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That Popper story is wild! Phil Getz or anyone else, you have more detail on that, or any primary sources, so I can look into it more? Thanks!

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I can think of several families in the arts where you have more than one really famous person. The Holbeins. The Brueghels. The Bachs. The Brontes, of course. The Wolstonecrafts. The Rossettis. Father and son Dumas. Father and son Renoir. The Pissarros. Sigmund Freud and grandson are the most famous of the many successful Freuds. Father and son Amis. AS Byatt and Margaret Drabble.

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Also, let's not forget Kurt Vonnegut's brother is Bernard Vonnegut!! An American atmospheric scientist credited with discovering that silver iodide could be used effectively in cloud seeding to produce snow and rain.

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Btw Scott, you yourself as a blogger and your brother the jazz pianist are no slouches either! There’s no straightforward ‘nobel prizes’ for either blogging or piano playing, but for both I’d intuitively call it fair to rank you ‘world class’.

Soooo… What would your personal experiences/explanations be, anything beyond stereotipical (ahkenazi) jewish upbringing?

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At least in physics, Phil Getz is completely wrong. There are observational papers written on particle detectors, and astronomical observations, and then there are separate numerical modeling or theoretical papers written to explain them.

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George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un.

I am not trying to troll, just pointing out that similar reasons, i.e. being an elite, may have played a role in some other cases as well. Say, Darwins. A percentage of population that had enough wealth to devote their entire time to science must have been miniscule in XIX. century. Assuming some variation in the family culture (e.g. fox-hunting vs. learning) and the number of relatives, which grows exponentially with every further level of relatedness and I am not at all surprised that some of the high-achievers were mutually related.

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I think it's worth pushing back against the Mike Piazza example, since we have a good source for late bloomers with Football/Soccer. In the UK, there are 4 fully professional leagues, with most of the teams in the 2 tiers below those also professional. There's going to be something like 125+ fully professional teams for aspiring football players to join, and even if you don't make that cut you can just play as an amateur in the 7th, 8th 9th tiers of football and still expect to get picked up by a better team if you're a late bloomer.

Jamie Vardy is a good example; spent his youth with a team in the very low tiers, and was still only in the 5th tier conference by 25, the peak of most players careers. It wasn't until he was 28/29 that he really broke out and became one of the world's best strikers.

Yet Vardys are extremely rare at the upper level. Late bloomers in football are almost always playing at a pretty decent level before going up a notch and you hardly ever see players plucked from non league obscurity at older ages. Even in Piazzas case, I understand there's a pretty decent minor league system in baseball where he could have had a chance. I don't think the connections argument really holds up in sports.

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Re: "interesting families I’d missed", I'm suprised that Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) hasn't yet cropped up. Conveniently, from Wikipedia:

"Many of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards's descendants became prominent citizens in the United States, including the third U.S. vice president Aaron Burr and the College Presidents Timothy Dwight, Jonathan Edwards Jr. and Merrill Edwards Gates. Jonathan and Sarah Edwards were also ancestors of Edith Roosevelt, the writer O. Henry, the publisher Frank Nelson Doubleday and the writer Robert Lowell."

That he died in connection with vaccines makes him kind of topical ... :-o ... "Edwards, a strong supporter of smallpox inoculations, decided to get inoculated himself in order to encourage others to do the same. Never having been in robust health, he died as a result of the inoculation on March 22, 1758."

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Re the statistical clustering question, I think you're being overly generous using the whole population of the first world countries when for large swathes of the population they just don't have the opportunity to study things at a more advanced level. However true you think that is now, it was certainly true in the late 19th and early 20th century, where a lot of the more impressive clusters come from.

Let's take Darwin's family as an example:

The numbers of people attending university at the time of Darwin were tiny, and not particularly selected by merit, but mostly children of the aristocracy, scholarships were near nonexistent, and without universal primary and secondary education most people couldn't have gotten them anyway, and even within the (male) elite there were other arbitrary constraints like religion.

I can't find good numbers for 19th century England, but for America in the 1940s https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_United_States#/media/File%3AEducational_Attainment_in_the_United_States_2009.png about 5% of the population had graduated from university, and less than half had graduated high school. (If anyone can find other numbers let me know)

UK population was 17.9 million in 1850. Cambridge apparently had 441 matriculated students per year then. https://www.cam.ac.uk/about-the-university/history/nineteenth-and-twentieth-centuries. And, depending how you classify there were about 10 universities in the UK. Darwin attended earlier in the century when the numbers would have been even lower.

Based on that it seems reasonable to approximate the population who could have reasonably done the things Darwin's family did as about 100k to one million. That gives a much more reasonable denominator for comparing Darwin's family to.

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I wonder if there are "evil success" examples that might have been missed. For example, are there any successful scientists/athletes/musicians/writers/etc who have branches of the family with successful dictators, or crime bosses?

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I strongly disagree with the suggestion that a person's "drive" or "aspiration" are somehow easy to manipulate by good parenting. This neurological trait is mainly controlled by brain chemistry, and I cannot see why it should be less heritable than IQ. You can take stimulants to have a better drive, but in my experience you can't really turn someone into a more driven person by parenting, unless you cure their depression or something. For an example, I had a high drive father and a moderate drive mother, who made great efforts to foster my drive through all my childhood. Well, their genes seemed to have combined in a way that gives me a low-moderate drive, and the childhood drive-fostering efforts were somewhat painful actually. They probably would have had more success had they fed me full of stimulants.

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I'm just here to remind people that James Hutton nailed natural selection far before Darwin and the success of Origin of Species had maybe the most to do with the 1890s

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I was reading molecular biology papers from the early 2000s earlier that were doomed and now useless due to temporal variations/inputs we know about now and didn't know then-

Sometimes I think success is recognizing where progress can and can't be made. I would like to honor all the hard working scientists who spent years of their life and millions of funding on doomed projects.

I've mentioned to other first gen immigrants and hard working researchers about how quickly one should quit labs and companies that were doomed, vaporware, or false advertising (there's so much bad science in stem cell biology because the foundation of the field is a bed of assumptions on ex vivo modeling you can't make) - and they all sort of give me a shocked "that would look bad on my CV" look and I realize they're thinking about their career and committing to bad projects over literal scientific progress. And the former isn't bad, but it is ubiquitous.

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On the topic of investing in stocks, Scott, would you consider writing a quick intro to the hows and whys, for those of us whose reaction is the same as your friend's?

(I'm sure there are such articles out there, but if it's written by Scott then a) I trust it and b) it won't make my eyes glaze over like most financial writing.)

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>Then you all write up a proposal saying what you plan to discover and how you'll discover it, along with your bioethics review, environmental impact statement, and diversity plan, and submit it to a government agency's grant solicitation. Then you wait 4 months to hear back from them. Then, if you get an award, you wait another 3 months for the kickoff meeting, at which you discover the contracting officer who gave you the reward has been transferred, and you now work with a contracting officer who isn't interested in your project and wants you to do something else.

He's not exaggerating.

And unfortunately for actual science, these days funding bodies really care about the diversity statements.

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> I agree it’s awkward that we can only do these calculations well with Nobels (and maybe Olympic medalists?) A really rigorous attempt at this would try to find some way of quantifying extreme but not Nobel-level talent...

I think there are many other criteria you can look at depending on the area:

* Within academia, how about the h-index? Another option could be to look at a wider range of prizes than just the Nobel. Maybe even include membership in the country's scientific society?

* Within the business/startup world, you can look at income or being the founder or CEO of a successful company.

* For authors, you can at least measure popularity by appearing on bestseller lists, it would be harder to measure aesthetic quality.

* Within popular sports, reaching the professional leagues is exclusive enough, and for for more obscure (and more individualistic) sports you can look at college-level championships winners.

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Gunnar and Alva Myrdal aren't the only prolific couples, whose lineage saw great success. Adam & Eve are mostly known for being the world's first sinners. The intermingling of Adam and Eve eventually gave rise to all Twelve tribes of Israel. Their great*6 grandson Noah is a well-known naval engineer. Their great*15 grandson Abraham is known as the spiritual progenitor of 3 major religions. Abraham's great*11 grandson David rose to the tenure of King of the United Monarchy of Israel and Judah, which started a lineage of kings that persisted for another 15 generations. This lineage later produced Jesus (also known as Christ), an eccentric apocalyptic preacher who produced the intellectual substructure to what would become Christianity.

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"A really rigorous attempt at this would try to find some way of quantifying extreme but not Nobel-level talent"

I would suggest checking out The Son Also Rises by Gregory Clark, which describes research using census records and surnames to trace social mobility over long time periods (e.g, centuries). Clark was initially agnostic about the causes but I think he's swung around to genetics as the most plausible factor (given results from heritability and adoption studies, finding similar correlations between siblings regardless of family size, et cetera.) Recessive genetics plus assortative mating and the law of averages accounts for the paradoxical finding of high social mobility at the individual level within one generation combined with almost no social mobility at the family level across multiple generations.



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Re: Phil Getz’s comment that “you can’t just write a note of observation to the royal society anymore’ and the Brownian motion example.

You do seem to be able to post a pure observation to Yourube. I’ve been following the discovery of a new physics phenomenon on YouTube. It’s called the Mould effect, it happens when certain chains are dropping out of a container, the chain’s length rises into the air before it plummets down.

A YouTube named Steve Mould found this and made a video about it, another YouTube responded, they both formed mathematical models and then tested them.

Later on, the Proceedings of the Royal Society published a paper with a description of the phenomenon and a math model.

So, this kind of thing is still possible. No Popper-style papers seem to have been involved in the discovery.

A Video by original discoverer Steve Mould


Video about royal society paper


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How much is from nepotism?

Jerry Brown’s father Pat Brown was governor before him, and passed “environmental” regulations to make the state dependent on Getty-owned oil leases after receiving bribes from Bill Newsom. Bill Newsom was attorney to J. Paul Getty. His grandson Gavin Newsom is the current governor of California, and Nancy Pelosi’s nephew.


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"Nobels are so selective that you can’t just leave desirable character traits on the ground."


I'm reminded of the story of Brian Josephson. He's the "Josephson" from the "Josephson junctions" that modern quantum computers are built out of. Big name if you've ever studied superconductors, not a huge name outside the field.

Anyhow, he has a Nobel for his work. But the actual prediction that he made was just a very simple and straightforward consequence of a theory that had been proposed by someone else. It was so simple a grad student could have figured it out - which we know empirically, because Josephson was a 22 year old grad student when he wrote the paper!

If you think that because Nobel prizes are so selective that Josephson winning one at 22 means that he must be a staggering genius, a paragon of many different necessary character traits, then to you I say... that Josephson has had a mundane career exercising his physics skills since then, and the major other notable fact about them is his firm belief in homeopathy and "water memory."

I'm not saying this to dunk on him. I'm not saying that Josephson is the outlier. I'm saying that the Nobel prize is very selective and yet it's still always like this! Scientists are constantly, constantly looking at things and going "huh, that's funny." And sometimes when you do that, you're looking at the anti-viral proteins of bacteria and you discover CRISPR. And other times, you're looking at the immune proteins of humans and you discover a completely boring paper that gets published in a B-tier journal and then is only of note to the people who work in your exact sub-field. And you don't know ahead of time which it's going to be! Thousands and thousands of scientists are pulling the handle on reality's slot machine each year, and they're almost all very smart and nice people, but we shouldn't confuse the output of the slot machine with a highly selective judgment about their personal characteristics.

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Nobel prizes are voted on through a recommendation system, so if you already have a strong network of scientists you have a huge advantage because that means they know about your work and would recommend it. I'm going to be bold and say that nobel prizes don't really say anything about your abilities relative to others. Especially ones given for softer skills like politics or economics.

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> This is true! All my regression-to-the-mean calculations were wrong because of selection bias

Hmm. I didn't read much of the first article because the observation seemed so uninteresting. But if you want to claim that families shouldn't be able to consistently perform at a high level because of regression to the mean, it sounds like you don't understand regression to the mean in the context of heritability.

The Breeder's Equation tells us that the mean value of a trait in one generation is the product of two values calculated over the previous generation:

(1) The heritability of the trait.

(2) The difference between the average value of the trait in the previous generation, and the average value of the trait in the population from which the previous generation was drawn.

So, if you select a bunch of dogs (generation 0) with a mean weight of 0.3 standard deviations above the norm, and you breed them, and the heritability of weight turns out to be 0.7, then the mean weight in generation 1 will be 0.21 "reference standard deviations" above the "reference norm", where the reference values are just the same values for the overall population from which generation 0 was selected.

If you then breed generation 1 to produce generation 2, the mean weight in generation 2 will also be 0.21 reference deviations above the reference norm -- which is to say, it will not regress at all. Generation 1 had a higher mean weight than the general run of dogs. But they didn't come from the general run of dogs, so that's irrelevant. Generation 1 was already at its own mean weight.

You may notice that elite families keep careful track of which other families they intermarry with. This is not a coincidence.

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I'm not really a fan of the current style of scientific writing, but claiming that it prevents science from communicating unexplained observations seems completely false to me. Writing a paper we "with don't know" as the explanation is definitely still possible, although it might need to be phrased as "the observations are inconsistent with any known theoretical model". A lot of scientific communication occurs at conferences instead of in papers, and the standards for presenting at a conference are much laxer than for publishing a paper.

The first example of a recent unexplained scientific observation I can think of is switchbacks in the solar wind measured by Parker Solar Probe. Parker Solar Probe is a spacecraft launched in 2018 to go closer to the sun than any other man-made object. A surprising thing that it frequently saw are "switchbacks": waves where the direction of the magnetic field abruptly changes, but the magnitude of the magnetic field remains almost constant. We don't have a good theoretical explanation, but there have already been hundreds of papers written about them.


The bigger problem with scientific writing norms is that they make science more exclusive, not that they make give priority to theory over experiment. Scientific papers are not designed to be readable by anyone who is not familiar with the field. Writing a scientific paper is even more exclusive because you have to already know enough to write a literature review.

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While reading that post, I thought about something I discovered while researching genealogy. It's an example of a family with several highly-accomplished members, even if none of them are household names in the current era.

One of my ancestors lived in the same town as Oliver Ellsworth (born in 1745 in British North America, died 1807 in the United States; he served in Continental Congress, was part of the Constitutional Convention, served in the the U.S. Senate, and served on the U.S. Supreme Court). The family relation between my ancestor(s) and Ellsworth was likely some sort of cousin, but I haven't spent a lot of time trying to piece that out.

Oliver Ellsworth has his own wiki page. Among his 9 children are two who have their own wiki pages. He also has a grand-son who has his own wiki page. These men served as Patent commissioners, Congressmen, governors, mayors, and even presidents of insurance companies.

Oliver was connected by marriage to the relatives of former Colonial governor Roger Wolcott, and one of his children was connected by marriage to the family of Noah Webster.

Is this evidence of a large family increasing the odds of high-IQ-and-high-accomplishment children? Is this evidence that network effects (or Hero License) give certain families an advantage in politics?

I'm not sure.

I also know of a branch of my family tree where one man was an officer in the Colonial militia, and several of his sons rose to the level of officers in the Colonial militia, and several more of his grand-sons rose to the level of officers in the Colonial militia, and a couple of great-grandsons were officers in units that fought in the Revolutionary War. Most of these individuals were also involved in town-politics, and a few were leaders in settling new towns up the river from the current city. One member of that branch of the family built a historic house that still stands.

In both of these cases, arguments could be made for some form of inherited-IQ-advantage, or some form of Hero License, or some form of Network Effect enabling a particular kind of success. (Of note, many of those early-Colonial-America families had six to ten children...so if large family size increases the odds of any of those three happening, then we should expect this kind of Success-in-the-Family-Business to happen often there. But most of these are people who would only be recognized by genealogy nerds, or by historians who specialize in that time and place.)

I can't tell you what conclusion to draw. But I can tell you that this kind of thing happens at lower levels than the Great Families you mentioned in your post.

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> You're not allowed to do that today. If you notice something funny, you can't just write a note to the Royal Society describing it.

What I thought about when reading the Phil Getz quote was the YouTuber Steve Mould.

He does science videos and he noticed something weird called the Chain Fountain and he made a video about it.


Ever since then (back in 2013) him and other YouTubers have been trying to explain the effect. There's been published papers on it. There's been a good-natured feud over the past year between two competing theories.

Maybe the urge to do science the Old Way is so high that it's evolving around the Bad New Way.

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Man I really need to find some more ambitious people to surround myself with for this reason. (also for less cynical reasons like them being good company)

I'm planning to relocate soon and wondering how highly to weight 'near a decent university' for this reason

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Prince William's mother is Queen Elizabeth.

Her father was George VI.

His father was George V.

His father was Edward VII.

His mother was Queen Victoria.

Her grandfather was George III.

All famous for being in ruling positions in major countries, and having a large effect on the state of the world today.

Has such an unexplainable, unexpected grouping of talent in one family been seen before?

It must be genetic transmission of IQ!

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Re: Phil Getz on Popper. Does anyone know how did scientists earn their living back when this "just publish an observation" kind of thing was possible?

I have a feeling that with the current state of affairs where scientists are usually full-time salaried

(or even tenured) professionals and usually funded by the public at large, this can't ever work - the public will feel like it's wasting its money by paying a bunch of people for essentially being "professional curious guys who ponder interesting questions about life and the world". The current state where publications include lit review, hypotheses, etc at least feel like a "finished good" that the scientists has produced.

I am in a line of work where we do data analysis for commercial clients, and we definitely experience this kind of pressure where the client needs clear-cut answers based on the data they have, and they're absolutely not going to accept us coming back and saying "sorry, this is really complex, we might need another, umm, couple years to pick at this".

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SBF: "You're not taking all successful people at random, you're selecting for people who have successful families -- so you're probably selecting for people who don't just have high IQ, but for whom it's highly genetic/inheritable rather than random factors."

Scott: "This is true! All my regression-to-the-mean calculations were wrong because of selection bias - since we’re looking specifically at geniuses who we know had talented families, we should assume their intelligence was more genetic than average."


