Darwinism Genetics Intelligent Design

The “gene” seems to be a dying idea

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From Ed Yong at the Atlantic:

What If (Almost) Every Gene Affects (Almost) Everything?

Three Stanford scientists have proposed a provocative new way of thinking about genetic variants, and how they affect people’s bodies and health.

In 1999, a group of scientists scoured the genomes of around 150 pairs of siblings in an attempt to find genes that are involved in autism. They came up empty. They reasoned that this was because the risk of autism is not governed by a small number of powerful genes, which their study would have uncovered. Instead, it’s likely affected by a large number of genes that each have a small effect. Perhaps, they wrote, there might be 15 such genes or more.

Two decades later, that figure seems absurdly and naively low. If you told a modern geneticist that a complex trait—whether a physical characteristic like height or weight, or the risk of a disease like cancer or schizophrenia—was the work of just 15 genes, they’d probably laugh. It’s now thought that such traits are the work of thousands of genetic variants, working in concert. The vast majority of them have only tiny effects, but together, they can dramatically shape our bodies and our health. They’re weak individually, but powerful en masse.

But Evan Boyle, Yang Li, and Jonathan Pritchard from Stanford University think that this framework doesn’t go far enough. More.

So all that literature about the gene-for-this and the gene-for-that, which dominated discussion for decades, is basically garbage? Never mind the immense social harm wrought by Darwinian eugenics, never properly evaluated as a direct outcome of Darwinism …

See also: There’s a gene for that… or is there?

and

Modern eugenics was, first to last, a Darwinian project:

About 45 years ago, I O’Leary for News was briefly involved in the campaign to get rid of the practice [of involuntary sterlization] in a Canadian province where – surprise, surprise – east Europeans were far more likely to be forwarded for involuntary sterilization through the mental health system than west Europeans were.

The campaign didn’t need to last long because by then the practice was not tenable by any standard – but that raised the question, what had been the previous standard and why?

It was Darwin, Darwin, and his cousin Galton. That’s why.

While we are here: Modern racism is a Darwinian project too, actually. See “The alt right, Donald Trump, and – oddly enough – Darwin. Anyone not committed to Darwinian survival of the fittest cannot be ‘alt right’.”

14 Replies to “The “gene” seems to be a dying idea

  1. 1
    Tom Robbins says:

    WOW!!!

  2. 2
    kmidpuddle says:

    TR:

    WOW!!!

    I second that. But probably for different reasons.

  3. 3
    goodusername says:

    So all that literature about the gene-for-this and the gene-for-that, which dominated discussion for decades, is basically garbage?

    Yes, if by “literature” you mean the popular press, and this is something biologists have long complained about.

    This is one of the reasons why Dawkins, for instance, has been pushing (for decades) the analogy of a cake recipe instead of blueprints for genes. Change the recipe of a cake and you affect the whole cake.

  4. 4
    jdk says:

    The “the gene-for-this and the gene-for-that” idea has not been seriously entertained by biologists for a long time. Even I know that.

  5. 5
    kmidpuddle says:

    JDK:

    The “the gene-for-this and the gene-for-that” idea has not been seriously entertained by biologists for a long time. Even I know that.

    I am sixty and I was taught throughout high school and university that the phenotype was the result of the interaction between the genes, and between the genes and the environment.

  6. 6
    News says:

    Funny the “biologists” (cf comment 4) never put themselves to much trouble to correct so serious a misinterpetation.

    And, from the sounds of things, still don’t accept responsibility for the outcomes.

    Like Buck v. Bell.

  7. 7
    kmidpuddle says:

    News:

    Funny the “biologists” (cf comment 4) never put themselves to much trouble to correct so serious a misinterpetation.

    And, from the sounds of things, still don’t accept responsibility for the outcomes.

    Are you responsible for the misuses of Catholicism? I don’t think you are. But if you demand that I accept responsible for the misuses of Darwin’s theory, I demand that you accept responsibility for the crusades, the inquisition, the residential school system….. I don’t think that either one of us want to play this game.

    Personally, I acknowledge that Darwin’s theory has been misused. That doesn’t make it any less true. Rosevelt and Truman misused the theory of nuclear physics to kill thousands of people with two bombs and relegate thousands of others to a slow death. Does that make Einstein and Fermi, etc. Evil? Of course not. Nuclear physics are also responsible for cancer treatments and medical diagnostics. And Darwin’s theory is responsible for many medical, agricultural advances.

