Number 15 THE ECONOMIST

Number 15 THE ECONOMIST - NATURE OR NURTURE? ' Old...

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Unformatted text preview: NATURE OR NURTURE? ' Old chestnut, Few logs-amines! the academrcworld is starting both sides ofthe political spectmm RE criminals born or made? ls homo- sexuality a preference or a predispo- sition? Do IQ teats measure innate abilities or acquired skills? For the past so years. respectable aca- demic opinion, whenever it has deigned to deal with such layman’s quesfionsn has come down firmly for nurture over nature. Nazism discredited even the mildest at— tempts to produce genetic explanations of human affairs. And economic growd't after the second world war encoUraged most western governments to imagine that they could eliminate social problems by a mix- ture of enlightened planning and generous spending—mat, in effect. they could steer (even change) human nature._ _ In this atmosphere, the social scierics flourished as never before. Sociologists made lucrative careers producing “nur- ture” explanations of everything from _ school failure to schizophrenia. GeneticiSts stucktosafesubjectssuchasfiuitflicsand honey bees, rather than ridt being accused of a. fondness for jackboots and martial music. Thefashionisbeginningtochange. The failure of liberal reform to deliver the Great Society has cast doubt on the propo- sition that better nurture can deliver better nature. The failure of sociologists to find even a few cf the purported {Freudian or social) causes of schizophrenia, homosex- uality, sex differences in crhninal tenden- cies. and the like has undermined their credibility. And a better understanding of how genes wit has made it possible for h‘beralswhostiilbeiieveinmeperfecnbility questions ofhuman behaviouth more controversial dranthismrepeople by their genes. orbytheir upbringing? There is no simple artswer, ' tohearalotmorei'romthegenesbrigade—on of no to accept gmetic etqalanatimu. In at last one case—homosexuality—it is now the liberals who espouse nature and their opponents who point to rurture. The pro-nature people are still a minor- ityinuniversities. Buttheyareaproduc— tive and increasingly vocal minority—and one which is beginning to increase its influenceinthernedia. OpentheAmeri- can newspapers and you can read left- inclined pundits like Micky Kali-s arguing thatincorneinequality ispartlytheresult of genetic difierences. Thm on the televi- sion and you can see intelligent, unbigoted people claiming that male homosexuals haveadifierentbrainstrucnue fromhet— erosexual men. ' This is only the beginning. Richard Hermatein. a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and Charles Murray. a controversial critic of the welfare state, are collaborating on a study of the implications of biological differences for public policy. The book will highlight the tension between America's egalitarian philosophy and the unequal distribution of innate abilities. The reaction of orthodox opinion has been scathing. America's National Insti- mtesofHealthprovokedsuch an angryre- spunse to its decision to finance a canfer- enceon genetics and crime that itdecided to withdraw the money. Mr Murray lost the patronage of the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based think-tank. when he de- cided to study individual difierences and social policy. - Even in these days ofpolitically correct fetishes, on no other subject is the gulfbe- new thoughts tween academics and ordinary people so wide. Even the most hopeful of parents lcnow that the sentiment “all men are cre— ated equal” is a pious dream rather than a statement of fact. They know full well that, say. one of their sons is brighter, or more musical or more athletic titan another; they see, despite their best attentions. that girls tumeverytoyintoadollandboysturnev- erytoyintoaweapon;theyrarelypersist in believing that each and all of these differences is the result of early encour- agement or training. They know that even if full equality of opportunity could be guaranteed. enmity of outcome could not. Ability is not evenly d'nn-ibuted. But parents' opinions are unscientific. Not until 1979 did a few academics begin tocatch up. lnthatyeartheMinnesota Centre for Train and Adoption Research began to contact more than 100 sets of twins and triplets who had been separated at birth and reared apart, mostly in the United States and Britain. - Thecentresubjectedeachpairtotho- rough psychological and physiological tests.Iftv:otwinsateidentical (or “monozygotic"), any differences between daemaredttemdteenviromntflteywere rearedin; soameasureofheritabilitycan be attached to various met-cal features. The study concluded that about 70% of .thevarianceintowasexpiainedbyge- neticfactors.Italsofoundthatonalarge number of treasures of personality and temperament—notably personal interests and social attitudes—identical twins rearedapartareabomassinflarasidenti- mltwinsrearedtogedrer. TheMinnesotastudyrepresentsthere— spectable end of an academic thatstretchesallthewaythrmtgh right racists. Ifto is TO‘X: inherited. then perinpsmuchoftherqdifierencebetween ' 2‘ From The December as. 1992-Jenuary 8. 1996419. 