Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the superman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end. -- Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The kind of thoughts one has while overlooking Lake Como from a grand villa  :-)
The New Atlantis: Friedrich Nietzsche gets a bad rap, for celebrating the will to power and leaving good morals by the wayside; in growing numbers, Americans are beginning to feel the same uneasy skepticism toward the Silicon Valley moguls who have come to thoroughly dominate our economy and imagination. For critics on the left as well as the right, today’s tech titans are uncomfortably squishy, or indifferent, when it comes to partisan, ideological matters. ...

... As Nietzsche knew, a democratic society like ours is supremely unlikely to produce any bona fide supermen. But supernerds? They’re multiplying like rabbits, and they’ve got an open field. Nothing can stop them; certainly not the rest of us.

According to Peter Thiel, however, that scary conclusion is false, for an even scarier reason. In interviews, speeches, and his new book of adapted college lectures, Zero to One, Thiel — the most political and theoretical of the supernerds — raises the prospect of a remarkably comprehensive failure among our best and brightest.

... Thiel’s critique, it turns out, has much in common with Nietzsche’s: Nietzsche worries that Darwinian competition breeds mediocre humans, while Thiel complains that commercial competition breeds mediocre companies. The principle of incremental success produces no true success at all; instead, it suppresses creative genius.

Zero to One is mainly “about how to build companies that create new things,” as Thiel writes in the preface. ...

Thiel begins by distinguishing between two kinds of technological progress: horizontal progress, which means “copying things that work — going from 1 to n,” and vertical progress, which means “doing new things — going from 0 to 1.” The modern world, says Thiel, “experienced relentless [vertical] technological progress from the advent of the steam engine in the 1760s all the way up to about 1970.”

... “Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum,” he writes, “but it won’t help you find the global maximum.” And with limited resources in a global economy, nothing less than the world is at stake. To find the global maximum, entrepreneurs must “transcend the daily brute struggle for survival” by building “creative monopolies” — creating markets where none exist, rather than dumping their energies into wringing the last marginal dollar of value from markets choked with belligerent competitors. For example, Google, as Thiel points out, has basically held a monopoly over Internet search since the early 2000s. For Thiel, the benefits of creative monopolies extend far beyond the companies themselves. While we typically think of monopolies as exploitative and domineering, “creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world.”

Creative monopolies require what Thiel calls “definite optimism,” which involves making bold, specific plans for the future, and taking risks to fulfill them. ...

... Overtly, we’re increasingly at the mercy of our technological overlords. Covertly, our social life has become crippled by something so powerful that it can render even the most promising supernerd all but powerless, to say nothing of you and me. Our kryptonite is a cosmic idea, one with which Nietzsche was all too familiar: “the people have won — or ‘the slaves’ or ‘the mob’ or ‘the herd’ or whatever you like to call them,” Nietzsche said about the self-styled democratic free spirits. “‘The masters’ have been disposed of; the morality of the common man has won.” Nietzsche despised this mob-ification of morals. ...

As Francis Fukuyama put it in Our Posthuman Future (2002) ... a division between the metaphorical 1 and 99 percent might come about through a biotechnological revolution — something about which even the most assertive of our supernerds at Google are still cagey. ...

“We live in a world,” Thiel told the Dinner for Western Civilization, “in which courage is in far shorter supply than genius.” As he puts it in Zero to One: “Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply.” ...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Arthur Kroeber (Gavekal) on Chinese economy

Highly recommended. Kroeber gives a realistic assessment of the Chinese economy, covering topics such as historical development models, infrastructure investment, debt levels, SOEs vs private enterprise, corruption pre- and post-Xi, demographics, hukou reform, etc.
In this episode of Sinica, we present an in-depth interview with Arthur Kroeber, founding partner and head of research for Gavekal Dragonomics, an independent global economic research firm, and the editor-in-chief of its journal, China Economic Quarterly.

Arthur’s new book, China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know, superbly explores China’s astonishing expansion during the “reform and opening up” period and the challenges the country now faces as growth slows. He provides a clear-eyed take on a huge range of subjects, from the internationalization of the renminbi to local debt to the way China’s state-owned enterprises function (or don’t). The book is a refreshing antidote to much of the commentary in the media, where “The Conventional Wisdom” we discuss in the podcast consists of doomsayers predicting China’s imminent collapse and Pollyannas who see the country as an unstoppable economic juggernaut.

Monday, June 20, 2016

EQ, IQ, and all that

This Quora answer, from a pyschology professor who works on personality psychometrics, illustrates well the difference between rigorous and non-rigorous research in this area. Some years ago a colleague and I tried to replicate Duckworth's findings on Grit, but to no avail, although IIRC our sample size was roughly as large as hers. In our minds, we used Grit and Conscientiousness (Big5) interchangeably, although we specifically used Duckworth's Grit Scale survey in our measurements.

Note, I do believe that the ability to model the internal emotions and feelings of others varies from individual to individual, and this is probably how I would define something like EQ. However, that is different from the claim that EQ is something we can reliably measure and use to predict outcomes, or that it isn't a combination of other already known constructs.
Quora: Jordan B Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist,... 10.3k Views

There is no such thing as EQ. Let me repeat that: "There is NO SUCH THING AS EQ." The idea was popularized by a journalist, Daniel Goleman, not a psychologist. You can't just invent a trait. You have to define it and measure it and distinguish it from other traits and use it to predict the important ways that people vary.

EQ is not a psychometrically valid concept. Insofar as it is anything (which it isn't) it's the Big Five trait agreeableness, although this depends, as it shouldn't, on which EQ measure is being used (they should all measure THE SAME THING). Agreeable people are compassionate and polite, but they can also be pushovers. Disagreeable people, on average (if they aren't too disagreeable) make better managers, because they are straightforward, don't avoid conflict and cannot be easily manipulated.

