Is DNA Ideological Destiny?

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Researchers at Rice University in Houston and University of Nebraska used the results of a twin study to find that ideology has a pretty good-sized heritable component. They report that by

…calculating a simple index of conservatism or liberalism based on the spread of yes or no responses, and constructing a measure of political opinion by looking at how many neutral responses were given. They calculated that between 40% and 50% of variation in political orientation was genetic, and almost none of it resulting from parental socialization. On the other hand, when they examined a specific question about political party affiliation, the results were nearly the reverse: Heritability had little to do with it, while shared environment was key.

I have already reported that some scientists believe conservatism is a genetic flaw that needs to be eradicated. (OK, OK, I'm just KIDDING about that eradiction part.)

Undoubtedly next on the gene/politics research agenda: Finding the genes that predispose some people to a pathological lust for freedom. Can they be fixed? 

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  1. I’ve decided this was likely true already from years of fruitless, if enjoyable, argument on the internet.

    I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anyone of anything and I don’t think I’ve been convinced myself of much. I’ve become less idealist over the years, and now I don’t think all liberals are idiots. I just think they care about the wrong things. Like some people somehow enjoy eating brussels sprouts and others enjoy same gendered enounters – I don’t get it, but it is out there and there seems to be very little you can do about it.

  2. I’d settle for gene therapy that would eliminate a predisposition to stick one’s nose in other people’s business.

    Call it the “Mrs. Kravitz” gene.

  3. mediageek,

    Wouldn’t that make you a possessor of said gene?

  4. Clarification: I don’t think anything ‘needs to be done’ about either sprout eaters or homosexuals. I was just suggesting that all three of these things are preferences down to the bone. Apologies if that came out wrong.

  5. Undoubtedly next on the gene/politics research agenda: Finding the genes that predispose some people to a pathological lust for freedom. Can they be fixed?

    That’s not funny! That last sentence made my scrotum constrict.

  6. highnumber-

    touch

  7. Some people have been making the obvious demographic point about this research; since we know that conservatives tend to have more children than liberals, that means overtime conservatives will overwhelm liberals by shere birthrate. I don’t really buy that becuase I just too much of a believer in free will. But if you take this research at face value and combine it with the birth statistics, the conclusion is undeniable.

  8. Ron,

    You’ve mentioned these kinds of stories many times, but never once (AKAIK) noted the obvious scientific weaknesses of genetics in offering any predictive analysis of actual behavior or, in this case, attitudes or semi-reasoned opinions.

    Many of these studies seem to never ask the “so what?” question, happy to simply draw some sort of vague correlation between prevalence of a gene and complex social/psychological phenomenon, and go no further than that. It seems more driven by headlines, the need to convince the public that ‘Genes can tell us things!’, even if what they say they explain is pretty bullshit. Given the current levels of what we know about how genes actually influence behavior, a lot of this stuff reads like the 21st century’s version of Phrenology.

    JG

  9. Some of the commercial genetic modification involves introducing genes from one species into another species.

    Perhaps the introduction of a ferret gene into the human genome would lead to more libertarians?

    🙂

  10. this study truly indicates how little our political parties have to do with ideology.

  11. Do you think they corrected for race? Different races presumptively lean left or right based on socialization. Since race is hereditary and correlates to political beliefs it could give a false impression of genetic correlation. Even more interesting is the possibility that the race (and gender) gap in political beliefs are actually genetic.

  12. JG: Good to hear from you. Actually, I do think that genetics does offer some insight into human behavior. After all genes are machines for making proteins in response to environmental influences. Individual people have slightly different versions of some of those machines so their output will also differ. Behavior is like any other characteristic — it necessarily arises from our physical nature including our genes. But this is a much longer discussion. If you haven’t already read it, could I suggest Pinker’s The Blank Slate?

  13. “I have already reported that some scientists believe conservatism is a genetic flaw that needs to be eradicated. (OK, OK, I’m just KIDDING about that eradiction part.)”

    I stand by my contention that Reason is the greatest Left-wing website ever!

  14. Show me a study of sets of twins separated at birth, one going to a Baptist family in Alabama and the other to a gay couple in Manhattan. If they end up having the same political views, then I’ll believe it.

