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Comments on Biohackers - Genetic Engineering Home Hobbyists
Hobbyists have made important contributions to many fields. Why not genetic engineering? (Read the complete story)

"It occurs to me that game companies may be able to offer some assistance in this dubious enterprise. There is a rumor that Creative, a game company, is going to put out a "stemcell computer game" for the Wii.

(Bill Christensen 12/27/2008 5:02:11 PM)
"In 'Our Neural Chernobyl,' by Bruce Sterling, an amateur biohacker ends up infecting most mammals with a retrovirus that increases dendritic structure, causing many mammalian species to suddenly become intelligent and develop complex cultures..."
(Anon 12/27/2008 9:13:21 PM)
"Should we require a license to practice science? What about safe handling practices? Yikes."
(dug 12/28/2008 11:01:49 AM)
"Didn't you post a story earlier about a company that was going to make a "multiplayer online protein folding game"? And that was going to use that as a means of getting ideas for which experiments to run?"
(Ashley 12/28/2008 11:06:30 AM)
"Ashley - you're so right. Here's the link to Foldit - Design Proteins With Online Game. I knew I forgot about something... Here's the video from the article.

(Foldit protein design game video)

(Bill Christensen 12/28/2008 12:34:09 PM)

"dug- your point is well-taken. However, what if it turns out that any home hobbyist can obtain technology with which it is possible to end human civilization? "
(Bill Christensen 12/28/2008 12:37:35 PM)
"Then civilization ends... First, you can't stop it. (Hey, you need a union card to do science?) More better to encourage it. (Whadda mean he can do the same things I do without joining the union?) Second, what oh what causes you to thing that "professionals" in "government sponsored" labs won't make even bigger messes. This is a Mrs. Grundy debate. The answer is to encourage as much science and innovation as possible, while trying to keep systems and structures as small as possible. If the blow themselves up, it's their loss. (And if you seriously think that anyone, especially a unionized government employee, is going to protect you, change drugs immediately.)"
(RAH 12/28/2008 5:48:18 PM)
"Compare Bill Christensen's comment with that of the power station supervisor in Foundation and Empire. (The sure indicator of a decadent society is the desire to restrict science for the protection of the masses.) "
(Issac Asmov 12/28/2008 5:53:26 PM)
"'It is unscientific to suppose meaningless cases...' (tech-man in Foundation) So, I suppose, Issac and RAH, that you would favor opening everything up? Anyone should be able to get every possible flavor of Biohazard Level 4 viruses with no vaccine or cure available, like Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), dengue fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and hantaviruses through the mail? Along with open source versions of every biological warfare project ever run by the US and Soviet military? Because, you know, someone might think that splicing in a gene that makes something glow in the dark would be cool. It's simple 'decadence' to restrict the possession of smallpox virus. I love sf but I live in the real world with my family; I think there is a reasonable line somewhere between reasonable and unreasonable restriction (for an unreasonable restriction, see Teen Arrested For Home Chemistry Lab). If police applied those standards to me when I was a kid, I'd have been arrested just like that guy."
(Bill Christensen 12/28/2008 8:23:08 PM)
"Roger Brent, director of the Molecular Sciences Institute, stated on NPR News "...reluctantly, no, I don't trust them to regulate themselves. I don't see it as plausible that a teenager will be allowed to build and release an animal virus that could be transmitted to humans." He advocates licenses like those provided to pilots and amateur radio operators."
(Bill Christensen 12/30/2008 5:52:14 PM)
"Hmm. The question is, like Ham Radio licenses and Pilot Licenses at which points in history? When I got my Ham license, it required showing actual knowledge and skill, but also allowed quite a bit of freedom so long as we policed ourselves, (and I'm young enough that I got it _after_ they'd started "dumbing down" the license tests) but now, you don't really have to do much more than sign the papers, and then you can do whatever you want. (Ok, so that's a bit exaggerated, but it does describe the current trend.) This could be either a reasonable precaution, the beginning of a bunch of extra paperwork that does no actual good other than employing a whole new batch of government people, or the first step on the way to making it effectively illegal to do any home experimentation. (And to do so without having to technically make it illegal, as has been done in several places by simply deeming most people "unqualified to take the tests.")
Unfortunately, with the way things are now, we're left with a Catch-22: Either allow everyone to do what they want, (knowing that the current trends indicate a high probability of some idiots using that freedom for evil) or allow regulation which cannot be enacted in a safe manner. (As current trends there indicate that allowing _any_ legislation leads to an endless loop of increasing regulation and decreasing freedom) I think this, tho, is a place where the old quotes should be reinstated: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.""
(Ashley 12/31/2008 8:18:48 AM)
"Slightly off-topic, Mr. Christensen, but why did you read The White Plague only once?"
( 1/1/2009 12:30:42 AM)
"I think I talked about it in a previous article somewhere - sorry! It's just that this is a very depressing story; a man loses his family and then obsessively pursues a course that causes all of humanity to share his suffering. Herbert doesn't back off from his uncompromising ending at all. Now that I've said all this, I'm wondering if I should go back and reread it..."
(Bill Christensen 1/2/2009 9:05:30 AM)
"Ashley - the last time I thought about ham radio licenses was back in the 1960's. A friend had one, but I looked into it and decided it was more effort than I wanted to put into it. It's a difficult area; I don't like the idea that amateurs can't experiment with whatever they want. But excessive regulation becomes incredibly tedious for everyone. For example, I can't buy Sudafed (and am limited to tiny quantities) without showing my driver's license because of it's illegal drug connection."
(Bill Christensen 1/2/2009 9:08:11 AM)

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