The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity, and the Fruitless Search for Genes (Anglais) Broché – 1 janvier 2006
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Is this masochism really necessary? Is this view of ourselves really demanded by current science? Concentrating on the field of psychiatric genetics, Jay Joseph argues that the genetic determinism so taken for granted in modern times is not based on sound science. This is a serious and controversial claim. Many people become angry if you even so much as suggest that a psychiatric disorder may not be genetic. Strong arguments are therefore needed. With the knowledge that he is militating against a well-entrenched orthodoxy, Joseph has written this extremely detailed, rigorously argued book, dedicating many of its chapters to lengthy critical assessments of original research papers. While some may be put off by the rather pedantic level of argumentation, it is, to my mind, absolutely necessary; and if you are willing to put the time in, occasionally exhilarating. It is too easy for genetically oriented researchers to blithely dismiss serious criticism as the work of know-nothing `armchair critics' with ideological agendas. Joseph is no armchair critic. Although he is a clinical psychologist and not a research scientist, his doctoral thesis was a critical examination of the schizophrenia twin studies literature, and the majority of his publications since then have been dedicated to this very specific, and very important, area. As the book makes clear, he is often more familiar with the foundational research of psychiatric genetics than the researchers themselves.
Joseph's scholarship is outstanding; his level of familiarity with the science and history of psychiatric genetics is immense. Primary and secondary sources are quoted often and at length, everything is thoroughly sourced, the arguments proceed clearly and logically, and his tone is measured, professional. In cases of obvious academic fraud and gross incompetence, Joseph is careful not to ascribe conscious intent, opining more generally at the `unfortunate' state of affairs. Only once does he explicitly get angry with a few modern psychiatric geneticists, and it's to call them `poor historians indeed' in a footnote. Seeing as it was in the context of their attempted absolution of the leaders of the Munich School (an early psychiatric genetic organisation) from complicity in the Nazi eugenic and extermination programs, when widely available documentary evidence suggests very strongly otherwise, one can understand Joseph's academic `outburst'. That the founder of the school is claimed by a certain psychiatric geneticist to have been disgusted by Hitler's misuse of his research, even though it is widely known that he was not only a fervent support of the Nazi government but a formal legislator of some of its most draconian eugenics policies, is enough to make one pause and consider the lengths that people will go to defend their world-view, and just how many readers they are willing to lead astray.
Although the historical analyses in this book are fascinating, and even disturbing, the large majority of its contents are devoted to scientific analysis. This is where Joseph is at his most brilliant. His critique of the Equal Environment Assumption in all its varied and bizarre reformulations is a supreme example of logical analysis. Here Joseph cuts to the quick of psychiatric genetics, because if the EEA is invalid, as Joseph cogently argues, then the vast majority of twin studies done to date are scientifically useless. When one considers their many other, more particular, invalidating flaws (biased statistical manipulation, the post hoc redefinitions of the disorder under study to achieve statistical significance, among many others) the case for the genetic transmission of psychiatric disorders is about as scientifically compelling as phrenology.
There is much more to this book than a one thousand word review can do justice to. By the book's conclusion, I was convinced that the well-publicised claims about the genetic determination of psychiatric disorders are based more on politics, rhetoric and second-hand information than sound science. It took a book of this level of complexity and detail to convince me. Vague humanistic platitudes, while comforting for a time, are hard to sustain against a countervailing science. It is liberating to know that, in the case of psychiatric and behavioural genetics, the `countervailing science' is largely built on air, and that the evidence, in fact, supports a more open view, where human beings are genuine individuals, not shambling automata, whose psychological difficulties are not the fault of their broken genes, but caused by well-known, and repairable, psychological and environmental factors. I will end this review as I began it: with a quotation from J.R. Lucas, former president of the British Society for the Philosophy of Science. His writings on human identity and value are among the best I've ever read, and show that to be scientific does not imply belief in the brutal pessimism of reductionist science, of which psychiatric and behavioural genetics are complementary parts. I am confident that Joseph would agree with the following passage.
`Each [of us] is a definite individual, ultimately responsible for what he decides to do, while being also an indeterminate shimmering of different personalities, revealed and developed in different personal relationships. Each is unique, of infinite complexity, transcending all stereotypes and neat classification, while needing also to be a safe pair of hands, who can be relied on to do his bit when required.'
Bipolar disorder, plus some on schizophrenia too.
The books goes in depth and documents bias and misinformation
parroted by secondary sources reporting this research. The final
chapter reports the ongoing unproductive and frenzied search for
genes in psychiatry.
The genetics of psychiatric illness is another of science's "sacred
cows". It is another example of psuedoscience, passed off as
unquestioned fact on a trusting public, at the expense of
I have been a Jay Joseph fan since his first book, The Gene
Illusion: Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology under
the Microscope (2004).
The author's analysis and logic are impeccable. However, I have one important disagreement with the author. The author suggests that the principal motive for pursuing genetic links of psychiatric disorders (even though that pursuit may be fruitless) stems from racism and eugenics programs of 1930s and 40s. Although historically that may have been the primary motive, I think the primary motive today is commercial. In other words, it is all about corporate bottom lines.
The book does make one reference to this motivation on the top of p. 253 when it quotes a paper by Silverman and Herbert, saying, "Not only does the pharmaceutical industry potentially benefit economically from such (genetic) research, ..., but the denial of environmental causes helps protect corporations from liability, exemplified by vaccinations containing mercury-laden Thimerosal."
The author also implies in the book that although genes may not exist for common psychiatric ailments, they probably do exist for common physical diseases. But I think that the same motivational and methodological issues (such as flawed family/twin/adoption studies), combined with publication bias for positive genetic findings, plague the research into the causes of physical diseases, as they do in the case of psychiatric disorders. (The one clear exception is that single gene diseases like Cystic fibrosis where the correlation between the gene and the disease is 100% are indeed genetic, but such diseases tend to be rare.)
Consider juvenile myopia for example. Contrary to widely promoted belief for nearly 100 years that myopia is inherited, my reading and research shows that it is actually caused by lifestyle and environmental factors such as too much near-work and too little time spent outdoors.
Finally, my sense is that the gene researchers will never throw in the towel as long as the economic forces that drive such research persist. As long as there are people willing to believe the oversimplified and manipulated genetic evidence and explanations, there will be companies willing to fund such researchers and media willing to mislead the public through selective publication of positive findings. Many of my friends who have graduate degrees in science and engineering do not really take the time to understand how junk science and pseudo-science are routinely packaged and sold as real science. One major problem in my opinion is that most people have a very poor understanding of statistics.
Explaining the case against genetic causes of common diseases (psychiatric or physical) is not easy. But books like this one can help. Next time I have an argument with somebody, I can at least refer them to this book.
The trouble with this book is that it is theoretically impossible to prove a negative. And there is just enough evidence that some of these mental illnesses tend to occur more frequently in some families than in others. Some forms seem to have genetic components, but researchers still know very little why this occurs. The book makes good sense, but could be overturned immediately by the next announcement.
The good points about this book are that it is very readable and opens the subject up to we interested laymen. It gives a good analysis of Dr. Joseph's opinions, and he knows a lot more about this than I do. Still, he is a clinical psychologist, not a research scientist. If you do a search on Amazon for 'Genetics Mental Illness' you'll get a lot of entries. Most of these are quite expensive and clearly relate to ongoing or even proposed research.
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