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Promising pessimism: reading the futures to be avoided in biotech

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date06/2011
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Number of pages19
Original languageEnglish


A number of science and technology studies (STS) scholars have suggested that the performativity of the 'forward-looking statement' is an important institutional element of contemporary biocapital. This paper considers how, when making projections that set up expectations about their futures, firms also acknowledge and detail the risk factors that they face in their operations. In other words, in addition to projecting optimistic scenarios, firms advance much more pessimistic images of futures that they wish to avoid: possible failures, disappointments and financial losses. I examine such pessimistic projections in company filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and investigate their discursive character. I ask what value such pessimism might hold for STS scholars interested in the mangle of science and capital. I sample the SEC filings of three companies: deCODE Genetics, DNAPrint Genomics Inc. and NitroMed Inc. In their own particular ways, these projections exemplify the volatility and the promise of the life sciences in the 21st century. My reading shows that such pessimistic risk factor statements provide interesting commentary on the dynamics of risk and innovation in the context of contemporary biocapital, raising questions to which analysts to date have given little attention.