Not Saussure

March 20, 2007

But it seemed such a good idea at the time…

Filed under: environment — notsaussure @ 9:59 pm

Tim Worstall reports, with no little enthusiasm, the news in The Guardian that

The multimillion-dollar effort to eradicate one of the world’s deadliest diseases received a significant but controversial boost yesterday when scientists announced the creation of genetically modified mosquitoes that cannot pass on malaria.

Trials revealed that the GM mosquitoes could quickly establish themselves in the wild and drive out natural malaria-carrying insects, thereby breaking the route through which humans are infected

and offers a small prize to

the first person who spots an anti-GM campaigner arguing that no, it is better that million die than we release frankenmonsters into the wild

I’m a bit late to claim the prize, since several folks in his comments column have beaten me to it, and James Higham is his normal eloquent and passionate self on the subject.

I’m by temperament a conservative in these matters, since I take the view that

Whenever stability is more profitable than improvement, whenever certainty is more valuable than speculation, whenever familiarity is more desirable than perfection, whenever agreed error is superior to controversial truth, whenever the disease is more sufferable than the cure, whenever the satisfaction of expectations is more important than the justice of the expectations themselves, whenever a rule of some sort is better than the risk of having no rule at all, a dispostion to be conservative is more appropriate than any other;

and I think that messing around with ecosystem on a grand scale is a step not lightly to be undertaken, whatever the apparent benefits. If there are unforeseen and adverse consequences, then it’s often a bit late to set things right.

For example, would it not seem an excellent idea, on discovering an edible plant whose leaves are

high in vitamins A and D, as well as calcium and protein. Its roots are rich in starch and its flowers are an excellent honey source

and which studies have shown can reduce both hangovers and alcohol cravings and which

also contains a number of useful isoflavones, including daidzein (an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent), daidzin (a cancer preventive) and genistein (an antileukemic agent)

and whose root compounds

can affect neurotransmitters (including serotonin, GABA, and glutamate) and[have] shown value in treating migraine and cluster headache

and which, in addition to all this, is not an effective form of erosion control that enhances the soil but also is a valuable food source for grazing animals and can be used to make soap, lotions and jelly, would it not seem an excellent idea to plant some?

The US certainly thought so, and from 1935 to the early 1950s encouraged farmers in the South to plant no end of Kudzu. Apparently they now rather wish they hadn’t.
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1 Comment »

  1. I’m not all that keen on millions of people dying unnecessarily but introduced species don’t have a brilliant record. They tend to deal fairly swiftly with the pests they were sent in to neutralise and then have lots of sex and go looking for something new to eat. The ethical theory used to support this supposed obligation to save those people that might otherwise have been killed by malaria doesn’t stack up as we comprehensively fail to save millions of people a year when conventional and benevolent interventions with no environmental impact is the only thing required – food, water, medicine. Scientists have faked a good intention to justify what they want to do – ie play Jurassic Park for real. There is also the question of disruption to the delicate balance of local ecosystems. Nature has evolved a fairish playing field, the viability of which is entirely dependent on no one group of predators achieving a tyranny. It isn’t like you can apply a capitalist solution to the problem – which isn’t even a problem in its correct context. You can’t just put what you think is the best product out there. In this ecosystem, the fact that mosquitoes kill humans is neither here nor there. It’s a similar argument to proposing to kill sharks because they occasionally attack humans.

    Comment by Noosa Lee — March 21, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

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