Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fletcher’s book bridges genetics, human behavior, social policy

Fletcher’s book bridges genetics, human behavior, social policy

A new book by La Follette School Professor Jason Fletcher and co-author Dalton Conley explores the latest discoveries being made at the scientific frontier where genomics and the social sciences intersect. The Genome Factor: What the Social Genomics Revolution Reveals about Ourselves, Our History & the Future is published by Princeton University Press.

As social scientists, Fletcher and Conley are among a small group of researchers who have joined forces with statistical geneticists to make serious arguments about the role of genes in human social dynamics and inequalities. Fletcher and Conley showcase how researchers from sociology, economics, political science, psychology, and other disciplines are using new methods and results from genomic science to uncover new answers to old questions in the social sciences.

“We ... head straight into this domain of inquiry with eyes wide open,” Fletcher and Conley wrote. “The genetics of inequality is, in fact, a major theme of this book.”
Indeed, their book covers a vast array of social science topics, including social inequality, macroeconomic development, racial/ethnic classification systems, policy targeting, marriage and childbearing decisions, among others.

The authors also forecast some of the upcoming societal issues with the rapid expansion of genetic information to the broader public. With more people taking advantage of low-cost genotyping services, Fletcher and Conley believe public policy will have to deal with this new information.

They move beyond genetic discrimination and personalized medicine, studying the implications of genetic factors for more traditional social policy – education, income support, economic development, and labor markets.

“Jason and Dalton are ground breakers in the social sciences,” said La Follette School Director Don Moynihan. “Their book provides an excellent introduction to genomics and a thoughtful analysis of its potential impact on understanding economic and social life.”

Fletcher is professor of Public Affairs, Sociology, Agricultural and Applied Economics, and Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as well as an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Center for Demography and Ecology, and the Center for Demography of Health and Aging, and Conley is the Henry Putnam University Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.

Steven Pinker of Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works, wrote that the book is "An indispensable introduction to one of the most exciting frontiers in the social sciences, by two of its pioneers. The Genome Factor is filled with surprises, insights, and strokes of ingenuity.”

Reviews

The Troubling Rise of the ‘Genotocracy,’ Amy Dockser Marcus, Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2017