Cognition & Reality

Monday, 2 August 2010

Marginalizing Critics: The Way Biological Psychiatry Wins

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics — drtone @ 2:14 pm
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I’ve started to read The Missing Gene, by Jay Joseph. Because Joseph is a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) and does not hold a PhD from a research institution, I am sufficiently an intellectual snob to have expected the book to be full of logical and methodological flaws. I was wrong. The book is well-argued and well-documented. Furthermore, Joseph explores many of the points of logic that have occurred me over the years in regard to the role of genetics or “innateness” in producing behavior. Although mainstream researchers will not give up their adherence to gene-based explanations of behavior, Joseph notes that the failure of genomic research to uncover the genes responsible puts in doubt arguments in favor of the role of genetics in mental disorders that are based on twin studies. He also takes the question of genetic influences on behavior to the same logical conclusion that has occurred to me and others: Biological psychiatry is the latest manifestation of eugenics, and is not that far from supporting the sort of selective breeding policies pursued by the Nazis.

If Joseph’s work passes muster–and I count myself a severe critic of bad research–why is his work rarely cited or discussed by psychiatrists and psychologists in their own work on the genetics of psychiatric illness? The answer is sadly obvious. For example, although Joseph clearly delineates the circularity in geneticists argument that identical and fraternal twins experience similar environments for traits relevant to schizophrenia, researchers in this area freely ignore the problems with the “equal environment assumption.”

For them to address the issue squarely and honestly would put behavioral geneticists, evolutionary psychologists and others who support nature over nurture in the embarrassing position of having to reevaluate their entire approach. Therefore, they  pretend that Joseph and  other critics of twin-based genetics don’t exist. When that doesn’t work, they pretend the burden is on the critics to prove that behavioral geneticists should seek to disprove their hypotheses, to do science, in other words. So far, the strategy has worked well.

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