I think what happened was that geniuses assortatively mated and kept a high genotypic family mean which is what they would regress toward, rather than the population mean. I think that heritability was probably higher in past areas and you can't use the .5 - .8 heritability estimates. Without knowing the heritability or mean, the calculation won't make sense. I don't know what the heritability of intelligence would've been in 1800, but I would think it was lower. When people are adopted from developing nations and come to the USA, they get a boost in IQ. Also there was a the phenomenon of increasing secular IQ scores. Now, we can't really find much to change IQ for the better. I think that in 1800, we could probably find more things.

Francis Galton tried to examine this in his book Hereditary Genius where he examined the difference between boys adopted by popes and sons of eminent men. He found eminence heritable and that eminent men had relatives in different fields which were eminent. This showed that mental ability was general and not specific.

Gregory Clark has examined surnames to look at the preservation of status, wealth and power across generations and finds that it is persistent across hundreds of years. To know the exact numbers, you can see his book The Son Also Rises.

Seems reasonable to me that it might not be entirely intelligence but intelligence is a prerequisite for eminence. There are probably other traits and in an earlier era, the ability to eat better and have exposure to academic things were important. I think environment mattered more in the past and the people who provided the good environment were probably genetically gifted.

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While there's all sorts of ways in which Popper is both descriptively and normatively wrong about science, and all sorts of ways in which I think Popper is a baleful influence on the self-conception of scientists, I don't think this particular point being made here is an especially accurate or important one.

Getz is right that Popper is an anti-inductivist, so he thinks it is impossible for observations to support a theory. But Popper does think experiment and empiricism are essential in science - his picture of science involves coming up with a falsifiable theory, in whatever creative way you do, and then proposing an experiment to test it. His emphasis on falsifiability as a criterion of meaningfulness is widely adopted by scientists, and leads them to say things that discount the importance of coming up with alternate metaphysical views that enable theories to be developed in different ways. He's not the proximate influence behind the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, but he is the influence behind everyone who says we shouldn't consider alternatives because the difference between Copenhagen and the alternatives would be unfalsifiable.

The point being described here however is common not just to Popper, but is central to frequentist statistical methodology, and is even accepted to some degree by Bayesians. The point is the same as the one that pre-registration is after. The space of possibly hypotheses is so large that it's always possible to come up with a hypothesis that fits the data after the fact. However, it's more impressive if your hypothesis that you came up with beforehand fits data that it wasn't specifically designed to fit.

As a good example, consider Saussure's development of the "laryngeal hypothesis" in Indo-European (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laryngeal_theory). He noticed a pattern in the vowel structure of the reconstructed Indo-European language, that he could explain if there had once been a time when the language had two additional consonants, that affected the development of the vowels, but then at a later generation disappeared before the descendant languages split. This was a nice theory on the basis of the data he had. But the bigger test was a few decades later, when inscriptions in Ancient Hittite were discovered, and decoded, and realized to be another Indo-European language. Intriguingly, the Hittite language had two additional consonants that appeared in exactly the places that Saussure predicted them to occur. This is much stronger evidence for the laryngeal hypothesis than if Saussure had based his theory on the Hittite evidence (because in that latter case it would still leave open the idea that Hittite developed these consonants independently from the proto-Indo-European language).

The same thing goes on with the classic tests of relativity - the fact that the eclipse was measured *after* Einstein had made his predictions about how gravity would lens light made it clearer that he was onto something than it would be if he had proposed his theory in light of that evidence as well as his thought experiments.

Someone else in this thread already pointed out that there are major branches of physics were people publish things closer to pure observations, so that Getz's claim just isn't accurate as a model of how science has been influenced by Popper. The real thing here is just the observation even Bayesians accept - it's more impressive to predict data you didn't know about at the time you made your theory than it is to come up with a theory that fits the data you already have, and this impressiveness lends extra credibility to the hypothesis.

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I think you're wildly overestimating the odds of parent-child Nobels, at least in science, when you assume it ought to be a random selection process. I think what you're missing is that the Nobel is given for a certain and very specific piece of *work* and not as some kind of recognition of a person's broad contributions or ability.

And as it happened there were several examples where parent and child worked on the same, or very similar, problems -- the Braggs, Curies, Thomsons, and Bohrs all fit in that category -- and it was that particular avenue of work that paid off brilliantly, and which was recognized by the Nobel committee (indeed, the Braggs actually shared the 1915 prize).

Anyone in science will tell you, picking the right problem and the right approach is about 90% of recognized success. You don't even have to be *that* brilliant if you pick the right problem. That's not to say that there isn't a form of brilliance in picking the right problem -- there definitely is -- but since it partakes in part of an awareness of what the research world would find especially interesting, there is an aspect of "social intelligence" here which is not precisely what most people mean when they say "boy he's really smart in physics."

