RISING TO THE DUBOISIAN CHALLENGE (October 13)
Directions for sociology
Reading: Morris; Brown to Whyte
Question: What should applications of sociology include to “rise to the DuBoisian challenge” (consider both Morris’s book and his ASA statement)?
Evaluate one of the examples of sociological application in relation to these standards.
The DuBoisian challange laid out by Morris in the Scholar Denied and his ASA Presidential Address boils down to identifying social injustice, studying it scientifically by whatever methods suit the task, and taking the science to the public sphere to address the injustice. Kathyrn Paige Harden’s, The Genetic Lottery, proposes addressing a particular injustice by using genetic analysis to identify it, and then designing interventions to overcome it. The injustice Harden has in mind is educational attainment, She argues that nature’s genetic lottery condemns some to the bottom of the educational attainment gene pool. Because education is predictive of other outcomes like income, health, happiness and longevity, Harden contends that this group is being dealt an injustice through no fault of their own. With the availablity of wide spread, cheap genetic testing it’s now possible to conduct large-scale surveys measuring both genes and outcomes like educational attainment. By examining the correlations between many small pieces of genetic material and outcomes like standardized test scores and years of schooling, researchers can create polygenic indexes that add up the many genetic pieces found to be associated with these outcomes. Harden suggests creating interventions for those that fall into the bottom end of his index, say the bottom quartile, as a way to address this genetic injustice and level the educational playing feel. The responses to this proposal that were offerred in class in the little time available indicate a good degree of hesitancy. As well they should. U.S. history and sociology’s history have both been saddled by the legacy of social darwinism. DuBois’ story, in particular, is a telling testament to the perniciousness of this legacy. To embrace genetic interventions seems like a gross betrayal of DuBois’ legacy. Indeed, prominent Black scholars like Penn’s Dorothy Roberts have decried this approach, arguing that it’s simply too tied to the history of social darwinism to be of any value. She points to the works of Arthur Jensen and Charles Murray as examples of the continuation of this social darwinist ‘tradition’ in social science. Harden’s response is, yes, we need to mindful of that legacy, and we need to proceed with extreme caution. But she claims that the genetic interventions she’s proposing are designed to liberate people, not oppress them. And she points to research showing that genetic surveys can be used to debunk the social darwinist’s claims, as well as to genetic interventions that have ameliorated social problems. A controlled experiment that examined parenting practices, for example, found that they were successful in reducing teen drinking and alcohol problems. Genetic tests revealed that the relationship between alcohol genes and problem drinking persisted in the control group but was eliminated in the experimental group (the one with the novel parenting practices). Harden also points out that the genetic genie is out of the bottle, and social scientists have to decide whether to be participants in this type of research or bystanders who have no say in how it’s conducted. She also notes that the largest group of non-academic consumers of information coming from genetic studies are people related to white supremacist and similar groups. I’m inclined to think that DuBois would not stand by and let the social darwinists control the narrative around this research, that he would pursue the science in the interest of rooting out injustice.