Kamis, 03 Januari 2008

The Limits of Science

The free online version of the New York Times has a recent article that could be used to start a discussion in your Human Biology classroom about the limits of science. (“Both Sides Cite Science to Address Altered Corn”, Dec. 26, 2007, nytimes.com). In this case, Europeans are arguing over whether or not to ban the planting of a pest-resistant strain of genetically modified (GM) corn.

Interestingly, both sides are trying to justify their position on the basis of science. Those opposing the planting of the GM corn argue that one can never be absolutely certain that the new corn is completely safe. They are right, of course; science cannot absolutely prove GM corn’s safety under all known (and as yet unknown!) conditions. On the other hand, those in favor of planting the GM corn argue that according to the currently available scientific evidence, GM corn is “unlikely” to pose a significant risk. They are right, too.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to ban GM corn will be a public policy decision based not only on the available scientific data, but also on political, economic, and social pressures. Nevertheless, science certainly does have an important role in issues such as this. Points of concern raised during public debate can perhaps be tested by science, improving our confidence in public policy decisions both now and in the future.

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