Before leaving [interim Harvard President Derek] Bokâ€™s temporary office in Loeb House [in 2006], mindful of the Summers fiasco, I remarked to Derek that the time was not far off when academia would have no choice but to hand political correctness back to the politicians. Since 1978, when a pail of water had been dumped over E. O. Wilson for saying that genes influence the behavior of humans as well as of other animals, the assault against behavioral science by wishful thinking has remained vigorous. But as science is able to prove its hypotheses ever more indisputably, such irrationality must recede or betray itself as such. In showing that human genes do matter, behavioral biologists will no longer be limited to comparisons of fraternal and identical twins. Soon the cost of sequencing the As, Ts, Gs, and Cs of individual DNA molecules will drop to a thousandth of what it has been, thereby transposing our studies of behavioral differences to the much more revealing molecular level. DNA messages extracted from, say, many hundreds of psychopaths can then be compared to equivalent numbers of DNA messages from individuals prevented by their consciences from habitually lying, stealing, or killing. Specific DNA sequences consistently occurring only in psychopaths will allow us to pinpoint the genes likely malfunctioning to produce psychopathy. The thought that some people might be born to grow up wicked is inherently upsetting. But if we find such behavior to be innate, the integrity of science, no less than that of ethics, demands that we let the truth be known.
The relative extents to which genetic factors determine human intellectual abilities will also soon become much better known. At the etiological heart of much of schizophrenia and autism are learning defects resulting from the failure of key brain cells to link up properly to each other. As we find the human genes whose malfunctioning gives rise to such devastating developmental failures, we may well discover that sequence differences within many of them also lead to much of the observable variation in human IQs. A priori, there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our desire to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.
Rather than face up to facts that will likely change the way we look at ourselves, many persons of good will may see only harm in our looking too closely at individual genetic essences. So I was not surprised when Derek, who had spent most of our meeting listening, asked apprehensively how many years would pass before the key genes affecting differences in human intelligence would be found. My back-of-the-envelope answer of â€?15 yearsâ€? meant that Summersâ€™ then undetermined successor would not necessarily need to handle this very hot potato.
Upon returning to the Yard, however, I wondered if even 10 years would pass.