Evil Genes by Barbara Oakley (and why I’ll never write a book)

Evil Genes by Barbara Oakley (and why I’ll never write a book)

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted October 30, 2007 in DNA Podcasts and Videos

Update: Sorry to those who came looking for this post earlier. The hard disk of the machine handling the MySQL databases failed and the last back-up did not include this post. Thank goodness I had a back-up of my own! Also a big thank you to Kenny who emailed to let me know the post went missing.

Here are five reasons (among many) why I’ll never be able to write a book about genetics and DNA:

  1. I do not have a soul twisted enough to spin a fanciful yarn nor twisted enough to endure the agony of writing a book.
  2. I don’t have have any sordid tales of family and friends to draw upon.
  3. I don’t like to offend people, living or dead.
  4. I’m not sure if I could beg anyone as cool as Dr. Helen to write a blurb for my book.
  5. I’m clueless about writing a book. (Ahh, this may be the crux of the problem.)

So what am I yammering on about? A while ago, someone asked if I had any book ideas. The simple answer was, “No, I ain’t got time for that.” The more prideful answer was “No. Well maybe. Erm. Should I?” Anyhow, according to writer and literary agent Peter Tallack,

Genetics is usually a no-go area, unless you are a particularly gifted writer.

Well, that settled it!

evil genesProfessor Barbara Oakley, on the other hand, doesn’t have any of my hang-ups. This month, she published Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. Kapow!

From Publishers Weekly:

Borne out of a quest to understand her sister Carolyn’s lifelong sinister behavior (which, systems engineer Oakley suggests, may have been compounded by childhood polio), the author sets out on an exploration of evil, or Machiavellian, individuals. Drawing on the advances in brain imaging that have illuminated the relationship of emotions, genetics and the brain (with accompanying imaging scans), Oakley collects detailed case histories of famed evil geniuses such as Slobodan Milosevic and Mao Zedong, interspersed with a memoir of Carolyn’s life. Oakley posits that they all had borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, a claim she supports with evidence from scientists’ genetic and neurological research.

Here’s an interview with Dr. Oakley from Point of Inquiry with DJ Grothe. She starts with why she revealed the story of her sister’s cruel behavior and the impact of such behavior on people’s day-to-day lives. Later she talks about the dual influences of genetics and parenting on behavior. Dr. Oakley says good parenting can only go so far in dealing with amoral or psychopathic behavior.

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I haven’t read the book yet but if you’re interested in a discussion of Evil Genes, visit the Center for Inquiry discussion forum.

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1 Comment

Comment by EcoRover

so what do you think of the book? are oakley’s conclusions scientifically valid?


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