The Tangled Bank has grown so huge that apparently we now need a whole polytechnic university to handle it. Appropriately enough, I’m not on the academic faculty—I’m down in the health services clinic, checking out genitals.
I didn’t listen to the State of the Union Address last night, preferring to maintain my equanimity by attending a talk on quantum physics, but I knew I could trust my readers to email me with choice weird science bits. I’m getting a lot of “WTF?” email about this statement from Bush:
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.
But guess what? Creating chimeras is legitimate and useful scientific research; it’s really happening. Of course, it isn’t with the intent of creating monstrous half-animal/half-human slaves or something evil like that, and scientists are well aware (or should be well aware) of the ethical concerns, and it’s the topic of ongoing debate. Let’s consider one recent example of such an experiment.
Down syndrome is a very common genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21. That kind of genetic insult causes a constellation of problems: mild to moderate mental retardation, heart defects, and weakened immune systems, and various superficial abnormalities. It’s also a viable defect, and produces walking, talking, interacting human beings who are loved by their friends and families, who would really like to be able to do something about those lifespan-reducing health problems. We would love to have an animal model of Down syndrome, so that, for example, we could figure out exactly what gene overdose is causing the immune system problems or the heart defects, and develop better treatments for them.
So what scientists have been doing is inserting human genes into mice, to produce similar genetic overdoses in their development. As I reported before, there have been partial insertions, but now a team of researchers has inserted a complete human chromosome 21 into mouse embryonic stem cells, and from those generated a line of aneuploid mice that have many of the symptoms of Down syndrome, including the heart defects. They also have problems in spatial learning and memory that have been traced back to defects in long-term potentiation in the central nervous system.
These mice are a tool to help us understand a debilitating human problem.
George W. Bush would like to make them illegal.
He’s trusting that everyone will think he is banning monstrous crimes against nature, but what he’s really doing is targeting the weak and the ill, blocking useful avenues of research that are specifically designed to help us understand human afflictions. His message isn’t “We aren’t going to let the mad scientists make monsters!”, it’s “We aren’t going to let the doctors help those ‘retards.'”
Once again, the ignorance and the bigotry of the religious right wins out over reason and humanitarianism. I think I know who the real pig-men are.
O’Doherty A, Ruf S, Mulligan C, Hildreth V, Errington ML, Cooke S, Sesay A, Modino S, Vanes L, Hernandez D, Linehan JM, Sharpe PT, Brandner S, Bliss TV, Henderson DJ, Nizetic D, Tybulewicz VL, Fisher EM. (2005) An aneuploid mouse strain carrying human chromosome 21 with Down syndrome phenotypes. Science 309(5743):2033-7.
…but my university actually supports me. There’s a profile of yours truly that’s part of a random rotating collection of links on UMM’s main page (if you don’t see it there, reload the page; it’ll appear eventually.)
I am aware that I am slightly harsher and more radical than many of my colleagues on some issues (others have their own domains of expertise and radicalism), but one of the great things about UMM is that even if they don’t explicitly endorse all of my opinions—and that acknowledgment on the main page is not an admission that this university is a hotbed of militant atheist evilutionists—they are appreciative of the diversity of ideas that make up a great university.
Here’s a fascinating glimpse of history for those involved in the creation wars: the Seattle Weekly has published scans of the original Wedge document from the Discovery Institute. Now you too can see it in it’s original cheap-ass photocopied glory, and also learn who leaked the documents…two people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.
The paper also has an account of how the Wedge was revealed. I didn’t know this part of it at all, and I have to thank Matt Duss and Tim Rhodes for casually breaking the rules of their firm (I presume!) and exposing this remarkably pompous, dishonest, contemptible document to the world.
The story begins, so far as the world at large is concerned, on a late January day seven years ago, in a mail room in a downtown Seattle office of an international human-resources firm. The mail room was also the copy center, and a part-time employee named Matt Duss was handed a document to copy. It was not at all the kind of desperately dull personnel-processing document Duss was used to feeding through the machine. For one thing, it bore the rubber-stamped warnings “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION.” Its cover bore an ominous pyramidal diagram superimposed on a fuzzy reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel rendition of God the Father zapping life into Adam, all under a mysterious title: The Wedge.
Curious, Duss rifled through the 10 or so pages, eyebrows rising ever higher, then proceeded to execute his commission while reserving a copy of the treatise for himself. Within a week, he had shared his find with a friend who shared his interest in questions of evolution, ideology, and the propagation of ideas. Unlike Duss, the friend, Tim Rhodes, was technically savvy, and it took him little time to scan the document and post it to the World Wide Web, where it first appeared on Feb. 5, 1999.
The unnamed author of the document wasted no time getting down to his subject. “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Yet little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science.” Such thinkers as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and, above all, Charles Darwin promulgated a “materialistic conception of reality” that “eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and music.”
Not content with bewailing the intelligentsia’s falling away from faith, the author proposed to do something about it. “Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies,” he wrote. He went on to detail a 20-year plan to replace “materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God,” and to replace materialist science with a new scientific paradigm “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”
I much prefer reading these things as pdfs, so I’ve converted it. Here you go, download your very own copy of the Wedge document (540KB pdf).
There’s a great story in the Rake about the Dakotas—that place just a few miles west of where I’m sitting. This is an odd part of the world, where population is actually contracting and drifting away to leave our rural communities standing rather lonely and empty.
Quite obviously, North Dakota has a problem. Even as some of its cities grow and become more cosmopolitan and diverse, namely Fargo and Grand Forks, which huddle against the border of Minnesota, the rest of the state seems to be returning to nature. It’s a conundrum across the country, this decline in rural vitality, but the matter is especially dire in greater North Dakota, which threatens to empty out completely. Various survival plans have been floated. The more mundane involve tax breaks and other financial incentives for those willing to move to, say, the town of Tioga, in the northwestern quarter of the state. Other proposals are more unusual. One suggests turning the better part of the state into a federal grassland, where buffalo and prairie dogs could roam free. Another would make North Dakota a “four-seasons war games zone.” Proponents of that plan talk of the plethora of abandoned houses and barns and silos that the military could use for target practice. These are the people who refer to North Dakota, with very little irony, as “Dakistan.”
It’s not all bad news, though, and these old empty farmlands aren’t a dreadful place to live, as Tara attests. You have to like living at a slower, quieter pace, and you have to think it’s not such a terrible thing for human residents to move away and other beasties to move in.
You also have to be tolerant of interesting weather. Extremely cold temperatures (which we haven’t had much of this year), strong winds, occasional blizzards, tornadoes, the usual. And sometimes we get spectacular sundogs and weird phenomena I never heard of before, like this recent occurence of snow rollers. When the conditions are just right, high winds and temperatures right around freezing, Mother Nature rolls snowballs on the local fields.
(via MNSpeak, and the snow rollers story was from some lady named Mary Gjerness Myers)
I’ve got a couple of posts that have been nominated for The 2005 Koufax Awards: Best Post, so I’ve quickly brought them on board here at the new site. Voting isn’t yet open, but here they are:
Some people might think I’m a rather morbid fellow. Years ago, when I was an undergraduate lackey at the University of Washington and working at the med school, there, I made a wonderful discovery one lunch hour: a bone room. Tucked away in an odd corner of the building was a room full of shelves stacked with cardboard boxes, each one containing the bones of some individual who’d left their remains to science. They’d been thoroughly cleaned and disarticulated, and many had parts sawed apart so you could peer into the sinuses or the hollow spaces for marrow or poke around in the caverns of the cranium. It became my favorite quiet, private place. I could putter about reassembling someone, or just contemplate some scrap of bone for a Yorick moment.
I know you will not believe me, but I swear it’s true: I’m not of this earth. I fled here years ago because my home planet was driving me crazy. Let me explain.
My home world is very much like this one. It’s populated by billions of bipedal primates, who are just like people here: sometimes foolish, sometimes wise, sometimes hateful, sometimes generous. They are grouped into cities and nations, and sometimes they have wars, and sometimes they cooperate. You really would have a hard time telling our two planets apart, except for one thing.