Genetics as an Omitted Variable in Psychology and Social Science
Here’s the abstract of an article by Frank Schmidt in the Archives of Scientific Psychology:
Governments often base social intervention programs on studies done by psychologists and other social scientists.Often these studies fail to mention other research suggesting that such interventions may have a limited chance of actually working. The omitted research that is not mentioned often shows that the behaviors and performances targeted for improvement by the environmental intervention programs are mostly caused by genetic differences between people and for that reason may be more difficult to change than implied in these studies. This is particularly true when the goal is to greatly reduce or eliminate differences between people in such domains as school achievement, impulsive behaviors, or intelligence. This problem of omitted research creates two problems. It tends to call into question the credibility of all social science research, even the studies that do not omit relevant research.And from an applied point of view, it leads to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on programs that are unlikely to produce the desired outcomes.
Here are a few paragraphs from early in the article:
The first area of problem research focuses on the ostensible effects of life experiences on life outcomes. This broad area includes many research areas and topics in different psychological specialties. The aspect of much of this research that is problematic is the common failure to acknowledge the relevant findings in the field of behavior genetics.
These findings show that virtually all tendencies, traits, behaviors, and life outcomes have a substantial genetic basis (cf.Bouchard, 1997a, 1997b, 2004; Colarelli & Arvey, 2015; Lee & McGue, 2016; McGue & Bouchard, 1998; Plomin, DeFries, Knopik,& Neiderhiser, 2013; Plomin, DeFries, Knopik, & Neiderhaise, 2016; Plomin, Owen, & McGuffin, 1994; Turkheimer, 2000). Even day-to-day variability in positive and negative affect has been shown to be substantially heritable (Zheng, Plomin, & von Stumm, 2016).Research has further shown that most supposedly purely environmental variables (such as the number of books and magazines in the home) that are often concluded to be environmental causes of later life outcomes are themselves genetically influenced (e.g., see Plomin & Bergman, 1991; Plomin et al., 2016). That is, they are substantially influenced by the genetic makeup of the parents in the home, whose genes are passed on to their offspring.
Research also indicates that people seek out and create their own environments based on their genetically influenced proclivities and interests (Scarr, 1996; Scarr,1989; Scarr & McCartney, 1983).The forgoing is a very brief overview but is believed to be sufficient to establish the main point. These behavior genetics findings do not mean that experiences of people do not have any effect on their later life outcomes. But they do mean that failure to even mention potential or likely genetic influences on these outcomes is a serious problem, one that reduces the credibility of the research. The following are some examples of studies that fail to acknowledge these well-established research findings.
A number of studies report that children who grow up in dysfunctional or abusive families tend later as adults to be abusive themselves(cf. Kaufman & Zigler, 1987, 1989). The interpretation is typically entirely environmental: It is assumed that the earlier experiences cause the later behavior. There is no acknowledgment of the fact that all major behaviors, including abusive personality tendencies, have a genetic component (Plomin, Owen, & McGuffin, 1994; Plomin et al.,2016; Turkheimer, 2000). There is no mention of the possibility that the genes that lead the parents to be abusive are passed on to their children and are an important reason why their children later themselves also become abusive as adults (Rowe, 1994). There are numerous examples of such studies in the literature (Kaufman & Zigler,1987, 1989)
Here’s the final paragraph:
The hope is that the information presented in this article will lead to recognition in the literature of the role of behavior genetics findings in studies interpreting relationships between experiences and later life outcomes; and to recognition of the central role of GMA in studies examining specific aptitudes and abilities. At present the literatures in these two areas contain many studies that are scientifically incomplete. These changes are important for establishment of the credibility of research conclusions in these areas and may help to deter credibility losses across other areas of research.
I note that this also has implications for economic theory…
This seems to be a real obsession with you. Where are you trying to go with it?
At some level, the idea that everything in the human body is affected (in part) by genetic factors, with the sole exception that the brain is a gloriously isolated blank slate, ought to be considered preposterous. But as long as Political Correctness continues to be the rule (and often the law), that absurd notion will reign supreme and thus go on driving policy.
So here’s where we go with this: we will go right on blithely force-fitting panic-driven One Size Fits All educational and social “solutions”, to the accompaniment of shrill, pseudo-earnest tub thumping and virtue signaling. And in turn, we will continue on with the breast-beating every time they fail, again and again, and yet again.
Some things just never change, making it really hard to improve real-world outcomes.
The only thing you contributed to what is otherwise long since not new news at all is:
“I note that this also has implications for economic theory…”
But you fail to say how or in what manner or fashion the unstated referred to implications come from some research that does not include other research from genetic behavioral studies.
Let me be clear: The paper cited and linked to draws a conclusion based on a couple of examples the author uses to support his hypotheses that some research should have or could have included behavior genetics research’s information but didn’t.
You state that there are implications of this ([that some research doesn’t include behavioral research findings) in economic theory.
What are those implications?
I fear you are right, at least for a while.
As per PaulS’s comment, reducing waste and inefficiency and getting better outcomes is worth something. Call that desire a real obsession if you’d like But there is another reason, one I have mentioned several times. The problem is that as genetic analysis and statistical analysis improves, differences that have a strong genetic component and continue for multiple generations without dissipation will be noticed more and more frequently.
Under most circumstances, that is fine. Nobody is particularly exercised over the fact that an awful lot of the world’s best times in men’s marathons come from people from a small number of villages in a tiny geographic segment. But convince the public that the only reason people from those villages are able to outrun everyone else is due to some unfair biasing that somehow cripples everyone else and pretty soon there’s trouble. A lack of social cohesion, at a minimum.
But that’s not even the real problem with the changes we are seeing in genetic research and statistical analysis. The real problem is that there are people who see differences as points a scale from “bad” to “good” where “good” happens to be where they are on the scale. Their solution to observable differences, let alone a lack of social cohesion, is to harm everyone who isn’t like them.
Right at the moment, most people are not willing to talk about such things. You get branded a racist even if you don’t ill will and bad intentions. So the groundwork for the debate to come is being laid entirely by the side whose solution does involve ill will. I think it behooves the middle – from the center left to the center right – to give some thought as to what it all means and how to react when the future comes. Because it is coming.
Why not read PaulS’s comment? He provides one answer to your question.
I have no problem with people working with genetics as relevant data for addressing problems, be they of educational techniques or medicine. However, trying to cast genetics in racial terms is both unnecessary and inflammatory. I don’t understand why you seem to feel it’s necessary. Following that path too easily allows slippage into seeking and proclaiming “racial” superiority for some group. History amply demonstrates the ugliness and disaster of such seeking and proclaiming.
I’ve made reference to a piece by Pinker a few times. In it he looked at an article by Cochran, Hardy and Harpending. The CHH conclusion is not one most of us wish to be true, but CHH made a reasonable argument for it and I have yet to see a reasonable rebuttal other than “I don’t want it to be true.” The problem is this: as Pinker points out, CHH falls straight out of medical research. If you are OK looking at group dynamics because it helps target cures for disease (given that different diseases do affect different population groups differently), then you need to be prepared to accepts the collateral that comes with it, which is CHH.
Now, unfortunately, the only ones who will talk about CHH are the folks who would happily operate gas chambers if given a choice. There has to be center left and a center and a center right way of dealing with information that already is mostly uncontroversial in the literature, and which we’re just going to see more of coming forward.
The fact that one group exhibits trait X and another exhibits trait Y doesn’t mean that one group is more deserving of human rights, after all, so it shouldn’t be difficult for there to be a solution that fits into mainstream Democrat thought and another that fits into mainstream Republican thought, etc. Why cede the field of debate that is coming in the very near future to Richard Spencer?
” However, trying to cast genetics in racial terms is both unnecessary and inflammatory. ”
Not to mention scientifically unsound, when applied to humans. “Race,” when applied to human populations, is a social construct.
The burden of proof lies with those making the claim that genetics significantly explains economic distributions.
As I say, labeling genetic traits as “racial” serves no purpose other than inviting racism. All of the wordplay about the label is simply that, wordplay. It is utterly futile, indeed counterproductive, to engage the Richard Spencers of the world in a debate over racial stereotypes arising, for him, from the fact that genetic traits of various kinds are present in some groups. Skin color that has probably evolved in the presence of climactic conditions in different parts of the world is an interesting phenomenon but hardly one that changes the essence of those exhibiting one shade or another. Darwin didn’t claim that the finches he observed with changed beaks were not finches. It probably didn’t occur to him that there would be any point to such a distinction. Thus with Spencer. There really is no point to debating his nastiness. Rejecting it will suffice as far as I am concerned.
I wish you had not written this. It casts doubt on your credibility when you write about other things (top marginal tax rates for instance). You really do not know much about research and fall into the trap that “science” tries so hard to avoid: you endorse the research you like, and ignore the research that you don’t.
even if you were right (you are not) your claims would be unhelpful. we cannot run a country, much less a world, on the “scientific” idea that some races are more equal than others. it’s been tried.
I think you should worry about finding yourself in bed with something like PaulS. You might catch something.
Let me add that I agree that excessive PC is annoying, and is itself a form of racism.
But I don’t think there is any evidence at all that equal opportunity policies have hurt “us.” Even those of us who have had to wait while an equal opportunity person was given the job we thought we deserved, or even had to work for an equal opportunity person we thought was not qualified, would do well to remember the times we lost that promotion to what we used to call the “fair haired boy,” or worked for a perfectly white male boss who we thought was not qualified.
the ease with which you extrapolate from quite narrow “research” to quite complex real world situations (and policy) is breathtaking. I am sorry to say… and I apply this to myself… it is evidence that human brains are not adequate to “solve” real world problems.
there is a recent book… i think called “Hidden Numbers” about the role of black women in math, science and engineering during WW2 and the space program. you should read it. or you can see the movie (which I have not seen). it might give you some insight.
or it might not.
And you get that from what I’ve written how? Upthread I’ve written this (and not for the first or second or 914th time):
On another thread, we were discussing BiDil. Does the fact that African Americans have more issues with heart disease and that those issues don’t respond in the same way to various treatments as people from other groups make them more or less deserving of rights than other people? If so, I don’t see how.
The issue that seems to give people the willies is the idea that one or another group might tend to have a lower mean in a distribution of intelligence than other groups. But we already have such situations, and more extreme examples than anyone is worried about already. And nobody except the crazy fringes is advocating putting people with retardation or Down’s Syndrome into gas chambers, or stating that maybe they should be used as animal feed. But if you leave the terms of the debate up to Richard Spencer and his followers, terms like “better” and “worse” might make a come back.
To put things in terms of a different controversial point I keep bringing up… you don’t have to insist that men and women are equally likely to view being a roofer as their best employment option to believe that men and women should have equal rights.
of course i can’t disagree with that. but taken in context with everything you have said about race…. and what i have said about bad statistics… i can only say that your disclaimer sounds a bit to my ear like George W Bush’s plan to “strengthen Social Security.”
” Does the fact that African Americans have more issues with heart disease and that those issues don’t respond in the same way to various treatments as people from other groups ”
Some do, some don’t. Certain conditions–kidney disease, sickle cell–have higher frequency in Americans with African ancestry, but that is not evidence that race is a biologically meaningful concept in humans.
is right. there has been so much churning of the gene pool that there is no such thing as a pure “race.” there are, however, tribes that manage to hate each other and find ways to tell each other apart, whether by skin color or birth records.
and absolutely no way you can predict the intelligence of a person by his skin color.
if you even knew what “intelligence” means.
nor is there any reason to suppose a country can do well by limiting immigrants to those with skills in “math, science, engineering, and technology,” much less to those from “technologically advanced” or “economically advanced” “countries” (another arbitrary way to divide up space a people.
but that won’t stop people from doing it.
I can’t help it if you have been misreading most of what I have been writing in recent months. I only have a small number of themes. It isn’t difficult to figure out what they are, or how they all fit together. And they have been pretty consistent. To summarize, my basic views look roughly like this:
1. No two populations, however you choose to define them, will have the same distribution of any traits.
2. Sometimes differences in traits are just happenstance, but because heredity matters, sometimes these differences in the distribution of traits persist.
3. Differences in the distribution of the traits held by a group don’t tell you where in the distribution any particular individual in the group happens to be.
4. The boundaries of a group can be fuzzy. (E.g., race, species.) That doesn’t mean the definition of that group can’t be useful thing for many purposes, including medical research.
5. The traits a person happens to have don’t affect the human rights they are due. Similarly, human rights don’t vary based on groups since they are associated with individuals, not groups.
6. Traits matter. They affect outcomes. So does culture.
7. A group of people which has banded together as a nation has the right to expect that its government will consider their best interests at least as highly if not more than the best interests of people from other nations who are represented by their respective governments.
8. Immigration laws should be be based on the best interests of the people already living in the country.
9. The fact that there are people with a given type of dysfunction living in a country doesn’t in any way suggest there is any logic to allowing more immigration by people with the same dysfunction. We may be stuck with the citizens we already have, but we shouldn’t be stuck with potential citizens we don’t already have.
10. If someone says they want to kill you, believe them. It doesn’t give you the right to kill them unless they actually have the capacity and not just the interest to pose a threat, but it does give you the right to keep far the heck away from them. And if a potential immigrant has no problems loudly proclaiming allegiance to a cause whose goal is the death or subjugation of a substantial number of Americans, it is a damn good reason to prevent them from immigrating to this country.
See item 3 above.
So you would limit the immigration of people who suffer from what exactly?
We’ve been through this too. I’ve suggested that immigration be limited to:
1. people who are capable of fitting in culturally and who indicate a cultural affinity for Americans in general
2. people who haven’t subscribed to an ideology calling for the subjugation or death of a substantial number of Americans. (e.g., one of the San Bernardino shooters happily posted those types of views on social media)
3. People who are unlikely to become a public charge (this is already law of the land, but it seems to be regularly ignored)
4. People who have skills and abilities that are valuable and in relatively short supply in this country
This would have excluded the Irish who wished death on the Brits and their progeny, were bloody Catholics with nothing in common with our culture, were likely to become public charges inasmuch as good people said NINA, and whose only talents were digging and laboring in the sun which was all very useful until the canals were open and the railroad was connected.
Pew and Gallup weren’t around at the time, but if you have evidence that there were widespread feelings of hatred toward Americans because most of them at the time were descended from the English feel free to cough it up.
By this standard, the Methodists and the Baptists have nothing in common either. Or the Shia and the Sunni. There is nothing in Catholicism or most flavors of Protestantism that indicates that nonbelievers should all be crushed asunder. Sure, such views had prevailed historically in some places, but the Religious conflicts in Europe had long ended by the time the Irish began immigrating en masse to the US.
Was conflict in the US in 1790 inevitable because some Americans descended from Northumbrians and some from the Mercers who had been kept under the Northumbrian boot until Wulfar’s successful revolt.
How much was the American taxpayer spending on welfare per Irish immigrant in 1880? How did Irish immigrants who refused to work fare?
I don’t see the issue with immigration from Ireland in the 1880s that you see.
I guess, though, I can add one more opinion…
11. If mistakes were committed in the past, that doesn’t mean the same mistakes should continue to be committed in the future.
If you don’t like the Irish example, try Italians. The immigration statute was amended to restrict their and Eastern European immigration. The arguments were racial.
As to the Irish in America historically, read a bit of political history regarding the animosity (mutual) with the “Prods” in Boston, New York and Chicago.
But we made good spaghetti sauce!
yeah, i hear you invented pizza too. but what has that got to do with higher GDP or even the quality of life.
MIke has scientific proof that we can only raise GDP by limiting immigration to german engineers not contaminated by jewish science.
but i wouldn’t want to marry one.