An anthropologist explains the gene!

By Razib Khan | March 6, 2013 1:18 am

Over at Ethnography.com a late response to my post Against the cultural anthropologists from someone named Michael Scroggins. He accuses me of being “The hyperbolic leader in this round of hippie bashing.” That’s a defensible proposition, but speaking of hyperbole, he says:

The paradigm that informs Chagnon, Diamond and their chorus of supporters in the blogosphere is an adherence to the modern synthesis in evolutionary biology. To be more specific, they are both, more or less, sociobiologists who believe in genetic determinism.

First, the way cultural anthropologists use the term “genetic determinism” is similar to the way propagandists bandy about the terms “fascism” and “communism.” They’re usually not descriptions of real individuals or movements in the modern age, but point to a reality which connotes a particular odious intellectual flavor worthy of shunning, shaming, and asphyxiating. More precisely, there are almost no “genetic determinists” as such who adhere to the proposition that genes determine in some physics-like manner the specific manifestation of human nature. Rather, genes matter, just as culture matters.

The accusation of being a genetic determinist is clearly off the mark for Chagnon, and even less of Jared Diamond (who has written whole books centered upon the premise of biological egalitarianism and the overwhelming power of environmental conditions on the course of human affairs!). Even in the case of Chagnon, a self-identified sociobiologist, the accusation of genetic determinism is a matter of rhetorical flash and slander, the stock and trade of modern cultural anthropology. In Nobles Savages he recounts that his great antagonist Marvin Harris repeatedly references the lie that Chagnon believed in a “gene for war.” This is a lie because Chagnon repeatedly challenged this characterization, but Harris and his fellow travelers apparently repeated the accusation because of its rhetorical bite even when corrected on the record. This seems plausible because a self-described hippie, John Horgan, has reported that not only does Chagnon reject the idea of a gene for war, but believes that war is a cultural artifact! (Horgan wrote about his encounter with Chagnon in The End of War).

And yet the most interesting aspect of the post above is the long rumination on the nature of the gene.

For fields like population genetics, evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, the gene is a unit of calculation in the exact sense formulated by Johannsen in 1909. This is unproblematic if one understands that in this conception, a gene is more rhetorical topic than scientific fact. And, like Geertz noted of “mind”, when deployed in this sense by Diamond and Chagnon, a “gene” is a social concept which explains behavior, values, attitudes and social mores.

The problem comes in considering the gene as a unit which transmits determinate behavioral traits on a one-to-one basis, which is precisely what Chagnon does. Why are the fierce people so fierce? Because they inherit the genes from the most violent males among them. Note also, that in Chagnon’s formulation, women are of little import except as carriers of genetic information.

In contrast, the molecular view of the gene has undergone what can only be called a deconstruction since 1909. In the molecular view, the gene, as a unit, can be located in multiple spots (some quite mysterious) and behave in any number of surprising ways. It is, in the molecular view, far from the kind of determinate factor which Chagnon and Diamond rely upon for their analysis. At best, the molecular gene fuzzily transmits traits, more or less.

For example the definition of a gene given in the 4th edition of Molecular Cell Biology is “the entire nucleic acid sequence that is necessary for the synthesis of a functional polypeptide.” In other words, a gene is a string of macromolecules that code for a protein. Note that the one-to-one correspondence between gene and behavior is absent and in its place has been substituted a definition which leaves open questions of the relation of elementary to complex phenomena.

This characterization is problematic, more or less. And though I am more positively disposed toward evolutionary psychology and sociobiology than most, the bracketing of population genetics into the same class as these to me definitely justifies the label of Left Creationist for Michael Scroggins.* Additionally, molecular genetic biology post-dates Mendelism and the early 20th century work in genetics by decades. And the two individuals most famous for the emergence of molecular genetics, James Watson and Francis Crick, both exhibited attitudes which Scroggins would define as genetic determinist. This is not “Not Even Wrong.” It is “Not Even Aspiring to be Right.”

In any case, cultural anthropology delenda est!

* Note that I am not conceding Scroggins’ characterization in its basis.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy
  • tonywaters

    What is “left” or “creationist” about bracketing Population Genetics with Socio-biology of Evolutionary Psych? I don’t follow your reasoning in the last paragraph.

