[ExI] Genetics doesn't explain why people are poor

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Sun Jan 26 12:46:58 UTC 2020

A Study Tried to Use Genetics to Explain Why People Are Poor
Scientists wanted to explain health disparities and ended up with a
right-wing talking point.

by Dan Samorodnitsky  Jan 24 2020


Genetics’ allure can draw people away from more obvious explanations
for problems. Here’s a hypothetical. Imagine a poor neighborhood on
the side of a highway. If you notice that people living in poor
neighborhoods next to highways get asthma more often than rich people
across town, you could study their genomes and find some genes common
in poor asthmatics. Some of those might even be for genes expressed in
the throat and lungs, and then suddenly it seems like poor people are
genetically predisposed to having asthma, all while ignoring the much
simpler explanation that poor people are breathing in car exhaust
while rich people aren’t.

Viewing genes as a determining factor while ignoring larger systemic
and societal issues is misleading.

With a sample size as big as the UK Biobank you could pick any
characteristic you wanted, like, say, enjoying an evening cup of tea.
Then, comparing thousands of tea-drinkers to non-tea-drinkers, you
might find that there are genetic variations more common in
tea-drinkers. But that’s as far as the genetic analysis could take
you. Whether tea-drinking is actually driven by genes, and whether
that makes any sense, would simply have to be decided by humans.

Harpak and colleagues’ study compared two different types of GWASs:
one made up of random people, and another that’s made up of family
members. If differences in traits, like income, come from genetic
sources, the tests will have the same outcome. If a trait is
confounded by environmental and cultural factors, the two tests will
have different results, which is exactly what Harpak saw. Things like
years of smoking, years of schooling, and, yes, household income were
heavily affected by the environment.

It's the old nature versus nurture argument. How much of each????


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