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

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 8  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-M460
Individual papers
Experimentation, Ethics and Social Engineering

Reflections on harm/benefit analysis in research involving nonhuman animal subjects: Can sympathy and dissent guide a refinement of Bateson’s Cube?

Gillian Crozier (Laurentian University, Canada); Gilly Griffin (Canadian Council on Animal Care, Canada)

We advocate refining Bateson's Cube – a visual heuristic device designed to help determine whether particular scientific research projects ought to proceed, depending on the importance of the research, the likelihood of medical benefits, and the suffering of animal test subjects. Specifically, we introduce a fourth dimension -- a plane within the cube representing the 'degree of valid dissent' of the animal research subject. One fulcrum of this plane is determined by ‘sympathy,’ which we ground in the position that empathy, compassion, and caring ought to underwrite any ethical evaluation of research methods involving live animals; sympathy is required on behalf of the researcher or technician to identify the preferences of particular animals, including preferences to not participate. The other fulcrum is determined by 'moral status', which we ground in the position that the moral status of an animal subject must be based on the best scientific knowledge about the species’ sentience, according to what is known about its cognitive, affective, and social traits. Thus, researchers working with animals at the high end of the moral status scale might need to respect the potential preference these animals may have to refuse to participate in an experiment. Together, 'sympathy' and 'moral status' provide an estimate of the 'degree of valid dissent' – a plane within a Bateson's Cube representing the threshold or boundary condition separating experiments that, on the one side should be endorsed, and on the other side should be prohibited. Taking into account the degree of valid dissent would involve pushing that plane to be closer to one of the ‘extreme case’ vertices or the other. Insofar as an in-principle, long-term goal for animal research would be to eliminate harms to animals, the flexibility of this four-dimensional cube permits the scientific community to iterate towards that ideal.

From social engineering to bioethics: Human genetics and society in Denmark and Germany in the 2nd half of the 20th century

Dirk Thomaschke (Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany)

For most European countries, the cultural history of human genetics between the end of the Second World War and the present has hardly been examined in historical studies so far. The proposed paper compares the development of human genetics and eugenics in two European countries, Denmark and Germany, in a discourse analysis from c. 1950 to 1990. The focus lies on the changing relations of the field to society and politics and on the correspondingly changing subjectivity of human genetics experts. The paper draws on partly unexplored archival sources from Germany and Denmark: personal papers of leading scholars and research institutes in the field of human genetics as well as documents from research trusts and governmental agencies. In the 1950s and 1960s, human genetic experts in Germany and Denmark initiated various efforts to “follow and control” the “rate of mutations” in human populations. The Danish national registry on genetic diseases in Copenhagen for instance was a well known institution for that purpose. These efforts were fueled by the anxiety of an irreparable rise of the rate of mutations due to nuclear irra-diation during the 1950s and an unknown amount of potentially mutagenic chemical substances in the human environment during the 1960s. This paradigm shifted significantly in the 1970s in both countries. The freedom of the individual to prevent hereditary diseases of its own offspring became the central concept accompanying the es-tablishment of prenatal diagnosis in Germany and Denmark. At the same time, genetic diagnostics turned into the main source of research material for scientists. The relationship of human genetics experts to society was re-modeled according to a pattern of individual demand and public supply. An international competition about the comprehensive provision of “medical products” arose. In the late 1970s a new phase set in. Human genetics research gained hitherto unknown social, ethical and psychological dimensions. With the expansion of molecular genetics and genetic engineering in the background the Danish and German society seemed to be increasingly burdened by the genetic knowledge offered to it. New types of expertise like bioethics came into existence in both countries in the 1980s.

From informed to informing materials: Drugs as tools for exploring cancer mechanisms and pathways

Etienne Vignola-Gagné (McGill University, Canada); Alberto Cambrosio (McGill University, Canada); Peter Keating (Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada)

Our group has previously argued that anticancer drugs are “informed material”, i.e. that they undergo an informational enrichment process situating them in a dense relational web of qualifications and measurements. Such informational enrichment has typically been pursued through clinical experiments, including clinical trials, that articulate histologically defined tumors and drugs in a matrix of correlations. Recently, genomics platforms – in particular: next generation sequencing – have been used to characterize individual patients’ tumors on the basis of their mutational landscapes. We argue that, as part of this new approach, drugs targeting specific mutations, instead of being merely the object of informational enrichment have become tools for informing their targets or, in other words, tools to explore cancer pathways and mechanisms. This evolution is exemplified, for instance, by the establishment of centers for “mechanistic-based therapy” within leading cancer research institutions. While numerous studies in the philosophy and history of biology have called attention to the heuristic relevance and experimental deployment of mechanisms, few have explored how mechanisms are investigated and deployed in the clinic, which has today arguably become a central site of knowledge production in a field such as oncology. This presentation will track some of the reconfigurations taking place in the informational enrichment of anticancer drugs in the post-genomic era, with a focus on their transformation from informed to informing material, i.e. as instruments for the generation of new biological, pathological, and therapeutic insights into the modalities underlying the etiology and evolution of cancer.