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Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid 72

eglamkowski writes "Researchers Discover Gene That Controls Ability To Learn Fear. The poor, misguided scientists say this will enable them to treat people who suffer from anxiety, panic disorders or depression(??). Of course, it also means an evil, despotic country that is cloning humans for its army can make its soldiers completely fearless, eliminating one source of possible defeat on the battlefield (breaking of morale). (Why does there seem to be no cynical scientists? ;-)"
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Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

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  • Being cynical is not a good way to get a grant.

    Once the money's in the bag though, anything can happen!

  • There are perfectly good things that can be done with all this genetic enhancement to eliminate fear. Like creating a CLONE ARMY for myself so I can TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!

    In time, you shall call me master. MUAHAHAHA!!
    • Which one of you should we call master? ;P
    • A clone army is a pathetic creation. If I can capture one clone, it becomes incredibly easy to discover a simple pathogen or set of pathogens I can spray on them to kill them all. Sure, they don't fear death, but it's tactically useless, since they're all dead.
      • Re:Hold on there! (Score:2, Insightful)

        by the_skuncle ( 443942 )
        No, I don't think it would be as easy as all that. Unless you are going to custom-tailor a virus based on the 0.00001% or so of DNA that makes the clone different from all other humans, you will end up with an outrageous amount of co-lateral damage among the surrounding populace, or worse, among YOUR troops. You also have the problem of mutation rates in your newly created virus. Could you guarantee that the release of said pathogen will not mutate in nature and kill all primates?

        When I say "you" I mean the collective "we".

  • I think we have more to fear from popular news sites spreading pseudo-scientific garbage like this. Not the research, I'm sure that's valid. But going from "identified a gene that plays a role in subjects learning to fear" to "creating a clone army that is impervious to fear" is a huge leap.

    It is ironic, but unfunny, that you would use scare tactics to try get us all worked up about this fear research.

    • by twilight30 ( 84644 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @10:28AM (#4880224) Homepage
      That editors were the sharpest tools in the box.

      Fear serves a number of useful roles, not least the one of self-preservation. What's that old saw about discretion being the better part of valour?

      I can think of two reasons why this is just BS on the part of the editors (well, many others too, but let's leave that for now). Let's take as a starting point that the leap is valid.

      Possible follow-on points:
      1. 'Emotional intelligence' seems to play a role in most people's rationality (no, I'm not going to dig up the reference to the EQ book; that's for a Google / Amazon search) and intelligence generally.
      2. Removing fear could possibly remove a certain level of rational appreciation of things ie/ the need to keep oneself intact.
      3. This would be tantamount to partially lobotomising one's own army. Would any country want to do this?
      • We are subject to Michael's assinine editorial comments. Just to lay everybody's fears to rest (ha) there will be no such army, because none of the soldiers would respect the chain of command. What a jackass.
    • Besides, why would you go to all the trouble of creating a clone army? It's much easier just to "condition" your existing soldiers to be fearless. You'd still have to do lots of conditioning with the fearless clones - you have to get them to follow orders unquestioningly and be willing to kill on command.

      It's also worth noting that an army of clones could easily be wiped out by a carefully engineered bioweapon (or an accidental illness, for that matter). Genetic diversity in your troops is an asset.
  • by Hanji ( 626246 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @10:11AM (#4880086)
    Why does there seem to be no cynical scientists?
    Because, in general, scientists tend to have, as their goal, knowledge, regardless of any potential side effects.
    Knowledge, in an of itself, is never a bad thing. Was Einstein's e=mc2 evil because it enabled the discovery of the atomic bomb? Or course not.
    • Was Einstein's e=mc2 evil because it enabled the discovery of the atomic bomb?

      i completely agree with your point that the goals of scientists are generally intellectual, not political.

      however, your specific example is not correct. before einsteins's relativity it was already known that enourmous energy was bound up in atomic nuclei. what was not known was how to release it. E=mc2 showed that the potential was even greater than was suspected, but gave no clue as to how to realise it. and we still can get only a small fraction of that amount.
  • rtfa eglamkowski (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ( 311067 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @10:15AM (#4880118) Homepage Journal
    I hope that description was in jest. First of all, it only stops learned fear. This would mean that you would somehow have to stop these soldiers from learning fear of combat situations. You would have to do that at a young age, then how the hell would you train them?

    seriously there are some dangerous area you have to get into if you want to solve serious problems. I mean, would could probably create ppl with 4 arms, or 2 kidneys right now, but we don't.

    The research will be done no matter what, I would prefer all the info be out in the open rather than behind closed doors in some "evil empire". Please be cautious of your cynicisms of science. It is this mass fear propaganda that got the whole world to be afraid of biotech (which is currently saving their lives).

    Right now we could possibly have treatment for ppl who are paralized, but limitations on stem cell research slow this down. This is mainly due to misinformed ppl spouting off untrue facts and unlikey predictions to scare the ignorant general public.

    Please think before you speak, for everyone's sake

    • The fact remains that the research still isn't being done.

      Sure, Bush put limits on stem cell research mainly because of the religious outcry. If he hadn't, many of those scientists still wouldn't have proper funding to conduct the type of research that could yield the results you speak of.

      We're talking testing, MAJOR testing. Testing that before yielding results, could cost hundreds of millions. Think the drug companies would pay for that? I don't. Think the government would? Not enough.

      At this point in time, it's not the government holding science back. It's the funding. Same with our space program.

      Properly funded, we could have had a base on the moon by now. We are already capable of doing it, we just need to test it. That testing is in the same dilemma as the stem cell research.

      It all comes down to resources, not law or limit. Half of our HIV inhibiting drugs wouldn't be around if all the research was done legally ;)
      • Re:Untrue (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ( 311067 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @11:22AM (#4880610) Homepage Journal
        while you might be right at some levels, I don't feel that invalidates my argument. There will be very little funding while the public opinion (however wrong it may be) is against the techonology / research. What major company wants to be branded as "evil". For that matter, who is going to fund something that is fundamentally illegal, unless they want to challenge it's legality.

        True, an overall lack of funding will hurt all efforts, but one cause of that lack of funding is public opinion.

        I do feel tht your argument isn't entirely accurate, that MAJOR testing is necessary for ALL drugs in the US, it does cost a lot, but all companies in that area know that. That is why many of the them are in France or other countries that require less testing. It's a known cost, but trust me, some one with deep pockets knows there is a big ROI on a AIDs vaccine or a treatment for paralysis.
        • What major company wants to be branded as "evil".


          But seriously, small technology development companies that then sell their research/patents to big companies don't care about public opinion b/c they are under the radar.

    • I mean, would could probably create ppl with 4 arms, or 2 kidneys right now, but we don't.

      I don't know about you, but I have two kidneys already...
    • by Hard_Code ( 49548 )
      "Please be cautious of your cynicisms of science."

      Please be cautious of your lack of cynicisms of science. :p
    • Re:rtfa eglamkowski (Score:2, Interesting)

      by frotty ( 586379 )
      "...First of all, it only stops learned fear. This would mean that you would somehow have to stop these soldiers from learning fear of combat situations. You would have to do that at a young age, then how the hell would you train them?"

      I think YOU need to RTFA, and absorb the practical consequences of discovering the properties and behaviors of this specific signal pathway.

      It directly addresses that, obviously, the lesser-useful "learned-fear" inhibition is hinged upon by a short-protein (GRP) which is encoded by the Grp gene.

      The grammar of the article is bizarre.
      They constantly refer to "learned fear" ... as opposed to what? Instinctual fear? Isn't most all fear 'learned'?

      I believe what they know now, a little more specifically, is this:
      how "learning fear" (ie, memory imprinting) works.

      what this gives us/them a clue to:
      how triggering or retrieving the correct "fear reaction" can be altered or stifled.

      Who cares about the "army of clones"? The most direct use of any bio-tech is weaponry. In this case weapons that make people irrationally afraid.
      Subjugation, anyone? The obligatory Philip K. Dick reference incoming: the emotion programs from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Just dial up a neurochemical 'scenario' and you're all set for some altered perceptions... hey, every time you see Ashcroft's face on TV your FeelingTrans can hit ya with a healthy dose of fear.

      Bottomline is that this is the first step towards controlling ALL facets of fear.
    • Pulling a couple of quotes out of context:

      seriously there are some dangerous area you have to get into if you want to solve serious problems. I mean, would could probably create ppl with 4 arms, or 2 kidneys right now, but we don't.
      Please think before you speak, for everyone's sake

      Ok, I'm sure you got swept up in the moment, but the last time my midsection was X-rayed, I did have 2 kidneys. And no, I'm not a geneticly programmed freak of nature. I got that way naturally.

    • Hey, I've got forearms, and two kidneys!

      Go on, mod me down, I'm not afraid!
    • Please think before you speak, for everyone's sake

      OK! How about yourself?

      ...could probably create ppl with 4 arms, or 2 kidneys right now, but we don't.

      Well I don't know about this... I have 2 kidneys, and I like it! I think this goes on all the time...

  • by dirtmerchant ( 162306 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @10:19AM (#4880146) Homepage
    Why does there seem to be no cynical scientists?

    All the cynics are too busy editing Slashdot.
  • Fearless Soldiers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DonFinch ( 584056 ) <> on Friday December 13, 2002 @10:20AM (#4880155)
    I understand the humorours cynicism but, fearless soldiers would be such a waste of money. Lack of fear means lack of caution. Imagine soldiers running out into battle with no reguard for themselves. Sounds like an easy target to me. It would be like our armies were made up of DooM baddies set on "I'm too young to die"
    • b1: Look what's that in his hand
      b2: Let's rush him, he can't take all of at once right
      b1: What's that bigass gun he's holding?
      b2: Says BFG on it. No idea what that means. Let's go
      b1: Alright, I'm in.

      Yeah...not only that, but fearless soldiers would also not fear the government, or many other things. Somehow I think that removing this gene would also make them a bit hard to handle.
  • This has only been observed in rodent specimens. However similar mammals are across the neural make-up spectrum, there is still little proof that this might work in a human brain.

    Being more complex, our brain might not be susceptible to such treatment. I'll be keeping an eye on this effort, however; for it could yield some effective treatments for some of the most common mental disorders. These would be depression, anxiety, bi-polar disease, etc..

    Being Bi-Polar myself, this would be welcome.
    • So we're one step closer to an army of fearless rodents. Kewl!

      Actually, this behaviour is already evidenced in the animal world. Take pigeons - I mean have you seen how willing these guys are to brush by your hulking feet just for a mote of bread? Stunning.

      And in humans, the evidence of a new subspecies lacking the fear gene can be summed in one word: Jackass.

  • Um, our side could use this too. From what i understand, a big part of baisc trainig si to keep people from just locking up and freezing in combat. Id be willing to bet anyone with an extreme case of the shakes might like a pill to fix it for emergencies, like dramamine for seasickness.
    For that matter, this seems like really bad idea in a conscript army, if theyre not afraid of anything, shats to stop them from shooting their own officers?
    • I think you might have a slightly misinformed view of the military's basic training. My memory says it's mostly about marching and obeying orders. The only psychology the military ever seems to cares about is whether the guy will do what s/he is told. If s/he can think, prior to or after the order, so much the better! Getting the other guy to die for his country is not rocket science, but it is physically demanding. They do a lot of exercises to improve the quality of the "response", much like football teams. Perhaps there is some psychological help, but I never felt like it was done with that goal in mind. :})||
  • by docbrown42 ( 535974 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @10:59AM (#4880406) Homepage
    Of course, it also means an evil, despotic country that is cloning humans for its army can make its soldiers completely fearless, eliminating one source of possible defeat on the battlefield (breaking of morale).

    This just in: Scientists in an evil, despotic country have started a crash program to develop a way to "turn off" the gene that causes fear in their existing soldiers, and make them fearless in battle.

