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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 consider-
able media and public attention. Journalists have moved from conclusions based upon the simplistic assump-
tions underlying the studies to present to the public simplistic views of human social problems and human social 䡬
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 regained the ascendancy it once held when William Gal-

T (particularly psychologists) and now, political scien-


tists, to view more and more of human behavior as
in large measure attributable to our genes. In the old
ton, author of Hereditary Genius, wrote in 1875 after one
of the first “twin studies,” that as regards behavioral,
psychological, and cognitive characteristics, “There is
debate of “nature v. nurture,” nature now seems to have no escape from the conclusion that nature prevails enor-
mously over nurture.” 2 A popular book on genetics asserts
triumphantly (on behalf of nature): “Genes not only deter-
Evan Charney is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and mine how we look, but how we act, feel, and experience
Political Science at Duke University (echar@duke.edu). An life. In case after case discovered by researchers, nature
earlier version of this paper was presented as part of a panel won out over nurture.” 3 Almost every month a new study
on Genetic and Evolutionary Bases of Political Behavior at appears purporting to show that ever more complex aspects
the 2006 APSA annual meeting. He would like to thank of human intellect, belief, and behavior—everything from
Jonathan Beckwith and Cory A. Morris for agreeing to intelligence (i.e., IQ) to the level of such complex atti-
provide a written response to Alford, Funk, and Hibbing tudes or beliefs as altruism, criminality, religiosity, and
and Hannagan and Hetemi; Tracy Rupp for her many conservatism—can be explained largely, and in some
invaluable comments and suggestions; Ira Morgan for instances exclusively, by an individual’s genetic makeup.4
helpful exchanges, and the members of the Duke Institute Consistent with this trend to view complex aspects of
for Genome Sciences and Polich and the IGSP Center for human belief as “heritable” is the argument recently pre-
Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy, and in particular Robert sented by Alford, Funk, and Hibbing in their article, “Are
Cook-Deegan and William English. He would especially Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?” 5 In this
like to thank Jim Johnson for his clear commitment to article, the authors claim to have demonstrated that the
genuine debate within the profession as evidenced by his answer to this question is unambiguously yes, and that
willingness to publish an article that runs counter to the “political attitudes are influenced much more by genetics
latest vogue in political science. than by parental socialization.” 6 Specifically, they claim to

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Exchange | Genes and Ideologies

have discovered that when it comes to political conserva- relationship, if any, between genes and political ideology,
tism, “genetics accounts for approximately half of the vari- but to open up a dialogue that can effectively cross sub-
ance in ideology, while shared environment including discipline boundaries within political science itself, and
parental influence accounts for only 11%.” 7 Understand- perhaps even spark a much-needed public dialogue on
ably, this astonishing claim has garnered a great deal of this subject.
attention among both political scientists and in the pop- I would like to emphasize that many of the claims con-
ular press. As the editor of the American Political Science cerning the heritability of complex human beliefs and atti-
Review has recently commented, the 2005 article of Alford, tudes have obvious and profound policy implications. For
Funk, and Hibbing, “has set a new standard for political example, claims concerning the heritability of criminal
science in terms of the media attention and public discus- behavior and the existence of a so-called “criminal gene”
sion that its publication has provoked,” and he goes on to have profound implications for the criminal justice sys-
wonder “whether it will emerge among the most impor- tem.10 According to Lindsay Elkins, “the discoveries of
tant articles the APSR has ever published.” 8 the Human Genome Project are already shaking the foun-
The claim of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing is indeed aston- dations of our legal system, particularly in the area of
ishing, because if true, it would require nothing less than criminal law.” 11 Claims concerning the heritability of IQ
a revision of our understanding of all of human history, have profound implications for how we view the aims of
much—if not most—of political science, sociology, anthro- public education, as well as questions of social and eco-
pology, and psychology, as well as, perhaps, our under- nomic justice more generally. The controversy sparked by
standing of what it means to be human. True to Beckwith’s the claims of Herrnstein and Murray in The Bell Curve
quote (cited above), the study of Alford, Funk, and Hib- concerning the supposed relationship between IQ—which
bing (hereafter AFH) has been presented by the authors as the authors assume to be largely heritable—and race, is
conclusively demonstrating that political orientations are well known to all social scientists.12 While no contempo-
genetically transmitted, and most of the press coverage rary author, to my knowledge, has discussed in any detail
has accepted the authors’ claims at face value.9 As yet, the policy implications of an assumption that political
there has been no critical response to the authors’ article ideology is heritable, they are profound indeed (consider
in any scholarly journals (or in the press), and given the the political ideology of, e.g., a member of al-Qaeda).
䡬 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 The Meaning of Heritability
to present such a response. In sum, my argument is that Heritability is an estimate of the amount of variation in
the authors have in no way demonstrated their hypothesis a given trait (phenotype) in a given population at a given
concerning the heritability of political ideologies, and that time that is due to genes (genotype). A heritability estimate
such a hypothesis is, in and of itself, extremely implausi- of .50, for example, does not mean that for any given indi-
ble (if not incoherent). Although this paper focuses on the vidual 50 percent of that trait is due to or caused by one’s
article of AFH, as should be clear, most of the criticisms genes. Rather, it means that 50 percent of the variation in a
presented here have a much broader applicability, and could given trait across an entire population at a given time is the
apply equally to many recent claims regarding the herita- result of differences in persons’ genotypes. Heritability is
bility of complex human beliefs and attitudes. thus a population-specific estimate; estimates of heritabil-
My argument appears in five sections. First, I present ity within a given population do not indicate the causes of
some brief comments concerning the concept of herita- phenotypic variation between populations.
bility, a concept which is easily (and commonly) misun- It is a common misunderstanding that estimates of her-
derstood. Next, I critique the research technique on the itability are fixed and invariable, usually based on the
basis of which AFH make their claims. I then consider the assumption that they reveal something fixed and inevita-
data presented by AFH and the extent to which it sup- ble (or deterministic) about human biology (as expressed
ports the authors’ claims. Following this, I examine a num- through human genes). To the contrary: The heritability of
ber of issues relating to liberalism and conservatism as a trait can change with changes in the environment. In a
political ideologies, both historical and conceptual, and classic early experiment by Cooper and Zubek, “maze-
examine the conceptual plausibility of assumptions con- bright” and “maze-dull” mice were separated on the basis
cerning the heritability of specific political beliefs. of their performance in repeatedly running a maze and
This article is eclectic, intentionally so., I present argu- then selectively bred for this trait.13 Over several genera-
ments referring to genetics, biology, neurology, research tions the strains diverged in their maze running abilities
methodology, the nature and history of liberalism and indicating a genetic basis for the differences in learning
conservatism as political ideologies, political psychology, and memory involved in this task, and for mice raised in a
and the nature of morality and reason. It is my hope here “standard” environment heritability of this trait was high.
not simply to open up a dialogue on the subject of the The researchers then raised the offspring of the genetically

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Figure 1 stand or fall on the basis of the soundness of the research


Gene-environment interdependence among methods employed. Inasmuch as I write as a political scien-
maze-bright and maze-dull rats tist 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 them-
selves.” 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 psycholo-
gists, who most commonly undertake such studies, the
“new workhorse” of behavioral genetics.17 From reading
the conclusions of many such studies purporting to dem-
onstrate the heritability of one or another complex human
Source: Meany 2001, 54. 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 acknowl-
selected lines in two “extreme environments,” a cogni- edged range of error). To determine the age of certain
tively poor one (dull colors all around, no toys) and a kinds of organic matter, one performs a carbon dating
cognitively enriched one (bright colors and patterns, many test; to determine the percentage of a given trait due to
toys). Both the bright and dull lines behaved “stupidly” in genes as opposed to environment, one performs a “twin
the poor environment and “smartly” in the enriched one, test” (i.e., conducts a twin study). Were this the case, twin
with the result that the heritability of the trait dropped to studies would indeed be a research tool of unprecedented 䡬
zero in both extreme environments. The bright and dull power in unraveling the etiology of complex traits (or
mice may well have inherited whatever genes are linked to attitudes or belief systems) and in revealing to what extent
intelligence (or maze running aptitude) in mice (which is such traits may be said to be the product of genes as
what they were bred for), but the heritability of the trait of opposed to environment. Such may be the assumption of
intelligence was shown to be highly dependent upon post- some who employ twin studies, but it is a view by no
natal environment (see figure 1).14 means uncontested in the scientific community.
While the heritability itself of a trait can change signif- In fact, it is not simply the technique of twin studies
icantly with environmental changes, environment can sig- that is increasingly questioned by scientists, but many of
nificantly influence traits that are themselves highly the basic assumptions that underlie such studies, for exam-
heritable. The high heritability of a trait does not entail that ple, whether the influences of genes as opposed to envi-
it is resistant to environmental influences: “High heritability ronment on a given trait can be neatly partitioned into
therefore does not mean low malleability.” 15 An interest- percentages, or whether viewing nature and nurture as
ing example of this is height. The heritability of height in contrasting entities or causal forces is a paradigm that is
most populations is about .9, that is, 90 percent of the still plausible in light of recent advances in the biological
variation in height can be attributed to genetic factors. sciences. Here are several select quotes addressing this issue
The average height of Japanese has increased significantly from prominent researchers in neurology, genetics and
since WWII with changes in diet, standard of living, and biobehavioral health:
health care, while Americans, who were once three inches
taller than their European counterparts, are now sur- Nature-Nurture. What a clever phrase. . .but regrettably, in its
passed by Europeans, with the Dutch on average three nature versus nurture version, it has probably had the negative
effect of facilitating, in some quarters, the distorted perception
inches taller than Americans.16
of genetic and environmental factors as antagonistic, competi-
tive factors in a simplistic, either-or causal scheme.18
Twin Studies
I begin my analysis of the study of AFH with a consider- It is not nature or nurture. Nor is it nature and nurture. . . The
ation of the experimental technique—“classical twin search for main effects is a fool’s errand. In the context of mod-
ern molecular biology, it is a quest that is without credibility.
studies”—on the basis of which they make their claims. Nature and nurture do not exist in a manner that can ever be
The importance of beginning here should require no jus- considered independently quantifiable. There is, instead, simply
tification: Any conclusions derived from empirical research a continuing process of development that emerges from the

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constant dialogue between gene and environment . . . Scientific or impairment early on in development can have a huge, cascad-
journals, regrettably, continue to provide examples of research ing impact on the phenotypic outcome.24
attempts to quantify the relative contribution of genetic versus
environmental factors to the development of a specific trait, often It is because of the growing number of claims of this sort
intelligence.19 that a recently published book on behavioral genetics, the
result of a project undertaken by The Hastings Center
Environment influences the actions of genes, and genes via changes and the American Association for the Advancement of
in the nervous system influence the sensitivity of an organism to Science, notes the following in the Introduction:
changes in the environment. The two causes are not separable.
Statistical procedures that appear to separate variance according Perhaps most surprising, and perhaps in some ways most diffi-
to genetic and environmental causes do not provide a valid rep- cult for the non-scientist editors of this volume, was the degree
resentation of physiological reality.20 of the disagreement of the facts of the matter that we found
among the scientists . . . While disputes within science are cer-
For example, biologists, geneticists, and medical tainly the norm, not the exception, these disagreements seemed
researchers commonly emphasize the importance of particularly important. It finally appeared to us that we were in
gene-environment interaction in the development of the what might be called a “transformative” moment in behavioral
genetics, in which an awareness of complexity at a variety of
human brain (including cognitive capacities such as intel- levels is causing a reexamination of many terms and assump-
ligence and language acquisition). To begin with, there tions, as well as some hard thinking about whether it will turn
are well known facts concerning the role of postnatal out to be true that identifying statistical correlations between
environment in normal brain development. Most myeli- genotypes and phenotypes will help us to influence or predict
nation in the brain is postnatal and synaptogenesis behavior [emphasis in original].25
occurs at a high rate during the first year of life, with My aim here is not to examine in any detail this “trans-
each neuron developing on average 15,000 synapses by formative moment” in behavioral genetics—transformative,
age three.21 Normal brain development does not occur that is, for those who acknowledge that it is even occur-
spontaneously or in a vacuum. It develops in an environ- ring. Rather, as noted, it is to focus on one particular
mentally dependent maturation process, that is, although aspect of this transformative moment that is crucial for an
its developmental stages are genetically determined they evaluation of the claims of AFH: questions concerning
must be triggered by specific environmental inputs, known the validity of twin studies.
䡬 as species-specific experiences, within critical periods of
development.22 Language acquisition, for example, is an
environmentally-dependent neurobiological window-of- Studies of Twins Raised Together
opportunity phenomenon. Studies of so-called “feral” Classical twin studies compare the similarity of identical
children demonstrate that if children are not exposed or monozygotic (MZ) twins and fraternal or dizygotic
to language it cannot be successfully acquired after (DZ) twins in regard to a particular trait of interest (in the
ages 8–11.23 Disruptions of environment-dependent case of AFH, political ideology). MZ twins share 100 per-
neurochemical signals during early life may lead to major cent of their genes while DZ twins share 50 percent of
abnormalities or deficits in neurodevelopment. Disrup- their genes, on average. The underlying assumption of
tion of critical neurodevelopmental cues can result from twin studies is that greater concordances in a given trait
a lack of sensory experience during sensitive periods (e.g., (or phenotype) among MZ twins, as opposed to DZ twins,
lack of sufficient tactile, auditory, and visual stimulation) are evidence of a genetic influence or component of the
or atypical or abnormal patterns of necessary cues due to trait in question. The greater the level of concordance in
extremes of experience (e.g., prolonged or traumatic stress). MZ as opposed to DZ twins for a given trait, the greater
Beyond these well-known features of human brain devel- the genetic component of that trait.26
opment and its environmental dependence, cutting-edge The conceptual simplicity underlying the methodology
research on gene/environment interaction presents a sig- of twin studies requires that a number of empirical pre-
nificant challenge to the cogency of the view that there conditions be met, the most basic and important of which
could be such a thing as genes for such features of human is the Equal Environment Assumption (EEA), i.e., that
cognition as, e.g., intelligence, creativity, or a conservative MZ twins and DZ twins experience similar environ-
political orientation: ments. As Hettema, Neale, and Kendler explain, “the valid-
ity of the EEA is crucial because, if incorrect, excess
Simple, direct mappings between genes and cognitive-level outcomes resemblance of MZ twins compared to DZ twins, usually
are not sustainable. In fact, genes are likely to contribute to much ascribed to genetic factors, could be partly or entirely due
more general constraints, such as developmental timing, neuro- to environmental factors.” 27 There is ample evidence that
nal migration, neuronal type/size/density/orientation, myelina- the EEA, if taken literally, does not hold. For example, in
tion, lamination, ratio of gray matter to white matter, firing
thresholds, neurotransmitter differences, and so forth . . . More- one review Evans and Martin state that there is overwhelm-
over, once one thinks from a truly developmental neuroconstruc- ing empirical evidence to support the claim that MZ twins
tivist perspective, it is easy to imagine how even a tiny asynchrony are treated more alike than DZ twins. As children, MZ

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twins are more likely to have the same playmates, share of these studies of “reverse zygosity,” however, relied upon
the same room, and dress alike. As adults, MZ twins are parental accounts of how they raised their twin children
more likely to keep in contact than same-sex DZ twins.28 many years later. Because of problems with biased impres-
Studies have indicated higher rates of interaction among sions,38 poor memory, and poor reliability, studies that rely
MZ as opposed to DZ twins; 29 Joseph notes large differ- upon parental recall of their child rearing practices have been
ences between MZ and DZ twins in experiences such as shown to be notoriously unreliable, typically showing reli-
identity confusion (91 percent versus 10 percent), being ability measures of only 0.3–0.5.39
brought up as a unit (72 percent versus 19 percent), being
inseparable as children (73 percent versus 19 percent); Studies of Twins Raised Apart
and having an extremely strong level of closeness (65 per- It has been argued that objections regarding possible con-
cent versus 19 percent) 30. Studies have also shown that founding effects of environment on the results of twin
parents “hold more similar expectations for their MZ than studies have received their most effective refutation from
DZ twins with respect to social responsibility and inde- so-called studies of twins raised apart. 40 The idea behind
pendence.” 31 Furthermore, it is well established that phys- studies of twins raised apart is that inasmuch as the MZ
ical appearance can have a profound effect upon how and DZ twins being studied are not raised in the same
individuals are treated. environment, any possible confounding effects that could
Differences in physical attractiveness affect the social desirability result from the possibility that MZ twins are treated more
judgments which people form of others. . . . From infancy to old alike than DZ twins will be eliminated. But studies of
age, there is a strong tendency to attribute more positive quali- twins raised apart suffer from the same possibility or prob-
ties to those who are physically attractive relative to those who ability of significant environmental confounding effects as
are physically unattractive. Attractiveness may be used as a cue to studies of twins raised together. Here are five more com-
signal status.32
monly cited possible (or probable) effects (which by no
This fact is particularly significant for twin studies, inas- means comprises a complete list of all of the objections
much as MZ twins are much more likely to closely resem- that have been raised concerning environmental confound-
ble one another than DZ twins and are therefore much ing effects in such studies):
more likely to experience the same social treatment that
comes with “social desirability judgments” based upon
1. In no study to date of twins raised apart is it the case 䡬
that all of the twins being studied were separated at
physical appearance:
birth; most often, in fact, they have not. In some
Physically attractive people receive more cultural rewards than well-known studies, twins who have been raised
physically unattractive people, . . . a response that develops from together up until ages 4, 6, and 11 were held to be
social as well as genetic reasons. Because monozygotic twins have “twins raised apart” for the purposes of the study.41
greater physical resemblance to each other than dizygotic twins, This astonishing (and oddly unnoticed) fact means
they could have a greater chance of receiving similar social reac-
tions, which in turn can affect a variety of outcomes.33 that so-called studies of twins raised apart are in fact
no such thing; at best, they are studies of twins raised
Greater environmental similarities by themselves, how- partially apart. This leaves open the possibility of
ever, do not negate the validity of twin studies, since it is many years of confounding environmental influ-
possible that “some environmental exposures that MZ twins ences during the most formative period of develop-
share more often than DZ twins may simply have no ment in a child’s life.42
effect on the trait in question.” 34 In fact many, if not most 2. In no twin study to date is it the case that all of the
researchers who support the validity of twin studies accept twins studied have had no contact after separation.
that the EEA, if conceived as requiring environments that Often, many of the twins have had ongoing rela-
are “actually” similar, does not hold.35 Proponents of a tionships lasting for many years. The potential con-
modified, or what is sometimes referred to as trait- founding effects here are significant because given
relevant EEA, “recognize that identical twins are treated the demonstrated greater levels of contact between
more similarly and spend significantly more time together MZ as opposed to DZ twins—“MZAs [“monozy-
than fraternals, but claim that the evidence shows that gotic twins raised apart”] are more likely to be aware
greater environmental similarity does not lead to higher of each others’ existence and to have had more pre-
concordance [for the specific trait under consideration].” 36 study contact than DZAs [“dizygotic twins raised
The problem with studies in support of this proposition apart”]—there is a greater opportunity for MZ twins
is that they have been shown to have significant method- to influence each other’s attitudes.43
ological flaws. For example, studies of a tiny subpopulation 3. Studies of twins raised apart depend upon the
of DZ twins mistakenly thought by their parents to be MZ assumption that the environments in which the sep-
twins purport to show that the degree of correspondence arated twins are raised are “dissimilar.” But over thirty
between MZ twins still exceeds that of DZ twins.37 Most years ago, researchers found this not to be the case:

