On Half-Blood, Half-Breeds, and "The So Called Purity of Blood": An Examination of the Role of Genetics in the Magical World of Harry Potter

December 3, 2018 -
5:00pm to 6:30pm

Abstract: Genetics plays a surprisingly important role in the Harry Potter series. Magical ability is clearly inherited, although the trait does not seem to “breed true”: that is, it is possible for the child of magical parents to possess little or no magic, and conversely a witch or wizard may be born to parents with no such ability at all. The reasons for this are not well understood by those in the wizarding world, and yet important decisions are made on the basis of this imperfect understanding of inheritance and breeding. Despite this, the study of genetics is not a part of education or research in the wizarding world. This is a deficiency not shared by medical science in the non-magic world, where a series of publications by medical scientists employed modern genetics to examine inheritance of magical ability in the world of Harry Potter.

This scholarly literature provides an opportunity for readers interested in Harry Potter to learn about this branch of science and to explore the ways in which the lack of understanding of genetics leads to many mistaken beliefs and actions by individuals-- not just the “pure-blood”-focused such as Lord Voldemort and Dolores Umbrage, but even “right-thinking” wizards such as Ron Weasley, Professor Lupin, and even Harry himself.

The goal of this presentation is to demonstrate how this scientific literature on the genetics of wizarding in the magical world can be used to help mere muggles understand real world science. In addition to discussing the science, we will explore how protagonists in the Harry Potter series may have acted differently if they had understood genetics. We will conclude by discussing how accurate scientific understanding is necessary, but not sufficient, for good decision making and right action. Perhaps a course in genetics (or in genetics, ethics, and society) should be added to the curriculum at Hogwarts.

Medical Humanities Mondays Lecture

Location and Address

602 Cathedral of Learning