    • razibkhan

      evolutionary psychology elicits sneers from the left (and more rarely, from the right) for ideological reasons. but, there are real scientific and methodological objections to the field, which pushes the paradigmatic envelope. this is not the case with population genetics. population genetics is a foundational part of modern evolutionary and conservation biology. it would be like dismissing calculus while praising mathematical physics.

      • tonywaters

        I see why you want to separate population genetics from evolutionary psych, but still don’t see why those who disagree with you merit a political label like “leftist,” or a theological one like “creationist.” Correlation does not imply causation in this case.

        • razibkhan

          i assume he’s a leftist because almost all anthropologists are on the left. is my stereotype false in this case? (i can name a few on one hand in anthropology who are not center left to left). as for the creationism charge, creationists don’t even understand the science which they reject. similarly, with ppl like your friend.

          • tonywaters

            Polls show that universities voted for Obama, and I assume that that applies to Anthro, too. If that’s “leftist” ok. But the correlation still does not explain how such voting patterns are relevant to understandings in genetics.

            I still don’t get the creationist charge. And plenty of scientists I know have a good understanding of genetics. Have your read Jonathan Marks’ book “What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?”

          • razibkhan

            tony, anthro is even more left than most academic departments. you can dig into this data;

            http://www.thedivineconspiracy.org/Z5238L.pdf

            but the short of it is that dems outnumber repubs 20 to 1 in anthro. as for why ideology is relevant to genetics, i’m assuming you know about the lysenko affair?

            I still don’t get the creationist charge.

            see toto’s response above. i didn’t want to deconstruct the bizarro-world science at the heart of your co-blogger’s post, because i doubt it would mean much to him, and it would be redundant to most of my readers. but there are a class of social scientists who extract humanity from natural processes to such an extent that for all practical purposes humans become a specially created organism, operating by their own rules. the culture-uber alles tendency would be an expression of this. not only is culture not the sole determinative variable in human behavior, it is not limited to humans.

          • razibkhan

            Have your read Jonathan Marks’ book “What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?”

            i’ve read marks’ blog. i wouldn’t be surprised if he thinks a person of my beliefs should be imprisoned :-) IOW, i don’t take marks seriously, nor do i take scientific pointers from him. i can process phylogenetic data well enough on my own, thank you very much.

          • tonywaters

            His book is not as off-putting as his blog. And he knows his genetics.

          • razibkhan

            tony, yes, but so do i. my bread & butter in the day time is doing genetics. i can even be found talking genetics around the silo.

          • tonywaters

            Good–then you will appreciate the book, though you probably will not agree with it 100%. But who can you agree with 100%?

          • razibkhan

            i’ve read marks’ stuff before. he starts with with similar empirical data, but comes to different conclusions. a lot of it has to do with ideological differences. but i agree that he understands the underlying material.

            now, back to the original post. some of the people who have ridiculed your original co-bloggers’ post actually are much more sympathetic to the project(s) of cultural anthropology than i am. but when you have someone writing things like “a gene is more rhetorical topic than scientific fact,” you’re going to lose whatever sympathy you have. cultural anthropology would benefit from less silliness like this. just because something is an abstraction, which a mendelian gene is, does not mean that it is rhetoric.

          • tonywaters

            Rajiv,

            I think we could have a really interesting discussion about the nature of “facts” which is brought up in Sociology and Anthropology graduate seminars. But it is hard to fit it into columns which are seven words wide. Along the same lines, here is a comment that critiqued genetic research from an anthropological perspective in BMC Genetics recently.

            http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/11/18/comments

            Tony

          • razibkhan
          • tonywaters

            Yes, and you were more precise and careful in how you used the data than were the authors of the article(s) we critiqued. Using Cambodian refugees for as a proxy for “Cambodians” is a real stretch, as you point out. As for using Bangkok residents as a proxy for “Thai,” that is also problematic, as you note. Immigration from southern China to Thailand’s cities has been going very quickly for 200 years, with 3-4 major spurts in the 20th century along.

            With approaches like that you might find yourself more welcome among the anthropologists (particularly those with a biological bent) than you think!

          • razibkhan

            i have no problem with ethnographic detail. please see my post that your co-blogger referenced.

          • tonywaters

            Razib–you’ve given me some good things to think about. I need a few days though to formulate a response about the relationship between genetics and cultural anthropology/ethnography. I will get back to you in a week or two via ethnography.com.

          • Sandgroper

            Is it not manners to use the preferred spelling of someone’s own name?

          • tonywaters

            Oops sorry, I typed too fast. But both Razib and I have pretty thick skins–and it even seems we see eye to eye about some things.

          • Sandgroper

            Noted. But that notwithstanding, I would suggest that a little respect is in order.

          • razibkhan

            rajiv is the more common variant. it happens :-) i didn’t take offense because it didn’t seem like it was made with offensive intent.

          • http://twitter.com/zenndiagram Zenn Diagram

            A left creationist is someone who believes that heredity plays little if any role in human variation, particularly in non-visible variation (such as personality). To believe such a thing one must believe that humans evolved to a certain point and then the process of evolution stopped: an act of creation.

      • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

        Look, I don’t mean to go Godwin’s Law here, but there’s a very good reason, historically (and not just rhetorically), why genetic determinism is equated with fascism: Nazi scientists also believed that biology was destiny. It is worth not forgetting this, and remembering the implications that any “science” which assumes biological determinism can have for our understandings of culture and free will.

        And calling Scroggins a “creationist” is also just rhetorical trolling on your part, speaking of logical failures. (I should note that Scroggins and I are colleagues, and I’m pretty familiar with how he thinks.) Just because he does not buy into genetic determinism doesn’t mean he dismisses science as a means of understanding the universe. We don’t operate in a binary of science and religion. Scroggins’s critique of genetic science here is that it has a very poor model for conceptualizing what “culture” is. Its model is not based on empirical observations of culture. In fact, it’s a bit of a fallacy to lump Scroggins in with the cultural anthropologists you seem to be thinking of.

        Scroggins and many of our other colleagues colleagues work off of Harold Garfinkel, who was 1) a sociologist, not an anthropologist per se; 2) had a critique of mainstream sociology as defining its cultural terms apart from empirical observation of how individuals negotiate culture — how they make sense of others’ behavior — on the ground (Garfinkel’s critique resonates with scientists who look down on sociology as a “weak science”); and 3) understood culture as the accretion of human understanding generated by individuals as they navigate through their environments and interactions with others. God is not in this picture at all. This model actually attempts to be more empirical than most social research. You might familiarize yourself with it before you tar Scroggins with a creationist brush.

        • razibkhan

          1) the only people who believe in ‘genetic determinism’ in the way you people characterize it are people in your own imaginations.

          2) frankly, what the fuck are you talking about? i don’t care what you or scroggins believe about culture or society. he spent paragraph after paragraph talking about genes. whereof one speaks, one is enjoined to know of what one speaks of. i don’t see that there.

          • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

            redcated?

          • razibkhan

            i used a swear word, someone complained, and apparently it’s against the new *discover* comment rules. unless i want to go independent again i’ll have to follow the rules.

          • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

            You mean “redacted.” Perhaps you should have paid more attention in your humanities classes.

          • razibkhan

            wow, you are quite the childish one to misconstrue a typo for lack of semantic knowledge :-) grow up or i’ll have to ban you (which is allowed by the New Order i think)

          • Sandgroper

            No more thundering expletive-laden Wrath of Khan torpedoes? That’s going to take the fun out of it.

        • Dmitry Pruss

          Could you expound on how this empirical approach to sociology works? Does this empiricism mean that whatever factors affect the empirical outcomes (for example environments and interactions you mention) must be labelled “mere rhetorical topic” if the cause-and-effect isn’t strictly one-to-one correspondence without any fuzziness (borrowing the words used by Scroggins with respect to genes)? Regardless of whether the underlying mechanisms of the casual relations are clear, and the effects, quantifiable?

          If it is true, then he should, in the same vein, dismiss his whole field of study as “empty thetoric”.

          • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

            I’d say Scrogs was making an unwarranted rhetorical flourish himself by calling genes “mere” rhetorical topics; not sure if this is where he and I part ways. Sure, genes have clear, quantifiable, causal effects. In some cases. The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone; nor to explain away deviations from these causal patterns as meaningless noise. Science evolves and continues to explain aberrant events, or it isn’t good science, right? And some part of the state of science as we understand it at a given time is an artifact of tenure systems, communication networks, funding, and popular opinion. The aim of well-meaning cultural studies of science is not, I hope, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I personally would like to see it lead to better, more meaningful science (and I think the publication of one of Hugh Gusterson’s anthropological analyses of Los Alamos in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a good indication that it can. Then again, I may be biased — I’m an anthropologist who grew up among engineers at Caltech).

            But all that is really more Latourian science and technology studies than Garfinkelian sociology. Garfinkel’s approach to sociology attempts to do away with what he saw as the field’s failing: the a priori assumptions that sociologists bring to their observations of human behavior, which then cloud and warp what they are able to observe. In daily behavior, humans do not make explicit reference to or draw on theories of behavior; the job of anyone studying human behavior is thus to determine, through observation and synthesis of these observations, what they DO draw on. Does what they draw on have some basis in biology and the natural environment? Of course! It also has bases in language, the built environment, and I think most importantly history (memory and the passage of time) — none of which are topics which biology or chemistry are particularly good at describing on their own.

            Does what humans draw on in their behavior conform to scientific logic? Of course not, and this is why it’s so frustrating to geneticists, as it eludes them and involves a lot of explaining things away as unimportant and magical and irrational and “noisy.” Within specific situations, however, much behavior can be explained through additional analysis of what has transpired local to the situation, and what people are referring to. This is culture. And I’m still not convinced it can be reduced to proteins and chemicals, because some of the transactions in the behavior are linguistic and historical (“remember what your mother told you, don’t cross the street without looking both ways”).

          • razibkhan

            The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone;

            literally no one believes this.

        • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

          Michael’s post indicates that he’s totally unfamiliar with behavior genetics, pop. genetics and their implications and, if he were, he wouldn’t have written that post. It is also worded in the exact same fashion an Intelligent Design advocate would use: vague, uninformed and incomplete. It’s the classic “See? Science can’t explain everything, so this backs [whatever I believe in.]” You guys don’t like genetic reductionism to explain culture yet do an entirely one-sided job when trying to explain/analyze culture using your own “methods.” We’re not stupid, we can see what is taught in AN/SO courses and it doesn’t jibe with current behavior genetics and actually *dismisses* it condescendingly. Next come the racism inferences (like you just did) and finally, you typically offer some left wing lesson for students that just happens to always downplay genes and direct blame on whites/imperialists, etc. I work directly with AN/SO majors so I know exactly what the deal is. Just because people don’t say it to your face doesn’t mean we don’t know what your MO is.

          AN/SO people should be *embracing* genetics research in an *honest* way to augment their research. That’s the only way to be legit at all! Where did culture arise from in the first place?

          • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

            OK, could you please summarize for me what the assumptions of behavior genetics and population genetics are that are different from classical genetic determinism? I’m operating off the working definition that genetics makes the basic assumption that genes code for proteins. What do I not know about how genes code for history, or how they code for the complex systems of semantics or environment? Because in my comparison of animal behavior, cognition, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, and linguistics (I have studied various flavors of each), my sense is that the methodological tools of anthropology, history, sociology, and linguistics are better at reckoning with complex and ongoing interactions between individuals than cognition and psychology are. The former two fields stake their claims on understandings of individual minds. And I don’t yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins. What am I missing?

          • razibkhan

            And I don’t yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins.

            you’re confusing genetics as elucidated by crick’s central dogma as genetics qua genetics. as outlined in the initial post by scroggins’ genetics as a field predates the idea of the central dogma by 50 years. behavior and population genetics are both strongly statistical, and include within them the idea of environmental effects.

    • toto

      Actually what would justify the “creationist” label is that if you look carefully, MS’ reasoning “proves” that evolution is general is impossible. There’s nothing specific to human behavior in his argument – you could say the exact same thing about any trait in any complex animal.

      He seems to suggest that, since no single physical gene fully controls any given trait (which is generally true) , then differential transmission of genes cannot predictably alter trait distribution in the population. The most obvious problem is that, even though single physical genes cannot fully control traits, they can certainly influence them (in intensity or probability). That’s why we can talk of (and measure) things like additive genetic variance.

      • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

        It’s not about evolution being impossible. It’s about it being mitigated by culture.

