Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

COMPUTATIONAL GENOMICS....I'm not in the habit of paying much attention to anything John Derbyshire writes, but I'm going to make an exception tonight. Derbyshire spent the day recently with a hotshot researcher in the field of computational genomics, a discipline that makes use of high-speed computers and eye-glazing mathematical methods to trawl though the human genome looking for useful nuggets. But apparently there's a problem:

There is a huge swelling wave of knowledge building up knowledge about human variation, human inheritance, human nature. Things have gone much further than I realized. Genes controlling intelligence? "We've got a few nailed down, and more are showing up..."

....And all this work has to be done while keeping a sort of radio silence, because it is deeply unpopular. I know some of the scientists doing this work people like the datanaut. They are just like other scientists I have known, driven by a kind of hypertrophied curiosity, by an innocent urge to understand the inner secrets of the world. In other respects, they are just representative human beings, with the normal range of human weaknesses and failings. To the guardians of our public morality, though the media and political elites, the legal and humanities academics they are very devils, peering into what should be kept hidden, seeking out things better left alone, working to secret agendas, funded by groups of sinister anti-social plotters "bigots!"

What Derbyshire is alluding to here is the possibility that genomic research might turn up hardwired genetic differences between races, between genders, or between ethnic groups. And not just morally neutral things like Tay-Sachs among Jews or sickle cell anemia among Blacks, but gene complexes related to, say, mathematical ability or verbal skills.

The thrust of Derbyshire's piece is that the mere possibility of discovering hardwired differences between racial groups in an important personality characteristic such as IQ or aggression is so frightening to the liberal mainstream that the entire field of computational genomics shies away from even investigating them. Alzheimer's research, for example, is allegedly a no-go zone because it correlates with both IQ and race.

So here's my question: do I have any readers who work in this field (or a closely related one) and know if there's something to this? Or is Derb off in fantasyland?

If you have any genuine expertise in this field, please feel free to email me here. I'd be interested in hearing from you.

Kevin Drum 1:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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