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"The artists' biggest nightmare should never be that the public is making copies of their music and listening to it. That should be their dream."
Thanks Derrick Ashong!

Mr. Gunn : 9:47 PM : Tuesday, April 15, 2003 :


I was volunteering at a benefit banquet for a local charity, which meant that I stood there and occasionally served food to people in exchange for being able to eat and drink all I wanted. While I was trying to brew coffee with broken equipment that PJ's delivered but didn't staff, I was conversing with someone who was eagerly awaiting the first cup of that bitter brown elixir of awareness. "It'll just be a minute more", I kept telling him as the machine heated the water. To distract him I asked what he did for a living:
"I'm an artist", he said, but did not elaborate, "what do you do?"
"Oh really? That's cool. I'm a graduate student in molecular biology."
"So do you study the genome project and all that stuff?"
"Not too much. Right now I'm working on a project studying differentiation signals of stem cells. Stem cells, as you may have heard in the news(yeah, right!), are cells that retain the ability to turn into any other cell in your body, so they could potentially be used to repair nerve injuries like spinal cord injuries, which would be great because nerves can't regrow on their own, or treat Alzheimer's, or any number of things. It's been show that these cells will migrate to the site of an injury, and then turn into the specific type of cell needed to repair that injury. These cells eventually lose their ability to differentiate into different cell types as they grow, however, and no one really knows why, so we're trying to study that process. We are looking for something, and have had a little success, in finding something that allows cells to retain their multipotentiality(I was really getting into it now, getting excited, using words like multipotentiality). It would also be great if we could somehow reset the state of differentiated cells. The problem is, though, the current administration has enacted anti-cloning laws that are so broad that they're making even life-saving stem cell research illegal."
"But you get those cells from babies, right?"
"We don't have to, and unless we can study them, we can't find out ways to get them from other sources and to use them to save lives. (trying to change the subject, because I knew where this was going) I once saw this artist who had a bunny engineered to glow green(not really, read the article). What do you think about that?"
"Kinda like playing God, isn't it? That's what worries me about this genetic technology, you don't know what the effects are going to be."
"I guess it is kinda like playing God, but if we can save lives, it's worth it, right? We make a huge effort to study the potential effects of things, so I'm not really worried that stem cells are going to get out and take over the world."
"But we don't know what the consequences of these things will be, how they will affect the environment long term."
"...and if we can't study them, not only will we never know, but we'll be denying sick people the development of live-saving therapies."
Silence for about a minute.
"I'll come back and check on that coffee in a little while."
"Ok, I'm expecting it to be ready any time now."

Mr. Gunn : 8:14 PM : :


Murtaugh dissects the guardian article that I wrote about below. The funny thing, though, is that if you read his and my article you would hardly be able to tell we were talking about the same thing. It's true, Charles, that many of the things they mention aren't new. My impression was that the current creationist push and the stem cell debates are what sparked the current article, and the first couple items, about AIDS and global warming and such, were simply a review of where these old issues currently stand. Come on, we can't expect a bunch of journalists to get it right about scientific issues, can we? It's like expecting scientific verisimilitude from a TV show. The media is looking for a story, so they pick the two most opposite sides of any issue and exaggerate them into a grand debate. They don't have any time for the subtle points or poring over data because they assume, probably rightly, that 90% of their audience doesn't either. That said, anytime anyone writes a decent article showing how silly the ID people are, I am going to link to it, and I think everyone should do the same.


Not because we're fighting a hard fought battle; In truth, I think the amount of people who want to believe in creation is probably going to remain constant or decline with the decline of religion, but simply because even though religiosity is declining, so is scientific literacy. I think creation vs. evolution is a debate that is finished. However, there are other debates that we shouldn't be having, and wouldn't if people understood a little basic science. In response to this, the thing we, need to do is keep the right information and informed opinion somewhere the public will be exposed to it. "We" being all science people with any sort of a voice. Religious belief levels rise and fall( before Murtaugh takes me to task for no data - this is anecdotal), but the fraction of science a layperson knows versus the amount any scientist knows is rapidly decreasing(also anecdotal, but I wouldn't expect any argument here). This is not just because of the pace of science, either. The average person doesn't know any more about important, relevant scientific ideas than the average person in the 1960s, even though so many new and important ideas have come out since then. Many non-scientist people I know have levels of understanding that stop right around the germ theory of disease. This is a problem. This isn't new either, but keeps getting worse. I'm so big about educating, I even stop in the middle of most of my articles to explain things that people who are steeped in the scientific tradition already take for granted, like the explanation about the role of science and concept of falsifiability which can be found in many of my articles.

Here and here, for example.

So Murtaugh is right to criticize the Guardian's article, and he's oh so right to point out that the left has and will continue to do far more harm to the advance of science than the right, but I can't make a statement like that without emphasizing that going too far to either side is the real problem, rather than anything intrinsic about liberalism or conservatism.


Mr. Gunn : 7:05 PM : :


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