Monday, May 22, 2017

NYTimes: In ‘Enormous Success,’ Scientists Tie 52 Genes to Human Intelligence

The Nature Genetics paper below made a big splash in today's NYTimes: In ‘Enormous Success,’ Scientists Tie 52 Genes to Human Intelligence. The picture above is of a UK Biobank storage facility for blood (DNA) samples.

The results are not especially surprising to people who have been following the subject, but this is the largest sample of genomes and cognitive scores yet analyzed (~80k individuals). SSGAC has assembled a much larger dataset (~750k, soon to be over 1M; over 600 genome-wide significant SNP hits), but are working with a proxy phenotype for cognitive ability: years of education.
Genome-wide association meta-analysis of 78,308 individuals identifies new loci and genes influencing human intelligence

Nature Genetics (2017) doi:10.1038/ng.3869
Received 10 January 2017 Accepted 24 April 2017 Published online 22 May 2017

Intelligence is associated with important economic and health-related life outcomes1. Despite intelligence having substantial heritability2 (0.54) and a confirmed polygenic nature, initial genetic studies were mostly underpowered3, 4, 5. Here we report a meta-analysis for intelligence of 78,308 individuals. We identify 336 associated SNPs (METAL P < 5 × 10−8) in 18 genomic loci, of which 15 are new. Around half of the SNPs are located inside a gene, implicating 22 genes, of which 11 are new findings. Gene-based analyses identified an additional 30 genes (MAGMA P < 2.73 × 10−6), of which all but one had not been implicated previously. We show that the identified genes are predominantly expressed in brain tissue, and pathway analysis indicates the involvement of genes regulating cell development (MAGMA competitive P = 3.5 × 10−6). Despite the well-known difference in twin-based heratiblity2 for intelligence in childhood (0.45) and adulthood (0.80), we show substantial genetic correlation (rg = 0.89, LD score regression P = 5.4 × 10−29). These findings provide new insight into the genetic architecture of intelligence.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study is the further evidence it provides that many (the vast majority?) of the hits discovered by SSGAC are indeed correlated with cognitive ability (as opposed to other traits such as Conscientiousness, which might influence educational attainment without affecting intelligence):
To examine the robustness of the 336 SNPs and 47 genes that reached genome-wide significance in the primary analyses, we sought replication. Because there are no reasonably large GWAS for intelligence available and given the high genetic correlation with educational attainment, which has been used previously as a proxy for intelligence7, we used the summary statistics from the latest GWAS for educational attainment21 for proxy-replication (Online Methods). We first deleted overlapping samples, resulting in a sample of 196,931 individuals for educational attainment. Of the 336 top SNPs for intelligence, 306 were available for look-up in educational attainment, including 16 of the independent lead SNPs. We found that the effects of 305 of the 306 available SNPs in educational attainment were sign concordant between educational attainment and intelligence, as were the effects of all 16 independent lead SNPs (exact binomial P < 10−16; Supplementary Table 14). ...
Carl Zimmer did a good job with the Times story. The basic ideas, that
0. Intelligence is (at least crudely) measurable
1. Intelligence is highly heritable (much of the variance is determined by DNA)
2. Intelligence is highly polygenic (controlled by many genetic variants, each of small effect)
3. Intelligence is going to be deciphered at the molecular level, in the near future, by genomic studies with very large sample size 
are now supported by overwhelming scientific evidence. Nevertheless, they are and have been heavily contested by anti-Science ideologues.

For further discussion of points (0-3), see my article On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Contingency, History, and the Atomic Bomb

How Alexander Sachs, acting on behalf of Szilard and Einstein, narrowly convinced FDR to initiate the atomic bomb project. History sometimes hangs on a fragile thread: had the project been delayed a year, atomic weapons might not have been used in WWII. Had the project completed a year earlier, the bombs might have been used against Germany.

See also A Brief History of the Future, as told to the Masters of the Universe.

Excerpts below are from Robert Jungk's Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists. (Note the book contains inaccuracies concerning the wartime role of German physicists such as Weizsacker and Heisenberg.)

Alexander Sachs:
... This international financier could always obtain entry to the White House, for he had often amazed Roosevelt by his usually astonishingly accurate forecasts of economic events. Ever since 1933 Sachs had been one of the unofficial but extremely influential advisers of the American President, all of whom had to possess, by F. D. R.'s own definition, 'great ability, physical vitality, and a real passion for anonymity'.

... It was nearly ten weeks before Alexander Sachs at last found an opportunity, on October 11, 1939, to hand President Roosevelt, in person, the letter composed by [Leo] Szilard and signed by [Albert] Einstein at the beginning of August [1939]. In order to ensure that the President should thoroughly appreciate the contents of the document and not lay it aside with a heap of other papers awaiting attention, Sachs read to him, in addition to the message and an appended memorandum by Szilard, a further much more comprehensive statement by himself. The effect of these communications was by no means so overpowering as Sachs had expected. Roosevelt, wearied by the prolonged effort of listening to his visitor, made an attempt to disengage himself from the whole affair. He told the disappointed reader that he found it all very interesting but considered government intervention to be premature at this stage.

Sachs, however, was able, as he took his leave, to extort from the President the consolation of an invitation to breakfast the following morning. "That night I didn't sleep a wink," Sachs remembers. "I was staying at the Carlton Hotel [two blocks north of the White House]. I paced restlessly to and fro in my room or tried to sleep sitting in a chair. There was a small park quite close to the hotel. Three or four times, I believe, between eleven in the evening and seven in the morning, I left the hotel, to the porter's amazement, and went across to the park. There I sat on a bench and meditated. What could I say to get the President on our side in this affair, which was already beginning to look practically hopeless? Quite suddenly, like an inspiration, the right idea came to me. I returned to the hotel, took a shower and shortly afterwards called once more at the White House."

Roosevelt was sitting alone at the breakfast table, in his wheel chair, when Sachs entered the room. The President inquired in an ironical tone:

"What bright idea have you got now? How much time would you like to explain it?"

Dr. Sachs says he replied that he would not take long.

"All I want to do is to tell you a story. During the Napoleonic wars a young American inventor came to the French Emperor and offered to build a fleet of steamships with the help of which Napoleon could, in spite of the uncertain weather, land in England. Ships without sails? This seemed to the great Corsican so impossible that he sent [Robert] Fulton away. In the opinion of the English historian Lord Acton, this is an example of how England was saved by the shortsightedness of an adversary. Had Napoleon shown more imagination and humility at that time, the history of the nineteenth century would have taken a very different course."

After Sachs finished speaking the President remained silent for several minutes. Then he wrote something on a scrap of paper and handed it to the servant who had been waiting at table. The latter soon returned with a parcel which, at Roosevelt's order, he began slowly to unwrap. It contained a bottle of old French brandy of Napoleon's time, which the Roosevelt family had possessed for many years. The President, still maintaining a significant silence, told the man to fill two glasses. Then he raised his own, nodded to Sachs and drank to him.

Next he remarked: "Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don't blow us up?"


It was only then that Roosevelt called in his attaché, [Brigadier] General [Edwin] "Pa" Watson, and addressed him—pointing to the documents Sachs had brought—in words which have since become famous:

"Pa, this requires action!"
More on the challenges:
Teller criticizes as follows one of these excessively rosy views of the early history of the American atom bomb: 'There is no mention of the futile efforts of the scientists in 1939 to awaken the interest of the military authorities in the atomic bomb. The reader does not learn about the dismay of scientists faced with the necessity of planned research. He does not find out about the indignation of engineers asked to believe in the theory and on such an airy basis to construct a plant.'

Wigner remembers the resistance. 'We often felt as though we were swimming in syrup,' he remarks. Boris Pregel, a radium expert, without whose disinterested loan of uranium the first experiments al Columbia University would have been impossible, comments: 'It is a wonder that after so many blunders and mistakes anything was ever accomplished at all.' Szilard still believes today that work on the uranium project was delayed for at least a year by the short-sightedness and sluggishness of the authorities. Even Roosevelt's manifest interest in the plan scarcely accelerated its execution. ...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

American Psycho

Author Bret Easton Ellis, Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman), and Director Mary Herron discuss American Psycho.

This is a rare 1999 documentary about Ellis. It mixes interviews with dramatizations of scenes from his writing. The American Psycho bits are terrible, especially compared to the actual movie, which was released in 2000. Rewatching the movie today, my main reaction is that Bale is simply brilliant as Patrick Bateman: e.g., Hip to be Square (reprised by Huey Lewis himself here).

It seems likely that the title American Psycho is partly an homage to the late 1970s film American Gigolo, which had a big impact on Ellis. (I highly recommend BEE's podcast to anyone interested in film or literature.)
Rolling Stone: 'American Psycho' at 25

Before American Psycho came out, 25 years ago this month, it was already the most controversial novel of the Nineties. Its vivid depictions of gruesome murders of women, men, children and animals preceded wherever it went. The original publisher dropped it and told author Bret Easton Ellis to keep the money — but to please go away. The New York Times titled its book review "Snuff This Book!" On the opposite coast, Los Angeles Times begrudgingly wrote that "Free Speech Protects Even an 'American Psycho.'" The National Organization of Women attempted to organize boycotts. Stores refused to order it. And Ellis, who turned 27 around its release, received death threats. ...

Has the way that Patrick Bateman has become a cult character surprised you?
What if I said, no? [Pause.] I'm kidding [laughs]. Of course, it was surprising to me. American Psycho was an experimental novel. I wasn't really quite sure, nor did I care, how many copies it was going to sell. I really didn't care who connected with it.

Why is that?
I created this guy who becomes this emblem for yuppie despair in the Reagan Eighties – a very specific time and place ...

... Beginning in the Eighties, men were prettifying themselves and in ways they weren't. And they were taking on a lot of the tropes of gay male culture and bringing it into straight male culture — in terms of grooming, looking a certain way, going to the gym, waxing, and being almost the gay porn ideals. You can track that down to the way Calvin Klein advertised underwear, a movie like American Gigolo, the re-emergence of Gentlemen's Quarterly. All of these things really informed American Psycho when I was writing it. So that seemed to me much more interesting than whether he is or is not a serial killer, because that really is a small section of the book. ...

... Patrick Bateman, who was obsessed with Donald Trump, would likely be pretty happy with his campaign.
Or would he be embarrassed? Trump today isn't the Trump of 1987. He's not the Trump of Art of the Deal. He seemed much more elitist in '87, '88. Now he seems to be giving a voice to white, angry, blue-collar voters. I think, in a way, Patrick Bateman may be disappointed by how Trump is coming off and who he's connecting with.

To the guys that I was talking to in the Eighties when I was researching American Psycho, Donald Trump was an aspirational figure. That's why the jokes are throughout the book. It wasn't like I pulled that out of my hat; that was happening. And so I just thought it was funny that "OK, well, Patrick Bateman's gonna be obsessed with Donald Trump. He's gonna want to aspire to be Donald Trump." And I don't know if he would think that today. ...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comey under oath: no obstruction of justice

Almost everything we hear from the media these days is simply motivated reasoning -- i.e., partisan nonsense.
Wikipedia: ...When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled "motivated reasoning". In other words, "rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe."
CNN transcript of a May 3 Senate hearing -- weeks after the alleged conversation with Trump discussed in Comey's memo.
HIRONO: So if the Attorney General or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?

COMEY: In theory yes.

HIRONO: Has it happened?

COMEY: Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that -- without an appropriate purpose. I mean where oftentimes they give us opinions that we don't see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it. But I'm talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason, that would be a very big deal. It's not happened in my experience.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Walter Pitts and Neural Nets

Pitts is one of the least studied geniuses of the early information age. See also Wikipedia,
Cabinet Magazine: There are no biographies of Walter Pitts, and any honest discussion of him resists conventional biography. Pitts was among the original participants in the mid-century cybernetics conferences, though he began his association with that group of scientists when he was only a teenager. His intellectual strengths contributed to some central cybernetic theories reliant on logical structures and universal elements. Yet the sketchy details of his life provide the kind of evidence that resists the structure of those theories.

The mid-century cybernetics conferences, or Macy Conferences (1946-53), theorized about automatic or self-balancing systems in biological and technological ecologies. Warren McCullough, Norbert Weiner, John von Neumann, Margaret Mead, and Gregory Bateson were among those invited, and their discussions mixed methodologies and evidence from a broad range of disciplines including anthropology, neurophysiology, mathematics, logic, and computational networks. ...

Pitts entered into the company of this group as mysteriously as he left it. None of his colleagues knew very much about him. He came from a reportedly troubled working class family in Detroit and entered McCullough's home as a live-in collaborator when he was only seventeen. Even at this early age, he had already worked with prominent scientists in logic and mathematical biology. Three years later in 1943, he co-authored, with Warren McCullough, a theory of neurophysiological organization that would provoke sustained debate throughout the years of the cybernetics conferences. The paper proposed a logical structure for neural nets as coded circuitry, thus supporting machinic theories of mind as well as ambitions involving artificial intelligence. Pitts was only in his 20s during the cybernetics conferences of the 1940s and though he was an autodidact, he had already mastered or could almost instantly absorb the subject matter from the several fields of study engaged by the conferences. Not only did he circulate among prominent scientists, but those scientists either rivaled for his collaboration or deeply valued his critique and commentary. Pitts could, without fail, identify errors in logical thinking and he simply did not pursue information or discourse outside of the realm of logic. He considered the search for universal elements of mental structure to be not just a species of speculation, but a hard science of the brain and the mind. ...

Several of the scientists and psychiatrists of the group thought Pitts was schizophrenic and potentially very ill. The prominent psychiatrists who moved in his circles were more and more baffled by his reclusive shyness and his apparent personal discomfort. Later Pitts began to live on his own in Cambridge where he may have experimented with homemade drugs. No one seems to know much about his later life. He died in 1969 and some have speculated that he committed suicide. ...
McCulloch–Pitts (MCP) neuron:

Overview: In 1943 Warren S. McCulloch, a neuroscientist, and Walter Pitts, a logician, published "A logical calculus of the ideas immanent in nervous activity" in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 5:115-133. In this paper McCulloch and Pitts tried to understand how the brain could produce highly complex patterns by using many basic cells that are connected together. These basic brain cells are called neurons, and McCulloch and Pitts gave a highly simplified model of a neuron in their paper. The McCulloch and Pitts model of a neuron, which we will call an MCP neuron for short, has made an important contribution to the development of artificial neural networks -- which model key features of biological neurons.

The original MCP Neurons had limitations. Additional features were added which allowed them to "learn." The next major development in neural networks was the concept of a perceptron which was introduced by Frank Rosenblatt in 1958. Essentially the perceptron is an MCP neuron where the inputs are first passed through some "preprocessors," which are called association units. These association units detect the presence of certain specific features in the inputs. In fact, as the name suggests, a perceptron was intended to be a pattern recognition device, and the association units correspond to feature or pattern detectors.
This is an old interview with McCulloch. Nature vs Nurture and IQ starting at ~4min ;-) ... Thus formed the beginnings of the group who would become known as the cyberneticians, with Wiener, Pitts, McCulloch, Lettvin, and von Neumann its core. And among this rarified group, the formerly homeless runaway stood out. “None of us would think of publishing a paper without his corrections and approval,” McCulloch wrote. “[Pitts] was in no uncertain terms the genius of our group,” said Lettvin. “He was absolutely incomparable in the scholarship of chemistry, physics, of everything you could talk about history, botany, etc. When you asked him a question, you would get back a whole textbook … To him, the world was connected in a very complex and wonderful fashion.”

... In a letter to the philosopher Rudolf Carnap, McCulloch catalogued Pitts’ achievements. “He is the most omniverous of scientists and scholars. He has become an excellent dye chemist, a good mammalogist, he knows the sedges, mushrooms and the birds of New England. He knows neuroanatomy and neurophysiology from their original sources in Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German for he learns any language he needs as soon as he needs it. Things like electrical circuit theory and the practical soldering in of power, lighting, and radio circuits he does himself. In my long life, I have never seen a man so erudite or so really practical.” Even the media took notice. In June 1954, Fortune magazine ran an article featuring the 20 most talented scientists under 40; Pitts was featured, next to Claude Shannon and James Watson. Against all odds, Walter Pitts had skyrocketed into scientific stardom.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Baizuo = Libtard

Baizuo could also translate as "idiot left" (using a kind word of wordplay). Noam Chomsky is often cited as an exemplar, although I find this a bit unfair.

See also Trump Triumph Viewed From China.
The curious rise of the ‘white left’ as a Chinese internet insult

ChenChen Zhang 11 May 2017 (

... If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo, or literally, the ‘white left’. It first emerged about two years ago, and yet has quickly become one of the most popular derogatory descriptions for Chinese netizens to discredit their opponents in online debates.

So what does ‘white left’ mean in the Chinese context, and what’s behind the rise of its (negative) popularity?

The question has received more than 400 answers from Zhihu users, which include some of the most representative perceptions of the 'white left'. Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.

Apart from some anti-hegemonic sentiments, the connotations of ‘white left’ in the Chinese context clearly resemble terms such as ‘regressive liberals’ or ‘libtards’ in the United States. In a way the demonization of the ‘white left’ in Chinese social media may also reflect the resurgence of right-wing populism globally. ...

The term first became influential amidst the European refugee crisis, and Angela Merkel was the first western politician to be labelled as a baizuo for her open-door refugee policy. Hungary, on the other hand, was praised by Chinese netizens for its hard line on refugees, if not for its authoritarian leader. ...

Chenchen Zhang has a PhD in Political Theory from LUISS Guido Carli University and a PhD in Political Science from Université libre de Bruxelles. She has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

AI Now (O'Reilly ebook)

爱 (ài) means "love" in Chinese!  :-)
Artificial Intelligence Now
Current Perspectives from O'Reilly Media

Get the free ebook

The past year or so has seen a true explosion in both the capabilities and adoption of artificial intelligence technologies. Today’s generalized AI tools can solve specific problems more powerfully than the complex rule-based tools that preceded them. And, because these new AI tools can be deployed in many contexts, more and more applications and industries are ripe for transformation with AI technologies.

