Human/chimp hybrids and public understanding

Nigel Brown BROWNNL at
Thu Jul 18 11:32:00 EST 1991

I haven't yet seen a contribution to this topic from the UK, but it is
worthy of comment that a new BBC drama series on "genetic engineering"
is set in a fertility clinic (referred to by non-scientist characters as
"the baby farm"), but they are doing top-secret Government work on the side.
The products of one of the experiments escapes, kills all the staff bar one
and takes to the hills.  It looks suspiciously like the product is a
human-chimp hybrid (the series is called "Chimera").

The reason for my mentioning this is that it represents an attitude common in
the non-scientific public (and among some scientists) about what my happen in
uncontrolled research in modern biological science.  We do have
responsibilities to explain ourselves to the rest of the world (to the taxpayer
as paymaster, if for no other reason), and we must not lose sight of the very
real public concerns about scientists. We are no longer men in white coats who
are going to save the world from starvation and drudgery (the 1950-60s view),
but people who may well destroy it.

There are some experiments which should be discussed in private between
consenting scientists, rather than exposed to public view before all the
scientific, ethical and other ramifications have been considered.  I am not
sure that BIONEWS is sufficiently private, and certainly does not seem to
have the consent of all for this discussion.

At least BIONET is being used to discuss issues.  I would rather it did that
and disseminated new information than be used solely instead of the primary
literature ("How do I do this?", "Has anything been published on this?") 8-).

Nigel Brown,
Univ Birmingham

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