She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer—A Review
written by Gregory Cochran
Published on July 1, 2018 comments 42
… The real problem with this book is that, to Zimmer and many other people, genetics itself is the enemy. The facts, not the discipline, particularly in how they apply to humans. We now know that everything is heritable, to varying degrees — and the more that life is determined or influenced by genetics, the less blank the slate, the less that can be accomplished by egalitarian social policies (or by aristocratic social policies, for that matter). The facts of genetics are caltrops on the road to a ‘just’ society. Zimmer is moderately fair-minded, usually mentioning both criticism of genetic claims and the response to that criticism — but he still gives the impression of wishing these claims had never been made and dislikes scientists who discovered unpleasant truths.
For example, he dislikes Francis Galton, and mocks him for his poor results in mathematics at Cambridge, a subject Galton really wanted to excel in. Galton hired brilliant tutors, but he just couldn’t hack math — interesting, since he later helped develop key concepts in statistics such as correlation and regression to the mean. It’s as if all the special prep in the world won’t compensate for a lack of innate talent (a commonplace observation, unless you’re Malcolm Gladwell) — but that, of course, supports Galton’s central thesis, namely, that intelligence is largely determined by hereditary factors. At this point, things have become sufficiently meta that I can’t tell whether Zimmer even knows whether he’s dissing Galton or agreeing with him.