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Do genes determine intelligence? Both conservatives and liberals are ignoring the realities of biology

Twins celebrate Twins Day in Twinsburg, Ohio. (Josie Gealer/Getty Images)

Twins celebrate Twins Day in Twinsburg, Ohio. (Josie Gealer/Getty Images)


July 29, 2021   6 mins

Nearly 20 years ago, Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature attempted to nudge the West’s intellectual elite beyond mid-century tabula rasa theories like Freudianism and Behaviourism. Though the book was a success for Pinker, its lessons were largely ignored. The world remained woefully and wilfully ignorant of basic biology.

Kathryn Paige Harden’s The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality is therefore likely to be many readers’ first introduction to a new field of inquiry that synthesises the age-old insights of behaviour genetics and the new technology of genomics. Harden is a scientist who ventures where few academics dare to tread. Indeed, the book was written because so many people remain ignorant of behaviour genetics, and suspicious of any attempt to introduce biologically based variables into sociological matters.

By this measure, The Genetic Lottery is a success. Harden concisely reduces a century of research into a digestible and comprehensible form. Alas, if you do not come to this work with Harden’s commitment to social justice, much of the non-scientific content will strike you as misguided, gratuitous and at times even unfair.

To a large extent, I expected this, as I know the author personally. We both live in Austin, where she is a professor at the University of Texas. I became acquainted with Harden in 2016 following a massive social media conflagration triggered by her sensible contention that liberals needed to acknowledge the insights of behaviour genetics, and that the field was not necessarily racist.

A committed band of online “social justice warriors” have continued to hound her; a population geneticist told me several years ago that another scientist at a seminar dismissed Harden as “Charles Murray in a skirt”. This was somewhat ironic given that she once wrote a piece titled “Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ”. Harden’s disagreements with conservatives also elicit outrage from the online Right, but that is of little impact. As an academic, the only serious reputational risk comes from the baying of her own ideological tribe.

It’s unfortunate, then, that though Harden provides a potted history of eugenics, much of her historical interpretation is tendentious, and seems geared to reassuring the intended audience that they are on the right side of history. She observes, for instance, that the statistician and eugenicist Karl Pearson “argued that progressive-era social reforms, like the expansion of education, were useless”. What the reader may fail to glean from this is that Pearson was a committed socialist and freethinker, who was also engaged with feminism and suffrage.

Where the narrative shines is when Harden explores fields that have long been taboo. For example, the notion that genetics can cause patterns in social phenomena is ignored by whole fields of scholarship, but it’s no coincidence that adopted individuals are much more likely to engage in crime as adults if their biological parents were convicted of offences.

Harden further illustrates this with her own research on abstinence from sex. The State of Texas promotes abstinence policies because it believes there is a strong correlation between early sexual activity and negative life outcomes such as crime. To test this assumption, Harden’s team tracked down identical twins, who share both genes and environment, and first had sex at different stages in life. They found that there was no difference in life outcomes.

The Genetic Lottery comes alive whenever Harden writes about her own research. At one point, she reports that “executive function” — your cognitive behaviour, ranging from memory to self-control — is nearly 100% heritable in children, meaning that all the variation in the population can be attributed to variation in genes. The correlation in executive function between identical twins is 1.0, while between full siblings it is 0.5. Since twins share 100% of their genes and full-siblings just 50%, this is exactly the pattern you would expect in a fully heritable characteristic, whether executive function or eye-colour. This research has no straightforward immediate political implications, so the exposition is freed from a need to gauge the impact on the audience.

But statistical correlations remain unconvincing to many. A specific criticism of twin-studies centres on the likelihood that parents treat twins more similarly than full-siblings. That’s partly why the late population geneticist Richard Lewontin thought behaviour genetics was a useless field with deep methodological problems. His views are not unusual for geneticists who work in molecular or evolutionary (rather than behavioural) fields today.

It is at this point that Harden illustrates why her book could only be written in 2021. Whereas past geneticists had to assume that full-siblings were exactly 50% related, today genomics allows a precise quantification of the level of relatedness. I know, for instance, that I share 52.49% of my DNA with one brother, 50.26% with another, and 4.57% with my first-cousin once-removed (the expectation in the last case is 6.25%).

In 2006, geneticists applied the new technology to the study of heritability, generating relatedness scores from genomics for thousands of sibling pairs. They discovered that very heritable traits did indeed show more similarity in those siblings who were genomically more related. Heritability was more than a statistical construct, it was a biophysical reality.

One of the most striking figures in The Genetic Lottery shows that “polygenic risk scores”, a statistic used to predict your position along a distribution of values, such as from shortest to tallest, are already as powerful as parental income at predicting the rate of college completion. Those students in the bottom 25% of parental income have a 15% chance of completing college. Those in the bottom 25% of the polygenic risk score also have a 15% chance of doing so.

This task in explaining the state of behaviour genetics today is helped by bodies such as the UK Biobank, which offers researchers 500,000 individuals with 820,000 genetic markers per individual. It has resulted in papers which are generated in an almost turnkey fashion. Consider “Genetic correlates of social stratification in Great Britain”, which concludes that “Alleles associated with educational attainment (EA) showed the most clustering, with EA-decreasing alleles clustering in lower SES areas such as coal mining areas”. In plainer English, smarter people migrated south, leaving those remaining in the north of England on average less intelligent due to their genes. Needless to say, this was a controversial result.

Harden spends a great deal of time exploring population structure because of its relevance to possible variation in human psychology and behaviour. She reports on survey data that liberals in particular are suspicious of — results which indicate variation in intelligence due to genes — and she argues that this is due to its connection with the history of racism and classism in the United States. Harden asserts that intelligence is heritable within a group, but does not necessarily imply that it explains differences between groups in outcome.

The targeted readership for The Genetic Lottery will almost certainly dismiss the case for behaviour genetics if that requires them to connect it to potentially racist implications. Yet Harden’s book is actually rooted in social justice, and her belief that “people’s moral commitments to racial equality are on shaky ground if they depend on exact genetic sameness across human populations”. Nevertheless, much of the narrative gets bogged down in race and particularities of American politics.

Harden is a white liberal who is deeply committed to the cause of racial justice in the historical context of black and white Americans. Presumably her audience is as well. But her ultimate goal is to talk more about John Rawls than Ibram X. Kendi. For The Genetic Lottery is a theory of justice informed by unearned genetic advantages and undeserved genetic disadvantages.

Harden personalises this by contrasting herself with her brother. Though siblings are 50% similar, she explains, they are also 50% different. Raised in the same household, she asks who was dealt the better hand — she did better at standardised tests but also has ADHD — between the two siblings. Do these differences speak at all to the moral value of the siblings? Of course not. We know this intuitively. It is self-evident.

