FORBIDDEN GATES:PART 14
By Thomas R. Horn
October 24, 2010
THE HELL SCENARIO WILL BE NOTHING TO GRIN ABOUT
Synthetic biologists forecast that as computer code is written to create software to augment human capabilities, so too genetic code will be written to create life forms to augment civilization. —Jerome C. Glenn
Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us…. Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become. —Edward Osborne Wilson
Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated! —the Borg
Not long ago, a writer for Wired magazine named Elizabeth Svoboda contacted me (Tom) to let me know she was writing an article about “research advances using transgenic animals to produce pharmaceutical compounds.” She had come across an editorial by me raising caution about this kind of experimentation and wondered if I might be willing to provide points for her article, elaborating in areas where I saw producing transgenic human-animals as potentially harmful. She stated that most of the scientists she planned to quote were “pretty gung-ho about the practice,” and said she thought it would be important to provide some balance. I thanked her for the invitation and sent a short summary of some, though not all, of the areas where concerns about this science could be raised.
When the article was finally published by Wired, I was surprised that none of my notes had made it into the story. I contacted Elizabeth and asked why, and she replied that they had originally been included in her article, “Pharm Animals Crank Out Drugs,” but in order to create a positive spin on the story, the editors had censored my cautionary notes during the editing process. Elizabeth apologized and said she hoped the experience had not soured me on dealing with the magazine.
“It doesn’t sour me,” I assured her. “I just think the reporting by most agencies is lopsided and missing the opportunity to thoroughly engage such an important issue.” The fact was, Wired magazine deprived the public of balanced treatment on an important subject and concluded instead with a scientist by the name of Marie Cecile Van de Lavoir saying that potential human health benefits from transgenic research “justify tinkering” with nature’s plan. “If a transgenic animal produces a great cancer therapy,” she said, “I won’t hear anyone saying, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’” Van de Lavoir’s comments were undoubtedly in response to some of my observations before they were pulled, because in offering caution, I had specifically used the phrase “tinkering with nature’s plan.” Van de Lavoir’s short-sighted approach, like too many bioethicists engaged in the current debate, is as scary as the science, in our opinion. We wanted to contact her to suggest that she watch the film I Am Legend starring Will Smith, which opens appropriately enough with a scientist announcing the cure to cancer using a genetically engineered vaccine that blends animal and human genetics. If you’ve seen the film, you know the “cure” results in a human form of rabies that wipes out most life on earth—a real possibility, given the scenario.