« Housework and wages | Main | Lowry beats shares »

June 27, 2007


tom s.

On the difference between heritable and genetic traits, do read Cosma Shalizi at http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/494.html, where he asks "How would you react to the idea that a psychological trait, one intimately linked to the higher mental functions, is highly heritable?"

Peter Risdon

[If differences in family background largely determine differences in skills, doesn't this mean people's fate is sealed (insofar as skills matter) at a very early age?]

No, it means that innate ability is. A person's fate depends on how their abilities are developed, what opportunities they have, and what they make of them.

[... doesn't it follow that meaningful equality of opportunity - an ideal our new Prime Minister claims to support - is impossible to achieve without equality of outcome?]

No, It follows that equality of opportunity is not going to lead to equality of outcome, and it's a mistake to conflate the two things. Equality of outcome, in fact, is a sign that equality of opportunity is not available.

Equality of outcome is not desirable. It's tyrannical and unfair. It means totalitarian state intervention to prevent people from benefiting from hard work, insight, intelligence, strength, beauty, diligence, application, perception or luck.


"the nature-nurture debate is obsolete": not quite right. You are far too young to remember, but the debate in the early 60s, then called heredity vs environment, had a most striking feature. Those on the heredity side argued that both heredity and environment mattered. Their opponents argued that heredity did not matter at all. (Hard to believe, I know, but it was so.) Consequently, it's fair to say that the "heredity side" are entirely the victors, and that we can now try to tease out the extents, interactions and subtleties involved. Except, of course, among the bien pensants, who will as usual ignore any scientific evidence they don't like. (While sneering at American rednecks for ignoring scientific evidence for evolution.)


How does the fact that you think the 60's debate was won by one particular side mean that the nature-nuture debate is not in fact obsolete?


Well, if I wanted to wriggle, Katherine, I'd say that the 'nature vs nurture' debate was a knockout win for nature and so now there is a 'nature-nurture' debate about how the two interact. If I wanted a seat in the cabinet, I'd just deny that I'd said what I said above.

Matt Munro

I'm not sure its accurate to say the nature/ nurture debate is oboslete, especially in the context of intelligence. The heritability factor in intelligence is estimated (e.g by Charles Murray) to be between 40-80% and correlates very highly with educational outcomes and subsequent life chances. Intelligence potential is therefore set at, or before, birth ("nature"), but, that potential may or may not be realised by "nurture". A good example of this is the Royal family. For generations, the richest family in the country, with privelidged upbringings, and acess to the best education in the world, so why haven't they produced a steady stream of rocket scientists, brain surgeons and the like ? Because the raw material, the "nature" wasn't there to begin with. Silk purse, sows ear.
Conversely neither of my parents were well educated nor do they strike me as particularly intelligent, but I passed an 11+ and went to a grammar school in the 1970s, at the time this put me in the top 20% of the population in terms of IQ .
The genetic potential for that that intelligence must have existed (to some degree) in my parents, but due to a lack of educational opportunities was not manifest in them but in me as I had both the "nature" and the "nurture".
The debate is obsolete in the sense that all but the most rabid lefty social worker must admit that there is a role for both, (the consenus is for a transactive model of through life development e.g Sameroff) but it continues in terms of which is more important and which "came first". The left are in fact doggedly hanging onto nurture, cranking it up, in the hope that even the dimmest dimwit will respond if
given enough "encouragement". This is manifest as social engineering in various guises (social justice, equality of outsome, prizes for all, school admissions policies etc) with the philosophy that chaging our social structures will change social outcomes. It's all bollocks, of course, and will eventually get mugged by reality, probably in the guise of a moribund economy being overtake by China/India towards the middle of 21C.


It's amusing to watch dearieme try to rewrite scientific history. In fact, there were plenty on the heredity side of the debate who wanted to exclude nurture from consideration entirely. Indeed, there are plenty now within "socio-biology" who want to emphasise genes and even ancient heredity far beyond the evidence that exists...

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad