The gene-centric focus of molecular genetics is usually portrayed as the product of the inevitable and impartial progress of science, but the material effects of the Second World War and its aftermath on the particular trajectory of the science of genetics are rarely considered.
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.
My name is Shea Robison. (Follow me on Twitter at @EpigeneticsGuy and see my academic profile at Academia.edu) As is well known, Darwin’s theory of evolution presented fundamental challenges to many of the prevailing core beliefs and values of the mid-1800s. These fundamental ontological challenges account for the significant scientific and ecclesiastical opposition which greeted the publication of On … Continue reading The Reception of Epigenetics: More like Mendel or Darwin?
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
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.
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) If you picked up the movie reference in the title to this post, you are likely (hopefully) asking yourself “Minority Report? And epigenetics? Really?” The answer to this question is “Yes…perhaps,” but while the reference is meant in fun, this connection between epigenetics and Minority Report raises some serious points for discussion. … Continue reading Epigenetics Minority Report Part I: Epigenetics, blame, precrime and politics
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) An article by Angela Saini recently published in The Observer (the Sunday edition sister paper of The Guardian UK) detailed some of the exciting and/or troubling implications of epigenetics. In this article Saini provides an excellent summation of the recent and not so recent developments in epigenetics. She also does a good job of acknowledging the significant amount … Continue reading Epigenetics as a Political Revolution?
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) This post began as a simple reply to a comment from Alison M to this post about epigenetics and drug discovery, but suddenly bloomed into a full-fledged post of its own. Below is Alison M's original comment in italics for purely aesthetic purposes, followed by my reply (and I think Alison is actually … Continue reading When it Comes to Epigenetics, How Much Fun is Too Much? Comment and Reply
by Shea Robison The highly political and ideological history of epigenetics discussed here and here and here helps to explain why epigenetics has only just now emerged as a signficant field of scientific research, as well as why epigenetics has such a mixed reception even today. Below are two examples of the chilling influence of world politics … Continue reading Epigenetics and Two of its Cold War Casualties