Friday, March 09, 2007

Shockley was dead: To begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

I'd get organized but I have this genetic malfunction, you understand--Bill Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, founding father of Silicon Valley and a serious son-of-a-bitch, destroyed his career on the notion that intelligence was genetic. He also claimed that blacks were genetically less intelligent than whites because they scored--as a group--lower on standard IQ tests than did whites. You know all of that, of course. The uproar in the scientific community against his assertion was one of the low points of American science in the 60s and 70s. Shockley insisted people actually go out and do the research and see if he was right; the scientific community (or at least the loud and politically correct) raged against it.

(Disclaimer: your obedient servent is Shockley's biographer and you can read all about it here. End of commercial)

As time goes--Shockley died in 1989--it turns out he was correct about the non-racial assertion. Over the years, scientists have found myriad examples of human traits hidden in the genes, including (and depending on how you define) intelligence. In a piece of research that got very little publicity, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have even found a particular gene.

The gene activates a signalling pathway to the brain involved with organizing, certainly an aspect of intelligence. The gene CHRM2 is "not a gene for intelligence," says Danielle M. Dick, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study. "It's a gene that's involved in some kinds of brain processing, and specific alterations in the gene appear to influence IQ. But this single gene isn't going to be the difference between whether a person is a genius or has below-average intelligence." They did find, however, that several variations in the gene could slightly influence the results of IQ tests, particularly performance IQ scores.

The study, published in Behavioral Genetics, was the offshoot of a large study of alcoholism. Some of the subjects (2,150) also took the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised, and the results were matched with individual's DNA.

The study confirms others hinting at the same link

CHRM2 isn't the "intelligence gene." It appears that it affects only one aspect of what we call intelligence. Dick says there could be hundreds of genes involved in intelligence, which seems an entirely intelligent surmise.

Too bad Shockley was cremated--his corpse would be smiling.

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