January 17, 2014

Sapolsky: Nature and Nurture are obsolete

In the 2014 Edge confab of clients of John Brockman, science book agent, seers and sages offer their views on: What scientific concepts should be put out to pasture? Robert Sapolsky argues against nature v. nurture as somewhat distinct concepts:
Robert Sapolsky
Neuroscientist, Stanford University; Author, Monkeyluv
[Anti-] Heights And Lengths And Areas Of Rectangles 
... But what I am focusing on [as bad] is a phrase that is right in the narrow sense, but carries very wrong connotations. This is the idea of "a gene-environment interaction." 
The notion of the effects of a particular gene and of a particular environment interacting was a critical counter to the millennia-old dichotomy of nature versus nurture. Its utility in that realm most often took the form of, "It may not be all genetic—don't forget that there may be a gene-environment interaction," rather than, "It may not be all environmental—don't forget that there may be a gene-environmental interaction."

Uh, no, the dominant mindset in the second half of the 20th Century, one which still reigns implicitly on almost all parts of campuses other than those explicitly dealing with genetics, was that the burden of proof was on advocates of any role for nature.
The concept was especially useful when expressed quantitatively, in the face of behavior geneticist's attempts to attribute percentages of variability in a trait to environment versus to genes. It also was the basis of a useful rule of thumb phrase for non-scientists – "But only if." "You can often say that Gene A causes Effect X, although sometimes it is more correct to say that Gene A causes Effect X, 'but only if' it is in Environment Z. In that case, you have something called a gene-environment interaction." 
What's wrong with any of that? It's an incalculably large improvement over "nature or nurture?", especially when a supposed answer to that question has gotten into the hands of policy makers or ideologues.

You notice how the phrase "nature or nurture" is now denounced as hopelessly simplistic by the ideological descendants of the simplistic and failed orthodoxy: "only nurture, never nature?" The moderates like Galton (coiner of the phrase "nature and nurture") who saw both as important turned out to be right. So now it's considered crucial to obfuscate this highly useful bit of conceptual shorthand.

For example, the Great and the Good now want to "fight inequality" through "universal pre-K public schooling." Leaving aside the overlooked issue of the enormous lag time in how the nurture of 4-year-olds will -- even theoretically -- have much impact on, say, the Forbes 400 (average age 66), this is very much of a nature-nurture question. The proposed policies of Barack Obama and Bill de Blasio are based on two assumptions:

- that the nature-nurture balance in 21st Century American life is tipped so far toward nurture that income inequality in several decades can be substantially affected by a change in nurture at age 4;

- the assumption that the nurture provided by American four-year-olds' loved ones is so far inferior to the nurture that would be provided by government employees that it's all worthwhile (an assumption, by the way, tested in boarding schools for the indigenous in Australia, Canada, and America in the early 20th Century with unencouraging results).
My problem with the concept is with the particularist use of "a" gene-environment interaction, the notion that there can be one. This is because, at the most benign, this implies that there can be cases where there aren't gene-environment interactions. Worse, that those cases are in the majority. Worst, the notion that lurking out there is something akin to a Platonic ideal as to every gene's actions—that any given gene has an idealized effect, that it consistently "does" that, and that circumstances where that does not occur are rare and represent either pathological situations or inconsequential specialty acts. Thus, a particular gene may have a Platonically "normal" effect on intelligence unless, of course, the individual was protein malnourished as a fetus, had untreated phenylketonuria, or was raised as a wild child by meerkats. 
The problem with "a" gene-environment interaction is that there is no gene that does something. It only has a particular effect in a particular environment, and to say that a gene has a consistent effect in every environment is really only to say that it has a consistent effect in all the environments in which it has been studied to date. This has become ever more clear in studies of the genetics of behavior, as there has been increasing appreciation of environmental regulation of epigenetics, transcription factors, splicing factors, and so on. And this is most dramatically pertinent to humans, given the extraordinary range of environments—both natural and culturally constructed—in which we live.

But are the ranges of typical environments to be affected by Universal Pre-K all that enormous? At present, the handful of children discovered to be kept chained to the water heater in the basement are taken away and put in foster care for better nurture, so Universal Pre-K shouldn't be evaluated against worst case scenarios.

Reading between the lines of the countless articles about how poor children are 30 million words behind, it's clear that the picture that liberals have in their minds of whom Universal Pre-K will rescue from inequality are black children being raised by a combination of tired grandmothers and surly welfare mothers with the TV on and various babbydaddies and boyfriends showing up and then disappearing. That's not a good environment, but it's not being raised by meerkats either.

The impact of nature and nurture when it comes to evaluating the expected value vs. the cost of Universal Pre-K are very much empirical questions. But many prefer to obfuscate rather than to try to clarify.
The problem with "a gene-environment interaction" is the same as asking what height has to do with the area of a rectangle, and being told that in this particular case, there is a height/length interaction.

Let's look at a rectangular analogy to Universal Pre-K. You are a downtown real estate developer. The most desirable block downtown is covered with skyscrapers doing a booming business, except for one parking lot with a street frontage of 100 feet in length. (This is, unfortunately, a 3d analogy, so let's just assume away the third dimension for the sake of simplicity: Assume the depth of the parking lot is the same as the depth of all the neighboring skyscrapers on the block and you would build over the entire depth.) The owner offers the parking lot for sale for $10 million. Do you buy it?

Well, the length of the lot is fixed, rather like nature in the short run, so the one thing in question in your mind is the height (nurture's stand-in in this example) of the building you would want to erect on the lot. If you can get the permits and financing to build a 75-story building, you will make a fortune. If you can only get the permits and financing to build a 5-story building, you will lose a fortune. So, your informed judgment about potential height (i.e., nurture), the one variable that is, as it were, up in the air, is absolutely central to your decision-making process. 

Professor Sapolsky then calls you up to explain that it is boring and trivial to think about height/length interaction and that all the most sophisticated thinkers are far beyond that. 

You hang up on him.
  

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steve -- first, a compliment: I think you see the world more clearly and insightfully than anyone else I read. You're like a quantitative Mark Twain who seems to get to the nub of things by constantly stepping back to put things in perspective. It's a little depressing reading you, since I come away knowing I'm not quite one of the big winners in the world, but I often learn something new and compelling.

And a suggestion: Please examine and write about Heckman's work on early childhood education. In my opinion, a lot does not seem right with Heckman's style of analysis. In particular, I draw a parallel between how you critiqued Fischer and his many cronies (to paraphrase, he is an economic magician and we know this because all his friends and students say so) and Heckman's style of research. His statistical methods are ridiculously complex and built on mountains of assumptions, none of which we will ever have any hope of rigorously testing or refuting. His Heckman "correction", for which he won the quasi-Nobel prize, is like an alchemical trick -- it generates a publishable result where there, at first, seems to be none. Years from now, I think many will come to believe that this style of research has produced a genuine Library of Babel -- any result is possible if you're willing to dig long and hard enough for the assumptions to support it.

Anonymous said...


'homophobia' is a total degradation of a scientific/medical term.

Anonymous said...

If nature VERSUS nurture must go, can we have nature AND nurture?

Or is that too much to ask for?

Anonymous said...

Behavior genetics is not analogous to asking if height or length contributes more to the area of a single rectangle. Rather, it’s analogous to asking that assuming you have a large number of rectangles of varying heights and lengths, what’s the relative contribution of height differences and length differences to differences in area among those rectangles? There is of course always a definitive answer to this question, there’s nothing problematic about it. Criticisms of behavior genetics largely consist of these utterly fallacious arguments.

Anonymous said...

Nature sets the height of the bar and nurture decides whether the bar is reached.

Reg Cæsar said...

I don't mean to sound Nietzschean, but aren't we leaving out the little matter of WILL?

To continue with the real estate metaphor, sheer bloodyminded will explains more about Donald Trump than nature and nurture combined.

I know, I know… "Trump was born with that will!" vs. "No, that will was instilled into him!"

Well, I say he chose it!

countenance said...

Sailer writes:

Reading between the lines of the countless articles about how poor children are 30 million words behind, it's clear that the picture that liberals have in their minds of whom Universal Pre-K will rescue from inequality are black children being raised by a combination of tired grandmothers and surly welfare mothers with the TV on and various babbydaddies and boyfriends showing up and then disappearing. That's not a good environment, but it's not being raised by meerkats either.

I respond:

And these very same leftists will snarl, growl and attack you for calling out the black undertow and its pathologies.

Anonymous said...

Funny you put this up today, Steve. I was looking at the topics/essays this morning and one caught my eye. Was going to send it, but figured you had already read the essays.

