In what some observers saw as a thinly-veiled attack on environmentalists and animal-rights activists, British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned that his nation risked being overtaken by other countries if it let public sentiment and vocal protesters stand in the way of scientific progress. Speaking yesterday to the Royal Society in London, Blair said Great Britain’s economic future was jeopardized by protests against animal experiments and genetically modified crops, and urged British citizens to judge new ideas based on their scientific merits. Environmentalists viewed the speech with skepticism. Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said the government seemed willing to defer to science only when it backed business, and Lord Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association, accused Blair of “regurgitating chemical industry propaganda.”