The peripatic Meow-Meow - recurrent political candidate, cyborg advocate and biohacking enthusiast - has unsurprisingly had his OPAL RFID transit card cancelled after he extracted the chip for subcutaneous insertion. He appears to consider that the resulting litigation - contesting a $200 fine in 2017 for riding the train without a valid ticket and reportedly planning to launch legal action against TfNSW for unlawfully cancelling his cards - will advance cyborg rights.
Australian law does not recognise 'cyborgs' as such and his action would appear to be readily addressed under the terms and conditions for use of his card. In the Australian Capital Territory there is a prohibition under Regulation 49 of the Road Transport (Public Passenger Services) Regulation 2002 of traveling on an ACT government bus using a ticket that has been 'damaged or defaced in a material respect' or 'changed in a material particular', with ticket including a card with a chip or magnetic strip. 2
Meow-Meow gained attention several years ago regarding 'biohacking' (centred on a DIY community DNA-modification lab) rather than 'bodyhacking'.
DIY biologists set up home labs in garages, spare bedrooms, or use community lab spaces. They play with plasmids, yeast, and tools like CRISPR-cas9. Media stories feature glow-in-the-dark plants, beer, and even puppies. DIY bio describes itself as a loosely formed community of individualists, working separate and apart from institutional science. This Essay challenges that claim, arguing that institutional science has fostered DIY bio and that DIY bio has, thus far, tacitly conformed to institutional science values and norms. Lack of a robust ethos leaves DIY bio ripe for capture by biotech. Yet, this Essay suggests, DIY bio could serve as a laboratory for reformulating a relationship between science and society that is less about capital accumulation and more about knowledge creation premised on participation and justice.She goes on
Popular media depicts biohackers or Do-It-Yourself (“DIY”) biologists as the ultimate science geeks. “DIY bio” refers to noninstitutional science or science performed outside of professional laboratories. DIY biologists set up home labs in garages, spare bedrooms, and closets or use community lab spaces. The people doing DIY bio range from the self-taught to PhDs. Instead of building computers or creating apps, DIYers play with plasmids, jellyfish, yeast, and polymerase chain reaction in genetic engineering experiments. Media stories and DIY bio websites often feature glow-in-the-dark plants, food, petri dish art, and even puppies.
DIY bio is an emerging set of activities. A range of players, with varied ideologies, are shaping DIY bio’s trajectories. DIY bio’s signature claim is that it exists apart from, and even in opposition to, institutional science. This Essay challenges that claim. Whether all DIY biologists know this or not, DIY bio serves the interests of institutional science and is well-situated for capture by biotechnology. Biotechnology refers not only to the life sciences-based industry, but also to the neoliberal epistemology that values the use of applied science to commercialize the transformation of life itself into technology. DIY bio’s origin stories do reflect resistance to the highly structured and bureaucratic nature of institutional science. Yet these accounts also indicate interest convergence between DIY bio and institutional science. Accounts that forecast DIY bio’s future show DIY bio conforming its practices to mainstream law, policy, and market concerns. Thus far, DIY bio has not crafted its own account of the relationship between science, society, and ethics, and is falling into a science-as-usual practice that situates DIY bio in biotech’s backyard.
Part II sets out a descriptive account of biohacking, and DIY bio, in particular. Part III identifies three overlapping explanations for DIY bio. The first two, explicitly political accounts and nostalgic accounts, are largely consistent with the DIY bio claim that DIY bio is different and apart from institutional science. The third account borrows from Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis and asserts that DIY bio sustains an ideology of bio-individualism embedded in biotechnology. Part IV reviews and critiques law and policy views of DIY bio and its prospects. These views apply the frames and standards applicable to biotech. Part V makes the case for biotech’s annexation of DIY bio. Part V elaborates on DIY bio’s failure, so far, to re-define the relationship between science and society, and suggests a few initial critical points of engagement for doing so.She suggests that
As yet, DIY bio has not expressed a commitment to ethical science activity, nor developed a robust ethos. Perhaps, its tacit acceptance of the risk-benefit framework means that its view of ethics aligns with that of institutional science. That is, it conflates a risk-benefit weighing with ethical standards or views ethics as a compliance obligation.
The risk calculus is not devoid of ethical concerns. It maps onto a standard ethical test used in institutional science. The test highlights three criteria — safety, efficacy, and autonomy. That test derives from the Belmont Report’s principlist framework, the FDA’s drug and device approval standards, and neoliberalism’s effects on the life sciences and autonomy. The Belmont Report states four principles — autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and distributive justice. Autonomy’s application is informed consent. The non-maleficence principle is addressed by weighing risk to human health against benefits. Benefits refer to efficacy or improvements to human health. The FDA uses safety and efficacy as its criteria in the drug and device testing requirements for market approval. Efficacy, like safety or risk to human health, is narrowly defined. The FDA requires that the product work, but does not require that it work well or better than existing therapeutics. Market thinking has infiltrated these criteria. Claims that individual choice should trump agency standards in determining access to drugs have gained credence. This indicates that traditional bioethics’ first principle, autonomy, may now be understood as a form of free market individualism. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry has leveraged that version of autonomy to maximize the role of drugs in medical care, and the sale of particular products. While big bio’s risk calculus is not the end-all and be-all of ethics in institutional science, it is part of an impoverished ethical framework.
In 2011, the North American and European DIYbio Congresses issued Draft Codes of Ethics. The codes incorporate principles of open science — open access, transparency, and education; and selfregulation — safety (adopt safe practices), environment (respect the environment), and peaceful purposes (biotechnology should only be used for peaceful purposes). As discussed, the North American Code has one more element — Tinkering. The Code elements are general. As my characterization suggests, the Code elements, like the Belmont Report principles, lend themselves to narrow or broad readings. Read more generously, safety, environment, and peaceful purposes might move DIY bio beyond the issue of forestalling regulation to situating science as a tool for social justice. On the other hand, open access could be read as a right to access, premised on free market individualism. Tinkering invokes the individual, as the nostalgic accounts show. If DIY bio is first and foremost an individualist vision of science, it stands little chance of evolving into a new understanding of science.
The open science principles suggest that DIY bio’s ethos differs from big bio’s, and that DIY bio is not bound by big bio’s norms. Yet, open science goals do not translate to an ethics of science. Open science can be used for different goals, including forms of commercial distribution that are exploitative. In addition, the Code states the elements as universal principles, which in itself is problematic. Typically, dominant readings of so-called universal principles are used to maintain boundaries, and identify the out-group as non-compliant. It is very possible that the universal principles may be used to undercut the inclusive goals that open science asserts.
My comments in the previous subparts suggest, without prescriptive detail, the possibility of using DIY bio to redefine the possible relationship between science and society. Contemporary accounts indicate that DIY bio projects are typically small-scale and are relatively unsophisticated. As such, DIY bio seems underpowered as a platform for re-thinking the political economy of the life sciences. What I suggest here is not that DIY biologists directly challenge or redesign institutional science. Rather, DIY bio might provide an opportunity to create, by deliberate experimentation, a set of practices that are ethos-based and originate from critical social inquiry. The most valorized explanatory accounts speak, in bits and pieces, of social justice goals. Using these as a starting point, DIY bio might craft ways of doing science that embed justice-based ethics into inquiry and practice. Ethics, then, could become not a compliance checklist, but constitutive of good science.Ikemoto concludes
DIY bio is many things to many people. That is, undoubtedly, part of its appeal. What is it not, however, is separate and apart from institutional science. Its location in biotech’s backyard, without a fence or substantive alternative vision of DIY bio’s role, makes it vulnerable to annexation. In that scenario, DIY bio and its dream of a new science by the people might disappear. This Essay maps the relationships between DIY bio and institutional science. The mapping also critiques aspects of biotechnology that are inconsistent with DIY bio’s stated goals of access and participatory knowledge formation. If DIY bio takes those goals seriously, this Essay suggests that it move beyond compliance-based thinking, and beyond experimentation using plasmids and pipettes. Acknowledging that science is a social practice, followed by scientific-social inquiry about how and why we engage with plasmids and pipettes, and willingness to experiment with new social methods of doing science, might move DIY bio out of biotech’s backyard, and into society.