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DNA May Carry a Memory of Your Living Conditions From Childhood

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the your-past-is-part-of-you dept.

Biotech 252

An anonymous reader writes "Canadian and British scientists have found that how rich your family was when you were a kid — as judged by wealth, housing conditions and occupation of parents — has a huge impact on your current DNA. 'This is the first time we've been able to make the link between the economics of early life and the biochemistry of DNA,' says Moshe Szyf, professor of pharmacology at McGill University. The study did not show whether the DNA changes identified are passed on to offspring, but if so, repeat cycles of poverty could be putting poor children at a serious disadvantage for heart disease, diabetes and lung disorders."

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Methylation (4, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837376)

The changes in DNA are due to methylation of the DNA, not changes in sequence. This can lead to more or less of a given gene being expressed, but won't lead to any actual changes in the genes.

Re:Methylation (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837536)

The changes in DNA are due to methylation of the DNA, not changes in sequence. This can lead to more or less of a given gene being expressed, but won't lead to any actual changes in the genes.

It might not lead to changes in the sequence itself, but there are epigenetic changes that can be passed from parent to offspring, so it is relevant to point out whether or not the researchers studied this phenomenon. This can be seen in the Överkalix study: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96verkalix_study

Re:Methylation (1)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837948)

I agree with you. However the very unscientific interpretation by media and dogma-hogs provides for the separate-unequal public and private education in the USA and any other agenda (political, economic, religious ...) that maintains separation between rich folks and poor folks is nature (not nurture).

More fodder for US bullshit and crap eaters of politicians, C*Os, clergy ....

Look in the mirror: (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838108)

I agree. Scientific results shouldn't be used just for making political points and name calling.

Like you immediately do with it in a slightly back door way.

Re:Look in the mirror: (1)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838334)

"slightly back door way" was intentional to make a point and express an alternate view.

Re:Look in the mirror: (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838628)

Scientific results shouldn't be used just for making political points and name calling.

They shouldn't only be used for making political points, but using scientific results to make political points is one of the most valid uses for them.

In fact, I would say one of the biggest problems in the current political milieu is the lack of scientific results to make political points.

And it makes me very uncomfortable when people try to state which uses for scientific results are valid and which are not. If I have data which indicates that the viewers of Fox News are more misinformed than the general populace, it is illuminative to call them a bunch of dopes AND it makes an important political point.

And you have not yet explained why OldHawk777's use of scientific results to explain certain socio-political realities "shouldn't" be done. Doesn't it strike you that using scientific results to make political points is more worthwhile than just pulling those political points out of one's ass, as I am inclined?

Re:Methylation (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837538)

Right different living conditions trigger different expressions of the genes. If a chromosome switched on somebody early in life... oh boy lol. Not quite x-men grade there.

Yes.... (3, Informative)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837546)

Yes, but changes in fundamental sequence aren't the only way genes 'change'. Changes in expression constitute almost all of the biological changes that affect to an organism during its lifetime, as opposed to merely affecting its offspring; it's only because of expression changes that you ever go from a fetus to an adult (or from a fetus to a slightly larger fetus, for that matter).

I mean, presumably you understand this, unless you're able to talk about methylation solely from reading the article, but I don't want anyone to get the impression that 'only' changing the way DNA is expressed is a small feat.

Expression is *everything*. Almost nothing can be accomplished in any eukaryotic organism without deliberate changes in expression like this; basal transcription (the rate at which your genes are used entirely because the right parts randomly came together with nothing else - like methylation - helping or preventing them) accomplishes almost nothing.

The human genome is a lot like a computer in that way: almost nothing happens without something specifically telling it to work, and these guys just discovered a whole damn code library.

Re:Yes.... (1, Interesting)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837772)

Maybe one could make a computer analogy: Even with a read-only hard disk your computer may behave very differently if different parts of the code on the hard disk are executed. An an extreme example, let it be a dual boot system where a single key press early on decides whether the Windows partition or the Linux partition is executed. Same hard disk content, radically different behaviour.

Re:Methylation (4, Informative)

ZiggyM (238243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837656)

According to wikipedia on cell reprogramming, these gene expression changes are erased from offspring: "After fertilization the paternal and maternal genomes are once again demethylated and remethylated (except for differentially methylated regions associated with imprinted genes). This reprogramming is likely required for totipotency of the newly formed embryo and erasure of acquired epigenetic changes." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reprogramming [wikipedia.org]

Re:Methylation (3, Informative)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838644)

Nature, Sep 29 2011.

Scientists show that the protein, Tet3, is responsible of wiping of the male pronucleus methylation patterns after fusion between sperm and egg.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v477/n7366/full/nature10443.html [nature.com]

As for the maternal DNA, demethylation, as far as I know, is unknown but occurs as well.

I'm curious if the disease that arises from these poor conditions is related to epigenetic changes that IMPRINT (are not demethylated, and thus passed through generations). As many are finding out, epigenetics are much more intricate and important than previously conceived.

Re:Methylation (1)

bahwi (43111) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838330)

While they only looked at methylation, there's also phosphorylation, acetylation, and a few others I'm not familiar with. Each of which can be inherited, and sometimes they are erased. Also changes to histones are 1/2 inherited(usually).

Also, base changes to the DNA is actually pretty common, which is the reason the sperm cells are heavily protected(not from blunt force however) and generated on a daily basis, and egg cells are even more protected in a female body. You're DNA won't be an exact match but will be pretty damn close to your own DNA. The base of the spine is also heavily protected. Your immune system also rewrites your DNA in its cells to keep the adaptive memory immune response.

What everyone else said about expression being pretty much everything, is entirely true. A gene is useless unless its expressed(And sometimes deadly if expressed).

May be an advantage, not a burden? (4, Interesting)

Delgul (515042) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837378)

"but if so, repeat cycles of poverty could be putting poor children at a serious disadvantage for heart disease, diabetes and lung disorders."

What is this based on? Perhaps extra robustness is built in for exactly the reason that you may run more risk? So having poor parents may actually give you an advantage...

Re:May be an advantage, not a burden? (3, Informative)

Derek Pomery (2028) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837476)

Yep. From TFA.

============
The study did not show:

        specific disease effects linked to these areas of DNA methylation differences
        or indeed whether there were positive or protective effects
        or whether these changes might be passed on to offspring.

The study was not designed to look at these areas.
============

I imagine the answer is even that "it depends"

Presumably extreme poverty to the point of malnutrition would be more harmful than positive.

Re:May be an advantage, not a burden? (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837570)

What they're more focusing on is that even if conditions in life later improve, they are still saying your at risk for the same diseases. I think...

Otherwise... no shit malnutrition is harmful? They're saying even when your all nice and rich in your plush down bed, your still in trouble cause you grew up poor. I don't think any of the diseases mentioned are triggerable without external factors present at the TIME of the disease, so this would be a challenge to that train of thought, ex. you get a heart attack from stress not because you were stressed as a child but because your job is killing you. As the scope of this article defines what DNA actually is, I'm going to say meh and discard it. It's not technical enough to warrant a theoretical discussion :)

Re:May be an advantage, not a burden? (1)

Fned (43219) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838632)

There have been studies that the strength of the stress response is largely set in early life. What you stress out over is up to you, but once you stress, the biochemical response is largely based on early trauma.

So, if you get a heart attack from stress, it's because you were stressed as a child AND your job is killing you.

Re:May be an advantage, not a burden? (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838690)

This article is a review, targeted at noobs. If you require something more technical in order to consider it 'worthy' of being read, then pursue the primary literature.

Not even a little bit (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837714)

They're not saying there's any 'extra robustness' being generated here, and you can't reasonably infer that possibility, either..

They're saying that the DNA changes, and it makes these people more likely to die of heart disease. If those changes are permanent and affect their germ cells, then their children will also be more likely to die of heart disease.

If those changes aren't permanent, then their children are only as likely to get heart disease as they were before they lived in a shitty childhood home. Provided they don't raise their kids in the same type of home, of course.

No trait increasing disease rates and no degree of permanence/heritability ever result in someone or their children being better at resisting disease than when they started. That's not how genetics or evolution work.

The only way a bad trait ever makes anyone stronger at the function for which the trait is bad is at the species level, by killing the holder so that the species as a whole has less of that trait.

Re:Not even a little bit (1)

Derek Pomery (2028) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837756)

Yeah, also from TFA
========
âoeThe adult diseases already known to be associated with early life disadvantage include coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and respiratory disorders,â said author, Chris Power
========

But, this study does not link the two. It just notes there are epigenetic changes. It doesn't even, at least as far as TFA seems to say, examine sequences associated w/ any particular disease.

