A rebuttal to the NYRB article ‘Why Biology is not Destiny’
As the evidence that genes contribute significantly to variation in (almost) all human traits continues to accumulate, a blank-slate ideology has become increasingly popular among educated progressives.
This worldview ardently denies the importance of genes for social outcomes, while castigating those who accept and openly discuss it as potential bigots, tracing an intellectual ancestry back to a motley crew of scientific poseurs, charlatans, and racists in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The dissonance between peer-reviewed articles (even those in an academia dominated by the left) and popular discourse in mainstream progressive outlets about the causes of human variation and disparities in social outcomes is jarring.
In the peer-reviewed literature, virtually no serious scholar would suggest that the heritability of intelligence is zero; and, in fact, the consensus estimate is that the heritability of intelligence is roughly .3-.6. (i.e., variation in genes accounts for 30-60% of the population variation in intelligence).
But in the New York Times or Mother Jones, many articles suggest or outright assert that only a few radical conservatives and genetic determinists believe that variation in intelligence is substantially caused by variation in genes. The predominant view in these outlets is that humans are born with virtually identical abilities to flourish and that the most potent cause of inequality is injustice.
Therefore, I was not surprised to read a recent hostile and tendentious review (tellingly entitled, “Why Biology is not Destiny”) of Kathryn Harden’s “The Genetic Lottery,” by M. W. Feldman and Jessica Riskin in the New York Review; however, I was surprised by its many fallacies, errors, and ad hominem attacks.
Harden’s book, “The Genetic Lottery,” despite its unfortunate lapses into Manicheanism and exaggerated alarm about the popularity of eugenics and racism, was a serious attempt to grapple with a challenging question: How do we understand social justice in a world in which social outcomes are affected significantly by differences in innate traits and tendencies?