  15. thoreau: I like ferrets as the next guy (however much that is), but what cat genes? Cats seem pretty independent to me.

  16. correction: “ferrets as well as the next guy…”

  17. another correction: “but what about cat genes?…”

    typing too fast too late in the day after being up at 3:30 am to read climate change data.

  18. ferrets??
    I thought we were porcupines. Nyghut nyught nught

  19. I half believe that libertarianism, or rather the independent, leave-me-alone streak that breeds it, is something like a genetic fluke. Observation suggests that most people are wired to care more about being part of a herd (read: nation, tribe, sports franchise, whatever) than being free. The desire to be left alone is fairly uncommon. The desire to leave others alone is rarer than any jewel I can think of.

  20. I suspect competent, confident people tend to have libertarian views. On the other hand, I’m not totally confident I have that right.

  21. I dont like being compared to brussel sprout eaters. Thats just gross.

  22. Number 6 – Why only half believe? you are spot on.

  23. Cab-Because I’m doing exactly what I hate to see others do; I’m avoiding accepting the conclusions that evidence leads me to because that conclusion makes me feel bad.

  24. I stand by my contention that Reason is the greatest Left-wing website ever!

    No. Read thoreau’s, Ron’s, and Warren’s posts again. This is the greatest Furry website ever!

  25. OK, how long before a bunch of mad Boers turn their children into homo drakensis and the rest of us into homo servus?

  26. No, you guys are just not being fair and besides, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

    Schwarzengroper = libertarian leaning

    Obama = libertarian Great White Hope

    Luskin = can’t possibly be libertarian at all

    Ron Paul = gets a pass on being pro-life and points for former LP affiliation

    Dana: tool-gets no points for former good parties or former LP affiliation

    Webb = libertarian Great White Hope

    Kos = possibly more libertarian than Luskin

  27. The study does not explain why Mrs TWC’s genetically identical twin sister is a Gore Democrat while Mrs TWC is a kick ass libertarian.

  28. I’m dubious for a few reasons. Aren’t identical twins ALWAYS the same gender but not fraternal twins? Wouldn’t this be a confounding variable? Did they correct for this? Also, aren’t there substantial socialization differences between identical and fraternal twins? For these reasons, it seems like Identical vs. Fraternal twin studies are not as good at showing genetic links to social characteristics as they are to physical characteristics.

    when they examined a specific question about political party affiliation, the results were nearly the reverse: Heritability had little to do with it, while shared environment was key.

    That makes sense. There’s a strong geographical tendency displayed in the choice of political affiliation.

    Alford and Hibbing reanalyzed this data with an eye to political orientation, calculating a simple index of conservatism or liberalism based on the spread of yes or no responses, and constructing a measure of political opinion by looking at how many neutral responses were given.

    Grafting political labels onto the results is so subjective as to be pointless and adds very little while begging the question of the validity of the results of the initial study.

    How can we read the actual studies? I couldn’t find em using the links.

  29. Rick, excellent points, you cannot draw any conclusions from the study of fraternal twins that are any more meaningful than the study of ordinary brothers and sisters.

  30. from the article (the news article reporting the study:

    [Alford and Hibbing, the researchers who conducted the study] argue that the methodology of extended twin studies is well validated, and they say they’re looking for underlying tendencies, not predestination into political ideologies. “This is not about determinism,” Alford says. “The point is that the environment is not everything here.”

    yes, identical twins are always the same sex. the point of studies of this sort are to compare individuals of 100% genetic identity with individuals of 50% genetic identity experiencing as close to an identical environment as one can get without the confounding effects of age or birth sequence. Same sex or opposite sex fraternal twins have 50% genetic identity on average, but there could be some effect of differing sexes, but that would probably be considered an environmental effect – response of environment to individuals of different sex.

  31. try this URL to see a link to the original article, the data from which was used for the new article:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=3459179&dopt=Abstract

  32. Thanks, Wine Commonsewer.

    Thanks, biologist. I was thinking that you’d probably make this scene.

  33. In the 1970’s everything was environmental. In the New Millennium everything is genetic.

    I know! Let’s draw straws.

