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Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics

, 376 pages

1 halftone, 9 line drawings

September 2008



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Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics

Science, Ethics, and Public Conversation

Hardly a month goes by without a media report proclaiming that researchers have discovered the gene for some complex human behavior or trait—intelligence, dyslexia, shyness, homosexuality. The practical implications of genetic research can bring great good—relieving parents of self-blame for a child's schizophrenia or autism and possibly treating genetic diseases in the future. Other findings—or pernicious interpretations of them—can cause great harm, for example, by establishing flawed connections between genetics, race, and educational attainment.

Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics brings together an interdisciplinary group of contributors—human geneticists, humanists, social scientists, lawyers, and journalists—to discuss the ethical and social implications of behavioral genetics research. The essays give readers the necessary tools to critically analyze the findings of behavioral geneticists, explore competing interpretations of the ethical and social implications of those findings, and engage in a productive public conversation about them.

This volume provides an accessible introduction to a fascinating and controversial science and the societal and individual implications of its continuing development.

Erik Parens is a senior research scholar at the Hastings Center and a visiting professor in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Sarah Lawrence College. Audrey R. Chapman is a professor of community medicine and Healey Chair in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Nancy Press is a professor at the School of Nursing and the Department of Public Health at the School of Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University.

"This volume presents a fair and honest treatment of the field that is both cautious at times and also optimistic and hopeful."

"Informative, provocative, and challenging, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand this emerging field."

"What sets this collection apart from others is the way that contributions from a diverse authorship are integrated to form a coherent whole... Doubtless this book will soon become a classic within behavioral genetics, and compulsory reading for the non-specialist seeking to understand the basic scientific, social and ethical issues within the field."

"Promoting public conversation about behavioral genetics will be increasingly pertinent to creating enlightened, fair, and representative public policy... The 'wrestling' will go on for some time to come."

"Highly recommended."

"A terrific volume, containing some of the clearest and most engaging writing I've seen on the ethical, social, legal, and policy issues raised by human behavioral genetics."

" Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics could not be more welcome. If this society is to realize the promise of behavioral genetics while avoiding misuse and misinterpretation of genetic data and stigmatization of individuals and groups, the public must be able to evaluate the methods, implications, and findings of this field. This excellent book provides the basic tools to do just that."

"In this book, a handful of professional thinkers apply their considerable skill to the controversies surrounding behavioral genetics. Yet, nonprofessional thinkers will enjoy the book, too. It should stimulate talk about behavioral genetics in college classrooms, newsrooms, town meetings, and coffee shops. The book will raise consciousness about behavioral genetics, while lowering unreasonable fear. Whatever you think about behavioral genetics, and whether or not you agree with the chapters, this book will make you think. A great contribution. It is marvelous to have all of these topics dealt with in a single volume. This gathering will go far in promoting dialogue, because now people who are interested in joining the debate can easily find the relevant papers."

"This magisterial volume is the best analysis to date of the internal tensions and philosophical implications of contemporary research in behavioral genetics. It makes clear how genetic claims about human behavior can be both strong and slippery at once, and it illuminates the challenges this creates for the clinicians, teachers, jurists, and policy makers who must wrestle with them in practical contexts."

"This contentious, well-written collection reveals how complex science and complex social contexts co-produce what counts as new behavioral knowledge."

"This timely book brings together authoritative, state-of-the-art accounts of the many intriguing facets of behavioral genetics. One of the book's many strengths is the way in which the thread of complexity and uncertainty underlying genetics is picked up by each author and confronted in a refreshingly candid style. Highly referenced, this thought-provoking book is written for the specialist as well as the general reader."

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