Belinda Martineau: Would Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman Have Signed that GMO Letter?

Belinda Martineau’s post is about Golden Rice and the letter signed by over 100 Nobel Prize winners (none of whom appear to be trained genetic engineers or agriculture in general). Belinda Martineau, Ph.D., is a retired genetic engineer who holds patents in the field and helped the development of Flavr Savr™, the first FDA approved GMO food (the tomato was approved in 1994 and eventually withdrawn from the market in the late 1990s). She refers to Richard Feynman (1918-1988) a well-known and highly respected scientist and Nobel laureate (who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965). She has obviously researched Richard Feynman – perhaps more than most other scientists have. She points out in her blog that he was a motivating factor in her creation of her own blog; she writes that she

[A]lso feels obligated to launch this blog because of admonitions from the late, great Richard Feynman.   Feynman knew a lot about both science (he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his basic research in quantum electrodynamics) and technology (he worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II).  He was also the guy who famously dropped a Shuttle o-ring into a glass of ice water to demonstrate a deadly flaw.  These admonitions can be found in Feynman’s book The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist.

Feynman said that scientists should not “only tell what’s true but…make clear all the information that is required for somebody else who is intelligent to make up their mind” about how to use a technology.  He also said that technology “carries with it no instructions on how to use it, whether to use it for good or for evil” and that how to control technology “is something not so scientific and is not something that the scientist knows so much about.”

The question she asks in this post is – would he have signed that letter? She believes that he wouldn’t have, and explains her reasoning. She writes, “Technology, as Feynman described it, ‘carries with it no instructions on how to use it, whether to use it for good or for evil.’ And that, along with the imprecisions inherent in the technology of crop genetic engineering, is why each GE food crop should be regulated on a case-by-case basis.”

 

 

Biotech Salon

From what I have read about him, I am pretty sure that Richard Feynman would not have signed the recent letter in which a large percentage of our living Nobel laureates urged Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for his basic research in quantum electrodynamics. He also knew and thought a lot about technology–i.e. the application of basic science–because of his work on the Manhattan Project during World War II. (He was also the guy who famously dropped a Shuttle o-ring into a glass of ice water to demonstrate a deadly flaw after the Challenger tragedy.)

In his book The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist, Feynman described the role he believed scientists should play when science moves out of the lab and into real world applications such as–in the case of genetically engineered (GE) foods–onto people’s…

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This entry was posted in Belinda Martineau, Ph.D., Ethics, Golden Rice, Shared posts from other blogs. Bookmark the permalink.

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