Seeking to reclaim genetic science from the legacy of eugenics, Harden argues that the refusal to recognize the power of DNA in individual life outcomes perpetuates the myth of meritocracy and keeps us from enacting change that would lead to a fair society.
I’m not convinced by Harden’s thinking on education. Medicine, however, is a different matter ... I happen to share much of Harden’s ideology, and I wish her well ... both the right and the left will find much to object to in this book. The resulting fracas might have been useful had she achieved what she set out to do—establish the fact of genetic unfairness and develop prescriptions to overcome it—yet she does not deliver on her second goal. Harden’s book is a thought-provoking read but in the end demonstrates only the incredible difficulty of using empirical data, both genetic and environmental, to level the educational playing field.
In the first part, Professor Harden is at pains to explain that any genetic causes of individual differences within ancestral groups for a trait such as educational attainment cannot be taken to explain observed average differences between ancestral groups. She is also at pains to explain the connections and differences between ancestral groups and socially defined racial groups. A number of reviewers have argued that she fails to do this convincingly or properly. It seems to me that, on the contrary, she is careful and rigorous about this ... The busy lay reader may reasonably ask whether Professor Harden adds to this literature [on genetics]. I have no hesitation in saying that she does. At the very least, comparing and contrasting The Genetic Lottery with books such as Blueprint and Innate is a rewarding exercise. On the other hand, for anyone unfamiliar with other recently published books in this area, Professor Harden's book works as an introduction to this fascinating and troublesome topic ... In summary, it seems to me that beyond using genetics to inform sociological study (chapter 9, a very important topic), Professor Harden is mainly using the genetic lottery to argue for a Rawlsian approach at a general level. There is nothing wrong with this of course, but it does also suggest that Professor Turkheimer had at least half a point when he put forward his 'gloomy prospect' back in 2013.
While we admire Harden’s social justice aims, we remain unconvinced by her biological explanation for socioeconomic inequality. In making her case to liberals, we believe Harden extrapolates beyond what current scientific results allow ... We also think she is unlikely to convince many conservative readers that the randomness of Mendelian inheritance should lead to generous income redistribution policies. Instead, her efforts serve to naturalize the current distribution of power in society, even as she implores the genetically privileged to be more compassionate to the genetically disadvantaged ... in her effort to convince readers that genes matter, Harden overstates the degree to which they matter ... Harden works to distinguish her view as explicitly antiracist, in contrast with the racist projects of other behavior geneticists ... And yet her book is plagued by the race concept ... Ultimately, her focus on genetics as a fundamental cause of social inequality reduces her version of social justice to benevolent paternalism.