Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gene and IQ tests are scary

A gene-testing company blog writes:
They’re interested in exploring their own genetic information because knowing gives them the power to take action. ...

But not everyone sees things in that way. Some people don’t want to know. ...

It is interesting to look a little deeper at this notion of why some people want to know and some others don’t. If you talk to someone who has tested, they’re often baffled as to why someone wouldn’t want to know. Conversely, if you talk to someone who doesn’t want to get tested, he or she seem incredulous that anyone would want to find out they had a genetic risk for any disease.
This is strange. You do not find people who are similarly reluctant to learn their blood pressure or cholesterol count.

The print article says:
But I appreciate the advice from Duke's Don Taylor most. "It's possible the best thing you can do is burn that damn report and never think of it again.
There is something about gene tests and IQ tests that is very scary to people. The above hostility to DNA tests seems quite irrational, as the info in question is that not that much different from learning the health of your relatives. Eg, if your parents have heart disease, then you are at higher risk for heart disease.

The whole business plan of 23andme.com is based on convincing people to share genetic info, and yet the company was apparently unable to find one person to make his gene data public. The site has some health info about a fictionalized Mendel family, but not the actual genome data. I would think that the principals of the company would post their genomes, to show that the data is nothing to be scared about.

What is the downside to posting your genome on a public web site? If you have an unknown illegitimate child somewhere, he might find you. Or the police might match you to a cold case murder. Or you could be Angelina Jolie and people could find out that you have an inherited susceptibility for breast cancer.

The College Board SAT test is no longer called an aptitude test, because people were scared that it was too much like an IQ test.

Another article says it is bad to let kids think that some are more intelligent than others:
The idea that math ability is mostly genetic is one dark facet of a larger fallacy that intelligence is mostly genetic. ...

A body of research on conceptions of ability has shown two orientations toward ability. Students with an Incremental orientation believe ability (intelligence) to be malleable, a quality that increases with effort. Students with an Entity orientation believe ability to be nonmalleable, a fixed quality of self that does not increase with effort. ...

Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic.
The authors teach math and claim that A students think that they are acing math because they are smarter, but it is actually because they work harder:
The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.
This is supposed to convince us that it is better to tell kids that success is a function of hard work, not talent. But the argument seems to imply that some kids are indeed doing better because they believe that they are developing their natural talents.

Of course school performance, as well as almost all other behaviors, is a complex combination of nature and nurture. That has been known since ancient times. The highest achievers in sports, math, or anything else have superior talent and training. The idea that success is merely a matter of 10,000 hours of work is a foolish myth. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which getting a DNA or aptitude test is harmful.

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