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Agency versus structure: Genetics, group membership, and a new twist on an old debate

By Ronald J. Angel


The decoding of the human genome and advances in genetic medicine promise great advances in the prevention and treatment of disease. These powerful methodologies, though, raise serious intellectual, ethical, and practical questions when they are employed in explanations of complex higher-order behavioral and social outcomes. There can be little doubt that all human behavior reflects complex gene/environment interactions, but isolating the unique contributions of genes and environment in the explanation of overdetermined behavioral and social outcomes may not in principle be possible. When dealing with groups that differ significantly in histories of discrimination and exclusion biological explanations must be employed with caution even as they promise great strides in dealing with specific diseases.Genetics Eugenics Race Ethnicity Ethics

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