Bayer buys Monsanto: 'Und es mag am Monsanto'schen Wesen Einmal noch die Welt genesen.'


[One of countless German anti-Monsanto memes; 'Tod' = is German for 'death'. Source

That faint popping sound is heads exploding all over Germany, as Bayer -- known to Germans as that Solid, Responsible, Traditional German Company Which Practices Soft, Gentle, Humane Rhineland Capitalism™ -- buys Monsanto, known to Germans as the Soulless American Hyper-Capitalist Death-Juggernaut Which Drives Indian Farmers to Suicide, Forces Frankenfoods Down Our Throats, and Poisons our Children's Ice Cream, Mandrake™.

In America, this would be the equivalent of the Little Debbie Snak Cake Company merging with the Church of Satan and the North American Man-Boy Love Association and announcing a line of Little Debbie Sphincter-Shaped Sweet Sugary Sodomy Stars™, to go with this other product:

Little debbie devil squares

Germany, I love you, I really do. But the only way to stop me from mocking your disingenuous faux-naïveté will be to pry the jokes... 

"Substantial" Genetic Influence on Choice of A-Levels

Your genes play a key role in deciding whether you decide to take A-levels and which subjects you decide to take them in:

We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable throughout compulsory education. After completing compulsory education at age 16, students in England can choose to continue to study for two years (A-levels) in preparation for applying to university and they can freely choose which subjects to study. Here, for the first time, we show that choosing to do A-levels and the choice of subjects show substantial genetic influence, as does performance after two years studying the chosen subjects. Using a UK-representative sample of 6584 twin pairs, heritability estimates were 44% for choosing to do A-levels and 52–80% for choice of subject. Achievement after two years was also highly heritable (35–76%). The findings that DNA differences substantially affect differences in appetites as well as aptitudes suggest a genetic way of thinking about education in which individuals actively create their own educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

This result would surprise and probably alarm many Germans, but they won't hear about it. One of the problems with the insular clique of German mainstream journalists is the blinders they wear. The majority studied sociology, German literature, comparative literature, political theory, history, philosophy, or some other liberal-arts subject. There, they learned plenty about Kant and Mann, but nothing about economics, the military, or hard science.

I think this explains why German journalism on these areas is often terrible. Conditioned by their highly moralized culture and the ideological slant of liberal-arts education, they immediately seek out the underlying moral 'lesson' to be drawn from nuclear research, or the Higgs boson, or gene therapy, etc. They may spend a few paragraphs actually explaining what is going on from a scientific perspective (often getting key things wrong), but before they're even done with that, they start reciting their tired old platitudes (this is what mankind gets for trying to play God, nature's way is always the best, human dignity is the prime directive, etc.) and canned Lessons of History™.

And that goes triple for genetics. If they did learn anything about genetics in their seminars, it was usually accompanied by stern, moralizing lectures about how the Nazis used genetic pseudo-science to justify genocide. The result is a nearly-unshakable belief in the discredited 'blank slate' theory of human variation (i.e., that it's all caused by nurture, not nature). Anyone who points to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that genes play a crucially important role in human personality, achievement, and behavior is automatically assumed to be a crypto-eugenicist until proven otherwise.

I don't have a solution to this problem, but I suppose scholarships and training programs for aspiring science journalists might be something to think about.

The Cheapest Suffering Preventer

Via Steve Sailer, by means of comment on the Somali man who went on a stabbing frenzy in Russell Square, this BBC piece from a few years ago:

The scenario is familiar in Somalia. A man has become possessed by spirits and the only option for his family is to restrain him and call the sheikh. But as the young man protests, a voice that challenges Somali tradition booms out.

"Stop with the chains!" the voiceover orders. "Take him to Dr Hab's hospital! If he's having mental problems, take him to Dr Hab. He won't chain him, he'll help him."

Dr Hab is not actually a real psychiatrist. Rather it's the persona of Abdirahman Ali Awale, a nurse who after three months of specialist training from the World Health Organization (WHO), has made it his mission to rescue Somalia's mentally ill. He claims he is able to treat everything from post-natal depression to schizophrenia....

"There is a belief in my country that hyenas can see everything including the evil spirits people think cause mental illness," says Hab. "So in Mogadishu, you will find hyenas that have been brought from the bush and families will pay £350 ($560) to have their loved one locked in the room overnight with the animal."

"We are trying to show people that this is nonsense," says Hab. "People listen to our radio advert and they learn that mental illness is just like any other and needs to be treated with scientific methods."

Hab's campaign was prompted by an incident in 2005 when he witnessed a group of female patients being chased through the streets by youths. "There was no-one to help them," he says. "I decided after that I would have to open Somalia's first mental hospital."

The Habeb Public Mental Health Hospital in Mogadishu became the first of Hab's six centres across Somalia. Together, they have now treated over 15,000 patients.

Hab faces a near insurmountable task. WHO estimates that one in three Somalis either is or has been affected by mental illness, compared to a global average of one in 10. In parts of the country, where the population has been the most psychologically scarred from decades of conflict, the rate is even higher. Cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are common and the situation is further complicated by widespread substance abuse.

As I've argued before, I think Germany got an unusually high number of young males with mental illness in 2015, judged by the frequency of reports of irrational and violent behavior. Assume you live in a country with rates of mental illness 3 times the global average, and a mental health system in which chaining people to trees and letting them be mauled by a hyena are frequent responses. 

If you have a young son who seems to be headed down this path, why not set him on a path north to potentially get asylum in Northern Europe? Assuming his illness is not so severe that he can't follow basic instructions, he might just be able to land in Northern Europe and, with luck, bring some family members with him. At the very least he'll be able to send some money back, at some point. And even if he lands in an institution up there, he'll be out of your hair, and getting far superior care to anything he could get back home. It's win-win.

For the Somali/Iraqi/Algerian family, that is.

For Germany, which is now burdened with lifetime care for someone who will never contribute to society and who will also present a higher risk of crime, including unpredictable violent outbursts, it's lose-lose.

You know what might be a better investment than spending millions in German taxpayers' money in lifetime court cases, social worker counseling, and psychiatric treatment for one Somali male in Germany? How about using that money to support the efforts of people like Dr Hab, which have the potential to help countless thousands of people in Somalia? With no risk additional risk to Germans?

In law and economics, there is the notion of the "cheapest cost-avoider". The idea is that if you want to reduce risks or costs (often the same thing), you should put the burden of reducing risks or costs on the person or organization which can prevent them most efficiently.

Example: Assume a refinery is emitting a harmful gas as a by-product of making a product everyone needs. The emission can be stopped by forcing the refinery to install a new filter which costs a million dollars and reduces efficiency by 5%. The alternative is to not force the refinery to install the filter. But that means that the 10,000 houses in the surrounding area will each need to put special filters on their windows, that residents will need to limit the time spent outdoors, and the number of respiratory diseases will increase. The total costs merely in updating the houses will be $10 million, and the costs for more medical treatment $5 million. The costs in diminished life expectancy and in having to limit time outdoors may not be readily quantifiable, but they are obviously huge. In this case, the refinery is the cheapest cost avoider, and it should be required to install the filter. You can even, if you wish, fully compensate the refinery owner for his extra expenses and still end up far ahead. 

This is why allowing unscreened, mentally ill people into Germany is a terrible decision not only from Germany's perspective, but from the perspective of the country which sent them. Improving conditions for treating the mentally ill in Somalia is incredibly easy, because they are so primitive now. Literally anything other than hyena-mauling and tree-chaining is an improvement. You could probably fund 400 patient beds in a cheap place like Somalia for what it takes to house one mentally ill Somali in a German psychiatric hospital for a year.

Plus, no Germans will ever be harmed by a mentally ill Somali man who never enters Germany.

James Flynn on Humanity's Huge Cognitive Leap

I know, it's one of those easily-mockable TED talks. But hey, just because they're easily-mockable doesn't mean they're worthless. This one is fascinating, even if cognitive ability isn't one of your hobbyhorses (it is one of mine). I even added German subtitles.

The 'Flynn Effect' is named for James Flynn, the man in this video. The Flynn describes the fact that in an absolute sense, humanity as a whole has become smarter every decade of the recent past. In the past 150 or so years, humanity has enjoyed steady increases in cognitive ability. Literacy has become almost-universal, average numbers of years educated has increased, the number of people engaged in cognitively demanding professions has skyrocketed, and the median level of cognitive ability has increased, making it normal and routine for people to think in abstract categories that would be unintelligible to people living in, say, 1890. The effects are concentrated mostly in the global North, of course, but they're spreading everywhere.

