Friday, March 05, 2004

More, Please!

I've mentioned before that I think we need a Conservative critique of science. Conservatives are prepared to raise purely ethical objections to much of modern science (which in many people's minds means no objection at all) but Conservatives have been far too reticent about dealing with the science itself. Tom Bethell, in The American Spectator, provides a perfect example of exactly what's needed with his sceptical take on the hype surrounding modern genetics.

For years, the hype surrounding genetic engineering and gene therapy knew no bounds. With the Human Genome Project -- publicized at the height of the dot com mania -- things went from bad to worse. The genome was "decoded," then fully decoded. Then a final draft was decoded one more time, fully and finally. That was last spring. And still they didn't know how many genes we have. Twenty thousand? Forty thousand? About as many as roundworms, some guessed.

Something was wrong. But there had been a coronation, and now there was no going back. The genome was the marvel of our age. Knowing the nucleotide sequence of the DNA would allow us to decipher the mysteries of life. Now we could repair the misprints and defects that had brought us disease and misery. Sooner or later, death itself would be overcome.

There was no adversary press. The liberals who had brought us social engineering were not going to dispute the claims of human engineering. The breakthroughs, endlessly touted, constituted the new progressive vision. For the first time in years, it became possible for liberals to believe in progress again. So the journalists formed themselves into a cheering squad. The libertarians were especially enthusiastic.

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