Genes and Ideologies
Evan Charney
There is a trend among behavioral scientists to view ever more complex attitudes or systems of belief as in some sense genetically determined (or “heritable”). Consistent with this trend is the recent article of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing titled “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?” in which the authors claim to have demonstrated that when it comes to the transmission of political ideologies, genes count for more than environment. Their article has received an enormous amount of attention among political scientists and in the popular press. I critically evaluate the research technique on the basis of which the authors’ support their claims and argue that it suffers from significant methodological flaws. Such flaws notwithstanding, I demonstrate that the authors’ data do not clearly support their conclusions. I then question the cogency, from an historical and theoretical perspective, of proposing the existence of “liberal” and “conservative” “phenotypes” and “genotypes.” My argument has implications beyond the findings of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing, and applies to all studies that claim to have demonstrated the heritability of complex and politically relevant attitudes. Researchers in human behavioral genetics have taken an overly simplistic view of human social behaviors and aptitudes. The failure to consider more complex views of the interactions both between genes and between genes and environment may explain the absence of any bona fide findings of genes associated with the behaviors they study. Nevertheless, the studies have often been presented by scientists as if conclusive, thus attracting considerable media and public attention. Journalists have moved from conclusions based upon the simplistic assumptions underlying the studies to present to the public simplistic views of human social problems and human social arrangements. This translation is sometimes encouraged by scientists themselves, providing journalists with provocative statements for their newspapers and magazines.1

here is a growing trend among behavioral scientists (particularly psychologists) and now, political scientists, to view more and more of human behavior as in large measure attributable to our genes. In the old debate of “nature v. nurture,” nature now seems to have


Evan Charney is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University ( An earlier version of this paper was presented as part of a panel on Genetic and Evolutionary Bases of Political Behavior at the 2006 APSA annual meeting. He would like to thank Jonathan Beckwith and Cory A. Morris for agreeing to provide a written response to Alford, Funk, and Hibbing and Hannagan and Hetemi; Tracy Rupp for her many invaluable comments and suggestions; Ira Morgan for helpful exchanges, and the members of the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Polich and the IGSP Center for Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy, and in particular Robert Cook-Deegan and William English. He would especially like to thank Jim Johnson for his clear commitment to genuine debate within the profession as evidenced by his willingness to publish an article that runs counter to the latest vogue in political science.

regained the ascendancy it once held when William Galton, author of Hereditary Genius, wrote in 1875 after one of the first “twin studies,” that as regards behavioral, psychological, and cognitive characteristics, “There is no escape from the conclusion that nature prevails enormously over nurture.” 2 A popular book on genetics asserts triumphantly (on behalf of nature): “Genes not only determine how we look, but how we act, feel, and experience life. In case after case discovered by researchers, nature won out over nurture.” 3 Almost every month a new study appears purporting to show that ever more complex aspects of human intellect, belief, and behavior—everything from intelligence (i.e., IQ) to the level of such complex attitudes or beliefs as altruism, criminality, religiosity, and conservatism—can be explained largely, and in some instances exclusively, by an individual’s genetic makeup.4 Consistent with this trend to view complex aspects of human belief as “heritable” is the argument recently presented by Alford, Funk, and Hibbing in their article, “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?” 5 In this article, the authors claim to have demonstrated that the answer to this question is unambiguously yes, and that “political attitudes are influenced much more by genetics than by parental socialization.” 6 Specifically, they claim to
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Genes and Ideologies
relationship, if any, between genes and political ideology, but to open up a dialogue that can effectively cross subdiscipline boundaries within political science itself, and perhaps even spark a much-needed public dialogue on this subject. I would like to emphasize that many of the claims concerning the heritability of complex human beliefs and attitudes have obvious and profound policy implications. For example, claims concerning the heritability of criminal behavior and the existence of a so-called “criminal gene” have profound implications for the criminal justice system.10 According to Lindsay Elkins, “the discoveries of the Human Genome Project are already shaking the foundations of our legal system, particularly in the area of criminal law.” 11 Claims concerning the heritability of IQ have profound implications for how we view the aims of public education, as well as questions of social and economic justice more generally. The controversy sparked by the claims of Herrnstein and Murray in The Bell Curve concerning the supposed relationship between IQ—which the authors assume to be largely heritable—and race, is well known to all social scientists.12 While no contemporary author, to my knowledge, has discussed in any detail the policy implications of an assumption that political ideology is heritable, they are profound indeed (consider the political ideology of, e.g., a member of al-Qaeda).

have discovered that when it comes to political conservatism, “genetics accounts for approximately half of the variance in ideology, while shared environment including parental influence accounts for only 11%.” 7 Understandably, this astonishing claim has garnered a great deal of attention among both political scientists and in the popular press. As the editor of the American Political Science Review has recently commented, the 2005 article of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing, “has set a new standard for political science in terms of the media attention and public discussion that its publication has provoked,” and he goes on to wonder “whether it will emerge among the most important articles the APSR has ever published.” 8 The claim of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing is indeed astonishing, because if true, it would require nothing less than a revision of our understanding of all of human history, much—if not most—of political science, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well as, perhaps, our understanding of what it means to be human. True to Beckwith’s quote (cited above), the study of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing (hereafter AFH) has been presented by the authors as conclusively demonstrating that political orientations are genetically transmitted, and most of the press coverage has accepted the authors’ claims at face value.9 As yet, there has been no critical response to the authors’ article in any scholarly journals (or in the press), and given the enormous attention their claims have received, and the extraordinary nature of the claims themselves, such a response is sorely needed. It is my objective in this paper to present such a response. In sum, my argument is that the authors have in no way demonstrated their hypothesis concerning the heritability of political ideologies, and that such a hypothesis is, in and of itself, extremely implausible (if not incoherent). Although this paper focuses on the article of AFH, as should be clear, most of the criticisms presented here have a much broader applicability, and could apply equally to many recent claims regarding the heritability of complex human beliefs and attitudes. My argument appears in five sections. First, I present some brief comments concerning the concept of heritability, a concept which is easily (and commonly) misunderstood. Next, I critique the research technique on the basis of which AFH make their claims. I then consider the data presented by AFH and the extent to which it supports the authors’ claims. Following this, I examine a number of issues relating to liberalism and conservatism as political ideologies, both historical and conceptual, and examine the conceptual plausibility of assumptions concerning the heritability of specific political beliefs. This article is eclectic, intentionally so., I present arguments referring to genetics, biology, neurology, research methodology, the nature and history of liberalism and conservatism as political ideologies, political psychology, and the nature of morality and reason. It is my hope here not simply to open up a dialogue on the subject of the
300 Perspectives on Politics

The Meaning of Heritability
Heritability is an estimate of the amount of variation in a given trait (phenotype) in a given population at a given time that is due to genes (genotype). A heritability estimate of .50, for example, does not mean that for any given individual 50 percent of that trait is due to or caused by one’s genes. Rather, it means that 50 percent of the variation in a given trait across an entire population at a given time is the result of differences in persons’ genotypes. Heritability is thus a population-specific estimate; estimates of heritability within a given population do not indicate the causes of phenotypic variation between populations. It is a common misunderstanding that estimates of heritability are fixed and invariable, usually based on the assumption that they reveal something fixed and inevitable (or deterministic) about human biology (as expressed through human genes). To the contrary: The heritability of a trait can change with changes in the environment. In a classic early experiment by Cooper and Zubek, “mazebright” and “maze-dull” mice were separated on the basis of their performance in repeatedly running a maze and then selectively bred for this trait.13 Over several generations the strains diverged in their maze running abilities indicating a genetic basis for the differences in learning and memory involved in this task, and for mice raised in a “standard” environment heritability of this trait was high. The researchers then raised the offspring of the genetically

Figure 1 Gene-environment interdependence among maze-bright and maze-dull rats

Source: Meany 2001, 54.

selected lines in two “extreme environments,” a cognitively poor one (dull colors all around, no toys) and a cognitively enriched one (bright colors and patterns, many toys). Both the bright and dull lines behaved “stupidly” in the poor environment and “smartly” in the enriched one, with the result that the heritability of the trait dropped to zero in both extreme environments. The bright and dull mice may well have inherited whatever genes are linked to intelligence (or maze running aptitude) in mice (which is what they were bred for), but the heritability of the trait of intelligence was shown to be highly dependent upon postnatal environment (see figure 1).14 While the heritability itself of a trait can change significantly with environmental changes, environment can significantly influence traits that are themselves highly heritable. The high heritability of a trait does not entail that it is resistant to environmental influences: “High heritability therefore does not mean low malleability.” 15 An interesting example of this is height. The heritability of height in most populations is about .9, that is, 90 percent of the variation in height can be attributed to genetic factors. The average height of Japanese has increased significantly since WWII with changes in diet, standard of living, and health care, while Americans, who were once three inches taller than their European counterparts, are now surpassed by Europeans, with the Dutch on average three inches taller than Americans.16

stand or fall on the basis of the soundness of the research methods employed. Inasmuch as I write as a political scientist by training, not a behavioral geneticist (and in this, I do not differ from AFH), it is my goal in this section to allow geneticists, as much as possible, to “speak for themselves.” I do not claim that anything that I present in this section is original. Nonetheless, it is vital that those who have read or heard of the findings of AFH (as well as all other studies that rely wholly upon the methodology of twin studies) understand just how little consensus there is in the scientific community concerning the soundness of such studies. Twin studies have been deemed, largely by psychologists, who most commonly undertake such studies, the “new workhorse” of behavioral genetics.17 From reading the conclusions of many such studies purporting to demonstrate the heritability of one or another complex human trait or system of belief, including those of AFH, one would assume that twin studies are a scientific procedure as unproblematic as, say, carbon dating is as a means of determining the age of organic matter (within an acknowledged range of error). To determine the age of certain kinds of organic matter, one performs a carbon dating test; to determine the percentage of a given trait due to genes as opposed to environment, one performs a “twin test” (i.e., conducts a twin study). Were this the case, twin studies would indeed be a research tool of unprecedented power in unraveling the etiology of complex traits (or attitudes or belief systems) and in revealing to what extent such traits may be said to be the product of genes as opposed to environment. Such may be the assumption of some who employ twin studies, but it is a view by no means uncontested in the scientific community. In fact, it is not simply the technique of twin studies that is increasingly questioned by scientists, but many of the basic assumptions that underlie such studies, for example, whether the influences of genes as opposed to environment on a given trait can be neatly partitioned into percentages, or whether viewing nature and nurture as contrasting entities or causal forces is a paradigm that is still plausible in light of recent advances in the biological sciences. Here are several select quotes addressing this issue from prominent researchers in neurology, genetics and biobehavioral health:
Nature-Nurture. What a clever phrase. . .but regrettably, in its nature versus nurture version, it has probably had the negative effect of facilitating, in some quarters, the distorted perception of genetic and environmental factors as antagonistic, competitive factors in a simplistic, either-or causal scheme.18 It is not nature or nurture. Nor is it nature and nurture. . . The search for main effects is a fool’s errand. In the context of modern molecular biology, it is a quest that is without credibility. Nature and nurture do not exist in a manner that can ever be considered independently quantifiable. There is, instead, simply a continuing process of development that emerges from the June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 301

Twin Studies
I begin my analysis of the study of AFH with a consideration of the experimental technique—“classical twin studies”—on the basis of which they make their claims. The importance of beginning here should require no justification: Any conclusions derived from empirical research



Genes and Ideologies
or impairment early on in development can have a huge, cascading impact on the phenotypic outcome.24

constant dialogue between gene and environment . . . Scientific journals, regrettably, continue to provide examples of research attempts to quantify the relative contribution of genetic versus environmental factors to the development of a specific trait, often intelligence.19 Environment influences the actions of genes, and genes via changes in the nervous system influence the sensitivity of an organism to changes in the environment. The two causes are not separable. Statistical procedures that appear to separate variance according to genetic and environmental causes do not provide a valid representation of physiological reality.20

It is because of the growing number of claims of this sort that a recently published book on behavioral genetics, the result of a project undertaken by The Hastings Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, notes the following in the Introduction:
Perhaps most surprising, and perhaps in some ways most difficult for the non-scientist editors of this volume, was the degree of the disagreement of the facts of the matter that we found among the scientists . . . While disputes within science are certainly the norm, not the exception, these disagreements seemed particularly important. It finally appeared to us that we were in what might be called a “transformative” moment in behavioral genetics, in which an awareness of complexity at a variety of levels is causing a reexamination of many terms and assumptions, as well as some hard thinking about whether it will turn out to be true that identifying statistical correlations between genotypes and phenotypes will help us to influence or predict behavior [emphasis in original].25

For example, biologists, geneticists, and medical researchers commonly emphasize the importance of gene-environment interaction in the development of the human brain (including cognitive capacities such as intelligence and language acquisition). To begin with, there are well known facts concerning the role of postnatal environment in normal brain development. Most myelination in the brain is postnatal and synaptogenesis occurs at a high rate during the first year of life, with each neuron developing on average 15,000 synapses by age three.21 Normal brain development does not occur spontaneously or in a vacuum. It develops in an environmentally dependent maturation process, that is, although its developmental stages are genetically determined they must be triggered by specific environmental inputs, known as species-specific experiences, within critical periods of development.22 Language acquisition, for example, is an environmentally-dependent neurobiological window-ofopportunity phenomenon. Studies of so-called “feral” children demonstrate that if children are not exposed to language it cannot be successfully acquired after ages 8–11.23 Disruptions of environment-dependent neurochemical signals during early life may lead to major abnormalities or deficits in neurodevelopment. Disruption of critical neurodevelopmental cues can result from a lack of sensory experience during sensitive periods (e.g., lack of sufficient tactile, auditory, and visual stimulation) or atypical or abnormal patterns of necessary cues due to extremes of experience (e.g., prolonged or traumatic stress). Beyond these well-known features of human brain development and its environmental dependence, cutting-edge research on gene/environment interaction presents a significant challenge to the cogency of the view that there could be such a thing as genes for such features of human cognition as, e.g., intelligence, creativity, or a conservative political orientation:
Simple, direct mappings between genes and cognitive-level outcomes are not sustainable. In fact, genes are likely to contribute to much more general constraints, such as developmental timing, neuronal migration, neuronal type/size/density/orientation, myelination, lamination, ratio of gray matter to white matter, firing thresholds, neurotransmitter differences, and so forth . . . Moreover, once one thinks from a truly developmental neuroconstructivist perspective, it is easy to imagine how even a tiny asynchrony 302 Perspectives on Politics

My aim here is not to examine in any detail this “transformative moment” in behavioral genetics—transformative, that is, for those who acknowledge that it is even occurring. Rather, as noted, it is to focus on one particular aspect of this transformative moment that is crucial for an evaluation of the claims of AFH: questions concerning the validity of twin studies. Studies of Twins Raised Together Classical twin studies compare the similarity of identical or monozygotic (MZ) twins and fraternal or dizygotic (DZ) twins in regard to a particular trait of interest (in the case of AFH, political ideology). MZ twins share 100 percent of their genes while DZ twins share 50 percent of their genes, on average. The underlying assumption of twin studies is that greater concordances in a given trait (or phenotype) among MZ twins, as opposed to DZ twins, are evidence of a genetic influence or component of the trait in question. The greater the level of concordance in MZ as opposed to DZ twins for a given trait, the greater the genetic component of that trait.26 The conceptual simplicity underlying the methodology of twin studies requires that a number of empirical preconditions be met, the most basic and important of which is the Equal Environment Assumption (EEA), i.e., that MZ twins and DZ twins experience similar environments. As Hettema, Neale, and Kendler explain, “the validity of the EEA is crucial because, if incorrect, excess resemblance of MZ twins compared to DZ twins, usually ascribed to genetic factors, could be partly or entirely due to environmental factors.” 27 There is ample evidence that the EEA, if taken literally, does not hold. For example, in one review Evans and Martin state that there is overwhelming empirical evidence to support the claim that MZ twins are treated more alike than DZ twins. As children, MZ

twins are more likely to have the same playmates, share the same room, and dress alike. As adults, MZ twins are more likely to keep in contact than same-sex DZ twins.28 Studies have indicated higher rates of interaction among MZ as opposed to DZ twins; 29 Joseph notes large differences between MZ and DZ twins in experiences such as identity confusion (91 percent versus 10 percent), being brought up as a unit (72 percent versus 19 percent), being inseparable as children (73 percent versus 19 percent); and having an extremely strong level of closeness (65 percent versus 19 percent) 30. Studies have also shown that parents “hold more similar expectations for their MZ than DZ twins with respect to social responsibility and independence.” 31 Furthermore, it is well established that physical appearance can have a profound effect upon how individuals are treated.
Differences in physical attractiveness affect the social desirability judgments which people form of others. . . . From infancy to old age, there is a strong tendency to attribute more positive qualities to those who are physically attractive relative to those who are physically unattractive. Attractiveness may be used as a cue to signal status.32

of these studies of “reverse zygosity,” however, relied upon parental accounts of how they raised their twin children many years later. Because of problems with biased impressions,38 poor memory, and poor reliability, studies that rely upon parental recall of their child rearing practices have been shown to be notoriously unreliable, typically showing reliability measures of only 0.3–0.5.39 Studies of Twins Raised Apart It has been argued that objections regarding possible confounding effects of environment on the results of twin studies have received their most effective refutation from so-called studies of twins raised apart. 40 The idea behind studies of twins raised apart is that inasmuch as the MZ and DZ twins being studied are not raised in the same environment, any possible confounding effects that could result from the possibility that MZ twins are treated more alike than DZ twins will be eliminated. But studies of twins raised apart suffer from the same possibility or probability of significant environmental confounding effects as studies of twins raised together. Here are five more commonly cited possible (or probable) effects (which by no means comprises a complete list of all of the objections that have been raised concerning environmental confounding effects in such studies): 1. In no study to date of twins raised apart is it the case that all of the twins being studied were separated at birth; most often, in fact, they have not. In some well-known studies, twins who have been raised together up until ages 4, 6, and 11 were held to be “twins raised apart” for the purposes of the study.41 This astonishing (and oddly unnoticed) fact means that so-called studies of twins raised apart are in fact no such thing; at best, they are studies of twins raised partially apart. This leaves open the possibility of many years of confounding environmental influences during the most formative period of development in a child’s life.42 2. In no twin study to date is it the case that all of the twins studied have had no contact after separation. Often, many of the twins have had ongoing relationships lasting for many years. The potential confounding effects here are significant because given the demonstrated greater levels of contact between MZ as opposed to DZ twins—“MZAs [“monozygotic twins raised apart”] are more likely to be aware of each others’ existence and to have had more prestudy contact than DZAs [“dizygotic twins raised apart”]—there is a greater opportunity for MZ twins to influence each other’s attitudes.43 3. Studies of twins raised apart depend upon the assumption that the environments in which the separated twins are raised are “dissimilar.” But over thirty years ago, researchers found this not to be the case:
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This fact is particularly significant for twin studies, inasmuch as MZ twins are much more likely to closely resemble one another than DZ twins and are therefore much more likely to experience the same social treatment that comes with “social desirability judgments” based upon physical appearance:
Physically attractive people receive more cultural rewards than physically unattractive people, . . . a response that develops from social as well as genetic reasons. Because monozygotic twins have greater physical resemblance to each other than dizygotic twins, they could have a greater chance of receiving similar social reactions, which in turn can affect a variety of outcomes.33

Greater environmental similarities by themselves, however, do not negate the validity of twin studies, since it is possible that “some environmental exposures that MZ twins share more often than DZ twins may simply have no effect on the trait in question.” 34 In fact many, if not most researchers who support the validity of twin studies accept that the EEA, if conceived as requiring environments that are “actually” similar, does not hold.35 Proponents of a modified, or what is sometimes referred to as traitrelevant EEA, “recognize that identical twins are treated more similarly and spend significantly more time together than fraternals, but claim that the evidence shows that greater environmental similarity does not lead to higher concordance [for the specific trait under consideration].” 36 The problem with studies in support of this proposition is that they have been shown to have significant methodological flaws. For example, studies of a tiny subpopulation of DZ twins mistakenly thought by their parents to be MZ twins purport to show that the degree of correspondence between MZ twins still exceeds that of DZ twins.37 Most



Genes and Ideologies
5. Studies of twins raised apart are particularly vulnerable to selection bias. In many studies, twins “were self-recruited, attracted by reports of reunited twins appearing in the press.” 50 Inasmuch as such stories were full of accounts of the uncanny similarities among MZ twins, there is the potential that those who either volunteered for, or agreed to participate in such studies, did so out of a pre-existing belief in their own “uncanny similarities.” 51 I have not, of course, demonstrated that any of the confounding effects I have noted above are responsible for the concordances observed by Alford, Funk, and Hibbing which they deem to be statistically significant—in the case of AFH, the confounding effects are those associated with studies of twins raised together—but neither have AFH proved that genes rather than confounding effects are responsible. As with most twin studies, all that AFH have observed are a series of concordances in the self-reported attitudes of twins which they deem to be statistically significant. On the basis of these observed concordances, they then hypothesize that the cause of these concordances is genes. They have not discovered a set of genes corresponding to their hypothesis of genetic causation (nor have any other researchers in regard to complex cognitive and psychological traits). What I am hypothesizing—or presenting as a counter-hypothesis—is that the cause of these concordances is one or more of the environmental concordances noted above, a causal explanation that seems a good deal more obvious and intuitive than one which invokes genes. I cannot, of course, employ what I have argued is a fundamentally flawed methodology to prove that the concordances observed by AFH are in fact due to environment as opposed to genes (i.e., are due to what amount to confounding effects from the perspective of the methodology).52 It might appear at this point that we have two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon and that, embracing the principle of lex parsimonae, we should embrace the less complicated formulation. But we need not go so far as to ask which explanation is less complicated, for the principle of lex parsimonae depends upon an assumption that both explanations are equally valid.53 As I shall argue in what follows, such is not the case.

[Kamin] found that twins who were placed in new homes by adoption agencies tended to end up in similar environments; for example, the adopting families tended to be from the same social class. Second, in many cases the separated twins were placed by family members in the homes of relatives, so that they often went to the same school, and interacted with each other frequently.44

Because of such problems, in more recent studies researchers have attempted to “quantify” various aspects of the home environment into which members of the adopted pair were placed, undertaking such “measures” as counting the number of books and the availability of household “facilities” such as power tools and original artwork.45 But the problem with such (crude) attempts to quantify environmental influences is summed up by Beckwith as follows:
How do we know what combination of factors both in the home and in the outside environment may provide the appropriate mix for development of the complex capabilities or behavioral problems that are being measured? How can researchers assess the less tangible features of such environments, such as the daily interactions between the parent and the child, that cannot be so easily quantified? While they have taken into account retrospective impressions of family environment by separated twins, such retrospective impressions are often thought to be subject to distortion.46

It might be argued that none of this constitutes a problem unless it could be shown that separated MZ twins are more likely to be placed in more similar homes than DZ twins, which might be considered unlikely,47 but in the absence of knowledge as to what the relevant environmental “similarities” might be, and whether or not they could affect the trait in question, it is impossible to judge the correctness of this assertion. But beyond this, Kamin and Goldberger note that in one of the well-known studies of twins raised apart, the investigators submitted results of two questionnaires dealing with childhood family environment to a factor analysis. For one factor, labeled Support, the average MZA and DZA r was 0.41 and −0.01, respectively. These results might be interpreted as indicating that selective placement was substantially greater for MZAs than for DZAs, leading to more similarity of outcomes for the MZAs.48 4. In all studies of twins raised apart, the potential confounding effects of the much greater physical resemblance of MZ twins remains a significant problem: “Aside from the environment in which they are raised, the identical appearance of [MZ] twins, even though they are separated, can mean that their interactions with the outside world are much more similar than for any two randomly selected people [and for any randomly selected pair of DZ twins].” 49
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The Findings of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing
In my opinion, the problems with classical twin studies, if applied to as complex a system of belief as a political ideology, are overwhelming.54 But now I would like to proceed as if there were no such problems, and turn to a consideration of the results of the twin study of AFH. AFH essentially replicate (with a different study population) an earlier study by Bouchard et al., in which separated MZ and DZ twins were administered the Wilson-Patterson Attitude Inventory (W-P), which is

intended to provide an “overall index of conservatism.” 55 In administering the inventory, subjects are presented with a word or phrase, such as “pajama parties” or “computer music,” to which respondents must select from the responses “yes,” “no,” and “uncertain.” AFH selected 28 items from the 50-item W-P inventory that they considered to be more politically relevant.56 From these responses the authors worked out estimates of the heritability of “political ideology” (in this case, conservatism) by comparing the responses for MZ pairs with those of DZ pairs. The conclusion the authors draw from the comparison of MZ and DZ twin responses is that “political attitudes are influenced much more by genetics than by parental socialization.” 57 In characterizing the data from W-P inventory the authors state that “we see from [the table of responses to the W-P items] that the impact of shared environment exceeds that of heritability in only four of the twenty eight items and the mean estimate of heritability for the 28 W-P items is .32, compared to a mean estimate of shared environmental influence of .16.” 58 They further comment that “while the individual items provide interesting variations, the purpose of the W-P is to provide an overall index of conservatism.” 59 To this end, they compute a simple index by assigning a value of 1 to any “conservative” response, like a “no” on modern art, and a 1 to any “liberal” response, like a “yes” on modern art. Hence, in calculating conservatism, attitudes toward astrology, modern art, and military drills are afforded precisely the same weight as attitudes toward abortion and gay rights. Furthermore, an examination of the table of “Attitude Items” from the W-P scale reveals that the four items for which, according to the authors’ estimates, environment exceeds heritability, are attitudes toward abortion, gay rights, liberals, and living together (see table 1). It is not entirely clear what the authors intend by the term “conservative,” nor does the term, taken by itself, have a single and unambiguous denotation or connotation (a point I shall return to). For the moment and for simplicity’s sake, I will identify the term “conservative” with those distinct political views held by voters at the present time in the United States 60 who are self-identified as “social-conservatives” (as opposed to, e.g., “fiscal conservatives”); this includes such groups as “right” or “conservative” Republicans and “Christian conservatives.” Among groups such as these, perhaps no issues are held to be of greater importance at the present time in the United States, or more sharply divide conservatives from liberals, than their views concerning abortion and gay rights. For example, consider the results of a Zogby poll of voters conducted just before the last presidential election (table 2). In response to the question “Which of the following moral issues most influenced your vote in this election?,” 32.8 percent of conservative voters ranked the Iraq war first, followed by abortion (21.4 percent) and same sex mar-

riage (18.7 percent); and in response to the question, “Which is the most urgent moral problem in American culture?,” the largest percentage of conservatives (30 percent) responded that it was abortion, followed by same sex-marriage (26.5 percent). Recent debates over the views of Supreme Court nominees on abortion, along with the new push among conservatives for a “marriage amendment” to the Constitution, demonstrate that abortion and gay rights are the central concerns of conservatives which divide them from liberals at the present time in the United States. According to AFH, “it has long been known that certain issues seem ‘hard’ to people, while others seem ‘easy,’ presumably because some issues trigger ‘gut responses’ while others do not,” and they conjecture that “in light of the new findings, one distinct possibility is that easy ‘gut’ issues tend to be those that are more heritable.” 61 If by easy the authors intend something like “obvious” or “unambiguous” or clear to those who hold them (as opposed to “easy to resolve politically”), then it is indeed true that persons often feel most impassioned—as in having a “gut response”—about those issues that they consider both to be critically important and to be, from their perspective, unambiguously right or wrong. I can think of no two issues at the present time in the United States that more accurately fit this description of a “gut issue” for conservatives (more heritable as AFH conjecture) than abortion and gay rights (less heritable according to their data). To be sure, there are other items on the edited W-P index presented by AFH that one would tend to correlate with contemporary social conservatism in the United States, the most important of which at the present time is, perhaps, school prayer. But even an issue such as school prayer trails behind abortion and gay rights in terms of importance to conservatives. Opposition to abortion and gay rights is so central and defining for social conservatives at present in the United States that it is not entirely clear that one could be a social conservative and agree with either of these. And this is even more obviously the case concerning whether or not one “agrees with liberals,” another attitude item from the W-P index found not to be heritable by AFH. Liberals are, in effect, the “antithesis” of conservatives, an opposition exploited by AFH themselves in working out their dichotomous liberal-conservative phenotypes/genotypes. Could one ever conceivably be a conservative and simultaneously agree with liberals? The problem with assigning an equal numeric value ( 1, 1) to all of the attitude items on the edited W-P index should now be apparent. If we are using an additive model in which overall conservatism is calculated by adding up one’s plus ( 1) or minus ( 1) responses to the items on the W-P index, such an equal numerical weighting allows for the following anomalous result: One could agree with abortion rights, agree with gay rights, disagree
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Genes and Ideologies

Table 1 Genetic and environmental influences on political attitudes: The 28 individual Wilson-Patterson Items
Polychoric Correlation MZ Attitude Item School prayer Property tax Moral Majority Capitalism Astrology The draft Pacifism Unions Republicans Socialism Foreign aid X-rated movies Immigration Women’s liberation Death penalty Censorship Living together Military drill Gay rights Segregation Busing Nuclear power Democrats Divorce Abortion Modern art Federal housing Liberals 28-item mean Corr. 0.66 0.47 0.42 0.53 0.48 0.41 0.34 0.44 0.48 0.43 0.41 0.63 0.45 0.46 0.56 0.40 0.67 0.38 0.60 0.38 0.43 0.42 0.47 0.47 0.64 0.43 0.36 0.44 0.47 n 2,687 2,643 2,614 2,609 2,631 2,641 2,576 2,661 2,627 2,616 2,669 2,685 2,658 2,666 2,684 2,629 2,679 2,625 2,658 2,653 2,670 2,646 2,639 2,659 2,668 2,662 2,665 2,629 2,648 Corr. 0.46 0.46 0.22 0.34 0.28 0.21 0.15 0.26 0.30 0.25 0.23 0.46 0.29 0.30 0.40 0.25 0.52 0.24 0.46 0.24 0.30 0.29 0.34 0.34 0.52 0.30 0.26 0.35 0.31 DZ n 1,774 1,774 1,717 1,720 1,721 1,753 1,686 1,752 1,734 1,726 1,771 1,783 1,784 1,779 1,775 1,718 1,771 1,733 1,767 1,743 1,766 1,744 1,726 1,765 1,768 1,765 1,766 1,734 1,748 Heritability 2 * (MZ − DZ) 0.41 0.41 0.40 0.39 0.39 0.38 0.38 0.37 0.36 0.36 0.35 0.35 0.33 0.33 0.32 0.30 0.30 0.29 0.28 0.27 0.26 0.26 0.26 0.26 0.25 0.25 0.20 0.18 0.32 Shared Environment (2 * DZ) − MZ 0.25 0.06 0.03 0.14 0.09 0.02 −0.04 0.07 0.12 0.07 0.06 0.28 0.12 0.13 0.24 0.10 0.37 0.09 0.32 0.11 0.16 0.16 0.21 0.21 0.39 0.18 0.16 0.26 0.16 Unshared Environment 1 − MZ 0.34 0.53 0.58 0.47 0.52 0.59 0.66 0.56 0.52 0.57 0.59 0.37 0.55 0.54 0.44 0.60 0.33 0.62 0.40 0.62 0.57 0.58 0.53 0.53 0.36 0.57 0.64 0.56 0.53 Z for (MZ − DZ) Difference* 9.83 7.66 7.16 7.85 7.39 6.94 6.43 6.89 6.91 6.53 6.42 8.15 6.20 6.27 6.83 5.36 7.54 5.24 6.26 4.83 4.92 4.84 4.96 4.99 6.23 4.69 3.61 3.40

Source: Access to the data provided by Eaves et al., principal investigators, Virginia 30k twin study. *The MZ-DZ correlation difference is statistically significant for all the table items at the 0.01 level or above.

with prayer in public schools, disagree with the moral majority, agree with women’s liberation and in general, agree with liberals, and still be considered a conservative because one’s responses on the remaining items would still add up to a number greater than the sum of one’s “nonconservative” responses. Conservatism (at the present time in the United States) cannot accurately be measured by assigning an equal numeric value to one’s attitudes concerning gay rights, abortion, school prayer, and for liberals, one’s attitudes toward astrology, modern art, federal housing, and military drills. It might be objected that none of this matters because according to AFH all of the items on the W-P index showed, as they assert, a “statistically significant” genetic component.62 But the problem with this objection is that what the authors are claiming to have demonstrated is that genes count for more than environment when it comes
306 Perspectives on Politics

to the transmission of political ideologies. Their claims do not concern the heritability of “discrete” and potentially disconnected attitudes of political relevance. To the extent that their claim does concern the heritability of political ideologies, it is not obviously supported by their own data.

Liberal and Conservative “Phenotypes”
Central to evaluating the claim that political ideologies are heritable, or have a heritable component, is an understanding of precisely what is intended by such a claim. What Alford, Funk and Hibbing say in this regard is neither entirely clear nor consistent. For example, they assert that “the connection between genes and attitudes may not involve specific attitudes as much as the flexibility of attitudes” 63 and, “individual genes for individual behaviors

Table 2 Zogby Poll, 2004 presidential election
All voters Liberals Moderates 47.2% 6.4% 4.7% 7.8% 9.0% 3.1% 12.0% 9.1% 40.8% 37.6% 5.8% 6.7% 9.1% Conservatives? 32.8% 21.4% 18.7% 0.9% 1.3% 2.0% 9.0% 13.3% 24.3% 6.0% 30.0% 26.5% 13.3% Which of the following most influenced your vote in this election? Iraq War 42.3% 54.6% Abortion 12.8% 3.3% Same-Sex Marriage 9.3% 2.8% Poverty 7.4% 16.6% Health Care 5.6% 9.1% Preventing Stem-Cell Research 2.1% 1.5% None 7.0% 2.4% Other 13.3% 1.9% Which of the following is the most urgent moral problem in American culture? Greed/Materialism 32.6% 34.9% Poverty/Economic Justice 30.6% 61.4% Abortion 15.7% 0.3% Same-Sex Marriage 12.3% 1.5% None/No Response 8.9% 1.9%

Nat National survey of 10,660 who voted in last week’s presidential election. Survey was conducted Nov. 3–Nov. 4. Sample drawn from voters of all parties. Margin of error 1 percentage point. Source: Zogby International.

do not exist.” 64 Yet at the same time, they set forth the features of what they term liberal and conservative phenotypes (corresponding to liberal and conservative genotypes), which are largely a collection specific of attitudes; for example, a favorable attitude toward unbending moral and behavioral codes and swift and severe punishments for violations of that code (conservative phenotype), or an unfavorable view of preset punishment, hierarchy, and social inequality (liberal phenotype). They also propose specific genes for these specific attitudes.65 I shall examine each of what appear to be two distinct claims or proposals in turn— specific attitudes are not heritable, but rather a “flexibility of attitudes,” and specific attitudes are heritable, namely the specific attitudes that comprise the liberal-conservative phenotypes. I begin with the latter. In positing the existence of liberal and conservative “phenotypes” (and genotypes), AFH claim to have answered the following question:
Why is a reasonably standard left-right spectrum widely applicable cross-culturally and over time? The universal left-right elements of belief systems around the world and over decades are difficult to explain . . . [T]he package of attitudes held, for example, by conservatives in the United States is remarkably similar to that held by conservatives in other cultures and at earlier times in American history.66

The left/right political divide, in the sense AFH intend, is a decidedly modern phenomenon, with distinct historical origins in the eighteenth century. Originally, the defining point on the ideological spectrum was attitudes toward the ancien regime in France; the right implied support for aristocratic, royal, or clerical interests, while the left implied radical and egalitarian sympathies, as well as support for laissez-faire capitalism and free markets.67 Liberalism, in an identifiably modern form, has its origins in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England, France, and America, while conservatism, as a self-conscious political ideology defined, in part, by its opposition to Enlightenment liberal principles, was born in the aftermath of the French Revolution.68 Nor is it the case that the “package of attitudes” held by liberals and conservatives today is remarkably similar to those held in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Consider conservatism:
Modern American conservatism is very different from European conservatism, or from conservatism traditionally understood. For one thing, conservatism in this country is “modern,” and for another, it is “American.” Ours is not the “throne and altar” conservatism that once defined European conservatism, and that is still characteristic of many Europeans on the right. These conservatives were true reactionaries. They sought to preserve the ancien regime and the prerogatives of king and church against the arrival of modern science, modern capitalism, and modern democracy.69

But if this is the problem that the authors claim to have solved, then they have solved a non-existent problem, for their characterization of a standard left-right spectrum as universal, existing in all cultures in all times, is completely historically inaccurate.

Modern liberalism differs in fundamental respects from what is sometimes called classical liberalism. For example, classical liberals, associated with early modern figures such
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Liberal phenotype: Pro-attitudes toward out-groups (greater tolerance), context-dependent rather than rule-based approaches to proper behavior, and group togetherness. Con-attitudes toward preset punishments, hierarchy, certainty, strong leadership, and inequality; an optimistic view of human nature; greater empathy.75

as Locke and Smith were much more tolerant of economic inequality. By contrast, by the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, a growing body of liberal thought held that the maintenance of “liberal freedom” required a certain amount of government intervention in the economy and the creation of social welfare programs of one form or another 70 (an idea turned into partial political reality in the United States during the Roosevelt administration 71 ). It is this latter conception of liberalism—“egalitarian” or “welfare state” liberalism— given canonical formulation in the late twentieth century by John Rawls’s in A Theory of Justice—that today is commonly associated with liberalism in contemporary American society. Not only is it not the case that the “package of attitudes” associated with liberalism and conservatism, left and right, have remained remarkably stable for the past 300 years, it is also not the case that there has ever existed any single “package of attitudes” that define liberalism and conservatism and unite all of their varied historical manifestations. It is doubtful that any ideology possesses an unchanging “core cluster” of political beliefs that effectively distinguishes it from all other ideologies, which makes the assumption of AFH that there exist discrete liberal and conservative “phenotypes” particularly problematic. As evolving and shifting historical modes of thought, ideologies are fundamentally hybrid and interconnecting phenomena. As Jeremy Waldron notes:
It is fruitless, not only to look for a core of common characteristics, but also to think that we can find distinguishing or peculiar characteristics which differentiate views in one tradition from those in another. Liberal moderatism fades into conservatism; the conservative’s concern for community matches the socialist’s; the socialist claims to take the liberal concern for freedom more seriously than liberals themselves, and so on.72

In a similar vein, Alan Ryan writes:
Anyone trying to give a brief account of liberalism is immediately faced with an embarrassing question: are we dealing with liberalism or with liberalisms? It is easy to list famous liberals; it is harder to say what they have in common . . . They do not agree about the boundaries of toleration, the legitimacy of the welfare state, and the virtues of democracy, to take three rather central political issues. They do not even agree on the nature of the liberty they think liberals ought to seek (Berlin 1969, 122–34).73

The problem with attempting to propose a core cluster of attitudes that distinguishes, in all times and places, one political ideology from another, is evident in AFH’s attempt to characterize the liberal and conservative phenotypes, which they do as follows 74 :
Conservative phenotype: Pro-attitudes toward in-group unity, strong leadership, clear and unbending moral and behavioral codes, swift and severe punishments for violations of this code, and “systematization;” a suspicion of out-groups; toleration of social inequality; a pessimistic view of human nature. 308 Perspectives on Politics

Not surprisingly, in light of what has just been noted concerning the historical and hybrid nature of political ideologies, much of what AFH classify as distinctive of liberal or conservative attitudes (or phenotypes) could easily characterize either. For example, a “faith in human nature” is characterized as a liberal belief (or attitude), but some of our most basic liberal institutions have been defended on the basis of a thoroughly pessimistic view of human nature, e.g., Madison in the Federalist Papers famously wrote that “the latent causes of faction are sown in the seeds of human nature,” and “have rendered persons much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for the common good.” 76 A desire for “clear and unbending moral and behavioral codes,” classified as a conservative attitude, could just as well characterize a liberal supporter of constitutionalism and the rule of law (as opposed to say, the whims of a king, pope, or mullah), or a liberal advocate of an expansive list of international human rights. In fact, liberals from Kant to Rawls have been accused of being “rule worshippers” in their insistence that certain moral principles, such as “rights,” be upheld regardless of the consequences,77 which does not square well with the sweeping characterization of liberals as having a “context-dependent” rather than “ruledependent” approach to human nature. Taking a contextdependent approach to human nature is, if anything, much more characteristic of conservatism in its varied historical manifestations, inasmuch as one of the defining features of conservatism is a belief that political wisdom is embodied in the particular “context-dependent” beliefs and practices of a particular society rather than in “abstract universal principles.” 78 Liberals may or may not be averse to inequality depending upon what type of inequality is being referred to and what type of liberal one considers oneself. As noted, classical liberals, represented in recent decades by such thinkers as Hyeck, Freidman, and Nozick (who are sometimes called libertarians—and even “conservatives”!) have no problem accepting large inequalities in wealth and income and are generally opposed to redistributive taxation. And in any given individual today, one might find a mix of what are listed by AFH as liberal and conservative attitudes. Conservative Catholics, for example, tend to support clear and unbending moral and behavioral codes (conservative phenotype), but are also opposed to capital punishment (liberal phenotype); and while they accept the hierarchy of the Church (conservative phenotype), they oppose large-scale inequalities of wealth and income and historically have been champions of the poor (liberal phenotype).

Liberalism and conservatism cannot be captured by a distinct and unchanging core “cluster of political attitudes.” Any attempt to do so is a distortion of the complex history of these two ideologies. Nor is this problem alleviated if we shift to the more general—and more ambiguous—terms left and right (as when AFH speak of a “left-right divide”). The idea might be that left and right are political “spectra” or “axes” along which all ideologies can be ranked. But the problem here is the same as that with liberalism and conservatism: There exist no clear cut, ahistorical clusters of attitudes that can comprise the endpoints, as it were, of the “left-right spectrum,” a spectrum along which we could meaningfully place all of the ideologies that have ever existed. AFH write, in fact, as if left and right are not really a spectrum at all, but rather are terms equivalent to liberalism and conservatism. Regardless of what one thinks of the usefulness of the left/right axis as a classificatory scheme, it is customary to characterize ideologies as left of liberalism (e.g., socialism and communism) and right of conservatism (e.g., reactionism). And the usefulness of such a linear left-right spectrum is increasingly challenged.79 There is no real consensus as to what exactly this spectrum is supposed to be measuring and where precisely to place specific ideologies. Talk of ideologies and a political spectrum points to another significant problem with AFH’s characterization of liberalism and conservatism; for they write as if these two ideologies divide the political universe between them, as if they are the only political ideologies that have ever existed. Far from dividing the political universe, liberalism and conservatism have been pre-dated by, had to share the historical stage with, and had to compete with ideologies as diverse as theocratism, monarchism, anarchism, Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism, socialism, fascism, and totalitarianism. And what of non-Western political ideologies throughout history? Ancient Egypt, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Islam have all given rise to manifold and distinctive political ideologies throughout history, all of which could be called liberal or conservative, left or right, only by engaging in extreme procrustean distortion. In characterizing the liberal-conservative divide as in effect “universal,” AFH have committed the fallacy of taking the local and particular for the universal. In characterizing the political attitudes of twenty-first century Americans they assume that they have characterized the political attitudes of all mankind in all times and places (or mankind abstracted from all times and places). The commission of such a fallacy is possible only by paying insufficient attention to both history and culture, and the lack of such attention seems naturally to be fostered by two of AFH’s assumptions. The first, already examined, is that there exist trans-cultural and trans-historical liberal and conservative phenotypes/genotypes. The second is that “political attitudes are influenced much more by genetics than by parental socialization.” 80 For “paren-

tal socialization” can only be socialization within a particular culture in a particular historical period, and if such socialization matters less than genes in the etiology of political attitudes, then the same is true of culture and history.81 Yet even if, for the sake of argument, we could agree on a universal set of attitudes that meaningfully distinguishes liberal from conservative ideologies, or the left from the right in all times and places, there remains the difficulty that while AFH acknowledge that heritability is not a matter of the genetic transmission of particular attitudes, we are presented with “phenotypes” that are essentially a collection of particular attitudes.82 In fact, the authors go so far as to tie specific attitudes to specific genes (or groups of genes), conjecturing that while the genes that make up the liberal and conservative phenotypes tend to “move together,” they need not always do so:
Even if the individual genes involved with absolutism or contextualism [the broader “world orientation” phenotypes of which, according to AFH, the liberal-conservative phenotypes are a part] tend to move together, this does not mean that they always do. Some individuals may carry, say, the absolutist’s aversion to outgroups but a contextualist’s rejection of a universal behavioral code.83

This characterization as to how genes—and attitudes— might move warrants comment. It suggests what might be termed a discrete “attitude unit” view of political ideologies. That is, an ideology is composed of a set of distinct attitudes or beliefs, each particular attitude the product of a corresponding gene (or set of genes). These specific genes—and the corresponding attitudes—can, even if they tend to be grouped in certain patterns (as in the liberalconservative phenotypes), be rearranged in conceivably any pattern (depending on how the discrete genes move). Were this true, ideologies would lack any overarching (or underlying) “themes” or principles that united the beliefs of which they were comprised in some coherent fashion. Ideologies would in effect be a random concatenation of discrete “attitude units.” Now AFH do say that “for the most part” the beliefs that comprise the liberal-conservative phenotypes do “move together.” 84 But why do they “move together”? For example, why are libertarians committed to a strong conception of equal (negative) rights and simultaneously accepting of inequalities in wealth and income? Were we to assume that these two sets of attitudes—support for certain basic equal rights, acceptability of unequal wealth and income—as discrete attitude units, just happened to move together, then libertarianism, and every other ideology, would ultimately be meaningless, a happenstance concatenation of discrete attitudes.85 In libertarianism, these two attitudes are linked as part of a normative system; to understand libertarianism is to understand the reason why these two beliefs cohere. To say that they
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political beliefs, i.e., political ideologies are “derivative of ” heritable personality traits. The idea that it is personality traits and not political ideologies that are heritable might appear to answer some of the objections raised above. We might conjecture that a given heritable personality trait would manifest itself in terms of one political ideology in one culture at a given time and in another political ideology in another culture or the same culture at a different time. Thus we would say that genetically transmitted personality trait X, while correlated with political attitude(s) Z among a specific population, is not itself attitude Z, but in a different, time, place, and culture, would manifest itself as attitude W. The idea that there is some connection between specific personality traits and the holding of specific political ideologies has a long and venerable pedigree in political science and political psychology, extending back at least as far as Plato’s Republic. It is also an idea that does not in any way depend upon assumptions concerning the heritability of personality traits, i.e., personality traits have often been linked by theorists with political ideologies in the absence of any distinct assumptions as to how those personality traits are acquired (e.g., genes, early childhood experiences, education, parental/societal indoctrination, etc.). In making causal connections between so-called personality traits and particular beliefs or attitudes there is a constant temptation to define a given trait as simply having the particular set of attitudes for which one is trying to account. But these personality traits, whatever they may be, cannot be defined in circular fashion by the very attitudes to which they are supposed to give rise; we must be able to identify a distinct set of traits that while correlated with a distinct set of beliefs can be characterized apart from those beliefs. As noted earlier, AFH talk of specific genes (or a specific gene) as being associated with specific political beliefs in a quite precise way.89 If we are to assume that it is personality traits that are heritable then it would be necessary to correlate a distinct personality trait with each of the pro and con attitudes the authors list as comprising the liberal-conservative phenotypes, keeping in mind that the personality trait in question cannot be defined as, e.g., “an aversion to out groups” (conservative phenotype) or “a dislike of universal behavioral codes” (liberal phenotype). The authors do not attempt this, and it is doubtful that one could ever imagine a distinct personality trait to be correlated with every one of the attitudes listed as comprising the liberal-conservative phenotypes. And any attempt to do so would be extremely problematic, if not silly. What specific (and presumably heritable) personality trait would one propose to correlate with “a desire to take a more context dependent rather than rule-dependent approach to proper behavior” (liberal phenotype) or “a fondness for systematization” (conservative phenotype)?

cohere because that’s just the way that certain genes tend to move (as part of the libertarian phenotype) is to fail to understand the ideology; or put another way, it is to fail to comprehend the ideology as an ideology. Furthermore, could genes move in such a way that an individual ends up holding, for example, mutually exclusive propositions, such as a belief in radical equality and a favorable view of hierarchy? What is to preclude such a possibility on a view in which simply the movement of genes determines which group of beliefs will end up being lumped together to form an ideology? (And if one is inclined to deny that this could ever happen, one should ask oneself if this denial is based upon principles of genetics, or rather, principles of reason and rationality). To return to the problem of the genetic transmission of particular political attitudes, what might be the problem with such an assumption? An attitude such as a favorable view of swift and severe punishments presupposes an enormous amount of latent knowledge somehow encoded in our genes—of the existence and characteristics of regulative social norms (e.g., laws, conventions, taboos), of the existence and characteristics of the social practice of punishment for violations of those norms, of the normative significance of both social norms and punishment, of the normative significance of such punishments being swift and severe (as opposed to being slow and lenient). In fact, it presupposes something like an entire culture. Punishment is a normative social practice, an institutional means of maintaining social order and control and, as such, is what John Searle calls an institutional fact, like other social institutions and practices such as money, property, and marriage.86 Institutional facts determine socially defined behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes, and in the words of Sir Michael Rutter, “genes do not, and cannot, code for socially defined behaviors.” 87

Personality and Political Ideology
One way to avoid these difficulties is to assume that AFH do not actually mean that specific political attitudes are heritable (despite all that they say). This brings us to their suggestion that “the connection between genes and attitudes may not involve specific attitudes as much as the flexibility of attitudes . . . Individual genes for individual behaviors do not exist.” It is for this reason, presumably, that AFH invoke the concept of “personality” in explaining the heritability of political ideologies: “We . . . predict that attitudes on political issues tracking most closely to central personality traits are generally heritable since personality traits are generally heritable and since the heritability of social attitudes is likely derivative of the heritability of various personality traits.” 88 The claim appears to be that personality traits are heritable, not political ideologies or political attitudes, and that these heritable personality traits are correlated with
310 Perspectives on Politics

And any personality trait proposed would entail that liberal and conservative individuals would have or lack the personality trait in question depending upon whether or not they were liberals or conservatives. Thus, were one to suggest that, e.g., “irascibility”—a tendency to be easily angered—was the heritable personality trait correlated with “a desire for swift and severe punishments,” this would entail that there could be no (or very few) “irascible” liberals. The one suggestion that AFH do give concerning those heritable personality traits that are presumed to give rise to distinct political ideologies is a reference to “openness”: “One of psychology’s ‘Big 5’ personality traits is general openness and it seems likely degree of openness is relevant to the political arena. Liberals and conservatives, on average, differ in their openness to atheism, homosexuality, communism, immigration, and counter-cultural activities.” 90 Of course, conservatives could be characterized as being more “open” than liberals to, e.g., a theistic worldview, maintaining traditional moral standards concerning sexuality, the institution of private property, immigration quotas, and upholding traditional cultural practices in general. Unless one assumes that one can only be “open” to liberal principles, we need a more informative definition of “openness” to evaluate the authors’ claim. And I will simply assert that it is doubtful that any non-tendentious use of the term “openness” as a personality trait will yield the result that only liberals can have an “open” personality.91

I have argued the following: First, that the research technique employed by AFH—twin studies—is, according to many prominent scientists, based upon a faulty paradigm, namely, that in studying the origin of complex traits or attitudes or beliefs, genes and environment (or nature and nurture) can be meaningfully partitioned in such a way that the causal effects of each can be precisely quantified by statistical methods. Second, that the same research technique is, according to many prominent scientists, susceptible to so many confounding effects that there are good reasons to be skeptical of claims of heritability based solely upon such studies, particularly in relation to attitudes that are critically dependent upon environment (socialization and culture) for their content and specificity. Third, the defects of twin studies notwithstanding, the results of the study of AFH do not obviously support the conclusions they draw from them. Fourth, the assumption that there could be such a thing as liberal and conservative “phenotypes” depends upon historically incorrect assumptions concerning both the universality and ahistorical nature of liberalism and conservatism, and the mistaken view that liberalism and conservatism can each be reduced to a distinct set of unchanging “core attitudes.” Fifth, to the extent that what the authors are really proposing is genetically transmitted personality traits rather than distinct political attitudes,

it is highly problematic to assume that there is a distinct personality trait for each attitude that the authors identify as comprising the liberal and conservative phenotypes. I would like to conclude with the following consideration regarding the value of an explanatory hypothesis (for I consider what AFH have presented—for all of the reasons noted above—to be not a scientific proof, but an explanatory hypothesis). One way to evaluate the soundness of a hypothesis is to ask whether or not it can explain the phenomenon under consideration better than other explanations. In the present case, the assumption that political ideologies are genetically transmitted, rather than explaining the phenomena better than, say, traditional historical and cultural and sociological explanations, render them mysterious, if not incomprehensible. For example, the historical advent, development, and many transformations of liberalism and conservatism as political ideologies are well (but by no means completely) understood as historical phenomenon. If genes count for more than environment in explaining the phenomena of liberalism and conservatism, then these phenomena become utterly incomprehensible. Why should liberalism, as a “phenotype,” manifest itself in Europe in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Why should conservatism, as a phenotype, manifest itself (at least in its most wellknown form) in the wake of the French Revolution? Why should great liberal and conservative thinkers—Locke, Smith, Burke, de Maistre—suddenly appear on the world stage when and where they do? How to explain the differences between classical liberalism and its modern manifestations, and how one developed out of the other? How to explain the transformation of conservatism from its earlier “reactionary” forms to its modern incarnations? How to explain the birth, spread, and eventual demise of communism, one of the most important political ideologies of the twentieth century (and which at one time was viewed as the greatest ideological threat to both liberalism and conservatism)? What of fascism? What of anarchism? What of the resurgence of nationalism in Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Soviet Union? And so on and so forth. What possible “genetic story” could account for these undisputed historical phenomena? But it is not only history that is rendered incomprehensible by the assumption that political ideologies are genetically transmitted (and that the ideological universe is divided between universal and unchanging “left” and “right” “phenotypes”). A good deal of public opinion data becomes equally incomprehensible. For example, if one looks at conservative self-identification from 1972–2004, one finds some obvious correlations. Income shows a high and persistent correlation with self-identification as a conservative: As of 2004, 18 percent of those in the 0–16 income percentile self identified as conservatives, compared with 48 percent in the 96–100 percentile. In addition, race shows a high correlation with self-identification
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and Hibbing 2005; “Genes Contribute to Religious Inclination,” Popular Scientist, March 16, 2005, reporting on Koenig et al. 2005; “Study Finds Genetic Basis For Human Kindness,” ABC News, January 12, 2005, reporting on Rushton 2004; “Israeli Researchers Find ‘Altruism Gene,’” Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2005, reporting on Bachner-Mehlman et al. 2005; “Homosexuality is Genetic,” CanWest News Agency, January 29, 2005, reporting on Mustanski et al. 2005; “God Gene Discovered by Scientist,” Telegraph Group Limited, reporting on Hamer 2004; “Of Genes and Exit Polls: Overlooked in recent election commentary was the real reason for the red-state victory. Heavy hint: It’s biological,” Dan Seligman, Forbes, December 13, 2004, reporting on Rice and Hibbing 2004, Jost et al. 2003, and Bouchard et al. 2003; “Happiness is Mostly Genetic,” Forbes, September 23, 2004, reporting on Lykken 2000; “Smoking Linked to Anger Gene,” Herald Sun, February 14, 2004, reporting on Fallon et al. 2004; “British Scientists Discover Criminal Gene,” ABC News, August 5, 2002. In point of fact, not a single gene has been discovered for any of these traits, attitudes, or beliefs. Galton 1875, 397. Hamer and Copeland 1998, 22. For altruism, see, e.g., Rushton, Littlefield, and Lumsden 1986; for criminality, see, e.g., Moffitt 2005, Rhee and Waldman 2002; for “religiosity” see, e.g., Bouchard et al. 1999; for conservatism, see, e.g., Bouchard et al. 2003. Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005. Ibid., 164. Ibid., 164. Sigelman 2006, 172. Some of the excitement this article has generated amongst political scientists is doubtless due to the hope that at long last, the dream of some political scientists to have political science become a “true” science on the model of the natural sciences—or rather, on the basis of a somewhat crude conception as to what makes the natural sciences “science”—is about to be realized. See the citations given in n. 1. For the heritability of “criminal behavior” see, e.g. Harden et al. 2007; Moffitt 2005; Caspi et al. 2002. Elkins 2003, 296. See, e.g., “The Impact of Behavioral Genetics on the Criminal Law,” special issue of Law and Contemporary Problems 69 Winter/Spring (2006); Paul S. Appelbaum, “Law & Psychiatry: Behavioral Genetics and the Punishment of Crime,” 56 Psychiatric Services 25, 25 (2005); M. Jones, “Overcoming the Myth of Free Will in Criminal Law: The True Impact of the Genetic Revolution,” 52 Duke Law Journal 1031, 1039–40 (2003).

as a conservative: 36 percent of whites as opposed to 15 percent of blacks self-identify as conservatives.92 Are we seriously to assume, for example, that not only is there a liberal and conservative genotype, but that this genotype which, according to AFH, counts for more than environment in determining a person’s political orientation, is somehow associated with income and with race? And if we do not assume this, what possible genetic explanation could account for such correlations? But such correlations are well explained when we look at the history of the United States, just as the rise and transmission of liberalism and conservatism are wellunderstood when we examine European history. In sum, we can understand the world of political ideologies by understanding history and culture, the ultimate “environmental influences.” What, if anything, the study of genetics adds to our understanding of political ideologies remains to be seen.

1 Jonathan Beckwith, American Cancer Society Professor of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard University, 2006, 89. Here is a small sampling (most of the reports listed here have been published in multiple news sources and news services generally supply stories to hundred of newspapers worldwide): “‘Angry gene’ Could Help Spur Hostility,” Washington Post, March 9, 2007, reporting on a study by I. Halder, University of Pittsburgh; J. Grisolia, Scripps Mercy Hospital; and E. C. Suarez, Duke University; “Born to be Bad? Genetic Research Says Maybe” Reuters, February 7, 2007, reporting on Harden et al. 2007; “Violence Is Blamed on ‘Warrior Gene’ in the Maoris,” Daily Telegraph, August 10, 2006, reporting on research of genetic epidemiologist Ron Lea (for the controversy sparked by Lea’s claims see, e.g., “Scientist Defends Warrior Gene,” New Zealand Herald, March 5, 2007; “Maori Gene Claim Stirs Family Violence Debate in New Zealand,” China Daily and Global News Wire—Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, August 15, 2006; “New Zealand’s Maori Minister Hone Harawira Arguing that severe poverty and high unemployment are to blame for the violence in Maori communities, and not a “warrior” gene as claimed by geneticist Rod Lea,” New Scientist, August 19, 2006); “Lives of Crime,” Prospect, July 27, 2006, reporting on Caspi et al. 2002, “Role of Genotype in the Cycle of Violence in Maltreated Children”; “Conservative or liberal? It may be in the genes,” November 2, 2006, Associated Press, reporting on Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005; “Some Politics May Be Etched in the Genes,” New York Times, June 21, 2005, reporting on Alford, Funk,
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2 3 4

5 6 7 8

9 10 11

12 Herrnstein and Murray 1994. See, e.g., Jacoby and Glauberman 1995; Daniels, Devlin, and Roeder 1997; Gottfredson 1998, 1994. 13 Cooper and Zubek 1958. 14 For more on this kind of gene-environment interaction, see, e.g., McClearn 2004, Meaney 2001, Rampon et al. 2000, Kempermann et al. 1997. The results of this experiment contradict a central assumption of A. R. Jensen 1969, set forth in a famous paper, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” Jensen claimed that IQ will in fact vary over environments in the following manner: In impoverished environments all genotypes will do equally poorly, but in enriched environments the higher IQ genotypes/ phenotypes will always surpass the lower ones. For a further critique of the assumptions of Jensen, see Lewontin 2000, 22–30. 15 Shonkoff and Phillips 2000, 48. 16 There is speculation that the current “lag” in the height of Americans is due to their “junk food” diet; Komlos and Bauer 2003. 17 Plomin and Kosslyn 2001, 1153. See Meaney 2001, 50: “It is interesting to note that the most fervent practitioners of quantitative human behavioral genetics come not from genetics or even from biology at all. They are very commonly persons trained in psychology. It is unfortunate that psychology has exerted a much greater effort in training its students in statistics than in biology—with the predictable results. It is really nothing more than a convenient myth to believe that one can study the influence of genes without understanding anything of molecular genetics.” 18 Gerald E. McClearn, Evan Pugh Professor of Health and Human Development and Biobehavioral Health, Department of Biobehavioral Health, Center for Developmental and Health Genetics, Pennsylvania State University, 2004, 124. 19 Michael J. Meaney, James McGill Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology & Neurosurgery, Program for the Study of Behavior, Genes and Environment, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, McGill University, 2001, 51. 20 Douglas Wahlstein, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, former President of the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society (was presented with the Distinguished Scientist Award of the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society in 2006 for “outstanding lifetime achievement and contributions to the field of behavioural and neural genetics”); Wahlstein and Gottleib 1997, 178. 21 Johnson 2001. 22 Bruer and Greenough 2001; Nelson 2000. 23 Hurford 1991.

24 Karmiloff-Smith 2006, 48 (emphasis added in the first sentence); see Wyman 2005, McClearn 2004, Kahn 2003. 25 Parens, Chapman, and Press 2006, xvi. 26 Plomin 2004. 27 Hettema, Neale, and Kendler 1995, 327. 28 Evans and Martin 2000, 77; see Horowitz et al. 2003, Sandbank 1999, Ainslie 1997. 29 See, e.g., LaBuda et al. 1997, Kendler et al. 1994. 30 Joseph 2000, 544–45; 2004, 54–60, 69–70; cf. Richardson and Norgate 2005, 34. 31 Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979, 528; Joseph 2000. 32 Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, and Longo 1991; Feingold 1992; and Webster and Driskell 1983 in Perlini et al. 2001, 277. 33 Burns and Farina 1992 and Buss 1994, in Horowitz et al. 2003, 113–14. 34 Guo 2001, 122. 35 Bouchard 1993; Kendler et al. 1994; Rose 1991. 36 Joseph 2000, 545. 37 Bouchard and McGue 2003; Bouchard et al. 1990. 38 Studies have shown that parents’ recounts of their rearing practices are often biased to match some ideal of parenting; Bradburn, Rips, and Shevell 1987; Robbins 1963. 39 O’Connor and Deater-Deckard 1998; Ge and Chadoret 1996; McCartney, Harris, and Bernieri 1990. 40 This is the claim made by Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005, 155. 41 Penderson et al. 1992; Bouchard et al. 1990; Langinvainio, Koskenvuo, and Kaprio 1984. 42 See, e.g., Bruer and Greenough 2001. 43 Joseph 2004, 131. Consider the following hypothetical experiment: Of a group of 100 people, 50 are told that it has just been discovered that they have identical twins. These 50 meet their “identical twins,” who are in fact members of the “study team” recruited to be the same age and gender and look almost identical to each of the 50 participants. For one week they spend all of their time together to get to know one another as well as possible. The 50 other participants are introduced to 50 other study team members of the same age and gender to whom they bear no particular physical resemblance, and are told that they are strangers whom they should spend one week trying to get to know well. Is it not highly likely that the 50 “twins,” when tested, would selfreport significantly higher concordances to their fake twins than the remaining 50 with their matched “strangers”? 44 Beckwith 2006, 81; see Kamin and Goldberger 2002; Joseph 2004, 125–136. 45 Rowe 1994; Bouchard et al. 1990. 46 Beckwith 2006, 82; cf. Kamin and Goldberger 2002, 86.
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61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 AFH 2005, 164. Ibid., 158. Ibid., 154, emphasis added. Ibid., 163, emphasis added. Ibid., 168. Ibid., 153, 164. Heywood 1992, 16–17. Ryan 1993; Quinton 1993. D’Souza 2002, 4–5. E.g., Hobhouse 1964. See, e.g., Kennedy 1999. Waldron 1993, 36. Ryan 1993, 291. AFH 2005, 164–5. In AFH 2005 they do not employ the expressions “pro” and “con” attitudes, but I do not think they would object to my use of them. The actual language employed by AFH in describing the attitudes that comprise the liberal-conservative phenotypes is revealing. They scrupulously avoid the use of the terms “moral,” “ethical,” “should,” “ought,” “right” and “wrong;” but rather, in describing persons’ (moral and political) attitudes employ expressions such as “desire for,” “fondness for,” “yearning for,” and “preference for.” Thus, they write of a “fondness for swift and severe punishments,” “a yearning for in-group unity,” “a distaste for preset punishments,” and “an aversion to inequality” (164–5). In characterizing “easy” moral/political issues (164), in the sense of issues about which people have very strong and unambiguous opinions, the authors describe persons’ strong beliefs as “gut responses.” Characterizing moral/political beliefs by terms such as “fondness,” “yearning,” “distaste,” “desire,” and “aversion,” makes them appear equivalent to, e.g., a fondness for chocolate or an aversion to the smell of blue cheese. To write of “gut responses” makes moral reactions seem on a par with visceral reactions like nausea. Using the language of “tastes” and “desires” to refer to complex moral and political beliefs makes genetic explanations of these beliefs seem less counter-intuitive. The language of “tastes” and “desires” is well suited to genetic explanations of human behavior, since it seems to make more sense to talk of a genetically determined aversion to, e.g., certain odors, then to talk of a genetically determined political ideology or moral belief system. As is well known, the problem with the language of tastes, desires, and aversions is that it fails to account for two central features of morality as experienced by moral agents: First, that for the sake of doing what one believes to be the morally right thing one must at times act against his or her strongest “yearnings,” “desires,” and “aversions”; and second, that reason plays a role in moral judgment. The denial of any role for reason in moral judgment is implicit in most


54 55

56 57 58 59 60

See Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005, 155 n.3. Kamin and Goldberger 2002, 87. Beckwith 2006, 82. Eckert, Heston, and Bouchard 1981, 180. Joseph 2004, 98–104; Kamin and Goldberger 2002, 85; Watson 1982, 48. The study of AFH (2005, 158–61) employs the statistical method of polychoric analysis, whereas most recent twin studies employ a more involved statistical technique called Structural Equation Modeling (SEM); Tomarken and Waller 2005. SEM, however, in no way obviates all of the problems associated with twin studies discussed above: It depends every bit as much as polychoric analysis on the Equal Environment Assumption, unbiased samples, and so forth. As Hettema, Neale, and Kendler 1995 (327) note: “Both traditional analysis of twin data (e.g., Falconer 1989) and more recent structural equation models for twin analysis (Neale and Cardon 1992) are predicated on the equalenvironment assumption (EEA)—that monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins are equally correlated for their exposure to environmental influences that are of etiologic importance to the trait or disorder under study.” As Tomarken and Waller 2005 (56) note of the use of SEM in twin studies, “sophisticated statistical procedures cannot rescue a poorly designed study.” As I have argued, twin studies are poorly designed studies; their flaws are of such a nature that they cannot be rescued by statistical procedures applied to the data after the data has been collected. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for raising the issue of SEM, and to Ian Morgan for an instructive exchange of e-mail on this topic. See e.g., Holsinger 1981, 144–5: “Since Occam’s Razor ought to be invoked only when several hypotheses explain the same set of facts equally well, in practice its domain will be very limited . . . Cases where competing hypotheses explain a phenomenon equally well are comparatively rare.” I would like to emphasize, yet again, that this is what my argument concerns: political ideology. The study by Bouchard et al. 2003 was a study of a small sample of twins raised apart—54 pairs of monozygotic and 46 pairs of dizygotic twins reared apart, whereas the study of AFH is a study of a large sample of twins raised together. AFH 2005, 158 Ibid., 164. Ibid., 159. Ibid., 159. The importance of the constant refrain “at the present time in the Unites States” should become clear in what follows.

