Protesters deserve equal time

Scientists, at times, can appear to be far removed from the impacts their discoveries might have on average citizens. Researchers generally disdain reacting to the whims of popular opinion, or politicking, preferring instead to concentrate on discovery and the benefits they presume will emerge from their latest work. Thus, when scientists are delving into matters that have the potential to significantly alter the environment, animals and humans, many people are naturally skeptical about the bioengineers’ willingness to listen to complaints and concerns.
So, when dissenters are not allowed a place in the important discussions that will direct the movement of the latest research in a field, such as biotechnology, they have few options left to them to express their views. The corporations supporting the scientific research have billions, even trillions, of dollars at stake, and are naturally quick to spend significant amounts of cash on lobbying to Congress and the White House, guaranteeing their interests are heard loudly. The opposition, on the other hand, speaks relatively softly, usually through consumer and lifestyle choices or by protesting.
The protesters that will gather on Nicollet Mall today and tomorrow have a simple message: Genetic engineering damages the environment and harms humans. The bioengineers, naturally, do not agree. Presumably, scientists attending the biotechnology conference at the Hyatt consider those who inspired the heightened security ignorant of the great benefits genetic engineering can offer humanity.
Their opinion differs little from that of mainstream society. Few of us listen attentively to protesters. The media, as well as the average American, consider activists extremists, on the fringe of society, fighting for issues few care about anymore.
At the University, we see animal rights activists hanging from towers and students on hunger strikes in cages along Washington Avenue. Even if we sympathize somewhat with their plight, we generally ridicule them for their odd ways of expressing their dissatisfaction with society.
Denizens would be less likely to resort to the more extreme protesting tactics if they felt their words had a greater impact on policy making. In the coming years, the ethics and morality of bioengineering — especially when it begins to have a direct impact on humans — will be the subject of much of the genetics debate. Protesters, who at least in spirit represent the skepticism many Americans have for genetically manipulated products, should be given more prominence in the ongoing public discussions. We might be surprised to learn they have some quality arguments to back up their distrust of bioengineering.