Lies, damned lies, and GWAS

Lies, damned lies, and GWAS

[Edited, lightly, 10/30/18]

Well, I provoked another kerfuffle in the pages of Nature. And it’s a troubling one, because it suggests a widening culture gap between the sciences and humanities—a gap I’ve spent a quarter-century-and-counting trying to bridge.

The piece in question is my review of Robert Plomin’s new book, Blueprint. I want here to give some context and fuller explanation for that piece, without the editorial constraints of a prestigious journal.

Plomin is a distinguished educational psychologist, American-born-and-raised, who works in the UK, at King’s College London. I have nothing for or against Plomin. I and my editors at Nature worked hard to keep ad hominem attacks out of the piece. Plomin’s book, however, is terrible.

  • “DNA isn’t all that matters, but it matters more than everything else put together” (ix).
  • “Nice parents have nice children because they are all nice genetically.” (83)
  • “The most important thing that parents give to their child is their genes.” (83)
  • “The less than 1 per cent of these DNA steps that differ between us is what makes us who we are as individuals” (9)
  • “These findings call for a radical rethink about parenting, education and the events that shape our lives.”(9)

I could go on—it’s teh Interwebs; people do—but you get the idea. However accurately he may represent the statistics, his statistics misrepresent the biology. With apologies to Benjamin Disraeli, there are three kinds of lies in genomics: Lies, damned lies, and GWAS.

*

Unless you’re some sort of third-rate hack, riding out your tenure on the strength of your rotation in a genetics lab in the mid-sixties, you know better than to say things like this. I presume that you, Gentle Reader, are not such a person. Plomin is not a hack scientifically, but as a writer he is. On the page, he is all exclamation points and pom-pons, thwacking the bass drum with his heel as he dances for DNA. DNA is everything. DNA is the Word. DNA is Love.

That’s a weirdly retrograde view in the postgenomic world. Again, see the above mainstream sciences. Either:

  1. Plomin is such a poor writer that he fails utterly to get across his putatively more nuanced understanding of the genome’s role in biology
  2. Plomin is a cynic, writing things he doesn’t believe in support of a repressive ideology that he does believe; or
  3. He is naive and genuinely doesn’t realize (or care) how this powerful new science is used.

I went with Door #3. As a reviewer of his book I took him at face value as a writer. I take him at his word when he says he is center-left, politically. (No conflict there with eugenic values. There’s a long tradition of leftist eugenics, back to the 19th C.) And I decided it would be unproductive to simply brand him an ideologue. Instead, I took the middle road, presumed innocence but naïveté. I gave him the benefit of the doubt in presuming innocence of intent, although I do think it an odd negligence on his part, given his express interest in using PGS to shape social policy. Seems to me that if you’re engaging with social policy you should be capable of thinking in terms of social policy.

Why is it dangerous? Because it enables and encourages social policy of biological control. That shit scares me. And it should scare you. Plomin is so caught up in his DNA delirium that he says that environmental interventions toward human betterment are futile. Parents, teachers, government officials: Relax, there’s nothing you can do that really makes a difference. DNA will out. Kids will be what they will be, regardless, so don’t waste your money and time. Let’s take that apart.

*

First, short-changing environmental and GxE (genes-by-environment) effects in human personality is literally the entire point of Plomin’s book. I’m not talking about his published, peer-reviewed studies, I’m talking about his latest book. Nor am I damning all sociogenomics work—not by a long-shot. I am damning the simplistic message of this particular book: “DNA makes you who you are.”

Second, then, hidden agenda or not, Plomin’s argument is socially dangerous. Sure, genes influence and shape complex behavior, but we have almost no idea how. At this point in time (late 2018), it’s the genetic contributions to complex behavior that are mostly random and unsystematic. Polygenic scores may suggest regions of the genome in which one might find causal genes, but we already know that the contribution of any one gene to complex behavior is minute. Thousands of genes are involved in personality traits and intelligence—and many of the same polymorphisms pop up in every polygenic study of complex behavior. Even if the polygenic scores were causal, it remains very much up in the air whether looking at the genes for complex behavior will ever really tell us very much about those behaviors.

In contrast—and contra Plomin—we have very good ideas about how environments shape behaviors. Taking educational attainment as an example (it’s a favorite of the PGS crowd—a proxy for IQ, whose reputation has become pretty tarnished in recent years), we know that kids do better in school when they have eaten breakfast. We know they do better if they aren’t abused. We know they do better when they have enriched environments, at home and in school.

We also know that DNA doesn’t act alone. Plomin neglects all post-transcriptional modification, epigenetics, microbiomics, and systems biology—sciences that show without a doubt that you can’t draw a straight line from genes to behavior. The more complex the trait in question, the more true that sentence becomes. And Plomin is talking about the most complex traits there are: human personality and intelligence.

Plomin’s argument is dangerous because it minimizes those absolutely robust findings. If you follow his advice, you go along with the Republicans and continue slowly strangling public education and vote for that euphemism for separate-but-equal education, “school choice.” You axe Head Start. You eliminate food stamps and school lunch programs. You go along with eliminating affirmative action programs, which are designed to remediate past social neglect; in other words, you vote to restore neglect of the under-privileged. Those kids with genetic gumption will rise out of their circumstances one way or another…like Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson or something, I guess. As for the rest, fuck ’em.

These environmental factors are “unsystematic” in exactly the same way that genetic factors are: They do not act in the same way with every child. A few kids will always fall on the long tails of the bell curve: Some will do well in school no matter what you throw at them; others will fail, no matter what they have for breakfast. But the mean shifts in a positive direction. Same is true for genetics. That is literally the entire point of polygenic scores! Every single one of the many thousands of variables that shape something like educational attainment is probabilistic. Genes or environment, we’re talking population averages and probabilities, not certainties. There is no certainty—Plomin himself makes this point repeatedly (and then promptly jumps back on the DNA wagon). To venerate genetics and derogate environment on grounds of being “unsystematic” is at best faulty reasoning and at worst hypocritical.

Plomin is spreading a simplistic and insidious doctrine that says “environmental intervention is futile.” I don’t care whether Plomin himself, in his heart of hearts, wants to ban public education; he gives ammunition to people who do want to ban it. “Race realists” and “human biodiversity” advocates—modern euphemisms for white supremacy—read this stuff avidly. I watched them swarm around the discussion of my review on Twitter, many of them newly created accounts, favoriting tweets from my critics, saving those messages for later arguments.

“But does that mean that EVERYONE using PGS is a white supremacist?” people ask me, their keyboards dripping with sarcasm. No, dummies: It means it’s a risk. I’m giving you a qualitative risk score, a probability. Can’t you apply your own logic to other situations? Again, whether you critics are being disingenuous or naive, the effect is the same.

“So does that mean we CAN’T DO this science? Are you a fascist, trying to stifle scientific inquiry?!?” others gently query me. Again, no, dummies: I’m saying if you do this stuff, a) get your genetic bias out of the way and look at genes and environment, and b) be candid and explicit about your intentions and the risks of misinterpreting the data.

*

The last point I want to make is about historical thinking. A lot of critics said and called me things that initially puzzled me. I had no evidence, they said. It wasn’t a review that I wrote, they complained. I didn’t engage with the book but merely promoted my ideology, they protested.

Eventually it dawned on me: These people don’t understand historical reasoning. They fail to see a historical argument as being evidentiary! After all these years, I still find it surprising that people with PhDs should fail to acknowledge an entire branch of knowledge, a fundamental way of explaining the world. But okay, communication, not war, is what I’m after, so let me lay it out, at least as I see it.

By and large, experimental science explains the world in terms of mechanisms, more or less eternal and independent of time and context. Historical reasoning explains the world through the three C’s: context, contingency, and cause-and-effect through time. Context means that science doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It mattered that Nazi Germany arose after Progressive-era Americans had advanced a scientific program of sterilization and institutionalization of the defective. The Germans, sensing the power of rigid social control founded on scientific authority and finding that authority in American eugenics, modeled their infamous sterilization law of 1932 on Harry Laughlin’s “Model Sterilization Law” of 1922. Contingency means that it matters who did what when. Contingency says, “It could have been otherwise: Why did things turn out as they did instead of some other way?” And by continuity and change I mean that when a historian tries to understand the present in terms of the past.

In short, my review used historical evidence to put Plomin’s book in historical and social context, rather than scientific context, and a number of critics cried “Foul!”, failing to even see historical evidence as evidence.

