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Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA Paperback – January 13, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0060975197 ISBN-10: 0060975199 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 13, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060975199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060975197
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #542,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on August 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Author Lewontin, a Harvard geneticist, presents his case against biological determinism, and for a form of social constructionism. Don't stop reading this review if the first sentence caused your eyes to glaze over. You don't need to understand those terms. RCL is simply saying that our social environment is more important than our genetic structure.
And, no, this book is not about Marxist ideas as one reviewer wrote. One is not a marxist because one supports environmental affects on society. He is not spouting Marxism when he suggests that society is responsible for many diseases, and not microbes. Tuberculosis had greatly declined by the early twentieth century, not because of vaccination, but because living conditions and nutrition had improved. The ultimate cause of some cancers is not so much the proximate cause of pollution, but the society that has decided that pollution in the air is acceptable in furthering our society.
Our society is not based on the total genetic activity of its members. First of all there aren't enough genes to begin to determine the billions of circuits in the brain, many of which aren't constructed until after birth. We become individuals in a society. The two most common ways in which children are similar to their parents relate to religion and politics. Are we then to say that there is a Baptist gene, or a Republican gene?
Lewontin believes that the genome project(s) will not fulfill the promises currently being made. His social constructionist beliefs (that science is culturally determined) must be given some credence when he states that no prominent geneticist of his acquaintance is free of a financial interest in these projects.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Craig MACKINNON on July 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is exactly what the title implies - a treatise on how many people in the scientific community (including physical and social science) and in the general public have come to regard biology, or more specifically DNA, as The Answer. Just as religion had The Answer in previous ages, so now, we "know" that all the answers lie in understanding our DNA. This has spread to all aspects of human society, from justification of our capitalist monetary system to modern medicine. To emphasise the point, a quote from the text: "[An] editor of Science, what asked why the Human Genome Project funds should not be given instead to the homeless, answered, 'What these people don't realise is that the homeless are impaired.... Indeed, no group would benefit more from the application of human genetics.'"
This is a chilling statement, and we're fortunate to have books like these pointing out the ethical and scientific problems in such pronouncements. Prof. Lewontin debunks the myth that DNA is the be all and end all. In a wide ranging series of essays, he attacks the claims of the Human Genome Project scientists (I want to point out that he does not attack the science itself, which is fine, simply the rationale in doing it) and others who are trying to find a panacea in understanding genetics. He argues that while DNA is important, it does not define what it means to be human, any more than a pile of bricks defines a house, and it certainly can't be used to justify capitalism, fascism, or anarchical government systems, as claimed by some political philosophers. Or that people are homeless because they have defective DNA.
There are two minor points that I must make objection to.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A .J. Casper on November 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Despite some shortcomings, I was thoroughly impressed by this book that I read it two times in a row. I also chose to base a school project on it. I am quite convinced that "Biology as Ideology" might actually have been one of the most important books of the previous century (Yes, I mentioned this in my project). And although it is atypical of me to comment on other people's reviews, some things just warrant correction. Contrary to what one reviewer said, Lewontin never once suggests that "there is no such thing as race" in this book. And although Lewontin has a thing or to two to say about reductionism - - he does not completely resent it. He talks about an ideal view "that sees the entire world neither as an indissoluble whole, or as isolated bits and pieces". It's easy to miss this message because Lewontin does tend to have a propensity for veering off-topic once in a while. I also don't think that it's far-fetched at all to call Lewontin a Marxist. Although he only mentions Karl Marx once in this book, most of his views on society strongly cohere with Marx's.

In our world today, any product of science is claimed and treated as a universal truth. Lewontin encourages the reader not to be mystified by science (don't just leave it to the experts!) And science has never been as "objective" and "nonpolitical" as it claims because it's a product of society. Scientists will view nature through lens molded by social experience.

I thought it daring (and brave) that Lewontin - a luminary in the study of genetics today - should question Darwin's "natural selection", and see more sense in Lamarck's inheritance of acquired characteristics. This book is good because it makes you observe the other side of things. It makes you think.
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