Introduction
Capitalisms and Biotechnologies
In January 1999, I spent a month in a lab at the National Institutes of Health
(nih), because my Ph.D. dissertation advisor Michael Fischer felt I should
experience how it feels to be part of a lab as an observer. It felt pretty uncom-
fortable, and not just because the only place I had to sit on was an icebox in a
corridor outside the lab. At such an early stage in my Ph.D, I really had no
story as to why I was there, what my questions were, or what I wanted to find
out or study—all of which, of course, were things that the scientists in the lab
were curious about.
The lab I was ‘‘studying’’ itself studied signal transduction pathways within
cells, and the one thing that struck me was how each researcher’s bench had
a computer that was constantly downloading dna sequence information in
real time, as soon as the information was released into GenBank, the public-
domain dna sequence repository. I remarked on this to the head of the lab,
who said that I must go and meet Mark Boguski, a scientist at the National
Center for Biotechnology Information, which runs GenBank. And so I did.
As I said, what was most uncomfortable for me about my encounters with
various scientists was that I did not have a story to tell them about my pres-
ence. And yet the first words that Boguski said when he met me were: ‘‘I’ve
read Paul Rabinow, so I know exactly what you want to do. I think someone
needs to write a contemporary history of genomics, and I think you should do
it.’’∞ Boguski was organizing the Cold Spring Harbor genome meetings that
year, which was the major annual meeting of the publicly funded Human
Genome Project. He waived my registration fees and got me to attend. That is
how I started studying genome scientists.
Previous Page Next Page