Sunday, December 31, 2017

Matt Ridley is wrong on IQ and designer babies

Matt Ridley is sound on a lot of things.  He is a climate skeptic, for instance.  But he has succumbed to political correctness below and ends up with an illogical argument.

Some of his arguments may be correct.  His point that the polygenetic nature of IQ makes genetic modification to increase it impossibly difficult, for instance.  Such is the rapid pace of progress in science, however that I would not rule out it one day becoming possible.

But his final argument -- that intelligence is a collective thing -- is just plain sleight of hand.   He is using "intelligence" where he should be using "achievement". It is true that scientific progress and human achievement generally is the product of a huge collectivity but one person can sometimes make a major contribution -- Einstein, for instance. And if genetic modification towards high IQ becomes a common thing, high IQ could give us the "great leap forward" that Mao longed for. Though what its end might be one can only imagine

Christmas Day marks the birthday of one of the most gifted human beings ever born. His brilliance was of a supernoval intensity, but he was, by all accounts, very far from pleasant company. I refer to Isaac Newton.

Would you like your next child to have the intelligence of a Newton? It may not be long before this is a consumer choice, according to an ambitious new company founded in America a few months ago. Genomic Prediction initially plans to offer people who use in-vitro fertilisation the chance to identify and avoid embryos that would be likely to develop diabetes, late-life osteoporosis, schizophrenia and dwarfism. The key is the application of smart software to gigantic databases of genomic information from the population at large so as to spot dangerous combinations of gene variants. The founders also talk of being able to predict intelligence from genes, at least to some degree.

It is of course already common practice to screen embryos for terrible diseases, but only those simply caused by single genes: cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and so forth. The new idea is to extend this capability to disorders caused by the interaction of many genes, each of small effect: and that is most of them.

This is welcome and potentially ethical, but is it also, after many false starts, the beginning of the slippery slope to designer babies? No, it is not. If anything, the new knowledge will cause such a threat to dissolve.

It is true that intelligence is one of the most strongly heritable human traits, like height. In childhood, among people who get sufficient food and a reasonable education, genes account for about 40 per cent of the variation in IQ. Later in life this rises to more like 80 per cent. If this sounds puzzling, consider this friend of mine: left a bad school at 15, worked as a lorry driver for a big company, which spotted his intelligence and paid for him to attend a top university, where he got a first, rejoined the company and is now a global senior executive: his achievement at 45 better reflects his innate intelligence than his achievement at 15. As a child we don’t get to choose our environments, so clever kids often don’t get to read as many books or do as many mind-bending maths puzzles as they would like, while stupid children read more books and get more maths tutoring than they would if left to their own devices. By adulthood, we are choosing and modifying the life that suits us.

Hence it has always been possible selectively to breed for intelligence. Francis Galton in 1869 pointed out that just as it was easy to ‘obtain by careful selection a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted with peculiar powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations’.

However, human beings proved surprisingly unwilling to do this, and most governments eventually gave up trying to coerce them to do it, often with horrific eugenic policies. Then along came artificial insemination and test-tube babies, and surely now we would see a rush to have bright babies, by using sperm banks of Nobel Prize winners? But we did not. People used these technologies to have their own children, not those of Newton-like sperm donors. It is curious
how wrong most experts were about where the demand for IVF would come from: mainly from infertile couples wanting their own children, not fertile people wanting other people’s.

Strange as it may seem to academics, not everybody thinks intelligence matters all that much. They would rather have good- looking or athletic or happy or kind children than super-bright ones. And healthy comes first for almost everybody, so if there is any risk of poor health as a result of selecting an embryo for intelligence, people will, and for all we know very wisely, avoid it.

That is the first reason we will not see designer-intelligence any time soon: there will be little demand, especially if the procedure carries risks. For 50 years we have fretted about designer babies every time there is a new reproductive technology: mitochondrial donation and cloning were the most recent reason for dusting off the old canard.

The second reason is that the genes involved are too numerous and too feeble to be of any practical use. For a long time there was a puzzling gap between what studies of twins and adopted children said about the heritability of intelligence (that it was high), and what genetic surveys found (next to nothing). The first genome-wide association studies — or GWAS — came up empty when looking for gene variants associated with high IQ.

That has changed, thanks to much bigger sample sizes, such as the UK Biobank, which has looked inside the genomes of half a million people of a certain age. Thus, a recent study of nearly 80,000 people, published in May, found 40 new gene variants associated with intelligence. Another study  published in Nature of 1,238 extremely gifted intellectuals turned up more gene variants, including three in a gene called ADAM12.

But the more we find, the more ridiculous the idea of selecting for intelligence looks. Each variant seems to have a small effect, so you would need to fiddle with scores of genes to make a child bright, and fiddling with them might have unforeseen consequences for the health of the child. ADAM12, for example, is hard at work in every organ of the body.

As for the concern that genomic selection for intelligence, if it comes, will be available to the rich but not the poor — well, the same is true for good education. Opportunities to buy the best genes for your children will be dwarfed for decades to come by the ability of the rich to buy the best education for their children. If you must do something, do something about that instead: and preferably do so by making all education as good as the best, rather than as bad as the worst.

Finally, staring us in the face is a more obvious reason why intelligent designer babies will not happen soon and if they do, will not matter much. Individual intelligence is overrated. This is partly the well-worn argument that lots of other characteristics determine success, especially energy and diligence. We know people who are too bright to be decisive; or conversely achieve much in spite of their apparent disadvantages.

However, I mean something more than this. I mean that human achievements are always and everywhere collective. Every object and service you use is the product of different minds working together to invent or manage something that is way beyond the capacity of any individual mind. This is why central planning does not work. Ten million people eat lunch in London most days; how the heck they get what they want and when and where, given that a lot of them decide at the last minute, is baffling. Were there a London lunch commissioner to organise it, he would fail badly. Individual decisions integrated by price signals work, and work very well indeed.

And here is the key insight from evolution. Our brains grew big long, long before we achieved civilisation. We’ve had 1,200cc of intelligence for half a million years: even Neanderthals had huge brains. For 99 per cent of that time we were just another hard-pressed species, as bottle-nosed dolphins are today, and around 75,000 years ago we teeter-ed on the brink of extinction.

What changed was not some bright spark of a new gene being turned on, but that we began to exchange and specialise, to create collective intelligence, rather than rely on individual braininess. To put it another way, dozens of stupid people in a room who talk to each other will achieve far more than an equal number of clever people who don’t. The internet only underlines this point. Human intelligence is a distributed, collaborative phenomenon.


Seattle Public Transit Religious Ads Guideline Could Prove Model for DC Metro, Which Won’t Run Religious Ads

Last week, a federal judge denied a motion from the Archdiocese of Washington for an injunction directing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to accept and run the archdiocese’s advent advertisements on Metrobuses.

The advertisements, which featured shepherds following a star, urged people to “find the perfect gift” by directing them to a website with Catholic mass times and other religious content.

Metro previously rejected the advertisements as inconsistent with its advertising guidelines, which prohibit, among other things, “advertisements that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief.” The archdiocese initiated a lawsuit in federal district court against Metro, asking that the guideline in question—Guideline 12—be declared unconstitutional.

This is far from the first lawsuit against Metro’s advertising guidelines, which it amended in 2015 to prohibit a wide array of noncommercial advertisements, including those with political or religious messages, endorsing public policies, or attempting to influence public opinion on contentious social issues.

What does this ruling mean? What are the legal arguments being raised against these guidelines? Could Metro have avoided these lawsuits by implementing more flexible policies?

The Injunction Denial Is Far From the End

The federal district court judge only declined to issue a preliminary injunction, which is different than deciding whether the guideline is constitutional.

An injunction is merely a request to make the other party to the lawsuit act or stop acting in a certain way, pending the outcome of the case. The archdiocese essentially asked the judge to require that Metro run its advent advertisements until the court rules on whether Guideline 12 is constitutional.

A preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary and drastic remedy” that is “never awarded as [a matter] of right” (Munaf v. Geren). In other words, it’s intentionally difficult for a party to obtain one.

The judge determined that the archdiocese did not establish that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its case, and that it would not suffer irreparable harm if Metro isn’t required to run the advent advertisements in the interim. On Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals also declined to issue a preliminary injunction for similar reasons.

Legal Arguments Against the Guidelines

The archdiocese raises several legal challenges to Guideline 12, some of which are complicated by the fact Metro is a unique tri-jurisdictional agency, created by Congress as an interstate compact between Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. It’s difficult to ascertain whether and how this might impact the archdiocese’s claims that Guideline 12 violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal statute that the Supreme Court ruled cannot constitutionally be applied to the states (City of Boerne v. Flores).

The other major claims, however, appear fairly straightforward.

The archdiocese’s first claim is that Guideline 12 impermissibly restricts its First Amendment right to free speech. Because Metro is a government agency, this case is governed by law concerning the regulation of speech on government property. This means the restriction will be analyzed under the “Public Forum Doctrine,” which categorizes government property as either a traditional public forum, a designated public forum, or a nonpublic forum.

In traditional and designated public forums, regulations that discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint or content are almost always struck down as unconstitutional. In nonpublic forums, however, content-specific regulations may be allowed as long as they are both reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.

The archdiocese contends primarily that Metro’s prohibitions are not viewpoint-neutral and are enforced in a discriminatory manner against religious expression. It points out that Metro allows advertisements for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle charity drive and for a yoga studio, both of which arguably promote religion and religious practices. Further, it argues that Metro allows secular and commercial viewpoints on the Christmas season, while disallowing any promotion of the holiday’s inherently religious underpinnings.

The archdiocese’s second major claim is that Guideline 12 burdens its First Amendment right to freely exercise its religious beliefs.

Similarly to laws and regulations restricting speech, regulations burdening a person or organization’s religious practices must be neutral and generally applicable to survive legal challenges (Emp’t Div. v. Smith). If they are not neutral and generally applicable, they must survive strict scrutiny—that is, they must advance a compelling state interest, be necessary to achieve that interest, and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

To be neutral and generally applicable, laws and regulations cannot single out religious speech or practices for disfavored treatment, and they cannot be enforced in a discriminatory manner against religious practitioners. (Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah).

The archdiocese argues that Metro’s prohibitions disfavor religious speech in general, and establish a preference for nonreligious institutions and viewpoints. In practice, the prohibitions silence all ideological challenges to secularism.

Although absent from the archdiocese complaint, it should be noted that at the same time Metro banned all religiously-oriented viewpoints because of their polarizing nature, it amended the guidelines to allow the advertisement of alcoholic beverages—an equally polarizing advertising topic, according to Metro’s own research.

Metro’s Guidelines Are Misguided

As the late Justice Antonin Scalia famously noted, “It is entirely possible for a law to be really, really stupid and yet be constitutional.” Here, Metro notoriously demands increased funding while simultaneously rejecting revenue streams from fairly uncontroversial advertisements that technically violate its broad advertising guidelines.

Metro’s desire to adopt more restrictive guidelines was not completely unreasonable in and of itself—they were initially amended in 2015 after a proposed advertisement picturing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad caused significant and not entirely unfounded fears of violent backlash.

Similar public outrage had occurred in 1988 after Metro allowed advertisements alleging Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians, in 1995 when it ran anti-abortion advertisements, and in 2001 over advertisements attacking the Catholic Church’s stance on the use of condoms.

It is understandable that Metro sought ways to constitutionally prohibit these types of controversial advertisements that could legitimately hamper its ability to achieve its primary aim—safely getting a D.C. area passenger from Point A to Point B.

However, there are other ways in which Metro could achieve this goal with more narrowly tailored advertising guidelines that could prohibit only those advertisements likely to be harmful or disruptive to the transit system. Had it adopted guidelines similar to those implemented by the King County (Seattle) Department of Transportation, all of this unnecessary litigation and public relations nightmare could have been avoided.

Seattle’s transit advertising guidelines offer perhaps the best example of a healthy balance between raising revenue, treating viewpoints equally, and still ensuring that inflammatory advertisements will not threaten the efficiency of the system or the safety of passengers.

Its prohibitions are limited in scope, and provide flexible but instructive guidelines for assessing whether a particular advertisement falls within a particular prohibition.

Notably, Seattle prohibits political campaign speech and speech that “demeans or disparages an individual, group of individuals, or entity.” But the most relevant prohibition bars advertisements containing “material that is so objectionable as to be reasonably foreseeable that it will result in harm to, disruption of or interference with the transportation system.”

For all of these arguably subjective standards, King County seeks to make the process more objective by employing a “reasonably prudent person” test to determine whether the advertisement would be generally understood as violating the prohibitions on demeaning or disruptive material. In Washington, as in many states, this test has developed a substantial body of judicial precedent that allows for fairly consistent and discernable outcomes.

The practical benefit of this standard is that it protects King County’s interests in passenger safety by actually focusing the prohibitions on material most likely to impact passenger safety and business efficiency. The “harmful or disruptive” prohibitions are not concerned with quashing viewpoints, either on an individual or categorical level. Rather, the concern is much more aligned with “reserv[ing] the forum for its intended purposes,” (see Perry Educ. Ass’n) which is the provision of safe and reliable public transportation.

Under similar guidelines, Metro could have allowed the archdiocese to run its advertisements, while still having an emergency fire extinguisher to eliminate the would-be flames likely to be prompted by advertisements depicting Muhammad or accusing the Catholic Church of murder.

Although this lawsuit is still in its infancy, it appears—for this Christmas, at least—the archdiocese will not be able to run its advertisements on Metrobuses. It is too early to make conclusions on how the court will rule on the merits, as many more facts about whether and how Metro enforces its policy in a discriminatory way may come to light as the litigation proceeds.

One thing, however, is abundantly clear: Metro could have avoided this problem by adopting more narrowly tailored prohibitions that don’t exclude advertisements unlikely to cause disruptions to transit service.

At the very best, Guideline 12 might pass constitutional muster (barely). That doesn’t make it any less worthy of being repealed as a bad policy.


What We Can Learn from Portugal’s Drug Policy

For more than 100 years the United States has looked to prohibition to curtail the use of drugs. Proponents argue that by making substances like marijuana, cocaine and heroin illegal, government can significantly reduce drug-related crime, prevent addiction and stop the spread of drug-related disease.

The results have been less than impressive. In fact, Michael Botticelli, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the War on Drugs has consisted of “failed policies and failed practices.”

Among alternative policies proposed to better achieve the stated goals are decriminalization of drugs—relaxed enforcement and penalties for drug offenses—and outright legalization of all drugs.

Yes, all of them.

These options may sound counterproductive, but the data tell a different story. In 2001 Portugal shocked the world and voted to decriminalize all drugs in response to a growing heroin problem.

Things like drug trafficking remain illegal, but drug users are viewed as ill rather than criminal. Instead of immediate arrest and incarceration, people caught with less than a 10-day supply of hard drugs are taken before a special court of legal experts, psychologists and social workers. The goal is a health-focused solution to drug use, with an occasional small fine or community service.

Fifteen years later plentiful data tell a drastically different story from what many predicted. Drug use among 15- to 24-year-olds has decreased dramatically and drug-induced deaths dropped from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012. Before 2001 Portugal confined around 100,000 drug users. Within the first 10 years of the policy’s adoption, this number halved. Today Portugal boasts one of the lowest drug-usage rates in all of Europe.

People are leaving the drug market and seeking treatment. The number of individuals registered in rehab has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to more than 24,000 in 2008. The number of heroin users who inject the drug has decreased from 45 percent to 17 percent. Injection rates are particularly important when discussing drug-related disease. Drug addicts now account for only 20 percent of HIV cases in the country, a significant improvement from the previous 56 percent.

These results can be explained with basic economics. As people get help for their drug use, the number of users—that is, the demand for drugs—falls. When the demand falls, drug suppliers find that their once-lucrative enterprise no longer bears fruit. So they exit the market.

This would explain why a 2010 study in the British Journal of Criminology found that after decriminalization Portugal saw a significant reduction in the imprisonment of alleged drug dealers, from 14,000 in 2000 to 5,000 in 2010. In fact, the proportion of people in jail for crimes committed while under the influence of drugs or to feed a drug habit fell from 41 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2008.

By redirecting resources previously allocated to arresting and jailing drug users, Portugal has not only curbed its drug problem but has created a healthier society. When asked what the global community should take away from Portugal’s policy, Alex Steven, president of the International Society of the Study of Drug Policy, said, “The main lesson to learn (is that) decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster, and it does free up resources for more effective responses to drug-related problems.”

There is something to learn from treating drug use as a physical and mental illness. Consider the results of the Portuguese policy versus the U.S. approach. While Portugal’s rates of use, incarceration and illness have all fallen, drug use in the United States has remained relatively unchanged for the past decade. Each year 1.5 million people are arrested on drug-related charges, 80 percent for mere possession. Half of all federal incarcerations are drug-related.

Few would argue that drug use isn’t a problem. Without a doubt, drug use presents problems for public health and destroys many lives. But when examining the efficacy of drug policies, the U.S. model is nothing short of a complete failure. It’s time to look at alternatives. As the Portuguese case illustrates, so-called “radical” policies may be perfectly reasonable.


Protests Rage In Sweden After Cops Tell Women To ‘Stay inside’ To Avoid Gang Rapes

Hundreds of protesters raged against Swedish police Tuesday after the nation’s law enforcement warned women to “stay inside or walk in pairs” to avoid the slew of gang rapes that have plagued the country this fall.

Police issued the warning Sunday after a 17-year-old was gang raped early Saturday morning in Malmo, Sweden, by an unknown number of attackers, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday. The first of the series of rapes occurred on Nov. 4, followed by another just a week later. Malmo police have opened a preliminary investigation into the rape, and they have defended their comment, claiming their words are being taken out of context.

“It’s about common sense. We are not warning people not to be outside, but to think twice and maybe not walk alone late at night and instead go with others or take a taxi,” said Anders Nilsson, a Malmo police officer.

Despite their defense, however, Malmo police yielded to protesters Tuesday and retracted the statement.

Sweden’s rape rate is among the highest in the world. This summer, a Swedish music festival decided to cancel its 2018 event due to the spree of rapes that took place at the event. Attendees reported three rapes and 22 sexual assaults by the festival’s conclusion in early July, and the festival’s founder said he can no longer allow the festival to go on.

The country’s immigrant rape problem has also escalated as it has taken in more and more refugees from conflicts in the Middle East. Sweden has also shown great reluctance to deport refugees and foreigners who have been convicted of rape. Only 13 percent of foreigners registered as Swedish residents found guilty of raping children between 2010-2014 were sent home. Among those not registered as Swedish residents, only 40 percent of foreign child rapists are deported.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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