Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart

A new book* is out about the famous Minnesota study of twins which demonstrated the overwhelmingly significant influence of our genes on our respective fates. When one is confronted with identical twins who have been raised apart and who are not only physically but also psychologically and intellectually very similar, the obfuscatory and equivocal talk which has for so long surrounded these matters is exposed for what it is.

Yes, there are complexities. There is the possibility that some people may attribute a more significant role to our genes than they in fact play. But I think by far the more common error is to underestimate the power and significance of genetic factors.

My views on this matter started to take shape when I saw a documentary film based on the Minnesota study and featuring some of the twins themselves. One thing was strikingly clear: what the social scientific establishment had been saying for so long about genetic inheritance (essentially downplaying its importance) was false (and presumably ideologically motivated).

Attempts to discredit studies such as the Minnesota project continue. People will believe what they want to believe, I guess, and try to convince others.

But, just as the ideologically-inspired bias of famous phonies like Margaret Mead was eventually exposed, so later waves of social pseudo-scientists and ideologically-driven philosophers will fall by the wayside.

Truth wins in the sense that ideas which are way out of line with the data are marginalized (and eventually fizzle out). Debate and conflict may continue, but the battle lines have shifted and will continue to shift.

* Here are some pertinent comments by Matt Ridley; and here is Bryan Caplan's review from The Wall Street Journal.