Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Precocious is precious

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.  -Albert Einstein

Imagine you have been given the task of hitting an elusive target with a firearm.  For example:  let's say your target is a squirrel  dashing from tree-to-tree and leaping branch-to-branch.

You are given a choice of weapons:  A muzzleloading musket or a belt-fed, crew served machine gun.

Most people would select the belt fed machine gun because luck favors the bettor who can place the most bets.  Further, the stream of bullets (bets) can be walked into the target because the information from the prior bet is sufficiently close to the next bullet that meaningful adjustments can be made in the aim.

100 year time frame

The table above uses a 100 year timeframe to project the "compound interest effect" that could be anticipated.  Precociousness is along the left (vertical) axis.  Percent improvement per generation is listed along the top.

"Centennial Farms" are fairly common in my part of Michigan.  A Centennial Farm is a farm that has been in the same family for 100 or more years.  That is the basis for the choice of the 100 year time frame.

One of the weaknesses of this table is that rapid improvement per generation are more likely earlier generations as the breeder is working with materials that show more variation in performance.  Improvement in later generations becomes increasingly dependent on the ability to discriminate between smaller-and-smaller differences in performance and the ability to screen larger-and-larger populations.

The table is arbitrarily split into two parts to help with the mental math.  Assuming one can consistently achieve 15% improvement per generation and a 50 year evaluation cycle, a breeding program would achieve 30% improvement over the life of the program.  The program would achieve a 100% improvement if the evaluation cycle could be reduced to 20 years.

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