Genomics may accomplish a lot, but could it redefine humanity's view of itself?
Given the number of famous scientists around, it's easy to forget the full title of the Nobel Week Dialogue includes the phrase "impact on society." But Helga Nowotny, the president of the European Research Council, was on hand to provide a remedy. Nowotny is a social scientist who spends a lot of time thinking about how science and society influence each other. She was next in line for a Nobel Week Dialogue talk.Nowotny started out by noting genomics is often mentioned as a promising thing (like the "promise of genetic medicine" and so forth). But the term "promise," she noted, implies a contract, and she did her best to make the details of that contract explicit. The payoff of getting this contract right in the case of genetics, she suggested, might be a second Renaissance.
Although attempts to understand the natural world have existed in almost every culture, institutionalized science of the sort we practice today only dates back a few hundred years. As it has grown, it has become increasingly reliant on society for support. In return, Nowotny said, science makes a number of promises. One is the promise of information that is above the vagaries of political and religious figures.