17 February 2018

Biohacking and travel cards

Given that Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow - noted last year - is in the news again it was timely to read 'DIY Bio: Hacking Life in Biotech’s Backyard' by Lisa C. Ikemoto in (2017) 51 University of California Davis Law Review 539.

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 (ACT) 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.

In NSW use of the OPAL travel card is governed by the Passenger Transport (General) Regulation 2017 (NSW). The Cards 'are and remain' the property of TransportNSW, which may 'inspect, de-activate or take possession of an Opal Card or require its return at our discretion without notice at any time'.

Users are required to 'take proper care of the Opal Card, avoid damaging it, keep it flat and not bend or pierce it' and - saliently - 'not misuse, deface, alter, tamper with or deliberately damage or destroy the Opal Card'. Further, the user must not 'alter, remove or replace any notices (other than the activation sticker), trademarks or artwork on the Opal Card. Additionally, they must not'modify, adapt, translate, disassemble, decompile, reverse engineer, create derivative works of, copy or read, obtain or attempt to discover by any means, any (i) encrypted software or encrypted data contained on an Opal Card; or (ii) other software or data forming part of the Opal Ticketing System'.

Meow-Meow gained attention several years ago regarding 'biohacking' (centred on a DIY community DNA-modification lab) rather than 'bodyhacking'.

Ikemoto comments
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.

15 February 2018


'The Ethics and Politics of Child Naming' by Eldar Sarajlic in (2016) 35 Journal of Applied Philosophy examines
 the issue of justification of government's intervention in the parental acts of child naming, a neglected topic in the recent philosophical literature. It questions the ability of some of the current theories in family ethics to respond to this problem, and argues that both permissive and restrictive theories fail to provide a plausible argument about the proper limits of government regulation of child naming practices. The article outlines an alternative solution that focuses on the child's right to authenticity and suggests that only those names that infringe upon this right invite justified state intervention. 
Sarajlic  comments
 Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child posits that every child has a right to a legally registered name. Article 8 states that governments must respect a child's legally given name. However, the Convention neither specifies what kind of name can be given to a child nor what does government's respect of a name amounts to. Does this right imply that any kind of name can be given to a child, regardless of its meaning, aesthetics and other symbolic implications? Should governments respect all parental decisions about names for their children? 
The issue of naming a child is far from trivial. It is not only a problem of aesthetics, tradition or culture, but also a matter of distinct ethical, and even political concern. It belongs to the domains of moral and political philosophy, where questions about the permissible or desirable forms of child rearing, as well as about the limits of government's intervention in family issues are addressed. 
However, there has been surprisingly little philosophical interest in this question. Despite substantial expansion of philosophical literature about the ethics of family, parenthood and the role of government in child upbringing in recent years, there is a conspicuous lack of normative analyses that would elaborate on the ethics of child naming. 
One of the reasons this is so may be the fact that most philosophers concerned with ethics of parenthood subscribe to a form of what David Archard called the liberal standard. According to this view, provided that parents do not harm their children the content of the principles of child rearing is primarily an internal matter of family life, a domain that is to be isolated from the external, societal or governmental, concern. Therefore, the question about names parents give to their children is a private discretionary matter and governments have no rights to pry. 
But claiming that there should be absolutely no legal limits to parental child naming may be somewhat odd. Think of the little boy from New Jersey whose parents named him ‘Adolf Hitler’, in honour of the notorious Nazi leader. Does it sound right to say that governments should be neutral to these kinds of practices? 
This article has a twofold aim. First, it aims to fill in this gap by addressing the issue of moral and political significance of child naming. I will suggest that this question is not only interesting, but also deeply troubling for the liberal political philosophy. As I intend to show, the existing normative frameworks give us little guidance about how to address it. While it is difficult to say if any alternative framework could do any better, I will offer a tentative proposal. 
Second, the article will challenge the initial assumption that the content and meaning of the name parents choose for their child is a private matter outside of legitimate purview of the state. I will argue that the liberal state has a direct interest in ensuring that child naming practices correspond to a particular ethical standard. 
The article will first establish the theoretical and practical relevance of this issue, and then proceed to discuss the normative approaches that could help us address it. I will draw on the literature concerned with issues of parental autonomy and children rights. In terms of practice, I will primarily draw from American cases and examples. However, this being a normative analysis, it will have a broader appeal.