NOT IN OUR GENES: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature by Richard D.; Steven Rose & Leon J. Kamin Lewontin

NOT IN OUR GENES: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature

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A passionate attack on sociobiology, reductionism, and both biological and cultural determinism by a trio known for their Marxist orientation and past outspokenness. Psychologist Kamin, for example, triggered the investigations of Cyril Burt's fraudulent twin studies purporting to show the overwhelming heritability of IQ. Evolutionary geneticist Lewontin has taken E. O. Wilson and followers to task each time a major sociobiology text has surfaced. Rose, a British neurobiologist, is representative of the British radical science movement. Even knowing all this, the clamorous tone and righteous indignation initially rankle. But impatience can be rewarding; and as the authors get into the meat of the book, they are clearly on target in analyzing IQ studies, in ridiculing sociobiology's ""Just-so"" stories, in illustrating the simplistic nature of Skinnerian behaviorism. So, too, as regards the antipsychiatry movement: Szasz and Laing alike are faulted for going too far in asserting that mental illness is mere societal labeling and scapegoating. But where draw the line? The authors' bitter attack on psychoactive drugs suggests that we are all hapless, helpless victims of a social conspiracy; that mental patients are especially deprived and victimized, as are prisoners, the poor, and women. Here, past excesses are often trotted forward to shore up the case. For all the authors' admission that there are female/male brain differences, as well as their strictures on doctrinaire feminism, they seem to be saying that differences should make no difference in their ideal ""to-each/from-each"" world. (Their attack on studies of hereditary factors in schizophrenia is equally confusing--partly, no doubt, because of changing definitions of the disorder. That there is a genetic factor in schizophrenia is widely accepted. But few would assert that it is a single gene disease or that environmental factors do not contribute.) That molecular biology has been a phenomenal success is undeniable. That it is reductionist and therefore suspect--since molecules can be manipulated--is in the eyes of the author-beholders. In the last chapter Lewontin et al. address criticism that they are negative, offering no alternative philosophy to the monolithic determinism they so despise. In answer they reiterate their attack on sociobiology and raise a straw man in the form of interactionism--which they define as a dichotomous relationship pitting the individual against an alien environment. Their interactionism instead is a dialectical one with many levels of interaction (from cells to society), with mankind's biological endowment enabling individuals to change the environment, with ultimate freedom for all. Certainly there are many pithy if familiar points made throughout the book; but the authors' essentially gloomy views, their suspicions and claims to truth on their side alone, ignore the many countercurrents in a pluralistic society. In any case: expect fireworks in scientific circles.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon