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David King on the Genome Announcement

Genetic Crossroads
February 21st, 2001

The number of genes in the human genome sequence is utterly irrelevant
to the question of genetic determinism. If we believe in simplistic
genetic determinism, 30,000 genes is plenty. But very few serious
scientists have, for many years, and that doesn't stop them from
genetic engineering, including engineering human beings. They can
still manipulate the system, and within their own narrow criteria
of success, they often succeed.

So what's going on here? The medical and scientific establishments are
terrified of a public backlash similar to what has been seen with GE
foods. So for some time now their PR strategy has been to dismiss
naive genetic determinism. This allows them to appear liberal, and
helps calm down people's fears.

There is a bona fide debate on the influence of genes and environment,
and scientifically the jury is still out. The answer does make a real
difference to what we believe the genetic engineers and eugenicists
can accomplish, and therefore how scared we should be. . ..[G]enetic
determinism as an ideology is wrong and pernicious, but that doesn't
mean that there aren't some completely straightforward, fairly simple,
or only slightly complex genetic determinations out there.

David King is the editor of GenEthics News.


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