Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense

Overview

Can genes determine which fifty-year-old will succumb to Alzheimer’s, which citizen will turn out on voting day, and which child will be marked for a life of crime? Yes, according to the Internet, a few scientific studies, and some in the biotechnology industry who should know better. Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber gather a team of genetic experts to argue that treating genes as the holy grail of our physical being is a patently unscientific endeavor. Genetic Explanations urges us to replace our faith in ...

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Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense

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Overview

Can genes determine which fifty-year-old will succumb to Alzheimer’s, which citizen will turn out on voting day, and which child will be marked for a life of crime? Yes, according to the Internet, a few scientific studies, and some in the biotechnology industry who should know better. Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber gather a team of genetic experts to argue that treating genes as the holy grail of our physical being is a patently unscientific endeavor. Genetic Explanations urges us to replace our faith in genetic determinism with scientific knowledge about how DNA actually contributes to human development.

The concept of the gene has been steadily revised since Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. No longer viewed by scientists as the cell’s fixed set of master molecules, genes and DNA are seen as a dynamic script that is ad-libbed at each stage of development. Rather than an autonomous predictor of disease, the DNA we inherit interacts continuously with the environment and functions differently as we age. What our parents hand down to us is just the beginning. Emphasizing relatively new understandings of genetic plasticity and epigenetic inheritance, the authors put into a broad developmental context the role genes are known to play in disease, behavior, evolution, and cognition.

Rather than dismissing genetic reductionism out of hand, Krimsky and Gruber ask why it persists despite opposing scientific evidence, how it influences attitudes about human behavior, and how it figures in the politics of research funding.

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Editorial Reviews

Troy Duster
A welcome contribution, Genetic Explanations will be a valuable resource for those seeking to sort exaggerated claims about genetic causation from solid scientific achievements.
Robert Pollack
Important and optimistic, Genetic Explanations clears the way for an open discourse on human identity in the age of DNA, clearly demonstrating the many ways in which the information in our DNA interacts with our experience over the course of a lifetime.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674064461
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/26/2013
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 957,951
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheldon Krimsky is Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning in the School of Arts and Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Public Health & Community Medicine in the School of Medicine at Tufts University.

Jeremy Gruber is President and Executive Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics.

Evelyn Fox Keller is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at MIT. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and numerous honorary degrees.

Carl F. Cranor is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Member of the Environmental Toxicology Graduate Program at the University of California, Riverside.

Jon Beckwith is American Cancer Society Research Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Richard Lewontin ix

Introduction: Evolving Narratives of Genetic Explanation across Disciplines Sheldon Krimsky 1

Part 1 New Understanding of Genetic Science

1 The Mismeasure of the Gene Ruth Hubbard 27

2 Evolution Is Not Mainly a Matter of Genes Stuart A. Newman 26

3 Genes as Difference Makers Evelyn Fox Keller 34

4 Big B, Little b: Myth #1 Is That Mendelian Genes Actually Exist David S. Moore 43

5 The Myth of the Machine-Organism: From Genetic Mechanisms to Living Beings Stephen L. Talbott 51

Part 2 Medical Genetics

6 Some Problems with Genetic Horoscopes Eva Jablonka 71

7 Cancer Genes: The Vestigial Remains of a Fallen Theory Carlos Sonnenschein Ana M. Soto 81

8 The Fruitless Search for Genes in Psychiatry and Psychology: Time to Reexamine a Paradigm Jay Joseph Carl Ratner 94

9 Assessing Genes as Causes of Human Disease in a Multicausal World Carl F. Cranor 107

10 Autism: From Static Genetic Brain Defect to Dynamic Gene-Environment-Modulated Pathophysiology Martha R. Herbert 122

11 The Prospects of Personalized Medicine David Jones 147

Part 3 Genetics in Human Behavior and Culture

12 The Persistent Influence of Failed Scientific Ideas Jonathan Beckwith 173

13 Map Your Own Genes! The DNA Experience Susan Lindee 186

14 Creating a "Better Baby": The Role of Genetics in Contemporary Reproductive Practices Shirley Shalev 201

15 Forensic DNA Evidence: The Myth of Infallibility William C. Thompson 227

16 Nurturing Nature: How Parental Care Changes Genes Mae-Wan Ho 256

Conclusion: The Unfulfilled Promise of Genomics Jeremy Gruber 270

Notes 285

Selected Readings 353

Acknowledgments 355

Contributors 357

Index 361

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