Heterogeneity and heritability: Responses from sociology, philosophy, and history of science

Session for the meetings of the Society for Social Studies of Science, History of Science Society, and Philosophy of Science Association, Vancouver, BC, Thursday Nov. 2, 2006 at 11.50-1.25 in "False Creek 1" [Empire Landmark Hotel, 1400 Robson St., Vancouver]."

There is long and politically charged history of scientific and policy debates about the heritability of IQ test scores and genetic explanations of the differences between the mean scores for racial groups. In a pair of papers, "Heterogeneity and heritability" (in the new science studies journal, Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution and Cognition), Peter Taylor argues that, despite the attention given to these debates by researchers and other critical commentators, including science studies scholars, significant conceptual and methodological issues in quantitative and behavioral genetics have been overlooked or not well appreciated. In particular, when similar responses of different genetically defined types are observed, it should not be assumed that similar conjunctions of genetic or environmental factors have been involved in producing those responses. Allowing the homogeneity of factors to be questioned opens up many issues for the different fields in science studies, such as:


This session takes the form of a dialogue process in which participants examine criically the arguments from "Heterogeneity and heritability" and explore the implications for their field of science studies. The dialogue is preceded by a 7-minute presentation (graphics) by Taylor to sketch a precirculated paper, "Revisiting scientific and social debates about heritability in light of the underrecognized implications of heterogeneity," which introduces the arguments and science studies issues noted above [see also updated version , Jan. '09]. An initial circle of 5-8 pre-arranged discussants then lead off with responses to the paper and to anything that has been said before by other discussants. After that, anyone who indicates, by taking the next card from the stack, that they want a turn to contribute, has a chance to join the dialogue.

List of initial discussants (with links to notes on contributions) Guidelines for a dialogue process
Taylor, P. J. (2006a), "Heritability and heterogeneity: I. The limited relevance of heritability in investigation of genetic and environmental factors", Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution and Cognition, 1 (2): 150-164.
----- (2006b) "Heritability and heterogeneity: II. The irrelevance of heritability in explaining differences between means for different human groups or generations", Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution and Cognition, 1 (4): 392-401.
----- (2006c) "The analysis of variance is an analysis of causes (of a very circumscribed kind)," International Journal of Epidemiology, 35: 527-531, 2006.
(See also the links on the wiki)
Last update 28 Jan. '09