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Biotech Crime

Scientists Seek Biomarkers For Violence 294

Posted by timothy
from the thoughtcrime-or-a-propensity-thereto dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A Newtown couple, both scientists, who lost their daughter in the school shooting, are wondering whether there were clues in the shooter's physiological makeup — his DNA, his blood, his brain chemistry. They are now involved in a search for biomarkers, similar to those that may indicate disease, for violence. They are raising money to help fund this research, but the effort is running into obstacles, in part, over ethical concerns. 'I'm not opposed to research on violence and biomarkers, but I'm concerned about making too big of a leap between biomarkers and violence,' said Troy Duster, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. There is concern that science may find biomarkers long before society can deal with its implications."
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Scientists Seek Biomarkers For Violence

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  • by milgram (104453) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:34PM (#44299331)

    That would be my guess as a good marker... :>

    • Re:AC Post (Score:5, Insightful)

      by war4peace (1628283) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:39PM (#44299413)

      Makes sense in most cases.
      More on-topic: Just today I was reading about a guy with Down Syndrome managing to pass exams in my country which would be the equivalent of post-high school exams. He even passed with pretty good grades, while lots of "healthy" individuals failed soundly.

      How does that link to this article? Well, even if people with Down Syndrome usually can't achieve that, some do. I think the same would apply to biomarkers: they might raise awareness but definitely wouldn't bring certainty that violence WILL occur. It's pretty dangerous to make assumptions based on the fact that you "might" become violent.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nerdfest (867930)

        Sadly, his accomplishment is far more likely related to the quality and expectations of most high schools. Most places have been slowly lowering the bar for quite some time.

        • Re:AC Post (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Vanderhoth (1582661) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:57PM (#44299765)
          I don't know about that, while I can't argue about most places dropping the bar, my step-mother is a special needs teacher. Many of the students she deals with I've gotten to know personally and have no doubts in my mind they have the same intelligence level as a lot of other people their age. I find a lot of the time their issues revolve around their lack of communication skills, similar to how someone who is super smart is perceived as dumb because they can't talk to others or have trouble writing things down.
        • That's why I said "in my country" - which is located in the EU. Here, your exams are handled by teachers who don't know you.

      • Re:AC Post (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Evtim (1022085) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:15PM (#44300009)

        According to YouTube 21 M people have already seen this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z9WVZddH9w [youtube.com] [Zeitgeist 2011].

        I thought the matter is settled already - trying to find "gene for violence" is futile and dangerous. One of the cited studies found some such gene, but if the individual was not raised in harsh environment it did not turn on [and that group actually scored lower than "normal" on violence in such cases] but in the opposite case the gene was turned on. Also - if you don't have that gene and are abused you will also likely become violent.

        So what do we have here? If you carry that gene you are more sensitive than others to violence against you. You run higher risk than others to become violent yourself if exposed to abuse. Such individuals then would require a tad more consideration rather than being already stigmatized as "potential troublemaker". See how this research will do the opposite of what they supposedly intent? See the pavement on the road to Hell? Yhea, me too...

        • Re:AC Post (Score:5, Insightful)

          by war4peace (1628283) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:28PM (#44300229)

          To top it off, I have a pretty sizable inner potential for violence. The road I took in order to control my impulses was long, windy and hard. I can say I've been "cured" mostly, although I still have occasional (short) outbursts.

          I'm thinking that a "gene" detective would still categorize me in a way which is less than flattering, so-to-speak.

          Now, those scientists who are trying to find biomarkers for violence are driven not by scientific curiosity, but vengeance. They are trying to "find all motherfuckers who resemble the motherfucker who killed our child". I'm not blaming them (it's a human impulse after all), but I don't think they deserve support either.

        • Re:AC Post (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:34PM (#44300369) Journal

          It would be interesting though if they saw such gene or genes in a majority of the type-a personalities typically found in politics or corporate boardrooms.

        • by Thomas Miconi (85282) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @07:50PM (#44304499)

          There already is a known genetic marker for violence. In the US, bearers of this genetic marker commit 70% of all property crimes, 90% of all murders, are 9 times more likely to be imprisoned, and comprise 93% of all prison inmates.

          This marker is known as "Y chromosome".

          Think of that.

      • I think the same would apply to biomarkers: they might raise awareness but definitely wouldn't bring certainty that violence WILL occur. It's pretty dangerous to make assumptions based on the fact that you "might" become violent.

        Definitely, but they know that already. It's genomics 101: a marker is not a 100% sign that a phenotype will develop. They undoubtedly describe their research as being primarily useful in identifying factors that make violence more likely. Their goal wouldn't be "Lock up everyone who has X Y and Z markers." Their goal would be "Identify markers that, in conjunction with other things like abuse as a child, drug problems, etc, could increase the chances that someone is going to become violent, understand h

        • There's a problem with the "conjunction" approach.
          Let's take John Doe who suffered from abuse during childhood and also has this "wonder-gene" that's looked for right now. We have two factors here which, summed up, lead to X% chance for that person to become violent.
          Now, what we don't know is the weight of each factor.

          Going by the extremes, the childhood abuse might account for 99% of that chance to become violent, rendering the second factor negligible. Or it might be quite the other way around.

          The questio

        • Re:AC Post (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @05:14PM (#44303227)

          IF they identify markers for violence, THEN we will need to concern ourselves with making sure society doesn't take that as a certainty. Society has decided that sex offenders usually having a high rate of recidivism means that every individual sex offender is going to commit another sex offense, so we should lock them up forever.

          Except we don't do that at all. We'd rather keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for ridiculously long terms.

          With the convicted pedophiles, molestors, or just some poor kid that had sex with his slightly underage girlfriend, or some guy who was drunk and pissed in public, we go ahead and release them, but give them a "sex offender" label (which is the same, no matter whether you just pissed in public in view of a child or you molested one), which prevents them from living a certain distance from schools or day-care centers. What this translates to is they aren't allowed to live in any inhabited area, except under a bridge somewhere, because that's the only place they can find that isn't too close to a school or day-care center. They'd probably be a lot happier if we set up their own small city in the middle of North Dakota, free of any schools or children so they can live like normal people.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      That would be my guess as a good marker... :>

      It's all T'Pring's doing. Her and her impeccable logic.

    • Re:AC Post (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:36PM (#44300405) Homepage Journal

      What if these same markers are co-incident with those for creativity or genius? What if they are the same as those for compassion or charity, but part of a more holistic interaction, which results in the perceived different expression?

      "Be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you."
      -- Friedrich Nietzsche

      What if our entire set of personal traits cannot be reduced to deterministic, binary markers?

      • So, if they find a marker linked to violence, what happens? Are all those people instantly incarcerated? What about the trigger level or the level of violence? There is a huge difference between punching someone in the nose and shooting up a public gathering. I would never trust government with this information. It reeks of Nazi Germany. Kill all the jews... kill at the homosexuals. Scary stuff.

  • So what then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by N0Man74 (1620447) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:36PM (#44299361)

    "This guy has a biomarker for violence... Shoot him! Get him before he attacks!"

    I'm reminded of the parody video from The Onion (I think) where you had a jock who was killing the misfits at his high school so that they wouldn't snap and create another columbine.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well.. put them on mandatory lithium and acid medicine. *kaching*
      well, I suppose it's better than trying to ban rock music and jeans because shooters at some point listened to rock and wore jeans...

      aaanyhow... would they be running monthly tests on the teens? since the biomarkers if similar to disease, like high cholesterol, couldn't be tested at birth or at admission.

      what they're going to find out that it's stress related markers and adrealine and that the entire football team is plotting to blow up the ci

    • by FunPika (1551249)
      Then it is similar to a real life version of The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick, but with a different crime prediction method.
      • Then it is similar to a real life version of The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick, but with a different crime prediction method.

        The crime prediction method is the same as that in David Brin's Sundiver [wikipedia.org] novel. This is the first book in his Uplift trilogy, all of which rely on directed genetic manipulation.

    • Re:So what then? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tnk1 (899206) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:53PM (#44299689)

      The problem is that any biomarkers of an individual is at best half the story.

      What would they find? A propensity to act impulsively or violently to certain stimuli, perhaps? What if such a person could gain enough experience to control those impulses?

      Alternately, otherwise perfectly normal people go bananas because they are subjected to people who are not violent, but they are incredibly manipulative. Or perhaps situations completely outside their control like a terrible accident or terrorist attack. Their otherwise non-impulsive nature might, over time, be turned to murderous rage.

      There are real concerns about labeling people in a way that could cause immediate action to be taken against them before the whole picture is understood. Incomplete science can always be used as a particularly potent excuse for atrocity.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        The problem is that any biomarkers of an individual is at best half the story.

