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    False Positives: Genes Have No Meaningful Relationship To Economic Decisions And Political Attitudes
    By News Staff | May 16th 2012 09:32 AM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Around election season, in whatever country you are in (assuming you have elections) you can tell True Believers in their earnest politics truly wish the other side could be labeled as having defective brains and genetics and therefore be cured - or at least sterilized. 

    It's not to be; genes explain some of the variation in people and may even have a slight effect on political attitudes and economic decisions, such as preferences toward environmental policy and financial risk taking, but most associations with specific genetic variants are too small to matter much, according to a new study led by Cornell University economics professor Daniel Benjamin.

    The research team studied a sample of about 3,000 subjects with comprehensive genetic data and information on economic and political preferences. 

    The study showed that unrelated people who happen to be more similar genetically also have more similar attitudes and preferences. This finding suggests that genetic data, taken as a whole, could be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences but the molecular genetic data has essentially no predictive power for the 10 traits studied, which included preferences toward environmental policy, foreign affairs, financial risk and economic fairness.

    The study also found evidence that the effects of individual genetic variants are tiny, and these variants are scattered across the genome. 

    Their conclusion is at odds with claims of genetic associations with such traits, but the new study included ten times more participants than the previous studies and studies claiming genetic correlation to politics have been debunked numerous times.

    “An implication of our findings is that most published associations with political and economic outcomes are probably false positives. These studies are implicitly based on the incorrect assumption that there are common genetic variants with large effects,” said Benjamin. “If you want to find genetic variants that account for some of the differences between people in their economic and political behavior, you need samples an order of magnitude larger than those presently used.”

    The research team concluded that it may be more productive in future research to focus on behaviors that are more closely linked to specific biological systems, such as nicotine addiction, obesity, and emotional reactivity, and are therefore likely to have stronger associations with specific genetic variants.

     Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Comments

    If you wish to be seen as a science web site, at least attempt to be scientific. Claiming a poorly written screed in Slate is somehow "debunked" the study is very, very sad. The fact that your hyperlink says "several" and links to a single Slate article is worse. That you can't logically analyze that article destroys the rest of yours.

    Let's review two points from that article, supposedly debunking the study. In his point two, the author whines that a 10th of a second is too short a time for any real analysis. He provides no information from cognitive studies to show that, just makes a belief-based statement -- truly conservative. Then his point three complains that the choice of "M" or "W" was too simplistic. Is he suggesting that they should read an oration in a 10th of a second? No, he's saying they should take more time for more complexity. Sadly, the author was incapable or realizing that a simple task in a small time frame can be as predictive as a hard task in a longer time frame. Complexity of a decision is a combination of time and task. Simple tasks in short time frames mean more people can be studied.

    Returning to the article above, "This finding suggests that genetic data, taken as a whole, could be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences" is exactly what the study indicated. The only articles I've seen where people claim more are ones from conservatives trying to create a straw man to destroy.

    Yes, genetics is only part of the equation, but it does seem to be part. It's not nature or nurture, it's nature and nurture.

    Hank
    Yes, genetics is only part of the equation, but it does seem to be part. It's not nature or nurture, it's nature and nurture.
    No, it doesn't, but anyone claiming such only needs 20,000 gullible people to get a bestseller - it's good marketing but pseudoscience.  It's as ridiculous as claiming the music I like is genetic.  In other words, it would be stupid except classical music fans are not as rabidly confirmation-biased as the kooky left people who need to believe they have super-smart brains and right wing people are dumb.
    Thor Russell
    There was a study somewhere (can't remember where or when) that said people had skill at telling whether someone was republican or democrat from looking at their face. What was the story with that? 
    Thor Russell
    Hank
    I heard that one guy had an uncanny ability to pick the winning team in sporting events - homo superior?  Maybe.
    Hank
    Yeah, and the NSF paid for that one.  One more reason the NSF needs to just stop pretending social science is science.
    Gerhard Adam
    In his point two, the author whines that a 10th of a second is too short a time for any real analysis.
    ... and he's absolutely correct.  If you're familiar with Benjamin Libet's experiments, you would see the problem.
    Since the subjective experience of the conscious will to act preceded the action by only 200 milliseconds, this leaves consciousness only 100-150 milliseconds to veto an action.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Libet
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Yes, genetics is only part of the equation, but it does seem to be part. It's not nature or nurture, it's nature and nurture.
    That statement is false on the face of it.  The most obvious reason being that the political and economic "preferences" being suggested haven't been around nearly long enough to have created any kind of selection pressure.  So, whatever political and economic "preferences" are encoded in our genes would've have been from systems that are no longer in existence.

    It's rubbish. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Sorry, but it's only "false on the face of it" if you are ignorant, failed reading comprehension or are a liar.

    Note the quote from the article, which I repeated, "This finding suggests that genetic data, taken as a whole, could be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences." To claim that politics or economics "haven't been around nearly long enough" is to be ignorant of anthropology. Who knows how far back we bargained for goods and social positions? Read "Chimpanzee Politics" or one of the many other books that study politics and economics within other primate societies.

    Attempt to learn, it might help.

    Gerhard Adam
    Who knows how far back we bargained for goods and social positions?
    You're joking, right?  You must be to think that tribal barter systems are genetically encoded and indicative of modern conservative/liberal political or economic views.

    ...and taking the quote:
    This finding suggests that genetic data, taken as a whole, could be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences.
    Is predictive of NOTHING!  Are they truly suggesting that a gene as been identified that expresses a protein which in turn is responsible for a trait which in turn deals with political/economic orientation?  What is expressed?  What protein is responsible? 

    By the way ... what exactly is "moderately predictive"?  That it works "sometimes"?
    Read "Chimpanzee Politics" or one of the many other books that study politics and economics within other primate societies.
    "Politics and economics" among primate societies?  You are joking, if you think you can find anything except the most superficial similarities.  If you want to talk scientifically about social infrastructures and how cooperative behaviors operate within the context of social groups, then that's one thing.  To call it "politics" or "economics"  [and conflating it with modern human society] is stretching the bounds of credulity. 


    Mundus vult decipi
    "You are joking, if you think you can find anything except the most superficial similarities." You're joking if you think an emotion laden "nuh uh!" is anything approaching a scientific response. Rather, it's just sad and pathetic. Until you go out and read the book I pointed you to and a significant body of other similar works, you really shouldn't be posting on a science talk back. Next you'll be telling me Scopes should have been tried.

    You're not worth more time. ttfn.

    Hank
     "This finding suggests that genetic data, taken as a whole, could be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences." 
    is the nice science way of saying, like with placebos, there is an observed issue but not a science one. This is a placebo for social science hacks who want to science up their beliefs about the political opposition, the same way homeopathy people believe their magic water cures people.
    The research team concluded that it may be more productive in future research to focus on behaviors that are more closely linked to specific biological systems
    is the more blunt way of saying studies claiming a genetic component to voting are a waste of time and money.
    rather, Hank, that's that's the author's way of trying to minimize science and stick with a politically correct scenario. You seem to be slightly more rational than Gerhard, but that's about it. Genetic predilections, even far stronger ones, do not mean the predestination you deniers fear.

    Hank
     Genetic predilections, even far stronger ones, do not mean the predestination you deniers fear.
    'Deniers'?  Who in the history of this site has ever denied genetics?

    Wait ... you must be a climateprogress reader, right?  No one else jumps to 'denier' the minute their woo belief system is challenged.
    Gerhard Adam
    Genetic predilections...
    Yeah, except that you can't actually identify any.  You're following the same old tired line that somehow invoking genetics makes any claim legitimate.  This is the "cop-out" position by claiming "nature and nurture" and then proceeding to argue that the genes represent the "nature" part, even if its only marginal.  In one respect it clearly can't be wrong, because it doesn't say anything.  There is little doubt that our brains are formed by our genetics, so even if everything afterward is formed by culture or learning, the argument is still made to be "nature versus nurture".

    However to argue that genetics determines political orientation or economic inclinations is to also argue that such attitudes are largely instinctive instead of learned.  Again, it is obvious that interactions within any social group will involve the dynamics of individuals competing for positions/recognition as well as the role they play in garnering allies and dealing with enemies.  Yet, this doesn't equate to a particular political orientation.  Do we really wish to classify primate interactions as to whether they are "liberal" or "conservative"?  Is that how we should begin viewing the interactions between dolphins and elephants?  Is a chimpanzee that doesn't wish to share food "fiscally conservative"?

    The truth is that you haven't [and can't] identify anything that would promote genetics to the level of politics/economics that you claim.  That's why it's bogus.  You can pretend that there's some deep secret answered in books about primate social life and you can even pretend that it can be called "politics".

    I do find it interesting that for people that generally aren't willing to concede animal consciousness or intelligence, suddenly when it comes to politics, the primates become veritable statesmen.

    You might also try some reading:
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1881720

    BTW, I find it cute that you accuse me of not being rational, but if you review the preceding posts I'm sure you'll see that you're the one that has advanced no arguments beyond making blanket claims.  Bear in mind that the question isn't whether primates or other social animals engage in "poiltics" within their groups.  It's whether the claim that it is genetically determined is valid.  So, I don't particularly care how many books you want to reference about social interactions, if you can't identify the genes and traits that you're claiming exist, then you have no basis for making the claim.

    I also love how it's become chic to toss out the term "denier" as some kind of gauntlet that is apparently supposed to remove the requirements of evidence from whoever the accuser is. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    [quote]
    "Is a chimpanzee that doesn't wish to share food "fiscally conservative"?

    [/quote]

    That right there is funny, I don't care who you are!

    Razib Khan discusses this on his blog:

    [quote]
    Now a new paper out in PNAS uses genomics to shed light on this issue in the same manner as with intelligence or height. The paper is The genetic architecture of economic and political preferences, and it is free to all. The two primaries takeaways are:

    - Yes, variations in traits like political ideology can be attributed in part due to variations in genes.

    - These variations in genes are likely widely distributed and dispersed across the genome, so that it is probably unwise to speak of the “conservative” or “liberal” gene. Rather, like height and I.Q. one can imagine political and economic preferences as a continuous trait under polygenic influence.

    On the one hand confirmation of the partially genetic nature of the variation of even complex behavioral and cogntivie traits should lend some credence to some of the arguments in works such as The Republican Brain and The Righteous Mind (as well as my friend David Dobbs’ forthcoming book on behavior genetics and personality). But it also makes science communication very difficult, because when people hear about genetics, they want to know about the specific and concrete gene. This is a game where molecular geneticists have a great advantage over quantitative or population geneticists, because their gene is far less an abstraction. Because heritable variation in personality is at some remove from our “common sense,” much of the public is ignorant or rejects the very idea. Unfortunately, the rest of the public which is open to heritable variation tend toward rather crude hereditarian models.

    Of course there may come in a day in the future when the genes for illnesses like social anxiety disorder are well characterized (or more accurately in all likelihood, the genomic regions which are responsible for the variation, as there will be many). But that day is not this day. A paper such as the one above makes us more confident that the genes do exist, but it also tells us that finding those genes is going to be more difficult than we imagined.

    [/quote]

    Hank
    Yes, variations in traits like political ideology can be attributed in part due to variations in genes.
    But everything can under such a sloppy premise.  And when everything can be explained, nothing can. It is basically like "if only people would just talk to each other" amateur geopolitical thinking. 

    Like opera?  Genes?  Like hair metal bands?  Genes.  Like lettuce?  Genes. Like Fellini movies?  Genes.
    Seems, reading his last paragraph from my quote, Khan agrees - even if he is more optimistic than you are that we will one day figure it out. I, too, have my doubts but, I'm no geneticist.