Friday, October 24, 2014

Genetics or the Environment?

Jessi Duffner
Dr. Adam Johns
Seminar in Composition
24 October 2014
            In Richard Lewontin’s book Biology as Ideology, he creates a case against biological determinism. By doing so, he presents arguments supporting a form of social constructionism.  Biological determinism has been used to justify inequalities within society, deeming these inequalities unchangeable. Scientists are beginning to connect genetics to every aspect of human characteristics and human lifestyle. Even more appalling, genes have been connected to things such as unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. In a sense, DNA is given too much power in modern society. In response, Lewotin uses his novel as a platform to debunk the myth that DNA is the be all and end all.
One example of how DNA has become “the be all end all” is obesity in the United States. Obesity has become an increasingly problematic health disorder in America and other westernized societies. According to the center for disease control, “During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. More than one-third of U.S. adults (34.9%) and approximately 17% (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years have obesity.” Because of these high rates, research pertaining to obesity has become more prevalent. While obesity was once connected only to environmental factors, research is now linking obesity to genetics. It seems as though we cannot live with the fact that obesity simply occurs because of environmental factors and personal decisions an individual makes. We must place the blame on science, instead of ourselves.
            In the article “Genes and obesity: Fast food isn't only culprit in expanding waistlines -- DNA is also to blame” author Susan Thomas argues that body-fat responses to food are strongly inherited and linked to our DNA. Specifically, she states, “In a new study, scientists discovered that body-fat responses to a typical fast-food diet are determined in large part by genetic factors, and they have identified several genes they say may control those responses.” She is almost arguing completely against environmental factors of obesity. While Lewontin would love the fact scientists are beginning to look into the genetics behind certain issues, he would also be angered by the fact they are completely ignoring environmental factors. He states, “We differ in fundamental abilities because of innate differences” (23). Lewontin does believe somewhat in genetic determinism, yet at the same time Lewotin makes a strong point to overlook genetic determinism when he writes, “variation among individuals within species are a unique consequence of both genes and the developmental environment in a constant interaction” (Lewontin 26). Humans are not fully created by their genes because they are greatly influenced by the environment around them.
Another example of how DNA is ruling modern society is how studies are now linking genes to financial decisions. In an article titled “Your Genes May Affect Your Financial Decisions” author Paul Gabrielsen writes, “New research shows a correlation between genetic variation and financial risk-taking. Scientists found that at the prospect of a making an investment, people who have a certain combination of anxiety-generating genes worry, and that worry leads to safer choices.” The answer couldn’t simply be that individuals make investment decisions based on their financial literacy, cognition and income level. Lewotin would again argue that one cannot ignore environmental factors and blame only biological determinism. Both genes and environmental factors contribute to the outcome of a human being. Lewontin states, “Science in a sense is a part of the general process of education, and the assertions of scientists are the basis for a great deal of the enterprise of forming consciousness” (Lewontin 77). He means that science is a collection of facts about the world in its current state. Whatever that state may be, science is affected by the environment.
There is a constant struggle when determining what factors actually influence human behavior. We cannot ignore environmental factors, as many scientists are being to do. We must understand that genetics and the environment work hand in hand to construct the characteristics and habits of all individuals.

Works Cited:
Gabrielsen, Paul. "Your Genes May Affect Your Financial Decisions." Stanford Graduate School of Business. N.p., 4 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <>.

Lewontin, Richard C. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. 1st ed. Vol. 1. New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1992. Print.

Thomas, Susan. "Genes and Obesity: Fast Food Isn't Only Culprit in Expanding Waistlines -- DNA Is Also to Blame." UCLA Newsroom. N.p., 08 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <>.

1 comment:

  1. Your start is a little slow - what I see initially is a summary, not an argument. The obesity topic is a good one (after all, this is clearly a case where there is at most a genetic *connection*, that is, that maybe genes are relevant to obesity *in a particular environment*. So I'm in favor of the topic, but I still don't see an argument of your own. In the third paragraph I continue to think you have a solid topic and a solid understanding of Lewontin, but I also think your direction could be much clearer. Your switch to another topic is a mistake. I do think the other topic could be a good one too -- in fact, this article sounds like it comes awfully close to arguing for a genetic basis for our retirement system, which is hilarious! -- but you still don't really have an argument.

    Implicitly, you're attacking a scientific establishment and/or media (I remember your last short blog entry) that works absurdly hard to make us see genetic causes where we should see environmental ones. But whether you are ultimately in agreement with Lewontin or not, the obvious next step is to ask *why*. Whose interests are served here, and what is your response? This is quite good for what it is, but you don't develop enough of your own argument for it to really be an essay.


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