Plants are Glowing … the Sky is Falling …

… Tom Philpott of Mother Jones is … once again … doing his best “Chicken Little” imitation:

Unlike Mr. Philpott, I am neither slack-jawed over nor having trouble getting my head around the idea of synthesizing new life forms.  Nature does it all the time and I don’t see any particular reason why the smart people of the world can’t do the same.

Philpott asks the question, “What if these new life forms behave in ways we can’t predict—or mutate in ways we can’t predict—altering food chains or larger biosystems?”  To which I respond with a question of my own — when was the last time a naturally occurring new life form altered the “food chain” or “larger biosystems” in such a way as to endanger humanity?

Does he foresee mobs of glowing plants, detached from the earth and marching on their roots, coming to get him & his family?  Okay, being a little facetious there … but just a little.

Philpott also quotes “the eminent physicist — and climate change skeptic” Freeman Dyson for the proposition that “rules and regulations will be needed to make sure that our kids do not endanger themselves and others.”

Poppycock and balderdash.  What we need is for government, with its “rules and regulations” to stay the hell out of such research.  Nothing kills scientific innovation and advancement faster than governmental “oversight”.

It’s also not clear to me why we should accept the judgment of a physicist about something biotechnical scientists are doing … or what being a “climate change skeptic” adds to Mr. Dyson’s credentials to opine on this particular subject.

Philpott also pulled out his crystal ball, saying:

“In the spirit of Professor Dyson, let me offer a prediction for the future. I imagine that synbio’s current reputation as a democratic technology dominated by well-meaning amateurs will last just long enough to convince people that it requires little or no regulation. While this laissez-faire regime congeals into a settled fact, big agrichemical, pharmaceutical, and life-sciences firms will quietly take it over, eventually dominating the research and deployment of Dyson’s wondrous toys.”

In the spirit of Dan Gardner, author of the fascinating book “Future Babble”, let me observe that the predictions of self-styled “experts” about what is going to happen in the future are notoriously unreliable (often less accurate than simply flipping a coin).  This is particularly true of those experts Gardner characterizes as “hedgehogs” — the ones who are overly confident that their “one big idea” is correct, no matter how circumstances change or how often their predictions are wrong.

Philpott’s ongoing pronouncements clearly identify him as a “hedgehog”, so call me a “Mother Jones skeptic”.

Mr. Little … er, Philpott … concludes his column with this pronouncement of liberal-socialistic dogma:

“Unless we have a serious national reckoning on synbio, what we risk leaving our children and grandchildren is the knotty problem of trying to convince an entrenched, little-regulated industry that the power of generating life forms should be used for the broad interests of society, not the narrow ones of shareholders.”

To which I offer this Libertarian riposte:  if what these “synbio” scientists are developing is not useful “for the broad interests of society”, they won’t be able to sell it to promote the “narrow ones of shareholders”.  It was the “entrenched, little-regulated” industries of American history, not governmental regulation, that made the U.S. the most powerful economic country in the world.  The only “knotty problem” here is trying to figure out how to keep government — and the proponents, like Mr. Philpott, of governmental control of everything — to butt out of what is none of their business to begin with.


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