It’s not foul when a reviewer examines the central claims and aims of a book—you all (critics) just aren’t familiar with the way I did it. Especially with a field such as sociogenomics, which defines itself as interdisciplinary and aims to shape society. You may not read Plomin’s book in social context, but it’s a legitimate and—as attested by the many plaudits I’ve also received for the piece—an important one. Learn your damn history.

Historical thinking is not anti-scientific. Darwin was a historical thinker par excellence. Evolutionary biology, cosmology, geology, paleontology—these are historical sciences. To reason historically is by no means to refute the scientific method. In fact, I would wager that no person can get through life without employing historical reasoning). To do so is to refuse to learn from experience.

Because I did not primarily use scientific evidence in my review, some misguided and uncritical critics peg me as a radical relativist. You got the wrong guy, pal. I studied sociobiology and neuroethology as science for years, under some of the greats. Radical relativists do exist in the humanities and social sciences—I argue against them all the time.

Others, like Stuart Ritchie, bash away at me boneheadedly, picking at details of the piece that make no difference to my argument without the slightest effort try to understand what I am in fact saying. Playing “gotcha” is easier than real debate, but it wins you points with your yes-friends, I guess. Sad!

Historical thinking pulls your eye away from the microscope to look at science as an enterprise evolving over time. For really abstruse sciences, doing so may be mostly an intellectual exercise. But the more social salience a branch of science has, the more important it is to take the long view once in a while. And when you’re explicitly advocating using your science to shape society, it’s incumbent on you to do so.

I identify with distinguished, politically alert scientist-critics like Jonathan Beckwith and Richard Lewontin, who have critiqued their science (even their own science!) in order to make it better. I believe that in science as in politics, dissent is the sincerest form of patriotism.

*

In short, I don’t think sociogenomics is wrong; I think it’s being done wrong, and written about wrong, by people like Plomin. Some people are doing it right. In a forthcoming piece in the MIT Technology Review, I discuss the work of Graham Coop at UC Davis. I won’t go into detail here, but for examples of honest, candid, historically sensitive discussion of PGS research, see this and this. This post is my attempt to do for my critique of PGS what Coop did for his own PGS research (which, for the record, I admire). By and large, I think the biologists have been doing better at avoiding deterministic talk than the social scientists like Plomin—although some social scientists, like the sociologist Dalton Conley at Princeton, do at least have complex positions worth taking seriously.

Plomin does none of this. Instead, he gives us a simplistic and distorted view of the role of heredity in behavior that causes much social mischief. We can watch some of that mischief in real time as the white supremacist trolls swarm around this debate like yellow-jackets around an open soda. Other risks we can infer from careful comparison with historical examples—looking at both the similarities and the differences between Blueprint and previous attempts to use heredity to shape social policy. The argument in Blueprint—that “DNA makes us who we are” and environment “is important but it doesn’t matter”—is an idea grossly wrong on many levels. It’s not supported by the evidence and it’s socially dangerous.

And someone’s got to call bullshit on it.

21 thoughts on “Lies, damned lies, and GWAS

  1. As a gentle reader and remarkably old I had to look up GWAS

    Having a relative with a supposed genetically based cardiac anomaly I suspected that the genetically trained enjoy searching for something in all family members to ascertain of there is an issue without regard to cost of study and the associated mri of heart. Enthusiasm in search over rides financial issues for young families with issues for money.

    I do enjoy your writings and appreciate your honesty and perseverance

  2. This was a pathetic bloviating article written by a clear SJW Leftist who so desperately can’t accept that science contradicts Leftist doctrine no matter how desperately he wants and wishes it would validate his philosophy. Sorry ,but the science extends far beyond this book, and the overwhelming evidence points to genetics as the major pre-determinant over environment IN EVERY AREA : behavior, intellect, health, longevity, social interaction, physical potential, etc. While environment is inarguably a contributing factor in most of the above stated areas , REAMS of data support the fact that genetics is still the PRIMARY factor.

    • The science–and the history–also extends far beyond what you have read, evidently.

      Pro tip: Next time, actually read the article, doing more than skim to confirm your biases; read the relevant background material, THEN post your bloviating comment.

  3. Please consider review of Kevin Mitchell’s “Innate How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are” https://www.amazon.com/Innate-How-Wiring-Brains-Shapes/dp/0691173885 You might place it into the context of everything known to serious scientists about light-activated microRNA biogenesis, the physiology of reproduction, and how biophysically constrained viral latency must be linked to healthy longevity via natural selection for food. If not, you’ve already served humanity well by noting the pseudoscientific nonsense touted by Plomin for comparison to “MicroRNAs buffer genetic variation at specific temperatures during embryonic development” https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/10/16/444810.

    • Thanks for reading! I don’t know yet whether I’ll review Innate, but I have a copy on its way to me from Kevin’s publisher. My sense is that his argument’s got a good bit more nuance than Plomin’s, but I’m looking forward to reading it and will reserve judgment till then.

      Cheers,

  4. Variation in psychological traits that have substantial real-world implications have been shown to be largel attributable to the genetic material one inherits from their parents. Why didn’t the author address these facts? Tracking the environmental influences has been strikingly unsuccessful, when compared to the robustness of identifying the genetic contributions. The author chooses to focus on the long road between DNA and human phenotypes, without acknowledging the empirical evidence that actually matters.

    This isn’t surprising, considering that the author is a historian of science rather than a researcher in the field. The political commentary leaves no doubt how biased the author is. The review should have dealt with the interpretation of the data being put forth in the book. How important is heritibality in explaining complex human behaviors? That is the question that matters, obviously.

    • Who made you the arbiter of how books are reviewed? You seriously think that science must not ever be historicized? Your comment is a caricature of the narrow-minded scientist who thinks no one else has any right to discuss his science—even when that science affects other people.

      To introduce yourself to the radical idea that science has a history, why don’t you start with one of your own: Read Jonathan Beckwith’s memoir, Making Genes, Making Waves. He explains in terms even a scientist can understand about why and how science has a social context.

  5. Please be as kind as to comment/advise.

    >>>
    Original Article | OPEN | Published: 04 July 2017

    A genome-wide association study for extremely high intelligence
    D Zabaneh, E Krapohl, H A Gaspar, C Curtis, S H Lee, H Patel, S Newhouse, H M Wu, M A Simpson, M Putallaz, D Lubinski, R Plomin & G Breen
    Molecular Psychiatry volume23, pages1226–1232 (2018) | Download Citation

    Abstract
    We used a case–control genome-wide association (GWA) design with cases consisting of 1238 individuals from the top 0.0003 (~170 mean IQ) of the population distribution of intelligence and 8172 unselected population-based controls.
    >>>>
    This very first sentence is really annoying. 1,238 individuals with ~170 mean IQ??? Only if GMO.

    Considering the authors affiliation, how can this be addressed/corrected?

    Please help,

    R^2

  6. Hello genotopia.

    What is your estimate of the variance of personality traits in the population from:
    A) genetics
    B) the shared environment
    C) the unique environment, aka, other unidentified stuff

    • Hello and thanks for your comment. But I’m afraid I can’t qnswer your questions. You might get more out of a behavior geneticist—but be careful. The way you define your terms is so broad that they are probably meaningless.

      Although I’m sure it’s possible to come up with a plausible calculation of heritability of “personality traits” in “the population”, it would probably be biologically meaningless.

      Heritability refers to a specific trait in a specific population—at a specific time. A colleague at a Canadian university can show that the heritability of a form of risk aversion can change *in an hour*!

  7. I can agree with you that this science is dangerous. But is it true? Do polygenic scores actually help to predict stuff? Does it work or not?

    You can be both right: I can believe that our personality and inclinations have mostly to do with our genetics and, at the same time, that a society where “opportunities, resources and experiences would be doled out — and withheld — a priori” is not desirable. These are two separate things, the latter is not a necessary consequence of the former.

    I’m glad you highlighted the history and the dangers, but it would have been really helpful if the review dealt with whether the book gets the science right.

    • I basically agree with you. But I never said that the latter was a necessary consequence of the former; I said that it puts us at risk of falling into the former. Historians of medicine and science don’t like to talk about whether something “really” works—not because we don’t believe in reality, but because we believe that reality is shaped by how we manipulate, observe, and think about it.

      That said, basically, I see two sets of problems: What if polygenic scores work, and what if they don’t?

      If they don’t, we misjudge people, underestimate their abilities, suspect them of misbehavior they didn’t commit. We treat cases of diseases that don’t exist and miss cases that do. We miss out on a lot of human potential. We cause unnecessary suffering.

      If (when?) they do, we accurately peg the probabilities but still misjudge those people who are out on the tails of any given bell curve. We lose our value for individuality, we lose tolerance of difference. Society normalizes, becomes more uniform. Crime may drop, but so may creativity. Overall health statistics may go up, but we may decide that certain lives are not worth living. Castes will form easily–groups of people whose polygenic score says they can’t be scientists but will be great at data entry. The walls separating different career tracks will crystallize and harden.

      Either way, it looks risky to me. But I’m not here to encourage or halt any science. I’m here to observe science and put it in a longer context, in the hope that we may learn from the past and put the science to work in the most positive ways possible.

  8. Here are the October 30 light edits, for those interested. There are two passages:

    ===============
    In place of this:
    ===============
    First, short-changing environmental and GxE (genes-by-environment) effects in human personality is literally the entire point of Plomin’s book. I’m not talking about his published, peer-reviewed studies, I’m talking about his latest book. Nor am I damning all sociogenomics work—not by a long-shot. I am damning the simplistic message of this particular book: “DNA makes you who you are.”
    ===============
    Came this:
    ===============
    First, his statements on environment may be statistically accurate (I don’t know and don’t care), but biologically, they are just plain wrong. No one who knows the first thing about biology can be unaware of the profound changes over the last 30 years in our understanding of how genes work, how genomes interact, how DNA needs to be treated as a dynamic, ever-changing substance. Epigenetics, the microbiome, horizontal gene transfer, the 3-D (or 4-D) genome. While like any science there are debates within each of these fields, the basic precepts of the dynamic genome are mainstream knowledge.

    I haven’t even touched upon gene-environment (GxE) interactions, which may swamp both purely genetic and purely environmental variables, and which Plomin also ignores. The importance or action of a given gene on a behavior depends upon its genetic and environmental context. Environment matters—and it makes a difference.

    The book is full of ascertainment bias. For every study you can cite showing genetic contributions to complex behaviors, I can go head-to-head for quite a while, matching you with similar studies showing environmental contributions. Plomin makes no attempt to present the other side of his argument—a sure sign of polemic, rather than sincere inquiry. He makes the same argument that genetic determinists always make, claiming only to show that no complex traits are completely free of genetic influence—and then does a bait-and-switch, to argue that whatever environmental influences there may be, they can safely be ignored. He goes on to argue that, unlike environmental explanations of behavior (which, he says, are “random and unsystematic and so there’s nothing you can do about them”), the genetic correlations he discusses are causal. He literally confuses correlation and causation.

    Some people are doing good science using polygenic scores to estimate environmental impact on behaviors. Comparing PGSs between environments or at different time intervals can be a way to measure the effect of changing the environment on the trait. But again, Plomin doesn’t talk about this. His is a simplistic message of “DNA is all.”
    ===============

    ===============
    And in place of this:
    ===============
    Because I did not primarily use scientific evidence in my review, some misguided and uncritical critics peg me as a radical relativist. You got the wrong guy, pal. I studied sociobiology and neuroethology as science for years, under some of the greats. Radical relativists do exist in the humanities and social sciences—I argue against them all the time.

    Others, like Stuart Ritchie, bash away at me boneheadedly, picking at details of the piece that make no difference to my argument without the slightest effort try to understand what I am in fact saying. Playing “gotcha” is easier than real debate, but it wins you points with your yes-friends, I guess. Sad!
    ===============
    Came this:
    ===============
    Because I did not primarily use scientific evidence in my review, critics like Stuart Ritchie and others even less civil and uncritical peg me as a radical relativist. You got the wrong guy, pal. I studied sociobiology and neuroethology as science for years, under some of the greats. Radical relativists do exist in the humanities and social sciences—I argue against them all the time.
    ===============

  9. “What if polygenic scores work, and what if they don’t?

    “If they don’t, we misjudge people, underestimate their abilities, suspect them of misbehavior they didn’t commit. We treat cases of diseases that don’t exist and miss cases that do.

    “If they do, we accurately peg the probabilities but still misjudge those people who are out on the tails of any given bell curve.”

    You omit the third possibility, which is the way things work now, under the current system. You imply that the current ignore-GWAS system infallibly and accurate judges everyone all the time, never makes a mistake about misbehavior, catches all human potential, diagnoses and treats diseases with no false positives or negatives, infinitely values individuality, has perfect tolerance, no castes, and so on.

    However flawed post GWAS society may be, all it has to be is better than the current system overall.

