Print

Print


The demise of SftP seems to be to have been due partly to the rise of 
molecular biology in the 70s and 80s and the displacement of the 
physical sciences as the most prominent set of disciplines by the the 
biological sciences.  By "prominent" I mean both newsworthy and 
commercialized.  Although there were biologists who were central to 
SftP, the culture of the organization owed a lot to the Bulletin of the 
Atomic Scientists and the group of physicists and chemists who showed 
that it was simultaneously possible to maintain their standing as 
scientists and to oppose the misuse of their disciplines.  

Molecular biologists did not have this model, and indeed, since they 
were not tied to the fields producing nuclear weapons and reactors, and 
napalm, could define the aims and products of their work as entirely 
benign.  When, in the 1980s it became possible to genetically engineer 
crops, and in the 1990s to clone and genetically engineer mammals, 
with the prospect of doing it to people as well, and to create DNA 
databanks, and imaginable to produce ethnically targeted bioweapons, 
and so forth, the Reagan-Thatcher ideology, along with the Chakrabarty 
Supreme Court decision on patenting of organisms and the Bayh-Dole 
Act on commercializing the results of publicly funded research had 
thoroughly taken hold, not just among conservatives, but particularly 
among liberals who had fewer qualms about human embryo research.  

Most of the senior scientists of the transitional period were by then 
principals in biotech companies, and the people trained during that 
period had no precedent of biologists questioning biology, the Asilomar 
interlude having been disavowed by its main participants.  Add to this 
the fact that the genetic determinist and reductionist biology of the 
20th century, though now unraveling, is still the ideology of most 
working biologists.  Is it any surprise that there is no more science for 
the people?