The Asilomar Process: Is It Valid?

Illustration: A. Canamucio There once was a feeling in society--an "awe" if you will--that science was nearly perfect and would make everything okay: If there is a problem, don't worry, science can come up with the answer. Cancer--no big deal. Cheap energy--why not. Fixing genetic abnormalities--a piece of cake. However, over the past few decades, science has lost a great deal of public support. With Three Mile Island and Love Canal, thalidomide and DES, mad cow disease, the Challenger explosion

George Davatelis
Apr 2, 2000

Illustration: A. Canamucio
There once was a feeling in society--an "awe" if you will--that science was nearly perfect and would make everything okay: If there is a problem, don't worry, science can come up with the answer. Cancer--no big deal. Cheap energy--why not. Fixing genetic abnormalities--a piece of cake. However, over the past few decades, science has lost a great deal of public support. With Three Mile Island and Love Canal, thalidomide and DES, mad cow disease, the Challenger explosion, and now the tragic death of Jesse Gelsinger in a gene therapy trial, we are seeing a turn from optimism to outright pessimism by the public toward science and scientists. Where once there was awe, now there is mistrust.

A large part of that mistrust stems from the fact that scientists, as well as policymakers, don't take the concerns of the general public seriously. Also problematic is that the scientific...