I read a review of a book by Nicholas Wade about genetics in a Wall Street Journal’s Saturday supplement. It was clear that Wade, whom I knew from his time as science editor at the New York Times, had put together the reliable research in the field of genetics in his new book.
It turns out the book is so bad I will not even reference it here. I read it immediately on the possibility that genes effect human behavior. The first four chapters are an apology for the subsequent chapters in which Wade claims that genes have a dominant influence in our society in determining human behavior.
Two facts jumped out at me on page 115. We find out that the number of genetic sites necessary to distinguish race or as he calls it ‘continent of origin’ requires 128 locations on the genome. To identify national origin or ‘ethnicity’ as he calls it requires 326 locations on the genome. Even under these conditions you would still have only an approximation for the origins of the particular gene holder. A probability statement that the person’s origins were in Asia or Africa.
I put this ‘fact of genomics’ in the same category as nutritional science. If each gene site or allele pair, (Wade is never clear) produces a protein that generates new proteins in the growing cells of a human then it is inconceivable that that so many separate interacting proteins could have any knowable outcome. The environment (and what we call culture) could intervene in hundreds of ways to influence the human behavioral outcome of this many gene generated proteins.
Nutritional science during my lifetime has told me not to swim for an hour after lunch. The Army tested this and found it to be nonsense. Nutritional science has told me not to eat fats because they lead to heart disease. This is by way of the problem of consuming cholesterol which the body presumably turns into cholesterol in the bloodstream. False. It has also been insisted by nutritionists that children behaved badly after eating ice cream because the sugar goes directly into the bloodstream. False. Nutritional science seems to be as vague a field of study as its sister political science.
Nutritional science now joins field of genomics and neuroscience which I also considered to be voodoo because they are based on theories, opinions and Puritan prejudices without any possible way to run a controlled experiment.