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The idea that a person's genes or hormones can lead to criminal behaviour has long been out of favour and provokes hostility among most criminologists. Yet startling discoveries in genetics and neurology that have prompted a biological turn in other social sciences also have led to the emergence of a subfield in criminology.

Biocriminology, or biosocial criminology, emerges from the shadows of eugenics and social Darwinism, long condemned as pseudo-scientific and vilified for stoking the German Nazi movement.

In the late 19th century, Italian "father of criminology" Cesare Lombroso claimed he could prove scientifically that criminality was inherited and criminals uncurable. For him they were evolutionary throwbacks who could be identified by "atavistic stigmata" such as beaked noses, fleshy lips and shifty eyes: features suspiciously suggestive of race. As recently as the 1960s the criminal "feeble-minded" in American asylums were forcibly sterilised.

Such precursors do not benefit biocriminology, the study of how biological and social causes of crime intersect. While the biosocial approach is only nascent, it "promises to dominate criminology and other behavioral sciences for decades to come", writes...