LETTER : Criminals are made, not bred

Sir: May I make just two points of clarification on your report "Scientist denounces criminal gene theory" (13 February)?

It was my hyperbole in a brief phone call with Tom Wilkie that led to the reference to the US young male homicide rate having doubled; the actual death rate rose 54 per cent between 1985 and 1994. But what I have never done is to deny "that individual differences in human behaviour have a genetic" basis.

Every human except identical twins is genetically unique, and all including identical twins are environmentally unique. Of course, individual genetic differences contribute to differences between who and how we are as humans - no biologist could possibly argue anything else.

However, if we are asked what accounts for the alarming level of violent crime in the US, or for that matter to rather less alarming ones in Britain, to provide the answer "something about the genes of American (or British) citizens" is as foolish and unhelpful as it would be to answer "something about the molecular composition of handguns".

The question is being posed at the wrong level, and good science, like good social policy, means finding the determining level at which to ask and answer questions. Deal with the handguns, the poverty, injustice, racism and lack of social hope, and I suspect the molecules and genes will largely look after themselves. Your leading article ("No natural born killers", 13 February) got it spot on.

Yours faithfully,

Steven Rose

Brain and Behaviour Research Group

Faculty of Science

The Open University

Milton Keynes

13 February