Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Ruth Hubbard with Elijah Wald

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-8070-0418-9
Publisher: Beacon

 Harvard biologist and feminist Hubbard and her son (as well as her Nobel laureate husband, George Wald) have long championed the antibiotechnology cause, raising the specter of genetic determinism, eugenics, and social control (read ``fascism'') that they see as imminent in genetics research. Their point of view is that of old-fashioned liberals, winning praise from the Richard Lewontins, Barry Commoners, Ralph Naders, and other defenders of the common man (and woman) and the natural environment against government bureaucrats, scientific reductionists, and others viewed as profiteers or manipulators and exploiters of humankind. In so doing, the authors serve a corrective function, offering the kind of countervailing sensibility that's so important in a democratic society. But, here, they go too far in their zeal, discounting the value of much genetics research and of the human genome project in particular. Certainly, we need safeguards regarding the collection and use of genetic data to prevent discrimination and abuses in education, employment, and insurance, as well as to prevent gene testing for such arbitrary purposes as sex selection and so on. But to deny the importance of genetic research in finding clues to development and aging, plus the causes and cures of disease, is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Interestingly, in contrast to Andrew Kimbrell in The Human Body Shop (reviewed below), Hubbard and Wald disavow claims that genes have been (or will be) discovered for intelligence, homosexuality, alcoholism, etc.; meanwhile, Kimbrell acts as though such putative genes will determine how we select offspring in the future. The moral of the story is that the pendulum swings both ways, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle. (Seven illustrations)