Genetic Research

‘In Defense of Nature, Human and Non-Human’, an article written by the academic, Francis Fukuyama to highlight the ‘perils’ of bioengineering, appeared in the July/August 2002 edition of ‘World Watch Magazine’, a bi-monthly publication (now available online) which contains articles relating to both environmental and human issues. Born 27th October 1952, in Chicago, Fukuyama has achieved both academically and professionally, gaining a BA in classics at Cornell University, and later, a PhD in political science from Harvard as well as several honorary doctorates from institutes around the globe.

Currently holding a professorship in International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins University, he also is, and has been involved, with many important organisations, such as RAND, that advise on government policies. He has also worked within the Middle Eastern peace process, as well as holding a position for Policy Planning at the US Department of State.

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Additionally, he has published many works dealing with social issues, but his article on bioengineering, discussed here, and considering its urgent tone, is a topic of great personal importance and highlights his concerns about the technology, where it could lead mankind, and his perceived flaws in current legislation covering the industry. The article is aimed at scientists; ‘’fruitfly’’, ‘’nematodes’’, and ‘’higher-human capabilities’’, together with terms, ‘‘evolutionary provenance’’, ‘‘prolonged debility’’, and ‘‘biomedicine’’ all point to this.

It is a well structured and logically progressive piece, the first few paragraphs explain what the article is about and who it concerns, this leads into discussion about the lessons of the past and what’s been learned, with later paragraphs talking about the complexity of the human genome and applications of gene therapy, with final sections discussing ideas of how to stop the industry from going too far, current regulatory organisations, and legislative powers.

The piece is written in professional style not expected of a general-circulation, non-scientific publication, and may be no coincidence that the article appeared at a time when concerns surrounding genetically modified (GM) foodstuffs were high on the agenda. The argument has many strengths and weaknesses.

Supporting his views, Fukuyama, draws parallels to the natural world where human projects such as the construction of the Hoover Dam unexpectedly ‘damaged the local environment and society’, lessons that have served to halt similar projects, and notes the similarities between the confidence of biotechnologists and the ‘’propaganda films’’ linked to this project, valid fears that can be extended into bioengineering, where a lack of understanding of the complex functioning of the human genome could lead to similar unforeseen problems that could even alter our species.

He also recognises that scientists will constantly push for greater understanding but sees trouble in this as inadequate regulation of the industry means that no absolute global safety mechanism exists to protect human nature. He also argues that ‘‘nature is a complex whole’’, i. e. small bits cannot be altered without inducing effects elsewhere, and worries about effects that may arise later in the lives of ‘bioengineered’ people.

He also refers to other technologies, such as reproductive cloning, and GM crops that have emerged, but due to widespread opposition have come under strict control. Conversely, the argument is weakened by many issues, the title, ‘‘In defence of nature’’, makes it appear that nature is under attack from biotechnologists.

The main text portrays a sense of fear with numerous negative remarks; technologies that could lead from biotechnology ‘’should be of concern to all people’’, the unintended consequences of manipulating nature ‘’will come back to haunt us’’, and, the attempts to master human nature through biotechnology will be more ‘’dangerous’’ than our attempt to control non-human nature – all imply that nothing good can come from this industry, which is further exemplified by the one sided nature of the piece, for example, he mentions the possibility of alleviating the propensity for fatal conditions such as Huntington’s disease but fails to acknowledge its worth. The inclusion of quotes and figures indicate his knowledge of the topic, but without references these cannot be substantiated, a problem, especially since no indication of timescales is given: an important consideration in this fast-paced field where improvements and advances appear virtually constantly. He also fails to include figures pertaining to individuals suffering genetic disorders that could have benefitted from such technology.

He also uses the point of the vast revenues and workforce engaged by the private sector bioengineering companies in relation to their unregulated nature implying that ‘they could be up to anything! ’ Aside from the article, Fukuyama’s qualifications are not rooted within science and so his target audience may feel that he is not a leading authoritative figure on this issue and so may downplay his views, and although he clearly understands the progression of scientific research and concedes that there is a danger of a false understanding leading us to proceed down a road that may lead to later problems, he uses this to envision worst-case-scenarios, claiming that ‘‘equal democratic rights could be undermined’’, and even ponders as to ‘‘how we defend human nature’’.

He is attempting to find some common ground by calling for dialogue and discussion but his negative tone might alienate the opposition. Basically, the argument takes one sided and negative viewpoint to bioengineering, instilling an air of panic and fear, which fails to acknowledge the potential benefits of this technology; the piece pushes for increased legislation to control the industry before nature is ‘irrevocably destroyed’. My opinion has not radically altered by this article as I believe the issue has not been represented fairly. Works Cited Fukuyama, Francis. ‘’In Defense of Nature, Human and Non-Human. ’’ World Watch Magazine 15 (2002).

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