Biology and politics have converged today across much of the industrialized world. Debates about genetically modified organisms, cloning, stem cells, animal patenting, and new reproductive technologies crowd media headlines and policy agendas. Less noticed, but no less important, are the rifts that have appeared among leading Western nations about the right way to govern innovation in genetics and biotechnology. These significant differences in law and policy, and in ethical analysis, may in a globalizing world act as obstacles to free trade, scientific inquiry, and shared understandings of human dignity.
In this magisterial look at some twenty-five years of scientific and social development, Sheila Jasanoff compares the politics and policy of the life sciences in Britain, Germany, the United States, and in the European Union as a whole. She shows how public and private actors in each setting evaluated new manifestations of biotechnology and tried to reassure themselves about their safety. Three main themes emerge. First, core concepts of democratic theory, such as citizenship, deliberation, and accountability, cannot be understood satisfactorily without taking on board the politics of science and technology. Second, in all three countries, policies for the life sciences have been incorporated into "nation-building" projects that seek to reimagine what the nation stands for. Third, political culture influences democratic politics, and it works through the institutionalized ways in which citizens understand and evaluate public knowledge. These three aspects of contemporary politics, Jasanoff argues, help account not only for policy divergences but also for the perceived legitimacy of state actions.
The book is worth reading... Jasanoff's fascinating descriptions and explanations of the different interpretations and understandings of biotechnology regulation ... provide an interesting perspective on the decisions for patenting higher life forms that have been made in each of the jurisdictions during the last 25 years. -- Julian Kinderlerer Science Sheila Jasanoff has written a carefully structured, ambitious and timely book ... about the evolution of public policy on biotechnology over the past three decades in the United States, Germany, Britain and the European Union (EU)... She marshals her information carefully, using a comparative approach to illustrate how similar challenges to public policy-makers in these countries were handled differently, in ways that reflect long-standing differences in their political cultures. -- Mark Cantley Nature Sheila Jasanoff provides a refined and subtle comparative analysis of the ways in which policy decisions about red and green biotechnologies have been made in the United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, and Germany. She shows, with her mastery of detail and structure that the ways in which decisions are made about the pursuit of particular scientific research agendas and the development of types of technologies depend profoundly on the political cultures within which those decisions are made... The analysis provided by Jasanoff in this scholarly and lucid study suggests that whatever the eventual outcome of the WTO dispute, the probability of institutional and policy convergence is slight, and that diversity may well be sustainable or even unavoidable. -- Erik Millstone Issues in Science & Technology Designs on Nature manages to communicate the results of sustained scholarship in a lively and engaging style, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the social dynamics of innovation. -- James Wilsdon Financial Times In Designs on Nature, Sheila Jasanoff presents an erudite challenge to the usual attempts to separate science from politics... Scientists, as well as political decision makers, will find Designs on Nature an excellent introduction to the politics of science and technology... The old idea that science and politics can be kept apart may still linger, but Jasanoff's account has removed any academic credibility for such a claim. -- Alan Irwin and Kevin Jones Nature Cell Biology Jasanoff offers her latest opus, a timely and welcome study that examines how the US, British, and German governments and people are struggling with several high-profile biotechnological innovations... An engaging, well-referenced work. Choice Jasonoff's book is an important and timely work, both substantively and theoretically. Those interested in biotechnology policies in any of the countries examined in this book will find an engaging and complete account of how they emerged and developed. -- Betsi Beem Australian Review of Public Affairs What makes the book worthwhile reading is ... its diverse, comparative, and analytical viewpoint, elaborately and deeply embedded in an STS context... Jasanoff's particular ability to establish comprehensive ties and link multiple levels and sites of science, technology, politics, and culture using strong argumentation might elevate Designs on Nature to a classic. -- Monika Kurath Science Studies Overall this book provides a generally readable, interesting account of the divergent ways in which the three countries considered have responded to developments in biotechnology. -- Anne Chapman Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter
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