    The code-name for this program is Alcohol.

    • Re:Liquid Courage? (Score:4, Informative)

      by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:07PM (#4881027)
      The Vikings found alchohol (honeymead) and hallucinogenic mushrooms to be good for that.
      • The Viking battle religion probably helped.

        Even today, there are many who believe that dying in certain battles will guarantee them a place in heaven. Which is especially encouraging to those who figure they have accumulated more than enough minus points for the alternative.

  • Fear is a very big part of how evil despots maintain their grip on power. A fearless army wouldn't be afraid of their evil dictator leader or his secret police.

    Maybe we should "accidentally" leak the secrets to our favorite evil despots...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But the gene that controls learning to fear itself.
  • If I was a hypothetical dictator or mad scientist I'd rather create a population of people who easily learn to fear me and thus were easily coerced into servitude and on the whole rather tractable.

    Muha... Muha.. Muhahaha..
  • by Dannon ( 142147 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @11:19AM (#4880561) Journal
    This is decent timing for the Daredevil movie, isn't it? Could actually have a 'man with no fear'....
  • I guess psychology and war are not the editor's strong points.

    Fearlessness is NOT related to military morale. Morale seems to depend more on confidence of victory or of trust of immediate leadership. Fear is what a soldier focuses on FOR THE MOMENT. Many soldiers have had good morale and froze in actual battle.

    Second, there is NO MENTION of military uses or effects of this discovery in the article, so where does the editor of a tech column get off going in that direction?

    I would suggest you know about a thing before you use the power of editorship to make your own paranoid and knee-jerk reactions seem appropriate.

    And speaking of paranoia -- embedded fear quickly becomes that in any person, warping his/her view of the world into seeming to be the dangerous place his/her body/emotions feel it is.

    In effect, you make the world that fits your expectations.

    Perhaps that's why there are no cynical scientists -- they are creating something. Can we say there are no paranoid /. editors?

    Perhaps our editor could use some of the results of the experimental cure mentioned in the article.

  • My fine colleagues at the hhmi (look to my e-amil address) have discovered a gene that REPRESSES the fear response.

    In general, the thing you can do with that knowledge is to REMOVE the genes effect; it is far more difficult to enhance the gene. Overexpressing the gene (so that it was always on) would almost-certainly produce nasty brain defects.

    "When we compared the mouse strains, we saw a powerful enhancement of learned fear in the knockout mice,"

    Emphasis added.

    Once they understand WHAT IT IS THAT THE GENE INHIBITS, then they may be able to make some fearless mice.
  • Because the fearless clone army makers saw them as a threat and wiped them out!
  • by Hubert_Shrump ( 256081 ) <cobranet&gmail,com> on Friday December 13, 2002 @01:24PM (#4881692) Journal
    Look, the studies have been done, and everyone knows that this is infeasable. As the fear level drops, the urge to eat brains increases at an alarming rate.

    As Napoleon said, "An army marches on its stomach", and there is just not enough brains in the world to have a whole zombie army.

  • by dh003i ( 203189 ) < minus physicist> on Friday December 13, 2002 @01:31PM (#4881762) Homepage Journal
    There is no magic bullet gene for "solving" large-scale phenotypical behavioral issues. Many genes control the behavioral phenotypes we observe.

    You needn't worry about an army of fearless clones anytime soon.

    Even if we discover enough about how genes relate to observed phenotypical behavioral patterns, that doesn't mean that it'll be useful in creating an army.

    Fear is not some useless emotion which serves no purpose. It is something which has been evolutionarily selected for because it leads to better survivorship. The gazels that didn't fear the lions got eaten. Fear plays a useful and necessary role in any conflict.
  • by Mignon ( 34109 ) <> on Friday December 13, 2002 @02:08PM (#4882059)
    According to Yoda, speaking to Anakin: "Fear is the path to the Dark Side! Fear leads to anger..... anger leads to hate........ hate leads to suffering! I sense much fear in you."

