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Heritability is a statistic that describes the percent of variance (i.e. variation) in a given trait, in a given population, in a given place and time, that is accounted for by genetic variation within that population. It was originally supposed to be used in studies of plant and animal breeding in agriculture, so it is much more useful in such settings than when used to describe human traits. This is because agricultural organisms and their environments can be carefully controlled and manipulated, whereas human genetic breeding experiments and control of environmental factors are impossible (for both ethical and logistical reasons).[1][2] Therefore, any estimate of the "heritability" of any human trait (e.g. IQ) needs to be taken with more than a few grains of salt because of this problem alone. But the term becomes more meaningless still when one considers that, whether the organism under study is human or not, "heritability" says nothing about genetic determination of a trait at the individual level,[3] nor does it apply to any other population in any other environment.[4]

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  1. Evolution in Four Dimensions, Eva Jablonka & Marion J. Lamb, 2005, A Bradford Book, p. 357
  2. Heritability: uses and abuses, Genetica, Oscar Kempthorne, 1997, 99(2-3), pp. 109-112
  3. How Heritability Misleads About Race, Ned Block, The Boston Review, January 6, 1996
  4. What is Heritability?, Genetics Home Reference, NIH