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{bio,medical} informatics

Thursday, August 31, 2000

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find related articles. powered by google. The New England Journal Of Medicine The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment
""Like any large construction project in the public domain, sequencing the human genome has been a subject of discussion and controversy. Major issues have been the cost of the project, its scientific merit, and the effects of the knowledge gained on human affairs. The concern about cost subsided as the project proved viable and attracted private funding. That leaves the other two questions: What will we learn from this sequence, and how will it affect our lives? With fame and fortune to be made in the genome business, one can only be skeptical of the wondrous claims made by the project's protagonists. The Triple Helix examines these questions from a critical and biologically informed angle."

"In Lewontin's triple helix, the genes are placed in their natural context, where history and geography shape the nature of organisms and the genes they contain. His differences with the most modern of molecular and cellular biologists are irreconcilable and reflect the ever-widening gulf between biologists who have an affinity for what goes on outside the laboratory and those for whom the differences between individuals and between species represent "an annoyance [to be] ignored whenever possible." In many laboratories, organisms are now studied under conditions in which genetic variation is eliminated and the environment held constant. It is only under these special conditions, where neither variation nor natural selection is tolerated, that the triple helix collapses into the double helix and genes appear to be paramount.""
find related articles. powered by google. The Edge Getting Human Nature Right
"The 'implication' that seems to worry people most of all is so-called 'genetic determinism'. It's the notion that, if human nature was shaped by evolution, then it's fixed and so we're simply stuck with it — there's nothing we can do about it. We can never change the world to be the way we want, we can never institute fairer societies; policy-making and politics are pointless.

Now, that's a complete misunderstanding. It doesn't distinguish between human nature — our evolved psychology — and the behavior that results from it. Certainly, human nature is fixed. It's universal and unchanging — common to every baby that's born, down through the history of our species. But human behavior — which is generated by that nature — is endlessly variable and diverse. After all, fixed rules can give rise to an inexhaustible range of outcomes. Natural selection equipped us with the fixed rules — the rules that constitute our human nature. And it designed those rules to generate behavior that's sensitive to the environment. So, the answer to 'genetic determinism' is simple. If you want to change behavior, just change the environment. And, of course, to know which changes would be appropriate and effective, you have to know those Darwinian rules. You need only to understand human nature, not to change it."

"In the late 1970s I attended meetings at which sociobiologists E. O. Wilson and David Barash, critic Stephen J. Gould, and others were on a panel. Standing blocked by the crowd in the hall outside the doorway to the packed hall I was unable hear the speakers. I spied a little door near the stage, and figured that if I could get to that door, I could get next to the stage and the front row. I sneaked through the hotel kitchen and found the door. Just as I opened it I was passed by a number of African American students who ran up on stage and poured water on Wilson's head. Wilson responded by saying to the audience that he felt like he had been speared by an aborigine. The crowd applauded the martyred Wilson (on crutches at the time--from a skiing accident) and some in the front row muttered epithets at the disrupters and at me, who appeared to have held the door for the demonstrators. The water pitcher story has been repeated scores of times in journalistic accounts, but none of these mention Wilson's racially tinged response. Two decades later the debate concerning the genetic determination of human behavior has been reanimated in the general intellectual and middle-brow media with a somewhat more restrained tone. The study of evolutionary accounts of human behavior is now called "evolutionary psychology" to avoid some of the justifiably bad connotations that were associated with sociobiology. During the last few years the linguist Steve Pinker, (1997) philosopher Daniel Dennett, (1995) New Republic editor and science popularizer Robert Wright,(1994) and science writer Matt Ridley (1994, 1997) have produced feisty, polemical expositions of evolutionary psychology for a broad audience. Stephen J. Gould has returned to the breach to criticize evolutionary psychology, but several writers considered to be on the left have defended sociobiological approaches and criticized postmodern rejection of biologism.

The core theories of evolutionary psychology are the same as those of sociobiology. Several of the commonly made distinctions between evolutionary psychology and sociobiology turn out not to distinguish the two. So what has changed and what is new?"

redux [08.10.00]
find related articles. powered by google. BBC Genius of genes
"US researchers believe they have identified the parts of the human genome involved in developing a person's intelligence.

This means scientists could soon test the potential intelligence of new-born babies."

"The researchers, working for the US National Institutes of Health, analysed the DNA of 200 of the brightest kids in America and compared them with the genetic material from ordinary children.

The results are due out next year, but the BBC Newsnight programme has learned that key differences have been found. In other words, the scientists are homing in on the genes for genius."

redux [07.07.00]
find related articles. powered by google. UniSci Book Cites Dangers Of Misunderstanding Human Genetics
"Kaplan examines the roles genetic explanations for these types of differences play in our culture -- and how science has been used inappropriately to "medicalize" problems that should be more properly addressed as complex social issues.

Kaplan explores six specific areas -- intelligence (IQ), criminality and violence, homosexuality, depression, obesity, and the centrality of genetics in defining parenthood."

"He also explains the problems involved in "finding genes" for complex human behaviors by comparing the genomes of people who have a particular trait with the genomes of those who do not. The resulting medicalization centers the problem on the individual."

"... an emphasis on the biochemical and the genetic share the property that they make the condition out to be internal to the patient. Once a genetic explanation is offered, and any plausible sounding pathway proposed, the opportunities for claiming that there are other ways of approaching the problem are radically curtailed."

The problem becomes entirely that of personal biochemistry: the danger is in adopting easy solutions without looking at other reasons for the problem -- and without questioning the framework in which certain temperaments or sexual orientations become defined as problems."

redux [05.28.00]
find related articles. powered by google. Washington Post When Genes Tell the Story
"Suddenly, I'm picturing a new conclusion to "Casablanca," in which Rick walks up to the teary-faced Ilsa as she's about to board the plane with her husband and says: "I was gonna tell you that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But then I saw your BRCA-1 code. Baby, you're staring at the c-stuff. Let's just stay here and party to the bitter end."

"In the Brave New World ahead, are we (and the characters who reflect us) going to run dry of choice? Are we doomed to a movie-viewing future of genetically savvy detectives who catch their man armed with a genetoscope? I mean, what if Jack Nicholson were to turn his back on Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown" because, well, he'd already checked out that family incest history at the GenBank file at the National Institutes of Health."

redux [04.25.00]
find related articles. powered by google. UniSci Selfish Gene Theory Of Evolution Called Fatally Flawed
"In the current issue of Advances in Complex Systems (February-April), Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute and an expert on the application of mathematical analysis to complex systems, contends that the selfish-gene theory of evolution is fatally flawed.

If his mathematical proof gains general acceptance, it will shut the door on controversial "gene-centered" views of evolution.

Bar-Yam, in the upcoming article, proves that the "selfish gene" approach is not valid in the general case. He demonstrates that the gene-centered view, expressed in mathematical form, is only an approximation of the dynamics actually at work."

"The key to Bar-Yam's analysis lies in recognizing three levels of structure in nature: the gene, the organism and the group (or network) of organisms."

[ rhetoric ]

Bioinformatics will be at the core of biology in the 21st century. In fields ranging from structural biology to genomics to biomedical imaging, ready access to data and analytical tools are fundamentally changing the way investigators in the life sciences conduct research and approach problems. Complex, computationally intensive biological problems are now being addressed and promise to significantly advance our understanding of biology and medicine. No biological discipline will be unaffected by these technological breakthroughs.


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