Let me say it again: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EQ. Scientifically, it's a fraudulent concept, a fad, a convenient band-wagon, a corporate marketing scheme. (Here's an early critique by Davies, M., Stankov, L. and Roberts, D. Emotional intelligence: in search of an elusive construct. - PubMed - NCBI ; Here's a conclusion reached by Harms and Crede, in an excellent article -- comprehensive and well thought-through (2010): "Our searches of the literature revealed only six articles in which the authors either explicitly examined the incremental validity of EI scores over measures of both cognitive ability and Big Five personality traits in predicting either academic or work performance, or presented data in a manner that allowed examination of this issue. Not one of these six articles (Barchard,2003; Newsome, Day, & Catano, 2000;O’Connor & Little, 2003; Rode, Arthaud-Day, Mooney, Near, & Baldwin, 2008;Rode et al., 2007; Rossen & Kranzler,2009) showed a significant contribution for EI in the prediction of performance after controlling for both cognitive ability and the Big Five... For correlations involving the overall EI construct, EI explained almost no incremental variance in performance ([change in prediction] = .00. Findings were identical when considering only cases involving an ability-based measure of IE...." See:

Harms and Crede also comment: "...proofs of validity [for EI[ seem to come from measuring constructs that have existed for a long time and are simply being relabeled and recategorized. For example,one of the proposed measures of ESC,the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (Mikolajczak, Luminet, Leroy, & Roy,2007), makes use of measures of assertiveness, social competence, self-confidence,stress management, and impulsivity among other things. Most, if not all, of these constructs are firmly embedded in and well-accounted for by well-designed measures of personality traits such as the Hogan Personality Inventory (Hogan & Hogan, 1992)and the Multidimensional Personality Ques-tionnaire (Tellegen & Waller, 2008). The substantial relationships observed between these ESC and trait-based EI measures, and personality inventories, bears this out. It therefore appears that the predictive validity of ESC or EI measures may be accounted for in large part by the degree to which they assess subfacets of higher-order traits relevant to the outcomes being predicted. For example, Cherniss (2010) relates that two studies of self-discipline showed them to be significant predictors of academic performance and then criticizes Landy (2005) for not taking them into account in a review of studies of ‘‘social intelligence.’’ Given that self-control (or impulse control)is widely regarded as a major subfacet of conscientiousness (Roberts, Chernyshenko,Stark, & Goldberg, 2005) and that numerous studies have linked Conscientiousness with academic performance, that there is a link between a facet of Conscientiousness and academic performance is hardly news."

IQ is a different story. It is the most well-validated concept in the social sciences, bar none. It is an excellent predictor of academic performance, creativity, ability to abstract, processing speed, learning ability and general life success.

There are other traits that are important to general success, including conscientiousness, which is an excellent predictor of grades, managerial and administrative ability, and life outcomes, on the more conservative side.

It should also be noted that IQ is five or more times as powerful a predictor as even good personality trait predictors such as conscientiousness. The true relationship between grades, for example, and IQ might be as high as r = .50 or even .60 (accounting for 25-36% of the variance in grades). Conscientiousness, however, probably tops out at around r = .30, and is more typically reported as r = .25 (say, 5 to 9% of the variance in grades). There is nothing that will provide you with a bigger advantage in life than a high IQ. Nothing. To repeat it: NOTHING.

In fact, if you could choose to be born at the 95th percentile for wealth, or the 95th percentile for IQ, you would be more successful at age 40 as a consequence of the latter choice.

It might be objected that we cannot measure traits such as conscientiousness as well as we measure IQ, as we primarily rely on self or other-reports for the former. But no one has solved this problem. There are no "ability" tests for conscientiousness. I am speaking as someone who has tried to produce such tests for ten years, and failed (despite trying dozens of good ideas, with top students working on the problem). IQ is king. This is why academic psychologists almost never measure it. If you measure it along with your putatively "new" measure, IQ will kill your ambitions. For the career minded, this is a no go zone. So people prefer to talk about multiple intelligences and EQ, and all these things that do not exist. PERIOD.


By the way, there is also no such thing as "grit," despite what Angela Duckworth says. Grit is conscientiousness, plain and simple (although probably more the industrious side than the orderly side). All Duckworth and her compatriots did was fail to notice that they had re-invented a very well documented phenomena, that already had a name (and, when they did notice it, failed to produce the appropriate mea culpas. Not one of psychology's brighter moments). A physicists who "re-discovered" iron and named it melignite or something equivalent would be immediately revealed as ignorant or manipulative (or, more likely, as ignorant and manipulative), and then taunted out of the field. Duckworth? She received a MacArthur Genius grant for her trouble. That's all as reprehensible as the self-esteem craze (self-esteem, by the way, is essentially .65 Big Five trait neuroticism (low) and .35 extraversion (high), with some accurate self-assessment of general life competence thrown in, for those who are a bit more self-aware). See

By the way, in case I haven't made myself clear: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EQ. OR GRIT. OR "SELF-ESTEEM."

It's crooked psychology. Reminiscent of all the recent upheaval in the social psychology subfield: Final Report: Stapel Affair Points to Bigger Problems in Social Psychology

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New Yorker on Silicon Valley (HBO)

Almost all the startup people I know watch Silicon Valley (HBO), and they agree with me that it unerringly captures the essence of startup life in a hilarious way. Also good: Billions (Showtime) on the hedge fund world.
New Yorker: ... “The first part of the job is making sure we get the specifics right, because our audience won’t tolerate any mistakes,” ...

Dotan worked part-time for a few weeks, but then came on full-time. At first, he oversaw a staff of four: an expert in file compression; a user-interface engineer, to help write the code on the characters’ screens; a C-level tech executive; and a Silicon Valley lawyer, to draft realistic contracts. By the end of the first season, Dotan’s staff had grown to twelve. “If someone is holding a document on the show, that document is written out, in full, the way that it would be in real life,” ...

“Some Valley big shots have no idea how to react to the show,” Miller told me. “They can’t decide whether to be offended or flattered. And they’re mystified by the fact that actors have a kind of celebrity that they will never have—there’s no rhyme or reason to it, but that’s the way it is, and it kills them.” Miller met Musk at the after-party in Redwood City. “I think he was thrown by the fact that I wasn’t being sycophantic—which I couldn’t be, because I didn’t realize who he was at the time. He said, ‘I have some advice for your show,’ and I went, ‘No thanks, we don’t need any advice,’ which threw him even more. And then, while we’re talking, some woman comes up and says ‘Can I have a picture?’ and he starts to pose—it was kinda sad, honestly—and instead she hands the camera to him and starts to pose with me. It was, like, Sorry, dude, I know you’re a big deal—and, in his case, he actually is a big deal—but I’m the guy from ‘Yogi Bear 3-D,’ and apparently that’s who she wants a picture with.”