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls introduced the “difference principle”. This argues that inequality in outcomes is permissible if those inequalities benefit the least-advantaged members of society. Similarly, towards the end of her book, Harden considers three scenarios conditioned on Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”, where you don’t know what endowments you’ll randomly be allotted. First, a society where the “biologically superior are entitled to greater freedoms and resources”. Second, a society “structured as if everyone is exactly the same in their biology”. Finally, a society “structured to work to the advantage of people who were least advantaged in the genetic lottery”.

Science does not tell you which choice to select. Harden points out that in the US, both conservatives and liberals often behave as if we live in the second scenario. But what if we consider the reality that outcomes are to some extent caused by varying genes? Though these facts do not necessarily change one’s values, they do change the prescription for how one can achieve the just outcomes we might have in mind.

Of course, biology is not everything, but The Genetic Lottery reminds us that it is a factor we ignore at our own peril when we craft social policy. In 2021, we now have the technology to plumb the depths of our human nature. The results may not always be to our liking, but the facts are ultimately unchangeable.


Razib Khan is a geneticist. He has written for The New York Times, India Today and Quillette, and runs two weblogs, Gene Expression and Brown Pundits. His newsletter is Razib Khan’s Unsupervised Learning


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Simon Denis
SD
Simon Denis
2 years ago

The casual attack on Charles Murray in the course of this piece is both gratuitous and ignorant. In the second place, a socialist can never be a “free thinker” because he submits, against the evidence, to dogmas of “equality”. And it is this submission which tortures and perplexes Harden in her pursuit of the anti-egalitarian truth, which nevertheless makes it – gasping – to the surface. Finally, she finds that no matter how much she squirms and bleats in affirmation of red dogma, the zealots still come for her with cudgels. Her career is an emblem of our time, a tired but still valid scientific tradition, undermined from within and oppressed from without by the pathological stupidity of a newly energised cult, with deep roots and poison prejudice.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

a socialist can never be a “free thinker” because he submits, against the evidence, to dogmas of “equality”

This.
As Orwell puts it, the socialist
does have to acquiesce in deliberate falsification on important issues…The argument that to tell the truth would be ‘inopportune’ or would ‘play into the hands of’ somebody or other is felt to be unanswerable…The organized lying practiced by totalitarian[1] states is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient…It is something integral to totalitarianism…A totalitarian society…would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist.
Elsewhere in the same essay, expanding on this last point, he notes that “two and two have to make four when you are, for example, drawing the blueprint of an aeroplane” – but not otherwise.
Ms Harden and the left in general appear to be precise exemplars of the political schizophrenic obliged to think one thing for reasons of dogma while knowing that it is not true.
[1] For Orwell, a society was totalitarian if it was one “where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment”, which exactly describes wokeism.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Well said.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Orwell’s point about the truth “playing into the hands of somebody” is bang up to date and we see it with Asian paedophile grooming gangs. The authorities were reluctant to investigate and prosecute them, because to do so would “play into the hands of racists”. It was better to allow paedophile rape to continue than to concede that “racists” were in fact absolutely correct.
Of course, the idea that only a racist would notice and object to paedophile rape by gangs of Asians is a deeply insulting notion in itself. Essentially, it smears as prejudiced people who embarrassingly expose your own prejudice.

Tom Krehbiel
TK
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Correct me if I’m mistaken, but it’s my understanding that these gangs’ vital characteristic is not that they’re (South) Asian but that they’re Muslim. Sikhs and Hindus are also from the Indian Subcontinent, but they’re much better-behaved, from what I’ve read. If so, it’s a matter of religion, not of race.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tom Krehbiel
Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel

Actually they are of predominantly Pakistani origin, so a tad harsh on Iranians, Egyptians, Saudis, Indonesians, Malaysians, Uighers, Turks etc. etc. etc. etc…

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Fair enough. In the UK, aren’t most Muslims from the Indian Subcontinent though? I don’t know that there are many of the ones you mentioned in Britain. And there is that part in the Koran about Mohammad consummating his marriage to a 9 year-old girl, so it doesn’t seem to be that much more than a tad unfair to paint the religion as one not entirely unsympathetic to pedophilia.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

“racists” were in fact absolutely correct.

I’m afraid your logic is just way off the mark here. Even if all paedophiles were Asians (or Muslims) – they’re not – that is not the same as saying that all Asians (or Muslims) are paedophiles. Nor does it support a more general racist position.
what is embarrassing is that in this particular case we would have been better off listening to racists than listening to the authorities – and that’s a dangerous situation. It can lead people to distrust authorities generally – and believe other sources too easily.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

My point is that there were gangs of Pakistani Muslim paedophiles grooming and raping white children and they were getting away with it, exactly as the BNP said. They were getting away with it because the left-wing establishment preferred to tolerate the rapes than to offend a client group by admitting that yes, these rapists were all Pakistanis and all Muslims.
As the left saw it, conceding that the BNP were right was clearly much, much worse than tolerating a paedophile rape epidemic. You simply can’t admit that someone you regard as profoundly evil is actually right about something, especially if what they are right about is a profound evil committed by one of your favoured identitarian client groups. So the priority was to not to prevent further rapes; it was prevent such a concession to the hated ideological foe. They didn’t suppress it because it wasn’t true; they suppressed it because it was.
It apparently never occurred to the local police, social workers or prosecutors that anyone except a racist would disagree with these priorities. So they acted as though none of this was actually happening and claimed that anyone who suggested otherwise must be a racist. This is precisely what Orwell was talking about when he wrote that to tell the truth would be ‘inopportune’ or would ‘play into the hands of’ somebody or other 

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Thus far, Jon, I completely agree with you, and it’s something over which the establishment should be far more ashamed than it is.
It’s when this shifts to a generalised – the racists are right – position that I object.
It is a dangerous situation when people feel that racists are telling them the truth, and the authorities are lying to them.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

No disagreement there David, but the problem begins when something about which the facts are clear is dismissed because those facts are uncomfortable to the identitarian wing of the political spectrum.
Usually, the pretext is that the awkward facts are “racist”, because to level this accusation reliably closes down any debate. You can be a Nobel Prize-winning discoverer of DNA but your views are of no account faced with the superior knowledge of the woke who says you’re a racist.
So when we dismiss the views of “racists” we should perhaps be more attentive than we are to who has determined they are racists in the first place.
If someone thinks that average black IQs are lower than white, that this is so everywhere, that the tests that determine this are reliable, that ethnic minorities are likelier to carry out a racist crime than whites, that the majority of terrorists in the UK are Muslims, and that Bangladeshis are the least economically inactive UK demographic, these aren’t offences against the facts or the evidence. They’re offences against the beliefs of the left which, as they are beliefs formed ahead of and in opposition to the evidence, are properly termed prejudices, not beliefs.
When a BNP supporter says blacks are more likely to be criminals and a Guardian reader argues they’re not, only one of the two is definitely a bigot.

Rob C
Rob C
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

What if racists are right? You object to telling the truth if it creates a “dangerous situation”?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob C

People are often labelled racists by the left. This creates the opportunity for a nicely circular argument: I disagree with you therefore you’re a racist, and because you’re a racist, nobody should listen to you and of course you’d deny you’re a racist.
The only definite racists in public life are the Labour Party, which is anti-Semitic.

Ron Bo
Ron Bo
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

I remember Nick Griffin of The National Front complaining of mainly Pakistani grooming gangs 30 years ago.We are already in that dangerous position.Even racists can’t tell the truth but no one will listen.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Ron Bo

I know – it’s shocking.

Philip LeBoit
Philip LeBoit
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

In context, who is the subject of “does have to acquiesce”? A socialist or a communist? I think Orwell saw a significant difference, and identified as a democratic socialist.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Philip LeBoit

UK sympathisers with the then USSR, but not limited to actual professed communists.
http://www.telelib.com/authors/O/OrwellGeorge/essay/prevention.html

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I doubt that was about socialism as Orwell was a socialist. He was talking about totalitarianism.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

If you read the linked essay you’ll see he was talking about the apologists for Communist totalitarianism on the British left (there’s never been much of a British fascist movement nor supporters thereof on the British right).

Peter Branagan
PB
Peter Branagan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

And the current reign of medico-fascism.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

There was no attack by the author, who has defended Murray numerous times. There are quotes about Murray from other people.

Plenty of socialism is about alleviating some poverty not total equality of outcome.

The US has decided to go down the route of naked tooth and claw capitalism for individuals and equity (equality of outcome) for groups.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

The USA hasn’t decided anything – the battle for equality & justice continues. Equity will lose out as a concept; as Jesus said, “the poor will always be among us”.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

What casual attack? So far as I can tell, he reports an attack others have made on the author of the book by means of comparison with CM, and the irony of that given that she herself has accused him of “peddling junk science.” Not sure how familiar you are with Khan but he’s not the sort to make that kind of accusation himself, from what I know.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Razib Khan’s review of Charles Murray’s ‘Facing Reality’ is worth reading.
https://quillette.com/2021/07/29/charles-murrays-facing-reality-a-review/

TERRY JESSOP
TERRY JESSOP
2 years ago

I remember noticing, some sixty years ago at university, that of the half dozen most intellectually gifted persons I came across, perhaps four of them were Central European jews. Just saying. By the way I am of English descent myself and not even remotely jewish, so I have no axe to grind.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  TERRY JESSOP

I think I read somewhere that Ashkenazi Jews are on average 15% more intelligent than other people. My life experience also concurs with this. I have long said I am coming back as a Jew next time round – for many reasons.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago

One hypothesis as to why this is so is that because Jews were persecuted historically, they couldn’t make a living through anything that entailed owning fixed assets – the assets were at perpetual risk of expropriation. So they had to make a living through trades such as moneylending, diamond trading and professional services where the asset was highly portable and intelligence made you better at them.
It’s not obvious that you need to be intelligent to be a diamond dealer, but there’s a high correlation between intelligence and manual dexterity. Brain surgeons can have fingers like sausages, but will still be good at their job if they are bright enough; concert pianists same thing.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Does being a diamond dealer rely on manual dexterity?

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago

A few hundred years ago it did, yes, because the dealer would also cut the stones, which is a skilled hand-eye co-ordination task.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It did however require many other skills as well.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago

Such as great personal skills allied with business acumen.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Peter Kriens
PK
Peter Kriens
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

There is an interesting hypothesis based on genetic diseases by Cochran. It is discussed & criticized by Steve Pinker, who also criticizes your theory. Very interesting area but imho Occam’s razor is clearly genetic.

Tom Krehbiel
TK
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago

I believe they score on average 115 points on IQ tests, which is one standard deviation above the norm of 100. I don’t believe that really equates to “15% smarter”, however, as the tests have long since abandoned the mental-age-divided-by-chronological-age method for one based on standard deviations.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel

But the person who would be 135 is now 150? Anyway, if you put all of this aside, observationally they are far superior as a group.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago

I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re asking with that question about 135 and 150.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

The food is very good but you’re not really allowed in the boozer on a Friday night

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  TERRY JESSOP

Martians.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Could you expand on that doubtless deep thought?

Prashant Kotak
PK
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

OK, thanks.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  TERRY JESSOP

But we need to know how you define ‘intellectually gifted’, and how your experience squares with everyone else’s (or at least some stat-worthy cohort’s) before this is very helpful. The most impressive people I met at Cambridge 50 years ago were all very wealthy, but what’s that worth? Hey ho.

Andrew McDonald
AM
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

I mean of course intellectually impressive.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago

If you’re interested in a more rigorous treatment of the “Why were so many turn of the century super-geniuses Hungarian Jews?” topic then this article provides a lot of interesting insight:
https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/26/the-atomic-bomb-considered-as-hungarian-high-school-science-fair-project/

Oliver Wright
Oliver Wright
2 years ago

A lot. Why would intelligence not be correlated with wealth? Families that are rich but stupid tend to get less rich rather rapidly. You might say the Royal Family were am exception, but actually, in relative terms, they’ve been getting less rich for centuries.

Oliver Wright
OW
Oliver Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  TERRY JESSOP

You are right to refer specifically to Central European Jews, otherwise known as Ashkenazi. As David Reich, himself of that ancestry, says in his excellent Who We Are and How We Got Here, that group are effectively a caste rather than a race (to the extent that race means anything). The Sephardic Jews, who make up the majority of the Jewish population of Israel, are not nearly as well-favoured intellectually. In fact, the last time I looked, the average IQ of Israel was somewhere south of 100.

Last edited 2 years ago by Oliver Wright
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

What an incredibly convoluted and difficult dance her life must be as she studies science which shows X is the case, but her bias makes her out to prove Y is the case. (The subject of this article is an psychologist and behavior geneticist.)

I have had a bit of exposure to Sociobiology, Anthropologists, and Evolutionary Biologists (studied Dawkins even), during the 1970s when I did archeological digs, and hung out with these guys a lot (now days I watch Bret Weinstein (as seen on Unherd), and his wife – they are Youtube stars, their youtubes good on covid, but otherwise they are pretty much the Sociobiologist – Hard Science technically/Soft scientists ideologically, using hard science to demonstrate their Liberal truths, occasionally out to play anthropologist but using genetics and statistics instead of just peeking through the thatched huts. (Like the Margret Meads in the old days and supposing what she saw meant about humanity in general).

And who can forget Mead’s ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’ and her writing on New Guiana societies where women ruled, and papers on that, which later anthropologists could never demonstrate (“In later years there has been a diligent search for societies in which women dominate men, or for signs of such past societies, but none have been found (Bamberger, 1974) from her wiki)

If one were to search IQ by nation amazing lists and tables are all there to see, and then see how this inconvenient info is worked with by the academics…. (they keep well away from that petard)

Just my bias, but my guess is if ever real science is done on such things, it will find the Sociobiology up till now is pretty much in the Alchemy, Phrenology, Astrology camp of proving desired outcomes (and possibly climate science too, and covid science) as it is Liberals out to scientifically prove Liberalism – and science just will not accommodate that abuse.

Franz Von Peppercorn
MB
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

That’s confused. Evolutionary biologists do think that nature matters. They aren’t anthropologists like Mead.

Galeti Tavas
VS
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

No, they are hard science trained, but then use it to come to conclusions which are very soft science based – they are a weird group, universally atheist from my experience, and seem to have this need to explain all existence, and thus man and consciousness, and thus morality, love, and the human experience, as genetic evolution, wile infering that there is nothing more, as it does not quantify.

Dawkins’s ‘Selfish Gene’ is a secular-Humanist Creation Myth essentially. It does do very well at explaining physical life, but has this huge void in that there is in fact more to existence than the mere physical – and that is the problem with his work, it denies this because he cannot prove it. – Although he spent vast efforts Proselytizing his Atheism, you always feel he is ‘Someone who Protests Too Much’.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

‘IQ by nation’ sounds more misleading than anything else. IQ are a series of tests on various kinds of abstract reasoning, and it seems obvious that you will do a lot better on those tests if you have trained for them. Like any other test. So higher education and a lot of abstract thinking in your day job or recreations should boost your score a ot relative to agriculture or assembly line work. Hurrah – we have proved that the richest and most educated societies are also most intelligent – and therefore deserve their advantages.

As they said to me when I got a high inteligence score at the military service entrance test. ‘That is what we would expect for somemone with your education level’. It does not prove that I have exceptional genes.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

But might it not have been your genes that helped you to have high intelligence, which helped you to do well at school, which helped you to get into to university?

In other words, the education level you were enabled to attain might well be an indicator of the exceptional genes you have.

The output may be a token of the input.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

When you look at individuals, you obviously need both the capabilty (possibly genetic) and the training (not genetic) to get a high result. Even here it is hard to tease out how much of each is active in a given case. When you are looking at nations it seems fairly pointless to assume that IQ differences are genetic – unlesss you do the impossible and control for social factors first.

Jonathan Andrews
JA
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Well exactly. I once scored a ridiculously high on an IQ test. Of course, I’ll never do another.

My point is that I teach mathematics and loads of the problems were ones I had seen before.

Much that I’d like to boast of my great intellect, I don’t think they are much of a measure.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

Great article, thank you.
My observation is that the drive for equality in many left-wing policies drives the opposite of what is intended.
For example, many leftwing policies incentivise under-class families to have many children through subsidies delivered on the basis of low income and having many children.
The reality of this is that genes for low intelligence and low curiosity combine with a culture of the same, to produce swathes of low skilled people who flood the job market.
On the flip side, the high level producers, who have inherited genes for high intelligence and a culture of knowledge as a virtue in itself, have fewer children.
Over just a few generations this increases inequality because the number of the intelligent and skilled reduces, while the need for them in the economy increases.
On the flip side, automation of unskilled jobs together with expanding absolute numbers of people with low intelligence, produces a downward pressure on wages for low-skilled jobs.
Paradoxically, then, those who imagine their policies are creating a more equal society are, in fact, creating a more unequal one.
Since the ideology of those who push these ideas is that 1. Humans are blank slates and that 2. All cultures are equal, they can’t identify this problem, much less fix it.
(Not that I have any good solutions myself, but at a societal level we should at least debate such problems and acknowledge that they exist, and, hopefully, over time, propose humane solutions to addressing them.)

Last edited 2 years ago by hayden eastwood
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

That’s a really good point, and one that is excluded from the article. It isn’t just a moral matter, but is linked to changes in the genetic makeup of society over time.
So the trick is to discourage the poorly endowed genetically from having lots of children, while encouraging the well endowed to have lots, without disadvantaging the former and advantaging the latter. Not sure how you do that.
it’s an issue that people like HG Wells seemed to recognise, though his solution is repugnant, but which we have swept under the carpet. That benefits should be paid to the poor and poorly endowed provided they agreed not to reproduce! To be fair to Wells he saw the only alternative to be grinding and unacceptable poverty for many.

Hilary Easton
HE
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

In his stories H G Wells tried out a number of scenarios. Particularly horrific is in The Time Machine where the classes evolve into predator and prey. Edward Bellamy had a more optimistic stab at it in Looking Backwards

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

He makes it more explicit in “A modern utopia”.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

So the trick is to discourage the poorly endowed genetically from having lots of children, while encouraging the well endowed to have lots, without disadvantaging the former and advantaging the latter. Not sure how you do that.

One way would be to invert the current rate of taxes paid by the better-off. Instead of paying a higher rate as you earn more, you’d pay a lower rate. Your entire income of £100k could be free of income tax.
The well-off would then be able to afford to have more children than most, rather than – as now – having fewer. The well-off self-limit the number of children they have in part because of the burden of taxes they pay to support the much larger families of the benefits-claiming classes.

Martin Dukes
Martin Dukes
2 years ago

For an example of your analysis visualised by a film-maker, you should watch ‘Idiocracy.’

Caroline Watson
CW
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

Race is a red herring here. On a micro level, of course genes influence intelligence.
My father was a farmer’s son who became a journalist and left my mother when I was a tiny baby. I knew nothing about him and had no contact until I was 18. I grew up on a council estate with a mother and stepfather who had no interest in my education. I could read at three and speed read at six. I went to a grammar school where reports described me as ‘highly articulate’ and praised my writing skills. I read English at Durham and joined the civil service where my writing was also praised. I can spot spelling and punctuation errors in a page of text that I haven’t read; I just know that they are there. Later discussion with my father ascertained that he had all those skills.
I once did a job in which I had to round up and count sheep. I hadn’t grown up on a farm but, somehow, I knew how their minds worked. A farmer in Cumbria once said, ‘By, there’s stockman in you lass’ and, clearly, there was.
Not only is academic intelligence genetic, but so is the propensity for other skills. Most people know that but, just as most people know that mammals cannot change sex, it isn’t fashionable.

Hardee Hodges
HH
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

Please also observe that intelligence and skills can (and should) always be improved by continued study. I suspect curiosity is a human trait that can be nurtured into understanding.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Hardee Hodges

Practical intelligence benefits from much practice (good quality education ) – and curiosity appears to be a genetic trait that is linked to IQ and leads to a far higher level of ‘knowledge’ – the better to make one’s way in the world.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago

I think it was Alan Titchmarsh – or some other TV gardener – who looked into his forebears and found that several of those about whom he previously knew nothing had been gardeners too.