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[Kamin] found that twins who were placed in new homes 5. Studies of twins raised apart are particularly vulner-
by adoption agencies tended to end up in similar envi- able to selection bias. In many studies, twins “were
ronments; for example, the adopting families tended to
be from the same social class. Second, in many cases the
self-recruited, attracted by reports of reunited twins
separated twins were placed by family members in the appearing in the press.” 50 Inasmuch as such stories
homes of relatives, so that they often went to the same were full of accounts of the uncanny similarities
school, and interacted with each other frequently.44 among MZ twins, there is the potential that those
who either volunteered for, or agreed to participate
Because of such problems, in more recent studies
in such studies, did so out of a pre-existing belief in
researchers have attempted to “quantify” various
their own “uncanny similarities.” 51
aspects of the home environment into which mem-
bers of the adopted pair were placed, undertaking I have not, of course, demonstrated that any of the
such “measures” as counting the number of books confounding effects I have noted above are responsible for
and the availability of household “facilities” such as the concordances observed by Alford, Funk, and Hibbing
power tools and original artwork.45 But the prob- which they deem to be statistically significant—in the case
lem with such (crude) attempts to quantify environ- of AFH, the confounding effects are those associated with
mental influences is summed up by Beckwith as studies of twins raised together—but neither have AFH
follows: proved that genes rather than confounding effects are respon-
sible. As with most twin studies, all that AFH have observed
How do we know what combination of factors both in
the home and in the outside environment may provide are a series of concordances in the self-reported attitudes
the appropriate mix for development of the complex capa- of twins which they deem to be statistically significant.
bilities or behavioral problems that are being measured? On the basis of these observed concordances, they then
How can researchers assess the less tangible features of hypothesize that the cause of these concordances is genes. They
such environments, such as the daily interactions between have not discovered a set of genes corresponding to their
the parent and the child, that cannot be so easily quanti-
fied? While they have taken into account retrospective hypothesis of genetic causation (nor have any other
impressions of family environment by separated twins, researchers in regard to complex cognitive and psycholog-
such retrospective impressions are often thought to be ical traits). What I am hypothesizing—or presenting as a
subject to distortion.46 counter-hypothesis—is that the cause of these concordances

It might be argued that none of this constitutes a is one or more of the environmental concordances noted above,
problem unless it could be shown that separated a causal explanation that seems a good deal more obvious
MZ twins are more likely to be placed in more sim- and intuitive than one which invokes genes.
ilar homes than DZ twins, which might be consid- I cannot, of course, employ what I have argued is a
ered unlikely,47 but in the absence of knowledge as fundamentally flawed methodology to prove that the con-
to what the relevant environmental “similarities” cordances observed by AFH are in fact due to environ-
might be, and whether or not they could affect the ment as opposed to genes (i.e., are due to what amount to
trait in question, it is impossible to judge the cor- confounding effects from the perspective of the method-
rectness of this assertion. But beyond this, Kamin ology).52 It might appear at this point that we have two
and Goldberger note that in one of the well-known equally valid explanations for a phenomenon and that,
studies of twins raised apart, the investigators sub- embracing the principle of lex parsimonae, we should
mitted results of two questionnaires dealing with embrace the less complicated formulation. But we need
childhood family environment to a factor analysis. not go so far as to ask which explanation is less compli-
For one factor, labeled Support, the average MZA cated, for the principle of lex parsimonae depends upon an
and DZA r was 0.41 and −0.01, respectively. These assumption that both explanations are equally valid.53 As
results might be interpreted as indicating that selec- I shall argue in what follows, such is not the case.
tive placement was substantially greater for MZAs
than for DZAs, leading to more similarity of out- The Findings of Alford, Funk,
comes for the MZAs.48 and Hibbing
4. In all studies of twins raised apart, the potential In my opinion, the problems with classical twin studies,
confounding effects of the much greater physical if applied to as complex a system of belief as a political
resemblance of MZ twins remains a significant prob- ideology, are overwhelming.54 But now I would like to
lem: “Aside from the environment in which they are proceed as if there were no such problems, and turn to
raised, the identical appearance of [MZ] twins, even a consideration of the results of the twin study of AFH.
though they are separated, can mean that their inter- AFH essentially replicate (with a different study popula-
actions with the outside world are much more sim- tion) an earlier study by Bouchard et al., in which
ilar than for any two randomly selected people [and separated MZ and DZ twins were administered the
for any randomly selected pair of DZ twins].” 49 Wilson-Patterson Attitude Inventory (W-P), which is

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intended to provide an “overall index of conservatism.” 55 riage (18.7 percent); and in response to the question,
In administering the inventory, subjects are presented “Which is the most urgent moral problem in American
with a word or phrase, such as “pajama parties” or “com- culture?,” the largest percentage of conservatives (30 per-
puter music,” to which respondents must select from the cent) responded that it was abortion, followed by same
responses “yes,” “no,” and “uncertain.” AFH selected 28 sex-marriage (26.5 percent). Recent debates over the views
items from the 50-item W-P inventory that they consid- of Supreme Court nominees on abortion, along with the
ered to be more politically relevant.56 From these responses new push among conservatives for a “marriage amend-
the authors worked out estimates of the heritability of ment” to the Constitution, demonstrate that abortion and
“political ideology” (in this case, conservatism) by com- gay rights are the central concerns of conservatives which
paring the responses for MZ pairs with those of DZ divide them from liberals at the present time in the United
pairs. The conclusion the authors draw from the compar- States.
ison of MZ and DZ twin responses is that “political According to AFH, “it has long been known that cer-
attitudes are influenced much more by genetics than by tain issues seem ‘hard’ to people, while others seem ‘easy,’
parental socialization.” 57 presumably because some issues trigger ‘gut responses’
In characterizing the data from W-P inventory the while others do not,” and they conjecture that “in light
authors state that “we see from [the table of responses to of the new findings, one distinct possibility is that easy
the W-P items] that the impact of shared environment ‘gut’ issues tend to be those that are more heritable.” 61 If
exceeds that of heritability in only four of the twenty eight by easy the authors intend something like “obvious” or
items and the mean estimate of heritability for the 28 “unambiguous” or clear to those who hold them (as
W-P items is .32, compared to a mean estimate of shared opposed to “easy to resolve politically”), then it is indeed
environmental influence of .16.” 58 They further com- true that persons often feel most impassioned—as in hav-
ment that “while the individual items provide interesting ing a “gut response”—about those issues that they con-
variations, the purpose of the W-P is to provide an overall sider both to be critically important and to be, from
index of conservatism.” 59 To this end, they compute a their perspective, unambiguously right or wrong. I can
simple index by assigning a value of ⫹1 to any “conserva- think of no two issues at the present time in the United
tive” response, like a “no” on modern art, and a ⫺1 to any States that more accurately fit this description of a “gut
“liberal” response, like a “yes” on modern art. Hence, in issue” for conservatives (more heritable as AFH conjec- 䡬
calculating conservatism, attitudes toward astrology, mod- ture) than abortion and gay rights (less heritable accord-
ern art, and military drills are afforded precisely the same ing to their data).
weight as attitudes toward abortion and gay rights. Fur- To be sure, there are other items on the edited W-P
thermore, an examination of the table of “Attitude Items” index presented by AFH that one would tend to correlate
from the W-P scale reveals that the four items for which, with contemporary social conservatism in the United States,
according to the authors’ estimates, environment exceeds the most important of which at the present time is, per-
heritability, are attitudes toward abortion, gay rights, liber- haps, school prayer. But even an issue such as school prayer
als, and living together (see table 1). trails behind abortion and gay rights in terms of impor-
It is not entirely clear what the authors intend by the tance to conservatives. Opposition to abortion and gay
term “conservative,” nor does the term, taken by itself, rights is so central and defining for social conservatives at
have a single and unambiguous denotation or connota- present in the United States that it is not entirely clear
tion (a point I shall return to). For the moment and for that one could be a social conservative and agree with
simplicity’s sake, I will identify the term “conservative” either of these. And this is even more obviously the case
with those distinct political views held by voters at the concerning whether or not one “agrees with liberals,”
present time in the United States 60 who are self-identified as another attitude item from the W-P index found not to be
“social-conservatives” (as opposed to, e.g., “fiscal conser- heritable by AFH. Liberals are, in effect, the “antithesis”
vatives”); this includes such groups as “right” or “conser- of conservatives, an opposition exploited by AFH them-
vative” Republicans and “Christian conservatives.” Among selves in working out their dichotomous liberal-conservative
groups such as these, perhaps no issues are held to be of phenotypes/genotypes. Could one ever conceivably be a
greater importance at the present time in the United States, conservative and simultaneously agree with liberals?
or more sharply divide conservatives from liberals, than The problem with assigning an equal numeric value
their views concerning abortion and gay rights. For exam- (⫹1, ⫺1) to all of the attitude items on the edited W-P
ple, consider the results of a Zogby poll of voters con- index should now be apparent. If we are using an additive
ducted just before the last presidential election (table 2). model in which overall conservatism is calculated by add-
In response to the question “Which of the following moral ing up one’s plus (⫹1) or minus (⫺1) responses to the
issues most influenced your vote in this election?,” 32.8 items on the W-P index, such an equal numerical weight-
percent of conservative voters ranked the Iraq war first, ing allows for the following anomalous result: One could
followed by abortion (21.4 percent) and same sex mar- agree with abortion rights, agree with gay rights, disagree

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Table 1
Genetic and environmental influences on political attitudes: The 28 individual
Wilson-Patterson Items
Polychoric Correlation
Shared Unshared Z for
MZ DZ
Heritability Environment Environment (MZ − DZ)
Attitude Item Corr. n Corr. n 2 * (MZ − DZ) (2 * DZ) − MZ 1 − MZ Difference*
School prayer 0.66 2,687 0.46 1,774 0.41 0.25 0.34 9.83
Property tax 0.47 2,643 0.46 1,774 0.41 0.06 0.53 7.66
Moral Majority 0.42 2,614 0.22 1,717 0.40 0.03 0.58 7.16
Capitalism 0.53 2,609 0.34 1,720 0.39 0.14 0.47 7.85
Astrology 0.48 2,631 0.28 1,721 0.39 0.09 0.52 7.39
The draft 0.41 2,641 0.21 1,753 0.38 0.02 0.59 6.94
Pacifism 0.34 2,576 0.15 1,686 0.38 −0.04 0.66 6.43
Unions 0.44 2,661 0.26 1,752 0.37 0.07 0.56 6.89
Republicans 0.48 2,627 0.30 1,734 0.36 0.12 0.52 6.91
Socialism 0.43 2,616 0.25 1,726 0.36 0.07 0.57 6.53
Foreign aid 0.41 2,669 0.23 1,771 0.35 0.06 0.59 6.42
X-rated movies 0.63 2,685 0.46 1,783 0.35 0.28 0.37 8.15
Immigration 0.45 2,658 0.29 1,784 0.33 0.12 0.55 6.20
Women’s liberation 0.46 2,666 0.30 1,779 0.33 0.13 0.54 6.27
Death penalty 0.56 2,684 0.40 1,775 0.32 0.24 0.44 6.83
Censorship 0.40 2,629 0.25 1,718 0.30 0.10 0.60 5.36
Living together 0.67 2,679 0.52 1,771 0.30 0.37 0.33 7.54
Military drill 0.38 2,625 0.24 1,733 0.29 0.09 0.62 5.24
Gay rights 0.60 2,658 0.46 1,767 0.28 0.32 0.40 6.26
Segregation 0.38 2,653 0.24 1,743 0.27 0.11 0.62 4.83
Busing 0.43 2,670 0.30 1,766 0.26 0.16 0.57 4.92
Nuclear power 0.42 2,646 0.29 1,744 0.26 0.16 0.58 4.84
䡬 Democrats 0.47 2,639 0.34 1,726 0.26 0.21 0.53 4.96
Divorce 0.47 2,659 0.34 1,765 0.26 0.21 0.53 4.99
Abortion 0.64 2,668 0.52 1,768 0.25 0.39 0.36 6.23
Modern art 0.43 2,662 0.30 1,765 0.25 0.18 0.57 4.69
Federal housing 0.36 2,665 0.26 1,766 0.20 0.16 0.64 3.61
Liberals 0.44 2,629 0.35 1,734 0.18 0.26 0.56 3.40
28-item mean 0.47 2,648 0.31 1,748 0.32 0.16 0.53
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 to the transmission of political ideologies. Their claims do
majority, agree with women’s liberation and in general, not concern the heritability of “discrete” and potentially
agree with liberals, and still be considered a conservative disconnected attitudes of political relevance. To the extent
because one’s responses on the remaining items would still that their claim does concern the heritability of political
add up to a number greater than the sum of one’s “non- ideologies, it is not obviously supported by their own data.
conservative” responses. Conservatism (at the present time
in the United States) cannot accurately be measured by
assigning an equal numeric value to one’s attitudes con- Liberal and Conservative
cerning gay rights, abortion, school prayer, and for liber- “Phenotypes”
als, one’s attitudes toward astrology, modern art, federal Central to evaluating the claim that political ideologies
housing, and military drills. are heritable, or have a heritable component, is an under-
It might be objected that none of this matters because standing of precisely what is intended by such a claim.
according to AFH all of the items on the W-P index What Alford, Funk and Hibbing say in this regard is nei-
showed, as they assert, a “statistically significant” genetic ther entirely clear nor consistent. For example, they assert
component.62 But the problem with this objection is that that “the connection between genes and attitudes may not
what the authors are claiming to have demonstrated is involve specific attitudes as much as the flexibility of atti-
that genes count for more than environment when it comes tudes” 63 and, “individual genes for individual behaviors

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Table 2
Zogby Poll, 2004 presidential election
All voters Liberals Moderates Conservatives?
Which of the following most influenced your vote in this election?
Iraq War 42.3% 54.6% 47.2% 32.8%
Abortion 12.8% 3.3% 6.4% 21.4%
Same-Sex Marriage 9.3% 2.8% 4.7% 18.7%
Poverty 7.4% 16.6% 7.8% 0.9%
Health Care 5.6% 9.1% 9.0% 1.3%
Preventing Stem-Cell Research 2.1% 1.5% 3.1% 2.0%
None 7.0% 2.4% 12.0% 9.0%
Other 13.3% 1.9% 9.1% 13.3%
Which of the following is the most urgent moral problem in American culture?
Greed/Materialism 32.6% 34.9% 40.8% 24.3%
Poverty/Economic Justice 30.6% 61.4% 37.6% 6.0%
Abortion 15.7% 0.3% 5.8% 30.0%
Same-Sex Marriage 12.3% 1.5% 6.7% 26.5%
None/No Response 8.9% 1.9% 9.1% 13.3%
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 The left/right political divide, in the sense AFH intend,
features of what they term liberal and conservative phe- is a decidedly modern phenomenon, with distinct histor-
notypes (corresponding to liberal and conservative geno- ical origins in the eighteenth century. Originally, the defin- 䡬
types), which are largely a collection specific of attitudes; for ing point on the ideological spectrum was attitudes toward
example, a favorable attitude toward unbending moral the ancien regime in France; the right implied support for
and behavioral codes and swift and severe punishments aristocratic, royal, or clerical interests, while the left implied
for violations of that code (conservative phenotype), or an radical and egalitarian sympathies, as well as support for
unfavorable view of preset punishment, hierarchy, and social laissez-faire capitalism and free markets.67 Liberalism, in
inequality (liberal phenotype). They also propose specific an identifiably modern form, has its origins in the seven-
genes for these specific attitudes.65 I shall examine each of teenth and eighteenth centuries in England, France, and
what appear to be two distinct claims or proposals in turn— America, while conservatism, as a self-conscious political
specific attitudes are not heritable, but rather a “flexibility ideology defined, in part, by its opposition to Enlighten-
of attitudes,” and specific attitudes are heritable, namely ment liberal principles, was born in the aftermath of the
the specific attitudes that comprise the liberal-conservative French Revolution.68
phenotypes. I begin with the latter. Nor is it the case that the “package of attitudes” held by
In positing the existence of liberal and conservative “phe- liberals and conservatives today is remarkably similar to
notypes” (and genotypes), AFH claim to have answered those held in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
the following question: Consider conservatism:

Why is a reasonably standard left-right spectrum widely appli- Modern American conservatism is very different from European
cable cross-culturally and over time? The universal left-right ele- conservatism, or from conservatism traditionally understood. For
ments of belief systems around the world and over decades are one thing, conservatism in this country is “modern,” and for
difficult to explain . . . [T]he package of attitudes held, for exam- another, it is “American.” Ours is not the “throne and altar”
ple, by conservatives in the United States is remarkably similar to conservatism that once defined European conservatism, and that
that held by conservatives in other cultures and at earlier times in is still characteristic of many Europeans on the right. These con-
American history.66 servatives 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
But if this is the problem that the authors claim to have democracy.69
solved, then they have solved a non-existent problem, for
their characterization of a standard left-right spectrum as Modern liberalism differs in fundamental respects from
universal, existing in all cultures in all times, is completely what is sometimes called classical liberalism. For example,
historically inaccurate. classical liberals, associated with early modern figures such

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as Locke and Smith were much more tolerant of eco- Liberal phenotype: Pro-attitudes toward out-groups (greater tol-
nomic inequality. By contrast, by the end of the nine- erance), context-dependent rather than rule-based approaches
to proper behavior, and group togetherness. Con-attitudes toward
teenth and early twentieth century, a growing body of preset punishments, hierarchy, certainty, strong leadership, and
liberal thought held that the maintenance of “liberal free- inequality; an optimistic view of human nature; greater
dom” required a certain amount of government interven- empathy.75
tion in the economy and the creation of social welfare
programs of one form or another 70 (an idea turned into Not surprisingly, in light of what has just been noted
partial political reality in the United States during the concerning the historical and hybrid nature of political
Roosevelt administration 71 ). It is this latter conception of ideologies, much of what AFH classify as distinctive of
liberalism—“egalitarian” or “welfare state” liberalism— liberal or conservative attitudes (or phenotypes) could eas-
given canonical formulation in the late twentieth century ily characterize either. For example, a “faith in human
by John Rawls’s in A Theory of Justice—that today is com- nature” is characterized as a liberal belief (or attitude), but
monly associated with liberalism in contemporary Amer- some of our most basic liberal institutions have been
ican society. defended on the basis of a thoroughly pessimistic view of
Not only is it not the case that the “package of atti- human nature, e.g., Madison in the Federalist Papers
tudes” associated with liberalism and conservatism, left famously wrote that “the latent causes of faction are sown
and right, have remained remarkably stable for the past in the seeds of human nature,” and “have rendered per-
300 years, it is also not the case that there has ever existed sons much more disposed to vex and oppress each other
any single “package of attitudes” that define liberalism than to cooperate for the common good.” 76 A desire for
and conservatism and unite all of their varied historical “clear and unbending moral and behavioral codes,” clas-
manifestations. It is doubtful that any ideology possesses sified as a conservative attitude, could just as well charac-
an unchanging “core cluster” of political beliefs that effec- terize a liberal supporter of constitutionalism and the rule
tively distinguishes it from all other ideologies, which makes of law (as opposed to say, the whims of a king, pope, or
the assumption of AFH that there exist discrete liberal mullah), or a liberal advocate of an expansive list of inter-
and conservative “phenotypes” particularly problematic. national human rights. In fact, liberals from Kant to Rawls
As evolving and shifting historical modes of thought, ide- have been accused of being “rule worshippers” in their
䡬 ologies are fundamentally hybrid and interconnecting phe- insistence that certain moral principles, such as “rights,”
nomena. As Jeremy Waldron notes: be upheld regardless of the consequences,77 which does
not square well with the sweeping characterization of
It is fruitless, not only to look for a core of common characteris-
tics, but also to think that we can find distinguishing or peculiar
liberals as having a “context-dependent” rather than “rule-
characteristics which differentiate views in one tradition from dependent” approach to human nature. Taking a context-
those in another. Liberal moderatism fades into conservatism; dependent approach to human nature is, if anything, much
the conservative’s concern for community matches the socialist’s; more characteristic of conservatism in its varied historical
the socialist claims to take the liberal concern for freedom more manifestations, inasmuch as one of the defining features
seriously than liberals themselves, and so on.72
of conservatism is a belief that political wisdom is embod-
In a similar vein, Alan Ryan writes: ied in the particular “context-dependent” beliefs and prac-
tices of a particular society rather than in “abstract universal
Anyone trying to give a brief account of liberalism is immedi- principles.” 78 Liberals may or may not be averse to inequal-
ately faced with an embarrassing question: are we dealing with ity depending upon what type of inequality is being referred
liberalism or with liberalisms? It is easy to list famous liberals; it
is harder to say what they have in common . . . They do not to and what type of liberal one considers oneself. As noted,
agree about the boundaries of toleration, the legitimacy of the classical liberals, represented in recent decades by such
welfare state, and the virtues of democracy, to take three rather thinkers as Hyeck, Freidman, and Nozick (who are some-
central political issues. They do not even agree on the nature of times called libertarians—and even “conservatives”!) have
the liberty they think liberals ought to seek (Berlin 1969, no problem accepting large inequalities in wealth and
122–34).73
income and are generally opposed to redistributive taxa-
The problem with attempting to propose a core cluster tion. And in any given individual today, one might find a
of attitudes that distinguishes, in all times and places, one mix of what are listed by AFH as liberal and conservative
political ideology from another, is evident in AFH’s attempt attitudes. Conservative Catholics, for example, tend to
to characterize the liberal and conservative phenotypes, support clear and unbending moral and behavioral codes
which they do as follows 74 : (conservative phenotype), but are also opposed to capital
punishment (liberal phenotype); and while they accept
Conservative phenotype: Pro-attitudes toward in-group unity, strong the hierarchy of the Church (conservative phenotype), they
leadership, clear and unbending moral and behavioral codes,
swift and severe punishments for violations of this code, and oppose large-scale inequalities of wealth and income and
“systematization;” a suspicion of out-groups; toleration of social historically have been champions of the poor (liberal
inequality; a pessimistic view of human nature. phenotype).

