By: Myles Power Edited by: Peter
In this final instalment of 'what the hell is Hank Green's problem with genetic engineering?!?!' I am going to discuss the final two minutes of the video 'Glowing Rats and Extreme Genetic Engineering‘.
The final portion of the video mostly consists of a Skype conversation with Eric Hoffman - the Genetic Technology Policy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth and one of the authors of the report ‘The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology’. Now, you are probably thinking that someone who has such an advanced position, not to mention a specialist in a specific scientific field, would have an advanced degree in that field. You would be wrong. Eric does not have a degree in chemistry, biology or any other scientific field. Instead, Eric has a bachelor of arts in political science and a minor in environmental studies from St. Mary's College of Maryland ಠ_ಠ. Even though Eric is extremely under-qualified, the people at Friends of the Earth believe that he has the knowledge and skills to talk about a variety of genetic engineering topics. Eric also believes that he is "protecting people and the environment from emerging genetic technologies such as ownership and control of human genes, human genetic engineering, animal cloning, animal genetic engineering and synthetic biology". I know a lot of people reading this will be thinking "Myles it does not matter about someones qualifications all that matters is the accuracy of their claims" and to you people I say "check out his blog which is solely about genetic engineering". There you will find the uninformed ramblings of a man who does not understand the subject he is talking about. In the blog, Eric only talks about the applications of genetic engineering on a very superficial level, never discussing in detail what the scientists are trying to do and how they plan to accomplish it. He never gives links to peer reviewed literature that backs up his beliefs that genetic engineering is bad - instead he gives links to petitions against the technology as if that somehow counts as evidence against it. There is no beef; no substance; nothing to back up anything he says, and it is beyond me as to why Hank and others at SciShow would care what this under-qualified man thinks about synthetic biology.
Eric Hoffman - Genetic Technology Policy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth
Hank tells us that Eric believes that the "technology is outpacing the research that is needed to understand the risks of synthetic biology". Fitting with the rest of the video, neither Hank or Eric reference anything to back up this claim and this is simply Hank passing off Eric's opinion as fact. Eric later goes on to say that "Thankfully the field is still in its infancy, and we want to make sure that it is regulated from the get go". Again, I must stress that most scientists think the term 'synthetic biology' is a buzz word, and therefore not a new technology. Regarding regulation, the fact is that synthetic biology products - like all genetically modified organisms - have to stick to strict guidelines regarding production, containment, ethics, etc. I am not saying that there's no more room for regulating, but implying that it's not regulated from the get go is extremely misleading. Also after reading Eric's report (The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology) it is obvious that he is not interested in regulating the technology, but instead is trying to stop synthetic biology altogether. The report is nothing more than a propaganda fear piece, which states that synthetic biology WILL! disrupt eco-systems, farming, fishing, etc; that it WILL! threaten human health and undermine social, economic and cultural rights; all without explaining the mechanism of it's action.
The front cover of Eric’s report
There is a part in the video where I get my hopes up when Hank says something correct – “Now some of the bio-tech industry are saying that syn-bio is being over hyped its basically just genetic modification but taken a little bit further” but he then immediately after says “Hoffman disagrees, noting that there were a bunch of unforeseen problems with regular genetic modification”…that’s …erm …WHAT?!?! How does that constitute a rebuttal to the claim that synthetic biology is over-hyped? This is not a trivia point that Hank glossed over here; this is a fundamental issue. If synthetic biology is not a new field like Eric and others want it to be, then they can’t pass it off as a dangerous new science that must be stopped. The fact that Hank does not pay more attention to this key point, and glosses over it by saying something that does not make sense, unequivocally proves that Hank either does not know enough about the subject to be talking about it, or is purposely leaving out vital information in order to promote his own biased views toward any form of genetic engineering. Either way, he is not the person who should be talking about this subject. Also, what “unforeseen problems”?!?! Again – no reference!
A unforeseen problem with GMOs dum dum DUMMMMM!
I am going to finish here saying something that might sound a little controversial, but trust me – it’s the truth. If anyone says that from a scientific view point genetic engeneering is flat out dangerous, they are wrong. The ability to genetically modify an organism is like using a hammer, it is simply a tool and not the product. What you do with that tool will depend on if it results in danger or not, and people like Hank – who has a scientific background – should know this.