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BIOSNews Issue 17 • Lent Term 2011

In this issue Editorial 1 The Fascinating prehistory of IVF: Sarah Franklin, Martin Johnson and Nick Hopwood 2 Personhood in the ‘age of the brain’: Joelle M Abi-Rached 5 Synthetic Biology and Open Source: Normative Cultures of Biology: Claire Marris 6 Commentary from scientists:Tom Ellis 7 Cosmopolitan benches: Joy Zhang 8 Research updates from Valentina Amorese and Angela Marques Filipe 9 Postcard from Joelle M Abi-Rached 9 Publications and conference presentations 10 Upcoming events 11

BIOSDiversity Editorial Happy New Year! As fireworks are not normally compatible with paper-medium newsletters, the editorial board decides to present you with a collection of exciting intellectual sparks instead! This issue, as many previous ones, is a celebration of ‘BIOS-diversity’. The nine contributors together illustrate to you the diverse and vibrant research activities that have been developed and flourished from the 11th floor of LSE’s Tower Two. In this issue, Sarah Franklin, Martin Johnson and Nick Hopwood give a fascinating account on the prehistory of IVF: Why the MRC refused Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe support for research on human conception in 1971. It provides us a fuller understanding of what happened at the birth of the IVF revolution. Joelle Abi-Rached presents a comprehensive summary on the interesting discussions in the concluding symposium of the ESRC-funded BIOS project, ‘Brain, Self, and Society’, and how the developments in the ‘new brain sciences’ shape our understanding of personhood. From the burgeoning synthetic biology front, Claire Marris, BIOS’ senior research fellow, and Tom Ellis, lecturer at Imperial College, give complementary views on open source initiatives and how dialogue between disciplines can contribute to emerging sciences. On lighter subjects: as China’s official newspaper the People’s Daily ran a half-page report on Biosian Joy Zhang’s recent solo photographic exhibition in Beijing, she explains how her photographic works are actually a side-product of her research at BIOS. Finally, there are research updates from Angela Marques Filipe, a new doctoral student and Valentina Amorese, an advanced PhD candidate, along with a postcard from Joelle Abi-Rached, who was a brilliant research officer at BIOS and has now started her own PhD journey at Harvard. In all, this issue hopes to share with you some of the everyday research dynamics in BIOS. And we wish you, our readers, every success in the diverse pursuits you may have in 2011. The BIOS News team

Sociology BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011


Bourn Hall Clinic, cofounded by Edwards and Steptoe in 1980

The Fascinating Prehistory of IVF by Sarah Franklin1, Martin Johnson2 and Nick Hopwood3

This autumn the embryologist Robert Edwards, one of the leading figures in the development of human in vitro fertilization, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He and his late colleague, the obstetrician Patrick Steptoe, led the team that in 1978 achieved the first live birth after IVF. Many saw this recognition as late, but the development of IVF was always highly contested. Most importantly, in 1971, Edwards and Steptoe submitted an application to the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) requesting support for research on human in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. For reasons that turn out to include a mixture of ethical caution, institutional politics and inexperienced grantsmanship, their application was rejected. Given the subsequent success of IVF, with over four million babies born and spin-offs such as In Full? PGD and embryonic stem cells, the MRC decision offers an interesting case not only of science not ‘racing ahead’ of society, but also of the side-lining of ‘high-impact’ research. In historical work supported by the Wellcome Trust and assisted by Matt Cottingham, we reconstructed a comprehensive paper trail that allowed us to reanalyse this controversial decision. A paper in Human Reproduction reported the results just a few months before the announcement of Edwards’ prize. Edwards (Cambridge) and Steptoe (Oldham) sought state funding for an elaborate programme of work on human conception. They wanted, above all, to bring Steptoe south in order to overcome the separation of scientific and clinical work. The bid amply satisfied a strategic policy only recently developed within the MRC to encourage joint clinical and scientific research in UK academic departments of obstetrics and gynaecology, which were then considered weak in research. This weakness had made it difficult to recruit highquality reproductive scientists and clinicians to the MRC’s newly opened flagship enterprise, the Clinical Research Centre (CRC) at Northwick Park Hospital in west London. Its first director, Graham Bull, seized the opportunity presented


by Edwards and Steptoe to offer them both positions at the CRC, together with a full set of staffed laboratories plus 20 research beds in obstetrics and gynaecology. Keen to remain connected to Cambridge, Edwards declined the offer. Crucially, he did not fully appreciate the strategic reasons behind this initial enthusiasm, nor how much more difficult it would be to gain funding as an external applicant. So he told the MRC that he preferred to remain in Cambridge, where he found the intellectual atmosphere more stimulating, and that he wished to apply for a five-year grant or even an MRC unit there. This course of action was to prove ill-advised for several reasons. Perhaps most important was the fact that there was then no academic department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Cambridge, which was only then in the process of establishing a Clinical School. The local consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists were reportedly hostile to the prospect of Steptoe’s moving there. So Edwards’ bid was given somewhat ambivalent local support at his home institution, significantly weakening its chances of success. Newmarket General Hospital threw a lifeline, however, again driven in part by local logistical problems. Short of consultant cover, the East Anglian Regional Hospital Board offered Steptoe a part-time consultant’s position, so that the rest of his time could be spent on the MRC research. The board even offered to build a 20-bed research ward – if the MRC paid. Steptoe was all set to come, although in the end he and Edwards went for a clinical research base closer to the central Cambridge laboratories. They identified a large house nearby, recently vacated, ironically, as a home for unmarried mothers. Edwards’ and Steptoe’s application to the MRC, submitted in February 1971, proposed this arrangement, with a half-time MRC position in Cambridge for Steptoe, plus a part-time NHS consultant position in Newmarket.

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This proposal went to clinical and scientific referees, whose reasons for concern about its feasibility, safety and ethical integrity are fully revealed in the documents we uncovered at the National Archives. The clinicians were alarmed about patient safety in the proposed set-up, adrift from hospital support. There was also a mixture of praise for and criticism of Steptoe as an innovative if over-enthusiastic clinician. The scientific referees admired Edwards as a scientist of imagination, industry and flair, but again worried about over-enthusiasm. They were also concerned that IVF embryos might be abnormal and that their replacement could lead to the birth of deformed babies. With one exception, they placed a much higher premium on limiting fertility than on alleviating infertility. There was also no enthusiasm for PGD; they preferred amniocentesis and termination. Only one referee raised the moral status of the embryo as an issue. Overall, the referees preferred primate studies first. Most were also critical of Edwards and Steptoe for their ‘inappropriate’ use of the media to discuss in public the scientific, ethical and political issues raised by their research. The MRC could not fund the work based on such reports and the Clinical Research Board accordingly rejected the application. Edwards was shocked and dismayed. He had interpreted the earlier offer to join the CRC as evidence of MRC support for his work, but had underestimated the difficulties of seeking funding in open competition. In a rebuttal, he belatedly articulated several arguments that should have gone into the original application. Edwards and Steptoe then became embattled and isolated in their attempts to pursue the research with private funds under far from ideal conditions. Public attacks demanded continuing engagement with the media, which fuelled further peer opposition, as well as concern within the MRC. In 1974, its then secretary articulated policy on IVF at a press conference and essentially blocked support for the next five years. When the change in policy came, it was based on surprisingly thin evidence – two out of seven pregnancies delivered successfully to term, most importantly the highprofile birth of Louise Brown in 1978. The MRC was now willing to fund research to assess and improve the safety of this now accepted ‘experimental therapy’. Overall, the story that emerges is of research that challenged social attitudes, ethical values and institutional priorities. At the same time, the 1971 bid did not succeed in taking advantage of opportunities created by significant institutional innovation in the reproductive sciences and in clinical research. More generally, the story confirms the fundamental ambivalence that continues to surround innovations in bioscience and biomedicine, evidencing the depth of ongoing conflict between faith in the benefits of scientific progress and reluctance to endorse innovations that go ‘too far’ – especially when they concern human reproduction.

only ever be reactive, is contradicted by the evidence of ethical debate surrounding the prehistory of clinical IVF – much of it actively stimulated by Edwards himself. Although attitudes to medical scientists in the media have changed significantly since the 1970s, scientists and clinicians engaged in high-profile work still face a dilemma. If they encourage public discussion of their work – which they may see as both necessary to securing support and desirable to ensure full ethical discussion – must they inevitably weaken their standing among their peers? Finally, our case study questions the myth of two courageous mavericks pitted against a conservative establishment. This myth does capture important elements of truth: Edwards and Steptoe were outsiders and did pioneer – against prevailing wisdom – new ideas, therapies, values, public discourses and ethical thinking. But the process of decision-making was more complex than the myth allows. Our research provides a fuller understanding of the birth of the IVF revolution. Further link: A full length of this article is published in Human Reproduction,

Sarah Franklin is a Professor in Sociology and Associate Director of BIOS


Martin Johnson is a Professor of Reproductive Sciences, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge



 ick Hopwood is a Senior Lecturer, Department of History and Philosophy N of Science, University of Cambridge

‘The obstetrician Patrick Steptoe, led the team that in 1978 achieved the first live birth after IVF’

The MRC’s non-funding of IVF belies the cliché that science ‘races ahead’ of society. Similarly, the standard view, that ethical consideration of bioscience and biomedicine can

BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011


Personhood in the ‘Age of the Brain’ by Joelle M Abi-Rached1

To what extent are developments in the ‘new brain sciences’ shaping our understanding of personhood? Are we in the midst of a move from ‘soul to brain.’ as some neuroscientists have recently claimed? Are we moving towards the rise of the ‘neuronal self’ and a shift from personhood to ‘brainhood’?2 If so, in what ways, and with what consequences for individuals and for society, and for our ways of governing others and ourselves? These are some of the issues that were tackled in the concluding symposium of the ESRC-funded ‘Brain, Self and Society’ project that took place on 13 September 2010, at LSE’s Wolfson Theatre. Prof. Nikolas Rose, convener of the project and chair of this event, opened the symposium by underlying the remarkable process of institutionalization of the neurosciences in the past few decades. The term ‘neuroscience’ was only coined in 1962 to describe a new ‘program’ as it was referred to, the Neurosciences Research Program based at the MIT. Yet over the last two decades, all sorts of claims for the social, political and ethical significance of neuroscientific findings have started to permeate social and political sites. It is claimed that advances in the ‘neuro’ sciences (from discoveries in neurogenesis, to development of neurotechnologies, to the screening of susceptibilities and biomarkers for all sorts of neuropsychiatric ailments) have implications for the way we understand and manage human beings in all sorts of circumstances. Even more problematic, these claims seem now to address the question of selfhood and personhood – such as the notion of ‘free will,’ which has recently been at the core of a spate of philosophical and legal debates. But to what extent are these claims new? Isn’t the idea that ‘humans are not masters of their own house,’ as Freud argues, reminiscent of psychoanalysis? And what kind of attitudes should one to take towards these developments? In the first keynote, Prof. Jean-Pierre Changeux, from the Collège de France and the Institut Pasteur, explored whether a ‘neuroscience of the human person’ is a plausible research program. His position was clearly synthetic. What he meant was a neuroscience of what Paul Ricoeur calls a ‘capable person,’ that is a rational and conscious individual engaged in certain relationships in search of ‘personal identity and social status.’3 By outlining the intricacies of the nervous system’s multifarious anatomical landscapes, Changeux pointed out that the key question is not whether selfhood is being reconfigured in neurobiological terms (which is a given) but the underlying mechanisms of this ‘neurochemical machinery.’ For Changeux, the brain is the synthesis of evolutionary and developmental processes: evolution of species, ontogenetic development, epigenetic evolution and the experiential and cultural processes. Therefore, ‘neuronal man’ is only one dimension nested in multiple hierarchical and parallel levels of organization, including the molecular-cognitive level but also the cultural, existential and experiential levels. One should establish a balance between the neural and human sciences with ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ analyses, continuous and discontinuous developments and reflections.


Prof. Catherine Malabou, a philosopher at the Université Paris-X Nanterre, delivered the second keynote lecture on the ‘Epigenetics of Reason or Fashioning the Transcendental’ using the notion of ‘neuroplasticity’ as the focus of her presentation.Is the brain an ordinary or a ‘historical’ organ? Inspired by Kant’s ‘epigenesis of reason,’ Malabou explored the interlocking trajectories of historical and biological truths and the unfolding of a new space, which is ‘in between history and nature.’ She argued that this is the space where we find ourselves today in the age of the brain. Because the ‘self’ has no contemporary shape, the responsibility falls on us to shape it and imbue it with meaning. What is needed, Malabou conceded, is a ‘consciousness of our brain’ or a ‘critical approach’ to deal with the empirical knowledge produced by the neurosciences. But ‘critical’ does not mean ‘rejection.’ Quite the contrary: it means a serious engagement with the material realities brought about by the neurosciences. Prof. Michael Hagner, Chair of Social Studies at ETH Zurich, gave a brief history of homo cerebralis starting from Descartes and the mind-body relationships, up to contemporary neuroscientific discourses. He began by sketching the ‘episteme shift’ from the Cartesian organ of the soul to the modern brain. This shift, Hagner argued, gave rise to the birth of ‘homo cerebralis’ through the advent of cortical localization, a paradigm that is still predominant in the contemporary brain sciences. He underlines the most important consequences of this ‘epistemic rupture’ occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. This rupture led to new ‘narratives of the brain’ (the ‘female brain,’ ‘the criminal brain,’ the ‘pathological brain,’ and so forth). In line with what Ricoeur calls ‘narrative identity,’ the ‘criminal brain,’ for example, shaped a kind of narrative identity of individuals, types, human groups, and entire societies with criminal behaviours and criminal characteristics that could be measured, identified, categorized, and reproduced. Hagner further focused on the debate over the Cartesian dualism and argued (along with Bennett and Hacker) 4 that, contrary to what many neuroscientists claim, Cartesian dualism has not been overcome. What is interesting, however, Hagner concluded, is not the ‘mereological fallacy’ per se but ‘the political function’ of the very claim made by neuroscientists. Prof. Patrick Haggard from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London spoke on ‘Human volition and the neuroscience of will.’5 Going back to Benjamin Libet’s well-known experiment, Haggard showed how modern neuroscience likewise rejects the traditional dualist view of volition as a causal chain from the conscious mind to the brain and body. Here, however, volition involves brain networks that make a series of complex, open decisions between alternative actions. Yet, volition is not merely ‘epiphenomenal,’. Data from cortical stimulations suggest that there is a brain circuit underlying ‘will’. Haggard referred to a study on tractable epilepsy treated with neurosurgery through direct stimulation of several frontal sites, whereby it was shown that stimulation of a key area called the pre-supplementary motor area (preSMA) elicited an experience of an ‘urge’ to move a specific

BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011

body part. More intense stimulation produced movement of the same body part. ‘Urge’ is thus similar to desire, volition or intention. Located between the ‘cognitive’ areas of the frontal lobes and motor-execution areas, the pre-SMA thus occupies a key position that transforms ‘thoughts into actions’ making it a key structure that should be the focus of further investigation into the neural underpinnings of volition. Last but not least, Professor Alain Ehrenberg from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris explored the overarching question of the symposium: ‘does neuroscience change something in the concept of personhood’? The short answer is no, because the symptomatic features of the debate are to be found in social realities, not in cognitive neuroscience. The long answer is that identifying a change in the notion of personhood is not straightforward. The question of ‘what a person is’ has indeed a long history. In the USA, one can trace it back to David Riesman’s best-selling book, The Lonely Crowd, published in 1950, while in France it goes back to Marcel Mauss’s 1938 Huxley Memorial lecture entitled, ‘A Category of the Human Mind: the Notion of Person, the Notion of Self.’ In this lecture, Mauss unearthed the social origins of Kant’s philosophical notion of the self, and by doing this he suggested that a move from psychology to sociology (and not the other way around) would help us comprehend the nature of the person. Ehrenberg argued analogously that one should trace the mutation of personhood in social processes and not in the neuroscientific discourse. After all, human beings live in a world shaped by language and meaning. Therefore, any attempt to reduce individuals to inter-subjective relationships (precisely the research framework of social neuroscience) is self-defeating. After Kant’s ‘indivisible self’ and Freud’s ‘divisible self,’ Ehrenberg argued we are witnessing today the birth of ‘the optimal self.’ Nevertheless, this new self is not the product of neuroscience but a psychology that has been mutating since the 1960s against psychoanalysis. Although cognitive neuroscience does not add something to our current ideas of the person,

Ehrenberg concluded, it has become a field ‘where old and new mythologies of modernity are invested.’ In the final panel devoted to a more extensive discussion of some of theissues tackled throughout the symposium, the public raised some challenging questions to our guests. What emerged was a clear gap between those who believe today that the brain is adding something to the debate and those who still resist the rise into prominence of neuroscience in a territory that used to be dominated by the human sciences. However, far from witnessing a paradigmatic shift in our understanding of personhood and selfhood, this ‘epistemological resistance’ might be indicative of a new beginning. Quite unusually perhaps, the two ‘camps’ were not the traditional breeds of scientists on the one hand and social scientists on the other, but an exotic mixture of both. It seems the boundaries between the social sciences and the scientific disciplines have never been more porous. Further Links: Brain, Self and Society project: brainSelfSociety/ Podcast of the symposium: bios/20100913_brainSelfAndSociety.mp3 Research Officer on the ‘Brain, Self and Society’ project (2007 – 2010).


See, Jean-Pierre Changeux, Neuronal man: the biology of mind (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997) and Fernando Vidal, ‘Brainhood, anthropological figure of modernity,’ History of the Human Sciences 22, no. 1 (2009): 5-36.


One wonders if Paul Ricoeur would have approved of a ‘neuroscience of the capable person’ simply because he rejects a Cartesian claim ‘for an absolute transparency of the self to itself that would render selfknowledge independent of any kind of knowledge of the world.’ Bernard Dauenhauer, ‘Paul Ricoeur,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005,


Bennett, M R & Hacker, PMS., 2003. Philosophical foundations of neuroscience, Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.


Published as: Haggard, P., 2008. Human volition: towards a neuroscience of will. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 9(12), pp.934-946.


Upcoming BIOS events 15-16 Feb 2011

Transnational Bioethics, Christoph Rehmann-Sutter

24 Feb 2011 LSE Works: Neurosciences and Mental Health (tbc): 8 March 2011

The Human Sciences in ‘the Century of Biology’ - Revitalising Sociology. Martin White Professorship Inaugural Lecture, Nikolas Rose

12 May 2011 A Bioethical Approach to Human Rights? Dr Alasdair Cochrane, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE. 5-7pm Graham Wallas Room AGWR, 5th floor, Old Building BIOS Roundtables – see BIOS Roundtables are an opportunity for members of the research community to discuss their research in a very informal way. We discuss anything that you are working on; from a particular piece of data or a methodological problem, to a chapter, concept or draft journal piece that you are writing. The format is similarly open; but we usually circulate a draft of something about a week before (even if it is just a few pages) to get people’s minds focused. To join the BIOS Roundtable group please email:

BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011


Synthetic Biology and Open Source: Normative Cultures of Biology by Claire Marris1

What would happen if it became easier for anybody to engineer biology? The new field of synthetic biology promises to do just that. Standard biological parts that could be assembled in a modular way – just like Lego Bricks – would be made publicly available through ‘Open Source’, along with the computer software necessary for the computer-aided-design of synthetic organisms. The materials and techniques required would be openly shared between scientists all over the world… and would also be available to keen amateurs, enthusiastic teenagers - and perhaps also terrorists. To what extent is Open Source possible in synthetic biology? How might it work in practice? In what way are the proposed strategies for ‘OpenWetWare’ parallel to those witnessed in the recent history of Open Source Software? Are we truly witnessing a radical transformation of normative cultures of biology? On 23 and 24 September, BIOS hosted a workshop where distinguished international scholars in social studies of science debated these issues together with leading researchers in the field of synthetic biology. The workshop was organised by Dr Claire Marris, Senior Research Fellow at BIOS and Alain Pottage from the LSE Law Department, as one of the activities of the EPSRC-funded joint BIOS-Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI). Borrowed from the field of information and communication technologies, the ‘Open Source’ concept is at the core of many discussions about both the promises and fears associated with the nascent field of synthetic


biology, which aims to ‘make biology easier to engineer’. According to the ‘engineering school’ of synthetic biology, well characterised standardised biological parts encoding specific functions would be stored in open registries based on the principle of ‘get some, give some’. These parts sometimes referred to as ‘BioBricks’ - would be easy to assemble in a modular fashion to create organisms with predictable behaviours, producing for example high-value biological macromolecules (biofuels, pharmaceuticals,...) in industrial vats or micro-organisms able to de-pollute environments contaminated by heavy metals. This vision of ‘OpenWetWare’ thus rests on two important and inter-related premises: (i) that these parts will work like ‘wetware’, a term that emphasises the hoped-for ability of the parts to function reproducibly in various cellular hosts or ‘chassis’; and (ii) that the parts (and associated tools and methods) will not be subject to restrictive intellectual property rights. Discussions at the workshop highlighted the many different ways in which ‘openness’ is at the core of synthetic biology. In the strictest legal sense, ‘open source’ refers to attempts to establish an intellectual property regime that will prevent the patenting of individual parts, tools and techniques. Synthetic biology is also ‘open’ in the sense that it aims to encourage participation by a wider public, and emphasises the open-minded creativity of innovators in this field. These dimensions of synthetic biology are particularly evident in one dominant discourse about synthetic biology, emblematically represented by the ‘talk’ of Drew Endy and embodied in various institutions that he has helped to establish (the BioBricks Foundation, the MIT Registry of Parts, the International Genetic Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), the BioFab, and the BioBrick Public Agreement). This discourse was addressed by three papers presented by Professor Christopher Kelty (University of California, Los Angeles), Professor Steve Hilgartner (Cornell University), and Dr Adrian Mackenzie (Lancaster University). Overall, these authors concluded that the culture of synthetic biology embedded in current discourses about the open exchange of information and biological materials, and about openness towards various publics are perhaps not as radically different from earlier practices in genetic research as some synthetic biologists envisage. Stephen Hilgartner argued that the open source regimes currently being proposed appear to be framed within BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011

a traditional innovation perspective that is unlikely to impinge on democratic decision making. Christopher Kelty demonstrated that the parallel with the recent history of ICT open source was quite problematic and suggested that what was being constructed was perhaps closer to collaborative research infrastructures for the sharing of materials and information on model organisms (Drosophila mutants) developed in the early twentieth century. Adrian Mackenzie proposed to search for ‘in situ’ publics that would differ from publics commonly addressed outside of science, as forces of legitimation. In contrast to common images of (ex-situ) publics who are only able to ‘oppose’ or ‘accept’ synthetic biology, these publics might somehow be part of making the doing of this science possible. Three discussants responded to each paper, and plenty of time was allocated to discussion among all 30 participants. Four of our own BIOS PhD students, who are conducting their own research on synthetic biology, acted as discussants and often brought in valuable fresh insights based on their fieldwork, reminding us of the importance of following synthetic biologists as they go about their daily work in laboratories, supervise students in the iGEM competition or circulate in scientific conferences, policy forums and public debates. As one discussant aptly put it: ‘The high view can be useful but it can also give you a nose bleed and you may lose sight of the ground’. Closer to the ground, the untidy complexities behind the highlevel discourse become apparent; yet much discussion - in both social science research and in public and policy forums - tends to reify synthetic biology. This was also remarked upon by the synthetic biologists who attended, who were surprised that so much attention

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was being paid to the ‘talk’ and activities of one or two high-profile synthetic biologists (Drew Endy and Craig Venter). They suggested that it would be more interesting to look at the actual research being conducted in many laboratories away from the glare of these well known self-publicists. For example, they pointed out that they only used the MIT Registry of Parts and the BioBrick Public Agreement (that the papers had largely focused on) in the context of the iGEM competition. They did not use them for their own professional research, partly because of the well-known fact that most of the parts in the open MIT Registry ‘do not work’. Thus, alongside these institutions promoting Open Source, more mundane - and more ‘closed’ – professional practices are developing, such as new registries or ‘BioFabs’ developed by and for professional researchers as opposed to undergraduate students, sometimes with funding from the private sector and within a traditional regime of intellectual property rights largely reliant on patents. Towards the end of the workshop, it was suggested that the ‘openness’ of synthetic biology research might eventually be practiced mostly through... publication in academic journals. This dialogue between social scientists and synthetic biologists was one of the most interesting dimensions of the workshop, and helped to set the agenda for future BIOS research in this area. Ironically, it also demonstrated how a ‘closed’ workshop (with only a small group of invited participants) can be generative. Find out more: Claire Marris is a senior research fellow of CSynBI, a joint LSE-Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation



Commentary from Scientists by Tom Ellis1

1 Tom Ellis is a Lecturer in Synthetic Biology at the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI) and the Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London

As a member of CSynBI, not only do I have a wonderful opportunity to push UK synthetic biology research in Imperial College’s labs but I also benefit from engaging interactions with our partners at BIOS. On the 23 and 24 September 2010, myself and four other Imperial researchers got the chance to see first-hand the interesting work of our BIOS colleagues at LSE at their two-day workshop ‘Synthetic Biology and Open Source: Normative Cultures of Biology’. The workshop was quite unlike the research meetings and conferences a lab scientist like myself attends. Four papers were presented for discussion by invited guests and then prepared replies to each of these were offered by three different people after which a general discussion was held. This was like peer-review in real time and was also itself, in a way, open-source (at least among the 30 or so attending). Could we do this in research science? It would be an interesting experiment to try. At times the language and topics of discussion veered into unknown territory for me. Words used such as performative, objecting and the public vs publics left more than one of us confused. Fortunately, the leisurely pace of the workshop – four papers discussed over two days and a cracking meal between – gave us time to digest the jargon and by the Friday afternoon I felt able to also contribute to the discussion. So what did a synthetic biologist like myself think of the discussions? The exercise was immediately thought-provoking and a great learning experience. In particular I enjoyed the comparison of today’s open-source synthetic biology community with the newsletter groups that revolved around model organisms like Drosophila in the mid-20th century. It seems, as always, that history provides useful comparisons and extrapolating your future based on a past historical comparison is an interesting thought-exercise, valuable for helping you see through the next ten or twenty years. As always with discussions on synthetic biology, it struck me once more that so much of the perceived novelty of this subject has been seen before and my own conclusion from the workshop was that the synthetic biology community wasn’t too different from most scientific communities after all. Interestingly, we’ve seen

this outcome before in discussions on the safety threat of this field. Committees are arranged to meet and discuss the new possible threat synthetic biology could pose and invariably come to the conclusion that in reality this new subject is not actually so far from existing science that it warrants a whole new method of policing. Is this the same with the way our community shares resources and information? Are we so different from other research communities that we warrant a whole new method of organisation and communication? I don’t think so and increasingly synthetic biology is looking more and more like mainstream scientific research, which has always had a generous slice of open-source attached. But if synthetic biology isn’t in the end all that different to existing science, then why is it so interesting to both research and commentate on? It clearly is different enough to justify high-level safety committees and discussion groups being setup. It clearly is different enough to attract millions in funding and thousands of eager undergraduate students. But has this difference essentially just been hype spun evangelically by a dedicated few synthetic biology ‘celebrities’? This was another central theme of discussion – the influence of personalities like Craig Venter, Drew Endy and Jay Keasling. The power these individuals have on the perception of the subject is so great that if they and their teams were to lose interest in the way the community has headed, then it could easily stagnate. But at the same time, continual discussion of their science is done at the cost of ignoring the silent majority of synthetic biologists who leave hype to the others in order to concentrate their time on producing blockbuster research papers the oldfashioned scientific way but with the new-fashioned thinking of engineering biology. My feeling, along with others at the workshop was that now was the time to start discussing these significant others that play such crucial roles in synthetic biology as we know it. They may not be as radically different to previous researchers to justify a top-level analysis of their standing and influence, but as excellently pointed-out during the workshop, the synthetic biology community is still small enough to get in there and see how individuals are making day-to-day decisions that could shape the future of the subject.

Out now!


Special Issue

This Special Issue on ‘The Health Complex: Progress and pathologies in global health funding and governance’ is guest edited by Dr. Linsey McGoey, Dr. Julian Reiss and Dr. Ayo Wahlberg. It brings together an interdisciplinary group of policy-makers and scholars who are critically engaged with addressing the political and economic roots of current health disparities and current barriers towards access to medicine and healthcare internationally. The volume offers novel perspectives on a range of epistemological and practical issues, such as the consequences of efforts to ‘de-neglectify’ diseases; the unintended consequences of the growth of public-private partnerships in drug development; the emergence and limits of new philanthropic players, and the merits and detriments of new proposals to encourage more R&D activity. The volume also interrogates the question of why, until very recently, disciplines such as bioethics, sociology and philosophy of science have generally failed to engage with global health inequalities as an overwhelmingly ethical problem.


