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on September 4, 2005
This is a clear and vigorous statement of the libertarian position on biotechnology. Bailey argues for "liberation biology" as "the earthly quest to overcome the physical and mental limitations imposed on us by nature, enabling us to flourish as never before."

Bailey insists that the technological manipulation of nature to satisfy human desires has been part of human life at least since the development of civilization based on agriculture. Using biotechnology to enhance human nature--to promote our physical and mental health and to extend our life span--is a continuation of this ancient human effort to conquer nature by articial means.

Although he recognizes the need for some legal regulation to secure the safety and efficacy of biotech products and to protect against force and fraud, Bailey prefers to leave adults free to decide for themselves (and their children) whether to employ biotechnology to enhance life. People will make mistakes. But they will learn by trial and error what uses of biotech are desirable and what not. Some people will decide to avoid such biotech advancements--following in the tradition of the Amish and other groups that choose to restrict their reliance on technology.

In arguing for this libertarian position, Bailey attacks both the bioconservatives (such as Francis Fukuyama and Leon Kass) and the Leftist bioluddites (such as Jeremy Rifkin and Bill McKibben).

I find Bailey's reasoning generally persuasive, although I think that at some points he exaggerates the power of biotech for changing human nature. He appeals to the natural human desires as the moral motivation for biotech--for example, the natural desire of parents to care for the health and happiness of their children. It's hard for me to see how biotech is going to alter, or even abolish, those desires. (I have elaborated this point in my book DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM.)

Bailey has a clear argument that is forcefully presented. He has made a great contribution to the continuing debate over biotechnology and the future of human nature.
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on April 12, 2008
It seems that everyone agrees biotechnology will have a profound effect on our species' future; where they disagree is how much of a good thing this is. "Liberation Biology" is written by Ronald Bailey, who takes an essentially Transhumanist position on this; that the options given to us by biotechnology will give us longer, happier, healthier lives.

Bailey is a writer for Reason magazine and a libertarian, so it's choice and freedom that drives his moral arguments. I have a hard time disagreeing with him when it comes to the blatantly paternalistic arguments that he deals with from biotechnology critics like Fukuyama and McKibben. (McKibben's arguments that genetic selection will turn kids into products and not people are particularly awful, although this may be in how Bailey presents them I suppose). The critics can romanticize suffering, death, and ignorance all they want, but I'd rather improve my chances of choosing where and how I die.

Bailey has more trouble in other areas - although he very effectively deals with concerns over GM food safety, as a libertarian he's far too inclined to believe that corporations won't misbehave when they get a good deal of control (as in the case of biotech crops - they've obviously helped, but farmers being dependent on one or two companies for their food supply unsettles me).

The book's biggest issue is the format, however. This is adapted from web essays, and it shows - the topics are disjointed, and the chapters are an odd mess of a tour of current technology and batches of moral arguments. This makes it a slow read; one topic bounces to another, and while it's true that moral issues are often dependent on specific technology, taking a more planned approach would have read to a better and more readable book - a broad argument instead of a bunch of discussions of individual topics.

Still, it's often informative, and although due to the fast pace of technology a couple of sections (most notably the stem cell chapter) are somewhat out of date, this will give you a good grounding in a lot of the current science and moral arguments surrounding biotechnology.
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on September 21, 2009
Ronald Bailey presents both a sensible investigation into human enhancement technologies and an inviting discourse that is better written and more thoroughly researched than most books on the same topic. Bailey does not skirt issues and does not cut and paste information. If you want knowledge that is pertinent and from a voice of logic - read this book!
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on January 16, 2013
I truly enjoyed this book. My biology professor suggested it, and I was not disappointed. Anyone interested in the history of this field, and the major players will enjoy reading this.
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on November 15, 2006
"Liberation Biology" (LB) reminds me of blogger Glenn Reynolds's futurist tract, "An Army of Davids," in that both cover similar material from a soft libertarian viewpoint. While I found both books pretty pedestrian, I think LB should have sold at least as well as Reynolds's book because Bailey and Reynolds have attracted comparably sized followings on the Web. Instead LB fell dead-born from the press and into obscurity.

I suspect the Prometheus curse accounts for Bailey's relative failure. Prometheus Books often publishes some very good stuff, especially its critiques of religious and paranormal beliefs. But I notice that its titles usually don't do that well commercially, much less appear in paperback editions a year or two later. Sam Harris, author of two surprisingly best selling attacks on religious belief, apparently noticed this problem, so he avoided Prometheus when he went shopping for mainstream publishers of his books that unexpectedly made him a pile of money and turned him into the public face of atheism in the U.S.

LB also seems a bit like a cut-and-paste job from Bailey's writings on Reason magazine's Website and other online venues. I get the impression that Reynolds put together his book in a similar fashion. I don't have a problem with writing a book that way, as such. But if you've read Bailey's works online for a few years, the contents of his book will look recycled to you.

The title, "Liberation Biology," also feels "wrong" coming from a small-l libertarian like Bailey. In the Preface on page 12, Bailey rationalizes his choice of title by writing:

"In the twentieth century, liberation theology was a spiritual movement aimed at helping humanity to overcome political and economic oppression. In the twenty-first century, liberation biology is the earthly quest to overcome the physical and mental limitations imposed on us by nature, enabling us to flourish as never before."

Even though liberation theology has a strong MARXIST component and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have held it in suspicion for that very reason? I would expect a leftist transhumanist like James Hughes to draw an analogy to a Catholic-Marxist syncretism for rhetorical purposes; but not a free-market advocate like Bailey. (In fairness, however, Hughes's effort at transhumanist outreach, "Citizen Cyborg," has hardly taken the publishing world by storm, either.)

Beside, we already have a name other than "liberation biology" for "the earthly quest to overcome the physical and mental limitations imposed on us by nature, enabling us to flourish as never before." We call this "earthly quest" transhumanism, which Bailey mentions in three places early on in LB, but he seems strangely reluctant to use it to describe his fundamentally similar world view.

Bailey does a workmanlike job of arguing for the currently socially acceptable goals of transhumanist thinking, but only that. His writing lacks the energy and moral fervor I'd like to see in making the case for these exceedingly powerful ideas. LB should have sold at least as well as comparable books about the scientific transformation of the human condition, but Prometheus Books' kiss of death probably doomed it from the start.
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on September 1, 2012
It's easy to tell humans that they are amazing angels and gods, who have every right to transform all other life, and the planet itself, into whatever humans believe will benefit humans. Such "rationale" is what makes Libertarianism and biotech utopias so easy to sell-- they appeal to selfishness, cravings, and
greed that plagues many people.

The fact is, humans have godlike powers and they use them in a mad rush to consume the entire planet trying to build a perfect world that benefits humans.

In converting sun energy, other organisms, and the earth itself into the human culture project, humans decrease biodiversity, create unintended negative
consequences, and harm humans and other organisms.

Biotech is an industry and like all industries, it's all about money and power. The human re-engineering of the earth will benefit some people for a while. In the end, it will create a dead, mutant planet.
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on November 12, 2012
Bunch of junk Koch Brothers Monsanto propaganda.

For more than 5,000 years human civilization has done far too well nutritionally, with conventional agriculture thank you much. Send away Monsanto stooges like this Ronald Bailey guy and his Washington Beltway crony colleagues to some other galaxies, where they can strive to prevent droughts.
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