So, possible, sure, but not the point of the study.

Re:May be an advantage, not a burden? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837806)

This might explain why people who experience malnutrition early in their lives grow shorter than people who don't. Height is known to have some degree of social advantage (and presumably evolutionary advantage as a result). But dying of starvation because your body grew too fast would be an evolutionary disadvantage.

So...what's the answer? (0)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837380)

Mandate all rich people give poor people everything every other generation?

[rolls eyes]

There are always going to be 'haves' and 'have nots' in this world...that's the way of nature.

While interesting...what exactly could or should anyone do about it?

Everyone can't be rich....

Re:So...what's the answer? (4, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837434)

Everyone can't be rich, but with a little work, everyone could not be poor.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

bsharp8256 (1372285) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837490)

"Rich" and "Poor" are relative.

Re:So...what's the answer? (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837778)

Poor has a well defined floor, though. If you have food, shelter, and clothing security, there's no need to consider you poor.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837876)

Does that mean I need to keep my clothes in a safe?

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

dlingman (1757250) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838280)

Think of the Children. I'd pay not to have to see the average slashdotter naked.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838350)

It means you need to not have serious doubts about whether you are going to have anything to wear tomorrow.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837910)

Try living with just those three. Nothing else. Everyone would consider you poor. Even the Bedouins would consider you poor.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838360)

The point is that there are plenty of people who don't even have those three. Maybe we come up with a new definition of poor after we fix that, but until then ....

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

crdotson (224356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837560)

The corollary is that while everyone can't be rich, with a little work, almost everyone CAN be poor. Reference the Soviet Union.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

ninecastles (2493638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837852)

Yes, because everyone in the Soviet Union was rich before the Communists, right?

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838054)

Wow. It's like you're intentionally trying to not get it. Way to go!

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838384)

No, he obviously got it, then took the implications of it (that it was a stab at communism) and took it one step further. Your inability to understand doesn't make a good argument for his not getting it.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837568)

Think of it as evolution in action.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837666)

Except poor people tend to have more kids, so they have more influence on the gene pool than rich people.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837758)

Exactly, evolution in action.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837992)

Then the rich send the poor to die in Afghanistan.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838230)

The US doesn't have a military draft, and hasn't had one for 40 years.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837658)

Everyone can't be rich, but with a little work, everyone could not be poor.

No, that just results in everyone being poor, except for those who get to choose how to hand out the money. See the Soviet Union or any other communist nation, for example; the commie fat-cats get their Zil limos while the majority have to wait fifteen years to be allowed to buy a Trabant.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

w_dragon (1802458) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837748)

Depends on how you define 'poor'. If we could guarantee shelter, clothing, and sufficient food to everyone wouldn't that mean that no one is truly 'poor'? There's always going to be a range of how much people have, but if we can get the bottom of that range up to a level where the most necessary needs are met then I think it would be fair to say that no one is poor.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837930)

Food, shelter, clothing, basic healthcare and education.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838246)

And a cell phone. Mmm, and a car in good working order. With gasoline. And a Internet, of course. A computer, of course, though a 2.0 GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM would suffice.

For now.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838274)

Ooh, and TV. And heat. And a playstation. And hot water. And air conditioning. And alcohol. And a replacement for all of those when I get plastered and break everything.

As soon as you guarantee that everybody gets some minimum, there's an effort to increase the minimum, and a lack of care by many who have the minimum to preserve what they have, because they're guaranteed it no matter how bad their behavior.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838762)

He said needs not wants. Most of what you mention belong in the "want" category (you want a beer, but you need water, food, shelter to survive).

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838310)

You concept of what constitutes poverty is skewed. I'd suggest you spend some time in 3rd world (or even the poorer parts of 2nd world) countries before you comment on such matters. When you see people who truly are poor, your sense of western entitlement will get a swift kick in the pants and you will be thankful that you have the _opportunity to EARN_ anything above the most basic of human needs, thus elevating you beyond poverty in the eyes of 80% of the world.

Healthcare and Education and not fundamental human needs (according to Maslow). They are on par with employment, morality, family, and property; none of which are strictly required for survival. You should be thankful you have the opportunity to earn these things, too many do not.

Your lazy and liberal ideologies disgust not just myself, but the sensibilities of those who are indeed poor. The bottom 99% in western worlds live better than the vast majority of people who are alive today never mind our forefathers whose laurel you now so lazily rest upon.

Re:So...what's the answer? (2, Interesting)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838592)

I grew up poor. I got meat on my table for the cost of a bullet and dodging the game warden in the off season. I got vegetables on my table because we gleaned the commercial fields to gather what was left over from the combine harvesters before it spoiled. We had bread because my mother was willing to buy hogs feed, mill it herself and bake it. I grew up in a house with a dirt floor and no insulation in rural Montana. I grew up getting a grand total of 2 cheap toys a year, 1 for my birthday and 1 for Christmas. I know what its like to have to choose between seeing a doctor and paying rent. I still have clothes I wore 20 years ago because I don't throw anything away. I've had to work my fingers to the bone to grind my way out of abject and total poverty. And I am a lucky one, born gifted with intellect that puts me in the 99.99 percentile.

Fuck you. Fuck you ignorant condescension and feeble immorality. And by the way, failure to provide health care often leads to death, violating Maslows physiological need to breath, and otherwise sets on the second tier of safety. Education ties in to employment and indirectly the ability to provide food, again setting in the two most basic tiers. You are just wrong.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838184)

Why do free market zealots always like to begin from the argument that the only alternative to capitalism is communism? How about a society where some people have more money, power and privilege, but the bottom rung is still pretty good. I disagree, there could be rich people even if there were no poor people.

Imagine this for a second, rich people would still be rich, though not as rich. They would go from having wonderful amazing lives to having slightly less wonderful amazing lives. Not so bad. The poor people would go from having crappy pain ridden lives to having really quite good lives. Pretty super. In the end a very small number of people would go from super to basically still super and a great many people would go from awful to just fine. I know which way I would vote—if voting were still meaningful. I guess that means take it to the streets.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837696)

Actually, we already have this in the US. The poverty-level-poor in the US have more wealth than went-to-college rich in the crappy parts of Africa. Does that mean we should stop all aid to local poverty, in favor of eliminating the REALLY poor over in Africa?

Until you really internalize the massive comparitive wealth that even poor people in the US have, it's hard to think about the problem in a logical way.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837952)

Yes, there is no discrimination based on class, sex, race or gender that presents anything less than an equal playing field for all comers. People who are poor entirely choose to be so; they simply aren't prepared to make the minimal effort required.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838382)

You misunderstood me, I was not suggesting that it was the poor who needed to do the work. It's the rich who could eliminate the poor by giving enough to ensure that everyone's basics are covered. And make no mistake: there is enough to go around that if the rich gave up enough of their wealth, the poor would not be poor any more.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838332)

Everyone can't be rich, but with a little work, everyone could not be poor.

Change that to "Everyone can't be rich, but with a little work, everyone could be poor."

Re:So...what's the answer? (5, Insightful)

Zedrick (764028) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837504)

> There are always going to be 'haves' and 'have nots' in this world...that's the way of nature.

I think you're confusing nature with modern society.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

PickyH3D (680158) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837598)

Good point. The idea of an "alpha leader" has no relevancy to this discussion...

Re:So...what's the answer? (2, Insightful)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837610)

I think you're confusing nature with modern society.

I think you're confusing nature with modern society.

I don't think so....think of the individual, each person is blessed with gifts...mental, physical strength, height, eyesight.

Not everyone starts on the same 'playing ground' even at the most basic of things in life.

I mean, hell...no matter how hard I tried, even if from birth, there is no way I'd have made it as an athlete in the NBA, or ever got close to that caliber.

That that's not even taking into consideration people born crippled or retarded.....nature really started them with a disadvantage that has nothing to do with modern society. Hell, before modern society in primitive cultures, people with deformities likely were left out to die quickly.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

mandelbr0t (1015855) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838554)

Hell, before modern society in primitive cultures, people with deformities likely were left out to die quickly.

Or to betray their people to the Trojans.

Re:So...what's the answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838594)

That that's not even taking into consideration people born crippled or retarded.....nature really started them with a disadvantage that has nothing to do with modern society.

Exactly. Kurt Vonnegut was already there back in 1961 when he wrote Harrison Bergeron [wikimedia.org] . People need to stop focusing on the shortcomings of a few and focus on encouraging the elite to advance humanity. True "equality" can only be achieved by dragging the superior down to degeneracy/mediocrity.

Welcome to the 1890's (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837792)

Great, I see the social Darwinists are out in force here.

At least I don't see any eugenicists spouting off. Although I do see people arguing that not abandoning the crippled to die of exposure constitutes some massive leap forward in social good.

That's what I like to hear people say in a dense, irreversibly interdependent global society: that merely not letting people die is the extent of our social responsibility.

Jesus Christ this place is depressing.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837860)

Rich is relative. By the standards of say roman Gaul everybody in the USA is RICH.

I like living in a country were one or 'poor' peoples problems is obesity.

Re:So...what's the answer? (2)

ninecastles (2493638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837962)

Rich is relative. By the standards of say roman Gaul everybody in the USA is RICH.

I like living in a country were one or 'poor' peoples problems is obesity.

I don't like living in a country where privileged people (if you are reading this, that almost surely includes you) think that obesity is the big problem for the truly impoverished and not the lack of access to reasonable health care, transportation, and education (among many other things) that are all REQUIRED for meaningful participation in this society. When you set the bar at Roman Gaul it's easy to pat yourself on the back for the catastrophic results of our economic system, but for anyone who thinks citizens should be entitled to livable conditions and meaningful social/economic/political participation, what we have is an abject failure.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838748)

Lets not forget that to eat HEALTHY food you need to spend about 300x what you would spend on unhealthy food. And you can't be working two jobs to make healthy food because it requires preparation. Processed food is way cheaper, and ready to consume, which is exactly what poor people are driven to consume since they often work far more hours, multiple jobs, both spouses working (if together at all), etc etc.

I'd like to subsidize veggies and protein, but all we get is more frikkin corn syrup.... My kid has a 'box top' drive at school: come to find the 'box tops' are only on HFC infused bullcrap nasty food that we wouldn't normally buy for our healthy eating family.... Nice to see the school system being so underfunded that they are passively influenced by big corn industry to urge their kids to consume more crap food and get some form of money from it...

Re:So...what's the answer? (3, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837872)

With appropriate measures, the minimum standard of living can be made good enough to not result in a permanent health effect.

The haves will always write off disparity of wealth as "oh well, just one of those things" right up until the poor start camping in their front yard.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

epine (68316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838182)

Mandate all rich people give poor people everything every other generation?

I've already written once today (in partial jest) that there are two ways to obtain a benefit you haven't earned: through social programs and through inheritance--let's kill both.

There's a raging debate going on in the discussion thread at Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies [ted.com]

I'm an R programmer IRL. I don't have much formal training in statistics, but when I need a second opinion, my bookshelf is stacked with the highest grade of bullshit detector. In the machine learning sector, that's a high grade indeed. You don't ascend to the top of the Kagglestalk [kaggle.com] by being full of shit. (I have not yet formed an opinion about Kaggle in general.)

My investigations quickly lead me to The Spirit Level Delusion: Chapter 10 [blogspot.com]

I quickly came to the conclusion that the spousal unit of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have way oversold their analysis as an input to public policy. Nevertheless, it ought to be troubling how readily these slopes tip in an ugly direction. In data mining, most of what you get is suggestive. I find their approach closer to data mining than proper statistics. Human cognition for the most part is closer to data mining than proper statistics, so I'm not saying that suggestive signals are slight or worthless. I'm saying that juicy things you pick up off the floor should not enter mouth without second inspection.

From Snowdon's mad dog supplemental chapter:

It is fantastically implausible to think that Wilkinson and Pickett are not aware of the importance of outliers in statistics.

There's a certain type of thinker who loves to stop thinking at the invocation of a categorical word. Outlier is a word of many meanings in statistics. It's not an automatic red flag to invoke the purity reflex (conservatives are sometimes painted as having more intense purity/disgust pathways). An outlier due to a DRAM memory error is best discarded. When the outlier is a big fat juicy data point, you need to engage your brain. Your signal naturally shows up most intensely at the extremes. If you don't want to find a signal, by all means, terminate outliers with extreme prejudice, as Snowdon imprecates the vagrant bastards.

But if they really wished to "avoid being accused of picking and choosing" they would have used the same official measure throughout.

By page 200 or so, he's wound himself up to where he leaves his brain behind. Too bad, because his brain was useful when he used it. He's gone completely insane on the decision process of prudence: trying your best not to shop for the desired outcome, while also trying to step around contaminated inputs. One of the inputs W&P sensibly step around are self-reported psychiatric states. These are known to be dirtier than Netflix ratings. Snowdon by the end is promoting the merest sign of discretion as a hanging offence. I would also like to know why these small acts of discretion were invoked, but I don't immediately fear the worst. W&P could do much better in the scholarship department.

Snowdon loses it completely on race as a confound. Confounds aren't all that important until you get into causative interpretation, often a necessary step on the road to public policy. I don't think W&P is anywhere close to providing a solid foundation for public policy, so this whole causative rebuke leaves me cold. Attack dogs never weary of citing error, long after there was any point. If he's not an attack dog, why does he act like one?

Since there is no relationship between race and mental health, they cannot find a relationship with inequality. But since there are relationships between race and many other criteria, they find correlations with inequality. But those correlations are statistical associations resulting from Wilkinson and Pickett's failure to adjust for race. They are not causal. Inequality is a symptom, not a cause. ...
It is no wonder Wilkinson and Pickett fail to identify confounding factors. They were simply not looking for them. ...
To any truth-seeking epidemiologist, controlling for known confounders would be "best practice"

In a data mining context, I don't think I would, either. It's the next step in the chain of statistical inference where you need to become wary. Also, untangling confounds is no precise art, unless you can prove your skein of confounds contains no hidden causal connections, which is exceedingly rare. What you can do is shift a causal focus on one input variable to multiple input variables of different ideological stripes, so that all camps can comfortably return to their original programming.

Here is where I tuned Snowdon out as a constructive voice:

There is no doubt that racial inequality contributes to income inequality. Wilkinson and Pickett argue instead that income inequality is, at heart, the cause of racial inequality. Aside from being counterintuitive, this cannot be so because the correlation between race and health and social problems is stronger than the correlation with income inequality. [My emphasis, both.]

Asshole. By his own hanging standards of perfectly uniform methods, the income inequality metric was not optimized for predictive strength. Most of the W&P work takes the ratio between the 20'th and 80'th percentiles of earned income, which is well justified as a commonly robust statistics.

If we had 200,000 countries, there would be enough data strength to optimize the best measure of income disparity. The correlations based on this might jump significantly. On the race side, we're not dealing with the correlation either, but one chosen out of a fairly large space: are we talking melanin expression, genetic markers, or census self-identification? Do Asians score halfway between whites and blacks?

And if you were certain you had tuned for optimal strength on both sides of the proposition (far from it, in this matter), you would still have to test for statistical significance whether correlation A > B carries any meaning. What a crock for a guy who professes to be a statistics junkie.

When I'm looking for leadership out from among the bulrushes of delusion, I prefer my profits to have a burning desire to illuminate truth. Snowdon has such a burning desire to illuminate error, he wanders around wearing no pants. He made some good points before his trousers went missing. Such is generally the case with ideologues.

And isn't it just a bit troubling that the American racial wealth sorting system presents such a convenient peg? What, I wonder, would Snowdon make of epigenetic heritage?

s/profits/prophets (1)

epine (68316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838238)

Damn spell checker. My fingers do that one all the time, and my subconscious doesn't ring the mail chime until five minutes later.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838596)

It's called socialism, and it works.

Re:So...what's the answer? (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838766)

There are always going to be 'haves' and 'have nots' in this world...that's the way of nature.

I'm pretty sure "the way of nature" is way too broad to apply to human society. The "way of nature" for bees is different from the "way of nature" for lions and the way of nature for ants is different from the way of nature for vultures. Is it the way of nature to poison a water supply in order to be able to drive bigger vehicles? Well, maybe.

Let's not forget that human beings are also "nature" and so any way we decide to do things can be fairly called the "way of nature". I could watch a National Geographic special and decide that the best way to act is to pick off the weakest and feed on them. Or, I could watch a different nature show and decide the best way for society to act is to have parents pitch in to take care of all the children communally, a la "It takes a village".

I would very strongly disagree that dividing society into "haves" and "have nots" is the only way for us to live because it is the "way of nature".

Everyone can't be rich

But no one has to be poor.

Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837382)

Now idiots like Deepak Chopra have a leg to stand on.

You are what you eat (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837406)

Knowing what I do now about early childhood development, the whole thing is just scary as hell--the more your parents speak to you, the less TV you watch, the better nutrition you get, the more time you spend with other children, and so on... those first two (and then five) years are so critically important to the rest of your life you can pretty much predict the rest of it when you reach adolescence.

Re:You are what you eat (0)

_merlin (160982) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838218)

If you are what you eat, does that mean I was a wet pussy last night?

Re:You are what you eat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838642)

If you are what you eat, does that mean I was a wet pussy last night?

Was this some sort of Korean soup made with feline? Clearly you weren't talking about having oral sex with a woman...this is /. after all.

More excuses for those who won't help themselves. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837410)

No, eating fatty foods, over-sugared foods, and smoking cigarettes is what causes heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

Giving people who refuse to exercise a little self control another excuse for their behaviour helps nobody.

Re:More excuses for those who won't help themselve (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837488)

Giving people who refuse to exercise a little self control another excuse for their behaviour helps nobody.

... except those who benefit from that behaviour.

Re:More excuses for those who won't help themselve (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837884)

Sieg Heil!

ANIMUS time yet? (1)

Alunral (2477578) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837432)

One step closer to having an ANIMUS?

The New 1% (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837452)

Canadian and British scientists are recommending that everyone be wealthy, have great housing conditions, and the parents should have a great occupation. The team is still trying to understand how the bottom 99% can be the new 1%.

The rich are different than you and me... (1)

Bezultek (1109675) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837514)

Turns out F. Scott Fitzgerald was right.

Re:The rich are different than you and me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837878)

Speak for yourself. I'm rich, bitch!

Revising evolutionary theories (2)

werepants (1912634) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837524)

It seems like we've been finding more and more that there are more influences on an organism's genome than just simple heredity and natural selection over a period of several generations. I remember a recent study that suggested that acquired traits might actually be possible to pass on to offspring... if this is the case, we're going to have to revise our models pretty seriously.

If anything, it will only make evolution a lot more impressive. I don't think we'll be seeing X-men level mutations ever, but these kinds of effects could really accelerate change in a species much more than we've ever expected (assuming that these changes happen in reproductive cells as well).

Re:Revising evolutionary theories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837814)

It seems like we've been finding more and more that there are more influences on an organism's genome than just simple heredity and natural selection over a period of several generations.

This article is not about changes to the genome. It's about expression of that genome. The summary is very misleading. Still, epigenetics is a very exciting field.

So in a nutshell... (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837548)

... you are (rewired by) how you live, to twist the cliche. Your offspring might be somewhat rewired by how you lived, too.

I'm betting the latter is demonstrated eventually, given the clues presented by epigenetics and newfound roles of RNA. I read years ago that the behavior of kittens can be largely predicted by that of the father, even if the father was not present after birth; humans are likely affected by the same mechanisms.

Quality of life through nutrition? (1)

assantisz (881107) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837632)

I don't know what I should make out of these findings but couldn't it be that kids coming from a "richer" background are fed more nutritiously than maybe a "poor" kid? Couldn't that have an impact on the "appearance" of the genetic material? DNA and life style are such different things that I am not convinced that a correlation between these two are any meaningful at this point.

Re:Quality of life through nutrition? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838244)

I don't know what I should make out of these findings but couldn't it be that kids coming from a "richer" background are fed more nutritiously than maybe a "poor" kid? Couldn't that have an impact on the "appearance" of the genetic material? DNA and life style are such different things that I am not convinced that a correlation between these two are any meaningful at this point.

Certainly. TFA is pointing out a plausible (and somewhat unexpected ) mechanism for same. The 'conundrum' the authors were trying to solve was why early environmental conditions should affect health later in life. Their research shows that DNA methylation patterns are stable over time. They conclude that it is POSSIBLE that such changes are deterministic, but other explanations can, and likely do, exist.

Re:Quality of life through nutrition? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838598)

I remember seeing a documentary that said precisely this some time ago.
If I remember correctly they looked at several communities for which they had good documentation on famine and date of birth of everyone, and from that they were able to draw several conclusions about how information about living conditions is passed on to offspring.
There was even a difference for what a father would pass on instead of the mother, but I forget exactly what it was.
It had something to do with when the eggs in the mother start developing or something, vs when the sperm develop in a man.

