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Explanations in Genetics

Explanation in Genetics: Attributions of Causality in Complex Disorders Project

Award Holders: Angus Clarke (UWCM), Ruth Chadwick (Lancaster), Srikant Sarangi, Jenny Kitzinger (Cardiff University).

Researchers: Marie-Jet Bekkers, Ulla Raisanen, Paula Boddongton

Funder: Wellcome Trust

Based at: Cardiff School of English, Communication, and Philosophy (ENCAP)

This is a 3-year project funded by the Wellcome Trust which includes an examination of how the mass media represent genetic explanations and how this might influence policy.

The contrast between genes and environment as factors controlling development, disease or behaviour has long been recognised within genetics as an unhelpful and spurious dichotomy. The tensions present within the scientific community, however, are magnified and played out on the wider stage of the media in society at large, where ‘nature vs nurture’ is a recurrent theme that feeds into debates about lifestyle and the allocation of resources in healthcare. The picture is becoming more complex as the effects of ‘fetal programming’ have now also to be integrated into causal accounts of many complex disorders. This project is designed to clarify the way in which concepts of genes, the environment and fetal programming are drawn upon as explanatory resources in the biomedical sciences, in health service provision and planning, and in more popular lifestyle debates in the mass media.