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Risk, Regulation, and Scientific Citizenship: The Controversy over Recombinant DNA Research
Letter from Maxine Singer to London Ganning (August 13, 1979)
In reading John Lear's Recombinant DNA published in 1978 I find various citations of what can only be interpreted as
a generally suicidal tendency of the scientific community, specifically that of molecular biologists.
Among these I refer to various plans to set up experimental facilities in buildings or areas that were obviously unsuited
to the potential hazards (already specified in Asilomar guidelines), the overbearing desire of many scientists to press on
with research in areas they admitted were beyond control and extremely dangerous, the focal point of large areas of research
on bacteria that inhabited the human intestinal tract (with which if something dangerous were created in the area of tumor
virus, diarrhea bacteria, or the Asilomar prohibited category six example - - botulinum toxin -- terrible epidemics might
Under the guise of preparing various contributions to humanity that are potentially beneficial (most of them at best only
marginally so), they would appear to be preparing the most devastating forms of self-destruction.
Barry Commoner wrote in The Closing Circle: "I trace the environmental crisis from its overt manifestation in the ecosphere
to the ecological stresses which they reflect, to the faults of productive technology -- and in its scientific background
-- that generate these stresses, and finally to the economic, social, and political forces which have driven us down this
Is my reading of Mr. Lear's book incorrect? Or, on the other hand, is there even wider evidence of this tendency evident
in the scientific community which Mr. Lear did not include?
If one hundred years of psychological insight (and four thousand years of philosophy) have pointed to this same all but innate
tendency of human beings, among which we must categorize as yet the scientists who have not been able to alter their own human
nature, to destroy themselves -- can we attribute some (or a large degree) of the problems with recombinant DNA research to
I wonder if it is asking too much for your reflection and response on this, and any worthwhile reading that might serve to
widen and enlighten the viewpoint of an extremely dedicated observer?
My kindest regards,
:For ease of quick reply merely note in the margins anything that comes to mind and return the letter in the enclosed envelope.