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Cover of "The Genetic Lottery" by Kathryn Page Harden

Behavior genetics, its forbear eugenics, and its cousins sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have always been political sciences. When not being used to bar immigration, sterilize, or exterminate, behavior genetics has been an eager ideological partner of what Albert O. Hirschman called the “rhetoric of reaction.”

Extrapolating from basic statistical correlations among twins, behavior geneticists have told us that parenting, education, and social supports matter little and have blasted the progressive aims of the welfare state. Reformist liberals, they say, have ignored this correlation structure, futilely wasted resources, and jeopardized our fragile meritocratic, capitalistic society by perversely encouraging bad breeding and behavior.

In her new book, The Genetic Lottery, Kathryn Paige Harden somewhat euphemistically labels this reactionary tradition as “hereditarian pessimism,” and she aims to extricate behavior genetics from it. The first half of the book offers an overview of genetics as it relates to social inequality, while the second reframes moral philosophy and reviews behavior genetics studies to make the case for a genetically driven, antieugenic public policy.

Unlike others in this tradition, Harden does not use science to... see more