Towards the end of 2015, the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee published their report on genetically modified insects. I had been asked to give evidence to the committee in October, not because I knew much about GM insects, but in order to help contextualise their report in previous debates about controversial emerging technologies. Their report, as such reports do, plucked some bits from what I said. But, if it hit some notes, it spectacularly missed the music. The committee’s chair, Lord Selborne, made some balanced comments at the press conference, but the report’s summary and its press release, as Sarah Hartley and I described here, demonstrated a level of blind support that even the scientists involved might be embarrassed by.
The Today programme asked me to come on as part of an end-of-year review of gene editing and gene drives, developments which sparked so much scientific, ethical and policy interest in 2015. I was paired with the extremely reasonable Charles Godfray from Oxford and we found ourselves in what one of my colleagues called ‘violent agreement’. We had been given the 8:10 slot, conventionally the stage for ministerial shouting matches. I hope our quiet discussion did not frustrate the BBC producers too much. John Humphrys was in London. Charles Godfray was in Oxford and I was in a cold cupboard at BBC radio York as floodwaters rose. Which might account for my taking some time to warm up.
Here’s the clip:
My points related to the real-world experimental nature of research in this area, a set of ideas developed in a great new paper by Ibo van de Poel.