The three biggest public companies in the world, as measured by market capitalization, are Apple, the Google parent company Alphabet, and Microsoft. Are they enlightened agents of philanthrocapitalism or robber-baron monopolies? “In the real Silicon Valley, as on the show, there is a cohort of people who have a real sense of purpose and actually think they’re going to change the world, and then there’s a cohort of people who say farcical things about their apps that they clearly don’t believe themselves,” Sam Altman, who runs the startup incubator Y Combinator, told me. The show accurately reflects this complexity because the people who make it—like all thoughtful people, including the most powerful people in Silicon Valley—can’t decide how they feel about Silicon Valley. “I swing back and forth,” Clay Tarver, one of the show’s writers and producers, told me. “The more I meet these people and learn about them, the more I come away thinking that, despite all the bullshit and greed, there actually is something exciting and hopeful going on up there.”

Hemingway's cafes

WSJ: Hemingway’s Favorite Parisian Cafes, A tour of the literary Parisian cafes Hemingway’s generation made famous. For some reason they don't mention Les Deux Magots!

See also With Pascin at the Dôme:
I always wondered who Hemingway had in mind as the dark sister when he wrote the short story With Pascin at the Dôme, which appeared in the collection A Moveable Feast. According to the article Who Was With Pascin at the Dôme?, it was the model Bronia Perlmutter (on the left, below). The early 20th century precursor to Natalie Portman?
With Pascin at the Dôme: ... I went over and sat down at a table with Pascin and two models who were sisters. Pascin had waved to me while I had stood on the sidewalk on the rue Delambre side wondering whether to stop and have a drink or not. Pascin was a very good painter and he was drunk; steady, purposefully drunk and making good sense. The two models were young and pretty. One was very dark, small, beautifully built with a falsely fragile depravity. The other was childlike and dull but very pretty in a perishable childish way. She was not as well built as her sister, but neither was anyone else that spring.

'The good and the bad sisters,' Pascin said. 'I have money. What will you drink?' 'une demi-blonde,'I said to the waiter. 'Have a whisky. I have money.'
Can anyone identify this third wave coffee place I visited last week? Hint: it's in the east bay.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Interview with James Miller Future Strategist podcast

James Miller is professor of Economics at Smith College. We had a fun conversation -- the hour went by almost before I noticed!

Does anyone know of a service that will create a text transcript of the discussion?

Foo Camp 2016

I was at Foo Camp the last few days. This year they kept the size a bit lower (last year was kind of a zoo) and I thought the vibe was a lot more relaxed and fun. Many thanks to the O'Reilly folks for running this wonderful meeting and for inviting me. My first time was 9 years ago!

I ran a session TRUMP 2016? CAN IT HAPPEN HERE? (a few people in the session caught the Sinclair Lewis reference) to get a feel for whether the tech community understands what's happening in our country. At another meeting earlier in the year I concluded
Everything at this meeting is off the record, so I can't say much about it. The one comment I'll make is that among this group of elites almost no one I've spoken to groks Trump or his appeal to a large number of Americans.
The other session I co-ran (with Othman Laraki of Color Genomics) was on genomics.

Lots of good stuff at hashtag #foocamp.

Here's a list of book recommendations from one of the sessions (James Cham).

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Roe's scientists: original published papers

Gwern has provided scans of the original papers published by Anne Roe on studies of 64 eminent scientists. These papers include details concerning the selection of these individuals and the psychometric testing performed on them. Roe's scientists -- selected in their 40's and 50's for outstanding research contributions -- scored much higher on a set of high ceiling psychometric tests than the general population of scientists or PhDs.

Roe's work, combined with SMPY and Duke TIP longitudinal studies, and the earlier Terman studies, support the claim that measured cognitive ability in the far tail significantly increases the likelihood of important contributions to science and technology.

See Annals of psychometry: IQs of eminent scientists.
1. Roe 1949, "Psychological Examinations of Eminent Biologists":

2. Roe 1951, "A Psychological Study of Eminent Biologists":

3. Roe 1951, "A Study of Imagery in Research Scientists":

4. Roe 1951, "Psychological Tests of Research Scientists":

5. Roe 1953, "A Psychological Study of Eminent Psychologists and Anthropologists, and a comparison with Biological and Physical Scientists":

6. Roe 1953, _The Making of a Scientist_:

7. Roe 1951, "A psychological study of physical scientists" (physicists/chemists) now available:
The individuals in the study are listed below.
Physicists will recognize names such as Luis Alvarez, Julian Schwinger, Wendell Furry, J.H. Van Vleck and others. Also in the group were Carleton Coon, B.F. Skinner, Linus Pauling and Sewall Wright.

Allport, Gordon W.(Gordon Willard), 1897-1967
Alvarez 1911-1988, Luis Walter
Anderson, Edgar, 1897-1969
Babcock, Horace W., 1912-2003
Beach, Frank A., (Frank Ambrose), 1911-1988
Beadle, George Wells, 1903-1989
Beams, Jesse W., (Jesse Wakefield), 1898-1977
Bearden, J.A. (Joyce Alvin), 1903-1987
Bonner, James Frederick, 1910-1996
Bruner, Jerome S. (Jerome Seymour), 1915-
Cleland, Ralph E., (Ralph Erskine), 1892-1971
Coon, Carleton S., (Carleton Stevens), 1904-1981
Corner, George Washington, 1889-1981
Doisy, Edward Adelbert, 1893-1986
Epling, Carl, 1894-1968
Ewing, W. Maurice, (William Maurice), 1906-1974
Furry, W.H. (Wendell Hinkle) , 1907-1984
Guilford, J. P. , (Joy Paul), 1897-1987
Hallowell, A. Irving , (Alfred Irving), 1892-1974
Hansen, William Webster, 1909-1949
Harlow, Harry Freerick, 1905-1981
Hilgard, Ernest R., (Ernest Ropiequet), 1904-2001
Joseph Edward, Mayer, 1904-1983
Kirkwood, John Gamble, 1907-1959
Kluckhohn, Clyde, 1905-1960
Knudsen, Vern Oliver, 1893-1974
Lashley, Karl Spencer, 1890-1958
Lindsey, Donald B.
Linton, Ralph, 1893-1953
Mayer, Joseph Edward, 1904-1983
McMillan, Edwin M. (Edwin Mattison), 1907-1991
Morse, Philip M., (Philip McCord), 1903-1985
Mueller, J. Howard, (John Howard), 1891-1954
Muller, H. J., (Hermann Joseph), 1890-1967
Mulliken, Robert Sanderson, 1896-1986
Muskat , M. (Morris) , 1906-1998
Northrop, John Howard, 1891-1987
Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994
Rhoades, Marcus M., (Marcus Morton), 1903-1991
Ritcher, Curt Paul, 1894-1994
Robbins, William Jacob, 1890-1978
Robertson, H. P., (Howard Percy), 1903-1961
Rogers, Carl R., (Carl Ransom), 1902-1987
Romer, Alfred Sherwood, 1894-1973
Schwinger, Julian Seymour, 1918-1994
Sears, Robert R., (Robert Richardson)
Shapiro, Harry L., (Harry Lionel), 1902-1990
Skinner, B. F. (Burrhus Fredric), 1904-1990
Smith, Homer William, 1895-1962
Sonneborn, T.M., (Tracy Morton), 1905-1981
Stanley, Wendell M., (Wendell Meredith), 1904-
Stebbins, G. Ledyard, (George Ledyard), 1906-2000
Stevens, S. S., (Stanley Smith), 1906-1973
Stewart, Homer Joseph, 1915-2007
Stratton, Julius Adams, 1901-1994
Strong, William Duncan, 1899-1962.
Sturtevant, A.H. (Alfred Henry), 1891-1970
Tuve, Merle Antony, 1901-1982
Van Vleck, J. H., (John Hasbrouck), 1899-1980
Willey, Gordon R., (Gordon Randolph), 1913-2002
Wright, Sewall, 1889-1988

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Industrial Development – China and Africa (LSE)

Hsieh (the first speaker) gives a nice characterization of (for lack of better terminology) efficient crony capitalism in China -- in which local governments compete to promote growth and development by working with local and foreign companies to get things done. I've been told that Xi's crackdown on corruption has crippled the incentive structure of this system. Hsieh comments on this at the beginning of the Q&A.
Industrial Development – China and Africa

Chang-Tai Hsieh is Winkelried Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago.

John Sutton is the Sir John Hicks Professor of Economics at LSE.

Dr John Page is Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution (@BrookingsGlobal), IGC Country Director (Tanzania) and former Chief Economist for Africa, World Bank.
See also Howard French: China's Second Continent.

Also recommended: How the World Works, James Fallows in The Atlantic (1993).

Sunday, June 05, 2016

$1.2 trillion college loan bubble?

See also When everyone goes to college: a lesson from S. Korea. Returns to a "college education" are highly dependent on the intrinsic cognitive ability and work ethic of the individual.
WSJ: College Loan Glut Worries Policy Makers

The U.S. government over the last 15 years made a trillion-dollar investment to improve the nation’s workforce, productivity and economy. A big portion of that investment has now turned toxic, with echoes of the housing crisis.

The investment was in “human capital,” or, more specifically, higher education. The government helped finance tens of millions of tuitions as enrollment in U.S. colleges and graduate schools soared 24% from 2002 to 2012, rivaling the higher-education boom of the 1970s. Millions of others attended trade schools that award career certificates.

The government financed a large share of these educations through grants, low-interest loans and loan guarantees. Total outstanding student debt—almost all guaranteed or made directly by the federal government—has quadrupled since 2000 to $1.2 trillion today. The government also spent tens of billions of dollars in grants and tax credits for students.

New research shows a significant chunk of that investment backfired, with millions of students worse off for having gone to school. Many never learned new skills because they dropped out—and now carry debt they are unwilling or unable to repay.

... nonprofit colleges, which enroll about 2.7 million students a year. A report released in May by Third Way, a nonpartisan think tank, revealed that among students who enrolled in 2005, on average only half graduated from such institutions within six years. On average, nearly four in 10 undergraduates at those schools who took on student debt earned no more than $25,000 in 2011, the same as the typical high-school graduate. ...

Friday, June 03, 2016

Elon Musk on the Simulation Question

See earlier discussion Living in a Simulation:
Let R = the ratio of number of artificially intelligent virtual beings to the number of "biological" beings (humans). The virtual beings are likely to occupy the increasingly complex virtual worlds created in computer games, like Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft (WOW will earn revenues of a billion dollars this year and has millions of players). In the figure below I have plotted the likely behavior of R with time. Currently R is zero, but it seems plausible that it will eventually soar to infinity. (See previous posts on the Singularity.)

... Think of the ratio of orcs, goblins, pimps, superheroes and other intelligent game characters to actual player characters in any MMORPG. In an advanced version, the game characters would themselves be sentient, for that extra dose of realism! Are you a game character, or a player character? :-)

Parametric and semi-parametric models for genome enabled prediction

This is a recent MSU seminar on genomic prediction. Vimeo won't let me embed the video, so click here to watch the talk.

Results are presented for models ranging from simple linear and linear + dominance to reproducing Hilbert space kernels and neural nets. Results are consistent with sub-dominant nonlinear (non-additive) effects, but interesting GxE effects are seen in some plant breeding experiments.

The paper below is by the speaker and MSU professor Gustavo de los Campos.
Genome-Wide Regression and Prediction with the BGLR Statistical Package

ABSTRACT Many modern genomic data analyses require implementing regressions where the number of parameters (p, e.g., the number of marker effects) exceeds sample size (n). Implementing these large-p-with-small-n regressions poses several statistical and computational challenges, some of which can be confronted using Bayesian methods. This approach allows integrating various parametric and nonparametric shrinkage and variable selection procedures in a unified and consistent manner. The BGLR R-package implements a large collection of Bayesian regression models, including parametric variable selection and shrinkage methods and semiparametric procedures (Bayesian reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces regressions, RKHS). The software was originally developed for genomic applications; however, the methods implemented are useful for many nongenomic applications as well. The response can be continuous (censored or not) or categorical (either binary or ordinal). The algorithm is based on a Gibbs sampler with scalar updates and the implementation takes advantage of efficient compiled C and Fortran routines. In this article we describe the methods implemented in BGLR, present examples of the use of the package, and discuss practical issues emerging in real-data analysis.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The next Silicon Valley? ...

A Silicon Valley entrepreneur and angel investor (originally from Germany) on the Beijing startup ecosystem. See also Canyons of Zhongguancun.
recode: ... Beijing will be the only true competitor to Silicon Valley in the next 10 years.

Beijing is not just a nice startup playground which might become truly interesting in a few years. This is the big leagues now. Startups can achieve massive scale quickly, because the domestic market is 1.3 billion people, which is four times the U.S. or European population.

An increasing share of these 1.3 billion people is actually targetable. In the U.S., 190 million people carry a smartphone; in China, it is more than 530 million today, and it will be 700 million or more in three years.

But a large market alone does not mean that a place will become a startup hub. It is the combination of market size and the extreme consumer-adoption speed of new services, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit and hunger for scale of Chinese entrepreneurs.

Beijing is the main hub where it happens. Here, entrepreneurs, engineering talent from the two top Chinese universities — Tsinghua and Peking — and VC money come together. Seeing the scale, speed, aspirations, money supply and talent here, I walked away thinking this will be the only true competitor to Silicon Valley in the next 10 years.

... Big startups are built in three to five years versus five to eight in the U.S. Accordingly, entrepreneurs who try to jump on the bandwagon of a successful idea scramble to outcompete each other as fast as they can.

Work-life balance is nonexistent in Chinese startups.

Meetings are anytime — really. My meeting in Beijing with Hugo Barra, who runs all international expansion for Xiaomi — the cool smartphone maker and highest-valued startup in China, at around $45 billion or so — was scheduled for 11 pm, but got delayed because of other meetings, so it started at midnight. (Hugo had a flight to catch at 6:30 am after that.)

In China, there is a company work culture at startups that's called 9/9/6. It means that regular work hours for most employees are from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. If you thought Silicon Valley has intense work hours, think again.

For founders and top executives, it's often 9/11/6.5. That's probably not very efficient and useful (who's good as a leader when they're always tired and don't know their kids?) but totally common.

Teams get locked up in hotels for weeks before a product launch, where they only work, sleep and work out, to drive 100 percent focus without distractions and make the launch date. And while I don't think long hours are any measure of productivity, I was amazed by the enormous hunger and drive. ...

Monday, May 30, 2016

We ached and almost touched that stuff; Our reach was never quite enough

If Only We Had Taller Been

Ray Bradbury

The fence we walked between the years
Did balance us serene
It was a place half in the sky where
In the green of leaf and promising of peach
We'd reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky
If we could reach and touch, we said,
'Twould teach us, not to, never to, be dead

We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been
And touched God's cuff, His hem,
We would not have to go with them
Who've gone before,
Who, short as us, stood as they could stand
And hoped by stretching tall that they might keep their land
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measured out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam's finger forth
As on the Sistine Ceiling,
And God's hand come down the other way
To measure man and find him Good
And Gift him with Forever's Day?
I work for that

Short man, Large dream
I send my rockets forth between my ears
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall:
We've reached Alpha Centauri!
We're tall, O God, we're tall!

Fortune: Venture capital firms invested $1.8 billion in commercial space startups in 2015, nearly doubling the amount of venture cash invested in the industry in all of the previous 15 years combined. ...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Theory, Money, and Learning

After 25+ years in theoretical physics research, the pattern has become familiar to me. Talented postdoc has difficulty finding a permanent position (professorship), and ends up leaving the field for finance or Silicon Valley. The final phase of the physics career entails study of entirely new subjects, such as finance theory or machine learning, and developing new skills, such as coding.

My most recent postdoc interviewed with big hedge funds in Manhattan and also in the bay area. He has accepted a position in AI -- working on Deep Learning -- at the Silicon Valley research lab of a large technology company. His compensation is good (significantly higher than most full professors!) and future prospects in this area of research are exciting. With some luck, great things are possible.

He returned the books in the picture last week.

J.D. Jackson has passed

I feel terrible about this news. I had no idea Dave Jackson was living only a few miles away from me the past few years.
... J.D. Jackson, particle physicist and author of the graduate text Classical Electrodynamics, passed away on May 20, 2016 at the Burcham Hills retirement home in East Lansing. He had resided there for the last several years. His memorial service will be held in Berkeley, CA later this summer, ...
The picture below (taken by Josh Burton in 2013) shows three former Berkeley professors: J.D. Jackson, Geoff Chew, and Steven Weinberg.

When I entered graduate school at Berkeley I asked to place out of the required course in advanced electrodynamics, which was taught by Jackson using his famous book. I had lecture notes from the course I had taken at Caltech from Mark Wise, which also used the book. Jackson borrowed the notes for a few days, looked through them carefully, and returned to me a short list detailing topics in which my education had been deficient. I was to study those topics, but was excused from the course.

Although I never had Jackson as a teacher, one of the great experiences of graduate school was attending regular theory seminars and hearing the ideas and incisive commentary of brilliant professors like him.

See also Where men are men, and giants walk the earth.

Duke TIP and SMPY

David Lubinski (Vanderbilt) sent me this recent paper, comparing the Duke TIP and SMPY populations.
When Lightning Strikes Twice: Profoundly Gifted, Profoundly Accomplished
DOI: 10.1177/0956797616644735

The educational, occupational, and creative accomplishments of the profoundly gifted participants (IQs > 160) in the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) are astounding, but are they representative of equally able 12-year-olds? Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) identified 259 young adolescents who were equally gifted. By age 40, their life accomplishments also were extraordinary: Thirty-seven percent had earned doctorates, 7.5% had achieved academic tenure (4.3% at research-intensive universities), and 9% held patents; many were high- level leaders in major organizations. As was the case for the SMPY sample before them, differential ability strengths predicted their contrasting and eventual developmental trajectories—even though essentially all participants possessed both mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities far superior to those of typical Ph.D. recipients. Individuals, even profoundly gifted ones, primarily do what they are best at. Differences in ability patterns, like differences in interests, guide development along different paths, but ability level, coupled with commitment, determines whether and the extent to which noteworthy accomplishments are reached if opportunity presents itself.

From the paper:
Over the past 35 years, Duke TIP has assessed more than 2.5 million of the most intellectually talented young adolescents in the United States (Putallaz et al., 2005). It has done so by inviting young adolescents who score in the top 3 to 5% on achievement tests, routinely administered in their schools, to take college entrance exams such as the SAT. For the current study, SAT data on more than 425,000 Duke TIP participants were examined to identify a sample equivalent to Kell, Lubinski, and Benbow’s (2013) in both age and ability level. All participants were enrolled in Duke TIP’s talent search prior to 1995 and had earned scores of least 700 on the SAT-Math or at least 630 on the SAT-Verbal (or both) before reaching age 13— which placed them in the top 0.01% of ability for their age group.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ethnic and gender discrimination in academia

This is the paper whose results (described in the NYTimes) I linked to in the previous post. The researchers are from Wharton, Columbia Business School, and NYU Stern Business School. They emailed the message below to over 6,500 professors at top US universities. Response rates varied by perceived ethnicity of the sender. As you can see from the figure above, anti-Asian discrimination was largest. I suspect, though, that smaller circles (e.g., few percent or smaller effect) may not be statistically significant, nor the results for the smallest disciplines. The overall effect for a particular gender/ethnicity, aggregating over many disciplines, is probably strong enough to be replicable.


