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The Genome Project and the Dark Side 556

Posted by JonKatz
from the Victor-Frankenstein-was-a-piker dept.
The Human Genome Project, often referred to on this site, may be the most inspiring and disturbing technological project in contemporary history. It embodies the often tragic drama of contemporary technology: well-meaning people trying in the noblest way to improve the world; setting in motion forces few ordinary people understand, agree upon or are prepared for.

The Human Genome Project may be the most inspiring and disturbing technological project ever undertaken. This is the first time we've decided in so organized a way to alter the nature of life itself.

The project is a metaphor for everything that's both right and wrong about technology: well-intentioned people are using it to try to make the world better; at the same time continuously unleashing forces we haven't fully considered or agreed upon, and can't or won't control.

During the past few years, as many Slashdot readers know, scientists all over the world have begun a coordinated, systematic effort to create a complete biochemical description of the human genome - the DNA contained in the chromosomes of human cells - and to develop a genetic map indicating which components of this genetic material determine certain human traits, from depression to disease to susceptibility to addiction to eye color or artistic ability.

The project began in l990, part of a global effort co-ordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. Though its founders expected the project to last 15 years, advances in computing have accelerated the completion date; now it's only three years away. The goal of the human genome project is nothing less than to read and record the entire string of (at least) three billion letters in human DNA . According to a progress chart on the project's website, the progress towards mapping the genetics of human beings now stands at 36 per cent.

Aided by new supercomputers that analyze, store and distribute data faster that was thought possible even a few years ago, geneticists believe they have already identified the location of genes identified with dozens of disorders, including cystic fibrosis, some forms of mental retardation and Huntingdon's disease.

Supporters of the project hail it as a means of eliminating disease, emotional disorders and other forms of human suffering. But the risks and ethical dilemmas are staggering, especially considered against a backdrop of scant serious discussion anywhere in the world, certainly not in the United States.

Could employers and insurance companies obtain an individual's genetic information? Could government agencies or law enforcement authorities use genome research to invade privacy and predict behavior? Could prospective spouses demand DNA screenings to reject unsuitable mates?

Perhaps, most likely, will parents beginning using the results of genome research to begin the process of seeking out the "Perfect Baby?" To screen sperm and egg for, size, IQ, cloning, emotional and physical health?

There is no scientific consensus as to how far this project can go, or how quickly. Some geneticists have argued that the genome project is a pipedream, that the dream of unraveling the strands of human life are much more complex and mysterious than any scientific project can really grasp. But the history of genetics, supercomputing and technology all suggest that humanity is entering a new, inevitable era in the use of technology to alter human life, a direction that makes Victor Frankenstein's primitive experiments look like a crossword puzzle.

The genome project evokes a world practically bursting with technological hubris, a universe in which all children would be born healthy, and suffering would be greatly reduced. What could be nobler or more inspiring?

And there is a darker side to this radical project, even though few people in our society are considering it much. We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single Congressional debate (this in a country in which the mere mention of sex on the Internet sends legislative bodies into hyperdrive).

In effect, children may be given genotypes, genetic profiles. Offspring considered grotesque, revolting, impaired, repugnant or offensive could be eliminated.

How many parents will choose ugly kids when they can be assured attractive ones? Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

Biomedical ethicist Leon Kass is one of many scientists who worry about the pace of genetic research as well as its moral consequences.

"When a couple now choose to procreate," he writes in the eighth edition of "Technology and the Future," edited by Albert Teich (Bedford/St. Martin's), "the parents are saying yes to the emergence of new life in its novelty, saying yes not only to having a child but also, tacitly, to having whatever child the child turns out to be."

Our children, he writes, are not "our" children or posessions; they aren't supposed to live anyone's lives but their own. In altering the nature of new life, parents can not only live vicariously through their offspring but completely shape their lives.

Genetic screening is only one of the moral dilemmas our culture will soon face as the result of fast-moving genetic research. Scientists and biologists are nearly unanimous in their belief that within the next decade, someone, somewhere in the world will clone the first human being.

Given the history of technological breakthroughs once this technology has been unleashed, it's a near certainty that cloning will be used to create children. The nature of technology and much of the controversy and complexity that surrounds it is that people disagree about goals. Some parents will find it noxious to bring cloned humans into the world, others will find it irresistible, even noble.

This kind of social technology - conceived with the noblest of intentions - is not containable. It has no real direction beyond the fact that skilled scientists with powerful tools want to do it. In fact, not doing it seems as inconceivable as doing it.

But we're kidding ourselves if we think the only result will be the eradictation of some diseases and human suffering. Too many people will want to use it, too much money can be made off of it. The convergence of capitalism, technology and genetic engineering will be explosive, especially in a society as technologically thoughtless as ours.

Some forms of genetic selection - rarely labeled what they actually are - are already in widespread use, from genetic screening to prenatal diagnosis. They've already raised lingering ethical questions, only infrequently disseminated by journalists, politicians or scientists.

A quarter century ago, biologist Bentley Glass wrote of "The right of every child to be born with a sound physical and mental constitution, based on a sound genotype; the inalienable right to a sound heritage."

Maybe so. But is this a universal right, or one extended only to affluent people in industrial societies with access to advanced medical technology and generous insurance plans? What about developing and Third-World nations, where few will have access to Perfect Baby technologies? What about despots and dictators who might want to use genome maps to create certain kinds of communities and nations?

Have we really thought through the implications of unleashing medical procedures that would reduce the incidence of addiction, depression, retardation and physical disabilities? Are we comfortable living in a world in which whose categories of humanity - the retarded, the blind, the disabled - will disappear from our part of the earth? Do the healthy lose something when it's possible to eradicate the impaired?

Will the rights of children really be protected, or will the ultimate result of such pell-mell, until -recently- unimaginable tinkering be a world in which people are no longer distinct from one another - a humanity that's universally attractive, intelligent, able-bodied and eyeglass-free?

If any technological project embodies the engineer/author Samuel Florman's tragic view of technology, it's the genome project.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are most often credited in our culture with predicting the future, but both had spotty records. Increasingly, the writers who seems to have had the clearest bead on the 21st century were Orwell, author of "1984" and Aldous Huxley, who wrote "Brave New World," both foresaw the growing social movement towards conformity and the use of technology to shape and control culture.

But even he wasn't quite far-sighted enough. He thought government would be the force most likely to peep into our bedrooms, gather information on our tastes and behavior and pressure us to dress, talk and think uniformly. In this at least, he was mistaken.

In the 20th century, the most repressive forms of government - Communism, Fascism, Apartheid, Nazism - have collapsed or been defeated. Their efforts to censor culture or employ technology to control behavior have failed.

The most powerful institutions in our time aren't evil governments but powerful corporations with billions of dollars to conduct research, gather information and shape culture and society.

Modern corporations - Microsoft comes to mind - are not intrinsically evil, and have no political or ideological goals beyond money, but they are frighteningly powerful and influential, bigger than most governments on the planet and obvlivious to their own impact on creativity, freedom and individualism.

A generation ago, who could have imagined that one company would have its software in more than 90 per cent of the personal computers in the world?

Whatever the Genome Project ultimately does or doesn't uncover, it won't be Nobel Laureates and non-profit groups that get to control it or decide how this awesome new technology will be sold and used. It will likely be corporations, the only institutions in our society with enough power to acquire and manipulate mass markets.

In a world where people who want to have kids offer attractive men and women tens of thousands of dollars for their sperm and eggs, what might people pay for the Perfect Baby? And who do you think will control and own the patents and peddle the genetic maps?

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The Genome Project and the Dark Side

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  • In the future, everyone might be attractive, healthy, and sociable. Oh, the horror! Only Jon Katz could complain about that. Get over it, for cryin' out loud.
  • The HGP is disturbing, but in the sense the introduction of the production line was disturbing. It will probably have a net-positive influence on people's lives, but there is also room for unspeakable evil.

    How do you control this? Law! Order! Morality! All those things humans have generally been pretty good at maintaining all these years. Yes, there will be abuses, but most people and most civilizations will use the HGP data for net-good purposes.

    Just because we have the keys to human genetics doesn't mean we're necessarily going to take it for a joyride.

  • by rde (17364) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:12AM (#1475993)
    Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

    This, along with the 'beautiful and smart' argument, is the most commonly cited problem we'll face with genegeneering. But ask yourself this: how many people reading Katz' essay would be willing to splice 'compliance' into their sprogs? Not many.
    Regardless of the technology, there'll always be a percentage of people who'll misuse it, and there'll always be a group of people who'll assume that this percentage is a majority. But I'd like to ask a few questions.
    1. What percentage of the world's population were born into a world where their parents could take advantage of the latest medical technology?
    2. Even assuming that universal medicare becomes available, is the entire world going to agree on what constitutes 'beautiful'? 'Smart' is also in the eye of the beholder.
  • Little strings of atoms.
    Everything to make a chicken is inside that
    shell. The feathers, legs, tasty breast and
    the clucking sound. All from a little string
    of atoms.

    When I want to be really blown away I think about
    genes. Damn it's fun.
  • Huxley seems to have the clearest vision when it comes to this area. Brave New World is clearly what Gattaca was based on.

    Huxley's world was much different than the world of 1984. The majority of control was done subliminally, as oposed to the in your face, non-stop control tactics used in 1984. Instead of repressing sex, Huxley realized that through encouraging open sex, control was all the more easier. In his world, everyone goes around, happily bedding down with anyone they choose and high on drugs. People live well, are fed and babies are grown to exact conditions... who would complain? The only problem comes when an outsider, used to freedom, comes in.

    I believe that world has a much greater chance of occuring than the one in 1984 (though I love the book and the vision). Most simply because I do not really believe in true evil. But also because everyone in Huxley's world trully believe they are doing the right thing and those being controlled are genuinely happy.

    So I do see the possibility of that future... I think the transformation would be the most difficult (I would certianly try to stop it), but once the ball really started rolling... it would be very difficult to stop.
  • Could employers and insurance companies obtain an individual's genetic information? Could government agencies or law enforcement authorities use genome research to invade privacy and predict behavior? Could prospective spouses demand DNA screenings to reject unsuitable mates?

    Here's what I think:

    All that knowing a person's genetic makeup tells us is what that person has inherited. A prospective employer or mate can find out what our genetic makeup looks like simply by meeting our parents. Do most employers care if our parents had histories of drug addiction, or laziness, or criminal behavior? Or, to put it another way, when your fiance' wants to meet your parents before getting married, do you think that this is unethical? We as human beings are not completely determined by our chromosomes. The environment, and our own free will also take roles in developing who we are as individuals. People already understand that, and I think they will re-learn this when they discover that knowing the complete human genome is not a crystal ball into determining the character of a person.

    Earlier in this century, we dabbled in eugenics, only to learn that a "super-race," or perfect human beings are not possible, no matter how much you tweak and perfect genetics. I do think, however, that knowing the human genome will help us to eliminate many of the problems that arise from faulty genes, such as the ones that cause genetic disorders. Someday, we may even greatly slow down the aging process, by identifying which genes are responsible for certain types of bodily decay.

    I guess my point is, this is not technology to be afraid of.

  • by PG13 (3024) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:23AM (#1476014)
    There are many moral issues to genetic engineering (Katz mentioned several) such as wether only certain people have the benifit and what insurance companies may do with the data. However the on complete non-issue is whether it is a good idea to genetically engineer the species (we still need to be careful we do it well but we should definatly improve ourselves).

    What would you do if someone told you not to attend college as you were changing yourself. You would laugh at them no? Why isn't the same issue true with genetic engineering?

    Because people are afraid they will be obsoleted! As long as their aren't designer babies I can convince myself I am valuable for who I am. As soon as a man appears who is better looking smarter faster etc.. what do I have left. In addition it also attacks our egotism by PROVING we are not special but just strings of genetic code. Just like the Copernican model of the solar system genetic engineering will not be rejected because it is moral wrong but because accepting it is too much for our ego's and our power structures to bear.

    In fact we have a DUTY to genetically engineer our children as soon as it is safe. Standing by and lettting someone be maimed is nearly as bad as maiming them ourselves. Every instant we have the technology but don't use it we are effectively maiming our children. Whether it be in terms of the greater intelligence perfect eyesight or stronger bodies by not granting them these things we are hurthing them

    Finally this is an interesting issue but couldn't it have been presented in two paragraphs?
  • and lock up your daughters!!! It's BIG, BAD SCIENCE come to get us all and STEAL OUR SOULS!!!!
    And watch out, cause those EVIL corporations are gonna get us all. We are opening a PANDORA'S BOX we can never close.

    Sheesh, what a bunch of reactionary crap based on a confused and frightened outlook. I hate to burst your bubble, but you never actually SAID anything in that whole tirade, John. Sure, you named lots of big concepts and all the "big fears" that every red-blooded American (my apologies to others) is supposed to have at merest mention of genetic (insert verb here)-ing, but is there really any solid basis for these? No! Instead of trying to prey off the fears of your audience, one should enlighten them with fact and allow them to decide for themselves. Heaven forbid that people think for themselves.
  • by lordsutch (14777) <chris@lordsutch.com> on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:23AM (#1476016) Homepage
    I recommend anyone seriously interested (or even casually interested) in this topic check out Gattaca [amazon.com], an infinitely better exploration of this topic than this media rant. (Plus, it doesn't hurt that Uma Thurman is in it ;-).)
  • by jd (1658) <imipak@noSPam.yahoo.com> on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:25AM (#1476023) Homepage Journal
    Genetic screening is "old hat". Eugenics has been around almost as long as recorded history. The desire to destroy all that is different, in order to "defend" the power & status of "me and mine" is older still.

    The human genome project doesn't change the war between evolution and those who prefer stagnation. It merely changes some of the weapons used.

    The result, though, was decided long ago, before life ever evolved on this planet, before this solar system even existed. Stagnation, whether it's in the form of the "perfect" race, or the "perfect" anything, will always lose, in the end.

    The question that should be asked is not "do we want to play God with our children?", but "do we want there to be any children, after that?"

    Nature has shown, time and again, that it is capable of deadly, sudden change, and that it's oblivious to humanity's ego. A race of "perfect" beings, spawning yet more "perfect" beings, is liable to have a narrow gene pool, making it vulnerable to new plagues, changing environments, and other nasties. Without biodiversity, a small change can have a BIG impact.

    As I see it, humanity is likely to fragment over this issue. It usually does, when something major happens. Those who choose a dead-end path will die out, and those who don't, won't. Those who opt for a life of Eugenics choose, IMHO, the same road as the Luddites, which can only lead to oblivion. Change is the only certainty, and the only path with any long-term future. And trying to create super-humans, or "perfect" people can only kill that change.

    To put this another way, if we had had the ability to do genetic manipulation at the turn of the 20th century, there would have been no Rock & Roll. No Beatles. No Relativity. No nuclear fission or fusion. Professor Hawking would never have been born, his genes would have marked him as terminally ill. So, no black hole theory, either.

    With science and most of the original music this century effectively wiped out, society would have rapidly decayed, and either destroyed by a natural event (eg: meteorite impact, disease), or by man-made disasters (eg: global warming).

    If society does fragment, as I expect, I'll stay in the group that prefers to evolve. It has a future, even if the alternative seems to offer some short-term advantages.

  • Actually, rather than criticizing the genetic engineering of infants, which is bound to happen, he should focus on the ramifications.

    If the next generation is engineered to be nearer to perfection, what will happen to those now living? Gene-therapy on adults will only have limited ability to reorder cells, so adults can't modify themselves much. Those children of the next generation and present generations who are not engineered will get all kinds of discrimination, by insurance companies unwilling to pay for their greater health care costs, by schools and corporations who are unwilling to accept lesser candidates when newer, more perfect ones are available.

    Personally, I'm brushing up on my janitorial skills for when the next generation of software engineers are gene engineered from Linux Kernel hackers and the inventor of LISP, with the looks of supermodels.
  • by RNG (35225) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:28AM (#1476032) Homepage
    Hmm, JK paints this as a fundamental dilemma which only raises it's head now. Yet I would say that this is the oldest human dilemma: everytime we invent something we envision some use for it. After a while, someone figures out a different use for it and everybody goes: "Wow, we didn't see that coming."

    Let's see:

    • Fire: Great stuff. Without fire, your house could not burn down. Unfortunately you food would also be cold.
    • Guns: You can now protect yourself from all sorts of creepy folk. Unfortunately guns enable this kind of folk to kill you at a distance.
    • Cars: You can travel all over the place at any time during the day or night. Of course that also means that you're stuck in traffic jams, pollute the environment and might get into ugly accidents.
    • Computers: Wow, we now have technology to analyze all the data we have. Once this is done on a massive scale, coroprations and governments will know more about you than was thought possible a few decades ago.
    • Nuclear Energy: Yeah! We now have safe energy. Unfortunately some people want to make bombs out of this stuff. Oh yes, if there's an acceident and you happen to live near such a plant, you won't be a happy camper.

    So this seems to be natures way of saying There's no such things a a free lunch. Genetic engineering will just be the latest progress that will eventually bite us in the ass, with the difference this time around being that we're playing with the funamentals of life. However we have a history of playing with things before we actually understand them; the whole dilemma with genetically altered foods (and the dying butterflies) is just another illustration of what the future will bring. Brace yourself and let's just hope we get a lucky break ...

  • When Human Genomes become "open source" won't it be possible to exploit certain open doors?
    Imagine script kiddies as maniacal despots working on Biologicals.

    Of course, the other side of the coin is that you can fix the bugs, but how possible is that for an adult? Billions of chromosomes.... I'm not sure that's possible.

  • Laughable compared to what? Your commentary? So much for demonstrating through example. I agree, he has not presented any NEW information that has not been available to anyone with a subscription to Nature, or Science.
    But he did present the topic, and touched off on the basic issues of contention.
    These are routine and almost dogmatic for anyone following these developments.

    But I'm curious, coward, what exactly was laughable? Was Katz wrong in estimating a clone within a decade?
    Am I writing to one now?
    Out of 3X10^9 nth base pairs, what do you have to contribute?
    If nothing, then leave it on the bathroom wall.

    -Sleen
  • Katz suggests that people will try to have cheerful pliant children. While they may try it is very possible that even specifying the genetic code you may get VERY differnt personalities (think seperated twin studies). In addition people don't necesserily want pliant children, they want children who are like they were (live vicarously through your children) cloning is a far more likely danger here then the pliant children issue.

    (although given the sex biases in the US you might see everyone trying to engineer good looking but otherwise lacking daughters. Slashdotters need to band together for the good of the next generation and produce daughters genetically engineered for coding)
  • ...I suspect it will be the realization of just how little (in humans anyway) in under the complete control of genes.

    How many parents will choose ugly kids when they can be assured attractive ones? Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

    Few, perhaps. But will it matter? Parents who select the genes for cheerful and compliant offspring will quickly come to realize that these things are not controlled by genes. Look at dogs. Dogs would seem to be far more under the control of their genes than humans are (they don't have a culture, at least not to the extent that humans do). And yet dogs bred for generations to be vicious attack dogs (I'm thinking of Doberman pinschers, pit bull terriers and the like) can, with the proper upbringing, become gentle, loving, even compliant pets. Similarly, dogs bred for gentleness (retrievers and the like) can very quickly become vicious if they are abused as puppies, or trained as attack dogs.

    Gene therapy may offer the chance to control those things that are strictly - or even mostly - under the control of genes. When a gene is missing or damaged, and a disease is the result, gene therapy may help. This does not seem (to me) to be a bad thing. But behavior is not under the control of genes. Aspects of it may be (as when brain chemistry is altered as the result of a missing or damaged gene), but most brain chemistry is under the control - in large part anyway - of the environment.

    People who want good behavior from their children will not get it from gene therapy. They will get it from raising their children right.
  • that's right, everyone looking attractive. Maybe they should all have blond hair and blue eyes too. Maybe, because we have this great new group of people the other people aren't needed anymore. all those lesser developed countries that can't afford to buy their children only take up our space. Mybe we should kill them all, we know they are inferior. They are different the nus, they must be inferior.

    Sounds like grounds for another holocaust to me. Maybe you should think before you say that having no individuality is great.
  • Jon Katz raises all sorts of ethical worries surrounding the Human Genome project, but I feel he misses the point.

    The Human Genome Project sets out to *map* the Human Genome - it does not set out to fully understand it. What it does give is a wealth of reference material to help researchers fighting disease and disability try and identify common traits in their subjects.

    The Human Genome Project is *not* gene-therapy. It is *not* the new Frankenstein. It is not even being able to choose the appearance of your offspring. Too often the media ends up mistaking information about something as the means to actually do something - a bit like the difference between knowing that sufficient plutonium in the right place can go critical and actually trying to make an effective nuclear weapon. Witness the attempts made by governments all over the world to get a nuclear program going, and the number of successes. The theory is well understood - the practice is more difficult.

    Will the Human Genome project change our lives? Possibly. But only as the result of building on the database of information it gives us. The opportunity to allow the development of therapies to improve the quality of life for many people should not be missed. I agree that there are many applications of this information that are ethically-questionable, or morally repugnant, but the Human Genome Project is not the application - it is merely the reference.

    Maybe there should be a wider debate on the ethics of genetics, and genetic applications. It would be welcomed to see an informed and intelligent discussion, but with the current media's fixation with hyperbolae and sensation I fear that the important issues will once again get buried beneath an avalanche of "Frankenstein Foods" and similar headlines. Maybe that is an excessively cynical view but I repeatedly see important issues obscured by headline-grabbing stories running on people's fears. In this technological age, the public understanding of science is too often blurred and confused by scare stories in the general press - oh for a day when people are presented with unbiased information with which to make up their own minds.

    Cheers,

    Toby Haynes

  • It seems to me that for each 'holy grail' in the sciences that has been achieved, the result has been that we discover things are far more complex than we realize.

    Humans have this tendency (a "tower of Babel" complex?) to think "Ah, when we've achieved this thing, we will be in full control of the forces of nature" and when we get there, we often discover that even though we may have been "right" in our assumptions (e.g. the effect of each of these genes), there turn out to be an overwhelming number of other factors (e.g. eliminating the gene associated with X does not eliminate X). Sorta like the "butterfly effect" I guess (not that I want to start that argument up here).
    -
    <SIG>
    "I am not trying to prove that I am right... I am only trying to find out whether." -Bertolt Brecht

  • The use of antiseptics, often referred to on this site, may be the most inspiring and disturbing use of technology in contemporary science. It embodies the essential tragedy of contemporary technology; well-meaning people trying in the nobles way to improve the world; setting in motion forces few ordinary people understand, agree upon or are prepared for. Inspiring and disturbing - the use of antiseptics in surgery. Well meaning people are approaching what must surely be seen as a tragedy; the willing tragedy of modern science; running headlong into moral questions they are unprepared to deal with. Never before have we decided to alter the nature of life in such an inspiring and disturbing way. The project is a metaphor for everything that is right and inspiring about technology; and at one everything that is wrong and disturbing. Well meaning scientists have not considered the consequences. The project began in 1850, part of a country-wide effort led by inspired and disturbed maverick physician Joseph Lister. Working in obscurity in Scotland, he has uncovered an inspiring and disturbing truth about the essential nature of life; a new tragic revelation for out time. One with immense possiblities but yet tragicly disturbing consequences for the generation to come - that of the 1900s. Aided by microscopes tens and hundreds of times more powerful than those of even a few years ago, surgeons believe they have already identified the bacteria responsible for infecting surgical wounds. The enormous pace of technological development has led us to an inspiring yet tragic moment. We know which bacteria cause some of the dreadful post-surgery diseases of our time. And we know how to combat them. But has our society had sufficient time to decide if it indeed is something that we should be doing? Such is the technological tragedy of our time. There is no scientific consensus as to how far this project can go, or how quickly. Some geneticists have argued that the antiseptic project is a pipedream, that the dream of unraveling the strands of human disease are much more complex than than any scientific project can really grasp. But the history of medicine, optics, and chemistry all suggest that humanity is entering a new, tragic and nevitable era in the use of technology to alter human life. And there is a darker side to this radical, yet inspired, yet disturbing project, even though few people are considering it much. We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single parliamentry debate. In effect, people may begin to survive surgery in greater numbers. But is this what out postmodern society wants? Are we prepared to deal with a reduction in deaths following minor operations? Is this a GOOD THING, in our tragic yet disturbed society? "There is no such thing," writes Bishop John Milne, "as an entirely accidental co-incidence." And he's right. Which is why we must carefuly consider our response as a society to this inspiring and disturbing medical tragedy. In a world where people want to survive minor surgery, what might they pay for a clean operating theatre? And who will control and own the patents? And who will sell the technology? It is disturbing. It is tragic. It is inspired. But what can we do about it?
  • If the human genome project succeeds, most of these concerns will rendered moot. The goal of the project isn't just to map the human genetic code, but also to make the sequence totally and freely accessible to all. That would essentially remove the concerns regarding proprietary information and its use for purely financial gain.

    Humanity will have a struggle, but with equal access for all, I doubt it will be the horror story some imagine it to be. Our society will not become anything like what is portrayed in the movie "Gattaca" [sony.com] , although some aspects of the technology portrayed in that movie will indeed pop up.

    I think I can safely say that we all value our privacy a great deal. I just can't see the day when everyone will be so brain-dead that that isn't so. Some might argue that things are already becoming that way, but I see the opposite. I see privacy becoming a larger issue the more technology advances, not smaller.

  • Most of the people who work on the human genome project are married women commuting 50 miles and earning minimum wage working with radioactive isotopes all day. It's usually because they grew up thinking they were going to stay home and then their husband tells them they need to win the bread and what can you do. It's not like they spent their entire lives dreaming about changing the world.

    As far as computers and genetics are concerned, 5% of biology is storage, alignment, and tree making on the computer and 95% manual labor in the lab so let's not get too excited about using a biology degree to get into IT.
  • I usually get frustrated by the way Katz is treated by self-important /.'ers, but I think this was an article that could have been dropped in the bit bucket. Not a whole lot of new thoughts on the subject; mostly well-worn re-hashings of nebulous fear. The ethical consequences of technical innovations are worthy topics, but this was nothing new.
  • by Kaa (21510) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:40AM (#1476069) Homepage
    We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single Congressional debate

    And Katz speaks of this as if it were a BAD thing! Really, what could the interest of a politician, or of a whole bunch of congresscritters add to the debate except fuck it up?

    In effect, children may be given genotypes

    Er... genotype is an existing word. Look up its meaning in a dictionary (hint: you are using it incorrectly).

    Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

    For a whole variety of reasons. I, for example, definitely don't want my kids to be cheerful and pliant consumer-drones. In my book being "strange" is good.

    [human cloning] Too many people will want to use it, too much money can be made off of it.

    So, what's bad about human cloning? You've spent paragaphs hinting darkly about unspeakable horrors, but what are they? What is all that awful and horrible about human cloning? After all when it happens naturally and twins are born, nobody seems to be all that excited about it...

    Are we comfortable living in a world in which whose categories of humanity - the retarded, the blind, the disabled - will disappear from our part of the earth?

    Well, I don't know about Katz but I would be perfectly comfortable living in the world where there are no disabled people. I would also like to ask -- is Katz comfortable living in the world where nobody is sick with bubonic plague? How could he stay in the US where it is so hard to find cholera sufferers? And, to think, for example, about the artificialness of prostheses -- why, in the good old days if you lost a leg, you just lived without a leg, not tried to put on these awful metal-and-plastic contraptions -- right, Katz?

    What about developing and Third-World nations, where few will have access to Perfect Baby technologies?

    You mean if everybody can't have it, nobody should have it? I thought that this was a basic idea of Russian communism in the 20s, but it kinda went out of fashion since then.

    A generation ago, who could have imagined that one company would have its software in more than 90 per cent of the personal computers in the world?

    A generation ago who could have imagined personal computers? Besides, a generation (maybe 1.5 generations) ago one company had a presence in every American home and controlled the communications of the entire nation. Yes, I'm talking about Ma Bell. And, pray tell, what horrible things came out of this?

    All in all, this is another content-free rant.

    Kaa
  • In fact we have a DUTY to genetically engineer our children as soon as it is safe. Standing by and lettting someone be maimed is nearly as bad as maiming them ourselves.
    Back the f*cking truck up! My son (as I do) has allergies. He most likely got them from me. Are you saying that I'm a bad person for giving him allergies? I don't think so. I would never hurt my children intentionally. I am not maiming my children by not having them genetically engineered.

    Bad genes are weeded out of the gene pool by natural selection. Darwin anyone? The human race will become a genetic utopia in time. Give us a few million years, and I think we'll all be better off.

    As far as causing harm by not acting, that just pissed me off. How dare you accuse parents of maiming their children! Have a few kids and then rethink this argument.

    --
  • Well... I'm pleasantly surprised to see an article by Katz that isn't totally reactionary and jumping on the bandwagon of some horrible incident :) anyways...

    This is fascinating stuff but I'm not sure that we really need to worry about the *if it's right or wrong* issue. There is no way to stop technology and it's been on a major roll these days.

    I have to wonder about the "soul" of these new genetic beings that we are going to create. I know it's not something that can be scientificly measured, but I believe we all have them. (souls that is..well... most of us have them...:) So what happens to the soul of these *creatures* ?
  • by AngryMob (89923) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @05:46AM (#1476089)
    This article is meaningless, and this is why:

    First of all, Katz fails to qualify WHY exactly he is afraid of genetic selection - does he fear that everyone will, amazingly, select for the same thing? I don't agree. First of all, even when the HG is decoded, people won't agree on what's the 'better' standard - everyone doesn't go out and say, "Hey, let me go marry a blonde, so I can have blonde babies, because blonde babies are better!" - so why would they when they can choose it genetically?

    And if you're going to debate things like intelligence, it's unclear, even, how much they are genetically determined. Idiosyncracies of personality seem to have reasonably high heritability, but intelligence estimates vary drastically (read the Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray for pro-inherited intelligence, search PubMed [nih.gov] for hundreds of journal rebuttals of their dubious conclusions). Science isn't even close to agreeing on the genetic nature of intelligence.

    And, assuming in the future that they do find that intelligence is genetically determined, would Katz contend that genetic enhancement of intelligence is evil? That it's more 'human' and 'natural' to have stupider kids? I fail to see the meaning of such sentiments - they're simply vacuuous blubbering and fear of change.

    Finally, any sort of eugenics is impossible. First, there's no one to enforce any standard - who will decide, with an open Human Genome, what's good and what's bad? Not the government, certainly. No matter what, people will always have the right to normal children, and so it's impossible for the government to try and restrict genomic choice. GATTACA, fine, maybe. Nice dream. Not going to happen. There's nothing inherently evil in the knowledge of the Human Genome - if the government was going to pursue eugenics in a socially dominating manner, it would have done it already. The Nazis tried, certainly. We can see how well they did.

    I agree with those who say that the Human Genome is going to be mostly positive. Genetic profiling may happen, I agree. It's likely that even with legislation against it you'll see genetic discrimination - but against what characteristics? Has anyone ever agreed on what makes a better human being? Why do you assume that, once we know the DNA code for the genome, everyone suddenly will?

    Sorry, i'm not buying it.

    SA
  • Absolutely, many people don't understand that we've already altered the rules in natural selection so that they don't apply to us. These same people get up in arms at the thought of manipulating our genome. We're already manipulating it for the worse, why not manipulate it for the better?

    How are we manipulating it for the worse? I'll use my sister as an example. My sister was diagnosed with cancer at the age of sixteen. She underwent surgery and radiation therapy as a followup measure. She'll have her (hopefully) clean five-year checkup next week, at which point she'll be officially "cured" of cancer. She's a normal college junior, whose only side-affects are a slightly crooked smile and a very small saliva gland (the cancer was under her chin, they peeled her whole face back to remove it, the photos are gross). How was this bad for the genome? Here's how:

    Suppose that she got cancer because she carries a genetic predisposition for it (this is entirely possible). Now if she's been cured of this cancer and goes on to reproduce, she may pass this "bad" gene on to future children, who may not be so fortunate with the placement and treatment of their tumors. If she hadn't had surgery or radiation therapy, she may well not have survived long enough to reproduce, thereby removing her icky genes from the gene pool.

    So what's the solution? Well, obviously we can't just not treat people who have diseases which may be genetic in origin, but we could sterilize them as a condition of their treatment. Now I'm not advocating this by any means, but if people are so gung-ho about maintaining natural selection, that's what they'd have to do.

    The alternative is genetic engineering, or screening our gametes for "undesireable" traits. Yes, this could possibly lead to reduced genetic diversity, thereby making us more suscpetible to disease, but there are so many variations on the human form already that I doubt we're going to be overrun by homogenous Leonardo DiCaprio and Cindy Crawford look-alike offspring anytime soon as long as we stick to the basic principles of you only being allowed to reproduce with the best of what you already carry, or by doing it the old-fashioned way.

    This sounds somewhat like the movie Gattaca (a great flick if you haven't seen it) but I'm not in favor of discriminating socially based on genetics by any means. The highest estimates of the genetic component of intelligence (for example) is 70%, that leaves at LEAST 30% to chance, environment, etc. I don't think our job interviews are going to consist of a blood-test anytime soon, as a blood test most likely wouldn't tell you of that unknown percentage, and we're not going to be even close to resolving nature vs. nurture anytime soon.
    ---
  • is actually public opinion. Corporations find it very hard to sell things if they piss off (much less kill) their customers (though the tobacco companies has had a good run). Now everyone is entitled to social theorising but I think it is worthwhile injecting some cold hard reality into the talk. Large governments will always lord over corporations because the legal system is a codification of social conduct. I would argue that distortions are more likely to be created by the law of unintended consequences (e.g. the patent system [smh.com.au]) and that public corporations can only operate within the bounds of legal and thus social acceptability (though the law may lag the technology). Once someone screws up in a major way, then legislation will be passed so quick that you head will spin. Good example is the shooting in Australia a few years ago which galvanised the public (and thus the government) to ban automatic rifles, not to mention the expropriation of the guy's estate to reimburse the victims (a rather dubious precedent no matter how well-meaning). Similiarly with all the gee-whiz biotech advances that pundits are speculating on. It may well be that there is no market for gene-therapy once the risks are assessed. How many other markets have failed to eventuate despite the posturing of the big players (Farenhit, NetPC, etc)?

    As for the money aspect, you have to spend money to get it back in the future. People forget that the costs are ultimately passed onto the consumer so all the big sums of money being thrown at private research will eventually end up in your medical bill for products/services at prices that the market will bear (otherwise it will just be droped as unprofitable). This you can thank the good old FDA for controlling the clinical tests and thus creating inelastic markets. On the other hand, the public system might be inefficient at research but at least it is more likely to address real social concerns rather than fee-paying cosmetic augmentation stuff.

    People are always concerned about technology, you go back 10, 20, 50, 100 years and you'd find similar stories about cars, movie projectors, electricity, whats-not. In another 100 years it might be nanotech and mini-blackholes. The point about an open society is that any discoveries can be discussed and feedback applied to moderate excesses. Here one must be careful of all the things you read as opinions are not facts (e.g. the misinformation [informinc.co.uk] about Serb concentration camps). The voice of reason and some critical thinking will go a long way towards reducing the fears people have about biotech. At this state biocomputing is so early that it's like we haven't invented the equivalent of the transitor yet, much less understand the many different intracellular processes in great detail. However, if and when innovative applications appear, some simple moral questions to ask are would you be able to sell the concept to your mother? If the development background was splashed on the national front page, would people still be interested (one reason why artifical substitutes have been found to replace animal testing)? And most importantly, could you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning if you were the inventor? People are not stupid and trying to force your beliefs or dogma onto others is a sure way to create enemies and annoy friends.

    LL
  • Supposing you had a horrible inheritable disease, and you were given the chance to be sure that your children would not get it. Can you honestly say that you would not go for it? What if you had the choice between a child that might have low intelligence, get on badly at school, hate life and end up living drunk under a bridge, or a child that has a better chance of being happy, having genes for higher intelligence, less depression and less tendency towards alcoholism?

