David Dobbs’s cover story on how our interpersonal interactions shape our genes (“The Social Life of Genes,” September/October 2013) drew some heartfelt applause from readers. “A stunning piece of world-class writing,” declared science journalist Ed Yong on his NationalGeographic.com blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science, while PSmag.com reader “Doro” rhapsodized, “You have not only made my day, but my life.”
Annalee Newitz on io9.com enthused over Dobbs’s “good news” that “we can change our genetic expression and immune responses by changing our social behavior.” Over at Reddit, the reader known as “I_I_II_III_IIIII” wrote, “Epigenetic adaptations make perfect sense. I mean how the hell else does a species fluidly respond to environmental pressures? You couldn’t have useful adaptations without DNA mutations during the organism’s lifetime, which could then be passed on as a slightly modified set of instructions for the next generation.”
The September/October 2013 issue of Pacific Standard.
But not everyone accepted Dobbs’s premise. “Hyperbole with an overexaggeration of the effects of gene expression and their relation to psychological studies,” wrote “Tt” at PSmag.com. “I’m not doubting the scientific merits of these studies, but their broad conclusions should be viewed with skepticism, especially in regards to psychological surveys in Western countries.” Hey Tt, you may want to check out another one of our stories on the subject: “We Aren’t the World,” March/April 2013.
Our interview with a therian—a person who identifies as an animal, in this case a wolf—(“Subculture: Therian,” September/October 2013) drew some howls. At PSmag.com “Ant” opined that therians were just going through a regrettable phase. “All the therians I once knew, from 1998 or thereabouts, have long since grown up and become perfectly serviceable humans who act with embarrassment about their once-held beliefs if prompted about it.” A few current therians slapped back at Ant. “Sure, some people grow out of it,” commented “AnotherArticle?Great.” “Some people who identified that way in 1998 still identify that way now. Funnily enough, these people don’t tend to be the ones running around speaking to sensationalistic journalists, perhaps unfortunately, because then we might get some decent quotes.” Shiro Ulv, the wolf- therian we interviewed, also took some lumps. “Seriously, anyone reading this, we’re not as bad as this person makes us look. I promise,” groaned commentator Kendra Moore. “We still function in society.” For the record, Ulv himself wasn’t crazy about the picture, but defended our scribe: “I am satisfied that this article provides ‘just the facts’ and what I said during the interview. It does not try to sensationalize anything, nor does the author interject meaningless opinions.”
Our critique of Stanley Milgram’s famous electric shock experiments galvanized several readers. “If you’re going to attack one of the most famous psychological studies of all time ... you should have more evidence to back up your argument,” sniped “MumbleMumble” on PSmag.com. “Mark” suggested checking out the Dar Williams song “Buzzer” for further insight.
Contributing editor Lisa Margonelli got it right in her look at the rise of a new class of interconnected elites pulling the strings in Wall Street and Washington (“Meet the Flexians,” September/October 2013), commented former Democrat “EllieK” at PSmag.com. “It quickly becomes impossible to find even one uber-class individual who is not affiliated with, or married to someone affiliated with, every progressive ‘nonpartisan’ think-tank, PAC, technology/e-commerce/software company and multiple political campaigns (Democrat) or industry-beneficial legislation.” “CCCrazyPanda” took issue with the article’s passing point about using bribes to measure corruption. “Anything that represents any kind of conflict of interest is a form of bribery. Any special favors, monetary or not, is a bribe ... As far as I’m concerned, even if corrupt decisions happen only 1 percent of the time, that’s 1 percent too many.”