The New Nature-Nurture Argument

As it stands, the nature-nurture debate is wrong, proposes David Shenk in his book on the subject, The Genius in All of Us. Shenk submits the idea that we overestimate the effect genes have on many heritable traits, especially intelligence (or that ever-elusive ‘genius’).

According to Shenk, and he is persuasive, none of this stuff is genetically determined, if by “determined” you mean exclusively or largely dictated by genes. Instead, “one large group of scientists,” a “vanguard” that Shenk has labeled “the interactionists,” insists that the old genes-plus-environment model (G+E) must be jettisoned and replaced by a model they call GxE, emphasizing “the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.” They don’t discount heredity, as the old blank-slate hypothesis of human nature once did. Instead, they assert that “genes powerfully influence the formation of all traits, from eye color to intelligence, but rarely dictate precisely what those traits will be.”

The Hacker News discussion on this article is as erudite as ever, and through it I discovered the story of László Polgár and his three daughters:

[Chess grandmaster Judit Polgár] and her two older sisters, Grandmaster Susan and International Master Sofia, were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, in an attempt to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained in a specialist subject from a very early age. “Geniuses are made, not born,” was László’s thesis. He and his wife Klara educated their three daughters at home, with chess as the specialist subject. However, chess was not taught to the exclusion of everything else. Each of them has several diplomas and speaks four to eight languages.

Shenk’s book sounds like a scientifically-rigourous version of Gladwell’s latest.

via Intelligent Life