Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard has been one of the most outspoken advocates for more gas and less brakes in CRISPR research. Both in writing and in talks he has expressed the view that we should move forward without substantial impediments to CRISPR-Cas9. For instance, Pinker’s “get out of the way” editorial in The Boston Globe on CRISPR was very critical of bioethics and advocated an expeditious path forward for the research without constraints. It sparked wide-ranging discussions and even some anger from bioethicists.
Knoepfler: Related to your talk at BEINGS and your more recent editorial, what do you see as the appropriate role for bioethics and bioethicists in the life sciences? “Get out of the way” seems rather absolute. Can you help us understand the nuances there in your view of bioethics if any?
Pinker: There’s a difference between ethics, on the one hand, and “bioethics” and “bioethicists,” on the other. Of course everything a scientist does — everything a human being does — ought to be ethically guided. But bioethics has become a professional guild that all too often impedes sound ethical concerns rather than advancing them. Many moral philosophers — the scholars who specialize in evaluating the soundness of ethical arguments — believe that mainstream bioethics commonly trades in confused claims based on emotion and woolly thinking.
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