disorder, and predictions that scientists will unravel the genetic mysteries of most conditions in only a few more years abound, often coupled with enormous promises for the prevention and cure of disease in the near future. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that many individuals have a very deterministic perception of the action of genes and think that there is a gene for every condition, with the condition being fully and accurately determined by this gene, independently of anything else. Geneticists are not blameless for this situation, as they often do not correct such views, unintentionally promote them by using sloppy terminology consistent with such opinions, or even intentionally further them by making exaggerated claims about the future impact of their area of research, perhaps in an effort to improve funding. It is in this environment that many researchers in other fields have begun thinking about whether they should and can incorporate gene discovery into their own studies.
In this chapter, I comment on the utility of large-scale social science surveys for the discovery and validation of genes influencing conditions of interest to social scientists. I start with a brief overview of the nature of so-called complex traits and highlight some of the concepts behind study designs that are being used for the identification of genes. I attempt to contrast the traits for which gene-mapping studies have succeeded and the designs of gene discovery experiments to social science surveys, with a focus of the suitability of the latter for gene identification. I close with a few remarks on how such surveys may be useful for gene discovery and validation from my perspective.
There is no accepted definition of what constitutes a so-called complex or multifactorial trait. The term is generally used to denote the opposite of a so-called Mendelian trait, in which a defect in a gene by itself can cause a specific phenotype (the focus is often on a disease). In contrast, the relationship between genotype and phenotype is not as deterministic in complex traits, for which individual genetic variants merely modulate the probability of presenting a particular phenotype.
For many traits, we have absolutely no idea about the identity of environmental factors and genes whose variants account for some of the variability in the phenotype in the population, and the designation of a trait as complex simply acknowledges the belief—based on common sense, failed gene mapping attempts, analogies with similar traits about which we have a better understanding, or evolutionary considerations—that a multitude of genetic and environmental factors must influence the phenotype. It may well turn out that a trait is not as complicated as first assumed, such as when gene mapping studies readily succeed in pinpointing the