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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Steven Pinker is right about biotech and wrong about bioethics

Bill Gardner
The Incidental Economist
Originally published August 7, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

First, even by newspaper op-ed standards this is lazily argued. Pinker attributes a host of opinions to bioethicists without quoting any bioethicist. He does not cite any cases to document that bioethicists’ concerns about long term consequences have impeded research and caused harms. There likely are such cases, but he writes as if they are common. I served for years on the University of Pittsburgh IRB. For better or worse, the long term risks of biomedical research were never even discussed.

Worse, Pinker brackets “dignity” and “social justice”* in sneer quotes, as if it were self-evident that affronts to these values do not fall into the class of “identifiable harms” and as if these concerns can be dismissed without any actual argument. The only normative framework that has weight, by his lights, are the mortality and morbidity of disease. Of course mortality and morbidity are exceptionally important. But if that is the only framework that matters to Pinker he is in a very small minority.

The entire critique is here.

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