Children’s ability to do better than their parents has as much to do with their genes as their environment

Cutting-edge DNA research from Kings College London (KCL) has suggested that whether children are socially mobile or not has as much to do with their genes as with their environment.

Previously, it was widely acknowledged that the best way to predict children’s educational attainment was to look at their parents’ educational level.

In the past, the association between parents’ and children’s level of education was thought to be environmental. However, the KCL researchers found that a child’s genes are 50% responsible for whether they are socially mobile, and can achieve higher levels of educational attainment, or not.

“The role of parent’s education in their children’s educational outcomes has previously been thought of as environmental, but our study suggests a strong genetic component too. These results show that half of the differences between whether families were socially mobile or not, can be attributed to genetic differences between them,” said Ziada Ayorech, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

“This tells us that if we want to reduce educational inequalities, it’s important to understand children’s genetic propensity for educational achievement. That way, we can better identify those who require more support.”

The KCL study, published today in Psychological Science, used two methods to test the role of genetics in social mobility.

Firstly, the researchers used a sample of more than 6,000 identical and non-identical twins to infer what influence genes had on educational attainment.

The researchers also used an alternative method to study genetic influences on social mobility that focuses on people’s DNA markers for educational achievement, or so-called genome-wide polygenic scores (GPS).

They found that children with higher polygenic scores completed A-levels, even if they had come from families where no parent had gone to university.

The highest polygenic scores were found in children that were raised in families with a university-educated parent, while the lowest scores were reserved for those whose parents did not attend university.

“Finding genetic influences on social mobility can be viewed as an index of equality, rather than inequality. The reason is that genetics can only play a significant role for children’s educational attainment if their environmental opportunities are relatively equal,” Dr Sophie von Stumm, senior lecturer at Goldsmiths University of London.

198 million Americans hit by voter records leak should get immediate credit freeze: experts

The 198 million US voters whose personal data was left on an unsecured server for anyone to access should request an immediate credit freeze to avoid having their identities stolen as a result of the breach, security experts have said.

“The members of the electorate involved in this incident should immediately request a credit freeze with the major credit bureaus, and keep close track of account activity through commercial credit monitoring services, or monitoring of their own accounts,” advised Robert Capps, VP of business development at NuData Security.

The data, which includes personal data and information on who each person is set to vote for and why, is thought to be the largest ever exposure of voter data, covering the vast majority of the 200 million people registered to vote in the US.

It was left on an open Amazon S3 storage server by Deep Root Analytics, a Republican data analytics company, and was discovered by Chris Vickery, a cyber risk analyst from UpGuard.

At present there does not appear to be a way in which individuals can check if they were affected, but anyone registered to vote in the US is likely to be at risk.

Graphic courtesy of UpGuard

While the focus of the data was voting behaviour, containing information on the subject that goes back over a decade, voters should be more concerned about how their data could be used for more malicious purposes.

“This is a serious data leak, which allows nation states to target ordinary US citizens for additional attacks and surveillance, as well as detailed voting information,” said Capps.

“If this wasn’t bad enough, this highly detailed data could potentially be combined with stolen personal data from other data breaches already available on the dark web to create rich profiles of these individuals.

“Such profiles can be leveraged by cybercriminals and nation-state actors to not only track voting habits, but also use their identities for account takeovers, apply for new credit, and much more.”

People cast their votes in the 2012 presidential election in Ventura Country, CA. Image courtesy of Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

While the risk to those affected is similar to previous leaks, this is not a leak or hack in the classic sense, but instead a matter of poor security practices.

“It sounds to me that this is another case of incorrectly secured cloud based systems,” explained Terry Ray, chief product strategist at Imperva.

“Certainly, security of private data – especially my data, as I am a voter – should be of paramount concern to companies who offer to collect such data, but that security concern should ratchet up a few marks when the data storage transitions to the cloud, where poor data repository security may not have the type of secondary data centre controls of an in-house, non-cloud data repository.“