Preface and Acknowledgments

Modern science is a product of Western culture. Its practitioners and laypersons alike take for granted culture-specific conceptions of self and society, freedom, responsibility, and human flourishing. Current developments in genetics are prompting a reevaluation of those ideas and a reconsideration of what constitutes responsible use of new knowledge.

The Human Genome Project is proceeding on schedule, with experts predicting that the entire genome sequence will be completed no later than 2005. Much of the scientific attention has already shifted away from single-gene disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, to complex disorders, such as various cancers. Lurking only slightly away from the glare of attention, however, like an uninvited guest sitting in a corner, are thorny issues surrounding behavioral genetics.

Genetic diseases have understandably garnered most of the attention so far. The promise that pernicious and intractable human diseases could be identified in advance and treated, or even prevented, has supplied the moral power to drive the engine of the Human Genome Project. However, important ethical, legal, and social issues are being raised in determining how our health care system will respond to new genetic discoveries. The issues include access to technology, genetic counseling, reproductive freedom, informed consent, and the role of genetics in public health. The use of genetic information for non-medical purposes, such as insurance, employment, domestic relations, and fo-rensics, has spurred a reexamination of notions of privacy and confidentiality.

Claims of genetic factors in behavior have been slower to develop. Indeed, genetic research on mental illness, for example, often has been characterized by false premises, unreplicated claims, and retracted papers. There are many reasons for this, including the difficulty of establishing diagnostic criteria, complex modes of inheritance, multiple gene interactions, difficulty in measuring end points, problems of methodology, and the uncertain effects of environment. These research problems are intensified for nonpathological behavioral factors. Nevertheless, assertions of a genetic link to thrill seeking, aggression, nurturing, aging, the development of language and social skills in women, "handedness," and food preferences all have been announced recently. Sexual orientation, alcoholism and other addictive behavior, and intelligence have surfaced to varying degrees as well. Our individual and collective responses to these emerging scientific claims will go to the heart of future societal and human relations.

One can take up the challenges of behavioral genetics by analyzing the issues from two different but related perspectives. If a scientific claim involving behavioral genetics is flawed, the initial solution consists of exposing errors in the scientific theory or method underlying the claim. Scientific refutation, however, is not the end of the matter. Even discredited scientific claims, once disseminated by the media, sometimes take on a life of their own.

For scientifically valid claims about behavioral genetics, which are likely to increase significantly in the years ahead, the issues are more complex. The nature of the claims and the uses to be made of the scientific connection are mere starting points. Where the science is good, we must determine what responses are socially appropriate and ethically defensible.

Either way, dispassionate analysis is difficult in today's political and intellectual climate. A controversial meeting in Maryland a few years ago on the genetic origins of criminal behavior touched off a storm of public protests. The Bell Curve's assertion of a racial variation in the genetic component of intelligence and the authors' proposed political response made for one of the most controversial books of the past decade (Herrnstein and Murray 1994).

As the editor of Nature noted several years ago, "Part of the trouble is that the excitement of the chase of molecular cause leaves little time for reflection. And there are grants for producing data, but hardly any for standing back in contemplation" (Maddox 1988). The collaborative project from which this book has emerged was an exercise in "standing back in contemplation." The idea for this volume arose out of an interdisciplinary dialogue about culture and biology. A grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to the University of Texas Medical Branch's Institute for the Medical Humanities enabled a group of scholars in the biological, behavioral, and social sciences, the humanities, and law to bring interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on pressing questions arising at the intersection of culture and biology.

The chapters in this book suggest the need for a more sweeping series of dialogues on scientific and social perspectives, both among disciplines and among the public. The interdisciplinary dialogues should involve discussions of research goals, hypotheses, methodologies, conclusions, and implications. The public dialogues should focus on critical analysis of scientific claims, putting behavioral genetic developments in context, and using behavioral genetics responsibly and sensitively in formulating public policy.

The contributors to this volume are all experts in their respective fields, and their views would all be considered within the mainstream of their disciplines. Yet the variation among disciplines is striking in several ways: in their confidence in the validity of scientific claims of present and future association of genetics and behavior, in the level of concern about the possible misuse of genetic information, and in their assessment of the societal challenges in responding to proven associations between genetics and behavior.

Allan Tobin likens genetic determinism to earlier notions of predestination, noting that genetic boosterism conveniently accounts for worldly success and failure as unfortunate but not unjust because they are foreordained. He avers that only those for whom genetic information is an abstraction are likely to find genetic determinism appealing. Those at risk for disease are less sanguine. Tobin calls for research to deepen our understanding of gene-environment interactions in complex behaviors.

