SIRC – Media Watch 25-05-99
David Sainsbury, writing in the New Statesman, suggests that science is undoubtedly reforming our society for the better, but sufficient legislation is required to regulate technological progress. Aversion to the new must not be allowed to halt innovation. History has repeatedly demonstrated that there is no shortage of sceptics willing to warn us of the dangers of science:
"We must not think that we can, at the beginning of any period of scientific discovery, estimate what the benefits and disadvantages of any technology will be. History is full of examples of scientists and non-scientists alike failing to understand the impact of new technologies. In 1865 the Boston Post opined: 'Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit a voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value."
Advances have increased both the longevity and quality of our lives, but the rush to embrace new technologies has resulted in some detrimental effects to the environment. But science can be employed to redress this balance and may allow us to reap the benefits of the modern age while still remaining environmentally responsible.
"I am not arguing for the mindless pursuit of economic and scientific change; I am arguing against a mindless opposition to it. Our lives in the coming century will be changed enormously by the scientific revolutions taking place in IT, biology and new materials. A properly regulated scientific framework must ensure that these developments are harnessed for our collective good.
An editorial in the New Scientist covers the release of three independent reports within the same week that deal with GM issues, but recognises that the volume of information may only serve to confuse the debate further. "The problem with these sensible moves is that they won't calm the hysteria, while some of the BMA's recommendations will positively inflame it." The BMA report has called for a ban on GM crops until a consensus has been reached on their environmental safety. NS comments "This sounds good but is actually rather naive. Who decides when a consensus has been reached? Is a consensus even possible? And who decides which studies are valid? Unless governments define their aims and methodology clearly, no amount of research will produce a consensus on whether the risks to wildlife are acceptable."
A BBC article this week with regard to Pusztai's study coming under attack by the Royal Society suggested that "Everyone is a loser in this sorry affair." It advises that we proceed with caution and recognises that both the media and pressure groups have played a significant role in the mis-management of the GM affair."It is to be hoped that the Royal Society's verdict on the Pusztai affair will bring some sensible debate to the GM issue."