Genetics

Attack of the Genetic Sheep how not to over React to Scientific Advances



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One of the coolest parts of living in the age we do is that, with everything from science and technology to social and spiritual concerns advancing at the speed of light, we get to experience the actualization of concepts that were once considered simple science fiction, within our own lifetime. Oh, sure, it's a Pandora's Box of mixed blessings, but consider the alternative. I don't know about any of you, but the idea of being born, living out my life and dying in the same agrarian village, while never traveling more than ten miles outside that comfort zone or knowing anybody beyond the twenty or so families that made up said village, kind of leaves me cold. I'm definitely a cosmopolitan kind of guy.

So, it's always very interesting to me when some "new" discovery or advancement makes big headlines. Take for instance, the recent and on-going flap over the "gay gene." It's been a topic of research for decades, so it shouldn't really come as any surprise when a breakthrough of sorts is made. What's really fascinating to me, however, is not the announcement itself, so much as how it is interpreted by the media and the public at large.

It all started with a little article in Radar magazine, which posited the question: What if there was a way to redirect an unborn child's genetic destiny and, in effect, reverse the child's sexual orientation inscribed in his or her chromosomes. It was a fascinating combination of speculative fiction and hard science, as provided by leaders in the field of genetic research, particularly in the area of research on sheep. That article, in turn, prompted a very well-written "think piece" by a prominent Christian commentator, named Albert Mohler, Jr., who pondered the eventual crisis such a discovery would mean to his rigidly held Bibical beliefs. These comments were picked up by the media, taken completely out of context and a firestorm was created.

From these humble beginnings, various historians, psychologists and human rights advocates jumped on the bandwagon and began pounding their various pulpits, either dissecting or decrying outright the implications of such a discovery. Interestingly enough, many of those braying the loudest had obviously read neither the Radar article, nor Mohler's piece. They had picked up what information they could from various news sources and, without researching for themselves, gone into full-on panic mode. This, as I see it, is one of the biggest problems facing us today. Nobody wants to research anything, anymore. They just Google a topic, or worse, watch Fox News, glom onto a couple of inflammatory statements and go off with, ironically enough, a sheeplike mentality. It would be funny, if it weren't so sad.

Here's the deal, both the Radar article and Mohler's opinion piece are ALSO available on-line and, upon actually reading both, one discovers that, once again, it's all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Because both go out of their way to state that much of this research is speculative and, though advancements do continue to be made, the possibility of us ever being able to disentangle behavior patterns from all of the other, various markers, like eye color, hair color, skin tone, or even the size of a man's, er... feet, is still in the realm of science fiction. Now, this is not to say that such a discovery isn't possible and could be made within our lifetime, just like so many others have, but that it would be just the tip of a very large iceberg with more implications than applications.

So, basically, what I'm saying is, relax. Just because the original research involved sheep, doesn't mean we have to act like sheep. It isn't the end of the world as we know it. Neither Tyler Gray, the author of the Radar article, nor Albert Mohler, are the Robert Oppenheimer of our time. They're just writers positing possibilities, like so many others have done before. Giving them the kind of credence we are is much like watching the movie Gattaca and building a scientific theory based purely on that particular fiction. In this day and age, it's only religion that does that sort of thing. Scientology anyone? Science doesn't work that way and we'd all do well to remember that. There's an order for everything. The best order is facts first. Besides, I'm still waiting for my flying car and Moonbase Alpha. Priorities, people. Seriously.

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