    If you chose not to, and your child did end up under the bridge, could you forgive yourself?

    It is not as clear cut as you are making out. The whole problem with this area is that there are no nice labels on all the possibilities, saying "Good" and "Bad", to help us figure it all out.

  • In the future, everyone might be attractive, healthy, and sociable. Oh, the horror! Only Jon Katz could complain about that. Get over it, for cryin' out loud.

    You assume that the technology will only used to create intelligent and beautiful humans. In that case, who will do all the menial work? Who will clean the bathrooms and do the kitchen work? Who will farm the land and herd the cattles? Who will work in factories making nike shoes?

    Unless our robotics industry grow faster then the biological industry, then why wouldn't the knowledge also be used to make passive and obedient humans who will do all the above menial work? And will that be a good thing?
  • The funny thing is, this isn't a dead issue today. There IS a dilemma regarding the dispensation of antibiotics and antiseptics. They aren't unilaterally good. The overuse of antibiotics has generated drug resistant microorganisms that would never have existed otherwise.
  • Remember that Brave New World preceded 1984 by nearly 20 years. Both are products of their time: Huxley's work born from the Roaring 20's and Orwell's born from the dark years of Spain and World War II - 10 years where the world had more or less fallen into fascism. Even Britain and the US tended towards it, especially in their ruling classes.

    Both BNW and 1984 represent a state of complete and utter stasis, where no progress is possible. Where one is a utopia and one a dystopia, you can't define BNW by "happiness" and 1984 by "unhappiness". They both end up in essentially the same position, which is a perpetuation of the present into the future. Both are run by true believers, whether Mustapha Mond or O'Brien. While Orwell's proletariat is utterly disregarded and duped, Huxley's is infantilized. This may be "progress", but is it really any different?

    The problem with genetic engineering to enhance fitness (whether intellectual or physical) is that it will entrench existing class differences. As such, we will slowly but surely move towards political (class) stasis. Orwell's genius was in realizing that the proletariat did not need to be infantilized, with the attendant effort; it could be merely put to work, fed lies, and left to its own devices.

    Genetic engineering of the upper class (and it will be confined to the upper class) re-entrenches that; while there may be political movement, while one member of the upper class or another wins power, there is no actual change. Then again, that might describe the modern world, too. The question is: do you want more of it or less?

    --
  • And not everyone will want pliant kids. One of the things that has served humanity well is our ability to be downright dirty and mean when we have to be. Think every good person that ever lived was Mother Teresa? There's room for many different approaches.

    Yes, some people are unbalanced in their approach, but let's face it, there are situations in which being meek and mild doesn't work. I want my kids to be balanced -- not wimps, but not bullies. Let them inherent my stubbornness. The parent's job is to teach them when to be meek.
  • Someone might use this information to create harm...

    Here's an analogy... Automobiles are considered almost essential to quite a lot of people. I know I would have a very tough time living without one. At the same time, that same automobile subjects me and my family to many risks. Thousands of people are hurt and/or killed by them every year in this country. Does this mean we should not have automobiles?

    ...leave it up to the almighty.

    Hit the nail on the head with that one. Were I a religious man, I would find the HGP offensive. It goes against god.

    Fortunately, I'm a godless heathen. Information is not evil.

    cheers,

  • does this mean we can make apes that are smart like humans? Maybe the PotA movies will come true? =)

    #----------------------------
    $mrp=~s/mrp/elite god/g;
  • Im terribly sorry, but this method of criticizing Mr. Katz is something less than tactful, and makes people wonder who really is the unintelligent one.

    As for Mr. Katz article, I fully feel that hes using the oh-so-familiar FUD tactic to imply that the HGP will have catastrophic effects upon civilization. Maintaining ethical use of medical treatments is of primary concern in most/all countries. Also, there is no guarantee that when we are finished mapping human DNA that we will have restriction enzymes (Those that cut DNA at a certain sequence) specific enough to nail one specific sequence. Human DNA is about 3,000,000,000 base pairs long. This means, on average, a restriction enzyme would need to recognize a sequence 16 base pairs long. (AFAIK, we have nothing this accurate thus far. Please correct me if I'm wrong.) Also, there are 2^32 ( (4 base pairs) ^ (16 pairs long) ) different restriction enzymes for making cuts at all these base pairs. Use a smaller sequence for recognition, you say? We can't do that because random cuts in DNA are normally an extremely ungood thing.

    The horrid future of manufacturing babies that is painted is totally ridiculous. Regardless of how fast our technology advances, the numerous enzymes, the processing power, and the perfect accuracy neccessary to custom build a life form will be far too expensive for many years. And don't forget all the licensing fees for patented genes you'll be paying through the nose :). Single gene treatments for diseases are realistic future applications, and by the time coding fullblown human DNA from scratch becomes feasible, most countries will be prepared to use it responsibly.


    -BPrice

  • by El Volio (40489) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @06:12AM (#1476140) Homepage
    So, will we identify the genes that control one's strength in the Force?

    "Luke, I am your father."
    "NO, it's not true! I was a genetically engineered embryo! My strength in the Force comes from a lab!"

    "There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth to him, I raised him. Must've been those crazy experiments the Hutts performed."

    "No. There is another. The charts I have seen. Stronger in the force the second one is."
  • by MrP- (45616)
    "geneticly prone to heart disease"

    so.... umm use genetics to fix that, and tada you got the job.

    #----------------------------
    $mrp=~s/mrp/elite god/g;
  • I see this whole mess as evidence of a fundamental problem in the American legal system: there is no significant penalty imposed for spurious lawsuits.

    In other words, I'm sure the RIAA is thinking something like:

    Why not sue? This is just a little company, they can't afford competent lawyers. And if by some wild chance, they do get a competent judge who can overlook the flashy lawyers we hire, what's the downside? At the very least, we've managed to imply to the public that things like napster are illegal!
    So, I think that there should be a requirement for those filing a suit to put up a bond equal to the total of their (the plaintiff's) legal expenses. In the case of a contingency cases, the lawyers should have to put a bond equal to their expected fee -- i.e. generally 1/3 of the total verdict. This would be to cover the defendants legal expenses in the event the case was lost.

    It would also have the nice side effect of keeping requested judgements in contingency fee cases down to a reasonable amount: which would tend to reduce the half million dollars given to every fool who falls off a ladder.

    Of course, when you have a government run by lawyers, such a thing will never be passed.

  • This seems a good time to mention the excellent book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman (the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death, the (in)famous critique of television's effect on society). Your local library should have it, and it's well-worth buying to have on your bookshelf. He talks about, among other things, the ethic of technology that says, "Well, we know how to do this, so we should do it". E.g., we now know how to clone mammals -- so let's start cloning people. Not everybody thinks this way, of course, but enough do that once a new technology is developed, it will be used. Mr. Postman wants to say that technology is not a panacea, and that there are some problems that technology cannot solve.

    Even if you disagree with Mr. Postman's thesis (especially if you disagree), read his book. It's well-reasoned and very thought-provoking. Mr. Postman is by no means a Luddite, but he is a warning voice to remind us that Utopia does not exist, and that our technological solutions always carry unwanted side-effects (the Law of Unintended Consequences). A good read to balance Jon Katz's apparent technophilia.
    -----
    The real meaning of the GNU GPL:

  • by billh (85947) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @06:19AM (#1476153)
    I, for one, am waiting for the Doggy Genome Project to be completed. Gone will be the days when you don't know if you will end up with a biter, a scratcher, a leg-humper... I look forward to being able to open up GNU/CADD (computer aided doggy design) on my Linux box and designing the perfect pooch.

    I want a great dane sized dog with huge floppy ears, the brains of Lassie, the speed of Santa's Little Helper, and stripes like a zebra. Or maybe polka dots.

    Oh, and he needs to be potty trained. Who wants to walk a dog when you could be reloading /.?
  • Yep. With our science and medicine we are tying the hands of Gaia.
    The lame, the sick, the stupid - all survive (long enough to reproduce) in our Western nanny states. And look at how this affecting the gene pool. Unstable family units (for example : unemployed single gymslip mothers) birth more children in their lifetime on average than employed married/bonded couples. Which is excellent for our gene pool, no? Those that can achieve in our societies have less children than those that don't.
    As a race, we humans have not evolved properly for many years. This could be the opportunity for that - and how about engineering a cluster of neurons in the base of the brain to plug your into your VR connector?
    Those petrified about the consequence/global morality of this can look at it this way - the rich West can afford it and will be guinea pigs for any weird shit that pops out. Meanwhile, 2nd and 3rd world countries still stay with homo sapiens v1.0. Balanced migration from 1.0 to 1.1 inherent in this situation.
  • For a whole variety of reasons. I, for example, definitely don't want my kids to be cheerful and pliant consumer-drones. In my book being "strange" is good.

    HAH! coming from a person who, obviously, is not a parent. Try living with a five year old while you're making the above decision. I assure you, it looks a whole lot more tempting.

  • Well, one more thing for the control freaks. People insist on living in the strange world where they like to be in control of everything.

    Have we learned nothing? we SUCK at controlling. So many time, humans try to control the chaos with serious unintended consequences.
  • Given the state of robotics and the state of genetic engineering today, it is nearly certain that we'll have menial robots before we could create passive and obedient humans.

    In order to do create passive and obedient humans, you'd not only have to know how to incorporate arbitrary traits into a human being, you'd also have to have a deep understanding of the operation of the human brain. We are a long way from either of those things. On the other hand, we are already seeing the beginnings of a true robotics.

    The trouble with Katz's article is that it makes the assumption that knowing the human genome == being able to manipulate the human genome in any way we see fit. That's like saying that because we understand the theory of relativity, we can launch spacecraft to travel at 0.99% of c.

    So much of this reminds me of all the handwringing that went on when Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, was born. It is an irrational fear of change, and quite frankly, an irrational fear of change is not the hallmark of the geekdom that Katz so often aspires to.

    (This is not to say that there aren't real things to fear in genetic engineering. But simply knowing what those genes are (which is all the human genome project is) is not one of them.)
  • Katz complains that technology is advancing faster than we socially can decide on what is appropriate. I used to have this concern about a number of things. But my perspective is different now.

    Ironically he fails to see the self-correcting "Open Thinking" approach to ethics as a solution. When technology is in the early stages, elites control the ethic, for better or worse. As the technology reaches commercialization to broader groups of people, more people think about what is appropriate and the proper ethics and laws can be constructed at that time based on a broader consensus not affected by "founder syndrome" or scare tactics.

    I suspect that, as with Linux, good elites facilitate early ethical development (principles = ethics architecture?), and minor holes or re-engineering will fix problems. As Open Source enables improved software stability over time, Open Thinking improves ethical/legal fairness over time.

    Cheers,

    --LP

    P.S. "Open Thinking" has been previously known as "democracy"; that term, like the term "free software" is hereby co-opted. ;-)

  • This is untrue. Organisms have an entire system of genetically programmed cell death, called "apoptosis."

    The extent to which this controls aging is uncertain. But it is more than simply thermodynamics.
  • by jd (1658)
    That depends. The knowledge obtained might equally be such that it would be considered simpler just to scrap that set of DNA and use another.

    Even if the DNA was corrected, what then? Professor Hawking was an unashamed playboy, before he was diagnosed terminally ill. If it weren't for the illness, he'd probably be a wino, or dead from an alchohol-related disease by now, and we'd still have lost his incredible mind and gifts.

    Professor Hawking only became the scientist we know and admire BECAUSE he was due to die at the age of 21. If he had not faced that, he would never have become the great scientist he has.

  • The project is a metaphor for everything that's both right and wrong about technology: well-intentioned people are using it to try to make the world better; at the same time continuously unleashing forces we haven't fully considered or agreed upon, and can't or won't control.
    Gosh, Jon, you make it sound like something new! As if any technology in all of history was deployed only after it and its consequences were fully understood and determined to be "safe". It is the nature of new technology to be less than fully understood, and to change the world in ways that cannot be predicted. Sure, we don't know exactly where this genetic technology will take us, but the only way to find out is to take the trip and see where we end up. So what are you pissing and moaning about? (I can just imagine you trying to talk Gutenberg out of printing the Bible. "But you know, Johannes, we don't know where this printing technology leads! Terrible social upheaval may result once information currently limited to the elite becomes available to the unwashed masses! Think of the dangers, man!")
    Could employers and insurance companies obtain an individual's genetic information? Could government agencies or law enforcement authorities use genome research to invade privacy and predict behavior? Could prospective spouses demand DNA screenings to reject unsuitable mates?
    Well, right now, if you apply for health or life insurance, the insurance company may send you to a doctor to get checked out. Isn't the difference between that and a full genetic analysis just a matter of currently available technology?

    More importantly, though, most of these concerns don't have simple yes-or-no answers; they depend on context. For instance, we might agree that it is not appropriate for government agencies to use genetic analysis to determine which individuals, out of a large pool of law-abiding citizens, might in the future commit a crime. But on the other hand, how about using genetic analysis as one tool in profiling a serial killer currently at large? Similarly, we might not want people analyzing a prospective spouse's DNA for just any old purpose (though I can't think of any problems with this offhand), but how about doing it specifically to determine whether these two people would have a high probability of producing children with certain genetic disorders? (I suppose it depends what you call a "disorder". Down's Syndrome, sure, but what about a tendency toward middle-age balding? That's inherited, and therefore genetic, isn't it? And perhaps undesirable? But I tend to think that society will work out, in the first decade or two of this technology's availability, where the boundaries are between filterable and unfilterable traits.)

    The genome project evokes a world practically bursting with technological hubris
    Oh, good heavens, Jon. Go read the book of Ecclesiastes. "All is vanity." It's the one thing humans are consistently good at.
    We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single Congressional debate
    This has to be the funniest line in your whole stupid article. Congressional debate? You think that would do any good? You think anyone on Capitol Hill would have anything of substance to say on the subject? (Huff... puff... Immoral... the Bible says... blah, blah, blah...) Let's keep the politicians out of this. They can worry about legislation once there's something real to legislate about. Let's not risk having the whole project aborted because Jesse Helms decides it's immoral.
    Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?
    Funny, my wife and I have always said we'd rather have a hellion than a passive, "Yes, Mother" little idiot. (Well, we got our wishes!)
    In altering the nature of new life, parents can not only live vicariously through their offspring but completely shape their lives.
    Go look at the beauty pageant pictures of Jon-Benet Ramsey and then try to tell me that there aren't already lots of parents who live vicariously through their children. That's nothing new.

    But more fundamentally, there is a major error implicit in your statement. You seem to think that parental "shaping" of a child's genes deprives the child of freedom. This is incorrect; children do not choose their genes. The difference here is between random chance and parental determination. The child has no say in the matter in any case.

    Furthermore, I disagree completely with the notion that genetic makeup "completely shapes" anyone's life.

    In fact, not doing it seems as inconceivable as doing it.
    This is the most intelligent and perceptive statement in your article -- quite possibly, in your entire journalistic career.
  • Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

    It's also worth noting that a idiosyncratic or rebellions offspring is more likely to achieve greatness - many of the men history considers 'great' were total nutcases.



  • Many of you people must be living in the dark ages.. what the hell is all this talk about "it scares the hell out of me". That is like saing computers scare the hell out of me for whatever reason.

    Understanding/Knowledge is inherently a good thing.. shure it can be used in harmful ways (like a computer virus).. but that is just part of the deal. These are very worth while risks because we have so much to gain.

    If you don't want to evolve go live in montana or something.. the rest of us will continue about our buisness of becomming gods. I am just so sick of this fear of technology, science, and the unknown bullshit.. wether it is computers, genetics, etc.

    I normally like Katz articles about hell-mouth or whatever.. I just don't read much of them because they are way too long winded.. but this one is just stupid. I suppose I should take on a few of Katz points directly:

    a) What if they make a maistake and a whole generation of people is born with an undetected genetic problem? This is unlikely since people will test for a long time before making anything really widespread and even then it will not be everyone, but just a small piece of one generation, i.e. a small part of the total population. Hell, even if we do fuck ourselves up we have plenty of healthy genetic stock in countries which are too poor to afford genetic engenering.

    b) What genetic engenering creates a cast system? Implicit in the statment is the idea that people will place too much importence on genetics and to litle on personality. This is highly unlikely given our current cultural climate. Psychologiest do seems to understand how importent non-genetic criteria is in determining a persons abilities. Now, if the upper casts dominance is really based on actually being able to achive more and think better then more power to them.. it is wonderful compaired to our current seperation of the classes. What would you rather a system where people's intelegence was crippled because it would be unfair to others?

    c) What if Gov. controls it and uses it to make doscile people? This is unlikely for a variety of reasons. It is more likely that increased intelegence and the discrimination against members of the genetically engenered minority will create a group of people which know which way to rebel and how to do so effectivly.

    Now, there are a few things to be worried about.. like the patenting of genes.

    Jeff
  • The problem is, our society is based on the fact that not everybody is attractive and intelligent.
    I really dislike saying this by the way...

    To quote the Judge in Caddyshack "The world needs ditch diggers too."

    Is some gorgeous person with an IQ of 165 going to dig a ditch? What about collectying the garbage? Fight a war? What do you do then, assign everyone a job at birth? Hold a lottery? There'd be a riot. Even gorgeous people look bad when they have broken noses.

    I fully support every parents' right and desire to have healthy, happy, beautiful children. But sometimes it just doesn't happen.

    To use the genome to remove pain and suffering is wonderful. Everyone has a right to be healthy. Otherwise we might as well just stop all medical research and turn all the hospitals into faith healing centers.

    To use it to change your children cosmetically before birth, when you don't even know how they will turn out, is selfish.

  • >> that's right, everyone looking attractive. Maybe they should all have blond hair and blue eyes too.

    Your little rant here makes three mistakes:

    1. It puts words into the mouth of the original poster.

    2. It makes gross assumptions.

    3. It makes huge, unbacked leaps of logic.

    The original poster said nothing about his beliefs on what makes an attractive person. Beauty is still in the eyes of the beholder. Diversity is a beautiful thing and different people will always have different beliefs on what is good and what is bad.

    >>Maybe, because we have this great new group of people the other people aren't needed anymore.

    If society thought this way, the world would be in a constant state of war. Computer geeks are a 'great new group of people' who are considered 'brighter than the average citizen'. Are you suggesting all computer geeks are going to band together and start killing off the 'less intelligent'? Perhaps all the supermodels are going to start mowing down ugly people with machine guns soon to.

    Can I ask what logic you used to make these jumps from 'there is nothing wrong with attractive children' to 'kill everyone who isn't like us'?

    >>Maybe you should think before you say that having no individuality is great.

    Where did the original poster state this as his belief? If this is something you interpreted from what he did say, I would like to know what logic you used to determine this.

    If you are going to make a comment, think about it first. Your little tirade here is just plain dumb.
  • There appears to be a lot of Chicken Littleism out there centering around the potential results of the Human Genome Project. A lot of it is based on flawed assumptions or simple lack of thought. Take this example from the above:
    Have we really thought through the implications of unleashing medical procedures that would reduce the incidence of addiction, depression, retardation and physical disabilities? Are we comfortable living in a world in which whose categories of humanity - the retarded, the blind, the disabled - will disappear from our part of the earth? Do the healthy lose something when it's possible to eradicate the impaired?
    Are we comfortable living in a world in which whole categories of humanity - the leprous, the polio-afflicted, the smallpox-scarred - have nearly disappeared from our part of the earth? I dare say we are, and we're happier for it. My mother spent time caring for children in iron lungs, and it was not pretty; whatever the benefits of the lesson in compassion for humanity at large, those poor polio kids paid a staggering price. Ask them if dying before age 10 was worth it. Ask whole Native American tribes if their susceptibility to alcohol addiction is worth it.

    One distinction lost in the above is the fact that only congenital defects or susceptibilities can be eliminated by gene selection. We can eliminate accidents of nature, but we can't eliminate accidents, period. We'll still have the ill, the retarded and the maimed with us, we just won't have so many of the heartbreaking cases who were born that way and never had a chance.

    There's also a big difference between knowing what a person's genes are and being able to control what they think, feel and do. This is an ENORMOUS leap of logic, but it often gets glossed over as demonstrated by this quote from Katz:

    In effect, children may be given genotypes, genetic profiles. Offspring considered grotesque, revolting, impaired, repugnant or offensive could be eliminated.

    How many parents will choose ugly kids when they can be assured attractive ones? Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

    There's a little saying from the life science that rebuts this: "Under perfectly controlled conditions of temperature, pressure, humidity, nutrient concentration and lighting, the organism will do whatever the hell it pleases." Being assured of your kid not having Down's Syndrome is a rather simple thing. Being assured that your interaction as parents, as playmates, as teachers, and as book, television, radio and cyber-media influences - hell, even your interaction as a pregnant woman - with their genes and innate and developed abilities is going to yield any predictable outcome is simply impossible. The influences are nonlinear, combinatorial and beyond any ability to compute.

    Besides, there will be a lot of people who will select for the idiosyncratic and other traits because they will desire children who aren't the same as everyone else's. It's not very likely that many people will select for low intelligence or crooked teeth or Prince Charles ears, but when they are selecting for something else it's bound to fall out in some by the luck of the draw. I'm afraid that the future is Human-Genome-Project-proof as far as the eye can see.
    --

  • Interestingly enough, there is a solid point in this satire...

    We do not understand the effect that the massive use of antiseptics is having. There is some evidence that they are partly responsable for the current rise in immune system disorders - things like Asthma, Eczema, Chrones disease and similar.

    Whilst no-one doubts the benefit that the use of antiseptics have in surgery, the current mania for overuse in the home may cause as many problems as it solves.

    And that's 100 years after they were first used, that questions are being asked.

    The time for discussion is when nothing can be done, rather than having the law makers rush through inefficent and patchy legislation.

    Although I don't think that Katz's article helped much beyond FUD.

    (A Lifelong sufferer of Eczema)
  • I'm a parent of five and a six year-old, and I really strive for the moments when they forget Nintendo and Pokemon and "think differently".

    I'm proud they're not sheeple, and continue to encourage them to stretch their brains in ways that mass-commercialism doesn't.

    Some years from now, if they want children of their own, they could have my opinion for the asking that using human genome knowledge to select for "different thinking" children would be a good thing.
  • What I think you fail to grasp is that society as a whole is subject to manipulation by the few. It doesn't matter that 2/3rds of the states would have to ratify an amendment. They'd ratify it if they thought it was "popular" with the people. Who controls the people? Though there may in fact be some *truly* individual thinkers, the masses, by definition, do not think. They do not think about the rules which society gives them. They do not think that maybe life is worth more than the TV tells them about. They do not think about the implications of their actions beyond their own lifetime and usually not beyond the next year (if that). These people are the people who manifest what is popular. However, it is the relative few, the marketing people in capitalism, or the propoganda people in totalitarianism, who actually tell people what is popular. So before you have so much faith in democracy, understand that with technology it becomes easier for individuals or small groups to influence larger numbers of people and thus dictate what is popular with in turn dictates how politicians will vote.
  • Ask anyone that works on Genetic Algorithms for problem solving and one of the key components is the mutation element. The fact that every now and again a bad element introduces an overall positivity and might stumble upon a 'Real Good Thing (TM)'.

    The way that evolution works is diversity, if we become basic images of the same blueprint 'ideal' DNA then we lose the diversity and everything unravels - we're taking responsibility for our future and our ability to solve the obstacles that confront us, whether we know they are there or not - it means we'll begin to RELY on such help in the future when our make-up accidentally LOSES the ability to evolve. Pop, goodbye mankind!

    Let's take a different look without going quite so far in to the sci-fi future - ironically by looking at a Sci Fi movie i'm sure everyone has thought of. Gattaca.

    If you haven't seen it, watch it. NOW.

    There's a special on the DVD that tries to urge viewers NOT to dabble with DNA in this way, imagine the people in our past that would have been 'fixed' or 'terminated' due to their illnesses, some of our greatest minds, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking to name but two.

