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More Genes and Politics

- March 14, 2012

Larry Arnhart has an informative and detailed post on the debate  I highlighted last week about the possible genetic determinants of voting behavior. The whole post is worth a read. Here is the key passage:

In both of these debates, the opposing sides employ the rhetoric of arguing against a “straw man.”  Charney criticizes his opponents for being genetic determinists.  His opponents criticize him and others like him for being environmental determinists.  And yet no one here is defending either genetic determinism or environmental determinism.  Charney agrees that genes matter.  His opponents agree that environment matters.

The debate over the Fowler and Dawes article is confusing, because Fowler and Dawes imply two different kinds of claims–one is very astonishing and the other is very modest.  The very astonishing claim is that two genes predict voter turnout, and this is the claim that Charney easily refutes.  The very modest claim is that these two genes might matter a little in influencing voter turnout, but these two genes by themselves cannot actually predict voter turnout, and in fact these two genes are probably much less important than other factors.  Charney comes close to agreeing with this very modest claim when he says: “DNA is one component of a complex, integrated, interactive, and dynamic biological-environmental-ecological process through which biological organisms come to manifest divergent phenotypes.”  Charney, Fowler, and Dawes all agree that particular genes influence but do not specify behavior, because genes interact with other genes, with other biological factors, and with the physical and social environment.