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Name: Georganna Hancock
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Monday, April 26, 2010

The End of Shenk's Genius

I saved my tendons today to finish a formal review of David Shenk's The Genius in All of Us, which I've mentioned several time in the last month. Before it is published elsewhere, I felt I owed readers here the resolution of my feelings about the book's message: he is wrong. He pulled together disparate research data and concocted an untested theory that my 66 years experience refutes.

Sometimes you just gotta go with your gut.

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Blogger ... Paige said...

I watched the video, I believe we are born with talents as part of our genetics and that it's a matter of us being able to find those talents and whether or not we want to try to do anything with them much less try to achieve "greatness"

7:40 AM  
Blogger Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

One of my reviews is up at now at . I haven't watched the video yet, just dipped into some of the commentary on other sites.

While my feelings and experiences are not quantitative research, it *is* valid and reliable qualitative data. Of course, I'm approaching this from the opposite side of Shenk's pronouncements--already proven gifted without the support he thinks is necessary to produce a high achiever, despite all the retrospective research he cites.

Thanks for commenting, Paige. You believe in nature and self-responsibility, not scientific proof; it's a matter of faith for you. That's perfectly fine, and I whole-heartedly agree with the necessity that we take control of our lives and accept the blame/praise for what we can make of ourselves. Gifted or not.

4:15 PM  
Blogger dshenk said...

Hi Georganna,

Thanks for your consideration of my book and sorry it didn't resonate with your personal experience.

I have to admit that I was very surprised to read that, "Shenk approaches the issues surrounding talent, giftedness, IQ as if most of us were born as equally clean slates..."

Surprised, because three times in the book I explicitly distance my ideas from the outdated notion of the blank slate, including this passage:

"Nothing in this book, therefore, is meant to suggest that any of us have complete control over our lives or abilities—or that we are anything close to a blank slate. Rather, our task now is to replace the simplistic notions of “giftedness” and “nature/nurture” with a new landscape: a vast array of influences, many of which are largely out of our control but some of which we can hope to influence as we increase our understanding."

I also write in the book's Introduction: "This is not to say that we don’t have important genetic differences among us, yielding advantages and disadvantages. Of course we do, and those differences have profound consequences."

I do think the public is capable of understanding that genes obviously have influence but don't determine our abilities directly, and that describing the intelligence as a process isn't the same thing as saying that we can completely control that process.

I also wonder if it would have been reasonable -- since you mention some nameless online criticism of my interpretation of the science -- for you to mention as well that the book has been endorsed by a number of extremely prominent scientists and award-winning science writers.

I'd be happy to discuss any of this further, online or privately. I'd be curious to hear more about which parts of the book you think I got wrong.


David Shenk

9:55 AM  
Blogger Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Mr. Shenk refers to the review posted yesterday at Blog Critics:

I appreciate you commenting here, Mr. Shenk, but perhaps we should take this discussion to the review?

Undoubtedly my ramblings were unclear. I wrote from an emotional perspective rather than an intellectual analysis. Perhaps I should have used a term like "equal slates" or not mentioned slates at all, since that seems to be a hot spot, as is "nature vs. nurture", a phrase which you do, indeed, demolish.

Simplification runs the risk of leaving out aspects that another person feels are important or that refute a stance. It appears to me that THE GENIUS IN ALL OF US builds support for the idea that almost anyone can develop any talent, and then the writing waffles and fudges the point with passages like the ones you cite here.

Did I get that wrong? Perhaps all the hype and positive testimonials--that are difficult to miss--skewed my impression of the thrust of the work. I purposefully did not identify other naysayers because I do not want to fuel further dispute over Herrnstein & Murray's ideas, at least not now.

Anyone who visits the book's page on Amazon can find general support for it and for parts of it as well as the popular science writing. I don't see anyone standing up for the main idea and shouting, "He's got it! This is revolutionary thinking, and we must design confirmatory studies right away to prove this theory."

I'm still hoping to obtain responses from Mensans, especially ones who can articulate better where the logic fails and results are misinterpreted. Or not. That's a conversation I'd like to share with you.

I plan to elaborate the BC review with more personal material, especially about my experiences with giftedness and Mensans, in another review available in the Kindle Store on Amazon. I'll be happy to send you a copy.

Thank you for your time and attention. I'm flattered that you'd bother to find this little blog and respond here. I do appreciate and admire all the research, notes and citations your book provides. My readers know I'm a big fan of back matter. In that, THE GENIUS IN ALL OF US certainly satisfies.

11:17 AM  
Blogger dshenk said...


If you get the impression from the book that I think anyone can become great at anything, then I haven't done my job very well. I do think that the evidence strongly suggests that most individuals don't know what their true limits are, because they haven't been able to (or made the sacrifices necessary to) fully develop their potential skills. I don't think its waffling to say that there's a ton of untapped potential out there (and to explain the biology behind that potential), but also to say that, yes of course, we all have genetic differences and those differences are going to play a key role in who we become.

I'd like to point you to the last paragraph of my introduction, in case you somehow missed it:

"It would be folly to suggest that anyone can literally do or be anything, and such is not this book’s intent. But the new science tells us that it’s equally foolish to think that mediocrity is built into most of us, or that any of us can know our true limits before we’ve applied enormous resources and invested vast amounts of time. Our abilities are not set in genetic stone. They are soft and sculptable, far into adulthood. With humility, with hope, and with extraordinary determination, greatness is something to which any kid—of any age—can aspire."

I'll look forward to hearing more about why this doesn't resonate with your personal experience. If you want to keep talking about the book (which I'm happy to do), let's get specific if that's ok with you and talk about exactly what science you think I'm misreading, or sentences I've written that you find unpersuasive or overreaching.



1:02 PM  
Blogger Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Specifically, people with high IQs achieve often in spite of wretched genetic and environmental conditions. They tackle, master and excel early, easily and often. Moreover, they are different enough from others less gifted that they can recognize each other after very little communication.

I cannot cite parts of your book because you ignored research that would not support your conclusions (very clever and reasonable).
However, the information provided about Ted Williams makes me think that he had a pathological condition rather than that he proves your points. Savants achieve highly in very narrow fields, but no amount of support and practice *that we currently know of* will render them "normal."

10:21 AM  

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