Sunday, May 08, 2011

g and genomics

Heading down to Hsinchu, the Silicon Valley of Taiwan and home of Tsinghua University (there are two: one in Beijing and one in Taiwan!), to give a talk. Slides.

Special Joint Math Physics Colloquium

May 9(Mon.) 2:00 P.M. at Lecture Room A, NCTS, 4th Floor,
The 3rd General Building, National Tsing Hua University

Speaker: Steve Hsu
(Professor of Physics, University of Oregon,
Visiting Professor, Academia Sinica)

Title: Investigating the genetic basis of intelligence

I begin with a brief review of psychometric results concerning intelligence (sometimes referred to as the g factor, or IQ). The main results concern the stability, validity (predictive power) and heritability of adult IQ. Next, I discuss ongoing Genome Wide Association Studies which investigate the genetic basis of intelligence. Due mainly to the rapidly decreasing cost of sequencing (currently below $5k per genome), it is likely that within the next 5-10 years we will identify genes which account for a significant fraction of total IQ variation. Finally, I end with an analysis of possible near term genetic engineering for intelligence.

This talk is aimed at physicists and should be accessible even to those with no specialized background in psychology or biology.


TheGuyFromEarlier said...

Fascinating...Genetic engineering is coming; it's a question of who steers its course and under what principles.

China, in its relentless pursuit to industrialize, is wreaking a lot of environmental havoc (so did the US for that matter, but not at this scale) and generating political ire (e.g., Tibet). That said, its lack of PC inhibitions and democratic bureaucracy is a major advantage when it comes to this type of research.

Ironically, China may also be a saving grace when it comes to genetic research and engineering. It may, for example, motivate the US to do something in a big way.

The resulting genome data/techniques/understanding is certainly a state "advantage." I wonder what will be the general tenor of such newfound knowledge. Will China play the tribe card, using it to further a particular set of people born in a particular region of the world? Or will it follow a more universal/Western model? It'll be some mix, sure, but how much and to what degree?

As a young, dyed in the wool progressive with a Carl Sagian perspective on life, I wonder: will this data be treated in a conscientious way that acknowledges the diversity of humanity, and sets forward a path to shape the world more positively by shaping (genetically engineering) more intelligent individuals? Or will it be a silly little genetic arms race to gain transient power on a "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam"?

Sam H said...

Awesome! Just read the slides and they look very good!

Alpha Omega said...

The answer is that it will be a genetic arms race, of course! I love Carl Sagan, but to reduce every power struggle on this planet to insignificance because we live on a mote of cosmic dust is an absurd form of nihilism. At the moment we don't really have a choice, because other planets are too far away and the world as we find it is a relentless Darwinian struggle. This drive for evolutionary supremacy may ultimately be our undoing, but it can't be wished away. Once you admit that tool-using intelligence is a positive trait (which isn't actually clear) and you develop the ability to increase it, it will be used to gain evolutionary advantage. This means transhumans, evolutionary bifurcations and "Singularity wars" are probably in our near future. Sagan was brilliant, but much of his liberal ideology is basically bankrupt and not scientifically supportable. Maybe you need to develop a different notion of what "progressive" means, because the 20th century version has failed miserably, and the 21st century is going to see new, non-Judeo Christian versions of progress arise in places like China.

edward said...

Hrm, I can't see the last few slides of the presentation. Was that done on purpose?

botti said...

What kind of response do you get to these talks? I remember you once mentioned someone (a sociologist?) leaving the room?

steve hsu said...

I never get that kind of reaction from physicists or mathematicians. I wonder why? ;-)

steve hsu said...

No, it's just a weird consequence of latex on OS X. Something to do with the way PDF figures are handled, I think. Try using another PDF viewer like Google Docs.

Henry Harpending said...

Nice, Steve. Would you consider adding some captioning to #14 (the second 'College outcomes-thresholds?' slide) explaining what the columns of the table are? I presume it is ok to show these slides in my classroom?

steve hsu said...

Hi Henry,

You can certainly use the figure in your class.

The red line is the upper bound at 95% confidence level on the probability of getting an A in a particular quarter of introductory physics, and the blue line is a similar upper bound on the probability of earning a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 or so. You can see the blue line changes nonlinearly (seems to have a threshold) at around 90th percentile ability on the math SAT. Note these are *upper bounds* on probabilities, obtained using a simple model described in the paper. If you look at raw data, the prob. of earning a GPA > 3.5 in physics is only about 50% even for kids with SATM around 800 (if I recall correctly). GPA of 3.5 (i.e., equal number of A's and B's) is kind of the minimal threshold for "mastery", or, more practically, to be admitted to a decent graduate program.

It is easy to see that over the 10 years or so that we studied, if one had excluded all the kids who scored below 90th or 95th percentile on SATM from the physics program, one would have only lost a couple of kids capable of a PhD. Of course these results imply severe "disparate impact"!

The whole paper is here:

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