Saturday, May 3, 2014

Words of Wisdom Doomed to be Ignored (at our peril)

Perhaps the most damning statement in Richard Lewontin's attempt to assess the state-of-play in synthetic biology (involving anything from basic research to product development) in the May 8 issue of The New York Review is the following:
Nothing in history suggests that those who control and profit from material production can really be depended upon to devote the needed foresight, creativity, and energy to protect us from the possible negative effects of synthetic biology.
I suppose this is a polite way of saying that "the bottom line" cares about neither risks nor averse consequences. Of course there is no reason why it should. It is only a number. However, because that number is so closely watched by high-stakes shareholders, it ends up carrying more significance than what the business is actually doing, whether it involves the creation of product, the marketing of product, or the human factors involving both workers and customers. That solitary number that determines the fate of every business of any size may well be the whimper with which T. S. Eliot predicted the world would end.

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