given your score and knowing nothing more the probability is, etc." as stan marsh would say, "gay. totally gay."

and obviously using iq tests is an unnecessary added complexity. testing achievement is sufficient and iq tests should be used to identify "gifted underachievers".

steve hsu said...

When new information conflicts with cherished beliefs the process of learning can be painful.

Diogenes said...

what cherished beliefs? did you listen to the program? you're still making a straw man out of those you call "leftist". there's not a single so-called leftist who thinks what you think he thinks.

Diogenes said...

DR KATHRYN ASBURY in a tv interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&v=cAYDiPizDIs&hl=en-GB

Diogenes said...

Dr Kathryn Asbury also gave this tv interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&v=cAYDiPizDIs&hl=en-GB

dxie48 said...

Look like Cummings was baiting the politicians. In his essay he said:
"Most politicians, officials, and advisers operate with fragments of philosophy, little
knowledge of maths or science (few MPs can answer even simple probability questions yet most
are confident in their judgement), and little experience in well-managed complex organisations."


Sure enough, they obediently stand up to be judged. :)

steve hsu said...

Look at the general UK reaction to Cummings' essay. Read some of the commentary in the Guardian, etc.

Diogenes said...

the british may be more attuned. talk of "elitism" in the program is laughable as the uk and us are already the most elitist countries in the developed world.

if "genetically sensitive schooling" meant not just a different pace and different subject matter, but very different means of education then this research could be taken seriously.

as it is, the variation in what school is is as narrow as the us political "spectrum". that is, there is, in fact, NO meaningful variation in the way education is done.

when a kid who is not genetically fit for the current form of education must spend most of his waking hours in school is it any surprise that he's stupid?

Asher Jacobson said...

What is the nature of this variation? Be specific. Some have the potential to be physicists, some accountants, some social workers and some janitors. I suspect what most leftists hold is that everyone has the bare minimum potential to be something more than a janitor, and, I suspect, that is what Steve is talking about when he uses "leftists".


The "intelligence as ability to learn things" position is that there is a difference between individuals in this ability. It's sort of like an innate architecture that is not utilized until it has inputs to process. How does real education work? Give that hardware inputs to assess and manipulate. The differences in the architecture limit the complexities of the programs (understandings) of which the specific individual is capable.

Diogenes said...

asher you lack imagination and a sense of history.

sitting at a very uncomfortable "desk" in a cinder block building with wall to wall industrial carpet surrounded by pimply mouth breathing strangers wearing t-shirts for their favorite rock band and at the head of the class someone with a "masters degree" in education FOR MOST OF YOUR WAKING HOURS...

this works for some and delays the intellectual development of others perhaps permanently.

not too long ago almost all education was private. tutors educated the children of the rich. poor parents educated their own children.

if one plants cacti in a forest they rot and the rate of rot may be "genetic", but these cacti shouldn't be in a forest they should be in a desert.


another great example of the utter meaninglessness of heritability is the heritability of blood pressure or % body fat. primitive peoples all have the same very low bp and very low body fat %. when their primitive way of life ends they get fat, hypertensive, and diabetic. yet insulin sensitivity is as heritable as gcse scores.


it's like this: there are many who smoke a lot and never develop a smoking related cancer and i don't doubt it isn't "genetic", but does that mean there should be "genetically sensitive" cigarettes?

Asher Jacobson said...

Your last comment was almost completely incoherent and nothing you said addressed anything I said. There is only one bit in that comment that makes any sense and that was the part about when people who have previously lived in stone age societies have contact with the modern world their digestive systems aren't adept at functioning in it very well. Same for their cognitive architecture.


Someone whose ancestors until very recently have been living in prehistoric conditions are going to be well-adapted to prehistoric conditions. Modern civilization? Not so much.

Asher Jacobson said...

I had a brother who pretty much flunked everything in high school. When he took the ASVAB the military tried to get him to study Arabic and get into military intelligence. In other words, he could have spent his entire life playing hooky and the military would have sent him to the head of the class after taking one test.


It would be nice if you had responded to my challenge about what sort of variations in education style you had in mind. Further, exactly how much money would you suggest expending on education? Wouldn't the vast explosion in administrative job in education have already produced such a kaleidoscope of variation? These are questions you need to at least try and answer to just rise to the level of mere coherence.

Asher Jacobson said...

these cacti shouldn't be in a forest they should be in a desert.


And some peoples flourish in hunter-gatherer conditions, not so much in modern civiliation.

Slawomir P Wojcik said...

Kempinski, a well forgotten psychiatrist, was calling it "positive dissociation". In a model that broadly lies in line with Stanley Fishers way of thinking and with what great part of AI is about Kempinski was arguing that we progress by destroying our underlying image of the outside world and integrating it on a new level, where it combines new data. It is not a risk free process, hence the mental resistance and pain.

Diogenes said...

like i said, you lack imagination or you just haven't though very hard about this.

when your mother, father, grandfather all have ivy league degrees in english, when you got an 800 on the gre verbal, a 50 on the gmat verbal, etc. you're incoherent.

whatever.

Diogenes said...

"Kempinski was arguing that we progress by destroying our underlying image of the outside world and integrating it on a new level"


that describes hegel's dialectic EXACTLY. read the phenomenology of spirit. you'll see.

Diogenes said...

and what would your brother's gcse scores have been? not very high. contra your own interpretation, your brother is an example of why this research is meaningless. iq tests should be used to identify "gifted underachievers".

there is one enormous difference between education in the us and canada and everywhere else. everywhere else measures the quality of the hs or college degree by performance on cumulative exams which are the same for everyone. the quality of the us degree is determined by very short term, ideosyncratic, and subjective measures called "grades". american grades and gcse's DO NOT select the same sort of people. there will be overlap, but the american and canadian systems select pushy strivers.

but whatever the variation there will still be some who'll only grow on the southern slope of mt kailash, AND they shouldn't be blamed for this. that is, in any society, some will fail simply for not finding the one place where they would have thriven if such a place exists in their society. when the explanation for such people is that they are BIOLOGICALLY inferior this is IDEOLOGY --- specifically it is the ANGLO-AMERICAN IDEOLOGY.

Diogenes said...

"And some peoples flourish in hunter-gatherer conditions, not so much in modern civiliation."


both of these are far from homogeneous. walk for six hours a day. eat a pre-agriculture, pre-domsetication diet, go without or eat very little two days of the week, and in 3 months you'll have a hunter gatherer's numbers even if you live in a villa on the french riviera. YET "diets don't work" and Taub tells us "exercise doesn't work" and turn on your tv to find ads for diabetes meds and "boner pills".


it's another horrible truth. modern civ is itself the cause of most of its problems.

Diogenes said...

"I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas."

oh. my. gawd. --- as a valley girl might put it.


has steve discovered marx's "ideologie"? i'm sure his comp lit wife could explain it to him ;)

Diogenes said...

not challenge asher.


some meaningful variations which in the us at least are so uncommon that any study of heritability of educational achievement wouldn't be affected by them.



1. no classroom, no school, home schooling, programmed learning
2. uniforms
3. single sex
4. school held in the evening, perhaps from 8 pm to 4 am
5. boarding without tv or interwebs
6. school six days a week
7. school with a rule as strict as st benedict's
8. school with real work as part of it
etc.

CIPig said...

Hopefully that is an ignorant prejudice that will soon be stamped out. The sentence adverb has a long an honorable history in English and other germanic languages.

Slawomir P Wojcik said...

OK, but Hegel didn't bother to gather ample clinical evidence of the process; to investigate as in many cases of mental illness the state of transition is arrested deliberately in a victim by its social environment. We seem to reserve the right of investigation of mental processes to ever narrower group. A recent book by Daniel Kahneman tells about "fast thinking" as reflexes build on deeply ingrained heuristics and "slow thinking" as deliberate, proof - like, deduction and skips completely formation of better heuristics. Most of young people's minds are distorted in and out of school to contain the image of the world that does not help much in controlling even a bit of immediate environment. One can argue that we do not need huge progress in raw IQ as urgently as at least moderate progress in flexible use of what most of us have. We need, most of all, for the widest scope of population possible, that science is not "god replacement service". It does not have answers for every test, least of all the test of life. Covertly laughed at "life long learning" is mostly forming heuristics right for the day and hour. Proper school should prepare for the pain of learning and the joy of "Something understood". Proper school should give a sense of deep union with those who learn slower and understand, maybe, a bit less. Learning is not linear process and some slow learners, if not discouraged, can form right outlooks and right attitudes to subjects and, sometimes, exceed the shotgun minds. And yes, this touches upon philosophy and religion, upon what we take as fundamental values.

