Nature and Nurture: The Complex Interplay of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Behavior and Development

By Cynthia Garcia Coll; Elaine L. Bearer et al. | Go to book overview

8
Commentary
Lundy Braun
Brown University

The announcement in June 2000 that the human genome has been sequenced (in actuality the genome of Celera's CEO Craig Venter [Weiss 2002]) culminated a long-standing fascination with human inheritance. Since the Human Genome Project (HOP) was launched, claims that genetic research would rescue humanity from the devastation of afflictions such as cancer, diabetes, mental illness, crime, and poverty have been touted by pharmaceutical industry executives, the media, and scientists alike. However, although enthusiasm for such research on the genetics of normal and socially “deviant” behaviors has been tempered by the spectre of eugenics in the United States, the horrors of Nazi Germany, and collective memory of the highly charged, racialized debates over intelligence and inheritance, the application of genetic technologies to social problems was always an explicit goal of early promoters of the HOP. According to Daniel Koshland (1989), a prominent scientist and former editor of Science, the new technologies would have the potential to “aid the poor, the infirm, and the underprivileged. ” Though obviously a hyperbolic comment, the substantial resources currently devoted to research on behavioral genetics indicate that such hopes to solve social problems through scientific research are in reality an integral part of the “new genetics. ”

The contemporary debate over genetics, environment, and human behavior intersects with other contentious debates over the use of genetic technologies for diagnosis of genetic disease, gene therapy, and human cloning, as well as broader debates over the political economy of health, globalization, and cultural imperialism of western science. Fundamentally, these are debates over the production of scientific knowledge in capitalist societies: What kind of knowledge will be produced by research that privileges genotype? What will be done with this knowl

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