The philosophy of behavioural genomics – Analysis of criteria for the conceptual mapping of research in the genomics of human behaviour
Affiliated staffSupervisors: John Dupré, Barry Barnes
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Funded bySelf-funded with assistance from the Professional Training Unit of the European Parliament. (The views expressed in the work are not an official expression of the position of the European Parliament).
BackgroundThis is a philosophical enquiry into scientific research that studies the causes of behaviour, principally human, using the findings, techniques or tools of genomic science.
AimsThe objectives, concepts and methods of eight selected disciplines are analysed: biomolecular archaeology, evolutionary biomechanics, molecular neurobiology, Down syndrome research, human behavioural ecology, behavioural genetics, human evolutionary genetics and human developmental genetics.
MethodsNine semi-structured interviews were conducted with leading researchers in the target disciplines. The results are analysed in terms of a set of fourteen criteria, chosen to illustrate diversity in the conceptual approaches of the researchers concerned. The results are plotted in a Criterion Matrix. In parallel, sources in the literature as well as the interviews were used to generate a Genomic Workbench Analysis Model, identifying the different regions of the human and other genomes used by different disciplines in their research. The process of enquiry is presented as a conceptual mapping of the putative field of behavioural genomics.
FindingsThe two principal tools of the method – the Criterion Matrix and the Genomic Workbench Analysis Model – convey a picture of rich and complex diversity among the target disciplines. It is concluded that this diversity is inconsistent with a two-clusters model such as might have been suggested in the past by a polarisation of the nature-nurture debate along a single axis. Other conclusions of the conceptual mapping study are presented. A suggestion is made for the future development of a field of behavioural environomics.
Policy implicationsThis is believed to be the first attempt at a conceptual mapping of scientific research disciplines in behavioural genomics. Its conclusions are intended to help elucidate a number of issues that arise when this area of research is discussed.
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‘Behavioural genomics: the case for a multidisciplinary interpretation’, presentation to the CSG-EGN Amsterdam Conference, ‘Genomics and society: Setting the agenda’, Amsterdam, 17 April 2008.
‘Different disciplines, different perspectives on the pertinence of genomics to ways of studying human behaviour: lessons of interviews with researchers’, presentation to the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology conference, University of Exeter, 27 July 2007.
'The disciplinary division of labour in behavioural genomics', presentation to the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology conference, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 16 July 2005.