I mentioned the anti-science types in Europe the other day, and I should mention that I have some personal history with them. I did my post-doc in Germany, long enough ago that there were two countries by that name. (I came back to the US about two months before the Berlin Wall fell, and had been traveling in Eastern Europe while it was falling apart, but that's another story).
I was doing free radical chemistry at the Technische Hochschule Darmstadt (in one of the buildings shown here, lower center), when one morning I arrived to find fire trucks and ambulances all over the place. Three or four floors above our labs, someone had firebombed the place.
I went up and had a look. They did a pretty low-tech job of it, with a can of gasoline, an immersion heater, and an electrical timer, but they did an awful lot of damage to the labs up there. And why did these particular labs get the treatment? Because they were engaged in work with recombinant DNA, naturally.
A group calling itself the
Zorne Zornige Viren (Angry Viruses, or maybe Viruses of Rage) left a note claiming responsibility. I read a copy of the thing, which went on about the military-industrial complex seeking to extend its patriarchal hegemony over untrammeled Nature and the very essences of our beings, la la la. You can imagine how melodious that all sounds in German. They were (as far as I know) never heard from again, but their attitude lives on.
Just take a look at these figures. There's a huge gap between most of European public opinion and the US (and between Europe and many Asian countries as well). I remember seeing similar magazine and newspaper survey results when I lived there. No matter what, genetic engineering always got hammered.
You can speculate for many paragraphs about why this is so, and people have. A fear of eugenics, from the racial theories of the Nazis? A romanticized view of nature and the land, from people who have gradually paved over large parts of it? Worries about private entrepreneurs owning rights to genetic material and running amuck without the State being able to restrain them? Not all the reasons to be cautious are are prima facie wrong, nor are they confined to Europe. Somehoe, though, they've combined there into a solid mass.
It must make it difficult for biotech researchers in Germany and France, though, if people ask them what they do. No doubt they talk about developing new medical therapies or diagnostic tools rather than say "I mess around with DNA all day". Safer to speak of the outcomes than the tools.