Association for Politics and the Life Sciences


Our History: Founded in 1980

The history of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences as a "learned society" (or "scholarly association") has been shaped by both intellectual and political forces within academe. The intellectual content cultivated by the APLS was shaped in the 1960s and 1970s, as brain sciences, ethology, sociobiology reshaped orthodoxy in psychology, sociology, philosophy, and political science. By the 1980s, members of well-established scholarly associations founded new organizations devoted to assimilating evolutionary biology into their respective disciplines. As a result, exciting new interdisciplinary lines of inquiry, organizations, educational programs, and journals were created. As the older "disciplinary" institutions and newer "interdisciplinary" associations competed for scholarly prestige, membership, and financial resources, some of these newer scholarly associations survived by remaining affiliated with the older, well-established associations while others became independent, freestanding institutions.

In 1973, the International Political Science Association (IPSA) became the first scholarly organization to recognize the discipline known as "biopolitics."Albert Somit founded IPSA’s Research Committee #12 (Biology and Politics), which continues to provide an international forum for cutting-edge research on the biological foundations of political behavior.

Beginning in 1980, amidst growing interest in biopolitics the United States, the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences was organized by Thomas Wiegele from Nortern Illinois University along with a coterie of likeminded "founders" including: Carol Barner-Barry, Lynton K. Caldwell, Peter Corning, Samuel Hines, Fred Kort, Roger Masters, Steven Peterson, Glendon Schubert, James Schubert, Albert Somit, John Wahlke, and Meredith Watts. Its stated purpose was to "advance interest in and encourage scholarship about biopolitics." Realization of this goal entailed a two pronged approach: First, to "establish biopolitics as a recognized field within political science." And second, to "integrate biologically-based research methods into mainstream political science." In 1981, APLS became institutionalized as an organized section of the American Political Science Association (APSA), and two years later the first issue of its journal Politics and the Life Sciences was published. The late Thomas C. Wiegele was the founding executive director of APLS and editor of PLS.

Other evolutionarily-based scholarly associations were also founded in the 1980s. In 1988, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) was founded, and nine years later the first edition of its journal Evolution and Human Behavior was published. Even today, many APLS members are also associated with these and other likeminded groups of scholars, such as the International Society For Human Ethology (ISHE).

The first independent meeting of the APLS was held September 3-6, 1998 in Boston with Edward O. Wilson providing the keynote address. In 1999, the second meeting was held in Atlanta with Frans de Waal as keynote. Subsequent meetings were held in: Washington D.C; Atlanta; Charleston; Montreal, Chicago; Philadelphia; Bloomington, Indiana; and, Cincinnati.

Since its founding APLS has become increasingly international and even more interdisciplinary. Between 1981 and 1985, APLS’s interdisciplinary focus and its collegial reputation attracted a growing number of scholars from disciplines other than political science, and the association’s scholarly interests diversified. As membership grew, the limited number of panels afforded APLS at APSA meetings made it difficult for the association to accommodate the scholarly interests of its growing membership. Moreover, as APLS became increasingly interdisciplinary and diverse, co-membership in APSA became problematic. In 1985, APLS and PLS became independent, freestanding scholarly institutions.

In 1991, Gary R. Johnson (Lake Superior State University) was elected executive director of APLS and editor of PLS. Under Johnson’s leadership the organization and its journal became more international and increasingly interdisciplinary. Over the years, other prominent speakers at APLS meetings have included James Q. Wilson, Matt Ridley, Arthur Caplan, Napolean Chagnon, Elinor Ostrom, Francis Fukuyama, Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Rosina Bierbaum, Lionel Tiger, Richard Wrangham, John Orbell, Margo Wilson, Martin Daly, Gary Marcus, Patricia Gowaty, Walter Rosenbaum, and Owen Jones, among others.

In 2002, David Goetze (Utah State University) was elected executive director of APLS and Robert H. Sprinkle (University of Maryland) took over as editor of PLS. Despite institutional "growing pains," the stature of both APLS and PLS continued to grow. The financial stability of both the organization and the journal was enhanced when PLS became affiliated with BioOne, a prominent not-for-profit journal aggregator, as an inaugural component of its second collection, BioOne.2, which is accessible online in subscribing libraries worldwide.

In 2008, Erik Bucy (Texas Tech University) took over as editor of PLS and new members of the executive council were elected. Although, the APLS remains committed to its original evolutionary mandate, its interdisciplinary focus has led to an expansion of that mandate to include broad-based research on political behavior, public policy, and ethics. Since 1985, research panels, roundtable discussions, and plenary and keynote lectures at APLS meetings have become more interdisciplinary and diverse. Politics and the Life Sciences has experienced a similar evolutionary curve. Over the years, APLS has maintained its collegial atmosphere while accommodating a wide range of interdisciplinary research topics including: warfare, terrorism, bioterrorism, health care, stem cell research, cloning, life-extension, environmentalism, research ethics, bioethics, nanotechnology, and evolutionary ethics.

Today the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences recognizes the immense social and political implications wrought by revolutionary changes in biology. Recent developments in genetics, cognitive neuroscience, and evolutionary theory will inevitably have a huge impact on government decisions as well as the methods of political analysis. Today public policy decisions that relate to the "war on terrorism," health care policy, and environmental policy require input from the life sciences. Ignoring these sciences for ideological reasons will put our students at risk of not knowing how to deal with crucial questions that they will confront in their private lives. For future generations, the Socratic injunction to "know thyself" will imply input from the life sciences.

APLS welcomes all those interested in exploring the intersection between politics and the life sciences; especially in the areas of: political behavior, public policy, and ethics. The APLS welcomes not only those who hope to further advance research and teaching in these vital new areas, but also those engaged in public policy.


  • Caldwell, L.K. (1992). "Thomas Wiegele: Prominent Founder." Politics and the Life Sciences 11:95-96
  • Johnson, Gary R. (1992) "Politics and the Life Science: A Journal, A Mission, A Vision." Politics and the Life Sciences 11:3-4
  • Johnson, Gary R. (2001) "Politics and the Life Sciences: A Second Decade and a Continuing Mission." Politics and the Life Sciences 20: 109-118
  • Somit A., Steven A. Peterson. (1998) "Biopolitics After Three Decades: A Balance Sheet." British Journal of Political Science. 28: 555–571
  • Somit, Albert and Steven A. Peterson (2001) "Darwinism, Dominance, and Democracy: A Reaffirmation" Politics and the Life Sciences 20 (2) (September 2001)
  • Wahlke, John C., "Pre-Behaviorism in Political Science" The American Political Science Review. vol. 73 (1979) pp. 9-31

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