Most scientists so focused on their research and getting the funding they will need that they downplay or hide any negative consequences of their work. This is why scientists need to be supervised by those with a wider vision that can speak for humanity.
IN THIS WEEK'S NEW SCIENTIST (27 Aug 2016) there is an article entitled "Recoded life a step closer to reality". In it, author Michael Le Page describes "the greatest feat of genetic engineering by far" as the project to produce synthetic E. coli bacteria that will have a completely novel genetic code. He gushes on, "The recoded E. coli could have all kinds of industrial uses. It should be resistant to all existing viruses, and capable of producing proteins unlike any found in nature."
What could possibly go wrong? Not a lot according to this article. "Changing codons sometimes has lethal effects. This is to be expected. But only 13 deadly flaws have been found in the 2200 genes checked so far — just over half the total — and these have been fixed." Of course, these deadly flaws are only the ones deadly to this science project — the genetic flaws that would make this synthetic life unviable. An organism can be healthy and happy… sitting there smiling in its petri dish… and still be deadly in its complex interactions with other forms of life.
I am always astonished when I hear how GM projects are so positively presented to the public, with negative aspects glossed over or ignored entirely. And yet, those negative aspects are monumental… but only a scattering of mavericks in the scientific community dare address these issues. And anyone outside the scientific community addressing the dangers of GM technology is labelled ignorant and a Luddite, or perhaps a victim of Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias. This is the 21st Century, after all, time to put away the organic food fantasies and practically accept technologies that will feed the world. Only thing is… this is all marketing.
GM research masquerades as science when in fact it is a business — pure and simple — and profit is always the driving factor in any business. That is the gamble of the GM industry: it knows scientifically that it is playing with fire, but the unimaginably huge financial and political rewards are too much of a temptation for it to resist, and too much for governments, who are now just another facet of industry, to insist on caution. After all, everyone has to eat, and so controlling all food supply becomes the ultimate control of humanity. As Kissinger said: "Who controls the food supply controls the people."
The fact is that tinkering with life's genetic code in ways that could never happen in nature will inevitably throw up the unexpected. Maybe not immediately, but in time. We are dealing here with complex systems, and changes in those systems may take many years to come to their full fruition. Add to that the rapidity of horizontal gene transfer by microbes and you start to understand that unleashing new organisms into the biosphere is a recipe for disaster. It is not that GM technology is necessarily bad in itself, it is that the way it is done with such minimal safety testing is a crime against not only humanity but all life on Earth.
Putting new organisms into the biosphere demands generational studies — in all species, INCLUDING humans — for us to have a real idea of the consequences. But GM companies don't have the time for that: they don't want to wait for their profits. And so these biotech companies are allowed to just do small-scale field trials in remote locations for a few years before having their GM foods rubber-stamped as safe. This is not science — it is commercialism: the allure of massive profits is being allowed to pull the technological agenda forward, beyond the bounds of normal scientific caution.
So what could possibly go wrong with a whole new bacteria with a completely modified genetic code, which will produce completely novel proteins and interact with existing bacteria (yes it will) in novel ways. Do you really have to have letters after your name to realise that this commercial project presents real dangers to life itself? Are we all supposed to just sit back and let the "experts" get on with their pet projects? After all, they are highly intelligent and so we might assume (wrongly as it turns out) that they would stop if they felt their inventions presented any serious dangers.
A couple of years ago, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, used a technique called reverse genetics to build a super wild bird flu virus that spreads much more easily than the normal bird flu virus. Kawaoka defends this obviously reckless research by stating how important it is for understanding pandemics!
Foolhardy? Why would creating deadly viruses, more deadly than anything currently found in nature, be foolhardy on an over-crowded planet with billions of human beings as potential victims? What could possibly go wrong? Well it may be obvious to you… but most scientists are a breed apart.
Kawaoka is a man whose choice of research implies scant regard for public safety as he seems so totally absorbed in the excitement of his research, as most scientists are, that he seems to have lost touch with the reality of what he is doing. And this also makes him and his kind the very last people that should be advising on viability, ethics and safety. In fact, it is entirely normal for researchers to downplay any dangerous consequences of their research.
Why downplay the dangers? Because scientists are competing for funding, and so there is little interest in taking a precautionary approach to their research; there is little interest in presenting a balanced view that includes the dangers. To do so may jeopardise sponsorship. Far better to market (distort) presentation of the research in a such a way that encourages funding, and dismiss dissenting voices outside the immediate niche scientific community as the voices of ignorance — those stupid enough to fall for Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias and think that brakes should be put on potentially dangerous scientific research.
The same sort of thing happens in most areas of research. This is why high-IQ scientists and computer engineers spearhead so much of the world's insanity: there is an unholy alliance between the boundless curiosity of intellectualism (if it can be done, do it!) and the greed of those who would profit from such research, irregardless of any negative consequences. (And if it is the defence industry profiting from the research, then the more deadly the consequences the better.)
And as governments are generally in the pockets of corporations, and as much of the law they have been passing disproportionally favours corporations over general public interests, even potentially dangerous research is being green-lighted. This blasé approach has unfortunately become the norm, so that we live in a society today that has forfeited the precautionary principle in areas of big business, whilst at the same time using over-precaution as a tool to discourage anyone that competes with the profits of big business. This is why Eisenhower warned us 55 years ago that, "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex".
Allow scientists and their corporate sponsors to dictate scientific policy and we will end up with: a permanently damaged gene pool; synthetic food and medicines; robotic control at all levels of society; unchecked nuclear power and increased environmental radiation; sick and toxic bodies that "require" a plethora of drugs, vaccines and other "treatments" just to survive; an atmosphere saturated with toxic dust; and minds that are directly influenced by frequency, chemical and other dulling technologies.
Allow the political elite to dictate policy, and we will end up as slaves to warmongering governments who control and monitor our every activity, who use every means to extract wealth and resources from the general public, who think nothing of mass murder (especially in other countries) in order to reach political goals, and who are quite happy to undermine at every opportunity the democratic process.
Allow a combination of the two, and we will end up in a robotic Terminator world where we are enslaved by our technology, and have little means to resist invasive and all-pervasive Big Brother monitoring and control.
Fortunately, many humans are starting to change in ways that make them less suited to being pawns in this Big Brother scenario. We are questioning and holding responsible our governments, our scientists, our corporate leaders, our medical establishment and our military like never before. And if that gets us labelled as ignorant and cognitive-biased Luddites, anarchists and/or conspiracy theorists, so be it. Labels will not stop the resistance to this unfolding global totalitarian plan as more of us embrace a new vision of the future that puts the happiness, rights and fulfilment of ordinary people first.
Just because it can be done does not mean it should be done. And society will start to support only research that betters humanity as a whole. And to determine that requires a more inclusive and mature intelligence, uninfluenced by funding-concerns. It is time we rebuke the children that lead us to the edge of the abyss, and turn toward the huge opportunities that await humankind at this time if we can encourage a science that is mindful of the full and long-term consequences of its focus. Many of those opportunities are not particularly profitable, but to humanity they are priceless. If we can direct science constructively in this way then we will have an opportunity for a new scientific Renaissance that will be pro-humanity rather than pro-profit, giving us our best chance for a viable future.
Update 21 Sept 2016
A friend sent me a concerning article today about the use of synthetic bacteria to clean up oil spills. Apparently, this new organism, called Cynthia and the brainchild of the J. Craig Venter Institute, doesn't just have a penchant for oil, but flesh as well. Was it released into the environment without adequate safety testing and environmental impact — of course! What could possibly go wrong?