    What good is life going to be if it's just a pre-programmed existence? Part of being here means that we face unknown challenges and find solutions. I'm not talking about us as individuals but as the group known as 'humanity'. We don't know what kind of mind will come up with the idea for the next major leap in our intelligence - it could quite easily be someone that is deaf and can't walk, and because of this they spent all their time reading books and an idea suddenly hit them while they were sitting there.

    Genetics is as much of a weapon as any other technology and can and no doubt (cynical view coming) will be misused. The thought that we can rid ourselves of deadly and crippling diseases is great but we lose something then from the futures that these individuals lead and the contribution they can make to society - Stephen Hawking is as much proof as we need that physical disabilities don't mean you can't be one of our greatest minds.

    A great article JonKatz - maybe if enough people start to wake up then we can put the brakes on this train before we hit the wall :) (maybe i'm just the eternal optimist :) ).

    Read my diary for more thoughts!
    http://www.neutronic.deardiary.net [deardiary.net]
    ==== Dear Diary ==========

  • Agreed. I'm not saying I don't like my kid's "strangeness" either. I can't wait until they start telling me to put him on ritalin. No thanks. I like my kids' hyperactivity.

    All I was saying was, this guy obviously doesn't get the thought that such a thing might be attractive. It's like someone saying "I just don't understand how someone could ever hit their kids!". Obviously, they are not a parent, or they would understand how someone with a low tolerance for frustration could hit a kid. Not that it is OK or right, but it is not unfathomable to me that someone could hit a kid. Similarly, it's not completely foreign that the thought of having a compliant kid when you have three hellions could be comforting.
  • Agreed. I'm not saying I don't like my kid's "strangeness" either. I can't wait until they start telling me to put him on ritalin. No thanks. I like my kids' hyperactivity. All I was saying was, this guy obviously doesn't get the thought that such a thing might be attractive. It's like someone saying "I just don't understand how someone could ever hit their kids!". Obviously, they are not a parent, or they would understand how someone with a low tolerance for frustration could hit a kid. Not that it is OK or right, but it is not unfathomable to me that someone could hit a kid. Similarly, it's not completely foreign that the thought of having a compliant kid when you have three hellions could be comforting.
  • Uh, no. We stopped evolving the moment we took control of our environment instead of being subject to it. Natural selection is no longer a force in human evolution. Traits which would get folks killed in a hunter-gatherer environment are no longer a barrier to reaching breeding age.

    No, we are certainly still evolving. Species often co-evolve with their environment. We are merely subject to a different fitness landscape than we have been in the past.

    Just because traits that were once less desirable in the past are not longer weeded out, does NOT mean that there are not new traits that may or may not add or detract from our ability to reproduce in the new fitness landscape.

    There is no stagnation. In fact one could make a compelling argument that by compensating for previously lethal traits one allows the human genome to explore the 'phase space' of possible genomes more throroughly. Someone else proferred Stephen Hawking as an example of this.

    Fact is, it's already happening! It's been happening ever since the first human decided to feed his badly maimed friend instead of leaving him to die because he couldn't contribute to the survival of the group

    This is an aspect of human social behavior, which is at least partially coded for in the genome in terms of proteins that code for brain structure/chemistry. Social traits (such as caring for the sick or wounded) have almost certainly been positively selected for due to the fact that they improve the survivability of the species as a whole and thus improve the survivability of the particular individual who engaged in such 'selfless' activies. The example you give is an example of evolution in action, not of 'devolution'.





  • There is real danger in monocultures (the lack of biological diversity).

    To pick a reference at random, from Cultivating Concepts vol. 5 Sept. 1997 GPCRC [res.agr.ca]

    A classic example of the danger of relying on a monoculture system is the devastation wrought by the Irish potato famine. In the 1800's almost the entire Irish potato crop grown was of amazing (and frightening) genetic uniformity since it all originated from a single potato variety from Peru. When the disease, late blight occurred in the 1840's the crop was literally wiped out since it was all highly susceptible to blight. Millions starved to death and history was forever changed.

    Now it may be that we will have the ability to rediversify ourselves in the event of disaster, or maybe we won't have time to react. At any rate, it is something to think about.

  • Has anyone ever agreed on what makes a better human being?


    Western society has long held that white skin makes a better human being, and that a drop of black blood makes a negro. This perception has changed little in hundreds of years.

  • Antibiotics have unquestionably improved the human condition; we would be worse off across the board without them. The problems that are being encountered are the result of mis-use. However, even with mis-use we are certainly better off having the science of antibiotics [even with the development of so called "superbugs"],than not having it at all.
  • As usual, I'm late to the Big discussion, but here goes.Scientists are usually wrapped up in the how to of a problem rather than the implications of the solution. Famous statement:"We always concern ourselves more with the question of whether we can do a thing than if we should." No, I don't remember who said that, I just remember it and it is a large statement for Ethics in science. Yes, we should learn to describe our existence (i.e. DNA). This leads to understanding and learning, always Good Things (TM). Yes, some horses asses will abuse it (companies trying to make a buck), but we should see a quality of life increase in the long term.Yes, Gattaca and Brave New World were perfect examples of the extreme abuse of this technology, but also consider Anthem, by Ayn Rand. In the perfectly engineered society, ego and the lust for variety (spice of life?) win out. This could be equated to the community of all females in Jurassic Park, where some end up reverting to male due to use of frog DNA. Our sense of control in the long run, could turn on us.What is my point in all this rant? I'm not sure. Maybe that if we lull ourselves into a false sense of control over the human genome, CHAOS can come back and bite us in the ass, big time. We may accidentally create a virus strain that will wipe out everybody or create a bunch of psychopaths or sociopaths. We must be careful what we do with the info once we have it.
    P.S. Katz, get a fsking Dictionary, a Thesaurus, a spell checker and take a damn English class. Your abuse of the language is hideous. At least try to do a better job.
  • by MrP- (45616)
    just inject him with some InstaHeart and when his heart fails a new one instantly grows and his old failed heart goes out with his next bowl movements

    #----------------------------
    $mrp=~s/mrp/elite god/g;
  • That's not really the problems, except that I question the agendas of governments and large corporations. Will they do the right things? Will the turn society into Gataca? Even if I have the most noble purposes for that information to be used wisely, without cash, my good intentions are rubish.

    Possibly... if you and others submit to what the large corporations and your government eventually decide. Were you able to ask King George III, Marie Antoinette, or P'u Yi... they'd probably tell you that a government only survives through the will of its people. I don't think corporations are any better protected from that fact.

    While I do admit that a corporation could hide such things behind the guise of a humanitarian cause (or legitimate business), they still depend on the funds of the people they serve. All it would take is one whisper of their dirty little secret, and they end up losing. Look at what is happening with tobacco in the US, for example. [neu.edu]

    The threat to our individual privacy spills into business and government as well. The very things that would make it easier for them to delve into our medical histories or genetic makeup will make it easier for us to find out exactly what "they" are up to. You cannot separate the organization from the individuals within it no matter how hard you try... which means that what affects those individuals will have an effect on the organization as well.

  • I disagree, there is indeed lots of questions about our treatment of micro-organisms. The human body is designed to deal with micro-organisms and we have successfully dealt with them as well as the other races of this planet for hundreds of millions of years. Recently when we developed the ability to augment our senses and then detect that these micro-organisms were in fact responsible for some deaths a choice was presented:

    1 - Do Nothing. Not a typical human response and quickly rejected.
    2 - Work with the body to improve its ability to handle a larger array of micro-organisms.
    3 - Erradicate the bastards! (Ahh here's the one Man was looking for!)

    So now we have antiseptics and anti-bacterial soap and antibiotics. But there is a problem here. In the case of antibiotics - if you only manage to kill off 99% of whatever it is that ails you you leave that Super-Strong Genetically chosen 1% to come back and make your previous bout seem minor. With anti-bacterial soap you get the same type of response only now the little supper buggers are on surfaces others may come into contact with.

    So, there are questions as to whether our current tact of trying to get rid of something we have survived with for EPOCHS of time is "A Good Thing"(tm).
  • To my way of thinking, the fact that the HGP stuff is being done primarily so that companies can patent sections of DNA is the big whammy, since it prevents legitimate, perhaps non-profit, perhaps not, organizations from developing medical technologies without paying through the nose for the information.

    This is not my understanding of what a patent means at all. When you obtain a patent, you are granted an exclusive right to the commercial benefits of the technology you patent in exchange for publication of the patent. If you patent a gene sequence, the patent in fact must fully disclose that sequence. Patents are by definition not copyrighted; they are fully public domain. This means the information becomes freely available.

    In addition there is a clear exemption in the patent law for uses in research; that is you can take any patent there is and perform research using the technology disclosed without infringing in any way. Therefore it seems to me that patenting genetic sequences has exactly the opposite effect on research that you describe; the information becomes free, and anyone can conduct research using the information.

    What a patent DOES restrict is the ability to exploit the technology in a commercial (i.e. money making) application. You will have to obtain a license if you plan to use the result of your work including the patented geneic code in a commercial product.

    People also have to remember that the life of a patent is limited to 20 years after the filing. Given the state of the art in biotech these days, it seems to me to be quite clear that it may well take that long for most commercial inventions based on the genetic code to reach the market.

    It is not at all clear to me that the patenting of genetic codes is in fact at all important in as a practical matter. Perhaps from other points of view, yes. But will it affect progress in any way? I doubt it.

  • i think most people have overreacted to this article. i interpreted it mostly as "thinking out load" and hoping for people to think back.

    And Katz speaks of this as if it were a BAD thing! Really, what could the interest of a politician, or of a whole bunch of congresscritters add to the debate except fuck it up?

    maybe nothing, but we are talking about something which has the potential to change the very nature of humanity. maybe not soon, but that is the eventual goal. don't you think it's interesting that we are embarking on something this huge without more support from our leaders? the only other thing i can think of which humanity has attempted which is even on vaguely the same scale is sending people to the moon.

    Er... genotype is an existing word. Look up its meaning in a dictionary (hint: you are using it incorrectly).

    err... i'm hardly an expert but from the dictionary:

    1.The genetic constitution of an organism or a group of organisms.
    2.A group or class of organisms having the same genetic constitution.

    this doesn't seem wildly off base, certainly his intended meaning is clear.

    For a whole variety of reasons. I, for example, definitely don't want my kids to be cheerful and pliant consumer-drones. In my book being "strange" is good.

    this i actually agree with, but i harbour no illusions that the majority of the world feels, or would act, this way. anything that makes people's lives easier will gain acceptance quickly enough. look at the statistics on how much time people spend in front of the tv every day.

    think through all the people you know. how many of them have examined their beliefs and when you keep asking "why?" can explain themselves. hell how many of them have even tried to examine themselves and ask hard questions about why they do things the way they do. not many has been my experiece, it's hard work, there are no immediate gains and it takes a certain type of stubborness for it to be fun.

    So, what's bad about human cloning? You've spent paragaphs hinting darkly about unspeakable horrors, but what are they? What is all that awful and horrible about human cloning? After all when it happens naturally and twins are born, nobody seems to be all that excited about it...

    well right, when it happens naturally, but when it doesn't there are suddenly all these new possibilities. what if some wacko dictator says it's illegal for new babies have red hair? do you care? what about if they make having new male babies illegal? wouldn't this be considered a breach of human rights? what do you do about it? how can you stop it? do you want to stop it or do you just want to view it as another stage of evolution? we're already getting rid of biodiversity in nearly everything we touch ... it doesn't seem beyond belief to me that given the ability to control our children we would, as a culture/species, remove our own bio-diversity to the point where our ability to surive some catastrophic event would be impaired. again, do we care? does this give us the right to stop people doing something which we think is harmfull to our species survival?

