July 19, 2016

Educational achievement predicted by DNA

Predicting 9% of educational achievement from DNA is quite good. The authors used genotype arrays, so there's obvious room for growth in rare variation that is not covered by such arrays.

I wonder when the public and policymakers will get wind of the fact that educational achievement is highly heritable and can even be somewhat predicted with existing DNA technology.

Genetic egalitarianism is an edifice on which too much has been invested and I doubt that it will go down without a fight. It's of course a great idea to optimize learning for the students you've got. But, at the end of the day there's only so much you can do to foster achievement in a trait that is mostly genetically determined.

Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication 19 July 2016; doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.107

Predicting educational achievement from DNA

S Selzam et al.

A genome-wide polygenic score (GPS), derived from a 2013 genome-wide association study (N=127,000), explained 2% of the variance in total years of education (EduYears). In a follow-up study (N=329,000), a new EduYears GPS explains up to 4%. Here, we tested the association between this latest EduYears GPS and educational achievement scores at ages 7, 12 and 16 in an independent sample of 5825 UK individuals. We found that EduYears GPS explained greater amounts of variance in educational achievement over time, up to 9% at age 16, accounting for 15% of the heritable variance. This is the strongest GPS prediction to date for quantitative behavioral traits. Individuals in the highest and lowest GPS septiles differed by a whole school grade at age 16. Furthermore, EduYears GPS was associated with general cognitive ability (~3.5%) and family socioeconomic status (~7%). There was no evidence of an interaction between EduYears GPS and family socioeconomic status on educational achievement or on general cognitive ability. These results are a harbinger of future widespread use of GPS to predict genetic risk and resilience in the social and behavioral sciences.



Anonymous said...

No one is really dumb enough to believe it. The real problem is in many countries the differences between groups is large and catering to the least common denominator has completely ruined the educational system. Of course the rich all go to private schools so are unaffected. Or they used to be before the ivy league became such a joke.

Mark P said...

Predicting 9% of educational achievement from DNA is quite good. vs in a trait that is mostly genetically determined.

Huh? 9% is far from "most"

Raimo Kangasniemi said...

As a university graduate with a Master of Arts degree in history and having as parents carpenter and nurse, and as grandparents cobbler, shoemaker, truck-driver and waitress I find this just so much non-egalitarian hogwash, a prime example of forcing results to fit a pre-existing ideological construct. Elites trying to justify their position and unequal opportunities now on genetic basis, when old excuses have fallen away. You should learn from us historians and give up this pre-ordained stuff.

Simon_W said...

Believe it or not, but recently I read in a respected newspaper that race has no biological basis, and that it thus cannot be ascertained with a DNA test, because there is no such thing as a „black“ or „white“ DNA. You can read opinions like this from time to time in the press – in the newspaper in question mostly from an otherwise sympathetic leftist journalist, who has got completely out of touch with the latest developments in DNA research. Of course scientists now speak of West Eurasian and Subsaharan instead of black or white, but that's the same. The poor guy probably really believed that he was propagating an established scientific truth. While in reality it's one of the easiest tasks to discriminate between West Eurasian and Subsaharan DNA, and widely practiced in personal genomics services for example. But I understand well that objective differences between human populations that are more than „skin-deep“ would go to some extent against the humanist stance that all humans are the same. And there is the fear that the acknowledgment of genetic differences would lead to racism and discrimination. Hence humanist, egalitarian people are eager to believe that there is no basis for race in our DNA. The best strategy against this fear is perhaps to affirm that the human dignity is inviolable, and that all sane people would agree with this, and that there is perhaps even some moral superiority in the insight that everyone should follow his nature, his interests and likings instead of expecting the same from everyone.

Simon_W said...

BTW I didn't intend to imply that there are differences between populations in genes that influence educational achievement, I was just loosely meandering on the catchword genetic egalitarianism.

dzdt said...

Keep in mind that 9% is NOT "most". I suggest the movie GATTACA for a sci-fi take on the ethics surrounding this.

Basant said...

The inequalities that exist throughout society and which cause differential access to resources outweigh any heritability of academic achievement. That 9% is irrelevant unless or until the inequality is removed. Even if it is, the definition of academic achievement and its connection to career success and other outcomes are in constant flux, so any advantage might be ephemeral. This is all before considering ethical aspects of applying supposed heritability to society, which are significant.

Physical anthropology should remain a science and refrain from delving into activism. It also cannot replace sociology, and when it attempts to the consequences are problematic.

apostateimpressions said...

D, heads up re: OOA


THE idea that modern day humans evolved in Africa is under question by Chinese academics who claim to have fossil evidence showing our ancestors stemmed from the east Asian country...

The discovery of three human teeth in an ancient limestone cave in the district of Bijie in China could blow our understanding of human origin wide open.

The teeth, according to the researchers, are between 112,000 years and 178,000 years old – which is shockingly 75,000 years older than the first modern human fossils found in Africa.

When the teeth were first discovered, it was thought they belonged to an extinct ancestor of humans known as homo altaiensis, or Denisovian.

But new analysis shows that they belonged to homo sapiens.

MomOfZoha said...

"Genetic egalitarianism is an edifice on which too much has been invested and I doubt that it will go down without a fight. It's of course a great idea to optimize learning for the students you've got. But, at the end of the day there's only so much you can do to foster achievement in a trait that is mostly genetically determined."

Given the great deal of public interest (and governmental funding) for research into the genetic bases of complex psychiatric conditions such as autism spectrum disorders or bipolar spectrum disorders, one should wonder why "genetic egalitarianism" would somehow selectively apply to studying possible genetic bases of educational achievement.

Moreover, even if "educational achievement" taken as a simple scalar (as it appears to have been reduced to in this study) were found to be 99% heritable with respect to some country at some time (note that the study takes place in the UK), then policy-makes could easily claim that there is something wrong with their educational system. It would certainly be difficult to make a study encompassing all possible educational models. Of course, "general cognitive abilities" becomes the elephant-in-the-room, though interestingly the EduYears GPS explained that to a much lesser extent than it explained socio-economic status.

Nor do I think that the general public response to these kinds of studies would be necessarily contentious, at least here in the U.S. where "educational achievement" is unfortunately not valued all that much. Being a college-drop-out-CEO is just-the-best. The awareness of the emergency-state of mathematics in the U.S. only made that many more Americans use "I'm just not good at math," as an excuse. So they can always find something else "to be good at" or claim that their boredom or inherent-lack-of-interest is always due to the subject itself.

Imagine a world in which we had a "perfect" EduYears GPS that not only predicted general educational achievement, but also the subset of subjects towards which our genetics "optimally" predisposed us. What would prevent policy makers to then incentivize each individual moving towards the subjects (and therefore professions) to which they are "best predisposed"? China and Russia are not genetic egalitarian states but…

And, I don't know if I am a "genetic egalitarian" as I am tempted to narcissistically pat myself on the back with results of this study. However, I feel overall that these sorts of studies make the world seem more boring than it really is without doing anything to relieve real human suffering.

Unknown said...

It is possible that UKcentrism more than Eurocentrism guided Selzam and GPS et al for their conclusions. Hopefully to their 9% non-ignorance work for retracting this rubbish-research paid with public money. This explains why Brexit was so popular.