Lewontin believes not that there are separate social and scientific worlds, but that there is seamless connection between them, and the social and scientific merge and twist what objectivity means. There is always a clever individual in any social situation who prepares what the masses want, before they want it to profit from it. people talked up henes and their significance; those same people bought biotechnology stock quickly after. In the case of the Genome Project, genes were being promoted and sequenced at the profit of the promoters and companies involved, but in the case of the Ebola outbreak, viruses and patients are treated, to the benefit of personal protection equipment (PPE) companies. The tornado of fear ripping through suburban towns, schools, and hospitals is currently, “Am I next?” And you very well could be, with Judson Boothe, the senior director of products supply for Halyard Health, a unit of Kimberly-Clark, a reputable biotechnology company famous for the kimwipes every lab uses to clean their lenses, saying things like “We just don’t know at this point how far it [Ebola] will progress, and how fast” (Abrams 2). PPE companies stand to gain a fat sum of money from hazmat suits, goggles, gloves, aprons, and respirators that are all, of course, disposable. So the logical conclusion that R.C. Lewontin, and any other expert can find is that Ebola is being built up socially and scientifically as a big bad monster, when really, all that does is raise profits.
Now for the most part the fact that the incurable Ebola virus is incurable and spreading is not good. People are dying every day in Africa, and the disease is spreading through air traffic and doorknobs. Its airborne, so we are in a sense, in a very bad position. The article by Rachel Abrams in the New York Times says, and truthfully, that, “The plants, which make gowns and other protective equipment that medical staff need to treat Ebola patients, have hired extra workers to make sure the machines can run all night. Some already are,” which is very ominous. (Abrams 1). There is real suffering from Ebola for sure, but that is all most people ever see from viruses or hospitals. Nobody sees the profit, in the public anyway.
The American public is already finding people to call and buy things from (typical) because of this new frightening Ebola virus. The article also states, “Demand for specialized kits is up tenfold in the past month, according to a Medline spokeswoman, Kathryn Cummings, while demand for gowns and other protective gear has grown 25 percent in the last few weeks. ‘We receive 30 to 40 calls a day inquiring about our kits,’ said Dante Tisci, the president of one of Medline’s manufacturing divisions,” which is proof that America, a fickle beast whose stocks and emotions plunge and proliferate with the words of the news has already given the companies a way to make money from Ebola. And Ebola has 8 reported cases in the US as of now, three of which have recovered, four of which are being treated, and one who has perished. One death on this continent, 25% increase in request for disposable PPE. One death, and 319,105,201 Americans are now hearing their worst viral fears in their sleep thanks to the media. It doesn't matter that the bulk of the 4,500 deaths (statistically compared to world population, very small) have occurred 8,766 miles away, across an ocean in west Africa, hardly the airway central of the world. I can’t find exactly how many airports in West Africa without extensive research because if you try to find this number simply from Googling, “how many airports in west Africa?” Google assumes you want the answer “The Department of Homeland Security announced that all travelers from Ebola outbreak countries in West Africa will have to arrive at one of five airports with enhanced screening” (Google Searches) The Ebola fear is real, and even Google is in on the fear factory that will not only increase PPE companies and biotechnology firms profits, but news companies, search engines, and other seemingly unrelated businesses.
The quest for the cure to Ebola is altruism, something Lewontin strikes down with the
drowning man example. the people drowning are the infected, and the lifesavers are the doctors, who are using PPE as a life preserver. This analogy of the drowning man and Ebola have the same outcome: “the last person in the world you want to depend on to save you when you are drowning is someone whom you had to save in the past, since he or she is not likely to be a strong swimmer” (Lewontin 99). A similar phrase could be constructed for the case of Ebola that is something like: “the last person in the world you want to depend on to cure you of Ebola is someone who still knows nothing about the cure but wants to make money off of your treatment.” Not only is Ebola research and treatment not altruistic, it is not being cured because scientists are looking at the genome of the virus, something Lewontin would cringe at. Everywhere this photo of the plasmid in the virus that causes the disease is flashed. But obviously, Lewontin would argue that social causes, like not washing hands, or perhaps the aseptic PPE donning procedure requiring someone else not already wearing PPE to assist. Social causes abound for Ebola. But the most peregrine of all the Ebola causes and hype is the companies that would profit from it. Just as Watson is shown to have stock in the Genome Project companies, so does the PPE company have a conflict of interest. they want to protect you, but it would benefit them to leave just enough room for error (“improper use”) so that people keep getting Ebola and people keep needing PPE. They do not do this, because it is socially wrong and quality control exists.
Lewontin would believe as I do that that Ebola is 25% real disease in the US and 75% blown-up terror. This means that science can be once again, be proven to be influenced by social causes. Science is objective, to a point. Science asks questions, but all questions have a context. Science defines nature, but only the parts of nature man could use for his own gain. And this practicality, both social and material, is not wrong. Just because PPE companies can make their product more useful now that Ebola is around. does not mean that their profits are made of dirty money because remember, each person who purchased a PPE device stands a way better chance at surviving Ebola. A quid pro quo exists that helps each party in science; it includes the public gaining knowledge, the scientists gaining research prestige and funding, and the private sector gaining profit. Lewontin may not agree here, but a capitalist society is the society America is and it is not changing soon. Ebola may be smaller than most diseases in death toll, but the curing of and protection from Ebola has profitable outcomes for not just biotechnology companies, but for the patients as well.
Abrams, R. (2014, October 21). Demand Jumps for Protective Equipment as Ebola Cases Spur Hospitals Into Action. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
Lewontin, Richard C. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. 1st ed. Vol. 1. New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1992. Print.