My new book is out

Ethical tensions imageMy new book, Ethical Tensions from New Technology: The Case of Agricultural Biotechnology, has just been released. As stated in the back-cover blurb: The introduction of new technologies can be controversial, especially when they create ethical tensions as well as winners and losers among stakeholders and interest groups. While ethical tensions resulting from the genetic modification of crops and plants and their supportive gene technologies have been apparent for decades, persistent challenges remain. This book explores the contemporary nature, type, extent and implications of ethical tensions resulting from agricultural biotechnology specifically and technology generally. There are four main arenas of ethical tensions: public opinion, policy and regulation, technology as solutions to problems, and older versus new technologies. Contributions focus on one or more of these arenas by identifying the ethical tensions technology creates and articulating emerging fault lines and, where possible, viable solutions.

As an edited book, I have solicited contributions from scholars all over the world. Here is the table of contents:

Introduction: Ethical tensions and new technology: An overview in the context of agricultural biotechnology
Part 1: Public opinion and interest
1: Ethical tensions from a “science alone” approach in communicating GE science to consumers, by Jane Kolodinsky (University of Vermont)
2: Against the (GM) grain: ethical tensions and agro-biotechnology activism in the United States, Bradley Martin Jones (Washington University in St. Louis)
3: The use and abuse of the term GMO in the “common weal rhetoric” against the application of modern biotechnology in agriculture, by Philipp Aerni (University of Zurich)
4: Collaborating with the enemy? A view from Down Under on GM research partnerships, by Rachel A. Ankeny (University of Adelaide), Heather J. Bray (University of Adelaide) and Kelly A. McKinley (University of Adelaide)
Part 2: Policy and regulation
5: Three models of public opinion and public interest for agricultural biotechnology: precautionary, conventional, and accommodative, by Duane Windsor (Rice University)
6: Genetically modified organisms in food: ethical tensions and the labeling initiative, by Debra M. Strauss (Fairfield University)
7: Ethical tensions in regulation of agricultural biotechnology and its impact on policy outcomes: evidences from the U.S. and India, by Deepthi E. Kolady (South Dakota State University) and Shivendra Kumar Srivastava (ICAR-National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research)
Part 3: Technological fix criticism
8: Technological pragmatism: navigating the ethical tensions created by agricultural biotechnology, by Dane Scott (University of Montana)
9: Absolute hogwash: assemblage and the new breed of animal biotechnology, by Katie M. MacDonald (University of Guelph)
Part 4: New versus old technology
10: Nature-identical outcomes, artificial processes: governance of CRISPR/Cas genome editing as an ethical challenge, by Frauke Pirscher (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg), Bartosz Bartkowski (UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research), Insa Theesfeld (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg) and Johannes Timaeus (University of Kassel)
11: New technology, cognitive bias and ethical tensions in entrepreneurial commercialization: the case of CRISPR, by Desmond Ng (Texas A&M University) and Harvey S. James, Jr. (University of Missouri)
Part 5: Mediating ethical tensions
12: New technology, ethical tensions and the mediating role of translational research, by Corinne Valdivia (University of Missouri), Harvey S. James, Jr. (University of Missouri) and Roberto Quiroz (International Potato Center)

Don’t wait to order your copy from the publisher (here), Amazon (here) or wherever fine books are sold.


Are we better off today than our grandparents were in the 1950s?

I finished reading Robert Gordon’s massive book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War. And it is massive, topping 750 pages including notes and references.

Gordon’s thesis is simple: American growth and the improvement in the standard of living for people living between 1920 and 1970 was better than the improvement in growth and living standards for people living between 1870 and 1920 and for those living between 1970 and today. Stated differently, while my grandparents had it better than their grandparents, the improvements that my grandparents experienced were more substantial than the improvements I have seen.

The reason is that the inventions and innovations that occurred between 1920 and 1950 were more significant and had a greater impact on labor productivity and personal well-being than the inventions and innovations that occurred before and after that time period. Gordon systematically reviews “all” of them (hence the long book). He considers improvements in food, housing, transportation, communication, health, working conditions, financial services.

Here are simple examples: Going from no cars in the late 19th century to cars available to most households in the early 20th century had a greater impact on people and businesses than going from cars then to cars with airbags and rearview cameras today. Similarly, going from no electric lighting to electric lighting had a greater impact than going from electric lighting to more efficient electric lighting. Going from no penicillin to penicillin was more profound than going from penicillin to more powerful penicillin. Going from no telephones to telephones was more important than going from telephones to mobile phones today. The list goes on and on. People living between 1920 and 1970 saw more radical changes in their lives than people living since the 1970s.

What made the book fun was the presentation of stories and historical examples he gave. Even if you are not interested in the economics behind his thesis, you can read the chapters and gain insights about how life improved for people during the early half of the 20th century.

Gordon raises some warnings. It is not likely that we will see the kind of growth that the economy and people experienced from 1920 to 1950–what he refers to as the “Great Leap Forward”–anytime soon. And worse, the widening level of inequality we are seeing will only make things worse. The growth rate of real income for the top 10 percent and for the bottom 90 percent of persons in the U.S. was about the same in the mid 20th century–about 2.5 percent per year. But since the 1970s the top 10 percent of wage earners has seen real wages increase more than 1.4 percent annually while real wages for the bottom 90 percent of workers have decreased during the same time period. This is not good for a healthy, growing and productive economy.