GENE EDITTED HAMSTERS TURN NASTY
Most regular readers here know I have little use for scientism, that attitude so common to most modern scientists that they've solved all the puzzles of the universe, and that all we humans have to do to improve our lot and ward off whatever apocalypse they also confidently predict is to allow them to tinker with the human genome, or this or that animal species, or to spray enough chemicals into the atmosphere to blot out the sun, or any number of other insane ideas they've promoted. Their behavior and attitudes are so outlandish that it makes the burning of poor Giordano Bruno at the stake by the Inquisition look like an act of the greatest enlightenment.
As a case in point, I offer today's article spotted by T.M., as as a warning lesson, to what can go dramatically wrong when all the "science" confidently predicts something else:
Note that was the scientists were attempting to do, and what resulted, were two entirely different and opposed things:
Using the controversial CRISPR technology, researchers at Northwestern University were examining a hormone called vasopressin and its receptor, Avpr1a.
They opted to try and remove the latter from a group of Syrian hamsters, with the expectation it would increase bonding and co-operation between the lovable little critters.
That’s because Avpr1a is understood to regulate things like teamwork and friendship as well as dominance and bonding.
Their expectation proved to be wrong. Very wrong.
‘We were really surprised at the results,’ said Professor H Elliot Albers, the lead researcher on the study.
‘We anticipated that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication.
‘But the opposite happened.’
The academics found the adorable bundles of fluff turned into mutant rage monsters exhibiting ‘high levels of aggression towards other same-sex individuals’.
Now, if that's not bad enough, one reason that the scientists chose the poor hamsters was because... well, I'll let the article tell you for itself and in its own unbelievable words:
The scientists chose to experiment with Syrian hamsters because, unlike mice, they have a social organisation that’s similar to humans.
I don't know about you, but I have no doubt that the author of the article, Jeff Parsons, may actually have been told by some scientist involved with the project that the hamsters were chosen because their social organization is similar to humans.
Yup, that's why we see hamsters building skyscrapers, dams, airports, space rockets, promoting art and opera and literature and rock concerts and food courts and... well, you get the idea, though I put the point considerably less elegantly than did G.K. Chesterton when confronted with similar nonsense in his day:
If he (man) was an ordinary product of biological growth, like any other beast or bird, then it is all the more extraordinary that he was not in the least like any other beast or bird. He seems rather more supernatural as a natural product than as a supernatural one.... For in the plain matter like ... pictures there is in fact not a trace of any such development or degree. Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race-horse a Post-Impressionist. (G.K. Chesteron, The Everlasting Man, pp. 166-167, Ignatius Press, G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Volume II: St. Francis of Assisi, The Everlasting Man, St. Thomas Aquinas)
One can, however, surmise a sort of "scientismistic" purpose, or "reason" behind the experiment, for if one grants the proposition that human and hamsters social organization is similar (which it may be in all respects that are not important) then if follows if one can use CRISPR techniques and technologies to "edit out" aggressive behavior in hamsters, one might be able to do it in humans.
Except - and this brings us back to the first point, that of the experiment itself - the opposite effect resulted from what was confidently intended and expected: the hamsters became not less aggressive, but more, which is a warning about the limitations and uses of science if there ever was one.
But somewhere there will be a scientismist who will opine something to the effect of the following: "Well, if those results obtained, then there may have been other unknown or unsuspected influences on the hamsters that produced the results, and hence, the genetic tinkering may not be at fault."
True enough, but that does not eradicate the lesson at all: life - all life - is a complex and open system, and indeed, tinkering with one aspect of that open system may involve other components of that same system in unexpected and even contra-indicated ways. The objection fails, in other words, because it is really making my point, and argues for more caution in such experiments, not less.
But even if we grant that humans and hamsters are "similar in their social organization," Chesterton has some other cautionary words of warning:
The story of Egypt might have been invented to point the moral that man does not necessarily begin with despotism because he is barbarous, but very often finds his way to despotism because he is civilised. He finds it because he is experienced; or, what is often much the same thing, because he is exhausted. (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 195, source indicated above).
The warning, I believe is clear for those who wish to see: we are told that Elon Musk's neural net, or other virtual reality mind manipulation technologies, will bring about a golden age. We were told mRNA injections are entirely safe. Nothing bad will happen if we introduce human brain cells into mice.
To that I reply: "Remember the hamsters!"
See you on the flip side...
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