The Guardian view on intelligence genes: going beyond the evidenceEditorial‘Hereditarian’ science seeks to link genetics to cleverness and could have profound changes on the social policy debate. That would be wrongSun 1 Apr 2018 13.15 EDTPresumably not a joke.
Humans are fascinated by the source of their failings and virtues. This preoccupation inevitably leads to an old debate: whether nature or nurture moulds us more. A revolution in genomics has poised this as a modern political question about the character of our society: if personalities are hard-wired into our genes, what can governments do to help us? This is a big, creepy “if” over which the spectre of eugenics hovers. t feels morally questionable yet claims of genetic selection by intelligence are making headlines.This is down to “hereditarian” science, a field dominated in this country by Robert Plomin, a psychologist at King’s College London. His latest paper claimed “differences in exam performance between pupils attending selective and non-selective schools mirror the genetic differences between them”. With such a billing the work was predictably greeted by a raft of absurd claims about “genetics determining academic success”. What the research revealed was the rather less surprising result: the educational benefits of selective schools largely disappear once pupils’ innate ability and socio-economic background were taken into account. It is a glimpse of the blindingly obvious – and there’s nothing to back strongly either a hereditary or environmental argument.Yet Professor Plomin’s paper does say children are “unintentionally genetically selected” by the school system. Such a claim, as one geneticist put it, “could have been lifted right out of The Bell Curve”. This is a reference to a 1994 US book that retailed a form of highbrow racism in which white people’s success was ascribed to higher average IQs. Professor Plomin endorsed the book’s data but not its authors’ conclusions. Central to hereditarian science is a tall claim: that identifiable variations in genetic sequences can predict an individual’s propensity to learn, reason and solve problems. This is problematic on many levels. A teacher could not seriously tell a parent their child has a low genetic tendency to study when external factors clearly exist. Unlike-minded academics say the heritability of human traits is scientifically unsound. At best there is a weak statistical association and not a causal link between DNA and intelligence. Yet sophisticated statistics are used to create an intimidatory atmosphere of scientific certitude. …Dr. Plomin and other scientists keep bullying poor, oppressed journalists who don’t understand science.