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More of the Same

Posted by Osagie K. Obasogie on October 24th, 2008

Last month, I posted on 23andme’s new low price for partial genome sequencing while fellow Biopolitical Times blogger Marcy Darnovsky commented on what she calls trickle down genomics: the use of celebrity spit parties and other marketing schemes featuring society’s elite that are designed to encourage the masses to take up recreational genetics.

While these developments seemed a bit quirky at the time, falling prices and celebrity endorsements are likely to be trends that are here to stay. Since these initial blog posts, Complete Genomics has announced that they will soon be able to map a person’s entire genome for $5,000 – a fraction of the current $350,000 price tag for full genome scanning.

Moreover, the trickle down approach has been taken up by the Personal Genomics Project (PGP), a new venture that the New York Times describes as “speed[ing] medical research by dispensing with the elaborate precautions traditionally taken to protect the privacy of human subjects.” The project hopes to have 100,000 volunteers make their genomes and other types of personal information publicly available – what the NYT describes as “from food preferences to television viewing habits” – to help genomic technologies become more accurate in linking genetic predispositions to social and health outcomes. Project organizers hope that by culling early volunteers from the well heeled – including commentator Esther Dyson and Harvard’s Steven Pinker – the privacy concerns connected with publicizing one’s genetic makeup will eventually seem frivolous.

Will this come to pass? And is this approach to privacy and genetics a good thing? 

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Appleyard on H+

Posted by Pete Shanks on October 22nd, 2008

How to Live Forever or Die Trying by Brian Appleyard

Brian Appleyard has also blogged about the "new" transhumanism and H+:

"In the midst of the current crisis, the idea of humans engineering paradise seems more risible than ever. (Or perhaps we can simply engineer out the gene set that created credit default swaps.)"

Appleyard is a long-time reporter for, among others, the London Sunday Times and author of many books including Brave New Worlds and How to Live Forever or Die Trying.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

H+ ≈ Humanity+ ≈ Humanity Plus ≈ WTA ≈ Extropy (etc.)

    New US Law Supports Parents of Children with Disabilities

    Posted by Jenna Burton on October 21st, 2008

    A bipartisan bill that both houses of Congress passed overwhelmingly and President Bush signed into law on October 8 will provide comprehensive information and support to pregnant women and new mothers whose fetus or newborn is diagnosed with a disability.

    The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act was authored by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). Though he is a staunch opponent of abortion rights, there is no anti-choice language in the Act. One of the bill's co-sponsors is Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a strong abortion rights supporter.

    An information sheet [PDF] on the Act has been released by CGS's sister organization Generations Ahead, together with World Institute on Disability, National Women's Health Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and Reproductive Health Technologies Project.

    The information sheet:

    • outlines what the Act will do and how it can be implemented effectively
    • acknowledges the disability community's longstanding concern that "pregnant women receive negatively biased information about what it means to have a child with a disability, shaped by negative societal attitudes toward disability"
    • affirms the shared interest of disability advocacy groups and reproductive rights and justice organizations "in pregnant women receiving unbiased, nondirective information about prenatal genetic conditions" and
    • asserts that the Act will benefit the disability community while expanding women's reproductive options.
    Its conclusion: the hope that "with organizations from disability rights as well as reproductive rights and justice at the table, the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Awareness Act has the potential to benefit all of our communities."

    H+ ≈ Humanity+ ≈ Humanity Plus ≈ WTA ≈ Extropy (etc.)

    Posted by Pete Shanks on October 20th, 2008

    H+ Magazine

    The relaunch of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) stumbles on. They are becoming Humanity Plus, though the new website is still "coming soon." Already here, however, is H+ Magazine, which is "published by Humanity+" [sic] although "not all the views and ideas expressed in this publication are the views of that organization."

    The editor (and main contributor) is RU Sirius, who describes H+ as a "webzine." It's an 18" by 11" pdf, which makes it hard to read on-screen and a real pain to print out. The content is mostly interviews short and long (Aubrey de Grey, the prince of immortality, imagine that) seasoned with a smattering of science and two ads, total, for the Life Extension Foundation and Alcor the world leader in cryonics.

    H+ is full of happy talk. David Ewing Duncan says he agrees with Gregory Stock. Duncan thinks that "this stuff is inevitable. We have the technology now to alter the germ line. ... It's more a matter of figuring out how to do it safely and manage it. ... It's not even a question of if anymore; it's a question of when and how."

    The most interesting section, however, may be the editor's introduction:

    "I tell people I'm working on a transhumanist webzine. ... It's a sort of test. Will anybody ever have a clue as to what I'm talking about? So far, the answer is no."

    Oh dear. Hence, of course, the latest reboot. Extropy didn't catch on, so they tried the WTA, and now Humanity Plus (or +), not to mention the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and its Journal of Evolution and Technology. These are closely overlapping groups of enthusiasts, many of whom got their start while we were all going to get super-rich through the stock market and become Masters of the Universe through our wondrous ability to control immensely complex systems, both economically and biologically.

    Could it be that under present social, economic and political conditions, nationally and internationally, 2008 is not a propitious time to rebrand fantasies from the 1990s?

    Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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