This article assesses the potential impact of current genomics research on human rights against the backdrop of the eugenics movement in the English-speaking world during first third of the twentieth century, The echo of eugenic interventions in societies far beyond Nazi Germany reverberates in the ethical debates triggered by the potential inherent in recent molecular biological developments. Mandatory eugenic restrictions of reproductive freedom seem less likely in countries committed to civil liberties than under authoritarian governments. More likely, consumer choice might (...) sustain a trend towards voluntary “improvement” of biological inheritance in the future. However, the increasing availability of genetic information and the patenting of human genes may lead, respectively, to a loss of reproductive autonomy and a reduction in equitable access to medical care; hence new regulations and/or legislation may be required to ensure appropriate control over genetic information and use of intellectual property rights in human genes. (shrink)
Since the 1970s, a sea change has marked the politics of science in the United States. In the quarter century after World War II, a broad, bipartisan consensus prevailed on the promotion and uses of science in American society: first, that the federal government should support research and training in technically meritorious fields of likely long-term benefit to national defense, the economy, and health; second, that the benefits of this investment should be developed into useful products by the private sector; (...) and that public policy in technically related areas should be shaped by drawing on highly qualified, non-partisan expertise. Since the 1970s, that bipartisan consensus has corroded, ushering in a New Politics of Science in the U.S. Ideological restrictions, largely from the political right, have prohibited or severely constricted federal support of research in areas such as human therapeutic cloning, human stem cells, in vitro fertilization, and human embryo research. The devotion to privatization and entrepreneurship in the name of high technology competitiveness has, in areas such as biotechnology, blurred the lines both intellectually and institutionally between academia and industry, with questionable consequences for the public interest. And nonpartisanship in the scientific advisory system has been succeeded by unashamed partisanship, fueled by the mobilization of expertise on the right in issues ranging from the teaching of evolution in the schools to global warming. The reasons for this sea change can be found in the larger rightward shift over the period on both the foreign and domestic fronts. (shrink)
Book reviewed in this article: The Gene Factory. By John Elkington. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. By Daniel J. Kevles. Broken Code: The Exploitation of DNA. By Marc Lappé.
My first book, The Physicists, was conceived when I. I. Rabi visited Princeton in 1961–1962 as a Shreve Fellow in the History Department. Some two years earlier C. P. Snow had published his influential provocation, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, and the academic world was abuzz with initiatives aimed at achieving better literacy in science among liberal arts majors. Rabi was a Nobel laureate in physics at Columbia University and his visit was one of Princeton's efforts to this (...) end. It had been arranged by my mentor, Eric F. Goldman, a historian of modern America who had gotten to know Rabi through their mutual engagement with current issues in American democracy. (shrink)