Tag Archives: genes

4/23, 50 Whys to Look for Genes: Pros and Complications (participation is possible by from a distance)

Cambridge Science Festival 2015
50 Whys to Look for Genes: Pros and Complications
7-8.30pm, Thursday April 23, Bldg 1-134 at MIT
Participation is possible by google hangout, at http://bit.ly/CCTEvent . RSVP at sicw@umb.edu will help us plan for this. Continue reading

Whys to look for genes: Pros and complications–A Collaborative Exploration during February

A Collaborative Exploration (CE) in which participants consider what it would mean for the public to be treated as capable of thinking about the complexities that surround the application of genetic knowledge. Continue reading

50 whys to look for genes: 18. Organisms are the survival machines of genes

“They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence… Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.” Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976)

In other words, the genes we have are those that gave our ancestors advantage over competitors in survival and reproduction.  Any gene that does not give an advantage will die out—will not survive.

Complications

As the previous post noted, “parameters, such as the ‘fitness’ of [i.e., the advantage conferred by] genes or genotypes… are difficult or impossible to estimate,” even in well-controlled laboratory populations. Continue reading

What does “Nature-Nurture? No” have to do with feminist nature-nurture issues?

A colleague asked me what does my new book, “Nature-Nurture? No” (http://bit.ly/NNN2014),  have to do with feminist nature-nurture issues? What can we do with my analysis?  This 68-minute video is my first rough take on puzzling over that question: http://youtu.be/1gE9_9W8-zI  Comments welcome.

Nature-Nurture? No (now available)

Almost every day we hear that some trait “has a strong genetic basis” or “of course it is a combination of genes and environment, but the hereditary component is sizeable.”  To say No to Nature-Nurture is to reject this relative weighting of heredity and environment.  This book shows that partitioning the variation observed for any trait into a heritability fraction and other components provides little clear or useful information about the genetic and environmental influences.

A key move this book makes is to distill the issues into eight conceptual and methodological gaps that need attention. Some gaps should be kept open; others should be bridged—or the difficulty of doing so should be conceded. Previous researchers and commentators have either not acknowledged all the gaps, not developed the appropriate responses, or not consistently sustained their responses.  Indeed, despite decades of contributions to nature-nurture debates, some fundamental problems in the relevant sciences have been overlooked.

When all the gaps are given proper attention, the limitations of human heritability studies become clear.  They do not provide a reliable basis for genetic research that seeks to identify the molecular variants associated with trait variation, for assertions that genetic differences in many traits come, over people’s lifetimes, to eclipse environmental differences and that the search for environmental influences and corresponding social policies is unwarranted, or for sociological research that focuses on differences in the experiences of members of the same family.

Saying No is saying Yes to interesting scientific and policy questions about heredity and variation.  To move beyond the gaps is to make space for fresh inquiries in a range of areas: in various sciences, from genetics and molecular biology to epidemiology and agricultural breeding; in history, philosophy, sociology, and politics of the life and social sciences; and in engagement of the public in discussion of developments in science.

Available as paperback through online retailers and as pdf

NNN_digitalcovers-Front

The Pumping Station

Almost every day we hear that some trait “has a strong genetic basis” or “of course it is a combination of genes and environment, but the hereditary component is sizeable.”  To say No to Nature-Nurture is to reject this relative weighting of heredity and environment.  This book shows that partitioning the variation observed for any trait into a heritability fraction and other components provides little clear or useful information about the genetic and environmental influences.

A key move this book makes is to distill the issues into eight conceptual and methodological gaps that need attention. Some gaps should be kept open; others should be bridged—or the difficulty of doing so should be conceded. Previous researchers and commentators have either not acknowledged all the gaps, not developed the appropriate responses, or not consistently sustained their responses.  Indeed, despite decades of contributions to nature-nurture debates, some fundamental problems in the relevant…

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Genes for difference; genes for traits

In any quantitative analysis that associates a trait with some measurable genetic or environmental factors, the genetic factors are factors for difference.  That is, a difference in the factor is associated, when viewed across a population of individuals, with a difference in the trait.  These differences that a factor-for-difference makes ( as we ambiguously say in English) in the trait depend on the context (i.e., they are “local”) and that context has dynamics, which may or may not be restructured if the factor is taken beyond the boundaries of the local context.

Given that quantitative analysis of variation for a trait concerns genes or other factors for difference, what can be reasonably promised regarding genes and the development of a trait in an individual? Continue reading

A lesson in race, genes, and IQ

“Some people suggest that race is coded in genes and genes determine IQ test scores. A slightly less simple but similar supposition is that differences among races are associated with differences in genes that people have, which, in turn, are associated with differences in IQ test scores. Yet everyone has a sense that such claims are controversial. What should you think about them?”

With this introduction I kicked off an interactive presentation to high school students visiting the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different” at the Museum of Science in Boston in 2011. In preparing the talk I had been concerned that the efforts of many critics to counter claims that link race, genes, and IQ test scores were too easily discounted by people entertaining the hypothetical: “Suppose that one day advances in genetics show direct links…” So I wanted not to assert from a position of professorial authority that this or that scientist was wrong about the facts or interpretations. I sought instead to render simple direct relationships implausible and to provide angles of critical questioning that would help students respond to any new facts that might emerge in the future. In this spirit, the presentation started with the introduction above, announced the take-home lesson – “The world is not that simple” – then moved through the script reproduced below. I do not have data to show how successful I was, so let me suggest that readers evaluate the educational approach for themselves by formulating their own answers at each step. At the end, see whether you have a clearer sense of why it is implausible that race, genes, and IQ test scores can be linked in any direct fashion…  [See more]