        What would they find? A propensity to act impulsively or violently to certain stimuli, perhaps? What if such a person could gain enough experience to control those impulses?

        Alternately, otherwise perfectly normal people go bananas because they are subjected to people who are not violent, but they are incredibly manipulative. Or perhaps situations completely outside their control like a terrible accident or terrorist attack. Their otherwise non-impulsive nature might, over time, be turned to murderous rage.

        There are real concerns about labeling people in a way that could cause immediate action to be taken against them before the whole picture is understood. Incomplete science can always be used as a particularly potent excuse for atrocity.

        I channel my violent urges into coding spells.

        I'm very sorry for writing that bit which the NSA has been using...

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        What if such a person could gain enough experience to control those impulses?

        ....or use them in a criminal prosecution defense strategy.

      • Re:So what then? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dywolf (2673597) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @02:15PM (#44300959)

        "Citizen 1138, age 11, you punched a classmate. DNA Analysis reveals are prone to violence, and will be locked up for the protection of society."
        Like the perfect storm of combining self-fulfilling prophecy with zero tolerance overreactions. like the story of Joey (the minor petty thief who was a good kid, until they locked him for 6 years over a pack of gum. by the time he got out, he was hardened and conditioned to taking what he needed to survive) taken to the extreme.

        but ya, it compeltely ignores the ideas of self-control, free-will, and growth as an individual.

      • "What if such a person could gain enough experience to control those impulses?"

        You crazy bleeding-hearts! You'll probably be suggesting that inexperienced job applicants can be 'trained' and turned into valuable employees, rather than just being circular filed by HR, next...

    • by khasim (1285)

      1. I don't believe that there are any "biomarkers" for "violence" that are not common to every person alive today.

      2. Remember "The Bell Curve"? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve [wikipedia.org] Once you start attempting to match biology to behaviour you run into all kinds of problems with biases and statistics.

    • by icebike (68054)

      I'm reminded of the parody video from The Onion (I think) where you had a jock who was killing the misfits at his high school so that they wouldn't snap and create another columbine.

      Well if you think "misfits" aren't already subject to extra scrutiny these days you would be wrong.

      School administration, teachers, counselors are all getting training in this. And its more an more evident that even other students are starting to look out for certain types.

      So far, the merely odd or quirky kids have not been caught up in this to a great deal, but it still does happen, especially to guys who go goth.

      I would expect that knowledge of biological markets that might be discovered would be welcome

      • As a parent, I would jump at the chance to have my kid tested for that even in the absence of symptoms, early enough to make changes in education and upbringing.

        The problem is not you getting results and taking care of them accordingly. It's everyone else that gets their hands on the results and treats your kids like second class citizens.

        I could have enough faith in a person to do the former. I lack sufficient faith in society to not do the latter.

    • There's quite a lot you could do. Most genes that affect the brain and behavior do so by means of hormone/protein production during development. It's not hard to imagine very low grade localized doses of specifically tailored chemicals to reduce the effect. That's prenatal chemical lobotomy, and raises serious ethical concerns too, but it's not as bad as just shooting someone.

      • by bkr1_2k (237627)

        That's prenatal chemical lobotomy, and raises serious ethical concerns too, but it's not as bad as just shooting someone.

        Isn't it? We're are at the infancy of understanding how our brains work and how these markers really interact and create the "final product" of who we are. Even implying this as an option is seriously premature.

  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:37PM (#44299399)

    Hi! This is a post from the future.

    The good news is that they found the "bio-markers" indicating a propensity towards violence

    The bad news is that human being alive has them.

  • Those aren't biomarkers for violence... they're biomarkers for self-defense! USA! USA!

  • parents of a child killed in a school shooting research for DNA markers that trigger violence. They succeed.

    Nationwide program is created to find potential killers before they can strike. Everyone submits a DNA sample. Original researcher is flagged as having the bad DNA. He runs from police, jumping over maglev cars and spoofing retina recognition systems by having a new eyeball surgically implanted.

    Oh wait nevermind, Tom Cruise might sue.

  • by artfulshrapnel (1893096) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:45PM (#44299557)

    ...even if their markers are accurate. What do you do with a person that carries known biomarkers for violence? If they later do something wrong, are you legally liable for allowing them to be born if you've done prenatal testing and found the markers? What about doctors who notice them midway through the person's life, should they be legally required to report such people to the police for observation?

