Cover image for Shaping the future : biological research and human values
Shaping the future : biological research and human values
Olson, Steve, 1956-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
116 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Subject Term:


Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH311 .O44 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This book brings the concerned individual up-to-date on the breakthroughs and social questions emerging from biology today. Author Steve Olson draws on the latest research in a number of fields as well as the views of leading biologists, ethicists, and philosophers. He tells the story of the intricate, often frustrating, path scientists must follow to find out why we are the way we are. The volume highlights groundbreaking research being done in four of biology's most exciting fields: genetics, development, neurobiology, and evolution. In each field, the implications of this research extend far beyond basic biology, ranging from human gene therapy to cancer, from neural transplantation to the evolution of the atmosphere.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Olson (National Research Council) here digests a 1988 National Academy of Sciences symposium on four loosely structured topics: human genetics, differentiation and cancer, neurobiology and behavior, evolution and environmental ethics. Among the participants were E.O. Wilson, Michael Ruse, Francisco Ayala, Paul Berg, and Maxine Singer. The issues are treated superficially, with cavalier disregard for areas of controversy and a pontificating preachiness that ignores the critical capacities of readers. Real issues in science and in bioethics are often simply skirted, or raised only to be dropped; simplistic philosophy is used not as an entry point to discussion but as a means of closing off discussion and begging the questions in the direction of the symposiasts' biases. The work obviously seeks to articulate a response, in the name of science, to worries about "unscientific attitudes," "anti-scientific" value judgments, and "insufficient" concern for the environment and the human prospect. But defining the direction of such a response is not as easy as the participants imagine. It is only the exclusion of genuine conceptual diversity from their counsels that creates the illusion of consensus; and even that does not generate coherence within the viewpoint put forward. The moralizing outcome of this attempt to make a hardcover media statement in behalf of science undermines the authority it seeks to bolster and caricatures the scientific enterprise (e.g., "when development wins conservation loses"), rather than richly displaying its theses, problems, findings, hypotheses, and predictions. The journalistic style Olson develops in trying to pull together his material preserves the patronizing tone familiar from the works of several of his interlocutors. Science sells better when more attention is paid to its content and its questioning and problematic adventure than to the governmentally approved packaging of nostrums, current and ancient, under its brand name. -M. J. Goodman, University of Hawaii at Manoa