Good read: Stuart Ritchie reviews – or rather debunks – Oliver James’ “Not In Your Genes”

I’ve been pointed a couple of times to the new book by Oliver James, Not In Your Genes. The title already discloses the central point: contrary to what more and more scientists claim: it’s not about our genes but all about parenting.

Bring in Stuart Ritchie to have a critical look at the new book: “On genetics Oliver James is on a different planet to the rest of us”

Some excerpts:

To open the book is to step into a parallel universe. In James’s neo-Freudian world, DNA has no effect on the mind or mental health, whereas parenting reigns supreme. His theory, largely derived from his experience as a psychotherapist, is that interactions between parents and children, especially abusive or neglectful ones, leave deep impressions, fully explaining why children become similar to their parents. The book lays the anecdotes on thick; James tries to draw lessons from the childhoods of such luminaries as Tiger Woods and Vince Cable, and includes a rather ghoulish analysis of the premature death of Peaches Geldof.

But anecdotes are not data; in fact, Not In Your Genes is a compendium of psychological myths and legends, such as the supposed effect of birth order on personality (shown in two huge 2015studies to be small to non-existent), and the idea that 10,000 hours of practice is all it takes to become exceptional (also recently debunked).

And:

Superficially, the book appears well stocked with scientific references. But just try following the citations: they frequently make precisely the opposite point to James. He often interprets honest discussion of methodological limitations as confessions that genetic research has been a let-down. The nadir is an outrageous out-of-context quotation from geneticist Robert Plomin, who recently stated: ‘I’ve been looking for these genes for 15 years and I don’t have any.’ Plomin was arguing— given his knowledge of the results from twins and GCTA — that the specific genes would be found with larger samples and better technology. In James’s hands, the quote is transformed into a cowed admission of failure.

So: a big warning for cherry picking!

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Filed under Education, Myths, Research, Review

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