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Cosmopolitan Benches

At the end of July 2010, one month after I defended my PhD thesis at LSE, Canon (China) Ltd in Beijing hosted my third solo photographic exhibition, Benches and Their Social Tales. This collection consisted of 34 semi-documentary bench images taken in Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa and North America. Together these photos re-examined the dynamics of inter-personal connections in a cosmopolitan world. Most of the photos were taken during my five-year study at BIOS (first as an MSc then a PhD student). Amid a myriad of gallery events in an expanding Chinese art market, these benches attracted much media attention: from international photographic magazines such as CAPA to local popular media, such as the Beijing Youth Daily. What was most exciting was that China’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily (Overseas Edition), spared half a page reporting (not censoring!) my benches! Interestingly, since the gallery poster indicated that the photographer, (ie, me) had just obtained a PhD, many viewers thought these images were my doctoral research. Some parents, on behalf of their teenage kids, queried me about ‘the photography courses’ at LSE. They were somewhat disappointed to learn that I actually studied a rather ‘soft’ aka ‘not useful’ subject called sociology, and that my thesis was on governing stem cell research in the context of cosmopolitanization (‘what is that?’). But as you will see, part of the exhibition’s success was because it was spiced up by sociological theories I employed in my thesis. Most of the exhibited photos were direct front-shot of people’s activities on a bench (eg, chatting, quarrelling or delicate actions of ‘drawing the boundaries’ between self and others when sharing a seat). The simple uniformed compositions were aimed to put viewers into direct confrontation with these public showcases of city dwellers’ interactions. The collection also includes a couple of empty benches. To borrow the concept of liubai (blank-leaving) in traditional Chinese ink painting, when accompanied by benches occupied with specific figures and narratives, these empty benches stimulate viewers imaginations and are actually the ones with more stories to tell.

for they attract all kinds of people in the city regardless of class, race and relationship with that city. Students, children, the homeless, tourists, white collar professionals, construction workers, and retired people are just a few of the examples. As such, the bench offers a best theme in capturing city dwellers’ curiosity, hesitation, uneasiness and their recognition of an inescapable overlap of their lives with others, or rather, with ‘strangers’. Thus, Beijing viewers might find that these images taken from around the globe echo similar ‘bewilderments’ to the otherness of others as the viewers themselves experience in their intermingled everyday life. In this sense, these images are almost physical presentations of a central theme to recent sociological debates on cosmopolitanism. So I found myself standing in a Beijing gallery talking on and on about cosmopolitanism studies to an art journalist. The result was quite encouraging. Not only did the newspaper provide a whole page of reportage, but also before I left Beijing, I received text messages from the journalist and the editor saying that they’d love to do follow up coverage if I have other exhibition plans – See, who says sociology is useless? But what I take most pride in this exhibition was not Canon’s endorsement or media attention, but was actually the coincidental ‘symmetry’ in life. In summer 2005, one month before I came to study at the BIOS, Canon hosted my second solo exhibition in Beijing. Just graduated from medical school, I was fascinated and awed by the strength or rather ‘stubbornness’ of Life that I experienced in the wards and in the surgery room. Thus I prepared a series of portraits of people in different time zones to express how Life free flows through temporal, geographic and physical barriers. At that time, I was ready to put photography aside and dive into the serious study of medical sociology. However, BIOS has a strong visual culture. In fact, after my Beijing exhibition, I had a photo/painting co-exhibition with a former Bios-ian, Chiara Di Bartolo in Italy. Thus, not only did I carried on with photography, but also five years later, one month after I graduated from LSE, I had another exhibition. What could be a better way to start and end one’s study? The experience itself is a piece of art.

I always avoid explaining the ‘meanings’ of my photography. Not that I don’t enjoying talking about them, but that I feel an author’s statement always contaminates audiences’ own interpretations and somewhat circumcises the vitality of photography itself. But one journalist insisted that I specify the original rationales and evaluate whether or not they matched the responses from the viewers. She was very surprised when I told her: ‘To some extent, these images are a translation of current sociology discussions on cosmopolitanism and I guess that’s partly why they are appealing to visitors.’ With migrant workers, foreign tourists, investors, and international collaborators flooding in, Beijing, like many cosmopolitan cities, is a convergence of cultural, social, political and economic differences. But the key is how we can get used to and benefit from these differences. Benches are an intriguing public space, BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011


Research updates

Valentina Amorese, PhD Candidate

Angela Marques Filipe, PhD candidate

After years of feverish research, work and also a lot of fun, the time for the goodbyes is approaching faster than I could possibly imagine. Waiting for my final viva, I cannot stop wondering where, now that I need it the most, is that urgency to finish the PhD that accompanied me for … mmm … how long … almost three and a half years?

My current research interests focus on the issues Attention-deficit hyperactivity – ADHD (the most frequently diagnosed child neurobehavioral disorder) raises in the milieu of clinical practice.

I arrived in London on 19 September, 2005. At that time, I was a young Italian student with little experience in sociology and an extensive background in science. I immediately enrolled in the BIOS Masters programme and certainly wasn’t expecting to spend the next five years of my life in the BIOS Centre. It was my first time living abroad for such a long time, the first time in a new city, the first time away from parents and friends. Now that I am about to leave and move to Rome, I realised that terms like biosociety, governmentality and deficit model have become a part of my everyday language, I have fun with my friends and colleagues in London, I have experienced teaching at LSE and I am about to have a baby! Looking back to these years, it feels like I have been given an extraordinary opportunity, one I will not forget as it has become an integral part of me now. The driving question of my project revolves around communication of science and whether and how scientists listen to the speaking public. Thus, in light of an emerging body of work in the STS literature, I take the scientists as my main object of analysis and, taking the case of GMOs, I analyse how scientists listen. I argue that this perspective provides new insights into our understanding of the relationship between science and the public. Analysing GM scientists’ listening process shows that deficit model repertoires are still a common pattern across scientists to frame the relation with the public. In addition, my work shows that, along with scientists and members of the public, a long series of other social actors contribute to shape and inform the relation between science and the public. In this context, I suggest that if we want to change the relation between science and the public, which is currently still anchored to the deficit model, we need to make sure that all the other actors involved are well aware and willing to make this shift. As I am now preparing my first journal submission on my research findings, I can see that the past four years were a lot more than just the writing a thesis (which is nonetheless hard work that I treasure). This experience has enriched me in many directions that I probably would have never anticipated As with any goodbye, leaving BIOS is not easy. I look forward to my next trip to London as a mum.

Having researched for some years the stakes and agendas of patient organizations and, more recently, the case of rarity and rare diseases, I bumped into the rather sound acronym of ADHD, its hype and complexities. Considering it is an immense world of possible explorations, I am devising the uncertainties of psychiatric diagnosis to investigate how a disorder like ADHD is managed within the clinical setting and in the (child) psychiatric practice. Such practice is broadly based on problem-solving, we might say, and a proper nosologic system of identification and classification that allows the clinician to categorise a disorder and act upon it, even in the cases where aetiology has been tentatively explained but not effectively understood. This is also the case of ADHD: we do not only have a striking situation where the boundaries of the normal and pathological are even more difficult to grasp, but also the case where diagnosis tends to be overlapping and co-occurring. Borrowing from the mother science of medicine, psychiatry also called it comorbidity. But here we end up often asking: what else does that tells us? Trying to answer it, we begin to see the unspecific criteria, the double or multiple diagnoses, the syndromic coexistences, the shared neurobiologies appear more as the rule than an exception. In the wake of major diagnostic debates, critiques to categorization, and, the reformulation of mental disorders’ criteria, my research enters directly into the most unsettled debate concerning psychiatric power, knowledge and practice, that has, nevertheless, yet been addressed from the perspective of social sciences. Investigating, then, the diagnostic debates, the psychiatric practices, and, the ‘comorbidity literature’ from a sociological point of view, led me to an amazing array of discussions. ‘Minding that gap’ is of course one added feature of excitement, together with the current revision of international diagnostic classification that will lead to the future DSM-V and ICD-11. It must be said, further discussion and sharing points of views with fellow students, researchers and teachers, especially at BIOS, has been an amazing exercise to keep re-thinking those questions.

*As this issue goes to print, Valentina Amorese has successfully passed her viva


BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011

Postcards to BIOS

Thoughts from another ‘tower’1 My first experience of BIOS began sometime in October 2007 in a lovely pub in Lamb’s conduit at the launch of Sarah Franklin’s insightful and inspiring book, Dolly mixtures. It is during that spirited gathering that I realized how lucky and privileged I was to be offered an invaluable opportunity to work with such interesting and passionate individuals. It was both refreshing and stimulating to be part of such a remarkable group of researchers. This is how I gradually embarked on what turned out to be an extremely rewarding – even if at times challenging – intellectual journey. I learned a great deal in the process of working as a research officer on the ‘Brain, Self and Society’ project with Nikolas Rose. ‘Nik’ (a diminutive I only dared to use after a year or so given my preconceived ideas of deference towards eminences, ideas inculcated by my Jesuit governesses) was an exceptional mentor: always inspiring, incredibly supportive, brilliantly witty and above all intellectually generous. I invariably looked forward to my meetings with him in his busy ‘clinic’ whenever he would grace us with his presence following his travels around the world. But Nik was more than a mere ‘line manager’ (in HR’s market-driven parlance). He was (and still is) a confidant, a collaborator and a colleague; all of which were (and still are) tremendously humbling for me. And the story does not end with the BSS project. Although I have moved to a part of the world that claims to be a ‘newer’ version of England where I am currently pursuing a PhD in the history of science and medicine, our collaborative work continues to flourish and expand. Above all, I enormously miss the ‘niche’ we have created in BIOS and the great friends I have made. I cling almost selfishly to so many memorable moments; the endless debates with Btihaj in our ‘boudoir’ (the corridor that takes you to the tea-point), my morning chats with Valentina over an espresso (though not authentically italiano!), the endless rummaging about life and its vicissitudes with my patient and comforting neighbours Susanna and Megan, the ‘week-ends’ spent in BIOS only bearable thanks to the omnipresence of the irreplaceable troika – Amy, Astrid and Des, the political briefings with Victoria on the MiddleEast’s lamentable status quo and the continuous patience and support of the omniscient Sabrina. And how can I forget my compagnion de voyage Rachel? Kerry’s delicious cakes and her rich selections of readings, she and John compiled, and which I always failed to read. Life at BIOS

BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011

was also punctuated by delightful short escapades to Apostrophe with the one-of-a-kind Gio and Hilary Rose’s miraculous apparitions that we all cherished. How can I forget Sara Tocchetti’s bric-a-brac that would always make you ponder and the Caitlins’ joie de vivre? And much more…our inexhaustible discussions and impromptu gettogether were indeed priceless. Ofer and I have started to get used to the routine of Cambridge, which invites melancholy these days; a nature that is continuously in renewal, perhaps in remembrance of both our mortality and the perennial burgeoning of new hopes, aspirations and ‘vital futures.’ I have written in less than three months on a vertiginously diverse range of topics. I have discussed an equally rich range of topics, too numerous to cite. I have read in such a short span of time several books, articles and papers, an industrial amount which makes me want to shout with Lamartine, even if it sounds too lyrical and pathetic, ‘O time, suspend your flight! and you, fortunate hours, stay your journey! Let us savour the fleeting delights of the finest of our days.’ And yet, despite the overwhelming pace at Harvard, I find myself constantly attracted to the literature I am engaging in and constantly in search of the ‘Holy Grail’ – the topic I will be researching in two years from now, following the (in)famous ‘general examination’. Meanwhile, life continues. Pace brain and mind, BIOS will always be in my heart. I miss you all tremendously and I look forward to the day when I will be able to visit again my intellectual birthplace. For, as I recently confessed to a very spiritual person: I was (re)born in London. Boston, MA Joelle M Abi-Rached The title is inspired from a correspondence with our one and only Astrid Christoffersen-Deb.



