god venter


If Craig Venter is the iconic scientist of the early 21st century, what conception of science does he embody? Belligerent, innovative, ambitious and entrepreneurial, he is an emblem of the radical changes in American scientific life, and especially in the lives of biomedical scientists, over the past thirty years or so. The intense relationship between biomedical science and capital is substantially new, and so is the texture of much scientific practice in the area, including the pace of work, the funds required to do the work, the instrumental production and processing of inconceivably large amounts of scientific information, and the institutional configurations in which biomedical science now happens. At the same time, Venter expresses sentiments about science that could scarcely be more traditional, even romantic. A ruggedly freebooting individualist, contemptuous of authority and of bureaucracy, he revives an old conception of scientific independence and integrity in an age when the bureaucracies that allegedly block the advance of science are as much academic and non-profit as they are commercial. When academic bureaucracies are said to protect intellectual orthodoxies, when cumbersome and politicised government bureaucracies harbour cults of personality, and when corporate bureaucracies build on business models that stultify both science and commercial growth, the only person you can trust is an edgy hybrid of self-confessed ‘bad boy’ and self-advertised humanitarian who thinks he has a spoon long enough to sup with all the institutional devils and sacrifice his integrity to none. The imaginative development of new institutional forms appropriate to the new science, the new economy, and a newly emerging moral order is made to depend on a unique individual. Later this year, when ‘boot up’ inevitably happens, he will – according to some conceptions of the thing – have created life. If you trust Craig Venter, he will, like his predecessor in the life-creating business, see that it is good.

more from the LRB here.