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In the balance hangs our well-being –

Posted: December 1, 2019 at 5:46 pm

OPINION: There's an old saying that paraphrases Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will do".

Sir Peter Gluckman and Dr Mark Hanson include it intheir new book,Ingenious: The Unintended Consequences of Human Innovation, which charts the 150,000 years of biological and cultural evolution that has made us such incredible innovators.

Since stepping down as the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor last year, Gluckman has been asking the big existential questions Can we deal with climate change? Will artificial intelligence surpass us? Are superbugs going to wipe us out?

As he was advocating for evidence-based decision making and informed public debate, we saw the rise of anti-science, alternative facts andTrumpism. Our ability to find consensus on the important issues seems to be diminishing.

READ MORE:* Why NZ should rethink rules on genetic modification* Testing standards were a hot meth* The high public cost of muzzling scientists

As Hanson, aprofessor of cardiovascular science at the University of Southampton, and Gluckman point out, we have harnessed technology to develop and thrive while other species live much as they did 10,000 years ago.

Still, every innovation has unintended consequences. The coal powering our dark satanic mills of industry deposited the carbon in the atmosphere that is now dangerously warming the planet.

Processing and preserving food created the energy-dense diet that is fuelling the obesity epidemic.

Hygiene and antibioticssaved lives but the side effects have been antibiotic resistance and autoimmune diseases.


Sir Peter Gluckman, pictured, and coauthor Mark Hanson want genuine, informed discussion on science-related issues.

We've effectively run a series of live experiments throughout history and got away with it.

The authors of Ingenious worry that now we face "runaway cultural evolution". The pace of change is so great, the problems so wicked, we risk blundering down a dead-end.

What's the answer? GluckmanandHansonwant a better way of making trans-national decisions on whether new innovations such as genetic modification and climate geo-engineering should be used.

They want genuine, informed discussion on science-related issues, more respect for science, an education system that produces critical thinkers.

This will take time we may not have.

History tells us that we will again needtechnology to solve the problems past technologies have created.

As the authors soberly put it:"In the balance hang our well-being, our social relationships, our health, our environment, our economies, our governments, and our planet."

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In the balance hangs our well-being -

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith