A recent article in the WSJ solemnly described several amateur biologists who were doing simple molecular biology experiments in their homes. Naturally, this has not escaped the attention of certain authorities and certain deeply conservative establishment news corporations.

What is distressing is the reflexive conclusion that their activity is automatically dangerous and likely to be symptomatic of malevolent intent.  It is common for those in power to look over their ramparts and view the world as a spectrum of threats. And so it is in this case that distrust has arisen and reporters are using the words “weapons of mass destruction” or “ebola virus”. 

Could it not be that some people outside of the heavily in-bred fields of science have a genuine and scholarly interest in molecular biology but no interest in grad school?

The entrance to scientific activity is highly formalized with layers of degree requirements, preferred pedigree, institutional infrastructure, regulatory complications, and a mafia-like oligarchy that disperses the resources and opportunity that is so necessary for buoyancy in science.

How does a creative amateur scientist get to take a jouney of discovery in a field that is institutionally inaccessible to them? And how does an interested individual who is clever enough to conduct experiments deal with a government whose reflex is to see WMD and terrorists behind every lilac bush? There are serious civil liberties problems here that pit the brain stem against the frontal cortex.

It is in the nature of some people to be distrustful and find threats behind every shrub. It has been my observation that people who default into a distrustful posture are very often not trustworthy themselves. The distrustful often invoke slippery slope arguments as rhetorical devices to block their opponents move into new conceptual turf. What the distrustful and paranoid fail to see is that we live every minute of every day on multiple slippery slopes, yet we somehow survive and thrive.

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