Friday, November 08, 2013

Searching for the math gene

Here is an example of people opposed to knowledge.

Nature mag reports:
Rothberg and physicist Max Tegmark, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, have enrolled about 400 mathematicians and theoretical physicists from top-ranked US universities in a study dubbed ‘Project Einstein’. They plan to sequence the participants’ genomes using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed.

The team will be wading into a field fraught with controversy. ...

The critics say that the sizes of these studies are too small to yield meaningful results for such complex traits. And some are concerned about ethical issues. If the projects find genetic markers for maths ability, these could be used as a basis for the selective abortion of fetuses or in choosing between embryos created through in vitro fertilization, says Curtis McMullen. A mathematician at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a 1998 winner of the prestigious Fields Medal, McMullen was asked to participate in Project Einstein and declined. ...

There is precedent to the concept of sequencing extreme outliers in a population in the hunt for influential genes. Scientists have used the technique to sift for genes that influence medical conditions such as high blood pressure and bone loss. Some behavioural geneticists, such as Robert Plomin at King’s College London, who is involved with the BGI project, say that there is no reason that this same approach won’t work for maths ability. As much as two-thirds of a child’s mathematical aptitude seems to be influenced by genes (Y. Kovas et al. Psychol. Sci. 24, 2048–2056; 2013).
This project may be a failure, as most attempts to relate genes to behavior have been.

Some people are irrationally scared of genes and IQ. This is just a research project looking for medical knowledge.

The name "Einstein" is an odd choice, if they are looking for mathematical talent. Einstein made very little contribution to mathematics. He is famous for relativity and that is a mathematical theory, but nearly all of the mathematics was worked out by others, and not Einstein.


Anonymous said...

The fear comes from eugenics. I suppose you could learn a fact about human genetics and ability from this but to call it medical knowledge is implying that there is a medicinal purpose to it. Are you suggesting that not having the math gene(s) is a disease to be treated?

Roger said...

If there is a math gene, then it would be a human trait like hair color or anything else. Some people may want it, and some people may not.