33-34. as. to 1993 by The Economist. Ltd. Distributed by The New You: Times Special Features. I toout-' racesisalsoinherited.Tlnlogicdoesnol necessarily follow,sincethedifierences oouldalllicinthe309£thatisnurturqbut stillirisahypothcsis worth testing—at learn for those prepared to risk being calledpoliticallyincorrect. Unformnately, because there are no black-white pairs of identical twins, no- bodyhasyetftnmdawaytotestwhether racial difierences in IQ are genetic. It would require getting 100 pairs of black parentsandlmpairsofwhiteparentsto reartheirchildrenonidenticalincomesin anidenticalsuburbandsendthechildten offiOofeachtothesamegoodschooland_ 500feachtoabadone. Impossible. This means thtracialdifferencesinto mid to attract scientists with dubious motivesandmethods. With increasingen- musiasmovet'thepastdecade,sornewy— chologists have disinterred a technique already consigned to the attic by their Victorian predeccssors: ushtgphysiologi- cal'data to measure intellectual skill. Arthur Jensen, a professor of'educa— I tional psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has assembled a large body of results purportedly demon- strating that to is closely correlated with speed of reaction. a theory abandoned around 19th. He claims that intelligence is con-elatedwiththe rateatwhich glucose is coruumed in the brain, the speed of netn‘al transmission and a large number of anatomical variables such as height, .braiu sin and even head size. Jean Philippe Rushton, a professor of psychologyat the University ofWertem On- tario, Canada, has revived craniometry, the Victorian attempt to con-elatehead size with brain povVer. (In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle". one of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s most ingenious Christmas stories. Sherlock Helms deduces that a man is an intellectual from the site of his hat: “It is a questiondfcubiccapacity. . .amanvvithso large a brain must have something in it") Mr Rushton has studied data on the head sizes of thousands of American ser- vicemen, gathered to make sure that army helmets fit. Adjusting the raw data forvari- ablesnrchasbodysheheargues that men have bigger craniurns titan women. that the well-ducated have bigger cranium than the less educated, and that Orientals have bigger craniums than whites. who have big- ger craniums than blades. Mr Rushton has dune wonders for the a protest industry. David Peterson, a former premier ofOntario. called for his dismissal. Protesters likened him to the Nazis and the Ku Kltnt Klan. The Ontario Provincial po- lice even launched an investigation into his work. An embarrassed university atablish- ment required Mr Rushron to give his lec- tures on videotape. Even if you could conclude that blaclu havelower rqsthanwhitesafterthesame education, it is not clearvdtat the policy pre- scription would be. Preiumably. it would only add weight to the argument for posi- tive discrimination in favourofblacks. so as to redress an innate inferiority with a better education. The "entitlement liberalism“ that prevails in American social policy and finds its expression in employment quotas and affirmativeaction rammes al- ready assumes that blacks need preferential rather titan equal treatment. Indeed. to this way of-thinking, merit is less important than eliminating group differences and ' promoting social integration. The gene of Cain Compared with the study ofracial differ- ences. the study of the genetics of criminal— ity is only slightly more respectable. Har- vard's Mr Herrnstein teamed up in the early 19005 with James Wilson. a political scien- tist,toteachaclassoncrirne.Thert-.sultwas "Crime and Human Nature” {1985).a bulky bookwhich argues that the bat explanation liar a lot of predatory criminal behaviour— particularly assault and arson-may be bio- logical rather titan sociological. Certainly, a Danish study ofthe children of criminals adopted into normal house- holds lends some support to the idea that a recidivist criminal's son is more likely to be a criminal titan other sons brought up in the same household. But Mr Hennstein and Mr Wilson then spoil their case with an- other Vtctorian throwback to “criminal types"—people with low verbal intelligence and “mesomorphic” (short and muscular) bodicswho, theybelieve, are more likelyto be criminal. One reason such work strikes horror into sociologists is that it suggests an obvious remedy: selective breeding. Mr Herrnstein has suggested that the greater fertility of stupid people means that the wrong kind of selective breeding is al- readyatworkandmayberesponsflale for falling academic standards. “We ought to bear in mind", Mr Herrnstcin ruminatm gloomin about America. “that in not too many generations difi'erential fertility could swamp the effects of anything else we any do about our economic standing in the world." Luckily for Mr Herrnstein, studies reveal that, despite teenage par- entsintheinnercities,pe'opleofhigh social stunts are still cutbreeding those of low social stunts. Rich men have more surviving children—not leasthecause they tend to have more wives—than poor men. In one sense, it is plain that criminality isinnate: menresorttoitfarmorethan women. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, of McMaster University in Canada, have compared the- homicide statistics of En- gland andWales with those of Chicago. In both cases, the graphs are identical in shape. withyoungmen30timesaslikely as women ofall ages to commit homicide. It is perverse to deny the connection be- tween testosterone and innate male ag- gressiveness. But it is eqthy perverse to ignoredtefactthatthescalofthenvo graphs are utterly different: young men in Chicago are 30 times as likely to kill as young men in England and Wales—which lutsnothingtodowithnaoueandmuchto dowith nurture. The sexualdifferencc is nature; the national difference is nurture. The most successful assault on the nurturisr orthodoxy, however, has come not over race, or intelligence. or crime. but over sex. In the 19705 the nurturiSts vigorously re- pulsed an attack on their cherished beliefs by the then fledgling discipline of seciobiology. Sociobiology is the study of how animal bdtaviour evolves to fit func- tion in the same waythat anatomy does. When sociobiologists started to apply thcsame ideas tohuman beings. principally through Edward Wilson of Harvard Uni- versity,afurorebrokeout. Mostofthem re- treatedasgmeticistshaddonqtosmdy an- imals again. Anthropologists insisted that their subject, mankind, wm basicallydiffer- entfrornanimalsbecauseitwasnotbom with its behaviour but learnt it. In dtepastfewyears,however.anewas- sault from scientists calling themselvu Dar- winian psychologists has largely refitted that argument. Through a series of experi- mentsand mmmqhaveassenedmat (a) much sophisticated behaviqu is not taught. but develops autonomously; and (b) learning is not the opposite of instinct, but is itself a highly directed instinct. The best etample ofthis is language. In 1957 Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of'l‘echnologylmrrlargued that all human languages bear a striking underly- ing similarity. He called this “deep struc— ture", and argued it was innate and not learnt. In recent years Steven Pinker of MIT and Paul Bloom of the University of Ari- zonahavetakenthis ideafurther.Theyar- gue that human beings have a “language or- gan", specially designed for learning grammatical language It includes a seriesof highly specific inbuilt assumptions that en- able thern to learn grammarftom examples. without ever being taught it. Hence the tendency to learn grammati- cal language is human nature. But a child reared in isolation does not start to speak Hebrew unaided. Vocabulary. and accent, are obviously 100% nurture In this com- bination of nature and nurture. argue the Darwinian psychologists, language is typi- cal ofrnosthuman traits. teaming is not the opposite of instinct; people have innate in- stinctstolwncertainthingsandnot This is heresy to sociologists and art— thropologists. who have been reared since Emile Durkheim to believe the human 2. BIOLOGICAL BASES OF BEHAVIOR mind is a tubule reset—a blank slate upon ‘ which any culture can be written. To this, John'Tooby and Leda Cosmides of the Uni- versity of California at Santa Barbara. two luding drinkers on tlte subject. have re- plied: "‘Ihe assertion that ‘culture‘ explains human variation will be taken seriously when there are reports ofwomen war par- ties raiding villages to capture men as husbands.” ' Nor will the Darwinian psychologists concede that to believe in nature is to be a Hobbesian fatalist and that to believe in nurture is to he a Rousseau-in believer in the perfectibilityofman. Manytotalitarians are actually nurturists: theybelieve that rearing people toworship Stalin works. His- ' _torysuggestsotherwrse. “remaking of macho . Physiologists have also begun to add weight to the nature side of the scale with their dis- coveryofhow thebrain develothebr-ain ofafetus isalteret'ibythechild'sgmes.byits and its mother's hormones and, after birth. by its learning. Many of the changes are per- manent; so as fitr as the adult is concerned, they are all "nature". though many are not genetic. For utample. the human brain is feminine unless acted upon by male hor- mones duringtwobursts—one in the womb and another at puberty. The hormone is nurture, in the sense that it canbealteredby injections or drugs taken by the mother. But it is nature in the sense that it is a product of ogy. - This discovery has gradually altered the views of many psychologists about sent and education. An increasing number recognise that the competitiveness, roughness. math- ematical ability and spatial skills ofboys are the product of their biology (genes and hor- mones) not their family, and that the char- acter-reading, verbal. linguistic and emo- tional interest and skills of girls are also biological. Hence girls get'a better early edu- cation when kept away from boys. This conclusion, anathema .to most practising educational psychologists. is increasingly common among those who actually do research on it. Indeed. radical feminism is increas- ingly having to recognize the biological theme that underlies its claims. Feminists dcmnd equality of oppormnity. but they also routinely argue the women bring different qualities to the world: consensus seeking, uncompetitive, caring, gentle qualities that inherently domineering men lack. Womemtheyargue. shouldbein Parliament or Congress in representative numbers to "represent the woman‘s point of view". which assumes that men cannot. Many homosexuals have already crossed the bridge to nature. when sociobiologists first suggested that homosex- uality might be biological, they were called Nazis and worse. But in the past fevv years things have touted around completely. The discovery that the identical twin of a homo- sexual man has an odds-on chance of being homosexual too, whereas a non-identical twin has only a one-in-five chance. implies that there are some influential genes in- volved.And the discoverythat those parts of the brain that are measurably different in women and men are also different in het- erosemals and homosexuals adds further weight to the idea that homosexuality is as natural as lefi-handedness. That is anath- ema to pro-family-value conservativesmrho believe that homosexuality is a (misguided) personal choice. Assuming that the new hereditarians are right and that many human features can be related to genes (or, more likely. groups of genes). it might one day be possible to equip each member of the species with a compact disc telling him which version ofeach ofthe 50.000—100,000 human genes he has. He might then rad whether he was likely to have a weight problem, or be any good at music, whether there was a risk of schizo- phrenia or a chance of genius, whether he might go manic-depressive or be devoutly religious. But he could neverbesure. Forbe— side every gene would be an asterisk refer- ring to a footnOte that read thus: "This pre— diction is onlyvalid ifyou arebrought upby two PrmeStant, middle-class. white parents in Peoria. Illinois.“ ...
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Number 15 THE ECONOMIST - NATURE OR NURTURE? ' Old...

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