The Genius Gene

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Panel 3 of today's SMBC displays a caricature of Nicholas Wade:

(That's not really supposed to represent Mr. Wade, as far as I know — but for why you might think so, see the list of past posts below…)

Panel 4:

(See the whole thing for context…)

The mouseover title: "This is the best kind of fame, except for Japan-fame."

The aftercomic:

Some relevant past posts — especially these five:

"The hunt for the Hat Gene", 11/15/2009
"The business of newspapers is news", 12/10/2009
"Nicholas Wade: Genes, culture, and history", 5/20/2014
"Nicholas Wade's DNA decoded", 11/18/2015
"The life cycle of unicorns", 5/20/2019

Some others:

"Finch phrase structure?", 10/1/2007
"Mice with the 'language gene' stay mum", 6/4/2009
"More on FOXP2", 6/5/2009
"An invented statistic returns", 2/22/2013
"Sex and FOXP2: Preservation of endangered stereotypes", 2/28/2013

I'll repeat here a simile that I first heard many years ago from a geneticist: "Talking about the gene for intelligence (or language, or height) is like talking about the transistor for spreadsheets".


1 Comment

  1. Thomas Shaw said,

    July 18, 2021 @ 2:17 pm

    When I saw this comic I wondered if it was related to the recent death of Richard Lewontin, who was a prominent critic of a lot of human genetics research.


    [(myl) You might be right. But conceptually, there's a difference between "gene for X" thinking, and belief in genetic determinism, i.e. nature over nurture, nativism over empiricism. The elements of hardware and software have a complex and variable relationship to the behavior of digital devices, but the resulting behavior might be totally determined by the design of the behaving system. Or it might be profoundly influenced by the device's experience. My impression is that Lewontin's focus was on the flaws of nativism and genetic determinism more generally, rather than on the specific "gene for X" fallacy.]

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