Bad ideas? An arresting history of our inventionsJuly 2010
Robert Winston. Bantam Press. 432 pages. Hardback. £20.
This is a whirlwind tour of human history that explores the negative, usually unintended, consequences of the drive to improve our lives - from our choice of the 'best' plants to cultivate 10,000 years ago to the very latest scientific discoveries.
Although corporate responsibility gets no direct mention, much of the ground that the British scientist Robert Winston covers here is highly informative - and salutary - for those in the business world who are inclined to pursue 'progress' with little reference to the precautionary principle.
The industrialisation of the food chain, the discovery of oil, plus our patchy efforts in medicine, come under scrutiny - and in the final chapters Winston questions the use and potential mis-use of very new areas of science such as genetics and synthetic biology.
He closes with a 'Scientist's Manifesto', which explores what steps we can take to avoid endlessly repeating our mistakes. Business use of technology is an emerging area of CSR, and this manifesto has as much relevance for companies as the university scientists it is aimed at.
All of this isn't quite as depressing as it sounds - mainly because it is so interesting. Every page is packed with examples, some well known, others rarely touched upon. We are a strangely inventive and stupid species, so if this contribution can help the human race at large, and the business world in particular, to think before rushing in, then it will have served a valuable purpose.
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