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LETTER: Cost of genetic determinism

From Dr Joseph Bray

Sir: Unlike Professor Rutter (Letters, 21 February), I found Professor Bateson's article ("The perils of genetic determinism", 18 February) rather refreshing. It seems these days that every time I open a newspaper, or indeed even a medical journal, I am bombarded by stories about genes for violence, homosexuality, schizophrenia, diabetes and whatnot.

Hardly any geneticist these days would seriously argue in favour of a single gene for any of the the above conditions, except perhaps in rare instances.

But the ordinary person in the street may not know this and is all too likely to be seduced by the current hype into thinking that genetic explanations are at hand.

As Professor Rutter no doubt knows, disorders caused by single faulty genes are extremely rare, and conditions such as any of the above are relatively common. As such they are unlikely to yield to a simple genetic explanation, much less one about which we can actually do anything. In these days of ever constricting grants for research I think a balance must be struck between research strategies in which environmental factors are explored, which are more likely to make a difference to people's lives, and the hi-tech field of molecular biology, which is largely exploratory.

Yours sincerely,


Consultant Psychiatrist



21 February