Skip to comments.A Genetic Manhattan Project?
Posted on 10/24/2007 9:46:45 AM PDT by .cnI redruM
The successful efforts of the Human Genome Project rightfully stand amongst the greatest intellectual achievements of human history. The brilliance and diligence displayed in this research cannot be quantified or described in a way that does it all justice. However, the question now becomes what we actually do with the knowledge of the human genome?
Given the previous history of human technology, the heroic industry and intelligence of the scientists who achieved this discovery will in no way guarantee that it wont fall into the hands of evil despots or malicious haters. It becomes possible that human beings as we know them will become a thing of the past. As our mysteries are increasingly solved, we lose them and become a piece of genetic machinery to be assembled, modified and terminated to someone elses moral specifications.
I truly admire and wish I could emulate the scientific genius of a man like the 1953 Noble Laureate James Watson. His discovery of the structure of DNA stands on a level with Einsteins mathematical description of Brownian motion. Just as Einsteins work enabled the derivation of Avogadros Number, Watsons discoveries led to the successful mapping of the human genome.
For all of Watsons intellectual brilliance and diligence, other aspects of his resume do not inspire as much praise and admiration. His views on race and intelligence remind me of Patrick J. Buchanan at his virulent worst. Like Famous Harvard Professor, Louis Agissizs racial classification scheme, Watsons comments on the issue of the intellectual character of Africans suggest a contemptible level of profound ignorance that has no place in intellectual circles or in any aspect of polite society.
Watson informed The Sunday Times magazine that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours whereas all the testing says not really."
Having nimbly inserted one foot into his mouth, he had to reach down and grab the other ankle.
He recognized that the prevailing belief was that all human groups are equal, but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."
Just to demonstrate that his heart was in the right place, and that he was a big prince of a guy, he went on digging a grave for his reputation as a rational man.
He told the interviewer, a former student of his, that he had recently inaugurated a DNA learning center near Harlem, and would like to have more black researchers at his lab, "but there's no one to recruit."
One valid line of argument would posit that Dr. Watson is perfectly entitled to act like a bigot on his own time, as long as his scientific judgment remains professional and solid inside the laboratory. Some of us drink, others curse and still others forget to flush at the urinal. The fact that Watson has personal faults shouldnt discourage us from appreciating him or wanting him to continue advancing his science. If science only involved theory, this would be highly plausible and libertarian.
Unfortunately, as Nobel, and Guillotin discovered to their sorrow, the ideas can be applied in ways that their creators would never necessarily condone. In some cases, its the originators themselves who genuinely need ethical help.
Why a eugenicist, bent on growing the uber mensch in a test tube, would enjoy reading a map of the human genome shouldnt require deductive reasoning to figure out. Dr. Watson describes some of the possible benefits of his work.
"If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease," says Watson, now president of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, New York. "The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what's the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 per cent."
Watson, no stranger to controversy, also suggests that genes influencing beauty could also be engineered. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."
Even without the map of the Human Genome, the intelligent application of Bayes Law and medical technology have combined to significantly increase the rate of Downs Syndrome detection. Many wonder whether this a decent application of probability theory and high technology. Over 90% of all fetuses testing positive are aborted soon after prenatal detection. This leaves people wondering whether we are improving the ability of new parents to prepare for a disabled child or just raising the number of abortions performed every year.
Increasingly, we lose a sense of what our basic uniqueness and dignity really are. Existentialist Gabriel Marcel described human dignity as an active and even poignant experience of the mystery inherent in the human condition. With all the mysteries being solved, and all the differences we see as disabling being zapped like bugs from the next version of Microsoft Windows, are there any poignant mysteries left to actually experience?
If Dr. Watson gets to engineer the races he doesnt like out of existence and if the medical establishment detects and aborts all the disabled fetuses, we may end up short far more human beings than the scientists who work on topics like the human genome would ever believe possible or morally countenance. The gas chambers the Germans built were originally invented to euthanize the terminally sick and the hopeless mentally ill. I remember that part about the humanitarian German Doctors and their mercy-killing machine every time some scientist tells us that we should ignore Dr. Watson because he really isnt serious.
ping for future (if this leads to comments about designer babies, and not direct racism).
Would put Einstein on a much higher level than Watson. Einstein theorized about things on a level that while in one sense could be observed, in another sense were not easily observable. Watson had a lot of help—much of the discovery went to Rosalind Franklin, from whom Watson and Crick stole a critical clue to the structure of DNA. His stealing and not giving credit actually illustrates something about his moral character, if not his intellectual one.
People are angry with Watson because he disagreed with their egalitarian faith.
Count me as one of them.
Also, one of them majored in ornithology, can't remember which. So he went into the project totally unprepared (which is inspiring one one level), relying on mathematical expertise there at I believe it was Oxford, been awhile since I read The Double Helix.
...Ok, maybe you need to be from Maine to get it...
The story which have heard was that some of Rosalind’s research was stolen without consent. And that research was a large part toward leading to the discovery of DNA’s double helical structure.
Should be Franklin’s instead of Rosalind’s (last name used).
Seems that Watson is off the hook--for this--for being thief.
See the movie, it will scare you where this can lead. All current technology used to be science fiction with a bit of imagination, time, and desire added. Someone even proposed genetically modified lethal diseases that would target a specific race or group. Not there yet, but don't doubt for a moment someone is looking at it...
Available at Walmart, HAHAHA
I sort of think this where we could head with this. It’s another way to leave no children behind.
It's a power, and power can be used for both good and evil; and it's the duty of the wielder of that power to use it responsibly.
While a ‘giver of potshots’ to Watson (as you’ll see if you read more of the comments which have posted here), agree with you that children being aborted in droves annually because of genetic defects is a more pressing issue.
Thanks for the info and links. They will shed more light on that part of it. I do remember a little skullduggery about getting the particular spectrographs that were instrumental in unravelling the molecular structure enigma.
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