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Ask Slashdot: What Are the Most Dangerous Lines of Scientific Inquiry? 456

Posted by samzenpus
from the don't-even-ask dept.
gbrumfiel writes "The battle over whether to publish research into mutant bird flu got editors over at Nature News thinking about other potentially dangerous lines of scientific inquiry. They came up with a non-definitive list of four technologies with the potential to do great good or great harm: Laser isotope enrichment: great for making medical isotopes or nuclear weapons. Brain scanning: can help locked-in patients to communicate or a police state to read minds. Geoengineering: could lessen the effects of climate change or undermine the political will to fight it. Genetic screening of embryos: could spot genetic disorders in the womb or lead to a brave new world of baby selection. What would Slashdotters add to the list?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Are the Most Dangerous Lines of Scientific Inquiry?

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  • This is bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:08PM (#39814685)

    All forms of scientific inquiry have "dual use"

    You may as well try to go back in time and stop Og or Urgh from figuring out how to make fire.

    Fuck this shit.

    --
    BMO

  • by JabberWokky (19442) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:12PM (#39814723) Homepage Journal

    "Geoengineering: could lessen the effects of climate change or undermine the political will to fight it."

    Isn't this a bit like the whole "teaching condoms in school is dangerous because then teens will have massive amounts of sex"? You're omitting a valid (even if imperfect) solution that may help stave off tragedy if people choose a particular path in order to defend and mandate that your "morally superior path" is the only option presented.

  • Nothing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solozerk (1003785) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:13PM (#39814733)
    Once you start blacklisting/limiting the release of scientific information, science is essentially dead. Science should be all about sharing of knowledge, collaborative work, cross confirmation of results. It's not scientists that should handle the 'risks' to society (taking into account ethics) - that's a job for politics (IE, you can publish how to make an atomic bomb but dissemination of nuclear material should be controlled by law). And in any case, any information you try to blacklist will eventually get out. Of course, I suppose there's a limit to that too - if we arrive at a point where a scientific discovery can lead to virtually anyone creating a WMD at low cost and with readily available materials, then there is a problem. But we're not there yet and anyway, at that point, there's no easy solution (though I personally believe a 'solution' should then be more along the lines of changing the root of the issue: why those people would want to create WMD to begin with).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:21PM (#39814817)

    White people have rarely been minorities but we know all about being discriminated against. Like when you make a statement completely unrelated to race and it magically makes you a racist, not because of what you said, but because you are white.

  • Re:Win win? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:23PM (#39814845) Homepage Journal

    I think the theory is, that geoengineering is unlikely to succeed in the long term and so it's just kicking the problem into the long grass. I see your point, though, that kind of statement is playing into the hands of AGW deniers by implying that the only reason to worry about AGW is because we have an ulterior motive for making people panic over nothing.

  • by meerling (1487879) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:28PM (#39814917)
    There are a couple of things to be remembered.

    First: Everything man has ever created has been used for such negative things as murder and war. For that matter, every thing we ever will create will also be used for such things until such point as mankind has surpassed the need and desire for such negative activities.

    Second: Once a thing has been done, it will be done again. Once it is known by anyone that something is actually possible (as opposed to theoretically possible or even believed impossible) it becomes capable of being repeated. Just look at nuclear proliferation for an example. It was believed that splitting the atom was impossible. Once it was demonstrated to be possible, many others repeated the discovery despite the best attempts at others to prevent that from happening.

    The only thing they are really doing by blocking research from those in that field is to waste resources duplicating effort, and reducing or eliminating potential benefit from that knowledge while failing to prevent it's eventual and inevitable misuse. I would even hazard to say that such censorship increases the devastation that will be caused by such inhumane uses by limiting if not eliminating the positive research and understanding that comes from shared research and peer review.

    Only a moron, a paranoid, or a politician could come up with such a stupid and counterproductive scheme as censoring research.
  • Re:Nothing... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:29PM (#39814925)

    Exactly. If you outlaw research into weaponized virii then only criminals will have them and we won't even know how they work.

  • Re:Nothing... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by million_monkeys (2480792) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:34PM (#39815015)

    And in any case, any information you try to blacklist will eventually get out. Of course, I suppose there's a limit to that too - if we arrive at a point where a scientific discovery can lead to virtually anyone creating a WMD at low cost and with readily available materials, then there is a problem. But we're not there yet and anyway, at that point, there's no easy solution (though I personally believe a 'solution' should then be more along the lines of changing the root of the issue: why those people would want to create WMD to begin with).

    I think the key is making humanity's morality improve faster than the rate of scientific progression. If you don't do that, it's not going to end well.

  • by sayfawa (1099071) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:39PM (#39815077)
    Are you talking about Ontario? I think it's been up to the ultrasound practitioner's discretion, but in light of recent studies, some are advising their workers to not give out the information. I hadn't heard that it was illegal, thougth.

    It's a conundrum, though. If abortion is legal, it has to be legal for everyone, for all reasons. Perhaps more effort should be made to make sure certain immigrants know that around these here parts, we appreciate our daughters.

