by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) As discussed repeatedly on this blog, epigenetics is a rapidly emerging field of research akin to genetics but with some substantial differences. In addition to the differences in the sciences of genetics and epigenetics—which differences are more a function of the ontological assumptions of each than the actual science—there are significant differences in … Continue reading The Trans-ideological Potential of Epigenetics
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) The importance of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and of Lamarckism in the contemporary debates about epigenetics and genetics is difficult to overstate, primarily because one of the most common epithets used against contemporary epigenetics is that it is ‘Lamarckian’, which distinction is deemed sufficient to dismiss any subsequent discussion. As discussed here, such references demonstrate fundamental misunderstandings of … Continue reading The History of Epigenetics and the Science of Social Progress
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) While there is a growing acceptance of epigenetics, there is still a lot of skepticism from within conventional genetics about the claims emerging from epigenetics. The most common rejoinders against the significance of epigenetics are either that the findings of epigenetics are novel but inconsequential, or that epigenetics has always been an accepted … Continue reading Epigenetics and the geopolitical history of the 20th century
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) As discussed in a previous post and in this conference paper on epigenetics and the causal narratives of obesity, there are important congruencies between causal narratives (i.e., stories about why things do or do not happen) and ideology. These congruencies explain why ideological conservatives tend to prefer narratives of individual responsibility while liberals prefer … Continue reading Epigenetics and the Ideology of ‘Nature’ versus ‘Nurture’
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) In a previous paper I discuss at length the more immediate practical political implications of epigenetics via its impact on the two dominant causal narratives in obesity policy: the salience of individual responsibility versus the influence of environmental or institutional factors. In particular I detail how epigenetics complicates the alleged opposition of these two narratives by incorporating … Continue reading Epigenetics and Ideology
The scientific findings emerging from epigenetics have significant implications for policy, but the philosophical challenges presented by epigenetics are even more profound than just these practical policy implications. In particular, epigenetics challenges the very foundations upon which our contemporary ethics and politics are based. As the science from epigenetics is just now emerging as a challenge to many aspects of conventional genetics, the social and political effects of epigenetics are just now emerging as well. My project is to anticipate the nature of the ethical and political effects of epigenetics via the model presented below.
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) In this post and others, the historical, cultural and philosophical underpinnings of the scientific assumptions of genetics are discussed. That the assumptions of genetics are contingent on these historical and philosophical precedents likely seems trivial to laypersons and nonsensical to geneticists. Genetics, as a product of modern science, exhibits the patina of scientific … Continue reading Epigenetics, ethics and the evolution of science
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) (See also A Brief History of Epigenetics: C.H. Waddington) See updated posts on Lamarck here, as excerpts from my forthcoming book: Lamarck’s Actual Lamarckism (or How Contemporary Epigenetics is not Lamarckian) Lamarckism and the Biology of Discontent in the 1800s The Unfortunate Legacy of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck Jean-Baptiste Lamarck Epigenetics is just now emerging into the scientific and public awareness … Continue reading A Brief History of Epigenetics: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
My working theory in this project is that many of the scientific criticisms of epigenetics are ultimately political and ethical in origin, and that these scientific disagreements will not be resolved until these underlying ethical complications from epigenetics are at least acknowledged and addressed. Elaborating these ethical challenges from epigenetics through an analysis of fundamental concepts in political philosophy is the primary purpose of this post.
Because epigenetic marks are distinct from genetic mutations in a number of fundamental ways “the threshold issue will be whether, as a matter of ethics and law, it is appropriate to engage in ‘epigenetic exceptionalism.’” Given the unique scientific challenges raised by epigenetics, such as the possibilities for rapid adaptation and transgenerational inheritance, the configuration of the liberties and the resulting ethics recommended from epigenetics may not be compatible with conventional politics; then again, perhaps they are. What the politics of epigenetics are or may become is yet to be seen, but elaborating the different possibilities at this early stage of the emergence of epigenetics is my project.