Charles Weiner: What's Different About the Tarrytown Meetings - Tarrytown 2010





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Published on May 7, 2012

Charles Weiner, Professor Emeritus of History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses what's unique about the 2010 Tarrytown Meetings.

The Tarrytown Meetings bring together people working to ensure that human biotechnologies and related emerging technologies support rather than undermine social justice, equality, human rights, ecological integrity and the common good.

Find out more about the Tarrytown Meetings here:

To find more videos, check out the Tarrytown YouTube channel:

Presentation Excerpt:
So what's different about Tarrytown I? We've been living with the consequences of decades of genetic engineering and biotechnology and working on a wide range of issues related to them, while anticipating and acting on emerging problems. Participants here bring lots of on-the-ground experience and seek better, alternative ways of creating knowledge and technologies that are based on social justice and community. The participants here are younger and more diverse and, with several notable exceptions, not from the biolabs but from other disciplines, including the one called "social activism."
The context in the 1960s and 1970s was the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the environmental movement, and the anti-war movement. All of these continue in different forms in the present, and others have come to the fore, including the anti-globalization movement, as powerfully documented in the writings of Rebecca Solnit.
Today we experience enduring war from the safety of "the homeland". We live with an almost total commercialization of academic biology, powerful industry lobbies with government blessing, and relatively little media scrutiny. All of this influences the questions scientists ask and the answers they value, as well as the public's awareness of the ethical, social and political strands entwined in the DNA double helix.
The audience for Tarrytown I is initially us. By sharing our experiences and analyses we can strengthen our work so we can more effectively reach those who are affected by biotechnology and who should decide which purposes it should serve , and how to regulate it, and who participates in the regulatory and policy processes.
What's needed?
One of the themes that emerged from the discussions here was the need for education of a variety of publics, as well as working scientists and scientists-in-training, and students at all levels. One of the problems is the mistaken perception of non-scientists that they can't participate in discussions about the social context of the biological sciences because they lack the training to understand what they see as complex, inaccessible, arcane knowledge wrapped in technical jargon. But you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the issues involved in public decisions on the uses and limits of genetic knowledge. Otherwise, we become passive observers rather than participants. The dogma of inevitability encourages passivity and acquiescence and discourages meaningful public involvement. It also inhibits scientists from considering the social implications of their research choices and from speaking out about the uses and abuses of their work.
Much has been made about the need for "scientific literacy" as the ticket for public entry into decision making about the social choices to be made in the development and application of biotechnology and genetic engineering. But democratic decision making also requires that scientists have "public literacy". Information and education is a two way street. There is a woeful lack of knowledge among science students and their mentors about the kinds of information exchanged at Tarrytown. They, and we, need to become more aware of and have ready access to the experiences, studies, writing and thinking of scholars, teachers and activists in the history, politics, anthropology and sociology of the life sciences, including legal and ethical studies.


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