By drawing from the best posts on the O’Reilly AI blog, this in-depth report summarizes the current state of AI technologies and applications, and provides useful guides to help you get started with deep learning and other AI tools.

In six distinct parts, this report covers:

The AI landscape: the platforms, businesses, and business models shaping AI growth; plus a look at the emerging AI stack

Technology: AI’s technical underpinnings and deep learning capabilities, tools, and tutorials

Homebuilt autonomous systems: "hobbyist" applications that showcase AI tools, libraries, cloud processing, and mobile computing

Natural language: strategies for scoping and tackling NLP projects

Use cases: an analysis of two of the leading-edge use cases for artificial intelligence—chat bots and autonomous vehicles

Integrating human and machine intelligence: development of human-AI hybrid applications and workflows; using AI to map and access large-scale knowledge databases

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

20 years of GATTACA (1997)

A 20 year lag between science fiction and reality... not bad!

Embryo selection, but no additional engineering:
Geneticist (Blair Underwood): Keep in mind, this child is still you -- simply the best of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result ...
According to this discussion, an offer of genetic editing didn't make the final cut:
In an outtake to the movie, the geneticist states that for an extra $5,000 he could give the embryo enhanced musical or mathematical skills – essentially splicing in a gene that was not present on the parents’ original DNA.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

More Shock and Awe: James Lee and SSGAC in Oslo, 600 SNP hits

To quote James Lee, the first author listed below: "Shock and Awe" for those who doubt that cognitive ability is influenced by genetic variants.

See work from a year ago: ~100 hits from 300k individuals. Now ~600 hits from 750k. (SNPs associated with EA are likely to also be associated with cognitive ability -- see figure at link above.)
47th Behavior Genetics Annual Meeting, Oslo, Norway

GWAS of Educational Attainment, Phase 3: Biological Findings

Genetic factors are estimated to account for at least 20% of the variation across individuals for educational attainment (Rietveld et al., 2013). The results of the latest GWAS for educational attainment identified 74 genome-wide significant loci for educational attainment (Okbay et al., 2016). Here, in one of the largest GWAS to date, we increase our sample to nearly 750,000 individuals, and we identify over 600 genome-wide significant loci associated with the number of years of schooling completed. Note that at the time of presentation, we will likely have updated our meta-analysis to include over 1,000,000 individuals

In this presentation, I will focus on the biological implications of the GWAS results. At the time of writing, 1,656 genes are significantly prioritized, a more than 10-fold increase since our previous report (Okbay et al., 2016). The newly significant results reinforce the biological theme of prenatal brain development and also bring to the foreground new themes that shed light on the biological underpinnings of cognitive performance and other traits affecting educational attainment.

James Lee (University of Minnesota - Twin Cities), Aysu Okbay (Free University Amsterdam), Robbee Wedow (University of Colorado - Boulder), Edward Kong (Harvard University), Patrick Turley (Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard), Meghan Zacher (Harvard University), Kevin Thom (New York University), Anh Tuan Nguyen Viet (University of Southern California), Omeed Maghzian (Harvard University, NBER), Richard Karlsson Linnér (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Matthew Robinson (The University of Queensland), Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (NA), Peter Visscher (The University of Queensland), Daniel Benjamin (University of Southern California), David Cesarini (New York University)
Note the data here have only been analyzed using summary statistics coming from each sub-cohort. More powerful methods may soon become available:
Penalized regression from summary statistics

One of the difficulties in genomics is that when DNA donors are consented for a study, the agreements generally do not allow sharing (aggregation) of genomic data across multiple studies. This leads to isolated silos of data that can't be fully shared. However, computations can be performed on one silo at a time, with the results ("summary statistics") shared within a larger collaboration. Most of the leading GWAS collaborations (e.g., GIANT for height, SSGAC for cognitive ability) rely on shared statistics. Simple regression analysis (one SNP at a time) can be conducted using just summary statistics, but more sophisticated algorithms cannot. These more sophisticated methods can generate a better phenotype predictor, using less data, than a SNP by SNP analysis.
A successful implementation like the one described at the link above could produce many (several times!) more hits and significantly more variance accounted for by corresponding predictors. Stay tuned!

Note Added: I'm getting lots of questions about how to interpret these results, so here are some comments.

1. I predicted ~10k variants would account for most of the heritability due to common SNPs (i.e., about 50% of total variance; allowing a predictor which correlates ~0.7 with actual cognitive ability). The rate of discovery of genome-wide significant hits and corresponding variance accounted for seems consistent with this prediction. Genetic associations are most easily discovered for variants which are common (e.g., have ~0.5 Minor Allele Frequency, not 0.05) and have large effect sizes. But alleles with this combination of properties are rare. As statistical power increases, one starts to discover (more and more) variants of lower frequency and/or lower effect size. A reasonable guess at the genetic architecture suggests a higher density of such variants, and is consistent with an accelerating rate of discovery of SNP hits (~100 hits from 300k individuals, ~600 hits from 750k). There are more efficient methods that, I believe, would discover nearly all the variants given sample size of ~1M well-phenotyped individuals. But these methods require more than just summary statistics.

I made a similar prediction of ~10k variants for height, and our (unpublished) genomic prediction results make me fairly confident that this will turn out to be correct. We now have moderately good height predictors and they are getting better very fast. That ~10k variants will turn out to be responsible for most of the variation in cognitive ability is still at a somewhat lower confidence level.

2. People are still confused about how many + variants above the mean in the population are required to make a "genius" (or super-genius). I managed to compress the explanation enough to fit in a tweet:
Flip coin 10000 times. 5000 + sqrt(10000)/2 = 5050 heads is +1SD outcome. 5100 is +2SD, etc. sqrt(N) << N for N large. Binomial~Normal dist.
You can see that even if cognitive ability is controlled by ~10k variants, flipping only ~100 of them is enough to cause a big difference in actual intelligence. Flipping a few hundred could get us to super-geniuses beyond anything in human history.

3. If you read press accounts related to our creation of the BGI Cognitive Genomics Lab back in 2011 (at that time there were zero genome-wide significant alleles associated with intelligence), you can find quotes from genomics "experts" asserting that mankind would never discover the genetic architecture of cognitive ability. (Such quotes are easy to obtain even today!) A Bayesian update given what is known in 2017 would call into question the competence of these "experts"!  ;-)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

SubAltern Homesick Blues

New York Magazine seems to have dedicated an entire issue to the Alt-Right. If you don't recognize any of this subterranean internet stuff you should probably have a look. Somehow they left out the Illuminati, though.

See The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Subaltern Postcolonial Gramsci Homi Bhabha Babble.

... what follows here is an attempt to really reckon with the alt-right and its fellow travelers: to organize and catalogue influences, philosopher-kings, and shit-posting foot soldiers; to track the movement’s history, its future, and the story of how the modern internet made it possible; to study its grievances, its media savvy, its symbols, its heroes and villains, its president and its critics of the president, its billionaire supporters and the underemployed message-board-dwelling “advocates” who serve as its creative engine. The movement is not a monolith — though it would also never be mistaken for a rainbow coalition — and part of what we’ve focused on is just how the various wings work together in concert. How does Steve Bannon relate to Russia Today, and what do conspiracy theorists have in common with pickup artists and Nazi Furries? How do memes like milk become weaponized, and just when did 4chan get political? How do its beliefs get amplified into the larger culture?

For all its theoretical anti-modernity, the alt-right is a uniquely modern movement, after all, enabled in reach by the connective tools of the social internet and by the clever use of the sort of irony that every young American raised on TV and memes recognizes as our pop-culture lingua franca. It’s an irony they’ve used as armor, too: If you take them seriously, they’ll claim you missed the joke. But of course, by treating them as a joke, you can miss their importance ...

The Techno-Libertarians Praying for Dystopia

... people who believe that the future of our species involves shedding our humanity in a marriage with AI; this is known as transhumanism, and it has not unreasonably been called a new tech religion. Though the movement has no explicit political affiliations, it tends, for reasons that are probably self-explanatory, to draw a disproportionate number of Silicon Valley libertarians. And the cluster of ideas at its center — that the progress of technology will inevitably render good ol’ Homo sapiens obsolete; that intelligence, pure computational power, is to be pursued above all other values — has exerted a powerful attraction on a small group of futurists whose extreme investment in techno-libertarianism has pushed them over an event horizon into a form of right-wing authoritarianism it might be useful to regard as Dark Transhumanism.

Replication and the "Crises of Confidence" in Science

One of the authors pointed me to the interesting paper below, which contains a proposal meant to improve the reliability of scientific research (specifically in some areas such as social science or biomedicine). Could this proposal work if, say, it were strongly supported by scholarly associations and funding agencies?

Note the authors' use of "Crises of Confidence" in their title. I believe that certain areas of science really should be experiencing a crisis of confidence, if only their practitioners were smarter and more honest. But in fact I suspect it's mostly business as usual, even in the research areas with the lowest (and best documented as lowest) replication rates.
An Economic Approach to Alleviate the Crises of Confidence in Science: With An Application to the Public Goods Game

Luigi Butera, John A. List  (University of Chicago)

April 5, 2017

... This paper proposes and puts into practice a novel and simple mechanism that allows mutually beneficial gains from trade between original investigators and other researchers. In our mechanism, the original investigators, upon completing their initial study, write a working paper version of their study. While they do share their working paper online, they do however commit not to submit it to any journal for publication, ever. The original investigators instead offer co-authorship of a second paper to other researchers who are willing to independently replicate the experimental protocol in their own research facilities.2 Once the team is established, but before beginning replications, the replication protocol is pre-registered at the AEA experimental registry, and referenced in the first working paper. This is to guarantee that all replications, both successful and failed, are properly accounted for, eliminating any concerns about publication biases. The team of researchers composed by the original investigators and the other scholars will then write and coauthor a second paper, which will reference the original unpublished working paper, and submit it to an academic journal. Under such an approach, the original investigators accept to publish their work with several other coauthors, a feature that is typically unattractive to economists, but in turn gain a dramatic increase in the credibility and robustness of their results, should they replicate. Further, the referenced working paper would provide a credible signal about the ownership of the initial research design and idea, a feature that is particularly desirable for junior scholars. On the other hand, other researchers would face the monetary cost of replicating the original study, but would in turn benefit from coauthoring a novel study, and share the related payoffs. Overall, our mechanism could critically strengthen the reliability of novel experimental results and facilitate the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Alone on a Mountain

Reminds me of my years in Oregon :-)

See also Off the Grid in British Columbia.

CNGB: China National Gene Bank

Unbeknownst to me I've been skyping with a collaborator who has been working from this location.
SCMP: China opens first national gene bank, aiming to house hundreds of millions of samples

China’s first national gene bank, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world, officially opened on Thursday to store and carry out research on hundreds of millions of genetic samples. The centre, dubbed China’s Noah’s Ark by mainland media, aims to collect 300 million genetic samples at its base in Shenzhen when all two phases are complete

... Cao said it was in China’s national interest to have its own gene bank rather than storing samples in other countries. “Cooperation is the global trend but it is more secure to preserve data in China since the variations among the genomes from different races could be used in both good and evil ways,” Cao said. ...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Amazon unstoppable?

Over 50% of Americans, and 70% with household income over $100k, are Amazon Prime users.

Amazon is killing malls, retailers, brands, and more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Von Neumann and Realpolitik

"Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." -- Thucydides, Melian Dialogue.


Von Neumann, Feynman, and Ulam.
Adventures of a Mathematician (Ulam): ... Once at Christmas time in 1937, we drove from Princeton to Duke University to a meeting of the American Mathematical Society. ...

As we passed the battlefields of the Civil War, Johnny recounted the smallest details of the battles. His knowledge of history was really encyclopedic, but what he liked and knew best was ancient history. He was a great admirer of the concise and wonderful way the Greek historians wrote. His knowledge of Greek enabled him to read Thucydides, Herodotus, and others in the original; his knowledge of Latin was even better.