  8. 8
    goodusername says:

    Funny the “biologists” (cf comment 4) never put themselves to much trouble to correct so serious a misinterpetation.

    Much trouble like… writing books? You can read Dawkins’ explanation for the problems with the common view of the gene in media and the “cake recipe” analogy in The Blind Watchmaker. I see a 30 Year Anniversary edition is out:
    https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/14234/the-blind-watchmaker/

  9. 9
    Dionisio says:

    The so-called “Darwin’s theory” is just a gross extrapolation of the observed phenotypical effects of the built-in variability framework into a humongous archaic pseudoscientific hogwash that eventually turns into low grade bovine excreta.
    They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    The most fascinating discoveries are still ahead.
    The evo-devo folks still have to respond the most fundamental question:
    Where’s the beef? 🙂
    IOW, they have to present at least one case that clearly satisfies the problem described @1090 in the thread “A third way of evolution?”
    That’s all. Everything else is just speculation and gossiping.
    There are many serious scientists working hard trying to understand exactly how the biological systems function, so we can have better medical treatments and preventive programs for precise personalized medicine. Those researchers don’t have spare time to squander on OOL and/or evolution nonsense.

  10. 10
    LocalMinimum says:

    goodusername @ 3:

    Doesn’t Dawkins also push the “selfish gene”? I know he published it. For a gene to be selfish (or, “effectively selfish”, if you must) wouldn’t it require the gene to have a context independent of the genome itself?

  11. 11
    goodusername says:

    LM,

    Doesn’t Dawkins also push the “selfish gene”? I know he published it. For a gene to be selfish (or, “effectively selfish”, if you must) wouldn’t it require the gene to have a context independent of the genome itself?

    Yes, but even in that work he recognizes the issues in the OP. He emphasizes that genes have wide effects (and in the follow-up work “The Extended Phenotype” he takes it even further, as the name implies) and that it’s far too simplistic to say that a gene is “a gene for X”.

    It has been a very long time since I read that work (and I don’t have it handy at the moment), but I know that early in the book he talks about the difficulty of defining a “gene.” The reason why it can be difficult is because, as discussed in the OP, the genome works together as a whole and so it’s difficult to divide the genome up into discrete units.

    I think he settles on a definition as a part of the genome that is small enough that it won’t be readily chopped up during the “crossing-over” phase of replication, but large enough to have a recognizable effect on the genome; that is, it works as a unit of selection. Thus genes (actually, alleles, to be technically correct) could be seen as being in a kind of competition (or to be acting selfishly) against other alleles in the same population. A more precise title would then be “the selfish allele” but it might be less marketable.

    Of course, I purposely mentioned Dawkins in my earlier post because I realize that if anyone is seen as the High Priest of the opposing view of the OP it would probably be Dawkins, and if even he isn’t actually opposed to the OP, as can be seen in books decades old, then it either means that this concept does not mean the death of the idea of the gene, or the idea died a very long time ago (if it was ever alive at all).

  12. 12
    kmidpuddle says:

    LM:

    Doesn’t Dawkins also push the “selfish gene”? I know he published it. For a gene to be selfish (or, “effectively selfish”, if you must) wouldn’t it require the gene to have a context independent of the genome itself?

    It has been a long time since I read The Selfish Gene, but my recollection is that it was intended simply as a different lens to view evolution through, not to be taken as literally as those who oppose evolution think it is. Thinking outside the box. What I do remember was that when I was reading it I never thought that he was really saying that there was a gene for this and a gene for that.

  13. 13
    LocalMinimum says:

    kmidpuddle:

    Thanks for the correction. Well stated, especially with pointing out that even Richard “Weasel” Dawkins was aware of and wrestling with the issue.

  14. 14
    Dionisio says:

    OK, let’s repeat the comment @9 in case someone missed it:

    The so-called “Darwin’s theory” is just a gross extrapolation of the observed phenotypical effects of the built-in variability framework into a humongous archaic pseudoscientific hogwash.
    They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    The most fascinating discoveries are still ahead.
    The evo-devo folks still have to respond the most fundamental question:
    Where’s the beef? ????
    IOW, they have to present at least one case that clearly satisfies the problem described @1090 in the thread “A third way of evolution?”
    That’s all. Everything else is just speculation and gossiping.
    There are many serious scientists working hard trying to understand exactly how the biological systems function, so we can have better medical treatments and preventive programs for precise personalized medicine. Those researchers don’t have spare time to squander on OOL and/or evolution nonsense.

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