Reviewed by Annalee Newitz
It's a prize that scientists have sought since the early nineteenth century: a biological marker that predicts violent behavior in humans. In the 1830s, phrenologists believed head bumps could reveal a criminal personality -- often, prostitutes and the poor were said to have bumps that marked them as deviants from birth. But today, it seems this pursuit may have moved beyond the realm of pseudoscience.
Thanks to recent discoveries, we have evidence that the genes of abused children are marked by the experience. Over time, these effects leave them prone to depression and make it harder for them to control their violent impulses. Could we be on the cusp of discovering a scientific approach to a social problem? In an essay for Matter magazine, former war correspondent Scott C. Johnson suggests that we are. Unfortunately, Johnson fails spectacularly to explain the complexity of this problem, and winds up telling a story that distorts both the science and the reality of abuse in many people's lives.