The Emergence of ‘Biopolicy’

iStock-494237829-newtons-cradleDr. Steven A. Peterson considers the impact of biological factors in the formulation of policy.

Political scientists and policy scholars have long explored the linkage between the life sciences and policy. One might term research focusing on this as “biopolicy,” – the relevance for biology and the life sciences for policy. Scholars in abundance have looked at the many aspects of environmental policy over the past fifty years. Others have considered the extent to which prostitution laws are doomed to fail because of humans’ drive for reproduction. Another niche has been how information can be used to enhance medical care and the policy implications thereof. Some articles of greater vintage spoke of the potential dangers of sex pre-selection and genetic intervention while the foetus develops.

And, of course, there are popular portrayals that address implications of the life sciences. In Jurassic Park, scientists create a version of several dinosaur species (having to take some shortcuts in the process) and then create a park, something like a Disneyland of dinosaurs. The end result plays out in tragic ways, indicating the need to consider policy implications of using such technology.

The policy implications of knowledge from the life sciences is critical for us to understand in policy making

In the Handbook of Biology and Politics, nine chapters consider different applications of biology to policy. One chapter, Policy Implications of Biosocial Research, authored by Danielle Boisvert and Jamie Vaske, argues that knowledge from such disparate areas as genetics, neurophysiology, pharmacology, nutrition, and prenatal intervention can all be called upon to reduce antisocial behaviours. Roger Masters has written many essays showing a path between toxic chemicals and deficits in learning, greater substance abuse, and a tendency toward violent crime. He introduces data indicating a strong statistical tie between toxic substances such as manganese, lead, and silicofluorides — which, unhappily, can occur in more than desirable amounts in the environment. He argues that we need to use this knowledge to reduce negative effects from these toxins.

Currently, there is considerable debate about global warning. Some are unconvinced that this is a “real” problem. Others are quite concerned that this could present a major threat to humans in the future. Kent Butts speaks of the relevance of environmental security for national and homeland security. Military leaders are concerned about the possibility of environmental problems creating instability in international relations.

Amy Fletcher takes a very different view of the implications of biology for policy. One of her focal points is de-extinction, the ability to bring extinct animals back to life. She notes a number of possibilities that have been discussed, such as the woolly mammoth. The chapter notes the many questions that arise from taking de-extinction seriously.

The Handbook of Biology and Politics explores these and many other issues. The policy implications of knowledge from the life sciences is critical for us to understand in policy making.

Dr. Steven A. Peterson is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg, US.

Handbook of Biology and Politics edited by Steven A. Peterson and Albert Somit is out now.
Read Chapter 1 – What is Biopolitics? free on Elgaronline

Also on ElgarBlog:
The Promise of the Life Sciences in Public Administration – Joseph Losco, author of Chapter 3, explores the impact of life science findings for generating a more accurate portrait of human action – and the consequences for public administration.

Why Does Biology Matter in Political Science? Co-author Albert Somit presents the case for a “more biologically oriented” political science.

, , , , ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.


  1. The Promise of the Life Sciences in Public AdministrationElgarBlog from Edward Elgar Publishing - June 8, 2017

    […] The Emergence of ‘Biopolicy’, Dr. Steven A. Peterson considers the impact of biological factors in  the formulation of policy. […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: