Friday, February 22, 2013

Introduction to Biopunk

As a subgenre of Cyberpunk, it shares the common totalitarian and dystopian backdrop but instead of the perversion and control of computer and cybernetics, biopunk pushes the envelop of biotechnology and recombinant DNA (think cloning.) Biopunk characters have traded the cybernetic alterations for genetic enhancement through chromosomal manipulation. Hackers have been traded for lab geeks who love to study DNA, dissect it and twist it back together to create something new.

While biopunk has only been defined as a genre relatively recently, some hints of the genre, though less modern, can be attributed to H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896.)

More recent novels include "The Windup Girl" by   where food is a weapon. This novel is outstanding because of how close to home it hits. It extrapolates from the current state of affairs but not so far that the political direction is completely far-fetched. With Emiko, a genetically engineered character, Bacigalupi brings to the table the essential question, echo of Cyberpunk, that is what is it exactly to be human.

Biopunk has developed beyond a literature genre, growing into a movement of thinkers, artists, scientists who wish to spread biotechnology knowledge. They believe in freedom to do research and seek biotechnology research beyond million dollar corporations. Meredith Patterson's "Biopunk Manifesto" from the 2010 UCLA Center for Society and Genetics' symposium.

Read it below or watch it here, regardless, some good points are made and are definitely worth a couple of minutes of your time.


The Biopunk Manifesto -- Meredith Patterson

" Scientific literacy is necessary for a functioning society in the modern age. Scientific literacy is not science education. A person educated in science can understand science; a scientifically literate person can *do* science. Scientific literacy empowers everyone who possesses it to be active contributors to their own health care, the quality of their food, water, and air, their very interactions with their own bodies and the complex world around them.

Society has made dramatic progress in the last hundred years toward the promotion of education, but at the same time, the prevalence of citizen science has fallen. Who are the twentieth-century equivalents of Benjamin Franklin, Edward Jenner, Marie Curie or Thomas Edison? Perhaps Steve Wozniak, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard or Linus Torvalds — but the scope of their work is far narrower than that of the natural philosophers who preceded them. Citizen science has suffered from a troubling decline in diversity, and it is this diversity that biohackers seek to reclaim. We reject the popular perception that science is only done in million-dollar university, government, or corporate labs; we assert that the right of freedom of inquiry, to do research and pursue understanding under one’s own direction, is as fundamental a right as that of free speech or freedom of religion. We have no quarrel with Big Science; we merely recall that Small Science has always been just as critical to the development of the body of human knowledge, and we refuse to see it extinguished.

Research requires tools, and free inquiry requires that access to tools be unfettered. As engineers, we are developing low-cost laboratory equipment and off-the-shelf protocols that are accessible to the average citizen. As political actors, we support open journals, open collaboration, and free access to publicly-funded research, and we oppose laws that would criminalize the possession of research equipment or the private pursuit of inquiry.

Perhaps it seems strange that scientists and engineers would seek to involve themselves in the political world — but biohackers have, by necessity, committed themselves to doing so. The lawmakers who wish to curtail individual freedom of inquiry do so out of ignorance and its evil twin, fear — the natural prey and the natural predator of scientific investigation, respectively. If we can prevail against the former, we will dispel the latter. As biohackers it is our responsibility to act as emissaries of science, creating new scientists out of everyone we meet. We must communicate not only the value of our research, but the value of our methodology and motivation, if we are to drive ignorance and fear back into the darkness once and for all.

We the biopunks are dedicated to putting the tools of scientific investigation into the hands of anyone who wants them. We are building an infrastructure of methodology, of communication, of automation, and of publicly available knowledge.

Biopunks experiment. We have questions, and we don’t see the point in waiting around for someone else to answer them. Armed with curiosity and the scientific method, we formulate and test hypotheses in order to find answers to the questions that keep us awake at night. We publish our protocols and equipment designs, and share our bench experience, so that our fellow biopunks may learn from and expand on our methods, as well as reproducing one another’s experiments to confirm validity. To paraphrase Eric Hughes, “Our work is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of our research topics.” We are building on the work of the Cypherpunks who came before us to ensure that a widely dispersed research community cannot be shut down.

Biopunks deplore restrictions on independent research, for the right to arrive independently at an understanding of the world around oneself is a fundamental human right. Curiosity knows no ethnic, gender, age, or socioeconomic boundaries, but the opportunity to satisfy that curiosity all too often turns on economic opportunity, and we aim to break down that barrier. A thirteen-year-old kid in South Central Los Angeles has just as much of a right to investigate the world as does a university professor. If thermocyclers are too expensive to give one to every interested person, then we’ll design cheaper ones and teach people how to build them.

Biopunks take responsibility for their research. We keep in mind that our subjects of interest are living organisms worthy of respect and good treatment, and we are acutely aware that our research has the potential to affect those around us. But we reject outright the admonishments of the precautionary principle, which is nothing more than a paternalistic attempt to silence researchers by inspiring fear of the unknown. When we work, it is with the betterment of the community in mind — and that includes our community, your community, and the communities of people that we may never meet. We welcome your questions, and we desire nothing more than to empower you to discover the answers to them yourselves.

The biopunks are actively engaged in making the world a place that everyone can understand. Come, let us research together."

What do you think of Biopunk? Is it a genre you would enjoy reading?

1 comment:

  1. GREAT post. This is the one I've been waiting for. A real delineation between bio and cyber that obviously now seems like I should've gotten that from the genre titles themselves, lol. Thanks!