Thursday, October 17, 2013

Too Smart?

People differ in talent, including intellectual talent. The reasons for the differences are not known and intensely controversial, but very likely to be at least partially genetic. John Bohannon, writing in wired, has the story of one prodigy's project to study what's different about the genetics of people like himself.

Some people are smarter than others. It seems like a straightforward truth, and one that should lend itself to scientific investigation. But those who try to study intelligence, at least in the West, find themselves lost in a political minefield. To be sure, not all intelligence research is controversial: If you study cognitive development in toddlers, or the mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease, “that’s treated as just normal science,” says Douglas Detterman, founding editor of Intelligence, a leading journal in the field. The trouble starts whenever the heritability of intelligence is discussed, or when intelligence is compared between genders, socioeconomic classes, or—most explosively—racial groupings.

China doesn't seem troubled by these political inhibitions. 21 year-old Zhao Bowen, prodigy and high school dropout, heads a project to sequence the DNA of thousands of prodigies from China and around the world, with the object of finding just what genetic differences underlie their specific talents. I found the article to be interesting throughout.