The Public Interest

Should science be stopped? The case of recombinant DNA research

Elliot S. Gershon

Spring 1983


IN 1970, shortly after the first isolation of a DNA fragment which constituted a single identifiable gene, the young scientists involved in the project decided they would not continue their work on DNA. The reason, they reported, was that such work would eventually be put to evil uses by the large corporations and governments that control science. They also believed it would lead to political oppression and the creation of so-called inferior subclasses of beings based on genetic classification.  Dr. James Shapiro, who was 26 at the time, announced he would leave science altogether for a career in radical politics; Dr. Jonathan Beckwith, who was then 33, shifted his work to other areas of genetics and became a leader of Science for the People.  This is a radical group which several years later-during the height of the recombinant DNA debate-argued against permitting recombinant DNA research in the United States on the grounds that it was intrinsically dangerous to man and nature, and that this danger had been ignored by scientists concerned only with their immediate, personal advantage. Furthermore, the group argued, as social policy this research would diminish awareness of the social and political causes of health problems, and would allow genetics to be used as a tool of social control against “the people.Emphasis on technological solutions to health problems, they declared, results in diversion or distraction from other goals that are essential for real social progress.

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