Emory University School of Law
Pre-Columbian cartographers drew their maps to the extent of their knowledge, and then wrote in the margins, "Beyond this point there are dragons." With the voyage of Columbus, we lost both our fear of the geographic frontier and our innocence. We accept that knowledge can generally overpower fear; but we have also learned that the application of new knowledge often has a dark side that can lead to brutality and disaster. The discovery of America, for example, led to unforeseen value conflicts of justice and fairness involving native Americans that were "resolved" only by their merciless subjugation and genocidal destruction. The Columbus metaphor is a powerful one, one that emphasizes both the need to confront mythical dragons with knowledge, and the need to anticipate and plan for the real monsters: the value conflicts that new knowledge produces. Perhaps nowhere is the promise of benefit and the risk of harm so great as in genetic research. The plan to map and sequence the three billion base pairs that make up the genetic blueprint of a human being - the Human Genome Initiative - provides an opportunity to examine the relationship between science and society.' How can scientists and social policymakers work together to maximize the benefits of this project while minimizing its dangers?
George J. Annas,
Mapping the Human Genome and the Meaning of Monster Mythology,
Emory Law Journal
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/1225