Coming to terms with heritability

Scott F. Stoltenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The complex mechanisms of heredity are little appreciated by non-specialists, 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-96
Number of pages8
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Hereditary
  • Heredity
  • Heritability
  • Heritable
  • Selectability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Insect Science


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