Is Hirsch or Wilson confused? A commentary on "The pitfalls of heritability "

Abstract

In "The pitfalls of heritability," a review of Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience Times Literary Supplement, Feb 12, 1999, p33], Jerry Hirsch claims to have convicted Wilson of a "confusion about genetic similarity and difference." In his book, Wilson claims that if we assume that "a mere one thousand genes out of the fifty to a hundred thousand genes in the human genome were to exist in two forms in the population," the probability of any two humans--excluding identical siblings--having the same genotype is vanishingly small. Hirsch points out that a single genotype can be produced in more than one way, thus increasing the likelihood of a single genotype recurring in the human population. Hirsch’s point is fair enough as far it goes, but it does not go nearly far enough. Hirsch has failed to carry out all the relevant calculations needed to determine the probability of two humans having the same genotype. In the realm of Vast numbers ("Very much greater than ASTronomical"--Dennett, 1995, p109), increased likelihood in and of itself tells us nothing. Here, then, are some of the relevant calculations

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Author Profiles

Christopher Viger
University of Western Ontario
Daniel C. Dennett
Tufts University

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