International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 8  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-M320
Organized session / standard talks
Of Frogs, Mice, and Men: A Comparative Look at the Public Perception of Cloning, Genetic Engineering, and Transgenesis in the United States and Europe

Nathan Crowe (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, United States)

The creation of new biological forms in the 1970s and 1980s, both potential and actual, were thoroughly debated within the public sphere. While these discussions had many precedents, their scale, level of media coverage, range of stakeholders and the engagement of scientists with these discussions during these decades were unprecedented in the 20th century. Despite the high profile, the mediation of new life forms took diverse trajectories, as multiple actors worked to differentiate between the realities and fictions of the promises, both dire and optimistic. Some innovations, like recombinant DNA or cloning, were met with an outcry, while others were received with much more optimism. This panel will explore the communication of two technologies centered around nonhuman embryos: cloning and transgenesis (a form of genetic modification). With a tight chronological focus, we will explore what made a biological intervention controversial in this period, with a focus on how earlier public debates affected later ones, on the strategies that scientists employed to avoid or mitigate the fallout, and from comparative experiences in the United States and Germany.

Controversies about cloning in the 1970s: Futures, fraud, and facts surrounding nuclear transplantation in the United States

Nathan Crowe (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, United States)

This paper focuses on the 1970s and the issues surrounding nuclear transplantation and its public understanding as a technique that could lead to the cloning of humans. Beginning in the late 1960s, and increasingly throughout the 1970s, depictions of cloning became more widespread in the American public through a series of bioethical debates, popular science fiction books, and movies. This trend peaked in 1978 when David Jorvik published In His Image: The Cloning of Man, which supposedly documented the cloning of a wealthy businessman. Rorvik’s book led to intense public discussion concerning the veracity of his claims and the ethics of cloning, which culminated in a congressional hearing on the subject that included many of the leading scientists who worked with nuclear transplantation techniques. For the history of cloning, this decade shows how closely connected cloning became to concepts like genetic engineering and in vitro fertilization. I argue that these terms became inexorably linked in many ways, with the terms used interchangeably to articulate the potentials, both good and bad, of science during this period. These incidents also show how precarious the line was for scientists who had to sometime promise that revolutionary breakthroughs were soon to be realized to garner funding and support, but other times had to be pessimistic and downplay the near-term possibilities of their work.

Contingencies, risks and anticipation: How cloning and genetic engineering changed the public reception of science and technologies in the 1970s and early 1980s

Christina Brandt (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany)

This paper analyzes public debates on cloning and genetic engineering in the context of main discursive shifts that took shape during the 1970s and early 1980s. I will argue that the controversies about cloning - as a symbol for the new biotechnologies more general - contributed to major changes in the public view of the social consequences of science and technologies. These debates are analyzed in the context of other developments that deeply affected the public view of technological outcomes at that time, such as the ‘future studies’ or the increasing awareness of an environmental crisis since the early 1970s. In these 1970s debates, ideas of “progress”, but also the way of how the “future” of technologically driven societies was perceived, changed drastically. It was a period of transition in which a futuristic discourse on techno-scientific optimism and technological utopia (that had been typical for the 1950s and 1960s), turned into a discourse of risks, crisis and the needs of prevention, leading to ideas of an ‘anticipation’ of future scientific developments as a main political task for present societies. The first part of the paper briefly traces how media, science fiction, bioethicists and philosophers turned the vision of cloning man into a near-by scenario, focusing on how the controversy, which emerged primarily in the US, was received in Germany. The second part interprets the 1970s changes in the popular discourses in a long term, by discussing the concept of a temporal and social “regime of anticipation” (Adams, Murphy, Clarke 2009) as a kind of management of the future, or a ‘moral economy’ of Western societies to react against contingencies and uncertainties related to science and technology.