A Momentous Year in Science
The scientific event that probably got the most attention and media coverage this year was the cloning of an adult sheep, Dolly. The fact that this event got so much attention is indicative of the change and broadening of the ethical debates surrounding genetic engineering. Not only is the bioethical controversy surrounding genetic engineering becoming a more popular subject, it is, thanks in large part to Dolly, becoming a more real and pressing matter. Cloning has gone from being the subject of sci-fi novels to reality, and all the problems it brings are now ours. Laws are already being passed to control cloning. These responses to advances in genetics are the signs of a more science wary, less progress blinded populace, who see that science is going and has already gone to areas where its worth is disputable.
Science today is moving at an incredible pace, a pace fueled by and exemplified by computers, whose life cycles can be measured in months and whose rate of growth is amazing. Advances in computer technology and new uses for the personal computer are adopted by the millions of computer users almost immediately.A perfect example is the World Wide Web, which connects home users to a vast repository of facts, resources and garbage. Change this fast is unsettling, and like the information on the web, new scientific discoveries must be filtered, their worth estimated, and the potential risks and consequences taken into account.
People have good reason not to take technological advances on faith. Much of modern science is done with an end commercial product, if not seen as a direct result, seen as a possibility, an objective. Consequently, many advances in science are tested on the public first, instead of being modified from another use in industry or some other field. Recent scares about new products for the consumer, both seemingly less significant ones like sugarless sweeteners and beef with antibiotics and more serious ones concerning carcinogens and toxins in everyday products, have reminded everyone of two key things. Scientific advance can be a double edged sword, what seems to help hurting in the end, and that corporations that make decisions concerning use of chemicals, materials and fuels are out to make money, just about anyway they can, regardless in some cases of the consumers health. The tobacco companies seem to be fighting a losing battle, but as long as they hold out, they make!
money. Power companies can fight environmental reforms for years, then suddenly, with the force of advertising, come across as the original environmentalist. So, as the public becomes more adept at filtering through advertising, propaganda and all the rest of the overwhelming amount of information out there they realize that they must watch out for themselves because things can move fastest at the personal level. The old American anti-big government, anti-big corporations, rugged individualist spirit that can be so damaging in other places is saving the consumer, and it is also forcing scientists to justify what they are doing as ethical.
The importance of the media attention given to cloning and other things involving genetics is it involves people looking ahead, to the future, in the way environmentalists have been trying for. Scientists are already having to explain what they are doing and why, before they are start doing. Laws are being passed about human cloning, and it isn’t even really possible yet, especially in the ways people talk about. Organ farms and replacement babies are not here, if they ever will be, but people are already thinking about them. This is a good sign as technology of the future becomes tomorrow new foods, fibers, fuels and other consumer products, people will be more prepared, hopefully, to make intelligent decisions concerning science, taking all the information available today putting it to good use.