Science Interviews


Thu, 13th Aug 2015

Robert Plomin - GCSE genes

Robert Plomin, Kings College London

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Kat - We often talk about things being “in the genes”, from traits such as eye or hair colour to our risk of diseases. One of the main ways that scientists figure out how much a particular characteristic is down to genetics - known as its heritability - is by comparing identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their genes, with non-identical or fraternal twins, who only have 50 per cent of their DNA in common. Thanks to a unique study tracking thousands of pairs of twins as they grow up, Professor Robert Plomin and his team at King’s College London have now discovered that genetics makes an unexpectedly large contribution to children’s GCSE grades across a wide range of subjects.

Robert - In this twin study which we call the Twin’s Early Development Study which is a study of about 7,000 pairs of twins in the UK, I was interested in focusing on an area that hasn’t been studied much and that’s school achievement. So on the one hand, we know that cognitive ability like intelligence shows substantial genetic influence. But people hadn’t really studied the business end of it in terms of school achievement. And so, we were surprised to find from the very first years of school that school achievement as measured by the national curriculum scores. It’s very highly heritable, like 60 per cent heritable. That means, of the differences in children’s performance in the national curriculum test, over half of those differences between children are due to DNA, genetic differences, between them. So, we’re not identifying the DNA, but we’re using the twin method to estimate, not only the significance, but the effect size of genetic influence on school children. It’s very high.

So, we’ve been following them all along and now that they hit 16, we wanted to use the GCSE scores -  there aren’t many countries where the same national tests are administered to everybody. And so, what we’ve found is the same sort of thing that GCSE scores are highly heritable. But what's new is that all the tests – there's over 80 subjects that people can take for GCSEs - and all of them are highly heritable. That surprised me because I would’ve thought the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, math – would be more heritable for some reason maybe because it involves intelligence to a greater extent than drama and art. This is just totally exposing my biases of course as a scientist, but it wasn’t true. They are all equally heritable. It’s interesting that scores are as equally heritable despite the fact that some children are getting tutors and going to schools that have prepped them for GCSEs. Schools – we make a big deal about schools - you just say what school our kids in explain far less than 20 per cent of the variance. Explaining 50 per cent of the variance with genetic differences is extraordinary when education totally ignores genetics. In teacher training or whatever, not a word is said about genetics. And so, I'm just saying genetics is very important.

But what's really novel about this study is a little bit harder to understand and that is to say, “Okay, genetics affects all of these GCSE subjects” but is it different genes for every one? Are there genes for drama, genes for music, and genes for math? And the answer is definitely not. The same genes are affecting performance on all of these GCSE scores. The differences are probably more environmental. If you're good at drama and not good at math, that’s probably more of an environmental thing. But the genetic action has to do with what's in common in performance across all of these things.

Kat - Is it not just that they're just generally smart? They’ve got good intelligence genes?

Robert - That’s what most people would say and so, what we did is we took out intelligence. We corrected for intelligence. You can correct scores for age and sex, and you can correct scores for intelligence. So, you can take these GCSE scores and make them independent of intelligence, statistically. And then the interesting thing was that we got the same results. So, everything is equally heritable, independent of intelligence, and what's even more surprising, again, it’s the same genes that affect all of those intelligence corrected GCSE scores. So what that means is that, your hypothesis is a good one that a lot of what the genetic correlation among all these GCSE scores is about intelligence. But what's amazing is you take out intelligence and you find, yes, there's still genetic influence, but it also works in a very general way and that’s suggests it’s like an academic ability, genetically driven academic ability.

Kat - When you say that this ability, this academic ability is heritable, does this mean that we can pin it down and say, “It’s this gene. It’s that gene. It’s this gene”? Can we find these genes?

Robert - Well, a first step in trying to find genes is to find something that’s heritable. The research over the last few years is saying that cognitive abilities and now school achievement is highly heritable, motivates people to try and find genes. But what we know so far from all of the life sciences is that for complex traits - that it’s not for the thousands of single-gene disorders that are very rare, but for the common disorders in medicine like cardiovascular disease or obesity, or psychiatric things like alcoholism and depression - they're heritable but they're not due to one gene by any means. We’re thinking now there's thousands of genes of very small effect which means it’s going to be extremely difficult to identify the specific differences responsible for the heritability. But it’s all part of a package. It would be nice if we’re just talking about a handful of genes - the genes for math or something like that. But if this is what we’re finding, then we’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves, get the strategies that will allow us to identify, not the gene or the few genes, but thousands of genes that are responsible for the heritability of these complex traits.

Kat - King’s College London’s Robert Plomin, whose study came out in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. We’ll be looking in more depth at his twin study - as well as other large-scale genetic studies - in next month’s podcast. 



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I am reading, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer. I am sure that Reichs Propaganda Minister, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, would have eaten up this  ridiculous excuse for a scientific analysis with a spoon. I wouldn't be surprised if Oswald Mosley, Edward VII, and Nigel Farage admired it as well.

This  "analysis" fails to account for the fact that the twins were raised in the same environment. Does that maybe play a part? Ya think?

Let me tell you an anecdotal story...

The Hmong people left their late neolithic culture in Laos and came to live in Merced, California, where I was working at that time as a Public Health Nurse. I had much contact with them as a consequence. I can testify that for that first decade they had many cultural traits you would expect to find in the Laotian highlands and definitely not in Merced, California.

One way Merced differs from Laos is the Merced County Library. In the evening, every evening, you would find the library full of Hmong kids hitting their schoolbooks. I used to tell my teenage son that if he didn't crack his books instead of watching TV, he had best learn Hmong so that he could talk to his Hmong boss better.... My son now drives a truck in Oklahoma. The Hmong now have a bunch of professionals among those same erstwhile quasi neolithic kids.

Now did the Hmong bootstrap themselves into the modern 20th century because of Dr. Plomin's pathetic eugenics fairytale -- OR the efforts of the Merced County Department of Education? Pecos_Bill, Sat, 15th Aug 2015

I have no doubt that Goebbels would also have misunderstood the report.
Feel free to explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins without using genetics. Bored chemist, Sat, 15th Aug 2015

One interview with an author on the paper mentioned that difference in school could account for a 20% difference in grades.

So presumably some of the twins went to different schools, and there were enough of them attending different schools to tease out the impact of a difference in school on the exam results.

Of course, the alternative schools that twins may attend would probably have some common characteristics, such as similar geographic area, similar socioeconomic population, etc, which would disguise some of the influence of school selection (unless you specifically corrected for those factors).

Hopefully, they selected twins of all different ancestry backgrounds for the study, so that race would not have influenced the result. evan_au, Sat, 15th Aug 2015

Had this author been truly interested in doing a proper experimental design he would have restricted his sample to twins who had been SEPARATED AT BIRTH. Since that may be a small cohort in the UK, he could have gone international and identified FOREIGN cases. That would have removed the obvious cultural bias which ALSO  makes this study into such offensively racist twaddle. I have further doubts that the test sample is weighted to the same racial diversity as the UK population in the control sample. If, indeed, the "statistical" analysis was sophisticated enough to include a control group.

I am a foreign observer. That means that threads of racism, classism, and generally toffee -nosed baloney are glaringly apparent to me, whereas they appear to only invisibly exist in the 4th dimension to a large slice of your average British society. Too, I am continuously offended by the same shenanigans perpetrated in my own country by the cowards and weaklings of the Republican party - where the cops can too often gun down innocent minority people in the streets with impunity.

I can smell that stuff over in the next county.
Pecos_Bill, Sun, 16th Aug 2015

I'm just going to capitalise a WORD at random here to show that I can do it too.

Your objection isn't totally invalid- a wider study would have been better- but it misses the point of the study (and of the question I asked).
The effect of culture, school, etc are the same for fraternal twins as they are for identical ones.
Yet the identical twins' results were more similar.
(You will note that a fairly well defined property of twins-especially of identical twins- is that they tend to be the same race.)
The paper never mentions race- nor does it says that any race is better than any other.

Now, why don't you climb down from your high horse and actually answer my  question.
Feel free to explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins without using genetics.
Bored chemist, Sun, 16th Aug 2015

I don't think that there is anything wrong with doing twin studies - the problem is more with how some people will try to apply the results.

Some people will try to say that academic performance is genetic, therefore their particular ethnic group should look down on all other ethnic groups. (Those same people are unlikely to admit that because some Asian students perform really well, they should look up to Asians...) Some go to the opposite extreme, and deny that there are any differences between ethnic groups.

To take another sacred cow, there are genetic differences between men and women. This has been used to assert the superiority of one sex over the other, whether justified or not. Some claim that there are no differences between men and women, which is clearly counterfactual.

At this point in time, we are trying to determine what are the genetic differences between people; which differences are helpful, and which are harmful, and under what circumstances. We should value genetic diversity as a resource, because it provides a wide variety of capabilities and makes a population robust against unforeseeable circumstance.

If you pick almost any behavioral characteristic that is more than skin deep, you find that the differences within an ethnic group are bigger than the differences between the averages of different ethnic groups. So we need to consider a person's individual capabilities - and this is exactly the methodology of twin studies.

Teasing apart the influences of nature vs nurture is complex, and twin studies are an effective way of doing this, without necessarily going to the cost of doing a full genetic sequence for each of the twins (but I am sure this will come).

It is important that twin studies include individuals who grew up together as well as those who grew up separately, as that helps distinguish environmental factors which are due to a common environment vs a different environment. Without this, you might attribute environmental variables to genetics. evan_au, Sun, 16th Aug 2015

It  is all very well to say that the study should also include twins who were separated at birth. However, this study "accidentally" fails to do that - just as it "accidentally" fails to study across different cultures.

Why is that?

It appears obvious to me that this study "accidentally" gives fodder to people who want to keep people from the wrong race and/or wrong class from getting a fair seat at the British table. I am sure the authors did not intend that, but as Freud tells us, "There are no accidents".

If I occasionally lose my religion enough to resort to full capitals it is from exasperation with people who are "ACCIDENTALLY" too "OBTUSE" to see that.

Coming on the heels of the tory government's refusal to honor its promises of tuition relief and the consequent impact of those people being denied their education, I find the production of this "scientific analysis" unworthy of a gentleman -- to say the least. Pecos_Bill, Sun, 16th Aug 2015

And, once again;Now, why don't you climb down from your high horse and actually answer my  question.Feel free to explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins without using genetics.Just because you don't understand the design of the study, that doesn't mean it is wrong. It means that the variables you are looking for are automatically  (almost entirely) corrected for. Bored chemist, Mon, 17th Aug 2015

"To tease out the genetic contribution to children's school grades, the researchers studied GCSE scores of identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) and non-identical twins (who share on average half of the genes that normally vary between people). Both groups share their environments to a similar extent."

from Bored chemist, Mon, 17th Aug 2015

And here's the actual article which I'm willing to be Bill didn't actually read.

Now, Bill, can you please explain why the identical twins' scores were more similar than the fraternal twins' score?
Bored chemist, Mon, 17th Aug 2015

The question of whether there is a genetic inheritance of intelligence -- or at least aptitude for dealing with the British classroom milieu -- to the extent that it depends upon intelligence or prosperity or the religion of one's parents -- is a serious one which deserves serious experimental design.

It does not deserve to have disingenuous white people throwing up red herrings about fraternal twins obfuscating the issue in an attempt to disguise the (un)conscious racial and class bias of the present paper.

In England it is not unheard of to have had some self-righteous government poobah remove children from their parents and send them to separate homes -- often in Australia. Therefore, it would not be difficult to find a sufficient cohort of separated at birth twins to draw statistically relevant inference to test the hypothesis either way - had the desire to be objective existed.

These "researchers" were obviously too chicken to face the possibility that they were wrong. Hence their conscious exclusion of "separated at birth" twins but inclusion  of fraternal twins to look more plausibly "scientific" to the other white Brits who share their inherent cultural bias.

If that gets your knickers in a knot, I apologize. However, " Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" Pecos_Bill, Mon, 17th Aug 2015

"The question of whether there is a genetic inheritance of intelligence -- or at least aptitude for dealing with the British classroom milieu -- to the extent that it depends upon intelligence or prosperity or the religion of one's parents -- is a serious one which deserves serious experimental design."
Indeed, so suggesting a design that's impossible to produce is insulting to all those involved and to those of us here.
So, when you say this"Had this author been truly interested in doing a proper experimental design he would have restricted his sample to twins who had been SEPARATED AT BIRTH. " you are not only wrong (and showing off your ignorance) but detracting from the work that people have done.

Unless you can answer my question,
"explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins "
it will be clear that  YOU HAVE NOT UNDERSTOOD THE STUDY.
Bored chemist, Mon, 17th Aug 2015

As to the supercilious slur that I have not read this paper it is not so.

This paper's senior author is a psychologist with no formal training in molecular genetics. Moreover twin studies may show some insights into physical traits such as inherited stature. They are no more useful in studying complex multivariate outcomes - such as GCSE scores - than reading chicken guts. This study looked at only two(2) factors:gender and zygosity. Even a Psychologist - even a BRITISH psychologist - should realise how lame that "research design" is. It would make a Theosophist blush to propose such piffle.

Drop back ten paces and ask, "What is the use of this study in the first place?"

1. Does it provide insight into why students score in a given way? No
2. Does it provide a hinky argument for racist demagogues who want to discriminate against minority education? Yes

Therefore it advances human understanding not in the least and succors racists who want to keep British society a closed club for old white boys. Well done, you.

A person recalling the brutal history of British colonial practices should not be surprised to see certain British citizens arguing here that this paper is actual and bona fide science. That is, in fact, as mulishly British as anything George  III ever did..

Pecos_Bill, Tue, 18th Aug 2015

OK, so you read it, but didn't understand it.
Now, perhaps you would like to answer my question.
"explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins "
There's one other thing to check.

Do you understand that twins almost always have the same fathers?
Bored chemist, Wed, 19th Aug 2015

Upon reflection, I am removing my original comments here.

The notion that character traits are somehow inherited is a centraL tenet of British society and this is, after all, a British forum.

My ancestors on both sides were people who could not stomach such notions - or their effect on non-members of the club.

On my father's side they sold themselves into indentured servitude in an unknown country to escape it. My maternal grandfather preferred life as a school janitor in LA to anything the Brits might allow a tailor in Edinburgh.

The thoughtful reader will see, therefore, that any idea that success in school is in any meaningful way a matter of inheritance. is, to me,  like a red flag to a Spanish fighting bull. Pecos_Bill, Wed, 19th Aug 2015

It really doesn't matter where you are from, or where the research was done does it?
My parents were both immigrants if you think that helps.

the point is that you can't actually answer the fundamental thing the research found.
The exam scores of the identical twins were more similar than the exam scores of the fraternal twins.

How do you think that happened?

Bored chemist, Thu, 20th Aug 2015

and MY point is that in British class ridden society the idea of inherited virtue is a sacred cow which is worshipped enough to make such an ephemeral idea as one's parents matter.

I was going to use the British Monarchy as a glaring example of how ridiculous inherited character is, but I stopped for fear of committing lese majeste among you people.

Today the GSCE  scores have been delivered. You feel that the inheritance of those recipients matters more to those scores  than a lousy pinch of sour rat crud.

I do not.

"Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people. "

- Ma Joad, "The Grapes of Wrath"
Pecos_Bill, Thu, 20th Aug 2015

Do you accept the fact that there is an inherited trait measured by the exam scores?
Do you accept that the research measured the extent of that genetic effect?

I'm not asking if it's a good or bad thing and I'm not asking if it makes any difference in the world; I'm asking if you accept the truth.

Bored chemist, Sat, 22nd Aug 2015

Until you have carried out a multiple regression study of a sufficiently large number of students you CANNOT  truthfully say that inheritance plays a role in school test scores.

This is the Naked Scientist forum and not the Naked poorly researched superstition forum after all.

It behooves me to repeat , therefore, that only a ninny or a Tory would be feckless enough to say one way or another based on two (count 'em, 2) whole factors alone.

In my own time I have seen "common knowledge" like "black people need higher X-ray exposure"  or "interracial marriage causes genetic defects" shown to be the inexcusably ignorant claptrap they are. This "research" carries the same stench as those.

For an example of that stench, why did this research include gender in studying school scores? They ignored everything else. One might almost believe they assumed that women inherit different academic aptitude than men. They are after all British -- from the same culture which totally ignored Rosalind Franklin's crucial contribution to the discovery of DNA structure.
Pecos_Bill, Sat, 22nd Aug 2015

That's silly for a number of reasons.
For a start re. "Until you have carried out a multiple regression study of a sufficiently large number of students you CANNOT  truthfully say that inheritance plays a role in school test scores."
They did do a regression analysis on a sufficiently large number of students, so that's sorted out.

As for this "only a ninny or a Tory would be feckless enough to say one way or another based on two (count 'em, 2) whole factors alone."

it's gibberish.

If I measured the heights and ages of a large bunch of school children I would find that there was a strong correlation.
I could produce a model that says  that the heights of children can be predicted (within a stated degree of inaccuracy) from their ages.
Obviously, there are other factors but those do not stop me being able to say that older kids are generally taller.
That's a model with just one factor and it's perfectly valid.
It obviously isn't perfect- it doesn't explain all the variability of heights- but it does show that ages and heights are related.
Why do you think that two factors are not enough for a model?

If I was looking for the effect of parental income on exam results then I'd need to know what that income was and I think we both agree that it would have an effect - probably quite a large one- but since that's not what this study was looking for, they didn't need to measure it.
The same goes for a whole bunch of other factors like culture because both twins (almost always) grow up in the same culture. So that culture does not affect the difference between their exam scores.

You can get perfectly valid data from measuring a single factor correlation.

Do you agree that I can say that older kids are generally taller, or do you think I have to take other factors into account?

Incidentally, I have asked a number of questions and you have refused to answer them.
Until you do so I'm going to keep repeating them so;
Feel free to explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins without using genetics.
Now, Bill, can you please explain why the identical twins' scores were more similar than the fraternal twins' score?
Do you understand that twins almost always have the same fathers?
It really doesn't matter where you are from, or where the research was done does it?
Do you accept the fact that there is an inherited trait measured by the exam scores?
Do you accept that the research measured the extent of that genetic effect?
Bored chemist, Sun, 23rd Aug 2015

If you can predict human performance based on inheritance, why can't you predict the winner in a soccer match by just consulting their family tree?

Go on, Bub, Arsenal vs. Liverpool. Check out the family trees and tell us. Currently a Liverpool win has 4/1 odds. So the bookies ought to figure the striker's Dad into that?

If human beings were race horses or merino sheep your tedious argument would make sense but they are not.

That is a basic fact of human nature that eludes you. That is a basic fact that eluded the Nazi party and led to their ruin and destruction.

The true nature all of your arguments about the impact of inheritance or whether fraternal twins count for anything is shown in the picture that I am adding below. That's what "inheritance" did to Dresden.

Pecos_Bill, Sun, 23rd Aug 2015

OK, so that's another strawman

Nobody did say that though=- so your comment is meaningless.

What you are failing to understand is that research into the nature of inheritance isn't what gave rise to things like eugenics.
They were around before anyone invented the word "gene" or had any sensible understanding of inheritance. Nobody ever needed science in order to be a bigot.

On the other hand, proper research into heritability is what gives us the scientific ammunition to shoot down the evil bigots who seek to claim that they are "better" than others- simply on the basis of country of birth or skin colour.

Why are you attacking the research that undermines  all those things we both plainly detest?

And, once again:
Feel free to explain why the identical twins have test scores that are more similar than those of the fraternal twins without using genetics.
Now, Bill, can you please explain why the identical twins' scores were more similar than the fraternal twins' score?
Do you understand that twins almost always have the same fathers?
It really doesn't matter where you are from, or where the research was done does it?
Do you accept the fact that there is an inherited trait measured by the exam scores?
Do you accept that the research measured the extent of that genetic effect? Bored chemist, Tue, 25th Aug 2015

This issue has been more than adequately addressed at this point. for anybody who lacks your cultural indoctrination.

You are, after all, a product of your culture -- subject to its limits. Hence your fascination with fraternal twins, and the importance of one's forbearers in determining one's path thru this life.

But that isn't American. It isn't even Russian.

It is, in fact,  British. Pecos_Bill, Tue, 25th Aug 2015

the issue has not been addressed.
It's a very simple question, I have asked it repeatedly and you have not addressed it.

Why is there a bigger gap between the scores of the fraternal twins than between the identical twins?

And, in case you hadn't spotted it; it's not that I'm fascinated by fraternal twins it's just that the study is about twins (fraternal and identical) an you keep trying to ignore that.

So are you just going to run away and hide, or are you actually going to face the fact; there is a genetic component to GCSE scores?
Are you going to be brave enough to admit that you are wrong, or do we expect a whole lot more nonsensical straw men?

Did you, in fact, come here to discuss science or to preach? Bored chemist, Tue, 25th Aug 2015

You fight with the strength of many men, Sir knight.... Pecos_Bill, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

If there were no genetic component in academic or athletic achievement, we would see the "whole population" distribution of extreme genetic anomalies reflected at all levels of every profession. But we don't.

We know from "experiment" and accident that genetic damage by irradiation in utero can depress IQ, and we even have numerical values for the critical stage of development and the dose/damage ratio.

The only remarkable aspect of this study seems to be its statistical sensitivity, apparently sufficient to distinguish between fraternal and identical twins, and thus discriminating between nature and nurture in otherwise "normal" kids. alancalverd, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

Some people believe that a person's divine spark of humanity is determined to some extent by their genetic makeup. Those are the people T.S. Elliot was describing in his poem, "The Hollow Men" (1.)

Some people do not.

Francis Galton showed that genetics could play a role in a person's stature and other physical traits.

To extend that idea to a person's GCSE scores - which is to say their character - is what we in the Army Medical Corps used to call an, "Unwarranted Assumption".

This is the Physiology & Medicine forum. Unwarranted Assumptions pollute the history of medicine to this day and have caused more death and human misery than the damned atom bomb.

(1.) Pecos_Bill, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

But, once again, you are straw manning.
It's not an assumption; it's an observation based on a lot of data.

So, how do you explain the data?
Why are the two groups different? Bored chemist, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

This is exactly what Elliot was talking about in that poem.

Your obsession with this inconsequential point -- in the face of the larger question of what constitutes humanity -- is in direct consequence of your "hollowness". You are a child of modern culture and so you think that this thing matters in even the slightest way to describing anything human.

Sit there in the midst of this wasteland you inhabit and keep telling yourself that you have some valuable insight into the nature of humanity because fraternal twins score differently than identical ones.

Much good may it do you.

And now I will cease from this tedious and useless effort to explain reality to any of Britain's  hollow men.

Who am I to blow against the wind? Pecos_Bill, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

I have never said that the effect matters; just that it exists.
So, that's yet another straw man.

And this "And now I will cease from this tedious and useless effort to explain reality to any of Britain's  hollow men."
is a slur against the whole nation.
Would you like to apologise for it? Bored chemist, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

Incidentally, did you not notice that not all of these people who you mentioned
"..., Dr. Joseph Goebbels, ...."
are Brits- even though you assert that they would have believed the effect of genetics on  exam scores was important.
Bored chemist, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

T. S. Elliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for his poetry in 1948. (1.)

Perhaps you think (if, indeed, you have ever read the poem) that he wasn't talking about Britain, but really the Watutsi instead. I will apologize after Elliot does.

They DO still include the humanities in a British University - the better to avoid  turning barbarian technicians loose on the streets as "scientists" , don't they?

(1.) Pecos_Bill, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

Wrong. GCSE scores are a measure of academic achievement to date (they used to be simply one-time written exam scores, which are a far "cleaner" measure, but now include coursework and teacher assessments, so are less valid measures of individual academic capability, but sometimes you just have to use dirty data, which is why twin studies are essential) and have nothing to do with "character".

Agreed, but irrelevant here. AFAIK nobody has made any assumptions, but has simply pointed out that nature and nurture can be disentangled.

It is a reasonable and testable hypothesis that genetics and academic ability may be correlated, but since the variates are hugely complicated in the case of genetics, poorly specified in the case of academic ability, and both shrouded in the noise of nurture and circumstance, the best you can do is to show a historic statistical correlation for a very small and special set of people, which is what has been done here. Generalising from a special set, or particularising from a statistical inference, would be not merely unwarranted but potentially disastrous, but the potential misuse of a finding does not invalidate the finding itself. 

To go back a few posts

(a) the paper under discussion says nothing about prediction, but (b) people who know about such things do spend a lot of effort to establish the pedigree of a horse, cow or dog if they hope to make serious money out of it.  alancalverd, Wed, 26th Aug 2015

In the Britain of 2025 if this publish-or-perish twaddle is remembered at all it will be in some obscure bits in some archive -- cited by nobody.

However in that 2025 Britain what will have become of Elliot's  "hollow men" ?

Will the wild card outliers who don't show up in this "scientific" study have eaten up all their lunch?

If that happens, will the yeomen of England complain that it is all just a cruel trick of nature because the fraternal twins scored differently?

You better believe it, GI. Pecos_Bill, Thu, 27th Aug 2015

Not a great fan of Eliot - I have nothing against Americans (I live with the cream of the crop)  and The Journey of the Magi is at least a good poem, but I dislike his politics and religion. As an apparent fan, however, you might be interested in the first Eliot quotation cited by Google:

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

So what do we have here? We know that for the most part, racehorses breed racehorses rather than carthorses, collies and crows are better problem-solvers than bulldogs and chickens, and bright parents have bright kids, so we are indeed back where we started. The unique contribution of this study is to separate nature from nurture in the specific case of academic exam results, and to show that nature does indeed have a measurable role.

We also know, from general observation, that genetics is a lottery, which is why we have public examinations and vocational tests rather than assume that the daughter of an astronaut will be a suitable astronaut.

You made an earlier point about a hereditary monarchy. Quite a different matter. The two words that strike terror in the heart of British republicans are "President Blair" - rather as mention of "George W" makes Americans hang their heads in shame (and also proves that an intelligent and statesmanlike father can indeed produce a clutch of corrupt idiots - there are lots of losers in the genetics game). What we do over here is to ensure that the figurehead of state is (a) chosen by nonpolitical means (b) financially independent of banks, oil companies and others who might prosper from a war or unethical banking practices (c) educated and trained from birth at public expense to do the job properly and (d) served some time in uniform. The system seems to have worked pretty well since Cromwell's time and is widely adopted throughout Europe: given the choice, inhabitants of the Low Countries, Scandinavia and post-restoration Spain all voted for a constitutional monarchy rather than rule by Quisling, Franco, et al.