  34. Same sex or opposite sex fraternal twins have 50% genetic identity on average

    Which, in theory, so do my kid’s cousins who are the offspring of Mrs TWC’s identical twin sister.

    Okay, at least as close as half brothers or sisters.

    Different environment though.

    Kids are down for the count, I’m going to watch a dam movie.

  35. “Observation suggests that most people are wired to care more about being part of a herd (read: nation, tribe, sports franchise, whatever) than being free. The desire to be left alone is fairly uncommon.”

    Number 6, you’re leaving out Russell Means type libertarians, commune livin’ hippie libertarians, fundamentalistic mormom libertarians, or libs who belong to mainstream church groups. “Libertarian” doesn’t necessarily mean individualistic Jeremiah Johnsonitarian. Plenty of us like herds just fine. Perhaps the difference is that some of us community oriented libertarians either don’t want an outside law telling us how to live and/or don’t want our in-group communities to ‘dictate’ to us how to live.

  36. Assuming that intelligence (or the lack thereof) is heritable, John Stuart Mill was on top of this centuries ago.

  37. What would be more interesting to me would be a genetic basis for the clustering of socio-political ideas that seem to “go together” statistically in surveys like the Times-Mirror study of the American electorate, but which don’t seem have a reason to go together logically-cognitively. Like for instance why people tend to take contrary positions on desired degree of societal-legal control for drugs vs. guns.

  38. I’ve decided this was likely true already from years of fruitless, if enjoyable, argument on the internet.

    I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anyone of anything and I don’t think I’ve been convinced myself of much. I’ve become less idealist over the years, and now I don’t think all liberals are idiots. I just think they care about the wrong things. Like some people somehow enjoy eating brussels sprouts and others enjoy same gendered enounters – I don’t get it, but it is out there and there seems to be very little you can do about it.

    I’ve actually changed my political positions over the years. I used to think that liberalism was what smart people believed and conservatism was for dopes who were slaves to tradition or religion, motivated deep down by fear and bigotry.

    Then I started meeting the multiculturalists and those who love the Palestinians. That’s when I realized these people were whacked.

    And then working a couple jobs and seeing the difference between those that produce and those that don’t effected me. And especially seeing the human capacity to make excuses for ones self when one has failed by objective standards. And most digusting of all, the bleeding hearts ready to canonize those complainers.

    Liberalism is a luxury afforded to brats who grow up in safe comfortable civillizations thanks to soldiers and capitalists.

  39. TWC:

    your children’s cousins by your wife’s identical twin sister (which are first cousins) should have 25% genetic identity, about the same as half-siblings, rather than the usual 12.5% (or 1/8th) genetic identity of first cousins

    as J.B.S. Haldane is alleged to have said “I’d lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.”

    the point of this type of study is to contrast 50% vs. 100% relatedness with assumed identical (or as near as possible) environmental conditions.

    not everything is genetic, that’s why they’re doing the study, to quantify how much is genetic: 40% – 50%

  40. Rick:

    here’s a URL for the new article being reported on by the article Ron Bailey linked in his post:

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=307694&jid=&volumeId=&issueId=02&aid=307693&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0003055405051579

    I don’t know if it requires a subscription to the provider, so you may not be able to see it. if you can, there’s a PDF link in the upper right corner to see the article as it appeared (formatting and all) in the journal

  41. Alford and Hibbing reanalyzed this data with an eye to political orientation, calculating a simple index of conservatism or liberalism based on the spread of yes or no responses, and constructing a measure of political opinion by looking at how many neutral responses were given. They calculated that between 40% and 50% of variation in political orientation was genetic, and almost none of it resulting from parental socialization. On the other hand, when they examined a specific question about political party affiliation, the results were nearly the reverse: Heritability had little to do with it, while shared environment was key.

    Reading through the articles I believe these researchers are moving their goalposts.

    According to Professor Altemeyer, right-wing authoritarians are cognitively rigid, aggressive, and intolerant. They are characterized by steadfast conformity to group norms, submission to higher status individuals, and aggression toward out-groups and unconventional group members.