The story of the Athenian expedition to the island of Melos, the atrocities and killings that followed, and the lengthy debates between the opposing parties fascinated him for reasons which I never quite understood. He seemed to take a perverse pleasure in the brutality of a civilized people like the ancient Greeks. For him, I think it threw a certain not-too-complimentary light on human nature in general. Perhaps he thought it illustrated the fact that once embarked on a certain course, it is fated that ambition and pride will prevent a people from swerving from a chosen course and inexorably it may lead to awful ends, as in the Greek tragedies. Needless to say this prophetically anticipated the vaster and more terrible madness of the Nazis. Johnny was very much aware of the worsening political situation. In a Pythian manner, he foresaw the coming catastrophe. ...

... I will never forget the scene a few days before he died. I was reading to him in Greek, from his worn copy of Thucydides, a story he liked especially about the Athenians' attack on Melos, and also the speech of Pericles. He remembered enough to correct an occasional mistake or mispronunciation on my part.

... there was nothing small about his interests ... He was unique in this respect. Unique, too, were his overall intelligence, breadth of interest, and absolute feeling for the difference between the momentary technical work and the great lines of the life of the mathematical tree itself and its role in human thought.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Michael Anton: Inside the Trump White House

Michael Anton is head of strategic communications for the National Security Council. See related Politico article.
The Atlantic: Michael Anton warned last year that 2016 was the Flight 93 election: “Charge the cockpit or you die.”

Americans charged. Donald Trump became president of the United States. And Anton, the author of that now-notorious essay, is helping to fly the plane—running communications for the National Security Council.

Anton cuts a curious figure through the Trump White House. A thoroughly educated dandy, his writings are at the core of an effort to construct an intellectual framework around the movement that elected a president who has shown no inclination to read books and who speaks in an unpretentious New York vernacular. ...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Yann LeCun on Unsupervised Learning

This is a recent Yann LeCun talk at CMU. Toward the end he discusses recent breakthroughs using GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks, see also Ian Goodfellow here and here).

LeCun tells an anecdote about the discovery of backpropagation. The first implementation of the algorithm didn't work, probably because of a bug in the program. But they convinced themselves that the reason for the failure was that the network could easily get caught in a local minimum which prevents further improvement. It turns out that this is very improbable in high dimensional spaces, which is part of the reason behind the great success of deep learning. As I wrote here:
In the limit of high dimensionality a critical point is overwhelmingly likely to be a saddlepoint (have at least one negative eigenvalue). This means that even though the surface is not strictly convex the optimization is tractable.
This (free version!) new textbook on deep learning by Goodfellow, Bengio, and Courville looks very good. See also Michael Nielsen's book.

If I were a young person I would be working in this area (perhaps with an eye toward applications in genomics, or perhaps working directly on the big problem of AGI). I hope after I retire they will let me hang out at one of the good AI places like Google Brain or Deep Mind :-)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

History of Bayesian Neural Networks

This talk gives the history of neural networks in the framework of Bayesian inference. Deep learning is (so far) quite empirical in nature: things work, but we lack a good theoretical framework for understanding why or even how. The Bayesian approach offers some progress in these directions, and also toward quantifying prediction uncertainty.

I was sad to learn from this talk that David Mackay passed last year, from cancer. I recommended his book Information theory, inference and learning algorithms back in 2007.

Yarin Gal's dissertation Uncertainty in Deep Learning, mentioned in the talk.

I suppose I can thank my Caltech education for a quasi-subconscious understanding of neural nets despite never having worked on them. They were in the air when I was on campus, due to the presence of John Hopfield (he co-founded the Computation and Neural Systems PhD program at Caltech in 1986). See also Hopfield on physics and biology.

Amusingly, I discovered this talk via deep learning: YouTube's recommendation engine, powered by deep neural nets, suggested it to me this Saturday afternoon :-)

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Rise and Fall of the Meritocracy (BBC podcast)

British socialist Michael Young coined the term meritocracy in his 1958 dystopian satire The Rise of the Meritocracy. He realized even then that a system which rewarded individuals fairly, based on ability and effort, would likely lead to genetic class stratification, due to the heritability of traits. His son Toby, a journalist for the Spectator, explores this topic in an excellent BBC podcast, featuring researchers such as Robert Plomin and me.

In the future, will we redistribute genetic wealth as well as material wealth?

Toby Young's six problems with meritocracy

The Rise of the Meritocracy is a dystopian satire written almost sixty years ago by pioneering sociologist Michael Young. It imagined a modern society uncannily like our own and coined the term meritocracy.

Michael Young's son Toby, a journalist for the Spectator, has been asking if his asks if his father's dark prophesy is correct. Here are Toby Young's six problems with a meritocracy.

1. Where meritocracy came from

The word ‘meritocracy’ was coined by my father, a left-wing sociologist called Michael Young, to describe a dystopian society of the future. In his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy, he imagines a 21st Century Britain in which status is determined by a combination of IQ and effort. He acknowledged that this was fairer than an aristocratic society in which status is simply passed on from parents to their children, but it was precisely because meritocracy gave a patina of legitimacy to the inequalities thrown up by free market capitalism that he disapproved of it.

2. Is a meritocratic society fairer?

The political philosopher John Rawls pointed out that a meritocratic society isn’t necessarily fairer than an aristocratic one. After all, the qualities that meritocracy rewards – exceptional intelligence and drive – are, for the most part, natural gifts that people are born with. Since successful people have done nothing to deserve those talents, they don’t deserve the rewards they bring any more than they deserve to inherit a fortune.

3. Complete equality of opportunity

For a society to be 100% meritocratic, you need complete equality of opportunity. But the only way to guarantee that is to remove children from their parents at birth and raise them in identical circumstances. If you don’t do that, the socio-economic status of a child’s parents will inevitably affect that child’s life chances.

4. Is it in the genetics?

According to the political scientist Charles Murray, meritocracy inevitably leads to a genetically-based caste system. Why? Because the traits selected for by the meritocratic sorting principle are genetically-based and, as such, likely to be passed on from parents to their children. Genetic variation means some highly able children will be born to people of average and below average intelligence, but the children of the meritocratic elite will, in aggregate, always have a competitive advantage and over several generations that leads to social ossification.

5. Noblesse oblige

One of the things my father disliked about meritocracy was that it engendered a sense of entitlement amongst the most successful. Because they regard their elevated status as thoroughly deserved, they’re not burdened by a sense of noblesse oblige. At least in an aristocratic society, members of the lucky sperm club are afflicted by guilt and self-doubt and, as such, tend to be a bit nicer to those below them.

6. Is America the most meritocratic country?

Americans like to tell themselves that they live in the most meritocratic country in the world but, in fact, it may be one of the least. In most international league tables of inter-generational social mobility, which measure the chances a child born into one class has of moving into another over the course of their lifetime, America is at the bottom.

[ Of course, lack of mobility could also result in a society that is both meritocratic and already somewhat stratified by genetics. See Income, Wealth, and IQ and US economic mobility data. ]
I wonder whether even Michael Young was aware that the British implementation of meritocracy through competitive civil service and university entrance examinations (a century before his book The Rise of the Meritocracy) was a deliberate adoption of Chinese ways.
Les Grandes Ecoles Chinoises: ... the British and French based their civil service and educational examination systems on the much older Chinese model ...

... French education was really based on the Chinese system of competitive literary examinations, and ... the idea of a civil service recruited by competitive examinations undoubtedly owed its origins to the Chinese system which was popularized in France by the philosophers, especially Voltaire. ...

Summary of the case of Britain and colonial India can be found here. Amusingly, 19th century British writers opposed to the new system of exams referred to it as "... an adopted Chinese culture" (p. 304-305).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Penalized regression from summary statistics

One of the difficulties in genomics is that when DNA donors are consented for a study, the agreements generally do not allow sharing (aggregation) of genomic data across multiple studies. This leads to isolated silos of data that can't be fully shared. However, computations can be performed on one silo at a time, with the results ("summary statistics") shared within a larger collaboration. Most of the leading GWAS collaborations (e.g., GIANT for height, SSGAC for cognitive ability) rely on shared statistics. Simple regression analysis (one SNP at a time) can be conducted using just summary statistics, but more sophisticated algorithms cannot. These more sophisticated methods can generate a better phenotype predictor, using less data, than a SNP by SNP analysis.

For example, the objective function used in LASSO (L1-penalized regression) is of the form

where, for the genomics problem, y is the phenotype vector, X the matrix of genomes, beta the vector of effect sizes, and lambda the penalization. Optimization of this function seems to require access to the full matrix X and vector y -- i.e., requires access to potentially all the genomes and phenotypes at once. Is there a modified version of the algorithm that works on summary statistics, where only subsets of X and y are available? Carson Chow has advocated this approach to me for some time. If one can separately estimate X'X (LD matrix of genomic correlations), and gather X'y (phenotype-SNP correlations) from summary statistics, then LASSO over silo-ed data may become a reality. Of course, the devil is in the details. The paper below describes an approach to this problem.
Polygenic scores via penalized regression on summary statistics

Timothy Mak, Robert Milan Porsch, Shing Wan Choi, Xueya Zhou, Pak Chung Sham

Polygenic scores (PGS) summarize the genetic contribution of a person's genotype to a disease or phenotype. They can be used to group participants into different risk categories for diseases, and are also used as covariates in epidemiological analyses. A number of possible ways of calculating polygenic scores have been proposed, and recently there is much interest in methods that incorporate information available in published summary statistics. As there is no inherent information on linkage disequilibrium (LD) in summary statistics, a pertinent question is how we can make use of LD information available elsewhere to supplement such analyses. To answer this question we propose a method for constructing PGS using summary statistics and a reference panel in a penalized regression framework, which we call lassosum. We also propose a general method for choosing the value of the tuning parameter in the absence of validation data. In our simulations, we showed that pseudovalidation often resulted in prediction accuracy that is comparable to using a dataset with validation phenotype and was clearly superior to the conservative option of setting the tuning parameter of lassosum to its lowest value. We also showed that lassosum achieved better prediction accuracy than simple clumping and p-value thresholding in almost all scenarios. It was also substantially faster and more accurate than the recently proposed LDpred.
See also Bayesian large-scale multiple regression with summary statistics from genome-wide association studies.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

National Geographic: How Humans Are Shaping Our Own Evolution

See also A Brief History of the Future, as told to the Masters of the Universe and Super-Intelligent Humans are Coming.
National Geographic: How Humans Are Shaping Our Own Evolution:

... Unlike our forebears, we may soon not need to wait for evolution to fix the problem. In 2013 Nick Bostrom and Carl Shulman, two researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute, at Oxford University, set out to investigate the social impact of enhancing intelligence, in a paper for Global Policy. They focused on embryo selection via in vitro fertilization. With IVF, parents can choose which embryo to implant. By their calculations, choosing the “most intelligent embryo” out of any given 10 would increase a baby’s IQ roughly 11.5 points above chance. If a woman were willing to undergo more intensive hormone treatments to produce eggs faster—“expensive and burdensome,” as the study notes with understatement—the value could grow.

The real benefit, though, would be in the compound gain to the recipient’s descendants: After 10 generations, according to Shulman, a descendant might enjoy an IQ as much as 115 points higher than his or her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother’s. As he pointed out to me, such a benefit is built on extremely optimistic assumptions, but at the least the average recipient of this genetic massaging would have the intelligence equal to a genius today. Using embryonic stem cells, which could be converted into sperm or ova in just six months, the paper notes, might yield far faster results. Who wants to wait two centuries to be the scion of a race of geniuses? Shulman also mentioned that the paper omitted one obvious fact: “In 10 generations there will likely be computer programs that outperform even the most enhanced human across the board.”

There’s a more immediate objection to this scenario, though: We don’t yet know enough about the genetic basis for intelligence to select for it. One embryo doesn’t do advanced calculus while another is stuck on whole numbers. Acknowledging the problem, the authors claim that the ability to select for “modest cognitive enhancement” may be only five to 10 years off.

At first glance this would seem improbable. The genetic basis of intelligence is very complex. Intelligence has multiple components, and even individual aspects—computational ability, spatial awareness, analytic reasoning, not to mention empathy—are clearly multigenetic, and all are influenced by environmental factors as well. Stephen Hsu, vice president for research at Michigan State University, who co-founded the Cognitive Genomics Lab at BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute), estimated in a 2014 article that there are roughly 10,000 genetic variants likely to have an influence on intelligence. That may seem intimidating, but he sees the ability to handle that many variants as nearly here—“in the next 10 years,” he writes—and others don’t think you’d need to know all the genes involved to start selecting smarter embryos. “The question isn’t how much we know or don’t know,” Church says. “It’s how much we need to know to make an impact. ..."

On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits
Somewhere ... It's happening...

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Chomsky: Russia conspiracy theories "a joke"

Chomsky on the current media / left obsession with anti-Russia conspiracy theories. I guess he and Trump are both Putin puppets... Oops, except Trump just attacked Assad and risked killing Russian soldiers. So that just leaves Chomsky.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a pretty remarkable fact that—first of all, it is a joke. Half the world is cracking up in laughter. The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like, institutes military dictatorships. Simply in the case of Russia alone—it’s the least of it—the U.S. government, under Clinton, intervened quite blatantly and openly, then tried to conceal it, to get their man Yeltsin in, in all sorts of ways. So, this, as I say, it’s considered—it’s turning the United States, again, into a laughingstock in the world.

So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia? That’s—the tensions on the Russian border are extremely serious. They could escalate to a major terminal war. Efforts to try to reduce them should be welcomed. ...

So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful. So, you know, yeah, maybe the Russians tried to interfere in the election. That’s not a major issue. Maybe the people in the Trump campaign were talking to the Russians. Well, OK, not a major point, certainly less than is being done constantly. And it is a kind of a paradox, I think, that the one issue that seems to inflame the Democratic opposition is the one thing that has some justification and reasonable aspects to it.

... Well, you can understand why the Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the fact—for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win, handed it over to the opposition

... NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border. The Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This—something could get out of hand very easily. ... people like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist at all, is saying that we’re back to the—this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War, if not worse.
See also Trump: Give Peace a Chance, Obama: "Don't do stupid sh*t", and Trump, Putin, Stephen Cohen, Brawndo, and Electrolytes.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Sex Differences In The Adult Human Brain: UK Biobank data

Male brains exhibit larger variance across all morphological measures. (Don't tell Larry Summers! ;-)

Note, as far as I can tell the authors don't normalize the SD by mean value for each gender to obtain the typical percentage fluctuation (a dimensionless quantity). The male brain is about 10% larger and each of the subregions is roughly that much bigger as well. If you divide the larger male SD by the larger male mean for each morphology the effect is much smaller than tabulated in the second figure below.
Sex Differences In The Adult Human Brain: Evidence From 5,216 UK Biobank Participants


Sex differences in human brain structure and function are of substantial scientific interest because of sex-differential susceptibility to psychiatric disorders and because of the potential to explain sex differences in psychological traits. Males are known to have larger brain volumes, though the patterns of differences across brain subregions have typically only been examined in small, inconsistent studies. In addition, despite common findings of greater male variability in traits like intelligence, personality, and physical performance, variance differences in the brain have received little attention. Here we report the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain to date (2,750 female and 2,466 male participants aged 44-77 years). Males had higher cortical and sub-cortical volumes, cortical surface areas, and white matter diffusion directionality; females had thicker cortices and higher white matter tract complexity. Considerable overlap between the distributions for males and females was common, and subregional differences were smaller after accounting for global differences. There was generally greater male variance across structural measures. The modestly higher male score on two cognitive tests was partly mediated via structural differences. Functional connectome organization showed stronger connectivity for males in unimodal sensorimotor cortices, and stronger connectivity for females in the default mode network. This large-scale characterisation of neurobiological sex differences provides a foundation for attempts to understand the causes of sex differences in brain structure and function, and their associated psychological and psychiatric consequences.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Susan Rice and U.S. person information "derived solely from raw SIGINT"

I hope this scandal will focus additional attention on massive bulk collection and preservation of private communications of US citizens by NSA.

Media discussion continues to focus on "unmasking" = dissemination of identities of US individuals. However, I have yet to see discussion of whether someone like Rice could order specific database searches (e.g., by NSA, of preserved records) on a specific individual to acquire intercepts such as voice transcripts, emails, etc. It doesn't seem to become an unmasking until that information is distributed in the form of an intelligence report (or, is such a request automatically an unmasking?). The search results alone constitute an invasion of individual privacy. It is unclear to me who has access to such results, and under what conditions the searches can be requested. There are well known instances of NSA employees abusing these powers: see LOVEINT. Could the White House order something similar without a record trail? (See excerpt added below.)
Bloomberg: Susan Rice Sought Names in Trump Intel, Says Eli Lake

Former national security adviser Susan Rice made multiple requests for the identities of people connected to the transition team of Donald Trump contained in raw intelligence reports, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake has the details.
From Nunes, Trump, Obama and Who Watches the Watchers?, this is the legal standard that the Susan Rice unmaskings will be judged by:
Section VI: ... An IC element may disseminate U.S. person information "derived solely from raw SIGINT" under these procedures ... if ... the information is “necessary to understand the foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information,”
Richard Haas notes that this kind of activity on the part of Susan Rice and NSC staff is only justifiable under "extraordinary circumstances"!

Added (from comments):
The Observer: ... In addition, Rice didn’t like to play by the rules, including the top-secret ones. On multiple occasions, she asked the NSA to do things they regarded as unethical and perhaps illegal. When she was turned down — the NSA fears breaking laws for any White House, since they know they will be left holding the bag in the end — Rice kept pushing.

As a longtime NSA official who experienced Rice’s wrath more than once told me, “We tried to tell her to pound sand on some things, but it wasn’t allowed—we were always overruled.” On multiple occasions, Rice got top Agency leadership to approve things which NSA personnel on the front end of the spy business refused. This means there may be something Congress and the FBI need to investigate here.


John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.

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