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“It’s elementary.. dear Sherlock”, so said Dr. Watson to the cloned super-detective.

“It seems unfair that some people don’t get the same opportunity. Once you have a way in which you can improve our children, no-one can stop it. It would be stupid not to use it because someone else will. Those parents who enhance their children, then their children are going to be the ones who dominate the world.”

he continued..

I can’t wait for the inevitable catfights, the media brow-twitching and the hectoring by frightened politicians.. If the immediate reaction of some of the “bioethicists”is anything to go by, this one is shaping up to be another science-vs-fear debate. Well, guess who wins in the long run..?

For instance, a Mr. Shakespeare (no dead poet, this one) says:

“He is talking about altering something that most people see as part of normal human variation, and that I think is wrong…. I am afraid he may have done more harm than good, his leadership of the Human Genome Project and his discovery of 1953 notwithstanding.”

What exactly is “normal” in human variation? Is dying at the age of 40 from juvenile diabetes normal? Is not having the cognitive skills to get through basic math “normal”? Is a club foot “normal”? Adult Acne?

I think Watson is right to bring this debate to the front burner, using his position and authority to do so. The cost of genetic engineering is going to fall, and knowledge is impossible to bottle up in any case. You’ll have better luck fencing wolverines with scotch tape. What Watson is trying to do is to move beyond just acknowleding this as fact, and pressing the rest of us to create a workable and mostly acceptable ethical framework for it.

• Category: Science 
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I want this researchers job.. the guy spends two and a half years hanging around seedy and not-so-seedy places watching people kiss..! On second thoughts, maybe not. Imagine the pent-up frustrations, the high cost of hotel porn..?

But that’s not what I found interesting about his research. It was the implication that the less passionate the kiss, the more culturally influenced it was. Conversely, the more passionate the kissing act, the more primal and less culturally dependant.. seems rather obvious when you think about it. It also made me wonder if there were anyrelated emperical studies done on the cultural drivers for “social kissing” – pecks on the cheek, kissing the hand, forehead, nose, etc..? Is the existence of a large and elaborate “social kissing” ettiquette indicative of discomfort with its more primal cousin..?

Something guaranteed to completely mess up your Valentine’s day date!

Posted by suman at 12:42 PM

• Category: Science 
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The WHO is actually recommending (link requires registration) that developing countries invest in genetic services as part of more holistic and complete health care system.

I’m surprised that the WHO has not thought through some of the obvious unintended consequences of this recommendation. Several cultures in developing countries have a rather, well, different view of what is considered a genetic defect and what is not. In addition, the rapid pace of change in genomics research can quickly overwhelm and twist traditional practices.

An egregious example would be its effects on premarital screening. Arranged marriages are very common from Iran to China (and with a big pit-stop in India). The rationale behind “arranging” a marriage is to allow for maximum cultural and tribal compatibility between two complete strangers. Today, the search for compatibility in arranged Indian marriages has led most communities away from old-fashioned astrology and to the medical history of the family. Now throw the family genetic history in the mix, and it becomes easy to envisage the rise of widespread, populist eugenic practices in these cultures.

I happen to think that both our ability and the desire to alter our genetic landscape heralds one of the most exciting events of this century. It’s going to be fun to watch, and even more fun to be a part of. I can’t wait!

Razib adds: Great Suman, now I’ve got to worry about my mom stealing some cells to get tested so she can have the results on hand when she’s looking for a wife for me. Grrrr….

• Category: Science 
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Over at Richard Bennett’s Blog, Gene Expression has been charged with being racist.. oh well!

Honest debate about HBD and the consequences to social policy is not racism, but then I doubt that Richard bothers to read past the headlines and blog-bytes gnenerated on GNXP.

Razib adds: Racist? God-that-I-don’t-believe-in I’m tired of this crap. I’ve addressed these issues before. I believe in equality before the law. But, I believe different groups probably have different aptitudes (not moral inferiority or superiority)-and the axiom of equality-that all groups have the exact same tendencies as our common evolutionary heritage, could cause serious problems when applied to public policy.

One more thing: I’ve said this before, but this needs repeating (from The New White Nationalism by black sociologist Carol Swain):

At least one important survey suggests that a belief in the biological inferiority [notice the loaded terminology here] of some races in regard to intelligence is more common than generally supposed. Smith College professor Stanley Rothman and Harvard researcher Mark Snyderman surveyed a sample of mostly scientific experts in the field of educational psychology in the late 1980s and found that 53 percent believed IQ differences between whites and African Americans were at least partly genetic in origin, while only 17 percent attributed the IQ differences to environmental factors alone (the remainder either believed the data was currently insufficient to decide the issue or refused to answer the question).

The footnote pinpoints the study as the Survey of Expert Opinion on Intelligence and Aptitude Testing, in American Psychologist 42 (1987): 127-44.

In 1994, when I was disgusted by The Bell Curve like any decent human being-and politically liberal high school senior, I read an article in Newsweek that reported the findings. I just tucked them away in a distant corner of my brain, not wanting to believe any of it.

More good points: My friend and guest blogger Jason Soon has some very level headed things to say on the message board (check out some of the comments-I used to joke with godless that we were “Darwin’s Wolves,” but my readers are a veritable pack!):

This is a matter of True Vs False – end of story – and taking a position on this one way or the other doesn’t make anyone a cross burner. Anyone who implies otherwise is no different from the sorts of relativists who can’t separate the political from the Truth. As for interest – some people are interested in this human biodiversity stuff because it’s intrinsically interesting. Not because it supports an agenda, not because they wear white hoods in their spare time but because they find it interesting. I find it interesting and fascinating. Perhaps people like Richard don’t believe people are capable of finding this interesting for its own sake because he’s a political hack and like all political hacks everything is about Politics (that sounds a bit like the relativists too). The Positive and the Normative are 2 different things, Richard, get it?….

Couldn’t say it better myself.

From the message board:


I think this conversation has been too important to keep in this archived little comment box, so I created a thread with all the text copied over to Razib’s newly created message boards. I think it would be cool if people could register in, and the conversation could continue over there instead.

Here’s a link to the boards:

• Category: Science 
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