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Can culture protect genetics from misuse?

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WASHINGTON U. – ST. LOUIS (US) — In the past, good science has been used for unethical purposes, like eugenics. The concept of culture can protect genetics from a similar fate, an anthropologist argues.

Why is the world so full of “morons” and “degenerates” and what, if anything, can be done to fix them?

These are questions that Robert W. Sussman, PhD, a professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, explored Feb. 15 as he addressed the 2013 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston — one of the world’s largest gatherings of scientific researchers.

Sussman delivered a talk on “The Importance of the Concept of Culture to Science and Society” during a session titled ”The Whole of Culture: Anthropology Back on Track.”

Sussman, author of Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution, says that science has struggled to understand the mysteries of “less-than-human” beings since the late 1400s when the Spanish Inquisition first formalized state persecution of Jews and Muslims.

And while the horrors of Nazi Germany exposed fatal flaws in science’s quest to build the master race, the ethical dilemmas posed by the science of eugenics are far from behind us.

https://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/24954.aspx

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For Sussman, the key starting point for all these discussions should be the understanding that while all human behaviors are driven in some way by our genetic makeup, the vast majority of individual variances result from a person’s social, environmental and cultural exposure.

“The anthropological concept of culture is extremely important and often misunderstood because many of the things that are assumed to be biologically determined, like criminality or homosexuality or IQ, are really behaviorally and societally defined,” says Sussman.

“The only reason they are thought to be biologically inherited is because of a misunderstanding and a lack of understanding of the anthropological concept of culture.”

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