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Born to be Bad?

It wasn't that long ago that NIH withdrew funds for a conference on the genetics of crime after many in the scientific community complained "that the idea smacked of eugenics" and racism, says The New York Times' Patricia Cohen. But now that the human genome has been sequences, and researchers are looking for genetics links to everything from political affiliation to alcoholism, criminologists are once again looking to genetics to elucidate — at least in part — a person's risk of committing a crime, Cohen says. At the National Institute of Justice conference this week, criminologists will be talking about creating databases on information on DNA and genetic markers that may have a link to criminal behavior. But the subject is still fraught with ethical dilemmas, Cohen says. Experts in the field agree that there is no "crime gene," and most researchers are looking for inherited traits that can lead to aggressive or antisocial behaviors that may lead to crime. But that doesn't answer the questions of how this information could be used in a court, or whether it could, or should, be used to identify would-be criminals before they act, Cohen adds. It also doesn't take into account the complex environmental factors that influence criminal behavior, and how the environment interacts with genes, experts say. Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson tells Cohen that questions that really drive the study of crime can't be explained by genetics. "The more sophisticated the genetic research, the more it will show the importance of social context," Sampson tells the Times.

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