    So, if Yoda had known about this, he could have treated Anakin and prevented him from becoming Darth Vader.

  • At the YMCA summer camp I attended at about age 10, one of my fellow campers, Joe was abnormally afraid of things that nobody else would be afraid of. We used to harass him whenever he was around and we were bored.

    One of the things we did was to tell him that we heard him say a swear word and that we were going to report him to the counselors. He would then start crying and saying that he didn't say a swear word, pleading and begging for us not to do it. No other kid at camp would have fallen for this since the counsellors were just stoned out college students working a summer job, and would have said 'yeah whatever' to any such tattle tale. We did this same trick to him dozens of times and would consistently get the same desperately fearful response.

    We also used to say 'Boo' to him alot. He would always jump and scream. One did not even have to sneak up on him before saying 'Boo!' to get him to jump. It would work even if he was looking right at you the whole time. If you waited five seconds or so you could 'Boo' him again and he would always jump.

    Sometimes we would chant 'spiiiiders' or tell him there were maggots or other bugs on him to get him to squeal real loud. Or rock the canoe. Once he crapped in his pants when some kids did that.

    He never seemed to learn that our lame tricks were just tricks and he was very afraid of anything that could remotely be considered scary.

    Once I asked him if he was retarded or something because I didn't want to be picking on a retarded person. It was against the moral code I had set for myself, and even offered to kick some asses for him if he was retarded, but he insisted that he was not retarded. I don't think he was retarded since he was normal in other ways but fear and gullibility.

    So I tormented him guiltlessly with the other children. I figured that this guy must have been over sheltered or something by his parents and that he needed to learn stop being such a wuss if he was going to survive in the world even if it meant a few tears.

    But over sheltering doesn't explain his extreme gullibility and inability to learn to detect the lame pranks we repeatedly tortured him with.

    Of course my ( and others ) callous cruelty was inexcusable regardless of whether he admitted to having a certified disease like mental retardation. He was too soft a target for our boredom inspired harassment, and I regret taking part in it. But maybe this is understandable to anyone who has read Lord of the Flies

    Kids are cruel to anyone who is different and there were others that got picked on like the time at a sleep over when about 20 kids lined up to jump off the porch railing onto an unfortunate sleeping fat girl who wouldn't wake up from sleeping no matter how many World Wrestling Federation moves the other children tried on her sleeping bag covered body.

    I suspected someone would get in trouble so I bugged out early after a few shoves and yelling GET UP a few times, but watched as kids beat on her for a half hour before she finally awoke coughing and crying - barely able to breathe.

    Only one kid got in some trouble for that because he was there when the counselors came.

    My question for slashdot readers is: Does anyone know of a disease that could make Joe the way he was? Over fearful, socially gullible but otherwise normal?

    • I guess the joke was on all of you in the end ;)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Y'know, this is fucked up, because I'm named Joe, but I never attended a YMCA summer camp. ;)

      Possible culprits could be Asperger's or similar, but having reacted in a similar (if less extreme) way in my younger days, I'm going to have to vote for over-sheltering, combined perhaps with genetic predisposition ("geek genes" vs. even Asperger's, perhaps).

      Don't underestimate the concept of "social retardation," the parascientific term school counselors use to refer to the subject. If, for most of your life, you grow up around authority figures (parents) with both a healthy intelligence *and* an overbearing/strict mindset, you learn quickly to respect authority- and you don't pick up on principles like "the schoolyard code," "taking it like a man," etc. If you do get Simpsons-style clearance to fight back (I did), you still don't have the basic social consciousness to follow 'the rules' - King of the Hill sucks, but they've got the Bobby character demonstrating this in nearly every episode. (Thinking specifically of the nut-kicking one here.)

