by June Dixon
June 4, 2046. Dr. Colin Clifton doesn't look like a mad scientist. The 42-year-old lawyer turned mad scientist dresses as if he might step into a courtroom at any minute. With his good looks and charming grace he might have been a politician. Born biologically female, he underwent transition when he was 16 years old.
"I remember the hysteria back then right around the whole bathroom craze. It was ridiculous, a bunch of gibbering monkeys afraid of their own shadows, afraid of science." Colin shares a wry grin. "Going through that process cemented my love of science. The men and women that help me through that transition and reassignment surgeries showed me a brighter future was possible for humanity."
Dr. Clifton embraces the 'mad scientist' label that others might take as a pejorative. He is one of many that have embraced the label and made it their own — just as the geek culture embraced the term 'geek' before them. They appreciate the humor of the mad scientist label. Among mad scientists Dr. Horribles' Sing-Along Blog and its enduring sequels remains a classic favorite.
Do science — not evil. The first rule of the informal creed of the mad scientists echoes Google's motto "Don't be evil."
One practitioner known only as Dr. Front Tears emphasizes this point. "Like the whole point is hack everything! Upgrade science! Not doing evil. Testing boundaries, yes. Rejecting idiotic, moralistic, knee-jerk reactions. Like if you want to create a synthetic human genome there's nothing inherently wrong with doing so. Cross the line and make little synthetic human genome babies without regard to what their lives will be like? What issues might arise? Then you've done evil! Synthesizing the genome, developing that technology and science for the benefit of humanity isn't evil."
Dr. Front Tears hits on other aspects of their credo. Radical, boundary-testing science. Not being bound by the rules, laws or beliefs that people who don't understand the science have put in your way. This leads some mad scientists to go to countries with more flexible legal regulations, particularly around work involving artificial genome construction and biological design — which many see as holding the potential for everything from immortality to solving the hunger crisis.
Still others like Dr. Murray, the 28-year-old multiple Ph.d. Harvard graduate, chooses to work within the United States comparatively restrictive legal environment.
"Mad scientists here at home need to have a hand in the creation of our legal systems around science and technology. New science has always met with resistance and fear. We’ve seen that from Galileo and Copernicus to climate change. We've all seen the devastating results first-hand and it was work that was considered illegal in the United States that offered the first true promise of helping us restore our environment."
Dr. Murray works at Edwards Applied Biologicals, a private research firm that hires mad scientists to develop new technologies and to lobby for change in the laws. Dr. Murray has been the attractive and outspoken face of the mad scientist movement, recently appearing before the Senate's Committee on Synthetic Genetics. She also hosts the popular Synfull Biologicals web show with over 30 million followers.
The mad scientists movement has had its share of triumphs and disasters. Many in the mad scientist community point to the gBee Restoration Project as an example of what independent radical science can accomplish. Despite outcries from environmentalists and genome preservation activists, the gBee Restoration Project successfully introduced engineered honeybees capable of surviving the colony collapse disorder that threatened crops and the entire ecosystem. gBRP has since been credited with saving ecosystems and agriculture despite criticisms of driving non-modified honeybees to extinction.
"Ridiculous," Dr. Sting of the gBee Restoration Project responded. "The entire genome is sequenced. We can reintroduce unmodified bees any time we want — if you want everyone to starve and entire species to go extinct!"
No one doubts the disaster created by Solar Film Partners. The ambitious startup aimed to introduce a biological solar film that could spread over existing roofing materials and provide clean energy to homeowners. Despite objections from the Environmental Protection Agency, radical clean energy activists deployed solar film with disastrous results. Solar Film Partners hadn't yet found a way to restrict their solar film to roofing materials. At the edges it tore away and entered waterways, spreading across any surface it came into contact with like a growing oil slick. The solar film organism has proven to be tough to eradicate, dangerous to electric grids, homeowners and the environment.
Mad scientist advocates point out that courts held that SFP wasn't directly responsible for the release of the solar film. They claim SFP stuck to the do science — not evil creed. According to SFP’s supporters, the three clean energy activists that broke into the SFP labs, stole the solar film and were subsequently convicted bear the responsibility. The trial failed to disclose any evidence that SFP had any hand in the release of the solar film material despite the acknowledged fact that at least one of the clean energy activists had volunteered to work in the SFP lab. Dylan Hannah, one of the clean energy activists convicted, claimed that senior SFP management made comments that it wouldn’t be so bad if the solar film did get out because then people would see how effective it could be. That claim was refuted and Dylan was not able to provide any evidence to back up his allegations.
The ever popular ShelleyShock convention takes place on July 6th and 7th at the Tacoma Dome. Dr. Front Tears, Dr. Sting, Dr. Murray and many other notable members of the mad scientists community will be on hand for presentations, panels and the ever popular technology show. After the controversy last year security has been enhanced for all biological demonstrations.