Politics in Biology

Abstract

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

References

Akerlof GA and Shiller RJ (2009) Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Aristotle and Barnes J (1984) The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Barabasi AL (2009) Scale‐free networks: a decade and beyond. Science 325(5939): 412–413.

Boyd B (2009) On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Boyd R and Richerson PJ (2004) The Origin and Evolution of Cultures. New York: Oxford University Press.

Browne EJ (1995) Charles Darwin: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Distributed by Random House.

Browne J (2002) Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. The Origin and After – The Years of fame. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Carroll SB, Grenier JK and Weatherbee S (2005) From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and The Evolution of Animal Design. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Cassirer E (1944) An Essay on Man; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Human Culture. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

Collins JP and Crump ML (2009) Extinction in Our Times: Global Amphibian Decline. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davidson EH (2006) The Regulatory Genome: Gene Regulatory Networks in Development and Evolution. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

Dawkins R (2006) The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Desmond AJ and Moore JR (1991) Darwin. London: Viking.

Foucault M (1973) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. New York: Pantheon Books.

Gazzaniga MS (2008) Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique. New York: Ecco Press.

Gilbert SF and Epel D (2009) Ecological Developmental Biology: Integrating Epigenetics, Medicine, and Eevolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Gluckman PD, Beedle A and Hanson M (2009) Principles of Evolutionary Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hauser MD (2006) Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. New York: Ecco Press.

Holland JH (1992) Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems: An Introductory Analysis with Applications to Biology, Control, and Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hull DL (1988) Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Koepsell DR (2009) Who Owns You?: The Corporate Gold‐rush to Patent Your Genes. Malden, MA: Wiley‐Blackwell.

Krimsky S (1982) Genetic Alchemy: The Social History of the Recombinant DNA Controversy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Landecker H (2007) Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lanza RP (2006) Essentials of Stem Cell Biology. Amsterdam, MA: Elsevier/Academic Press.

Nesse RM and Williams GC (1994) Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. New York: Times Books.

Paul DB (1995) Controlling Human Heredity, 1865 to the Present. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Pauly PJ (1987) Controlling Life: Jacques Loeb and the Engineering Ideal in Biology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rabinow P (1996) Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Rabinow P (1999) French DNA: Trouble in Purgatory. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Richards RJ (2008) The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle Over Evolutionary Thought. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Richards RJ (2009) Myth: That Darwin and Haeckel were complicit in Nazi biology. In: Numbers RL (ed.) Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, pp. 170–177. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stearns SC and Koella JC (2008) Evolution in Health and Disease. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stokes DE (1997) Pasteur's Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Tomasello M (2008) Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vespignani A (2009) Predicting the behavior of techno‐social systems. Science 325(5939): 425–428.

Wilson EO (1975) Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Wilson EO (1998) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Thorndike, ME: Thorndike Press.

Further Reading

Bannister RC (1979) Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo‐American Social Thought. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Buss DM (1999) Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Cavalli‐Sforza LL (2000) Genes, Peoples, and Languages. New York: North Point Press.

Diamond JM (1997) Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton.

Diamond JM (2005) Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking.

Richerson PJ and Boyd R (2005) Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Ruse M (1998) Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Sloterdijk P (2005) Im Weltinneraum des Kapitals. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp.

Vermeij GJ (2004) Nature: An Economic History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Waal FBMD (1996) Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
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]