Nature, nurture and the genome

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I last wrote about nature, nurture and environment (and intelligence) in June, 2017, when I was still musing about a Cambridge Union debate that I went to in the early 1970s when these issues were much more in vogue that they've been for a while (and there was a conference about 15 years ago in Oregon that raised these issues).  The 2017 post is here.

I have, however, been thinking about the issue since I trained as a teacher when a study of intelligence (and testing for it) was taken seriously – Cyril Burt / Hans Eysenck / et al – in my PGCE course.  The presumption was that inheritance had a strong role.  Some felt able to quantify this with some precision.

Such thinking is back in fashion, however, because of developments in genome sequencing although's there still a polarisation in the politics with those on the left (where I was in the 1970s) preferring to think that environment can make a difference because appropriate social policy becomes hugely important in an equalising of opportunities sense.  Those of a more conservative disposition (not me) seem to want to find a strong role for inheritance in intelligence (though they tend only to talk about a narrow range of this – the high status stuff).

I'm writing about this now, provoked (in the best sense) by two articles and a piece of research which each article discusses.  The first article is in the New Statesman by Phillip Ball [ The IQ trap: how the study of genetics could transform education ].  The second is by Toby Young in the Spectator [The left is heading for a reckoning with the new genetics ].  Both might be thought surprising in some ways.  Ball is telling the left to wake up to the science and stop seeing the world as they'd like it to be; Young is arguing for an equality of ops role for the use of genome data (don't let the poor miss out).  Sadly, it would seem that there are some who quite like the poor to miss out because it means that they can continue to tell them them how discriminated against they are.

Both sides assume that genome data will be influential, one way or another, in helping children learn effectively. The arguments are too detailed for me to even begin to get into them here, but it's a debate that's heading our way.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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