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Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet

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Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet [Paperback]

Denise Caruso
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 20, 2006
risk, biotechnology, public policy, genetic engineering

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Editorial Reviews


Perhaps the most balanced and readable look yet at assessing the risks of genetic engineering. ... One can only hope that the meticulously-argued 'Intervention' will receive a wide reading in Washington, where our national risk assessment policies are forged. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine that we will manage to avoid another thalidomide or Chernobyl, but this time with potential damages that could span continents and last for generations. ... 'Intervention' makes a strong case that it doesn t have to be that way. --Michael Rogers, 'The Practical Futurist,' MSNBC

I learned more about biotechnology from this book than any other I've read ... Caruso lays out in chilling detail exactly why even (perhaps especially) those of us who are strong supporters of science and innovation ought to be extremely concerned about the unintended consequences of contemporary biotechnological industrial research.... ['Intervention'] offers such clear thinking it becomes a step towards solutions. And when the person ringing the alarm bell is no luddite, but one of our brightest technology writers, the alarm demands our attention. --Alex Steffen, founder,

In Intervention, Denise Caruso challenges scientists to do a better job of evaluating the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and communicating unbiased findings to the public ... One of the major strengths of the book is its accessibility to a general audience. ... Sadly, many of the experts and industry representatives whom she targets are unlikely to read the book, although they should. --Allison Snow, Ph.D., in 'Nature'

About the Author

Denise Caruso is the co-founder and executive director of The Hybrid Vigor Institute, a not-for-profit research and consulting practice focused on collaborative research and problem-solving. She writes the Re:framing column in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. Also a veteran technology journalist and analyst, she began covering the personal computer era in the early 1980s for a variety of trade and national publications. For the five years prior to founding Hybrid Vigor in 2000, Caruso wrote the Digital Commerce column for the Times.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The Hybrid Vigor Institute (November 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0615135536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615135533
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,956,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading March 12, 2007
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Caruso is trying to operate in the difficult space between unquestioning supporters of biotech and reflexive opponents of the technology. Her careful examination of the regulatory process becomes an indictment of it, but also points a way towards reform. The book is particularly good on questioning both the "benefit" and the "risk" sides of the risk/benefit equation, and in pointing out the repeated tendency of regulators to look only at what they know they can see, rather than asking deeping and wider questions.

I gather that the original publisher backed away from the book because it was not sensational enough. That in itself is an indictment not only of publishing but of our civil discourse, because this is an important book that deserves a wide audience. Scientists should read it to get a broader perspective; non-scientists should read it because we are all being affected by decisions on the use of biotechnology.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Asilomar was in 1975. Now what? October 30, 2007
By Seattle
In Intervention, Denise Caruso, a columnist for the New York Times, has written an important and timely book. The set of people who need to read it include but are not limited to policymakers and voters in the US, in the affluent world, and in the developing world.

Intervention is mainly about transgenic organisms. One of the numerous unsolved problems people need to tackle this century is devising a workable regulatory framework for transgenic plants and animals, aka genetically modified organisms, aka organisms into which engineers have dropped pieces of DNA. In the US, the existing regulatory regime is a patchwork. The biggest part of the patchwork comes from at the dawn of recombinant DNA work at the Asilomar conference in 1975. Asilomar led directly to the "NIH guidelines". These guesstimated different levels of potential risk for different kinds of recombinant DNA experiments, mandated lab practices and levels of containment to conduct research at each level, and set up bodies for review and approval of experiments local to each university. Asilomar also brought about the establishment of an overarching national body, the Recombinant Advisory Committee (aka RAC) to rule on the appropriate level of containment for contested experiments, and established mechanisms by which levels of containment could be ratcheted up or down in response to information coming from new experiments, which in practice has led to sunset of most of the most burdensome regulations as the feared risks did not materialize. The regulatory framework affected experiments in universities funded by the US government, but was extended to commercial work via local communities. Individual cities caused, via their control of zoning, biotech firms to follow the NIH rules.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intervention: GMOs, Are We Scared Enough Yet? May 6, 2010
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If you've become worried about our food after watching Food, Inc. or reading Michael Pollan, or our planet after watching An Inconvenient Truth or the natural disaster du jour on the evening news, then like me you might have thought you had your biohazard bases covered. After accounting for these looming issues I was happy to relegate the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to the dusty corner where I pile up my back issues of National Geographic and Scientific American.

