Years ago the Institute of Science in Society…

Years ago, the Institute of Science in Society published this Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments Concerning Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

It is 13 years old. Do any of you know of reactions/rebuttals/debates in regard to this letter?

2 thoughts on “Years ago the Institute of Science in Society…

  1. I am open to the possibility that genetic engineering can safely provide meaningful benefits to humanity. Most influential in forming my evolving opinion on this issue is a chapter in Stewart Brand’s book “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” where he talks about the benefits and many misunderstandings about genetically modified organisms.

    In that book he states: “I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering that with any other thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.” He believes that Genetic Engineering provides a safe and laser-focused tool to: increase crop yield, increase nutritional value, increase shelf-life, reduce the need for pesticides, and reduce toxins.

    I recently competed a (coursera) course on genetics where the professor advocated genetic engineering and provided arguments similar to those of Stewart Brand.

    We do, however, need to separate corporate greed from genetic engineering. Monsanto is clearly pigging out, and I am very happy the recent (US) supreme court decision ruled against patenting naturally occurring genes. This is particularly important in protecting public-domain access to the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes implicated in breast cancer.

    This is a complex issue. We need an open, informed, nuanced, objective, and continuing dialogue on the many opportunities and dangers inherent in various uses of genetic engineering.

  2. Dear Marilena, I’m not aware of any direct reactions/rebuttals to the Open Letter. But recently, I saw a presentation by some folks at the top management consulting firm McKinsey and Company (I used to work there) titled, “Disruptive technologies: advances that will transform life …”, in which they enthusiastically listed genetic engineering as one of these so-called disruptive technologies — a potentially appropriate and scary term, with respect to this issue. Of course, McKinsey typically approaches things from the standpoint of commercial potential … yikes. (I could only wonder … “Hey, let’s disrupt life itself, if we can grow the GDP and make a bundle doing it.”)

    I found that presentation to be an amazing juxtaposition with recent work done to identify some of the potentially-existential threats, by a new effort at Oxford (I think it was Oxford; recently announced on Philos-L). So, we have the commercial folks salivating with excitement, and a few of the university folks raising the existential yellow (or red) flag. You know who usually wins that battle.

    I agree with your (implied) concern.

    I hope the above information is helpful. You can find links to the McKinsey reports rather easily, and if you are interested in the Oxford effort regarding existential threats, I can try to find the recent Philos-L message in which it was mentioned.

    Also FYI, it just happens that a fairly brilliant nephew of mine just started his graduate work at Stanford in the field of genetics and related stuff. I’m curious to hear how he thinks about these things, if he does think about them much at all. We have only casually talked about the potential “unintended consequences”. But such casual talk of “unintended consequences” is habitually put aside these days by both commercial industries and academic researchers, the former interested in profits and the latter interested in academic achievement and, also, ultimately, money (although they are also interested in curing diseases, so they manage to place that priority above the risks of unintended consequences, if we aren’t careful.) As we learned in Cabaret, money makes the world go ’round.

    Be Well,

    Jeff Huggins

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