Archive for the ‘Prosody’
He owns a Gyro Swing golf club, which whirs as it responds to his swing and vibrates when he doesn’t keep his left arm in the right position. And—his great passion in life—he owns and plays and lends out violins, two of which are artifacts of the most exacting craftsmanship. He began playing during his adolescence. “They say you can’t really learn at that age,” he said. “Like so much else ‘they’ say, that’s bullshit.” He has made a creditable CD to prove it. And he started a company, Genetics Institute, mainly in order to make enough money to buy one of his treasures—a Guarneri del Gesù. He now owns quite a few other fiddles yet is at pains to make it clear that he is not a collector but a musician and a devotee.
With this insistence on the importance of environmental factors as shapers of our lives, Gladwell is bucking a deplorable recent trend in science. Over the past few decades, fields such as evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics have tipped the scales toward the nature side of the nature-nurture debate, implying that innate factors largely determine our personalities and talents, and hence our destiny. I call this line of reasoning “gene-whiz science.”
One notorious example of gene-whiz science is the 1994 best-seller The Bell Curve, in which Harvard scholars Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein asserted that blacks are innately less intelligent than whites. James Watson, the Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the double helix, reiterated this persistent claim a year ago, as did Slate’s own William Saletan.
Well, you know what they say…
Okay so maybe it’s not so new since the book’s been out for several months…Anyway, my review of Masha Gessen’s Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene, appears in the current issue of Nature Genetics (subscription only, sorry!):
Throughout this remarkable hybrid of a book—part memoir, part science journalism, part narrative nonfiction—Gessen demonstrates both her independence and her willingness to tweak dogma, whether it comes from guilt-ridden postmodernists or didactic medical professionals. Her sometimes conflicting goals are to discover what is possible for herself as a breast cancer ‘previvor’ and to quench her reporter’s compulsion to document and understand the genetic landscape as it shifts beneath her feet.
“The author and his daughter, Lena, who has half his DNA.”
People often assume that because of what I’m doing and because I write a blog called GenomeBoy, that I must be a starry-eyed genome worshipper. But if anything, getting genotyped has reminded me how much more we are than our DNA. All of those common-sense behavior changes actually matter. We are the products, finally, of our genes and our environments. And there is nothing mystical about either.
I belong to a generation that grew up believing we were shaped by love, care, or lack of it — or perhaps even the number of books on our parents’ bookshelves. But we will go to our graves believing that it is a combination of letters in our genetic code that determines how we get there, and when. Our concept of the stuff we are made of will have undergone fundamental changes. I got a glimpse of that when I was looking around that room at my fellow mutants, and again and again…as I looked at myself, my biological daughter, and my adopted son. I was transported to a new era, a future that will rest on a different understanding not only of what causes things to go wrong in human beings but of what makes a human being in the first place, and what connects any one of us to any other.
My response to the recent NEJM editorial on commercial personal genomics companies:
…many [personal genomics customers] will march into their doctors’ offices looking for help reading their genomic tea leaves. Most physicians, at least for the moment, are ill-equipped to deal with this. But does that mean the appropriate response is to simply pat patients on the head and tell them to wait a few years until the New England Journal says it’s OK?
That strikes me as both unproductive and naive.
Read the rest here.
Me: I’m hoping you’ll sign my book.
JCV: You wrote a book?
Me: Not yet, but you did. Will you sign it?
JCV: It’s not out for another month. How did you get it?
Me (sheepish, eyes cast downward): Um…eBay?
JCV: (grumbles about eBay, signs book, hands it to me). Here. Now it’s worth a whole bunch of money. (As elevator doors are closing) Did you read it?
I also should have realized that Peter Pauling would feel a filial duty to send my manuscript to his father. After reading it, Linus fired off an angry letter to [editor] Tom Wilson calling Base Pairs “a disgraceful example of malevolence and egocentricity.” He wrote demanding that I remove the lines “Linus’s screwy chemistry” and “Linus looking like an ass.” These were phrases I knew good taste would lead me to delete before the manuscript went to the printer. But since they were true, I was loath to remove them before absolutely necessary.
- from Watson’s forthcoming memoir, Avoid Boring People