Author: Gregory Cochran

Forget Nature Versus Nurture. Nature Has Won

A review of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin. MIT  Press (November 2018) 280 pages. In Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are Robert Plomin makes the case that genetic differences cause most variation in psychological traits – things like personality and cognitive abilities. The way your parents raise you, the schools you attend – they don’t have much effect on those traits. Children are similar to their parents, but that similarity is due to shared genetics, rather than shared family environment. Obviously the thoughts in your head, the facts you know, are not the same as your great-great-grand-father’s – we learn those things. But how easily you learn those facts, how well you remember them, how optimistic or pessimistic you are – those are largely set by your genes. Almost every psychological trait has significant heritability, even political leanings. To a significant degree, you’re either born a little Liberal or else a little Conservative, to quote Gilbert and Sullivan. And to the extent that your personality is not set by your …

‘She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity—A Review

A review of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer. Dutton (May 2018) 656 pages.  In this book, Carl Zimmer tries to lay out how our ideas and knowledge of genetics have developed over time, and where we are today. He mixes in discussion of the social impact of these ideas. Some of those discussions are reasonable, some are not. He covers a very wide range of topics, from contagious cancers in clams to recent developments in genetic engineering. Before I go any further – Zimmer is wordy. He has things to say, but he never uses one word when ten will do. The facts are always part of some long-winded human-interest story. If you like that sort of thing, you may like this book. I cannot say that I did. 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 …