Claim: “As much as 70% of a child’s performance is genetically derived”

Between 11-12 October 2013, it was widely reported by the British press that Dominic Cummings (advisor to the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove) in a private 237-page thesis, claimed that “as much as 70 per cent of a child’s performance is genetically derived”. These remarks caused huge controversy due to widespread recognition that genetic theories have in the past been used for much ill, as well as good (which is Cummings’ point). Fundamentally, Cummings did not use the phrase “70% of a child’s performance”, instead referring to “70% heritability” which is a population statistic that refers to the differences between (and not within) individuals.

True or False?

The press widely portrayed Dominic Cummings’ observations as a scientific and statistical estimate of an individual child’s intelligence, not that up to 70% of the differences between individuals’ educational achievement is attributable to genetic factors. Therefore, strictly speaking, it is inaccurate and consequently largely false, that as much as 70% of a child’s performance is genetically derived.

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