David Suzuki is on campus today, and gave an impressive speech this afternoon on biotechnology. His main point was that we need to be a lot more slow and careful when dealing with the potential benefits of biotech, for a few different reasons. First, we've been wrong a lot in the past (DDT and CFC's were previous miracle chemicals gone wrong), and it is likely that most of what we know about genetics now is wrong. "That's how science works", though he noted that we tend to artificially construct linear stories about scientific development. Second, there is no huge necessity to get transgenic organisms on the market. Feeding starving third world countries is the major reason put forth, but if one looks at the GM foods on the market, they consist almost uniquely of luxury foods for rich countries, and there is no reason to grant patents on genes. Stopping patents would slow down research, but that's not a bad thing; au contraire, we need the process to be cautious, and slowing it down is the first step.
One of the most interesting points he made, tangental to his main argument, was the strong claim that offering BSc degrees at a liberal arts institution is simply wrong. He pointed out that the across the board split between Science and Arts is simply ridiculous, because the result is that all the lawyers, politicians, and business people wind up having no scientific background, while scientists have no ethical, moral, or humanities background. Science engenders fundamental changes in society and government, and vice versa.
I'm off to his second speech now. More later.