Softly, softly: genetics, intelligence and the hidden racism of the new geneism

David Gillborn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
1381 Downloads (Pure)


Crude and dangerous ideas about the genetic heritability of intelligence, and a supposed biological basis for the Black/White achievement gap, are alive and well inside the education policy process but taking new and more subtle forms. Drawing on Critical Race Theory the paper analyses recent hereditarian writing, in the UK and USA, and highlight a strategy that I term racial inexplicitness; this allows hereditarian advocates to adopt a colorblind façade that presents their work as new, exciting and full of promise for all of society. The paper is in two parts: the first exposes the racism that lies hidden in the small print of the new geneism, where wildly misleading assertions about genetic influences on education are proclaimed as scientific fact while race-conscious critics are dismissed as ignorant ideologues. The second part of the paper sets out critical facts about the relevant science, including the difference between the mythic and real meaning of heritability; fundamental problems with the methodology of twin studies; the little-known history of IQ test score manipulation; and the continuing use of a stylistic approach that Howard Gardner characterized as ‘scholarly brinkmanship’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-388
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Education Policy
Issue number4
Early online date1 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

This paper arises from the project ‘Race, Racism and Education: inequality, resilience and reform in policy & practice’ funded by the Society for Educational Studies (SES).


  • racism
  • genetics
  • intelligence
  • education policy
  • twin studies
  • sociology
  • critical race theory
  • psychology
  • education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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