Biology and Society

Science allows society to answer our questions about the world that we live in, to push the boundaries of what humanity is capable of, and to reinvent the world that we live in and how we interact with it.  Still, there are things that science can not and will not ever be able to do: science will never be able to tell us what is right and what is wrong; science will never tell us whether the cost of doing something is justified by the goodness of its outcome; and science will never be able to exist in a vacuum of objectivity where research is neither being influenced by, nor being used to influence, the events of the world. Of all the disciplines of science, biology is most subject to being warped by these influences, as it specifically deals with humanity and the world that we interact with.  While using science to inform decisions sounds to be an excellent idea, it can and does cause problems in society as we encounter the boundaries of what science can answer.  In her Ted talk, Alice Dreger explores this idea, talking about how some categories that we have, such as age minimums, are arbitrary and not necessarily something that science can really support.

A similar debate is occurring in health care right now, as health science pushes forward and genetic testing becomes more easily available.  As genetic predispositions to medical conditions become cheaper and easier to detect, the insurance industry is forced to grapple with how rates should vary between people as the risks that they face become easier to gauge.  The ethical problem becomes clear, as insurers would clearly love to have that data and consumers would hate to be locked out of the market or forced to pay incredibly high premiums for conditions beyond their control.  Health is not alone in creating these ripples as it moves forward.  I believe that the most compelling intersection of society and science is how we are trying to use it to answer complex questions about ourselves that it might not really be able to settle.  Science cannot tell us a lot of things, even as it advances.  Even if science reaches a point where it can tell us things about ourselves like how smart somebody could possibly be or how healthy somebody could possibly be, and technology makes that information publicly available, science can’t tell us the worth of a person.  I believe that the most important question that everybody should be asking in regard to science today is how we should be using the information that we’ll be able to learn about ourselves to help us rather than discriminate against us.  That is, we should use such information to inform ourselves rather than to punish others.  If science could tell us what will happen to us, or could happen to us, I’d like to see members of society use that information to empower themselves instead of falling into despair because they know their limits.

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