    I'm getting flavors of both Minority Report and Brave New World from this: You're left in a place where one of the most ethical options is to pre-judge the people, push medication and counseling on someone who's never done anything just to be safe, or encourage them into a societal role where their violent tendencies won't be as risky. Perhaps you put the violent kids in their own special (high security) elementary school, where they're guided towards a profession in the military, police, sports, or other violent profession?

    Very scary, despite how potentially useful such a discovery might be.

    • We all have monkey brains, given the right stimulus, we'll all turn into raging murderers. They'll most likely find that we all have propensity for violence.
      • We all have monkey brains, given the right stimulus, we'll all turn into raging murderers. They'll most likely find that we all have propensity for violence.

        As long as they give me bananas, I'm happy.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      The real question is, what counts as violence? Sure, mugging a guy in a dark alley is violent. But so is voting for politicians that engage in wars of choice, or imprison hundreds of thousands of harmless individuals.

      Most of the problems our society faces is not due to violent street criminals. It's due to ostensibly well meaning politicians making policy that hurts people. That's violence too.

  • Obligatory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:46PM (#44299577) Journal

    Someone must have caught Gattaca on Encore a few weeks ago. Sounds like a great idea, let's find the biomarker (a.k.a. genes) which identify violent behavior. Then what? Lobotomies? Indefinite internment? Put them on an island where they fight to the death on pay-per-view? Deny them the full rights accorded to them as citizens of the United States?

    I seem to remember an era when scientists claimed that African-Americans were inferior to people of Caucasian descent. That proved to be ridiculous, racist, and fraudulent science. This concept is so flawed I can barely scratch the surface. Biomarkers do not determine who a person is or what they will become. Look at the Twins Studies. It is neither nature nor nurture, it is both.

  • Just think, dear slashdot reader, people just like you have been conscripted into armies throughout the ages, and made to kill and maim. Many gave in to peer pressure and raped too.

    Maybe developing conscience and education in human dignity, rights and respect is a better pursuit than trying to find excuses to pre-judge

  • I'm betting that under the right circumstances, every human on the planet has the capacity for violence.

    And this will never show you a causal relationship, because it will turn into a debate about nature vs nurture. How much about how you turn out is pre-programmed, and how much is a result of your life experiences? Should we think child soldiers were more inclined to violence? Or the circumstances of their life helped bring it about?

    And further, what would you do about it? Brand children as potentiall

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      Yeah, I think we could get a lot further by, for example, teaching ethics in school than by trying to predict behavior.

      Teaching ethics could have broader benefits. Not only could it help kids learn to control their violent impulses before they are old enough to be dangerous, it could also help the next generation of scientists realize that screening people for potential behavior (instead of past, actual behavior) *is* prejudice.

      P.S. Contrary to what one might presume from my sig, I am advocating teaching et

  • Doesn't the phrase "There is concern that science may find biomarkers long before society can deal with its implications." carry some implication that society's ability to deal with such implications is actually improving, or at least might actually improve at some point?

    On the one hand, I'm not sure why we would expect society to ever be able to 'deal with its implications'. Moral philosophy isn't exactly a progress-packed field, and people have been chewing on the issue of what moral responsibility does o

  • About one in a thousand males. Urban legend [wikipedia.org] has it is much more common in prisoners.
  • Please, "scientists", we've been down this road before... and it did not end well.
  • What is the point of 1984, Brave New World, Minority Report and Gattaca if, instead of drawing important lessons from this kind of dystopian work, a bunch of nutty scientists & government do PRECISELY WHAT SCIFI WARNS NOT TO DO... This stuff was meant as a warning about constructing the wrong kind of future, rather than as a manual or blueprint for FUCKING THE FUTURE UP FOR EVERYBODY... News like this just makes me sad. Nuff Said...
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      What is the point of 1984, Brave New World, Minority Report and Gattaca if, instead of drawing important lessons from this kind of dystopian work, a bunch of nutty scientists & government do PRECISELY WHAT SCIFI WARNS NOT TO DO

      You presume a uniform response to what should and shouldn't happen.

      There are always going to be people whose ideal of a perfect, ordered society is exactly this kind of thing.

      They will proclaim loudly they're Doing It For The Common Good, and believe we should be thanking them for

  • Any time some spectacular event like this happens (shootings, acts of terrorism, etc.), the end result is that our rights are further diminished so we can "prevent this from happening again in the future!"

    Because unfortunately, the average voter makes decisions based on emotions/short-term benefits, without considering the ramifications to the society as a whole.

