Genes Being Incorporated In Federal Longitudinal Social Studies
January 08, 2009, 05:20 PM
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The federal government runs a number of gigantic multi-decade human sciences studies of Americans, with the best known being the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, which was featured prominently in The Bell Curve in 1994, but is still going on, with IQ scores now available on thousands of the children of the original sample.

Newer studies are including genetic data. In the Chronicle  of Higher Education, Christopher Shea reports in "The Nature-Nurture Debate, Redux:"

What has led to the new genetic turn in sociology, at least among a minority? In part it has to do with the availability of important new data sets. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, aka Add Health, for example, at Chapel Hill, was designed from the start to incorporate both sociological and genetic information. It was begun, in 1994, by Bearman, J. Richard Udry, and Kathleen Mullan Harris. The idea was to capture as much information as possible about the social circumstances, friendship networks, and family conditions of 21,000 teenagers in 132 schools, from grades 7 through 12. The survey included a disproportionate number of twins, both fraternal and identical, full- and half-siblings, and adopted kids, allowing preliminary analyses of the heritability of traits. Follow-up interviews were conducted a year later.

Then, for the third wave of the study (in 2002), 2,500 siblings were asked for DNA samples (via cheek swabs). In wave four, now in progress and run by Harris, DNA is being sought for all participants (now they can just spit in a tube.) Many of the papers in the AJS issue draw on the Add Health study.

Various findings on the influence of genes, such as The Gene for Not Getting Any, but I don't like to trumpet early research on behavioral genetics since so much of it doesn't pan out. The important point is that we are slowly developing the tools to answer nature-nurture questions fairly definitively. Of course, this raises the question of whether the results are slanted in favor of those who possess The Gene for Agreeing to Have Your Genes Sampled. (Just kidding).

It should be possible to ask the best known tracked sample, the NLSY79 participants, for genetic samples in an upcoming re-interview, but I don't know of any plans for doing that. The cost of genetic sampling is dropping rapidly but it's still awfully high for doing full scans on thousands.

The upcoming National Children's Study will be gigantic: 100,000 kids (including 3000 pairs of twins), tracked from before birth up through age 21, with participation of mothers and, sometimes, fathers. It will be primarily focused on environmental impacts on kids' health, but it appears that they will have to do both genetic and IQ testing ("cognitive") to answer their questions, such as whether chronic exposure to insecticides hurts cognitive function.

So, as the evidence rolls in, expect persecution of realists by Blank Slate Creationists to rise to new heights.