Most of us have an intuition that, although our genes provide advantages and constraints, we retain great control over our lives. However, we are developing a second, competing intuition that, like it or not, our genes determine our abilities, our preferences, and our emotions. We would like to think we are much more than the sum of our genes, but scientists have apparently demonstrated that our genes determine some of our most complex behavioral and cognitive characteristics.
The focus on genes as the primary mode of biological explanation has been especially clear in the marketing of the Human Genome Project. In support of this project, Robert L. Sinsheimer, biologist and former chancellor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, affirmed, "[i]n the deepest sense we are who we are because of our genes." (Berkowitz 1996)
Does the available scientific evidence actually tell us that our genes determine our behavioural, emotional, and cognitive characteristics? Do single genes specify particular behavioural traits? To answer these questions, most non-scientists depend upon the cursory reports of new research findings that appear regularly in the lay press. These reports are oversimplified and may be shaped by the desire of both journalists and scientists to create an exciting story. As a result, our perceptions of the scientific evidence may be skewed by a few dramatic findings, some of which may be wrong.
Nowhere has this been more clear than in the representation of the roles of genes in determining uniquely human characteristics, involving our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Within the past decade, there have been highly visible reports localizing genes for manic-depression (Baron et al. 19...
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...Sussex, K.K. Kidd, C.R. Allen, A.M. Hostetter, and D.E. Housma. 1987. Bipolar Affective Disorder Linked to DNA Markers on Chromosome 11. Nature 325: 783-787
Gelernter, J., S. O'Malley, N. Risch, H.R. Kranzler, J. Krystal, K. Merikangas, J.L. Kennedy, and K.K. Kidd. 1991. No Association Between an Allele at the D2 Dopamine Receptor Gene (DRD2) and Alcoholism. JAMA 266: 1801- 807
Hamer, D.H., S. Hu, V.L. Magnuson, N. Hu, and A.M.L. Pattatucci. 1993. A Linkage between DNA Markers on the X-Chromosomes and Male Sexual Orientation. Science 261: 321-327
Kelsoe, J.R., E.I. Ginns, J.A. Egeland, D.S. Gerhard, A.M. Goldstein, S.J. Bale, D.L. Pauls, R.T. Long, K.K.Kidd, G. Conte, D.E. Housman and S.M. Paul. 1989. Re-evaluation of the Linkage Relationship Between Chromosome 11p Loci and the Gene for Bipolar Affective Disorder in the Old order Amish. Nature 342: 238-243.
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