Last Saturday, we had a talk show in my classroom. The host was a medical practitioner, Dr. Zaki & the two guests were Ms Nazatulniza who is a lecturer & a safety officer, Ms Aizatul Akmar. They are students attending my Industrial Hygiene course in UTM International campus this semester. We were discussing the pros and cons of Biotechnology and Nuclear Technology – which among the two is more hazardous. This eventful, fun and informative session lasted for almost 2 hours. The guests were articulate in expressing their views and the audiences were both participative and provoking. In the end we agreed that both technologies are useful and needed to facilitate our life requirements. Taking energy or food security as examples, both technologies can serve as efficient and effective tools to enhance the agenda. In fact, their applications can cover much wider horizon. It was a good session indeed and I hope everybody enjoyed it.
While both technologies can be a powerful tool in facilitating the goodness of our life, they also bring about lots of uncertainties. Everybody is scared of nuclear when they relate it to the Chernobyl Disaster. In fact, Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings were more devastating. Similarly, when one imagines the possible negative impact of biotechnology, the picture can even more scary. In biotechnology, we are dealing with living and intelligent organisms, with various mechanisms that are part of their self-defense. For example, the ability to mutate DNA’s and evolve into species with different characteristics may put the world into worrying uncertainty. The outcome of these biological adjustments can be unpredictable and multiple features of hazards may be possible. In the last few years, Malaysia was alarmed by two viruses that were previously unknown to many – H5N1 &H1N1. Who knows which alphabet and numeral are going to be used next to form coding for the next biological organism hazardous to human livelihood. Never mind the biological weapons – they are too frightening to think about.
During discussions, one issue highlighted many times and argued by many from various different angles. It was a point that is pivotal in shaping public opinions -can we be responsible enough to embark into something of that nature? Can we really? Are we ready? The current world superpower would clearly say no with a big NO.
They thought that they are responsible and others aren’t. That is why, other nations apart from those in their approved list, are not allowed to develop nuclear programs, in fear of misuse. In the Iraq invasion (in the name of war on terror), pharmaceutical plants were reported bombed, claimed to be facilities to develop biological weapons. Whether it was true or not is secondary, but the message they wanted to be delivered was clear – Iraq cannot have biological weapons as they are not responsible enough.
Now, looking from another perspective, from our innerself, I would like to pose this question again. Are we responsible enough to dwell with these useful technologies that will at the same time put our people at risks, subject to how good we adhere to the required ethics either at decision making levels or in running such facilities?
OSHA 1994 is a good test case for the nation. It is a law founded on few interesting principles including Self-Regulation and Tri-partite (employer, employees and government) involvement. While it allows negotiation, all parties involved should uphold the spirit of the law which simply wants to ensure the safety and health of Malaysian workforce. For those who are familiar with the issue, look around you, are you satisfied?
Friends…, to progress further, values and culture must adapt to new needs. We must inculcate many more disciplines. No more “hidden hands” that instruct authorities to bend the rules for their friends, or worst still overruling decisions made by the responsible authorities in favour of some “useful” people. When this happened, the crooks looked good and the authority became demoralized. At working level, corruptions must stop. It simply must stop.
We must also be calculative in taking risks when dealing with new technologies and cannot be too reckless. Such decisions must be made based on thorough knowledge after taking various views from consultative sessions. Taking one recent incident as an example, I was shocked to hear that genetically modified mosquitoes were released to the environment. On hearing the news, I told myself and those around me at the time, “Things are getting crazy, those people have underestimated the risk of biotechnology”. Fortunately, the practice was stopped following complaints from NGO’s. But some of those GMO’s might have been released (I’m not sure though). God, please help us and put away the bad impact of that action, if it had been carried out prior to it. Some related writings can be found here, here, here, here, and many other news portals.
What we need is increased public awareness. We need to educate all levels of people so that everybody would act accordingly in the best interest of the nation. Do we have the expertise? Yes. Can we handle such technology? Yes. Have we got the right attitude? Not yet, but we’re getting there, I hope.