Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin [8/10]

Robert Plomin, a prolific and longstanding behavioral geneticist (itself a relatively new profession) has, with “Blueprint,” announced an Eden-facing (in his eyes, that is) grand theorem, namely that nature (aka our genes) trumps nurture (aka our environment). “I hope,” he writes, “this no longer sounds like just another pop-psychology claim without evidence to back it up.” He takes the reader steadily and stylishly through his work on twin studies, which purportedly dramatize the unexpectedly high influence of genetics – on so many matters of interest, from depression to braininess, from introspection to insomnia, from addiction to marriage stability. Then he and his peers tried and failed to find links between particular genes and psychological traits and outcomes. Now, they aggregate tens of thousands of “SNPs,” genetic morsels each contributing (he claims) a miniscule amount, into a grand “polygenic score.” One’s polygenic score causes (not just correlates with) a raft of psychological features. I enjoyed the book: Plomin writes clearly, with stylish gusto but also with precision, in a tightly organized fashion. I also recommend “Blueprint” as a layperson’s intro to this burgeoning field. Read it because you must. However, as a confused but numerate layperson, I caution you on his societally explosive conclusions. Two possible blind spots occur to me. Firstly, Plomin admits his results depend on the “environment” of a given time and place. Might it not be true that in a “better” environment, the influence of the gene becomes muted? Perhaps his results reflect our cruel, unsupporting world. Secondly, a “trust me” indecipherable “score,” without explanatory roots, has to be suspicious. What hidden complexities will be revealed with further time and enquiry, and will they rubbish his claims? Look, I’m dubious and suspect he is swept up by his own amazement, but I heartily recommend the scintillating read.



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