The genome of the studious fruit

An article in LiveScience, Family’s Mental Disorders May Shape Your Interests, would indicate that the autistic gene is connected to the science and technicality gene while the bipolar disorder gene is connected to the humanities and social sciences gene. I suspect that you will need much more than voluntary survey results to prove any such connection between career choice and physiology.

The research, a survey of 1,077 incoming Princeton University freshmen in the class of 2014, posits a genetic influence on personal interests. For example, students who planned to major in the humanities or social sciences were twice as likely as other students to report a family member with a mood disorder or substance abuse. Wannabe science and technology majors, on the other hand, were three times as likely as other freshmen to say they had a sibling on the autism spectrum.

I have a big problem with this kind of thing, namely the assuming that there is a genetic influence on personal interests because it is assumed that there is a genetic influence in the development of what are referred to as serious “mental illnesses”. Where’s the HARD evidence supporting your THEORY? Somebody is indulging in a great deal of whimsical speculation here. Merely stating such proves absolutely nothing.

This is not to say that everyone who enjoys computer programming fits on the autism spectrum, or to insinuate that having a bipolar parent destines a person for an English major. But Wang is not the only researcher to find links between heritable disorders and family interests. In November 2011, for example, researchers reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry that people with bipolar disorder, as well as their healthy immediate family members, were more likely to hold “creative” jobs in the arts or sciences than people without a family history of the disorder. Parents and siblings of people with schizophrenia showed the same tendencies.

I believe I read something about the same research, and while people labeled with bipolar disorder were said to sometimes have creative careers the same was not found to be true of people labeled with schizophrenia. I suppose a big part of the problem must be in finding the right trainer patient enough to work with a raving lunatic.

Not that long ago most people on earth were hunter gatherers. I suppose that must have been because they had hunter gatherer genes. When we get a time-machine we can go back, and conduct a survey.

I’m not at all surprised that creative people would be related to dysfunctionaries. The off-cause for functionaries is the on-cause for dysfunctionaries. Does this mean that uncreative people don’t have creative genes? I still think we’re making quite a leap here from ‘practice makes perfect’ to let your genes do the waltzing. I think there could still be a number of reasons why careers could come in families besides genetic make up. Also, you’ve only scratched the surface of the matter if you’ve even done that. You’d have to look at the career spread over many generations to draw any real type of conclusion. At some point or other you come back to hunters and gatherers, but somebody, of course, had to bang the drums, and somebody, of course, had to cast the spells. Somebody had to craft the bows and chip the arrowheads, too. Genes, huh?

Some surveys, like some careers, are mostly a waste of time and money.

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8 Responses

  1. What a load of tosh.

    Much to the displeasure of the shrinks we are not sheep. We demonstrate our propensity for fascination. We are able to create and recreate circumstances that fascinate us. If our fascinations disturb the shrinks or the people that pay them then we are mentally ill.

    • A load of tosh is right. My bullshit detector was going off right and left while reading this piece. I want to point out that you’re dealing with the preferences of educated professionals, an elite, and there was a time not that long ago when there were much less of this type of citizen. There was a time when illiteracy was much more prevalent, and the vast majority of people didn’t receive a college education. The careers of farmers and shop clerks, well, I’m not sure anybodies going to be searching for a DNA link there. Most of these educated professionals probably descended from one of these uneducated or under educated castes, and so there’s a disconnect between former times and modern times that hasn’t been fully accounted for.

      The other side of this matter is the epidemic of “mental illness” that has struck the world in the last few decades. The numbers of people any one of these educated professionals might be related to has gone up. The demented used to be a rare figure that was hauled off to the institution, and essentially forgotten. Manic-depressive disorder used to be seen as a very rare condition prior to its development into the trendy bipolar disorder epidemic we’ve got today. Autism rates are said to be way up there, too, but this can partly be explained by the addition of the Alperger’s category, and other often dubious high-functioning autism designations. The fact is that we are calling people autistic today we wouldn’t have called autistic in times past. When there are more people labeled “mentally ill”, there is more of a possibility that any one of us will have a relative so labeled.

  2. 140 years ago in places like Deadwood and Ballarat people were literate and logical despite a haphazard education. Even if they weren’t educated they were smart. When there was gold to be dug not much time was spent pandering to people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens or were frightened by carbon dioxide. Doctors tended to behave honestly, tending to burns and fractures.

    ( We could debate the value of gold but that’s something else again.)

    • We had a civil war here with primitive, relatively speaking, firearms and medicine. A torso shot usually meant forget it, you’re not going to see tomorrow, while a limb shot meant certain amputation. Sanitation wasn’t such as it is today, and infections and disease were more prevalent, and deadly.

      I figure people were probably a lot less likely to know someone in an asylum although, of course, there were a few of those, and this war, too, generated a bit of what is commonly referred to today as PTSD. Also, medical conditions were such that some of the soldiers coming out of this war were addicted to opium or Laudanum.

  3. Deciding to major in social sciences usually has something to do with flunking Calculus.

    • Lol. Yeah, this is sort of left brain, right brain stuff. Left brain dominance seems more conducive to autism, and right brain dominance seems more conducive to bipolar disorder. Use both brains, and who knows what sort of disorders you could get out of the mix.

  4. Right brain or left brain dominance can be shown to be associated with different types of skills, however any conclusions drawn from the kind of speculative research conducted here are fundamentally flawed.
    The survey does not take into account the environmental effects of growing up around people who think excessively in one direction or another. Nor does it address a person’s conscious or unconscious desire to help people like their family members. Making statements about statistics resulting from analysis at this level is about as sensible as declaring that children born in war zones are genetically predisposed towards shooting people.

    • Well, the research was into types of “mental illness” labels among relations of people in particular professions. I don’t see how that in itself can be flawed. What’s flawed are the biological and psychiatric presumptions behind this research. I think those presumptions are flawed for some of the very reasons you mention. In a nutshell, the researchers are taking way too much for granted. People in various fields may in fact have relatives with “mental disorder” labels particular to those fields. This fact, as you point out, doesn’t make the career choice a matter of biology.

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