Genetics, Left-Wing Libel, and The New Yorker
The agenda to make genetics safe for the suburbs..
I read with some attention the current issue of the New Yorker which profiles Professor Paige Harden of the University of Texas-Austin and the sudden embrace by self-styled progressives of polygenic scores.
Polygentic scores are “an estimate of an individual’s genetic liability to a trait or disease, calculated according to their genotype profile and relevant genome-wide association study (GWAS) data,” according to Nature. They are among the most interesting scientific tools for understanding the natural world to have been discovered.
Upon the publication of her book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters For Social Equity, Harden has been turned into something of a poster girl for the coming genetics revolution.
This turn is a welcome one but I do wonder, “Why Harden?” Well, Razib Khan is too brown to serve that role while Steve Hsu, who is Taiwanese-American born in Iowa, is too Asian--too closely associated with China’s BGI. Nick Wade is too old and too British and Robert Plomin is too Jewish and too far away. (Plomin lives in London.) All have had their dalliances with cancelations.
No matter. Harden will do nicely. For to have any cultural purchase genetics must be made safe for the SWFLs (single, white, female liberals) and so Harden is a welcome choice. She’s basically the walking embodiment of Stuff White People Like. Never forget that white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action.
Whenever an opportunist is joining your side it indicates you are winning. There’s nothing more mainstream than The New Yorker.
I should say that notwithstanding some hackery on her part I like Professor Harden. I find her winning, as the Brits would say. She’s a mom, albeit a divorced one, and it’s hard to hate on the mommies. One can imagine a Professor Harden counseling the high strung mommy bloggers of America not to worry so much. I’d even invite her to join the advisory board of my new genetics company, Traitwell, which intends to use polygenic scores in real life. The invitation is still open, Professor!
But we do need social norms for how these polygenics scores can be discussed and here Harden’s past meanness can serve as a guide. We need generalizable rules about what to do with them and how they might be discussed publicly.
Godwin’s law needs to be applied to genetics too. No more reductio ad Hitlerium, please! And no ad hominems, Professor Harden. That’s unbecoming.
Unfortunately when I last encountered Harden she was calling me a “racist crank” for publicly discussing the MAOA gene. She claimed that I was “wrong on basically every level that it's possible to be wrong.”
She was wrong, of course, and later admitted she hadn’t read the considerable research on MAOA. Indeed she played a role and the role was to kick me out of respectable conversation because I once (stupidly) publicly discussed the role the MAOA gene might play. (Nota bene: Do not go onto Joe Rogan’s podcast before he becomes famous!)
I even had to threaten Harden. I told Harden that if she continued to discuss me publicly as a racist that I would sue her and bankrupt her. Mutual friends interceded and I didn’t have to put the dear professor out on the street. I chose, instead, to sue the Huffington Post (now BuzzFeed, after the acquisition). The suit is currently slated for oral argument in New Orleans on October 4 and I am very much likely to win it.
But Harden had done damage by smearing me. The congressmen distanced themselves from me and so I didn’t succeed in getting more support for genetics research. Had I been effective in my mission of getting funding for getting everyone genetically sequenced we might well have fared much better during the coronavirus.
I often think about how I should have more deftly maneuvered. We could have quarantined those people who had a genetic predisposition for severe covid while the rest of us carried on. We might never had had the vaccine mandate for small businesses or caused severe heart issues for those unlucky few to have adverse reactions to the so-called Pfizer vaccines.
Had America listened to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History, we could be much farther along. Wade was, after all, not a crank but the former science reporter for the New York Times. He went on to write a hugely impactful article about the origins of covid — he points to the lab leak as the most plausible explanation — that saw the Five Eyes intelligence apparatus change its own assessment. Incredibly Wade had to self-publish his highly detailed report because he couldn’t find a publisher! What does it mean that our greatest minds in genetics can’t get the attention they deserve?
Had we followed the lead of our British compatriots and built an American biobank we could save millions of Americans by rigorously applying genetics research to everyday life. There are a few of us that aren’t content to debate these issues any longer, preferring instead to build products which force the future rather than debate the past.
The first babies born thanks to polygenetic scoring are walking among us. Little Aurea makes the case much more than I ever could.
Here’s a very likely future, one I happen to favor and to bring about. We are going full steam into the genetics revolution whether we like it or not. Our adversaries, friends and frenemies are seemingly doing a much better job embracing science than we are. In much the same way that the fossil fuel industry has poisoned an appreciation of what’s really going on with climate change, so, too has the equity industry made it verboten to discuss genetic differences in a nation where all are supposedly equal.
It needn't be that way.
For more information ultimately leads to more empathy. It has become socially taboo to criticize people for immutable characteristics. They can’t help it, you know, we whisper. We know that treating someone poorly because of immutable characteristics is poor form. We no longer think that schizophrenia is caused by our mother’s neglect.
Will we ban targeted ads which take advantage of people’s predilections? How do we square any of this with free will?
There’s also a moral imperative here in pushing forward with genetic research. A world with higher IQ is necessarily a more empathetic one if for no other reason that such a world processes more information and doesn’t burn people as witches at the stake. Such a world might even be one that more carefully stewards the earth.
Let’s have a real sense of noblesse oblige. The right wants privilege without responsibility while the left believes in responsibility without privilege. I believe that privilege comes with responsibilities, or, as the Spiderman principle would have it, that with great power comes great responsibility. There’s no escaping this. There is genetic privilege just as there are responsibilities we have simply because of our genes.
So Harden is wrong. There isn’t a “genetic lottery” — our ancestors choices weren’t random but highly selective, both artificial and naturally. We are the summation of the choices made by our ancestors, for better and for ill. To deny our ancestor’s choices or decisions is to rob them of their agency and to suggest a kind of happenstance that isn’t consistent with the record.
Harden doesn’t quite go there in her book. There will be winners and losers from the genetics revolution, just as there are from all revolutions. Progressives should work to make sure that that revolution isn’t too painful and to build a culture that treats the least of these with respect. Sometimes that’ll require progressive taxation to make life tolerable for those who are lacking in one trait or the other. But taxation and the state alone can never encourage the kind of charity and empathy we want to encourage the genetically successful to take on themselves.
I will build an app in the not too distant future where you can find all the people who are genetically most alike to you. Eventually you’ll be able to find the smartest people anywhere you go. What will Uber for Nerds look like? When you can order a smart person nearby to come over and work for you?
Alas there’s quite a lot of evidence that smart white people are passed over by our affirmative action society. A Georgetown study reveals that if the student bodies of the 200 most prestigious American colleges were admitted solely on objective test scores, their student bodies would increase from 66% white to 75% white.
Will that anti-white discrimination, however well intentioned, persist in a world of polygenic scores rendered into software?
What happens to those white children who are passed over? Are they resentful? Are they what gave us Trump? How can we press those bright, white kids into a service in a multiracial America? And how can we find the neglected bright black and Hispanic kids when the polygenic scores are built with white Europeans?
It therefore becomes a moral imperative to build a diverse biobank as quickly as possible.
We will turn in subsequent posts to how we might find all the smart people irrespective of race and how American diversity makes us ideally suited to lead that genetic revolution — if we choose to seize it.