Gene of the Week: Attack on the "Warrior Gene"

Posted by Jillian Theil May 11, 2011
Biopolitical Times
Science writer John Horgan has taken on the warrior gene in a recent Scientific American blog post titled “Code rage: The "warrior gene" makes me mad! (Whether I have it or not).” Horgan points to recent coverage of the MAOA-L allele, decrying over-hyped (mis)representations of behavior and genes (previously examined in this blog post) while taking another look at some of the so-called “warrior gene” claims. All the while, Horgan thoroughly builds his argument by tracing the evolution of this idea, both in the academic journals and in popular culture.

Interestingly, Horgan also looks to unpack the “blame-it-on-your-genes-craze,” noting (and again defending in a later post) two factors:
First, the quest for correlations (in behavioral genetics) between thousands of genes and thousands of traits and disorders is prone to false positives, especially when traits are as squishy as "aggression" and "childhood trauma" (the variable that helps some researchers link MAOA-L to violent behavior). Second, the media—including respected scientific journals like Science and PNAS as well as shows like Dr. Phil—are prone to hyping "discoveries" that will attract attention.
Horgan also notes that such claims are not without consequences, pointing out that misunderstandings of the “warrior gene” have been disturbingly utilized to promote inequality and racism.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: