Reductionism

Reductionism is the process of reducing complex things to their smallest parts rather than looking at them as a whole. Webster's dictionary suggests the synonym: oversimplification. In biology, reductionism fosters the belief that our behavior can be explained by studying the molecules and atoms that make up our DNA, rather than examining the whole animal in its environment.

In the biological sciences, the status once enjoyed by naturalists, who observe how animals live and what they do, has shifted to molecular biologists. Biologists today tend to believe that work at the molecular level will yield a more profound understanding of nature than the study of entire organisms. The work of naturalists tends to be dismissed as fuzzy science. The result is that molecular biology has become the most prestigious of the biological disciplines. While there is no doubt that we have much to gain from molecular biology, the reductionists often lose sight of the forest in their zeal to examine the molecules in the twigs.

The Human Genome Project is reductionism at its most extreme. Harvard molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate, Walter Gilbert, has referred to the human genome as the "Holy Grail" of genetics. James Watson, Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, has described the goal as the understanding of "life itself." These scientists are loosing sight of the fact that the human being is not simply a collection of DNA molecules.

The Human Genome Project promises a greater understanding of human genetics. It will not, however, tell us the meaning of life. Nor will it supply answers to the social and political issues that face America and the world. Dr. Hubbard contends that "the myth of the all-powerful gene is based on flawed science that discounts the environmental context in which we and our genes exists. It has many dangers, as it can lead to genetic discrimination and hazardous medical manipulations." (Hubbard p. 6).

ISAR HOME