Review of The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture by Evelyn Fox Keller

Document Type

Book Review


Psychology (Pitzer)

Publication Date



Nature and nurture, Genetics, Environment


In The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, Evelyn Fox Keller explains why this debate is ongoing in spite of repeated claims that it has been resolved. She uses several sorts of evidence to demonstrate that even molecular biologists, behavior geneticists, and philosophers of science sometime appear confused about these issues. But the general public remains confused as well; traits like hair color and height are widely thought to be caused by the actions of our genes alone, but it is now clear that such beliefs reveal a mistaken understanding of how traits actually develop. Genetic and non-genetic factors really do interact to produce all of our traits, whether they are biological traits like eye color and brain structure or psychological traits like schizophrenia, shyness, or alcoholism.

Among the strengths of the book is its concise format and tight focus. Fox Keller recognizes that her subject invites discursions into topics like eugenics and how economic and political forces influence scientific pursuits, but in her text she wisely sticks close to her central question about the inseparability of nature and nurture. Her first chapter provides the historical background necessary to understand her subsequent arguments, and her final (4th) chapter offers her visions of a reasonable path forward. In between are two chapters that present the heart of her arguments, the first—Chapter 2—on the distinction between traits and trait differences, and the second—Chapter 3—on the distinction between individual organisms and populations. At a mere 84 pages (not including notes, bibliography, and index), the book is a quick read and so undoubtedly useful in graduate-level courses.

Rights Information

© 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.