News from the front lines of genetic determinism

Oh good lord, is this really necessary? CNet suggests there might be a “gene for” raising your IQ by 6 points  (this is old news, actually). 23andMe had a test for the 6-pt IQ booster on their health panel, before they were forced to take it down.

Meanwhile, Fox News of all places reports on a story that Gerry Nestadt at Johns Hopkins had found a genetic marker for obsessive-compulsive disorder. What even is OCD? We are constantly lowering the bar on pathology—anything that can be treated with a drug or reimbursed with health insurance is legitimately considered a disease under our system. My kid had at least 3 fellow students “with OCD.” This meant that they had 504 plans that gave them extra time on exams and had access to drugs, particularly the scourges of secondary school and college, Ritalin and Adderal.

Whatever social problem we have, it is possible to find a genetic marker that correlates with it. Behavioral genomics is a new form of haruspicy.

2 thoughts on “News from the front lines of genetic determinism”

  1. There can be a political motive for declaring certain behavior as disease. In the old USSR one was considered mentally ill for opposing communism. These “ill” people were locked up and given psych drugs. Today there is a movement to declare racism a disease, probably with the same goal. Mental illness can also get a person banned from owning firearms. So expanding the definition of mental illness furthers the goal of the Gun Ban Lobby. Already veterans classified as having PTSD are now black listed from owning firearms. There are many who consider liberalism a mental illness. The sword of “mentally ill” cuts both ways. We would be wise to not establish precedence for the punishment of opposing views as illness. Those in power today may be tomorrow’s mentally ill.

    • Excellent observations. Yes, the dichotomy of criminalization vs medicalization is often portrayed as “mean and cruel” vs. “gentle and humane,” but a growing literature is teasing out a great deal of nuance in the implications of treating a given behavior as one or the other. Medicalization tends to strip agency and accountability from the patient. Criminalization allows for free will. There is no single “best” approach, even sometimes for a given condition. Medicalizing addiction, say, is often the more humane–not to mention more constructive–approach. But racism? Aren’t we as a society better off if we hold people responsible for not being assholes?

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