Challenging Nature
published by Ecco/Harper Collins, 2006
Professor of molecular biology and public policy in the Woodrow Wilson school of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University
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Challenging Nature
Previous books
Princeton teaching
Human embryo stem cells represent the greatest hope for medical therapies that will allow physicians to regenerate every worn-out or diseased tissue and organ in a person's body.  If the foundational science was developed in the U.S. and Europe, why are all the scientific advances now being made in China, South Korea and Singapore?
Think Christian fundamentalists and New Age organic food devotees have nothing in common? That's what they think.  But their passionate opposition to biotechnology springs from a common religious source, whether they know it or not.
What is a human embryo, and what is a human clone? Think science can provide the definitions? Actually, every scientific definition is riddled with logical inconsistencies, which is why scientific proponents and theological opponents will never see eye-to-eye, and obfuscation is always the best strategy.
Two video clips show human organisms, one shows another microorganism. What's the difference?
What makes a living, breathing, thinking organism a human being?  Think you know?  Not so fast.  How would you judge the following creations, which are all feasible based on extensions of currently existing biotechnologies: A mouse with a brain derived entirely from human stem cells; A pig with a human heart derived entirely from human stem cells; A pig engineered with skin, legs, arms, and hands that appear human, although they don't have human genes; Two adult mice with human stem-cell derived germ cells, who engage in sexual intercourse to produce a full human embryo that is implanted into a woman's womb to produce a fully human baby. Are the baby's parents human, mice, or something else?
In a few years, embryo stem cell technologies developed in England or Asia could allow a woman suffering from a lethal disease to receive therapeutic treatment based entirely on cellular material obtained from her own mouth and eggs.  But legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would make it a felony for an American resident to receive this therapy. The punishment?  Up to ten years in prison and a one million dollar fine.  It's not surprising that pro-life legislators, along with President Bush, want to use desperate women as political pawns.  And yet, the feminist hero Judy Norsigian (author of Our Bodies, Ourselves) and other left-wing activists have entered into a formal alliance with Right-wingers in this debate. Why?
How long does it take a soul to get to heaven, and where is heaven located? According to a 1906 science article in the New York Times (shown to the right), it took a whole minute for the soul to leave an expired man who was "slow of thought and action."According to the Balinese (and many others in the world), spirits take at least an hour but no more than a few days to get to heaven in the blue sky above, which is easy to see on a clear day. In the Ghanaian version of heaven reserved for those who are Christian believers, everyone gets their own Rolls-Royce to cruise down clean streets lined with glass and steel skyscrapers. And among the one-third of Princeton University students who believe in an afterlife, half couldn't decide whether the soul goes to an heaven in the sky or one in a parallel dimensionless Cartesian "dimension." (Actually, Descartes didn't think the soul went anywhere after death.)
How do we count people?  If you think this is a silly question, consider the following real-life situations? Abigail and Brittany Hensel  (shown below) -- two heads attached to a single torso with two arms, two legs and a single reproductive system.  They can run, swim, and ride a bike together. Should they marry one man or two?  If they become pregnant, who will be the mother? The left and right brain hemispheres of a patient dubbed V.J. (and others) were surgically severed to eliminate epileptic seizures.  Now the two hemispheres each have their own independent minds and they don't get along.  Can the speaking left brain legally eliminate the mute mind in the right brain?  How do these two minds in one body differ from Abigail and Brittany.
Acetaldehyde, benzo(a)pyrene, 1,2,5,6-dibenz(a)anthracene, styrene, toluene. These are some of the natural carcinogenic chemicals found in every cup of organic (and non-organic) coffee.  Scientists have known about them for over a decade, so why don't they care and why is everyone else in the dark?
When author Michael Crichton and director Stephen Spielberg created the movie Jurassic Park, scientists protested that it gave non-scientists the wrong idea. It would  -- they said -- always be impossible to use biotechnology to recreate dinosaurs.   In fact, biotechnologists now understand that the creation of dinosaur-like creatures will almost certainly be a possibility before the end of the current century (although not in the way Crichton suggested).  Why are so many biotech scientists unwilling to admit and confront the power of their own technology?
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