As I’ve been travelling I’ve been aiming to keep a journal of what I’ve been doing. Due to being in some places for a rather long time that means I’ll update this page less frequently as there are fewer new things to comment upon. During my time doing various tasks I have been indulging in a few podcasts, often surrounding science, technology, discovery etc, and I’ve thought I’d like to share some of the things I learn from them.
Whilst it seems a little pointless, as if anybody wanted to learn these things they could go to the source themselves, there is no guarantee that they would find them organically. With this in mind I thought why don’t I share what I’ve learnt with my own opinions, what I take away from the information AND the original source so you can also make up your own mind. I guess the important thing is extending and sharing the knowledge, re-disseminating the information within your sphere of influence.
So with that in mind I will attempt to post once a week/fortnight/month with regards to what I’ve been listening to, watching, reading and how I feel about these posts. That being said I am quite flakey so there it might not always be on time.
There’s quite a few things this week as I’ve been binging on podcasts but I will focus on just two aspects. Firstly as there are a few resources for you to indulge in and I personally find these two things very interesting!
Let’s start with the ACLU.
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is an organisation that will defend the constitutional rights of anyone regardless of the individual’s political, religious, racial, or whatever stance. Here are a few examples of how they don’t discriminate which is one reason I really like them (there are however cases that I definitely wouldn’t agree with though).
- Scopes 1925: where they defended a Tennessee biology teacher’s right to teach evolution
- Tennessee 2014: they defended a boy’s right to read his bible during a free reading period
- Brown vs Board of Education 1954: working with the NAACP to desegregate American schools
- Skokie 1978: defending a Nazi Group’s free speech in their attempt to march in Chicago
So I’ve cherry picked a little bit to show just a few cases they’ve been involved in that show, hopefully, conflicting groups of people and issues. Religion vs science, equality vs equality (albeit on behalf of a questionable group of people). Whilst I’m not saying I agree with any prejudicial/oppressive views of any type, I’m also fairly convinced that their actions don’t necessarily mean they condone the views of who they defend merely their right to express their opinion. Whilst they don’t say this I feel this quote somewhat echoes my own opinions on the matter “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
I generally try to adopt a black and white approach to things because I do think it makes things easier and also in a way is fairer (although in reality I know this isn’t true or practical), even I have some problems coming to terms with some of the groups they have defended.
There is a website called NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) a website that aimed to abolish age of consent laws. Now the website was under attack due to informing and basically teaching people how to groom, interact and lure children I guess (I don’t know much about it to be honest as I couldn’t find myself to read too much about it). The argument was that this information led to the death of a child as men used the information on the website to do what they did. Now I don’t feel I could defend this website myself but, taken from the ACLU website here is their defence, which is something I can’t disagree with.
“In representing NAMBLA today, our Massachusetts affiliate does not advocate sexual relationships between adults and children.
What the ACLU does advocate is robust freedom of speech for everyone.”
What I feel they’re saying is that their beliefs in constitutional rights are so strong that they will become public enemies to defend the un-defendable if that makes sense? I admire their convictions but don’t feel I could do the same.
Topic Two: CRISPR
CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is an incredibly complicated term to give a name to something that has been incredibly hot for a while and could very well sculpt the future the way I see it. It is a tool scientists can use edit genomes and modify the building bricks of many different life forms. I won’t talk too much about the process itself as it is very complicated and I don’t fully understand it but I will try to my hardest to put it in simple terms.
It is (very crudely) a pair of enzymatic scissors that can cut DNA, allowing strands to be removed or added, and a piece of RNA that will be specifically designed to target certain strands of DNA. Once the strands have been identified and the RNA attached, the scissors will come and cut that section of DNA. The cell realises the DNA is damaged and attempts to repair it, at this point scientists can intervene and change the genes.
- RNA works like a highlighter and colours a section of DNA
- The scissors (cas9) find only the highlighted section and trim the DNA
- Scientists interrupt the repair process to alter the genes and create the desired change
Now like I said, that’s a very crude explanation, probably not very accurate, but it is my best attempt so please feel free to research more and help me improve the accuracy of my analogy. Hopefully this picture kind of helps!
The important thing about this is what it means we could do. From eradicating congenital diseases such as Down’s Syndrome or albinism to modifying mosquitoes to be incapable of carrying malaria, one of the biggest killers in our world. Most of these applications are definitely positive things. Millions of lives could be saved, diseases could be prevented, eradicated, relegated to the archives of history. The problem is we don’t know what knock-on effects this could have. We never do with progress in science and that’s why it is very ethically hard to decide what the right approach is.
Moving on from disease we can talk about something that people have discussed for a while, designer babies. We have test-tube babies and IVF to help people have children when they might not otherwise be able to. What they mention in the Radiolab podcast is what scares me the most. I’m paraphrasing here so you’ll have to listen to it yourself but it was something along the lines of “so you’ve decided to have a baby boy, for an extra $1,000 you can add the Alzheimer’s resistance gene”. Alzheimer’s resistance sounds great, genetic predisposition to perfect cardiovascular health sounds great. The problem is if it becomes a commodity that only the rich can afford. All this would do is further separate the classes, making the rich not only wealthier (as seems to be the general agenda of governments) but also healthier, likely to lead a better life because they can afford it (which isn’t that different from today anyway). Imagine you could pay for an intelligent, strong, tall, whatever child. Not only will the elite be elite due to their wallets but they will literally be harder, better, faster and stronger.
It’s such a complicated topic and it’s really interesting to follow the developments that are going on in this field and I urge you to read, listen and learn as much as you can about this topic as I feel it’s going to making a bigger impact even within my lifetime.