For those interested, Nina Jablonski, a "biological anthropologist and paleobiologist at Penn State" concludes her essay with this:

"Race has a hold on history, but it no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies of human diversity and inequity won't be easy, but is necessary.


Her essay is the second in this link: http://www.edge.org/

Anonymous said...

Sapolsky: "What's wrong with any of that? It's an incalculably large improvement over "nature or nurture?", especially when a supposed answer to that question has gotten into the hands of policy makers or ideologues."

I think Prof. Sapolsky, who has done a lot of work on the neurobiological effects of T. gondii, might be kind of spooked by what we're likely to continue to discover about nature and behavior.

Maguro said...

This nature-nurture stuff is all very simple. Homosexuality is 100% nature and everything else is 100% nurture. Just remember that and you'll be good.

john sager said...

Thanks, Maguro. I've noticed that, too.

Anonymous said...

"Race has a hold on history, but it no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies of human diversity and inequity won't be easy, but is necessary."

Okay. 'Race' must go, but we need another word for it.



Anonymous said...

The 'noble lie' must go in science.

Cowardism must go.

Primitive Thinker said...

All I know, is that whenever the Nature/Nurture question was tackled by The Three Stooges, Nature won out. Of course, in Trading Places, Nurture was the winner.

Anonymous said...

"UNC controversies show that college isn't always worth the price tag."

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/13/higher-education-college-university-column/4440369/

"Everyone should go to college, we're frequently told. But what if we had a college, and nobody came? And still got credit anyway.

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill might not have gotten quite to that point, but it has come close: More than 50 classes offered by the African Studies department, and very popular with athletes, appear not to have actually existed. Some of these courses listed instructors who had not "supervised the course and graded the work," and others "were taught irregularly," a university review said.

UNC's chancellor and football coach lost their jobs. The African Studies department chair, Professor Julius Nyang'oro, is under indictment for fraud. That's bad enough. But it gets worse.

Now we're hearing that many UNC athletes can't really read or write. No one, of course, expects a person who excels at a sport to necessarily excel at academics, any more than we expect Nobel Prize winners to posses a great jump shot. But college "students" who are functionally illiterate strike at the very point of college, which is, supposedly, to educate.

Observing this phenomenon, Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, writes:

UNC Chapel Hill is not a coherent undergraduate institution. It's a holding company that provides shared marketing, finance and physical plant services for a group of autonomous departments, which are in turn holding companies for autonomous scholars who teach as they please. This is the only possible explanation for the years-long, wholly undetected operation of the African and Afro-American Studies Department credit fraud scam. Or, rather, it's the only possible explanation other than a huge, organization-wide conspiracy in which the university administration, department, and football team colluded to hand out fake grades to hundreds of athletes."

"After the Chapel Hill scandals broke, CNN conducted an investigation of athletic programs across the nation, finding that at public universities across the country, many football and basketball players are reading at the eighth-grade level, making it doubtful that they're passing college classes on their own. The CNN report added: "The data obtained through open records requests also showed a staggering achievement gap between college athletes and their peers at the same institution.""

"And, in fact, research shows that many college students, not just athletes, don't learn much. A recent book from the University of Chicago Press, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that 36% of college students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over a full four years in college. The reason for this is lack of rigor: Arum and Roksa found that most students study only about 12-14 hours a week, most of it in groups. Half of students don't take a single course in which they have to write more than 20 pages over a semester. So the amount of education in "higher education" doesn't have to be all that high."

Anonymous said...

"UNC whistleblower stands firm: Player couldn’t read, and she’ll show evidence to Williams"

http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/01/10/3522277/unc-whistleblower-stands-firm.html

" Mary Willingham, the UNC learning specialist who blew the whistle on a long-running academic fraud, said Friday that if men’s basketball coach Roy Williams does not believe one of his players couldn’t read or write, she will show him proof.

Willingham also provided copies of emails that show twice last summer, she sent findings of her research into athletes’ reading deficiencies to university officials, saying, for example, that 60 percent of athletes who were admitted to the university with subpar academic records were reading at a level between the fourth and eighth grades."

"She said she knows that one of Williams’ players could not read.

“I stand by what I said, and if he wants to meet with me and go through his players, I’d be happy to share that,” said Willingham, who worked in the tutoring program for student athletes from 2003 to 2010. “I have his scores and ... I’m the one who taught him.

