Always ask for permission first, before playing God

That story I posted yesterday about the rogue Chinese gene editor? The Chinese government has responded swiftly and repudiated He Jiankui’s work.

Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV that his ministry is strongly opposed to the efforts that reportedly produced twin girls born earlier this month. Xu called the team’s actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered, but made no mention of specific actions taken.…He’s experiment “crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable,” Xu said.

Uh-oh. He’s in trouble. I know there’s the idea that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact, but maybe that doesn’t apply when you’re tinkering with human lives.


  1. davidnangle says

    I’m sure during the investigation, someone will pull him into a small office and say, “Just to be sure, you haven’t found the trick to creating super soldiers, have you?”

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    yes it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission as long as you know that the answer can still be NO! for either one.

    It does get strange when someone gets so into their field that they no longer identify with the subjects of the experiment. Okay when trying different velocities on pool balls, little different when tinkering with human genes in vivo

    speechless. thank you for reading this pointless ramble

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I dunno. I’ve always been immersed in 19th- and early 20th century lit, so I was brought up with the knowledge that most cutting-edge scientific research was carried out by mad scientists working in remote locations (mountain castles, distant islands) without government knowledge or supervision. You’re telling me that Doctors Frankenstein, Jeckyll, Moreau, and West are not actually models for how we should advance human knowledge?

    Honestly, I’m surprised there aren’t more of these rogues. I’ve had the impression that any competent geneticist could do what Dr. Moreau did by now if they didn’t give a damn about ethics. I guess the quest for funding comes into play in rl…or maybe they actually do have some ethics.

    I’m just waiting for He to give an interview where he says “They called me mad at the university!”

  4. unclefrogy says

    what ever moral and ethical lines were crossed one thing is sure in a highly authoritarian state you must include the authorities in what you are doing. The best thing would be to ask permission or at the least if it makes money to share that to those above. To go off on your own and become the center of attention is to court disaster especially if it brings negative reaction starting with increased scrutiny by the authorities and that would not be stress free.

    uncle frogy

  5. chrislawson says

    Yeah. The quote is “easier to ask forgiveness than permission”, not “do whatever you want and forgiveness will follow.”

  6. says

    “maybe that doesn’t apply when you’re tinkering with human lives”

    Or, I suspect, when dealing with the Chinese government. I don’t think they deal much in forgiveness.

  7. Gnu Atheist says

    Well, he’s now embarrassed the Chinese government and they’re investigating the crime. Bets on whether anyone will ever hear from him again? I suspect they’ll bill his family for the cost of the bullet.

    Or he’ll just work the rest of his life in a secret government facility, trying to engineer better citizens & soldiers with CRISPR.

    (I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Just feeble attempts at being funny.)