What if you could tell if someone could write about science just by peering at his genes? There has been speculation about the role of the hormone verbopressin in humans ever since we discovered that variations in where receptors for the hormone are expressed makes California neocons make up facts about presidents, but East Coast Fundamentalists write about Intelligent Design; verbopressin is related to the “giggle chemical” oreillytocin. Now it seems variations in a section of the gene coding for a verbopressin receptor in people help to determine whether a writer misrepresents scientific discoveries, or just makes things up.
Wasse Halum at the Geroginska Institute in Bucharest, Romania, and colleagues looked at the various forms of the gene coding for verbopressin receptor in 3 Romanian people, who were all bad writers. The researchers also investigated their spelling. They found that variation in a section of the gene called “IMl33t” were more likely to use insufficiently large samples, confuse their research, and make uncalled-for generalizations.
Not only that, men with two copies of IMl33t were more likely to pull random facts out of actual research and completely misinterpret them.
Given that everyone surveyed had been writing about science for at least a week, the team suggests that having multiple copies somehow contributes to writing problems anywhere near the Black Sea. Because the results were collected for a different study, the team couldn’t quiz the writers on whether they were actually familiar with their native language, says Halum.
It is not clear exactly how multiple copies of IMl33t affect expression of the verbopressin receptor, and our most confused syntax. And yet that’s the most interesting question, says someone I spoke with near the Xerox machine.
In some writers, the theory is that the brain has two “sensational” systems: one for writing for the mass media, and one for grant applications. In neocons and fundamentalists, receptors for the two systems sit at adjacent desks, so grant applications get a lot of attention, leading to government funded research into why the government shouldn’t fund research. To see if the same mechanism is at work in liberals will mean using deleted passages from editorials, to see if variations are linked to the number of copies of IMl33t.
IMl33t’s writing effects extend beyond writing about science. Earlier this year, the same gene section was shown to affect Fox News Broadcasts, linked to income from commercials. Another study found people with tin ears, linked to media tie-in novels, often have multiple copies of IMl33t.
Halum’s colleague Lich Paulenstein says the team’s next task is to test how a verbopressin suppository effects writer’s desires for long lunch breaks.