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BRAVE NEW WORLDS by Bryan Appleyard


Staying Human in the Genetic Future

by Bryan Appleyard

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-86989-9
Publisher: Viking

Appleyard, a special-feature writer and columnist for the Sunday Times of London, is worried. He worries through all 200- odd pages of this jeremiad against modern biology and the new “scientism,” offering no alternative but to resist. The result is 200 odd pages indeed. His fears—of genetic determinism, designer babies, human cloning—are familiar. Appleyard adds nothing to the literature here and indeed perpetuates the myth that nature and nurture are well nigh dichotomous. Elsewhere he rehashes earlier indictments of scientists playing God. While not contesting Appleyard’s argument that the science of warfare has added immense powers of destruction, one can easily argue that the reasons for wars are anything but scientific—being grounded in greed, religious belief, xenophobia, etc. Appleyard is quite right in stating that the 21st century will be the era of biology as the 20th has been that of physics. But, in parallel with what has happened in physics, the more science discovers about genetics and gene-environment interactions, the more complex it becomes. It will not be a simple matter of a gene “for” this or that, but of interactions of many genes with environmental factors that are neither stable nor predictable. The pursuit of new knowledge will continue in spite of Appleyard and—as already mandated by law—with concerns for the ethical, legal, and social implications of that knowledge. Appleyard might also be on the mark in the consequences for health care in America. If private insurers continue to drop even newborns because of a “pre-existing condition,” America may well have to opt for some form of universal government-based coverage. The world grows more complex and the world of biology more exhilarating and exciting. It is far better for us all to be as informed as possible to temper the excesses of biologists who might play God—as well as the Appleyards whose fearmongering posits science as the root of all evil.