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Behavior Genetics & NRO

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJune 21, 2006 3:11 AM


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Over at The Corner at National Review Online John Derbyshire has been getting into a debate with his colleagues over Judith Rich Harris' work, and her two books The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike. I find it amusing when scientific controversy comes crashing into the punditocracy, though I think it is also a good thing. To frame the issue properly, there is consistent evidence that the majority of non-genetic variation in personality is due to non-shared (i.e., non-home) environment. Judith Rich Harris proposes that peer groups account for this non-shared environment, though this is more a hypothesis than a definitive conclusion derived from the research. With that in mind, here is the debate in rough chronological order.... Update: Final, final, final response from John (he promises). Derb expresses skepticism about fathers in response to a Rich Lowry column, The Father Effect. Jonah defends bourgeois values. Derb responds with the importance of uncomfortable truths. Jonah defends politics against pitiless science. Derb responds at length. Derb posts an email and clarifies. Jonah doesn't believe in the science Derb is pushing forward. Derb attempts a wrap up. Rich Lowry jumps in to defend his column. Now Derb calls a ceasefire. John Podhortez throws in the odd ad hominem. Derb clarifies Judith Rich Harris' credentials. Jonah pulls the environment of evolutionary adaptedness card (he doesn't call it that, but that's what he means). The denouement declared by Derb. I am posting the back & forth because I think it is a good thing when a journal of opinion wades into the sometimes murky waters of contemporary "fact." And, in regards to these questions, note that evolution is assumed to be a fact! Derb did show some courage challenging the assumption by social conservatives that a traditional nuclear family (read: fathers) are a necessary pre-condition for socal normalcy. Now, I consider Judith a friend, so I'm biased and I won't offer you my opinion about the whole debate, you can connect the dots. If you are curious, read my 10 questions with Harris. There has been some discussion of the topic over at my other weblog as well. Remember, "Seek knowledge even unto China." The conclusions may not always be palatable, but whatever values we hold, we must wrestle with reality.

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