Then (belatedly) I read Denise Caruso's book, Intervention. I've known Denise for a long time and knew she'd become an expert on social risks but perhaps the titles on her website didn't scream out "This means you!" loudly enough for me to pay close attention until now. I figured that if I stuck with eating wild fish and meat from cows with only two horns I could outlive any problems caused by GMOs in general and specifically transgenics (where scientists start fiddling with multiple species and transferring genetic material between them). Now I'm not so sure.

Like most laymen I assumed the process of genetic modification was simple and orderly, no worse than taking some software code from one web page and pasting it into another (come to think of it, that's not as harmless as it looks either). But her descriptions make it clear that there are literally innumerable side effects, both known and unknown. Some of these are relatively simple to characterize but hard to measure, like the problem that breeding crops with a "RoundUp resistant gene" will inevitably cause some of that gene to wind up pollinating weeds and creating a class of Superweeds.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Matters November 1, 2007
Intervention in one of those books that wakes you up. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about the potential risks of genetic engineering, I also gained a new understanding about the process of risk assessment itself. The book is a model of critical thinking, as Caruso questions in a fairminded, non-sensationalistic way fundamental assumptions surrounding the biotech industry and the way genetically engineered products are developed and marketed. As I read Intervention, I kept having "ahas" on two levels. The first involved a growing awareness of how we are increasingly all participants in what amounts to an ongoing series of lab experiments as genetically engineered products are introduced around the globe without fully comprehending what the consequences might be. The second concerned a new understanding of the field of risk assessment and the increasing need for collaborative, cross-disciplinary approaches to problem solving and decision making. This is a rich, engaging, thought provoking work that deserves widespread attention and discussion. I recommend it most highly.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars As a whole, a good book
The contemplation of genetic engineering and many other modern technologies frightens many, and a study of this book reveals that the author is one of these people. Read more
Published on January 17, 2010 by Dr. Lee D. Carlson
5.0 out of 5 stars An Eye Opener on Risk in Our Brave New World
This easy-to-read, cogent analysis of the bio-tech - including genetic engineering - industry serves a critical purpose in the world right now. Read more
Published on May 6, 2008 by Ian Browde
4.0 out of 5 stars We need more books like this
I am not familiar with genetics, genomics, post genomics and all this stuff, but I read Intervention with a lot of interest, as a guide into the unknown. Read more
Published on November 28, 2007 by Francis Pisani
5.0 out of 5 stars Intervention is fantastic
Denise Caruso brilliantly articulates issues around genetic engineering with clarity and insight in Intervention. Read more
Published on October 29, 2007 by Tiffany Shlain
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Book: Buy, Borrow, READ
I bought "Intervention" a couple of months ago and found it extremely enlightening, sobering, and supportive of very very careful and broadly inclusive development in transgenics. Read more
Published on October 27, 2007 by R. Lee, Atlanta
5.0 out of 5 stars "When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk...
An important and interesting book. Important because of the timing as millions of acres of new food crops could conceivably alter the genetic legacy of the biosphere. Read more
Published on October 26, 2007 by David Thaler
5.0 out of 5 stars Informing, Cogent, and a little scary
I'm one of those technology-positive people who believe we can solve problems by building better solutions--and I still do. Read more
Published on October 26, 2007 by Nathan Shedroff
5.0 out of 5 stars Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering
I read `Intervention` right after it came out in 2006 and enjoyed it very much. I found it to be an excellent comprehensive survey of the risk issues behind genetic engineering. Read more
Published on October 25, 2007 by George M.
5.0 out of 5 stars Sobering "Hold on a minute...let's think carefully about what we're...
Just because we can genetically engineer things doesn't mean that there aren't any consequences. In this passionately argued treatise, Caruso provides a welcome antidote to the... Read more
Published on October 25, 2007 by Thomas Rielly
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" book for anyone interested in the planet
". . . After all that, I came to the conclusion that I don't know enough to decide what's risky about the products and processes of genetic engineering. Read more
Published on October 22, 2007 by William H. Light, Ph.D.
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