    Also, in reference to whether GWAS “works,” I was interested in Plomin’s description of how GWAS research is designed to be self-replicating, in that random chunks of the samples are withheld when figuring out the GWA SNPs and weightings, and then the finished formula is applied to the withheld data. So for instance you’d base your proposed GWAS formula on n = 1 million, and then you transparently test it against n = 200,000 of different randomly withheld data. This seems like a system designed to produce fairly robust results.

    • You’re drunk on robustness! You’re three sheets to the polygenic wind! You’re confusing statistical significance with biological significance, and you’re confusing population likelihood with individual potential.

      And so you defend the use genetic averages to predict individual children’s life opportunities at or even before birth, then? Just hand each kid’s parents a roadmap: Get this kid jigsaw puzzles; don’t bother with piano lessons. Private school would be a waste, save your money ‘cause our numbers say he’s going to be a plumber. That kind of thing? That’s the society you want? That’s the one Plomin writes so blithely about as being inevitable.

      And you defend it because it “has to be better than the current system”?

      Let me get this straight: Your idea is, Take our system, in which inequity is indeed rampant, intolerable, tragic—worsening every year. But your solution is to leave the inequity in place, but *biologize* it. Don’t try to eliminate the inequity: rather, crystallize it in the DNA, innate, fixed at birth. That’s how you would solve today’s social problems?

      Man, you should run for fuckin’ Congress.

  10. “And so you defend the use genetic averages to predict individual children’s life opportunities at or even before birth, then? Just hand each kid’s parents a roadmap: Get this kid jigsaw puzzles; don’t bother with piano lessons. Private school would be a waste, save your money ‘cause our numbers say he’s going to be a plumber.”

    I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what Plomin says in the book. For instance, in Chapter 12 in the discussion about Figure 7 (which is basically the Damore Memo figure, which is kind of funny) he verbally and visually shows that a GWAS score is a mean value in a normal distribution, whose values considerably overlap with values in lower and higher GWAS scores. As he says, it’s probabilistic.

    Personally I think every kid should take piano lessons. I’m taking them now as an adult beginner, and my goal is not to be a performer, but to have fun and learn music theory. The obvious use of your kid’s GWAS scores for various traits is as one data point in a parenting decision. Becoming a professional pianist requires study from about age 5 and requries a certain amount of periodic, gentle parental coercion, since kids rarely want to study with the intensity requried. Likewise, an Olympic figure skater, gymnast, or swimmer starts early and misses out on many other childhood experiences in order to take a chance at experiencing things most people can never aspire to. And big demands are made on the family and siblings. It costs a lot of money to pay for coaching and lessons, to travel to meets or competitions, and to buy equipment, instruments, and costumes. Nurturing one talented figure skater, for instance, becomes a decade-long family project, requiring all members to sacrifice.

    So, given that resources are limited, or at least not infinite, do you let your kid study an instrument or take up a sport and pursue it to the extent he or she likes, or do you put more investment into it and maximally “encourage” the kid? Knowing his GWAS score and the mean GWAS score of champions or professionals, as well as the standard deviation, would help. If the kid’s score is at professional level, go for it. If it is an SD over, you would be depriving the world of a genius not to. If 1 SD below, then you know that the odds are tougher, a 16 percent chance. If 2 SDs below, then there is only a 1 or 2 percent chance, but not zero. If 3 SDs below, you would be delusional to push the kid. It’s a tough parental decision, and many other factors weigh into it, but GWAS helps.

    “Private school would be a waste…”

    In this case, it’s pretty clear, isn’t it, that school, school resources, and teaching quality is a waste? How much research has to be done here? The recent $575 million Gates Foundation fiasco was the latest victim to the delusion that school and teacher quality (beyond low average) matter.

    “… he’s going to be a plumber.”

    That’s about $60,000 annually in your area, could be worse, and going independent with employees can raise it considerably.

    Traditionally the top 10 or 20 percent of the population went to college. Now it’s what, half of people? That’s kind of crazy. Not that many people can benefit from college, which means that colleges are dumbing their offerings down, kids lose what in my day was four years of their lives, although apparently the metric now is “degree within six years,” and they are stuck with student loans. And even with a degree they may end up managing a Starbucks or working phone support. Plumbing sounds not that bad, and you could drop out after 10th grade to enter the field. If it turns out you were more cognitively gifted than people thought, then you could kill at plumbing, founding your own company.

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