As further proof that a specific violence gene common to Africans threatens the worldview of fundamentalist anthropologists, Wikipedia scholar Alondra Oubré became the latest anthropologist to post an error-riddled Internet screed against the warrior gene, monoamine oxidase A (MAOA). Oubré is the author of Instinct and Revelation: Reflections on the Origins of Numinous Perception and Race, Genes and Ability: Rethinking Ethnic Differences. She is also an expert at copying errors from Wikipedia into her writing. Her *Wikipedia* page lists her as a “newsmaker,” “prominent African American,” and an “African American achiever.” As an anti-science anthropologist, she joined her colleagues in writing another editorial against Nicholas Wade’s recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance, as well as the study of MAOA, a gene verified as causing violence in multiple meta-analyses. Unlike previous attacks on this science, no possibility exists that this is anything other than academic fraud. Oubré took false information from Wikipedia, for which I provide here the proof, and she deliberately lied about her source. I repeatedly requested an official correction from her editor, author and City University of New York professor Massimo Pigliucci, who refused to do so. What follows is a point-by-point refutation of Oubré’s work.
Wow! What a poorly researched Internet post! I hope you don’t mind if I post the factual corrections here for you.
“The most common variant, MAOA-4R, has four repeats and is associated with high-activity breakdown of neurotransmitters.”
I guess it would be true that MAOA-4R is the most common variant if everyone in the world was white.
“Up to this point, all of the studies on the MAOA gene had been conducted in Caucasians. That changed when researchers started investigating this gene in the Maori of New Zealand.”
No, here is a list of studies that looked at non-whites prior to that study: Sabol et al, Kunugi et al, Balciuniene et al, Gilad et al, Ono et al, Williams et al, Koen et al, Huang et al, Yu et al, Young et al, Widom & Brzustowicz, and Rosenberg et al.
“For many experts, this ethnic gap is the result of numerous environmental causes, including poverty.”
I think you should revise this sentence.
“It turned out that while 3R was found in 56% of Maori males, it occurred in 58% of African American males and 34% of European males.”
Notice how the African-American number is slightly lower than the source? Someone in Wikipedia has been tweaking the numbers at will. I don’t recommend that you rely so heavily on Wikipedia as your source for just this sort of reason. I also don’t recommend that you rely on that “study” by Lea and Chambers, which was the source of the “idiot test” copy-and-paste error that slandered Chinese men as having an MAOA-3R allele frequency of 77%.
“Interestingly, the press ignored studies indicating that the 3R variant occurred in 61% of Taiwanese males  and 56% of Chinese males .”
You switched your sources. Both samples were Taiwanese. You rounded 54.5% to 56%. That’s kind of sloppy.
“In the Add Health database, 5.5% of African American men, 0.9% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men have 2R.”
So, you took these numbers from Add Health, did you? No, you didn’t. I know because I calculated the number for Asian men and posted it on my blog and Wikipedia. Once again, the Wikipedia troll screwed up your numbers for white men by a factor of 9. The Asian allele frequency was based on eight studies. I only found one Asian with MAOA-2R in those studies, but I have since looked at other studies and revised the number upwards. I have been maintaining a table with my tabulated allele frequencies (without excluding any sample).
“This has led some popular writers to speculate that MAOA-2R might account for — or at least play a significant role in — the relatively higher rates of violent crime in African Americans. Not everyone agrees .”
If one writes, “Not everyone agrees,” it is good form to make sure that the source cited expresses some disagreement with what one wrote before “Not everyone agrees.”
“The rates of 2R are more than five times higher in African American males than in American white males, at least in the Add Health sample.”
Yeah, I guess 55 is more than 5. Damn that Wikipedia troll! Choe et al, which you cited, found it in 6% of black men and 0% of white men, so maybe it’s infinity times more common. Seriously, considering how rare it is in whites and Asians, why should we believe that those rare exceptions are actually genetically 100% white or Asian?
“Although genes affect individual differences in behavior, the effect of each individual gene is usually small.”
I think you meant to say “allele.” If the effects of individual genes are usually small, then missense mutations that completely shut off the gene and eliminate the protein should have little effect. Of course, you failed to mention the missense mutation specific to MAOA, which causes Brunner syndrome. The effect of Brunner syndrome on behavior is not small.
“The more common low-activity variant, 3R, interacts with adverse social effects such as childhood maltreatment. But other possible environmental factors, which conceivably could interact with the 2R, may not have been explored in-depth as yet.”
I think Fergusson et al did the most in-depth analysis of various environmental factors. Interestingly, the interaction effect of IQ on violence was more powerful than the interaction effect of childhood maltreatment. I’m afraid that you’ll have to look up for yourself whether African Americans differ from whites and Asians in average IQ because that is outside my area of expertise.
“Using PET imaging scans, these researchers found no correlation between MAOA brain levels and MAOA gene variants.”
However, Alia-Klein et al did find MAOA promoter effects on anger in an fMRI study. That study and Buckholtz et al found MAOA gene effects on the amygdala. Cerasa et al found that the gene influenced orbitofrontal cortical thickness with MRI. Buckholtz et al and Cerasa et al had much larger samples than the 34 men in Shumay et al. Shouldn’t you have mentioned those findings?
“Nonetheless, their results suggest that MAOA brain levels, which affect mood, are at least partially regulated by non-genetic factors — i.e., epigenetically.”
