Politics in Biology


The relationship between biology and politics is manifold, ranging from politics within biology and implications of politics for biological research to intrinsic political dimensions of biological insights. Politics within biology plays out in the everyday practice of academic and applied science and has recently reached a new dimension in the context of priority and patent disputes, whereas political interventions in form of regulatory and funding policies have become major factors in shaping biological research. Here we focus on how the results of biology, and specifically modern evolutionary biology and its conceptual extensions, have shaped discussions in economics, medicine and public health and anthropology. We argue that these recent developments in the life sciences have enormous conceptual and practical implications for human society and politics as they contribute to a substantial reevaluation of some deeply entrenched conceptions about human nature and the foundations of society.

Key concepts:

  • Politics and biology interact in complex ways that go beyond a simple one directional causal relationship.

  • Biological research is in part driven by internal political motivations and aspirations.

  • The political world affects biological research by multiple means, including through laws and regulations, funding policies and financial incentives such as patents.

  • Biological research often responds to political demands, such as for translational research, especially in the biomedical sciences.

  • Biological insights have, for a long time, influenced conceptions of human nature and also of society.

  • Humans can usefully be characterized as both biological and cultural beings.

  • Evolutionary theory has had a significant impact on our understanding of humanness and society.

  • Today an extended evolutionary theory is rapidly transforming such areas as economics, medicine and public health and anthropology, which, in turn, have substantial political implications for the life sciences themselves.

Keywords: evolution; politics; evolutionary psychology; evolutionary medicine; economics; anthropology


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Laubichler, Manfred D, and Maienschein, Jane(Jan 2010) Politics in Biology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003354]