Biophysicist, ethicist, author, and speaker. University of California—Los Angeles, director of School of Public Health's Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society. Guest on television and radio programs.
Kistler Book Prize, 2002, for Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future.
The Book of Questions, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 1987.
The Kids' Book of Questions, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 1988.
Love and Sex: The Book of Questions, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 1989.
The Book of Questions: Business, Politics, and Ethics, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 1991.
Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002, published as Redesigning Humans: Choosing Our Genes, Changing Our Future, 2003.
Contributor to journals and periodicals, including the American Journal of Bioethics, Futuris, Reason, UCLA Today, Bioessays, Der Spiegel, London Sunday Times, and Times Higher Education Supplement, and to books, including Evolution, Order, and Complexity, edited by Kenneth Boulding and Elias Khalil, Routledge Press (New York, NY), 1996; Closer to Truth: Challenging Current Belief (companion to PBS series), edited by Robert Kuhn, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2000; and Current Controversies: Genetic Engineering, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Gregory Stock is a scholar in the evolution of humanity as it is and will be, aided by technology. He is in the forefront of the debate on biotech policy, is a frequent speaker at conferences that study the issue, and contributes to scientific journals in the United States and abroad.
Stock has been involved in the ethical debate over this subject, and he first wrote about ethics in his The Book of Questions: Business, Politics, and Ethics, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Stock notes of ethical questions that "there are no correct or incorrect answers to these questions, only honest or dishonest ones." The more than 300 questions he poses in his book address values and beliefs; while some can raise arguments, others are merely amusing.
Similarly, Stock's The Kids' Book of Questions is directed at young children and contains 260 questions that stimulate concepts of values, ethics, identity, and other personal issues. Stock's teacher's guide makes the book a useful tool in the classroom.
The Book of Questions: Business, Politics, and Ethics poses questions on several subjects; Stock calls them questions "of justice, freedom, equity, leadership, generosity, responsibility." A typical question is, "If you were president, under what circumstances—if any—would you lie to the country to gain public support?" A Kliatt reviewer wrote that the little book "carries a big wallop and will stimulate discussion on a variety of subjects."
In Stock's Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, he describes Metaman as being made up not only of humans, but of "crops, livestock, machines, buildings, communications, transmissions, and other nonhuman elements and structures that are part of the human enterprise." The term does not include everyone or everything, however; it encompasses only those people and their creations and activities that are linked by communications, travel, and trade—in effect, the industrialized world and those areas and activities that are peripheral to it.
Futurist contributor Edward Cornish felt that Stock fails to deliver "a central concept of great originality and power that would transmute our thinking.… Metaman seems to be little more than a new name for civilization, and a new name alone does not constitute an epiphany." Cornish added, however, that, "though Stock fails to capture the heavenly fire, he has produced a useful overview of civilization from a biological perspective. He has proved a trustworthy guide on a wide-ranging exploration of what our race has accomplished, and, more important for futurists, he has offered many intriguing anticipations of things to come, notably in the biotech area, where he has special expertise."
Stock is co-editor, with professor of neurobiology John Campbell, of Engineering the Human Germline: An Exploration of the Science and Ethics of Altering the Genes We Pass to Our Children. The volume, which resulted from a symposium held at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1998, contains three parts. The first consists of reviews of the state of germline engineering, including such topics as introducing genes into chromosomes, the use of artificial chromosomes, and disease prevention and the alteration of human traits through the use of new technologies. The second part is a transcript of a panel discussion in which social, ethical, and regulatory issues associated with germline engineering are discussed. Among the panelists was James Watson, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA. The final section is a collection of critical essays by a broad range of scholars, including theologians, scientists, and ethicists.
George Cunningham noted in the New England Journal of Medicine that each panelist was asked whether he or she would employ an artificial chromosome to add years to the life of his or her child. Cunningham felt that "this is an unfortunate choice of question, since it involves the confounding 'quality of life' issue. A better choice would have been a question about an intelligence-enhancing gene, which focuses on the use of this technology."
Veronica van Heyningen remarked in Nature that Stock "believes that the production of designer babies will eventually take over from normal reproduction. Altering the human genome in a permanently heritable manner (germline gene therapy) is highly controversial, and in many countries it is prohibited. As with most controversial subjects, though, much can be gained from a thorough discussion of the possible applications, both now and, more speculatively, in the future."
