Every now and then I buy a Sunday newspaper, supposedly for the treat of catching up with the week’s news in a more detailed manner than would have been possible on a weekday.
The Sun on Sunday and The Mail on Sunday manage 1,400,00 readers each, the more refined The Sunday Times a decent 765,000, as befits a supposed newspaper of repute. The Sunday Times aims to influence the influencers, and to be the standard bearer of accepted wisdom and genteel debate, plus cookery tips. Readers will help determine how society works by making choices and shaping opinions, not least in schools and universities. In the Culture section Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene is reviewed by journalist Brian Appleyard, who inter alia says (column four):
Kinship studies around the world have repeatedly come up with percentages indicating the “heritability” of certain human traits, notably intelligence. Identical twins reared together have a much more than 50% likelihood of having similar IQs. But with non-identical siblings, the correlation plummets. And with families living apart the number drops even further. The point is that “heritability” (a genetic cause) isn’t the same as “inheritability”, the transfer of traits down the generations. Intelligence is clearly based on a vast complex of genes and their interactions that are highly unlikely to be passed on intact from parent to children. Along with now proven flaws in the whole idea of IQ, these new discoveries utterly discredit all attempts to make crude connections between race and intelligence. With the development of the theory of epigenetics, which argues that genes can be responsive to environmental factors, we now know that events in life can change the genetic destiny of future generations.
This is an interesting example of contemporary received wisdom, which will be read and even possibly believed by the chattering classes, and even some of the whispering classes, to which minority category I probably belong.
So, here in a whisper is my question: how will we ever climb this mountain of misunderstanding?
The comment is confused on so many different levels, showing much confusion about genetics, but also a touching faith in the epigenetics argument. This journalist studied English at university, but has no hesitation in reviewing a book about genetics, mangling the arguments, and making full use of the megaphone placed in his hands by credulous editors.
I have at best 1200 readers per day, so I cannot compete on numbers alone, but in the interests of establishing facts I suggest some minor correctives:
a link to the latest work on the genetics of scholastic achievement by Davies et al.
a link to the paper on the genetics of completed school years which James Lee presented at Albuquerque last year
and the full version of that paper now published in Nature
and a link to Davide Piffer’s work on racial group differences, updated again so as to take in the latest Okbay findings above.
In case you know anyone who really thinks that “there are now proven flaws in the idea of IQ” , a book written for clever sillies:
If you pass this post on to another colleague you will have helped put the record straight, though you may have to do so in a whisper.