Why do so many people fail to accept the overwhelming evidence that genes contribute to academic achievement and thereby social status, asks Jill Boucherby Jill Boucher / November 14, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
A bon mot that recently came my way and which I rather like is: “If you’re not angry, you haven’t been paying attention.” I get angry about many issues, and try hard not to pay attention to those that I can do absolutely nothing about, or know nothing about apart from what I may pick up from the media (an unreliable source). I do, however, pay attention to, and get irritated by, much of the discussion of social mobility. This is something I do know a bit about from my own research into neurodevelopmental disorders, learning abilities and disabilities; and which I have reasons to feel strongly about from my experience of adopting two children. My irritation recently led me to write a letter to Prospect (published in the November issue), as a result of which I was invited to write this article. I demurred at first, arguing that I lack qualifications in any of the critically relevant disciplines such as sociology, education, and behavioural genetics. Eventually, however, I agreed to write a personal opinion piece from the viewpoint of a reasonably well-informed outsider and adoptive parent.
Why do discussions of social mobility get under my skin? In the first place, I greatly dislike the polemical nature of what easily becomes a sterile nature versus nurture mud-slinging match. For example, a Guardian article on a recent much-publicised paper on education by Michael Gove’s advisor, Dominic Cummings, associates claims of a genetic contribution to academic achievement with eugenics and Nazism. The article stated: “genetic explanations for social mobility are now the preserve of the right,” and suggested that the evidence offered by Cummings of a genetic contribution to academic achievement implies that “human fate is sealed at birth.” This is nonsense! Moreover, it is inflammatory nonsense, all the more regrettable to me because it was written by a journalist whose work I generally admire. The nativists (one can’t call them naturists) can be just as polemical. Steven Pinker, for example, a noted and vociferous nativist, is quoted by Cummings as writing that: “The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness.”