The philosophy of behavioural genomics: analysis of criteria for the conceptual mapping of research in the genomics of human behaviour
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This is a philosophical enquiry into scientific research that studies the causes of behaviour, principally human, using the findings, techniques or tools of genomic science. The objectives, concepts and methods of eight selected disciplines are analysed: biomolecular archaeology, evolutionary biomechanics, molecular neurobiology, Down syndrome research, human behavioural ecology, behavioural genetics, human evolutionary genetics and human developmental genetics. Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with leading researchers in these fields. The results are analysed in terms of a set of fourteen criteria, chosen to illustrate diversity in the conceptual approaches of the researchers concerned. Some of these, for example, put the accent in their work on phylogeny rather than ontogeny. Some study the action of nuclear genes; some concentrate on mitochondrial DNA. The results are also plotted in a Criterion Matrix. The researchers spoke as individuals, not as representatives of their discipline. In parallel, sources in the literature as well as the interviews were used to generate a Genomic Workbench Analysis Model, identifying the different regions of the human and other genomes used by different disciplines in their research. The process of enquiry is presented as a conceptual mapping of the putative field of behavioural genomics. The two principal tools of the method – the Criterion Matrix and the Genomic Workbench Analysis Model – convey a picture of rich and complex diversity among the target disciplines. It is concluded that this diversity is inconsistent with a two-clusters model such as might have been suggested in the past by a polarisation of the nature-nurture debate along a single axis. Other conclusions of the conceptual mapping study are presented. A suggestion is made for the future development of a field of behavioural environomics.
The research was conducted under the auspices of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre for Genomics and Society (Egenis). It was partly funded by the Professional Training Unit of the European Parliament.
PhD in Genomics in Society