David Rowe and Kristen Jacobson observe that there is such widespread acceptance of the field of behavioral genetics by psychologists and psychiatrists that it is considered "mainstream" research. Nevertheless, other social scientists, such as cultural anthropologists and sociologists, largely ignore the substantial scientific evidence that has been developed. Using twin and adoption studies, kinship studies, and other traditional methods of inquiry, Rowe and Jacobson review current research directions in psychological and psychiatric uses of genetic findings for understanding behavioral development. Increased methodological rigor and new insights from molecular biology promise to increase the wider acceptance of behavioral genetics.

In their discussion of the molecular genetic basis of behavioral traits, Stephanie Sherman and Irwin Waldman describe current methods for finding genes for complex traits. They use schizophrenia, dyslexia, and anxiety as examples of successful investigations of the molecular basis of human behavior. The authors point to major advances in isolating the biological from the environmental components of complex behavioral traits.

Kenneth Schaffner enriches our appreciation for the complexity of behavioral genetics by replacing simple genetic reductionist models with interpretations of recent molecular advances. He points out that much of the interest in psychiatric genetics is predicated on the (false) hope that it may be possible to identify genes that contribute to serious mental disorders and that the information thus generated may then be used to treat those disorders. Schaffner counsels against the seductiveness of such a single-gene approach and argues instead for an intermingled set of approaches to mental disorders.

According to Mark Rothstein's analysis, law has tended to contribute to the legitimization of genetic determinism by failing to respond critically to misguided scientific and societal forces. Not only has the legislative process been susceptible to pressure to codify the prevailing social and cultural milieu, but also historically the courts have offered little resistance. As for new issues in behavioral genetics, Rothstein expresses concern about whether the combination of the adversary system, inexpert judges, lay juries, the lack of medical privacy, and other factors will contribute to the misuse of behavioral genetics in various legal settings.

Continuing the line of reasoning initiated by Rothstein, Lori Andrews explores the use of behavioral genetics by the criminal justice system. She probes the reasons for increased interest in evidence of genetic propensities to commit antisocial acts and describes the justifications for assigning legal responsibility and meting out punishment for such acts. Andrews' analysis raises the specter of how the legal system might respond to genetic predictions in the absence of a crime. If genetic propensities to criminal behavior are discoverable in retrospect, what is to prevent prospective intervention to identify potential future law breakers, place them under surveillance or in preventive detention, and perhaps provide them with social or medical treatment?

Dorothy Nelkin takes up a theme briefly broached in this volume by Allan Tobin, namely, the popular appeal of genetic explanations in mass culture (Nelkin and Lindee 1995). She inquires into the public policy implications of construing social problems in terms of an ostensibly national predisposition of individuals to behave in certain ways. Nelkin shows how genetic explanations of human behavior can be appropriated by various social, political, and economic ideologies. In the context of dismantling the welfare state, she argues, "scientific concepts concerning the heritability of behavior have been translated into a rhetoric of responsibility and blame which purports to account for such phenomena as antisocial behavior, educational failure, and social inequities." In Nelkin's view, the popularity of behavioral genetics is in large measure attributable to the character of the current political climate.

For his exploration of the social construction of genetic information, Troy Duster focuses on concrete situations of disclosure. By means of a cross-cultural analysis, he demonstrates the indelibly local and ethnic character of social meaning. Even "individual choice" is socially situated and culture specific, which is why voluntarism is a fundamentally contested concept and coercion an ever-present danger. Echoing a view expressed in this volume by Lori Andrews and Mark Rothstein, Duster cautions against what he calls "creeping geneticism," whereby molecular genetic knowledge intended for the prevention of disease and the improvement of health is enlisted in the service of the criminal justice system and used in hiring and insurance decisions.

Ronald Carson takes up the question of how to maintain one's moral bearings in a genetic age in which the self is caught in a tension between fate and mastery. He proposes a broad-gauged, inclusive dialogue to discern what constitutes acceptable risk and responsible action under conditions of uncertainty and irreversibility.

In addition to the authors represented in this volume, the editors wish to acknowledge other valuable contributors to the Culture and Biology project: Michele A. Carter, P. Michael Conneally, Joseph T. Boyle, John Douard, Helen Donis-Keller, S. Van McCrary, Ellen S. More, Rebecca D. Pentz, Martin S. Pernick, Robert M. Rose, Lee S. Rowen, Gunter S. Stent, T. Howard Stone, William D. Willis Jr., and William J. Winslade.

Our sincere thanks to Diane Pfeil for preparing the manuscript and managing the editorial process; to Faith Lagay and Sara Clausen for expert editorial assistance; to Sharon Goodwin for managing the project; and to Lori Helton for seeing it through to successful completion.

Finally, we express our gratitude to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and especially to the foundation's director of Mental Health Policy and Research Program on Human and Community Development, Robert M. Rose, M.D., who made the project and this publication possible.

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