Monday, July 28, 2008

Ethical DNA - what a load of shyte

I recently completed this online questionaire. I don't have time to go into the problems I have with it yet, in terms of surveys, questions etc etc. The thing that gets my goat the most is the term 'moral DNA', which really goes into reinforcing the folk conceptions of genetics.
For those of you who are interested in this type of stuff, check out Paul Griffith's site, in particular this article.
There is a stack of links to his publications on his site, and for anyone interested in genetics, in particular folk conceptions of genes and 'public understanding of science' type stuff, his work is pretty cool.

That is



I ain’t got DNAs

Every odd bod has contained within their flexible flesh and brittle bones 35,000 genes, per body cell. And 10 – 100 trillion cells in the human body. But throw me a bucket that’s a lot of information. Means even for the most redundant of entities roaming the planet there’s a deplorable amount of backstage work going on to get Monsieur Twatface to the Jobcentre so he can afford to sit at home staring at two million pixels fighting not to be Jeremy Kyle’s self-righteous gob.

But I hear you not ask, what’s in our genes? Well, largely nothing apparently; 90% is what genetists’ call junk DNA. We got so much crap in our bodies if our bodies were the U.K, we could feasibly survive on Guernsey.

...more at

Adam said...

The point here is not as much about me or anyone else having them DNAs, rather looking at the terminology used by the referenced questionnaire.
Example: “Are you an enforcer, philosopher, judge, angel, teacher or guardian? Find out the composition of your moral DNA with our test”
Firstly, the use of ‘DNA’ to mean something innate, natural and teleological. Again, the recent work of Paul Griffiths looks expressly at this point.
Secondly, and possibly more problematic (if you’re into ethics as opposed to philosophy of biology) the implication that morality is determined by genes. Again, this is such a misunderstanding of genetics generally, and behavioural genetics in particular that the mind boggles.
Finally, the fact that a short questionnaire can identity what ‘moral type’ you are. Maybe I’m scared because it means that all my work and interests are a waste of time, but it would seem to me a little harder to pin down some one’s moral position than by asking a bunch of simple and leading questions.
Oh yeah, as for 98% of DNA being junk, as epigenetics and the role of RNA as a feedback mechanism in typical human cellular function develop, we are slowly coming to realise that the DNA systems are far more complex than previously thought, and the idea that 98% of our DNA is junk, is going the way of flat earths and preformationsim. Who woulda thunk of it?

Nick said...

Adam, every time you suggest a progressive, complex and fine grained model of scientific enquiry, God kills a puppy.

Adam said...

True. But everytime I do it, Dworkin kills two puppies, and god dies a little more.

Viva Life!

Adam said...

Actually, being the disciplined academic that I am, I clearly meant Dworkin in the previous comment, not the God-Hating Fundamentalist-Baiting Scientific Missionary Dick Dawkins.
Clearly I meant Ronald Dworkin, the eminent legal philosopher, who was said by some to really hate god.
And puppies.