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  Degrees of Freedom Richard
Posted: 12/11/2010
In a newspaper article (‘Why genes are left wing’, Guardian 13.10.10) about the degree to which mental health problems have genetic origins, Oliver James presents powerful evidence that the environment is the prime determinant. He quotes Edmund Sonuga-Burke, from an article in Child Psychology and Psychiatry, as averring that ‘serious science is now more than ever focused on the power of the environment..all but the most dogged of genetic determinists have revised their view’.
James claims that even the weaker deterministic notion that genes set up ‘vulnerabilities’ is not supported by research. He quotes a large scale study in support of this claim. Further, he cites Craig Ventnor, a key instigator of the human genome project, who noted that ‘because we only have about 25,000 genes psychological differences could not be much determined by them.’
Charles Murray is reported as claiming, in 2000, that ‘it is almost certainly true’ that the American poor would turn out to have ‘significantly different genes to the affluent’. James says that this prediction is ‘almost certainly false’. He concludes that ‘Childhood maltreatment, economic inequality and excessive materialism seem the main determinants of mental illness.’
A broader conclusion is that there are, as Alphomism claims, limits to the extent of determinism.


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