Our fates lie in our genes and not in the stars, said James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. But Watson could not have predicted the scale of the industry now dedicated to this new frontier. Since the launch of the multibillion-dollar Human Genome Project, the biosciences have promised miracle cures and radical new ways of understanding who we are. But where is the new world we were promised?
In Genes, Cells, and Brains, feminist sociologist Hilary Rose and neuroscientist Steven Rose take on the bioscience industry and its claims. Examining the rivalries between public and private sequencers,the establishment of biobanks, and the rise of stem cell research, they ask why the promised cornucopia of health benefits has failed to emerge. Has bioethics simply become an enterprise? As bodies become increasingly commodified, perhaps the failure to deliver on these promises lies in genomics itself.
Although biotechnology has become a multibillion dollar business, the actual benefits to individuals have been surprisingly rare, according to the Roses (Alas Poor Darwin), she a sociologist and he a biologist in England. They do an impressive job of providing brief histories of the rise of the Human Genome Project, stem-cell research, and the field of neuroscience, documenting the claims proponents of each have made about the way medicine would be transformed and arguing that virtually none of the promised benefits have come to pass. They offer both scientific and sociological explanations for the lack of results. On the scientific front, they explain how the underlying biology is far more complex than originally thought while, from a sociological perspective, they posit a business model that privileges the wealthy and disregards important issues associated with race and class. Their political perspective is clear: "Since the banking meltdown of 2007 08, the neoliberal leaders of Europe and the U.S. are agreed that the welfare of the majority, above all the most vulnerable, must be replaced by welfare payments to bankers." Some will find this argument powerful, others strident, but many will find much to consider.