Steven Pinker’s ‘Get out of the way’ approach ignores need for bioethics in science


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Do you suppose Steven Pinker’s broadside against professional bioethics oversight of CRISPR and other forms of gene editing–Pinker’s command to bioethics was brutally inflexible: “Get out of the way”–will change bioethics for the better? Or gene editing, for that matter?

In an interview with stem-cell researcher Paul Knoepfler following up his Boston Globe op-ed, Pinker accused bioethics of being “a professional guild that all too often impedes sound ethical concerns rather than advancing them.” In addition to being bad moral philosophers, he says, many bioethicists are embroiled in a conflict of interest because institutional bioethics has become an industry. They need to defend their turf.

Gene-editing has already been fully embraced by China, and scientists there are doing interesting work that has even been helpful on ethical issues. If you need to catch up, On Science Blogs has been following the CRISPR/gene-editing story for the past few months. Start here.

A moratorium might or might not be honored by private enterprise. Note the simultaneous news that Editas Medicine has just received $120 million from investors that include Google Ventures and Bill Gates. Elliot Hosman’s post at Biopolitical Times points out that Editas is working on an obscure disease that affects at most 1,000 patients, implying that gene editing won’t have wide application.

Not sure what we should make of the Pinker-inspired but somewhat parochial episode in the CRISPR-gene editing debate. In focusing on bioethics as a profession, it ignored a couple of pretty crucial (bioethical) issues.

Read full, original post: Pinker’s gene editing rant ignored most bioethics issues