Letter: What is science for?

Sir: There are a surprising number of issues in the speech by the chairman of Glaxo Wellcome to the British Festival of Science ("We must support our GM food industry", 14 September) that are taken entirely for granted.

Science is needed, we are told, to help Britain struggle to compete not only with the developed countries but also with developing countries. Why we are competing with these people?

We are told that if only the public understood the potential benefits of GM foods, the debate about them would be over. What is unsaid is that despite attempts by many, there is no debate. It is now only a matter of selling the idea to the voters by explaining the benefits with sufficient repetition that we will all believe it. It is precisely because of this lack of debate that civil disobedience takes place.

It cannot be a purely scientific debate, which is settled by scientists who then inform the voters of the result. We need a forum where we can discuss questions like: should we release genetically modified organisms into the wild?

Of course there are ethics bodies already in existence, but the GM experience suggests they have no teeth that can compare to the power of huge international companies. What we have now as a forum for discussing science, and discussing whether we should or should not pursue any particular path, is the marketplace.

We have given up asking whether science will help make the world a better place for people, and ask instead whether it will make some people richer.


Anstruther, Fife