Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Genetica 99 (June 1997), pp. 89–96.

doi: 10.1007/BF02259512


Copyright © 1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Used by permission.


The complex mechanisms of heredity are little appreciated by nonspecialists, in some measure, because of misunderstandings that are perpetuated when words used for technical terms have other, more widely understood, folk meanings. When a word has both technical and folk meanings, it is the responsibility of the specialist to avoid promoting confusion by either using extremely cautious and precise language when using the term or, in cases when confusion is inevitable, abandoning the term in favor of one without a widely understood folk meaning. The study of heredity is beset by such confusion, and the term heritability appears to be at the heart of some of the confusion. In this article, I discuss both the technical and folk meanings of heritability and examine the bridge between them. By continuing to use the term heritability, we risk promulgating serious misunderstanding about the workings of heredity; therefore, I suggest selectability as an alternative term to avoid such pitfalls.