Friday, October 15, 2010

'A scientific basis for the political left'

Why genes are leftwing
The right loves genetic explanations for poverty or mental illness. But science fingers society

The Guardian: When the map of the human genome was presented to the world in 2001, psychiatrists had high hopes for it. Itemising all our genes would surely provide molecular evidence that the main cause of mental illness was genetic -- something psychiatrists had long believed. Drug companies were wetting their lips at the prospect of massive profits from unique potions for every idiosyncrasy.

But a decade later, unnoticed by the media, the human genome project has not delivered what the psychiatrists hoped: we now know that genes play little part in why one sibling, social class or ethnic group is more likely to suffer mental health problems than another...

This February's editorial of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry was entitled 'It's the environment, stupid!' The author, Edmund Sonuga-Barke, stated that 'serious science is now more than ever focused on the power of the environment... all but the most dogged of genetic determinists have revised their view.'...

Politics may be the reason why the media has so far failed to report the small role of genes. The political right believes that genes largely explain why the poor are poor, as well as twice likely as the rich to be mentally ill. To them, the poor are genetic mud, sinking to the bottom of the genetic pool.

Writing in 2000, the political scientist Charles Murray made a rash prediction he may now regret. 'The story of human nature, as revealed by genetics and neuroscience, will be conservative in its political [shape].' The American poor would turn out to have significantly different genes to the affluent: 'This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.' Almost certainly false, more like.

Instead, the Human Genome Project is rapidly providing a scientific basis for the political left. Childhood maltreatment, economic inequality and excessive materialism seem the main determinants of mental illness. State-sponsored interventions, like reduced inequality, are the most likely solutions.
Image source here.