Saturday, October 23, 2004

An Inspirational Activist-Scientist

"From releasing packs of Feral Robot Dogs that sniff out chemical contamination, to teaching Yale engineering students socially responsible design, from creating pollution-detecting Clear Skies Masks for bicycle riders, to co-authoring Biotech Hobbyist Magazine, Natalie Jeremijenko’s work merges engineering, biology and art to explore socio-political hot spots along the fault line where design meets information meets society."

"As reported in the technogeek press in August, Jeremijenko was one of several artist-engineers developing and deploying protest technology during the Republican National Convention in New York City. She collaborated with activists to devise a number of devices that were both media-savvy and functional, designed to undercut surveillance, create accurate crowd counts, and protect activists--gestures that highlighted the growing technological arsenal being aimed on political speech and action..."
Continues at WorldChanging.com

Bioethicists Debate Protest of Kass & Fukuyama at ASBH Meetings

Looks like the growing hostility between the majority of American bioethicists and the extremist bioethics czar Leon Kass is about to break out into the open. Despite being on the extremes of US bioethics, Kass was appointed by George Bush to provide bioethical rationales for a ban on embryonic stem cell funding, and to work with the Christian right on an anti-human enhancement agenda.

But the invitation from the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities to Kass, and his ally and PCB appointee Francis Fukuyama, to give the keynote address for this year's meetings [October 28, Philadelphia Marriott, 1:15-3:15pm, program here], along with mainstream, respected bioethicists Laurie Zoloth and Eric Juengst, has led to talk of a public protest. One bioethicist has emailed her colleagues saying she had objected to the inclusion of Kass and Fukuyama on the program, to no effect. After considering and rejecting a boycott, she is appealing to fellow bioethicists' "moral responsibility" to protest by withholding applause, displaying signs such as "SAVE LIVES, CLONE STEM CELLS") or "leaving in the middle of the speech."

Other bioethicists are appalled at talk of a public protest, of course, either because they support Kass and Fukuyama, or think a protest would suggest intellectual intolerance and partisanship in the bioethics community. Perhaps the real weight of speaking truth to power rests on Eric Juengst and Laurie Zoloth. I recommend they review Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire as a model.

From a Jewish ethics foundation, Zoloth has argued on behalf of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Eric Juengst is author of lots of essays of interest to radical cyborgs such as:

E. Juengst. "FACE facts: why human genetics will always provoke bioethics." J Law Med Ethics. 2004 Summer;32(2):267-75, 191.

E. Juengst, Binstock RH, Mehlman M, Post SG, Whitehouse P. "Biogerontology, "anti-aging medicine," and the challenges of human enhancement," Hastings Center Report. 2003 Jul-Aug;33(4):21-30.

E. Juengst, R. Binstock, M. Mehlman, Stephen Post, “Antiaging research and the need for public dialogue” Science 299(2003): 1323.

E. Juengst, “What next for human gene therapy?” British Medical Journal 326(June 28,2003): 1410.

E. Juengst, "Should we treat the human germ-line as a global human resource?" In E. Aguis, S. Busuttil, Eds., Germ-Line Intervention and Our Responsibilities to Future Generations (Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998): 85-102.

E. Juengst, "What does 'enhancement' mean?", in E. Parens, Ed., Enhancing Human Capacities: Conceptual Complexities and Ethical Implications (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1998), 29-47.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

John Kerry:- A Fresh Start for Science and Innovation

John Kerry was introduced by Christopher Reeve's widow in Columbus Ohio, and delivered this speech on "Science and Innovation (excerpts):
Chris once said, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” .....we will make his dream – the dream of so many millions – come true...

As President, I will make science and technology a priority once again.

For 225 years, America has been defined by our sense of limitless possibility. We’ve always approached the future with imagination and dreams....

The money we have spent at the federal level on research and development since World War II – working hand in hand with private investment – has been the best jobs program America has ever had.....

George Bush has turned his back on the spirit of exploration and discovery.

We now have a President who is so beholden to special interests that he refuses to make the kinds of investments that benefit our common interests.

On one hand, he fights for corporate interests at the expense of the middle class. On the other hand, he has an extreme political agenda that slows instead of advances science.

It is wrong to take hope away from people. Hope is what gave us the polio vaccine and other breakthroughs in medicine. It is wrong to tell scientists that they can’t cross the frontiers of new knowledge. It is wrong morally and it is wrong economically. When I am president, we will change this policy – and we will lead the world in stem cell research.

From nanotechnology to artificial intelligence, we know where the next generation of high-paying jobs will come from: jobs that pay, on average, 70 percent more than other jobs. Yet, George Bush has been so obsessed with cutting taxes for the wealthy that our investments in creating those jobs are dying on the vine.

This President has proposed cutting the National Science Foundation budget for research and development, cutting the EPA research budget, and cutting the Veteran’s Affairs research budget. He’s proposed cutting the Manufacturing Extension Program that business uses to develop new processes by 90 percent. This week, we learned that America has fallen to 13th in the world in broadband coverage. Broadband is critical to our long-term growth, but this president has proposed cutting the Agriculture Department’s Rural Broadband budget, which brings the internet to America’s small towns and rural communities.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has said that to make good on all his campaign promises, the President would have to cut research funding at 21 of 24 federal agencies. And as the 9th largest recipient today of federal R&D funding among the 50 states, Ohio will be one of the hardest-hit states of all.

You get the feeling that if George Bush had been President during other periods in American history, he would have sided with the candle lobby against electricity, the buggy-makers against cars, and typewriter companies against computers.

Don’t just take my word for it. This summer, 48 Nobel Laureates sent an open letter to the American people in which they said of the Administration, “By reducing funding for scientific research, they are undermining the foundation of America’s future.” These same Nobel Laureates have gone on record as saying the Bush Administration has systematically distorted facts to sustain their extreme positions.

In other words, the Administration’s approach on scientific research is the same pattern we see in Iraq and on the economy today: if their policy isn’t supported by the facts, then they just change the facts. ....

First, we are going to create the well-paying jobs of the future by investing more in areas of research that are likely to create the industries that produce those jobs...We will invest in areas like advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, and nanotechnology that have the potential to improve lives and save them. And because we do not know where the next great breakthroughs will come from, I will support curiosity-driven, high-risk research that has given us such “accidental” discoveries as the MRI.

Second, we are going to help cure disease by investing in science and new technologies...We will lift President Bush’s ban on federal funding for stem cell research. By blocking stem cell research, President Bush has sacrificed science to ideology....



Cyborg news: Spray-on spacesuits

Thanks to the we make money not art blog for pointing us to this ultra-cool NASA research, reminiscient of the "Lobsters" from Sterling's Schismatrix series (which are genealogically different from Stross' "Lobsters," although they all might be convergent):
Spray-on spacesuits

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts...(is underwriting research on) spray-on spacesuit to replace NASA's 300-pound (136-kilogram) spacewalk suit which is fine in weightlessness, but just won't do for walking around Mars. A layer of polymer fabric would be sprayed over an astronaut, in a booth like those for getting a spray-on suntan. The 'bio-suit' could be augmented by temperature-control underwear, flexible joint attachments and perhaps even an exoskeleton.
Concentrate on the underwear - I don't relish pulling a layer of polymer out of my private parts. Although by the time the protagonist of Pohl's Man-Plus was ready to colonize Mars with a hardened skin, he didn't have or want private parts any more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Kass Will Now Officially Say Anything - but Glenn McGee Won't Let it Go Unnoticed

I get a kick out of philosopher Glenn McGee, the editor of the American Journal of Bioethics and principal blogger at blog.bioethics.net. His editorial "The Wisdom of Leon the Professional" was hilarious and marked the beginning of the open revolt of American bioethicists against Kassism. His latest blogpost is agog at Kass's turpitude.
Kass Will Now Officially Say Anything: "10/20/2004 - The Independent UK reports on Leon Kass' latest extraordinary statements. Kass is on the stump, although this time not so much for the President as against every nation that wants to do hES research using nuclear transfer. He is speaking on behalf of all the, um, yet to be created. 'Britain is wrong. A woman's body should not be a laboratory for research or a factory for spare body parts. No child should be forced to say, 'My father or mother is an embryonic stem cell'.' For what it is worth, there is no evidence that producing 5 day-old blastocyst-like organisms through nuclear transfer would make reproductive cloning any more likely to work. But the metaphor is great: little people alone and alienated, crying out 'my mommy is a cell! my mommy is a cell!' The other members of the Presidential Bioethics Council must be so proud of this heroic effort. "

Falling Profit Rate and Global Immiseration

Deep Tech-Job Losses Reported
Job cuts in the technology sector soared in the third quarter, with nearly 55,000 jobs lost in the U.S., the largest loss since the fourth quarter of 2003. The biggest cuts were at computer companies, which eliminated more than 30,000 tech positions....Job losses in the sector are not being offset by increased hiring... A recent survey by the Information Technology Association of America found that employers will hire 270,000 fewer business-technology workers this year than in 2003.

Take the Pill! Have a Test-Tube Baby

I've been dropping hints to my 11 year-old daughter that she might want to go on the 30-day, always off never on, Pill in order to avoid menstruating. My wife is appalled, but increasingly women are being given the option of avoiding days of bleeding that very few women before the modern era ever experienced (menstruation started later, women were pregnant all the time, and breastfeeding suppressed menstruation.) For my wife the Pill still has an unnatural and possibly unhealthy palor. Hopefully this new study will help reassure her and others:
The same huge federal study that led millions of women to abandon use of hormones after menopause now provides reassurance that another hormone concoction - the birth control pill - is safe. In fact, women on the pill had surprisingly lower risks of heart disease and stroke and no increased risk of breast cancer, contrary to what many previous studies have found.
Looks like another bugaboo of the natural law types, in-vitro fertilizations or test-tube conceptions, are also being shown safe, with some caveats:
The largest ever review of research into the health of children born by in vitro fertilisation has found no association between reproductive technologies and a child's overall health.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Anti-research hysteria

At one day from the beginning of the UN debate on therapeutic cloning, there are a few interesting articles in the press. The Washington Post has a good summary of where things stand, and a very good article on "A Cloning Compromise That Works" by the president of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of sciences. The proposal put forward by Belgium and supported by Britain, would prohibit human reproductive cloning but would allow individual countries to make their own decisions about therapeutic cloning for research.
The Times quotes one of the leading spokesmen for the fundamentalist anti-research hysteria, Pres. Bush´s advisor Leon Kass: "By allowing scientists to clone human embryos for research, countries such as Britain that have permissive regulatory regimes are promoting the perfection of technology that will one day be abused for reproduction". Kass does not seem too concerned with the potential of therapeutic cloning for treating diseases and saving lives.

Bridge to a Bridge to a Bridge

Thanks to Ray Kurzweil for the following visualization

Bridge 1 -- advanced biotechnology and nutriceuticals, including personalized pharmacogenomics
Bridge 2 -- nanotechnological replacements for failing or improveable anatomy
Bridge 3 -- full cyberconsciousness, deploying nanobot swarms for full ranges of sensation and mobility

Implications for democracy

Bridge 1 -- need right-to-immortality plank in political parties' platforms
Bridge 2 -- need redefinition of personhood in terms of unique consciousness rather than biology
Bridge 3 -- need redefinition of citizenship in terms of unique consciousness, understanding of responsibilities and undertaking of obligations, with grandfathering of pre-existing citizens but due process and equal protection principles applied to new cyberapplicants for citizenship

Monday, October 18, 2004

Bush Killed Superman

Thanks to BoingBoing for bringing to our attention the website Bush Killed Superman, a fitting tribute to Christopher Reeve's battle on behalf of embryonic stem cell research and a cure for the spinal injuries that eventually killed him. Also thanks for the wonderful detourned Superman comic from FreetobeMarlo.net.