I've heard of the "chopstick gene" fallacy - wrongly assuming an association between genetics and some characteristic, confounded by non-genetic factors.

Has this fallacy happened in real life?

I'm not really interested in cases deliberately focusing on race, where people have argued that there's an innate difference between people of different races based on certain genetic differences, such as the putative "warrior gene" ("warrior allele"?) being described as more common in Maori people. As far as I can tell, the "chopstick gene" isn't about arguing that Asian people are better with chopsticks because of genetic differences between Asians and non-Asians.

I'm more interested in research that was done in good faith, which ignored the possibility of genetic variations having different frequencies in different groups, that produced erroneous conclusions.


closed as unclear what you're asking by AMR, AliceD, March Ho, rg255, James Jan 18 '16 at 7:35

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  • $\begingroup$ If something is a fallacy, then how, by definition, could it actually have occurred? If you are asking if there are examples of genetic differences that separates ethnicities based on physically performable traits, then there are some examples. Sherpa's are able to live normally a very high altitudes and is related to genetic traits that were selected for because they were an isolated population in a selective environment. news.sciencemag.org/archaeology/2014/07/… $\endgroup$ – AMR Nov 7 '15 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR I was thinking of a scenario where a scientist publishes something, then either they or someone else notices this problem. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grimm Nov 7 '15 at 5:02

Have a look at this time article from a couple years ago.

A concept that you should think about is nature vs nurture. You can think of nature (your genetics) as controlling part of the potential of what you could become (for example, many long distance athletes have genetics that are beneficial for their sport) where as nurture encapsulates the environment that you grow up in (a nutritionally deficient child will not reach maximum potential height that you might predict based on genetics alone).

When scientists are studying a gene in relation to a phenotype, they statistical methods to determine how much a genotype contributes to a phenotype. This process would minimize these types of fallacies since different alleles in different populations would be considered. However, sampling biases can occur and most human variation studies are done on people of european, asian, and african descent.


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