Biosociology: An Emerging Paradigm

By Anthony Walsh | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2
Genetics and Human Behavior

Some people are disturbed by the idea that genes can influence behavior. They don't understand the workings of genes and probably picture them as master puppeteers within us, pulling our strings.

--R. Plomin, J. DeFries, & G. McClearn

To assess the degree of literacy among physicists and geologists in scientific areas other than their own, Hazen and Trefil ( 1991) asked a number of them if they could explain the difference between DNA and RNA, a very basic piece of biological information. Only 12.5 percent could do so. Because DNA and RNA have no bearing on the phenomena studied by most physical scientists, they can be excused for their ignorance. Such ignorance among those who study human behavior is less easily excused. Even those who deny genetic influence on complex behaviors should know what it is they are denying; but from the tone of many social science critics of behavioral genetic research, it is plain that they do not ( Cohen, 1987). A reviewer of one of my works on crime and genetics ( Walsh, 1992) rejected my manuscript with the following words: "It is just not possible for genes to be implicated in socially defined behavior such as crime. This is blaming the victim and genetic fasism [sic]." This is often the kind of response one gets to "politically incorrect" works (see Scarr, 1981; Rushton, 1990b, on the politics of publishing such works).

It is a common assumption among behavioral geneticists that their understanding of genetic influences on behavior cannot be fruitful "without considering the complementary influence of the environment" ( Goldsmith, 1994:326). Unfortunately, the opposite assumption is not common among sociologists. Ever since the historic schism between sociology and biology,

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