By: Amanda Zheng
When we think of scientific research, we think of the amazing new technology like gene editing, the tallest skyscrapers, and the newest phones. However, we rarely think about the detrimental mistakes that can occur in the form of medicine, environment, and war.
Medicine is supposed to cure illnesses and relieve pain, however this well-intentioned vision fails in reality due to the complexity of the human body and the sheer amount of unknown information about the effects of the medicine. This has been shown numerous times in the past, such as the worldwide panic of the drug thalidomide that was supposed to treat morning sickness. However, the full effects of the drug were not known until it hit the markets and thousands of birth defects soon followed. Babies were born with deformed limbs and other disabilities before the connection was found and thalidomide was pulled from the shelves. There are also examples of scientists knowingly disobeying ethics and scientific procedures to perform experiments such as the recent controversy over the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) edited twins by He Jiankui in China. CRISPR technology allows the scientist to use a pair of molecular scissors and edit specific portions of the genome, allowing for the possibility of cutting out genetic factors for diseases like cancer and cystic fibrosis. Although CRISPR may be portrayed as an incredible technology with the potential to cure diseases, there are severe limitations of its abilities and a lack of knowledge about the side effects of DNA editing. Dr. Jiankui not only broke a ban on gene-editing work in China, but has also subjected the newborns to many unknown potential dangers that they could not have consented to. Ethical concerns are important to keep in mind as we continue to research and develop technology using DNA editing and other powerful technologies. Lastly, the abundance of prescription drugs available to the general public has led to an epidemic of drug overdoses.  The technology that has created life saving drugs such as Epipens has also developed heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine which have unintentionally derailed the lives of millions of drug addicts.
The Earth that we live in has also felt the effects of research and technology. This is most noticeably linked with the industrial revolution. The increased productivities of the general public and the economy have since led to pollution of the air, land, and sea. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gasses are a common result of burning fossil fuels, which has led to a dramatic acceleration in global warming. The fossil fuels have also led to the formation of acid rain, smog, and a general unhealthy respiratory environment. In the oceans, pollutants from factories and other technologies like fertilizers have seeped their way into the water, resulting in contaminated water with chemicals, heavy metals, and even radioactive materials.  On land, the modernization has led to many forests and natural areas being cut down to make room for bigger and larger structures. This results in a chain reaction in which disappearing habitats are resulting in a decrease in biodiversity.
The ability to inflict harm upon others has also been amplified through research and the development of new technologies. This is most obvious in cases of war where the technological advancements between WWI and WWII caused the casualties to rise from 10 million people to over 60 million people.  Its effects can also be felt in everyday life where we now live in a world where people have common access to guns - increasing the risks of mass shootings. Furthermore, it isn’t even necessary to look the person you are killing in the eye or risk human lives in the recent advances of using drones in warfare. Though this may seem like the easiest solution, it can also lead to a lack of empathy and a drastic loss in lives.
As much as I wish for there to be a simple solution to catastrophes, I believe we must create stricter regulations with more severe consequences. When given the freedom, people will often find way to abuse the rights, such as in the case of Dr. He, or will continue with their current research without consideration of the future. But the stricter regulations also need to find a balance between alleviating the negative impacts and leaving enough freedom for the scientists to continue pushing the frontier of science. This is the challenge we need to solve.
1. Casualties of World War I. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.facinghistory.org/weimar-republic-fragility-democracy/politics/casualties-world-war-i-country-politics-world-war-i
2. Rudd, R. (2015, December 18). Increase in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths - AAAP. Retrieved from https://www.aaap.org/increase-in-drug-and-opioid-overdose-deaths/
3. The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils