What make newspaper headlines. University scientists call press

What more? Genes have been located, it is claimed, not only ‘for’ diseases like breast cancer but also ‘for’ homosexuality, alcoholism, criminality and a now notorious — and only half-facetious — speculation by Daniel Koshland, then editor of one of the world’s premier scientific journals, Science, that there might even be genes for homelessness. At the same time, drugs to extend life, improve memory or prevent “compulsive shopping’ make newspaper headlines. University scientists call press conferences, issuing promissory notes in which they claim to have discovered the biological causes of sexuality, or ofviolence in modern society. ‘Twin studies suggest an even temperament may lie in the genes’, claimed a press release from the University of Wisconsin in February 1994. A year later, the London-based medical charity the CIBA Foundation called a press conference to announce that they were sponsoring a closed meeting of behavior geneticists whose research pointed to a ‘biological’ origin for the incidence of violent crime.

As we have repeatedly emphasized, this simplification ischeaply seductive and fallacious. The phenomena of life are always and inexorably simultaneously about nature and nurture. The genes are not a single atomic, discrete entities, but genomic fluid, which is not independent of the cellular and the external environment. Life is holistic. In any search for explanation and intervention it is necessary to seek the appropriate level, the genetic, the cellular, and the environmental factors, all of which effectively determines outcomes. Yet again and again one finds the reductionist claim, unqualified, making the headlines and setting the research agenda.

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As has been lately assessed by Mattick, a geneticist:the ghost of Crick’s Dogma… Reductionism… will haunt scientists still for many years to come!J. S. Mattick. Challenging the dogma: BioEssays, 25(10): 930–939, 2003


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