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At the 14th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity late last year, I witnessed the rapid deterioration of a crucial discussion. It was on the potential of synthetic biology in environmental conservation. What started as heckling turned into a yelling match of misinformation. Such disruptive behaviour robbed the global community of a rare opportunity to debate gene drives in a meaningful way. Sidelined young scientists, country delegates and others watched in disbelief.