More importantly, it is *definitely* the kind of thing that can be transmitted within a family. "Hey, son/daughter, want to work with me on X-ray crystallography / radiation / a new theory of the atom? Let me explain why it's really cool..." It's "access" at the most important possible level: being invited to work on a problem, with an approach, which is sufficiently important and brilliant that *the work* has an excellent chance of coming to the Nobel committee's attention. It's like being J. Random Law Student but your father is a Supreme Court Justice and he invites you to clerk for him. The chance to work on the most challenging and interesting of cases -- would it be any kind of surprise if your odds of winning a Nobel in constitutional law (if there were one) were tremendously boosted, regardless of your individual brilliance?

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"I can also see the connection to sports. I got good enough at a sport that a coach wanted me to go for the olympics, but I did it by wrecking my body. I don't think I'm particularly physically gifted, but I was maybe more willing to tear myself apart in pursuit of something that looked like possible greatness."

I know this is a widely-held belief, but I have always been curious about the supposed causation between the training that makes you the best at moving your musculoskeletal system in a certain way and then a later decline. If the training builds your body up, how does it also at the same time contribute to breaking your body down?

I'm not trying to be snarky--I wonder what nuance I'm missing. (Also, I'm not talking about situations where an athlete's body "breaking down" is unrelated to the athlete's training - like when an NFL player breaks a bone or gets a concussion from being tackled. I'm thinking more about something like swimming or running or tennis.

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I'd agree more with the connections, wealth, opportunity, and world framing that goes into making these things seem possible. Intelligence or whatever is overestimated in my view as the upper ranks of every place I've ever been are filled with incompetent 'scions' of families with loads of connections, wealth, etc. where their starting job is PhD Post-Doc or Executive VP of some department in a family owned company and I'd have to spend 20 very lucky years in a career to even begin to break through where they got to start in life and then I'd only have 10% of what they had.

I recall very clearly on the day I finished my undergrad that I finally felt that I understood enough abut the system to begin and yet I was at the end of the process. Only through dealing with last minute issues did I even know what a 'Dean' was or that I could pursue research opportunities. I was in my final year trying to get the extra lab work to quality for a PhD program that a well informed 1st year would be doing from day 1 and none of the professors would invest time in me as they wanted 3-4 years of free labour instead of the more limited time I had left.

And all this structure and competition was in a lower ranked University which was the best I could do for similar reasons of lacking the structure and family wisdom to advance myself. I always felt the other kids showed up knowing the lay of the land and were able to swing from one rope to another through a labyrinth and obstacle course which I spent my entire 4 years try to figuring out parts of.

I didn't really grasp that any of this was possible for me, often not until the end and then life gets in the way....really life got in the way both before and after each opportunity rendering them unknown or unviable.

I went on to get the missing working/lab experience and spent many years in research labs to the point that I cultivated two clear and distinct opportunities to go for a PhD, one of them with clear support from a very prominent member in the field. And yet I was simply too poor to pursue it and too in debt from my degrees by that time and had to turn it down. So even taking what I learned at 21 years old and trying to fix things to get on the right path just wasn't practical by the time I got there.

The same was true with home ownership, my rent was larger than the monthly payments to rent in my city, but I never had the multipole hundred thousands of dollars to get onto that ladder. I'd be halfway retired from the equity in that place alone if I'd bought instead of rented. But that was just not possible for me to have 8 years worth of pre-tax income on hand at 23 years old with no family backing. This kind of snowball effect is for everything in life where starting higher up the hill matters most.

I simply could not pursue those PhDs unless I'd agree to multiple years of poverty working full time job while doing a full time PhD just to make basic rent. Not to mention the creation of a potential life debt instead of only a large debt - I'd have to risk it all and either win and get lucky after winning vs trapping myself in forever debt just to walk onto the field to give greatness a try.

Also I'd moved countries and would have to give up on all that in order to chase down those opportunities after a PhD. I can say that 100% of the rest of my lab were able to live at home with family for free, relied on a partner to pay the way, or were ridiculously rich. All advantages and forms of wealth I did not have.

One guy had his wife and mom fly in to spend time with him and cook for him from another country and he had to fly home to attend company board meetings for one of the companies his family owned. Meanwhile I'm turning down the same thing while deeply in student debt and already eating from a food bank some days even on a small full time salary in the lowly paid science field because I'm competing with PhD student from wealthy families who are willing to work 6 days a week 10 hours a day for free. Maybe I lacked 'gumption' eh? That or the 40 hours a day I'd need to make it work in my circumstances.

