Linking genes to social behaviour `dangerous'

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The Independent Online
The belief that genes can somehow explain social problems such as criminality and violence was condemned yesterday by American biologists as "dangerous and misguided", writes Steve Connor.

Research suggesting that complex social behaviour, ranging from intelligence and schizophrenia to homosexuality and manic depression, can be genetically determined are "woefully flawed" and a distraction from their underlying causes.

According to Garland Allen, Professor of Biology at Washington University in St Louis, a "genetic fix" is being forcibly pushed into the public's conscience and is distracting people from the real solutions to society's problems.

The condemnation follows studies linking genes to human behavioural traits and comes a week after psychologists met in London to discuss the genetic basis of criminal and violent behaviour. Professor Allen told the association that attempts to link genetics with social behaviours has a disastrous past.

Similar claims in the 1920s and 1930s led to draconian immigration laws in the United States, compulsory sterilisation and, in Nazi Germany, the rise of the eugenics movement and the Holocaust.

"Yet, disturbingly, these concepts are becoming increasingly prevalent in our sophisticated society," he said.

"History shows that the genetic answer to sociological problems always has been used essentially against people. The genetic fix blames the biology of individuals rather than social circumstances for recurrent social and economic problems."

Professor Allen said it is a fallacy to think it is possible to separate nature - genetics - from nurture - upbringing - in the moulding of any adult characteristic.