As I mentioned recently, I finished Michael Crichton’s latest novel Next over the weekend. Much like his previous novel debunking global warming hysteria, State of Fear, Crichton is out to raise awareness about something, and has written a damned good book to do it. In this case Crichton’s ire is raised by the way the biological sciences are being abused by government, industry, and even (perhaps especially) research universities. Holding a special place in his catalog of horrors is the law allowing the patenting of individual genes, as though the people who figure out what the particular genetic coding does are somehow responsible for writing that code. He goes on about this at length at his website. I invite you to read his 2007 essay, Patenting Life, and this list of topics brought up in Next.
What inspired this post, however, is the fact that throughout Next Crichton interspersed little “press releases” – a page or two as though torn from today’s newspaper of stories concerning genetics. I kept looking for a URL so I could pull them up online. I have no idea if they were real or simply figments of his imagination, but I could recall some similar things that I had read and heard.
In yesterday’s USAToday was another one – this Reuter’s report that could have begun any chapter in Next:
Three genes may play a strong role in determining why some young men raised in rough neighborhoods or deprived families become violent criminals, while others do not, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.
One gene called MAOA that played an especially strong role has been shown in other studies to affect antisocial behavior — and it was disturbingly common, the team at the University of North Carolina reported.
People with a particular variation of the MAOA gene called 2R were very prone to criminal and delinquent behavior, said sociology professor Guang Guo, who led the study.
“I don’t want to say it is a crime gene, but 1 percent of people have it and scored very high in violence and delinquency,” Guo said in a telephone interview.
His team, which studied only boys, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a U.S. nationally representative sample of about 20,000 adolescents in grades 7 to 12. The young men in the study are interviewed in person regularly, and some give blood samples.
Guo’s team constructed a “serious delinquency scale” based on some of the questions the youngsters answered.
“Nonviolent delinquency includes stealing amounts larger or smaller than $50, breaking and entering, and selling drugs,” they wrote in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.
“Violent delinquency includes serious physical fighting that resulted in injuries needing medical treatment, use of weapons to get something from someone, involvement in physical fighting between groups, shooting or stabbing someone, deliberately damaging property, and pulling a knife or gun on someone.”
The story goes on for another two pages.
I’ve quoted several times in the past a bit from Grim’s Hall on the topic of young men and violence:
Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty. A substantial amount of the violence that protects rather than plagues society is performed by other members of the same group. The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.
The question is how to move these young men from the first group (violent and predatory) into the second (violent, but protective). This is to ask: what is the difference between a street gang and the Marine Corps, or a thug and a policeman? In every case, we see that the good youths are guided and disciplined by old men. This is half the answer to the problem.
According to this report, the other half (or more) is genetic.
It’s not their fault! They have a disease!
Anyone want to bet what the reaction would/will be if someone suggests that the reason young black men in America die of homicide at six times the rate of the rest of the population is genetic? Anybody want to bet what would happen if they developed an embryonic screening test for these genes?
In Next there is a scene where a group of genetic scientists and marketing people at a biotech firm are brainstorm over naming the gene they have decoded that controls (they think) sociability. I can just picture sociology professor Guang Guo and his team brainstorming “the CRIME GENE!“
Edited to add this Charlie Rose interview that I found on YouTube. It’s 56 minutes long: