In a just-published New York Review of Books piece Richard Lewontin reviews two non-books, an article in Foreign Affairs by Laurie Garrett which discusses, among other related issues, the ambitions of Craig Venter to remake the biosphere and enrich himself in the process, and a 16 page statement of Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology by several public interest groups calling for precautionary measures around the potentially harmful (vis-à-vis safety, commercial hegemony over food and fuel, environmental impact) synthetic biology programs espoused by Venter and others.
The article has a scornful tone, but mainly directed toward the authors of the "Principles" statement, which can be found here: http://www.synbioproject.org/. Unfortunately, instead of constructively engaging, as a comrade or ally, with what he considers the naiveté of the document (which is very much in the tradition and mode of Science for the People activism), Lewontin oscillates between cynical assertions about, for instance, whose interests the USDA actually represents (voters in Kansas rather than food purchasers in the Upper West Side of Manhattan), and how little can be done to change it, and credulous ones about how the NIH and NSF impartially protect the public interest by their enlistment of appropriate experts since the scientific issues are beyond the understanding of regular people.
Most tellingly, he characterizes objections to human germ line genetic engineering as "preposterous," advocating a program for producing experimental human embryos to "systematically investigat[e]" the feasibility of introducing "corrected" genes into familial genomes. (Such experimental programs of course always entail experiments gone wrong.) This is particularly troublesome in light of the fact that Dick Lewontin has previously been a critic of genetic determinism and the notion that a mutation in a gene has the same consequences in all individuals who carry it.
Why dump on a 16-page attempt, however schematic, to bring some attention to and public control over a set of radically new technologies mainly in the hands of commercializers and the military from the perch of a prominent national journal of ideas? Aren't the self-inflating pronouncements and publicly subsidized programs to transform the living world, including our descendents, of Venter, George Church, Drew Endy et al. worthy targets for a leftist evolutionary biologist?