With the rise of modern science in the 16th and 17th centuries, both scientists themselves and the general public have turned to science to provide solutions to the problems which confront us. Sir Francis Bacon, the most famous of the early propagandists for science wrote of a scientific utopia, a "New Atlantis" in which men and women, freed from sickness, ignorance, and the need to do hard physical labor, could engage in intellectual pursuits deemed appropriate for our stature, somewhere between the animals and the angels. This ideology has permeated the scientific tradition. It's contemporary manifestation can be seen in the eugenic movements and genetic engineering--i.e. the drive to use science and technology to create the perfect human. Human genetic research has discovered the genes which cause a number of human disorders while reproductive technologies like prenatal testing, in vitro fertilization or fetal therapy allow a mother to strive for the perfect child. Dr. Rothschild, under this research grant, is examining the historical and conceptual framework which underpins eugenics and genetic engineering. She is tracing a secularized belief in human perfectibility, linked to beliefs in science and the idea of progress. These beliefs in both science and human perfectibility developed from a 17th and 18th century ideal to becoming an integral part of 19th and 20th century evolutionary and eugenic ideology. During this grant, Dr. Rothschild is developing the framework and the idea of the "perfect man" that emerges from it. This will form the foundation of her study of the relationship of the "perfect child"--the modern image of human perfectibility--and the new reproductive technologies that are shaping the image and making it possible. By focussing on human perfectibility and its interplay with science and technology in both historical and contemporary context, this research brings to light an important by neglected element in the growing debates on the meaning and impact of the new reproductive technologies for procreative norms and choices.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Ronald J. Overmann
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University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Foundation
United States
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