Blog satire

Bah Humbug

Edinburgh psychologists announce in Nature Communications genes for being rich. A Christmas Carol.

A paper from the Victorian times visits us this Christmas. It brings with it the eugenical ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. You will now learn why Ebenezer Scrooge was so rich (genetical superiority and high IQ), and why Tiny Tim and all these destitute little people in Victorian London actually deserved to remain poor (bad genes).

This is the paper and its abstract, fresh from the University of Edinburgh:

W. David Hill, Neil M. Davies, Stuart J. Ritchie, Nathan G. Skene, Julien Bryois, Steven Bell, Emanuele Di Angelantonio, David J. Roberts, Shen Xueyi, Gail Davies, David C. M. Liewald, David J. Porteous, Caroline Hayward, Adam S. Butterworth, Andrew M. McIntosh, Catharine R. Gale & Ian J. Deary Genome-wide analysis identifies molecular systems and 149 genetic loci associated with income Nature Communications (2019) doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-13585-5

“Socioeconomic position (SEP) is a multi-dimensional construct reflecting (and influencing) multiple socio-cultural, physical, and environmental factors. In a sample of 286,301 participants from UK Biobank, we identify 30 (29 previously unreported) independent-loci associated with income. Using a method to meta-analyze data from genetically-correlated traits, we identify an additional 120 income-associated loci. These loci show clear evidence of functionality, with transcriptional differences identified across multiple cortical tissues, and links to GABAergic and serotonergic neurotransmission. By combining our genome wide association study on income with data from eQTL studies and chromatin interactions, 24 genes are prioritized for follow up, 18 of which were previously associated with intelligence. We identify intelligence as one of the likely causal, partly-heritable phenotypes that might bridge the gap between molecular genetic inheritance and phenotypic consequence in terms of income differences. These results indicate that, in modern era Great Britain, genetic effects contribute towards some of the observed socioeconomic inequalities.”

There you have it, genes for being rich found, and those are the same genes which code for intelligence, which intelligence researchers like these define by a high IQ.

The paper follows a preprint published just in March this year, back then everyone wondered which journal (if any) will take that bizarre opus. It is a Genome-Wide-Association Study (GWAS), a fishing-expedition method used to correlate any trait to some specific genomic loci and then issue a press release to have found genes for literally anything, and nothing is too stupid there. Psychologists love GWAS.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

The money-genes study’s last author Ian Deary is psychology professor at the University of Edinburgh, his research field is: ” Human intelligence differences”. In his office, Deary displays a picture of Francis Galton, Victorian statistician and founding father of eugenics, Galton also invented the term. Eugenics is a pseudoscience and seems innocuous initially, since its pretends to advocate for smart people to have children, for the benefit of humanity. The assumption being, intelligence is genetically inherited. Before World War II, eugenics was tremendously popular, many scientists were into it.

As it turned out, eugenics is actually about cementing class and race supremacy while “birth-controlling” those it sees as unfit or damaging for society, meaning in practice forced sterilisations, euthanasia and genocide. The Nazi Germany did all of that, culminating in the Holocaust, and since then eugenics has a bad reputation. Nobody wants to be called eugenicist these days, even if what they advocate for is actually eugenics.

Now, Deary made his academic career as PhD student and mentee of former Edinburgh academic Chris Brand, a vile misogynist and a racist eugenicist of the worst kind. Brand was eventually sacked from his lecturer post, but not for being a basically a Nazi, no, for advocating paedophilia (for reasons of eugenics, sic!), a dismissal for which Brand blamed the Jews. He died in 2017, but his disgusting website is still online, where he, among other things, lamented the death of his hero Augusto Pinochet. How many young academic careers did that fascist monster Brand destroy in his times, while helping Deary establish himself in Edinburgh? Now their legacy, a study claiming that poverty and lack of access to higher education are both caused by bad genes.

Deary previously tried to connect IQ to the socio-economic status and to health, in a paper in The BMJ, Batty et al 2006, titled: “Does IQ explain socioeconomic inequalities in health? Evidence from a population based cohort study in the west of Scotland“. It was not part of a BMJ Christmas edition and hence not meant as a joke. That paper was quite measured, in fact the authors failed to prove their initial hypothesis. Maybe the peer review at The BMJ was more serious, while at Nature Communications the editors are motivated by the publication fee of €4,290.

Another author of the discussed Nature Communications paper is the psychologist Stuart Ritchie, formerly PhD student at Edinburgh, now lecturer at King’s College London. Ritchie is a very vocal champion for quality science and authored a number of papers with the US psychologist and King’s College professor Robert Plomin, about the inheritance and genetics of intelligence. A topic incidentally very popular with eugenicists and racists. It is worth reading Angela Saini‘s book “Superior” to know that also Plomin waded into racism theories: Plomin used to defend the racist psychologist Arthur Jensen against his critics up to his death. Jensen namely claimed IQ was inheritable, and black Americans had lower IQ than white people, with all the eugenics consequences; the infamous racist book “The Bell Curve” was based on Jensen’s studies.

Plomin regularly keeps discovering the gene or the genes for intelligence, which he wants to put on a “gene chip“, to be used by school officials to decide which children should be educated and which best not to bother with. Both Plomin and Ritchie are huge fans of twins studies, and they love to use these to find new IQ genes.

Speaking of. The only named reviewer of the Nature Communications paper was the Dutch economist Aysu Okbay, who over 3 years ago published a paper in Nature itself. Okbay et al 2016 discovered 74 gene loci for educational attainment, basically genes for those mysterious inheritable traits which influence your teachers to give you better grades because they respect your parents.

I was of course joking, educational attainment depends always and exclusively on intelligence (ie, IQ), just look how frightfully clever the present US and UK leadership is, all with degrees from the very best universities. And indeed, just last year, the Edinburgh psychologists Ritchie, Deary and David Hill issued a paper where genes for intelligence were located: Hill et al Molecular Psychiatry 2018. The new one in Nature Communications is the follow-up, with a bigger message.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Many have already criticised the paper’s actual data and methodology. Like the previous study, it used the publicly available dataset of half a million of volunteer participants from UK Biobank. But since this is human data, you need to apply for access and an ethics approval. As it turned out, the authors tricked UK Biobank with a decoy grant proposal which had absolutely nothing to do with their real plans of eugenics research on IQ and income. As a reader commented:

According to this paper, “Ethical approval for UK Biobank was received from the Research Ethics Committee (REC reference 11/NW/0382). This work was conducted under UK Biobank application 10279.”
Under Approved Research, the Biobank website lists application 10279 as “The relationship of cognitive function and negative emotions with morbidity and mortality: an aetiological investigation.”

The PI listed on the grant is Catherine Gale, visiting psychology scholar in Edinburgh. In order to secure access to UK Biobank for this income genetics study, Gale had to apply for an extension. This is how she argued:

One outcome we are also interested in exploring in relation to prior cognitive function and other factors is dementia. For instance, we would like to investigate the extent to which prior cognitive function helps predict later onset of vascular dementia independently of other risk factors. We have research experience in the cognitive epidemiology of dementia. This is not an outcome that we specified in our original application so I am writing to ask for approval to expand the scope of our project to include dementias as an outcome.”

Not really honest, to pretend you strive to help dementia patients while your real aim is to prove that your comfortable financial status as white middle class is due to your superior genes. And: falsifying an ethics approval is usually reasons enough for a retraction.

Of course the paper will be based on weak data poorly analysed (at best), as it always proves the case with studies seeking to promote an eugenicist world-view. After all, there is no science behind Social Darwinism or “race realism”, just right-wing scientism. Even authors’ supporters like the UK Biobank Steering Committee member and EMBL-EBI director Ewan Birney seem to feel queasy, and defend them from their own claims:

But the damage is already done when such a paper gets published, especially after receiving the seal of peer review approval at an allegedly elite journal (which Nature Communications pretends to be).

Hence, some gems from the paper, which, since they passed peer review now count as scientific facts:

“We identify neurogenesis and the components of the synapse as being associated with income. Furthermore, we link transcription differences across multiple cortical tissue types, as well as both GABAergic and serotonergic neurotransmission, to income differences. We also show that the genes linked to differences in income are predominantly those that have been previously linked with intelligence8, and that intelligence is one of the likely causal factors leading to differences in income.”

Now we know for a fact that rich people are rich because of their superior intelligence which is coded in their superior genes. And this is how GWAS works, you decide what trait you want to connect to genes, and you will always succeed:

“Although income, as a biologically distal phenotype, will not be directly linked to genetic variation (Fig. 1)7, genes that may exert a causal influence are likely to do so through their effect on more proximal phenotypes30. “

This translates: of course income has scientifically nothing to do with genes, but we decided we will find some connection even if we have to break into UK Biobank for it. A mysterious connection, which goes through other organs in the body, not just the brain:

“This combination of data provides evidence that some of the individual differences in income are related to gene expression differences in the brain (Figs. 4b and  5c–e), as well as highlighting the role of specific classes of neurons (Figs. 4c and 5f). As importantly, we show the role for some tissue types outside of the central nervous system (Fig. 5d), indicating that genetic factors associated with income differences may also lie outside the phenotype of intelligence, and outside cortical tissue types.