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Liberalism and conservatism cannot be captured by a tal socialization” can only be socialization within a par-
distinct and unchanging core “cluster of political atti- ticular culture in a particular historical period, and if
tudes.” Any attempt to do so is a distortion of the com- such socialization matters less than genes in the etiology
plex history of these two ideologies. Nor is this problem of political attitudes, then the same is true of culture and
alleviated if we shift to the more general—and more history.81
ambiguous—terms left and right (as when AFH speak of Yet even if, for the sake of argument, we could agree
a “left-right divide”). The idea might be that left and right on a universal set of attitudes that meaningfully distin-
are political “spectra” or “axes” along which all ideologies guishes liberal from conservative ideologies, or the left
can be ranked. But the problem here is the same as that from the right in all times and places, there remains the
with liberalism and conservatism: There exist no clear cut, difficulty that while AFH acknowledge that heritability is
ahistorical clusters of attitudes that can comprise the end- not a matter of the genetic transmission of particular
points, as it were, of the “left-right spectrum,” a spectrum attitudes, we are presented with “phenotypes” that are
along which we could meaningfully place all of the ideol- essentially a collection of particular attitudes.82 In fact,
ogies that have ever existed. AFH write, in fact, as if left the authors go so far as to tie specific attitudes to specific
and right are not really a spectrum at all, but rather are genes (or groups of genes), conjecturing that while the
terms equivalent to liberalism and conservatism. Regard- genes that make up the liberal and conservative pheno-
less of what one thinks of the usefulness of the left/right types tend to “move together,” they need not always do
axis as a classificatory scheme, it is customary to charac- so:
terize ideologies as left of liberalism (e.g., socialism and
Even if the individual genes involved with absolutism or contex-
communism) and right of conservatism (e.g., reaction- tualism [the broader “world orientation” phenotypes of which,
ism). And the usefulness of such a linear left-right spec- according to AFH, the liberal-conservative phenotypes are a part]
trum is increasingly challenged.79 There is no real consensus tend to move together, this does not mean that they always do.
as to what exactly this spectrum is supposed to be mea- Some individuals may carry, say, the absolutist’s aversion to out-
suring and where precisely to place specific ideologies. groups but a contextualist’s rejection of a universal behavioral
code.83
Talk of ideologies and a political spectrum points to
another significant problem with AFH’s characterization This characterization as to how genes—and attitudes—
of liberalism and conservatism; for they write as if these might move warrants comment. It suggests what might be 䡬
two ideologies divide the political universe between them, termed a discrete “attitude unit” view of political ideolo-
as if they are the only political ideologies that have ever gies. That is, an ideology is composed of a set of distinct
existed. Far from dividing the political universe, liberal- attitudes or beliefs, each particular attitude the product of
ism and conservatism have been pre-dated by, had to share a corresponding gene (or set of genes). These specific
the historical stage with, and had to compete with ideol- genes—and the corresponding attitudes—can, even if they
ogies as diverse as theocratism, monarchism, anarchism, tend to be grouped in certain patterns (as in the liberal-
Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism, socialism, fascism, and total- conservative phenotypes), be rearranged in conceivably
itarianism. And what of non-Western political ideologies any pattern (depending on how the discrete genes move).
throughout history? Ancient Egypt, Buddhism, Confu- Were this true, ideologies would lack any overarching (or
cianism, Hinduism, and Islam have all given rise to man- underlying) “themes” or principles that united the beliefs
ifold and distinctive political ideologies throughout history, of which they were comprised in some coherent fashion.
all of which could be called liberal or conservative, left or Ideologies would in effect be a random concatenation of
right, only by engaging in extreme procrustean distortion. discrete “attitude units.”
In characterizing the liberal-conservative divide as in Now AFH do say that “for the most part” the beliefs
effect “universal,” AFH have committed the fallacy of that comprise the liberal-conservative phenotypes do
taking the local and particular for the universal. In char- “move together.” 84 But why do they “move together”?
acterizing the political attitudes of twenty-first century For example, why are libertarians committed to a strong
Americans they assume that they have characterized the conception of equal (negative) rights and simultaneously
political attitudes of all mankind in all times and places accepting of inequalities in wealth and income? Were we
(or mankind abstracted from all times and places). The to assume that these two sets of attitudes—support for
commission of such a fallacy is possible only by paying certain basic equal rights, acceptability of unequal wealth
insufficient attention to both history and culture, and and income—as discrete attitude units, just happened to
the lack of such attention seems naturally to be fostered move together, then libertarianism, and every other ide-
by two of AFH’s assumptions. The first, already exam- ology, would ultimately be meaningless, a happenstance
ined, is that there exist trans-cultural and trans-historical concatenation of discrete attitudes.85 In libertarianism,
liberal and conservative phenotypes/genotypes. The sec- these two attitudes are linked as part of a normative sys-
ond is that “political attitudes are influenced much more tem; to understand libertarianism is to understand the
by genetics than by parental socialization.” 80 For “paren- reason why these two beliefs cohere. To say that they

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cohere because that’s just the way that certain genes tend political beliefs, i.e., political ideologies are “derivative of ”
to move (as part of the libertarian phenotype) is to fail to heritable personality traits. The idea that it is personality
understand the ideology; or put another way, it is to fail traits and not political ideologies that are heritable might
to comprehend the ideology as an ideology. Furthermore, appear to answer some of the objections raised above. We
could genes move in such a way that an individual ends might conjecture that a given heritable personality trait
up holding, for example, mutually exclusive proposi- would manifest itself in terms of one political ideology in
tions, such as a belief in radical equality and a favorable one culture at a given time and in another political ideol-
view of hierarchy? What is to preclude such a possibility ogy in another culture or the same culture at a different
on a view in which simply the movement of genes deter- time. Thus we would say that genetically transmitted per-
mines which group of beliefs will end up being lumped sonality trait X, while correlated with political attitude(s)
together to form an ideology? (And if one is inclined to Z among a specific population, is not itself attitude Z, but
deny that this could ever happen, one should ask oneself in a different, time, place, and culture, would manifest
if this denial is based upon principles of genetics, or itself as attitude W.
rather, principles of reason and rationality). The idea that there is some connection between spe-
To return to the problem of the genetic transmission of cific personality traits and the holding of specific political
particular political attitudes, what might be the problem ideologies has a long and venerable pedigree in political
with such an assumption? An attitude such as a favorable science and political psychology, extending back at least as
view of swift and severe punishments presupposes an enor- far as Plato’s Republic. It is also an idea that does not in
mous amount of latent knowledge somehow encoded in any way depend upon assumptions concerning the heri-
our genes—of the existence and characteristics of regula- tability of personality traits, i.e., personality traits have
tive social norms (e.g., laws, conventions, taboos), of the often been linked by theorists with political ideologies in
existence and characteristics of the social practice of pun- the absence of any distinct assumptions as to how those
ishment for violations of those norms, of the normative personality traits are acquired (e.g., genes, early childhood
significance of both social norms and punishment, of the experiences, education, parental/societal indoctrination,
normative significance of such punishments being swift etc.).
and severe (as opposed to being slow and lenient). In fact, In making causal connections between so-called per-
䡬 it presupposes something like an entire culture. Punish- sonality traits and particular beliefs or attitudes there is a
ment is a normative social practice, an institutional means constant temptation to define a given trait as simply hav-
of maintaining social order and control and, as such, is ing the particular set of attitudes for which one is trying to
what John Searle calls an institutional fact, like other social account. But these personality traits, whatever they may
institutions and practices such as money, property, and be, cannot be defined in circular fashion by the very atti-
marriage.86 Institutional facts determine socially defined tudes to which they are supposed to give rise; we must be
behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes, and in the words of Sir able to identify a distinct set of traits that while correlated
Michael Rutter, “genes do not, and cannot, code for socially with a distinct set of beliefs can be characterized apart
defined behaviors.” 87 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
Personality and Political Ideology that it is personality traits that are heritable then it would
One way to avoid these difficulties is to assume that AFH be necessary to correlate a distinct personality trait with
do not actually mean that specific political attitudes are each of the pro and con attitudes the authors list as com-
heritable (despite all that they say). prising the liberal-conservative phenotypes, keeping in
This brings us to their suggestion that “the connection mind that the personality trait in question cannot be
between genes and attitudes may not involve specific atti- defined as, e.g., “an aversion to out groups” (conservative
tudes as much as the flexibility of attitudes . . . Individual phenotype) or “a dislike of universal behavioral codes”
genes for individual behaviors do not exist.” It is for this (liberal phenotype).
reason, presumably, that AFH invoke the concept of “per- The authors do not attempt this, and it is doubtful that
sonality” in explaining the heritability of political ideolo- one could ever imagine a distinct personality trait to be
gies: “We . . . predict that attitudes on political issues correlated with every one of the attitudes listed as com-
tracking most closely to central personality traits are gen- prising the liberal-conservative phenotypes. And any
erally heritable since personality traits are generally heri- attempt to do so would be extremely problematic, if not
table and since the heritability of social attitudes is likely silly. What specific (and presumably heritable) personality
derivative of the heritability of various personality traits.” 88 trait would one propose to correlate with “a desire to take
The claim appears to be that personality traits are her- a more context dependent rather than rule-dependent
itable, not political ideologies or political attitudes, and approach to proper behavior” (liberal phenotype) or “a
that these heritable personality traits are correlated with fondness for systematization” (conservative phenotype)?

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And any personality trait proposed would entail that lib- it is highly problematic to assume that there is a distinct
eral and conservative individuals would have or lack the personality trait for each attitude that the authors iden-
personality trait in question depending upon whether or tify as comprising the liberal and conservative phenotypes.
not they were liberals or conservatives. Thus, were one to I would like to conclude with the following consider-
suggest that, e.g., “irascibility”—a tendency to be easily ation regarding the value of an explanatory hypothesis
angered—was the heritable personality trait correlated with (for I consider what AFH have presented—for all of the
“a desire for swift and severe punishments,” this would reasons noted above—to be not a scientific proof, but an
entail that there could be no (or very few) “irascible” liberals. explanatory hypothesis). One way to evaluate the sound-
The one suggestion that AFH do give concerning those ness of a hypothesis is to ask whether or not it can explain
heritable personality traits that are presumed to give rise the phenomenon under consideration better than other
to distinct political ideologies is a reference to “openness”: explanations. In the present case, the assumption that polit-
“One of psychology’s ‘Big 5’ personality traits is general ical ideologies are genetically transmitted, rather than
openness and it seems likely degree of openness is relevant explaining the phenomena better than, say, traditional his-
to the political arena. Liberals and conservatives, on aver- torical and cultural and sociological explanations, render
age, differ in their openness to atheism, homosexuality, them mysterious, if not incomprehensible. For example,
communism, immigration, and counter-cultural activi- the historical advent, development, and many transforma-
ties.” 90 Of course, conservatives could be characterized as tions of liberalism and conservatism as political ideologies
being more “open” than liberals to, e.g., a theistic world- are well (but by no means completely) understood as his-
view, maintaining traditional moral standards concerning torical phenomenon. If genes count for more than envi-
sexuality, the institution of private property, immigration ronment in explaining the phenomena of liberalism and
quotas, and upholding traditional cultural practices in gen- conservatism, then these phenomena become utterly
eral. Unless one assumes that one can only be “open” to incomprehensible. Why should liberalism, as a “pheno-
liberal principles, we need a more informative definition type,” manifest itself in Europe in the seventeenth, eigh-
of “openness” to evaluate the authors’ claim. And I will teenth and nineteenth centuries? Why should conservatism,
simply assert that it is doubtful that any non-tendentious as a phenotype, manifest itself (at least in its most well-
use of the term “openness” as a personality trait will yield known form) in the wake of the French Revolution? Why
the result that only liberals can have an “open” personality.91 should great liberal and conservative thinkers—Locke, 䡬
Smith, Burke, de Maistre—suddenly appear on the world
Conclusion stage when and where they do? How to explain the differ-
I have argued the following: First, that the research tech- ences between classical liberalism and its modern mani-
nique employed by AFH—twin studies—is, according festations, and how one developed out of the other? How
to many prominent scientists, based upon a faulty para- to explain the transformation of conservatism from its
digm, namely, that in studying the origin of complex earlier “reactionary” forms to its modern incarnations? How
traits or attitudes or beliefs, genes and environment (or to explain the birth, spread, and eventual demise of com-
nature and nurture) can be meaningfully partitioned in munism, one of the most important political ideologies of
such a way that the causal effects of each can be precisely the twentieth century (and which at one time was viewed
quantified by statistical methods. Second, that the same as the greatest ideological threat to both liberalism and
research technique is, according to many prominent sci- conservatism)? What of fascism? What of anarchism? What
entists, susceptible to so many confounding effects that of the resurgence of nationalism in Eastern Europe with
there are good reasons to be skeptical of claims of heri- the collapse of the Soviet Union? And so on and so forth.
tability based solely upon such studies, particularly in What possible “genetic story” could account for these undis-
relation to attitudes that are critically dependent upon puted historical phenomena?
environment (socialization and culture) for their content But it is not only history that is rendered incomprehen-
and specificity. Third, the defects of twin studies notwith- sible by the assumption that political ideologies are genet-
standing, the results of the study of AFH do not obvi- ically transmitted (and that the ideological universe is
ously support the conclusions they draw from them. divided between universal and unchanging “left” and
Fourth, the assumption that there could be such a thing “right” “phenotypes”). A good deal of public opinion data
as liberal and conservative “phenotypes” depends upon becomes equally incomprehensible. For example, if one
historically incorrect assumptions concerning both the looks at conservative self-identification from 1972–2004,
universality and ahistorical nature of liberalism and con- one finds some obvious correlations. Income shows a high
servatism, and the mistaken view that liberalism and and persistent correlation with self-identification as a con-
conservatism can each be reduced to a distinct set of servative: As of 2004, 18 percent of those in the 0–16
unchanging “core attitudes.” Fifth, to the extent that what income percentile self identified as conservatives, com-
the authors are really proposing is genetically transmitted pared with 48 percent in the 96–100 percentile. In addi-
personality traits rather than distinct political attitudes, tion, race shows a high correlation with self-identification

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as a conservative: 36 percent of whites as opposed to 15 and Hibbing 2005; “Genes Contribute to Religious
percent of blacks self-identify as conservatives.92 Are we Inclination,” Popular Scientist, March 16, 2005,
seriously to assume, for example, that not only is there a reporting on Koenig et al. 2005; “Study Finds Ge-
liberal and conservative genotype, but that this genotype netic Basis For Human Kindness,” ABC News, Janu-
which, according to AFH, counts for more than environ- ary 12, 2005, reporting on Rushton 2004; “Israeli
ment in determining a person’s political orientation, is Researchers Find ‘Altruism Gene,’” Jerusalem Post,
somehow associated with income and with race? And if we January 20, 2005, reporting on Bachner-Mehlman
do not assume this, what possible genetic explanation could et al. 2005; “Homosexuality is Genetic,” CanWest
account for such correlations? News Agency, January 29, 2005, reporting on Mus-
But such correlations are well explained when we look tanski et al. 2005; “God Gene Discovered by Scien-
at the history of the United States, just as the rise and tist,” Telegraph Group Limited, reporting on Hamer
transmission of liberalism and conservatism are well- 2004; “Of Genes and Exit Polls: Overlooked in
understood when we examine European history. In sum, recent election commentary was the real reason for
we can understand the world of political ideologies by the red-state victory. Heavy hint: It’s biological,”
understanding history and culture, the ultimate “environ- Dan Seligman, Forbes, December 13, 2004, report-
mental influences.” What, if anything, the study of genet- ing on Rice and Hibbing 2004, Jost et al. 2003, and
ics adds to our understanding of political ideologies remains Bouchard et al. 2003; “Happiness is Mostly Ge-
to be seen. netic,” Forbes, September 23, 2004, reporting on
Lykken 2000; “Smoking Linked to Anger Gene,”
Herald Sun, February 14, 2004, reporting on Fallon
Notes et al. 2004; “British Scientists Discover Criminal
1 Jonathan Beckwith, American Cancer Society Pro- Gene,” ABC News, August 5, 2002. In point of fact,
fessor of the Department of Microbiology and Mo- not a single gene has been discovered for any of
lecular Genetics at Harvard University, 2006, 89. these traits, attitudes, or beliefs.
Here is a small sampling (most of the reports listed 2 Galton 1875, 397.
here have been published in multiple news sources 3 Hamer and Copeland 1998, 22.
䡬 and news services generally supply stories to hun- 4 For altruism, see, e.g., Rushton, Littlefield, and
dred of newspapers worldwide): “‘Angry gene’ Lumsden 1986; for criminality, see, e.g., Moffitt
Could Help Spur Hostility,” Washington Post, March 2005, Rhee and Waldman 2002; for “religiosity” see,
9, 2007, reporting on a study by I. Halder, Univer- e.g., Bouchard et al. 1999; for conservatism, see,
sity of Pittsburgh; J. Grisolia, Scripps Mercy Hospi- e.g., Bouchard et al. 2003.
tal; and E. C. Suarez, Duke University; “Born to be 5 Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005.
Bad? Genetic Research Says Maybe” Reuters, Febru- 6 Ibid., 164.
ary 7, 2007, reporting on Harden et al. 2007; “Vio- 7 Ibid., 164.
lence Is Blamed on ‘Warrior Gene’ in the Maoris,” 8 Sigelman 2006, 172. Some of the excitement this
Daily Telegraph, August 10, 2006, reporting on article has generated amongst political scientists is
research of genetic epidemiologist Ron Lea (for the doubtless due to the hope that at long last, the
controversy sparked by Lea’s claims see, e.g., “Scien- dream of some political scientists to have political
tist Defends Warrior Gene,” New Zealand Herald, science become a “true” science on the model of the
March 5, 2007; “Maori Gene Claim Stirs Family natural sciences—or rather, on the basis of a some-
Violence Debate in New Zealand,” China Daily and what crude conception as to what makes the natural
Global News Wire—Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, sciences “science”—is about to be realized.
August 15, 2006; “New Zealand’s Maori Minister 9 See the citations given in n. 1.
Hone Harawira Arguing that severe poverty and 10 For the heritability of “criminal behavior” see,
high unemployment are to blame for the violence in e.g. Harden et al. 2007; Moffitt 2005; Caspi et al.
Maori communities, and not a “warrior” gene as 2002.
claimed by geneticist Rod Lea,” New Scientist, Au- 11 Elkins 2003, 296. See, e.g., “The Impact of Behav-
gust 19, 2006); “Lives of Crime,” Prospect, July 27, ioral Genetics on the Criminal Law,” special issue of
2006, reporting on Caspi et al. 2002, “Role of Law and Contemporary Problems 69 Winter/Spring
Genotype in the Cycle of Violence in Maltreated (2006); Paul S. Appelbaum, “Law & Psychiatry:
Children”; “Conservative or liberal? It may be in the Behavioral Genetics and the Punishment of Crime,”
genes,” November 2, 2006, Associated Press, report- 56 Psychiatric Services 25, 25 (2005); M. Jones,
ing on Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005; “Some “Overcoming the Myth of Free Will in Criminal
Politics May Be Etched in the Genes,” New York Law: The True Impact of the Genetic Revolution,”
Times, June 21, 2005, reporting on Alford, Funk, 52 Duke Law Journal 1031, 1039–40 (2003).

