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Frankenstein Time 654

Despite the soothing caveats about ethical standards, staving off discrimination and privacy issues, the completion of the so-called human map offers benefits and nightmares in almost equal proportions. Once unleashed, powerful technologies are tough to contain or control. There was lots of megahype chatter about curing cancer, heart disease and aging, but this is now officially Frankenstein time, the era of the "perfect baby" and human quality control. Unfortunately for the world, it's hard to imagine a more poorly equipped society to deal with the Human Genome Project than the U.S.

Responding to the announcement that the Human Genome Project was complete, President Clinton gushed that "Today we are learning the language in which God created life."

Maybe. Or maybe we are just trying to steal his job.

When last seen, almost two hundred years ago, Dr. Frankenstein's monster was heading off into the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. If he's still around, he ought to come back. It's safe now. This is Frankenstein time.

It's hard to imagine many societies more arrogant, thoughtless or poorly equipped to deal with the fascinating, even miraculous Human Genome Project that the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. Although researchers from all over the world worked on the map, the United States is expected to be the dominant force in the project. Politicians and exultant scientists were quick to sound caveats and talk about the need for safeguards and ethical standards, but the fact is there aren't any. And the recent history both of corporatism and technology suggests there won't be any. Powerful technologies unleashed are never easily controlled. What people can do, they will do.

The project itself was announced Monday like an NFL playoff game -- the U.S. might not have thought much about the evolution of genetic research, but it sure loves a high-stakes contest. Headlines all over the country announced that a cure for cancer, heart disease, aging, depression and aging may well be imminent.

There were the crackpot critics spouting obligatory warnings and alarms, but they were given short shrift amidst all of the gee-whiz hype shrouding the announced that scientists from the non-profit HGP and researchers from Celera, a for-profit genetics company agreed to work together on producing the world's first genetic map.

The U.S., the world capital of technological hubris and arrogance as well as the center of global technological development, may be the most unfortunate repository for so much of this research. The U.S. is also the home of many of the corporations that will attempt to profit from it. In the Corporate Republic, every new bit of science and technology goes into mass-marketing, hype, and product development. That's where the human genetic map is heading, for all this week's chatter about dramatically improving the human condition.

There is absolutely no doubt that great benefit will come from the gene map, or that many of its creators have the best intentions. But there are also grim dangers. Unthinking technology is always dangerous technology, and few great scientific projects have ever been rushed to completion with as little public consideration as this one.

No presidential candidate has ever made technology a serious campaign issue, unless it's to warn about sex online or to urge the distribution of V-chips and blocking software to protect children from techno-driven culture. Only a handful of educational institutions in America teach technology well, or even at all, concentrating mostly on keeping kids away from dirty pictures online. Discussions surrounding the ethics of technology are unheard of outside very few academic circles. Only a handful of Americans even know what the genome project is, let alone what it might unleash. Online, 15-year-olds who master Linux boxes think they understand technology itself, and it's curious, often erratic and ominous history. In America, the best minds in the country are holed up in California think tanks dreaming up wireless phones and hand-held computers that access sports scores 24/7 so that fans won't have to bother to turn on the car radio for results or wait two minutes for their e-mail or stock prices.

Fertility drugs are a perfect metaphor for -- and a warning to the world -- of America's insane approach to complicated issues like this one. Critics are quickly dismissed as Luddites or simpletons. In the U.S., couples are applauded for bringing six, seven, even eight children into the world at once even though medical experts warn that such children face grave physical risks and emotional problems. President Clinton, who called the genome map the "most wondrous map ever produced by humankind" was also one of the first people to call up the parents of Iowa's McCaughey septuplets and congratulate them on bringing seven kids into the world, even though the parents admitted they couldn't afford or care for the children they'd given birth to, and whose lives, said doctors, had been put at extreme risk. Dozens of companies plied the family with gifts and money.

The Genome Project goes far beyond anything fertility doctors have tried to accomplish. The map promises to alter and control the nature of life itself, and hardly any Americans grasp what it might do, how it might work, or what kind of changes might be brought about by its use and misuse. The gene project also has mind-boggling financial and other commercial implications.

If it does, in fact, cure cancer and other diseases (it already has helped identify and treat some afflictions), a promise bio-tech and other medical research have been making for years, might it also eliminate other problems and diseases that aren't clear -cut or horrendous, such as depression and some forms of retardation?

Genetic research, warns medical ethicist Leon Kass, will inevitably lead to syndromes like "the perfect baby." The perfect baby, he warns, is the project not of infertility doctors, but of eugenic and genetic scientists. "For them, the paramount right is not the so-called right to reproduce but what biologist Bentley Glass called, a quarter of a century ago, "the right of every child to be born with a sound physical and mental constitution, based on a sound genotype.." To secure that right and achieve the requisite quality control over new human life, human conception and gestation will need to be brought fully into the bright light of laboratory, beneath which the child-to-be can be fertilized, nourished, pruned, weeded, watched, inspected, prodded, pinched, cajoled, injected, tested, rated, graded, approved, stamped, wrapped, sealed and delivered. There is no other way to create the perfect baby."

This scenario has been raised by visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke -- who reminds us that today's cure is sometimes tomorrow's disease -- and in prescient movies like "Gattaca," which foresee the unpredictable consquences of rushing to shape natural life, and the almost sure discrimination that comes from the inevitable use of gene characteristics to identify "healthy" and "unhealthy" characteristics, usually defined by medical and scientific elites and by their employers, profit-making corporations who invariably co-opt science and scientists.

Quality control is the perfect term for some aspects of genetic research. As of this week, quality control is truly possible for humans. Parents invevitably, even understandably, will seek perfect children.

On the national political or civic level, outside of rarified technological or academic elites, we haven't even even begun to discuss the social, cultural and ethical consequences of eliminating certain diseases, traits, addictions and affictions. The most coverage the Humane Genome Project has received in the media was the announcement that it was done, followed by the inevitable mega-hype.

In a nation that has already surrendered many privacy rights to invasive new software technologies, it's reasonable to assume that the genetic characteristics of most citizens won't stay a secret for long once they're screened. As a society, we may soon be able to get rid of obnoxious, anger and dissent along with cancer and heart disease.

Individualism and "wierdness" could show up in the new human map, along with tendencies towards anger, dissent, and bad skin.

Along with innumerable medical benefits the genetic map may also create staggering social divisions between people who can afford to use it to manipulate the birth and process -- the child-obsessed, highly competitive Boomers come to mind -- and the vast majority of the world who won't have access to it for years, if ever.

In the U.S., parents spent small fortunes on tutoring and other programs that get their kids into elite schools. What might they do to get their hands on the doctor who has access to the genetic map of the "perfect" kid? Parents with resources will inevitably seek to breed children who conform to particular notions of beauty, intelligence and desirability.

From the perspective of the rest of the planet, it's hard to see why the United States would use this profound new technology wisely and equitably when anyone who picks up any Ivy League school newspaper can find ads offering tens of thousands of dollars for the eggs of brainy blonde preppies.

Much of this genetic information and bio-technology will fall into the hands of new corporatist genetic conglomerates, who already promote conformity and homogeneity and who already wage war against individualism and diversity of expression. Just imagine what will they do with the Human Genome Project, which now gives them the tools to market health, happiness and longevity. What parts of the map will they sell, and to who, and for how much? Who will get access to these research and who won't? And more importantly, how can this information be unleashed in a society which hasn't even seriously considered these issues?

Frankenstein was right when he told his doctor-creator that it was a sin to create things one doesn't take any responsibility for. He was right then, and he's right now, and a lot more timely. The hubris described in Mary Shelley's brilliant novel published in 1818 is a hallmark characteristic of 21st century America.

For all that this research is being hailed as the greatest boon to mankind, it could just as easily become humanity's greatest nightmare. "How dare you sport thus with life?" asks Frankenstein of his creator, who loved technology but was impatient when it came to thinking much about how he was going to use it. The monster never got an answer. Now we're all waiting.

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Frankenstein Time

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  • by Phroggy ( 441 ) <.moc.yggorhp. .ta. .3todhsals.> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:44AM (#967840) Homepage
    ...that genetic engineering will be yet another reason for teenagers to hate their parents.

    "Agh! My [feature] is too [adjective], cuz you guys messed with my genes! I hate you!"


  • If you believe that the poor get a bunch of handouts or whatever, all I can figure is that you've never been poor, and you've never had long term exposure to poor people. The fact of the matter is that being poor sucks. Been there, done that, don't care to repeat the experience.

    Most poor people work like a dog to keep a roof over their head. My biggest problem when I was teaching in an inner-city school in Houston was that I could not get in touch with parents because they were working -- one poor mother was working three jobs, she often left the house at 6am in the morning, and did not get home until 10pm. Yes, I verified this myself -- I'd sent a note home with her kid, it did not come back signed, he told me his momma wasn't home when he went to sleep and was gone by the time he got up, and yeah, it was true. But what was she supposed to do, given that AFDC in Texas at the time was $172 per month (with $10 extra for each additional kid -- wow).

    The poor do not, and never have, received a free ride in life. I am saddened by the fact that so many people born with a silver spoon in their suburban mouths are so ignorant about so large a portion of the U.S. population.


  • "we'll probably always have genetic diversity in the Third World":

    You just put your hands on why it is that white supremist 1950's sci-fi writers were so wrong (Cyril Kornbluth, anybody?). The notion that "rich people are rich because they're genetically superior" is stupid when most of the world has no access to education or to economic resources that we here in the United States take for granted (simple things like, say, reliable banks -- in most 3rd world nations, there is no real monetary system worth the name).

    Even in parts of the United States, access to education and economic resources is extremely difficult -- take, for example, Washington D.C., where there are basically no schools, no jobs paying above minimum wage, and no access to the banking system for the majority of the population (i.e., those who actually live there, vs. thus who merely work there sucking up our tax dollars). I daresay that it easily takes as much intelligence to set up a profitable drug dealing business in D.C. today as it takes to build any successful business, the only deal is that one is illegal and thus has less competition from people with better access to the banking system, while the other is legal and thus impossible for someone without banking access to crack.

    Note: If you dispute the part about "access to the banking system": if poor people had access to the banking system, do you think that check cashing stores would be the most profitable (legal) businesses in the inner city?


  • The biggest problem with the human condition at the moment is not human genetics. Rather, it is the inhumane conditions under which the majority of this world's children are being raised, conditions which result in a stunting of both intellectual and physical growth for those who manage to survive.

    Even in this country, the richest in the world, close to half of all children are being raised in poverty, with the resulting stunting of intellectual and physical growth. If we could solve this problem, we could double our economic production in two decades worth of time. As it is, alas, too many of the results of poverty are too severely damaged to contribute significantly.

    I met someone who could have been the next Albert Einstein in my inner-city classroom eight years ago. He was that brilliant. Smartest kid I ever taught, anywhere, including in affluent suburban schools. Last I heard, he'd quit school and was dealing drugs on the street. What a waste.

    Yeah, the genome project is good news for those (relatively few) individuals who suffer from genetically-caused illnesses. But let's not overstate the importance of this thing. There's maybe 0.5% of the population who could benefit from the genome project. As vs. good schools and good living conditions for children, which would eventually benefit all of us because of having a smarter, better work force and no longer having so many broken people hanging around dragging us down.


  • Actually, obesity has survival value in cultures that have a seasonal food supply. The more fat you can accumulate during feast season, the better you survive famine season.

    Most obesity in the United States today is not genetic in nature anyhow... it's a matter of self-indulgence. Too many fatty foods, too little exercise. Or, as the saying goes, "if obesity is genetic, why don't you ever see fat Ethiopians?" [i.e., you can't get fat if you don't eat!].


  • I had to do a lot of research into IQ as part of a research methods class. I learned some interesting things. Like: IQ tests are "scored" (i.e., questions decided to be added or deleted, and the results evaluated to see what they mean) by administering them to hundreds of children, then surveying teachers and parents to see how smart they view the kid. In other words, it's a "smartness personality test", rather than some kind of scientific genome test. It is specifically constructed to agree with what society views as "smart" behavior, rather than having any scientific validity as a measure of genetic capability. At best, with the best-normed tests, they predict the kid's future school achievement -- which is a complex stew of genetics and environment that is no where as scientific as the perveyors of "IQ tests" like to state. None of which has a thing to do with what the kid could achieve in a "normal" environment, if he's being raised in a deprived environment.

    The kid I mentioned above, BTW, had a measured IQ of 105. But you could give him a problem, and he'd find a solution, usually a sneaky one that was oh-so-obvious once he pointed it out to you (but not otherwise). I had some kids in a "honors" class whose measured IQ was above 115, and they weren't anywhere near as sharp. But then, this kid's whole family was acknowledged to be sharp as tacks... they made the Mafia look like dullards. Why, they had a square mile of the 4th Ward locked up tight with the black tar and crack trade... despite there being a lot of folks bigger, meaner, and more terrifying by nature out there. Interesting how some runty little geeks can psych out a whole neighborhood that way into believing that this family was the second coming of evil incarnate :-}. (This is the same kid who, when another kid could not come on a field trip because of misbehavior, begged and begged for that kid to be able to come... I said "Why do you care, you hate that kid's guts anyhow!" and he just looked down at the ground and said "I know what he feels like.").


  • by Eric Green ( 627 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @10:41AM (#967846) Homepage
    The problem is that assisted evolution of this sort generally does not increase the robustness, diversity, and long-term survival capability of a species. What you tend to get, rather, are artificial cosmetic "enhancements". Look at the peacock's tail feathers, for example. These have negative survival potential -- the bigger and more brilliant the tail feathers, the more easily the peacock is seen by predators, and the more difficulty the cock has avoiding said predators (because the bigger tail feathers are heavy and cumbersome). Yet sexual selection amongst peacocks favors the males with the biggest tail feathers. The only reason peacocks managed to survive at all was because they faced no significant environmental pressures. Toss in a few dogs, and voila, talk about swiftly approaching extinction!

    I suspect artificial genetic selection amongst Americans would favor blue eyes and blond hair. This, however, is also associated with the greatest risk for skin cancer. Blue eyes and blond hair have negative survival coefficient in today's world of Vitamin D supplemented milk, skimpy swim suits, and overall increased UV exposure due to declining ozone layer. Yet I bet you that of the babies who are "genetically enhanced", the majority will end up with blue eyes and blond hair.


  • by gavinhall ( 33 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:56AM (#967850)
    Posted by 11223:

    Ok, since nobody seems to understand what this announcement is actually about, here's what it says:

    We've managed to successfully disassemble Microsoft Windows. We now have the assembly that makes up the whole of Microsoft Windows in our hands. (Parts of it are missing, and other parts are junk assembly, like the parts that used to control DOS devices but are now almost dormant except for causing the occasional bug).

    What can we do with this? Well, we might eventually be able to make Windows into a stable operating system, or even clone Windows from it. Except there's one problem - we don't know enough about the instruction set for the processor it was written for. See, we've been dealing with Z80 assembler all this time and are still having trouble understanding the modern Pentium (I*). So it'll take a while before we can do anything with it.

    Translation table: assembler - genome, Windows - human, Z80 - fruit fly, Pentium (I*) - Human genetic process/protiens.

  • The US Corprate culture for all its faults, (And it has many) can't hold a candle to the corprate culture in the US 100 years ago let alone to Nazi Germany and Other Dictatorial states of the last 100+ years.

    The Cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • Here's the problem.

    Way down the line when we have many genetically engineered walking among us, the health care providers are going to charge more to insure natural (i.e., random) people because they will statictically cost more. Employers will ask that you submit your genome like they do now with your salary history. And while they can today *require* neither one, you *know* what happens to resumes that don't include. Your genome will become the guide to determine your place in society.

    Truck drivers better have the enhanced vision gene. Engineers better have the enhanced memory and logic genes. Teachers better not have the pedophile gene. The legal department says we just can't afford to do otherwise.

    The poor who cannot afford genetically manipulated kids will see their kids discriminated against. A whole new caste system will result out of liability reasons.

    So long as "all men are created equal", the gov't/marketplace/society/etc. must treat us as such. Creating the unequals will create distincts "levels" of people which society will then stratify.

    Nonetheless, if 99% of nations ban genetic manipulation, 1% will allow it. The righ will travel there to procreate their perfect kids.

    We will have the problem to deal with someday. It's already too late.

  • Hmmmm. I agree wholeheartedly with Jon on this, and I have not taken the luddite position on any other technologies to date.

    The problem is two fold:

    1. Genetics involves systems orders of magnitude more complex than the systems involved in nuclear power, space flight or anything else.

    2. The problems are not technical ("We're fucked if this power station melts down") but social ("We don't the ability to do this because we will abuse it").

    People are greedy. There is good evidence to support the notion that people will knowingly do immense and certain long-term harm to themselves and others in return for fairly slight short term gain. See drug addiction. See smoking. See cheating on you wife with that student. See buying a new dress when you know you can't afford it.

    So, we can be fairly sure that if you give someone the ability to have children who are genetically modified to be good at sports, everyone will want to have children like that. No one is too worried about the process going wrong and producing wierd freak psycho killer mutants. Everyone is worried about the process going bang to plan and producing loads of children genetically modified to be good at sport.

    It scares the shit out me, anyway.

    Now, there are areas where people worry about tech disaster - in particular GM food, where some people think we'll cause some kind of genetic melt down. I tend to agree that there is an element of the doomsayer situation you mention above. However, I also say that we know even less about what we are doing with the genetics that we do with the nuclear power.

    However, the real area of concern is not this tech disaster area. It's the social area. This is not a tech problem, it's a social one - but until now it's merely been a hypothetical social problem of interest to philosophers and sci fi writers. But most of all, it's been of interest to almost no-one, and no-one has been thinking about it hard enough. And here we are in a position to start acting on it.

    I'm scared, so should you be.

    Yesterday, they patented Bismati rice. Idle fuckers.
  • Yeah right, the whole world's gonna change and it's gonna be a brave new world.

    And we're all going to live on the moon by the end of the 1980's.

    ...get a grip.

    Surgeons mapped the heart in the 1600s. It wasn't until the 1900s that we had transplants.

    Just because we have a map telling us gene sequences, that doesn't mean we have the technology to start doing anything revoluntionary with them. At best, we'll be speeding up what farmers have been doing for years - selective breeding / genetic engineering.

    We've got a map of the stars too. I don't know of anyone taking holidays on Tau Ceti, do you?


  • But is it truly a right?

    Look around. The world is made up up of the random human. each person brings different traits and qualities to the table, offers their own views. Where as I do believe that enviroment is a much larger factor in the development of skill and personality, I can't deny the overwhelming evidence that genetics plays an almost equally strong role. If everyone was smart, or everyone was "pretty", there wouldn't be ayhting left to hold these things in check. We need the other end of the spectrum to keep balance. We need disease. We need famine, and we need death. There's no avoiding this. OK, yes, you have a right to want a child free of genetic defects, that is true, however, there are many "defective people" who make this world what it is.

    What do we do with trends? What happens when everyone wants their kid to be a sportstar, or a painter, or whatever the new big thing is. Tampering too far into the Genome may finally be our downfall. Ultimately, this science could be used for good, but most likely it will be used for evil. Do your future children a favor, let the beauty of the random world take it's course. That child has every right to discover, and desire what he or she feels most comfortable with, without mom and dad making that choice for him/her. Sure, you can choose your child to be predisposed to be good at math or art, but isn't that allowing parents to fulfill their dreams through their children? And what if what you choose doesn't fit the bill in the future. Have you really done that child a favor? If my parents had their choice when I was born, they surely would've never guessed that by now computers would be the dominant factor in todays world. I'd have ended up a god damned lawyer or something. I'm happy with the life I've found and created for myself WITHOUT someone pointing the way.

  • Nothing is so humbling as to step back and realize that no small measure of your own success is due to gifts given you in a grand game of chance, which you did nothing to deserve. Genetics gives us the chance to equalize the luck of birth for all people.

    This is possibly one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. Equality doesn't exist. It never did. It's a made-up concept. Our pattern-seeking brains try to divide and judge and measure and declare things as being equal, even when it's wildly inappropriate.

    It's pretty easy to measure the size of the steak you got off the tribe's hunt, or to figure out how much food your family will need to survive a winter. It's easy to look at two trees and figure out which one is taller. The brain is wonderfully well-suited for that.

    But if you look at two people, how can you really tell which one is absolutely more beautiful? Or intelligent? I might prefer person A in both cases; you might think person A is smarter but uglier than person B; a third party might disagree with us both. And there is no way to know who is right. There have been attempts to quantify subjects like intelligence, but despite the widespread acceptance of IQ as a measure of intelligence, it is actually a lot more complex than most folks realize. One widely-respected theory holds that there are seven kinds of intelligence, of which verbal and mathematical are only two. Some of the others are social intelligence, artistic skills, and kinesthetic talent (the knowledge of where one's body is in space). How are you going to measure these things by looking at potentials in a gene strand?

    You're trying to map ideals based on objective goals ('everyone should be equal') to a fundamentally subjective area, genetics. Which gene sequence is better, blue eyes or brown eyes? If Baby Johnny is going to be inclined to be highly artistic but very poor verbally and mathematically (ie, "not too bright"), do we trade away some of one for another? And what if Baby Jane is better at *everything* than Baby Sue is, and we reprogram Baby Jane by giving her some of Baby Sue's genes, so as to make them 'equal'? Aren't we losing something here?

    Our cultural values have absolutely nothing to do with the viability of the species. You are trying to replace the accumulated wisdom of about five billion years' worth of evolution with transient value judgements.

    This is not a step to take lightly.

  • I just realized I got the names backwards in the key paragraph here. *doh*

    What I should have said was: If we enhance Baby Sue to match Baby Jane, aren't we losing the natural variety of genetic expression?

    I also said 'five billion years of evolution' -- I think, looking back, that this is wrong. Isn't it believed that life on Earth started around 1 billion years ago?

    Whatever the exact number of billions, we have been evolving for a LONG time. It strikes me that doing much more than trying to read and understand what's going on could be very dangerous indeed.

    It's a bit like cavemen having just been given the keys to a nuclear reactor. We can go running in there, hooting and hollering, and start pushing all the buttons and fiddling with the dials -- or we can go slow, and figure out *exactly* what the buttons and dials do before we start adjusting things.

    If we are truly cavemen in this area, it might take another century or so to develop a solid understanding of what we're doing. I assume 100,000 years won't be necessary. :-) Our understanding will never be perfect... but, if you accept that we've been given the keys to a nuclear reactor, wouuldn't it be prudent to develop the ability to read the manuals first?

    Hopefully the scientists involved aren't too geeky... they'd never RTFM. :-)

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @08:38AM (#967873) Journal
    This was a notch above recent Katz posts. Again, I wish Jon would turn his considerable talents towards the introduction of original thought, however, rather than simply lacing the obvious with witticisms and passing it off as news.

    I agree with both ends of that. I have Katz turned off in my prefernces, but when a labmate told me he had written a genome piece, I felt compelled to read it and provide some informed feedback on his thoughts on sexbots or whatever.

    My first reaction was surprise that there was nothing obviously stupid on anything he wrote. The second was that there is no real insight or thought, either. He obviously has some preconceived notions (Frankenstein, eugenics, privacy, corporations) and spun it out for a few pages.

    Some more comments:
    • When Katz writes, "Politicians and exultant scientists were quick to sound caveats and talk about the need for safeguards and ethical standards, but the fact is there aren't any." what he really means is "I'm going to write a warning about the potential misuse of genetics. I don't know if anyone else has thought of any such concerns and I'm not going to do any research to find out, so I'll just write that no one cares." The fact is that Human Genome Project has had an Ethical, Legal and Social Implications [] division since almost the beginning. (It's only a huge link at the top of the HGP site!) I can tell you, as a genome center scientist, that nothing happens without consideration of ethical issues.
    • When recombinant DNA technology was first developed, scientists declared a voluntary moratorium on it until safety procedures had been fully discussed and established. Molecular biology has a unique place in science for displaying that level of caution.
    • Despite the hype, there's nothing fundamentally new today that wasn't an issue years ago -- it's just more complete. As usual, it seems clear that Katz doesn't really begin to understand the technology he's insisting is going to bring us to paradise or destruction.
    • It took me a while to figure out why the USA topic was used here before coming to lines like "The U.S., the world capital of technological hubris and arrogance.." It's funny -- there's the stereotype that Americans assume that anything here is automatically superior to everyplace else. There are Americans like that, but there are also Americans who assume that the US necessarily outdoes everyplace else in all negatives, that sexism, racism, pollution, greed here are all the worst in the world. What's funny is that both those mindsets come out of the same parochialism and ignorance.

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @12:52PM (#967874) Journal
    Katz said there are no guidelines or rules on the books. Are there actual rules and guidlines within the project dealing with the issues we are concerned about, or just the questions raised?

    Well, first I want to make it clear that I'm not saying, "There's nothing to worry about. Go back to Ally McBeal." There are major concerns that need to be addressed philosophically and legally. My objection is to Jon Katz's assertions that no one is taking these concerns seriously except him and a handful of others. Essentially, he's pushing the stereotype of the scientist as a soulless mercenary nerd with no thought to the consequences of his research. It's particularly galling coming from The Protector Of The Geeks, and particularly galling to see it applied to my friends and coworkers who have just busted their asses for two years to get the genome data into the hands of the public and out of the grasp of Celera.

    Anyway, here are the issues I know of:
    • Environmental safety - The use of genetically modified organisms and DNA has been regulated since 1973, IIRC. There's a huge looseleaf on my bookshelf with the NIH guidelines. In retrospect, these have turned out to be overly strict by far, but were sensible when they were established. Of course, there's a huge debate about new legislation, especially for agricultural products. I think most of the anti-GMO views are outrageous FUD (and I'm a long-time Sierra Club member) but it's good that people are watching.
    • Patents - A favorite Slashdot concern. The situation is a lot less dire than most /. posters think (no, no one will charge you a license to have green eyes) but it definitely needs to be cleared up.
    • Privacy/Insurance issues - These are biggies. There is plenty of legislation on these matters already and established activists and lobbies to push new legislation. It's also the major focus of HGP ethical discussion. Remember, though, that there's nothing new here. If all knowledge of DNA evaporated today, we'd still have these same issues.
    • Gene therapy and modification - Now we're in Frankenstein territory. It's true that there isn't a huge amount of regulation here (there are federal anti-cloning laws that are relevant). Fortunately we're at least a few years away from it being a practical issue. There are NIH guidelines, a tremendous amount of debate and lengthy reviews for any gene therapy proposals. My impression is that among the policy setters there is an absolute belief that germ-line modification (changing the DNA of sperm or eggs; not just body cells) is entirely unacceptable. I personally don't agree. I don't see why if a particular amino acid is invariant from yeast to 99.999% of humans, it's so out of line to change it for good. But at least that indicates how far off Katz's spectre of real-life Dr. Frinks is.

