Event Title

'New' genetics and genetic engineering: Feminist analysis needed

Presenter Information

Becky Holmes

Start Date

27-6-2010 9:00 AM

End Date

27-6-2010 10:30 AM

Description

This presentation is part of the Reductionism, Determinism and Feminist Values track.

In 1953, Franklin, Crick, Watson, and Wilkins discovered the molecular structure of chromosomes. From this Crick proclaimed 'the central dogma,' that inheritance is reduced to a DNA-RNA-protein sequence to determine the generation of every genetic trait. This 'dogma' inspired the Human Genome Project (HGP) and also genetic engineering (of plants, animals, humans).

Well before that proclamation, biologist Barbara McClintock, in several ways, had already disproved that 'dogma.' And, since 1990 scientists, working under the HGP, revealed in numerous ways (such as reverse transcription, alternative splicing, specialized proteins and RNA) the falseness of the dogma (Commoner, 2002). Yet these complications of the simple 'dogma' model are often ignored or disregarded, especially in attempts at engineering.

Some points in critiques of science, both early work and recent work, done by feminist scientists, sociologists of science, and philosophers of science will be applied to the new genetics. Francis Bacon, a patriarchal founder of modern science, saw mind as masculine, nature as feminine, and therefore, nature is to be dominated, subdued, and controlled. The HGP is an epitome of this sort of determinism and reductionism, a sort of hierarchism that ranks the DNA above traits. These characteristics of scientific practice worried feminists early on, with pleas to practice science without hierarchism, also to avoid dualisms, especially nature-nurture, (Bleier, Birke, Fausto-Sterling, Hubbard, Keller); some now apply these concerns to the new genetics.

Are there indeed 'feminine' aspects of women's behavior? If so, are they caused genetically or by culture? Do these traits, however conceived, keep women from being real scientists, or, otherwise, do they enhance their potential to become better scientists?

I use the nature-nurture issue to analyze briefly the unique work of some women geneticists (for example, Nancy Wexler, Mary-Claire King) and also, how their professional treatment illustrates patriarchal stances against women in science. McClintock's life also reveals some of this treatment.

One offspring from the new genetics is the profession of genetic counseling; 90% of current practitioners are women. Starting as young women talented in, and enthusiastic about science, and then receiving some very advanced education in genetics, most of them now are more expert in genetics than MDs. Yet this women's profession, bluntly put, is 20-21st century eugenics. With a special modern fine-tuning to the term, 'eugenics' poses a threat to the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) , complications to so-called 'choice,' and a challenge to the nondirective skills of these brilliant, yet relatively low-paid, professionals (Hanson, 2008; Saxton, 1997).

A concern to make appropriate applications in science and/or biological/social concerns about current applications seem to motivate women scientists, proportionally more than males, to change their focus and use of research time. This is engineering -- here, biological and genetic engineering. It requires women's creativity, curiosity, and concern for social usefulness. But why do women take so much interest in this focus, women scientists in all fields, in fact, some nonscientist women?

Therefore feminists should be specifically concerned about new researches inspired by, and financed by, the HGP. One is the use of DNA forensically and demographically. DNA samples are used to identify rapists, or murderers, or even parentage after unwanted sex; a possible benefit for raped women. But results may often come from shoddy and/or inaccurate practice through delays in testing, mislabeling of samples, and erratic laboratory practices (Holmes, Simoncelli). Further ethical/legal problems may be due to other sampling of DNA -- from possible relatives of the suspect and from long-term storage of DNA samples (DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005). As for demographics, collection of DNA samples may be used trace ancestry. Sometimes African-Americans are enticed to find out from what sections of Africa their ancestors came. Furthermore, pharmaceutical firms try to find genes that might cause disease in certain genealogic lines (races) simply to devise drugs that are targeted to such races. This source of profits is actually a new form of racism, the racialization of disease (Kohli-Laven).

Behavioral genetics is also inspired by the HGP. Some examples are searches for 'the gene' for such a trait as alcoholism, homosexuality, autism, schizophrenia. The term 'predisposition' is used; sometimes we see a statement 'but immediate cause is environmental.' I have found no good example of a properly designed experiment with informed consent. In one analysis, I'll show the danger of the 'gene for' concept.

Gene surgery and genetic engineering are the most-talked-about results of the HGP (Hanson, Darnovsky). But, oddly enough, most fail to consider the falsification of the Central Dogma (even the earlier work of McClintock). I shall describe one specific example of the risks in human gene surgery and one disastrous example from plant bioengineering, citing the work of feminist physicist, Vandana Shiva, after she left her outstanding work in physics when she became aware of tragedies to farmers in India.

The conclusion will take some of these points to make a brief summary of what feminist science should be in assessing, improving results of the HGP.

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Jun 27th, 9:00 AM Jun 27th, 10:30 AM

'New' genetics and genetic engineering: Feminist analysis needed

This presentation is part of the Reductionism, Determinism and Feminist Values track.

In 1953, Franklin, Crick, Watson, and Wilkins discovered the molecular structure of chromosomes. From this Crick proclaimed 'the central dogma,' that inheritance is reduced to a DNA-RNA-protein sequence to determine the generation of every genetic trait. This 'dogma' inspired the Human Genome Project (HGP) and also genetic engineering (of plants, animals, humans).

Well before that proclamation, biologist Barbara McClintock, in several ways, had already disproved that 'dogma.' And, since 1990 scientists, working under the HGP, revealed in numerous ways (such as reverse transcription, alternative splicing, specialized proteins and RNA) the falseness of the dogma (Commoner, 2002). Yet these complications of the simple 'dogma' model are often ignored or disregarded, especially in attempts at engineering.

Some points in critiques of science, both early work and recent work, done by feminist scientists, sociologists of science, and philosophers of science will be applied to the new genetics. Francis Bacon, a patriarchal founder of modern science, saw mind as masculine, nature as feminine, and therefore, nature is to be dominated, subdued, and controlled. The HGP is an epitome of this sort of determinism and reductionism, a sort of hierarchism that ranks the DNA above traits. These characteristics of scientific practice worried feminists early on, with pleas to practice science without hierarchism, also to avoid dualisms, especially nature-nurture, (Bleier, Birke, Fausto-Sterling, Hubbard, Keller); some now apply these concerns to the new genetics.

Are there indeed 'feminine' aspects of women's behavior? If so, are they caused genetically or by culture? Do these traits, however conceived, keep women from being real scientists, or, otherwise, do they enhance their potential to become better scientists?

I use the nature-nurture issue to analyze briefly the unique work of some women geneticists (for example, Nancy Wexler, Mary-Claire King) and also, how their professional treatment illustrates patriarchal stances against women in science. McClintock's life also reveals some of this treatment.

One offspring from the new genetics is the profession of genetic counseling; 90% of current practitioners are women. Starting as young women talented in, and enthusiastic about science, and then receiving some very advanced education in genetics, most of them now are more expert in genetics than MDs. Yet this women's profession, bluntly put, is 20-21st century eugenics. With a special modern fine-tuning to the term, 'eugenics' poses a threat to the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) , complications to so-called 'choice,' and a challenge to the nondirective skills of these brilliant, yet relatively low-paid, professionals (Hanson, 2008; Saxton, 1997).

A concern to make appropriate applications in science and/or biological/social concerns about current applications seem to motivate women scientists, proportionally more than males, to change their focus and use of research time. This is engineering -- here, biological and genetic engineering. It requires women's creativity, curiosity, and concern for social usefulness. But why do women take so much interest in this focus, women scientists in all fields, in fact, some nonscientist women?

Therefore feminists should be specifically concerned about new researches inspired by, and financed by, the HGP. One is the use of DNA forensically and demographically. DNA samples are used to identify rapists, or murderers, or even parentage after unwanted sex; a possible benefit for raped women. But results may often come from shoddy and/or inaccurate practice through delays in testing, mislabeling of samples, and erratic laboratory practices (Holmes, Simoncelli). Further ethical/legal problems may be due to other sampling of DNA -- from possible relatives of the suspect and from long-term storage of DNA samples (DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005). As for demographics, collection of DNA samples may be used trace ancestry. Sometimes African-Americans are enticed to find out from what sections of Africa their ancestors came. Furthermore, pharmaceutical firms try to find genes that might cause disease in certain genealogic lines (races) simply to devise drugs that are targeted to such races. This source of profits is actually a new form of racism, the racialization of disease (Kohli-Laven).

Behavioral genetics is also inspired by the HGP. Some examples are searches for 'the gene' for such a trait as alcoholism, homosexuality, autism, schizophrenia. The term 'predisposition' is used; sometimes we see a statement 'but immediate cause is environmental.' I have found no good example of a properly designed experiment with informed consent. In one analysis, I'll show the danger of the 'gene for' concept.

Gene surgery and genetic engineering are the most-talked-about results of the HGP (Hanson, Darnovsky). But, oddly enough, most fail to consider the falsification of the Central Dogma (even the earlier work of McClintock). I shall describe one specific example of the risks in human gene surgery and one disastrous example from plant bioengineering, citing the work of feminist physicist, Vandana Shiva, after she left her outstanding work in physics when she became aware of tragedies to farmers in India.

The conclusion will take some of these points to make a brief summary of what feminist science should be in assessing, improving results of the HGP.