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Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 176 Contents

Socialist Review, June 1994

Sue Caldwell


Map reading the mind


From Socialist Review, No. 176, June 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Language of the Genes
Steve Jones
Flamingo £6.99

Genetics and evolution have always been controversial subjects. Recent advances in our understanding of how genes work have opened up new arguments.

For anyone interested in these debates Steve Jones’s book will provide a lot of useful background material. Although some of the early chapters may be a bit tough going for those with no scientific knowledge of the subject, it is worth persevering.

Jones takes the reader through the ground rules of genetics, on to the latest developments in genetic engineering.

It is here that the book is at its best, covering a wide range of subjects in a readable and informative way. If the aim of the book was to encourage more people to understand and take an interest in the subject, Jones has succeeded. However, the treatment of some of the more controversial debates is a little disappointing.

The development for which the greatest scientific claims are being made, and the greatest sums of money pumped into, is the Human Genome Project. Scientists are sifting through the 3,000 million bases of human DNA (genetic material) to make a ‘map’ of what each one does. The race is on to patent genes for inherited diseases. Many of the advocates of the project have shares in biotechnology companies.

In return, there is the promise of cures for all genetic diseases. So far the results have been unimpressive. Most medical advance is made by studying the disease itself, and the effects of both biology and environment on it. These are precisely the projects – such as cancer and Aids research – that are having their funds cut.

Jones falls into trap that he himself warns against – occasionally espousing the virtues of genetics and underemphasising other effects, such as in his treatment of genetic influence on social behaviour. Although he is clearly opposed to the idea that behaviour is genetically determined, the environmental aspect tends to be treated in a rather offhand manner.

Perhaps these defects are understandable in a book that is, after all, about genetics first and foremost. For those with a rudimentary knowledge of the subject, it’s a very good read.

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