Thursday, September 16, 2010

Frankenmouse follies

There's been a lot of (justified) laughter at the views of Delaware's Republican senatorial primary victor Christine O'Donnell on self-abuse and such like.

Still, I would agree with those observers who have recommended that the Democrats not stroke push those, um, buttons too vigorously hard, as her arguments, as goofy as they are, accord with the views of a fair number of her fellow citizens.

But I was interested to run across another comment that she made in 2007 on Bill O'Reilly's talkshow.

The topic was 'Is cloning monkeys morally wrong?':

O'DONNELL: ... these groups admitted that the report that said, "Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey. Now we're using this to start cloning humans." We have to keep...

O'REILLY: Let them admit anything they want. But they won't do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on.

O'DONNELL: They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment.


Sadly, science hasn't yet advanced that far. (And as Douglas Adams knew, the mice are already well ahead of us in the brain department.)

However, I can't help thinking that, were her delusional fantasy true, said mice would have been more qualified than Ms. O'Donnell to hold political office.


Ario said...

Aren't they already without any appenda we might just fix on them for kicks?

I know. Cheap shot. You were probably angling for that.

cohu said...

It's true that Weissman's chimeric mice didn't have "human" brains, but to be fair, he also considered making mice with 100% human neurons. It didn't work out in the end because he couldn't find a suitable mouse strain with "neuronal death" properties, but it seems likely that the experiment will work at some point in the near future. Weissman himself contacted a bioethicist to consult with, because apparently he felt that the experiment might be considered, it's a bit exaggerated, but it's not complete fiction.
Read all about it in this excellent publication ;-)

John Carter Wood said...

That _does_ look like an excellent publication (really) that I hope to read when I get some time (though that's not likely to be soon).

'Neuronal death properties' is, I think, my favourite possible extreme metal band name of the week.

Still, and based on my limited humanities education: having a mouse brain based on 100% human neurons (developed, as I understand it, from human stem cells) is rather a different thing than a 'fully functional human brain', is it not?

I mean, we're not talking about mice who might understand Shakespeare or become Big Brother fans or whatever, are we?

If we are, I really _want_ one of those as a pet when they become available.

cohu said...

Well, one could argue that for something to be a "fully functioning human brain", it would be sufficient that it
a) is a functioning part of a living organism and
b) consists of cells that contain typically human DNA.
Weissman's experiment would probably fulfil these requirements.

Most people seem to think there's more to being human, though - but what, exactly? Some kind of behavior or capacity? You can obviously be "fully human" without understanding Shakespeare. You can also be human without being able to read, laugh, reason, etc. So, how "human" would Weissman's mouse have to act or be in order to be counted as human? Is there such a thing as "acting human", at all?

I guess I'm just trying to say that the semantics of "being human" are really, really interesting and often contradictory. It was a fun subject to work on (although I wouldn't recommend reading that thing, it's badly written and probably outdated by now.)

Mr. Joyboy said...

I'm also for restraint in the all-too-easy game of mocking O'Donnell.

First of all, she seems to frequently say exactly what she thinks, which I find delightful and refreshing. Secondly, as a few commentators have pointed out, she often says perfectly sensible things.

She may not have gotten the science exactly right on the mouse with a human brain topic, of course. But does anyone doubt that millions of Germans (60% of whom say they think about the morality of genetic research sometimes or a lot) would also be hugely concerned about human-animal chimeras? Not to mention the Green Party?

For that matter, plenty of the allegedly "nutty" things O'Donnell said, as identified by TPM, are hardly nutty at all, I find. Here's her analysis of the kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears:

"Well, I feel sorry for both of them. Madonna is a middle- aged woman who is trying to hold on to her youth. And Britney is super star who is trying to hold on to her popularity. That's why they're playing games and doing gimmicks," O'Donnell said.

"And you can tell that Britney Spears is struggling with who she is. I think she has a team of agents and managers who are saying, yes, push the envelope, kiss Madonna, take off all your clothes. And she's doing that because she doesn't want to sacrifice this enormous platform that she's built. But at the same time, she is sacrificing herself and you can see that in her eyes when she talks."

Seems pretty on-point to me.

John Carter Wood said...

We're at a conference at the moment, so to be brief:

Interesting perspective, cohu. My criteria were perhaps a bit flippant, but I would still presume that a 'fully functioning human brain' involves having those capabilities that normal (fully functioning) human brains have, though there might be different ways of defining them, yes.

I would just take a different view, I suppose, than the two-part definition you give.

Eternal thanks, Mr. J., for pointing me to Ms. O'Donnell's sensible views on freak dancing and Britney Spears's fragile mental state. She has proven her competence to deal with the vital issues of our time.

Though I have to admit, she has her moments: a few of those comments, after all, are no crazier than the wisdom displayed by 'America's Foremost Cultural Critic, Camille Paglia, in her recent essay on Lady Gaga.

Which, depending on how you read it, is either a very good or a very bad sign for the state of intellectual discourse.

Mr. Joyboy said...

Ok, I admit it. I just think she's HOT!!!11one11!!

John Carter Wood said...

Well, it just goes to show there's no accounting for taste...

I'm curious: did you come to that view before or after the revelation about the satanic altar?