Have the Americans "gone too far"? Well I could point out that the murder rate in Canada, with an absentee monarch as head of state, is a lot lower than in the USA, but that would be punching below the belt, and completely irrelevant to the present argument. alancalverd, Thu, 27th Aug 2015

That's all very well, but the question remains.

Was this paper written to retain tenure in the "scientific" field of genetic psychology (that's what it calls itself ) or to help build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land?

I suddenly have a mental image of Governor Lepetomane... Pecos_Bill, Thu, 27th Aug 2015

We of the chosen have already built Jerusalem in Europe, England, the USA, and most recently, Jerusalem for the second time. So to turn to your alternate hypothesis: after serving a dozen years on research ethics committees and a lifetime in laboratories and hospitals, I have grave doubts about the purpose and quality of most "academic research". Practically every paper in my own field (radiation protection and medical imaging) simply restates that photons travel in straight lines until they are absorbed by atoms, and "qualitative research" on the "lived experience" of car thieves, lefthanded lesbians, or whatever today's oppressed minority happens to be, is just a matter of transcribing a tape recording and nonjudgementally extracting a common theme from four interviews.

Whilst the present object of discussion does contain some decidedly vague statements of possible fraud (how can you "correct" exam results for "intelligence" if (a) you haven't independently measured intelligence and (b) the GCSE, at least in STEM subjects,  is supposed to test the candidate's ability to use information - isn't that the definition of intelligence?) it does at least outline the only way to distinguish nature from nurture, by comparing identical and fraternal twins. But,-facts-&-trivia/having-twins-or-triplets---interesting-&-fun-facts/ 

worries me! Apparently Nigerian mothers produce far more twins than average, and Chinese mothers, far fewer. Now British society includes significant numbers of first and second generation Nigerians and Chinese, probably with quite different cultural norms, so the statistics may have all sorts of hidden nurture bias that is tightly correlated with nature effects. But the occurence of twins may itself be affected by maternal diet, which is more likely to regress to a norm in a heterogeneous urban society....

Allowing for all those faults and unknowns, I think the finding still stands: identical twins score closer than fraternal twins, so there is some genetic component in GCSE scores. But there is no indication as to what it is, or what it does. 

In short, I think the paper is brilliant, informative, and useless.  alancalverd, Fri, 28th Aug 2015

It wasn't useless.

It put bread on the authors' table.

If this is Jerusalem you couldn't tell it from BBC 3

In Alfred Bester's "The Stars my Destination" we read of a cargo cult of savages in the asteroid belt. They are the descendants of space pioneers who now call themselves the "Scientific People".

I can imagine stuff like this paper among their most sacred texts.

Pecos_Bill, Fri, 28th Aug 2015

Yet another straw man.
It was you that mentioned Goebells and you that said the traits he exhibited are typically British.
Nobody except you had, at that point, mentioned Elliot.

And you might want to grow out of insulting Britain ant its institutions;
this sort of thing
"They DO still include the humanities in a British University - the better to avoid  turning barbarian technicians loose on the streets as "scientists" , don't they?"
doesn't make you look clever.

Also, you said you had read the paper which clearly states its objective.
"The purpose of the present study was to investigate the extent to which the remarkably high heritabilities for educational achievement in the UK persist to the end of compulsory education. "
And yet you ask "Was this paper written to retain tenure in the "scientific" field of genetic psychology (that's what it calls itself ) or to help build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land?"
Well, why ask such a silly question when someone has already told you the answer.

So, may I invite you to stop insulting people, stop citing irrelevant Nobel prizes, and answer the question.
Why are the identical twins' scores more similar than those of fraternal twins?
Bored chemist, Sat, 29th Aug 2015

As to the fraternal twins red herring, in any analysis one is free to throw out non-germane outliers. As much as you may claim that is a weakness , I have done so in my own good right. Let the readers decide as is <<their>> own good right.

As to your assertion that my quote of T.S. Elliot constitutes a personal slur to you and Merrie Olde England --- would you like me to write you a note to the Chaplain?

This is a forum - an idea derived from the forum in Athens. People come here and debate issues and the other people observe and come to their own conclusions. That is what both you and  I have done. Did you really imagine that I have continued this thread to effect <<your>> opinion?

You are welcome to report me to the British thought police if you think my ideas constitute disorderly conduct or sedition. Pecos_Bill, Sat, 29th Aug 2015

The stats show that the effect is not an outlier. An dth e difference between the two sorts of twins is the essence of the study so it's just plain silly to suggest throwing it out.
this is yet another strawman
"As to your assertion that my quote of T.S. Elliot constitutes a personal slur to you and Merrie Olde England --"
Nobody said that.

This is indeed a forum (though I think you will find the word is Latin, rather than Greek).
And the forum was a place to discuss things, not to preach.
So, you not only have to put forward your point of view, you have to defend it.
in particular, you must answer criticisms of your point of view.

I have given you plenty of opportunities to address the criticism that your point of view simply doesn't explain the facts.
you have not done so.
I presume that is because you can't.
you are unable to meaningfully explain away the actual data  without accepting that it is really due to a genetic component to exam scores.
You can't face the truth so you keep posting nonsense about poets, and pointless straw men.
Bored chemist, Sat, 29th Aug 2015

I think that is, perhaps, the 14th time you have repeated that. Maybe you could try rhyming it next time.

The rest of the world and I will try to soldier on despite our inability to perceive the value of this very, very British example of "science".

For example  this "scientific" article was self published in "PLOS ONE" which advertises itself as, "PLOS ONE takes the hard work out of publishing. There's no stress waiting to find out if your article meets subjective acceptance criteria." Yep, that's some powerful scientific stuff they do there in Britain, alright, Bub.

My apology for any disrespect. We benighted colonials often find it difficult to maintain a straight face -to say nothing of a properly reverent demeanor - when confronted with supercilious British wisdom. Pecos_Bill, Sat, 29th Aug 2015

You will be pleased to know that BBC3 is under threat of closure. Auntie has slowly realised that the sort of crap that appeals to people who make TV programs, doesn't always appeal to the people who watch them - at least not to the extent of justifying innumerable repeats. Thankfully, BBC4 is not yet under the cosh.

By all means poke fun at British institutions. We are quite used to it , just as we have come to acceopt the American habit of turning up late (1917, 1942...) and claiming all the credit. But what is your real problem? Regardless of where or how this paper was published, it argues that if there is a hereditable element to exam performance, it can be distinguished from environmental factors by studying twins. Surely that makes sense? The only question is whether the statistical analysis in this instance was sufficient to demonstrate a real effect. If you think their statistics was weak, wouldn't it be a good idea to point out the flaws? 

alancalverd, Sat, 29th Aug 2015

Since you yourself opened the matter and at the risk of inciting petulant shrieks of outrage, I will point out that given the obvious mental defects of Asquith, Lloyd-George and Clemenceau, it is quite understandable that the United States declined to drink the kool-aid until Germany went to sinking our ships.

It is unfortunate that Britain refused to consider a decent and sensible negotiated peace. Nor was it auspicious that-- after American boys had shed their blood at the 2nd Marne -- Britain told President Wilson to take the 14 points and blow them out his nose. That reverberated in 1939 as the Sikes-Picot treaty reverberates today. I mention this only to mitigate and explain American "bad manners" when exposed to some hoity-toity British smarty pants. Present company excepted.


As to the case in point. These twins were all raised in the <<same>> households. I don't see how anyone can truthfully say that this even begins to distinguish between the effects of inheritance and environment. I pointed that out repeatedly at the beginning of this thread, but the point was drowned out by the constant clamor about "fraternal twins".

It is clear to me that this study is worthless because it did not study separated-at-birth twins -- but then I am American and lack the congenital British devotion to matters of inheritance.

As a matter of fact the question of nature versus nurture was treated at length in the novel "Pudd'nhead Wilson" by Mark Twain in 1894. Until you do a study on separated twins exclusively, Mr. Samuel Clemons is as valid an authority on this question as any Brit who ever lived.

Finally, BBC 3 has some good stuff mixed in with the schlock. Stacey Dooley does some interesting stuff and watching Bad Education is one of my guilty pleasures. Pecos_Bill, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Rather than counting how many times you have failed to address a point, why not answer it?

Re Plos one; your comments are on a web page that has a similar publishing strategy.
Did you think you had made a point?
Stop trying to attack the messenger and address the actual point.
"It is unfortunate that Britain refused to consider a decent and sensible negotiated peace."
Make up your mind.
Do you really think that Britain should have negotiated a peace deal with the government that included the man you cited as a villain in your opening post?

Re. "Until you do a study on separated twins exclusively"
Is it that you are unable, or unwilling to understand that you don't need to separate the rwins for this sort of study and in fact it would make it a less sensitive test if you did?

"Mr. Samuel Clemons is" a typing error- which leads me to wonder how much thought you are really putting into this.
Perhaps if you got the spelling right you might have found stuff like this
"Mark Twain can easily be labeled as a great Anglophile.  His love for English culture and country began with his first trip in 1872 and continued for the rest of his life.  Twain approved of British culture because he found the stereotypes associated with the English appealing.  This was partly because of how they contrasted with American culture, and also because he enjoyed the company and the ways of the English upper-class, who took him under their wing.  He also fell in love with the English countryside, writing in one of his short stories that, “England is the most beautiful of all countries.” As a man who loved history and tradition, in England he found a country rich in both.  Upon returning from his first visit, he continually praised the English and their ways in public. He even wrote the article “British Benevolence” for the Tribune, advocating for Americans to develop an establishment akin to the London Humane Society. Between the beautiful countryside, impressing establishments and traditions, and his embracement by the upper-class, Twain felt he belonged in England."

But what a dead man thought of England over 100 years ago is hardly relevant

So, let's try again.
As you say
"As to the case in point. These twins were all raised in the <<same>> households. I don't see how anyone can truthfully say that this even begins to distinguish between the effects of inheritance and environment."

OK, I'm sure that we agree that their environment will be very similar.
And that would explain part of the reason why twins typically get similar exam scores.

Have you understood that bit?

OK now identical twins are also "all raised in the <<same>> households.".
And that should explain why identical twins also typically get similar exam scores.

Does that also make sense to you?

OK, now we move on to the actual point of the research.

The differences in exam scores between pairs of identical twins is significantly smaller than the difference in exam scores between pairs of non identical twins.

Now, as you already pointed out- it can't be due to environment because twins (identical or not) are raised in very similar environments.

So the difference must be due to something else.
In particular, it must be due to the only difference between the two sorts of twins.
One set are genetically identical and the other set are not genetically identical.

That difference, whether you like it or not, is genetics.

Now someone has explained the basis of the research, do you understand why twins separated at birth wouldn't have helped in this study?
It's because they were not separated that we can use their nigh identical upbringing as a means to cancel out most of the environmental factors and look at just the genetics.

It's actually a very clever piece of research.
And it's a pity that you have repeatedly shown that you either didn't read it, or you didn't understand it before you tried to rubbish it.

Bored chemist, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

In the real world - outside of Britain - people see that by not using twins who have been separated at birth these authors produced a bed-time story for smug white British gentlemen. This "scientific" paper got more coverage in the Daily Mail than any academic notice. That was no accident, Bub

We read books like "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman about how Britain so obviously bit the big one in 1914. We read books like "Mr. American" by George MacDonald Fraser in which Fraser- in the last few pages - discusses why staying out of the war would have led to a limited conflict with a negotiated settlement. We see how just a tiny iota of British common sense could have avoided such hideous knock on catastrophes and we ask ourselves, "Why couldn't the Brits have seen the whole picture?"

I cannot explain your failure to concede that my opinion may have some validity, but I can certainly see from it how it was that Britain eviscerated itself in 1914.

We see that same phenomenon enacted  today as Britain bemoans a shortage of skilled labor on the one hand while talking about sending troops to Calais on the other. Pecos_Bill, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Well, if you still think that "by not using twins who have been separated at birth these authors produced a bed-time story " you have still not understood the research.

And, of course, the science has nothing to do with "being British" so, in banging on about that you simply look foolish. Bored chemist, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Caveat Lector:  Never discuss an issue of science which concerns something that has wide coverage in the Daily Mail with a certain type of Englishman.

Here is a story on today's Daily Mail online  front page, "A flooded office, plummeting temperatures and documents mysteriously moving: Terrified workers fear that ghost of an old lady is haunting them after 'face' appears at the window".

What should you do if you accidentally encounter a Daily Mail reader in conversation? In the old days people once used a topical mixture of sulfur and petroleum jelly for relief. Nowadays one might use a Lindane shampoo. One can also get good prevention by using outer clothing impregnated with Pyrethins. Pecos_Bill, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Why does the finding that identical twins are more alike than fraternal twins appeal specifically to smug white British gentlemen? I would have thought it to be a common assumption among all people and fairly widely tested, at least anecdotally, by educators around the world. And given the anomalous incidence of twins in Nigeria, I would have thought the phenomenon would have been observed more often there than here.

Plomin, Piaget, et numerous al, had I thought pretty well put the subject to bed for ever during the last 100 years, so the finding isn't particularly surprising, but the study is remarkable in using public examination results to achieve more statistical power, with fewer ethical or procedural pitfalls, than any antecedent "laboratory" tests were able to do.   

If there is any matter of consequence from this study, suggests a downside:the IQ of twins (at least in Aberdeen) was significantly lower than that of singleton births in the same family. alancalverd, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Informed skepticism is the essence of the scientific method. 

Whenever I encounter someone trying to sell a concept as a sure thing, I remember the second Durand vs. Leonard match.  Durand had beaten Leonard so badly that all my friends urged me to bet big on Durand to "make a fortune". I, however, remembered the wise teaching of my Uncle Bodie that, "Nobody ever made a dime on a sure thing yet."

When Durand took two punches in the 1st round, then raised his hands and cried, "¡ No mas ! ¡No mas !", I knew that Uncle Bodie had saved me from ruin once again.

How very, very British to hear these people assuring me of the absolute truth of this "smug white man's bedtime story" as if it had been handed down by the archangel Gabriel - not some "genetic psychologist"

To paraphrase Rutherford there is real science and then there is genetic psychology and stamp collecting.

When I was growing up I heard Fred Hoyle assuring the world that the universe was steady-state with typical British fervor. Just like the fervor of you people - but you have far less hard evidence. Is that not so?

Once upon a time in Britain, who one's parents were greatly determined your school scores and, thus, your station in life.

Yeah, Riiiight.

Pecos_Bill, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Still pretty much the case, as everywhere else, but now we know that there is a genetic as well as an environmental component. It's embarrassing for the government because you can't tax genes (not that the wealthy pay inheritance taxes anyway: they are a sop to the Left and a worry to the middle classes). 

And in Britain we don't hide behind a pretence of democracy or meritocracy: instead of rigged presidential "elections" where one candidate's brother counts the votes, we just have a hereditary monarch and an unelected president in Downing Street. alancalverd, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

Behold, the dreamer cometh.

It is NOT the case that everywhere else is similar to class-ridden British life. America is - and always has been - a refuge for people who couldn't stomach the sort of society that generates (and celebrates) insufferable British boors like Jeremy Clarkson.

In America, many unfair things have taken place. HOWEVER, Until recently -- as some gullible people have come to admire Britain for things like Princess Diana or the Beatles - we don't applaud or embrace them (as you seem to) as the proper and natural way of conducting affairs.

This thread has been quite illuminating to me.

I have always been struck by the paradox that Thomas More - the enlightened English author of "Utopia" - had repeatedly condemned people to hideous torture for things like wanting to read the Bible in English.

I am grateful, therefore, to have witnessed these examples of contemporary English reasoning. It throws much light on the Thomas More paradox.

Pecos_Bill, Sun, 30th Aug 2015

So, once again you stick to not actually answering the point, but choose to attack the medium - not even the medium through which it was delivered- but one that subsequently took an interest.

I take you that you are unable to attack the science itself because you realise it's factually correct, no matter how distasteful that may be.
Bored chemist, Mon, 31st Aug 2015

It is indeed true that "Informed scepticism is the essence of the scientific method. " and the key word there is "informed"
Since you have already made it clear that you don't understand the bassi of this research your views don't count as "informed" in any useful way.

The conclusion isn't handed down from Gabriel- it came out of an examination of the data.

So far you have shown that
1 you don't understand how they used that data and
2 you are unable to actually show any problems in their method.

All you have done is string together a bunch of  strawmen and racist nonsense about "smug white men".

You seem to have become the thing you despise.

Bored chemist, Mon, 31st Aug 2015

Admittedly it takes time to establish a ruling class and an underclass, but one must give the colonials credit for being fairly energetic in this respect. Names like Kennedy, Bush and Clinton seem to convey an automatic right to the taxpayer's money, and the mass purchase and importation of Africans between 1500 and 1860 not only created a new underclass (the natives having been effectively wiped out by violence, drugs and disease) but even (1654, Virginia) subdivided the underclass by allowing blacks to own slaves. 

As for JC, it is an undisputed fact that Top Gear was the BBC's most profitable export to the USA, putting even class-ridden crap like Downton Abbey into the shade.  It seems that some Americans quite like irony and self mockery, but perhaps this level of comedic sophistication hasn't migrated west of the Pecos yet, despite Judge Roy Bean's exemplary protoclarksonism.

As for insufferable boors, the Mayflower carried exactly that class of passenger

I could go on, but we are drifting away from the point here. It seems from experiment that examination results show a genetic correlation that can be distinguished from environmental effects. If you have evidence to the contrary, let's hear it. alancalverd, Mon, 31st Aug 2015

NOBODY in America would have touched this "scientific" study with a 10 foot pole because of its obvious racist and sexist nature. The fact that you people prefer to pretend that those faults don't exist, damns your case irretrievably.

America, you see, struggles against racism and sexism and doesn't enshrine them as scientific truth....even in Texas. So, yes, America isn't Britain.....Sir.

It is difficult to admit it, but you may, in fact, be correct. Intelligence may actually be largely inherited  We shall have to see if Prince William has inherited  the keen intelligence and, perhaps, integrity  of Prince Charles.

I shall continue to believe that this is not so - at least until I see a study that includes separated twins and DOESN'T presume that women are of different intelligence. Tell me again why it was "scientific" to treat women separately. As a benighted colonial the subtleties of "Genetic Psychology" elude my grasp.

And also I will wait until there is a "scientific" article that doesn't rate a screamer on the front page of the Daily Mail. Pecos_Bill, Mon, 31st Aug 2015

Because this is science, not politics, it is important to remember that there is a known difference between GCSE scores for boys and girls. This has been observed consistently for years and whatever its cause, it was important to exclude it by means of the statistical analysis, which the authors did.

There was no mention or suggestion of any sex difference in intelligence.

Last time I was in the States, (about 6 months ago) they still had upright urinals in the men's restrooms. I suspect your countrymen are less worried about sexism than you seem to be.

I  haven't spotted the racism in the paper. Perhaps you could point it out. As we never had racially segregated education in the UK (at least not within living memory), it would be rather difficult to measure anyway. So-called religious segregation in Northern Ireland is just another facet of the gang warfare that substitutes for government in that benighted corner of the universe - don't expect me to apologise for that. alancalverd, Mon, 31st Aug 2015


Of course this study looks fair to you, Bless your testosterone blinded, Slytherin heart. One would be amazed if it didn't look to be totally on the square.


Dear Readers,

As much fun as it has been to come here and break a lance with these contemporary Warleggans and Slytherins, the fact of the California drought compels me to stop here.

These encounters engender a furious need for a long hot shower, and I am beset by guilt at the thought that some wee muggle tyke in Tulare county may be forced to share her brothers' old bathwater as a consequence of them. Pecos_Bill, Mon, 31st Aug 2015

Do you understand the irony of saying "because of its obvious racist " when you are the one posting racist comments about "smug white men" here?
As Alan has pointed out, there's no obvious racism in that paper- as far as I can see, race never gets a mention. You are the only one who has brought it up here and, frankly, you are the one who has demonstrated deep prejudice against national and racial groups.

Your continued ranting about "at least until I see a study that includes separated twins" shows that you have yet to understand the research- so you are clearly not competent to comment on it.

As for "Tell me again why it was "scientific" to treat women separately."
That's easy.
For any of a thousand reasons- genetic, cultural etc- boys and girls do not typically get the same exam scores.
Fraternal twins have a roughly 50% chance of being the same sex, and a roughly 50% chance of being different sexes.
But identical twins are always the same sex.
So, on that obvious basis, you would expect fraternal twins to have bigger differences between their scores than identical twins.
Since that's exactly the difference that the research is looking at, you need to allow for it.

Since you were unable to work that out for yourself, it seems (once again) that you are not bright enough to understand this piece of work.
It's also not even close to the same as saying that there's a difference between intelligence between the sexes. That's just another of your strawmen.

Bored chemist, Tue, 1st Sep 2015

By Gosh, I always thought that Ben Elton was dreaming up those characters in his stories. This thread is like finding long lost works of Wodehouse. THESE are the very same people Psmith encountered in those books. Go know!

Oh well, that kid in Tulare will probably grow up to admire Donald Trump anyway.

Say folks, word is that Ben Elton has a book coming out this December. It should be very good. The comedic quality here is a few pegs lower, but needs must. Pecos_Bill, Tue, 1st Sep 2015

Would you like to try discussing science for a change? Bored chemist, Tue, 1st Sep 2015

At what point in the paper under discussion was it suggested that anyone should be denied "a fair shot at an education" on any basis whatever? The paper discussed the variance of a few outcomes, and showed that it was significantly greater between heterozygous twins than between homozygous twins. What's the big deal?
Political comments moved to a different thread...Mod alancalverd, Wed, 2nd Sep 2015

It literally makes my skin crawl to discuss this with any British educated person who chooses not to see this "research" in its proper political, historical (and uniquely British) context.

I am hardly amazed that this vile pack of lies flourishes in the same Britain which perpetrated the "Burt Affair".

"Over the course of his career, Burt published numerous articles and books on a host of topics ranging from psychometrics through philosophy of science to parapsychology. It is his research in behaviour genetics, most notably in studying the heritability of intelligence (as measured in IQ tests) using twin studies that have created the most controversy, frequently referred to as "the Burt Affair." Shortly after Burt died it became known that all of his notes and records had been burnt, and he was accused of falsifying research data. The 2007 Encyclopædia Britannica noted that it is widely acknowledged that his later work was flawed and many academics agree that data were falsified, though his earlier work is often accepted as valid."" 

I am highly unimpressed that the British "naked scientists" here pretend to be innocently unaware of the manky history of "behavioral genetics".

Was you born yesterday, Hoss?

Let me point out, Watson, the singular fact that "Doctor" Plomin's "scientific study" does not mention Cyril Burt's "research" in any manner whatsoever. What did the Tory puppet "Scientist" do in the night, Mister?

Wikipedia,"Cyril Burt" Pecos_Bill, Wed, 2nd Sep 2015

Ho hum.
He isn't a bird, he's a bloke and the "bird" hooked up with Michael Gove is Sarah Vine. (and a nastier couple of pieces of work would be hard to find- but they have nothing to do with the paper or its funding)

Everybody knows that Burt's work was faked.
So what?
It's not as if anyone is citing him. It was a long time ago an it wouldn't have passed either  ethics cttee approval or peer review today.

Now, would you like to say what is actually wrong with the science in the paper that Plomin et al wrote?
Or are you actually accepting that, while you don't like the outcome, the actual evidence supports the conclusion?
That's the important question.
Do you agree that the data show a statistically significant link between exam scores and genetics?
If not, please show what error they have made.
Don't cite any more old poets or old psychologists.
Don't quote politics. Don't make racist comments. Don't try to start a conspiracy theory.

Just show us where the scientific error is.
Bored chemist, Wed, 2nd Sep 2015

Poisoned fruit from a poisoned tree.

The reason that Burt's deceptions aren't mentioned in this paper is that the Charlatans and crooks behind it knew that it would weaken their snow job to bring them up. They figured that enough time had passed that they could pull the wool over the eyes of the general public with this - Hey, Presto! --"Discovery".

That is obvious to anyone.

"Doctor" Plomin received his doctorate from the University of Texas. Has he sworn to its veracity on his honor as a Texan? Because I get a bodacious whiff of George Bush and his Texas WMD horse manure in all of this.
Pecos_Bill, Wed, 2nd Sep 2015

"The reason that Burt's deceptions aren't mentioned in this paper is that the Charlatans and crooks behind it knew that it would weaken their snow job to bring them up. "
No paper in nuclear physics these days mentions Blondlot's N rays.
Similarly, Modern biology doesn't mention lamarkian evolution very often.
Modern medicine doesn't cite Benveniste's work on the "memory" of water.

The reason for not mentioning Burt's work is that it's not relevant because it wasn't valid. He cheated.

Now, do you actually have anything to say about the science in the paper?
Are you saying they made up the data or that their mathematical analysis is flawed?
Or do you just not like the outcome?
Bored chemist, Thu, 3rd Sep 2015

I think we must go along with Pecos Bill's logic, not least because he won't go along with ours.

It is noticeable that Pecos Bill has not cited Mein Kampf at any point in his argument. He is therefore a Nazi apologist. Nor has he mentioned Das Kapital or the Koran, nor quoted the relevant and seminal works of Aleister Crowley or Lytton Strachey. He is thus a crypto-everything-nasty and Not Safe In Taxis.

By their omissions shall ye know them.  alancalverd, Thu, 3rd Sep 2015

The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) is supported by ........with additional support from the US National Institutes of Health .


    1. Haworth CMA, Asbury K, Dale PS, Plomin R (2011) Added value measures in education show genetic as well as environmental influence. PLoS ONE 6: e16006 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016006.t004. .......
3. Loehlin JC, Nichols J (1976) Heredity, environment and personality. Austin: University of Texas......
23. Samuelsson S, Byrne B, Olson RK, Hulslander J, Wadsworth S, et al. (2008) Response to early literacy instruction in the United States, Australia, and Scandinavia: A behavioral-genetic analysis. Learn Individ Differ 18: 289–295 doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2008.03.004. ........
35. Tseng JCR, Chu H-C, Hwang G-J, Tsai C-C (2008) Development of an adaptive learning system with two sources of personalization information. Comput Educ 51: 776–786 doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2007.08.002. .........

I think I can see the problem.