    • Seriously, what would/could stop(besides cost & complexity) the next generation of spammers from releasing a gene changing virus (or nanites for that matter) that change your DNA

      I've got to think that's illegal under existing US law.

      Man, 748 comments so far! No wonder Slashdot keeps running his rants!

  • That's not the real Bruce, note the "." after the user name.


  • Umm.. and how many people suffered and died so that we could get to this point? Trial and error is easy to excuse when you don't have to deal with the errors..

    Well, I'm not a very optimistic guy. I don't claim that trial and error is the best way to do things, because it is almost never the best way to do things. I just don't know if I have enough faith in humanity to believe that they would do otherwise.

    Surely, a lot of people died because of nuclear foolishness.

  • So now corporations are going to use genetic engineering to eridacate geeks? Lovely.

    And who do they think would be actually doing that work anyway, hmmm???? It's not the PHBs who have the know-how to pull that off. It's the geeks.

    Geeks are vital to big evil corporations. Who else would know what to do when the CEO's PC freezes if they get rid of geeks? :)

  • Sometimes I just wish that the magma bubble under Yellowstone Park would pop, flood 1/2 of the
    continental USA, plunge the world into decades of cloud-shrouded, plant-killing darkness, and put a hold on this charade. But, we'll just have to wait and see. It's about 4,000 years overdue, or so say the geologists.

    That's interesting - do you have any more references on this? That would seriously suck! But it sounds quite intriguing...

  • by Uruk ( 4907 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:41AM (#967880)
    This piece is mostly useless fear mongering IMSNHO.

    The human genome project will be handled most likely like any other huge and potentially dangerous human advance. People will first misuse it, they will get burned very badly, and then they will learn how to control it and how to use it in such a way as to benefit them and not burn them.

    Think about nuclear weapons, which are much more immediately destructive. At first, nobody really know the extent of their power, and we had to nuke somebody to find out. Nowadays, we're using those advances for nuclear power and nuclear science, and getting by with the advantages and refraining from destroying ourselves. We have for the most part reached a reasonably stable state with nuclear power, EXCLUDING the possibility of crackpot governments nuking everybody back to the stone age.

    Same thing with genetic science that may or may not come out of this accomplishment. First we'll fuck up and curse ourselves, then we'll learn, and it will become beneficial. But during the process, Jon Katz will have plenty of material to worry about and tell us about how the world is going down the shitter. (Monsanto branching out into the area of genetically engineering evil corporation's perfect workers, etc.)

    remember that when there is a tech advance, (just like computers and the internet) it's not just the "Dr. Evil"'s that get it. So do we. So stop worrying, be careful, and get out there and kick some ass.

  • Your comments re depression got me to thinking...the psychiatrist who treats me for bipolar disorder (manic depression) points out that there's a high degree of correspondence between BP and creativity. Might we throw away a great wealth of creative energy in trying to make people "normal" genetically?

  • That's a point I argued quite a couple months ago. Everyone here seemed to be of the opinion that "depression is horrible! you don't know what it's like! There's nothing good about it!"

    Of course, my thinking was "Hey, better being in a foul and depressed mood most of your life, but still being yourself, rather than being prozac-happy."

    As for "there's nothing good about it!" -- look at how much of our art has come from depressed people. I do a lot of writing and I used to also paint often. I'm sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that, when I'm content (good relationships, good job, things are looking up), my writing suffers. I either write without conviction or I simply have nothing to write about.

    But man, when life sucks -- or your mind has the perception that it does, there's suddenly lots of stuff to write about, and with conviction! Even if it's apathetic conviction, to coin an oxymoronic phrase.

  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @07:26AM (#967887)
    God, I can't believe I'm about to sink to the "let's nit-pick Jon Katz" level, but I'm tired and cranky this morning, so . . .

    It's hard to imagine many societies more arrogant, thoughtless or poorly equipped to deal with the fascinating, even miraculous Human Genome Project that the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. Is it really that hard to imagine a society less equipped and more dangerous than America to deal with the HGP? Have you heard of a little place called Iraq? How about Iran? North Vietnam? How about, with their horrible record for human rights, China?

    Headlines all over the country announced that a cure for cancer, heart disease, aging, depression and aging may well be imminent.

    I see . . . So what you're broaching is the view that "We'll start changing people so they aren't different anymore. Geeks won't be geeks anymore (and that means no more stories benefiting off of to oppressed masses of brainy outcasts! oh no!). Not only that, but those individualistic types will no longer have cancer or heart disease -- just another attempt to normalize everyone into a single massive stereotypical American! Egads!"

    In the Corporate Republic, every new bit of science and technology goes into mass-marketing, hype, and product development.

    Yes. This is called "capitalism". Not always a bad thing; sometimes a very terrible thing. Nevertheless, capitalism provides the fuel for these projects to be undertaken. The shear manpower and resources for this project would not ever be available unless those directly involved were to somehow benifit. Certainly, no scientist involved would have offered his or work wholly pro-bono! It would be nice, albeit impossibly Utopian, if some government agency or big corporation, out of the goodness of their heart, offered to setup and maintain a massive storage database of data from the HGP, free to all who wished to use it, but someone has to be responsible for providing services. As long as there is some public consensus and watchdog association formed to watch over these commercial entities and their use of the HGP information, then things should work out well. Let the HGP information be widely and cheaply available (sort of like putting freeware on a CD and charging a minimal cost so that you don't go broke paying for the media on which the software is provided) and let people and companies, within reason, do with that data as they wish.

    might it also eliminate other problems and diseases that aren't clear -cut or horrendous, such as depression and some forms of retardation?

    What the...? What isn't clear-cut about depression and retardation? These aren't things people look forward to their children having. Nobody says "Gee, I want to have a daughter who suffers from life-long clinical depression and cuts on her forearms with razor-blades, gets involved in abusive relationships to satisfy some masochistic thirst and get hooked on prescription pills!". Likewise, nobody ever hopes that their child will be born with mental retardation. 'Retardation' is not at all an uncertain word. It has a very clearly understood negative connotation. You certainly wouldn't (shouldn't) terminate a pregnancy because of retardation, but what if you had the means to prevent that from occuring and you could bring your child into the world healthy?

    There is no connection between bringing physically "perfect" people and mentally "enhanced" people into the world through means of genetic alteration -- and bringing someone into this world who doesn't have heart-disease, cancer, retardation, clinical-depression or even psychopathic tendencies (although the last one may be stickier when you really think about it, in depth).

    Anyway, the point being that there are alterations in genetics which are very certainly just to enhance a person -- others are to bring them into the world healthy so that they can have the same right to a life that anyone else should. The limit I see a need to place (if we do need to place any kind of limit on anything?) would be on enhancements to make you stronger, faster, smarter, prettier, more outgoing, than you otherwise would have been. In other words, if you were going to be born with a geekish personality, there should be no alteration before birth that would lead you to, instead, be some popular jock that everyone will fall in love with. However, if you were going to be born with a geekish personality and you were going to have severe asthma, chronic-depression, alchoholism, and (perhaps because your mother smoked, drank or did some narcotic during pregnancy) a major deformation, such as no right arm -- I think it should be an absolute right, if not moral obligation, to provide you the "medical attention" pre-birth (or even pre-conception?) to alleviate these things.

    I know, some of what I'm saying sounds a little freakish and too much like social-engineering. I'm not sure that I couldn't or wouldn't change my mind on many related issues, but to me, these seem to be very valid and reasonable suggestions or concerns.

    Allowing someone to be brought into the world in sound physical and mental health is unrelated to bringing a "perfect child" into the world. We need to shrug off these seemingly religiously imposed concerns that make us feel as if any change we offer goes directly against nature or 'god'. We have to do what we have to do and if nature or 'god' sees fit to bring a child into this world with major limitations, there is no reason we should not afford the service to remove those unfair limitations. Again, we're talking major things like sight, hearing, walking. A far cry from changing hair color, eye color or voice.

    In a nation that has already surrendered many privacy rights to invasive new software technologies

    What about a nation that has surrended absolutely all personal traits and deficiencies to being "Gods whim" or "the way nature intended it"? I say fuck nature. We have the power and the tools in our grasp to help people. To help the world. Yes, there are risks of exploitation, as there are with everything. But that should be no reason to completely avoid this, like some kind of ethical plague. HGP does have the potential to be the greatest salvation of (and by) mankind. We risk people who will use it to make the perfect blonde-haired, blue-eyed model, but we also have the ability to alter our species to the point where much of the ocean, high altitudes, other planetary atmospheres and such are compeltely tolerable. There is nearly nothing that we will not have the power to do, so long as we have the judgement to prevent the instances of obvious misuse. Nonetheless, it is out there and if someone whether or not it is ever misused or how we control it, it cannot be put back in the back. The mapping exists and will forever be available.

    it's reasonable to assume that the genetic characteristics of most citizens won't stay a secret for long once they're screened.

    Well, gee, because privacy laws suck and more rights are given to corporations than individual humans, let's just do away with anything that we can not afford to give privacy to? The problem then, isn't the mapping -- it's the privacy. Point the gun at the right target!

    As a society, we may soon be able to get rid of obnoxious, anger and dissent along with cancer and heart disease.

    Bah. As a society, we've been trying to do this forever. Where has it gotten us? Look at the variety of geeks, jocks, super models and what have you. There's more variety in people and personalities than ever before. Besides, just because we can genetically alter people, don't you think that there has to be some way that nature -- should we screw up too much -- will fight back? Chaos is a funny thing. Genetically weed dissent and anger out of the human being and I bet it reappears, like a fungus between your toes that you can't quite scrub away.

    I'm not in favor of the possibilities of wiping out human emotions -- any of them. In fact, but for extreme chronic and deadly depressions, I'm even greatly against any chemical/drug treatment of it. So you can see how I feel elsewise.

    On a side note, genetic modification could sometimes be a good thing, Jon. Perhaps a little more tendancy toward 'perfection' would have given you the natural urge to run a spell-check on this article to catch all of the double-words, typos and miswordings (it's Human Genome Project, isn't it? Not Humane Genome Project?). I thought you were a professional writer?!

    I agree with much of what you've stated here. There are great risks and dangers and potentials for exploitation of this information. This is not a limitation of science, the information itself or of right and wrong -- or even of nature or religion. Any harmful or, likewise benificial, results of how the HGP data is used will reflect the quality of the human race. If we have a propensity to destroy ourselves, HGP will serve to do that for us. If we have the overwhelming desire to create a "perfect race" that self-destructs, that too will happen. If we have the want to build bio-engineered humans that can go terraform planets, we will. And if we want to rid the world of disease and offer humanity greater chances in life, we will also do that.

    Whatever is done, will be a marker of the wisdom and need for humankind. What we do with this will determine what our value is and ever was -- as well as whether or not we deserve, as a whole, a future in this world. It might turn out wonderful or it might become a disaster, but it certainly isn't going to "go away".

    And yes, the whole thing makes me as 'uneasy' as it probably makes most people. As cool as this is, there are so many unknowns and areas open to abuse. We'll have to wait and see what happens . . .

    (Sorry, like I said, I was in a nit-picking mood. I can't believe I sunk so low as to be so critical to Katz... Hell, I usually like the guy and think everyone else is being a perpetual dick to him... Oh well. I'm a bad, bad boy... Maybe I need some genetic alteration...)

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:38AM (#967890)
    Oh no, we've created a monster - a self-referential loop.

    Malda: Hemos, bring me the brains!
    Hemos: Yeees maaaster.
    Malda: *squish* Gosh, there wasn't that much there, you sure you got the right brain?
    Hemos: Yeah, bird brains.. right?
    Malda: Fool! We'll use it anyway, though.
    * Malda casts feign life.
    Katz: *groan*
    Malda: It's alive! IT'S ALLLIIIVVVEEE!
    Katz: .. socio-economic effects by the post-columbine third-wave era in ecopolitical dogmatic...
    Malda: Uh oh. Ego^H^H^HHemos, quick, activate the lameness filter!
    Hemos: Yeeesss maaaster.... *gurgle*
    Katz: SEXBOTS new paradigm shift think outside the box...
    Malda: HURRY!
    * CLiCK! *
    Slashdot Audience: Hey, when are you gonna fix Katz?
    Malda: Ask me about it again and I'll delay fixing him by 24 hours!

    And there you have it.. now we have a frankenkatz on slashdot writing about frankenstein. Wonderful.. slashdot creates infinite katzian loop, film at 11.

