Skip to comments.Triumphalism in Science (re The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock)
Posted on 11/25/2004 6:04:55 PM PST by SunkenCiv
[Alcock] uncritically accepts the conclusions from highly contested studies of the genetics of human behavior, such as the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart of Thomas J. Bouchard and his colleagues. In fact, the field of human behavior genetics is in a crisis stage, as the great hope of finding behavioral genes with the new DNA technologies has disappointed. Many of the concerns about this field of research parallel those offered by the critics of sociobiology -- that researchers have paid too little attention to nongenetic factors in collecting and analyzing their data. Alcock is at his worst when describing the controversy itself. He does no service to the sociobiology debate by using the timeworn tactic of characterizing critics with the most extreme terms. He offers no support for the labels "cultural determinist," "blank slate theorists" and "cultural relativists" with any statements from the critics he attacks. These were not the terms of the debate. The controversy began when sociobiologists entered into the arena of social policy... Although sociobiologists admitted that human traits based in evolution are still subject to change by the influence of environment, culture and history, some pretended to know just how much change is possible. They replaced the old genetic determinism with a genetics of limits, without explaining how they could specify what those limits were... A better understanding of science should lead not to triumphalism but to the kind of humility recently expressed by Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Francois Jacob in Of Flies, Mice and Men: "Science cannot answer all questions. . . . It can, however, give some indications, exclude certain hypotheses. Engaging in the pursuit of science may help us make fewer mistakes. It's a sort of gamble."
(Excerpt) Read more at americanscientist.org ...
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Yep! For a while now scientists and non-scientists alike--often motivated by non-scientific vested interests in molding social policy--have been misusing genetics as a Grand Unified Theory and advancing conclusions that harbor unexamined methodological assumptions and run way ahead of the evidence. Whenever science does this--as, for instance, famously occurred when 18th-century culture attempted to reduce all phenomena to Newtonian mechanism, only to have the neat package unravel with the rise of non-Euclidean geometry, statistical method, and finally the "New" Physics (now a century old, of course) and Godel's logic--there inevitably comes a crisis when the limitations of the paradigm bump up against the hard data and the fallacious hidden assumptions are exposed.
:') I would add that, philosophers tend to be people who need to be slapped around a lot.
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