Spring 2010 

Andrea Bonnicksen 815-753-7059; albcorn@niu.edu

Office hours T 100 – 1:50, T 3:30 – 4:30, W 1:15 – 2:15 in ZU 401


Some of the most innovative work in political science is being done in interdisciplinary studies poised at the intersection of politics and the life sciences. Advances in genetics, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory, among other fields, have enriched our understanding of the bases of human behavior and have pointed to creative areas of research. They have also provided material for those who examine the ethical dimensions of new technologies and who debate issues in biomedical policy. This seminar, which is a core course in politics and the life sciences, will offer an overview of issues, understandings, and research approaches in biopolitics. It will cover theories about human cooperation and conflict, insights gained from the study of non-human primates, the role of emotion in political decision making, ethical and policy implications of neuroimaging, and relations between humans and the natural world. The seminar will be of particular use to students preparing to take comprehensive exams in biopolitics, and it will be of interest to all who follow cutting edge research in politics and the life sciences. A background in the biological sciences is not a prerequisite for this course.



In addition to the required books, other articles and chapters are available on electronic reserves, which is accessible through a link on the Blackboard website. They are indicated by an ER below. Material listed as “optional” is suggestive only and is not required.


Required texts:

de Waal, Frans. Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We

            Are. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.

Hrdy, Sarah. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.

            Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Glannon, Walter. Bioethics and the Brain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Rosen, Stephen Peter. War and Human Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Wilson, E.O. The Future of Life. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.



Renowned entomologist E.O. Wilson published Sociobiology, a book laying the foundation for a science focusing on the biological (genetic) basis of behavior in humans and non-humans, in 1975. The book prompted considerable interest, but its application to humans also provoked heated critiques in the academic community, including those generated by some of Wilson’s colleagues. The readings below include descriptions of and excerpts from the critiques and from Wilson’s response to them. The recent publication of the 25th anniversary edition of Sociobiology shows the distance traveled by the now widely accepted book. Other readings include excerpts from a book by two political scientists that traces the development of the field of biopolitics in the political science discipline and excerpts from Wilson’s book on the unity of knowledge, Consilience.



Required readings:

Wade, Nicholas. “Sociobiology: Troubled Birth for a New Discipline.” Science 191:1151-55

            (March 19, 1976). ER

Allen, Elizabeth et al. “Against ‘Sociobiology.’” In Arthur L. Caplan, ed., The Sociobiology

            Debate. New York: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 259-64. ER

Wilson, Edward O. “For Sociobiology.” In Arthur L. Caplan, ed., The Sociobiology

            Debate. New York: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 265-68. ER

Smith, Daniel Scott. “Sociobiology and History.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History

            13(2):301-310 (Autumn 1982). ER

Wilson, E.O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Abacus, 2003. Available as an e-book in

            the NIU Libraries website B72 W54 1999eb, chapters 1, 2, 12 (skim Ch. 12).

Blank, Robert H., and Samuel M. Hines, Jr. Biology and Political Science. London:

            Routledge, 2001, pp. 1-15, 144-48. ER


Optional readings:

Wilson, Edward O. “Academic Vigilantism and the Political Significance of Sociobiology.”

            In Arthur L. Caplan, ed., The Sociobiology Debate. New York: Harper & Row, 1978,

            pp. 291-303. ER

Blank, Robert H., and Samuel M. Hines, Jr. Biology and Political Science. London:

            Routledge, 2001 (rest of book).

Arnhart, Larry. “The New Darwinian Naturalism in Political Theory.” American Political

            Science Review 89(2):389-400 (1995). ER



Ethology is the study of animal behavior. In the field of evolutionary biology, animal behavior yields hypotheses about the evolutionary precursors of human behavior. Frans de Waal is a primatologist whose studies of chimpanzees in the NetherlandsArnhem zoo and subsequent publication of Chimpanzee Politics enthralled readers with the behavioral complexities of primate societies. With Our Inner Ape, de Waal discusses power, sex, violence, and kindness in societies of chimpanzees and the more “gentle” bonobos, thereby helping us understand the social similarities and differences of both human and non-human primates.



de Waal, Frans. Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We

            Are. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.


Optional readings:

de Waal, Frans, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes. 25th Anniversary Edition.

            Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Maestripierii, Dario. Macachiavellian Intelligence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,




Anthropologist Sarah Hrdy’s book Mothers and Others develops the theme that shared child-rearing (“cooperative breeding”) among humans set the stage for the evolution of cooperation. The long period of infant dependency for humans was managed with help from others, which contributed to the human capacity for sharing and empathy. Other books listed below also explore the nature of altruism and cooperation in human society.


Required readings:

Hrdy, Sarah. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.

            Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.


Optional readings:

Ridley, Matt. The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. New

            York: Penguin, 1997.

de Waal, Frans. The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. New York:

            Harmony Books, 2009.

Wilson, David Sloan. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior.

            Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.



Not only has the completion of the human genome project accelerated research into the genetic bases of diseases and debilitating conditions, but it has also prompted new studies of the genetic bases of human behavior. In recent years this has included studies purporting to link genetics with political and ideological orientations. Matt Ridley’s Nature via Nurture presents a nuanced examination of the interrelated roles of nature and nurture in human behavior. Readings below also include works exploring linkages between genetics and political attitudes.


Required readings:

Ridley, Matt. Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human. New

            York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, pp. 1-6, 98-124, 249-75. ER

Hayden, Erika Check. “The Other Strand.” Nature 457:776-79 (February 12, 2009). ER

Alford, John R., Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing, “Are Political Orientations

            Genetically Transmitted?” American Political Science Review 99(2):153-67

            (2005).  ER

Fowler, James H., and Christopher T. Dawes.” Two Genes Predict Voter Turnout.”

            Journal of Politics 70(3):579-594 (July 2008). ER

Oxley, Douglas R., et al. “Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits.” Science

            321:1667-1670 (September 19, 2008). ER

Fowler, James H., and Darren Schreiber. “Biology, Politics, and the Emerging Science of

            Human Nature.” Science 322:912-914 (November 7, 2008). ER


Optional readings:

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Charney, Evan. “Genes and Ideologies.” Perspectives on Politics 6(2):299-319 (June 2008).

Hannagan, Rebecca J., and Peter K. Hatemi. “The Threat of Genes: A Comment on Evan

 Charney’s ‘Genes and Ideologies.” Perspectives on Politics 6(2):329-335 (June 2008).

Alford, John R., and John R. Hibbing. “The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of

            Political Behavior.” Perspectives on Politics 2(4):707-723 (December 2004).

Alford, John R., Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing. “Beyond Liberals and Conservatives

            to Political Genotypes and Phenotypes.” Perspectives on Politics 6(2):321-28 (June


Richerson, Peter, and Robert Boyd. Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human

            Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.






MARCH 4                  MIDTERM EXAMS DUE



Advances in our ability to take images of the brain using functional MRI and other technologies have provoked questions about neurological influences on human behavior. Philosopher Walter Glannon’s Bioethics and the Brain explores different dimensions of neuroscience along with ethical issues raised by knowledge of the brain’s physiology. He also examines policy implications of the impact of neuroscience on concepts relating to responsibility, identity, and the definition of death.


Required readings:

Glannon, Walter. Bioethics and the Brain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.


Optional readings:

Illes, Judy, ed., Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice, and Policy. Oxford:

            Oxford University Press, 2006.

Gerald Cory, The Consilient Brain: The Bioneurological Basis of Economic, Society, and

            Politics. 2nd ed. Springer, 2003.

Scan tables of contents of the American Journal of Bioethics: AJOB Neuroscience (e.g., a series of articles on functional MRIs and lie detection in January 2008 and a series of the neurobiology of addiction in January 2007).

For an overview of topics in bioethics and biopolicy, see From Birth to Death and Bench to

Clinic: The Hastings Center Bioethics Briefing Book for Journalists, Policymakers,

and Campaigns. Available at www.thehastingscenter.org/Publications/Briefingbook/Default.aspx

Steinbock, Bonnie, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Bioethics. New York: Oxford University

            Press, 2007.



