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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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May 8, 2011

An example of how our era when biological—and specifically, genetic—causation is taken as the preferred explanation for all human physical differences.

The announcement in February 2001 that two groups of investigators had sequenced the entire human genome was taken as the beginning of a new era in medicine, an era in which all diseases would be treated and cured by the replacement of faulty DNA.

For nearly ten years announcements of yet more genetic differences between diseased and healthy individuals were a regular occurrence in the pages of The New York Times and in leading general scientific publications like Science and Nature. There have been an increasing number of medical books analysing the concepts of health and disease from the perspective of evolutionary biology

In It’s Even Less in Your Genes in the New Review of Books Richard C. Lewontin observes that:

the search for genes underlying common causes of mortality had so far yielded virtually nothing useful. The failure to find such genes continues and it seems likely that the search for the genes causing most common diseases will go the way of the search for the genes for IQ.

The idea that emotional distress is due to an underlying organic disease downplays the effects of negative life circumstances or acute trauma and non-biomedical accounts of mental distress and disorder.

He adds that:

Experimental geneticists, however, find environmental effects a serious distraction from the study of genetic and molecular mechanisms that are at the center of their interest, so they do their best to work with cases in which environmental effects are at a minimum or in which those effects can be manipulated at will. If the machine model of organisms that underlies our entire approach to the study of biology is to work for us, we must restrict our objects of study to those in which we can observe and manipulate all the gears and levers.

The biomedical model of medicine holds that health constitutes the freedom from disease, pain, or defect, thus making the normal human condition "healthy". The model's focus on the physical processes, such as the pathology, the biochemistry and the physiology of a disease, and does not take into account the role of social factors or individual subjectivity.

This failure stems partly from three assumptions of the biomedical models: all illness has a single underlying cause; disease (pathology) is always the single cause; and removal or attenuation of the disease will result in a return to health. The assumption that a specific disease underlies all illness has led to medicalisation of commonly experienced illnesses as opposed to disease resulting from cellular abnormalities.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:31 PM | | Comments (1)


There is a history going back decades with respect to Lewontin and 'genetic detirminism'.
He and others, notably Steven Rose his co-author with "Not in Our Genes", have argued strongly in favour [relatively speaking] for the environment as a major element operating on humans in contrast to the Wilson and Dawkins camp [including from memory Daniel Dennett] who [relatively] rank genetics as more important.
Thats my very simplified understanding of it anyway.
The stoush has been going on for a while, decades I think.

Here is a fascinating discussion between Rose and Dawkins that circles around the topic of genetic detirminism with Rose zeroing in sometimes.
Its nice to listen to two articulate informed people discuss rather than snipe and shout.