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Riki's picture

Gene as a symbol

“When we know the sequence of the molecule that makes up all our genes, we will know what it is to be human. When we know what our DNA looks like, we will know why some of us are rich and some poor, some healthy and some sick, some powerful and some weak” (Richard Lewontin)


Why do we need to know biological causation for social problems? What are the problems with attributing such large effects with DNA?


“to make the ideology of biological determinism complete, we have to have a theory of unchangeable human nature, a human nature that is coded in our genes” (Richard Lewontin)


In what ways does this statement impact the debate of nature versus nurture?


“Though it [the gene] refers to a biological construct and derives its cultural power from science, its symbolic meaning is independent of biological definitions. The gene is, rather, a symbol, a metaphor, a convenient way to define personhood, identity, and relationships in socially meaningful ways. The gene is used, of course, to explain health and disease. But it is also a way to talk about guilt and responsibility, power and privilege, intellectual or emotional status. It has become a supergene, used to judge the morality or rightness of social systems and to explore the forces that will shape the human future” (Dorothy Nelkin)


Do you think scientists have internalized the metaphor for the gene? What does this mean for scientific research?





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