ABSTRACT: We provide evidence from the field that levels of discrimination are heterogeneous across contexts in which we might expect to observe bias. We explore how discrimination varies in its extent and source through an audit study including over 6,500 professors at top U.S. universities drawn from 89 disciplines and 258 institutions. Faculty in our field experiment received meeting requests from fictional prospective doctoral students who were randomly assigned identity-signaling names (Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Chinese; male, female). Faculty response rates indicate that discrimination against women and minorities is both prevalent and unevenly distributed in academia. Discrimination varies meaningfully by discipline and is more extreme in higher paying disciplines and at private institutions. These findings raise important questions for future research about how and why pay and institutional characteristics may relate to the manifestation of bias. They also suggest that past audit studies may have underestimated the prevalence of discrimination in the United States. Finally, our documentation of heterogeneity in discrimination suggests where targeted efforts to reduce discrimination in academia are most needed and highlights that similar research may help identify areas in other industries where efforts to reduce bias should focus.

Here is the email message:
Subject Line: Prospective Doctoral Student (On Campus Today/[Next Monday])

Dear Professor [Surname of Professor Inserted Here],

I am writing you because I am a prospective doctoral student with considerable interest in your research. My plan is to apply to doctoral programs this coming fall, and I am eager to learn as much as I can about research opportunities in the meantime.

I will be on campus today/[next Monday], and although I know it is short notice, I was wondering if you might have 10 minutes when you would be willing to meet with me to briefly talk about your work and any possible opportunities for me to get involved in your research. Any time that would be convenient for you would be fine with me, as meeting with you is my first priority during this campus visit.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

[Student’s Full Name Inserted Here]

These are the gender / ethnically identifiable names used in the emails:

Ruh roh, smallest N values -- and largest effect sizes -- in Human Services, Fine Arts, and Business. 10 emails (2 genders x 5 ethnicities; presumably no professor received more than one of the identical messages) sent to ~200 people means statistically questionable result. Better to aggregate all the data across disciplines to get a reliable result.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Free Harvard, Fair Harvard: Overseer election results

None of the Free Harvard, Fair Harvard candidates were among the winners of the Harvard Overseer election, which ended last Friday. I didn't expect to win, but I thought Ralph Nader had a good chance. Nevertheless, it was worthwhile to bring more attention to important issues such as admissions transparency and use of the endowment. My thanks to the thousands of Harvard alumni who supported our efforts and voted for the FHFH ticket.
NYTimes: Group Urging Free Tuition at Harvard Fails to Win Seats on Board

A rebellious slate of candidates who this year upset the normally placid balloting for the Board of Overseers at Harvard has failed to secure positions on the board, which helps set strategy for the university.

Calling itself Free Harvard, Fair Harvard, the group ran on a proposal that Harvard should be free to all undergraduates because the university earns so much money from its $37.6 billion endowment. It tied the notion to another, equally provocative question: Does Harvard shortchange Asian-Americans in admissions?

The outsider slate, which was formed in January, proposed five candidates against a slate of eight candidates officially nominated by the Harvard Alumni Association. After 35,870 alumni votes were counted, five winners were announced from the alumni group on Monday. ...
Perhaps our efforts emboldened other groups to push for important changes:
WSJ: Asian-American Groups Seek Investigation Into Ivy League Admissions

A coalition of Asian-American organizations asked the Department of Education on Monday to investigate Brown University, Dartmouth College and Yale University, alleging they discriminate against Asian-American students during the admissions process.

While the population of college age Asian-Americans has doubled in 20 years and the number of highly qualified Asian-American students “has increased dramatically,” the percentage accepted at most Ivy League colleges has flatlined, according to the complaint. It alleges this is because of “racial quotas and caps, maintained by racially differentiated standards for admissions that severely burden Asian-American applicants.” ...
See also
NYTimes: Professors Are Prejudiced, Too

... To find out, we conducted an experiment. A few years ago, we sent emails to more than 6,500 randomly selected professors from 259 American universities. Each email was from a (fictional) prospective out-of-town student whom the professor did not know, expressing interest in the professor’s Ph.D. program and seeking guidance. These emails were identical and written in impeccable English, varying only in the name of the student sender. The messages came from students with names like Meredith Roberts, Lamar Washington, Juanita Martinez, Raj Singh and Chang Huang, names that earlier research participants consistently perceived as belonging to either a white, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese student.

... Professors were more responsive to white male students than to female, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese students in almost every discipline and across all types of universities. We found the most severe bias in disciplines paying higher faculty salaries and at private universities. ... our own discipline of business showed the most bias, with 87 percent of white males receiving a response compared with just 62 percent of all females and minorities combined.

... Were Asians favored, given the model minority stereotype they supposedly benefit from in academic contexts? No. In fact, Chinese students were the most discriminated-against group in our sample. ...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Garwin and the Mike shot

Richard Garwin designed the first H-Bomb, based on the Teller-Ulam mechanism, while still in his early twenties. See also One hundred thousand brains.

From Kenneth Ford's Building the H-Bomb: A Personal History:
... In 1951 Dick Garwin came for his second summer to Los Alamos. He was then twenty-three and two years past his Ph.D.* Edward Teller, having interacted with Garwin at the University of Chicago, knew him to be an extraordinarily gifted experimental physicist as well as a very talented theorist. He knew, too, that Fermi had called Garwin the best graduate student he ever had. [5] So when Garwin came to Teller shortly after arriving in Los Alamos that summer (probably in June 1951) asking him “what was new,” [6] Teller was ready to pounce. He referred Garwin to the Teller-Ulam report of that March and then asked him to “devise an experiment that would be absolutely persuasive that this would really work.” Garwin set about doing exactly that and in a report dated July 25, 1951, titled “Some Preliminary Indications of the Shape and Construction of a Sausage, Based on Ideas Prevailing in July 1951,”[7] he laid out a design with full specifics of size, shape, and composition, for what would be the Mike shot fired the next year. ...

Wikipedia: Ivy Mike was the codename given to the first test of a full-scale thermonuclear device, in which part of the explosive yield comes from nuclear fusion. It was detonated on November 1, 1952 by the United States on Enewetak, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, as part of Operation Ivy. The device was the first full test of the Teller-Ulam design, a staged fusion bomb, and was the first successful test of a hydrogen bomb. ...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

University quality and global rankings

The paper below is one of the best I've seen on university rankings. Yes, there is a univariate factor one might characterize as "university quality" that correlates across multiple measures. As I have long suspected, the THE (Times Higher Education) and QS rankings, which are partially survey/reputation based, are biased in favor of UK and Commonwealth universities. There are broad quality bands in which many schools are more or less indistinguishable.

