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DNA and Social Behavior?

The popularity of Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene, along with the controversy created by sociobiologists, demonstrates a growing interest in the prospect that scientists will be able to explain more and more of human behavior in biological terms.William Henry III based on reports by Ellen Germain and Alice Park, "Born Gay?" Time, 142:4 (July 26, 1993) 36-39.Edward O. Wilson, a sociobiologist himself, defines sociobiology as “the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior." He has staked out the biological claim rather forcefully: “The genes hold culture on a leash. The leash is very long, but inevitably values will be constrained in accordance with their effects on the human gene pool.”W. French Anderson, "Genetics and Human Malleability," Hastings Center Report, 20:1 (January/February, 1990) 23. W. French Anderson, in a more recent work with John C. Fletcher, argues that the...Putting the issue into modern context, Dorothy Nelkin and Laurence Tancredi write, “In the long debate over the relative influences of nature and nurture, the balance seems to have shifted to the biological extreme.”Peter Meyer, "Biotechnology: History Shapes German Opinion," Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, 6:4 (Winter 1991) 92-97.

There is reason to worry about the consequences issuing from such deterministic interpretations of genetic power. Already surfacing are conclusions which may have deleterious social consequences; including the possibility of an exacerbation of racial prejudice and discrimination. The controversy over the widely read [Visual of Bell Curve?] book, The Bell Curve, by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, is a case in point.See: Troy Duster, Backdoor to Eugenics (New York and London: Routledge, 1990) and Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny (New York: Viking, 1983) esp. pp.230-234. Not all are opposed to eugenics, especially if eugenics...On the basis of IQ tests, this book suggested that public policy should shuttle greater financial resources toward certain racial groups designated as the cognitive elites—Jews, Orientals, whites—and remove support from those designated as cognitively challenged—Latinos and African Americans. Sociologist Troy Duster is worried about such racial repercussions. If we identify genes with race, genes with social status, or genes with crime, then we may inadvertently provide a biological support for prejudice and discrimination. He sounds the alarm: “Today, the United States is heading down a road of parallel false precision in this faith in the connection between genes and social outcomes. This is being played out on a stage with converging preoccupations and tangled webs that interlace crime, race, and genetic explanations.”See: Philip Elmer-DeWitt, "The Genetic Revolution," Time, 143:3 (January 17, 1994) 48.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters

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