In his stunning Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe, Steven Pinker seems to suggest that bioethicists come in only one flavor: conservative. I certainly don’t fit that bill. But there’s a lot I think he gets right in this critically important piece. Why not change the default rules: what if new scientific advances were welcome, unless we had strong reason to worry, rather than the other way around?
Take a look, this is really important.
Update, 8/6/15: Many people have voiced strong objections to Pinker’s piece, taking his admonition that “the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics” should be to “[g]et out of the way” as squarely directed at IRBs. His statement was definitely overbroad, but I didn’t take him to mean that we don’t need IRBs or human subjects protection at all. In fact, he explicitly acknowledges that “individuals must be protected from identifiable harms” and recognizes the importance of existing safeguards for subject safety and informed consent. Instead, I read his piece not just with human subjects research in mind, but all of science. At the most basic level, I think he is making a very reasonable call for us to be aware of the risks of overprotection, of trying to imagine everything that could ever go wrong, with blinders on to the consequences of what will happen if we sit still, worrying for too long.
Some other reactions from around the web: