by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 11, 2007 in DNA in General
Nothing quite like this article has ever really appeared in the press. The underlying message is that the biological information environment is changing rapidly and if we don’t start opening up the tightly monitored public forum for it right now, we are endangering our ability to handle its potential revelations with any sort of real preparedness or rationality. We, as a civilization, can’t just keep silencing and punishing everyone who broaches these topics in a way that challenges our hopes and visions about human equality. The result is to shut down the discussion completely and disarm ourselves to ideas that are most likely – to some degree – correct.
Sure, I’d like to talk but how do I and everybody else go about becoming better educated on the issue first? The average person likely assumes that genes don’t play a huge role in differences between individuals simply because we’re constantly being told that our DNA is more than 99% the same. So what does it mean when we’re told that there are significant genetic differences between races and that these differences influence our physical appearance, susceptibility to disease, intelligence, etc.?
Here’s what I can say about the influence of genetics on intelligence and performance in everyday life – I don’t even think about it. Last week, one of the mothers at my son’s UK school, who’s from Afghanistan and doesn’t speak English well, asked me to explain one of the kids’ homework problems to her. She said neither she nor her husband could figure out what the teacher was asking for so her son wasn’t going to be turning in his homework on time. Do you think genetics figures into this situation much?
Maybe on a big picture level but day-to-day, children’s success today and in the future comes down to having parents who are fluent (or at least semi-fluent) in the local language and organized enough to plan ahead so that they’d know if they had a question about the homework and anything else that’s going on in school. There is no doubt that my son has an advantage when it comes to having motivated parents
What’s important to remember in the discussion about genetics and intelligence is that our genes carry us a certain distance but our environment–the people we come into contact with and the resources that are available to us–is also critically important in determining our future. A person with Albert Einstein’s genes born and raised by Bushmen is going to be very different than his twin born and raised in 21st century Manhattan. Transforming the infrastructure in African countries into a replica of the United States’ will improve people’s living conditions dramatically but there will still be unique differences brought about by differences in the citizens and the locale. It’s actually a relief to think that no matter how many McDonald’s and Starbucks pepper the globe, each place and its people retain their own identity. People are different from one another, but not always in a bad way.
HT: Renata McGriff of CareTALK
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