    But if it continues, well, it can't coninue for more than a generation or two. What's a sure-fire way to make sure your son abandons your sexist culture and marries someone from a different background who wont abort her female fetuses? Create a lack of women in your culture for them to date.
  • Re:The Singularity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ganv (881057) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:50PM (#39815189)
    I that that artificial intelligence that is more effective than human intelligence is the main long term issue. I don't expect it in the next few decades as some do, but sometime in the next 1000 years, someone is going to build a machine that is better at general problem solving and design than a skilled human. And a little while after that, human intelligence will be largely obsolete. This holds by far the most powerful and dangerous possibilities.
  • Planetary Motion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @08:40PM (#39815711) Homepage Journal

    If people start studying how the planets move, it could lead to heresy yet also make sense, thereby undermining people's respect for authority.

  • race and iq (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pigwiggle (882643) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @08:53PM (#39815839) Homepage

    Maybe not. First thing to pop into my head.

  • This is ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slash@omnif ... s.org minus city> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @09:05PM (#39815951) Homepage Journal

    Next we'll be wondering "Which are the most dangerous books to write?", or "What are the most dangerous sentences to say?". I reject the premise.

    If I were to pick at all, almost none of that would be on the list. Only things that had the potential to create society ending things that are not stoppable by individual action. Diseases, for example, fall into that category. But I find even that highly suspect.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @09:07PM (#39815981) Journal

    Taking an objective viewpoint, I don't think....

    This is probably the dumbest thing I've said all day. I sure hope so.

  • by Radish03 (248960) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @09:12PM (#39816023)

    Why would teleportation lead to the collapse of civilization?
     
    ...he asked, oblivious to the nuclear bomb that had materialized on his coffee table.

  • by ultranova (717540) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @09:42PM (#39816339)

    Isn't this a bit like the whole "teaching condoms in school is dangerous because then teens will have massive amounts of sex"? You're omitting a valid (even if imperfect) solution that may help stave off tragedy if people choose a particular path in order to defend and mandate that your "morally superior path" is the only option presented.

    Well, one obvious difference is that condoms work and are available right now, while geoengineering is entirely hypothethical at this point. So condoms actually do solve the problems they're meant to - disease transmission and unwanted pregnancies - while geoengineering is simply an excuse to not do anything. So no, they're not really a tiniest bit similar situations.

    Not that global warming can be stopped at this point, since renewables are a joke and anti-nuclear hysteria has kept us from building clean power plants, so it's not like it matters much. It's gonna be interesting, seeing who'll still be standing when the dust settles.

  • Re:Nothing... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:02PM (#39816517) Homepage

    Nonsense. They typically have better (more evolved, dirty word, I know) ethics than the general populace.

    "They seem to think "let's take the worst virus possible and make it even badder and then publish the results" is an okay line of thought to go down." -> And at no point did they say "Let's release it."

    "Sometimes an adult needs to step in, slap down the geeks, and take away their toys." -> Why yes, we've seen how well that's worked. The "adults" tend to be politicians with scruples that...well, they don't have any. Which is why the geeks get to keep their toys, and the "adults," as well as the butterboobs who voted them in get to go sit in the time out corner. Because it's safer.

    One need only go through most of the writings from various scientists to realize they worried and wrestled with many of the implications of their work. I doubt you will readily find such refined, and lengthy, writings among the general populace, let alone those who want the job of 'ethics counselor.'

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:10PM (#39816569)

    Free societies have always worked in part because when stupid laws are inevitably enacted, a lot of people ignore them with impunity. There has been freedom in anonymity. But face recognition technology is improving, surveillance cameras are proliferating, and other things like cell phones and debit cards make it trivially easy to see where people are and what they're doing. The only real safeguard of a free society, the inability of corporations and governments to deal with the vast sea of data, is coming to an end. And never mind actual laws. Kids who demonstrated against oil drilling in national parks when they were 13 will find themselves explaining to a job interviewer why they hate capitalism when they graduate from college.

    So my vote for major danger...at least to a free society...would be quantum computing as it affects D-base management.

  • Re:Nothing... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MDillenbeck (1739920) on Friday April 27, 2012 @12:14AM (#39817215)

    If technological advancement leads to greater and greater destructive powers, and destructive powers are much more easy to develop and implement than constructive powers, then how to do explain the human population explosion? It seems to me that the constructive sciences have far outstripped the destructive ones - at least, so far.

    I think destructive power is asymptotic, meaning that you can approach 100% destructiveness but never quite reach it. Remember, human populations have been pushed towards extremely low numbers in the past and we have continued to thrive as a species. In part, this is due to our adaptability as a species. In fact, I would argue that science has made us more resilient to seasonal variations and natural afflictions, but is also making us less resilient to rapid climate change and virulent strains that target monocrops or humans directly. However, even if a disaster strikes, I think there will be some humans who will survive - the question is would they thrive, or would we die off as a new dominant species out competes us.

  • by monk (1958) on Friday April 27, 2012 @12:45AM (#39817355) Homepage

    is advertising. Perfect persuasion trumps everything else.

  • Re:Nanotechnology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremi (14640) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:05AM (#39817687) Homepage

    Can you say Gray Goo?

    I can say it, but I'm not too worried about it -- most of the available niches for miniature self-reproducing machines are already filled... by miniature self-reproducing machines that are much more aggressive and effective than anything technology is likely to come up with.

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares"

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