  • Since we know -- here's another example -- that many people post before they bother to read or understand, I just want to make one point in what I hope turns out to be an ingelligent conversation on this topic, rather than another degenerating and embarrasing round of posturing..I'm not against the Human Genome Project, nor does the column suggest in any way that it shouldn't have been done or completed. The issue here is how is society supposed to deal with its many consequences. Here's the lst of a series of posters who are sort of /. "flashers" ..they just want to expose themselves in public. But I sure hope we can actually have a conversation about this that reflects the amazing brainpower on the site, rather than the high tostosterone level. This poster should re-read lst, then fire..
    But remember..this isn't an attack on the HGP, which has astounding potential for good..But it also has astounding potential for evil..Who's going to work on sorting out its consequences is the only question being raised here? If you want to attack me, just e-mail or open a thread..We can actually have a great conversation here and people will be reading. I hope they don't end up, as usual, just e-mail me and shaking their hads at the handful of you that like to whip off completely meaningless and incomprehensible posts like this.
  • Ah, yes, the ever-popular "technology is morally neutral" line. Given how patently ignorant most people in the "science+technology" field are of philosophy and the other humanities (political science, sociology, history), I guess it should come as no surprise that so many unreservedly toe this line.

    Every new technology has the potential to be profoundly dangerous to someone. It would, indeed, be a grievous error to argue that we should therefore cease and decist in developing new technologies; however, too many of us are, in our arrogance, far too eager to do the opposite and flip the bird at (or just ignore) anyone who urges caution, particularly in our own areas of expertice.

    Unfortunately some people irresponsibly pervert our best intentions, and though unfortunate, I do not see this ending any time soon.

    You have made what is perhaps the best argument for us, the vanguards of new technologies, to be particularly cautious in what we choose to pursue, investigate, and disclose. The truth is that we are moral agents, that technologies have moral consequences, and (I'm borrowing a bit from existentialist philosophy here) to fail to take ownership of the moral consequences of our actions and discoveries is the highest form of moral failure. There is something sick about the modern western scientific tradition that causes it to exalt knowledge for its own sake, and dismiss cautions regarding the content and potential of that knowledge. Our exaltation of "science" and our obliviousness to its moral implications causes us to charge agead with projects like the HGP, and only as the project nears completion do we even begin to think pragmatically about the effects this knowledge will have on our culture and our posterity.

    God help us all.

  • Me, I'm chosing to take control of my own life.
    Best of luck... everyone else is planning to take control of your life, too.
  • to defend American society really bothers me in that context.
    I don't mean to defend the US at all. American culture sucks in many ways, IMO. But that's irrelevant to my post.

    My point was that Jon Katz seemed to have dismissed these and other examples of cultures that are/were far worse than what we are dealing with today, so as to make his story all the more sensational. In doing so, Katz lessened the tragedies those cultures represented.

  • by UncleRoger ( 9456 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @07:55AM (#967895) Homepage
    I read that bit about "it's hard to imagine a more poorly equipped society" and immediately thought of my grandparents who died in a concentration camp in Germany. What was the name of the Nazi "scientist" who did all the experiments on the Jews? Mengele? I guess Katz thinks he would have been a better choice for having control of this information.

    Of course, Nazi Germany is not the only such example, just the first that springs to my mind.

    I do agree that our (US) culture is hardly ready to handle such technology -- it will be abused and perverted and so on for financial gain. In fact, it already has, by the media.

    What dismays me most about Katz's inane comment, however, is how easily he dismisses other eras and cultures that were so much more repressive. Nazi Germany, certainly, should never be forgotten -- would my father be in a nursing home, the victim of multiple strokes, if he had grown up in a normal household with his parents and two sisters instead of an orphanage in a foreign land?

    There are others as well, though. I'm sure that the southern whites would have loved to be able to breed the fight out of their slaves a couple hundred years ago. Even today, I'm willing to bet there are a lot of folks in China who would love to be able to make sure they only have male children -- but I guess that's better than abandoning or even killing female offspring.

    Jon Katz seems to be no better than the popular media he mocks -- he takes a superficial look at something and makes his pronouncement and sits back to congratulate himself on a job well done.

    In this instance, however, I have to speak up. I have personal experience with the results of a culture that would have been far worse at dealing with the Human Genome Project. And, I'd like Jon Katz, and others, not to forget it so blithely.

  • I can see news reports from the future already:

    "Big floppy ears are all the rage these days, ever since holo-star Reginald Queenster and his mate decided to have their latest child GM'd to order. Hospital bioengineering units are being swamped with requests for those cute big floppy ears and are scrambling to keep up with demand. "This designer kid tech sure has had a positive influence on our cash flow recently" said Malcome Roberts, Chf. Business Comptroller for the 1-valley fertilization and birthing unit. "Folks see these celebrity kids in the screens and just havta have one too! We haven't seen this level of customization since the large lips craze 30 years ago." Also, recent developments at BiTecH give parents the choice of designating features as heriditary or single-gen. "We do counsil prospective GMers carefully about the consequences of their choices, since, like giving a kid a funny name, they may grow up to resent the alterations and choose to not reproduce. But it is all about giving parents more choices" said Shila Paterson, a member of the client advisory board."

  • I think the Federation only court-martials transgenics who, when awakened from their sleeper ships, seduce female Federation officers and incite mutiny on Federation Starships.

    And even when convicted, you get a nice little planet to call home and a hottie in a short little officer's skirt to help populate it. Sounds like a heckuva sweet deal to me.

  • Exactly! And I'm an engineer...

    I mean, hell, we've polluted the environment, we've abused species diversity, and we're about to screw up global climate. Until we prove we have enough foresight to manage these things, we are foolish to tinker with the human genome. (Somebody moderate this parent up so that it's more visible.)

  • Well, it really is a shame that the Third Reich is still associated with human artificial selection, and that anything that even faintly smells of Eugenics will be demonized, especially in W. Europe, I'm guessing.

    Readers of Heinlein and other authors, and fans of RPGs like Traveller, Robotech, etc., know better -- that it's just another tool. But try arguing that to Bible-waving Fundamentalists, or to already paranoid oppressed minorities like homosexuals, Sufis, or Jon Katz.

    Fortunately we have a new name for the practice of designing our offspring: "germline engineering." Hopefully it doesn't immediately scare the average Celica-driving Joe. First impressions count.

    Really, it's probably too early to begin actively trying to engineer human evolution - for example, they just discovered recently that the mutation causing sickle-cell anemia also provides resistance against malaria. Eventually we will learn enough to engineer better children, or even tailor them for futures as lunar colonists or subterranean arcology dwellers. (Lord knows I have a few specifications for an engineered mistress lying around somewhere.) But if we tinker too soon, too ignorantly, we run the risk of winning the ultimate Darwin Award -- extinction.

    In other words, the rule against self-modifying code still applies!

  • I can only hope.

    Besides, up until now it has been the blind watch maker designing our hardware.

    I like to think that a large body of intelligent minds directing enhancements is a much better option.
  • "In other words, it's a "smartness personality test", rather than some kind of scientific genome test. It is specifically constructed to agree with what society views as "smart" behavior, rather than having any scientific validity as a measure of genetic capability"

    You have been reading some interesting fiction.

    The purpose of the IQ test is to quantify reasoning ability for various levels of abstract, often counter intuitive thought operations.

    This type of mental activity is nearly directly proportional to the pattern matching ability, aka intelligence, of the individual.

    While the 'VALUES' of the IQ test are relative, and subject to human error (a small degree I might add), what they MEASURE is a proven, scientifically sound, characteristic of intelligent behavior.

    Now, this is just 'RAW' intelligence. People with high IQ's can be quite stupid in other areas, such as emotional intelligence, social intelligence, etc..
  • I am British. And I can imagine a few .....

    • Any culture who values children of one gender over the other

    That's a low blow. Of course, by saying that, one does not stop at looking at the historical and cultural factors that made it so, say, like a "social" system that does not provides at all for the care of the elderly, so they have to rely on their children, and since women are poorer than men, well, better have a son rather than a daughter...

    Now, how about saying "any social system where WOMEN are EXPECTED to be POORER than MEN?".

    Ooops, you'd be shooting down a lot more "social" systems out there. Including your own.

    Here's my mirror []

  • You are correct, of course, but we're about as far away from a seasonal food supply as can be imagined.

    What I really wanted to say was something that would allow self-indulgence without the conesequences - if we could breed out the gene that causes us to save fat in our bodies to the extent we do it, we could solve the problem forever.

    (Whoever discovers that will make a fortune that makes Bill Gates look like a pauper).


  • by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:59AM (#967913) Homepage
    I think people are a bit more diverse in their desires than you imply, and in the end problems like this should be self-correcting - once the plastic blonde sons decide they don't like the plastic blonde daughters, we'll be back to some kind of diversity.

    But wouldn't it be fabulous to breed out obesity, which - as far as I can tell - has caused nothing but health problems and misery?

    Certainly this process is going to be driven by parents, not marketers, so I don't fear a lockstep future of Microsoft-loving drones (at least to the extent this does not already exist :-( ). Many people would rather have a thinking kid than one that sits down, watches the tube and consumes all the time. I know I certainly would.

    I predict most people will desire a combination of their own attributes with genetically engineered ones. If we all wanted to find perfect kids, then we'd be searching the adoption agencies for those that struck our fancy instead of making them on our own.

    I don't think any parent wants a dumb kid, so I would assume the population would grow smarter overall. Maybe too smart for its own good; smart people are often puzzlingly bad at things morons do perfectly. Perhaps in the future knowledge workers will be a dime a dozen, and a good janitor will be priceless.

    If I wanted a child in this brave new world, I would take my genes + my wife's genes and have the combination checked and altered to prevent obesity, alzheimers, autism and other unpleasantness. I think that's the way most people will go in the end, and I'd argue it holds little danger.


  • Let's hear it for European culture. It produced Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart and Goethe. In more recent years, the Battle of the Somme, Bolshevism, the incineration of Dresden, and Treblinka. Guess we have some catching up to do.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @09:54AM (#967916) Homepage
    It was a joint operation of the 8th Air Force and Bomber Command. Most of the civilian casualties resulted from the RAF night incendiary bombing of 1945-02-14 and the resulting fire storm. See this web page [] for the details.
    The Forces and Means Employed by the Allies in the Bombing of Dresden:

    23. In the Dresden bombing attacks of 14-15 February 1945 the American Eighth Air Force and the RAF Bomber Command together employed a total of 1299 bomber aircraft (527 from the Eighth Air Force, 722 from the RAF Bomber Command) for a total weight, on targets, of 3906.9 tons. Of this tonnage, 1247.6 tons were expanded by the Eighth Air Force, 2659.3 tons by the RAF Bomber Command. The Americans employed 953.3 tons of high explosive bombs and 294.3 tons of incendiary bombs--all aimed at the Dresden Marshalling Yards. The British employed 1477.7 tons of high explosive bombs and 1181.6 tons of incendiary bombs--all aimed against the Dresden city area.42 The American aircraft used H2X (radar) bombing method, with visual assists, and the British used the marker and visual method.43

  • Bravo, Otter. You made some pretty good points there.

    I can't claim to be objective here, being someone who's in this field, but it seems to me that Scientists are, if anything, *more* concerned with the implications of knowledge than the average person. As a scientist, you are probably fairly intelligent, well educated, and most importantly, trained to be critical of others, and especially critical of yourself.

    Right now, most of the voices of doom seem to be coming from non-scientists. I'm not going to worry until I start hearing the same things in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • It is sciences job to not take any ethical view on issues. Of course this isn't possible but it is the goal to work towards. See what can be done and then you can gain the objectivity needed to decide what should be done. You can't be objective until you've already passed through the hype and unknown factors. If we start making laws to limit what can be done with this technology we open up the law to control all the things you are afraid of. What if only those who are rich enough to bribe the politicians are allowed to design their children to be intelligent and healthy? You'd be opening up a class war that'd be impossible to win. I'd be scared to death of having the majority rules on such an issue. All those people who watch day time tv and read tabloids and censor children from the Internet getting decide what kind of child I can have? No thank you! With every new technology there is a time of painful adjustment, mistakes are made and we learn from it. That is the only true way to really learn any lesson. Genetics is not the ultimate power, there is always something even more impressive on the horizon. For genetics that horizon is probably nanotech.. after that who knows?
  • The thought that tomorrow's kids could be created as perfect, attractive, genious, and physically superior scares the crap out of me.

    Imagine how we will look by comparison.

  • If you haven't rented it yet, do so.

    The completion of the Human genome project makes this version of the future a technical possibility, though I think it socially it is highly unlikely.

    I find it amazing how Katz can spin almost anything into his alientated Geek gestalt. So now corporations are going to use genetic engineering to eridacate geeks? Lovely.

    Somehow I doubt a culture that still idolizes Einstein (one of the more unique individuals of this century) is going to put all of its faith in human control and homogenization of all aspects of reproduction.

  • I would hope that readers of Heinlein know better than to swallow all the views of an author, just because his novels and stories are entertaining.

    Many of the posts in this thread seem to assume that the reason for human existence is the continuation of the species...that is the question that needs to be answered, and until it is (beyond a shadow of a doubt), we need to tread very carefully. Katz may have used a little too much hyperbole, but his main point is right on. We shouldn't mess with nature too much until we know exactly why we are doing so. I love technology, but technology for technologies sake when lives are at stake is another matter.
  • by Dissenter ( 16782 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:55AM (#967939)

    How dare you sport thus with life?" asks Frankenstein of his creator, who loved technology but was impatient when it came to thinking much about how he was going to use it.

    So here we finally arrive at the pinnacle of man's audacty.

    "Today we are learning the language in which God created life."

    So we really think that we have caught up to God? Are we so small minded that we think that there is nothing more to learn here? Before I'm flamed right off the face of the earth let me say that there is no way that I'm trying to speak against medical and genetic research. The advancements that we have made here are amazing and I wouldn't want to be without them, but when leaders come forward and compare our understanding with diety I have to question it. At least God has something to show for his knowledge. We have nothing to show for it. What is understanding if there is no tangable result? Can we prove that our "Road map to the future" isn't just taking us down a path to destruction? It seems that we've given ourselves a bit too much credit this early in the game. Where are the results?

  • Jon, Can you, for the benefit of the class, tell us whom you suggest would be better suited to know/have this information(genetic map, genetics in general). Should it be some counsel, some group that kept the power under lock and key. Who appoints this group? Are they theologists, scientists, moralists? All of the above and more? How do you close pandora's box? Can we afford to?
  • That you have to resort to some of the most restrictive dictatorships to defend American society really bothers me in that context.

    What really bothers me is that so many people assume that (insert your grievance here) only happens in the US. It's so nice to hear that there are no corporations in Europe and no patents in Asia. And of course, political coruption only occurs in in certain parts of North America.
  • Well, to me a lack of wisdom and responsibility is "stupid" any way you slice it.

    However, if the US lacks the wisdom and responsibility to handle biotechnology - who on the planet IS responsible enough?

    Or, I get the impression, people would rather fight over who's able to handle the technology. While that's going on, of course, people who ARE dumb may well misuse it while people are battling over who is Wise.

    The technology is here, if less than it's hyped. Time for us to get Wise and do something with it.
  • by Badgerman ( 19207 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:37AM (#967950)
    I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it seems that in the current technophilic age we can find a thousand articles with one theme: "we're too dumb to handle technology" which really means "those Other People are too dumb to handle technology." I'm afraid I find this article falls under that category, despite my respect for the "Hellmouth" series.

    Life is going to be what we make it and technology is a tool. We can worry about it and wring our hands - and that makes us no different than people working on censoring the internet or banning linking, it makes us busybodies who complain.

    Or we can latch onto it and make it work. We can make sure we embrace the technology so that there isn't going to be a division between users and ourselves.

    Or we can complain about how dumb/dangerous The Other is.

    Me, I'm chosing to take control of my own life. Barbelith.
  • I'm not normally one of those anti-Katz fanatics that posts against Mr. Katz regardless of his opinions. In fact, on many topics, I have agreed with his position.

    However, in this case, I don't think Katz could possibly take a more nonsensically reactionary stance if he tried. By automatically assuming the United States is less capable of using the information provided by the Human Genome Project responsibly than any other nation on Earth is patently ridiculous. Yes, the United States has a history of getting ahead of itself in its use of technology, but so does the rest of humanity.

    Besides that, it's rather hasty to assume the companies involved here, as well as the federal government, will go wild with this technology and start manufacturing conformist blond-haired blue-eyed Ubermensch children just as soon as possible just because they can, when there has been little to no discussion concerning these matters in the public forum by the people in a position to see the issue from the inside out. All we are getting is people like Katz, spewing garbage about Frankenstein's monster (which, I'm sorry, is about the most obvious and unimaginative analogy that could be drawn regarding the HGP) without really understanding what this technology means, and it is them that are putting this particular cart well before this particular horse.

    The Human Genome Project, for all its promise, is currently little more than a listing of all the nucleotides, in order, of the various double helixes that form human genes, which in turn form human chromosomes. It is as of yet unknown what each of these genes do exactly, and what twiddling certain nucleotides will do to the overall organism. Such discoveries are still years in the future, and you can bet there will be all sorts of debate as to what people should do with each such discovery, and the Frankenstein dead horse will be beaten to a fine mist before it's all said and done. You cannot expect people to have already debated and solved all of these issues, and thus browbeat the United States because they haven't solved these issues yet, when the genetic map is barely two days old, and no one has really even had the opportunity to look through it and tell what it could mean in the short and long terms yet.

    Also, to address the "playing God" argument:

    As has probably been stated by some other poster before me by now, the argument that people are "playing God" by messing around with the human body is an argument that's been used and abused ever since humankind has taken an interest in their own bodies, which is to say since humankind has existed. This same argument was used to decry such marvels as penicillin, vaccinations, and was probably even used to denounce such high technology as leeches.

    Humans are by nature curious about themselves and their surroundings, and they will always strive to understand all that they can about the world around them and about their own bodies. It is perfectly right and natural that it should be this way. It is defeatist to believe that humans, and particularly the inhabitants of a particular nation (as if by virtue of where you were born, you are pre-disposed to be an uncaring, overzealous louse with no concept of consequences), will automatically misuse grievously any new technology they come across. If we are to take this sort of philosophy to its logical extreme, we should all just give up and live our lives in caves in the dark, gathering berries for subsistence.

    If we denounce ourselves for playing God with our technology, we must also denounce God for giving us the ability to do so. If we are guilty of error for discovering things, is it not ultimately God himself who is to blame for giving us the cognitive power to think up such things?

    As for the argument that we are destined to misuse this technology because hardly anyone really knows what it all means is absurd on the face of it. How many people understand any new technology? Should we get rid of computers because such a small fraction of the population really understand how they work or what they are capable of? There's probably a respectable percentage of people that don't even know how their toaster works, so should we abolish toasters? I'd wager less than half the population really knows how alternating current really works, so maybe we should get rid of electrical power entirely.

    Science is and always has been primarily the realm of the scientist. It is the scientist that makes the discoveries, and then works to make things from these discoveries that can be used by the general population, if possible. Some discoveries, of course, will never be used by the general population, and this is probably one of those. Nuclear energy has been well understood for over 50 years, but the general population still can't, and probably will never be able to, buy a nuclear reactor at the corner store. Just the same, it is unlikely that the general population will be able to pick up designer babies at the corner store either.

    There will always be alarmists in the world. What validates their reactionary stances, and makes them potentially damaging, is giving them a voice to the general public, as Jon Katz has with Slashdot. Do these matters need to be discussed? Absolutely. But writing sensationalist garbage such as this serves no other purpose than to shock and alarm the general public into opposing a discovery they do not understand. To compare the HGP with Frankenstein's monster is like saying people should stop eating their vegetables because cigarettes cause cancer, and both products are made from plants. If America has any sort of legacy regarding controversial technology, it is not in its misuses, but rather in its media personalities inciting panic in the general populace about the possibility of that technology's misuse and about how that technology should be shoved back under the rug because of that possibility.
  • What? When did we kill forty million people? Did I miss this? Are we talking about the Indians here? Does this mean that we should never have invented syphilis and the compass?

    This will get moderated down because it's not popular, but...

    I'm talking about all of the abortions since Roe vs. Wade. 35 million people have died as a result of these procedures.

    Don't dismiss this as just another wacko pro-life argument. It's specifically life issues that the completion of the Human Genome brings up.

    Questions like:

    • Should a baby be allowed to be brought into the world if it has a known genetic defect as identified through the genome map?
    • Should someone be denied life-sustaining care if they are genetically predisposed to terminal illnesses?

    The U.S. has been very bad in its treatment of life, in general. Our emphasis on rights, personal convenience, and inviduality has been at the expense of a devaluation of life in general.


    Don't get me wrong - I think that the completion of the Human Genome Project is a really wonderful accomplishment! It's going to create a lot more good than otherwise. But we're gonna have to be really careful about how it's applied and used.

  • A good series of books to read is Nancy Kress' 'Beggars' series:

    Beggars in Spain []

    Beggars and Choosers []

    Beggars Ride []

    These books start from a point at which genetic engineering and optimization is available only to affluent early adopters, and an additional modification can do away with the need for sleep. These 'sleepless' children have increased intelligence plus an additional 1/3 of their time can be productive. As an unexpected side benifit, their lifespans are enourmously increased as well.

    I won't ruin the story for you by telling you how it works out, but I found the projected evolution of human society that the author posits to be very interesting, with many unexpected twists and turns.

    Fair warning: the above links go through my affiliate account on Amazon, so if you'd rather not let me have the commision, you can circumvent the link.
  • I would like to complain about Jon Katz. As I have noted several times in connection with every single one of the last hundred stories posted by Jon Katz, it is irritating to have to read the same nonsense again and again. Also Katz's writing is prolix, redundant, too long and excessively verbose. Finally, he is arrogant and condescending, which the rest of you would realize if you were as smart as me. Also, he failed to mention several obvious points (unless he mentioned them at some point after the first fifty words, when I gave up reading because I am much too busy to read any farther). As for all you people who question whether I am too stupid to simply skip stories by Jon Katz in the future, I won't dignify your inquiry with a response, because the answer is obvious.
  • With the g-e super-kids?

    ("Unnatural Selection")

    They were brilliant, beautiful, healthy and psychic. They also had "active defence" immune systems that killed everyone who came near them (causing them to age rapidly).

    "We screwed up this batch, lock 'em away and forget about 'em, boys!"

    However, there didn't seem to be much of a legal issue...

    Khan was much cooler. BTW, did they take that straight out of Heinlein's "Beyond this Horizon" or what? I mean, it's all backwards, but ST seems a lot like the opposite-world to that novel. I wonder if Monroe-Alpha looked like Spock with a goatee...
  • I can just hear the jingle, patched over with badly warped audio...

    "G.E. we bring things to life!"
  • I'm curious how this information will be used differently given different styles of medical care (looked at from the East/West angle) in various regions of the world. Western medicine has focused on nature, that is, the physical representation of a disease, finding systems, bacteria, etc, while (to me) Eastern medicine is more about looking at the nurture of a disease, or, to be more precise, the environment in which it exists.

    Now, we have the genome. This would seem to be the Holy Grail of Western medicine. But how does it figure into the more holistic or behavioural

    This whole thing is going to be very important, a certain persistent level of discussion and attention is warranted. And that's for everyone, not just geeks. Does anyone have (or heard) a good "layman's" perspective, i.e. from one who hasn't followed the Genome project's progress. What does Joe Six Pack think about this?
  • Now who do you want to make your decisions for you? The Gore Fortune 500 or the Bush Fortune 500?

    -3l337 d00dZ
    -welfare moms
    -soccer moms
    -SUV drivers
    -Yugo drivers
    -walkers,bikers and other 'environmentalist nuts'
    -right to lifers
    -the NRA
    -gun control supports.

    My answer none of the above. But someone will be in control somewhere. Someone, at some time, has to make the 'ultimate decision' on a contested issue. Should that someone be a person that ignores what goes on around them, or someone with enough presence to take advantage of what life offers?

  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:45AM (#967983)
    Smarter, faster, stronger animals eat the smaller, weaker and dumb ones.

    Computers have changed society, and some people don't like it.

    If we create technological artifacts, some people will discover how to use it to their own advantage. And then they might possibly (oh my god) USE IT TO THEIR OWN ADVANTAGE!!

    History has shown that the first society to take advantage of advances in technology will dominate those that do not or are slow in the uptake. If the US dives headlong into this, you may not like the result, but if history is the best oracle the US will dominate.

  • That's the beauty of a market. For the most part people have one kid at a time; they have eveyr opportunity to decide how many they can afford. If they have too many, well that is their problem. No skin off my nose; I don't pay for them.

    Except that I do: school taxes, welfare payments, social benefits all through life. We need to get rid of these things; then people can have however many children they want. It's a problem which fixes itself. If people want to have too many kids, let 'em. They'll pay for them.

    In a modern socialised government population is a detriment, not a benefit. Poor populations are especially bad; they cost far more than they put in. So these governments naturally try to reduce their populations. In a sane government, population is a good thing; even poor people input something into the economy. We need to stop handing out money to people. That is not the function of the State. Were we to stop, then we could honour the rights of the populace and be making economically sound decisions. The best of both worlds.

  • Therefore socialized, rich countries have a lower birth rate. It's a fact.

    Rich countries have lower birth rates. Most countries are socialist. Ethiopia is socialist. Tanzania (or whatever it's calling itself this week) is socialist. Haiti is, AFAIK, socialist. So are England, Germany and France. So, unfortunately, is the US. Socialism has little to do with birth rate; look to wealth.

    Of course, socialism does tend to bleed the wealth of a nation. Look at Sweden if you want to know what Europe will look like in fifty years to a century.

    Poor populations are especially bad; they cost far more than they put in.

    Prove it. Troll.

    Simple enough: the poor receive money from the government. They do not put as much money into the state. Ergo, they cost the government more than they profit it.

    My point is not that they cost us (although that could be argued, perh.). It is that a government will attempt to limit population when that population costs it, and attempt to increase population when that populations profits it. It's only natural. And now that governments find that citizens, esp. the least-well-off, cost it, it becomes natural to look at said citizens as a drag.

    Which is why socialism is bad for the poor; the government will try to limit their ranks and breed them out of existence. Why do you think that Sanger passed out birth control info to the poor? Why do you think that `population activists' are always complaining about brown babies but not about white? They're a bunch of racists and classists who want to eradicate those who are not of their own kind, and do it under the guise of compassion.

