Intelligence : born smart, born equal, born different. 1/3.

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About this work


Radio documentary, presented by Adam Rutherford, looking at the genetics of intelligence. In this episode he asks if some people are born smarter than others and considers the latest studies on inheritance of intelligence. Excerpts from Tim Minchin's musical, Matilda, are played throughout. Journalist, Melanie Phillips (speaking on the Moral Maze) is suspicious of the debate because she feels it's really about eugenics. Reverend Giles Fraser is worried about it leading to educational streaming at birth and that the research could be used politically. Psychologist, Professor Robert Plomin, King's College London, researches the genetics of intelligence and has shared his findings with advisers to the education minister, Michael Gove. He feels that genetic differences in intelligence need to be acknowledged. Peter Singer, a moral philosopher at Princeton University, explains why it is such a highly charged moral and political issue. Steve Jones, a geneticist, agrees with this and adds to the debate. Tony Blair's former adviser, Matthew Taylor, talks to Robert Plomin's co-author, Kathryn Asbury on the Moral Maze, about the idea of science sorting out the brighter children from others. Plomin, however, is insistent that policy doesn't automatically have to come out of scientific findings although he thinks education should be considered in regard to genetics. Rutherford, turns his attention to the historical roots of eugenics. Cambridge statistician, David Spiegelhalter, considers Galton and eugenics. Rutherford visits the Galton collection at University College London, with curator, Subhadra Das. He talks generally about the science of intelligence and the arguments that are held up against it. Robert Plomin considers identical twin studies on the inheritance of intelligence and how around 50% of differences between people can be ascribed to genetic differences. Genetic and environmental influences on children within the general population are discussed. Rutherford returns to the misunderstood idea of intelligence being 50% heritable, with Steve Jones, who talks about how heritability is measured. Cultural historian, Matthew Sweet considers how knowing about the genetic inheritance of intelligence give us the chance to do something to help with problems. Wiliam Beveridge and his work on the Welfare State is mentioned, as is the fact he was an advocate of eugenics. Matthew Taylor feels that scientists working in this area have to understand the ethical implications and outcomes for their research. Mother and clinician, Jill Boucher, talks about her own experiences and how she is angered by the arrogance of those who think education is easy. She is convinced that some children are born with more ability to learn than others. Rutherford rounds up what he considers a minefield of contradictions in the study of inherited human intelligence and considers how the discipline can more forward.


UK : BBC Radio 4, 2014.

Physical description

1 CD (28 min.)

Copyright note

BBC Radio 4


Broadcast on 29 April, 2013.

Creator/production credits

Presented by Adam Rutherford ; produced by Anna Buckley for BBC Radio 4.



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