Biotechnology and Scientific Ethics at the University of Puerto Rico

Biotechnology and Scientific Ethics at the University of Puerto Rico

By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero

The social and ecological crossroads that we face as a society and as a world requires that the scientist, informed by the concepts of sustainable development and the precautionary principle, question and investigate who directs the development of science, who finances it, responding to what interests and with which purposes.

This week, Radio Universidad broadcast a series of reports on biotechnology and nanotechnology at the University of Puerto Rico, in which Dr. Manuel Gómez, director of the UPR's Center for Science and Engineering Resources at the Río Piedras Campus, was interviewed. Dr. Gómez has been in the academy for more than 36 years and "is one of the most influential figures in scientific research at the University of Puerto Rico, generates many funds for private company studies and has international prestige", quoting verbatim The report.

Several of his statements deserve to be analyzed and commented on.

The interviewer Mario Roche Morales asked him about the criticisms that have been made of the biotechnology industry and its products, to which he replied:

“All technology is like the sword of Damocles, it has two edges. One edge is constructive and the other is destructive in terms of human values. That difference is not made by technology, it is made by users. I can have Atoms for Peace, that was the nuclear reactors project that is a viable form of energy that has not been discussed and at the other extreme we can have nuclear weapons to destroy. There are none of these biotech things that can be misused. "

“The controversy that arises in all these forums is that there are always the detractors of all change and all technology. And you always have to accept that when a new technology comes along, as it is new, you don't know the secondary or harmful effects it may have ”.

The full text of his statements on biotechnology is here:

Such expressions coming from a distinguished and influential scholar are truly unfortunate. They are truly surprising in view of the growing number of leading scientists who are warning that genetic engineering technology is based on outdated and flawed premises and that it presents inherent and unacceptable dangers to our society and ecosystem.

If Dr. Gómez has not heard of these scientific criticisms, then he should enlighten himself a little more on the subject. By dismissing critics as "detractors of all change and all technology", he shows not only his ignorance and lack of reading - something regrettable considering his position and influence in the University - but also a paternalistic arrogance and a lack of respect for dissent.

To those who believe that the critics and detractors of biotechnology are ignorant without credentials, I recommend that they start by reading the documentation of the Independent Science Panel (

This group, made up of a score of prominent scientists from seven countries, covering the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, medical chemistry, ecology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, toxicology and virology, maintains that "The most serious dangers of genetic engineering are inherent in the process itself."

You can also read the reviews and warnings of EPA toxicologist Suzanne Wuerthele; Richard Lewontin, professor of genetics at Harvard; Professors Brian Goodwin, Jacqueline McGlade, Meter Saunders, Richard Lacey, Norman Ellstrand, Meter Wills, Gordon McVie and several other colleagues, available on this page:

I also dare to commit the immodest act of recommending my book "Transgenic Ballad", available in bookstores throughout Puerto Rico, in which I elaborate extensively on these issues.

And if you do not have time to read the book or money to buy it, you can read these writings posted on the internet, where I summarize the approaches of the book and the Biosafety Project:

Australian peas and killer potatoes

Response to the reports of Dialogo sobre biotecnología

Biotech Crops and Foods: The Risks and Alternatives

I do not claim that Dr. Gómez agrees with the positions of the scientists I refer to.

He has every right to have his position. But I find it unacceptable and alarming that dissenting voices within the scientific community are ignored and ignored in the debate on biotechnology. Ignoring or suppressing divergent views is evidence of academic poverty.

(On the other hand, I must take a parenthesis to the topic of supposed atoms for peace. It never ceases to amaze me that at this point there are still academics who believe that nuclear energy is a realistic and sensible energy option. To this day it is not a safe and reliable way has been found to isolate the highly radioactive waste produced by the operation of a nuclear reactor. Whoever believes that there is no dangerous radioactive contamination in uranium mining, in the operation of a nuclear reactor or in the disposal of Nuclear waste has been misinformed; it has not been educated, it has been propagandized. Radioactive waste, which continues to accumulate with every day that nuclear reactors are operating, constitutes a global Chernobyl in slow motion, a true crime against humanity and an insult to future generations to whom we are bequeathing this problem so that they can solve it for us. As with biotechnology, there are independent scientists in various countries who have warned us ad nauseam about this tragedy, such as Vladimir Chernousenko and John Gofman, and they are systematically ignored by the media and by a supposedly objective academy.)

It is also highly questionable to say that technologies are neither good nor bad, that the only thing that matters is who the users are and what they use them for. Such an argument, which at first glance seems reasonable, does not really clarify at all the role of science and technology in society or the place of the scientist in relation to the power structure.

According to this argument, scientific endeavor and technological development are objective and neutral and pursue universally positive ends. If so, then they should never be questioned. Ergo, any criticism of science and technology is untimely and undue. The neutrality argument allows the science worker to disregard all responsibility for the negative impacts of their work. If your research and / or development work results in serious social or ecological disaster, that is someone else's responsibility and fault.

Such reasoning is opportunistic, interested and alien to all ethics and humanistic spirit.

Some sixty years ago the grotesque experiments carried out by Nazi doctors and the development of the atomic bomb destroyed forever the presumption of neutrality of science and technology.

In Puerto Rico we have the experiments carried out with women to test contraceptives, the tests carried out in the El Yunque forest with radiation, NAPALM and agent orange, not to mention the misdeeds of Dr. Cornelius Rhoads. All these activities were carried out by dedicated professionals who used their devotion to the advancement of science as an excuse for their actions. Nobody in the world has the right to deceive himself in that way.

Every progressive and humanist knows very well that nothing in this world is neutral, not even science and technology. Both are highly political processes and are never carried out in isolation from economic interests and power structures.

Deciding which avenues of investigation are meritorious and which are not; deciding which studies are funded and which are not is highly political - especially when public funding for science is increasingly limited. To ignore this reality is to be a Polyanna. Gomez and other like-minded academics are apparently concerned that sectors that they say are misinformed, such as environmentalists and civil society, meddle in scientific work, politicizing, hindering and hindering it.

But the truth is that the scientific community is already regulated and intervened, by the Pentagon, by large capitals, by large foundations with political agendas and by the governments of powerful countries. To remain silent about the influence that these great economic and geopolitical interests exert on science and at the same time assume a defensive attitude when underprivileged sectors of society demand to be heard and considered is simply the use of a double bar.

The social and ecological crossroads that we face as a society and as a world requires that the scientist, informed by the concepts of sustainable development and the precautionary principle, question and investigate who directs the development of science, who finances it, responding to what interests and with which purposes.

In the same way that every progressive and humanist must question who are the owners of capital and the means of production, the scientist has a moral obligation to question who controls science. However, I am afraid that if Dr. Gómez's thinking is the one that prevails among those who run the University and among those who define the government's "knowledge economy" policy, I must deduce that such critical questions will have an indifferent reception and even hostile.

And please don't give me the old and hackneyed argument that such approaches constitute opposition to modernity, science and technology!

To feed the world, fight poverty and protect the environment there is a whole range of technologies and techniques, such as renewable energy, permaculture, agroecology and many more, that show great promise and would realize their full potential if only they had the support and financing needed.

These areas of research require great methodological rigor and extensive experimentation, so it cannot be said that ecologists are opposed to change and technology. But such technological options go against the great interests that precisely control and finance much of scientific research. Therefore, advancing them requires a leftist and anti-imperialist political strategy.

Some scientists and academics will surely be shocked at the idea of ​​opposing the hand that feeds them, but remember that Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein and other titans of science were not afraid to confront and cross the authorities of their time.

Darlington Building, Apartment # 703
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00925

The Puerto Rico Biosafety Project was formed to educate citizens about the ethical, ecological, political, economic and public health implications of genetically altered crops and products, and about the alternatives that exist. In 2006 we will be offering talks and workshops throughout Puerto Rico, and presenting the book "Transgenic Ballad: Biotechnology, Globalization and the Clash of Paradigms" by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero.

July 7, 2006

* Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
Director, Puerto Rico Biosafety Project

Video: CRISPR: History of Discovery (July 2021).