Bad Medicine

 A familiar saying is that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.  That advice is particularly hard to take for the committed ideologue.  One of the besetting problems of American society is the existence of large gaps in educational achievement, much of it correlated with race. This problem has attracted a lot of would be solutions, including, prominently, the Head Start program, and Affirmative Action.

If we accept that achievement differences are due to discrimination or existing economic and social discrepancies, interventions like Head Start sound reasonable.  In fact, they have nearly always been a failure.  The heart of this ideology is what has been called the "Blank Slate" - the notion that the brain is a blank slate upon which anything can be written.  Evidence that this is not the case is derided as biased or worse.  Not only that, but research into the biological underpinning of intelligence has been condemned as immoral - not for its practices or methods but because the results do not comport with the politically correct theory.

Meanwhile, evidence for the genetic basis of IQ, and its relatively high resistance to change, continues to accumulate.  Some are starting to say that if you want interventions that work for reducing inequality, maybe you should stop relying on method that have repeatedly failed and look at the fact.

Alex Tabarrok has a post about Paige Harden, whom he calls a "left-leaning behavioral geneticist."

One quote: 

First, Parens is overly optimistic that social science can ever hope to be successful without genetics. In reality, social scientists have failed, time and time again, to produce interventions that bring about lasting improvements in people’s lives. There are many reasons for that failure. But one reason is that many scientists continue to engage in what the sociologist Jeremy Freese has called a “tacit collusion” to avoid reckoning, in their research designs and in their causal inferences, with the fact that people are genetically different from one another.

All interventions and policies are built on a model of how the world works: “If I change x, then y will happen.” A model of the world that pretends all people are genetically the same, or that the only thing people inherit from their parents is their environment, is a wrong model of how the world works. The more often our models of the world are wrong, the more often we will continue to fail in designing interventions and policies that do what they intend to do. The goal of integrating genetics into the social sciences is not to design boutique educational interventions tailored for children’s genotypes. It is to help rescue us from our current situation, where most educational interventions tested don’t work for anyone. This track record of failure plays directly into the hands of a right-wing that touts the ineffectiveness of intervention as evidence for its false narrative of genetic determinism.


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