Forget just about everything you learned in sociology classes, this is probably the most important change in the human condition since the Renaissance. And most people have no idea it happened.

China Will Soon Be Genetically Engineering Smarter, Sexier People

No matter how irreligious Germany gets, it shares with many Western European countries a common cultural heritage of Christian natural law thinking, especially about human dignity. This makes Germany queasy about things such as in vitro fertilization, surrogate parenting, embryo research, and pre-implantation genetic diagnostics. Some of these new technologies are banned, others allowed, all are regulated. It’s all a bit stuffy and old-fashioned, like the basement of an ecumenical summer camp building, with its ping-pong tables, disintegrating board games, and lukewarm cola.

China doesn’t share this heritage, increasingly doesn’t have to listen to the West’s lectures, and has little squeamishness about designing smarter humans:

China is spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually in an effort to become a leader in biomedical research, building scores of laboratories and training thousands of scientists.

But the rush to the front ranks of science may come at a price: Some experts worry that medical researchers in China are stepping over ethical boundaries long accepted in the West.

Scientists around the world were shocked in April when a team led by Huang Junjiu, 34, at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, published the results of an experiment in editing the genes of human embryos.

The technology, called Crispr-Cas9, may one day be used to eradicate inheritable illnesses. But in theory, it also could be used to change such traits as eye color or intelligence, and to ensure that the changes are passed on to future generations….

“The consensus among the scientific community is, ‘not for now,’ ” said Huso Yi, the director of research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Center for Bioethics.

Yet Chinese scientists seem in no mood to wait.

“I don’t think China wants to take a moratorium,” Mr. Yi said. “People are saying they can’t stop the train of mainland Chinese genetics because it’s going too fast.”

CRISPR is the stunning new gene-editing technique that makes editing animal and human genomes easy, precise, fast, and cheap. It may also allow us to resurrect extinct species.

Intelligence  is about 70-80% heritable, but is highly polygenic; we are only now beginning to isolate a few of the genes responsible for it. But research is rocketing forward so fast that it’s not out of the question to imagine genetic procedures to eliminate disease and boost intelligence within 20 years. When that happens, I am sure China will start doing it. After all, highly intelligent people are more orderly, more innovative, more law-abiding, and disproportionately responsible for economic growth and development. Once you set aside ethical quibbles, what's not to like?

If I had extra money lying around, I would invest it in (1) ultra-realistic Japanese sex dolls; and (2) Chinese genetic engineering. Those will be the growth industries of the next few decades.

Intelligence is in the News Again

And now, hot on the heels of an entire issue of Die Zeit, a 3sat documentary special (g) on intelligence called (my translation): 'Born Dumb, and Haven't Learned a Thing? Intelligence Research between Racism and Flexible Genes'. OK, it's from last year, so not really a trend-confirmation. I haven't watched it yet, but I am wary of the fact that they've chosen rabble-rouser Thilo Sarrazin to state the hereditarian case, since there are many actual scientists who are likely much better-informed and not given to stupid generalizations. 

I wonder if what we're seeing is the Western mainstream press in delayed reaction to the scientific consensus, now pretty much ironclad, that intelligence is strongly influenced by heredity. And to the reality that the scientists who've found this out are quite likable, normal men and women, not cackling Peter-Lorre-esque mad scientists with terrifying underground 'la-BOR-a-tories' crammed with formaldehyde-filled jars full of aborted genetic experiments.

IQ is the Best Predictor of Human Achievement

For a bit of context, the good Dr. Thompson, on his excellent blog, gives a brief summary of the most important things to know about intelligence (emphasis added):

Intelligence does not guarantee good decision-making in all circumstances, simply better decision-making in more circumstances than a duller person.  Some problems forms are inherently difficult and ambiguous. For example, it is easier to understand natural frequencies than percentages with decimal point. Apart from intelligence, social pressures and emotional attachments influence decisions.
Modern IQ tests give one overall figure, and also figures for 3 to 4 component indices, usually verbal comprehension, perceptual organisation, working memory, plus processing speed. The single figure is usually the best predictor, but the others have their place in specific circumstances. The fact that one single number is the best predictor of human achievements is testimony to its power.
40% is the heritability estimate for children, but it rises to 60% plus for adults.  70/30 is not a bad estimate for wealthy countries, 50/50 for very poor ones.... People from profoundly different cultures make the same sorts of errors on culture reduced tests, and the pattern suggests a largely universal problem-solving capacity. The predictive power of intelligence is similar in culturally different countries.
The point in bold is key. Out of all the factors that people think explain why certain people fail at life and others succeed, intelligence, even as imperfectly but reliably measured by one simple number, is the most important. The way science discovered this is also interesting: by controlling for intelligence in studies of other factors. Level of education, parental socio-economic status, reaction times, etc. turn out to be strongly correlated with, and very likely caused by, intelligence. On average, in the aggregate, the wealthier you are, the smarter you are, and wealthy parents pass those genes onto their children.
This is very different from what many people believe, or wish were true.

The 'Blank Slate' is Now as Dead as Phrenology

The blank slate theory of human development holds that human beings are all born with roughly equal capacities, and that variations between humans on an individual and group level exist solely (or almost solely) because of environmental factors. This idea has always had its supporters, and they gained the upper hand in the early 20th century, bolstered by a few fairly primitive ethnographic studies and the ideological backlash against the crimes of 20th-century eugenicists, including genocide. To this day, the blank slate theory is often taught as proven fact in schools of education, which is a very foolish and dangerous thing to do.

One way to check the blank slate theory is to examine twins. They come in two flavors: monozygotic (one egg splits into two embryos) which are virtually genetically identical, or dizygotic, which are basically just siblings who happen to be born at the same time. Early twin studies began to seriously undermine the blank slate theory, which didn't surprise geneticists and psychologists but made some people quite nervous. Twins adopted into completely different cultures, unaware even of each others' existence, had similar traits at a rate completely incompatible with random chance. Modern genetics has also destroyed the blank-slate theory, but many people don't understand or trust these studies. Few people now subscribe to the full-on blank-slate theory, but there are still millions of people who are eager to downplay the influence of heredity as far as possible.

But now, Nature Genetics has just published a blockbuster 14-million subject twin-study meta-analysis, possibly the most important research on heredity in decades, which has now definitively destroyed, once and for all, the blank-slate theory of human development. The authors studied dozens of human traits, from purely biological to social, and found the overall heritability for these traits about 49%. The strongest associations were for biological givens (height, bone density, etc.), the weakest proof for social attitudes (although there was still detectable hereditary influence on these). Cognitive ability, the best predictor of success in modern societies, is somewhere between, but still highly heritable, as Dr. James Thompson notes:

All human traits contain a substantial heritable element. The blank slate is totally false. If you have colleagues who doubts the twin method or who have difficulty accepting the power of ancestry, shall I repeat for them Rhett Butler’s last words to Scarlett O'Hara right now, or is it better that I tell you a little more about the findings?

I expect you have an interest in the results on cognition, so rest easy, heritability is high, though not as strong as for skeletal, metabolic, ophthalmological, dermatological, respiratory, and neurological traits. Usually there is a big difference (top line of figures) between the high correlations for monozygotic and the lower correlations for dizygotic twins, showing a strong genetic effect. The exception is social values, in which the environment makes a bigger contribution than usual, though not quite as big as heredity.

Cognitive traits correlate 0.646 in identical twins, 0.371 in fraternal twins, with miniscule error terms of .01 in these enormous samples. An additive model seems appropriate for cognition.

They conclude: Our results provide compelling evidence that all human traits are heritable: not one trait had a weighted heritability estimate of zero. The relative influences of genes and environment are not randomly distributed across all traits but cluster in functional domains. In general, we showed that reported estimates of variance components from model-fitting can underestimate the true trait heritability, when compared with heritability based on twin correlations. Roughly two-thirds of traits show a pattern of monozygotic and dizygotic twin correlations that is consistent with a simple model whereby trait resemblance is solely due to additive genetic variation. This implies that, for the majority of complex traits, causal genetic variants can be detected using a simple additive genetic model.

So, intelligence has a strong heritable component, and other personality attributes have weaker, but still quite important heritability. The blank-slate hypothesis is now folklore. It joins phrenology, alchemy, astrology, and thousands of other theories of human behavior in the Mausoleum of Disproven Hypotheses.