Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Friday, December 07, 2001

Today is a pretty slow news day, so here's a short "philosophy" and background statement. Some people prefer not to categorize themselves and others, but most of us can?t resist. I am probably what most people would call a liberal, but firmly on the civil libertarian side. Here?s a quick rundown of the major issues-War against terrorism, for it; War on Drugs, against it; Social Security privatization, against it; Free markets, for them (with some substantial caveats); Intellectual curiosity and honesty, definitely for them!!! I consider myself pro-choice, and if not anti-religion, at least deeply skeptical of its benefits. I don?t know if I am an atheist or agnostic (read that a couple of times!!), but I am sure as hell not a believer. My educational background is in biology, so anyone who wants to pick a creation/evolution fight with me, bring it on. I have become more equivocal on gun rights over the years. I am pretty much against owning a gun for me personally, but am also pretty sure that the 2nd amendment was put there for a reason, and not just so, as Homer says, the King of England can't come over here and push me around. Since cloning is one of the issues du jour, I will pontificate. I had a brief online discussion of this with Jim Taranto of OpinionJournal, and that helped me frame the debate in my mind. The central issue for many people, in this as well as the abortion question, is when does a fertilized egg become a person. Unfortunately, this is not a scientific question. At any stage of fetal development, there is some non-zero chance of the fetal development stopping, and a miscarriage occurring. This chance becomes very, very small toward the end of pregnancy, but stillborn children still occur, so it is clearly not zero. The question of when an abortion is ok, then, has very little to do with the biology of development. Along the same lines, the question of how much development an embryo may undergo and still be considered fit for scientific, or biotech industry harvesting, is also not a scientific question. We can establish some boundaries for each, though, based on the development process. I think most people are against abortions in the last trimester, for good reasons, both intellectual and emotional. Some very hard choices are present on an individual basis, but a good rule of thumb is, if it can survive outside the womb, you shouldn't kill it. At the other end of the spectrum, the question for therapeutic cloning is sharply limited by a utilitarian argument. Once the embryo passes through the blastocyst stage, and begins the involutions of gastrulation, it is no longer very useful as a source of totipotent stem cells (totipotent means can develop into any type of cell). As an aside, the arguments against cloning are utterly baseless, and seem to revolve around the ridiculous "don't mess with Mother Nature" idea. We have been doing exactly that for thousands of years, so why stop now? I have made a career (well, the beginning of one, anyway) doing exactly that, just with bacteria rather than people. At any rate, anyone who has read this far is probably fed up by now, so I will end this post...NOW!