About the Institute

The Hybrid Vigor Institute is dedicated to rigorous critical thinking and the establishment of better methods for understanding and solving society’s most difficult problems. Our particular emphasis is on cross-sector and collaborative approaches; we seek out experts and stakeholders from a range of fields for their perspectives or to work together toward common goals.
Principals | Advisors | What We Offer



hybridvigor.net houses the work of critical thinkers, researchers and practitioners who conduct cross-sector and cross-disciplinary explorations and collaborations.
Blog | Contributors | Topics

  Subscribe to Hybrid Vigor’s RSS Feed



Privacy | Funding


Contact Us



Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

'‘Intervention’' Archive


by ~ December 14, 2011

It is five years almost to the day since I published Intervention, my book on genetic engineering and risk. And I am more convinced than ever that everything I wrote about was spot-on. It seems like every week there is a new revelation about harmful consequences of living biotech products in the wild — consequences that were predicted by so-called activists, but totally dismissed by the industry and regulators.

For example, genes from engineered plants do spread, despite industry’s early and repeated declarations that they cannot. One result? Superweeds that now have built-in resistant to several herbicides.

What’s more, insects are adapting quickly to transgenic plants with insecticide genes. In Illinois and Iowa, a new generation of insect larvae feeds on the roots of genetically engineered corn. And in India, the pink bollworm is unaffected by the insecticide growing in the cotton plants it is eating (for which Monsanto blames the farmers).

And it seems that eating transgenic food may not be so harmless after all.

Yet nothing changes. In fact, the Obama administration is supporting the planting of genetically engineered crops in more than 50 national wildlife refuges across the country.

So … I think it’s time for me to start researching a sequel to Intervention, focused on exposing the dangerously cozy relationships between industry and regulators that ignore scientific common sense and put all of us at risk.

But I’m going to need your help — and I’ll send you a gift, or even many gifts, in thanks for your generosity.

Here’s the deal: For every $20 you donate to Hybrid Vigor, we will send a free copy of Intervention to you, or to anyone you’d like. Signed and inscribed, if you choose.

You also can have your gift copies sent to libraries. Just specify in the instructions that you want to donate your gift(s) to a library, of your choosing or ours, and we will take care of the rest. We can also donate your book(s) to or companies or non-profits or corporate libraries — say, for example, to venture capitalists that are funding biotech startups …

Just click here and merrily Paypal away (you can use a credit card at this link also):

Your generosity will be much appreciated, and put to good use.


by ~ November 13, 2008

It is not always happy-making to be ahead of one’s time.

On Tuesday, the New York Times published package of articles that explored new genetic research and new ideas of what a gene is.

Much of the package was based on the findings of the ENCODE study, which was sponsored by the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The upshot of ENCODE, which was published about a year and a half ago, in June 2007, was pretty straightforward: the human genome is not a “tidy collection of independent genes,” after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to a single protein, which in turn is linked to a single function, like the production of an enzyme.

Instead, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components in ways will challenge scientists ”to rethink some long-held views about what genes are and what they do.”

The lead story in the package notes this perspective, writing that scientists “no longer conceive of a typical gene as a single chunk of DNA encoding a single protein,” and quoting one of them as saying, simply, “It cannot work that way.”

YES! I was so excited that this issue was finally going to get some attention. Not only was one of the central themes of my book, Intervention, but I too wrote a column about ENCODE for the New York Times — called “A Challenge to Gene Theory: A Tougher Look at Biotech” — right after the results were published, in July 2007.

In it, I asked what (to me) is the most obvious and important question, but it was addressed nowhere in the NYT package: Continue reading »


by ~ September 29, 2008

A story in today’s New York Times discusses how the media has struggled to explain the financial crisis to audiences. Admittedly, many industry experts are dumbfounded by the events of the last few weeks. Where the media has faltered, my good friend and former colleague Bob Blakley has succeeded with his down-to-earth post on “Wall Street’s Governance and Risk Management Crisis.” Thanks, Bob!

