How dangerous science and technology are

Dangers of Research: Opinion: The World Will Not End!

It is paradoxical: the Ebola virus has been raging in West Africa for months and experts are puzzling as to what the pathogen can be expected to do in the future, but at the same time many research groups can only conduct research on precisely such questions to a limited extent: so-called gain-of-function experiments on dangerous ones Viruses are currently subject to a moratorium - those experiments that can show what can possibly be expected of these pathogens in the future.

Such research is dangerous, which is why the precautionary principle applies: First of all, don't risk anything - if you make viruses more dangerous in the laboratory, they could theoretically escape and trigger an epidemic. Gain-of-function experiments could also stop or even prevent outbreaks of naturally occurring dangerous pathogens. The next pandemic is sure to come.

Such considerations are often necessary in science and technology - new possibilities create new dangers. But in recent years a curious imbalance has developed in which the risk is always the best argument: If you cannot safely rule out that something goes wrong - first of all do not risk anything.

Therefore, research on a broad front is now on hold for an indefinite period. Other examples of this risk absolutism abound in science and society. With green genetic engineering, unconventional gas sources or even the last solar eclipse. In the case of the germline manipulation, which was also recently discussed, efforts are even being made to the end of time when it comes to warning of the risks. With all due respect for the difficult ethical debate, isn't it also a size smaller?

Such discussions are only superficially about empirical risks - at the center, however, is a normative question: What risks are we as a society ready to accept? And here the balance has shifted. If in science and technology we fundamentally "do not risk anything" at first, we expose ourselves to considerable dangers from other sources.

In all the debate about the dangers of technology, the fact that doing nothing also has its price and its risks is often neglected. This by no means only applies to medical research with its direct benefits. The products of science and technology permeate our everyday lives in a way that, in the vast majority of cases, could not have been foreseen during their development and that has changed our entire society drastically since the early modern era. It was a very risky time.