The ELSI Hypothesis. Review of George Annas and Sherman Elias, Gene Mapping: Using Law and Ethics as Guides; Daniel Kevles and Leroy Hood, The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project; Marcel Melancon and Raymond Lambert, le genome humain: Une responsabilite scientifique et sociale; Michael Yesley, Bibliography: Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of the Human Genome Project

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For the historian of science the current international program aimed at mapping and sequencing the entire human genome can be a bit of a headache. The literature on the Human Genome Project (HGP) is vast and inadequate; the endeavor itself is complicated, involving many institutions and funding sources and demanding at least some technical knowledge of molecular genetics, computational biology, informatics, and medical genetics, not to mention science policy and corporate biotechnology. The project is indecently contemporary, at best eight years old. Meanwhile, genome project promoters (genomics scientists, biologists turned journalists, and actual journalists) have been producing instant histories of the HGP, complete with founding parents and eureka experiences. In these accounts, the anticipated complete map of the human genome, expected by around 2000, commonly appears as a critical medical resource that will make it possible for geneticists to understand and cure genetic disease and, indeed, almost all disease. Such bewitching promises are of course part of an established genre of political narrative that is presumably not taken too seriously, least of all by those making the claims. But they have added poignancy to the public debate, as those afflicted with genetic disease or those who fear their children will be so afflicted long for the DNA translation that will, they hope, end their cross-generational suffering.

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