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

International Society for History, Philosophy & Social Studies of Biology, Brisbane, 2009.
Evening Session on Tuesday July 14, warming up at 8.45pm for a 9pm start (Australian EST =10.45am GMT = 6.45am US EST) to allow for input from afar by internet-mediated conference call. [p.s. Session went ahead without any input from afar.]
recording of session

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 series of papers, 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 for the possibility of heterogeneity of factors opens up many issues for the different fields in science studies, such as:
  • What happened historically when the methods of quantitative genetics were being transferred from the context of agricultural and laboratory breeding to analysis of human variation which allowed the restrictive conditions that hold in the former context not to be seen as a significant problem?
  • What role has a 'racialized imaginary,' in particular, the treatment based on group membership of people who vary greatly within groups, played in the discounting of heterogeneity in quantitative analysis of traits, especially in explanations of differences among means of groups?
  • How can different meanings of heterogeneity be distinguished and their conceptual and methodological significance be clarified?
  • How have genes and IQ controversies been framed in relation to assumptions of homogeneity and questions of heterogeneity?

An overview of the arguments about heritability and heterogeneity and of the issues above is presented in Taylor, P. J. (2008) "The under-recognized implications of heterogeneity: Opportunities for fresh views on scientific, philosophical, and social debates about heritability," History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 30(3-4), 431-456.


This session takes the form of a dialogue process in which participants (present in person or via the conference call) respond to the arguments and issues raised in the paper above and explore the implications for their own inquiries. The dialogue is preceded by a seven-minute presentation by Taylor to sketch the issues followed by an introduction to the guidelines for a dialogue process (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/dialogue.html). After that, anyone who indicates that they want a turn to contribute has a chance to join the dialogue. The timing allows for input from afar by internet-mediated conference call (see http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/16934).

Technical considerations and Preparation

1. Calculate what time it will be for you, then RSVP mailto:peter.taylor@umb.edu to say you want to join in.
  • If few want to participate (at Emmanuel College in person or via the internet), we can call off this experiment.
2. Decide if you need skype or VOIP so you can afford the long-distance call to the conference call host (in Pittsburgh, 724-444-7444). If so, get that set up and test it in advance. Earbuds are needed or else you'll contribute to a distracting echo when you take a turn to talk.
3. On the day, to participate in a call/episode, follow the instructions on the email invitation you have received if you RSVP'd OR
  • At the time of the call (or up to 15 minutes before), call 1-724-444-7444, supply the ID for the call (16934#), and 1#. You are then in the conference call. Note: 1-724-444-7444 is NOT a toll-free number.
    • Press *8 (as in *T for Talk) on your phone to request to talk (i.e., to get un"muted"). (The host will try to notice when phone-only users request this and put you in the queue.) A talkshoe message comes through on the phone when you get unmuted (or muted -- indeed *8 only works when the caller is muted). Note: If at any time, your request to speak is not being recognized, send an email message to mailto:peter.taylor@umb.edu.

For more ways of joining in for the computer savvy, see http://cct.wikispaces.com/AudioTips