Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, June 26, 2015

Professor introduces articles on genetics, policy analysis

Jason Fletcher Jason Fletcher

La Follette School professor Jason Fletcher co-authored the introduction to two articles on policy analysis and genetics in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Fletcher and co-author Jason D. Boardman note that scholars exploring the integration of genetics and social science are exposing public policy implications. One strain of research finds that genetic variation affects policy outcomes. “Of course, policy interventions and public policies aimed at shifting smoking patterns, educational attainments, birth weight, and family income are all bread-and-butter topics in policy analysis—and if genetics adds a layer of understanding the effects of these facts, then further integrating these, data, methods, and findings could have important implications for policy analysis.” they write in the summer 2015 issue.

A second body of research is looking at how genetics affects interactions with the environment, including public policy. For example, a 2011 study shows that genetics likely affects the current population that smokes tobacco, contrary to the population of smokers in the mid-1960s. That suggestions policies that targeted smoking reduction may no longer be effective, Boardman and Fletcher note. Fletcher is a managing editor and co-editor of JPAM.

“These policy-relevant findings from related literatures have taken place, in large part, through the rapid expansions in access to genetic data in the last few decades,” Fletcher and Boardman write. “Indeed, over a very short period of time, genetic information has transitioned from being largely absent from most social science data sets, and thus requiring indirect measures of genetics (e.g., twin studies), to becoming a majority of all variables in some data sets.”

One of the two articles examines whether genetics can predict response to complex behavioral interventions. The other looks at the implications of genetics for policy formation in the context of the use of health services.

“The integration of genetics and social science theories, data and methods has offered novel findings for understanding many important social and biological processes,” Fletcher says. His research includes explorations of how interactions between genes and environments in utero nutrition and educational attainment affect cognitive development over the course of individuals’ lifetimes.

Fletcher and Boardman are international leaders in the field of blending social science and genetics research. They are organizing the 2015 Integrating Genetics and the Social Sciences conference in October, which is why JPAM selected them to introduce the special section. “The conference will showcase behavioral and molecular genetic studies that enhance demographic and social scientific inquiry,” Fletcher says.