The politicization of biology in the West before and during the Cold War was to play a significant role in the development of the science of genetics in the West over the subsequent fifty years, particularly in the prejudice against epigenetics—which also helps to explain the recent and seemingly sudden (re)emergence of epigenetics within the last decade or so.
The Progressive movement aimed at a fundamental reordering of the political system, while at the same time advocating for a reordering of society. Not surprisingly, these political changes also coincided fundamental changes in the prevailing understanding of biology.
The history of eugenics in early 20th century science must be addressed because of the sheer magnitude of its influence in the science and the politics of this era, its relation to the science of genetics that was to come, and because it provides such a strong example of the guiding model of this book of the inextricable connections between ideology, politics, and biology.
The convergence of political ideology and biology in the work of Waddington helps to explain the development of his conception of the epigenotype, and of epigenetics as the scientific study of this epigenotype. Likewise, this convergence of biology and ideology is equally pertinent for understanding the development of the science of genetics as we now know it, which until the last decade or so more or less excluded epigenetics from serious consideration.
This divergence between embryology and genetics appears to have occurred for legitimate scientific reasons, but also as “a struggle for power and authority.” These disciplinary differences coincided with the eventual sides taken in the Second World War. That genetics ultimately emerged as the hegemonic victor in science just as the U.S. emerged as the global hegemon after the war, is not merely coincidental.
One specific and particularly intriguing example of these differences in the content of the natural science of the 1800s due to social class and ideological inclination is the contrast in the description of natural selection by Alfred Russel Wallace with natural selection as described by Darwin.
These hopes for a better future via Lamarckian adaptations were predicated on alterations of current environments, which in turn required sweeping social and political changes. As such, Lamarckism became a fundamental aspect of many of the rationalist (i.e., secular) progressive reform movements of the mid-1800s...