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.
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...
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck has had as much an impact on the political history of the modern world as any biologist, perhaps save Darwin—but, notably, much of this impact is based on misunderstandings and misinterpretations of Lamarck’s actual theory of evolution.
While there are aspects of Lamarckism and contemporary epigenetics which do pertain to each other, there are substantial differences between them. Contemporary epigenetics is also not inconsistent with Darwinian natural selection, and is properly a subset of conventional genetics. Thus, the guilt-by-association intended by this association of epigenetics with Lamarckism is both misleading and not an accurate description of either.
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) (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
by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy) In the history of modern Western evolutionary theory, the first use of the term epigenetics is generally attributed to Conrad Waddington in an article published in 1942. In this article Waddington used epigenetics as the name for the study of the causal mechanisms through which genes bring about their phenotypic effects and … Continue reading History, Part I: A Brief History of Epigenetics