Our fates lie in our genes and not in the stars, said James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. But Watson could not have predicted the scale of the industry now dedicated to this new frontier. Since the launch of the multibillion-dollar Human Genome Project, the biosciences have promised miracle cures and radical new ways of understanding who we are. But where is the new world we were promised?
In Genes, Cells and Brains, feminist sociologist Hilary Rose and neuroscientist Steven Rose take on the bioscience industry and its claims. Examining the establishment of biobanks, the rivalries between public and private genesequencers, and the rise of stem cell research, they ask why the promised cornucopia of health benefits has failed to emerge and reveal the questionable enterprise that has grown out of bioethics. The human body is becoming a commodity, and the unfulfilled promises of the science behind this revolution suggest profound failings in genomics itself.
Steven Rose, co-author of Genes, Cells and Brains: The Promethean Promises of the New Biology, is joined by philosopher Julian Baggini and leading geneticists Caroline Relton and Adrian Bird to debate whether we are on the edge of a radical new account of life and evolution.
The debate centers on the potential of the new science of epigenetics to provide such an alternative account. Are we moving away from the notion that DNA provides the definitive blueprint for life?
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The discussion is part of the Philosophy for our Times series, hosted by The Institute of Arts and Ideas, a collection of cutting edge debates and talks from prominent thinkers. You can see all of video content from the Institute here.
We admittedly live in times plagued by an obsession with genetic manipulation of both ourselves and our species’ evolutionary path. Hilary and Steven Rose’s latest book, Genes, Cells and Brains, has stirred up a debate around the scientific validity and the moral implications of these efforts. Here is what reviewers Steven Poole, from the Guardian, Ian Wilmut, from Nature, and Debora MacKenzie, from the New Scientist had to say:Putting aside certain epistemological doubts (as in, how can we be skeptical of neuroscanning experiments for making assertions that we can neither prove nor disprove using any other sort of reference; or, alluding to underlying behavioural characteristics of which we know neither their provenance nor how and where they manifest themselves), Steven Poole generally endorses the book’s motives and claims, which are that the science behind using the human genome and brain scans to understand and interpret humans and their behaviours is much more vague and imprecise than its proponents would like us to think. Additionally, he points out that the ‘medicalization’ which comes as a result is not only vague and imprecise; it is, in fact, dangerous as it provides the pharma-industry and the healthcare business with much more responsibilities and powers than they should be afforded.