Genetic Explanations, Politics and Economics

Why did David Cameron’s £1.3 billion Troubled Families Programme Fail?

The £1.3 billion Troubled Families programme was launched after the riots in 2011 to give intensive support to 120,000 of Britain’s most challenging families.  But it has had no measurable impact on cutting crime or changing their lives for the better, an official assessment reveals.

This scheme was also a failure of The Blank Slate Hypothesis.  This is an idea that optimistically believed that our personality and intelligence is solely the result of our interaction with our environment.  This is a comforting belief because Government policy can manipulate the environment (at a cost) and therefore change the outcome for its people.

The Blank Slate Hypothesis became fashionable after World War 2 because of its total rejection of the Nazi pseudo-science of Eugenics and the reassuring belief, for the ravaged post-war society, that everybody would be given equal opportunities to thrive.

The social restrictions in our society were removed through grammar schools, much improved state schools and greater access to universities and polytechnics.  Children with talent and motivation broke free across Britain.  Working class children shot up the social scale with talent in science, engineering, law, sports and the arts.  These talented people did well.  They earned a good living, achieved a higher social status and joined the affluent middle classes. This seemed to prove the Blank Slate Hypothesis worked.  Change the environment and the poor working classes do better.

Then recently this progress came to a screeching halt:

  1. The research highlighted in The Times on 17th June 2013 shows that the 24 largest research universities in the Russell Group admit a lower proportion of undergraduates from state schools and from poor families than ten years ago.
  1. Children from wealthier families were nearly twice as likely to leave school with five good GCSEs, including maths and English, as those from poorer families — 63% against 36%.
  1. It seems poor white children do worse than poor ethnic minorities despite having a similar “poor” upbringing and environment. i.e. poorer outcome, same nurture.
  1. Of the 20 top local authorities in terms of sending pupils to the prestigious Russell Group universities, 19 are in London and the south. Of the 20 worst-performing councils on the same league table, 18 are in the north.
  1. Social mobility is stuck.

So what happened?

We now know that intelligence and personality are largely inherited through our genes from our parents.  Combine this with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated women generally seek and marry talented, motivated men.  They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society. As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society. Also these talented genes will move and cluster to where the best jobs are.  i.e. in London and the South East of England.

Or put another way, intelligent and motivated individuals tend to increase their social and economic status in a relatively socially mobile society. It’s not the posh getting cleverer, but the clever getting posher.

For new immigrants the social factors which have limited their progress until now are relatively recent, so we expect the genes for talent and motivation to be more numerous in poorer parts of their society as they haven’t had time to cluster in the more affluent parts of society.  This explains why poorer students from ethnic minorities out-perform their white peers. i.e. same nurture but better outcome.

We would predict that eventually there would be a more polarised genetic society as the genes for talent and motivation are slowly leached out of the working class areas and into the affluent middle classes.  Eventually social mobility will slow down and humanities educated journalists and politicians will conclude that more must be done to help the talented working class children who used to exist but have now mysteriously disappeared.

They then implement an expensive Troubled Families Programme and scratch their heads and wonder why it didn’t work.

Education, Genetic Explanations

Gender based learning difficulties – why do many more boys struggle than girls?

Boys Learning Disabilities

Sian Griffiths, writing in The Times recommends that you should  “Give your son a leg-up: treat him like a girl.”

According to this article it is parents who are mostly to blame for the lack of educational attainment in their sons.  The rest is caused by a gender-biased society influencing academic achievement.

Ms. Griffiths and the authors of this study seem to be keen advocates of the flawed “blank slate hypothesis”.  This believes that who and what we are as individuals is solely dictated by our environment, education and upbringing.

This article notes two phenomena:

  1. There is a difference in the rate and level of educational attainment between the sexes, with many more boys struggling at school than girls.  This is not new.  We’ve known this for decades.
  1. Parents treat male and female children slightly differently.  Again not new.  We’ve known this for millennia.

However, in a startlingly unscientific and unsubstantiated way they have rammed these two phenomena together and assumed that they are causative.  Not only that, but they have assumed that the way parents treat boys affects their educational attainment.  There is no reason why they should not have chosen the equally unverified and unsubstantiated assumption that parents treat boys differently because their educational attainment is different.

Both assumptions are demonstrably untrue.  Identical twin, sibling twin and adoption studies have conclusively proven that the primary factor driving intelligence and academic achievement in a modern, progressive, relatively socially mobile environment (such as the UK) is genetic.

There is also a demonstrable genetic difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  Not only do girls mature mentally and physically before boys but there is a difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  There are many more males than females with learning difficulties and many more males of very high intelligence than females.  The average intelligence of both sexes is broadly similar.

The references cited below have separated out what is caused by inherited DNA sequence and what is caused by everything else.  So we know these differences are not cultural.  Additionally, this article deals with the extremes.  There is no controversy that there are more males than females with learning difficulties.  This article refers to a million boys over the last decade who have fallen behind.  This is the extreme “left tail” of the standard distribution curve of male intelligence.  These results are what we would expect to see.  We have known about this issue since at least 1932.

If Ms. Griffiths wants to be taken seriously as an educational journalist, she should refer to the proven differences in educational achievement caused by genetic inheritance to ensure balance in her writing.  After all, the “blank slate hypothesis” has been comprehensively discredited so she needs to find another explanation for these differences.

It seems that political correctness continues to overcome scientific fact.


Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different  (3 Podcasts from The BBC on the genetics of intelligence).

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.