Weird Science: The Implications of Playing With Nature


Entertainment plays with our aversion to conformity via bad science, i.e., playing with nature (see The Stepford Wives; I, Robot; and the Clone Wars in Star Wars: Episode III). We may not assimilate with the Borg anytime soon, but human biotechnologies are real: reproductive cloning (scary carbon copies), research cloning (cloned embryos for stem cells), inheritable genetic modification (changing genes passed on to future generations), stem cell generation (creating tissues or organs to treat disease), and somatic gene transfer (adding genes to cells, like those from diseased lung cells, to alleviate illness). While scientists aim to prevent and cure disease, others could encourage new forms of discrimination (like the subhuman castes in Gattaca). Could your grandchildren be considered “post-human,” as in post–natural birth? If the rich and powerful sold eugenics, you could request a blue-eyed kid. Aware that policy is slight, the Center for Genetics and Society invites a panel of Ph.D.’s—Marsha Tyson Darling (Adelphi University), Richard Hayes (executive director for CGS), Sheldon Krimsky (Tufts University), and Susan Lindee (University of Pennsylvania)—to weigh in on beneficial and detrimental applications. For further reading, the center’s website provides background information, pro and con arguments, and current policy.