Genetics and society

I have been active in examining both the historical and contemporary social role of genetics. The aspects that have most engaged my interest are the eugenics movement in this country at the turn of the 20th century, the field of human behavioral genetics, the implications of the new genetic and genomic techniques for genetic screening programs, and the ways in which genetics is presented to the public. I have expressed concerns that the science behind much of human behavioral genetics is weak, but that nevertheless it receives much more public attention than it warrants. Such publicity often presents a deterministic message to the public. I have been involved with a study group that discovered numerous cases where individuals had been discriminated against on the basis of a genetic test, when they were not exhibiting any signs of illness. Our studies have provided some of the stimulus for the consideration of laws that would ban genetic discrimination.

Jon Beckwith and colleagues in the Genetic Screening Study Group (not Harvard affiliated).


Morris, C., Shen, A., Pierce, K. and Beckwith, J.  Deconstructing Violence.  GeneWatch 20: #2 pp. 3-10(2007).  PDF: Morris 2007

Beckwith, J. Copies conformes ou copies qu’on forme ? Sciences et Avenir Hors-Série No 149, p.71 (2006).

Yashon, R., Shen, A., Geller, L.N. and Beckwith, J. “Race,” Ancestry & DNA: Where Do We Come From?  Lessons for high school classes.  Sponsored by the Genetic Screening Study Group, Watertown, MA.  (2006).

Beckwith, J., and Geller, L.N. Genetic discrimination: anticipating the consequences of genetic discovery. in:N.F. Sharpe and R.F. Carter: Genetic Testing: Care, Consent, and Liability. J. Wiley and Sons. pp. 146-156 (2006).

Beckwith, J. and Huang, F.  Should we make a fuss? A case for social responsibility in science. Nature Biotechnology. 23:1479-1480 (2005).

Beckwith, J. Whither human behavioral genetics? in Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics: Science, Ethics, and Public Conversationeds. E. Parens, A.R. Chapman and N. Press. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. pp. 74-99 (2005).

Beckwith, J., and Alper, J.S. Genes, race and IQ. in Encyclopedia of the Human Genome.  Editor-in-chief, D.N. Cooper. MacMillan Publishing, London. 4 pages, (2003).

Beckwith, J. Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science. Harvard University Press (in press, October, 2002). More info.

Alper, JS, and Beckwith, J. On the philosophical analysis of genetic essentialism. Commentary on: "The use of genetic test information in insurance: the argument from indistinguishability reconsidered".
Sci. Eng. Ethics. 6:311-4. (2000). No Abstract available.

Beckwith J, Alper JS. Reconsidering genetic antidiscrimination legislation. J. Law Med. Ethics 26:205-210, 178. (1998 Fall). Abstract.

Beckwith, J. The responsibilities of scientists in the genetics and race controversies. in Plain Talk about the Human Genome Project. eds. E. Smith and W. Sapp. Tuskegee University Press, Tuskegee, AL. pp.83-94 (1997)

Allen, A, Anderson, B, Andrews, L, Beckwith, J, et al. The Bell Curve: Statement by the NIH-DOE Joint Working Group on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Human Genome Research. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 59:487-488 (1996).

Beckwith, J. A historical view of social responsibility in genetics. BioScience. 43, #5 (May, 1993) 327-333.

Alper, JS, and Beckwith, J. Genetic fatalism and social policy: the implications of behavior genetics research. Yale J. Biol. Med. 66:511-524 (1993). Abstract.

Billings, PR, Kohn, MA, DeCuevas, M, Beckwith, J, Natowicz, M, and Alper, J. Genetic discrimination as a consequence of genetic testing. Am. J. Human Genetics. 50:476-482 (1992). Abstract.

Beckwith, J. Gender and Math Performance: Does Biology have Implications for Educational Policy? J. Education (Boston Univ.) 165:158-174, May, 1983.  PDF Beckwith gender.