Eve Herold (2006)
Wars is noteworthy for its almost-insider account of the unraveling
of the Korean cloning scandal. Eve Herold, director of public policy
research and education for the Genetics Policy Institute, visited
Korea in October 2005 for the opening of the World Stem Cell Hub.
When University of Pittsburgh stem cell researcher Gerald Schatten
publicly withdrew from the consortium in November, a senior aide
to Dr. Woo Suk Hwang asked Herold to return to help with communications
with the English-language press.
Nine of the
book's eleven chapters, however, give an unashamedly partisan account
of the controversies over embryonic stem cell research.
focuses on the hopes of patients and repeats the often exaggerated
promises of stem cell researchers; those familiar with the field
are not her real audience. Her writing about history and science
is perfectly adequate—always bearing in mind her point of view—but
her vignettes about people are vivid and often sharp. These include
not only suffering patients but also, for example, participants
in the Clonaid court hearings in Miami in early 2002, and DC antagonists
like Weldon and Brownback.
In Seoul, Herold
used her considerable powers of observation. She questions the health
of the cloned dog Snuppy, largely because of its reserved behavior,
and conveys her initial bewilderment that the egg scandal provoked
such an intense reaction from the scientific team. Surely they must
have more to hide that that, she thought, if they were so frantic.
Of course, they did, and they soon closed ranks to freeze out the
not pretend to give an in-depth account of the Hwang debacle, which
already somewhat unbalances this book. But she does give a sense
of the personalities and culture, of the lab and of the country,
and thus of the forces that drove it.
Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers
By Lee M. Silver (2006)
Silver's new book is a missed opportunity. Silver is a Princeton
professor with a background in mouse genetics who caused a stir
with his 1997 book, Remaking Eden. Provocative and conversational
in its assertion of the inevitability of using biotechnology to
manipulate future generations, its terms "GenRich" and
"Naturals" neatly encapsulated the possibility of an entrenched
to parlay these jaw-dropping scenarios into a moderately high-profile
second career as a prognosticator. He appeared numerous times on
television and in the pages of newsweeklies and other publications,
and acquired various prestigious titles, most notably at the Woodrow
Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Nature seems designed to buttress these credentials. In it,
Silver attempts to analyze the belief systems of biotechnology critics.
Unfortunately—to quote Nicholas Wade in the New York Times—he
"may have unnecessarily restricted his audience to those already
converted by using the bludgeon as his weapon of choice." That's
being kind. Virtually the whole book is an assault upon a straw
target of Silver's own creation, spiced with irrelevant criticisms
of outdated examples of unscientific thinking.
is notably unfair, disingenuous and sloppy. He describes developmental
biologist Stuart Newman, for instance, only as a left-wing or anti-biotech
activist, never mentioning his scientific credentials. He misrepresents
several scandals in the field of agricultural biotech. Some of his
quotes are mangled; some of his citations are wrong.
he quotes Dr. Woo Suk Hwang as a Buddhist without mentioning the
cloning scandal. And on the same page, separated only by a sub-head,
is a quote that Silver proceeds to ridicule, which begins: "Truth,
famously the first casualty of war, is now falling victim to the
latest skirmish in the biotech wars." Irony does not seem to
be his strong suit.
If Silver had
spent some time examining his own "truths," he might have
been able to say something interesting about them. But he didn't—that
is the real missed opportunity. Instead, he wrote a really bad book
about what he thinks other people think.
After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning
By Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield (2006)
Wilmut's After Dolly is a timely reconsideration of the science,
politics, and ethics leading up to and surrounding Dolly the sheep,
the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. In many respects, the
first half of the book is the E! True Hollywood Story version
of how cloning came to tickle the public's imagination; it revisits
the background stories and personal melodramas that led to Dolly's
emergence as a pop culture icon.
as an eminent embryologist and cloning researcher, but draws heavily
on his father's battle with diabetes to humanize the science. He
anticipates a day when cloning and gene transfer techniques will
allow scientists to "treat" an embryo genetically predisposed
to disease. Put another way, Wilmut argues that cloning can serve
humanity through germline engineering—that is, through "fixing"
disabilities at an embryonic stage to ensure that these corrections
are passed down in perpetuity.
is not in the transhumanist camp. He strongly condemns efforts at
human reproductive cloning, and has similar objections against creating
enhanced designer babies. "[E]nhancement would be an experiment,"
he writes. "I find it unacceptable to experiment on children.
I believe that we ought to accept ourselves and our children for
what they are, rather than attempting to breed an improved race
of human beings."
to apply his own reasoning to other biotechnologies is both peculiar
and disappointing. Though his opposition to human enhancement is
surely genuine, he is ready to put his considerable reputation on
the line in favor of opening the Pandora's Box of human germline
It's odd that
Wilmut opposes human reproductive cloning out of concern that there
are more acceptable and safer ways to reproduce, yet embraces inheritable
genetic modification (IGM) to "treat" disabilities. He
discusses neither the experimentation on children that IGM would
inevitably entail, nor the effects it would have on people with
disabilities, nor the unprecedented social risks that controlling
the genetic make-up of future generations would pose.
In spite of
embracing a technology that many consider one of the most consequential
on the horizon, After Dolly recognizes the need for public
oversight of technoscience. Wilmut notes that "past events
warn us of the very real danger of tragic consequences if developments
in reproductive technology escape regulation" and that these
technologies are "too important to leave to the scientists,
the clinicians, or even the prospective parents." Too important,