Culture Genomics Intelligent Design

There’s a new buzz on the block, “social genomics”

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From bioethicist Erik Parens, author of Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing and a Habit of Thinking (2015) It sounds too political to be useful but you be the judge:

A cornerstone of social genomics research is the creation of what are called ‘polygenic scores’. Although the amount of computational power needed to pool and analyse the relevant genomic data is unfathomably large, the basic idea is easy to fathom. First, social scientists and geneticists collaborate to identify hundreds or thousands of genetic variants, across the genome, correlated with a given trait, behaviour or outcome. Although the inferred effect of each of those genetic variants is miniscule by itself, the second step is for researchers to add up those many tiny effects to create a polygenic score. This strategy for making predictions about future traits or outcomes is also the cornerstone of ‘precision medicine’, which aspires to tailor medical treatments to individuals’ genomes.

Some well-informed observers think that this new strategy is just the latest in the history of efforts to analyse complex phenomena at the wrong level. To paraphrase the psychologist Eric Turkheimer, looking to genetic variants for insight about complex behaviours and social outcomes is like looking to the chemical composition of rocks to understand plate tectonics. And even those who are most enthusiastic about the eventual utility of these scores are acutely aware that previous efforts to use insights from molecular genetics have been hugely disappointing.

To their credit, social genomicists have taken the unprecedented and time-intensive step of creating Frequently Asked Questions documents, which accompany their publications and explain, with remarkable frankness, what they have and have not discovered, and what their findings do and do not mean. They are unfailingly clear about the fact that, when they add up the tiny genetic effects, the aggregate is small compared with, say, the total effect of the environment. They are relentless in their rejection of genetic determinism, and vigorous in their reiteration that environments play a huge role in explaining the outcomes they study.

Erik Parens, “The genes we’re dealt” at Aeon

4 Replies to “There’s a new buzz on the block, “social genomics”

  1. 1
    AaronS1978 says:

    Interesting because a quick Google search and generally everybody says it’s 50% genes and it has a huge effect

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    There”s something strange and suspicious about the goals of this project. If they really think genes are nearly irrelevant, why bother to document the effects of genes? Given the permanent tendencies of “social” “science”, this is more likely aimed at good old eugenics. Identify the genetic patterns of Unpersons, then cull the herd.

  3. 3
    Querius says:

    For one, I think it’s a valid and interesting study of the social “genomics” of societies and is a wider part of the study of history in general and likely involves linguistics. But it’s not genomics or “science.”

    Because it’s so subjective, this field is more vulnerable to ideological intrusion than science, Darwinism, cosmology, and quantum mechanics being partial exceptions.

    Let me provide a couple of examples from history.

    In Central Europe by Lonnie R. Johnson, the author notes that the oral histories of the Balkans are so divergent between each people group, that it makes one think they are each on a different continent.

    In researching the histories of Africa, I found that the books I read ranged from a disjointed “One Darn Thing After Another” approach (the title of Kipling’s book ODTAA) to a masterfully-written story themed on the waves of different religions that swept through the continent.

    My conclusion was that there’s no single story, but rather different overlays. That’s why Arnold Toynbee’s books on the history of the world were so influential — that is, until ideological conviction became the Procrustean approach to everything.

    And yes, Polistra, it seems that social eugenics is the new oppressive force in the world.

    -Q

  4. 4
    AaronS1978 says:

    @polistra
    I don’t think they feel genes are irrelevant (medications targeted towards your genes)
    And to be honest with you all I hear really is from the side that says genes are the most important thing ever and they control everything we do

    Nancy Segal for instance constantly talks about how reading to your children is not as important as you think it is and your upbringing is not as important as you think it is it’s all in your genes
    Polmin literally says the same in “blue print”

    Of course after poking into her studies and then directly questioning her and seeing that her response was negligent I do believe she’s just full of crap and toting genetic Determinism

    Furthermore her methods for twin studies are like watching a grade school teacher observe how children cut paper with the Crayola Safety scissors

    But if their goal is to stop people like Robert Polmin from running amuck and making sure people don’t confuse heritability with destiny then I’m for it

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