Epigenetics and Public Policy
The Tangled Web of Science and Politics
by Shea K. Robison
April 2018, 365pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4469-0
$73, £55, 63€, A99
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4470-6
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Epigenetics dates back to before World War II but has recently reemerged at the forefront of modern biology as a valid science.

The exciting field of epigenetics offers novel and unanticipated science-based insights into human origins and development. This book presents one of the first detailed examinations of the political implications of epigenetics.

Epigenetics—the study of internal and environmental factors that affect how genes are turned on or off and how cells read those genes—is a rapidly emerging science akin to genetics that introduces a number of novel and unexpected biological explanations of human origins and development. It also poses fundamental challenges to many of the assumptions of the prevailing science of genetics. When science changes, how does public policy respond?

This book comprehensively considers the political implications of the emerging science of epigenetics in specific policy domains, addressing the intersections of epigenetics with cancer, obesity, the environment, and the law. Author Shea K. Robison carefully navigates the messy history of genetics and epigenetics in order to explore what changes in public policy might come in the age of a new scientific frontier. Readers will understand how new findings in epigenetic research and increased acceptance of epigenetic science may lead to paradigm shifts in cancer prevention and treatment, significantly different policy solutions for combating obesity, and revised statutes of limitations and laws regarding civil and corporate liability and wrongful life.


  • Focuses on the latest developments in epigenetics, a subject that is attracting increased attention among scientists and researchers yet is practically unknown among policymakers and members of the general public
  • Explains how epigenetics works, how it is related to genetics, how it differs from conventional genetics, the different kinds of epigenetic mechanisms, and the political history of genetics and epigenetics
  • Addresses the latest research on epigenetics within the context of hot public policy topics such as cancer, obesity, and the environment and identifies potential policy recommendations
Dr. Shea K. Robison currently teaches at Idaho State University and the College of Eastern Idaho. He recently completed a postdoctoral research fellowship with the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy and the Department of Public Policy at the City University of Hong Kong. His primary fields of research are political philosophy and public policy with an emphasis on the intersection of biology, morality, and politics. His current research focuses on the ethical and political implications of the emerging science of epigenetics. In addition to this book, Robison has written for Frontline Genomics magazine and published articles in the Journal of Political Science Education and Politics and the Life Sciences. He also manages the popular blog The Nexus of Epigenetics (http://nexusofepigenetics.com/) as an open forum for the discussion of the science, history, and politics of epigenetics. He can be found on Twitter at @EpigeneticsGuy.


"In Epigenetics and Public Policy: The Tangled Web of Science and Politics, Shea Robison explores the much neglected intersection of biology, political ideology, politics, and public policy. Robison first traces the highly political history of the development of epigenetics as a scientific field; then he places epigenetics and ideas about epigenetics within the context of important historical and social movements of the past one hundred years. Robison demonstrates the link between science and politics and provides fodder for discussions among and between biologists and political scientists. Finally, Robison looks at the development of epigenetics as a newer understanding of human genetics and pays particular attention to how epigenetics might transform political debates surrounding inevitable questions of nature versus nurture and the role of government, concluding with policy analysis of epigenetics and cancer and obesity policy. This is a unique and interesting book in the emerging political science subfield of politics and the life sciences; it will spur much-needed debate and further scholarship on the relationship between science and politics."—Mark K. McBeth, Professor of Political Science, Idaho State University

"For decades, scientists and politicians looked to genetics to understand ultimate explanations in biology and, extrapolating from there, socio-cultural tendencies and even political behavior. Geneticists once promised their science would detail every feature, body and mind. However, epigenetics, the upstart biology of the twenty-first century, seems to challenge the supremacy of genetics. Epigenetics is not new, though both scientists and the public are only now beginning to understand its true importance. Robison shows just how consequential epigenetics could be for our understanding of health outcomes and policy, especially regarding areas of special concern like obesity and cancer. Perhaps most significantly, he highlights just how tightly we have woven the web of reciprocal relationships between policy, ethics, laboratory practice, and biological theory. Reweaving that web around our new appreciation for epigenetics will continue to have profound consequences for health, economics, and governance."—Erik L. Peterson, Assistant Professor of the History of Science, Department of History, The University of Alabama

"Few scientific concepts are as volatile as the concept of 'epigenetics,' a sensitive term which has been much abused. Shea Robison bravely takes on this touchy subject and mixes it with politics, a sure recipe for explosion. Robison traces the largely unacknowledged and very political history of this line of science to understand why some aspect of epigenetics (such as 'inheritance of acquired traits') are still to a large extent taboo in the scientific community and why new discoveries in epigenetics remain under the radar to policy makers and to the public in general. He then examines the effects that assimilating modern ideas about epigenetics with a grander theory of inheritance could have on the political discourse: a synthesis that could affect all of us."—Oded Rechavi, Department of Neurobiology, the Life Sciences Faculty, Tel Aviv University

"This book by Shea K. Robison takes on the sprawling and amorphous field of contemporary epigenetics research. With a deep dive into the history of how the field developed, Robison gives us excellent insights into the scientific, social, and political influences on Waddington when he was proposing the epigenetic landscape model for developmental biology. Robison then shows us how today’s epigenetics research is likewise treading on contemporary social landmines such as parental and personal responsibility in disease risk. This unusual intersection of epigenetics and public policy, both past and present, is under-explored and is well-served by this scholarly and thoughtful book."—John M. Greally, Director, Center for Epigenomics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
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