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12 Herrnstein and Murray 1994. See, e.g., Jacoby and 24 Karmiloff-Smith 2006, 48 (emphasis added in the
Glauberman 1995; Daniels, Devlin, and Roeder first sentence); see Wyman 2005, McClearn 2004,
1997; Gottfredson 1998, 1994. Kahn 2003.
13 Cooper and Zubek 1958. 25 Parens, Chapman, and Press 2006, xvi.
14 For more on this kind of gene-environment inter- 26 Plomin 2004.
action, see, e.g., McClearn 2004, Meaney 2001, Ram- 27 Hettema, Neale, and Kendler 1995, 327.
pon et al. 2000, Kempermann et al. 1997. The results 28 Evans and Martin 2000, 77; see Horowitz et al.
of this experiment contradict a central assumption 2003, Sandbank 1999, Ainslie 1997.
of A. R. Jensen 1969, set forth in a famous paper, “How 29 See, e.g., LaBuda et al. 1997, Kendler et al. 1994.
Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achieve- 30 Joseph 2000, 544–45; 2004, 54–60, 69–70; cf.
ment?” Jensen claimed that IQ will in fact vary over envi- Richardson and Norgate 2005, 34.
ronments in the following manner: In impoverished 31 Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979, 528; Joseph 2000.
environments all genotypes will do equally poorly, 32 Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, and Longo 1991; Fein-
but in enriched environments the higher IQ genotypes/ gold 1992; and Webster and Driskell 1983 in Perlini
phenotypes will always surpass the lower ones. For et al. 2001, 277.
a further critique of the assumptions of Jensen, see 33 Burns and Farina 1992 and Buss 1994, in Horowitz
Lewontin 2000, 22–30. et al. 2003, 113–14.
15 Shonkoff and Phillips 2000, 48. 34 Guo 2001, 122.
16 There is speculation that the current “lag” in the 35 Bouchard 1993; Kendler et al. 1994; Rose 1991.
height of Americans is due to their “junk food” diet; 36 Joseph 2000, 545.
Komlos and Bauer 2003. 37 Bouchard and McGue 2003; Bouchard et al. 1990.
17 Plomin and Kosslyn 2001, 1153. See Meaney 2001, 38 Studies have shown that parents’ recounts of their
50: “It is interesting to note that the most fervent prac- rearing practices are often biased to match some
titioners of quantitative human behavioral genetics ideal of parenting; Bradburn, Rips, and Shevell
come not from genetics or even from biology at all. 1987; Robbins 1963.
They are very commonly persons trained in psychol- 39 O’Connor and Deater-Deckard 1998; Ge and
ogy. It is unfortunate that psychology has exerted a much Chadoret 1996; McCartney, Harris, and Bernieri 1990. 䡬
greater effort in training its students in statistics 40 This is the claim made by Alford, Funk, and Hib-
than in biology—with the predictable results. It is bing 2005, 155.
really nothing more than a convenient myth to believe 41 Penderson et al. 1992; Bouchard et al. 1990; Lang-
that one can study the influence of genes without invainio, Koskenvuo, and Kaprio 1984.
understanding anything of molecular genetics.” 42 See, e.g., Bruer and Greenough 2001.
18 Gerald E. McClearn, Evan Pugh Professor of Health 43 Joseph 2004, 131. Consider the following hypothet-
and Human Development and Biobehavioral ical experiment: Of a group of 100 people, 50 are
Health, Department of Biobehavioral Health, Cen- told that it has just been discovered that they have
ter for Developmental and Health Genetics, Penn- identical twins. These 50 meet their “identical
sylvania State University, 2004, 124. twins,” who are in fact members of the “study team”
19 Michael J. Meaney, James McGill Professor, Depart- recruited to be the same age and gender and look
ments of Psychiatry and Neurology & Neurosurgery, almost identical to each of the 50 participants. For
Program for the Study of Behavior, Genes and Envi- one week they spend all of their time together to get
ronment, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, McGill to know one another as well as possible. The 50
University, 2001, 51. other participants are introduced to 50 other study
20 Douglas Wahlstein, Great Lakes Institute for Envi- team members of the same age and gender to whom
ronmental Research and Professor of Biological they bear no particular physical resemblance, and are
Sciences, University of Windsor, former President of told that they are strangers whom they should spend
the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics one week trying to get to know well. Is it not highly
Society (was presented with the Distinguished Scien- likely that the 50 “twins,” when tested, would self-
tist Award of the International Behavioural and report significantly higher concordances to their fake
Neural Genetics Society in 2006 for “outstanding twins than the remaining 50 with their matched
lifetime achievement and contributions to the field “strangers”?
of behavioural and neural genetics”); Wahlstein and 44 Beckwith 2006, 81; see Kamin and Goldberger
Gottleib 1997, 178. 2002; Joseph 2004, 125–136.
21 Johnson 2001. 45 Rowe 1994; Bouchard et al. 1990.
22 Bruer and Greenough 2001; Nelson 2000. 46 Beckwith 2006, 82; cf. Kamin and Goldberger
23 Hurford 1991. 2002, 86.

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47 See Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005, 155 n.3. 61 AFH 2005, 164.
48 Kamin and Goldberger 2002, 87. 62 Ibid., 158.
49 Beckwith 2006, 82. 63 Ibid., 154, emphasis added.
50 Eckert, Heston, and Bouchard 1981, 180. 64 Ibid., 163, emphasis added.
51 Joseph 2004, 98–104; Kamin and Goldberger 2002, 65 Ibid., 168.
85; Watson 1982, 48. 66 Ibid., 153, 164.
52 The study of AFH (2005, 158–61) employs the 67 Heywood 1992, 16–17.
statistical method of polychoric analysis, whereas 68 Ryan 1993; Quinton 1993.
most recent twin studies employ a more involved 69 D’Souza 2002, 4–5.
statistical technique called Structural Equation Mod- 70 E.g., Hobhouse 1964.
eling (SEM); Tomarken and Waller 2005. SEM, 71 See, e.g., Kennedy 1999.
however, in no way obviates all of the problems 72 Waldron 1993, 36.
associated with twin studies discussed above: It 73 Ryan 1993, 291.
depends every bit as much as polychoric analysis on 74 AFH 2005, 164–5.
the Equal Environment Assumption, unbiased sam- 75 In AFH 2005 they do not employ the expressions
ples, and so forth. As Hettema, Neale, and Kendler “pro” and “con” attitudes, but I do not think they
1995 (327) note: “Both traditional analysis of twin would object to my use of them. The actual lan-
data (e.g., Falconer 1989) and more recent struc- guage employed by AFH in describing the attitudes
tural equation models for twin analysis (Neale and that comprise the liberal-conservative phenotypes is
Cardon 1992) are predicated on the equal- revealing. They scrupulously avoid the use of the
environment assumption (EEA)—that monozygotic terms “moral,” “ethical,” “should,” “ought,” “right”
(MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins are equally corre- and “wrong;” but rather, in describing persons’
lated for their exposure to environmental influences (moral and political) attitudes employ expressions
that are of etiologic importance to the trait or disor- such as “desire for,” “fondness for,” “yearning for,”
der under study.” As Tomarken and Waller 2005 and “preference for.” Thus, they write of a “fondness
(56) note of the use of SEM in twin studies, “so- for swift and severe punishments,” “a yearning for
䡬 phisticated statistical procedures cannot rescue a in-group unity,” “a distaste for preset punishments,”
poorly designed study.” As I have argued, twin stud- and “an aversion to inequality” (164–5). In char-
ies are poorly designed studies; their flaws are of acterizing “easy” moral/political issues (164), in the
such a nature that they cannot be rescued by statisti- sense of issues about which people have very strong and
cal procedures applied to the data after the data has unambiguous opinions, the authors describe per-
been collected. I am indebted to an anonymous sons’ strong beliefs as “gut responses.” Characterizing
reviewer for raising the issue of SEM, and to Ian moral/political beliefs by terms such as “fondness,”
Morgan for an instructive exchange of e-mail on this “yearning,” “distaste,” “desire,” and “aversion,” makes
topic. them appear equivalent to, e.g., a fondness for choc-
53 See e.g., Holsinger 1981, 144–5: “Since Occam’s olate or an aversion to the smell of blue cheese. To write
Razor ought to be invoked only when several hy- of “gut responses” makes moral reactions seem on a
potheses explain the same set of facts equally well, in par with visceral reactions like nausea. Using the lan-
practice its domain will be very limited . . . Cases guage of “tastes” and “desires” to refer to complex
where competing hypotheses explain a phenomenon moral and political beliefs makes genetic explanations
equally well are comparatively rare.” of these beliefs seem less counter-intuitive. The lan-
54 I would like to emphasize, yet again, that this is guage of “tastes” and “desires” is well suited to genetic
what my argument concerns: political ideology. explanations of human behavior, since it seems to
55 The study by Bouchard et al. 2003 was a study of a make more sense to talk of a genetically determined aver-
small sample of twins raised apart—54 pairs of sion to, e.g., certain odors, then to talk of a geneti-
monozygotic and 46 pairs of dizygotic twins reared cally determined political ideology or moral belief
apart, whereas the study of AFH is a study of a large system. As is well known, the problem with the lan-
sample of twins raised together. guage of tastes, desires, and aversions is that it fails to
56 AFH 2005, 158 account for two central features of morality as expe-
57 Ibid., 164. rienced by moral agents: First, that for the sake of doing
58 Ibid., 159. what one believes to be the morally right thing one
59 Ibid., 159. must at times act against his or her strongest “yearn-
60 The importance of the constant refrain “at the ings,” “desires,” and “aversions”; and second, that rea-
present time in the Unites States” should become son plays a role in moral judgment. The denial of any
clear in what follows. role for reason in moral judgment is implicit in most

314 Perspectives on Politics


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of what AFH say about political attitudes and can be relevant to the present discussion. There exists what
seen quite clearly in their characterization of how might be called (for want of a better term) a “liberal
one’s moral-political beliefs might change (although bias” in assorted assessments of personality, a bias
never using the term “moral”): “An individual with that is particularly evident in the Five-Factor Model
a contextualist genotype who has been repeatedly vic- (FFM) and its characterization of the trait of “open-
timized by an out-group, or who has simply spent a ness.” FFM is based on the idea that the following
great deal of time listening to persuasive absolutists, may five dimensions are necessary and sufficient for
adopt attitudes that run against type” (165). They characterizing human personality: introversion/
also comment that political ideologies are more diffi- extroversion; agreeableness; openness to experience;
cult to “manipulate” to the extent that they are inher- conscientiousness; and emotionality/neuroticism.
ited (164).Thus, according to the authors, moral beliefs The trait of openness is itself broken down into
can change as a result of repeated negative sub-categories used to measure or “score” overall
reinforcement—as a mouse might avoid a certain “openness,” and one of these subcategories is “liber-
type of food after receiving repeated electrical shocks, alism” (as measured by specifically political indica-
“persuasion”—as opposed to argumentation, and tors of liberalism); Costa and McCrae 1992. How
“manipulation.” one scores on the “liberalism” category can signifi-
76 Madison et al. 1989, 58–9; cf. Shklar 1984. cantly affect how one scores on overall level of
77 See, e.g., Smart 1973. “openness.” Thus, in a wholly circular fashion,
78 Burke 1999; Quinton 1993. openness is correlated with liberalism by definition.
79 See, e.g., Lasch 1991. The concomitant of such a “liberal bias” in personal-
80 AFH 2005, 164. ity assessment is what might be called the “patholo-
81 Oddly enough, at one point AFH (ibid., 165) ap- gizing” of conservatism; Bailey 2004. For example,
pear to clearly acknowledge the importance of cul- in an article entitled “Political Conservatism as
ture in explaining human behavior: “Gene–culture Motivated Social Cognition,” the authors conclude
interaction is the key to understanding the source of on the basis of a meta-analysis of a large number of
political attitudes and behaviors, just as it is the key personality test results that “several psychological
to understanding most physical and behavioral variables predict conservatism.” It is positively corre- 䡬
aspects of the human condition. Genes do not work lated with death anxiety, system instability,
in isolation and instead generally influence the ex- dogmatism-intolerance of ambiguity, fear of threat
tent to which organisms are responsive to particular and loss; and negatively correlated with integrative
environmental conditions.” The problem is that complexity, uncertainty tolerance, self-esteem and,
almost everything else they say in their article ig- not surprisingly, openness to experience; Jost et al.
nores or contradicts this assertion. 2003, 339. Research psychologist Robert Altemeyer,
82 Ibid., 154. inventor of the “Right Wing Authoritarian Scale”
83 Ibid., 168. (RWA), flatly denies that “an authoritarian impres-
84 Ibid., 154. sively like the authoritarian on the right reposes on
85 In fact, it is not clear that there could be such a the left end of the RWA scale.” Those who score low
thing as “meaning” at all on a view in which discrete on the RWA scale are described as “fair-minded,
or atomic attitude units cohered for “meaningless” even-handed, tolerant, nonaggressive persons . . .
reasons. Nor is the idea of a discrete attitude unit They are not self-righteous; they do not feel superior
coherent in and of itself, since ideas (or “attitudes”) to persons with opposing opinions”; Altemeyer
can only be defined (or have meaning) in relation to 1981. To be sure dogmatic, intolerant, arrogant
other ideas. To talk of a discrete or atomic attitude “personality types” must be conservative and cannot
unit is like proposing that a single sentence in a be liberal if such a stipulation is included in the
given language could be comprehensible (or have definition of “authoritarian,” “dogmatic,” and “ag-
meaning) in isolation from the language system of gressive.” But it is worth asking whether we are
which it is a part. striving to give words a denotation that reflects our
86 Searle 1995. own political ideologies, or seeking to uncover a
87 Rutter 1996, 266. meaningful connection between personality traits
88 AFH 2005, 157. and the holding of particular political ideologies? If
89 Ibid., 165. we can successfully expunge all the prejudicial as-
90 Ibid., 157. sumptions that link particular personality traits with
91 It is beyond the scope of this paper to consider the particular political ideologies, there will be nothing
relationship, if any, between personality and political at all problematic about, e.g., a dogmatic, arrogant,
ideology. I shall simply note the following, which is and self-righteous liberal.

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92 Figures from the ANES Guide to Public Opinion Thinking About Critical Periods, ed. B. Donald, J.
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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 and implications. Genetics in general and twin studies in

M 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
particular are not familiar topics to most political scien-
tists. Several of the misconceptions evident in Charney’s
written remarks are undoubtedly held by other members

nature’s but our own creation, shaped as we navigate and of the discipline so we are pleased to have been offered the
are influenced by historical and cultural realities that we opportunity to explain our procedures, findings, and con-
have constructed. The human mind, dualism asserts, unlike clusions more fully. Charney’s criticisms fall into two broad
all other aspects of life on our planet, transcends crude categories. The first is that the methods we employed to
biological processes. And what better example of a pris- obtain our results—specifically, the classical twin design—
tine experiential, non-biological, uniquely-human phe- rest on faulty assumptions and therefore yield meaning-
nomenon than mass-scale politics with its relatively recent less results. The second, drawing directly from a dualist
advent and its constantly changing issues, terms, parties, perspective, is that political beliefs are entirely embedded
and players. For those caught in the hubris of this dualist in culture and therefore, logically could not have a genetic
perspective, empirical evidence indicating that political component. We address each of these charges in turn.
orientations are transmitted genetically as well as cultur- Our central point is that it is insufficient merely to assert
ally seems patently “incoherent” and must be the product the implausibility of political ideology being partially her-
of a flawed methodology. itable; ultimately this matter can and must be decided by
Thus it is that Evan Charney rises to attack a recent the scientific process.
article of ours in the American Political Science Review, 1
an article he fears is part of “a trend among behavioral The Methodical Challenge
scientists to view ever more complex attitudes as in some Much of Charney’s methodological critique centers on
sense genetically determined.” 2 We welcome the appear- what has come to be termed the “equal environments
ance of Charney’s essay. The scientific process needs schol- assumption” (EEA). Monozygotic (MZ) twins share 100
ars eager to question methodologies, data, interpretations, 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
John R. Alford is Associate Professor of Political Science, provides an opportunity to estimate the importance of
Rice University (jra@rice.edu). Carolyn L. Funk is Associ- genetic similarity—but only if the environments of MZ
ate Professor of Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth and DZ twins are equally similar. If, relative to DZ twins,
University (clfunk@vcu.edu). John R. Hibbing is the Foun- MZ twins not only share more of their genetic code but
dation Regents Professor of Political Science, University of also share more of their environmental experiences, vari-
Nebraska-Lincoln (jhibbing@unl.edu) ance attributed to genetics may actually be the result of

doi:10.1017/S1537592708080638 June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 321


