controversies & ethics

Patrick O'Neil patrick at corona
Sun Feb 26 22:33:58 EST 1995

On 31 Jan 1995, Jared Roach wrote:

>         Now one might argue that the speed of recombinant research
> has two dangers:
>         1) The rest of the ecosystem is not changing as fast to
> modify itself so as to maintain some kind of ecological "balance."
> Furthermore, scientists may be slower to understand ecological impact
> than they are in developing new organisms.

This is not just restricted to transgenics.  Chemical companies and 
farmers don't want nature to catch up to pesticides too quickly (if at 
all) so would it be bad if DOW, for instance, came up with a pesticide 
that insects or fungi were extremely slow to catch up to?  (Leaving the 
debate over the use of such chemicals aside for the moment)
  The whole basis of farming is one of a state of unbalance.  A field 
made up of only one species of plant is not, itself, natural and is 
unbalanced.  Plants being protected by human interventions from predators 
is unbalanced.  If it was all let alone then balance would come but at 
the expense of food for the populous.  Where and what is a good state of 
unbalance, then?  Even organic farming requires human-induced unbalancing 
through the artificial increased mass of fertilizing manure, introduction 
of unnatural numbers of beneficial insects, etc.  

>         2) The human race as a whole (or national governments, or
> individuals) is slow to reach consensus on ethical issues (i.e.
> religion, abortion, the creation of new species, etc.)  Science
> should slow its pace of discovery to allow Ethics to catch up.

Some of these areas will NEVER be an area of consensus.  The new species 
that I have seen/read about are incredibly specialized and always based 
on natural examples (hydrocarbon consuming bacteria).  A beefalo isn't 
itself so odd, for instance, except in name.  They are a melding of two 
very closely related species and like cattle, are not set up to take over 
the world...just dinner tables.  I am no fan of the cattle industry but 
is such specialized living food really any worse than any domesticated 
food animal, bred for sloth, even temper, tender haunches, etc?
  In any case, the idea, "Science should slow down discovery" is 
disturbing.  I again ask, what do you do, tell a scientist that he or she 
is doing too well and finding out too much?  Knowledge is deadly 
and bad?  More disturbing to me than any talk of _unthinking_ 
tampering with lifespan to any significant degree is the idea that 
one can know too much.  One can learn too much.  Religions tend to take 
that position when their particular belief system is threatened by some 
bit of knowledge.  So, just cover your eyes and ears and pretend that 
what is so is NOT so?  Knowledge is NEVER the problem, it is how you use 
 That said, transgenics is not, in and of itself, bad unless it is done
foolishly and for the wrong reasons.  I presently work with transgenic
mice in a cancer research lab.  They are indespensible to the research.  


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