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Our Genes / Our Choices
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Genes on Trial: Genetics, Behavior, & the Law
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Expanding the Discussion

Questions to help you grapple with the program's issues in a broader context:

  • Educational psychologist Arthur Jensen was convinced that intelligence is fundamentally an inherited trait. In 1969, he published an article claiming that African Americans' lower scores on intelligence tests were due to inherent intellectual differences between "blacks and whites," rather than to the effects of poverty, discrimination, and other remediable factors. This was used to fuel arguments against Head Start and affirmative action programs. If you were a scientist studying genetic influences on certain kinds of mental abilities, how could you reduce the risks of the information being used to serve personal or political agendas?


  • The science of eugenics—the belief that traits like "feeblemindedness," criminality, or dwarfism could be eliminated from the gene pool through selective breeding—gained widespread popularity in the U.S. in the early twentieth century. About thirty states enacted laws that resulted in approximately 30,000 allegedly mentally ill or mentally retarded persons being involuntarily sterilized. Can you think of other examples when genetic information has been used to weed out or discriminate against genetic "undesirables?" Do you think this is more likely to happen as more detailed knowledge of the genome emerges?


  • Suppose you sit on an Olympic court. Two athletes finish the triathlon in a dead heat. The lawyer for one maintains that since his client—unlike her rival—does not possess the genetic marker linked to endurance, she deserves the medal for having overcome greater odds to achieve her goal. Is this relevant? Is it different from using drugs to enhance performance? How do you think you would rule?

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