Thursday, August 2, 2012

The "It's In Your Genes" Myth

Throw out some textbooks!
Regular readers know that Dredd Blog likes to pop the bubble of myths because freedom from myths is a good thing.

Today we take a look at some genetics myths.

A while back in a post Dredd Blog criticized some loose scientific pronouncements of scientists who talked mythological genetics, which might cause you to wonder about the harm of such things, but if you remember that genetic teachings of some scientists led to some of the worst chapters of science, the mystery fades.

For example consider the Eugenics fiasco (see One Man's Junk Gene Is Another Man's Treasure Gene? and The Criminally Insane Epoch Arises - 2. Note especially the link to "Eugenics Review").

Anyway, what follows is an index of quotes, along with the time the quote takes place (minutes:seconds) within the video at the bottom of the post.

These quotes will not be in your grandfather or your father's textbooks.

This is science today:

00:00 - "One of the most crazy making yet widespread and potentially dangerous notions is 'oh that behavior is genetic'" (Dr. Sapolsky).

01:00 - "nothing is geneticaly programmed" (Dr. Maté).

01:30 - "the whole search for the source of disease in the genome was destined to failure before anyone even thought of it" (Dr. Maté).

02:24 - "some of the early childhood influences ... affect gene expression, actually turning on and off different genes to put you on a different developmental track" (Dr. Wilkinson).

02:45 - "[childhood] abuse actually caused a genetic change in the brain" (Dr. Maté).

03:28 - "a few thousand individuals were studied from birth up into their twenties, what they found was that they could identify a genetic mutation, an abnormal gene which did have some relation to the predisposition to commit violence, but only if the individual had also been subjected to severe child abuse" (Dr. Gilligan).

05:30 - "run with the old version of 'its genetic' and its not that far from history of Eugenics, and things of that sort, and it is a widespread miscoception and a potentially dangerous one" (Dr. Sapolsky).

05:44 - "one reason that the sort of biological explanation for violence, one reason that hypothesis is potentially dangerous, it is not just misleading, it can really do harm, is because if you believe that, you can very easily say 'well there's nothing we can do to change the predisposition people have to becoming violent, all we can do if someone becomes violent is punish them, lock them up or execute them, but we don't need to worry about changing the social environment that may lead people to become violent, because that's irrelevant'" (Dr. Wilkinson).

06:28 - "the genetic argument allows us the luxury of ignoring past and present historical and social factors. In the words of Louis Menand who wrote in the New Yorker very astutely:
“It’s all in the genes”: an explanation for the way things are that does not threaten the way things are. Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the freest and most prosperous nation on Earth? It can’t be the system! There must be a flaw in the wiring somewhere.”
... which is a good way to put it. So the genetic argument is simply a cop-out that allows us to ignore the social and economic and political factors that in fact underlie many troublesome behaviors" (Dr. Maté).

07:25 - "addictions are usually considered to be a drug related issue, but looking at it more broadly, I find that addiction is any behavior that is associated with craving for temporary relief and with long term negative consequences along with an impairment of control over it so that the person wishes to give it up or promises to, but can't follow through" (Dr. Maté).

08:10 - "The addiction to oil ... at least to the wealth and to the products made accessible to us by oil ... look at the negative consequences on the environment we are destroying the very Earth that we inhabit for the sake of that addiction. Now these addictions are far more devastating in the social consequences than the cocaine or heroin habits of my ... patients. Yet they are rewarded and considered to be respectable. The tobacco company executive that shows a higher profit will get a much bigger reward ... doesn't face any negative consequences legally or otherwise ... in fact is a respected member of the board of several other corporations ... but tobacco smoke related diseases kill 5.5 million people around the world every year. In the United States they kill 400,000 people a year" (Dr. Maté).

09:05 - "And these people are addicted to what? To profit, to such a degree are they addicted that they are actually in denial about the impact of their activities, which is typical for addicts, is denial. And that is the respectable one. It is respectable to be addicted to profit no matter what the cost. So what is acceptable and what is respectable is a highly arbitrary phenomenon in our society. And it seems like the greater the harm the more respectable the addiction" (Dr. Maté).

09:35 - "There is a general myth that drugs in themselves are addictive, in fact the "War on Drugs" is predicated on the idea that if you interdict the sources of drugs you can deal with addiction that way. Now, if you understand addiction in the broader sense we see that nothing in itself is addictive. No substance, no drug is by itself addictive. And no behavior is by itself addictive"  (Dr. Maté).

One variation on this theme is global warming induced climate change, in that the deniers in effect say "climate is in the genes of the Earth", indicating that humans are not in control enough to cause climate to drastically change.

Wrong again, according to a paper to be published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science Journal:
This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it — the world that caused the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Such events, our data show, will become even more frequent and more severe.

There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.

The future is now. And it is hot.
(Climate change is here — and worse than we thought). Do we kick the habit, or does civilization become a homeless derelict that could not cope with fossil fuel addiction?

The next post in this series is here.

1 comment:

  1. Some estimates indicate that 100,000,000 have died as a result of the propaganda of the tobacco industry. Link