Interaction Altercation Please

Seminar this week can be summed up in three words: nature or nurture. How do genes, the environment, and the interaction between the two, contribute to who we are, how we act, and most importantly for People magazine, how beautiful we are? On the one hand of this argument, we have the extreme environmentalists, who think everything about a person is malleable, depending on the environment. I have news for them – I will never look like Julia Roberts (or insert here your favorite movie star); I don’t care where in the world you put me. On the other hand are the genetic determinists, who believe our genes dictate every aspect of who we are. I have more news – if I eat a Big Mac everyday and don’t exercise, I will get fat, regardless of what my DNA says. So, there must be an interaction between nature and nurture. But my problem with this silly debate is not that there is an obvious interaction, so why must we continue to argue, but that we have begun the discussion failing to depart from an accurate starting point. For example, it turns out that Mendel was wrong. According to the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/health/14gene.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=health), we do not in fact get half our genes from each of our parents; instead there is an asymmetry of inheritance because some genes are imprinted, or silenced, from both mom and dad. So if we don’t even have the basics right (they’re only pea plants for pete’s sake), how can we argue about how the complex version operates? For the sake of all the realists out there, let’s assume that the debate is not going to stop. Shouldn’t we at least incorporate the knowledge we have recently gained about genes and the environment into the debate? It has been proven time and time again (TC Eley et al., 2004) that it is an interaction between genes and the environment that causes behavior. So, if we’re going to continue the debate without even having the nuts and bolts accurately hammered down, the very least we can do is make it the nature and nurture interaction altercation rather than the nature OR nurture inaccurate debate – since that’s what recent science has told us is far more precise. So, here’s to restarting all those conversations and experiments, and allowing them to be flexible and dynamic, so as to assimilate new knowledge as it becomes available. Ready, set, nature AND nurture. Go!

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