Robert Plomin, a psychologist, has a new book out, and it looks like he intentionally picked the title to a) make him look stupid, b) align with the alt-right, or c) stir up controversy for sales, because jeez, it’s possibly one of the most backward, unaware, ignorant titles yet: Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are. What do you do with a book that has a title that is so wrong?
I guess you ask Nathaniel Comfort to review it.
And yet, here we are again with Blueprint, by educational psychologist Robert Plomin. Although Plomin frequently uses more civil, progressive language than did his predecessors, the book’s message is vintage genetic determinism: “DNA isn’t all that matters but it matters more than everything else put together”. “Nice parents have nice children because they are all nice genetically.” And it’s not just any nucleic acid that matters; it is human chromosomal DNA. Sorry, microbiologists, epigeneticists, RNA experts, developmental biologists: you’re not part of Plomin’s picture.
Crude hereditarianism often re-emerges after major advances in biological knowledge: Darwinism begat eugenics; Mendelism begat worse eugenics. The flowering of medical genetics in the 1950s led to the notorious, now-debunked idea that men with an extra Y chromosome (XYY genotype) were prone to violence. Hereditarian books such as Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve (1994) and Nicholas Wade’s 2014 A Troublesome Inheritance (see N. Comfort Nature 513, 306–307; 2014) exploited their respective scientific and cultural moments, leveraging the cultural authority of science to advance a discredited, undemocratic agenda. Although Blueprint is cut from different ideological cloth, the consequences could be just as grave.
It seems that Plomin believes GATTACA was a documentary for a utopia. You might be wondering what the consequences could be.
Ultimately, if unintentionally, Blueprint is a road map for regressive social policy. Nothing here seems overtly hostile, to schoolchildren or anyone else. But Plomin’s argument provides live ammunition for those who would abandon proven methods of improving academic achievement among socio-economically deprived children. His utopia is a forensic world, dictated by polygenic algorithms and the whims of those who know how to use them. People would be defined at birth by their DNA. Expectations would be set, and opportunities, resources and experiences would be doled out — and withheld — a priori, before anyone has had a chance to show their mettle.
To paraphrase Lewontin in his 1970 critique of Jensen’s argument, Plomin has made it pretty clear what kind of world he wants.
I oppose him.
An argument from consequences is a fallacy, but the real meat of the review is that Plomin’s evidence is bad, that he consistently misinterprets it, and that he’s ignorant of the broader scope of factors affecting intelligence. It’s also bad science in that he clearly has a desired outcome and is selectively picking his evidence to validate it.
When someone abuses science to justify maintaining their privilege, that’s a dystopian future for the rest of us, and I’ll oppose it too.