I woke up to Radio 4 this morning to hear Jim Thomas of the ETC Group calling for a moratorium on something or other – this time it’s synthetic biology which the ETC group view as some kind of biological pollution although in a subsequent interview with Craig Ventner ETC were described as “not having much expertise in this field.”
More worryingly was the Today program presenter obviously having no understanding whatsoever about biology and steering Ventner away from using phrases such as ‘base pairs,” something that is as fundamental to biology as electrons and protons are to physics and chemistry.
No doubt we will have a debate about “artificial life” which, just like nanotech, could cause potential problems or solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. However, the general fear of technology based on almost total ignorance, perhaps due to the standard BBC education often stereotyped as classics with Marxism at Oxford, will result in any real discussion being dumbed down to fears about self replicating out of control artificial bacteria and calls for moratoria. While the scientists have been discussing the ethical implications of this for years the protest groups still seem to be relying on GMO era tactics.
The ETC group has already published a number of informative posters designed to help angry protesters identify just who to hate and worry their friends, and while Craig Ventner is being built up as some kind of Satan, the group is also targeting venture capitalists such as Steve Jurvetson who have shown an interest in synthetic biology. A debate is good for science and democracy, but spitting bile and stifling debate is clearly not.