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The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon

Kenneth J. Ryan, MD
JAMA. 1995;274(19):1563-1564. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530190077042.
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The authors' premise seems to be that concepts, metaphors, and images about the gene are used extensively in popular modes of communication, such as advertising, comic books, television soap operas, and the popular press, and have thus become part of our folklore. They pose the question of whether these notions about the gene are taken seriously by the public, and if so, how they influence the public's reaction to the institutional and political uses that can be made of genetic information.

For the authors' purposes, scientific knowledge about the gene is no more or less important than science fiction or, in general, how the culture uses genetic information and misinformation in such issues as adoption policies, crime, and learning in the schools. To quote the authors, "The history of science is the story of the selective analysis of reality" (italics added for emphasis). They write, "As recent social and historical


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