Review: The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality


The book is on Libgen (free download).

Since I have ventured into criminology as part of my ongoing research program into the spatial transferability hypothesis (psychological traits are stable when people move around, including between countries) and the immigrant groups by country of origin studies, I thought it was a good idea to actually read some criminology. So since there was a recent book covering genetically informative studies, this seemed like a decent choice, especially because it was also available on libgen for free! :)

So basically it is a debate book with a number of topics. For each topic, someone (or a group of someones) will argue for or explain the non-genetic theories/hypotheses, while another someone will sum up the genetically informative studies (i.e. behavioral genetics studies into crime) or at least biologically informed (e.g. neurological correlates of crime).

Initially, I read all the sociological chapters too until I decided they were a waste of time to read. Then I just read the biosocial ones. If you are wondering about the origin of that term as opposed to the more commonly used synonym sociobiological, the use of it was mostly a move to avoid the political backslash. One of the biosocial authors explained it like this to me:

In terms of the name biosocial (versus sociobiological), I think the name change happened accidentally. But there was somewhat of a reason, I guess. EO Wilson and sociobiological thought was so hated amongst sociologists and criminologists, none of us would have gotten a job had we labelled ourselves sociobiologists. Though it was no great secret that sociobiology gave birth to our field. In some ways, it was purely a semantic way to fend off attacks. Even so, there are some distinctions between us and old school sociobiology (use of behavior genetic techniques, etc.).

The book suffers from the widespread problem in social science of not giving effect size numbers. This is more of a problem for the sociological chapters, but true also for the biosocial ones. If no effect sizes are not reported, one cannot compare the importance of the alleged causes! Note that behavioral genetics results inherently include effect sizes. The simplest ACE fitting will output the effect sizes for additive genetics, shared environment and unshared environment+error.

Even if you don’t plan to read much of this, I recommend reading the highly entertaining chapter: The Role of Intelligence and Temperament in Interpreting the SES-Crime Relationship by Anthony Walsh, Charlene Y. Taylor, and Ilhong Yun.