David Botstein on Government Regulation of Science
  David Botstein     Biography    
Recorded: 28 May 2003

Government regulation over science is very complicated. There are some government regulations on science, which I think are absolutely appropriate and essential. Chief among those is the activities of the Food and Drug Administration. Imagine if there were no Food and Drug Administration. Under those circumstances people would sell stuff like snake oil whether it worked or it didn’t. People would die of cancer because they would instead of using efficacious treatments, they would use the most heavily advertised treatments the way you’d use hair oil. That kind of thing clearly is the proper aim of government includes protecting the population from that kind of exploitation.

So the same is true for safety. The same is true for infrastructure, like roads. There is also an infrastructure of science. And I think that the government, I think appropriately, for example, says that if we give you money you shall publish your results and you shall not hold it in secret except under conditions that we explicitly permit. And so I think all of those things are appropriate. That said, I think that in fact the mania for concerns about the genome have led the government into making regulations, for example, the regulations about genetic privacy which have become so draconian that it’s hard to understand how there will ever be follow-up of studies on genetic influence or just plain treatment response of simple things like drugs because you’re not allowed to ask people to consent in a regular way to be investigated and to have your record followed. So I think that we have problems, but, you know, this is a democracy and eventually those problems will somehow be corrected when people realize the unintended consequences of their enthusiasm. I only wish there was a slightly more rational process but what can you do?

David Botstein is a prominent geneticist whose advocacy for gene mapping was crucial in laying the groundwork for the Human Genome Project. Botstein received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan for his research on bacteriophage synthesis. As a member of the MIT faculty he continued working with phage P22 DNA and discovered many bacterial and yeast genes. He served as Vice President of Science at Genentech before becoming professor at the Stanford School of Medicine where he led in sequencing the first large eucaryotic genome.

On July 1, 2003 he was appointed as Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. At Princeton he will continue to expound upon genome projects, explore the relationship between genes within the genome, and uncover how diseases like cancer alter the expression of genes.

Botstein researched at the CSHL while on sabbatical from 1974-1975. At the 1986 CSHL symposium on Human Genetics he played a crucial role in advocating for the Human Genome Project. While serving on the National Research Council Committee he emphasized that money be laid aside to fund the sequencing of other simpler organisms with which the human genome can be compared. Like Jim Watson, he has passionately supported the Human Genome Project since its inception.