Stupid gene.

Simplex and Sapiens are discussing human stupidity.

Simplex: We agree that people can do some pretty stupid things, yes?

Sapiens: Of course.

Simplex: And that some people have a tendency to do stupid things more often…

Sapiens: I guess…

Simplex: Well, it turns out we can measure this tendency experimentally and establish a Stupidity Quotient for each person.

Sapiens: That implies that stupidity is a fixed quality…

Simplex: Maybe not entirely fixed but we do think it has an inherited component.

Sapiens: You mean there’s a gene for stupidity?

Simplex: Sort of, we think we’ve identified a gene complex linked to the Stupidity Quotient.

Sapiens: Really? A set of genes which make people stupid?

Simplex: The correlation is significant, so – yes. Now we want to use the presence of these genes to work out which children might be at greater risk of becoming stupid so we can then help them. Because we’d all prefer it if people acted less stupid overall.

Sapiens: Well, yes, but isn’t that just a way of saying we should educate everyone well to help them avoid doing stupid things? Or create the conditions where people are less likely to be stupid?

Simplex: No that’s far too general. Genetics can help us tailor the right de-stupidifying strategies for those who need them most.

Sapiens: Surely we don’t need to look for genes to tell us that. It’s probably a lot to do with good teaching and social factors isn’t it?

Simplex: So we’re also going to ask teachers to help us explain why a high Stupidity Quotient correlates to doing less well in certain subjects at school. What’s fascinating is that the heritability of stupidity varies by subject and also changes over time.

Sapiens: Isn’t this all a bit tenuous? First you create a measure designed to correlate with a whole bunch of different behaviours you’ve labelled ‘stupid’ and then claim that something several levels removed is at the root of all those behaviours. It then turns out that the degree of correlation isn’t fixed anyway…

Simplex: But don’t you see how this could transform the science of teaching?

Sapiens: Not really. It all seems rather… stupid.

See also:

Challenging IQ (August 2017)

Challenging neurosexism (January 2016)

Sapiens and Simplex have also discussed:

Your dogma, my principles

Exam success boost to the economy


About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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