“In the early decades of the twenty-first century, we are learning to speak yet another language of cause and effect, and constructing a new epidemiology of self: we are beginning to describe illness, identity, affinity, temperament, preferences—and, ultimately, fate and choice—in terms of genes and genomes…. One of the most provocative ideas about our history and future: that the influence of genes on our lives and beings is richer, deeper, and more unnerving than we had imagined.”

– The Gene (Mukherjee, 2016: 494)

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In September 1998, my mother walked me the ten minutes from our home in suburban Virginia to Mosby Woods Elementary School, named after the American Confederate Ranger John Singleton Mosby. I was to be enrolled in the first grade. When my parents tell me this story, they

talk about my mother’s thick Nigerian accent and my grandmother, who spoke no English and accompanied us that day. Soon after I was enrolled, I was placed into a remedial reading program. According to my father, who is White, this was without justification: the school assumed I was growing up in a single-parent immigrant household with limited English. After he went to Mosby Woods to ask why I had been identified for special education, I found myself back in the ‘regular’ classroom.

My experiences with the US education system and my positioning in American society as a biracial woman of colour, who is often identified as Black, have shaped and influenced my intellectual interests. I am interested in the concept of intelligence; it is a quality often viewed as necessary for success in virtually all facets of life — social, economic, political, and educational. Rooted in a history deeply tied to eugenic, classist, and racialized discourses, intelligence and its study have long offered scientific ways of making sense of human diversity and of classifying individuals in terms of ‘ability.’

I am a recent PhD from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education interested in the historically burdened concepts of intelligence, genetics, race, and socioeconomic status. I examine how these four terms intersect and inform or potentially inform the United States education system, which is marked by socioeconomic and racial disparities in terms of academic achievement, educational attainment, rates of suspension & expulsion, and representation in special education and gifted education (to name a few).

Views are my own.

Adversarial Collaboration

What is Adversarial Collaboration and where did it come from?

Adversarial Collaboration  (AC) was coined by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman. It was originally a “protocol developed for two researchers advocating competing hypotheses to collaborate on a research project with the goal of resolving their differences, designed on the assumption that this will be more effective than each researcher conducting their own experiments individually and publishing replies to each others’ papers.”

How is your definition of Adversarial Collaboration different?

I focus on the use of Adversarial Collaboration in fields where the research produced can be charged or contested (e.g. behavioral genetics, neuroscience, sociogenomics). I consider Adversarial Collaboration to be a mechanism for communicating research in contested fields to the public in a responsible way. It brings together individuals from different, and at times opposing, disciplines and viewpoints to form a partnership dedicated to joint research. The focus is on encouraging richer collaborations between researchers that will result in better communication with the public about study findings and their implications.

How does it work?

Think of Adversarial Collaboration as if it were a chess game. Adversaries in this kind of environment are not ‘enemies,’ they are individuals working with a set of ground rules that guide the activity. Adversarial Collaboration in the field of research is similar. There are a set of ground rule to help make the research effort as fruitful as possible. Here are some key foundations to a successful AC:

  1. Begin the project/partnership/activity by each sharing your vision. If you were to go about this solo, what would your process be? Create an outline for the activity, keeping in mind you areas of strength and those of your colleague(s).
  2. Be clear about each others’ areas of expertise. What are the unique frame of reference, disciplines, arguments you each have and frame that as an asset to the creation of a richer final product.
  3. Know who your audiences are. The point of an AC is that you create something accessible to multiple audiences/publics. Be clear from the start who your multiple audiences is and keep them in mind as you engage in your AC. Remind yourself of whether what you’re producing remains relevant/digestible to those audiences. You may find yourselves ‘translating’ for each other given the different areas of expertise that are brought to the table.
  4. Respect the opinions of others even if you don’t agree with them. It would be naive to think that everything in an AC will go smoothly. Inevitably there will be a disagreement or point of contention that you can’t seem to get past. Remember to stay respectful and remind yourselves of the end objective.
  5. Know when to take a step back. Should you run into a point of contention you can do several things. One is to run a ‘translation’ exercise where you try and frame the point in question in a way that speaks to your intended audiences. The other is to just given it some time and come back to the issue when things have cooled down. Can’t resolve it? That’s ok, make sure it’s clear to your audiences that this is an area that you are debating and where each person(s) stands.


What kinds of deliverables might an Adversarial Collaboration produce?

Adversarial Collaborations can take many different forms. Perhaps you’re producing an academic journal article or maybe you want to develop an FAQ that accompanies your paper and makes it very clear what the study does and does not and can and cannot say. Maybe your Adversarial Collaborative effort is more community-oriented and works to break down the divide between researcher and participant. Think of Adversarial Collaboration as a framework for working on the difficult questions that have uncertain answers and in the challenging areas that are rife with debate. Let me know what you’ve found that works!



Popular Media

  1. January 2020: Transcending Borders in the Ethical Oversight of Human Genome Editing
  2. June 2019: “What does genetics mean for educational equity?”
  3. February 2019: “Challenges of Research Access and Accessible Research”
  4. January 2019: “Breaking Down Academic Silos: An Example from a Historically-Burdened Field”
  5. January 2018: “The IQ Test Wars: Why Screening for Intelligence is Still So Controversial
  6. November 2017: “Race, Education, and Empire: A Research Collective”
  7. January 2017: “Biosocial Science: The murky history of the nature and nurture debate.” 
  8. July 2016: “Can genes really predict how well you’ll do academically?” 
  9. April 2016: “Genetics: What it is that makes you clever and why it’s shrouded in controversy.” 
  10. October 2016: “Collaborative Science on Historically Burdened Concepts: Intelligence, Genetics, Race & Socio-economic Status.” 


Interviews/Invited Presentations

  1. May 2019: University of Wisconsin Summer Demography Seminar,The New Borderland: Genetics at the Schoolhouse Door
  2. March 2019: This Cambridge Life
  3. December 2018: Polygenic Prediction and its Application in the Social Sciences, Adversarial Collaboration in the Context of an Ugly History and Uncertain Future
  4. September 2018: The Conversation Anthill Podcast, Episode: Inheritance
  5. February 2018: Drive Time Podcast on IQ Tests


Academic Publications

  1. August 2019: Martschenko, D. (2019). DNA Dreams’: Teacher Perspectives on the Role and Relevance of Genetics for Education. Research in Education, 003452371986995. https://doi.org/10.1177/0034523719869956
  2. July 2019: Martschenko, D. (2019). The New Borderland: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Teacher Perceptions of Intelligence, Race, and Socioeconomic Status in Relation to Behavior Genetics (Doctoral Thesis). University of Cambridgehttps://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.40448
  3. February 2019: Martschenko, D., Trejo, S., & Domingue, B. W. (2019). Genetics and Education: Recent Developments in the Context of an Ugly History and an Uncertain Future. AERA Open, 5(1), 2332858418810516. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858418810516


Thanks for reading! I would love to hear from you. Reach out with reflections, questions, and more.