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Boston 2002 Monday, 18 February, 2002, 23:41 GMT
Behaviour research is 'overstated'
DNA, BBC
There is greater genetic variation within races
Ghosh, Heap


Scientists looking at the role genes play in influencing behaviour have been criticised by campaigners for overstating the implications of their work.

Respected researchers speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston detailed work linking certain genes to addiction, IQ and anti-social behaviour.

UK researchers hope isolating the genes linked to anti-social behaviour could allow potential juvenile delinquents to be identified and treated.

But social scientists fear the role environment plays in behaviour is being overlooked by the gene researchers.

Black civil rights campaigners are also concerned the research may play into the hands of racists who want to say blacks are biologically predisposed to crime or low IQ.

Gene arguments

Professor Troy Duster, a black social scientist in the US, told the BBC: "Once you start getting into the racialised character of crime and put a biological face on it, it provides comfort for those who would like to conclude that it must be at the level of biology."

Terry Moffat, from King's College, London, UK, who is carrying out the work looking at genes and anti-social behaviour, told the BBC that despite the potential for abuse, she believed the work should continue.

"I would prefer that the basic research be conducted for the goal simply of generating new knowledge and that the individuals who are in charge of deciding how research can be applied would be a separate group from the scientists," she said.

But Philip Rushton, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, said police arrest records and school test scores showed high crime rates and low IQs in blacks - which he claimed could be explained by genetics.

Greater variation

However, critics say crime rates are more likely to be explained by other factors, such as social disadvantage or police prejudice.

Professor Rushton said: "We know that blacks are more represented in crime, not only in the UK, but here in Canada and the United States." He added: "Blacks of course have a lower IQ score. We think there may be a genetic element to this."

He believes the Human Genome Project (HGP) will allow scientists to isolate crime and IQ genes. "The genes are really in the test tube waiting to be isolated now, and as soon as we get the gene for IQ or aggression, then it will be very easy to look at existing databanks to see whether those genes show up more in Africans than in whites, or in whites more than east Asians."

However, analysis based on the HGP, recently published, would appear to undermine such generalisations. Genes are known to vary more within races than between them.

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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
UK researchers are looking at the link between genes and anti-social behaviour

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