Fourth, using MR, we provided evidence implicating intelligence as one of the potentially causal, partly heritable, phenotypes that might be one bridge in the gap between molecular genetic inheritance and phenotypic consequence. This result could help explain why individual differences in income are found to be partly heritable.

Fifth, our data show that income and education each have similar genetic correlations with many variables. However, some genetic correlations differ depending on whether income or education is used as a measure of SEP, and those that differed tend to be those related to mental health.”

Yeah, maybe poor people are not only retarded but also crazy and antisocial, and so are their kids. Rich people on the other hand are not only highly intelligent, they also also perfectly calm, social and well-adjusted, and so are their kids. That perfectly scientific reasoning would explain how both poverty and wealth get inherited over generations throughout the history. The paper concludes again, for those who missed the beautiful simplicity of it all:

“We also prioritize 24 genes for further follow-up and evidence from eQTL analysis, chromatin interactions, with previous associations of intelligence converging to implicate 18 of these genes. Furthermore, we identify intelligence as one of the likely causal psychological traits partly driving differences in income and SEP in Great Britain today. “

18 genes code both intelligence and income. Science Has Spoken! This is an invitation to revive Social Darwinism, a Victorian concept based on a (wilful) misunderstanding of the evolutionary theory and its concept of “survival of the fittest”. The reality of complex social cohesion, reciprocity and mutualism in, say canid societies, is thrown out of the windows because the dog-eat-dog idea sound so much more exciting. And because it is only natural and scientific, also in the human society the poor are to be robbed and exploited till they drop dead so the rich can get even richer, because the genetics allegedly says so.

Of course the authors will say they never meant to endorse Social Darwinism. But their paper and its claims provides the scientific groundwork for social injustice, and it would insult the authors’ self-proclaimed high intelligence to suggest they lack the brains to figure out the connection. Of course they know. They simply think as academics it is not their responsibility, because science is on their side. Even if it is not, just Nature Communication‘s bloated impact factor.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

Great Britain is a multi-ethnical nation, torn by many internal conflicts while still obsessed with social class system, and this is where the paper does its main damage. Especially in view of current events of Brexit and the newly elected Tory government which main characteristic is its unashamed hatred for the poor and the immigrants. Deary and colleagues provide Boris Johnson and his cabinet of crooks and sociopaths the perfect scientific arguments to say that no, there is no such thing as discrimination, neither of women nor of minorities. The darker-skinned UK citizens are probably genetically inferior, that’s why they get paid less for doing the same job as whites, and rarely get Oxbridge degrees and top jobs like white upper classes do. The immense wealth inherited and amassed by freaks like Jacob Rees-Mogg is in fact justly deserved, because the upper classes do have better genes.

Science apparently has spoken that it is pointless to waste education, welfare and job integration programmes on the poor, because their genes are bad anyway. Why not sending their kids to work in factories and mines, if their genetic makeup prevents them from educational attainment? And if there are not enough jobs to keep the working classes busy, let’s have a war on. Who needs immigrants if those are genetically so inferior, as evidenced by their relatively low income? And NHS can be safely sold to US capitalists, because poor people have poor health anyway, congenitally. Why wasting money of these dumb and sickly subhumans, would certain Tories think, while the genetically superior Prime Minister Johnson impregnates another mistress, for England.

Also elsewhere in sciences eugenics gains popularity again. Harvard’s star scientist and God-impersonator George Church previously suggested to use CRISPR technology to breed a disease-free, quasi-immortal race of super-humans. Now Church is developing a dating app software to help people breed according to best genetic match. The idea is also here to eliminate all diseases for the benefit of humanity. It is worth remembering that Church used to receive money from the paedophile sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein (now deceased), who himself designed a project to “seed humanity” via mass insemination of sex slaves with his own semen and that of academic and other elites.

Eugenics doesn’t work. Nobody will ever succeed in breeding smarter humans, or wealthier ones, even if the Deary team may think they provided solid scientific groundwork for that. Every eugenicist ran into the problem that their breeding project doesn’t really work as efficiently as planned, while those humans they see as inferior are still out there, some even having children. The logical solution for the frustrated eugenicists was to stop them, either by mass-sterilisation, or much simpler, by mass murder. What Nazis did was just applied eugenics.

Thanks, Nature Communications, for that very useful paper.

The article was updated on 18. and 19.12.2019


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20 comments on “Bah Humbug

  1. The UK Biobank “is a national and international health resource with unparalleled research opportunities, open to all bona fide health researchers.” According to this paper, “Ethical approval for UK Biobank was received from the Research Ethics Committee (REC reference 11/NW/0382). This work was conducted under UK Biobank application 10279.”
    Under Approved Research, the Biobank website lists application 10279 as “The relationship of cognitive function and negative emotions with morbidity and mortality: an aetiological investigation.” The PI is Dr. Michelle Luciano at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) of the University of Edinburgh (https://www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/2015/06/dr-catherine-gale-university-of-edinburgh/).

    The CCACE is also the academic home of the corresponding author of this paper, W. David Hill, although it is notable that none of the authors of this paper are listed in Biobank application 10279.

    The paper mentions several host institutions and funding bodies, most supporting health research (e.g. MRC, Wellcome Trust, BBSRC), and indeed many specific grants are acknowledged that support groups, individuals and programs. Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) support is also mentioned, and the work is described as “part of a project entitled ‘social and economic consequences of health: causal inference methods and longitudinal, intergenerational data’, which is part of the Health Foundation’s Efficiency Research Programme.”

    One question to be asked here is: was this exercise in social Mendelism specifically supported by the host/funding/information gathering bodies involved? Did someone actually get a grant to “identify intelligence as one of the likely causal, partly-heritable phenotypes that might bridge the gap between molecular genetic inheritance and phenotypic consequence in terms of income differences.”

    Or was access to the Biobank data gained via a trojan horse application, and the study supported by funding hived off from legitimate health care research grant?

    To quote a great fictional Englishman: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually, if you download the pdf file on the web page I listed above, the PI is then listed as Catherine Gale, who is an author on this paper. The project still does not mention anything like the study published in the NC paper. Rather it mentions “Our current project, 10279, aims to understand why it is that poorer cognitive function and negative emotional factors are typically associated with poorer health and increased mortality. So far, we have been using health outcome data to examine how mortality or incident cardiovascular disease or cancer, for example, varies according to prior cognitive function and negative emotions, and exploring the role played by physical, biological, genetic, behavioural, and sociodemographic factors.” The document goes on the mention why the group applied for an extention: “One outcome we are also interested in exploring in relation to prior cognitive function and other factors is dementia. For instance, we would like to investigate the extent to which prior cognitive function helps predict later onset of vascular dementia independently of other risk factors. We have research experience in the cognitive epidemiology of dementia.This is not an outcome that we specified in our original application so I am writing to ask for approval to expand the scope of our project to include dementias as an outcome.” No mention of the genetics of income that I can see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Rune Linding

      I think these concerns should be brought to the President/Rectorate of Edinburgh as soon as possible. Happy to co-sign a letter.

      Like

  3. Patricia Murray

    If this study was conducted without appropriate ethics approval it should be retracted by Nature Comms.

    I wonder if the funding bodies listed in the acknowledgement are happy to be associated with this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. They peer review is also online for this paper.

    Click to access 41467_2019_13585_MOESM1_ESM.pdf

    Interesting part, the reviewers urged the authors to change their misleading statements & conclusions because they would sound like genetic determinism… but then how is the final paper still full of them?
    Take this peer review comment:

    ” Because of the particular sensitivity of the topic – linking DNA with income differences across people, and examining intelligence as the mediator – and the potential for misinterpretation, I think it is even more important than usual for the paper to be accurate and careful in explaining how to interpret results. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the paper falls short in a number of places. ”

    “I believe the authors have a responsibility to avoid any statements that could be misunderstood that way.”

    “The second part again may be suggestive of genetic determinism and policy ineffectiveness. The same comments apply to the last sentence of the paper”

    or another reviewer:

    “I think that the paper would suffice to meet the standards of publication in Nature Communications without any claims about directed causal relations between phenotypes. But I sense that the causal claims are important to the authors.”

    I mean, common, the NC editors were making some questionable decisions too. They could have just said: Take out all the claims you can not substantiate (because unscientific) and reduce interpretations to more objective claims.

    Like

    • The response to reviewers says that there should be a “supplementary note” that consists of a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section that addresses all of the reviewers concerns about insensitive and misleading data interpretation. But I can’t find this FAQ section in the supplemental materials, even though its referred to in the published text. Am I missing something? Could someone point me to the FAQ file?

      Like

  5. “And: falsifying an ethics approval is usually reasons enough for a retraction.”

    Playing fast and loose with ethical approval is not a problem for BMJ if the lead investigator’s name is Esther Crawley. [1] Bad methodology, recruiting before trial registration, swapping end points, etc. is also acceptable. Telling young people to stand on paper circles and yelling “STOP” is now a valid “treatment” for pediatric myalgic encephalomyelitis. There doesn’t seem to be anything that disqualifies a study as long as it is promoted by the proper Very Important Person.

    Eugenics never ended, as Dr Schneider suggests. Outright killing and forced sterilization presents a public relations problem, so a new policy of “social apoptosis” is now in place. Once a year society sheds a few crocodile tears for the dead who end their own lives, but the reality is that for the other 364 days, “Useless Eaters” are told every day, in every way, that they should do their duty to society and kill themselves. In the US, about 1000 people a week take the message to heart.

    People who are too ill or otherwise too impaired to work for wages are all too familiar with how this works. Applying for and then keeping any kind of social benefits is a huge struggle that never ends. The system’s motto of “Delay, Deny, and Hope They Die” is well known, particularly by military veterans. The goal of social workers is not to find everyone that qualifies for a benefit, but rather to keep the gate closed as much as possible, in order to reserve resources for those at the top of the pyramid, who obviously deserve them.

    So far I have only found research on social apoptosis in honey bee colonies. To me, this is an area ripe for research in human societies, but it will likely never happen for the same reasons there are no discussions regarding the manufacture of consent: it is a topic no one is allowed to talk about, if they want to keep their social status and academic income.

    [1] http://www.virology.ws/2019/12/16/trial-by-error-my-stat-opinion-piece-on-bmj-and-dr-godlee/

    Like

  6. Pingback: I 24 geni del reddito - Ocasapiens - Blog - Repubblica.it

  7. Just for the record, Dr. Luciano and colleagues have produced papers on health impacts based on analysis of data from UK Biobank and other sources. Still no luck finding a grant to study likely causal, partly-heritable phenotypes, which apparently involves performing several meta-analyses using different approaches, software and datasets, and then publishing everything in a few dozen Excel spreadsheets because the authors themselves don’t know WTF any of it means.

    Like

  8. Coming from NPG is not really a big surprise.

    Like

  9. “Boris Johnson and his cabinet of crooks and sociopaths the perfect scientific arguments to say that no, there is no such thing as discrimination, neither of women nor of minorities”

    8 women and 6 BAME in BJ’s Cabinet. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-49043973

    So while Mr. Johnson himself might be a crook or a sociopath, I don’t think his own party is that far right to support any kind of discrimination.

    Like

    • Let’s see. Rees-Mogg, Gove, Patel, Javid, Raab, those are the names to be truly afraid of. The rest is just spineless, corrupt or unscrupulous or all of it, of a kind where they will hold down immigrants while Patel puts cigarettes out on them.

      Like

  10. Many years ago, I had the privilege of meeting one of the victims of this kind of “science”: Leilani Muir. Her autobiography, “A Whisper Past: Childless after Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta” (which I reviewed for Genes, Brain and Behavior – doi 10.1111/gbb.12221), should be required reading for anybody working in this field. It powerfully drives home the message that this is not just academic discussion, but influences the fates of real, living people. Attending the first day of her trial against Alberta was a huge eye opener for me. See also her bio on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leilani_Muir.

    Like

  11. Genetics was corrupted in the 1920s by the confusion of folk knowledge with scientific inference. For what ever reasons, outsiders who recognized it were shunned,and insiders were, as they say, a day late and a dollars short. The fairly obvious lesson to be learned is that where science appears to validate folk beliefs, it needs to be subjected to considerably higher standards of scrutiny than ordinary science.( reference to these lines given in the paper below )

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757926/

    Like

  12. apart from the social sciences , i wonder about the science behind genetic markers for cancers and other diseases , it’s still a methodology based on correlation not causation , i feel like research could have some major breakthroughs if they studied the chain of causes instead of conceiving of a correlation as a cause. it’s a weltanschauung

    Like

  13. Who is the guy in the left of the image with Farage and Johnson?

    Like

  14. Pingback: I am not a racist but… – For Better Science

  15. Pingback: How USA embraced research fraud: review of two books – For Better Science

  16. Pingback: Academic Dynasties: meet the Nussenzweigs – For Better Science

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