Political scientist George Marcus (and colleagues) published Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment in 2000. The book drew on studies in cognitive neuroscience to develop an approach to political behavior that challenged rational choice models and instead examined the emotional underpinnings of human judgment. Readings included here illustrate how emotions underlie the development of political attitudes and behaviors.


Required readings:

Cosmides, Leda, and John Tooby, “Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer.” Available at

            http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html  ER

McDermott, Rose, “The Feeling of Rationality: The Meaning of Neuroscientific Advances for

            Political Science.” Perspectives on Politics 2(4):691-706 (December 2004). ER

Mazur, Allan and U. Mueller., “Facial Dominance.” In A. Somit and S. Peterson, eds.

            Research in Biopolitics. Vol. 4. Greenwich: JAI Press, 1996, pp. 99-111. ER

Zebrowitz, Leslie A., and Joann M. Montepare, “Appearance DOES Matter.” Science

            308:1565-66 (June 10, 2005). ER

Todorov, Alexander, et al., “Inferences of Competence from Faces Predict Election

            Outcomes.” Science 308:1623-26 (June 10, 2005). ER

Buller, David J. “Four Fallacies of Pop Evolutionary Psychology.” Scientific American

            300(1): 74-81 (January 2009). ER


Optional readings:

Marcus, George E., “The Psychology of Emotion and Politics.” In David O. Sears, Leonie

            Huddy, and Robert Jervis, eds., Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology. NewYork:

            Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 182-221. 

Newman, W. Russell, et al., eds. The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking

            and Behavior.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007

Marcus, George, The Sentimental Citizen. University Park: Pennsylvania State University

            Press, 2002. 

LeDoux, Joseph, The Emotional Brain. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, pp. 11-41.



Reflecting the above framework about the links between emotions and political behavior, Stephen  Rosen explores the emotional components of decision making in times of war. Taking a broad sweep of leaders’ behavior in war time, he hypothesizes the biological processes involved in calculating risk and in making decisions. In so doing he challenges rational choice models.


Required readings:

Rosen, Stephen Peter, War and Human Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.


Optional readings:

Johnson, Dominic D., et al. “Overconfidence in Wargames: Experimental Evidence on Expectations, Aggression, Gender and Testosterone.” Proceedings of the Royal Society 273:2513-20 (2006).



Wrangham, Richard W. “Evolution of Coalitionary Killing.” Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 42:1-30 (1999).



APRIL 15, 22                         HUMANS AND THE NATURAL WORLD 

In the Future of Life, E.O. Wilson defines biophilia as “the innate tendency to be attracted by other life forms and to affiliate with natural living systems” (p. 214). In this book Wilson explains the importance of biodiversity, and he underscores the importance of stopping the extinction of species. The book concludes with scenarios for collective action; it also sets the stage for a broader discussion of environmental ethics and policy. Additional readings from the journal Minding Nature suggest insights into how humans think about the natural world and how they can develop policy regarding future environmental challenges.


Required readings:

Wilson, E.O. The Future of Life. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.

Bond, Michael. “Risk School.” Nature 461:1189-92 (October 29, 2009). ER

Clayton, Susan. “Can Psychology Save the World?” Minding Nature 2(3):13-15 (December

            2009). ER

Brown, Peter G., and Geoffrey Garver. “Humans and Nature: The Right Relationship.”

            Minding Nature 2(1):8-16 (April 2009).

Jennings, Bruce. “Beyond the Social Contract of Consumption.” Minding Nature 2(3):16-21

            (December 2009). ER

Meine, Curt. “Conservation Science, Ethics, Policy, and Practice.” Minding Nature 2(2):34-

            36 (August 2009). ER

Jennings, Bruce. “Leopoldian Professionalism.” Minding Nature 2(2):36-37 (Aug. 2009). ER


APRIL 22, 29                         PAPERS PRESENTED




MAY 6                                    TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAMS DUE



Association for Politics and the Life Sciences www.aplsnet.org

Politics and the Life Sciences  http://politicsandthelifesciences.org

Human Behavior and Evolution Society www.hbes.com

            Evolution and Human Behavior www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/ens  

American Institute of Biological Sciences http://www.aibs.org/about-aibs

Humans and Nature http://www.humansandnature.org/category/minding-nature

            Center for Humans and Nature http://www.humansandnature.org/mission/our-vision



Grades will be based upon a seminar paper, midterm exam, final exam, and participation.

