This series of posts casts doubt on the idea that there are genes for most traits and that genetics or genomics will be able to identify those genes. Of course, genetic and environmental factors are involved in the development of traits, but heterogeneity means that these factors need not be the same across all families within a population. Yet claims that researchers are now finding, or can be expected to find, genes for X and Y abound without reference made to the problem that heterogeneity poses for their claims—a problem that can be understood without any technical specialization. My argument in these posts has been that the blindspot about finding genes for traits comes from a persistent conflation of family and population.
Let me put forward a conjecture: The conflation derives from people being readily able to envisage family-level care and support, but not so readily able to envisage social-level support. People can see that social institutions “care more about” (i.e., operate so as to ensure) their own perpetuation than they do about individuals. People have a stronger sense that being cared for is possible at a family level, even if their own family falls short of their ideal.
The challenge that follows from this conjecture is not only to expose the limitations of gene for X thinking and research, but to contribute to a sense that social institutions can be supportive and caring. Moreover, they can do so in ways beyond treating each individual simply as a member of a population, all subject to the same, say, fluoridation of water supply, seat belt laws, and so on. To meet this challenge is to address the different pathways, each consisting of heterogeneous factors, that lead to any outcome in the world, from our heights to our income, health,and happiness. Somehow a caring society has to support each of us in all our heterogeneous constructions.