I came across this video on YouTube last night by a geneticist/science writer Steve Jones. He is also the Emeritus Professor of genetics at University College London. This makes what he says in the video I will speak about below very troubling—especially to a man of his caliber with the knowledge he has—views he has on the hormone.
In the very beginning of the video titled Testosterone and Crime: What Can Genes Tell Us About Behavior?, Jones says “But in fact, there are genes—there is a gene—for crime, which causes nearly all the crime, and is widely used and we understand a great deal about it. It’s a chemical gene it produces a particular chemical, which we understand in detail is the chemical testosterone. Testosterone—we all have it but some of us have rather more than others—testosterone is of course a gene that is made—switched on by the Y chromosome and makes males male. Women have a small amount but only a small amount and as they get older … Now testosterone is a dangerous, dangerous thing to have. I don’t recommend it, those of you who have it, don’t get it. And if you’ve got some, don’t get any more.” What bullshit! This guy is a literal genetics Ph.D. saying this; this is proof that knowledge/educational attainment does not stop you from saying dumb, untrue things.
“I don’t know that this character does it, but certainly plenty of bodybuilders inject steroids—testosterone—into themselves. They damage themselves severely. Their life expectancy goes down strikingly. They die for all those male reasons. They die from violence, they die from suicide, they die from car accidents, they die from heart disease, all those things are true of males. … But even if you look at males and females in general, there is kind of a depressing picture for half of the room, I’m not sure which half.” Jones then talks about how men die at a much higher rate than women for a slew of reasons. This is his logic: Men have higher testosterone than women. Testosterone is shown to cause violence, aggression, heart disease, risk-taking, etc. Men have way more testosterone than women. Therefore testosterone is the reason why men die more than women and commit more violence than women. This is horrible logic—coming from a geneticist no less!
“Men actually—less expectedly perhaps—are much less good at dealing with parasites and infectious disease than women are. And that’s because testosterone—the male hormone—suppresses the immune system. Now the immune system fights off the parasites and we don’t do nearly as well.” There is actually some empirical data for his argument here. Back in 2013, it was shown that testosterone, gene expression, and the immune system were linked. They discovered that higher levels of testosterone prevented Module 52 genes from turning on. So higher levels of testosterone result in more Module 52 expression. Testosterone also does exert immune-suppressing effects, “increasing the severity of malaria, leishmaniasis, amebiasis, and tuberculosis, while at the same time supporting the clearance of toxoplasmosis (Bernin & Lotter, 2014; Nhamoyebonde & Leslie, 2014)” (Giefing-Kroll et al, 2015). The suppressive effects of testosterone on the immune system and how down-regulates “the systemic immune response by cell type specific effects in the context of immunological disorders.” (Trigunaite, Dimo, and Jorgensen, 2015).
The effects of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) on the immune system have not been looked into, but it has a positive effect on elderly men (Osterberg, Bernie, and Ramasamy, 2014). However, Braude, Tang-Martinez, and Taylor (1999) challenge the wisdom that testosterone is an immuno-depressor. This is Jones’ only claim that is not outright wrong; there is data out there for both positions (of course I think that Braude, Tang-Martinez and Taylor, 1999 drive a solid argument against the testosterone-causes-immuno-suppression hypothesis).
The Jones says one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard “And men, of course, are murdered much more than women. And who murders them—of course—other men. … Men murder at a much higher rate than women. … And that effect is striking—that effect is true worldwide—all over the world men, testosterone, murder at 10 times the rate of women. … So it’s a universal, it’s a biological universal, it’s clearly due to testosterone. There’s no question. The evidence is absolutely clear. So it’s a genetic phenomenon, it’s a gene for crime.” Should I be nice here and assume that whatever ‘gene’ he’s proposing that ’causes’ testosterone production actually causes the crime? Or should I take what he said at face value—that testosterone is a literal gene that causes crime? I think I’ll go with the second one.
“It’s certainly genetic, it’s also environmental. And you can’t disentangle it. You can change part of it—the environment—you can’t change the other part—the genes. And I always find it kind of odd that the public is so interested in the bit you can’t change—the genes—and is so uninterested in the bit you can—the environment.” This is wrong. Not all of it, but most of it. I don’t think that people are more interested in genes and toss aside environment—especially for testosterone. Because, as I documented yesterday, hereditarians assume that since testosterone has a heritability of around .6 then it must be mostly genetic in nature. This is wrong. As Jones said, the environment effects testosterone production too (though he didn’t go into the mechanisms).
The Left goes to the environment side—change the environment, change hormone production (this is true)—whereas the Right goes to the genes side—can’t change genes and environment is a product of genes so nothing can be done. (Oversimplified, don’t crucify me.) Both are wrong. Strong genetic determinism (gene G almost always leads to the development of trait T. (G increases the probability of T and the probability of T, given G, is 95% or greater) doesn’t make sense because a large majority of traits are moderately or weakly determined by genetics (Resnick and Vorhaus, 2006).
In sum, Jones is clueless about testosterone. He only really said one thing that is not outright wrong (but it is questionable). It doesn’t cause crime, it doesn’t cause men to murder more. The press has gotten all of these views into people’s heads because they want to demonize men—and the hormone that is largely responsible for male-ness. It’s incredible that this guy is both a geneticist, science writer and professor of genetics and still calls testosterone a ‘gene’ saying that it is responsible for ‘most of the crime’ committed. Anyone who has been reading this blog for the past year or so since I have began revising many of my main views knows how wrong this is. People really need to get a clue on testosterone and stop spreading bullshit. I know that I’ll have to keep correcting misconceptions on testosterone for a good long time (like with r/K theory) but I enjoy writing about both things so it’s not too big a deal. I just wish people would actually educated themselves on basic physiology so that the trainwreck of a video that Jones made does not get made.