Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Unfairness of the Genetic Lottery

Psychology professor Kathryn Paige Harden is plugging her new book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality

She co-wrote a 2017 article attacking this reasoning:

1) Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, is a meaningful construct that describes differences in cognitive ability among humans.

2) Individual differences in intelligence are moderately heritable.

3) Racial groups differ in their mean scores on IQ tests.

4) Discoveries about genetic ancestry have validated commonly used racial groupings.

5) On the basis of points 1 through 4, it is natural to assume that the reasons for racial differences in IQ scores are themselves at least partly genetic.

Until you get to 5, none of the premises is completely incorrect. ...

It is never a good thing to make poorly justified scientific claims. When it comes to race and IQ, doing so is toxic.

The article gives the impression that the reasoning is mostly correct, but immoral to make it because it leads to toxic conclusions.

Reviews have started to appear here and here.

It is good to see an ambitious leftist scholar take on these genetic issues, because it appears to me that points 1-5 make many egalitarian goals impossible. Any plan to equalize the races without addressing these issues is dishonest.

Here is a video about how even good scientific papers on this subject are being retracted by those who consider the facts embarrassing.

Harden is correct that none of us did anything to “earn” our genes; nor, for that matter, the homes into which we were born. As she notes, when you combine the “shared environment” factors with the estimated genetic effects in twin studies, these (unearned) causes explain most of what there is to explain — with the leftover portion comprising a sort of “free will” residual, which serves to illustrate why even identical twins growing up together will end up on (at least somewhat) different paths. That residual figure tends to be around 20 percent or so for educational outcomes, and about twice that for income.

Harden is also right that we can recognize the power of genes without invoking them to justify inequality as a “natural” phenomenon. Genes do explain, to some extent, why some people are more economically productive, and thus earn more than others, given the demands of a modern economy. But, again, genes are just luck. And the structure of the economy is something we can change.

I am sure she is correct that we don't earn our genes, or earn that unshared environment influence either. Maybe we earn the free will portion, but it is hard to say.

I guess she is going to say that it is unfair to benefit from what you did not earn. That might make for a moral philosophy discussion, but I am not sure any of that matters in the real world. You still will not equalize the race, or eliminate the unfairness of the genetic lottery.

Right-wingers tend to view all this as showing a need to understand the facts, and avoid trying to change what cannot be changed. Leftists like to complain about some supposed unfairness, even if the unfairness cannot be fixed. So they like to pretend that race does not exist, when that is a convenient way to escape facts.

Here is a video rant with Russell Brand on how unfair it is that wealthy folks have inherited wealth. Kyle says that Tiger Woods is the exception, as he got rich on his own. Kyle says most of the richest billionaires did not make it on their own, did not necessarily work hard, and it is unfair that a handful of billionaires have more wealth than half the world.

But Tiger Woods had the good fortune to win the genetic lottery, combined with a dad who expertly trained him in golf at a very early age. If inheriting wealth is unfair, then so is inheriting good genes, and having a good upbringing.

A large part of the world is in debt. So if you are flat broke, you still have more money than the combined wealth of millions of people, as their net worth is negative. That is how capitalism works. Some people will be investors, and some debtors.

I haven't read Harden's book. I expect her to get canceled for merely discussing the subject.

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