    Were welfare not to exist, the poor would be able to determine the appropriate tradeoff point between more children as a retirement policy in the future and more children as mouths to feed now. Moreover, they would also have to live with the consequences of that decision. As it is now, they have all sorts of strange incentives. They get paid more money for more children. Or maybe not; maybe they lose money with more children, even though they may need them, opr in a fair world would realise a benefit due to them. We are unable to accurately foresee all results of economic actions. Meddle not in the affairs of the free market, for it is complex and prone to anger.

  • I'm well aware that the poor have a rotten life. I also tend to give them quite a few handouts quite willingly, through my volunteer work and my charitable donations. I have seen first-hand that they do not have a free ride.

    But to a government they look as though they do. A government takes money from the rich, gives some to the poor and pockets the rest. If it reduces the number of the poor, it can keep more. Every additional kid at $10 a month adds up to hundreds of millions over the country. And each one of those has a certain likelihood of growing up to be poor. A government wishes to eradicate its poor in order that it have more money to spend on, say, campaign contributors.

    OTOH, private citizens tend to wish to eliminate poverty by raising the lot of the poor, by giving them a hand up. Not that everyone will ever be well-off; someone, after all, must do all the nasty jobs the world has but does not reward: toilet cleaners, janitors, farm labourers &c. But allowing people to better themselves can help keep this number at its minimum, while keeping them down with handouts--however small--can only hurt in the long run. Look at the old Eastern Bloc; how well off were they under socialism? Look at Sweden, for that matter.

    Socialism is a Bad Idea which leads to all sorts of inhumanity (the Communists were socialists, the Nazis were socialists, the Fascists were socialists &c. &c. &c.). It tends to do rotten things to individuals for the sake of the multitude. A free market may do rotten things to multitudes, but is kind to any individual.

    I'm an individual, not a multitude. Which path do you think I'll take?

  • For years, the computer geeks have totally ignored the issues of how technology gets used, whether society is prepared for it, etc. Suddenly, another technology - one controlled by a different elite this time - pushes its way into the mass consciousness and suddenly...omigod! Technology can be dangerous! Put the genie back in the bottle! We're all going to lose our humanity to technology!

    It's not just Katz, either. How many people here actually stopped to think about the ways that computers and the Internet have changed how we communicate, where we get our entertainment, who invests in what, and other fundamental things about our lives, economy and culture? How many people here actually asked whether society was ready for these changes? We're the ones who've been helping tear down the walls that slow technology adoption. The "Frankenstein scenario" is as much our doing as anyone else's.
  • Let's worry about screwdrivers instead. Bell Telephone used to teach people to put them in their back pockets, until they found out that their technicians were puncturing their kidneys. We need more corporate responsibility here! Either that, or a Screwdriver Control, Inc.

    Me, I just say that Screwdriver Control is hitting your target.
  • That's wanting a not-perfect child. It's a different thing from not wanting a perfect child.
  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:49AM (#967993) Homepage
    When have parents ever *not* sought perfect children??
  • by Adam Knapp ( 35401 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @12:54PM (#967997) Homepage

    I'd like to point out to everyone here that _assuming_ that selection of individual genes someday becomes possible and more importantly legal, we still will not be able to create "perfect" children. Most of the common imperfections that you see in people are in fact not strictly imperfections but more like "qualified advantageous mutations".

    For example, a common blood disorder in Africans, sickle-cell anaemia, in only problematic when you have a pair of genes for that trait. When you only have one gene it provides immunity against malaria. Also, Schizophrenia and certain other mental disorders have been shown to have strong links to creativity and intelligence. Genetically enhancing breast size by increasing the amount of estrogen produced would have side effects of enhanced risk of cancer. Significant height enhancements would bring about increased risks of heart failure.

    What I'm saying here is that many, if not most, of the changes a parent might want to make to their child are not without tradeoffs. There is no prefect child.

    As for more innocuous changes, I also find it hard to believe that suddenly everyone would choose to be blonde hair and blue eyes. Most parents want their children to look like them.

    The problem that I see is not a new one. Insurance companies look at your parent's and grand-parent's health histories _right_now_. While people are usually not refused coverage based upon their histories, they do have to pay higher premiums. A child born with the genes for MS would find it very hard to get insurance if genetic testing was common.

  • Well, Jon Katz would have you believe that we will soon have the ability to alter our genetic makeup and change our evolutionary path. I say we've already done that and that we've been doing it for the last 5000 years.

    Becuse of our inteligence and ability to form social groups, humans have effectively cirumvented the process of natural selection, resulting in an overall gene-pool which is 'weaker' (more prone to desease and defects) than it was 5000 years ago.

    To illustrate my point; many of us (myself included) have very poor eyesight. Thanks to modern technology, we can get corrective lenses to fix this defect. If we lived ten thousand years ago on the african sahara our bad vision would have made us an easy meal for a predator long before we grew to adulthood. However technology lets us lead normal lives with these defects. The result is that we've got no problem making it to adulthood and passing our defects on to our offspring.

    The same issue applies to a whole host of other problems (poor hearing, suceptability to desease, even flat-footedness). Undesirable traits that should have been naturally weeded out of our genepool are instead strenthened because of our ability to compensate for them.

    So, having 'perfect' babies is not a new problem; is is really a solution to a problem we created in the process of building civilization. Genetic manipulation to remove defects just performs the job that natural selection should have been doing for the last 5000 years.

    -- Greg
  • Should I respond to a religious troll or not?

    The original post wasn't a clearcut troll. Some of Jon Erikson's later posts did cross that line, and presumably will find their natural level (-1: Troll) before much longer.

  • Todays american society is one of the worst places for the technology to fall on. As a prime example, when that statement is made, does it not anger you. Jon isn't attacking any one person, but the ppl of america as a whole. Over all the general attitude in america sucks. We are a very dangerous society with our great notion of superiority over everything. This project would be better served by a representitive from every country that can be involved working on this, or something of that fashion.

    While a rep from every country could cause nothing to get done in the end, that might be alright. Who's to say that we definitly got the gnome mapping correct. The human race has made mistakes before, we are bound to make them again. I think there should be some movement on the project, but that it should be very slow.

    Jon may have added a very urgent and sharp tone to the article, but he also made a few good points. This is something we should watch. "Yeah, too bad that 1940s Germany didn't get a hold of this information" Todays private industry has the ability to make Hitler look like Santa Clause. The weight of resposability of this project is enough for the entire world to feel. The human race would be wise to choose carefully what it does with it.

  • Quick nitpick:

    Frankenstein was right when he told his doctor-creator that it was a sin to create things one doesn't take any responsibility for.

    Frankenstein was the name of the Doctor. Frankenstein's monster was the name of the Doctor's creation.

    It's also important to remember that Frankenstein's monster was as much a parabole about being a misfit in a cold and uncomprehending world than anything else: created by a creator who didn't care, tossed to a world who didn't understand full of villagers who, because Frankenstein's monster was different, sought to destroy him. Katz, so wrapped up in the technology aspects of the story of Frankenstein, completely missed the point.


    Had Katz understood the story rather than resorting to seeing the video clips of the parody made with Abbot and Castello, would have realized that we (geeks) are all Frankenstein's monster: creations of a culture who doesn't care, sought to be destroyed by villagers who don't understand.
  • Is it my imagination, or does Katz's use of language get even more obscure and hard to follow when he has less to say?

    As far as I can figure, his points are:
    1) The "corporate technological elite" culture of the United States is Evil.

    2) The Human Genome Project is a technology that affects human life that is in the hands of the evil U.S.

    3) Making a profit is Evil. (One hopes Katz wasn't paid for this bit of tripe, or else it would justify my fears that Katz himself is evil.)

    4) Fertility drugs is an example of the havoc the Genome Project may create, because it creates x-tuplet births which we celebrate, even though they're dangerous.

    5) Even though the results of the Genome Project may do good, it will only lead to Evil.

    6) It will lead to Evil because the HGP will lead to Eugenics.

    7) And we all know that only the United States has tinkered with Evil Eugenics.

    8) Worse: with Eugenics, we can even breed people who aren't angry, obnoxious and who blindly follow authority.

    Most of these points are made with the hubris typical of most hack writers: for example, Katz simply presents the "corporate technological elite" culture of the United States as evil as if it was a Universally Accepted Truth. Putting aside the fact that the United States is not the only country in the world which has things like money, companies and technology, one has to suspect anything that is presented as a Universally Accepted Truth, no matter how often it is repeated.

    Because Katz repeats this statement over and over again (while sucking at the corporate tit which pays him for this sort of tripe) doesn't make the statement true. It only makes Katz a poor parrot.

    Further, Katz makes statements such as Individualism and "wierdness" could show up in the new human map, along with tendencies towards anger, dissent, and bad skin. By completely whitewashing the entire "nature verses nurture" argument, and by repeating the point that perhaps things like "obnoxiousness" or "wierdness" could be edited out of the Human Genome.

    What he's alluding to here, folks, is the fact that perhaps they'll find the "geek" gene and wipe us all out of existance and turn us all into mindless Microsoft drones a'la Gattaca.

    Dispite the fact that this point occupies about 1/3rd of Katz's article, it's a load of crap: even if there is a gene which may cause someone to tend to mental illness such as a chemical imbalance in the brain that leads to psychotic behavior, it's pretty clear that normal behaviors (such as anger, obnoxiousness or a tendency towards excellence with computers) are at least as much learned traits as they are genetically ordained. In fact, the most that can be said about the "nature verses nurture" argument is that at most genetics tends paint in broad strokes while nurture tends to fill in the gaps (such as a tendency to write overly pompous, bad articles about the Eugenic tendencies of the U.S. "corporate technological elite" culture).

    Though I suppose if there was a gene which controlled bad writing such as this bit of tripe, I don't think I wouldn't cry if it was edited out of the Human Genome...
  • No, Jon, they couldn't. Those have been proven to be mostly environmental factors. There are a few mental disorders that lead to those, but nothing in the genetic code. Did you do any research on modern psychology before writing this?

    But research gets in the way of writing over the top tripe like this.

    It's inevitable with Mr. Katz's writing: when he writes about technology, he mangles the concepts. When he writes about history, he often gets his facts totally wrong. And when he writes about psychology he so often misses the point that it is laughable. Hell, Mr. Katz's comments on the United States clearly tells me he has never traveled overseas--it's as if his knowledge of world affairs was spoon fed to him by old 1930's National Geographic magazines.

    He's like Rush Limbaugh: so completely wrong he's entertaining.
  • This syndrome might have genetic origins in some cases.

    And in the rest of cases?

    It's environmental.

    This just goes back to the old nature verses nurture arguments. Further, the reality of any mental disease, including those which have clear-cut biological sources, can often be brought into check through proper counceling, exercise and a good diet. That is, even for biologically caused mental diseases, environment can be used to bring the disease into check.

    Seems to me that it's nurture: 19, nature: 2.
  • Most (if not all) skinheads/KKK fuckwits/neo-nazi morons are Christian. Coincidence? If you think so, you too are a moron.

    Most skinhead/KKK/neo-nazi morons profess to be Christian, but they only use the symbols of Christianity as a front for what is in essence a neo-pagan ego-centric system of beliefs in which Jesus is reduced to a bit player in a pantheon of older Norse or Astru Gods.

    Not that I have a problem with neo-paganism per se. But these folks then commit the additional crime of twisting their pseudo-Christian neo-pagan religious system around a twisted and evil interpretation of how the world works, with their sick-ass hides dead center in their own twisted mystical system.

    Calling this "Christian" is like calling the Dali Lama the Pope. They're not even on the same continent.

    In the unlikely event that you Bible-pounding shitheads get your way and Baby Bush gets elected to office, we would see a nice shiny new nation of perfect white Aryan babies.

    Likewise, most Christians are not skinhead/neo-nazi/KKKers. Claiming this is equivalent of claiming that all neo-pagans are evil, or that all Witches should burn for the crime of Witchcraft. Or that all Athiests are in league with a Devil they don't even believe in.

    There is a place for people like you...the lion pit at the zoo.

    Dude--did you ever think of switching to decaf?
  • Bear in mind that Catholics are not Christians since they worship the virgin whore rather than God.

    And Christians worship a bastard? Or just the child of a whore?

    Oh, no--that's right: Jesus wasn't a man, dispite being a carpender and born to a woman--he's one face of a three-faced God. That's how most "Christians" who claim Mary was a "virgin whore" get around the fact that they worship idols (the crucifiction, or the aspect of God which is Jesus) in direct violation of one of the ten commandments.

    Don't complain too hard about the reverence of the mother of Christ--your trinity or the belief in Jesus who may or may not be a man as the mood strikes you isn't exactly the most sound of theological grounds to be arguing from...
  • Does biology make a difference in behavior? Sure.

    Are there mental diseases which are organic in origin? Of course.

    Is there a gene which determines if someone is predestined to be a criminal, a geek, or a cheerleader? Hell, the best we can say about the genes we know about is that there are genes for things like breast cancer--but they only indicate a greater tendency towards breast cancer. And hell, that gene isn't even the biggest indicator that if you are a woman, you will develop breast cancer during your life.

    Personally I don't give a damn about the fraud of one researcher. What concerns me is the presumption that our genetic heritage predestines who we are, what we are, and how we shall behave.

    Otherwise, if there is a gene for criminal behavior, then we cannot arrest criminals: by virtue of being genetically predestined to a certain behavior pattern, we could argue legally that that predestined behavior is as protected as other birth traits which are legally protected, such as skin color or gender.
  • I would completely disagree with the statement that these things are clearly delimited. big-bang vs creation? How delimited is that?

    It's not as clear cut as that. While we can demonstrate that a literal reading of Genesis is clearly not how the world came into being, even the Roman Catholic Church states that the tale in Genesis is a spiritual and religious metaphore as to how God created the Universe. Just as the wine and cracker does not literally turn into human blood and human flesh, so can the "truth" in Genesis be a metaphore for something spiritually higher.

    But who are we to say that it wasn't the Will of God who created the initial spark which resulted in the Big Bang? Most rational scientists, when pushed, cannot say with certainty what happened at T+some fraction of a second. Who is to say that it wasn't God who said "Let There Be Light!" at T - some fraction of a second?

    And that's the point. Science can answer the question about mechanism, about physical laws, and about the history and the way things progressed and how things are put together. But the why of the Universe--if it was put together by a Master Clock Builder or is the happenstance of some random confluence of chaotic events--this is beyond the relm of Science. To ask why the Universe is is to ask a question only Faith can answer.

    Although science is the study of cause and effect with the five senses, there are many scientific articles which continually extrapolate on what the have observed to postulate thier views on religious topics.

    Oh, sure; I read those articles all the time. Gives a great insight into the workings of some scientists.

    However, there are definite limits as to what is properly the relm of Science. And speculation into the Mind of God doesn't fit, unless we could get an interview with Him on CNN.

    I mean, hell: for all we know, we're the spontaneous and random creation of an uncaring universe which just happened to accidently create intelligent life on a small speck of dust in some unimportant corner. Or perhaps there is a God and He is the Omega Point--the superintelligent and supernatural creation of Man who becomes so powerful and intelligent that He (our literal creation) envelops creation and, going back in time, sets the whole thing in motion. (A'la a wonderful short story by Issac Asimov.)

    Or perhaps we were created by a Native American Coyote God which created the big bang as a cosmic prank.

    My point is we don't know. And we cannot know, because by the very definition of the supernatural (which are events or things which are unmeasurable), we cannot know.

    And an excerpt from the beginning of (Darwin's Origin of Species)...

    And don't forget that in later editions, Darwin said that he was presenting the "how" of creation--but that he firmly believed in a Christian God who set the whole thing in motion. This led philosophers down the whole "Deism" movement where some believed that God simply set the universe in motion and has since abandoned us to our own devices. (Well, actually, as God is omni-everything, he was able to set a perfect universe into motion, and thus no longer needs to tend the whole thinng.)

    But Darwin never drew the conclusion that why we were created--he only presented the mechanism for how, and left his belief in why to a Christian God he fervently believed in.

    Creation is "supernatural", and can't be disproven (how can you disprove creation using cause and effect when the cause is supernatural), yet darwin extrapolated his theory to specifically deny creationism.

    We have no reason to know if Creation was supernatural or not. And remember: Darwin limited his arguments to the evolution of species--he only outlined the "how" but said that he believed the "why" was a Christian God pulling the strings on chance.

    As we understand better the mechanisms of life and of Chaotic systems, we can better answer the "how" of how life began in terms of chemical reactions and chaotic systems creating localized ordering out of chaos. But the why is never implied in the research: a perfect God may have created a perfect Universe in such a manner that the "spontaneous" creation of his likeness was the inevitable result of his setting the whole thing in motion. Or perhaps he has been tinkering with "chance" all along. Or maybe we're just really damned lucky to exist at all, as the whole thing was just the chance meeting of chemical compounds in a biological soup.

    As a mathematician, I don't think pure science (the study of cause and effect) is evil (ridiculous),...

    Well, duh! What I ment to say (and apparently had a typo) was that knowledge is not evil, but it's indescriminate use has the potential of being evil. A gun could be a great tool for hunting for food for starving children. Or it can be used to blow your best friend away.

    The gun is not evil. Only the intent of it's user. And only in relation to the moral and ethical structures we use as a society for us to get along: maybe your friend was trying to kill a small child when he was stopped by a bullet.

    ...if you believe in a higher power, and you believe he has revealed himself in some way to you, yet you extrapolate your theories against that to the detriment of mankind, you are not exactly heavenly.

    Well, setting aside the fact that I never stated what I believed (for all you know, I'm an american Indian who secretly sits naked under the stars playing a flute and dreaming of Coyote's wisdom), I'm not sure what you are talking about when you say "yet you extrapolate your theories against that to the detriment of mankind."

    While I strongly disagree with the original fellow who seemed to imply that there is some knowledge which should be forbidden, there is a grain of truth in the notion that perhaps there are types of experiments or areas of research which should not be performed. Not because these areas of research are inherently evil, but because to a civilized society, they are repugnant. But it seems to me these should be limited to areas such as the NAZI research programs on concentration camp Jews in various areas of eugenics and other NAZI medical research programs.

    But ultimately, Science and Religion are oil and water: the Science asks "how" and Religion asks "why." And when mixed together with a few spices, the whole thing makes a really tasty combination... :-)
  • I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it seems that in the current technophilic age we can find a thousand articles with one theme: "we're too dumb to handle technology" which really means "those Other People are too dumb to handle technology."

    You forget that this is the first fundamental theorm of politics--that politics and political limitations are set not because we can't take care of ourselves, but because those other dumb fuckers can't take care of themselves.

    This logic goes into justifying everything from antiabortion rhetoric to nuclear arms races to jaywalking laws and everything inbetween. This is used to justify socialism (we can't trust the economy to the "invisible hand" because the "invisible hand" is just a bunch of dumb fucks who don't know how to buy stuff). This is used to justify web censorship using stupid programs like Net Nanny (we can't trust the web to the general population because the general population is made up of a bunch of dumb fucks who can't control their kids). This is also used to justify anti-pornography laws (we can't trust those other dumb fucks not to get hairy hands).

    In fact, I cannot think of a single law of the land which doesn't at least have part of it's justfication in the "we can trust ourselves, but we can't trust those other dumb fucks" theory of politics. Except perhaps some of the more fundamental ideas of social justice (i.e. "don't murder, don't steal" stuff).

    Ever wonder why Congress exempts itself from many of the laws Congresscritters pass for you and I? Because they trust themselves. They just don't trust dumb fucks like us.

  • by w3woody ( 44457 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @08:37AM (#968025) Homepage
    You probably also believe the quote is "money is the root of all evil", when it's actually "the love of money is the root of all evil."

    My point being that it's not knowledge which is evil. It's the use of that knowledge, unchecked by ethics or morality, which is evil. Just because you can read on-line how to build an atomic bomb doesn't make you an atomic superpower. And just because you can read on-line how to murder someone and get away with it doesn't make you a hit man.

    Science can be a tool for good in our society when it allows us to better ourselves and become closer to Heaven,...

    It is not the role of Science to bring us closer to Heaven. It is the role of Science to help us understand how the material world around us appears to work. It is the role of Religion to bring us closer to spiritual perfection. I'm sure you'd probably be very upset if you walked in on your Priest or Preacher using an electron microscope to dissect the Bible.

    Yet these "scientists", having already condemned decent Christian morality as being "backward" or "superstitious",...

    Many scientists are Christians. Most others profess a belief in God or in a divine spark or a higher power that transcends this material plane. It's difficult to condemn yourself.

    What some scientists do condemn is not Christians or Christianity, but the very small few who are in fact backwards or superstitious because they don't understand what Science is about--and attempt to condemn all of Science as a force of Lucifer or somesuch.

    Science can be a tool for good in our society when it allows us to better ourselves and become closer to Heaven, but there are things which just aren't meant for people to understand, let along attempt to tamper with.

    Of course there are things that man are not meant to understand, but instead must take on Faith. Anyone properly grounded in the underlying philosopical systems which drive the Scientific Method knows this.

    However, anyone who knows how Science works knows that these area which man must take on Faith are clearly delimited--things such as the nature of God, the existance of the supernatural, or the nature of the Infinite. It's not that performing scientific experiments on God is Evil--it's that Science, properly defined, clearly says that it cannot explain these supernatural elements. Hense, supernatural.

    But to decide that certain material inquiries into certain concrete elements such as the nature of the Human Genome is evil: these are not the pronouncements of God. I don't see "Human Genome Project" mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

    No, it's man (specifically, certain "christians" such as yourself) who pronounce certain material lines of research as evil. And as we all know, man is fallable.

    Are you so confident in your faith that you believe you can speak for God Himself?

    I have extremely little patience in people who fail to understand Jesus's words about witnessing. I have very little patience in people who profess to be "christian", but whose loud "trumphet calls" of "faith" essentially boil down to bashing others. (Jesus Himself had something to say about people like you who do this sort of thing: and it ain't all that good.)

    And I have very little patience in people who create strawmen (such as your demonstratably false presumption that scientists are not religious) in order to advocate their own political agenda disguised as a communication presumbably from the Mouth of God Himself.
  • When it comes right down to it genetics play a small role in who we become. The biggest player in the mix is of course your enviroment. It's what's taught you and that you teach yourself. It's what you see in others that you like and dislike and decide to change in yourself. It's the little random events that seem so small but change your life forever. Genetics might play a part, say, in making you retarded but even then you play a role for others, perhaps by showing others that compassion is a good trait.

    And the question remains. If you take a gene and make your child a great artist/sports star/scientist what happens when all the other parents do the same? What happens when everyone is one of the "Beautiful People"?

    The question concerning science has always been "Can we do it?" The question is becoming more and more "Should we do it?"
  • Um, wasn't the main theme of Frankenstein that of man being afraid of what he does not understand?

    But anyway, yeah, I think the US is one of the least prepared societies to deal with something like this. Drug companies spend billions trying to figure out how to put hair back on the head of a fat lazy american while africans are dying of AIDs in the droves because they can't afford the $600/month drugs when they only make about $1/month. We should concentrate on applying the technology to the problems at hand instead of trying to get rich designing superbabies.
  • > [The HGP is ] like any other huge and potentially dangerous human advance. People will first misuse it, they will get burned very badly, and then they will learn how to control it and how to use it in such a way as to benefit them and not burn them.

    Thanks for putting this so succinctly.

    Natural selection still applies even in the presence of genetic engineering technology. It's just that "silly hominids tinkering with genomes" becomes part of the environment in which we live.

    If a given genetic modification enhances survivability, the mod will propagate. If it doesn't, the mod will die out.

    The first few humans to engineer "better" babies will introduce some fascinating mutations into the gene pool. Some will choose to breed Schwarznegger-like hulking giants because they always wanted to be captain of the football team, and they can now live their dream through their mutant sprog. Others will attempt to get the aforementioned hulking giants with IQs of 200. Still others will try for IQs of 300 even if it means the resulting mutant is basically a brain in a vat of amniotic fluid, hooked up to a bunch of robotic actuators.

    Some of these mutations will be "successful", in that they'll catch on because the mutant "does better" in society. Ask yourself, though... do we live in a society in which captains of football teams really have enhanced survivability? They may get the chicks in high school, but unless they've got the brains to make it through college, most of 'em end up pumping gas for geeks. How "survivable" is that? Likewise, any megacephalic cyborg-brainmen thrown into our school system will be beaten to death before puberty, and will never live long enough to revolutionize physics. (A few wealthy families may raise their brainmen outside of the school system, and maybe they'll end up well-adjusted and productive. Or not. But maybe it's worth trying. We're humans -- "maybe it's worth trying" is what we done since the first primate touched the monolith in 2001 and invented the "tool".)

    Right now, we rub our wabbily bits together and make do with whatever random assemblage of genetic detritus comes out of the womb. The phrase "regress to the mean" comes to mind. The technology to engineer for desired traits merely means that even the wabilly-bit-rubbers will have a wider and more diverse selection of genetic material to work with in the future. (The really extreme examples probably won't mate with wabilly-bits, but will use test tubes, eggs, sperm, and other bits of genetic code. All this means is that we'll have more than one mechanism of reproduction and that our defintion of survivability will likewise have to be adjusted.) Whacked-out gene hackers will add to the diversity in the gene pool, not detract from it.

    In practical terms, all this means is that we'll have upped the mutation rate. Just as with evolution, 99% of the mutants will probably fail. 1% might be viable on their own. Big deal. (And as an aside - a 99:1 ratio is probably pretty damn good, evolutionarily-speaking. With technology progressing as fast as it is, conventional mutation rates just aren't fast enough to keep up. Maybe we need this.)

    Finally, the claims that this will somehow threaten all of humanity are hogwash. This technology - when it's finally developed - is going to be extremely expensive for the next 100-odd years. This will render it totally inaccessible to 90% of the world's population. There'll be plenty of "au naturel" human genetic stock to go around for centuries.

    Let's see. Lots of unadulterated human stock around as a matter of necessity for the next 200-odd years. An increase in both the absolute mutation rate and the "beneficial" mutation rate among one segment of the population.

    In evolutionary terms, this is a problem how?!?

  • I've criticized Katz before, after trying for a long time to resist, but this is better than usual. It's interesting and contains some non-obvious thoughts.

    People are generally foolish, at least in the US, about many issues involved with children. For example, it doesn't take much thought to realize that putting a kid in day care from six weeks old isn't as good for him or her as being raised at home. But parents are doing this by the millions, and they fool themselves into thinking that it is in their child's best interests, because otherwise it would be unspeakable. And there's a weird pre-occupation in the US with normal childbirth being an aberration of nature. You have to intervene and use vaccuums and drugs and such, and still have higher infant mortality rates than countries which aren't looked at as such world powers (Finland, Norway, Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland). Kinda seems silly to even think about genetic issues in light of the other nonsense that's going on.
  • by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @08:24AM (#968058) Homepage
    Please don't take this as 'The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth', but the cycle of life is a complex system, it would be arrogant and I believe ultimatly stupid for us to tamper too much with it at our present level of technology.
    Perhaps a better way to say it is that the diverse and robust shall inherit the earth. Intense specialization and uniformity allows an organizsm to take advantage of a certain niche with great success. But when that niche is endangered or eliminated, the organism goes with it. Witness that organizms with the ability to both sexually and asexually reproduce usually reproduce asexually in times of abundant resources, and reproduce sexually when the situation becomes less certain. What things like the sickle cell/malaria link show vividly is that a diverse population that includes unplanned 'defects' in their genetic code has a much higher survivability than a genetically uniform population. When conditions change, a diverse population has higher odds of being able to withstand the change, because odds are somebody is going to have that one gene that lets them get by and carry on the line. Spending too much time guiding humans towards a specific ideal is nearsited, because it is based on the assumption that our needs and situation will not appreciably change in the conceavable future.

    "Sweet creeping zombie Jesus!"
  • by dbarclay10 ( 70443 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:42AM (#968080)
    With all this, but I'd like to raise a few more points. I'm all for Free software, and open development, but I almost think the Genome project was too open. Had it been done in the cold war era, the various governments involved would have kept their mouths shut. There'd have been no drooling politicians nor ravenous corporate CEOs waiting for its completion. The world would have been a better place for the knowledge, but it would have been an even better place for the control based on that knowledge. You see, I have the ability to build a nuclear bomb. It'd take me some time and effort, but I *could* build it. Except that I have to fissionable material. It's kept under tight lock-and-key. Now, all these gene-splicers are available commercially. I'll have the knowledge. What's left from someone building a virus to end all virii? Heck, what's stopping someone from making a puppy with softer fur, that end up carrying the virus that ends all virii?

    My two-and-a-half cents

  • by eries ( 71365 ) <.slashdot-eric. .at.> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @07:53AM (#968081) Homepage
    Katz has just released his first piece of FUD against a competing technology.

  • by d-man ( 83148 ) <(chris) (at) (> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:38AM (#968104) Homepage
    Unfortunately for the world, it's hard to imagine a more poorly equipped society to deal
    with the Human Genome Project than the U.S.

    Yeah, too bad that 1940s Germany didn't get a hold of this information.

    Try the decaf, Jon.
  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:41AM (#968118) Homepage
    If you think about it, genetic engineering could be see as the logical next step in evolution. Because of the nature of evolution, the 'perfect baby' isn't necessarilly going to be the fittest that survives.

    One way or another, the cat is out of the bag, so within our lifetime, we may be able to catch a glimpse if this 'mutation' is beneficial to us as a species, or if it has doomed us to genetic homogoniety.

    On the positive side, now I can name my first kid Khan...
  • by MattW ( 97290 ) <> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:53AM (#968142) Homepage
    This was a notch above recent Katz posts. Again, I wish Jon would turn his considerable talents towards the introduction of original thought, however, rather than simply lacing the obvious with witticisms and passing it off as news.

    That said something jumps out from reading the article: there's a big difference between eugenics and genetic enhancement. The fact is, there are a lot of significantly disadvantaged people in the world. They lack the intelligence, or possibly even general health and well-being, to compete in and contribute to society. Nothing is so humbling as to step back and realize that no small measure of your own success is due to gifts given you in a grand game of chance, which you did nothing to deserve. Genetics gives us the chance to equalize the luck of birth for all people. This cannot be inherently bad. Or, to romanticize it less than Katz: if you know 1 in 100 babies with be born with genes for a removable genetic defect which will render them retarded, what is the greater ill -- to fix their genetic code, or to birth them and claim, "Everyone is acceptable"?

    I'm not preaching unacceptance. I believe everyone's life has an equal inherent value. But what a person derives from their own life is largely contingent upon their blessings, or lack thereof, of genetic chance. To give everyone a chance to start equal should appeal to people on every part of the political spectrum. And this is the best way, of course, by raising up the less fortunate through a "miracle" of science, rather than by handicapping the more capable, which is a popular theme in today's world.

    As a final thought on that first observation, society needs to require responsible parents for such children. If you add genetic enhancement to the mix of poor, ill-equipped parents without time to raise their children, society may find itself in the midst of a boom of genius criminals, and one person I respect has observed to me before that it is much easier to destroy than create. For those of the security vein, the observation was it is considerably easier to penetrate a system than to truly secure it. Similarly, it is easier to destroy life than to protect it, and rushing ahead of ourselves by over-enhancement may mean our own destruction. We may end up with the power to create our own mad scientists, as it were, and sadly, as often as they are romanticized to go hand in hand, moral responsibility does not accompany scientific prowess.

    In the end, you simply cannot ignore the benefits that can be enjoyed as a result of this ambitious research. You cannot turn back the clock -- you cannot unsplit the atom, make the world flat again, or place the Earth at the center of the universe. And that said, you cannot undiscover our genes. The reason Gattaca was so poignant was not only the warning it gave, but the certainty many felt upon seeing it that society would face that moral dilemna.

    It is now up to all of us to see we make the right choices for everyone, take moderation to heart, and use technology responsibly, while guarding against those who would abuse it.
  • by Nissyen ( 101509 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:52AM (#968153) Homepage

    Since the discovery of fire and the wheel (both of which have been used to good and evil) every technological breakthrough has had both wonderful and disasterous consequences. Everything we discover can be used for both good and evil. Should we stop making breakthroughs and abandon research all together?

    Hell no!

    The discoveries are neutral, and we're the ones who make good and bad uses of these discoveries. Unfortunately some people irresponsibly pervert our best intentions, and though unfortunate, I do not see this ending any time soon. However, I believe the benefits of research outweigh the bad consequences derived from it, and far outweigh the consequences of abandoning research on any subject.

  • by jalefkowit ( 101585 ) <`jason' `at' `'> on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:53AM (#968154) Homepage
    Unfortunately for the world, it's hard to imagine a more poorly equipped society to deal with the Human Genome Project than the U.S.

    Um, no it isn't:

    • Nazi Germany
    • Stalinist Russia
    • Any ethnic-cleansing-happy Balkan state

    See, that wasn't so hard. If there was a Nazi state today (say, if Hitler hadn't been dumb enough to invade Russia), it would be hard to imagine anything worse than that state having the genome map -- instead of murdering Jews and Slavs and Gypsies and homosexuals and the other "inferior races", they could just engineer them out of existence with the force of the state behind the "genetic cleansing" effort, rather than just personal decisionmaking. Compared to that, I'd say the U.S. is much better prepared to handle this new technology!

    Of course, there are serious ethical and philosophical issues at stake with this new technology, as there are with all new technologies. But Katz's hyperbole is a little bit out of proportion to the stakes at hand, as per usual.

    -- Jason A. Lefkowitz

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @07:16AM (#968184) Journal

    "...but this is now officially Frankenstein time..."

    Cool! What does a time/era/moment in history have to do to get "official" status? Maybe I can get next year officially declared "daemon time."

    More generally, it's funny how Jon writes such scary, dramatic, button-pushing stuff about 'media megahype.' Maybe he's not heard that old parable about the pot and the kettle.

  • by Lowther ( 136426 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:48AM (#968265)
    Unfortunately for the world, it's hard to imagine a more poorly equipped society to deal with the Human Genome Project than the U.S.

    I am British. And I can imagine a few .....

    UK under Margaret Thatcher - she would live on forever

    Germany in the mid 30s - the Aryan dream ...

    Ceaucescu's Rumania

    Any culture who values children of one gender over the other

    Mr Katz is being a little harsh on the US. Nowhere in this world is perfect.

  • When "man" (which I will use as a term for humankind, thank you) first gained an understanding of how to control fire. I'm betting the first application was weaponry. One of the most famous wheeled vehicles is the chariot, a vehicle (primarily) of war. Splitting the atom led to the fiery destruction of two significant cities in a certain very nasty war.

    Today, nasty things are still done with all three of those inventions/discoveries. Arson, self-immolation, flamethrowers and deforestation are all carried out through, what a shock, controlled fire. How many people are hit by cars somewhere in the world every day? And nuclear accidents are generally accepted as reducing the quality of life for a great many of the earth's residents, human and nonhuman alike.

    They've also brought us great advances in the way we live our lives, from easy transportation (And all that that brings), to cooking food, to being able to run your microwave and your clothes dryer at the same time. These are all things that we take for granted. Today, no one (Or at least, almost no one) suggests that the discovery of how to control fire is a bad thing; It makes our very way of life possible.

    Any technology can be misused, and generally is. The issue is how we will misuse it. I'm a lot more concerned about death by nuclear fire than engineering people for desirable facial characteristics, because you can't engineer someone's brain with it. While there is a great deal of debate on the subject, the common consensus is emotional development occurs throughout life, long after your genes stop their most puissant magic.

    We can achieve a great deal of good with genetic engineering, and we already have. Tampering with the genecode is just another step. Like any other advance in technology, it will be used for "good", and for "evil". I think it's safe to say that it can and will be used for the wrong reasons, but I also have a certain amount of faith in human indignation which leads me to believe that by and large, it can become just another part of our lives.

    This does raise ethical questions, as people have mentioned repeatedly before me. I do believe however that they will boil down to christian "science" vs. medical science: Is it right NOT to tinker with the genes for, for example, downs syndrome. Mark my words: When such a debate comes up, a (possibly bad) science-fiction writer will write a book in which a "person with downs syndrome" saves the city/state/nation/planet/universe/etc, sort of like that Star Trek movie with the whales. Who knows, maybe it'll even become a made for TV movie. "Sci-Fi channel presents: Not without my genes, starring Chris Elliot".

    Seriously though, we have problems today with whether not taking your child to the doctor is faith or abuse, and it can only get worse with the advent of gene tampering. Let's say your child is going to be born with some horribly crippling illness; Is it faith or abuse when you refuse to change them because they are cranked out according to god's plan?

    Personally, I'm hoping that within my lifetime we start tinkering with genes (IE, retroengineering) for purely cosmetic reasons, so I can ditch the body hair I don't need, and maybe kick my metabolism up a notch or two so I can keep my weight down. It wouldn't hurt to be able to re-engineer for longetivity, a lack of hair loss, and a lower occurence of split ends, either.

  • Consider now that almost 50% of our nation is creationist, and you can expect the majority of them to consider that a sin. Then take the rest of the religious types in the nation. A large portion of them will consider that wrong. Most of the rest will think it wrong to manipulate anything but things that are *obvious* disease.

    In the light of this discovery, I can't help but think of works such as Brave New World or Gattaga. The initial danger won't be perfect children: it will start small and grow from there. Initially, parents will be able to screen all types of genetic diseases. Then, perhaps they are allowed to choose cosmetic things (eye/hair color, height, weight, build). Yes, environment plays a big role in things like that, but much of it is genetically determined. Many parents will be opposed to this, but undoutedly some would take advantage of it. If the results were successful, healthy children, more and more parents would try this, until it perhaps became the norm.

    Eventually, many parents won't have any trouble building their children like so much object-oriented programs. This was explored in Gattaga: what then happens to those children who are still created naturally? If your an insurer, would you give the lower rate to someone who is guarenteed to not have any genetic disorders (heart disease, diabeties, etc), or the one your not so sure about? What about if your an employer, and one applicant is guarenteed to have no desire to take drugs, while the other applicant is natural born, so who knows?

    Do you *honestly* think that the government won't pass laws that say that you can't be discriminated on by basis of genetics, the same way they did with race, sexuality, gender identity, age, etc?

    And of course, discrimination based on race, sexuality, gender, identify, or age NEVER happens in America now, does it? Please, wake up. Besides, genetically enhanced people really could have an advantage over others. It might be possible to make a person faster and stronger, with higher IQ's and faster reactions. Discrimination laws have always been based on the idea that someone of a different race/sex/etc is capable of performing equally well as another in a certain job, but what if that isn't true when dealing with natural/engineered people?

    I'n not trying to condem the Human Genome project here, but I do agree with Katz: extreme caution is needed when dealing with this subject.
  • by yankeehack ( 163849 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:56AM (#968325)
    Quality control is the perfect term for some aspects of genetic research. As of this week, quality control is truly possible for humans. Parents invevitably, even understandably, will seek perfect children.

    Great hyperbole, but "quality control" as you define it, already happens today in the forms of ultrasound scans, amniocentisis, and other prenatal testing.

  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Thursday June 29, 2000 @06:55AM (#968365)'s hard to imagine a more poorly equipped society to deal with the Human Genome Project than the U.S.

    North Korea
    and the list goes on and on...

    You have resorted to wild hyperbole before, John, but this time you are just being silly.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court