Genetics Debate Suffers From Misinterpretation, Scholar Says

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Genetics and intelligence have academia coming apart at the seams, with the debate over "The Bell Curve" -- still hot three years after the book's release -- providing "a tragic example of how science can be misleading even to itself," says a University of Illinois geneticist.

"An essential element of appreciating a book like 'The Bell Curve' is knowledge of the subject matter," said Jerry Hirsch, professor emeritus and guest editor of a special issue of the journal Genetica (mailed to subscribers Oct. 24) devoted to "Uses and Abuses of Genetics in Society." "First-hand familiarity of the material under discussion is an element seemingly lacking in the commentary that has appeared."

The Genetica issue goes beyond the best-selling 1994 book by Harvard University psychologist Richard J. Hernstein (who has since died) and political scientist Charles Murray, Hirsch said. It is a criticism of the field of genetics and of much of academia for shoddy quality control in the literature. "The misunderstanding of genetics has been almost universal, especially from a behavioral point of view," said Hirsch, who has studied Drosophila genetics for 40 years. "It has been terribly mishandled."

The debate over racism has split his own field. He noted the 1995 resignation of then President-elect Pierre Roubertoux of France from the Behavior Genetics Association after outgoing President Glayde Whitney argued that there was a racial basis for different murder rates between U.S. cities.

In Genetica, Hirsch says he refuted the basic premise of "The Bell Curve" in 1975. Hernstein and Murray, he said, completely accepted the writings of Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley, who claimed that the genetic determination of intelligence had been proven. In a study, referred to in the Congressional Record, Hirsch showed that Jensen had distorted and misrepresented many of the 159 references in a 1969 paper. "The Bell Curve

Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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