I actually invested money into the now dissolved Canadian company, Nexia Biotechnologies, which was the first to do the spider-goats. You are entirely correctly. Spinning the silk is the harder second part. The gains in reducing cost per meter couldn't keep the pace with similar gains in carbon nanotubes, which competed for many of the same practical applications. Nexia's first path to market was to be superstrong medical sutures. At first, the FDA promised expensive human trials would not be needed since the proteins were naturally occurring. When the FDA later about-faced, it was Game Over for Nexia, who sold the IP rights to a company in Virginia. They also sold the IP behind their proven anti-chemical warfare agents. But the tyrants of the world never used chemical warfare against the US military, so that was (thankfully) also a financial bust.
Nexia was also trying to GMO a plant crop that could grow the silk protein in their leaves. After harvesting, the leaves would be grinded and sifted. However, you're still back to the same Spinning Problem that you highlighted.
Cohen speculates that the massive leaks by Edward Snowden of national security secrets, which began in June 2013, could also have been a factor in NSF’s decision. “If it’s a matter of weighing the employee’s statement against what the investigator says he has found, agencies will resolve it in favor of national security,” Cohen says. “That’s just how it is, especially after Snowden.”
Confirmed my suspicion when I first read the summary. THIS will be the lasting legacy of Snowden's actions. Not increased government accountability or transparency, but a hellbent determination to make sure they will never be caught with their pants down again. Sigh.
a key property that distinguishes living from non-living systems: their ability to store information and replicate it almost indefinitely.
As Douglas Hofstadter pointed out, it's actually more complicated than merely indefinite replication. It has to allow variance while still retaining the ability to replicate. Sure, there are clones everywhere, especially outside the animal kingdom, and they still considered "living". So the quote is still technically true. But it doesn't capture how immensely more difficult it was for life we observe here on Earth to come about. It also raises an interesting question. Did non-varying life have to come about first, in order to saturate the environment with organic compounds? Did the varying life then come about later, piggy-backing on this enriched environment? Or can you go straight from an abiotic world to varying life?
Hard Science is fairly limited in what it can do to prescribe actions humans should or should not be taking to address perceived problems with climate or the environment. There is no "Second Earth" we can use as a control group. It's closer to "healing" done by medical doctors than it is science. A doctor will tell you, "try eating this, try swallowing X mg of this Y times a day, try exercising like this, avoid chemical triggers like that, etc. Come back in 2 weeks, we'll see how you are doing, and then we'll make adjustments." Sure, doctors spanning decades through time and countries across the globe can temper their advice from longitudal studies and statistics across populations. But chances are those any double-blind experiments haven't been done on your unique body, health conditions, and living environment. Often the best they can do is "close enough, you are still a human, after all" and then make adjustments. They don't PROVE to you a particular pill or a particular dosage will work for YOU before they ask you to take it.
Something as nebulous as The Environment needs a similar "healing" approach. "Let's try cutting automobile emissions by X% and see what happens." If we absolutely require scientific proof 100% of the time before we take action with environmental policy, the consequences of such timidness can be disastrous. We don't always have that luxury.
Scientific "consensus" therefore still has merit. I can understand if you want to educate people on the difference between consensus and proof. But to say consensus alone should never spur action is fool's play.