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Heritability Controversy

Is heritability an “indirect” measure? This is an intuitive judgment based on whether you think the causal connections are (intuitively) obvious. Do you put it in the “billiard ball” category or the “unwarranted assumption” category? This will be greatly influenced by how much time you have spent thinking about biological causation.

#Philosophy and heritability: What do we mean by cause? Clarify innate, nurture

Criticism: Trait causes vs trait differences Bucket model: series or parallel, additive or interacting. Area of rectangle Heritability is statistical measure only applying to populations, not individuals. Somehow it emerges without being to any degree true of individuals? Causal impact of genes vs casual impact of mutations [seems to be restatement of the “cause of existence vs. cause of difference.”]

Thought experiments in the “cause of existence” case often seen to depend on intuitions about division of labor. This is an example of how causality is a complex and slippery concept that is heavily rooted in our nature as social animals. Change faucet/hose faucet/teaspoon.

Heritability paradoxes: number of hands, PKU Heritability meditated by racism (non causal correlation)

How much the drummer and how much the drum? This is a general critique of reductive analysis, not specific to nature/nurture. Yes, scientific theories have unwarranted assumptions, and may be wrong, but they allow progress in understanding. All holism can say is “that's how it is, I think I'll write a poem about it.” What if (instead of being two drummers heard in the distance) you're one of the drummers? Doesn't seem such a pointless distinction then, does it?

Is it true that “there's no such thing as talent”? Is talent a peculiar obsession of our culture? Certainly other cultures value effort more. From the perspective of our individualistic culture, we expect motivation to be more internal, so we see effort as evidence of intrinsic motivation. I think that our individualistic culture pumps up individual differences, rather than playing them down.

What causes poverty? Another incorrect critique of heritability is that it entirely fails to account for SES effects such as wealth and parental education. There's room for dispute of whether the accounting is correct, but this is exactly what heritability is trying to do. Generalizing beyond the sample does require an argument of sufficient similarity. This is the “between group comparison” problem. Cultural differences could also affect heritability. For example individualistic western (WEIRD) cultures could increase heritability of behavior because social conformity pressure is reduced. A liberal culture allows individuals to pursue their behavioral inclinations to a greater degree, increasing the diversity of outcomes, and increasing multiplier effects.

If you just gave poor people enough to bump them above the threshold, would that end poverty?

How much effect can we expect from interventions like free preschool and higher education. Evidence is that means tested interventions can work because the big benefit is to the poorest. Mandatory interventions are likely to have the biggest effect because the worst environments are in dysfunctional families.

Consider our fuzzy intuitions about causation. Suppose we made a causal budget for poverty: % interaction with intentional adults (nurture) % interactions with children and irresponsible adults. % economic opportunity % personal decisions (free will) % other bad luck But aren't your personal decisions influenced by your genes, how you were raised, and community norms? The same of is true of your parents, of course. So at some level this gets into free will. Of course social determinism is no more plausible than genetic, but it interesting to see the connection with free will, and the nearby responsibility.

Events don't happen for a reason, but things survive for a reason. You can see why poverty survives.

We ask the cause because we want to know whom to blame, or we wish to change it by breaking the causal chain. But any enduring system has a mesh of positive and negative feedbacks that maintain it. Poverty isn't a new problem. An attractor.

History of social class? Always present in states. Maybe in some tribal agrarian and herding groups. Either a herd or land is capital, so you get wealth variation, even without hierarchy.

People who are unemployed or under employed aren't effectively exploited by the economy. Then there are those working poor who often have more than one job, and are “exploited”

It's hard to find the right balance with skepticism. On one hand, the skeptics are right. We're far too inclined to think we know, when we don't really. On the other hand, it's worth continuing on the scientific approach to understanding. There is something to the argument that heritability or evolutionary psychology are an advance over non-scientific approaches to these questions. Similarly, we should cut some slack for people trying to use correlational methods to show effectiveness for interventions.

Much of the heat related to nature/nurture is around the classic social Darwinist argument of poverty. We know so much more than we did 100 years ago, but that has had little effect on the political debate. Is this question beyond rational investigation? Both sides have gathered evidence, and that is progress. Though there can't be a control, it does seem that randomized trials could provide good evidence about the effectiveness of particular interventions.

I'd like to figure out a positive spin on heritability and innateness. Authenticity is one facet, diversity another. It's easy to see why people see innateness as bad, though. It's a constraint on the human spirit. I can't say that I think heritability is important because it's such good news, more because of its explanatory power and scientific support. I also think it's important to defend because it shows you can use science to learn about perennial disputes.

For me, the good news is the possibility of moving beyond everyone having their opinion. The good news is that we can understand our world. EP is especially fascinating because it opens the possibility of “why” answers about human nature.

analysis/nature/heritability_controversy.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/31 10:54 by ram