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Why do Scientists Still Debate About Nature and Nurture?

June 23, 2014 – If scientists agree it’s not nature versus nurture; rather, it’s the interaction of nature and nurture, why does a debate still exist?

In 2003, scientists published a groundbreaking study on the interaction of nature and nurture, showing how a particular gene and exposure to stressful life events (like losing a spouse or being fired from a job) combine to contribute to the risk of developing depression. The study was hailed in media outlets around the world as an example of moving beyond the old “nature versus nurture” debate and instead revealing how something as complex as depression arises from the interaction of nature and nurture.

In the years that followed, dozens of international teams of scientists set out to replicate that original 2003 study to see if they could find the same interaction of nature and nurture. Many of those studies came back positive, confirming the original study, but many also came back negative, negating the interaction.

“Now, in 2014, the scientists who study the nature and nurture of depression can’t agree,” said James Tabery, historian and philosopher at the University of Utah. “They argue at scientific conferences, in journal editorials and in news reports covering the controversy. How can scientists from all over the world look at the same data and results but then reach such different conclusions?” 

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Last Updated: 2/15/17