Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Biometric and developmental gene–environment interactions: Looking back, moving forward

James Taberya1 c1

a1 University of Utah


A history of research on gene–environment interaction (G × E) is provided in this article, revealing the fact that there have actually been two distinct concepts of G × E since the very origins of this research. R. A. Fisher introduced what I call the biometric concept of G × E (G × EB), whereas Lancelot Hogben introduced what I call the developmental concept of G × E (G × ED). Much of the subsequent history of research on G × E has largely consisted of the separate legacies of these separate concepts, along with the (sometimes acrimonious) disputes that have arisen time and again when employers of each have argued over the appropriate way to conceptualize the phenomenon. With this history in place, more recent attempts to distinguish between different concepts of G × E are considered, paying particular attention to the commonly made distinction between “statistical interaction” and “interactionism,” and Michael Rutter's distinction between statistical interaction and “the biological concept of interaction.” I argue that the history of the separate legacies of G × EB and G × ED better supports Rutter's analysis of the situation and that this analysis best paves the way for an integrative relationship between the various scientists investigating the place of G × E in the etiology of complex traits.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: James Tabery, Department of Philosophy, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; E-mail:


I am indebted to a number of individuals for enlightening conversations about gene–environment interaction: Avshalom Caspi, Roderick Cooper, Gilbert Gottlieb, Terrie Moffitt, Robert Plomin, and Michael Rutter. André Ariew, Paul Griffiths, Sandra Mitchell, Robert Olby, Kathryn Plaisance, Michael Pogue-Geile, and Kenneth Schaffner read portions or earlier drafts of this work and offered invaluable feedback. Archivists at the University of Adelaide Library were helpful in making available to me correspondence between R. A. Fisher and Lancelot Hogben, along with the image of Fisher. Leslie Hogben kindly permitted me to quote from the letters written by her grandfather. Finally, versions of this article were presented at the History of Science Society's annual meeting (November 2005, Minneapolis, MN); the British Society for the History of Science's annual meeting (July 2005, Leeds, UK); the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology's biannual meeting (July 2005, Guelph, Canada); the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science's annual meeting (May 2005, London, Canada); and Beyond Dichotomies, Across Boundaries (April 2005, Minneapolis, MN). Conversations with a number of conference participants helped me to clarify ideas on the topic. Any errors that remain are my own.