Real Disruption

Economist like to throw around the term “disruptive” to describe the latest fads. It makes them feel hip and edgy, I guess. Most of it is crap. Some is just criminal. Steve Sailer often points out that Silicon Valley gets to exempt itself from a lot of rules everyone else has to follow. That’s why Uber gets to exist and it gets to be “disruptive.” I know that makes me sound like an old coot bitching about the kids running on my lawn, but I’m an old coot who bitches about the kids running on my lawn. Whaddaya gonna do?

The point is most of what is tossed around as disruptive technology is bullshit, but that does not mean there’s no disruptive technology. It’s just that culture and IQ blinds our betters to what is about to turn over the apple cart. By culture I mean the prevailing beliefs of those in charge. Back when I was screwing around with my first computer, the smart guys were starting a national newspaper. It was probably not my first computer, but you get the point. Most of us are too locked into the here and now to see what’s coming down the road. The folks who claim to be on top of the new trends are always surprised by what comes next.

That’s the culture part. There’s also the IQ part. Most of the American press corp struggles with basic technology. Back in the 1990’s, I used to love reading stories about the “internet” in the common press. They described it in the same language you describe a conspiracy theory or secret society. Even today, the typical “journalist” is overwhelmed by the technology the rest of us take for granted. That’s why they keep getting gaffed by nonsense like the Rolling Stone rape hoax. How hard was it to look up the facts on-line? It took me no time at all. I never got credit for that. Instead the guy at 28 Sherman claimed credit, but that’s not the point. The chattering skulls in the media are just not very bright so they miss the big stuff coming down the pike.

Anyway, where was I?

That’s right. Disruptive technology.

The thing that is going to toss over the apple cart is none of the stuff the middle-aged dorks at Marginal Revolution talk about every day. The meteor in the sky is DNA.

The social worker said no. The judge said no. The local phone books were useless.

For decades, no one and nothing could help Sue Warthen find the people who gave birth to her in the mid-1960s.

Then her adoptive mother encouraged Mrs. Warthen’s new husband, Rob, a computer whiz, to see what he could do.

He built a computer program that permitted him to “build out” family trees, and he asked his wife to swab her cheek and send her DNA to a genealogy company.

Mr. Warthen put her results into his program, worked with a “search angel” named Karin Corbeil, and found a trail that led to Mrs. Warthen’s birth mother.

Additional investigative work may now have led to her birth father too.

“I’ve always wanted to know where I actually came from that I wasn’t simply dropped off,” said Mrs. Warthen, who was adopted in Maryland when she was a few months old and has been looking for her birth family since the early 1980s, when she turned 18.

Today, hundreds, if not thousands, of adoptees have used DNA genealogy companies like Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and to jump over bureaucratic barriers and find members of their genetic families.

“People sometimes say we can’t do it unless there’s close DNA matches, but that’s not true — we can do it with distant ones too,” said CeCe Moore, a professional genetic genealogist who has appeared on “Finding Your Roots” with Henry L. Gates Jr. on PBS.

Even “foundlings” can find their birth relatives, Ms. Moore said.

DNA testing is the only way to find family heritage for these people since “opening records can’t help when there are no records,” said Ms. Moore, who has helped find birth families for a woman who was abandoned as a baby behind a grocery store, another person who was left on church steps and a third who was left at a baby-sitter’s house.

People unfamiliar with adoption may not realize that for decades, it was typical for agencies, charities and lawyers to arrange “closed” adoptions.

This meant an adoptee was given an amended birth certificate with the names of their adoptive parents and possibly not told they were adopted.

Legally, their original birth certificates were, in most U.S. states, sealed in courts and not made available to an adoptee except in cases of legal necessity. Sometimes, only medical information about the birth family — but no names — was provided.

This led to widespread private and professional “search and reunion” efforts, as well as campaigns to change state laws to let adult adoptees have their original birth records.

A large chunk of Western culture rests on pretty lies that are hard to debunk. For instance, we know that you really can’t go from poverty to the penthouse with hard work. You can go from the slums to lower middle class through hard work. You can go from middle class to upper middle. You’re going to need something else to jump a bunch of rungs up the ladder or down the ladder. We all sort of know it, but we take comfort in believing otherwise. Think about how different the world would look if suddenly everyone figured out that going to college will have no material impact on your life. That one pretty lie holds up a trillion dollars in financialization.

That’s what the linked story is showing. DNA testing is now throwing over a bedrock feature of western adoption. It’s going to throw over the sperm donor business too. Once everyone knows that they can find their biological family, what’s the point of keeping donors secret? What’s the point of sealing adoption records? Of course, it’s also going to put the lie to the claims about parenting. DNA testing is not just going to reveal lineage. It will reveal the heritability of personality traits and IQ.

Big chunks of the foundation are about to crumble thanks to genetics. Medical insurance is all about risk. Insurance companies hedge their risk by creating large pools. Basically they socialize what they don’t know about their customers health risks. What happens when they know those risk from a simple mouth swab? For that matter, what happens when that same swab can determine one’s propensity for crime? Violence? Homosexuality?

As we have seen over the last few decades, magical thinking like socialism can get along just fine with the microprocessor. It’s not going to hold up to DNA testing. Capitalism probably falls apart too when we can easily divide the population into Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons. The Alphas and Epsilons have always been known. It’s the folks in the middle. Things work because they all know they are not Epsilons and think they can become Alphas. What happens when that’s no longer plausible?

8 thoughts on “Real Disruption

  1. Just imagine if prenatal diagnosis or fertilized egg DNA testing before implantation could predict future sexual orientation? That’s why i believe we are currently living thru the peak homo era, with the maximum number and cultural influence of said “home team players”.

    In a few decades it will probably be illegal to do such screening in NY & LA. It will be threated like now abortion is in conservatives areas of the US. I don’t think liberals will be so abortion crazy if you throw that factor into the mix, never mind the hypocrisy.

  2. In case some reader recalls more than me, there was a news article years ago that DNA was not so good when you included millions across the land rather than some few. It was regarding DNA matches to catch criminals and said it was very good in matching among some few possible culprits but matching against a national DNA data base would yield false matches.

    So, if true there is some chance that finding “dad” may not result in finding your own.

    • DNA testing that we see for criminal work is mathematically problematic. The reason is math. The samples used by the FBI, for example, are “profiles.” The test kits used in the United States generally examine the 13 STR loci selected by the FBI for CODIS, the national DNA database. At each STR locus, there are a number of different alleles (generally between 6 and 18) that a person might have. Each person inherits two of these alleles, one from each parent. Numbers are used to identify the alleles and the pair of alleles at a particular locus constitutes a genotype. Hence, one person can have a genotype (for a locus called D3S1358) of “14, 15;” while another person has the genotype “16, 17.” The complete set of alleles detected at all loci for a given sample is called a DNA profile.

      To be brief, they are not doing a complete DNA comparison. They have selected a number of places to compare that have the greatest variability. Think of it this way. Let’s say all humans are issued an ID at birth. That 32-character number is unique and never reused. But, the first four characters are ABCD for everyone. When comparing two ID numbers, there would be no point in comparing the first four characters, since they are the same for all people. That’s true of DNA. To keep costs down, they selected the bits for comparison with high variability that re the best understood.

      The problem is the math and partial profiles. Not all samples are complete. From a crime scene, they may get enough usable material for a partial profile. That gets loaded into the database with the other samples. The chance for coincidental matching of complete profiles is 1 in one trillion. Add in partial profiles and the chances for a coincidental match drop quickly. A partial profile from crime scene could have a 1-in-10 million chance of a match in the total population, but when loaded into a database of tens of millions the chances for a coincidental match are greater than zero, which is a problem.

      My assumption is that these genealogical companies are going further than what the FBI is doing. When trying to find a family member, other evidence would be useful. Age, location, blood type, etc.

  3. Dang, Zman, read your predictions. Tocquevillian. Does the 800 number come out after you are done stomping the Hippies?

  4. I will be spending the final day of the year as I always do, out in the streets stomping hippies.


    Enjoy yourself

  5. I’m not a big believer in determinism. Yes, your genetic make-up will determine much about you that cannot be changed, but it won’t tell you how far you can go in life. Free will, motivation, and yes, hard work, will have a big hand in your choices and how they are expressed to improve your lot in life. Believing in a “caste system” of the kind you describe (alphas, betas, etc.) stultifies a culture. And flies in the face of over 200 years of American history. It is a big part of the success of America, the belief that your background need not limit your opportunities, that nearly everything is possible if you have a great idea and enough “gumption”.

    While the American Dream doesn’t seem as easy or possible as it once did, for a whole host of reasons, it’s still there. I don’t think advances in our understanding of genetics is going to change that, but those advances combined with advances in the fields of nanotechnology and chemistry are probably going to be responsible for humanity’s Next Leap Forward, IMO.

Comments are closed.