Books  Animal & General Biology  Genetics 

Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense

By: Sheldon Krimsky (Editor), Jeremy Gruber (Editor)

384 pages, 2 b/w illustrations, 4 tables

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Jan 2013 | #199464 | ISBN-13: 9780674064461
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £33.95 $41/€38 approx

About this book

Can genes determine which fifty-year-old will succumb to Alzheimer’s, which citizen will turn out on voting day, and which child will be marked for a life of crime? Yes, according to the Internet, a few scientific studies, and some in the biotechnology industry who should know better. In Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense, Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber gather a team of genetic experts to argue that treating genes as the holy grail of our physical being is a patently unscientific endeavor. Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense urges us to replace our faith in genetic determinism with scientific knowledge about how DNA actually contributes to human development.

The concept of the gene has been steadily revised since Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. No longer viewed by scientists as the cell’s fixed set of master molecules, genes and DNA are seen as a dynamic script that is ad-libbed at each stage of development. Rather than an autonomous predictor of disease, the DNA we inherit interacts continuously with the environment and functions differently as we age. What our parents hand down to us is just the beginning. Emphasizing relatively new understandings of genetic plasticity and epigenetic inheritance, the authors put into a broad developmental context the role genes are known to play in disease, behavior, evolution, and cognition.

Rather than dismissing genetic reductionism out of hand, Krimsky and Gruber ask why it persists despite opposing scientific evidence, how it influences attitudes about human behavior, and how it figures in the politics of research funding.


Foreword [Richard Lewontin]
Introduction: Evolving Narratives of Genetic Explanation across Disciplines [Sheldon Krimsky]

Part I. New Understanding of Genetic Science
1. The Mismeasure of the Gene [Ruth Hubbard]
2. Evolution Is Not Mainly a Matter of Genes [Stuart Newman]
3. Genes as Difference Makers [Evelyn Fox Keller]
4. Big B, Little b: Myth #1 Is That Mendelian Genes Actually Exist [David S. Moore]
5. The Myth of the Machine-Organism: From Genetic Mechanisms to Living Beings [Stephen L. Talbott]

Part II. Medical Genetics
6. Some Problems with Genetic Horoscopes [Eva Jablonka]
7. Cancer Genes: The Vestigial Remains of a Fallen Theory [Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana M. Soto]
8. The Fruitless Search for Genes in Psychiatry and Psychology: Time to Reexamine a Paradigm [Jay Joseph and Carl Ratner]
9. Assessing Genes as Causes of Human Disease in a Multicausal World [Carl F. Cranor]
10. Autism: From Static Genetic Brain Defect to Dynamic Gene-Environment-Modulated Pathophysiology [Martha R. Herbert]
11. The Prospects of Personalized Medicine [David Jones]

Part III. Genetics in Human Behavior and Culture
12. The Persistent Influence of Failed Scientific Ideas [Jonathan Beckwith]
13. Map Your Own Genes! The DNA Experience [Susan Lindee]
14. Creating a “Better Baby”: The Role of Genetics in Contemporary Reproductive Practices [Shirley Shalev]
15. Forensic DNA Evidence: The Myth of Infallibility [William C. Thompson]
16. Nurturing Nature: How Parental Care Changes Genes [Mae-Wan Ho]

Conclusion: The Unfulfilled Promise of Genomics [Jeremy Gruber]

Selected Readings

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Sheldon Krimsky is Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning in the School of Arts and Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Public Health & Community Medicine in the School of Medicine at Tufts University. Jeremy Gruber is President and Executive Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics.

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