Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

November 29, 2011

Genetic Creationism

Filed under: Genetic Determinists,Genetics,Genomics,Human Genetics,Human Genomics — Razib Khan @ 2:50 pm

Carl Zimmer points me to a piece in a publication called GeneWatch, The Crumbling Pillars of Behavior Genetics. I won’t quote from it because it’s kind of a tired rehash of the confusions and misrepresentations found in The Great DNA Data Deficit: Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?, thoroughly refuted by Luke Jostins and Dan MacArthur (and others at Genomes Unzipped). As I have stated before this sort of attack on genetics is basically similar to Creationism. It’s overloaded with technical and scientific terminology bound to impress the public, but which is just used in a confusing manner, to the point where there’s a big overhead in trying to unpack the logic (as opposed to rhetoric) of the argument. I am broadly convinced that we should be very cautious about results which point to specific genes implicated in a complex trait. But, this is not the “bread & butter” of behavior genetics, which has always been about smoking out the relationship between genetic and phenotypic correlations, and therefore heritabilities. Additionally, as I’ve pointed out there are areas of genomics which are going to be a very important helpmate to quantitative genetic analyses. As noted in the piece behavior geneticists did turn out to be too optimistic about genomics as being relevant to their field. But, the main objections aren’t that novel, and the argument is a repetition of very old conflicts.

Addendum: I also feel that in many ways “genetic determinist” is rather like the Left-wing Blank Slate equivalent of Right-wing Creationist’s usage of terms like “Darwinian materialist” or “secular humanist.” It fills the same aspersion-shaped-hole in the heads of the polemicists. The difference though is often, though not always, the terms “Darwinian materialist” or “secular humanist” have some germ of truth (in that many evolutionary biologists are secular materialists who operate with a Darwinian framework in the background). In contrast, though there are scientists who are genetic determinists when it comes to the number of fingers you are expected to have, there are very few scholars who think that behavioral traits are determined purely by genes.

COMMENTS NOTE: Any comment which misrepresents the material in this post will result in banning without warning. So you should probably stick to direct quotes in lieu of reformulations of what you perceive to be my intent in your own words. For example, if you start a sentence with “so what you’re trying to say….”, you’re probably going to get banned. I said what I tried or wanted to say in the post. Period.

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