We know genes affect intelligence, but we’re years away from understanding how

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Illustration: Edward Carvalho-Monaghan

It’s the stuff of which sci-fi dystopias are made: Scientists have come up with a blood test for smartness.

Until the past few years, the best science available would have been hard-pressed to reliably identify a snippet of DNA associated with something as complex as human intelligence. Today, thanks to recent advances in behavioral genetics, you can spit into a tube, send it off to a lab, and get a number known as a “polygenic score” that gives your rough odds of having high or low intelligence.

The emerging science of genomics and intelligence has alarmed skeptics outside the small world of behavioral genetics, and for good reason. The history of research into how genes affect intelligence is littered with error, forays into eugenics, and, in some cases, outright atrocity. So it comes as little surprise that present-day science is currently being twisted and weaponized as fodder for racist demagoguery, whether geneticists like it or not. …

Power Trip

For the first time, a whole nation of women are being triggered at once, and they’re not afraid to speak

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Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pick a woman in your life. Any woman. Odds are, if you look at her right now, you’ll see it in her face: the brittleness. The weary rage. The way the laughter coming out of her mouth never quite makes it to her eyes. The way she regards people on the street, with a set to her jaw that says, Not today, Satan.

If you’re a woman yourself, maybe you’ll see something a little more tender, too. Maybe she’ll go out of her way to be kind to you. …

”I want to live that more simple life.”

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Illustration: Mallory Heyer

South Ogden, Utah

Medium: How big is South Ogden, Utah?

Mati Spangenburg: Not very big. Probably like 50?

Did you grow up there?

I did. I’ve always lived around this area.

You’re in high school, but you’re also at trade school program, studying to be a medical assistant. Why did you decide to do that?

My mom was a medical assistant, and I always wanted to go into the medical field, but I’m not the biggest fan of school, so I wanted to do something where I could still do medical without spending 12-plus years learning it. I chose a medical assisting program because it would allow me to complete the course by the time I graduated high school. Then I could just get right into medical assisting.

That’s a good plan. You’re also turning 18 soon. Do you plan on voting?

I don’t think so. I know nothing about politics. It doesn’t interest me as much as other things, so I just never really got into politics or presidents and stuff. …

“We walk into school every day feeling very uncomfortable.”

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Illustration: Mallory Heyer

Boston, Massachusetts

Medium: You live in Boston. Where do you go to school?

Kiara Ace: I go to school in Weston [an affluent Massachusetts suburb].

Which is quite a distance away, isn’t it?

Yep. About an hour drive.

What’s Weston like? It’s a pretty white, suburban neighborhood, isn’t it?

Yeah. It’s been tough going to school over there, just because as we got older, more things in the world have been happening. Some people are just really clueless, because most of the kids that are in Weston have never been outside of Weston or experienced things that we have known. Actually, last year there was an incident where the upcoming freshmen were being — they were using very derogatory words like the N-word and stuff like that toward us, and they made a Snapchat group chat that was basically talking about all the METCO kids and calling us the N-word. …

“I try to suppress emotion and just try to focus on the day-to-day.”

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Illustration: Ricky Linn

Bloomington, Indiana

Medium: Are you a writer or an editor for your school paper?

Jennifer Crystal: I’m an editor. This is my second year on staff at the Optimist. I was a staff writer last year, and this is my first year as editor.

What kind of stories have you written?

I’ve written a lot of opinion and satire pieces and a couple of news pieces. I wrote a satirical story about what it’s like being a Christmas-loving Jew. Talking about how my whole life, I’ve dreamed of being a part of this holiday, and how all my problems would be solved if I were to marry a nice Christian boy.

You could have it all, huh?

I could have it all. But right now I’m also working on a story about the opioid epidemic, in Bloomington specifically. I’m gonna talk about pros and cons of the different resources available to addicts, and what they provide to the community, and to the people who are utilizing the resources, and where we’re lacking in Bloomington. …

“Being a teen mom is stigmatized. But having an abortion is even worse.”

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Illustration: Rebecca Clarke

Dallas, Texas

Medium: Are abortion laws in Texas more restrictive than some other states?

“Lucy”: It is very restrictive. I’ll give you a long rundown of what I had to go through. Basically, before I even had any problems with anything, I went to get birth control at a local Planned Parenthood, and they refused me because I was a minor and I needed guardians. They weren’t allowed to refer me to a Title X clinic, so I wasn’t informed about how I might be able to go to different places and get birth control myself, without parents. So, I basically got rejected. …


Forget Silicon Valley biotech wonderdrugs. Leading gerontologists are making a historic bet on metformin.

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Art: Scott Gelber

Old age is, we know, a gauntlet of chronic illness that almost no one gets through without some deep unpleasantness. Most people who reach the upper end of the average human lifespan begin, at some point, to accumulate diseases. For the most lethal maladies of the elderly — heart disease and cancer — the relationship between age and disease is logarithmic. As we grow older, our risk of contracting a chronic disease doesn’t just increase—it accelerates.

Michael Cantor would like to avoid this fate. He’s not a fanatic—not the type to haunt biohacking subreddits for self-quantification tips or take dozens of unproven anti-aging treatments in the off chance one will buy him some yardage. Cantor is a patent lawyer with a prominent practice in West Hartford, Connecticut, where his wife is the mayor. “I don’t even like to take aspirin,” he says. “I’m very nervous to do anything with respect to any other kinds of drugs.” …


Lissa Harris

Writer. Alt-weekly alum. Recovering local-news startup founder. MIT Science Writing ’08. Rural Catskillian, swordfighter, sci-fi enthusiast, queer royalty.

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