Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
21 October 2014
One of Lewontin’s major issues with modern biology is the prevalence of the view that our genes determine everything, a view he disagrees with due to how it ignores the “nurture” half of the whole nature versus nurture conflict. This idea, that genes determine who we are and who we become, unsurprisingly shows up outside of the scientific community and shows up in common news articles.
A few months ago, BBC reported that there were genes discovered to be linked to risk of schizophrenia, and concluded that this is concrete evidence that schizophrenia is a biological disorder. Before, psychiatrists “have struggled with the view that psychiatric conditions are not 'real' illnesses but early genetic studies had limited successes. Now we show with confidence that there are biological processes going awry." (Mundasad) In the field of biology, “the claim that all of human existence is controlled by our DNA is a popular one” (Lewontin 87), which he opposes. At first glance, you’d think that Lewontin would oppose this idea of schizophrenia being inherent in the genes, seeing as that view was the very one he opposed throughout the entire book.
While that’s a fair assumption, there’s a difference: the issue he had with modern biologists was that they would favor “nature” over “nurture” to the point where we would be “lumbering robots created by our DNA, body and mind.” (Lewontin 107) Psychology has the opposite issue, where psychologists often have little trouble accepting the “nurture” aspect of the conflict, but as a result, psychology itself isn’t taken very seriously by other scholars. Even being put “into the same category as other parts of medicine” is considered an achievement. Because of this, I doubt that Lewontin would oppose the article using genetics to validate the existence of schizophrenia. There wouldn’t be much point in having the psychologists to consider environmental, societal, economic causes, because they already would have done so, and that hadn’t gotten them anywhere, seeing as how “Drug therapy for schizophrenia has not changed significantly since the 1970s." (Mundasad)
However, he may disagree with the notion of what makes a disease “valid”, an obstacle these psychologists have been struggling against. From the article, they imply that psychological illnesses aren’t considered real, biological conditions, usually because of a lack of genetic or biological proof. Lewontin, who argued that the true cause of tuberculosis was capitalism, would likely be less scornful of the legitimacy of mental illnesses. After all, he was the same author who believed in “agents and causes”, where knowing the mere direct “agent” of a disease is not the same as knowing the “cause”. That being so, Lewontin would probably have a more accepting view on psychological disorders than other scientists.
Lewontin, R. C. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991. Print.
Mundasad, Smitha. “Eighty new genes linked to schizophrenia.” BBC News. BBC, 21 July 2014. Web. 21 Oct 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28401693