The rest of us are talking about Shakeshaft et al, from which the above italicised quotes are taken. Relax, Bill, and take a deep breath. All is forgiven.
alancalverd, Thu, 3rd Sep 2015

Gentlemen, gentlemen....
Let's avoid the personal attacks (or ad hominem arguments, for the linguaphiles among us), and just stick to the science, shall we?
evan_au, Thu, 3rd Sep 2015

Mr. Moderator Sir,

Can you tell me why this Plomin paper from 2013 was presented by you people two years later as some kind of hot news?

.... it is a current political issue. with dangerous implications for the future welfare of children.

Civil enough, Hoss? Or should I upshut and just sit on my hands and whistle?

Close... Pecos_Bill, Fri, 4th Sep 2015

I wonder to which paper the honourable gentleman is referring?

The only paper cited in this discussion has eight authors and is properly referenced as Shakeshaft et al. Plomin is indeed one of the authors but is the last mentioned and not the primary contact. 

It is also the case that the said publication lists 35 references to prior work, whereas the paper that Mr Pecos finds objectionable apparently had none, and was part-funded by the US NIH whereas the hon gent asserts that the paper he read would not be touched by an American bargepole.

It is difficult to imagine how the similarity of exam performance of identical twins could become a political issue, any more than their more obvious similarity of physique might be. As far as I know, the spontaneous fission of a blastocyst is not subject to political interference, nor is there any political gain to be made from it.

There may be political implications in a wider aspect of genetics. .... But the finding that identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins surely won't surprise, shock, benefit or harm anyone.

Keep it civil... mod alancalverd, Fri, 4th Sep 2015

In "The Mismeasure of Man" by  Harvard Professor, Stephen Jay Gould we read of the shameful history of biological determinism (another term for the "genetic psychology" of this paper) from obvious fallacy like "Craniometry" right down to the ... Burt Affair.

In my opinion, this is a warmed over re-hash of the Burt Affair, and The Naked Scientists should not have publicized it.

Keep it civil... mod Pecos_Bill, Fri, 4th Sep 2015

What would truly be a sad day would be if scientists refused to analyse data because people might not like the result.

Please avoid quoting ad-hominem arguments. Bored chemist, Fri, 4th Sep 2015

Yet another straw man.
Nobody made that claim.
However I have asked you if you have any evidence that the research is not true.
And your reply was "The reason that Burt's deceptions aren't mentioned in this paper is that the those... behind it knew that it would weaken their snow job to bring them up. They figured that enough time had passed that they could pull the wool over the eyes of the general public with this - Hey, Presto! --"Discovery"...."

Which isn't logically true or remotely relevant.

Would you like to try again?

Please avoid quoting ad-hominem arguments. Bored chemist, Fri, 4th Sep 2015

I have been asked to avoid "ad hominem " comments. Then I will speak ad populem.

In my opinion as a Scottish-American, the aim of this paper is to deny equal educational opportunity to working class people. In America it is called "tracking" by Donald Trump. See this naked scientist segment for what it is - it's not science.

How long until this is deleted for ostensibly not speaking La-di-dah English?

"ad populem" is just "ad hominem", en masse - moderator. Pecos_Bill, Sat, 5th Sep 2015

It's more likely to be deleted because you are making a derogatory statement without offering any supporting evidence.

Why not try supporting your position with actual facts and logic rather than poetry and strawmen?

Please avoid repeating derogatory statements - mod. Bored chemist, Sat, 5th Sep 2015

The history behind this "research" is telling in its nature but it was deleted.

This does not go far to support the claims that there is no hidden agenda at work here to help rob children of their equal right to education,"scientifically"...

As for you, Mister, when will you respond to my question? Why were females presumed to have different intellects by the authors? I would love to see you try that one in America.

Keep it civil...mod Pecos_Bill, Sat, 5th Sep 2015

I don't see why in this instance it's an either /or question. That identical twins results were more similar than fraternal twins doesn't seem to rule out that environmental factors could also significantly restrict or enhance their progress. cheryl j, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

Contrary to the simplistic assumptions of this research, identical twins do not share the exact same DNA The fact that these people fail to address this issue does not argue well for their candor and integrity.

The moderator has chosen to delete my citations of scientific deceptions in Britain -- including the field of "behavioral genetics" as tangential. I wonder if he would buy a horse without enquiring into the reputation of the seller or would that be too beneath the salt?

These facts coupled with the lack of reproduced results confirming its findings, and the political interest in Plomin's results cause me to be amazed that it has found such dogged insistence here that it is the actual gospel truth ---two years after it was published. Nor do I understand why bona fide gentlemen would subject me to rebuke, scorn and ostracism for expressing my doubts---even in England.

And that is before I ask why these people consider women to be naturally incapable of matching the GCSE scores of men.

At the risk of being "tangential" I include a link to an article called, " The Crumbling Pillars of Behavioral Genetics" in Gene Watch, published by The Council for Responsible Genetics Pecos_Bill, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

Your so called evidence was deleted because it wasn't relevant.
That's what happens when you cite poetry in science; people start to look really closely at the other stuff you post.
It doesn't matter that some bloke many years ago made up some results in a related field.
The thread is discussing the data that some other group  genuinely found recently.
Do you not understand that?

and re.
"Why does this research presuppose the inferiority of women's GCSE scores if they are not, in fact, (how to make this civil enough for your delicate sensitivities? Hmmmmm) ....  sadly fallen prey to the victorian misconceptions as to the true nature of the feminine mind?"
that's easy.
It doesn't presupose anything of the sort.
That's another strawman of yours.

Why not quote the bit where you think it says that they assume women are inferior and then we can explain to you what it really means.

(You may struggle with this as the paper never actually mentions women),. Bored chemist, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

It doesn't. Indeed, the study assumes that the environment does affect their results.
That effect is pretty much the same for pairs of twins.
So twins should have very similar scores.
But the way that identical twins are treated is pretty much the same as the way that fraternal twins are treated.
Both types of twins grow up in the same household, the same culture, the same wealth or poverty.
So the difference in scores between pairs of identical twins should be the same as the difference in scores between pairs of fraternal twins.

But it isn't.
There is a bigger difference with the fraternal twins than with the identical ones.
And the only difference is genetic.
Identical twins are much more genetically similar than fraternal twins.
So, the variation of scores is different for the two, and the only difference between the groups is genetics.
So there's a genetic component to the scores.

Bills' observation that identical twins are not strictly genetically identical is true and relevant.
But it argues against his point of view.
That difference should "wash out" the effect that is seen.
But, in spite of the small differences between identical twins, the effect shows up.
The effect of genetics  must be slightly stronger than that calculated by the model. Bored chemist, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

As to the claim that these people don't presuppose that women don't match men in their GCSE scores....

" Quantitative sex differences refer to differences for ACE parameter estimates for male and female twin pairs. Qualitative sex differences indicate that different genes or different environmental factors influence males and females, which is suggested when the correlation for dizygotic opposite-sex (DZO) twins is less than the correlations for same-sex DZ pairs, based on the assumption that genetic or environmental influences that are specific to one sex will reduce within-pair similarity for the DZO group" 

Is this paper sexist? If the shoe fits- wear it and weep.


Gracious me!

I haven't encountered such fervid efforts to sell me some dodgy "facts" since  George Bush and Tony Blair were whipping up the mob to invade  Iran.

I got banned from the "Letters to the Editor" for expressing my doubts then as well.

I don't care if every "Behavioral geneticist" in the world testifies to the value of this research  --it still reeks to me of yellow cake, aluminum tubes, and secret mobile poison gas factories.

Or is comparing the push to sell this paper to the push to sell the Iraq fiasco too "tangential" for you.
This bit of hyperbole is out of scope for this thread.
Rationale: This forum is primarily about Science (and its impact on society). The science of WMD is sufficiently removed from the science of twin studies that it belongs in a different thread. - Mod.

Mr. bored_chemist disparages me for having quoted T.S. Elliot here as reason to refute this "research". Had more people read Elliot's poetry in 2002 there might not be hordes of people thirsting for our blood today.  And a careful reading of Elliot's poetry today would show the soulless denial of humanity which underlies this "research". Pecos_Bill, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

Do you actually understand that there is a difference between
" we found differences" and we "presuppose the inferiority of women's GCSE scores" ?
Bored chemist, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

Humanity is sexist. There are boys and there are girls, they look different, have different chromosomes, and they have different biological functions. It turns out (not that anyone "presupposes" it) that they also get different scores in public examinations, which explains why the majority of medical students in the UK are female. For this reason it is important to correct for the underlying sex differences in various subjects if you want to maximise the yield of statistical data from twin studies.

It's somewhat bizarre to criticise people for reading an allegedly racist paper published in 2013, by quoting
an antisemitic  poet who had the decency to die in 1965. alancalverd, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

In my opinion, women's different GCSE scores than those of men cannot depend on their DNA...

It is curious, is it not, that calling T.S. Elliot an anti-semite here is not deleted  as "tangential" by the moderator as long, it seems, as it is uttered by an Englishman? ...

When I cited Elliot's poem, "The Hollow Men" I was linking to people who hold that the sum of a person's humanity is encapsulated in their DNA. For what else is "Behavioral genetics" when you strip away its window dressing?

Reader, after the AI singularity what will your children's fate be when soulless machines have assessed their DNA for its possibilities?  The behavioral genetics people claim that I am an alarmist  -- besides being familiar with poetry.
This "ad hominem" is becoming "ad nauseum"...Mod

Pecos_Bill, Sun, 6th Sep 2015

The gentleman states that since the majority of medical students in the UK are female this is evidence against gender discrimination because of their GCSE scores.

Here is evidence ( in the BMJ) that female doctors in the UK earn 29% less than male doctors. Now then, is that a natural effect because they have inherited it in their DNA being, after all, ...girls?  The behavioral geneticists differentiated them in this study because they assumed so. Is that not so?

I am a retired male RN.  Friends and neighbors do NOT try to feed me baloney about how fairly women are treated. I have watched them - and often borne that same burden. We have gotten the shaft throughout my career by smug "gentlemen" just like these "scientists" who call themselves "Behavioral geneticists". Pecos_Bill, Mon, 7th Sep 2015


I had originally come to this place because as a retired RN, I enjoy still helping people with their medical questions. I became embroiled in this matter because it seemed to be a perversion of medicine for very tawdry, mean political ends. Having devoted my life to medicine, that sickens me. I would have been ashamed of myself in front of those who taught me the art and science of nursing had I failed to confront such a perversion, so help me God.

If I get the chance, I would like to help some more people here, we shall have to see.
Political comments moved to a different thread...Mod Pecos_Bill, Mon, 7th Sep 2015

A worthy opinion, but not tested by the paper (you would do well to read it before criticising it). The fact is that boys and girls score differently in different subjects, for whatever reason, so if you are looking for an inherited factor you have to correct for that potentially confounding variable, which they did. 

You would get more respect if you refrained from garbling other people's utterances into complete drivel. The point is that if you select people on the basis of their exam scores and interview performance, more girls than boys seem suited to medical studies. Whether this indicates discrimination against males or not depends on the relative performance and weighting of different examination subjects at A level (not GCSE) for which I have only anecdotal evidence that girls generally outperform boys in all subjects except physics - an unexplained anomaly, and quite irrelevant to the present discussion.

Yes! As in every other profession, women tend to take time out to raise children during their career development phase and often return to work part-time, and usually in the public sector, thus reducing both their career prospect and maximum earning potential. For those who stay, the public sector offers equal session pay at all levels and there is no earnings limit in the private sector. I pay my radiologists for what they do, not what they are, and since female patients generally prefer to see a female doctor, the women in my team can take home more than the men. Whether they do is up to them.

No. If you had read the paper, you would know that there was no assumption. The statistics were based on actual examination results, which showed consistent gender differences, so they discussed and corrected for those differences.

If there is a difference between our cultures, and if you and I represent it, then I'm pleased to live on the side of the Atlantic where we are taught to examine the patient before diagnosing, and to read the instructions before administering the treatment! alancalverd, Mon, 7th Sep 2015

You have yet to participate in this debate.
In a debate, if someone poses a question, you are expected to answer it or accept that you are wrong.
Posting poetry isn't an acceptable response.

You have totally failed to support essentially any assertion you have made (apart from a  few commonplace ones that nobody ever disputed anyway such as the fact that women are discriminated against or that Burt told lies). Bored chemist, Mon, 7th Sep 2015

This topic on editorial control of the Naked Scientists show and Forum has been moved to New Theories.

Subsequent discussion of politics on this Physiology & Medicine thread is banned. evan_au, Wed, 9th Sep 2015

You should distinguish betwen presupposition and observed fact. See my earlier response on this subject. alancalverd, Wed, 9th Sep 2015

In reading this thread, a tear was brought to my eye seeing that the Naked Scientists have shown how  the genetic basis for paying women differently is absolute scientific truth. Of course British women doctors are paid 29% less because they are, ipso facto, genetically women. I mean, Duh! It's just  what I intend to tell my new bride when she learns enough English to speak with the neighborhood women.

I am so pleased as well to see that disgusting Pecan Bob person has now departed. The absolute gall of that person to say that these good men here were playing with a  " twerked" bat. The very idea is so ludicrous. Well, we have shown the world, haven't we? I notice the new verification methods to prevent future disturbances from such riff-raff and bearded anarchists. What times, eh?

God bless the naked scientists, Dr. Plomin, and England! Franklin_Uhuru, Fri, 11th Sep 2015

Dear FU

The correspondence here has pointed out exactly the opposite of your assertions on the pay of women doctors in the UK.

Like PB, you seem to believe in your own psychic ability, to the extent of summarising arguments that you clearly have not read.

Be careful crossing the road. alancalverd, Fri, 11th Sep 2015

Thank God you have cleared that up, Sir!

For who could ever doubt the word of a British Gentleman when it comes to "The rights of women"? (Cf: Mary Wolltonstonescraft for historical context).

Even though you appear to be talking out of the other side of your mouth - again -- I am sure that is only due to my misapprehension of your earnest desire to be fair to the "weaker sex".

However, to avoid a lamentable accusation of being "ad hominem" perhaps you would show me the courtesy to address me by the private messages facility -- instead of publicly here -- so that I may respond to you more appropriately.

I am not, you see, one of the naked scientist elect and not allowed to pretend that I am speaking in condescending contempt to people after they have been secretly eliminated.

We naked scientist wallahs do so love having the last word. Do we not?

But this thread risks becoming tedious with you rhyming variations of your original theme. Franklin_Uhuru, Fri, 11th Sep 2015

Alas, you seem to be cut from the same cloth as that fellow Pecos. Curious chap, started off full of interesting information and searching questions, then got a bee in his bonnet about a paper he clearly hadn't read, tried to cover his embarrassment with irrelevant insults, and rather lost credibility. We scientists just say "OK, I was wrong" and get on with life, because science is all about having your preconceptions challenged by facts.

So don't expect any PMs from me: if it can't be said in public, it's probably not worth saying.

If you happen to come across Pecos Bill in your exploration of cyberspace, you might pass this on:

He will probably point out that a 25.5% earnings gap compared wth 29% in the UK just shows that the USA is a haven of gender equality, but he might just have a lucid moment and ask his alter ego whether there's something other than prejudice involved.    alancalverd, Fri, 11th Sep 2015

I recall Pecos_Bill saying that while people still struggle against sexism in America, they do not cook up phony pseudo science to claim it is due to genetic difference there. He made that point clearly shortly before he was eliminated by the forum's puppet master because it nauseated him (the puppet-master) to hear it.

After Pecos_Bill's "disapperance" we heard - at great length - these two gentlemen hammering on and on -now with no voice to refute them -- in classic "Big Lie" thuggish tactics. Give em the old razzle-dazzle!

Oh dear, have I upset your delicate Sassanach sensitivities by saying this? Will I, too, not survive the night? The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts. Franklin_Uhuru, Sat, 12th Sep 2015

After Pecos_Bill's "disapperance" we heard - at great length - these two gentlemen hammering on and on -now with no voice to refute them -- in classic "Big Lie" thuggish tactics. Give em the old razzle-dazzle!

Oh dear, have I upset your delicate Sassanach sensitivities by saying this? Will I, too, not survive the night? The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts.

And your evidence that the science is phony is...?
Or are yo just making an unjustified claim because you don't like the outcome? Bored chemist, Sat, 12th Sep 2015

Has British science not learned its lesson from Wakefield's recent autism/vaccination British crime against humanity?  Guess not. Just as Burt's behavioral genetics crimes have now been swept under the rug. Too old and irrelevant , they say.

Here is a list of discussions of Wakefield here to show that is the case..
1.  Topic: Was Doctor Andrew Wakefield Right After all?


3.    Topic: Is there a link between vaccination and autism?;nowap

It should have been allowed so as to compare this similarly dodgy research in "behavioral genetics" to let the readers decide themselves.
Franklin_Uhuru, Sat, 12th Sep 2015

The fact that some people like Burt and Wakefield have been charlatans is well recognised.
But it has nothing to do with this research because those charlatans didn't take part in it.

Do you have either an alternative explanation for the observation of more similar scores for identical twins or evidence that the science in the paper is flawed?

If not you have nothing to say except that you don't like the results. Bored chemist, Sun, 13th Sep 2015

If you want to sling mud at "British" science by quoting Wakefield, may I suggest a strong dose of Tuskegee as an antidote? Or is deliberate harm and negligence too tangential to be weighed against pathetic fraud? OK, let's get back to surgery:

How did he get away with it? Well,

Of course this couldn't happen in a perfect classless democracy like the USA, could it? I can't use the word "meritocracy" because that would imply some objective measure of performance, to which you would probably object.

By the way, have you actually read the paper yet?

Come on, Bill, you can do better than your friend Uhuru's ravings. alancalverd, Sun, 13th Sep 2015

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