Bob Bobbington
Bob Bobbington
2 years ago

One of the great shibboleths of the left is that equality is self-evidently the highest good. All other things being equal, I consider greater equality to be generally desirable, and I believe that equal rights and responsibilities in law are helpful foundations of society. The problematic presupposition of Rawls and others is that equality of outcome is a good in itself, when it is not. Its pursuit has only ever led to worse outcomes for the vast majority.

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
2 years ago

“Indeed, the book was written because so many people remain ignorant of behaviour genetics, and suspicious of any attempt to introduce biologically based variables into sociological matters.”

The resistance to the ideas in question emerges simply from the fact that sociologists are really just humanities intellectuals who dislike the prospect of a hard science settling issues that they prefer to remain ambiguous.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Sociologist cannot be described as intellectuals. The only reason why they studies sociology is because they were too dumb to study a worthwhile subject. They, of course, are fully aware of this and what we are witnessing is the revenge of the D grade student

Hilary Easton
HE
Hilary Easton
2 years ago

Meow!

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

I was being generous.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Indeed. Upton Sinclair’s dictum, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” applies at least as well inside academe as outside, and works just as well with “salary” replaced with “fellowship” or “grant-funding”.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

Inherited intelligence is not as controversial as most people think. I would say it is higher in people who have received a well-rounded education, and higher again in their children. Children as a whole performed worse at IQ tests back in the 1930s compared to children today. When this is applied to race, this has more to do with education systems than genetic intelligence. To put it bluntly, a tribesman from the Amazon will perform worse at an IQ test than someone who has received formal schooling. This says nothing about their general intelligence, but more about recognition of IQ test-like problems.
IQ tests are culturally biased, not terribly so, but there is some bias in them. For instance, I performed an official MENSA test in the United States where a section of questions would state a monetary amount, say $5.67, and I would have to write down how many and what type of coins I would need to get to that amount. Coming from the UK, it was a little harder for me because I was unused to thinking in nickels, dimes and quarters.
The controversy surrounding genetic intelligence is not that it’s racist, but that there are racial disparities within the US. As an educator working in the US, I can state with certainty that the disparities come not from skin color, but from how many books a child has at home, do they have two parents, does their home provide a stable enough environment for learning, etc.?
Unfortunately, with all this racialism taking place in the US, many teachers have given up addressing negative attitudes, bad behavior or shoddy work among their black students for fear of being labeled racist. Most schools just want them to pass through the system as effortlessly and frictionlessly as possible, usually because of the funding that is tied to demographic outcomes. A system that refuses to correct students when they are wrong is a poisonous one as we are now witnessing in college campuses across the nation.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

the disparities come not from skin color, but from how many books a child has at home, do they have two parents, does their home provide a stable enough environment for learning, etc

You’re another of Orwell’s political schizophrenics.
How do you know that “how many books a child has at home, do they have two parents, does their home provide a stable enough environment for learning” aren’t themselves be consequences of race?

Jon Hawksley
JH
Jon Hawksley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Because if A is correlated to B but not C, B is not correlated to C.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

Not so. Consider *independent* random variables A and C, with B defined to be A+C. A is correlated with B, C is correlated with B, but by hypothesis, A and C are not correlated. In real world phenomena, this will generally be the case if one actually has two (more or less) independent contributing factors to some outcome, which will correlate with both. One could even have cases where the factors have a weak correlation in the opposite direction, and each is correlated with the outcome.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It very well could be, but in my extremely anecdotal experience, migrants from Africa tend to do better educationally than African-Americans. In African-American culture there is great resistance to anything considered ‘white’ even if it is healthy and wholesome. However, just as intelligence can be taught to a large degree, so too can stupidity, or what I prefer to term ‘cultured ignorance’.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Well, yes. If someone grows up dim, it’s not necessarily because there were no books in the house. Perhaps it’s because their parents were dim, and in consequence didn’t own books. The lack of books didn’t cause a lack in intelligence; it’s the opposite.
The MENSA tests you describe sound poorly designed. A test that asks in effect what coin denominations the USA uses is not testing intelligence. It’s testing knowledge, presumably on the assumption that intelligent people acquire knowledge so a knowledge test is a proxy test of intelligence.
Intelligent people do acquire knowledge because they are curious, but they don’t all acquire the same knowledge. A North Korean with an IQ of 150 would have to guess the answer to that question, probably.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Your earlier assessments related to books and home situations agree with my observations. The cause for those missing resources remains unclear. In this second comment, we can agree that cultural differences between US Blacks and immigrant Blacks are a real factor. But I would hypothesize that US Blacks have been pre-conditioned into low expectations, now (of recent years) also endowed with a certain entitlement attitude. Some Native Americans have similar cultural adaptations. In teaching those students, try to raise expectations of performance (not always possible despite adapted modalities). Immigrants seem much more eager to achieve lacking that cultural bias. I am not aware of the UK situation, but given another culture, I would expect a different outcome.
Learned helplessness is an awful condition.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Race hucksters in the USA, like Al Sharpeton, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, etc. have indoctrinated the black population to believe they are victims and therefore many operate as victims leaving their agency behind. Black leadership, or what is considered leadership, has maimed their own kind. The last ‘uplifter’ of blacks was Martin Luther King, Jr. but in prominent black circles today he is disparaged.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It would be odd if these elements were ‘consequences’ of race because there are children of all races raised in homes with these things and without. The lack might be the consequence of poverty and there might be a disproportionate number of people of colour in the poverty bracket. However, surely this would be a case for tackling poverty, rather than race. It would be unfair to only help poor children depending on their colour, I would think.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

If you control for the factors you mention, you would get an idea of whether race is a predictor of IQ.

Peter Kriens
PK
Peter Kriens
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

IQ tests are extremely good predictors of future performance. They do not depend on how many books you got at home though. There are zillion twin & sibling studies that show how unimportant the environment is relative to the genetic composition. Freddie deBoer wrote a book about how the false progressive idea that the education can significantly improve the IQ of children is so harmful.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

I understand where you’re coming from, but what about children who do exceptionally well despite their parents? My parents made terrible life choices but, by all metrics, I have have done much better than them and my grandparents. I do believe my education helped me greatly.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Anecdata.

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yet data is merely a compilation of anecdotes.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

You must work in climate science.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

Very interesting, thank you. Also amusing, from some very definitely unintended angles, generated by the tension between the very charged topic under discussion and the social context the scientist protagonists are operating in. It takes a very peculiar outlook (like mine) to draw entertainment from the convoluted dance many STEM professionals are perforce performing nowadays in an attempt to square the circle of their subject matter, their personal values, and the society they are operating in. Little fires everywhere. Careful they don’t turn into a firestorm.

