Evelyn Fox Keller on Nature vs Nurture

<font size="2"><p><a href="http://web.mit.edu/sts/faculty/info/Keller_Evelyn-css.html">Evelyn Fox Keller</a> delivered a fabulous talk yesterday on the very timely (<a href="http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/01/19/summerss_tortured_logic/">thanks in part to Lawrence Summers</a>) question of &quot;Do innate gender differences between men and women influence their respective cognitive abilities?&quot;. &quot;Thank you&quot; to the <a href="http://www.radcliffe.edu/">Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study</a>.</p><p>Evelyn's primary point is that certain traits like cognitive processes are highly complex and most certainly influenced through environment (nurture), like, but not limited to, education. Establishing a definitive connection between innate (genetic) characteristics and complex traits like cognition, where one cannot (yet) clearly characterize the additive nature of environmental forces, is simply not effective science. We do not know enough yet to create an experiment where we can parse out what elements are environmental and which are innate. </p><p>Evelyn gave a number of wonderful clarifying examples and metaphors. I will adapt one of Evelyn's examples here. Let us pick a trait that is far less complicated by environmental forces, like height. My Father grew up during WWII, so due to the malnutrition that he experienced during this time, claims that he did not achieve his height potential. So, even here who can quantify how much of my Father's height is due to his genetic composition and how much is due to environmental (nutrition) factors? </p><p>Finally, the question is why do we feel compelled, given the lack of sufficient scientific criteria, to claim innate differences between men's and women's cognitive potential. Well, this claim has periodically cropped up and been refuted, and the motivation has historically been to create a low-wage labor pool. It is profitable to create a pool of people who feel unworthy of compensation levels that the superior gender, race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation receives. Evelyn points out that people attribute political motives to those who critique the &quot;studies&quot; finding innate cognitive differences. Who is really politically motivated here?</p></font>

Comments are closed.