Why Is No One Criticizing Jack Horner And The Chickenosaurus?

Jack Horner wants to make this, the "dino-chicken" a reality. (src)

Jack Honer’s recent TEDTalk and CNN piece on turning a chicken into a dinosaur raises a number of ethical questions that no one, save Horner himself, seems to even raise. Are we all so enamored with the idea of having a real live “dinosaur” that this speciesism can just pass on by?

In “Why we’re creating a ‘chickenosaurus’” Horner writes,

The Build a Dinosaur Project continues as researchers attempt to identify two atavistic genes proposed to control the appearance of the three-fingered hand and the primitive tail. This search involves the knocking out of target genes in early developing chicken embryos.

This is some high-level stuff, and I won’t presume to get into the genetics of extracting dinosaur genes from fossils or the extensive research behind that. To be sure, I think the study of paleontology is incredibly cool, and I love Horner’s use of evolutionary tales to illustrate just how vast and incredible our earth and its species’ history is. But, and this is a huge but, demonstrating evolution and “attempting to satisfy the aspirations of sixth-graders” does not justify the misuse, mistreatment, or genetic modification of chickens. Horner’s own critique ironically explains this:

It is interesting, for example, that some people consider simple genetic engineering, such as the dino-chicken, to be unethical, while they find selective breeding — potentially producing the same results over time — to be an ethical endeavor.

Do they? I don’t. Dog breeding, cat breeding, horse breeding – it’s all unethical. Animals are not ours to breed and modify as we see fit, killing hundreds or thousands in the process, thirsting after the perfect lap dog or thoroughbred. Those who do question this dino-chicken endeavor should turn that hypothesis inwards, or to any pet they may have bought from a breeder or pet store.

Is selective breeding okay in humans? No? How about humans who don’t know otherwise, such as the comatose or severely mentally handicapped humans? I think most rational people, Horner included, would argue that it is immoral to do so, and the same logic can be applied to dogs, cats, chickens, and any sentient animal. This argument is of course a very short summary of the one made by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, that sentient beings are not ours to harm, mutilate, or use for research (see, for instance “The case for animal equality” on this page).

So it’s surprising me that I could not turn up one legitimate inquiry into Horner’s ideas based on ethics; only fleeting remarks that there may be “ethical reasons” against having a dinosaur hatchery. You think? I will make note of this interesting paper, entitled “‘There is No Unauthorized Breeding in Jurassic Park’: Gender and the Uses of Genetics,” which claims:

…a great deal of the opposition to genetic technologies expressed in contemporary popular culture is grounded in a profound anti-feminism, through close readings of the film and book versions of ‘Jurassic Park’ as well as the movie ‘Gattaca.’ Pitfalls for feminism in contemporary discussions of reproductive technology and genetic determinism.

While I’m all for feminism, that seems to be a little outside the scope of what I’m after. But if college lit courses left you with a thirst for more, read the full study here and let us know what you find in the comments section!

We need to be critical about this, any other animal experimentation that occurs for some supposed benefit. Even if animal testing results in drugs that help humanity, the moral basis is shaky at best. Genetically modifying, breeding, and abusing an already cast-down species like the Gallus gallus domesticus to birth something might be resemble a dinosaur is unethical and cruel.

Note: While searching for an image for this post, I did come across this pseudo-skeptical look at PaxArcana. It seems they are more concerned with the impending doom of getting eaten by a dinosaur than the cruelty that hundreds of chickens will have to go through to birth such an animal. It also appears Horner’s entire justification (ethically, anyway) is that we already genetically modify plants and mice, as this Wired interview illustrates.

Can We Control Evolution? It’s Up To Us

Or so claims Harvey medical ethicist Fineberg in this intriguing Ted Talk:

This kind of stuff definitely (in my opinion) puts the nail in the coffin for creationists, “Young Earthers” or anybody still buying the whole intelligent design crap. Fineberg even mentions it, referencing Kathryn Schulz’s book “Being Wrong.” The amount of research going into genome sequencing with its breathtaking results clearly illustrates that evolution is a beautiful system working in a very crazy but focused way at keeping species alive who are best adapted to their environment.

The other jaw-dropper, however, is that soon, perhaps within 100 years, our grandchildren will be able to custom pick their genes, traits, and those of their offspring. Whether that will create a legion of “super-humans” I don’t know, but it will certainly cause a rift in society as we know it. Maybe by then I’ll be tucked away in a Blue Zone and still there to see it, but Fineberg’s larger point is that once we start choosing and controlling these things, we’re essentially controlling evolution. Neo-evolution, as he calls it, is what will happen, and it will literally change everything.

Coke Backs Heart Truth; Anything But

Overflowing with trouble. (src)

While traveling to Florida this weekend, I happened upon a Diet Coke-sponsored ad for “heart health.” I was a bit surprised given that diet pop has gotten significant flak for its health properties, and high-fructose corn syrup (Coke’s main sweetened seller) isn’t any better. It appears Coke is all in for “The Heart Truth” campaign which is described as “a national awareness campaign, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), that is embraced by millions of women who share the goal of better heart health.” I mean, sure, that sounds good, but there’s already several articles describing how this is not only hypocritical but also poor timing. Change.org just dropped a great piece (see “Coke, Pepsi Get Color from Cancer-Causing Chemicals“) on a recent paper presented at the International Stroke Conference that has some bad repercussions for the diet soda industry:

A study presented at the 2011 International Stroke Conference found that people who consumed diet soda every day were significantly more likely to suffer from stroke, heart attack, and vascular death than people who never drank diet colas.

And what’s the link? The dark brown caramel coloring which is really just code for two chemicals: 2-methylimidazole (2-MI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MI). Sounds great, right? Some unfortunate rats found out the hard way what this stuff does:

[S]tudies link 2-MI and 4-MI to some pretty nasty health maladies. Government studies found that these chemicals cause lung, liver, and thyroid cancers and leukemia in rodents in lab settings. In California, 4-MI is included on the registered list of “chemicals known to the state to cause cancer.” The CSPI says that consumption of “caramel colorings” found in popular brands of soda may be causing thousands of cancers in America alone.

Bnet’s Melanie Warner puts the issue in perspective with “Have a (Diet) Coke…and a Stroke?” by writing:

By aligning its brand with a disease caused by poor diets, Coke leaves itself exposed to the ever-increasing possibility that scientists will finger one of its products as part of the problem.

I’m all for heart health, and I’m glad companies are getting behind it – but are they really? Shouldn’t they put their money with their mouth is, and start sweetning drinks with stevia or more healthful sweeteners (if there is such a thing?)

For more on the caramel coloring issue, see Change.org’s petition: Urge the FDA to Ban Carcinogens in Colas.

Tim Ferris Interview and Lifestyle Design

Perhaps you’ve heard of Tim Ferris for his previous book, “The Four Hour Workweek.” Who wouldn’t want to work four hours? But, it goes way beyond that (and isn’t specifically working four hours). His whole deal is about lifestyle design which is aptly summed up as

….examining your life and your goals and think­ing uncon­ven­tion­ally about how to make things pos­si­ble now instead of later. It’s about design­ing your life instead of let­ting soci­ety design it for you.

Thus writes Corbett Barr, in his post “What is Lifestyle Design?” Ferris has now released a book called “The Four Hour Body” which covers a ridiculous amount of topics (and thanks Forge Fighting for cluing me into it). Some examples include (from a top-rated Amazon review):

Chapter 6: Perfecting Sleep
How to Fall Asleep Faster:
* Focus on getting to sleep
* 67ºF to 70ºF is the best room temperature to fall asleep
* Eat a large fat-and protein-dominated meal 3 hours before bedtime
* Use low light in the bedroom
* Take a cold bath an hour before bed
* Use a humidifier to generate cool mist
* Try to sleep in the half-military crawl position

Chapter 10: From Swimming to Swinging
* Ferriss learned how to swim effortlessly within 10 days
* How to swing a bat like Babe Ruth
* How to hold breath longer Houdini, and David Blaine

Needless to say, sounds quite appealing to those of us interested in improving both our physical and mental lives! FORA.tv, who has done a slew of awesome interviews, recently posted a great hour long interview with the very candid and funny Tim Ferris, which you can watch below, or on FORA’s website.

Items of Note

Some noteworthy items found tucked away over the weekend:

37sig logo

37signals (src)

1)How do I learn to program” by web design masters 37signals is a quick look at a skill desired by many. So, how do you learn to program?

What made it click for me was programming in anger. Programming because I needed to. Programming because I gave a damn about what I was writing and I wanted it done sooner rather than later.

I think “giving a damn” and “anger” are two different things, but needing to learn something because it’s your job, or, as a friend once told me “you’ve thrown yourself into a hole and now you have to get out” can be quite the motivational tool.

health care tool

Find out what the health care bill means to you (src)

2) What does the health care bill mean to me?” is a fun little tool. It was put out by the Washington Post to help Americans figure out how the health-care overhaul will affect them. Of course, it’s only estimates, but it’s still fun to play with.

seesmic logo

Seeeeeees mick? Size mic? (src)

3) I promise this isn’t sponsored (in fact, so far none of my posts have been), but Seesmic is a really cool tool if you manage multiple twitter accounts. It can run on just about anything: desktop, web, mobile – the iPhone app in particular is sweet (see appboy’s blog about it) – and also supports Facebook, Buzz, and Ping.fm. What are all these twitter accounts I’m running? Besides @TNTSU and @sam_metal, I have a few others which will be the subject of some blog posts in the future. Stay tuned!