Re: "effort wouldn't be better expended on something of more value to society."
The syndrome here is very similar to that with GM food (and other substances).
Some of the engineers object that the full consequences are unknowable, and the badness of those consequences seems to have no limit.
The bosses reply that they have to think about next quarter's profits and stock price, so do it anyway or be fired.
In the conflict between a potential serious risk to the whole human race and someone's personal wealth in the short term, always back the latter.