I could have done that and then had a 'ticket' to that big show to see if I could make something out of it, but there were just too many things in the way and too many people with too many advantages around me to feel like I'd ever win. I saw the 100 PhDs to 1 professorship ratio in my field, the total lack of academic freedom, etc. and even winning after yet more hardship looked like losing to me.

Others had that 4 out of 4 Scott talks about and I had like 2 out of 4 at most, being not as 'driven at all costs' or having stubborn family expectations, not to mention their backing or connections or worldview to make 'being a doctor' or 'discovering something important' seem like a reasonable choice to 8 year old me. At that age I was more concerned about getting enough food and not getting molested any more.

I basically had to spend my entire educational and early working years fighting, learning, connecting myself, etc. just to get to open one or two of the doors to a greater path. A path which probably looks like a lesser path to a family dynasty member. My winning path was probably still a 'lesser one', such as Scott 'failing' into psychiatry in his medical doctor family. While others are born to families who have dozens of such doors open and enough resources to not be scared to let their kids throw themselves at several of them.

Intelligence, genetics, etc. probably matter and for more traits than just having a high enough IQ, but the rest of the context seems to matter a lot more. I'd think there could be a trend in the rags to riches stories and from the nobody to famous stories which do not result in family dynasties. I'd guess, just a guess, that those who pull themselves into success from nothing have 15/10 levels of gumption and determination which is a superhuman level while a wealthy and well connected family can have their kids do well with 8/10 gumption.

I've met a few of these types who made it from regular or poor circumstances to high positions and they tend to be nasty anti-social people who are not cultivating their children like good 'old money' who understand aristocracy. I think the 'final boss battle' of success leading to a successful family dynasty of achievement is having that dynastic view from birth.

People who claw their way up the ladder spend huge amounts of time, overcome hurdles others don't face, etc. and it does not lead towards the TLC and investment into their children or the various dynasty level cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. who are also 'of greatness' to pick up the slack when the parent fails due to their single minded determination to advance themselves. No matter how successful they are, they can't be a one person family clan structure, though if they are lucky their achievements will merit them marrying into such a dynastic family to breed scions.

In the 'seeing like a state' version of meta knowledge and the grand old tradition of 'listening to what people say' as for why they do things and what they think is going on in their lives. I'd say there is a big amount of 'confusion' and 'debate' amongst the upper classes about why the poor people don't try to seize opportunities and that there is no 'gate locking them out' and no formal policy to ban people from poor backgrounds from doing xyz....

But if we listen to people who didn't 'see these options' even though the wealthy and privileged can't help but see opportunity everywhere....they will universally say that it is almost entirely about family and lack of opportunity. The rungs of the ladder are invisible to them. Even as the people below are invisible. for Scott to off handedly be semi-surprised that 'some people' might not even think that any level of college is an option is very very strange to me when 70%+ of people today do not attend any form of tertiary education.

I recall a while ago Scott wrote about fashion and trends where you never ever want to be confused for a person who is 1 social class below you, but if you are 2 or more rungs above them then you'll not worry about that. People who are two rungs away from you are basically invisible to you and you'll almost never encounter them in life and never talk to them. The person getting off the yacht in their hobo-chic attire to attend a dynasty family retreat at some country club wing they've rented out for the week....isn't exactly spending time talking to the waiters, valets, and cooks.

I'd say something similar happens across opportunity with class and while the upper class might feel there is debate on this, I have never ever met a single person from the lower classes of educational achievement who did not feel that class barriers were enormous and insurmountable in many ways.

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For a lot of these families there is one "tent pole" person and a bunch of successful people. The tent pole person makes the other people seem much more notable. For example Sasha Baron Cohen is a famous actor and comedian. He has a brother and 3 cousins with wikipedia pages. But only one (Simon) has done anything of global note (developing the mind-blindness theory of autism). The rest are really only wikipedia level famous because they are related to Sasha. And its likely Simon's page wouldn't focus so much on his personal life if he wasn't related to Sasha.

How much does this apply to other examples that have been brought up. The Wojcickis were brought up. And one was notable because she was a professor. Thats not very notable to me!

Also, My mother is a professor, my Uncle played for the New England patriots, my cousin is a top junior race car driver. But we are not notable! My mother is a great professor in her niche field. My Uncle played in the 50s and was on the bench. And my cousin is never going to be in NASCAR. But the way I just presented it could be notable to someone and make them think my family fits this pattern.

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This whole discussion has done a lot to convince me of the value of having the right kind of friends and family for being productive.

I mean the fact my wife and I are both academics means that plenty of time that might otherwise be spent talking about the latest movies ends up spent talking over the latest interesting ideas or papers. Having friends and family also in eminent areas just increases the effect. It's not only not knowing the connections or being unsure who to talk to but also how much of the time doing emotional bonding and chit-chat is also training you up.

And sure, part of the answer is that there are a lot of people who would have done equally great things if handed the same opportunities but the other side of this is that there are a lot of ppl who wouldn't and these kind of informal networks and knowing that someone is part of a certain social network/enviornment that produced success in the past is a good thing to exploit in the future.

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I'm very late to this party, but I'm shocked that neither Scott nor the commenters to the original post mentioned the Penroses. Roger is a mathematician and Nobel prize-winning physicist. Brother Jonathan is a grandmaster (in chess). Other brother Oliver is also a physicist. Sister Shirley Hodgson is a geneticist. I'm not an expert on them, but Wikipedia has a lot of info.

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re: unexpectedly opened doors via tenuous ties

seems to me this is at least in part an effect of what sociology knows as strength of weak ties (Granovetter 1973)

(anyone know what are latest views on this? does it still replicate? at least it was still taught in sociology 201 ~10 years ago)

if one were to make more calculations on the randomness of these clusters, this seems a hugely relevant aspect.

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I often think about the probability of a link between the Red Baron and the von Richthofen family in Brazil. The first was a very famous pilot but the Brazilian family became known for the assassination of the parents performed by their daughter Suzane and her boyfriend aided by her boyfriend’s brother. Her mother was a very accomplished psychiatrist and her father was Manfred Albert von Richthofen, a successful german engineer involved in the construction of the Rodoanel roadway in Brazil. He claimed he was a nephew of Manfred von Richthofen - The Red Baron. The german von Richthofen family had also diplomats for the Nazi Germany, geographers, philosophers and political scientists. The shock the crime provoked in Brazilian society is mainly because of the gruesome details and the calculation and planning involved on the murder. During her trial and sentence, Suzane has been described as a highly ingenious person who was capable of seducing Legal members of the justice end fellow prisoners for protection. She married a child murderer in prison because she provided protection for her. The whole thing is full of plot twists and crazy stories but my point is that she’s not an ordinary person, even though she doesn’t have any academic political or economic success. She’s been able to navigate through these quite steady. Her brother who was young at the time of the crime is known for achieving a fairly successful academic life in bio chemistry even though a discrete one.

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Only tangentially related but... Can anyone point me to the research on curiosity? Do we have ways of measuring it? How heritable is it? How correlated with IQ.

Seems to me to be something that isn't discussed enough.

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Honestly this whole series has been the most baffling and frankly despicable thing I've ever read from SSC/ACX. Yes intelligence is heritable, yes some people have more drive than others. But how can you possibly weigh those factors over the sheer compounding material advantages to a family once one member of it has had some sort of exceptional success?

"Interesting story, though in some ways it seems less like hero licensing than communicating basic information, the same way rich parents teach their kids to invest in stocks and poor parents don’t."

Despite growing up "poor" I was always *told* to invest in stocks by parents who did not themselves own stocks (outside of IRAs, which my dad even managed to mismanage completely) or understand them well. In contrast, the rich people I have met were not told to invest in stocks—they were *given* stocks by parents and grandparents who were financially literate and well-established.

More broadly, it is simply not the case that a rich kid and a poor kid pop out of school at 18 (or 22) with everything equal except for what they learned around the dinner table. In addition to the obvious concerted cultivation, there is the sheer inheritance of social capital (a small number of leading colleges like Amherst are *only now* in 2021 beginning to do away with legacy admissions) and real capital (rich people funding their kids' research or unpaid internships and apartments through, first, undergrad summers while "poor" kids are working to meet their financial aid contribution requirements, and then during the open-ended number of years after graduating when they are living in the city pursuing their arts careers or PhDs). People from families like mine that are not "great" don't get handed these things. And the rich keep these material advantages on the down-low because in America we have a culture of pretending that everything we have is deserved by merit, so rich families are motivated by this convention to conceal just how much support they give their children.

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I missed the discussion the first time around, but I'd like to draw attention to another Ashkenazi family with numerous talented people:

First, we have the philosopher Otto Weininger.


Otto's nephew fled Nazism and moved from Austria to the United States and changed his name to Winant. His son became a prominent sociologist in the US.


Howard Winant's 3 children each found success in respective domains:

Carmen Winant as a visual artist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmen_Winant

Gabriel Winant as a historian: https://history.uchicago.edu/directory/gabriel-winant

Johanna Winant as a writer: https://english.wvu.edu/faculty-and-staff/faculty-directory/johanna-winant

Howard's sister is a philosopher: https://csufresno.academia.edu/TerryWinant

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