Suppose my college wanted to do away with its wrestling program, and so I set about proving that such a move would discriminate against wrestlers because they were born that way. My proof would consist of the following: (1) twin studies; (2) brain dissections; (3) gene “linkage” studies.
The basic idea in twin studies is to show that the more genetically similar two people are, the more likely it is that they will share the trait you are studying. So you identify groups of twins in which at least one is a wrestler. What I would probably find is that if one identical twin is a wrestler, his twin brother is statistically more likely be one, too. Let’s say I found a “concordance rate” of about 50% (the percentage of pairs in which both twins are wrestlers.) Pretty impressive, but unfortunately it wasn’t 100%. I can’t tell people the trait is inherited, but I can say it is “heritable.”
I call Sports Illustrated and tell them, “Our research demonstrates that wrestling is strongly heritable.” However, since people (like you) don’t know the difference between heritable and inherited, soon articles begin appearing in the school newspaper saying that wrestlers are probably born that way. No one other than people in the Biology Department notices the media’s inaccurate reporting.
Now the gory part—I move on conduct some brain research, which I can do because I minored in Biology. I perform a series of autopsies on the brains of some dead people who, I think wrestled at some point in their lives, and I measure the size of a certain part of their brain. Then I do the same with a group of dead non-wrestlers. I find that, on average, certain parts of the brain long thought to be involved with wrestling are much larger in the group of dead wrestlers.
The school newspaper goes crazy and carries a headline, “Wrestlers do not have a choice—even their brains are different!” At this news, basketball players everywhere have their suspicions confirmed about wrestlers. “I knew they were different.” However, even these basketball players are duped because what they are not told is that the brain changes with use. Those parts responsible for an activity get larger over time, and there are specific parts of the brain that are more utilized in wrestling. I know this, but I’m not going to tell anyone, certainly not basketball players, because we wrestlers have suffered at their hands for years having to practice in the cafeteria rather than in the gym.
Finally, I will do a gene-linkage study. I gather a small number of families of wrestlers and compare them to some families of non-wrestlers. I already have a hunch that some of the genes associated with wrestling (strength, athleticism, quick reflexes, good looks- maybe not), will be located on the x-chromosome. I cannot say these genes cause wrestling because such a claim would be scientifically insupportable, but the public thinks “caused by” and “associated with” are synonymous.
My research goes beyond the school newspaper and it gets picked up by a National Radio Affiliate and now my college can’t get rid of wrestling because everyone thinks wrestlers are born that way. No one pays attention to what the majority of respected scientists believe that wrestling is attributable to a combination of psychological, social, and biological factors.
I adapted this scenario from an article written on Narth.com Is There a Gay Gene?