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In the United States, women have long held the right to vote and can participate fully in the political process, and yet they are underrepresented at all levels of elected office. Worldwide, men's dominance in the realm of politics has also been the norm. To date, scholars have focused on supply-side and demand-side explanations of women's underrepresentation but differences in how men and women assess electoral risk (the risk involved in seeking political office) are not fully explained. To fill this gap, I explore how evolutionary theory offers insights into gendered differences in political ambition and the evaluation of electoral risk. Using the framework of life-history theory, I hypothesize that both cognitive and environmental factors in human evolution, particularly as they relate to sexual selection and social roles, have shaped the psychology of ambition in gendered ways affecting contemporary politics. Cognitive risk-assessment mechanisms evolving in the hominid line came to be expressed differently in females and males, in women and men. These gendered expressions plausibly reflect differentiable environmental pressures in the past and may help explain behaviors in and barriers to women’s electoral political activity in the present. If so, then the success of efforts to increase such activity — or, regressively, to suppress it — may be better understood.
Background. Reproductive technologies allow women to embrace or forgo motherhood, but a woman's ability to make autonomous reproductive choices depends on access to these technologies. In the United States, public policies — laws, regulations, appropriations, and rulings — have either broadened or narrowed this access.
Question. Have U.S. public policies affecting reproductive choices conformed to attitudinal distinctions about motherhood itself?
Methods. I identified policies covering infertility, contraception, and abortion and examined them contextually within the Ingram-Schneider social construction framework.
Findings. Women's choices fell within social construction quadrants as being positively portrayed and powerful; negatively portrayed but powerful; positively portrayed but powerless; and negatively portrayed and powerless. Married heterosexual women embracing motherhood were likely to be viewed positively and to reap benefits. Women forgoing motherhood, poor women, and women seeking to form nontraditional families were likely to be viewed negatively and to bear burdens; critical among these burdens was restriction of access to technologies that could be used to support a decision to avoid motherhood or to achieve motherhood through nontraditional methods.
Conclusion. Yes, U.S. public policies affecting reproductive choices have conformed to attitudinal distinctions about motherhood itself. These policies may also have altered those choices.
Background. Epigenetics, which is just beginning to attract public attention and policy discussion, challenges conventional understanding of gene-environment interaction and intergenerational inheritance and perhaps much more besides.
Question. Does epigenetics challenge modern political ideologies?
Methods. I analyzed the narratives of obesity and epigenetics recently published in the more liberal New York Times and the more conservative Wall Street Journal. For the years 2010 through 2014, 50 articles on obesity and 29 articles on epigenetics were identified, and elements in their causal narratives were quantitatively analyzed using a well described narrative policy framework.
Findings. The narratives on obesity aligned with the two newspapers' reputed ideologies. However, the narratives on epigenetics aligned with neither ideology but freely mixed liberal and conservative elements.
Discussion. This small study may serve as a starting point for broader studies of epigenetics as it comes to affect political ideologies and, in turn, public policies. The narrative mix reported here could yet prove vulnerable to ideological capture, or, more optimistically, could portend the emergence of a “third-way” narrative using epigenetics to question atomistic individualism and allowing for less divisiveness in public-health domains such as obesity.
Advances in embryology, genetics, and regenerative medicine regularly attract attention from scientists, scholars, journalists, and policymakers, yet implications of these advances may be broader than commonly supposed. Laboratories culturing human embryos, editing human genes, and creating human-animal chimeras have been working along lines that are now becoming intertwined. Embryogenic methods are weaving traditional in vivo and in vitro distinctions into a new“in vivitro” (in life in glass) fabric. These and other methods known to be in use or thought to be in development promise soon to bring society to startling choices and discomfiting predicaments, all in a global effort to supply reliably rejuvenating stem cells, to grow immunologically non-provocative replacement organs, and to prevent, treat, cure, or even someday eradicate diseases having genetic or epigenetic mechanisms. With humanity's human-engineering era now begun, procedural prohibitions, funding restrictions, institutional controls, and transparency rules are proving ineffective, and business incentives are migrating into the most basic life-sciences inquiries, wherein lie huge biomedical potentials and bioethical risks. Rights, health, and heritage are coming into play with bioethical presumptions and formal protections urgently needing reassessment.
Within the next two decades, the elderly population in the United States will reach its zenith, comprising 73 million individuals, 20 percent of the nation, the baby boomers' final surge. The process of their dying may become contentious. Should policymakers and bioethicists be satisfied with our current approach to dying, or should they begin now to reconceptualize it? We distill end-of-life discussions in the bioethics literature and popular press, paying particular attention to physician-assisted suicide and its uptake where legal. Evidence so far indicates that few of the dying opt for this alternative, suggesting that its role in assuring “death with dignity” cannot be, as may have been hoped, a leading one. The end-of-life literature on the whole lends credence to the fear that most of the dying, along with their families and physicians, will muddle through a morass of uncoordinated options, with futile medical intervention the most prominent outcome — despite more palliative strategies, such as home hospice care, being favorably described. We found no reason to recommend persistence in our current approach to dying and found good reason to urge early, conscientious, and thoroughgoing reconceptualization in policy and practice as well as in theory.
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