I think it's also a symptom of people being educated in either the arts or science, with little crossover in between. Most BA grads would have read or at least encountered the arguments of Chomsky, Foucault and so on, and encountered science through the politics of science. A smaller proportion would have post sixth form statistics, or have read scientific papers and be able to make informed judgements independently. And fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
I'm not so sure. I'm one of those people whose formal training was a crossover, Undergraduate Arts, Graduate computer science. But I don't think I've got any better place in this discussion, just a different perspective. People who sit between disciplines are limited in how far they can go with either one. So they end up lacking all credibility with both of the disciplines they straddle. I know very little university level science, basically no chemistry or biology at all, and very limited physics, and reasonable mathematics. I also don't have a wide Arts background either, there's not too much history or literature, social sciences, etc. Just a lot of philosophy, for whatever that is worth. Well, it's plain to me what it's worth, actually - I'm extremely well paid, because I can understand technical stuff, and then explain it to laymen. I would put at least half of my success in selling software to people down to the selling rather than the writing. But I can't sell it to specialists - they are able to form their own opinions and they value the detailed complexity of what is uttered much more than the simple way it is uttered.
Which brings me ultimately to an opinion on the impossibility of agreement in this discussion. Everyone is some kind of specialist - there is absolutely no person who can claim to be a real generalist - they're just specialized in having lesser knowledge of more fields. The GM scientist can claim to know more than anyone else about the mechanics of the process, but they have to leave it to others to fully assess the total environmental impact. Others might be better able to judge the ethical balances (I don't actually think so, but certainly other people might be better trained at articulating the balances, to facilitating the discussion). Then there is the final and impossible balance to agree on - risk.
Statisticians have often argued that people don't understand risk properly with simple examples. Most people can see mathematically that a 99% shot at 10 million dollars has a much higher average payout than a 100% shot at 1 million dollars. But an awful lot of people would prefer the 100% shot because the 1% chance of losing the lot bothers them much more than the 9 million they will certainly lose the other way. I don't think the statisticians are right when they suggest this is "irrational", though. It fails to take into account what risk means to different people. For Bill Gates it would be a no-brainer bet. He wouldn't really be too bugged about dropping a million bucks. For me, if I could have had a million, took the gamble on 10 million, and lost, I could imagine a lifetime of rue.
I see this as highly analogous to the GM debate, because GM does give us the shot at a big payout. Really big. But, as Bart says, if a massive environmental disaster is even theoretically possible, even without any examples at all in the history of the science, that will always lead a lot of people to think the risks are too great.
From my time in Oz I got the impression that Australians are very easily scared politically. It was quite a weird feeling that they talk so tough, but are such sooks about some things.
Seriously how could they expect someone would figure out how to kite a world boss into the major cities.
Yup, another legendary event.
The standard computer viruses are probably better examples of the dangers of viral technology. They're also mostly solved as an issue, to anyone that bothers to take any care at all.
Spam, OTOH...perfect example of how any low tech twit who's prepared to keep throwing endless ways of rewriting pocket puss can get around the best efforts of an entire industry.
Well I've never Godwined a thread before, but hell why not:
It's probably a Godwin corollary that if you write enough on internet forums, the chances of eventually Godwining a thread approach 100%.
Ben, I'd be interested on your take on the WoW 'corrupted blood' virus.
A self-replicating virus that managed to escape the lab and spread in a way that it's creators never intended it to...
Heh, it was a fascinating event. It's a pity I missed it. Shows a lot about people that griefing became an instant hit, the idea of spreading the virus as fast as they could just to annoy and frustrate other people, and how the natural reaction to that is to abandon population centers. It's also interesting that most of the people who were playing at the time thought it was a pretty damned cool thing that it happened. The most popular bug of all time.
In terms of what it says about GE/GM? Well, considering it was designed to be a self replicating virus that caused characters damage by the Blizzard programmers, that would put it in the biological weaponry category, something that I think should definitely not be allowed in reality. Real people obviously have to put up with a little bit more than a 5 minute run from the graveyard if they die.
But, OTOH, viral outbreaks happen in nature all the time. I spent all of last week dealing with one, as it happens, up to my elbows in vomit and shit. If GE/GM had any solutions, I'd be bloody glad to hear them. If developing antiviral techniques can be sped up hugely by GE, it would save millions upon millions of humans and animals from unnecessary suffering and death. The chances of them somehow accidentally developing a virus are possibly there, I guess, but there's no particular reason to think it would be any more serious than what I had spewed into my face by my 9 month old last Friday, courtesy of Mother Nature.
Ben - algorithms and heuristics are all very well within incredibly small, finite parameters,
Don't I know it, Dyan. I've spent a heck of a lot of time trying to model things with massive numbers of variables, and optimize for them, and these variables are still just a tithe of what could be put in there, but are left out because of intractability. But this does not mean these algorithms are of no use, and/or indicate nothing. Usually there are diminishing returns from increasing the number of variables - the ability to solve some problem does not improve significantly. This is exactly the same for non-computational methods of problem solving.
Again, my reference to them is for analogy purposes only. They've never been intended to model nature - they're a problem solving tool. It's just interesting how many emergent macroscopic features they seem to mimic from nature.
Perhaps living in a female body makes it easier to be feminist
Now that I can accept. Seems likely, even, given the comparative numbers that even bother to make the claim that they are feminists.
This thread has restored my faith that most people have dirty minds. Keep it up, and I do mean....
your monkey's paw is in the post, use it wisely...
Heh, the funny thing about monkey's paws is that in reality the only people who do actually use them are the ones advising against using them.
Edit: Oh and they seem to get a lot more than 3 goes out of it.
Nature didn't discover the "efficient optimisation algorithm" - that algorithm, aka natural selection, just is. It's an integral part of nature. Discovered to be so by Darwin.
Not really sure if you're disagreeing with me here. Sounds like a quibble along the lines of "Discovery requires a discoverer, so nature can't discover anything, any more than a stone can". I don't really care to argue about that. It goes to how language is used to convey an idea, rather than implying any deep anthropomorphizing of nature by me. Of course I consider my work to be part of nature, in one sense. But not in the sense people usually mean, so I didn't talk that way.