Most attempts at regulatory policy for emerging technology are pretty bad. Which is a shame, since there are a few extremely dangerous research fields that could use better regulation. For example, a group of DC policy analysts recently proposed “The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology“.
There are many ways to potentially regulate synthetic biology, but they chose to make an unqualified demand for the “precautionary principle“. Unfortunately, this is unreasonable since no speculative research can ever satisfy the precautionary principle. It ignores all possible benefits that a given research field could produce, has no floor for how low risks must be pushed before research can proceed, and ignores any possible risks that new research could potentially reduce. Technically, the presence of even a single opposing scientist is grounds for not conducting research. But no idea ever reaches total scientific consensus, even after it’s studied. So this proposal might as well be honest and just call for outright bans.
Actually, it basically does call for outright bans in the middle sections where it attempts to strangle off synthetic biology research with onerous transparency requirements, bans on any research that could improve human well-being, and calls for bans on any “environmental contact”… which means contact with anything, anywhere.
The last section even call for synthetic biology to be prevented from creating economic value. It specifically seeks to prohibit all “commercial use” so as to create “economic justice [for] farming, fishing and forest communities who depend on natural compounds for their livelihoods”. Umm… that’s not how economics works.
Anyway, I look forward to someone else producing a better proposal for regulating synthetic biology. Hopefully they don’t suggest regulations that seek to eliminate all scientific and economic progress.