By R. Grant Steen

A perceptive exam of the on-going debate over the impact of genetics in our lives.

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Extra info for DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior

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Calvin Coolidge, who perhaps should have stayed even more silent, said that ''biological laws show ... "12 After much debate in Congress, it was agreed to base future immigration on the mix of nationalities recorded in the 1890 census. The result was a piece of legislation called the Johnson Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, which severely limited immigration of peoples from Eastern or Southern Europe, especially those of Jewish descent. Eugenies was often a thinly disguised rationale for racism of the worst kind.

Plato even advocated temporary unions between superior men and women for the express purpose of having superior children. The Dark History of Eugenics 35 The rationale for a eugenics program was clarified in 1798, when Thomas Malthus proposed that the human population was expanding faster than was the food supply. His Essay on the Principle of Population was the first to note that the earth's resources are limited, and that starvation awaits a population that outgrows its resources. Malthus believed that increases in population would always outstrip increases in food production, and that rampant population growth would eventually be checked by competition between human beings for the simple necessities of life.

However, there are a number of problems with this approach. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the "heritability" ca1culated for a trait is only accurate for those people from whom data were drawn in the first place. As an example, let us assurne that weight is 70% heritable; the average weight of a group of people in New York is 70% heritable, as is the average weight of a group of subsistence farmers in Somalia. Nevertheless, we cannot assurne that the average weight difference between an overfed New Yorker and an underfed Somalian is caused by genes.

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