Epigenetics is making it “big time,” Slate has a review up of the new book Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance. In case you don’t know epigenetics in terms of “what it means/why it matters” holds out the promise to break out of the genes → trait conveyor belt. Instead positing genes → trait → experience → genes, and so forth. Or perhaps more accurately genes → trait × experience → genes. Epigenetics has obviously long been overlooked as a biological phenomenon. But, I think the same could be said for the ubiquity of asexual reproduction and unicellularity! Life science exhibits anthropocentrism. That’s why there’s human genetics, and biological anthropology. My own concern is that epigenetics will give some a license to posit that the old models have been overthrown, when in fact in many cases they have been modified on the margin. Especially at the level of organisms which we’re concerned about; human-scaled eukaryotes. Humans most of all.
The last paragraph in the review highlights the hope, promise, and perils of epigenetics in regards to social relevance:
A reader who goes by the handle “biologist,” and happens to be a molecular geneticist by training, states more clearly what is probably close to my own position (though he is far more well informed) in the comments below. I think it’s worth promoting:
A quick follow up to my post Epigenetics arise! Adam Keiper, the editor of The New Atlantis, has graciously sent me a copy of the article, Getting Over the Code Delusion. I’ve also been told that the piece will be free to all on the website at any moment, so I invite readers to check it out when that occurs [it’s online].
First, I want to add that Mr. Keiper doesn’t believe that the Wikipedia entry for The New Atlantis is particularly accurate. William Kristol for example has never been published in The New Atlantis, while the Wikipedia entry says he has. I would add though that many of the people associated with the magazine may broadly be considered “conservative.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I too may broadly be considered “conservative”! Others associated with the publication, such as Robert Zubrin, are not known for their politics from what I know.