    This speaks to the classic definition of “conservative,” someone who believes the group should make sure society keeps running the way it traditionally has, who believes in rules, who distrusts individuals who are “different.” This as opposed to “liberal” as one who trusts individuals and is open to alternate behaviors, innovative lifestyles, and social change.

    The political party question, however, defines “conservative” as Republican, “liberal” as Democrat.

    In the U.S. today, however, both parties are classicly conservative on some issues and liberal on others. Democrats are “characterized by steadfast conformity to group norms, submission to higher status individuals, and aggression toward out-groups and unconventional group members” when it comes to gun rights. Republicans are “characterized by steadfast conformity to group norms, submission to higher status individuals, and aggression toward out-groups and unconventional group members” when it comes to gay rights.

  42. Ron Bailey | February 2, 2007, 4:05pm | #
    JG: Good to hear from you. Actually, I do think that genetics does offer some insight into human behavior.

    Sure, Ron, but the point was not ‘some’ insight, but to what degree that insight is more or less important than other factors. Biologists seem to want to become sociolgists and psychologists, and well… just about everything else using one type of analysis. I think genetic ‘insights’ can often be misleading by being reductive, and this should be noted in any discussion of the significance of any findings.

  43. Gilmore:

    actually, just the opposite. biologists want sociologists and psychologists to act like the biologists that they are, instead of acting like humans are so different from other organisms and so complicated that biological properties and concepts are irrelevant to the study of humans. genetics plays a part in this. Hence, the estimate of 40 to 50% genetic component in political orientation (NOT 100% genetic component, as you and TWC seem to imply the researchers are claiming).

    I suspect much of the attribution of human behavior to environmental factors in the 70’s that TWC refers to was an overreaction to E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, published in 1975

  44. Biologist:

    acting like humans are so different from other organisms and so complicated that biological properties and concepts are irrelevant to the study of humans

    Hey dude, again – thats a bit of an oversimplication and straw man of my point, isnt it? I’m not defending any discipline one versus the other, I’m pointing out the general tendency to overweight the findings of one-dimensional study for purposes of hyping the relative significane of one’s research. No one ever said ‘irrelevant’. I said it should be caveated as the clumsy tool that it is at this stage for being used for addressing this kind of question. If you disagree and feel that the mechanisms connecting genetics to tendencies in human reasoning are well demonstrated, then show me. Genetics ‘play a part’ in everything. Thats not an adequate defence of taking little pieces of research like this and assuming some kind of credibility simply because ‘they’re genes!’ i.e. more ‘sciency’ Behavioral economics doesnt exactly use ‘less math’…but yes, they dont take DNA samples. I dont think weak science is less weak just because it involves test tubes.

  45. One of the _weirdest_ litterary projects I am involved with is about a “secret society conspiration” kind of story where the protagonists uncover a weird thing: that all the libertarians in the world are direct descendants of Jesus and, together, form the “lost tribe of Isreal” that is supposed to make the world into a live paradise, and that their attitude towards freedom and non-violence is genetically-induced by specific mutations that supposedly come from Abel (while the rest of the world, non-libertarians that are highly susceptible to using violence as a means for reaching their goals, would descend from Cain). Basically, Jesus would have been the vessel for reintroducing those mutations back into mankind in order to avoid its future self-destruction.

  46. actually, the oversimplified straw man is when you write “Biologists seem to want to become sociolgists and psychologists, and well… just about everything else using one type of analysis.” not all biologists are geneticists. but geneticists study the effects of genes. that’s what they do. Other biologists look at other factors as causative agents. A study on the effects of genetics on a particular phenomenon can’t address non-genetic causation. This study is a starting point, as is every study. Actually, no test tubes or DNA samples appear to have been involved, it’s a straight inference of genetic effects based on relatedness of individuals.

    Perhaps you never used the term irrelevant, but I didn’t accuse you of doing so, unless you are a sociologist or psychologist. My opinion is many in these fields deem genetics and biology in general irrelevant to human behavior. I don’t know who’s overweighting anything when the claim is half or less of variance in political outlook is genetically influenced. Are the mechanisms of genetics influencing behavior well understood and demonstrated in humans? No, that’s why we need studies like this to point at which behaviors might be genetically influenced, so that the specific genes can be identified. Every science paper has the caveat you desire as subtext. Consumers of scientific information should know that, but oversimplification also occurs in the transition from the scientific paper to the newspaper for the lay reader.

  47. Grand Chalupa:

    Liberalism is a luxury afforded to brats who grow up in safe comfortable civillizations thanks to soldiers and capitalists.

    And how ironic cuz many of the policy prescriptions of liberals make for less capitalism (less economic freedom), and thus mitigate its fruits- Talk about killing the Goose that lays the golden eggs…

    Then I started meeting the multiculturalists and those who love the Palestinians. That’s when I realized these people were whacked.

    WTF?? “The Palestinians” are no less lovable than “The (any other ethnic group)”. The difference with Palestinians, relative to many peoples, is that they were victimized by a murderously savage ethnic cleansing and now a murderous and thieving (increasingly so with the wall) occupation, disgustingly prosecuted with our money.

  48. Biologist:

    So ou DO have an example of how genetic analysis is predictive? 🙂

    my schizoprenic gene unfortunately refuses to allow me to accept any one point of view.

    JG

  49. WTF?? “The Palestinians” are no less lovable than “The (any other ethnic group)”. The difference with Palestinians, relative to many peoples, is that they were victimized by a murderously savage ethnic cleansing and now a murderous and thieving (increasingly so with the wall) occupation, disgustingly prosecuted with our money.

    Did they have it worse than the Kurds under Saddam? Or the Jews under Hitler? Or the Sudanese today? Many groups have gone through much worse without turning into a group of disgusting, blood thirsty savages who dream of using their children as bombs.

    If they hated Israel because of what they did to them they would have more hatred for the Arab dictators who have killed more Muslims then the most wicked Zionist would dream of. They hate Jews simply because they are Jews, no other reason.

    When I meet liberals, the first question I ask them to determine if they’re sane is do you believe all cultures are equal. 90% of the time the answer is yes followed by uncomfortable justification and pathetic attempts at moral equivalence. “We have racism and opression here too, blah, blah”. I should probably add a question about the Arab/Israeli conflict, cause anybody who can look at the death cult in Gaza without becoming sick has something wrong with them.

  50. I hate to get all icky on people, but isn’t it possible for fraternal twins to have two different fathers? Do you think the researchers tried to correct for that?

    I can only imagine how awkward the screening process for participants would be. “Yeah, we can’t use your kids in our study… and the two of you might want to consider couples therapy.”

  51. I hate to get all icky on people, but isn’t it possible for fraternal twins to have two different fathers?

    I’d think it was statistically unlikely for a woman to (1) have two lovers (2) just when her body was releasing two eggs instead of one and (3) have both eggs impregnated and (4) not by the same donor.

  52. Grand Chalupa:

    Many groups have gone through much worse without turning into a group of disgusting, blood thirsty savages

    That’s a ridiculously unfair characterization of any ethnic group, but it is far more applicable to the behavior of the Israeli military viv a vis the Palestinians and to the militaries of other regimes including the Nazis and Saddam’s.

    If they hated Israel because of what they did to them they would have more hatred for the Arab dictators who have killed more Muslims.

    That’s a real non-sequitor. Of course, the Palestinians are a separate people unto themselves. BTW, a sizable minority of Palestinians are Christian.

    They hate Jews simply because they are Jews, no other reason.

    Now that is insane. Don’t you think that the expulsion and occupation might hsve something to do with the animosity? Also, its not ” the Jews” that is the main focus, it’s the Israelis, particularly their government’s savage policies. In fact, there are brave Israelis who work with different Palestinian groups in opposition to the Israeli government.

    And when you’re trying to measure the relative vales of different cultures, I think that it’s important for you not to blame entire cultures for the actions of their governments. Such as when Sharon actually supported racist “Jews Only” housing laws on government land in open discrimination against Israel’s own Arab citizens.

  53. That’s a real non-sequitor. Of course, the Palestinians are a separate people unto themselves. BTW, a sizable minority of Palestinians are Christian.

    I know that, my father is a Palestinian Christian. He never had a problem with the Jews and his family has always been treated better by the Israelies than their fellow Arabs.

    If it was about land and history rather then religion there would be Christian suicide bombers.

    Now that is insane. Don’t you think that the expulsion and occupation might hsve something to do with the animosity? Also, its not ” the Jews” that is the main focus, it’s the Israelis, particularly their government’s savage policies.

    Really?

    Quotes from the Hamas charter..

    Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.

    Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

    After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying

    An ELECTED government preaches Israel’s destruction and cites the freakin Elders of Zion in its charter. Once again, this is not a fringe movement. This is the elected Palestinian government.

    And when you’re trying to measure the relative vales of different cultures, I think that it’s important for you not to blame entire cultures for the actions of their governments.

    Its Palestinian civillians that hand out sweets to families of suicide bombers, march in the streets with their children with suicide jackets and voted for Hamas. I’ve actually always been a defender of the Arab autocrats, because they’ve been much more moderate then the Arab street.

    I tend to believe that this conflict has been going of for fifty years because western civillizations try to shield civillians from suffering for their governments even when they elect them. We’ve been lucky for the last 60 years because we’ve been much stronger than our enemies but we won’t be able to be this soft forever.

  54. I know that, my father is a Palestinian Christian

    Yet you call the Palestinians “disgusting, blood thirsty savages.” Quite curious.

    He never had a problem with the Jews and his family has always been treated better by the Israelis

    What? Was he or his family not dispossessed by the Israeli government? I’m skeptical of your claim.

    When you quote something like the Hamas charter, please provide a link. BTW, did you know that the Israeli government fostered the ascension of Hamas as a quieter and religious alterative to the PLO-Blowback!

    I’ve actually always been a defender of the Arab autocrats, because they’ve been much more moderate then the Arab street.

    Even though they have so much Arab blood on their hands? Quite curious indeed. Just where do your loyalties lie?

    Its Palestinian civilians that hand out sweets to families of suicide bombers, march in the streets with their children with suicide jackets and voted for Hamas.

    Yet they cannot match the Israeli government’s record of violent persecution of innocent civilians.

  55. Yet you call the Palestinians “disgusting, blood thirsty savages.” Quite curious.

    What can I say, I’m a self-hating Arab. The way I see it, had I lived in an Arab country I would’ve gotten beheaded or lashed a couple times by now. As a general rule, I hate those that would kill me and am not interested in hearing excuses for them.

    What? Was he or his family not dispossessed by the Israeli government? I’m skeptical of your claim.

    He grew up in Jerusalem, so I’m guessing not.

    When you quote something like the Hamas charter, please provide a link.

    Type Hamas charter into any search engine and click on any of the first twenty links that you see.

    To their credit, Arab extremists tend to be honest about their desire to create a world where we all submit to Islam and throw the Jews into the sea. Its only their western defenders who don’t believe them.

    Even though they have so much Arab blood on their hands? Quite curious indeed. Just where do your loyalties lie?

    To all intelligent, rational thinking people who don’t advocate fanatical theocracies or make excuses for those that do.

    And if you attack the Arab dictators you have to be able to present an alternative. With civil war and the increase in power of fundamentalists in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine I can’t think of a more discredited political theory out there then the one that Arab problems come from oppressive regimes.

    Rather, its the character of the Arab that makes the shoddy character of the state necessary.

  56. I hate those that would kill me and am not interested in hearing excuses for them.

    So you must hate the Israeli government.

    He grew up in Jerusalem, so I’m guessing not.

    You never asked??

    To all intelligent, rational thinking people who don’t advocate fanatical theocracies or make excuses for those that do.

    There’re plenty of authoritarian governments and plenty of folks who advocate and make excuses for them.

    I can’t think of a more discredited political theory out there then the one that Arab problems come from oppressive regimes.

    The evidence of history has shown that the Palestinian people have been victimized be the Israeli regime.

    Rather, its the character of the Arab that makes the shoddy character of the state necessary.

    I see no evidence that oppressive states necessarily follow from “Arab character”. Many ethnic groups have been ruled by oppressive regimes thruout history at times. And bad government is never “necessary”, if that’s what you meant.

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