EMBO Reports Paper Online
My paper "'Positive Biology' as a New Paradigm for the Medical Sciences" is now published in the advance online section (for Jan. 27) of Nature's EMBO Reports.
Most basic and applied research in the medical sciences today is premised upon the presumption that well-ordered science requires us to prioritize what one can call “negative biology”. Negative biology is the intellectual framework that presumes the most important question to answer is- what causes pathology? Positive biology, by contrast, focuses on a different set of questions and priorities. Rather than making disease the central focus of our intellectual efforts and financial investments, positive biology seeks instead to understand exemplar examples of health and happiness. Understanding why some (rare) individuals can live a century of disease-free life, or why some individuals enjoy more well-being (e.g. positive subjective experience, optimism, perseverance, high talent) or possess greater memory or resilience than the average person could lead to new knowledge that permits us to significantly expand the opportunities today’s populations have for health and happiness.
Most of today’s medical research could be called ‘negative biology’. It is conducted in an intellectual framework that presumes that the most important question to answer is: what causes pathology? Disease is its central focus and this explains why medical research and research funding is mainly concerned with trying to understand, prevent and treat specific diseases. The design of the US National Institutes of Health, which is largely composed of individual institutes dedicated to specific diseases such as cancer, mental illness or infectious diseases, reflects this prevalence of pathology-oriented negative biology.
Positive biology, by contrast, focuses on a different set of questions and priorities. Rather than making pathology and disease the central focus of intellectual efforts and financial investments, positive biology seeks to understand positive phenotypes: why do some individuals live more than a century without ever suffering from the chronic diseases that afflict most humans much earlier in their lives? Why are some individuals more happy, optimistic, talented, or have a better memory than most people? The paradigm of positive biology is based on the insight that the process of evolution by natural selection does not create a perfect organism in terms of life expectancy, resistance to disease or other abilities.