    Well, I don't know about Katz but I would be perfectly comfortable living in the world where there are no disabled people. I would also like to ask -- is Katz comfortable living in the world where nobody is sick with bubonic plague? How could he stay in the US where it is so hard to find cholera sufferers? And, to think, for example, about the artificialness of prostheses -- why, in the good old days if you lost a leg, you just lived without a leg, not tried to put on these awful metal-and-plastic contraptions -- right, Katz?

    again you miss the point. what about people like stephen hawking? with the control we're talking about he probably would never have been born. if we remove these bad things is there a hidden cost? no one doubts that the diseases are bad, and we all want to remove the suffering from people around us, but could there be a hidden cost?

    i am reminded of an orson scott card book ("the worthing cronicles" i think it was) where the big lesson was "look back on your life, and remember all the things you are the most proud of. weren't they the times which were the hardest and most painfull, and isn't that why you are proud of them?" given that is true, who are we to steal someone elses suffering.

    i wouldn't wish some nasty, genitically avoidable disease/malfunction on anyone. but don't these things enrich the world around us? do we really understand what we're doing?

    You mean if everybody can't have it, nobody should have it? I thought that this was a basic idea of Russian communism in the 20s, but it kinda went out of fashion since then.

    no, he means "wow, look, yet another way to seperate the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'". what could the implications of that be?

    All in all, this is another content-free rant.

    especially when you work as hard as you did to not actually think about anything he said.

    and finally, in case there is any doubt, i am in favour of experimentation. i think it's great, and i don't think we can stop it, one way or another, someone will figure out how to do this stuff eventually, so we may as well plunge into it openly then force it underground.

    but i do object to your labelling someones attempt to think about things as stupid and anti-progress.

  • Amazingly, this seems to be the same Jon Katz who trashes as "Luddite" anyone who questions the Amazing March of the Internet as 100% positive.

    While I know there are a lot of HGP fans on Slashdot, Jon is absolutely right to question such a massive undertaking. We are unleash ing forces that we do not understand. We should not expect the boosteristic view to reflect anything at this point as anything but the passion of the scientists for their own work and of the corporate interests who expect to make gigabucks off of the results.

    And in an ideal world, this would have been publicly debated before the resarch was well underway.

    For cleverness kills wisdom; that is one of the few sad and certain things.
    -- G. K. Chesterton

    We are learning to do a great many clever things ... The next great task will be to learn not to do them.
    -- G. K. Chesterton

  • One thing I always find missing in discussions/rants about genetic engineering is the 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' sentiment. There are no global definitions of what 'pretty' means or 'smart' or anything else that makes people different from each other. Just because people have the choice to make their kid look a certain way doesn't mean all kids are going to look the same. People don't give their kids all the same haircuts, why would everybody give their kid the same nose/eye color/hair color?

    Katz says that no parent would choose an ugly child when they could make a pretty one. I have never met a parent who didn't think their kid was the most beautiful example of childhood that has ever existed. Genetic engineering will give shallow people the chance to make a genetically good looking child (to their eyes) but that parent would have dressed their kid a certain way or cut their hair a certain way or made them get plastic surgery to mold the kid anyway, this is just another way for people to show the same stupid tendencies.

    Genetic engineering will allow people to create what they think of as a beautiful/smart/athletic kid but since everybody has different ideas of what that means, it will still mean that humans will be as different as we have ever been in the past. I for one welcome the chance to not pass my genetic tendency to be overweight on to my kid, not out of vanity but out of love and the wish not to have to make my child live through the same things I have. That's the power of genetic engineering, not the ability to give my child blue eyes instead of my brown ones.
  • I'm glad that your so willing to accept the authority of your teacher and textbook. I'm sure they're implicitly always right.

    The ERA. You see a great many people wanted to be politically correct back in the early days and decided to get an ammendment to support their philosophy. A great number of the social elite that you claim can run the country wanted it. It was a popular thing but; and here's the tricky part, it failed! It failed to be ratified by the necessary 2/3 of the states and never passed.

    The "social elite" are not the people you see on TV, they're not the government, they are the people who actually think about what's going on and decide what they want. They have the "will to power." Would you care to elaborate on the exact reason why the amendment failed to be ratified by the necessary states and by how much it failed?

    Let's get another example: The Pentagon Papers. The government had this little thing called Vietnam that (because of incompetent people) they bungled and tried to cover up. Someone leaked the info and discredited the government. Nixon tried to use all of his formitable power to stop the NY Times to remove the material but he failed because of democracy.

    OT: Vietnam was a war that could not be won. People just didn't "bungle it." /OT

    Nixon may have had "formitable power" but he failed because some people didn't like him and they had control of the presses. I think that that proves my point more than yours. Freedom of the press is free for those who have the presses.

    I think it would be wise to at least consider different ways of thinking about something rather than saying "this class taught me this, so it must be true." That kind of mentality is one of the reasons which I question democracy. Also beware of history teachers, as is said in 1984, "He who control the past controls the future." I found out that my HS history teacher lied on several occasions about things, consider verifing your sources. In regards to your textbook, just because it's in a book doesn't mean it's true. Furthermore, just because it's in several books doesn't mean it's true either, but it's a bit more likely.
  • All beliefs and methods of proof are based on certain assumptions which cannot be proven. The best you can hope for is a self-referentially coherant system.
  • by FallLine (12211) <fallline.operamail@com> on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @09:03AM (#1476330)
    Katz is artless and thoughtless. He doesn't dare to think or drive a point home; that would require commitment. Instead, he finds what the latest geek itch (e.g., anti-MS, technophobism, percieved anti-geek movements, etc) is, and vaguely scratches at it. It allows him to ride the geek wave. Now a certain percentage of slashdot geeks [I presume mostly the younger or longhair types], find Katz inspiring, because he "dares to speak contrary to the popular media". In a way, I suppose he does, but it's not his own sentiment [it's merely nominally different than the mainstream]; it is not independant thinking. His words are not full bodied thoughts, they are vague echos of previously voiced concerns.

    I'd equate Katz with Rush Limbaugh (sic.?), different sides of the same coin. Both address the fears of their constituency [liberal and conservative extremes, respectively]. Sometimes they may "hit the nail right on the head", but normally they don't. They perform no function in this world, other than legitimizing irrational fears of the readership by lending their name to it. They never even attempt to analyze the situation. They never even really question. They utter incoherant feelings under the guise of rhetoric and post-modernism. In short, they're both hacks.



    In this particular article, there may indeed be legitimate concerns regarding DNA manipulation [even though Katz misinterprets most of it] and the like. For example, even though it may tend to be in the best interest of parents to manipulate DNA, is it in society's best interest [and thus in the parents in the long run]? Both evolutionarily speaking, and in the short run. Will society be better off if every child is cut to desired specifications [particularly if they're all essentially the same]? It seems that most of the "geniuses" [much overused term] who've contributed greatly to this world, hardly fit with society's popular conception of genius (e.g., straight As in HS, top of class at "best" colleges, "perfect" job right out of school). I believe this conception hinders in many ways. For example, at the Ivy leagues [a popular societal target], I've seen a singular unimpressiveness with the majority of the graduates. Yes, they tend to be better spoken, better read, more numerate, etc [not to say that these things don't have their value]. They also tend to land better jobs than their counterparts [out of school], but it's mostly inertial. They're the kids who know the system, and who know what it takes to get an "A". This, I believe, creates a certain myopia. Within their own little track of life they may make nominal "gains", but it's rare. For the most part, these kids end up in a much tighter "grouping", if you will. These kinds of kids have never impressed me [not to mention many employeers I know]. Whereas, with the so called "lesser" schools, you see a much broader distribution. Granted, most at the "lesser" schools end up somewhere below the median of the "better" schools [though not as much as most would think, especially later in life]. However, you also tend to see more from "outside" the track at the top of their professions [those who really make a dent].

    My point, is that even though it may seem insane for the individual reject the "better track", it may be unwise for society [That is on a strictly quantifiable basis. A spread of personalities, shapes, sizes and others have a certain value as well]. For, without these mavericks, society would still be in the dark ages. Some thing's are better off left without "engineering"--there is a certain interplay that science will never account for [This is not to say that I blame parents for wanting their children to be free from afflication. Nor would I want them to just "accept" it.]
  • by rde (17364)
    Who decides what is 'defective' and what isn't?
    Parents. It could be argued that they're not qualified, but neither are most of them qualified to be parents. However, see below.

    Will parents be forced to disallow defective gene sequences?
    My bet is they won't be told. During 'routine checkups', anything genetically nasty will be excised. Nastiness being whatever the doctor doesn't like.

    Will geneticists be sued if an engineered child isn't the well-behaved genius his/her parents hoped for?
    "This child comes with no guarantees whatsoever". Will people stand for it? My prediction: drug companies get the legislation pushed through, there's uproar for ten years, then it's accepted.

    What will we lose by giving up some of our diversity?
    Survival. Ultimately, the species will face greater threats because we won't have that fraction of the population that's immune to something that's capable of killing 90%. How do we stop it? Extraterrestrial colonisation is my favourite answer.
  • Those that can achieve in our societies have less children than those that don't.

    I think it's a lot more likely that cause and effect are reversed here (if indeed there is any cause-and-effect relationship at all). Those that have more children in our society achieve less. Because the resources that they could have devoted to creativity and achievement are instead used to care for their (many) children.

    How much code could you write if there were six or seven children running around your house or apartment? If you couldn't buy the tools you needed for work because you had to pay for diapers and formula and babysitting and college tuition for all the young 'uns?

    Gaia's hands have been (to some minimal extent) tied ever since humans learned to control fire. Would you have it otherwise?

    Creativity, not procreativity!
  • Actually, SH was quite a brilliant scientist even before his illness started showing...
  • Well, I rather think that there are different reasons for the 50's era virtues. If you've looked at American demography, more than half of Americans live in a suburban or "edge" city rather than within a core city.

    Most people move out into the suburbs for two main reasons: firstly, cheap land and larger houses. Secondly, to "escape the inescapable", to control the influences to which they or their children are exposed. These suburbs promote independence rather than teamwork and isolation rather than community; it's no surprise that american libertarianism was born in the suburbs. In essence, suburbanites seek to control and pay for their personal environment; it's only natural that they should pay for only the government they want or use.

    Bringing this back to the possibility of genetic manipulation, this is a further act of control, not just of the social element but of the human element. Ironically, just as urbanites pay for suburban sprawl (while surburban taxes are marginally higher, the cost of building new services for low density suburbs more than overtakes this), the benefit of genetic engineering will be confined to the rich but the research which made it possible has been paid for by all.

    If you're interested in the political ramification of urban issues (as it seems you may be), you might want to read Stephen Dale's Lost in the Suburbs (Stoddart, 1999), from which I plagiarize freely :).

    Looking forward to your book reference.

    Regards,
    Marco

    --
  • You raise some interesting points. First you try to draw a distinction between physical deformity (maiming as I used in the earlier post) and advantage. Now I would claim from a relative point a view a person is an extremly advanced form of primate (or whatever the common ancestor was). Yet a person who due to some birth defect was reduced to the level of intellectual capacity of a simple primate was physically deformed and would deserve medical treatment to bring him up to 'normal.'

    The point of this is the difference between adding an advantage and fixing a deformity is merely one or population mean. If I am raising someone above the mean I am adding an advantage otherwise I am fixing a problem. In my opinion it seems very strange to draw an arbitrary moral line here and say one of these is wrong and the other is correct.

    As for the second part I may not have made my argument clear enough. I claim people have unduly negative reactions to genetic engineering because they FEAR obselescence. They will not BE worthless but your gut reaction to someone who is faster smarter and stronger is to feel inferior.

    The point of the genetic engineering is not to "win" against others but merely to make our lives better in some sense. Improved eyesight makes life better whether or not others have it as well. I would argue the same goes for increased intelligenve (we are not playing a zero sum game).

    In response to your final argument let me present the following example. Two men are each given large red buttons. The first man is told that if he pushes the button bill gates will die. The second is told that bill gates will die unless he presses the button. Now, regardless of what you think the moral answer here is, I hold that both men are equally culpable (the situation is entierly symetric).
  • It would be easy to eliminate the downside of the sickle-cell gene: couple it to another gene which causes the embryo to abort if it is duplicated. This way there would be no sickle-cell homozygotes born, only heterozygotes. The investment in a blastocyst or embryo which fails within a couple of weeks is minimal, so the overall evolutionary fitness of the carriers would increase even though their fecundity would decrease slightly.

    This is the kind of thing we might be able to get with full knowledge of our genes and the ability to manipulate them: grab all the upside potential of the variability that's out there and eliminate the downside.
    --

  • Actually, no: you've missed some central things about GAs. In fact, given a sufficiently diverse 'gene pool', genetic algorithms work even _without_ mutation. Mutation is a sideshow: recombination ('crossover') is where the real action is. If 'organisms' wind up with roughly comparable ways of doing things, crossover has a much greater chance of producing a useful optimization than mutation does. Mutation is only significant if you're starting from a monoculture in which, at first, crossover would do nothing.
  • "The project is a metaphor for everything that's both right and wrong about technology"

    Oh, don't be so picayune and specific, Jon: try to cover some more ground! ;)

  • by jd (1658)
    Brilliant, yes, but a procrastinator extrodinaire! He hardly bothered with anything, hardly did anything, and only scraped by with a 1st because he threatened to stay at Oxford if he didn't.
  • The garbage collector argument is a common one against genetic engineering but examine your assumptions closely. You are assuming people have just enough intelligence so people can still be garbage collectors. What would have happened if we evolved to be just a little bit smarter? Would we then fall back into the dark ages because we couldn't find garbage collectors. No!

    So if the new mean IQ is 165 then those with 150 IQ's can be garbage collectors (IQ is the sum of too many factors to be ever exactly specified). And yes if I was a garbage collector i would be happier with a higher IQ.
  • What is more interesting is the evolution of an "assasin" virus. What if taking a sample from a world leader's head i could engineer a virus which had no adverse effects on anyone else but killed that specific individual. Untraceable completly natural looking death.

    Any Bio people out there know how difficult this would be?

    Ohh and I hated the implication in jurasic park that said Chaos theory said the animals would escape. Damn that was dumb.
  • by DrJay (102053) on Wednesday December 08, 1999 @10:53AM (#1476392) Homepage

    Although i won't conclude he's a moron, i can only conclude Katz is a bit lazy. I've seen a fair number of posts at /. by people who obviously have a background in biology, some of whom claim to work on the Human Genome Project. The writings contained here indicate that Katz never bothered to track them down and ask them to clarify and/or correct anything in this article.

    A small sampling of the misconceptions and errors here:

    The increasing speed of the project has been made possible by advances in the automated machinery that performs the sequencing, not by computing advances. Getting the sequence is the hard part; analyzing it's (relatively) easy.

    Mapping of disease locuses has not been limited by computing power either. Most of these efforts are done by smaller labs not associated with the HGP. Nobody's looking at anything like artistic ability, as far as i know.

    Supporters of this project hail it for a variety of reasons. Only the most foolishly optimistic view it as a way of eliminating disease. We've been cloning disease genes for a while now, and that information has not lead to a whole lot in the way of disease elimination.

    The agencies funding the HGP in this country are the NIH and DOE - both have budgets subjected to congressional approval and the heads of each are appointed by the president. To say that we started this project without governmental oversight is a gross distortion.

    Some of the ethical issues burried in the text are certainly worthy of public debate (they're definitely being debated in private), and i'd love to see them debated. Unfortunately, the text as a whole is so loaded with hyperbole and misinformation, that it doesn't seem capable of stimulating rational debate. If anybody reading this wants to be the person triggering that debate, please, make the time and effort necessary to get the facts straight first.

    JT
  • What will we lose by giving up some of our diversity?

    Survival. Ultimately, the species will face greater threats because we won't have that fraction of the population that's immune to something that's capable of killing 90%. How do we stop it? Extraterrestrial colonisation is my favourite answer.

    ??? Huh? Have you ever seen anyone reasonably suggest millions of identical clones like some bioengineered wheatfield? no. In a worst case scenario diveristy would probably increase. 99.9% of characteristics would never be selected for or against and would remain essentially random. Diversity would probably increase from people splicing in a bit from here and a bit from there as well as faddish things like a zebra stiped skull that would turn out coincidentally to protect against some new plague.

    Sure, you can reasonably expect a market for clones of Sarah Michelle Geller (hmmm....) but there wouldn't be more than a few thousand knockoffs before that fad faded and everyone wanted a Torvalds. Not enough of a problem to cause your doomsday scenario.

    It doesn't really matter if any of us think this is a good or bad idea. It's going to be too cheap and too easy (it already is really). If 10% of the populace wants it the other 90% will not be able to stop them.

    garyr

  • Huh? Have you ever seen anyone reasonably suggest millions of identical clones like some bioengineered wheatfield
    No, and I'm not suggesting it myself. But diversity involves more than buffiness. Ultimately, any gene that has a detrimental effect and no known positive effect will be removed. We won't all be clones, but we will be considerably more alike than we are at present. And therein lies the danger.
  • That's very interesting because I learned in my HS AP American Government class that the media and various other institutions are not under the control of a secret cabal.

    No, not secret

    Anyway, will all regard to your Highschool Government teacher, and text book. If it was secret, how would they know?

    Let's get another example: The Pentagon Papers. The government had this little thing called Vietnam that (because of incompetent people) they bungled and tried to cover up. Someone leaked the info and discredited the government. Nixon tried to use all of his formidable power to stop the NY Times to remove the material but he failed because of democracy.

    Vietnam? Vietnam?? WTF are you talking about, the Vietnam war was not secret, and in fact Nixon ended it!!! What you are talking about was Watergate(again, let me complement your High school education). And that had nothing to do with democracy, but rather freedom of speech.

    The government doesn't control the media (least, not in the US. try china though). But someone does. I'm not saying that there secret, or evil, or even in agreement with each other. However the media must be controlled by someone, otherwise it wouldn't function. Most of the media. Music, movies, video games, etc are controlled by a handful of companies. SONY, NewsCorp (fox), Viacom, Time-Werner. Almost all of the general(non-internet) media in the world comes from these sources.
  • Suppose that she got cancer because she carries a genetic predisposition for it (this is entirely possible). Now if she's been cured of this cancer and goes on to reproduce, she may pass this "bad" gene on to future children, who may not be so fortunate with the placement and treatment of their tumors. If she hadn't had surgery or radiation therapy, she may well not have survived long enough to reproduce, thereby removing her icky genes from the gene pool.

    Bad news, buddy. If your sister does carry this genetic predisposition for cancer, there's a pretty good chance that you've got it too. She'd have inherited it from her parents, and they're your parents too, so into the euthanasia chamber you go. It's for the good of the species, you know - gotta remove those "icky" genes before they damage yet another generation.

    Another point about genetic predispositions... we don't know how many of these predispositions would be rendered insignificant if environmental causes were removed. What about people predisposed to cancer if and only if they contact some particular chemical, or (this one is documented) elevated dosages of X rays. "In the wild", these people would not be selected against, but in our modern world, where we have industrial sovents and chest X rays, they get cancer. Technology has not eliminated selection - it has just changed its form. Some people who would have died (or at least not bred) now survive and pass on their genes. Others who would have lived and passed on their genes now die childless. It's been going on since time immemorial, and the world hasn't ended because of it.

    Certainly we ought to be wary of what can go wrong with gene therapy, but this notion that humans are doomed because they've used technology to thwart natural selection is hooey. Humans are doomed because EVERYTHING is doomed. Lets at least enjoy our time here, and do what we can to minimise suffering. Sometimes that means saying yes to biotechnology, and sometimes it means saying no. You'll have to use your own judgement.

    Or let your leaders use theirs, and make your decisions for you. Personally I prefer to use my own.
  • I can't help but think of those GAP commercials frequenting the airwaves lately:

    Everyone the same.

  • that's right, everyone looking attractive.

    Well, some people looking attractive, what's wrong with that?

    Maybe they should all have blond hair and blue eyes too.

    Maybe, but why?

    Maybe, because we have this great new group of people the other people aren't needed anymore. all those lesser developed countries that can't afford to buy their children only take up our space. Maybe we should kill them all, we know they are inferior.

    Uh, or maybe we shouldn't. In fact for sure we shouldn't. I don't see what this has to do with genetic engineering.

    They are different the nus, they must be inferior.

    Well, that's your opinion, not mine.

    Anyway, New genomes would be bread into the larger pool, and propagate through the system. No one needs to die.
  • While 'exotic' people can look beautifull, there have actualy been sciantific studies into the nature of beauty. It turns out that the more average people look, the more beautiful.

    If you were to take pictures of thousands of random men, or women, and use a computer to create an 'average' that 'average' will look very attractive.
  • Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

    This, along with the 'beautiful and smart' argument, is the most commonly cited problem we'll face with genegeneering. But ask yourself this: how many people reading Katz' essay would be willing to splice 'compliance' into their sprogs? Not many.

    How many people read Katz' essay? It's beside the point.

    If you doubt there is a demand for compliant children, I have one word for you: Ritalin.

    What percentage of the world's population were born into a world where their parents could take advantage of the latest medical technology?

    The technology will surely get cheaper as time goes on. And as these "good" genes become more prevalent they can be duplicated the natural way. (I wonder... With patents on genes, does someone with those genes have to buy additional licenses to legally reproduce?)

    One could also argue that the people of the wealthy nations are the only ones that really matter, because that's where the power is.

  • Bad news, buddy. If your sister does carry this genetic predisposition for cancer, there's a pretty good chance that you've got it too. She'd have inherited it from her parents, and they're your parents too, so into the euthanasia chamber you go. It's for the good of the species, you know - gotta remove those "icky" genes before they damage yet another generation.

    I'd say there's a 50-50 chance I've got it, if it's one gene. Of course things get more complicated if it's a double-recessive combination or something even funkier like a sex-linked characteristic.
    :)
    Just picking nits :)

    ---
  • If I have the plans to build a pipe bomb then all I have to do is obtain the materials to make it.

    if I have an empty can of Sprite, I can take it to the recycling center and get fifty cents for it. What does that have to do with the topic at hand? Nothing.

    I'd like to see you try building an atom bomb. You can find plans for that on the Internet to.

    An atom bomb is several orders of magnitude more complex then a pipe bomb, and human being is several orders of magnitude more complex then an Atom bomb
  • Because people are afraid they will be obsoleted! As long as their aren't designer babies I can convince myself I am valuable for who I am. As soon as a man appears who is better looking smarter faster etc.. what do I have left.

    I agree that people are afraid for this reason. I genuinely would be afraid of someone being all-around better at everything that I am good at, if they had been engineered that way. But that isn't the issue. The issue is that once the technology is introduced for say 1% of the population to be able to genetically engineer their children, then the decision for all of the population has already been made.

    Take as an analogy a game of poker. Say technology came out that allowed a person to be able to win at poker 80% of the time compared to the average shmoe who can only win 30% of the time (I pulled that figure out of my ass.) Even if only 1% of the population out there gets this technology, then the winning percentage of the average man will go down. The only way to ever be back on an even playing field is to have everybody get that technology. Either the people don't use this technology (perhaps on the grounds that it is immoral or other) and they end up losing overall, or you accept this technology to get back on evenfooting.

    Either way, you are left with a skewed result: the people who don't accept the technology eventually fail and die off, or everyone is forced to use the technology in order to keep up. Once the technology is there, then we have already decided. I think that we need to evaluate the morality of the issue before it is upon us (which is fast approaching).
  • No no no! It's not the same at all! This is a subtle point a lot of people don't realize. Organisms are not like hammers. They are not static. Instead, their population reaches a dynamic equilibrium with their environment. If you use some sort of antibiotic which kills 90% of them, the population will be reduced to 10% at first, but it is no longer at equilibrium. The remaining organisms will reproduce until they are once again at equilibrium. The final population is the same only at first only 10% of their population was resistant to the antibiotic. Now 100% of their population is resistant to the antibiotic. This is the reason the overuse of antibiotics is such a problem. Doctors give them out for everything, sometimes even when they know it won't do anything just because they feel the need to do something. All this accomplishes is the generation of a shitload of bacteria that is totally resistant to all out antibiotics. This is a bad thing.

    Upsilon

I find you lack of faith in the forth dithturbing. - Darse ("Darth") Vader

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