      In my case, I grew up, realized those camp counselors were just stoned college kids, etc etc... it just took 10 years of social contact beyond getting-my-ass-kicked to pick up on it.
      • Hmm maybe it was oversheltering. I read somewhere recently ( i think it was something about mice on or maybe a slashdot story ) that the fear and gullibility centers of the brain are one and the same, but i would think someone with damage to that area would either be very fearful and not gullible at all or very gullible and reckless..
  • As a competent evil overlord, [] I will NOT create fearless troops. Troops that are fearless will not be afraid to try to overthrow ME.
    Note - any henchman that thinks that this is insightful instead of funny is reading too much into it, and should be immediately sent for a session with my new zombification system [].
  • Ummm, IANALA (I am not a line animal) but I should think that truly fearless super soldiers would be a baaaaaad idea.

    Officer: "You guys! Charge through that minefield, dodge the mortar rounds, and take out those machine gunners! Get on with it before it gets dark!"
    FSS: "Okay!" [kaboom!]
    Officer: "Dang, I better get some more super soldiers."

  • by Namds ( 631686 )
    I'm worried about the /. science section.
    Let me explain -

    Two of the current main stories on the science page (this one and the one on influenza) were written as a reaction to science rather than a reporting of science. As an example - the title of this topic is "Be afraid, be very afraid" however, if you read and think about the actual science there is nothing really to be afraid of - just the opposite.

    Two points that have been made to counter the opinion of this research being used in the military, and that I agree with are -
    1) Humans are way to complex to have one pathway that leads to the fear response - therefore - any drug that inhibits this pathway will not be effective due to the other pathways being available and
    2) This article describes the learning of fear, not the behavior of fear.

    The same goes for the previous article on looking at the influence virus from 1918. The fear shown in the original post is countered by the actual science.

    I don't want to read fearful rants about science. I want to read the science and decide for myself.
  • Of course, it also means an evil, despotic country that is cloning humans for its army can make its soldiers completely fearless, eliminating one source of possible defeat on the battlefield

    No, they will end their life earlier by not looking both ways before crossing the street.

    But imagine all the cool Extreme Darwin Awards TV shows it would generate.
  • by Caractacus Potts ( 74726 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @06:50PM (#4884057)

    They are called violent criminals.

    There are exceptions of course. A soccer mom driving in the mountains at night in the rain while feeding french fries to their kid in the back seat while talking on the cell phone probably counts too. Yes, that is a true story. I was scared sh1tless while it was happening, so I definitely have the fear gene.
  • Anyone truly without a fear gene (or whatever) probably wouldn't survive to adulthood.

    I mean, look at how many stupid things we do as kids/adolescents even with fear genes -- it's amazing that as many of us make it as do.

    There's a reason that fear gene evolved, after all.
  • 1) The scientists found out that knocking out a gene _enhanced_ the effect of fear.

    2) You can't have soldiers without fear.

    a) An army needs authority and hierachy, respect does work, but you need some fear.

    b) It's the fearless ones who get everyone killed. The scared stiff ones may be useless but at least they won't break cover and shout "Haha stupid! You're shooting the wrong direction!" to 300 enemy soldiers.

    c) Even if everyone somehow survives, the fearless ones will have not learnt their lesson. So if they don't get locked up, someone will probably frag em.

    3) The soldiers may not even survive childhood without fear. Even if they do, they won't survive battle training.
    e.g. Sarge yelling: "For the last time @#$@%!$. Throw the grenade not the pin @!$$#%!".

    Fear is necessary, as long as there are bad consequences. Only fools have no fear.
  • IANAPsi

    Depression is associated with a kind of fear. Not panicky fear, bur fear nonetheless.

    Its usuallly associated with a total apathy (as opposed to the popular belief that its symptom is sadness) tied with a fear of not-belonging and pointlessness in every action.

    I don't know how those fears are "feedbacked" into the depression spiral but maybe they could help in preventing the "escalation" of depression.
  • I wonder if they can use this research to help remove the abject fear of gay people that the military seems to have. The very idea that letting a gay person in would so traumatize all the soldiers that the army would be completely ineffective is just the most bizzare homophobia I've ever seen. Never mind the direct counter-evidence available in just about every other NATO military organization outside the U.S. Yeah, I think the military needs this research to help our military personel get over their intense fear of gay guys.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith