Biopolitical divisions do not follow other political norms

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Historically, Americans have not asked lawmakers to take a stance on science, but those on Capitol Hill must now be fluent in topics once reserved for theoretical discussion at universities.

The "new biology"--as opposed to the "old biology" of discovery and classification--understands and manipulates the basic building blocks of life. With these advances the debate around vaccinations, stem cell research and cloning have flung bioethics into the political arena, said Jonathan Moreno, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Moreno spoke about his new book, "The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America," during an Oct. 21 event at the think tank in Washington, D.C.

"We have a different set of expectations of our political system now with the new biology than we did with the old biology," said Moreno.

Bioethics is also more politicized in the United States than it is in Europe, he said. This may be partially due to the fact that 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God--a number much higher than rates in Europe. Church attendance has also remained steadier in the United States than it has in Europe over the last thirty years, he said.

"The life issue has a depth and resonance in the United States that it does not have in Europe," said Moreno.

But these religious cues do not always paint a clear picture of biopolitics. "You cannot necessarily predict where someone stands on the issues of biopolitics based on where they typically stand on other cultural issues," said Moreno.

There are just as many progressives who are anxious about the new biology as there are cultural conservatives, he said. For example, some green progressives could find themselves more closely aligned with a group he calls "bioconservatives" than those that fully embrace technological advances, a group he refers to as "biohumanists," on the issue of prenatal testing for Down Syndrome. Blood testing for Down Syndrome runs up against conservatives' concerns about abortion and it alarms some green progressives because of the related hormone treatments that some consider a women's health issue, he explained.

By and large, Moreno said Americans embrace science and feel it enriches their lives. They are, however, sometimes wary of scientists. Cultural conservatives feel scientists can push too far--determining the age of the earth and taking a stance on man's relationship to other species--and they are sometimes resented for their supposed arrogance.

"The scientific community might need to think about how they're perceived," said Moreno.

For more:
- see the event page

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