During the middle of the last century, American academia was replete with a uniquely gifted set of operators, both homegrown and imported through the happenchance of history (many from Hungary for some odd reason), who essentially defined not just what the modern US is but what the modern world is – although they remain pretty much unknown both to the wider public, and as yet to the world of keyboard warriors. This is notwithstanding some potentially very objectionable personal beliefs of many of the individuals concerned.

What, I wonder, would modern academia make of William Shockley, the Nobel Prize winning Physicist who set the ball rolling on the semiconductor industry and Silicon valley? Or John von Neumann, undoubtedly the single smartest human ever to have existed? Shockley believed in eugenics to such an extent that he thought his own estranged children significantly less intelligent than himself because of the discrepancy in intelligence between himself and his (understandably divorced) first wife. And von Neumann, notwithstanding he was nice and charming at a personal level, wanted to nuke the crap out of Stalin’s USSR before they got the bomb. Neither’s achievements can be impacted by their beliefs, because although everyone can argue all day long about their personal belief systems, you can’t really argue with a bunch of equations.

William McKinney
William McKinney
2 years ago

Anyone interested in the study of intelligence should read “In The Know” by Russell T. Warne. In it he shows just how rigorous and data-based intelligence research is – far more so than any other branch of psychology – and dispels many myths about intelligence, generally propagated by psychologists in other fields who are either ignorant of the vast quantity of research on the topic, or deliberately ignore or misrepresent it because it fails to conform to their a priori assumptions and preferred outcomes.

In the book he debunks, inter alia, the ideas that:

– Intelligence is too complex to summarise with one number
– IQ does not correspond to brain anatomy (one respondent in this thread seems to think it lives in the soul, whatever that is)
– There are multiple intelligences
– Intelligence is a western concept
– Intelligence tests are trivial, imperfect and cannot be trusted
– Intelligence tests are biased against diverse populations
– IQ reflects only socioeconomic status
– Genes are not important for determining intelligence
– Environmentally driven changes mean IQ is malleable
– Brain training programs can raise IQ
– Improvability of IQ means IQ can be equalised
– Every child is gifted
– Non-cognitive variables have powerful effects in academic achievement
– IQ tests measure only how good someone is at taking tests
– Intelligence is not important in the workplace
– Intelligence tests create or perpetuate false meritocracy
– Males and females have the same distribution of IQ scores
– Racial differences in IQ are completely environmental
– Intelligence research undermines the fight against inequality

He shows – pretty convincingly in my view – how each of the above widely held beliefs is untrue, either completely or in large part.

Worth a read for anyone interested in getting into the data and beyond dogma.

Hardee Hodges
HH
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

Seems a great resource. Confirms why Unherd is useful.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Something is missing here: if the author shares 98% of his DNA with chimpanzees, how can he only share 4.57% with his first cousin?

Norman Powers
NP
Norman Powers
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Yeah, I came down here to post the same thing. I wish I had something erudite and insightful to say about the gestalt theme of the article, but all I have is alarm at statements like these, which are completely nonsensical and raise the possibility that both article and book are pseudo-science, or at the very least that the geneticist who wrote this article is a uselessly bad communicator.

  • “Since twins share 100% of their genes and full-siblings just 50”
  • “Though siblings are 50% similar, she explains, they are also 50% different.”
  • “I know, for instance, that I share 52.49% of my DNA with one brother, 50.26% with another, and 4.57% with my first-cousin once-removed”

These statements are clearly not talking about all “their genes”, that’s impossible given that 50% of genes being different would be an alien species. Human DNA is nearly identical to dolphin DNA, so statements like the above cannot be taken at face value. Is the author talking about some unnamed tiny subset of genes that are expected to vary between humans? I get that this article is half social commentary and maybe not meant to be a science article at all, but if you’re going to throw precise percentages into it then you need to clearly define what they’re percentages of.
This statement is also bizarre in the extreme, yet managed to get past Unherd editors:

“cognitive behaviour, ranging from memory to self-control — is nearly 100% heritable in children, meaning that all the variation in the population can be attributed to variation in genes”

What? Cognitive behaviour is 100% heritable? That would mean children would always, without fail, have identical personalities to their parents. It would mean nobody could train themselves to have a better memory, which is false. In fact how do you even accurately measure something as vague as “self control” to arrive at such a conclusion? This statement cannot possibly be correct. Any correlation that strong would have been noticed by primitive tribes, no geneticists necessary.
I thought Tom Chivers is science editor? I wonder if he actually got to edit this piece before it went live, because it’s hard to imagine him letting these sorts of statements through without clarification.

Last edited 2 years ago by Norman Powers
Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Norman, I wondered if his figures relate to the 2% human unique DNA. In which case if I am 50% different from a sibling there is only 1% overall genetic difference which is not very much! There agaIn I have read that there is a vast difference in terms of whether or not genes are switched on reducing the similarity with apes to around 85%.

Tom Krehbiel
TK
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

I believe that the answer to the conundrum which you and Peter LR raise is that in the human-chimpanzee example, they are talking total DNA, while in the sibling comparisons, genes or perhaps whole chromosomes are meant. Presumably the author and his brothers were from the same two parents, as there wouldn’t be over half correspondence genetically if they weren’t. We must also assume that each parent had 46 chromosomes that all differed somewhat from each other as well as from the other parent. If there’s even one different DNA molecule in Mom’s chromosome or gene from Dad’s counterpart, then that can’t be included in shared DNA. I fully agree that different terminology should be used for comparing sibling sharing of DNA as opposed to a comparison of chimp and human sharing of the same.
If memory serves, we have about 3.2 billion (milliard or thousand million, if you prefer) DNA molecules, some 3% of which are found in the chromosomes. That would mean about 96 million in genetic material, which would mean that chromosomes average a little over 2 million such molecules. We have 40-45 thousand genes, which works out to over 2 thousand such units per gene. As you can see, that leaves a great deal of room for slight discrepancies.
BTW, the author didn’t mention that, while there’s a 50% sharing of the chromosomes or genes for siblings as a whole, it’s more than that for same sex siblings, less than that for opposite sex ones. The reason for that is that, while Mom’s chromosomes are truly 23 pairs, Dad’s are differentiated at the sex chromosome level in having an X and a Y. So sisters will automatically share his X while brothers will invariably share his Y. The other 45 chromosomes will be on an average of 50% for siblings regardless of differing or same genders.
Norman Powers, I agree with you that cognitive behavior is not 100% inheritable. Identical twins do differ *somewhat* in their behavior, after all. But it’s not correct to say, IMO, that this idea would mean that you would behave identically to your parents. They don’t behave identically to each other, I assume. And you would have a different genetic mixture than either of them. This mixture’s number of possibilities is so vast, in fact, that it’s unlikely in the extreme that any of your siblings match up exactly with you or each other. Well, that’s other than identical twins, of course.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tom Krehbiel
Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel

One interpretation would be that for sibling you are talking about the percentage of DNA that comes from the same source, whereas between species you are looking at how different the DN is. But is indeed a bit murky.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Our genome is encoded as a sequence of nucleotides (which come in 4 flavours a t c g). Different people can have variations in the same particular location of their respective genome, so that one may have g and one may have c for instance. Once this variety is shared in a population, rather than being a one-off mutation, it can be defined as a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism pron Snip). One group of people have one version (or allele) and the other has the other allele.
In sexual recombination the baby takes each allele randomly enough from each parent. Siblings will inherit the allele from the same parent half the time, and half the time from the opposite ones, and so we say that they share 50% DNA. Monozygotic twins develop from the same fertilisation and the same DNA recombination so they share 100% of their alleles with each other.
Where there is no polymorphism and everyone has the same nucleotide, we don’t talk about sharing DNA if we are dealing with humans, but we do when we are making the comparisons with other species.

Mike K
MK
Mike K
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

You mean his cousin Chimpy?

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Yes, you are missing that comparisons across species and with species are using different notions of “same”. Genes occur in different versions, e.g. one for blue eyes, one for brown — eye color is really more complicated, but that gets the point across — one for normal haemoglobin, one for the abnormal version associated with sickle-cell anemia, and so forth. When we compare individuals in the same species we are counting the precentage of genes of which they have the same version. When we compare across species we compare which sites in the genome carry genes for the same function encoded in the same way(s).

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“First, a society where the “biologically superior are entitled to greater freedoms and resources”. Second, a society “structured as if everyone is exactly the same in their biology”. Finally, a society “structured to work to the advantage of people who were least advantaged in the genetic lottery”.”

We inhabit the first one, to an extent, surely? For a given definition of “entitled”, that is. We very obviously do not operate a system which judges a person’s biological status and then allocates them more of everything based upon a perceived superiority, but if this thesis is correct and successful people are that way based partly upon immutable genetic factors that nobody controls, then market forces are in effect allocating them more freedom and resources through rewarding more useful behaviour by the people in question. And yes, we also inhabit the third one, not just through the mechanics of welfare state provision, but also the fact that market forces improve the lot of everyone through the consumer surplus.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I don’t think many people would disagree with you that we live in the first scenario, but what the writer said is that both liberals and conservatives often BEHAVE as if we live in the second. That is bad faith on their part.

Geoffrey Wilson
Geoffrey Wilson
2 years ago

Interesting article, and I compliment the author for bringing together a recent book by a US academic with the important contributions to philosophical understanding of Pinker and Rawls. It is a sad fact of modern US/UK intellectual life that some clearly proven sociology facts cannot be mentioned in academic life without risking your career. In the UK, I feel there is still a majority for decency and reason as long as we actively support those putting forward sensible ideas against the vocal “cancellers”. We should be trying to build things like valuing stable two-parent families which are proven to enhance wealth and happiness, whilst providing safety nets for those not lucky enough to have had that background. Discussing the exact bounds of this “decency”, such as tax rates on the lucky and the penalties on bad behaviour for the unlucky, should be possible between decent people. I think those shouting “racism” or “white privilege” are boors who are best ignored – let’s simply label the shouts as nasty and ignore them. We can but dream.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
2 years ago

Never mind IQ, is there something genetic which I would call ‘Civilising Potential’? From the 1820’s until today, 7 generations of my family (of which I am 5th) have this property, starting in dire poverty and continuously working hard to slowly improve their society: I also recognise it in most members of my diaspora which is why I mentioned ‘genetic’. I have travelled extensively and many other cultures do not seem to have this ability, but blame poverty for their plight.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

Intelligence is over-rated. Moderation, hard work, integrity, commitment and kindness, to name but a few, are far more important to a good life and a good society.

helen godwin
helen godwin
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Agree. I know several examples of brilliant people I was at Cambridge with who have floundered in life due to lack of these skills. And the opposite….I wonder whether she would add these into the ‘cognitive ‘ (eg self control). I’d need to read the book to understand this aspect further

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

If the good life is not also the fit life (in a Darwinian sense) then it becomes self-liquidating with the generations. What then of your good society?

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

Natural selection by random mutation is about many things, frequently unconnected to IQ.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Spot on. However, thinking about differences in IQ distributions is not completely worthless. There are some things one can’t do on the basis of the virtues you enumerate without a high IQ — research-level mathematics, computer science and theoretical physics spring readily to mind — and it is thus a fool’s errand to try to attain “equity” in representation in those professions between groups with different shaped upper tails to their IQ distributions, which fool’s errand the agencies funding scientific research throughout the Anglosphere have embarked on with great zeal.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  David Yetter

Indupidably.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago

On my side of the pond, the Left has declared itself to be the “party of science” and uses declared fealty to some version of Darwinian evolution (which version depends on how scientifically literate the particular Lefist is) as a shibboleth, since their nemeses, protestant evangelicals, object to it on metaphysical grounds. On the other hand, this fealty is only a shibboleth, since actually accepting the Darwinian account of biological diversity would oblige one to support the view that reproductively isolated populations of human beings will almost certainly exhibit different distributions of traits, including traits which are relevant to social outcomes in modern society (e.g. intelligence and behavioral traits like sociability or willingness to take risks), which view the Left denies, insisting that all differences in social outcomes are the result of increasingly diffuse notions expanding on the old, reasonable notion of invidious discrimination, of late “structural racism”, “white supremacy” (redefined in an expansive way so that not only actual Nazis and Klansmen, but classical liberals who question the latest woke dogma regarding race are “white supremacists”), or even simply “whiteness”.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Yetter
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

“…In 2021, we now have the technology to plumb the depths of our human nature. The results may not always be to our liking, but the facts are ultimately unchangeable…”

Yeah, but this is now only true for a very short period hereafter. I’ve already ordered my CRISPR home-kit from Amazon.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

Asking “Do genes determine intelligence?” is like asking “Do bears take a dump in the woods?”. And yes, I do know authors are generally not responsible for creating the headline for an article (which typically needs be clickbaity for sound commercial reasons).

