Race, science and a novel: An interdisciplinary dialogue



Burns L, Lanoix M, Melnychuk RM & Pauly B (2008) Race, science and a novel: An interdisciplinary dialogue. Developing World Bioethics, 8 (3), pp. 226-234.

In the novel Racists by Kunal Basu (2006), two competing scientists initiate an experiment that they believe will prove which race is superior. The research subjects, one white and one black infant, are sequestered on an isolated island in the care of a mute nurse. The contest must be waged in a 'natural laboratory' with no artificial interventions and with the prospect that one will die at the hands of the other. The politics of empire, the slave trade and the advent of a new scientific way of viewing life, Darwinism, set the stage for the fictional experiment, but the ramifications of such thinking extend into the present. Coming from the disciplines of nursing, philosophy and science, we discuss how a novel can illuminate the moral dimensions of science and healthcare. The critical distance afforded by the novel provides a rich terrain for the examination of issues such as race, care and the purity of science. Despite the recent dominance of social explanations of race, science requires the examination of the differences between human beings at the biological level. The view that biology is destiny is a powerful one with dangerous consequences, especially since the belief that certain human beings' destinies are far worthier than others is a corollary of such a view. In this paper, we present the cross-disciplinary conversation, which has been facilitated by this novel. We hope this will inform ethics educators of the rich potential of using fiction as a pedagogical tool.

developing world; research; gender; bioethics; drug trial; ethics of care; fiction;

Developing World Bioethics: Volume 8, Issue 3

Publication date31/12/2008
Publication date online05/06/2007
PublisherWiley Blackwell

People (1)


Professor Bernadette Pauly

Professor Bernadette Pauly

Honorary Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences