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Are politics in your DNA?

Twenty-one years ago, a young Australian geneticist named Nick Martin published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (83:4364-8, 1986) that described a curious sideline to his regular work on the epidemiology of disease in twins. The study, which Martin coauthored with his mentor Lyndon Eaves, probed the transmission of social attitudes among more than 4,500 pairs of fraternal and identical twins. The results suggested that genetic factors, rather than cultural o

Stephen Pincock

Twenty-one years ago, a young Australian geneticist named Nick Martin published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (83:4364-8, 1986) that described a curious sideline to his regular work on the epidemiology of disease in twins. The study, which Martin coauthored with his mentor Lyndon Eaves, probed the transmission of social attitudes among more than 4,500 pairs of fraternal and identical twins. The results suggested that genetic factors, rather than cultural ones, were mostly responsible for family resemblance in social attitudes.

The potential implications of those results were remarkable, but for two decades the paper languished. It was a frustrating experience for Martin, now head of genetic epidemiology at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. "It really irritated me that the work was ignored for so long," he recalls. So last year, when he got a call from a group of US political scientists who wanted to...

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