    The Patriot Act was bad enough, but now we're going to stereotype people based on physical attributes they have no control over? Ridiculous.
  • What ever happened to the claim that Lanza was on fanapt [webmd.com]? Others said he was on other psychoactive drugs with potentially violent side effects.

    I read that the autopsy only screened for illegal drugs & alcohol. If he was on drugs with known violent side effects, it seems like quite a leap to ignore those and go looking for inherent biomarkers. Has the list of his prescribed meds ever come out?

  • There has been a lot of research done in recent years towards looking for biomarkers for a variety of ailments. The problem though is that the biomarker based tests rarely end up being statistically reproducible across a meaningful number of samples; often suffering from too many FPs or too many missed diagnoses. This is worth looking in to, but the odds of it ever developing into a single assay to find the nascent psychopaths in our population are not very good. It has a better chance of becoming a scre
  • The biggest factor that makes us violent or not is cultural. If you want to fix violence, fix the cultural factors that creates it. Unfortunately, some of those factors are tied to money (i.e. if you live in a culture that teach you from kid about justice and find that the rich are above the law [rollingstone.com] won't make you more peaceful), so won't be fixed.
    • The biggest factor that makes us violent or not is cultural.
      Citation?

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      An example of the privileges rich people have: Millionaire CEO George Anderson got drunk and on his drive home hit and killed a 60-year-old woman out celebrating her birthday. His legal penalty: a misdemeanor conviction, 15 days in jail and a $350 fine. If he had instead been a poor black man, he would have been locked up for 15 years and been required to pay $15,000, as well as having a felony conviction on his record which would pretty much mean he'd never be able to get a job.

  • Sadly, there is a strong correlation between the same psychopathic personality characteristics and people in upper management:

    http://www.softpanorama.org/Social/Toxic_managers/psychopath_in_the_corner_office.shtml [softpanorama.org]

    Will we just end up selecting for docile personalities and anyone who shows biomarkers for violent tendencies gets "special treatment?"

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • You're dealing with probabilities at that point. Child A has a 5% chance of becoming a violent psychopath. Child B had a 95% chance. Do you strangle child B at birth? Or give them their 5% chance of becoming something other than a violent psychopath? Where's the cutoff? And who decides?

    Disclaimer: I live in Texas. We'd let child B grow up malnourished and abused in a slum before killing him for obvious psychopathic behavior verified by objective measurement, but we wouldn't abort ahead of time even if it wa

  • I doubt that there are biomarkers for "violence". What can be are biomarker for aggressiveness, which is necessary trait for mankind, if you don't want to turn it into a mass of apathetic zombies.
  • There may be markers for violence, but I think they are pretty universal. Armies have been turning young men into killers for millennia. As military historian Gwynne Dyer says, "Anybody's son will do." Virtually any young man can become a violent killer if the right buttons are pushed. Of course most young men are able to control these tendencies -- if they didn't, we would need front-end loaders to remove the bodies from the streets every morning. I think it's more likely that they will find a missing

  • The Ludovico technique...

  • by stanlyb (1839382) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:12PM (#44299969)
    There is a saying: if you look hard enough for evidence, no matter what and where, soon or later you will find it.
    I just wonder what would this biomarker look like? Improper skull form? Skin color? or, missing DNA chain?
  • If we never bother to explore the question we just don't really know. There very well could be many biomarkers for violence. How we act on that knowledge is the real moral dilemma. I personally think they are too close to the subject and really if they want to help others they would just fund the research. However, we already have one linked biomarker, and that's lead exposure [huffingtonpost.com] - but we can't just start rounding up everyone with higher blood-lead concentrations and force them into chelation therapy. Ob

    • by erroneus (253617)

      Yeah, I was thinking the exact same thing. I suspect we will find these markers and create some sort of genetic therapy to get rid of it except for certain people... the ones they use to control the resulting sheep.

      Also, it will be used to discriminate racially.

  • Is the subject human? If yes, then they have a predisposition towards violence.

  • Introduction to Human Behavioral Biology - Robert Sapolsky [youtube.com]

    Here is a no-pre-requisite course from Stanford on the topic of the links between human behavior and biology. Listen and be educated on how ignorantly these people are framing the issue.

    The interrelationship between biology and environment are inseparable and the value of a set of genetic markers related to violence in humans would have such a weak correlation as to predict almost nothing, but the opportunity for social misuse is huge. We should do

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