Stock's Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future was also published as Redesigning Humans: Choosing Our Genes, Changing Our Future. It is Stock's vision for the future and a response to critics like Francis Fukuyama, who have called for strict regulation of biotechnology. Whole Earth's Kevin Kelly wrote, "I can't think of a scarier prospect than humans redesigning humans.…But here comes Greg Stock making a sound case for why tinkering with the genetic designs of humans is a good idea. I see two scenarios ahead. One is that we'll blast through the current objections just as we have overtaken almost all the previous ethical objections to test-tube babies and trangenetic organ transplants. The other is that a coming battle over whether anyone should be allowed to modify their descendants will be so deeply derisive that it will make the abortion wars look like a kindergarten squabble."
Wired contributor Brian Alexander wrote that Stock, "an enhancement radical, argues that we have been tinkering with our own evolution for a long time now.
'Every intervention we make that allows a person with diabetes to have a larger family, or to have a family at all instead of dying young, has a big impact,' he says. Enhancement technology is no different, except that it would work better and faster. So why not get under the hood of the genome, Stock argues, and fix it—even soup it up—and not just for every new generation, but for all time?"
Lancet contributor Tim Radford observed that "to those who worry that germinal technology will be accessible only to the well-off and will thus increase inequality, Stock replies that we should try to make the technology so cheap that all can afford it. In a particularly audacious move, the fairness argument is stood on its head." Stock feels the technology will be an equalizer. Radford added that Stock "does not consider the possibility that if universal success were achieved, the point of the enterprise would be undermined. Although a longer life span or better memory could in principle benefit everyone, other advantages are only comparative."
"Because of the breadth of his scientific knowledge and his considerable flair as a writer, Stock … is a forceful advocate," wrote Gina Maranto in the New York Times Book Review. Maranto commented that Stock claims that because there will actually be a small number of altered children, we needn't worry about any impact on the gene pool. Maranto wrote, "if the net effect of all those laboratory-engineered births is so negligible, how then can there be the major evolutionary changes he predicts?" Maranto added that "the great collective enterprise Stock envisions will in all likelihood be limited only to the small percentage of people who can afford or gain access to these technologies. And then the issue becomes what these bermenschen might do with the rest of us." Maranto concluded by saying Stock's is "a pleasant enough fantasy. But even if evolution could be steered in a positive direction, why presume that humans have the wisdom to do so?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, September-October, 2002, Diane B. Paul, review of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, p. 464.
Bioscience, October, 1994, Eric Katz, review of Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, p. 637.
Choice, January, 2001, W. R. Morgan, review of Engineering the Human Germline: An Exploration of the Science and Ethics of Altering the Genes We Pass to Our Children, p. 928.
Futurist, November-December, 1993, Edward Cornish, review of Metaman, p. 37.
Heredity, December, 2000, Jon W. Gordon, review of Engineering the Human Germline, pp. 627-629.
Journal of Medical Ethics, February, 2003, R. E. Ash-croft, review of Redesigning Humans, p. 59.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Redesigning Humans, p. 320.
Kliatt, September, 1991, review of The Book of Questions: Business, Politics, and Ethics, p. 52.
Lancet, September 21, 2002, Tim Radford, review of Redesigning Humans, p. 957.
Nature, December 14, 2000, Veronica van Heyningen, review of Engineering the Human Germline, pp. 769-771.
New England Journal of Medicine, November 9, 2000, George Cunningham, review of Engineering the Human Germline, p. 1425.
New York Times Book Review, August 25, 2002, Gina Maranto, review of Redesigning Humans, p. 25.
People, May 2, 1988, Cable Neuhaus, review of The Book of Questions, p. 121.
Publishers Weekly, March 11, 2002, review of Redesigning Humans, p. 61.
Technology Review, February, 2003, Erika Jonietz, "Choosing Our Children's Genetic Futures" (interview), p. 78.
Whole Earth, winter, 2002, Kevin Kelly, review of Redesigning Humans, p. 41.
Wired, April 10, 2002, Brian Alexander, review of Redesigning Humans.