I particularly liked Bob’s phrasing of the “collective margin call” on the banks. It indicates that part of what’s happened is a failure in coordination: banks have cash on hand as long as only a few percent of their patrons want to withdraw their cash. This echoes a theme of a post I wrote about the credit crunch back in June. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

Clearly, a great crime has been committed. An entire nation has been robbed. World markets are shaken. But who’s responsible? Nobody. And everybody. The insidious nature of this crime is that we all collaborated to commit it and without a master plan. Can such collective action crimes be avoided? Or is the commons forever doomed to be the scene of tragedy?

Bob’s comments on risk management are also strongly reminiscent of Denise’s work on risk management in the biotech industry. Bob writes:

Risk management failures created the current financial crisis, and risk management failures have also created the personal information disclosure crisis, and the malware crisis, and a bunch of other problems which are not yet crises. We do risk management poorly in all disciplines. We do it poorly for a bunch of reasons: executives don’t understand their own businesses well enough to understand their risks; risk managers don’t know how to talk to executives about risk; incentives favor creating long-term risks in order to accrue short-term profits; the list goes on and on.

Denise’s main assertion in her book, “Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet,” is that the biotech industry is similarly awash in poorly managed risk. Genetic engineering is another impending crisis that, once it reaches crisis levels, people will be dumbfounded to explain.

As an avalanche of new laws and regulations hit Wall Street over the next few years, I fear that we’ll lose sight of the most important learning to take away from this disaster. Again, Bob Blakley explains:

A final thought.  The financial crisis exists because of a failure of risk management. There will be a temptation to fix the problem using compliance mandates. Compliance mandates, however, don’t fix risk management problems. All they do is prevent specific risk management failures from happening over and over again. Organizations whose risk management is weak will find new ways to fail - and these new ways will circumvent compliance regulations. The right way to fix a risk management problem is to do a better job of risk management.


by ~ April 18, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Denise Caruso’s book, Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet. I absolutely love it! As the book’s subtitle suggests, Denise recounts the tragedy of how hubris in the biotech industry — compounded by sub-standard risk assessment methods used by government regulators — has blinded us to potentially catastrophic consequences of releasing billions of living, reproducing, evolving man-made organisms the environment, the long-term effects of which are completely unknown.

But Intervention delivers a much broader message, about how the human propensity for hamartia isn’t miraculously expunged by mathematics, statistics, or the scientific method.

In proving her point about assessing the risks of genetic engineering, Denise calls into question the seemingly unassailable position of science in our culture. The book suggests we desperately need “a new kind of science” (to borrow Steven Wolfram’s phrase) — one that accounts for the nature of the beings (i.e., us) who are wielding its increasingly powerful tools. Try as we might, whatever model we create to try and describe reality, our scientific models inescapably say much more about human beings than they do about some objective reality. In the book, Denise exposes our lapses in rationality due to cognitive, social, and technological realities. Such lapses are everywhere in the areas I cover (technology, social trust, and privacy).

So while reading the book, I decided present my views on these issues in a blog post. Admittedly, going into some depth on Denise’s book on the Hybrid Vigor blog (which is Denise’s creation) seems almost self-congratulatory. But I think the larger themes in Intervention are relevant to most of the really difficult problems we’re trying to solve globally today, and understanding these issues will help focus our discussion at Hybrid Vigor. Continue reading »


by ~ October 24, 2007

The WELL, one of the oldest online communities still in existence, is hosting me as guest author for a two-week conversation in its ‘Inkwell’ book discussion topic about Intervention — and whatever topics come up as a result of talking about technology, innovation and risk. It’s been underway for several days now, and will continue until October 31st.

So far much of the conversation has been focused on deliberative processes for assessing risk, and we are just starting to wade into deeper waters with talk of the precautionary principle and whether or not Hillary could manage to re-start the Office of Technology Assessment without wrecking it with politics.

You don’t have to be a WELL member to read the conversation, but if you aren’t a member and want to start prodding me with some questions, just send an email to <[email protected]> to have them added to the thread.

The host of the conversation is the redoubtable Jon Lebkowsky, a Texan who I’ve known for many years from the technology world who now writes a regular column for Worldchanging.com.


by ~ May 29, 2007

I’m very happy to report that my book, Intervention, has won a Silver Medal in the Science category, in the 2007 Independent Publishers Book Awards competition.

IPPY winners in 65 categories were selected from a total of 2,690 national entries came from “all 50 U.S. states, eight Canadian provinces, and 17 countries overseas.”

In the Science category, I’m flanked by books published by Harvard University Press and Yale University Press. I’m proud that li’l ol’ Hybrid Vigor Press has found itself in such good company. Very proud indeed.


by ~ April 8, 2007

Today, my ‘Re:framing’ column in The New York Times was on the scientific evidence that has been used by industry and the U.S. Agriculture Department to support safety claims about biopharma crops. These are the next generation of plants that have been genetically engineered to grow drugs and industrial chemicals in open fields in the U.S. and around the world.

The column is basically my entire book, Intervention, crammed into 1300 words. As a result I had to leave out some important stuff, so I decided to post some of it here.

One of the things I would have liked to dig into a bit was the USDA’s statement about the amount of scientific input the agency uses to develop its regulations.

As evidence, the person I spoke with mentioned that in 2002, the agency had commissioned a peer-reviewed National Academies study on the subject, called Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants.

It was a curious example to choose. Because I read that report when I was writing Intervention, and it sure sounded to me like the USDA got handed its head on a plate.

Continue reading »


by ~ March 12, 2007

Scott Rosenberg, a former colleague of mine from the former golden days of the San Francisco Examiner, interviewed me for the Book section of today’s Salon. (He also blogged the interview.)

In the piece, Scott asked me some questions — about how some journalists have overlooked the risk story, and about why I had to publish the book through Hybrid Vigor, rather than through a traditional publishing house — that I hadn’t talked about before.

DC (i.e., me) IN DC, TUESDAY MARCH 6

by ~ March 2, 2007

If you’re in the Washington DC area, you are invited to the event that the Wilson Center is hosting for Intervention on Tuesday, March 6. Apparently it will be webcast live, as well.

I will be interviewed — although more likely there will be questions flying in both directions — by Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution, staff writer for the Washington Post, and fellow Big Thinker.

Dave Rejeski, who runs Wilson Center’s Foresight and Governance program and isdirector of the Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, will introduce me. And Baruch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon, with whom I’ve been working on various risk projects for the past few years, is expected to chime in by teleconference.


by ~ March 2, 2007

I can’t believe it took me so long to get this posted. Goes to show what happens when people start reading your stuff and liking it, I guess … I have been busy, busy, busy. Off to Washington DC tomorrow at the crack of dawn, in fact. More on that anon.

To cut to the chase: Worldchanging reviewed Intervention last month. And all I can say, still, 2+ weeks later, is wow.

We normally don’t cover problems here on Worldchanging. Indeed, our manifesto says “We don’t generally offer links to resources which are about problems and not solutions, unless the resource is so insightful that its very existence is a step towards a solution.” This book does offer some solutions (about which, more later), but mostly it offers a fervent, well-reasoned call to action. When such an “alarm bell” book offers such clear thinking (I learned more about biotechnology from this book than any other I’ve read), 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.

What terrific acknowledgment, from such a terrific source. Quick anecdote about how Alex Steffan heard about the book: In early February I was checking out how Intervention looked on Amazon, as I am occasionally wont to do, and noticed that the Worldchanging book was then (as it is now) offered as a “Better Together” deal with Intervention.

I wrote Steffan a note and he said, “It looks interesting — send it to me.” And the rest, as they say …