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Cloning – It’s Time to Stop the Cesorship of Science

It’s Time to Stop the Cesorship of Science

How responsible are scientists for science and its applications? In a recent issue of the journal Science the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Sir Joseph Rotblat, proposes a Hippocratic oath for scientists. He is strongly opposed to the idea that science is neutral and that scientists are not to be blamed for its misapplication. Therefore, he proposes an oath, or pledge, initiated by the Pugwash Group in the United States (Science 286, 1475 1999). “I promise to work for a better world, where science and technology are used in socially responsible ways. I will not use my education for any purpose intended to harm human beings or the environment. Throughout my career, I will consider the ethical implications of my work before I take action. While the demands placed upon me might be great, I sign this declaration because I recognise that individual responsibility is the first step on the path to peace.”

These are indeed noble aims to which all citizens should wish to subscribe, but it does present some severe difficulties in relation to science.

Contrary to Rotblat’s view I claim that reliable scientific knowledge is morally and ethically neutral and ethics only enter when science is applied to making a product, for example genetically modified foods (Is science dangerous? Nature 398, 281). If genes are responsible for determining some of our behaviour, that is the way the world is – it is neither good nor bad. Knowledge can be used for both good and evil. Of course, scientists in their work have the responsibilities of all citizens to do no harm and be honest. Their additional responsiblity is to put their work and its possible applications in the public domain.

Rotblat does not want to distinguish between scientific knowledge and its application, but the very nature of science is that it is not possible to predict what will be discovered or how these discoveries could be applied. Cloning provides a nice example. The original studies related to cloning were largely the work of biologists in the 1960s. They were studying how frog embryos develop and wanted to find out if genes which are located in the cell nucleus were lost or permanently turned off as the embryo developed. This involved putting the nuclei of cells from later stages in development, including adult cells, back into an egg from which the nucleus had been removed to determine whether the genes in that nucleus would allow the egg to develop.

Images of Life and Death in Bavarian Gentians

Images of Life and Death in Bavarian Gentians

As the last few days of summer fade away, and September’s end brings promises of a cold, sad autumn, the feast of Michaelmas has come and gone, and one can not help but be reminded of D. H. Lawrence’s “Bavarian Gentians,” a poem that commences by reminiscing of the sad days at the end of September, when summer has finally departed along with its intoxicating and life-giving breath. Like the days that separate summer from autumn, Lawrence’s poem, one of his last, is a sad and dreamy read. It seduces audiences with its slow dance with blue death. It speaks to students with its melancholic passion. It breathes life into the last days before death.

A death that comes from tuberculosis is never sudden. The disease progresses slowly until it gradually overcomes its victim, who must wait with a tragic patience for that final moment. At the end of The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann speaks parting words to his protagonist that speak for the ravages of TB and its almost inevitable force, “The wicked dance in which you are caught up will last many a sinful year yet, and we would not wager much that you will come out whole.” As a longtime sufferer of TB, Lawrence too was caught up in a “wicked dance,” one that must have caused him, like the speaker in the poem, to feel like he was guiding himself “…with the blue, forked torch of this flower / down the darker and darker stairs…” until he finally reached his destination, the “sightless realm where darkness is awake upon dark.” The poem itself is a complex web, a trance like dream that suggests both a gravitation toward death and a transcendence beyond it. The speaker speaks of “the halls of Dis” and of travelling down where …

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…Chapter 7: Prosperine – Glaucus and Scylla.” Oct. 2001.

Ferris, T. “Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence.” Oct. 2001.

Lawrence, line 16.

Lawrence lines 17-18.

Lawrence, line 14, line 2.

Lawrence, line 13.

Lawrence, line 11.

This portion of the later version, along with the second stanza, can be found at:

Ferris, T. “Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence.” Oct. 2001.

The complete poem, however, can not be found there.

Ferris, T. “Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence.” Oct. 2001.

Ferris, T. “Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence.” Oct. 2001.

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