Anti-science WMDs

July 25, 2003

The official nationwide debate on genetically modified crops ends this month but the unofficial debate will continue, mainly because many people involved see this as "war".

One side has worked for years to hone a weapon of mass destruction aimed at a nascent technology. This weapon can bring any development in science or technology to its knees. Development of the wheel would have been an excellent target.

This WMD will function only in a climate of fear - which has, unfortunately for the UK, been created by various tragedies, mainly related to the farming industry.

It also needs an atmosphere of media interest to disseminate its energy.

This atmosphere is largely impervious to return fire from the enemy. At its small but dense core is politics, then a layer of environmentalism and a large external coating of concerned laypeople. The weapon is not "smart", so it can cause a lot of collateral damage. Its main disadvantage is that it cannot be released in 45 minutes and the only possibility of disarming it may be by manipulating the external coat.

Those at the core need only to raise the spectre of some highly unlikely danger and ask for proof that it is not a threat for the developer's case to collapse. The collateral damage to a new, multimillion-pound industry may be terminal. This WMD can be defused only by "education, education, education" directed at the bewildered public, which is one of the few things that can be said in favour of the government's 50 per cent target - provided most of the new students study science.

Jack Pridham
School of Biological Sciences
Royal Holloway, University of London

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