The Sciences

Slate Reply to Specter Up--We Need a National Dialogue on Synthetic Biology

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyNov 7, 2009 12:32 AM


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My latest contribution to the Slate book club on Denialism is here. Most of the discussion concerns how to prompt a broader national debate on the subject of synthetic biology, a branch of science with revolutionary possibility that most Americans have never even heard of. Alas, I'm not optimistic this will change any time soon:

In today's media world, you really need a national leader to broach such a conversation—e.g., President Obama, as you suggest in your book. While I'd be happy to be proven wrong, though, I doubt he has the time to bring up such a dark-horse topic, especially in light of all the other policy fires that must be put out. Without a presidential initiative, we lack an adequate national forum for discussing the complex and crucial problems that science lays before us. (Don't expect synthetic biology to come up on Oprah; as you point out, she is too busy providing a platform for vaccine skeptics like Jenny McCarthy.)

As a result, synthetic biology may be fully upon us before people start thinking about it. And it will likely come to broader attention only as a result of some kind of political controversy—just as occurred with embryonic stem cell research or genetically modified foods. At that point, I fear, we'll simply become polarized over the issue.

You can read my full reply here


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