All posts tagged: IQ

Genes, Environment, and Luck: What We Can and Cannot Control

Social justice activists have issued a challenge to “check your white privilege.” Inasmuch as I oppose the inherent racism ingrained in such expressions of Identity Politics, my initial replies were of a snarky nature, such as “It’s doing just fine, thank you.” But as I engaged the task more seriously it wasn’t my “white privilege” that I discovered so much as it was my good fortune. This led to my November 2017 column in Scientific American, in which I enumerated a few of the ways that luck has favored many people (myself included) that led to their success, much of which was not “earned” in the purist sense that conservatives conceive of it, in which the successful merited it and the unsuccessful deserved it. The deeper I looked into the matter of how lives turn out, in fact, the more I realized how much is out of our control. Let’s begin with a question: Why do some people succeed in life while others fail? Is it because they are naturally smarter and harder working, or …

Should We Use Genetic Technology to Boost Human Intelligence?

Chinese researcher He Jiankui is now world-famous for having announced the creation of genetically-modified twins that would be resistant to HIV. He said that he edited the genomes of these twins with CRISPR/Cas9, a technology that makes it possible to target specific genes within a living organism. Everywhere, scientists and non-scientists alike reacted with astonishment. Most comments were negative, but not all were critical of gene editing per se. Julian Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics at Oxford who favors gene editing and embryo selection, released a press statement denouncing Jiankui’s decision to perform the experiment on healthy babies instead of on embryos that had fatal genetic diseases and would be certain to die in the absence of the intervention. He also pointed out that gene editing is still experimental and “capable of causing genetic problems early and later in life, including the development of cancer.” By contrast, Marcy Darnovsky, the Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society and a long standing critic of genetic editing, wrote: “In a time of resurgent …

Every Schoolchild Should Read This Book

A review of Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are by Kevin J. Mitchell. Princeton University Press (October 16, 2018) 304 pages. Kevin Mitchell’s Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are is a book for high school students. And I mean that as a compliment. Profound misunderstandings about the genetic nature of human beings lie at the heart of the social justice movement, as well as some education reforms, attitudes toward mental disorders, aspects of the self-help industry, and social policies including but not limited to immigration, welfare, racism, and sex/gender issues. What a person understands or misunderstands about genetics is a foundation for evaluating new ideas encountered in college, forming political opinions, dealing with difficult co-workers, tackling issues of parenthood and family, and generally living day-to-day life. If read early enough, Innate might provide some inoculation against bad or naïve information about human nature and the indisputable role played by genes. That is why it belongs on high school reading lists, not just in science classes. Think …

Progressive Creationism: A Review of ‘A Dangerous Idea’

In a recent article for Quillette, Colin Wright argued that left-wing scientific denialism poses a greater threat to academic freedom than right-wing scientific denialism. In the past, evolutionary biologists could dispute the claims of creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design without jeopardizing their careers. But the same cannot be said of scientists who publicly dissent from progressive dogma when it comes to, say, the biology of group differences. The reason, according to Wright, is because the Christian Evangelicals who denied the basic principles of evolutionary biology held no power in academia, while their secular equivalents are often professors, department chairs, deans, administrators, college presidents, journal editors, and so on. Indeed, the new denialist orthodoxy when it comes to biological sex—that it is “assigned” at birth, rather than observed and recorded—is now the official view of the scientific establishment, having been embraced by Scientific American and Nature. As Jordan Peterson wrote in The National Post two years ago: “Look out evolutionary biologists. The PC police are coming for you.” I imagine few of Quillette’s readers will …

Do Parents Make a Difference? A Public Debate in London

On Monday in London’s Emmanuel Centre a debate took place that pitted two Quillette contributors—Robert Plomin and Stuart Ritchie—against two “experts” on child psychology—Susan Pawlby and Ann Pleshette Murphy. The motion was “Parenting doesn’t matter (or not as much as you think)” and we knew from the outset where people stood thanks to the format adopted by Intelligence Squared, the company that organized the debate. The ushers asked people to vote for or against the motion on their way in and then again at the end, the idea being that the “winners” would be the side that persuaded the most people to change their minds rather than the side that got the most votes. Which was just as well for Plomin and Ritchie since only 17 percent agreed with them at the beginning of the evening, with 66 percent against and 17 percent saying “Don’t Know.” Would they be able to level that up a bit over the course of the next 90 minutes? Plomin, a professor of behavioral genetics at King’s College London, went …

What Does Genetic Research Tell Us About Equal Opportunity and Meritocracy?

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from Robert Plomin’s new book Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are. For a review of Blueprint by Gregory Cochran, see here. For a piece by Toby Young on the book, and a wider discussion of social genomics and why it attracts the hostility of some academics, see here. If schools, parenting and our life experiences do not change who we are, what does this mean for society, especially for equality of opportunity and meritocracy? In particular, does it mean that the genetically rich will get richer and the poor poorer? Are genetic castes inevitable? What does this say about inequality? These questions have been bound up in the topic of meritocracy, which is not the same thing as equal opportunity. Equal opportunity means that people are treated similarly, for example, everyone is given equal access to educational resources. Meritocracy only comes in when there is selection, for example, for education and employment. Meritocracy means that selection is based on capability and competence rather than unfair criteria such …

Is Sociogenomics Racist?

The publication of Blueprint (2018) by the behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin has revived the old debate about whether there’s something inherently racist or right-wing about looking for biological causes of human behavior. The subtitle of Plomin’s book—How DNA Makes Us Who We Are—makes it sound as if he’s a full-blooded hereditarian and that has led to a predictable outcry from long-standing opponents of this “dangerous” intersection where the natural sciences and the behavioral sciences meet. (To read an extract from Blueprint, click here.) To its opponents, sociogenomics—or social genomics—of which Plomin is a leading practitioner, sounds suspiciously like sociobiology. When the Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson published a book of that name in 1975, it was greeted with passionate opposition by a group of left-wing scientists who had assembled under the banner of ‘Science for the People,’ originally an anti-Vietnam War protest group. The biologists in that organization, several of whom Wilson had counted as friends up until this point, formed the ‘Sociobology Study Group’ and started firing off venomous letters to newspapers. For instance, a …