Reading material 2 - QA for the paper on polygenic prediction of educational attainment.pdf

It is not surprising that genes may influence

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It is not surprising that genes may influence educational attainment in part because of their effects on brain development and communication within the brain. Cognitive abilities and personality traits (such as conscientiousness and resilience) that matter for school performance may be partially reflected in how the brain is organized. It is perhaps more surprising that our study of educational attainment generates a biological picture of brain development that is clearer than those generated by previous GWAS that focused directly on brain structures. We believe that the greater clarity of the biological picture we observe is due to the relatively large sample size of our study, which afforded us greater statistical power than previous GWAS. Since it will remain much easier to measure educational attainment than to conduct brain scans in large samples of individuals, we believe that GWAS of educational attainment will continue to play a useful
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17 role in understanding the biology of brain development and constitutes one of the benefits of this research (see FAQ 3.7). 3. Ethical and social implications of the study 3.1 Did you find “the gene for” educational attainment? No. We did not find “the gene for” educational attainment or anything else. We identified many genetic variants that are associated with educational attainment. Although it was once believed that scientists would discover numerous one-to-one associations between genes and outcomes, we have known for a number of years that the vast majority of human traits and other outcomes are complex and are influenced by many (thousands or even millions of) genes, each of which alone tends to have a small influence on the relevant outcome. 3.2 Well, then, did you find “the genes for” educational attainment? Although we did find several genes that are associated with educational attainment, we believe that characterizing these as “genes for educational attainment” is still likely to mislead, for many reasons. First, most of the variation in people’s educational attainment is accounted for by social and other environmental factors, not by additive genetic effects (See FAQ 1.7). “Genes for educational attainment” might be read to imply, incorrectly, that genes are the strongest predictor of variation in educational attainment. Second, the genetic variants that are associated with educational attainment are also associated with many other things (only some of which we identify in this study, see FAQ 2.8). These variants are no more “for” educational attainment than for the other outcomes with which they are associated. Third, the “predictive” power (see FAQ 1.4) of each individual genetic variant that we identify is very small. Our results show that genetic associations with educational attainment are comprised of thousands, or even millions, of genetic variants, each of which has a tiny effect size. Each variant is therefore weakly associated with, rather than a strong influence on, educational attainment. “Genes for educational attainment” might misleadingly imply the latter.
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