Re: Glowing Grass

Date: Sun Jul 09 2000 - 17:09:14 MDT

CAVEAT: I AM dynamically optimistic. You might not believe that after
reading my posts, though . . .

In a message dated 7/9/00 4:26:29 PM Central Daylight Time,

> When the automobile was first introduced, there were all sorts of hysterical
> articles and letters to editors published about it, including warnings
> the danger to life and limb, and even, as I recall reading, warnings of the
> health dangers of such unnatural speeds; and there were speeches by
> politicians about how automobiles must stay in their places and not go
> around frightening the horses on the road.
> It's true that we now live in a less free world, but to the extent that a
> free market remains, I believe that truly useful products will make their
> way into the marketplace regardless of hysteria.

The automobile was developed before there was a Department of Transportation.
 There wasn't even an income tax by the time automobiles were a thriving
industry. The genetic biomed revolution is happening in an entirely
different world and the threat of stifling regulation and prohibitions could
dry up funding for research and development on the cutting edge fairly
quickly. Hey Bonnie, you're a TAX LAWYER for chrissakes: You oughta know
what I'm talking about!

In a message dated 7/9/00 4:00:15 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

> On Sun, 9 Jul 2000 wrote:
> > We are consistently losing the battle for public opinion.
> I'll cite an interesting example. I was in London last week and
> went out to diner with friends. On the menu were several "organic"
> selections, e.g. "organic salmon".
> [snip]
> The interesting thing was the assumption by several college educated,
> moderately techno-literate (American) people at diner that the "organic"
> kind, "had" to be healthier for you. So Greg is correct in that the
> horse is out of the barn and is slowly eating the grass in our yards.

I spend a good deal of time in the UK and for those who haven't spent time
immersed in European media, I'll tell you it's just plain scary how far the
anti-technology meme has spread. Yes, it's inconsistent -- Europeans still
love high-tech BMWs and cell phones, while at the same time a majority of
them react with horror to each new advance in genetic science. But the
European media and the left of Euro-politics is leading the luddite charge,
and they've built up a LOT of momentum.
> > Genetic engineering technologies are advancing WAY faster than its
> > proponents are realizing, in an important sense -- and that sense is the
> > public at large's acceptance of the technology.
> Huh? This seems like a contradiction. Do you mean "lack of acceptance"?

Yes - that's what I meant.
> At any rate, the technologies are advancing and it looks like in
> western societies there will be an interesting quandry developing.
> As I've pointed out before it looks like there may be a lack of
> acceptance for AgBio since it has little impact on our actual health
> or pocketbooks. In contrast progress on the MedBio front is continuing
> at a blistering pace. I simply cannot see the most green Green saying
> "No, you can't use that angiogenesis inhibitor anti-cancer drug on
> my mother because its produced using biotech...". So sooner or later
> the greens are going to have to confront the good biotech/bad biotech
> conundrum.
> If the animal rights activists (a separate group from the greens, but
> at times similarly irrational), had their act together, they would
> be demonstrating loudly against all of the transgenic mice activities,
> particularly any plans to knock-out all of the genes in mice or zebrafish
> (some small fraction of those knockouts are presumably not going to live
> pleasant lives). They don't seem to be doing much of that yet, so I
> consider most of their efforts noise.

Robert, you're missing what I'm seeing. The animal rights activists ARE
beginning to protest against transgenic mice used in medical research and,
much worse, the mainstream "medical ethics" community is happily generating
pronouncements about the possibility of putting limits on human augmentation,
while there is a deep and powerful fountainhead of religious sentiment in
America that can be unleashed against "godless science" with only a slight
redirection of the meme-train. Every politician who took the opportunity of
the announcements of completion of the human genome map to catch a little
limelight was careful to refer to "god" as many times as possible.
Furthermore, the use of genetic diagnostic information is already the subject
of Congressional hearings and many politicians are considering how to
regulate THAT resource as we speak.
> > The luddites are well organized, have a simple, consistent theme and are
> > getting better and better at getting themselves insserted into every
> single
> > news item announcing any progress. I'm sorry to say it, but as someone
> who
> > works in the arena of public persuasion, I have to say we're losing --
> > badly.
> You make the case that they are inserting bad memes into public minds.
> Can you make the case that the attention or actions they are taking is
> significantly slowing down progress?

Not yet (although an argument can be made that European rejection - across
the board - of "GM foods" has marked a reduction in the potential market for
the over-all products of genetic engineering: I'd be willing to bet that
funding for research and development of transgenic food crops has already
been curtailed). But if we wait until we see a significant reduction in
investment in MedBio research before action is taken to offset it, it will be
too late.

> If annually there is $70 Billion in VC, some fraction of which (1-5%) has
> to flow into healthcare/biotech, and more than $15 billion each in both NIH
> and Pharma research -- how can the greens & warm-n-fuzzy animal people
> hope to compete with that?

Robert, VCs won't invest in developing illegal products. Even if regulation
only throttles, but doesn't completely halt the pace of progress, you'll see
the money move into areas that are less tightly regulated. So what do we get
if this happens? Folks with great computers and telephones 20 years from now
who are still aging and dying the way they do now.
> I kind of liked the article re: "low mow" and/or glowing grass.
> Its an example of what the average person can see as being useful
> for themselves that no amount of green politicing will offset.
> The glowing grass is particularly "green" as it would allow the
> grass to store solar energy and release it at night allowing
> people to reduce outdoor lighting leading to reductions in
> power plant CO2 emissions. Of course the astronomers may not
> be happy due to the light pollution.

I know you're trying to be funny, Robert, but I'm not in a laughing mood, I
guess. In fact, I'm MAD AS HELL. And the people I'm the most mad at are the
ones who are managing the process of MedBio R&D. As you said about the folks
at the SETI conference you recently attended, "they just don't get it". They
think they can either 1) let the merits of their work speak for themselves or
2) chip slowly around the edges of the status quo and get by. Neither is
working. If this sector doesn't begin to really get its act together on the
cultural and political front, they've got a terrible surprise in store.
> Regarding going off to Minnesota and standing in front of the
> activists, I'm not sure I can see myself doing it. What would
> I do -- hold up a big sign that says "Go Biotech"???

No - as Anders pointed out, that will relegate us to a fringe vs. fringe
position, while Jeremy Rifkin and Al Gore take the high ground.
> It seems what ExI should do is write a position statement on the
> advantages of Biotech and GeneEng to offset the Green/AnimalRights
> position and publish it on the web site. Then we should make sure that
> reporters at the major papers know how to contact us for pithy
> comments about how ill-conceived the positions of the demonstrators are.

That's one small step, but not NEARLY enough. I propose a "Progress
Coalition" that gets some real money behind a concerted advertising and
lobbying campaign - to do the kinds of things Tom described in his post on
this thread. If we don't get Madison Avenue and Congressional lobbyists
working on our side muy pronto, we're going to show up for the game with the
score already 90 to nothing.
> The reporters are just doing their job (documenting newsworthy
> controversy that sells papers) -- we should assist them in that area.

You're right, but the opponents of progress are experienced "activists" who
work the media like a well-tuned instrument. It takes coordination and
active promotion to get the kind of media attention we need.
> We aren't just standing by twiddling our thumbs, I finished my BBC
> interview last week, and the reporter hopes to catch Nick & Anders
> in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the show doesn't air until next year
> and is more about nanotech & uploads than biotech. But we are making
> progress.

We are, but the question is whether it is enough progress fast enough.
Here's the problem, in a nutshell: The proponents of technological progress
are mainly scientists and technologists. As a rule, such folks are TERRIBLE
at public relations and broad-based memetic promotion and, apparently at
assessing the trends in such spheres. They're good at things that by and
large don't require those kinds of skills. That's why they do science and
technology and not politics and media. The opponents of progress, on the
other hand, tend to NOT be scientists and technologists, but media figures,
"policy wonks" and politicians. In other words, the other guys have some
inherent advantages here. Unless you can figure out how to create a secure,
well funded and well staffed "free science enclave" PDQ, we need to be
prepared to play on the other guy's home turf.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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