The figure above is from the paper, and the error bars displayed (an advanced concept!) show 95% confidence intervals.

Sadly, many university administrators will not understand the methodology or conclusions of this paper.
Measuring University Quality

Christopher Claassen

This paper uses a Bayesian hierarchical latent trait model, and data from eight different university ranking systems, to measure university quality. There are five contributions. First, I find that ratings tap a unidimensional, underlying trait of university quality. Second, by combining information from different systems, I obtain more accurate ratings than are currently available from any single source. And rather than dropping institutions that receive only a few ratings, the model simply uses whatever information is available. Third, while most ratings focus on point estimates and their attendant ranks, I focus on the uncertainty in quality estimates, showing that the difference between universities ranked 50th and 100th, and 100th and 250th, is insignificant. Finally, by measuring the accuracy of each ranking system, as well as the degree of bias toward universities in particular countries, I am able to rank the rankings.
From the paper:
... The USN-GU, Jeddah, and Shanghai rating systems are the most accurate, with R2 statistics in excess of 0.80.

... Plotting the six eigenvalues from the ... global ratings correlation matrix ... the observed data is strongly unidimensional: the first eigenvalue is substantially larger than the others ...

... This paper describes an attempt to improve existing estimates of university quality by building a Bayesian hierarchical latent trait model and inputting data from eight rankings. There are five main findings. First, despite their different sources of information, ranging from objective indicators, such as citation counts, to subjective reputation surveys, existing rating systems clearly tap a unidimensional latent variable of university quality. Second, the model combines information from multiple rankings, producing estimates of quality that offer more accurate ratings than can be obtained from any single ranking system. Universities that are not rated by one or more rating systems present no problem for the model: they simply receive more uncertain estimates of quality. Third, I find considerable error in measurement: the ratings of universities ranked around 100th position are difficult to distinguish from those ranked close to 30th; similarly for those ranked at 100th and those at 250th. Fourth, each rating system performs at least adequately in measuring university quality. Surprisingly, the national ranking systems are the least accurate, which may be due to their usage of numerous indicators, some extraneous. Finally, three of the six international ranking systems show bias toward the universities in their home country. The two unbiased global rankings, from the Center for World University Rankings in Jeddah, and US News & World Report are also the two most accurate.

To discuss a particular example, here are the inputs (all objective) to the Shanghai (ARWU) rankings:

One could critique these measures in various ways. For example:
Counting Nature and Science papers biases towards life science and away from physical science, computer science, and engineering. Inputs are overall biased toward STEM subjects.

Nobel Prizes are a lagging indicator (ARWU provides an Alternative Rank with prize scoring removed).

Per-capita measures better reflect quality, as opposed to weighting toward quantity (sheer size).
One can see the effects of some of these factors in the figure below. Far left column shows Alternative Rank (prizes removed), Rank in ARWU shows result using all criteria above, and far right column shows scores after per capita normalization to size of faculty. On this last measure, one school dominates all the rest, by margins that may appear shocking ;-)

Note added: Someone asked me about per capita (intensive) vs total quantity (extensive) measures. Suppose there are two physics departments of roughly equal quality, but one with 60 faculty and the other with 30. The former should produce roughly twice the papers, citations, prize winners, and grant support as the latter. If the two departments (without normalization) are roughly equal in these measures, then the latter is probably much higher quality. This argument could be applied to the total faculty of a university. One characteristic that distorts rankings considerably is the presence of a large research medical school and hospital(s). Some schools (Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan, UCSD, Washington, etc.) have them, others (Princeton, Berkeley, MIT, Caltech, etc.) do not. The former group gains an advantage from this medical activity relative to the latter group in aggregate measures of grants, papers, citations, etc. Normalizing by number of faculty helps to remove such distortionary effects. Ideally, one could also normalize these output measures by the degree to which the research is actually reproducible (i.e., real) -- this would place much more weight on some fields than others ;-)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Evidence for (very) recent natural selection in humans

This new paper describes a technique for detecting recent (i.e., last 2k years) selection on both Mendelian and polygenic traits. The authors find evidence for selection on a number of phenotypes, ranging from hair and eye color, to height and head size (the data set they applied their method to was UK10K whole genomes, so results are specific to the British). This is a remarkable result, which confirms the hypothesis that humans have been subject to strong selection in the recent past -- i.e., during periods documented by historical record.

See this 2008 post Recent natural selection in humans, in which I estimate that significant selection on millennial (1000 year) timescales is plausible. Evidence for selection on height in Europe over the last 10k years or less has been accumulating for some time: see, e.g., Genetic group differences in height and recent human evolution.

How does the new method work?

Strong selection in the recent past can cause allele frequencies to change significantly. Consider two different SNPs, which today have equal minor allele frequency (for simplicity, let this be equal to one half). Assume that one SNP was subject to strong recent selection, and another (neutral) has had approximately zero effect on fitness.  The advantageous version of the first SNP was less common in the far past, and rose in frequency recently (e.g., over the last 2k years). In contrast, the two versions of the neutral SNP have been present in roughly the same proportion (up to fluctuations) for a long time. Consequently, in the total past breeding population (i.e., going back tens of thousands of years) there have been many more copies of the neutral alleles (and the chunks of DNA surrounding them) than of the positively selected allele. Each of the chunks of DNA around the SNPs we are considering is subject to a roughly constant rate of mutation.

Looking at the current population, one would then expect a larger variety of mutations in the DNA region surrounding the neutral allele (both versions) than near the favored selected allele (which was rarer in the population until very recently, and whose surrounding region had fewer chances to accumulate mutations). By comparing the difference in local mutational diversity between the two versions of the neutral allele (should be zero modulo fluctuations, for the case MAF = 0.5), and between the (+) and (-) versions of the selected allele (nonzero, due to relative change in frequency), one obtains a sensitive signal for recent selection. See figure at bottom for more detail. In the paper what I call mutational diversity is measured by looking at distance distribution of singletons, which are rare variants found in only one individual in the sample under study.

