The failure of William Henry Perkin to manufacture synthetic quinine, produced, in the 1890s, a successful and popular mauve dye.
Perkin’s story is a warning of the potential perils of targeted research. Had he been working in a commercial environment, it’s likely that because the purple dye wasn’t quinine, his further investigations would have been thought to be an expensive waste of time.
Robert Boyle is perhaps Britain’s finest chemist. He is famous for his eponymous Boyle’s Law and noted for his visionary Boyle’s List.
Now, this list would have seemed fantastical to someone in the 17th century. It would have seemed like science fiction, but what I find remarkable about it is that all but two of the 24 things on this list have now been achieved by science, and I suppose that makes Robert Boyle a visionary.
Practical men like Jethro Tull and Alexander Graham Bell provided many new inventions but pharmaceutical advances come from huge labs with vast budgets.
It’s undeniable that targeted research delivers, but, and it’s a big but, there is a catch. And it’s this. In any commercial environment, specific targeting brings with it the possibility that during the process of discovery, any kind of result that doesn’t positively enhance the chance of success may be ignored
Following on from the Hereditary considerations, GM Crops are feared and distrusted by many with good cause.
The way to combat that fear is through effective public engagement. And perhaps surprisingly, one of the best examples of that comes from over 200 years ago and the scientist who, at the time, was perceived to be a dangerous villain.
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