Letter: Cloning: the `experts' must learn to listen

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Cloning: the `experts' must learn to listen

Sir: I recently had the privilege of taking part in a television debate on cloning which included, amongst others, Richard Dawkins ("Dolly and the cloth-heads", 8 March; letters, 11 March).

I was invited because I have been working closely with the ethical aspects, as convenor of a working group of specialists in Edinburgh on the ethics of genetic engineering, including Dolly's "discoverer", Ian Wilmut.

Imagine my surprise to read in The Independent a piece of invective by Professor Dawkins, very obviously referring to our TV debate. His thesis was that religious spokespeople should be excluded from having a public voice on matters where only experts belong. But who is the "expert" who alone is qualified to speak in the public arena?

I was for some years a nuclear inspector, assessing the risk that a Three Mile Island-type accident might happen at Sizewell. But the gulf between what we as "experts" calculated the risk to be and how the public perceived it was enormous. The industry found out the hard way that saying "I am the expert and I will tell how silly you are" was a public-relations disaster, and yet here the Professor of the Public Understanding of Science is doing just that.

First listen to your public. Science has no future if it does not, because the public will rightly cease to own it. We need more non-expert participation on these issues, not less.

Sadly, Professor Dawkins got his facts wrong. The point at issue was never whether clones would lack individuality, but that in ethics there is a world of difference between a deliberate act of cloning an existing human being and the unpredictable occurrence of twins.

Three of us made this point to him, but he evidently missed it. But then he is an expert in neither religion nor ethics, and it was a BBC Religious Affairs programme about ethics. One might well ask with equal weight what he was doing there.


Director of the Society, Religion and Technology Project

Church of Scotland