Publications, lectures and conference presentations by BIOS staff, associates and students *Herbrand, C « La filiation monosexuée en Belgique et au Québec : jeux et enjeux de parcours législatifs distincts », in Corriveau P., Daoust V., La régulation sociale des « minorités sexuelles », Septentrion. Lentzos, F (2010) Improving the BTWC Confidence-Building Measures Regime, University of Bradford, Department of Peace Studies, Review Conference Paper No. 24, October 2010. Lentzos, F , Hamilton R A (2010) Report on BWC Confidence Building Measures: Preparing for a comprehensive review of the CBM mechanism at the Seventh BWC Review Conference prepared for the Governments of Switzerland, Norway and Germany, August 2010. MacArtney, J Book review: S. E. Bell’s ‘DES Daughters: Embodied Knowledge and the Transformation of Women’s Health Politics’. Medical Sociology Online, Autumn 2010*. MacArtney, J The Workshop Report on ‘Self-Health: New Forms of Patients’ Narratives, Subjectivities and Ethics in Healthcare’. LSE Sociology Working Papers, Autumn, 2010*. Marris C, Rose N (2010) Open Engagement: Exploring Public Participation in the Biosciences. PLoS Biology 8(11): e1000549 Doi:10.1374/journal.pbio.1000549 Rose, N (2010) Screen and Intervene: Governing Risky Brains, History of the Human Sciences, Special Issue on the new brain sciences, 2010, 23 (1): 79-105. Rose, N (2010) The Birth of the Neuromolecular gaze, History of the Human Sciences, Special Issue on the new brain sciences, 2010, 23 (1): 11 - 36. (with Joelle Abi-Rached, who is the first author on this paper) * Rose, N (in Press) Biological Citizenship and Its Forms, in A. Kleinman, ed., Adequate Lives in Post-Mao China. Routledge. * Rose, N (In Press) Historical Changes in Mental Health Practices, G, Thornicroft, G. Szmukler, B. Drake and K. Muser, The Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health, Oxford University Press. Zhang, J Y (2010) ‘The cosmopolitanization of science: a case study of China’s stem cell research’. Soziale Welt, 61: 257-276 *Zhang, J Y (2010) ‘Is the cosmopolitanization of science emerging in China?’, Études Internationales. Vol 41


Lentzos, F 1-3 Oct 2010. Invited presentation on ‘Regulating dual use risks’ to CISSM conference on ‘Controlling dangerous pathogens’, Washington, DC. Lentzos, F 4-5 Dec 2010. Invited presentation on ‘Confidence Building Measures’ to the Pugwash Study Group on the Implementation of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, Geneva, Switzerland. Lentzos, F 6 Dec 2010. Statement with Nicholas Sims to the UN Biological Weapons Convention meeting on behalf of the LSE, Palais des Nations, Geneva. MacArtney, J ‘Healing Themselves: Subjectivised Narratives in Complementary Healthcare’. Technoscientific and Social Dynamics of Health and Healthcare Workshop, University of Helsinki, Oct 2010. MacArtney, J ‘Healing Themselves: Complementary Healthcare As A Balanced Way Of Living’. BSA Medical Sociology Annual Conference, Durham, Sept 2010. Marris C ‘Synthetic biology in search of its public’. At the joint Genopole®-IFRIS ‘Colloquium Life Science in Society: fascination, confrontation, controversy and co-evolution’, Collège de France, Paris, 28 September 2010. Marris C ‘Synthetic biology in the UK: Tentative governance or speculative ethics?’. At the International Conference ‘Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology: actor constellations, institutional arrangements and strategies’, University of Twente, Netherlands, 28-29 October 2010. Rose, N ‘Animal Models in Psychiatry’, Würzburg Neuroschool on Behavioural Neuroscience, European Neuroscience and Society Network, October 2010 Rose, N ‘Personalized Medicine: Promises, Problems and Perils of a ‘new paradigm’ for health care’, Beijing Forum, Peking University, November 2010. * Rose, N ’Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity’, Invited Lecture to Universita Degli Studi Di Trieste, December 2010. * Rose, N ‘Governing Brains: At Risky and At Risk’, Talking Brains: Problems and Perspectives of the Neurosciences, Einstein Form Conference, Potsdam, December 2010. * Rose, N ‘Who do you think you are?’ Managing personhood in a neurobiological age’, Neurosociety... What is it with the Brain These Days?, ENSN and Institute for Science. Innovation and Society Conference, Oxford, December 2010.

Lentzos, F 23 Aug 2010. Statement to the UN Biological Weapons Convention meeting on behalf of the LSE, Palais des Nations, Geneva. Lentzos, F 17 Sept 2010. Invited presentation on ‘DNA synthesis: The risk of misuse’ to Cesagen conference on ‘Microbiology, genomics and beyond: regulating dual use technology into the 21st Century,’ Wellcome Trust, London.

BIOS • The London School of Economics and Political Science • Houghton Street London WC2A 2AE Tel: +44 (0)20 7955 6998 Fax: +44 (0)20 7955 6565


BIOS News Issue 17 • Lent 2011

BIOS News Issue 17. Lent 2011  

Postcard from Joelle M Abi-Rached 9 The Fascinating prehistory of IVF: Sarah Franklin, Martin Johnson and Nick Hopwood 2 Publications and co...

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