EDITORIAL – No buzz for mosquito meetings

“The self-limiting gene comprises tetO (tetracycline Operator) sites, which bind tTAV (tetracycline repressible Trans-Activating factor Variant) protein, a promoter and coding sequence for tTAV. Without the tetracycline antidote, tTAV protein is produced, which simultaneously binds to transcriptional machinery and tetO sites, thereby enhancing the expression of the self-limiting gene. This positive feedback system produces large amounts of tTAV, which binds to more and more transcriptional machinery, without the need to bind to the tetO, eventually making the transcriptional machinery unavailable for other essential gene expression. The inhibition of essential gene expression leads to cell death and the death of the insect before it reaches adulthood.”

— “How the Self-Limiting Gene Works,” Oxitec

Got that? Us neither. (Though we do like the part about “the death of the insect” …)

If you managed to make it to the end of the paragraph above, which is a simplified (really!) explanation of how Oxitec’s mosquito-control technology works, then bravo. If you managed to understand it, double kudos.

The reason we have included the text is to illustrate the absurdity of holding public “town hall” meetings on complicated technical topics, particularly scientific ones — and, as one participant pointed out — especially when the decision at hand is a fait accompli.

The classic case of this was the public campaign held in advance of the passage of the Cayman Islands Constitution, which, as an indication of its complexity, is still being interpreted (and argued over) by attorneys before judges. Other recent examples include town hall meetings on “one man, one vote,” recycling and solid waste management, and the national minimum wage. A common hallmark of those assemblages, aside from general mystification, is meager turnout.

A running joke in this country (and college campuses) is that nobody will show up for a voluntary meeting unless there’s food. In regard to Tuesday’s meeting on the already-scheduled release of genetically modified mosquitoes, there was food … but still very few people were on hand to eat it.

While some officials may say that the empty seats are evidence that “one-on-one” and “door-to-door” educational efforts are working, we will offer another, simpler explanation for the lack of attendance: A lack of interest.

The unfortunate news for Cayman, the United States, and most places on Planet Earth, is that the overwhelming majority of people just don’t care that much about topics that, objectively, fall squarely in the “public interest.”

That observation, because it is true, is an arrow to the heart of people who do care, and would like for others to care, too — such as politicians, bureaucrats, environmentalists, activists and, yes, journalists.

We find that what helps capture people’s attention and attendance, even more so than free food or beverages, is a healthy dose of showmanship (the Donald Trump phenomenon).

While people may like the idea of being informed — they love to be entertained. Although Oxitec’s genetic technology may work wonders on reducing Cayman’s Aedes aegypti population (a species we have dubbed our country’s “public enemy number one”), there isn’t much opportunity, that we can see, for a catchy song-and-dance routine. Hence the echoes in the auditorium.

On a less cynical note, human beings’ inability to remain attentive to every detail of civilized society is exactly why we have a representative democracy, instead of a direct democracy. We’re busy people.

When we go to the polls, we don’t just hand over the keys to power; we also pass the reins of responsibility.

Some decisions, actually many decisions, are best left up to the judgment of experts and elected officials.

Editor’s Note: It is, of course, imperative to keep tabs on the behavior of our lawmakers and public servants in order to keep them accountable. Take heart! You don’t have to attend every public meeting, watch the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly or pore over every government document. We at the Compass will do it for you, present the salient facts in our news pages, and share with you our views and opinions on this editorial page.

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