The midterm take-home exam is due March 4 and the final take-home exam is due at 3:30 p.m. May 4. Late papers and exams will be penalized l/2 grade per day late. A total of 240 points is possible:


            ITEM                                       POINTS                      DATE DUE

            Paper proposal                         --                                  February 18

            Midterm exam                         60 points                     March 4

            Final exam                               60 points                     May 6 

            Paper                                      100 points                    April 22

            Participation                            20 points


A = 216 - 240; B = 192 – 215; C = 168 – 191; D = 144 – 167



The research paper is an opportunity to develop your expertise in a particular area of biopolitical inquiry. Many of the readings in this syllabus give ideas about topics to be explored. An additional way to gather ideas is to look through recent issues of scholarly journals, including Hastings Center Report; New England Journal of Medicine; JAMA; Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics; Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, American Journal of Bioethics, and Minding Nature.  When deciding on your topic, select an intriguing but manageable research question about which you are genuinely quizzical. Pose the question in such a way that your conclusions could go either way, depending on the findings from your research.   


The paper should be 15-20 double-spaced, typed pages. You should have a clear theme that can be stated in 1-2 sentences. I will be glad to read a draft version of the paper and make suggestions. In the papers, strive for cautious conclusions reached on the basis of thoughtful evidence, careful documentation, and the raising and addressing of counter-arguments. Minimize unsubstantiated opinion. Oral presentations will be scheduled for April 22 and 29 and, if necessary, May 6, but all written papers are due in HARD COPY on the same day – April 22. Each person should limit prepared comments to 15-20 minutes, and we will have 10-15 minutes for questions and answers (a total of 30 minutes for each presenter). Please make separate notes for the presentation (do not read from the paper). You are advised to practice before hand to make sure your presentation fits within the 15-20 minutes.



Paper proposals are important road maps for your research. Please work on it carefully; a well-formulated proposal will make the research and writing easier. Proposals often have the following problems:  too general, no clear research question, conclusions already reached, sources not found or read, sources inadequately cited, signs of having been written with great haste. To avoid these problems, please write a proposal of approximately 2 pages that includes the following:


  1. Title
  2. 3-4 paragraph summary that addresses these questions: what is your research question, why is it important, how will you examine it, and what is your working hypothesis (what you expect to find)? The research question should be narrow enough to be manageable.
  3. A list of 6-8 scholarly sources that you have already found. These sources should include primary as well as secondary sources and at least some articles from referred scholarly journals. For policy papers, primary documents include bills, public laws, executive orders, and administrative regulations. They can be found, among other places, at www.access.gpo.gov and http://thomas.loc.gov
  4. These sources should be carefully cited. If you take something from the internet, include a detailed enough citation (author, title, URL) so your reader can find it easily.
  5. An outline



The midterm and final exams will be distributed one week before their due dates. It is expected that you will integrate (with APA-style citation) at least 3 different class readings into each essay. To prepare, you are encouraged to take notes on the readings. Exams must be submitted in HARD COPY.



Participation will be based on attendance (with special attention to the days the papers are presented) and a demonstration that you have read the material. In addition, 2-4 individuals will present articles or chapters from the readings each week. This invites broad discussion and it gives experience in synthesizing and articulating observations orally. Each presentation should be 10 minutes or less and we will then discuss the material. When you present, assume we have all read the material so you do not need to go into great detail summarizing the content. Instead, pose analytical questions and comments. What is the author’s purpose? What were his/her conclusions? What are the implications of the article/book/chapter for biopolitical inquiry? What are substantive contributions to everyday knowledge? What are theoretical contributions? What counterarguments would you make to the authors?



All exams and papers must be uploaded to Safe Assign (found on Blackboard). According to the NIU undergraduate catalogue, a student is considered to have committed plagiarism if, among other things, they “copy material from books, magazine, or other sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university.” Here is a useful link: http://lrs.tvu.ac.uk/find/Plagiarism_tutorial/index.html