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Smart people got no babies.... (?)

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanAugust 26, 2006 12:27 AM


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RPMcomments on some issues relating to human genetics. First, he points to the article about how conservatives are going to outbreed liberals, etc. etc. etc. The problem with this article is that the Left & the Right have been around since the late 18th century and history marches Leftward even though one assumes the Right has been breeding at a higher clip for the past 8+ generations. What gives? First, there is a heritable component to political orientation. That is, a proportion (around 0.5) of the variation in of conservatism or liberalism within the population is attributable to genes. Additionally, obviously politics is vertically transmitted and horizontally propogated (i.e., parent to child, activist to sheep). But there's a problem with these simple assertions: liberal & conservative are contextual. What is liberal in one environment may not be liberal in another (it maybe conservative). If one holds that a "liberal" or "conservative" tendency is determined by relation to the center of the given distribution, then

so long as there is variation within the population due to a variety of factors liberals and conservatives will always hang around, even if the median value shifts greatly

. We know from long term breeding experiments that genetic variation often takes a long time to exhaust itself, and certainly if there is a genetic element to political preference and fitness is correlated with the Right end of the spectrum (because of higher birthrates) I suspect that a lot of latent variation will remain for many generations to drive a dynamic political tension within our culture. This isn't even taking into account that fitness varies dependent on the particular circumstances within which genes are expressed. But there's a bigger more interesting issue which RPM moots:

Regardless of the political direction you'd like to see our country take, however, I think we can all agree that we'd like to see intelligent people spreading their seed.

I prodded RPM to elaborate, and he stated in the comments:

But, if I must: if smart people make babies maybe society as a whole will become smarter. I'm not advocating planned breeding, but it's probably not a good idea for smart people to be put in situations where they don't have the time or means to reproduce.

This is a commons sentiment. I say common because probably every other graduate or undergraduate who has pursued studies in biology has mentioned this sort of thing to me offhand. I've even heard velnerable scientists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences moot this point after a few beers. The logic is simple, intelligence is heritable, and if selection favors the less intelligent then the less intelligent will proliferate and dominate. If you take the motto "Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution" as your banner, to some extent it isn't that difficult to take the next step and apply it to your own life. In any case, the dumbing down of the world is the premise behind the upcoming film Idiocracy, a man from the present wakes up in a future where the morons find that he is a genius (it is going straight to video, ironically, it wasn't a smart idea I suppose). R. A. Fisher spent some time in The Genetical Theory on this topic, and he practiced positive eugenics in his own life, having a large family. But of course, the e word is terrifying to us today and that is why the sentiment among the intellectual elites never really crystallizes into any plan of action, the sentiment to build a better baby is not a new one, and it ushered in the horrors of the 20th century. Though the British tended to focus on positive eugenics, encouraging the judged to be fit to proliferate, the United States, along with other countries in northern Europe (e.g., Sweden as late as the 1970s) engaged in a massive program of sterilization of the "feeble minded" (see Carrie Buck). This laid the seeds for the abomination which was the Nazi program. No great elaboration is needed here. The reality is that the fitness implications of high intelligence are equivocal. Otherwise, we'd all be very smart. Bell curved traits which arise out of quantitative loci of small effect, as well as a large environmental component of variation, suggest that the trait under consideration has not been under powerful directional selection consistently. If directional selection was powerful it would have swept away all the variation on that trait. The stupid are our future,^* just as they were our past, and likely there is some frequency dependent dynamic which will result in the boomerang back of the eternal recurrence. * If you view intelligence as purely a relative measure, like "liberal" or "conservative," as opposed to some absolute trait, then we won't get less intelligence is the distribution will just shift to the left or right. The same percentage will remain north of two standard deviations as today, that territory will just be a bit different....

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