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 Garage biology and politics 
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Joined: Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:19 am
Posts: 195
Location: Sweden
Post Garage biology and politics
Earlier tonight I tweeted ”I think Daniel Dennett is integral to biopunk philosophy” and was asked where the connection is. I suspect part of the reason for the question is an expectation that biopunk philosophy should be a political one. Open science, the evil of gene patents and all that.

This is part of biopunk, but biopunk is not – in my view – primarily yet another 'fight for our rights' political movement. The long reason is that the central theme in biopunk is Darwinism which is apolitical. The short reason is that garage biology is not as much under threat as is often suggested. Here is why:

Biotechnology is expected to be the next major industry, the one that's going to provide economic momentum, stock profits and jobs. It's the industry that universities are ramping up education for, city planners are building for and countries are giving tax exemptions for. Cities and countries are competing for the coming business.

Except for a few known applications it's not clear what this industry is expected to produce once the infrastructure is in place. New products can come from existing industry, from offshoots of existing industry or academia or... garage labs.

The National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats document from the U.S. National Security Council illustrates this expectation:
Quote:
The beneficial nature of life science research is reflected in the widespread manner in which it occurs. From cutting-edge academic institutes, to industrial research centers, to private laboratories in basements and garages, progress is increasingly driven by innovation and open access to the insights and materials needed to advance individual initiatives.

If you are in the know; ask yourself how many were doing life science research in ”basements and garages” last year? Garage biology is so important that if it doesn't exist it has to be invented. Garage biology is not under threat, it's not underground... there is even an FBI liaison, Ed You assigned to keep things smooth after earlier fuckups. It's being pampered.

This is the context. The game is in play. Welcome to the biopunk world.


-Splicer

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Sun Sep 05, 2010 10:56 pm
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Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2010 3:18 am
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Post Re: Garage biology and politics
The President created a Car Czar. When the car companies stop being subsidiaries of the government, which they will be soon, that job will be meaningless and disposed of.

My point is simple.

The FBI may have created a liaison, but that does not mean that his job is anymore permanent than the Car Czar's.

I don't think garage biology has much to contribute, nor do I think its capable.

I've been perusing some of the DIYbio forums/sites and from what I see, more people are interested in discussing the politics and prospects of it, but there is very little actual discussion of biology and methods. Where biology and methods are discussed, there is a serious lack of knowledge of things most molecular biologists consider absolute basics.

Maybe you can enlighten me as I am not part of this movement, but what exactly are the garage labs doing? What ideas are they coming up with? Most of what I see talked about in such forums are not novel in any fashion. Person A wants to isolate DNA. Fine, but why? Person B wants to put GFP in onion cells. Fine, but why? This is one major thing that distinguishes a scientist from a hobbyist. The scientist plans out their experiments and has an idea of what they are trying to do.

I'm sorry, as fascinating as this whole underground culture is and I find it fascinating, I don't see much of a future for it. Its proponents from what I see talk a great deal about it, but have little to show for it. And ultimately, the complexities and costs of modern biology will likely make it unfeasible for the garage labs to ever have an impact. Within biology itself, we are undergoing massive cultural changes. It used to be commonplace entire projects to be completed and papers to be published on the work of one individual. Now, it is typically the case that collaboration is necessary to accomplish the research as the field moves so fast that groups of scientists with differing expertise is becoming increasingly common where once the lone scientist ruled.


Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:55 am
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Joined: Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:19 am
Posts: 195
Location: Sweden
Post Re: Garage biology and politics
chadn737 wrote:
The President created a Car Czar. When the car companies stop being subsidiaries of the government, which they will be soon, that job will be meaningless and disposed of.

My point is simple.

The FBI may have created a liaison, but that does not mean that his job is anymore permanent than the Car Czar's.
That was a comment on the paranoia that sometimes creeps into DIYbio discussions.


chadn737 wrote:
I don't think garage biology has much to contribute, nor do I think its capable.

I've been perusing some of the DIYbio forums/sites and from what I see, more people are interested in discussing the politics and prospects of it, but there is very little actual discussion of biology and methods. Where biology and methods are discussed, there is a serious lack of knowledge of things most molecular biologists consider absolute basics.
These are early days. I'm among those guilty of avoiding discussions on biology and methods. My interest is in the subcultural aspects of biohacking. You are right about many in the community not understanding basics. And there is a disconnect between the biohacker image and what's being produced.

The community is only two years old though. These are the early days, the DIYbio days. As materials get more accessible and more can be done garage biology will become less political and more pragmatic. Some biohackers will hack for highly personal reasons and others will be in it for the money. It will be another breed than we have seen so far.


chadn737 wrote:
Maybe you can enlighten me as I am not part of this movement, but what exactly are the garage labs doing? What ideas are they coming up with? Most of what I see talked about in such forums are not novel in any fashion. Person A wants to isolate DNA. Fine, but why? Person B wants to put GFP in onion cells. Fine, but why? This is one major thing that distinguishes a scientist from a hobbyist. The scientist plans out their experiments and has an idea of what they are trying to do.
There are a handful garage labs, they are doing 'hello world' experiments, basic sequencing and trying to find alternative protocols. Half of them build tools.


chadn737 wrote:
I'm sorry, as fascinating as this whole underground culture is and I find it fascinating, I don't see much of a future for it. Its proponents from what I see talk a great deal about it, but have little to show for it. And ultimately, the complexities and costs of modern biology will likely make it unfeasible for the garage labs to ever have an impact. Within biology itself, we are undergoing massive cultural changes. It used to be commonplace entire projects to be completed and papers to be published on the work of one individual. Now, it is typically the case that collaboration is necessary to accomplish the research as the field moves so fast that groups of scientists with differing expertise is becoming increasingly common where once the lone scientist ruled.
It's not that underground. I can't see what all those future applications are supposed to be either. But I expect them. My reasoning goes something like this; the applications of a new technology are inherent in the technology, but the applications that turn out to be important are obvious to very few in the beginning. The internet and piracy were inherent in information technology, they were waiting to happen. Analogously I'm not sure we can see the applications that will turn out to be significant in biotechnology. And Biotechnology promises to be as transforming as any new major technology before it.

Garage biology brings this technology within reach of young people, and they are more likely to see what those applications are. This is speculation but it's the way it usually works out.

On the size of projects: I think garage biology will produce applications rather than basic research.


-Splicer

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Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:54 pm
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