Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday File

Book and blog recommendations for the weekend.


I just finished reading a splendid book, Barbara Oakley’s Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. Oakley, a systems engineer at Oakland University in Michigan, has done a great service for interested non-scientists by picking apart the intricate genetics of psychopathy and antisocial behavior.

Primarily a history of borderline personality disorder and the “great men” who suffered from it, Oakley takes the “nature-nurture” debate to the next level, asserting that bad behavior is a genetic propensity triggered by environmental influences—precisely the argument I make about addiction in my book, The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction.

Oakley deftly beats back the usual panoply of objections to genomic research—that it is a slippery slope leading to eugenics, or that it is an excuse for bad behavior. Even worse, for many people, Evil Genes suggests that individual ethics are largely biochemically determined. The “successfully sinister,” as she calls them, have a baffling ability to charm their way to the top, and the author suggests some evolutionary reasons why this might be so.

Overall, Oakley makes a strong, eye-opening case for the importance of modern neuroscience in the quest to understand human behavior. This book should come as a serious shock to a generation of lawyers, judges and forensic psychologists who have spent a lifetime adhering to the “blank slate” view of human nature, when the “bad seed” analogy appears to be closer to the truth.


Check out Brain Blogger for a look at “Topics from Multidimensional BioPsychoSocial Perspectives,” as the site is subtitled. Recent posts include articles about antibiotic overuse, gender reassignment, autism, torture, proprioception, neural plasticity, and my own article on marijuana withdrawal, which has drawn a panoply of heated responses.

A fascinating site with a multidisciplinary perspective.

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