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Friday, October 19, 2007

Enter: Proteomics

If you keep up on nerd news, you might have heard the bewildering reports on what James Watson has said about race and genetics. Apparently, 'He was quoted in the Oct. 14 issue of The Sunday Times saying he feels "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" since "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."'

This is a case of someone believing their own hype.

Assuming he did say this, I can't help but think that James Watson knows piddly squat. First of all, the completed sequence of the human genome doesn't tell us much. So we know the code. Big deal. There are approximately 25 - 35000 genes, but guess what? There are >500000 proteins that are encoded by these genes (the sum of which are referred to as the human proteome) and an unestimated number of possible metabolites produced from the enzymes within the proteome, to form the human metabolome. All of these factors put together can impact the performance, health and abilities of a human being. Genetics are the tip of the iceberg, and really don't tell you much about the end product, which is the person. There are at least two higher orders of complexity to a human being. Maybe more.

Point number two: What you're born with is merely the starting material. Just as none of us are born with rippling muscles, if any of us care to put in the time and work to get the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, we most likely can. The same thing goes for the human brain. Learning requires time and work. Anyone who plays video games knows that with practice and constantly challenging a current skill level, pattern recognition abilities and the rapidity of problem solving increase. It's the same when you go through grad studies and get your Ph.D. Looking back, I was so hopelessly green and, quite frankly, not very smart when I finished undergrad, which was one of the reasons why I left after a Masters; I knew I didn't have what it took to be a scientist. However, not being one chaffed, and so I went back, did the work, put in the time, and developed what it took to do the job. I most certainly was not born with the abilities I have now.

Genetics and/or race determines intellectual ability? That view is painfully simplistic.

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