“I went to a lot of basketball games in the Dean Dome, but Roy never came and sat with me while I tutored his guys.”

Willingham, 52, first disclosed her concerns about the athletes’ struggles and the bogus classes to The News & Observer in August 2011. She went public in an N&O story Nov. 17, 2012, saying that one student had admitted to never reading a book and another did not know what a paragraph was."

"She reported those scores showed that 60 percent of those athletes had a reading level between the fourth and eighth grades, while between 8 to 10 percent of the athletes read below a third-grade level. She said the university expects students to be able to read at least at the ninth-grade level to handle the workload.

She provided those findings to the university five months ago, emails show.

The reports have drawn a new round of criticism for Willingham from university officials, and this time Williams jumped in. Both suggested she was impugning the character of the university’s student athletes.

“And I’m really proud of my kids. Anybody says anything like that ... that’s not right,” Williams said. “And every kid – and I can’t say others – but I know what the program’s been for 100 years. Every one of the kids that we’ve recruited in 10 years you’d take home with you and let (them) guard your grandchildren.”"

"Shortly after CNN’s report, Willingham said she received several death threats, hate mail and nasty phone calls. She did not file a report, but campus police offered her protection, she said."

john sager said...

Steve, I'd love to see your response to brockman's question

Potatoes said...

"I don't mean to sound Nietzschean, but aren't we leaving out the little matter of WILL?

To continue with the real estate metaphor, sheer bloodyminded will explains more about Donald Trump than nature and nurture combined.

I know, I know… "Trump was born with that will!" vs. "No, that will was instilled into him!"

Well, I say he chose it!"



-Will would also be a product of nature and nurture. Nature example- different people have different innate abilities of delaying gratification for example that can be at least partially heritable (why else would whites in US and Poland have closer scores than US blacks and whites?)
Nurture example- Spoil a kid, and the first hardship he comes upon as an adult, he crumbles.

Reg Cæsar said...

-Will would also be a product of nature and nurture. --Potatoes [say, you're not from East Grand Forks, are you? Lotsa Potatoes there…]

Or it could be that nature, nurture and will all interact. Sorta like 3-D chess.

That might be too much for a Sapolsky to chew. You'd need a Sikorsky to work out the aerodynamics.

Anonymous said...

Galton may have coined "nature and nurture" for a genetics context, but the pairing goes back at least to--who else?--Shakespeare.

In Act 4, scene i, of The Tempest, Prospero uses this phrase in reference to Caliban:

"A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick."

Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, ousted by his overweening brother and marooned on an island with his daughter, has tried to "nurture" Caliban, the creature he found on the island. Caliban, in turn for this nurturing, attempts to rape Prospero's daughter and conspires to kill Prospero. Hence Prospero's conclusion that, in some cases, no amount of nurturing can affect nature. Shakespeare adds that Caliban's mother, Sycorax, was a malevolent witch from Algiers.

These are all minor issues in the plot, but they become staggeringly important in treatments of the play on the modern stage and in the lecture hall. Shakespeare, you see, intended to expose the evils of colonization by showing Prospero dehumanizing the native. There is a scholarly journal on post-colonial studies named after Caliban.


Anonymous said...

"To continue with the real estate metaphor, sheer bloodyminded will explains more about Donald Trump than nature and nurture combined.
I know, I know… "Trump was born with that will!" vs. "No, that will was instilled into him!"
Well, I say he chose it!"

Like Don King?

When I was in NY, the buzz about Trump was he was useful to the Jews. As the loud and brash face of real estate, he gave the impression that some gentile braggart was the king of the hill.

Trump is really small potatoes.

Anonymous said...

Okay. 'Race' must go, but we need another word for it.
OK how about sub-species

Anonymous said...

ELYSIUM is the dumbest crap I've ever seen. Sloppy and shapeless like WWZ. A straight-laced version of IDIOCRACY. No one worth sympathizing with: globo elites on one side and mondo trasho on the other.
Only cool thing was the spinning golf club in the sky and Foster as witch.

So, will LA be SWPL heaven as in HER or beaner hell as in ELYSIUM?
At this point, who cares?

Anonymous said...

Sapolsky's commentary appears to be a case of attempting to deal with what is a fundamentally quantitative reality (the linear decomposition of variance in phenotype) in purely verbal terms and thus coming unmoored from that reality.

Aaron Gross said...

I think Sapolsky's exactly right. More than that, I think he was anticipated by HBD-er Michael Levin two decades ago. If I remember right, in Why Race Matters Levin actually defined the concept of "gene" in terms of its norm of reaction. There might be other problems with that definition, but at least Levin, unlike Sailer, was trying to come to terms with the problem.

As an Anonymous suggested above, "gene-environment interaction" is a statisticsy concept that makes a lot of sense when you're doing analysis of variance. But outside of that narrow statistical usage, it would be nice to see it retired. As he said, it's correct in the narrow sense, but outside of that it's misleading.

Mount Shasta Inquirer said...

Diane Ravitch's latest book recommends two years of pre-kindergarten taught by teachers with a masters degree at ratio of 6 pupils per teacher. This would be about equal to 6 years of regular school with a ratio of 21 to 1. (Only two years of facility use, but my experience with school budgets is that it's about 90% salaries.

Maxwell Power said...

Yeah, I have been integrating this into my daily conversation: "Long line at the DMV? It's the nurture of the beast"

nooffensebut said...

Aaron Gross said:
“As an Anonymous suggested above, "gene-environment interaction" is a statisticsy concept that makes a lot of sense when you're doing analysis of variance. But outside of that narrow statistical usage, it would be nice to see it retired.”

That isn’t a narrow definition; that is the definition. There are many valid philosophical criticisms of G-E interactions, but it has enormous practical usefulness, and many of its enemies have hidden agendas. (Steven Pinker also addresses G-E interactions in his submission.) GWAS Jihadists, like Daniel MacArthur, want to eliminate candidate-gene research, and some of them, like Neuroskeptic and Kevin Mitchell, have explicit agendas against “racism.” G-E interactions revealed associations that could replicate and not be easily dismissed by genome-wide association studies. I suspect that researchers are biased to eliminate controversy because it interferes with their work. Leading researchers for G-E interactions, Terrie Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi, and Michael Rutter, believe that such studies can combat “genetic determinism” in light of public “fears” about behavioral genetics. I have been following research on the warrior gene, and its G-E interaction saved the research. Many in the public don’t really understand what a G-E interaction is. Often the common allele has a powerful protective effect, rather than an equal additive effect with the environment. Because people tend to be resilient to the necessarily mild effects of bad genes that aren’t selected out of the population, a severe environmental factor can help elicit the behavior, but something similar can be achieved by looking at a less severe behavior, like replacing violent aggression with video-game “aggression,” as has been done in warrior-gene research, (or looking at a more severe allele, like MAOA-2R).

Anonymous said...

The classic Three Stooges short, The Hoi Polloi, left no doubt as to the answer to that question. Nature always rules out, at least in Stoogeville!

SFG said...

"I don't mean to sound Nietzschean, but aren't we leaving out the little matter of WILL?

To continue with the real estate metaphor, sheer bloodyminded will explains more about Donald Trump than nature and nurture combined.

I know, I know… "Trump was born with that will!" vs. "No, that will was instilled into him!"

Well, I say he chose it!"

Will is real. Conscientiousness is part nature and nurture.

As for Trump, he had a rich daddy. Which is nurture, technically.

SFG said...

Addendum: I don't rule out a Jewish conspiracy theory, particularly in New York, but that would still fall under 'nurture'. There's nothing magical about WILL--it's conscientiousness, plus low agreeableness, high neuroticism, and high extroversion if applied in the business sense. All of which are part nurture and part nature.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2541612/German-doctor-killed-British-patient-drug-overdose-sues-dead-mans-sons-miss-dinner.html

'German' doctor

Anonymous said...

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/18/ncaa-athletes-grades-college-experience

dumbjckophobia

Anonymous said...

"Diane Ravitch's latest book recommends two years of pre-kindergarten taught by teachers with a masters degree at ratio of 6 pupils per teacher."

Why not Ph.D?

ben tillman said...

Her essay is the second in this link: http://www.edge.org/

No, it is not. It is the second at this link:

http://www.edge.org/responses/what-scientific-idea-is-ready-for-retirement

Mr. Anon said...

Sapolsky employs a typical tactic of leftists: Tenaciously deny that X is true for years, and then - when that position becomes untenable - all of a sudden switch your position to "Of course X is true, everybody has always known that. But it's irrelevant. We've moved on.".

For most of human history nature was considered to be the most important determinant of human nature; nurture was secondary. It was only in the last hundred years, with the advent of marxism and its offshoots into the "social sciences" - the Frankfurt School and the like - that nature was denied entirely and nurture put to the fore. Now that social "scientists" are being spectacularly proved wrong, they wish to change the subject.

Anonymous said...

Austin - West: slackers

NY - East: hipsters

FRANCES HA...

Slipsters?

candid_observer said...

"I think Sapolsky's exactly right. More than that, I think he was anticipated by HBD-er Michael Levin two decades ago. If I remember right, in Why Race Matters Levin actually defined the concept of "gene" in terms of its norm of reaction."

I think Sapolsky is attempting here to do the same think Lewontin did in his day: obfuscate the issues.

Insofar as one attempts to split off all scientific inference about the effects of genes into distinct "norms of reaction", discussion and thought becomes so balkanized that effectively no useful inferences can be drawn.

That is, of course, the entire point of such insistence: to guarantee that no inferences are drawn, that no patterns are noticed.

Of course, the entire science of population genetics is based on abstracting away from balkanized "norms of reaction" and generalizing across a fairly broad set of environments for a broad population. Of course such an approach doesn't truly capture each individual in all his uniqueness, or his environment in all its uniqueness. But there's no way of going forward with the science without first coming to grips with the generalities by noticing and measuring them.

If science isn't allowed to do this, then it's stopped dead in its tracks.

Which is, of course, the point.

Svigor said...

All I know, is that whenever the Nature/Nurture question was tackled by The Three Stooges, Nature won out. Of course, in Trading Places, Nurture was the winner.

I suppose the most salient thing about TP in this context is that nobody's stupid enough to believe that someone as sharp as Murray's character would be living in rags on the street in real life. Then again, I guess leftists' assumptions are kind of predicated on exactly that...

“I went to a lot of basketball games in the Dean Dome, but Roy never came and sat with me while I tutored his guys.”

Haha.

"A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick."

Funny, that was more or less my first thought at anon's "bar" thing:

You can't nurture a nature that isn't there.

Anonymous said...


"As for Trump, he had a rich daddy. Which is nurture, technically."

Daddy passed along genetically his aggressiveness,(ie, his "will,") and his smarts in business--all nature, to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Svigor says it best:


"You can't nurture a nature that isn't there."

Anonymous said...

"I think Sapolsky is attempting here to do the same think Lewontin did in his day: obfuscate the issues."

I wonder if it's a conscious attempt to obfuscate or his biases are so strong he's convinced himself he's right.

Anonymous said...

Trump was all nature...the nature of the $400 million in daddy Fred's estate.

Did anyone read Nina Jablonski's CV? She's in "active collaboration with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." working on new "genetics and genealogy curricula for K-12 and undergrad university students".

After Michael Mann and Jerry Sandusky, how much more noxious vapor can Penn State release into the world?

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

"You can't nurture a nature that isn't there."

It depends on what you mean by 'nature'.

Do you mean 'nature' as physiological or mental attribute?

Or

Do you mean 'nature' as a natural tendency or likelihood?

Clearly, we can't teach dogs how to talk since dogs don't have the brains or mouths to use language like we do.

And no matter how much we flap our limbs, we cannot fly like birds.

But the human mind is fluid and flexible enough to be molded against its natural tendencies.

Suppose Bob is naturally inclined to be a lazy drunk while Nancy is naturally inclined to be a sober workaholic.

But suppose Bob is sent to boarding school and he is disciplined day in and day out to be sober and hardworking.
And suppose Nancy hangs around stupid bitches whose peer pressure pushes her to act likewise.

Or suppose James is naturally lame whereas Zeke is naturally badass. But suppose James hangs around homeys all day long and picks up their lingo and style, whereas Zeke hangs around geeks who read STAR TREK novels in a community where most people are lame.
James will take on some badass mofo characteristics whereas Zeke will likely be more square than he is naturally inclined.

Blacks are naturally more inclined to be funky, but white kids who grew up on black music can also come up with a song like 'play that funky music, white boy'.

Anonymous said...

Will universal pre-K allow slow learners to catch up with fast learners, allow the fast movers to get further ahead, or is it a Harrison Bergeron ploy to keep the fast learners down?

goatweed

David said...

I knew an older lady who had been on Trump's staff of personal assistants (he has or had a number of pa's simultaneously).

She said he had no will at all. They scripted his every move and utterance. They told him where to go, what to say, and what to do. From moment to moment, he never knew what he was doing or going to do; they just pushed him around, she said.

David said...

>Suppose Bob is naturally inclined to be a lazy drunk while Nancy is naturally inclined to be a sober workaholic. But suppose Bob is sent to boarding school and he is disciplined day in and day out to be sober and hardworking. And suppose Nancy hangs around stupid bitches whose peer pressure pushes her to act likewise.<

Many a Bob or Nancy has a midlife crisis and nature outs.

Glaivester said...

Worst, the notion that lurking out there is something akin to a Platonic ideal as to every gene's actions

Except that is how science works; you create a Platonic ideal as a model, and then try to add adjustments in order to increasingly reflect reality.

For example, Einstein's theory of relativity refined Newton's laws of motion rather than simply eliminating them. You couldn't have relativity without starting from a Newtonian framework.

Other examples of Platonism would be the ideal gas law, and reaction equilibrium equations (which are taught as ratios of chemicals in basic chemistry, and then if you take analytical/quantitative chemistry, you discover a whole bunch of variable coefficients that alter the calculations).

Anonymous said...

The proposed policies of Barack Obama and Bill de Blasio are based on two assumptions: - yada yada yada lies lies lies.

This is about two things – money and power. All this discussion about what is best for children is eye wash.

This is about a transfer of responsibility for paying babysitting fees from mothers to the leftist power seeking state. It is political power hungry feminism on the march – nothing more.

p.s. What is best for 90% of all children at the age of four is to be at home with their mother.

Gert Frobe Body Double said...

"I think Sapolsky is attempting here to do the same think Lewontin did in his day: obfuscate the issues."

"I wonder if it's a conscious attempt to obfuscate or his biases are so strong he's convinced himself he's right."

Coincidentally enough, did you know that Sapolsky and Lewontin are both of exclusively Finnish decent? What are the odds??

Aaron Gross said...

@nooffensebut, you seem to be agreeing with Sapolsky (and me). I'm not familiar with the people you mentioned, but Sapolsky is saying that he doesn't want the term used in ways other than what you call "the definition," as a term in statistical models.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I still don't see what you're disagreeing with.

Aaron Gross said...

I think that where Steve's post goes off track is when he starts with Sapolsky's example, and then riffs on universal pre-K. I mean this hypothetical example of why the term should be retired:

"You can often say that Gene A causes Effect X, although sometimes it is more correct to say that Gene A causes Effect X, 'but only if' it is in Environment Z. In that case, you have something called a gene-environment interaction."

I haven't seen Sailer or anyone else defend that actual formulation. On the pre-K example (Sailer's, not Sapolsky's), Sailer may or may not be right that the future environment being proposed would be pretty similar to familiar environments. But that's an argument that could be made much more clearly without talk of "gene-environment interaction." Sailer's argument could be expressed more clearly as, "the proposed environment is very close to environments that have already been studied, and given the relatively flat response over the range we've studied, we're not likely to see a big response from such a change."

I don't think Sapolsky would object to formulating the argument that way. You get to make your argument; it's paranoid to think that Sapolsky's trying to shut you down. But you make your argument without obfuscating it with words like "gene-environment interaction."

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read Nina Jablonski's CV? She's in "active collaboration with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." working on new "genetics and genealogy curricula for K-12 and undergrad university students".
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A dirty shame.

Svigor said...

Coincidentally enough, did you know that Sapolsky and Lewontin are both of exclusively Finnish decent? What are the odds??

Funny, they don't look "Scots-Irish"...

Cail Corishev said...

"A recent book from the University of Chicago Press, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that 36% of college students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over a full four years in college. The reason for this is lack of rigor: Arum and Roksa found that most students study only about 12-14 hours a week, most of it in groups."

Wow, that's impressively bad. Does 12-14 hours/week of study, in addition to class time, really qualify as "lack of rigor"? How many hours would you have to spend in study to be called rigorous?

You'd think if you spent 2000 hours (13 hours/week, 9 months a year for four years) working on something, you'd make progress on accident, even if you weren't trying particularly hard. If you spent that many hours shooting free throws, you'd certainly expect to get better. College must actually have a negative effect on learning to get results like these.