Books by Robert Cook-Deegan

Released: March 21, 1994

An insider's detailed look at the politics of Big Science, in this case the multibillion-dollar project to map all the genes in human DNA. In 1986-88, Cook-Deegan directed a team at the Office of Technology Assessment advising Congress on the human genome project, and later he headed a bioethics committee concerned with its policy implications. From this vantage point he relates how what began as a technological vision has been shaped by powerful political forces. Initially, he describes the scientific ideas and the technology that gave the project its impetus, moving on to track the bureaucratic involvement that began in 1985 when the Department of Energy, interested in genetic effects of exposure to the atomic bomb, proposed sequencing the human genome. Seen as a way to capitalize on the resources offered by the national laboratories—access to high technology, superconductors, and a multidisciplinary team of scientists—the project encountered resistance from the biomedical research community. The National Institutes of Health asserted its claim to a redefined human genome project the following year, and soon Congressional hearings were in full swing. Eventually, through what Cook-Deegan describes as a ``Byzantine process of negotiation and politics,'' an accommodation was reached calling for DOE-NIH collaboration. Next, Cook-Deegan sketchily describes the efforts of other nations, especially Japan, to start similar projects, and then considers some of the ethical, legal, and social issues raised by genetic research—a topic much too complex to be covered adequately in a few chapters. An enormous amount of well-documented research that overwhelms in its detail yet fails to provide a clear and concise picture of either the science or the politics; still, it's certain to be a valuable resource for future analysts writing from a greater perspective. Read full book review >