CNN U.S. News

Born to crime?

A scientific conference sparks a heated exchange

September 24, 1995
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EDT

From correspondent Jed Duvall

WYE MILLS, Maryland (CNN) -- Can you be born a criminal?

The subject is so touchy that the organizer of a conference on genetics and crime starts by virtually apologizing. "We don't expect to achieve a consensus here..."

The three-day conference, sponsored by the University of Maryland and held in a wooded retreat on the Chesapeake Bay, drew some thirty academics. The researchers say they look at individual, not group, genetics. But that did not stop protesters from bursting in and interrupting the meeting. (58K AIFF sound or 115K WAV sound)

Because African-Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for some 45 percent of the arrests for violent crime, it seems to some that studies of crime and genetics are racist.

"This appears to be, and in fact is, an attack, an effort to discredit the black community, and to create the perception that as a people we have genetic difficulties that explain our position in life, whether it be criminal predisposition or the economic problems that affect the community," says Wade Henderson of the NAACP. "We think it's bunk." (220K AIFF sound or 438K WAV sound)

The arguments were hot -- a couple of punches were landed -- with some of the academics siding with the protesters.

Science does not find a correlation between genes and crime; most here and elsewhere blame the social environment. But the organizers dread having to work and confer out of sight. "While some people might fear the research, I would think as of a fear for that, a greater fear would be to have this research done secretively," says conference participant Robert Wachbroit.

Studies in genetics and crime and several related fields are being conducted at scores of labs and institutions around the United States. Conference organizers worry that disruption means cutting the flow of information from science to the public. Conference or no, they say, the research continues.

As for conference organizer David Wasserman, it has been a very trying weekend. "I am not going to run another conference on this subject. I think that responsibility evolves on others." (73K AIFF sound or 143K WAV sound)

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What you think

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