Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Duster's "Behavioral Genetics and Crime, Violence, and Race"

Duster, Troy (2006). “Behavioral Genetics and Explanations of the Link between Crime, Violence, and Race” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 150-75.

Duster argues that scrutiny and skepticism should be employed in behavioral genetic research because of the trend to more between population differentials and the socially constructed bias of the criminal justice system. Lewontin commented on statistical problems related to comparing within group variance and between group variance related to the IQ controversy of the 1970s. The problem here lies within the idea that humans share 99.9% of identical DNA and research that tries to correlate genetic ancestry with behaviors such as violence, criminality, and impulsivity. Like Press, he appeals to the notion of social constructionism as it relates to behavior. Many researchers also argue that physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones we create, which have no constancy. “Race” can have a substantial effect on how people behave but that does entail a link to genetic causation. If, however, researchers initiate research based on certain trends such as the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated compared to the general population, then run the risk of making invalid conclusions similar to the “science” of phrenology in the late 19th century. He does argue that we should eliminate racial and ethnic classifications in the routine collection and analysis of data but rather that we need to recognize, engage, and clarify the complexity of interaction between taxonomies of race and genetic outcomes.

I agree with his idea of the Zeitgeist or spirit of the time in conducting research because we must accept that, in many ways, we are products of our environment and societies as much as we are products of our genome. Duster provides a slew of evidence to back up his claim that we may want to revisit. He also speaks to the circular nature of labeling theory in hat he terms a “looping effect”. This will be especially important related to ASPD and the MAOA connection. Then again, in the context of drug treatment, is genetic “profiling” to eliminate disability really a bad thing? He sites cystic fibrosis and beta-thallosemia as examples of ethnic or group specific diseases that may warrant research. The important difference is that of a physical disorder and that of behavior but this does not address the question of whether physicalism or genetics gives rise to behavior. He also speaks of the difference between genetic markers and explanatory causation of crime that we will have to keep in mind.

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