The search to identify and explore the human genome dominated biology and newspaper science pages for more than a decade. The hope was that, soon we could identify the sources of most major illnesses, including schizophrenia, addiction, and bipolar disorder.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, September 17, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Genetics Can't Save Us

The search to identify and explore the human genome dominated biology and newspaper science pages for more than a decade. The hope was that, soon we could identify the sources of most major illnesses, including schizophrenia, addiction, and bipolar disorder. We now know this search has been an utter failure.

Actually, I am being disingenuous. I knew all along this hunt would come up empty, as I wrote (with Rich DeGrandpre) in Psychology Today at the outset of the genome enterprise. And, just as the vast deployment of brain scans has shown the ineradicable gap between brain chemistry and human choice and action, the genome project has paradoxically disproved genetic determinism.

The reasons for this are five-fold:

1. The prayerful hope of genetic determinism in the case of behavior and psychopathology was based on hyped up behavior genetic studies (e.g., of identical twins reared apart, comparing identical and fraternal twins), which were statistical tour de forces designed intentionally to inflate heritability factors.

2. The human chromosome was quickly discovered not to consist of a series of genes linkable to traits - only a small minority of the genome contains material that looks and acts like genes with significant manifestations.

3. The genome is more mobile and malleable than had been deemed possible, with many genes interacting, most DNA serving to impact rates and direction of ontological development, and pre- and post-birth environmental influences changing, sometimes radically, genetic expression.

4. Addiction, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder - among other socially critical maladies - simply do not act like classical diseases with a straightforward biological source and an irreversible epidemiology that manifests itself independent of setting.

5. The entire genome-determines-all concept turns out to have been an American fantasy fueled by our never-ending hope that medical science can cure everything wrong with us. Whether it can make coming generations physically healthier than past ones is open to debate. Whether it can make us happier, better able to accept and relate to others and our world, and more resistant to the lure of addiction has, on the other and, been decisively refuted.