Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Ron Bailey has an interesting article in Reason about the lunatic objections of neocons such as Bill Kristol and Francis Fukuyama to various biotech research areas. These guys are seriously worried about pig/human chimeras and "chimp-girl" slaves I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!!!! These guys are way out of their depth here, I think. They clearly have read a few reviews, columns and position papers from neocon sources, and now think they know all about it! I can't even begin to articulate my anger at their incredible arrogance. People spend their whole lives trying to understand the inner workings of a single virus or bacterium, or a type of specialized cell in a particular animal or plant. These researchers make tremendous contributions to everyone's lives, and then some neophyte who has read a few Science News and Views articles is going to come along and tell them to stop everything, because they are sinning against nature or God or whatever?? Give me a break. Stick to the euphemistic squishy b.s. about which politician is wearing the wrong clothes, or psychoanalyzing each other, and stop mucking with things you don't understand. Or, better yet, take a class in Mol. Bio, read some Nature or Science reviews, and actually try to understand something before you pontificate. Here are some choice quotes from Bailey's article.

The conservative bioluddites are overlooking a few practical concerns, like the fact that mothers willing to bear "subhuman slaves" in their wombs are likely to be scarce. And who would want a "subhuman slave" anyway? Fully human slaves don't appear to work out so well in the modern world. If you want real travel efficiency you don't call for a slave-carried palanquin. You get into your Dodge Neon. If you need to write a letter you don't summon your scribe. You fire up your Apple Notebook.

Who doubts that ever more efficient and obedient machines will be cheaper and more practical solutions to the "servant problem" than any chimp slave would be? Anyone who has tried to supervise the activities of a 12-year-old for any length of time would likely pass on the opportunity to own one of Fukuyama's subhuman slaves.

The real question is, does biotechnology pose any novel moral concerns? And the answer is no. It is wrong to diminish the health or mental abilities of a child today—we call that child abuse and we outlaw it. We don't allow slavery, even for 12-year-olds. Biomedical research will not change these bedrock moral principles.

These conservative intellectuals have confused being human with merely having human DNA. They are treating human DNA as though it were sacred. But DNA is merely the chemical on which the digital code for how to make proteins is inscribed. Inserting a human gene in a pig or a petunia is not an act of sacrilege. Human DNA in a pig or petunia will make a protein, not a human being. Human beings really are more than the recipe it takes to make them.

In any case, Kristol and his cohorts conjure up these dystopic visions of Doctor Moreauesque half-human, half-animal creatures in an effort to frighten scientifically uninformed policy makers and voters into outlawing biotech research that they oppose on other grounds. What grounds? What they are really afraid of is that parents will some day use biotechnology to benefit their children, not harm them. So who is immoral in this debate?

I think that sums it up pretty well.