A meeting of scientists and lay people was organized by Paul Berg at Stanford in 1971 to discuss potential consequences of an experiment involving the structure of SV40 virus. That meeting led to a large public controversy which became highly charged with scientific and intellectual excitement, as well as emotional and "gut-level" fears. Questions were raised about who controls research, scientists or the general public; questions about whether certain types of basic research should be done at all.
Many of the issues have since been resolved, albeit in an unsatisfactory fashion for many. Yet the controversy is still worthy of discussion as a paradigm of conflicts that occur at the interface of science and society. It may hopefully serve as a mechanism for enlightening us for dealing with other problems of this nature.
The real danger of any science/society conflict comes not when the experiment threatens society physically (as with the creation of a pathogen) but rather when it threatens what are perceived as societal "values." Many see the recombinant DNA technology not so much as a threat to their health, but rather as a threat to perceived societal values. And this is the question that is so difficult to respond to.
This paper, originally sponsored by Sacred Heart University's Center for Applied Ethics, was delivered at the University in the fall, 1982.
Singleton, Rivers Jr.
"Conflicts at the Science-Society Interface: The Recombinant DNA Controversy,"
Sacred Heart University Review:
1, Article 2.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/shureview/vol4/iss1/2