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Rocking the foundations of biology and politics

A major revolution is occurring in evolutionary biology. In this voices from Oxford video the President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences, Professor Denis Noble, explains what is happening and why it is set to change the nature of biology and of the importance of physiology to that change. The lecture was given to a general audience at a major international Congress held in Suzhou China.

The implications of the change extend far beyond biology itself. This video will interest economists, business leaders, politicians and others who deal with the important social questions that have been raised by ideas in evolutionary biology ever since Darwin wrote his Origin of Species.

This will change your view of genes and the gene-centred view of biology, sociology and politics. Tragically for decades this 'selfish gene' view, that we are 'prisoners' of our genetics, genetic determinism has bedevilled biological thinking and influenced sociological thought. The idea that society 'doesn't exist', or that where it does it is simply an aggregate of  individual, 'self-interested behaviours' has been at the centre of economic and political thought for almost half a century.

It had its zenith with Thatcher's famous statement that "there is no such thing as society." I would also argue that it was also central to New Labour's approach. We stopped seeking social solutions to social problems. Why? Because we stopped believing in 'social problems'. Problems were to do with individuals behaving badly. 

It is the same thought structure that leads to the stereotype of 'welfare scroungers' and 'welfare dependency' rather than addressing the real social and economic issues.

What biology is teaching us now is that environmentally acquired characteristics can be inherited. In other words, the environment matters and that includes the social environment. It affects our health and the health of our offspring. If we are to address health issues we should stop simply seeking a gene-centred magic bullet, but consider social, preventative solutions.

Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology by Denis Noble is published as an article in Experimental Physiology.

You may also be interested in my article: Hilary and Steven Rose lift the lid on modern biomedical science

Ray Noble is News Editor for Voices from Oxford

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