Important components of today's conventional wisdom will turn out to be completely wrong. Analyze any past period and you'll find that this statement turned out to be true.
Q: What got you into twin studies?
TB: I was teaching the psychology of individual differences, and in 1979, two different people put a copy in my mailbox of a story about twins reared apart and their similarities when they met. [These were the "Jim twins," Jim Springer and Jim Lewis, who had been separated at birth and reunited at age 39. Both married women named Linda, divorced, and remarried women named Betty. They named their sons James Allan and James Alan, respectively, and both had dogs named Toy.] They sounded interesting, so I asked a few of my colleagues to help me study them. We ended up studying twins reared apart—126 pairs including 74 pairs of identical twins—for 20 years. [The twin study wound down in 2000.] I found that I loved working with twins. They're still amazing and a major mystery to me.
Q: What were attitudes toward behavioral genetics in the early years of your career?
TB: In graduate school at UC [the University of California] Berkeley, I was reading a book edited by psychiatrist D. D. Jackson on the etiology of schizophrenia. The first chapter, by a geneticist, was on twin studies. Then Jackson refuted it all with just the kind of crap you hear now against twin studies. He said families are the cause of schizophrenia. I remember saying in a graduate seminar, "Most of this stuff [in Jackson's argument] is junk"—I crawled out of the seminar room a bloody pulp. The reaction [from seminar members] was my first absolutely clear-cut demonstration that psychologists believed correlation is causation, ... and many still do.
In the '70s, when I was teaching research by [IQ researcher Arthur] Jensen and [twin researcher Francis] Galton, people picketed me, called me a racist, tried to get me fired. The progressive student association sent members in to ask hostile questions. ... So I put a tape recorder on the podium and said: "I'm going to tape my lectures." I never heard from them again. They knew what they were saying was nonsense and I would be able to prove it.
Q: Do you think perceptions have changed dramatically since the '70s now that twin research has revealed genetic bases for many disorders, such as autism (which had been blamed on cold mothers) and ADHD (for which many blamed food dyes)?
TB: Within the university—at least at U. Minnesota—the cumulative impact of behavioral genetics findings has had a lot of effect. There's a lot more tolerance for the idea of genetic influences in individual differences.
But we still have whole domains we can't talk about. One of the great dangers in the psychology of individual differences is self-censorship. For example, when I was a student, it was widely accepted that black self-esteem was much lower than white self-esteem, and that was a cause of differences in achievement between the two groups. Now that's been completely overturned—there is virtually no racial difference in self-esteem. But people had enormous amounts of data [showing this] that they didn't publish because it did not fit the prevailing belief system. How much wasted effort was generated by the flawed self-esteem work as an explanation of the black-white IQ difference? Now a days, I'm sure there are people who are not publishing stuff on sex differences. Look what happened to Larry Summers [who resigned as president of Harvard University after suggesting that discrimina tion alone doesn't account for women's lower representation in math-based disciplines]. I talk about those things in my class all the time—that males and females have different interests; ... in a sense, females have a broader and richer view of life. There are a lot of people who simply won't talk about those things. Academics, like teenagers, sometimes don't have any sense regarding the degree to which they are conformists.
Nicholas Wade also writes about this in a guest post on the NYTimes TiernyLab blog:
... You’re an expert because all your peers recognize you as such. But if you start to get too far out of line with what your peers believe, they will look at you askance and start to withdraw the informal title of “expert” they have implicitly bestowed on you. Then you’ll bear the less comfortable label of “maverick,” which is only a few stops short of “scapegoat” or “pariah.”
A remarkable first-hand description of this phenomenon was provided a few months ago by the economist Robert Shiller, co-inventor of the Case-Shiller house price index. Dr. Shiller was concerned about what he saw as an impending house price bubble when he served as an adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York up until 2004.
So why didn’t he burst his lungs warning about the impending collapse of the housing market? “In my position on the panel, I felt the need to use restraint,” he relates. “While I warned about the bubbles I believed were developing in the stock and housing markets, I did so very gently, and felt vulnerable expressing such quirky views. Deviating too far from consensus leaves one feeling potentially ostracized from the group, with the risk that one may be terminated.”
... If the brightest minds on Wall Street got suckered by group-think into believing house prices would never fall, what other policies founded on consensus wisdom could be waiting to come unraveled? Global warming, you say? You mean it might be harder to model climate change 20 years ahead than house prices 5 years ahead? Surely not – how could so many climatologists be wrong?
What’s wrong with consensuses is not the establishment of a majority view, which is necessary and legitimate, but the silencing of skeptics. “We still have whole domains we can’t talk about,” Dr. Bouchard said, referring to the psychology of differences between races and sexes.
Look for Wade to take a huge beating from climate conformists.