Argument: Synthetic organisms no greater risk than natural ones

Issue Report: Artificial life


David Ropeik. “Synthetic life: Perhaps all we have to fear is fear itself?” Guardian. May 26th, 2010: “People are generally more fearful of human-made risks, and less so of natural ones. Nature can indeed be red in tooth and claw, but new versions of plants, animals and microorganisms that evolve via Darwinian evolution don’t upset us half as much as hybridisation by genetic engineering. That a bacterium can spontaneously evolve into a new version that can resist our arsenal of antibiotics doesn’t seem to bother people as much as the possibility that we can now manufacture such mutants.

[…] What we need to recognise is that reacting to risk this way, as natural as it is, leads sometimes to a “perception gap”. We are either too afraid or not afraid enough, relative to the true risks. So it is that for many of the biggest threats to our health, such as heart disease, we are not nearly scared enough.

That gap itself is a risk. We do have to fear fear itself … whether it’s too much fear or too little. So understanding the psychological roots of the human affective response to risk is critical for making wiser, healthier choices about the dangers we face, as individuals, and as a society.”