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76 77 78 79 80 81

82 83 84 85

86 87 88 89 90 91

of what AFH say about political attitudes and can be seen quite clearly in their characterization of how one’s moral-political beliefs might change (although never using the term “moral”): “An individual with a contextualist genotype who has been repeatedly victimized by an out-group, or who has simply spent a great deal of time listening to persuasive absolutists, may adopt attitudes that run against type” (165). They also comment that political ideologies are more difficult to “manipulate” to the extent that they are inherited (164).Thus, according to the authors, moral beliefs can change as a result of repeated negative reinforcement—as a mouse might avoid a certain type of food after receiving repeated electrical shocks, “persuasion”—as opposed to argumentation, and “manipulation.” Madison et al. 1989, 58–9; cf. Shklar 1984. See, e.g., Smart 1973. Burke 1999; Quinton 1993. See, e.g., Lasch 1991. AFH 2005, 164. Oddly enough, at one point AFH (ibid., 165) appear to clearly acknowledge the importance of culture in explaining human behavior: “Gene–culture interaction is the key to understanding the source of political attitudes and behaviors, just as it is the key to understanding most physical and behavioral aspects of the human condition. Genes do not work in isolation and instead generally influence the extent to which organisms are responsive to particular environmental conditions.” The problem is that almost everything else they say in their article ignores or contradicts this assertion. Ibid., 154. Ibid., 168. Ibid., 154. In fact, it is not clear that there could be such a thing as “meaning” at all on a view in which discrete or atomic attitude units cohered for “meaningless” reasons. Nor is the idea of a discrete attitude unit coherent in and of itself, since ideas (or “attitudes”) can only be defined (or have meaning) in relation to other ideas. To talk of a discrete or atomic attitude unit is like proposing that a single sentence in a given language could be comprehensible (or have meaning) in isolation from the language system of which it is a part. Searle 1995. Rutter 1996, 266. AFH 2005, 157. Ibid., 165. Ibid., 157. It is beyond the scope of this paper to consider the relationship, if any, between personality and political ideology. I shall simply note the following, which is

relevant to the present discussion. There exists what might be called (for want of a better term) a “liberal bias” in assorted assessments of personality, a bias that is particularly evident in the Five-Factor Model (FFM) and its characterization of the trait of “openness.” FFM is based on the idea that the following five dimensions are necessary and sufficient for characterizing human personality: introversion/ extroversion; agreeableness; openness to experience; conscientiousness; and emotionality/neuroticism. The trait of openness is itself broken down into sub-categories used to measure or “score” overall “openness,” and one of these subcategories is “liberalism” (as measured by specifically political indicators of liberalism); Costa and McCrae 1992. How one scores on the “liberalism” category can significantly affect how one scores on overall level of “openness.” Thus, in a wholly circular fashion, openness is correlated with liberalism by definition. The concomitant of such a “liberal bias” in personality assessment is what might be called the “pathologizing” of conservatism; Bailey 2004. For example, in an article entitled “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” the authors conclude on the basis of a meta-analysis of a large number of personality test results that “several psychological variables predict conservatism.” It is positively correlated with death anxiety, system instability, dogmatism-intolerance of ambiguity, fear of threat and loss; and negatively correlated with integrative complexity, uncertainty tolerance, self-esteem and, not surprisingly, openness to experience; Jost et al. 2003, 339. Research psychologist Robert Altemeyer, inventor of the “Right Wing Authoritarian Scale” (RWA), flatly denies that “an authoritarian impressively like the authoritarian on the right reposes on the left end of the RWA scale.” Those who score low on the RWA scale are described as “fair-minded, even-handed, tolerant, nonaggressive persons . . . They are not self-righteous; they do not feel superior to persons with opposing opinions”; Altemeyer 1981. To be sure dogmatic, intolerant, arrogant “personality types” must be conservative and cannot be liberal if such a stipulation is included in the definition of “authoritarian,” “dogmatic,” and “aggressive.” But it is worth asking whether we are striving to give words a denotation that reflects our own political ideologies, or seeking to uncover a meaningful connection between personality traits and the holding of particular political ideologies? If we can successfully expunge all the prejudicial assumptions that link particular personality traits with particular political ideologies, there will be nothing at all problematic about, e.g., a dogmatic, arrogant, and self-righteous liberal.
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McClearn, G.E. 2004. Nature and nurture: Interaction and coaction. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics 124B (1): 124–30. Meaney, Michael J. 2001. Nature, nurture, and the disunity of knowledge. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. New York: New York Academy of Sciences. Moffitt, T.E. 2005. Genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behaviors: Evidence from behavioral-genetic research. In Advances in Genetics 55, ed. Jeffrey C. Hall. Amsterdam: Elsevier Academic Press. Mustanski, B.S., M.G. Dupree, C.M. Nievergelt, S. Bocklandt, N.J. Schork, and D.H. Hamer. 2005. A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation. Human Genetics 116: 272–278. Neale, M.C., and L.R. Cardon. 1992. Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic. Nelson, C.A. 2000. Neural plasticity and human development: The role of early experience in sculpting memory systems. Developmental Science 3: 115–130. O’Connor, T.G., and K. Deater-Deckard. 1998. Genotype-environment correlations in late childhood early adolescence. Developmental Psychology 34: 970–82. Parens, E., A. Chapman, and N. Press, eds. 2006. Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics: Science, Ethics, and Public Conservation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Penderson, N.L., R. Plomin, J.R. Nesselraode, G.E. McClearn. 1992. A quantitative genetic analysis of cognitive abilities during the second half of the life span. Psychological Science 3: 346–53. Perlini, A.H., A. Marcello, S.D. Hansen, W. Pudney. 2001. Effects of male age and physical appearance on evaluations of attractiveness, social desirability and resourcefulness. Social Behavior and Personality 29 (3): 277–87. Plomin, R. 2004. Nature and Nurture: An Introduction to Human Behavioral Genetics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson. Plomin, R., and S.M. Kosslyn. 2001. Genes, brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 4: 1153–54. Quinton, A. 1993. Conservatism. In A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, ed. R. Goodin and P. Petit. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Rampon, C., C.H. Jiang, H. Dong, Y.P. Tang, D.J. Lockhart, P.G. Schultz, J.Z. Tsien, and Y. Hu. 2000. Effects of environmental enrichment on gene expression in the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97: 12880–84. Rhee, S.H., and I.D. Waldman. 2002. Genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behavior: A
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Smith, A. 1976 [1775]. The Wealth of Nations. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Tomarken, A., and N.G. Waller. 2005. Structural equation modeling as a data-analytic framework for clinical science: Strengths, limitations, and misconceptions. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 1: 31–65. Wahlstein, D., and G. Gottleib. 1997. The invalid separation of effects of nature and nurture: Lessons from animal experimentation. In Intelligence, Heredity and Environment, ed. R.J. Sternberg and E. Grogorenko. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Waldron, Jeremy. 1993. Liberal Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Watson, P. 1982. Twins: An Uncanny Relationship. New York: Viking. Weber, M. 1978. Economy and Society. Ed. G. Roth and C. Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press. Webster, M., Jr., and J.E. Driskell, Jr. 1983. Beauty as status. American Journal of Sociology 89: 140–65. Wyman, R.J. 2005. Experimental analysis of naturenurture interactions. Journal of Experimental Zoology and Comparative Experimental Biology 303 (6): 415–21.

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Beyond Liberals and Conservatives to Political Genotypes and Phenotypes
John R. Alford, Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing
In the past, most political scientists have been oblivious to the growing empirical evidence challenging environmental determinism. Professor Charney, apparently as a result of the fact that genes and the environment interact in a complex fashion, advocates that this passive unawareness be replaced by active denial. Science, however, does not advance by avoiding important relationships merely because they are complicated and, fortunately, science is not heeding Charney’s ideologically-based fears. Molecular geneticists, often working in tandem with political scientists, are quickly moving beyond twin studies to identify the specific suites of genes and biological systems that predict variation in core political preferences, whatever labels those preferences might be given in a particular culture at a particular time. We sympathize with the fact that our empirical findings, like those of so many behavioral geneticists, make Charney uncomfortable; still, his critique serves up nothing new—empirically or otherwise. Just as analyses of the roots of sexual preferences cannot presumptively ignore genetics, neither can analyses of the roots of political preferences.


ind-body dualism allows that the physical body is the product of natural, presumably genetic forces but insists that the source of the human mind is mystical and fundamentally different. The mind is not nature’s but our own creation, shaped as we navigate and are influenced by historical and cultural realities that we have constructed. The human mind, dualism asserts, unlike all other aspects of life on our planet, transcends crude biological processes. And what better example of a pristine experiential, non-biological, uniquely-human phenomenon than mass-scale politics with its relatively recent advent and its constantly changing issues, terms, parties, and players. For those caught in the hubris of this dualist perspective, empirical evidence indicating that political orientations are transmitted genetically as well as culturally seems patently “incoherent” and must be the product of a flawed methodology. Thus it is that Evan Charney rises to attack a recent article of ours in the American Political Science Review, 1 an article he fears is part of “a trend among behavioral scientists to view ever more complex attitudes as in some sense genetically determined.” 2 We welcome the appearance of Charney’s essay. The scientific process needs scholars eager to question methodologies, data, interpretations,

and implications. Genetics in general and twin studies in particular are not familiar topics to most political scientists. Several of the misconceptions evident in Charney’s written remarks are undoubtedly held by other members of the discipline so we are pleased to have been offered the opportunity to explain our procedures, findings, and conclusions more fully. Charney’s criticisms fall into two broad categories. The first is that the methods we employed to obtain our results—specifically, the classical twin design— rest on faulty assumptions and therefore yield meaningless results. The second, drawing directly from a dualist perspective, is that political beliefs are entirely embedded in culture and therefore, logically could not have a genetic component. We address each of these charges in turn. Our central point is that it is insufficient merely to assert the implausibility of political ideology being partially heritable; ultimately this matter can and must be decided by the scientific process.

The Methodical Challenge
Much of Charney’s methodological critique centers on what has come to be termed the “equal environments assumption” (EEA). Monozygotic (MZ) twins share 100 percent of their genetic heritage while dizygotic (DZ) twins, like all full siblings, share roughly 50 percent. This known difference in genetic similarity across the two types of twins provides an opportunity to estimate the importance of genetic similarity—but only if the environments of MZ and DZ twins are equally similar. If, relative to DZ twins, MZ twins not only share more of their genetic code but also share more of their environmental experiences, variance attributed to genetics may actually be the result of
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John R. Alford is Associate Professor of Political Science, Rice University ( Carolyn L. Funk is Associate Professor of Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth University ( John R. Hibbing is the Foundation Regents Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (



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overall frequency of twin contact and the similarity of their social and political attitudes is small and statistically insignificant.7 In terms of politics this result is not all that surprising since it seems unlikely that the parents of DZ twins are more likely than the parents of MZ twins to push each of their twins in a different political direction. Compared to the parents of MZ twins, why would the parents of DZ twins be less desirous that all of their offspring share the same political beliefs? But rather than debate what is plausible or implausible let us turn again to the empirical evidence. The most important challenge we wish to issue to Charney concerning the EEA involves the differential heritability estimates of political attitudes on the one hand and party identification on the other. Similar to previous research,8 we estimate the heritability of political and social attitudes to be in the .4 to .5 range, leaving .5 to .6 attributable to environmental factors. But these same procedures reveal that party identification is only about .14 heritable, leaving .86 attributable to the environment, so the classical twin design reports a dramatic difference in the heritability of political beliefs and party identification. Interestingly, other research identifies precisely the same pattern for religious beliefs (strong heritability) as opposed to religious denominational affiliation (minimal to no heritability).9 If violations of the EEA are responsible for reported heritability, Charney must argue that parents of MZ and DZ twins raise their children equally similarly with regard to party identification but differentially with regard to political attitudes. Why would parents of DZ twins socialize their twins to have the same party identification but different political beliefs, while parents of MZ twins socialize their twins to have both similar party identifications and similar political beliefs? Rather than merely relying on assertions, we have also empirically estimated heritability while accounting for the EEA. To do so, we have re-estimated our findings from the Virginia 30K sample using more sophisticated structural equation models that account for shared environmental influences from other family relationships— namely parents and non-twin siblings.10 This re-estimation with non-twin data allows us to correct for shared effects among siblings and to estimate twin-specific environment effects. The findings support our original claims that genetics accounts for at least 40 percent of the variance in ideological orientations as measured by the 28-item WilsonPatterson index. A different approach is taken by Fowler, Baker and Dawes in their tests of the heritability of voter turnout.11 Fowler et al. test the comparability of MZ and DZ pairs on a number of politically-relevant variables and indicators of socioeconomic status. They find no mean differences between MZ and DZ pairs on these political and social variables, thus demonstrating that the traitspecific environment is simply too equal to offer any power in explaining away the heritability findings. Research in

environmental forces. Thus, the key concern is that heritability estimates will be inflated while the effect of shared environment will be underestimated. The equal environments assumption is an important concern and Charney is quite right to raise it, but the EEA has been the subject of a tremendous amount of debate and research and Charney does not provide a fair assessment of current wisdom in the behavioral genetics literature. We have space to offer only a few corrections. One misconception springs from Charney’s treatment of the environment as exogenous even as such a practice is invalidated by his own argument. Charney invokes a comment from Horwitz et al. pointing out that “because monozygotic twins have greater physical resemblance to each other than dizygotic twins, they could have a greater chance of receiving similar social reactions.” 3 If, as Charney and Horwitz believe, genes shape physical traits that in turn shape social reactions that in turn shape beliefs, the linkage structure is complete and genes will affect beliefs. Whether the causal order is [genes r beliefs] or [genes r physical traits r social reactions r beliefs], the underlying cause is still genetic. An example of the endogeneity of environmental forces is provided by O’Connor et al. who report that adoptive children genetically at risk for antisocial behavior are significantly more likely than not-atgenetic risk adoptive children to be the recipient of negative parenting from their adoptive parents.4 Negative parenting is typically assumed to be the cause of children’s antisocial behavior but in point of fact children play an important role in shaping their own environment, in this case by influencing the behavior of their parents. Even if we pretend genes have nothing to do with shaping the environment, the EEA withstands analysis. A surprising number of the parents of twins, as many as 20–30 percent in some studies, mis-categorize the zygosity of their twins, thus creating a valuable opportunity to distinguish environmental from genetic influences. If Charney is correct, the determining factor in twin pairs’ degree of similarity should be their perceived zygosity; if we are correct, the determining factor in degree of similarity should be their actual zygosity.The results of these mis-categorization studies are clear: DZ twin pairs believed by their environments to be MZ twin pairs are no more similar than DZ twin pairs believed to be DZ twin pairs.5 This basic finding is impossible to explain if the environment is all that matters. MZ twins are indeed more likely to share certain environmental experiences. They are, for example, more likely than DZ twins to share the same bedroom and to have the same friends but this fact in and of itself does not constitute a fatal flaw for twin studies.6 The central question is whether variable similarity on friends and bedrooms independently influences the specific trait of interest—in this case, political beliefs—and no evidence has yet been presented that it does. In fact, empirical evidence goes further and demonstrates that the correlation between the
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other areas has similarly shown either that the EEA is valid or that violations of it are too modest to negate results indicating the important influence of genes.12 Twin studies do have the potential to mislead. One of Charney’s central points is that genes and the environment cannot be partitioned neatly (e.g., 14 percent genetic and 86 percent environmental) since they interact in such complicated ways. In so saying, however, Charney is only parroting a point we stressed in our original article: “Gene culture interaction is the key to understanding the source of political attitudes and behaviors, just as it is the key to understanding most physical and behavioral aspects of the human condition. Genes do not work in isolation and instead generally influence the extent to which organisms are responsive to particular environmental conditions.” 13 Providing statistical estimates of the effects of genetics, shared environment, and unshared environment is not tantamount to asserting that these effects work in isolation from each other. We know of no practitioner of twin studies who believes they do. The interactions among genes and between genes and the environment create an amazingly complex situation. The good news is that, since Charney apparently believes genes and the environment interact to influence phenotypes, he must agree with us that genes are indeed behaviorally relevant. Charney is also concerned with the fact that estimates of heritability are specific to a given population in a given environment and are therefore subject to substantial variation. This is an important point, and its import is often misunderstood, as it is by Charney. Look carefully at his example (one that can be reproduced in many other guises). He describes a study that examines the heritability of maze running ability in mice, utilizing mice selectively bred for high or low ability on this trait. As Charney describes the results:
For mice raised in a “standard” environment heritability of this trait was high. The researchers then raised the offspring of the genetically selected lines in two “extreme environments,” a cognitively poor one (dull colors all around, no toys) and a cognitively enriched one (bright colors and patterns, many toys). Both the bright and dull lines behaved “stupidly” in the poor environment and “smartly” in the enriched one, with the result that the heritability of the trait dropped to zero in both extreme environments. The bright and dull mice may well have inherited whatever genes are linked to intelligence (or maze running aptitude) in mice (which is what they were bred for), but the heritability of the trait of intelligence was shown to be highly dependent upon post-natal environment.14

Several points are of critical importance here. First, notice that Charney admits to the well-established fact that the mice “may well have inherited whatever genes are linked to intelligence.” Second, notice that when mice were raised in a standard environment, estimates of heritability correctly detected the significant role of genes in influencing maze-running ability. Only when mice were raised in artificially extreme environments did the apparent heritability

of intelligence drop to near zero. Actual genetic inheritance continued to take place and the separate offspring of the two distinct lines would still show divergent abilities if raised in a standard environment. The extreme environments only inhibited the ability of a test of heritability to detect this continued role of genetic transmission and the direction of any bias in the estimate of heritability is conservative. In this study, extreme environments led to underestimation of the role genes play in the natural world, not to over-estimation. Far from suggesting that we should not put much faith in high estimates of heritably (such as those we found for political orientations), this example demonstrates the reverse. Studies finding zero heritability in specific environments are the ones that may be suspect, and can produce results that mask the true role of genes in the transmission of behavioral traits. In one important area of methodology we are in full agreement with Charney. Twin studies should be seen as the beginning and not the end of research in this area and we are following this model in our own research. The twin design is typically and most profitably employed as a precursor to additional genetic work. Wet genetic techniques such as linkage analysis, which can isolate the location of genes relevant to a phenotypic behavior of interest, are best conducted with DNA drawn from close relatives such as twins. Many twin registries now have data banks containing the twins’ DNA because of the value in using the same subjects to assess heritability levels and then to conduct genotyping work. Behavioral geneticists commonly move seamlessly back and forth from the twin design to bench genetics. We are currently working with several geneticists including Nicholas Martin (Laboratory Head of Genetic Epidemiology at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane), Lindon Eaves (Professor of Human Genetics at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine), and Shelley D. Smith (Director of Molecular Genetics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center) and have begun the process of statistically associating particular genetic alleles with political beliefs and political behaviors, a technique called allelic association. Twin studies alone are no substitute for using linkage analysis and allelic association studies to find the specific genes contributing to the heritability of political attitudes, but searching for specific genes would be a waste of time absent evidence of heritability. With billions of nucleotide base-pairs in the nucleus of most human cells, locating the relevant individual genes is a challenging, multidisciplinary undertaking. Even when associations are found, much work remains since correlations alone will not reveal the complex pathway between genotype and phenotype. No serious scholars doubt the difficulties attending efforts to link genes to political behaviors and beliefs but we have no doubts this link will eventually be established. Additional information on the role of evolution, emotions, the
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3. Abortion (.64) 4. X-rated movies (.63) 5. Gay rights (.60). If Charney is correct that an acceptable test for estimating heritability of political orientations must indicate high levels of heritability for the social issues that he calls “the central concerns dividing liberals and conservatives,” then the twin study findings pass this test with flying colors. On a broader front, Charney probably speaks for a majority of political scientists in maintaining that political attitudes are socially constructed, free-standing orientations to political concepts and issues. Charney is especially taken with the context-bound nature of words such as liberal, conservative, left, and right. Since these terms are culturally rooted, he seems to conclude that any orientation to politics must be culturally rooted. He spends much of his essay recounting the history of these terms, showing that what it means to be a liberal today in the United States is not what it meant to be a liberal in France in the seventeenth century. And, of course, for much of the world, terms like “liberal” have no meaning at all. Given this, Charney asks, how is it possible that there could be a genetic basis for liberalism or any other political concept? Our measure of political orientation consisted of an additive index of the 28 Wilson-Patterson items available to us from the Virginia 30K study (contrary to Charney’s claims, we used all 28 items present in the survey and did not pick some items and exclude others). We used these items as an index scored to reflect a continuum from liberal to conservative attitude positions. In choosing our language for discussing political orientation we opted for descriptors common to the field of political science, but which are probably not the most apt descriptors for the underlying phenotype. We believe that the actual underlying phenotype, whatever it is ultimately labeled, will be applicable across time and place. As such, what we have called “bedrock principles of group life” is more likely to fit the bill. The empirical evidence showing a genetic component for specific attitude positions, for example, is likely to reflect an indirect role of genetics on attitudes through the heritability of values or orientations more fundamental to living in social groups. Recent work by Peter K. Hatemi and colleagues demonstrates that vote choice is not directly heritable but rather primarily indirectly heritable through political attitudes toward issues such as abortion, school prayer, and the death penalty.17 Up to now, detailed measures of social and political orientations have not been administered to twins (a situation we are in the process of remedying thanks to a recent grant from the National Science Foundation). When data on core preferences for social group life are available we predict they will show that attitudes toward school prayer, abortion, and the death penalty are themselves indirectly heritable and that what is directly heritable are

limbic system, and neurotransmitters in shaping personal and political traits emerges every week 15 and the pace is only going to pick up, making it an uncomfortable time for dualists such as Charney. Charney writes that “Alford, Funk, and Hibbing have not discovered a set of genes corresponding to their hypothesis of genetic causation.” This is quite true, we have not. But, as noted above, we are working on it. Scholars elsewhere have uncovered genes involved with reading disorders, depression, autism, risk-taking, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Expecting one article to identify conclusively the specific genes and biological systems responsible for the heritability of something as complex as political beliefs is unfair. Achieving this goal will take numerous scholars working for extended periods of time in close inter-disciplinary cooperation and to say this effort should not be undertaken because it is “complicated” is both defeatist and anti-science.

Political Attitudes, Orientations, and Ideologies
Charney’s critique of twin studies is predictable and largely uninformed by the state of the art in behavioral genetics, but the second half of his article provides the opportunity for an important scholarly exchange on the nature of political attitudes, political orientations, and political ideologies. Here Charney challenges our work on two grounds; first a narrow issue concerning current U.S. ideological divisions, and second a much broader conceptual critique. We will address the narrower issue first. Charney contends that our findings from the twin study are flawed because the collection of issues in the WilsonPatterson index holds no face validity as a measure of political ideology and because they indicate the “wrong” issues as being the most heritable. Specifically, the highest heritability levels reported in our article are for property taxes, school prayer, “Moral Majority,” capitalism, and astrology. Charney believes, rightly, that this is a curious collection of issues. He asserts that the highest heritability should be for abortion, gay rights, and other hot-button social issues related to sexuality and religion or that, at the very least our index of conservatism should give more weight to these issues. Charney’s concerns here are largely a moot point, however. As mentioned in our article, assortative mating is particularly powerful with regard to political and religious beliefs (conservatives mate with conservatives and liberals mate with liberals) and if parents are genetically similar then simple twin designs such as the one we employed will underestimate heritability.16 Applying the simplest possible correction for assortative mating identifies the following five issues, in order, as the most heritable: 1. Living together (.67) 2. School prayer (.66)
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orientations to bedrock principles of group life. But, of course, these ideas have yet to be tested and must be considered in comparison with alternative conceptualizations of the underlying phenotype. We have evidence in both the U.S. and Australia for a sizeable genetic component in the transmission of political orientations but this is not yet enough to claim with confidence that these findings are applicable across all cultures and contexts. Regardless, we do not agree with Charney’s unsubstantiated assertion that culture universals do not exist. Schwartz and Bardi’s recent cross-cultural study of values more realistically captures the situation:
Studies at the national level reveal a great deal of variation in the value priorities of individuals within societies as well as groups across nations. The research suggests that individuals both within and across societies have quite different value priorities that reflect their different genetic heritage, personal experiences, social locations, and enculturation. Yet hidden behind these important differences is a surprise that may reflect something about the origins and role of values for human society. Researchers, including ourselves, have focused almost exclusively on differences in value priorities. When we switch our focus to ask about similarities, we discover a striking degree of consensus across individuals and societies . . . Differences are more salient and compelling than similarities. It may therefore be difficult to accept that a largely shared, pan-cultural value hierarchy lies hidden behind the striking value differences that draw our attention. Differences help us to identify the influences of unique genetic heritage, personal experience, social structure, and culture on value priorities. The pan-cultural hierarchy points to the bases of values in shared human nature and to the adaptive functions of values in maintaining societies. To gain a full understanding of human value priorities, we must take note of the interplay of both differences and similarities.18

Charney rightly raises the critical question of just how genes could influence political beliefs. Numerous possibilities exist. The connection could run through personality; it could run through temperaments such as risk-taking, fear, and preference for structure and certainty; it could run through a tendency to hold beliefs intensely or casually; or it could even run through genetically-based physical traits, as Charney speculates. There are endless possibilities and we do not pretend to know the actual mechanisms. This is what we are investigating now. As mentioned above, our collaborative research with the goal of associating particular genetic alleles with particular political beliefs and behaviors will move us down that path. But it will be a long and difficult process, requiring collaborative efforts among scholars with an open mind and a healthy respect for the scientific process of testing and revising hypotheses based on empirical observation. Led by numerous social scientists including Jost, Haidt, and Thornhill, there is growing support for seeing political ideology as springing from deeper, seemingly non-political traits.19 Of course, researchers have long noted the connection between personality and politics and the evidence is rapidly building that political ideology is intimately con-

nected with other aspects of temperament.20 For example, compared to liberals, political conservatives have fundamentally different approaches to child-rearing.21 Our own recent analysis finds that a simple four-item strict parenting scale is strongly correlated with the Wilson-Patterson index (r .45; p .001). Similarly, people who say “good manners and cleanliness matter” are more likely to be politically conservative (gamma .32; p .001) and people who “would take drugs that may have strange effects” are more likely to be politically liberal (gamma .48; p .001).22 The brains of conservatives react differently, on average, from the brains of liberals to an unexpected (but completely nonpolitical) stimulus.23 And it is possible to make accurate predictions of the political beliefs of adults on the basis of the observed (not self-reported) social behaviors of those same individuals at nursery school twenty years previously.24 In sum, people vary dramatically in their orientation toward order, threat, risk, uncertainty, and obedience to traditional values and these variations in turn are statistically related to political attitudes and ideology. Ideology is connected to foundational preferences for social and political structure and these preferences likely have a basis in neurotransmitters, brain activity, and ultimately genetics. We have hopes that raising the possibility that politics is partially heritable will encourage a much needed reconsideration of the nature of political temperament. The discipline would benefit from trying new research methods and from viewing political ideologies as something other than completely “context dependent.” In our view, if genes shape politics, the connection does not run through the musings of nineteenth- and twentiethcentury political theorists but rather through the core principals of social life as they have existed since before we were fully human.

No scientifically literate person in this day and age can claim that genes are irrelevant to human behavior and predispositions, yet many people are deeply discomfited by this reality. One common solution is to concede that genes affect behavior, but to assert that the connection is extraordinarily complex and then to proceed as if this complexity negated any requirement that we incorporate this sometimes uncomfortable reality into research into, and understanding of, human behavior. This is where we part company. To us, the reality of a complex link between genes and political phenotypes means political scientists must rein in their reflexive environmentalism and join forces with behavioral geneticists and others in the biological community to continue the exacting, time-consuming, but deeply exciting genetic research that has already begun the process of teasing out this complexity. We never claimed that a focus that incorporates genes obviates the need to also consider the environment. Indeed,
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12 E.g., Plomin et al. 1976; Morris-Yates et al. 1990; Kendler et al., 1993; Xian et al. 2000; Cronk et al. 2002; Eriksson et al. 2006. 13 Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005: 165. 14 Charney 2008, 300-1. 15 Madsen 1986; Marcus, Neuman, and MacKuen 2000; Orbell et al. 2004; McDermott 2004; Schreiber 2005; Lodge and Taber 2005; Westen et al. 2006; Alford and Hibbing 2007; Carmen 2007. 16 Hatemi et al. 2007b. 17 Hatemi et al. 2007a. 18 Schwartz and Bardi 2001. 19 Jost 2006; Jost et al. 2003; Haidt and Graham 2008; Thornhill and Fischer 2007. 20 Adorno et al. 1950; McClosky 1958. 21 For an early example see Laswell 1930, or more recently Lakoff 2002. 22 Alford and Hibbing 2007. 23 Amodio, Jost, Master, and Yee 2007. 24 Block and Block 2005. 25 Charney 2008, 300.

casting the issue as genes competing with the environment, as Charney does in his conclusion (“if genes count for more than environment the phenomena of liberalism and conservatism . . . become utterly incomprehensible”) is silly and misses the point. What we claim is that genes are important to political thought and behavior. We realize that for a discipline as completely vested in nurture alone as political science, the need to look at both nurture and nature will constitute an important shift. As Charney puts it:
The claim of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing is indeed astonishing, because if true, it would require nothing less than a revision of our understanding of all of human history, much, if not most of political science, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well as, perhaps, our understanding of what it means to be human.25

The “claim” is of course not wholly ours, but more appropriately the claim of over twenty years of behavioral geneticists who pioneered research in this area. But we are in complete agreement with what is at stake. Our 2005 article found a substantial degree of heritability for political orientations, but political behavior subtends far more than political orientations and the study of genetic influences does not end with a single classical twin study. Geneticists can only go so far in their investigation of a field as foreign to them as political behavior. Political scientists need to engage if genetic research in this area is to progress beyond rudimentary dependent variables and if political science is going to progress beyond a narrowly limited set of environmental independent variables. Colleagues from across the social and natural sciences are currently conducting research on large-scale human social cooperation that is among the most exciting and challenging scientific revolutions of our times. With political scientists largely isolated from this effort, it is no surprise that researchers from other fields have mostly missed the point that largescale human cooperation is politics, not just neuroeconomics or evolutionary psychology. We can right this wrong if, and only if, we join with our colleagues from across the sciences in this grand search.

Adorno, T., E. Frenkel-Brunswik, D. Levinson, and R. Sanford. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper. Alford, John R., Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing. 2005. Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review 99 (2): 153–68. Alford, John R., and John R. Hibbing. 2007. Personal, inter-personal, and political temperaments. Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science 614 (November): 196–212. Amodio, David M., John T. Jost, Sarah L. Master, and Cindy M. Yee. 2007. Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism. Nature Neuroscience 10: 1246–7. Block, Jack, and Jeanne H. Block. 2005. Nursery school personality and political orientation two decades later. Journal of Research in Personality 39: 395–422. Bouchard, T.J., Jr., and Matt McGue. 2003. Genetic and environmental influences on human psychological differences. Journal of Neurobiology 54: 4–45. Carey, Gregory. 2003. Human Genetics for the Social Sciences. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications. Carmen, Ira H. 2007. “From Genes to Mind to Politics.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, April 12–15. Charney, Evan. 2008. Genes and ideologies. Perspectives on Politics 6 (2): 299–315. Cronk, N.J., W.S. Slutske, P.A. Madden, K.K Bucholz, W Reich, and A.C. Heath. 2002. Emotional and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005. Charney 2008. Horwitz et al. 2003, 113–14. O’Connor et al. 1998. Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979; Plomin 1990; Kendler et al. 1993; Hatemi 2007. Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979; Kendler et al. 1992. Martin et al. 1986. Ibid. Bouchard and McGue 2003. Hatemi et al. 2007b. Fowler, Baker, and Dawes 2006.

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behavioral problems among female twins: An evaluation of the equal environments assumption. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41: 829–37. Eriksson, Marit, Finn Rasmussen, and Per Tynelius. 2006. Genetic factors in physical activity and the equal environment assumption: The Swedish young male twins study. Behavior Genetics 36: 238–47. Fowler, James H., Laura Baker, and Christopher T. Dawes. 2006. “The Genetic Basis of Political Cooperation.” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, PA, August 30–September 2. Gerring, John 1997. Ideology: A definitional analysis. Political Research Quarterly 50: 957–94. Gosling, Samuel D., and Oliver P. John. 1999. Personality dimensions in non-human animals: A cross-species review. Current Directions in Psychological Science 8: 69–75. Haidt, Jonathan, and Jesse Graham. 2008. “When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals May Not Recognize.” Social Justice Research 21, forthcoming. Hatemi, Peter K. 2007. “The Genetics of Political Attitudes.” PhD Diss., University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Hatemi, Peter K., Sarah E. Medland, Kate I. Morley, Anthony C. Heath, and Nicholas G. Martin. 2007a. The genetics of voting: An Australian twin study. Behavior Genetics 37: 435–48. Hatemi, Peter K., John R. Alford, John R. Hibbing, Nicholas G. Martin, and Lindon J. Eaves. 2007b. “Not by Twins Alone: Using the Extended Twin Family Design to Investigate the Genetic Basis of Political Beliefs.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, April 12–15. Horwitz, Allan, Tami Videon, Mark Schmitz, and Diane Davis. 2003. Rethinking twins and environments: Possible social sources for assumed genetic influences in twin research. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 44: 111–29. Jost, John T. 2006. The end of the end of ideology. American Psychologist 61: 651–70. Jost, John T., Jack Glaser, Arie W. Kruglanski, and Frank J. Sulloway. 2003. Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin 129: 339–75. Kendler, Kenneth S., Michael C. Neale, R.C. Kessler, Andrew C. Heath, and L.J. Eaves. 1992. A population based twin study of major depression in women: The impact of varying definitions of illness. Archives of General Psychiatry 49: 257–66. _. 1993. A test of the equal environment assumption in twin studies of psychiatric illness. Behavior Genetics 23: 21–27.

Lakoff, George. 2002. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Laswell, Harold. 1930. Psychopathology and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lodge, Milton, and Charles S. Taber. 2005. The automaticity of affect for political leaders, groups, and issues. Political Psychology 26: 455–82. Madsen, Douglas. 1986. Power seekers are different. American Political Science Review 80 (1): 261–69. Marcus, George E., W.R. Neuman, and Michael MacKuen. 2000. Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Martin, N.G., L.J. Eaves, A.C. Heath, R. Jardine, L.M. Feingold, and H.J. Eysenck. 1986. Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (15 June): 4364–68. McClosky, Herbert. 1958. Conservatism and personality. American Political Science Review 52 (1): 27–45. McDermott, Rose. 2004. The feeling of rationality: The meaning of neuroscientific advances for political science. Perspectives on Politics 2 (4): 691–706. Morris-Yates, A., G. Andrews, P. Howie, and S. Henderson. 1990. Twins: A test of the equal environments assumption. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 81 (4): 322–6. O’Connor, T.G., K. Deater-Deckard; D Fulker, M. Rutter, and R. Plomin. 1998. Genotype-environment correlations in late childhood and early adolescence: Antisocial behavior problems and coercive parenting. Developmental Psychology 34 (5): 970–81. Orbell, John, Tomonori Morikawa, Jason Hartwig, James Hanley, and Nicholas Allen. 2004. Machiavellian intelligence as a basis for the evolution of cooperative dispositions. American Political Science Review 98 (1): 1–16. Plomin, R. 1990. The role of inheritance in behavior. Science, 183–248, April 13. Plomin, R., J.C. DeFries, G.E. McClearn, and P. McGuffin. 2001. Behavioral Genetics, 4th ed. New York: Worth. Plomin, R., L. Willerman, and J.C. Loehlin. 1976. Resemblance in appearance and the equal environments assumption in twin studies of personality traits. Behavior Genetics 6: 43–52. Scarr, Sandra, and L. Carter-Saltzman. 1979. Twin method: Defense of a critical assumption. Behavior Genetics 9: 527–42. Schreiber, Darren. 2005. “Evaluating Politics: A Search for the Neural Substrates of Political Thought.” PhD diss., UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. Schwartz, S. H., and A. Bardi. 2001. Value hierarchies across cultures: Taking a similarities perspective. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology 32: 268–90.
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judgment during the U.S. presidential election of 2004. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18: 1947–58. Xian, H., J.F. Scherrer, S.A. Eisen, W.R. True, A.C. Heath, J. Goldberg, M.J. Lyons, and M.T. Tsuang. 2000. Self-reported zygosity and the equal environments assumption for psychiatric disorders in the Vietnam era twin registry. Behavior Genetics 30: 303–10.

Thornhill, Randy, and Corey L. Fischer. 2007. “What Is the Relevance of Attachment and Life History to Political Values?” Presented at the annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Williamsburg, VA, May 30–June 3. Westen, D., P. Blagov, K. Harenski, C. Kilts, and S. Hamann. 2006. Neural basis of motivated reasoning: An fMRI study of emotional constraints on political

328 Perspectives on Politics


The Threat of Genes: A Comment on Evan Charney’s “Genes and Ideologies”
Rebecca J. Hannagan and Peter K. Hatemi
In his essay, “Genes and Ideologies,” Evan Charney wrangles with the question of the role of genes in the formation of political attitudes via a critique of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing’s 2005 American Political Science Review article. Although critical evaluations are necessary, his essay falls short of what is required of a scientific critique on both empirical and theoretical grounds. We offer a comment on his essay and further contend that it is naïve to proceed on the assumption that a barrier exists between the biological and social sciences, such that the biological sciences have nothing to offer the social sciences. If we look beyond our discipline’s current theoretical models we may find a more thorough, and not just competing, explanation of political behavior.


tudies examining genetic influences on behavior have become a significant part of scholarship represented in reputable and high impact journals across disciplines, including Science, Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Economic Literature, Psychological Bulletin, and many others. Many of these studies focus on health issues and socially damaging behaviors such as personality disorders, alcoholism, and depression,1 but others focus on the role of genes in social and political attitudes and behaviors.2 While consideration of the role of genes in models of attitudes and behaviors was introduced to other fields in the 1970s, it is a relatively new addition to political science.3 In particular, Alford, Funk and Hibbing’s (2005) APSR article “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?” has drawn attention to the issue of the role of genes in political attitudes both from within academia and the popular press. In his essay, “Genes and Ideologies,” Evan Charney takes up the question of the role of genes via a critique of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing. Although a critical evaluation was long overdue, his essay falls short of what is required of a scientific critique on both empirical and theoretical grounds.

Methodological Considerations
Science is a way to ensure accountability for claims because the veracity of results can be questioned, studies replicated, and hypotheses retested using different methods. Rather than replicating the Alford, Funk, and Hibbing (hereafter AFH) findings using a new data set, or testing the hypotheses employing different methods, Charney questions the legitimacy of the AFH results through a multi-faceted essay. Certainly, questioning the results of an empirical study is the way in which scientific inquiry proceeds. An adequate critique of an empirical study, however, must entail a coherent explanation of the inadequacies of the methods employed and demonstrate or suggest what methods should be used in order to better test the hypotheses. If this is not done the evaluation is not a scientific critique. The methods currently employed in the fields of genetics, psychiatry, and other disciplines used to explore attitudes and behaviors suggest a methodological critique of AFH is warranted. Twin studies are only a first step in genetic epidemiological research, albeit an important one (less frequently family or adoption studies are also used). Classical twin studies estimate heritability (h 2 ) based on twin correlations: h 2 is 2(rMZ rDZ), where r is the correlation coefficient. The relative contributions of the shared and non-shared environmental effects are: c 2 2rDZ rMZ and e 2 1 h 2 c 2, respectively. According to this formula, heritability is an estimate for the relative contribution of genetic effects to total phenotypic variance. Following designs from earlier twin studies, AFH applied polychoric correlations to the Holzinger formula above.4 However, the method used by AFH is seldom employed for raw data analyses in current scholarship.
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Rebecca J. Hannagan is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University (rhannaga@ Peter K. Hatemi is Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University (Peter.



The Threat of Genes
ple of twins.7 A subset of the results of those analyses are shown in table 1. While there are some sex differences in the magnitude of the variance components, the additive genetic component could only be dropped for one trait (political affiliation), while the common environment component could be removed for more than half the attitude items. The more sophisticated methodology and more parsimonious explanation suggest that genes play an even stronger role in political attitudes. In other words, AFH provided a more conservative estimation using the simpler method. An important methodological consideration raised by Charney concerns the construction of the conservatism scale used by AFH. He asserts that not all political items in the scale can be given equal weight and therefore the analyses are flawed. This point would be better addressed empirically by simply weighting the items based on national polling data in the year of the study (or the appropriate NES data) and rerunning the analyses based on an appropriate weighting scheme. However, a review of the AFH findings illustrate that many items that are stronger correlates to conservatism (e.g., immigration vs. divorce) have a more pronounced genetic influence. It is likely, therefore, that the results from such an analysis would show an increase in the additive genetic influence of conservatism (e.g., Hatemi et al. 2007). This stands opposed to what Charney seems to intend. Also, there is ample evidence for the construct validity and heritability of the WilsonPatterson conservatism scale and there are two very important considerations not raised by Charney that a brief review of the current literature employing the WilsonPatterson index provides.8 Several studies factored the scale into separate latent constructs and then ACE modeled each factor score separately.9 In each of the factors there is a significant genetic influence, though they differ depending on the factor (labeled Sex, Militarism, Religion, Politics, and Economics). Further, while the scale may be limited in many respects, it is remarkably normally distributed. While it is no simple task to gain a broad understanding of a field, or a deep understanding of a subfield, a critique of empirical work should attempt to be thorough in the literature it presents. A particular transgression by Charney in this regard is his presentation of the equal environments assumption (EEA) literature in an attempt to augment his argument that the findings from twin studies are confounded. The literature presented was highly selective and ignored the corrections and tests employed by geneticists and social scientists to test the validity of the assumption on a trait-specific basis.10 Early tests for EEA violations correlated perceived twin similarity with the trait under consideration while controlling for actual zygosity. Numerous studies of personality, intelligence, and psychiatric behaviors have found

Polychoric correlation transformations are limited in that the formula does not (1) allow for model fitting (testing whether genetic or familial influences can be removed from the model without reducing model fit); (2) provide confidence intervals; (3) include opposite-sex (OS) twin pairs (thereby excluding roughly 1/3 of the sample in the VA30K data set used by AFH); (4) test for male-female differences in the magnitude of variance components estimates; (5) test for the potential for difference in males or females genes which influence the trait; (6) test or model differences in either means for continuous data and/or thresholds for ordinal data between the different zygosity groups; and (7) allow for the modeling of age, or other covariates. For these reasons, polychoric correlation transformations have been replaced by more advanced methods.5 Structural equation modeling (SEM) under a maximum likelihood (ML) framework is the most common method used to infer the relative importance of the correlations between observed traits of monozygotic and dizygotic twins in terms of their underlying genetic and environmental components, less frequently, Bayesian methods are also used (see Fowler, Baker, and Dawes 2006). SEM/ML addresses the aforementioned shortcomings by: (1) testing for differences in the zygosity groups; (2) modeling those difference if they exist; (3) including OS twins; (4) including other siblings, parents, and any number of different relative types; and (5) model fitting to determine if removing the genetic or social component of a specific trait provides a statistically better model. This last feature addresses Charney’s argument that his explanation for attitudes is more parsimonious than what AFH present. What Charney seems to be arguing is that exclusively environmental explanations are “more parsimonious” simply because we are more used to them—an outrageous assertion on the face of it. Parsimony is only a virtue if it is also consistent with the data, not if it is only consistent with our preconceptions. If model parsimony is paramount, as Charney suggests, methodological improvements to AFH will resolve this concern. Rather than to assume that environment-only models are both more parsimonious and better fitting, model fitting techniques are available to determine whether a common and unique environmental model is superior to a model including genetic influences. In short, the results presented by AFH can be strengthened and potential problems with the findings can be addressed with more sophisticated methods currently used in behavior genetics. An important consideration regarding the use of polychoric Holzinger transformations, is that if no sex differences exist, and the zygosity groups present no differences in means or thresholds, then Holzinger transformations provide remarkably similar results to an ML analysis.6 This happens to be the case with the AFH results. The conservatism items in the AFH study were tested within an ML framework using the full sam330 Perspectives on Politics

Table 1 (US) Standardized Variance Components (95% CI) Sex Limitation Model Fitting for Political Attitudes; Thresholds Corrected for Age a
Parameter Estimates Females Model Abortion Astrology Busing Capitalism Censorship Death Penalty Divorce Draft Federal Housing Foreign Aid Gay Rights Immigration Living Together Military Drill Modern Art Moral Majority Nuclear Power Pacifism Party Affiliation Property Tax Religiosity-2 School Prayer Segregation Socialism Unions Women’s Lib X-Rated Movies ACE bc AE b ACE b AE b AE b ACE bd ACE bc AE bd AE b ACE b ACE bd AE bd ACE bc AE bd AE bcd AE bd AE bd AE bd CE bcd AE bd ACE bc ACE b AE bcd AE bd AE bd ACE bc AE bcd a

Males e .33 .53 .60 .53 .62 .44 .52 .63 .59 .59 .41 .54 .33 .64 .60 .58 .65 .69 .19 .58 .25 .31 .63 .62 .59 .48 .49





c2 .19 (.10–.37) — .30 (.06–.45) — — .21 (.10–.31) 0 (.00–.07) — — .11 (.00–.31) .25 (.22–.34) — .48 (.21–.54) — — — — — .81 (.78–.84) — .36 (.05–.59) .21 (.09–.41) — — — 0 (.00–.03) —

e2 .43 (.36–.50) .53 (.46–.61) .58 (.50–.66) .39 (.33–.46) .61 (.53–.69) .44 (.40.-48) .57 (.53–.65) .63 (.60–.68) .59 (.54–.64) .58 (.51–.66) .41 (.39–.45) .54 (.51–.54) .52 (.52–.58) .64 (.63–.69) .60 (.57–.64) .58 (.53–.62) .65 (.61–.65) .69 (.65–.73) .19 (.16–.22) .58 (.58–.63) .41 (.32–.50) .32 (.26–.40) .63 (.59–.68) .62 (.58–.66) .59 (.54–.64) .69 (.61–.76) .49 (.46–.54)

−2LL 23249.16 24329.32 22772.97 23031.11 24416.92 18872.82 24253.99 22096.51 22455.92 25235.07 22434.67 24832.82 21940.29 21635.07 25004.82 24882.86 24577.93 22094.26 8738.75 21227.90 15047.54 18018.47 20367.82 21328.12 24884.86 24217.86 18652.25

X2 6.33 2.83 3.64 5.08 5.92 0.29 10.35 0.10 5.49 8.35 5.02 1.02 6.82 6.88 0.27 1.15 5.99 0.79 2.34 0.00 3.33 4.66 0.08 0.53 4.34 8.22 0.79

df 6 2 4 2 2 3 6 1 2 4 3 1 6 4 1 2 2 1 2 1 3 4 1 1 2 6 2

p-value (comparison model) .38 .24 .46 .07 .05 .96 .11 .75 .06 .08 .17 .31 .33 .14 .61 .56 .06 .94 .31 .48 .34 .32 .78 .46 .11 .22 .67 (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE) (ACE)

.26 (.12–.41) .47(.43–.47) .31 (.16–.31) .47 (.43–.52) .38 (.33–.42) .35 (.22–.48) .25 (.16–.29) .37 (.32–.41) .41 (.36–.46) .40 (.29–.45) .34 (.24–.45) .46 (.46–.49) .51 (.41–.68) .36 (.31–.40) .40 (.36–.43) .42 (.38–.47) .34 (.30–.39) .31 (.27–.35) — .42 (.41–.46) .56 (.35–.66) .32 (.16–.48) .37 (.32–.37) .38 (.34–.38) .41 (.36–.46) .34 (.18–.49) .51 (.47–.56)

.41(.27–.53) — .09 (.08–.20) — — .21 (.10–.31) .23 (.08–.38) — — .01 (.00.-10) .25 (.22–.34) — .16 (.10–.24) — — — — — .81 (.78–.84) — .19 (.08–.39) .37 (.22–.51) — — — .18 (.05–.18) —

(.29–.37) (.48–.57) (.55–.65) (.48–.57) (.58–.67) (.40–.48) (.47–.57) (.60–.68) (.54–.64) (.55–.64) (.39–.45) (.51–.54) (.30–.37) (.63–.69) (.57–.64) (.53–.62) (.61–.65) (.65–.73) (.16–.22) (.58–.63) (.21–.29) (.27–.36) (.59–.68) (.58–.66) (.54–.64) (.44–.53) (.46–.54)

.38 (.16–.51) .47 (.39–.54) .12 (0–.40) .61 (.54–.67) .39 (.35–.47) .35 (.22–.48) .42 (.31–.42) .37 (.32–.41) .41 (.36–.46) .31 (.08–.49) .34 (.24–.45) .46 (.46–.49) 0 (.00–.34) .36 (.31–.40) .40 (.36–.43) .42 (.38–.47) .34 (.30–.39) .31 (.27–.35) — .42 (.41–.46) .22 (.00–.57) .47 (.22–.62) .37 (.32–.37) .38 (.34–.38) .41 (.36–.46) .31 (.23–.39) .51 (.47–.56)

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Note: This table was originally published in Hatemi 2007 as table 4.3; (a) Only best fitting models shown (b) Equated Thresholds for MZ and DZ pairs (MZ/DZ groups have no difference).(c) Equated Thresholds for Males and Females (d) Equated Variance components for Males and Females.



The Threat of Genes
for critique by their peers in the scientific tradition. If we collectively aim at becoming a science of human behavior, we have an obligation to hold each other accountable within scientific standards. Although critiquing AFH is entirely appropriate, the critique offered by Charney provides no opportunity to hold AFH accountable for their findings. The argument can be made that AFH’s results should be carefully scrutinized because of the method used to test their hypotheses—similar to what we suggest above—but while AFH used simpler methods than those employed in current research, it should be noted that most studies attempting to analyze the heritability of any phenotype start with simple correlation differences between MZ and DZ twins. Normal science proceeds incrementally and complex studies such as those undertaken by behavioral geneticists are typically executed in stages.

that twin trait resemblance was not influenced by perceived similarity.11 Later tests focused on correlating the similarity of the twins’ environments with the trait under consideration while controlling for actual zygosity, but also found no violation of the EEA.12 A more recent test modeled the discrepancy between perceived and actual zygosity by extending the ACE model to partition the common environment into two parts; usual common environment (which is correlated at 1.0 for all twin pairs) and specific common environment (which is determined by perceived zygosity—correlated at 1 if both twins perceive themselves to be MZ, 0 if both twins see themselves as DZ, and .5 if the twins disagree about their zygosity). Utilizing this method, studies find no evidence that perceived zygosity (whether from the twins, parents, or others) influenced resemblance for personality traits or social attitudes. The most common and least prohibitive test currently used for ordinal data is a simple statistical comparison which tests if equating the prevalence of the trait or attitude under examination (modeled as thresholds within a multi-factorial threshold model) between MZ and DZ twins provides a better fit to the data than separate thresholds. Thresholds for MZ and DZ twin pairs that can be equated without worsening model fit implies no difference in variances between MZ and DZ twin pairs.13 Differences have been found for traits such as perceived closeness to siblings but not for intelligence, personality, or social and political attitudes. Potential violations of the EEA are important to recognize when critiquing a twin study, but it should be noted that the EEA must be tested for each specific trait under consideration. For example, if a violation is found for dressing alike it does not follow that the violation applies to height, weight, or political attitudes. While a violation of the EEA invalidates the use of the classical twin model for the specific trait in question, it does not invalidate it for every trait. Social science challenges to the EEA tend to either misrepresent the assumption or generalize violations—suggesting that a violation means the overall twin design is empirically unsound and its results cannot be trusted for any trait. Again, a systematic review of the literature reveals these important considerations. The EEA does not mean that geneticists assume there are no differences in MZ and DZ rearing. Rather, they assume that these differences do not affect the trait under examination because they test for it and if a violation is found they model the violation to correct for it. In the rare instances that a violation may be present, a statistical technique is used to model the increased similarity rather than assuming that similarity in dress, classrooms, and room sharing make any difference in twins’ similarity in political attitudes. The data and methods employed by AFH in their 2005 American Political Science Review article were presented
332 Perspectives on Politics

Theoretical Considerations
It is widely acknowledged that attitudes are learned, that is, that they develop through experience.14 It is often argued, in light of this understanding, that attitudes are environmentally caused. Studies since the 1970s have reported modest to strong genetic influences on social and political attitudes, thereby providing empirical evidence that attitudes and behaviors are a result of both genes and environment.15 Such findings do not negate the impact of the environment, but explain the extent to which environment matters. Regarding the possibility of genetic influence on political attitudes, Charney says that “such a hypothesis is, in and of itself, extremely implausible (if not incoherent).” Addressing this admittedly widespread belief among social scientists appears to be the goal of the AFH study. However, it is not the case that environmental and biological hypotheses are implausible, incoherent, or incompatible—in fact, they are inseparable. Genetic factors exert their influence on an organism in a particular environment such that any trait must be a combination of the two factors. Any explanation that denies this interaction is incoherent. Regarding the role of genes, Charney states that
if true, it would require nothing less than a revision of our understanding of all of human history, much, if not most of political science, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well as, perhaps, our understanding of what it means to be human.16

This “revision of our understanding” happened a very long time ago. There is no nature-nurture debate. One can review the classical literature from Darwin (1872) and his contemporaries, or more recent literature from genetics to neuroscience and even philosophy to discern that the scientific community recognizes that genes are very much a part of what it means to be human. Genes are not mysterious, elusive or fleeting, and any assertion to the contrary is comparable to suggesting that bacteria we cannot see are not really there and that evil spirits in the body cause

illness. Genes are physical and quantifiable. With empirical study, increasingly sophisticated methodology, technology, and time, scientists will continue to understand how genes do what they do. Charney’s critique seems largely a philosophical struggle with empirical science and the “threat” of genes merely provides the impetus. The argument he attempts to put forth is that variance component estimates do not measure what AFH say they measure. Charney does not convincingly show this to be the case. He may not believe such methods measure what they purport to measure, but science does not proceed in this way. If the problem is ultimately a disbelief in the ability to measure human attitudes and behavior, we relegate our discipline to philosophy and history. Charney’s use of the Horwitz et al. (2003) critique of the EEA illustrates this danger. Horwitz et al.’s (2003, 125) assertion that “theoretical assumptions not empirical findings determine where to end the chain of causation between social and genetic factors” is an attempt to critique empirical findings on moralistic grounds.17 A more scientifically-oriented critique would offer a means for further clarifying the estimates produced through twin studies rather than dismissing them simply because they only provide estimates. Estimates from any empirical study, whether regression analysis, Bayesian models, or others, are all just estimates based on the model employed.

to critique empirical work based on the philosophical rejection of the scientific method. Epidemiologists and psychologists are currently undertaking the study of political attitudes and behaviors. We may prefer to wrangle about the utility and philosophical implications of incorporating genes into our models, but the evidence suggests that we must take on new theoretical approaches and developments in methodology and consider them as candidate improvements upon our existing paradigm. The alternative is to yield significant parts of our discipline to scientists in other disciplines. To concur with Charney, the AFH study could doubtless be improved upon—but what scientific study cannot? The greater issue emerging from this critique is that if we are to proceed as a social science there is something to learn from AFH. If we look beyond our discipline’s current theoretical models we may find a more thorough, and not just competing, explanation of political behavior.

1 Caspi et al. 2002, 2003. 2 Eaves and Eysenck 1974; Eaves et al. 1989; Martin et al. 1986; Truett et al. 1992. 3 Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005; Fowler 2006, 2007; Hatemi, Alford, Hibbing, Keller, Martin, Medland, and Eaves 2007; Hatemi et al. 2007b; Fowler and Dawes 2007; for an exception see Nelson 1974. 4 Holzinger 1929. 5 Rijsdijk and Sham 2002; and Neale 1997, 2000. 6 Neale and Cardon 1992. 7 Hatemi 2007. 8 Bouchard et al. 2003. 9 Eaves et al. 1999. 10 Matheny, Wilson, and Dolan 1976; Plomin and Lachlin 1976; Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979. Also, Lytton 1977 examined family members and found no relationship between the parent’s perception of the twin’s zygosity and actual twin behavior. 11 Kendler 1983; Loehlin and Nichols 1976; Kendler et al. 1987; Martin et al. 1986; Heath, Jardine, and Martin 1989. 12 Hettema, Neale, and Kendler 1995; Kendler et al. 1993; Xian et al. 2000. Hettema, Neale, and Kendler did find an equal environment assumption violation for Bulimia Nervosa. No violations were found for other psychological traits (e.g., major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, and alcoholism). 13 Many authors describe this test more generally stating they are testing for “twin specific effects” and do not explicitly state that they are testing for the EEA. In addition, when data have been collected from non-twin siblings, checking for differences in the
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It is unlikely that “the” gene for conservatism, financial success, a great golf stroke, or any other complex trait will be identified. It is more likely that complex networks of genes, for which causal variation might be specified, are the appropriate targets for future research. Genes likely establish general inclinations or predispositions that shape our interpretation and reaction to experiences. Those experiences increase the likelihood of developing a specific trait or attitude.18 It may be the case that the more we learn about genes the more we discover the importance of relevant environmental influences on behavior. Without consideration of one we would not gain full understanding of the other. If what political scientists are truly after is an answer to the question, “Why do people do what they do?” a focus on cultural or social influences alone will leave us with an incomplete understanding of our subject. Social determinism does not make any more sense than biological or genetic determinism and to proceed on the assumption that a barrier exists between the biological and social sciences, such that the biological sciences have nothing to offer the social sciences is naïve. This comment is not intended to be simply an examination of one author’s misrepresentative attack on a particular study, but a response to the idea that is it acceptable



The Threat of Genes
Fowler, James, Laura Baker, and Christopher Dawes. 2006. “The Genetic Basis of Politicl Cooperation.” Presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology and Politics, Lincoln, NE, October 13–14. Fowler, James, and Chris Dawes. 2007. “The Genetic Basis of Political Participation.” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, August 30–September 2. Freese, Jeremy, and Brian Powell. 2003. Tilting at twindmills: Rethinking sociological responses to behavioral genetics. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 44 (2): 130–35. Hatemi, Peter K. 2007. “The Genetics of Political Attitudes.” PhD diss., University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Hatemi, Peter, John Alford, John Hibbing, Matthew Keller, Nicholas Martin, Sarah Medland, and Lindon Eaves. 2007. “Not by Twins Alone: Using the Extended Twin Family Design to Investigate the Genetic Basis of Political Beliefs.” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, August 30– September 2. Hatemi, Peter K., Sarah E. Medland, Katherine I. Morley, Andrew C. Heath, and Nicholas G. Martin. 2007. The genetics of voting: An Australian twin study. Behavior Genetics 37 (3): 435–48. Heath, A.C., R. Jardine, and N.G. Martin. 1989. Interactive effects of genotype and social environment on alcohol consumption in female twins. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 60: 38–48. Hettema, J.M., M.C. Neale, and K.S. Kendler. 1995. Physical similarity and the equal-environments assumption in twin studies of psychiatric disorders. Behavior Genetics 25: 327–35. Horwitz, Allan, Tami Videon, Mark Schmitz, and Diane Davis. 2003. Rethinking twins and environments: Possible social structures for assumed genetic influences in twin research. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 44 (2): 111–29. Kendler, K.S. 1983. Overview: Current perspective on twin studies of schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 140: 1413–25. Kendler, K.S., A.C. Heath, N.G. Martin, and L.J. Eaves. 1987. Symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression. Same genes, different environments? Archives of General Psychiatry 44: 451–57. Kendler, K.S., M.C. Neale, R.C. Kessler, A.C. Heath, and L.J. Eaves. 1993. A test of the equal-environment assumption in twin studies of psychiatric illness. Behavior Genetics 23: 21–27. Loehlin, J.C., and R.C. Nichols. 1976. Heredity, Environment, and Personality: A Study of 850 Sets of Twins. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Lytton, H. 1977. Do parents create, or respond to, differences in twins? Developmental Psychology 13: 456–59.

14 15 16 17 18

variances or thresholds between twins and siblings, and for differences between the DZ covariance and the twin-sibling and sibling-sibling covariances, can provide a more robust test of the EEA. Eagly and Chaiken 1993. Eaves and Eysenck 1974; Eaves et al. 1989; Martin et al. 1986; Truett et al. 1992. Charney 2008, 330. Horwitz et al. 2003; but see Freese and Powell 2003 for an overview of this debate. Olson et al. 2001.

Alford, John, Carolyn Funk, and John R. Hibbing. 2005. Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review 99 (2): 153–168. Bouchard, Thomas J., Nancy L. Segal, Auke Tellegen, Matt McGue, Margaret Keyes, and Robert Krueger. 2003. Evidence for the construct validity and heritability of the Wilson-Patterson conservatism scale: a reared-apart twins study of social attitudes. Personality and Individual Differences 34: 959–69. Caspi, Avshalom, Joseph McClay, Terrie Moffitt, Jonathan Mill, Judie Martin, Ian Craig, Allen Taylor and Richie Poulton. 2002. Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science 297: 851–53. Caspi, Avshalom, Karen Sugden, Terrie Moffitt, Alan Taylor, Ian Craig, Honalee Harrington Joseph McClay, Jonathan Mill, Judie Martin, Antony Braithwaite, and Richie Poulton. 2003. Influence of life stress on depression. Science 301: 386–89. Darwin, Charles. 1998 [1872]. The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, ed. Paul Eckman. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Eagly, A.H., and S. Chaiken. 1993. The Psychology of Attitudes. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Eaves, L.J., and H.J. Eysenck. 1974. Genetics and the development of social attitudes. Nature 249: 288–89. Eaves, L.J., H.J. Eysenck, and N.G. Martin. 1989. Genes, Culture and Personality: An Empirical Approach. New York: Academic Press. Eaves, Lindon, Andrew Heath, Nicholas Martin, Hermine Maes, Michael Neale, Kenneth Kendler, Katherine Kirk, and Linda Corey. 1999. Comparing the biological and cultural inheritance of personality and social attitudes in the Virginia 30,000 study of twins and their relatives. Twin Research 2: 62–80. Fowler, James. 2006. “The Genetic Basis of Political Cooperation.” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, PA. August 30–September 2. _. 2007. “The Genetic Basis of Voter Turnout.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. April 12–15.
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Martin, N.G., L.J. Eaves, A.C. Heath, R. Jardine, L.M. Feingold, and H.J. Eysenck. 1986. Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 83: 4364–68. Matheny, A.P., R.S. Wilson, and A.B. Dolan. 1976. Relations between twins’ similarity of appearance and behavioral similarity: Testing an assumption. Behavior Genetics 6: 343–51. Neale, M.C. 1997. Mx: Statistical Modeling (Box 980126) 3d ed. Richmond, VA: MCV. _. 2000. QTL mapping with sib-pairs: The flexibility of Mx. In Advances in Twin and Sib-Pair Analysis, ed. T.D. Spector, H. Snieder, and A.J. MacGregor. London: Oxford University Press. Neale, M.C., and L.R. Cardon. 1992. Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Nelson, Stephen D. 1974. Nature/nurture revisited I: A review of the biological bases of conflict. Journal of Conflict Resolution 18 (2): 285–335. Olson, James M., Philip A. Vernon, Julie Aitken Harris, and Kerry L. Jang. 2001. The heritability of attitudes:

A study of twins. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80 (6): 845–60. Plomin, R., L. Willerman, and J.C. Loehlin. 1976. Resemblance in appearance and the equal environments assumption in twin studies of personality traits. Behavior Genetics 6: 43–52. Rijsdijk, Frühling V., and Pak C. Sham. 2002. Analytic approaches to twin data using structural equation models. Briefings in Bioinformatics 3 (2): 119–33. Scarr, S., and L. Carter-Saltzman. 1979. Twin method: Defense of a critical assumption. Behavior Genetics 9: 527–42. Truett, K.R., L.J. Eaves, J.M. Meyer, A.C. Heath, and N.G. Martin. 1992. Religion and education as mediators of attitudes: A multivariate analysis. Behavior Genetics 22: 43–6. Xian, Hong, Jeffrey F. Scherrer, Seth A. Eisen, William R. True, Andrew C. Heath, Jack Goldberg, Michael J. Lyon, and Ming T. Tsuang. 2000. Self-reported zygosity and the equal-environments assumption for psychiatric disorders in the Vietnam era twin registry. Behavior Genetics 30: 303–10.

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Evan Charney


would like to thank Alford, Funk, and Hibbing, and Hannagan and Hatemi, for agreeing to write critical responses to my article, and I am grateful for the opportunity afforded me to respond. I begin with the response of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing. An enforced limitation on space requires some selectivity in my response, but I have tried to respond to all of their major critiques. Alford, Funk, and Hibbing (AFH) begin by implying that I am caught in the “hubris” of a “mind-body dualism” which sees the mind as some kind of mystical entity. Nowhere in my article have I said anything at all regarding “mind-body dualism.” It is not an assumption I argue for, nor is it a premise of any of the arguments I make. Perhaps AFH believe that if genes are not accepted as the ultimate causal explanation for any and all human phenomena, then somehow this implies “mind-body dualism.” It does not.

AFH claim that I err in treating the environment as “exogenous”: “Whether the causal order is [genes r beliefs] or [genes r physical traits r social reactions r beliefs], the underlying cause is still genetic.” To illustrate this point, AFH assert that “negative parenting is typically assumed to be the cause of children’s antisocial behavior, when in point of fact children play an important role in shaping their own environment, in this case by influencing the behavior of their parents.” 2 What AFH are arguing is that children, presumably on the basis of genetic traits, create or elicit negative parenting, and the effects on children of this negative response on the part of parents should itself be counted as “genetic” (i.e., caused by the genetic traits of the child in question). This tendency to view gene-environment covariance as a genetic effect is not uncommon among psychologists who undertake twin studies. Thus, according to Bouchard, “[identical] twins tend to elicit, select, seek out, or create very similar effective environments and, to that extent, the impact of these experiences is counted as a

genetic influence.” 3 Suppose that a one-year-old child is cranky and is beaten by its parents. According to Bouchard and AFH, the impact upon the child of its being beaten by its parents is itself genetic because, presumably, the fact that the child is cranky is genetic. But of course, not all parents are abusive and beat their children in response to a child’s cranky behavior (genetic or otherwise), and for any given pair of children with similar dispositions, parental responses will be as varied as parenting styles. But the absolutely fallacious nature of the assumption that the effects of behavior which is a response to a “genetic trait” should itself be counted as genetic can be seen by considering that slavery of blacks was the response of a group of individuals (white Europeans and Americans) to a genetically transmitted trait, i.e., black skin color. Are we to assume then, that the effects upon blacks of their enslavement by European whites were genetic, because slavery was “caused” or “elicited” or “created” by the genetic trait of black skin color? Rape is a response of some men to the genetic characteristic of being female. Should we say that the effects upon women of being raped are genetic? If AFH wish to distance themselves from such preposterous (and pernicious) conclusions, then they are going to have to distinguish between two types of “impacts” upon individuals from behavior that is deemed a response to a genetic trait: Impacts that will be deemed genetic and impacts that will not be deemed genetic. On what basis might they propose to draw such a distinction? In support of the validity of the Equal Environment Assumption (EEA), AFH reference studies of so-called “reverse zygosity.” These studies, as noted in my article, concern a tiny subpopulation of DZ twins mistakenly thought by their parents to be MZ twins, and purport to show that the degree of correspondence between MZ twins still exceeds that of DZ twins. According to AFH, “the results of these mis-categorization studies are clear: DZ twin pairs believed by their environments to be MZ twin pairs are no more similar than DZ twin pairs believed to
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percent). In one study, Brody and Rothenberg showed that fewer than half the 1980 voters were stable throughout their campaign year in their self-description on the National Election Study party identification question.7 In fact, party identification is so variable in the United States that shifts in party identification can be correlated with specific political events (see figure 1). Second, political parties in the United States exhibit relatively low internal unity and lack strict adherence to an ideology or set of policy goals, allowing for a less strict alignment between ideology and party identification.8 Hence, the findings of AFH—high ideological correlation and low party identification correlation—are exactly what one would expect given the nature of party identification in the United States. Given the relatively weak and variable nature of party identification, we would expect political ideology (whatever its origins) to be more enduring, more fixed and constant, than party identification (which might differ depending upon when any given individual is asked to identify her party affiliation). MZ twins are more likely to share political attitudes as opposed to party identification because of the relatively weak and highly variable nature of the correlation between political attitudes and party identification in the United States. Parents’ identities are defined much more strongly by their political ideologies (connected, as they generally are, with their moral and religious world views) than by their party affiliations, and for this very reason we would expect parents to be much more concerned to transmit their political ideologies, rather than their party affiliations, to their children. For one committed to an “environmental” explanation of political ideology, what AFH present as the “ultimate challenge” ironically appears to affirm the “environmental” approach. AFH claim that my referencing a study by Cooper and Zubek 9 that indicates the manner in which heritability of maze-running ability in mice can vary dramatically with different environments somehow undercuts my argument. First, they draw attention to the fact that I admit that the mice in the study “may well have inherited whatever genes are linked to intelligence.” I have absolutely no difficulty in acknowledging such a claim. My argument does not concern the question of the heritability of mouse intelligence, nor does it concern the heritability of human intelligence. My argument concerns the intelligibility of the proposition that political ideologies are heritable, a proposition radically different than the proposition that intelligence is (partially) heritable. Second, my point in mentioning the mouse study was not to warn against overestimating the role of genetics in a given environment (as AFH interpret it), but simply to emphasize the point that high heritability does not imply that a given trait is resistant to environmental influence, contrary to what AFH say in their article, and that

be DZ twin pairs.” But the results of such studies are not clear. To repeat what I said in my article:
Most of these studies of “reverse zygosity,” however, relied upon parental accounts of how they raised their twin children many years later. Because of problems with biased impressions, poor memory, and poor reliability, studies that rely upon parental recall of their child rearing practices have been shown to be notoriously unreliable, typically showing reliability measures of only 0.3–0.5.4

In addition, studies have shown that parents’ recounts of their rearing practices are often biased to match some ideal of parenting. How could an assumption as momentous (and counterintuitive) as the EEA rest upon such shaky ground? Are we to assume, on the basis of the potentially biased and faulty memories of elderly parents concerning their child rearing practices, that the debate concerning the validity of the EEA has been solved once and for all? According to what standard of science are we to accept this as conclusive evidence of anything? 5 I now consider what AFH characterize as “the most important challenge we wish to issue to Charney concerning the EEA”:
We estimate the heritability of political and social attitudes to be in the .4 to .5 range, leaving .5 to .6 attributable to environmental factors. But these same procedures reveal that party identification is only about .14 heritable, leaving .86 attributable to the environment, so the classical twin design reports a dramatic difference in the heritability of political beliefs and party identification”. . . If violations of the EEA are responsible for reported heritability, Charney must argue that parents of MZ and DZ twins raise their children equally similarly with regard to party identification but differentially with regard to political attitudes.6

In response, I focus on the most obvious problem with the “challenge” AFH set before me, or rather, with the obvious answer. AFH appear to treat “party identification” as a fixed variable, such that we can say of any given individual that she possesses political beliefs (“ideology”) A and party identification B, and both are supposed to be invariable. Let me highlight two well-known points concerning party identification in the United States: First, party identification in the United States is relatively weak compared to a number of other countries, as indicated by the incidence of ticket-splitting (in the 2000 elections, 20 percent of voters split their ballots by voting for candidates from different parties for president and for the U.S. House of Representatives); the existence of a sizable number of voters who consider themselves Independents (and hence aligned with neither party); and the frequency with which Americans change political parties (a recent Pew poll showed a sharp change in Americans’ political party identification: Democrats now outnumber Republicans 50 percent to 35 percent, as opposed to 2002, when both had 43
338 Perspectives on Politics

Figure 1 2001–2004 party ID quarterly averages with key events

Note: All data from PSRA/Newsweek polls with the following exceptions: Second quarter 2001 includes data from Pew’s June News Interest Index (6/13–17/01). Third quarter 2001 includes data from Pew’s July Favorability poll (7/2–12/01) and Kaiser’s August Health News Index (8/2–5/01). Fourth quarter 2002 includes data from Kaiser’s December Health News Index (12/6–10/02). Third quarter 2004 includes data from Pew’s August Convention (8/5–10/04) and Kaiser’s August Health Poll Report (8/5–8/04).

heritability itself can change dramatically with changes in the environment. According to AFH:
Inherited attitudes seem to be demonstrably different than acquired attitudes. . . [A]ttitudes higher in heritability are manifested more quickly, are more resistant to change, and increase the likelihood that people will be attracted to those who share those particular attitudes. . . To the extent that political ideologies are inherited and not learned they become more difficult to manipulate.10

AFH comment, “while some of this interspousal similarity [as determined by their answers to the 28 items on the Wilson-Patterson index] could plausibly be attributed to persuasion effects taking place after mate choice rather than assortative mating, the levels of similarity are probably too high to dismiss assortative mating entirely.” 12 “Probably too high” according to what standard? Once again, one must ask what standard of scientific evidence is being employed here? According to AFH, I am taken with the “context bound” nature of words, and argue that given that words like “liberalism” have no meaning for much of the world, liberalism cannot be genetic. This is a parody of my argument, which has nothing to do with words, but rather with concepts (or “attitudes”), and more specifically, the clusters of complex concepts that comprise a political ideology (and what these clusters of concepts are named makes little difference). When AFH assert, erroneously, that “the package of attitudes held, for example, by conservatives in the United States is remarkably similar to that held by conservatives in other cultures and at earlier times in American history,” 13 they discuss precisely what I discuss. Perhaps they believe, in line with their claims concerning the trans-cultural and trans-historical nature of liberalism and conservatism, that all that has ever changed historically regarding these two ideologies (from their origins to the present) is their names. AFH assert that “no scientifically literate person in this day and age can claim that genes are irrelevant to human
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Claims of this sort are indicative of a popular misunderstanding of the concept of heritability: High heritability does not mean inevitability of phenotypic outcome. 11 In response to my contention that it seems unusual that those issues that one would associate most with social conservatism in the United States at present—abortion and gay rights—show lower levels of “heritability” than other issues, AFH respond with what can only be described as a deus ex machina: “Assortative mating,” based on the observation that conservatives tend to marry conservatives and liberals tend to marry liberals. Then, proceeding on the assumption that parents are genetically similar, AFH “correct” for assortative mating, and note that with this “correction,” abortion and gay rights come out among the top five “heritable” issues. What precisely is this supposed to show? Is not the assumption that parents are genetically similar something that must be proved rather than assumed (particularly when such an assumption allows one to manipulate the data in a manner that is more favorable to one’s hypothesis)? When discussing “assortative mating,”



Politics, Genetics, and “Greedy Reductionism”
standing of advances in modern genetics. I will simply point out that, as noted in my article, the section that deals specifically with genetics and the methodology of twin studies presents arguments that are not my own (I cannot claim credit for them, as much as I would like to). Rather, they are the current arguments of some of the most prominent living geneticists, neuroscientists, and medical researchers (some of whom have provided invaluable guidance), individuals such as Richard Lewontin, Douglas Wahlstein, Jonathan Beckwith, and Annette Karmiloff-Smith. This “celebrity appeal” is not intended to resolve any controversies, but it is intended to highlight the following: The strongest critiques of the methodology of twin studies (as well as the understanding of heritability on which they rely) at the present time come from prominent geneticists, biologists, neurologists, and medical researchers—not, obviously, from political scientists, and not from psychologists (with a few notable exceptions). There exists no consensus on these matters among scientific experts in genetics engaged in cutting-edge research (among whom neither I, nor Alford, nor Funk, nor Hibbing, nor Hannagan, nor Hatemi can be counted). Any claim to the contrary is manifestly false, and if I succeed in conveying nothing more than this reality to the political science community I will be satisfied that I have accomplished a great deal. A strict limitation on space will not allow a detailed response to the comments of Hannagan and Hatemi, but inasmuch as they make many of the same claims as AFH in their response, I shall limit myself to two comments. Hannagan and Hatemi (HH) place much emphasis upon the statistical technique of structural equation modeling (SEM). Advances in statistical methodology can bring with them significant advances in scientific understanding, but what they cannot do is transform a foundationally flawed empirical research technique into a sound one. Let me emphasize the following: As noted in my article, twin studies that employ SEM rely every bit as much as older twin studies—and the study of AFH—on the equal environment assumption, unbiased samples, and accurate measurements of the phenomenon being studied. None of the objections raised to the EEA are answered, obviated, or rendered moot by SEM. The second objection of HH that I would like to address I consider much more interesting: It is that my objections to AFH are not “scientific,” but rather “philosophical,” and that I illegitimately “critique an empirical work based on the philosophical rejection of the scientific method.” To point out the flaws in a supposedly scientific methodology (twin studies), to point out that it fails to meet the rigorous criteria of scientific knowledge, is hardly to reject

behavior and predispositions.” 14 Limiting what I say to behavior, AFH are absolutely right, and nowhere do I make such a preposterous claim. But the problem is that as diffuse a term as “behavior” could cover everything from manual dexterity and the use of language to a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity and preferring the Yankees to the New York Mets. My argument does not concern the question of the “heritability” of everything that could possibly fall under the rubric of “human behavior”; it concerns the assumption that specific political ideologies could be genetically transmitted. The quoted sentence continues as follows: “yet many people are deeply discomfited by this reality” (similarly, Hannagan and Hatemi assert I am “threatened” by genetic explanations of political ideologies). I find the ascription of psychological motives to me by AFH (as well as Hannagan and Hatemi) an extremely tedious (and somewhat adolescent) form of ad hominem arguing. It is easy to play at such a silly game; e.g., many authoritarian personality types have an overwhelming fear of lack of uniformity, multiplicity of explanations, “contextualism” (the need to consider particular cultural and historical contexts) and “irreducibility,” and hence are drawn to simplistic, reductionist, “absolutist” explanations in which all human phenomena can be reduced to a single, uniform, explanatory variable (e.g., genes, self-interest, rational choice, “economic rationality,” class struggle, God’s plan for humankind). I ascribe no such underlying psychological motives to AFH or to Hannagan and Hatemi, and I would appreciate it if they would return the favor. According to AFH,
casting the issue as genes competing with the environment, as Charney does in his conclusion (“if genes count for more than environment the phenomena of liberalism and conservatism . . . become utterly incomprehensible”) is silly and misses the point. What we claim is that genes are important to political thought and behavior.15

But all that I was doing was summarizing the authors’ own assertions, e.g.,
setting aside the important special case of party identification, we find that political attitudes are influenced much more heavily by genetics than by parental socialization. For the overall index of political conservatism, genetics accounts for approximately half of the variance in ideology, while shared environment including parental influence accounts for only 11%. And in the case of the variance in people’s tendencies to possess political opinions at all, regardless of their ideological direction, genetics explains one-third of the variance, and shared environment is completely inconsequential.” 16

If AFH find such assertions silly, then we are in complete agreement. Finally, AFH (and Hannagan and Hatemi) are at great pains to portray me as someone without any real under340 Perspectives on Politics

the scientific method, but rather to uphold it. I do not believe that what AFH and HH are doing is science, for all the trappings of science they employ, e.g., an empirical study, the collection of data, analysis of the data using statistical methods. I could perform the exact same study as AFH using a different questionnaire and claim to have determined what percentage of an individual’s belief concerning the doctrine of the Trinity is due to genes and what percentage to environment—or to what extent whether one favors the New York Yankees or the Boston Redsocks, or Mercedes or BMWs, or Lowes or Home Depot—is “heritable.” A twin study which asked MZ and DZ twins whether they shopped at Macy’s department store would very likely reveal that this “trait” was partially “heritable” (because MZ twins have greater contact throughout life than DZ twins and tend to live closer to one another, they are more likely to shop at the same stores than DZ twins). Researchers, blind to the more obvious explanations for their findings, might propose a “Macy’s gene.” More sophisticated researchers might propose a Macy’s personality type, correlated with the phenotype of shopping at Macy’s. The results of such a study would doubtless generate spectacular news headlines (and be a godsend as a marketing tool), but if taken seriously would indicate nothing more than the inadequacy and crudeness of the researchers’ methodology (as well as their general thinking—or lack thereof—about the plausibility of such things). But such a study would not constitute an addition to—or advance in—scientific understanding. Parts of my argument dealt with something called “common sense” (and it makes little difference whether or not one wants to call this “philosophy”). Let us recall that in their article, AFH talk of specific genes for each of the specific beliefs that they associate with the liberal and conservative (or “contextualist” and “absolutist”) phenotypes:
Even if the individual genes involved with absolutism or contextualism tend to move together, this does not mean they always do. Some individuals may carry, say, an absolutist’s aversion to out-groups but a contextualist’s rejection of a universalistic behavioral code.17

To talk of a gene coded for the belief that universalistic behavioral codes are improper (immoral?), is like talking about a gene for one’s views concerning federalism. To propose a gene coded for one’s belief regarding the proper balance between states’ rights and the federal government defies common sense (and I will note the extent to which AFH appear to have backed away from absurd claims of this sort in their response to me, which I take as a positive development). Perhaps it is engaging in philosophical reasoning of a sort to point out that different kinds of explanation are appropriate to different kinds of phenomena, and it is only a misunderstanding of the phenomenon in question that allows one to seek an inappropriate explanation for it.

The same is true in science. Quantum mechanics has very little to tell us about the functioning of the human heart, and if a physicist claimed that the resolution of remaining difficulties with string theory promised greater understanding of the etiology of heart disease, we would have to conclude that he did not know what heart disease was. (Note that this phenomenon, the “irreducibility” of our scientific knowledge about the human heart to our scientific knowledge about quantum mechanics, does not mean that the heart is a mystical phenomenon, or lead to the positing of a “heart-matter dualism” 18 ). If I were asked, why did Napolean loose the Battle of Waterloo, or why did the German Revolution of 1848 fail, or why did the practice of the racialized slavery of blacks begin in Europe in the sixteenth century, or why did democratic government first appear in ancient Athens, or why did the American Founders turn to ancient Rome rather than Athens for their model of government, and responded that advances in genetics held out the promise of an answer to these questions, the interlocutor would have to conclude that I had no comprehension of what history was. And note that this assertion does not turn history into some kind of mystical phenomenon, or posit a “mind-brain duality,” or any other such nonsense. That those such as AFH do not adequately comprehend the phenomenon they are supposed to be investigating (political ideologies) is made abundantly clear by their erroneous assumptions about the trans-historical and transcultural nature of liberalism and conservatism as distinct political ideologies, that liberalism and conservatism are each accurately defined by the core cluster of attitudes they list as comprising the liberal and conservative “phenotypes,” that the only noteworthy historical change in these ideologies is what they are named, and that party identification is a fixed variable at the present time in the United States. It is only greedy reductionism, the ultimate hubris, that impels political scientists to so egregiously mischaracterize complex phenomena in order to fit them into a reductionist explanatory model (and political science has seen plenty of these in its checkered history).19 In the words of the renowned geneticist, statistician, and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin: “It is a sign of the foolishness into which an unreflective reductionism can lead us that we seriously argue from protein similarity to political similarity.” 20 AFH and HH, along with many other political and social scientists, suffer from massive confusion in failing to distinguish between the reasons why persons hold or believe in specific political ideologies (i.e., the answer to the question why does this individual hold the political ideology she does) and political ideologies themselves. Whatever the explanation as to why a given individual ultimately holds the political ideology she does (and I will simply assert that I believe the reasons to be potentially infinite, including, e.g., upbringing, emotional appeal, rebellion against one’s
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Politics, Genetics, and “Greedy Reductionism”
4 Charney 2008, 338. 5 Imagine if the validity of the theory of relativity rested upon the accounts of Einstein’s mother as to how she raised baby Einstein. 6 AFH 2008, 322. 7 Brody and Rothenberg 1988. 8 For both of these points, see, e.g., Carsey and Layman 2006; Lockerbie 2002; Weisberg 1980, 2002; Brody and Rothenberg 1988; Mutz, Brody, and Sniderman 1996; Norrander and Wilcox 1993; Converse and Pierce 1992; Franklin 1992, 1984; Niemi, Reed, and Weisberg 1991; Franklin and Jackson 1983; Fiorina 1981; Markus and Converse 1979. 9 Cooper and Zubek 1958. 10 AFH 2005, 164. 11 See, e.g., Bailey 1997. 12 AFH 2005, 161. 13 AFH 2005, 164. If it is not already obvious, the impetus to mischaracterize political ideologies in this manner comes from the desire to fit them wholly within a reductionist genetic explanatory framework that effectively bypasses history and culture. Just as, e.g., the phenotype of hazel eyes, the result of a corresponding genotype, is the same in all times and all places (and can be characterized apart from any specific cultural and historical context), so too, according to AFH, with political ideologies. 14 AFH 2008, 325. 15 Ibid. 16 AFH 2005, 164. 17 Ibid., 165. 18 Neils Bohr was explicit that his denial of the reducibility of biology to quantum mechanics had no implications for “free will or determinism,” and did not involve a mysticism incompatible with the true spirit of science”; see Bohr 1936, 299. 19 Many kinds of “hubris” are exhibited in an article such as AFH’s. Let me note just one other characteristic “ethnocentric hubris”: In characterizing contemporary American liberalism and conservatism as if they were the templates not only of liberalism and conservatism in all of its varied historical and cultural manifestations, but of all political ideologies in all times and places, they equate the beliefs and behavior of contemporary Americans with the beliefs and behavior of “humankind.” The genetic underpinning they give to such assumptions makes contemporary Americans the paradigm for humanity as a biological species. As a helpful corrective to such hubristic provincialism, I suggest that AFH travel to the Amazon rain forest and undertake an extensive study of the political attitudes of the remaining indigenous tribes. 20 Lewontin 2001, 62.

parents, attempts to please one’s parents, lazy and uncritical acceptance of the beliefs of those in her surrounding environment, rigorous individual critical reflection and rejection of the beliefs of those in her surrounding environment, religious convictions, anti-religious convictions, etc.), such an explanation does not tell us what political ideologies are, how and why they developed at certain times and places, how they were institutionalized in specific political and social practices, and how they developed and transformed over time. One might attempt to explain the “etiology” of persons’ attitudes toward the U.S. Constitution on the basis of “genetic” personality traits, and construct a “pro” and “anti” U.S. Constitution “phenotype.” But a theory that purported to explain why any given individual had the attitudes she did toward the U.S. Constitution would not explain what the Constitution was, i.e., why it was written, when, and by whom, what political principles it embodied or codified, and why. Finally, if I engage in philosophy, so do AFH and HH, even if they are not aware of it, or of the profound philosophical assumptions concerning knowledge and reason that underlie their beliefs regarding the nature of science on the one hand, and political and moral beliefs on the other. I cannot elaborate further on these points here, but will simply end by posing a question to Hannagan and Hatemi. If, as AFH claim, my political views are due largely to my genes, for example, my views—perhaps mediated by genetic personality traits—about Social Security, the proper scope and limits of presidential power, and the war in Iraq, would HH be willing to conjecture as to what percentage of their views concerning genetics, e.g., the viability of twin studies, the genetic basis of political ideologies, the soundness of the Equal Environment Assumption, are due to their genes. Might they undertake a twin study to answer this question? And if not, why?

The renowned geneticist Jonathan Beckwith, American Cancer Society Research Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School, has written a response to Alford, Funk, and Hibbing and Hannagan and Hatemi which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Perspectives on Politics. His contribution is intended to supplement my response, providing the unique perspective of a geneticist in a debate that has been dominated by political scientists and psychologists. 1 “Greedy reductionism” is a term coined by Daniel Dennett (1995, 82) to condemn those forms of reductionism that try to explain too much with too little. Use of this expression is not meant to imply an endorsement of Dennett’s thesis. 2 AFH 2008, 322. 3 Bouchard et al. 1990.
342 Perspectives on Politics

Alford, J.R., C.L. Funk, and J. Hibbing. 2005. Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review 99 (2): 153–67. _. 2008. Beyond liberals and conservatives to political genotypes and phenotypes. Perspectives on Politics 6 (2): 321–28. Bailey, R.C. 1997. Hereditarian Scientific Fallacies. Genetica 99: 125–33. Bohr, Neils. 1936. Causality and Complementarity. Philosophy of Science 4. Address to Second International Congress for the Unity of Science, June, 1936. Bouchard, T.J. Jr., D. T. Lykken, M. McGue, N. L.Segal, and A. Tellegen. 1990. Sources of human psychological differences: the Minnesota study of twins raised apart. Science 250: 223–28. Brody, Richard A., and Lawrence S. Rothenberg. 1988. The instability of partisanship: An analysis of the 1980 presidential election. British Journal of Political Science 18 (4): 445–65. Carsey, Thomas M., and Geoffrey C. Layman. 2006. Changing sides or changing minds? Party conversion, issue conversion, and partisan change on the abortion issue. American Journal of Political Science 50 (2): 464–77. Charney, Evan. 2008. Genes and ideologies. Perspectives on Politics 6 (2): 299–319. Converse, Philip E., and Roy Pierce. 1992. Partisanship and the party system. Political Behavior 14 (3): 239–59. Cooper, R.M., and J.P. Zubek. 1958. Effects of enriched and restricted early environments on the learning ability of bright and dull rats. Canadian Journal of Psychology 12: 159–64. Dennett, Daniel. 1995. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. London: Penguin.

Fiorina, Morris P. 1981. Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. New Haven: Yale University Press. Franklin, Charles H. 1992. Measurement and the dynamics of party identification. Political Behavior 14 (3): 297–309. _. 1984. Issue preferences, socialization, and the evolution of party identification. American Journal of Political Science 28 (3): 459–78. Franklin, Charles H., and John E. Jackson. 1983. The dynamics of party identification. American Political Science Review 77 (4): 957–73. Lewontin, Richard. 2001. It Ain’t Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions. New York: New York Review Books. Lockerbie, Brad. 2002. Party identification: Constancy and change. American Politics Research 30 (4): 384–405. Markus, Gregory B., and Philip E. Converse. 1979. A dynamic simultaneous equation model of electoral choice. American Political Science Review 73 (4): 1055–70. Mutz, Diana C., Richard A. Brody, and Paul M. Sniderman, eds. 1996. Political Persuasion and Attitude Change. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Niemi, Richard G., David R. Reed, and Herbert F. Weisberg. 1991. Partisan commitment: A research note. Political Behavior 13 (3): 213–21. Norrander, Barbara, and Clyde Wilcox. 1993. Rallying around the flag and partisan change: The case of the Persian Gulf War. Political Research Quarterly 46 (4): 759–70. Weisberg, Herbert F. 1980. A multidimensional conceptualization of party identification. Political Behavior 2 (1): 33–60. _. 2002. Partisanship and incumbency in presidential elections. Political Behavior 24 (4): 339–60.

June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 343

Twin Studies of Political Behavior: Untenable Assumptions?

Corey A. Morris Department of Cell Biology Harvard Medical School & Jon Beckwith Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Harvard Medical School

Corey A. Morris, is a doctoral candidate in the Program of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard Medical School ( Jon Beckwith is American Cancer Society Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School (

Please direct correspondence to: Jon Beckwith, Ph.D. American Cancer Society Professor Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Harvard Medical School 200 Longwood Avenue Boston, Massachusetts 02115

John Alford, Carolyn Funk, and John Hibbing, in their American Political Science Review articlei (hereafter referred to as “AFH”), employ twin studies to argue that political ideologies (i.e., conservative or liberal political attitudes) are highly heritable and thus strongly influenced by genetics. AFH state that genetic explanations of behavior are “conspicuously absent” from the political science dialogue and charge that “political scientists do not take seriously the possibility of nonenvironmental influences.”ii They urge “political scientists to incorporate genetic influences”iii into models of political behavior and to “join forces”iv with behavioral geneticists. Given the significant criticisms of studies in which twins are used to understand the origins of complex human behaviorsv and problems with the scientific data supposedly supporting the validity of this method, such a move would be, at best, premature. AFH argue that the classical twin approach for studying complex human social behaviors is well supported by the evidence. Here, we examine the empirical studies cited by AFH in support of a critical assumption underlying the validity of these twin studies, the equal environment assumption (EEA).vi We do not claim that genetic factors play no role in human behavioral traits, but rather we show that the empirical evidence used in support of the underlying premise of these twin studies is weak, far less certain than AFH would have readers believe. In fact, many of the studies cited as supporting the validity of the twin method include data that violate predictions of the EEA. As a result, the conclusions drawn on the basis of classical twin studies, as those presented by AFH, are of dubious scientific value.

The Heritability Concept


Heritability is a statistical term that should represent, for a trait of interest, the fraction of variation in a population that is due to genetic contributions.vii Expressed as a number ranging from 0.0 (no heritability) to 1.0viii (complete heritability), heritability is measured for a specific population, at a specific time, interacting with a specific environment.ix Thus, as pointed out by Schaffner, “if the environment changes, the heritability will almost certainly change.”x This property of heritability is highlighted by a study showing that IQ differences exhibit high heritability in families of higher socioeconomic status, but near-zero heritability in families of lower socioeconomic status.xi In other words, in an advantaged population, a large fraction of IQ variability was attributed to genetic influences, while in a disadvantaged population, IQ variability was attributed almost entirely to environmental influences. In effect, incorporating measures of environmental influences into such studies can yield dramatic variations in heritability estimates. Relatively few such twin studies have treated environment very deeply,xii usually attempting to rule it out as having a confounding effect on genetic conclusions. As leading behavioral geneticist Eric Turkheimer has put it, this is “hardly the stuff of good environmental analysis.”xiii

The “Crucial” Equal Environments Assumption AFH acknowledge that the equal environment assumption is “crucial to everything that follows from twin research.”xiv They conclude that the “caveats” raised have “been subject to sustained and varied investigation and…[have] been found to hold up under empirical scrutiny.”xv In support of this claim, they cite studies that look at the effects of measures of similarity of appearance, treatment, and environment (including


so-called “misperceived zygosity studies”) on shared traits between twins.xvi We review the evidence that they argue supports their conclusions. Studies in which heritability of behavioral traits is based on comparisons of pairs of monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ)xvii twins rely on the validity of the EEA. The EEA assumes that MZ and DZ twins each share environments to the same extent. In particular, it is assumed that the two types of twins do not differ in those environmental influences that might affect the trait under study (trait-relevant environments). However, critics argue that, because of their identical appearance, MZ twins are treated and interacted with by parents and the outside world much more similarly than are DZ twins or ordinary siblings. Consider the potential influence of shared physical features of MZ twins on social interactions. Children who are obese, for example, might suffer indignities that others do not. Children thought of as “attractive” might experience a very different world than those deemed “ugly.” MZ twins on average share closer bonds than DZ twins by a number of measures. Both this suggested closer bond between MZ twins and the potentially similar responses of family and society to the identically-featured MZ twins could well influence the behavioral development of the children in the direction of greater similarity. If this were to be the case, the incorrect acceptance of the EEA could lead to heritability measurements in twin studies that would be highly inflated, despite the fact that the trait under study was strongly environmentally influenced. Thus, in order for heritability estimates to be valid for a particular trait, MZ and DZ twins should experience equal trait-relevant environments. This is a primary problem in the studies cited by AFH, since determining which environmental factors to assess may be difficult to achieve. After all, such studies are meant to sort out the factors that


influence a trait, and should not assume to know a priori all of the relevant environmental influences.xviii Even those researchers who do attempt to measure environmental influences, as the authors of one study point out, choose out of “a virtually endless array of possible environmental characteristics.”xix Indeed, none of the studies we reviewed here sought specific “trait-relevant” environmental effectors, but only attempted to rule out effects of general measures of environmental similarity.

“Misperceived Zygosity” Studiesxx Misperceived zygosity studies, considered to be tests of the EEA, take advantage of twin pairs for which their twin status (i.e., MZ or DZ) has been wrongly assigned. These studies are made possible by instances where biologically identical twins call themselves or are called by their parents “fraternal,” or where fraternal twins call themselves or are called by their parents “identical.” Trait correlations for these misidentified twins are then compared to those for correctly identified twins in order to test the effects of “true zygosity” (presumed to measure a genetic effect) versus “perceived zygosity” (presumed to measure an environmental effect). Thus, the argument goes, if MZ twins who perceive themselves to be DZ are just as similar in trait measures as MZ twins who correctly identify themselves (or DZ twins who misidentify as MZ just as dissimilar as DZ twins who correctly identify themselves), then the environmental influence of more similar treatment for MZ twins can be concluded “to be at best irrelevant.”xxi However, in order for “perceived zygosity” to be a meaningful test of the EEA, it must be a true surrogate for the environmental similarity a pair of twins’ experiences.


For example, a genetically identical twin pair who misidentify themselves as “fraternal” must believe themselves as well as be perceived by others to be non-identical fraternal twins. Otherwise, this may merely be a case of genetically MZ twins, who are likely to appear remarkably similar, but confused or were incorrectly told their twin status. Unless self-identification of zygosity is shown to correlate with beliefs about degree of similarity and actual physical similarity, it is questionable whether merely mis-categorization is a meaningful measure of how a twin pair will be treated, when MZ twins will still appear physically similar and DZ twins dissimilar. Nevertheless, the authors of these studies, without evidence, assume that DZ twin pairs misidentified as MZ pairs “view themselves as more similar [and] will be treated more alike by parents, family, and society.”xxii This is an untested assumption. We propose the term “misidentified zygosity” as more appropriate for such twin pairs, as “misperception” has not been demonstrated. In fact, data in two “misperceived zygosity” studies appear to contradict the notion that physical similarity is the basis for the perception of zygosity status. One study found that, compared to MZ or DZ twins who were correct about their zygosity, MZ twins who incorrectly believed they were DZ “were much less likely to base their opinion on physical appearance, but more likely to base their opinion on what their parents were told at their birth.”xxiii Another study found that “when mothers were mistaken about the zygosity of their twins, they usually relied on information given to them from a doctor at the time of the twins’ birth,” as opposed to similarity of physical appearance.xxiv These findings raise questions about the utility of using “misperceived zygosity” as a test of the EEA. As the authors of one study using this method


acknowledge, “a single measure of self-perceived zygosity may not be the most accurate representation of what critics mean by biasing perception of the two kinds of twins.”xxv The limitation of using “perceived zygosity” as a surrogate for environmental similarity is revealed by the data presented in a 2002 study.xxvi MZ twins sharing classes were significantly more likely to share symptoms of separation anxiety disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and oppositional defiant disorder. However, “perceived zygosity” was not associated with shared symptomology, indicating that misidentified zygosity did not capture environmental effects that were seen when accounting for the likelihood of sharing classes. Furthermore, sharing friends by DZ twins predicted similar ADHD scores, although a “perceived zygosity” score for shared ADHD did not have a statistically significant effect. This suggests that “perceived zygosity,” as measured by these studies, is unlikely to be a good indicator of environmental similarity, and thus will fail to truly test the EEA.

Violations of the EEA One of the clearest and most consistent results of the studies cited by AFH was that MZ twins are indeed more similar on measures of environmental and physical similarity. MZ twins were “markedly more confusable in appearance than DZ twins;”xxvii significantly more likely than DZ twins to report being treated “as two of a kind” by parents, to have dressed identically, to have been in the same class at school, to have played together “almost always,” and to have spent time together “almost always”;xxviii and share a much more similar environment based on mothers’ accounts of childhood environmental similarity (including sharing friends, sharing classes, and dressing


alike).xxix As the authors of one study state, “we must conclude that the MZ twins in our sample were treated more similarly than were the DZ twins and that therefore the equal environments assumption was violated.”xxx Ultimately, the authors of all of these studies conclude that despite apparent violations of the EEA generally, their measures of environmental similarity did not influence the traits under study, and therefore “trait-relevant” EEA was not violated. However, a closer look at the studies in support of the EEA finds that many actually contain significant data arguing that “trait-relevant” EEA was indeed violated. For example, one study found that DZ twins who were more likely to be confused in appearance were more likely to have similar scores for activity and impulsivity traits. MZ and DZ twins as a whole who were more similar in appearance were more likely to share all four measures of personality traits measured.xxxi In another study, the authors report that “for personality measures MZ twins were significantly more similar than DZs, and DZ twins who believed they were monozygotic were more similar than those…who correctly believed they were fraternal pairs.” In other words, “both true and perceived zygosity were related to cotwin similarity on personality measures.”xxxii Furthermore, they found that physical similarity (as assessed by eight raters) predicted more similar Raven IQ scores for monozygotic twins. The authors admit their data is evidence of “bias in perceived and physical similarity creating greater cognitive similarity among MZ twins,” although they downplay the effect. Nevertheless, they do conclude, “for personality variables, perceived zygosity may have some effect on fraternal pairs who believe themselves to be monozygotic.”xxxiii


Another of these studies found significant associations between measures of DZ twins’ preferences for similar treatment, similarity of environment, and preference for similar experience with anxiety and depression scores.xxxiv For MZ twins, an association was found between measures of environment and depression. The authors conclude that the “equal environments assumption appears to be invalid.”xxxv Likewise, a different study found that measures of environmental similarity predicted greater similarity in symptom scores for nearly half of the tested traits.xxxvi For example, MZ twin pairs who were more frequently in the same classes were significantly more likely to share similar symptom scores for all of the measured disorders than those who were in the same classes less often. Dressing alike predicted greater symptom correlation among MZ twins for separation anxiety disorder, ADHD, or conduct disorder. Further indicating that environmental similarity of MZ twins confounds twin studies is the fact that the data also show that DZ twins who more often share friends, dress alike, or share classes, were significantly more similar on scores for ADHD, separation anxiety disorder, and conduct disorder, respectively.xxxvii In addition, they found a significant effect of “perceived zygosity” for MZ twins on shared conduct disorder, and for DZ twins on shared separation anxiety and conduct disorders. These statistically significant findings call into question the EEA. This data is all but ignored by the authors of this study, and where the effect of environmental similarity is discussed, it is downplayed.xxxviii If environmental similarity does influence MZ twin concordance for a trait in question, then this would be expected to inflate estimates of heritability. Accounting for the unequal environments would decrease estimated heritability. In a study measuring


the “contact frequency” of twin pairs, the authors found that heritability estimates dropped dramatically when the samples were stratified by level of contact between twins.xxxix On average, their heritability measures for twins with infrequent contact dropped 31 percent below twins with frequent contact. Compared with the total sample of twins, controlling for the frequency of contact indicates that their measures of heritability were over-estimated on average by 27 percent. The authors note that “the heritability estimates were consistently higher among twin pairs with frequent contact, suggesting a potential violation of EEA.”xl Given that several of these studies report findings that appear to violate both general and trait-relevant EEA, how do all of these studies conclude that the EEA is valid?xli Despite small sample sizes and weak statistical power, several studies do so solely on the basis of negative results, or a failure to find statistically significant correlations between their measures of similarity and the trait in question.xlii Not all of the studies, however, based their EEA-validating conclusions on negative results. One study presenting significant evidence that the EEA did inflate heritability estimates nevertheless emphatically concluded that they “found no support for violation of EEA.”xliii In order to draw this conclusion, they used 40,000 simulated twin pairs and the new assumption that MZ twins select their environment on the basis of their genetics.xliv As if to highlight their conclusions in spite of their actual empirical data, they state that “the simulation analyses thus provide an interpretation of our empirical results without violation of the EEA.”xlv

Retrospective Nature of the Studies


Another problem with studies evaluating the validity of the EEA is that important data is often obtained from retrospective information. One study asked adult twins with a mean age of 34 how they were treated as children. As the authors put it, the subjects were “reporting on events and their feelings about those events some 20 years after their occurrence.”xlvi Another study measured emotional and behavioral problems via motherreported retrospective telephone interviews, recording mothers’ reports of twins’ zygosity, as well as recounts of childhood environmental similarity.xlvii This retrospective format is suspect, given that even in a study where parents gave contemporary reports of their children, mothers and fathers independently agreed on the answers only about one-third of the time. When asked the same questions only three months later, their answers changed over 25 percent of the time.xlviii This calls into question the reliability of retrospective data over a matter of weeks, let alone decades. In addition to methodological flaws, all of the studies cited in support of the EEA used small samples, ranging in size from 41 twin pairsxlix to 201 twin pairsl having “misperceived zygosity.” One of the largest studies (with 3155 total twin pairs, 185 of which had “misperceived zygosity”) included a power analysis indicating that even that sample size offered weak to no statistical power to detect an influence of misidentified A study cited by AFH summarizes the statistical weakness of these earlier reports, noting that studies supporting the EEA may have reached their conclusions “because of limited statistical power” and “because the validity of the assumption is usually established by failing to find a significant effect.” lii



We agree with the authors AFH when they state that the EEA is essential for conclusions drawn from twin studies concerning human behavioral traits. However, we disagree that the EEA has been tested and validated. We point out numerous problems with the studies cited by AFH. These studies report small sample sizes with low statistical power, problematic retrospective interviews, and assumptions about misidentified zygosity that are often not supported by data. The attempts to control for trait-relevant environments in these efforts are quite limited, admittedly because it is difficult to know exactly which environmental factors to control for. Furthermore, several of the studies cited in support of the EEA contain evidence that could be seen as arguing against the assumption. It is difficult not to get the sense that in the face of inconvenient data, a fair amount of intellectual acrobatics was necessary to arrive at some of the conclusions drawn. AFH have made a plea for the political science research community to take more seriously twin studies that suggest a strong genetic component affecting political beliefs. While, to many, twin studies seem to present an ideal opportunity to study the relative contributions of genetics and environment to human behavioral traits, these studies face many more problems than has been admitted. In a research area that is often misrepresented to the public, we urge political scientists to take a more critical look at the studies that supposedly provide the foundation for this field. Finally, we point out that in recent years, some researchers in the field of human behavioral genetics have begun to take more seriously the role of environment in influencing human behavioral traits. We have already referred to the studies of Eric Turkheimer and colleagues. Other examples include studies that have incorporated


measurements of child abuse into a study of genetic effects on anti-social behavior.liii A study genuinely accounting for social factors found that certain measures of greater similarity among MZ twins compared to DZ twins diminished or disappeared.liv The findings of James Flynn and his colleagueslv that the mean IQ of populations in many countries (including the U.S.) has been steadily increasing over the last 50 years raise questions about the more deterministic views of genetic influences on human cognition. A recent article looking at concentrated disadvantage found neighborhood-level effects on verbal ability among African-American childrenlvi and indicates more sophisticated measures of environment may be necessary to truly detect significant environmental influences on complex human traits.

i ii

Alford et al. 2005. Ibid. Ibid. Alford et al. 2008. i.e., Pam et al. 1996, Joseph 1998, Kamin and Goldberger 2002, Rutter 2002, Horwitz et

iii iv v

al. 2003a and 2003b, Beckwith 2006, and Ehrlich and Feldman 2007.

The primary studies reviewed include Plomin et al. 1976, Scarr and Carter-Saltzman

1979, Morris-Yates et al. 1990, Kendler et al. 1993, Xian et al. 2000, Cronk et al. 2002, and Eriksson et al. 2006.
vii viii

For an excellent discussion of heritability, see Sober 2001, 47-78. This estimated statistic gives the false sense that “heritability” is concrete and fixed.



It is important to keep in mind that twin studies in principle allow one to make claims

regarding the effects of both genes and environment without ever having actually measured anything about genes or the environment.
x xi xii

Schaffner 2006, 16. Turkheimer et al. 2003. Three notable exceptions include 1) a study looking at the environments of twins’ first

year of life, finding that twins disproportionately experience a number of developmental circumstances that raise questions about generalizing twins studies to the population at large (Ainslie et al. 1987); 2) a study indicating that intrauterine environment may bias psychological and behavioral estimates of heritability (Prescott et al. 1999); and 3) a study demonstrating social sources of shared twin behavior previously attributed largely to genetic influences (Horwitz et al. 2003a and 2003b).
xiii xiv xv xvi

Turkheimer 2006, 102. Alford et al. 2005. Ibid. AFH also cite Bouchard et al. (1990), a study purporting to test the notion that if

common environment is of significance, then “twins reared apart” should be less alike that twins reared together. We have addressed this study elsewhere (Beckwith et al. 1991), finding twins’ reared apart status to be highly questionable. Also see Richardson 1998, 140-145 and Joseph 2004, 97-136 for critical review of Bouchard et al. 1990 and the history of “twins reared apart.”

The terms “MZ” and “DZ” are used throughout this commentary, except when

discussing studies that refer explicitly to “identical” and “fraternal” twins.


xviii xix xx

Beckwith 2006, 79.

Cronk et al. 2002. In the interest of space we have not been able to include a full accounting of the

methodological limitations of these studies, and have focused on what we believe to be some of the more important points. Other issues that arise include biased sampling, insufficient variation for analyses of variance, and crude measures of “contact frequency.”
xxi xxii xxiii xxiv xxv xxvi xxvii xxviii xxix xxx xxxi xxxii xxxiii xxxiv xxxv xxxvi

Alford et al. 2005. Xian et al. 2000. Kendler et al. 1993. Cronk et al. 2002. Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979. Cronk et al. 2002. Plomin et al. 1796. Morris-Yates et al. 1990.

Cronk et al. 2002. Morris-Yates 1990. Although their end conclusion is that the EEA is valid. Plomin et al. 1976. Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979. Ibid. Morris-Yates et al. 1990. Ibid. Cronk et al. 2002.


xxxvii xxxviii xxxix xl xli

Ibid. Ibid.

Eriksson et al. 2006. Measuring the heritability of ”physical activity.”

Ibid. The authors of these studies, for example, conclude that violations of EEA “do not

appear to bias twin studies in the direction of inflated heritabilities” (Plomin et al. 1976); that “the critical assumption of equal environmental variance for MZ and DZ twins is tenable” (Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979); and that “similar treatment imposed upon MZ twins on the basis of their zygosity alone is…not a threat to the validity of the twin method” (Morris-Yates et al. 1990).

Plomin et al. 1976, Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979, Morris-Yates et al. 1990, Kendler

et al. 1993, and Cronk et al. 2002.
xliii xliv

Eriksson et al. 2006. This has been a common appeal made by twin study researchers when faced with the

issue of environmental “confounders” of genetic interpretations—what we call the “Geneticization of Environment.”
xlv xlvi xlvii xlviii xlix l li

Eriksson et al. 2006. Morris-Yates et al. 1990. Cronk et al. 2002. Plomin et al. 1976.

Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979.

Cronk et al. 2002. Xian et al. 2000.


lii liii liv lv lvi

Cronk et al. 2002. Although the replicability of these studies have been mixed (Morris et al. 2007). Horwitz et al., 2003a and 2003b. Flynn 2007. Sampson et al. 2008.


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Alford, John R., Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing. 2008. “Beyond Liberals and Conservatives to political genotypes and phenotypes” Perspectives on Politics 39 (1): this issue.

Beckwith, Jon, Lisa Geller, and Sahotra Sarkar. 1991. “IQ and Heredity” [Letter to the Editor] Science 252 (5003): 191.

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