Wednesday, May 23, 2007

32 flavours and then some!

Kudos goes out to Gill Pepper for introducing me to Ani Difranco! Who is an amazing singer songwriter, how did I not know anything about her! Anyway I embeded a live track for those who look at my blog (all 3 of you) and for those on facebook follow this link!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Just because we can, should we............?

This is a question that has been continually argued by scientists and their constantly hounding moral police for years. I remember my first real argument on this point after watching Jurassic Park, I think my farther and I were debating whether if we could bring back dinosaurs should we? I, at that age, could not honestly understand why anyone who could bring back dinosaurs would not want to (the fact I had just watched a film where lots of people had been eaten by said giant lizards not withstanding). Dinosaurs where cool, I think my farther did agree with this point but highlighted that they had died out and we should leave them where god intended them to be. He also brought out the argument often thrown at me when discussing this point, that if we could build a bomb that could destroy the world should we? I suppose at that age I couldn't really argue with this and he reminded me that technology can be turned to evil.

Now after years of forming my own sometimes convoluted opinions I am still of the firm belief that if we can (scientifically speaking) we should! Just on the whole dinosaur front the advances in genetics gained by bringing a dead species back to life would be of enormous benefit. Think if you could bring a species back from the dead you could also preserve the rapidly shrinking biodiversity of the earth, nearly extinct species could be gene mapped and saved from annihilation and then brought back when we have finally sorted out our problems with the environment. The medical advances from such a project would be great and not to mention the fact that we would have dinosaurs to marvel at. The atom bomb, while it is a dreadful piece of technology whose only function is destroy and maim, it also ended a conflict that could have gone on to kill millions more, the advance brought about by its development are far ranging and have improved the lives of millions. Splitting the atom provides power for millions and kick started a whole new branch of science that has produced great advance is medial sensor technology and treatment to name but one area. Going back to my dad's point on the bomb that could destroy the world, I imagine now that the development of such a device would lead to some pretty amazing discoveries relating to energy creation and some pretty funky particle physics which would probably change the world on their own. Of course we would also have a bomb that could destroy the earth and that is no way a great outcome but I would hope if the planet where at stake cooler heads would prevail as a device like that is a lose-lose weapon of the highest order. Anyway the point I am trying to make (yes there is one I assure you!) is that advances in science should be taken advantage of, some of the best advances have come off the back of risky lines of research. Now I am in no way condoning testing random drugs on children, breeding mutant rabbits or indeed building a bomb that could destroy the world, I am saying that sensible well regulated research should always be encouraged.

There will always be those who object to lines of research. This is usually focused around medical and biological research as those are the areas most likely to offend personal and religious views I suppose. What sparked this post is the resent decision by the UK government to let scientists use hybrid human and animal embryos for stem cell and other medical research. I think this is a landmark decision, an actual turn around in UK policy towards this type of research, not to mention going against the increasing attitude in the west (mainly from the christian right in the US) that any testing on embryos is evil and should be stopped and the scientist burned at the stake. It was a source of annoyance for me how the US was so willing to stop all research using embryos and cloning, effectively stopping their stem cell research in its tracks, I was concerned the EU would go the same way. It confuses me how the decisions on these matters are legislated by politicians who are more concerned with the views of the lay masses and not with those who actually (pardon the arrogance of this) know better. An article I read recently (again from the guardians comment is free site, a favorite haunt of mine) echoed this opinion, highlighting how research in this country should be regulated not legislated to avoid stifling vital advances.

India and China have no where near the regulation on medical and biological research that we have and are racing ahead in those areas where the west is stuck in a quagmire of umming and arring! This highlights one of my main rebuttals to the "If we can, should we?" argument. If we don't pursue it then someone else will, there is of course always a risk that research no matter how benign the intentions of the scientists, can be turned into something potentially dangerous but again I make the point that who would we rather be in control of potentially dangerous scientific research, sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it doesn't exist is no defence, someone somewhere will do the research and will hold the advantage. The moral doom mongers will say this is a reckless attitude but to them I say that we have had scientific research for centuries and the planet is still here and the human race has not been wiped out by genetically engineered viruses or giant killer wheat plants.

I have faith, and I know this will draw bellows of extreme laughter from many, that the human race is capable of not destroying itself. That science holds the key to the future of our race and our world and that the conservative views of many in the places of power on our earth have, and will continue to prevent advances that could help millions. I am however aware that there needs to be a moral balance, some research can go too far, but I believe this limit should be decided by learned people of the scientific community not politicians hoping to gain the votes of a few ignorant, overzealous, perpetually scared, right-wingers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ethical Pharmaceuticals

On my travels around the inter-blogo'shpere I come across a lot of rubbish but now and again random scatter-shot Google searches bring up something that can inspire me to get off my arse and blog. I look at early posts on this blog and I forgot how opinionated and passionate I used to be about politics and current affairs, recently I only seem to have written about how heavy my last night out was or some song I found that I liked. Since leaving uni I seem to have developed a generally apathy to the current state of the world, an insular attitude I hope to change in near future starting with this article I found from January this year on "Ethical Pharmaceuticals".

Two Indian researchers have found a way to beat the patents of the massive multi-national pharmaceutical companies by subtly altering the chemical make up of know drugs to produce the same effects from what is essentially a new drug. As the research costs are low the cost of developing the drug is minuet compared to those of the big drug companies and so cost to the end user is dramatically smaller. This is just what the developing world needs, but also just what our NHS needs. Drug costs and the postcode lottery are crippling the Health Service and research like this could save a system that is in real danger of collapse within the next decade. Of course the article mentions that the big drug companies don't like the idea of this one bit and have their armies of lawyers ready to destroy those well-meaning few who threaten their massive profits!

One industry insider envisaged legal challenges if the new drugs were not genuinely innovative. It could become "a huge intellectual property issue", he said.

Huge interllectuall property issue! What about about a huge bonus for the all the sick and dying in the world! This really got me pissed off at the general state of the capitalist world. It is great to see academics taking hold of their research and saying that they don't want it to make loads of money, they want it to help people. Lord knows the poor of Africa and the developing world don't give a flying monkey turd about the profits of GalxoSmithKline and whether their shareholders can by another Merc or BMW this year, they care about weather their son will see the morning. It seems crazy to me how an industry whose end user is the sick and the dying are purely profit driven, I think we have reached a point now where the end product is irrelevant, not just in pharmaceuticals but in most business in the Western world, all that matters is units sold and shares traded. It is a self perpetuating systems that seems almost completely virtual and closed off from the real world, systems like that cannot last in my opinion because they increasingly cut the poorest people out of the loop and eventually there will so few inside the loop that collapse is inevitable. I just hope they take as few as possible with them when the Ivory tower comes crashing down.

Honestly I am not a communist, but capitalism scares me.