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Unnatural Selection: Why the Geeks Will Inherit the Earth – a review

Image of Unnatural Selection Book CoverAre you an orchid or a dandelion? If you are a dandelion can you mutate to an orchid with the help of technology? Will you be a winner in the Anthropocene? Mark Roeder appropriates the definition first published in the journal Development and Psychopathology to distinguish between robust resilient children (dandelions) from sensitive children who require a special enriched childhood to develop to their full potential (orchids). He also distinguishes between neurotypical and non-neurotypical as descriptors of the social behavior of most people versus the wide range of those on the autism spectrum.

Although I appreciated the metaphor that Roeder set up, I found that I did not always agree with his interpretation of evolution, genetics and epigenetics. Perhaps he was over-simplifying to support his premise. I think this could lead to the wrong impression being formed by readers if this is their only knowledge of evolution. For example, I was surprised to read his negation of Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene concept because humans show altruistic behavior. Roeder tells us that “altruistic individuals will beat groups of selfish individuals”. Then Roeder takes E.O. Wilson’s side in the debate without referring directly to the multi-level selection theory.

While talking about the film GATTACA, Roeder lets us in on the significance of the film’s title, which he explains is “lost on most people (except biologists), for it is composed of the initial letters of the four DNA nitrogenous bases”. He seems unaware that it is also a play on a DNA recognition site (5' GAATTC 3') that was so important for early genetic engineering.

I enjoyed the second section of the book, which analyses a variety of geek archetypes with accompanying examples of geeks who made good. I liked his comparison of the orchids and the dandelions. I believe that the orchids are the type of students who can be found in gifted education programs. Gifted and Talented (GATE) programs encourage and foster the intellectual growth of gifted (orchid) students so that they are not overpowered by the dandelions (all the rest of us). While Roeder does talk about fostering the orchids, he does not specifically make reference to the ways school systems work to encourage this social and academic development.

The title ‘Unnatural Selection’ became much clearer in the third segment of the book. Roeder examines the ways that technology might be used to increase our intellect and change us artificially into orchids. He presents both the positives and the negatives of our future Anthropocene. Roeder is unambiguous that this change is well underway. Our best bet is to continue being an altruistic society in spite of the human-enhancement technologies.

This book is a good read for science educators and for teachers of gifted and talented students. And just in case there is a little orchid in all of us, Roeder will prepare us for that future when the geeks inherit the earth.

Click here for a complete list of the books I have reviewed.

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Unnatural Selection: Why the Geeks Will Inherit the Earth – a review

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