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March 21, 2004

The Galtonian Revolution is slow, but coming

I have been impressed that both AAAS and APA (yes, the same group that tried to have Arthur Jensen kicked out in the '70s) have developed Working Groups to discuss behavior genetics. One of the results from the AAAS is a layperson-directed paper entitled Genetic Differences and Human Identities, of which I have very mixed reactions.

Good

A. The desire to bring behavior genetics to "the Public Conversation."

B. Acknowledgement of the Galtonian idea [1] that phenotypic differences are (at least partially) due to genetic differences.

C. The easy-to-understand difference between public-health oriented analyses (e.g., heritability) and more molecular analysis (e.g., linkage).

*these are all major steps in the right direction, at least from my perspective the in the "social sciences"*

Bad

A. The almost mandatory, defamatory swipe at Arthur Jensen and Herrnstein & Murray that most authors feel they have to make when discussing behavior genetics.

Of course, what is said about the authors' work is oversimplified and errant. For example, Jensen (1969) did not, as Parens says,

insinuate that, on average, whites score better than blacks on IQ tests because of a natural or genetic difference between races.

Instead, Jensen wrote that it is a testable hypothesis:

There is an increasing realization among students of the psychology of the disadvantaged that the discrepancy in their average performance cannot be completely or directly attributed to discrimination or inequalities in education. It seems not unreasonable, in view of the fact that intelligence variation has a large genetic component, to hypothesize that genetic factors may play a part in this picture. But such an hypothesis is anathema to many social scientists. The idea that the lower average intelligence and scholastic performance of Negroes could involve, not only environmental, but also genetic, factors has indeed been strongly denounced (e.g., Pettigrew, 1964). But it has been neither contradicted nor discredited by evidence.
The fact that a reasonable hypothesis has not been rigorously proved does not mean that it should be summarily dismissed. It only means that we need more appropriate research for putting it to the test. I believe such definitive research is entirely possible but has not yet been done. So all we are left with are various lines of evidence, no one of which is definitive alone, but which, viewed all together, make it a not unreasonable hypothesis that genetic factors are strongly implicated in the average Negro-white intelligence difference.

B. Ironically, in a paper that tries to make Behavior Genetics more accessible, the author makes a censoring swipe at Glayde Whitney's 1995 BGA presidential address, stating that Whitney made

unquoteably ugly remarks about the genetic explanation for the difference in the rates at which blacks and whites commit murder in the United States,

when what Whitney did was just present data and then draw conclusions from them. (Gasp!)

C. Parens tries to give the impression that there was never really a time when Behaviorism/Environmentalism reigned supreme, dismissing Pinker's nice work in the area, and instead quotes one of S. Freud's earlier works as evidence that people gave credit to both heredity and environmental influences. First, why would anybody use Freud as a definitive source? (OK, a little harsh). Second, why not look at the real culprits of Environmentalism such as J. B. Watson, B. F. Skinner, T. Hobbes, F. Bacon, et al? Even better, read a psychology book circa the mid-twentieth century; chances are, the environmental determinism is so think you could cut it with a knife.


Overall, Take Home Message

To me anyway, it looks as if we are headed in the right direction, but still have a ways to go.


Notes:
[1] I realize that Galton did not first make this conjecture, and that it can be traced back (at least) to the ancient Greeks. Still, it is in large part due to Galton's, along with his protégé K. Pearson’s, prodigious work in the area and direct hypotheses (and methods to test the hypotheses) that phenotypic differences in quantitative traits are due, in part, to one's inherited characteristics that the “revolution” bears his name.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 11:16 PM