Science is in a crisis of ethics. What would you expect from a community that rejects the Ten Commandments for morality that evolves?
The headline from Nature tells all: “UK universities slow to publish reports of misconduct investigations; Few institutions have followed research integrity guidelines to the letter.” Elizabeth Gibney’s report concerns “research integrity,” borrowing a word from Judeo-Christian ethics (i.e., how do you evolve integrity?). This is not some isolated problem in a corner:
Just a fraction of universities in the United Kingdom have made public the extent of their investigations into research misconduct, a survey has found — even though all have been told that they should do so.
Since 2013, the United Kingdom’s major research funders have said that to receive grants, universities must adhere to a set of guidelines that recommend publishing annual summaries of their formal investigations into research misconduct.
But a snapshot survey carried out on behalf of the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO, a national advisory body with no regulatory powers) has found that universities are falling short on this recommendation. The survey was presented at the UKRIO’s annual conference in London on 13 May.
The universities counter that their obligations hinge on what the meaning of “should” should be.
The Editors of Nature, evolutionists all but arrogating the moral high ground unto themselves, tell the universities what they “should” do.
Universities should release reports to show what they are doing to tackle misconduct — and funders should help them to do so effectively.
That’s two “shoulds” in one sentence. But without a supreme moral authority to back it up, one can imagine the schoolyard bully’s response: “Wanna make me?”
When the concordat [guidelines on research integrity, 2013] was introduced, many feared that it lacked teeth. That many universities have so far been willing to skip around its recommendations does nothing to ease those fears. Currently, the only checks and balances are universities’ statements to funders, saying how they are taking action.
Most researchers are honest, but 2% in the UK admitted to having “fabricated, falsified or modified data at least once” in their careers. In a righteous huff, the Editors tap on the table with the ruler. “Pretending that misconduct does not happen is no longer an option.” Then they ramp up the “shoulds”—
- Research Councils UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England … should clarify the document’s language and intentions.
- Funders should make clear who it is aimed at, and how they expect universities to comply.
- Second, the funders should consider changing how misconduct investigations are published… the funders should collate and publish the reports.
- Research misconduct is a fact, and institutions should not feel that they will be penalized for investigating cases promptly and fairly.
A suitably clever devil could respond, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (see Acts 19:11–20).
The specter of eugenics has arisen in a particularly frightful way: tailor-made babies, thanks to a new technique using an enzyme called CRISPR that allows a lab worker to replace any gene in the germ line. In a letter to Nature, “Eugenics lurk in the shadow of CRISPR,” Robert Pollack (Columbia University) wrote an urgent appeal that makes it clear he does not trust the scientific community to police itself. To sense the alarm in Pollack’s letter, it bears quoting in full:
IN CALLING THEIR Perspective “A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification” (3 April, p. 36; published online 19 March), D. Baltimore et al. show at once the size of the problem and the modesty of their response to it. CRISPR-Cas9, invented by the ninth author, Jennifer Doudna, allows the alteration of specific DNA in the mammalian genome. The authors say that “CRISPR-Cas9 technology, as well as other genome engineering methods, can be used to change the DNA in the nuclei of reproductive cells that transmit information from one generation to the next (an organism’s ‘germ line’).” This is a big deal. It means that we can imagine a day when human chromosomes may be modified in the sperm and egg to assure that one or another aspect of a child’s inheritance is designed to order.
This is a huge departure from current understanding, but the authors are remarkably circumspect. They call for the convening of a “globally representative group of developers and users of genome engineering technology and experts in genetics, law, and bioethics, as well as members of the scientific community, the public, and relevant government agencies and interest groups, to further consider these important issues, and where appropriate, recommend policies.”
That simply will not do. This opening to germline modification is, simply put, the opening of a return to the agenda of eugenics: the positive selection of “good” versions of the human genome and the weeding out of “bad” versions, not just for the health of an individual, but for the future of the species. I do not think their call is sufficient. Even in its inadequacy, I doubt it will be heeded by the six private corporations that are listed in the paper as supporting their research, nor by the universities listed as holding their patents on continuing CRISPR-Cas9 research.
So what is Pollack’s recommendation? Surprisingly, he finds his moral authority from the Creator!
Rational eugenics is still eugenics. The best in the world will not remove the pain from those born into a world of germ-line modification but who had not been given a costly investment in their gametes. They will emerge with the complexity of a genome different from what this technology will be able to define as “normal.” I do not think anything short of a complete and total ban on human germline modification will do, to prevent this powerful force for rational medicine—one patient at a time—from becoming the beginning of the end of the simplest notion of each of us being “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Indeed, what other moral authority has the power to tell universities, researchers, companies, politicians, bureaucrats, interest groups and the public what they “should” do?
Amen Dr. Pollack! Preach it, brother!
Resources: The dark history of eugenics—and the scientific community’s support for it—is retold in chilling detail in John West’s excellent book, Darwin Day in America. See video trailer about the 2nd edition, and also his earlier video, The Biology of the Second Reich. See John West connect the dots from Darwin to eugenics to Big Science in a video by Todd Friel.
On moral authority for the culture at large, see Dennis Prager’s thought-provoking analysis of the Ten Commandments at Prager University. He shows that the Ten Commandments are not just for Christians and Jews, but for everyone who wants a civil society, including scientists.