Of course, genes do influence epigenetics. In fact, the “environmental” interaction factors, like childhood maltreatment, might also have a component of heritability. Wong et al found that, compared to women, epigenetics of MAOA in men is minimal, low in variance, and high in hereditary influence. Pinsonneault et al was unable to detect any MAOA methylation in men. Philibert et al found less MAOA methylation in men and that MAOA methylation had no effect on antisocial personality disorder in men or women. That seems like a relevant finding.
“The jury is still out on whether 2R, the rare MAOA gene, acts independently of the environment (and independently of other genes) to shape antisocial personality traits.”
First of all, is MAOA-2R rare in Africans? A common definition of a rare allele is having an allele frequency less than 5%. It might not be rare in African-American men. We can extrapolate to the higher allele frequency in a population of Africans who are not racially mixed. All of the evidence we have on MAOA-2R, so far, suggests that it has a powerful effect independently of environment. The assumption is that this distinguishes MAOA-2R from MAOA-3R, which supposedly only has a gene-environment interaction effect. A recent meta-analysis of 31 studies actually disproved this and found that MAOA-3R has a slight effect on antisocial behavior independent of interaction factors.
Pigliucci allowed me to post this comment only so that others could harass me with baseless ad hominem, but he censored all of my other responses.
Exposing falsehoods about the warrior gene is nothing new for me, but this is different. It might be hard to believe that a respected scientist like Steven Pinker or an experienced writer like John Horgan would fall for the idiot test or that Scientific American, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and various journals and book publishers would reprint it. While one might not expect such incompetence from these sources, no evidence proves malfeasance. Also, Oubré’s mischaracterization of the science of MAOA epigenetics and brain imaging (also see Lei et al) is likely but not positively deceptive. In other words, she probably came across the evidence against her thesis and chose to keep it to herself, but one cannot absolutely demonstrate this as such. However, she unmistakingly lied when she attributed Wikipedia data to the Add Health subsample of the famous, widely used National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health database.
Interestingly, the idiot test almost constitutes a photographic negative of this fraud. The original copy-and-paste error by Rod Lea and Geoffrey Chambers first appeared in a scientific journal—perhaps not a highly respected journal, but a journal nonetheless—and subsequently spread to the public through mass media. This time, misinformation sprouted from the lowly, anonymously edited Wikipedia and traveled up the media food chain to scientific blogs. The Wikipedia page for MAOA originally contained correct information that I and other responsible agents copied correctly from peer-reviewed studies. Then, someone identified only by their Internet Protocol address, 22.214.171.124, began altering the data. One can observe from this person’s contributions page, that he or she has a history of altering numbers in Wikipedia that relate to immigration and ethnicity helter-skelter without providing new sources. On March 22nd, the offender made three unsourced edits to the same group of numbers on the MAOA page. At 2:25, the change was as follows:
Two minutes later, another change occurred:
At 23:55, the offender changed the same numbers, again:
This allowed for an error of an order of magnitude in Oubré’s numbers. So, who is 126.96.36.199? Is she Oubré? Is he Pigliucci? Who knows? Maybe he is Eric Holder. Nobody who knows is saying.
To prevent confusion among the lay public, I politely asked Scientia Salon editor-in-chief Pigliucci for an official correction in this e-mail:
You posted my corrections for "The Extreme Warrior gene: a reality check" as a comment. However, the errors were quite serious, such as claiming that data from Wikipedia (which was false information) actually came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Such errors should not only be addressed by an outsider's comment. As the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, you should see that someone actually investigates my claims and posts a complete correction, if true. Alternatively, you could direct me to the appropriate authority within your site who handles corrections.
Pigliucci could not bother himself with more than a curt reply.
your comment has been published, so I’m not sure what additional action you expect from me, or why.
I tried repeatedly.
Yes or no, did Alondra Oubré falsely claim on your site that information she took from Wikipedia had actually come from the Add Health subsample of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health? If yes, was the information from Wikipedia all accurate? If she falsely attributed false information from Wikipedia, why do you refuse to post an official correction at the end of her piece, as any reputable source of information would? I noted numerous other errors, but this one in particular seems especially egregious because it reveals a lack of integrity and provides a conduit for anyone to make up information on Wikipedia and disseminate it through disreputable blogs.
No reply came.
As shown by her citations, Oubré obviously intended her perversion of MAOA science as a rebuttal to Wade. Less than three weeks prior, Pigliucci spent forty-two minutes in a podcast expatiating the standard semantic criticism that has amounted to basically the entirety of the fundamentalist anthropologist attack on Wade’s book. They call Wade a racist, and, in modern civilization, racists might be preferred to pedophiles but are considered far worse than necrophiliacs, cannibals, terrorists, zombies, Democrats, rapists, and even boy-band alumnae. Wade spent a good portion of his book criticizing white supremacy and called a book by JP Rushton racist in an interview. If idiotic anthropologists label every prestigious intellectual with whom they disagree a white supremacist, then the desire to be white supremacist among average white folks will grow like the tuition rates that young people pay to hear idiotic anthropologists bloviate. The colloquial definition of racism is the belief that average ability and tendency differences (stereotypes) exist between peoples grouped by place of origin. Heritability mathematics has nothing to do with it. Therefore, all anti-racists are racists. Actually, I would like to see the forces of good defeat white supremacy, which is why I know that the perceptual and strategic superiority lies with the recognition that the face of neo-Nazi white supremacy is the one covered in tattoos.
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