An article in the Guardian about a recent scientific study that shows a strong link between genetics and exam scores provides a treasure trove of findings, not in the science behind it, but in the nearly 1,000 reader comments.
The article itself describes the methods used in the study:
more than 11,000 16-year-olds [took GCSE exams] at the end of their secondary school education. In the compulsory core subjects of English, maths and science, genetics accounted for on average 58% of the differences in scores that children achieved...
To tease out the genetic contribution to children's school grades, the researchers studied GCSE scores of identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) and non-identical twins (who share on average half of the genes that normally vary between people). Both groups share their environments to a similar extent.
The reader comments could be categorized into two groups:
- Those who reacted viscerally with anecdotes and strongly held intuitions and opinions that the science or methods must be flawed, and/or they questioned the motives of the study author (Robert Plomin), and
- Those who responded factually and logically, supporting the methods and conclusions of the study
I'm reminded of the raging war of words between political parties in America. While both parties believe that everyone is morally equal, Republicans stress the Lockean belief in equal opportunity and entitlement (i.e. you can keep whatever you make) but they don't believe in equality of merit, talent or outcomes. The Democrats stress the Hobbesian belief that everyone is born with equal merit and talent, and so any inequality in outcomes must be due to social/cultural discrimination that the government should rectify.
Unfortunately, any talk about genetics and talent is taboo in politically-correct America. (That's why the study author, Plomin, had to flee to the UK to conduct his research.) In any case, most of us are not swayed by reason or scientific arguments. We enjoy making up stories and rationalisations to support our intuitions and biases. It seems we're hardwired to believe in equality of talent, and we're willing to discard any scientific evidence when it conflicts with our preconceptions. (Until the evidence is overwhelming, but we're not quite there yet.)
However, I don't think both sides in the genetics/talent debate fit neatly into the two political parties. There is an opportunity for a third political party that accepts people as innately different in talent (the Republican stance), yet sees a government role to rectify the resulting inequality in outcomes (the Democratic stance).
Today, the rich are getting richer. The top 10% now control 75% of the wealth. It's grossly unfair. Let's accept that talent (and wealth) inequality can be partly explained by genetic inequality, and that the innately talented should not be entitled to all their earnings. Only then can we restore fairness in society.