Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Barbara Oakley, author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend has an interesting interview at EducationNews.Org. Some highlights:

Academicians are as bad as fundamentalists in some ways—they believe that acknowledging the effects of genes somehow kills our free will.It doesn't, of course.Having a better understanding of what we are won't change what we are.But like religious believers who thought it might disrupt society to know that the earth revolves around the sun, some academics today don't want society disrupted by what they believe to be harmful knowledge about the effects of genes on personality.Obviously, I find this attitude repugnant.I thought that people should know what researchers have been discovering, because this knowledge can be extraordinarily empowering.That's why I wrote the book.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Earth does not revolve around the sun. The Earth revolves on its axis, and it orbits around the sun.

/annoying pendantry

I blame the OCD.

7:50 AM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

Don't let the news of this get out to the Left. Pretty soon every Ted Bundy, Charlie Manson, and pedophile will be covered by the Americans tith Disabilities Act.

9:23 AM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

I completely resent and disagree with my fundamentalist brothers and sisters being compared to, ugh, academicians.


9:45 AM, September 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


If, in an environment that condones and bolsters plurality and diversity of ideological thought, a specific individual were to reject an alternative viewpoint, that alone would not make them intolerant or philosophically myopic; it would merely prove that they know their own mind and enjoy the right to self-determination.

However, if they were to rally their constituency to stamp out any opportunity for people of other beliefs to allow their views to be heard in a civil atmosphere, they would be precisely intolerant and a genuine threat to a pluralistic society that respects the right to free speech as well as self-determination.

If an academician allows himself to engage in self-aggrandizing zealotry from his perch in the ivory tower, he is little different from Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, all of whom utterly reject any view of human conduct outside of the Judeo-Chrisitan paradigm.

The comparison is entirely appropriate.

No offense intended.

10:05 AM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger BobH said...

I don't know what "academicians" Oakley is talking about, but the ones that I have read and talked to about genetics and behaviors are pretty firm in the notion that, in a species as intelligent as a human (or a cat, for that matter), genetics introduces behavioral biases, but very rarely directly dictates behavior.

What this means is that if there is a probability distribution of possible behaviors in a particular situation, genetic effects will be seen in the mean (i.e., average) of that distribution. Over evolutionary time, natural and sexual selection (the latter being where my interest lies) will cause the mean to shift. Intelligence typically increases the variance (i.e., standard deviation) of the probability distribution but the effects of genetics can still be seen. The effects on genetics is always correlational and the correlations sometimes aren't that strong. They are made even weaker if, for example, there are 30 different genes which can affect a particular behavior. The level of statistical noise in some of this data is incredibly high.

Incidentally, in a highly social species, like humans and dogs, the social environment can cause genetic changes. A good example of this is the effect of laws allowing or disallowing paternity fraud by women. Over evolutionary time, paternity fraud has created a bias toward males being deadbeat dads and a separate bias toward vigorously guarding fertile females in whose children these males will be investing. If women want the beatings to stop, maybe they should allow social sanctions to reduce male paternity uncertainty.

10:55 AM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

scratch an atheist or (apparently) an Academician and you will always find a fundamentalist.

1:19 PM, September 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scratch Bertram Wooster and you find a Boy Scout.

2:12 PM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Kevin, you are too kind to honor my flippant post with such a thoughtful response. I accept your point with no offense at all.

Is Pat Robertson a fundamentalist? I thought he was an evangelical.


8:15 PM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger Jack Black said...

I have been coming to similar conclusions about human nature for a while now. On the other hand, I think culture plays a very strong role on how well a group does as a whole.

8:53 PM, September 10, 2008  
Blogger cinderkeys said...

Great interview. One of these days I hope to get around to reading her book.

If you're interested in another book that makes a great case for the importance of nature -- without denying the role of nurture -- try Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate.

3:10 AM, September 11, 2008  
Blogger numeral said...

This post made me laugh because there's a running joke in my brigade that all of us are doomed to die old and alone.
I'm in Brigade 334 in the IDF

3:20 PM, September 11, 2008  
Blogger lovemelikeareptile said...


Your comments are incoherent and unintelligible-- to put it kindly. You have no idea what you are talking about.


Pinker is quite weak on the biological bases of human behavior. His book greatly underestimates the extent of biological influence, because he is an avowed liberal and he allows that to contaminate his postions. This occurs repeatedly in The Blank Slate--- most of which is very old news.

The Nature/Nurture debate has been over for 25 odd years-- Nature drove Nurture from the field as the fields of sociobiology/evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, etc simply destroyed claims of significant environmetal influences on most important "behaviors".

Evil Genes sounded like an interesting book--- until the author mentioned Amy Alkon was a friend and plugged her book promoting civility ( !)...

10:55 PM, September 12, 2008  
Blogger Samuel Wales said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:20 AM, September 13, 2008  
Blogger cinderkeys said...


Can you give an example of where Pinker is weak on nature? One of the main points of his book is that it's possible to acknowledge the effects of nature and remain a liberal, as he has.

3:09 AM, September 13, 2008  

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