I think it was this one: The Ghost in our Genes.

I'm off to sue my parents now! (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837738)

My parents deprived me when I was a child. I can prove it now since it's all recorded in my DNA!

(yes, this is a joke. laugh.)

Re:I'm off to sue my parents now! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838088)

I tried but it just wouldn't come to me, I will try again later perhaps it will improve with age.

Lucky for J. Lo (1)

Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837768)

Science can definitively say that she's still Jenny from the Block.

More tracking (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837808)

Great, just another privacy violating way that everything in our life is tracked.

Who's going to sue God for this clear violation of privacy?

epigenetics (4, Interesting)

CoderFool (1366191) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837828)

Sounds a lot like a Nova program I saw some time ago. It titled 'Ghost in your genes'. It talked about how epigenetics control how your genes are expressed and they had noticed some inherited traits based on whether the ancestors were poor, starving, folk or not.

Re:epigenetics (1)

dontmakemethink (1186169) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838000)

He's right, I saw it too, this is definitely the same concept.

Re:epigenetics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838270)

Lamarckism lives.

Lamarck called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37837838)

He wants his obsolete theory of acquired traits back.

This is interesting and useful in many ways, but inheritance is not one of them.

Also, Grandparents Health affects Grandchildren (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837862)

That was from an earlier study 1-2 years back by memory.

The indication seems strong that environment plays a big part in gene expression and it is absolutely fascinating.

I wonder what they mean by "rich" (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837880)

I read TFA, and it seems vague what they mean by "rich". I grew up on a farm. We were dirt poor. We got a lot of exercise, as one does on a farm, where whether you eat or not depends on whether you got your chores done. Being on a farm, we ate fairly far down the food chain, commonly fresh foods with almost no processed foods, which we couldn't afford. (This is probably why I never really developed a taste for candy or for overly processed foods.) Sometimes we ate what my dad hunted. (I never did learn to enjoy the taste of venison.)

So, what health risks did I suffer, as opposed to someone who is rich, doesn't have to exercise, and can eat whatever the hell they want? And in what way was their upbringing superior to mine?

Re:I wonder what they mean by "rich" (1)

skids (119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838306)

So, what health risks did I suffer, as opposed to someone who is rich

More exposure to environmental irritants and pathogens?

Re:I wonder what they mean by "rich" (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838582)

I may give you that for pesticides and fertilizers and such, but being on the farm, I lived in the country, and rich tend to live downtown. Doesn't living in a big city have its own collection of environmental irritants and pathogens?

Muddled definitions (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#37837942)

"Lingering effect" is not "memory". Calling it memory is bad anthropomorphism, and will contribute to sloppy definitions, fuzzy reasoning, and eventually to pseudo-science. I'm sure the scientist involved understand that the phenomena they're studying is nothing at all like memory, but once this is wrung through the filter of popular press, the distinction gets lost.

This is how quantum physics gets turned into new-age philosophy, and biomechanics gets turned into healing resonant vibrations.

so no need for poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37838258)

It doesn't matter if you're poor, so long as you have food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. And public order, so you can walk the streets at night. And sanitation. And the aqueduct. And wine.

The Animus (1)

ZeroSerenity (923363) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838326)

When can we expect to have one?

Easy there Lamarck (1)

utkonos (2104836) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838338)

If the DNA was extracted from somatic cells, as the article states (blood), then it cannot show whether there is a heritable effect (passes on to next generation, for you non-biologists). As the article states: "the study did not show whether these changes might be passed on to offspring. Period. You don't need to incorrectly editorialize with the "but if so". There is no need for a non-biologist to make Lamarckian speculation. If the study was on germ line cells in adults that showed methylation, AND it looked at embryonic DNA methylation of that adult's offspring etc etc... maybe then we can start talking Lamarck. Even then, there is no need to throw out heart disease etc, because it is far far from clear what DNA methylation even controls as far as traits.

No study was required (1)

Mikey123 (932252) | more than 2 years ago | (#37838618)

All they had to do was look at comic book mutants (X-Men?) to see that most of them come from underprivileged backgrounds.
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