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Conrad Quintyn
The New Eugenics
Biotechnology used today to prevent and repair ‘defects’ in all humans has ushered in the age of the new eugenics. Scientists motivated by healing the sick are notoriously oblivious to the impact of their research on the greater culture. Some scientists are willing to cross “sacred boundaries” and “play God,” all in the name of finding a cure for a disease or preventing illness and enhancing human health. Genetic engineering used today to prevent and repair ‘defects’ in all humans (the new eugenics) will excerbate social injustices and/or lead to a public safety issue.
In this sober and sobering consideration of genetic engineering, Quintyn, associate professor of biological anthropology at Bloomsburg University, examines the present and future of what he calls “the new eugenics.” If that term (which Quintyn defines as “the modification of any biological life form … to replace or repair its ‘defects’”) sounds alarming, Quintyn’s book offers few reassurances. Concerned with both the ethics and practice of these new fields, Quintyn warns that, when it comes to genetic modification, cloning, nanobiotechnology, artificial reproductive techniques, and more, scientists are “operating in the Wild West, with mostly good intentions mixed in with hubris, lucrative patents for their host institutions, fame, and Nobel Prizes.” Regulation, he notes, is lax, and we know far too little about the possible unintended consequences of efforts to engineer the very code of life.

Writing with clarity and purpose, Quintyn reports on the state of play in PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), elective enhancements, the power of CRISPR gene-editing tools, and more, summarizing new developments and causes for concern in prose an interested lay reader can follow. The stakes are high, as Quintyn establishes with challenging questions about these technologies: Do we understand the short and long-term evolutionary effects of genetic engineering? What happens to a society, he asks, where “only the rich have access to genetic enhancements”?

Quintyn’s at his most persuasive when urging scientists (and regulators) to remember all that’s uncertain about how genes interact with each other. The well-intended altering one element of a complex system (say, eradicating malaria by altering the gene drive of mosquitoes) might impact the rest of that system. Especially upsetting: His linking of the forced sterilization techniques of earlier eugenicists to the future possibility of forced genetic modification. It’s impossible to discern, from The New Eugenics, whether such scenarios are likely, but Quintyn demonstrates that the warnings must be sounded.

Takeaway: This survey of the present and future of genetic engineering sounds a powerful, persuasive alarm to science-minded readers.

Great for fans of: Jamie Metzl’s Hacking Darwin, Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg’s A Crack in Creation.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

Kirkus Reviews

An impressively thorough survey of the development of biotechnology and the potential dangers it poses.

Quintyn, an associate professor of biological anthropology at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, observes that the breakneck speed of biotechnological advancement has outpaced not only its regulatory oversight, but also society’s ability to fully digest the scientific and moral challenges such progress presents. Although the promise of new science has been extraordinary, most people lack an adequate understanding of its implications, according to the author: “In this dangerous era of light-speed scientific advancement, especially in biotechnology, can humankind endure the long-term cost in detrimental changes to human and nonhuman life-forms?” For example, molecular scientists, committed to correcting the apparent defects of nature in the creation of genetically modified organisms, routinely overlook “complex bioenvironmental interactions” that could present future problems, Quintyn asserts—just as genetic engineering could “unintentionally cause deleterious alterations to a human embryo’s genome.” Moreover, the author frets about the slippery slope that could lead from legitimate therapeutic uses of genetic modification to elective enhancement and all the moral issues it raises. The author argues that there’s a line that runs from the “old eugenics” that grew from racial and economic oppression to what he sees as its new iteration, which genuinely aspires to the betterment of humankind but tends to produce other ethical dilemmas. Over the course of this book, Quintyn’s discussion is as rigorous as it is wide-ranging, and his mastery of the subject matter and his ability to translate technically forbidding topics into accessible prose are remarkable. The author’s discussion of how scientists are either blind to the issues he raises—too focused on technological progress to pause to consider moral objections—or willing to resort to semantic obfuscation to downplay them is particularly astute.

   A technically precise and philosophically thoughtful treatise.