Reductionism! Determinism! Straw-man-ism!
“Reductionism!” is a charge often flung at geneticists, from accusers in the popular press and also, not infrequently, from many fellow scientists. What is it that leads so many people to so fundamentally misunderstand what genetics is about? Whenever someone presents results showing that variation in such and such a trait is partly influenced by genetic variation, or even showing more specifically that mutations in a particular gene can predispose to a particular outcome, someone is sure to shout: “Reductionism! Single genes can’t cause complex traits – it’s patent nonsense to say that they can! Biological organisms are complex systems interacting in complex ways in an ever-changing environment – particular behaviours can’t be simply determined by genes”. Of course they are right, but they’re also arguing against something no one is claiming. A couple recent examples illustrate this phenomenon. One is the reaction to coverage of a presentation at