Cancel Culture! Yargleargleblarlgle! Justice!


Y’all know Louis CK was awarded a Grammy the other night, right? Boy, he sure was canceled. He won’t be whipping out his tallywacker in front of unsuspecting women from now on, will he? They might punish him with a Netflix special or something horrible like that.

But here’s something even worse: He Jiankui has been set free. He Jiankui is the guy I called a self-aggrandizing mad scientist for his reckless, selfish experiment in which he modified human embryos with CRISPR/Cas9 and brought them to term. He claimed he was trying to prevent HIV/AIDS by deleting an immune system protein that the virus uses to bind to cells, but we know nothing about potential side effects or new susceptibilities it might confer, nor do we know how safe the procedure is, or even how effective this deletion would be. He charged ahead and ignored all ethical guidelines to make genetically modified babies, and then announced it as a big surprise at a conference. I bet he was surprised when the Chinese police arrested him and put him in prison for a few years.

But that’s all! And now he’s out.

The daring Chinese biophysicist who created the world’s first gene-edited children has been set free after three years in a Chinese prison.

Wait, wait, wait. “Daring”? You went with “daring”? What’s wrong with the editors at the MIT Technology Review? I would have suggested “unethical” or “criminal” or “incompetent”, and “biophysicist” sounds too complementary: “hack” would have been more accurate.

Then it goes on with this tripe:

It’s unclear whether He has plans to return to scientific research in China or another country. People who know him have described the biophysicist, who was trained at Rice University and Stanford, as idealistic, naïve, and ambitious.

Why are they flattering this guy? Why are there any doubts about his return to scientific research? There ought to be no question that He Jiankui should never be permitted to participate in any biomedical research ever again.

Unfortunately, he’s apparently part of a “network” of evil mad scientists who haven’t been hampered by the arrest of just one capo and are set to get back to work.

The researcher spent around three years in China’s prison system, including a period spent in detention as he awaited trial. Since his release, he has been in contact with members of his scientific network in China and abroad.

While responsibility for the experiment fell on He and other Chinese team members, many other scientists knew of the project and encouraged it. These include Michael Deem, a former professor at Rice University who participated in the experiment, and John Zhang, head of a large IVF clinic in New York who had plans to commercialize the technology.

Deem left his post at Rice in 2020, but the university has never released any findings or explanation about its involvement in the creation of the babies. Deem’s LinkedIn profile now lists employment with an energy consulting company he started.

“It is extraordinary and unusual that [He Jiankui] and some of his colleagues were imprisoned for this experiment,” says Eben Kirksey, an associate professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute, in Australia, and the author of The Mutant Project, a book about He’s experiment that includes interviews with some of the participants. “At the same time many of [his] international collaborators—like Michael Deem and John Zhang—were never sanctioned or formally censured for involvement.”

“In many ways justice has not been served,” says Kirksey.

I’m getting a little tired of “justice has not been served” stories, but that seems to be all we get anymore. Hey, how’s Donald Trump’s presidential campaign going?

Comments

  1. PaulBC says

    Wait, wait, wait. “Daring”? You went with “daring”?

    I’d go with “reckless.” While I agree with your other suggestions, I think it gets closer to the intended meaning while carrying the right connotation. You can judge him beyond this, but it is an undeniable fact that he threw caution to the wind, modifying a human embryo with reckless disregard for unintended consequences.

  2. PaulBC says

    There ought to be no question that He Jiankui should never be permitted to participate in any biomedical research ever again.

    Elon Musk will probably give him a job.

  3. simonhadley says

    Right or wrong, ethical or unethical, the bigger picture here is that engineering babies isn’t sci-fi anymore. How many other custom made children are growing up today who we are unaware of? Gattaca is here now and will continue to be refined and improved.

  4. beholder says

    He almost certainly wasn’t the first to edit the genomes of human embryos that were later brought to term. That ship sailed the moment the technology was viable. He’s just the first to admit it in public.

    Somehow I doubt the results are a danger to society worth throwing someone in prison for.

  5. René says

    Fuck. Once again my family’s name is used by PZ as an insult. I think it is PZ’s favorite* insult; it would be interesting to find out by a word count.

    I’m being polite by using your spelling of the word.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    One way for these wankers to make up for transgressions would be medical tests. Will ivermectin protect you from Ebola? Let us see how the orange one is doing.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    BTW just how many have died from COVID in USA right now? I lose track, the worst of it might have been avoided with good science.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Should have been “with competent leadership advised by good science”. Unfortunately stupidity is not a crime.

  9. StevoR says

    @ 3. simonhadley : “Gattaca is here now and will continue to be refined and improved.”

    I wouldn’t say it was here just yet – because no caste society of genetically engineered and tested versus “flawed DNA imperfect” folks but it definitley seems to be an ominous possible cloud onthe horizon.

    I’d also go with reckless although I’d add a “criminally” adverb in front of it. Unethical and arrogant and unwise also spting tomind a sapplicable descriptions of He Jiankui as well.

  10. Walter Solomon says

    PaulBC @2

    Elon Musk will probably give him a job.

    While it may only be a good guess with Musk, without a doubt Epstein would’ve funded this guy were he alive and able to do so. The whole breeding humans for specific purposes was one his main goals.

    As for the light prison sentence, my guess is China, execution capital of the planet (Texas eat your heart out) never wanted punish him in the first place. They gave him a slap on the wrist to assuage the criticism and went on with business as usual.

  11. PaulBC says

    beholder@4 People also do cosmetic surgery without a license. You don’t need to speculate in this case. There are reported cases. Some of them probably turn out just fine. The ones that do get reported are those that result in disfigurement and sometimes death.

    Somehow I doubt the results are a danger to society worth throwing someone in prison for.

    Are the dangers of botched cosmetic surgery worth criminal charges? I think so.

    But gene editing, which again may turn out just fine, or may result in hardship and early death for a conscious individual is, for you, nothing to worry about.

  12. beholder says

    @13 Paul

    But gene editing, which again may turn out just fine, or may result in hardship and early death for a conscious individual is, for you, nothing to worry about.

    “Nothing to worry about” and “[not] worth throwing someone in prison for” make all the difference in my argument. I don’t see this as fundamentally less ethical than choosing to have children when you know you could potentially give them a genetic disease. If anything there is the possibility for a better outcome; you can fix the gene that causes the disease in question.

    Dithering on how much we should punish someone for polluting the human gene pool is essentially a eugenicist series of arguments, not worth seriously considering or using as a basis for criminal sentencing, IMHO.

  13. PaulBC says

    beholder@14

    Dithering on how much we should punish someone for polluting the human gene pool

    That’s not my point. They should face criminal charges for carrying out human experimentation with reckless disregard to consequences. That’s my formal concern. We have laws covering human experimentation for a reason. My humanitarian concern is that quite possibly, since they have an incomplete understanding, they will cause more suffering to the individual produced this way than they eliminating.

    Well, what about parents who choose to conceive, knowing about a disability? I would argue that the ethical question is no different, but the jurisdictional question is very different. The criminal justice system is simply not the tool for addressing it, but it can be applied to human experimentation.

    “Polluting” the gene pool? Nope, not once did that cross my mind. In fact, altering the genome willy nilly is more likely to reduce than enhance fertility. Assuming these modifications make it into the general population, they will be drowned out by other factors (mostly likely; again I don’t really know either).

  14. PaulBC says

    beholder@14 To be clear, I get rather queasy reading stories (often religious) about “heroic” moms who miscarry 7 times in a row before finally having that perfect baby. I mean, I respect that it is entirely their business, not mine. This is a question of jurisdiction. It is not something that the law can or should punish. (I am still entitled to my own judgment; it simply seems like a strong case for adoption).

    On the other hand, someone carrying out a reckless human experiment completely outside of historical norms cannot be explained in terms of the individual right to pursuit of happiness, nor to bodily autonomy. So I do consider this situation very different, and believe that the coercive tools of the state may apply to such “researchers” (and usually not, FWIW to individuals who may be seeking them out, possibly out of desperation).

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    China already has laws against editing human genes and/or bringing such efforts to birth? Where do other nations stand on that?

    Maybe René @ # 5’s family name is Yargleargleblarlgle.

  16. robro says

    Some many invectives and not once has anyone mentioned the holy grail of all enterprise: profit. The person who can claim to make perfect, “to order” babies stands to make enormous amounts of do-re-mi.

    beholder @ #14

    If anything there is the possibility for a better outcome; you can fix the gene that causes the disease in question.

    Out of my field of expertise, but I gather from enumerable posts here that genetics can not be fixed by tinkering with “the gene.” Genetics is very complicated and wholistic.

  17. beholder says

    @19 robro

    Out of my field of expertise, but I gather from enumerable posts here that genetics can not be fixed by tinkering with “the gene.” Genetics is very complicated and wholistic.

    Human development is very complicated. The genome is the genome, and for those (un?)lucky few with diseases whose cause can be traced back to a mutation in a single gene, modifying a zygote’s genome would be the obvious fix.

    Any improper application or unavoidable adverse effects of CRISPR/Cas9 editing are a whole ‘nuther can of worms. I’d be talking out of my ass if I recommended it.

  18. StevoR says

    @9. birgerjohansson :

    BTW just how many have died from COVID in USA right now? I lose track, the worst of it might have been avoided with good science.

    This source says :

    https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

    1,008,679 deaths in the USA and I suspect the figure is higher with some cases and deaths going unreported or misascribed.

    Scientists did their best and saved who knows how many lives with good science and good health measures. Trump and his cult followers and those who thought they’d “own the libs” by ignoring medical safety measures OTOH, made things so much needlessly worse. A lot of them killed themslves and family and friends in the process.

    I’m not sure what that ha sto do with this bad – at least unethical and criminally reckless scientist here.

  19. StevoR says

    Tried posting a reply to @9. birgerjohansson here which hasn’t gone through for some reason? Not sure why.Take III?:

    BTW just how many have died from COVID in USA right now? I lose track, the worst of it might have been avoided with good science.

    This source says :

    www worldometers info/coronavirus/country/us/

    1,008,679 deaths in the USA and I suspect the figure is higher with some cases and deaths going unreported or misascribed.

    Scientists did their best and saved who knows how many lives with good science and good health measures. Trump and his cult followers and those who thought they’d “own the libs” by ignoring medical safety measures OTOH, made things so much needlessly worse. A lot of them killed themslves and family and friends in the process.

    I’m not sure what that has to do with this bad – at least unethical and criminally reckless scientist here.

  20. Jazzlet says

    beholdder @20

    The current accepted practise for those who have such mutations is pre-implantation selection. The couple go through IVF, the embryos produced are tested for the mutation, only those without are returned to the mother.

  21. garnetstar says

    Do we know what happened to the genetically-modified children that He Jiankui produced? Are they just out there growing up, one hope anonymously? Or are they being studied as some kind of genetic freaks?

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