What sort of person vandalises Stonehenge?

Posted .

Two men have been caught vandalising Stonehenge.

Read the whole post »

Excellent news! The Commons has voted in support of research on hybrid embryos. Needless to say, the uninformed are up in arms about the “army of Frankesteins” about to be unleashed, but I think everyone who understands the issues knows this is the right outcome.

The debate on hybrid embryo research

Posted .

Opponents of hybrid embryo research base their opinion on nothing more than their personal sense of unease, whereas scientists supporting it do so because of tangible medical benefits to thousands. It’s easy to see which is the ethical position.

Read the whole post »

So, the votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill are taking place over the next couple of days, with the big one — hybrid embryos — happening today.

The BBC has summarised the key points on both sides of the debate:

What are the arguments in favour of this process?

Scientists who advocate the work say the cells would allow them to study how genetic defects, which cause diseases such as Parkinson’s, develop.

They also say that stem cells’ ability to develop into different tissues mean it could be possible to use cells formed in this process to cure diseases.

Using animal eggs would enable scientists to overcome the problem that human eggs are in short supply.

What are the arguments against?

Opponents say it is tampering with nature, and is unethical.

On the one hand we have a set of reasoned arguments detailing specific predicted health benefits for thousands of people, and on the other we have “eewwww!”.

I really wish people would stop conflating their own squeamishness with their ethical position; it clouds important issues, like this, where the ethical position is surely the one that saves lives.

Wrong wrong wrong!

Posted .

The BBC have an article in which Dr Andrew Ross of the Natural History Museum refers to a harvestman a both a spider and an insect. It is neither.

Read the whole post »

A while ago I wrote about Carl Zimmer‘s use of the colloquial name daddy-longlegs when referring to harvestmen, and how it hurt the international accessibility of his writing. Honestly, it wasn’t a big deal at the time (although it did bring in a celebrity commenter!) and it looks utterly insignificant compared to this. I’m going to assume that Dr Andrew Ross is as competent as his position of collection manager of fossil invertebrates and plants at the Natural History Museum in London would suggest—which is very—and that he simply wasn’t careful enough about his use of words in interview. During the course of the article, he refers to this harvestman specimen both as a spider and in a roundabout way as an insect as well. Not only are both incorrect, but they’re also mutually exclusive. It’s a real shame that given the opportunity to get the word out and educate the public a little, a senior employee of the Natural History Museum managed, instead, to misinform the public through something as simple as poor word choice.

Luckily there was a safety net this time; the BBC’s journalist, Rebecca Morelle, clearly knows her stuff, and she pre-empts his comments with the correct definition; that harvestmen are arachnids that are closely related to, without actually being, spiders. I just can’t help feeling that it shouldn’t fall to a journalist to correct the expert she quotes.

On the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Posted .

The Catholic Church objects to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. I argue that it’s for no better reason than it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Read the whole post »

Oh look, Church leaders are up in arms about some new piece of legislation. Are we really surprised? After so many thousands of years of them proclaiming that anything which makes them, personally, feel uncomfortable is evil, how can we be anything but bored when they keep at it in the present time? Last year it was equal rights for homosexuals, this year it’s advanced research into human genetics. Before long it’ll be artificial intelligence, neuroscience, or some other thing which challenges, and advances, our view of ourselves.

Oh, and of course the cries are going to be led by the Catholic Church this time; they’re the ones with a huge theological investment in the subject. We’re talking about a cult whose insane superstitions about human genetic material lead them to declare male masturbation a “sin against God”, and to deduce that tens of millions of people in the third world dying of AIDS and hundreds of millions more living in miserable, starving poverty due to overpopulation is probably OK compared to the much greater sin of letting them use condoms. These are people whose core values are utterly incompatible with the human rights and human dignity they claim to be the guardians of, and our response to their claims of being some sort of authority on ethics (especially bioethics) should be to laugh disdainfully and get on with trying to make the world a better place.