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Exchange | Political Genotypes

environmental forces. Thus, the key concern is that heri- overall frequency of twin contact and the similarity of
tability estimates will be inflated while the effect of shared their social and political attitudes is small and statistically
environment will be underestimated. insignificant.7 In terms of politics this result is not all that
The equal environments assumption is an important surprising since it seems unlikely that the parents of DZ
concern and Charney is quite right to raise it, but the twins are more likely than the parents of MZ twins to
EEA has been the subject of a tremendous amount of push each of their twins in a different political direction.
debate and research and Charney does not provide a fair Compared to the parents of MZ twins, why would the
assessment of current wisdom in the behavioral genetics parents of DZ twins be less desirous that all of their off-
literature. We have space to offer only a few corrections. spring share the same political beliefs?
One misconception springs from Charney’s treatment of But rather than debate what is plausible or implausible
the environment as exogenous even as such a practice is let us turn again to the empirical evidence. The most impor-
invalidated by his own argument. Charney invokes a com- tant challenge we wish to issue to Charney concerning the
ment from Horwitz et al. pointing out that “because mono- EEA involves the differential heritability estimates of polit-
zygotic twins have greater physical resemblance to each ical attitudes on the one hand and party identification on
other than dizygotic twins, they could have a greater chance the other. Similar to previous research,8 we estimate the
of receiving similar social reactions.” 3 If, as Charney and heritability of political and social attitudes to be in the .4
Horwitz believe, genes shape physical traits that in turn to .5 range, leaving .5 to .6 attributable to environmental
shape social reactions that in turn shape beliefs, the link- factors. But these same procedures reveal that party iden-
age structure is complete and genes will affect beliefs. tification is only about .14 heritable, leaving .86 attribut-
Whether the causal order is [genes r beliefs] or [genes r able to the environment, so the classical twin design reports
physical traits r social reactions r beliefs], the underlying a dramatic difference in the heritability of political beliefs
cause is still genetic. An example of the endogeneity of and party identification. Interestingly, other research iden-
environmental forces is provided by O’Connor et al. who tifies precisely the same pattern for religious beliefs (strong
report that adoptive children genetically at risk for anti- heritability) as opposed to religious denominational affil-
social behavior are significantly more likely than not-at- iation (minimal to no heritability).9 If violations of the
genetic risk adoptive children to be the recipient of negative EEA are responsible for reported heritability, Charney must
䡬 parenting from their adoptive parents.4 Negative parent- argue that parents of MZ and DZ twins raise their chil-
ing is typically assumed to be the cause of children’s anti- dren equally similarly with regard to party identification
social behavior but in point of fact children play an but differentially with regard to political attitudes. Why
important role in shaping their own environment, in this would parents of DZ twins socialize their twins to have
case by influencing the behavior of their parents. the same party identification but different political beliefs,
Even if we pretend genes have nothing to do with shap- while parents of MZ twins socialize their twins to have
ing the environment, the EEA withstands analysis. A sur- both similar party identifications and similar political
prising number of the parents of twins, as many as 20–30 beliefs?
percent in some studies, mis-categorize the zygosity of their Rather than merely relying on assertions, we have also
twins, thus creating a valuable opportunity to distinguish empirically estimated heritability while accounting for the
environmental from genetic influences. If Charney is EEA. To do so, we have re-estimated our findings from
correct, the determining factor in twin pairs’ degree of sim- the Virginia 30K sample using more sophisticated struc-
ilarity should be their perceived zygosity; if we are correct, tural equation models that account for shared environ-
the determining factor in degree of similarity should be their mental influences from other family relationships—
actual zygosity.The results of these mis-categorization stud- namely parents and non-twin siblings.10 This re-estimation
ies are clear: DZ twin pairs believed by their environments with non-twin data allows us to correct for shared effects
to be MZ twin pairs are no more similar than DZ twin pairs among siblings and to estimate twin-specific environment
believed to be DZ twin pairs.5 This basic finding is impos- effects. The findings support our original claims that genet-
sible to explain if the environment is all that matters. ics accounts for at least 40 percent of the variance in ideo-
MZ twins are indeed more likely to share certain envi- logical orientations as measured by the 28-item Wilson-
ronmental experiences. They are, for example, more likely Patterson index. A different approach is taken by Fowler,
than DZ twins to share the same bedroom and to have the Baker and Dawes in their tests of the heritability of voter
same friends but this fact in and of itself does not consti- turnout.11 Fowler et al. test the comparability of MZ and
tute a fatal flaw for twin studies.6 The central question is DZ pairs on a number of politically-relevant variables and
whether variable similarity on friends and bedrooms inde- indicators of socioeconomic status. They find no mean
pendently influences the specific trait of interest—in this differences between MZ and DZ pairs on these political
case, political beliefs—and no evidence has yet been pre- and social variables, thus demonstrating that the trait-
sented that it does. In fact, empirical evidence goes fur- specific environment is simply too equal to offer any power
ther and demonstrates that the correlation between the in explaining away the heritability findings. Research in

322 Perspectives on Politics


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other areas has similarly shown either that the EEA is of intelligence drop to near zero. Actual genetic inheri-
valid or that violations of it are too modest to negate tance continued to take place and the separate offspring of
results indicating the important influence of genes.12 the two distinct lines would still show divergent abilities if
Twin studies do have the potential to mislead. One of raised in a standard environment. The extreme environ-
Charney’s central points is that genes and the environ- ments only inhibited the ability of a test of heritability to
ment cannot be partitioned neatly (e.g., 14 percent genetic detect this continued role of genetic transmission and the
and 86 percent environmental) since they interact in such direction of any bias in the estimate of heritability is con-
complicated ways. In so saying, however, Charney is only servative. In this study, extreme environments led to under-
parroting a point we stressed in our original article: “Gene estimation of the role genes play in the natural world, not
culture interaction is the key to understanding the source to over-estimation. Far from suggesting that we should
of political attitudes and behaviors, just as it is the key to not put much faith in high estimates of heritably (such as
understanding most physical and behavioral aspects of the those we found for political orientations), this example
human condition. Genes do not work in isolation and demonstrates the reverse. Studies finding zero heritability
instead generally influence the extent to which organisms in specific environments are the ones that may be suspect,
are responsive to particular environmental conditions.” 13 and can produce results that mask the true role of genes in
Providing statistical estimates of the effects of genetics, the transmission of behavioral traits.
shared environment, and unshared environment is not In one important area of methodology we are in full
tantamount to asserting that these effects work in isola- agreement with Charney. Twin studies should be seen as
tion from each other. We know of no practitioner of twin the beginning and not the end of research in this area and
studies who believes they do. The interactions among genes we are following this model in our own research. The twin
and between genes and the environment create an amaz- design is typically and most profitably employed as a pre-
ingly complex situation. The good news is that, since Char- cursor to additional genetic work. Wet genetic techniques
ney apparently believes genes and the environment interact such as linkage analysis, which can isolate the location of
to influence phenotypes, he must agree with us that genes genes relevant to a phenotypic behavior of interest, are
are indeed behaviorally relevant. best conducted with DNA drawn from close relatives such
Charney is also concerned with the fact that estimates as twins. Many twin registries now have data banks con-
of heritability are specific to a given population in a given taining the twins’ DNA because of the value in using the 䡬
environment and are therefore subject to substantial vari- same subjects to assess heritability levels and then to con-
ation. This is an important point, and its import is often duct genotyping work. Behavioral geneticists commonly
misunderstood, as it is by Charney. Look carefully at his move seamlessly back and forth from the twin design to
example (one that can be reproduced in many other guises). bench genetics. We are currently working with several
He describes a study that examines the heritability of maze geneticists including Nicholas Martin (Laboratory Head
running ability in mice, utilizing mice selectively bred for of Genetic Epidemiology at the Queensland Institute of
high or low ability on this trait. As Charney describes the Medical Research in Brisbane), Lindon Eaves (Professor
results: of Human Genetics at the Virginia Commonwealth Uni-
versity School of Medicine), and Shelley D. Smith (Direc-
For mice raised in a “standard” environment heritability of this
trait was high. The researchers then raised the offspring of the tor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Nebraska
genetically selected lines in two “extreme environments,” a cog- Medical Center) and have begun the process of statisti-
nitively poor one (dull colors all around, no toys) and a cogni- cally associating particular genetic alleles with political
tively enriched one (bright colors and patterns, many toys). Both beliefs and political behaviors, a technique called allelic
the bright and dull lines behaved “stupidly” in the poor environ- association.
ment and “smartly” in the enriched one, with the result that the
heritability of the trait dropped to zero in both extreme environ- Twin studies alone are no substitute for using linkage
ments. The bright and dull mice may well have inherited what- analysis and allelic association studies to find the specific
ever genes are linked to intelligence (or maze running aptitude) genes contributing to the heritability of political attitudes,
in mice (which is what they were bred for), but the heritability of but searching for specific genes would be a waste of time
the trait of intelligence was shown to be highly dependent upon absent evidence of heritability. With billions of nucleotide
post-natal environment.14
base-pairs in the nucleus of most human cells, locating
Several points are of critical importance here. First, notice the relevant individual genes is a challenging, multidisci-
that Charney admits to the well-established fact that the plinary undertaking. Even when associations are found,
mice “may well have inherited whatever genes are linked much work remains since correlations alone will not reveal
to intelligence.” Second, notice that when mice were raised the complex pathway between genotype and phenotype.
in a standard environment, estimates of heritability cor- No serious scholars doubt the difficulties attending efforts
rectly detected the significant role of genes in influencing to link genes to political behaviors and beliefs but we have
maze-running ability. Only when mice were raised in arti- no doubts this link will eventually be established. Addi-
ficially extreme environments did the apparent heritability tional information on the role of evolution, emotions, the

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Exchange | Political Genotypes

limbic system, and neurotransmitters in shaping personal 3. Abortion (.64)


and political traits emerges every week 15 and the pace is 4. X-rated movies (.63)
only going to pick up, making it an uncomfortable time 5. Gay rights (.60).
for dualists such as Charney.
Charney writes that “Alford, Funk, and Hibbing have If Charney is correct that an acceptable test for estimating
not discovered a set of genes corresponding to their hypoth- heritability of political orientations must indicate high lev-
esis of genetic causation.” This is quite true, we have not. els of heritability for the social issues that he calls “the
But, as noted above, we are working on it. Scholars else- central concerns dividing liberals and conservatives,” then
where have uncovered genes involved with reading disor- the twin study findings pass this test with flying colors.
ders, depression, autism, risk-taking, and attention deficit On a broader front, Charney probably speaks for a
hyperactivity disorder. Expecting one article to identify majority of political scientists in maintaining that politi-
conclusively the specific genes and biological systems cal attitudes are socially constructed, free-standing orien-
responsible for the heritability of something as complex as tations to political concepts and issues. Charney is especially
political beliefs is unfair. Achieving this goal will take taken with the context-bound nature of words such as
numerous scholars working for extended periods of time liberal, conservative, left, and right. Since these terms are
in close inter-disciplinary cooperation and to say this effort culturally rooted, he seems to conclude that any orienta-
should not be undertaken because it is “complicated” is tion to politics must be culturally rooted. He spends much
both defeatist and anti-science. of his essay recounting the history of these terms, showing
that what it means to be a liberal today in the United
Political Attitudes, Orientations, States is not what it meant to be a liberal in France in the
and Ideologies seventeenth century. And, of course, for much of the world,
Charney’s critique of twin studies is predictable and largely terms like “liberal” have no meaning at all. Given this,
uninformed by the state of the art in behavioral genetics, Charney asks, how is it possible that there could be a
but the second half of his article provides the opportunity genetic basis for liberalism or any other political concept?
for an important scholarly exchange on the nature of polit- Our measure of political orientation consisted of an
ical attitudes, political orientations, and political ideolo- additive index of the 28 Wilson-Patterson items available
䡬 gies. Here Charney challenges our work on two grounds; to us from the Virginia 30K study (contrary to Charney’s
first a narrow issue concerning current U.S. ideological claims, we used all 28 items present in the survey and did
divisions, and second a much broader conceptual cri- not pick some items and exclude others). We used these
tique. We will address the narrower issue first. items as an index scored to reflect a continuum from lib-
Charney contends that our findings from the twin study eral to conservative attitude positions. In choosing our
are flawed because the collection of issues in the Wilson- language for discussing political orientation we opted for
Patterson index holds no face validity as a measure of descriptors common to the field of political science, but
political ideology and because they indicate the “wrong” which are probably not the most apt descriptors for the
issues as being the most heritable. Specifically, the highest underlying phenotype. We believe that the actual under-
heritability levels reported in our article are for property lying phenotype, whatever it is ultimately labeled, will be
taxes, school prayer, “Moral Majority,” capitalism, and applicable across time and place. As such, what we have
astrology. Charney believes, rightly, that this is a curious called “bedrock principles of group life” is more likely to
collection of issues. He asserts that the highest heritability fit the bill. The empirical evidence showing a genetic com-
should be for abortion, gay rights, and other hot-button ponent for specific attitude positions, for example, is likely
social issues related to sexuality and religion or that, at the to reflect an indirect role of genetics on attitudes through
very least our index of conservatism should give more the heritability of values or orientations more fundamen-
weight to these issues. tal to living in social groups.
Charney’s concerns here are largely a moot point, how- Recent work by Peter K. Hatemi and colleagues dem-
ever. As mentioned in our article, assortative mating is onstrates that vote choice is not directly heritable but rather
particularly powerful with regard to political and religious primarily indirectly heritable through political attitudes
beliefs (conservatives mate with conservatives and liberals toward issues such as abortion, school prayer, and the death
mate with liberals) and if parents are genetically similar penalty.17 Up to now, detailed measures of social and polit-
then simple twin designs such as the one we employed ical orientations have not been administered to twins (a
will underestimate heritability.16 Applying the simplest pos- situation we are in the process of remedying thanks to a
sible correction for assortative mating identifies the fol- recent grant from the National Science Foundation). When
lowing five issues, in order, as the most heritable: data on core preferences for social group life are available
we predict they will show that attitudes toward school
1. Living together (.67) prayer, abortion, and the death penalty are themselves
2. School prayer (.66) indirectly heritable and that what is directly heritable are

324 Perspectives on Politics


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orientations to bedrock principles of group life. But, of nected with other aspects of temperament.20 For example,
course, these ideas have yet to be tested and must be con- compared to liberals, political conservatives have funda-
sidered in comparison with alternative conceptualizations mentally different approaches to child-rearing.21 Our own
of the underlying phenotype. recent analysis finds that a simple four-item strict parent-
We have evidence in both the U.S. and Australia for a ing scale is strongly correlated with the Wilson-Patterson
sizeable genetic component in the transmission of politi- index (r ⫽ .45; p ⬍ .001). Similarly, people who say “good
cal orientations but this is not yet enough to claim with manners and cleanliness matter” are more likely to be polit-
confidence that these findings are applicable across all cul- ically conservative (gamma ⫽ .32; p ⬍ .001) and people who
tures and contexts. Regardless, we do not agree with Char- “would take drugs that may have strange effects” are more
ney’s unsubstantiated assertion that culture universals do likely to be politically liberal (gamma ⫽ .48; p ⬍ .001).22
not exist. Schwartz and Bardi’s recent cross-cultural study The brains of conservatives react differently, on average, from
of values more realistically captures the situation: the brains of liberals to an unexpected (but completely non-
political) stimulus.23 And it is possible to make accurate pre-
Studies at the national level reveal a great deal of variation in the dictions of the political beliefs of adults on the basis of the
value priorities of individuals within societies as well as groups
across nations. The research suggests that individuals both within
observed (not self-reported) social behaviors of those same
and across societies have quite different value priorities that reflect individuals at nursery school twenty years previously.24 In
their different genetic heritage, personal experiences, social loca- sum, people vary dramatically in their orientation toward
tions, and enculturation. Yet hidden behind these important dif- order, threat, risk, uncertainty, and obedience to tradi-
ferences is a surprise that may reflect something about the origins tional values and these variations in turn are statistically
and role of values for human society. Researchers, including our-
selves, have focused almost exclusively on differences in value
related to political attitudes and ideology. Ideology is con-
priorities. When we switch our focus to ask about similarities, nected to foundational preferences for social and political
we discover a striking degree of consensus across individuals and structure and these preferences likely have a basis in neuro-
societies . . . Differences are more salient and compelling than transmitters, brain activity, and ultimately genetics.
similarities. It may therefore be difficult to accept that a largely We have hopes that raising the possibility that politics
shared, pan-cultural value hierarchy lies hidden behind the strik-
ing value differences that draw our attention. Differences help us
is partially heritable will encourage a much needed recon-
to identify the influences of unique genetic heritage, personal sideration of the nature of political temperament. The
experience, social structure, and culture on value priorities. The discipline would benefit from trying new research meth- 䡬
pan-cultural hierarchy points to the bases of values in shared ods and from viewing political ideologies as something
human nature and to the adaptive functions of values in main- other than completely “context dependent.” In our view,
taining societies. To gain a full understanding of human value
priorities, we must take note of the interplay of both differences
if genes shape politics, the connection does not run
and similarities.18 through the musings of nineteenth- and twentieth-
century political theorists but rather through the core
Charney rightly raises the critical question of just how principals of social life as they have existed since before
genes could influence political beliefs. Numerous possibili- we were fully human.
ties 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 Conclusion
run through a tendency to hold beliefs intensely or casu- No scientifically literate person in this day and age can
ally; or it could even run through genetically-based phys- claim that genes are irrelevant to human behavior and
ical traits, as Charney speculates. There are endless predispositions, yet many people are deeply discomfited
possibilities and we do not pretend to know the actual by this reality. One common solution is to concede that
mechanisms. This is what we are investigating now. As genes affect behavior, but to assert that the connection is
mentioned above, our collaborative research with the goal extraordinarily complex and then to proceed as if this
of associating particular genetic alleles with particular complexity negated any requirement that we incorporate
political beliefs and behaviors will move us down that this sometimes uncomfortable reality into research into,
path. But it will be a long and difficult process, requiring and understanding of, human behavior. This is where we
collaborative efforts among scholars with an open mind part company. To us, the reality of a complex link between
and a healthy respect for the scientific process of testing genes and political phenotypes means political scientists
and revising hypotheses based on empirical observation. must rein in their reflexive environmentalism and join
Led by numerous social scientists including Jost, Haidt, forces with behavioral geneticists and others in the biolog-
and Thornhill, there is growing support for seeing political ical community to continue the exacting, time-consuming,
ideology as springing from deeper, seemingly non-political but deeply exciting genetic research that has already begun
traits.19 Of course, researchers have long noted the connec- the process of teasing out this complexity.
tion between personality and politics and the evidence is We never claimed that a focus that incorporates genes
rapidly building that political ideology is intimately con- obviates the need to also consider the environment. Indeed,

June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 325


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Exchange | Political Genotypes

casting the issue as genes competing with the environ- 12 E.g., Plomin et al. 1976; Morris-Yates et al. 1990;
ment, as Charney does in his conclusion (“if genes count Kendler et al., 1993; Xian et al. 2000; Cronk et al.
for more than environment the phenomena of liberalism 2002; Eriksson et al. 2006.
and conservatism . . . become utterly incomprehensible”) 13 Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005: 165.
is silly and misses the point. What we claim is that genes 14 Charney 2008, 300-1.
are important to political thought and behavior. We real- 15 Madsen 1986; Marcus, Neuman, and MacKuen
ize that for a discipline as completely vested in nurture 2000; Orbell et al. 2004; McDermott 2004; Schreiber
alone as political science, the need to look at both nurture 2005; Lodge and Taber 2005; Westen et al. 2006;
and nature will constitute an important shift. As Charney Alford and Hibbing 2007; Carmen 2007.
puts it: 16 Hatemi et al. 2007b.
17 Hatemi et al. 2007a.
The claim of Alford, Funk, and Hibbing is indeed astonishing,
18 Schwartz and Bardi 2001.
because if true, it would require nothing less than a revision of
our understanding of all of human history, much, if not most of 19 Jost 2006; Jost et al. 2003; Haidt and Graham
political science, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well 2008; Thornhill and Fischer 2007.
as, perhaps, our understanding of what it means to be human.25 20 Adorno et al. 1950; McClosky 1958.
21 For an early example see Laswell 1930, or more
The “claim” is of course not wholly ours, but more recently Lakoff 2002.
appropriately the claim of over twenty years of behavioral 22 Alford and Hibbing 2007.
geneticists who pioneered research in this area. But we are 23 Amodio, Jost, Master, and Yee 2007.
in complete agreement with what is at stake. Our 2005 24 Block and Block 2005.
article found a substantial degree of heritability for polit- 25 Charney 2008, 300.
ical orientations, but political behavior subtends far more
than political orientations and the study of genetic influ-
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2 Charney 2008. and environmental influences on human psychologi-
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8 Ibid. Charney, Evan. 2008. Genes and ideologies. Perspectives
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Thornhill, Randy, and Corey L. Fischer. 2007. “What Is judgment during the U.S. presidential election of
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Exchange

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 Methodological Considerations

S have become a significant part of scholarship repre-


sented in reputable and high impact journals across
disciplines, including Science, Nature, the Proceedings of
Science is a way to ensure accountability for claims because
the veracity of results can be questioned, studies repli-
cated, and hypotheses retested using different methods.
the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Economic Rather than replicating the Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 䡬
Literature, Psychological Bulletin, and many others. Many (hereafter AFH) findings using a new data set, or testing
of these studies focus on health issues and socially dam- the hypotheses employing different methods, Charney
aging behaviors such as personality disorders, alcoholism, questions the legitimacy of the AFH results through a
and depression,1 but others focus on the role of genes multi-faceted essay. Certainly, questioning the results of
in social and political attitudes and behaviors.2 While an empirical study is the way in which scientific inquiry
consideration of the role of genes in models of atti- proceeds. An adequate critique of an empirical study,
tudes and behaviors was introduced to other fields in however, must entail a coherent explanation of the inad-
the 1970s, it is a relatively new addition to political sci- equacies of the methods employed and demonstrate or
ence.3 In particular, Alford, Funk and Hibbing’s (2005) suggest what methods should be used in order to better
APSR article “Are Political Orientations Genetically test the hypotheses. If this is not done the evaluation is
Transmitted?” has drawn attention to the issue of the not a scientific critique.
role of genes in political attitudes both from within The methods currently employed in the fields of genet-
academia and the popular press. In his essay, “Genes and ics, psychiatry, and other disciplines used to explore atti-
Ideologies,” Evan Charney takes up the question tudes and behaviors suggest a methodological critique of
of the role of genes via a critique of Alford, Funk, AFH is warranted. Twin studies are only a first step in
and Hibbing. Although a critical evaluation was long genetic epidemiological research, albeit an important one
overdue, his essay falls short of what is required of (less frequently family or adoption studies are also used).
a scientific critique on both empirical and theoretical Classical twin studies estimate heritability (h 2 ) based on
grounds. 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
Rebecca J. Hannagan is Assistant Professor, Department of to this formula, heritability is an estimate for the relative
Political Science, Northern Illinois University (rhannaga@ contribution of genetic effects to total phenotypic vari-
niu.edu). Peter K. Hatemi is Post-Doctoral Research ance. Following designs from earlier twin studies, AFH
Fellow, Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral applied polychoric correlations to the Holzinger formula
Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University (Peter. above.4 However, the method used by AFH is seldom
Hatemi@qimr.edu.au). employed for raw data analyses in current scholarship.

doi:10.1017/S153759270808064X June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 329


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Exchange | The Threat of Genes

Polychoric correlation transformations are limited in ple of twins.7 A subset of the results of those analyses are
that the formula does not (1) allow for model fitting (test- shown in table 1.
ing whether genetic or familial influences can be removed While there are some sex differences in the magnitude
from the model without reducing model fit); (2) provide of the variance components, the additive genetic compo-
confidence intervals; (3) include opposite-sex (OS) twin nent could only be dropped for one trait (political affil-
pairs (thereby excluding roughly 1/3 of the sample in the iation), while the common environment component could
VA30K data set used by AFH); (4) test for male-female be removed for more than half the attitude items. The
differences in the magnitude of variance components esti- more sophisticated methodology and more parsimoni-
mates; (5) test for the potential for difference in males or ous explanation suggest that genes play an even stronger
females genes which influence the trait; (6) test or model role in political attitudes. In other words, AFH pro-
differences in either means for continuous data and/or vided a more conservative estimation using the simpler
thresholds for ordinal data between the different zygosity method.
groups; and (7) allow for the modeling of age, or other An important methodological consideration raised by
covariates. For these reasons, polychoric correlation trans- Charney concerns the construction of the conservatism
formations have been replaced by more advanced methods.5 scale used by AFH. He asserts that not all political items
Structural equation modeling (SEM) under a maxi- in the scale can be given equal weight and therefore the
mum likelihood (ML) framework is the most common analyses are flawed. This point would be better addressed
method used to infer the relative importance of the cor- empirically by simply weighting the items based on national
relations between observed traits of monozygotic and polling data in the year of the study (or the appropriate
dizygotic twins in terms of their underlying genetic and NES data) and rerunning the analyses based on an appro-
environmental components, less frequently, Bayesian meth- priate weighting scheme. However, a review of the AFH
ods are also used (see Fowler, Baker, and Dawes 2006). findings illustrate that many items that are stronger cor-
SEM/ML addresses the aforementioned shortcomings by: relates to conservatism (e.g., immigration vs. divorce) have
(1) testing for differences in the zygosity groups; (2) mod- a more pronounced genetic influence. It is likely, there-
eling those difference if they exist; (3) including OS twins; fore, that the results from such an analysis would show an
(4) including other siblings, parents, and any number of increase in the additive genetic influence of conservatism
䡬 different relative types; and (5) model fitting to deter- (e.g., Hatemi et al. 2007). This stands opposed to what
mine if removing the genetic or social component of a Charney seems to intend. Also, there is ample evidence
specific trait provides a statistically better model. This for the construct validity and heritability of the Wilson-
last feature addresses Charney’s argument that his expla- Patterson conservatism scale and there are two very impor-
nation for attitudes is more parsimonious than what AFH tant considerations not raised by Charney that a brief
present. What Charney seems to be arguing is that exclu- review of the current literature employing the Wilson-
sively environmental explanations are “more parsimoni- Patterson index provides.8 Several studies factored the scale
ous” simply because we are more used to them—an into separate latent constructs and then ACE modeled
outrageous assertion on the face of it. Parsimony is only each factor score separately.9 In each of the factors there is
a virtue if it is also consistent with the data, not if it is a significant genetic influence, though they differ depend-
only consistent with our preconceptions. If model parsi- ing on the factor (labeled Sex, Militarism, Religion, Poli-
mony is paramount, as Charney suggests, methodologi- tics, and Economics). Further, while the scale may be
cal improvements to AFH will resolve this concern. Rather limited in many respects, it is remarkably normally
than to assume that environment-only models are both distributed.
more parsimonious and better fitting, model fitting tech- While it is no simple task to gain a broad understand-
niques are available to determine whether a common and ing of a field, or a deep understanding of a subfield, a
unique environmental model is superior to a model includ- critique of empirical work should attempt to be thorough
ing genetic influences. in the literature it presents. A particular transgression by
In short, the results presented by AFH can be strength- Charney in this regard is his presentation of the equal
ened and potential problems with the findings can be environments assumption (EEA) literature in an attempt
addressed with more sophisticated methods currently used to augment his argument that the findings from twin stud-
in behavior genetics. An important consideration regard- ies are confounded. The literature presented was highly
ing the use of polychoric Holzinger transformations, is selective and ignored the corrections and tests employed
that if no sex differences exist, and the zygosity groups by geneticists and social scientists to test the validity of the
present no differences in means or thresholds, then Holz- assumption on a trait-specific basis.10
inger transformations provide remarkably similar results Early tests for EEA violations correlated perceived twin
to an ML analysis.6 This happens to be the case with the similarity with the trait under consideration while con-
AFH results. The conservatism items in the AFH study trolling for actual zygosity. Numerous studies of person-
were tested within an ML framework using the full sam- ality, intelligence, and psychiatric behaviors have found

330 Perspectives on Politics


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Table 1
(US) Standardized Variance Components (95% CI) Sex Limitation Model Fitting for Political Attitudes; Thresholds Corrected
for Age a
Parameter Estimates
Females Males
p-value
Model a 2
c 2
e 2
a 2
c2 e2 −2LL ⌬X 2 ⌬df (comparison model)
Abortion ACE bc .26 (.12–.41) .41(.27–.53) .33 (.29–.37) .38 (.16–.51) .19 (.10–.37) .43 (.36–.50) 23249.16 6.33 6 .38 (ACE)
Astrology AE b .47(.43–.47) — .53 (.48–.57) .47 (.39–.54) — .53 (.46–.61) 24329.32 2.83 2 .24 (ACE)
Busing ACE b .31 (.16–.31) .09 (.08–.20) .60 (.55–.65) .12 (0–.40) .30 (.06–.45) .58 (.50–.66) 22772.97 3.64 4 .46 (ACE)
Capitalism AE b .47 (.43–.52) — .53 (.48–.57) .61 (.54–.67) — .39 (.33–.46) 23031.11 5.08 2 .07 (ACE)
Censorship AE b .38 (.33–.42) — .62 (.58–.67) .39 (.35–.47) — .61 (.53–.69) 24416.92 5.92 2 .05 (ACE)
Death Penalty ACE bd .35 (.22–.48) .21 (.10–.31) .44 (.40–.48) .35 (.22–.48) .21 (.10–.31) .44 (.40.-48) 18872.82 0.29 3 .96 (ACE)
Divorce ACE bc .25 (.16–.29) .23 (.08–.38) .52 (.47–.57) .42 (.31–.42) 0 (.00–.07) .57 (.53–.65) 24253.99 10.35 6 .11 (ACE)
Draft AE bd .37 (.32–.41) — .63 (.60–.68) .37 (.32–.41) — .63 (.60–.68) 22096.51 0.10 1 .75 (ACE)
Federal Housing AE b .41 (.36–.46) — .59 (.54–.64) .41 (.36–.46) — .59 (.54–.64) 22455.92 5.49 2 .06 (ACE)
Foreign Aid ACE b .40 (.29–.45) .01 (.00.-10) .59 (.55–.64) .31 (.08–.49) .11 (.00–.31) .58 (.51–.66) 25235.07 8.35 4 .08 (ACE)


Gay Rights ACE bd .34 (.24–.45) .25 (.22–.34) .41 (.39–.45) .34 (.24–.45) .25 (.22–.34) .41 (.39–.45) 22434.67 5.02 3 .17 (ACE)
Immigration AE bd .46 (.46–.49) — .54 (.51–.54) .46 (.46–.49) — .54 (.51–.54) 24832.82 1.02 1 .31 (ACE)
Living Together ACE bc .51 (.41–.68) .16 (.10–.24) .33 (.30–.37) 0 (.00–.34) .48 (.21–.54) .52 (.52–.58) 21940.29 6.82 6 .33 (ACE)
Military Drill AE bd .36 (.31–.40) — .64 (.63–.69) .36 (.31–.40) — .64 (.63–.69) 21635.07 6.88 4 .14 (ACE)
Modern Art AE bcd .40 (.36–.43) — .60 (.57–.64) .40 (.36–.43) — .60 (.57–.64) 25004.82 0.27 1 .61 (ACE)
Moral Majority AE bd .42 (.38–.47) — .58 (.53–.62) .42 (.38–.47) — .58 (.53–.62) 24882.86 1.15 2 .56 (ACE)
Nuclear Power AE bd .34 (.30–.39) — .65 (.61–.65) .34 (.30–.39) — .65 (.61–.65) 24577.93 5.99 2 .06 (ACE)
Pacifism AE bd .31 (.27–.35) — .69 (.65–.73) .31 (.27–.35) — .69 (.65–.73) 22094.26 0.79 1 .94 (ACE)
Party Affiliation CE bcd — .81 (.78–.84) .19 (.16–.22) — .81 (.78–.84) .19 (.16–.22) 8738.75 2.34 2 .31 (ACE)
Property Tax AE bd .42 (.41–.46) — .58 (.58–.63) .42 (.41–.46) — .58 (.58–.63) 21227.90 0.00 1 .48 (ACE)
Religiosity-2 ACE bc .56 (.35–.66) .19 (.08–.39) .25 (.21–.29) .22 (.00–.57) .36 (.05–.59) .41 (.32–.50) 15047.54 3.33 3 .34 (ACE)
School Prayer ACE b .32 (.16–.48) .37 (.22–.51) .31 (.27–.36) .47 (.22–.62) .21 (.09–.41) .32 (.26–.40) 18018.47 4.66 4 .32 (ACE)
Segregation AE bcd .37 (.32–.37) — .63 (.59–.68) .37 (.32–.37) — .63 (.59–.68) 20367.82 0.08 1 .78 (ACE)
June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 331

Socialism AE bd .38 (.34–.38) — .62 (.58–.66) .38 (.34–.38) — .62 (.58–.66) 21328.12 0.53 1 .46 (ACE)
Unions AE bd .41 (.36–.46) — .59 (.54–.64) .41 (.36–.46) — .59 (.54–.64) 24884.86 4.34 2 .11 (ACE)
Women’s Lib ACE bc .34 (.18–.49) .18 (.05–.18) .48 (.44–.53) .31 (.23–.39) 0 (.00–.03) .69 (.61–.76) 24217.86 8.22 6 .22 (ACE)
X-Rated Movies AE bcd .51 (.47–.56) — .49 (.46–.54) .51 (.47–.56) — .49 (.46–.54) 18652.25 0.79 2 .67 (ACE)
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.

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Exchange | The Threat of Genes

that twin trait resemblance was not influenced by per- for critique by their peers in the scientific tradition. If we
ceived similarity.11 Later tests focused on correlating the collectively aim at becoming a science of human behavior,
similarity of the twins’ environments with the trait under we have an obligation to hold each other accountable within
consideration while controlling for actual zygosity, but scientific standards. Although critiquing AFH is entirely
also found no violation of the EEA.12 A more recent test appropriate, the critique offered by Charney provides no
modeled the discrepancy between perceived and actual opportunity to hold AFH accountable for their findings.
zygosity by extending the ACE model to partition the The argument can be made that AFH’s results should be
common environment into two parts; usual common envi- carefully scrutinized because of the method used to test
ronment (which is correlated at 1.0 for all twin pairs) and their hypotheses—similar to what we suggest above—but
specific common environment (which is determined by while AFH used simpler methods than those employed in
perceived zygosity—correlated at 1 if both twins perceive current research, it should be noted that most studies
themselves to be MZ, 0 if both twins see themselves as attempting to analyze the heritability of any phenotype
DZ, and .5 if the twins disagree about their zygosity). start with simple correlation differences between MZ and
Utilizing this method, studies find no evidence that per- DZ twins. Normal science proceeds incrementally and
ceived zygosity (whether from the twins, parents, or oth- complex studies such as those undertaken by behavioral
ers) influenced resemblance for personality traits or social geneticists are typically executed in stages.
attitudes.
The most common and least prohibitive test currently Theoretical Considerations
used for ordinal data is a simple statistical comparison It is widely acknowledged that attitudes are learned, that
which tests if equating the prevalence of the trait or atti- is, that they develop through experience.14 It is often
tude under examination (modeled as thresholds within a argued, in light of this understanding, that attitudes are
multi-factorial threshold model) between MZ and DZ environmentally caused. Studies since the 1970s have
twins provides a better fit to the data than separate thresh- reported modest to strong genetic influences on social and
olds. Thresholds for MZ and DZ twin pairs that can be political attitudes, thereby providing empirical evidence
equated without worsening model fit implies no differ- that attitudes and behaviors are a result of both genes and
ence in variances between MZ and DZ twin pairs.13 Dif- environment.15 Such findings do not negate the impact of
䡬 ferences have been found for traits such as perceived the environment, but explain the extent to which environ-
closeness to siblings but not for intelligence, personality, ment matters. Regarding the possibility of genetic influ-
or social and political attitudes. ence on political attitudes, Charney says that “such a
Potential violations of the EEA are important to recog- hypothesis is, in and of itself, extremely implausible (if
nize when critiquing a twin study, but it should be noted not incoherent).” Addressing this admittedly widespread
that the EEA must be tested for each specific trait under belief among social scientists appears to be the goal of the
consideration. For example, if a violation is found for AFH study. However, it is not the case that environmental
dressing alike it does not follow that the violation applies and biological hypotheses are implausible, incoherent, or
to height, weight, or political attitudes. While a violation incompatible—in fact, they are inseparable. Genetic fac-
of the EEA invalidates the use of the classical twin model tors exert their influence on an organism in a particular
for the specific trait in question, it does not invalidate it environment such that any trait must be a combination of
for every trait. Social science challenges to the EEA tend the two factors. Any explanation that denies this inter-
to either misrepresent the assumption or generalize action is incoherent.
violations—suggesting that a violation means the overall Regarding the role of genes, Charney states that
twin design is empirically unsound and its results cannot
be trusted for any trait. Again, a systematic review of the if true, it would require nothing less than a revision of our under-
literature reveals these important considerations. standing of all of human history, much, if not most of political
science, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well as, per-
The EEA does not mean that geneticists assume there haps, our understanding of what it means to be human.16
are no differences in MZ and DZ rearing. Rather, they
assume that these differences do not affect the trait under This “revision of our understanding” happened a very long
examination because they test for it and if a violation is time ago. There is no nature-nurture debate. One can
found they model the violation to correct for it. In the review the classical literature from Darwin (1872) and his
rare instances that a violation may be present, a statistical contemporaries, or more recent literature from genetics to
technique is used to model the increased similarity rather neuroscience and even philosophy to discern that the sci-
than assuming that similarity in dress, classrooms, and entific community recognizes that genes are very much a
room sharing make any difference in twins’ similarity in part of what it means to be human. Genes are not myste-
political attitudes. rious, elusive or fleeting, and any assertion to the contrary
The data and methods employed by AFH in their 2005 is comparable to suggesting that bacteria we cannot see
American Political Science Review article were presented are not really there and that evil spirits in the body cause

