Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Born to Be Bad

By Michael Cook

The idea that bad guys are made by bad genes may have a new springtime.

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The father of modern criminology, the 19th century Italian sociologist Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), believed that criminality was genetically determined. “Born criminals” could be detected by the presence of a long list of “stigmata” such as an asymmetrical face, sloping forehead, large ears or even left-handedness. They were atavistic biological throwbacks, reversions to an ape-like state, men and women condemned to lives of degeneracy.

Nowadays, criminology emphasises nurture far more than nature, and Lombroso’s gallery of criminal types has been discredited. Our legal system assumes free will and the possibility of rehabilitation.

But the idea that bad guys are made by bad genes may have a new springtime. Recently a study in the Inter­national Journal of Epidemiology made headlines around the world like “Sex offending is written in DNA of some men”.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet, in collaboration with Oxford University, found that close relatives of men convicted of sexual offences like child molestation and rape commit similar offences more frequently due to genetic factors rather than a shared family environment. They found that about 2.5% of brothers or sons of convicted sex crime offenders are themselves convicted for sex crimes. The equivalent figure for men in the general population is about 0.5%. “Having a father or a brother...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.