I came across this story on the BBC website this morning that, as a skeptic and someone with a keen, if purely amateur, interest in science, gave me considerable pause. A joint report issued by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) shows that the public is calling for the regulation of Synthetic biology. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, after all ever since Craig Venter created the first artificial cell it should have been obvious to anyone that this was coming, and it is not as though a bit of regulation is a bad thing. However what got me about this report is the level of control the general public is calling for.
The resulting report concluded that people wanted scientists who worked with the bits and pieces of life to do so with humility and respect for the material they were working with.
It also showed that people wanted to have a say in how the research was conducted and how grants were awarded. There should be consideration of social values as well as scientific merit, they said.
Now I don’t know about you but I can’t think of anyone who would be worse than the general public when it comes to evaluating the benefits of various areas of scientific research. I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who can’t help but read the words “humility and respect” and think “must not play God.” The general public as a group stopped getting itself vaccinated due to one ethically vile over reported paper. It now doubts climate change due to the use of the word “trick” in a couple of emails. And it spends millions every year on alternative medicine that, to put it bluntly, doesn’t work. This is hardly the right group of people to be making decisions about a new cutting edge area of scientific research. This is exactly what we have, oh what are they called, ah yes, experts for.
Ok, that is all. Please return to your daily lives.