        What do you mean by a “trait”? I don’t hear you defining that term in any kind of empirically sound way.

        • http://www.facebook.com/karl.zimmerman Karl Zimmerman

          I see two main issues with the argument of genes being mitigated by culture.

          1. Such beliefs in the social sciences usually rest upon humans being different in some ineffable way from other living beings. Said social scientists do not argue, for example, that animal “culture” plays just as much of a role mitigating behavior as human culture. Few argue that animals are unconscious automatons anymore, but they still act as if animal instinct is essentially inescapable, while human instinct only exists around basic drives like hunger and the avoidance of pain.

          2. Culture can be seen as an “extended phenotype” which is determined by gene interactions across a large population – sort of the same way that a beaver’s dam is part of the extended phenotype of a beaver. In this sense, all culture is ultimately genetic, even if genes do not in any way code for differences between cultures.

          While I wouldn’t go as far as Razib in calling the original argument creationist, I do think it’s sophistry. The argument given is based upon rhetoric and logic, but not an understanding of actual empirical knowledge regarding genetics.

          • http://twitter.com/gusandrews Gus Andrews

            GENES are not mitigated by culture. EVOLUTION is mitigated by culture. Genes are made up of chemicals. Evolution is a process that happens over time. Culture is more able to influence the latter than the former.

            Calling culture “an extended phenotype” is just stupid (and I’d say calling a beaver’s dam part of its phenotype is also pretty stupid. Did the beaver’s genetics determine the amount of branching on a given tree, which probably has an influence on the shape of the dam? I didn’t think so.) Culture, and the human behavior that makes it up, involves references to things that are not immediately observable in looking at an individual, including language, memory, and history… say it with me now.

          • razibkhan

            what do you even mean by ‘mitigated by culture’? some of the strongest selective events in the human genome are first or second order products of culture (lactase persistence, malaria defense).

          • http://twitter.com/UnendImprov Unending Improvement

            Oh, absolutely. I’ve only read the most basic of pop science genetic books, but even then I was wholly aware of how culture has literally shaped, not “mitigated”, human evolution.

            Also, what are the basic resources I should be familiar with to be able to gain further understanding of this topic?

          • http://www.facebook.com/karl.zimmerman Karl Zimmerman

            I see I did misinterpret your original point. I thought you were making the typical argument that cultural influences outweigh genetic influences, because of gene-environment interactions causing genes to be expressed or not in various circumstances.

            I’m not sure at all what you mean by evolution being mitigated by culture. Culture can and does shape evolution of course, The guiding force in evolution is often said to be “natural selection,” but artificial selection of domesticated plants and animals is also surely evolution, with the domesticants adapting (with help) to the human environment. The same could be equally true with humans. Certainly it’s been hypothesized that human brains grew so big in large part due to the need to deal with the increasing social complexity of human societies – that we needed mega brainpower in order to keep track of our social relationships with a few score people, and be able to anticipate their reactions to decisions.

            Genes and culture are interrelated even on a population level, with genetic changes altering culture, and culture in turn leading to genetic changes. Razib notes lactose tolerance, which both wouldn’t have developed without use of cattle, and massively increased the ability of cultures to depend upon dairy products once the mutations were widespread. Amylase production has also been boosted in farming populations, as it helps break down starches.

            As for the beaver example, I didn’t pull it out of thin air. It was something Richard Dawkins first discussed in one of his books. Beavers build dams instinctively to the point that if isolated indoors, they will build “invisible dams.” This dam-making instinct is clearly genetic, and thus can be considered to be part of the phenotype of a beaver in the same way that its flattened tail is. At the same time, he notes that when dam-making first developed, it must have been essentially a conscious choice by some random stem beaver. It helped the stem beaver to survive, and over time genes which caused dam building to be reinforced, and ultimately instinctual, were selected for.

          • viewfromafield

            When you say that culture is part of an “extended phenotype” are you saying that what we call culture is the result of the genotype of an individual human being expressed through the biological processes of their bodies in relation to their environment? That’s obvious enough I doubt anyone would argue with it, but I don’t know how useful it is for describing complex historically situated social phenomena. I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can’t be adequately explained in purely genetic terms. Not because culture is some mystical thing standing apart from human biology, but because large groups of people living in a community have a lot of moving parts and trying to account for so many different levels of organization at once (i.e. from the cellular to population/environment) in a way that doesn’t vastly oversimplify either genetics or society is difficult.

            And then, there’s always this argument http://xkcd.com/435/

            We might imagine a future where every scientific discipline can reach an integrated understanding of everything, but we’re not there yet. And we can only get there by breaking things down into smaller chunks and studying them in their specificity. The blueprints for a building are broken down into structural drawings, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, etc. Putting every part of a building into one set of plans would be unreadable. That’s only a problem if the individual drawings don’t match up.

          • razibkhan

            I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can’t be adequately explained in purely genetic terms.

            in complex social phenomena genes inform, they do not explain. the same with cognitive neuroscience. and yet i hear little talk of ‘neuroscience determinists’!

        • toto

          That’s not what he wrote.

          First, he strawmans sociobiologists as believing in a “one-to-one” correspondence between single physical genes and behavioral traits (note the conspicuous absence of citation).

          Then he suggests that, because this correspondence doesn’t exist, evolution (i.e. change in trait frequency caused by differential reproduction of trait bearers) is implausible on its face. That’s the non-sequitur.

          Again, you can say the exact same thing about evolution of physical traits, since the “one-to-one” correspondence also fails to hold for them.

          What do you mean by a “trait”?

          The same thing as everybody else – pretty much anything that can be measured. Would you mind spending a couple minutes googling elementary terms? I suggest starting with “heritability”.

  • Sandgroper

    I thought Diamond had been accused of being an environmental determinist after GG&S. Maybe he’s a genes+environment determinist. Well, that’s not so bad…

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    It’s fun to watch people like this. They’re so ignorant of how far the bar has been raised that they think “analysis” like this actually qualifies as doing something. Michael should take 10 seconds to glance at the relevant Wikipedia page before writing something like this. Michael Scroggins: slated for an appearance in Zeitgeist 7!

  • viewfromafield

    I definitely agree with you that genes matter, just as culture does, which is a much more nuanced an understanding than I’ve heard from non-scientists I’ve met who espoused sociobiology/evolutionary psychology. I’ve only come across what I would describe as vulgar sociobiology – that is, people drawing on popular understandings of genetics and evolution to make claims about genetic/evolutionary causes of behavior far beyond what I suspect anyone with a grounding in current research would make. So, I’m curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.

    • razibkhan

      So, I’m curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.

      have you read a book on quantitative genetics or behavior genetics? the science is complex, but the premises are straightforward. no one who works in these fields is a ‘genetic determinist.’ in contrast, i would contend that some, if not all or most, of those in the humanities and social sciences who rage against genetic determinists ARE cultural determinists (in popular vulgar form one can see this in ascribe all life situations to enviro-structural factors).

      • viewfromafield

        No, I haven’t, something to check out when I head to the library. So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?

        As far as cultural determinism goes, you do find people making claims that could be taken as cultural determinism here and there in anthropology, but its not that common. Saying that something is culturally constructed isn’t suggesting that’s the only factor at play, that’s just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established).

        • razibkhan

          So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?

          no. sociobiology brackets a lot of different fields. behavior genetics is narrow, because it doesn’t take an evolutionary viewpoint. sociobiology does. it also looks to fields such ethology, behavioral ecology, etc. the reality is that e. o. wilson himself is not a classically genetically oriented person (see his recent dust ups in regards to inclusive fitness). this might seem ‘inside baseball,’ but it gets to the heart of confused misrepresentations.

        • razibkhan

          that’s just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established)

          the vulgar form would simply state that the female as the primary care giver for young children in humans is a cultural/social construct (or perhaps an outcome of material conditions). i’m 100% sure that that’s wrong, mostly because humans are primates, not seahorses.

  • Sandgroper

    A new word has entered the lexicon: To be “scrogged” means something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep. (With due credit to a certain Australian politician.)

  • manwhoisthursday

    there are almost no “genetic determinists” as such who adhere to the proposition that genes determine in some physics-like manner the specific manifestation of human nature.

    I agree with the general sentiment here, but I think there are a fair number of people who would agree that there are some psychological traits that will always emerge in all possible human cultures. I don’t know anyone who thinks that all or even most human psychological traits are like this though.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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