NEWS: Rifkin at Ars Electronica Conference

Chris Fedeli (
Tue, 7 Sep 1999 18:33:49 -0400

Full article at

Here's an excerpt:

[National Institute of Health gene specialist, Dean Hamer] was in the crowd later for Jeremy Rifkin's crowd-pleasing speech, which offered a vision of why people need to resist the march forward in the application of biotechnology.

Described by Wired Magazine last year as "the global village's town crier," Rifkin reiterated many of the arguments presented in his 14th book, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World.

According to Rifkin, the issue of genetic rights will loom over the biotech century like civil and human rights did in the 20th century.

Rifkin talked about genes as the crucial natural resource of the 21st century. He assured the young people in the crowd that they would live to see "gene wars." He talked about the possibility of extinction of our species if genetic engineering weakens the gene pool. And he warned against turning genetic engineering into an accepted tool of parenthood.

It was all too much for Hamer, who used the question-and-answer session after Rifkin's talk to grab a mike and, voice trembling somewhat, announce: "I was surprised to find that you are really a closet eugenicist. What gives you the right to say whether I have the right to have a child (free of certain genetically programmed illnesses)?"

Rifkin and Hamer went at each other after that, trading cutting remarks. Rifkin blasted the US scientific establishment for conflict of interest, given the many scientists who sit on corporate boards. He called on Hamer to lead the charge against such conflict of interest, vowing to write him a long letter.

"I'll await the letter," Hamer said, sounding conciliatory.

"And I guarantee you won't follow up on it," Rifkin said,
turning away in a huff.