Genes, education and society round table

26 April 2021, 2.00 PM - 26 April 2021, 4.00 PM

Online via Zoom.

Please register in advance for this event.


Recent findings in sociogenomics have transformed our understanding of how the genomes and environment combine to affect socioeconomic outcomes. The wider implications of these findings for society have been hotly debated. During this symposium four leading researchers will review recent discoveries.

Fredrik deBoer

Our education system takes as a given the notion that all students have equal academic potential and that with the right application of pedagogy and policy any student can become an academic superstar. But a vast amount of research demonstrates that educational mobility is far lower than commonly assumed, suggesting that students vary considerably in intrinsic academic ability. In my talk I will discuss this research, explore the roots of the educational blank slate mindset, and propose some policy initiatives that could help account for differences in intrinsic ability.

Fredrik deBoer is a writer and academic. He lives in Brooklyn. His book, The Cult of Smart, was published in August 2020.

Kathryn Paige Harden

Researchers have linked genetic differences between people to inequalities in educational attainment and other socially valued outcomes. This research has prompted heated debates about how genetic discoveries should be interpreted and applied. In this talk, I will describe three common ideas found in these debates – genetics is an enemy of equity in education, genetics limits the possibility of change in education, genetics should be used for personalizing education – and why each is flawed. I then propose an anti-eugenic framework for thinking about how genetic tools, such as polygenic scores, can be used to advance quality and equity in education.

Kathryn Paige Harden is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she conducts research on the developmental roots of social inequalities. Her first book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality, will be published in September 2021.


Benjamin Neale is an associate professor who directs the Genomics of Public Health Initiative. He is also an associate professor in medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and an institute member at the Broad Institute. Neale is strongly committed to gaining insights into the genetics of common, complex human diseases

Kathryn Asbury is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of York. She researches the implications of genetic and genomic research for education. Her book, G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics and Educational Attainment is available.

Chair: Neil Davies, MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit

Symposium outline

  1.  Introduction (<5 min Neil Davies)
  2. Paige Harden (30 mins)
  3. Discussion (Ben Neale + Kathryn Asbury 10 min)
  4. Audience question/comments (10 mins, Neil Davies to chair)
  5. Freddie de Boer (30 mins)
  6. Discussion (Kathryn Asbury + Ben Neale 10 mins)
  7. Audience question/comments (10 mins, Neil Davies to chair)
  8. Author’s response (Freddie and Paige 10 mins)
  9. Wrap up and thanks (2 mins Neil Davies)

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