“Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness” – T. Patrick Hill
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Ultimately, any conversation that involves gene editing will turn to the morality of changing the fundamental code of nature, and what risks might be faced if we make a mistake. It is unlikely that there will ever be a universally accepted view on whether or not gene editing is ethical or not, and in what cases it could be considered acceptable. T. Patrick Hill is a bioethicist and expert on the ethical ins and outs of CRISPR and a co-author on the ethics chapter in our successful Gene Editing 101. As science develops every day, the community is dependent on those who help inform on ethics and considerations – T. Patrick Hill is one of these contributors.
What are you working on right now?
I am writing a book on ethics and the United States Supreme Court.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?
Replacing a tolerance of ethics with respect for ethics as unconditionally critical to public policy in all of its forms. Ethics, because it is probably one of the most misunderstood methods of analysis of human behavior, is systematically underestimated for its objectivity and dispositive power. Its accepted role, even within the ethics community but especially outside, is one of reaction when, as practical philosophy, it should be unambiguously present at the creation.
Name one big development that you would like to see in your field in the next 18 months.
As we encounter so much promise and peril in the presence of our rapidly evolving ‘genomic’ world, I would like to see ethicists and scientists working shoulder to shoulder, learning from each other so that ethics is informed by science and science is informed by ethics in real time throughout the unfolding.
What are you most proud of in your career?
As a teacher, I am reassured when I hear from former students that my teaching got them to think about their thinking. The explanation for that may be the influence on my own thinking of something G.K. Chesterton wrote – “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.” In observing much of what passes for public discussion today, it is distressing to see what little respect is paid to reason. Compounding the distress is the lack of awareness that reason is being disrespected. Yet the one thing that transcends all our differences, real and imagined, is reason, or, as Cicero put it, “Right reason in conformity with nature.”
Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner and why?
I would invite Francis Bacon, Werner Heisenberg, and Jacob Bronowski, one, selfishly, for the conversation they would afford me, and two, for their unmistakable moral sensitivity. I would want to hear Francis Bacon in his own words – “Neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much. It is by instruments and helps that the work is done, which are as much wanted for the understanding as for the hand.” And to hear Werner Heisenberg in his own words, referring to Newton – “that he felt like a child playing at the seashore, happy whenever he found a smoother pebble or a more beautiful sea shell than usual, while the great ocean of truth lay unexplored before him.” Similarly to hear Jacob Boronowski in his own words – “We ought to act in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so.” In addition, if I may, I would invite my daughter, Katya, who is a professional chef and would prepare a dinner worthy of my distinguished guests.
What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness.
Why not check out The Short Read archives?
George Church – “Follow your dreams, not the drove”
Amalio Telenti – Defying the “exome-centric” view
Anna Middleton – “It’s ok to be a bit creative and entrepreneurial”
Nan Doyle – “Get clear on what matters to you”
David Smith – The “real keys to scientific success”
Hannes Smárason – The importance of Grit
Eric Topol – “Always question; never accept dogma”
Kristen Sund – “You don’t change culture overnight, it happens in baby steps”
Manuel Corpas – “Don’t rely on the future to make your choices now”
Brendan Gallagher – “Let your work’s ripple effects help sort the future out”
Hayley Robinson – When technology outpaces policy
Valentina Nardi – “Like a detective solving a puzzle”
Stephen Kingsmore – “Don’t forget to breathe!”
Judith Benkendorf – “Do not be afraid to look for mentors”
David Flannery – “If only we could predict the future”
Sarah Teichmann – Exploring the vast variety
Who would you like to see interviewed for The Short Read? Let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this Short Read are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.