Arthur Green
Arthur Green
2 years ago

The Genetic Lottery has undertones that remind me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where the population was programmd genetically in an artificial womb into Alphas down to Epsilons. Sex was relegated merely to a promiscuous pastime. Alphas were designed to be the most intelligent and capable and Epsilons were designed to be mere labourers. Thus technology triumphed over natural biology. However, the question then becomes who decides individual destinies? The application of technology over biology has become a serious risk going forward, especially in the hands of totalitarian ideologies. We are a long way off Huxley’s scenario, but I am reminded of Stalin, who tried to produce super soldiers by mating humans with gorillas.
For example, socialism tries to socially engineer equality of outcomes for every individual. This is impossible. We are all biologically different. They have confused equality of outcome with equality of opportunity. However, they pursue “social justice” with totalitarian rigour, incrementally attempting to control every aspect of life to fulfil their impossible dream. The result is misery for the vast majority, and gross inequality for individuals. A simple review of history will demonstrate this. Can you imagine what would happen if the technological capability were available to modify biology, intelligence and competences? Huxley was both a socialist and an evolutionist. He considered such things. Such genetic manipulation was in its infancy in his day He was also a visionary who anticipated the consequences of the use of such technology.
The one point that stands out to me from this review of The Genetic Lottery is that when any science, but especially biology, is mixed with ideology, the result is a moral minefield, and the unintended consequences often go unrecognised.

ralph bell
ralph bell
2 years ago

Its depressing to think of the missed opportunities that could have given the disadvantaged a ‘leg-up’ in life due to the bias and stubbornness in the liberal elite/academics et al.
‘Levelling up’ will always face huddles with the vested interests and virtue signalling.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

I’ll add this to my reading list as I go through Nichols Wade’s controversial book A Troublesome InheritanceGenes, Race and Human History. Any book that gets opposition via a letter signed by XXX scientists is a must read. Such opposition must strike a nerve as does The Genetic Lottery. I am interested in why Western civilizations created the governmental forms that seem so successful compared to other cultures. I postulate that perhaps the ancient Neanderthal genes admixed with Homo Sapiens may account for that cultural difference. I must admit not being a specialist in the area, nor particularly well read but motivated by curiosity.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

The “biologically superior” aren’t “entitled” to rewards; they just come their way if society rewards intelligence.
A society of slaves on a West Indies plantation would not be an example of such a society, obviously. Over successive generations the population would instead be dominated by the descendants of whomever the owners thought capable of most work, and who had therefore been allowed to breed. It would become brawnier, not brainier.

Shelly Andon
SA
Shelly Andon
2 years ago

Though I haven’t read the book, my take on the heritability of intelligence and thereby the heritability of educational outcomes, is that this information could be put to good use in helping those who are genetically disadvantaged in this way, by societies who wish to become more equal and just. Instead, the fear of acknowledging this scientific knowledge and thus giving rise to racial profiling, prevents most politicians from even attempting to acknowledge let alone really studying the information and using it to focus assistance where it is most needed and where it might make the most difference. I think the argument has been made by Steven Pinker in blank slate and better angels that using science to understand inequality doesn’t have to lead to increased racism and prejudice, but could rather be used to improve outcomes by better utilisation of limited resources. Unfortunately there are plenty of examples in history where it is in fact a lack of scientific literacy that has led to racial and other prejudiced behaviours in societies. I think we need to give the scientific facts a chance to enter the discussion on how to improve life outcomes rather than continue with head in the sand platitudes.

Chris Eaton
CE
Chris Eaton
2 years ago

I just love ‘soft science’…you can say whatever you want then get upset when no one believes. you.

Hosias Kermode
JH
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago

I find this whole debate profoundly depressing. And pointless. So many questions are begged. And have been all my life. Of course inheritance plays a part. Equally, of course it is not everything. Of course upbringing teaches values and habits which impact on outcomes. It begins from far too narrow a definition of intelligence in the first place. I have two grandsons. One is highly verbal, good at language, reading, discussion of ideas. The other is far more visual, far more spatially and also emotionally intelligent. I predict he will grow up to be far better at solving practical problems than his brother. And will probably have a calmer, more fulfilling existence. Both are pushed in their achievements by middle class helicopter parents. In the end this isn’t a debate about facts. People are far too complex and diverse for something like IQ to be a meaningful measurement of anything much. It’s about values. We would do better to value the kaleidescope of different talents and achievements and concentrate on raising children with the sorts of moral values that will most readily lead to a satisfying and happy adult life. But that’s a whole other subject for debate.

Last edited 2 years ago by Hosias Kermode
Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
2 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

“I find this whole debate profoundly depressing. And pointless.”
At least here in the US, the push to racialize everything in politics, education, business, etc. makes this topic important. I agree with everything you say. It seems self-evident for people who have been alive for more than 25 to 30 years or so. But, serious conversations are being had about tearing down the fabric of our ‘inherently racist’ (and irredeemable) society. These aren’t academic debates limited to the world of the universities and people who write books that few people read. Stuff is getting implemented. What is the right thing to do? How to proceed? (I don’t necessarily know). But, that’s the point.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

IQ is a meaningful measure of what it measures. It is not a unidimensional measure of worth. What it measures is cognitive ability, and it shows that abilities across many domains are correlated, and that ability is correlated with practical success in life, the more so the more cognitively-demanding the task is. Correlated does not mean perfect predictor, it means probabilistic predictor. If you can’t use a probabilistic predictor, please trust me that other people can.
It does not speak to other dimensions of personality, such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, extroversion, or openness to experience. You seemed to be saying that because it doesn’t then it has no value, but another response is to clarify what IQ is and what it does and does not describe, and to use other measures instead to think about these other dimensions of personality. But above all don’t think of IQ as a universal index of global worth.

Adrian Doble
Adrian Doble
2 years ago

I think his conclusion “but the facts are ultimately unchangeable.” is far from a settled conclusion!

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
2 years ago

Thank you for an interesting article.

Andrew Crisp
Andrew Crisp
2 years ago

Er, no!
Genes may determine the BODY one is born with, but not the individual, the soul, wherein lies the intelligence.
The body can affect the individual’s intelligence e.g. by the effect of drugs, but that can be improved by removing the drug(s) in question.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Crisp
Nick Dougan
ND
Nick Dougan
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Crisp

So Andrew, what determines the soul?

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Dougan

I hope Andrew does’nt mind if I answer.
The Ancient Greeks believed in the soul, or psyche. It is the eternal part of us. Socrates thought it was our essence of individual being, where our moral understanding came from. Plato and Pythagoras slightly different understandings. Aristotle, natural scientist that he was, thought the soul was the form of a being, it’s combination of powers to exist.
The Egyptians, Chinese, Hindus and Christians all had, or have, their concepts of the soul.
IQ is a scientific measure of intelligence but each one of us has a soul, and God loves each one of us equally whether we are thi ck or a genius.
Life is not just science, it is much, much more than that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Crisp

I agree with you Andrew.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Crisp

I do actually sometimes wonder whether there is scope for a surprising synthesis of the DNA-determined and materialist point of view with some of the ancient spiritual traditions.
It could be thrilling.