Some numbers: For a unique lineage, ~100 de novo mutations per generation, over ~100 generations = 1 de novo per ~300kb, similar to singleton interval length scale. Note singletons defined in a sample of 10k individuals in the current population; distribution would vary with sample size.
Detection of human adaptation during the past 2,000 years
bioRxiv: doi:

Detection of recent natural selection is a challenging problem in population genetics, as standard methods generally integrate over long timescales. Here we introduce the Singleton Density Score (SDS), a powerful measure to infer very recent changes in allele frequencies from contemporary genome sequences. When applied to data from the UK10K Project, SDS reflects allele frequency changes in the ancestors of modern Britons during the past 2,000 years. We see strong signals of selection at lactase and HLA, and in favor of blond hair and blue eyes. Turning to signals of polygenic adaptation we find, remarkably, that recent selection for increased height has driven allele frequency shifts across most of the genome. Moreover, we report suggestive new evidence for polygenic shifts affecting many other complex traits. Our results suggest that polygenic adaptation has played a pervasive role in shaping genotypic and phenotypic variation in modern humans.

Flipping DNA switches

The recently published SSGAC study (Nature News) found 74 genome-wide significant hits related to educational attainment, using a discovery sample of ~300k individuals. The UK Biobank sample of ~110k individuals was used as a replication check of the results. If both samples are combined as a discovery sample 162 SNPs are identified at genome-wide significance. These SNPs are likely tagging causal variants that have some effect on cognitive ability.

The SNP hits discovered are common variants -- both (+) and (-) versions are found throughout the general population, neither being very rare. This means that a typical individual could carry 80 or so (-) variants. (A more precise estimate can be obtained using the minor allele frequencies of each SNP.)

Imagine that we knew the actual causal genetic variants that are tagged by the discovered SNPs (we don't, yet), and imagine that we could edit the (-) version to a (+) version (e.g., using CRISPR; note I'm not claiming this is easy to do -- it's a gedanken experiment). How much would the IQ of the edited individual increase? Estimated effect sizes for these SNPs are uncertain, but could be in the range of 1/4 or 1/10 of an IQ point. Multiplying by ~80 gives as a crude estimate of perhaps 10 or 15 IQ points up for grabs, just from the SSGAC hits alone.

Critics of the study point out that only a small fraction of the expected total genetic variance in cognitive ability is accounted for by SSGAC SNPs. But the estimate above shows that the potential biological effect of these SNPs, taken in aggregate, is not small! Indeed, once many more causal variants are known (eventually, perhaps thousands in total), an unimaginably large enhancement of human cognitive ability might be possible.

See also
Super-intelligent humans are coming
On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits

(Super-secret coded message for high g readers: N >> sqrt(N), so lots of SDs are up for grabs! ;-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

74 SNP hits from SSGAC GWAS

The SSGAC discovery of 74 SNP hits on educational attainment (EA) is finally published in Nature. Nature News article.

EA was used in order to assemble as large a sample as possible (~300k individuals). Specific cognitive scores are only available for a much smaller number of individuals. But SNPs associated with EA are likely to also be associated with cognitive ability -- see figure above.

The evidence is strong that cognitive ability is highly heritable and highly polygenic. With even larger samples we'll eventually be able to build good genomic predictors for cognitive ability.
Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment A. Okbay et al. Nature; 2016

Educational attainment is strongly influenced by social and other environmental factors, but genetic factors are estimated to account for at least 20% of the variation across individuals1. Here we report the results of a genome-wide association study (GWAS) for educational attainment that extends our earlier discovery sample1,2 of 101,069 individuals to 293,723 individuals, and a replication study in an independent sample of 111,349 individuals from the UK Biobank. We identify 74 genome-wide significant loci associated with the number of years of schooling completed. Single- nucleotide polymorphisms associated with educational attainment are disproportionately found in genomic regions regulating gene expression in the fetal brain. Candidate genes are preferentially expressed in neural tissue, especially during the prenatal period, and enriched for biological pathways involved in neural development. Our findings demonstrate that, even for a behavioural phenotype that is mostly environmentally determined, a well-powered GWAS identifies replicable associated genetic variants that suggest biologically relevant pathways. Because educational attainment is measured in large numbers of individuals, it will continue to be useful as a proxy phenotype in efforts to characterize the genetic influences of related phenotypes, including cognition and neuropsychiatric diseases.

Here's what I wrote back in September of 2015, based on a talk given by James Lee on this work.
James Lee talk at ISIR 2015 (via James Thompson) reports on 74 hits at genome-wide statistical significance (p < 5E-8) using educational attainment as the phenotype. Most of these will also turn out to be hits on cognitive ability.

To quote James: "Shock and Awe" for those who doubt that cognitive ability is influenced by genetic variants. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. I expect thousands more such variants to be discovered before we have accounted for all of the heritability.
James J Lee

University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Social Science Genetic Association Consortium

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revealed much about the biological pathways responsible for phenotypic variation in many anthropometric traits and diseases. Such studies also have the potential to shed light on the developmental and mechanistic bases of behavioral traits.

Toward this end we have undertaken a GWAS of educational attainment (EA), an outcome that shows phenotypic and genetic correlations with cognitive performance, personality traits, and other psychological phenotypes. We performed a GWAS meta-analysis of ~293,000 individuals, applying a variety of methods to address quality control and potential confounding. We estimated the genetic correlations of several different traits with EA, in essence by determining whether single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) showing large statistical signals in a GWAS meta-analysis of one trait also tend to show such signals in a meta-analysis of another. We used a variety of bio-informatic tools to shed light on the biological mechanisms giving rise to variation in EA and the mediating traits affecting this outcome. We identified 74 independent SNPs associated with EA (p < 5E-8). The ability of the polygenic score to predict within-family differences suggests that very little of this signal is due to confounding. We found that both cognitive performance (0.82) and intracranial volume (0.39) show substantial genetic correlations with EA. Many of the biological pathways significantly enriched by our signals are active in early development, affecting the proliferation of neural progenitors, neuron migration, axonogenesis, dendrite growth, and synaptic communication. We nominate a number of individual genes of likely importance in the etiology of EA and mediating phenotypes such as cognitive performance.
For a hint at what to expect as more data become available, see Five Years of GWAS Discovery and On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits.

What was once science fiction will soon be reality.
Long ago I sketched out a science fiction story involving two Junior Fellows, one a bioengineer (a former physicist, building the next generation of sequencing machines) and the other a mathematician. The latter, an eccentric, was known for collecting signatures -- signed copies of papers and books authored by visiting geniuses (Nobelists, Fields Medalists, Turing Award winners) attending the Society's Monday dinners. He would present each luminary with an ornate (strangely sticky) fountain pen and a copy of the object to be signed. Little did anyone suspect the real purpose: collecting DNA samples to be turned over to his friend for sequencing! The mathematician is later found dead under strange circumstances. Perhaps he knew too much! ...

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