The behaviour geneticist explains how biology could have an influence on academic attainment – and why she takes an anti-eugenics approach
Kathryn Paige Harden argues how far we go in formal education – and the huge knock-on effects that has on our income, employment and health – is in part down to our genes. Harden is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she leads a lab using genetic methods to study the roots of social inequality. Her provocative new book is The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality.
To even talk about whether there might be a genetic element to educational attainment and social inequality breaks a huge social taboo – particularly on the political left, which is where you say your own sympathies lie. The spectre of eugenics looms large, and no one wants to create a honeypot for racists and classists. To be clear, it is scientifically baseless to make any claims about differences between racial groups, including intelligence, and you are not doing that. But why go here?
I wrote this book first for my fellow scientists, who haven’t necessarily seen the relevance of genetics for their own work or have been afraid to incorporate it because of these associations. There is a large body of scientific knowledge being ignored lest the eugenics genie be let out of the bottle.