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Biologists know that complex traits are typically associated with genetic variation between individuals. We may be less likely to attribute social factors as a cause and we may be more likely to accept a technological or pharmaceutical solution as a remedy. The disorder may also acquire a credibility and a sense of inevitability that it previously lacked. The reasoning that leads to these conclusions has a certain logic, after all we investigate causes primarily so that we can find remedies, but nevertheless we need to be careful that our thinking is well-founded.

In the six short chapters contained in Biology as Ideology, Richard Lewontin, a renowned geneticist, sets about clarifying the relationship between genes, society and genetics. In particular, he scrutinises the dominance acquired by genetic determinism as a mechanism of causation. Biological traits, he argues, are the result of genes, chance and environment, and these elements are irreducibly intertwined. For example, it is simply not true as many claim that X-percent of height or IQ or any other characteristic is genetically determined and the rest is a result of environment.

Nor is it true in some statistical sense for a population as a whole. That this is a fallacy can be demonstrated by considering height. If one feeds a group of individuals the same diet and measures variability in height among them, any variability will be due to genetic factors together with chance variations accrued during development. None of it will be due to environment, unless of course factors other than diet have an environmental influence.

As a measurable value it is therefore not generalisable. It is true only for a specific population under specific circumstances. None of which is to say that genes are not important. Rather, that the trap into which genetic determinism falls is, in part, a trap of reductionism.

It is a mindset that tends to obscure the myriad other causes of obesity, antisocial behaviour, schizophrenia and many other human ills. Their disclaimers somehow get lost.

How is it that this book, indeed any science book, could earn such a title? The chief reason is that Lewontin recognises what few scientists do, that the respectability attained by biological, and particularly genetic, determinism is not simply an error of scientific judgement.

It is instead an example of the tendency for interactions between scientists and those with power to be mutually accommodating. But socio-biology, as Lewontin shows, is not well grounded in science. It is wishful thinking with a scientific gloss. In this, Biology as Ideology showcases the conclusion that increasing numbers of philosophers and sociologists of science have also reached, though usually with infinitely less clarity and style-that scientists do not only or even ever generate their theories based solely on objective consideration of evidence.

Their beliefs, values and financial prospects can also influence them to consistently ignore inconvenient facts, no matter how evident they may be. Biology as Ideology is one of the finest books on genetics ever written. It illuminates the subject in a forthright and accessible way and continues the tradition of scientific scepticism that is so much admired outside of science.

However, in so doing it demonstrates that scepticism in science is not equally distributed and that some areas of science consistently fail to receive the full dose. Related links: Important scientific updates on the recent failures of human genomics and genetic determinism, much of it predicted by Richard Lewontin, are found at the project resource page: Human Genetic Predispositions — the hidden politics of genomic science.

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Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of Dna

Lewontin is a prominent scientist -- a geneticist who teaches at Harvard -- yet he believes that we have placed science on a pedestal, treating it as an objective body of knowledge that transcends all other ways of knowing and all other endeavours. Lewontin writes in this collection of essays, which began their life as CBC Radio's Massey Lectures Series for "Scientists do not begin life as scientists, after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience. Science, like the Church before it, is a supremely social institution, reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and vices of society at each historical epoch. In Biology as Ideology Lewontin examines the false paths down which modern scientific ideology has led us.


Richard Lewontin

Richard Charles "Dick" Lewontin born March 29, is an American evolutionary biologist , mathematician, geneticist , and social commentator. A leader in developing the mathematical basis of population genetics and evolutionary theory, he pioneered the application of techniques from molecular biology , such as gel electrophoresis , to questions of genetic variation and evolution. In a pair of seminal papers co-authored with J. Hubby in the journal Genetics , [3] [4] Lewontin helped set the stage for the modern field of molecular evolution. In he and Stephen Jay Gould introduced the term " spandrel " into evolutionary theory. From to , he held an endowed chair in zoology and biology at Harvard University, and since has been a research professor there. Lewontin opposes genetic determinism.


Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA

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