As for a program itself (I even stayed in car for a couple of minutes to listen to the end), I would compere it to a procedure by a seller of apples who cuts a minute slice and satisfies himself with an exclamation that there is not a trace of rot inside. They buyer remains none the wiser. The subsequent initiative of taking schooling down to the age of 2 can't be properly evaluated, because, as you write beside about Cummings' this as well is empty. I can imagine positive program of schooling starting at 2 as a guidance for most and option for some, but I can imagine as well a very harmful process taking place in the same framework. (to front run you a bit positive, Comte, I know)

Asher Jacobson said...

If your position were so solid you wouldn't need to engage in blatant lying to support it. No one is inferring "biological inferiority" from differences in traits that have a genetic basis. Difference? Yes. Inferiority? No. You are either lying or simply don't know what the hell you're talking about. My money's on a combination of the two.

Asher Jacobson said...

Again, I don't respect liars. And anyone who takes the position that acknowledging biological differences inevitably leads to genocide is a liar. If you wish to resubmit your position in a new comment without the lying, then, I will be happy to respond.

Diogenes said...

sorry asher, i'm not fluent in oregonlocal-ese.

Diogenes said...

"Proper school should give a sense of deep union with those who learn slower and understand, maybe, a bit less."


speed of learning and IQ are not the same. as one professor told me regarding the short term nature of american "grading"..."most of our students are intellectually lazy. for them it's just pattern recognition. they never actually understand anything."



kant was a quite late bloomers. the CPR was first published when he was 57!

Asher Jacobson said...

Again, if you want to offer a reply that isn't predicated on outright lies, then, I am willing to address that. It should address what I actually said and not rely on lies lies like biological inferiority or attributing exterminating. Try lying less.

Asher Jacobson said...

Further, the onus is on you to demonstrate that the HBD crowd is basing their stance on notions of "biological inferiority", since no one in this post or comment section, besides yourself, actually used the term. See, you don't get to win debates by attributing positions to your opponent that they don't hold. You don't get to do that because it is intellectually dishonest. Now, stop lying.

Diogenes said...

i said nothing about "the hbd crowd" asher. who are they?

Diogenes said...

right. i think it's the recentness of this use of hopefully that makes usage panels say nay.

Asher Jacobson said...

The owner of this blog is an example of adherence to some sort of hbd. Have you ever seen him use the phrase "genetically inferior" or advocated the extermination of any groups?

Asher Jacobson said...

If someone is out there calling for extermination based on putative genetic inferiority, then, there is a "who". It is incumbent upon you to specify that "who" and, if not those who hold HBD theories, then, "who"?

Diogenes said...

with a name like "asher jacobson" i'll assume you're ashkenazi and therefore my intelletcual and moral supreior.


ideology is both a powerful and vague concept. the best definition is "unknown knowns".

Diogenes said...

it's just semantics and quibbling over words.


there is a (very natural) tendency for all men to explain inequality as the result of virtue or vice.


when one is "better than" he explains his superiority as resulting from his innate virtue. when he is inferior, he explains his inferiority as the result of the vice of his betters.

Asher Jacobson said...

Kant was a very accomplished philosopher long before CPR. It is most likely that his work was the product of historical trends that he witnessed and were not available to him before that time.


No, Kant was not a late bloomer, in fact, he was a very early bloomer.

Asher Jacobson said...

Enough of the mind-reading and psychobabble. I am still waiting for you to actually present an argument.

Asher Jacobson said...

What you are doing is implying that anyone who holds the position that variations of traits in humans has significant genetic input simply *must* really desire to exterminate those they deem "inferior".


It's dishonest. You're a dishonest person.

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