332 Perspectives on Politics


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illness. Genes are physical and quantifiable. With empir- to critique empirical work based on the philosophical rejec-
ical study, increasingly sophisticated methodology, tion of the scientific method. Epidemiologists and psy-
technology, and time, scientists will continue to under- chologists are currently undertaking the study of political
stand how genes do what they do. attitudes and behaviors. We may prefer to wrangle about
Charney’s critique seems largely a philosophical strug- the utility and philosophical implications of incorporat-
gle with empirical science and the “threat” of genes merely ing genes into our models, but the evidence suggests that
provides the impetus. The argument he attempts to put we must take on new theoretical approaches and develop-
forth is that variance component estimates do not mea- ments in methodology and consider them as candidate
sure what AFH say they measure. Charney does not con- improvements upon our existing paradigm. The alterna-
vincingly show this to be the case. He may not believe tive is to yield significant parts of our discipline to scien-
such methods measure what they purport to measure, but tists in other disciplines. To concur with Charney, the
science does not proceed in this way. If the problem is AFH study could doubtless be improved upon—but what
ultimately a disbelief in the ability to measure human scientific study cannot? The greater issue emerging from
attitudes and behavior, we relegate our discipline to phi- this critique is that if we are to proceed as a social science
losophy and history. Charney’s use of the Horwitz et al. there is something to learn from AFH. If we look beyond
(2003) critique of the EEA illustrates this danger. Hor- our discipline’s current theoretical models we may find a
witz et al.’s (2003, 125) assertion that “theoretical assump- more thorough, and not just competing, explanation of
tions not empirical findings determine where to end the political behavior.
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 Notes
offer a means for further clarifying the estimates produced 1 Caspi et al. 2002, 2003.
through twin studies rather than dismissing them simply 2 Eaves and Eysenck 1974; Eaves et al. 1989; Martin
because they only provide estimates. Estimates from any et al. 1986; Truett et al. 1992.
empirical study, whether regression analysis, Bayesian mod- 3 Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005; Fowler 2006,
els, or others, are all just estimates based on the model 2007; Hatemi, Alford, Hibbing, Keller, Martin,
employed. Medland, and Eaves 2007; Hatemi et al. 2007b; 䡬
Fowler and Dawes 2007; for an exception see Nel-
son 1974.
Conclusion 4 Holzinger 1929.
It is unlikely that “the” gene for conservatism, financial 5 Rijsdijk and Sham 2002; and Neale 1997, 2000.
success, a great golf stroke, or any other complex trait will 6 Neale and Cardon 1992.
be identified. It is more likely that complex networks of 7 Hatemi 2007.
genes, for which causal variation might be specified, are 8 Bouchard et al. 2003.
the appropriate targets for future research. Genes likely 9 Eaves et al. 1999.
establish general inclinations or predispositions that shape 10 Matheny, Wilson, and Dolan 1976; Plomin and
our interpretation and reaction to experiences. Those expe- Lachlin 1976; Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979.
riences increase the likelihood of developing a specific trait Also, Lytton 1977 examined family members and
or attitude.18 It may be the case that the more we learn found no relationship between the parent’s percep-
about genes the more we discover the importance of rele- tion of the twin’s zygosity and actual twin behavior.
vant environmental influences on behavior. Without con- 11 Kendler 1983; Loehlin and Nichols 1976; Kendler
sideration of one we would not gain full understanding of et al. 1987; Martin et al. 1986; Heath, Jardine, and
the other. Martin 1989.
If what political scientists are truly after is an answer to 12 Hettema, Neale, and Kendler 1995; Kendler et al.
the question, “Why do people do what they do?” a focus 1993; Xian et al. 2000. Hettema, Neale, and Ken-
on cultural or social influences alone will leave us with an dler did find an equal environment assumption
incomplete understanding of our subject. Social determin- violation for Bulimia Nervosa. No violations were
ism does not make any more sense than biological or genetic found for other psychological traits (e.g., major
determinism and to proceed on the assumption that a depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, and
barrier exists between the biological and social sciences, alcoholism).
such that the biological sciences have nothing to offer the 13 Many authors describe this test more generally stat-
social sciences is naïve. ing they are testing for “twin specific effects” and do
This comment is not intended to be simply an exami- not explicitly state that they are testing for the EEA.
nation of one author’s misrepresentative attack on a par- In addition, when data have been collected from
ticular study, but a response to the idea that is it acceptable non-twin siblings, checking for differences in the

June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 333


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Exchange | The Threat of Genes

variances or thresholds between twins and siblings, Fowler, James, Laura Baker, and Christopher Dawes.
and for differences between the DZ covariance and 2006. “The Genetic Basis of Politicl Cooperation.”
the twin-sibling and sibling-sibling covariances, can Presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology
provide a more robust test of the EEA. and Politics, Lincoln, NE, October 13–14.
14 Eagly and Chaiken 1993. Fowler, James, and Chris Dawes. 2007. “The Genetic
15 Eaves and Eysenck 1974; Eaves et al. 1989; Martin Basis of Political Participation.” Presented at the
et al. 1986; Truett et al. 1992. annual meeting of the American Political Science
16 Charney 2008, 330. Association, Chicago, IL, August 30–September 2.
17 Horwitz et al. 2003; but see Freese and Powell 2003 Freese, Jeremy, and Brian Powell. 2003. Tilting at
for an overview of this debate. twindmills: Rethinking sociological responses to
18 Olson et al. 2001. behavioral genetics. Journal of Health and Social Be-
havior 44 (2): 130–35.
Hatemi, Peter K. 2007. “The Genetics of Political Atti-
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Bouchard, Thomas J., Nancy L. Segal, Auke Tellegen, the Extended Twin Family Design to Investigate
Matt McGue, Margaret Keyes, and Robert Krueger. the Genetic Basis of Political Beliefs.” Presented
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Caspi, Avshalom, Joseph McClay, Terrie Moffitt, Jonathan ley, Andrew C. Heath, and Nicholas G. Martin.
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Caspi, Avshalom, Karen Sugden, Terrie Moffitt, Alan active effects of genotype and social environment on
Taylor, Ian Craig, Honalee Harrington Joseph Mc- alcohol consumption in female twins. Journal of
Clay, Jonathan Mill, Judie Martin, Antony Braith- Studies on Alcohol 60: 38–48.
waite, and Richie Poulton. 2003. Influence of life Hettema, J.M., M.C. Neale, and K.S. Kendler. 1995.
stress on depression. Science 301: 386–89. Physical similarity and the equal-environments as-
Darwin, Charles. 1998 [1872]. The Expression of Emo- sumption in twin studies of psychiatric disorders.
tions in Man and Animals, ed. Paul Eckman. Oxford: Behavior Genetics 25: 327–35.
Oxford University Press. Horwitz, Allan, Tami Videon, Mark Schmitz, and Diane
Eagly, A.H., and S. Chaiken. 1993. The Psychology of Davis. 2003. Rethinking twins and environments:
Attitudes. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Possible social structures for assumed genetic influ-
Eaves, L.J., and H.J. Eysenck. 1974. Genetics and the ences in twin research. Journal of Health and Social
development of social attitudes. Nature 249: 288–89. Behavior 44 (2): 111–29.
Eaves, L.J., H.J. Eysenck, and N.G. Martin. 1989. Kendler, K.S. 1983. Overview: Current perspective on
Genes, Culture and Personality: An Empirical Approach. twin studies of schizophrenia. American Journal of
New York: Academic Press. Psychiatry 140: 1413–25.
Eaves, Lindon, Andrew Heath, Nicholas Martin, Kendler, K.S., A.C. Heath, N.G. Martin, and L.J.
Hermine Maes, Michael Neale, Kenneth Kendler, Eaves. 1987. Symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of
Katherine Kirk, and Linda Corey. 1999. Comparing depression. Same genes, different environments?
the biological and cultural inheritance of personality Archives of General Psychiatry 44: 451–57.
and social attitudes in the Virginia 30,000 study Kendler, K.S., M.C. Neale, R.C. Kessler, A.C. Heath,
of twins and their relatives. Twin Research 2: 62–80. and L.J. Eaves. 1993. A test of the equal-environment
Fowler, James. 2006. “The Genetic Basis of Political assumption in twin studies of psychiatric illness.
Cooperation.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Behavior Genetics 23: 21–27.
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PA. August 30–September 2. ronment, and Personality: A Study of 850 Sets of Twins.
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Martin, N.G., L.J. Eaves, A.C. Heath, R. Jardine, L.M. A study of twins. Journal of Personality and Social
Feingold, and H.J. Eysenck. 1986. Transmission of Psychology 80 (6): 845–60.
social attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Plomin, R., L. Willerman, and J.C. Loehlin. 1976.
Science 83: 4364–68. Resemblance in appearance and the equal environ-
Matheny, A.P., R.S. Wilson, and A.B. Dolan. 1976. ments assumption in twin studies of personality traits.
Relations between twins’ similarity of appearance and Behavior Genetics 6: 43–52.
behavioral similarity: Testing an assumption. Behavior Rijsdijk, Frühling V., and Pak C. Sham. 2002. Analytic
Genetics 6: 343–51. approaches to twin data using structural equation
Neale, M.C. 1997. Mx: Statistical Modeling (Box models. Briefings in Bioinformatics 3 (2): 119–33.
980126) 3d ed. Richmond, VA: MCV. Scarr, S., and L. Carter-Saltzman. 1979. Twin method:
_. 2000. QTL mapping with sib-pairs: The flexibil- Defense of a critical assumption. Behavior Genetics 9:
ity of Mx. In Advances in Twin and Sib-Pair Analysis, 527–42.
ed. T.D. Spector, H. Snieder, and A.J. MacGregor. Truett, K.R., L.J. Eaves, J.M. Meyer, A.C. Heath, and
London: Oxford University Press. N.G. Martin. 1992. Religion and education as medi-
Neale, M.C., and L.R. Cardon. 1992. Methodology for ators of attitudes: A multivariate analysis. Behavior
Genetic Studies of Twins and Families. Dordrecht, The Genetics 22: 43–6.
Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Xian, Hong, Jeffrey F. Scherrer, Seth A. Eisen, William
Nelson, Stephen D. 1974. Nature/nurture revisited I: A R. True, Andrew C. Heath, Jack Goldberg, Michael J.
review of the biological bases of conflict. Journal of Lyon, and Ming T. Tsuang. 2000. Self-reported zygos-
Conflict Resolution 18 (2): 285–335. ity and the equal-environments assumption for psy-
Olson, James M., Philip A. Vernon, Julie Aitken Harris, chiatric disorders in the Vietnam era twin registry.
and Kerry L. Jang. 2001. The heritability of attitudes: Behavior Genetics 30: 303–10.

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Exchange

Politics, Genetics, and “Greedy 1

Reductionism”
Evan Charney

would like to thank Alford, Funk, and Hibbing, and genetic influence.” 3 Suppose that a one-year-old child is

I Hannagan and Hatemi, for agreeing to write critical


responses to my article, and I am grateful for the oppor-
tunity afforded me to respond.
cranky and is beaten by its parents. According to Bou-
chard and AFH, the impact upon the child of its being
beaten by its parents is itself genetic because, presumably,
I begin with the response of Alford, Funk, and Hib- the fact that the child is cranky is genetic. But of course,
bing. An enforced limitation on space requires some selec- not all parents are abusive and beat their children in
tivity in my response, but I have tried to respond to all of response to a child’s cranky behavior (genetic or other-
their major critiques. wise), and for any given pair of children with similar dis-
positions, parental responses will be as varied as parenting
Alford, Funk, and Hibbing (AFH) begin by implying styles.
that I am caught in the “hubris” of a “mind-body dual- But the absolutely fallacious nature of the assumption
ism” which sees the mind as some kind of mystical entity. that the effects of behavior which is a response to a “genetic
trait” should itself be counted as genetic can be seen by 䡬
Nowhere in my article have I said anything at all regard-
ing “mind-body dualism.” It is not an assumption I argue considering that slavery of blacks was the response of a
for, nor is it a premise of any of the arguments I make. group of individuals (white Europeans and Americans) to
Perhaps AFH believe that if genes are not accepted as the a genetically transmitted trait, i.e., black skin color. Are
ultimate causal explanation for any and all human phe- we to assume then, that the effects upon blacks of their
nomena, then somehow this implies “mind-body dual- enslavement by European whites were genetic, because slav-
ism.” It does not. ery 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
AFH claim that I err in treating the environment as say that the effects upon women of being raped are genetic?
“exogenous”: “Whether the causal order is [genes r beliefs] If AFH wish to distance themselves from such prepos-
or [genes r physical traits r social reactions r beliefs], the terous (and pernicious) conclusions, then they are going
underlying cause is still genetic.” To illustrate this point, to have to distinguish between two types of “impacts”
AFH assert that “negative parenting is typically assumed upon individuals from behavior that is deemed a response
to be the cause of children’s antisocial behavior, when in to a genetic trait: Impacts that will be deemed genetic and
point of fact children play an important role in shaping impacts that will not be deemed genetic. On what basis
their own environment, in this case by influencing the might they propose to draw such a distinction?
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 In support of the validity of the Equal Environment
this negative response on the part of parents should itself Assumption (EEA), AFH reference studies of so-called
be counted as “genetic” (i.e., caused by the genetic traits “reverse zygosity.” These studies, as noted in my article,
of the child in question). concern a tiny subpopulation of DZ twins mistakenly
This tendency to view gene-environment covariance as thought by their parents to be MZ twins, and purport to
a genetic effect is not uncommon among psychologists show that the degree of correspondence between MZ twins
who undertake twin studies. Thus, according to Bou- still exceeds that of DZ twins. According to AFH, “the
chard, “[identical] twins tend to elicit, select, seek out, or results of these mis-categorization studies are clear: DZ
create very similar effective environments and, to that twin pairs believed by their environments to be MZ twin
extent, the impact of these experiences is counted as a pairs are no more similar than DZ twin pairs believed to

doi:10.1017/S1537592708080651 June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 337


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Exchange | Politics, Genetics, and “Greedy Reductionism”

be DZ twin pairs.” But the results of such studies are not percent). In one study, Brody and Rothenberg showed
clear. To repeat what I said in my article: that fewer than half the 1980 voters were stable through-
out their campaign year in their self-description on the
Most of these studies of “reverse zygosity,” however, relied upon
parental accounts of how they raised their twin children many
National Election Study party identification question.7 In
years later. Because of problems with biased impressions, poor fact, party identification is so variable in the United States
memory, and poor reliability, studies that rely upon parental that shifts in party identification can be correlated with
recall of their child rearing practices have been shown to be specific political events (see figure 1). Second, political
notoriously unreliable, typically showing reliability measures of parties in the United States exhibit relatively low internal
only 0.3–0.5.4
unity and lack strict adherence to an ideology or set of
In addition, studies have shown that parents’ recounts of policy goals, allowing for a less strict alignment between
their rearing practices are often biased to match some ideal ideology and party identification.8
of parenting. Hence, the findings of AFH—high ideological corre-
How could an assumption as momentous (and coun- lation and low party identification correlation—are exactly
terintuitive) as the EEA rest upon such shaky ground? Are what one would expect given the nature of party identifica-
we to assume, on the basis of the potentially biased and tion in the United States. Given the relatively weak and
faulty memories of elderly parents concerning their child variable nature of party identification, we would expect
rearing practices, that the debate concerning the validity political ideology (whatever its origins) to be more endur-
of the EEA has been solved once and for all? According to ing, more fixed and constant, than party identification
what standard of science are we to accept this as conclusive (which might differ depending upon when any given
evidence of anything? 5 individual is asked to identify her party affiliation). MZ
twins are more likely to share political attitudes as opposed
I now consider what AFH characterize as “the most to party identification because of the relatively weak and
important challenge we wish to issue to Charney concerning highly variable nature of the correlation between political
the EEA”: attitudes and party identification in the United States.
Parents’ identities are defined much more strongly by
We estimate the heritability of political and social attitudes to be their political ideologies (connected, as they generally are,
in the .4 to .5 range, leaving .5 to .6 attributable to environmen-
䡬 tal factors. But these same procedures reveal that party identifi-
with their moral and religious world views) than by their
cation is only about .14 heritable, leaving .86 attributable to the
party affiliations, and for this very reason we would expect
environment, so the classical twin design reports a dramatic dif- parents to be much more concerned to transmit their
ference in the heritability of political beliefs and party identifi- political ideologies, rather than their party affiliations, to
cation”. . . If violations of the EEA are responsible for reported their children. For one committed to an “environmental”
heritability, Charney must argue that parents of MZ and DZ explanation of political ideology, what AFH present as
twins raise their children equally similarly with regard to party
identification but differentially with regard to political attitudes.6
the “ultimate challenge” ironically appears to affirm the
“environmental” approach.
In response, I focus on the most obvious problem with
the “challenge” AFH set before me, or rather, with the AFH claim that my referencing a study by Cooper and
obvious answer. AFH appear to treat “party identifica- Zubek 9 that indicates the manner in which heritability of
tion” as a fixed variable, such that we can say of any given maze-running ability in mice can vary dramatically with
individual that she possesses political beliefs (“ideology”) different environments somehow undercuts my argu-
A and party identification B, and both are supposed to be ment. First, they draw attention to the fact that I admit
invariable. that the mice in the study “may well have inherited what-
Let me highlight two well-known points concerning ever genes are linked to intelligence.” I have absolutely no
party identification in the United States: First, party iden- difficulty in acknowledging such a claim. My argument
tification in the United States is relatively weak compared does not concern the question of the heritability of mouse
to a number of other countries, as indicated by the inci- intelligence, nor does it concern the heritability of human
dence of ticket-splitting (in the 2000 elections, 20 percent intelligence. My argument concerns the intelligibility of
of voters split their ballots by voting for candidates from the proposition that political ideologies are heritable, a prop-
different parties for president and for the U.S. House of osition radically different than the proposition that intel-
Representatives); the existence of a sizable number of vot- ligence is (partially) heritable.
ers who consider themselves Independents (and hence Second, my point in mentioning the mouse study was
aligned with neither party); and the frequency with which not to warn against overestimating the role of genetics in
Americans change political parties (a recent Pew poll a given environment (as AFH interpret it), but simply
showed a sharp change in Americans’ political party iden- to emphasize the point that high heritability does not
tification: Democrats now outnumber Republicans 50 per- imply that a given trait is resistant to environmental influ-
cent to 35 percent, as opposed to 2002, when both had 43 ence, contrary to what AFH say in their article, and that

338 Perspectives on Politics


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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 AFH comment, “while some of this interspousal similar-
the environment. According to AFH: ity [as determined by their answers to the 28 items on the 䡬
Wilson-Patterson index] could plausibly be attributed to
Inherited attitudes seem to be demonstrably different than
acquired attitudes. . . [A]ttitudes higher in heritability are man-
persuasion effects taking place after mate choice rather
ifested more quickly, are more resistant to change, and increase than assortative mating, the levels of similarity are proba-
the likelihood that people will be attracted to those who share bly too high to dismiss assortative mating entirely.” 12 “Prob-
those particular attitudes. . . To the extent that political ideolo- ably too high” according to what standard? Once again,
gies are inherited and not learned they become more difficult to one must ask what standard of scientific evidence is being
manipulate.10
employed here?
Claims of this sort are indicative of a popular misun-
derstanding of the concept of heritability: High heritabil- According to AFH, I am taken with the “context bound”
ity does not mean inevitability of phenotypic outcome. 11 nature of words, and argue that given that words like “lib-
eralism” have no meaning for much of the world, liberal-
In response to my contention that it seems unusual that ism cannot be genetic. This is a parody of my argument,
those issues that one would associate most with social which has nothing to do with words, but rather with con-
conservatism in the United States at present—abortion cepts (or “attitudes”), and more specifically, the clusters of
and gay rights—show lower levels of “heritability” than complex concepts that comprise a political ideology (and
other issues, AFH respond with what can only be described what these clusters of concepts are named makes little dif-
as a deus ex machina: “Assortative mating,” based on the ference). When AFH assert, erroneously, that “the package
observation that conservatives tend to marry conserva- of attitudes held, for example, by conservatives in the United
tives and liberals tend to marry liberals. Then, proceeding States is remarkably similar to that held by conservatives in
on the assumption that parents are genetically similar, AFH other cultures and at earlier times in American history,” 13
“correct” for assortative mating, and note that with this they discuss precisely what I discuss. Perhaps they believe,
“correction,” abortion and gay rights come out among the in line with their claims concerning the trans-cultural and
top five “heritable” issues. What precisely is this supposed trans-historical nature of liberalism and conservatism, that
to show? Is not the assumption that parents are genetically all that has ever changed historically regarding these two
similar something that must be proved rather than assumed ideologies (from their origins to the present) is their names.
(particularly when such an assumption allows one to
manipulate the data in a manner that is more favorable to AFH assert that “no scientifically literate person in this
one’s hypothesis)? When discussing “assortative mating,” day and age can claim that genes are irrelevant to human

June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 339


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Exchange | Politics, Genetics, and “Greedy Reductionism”

behavior and predispositions.” 14 Limiting what I say to standing of advances in modern genetics. I will simply
behavior, AFH are absolutely right, and nowhere do I make point out that, as noted in my article, the section that
such a preposterous claim. But the problem is that as dif- deals specifically with genetics and the methodology of
fuse a term as “behavior” could cover everything from twin studies presents arguments that are not my own (I
manual dexterity and the use of language to a belief in the cannot claim credit for them, as much as I would like to).
doctrine of the Trinity and preferring the Yankees to the Rather, they are the current arguments of some of the
New York Mets. My argument does not concern the ques- most prominent living geneticists, neuroscientists, and
tion of the “heritability” of everything that could possibly medical researchers (some of whom have provided invalu-
fall under the rubric of “human behavior”; it concerns the able guidance), individuals such as Richard Lewontin,
assumption that specific political ideologies could be genet- Douglas Wahlstein, Jonathan Beckwith, and Annette
ically transmitted. Karmiloff-Smith.
The quoted sentence continues as follows: “yet many This “celebrity appeal” is not intended to resolve any
people are deeply discomfited by this reality” (similarly, controversies, but it is intended to highlight the follow-
Hannagan and Hatemi assert I am “threatened” by genetic ing: The strongest critiques of the methodology of twin
explanations of political ideologies). I find the ascription studies (as well as the understanding of heritability on
of psychological motives to me by AFH (as well as Han- which they rely) at the present time come from promi-
nagan and Hatemi) an extremely tedious (and somewhat nent geneticists, biologists, neurologists, and medical
adolescent) form of ad hominem arguing. It is easy to play researchers—not, obviously, from political scientists, and
at such a silly game; e.g., many authoritarian personality not from psychologists (with a few notable exceptions).
types have an overwhelming fear of lack of uniformity, There exists no consensus on these matters among scien-
multiplicity of explanations, “contextualism” (the need to tific experts in genetics engaged in cutting-edge research
consider particular cultural and historical contexts) and (among whom neither I, nor Alford, nor Funk, nor Hib-
“irreducibility,” and hence are drawn to simplistic, reduc- bing, nor Hannagan, nor Hatemi can be counted). Any
tionist, “absolutist” explanations in which all human phe- claim to the contrary is manifestly false, and if I succeed
nomena can be reduced to a single, uniform, explanatory in conveying nothing more than this reality to the polit-
variable (e.g., genes, self-interest, rational choice, “eco- ical science community I will be satisfied that I have
䡬 nomic rationality,” class struggle, God’s plan for human- accomplished a great deal.
kind). I ascribe no such underlying psychological motives
to AFH or to Hannagan and Hatemi, and I would appre- A strict limitation on space will not allow a detailed
ciate it if they would return the favor. response to the comments of Hannagan and Hatemi, but
inasmuch as they make many of the same claims as AFH
According to AFH, in their response, I shall limit myself to two comments.
casting the issue as genes competing with the environment, as
Hannagan and Hatemi (HH) place much emphasis
Charney does in his conclusion (“if genes count for more than
environment the phenomena of liberalism and conservatism . . . upon the statistical technique of structural equation mod-
become utterly incomprehensible”) is silly and misses the point. eling (SEM). Advances in statistical methodology can bring
What we claim is that genes are important to political thought with them significant advances in scientific understand-
and behavior.15 ing, but what they cannot do is transform a foundation-
But all that I was doing was summarizing the authors’ ally flawed empirical research technique into a sound one.
own assertions, e.g., Let me emphasize the following: As noted in my article,
twin studies that employ SEM rely every bit as much as
setting aside the important special case of party identification, older twin studies—and the study of AFH—on the equal
we find that political attitudes are influenced much more heavily environment assumption, unbiased samples, and accurate
by genetics than by parental socialization. For the overall index
of political conservatism, genetics accounts for approximately
measurements of the phenomenon being studied. None
half of the variance in ideology, while shared environment includ- of the objections raised to the EEA are answered, obvi-
ing parental influence accounts for only 11%. And in the case of ated, or rendered moot by SEM.
the variance in people’s tendencies to possess political opinions
at all, regardless of their ideological direction, genetics explains The second objection of HH that I would like to address
one-third of the variance, and shared environment is completely
inconsequential.” 16
I consider much more interesting: It is that my objections
to AFH are not “scientific,” but rather “philosophical,”
If AFH find such assertions silly, then we are in complete and that I illegitimately “critique an empirical work based
agreement. on the philosophical rejection of the scientific method.”
To point out the flaws in a supposedly scientific method-
Finally, AFH (and Hannagan and Hatemi) are at great ology (twin studies), to point out that it fails to meet the
pains to portray me as someone without any real under- rigorous criteria of scientific knowledge, is hardly to reject

340 Perspectives on Politics


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the scientific method, but rather to uphold it. I do not The same is true in science. Quantum mechanics has very
believe that what AFH and HH are doing is science, for little to tell us about the functioning of the human heart,
all the trappings of science they employ, e.g., an empirical and if a physicist claimed that the resolution of remaining
study, the collection of data, analysis of the data using difficulties with string theory promised greater understand-
statistical methods. I could perform the exact same study ing of the etiology of heart disease, we would have to
as AFH using a different questionnaire and claim to have conclude that he did not know what heart disease was.
determined what percentage of an individual’s belief con- (Note that this phenomenon, the “irreducibility” of our
cerning the doctrine of the Trinity is due to genes and scientific knowledge about the human heart to our scien-
what percentage to environment—or to what extent tific knowledge about quantum mechanics, does not mean
whether one favors the New York Yankees or the Boston that the heart is a mystical phenomenon, or lead to the
Redsocks, or Mercedes or BMWs, or Lowes or Home positing of a “heart-matter dualism” 18 ).
Depot—is “heritable.” If I were asked, why did Napolean loose the Battle of
A twin study which asked MZ and DZ twins whether Waterloo, or why did the German Revolution of 1848
they shopped at Macy’s department store would very likely fail, or why did the practice of the racialized slavery of
reveal that this “trait” was partially “heritable” (because blacks begin in Europe in the sixteenth century, or why
MZ twins have greater contact throughout life than DZ did democratic government first appear in ancient Ath-
twins and tend to live closer to one another, they are ens, or why did the American Founders turn to ancient
more likely to shop at the same stores than DZ twins). Rome rather than Athens for their model of government,
Researchers, blind to the more obvious explanations for and responded that advances in genetics held out the prom-
their findings, might propose a “Macy’s gene.” More ise of an answer to these questions, the interlocutor would
sophisticated researchers might propose a Macy’s person- have to conclude that I had no comprehension of what
ality type, correlated with the phenotype of shopping at history was. And note that this assertion does not turn
Macy’s. The results of such a study would doubtless history into some kind of mystical phenomenon, or posit
generate spectacular news headlines (and be a godsend a “mind-brain duality,” or any other such nonsense.
as a marketing tool), but if taken seriously would indi- That those such as AFH do not adequately compre-
cate nothing more than the inadequacy and crudeness of hend the phenomenon they are supposed to be investigat-
the researchers’ methodology (as well as their general ing (political ideologies) is made abundantly clear by their 䡬
thinking—or lack thereof—about the plausibility of such erroneous assumptions about the trans-historical and trans-
things). But such a study would not constitute an addi- cultural nature of liberalism and conservatism as distinct
tion to—or advance in—scientific understanding. political ideologies, that liberalism and conservatism are
Parts of my argument dealt with something called “com- each accurately defined by the core cluster of attitudes
mon sense” (and it makes little difference whether or not they list as comprising the liberal and conservative “phe-
one wants to call this “philosophy”). Let us recall that in notypes,” that the only noteworthy historical change in
their article, AFH talk of specific genes for each of the these ideologies is what they are named, and that party
specific beliefs that they associate with the liberal and con- identification is a fixed variable at the present time in the
servative (or “contextualist” and “absolutist”) phenotypes: United States. It is only greedy reductionism, the ultimate
hubris, that impels political scientists to so egregiously
Even if the individual genes involved with absolutism or contex- mischaracterize complex phenomena in order to fit them
tualism tend to move together, this does not mean they always into a reductionist explanatory model (and political sci-
do. Some individuals may carry, say, an absolutist’s aversion to
out-groups but a contextualist’s rejection of a universalistic behav- ence has seen plenty of these in its checkered history).19 In
ioral code.17 the words of the renowned geneticist, statistician, and evo-
lutionary biologist Richard Lewontin: “It is a sign of the
To talk of a gene coded for the belief that universalistic behav- foolishness into which an unreflective reductionism can
ioral codes are improper (immoral?), is like talking about a lead us that we seriously argue from protein similarity to
gene for one’s views concerning federalism. To propose a political similarity.” 20
gene coded for one’s belief regarding the proper balance AFH and HH, along with many other political and social
between states’ rights and the federal government defies com- scientists, suffer from massive confusion in failing to dis-
mon sense (and I will note the extent to which AFH appear tinguish between the reasons why persons hold or believe
to have backed away from absurd claims of this sort in their in specific political ideologies (i.e., the answer to the ques-
response to me, which I take as a positive development). tion why does this individual hold the political ideology
Perhaps it is engaging in philosophical reasoning of a she does) and political ideologies themselves. Whatever the
sort to point out that different kinds of explanation are explanation as to why a given individual ultimately holds
appropriate to different kinds of phenomena, and it is the political ideology she does (and I will simply assert that
only a misunderstanding of the phenomenon in question I believe the reasons to be potentially infinite, including,
that allows one to seek an inappropriate explanation for it. e.g., upbringing, emotional appeal, rebellion against one’s

June 2008 | Vol. 6/No. 2 341


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Exchange | Politics, Genetics, and “Greedy Reductionism”

parents, attempts to please one’s parents, lazy and uncrit- 4 Charney 2008, 338.
ical acceptance of the beliefs of those in her surrounding 5 Imagine if the validity of the theory of relativity
environment, rigorous individual critical reflection and rested upon the accounts of Einstein’s mother as to
rejection of the beliefs of those in her surrounding envi- how she raised baby Einstein.
ronment, religious convictions, anti-religious convictions, 6 AFH 2008, 322.
etc.), such an explanation does not tell us what political 7 Brody and Rothenberg 1988.
ideologies are, how and why they developed at certain times 8 For both of these points, see, e.g., Carsey and
and places, how they were institutionalized in specific polit- Layman 2006; Lockerbie 2002; Weisberg 1980,
ical and social practices, and how they developed and trans- 2002; Brody and Rothenberg 1988; Mutz, Brody,
formed over time. One might attempt to explain the and Sniderman 1996; Norrander and Wilcox 1993;
“etiology” of persons’ attitudes toward the U.S. Constitu- Converse and Pierce 1992; Franklin 1992, 1984;
tion on the basis of “genetic” personality traits, and con- Niemi, Reed, and Weisberg 1991; Franklin and Jack-
struct a “pro” and “anti” U.S. Constitution “phenotype.” son 1983; Fiorina 1981; Markus and Converse
But a theory that purported to explain why any given 1979.
individual had the attitudes she did toward the U.S. Con- 9 Cooper and Zubek 1958.
stitution would not explain what the Constitution was, i.e., 10 AFH 2005, 164.
why it was written, when, and by whom, what political 11 See, e.g., Bailey 1997.
principles it embodied or codified, and why. 12 AFH 2005, 161.
Finally, if I engage in philosophy, so do AFH and HH, 13 AFH 2005, 164. If it is not already obvious, the
even if they are not aware of it, or of the profound philo- impetus to mischaracterize political ideologies in this
sophical assumptions concerning knowledge and reason that manner comes from the desire to fit them wholly
underlie their beliefs regarding the nature of science on within a reductionist genetic explanatory framework
the one hand, and political and moral beliefs on the other. that effectively bypasses history and culture. Just as,
I cannot elaborate further on these points here, but will e.g., the phenotype of hazel eyes, the result of a
simply end by posing a question to Hannagan and Hatemi. corresponding genotype, is the same in all times and
If, as AFH claim, my political views are due largely to my all places (and can be characterized apart from any
䡬 genes, for example, my views—perhaps mediated by genetic specific cultural and historical context), so too,
personality traits—about Social Security, the proper scope according to AFH, with political ideologies.
and limits of presidential power, and the war in Iraq, would 14 AFH 2008, 325.
HH be willing to conjecture as to what percentage of their 15 Ibid.
views concerning genetics, e.g., the viability of twin stud- 16 AFH 2005, 164.
ies, the genetic basis of political ideologies, the soundness 17 Ibid., 165.
of the Equal Environment Assumption, are due to their 18 Neils Bohr was explicit that his denial of the reduci-
genes. Might they undertake a twin study to answer this bility of biology to quantum mechanics had no
question? And if not, why? implications for “free will or determinism,” and did
not involve a mysticism incompatible with the true
spirit of science”; see Bohr 1936, 299.
Notes 19 Many kinds of “hubris” are exhibited in an article
The renowned geneticist Jonathan Beckwith, Ameri- such as AFH’s. Let me note just one other character-
can Cancer Society Research Professor of Microbiol- istic “ethnocentric hubris”: In characterizing con-
ogy and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical temporary American liberalism and conservatism as
School, has written a response to Alford, Funk, and if they were the templates not only of liberalism and
Hibbing and Hannagan and Hatemi which will conservatism in all of its varied historical and cul-
appear in a forthcoming issue of Perspectives on tural manifestations, but of all political ideologies in
Politics. His contribution is intended to supplement all times and places, they equate the beliefs and be-
my response, providing the unique perspective of a havior of contemporary Americans with the beliefs
geneticist in a debate that has been dominated by and behavior of “humankind.” The genetic under-
political scientists and psychologists. pinning they give to such assumptions makes con-
1 “Greedy reductionism” is a term coined by Daniel temporary Americans the paradigm for humanity as
Dennett (1995, 82) to condemn those forms of a biological species. As a helpful corrective to such
reductionism that try to explain too much with too hubristic provincialism, I suggest that AFH travel to
little. Use of this expression is not meant to imply the Amazon rain forest and undertake an extensive
an endorsement of Dennett’s thesis. study of the political attitudes of the remaining
2 AFH 2008, 322. indigenous tribes.
3 Bouchard et al. 1990. 20 Lewontin 2001, 62.

342 Perspectives on Politics


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References Fiorina, Morris P. 1981. Retrospective Voting in American


Alford, J.R., C.L. Funk, and J. Hibbing. 2005. Are National Elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.
political orientations genetically transmitted? Ameri- Franklin, Charles H. 1992. Measurement and the dy-
can Political Science Review 99 (2): 153–67. namics of party identification. Political Behavior 14
_. 2008. Beyond liberals and conservatives to politi- (3): 297–309.
cal genotypes and phenotypes. Perspectives on Politics _. 1984. Issue preferences, socialization, and the
6 (2): 321–28. evolution of party identification. American Journal of
Bailey, R.C. 1997. Hereditarian Scientific Fallacies. Political Science 28 (3): 459–78.
Genetica 99: 125–33. Franklin, Charles H., and John E. Jackson. 1983. The
Bohr, Neils. 1936. Causality and Complementarity. dynamics of party identification. American Political
Philosophy of Science 4. Address to Second Inter- Science Review 77 (4): 957–73.
national Congress for the Unity of Science, June, Lewontin, Richard. 2001. It Ain’t Necessarily So: The
1936. Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions.
Bouchard, T.J. Jr., D. T. Lykken, M. McGue, N. L.Se- New York: New York Review Books.
gal, and A. Tellegen. 1990. Sources of human psycho- Lockerbie, Brad. 2002. Party identification: Constancy
logical differences: the Minnesota study of twins and change. American Politics Research 30 (4):
raised apart. Science 250: 223–28. 384–405.
Brody, Richard A., and Lawrence S. Rothenberg. 1988. Markus, Gregory B., and Philip E. Converse. 1979. A
The instability of partisanship: An analysis of the dynamic simultaneous equation model of electoral
1980 presidential election. British Journal of Political choice. American Political Science Review 73 (4):
Science 18 (4): 445–65. 1055–70.
Carsey, Thomas M., and Geoffrey C. Layman. 2006. Mutz, Diana C., Richard A. Brody, and Paul M. Snider-
Changing sides or changing minds? Party conversion, man, eds. 1996. Political Persuasion and Attitude
issue conversion, and partisan change on the abortion Change. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan
issue. American Journal of Political Science 50 (2): Press.
464–77. Niemi, Richard G., David R. Reed, and Herbert F.
Charney, Evan. 2008. Genes and ideologies. Perspectives Weisberg. 1991. Partisan commitment: A research 䡬
on Politics 6 (2): 299–319. note. Political Behavior 13 (3): 213–21.
Converse, Philip E., and Roy Pierce. 1992. Partisanship Norrander, Barbara, and Clyde Wilcox. 1993. Rallying
and the party system. Political Behavior 14 (3): around the flag and partisan change: The case of the
239–59. Persian Gulf War. Political Research Quarterly 46 (4):
Cooper, R.M., and J.P. Zubek. 1958. Effects of enriched 759–70.
and restricted early environments on the learning Weisberg, Herbert F. 1980. A multidimensional concep-
ability of bright and dull rats. Canadian Journal of tualization of party identification. Political Behavior 2
Psychology 12: 159–64. (1): 33–60.
Dennett, Daniel. 1995. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Lon- _. 2002. Partisanship and incumbency in presiden-
don: Penguin. tial 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 (cmorris@hms.harvard.edu).

Jon Beckwith is American Cancer Society Professor in the Department of Microbiology


and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School (jbeckwith@hms.harvard.edu).

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
jbeckwith@hms.harvard.edu
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

1
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

2
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

3
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.

4
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

5
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

6
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

7
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

8
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

9
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 mother-

reported 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

zygosity.li 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

Conclusion

10
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

11
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
Alford et al. 2005.
ii
Ibid.
iii
Ibid.
iv
Alford et al. 2008.
v
i.e., Pam et al. 1996, Joseph 1998, Kamin and Goldberger 2002, Rutter 2002, Horwitz et

al. 2003a and 2003b, Beckwith 2006, and Ehrlich and Feldman 2007.
vi
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
For an excellent discussion of heritability, see Sober 2001, 47-78.
viii
This estimated statistic gives the false sense that “heritability” is concrete and fixed.

12
ix
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
Schaffner 2006, 16.
xi
Turkheimer et al. 2003.
xii
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
Turkheimer 2006, 102.
xiv
Alford et al. 2005.
xv
Ibid.
xvi
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.”


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

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

13
xviii
Beckwith 2006, 79.
xix
Cronk et al. 2002.
xx
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
Alford et al. 2005.
xxii
Xian et al. 2000.
xxiii
Kendler et al. 1993.
xxiv
Cronk et al. 2002.
xxv
Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979.
xxvi
Cronk et al. 2002.
xxvii
Plomin et al. 1796.
xxviii
Morris-Yates et al. 1990.
xxix
Cronk et al. 2002.
xxx
Morris-Yates 1990. Although their end conclusion is that the EEA is valid.
xxxi
Plomin et al. 1976.
xxxii
Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979.
xxxiii
Ibid.
xxxiv
Morris-Yates et al. 1990.
xxxv
Ibid.
xxxvi
Cronk et al. 2002.

14
xxxvii
Ibid.
xxxviii
Ibid.
xxxix
Eriksson et al. 2006. Measuring the heritability of ”physical activity.”
xl
Ibid.
xli
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).


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

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


xliii
Eriksson et al. 2006.
xliv
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
Eriksson et al. 2006.
xlvi
Morris-Yates et al. 1990.
xlvii
Cronk et al. 2002.
xlviii
Plomin et al. 1976.
xlix
Scarr and Carter-Saltzman 1979.
l
Cronk et al. 2002.
li
Xian et al. 2000.

15
lii
Cronk et al. 2002.
liii
Although the replicability of these studies have been mixed (Morris et al. 2007).
liv
Horwitz et al., 2003a and 2003b.
lv
Flynn 2007.
lvi
Sampson et al. 2008.

16
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21