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The Politics of Science

CAP Event Examines the Public Response to New Biological Advancements

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The United States is now in the “biological century,” in which the life sciences will dominate as the physical sciences did in the 20th century. And a new biopolitics is emerging in response to address the implications for our value system, well-being, and future.

On October 21 a Center for American Progress event highlighted this new biopolitics when CAP Senior Fellow and University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Moreno discussed his new book, The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America. The book is the first to recognize and assess our new biopolitics.

In her introduction, CAP Chief Operating Officer Neera Tanden said that in the book, “[Moreno has] analyzed the history and implications of new biology, such as genetics and stem cells, for American politics.”

CAP Senior Fellow Andrew Light moderated a discussion with Moreno following Tanden’s remarks.

“The new biology,” Moreno said, is one that “understands and manipulates the basic building blocks of life.” It collects and categorizes data about nature at the same time that it tries to experimentally manipulate biological processes, as in fields such as genetics and synthetic biology.

Moreno discussed the difference between the politics of biology and biology in politics—the latter includes the abortion debate and eugenics, while the former “characterizes the new biopolitics” of issues such as stem cells and cloning.

He said that because of biology’s current status in our politics, politicians will have to take a stance on hot-button cultural issues. This, he said, is now expected. And it’s not going away.

He also discussed his groupings of left bioprogressives, right bioprogressives, and bioconservatives, saying that someone’s stance on biological issues isn’t always predetermined by their political affiliation, and that people have concerns and reservations about the same issue but for different reasons. For instance, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) found himself taking the same position as women’s health groups on vaccinations for human papillomavirus.

Moreno also spoke about Americans’ relationship with science—our desire for it but our skepticism of scientists themselves, perhaps in part thanks to their depiction in works such as Frankenstein. He said that as a result, the science community needs to evaluate its image.

But he added that science has undoubtedly benefited mankind over the last centuries: “It does seem to me, in the last few hundred years, science and technology—terms used very broadly—have been very good for human flourishing, and that they advance human dignity.”

Nonetheless, Moreno said that science has changed our political landscape, and though it will provide us with untold future benefits, the implications of science have to be regarded with “a critical eye.”

For more on this event, see its event page.

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