Anj Petto has replied to my comment on Anthro-L
(2) The second issue is like unto the first. There are things that we CAN measure and analyze and those that we SHOULD. It is good when the two sets overlap completely; it is rare that they do. So, if we control for a whole raft of socioeconomic, demographic, politicolegal, and other culturally informed variables and are left with a certain amount of unexplained variation ... what is the rationale for our concluding that this amount corresponds to a genetic input? It only really tells us that these other variables leave some component unexplained.
We need an explicit model of genetic influences on complex behaviors and their consequences (such as social status, wealth, and so on) that can be tested. However, just to take the negative evidence --- the variance left over after all the main factor axes have been correlated with outcomes --- can significantly misinform the analysis. As Jon Marks is fond of saying: "Show me the genes!" If we want to argue that the data support a genetic explanation, then it is absolutely necessary to have a contemporary genetic model for this influence AND to analyze the actual genes of the subjects. This was difficult to do a decade ago, but it is quite routine now --- the only problem is that we don't really know where to begin looking among the 3 billion base pairs of DNA, but at least we could start by asking a simple question: Are there significant genetic differences between members of one population and members of another whom we presume to have genetic differences in some feature (and, are those differences consistently and persistent associated with one population more than the other)?
Such research CAN be fruitful and illuminating. For example, there is some interesting research in susceptibility to hypertensive cardiovascular disease in people of African descent that finds such an association (though research is still ongoing, it appears that it was not slavery that made the difference, but that European populations underwent a genetic bottleneck and lost some alleles related to sodium conservation that are still found in Africa).
So, overfitting with genetic models is the use of whatever left over variance we cannot associate specifically with sociocultural and demographic variables and call it a 'genetic' influence.
I looked at this and was puzzled by the idea of genetics being a model for culture. We have tried this with 'memes' and in my opinion the results are fairly unhelpful. For better or worse the word 'gene', like the word 'culture', has escaped the hands of the specialists and is out there being used, often in politically charged ways, typically in ways far wide of its in initially intended or current uses, though with a trace of what was originally meant. Looking back, the Human Genome project evoked immense triumphalism and many fears in equal measure; so it is not surprising that it should have spawned all sorts of ideas about the power of genes - 'it is in the genes...' Social scientists are quick to see any explanation from the side of heredity with extreme suspicion - after all there is a history there Galton, Huxley, eugenics, scientific racism etc.
As regards schizophrenia and IQ, over the years claims about the heredity versus environment as causes have been batted back and forth. When we shift from a clearly demarcated biological phenomenon like breast cancer to what are inherently behavioural, social, phenomena like schizophrenia or IQ we are entering an interpretive quagmire. It is certainly useful to note that if schizophrenia has a genetic cause at all then it derives from a heterogenous array of interactions, but that is really only scratching the surface since we then need to do the same kind of multirelational exploration in the field of social behaviour; thereby recognising interpersonal behaviour as causative in its own right. Unless we want to go on 'overfitting' we have to give weighting to behaviour and genetics and not see one as causing the other unidirectionally. After all there is a lot of work now on gene expression, epigenesis and so on.
Entering this thread at all is a lot of work and, as Fran said, the OAC is straddling the divide between social media and academic discussion. Then most of us have a position on nature/nurture that is unlikely to be moved by the way this question is framed. I have a particular line: the American ideology, as presently constituted, draws heavily on genetic explanation for evolutionary and cognitive science. This is another way of escaping from history into a vision of nature that has no place for cultural decline. But at the rate of posting here right now, someone may engage in the next few weeks. Maybe those of us who post often should retreat for a while and see what happens.
I get where John was coming from when he posted this exchange. The title sufficiently grabbed me and it was a good intellectual challenge to read the Petto/Wilsnack posts with it in mind. I agree with Huon's post, the first part of which covers one of the main points I was going to make about the popular usage of "culture", only expressed more concisely than I probably would have managed.
I imagine, though, that the reason for so few replies out of 30 views is the density of the original exchange and a lack of guidance from the OP. I wonder how many non-medical/biological anthros ("actual" non-geneticists) made it past the middle of Wilsnack's post. Not that non-specialists couldn't find their way, but their first impression might be that specialist knowledge is necessary to arrive at more abstract connections between genetics and culture given the source material. You have to persevere to the end before figuring out that it's not necessary.
I would never suggest that we delve any less deeply into topics here, but I wonder sometimes if we forget the mixed audience we purport to appeal to. In this regard I feel we can work on framing new threads in ways that will attract the widest pool of participants. One of the most difficult balances for our academic/social network comes down to the right amounts of catchy, public appeal and rigorous, in-depth analysis. A tough one for sure; maybe impossible. In this case, John's follow-up post explaining his rationale for posting - or at least some key sign posts - could have come earlier in the intro, IMO. Perhaps that would have helped more "quick glancers" to engage with the text and not give up before reaching the end.
Francine, good points, taken on board. My original thought was to allow Wilsnack and Petto to speak for themselves, reserving my own musings for the follow up. I can see where that wouldn't work so well for readers who found Wilsnack tough sledding. Also, I would never have come up with what I wrote in response to Huon and Keith, if I hadn't felt challenged by their remarks.
The title grabbed me, but I saw no culture in the post but all biology. I expected it to be about a genetic structure as a model for culture.
I do wonder why the trend in social sciences is going biological. Do social scientists need to be taken seriously like how biological scientists are popularly read and followed?
I just want to share that back home we have a concept of "mana" (inheritance) that is used biologically in our language and culture. When a criminal is a son of a criminal father, we say, "mana ka sa tatay mo" (you are like your father or you follow your father's footstep or you are what your father is). We also have this proverbial statement, "Hindi bumubunga ng bayabas ang mangga" (Mango doesn't bear guava). I think this cultural logic is used in kinship formations such as in marriage where the (psychological and behavioral) backgrounds of a groom and a bride are, generally, important to their families before their wedding is set. They are afraid of genetic contamination locally called "masamang lahi" (bad gene or undesirable trait)..