Gene talk in sociobiology

Social Epistemology 6 (2):109 – 163 (1992)
Abstract Terminology within the biological sciences gets its import not just from semantic meaning, but also from the way it functions within the rhetorics of the various disciplinary practices. The ?sociobiology? of human behavior inherits three distinct rhetorics from the genetic disciplines. Sociobiologists use population genetic, biometrical genetic, and molecular genetic rhetorics, without acknowledging the conceptual and experimental constraints that are assumed by geneticists. The eclectic blending of these three rhetorics obscures important differences of context and meaning. Sociobiologists use foundational terms in genetics, such as ?gene?, ?fitness?, ?evolution?, ?heritability?, ?trait? and ?polygenic inheritance?, in starkly different ways from geneticists, while basing their analysis of human behavior on the implied authority of genetics. As a free?floating ?gene talk? moves across different disciplinary contexts, and before different audiences, it takes the form of an over?simplified and misleading arch?determinism. The result is widespread application of vague, incomplete, and distorted biological theory. If most sociobiologists, do not deliberately promote biological determinism, still less a political agenda, there is ample evidence that they misconstrue the implications of the genetic language that they borrow
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