All 14 entries tagged Science

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March 21, 2006

Creationism and the views of Archbishop Rowan Williams

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1735730,00.html#article_continue

My dear friend Phil pointed out this story to me when we bumped into each other in front of the newspapers in Costcutter this afternoon.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stuck his neck out and said in an interview that he thinks creationism should not be taught in schools. His reasoning is that if creationism is presented as a stark contrast to evolutionary theory it will lower the value of Christian, and particularly creationist, doctrine. Williams is, quite rightly, concerned that, when held up as an equal to evolution, creationism falls far behind: indeed, evolution is accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. However, he is likely to be heavily criticised by members of the Christian community for admitting that a part of the Bible might not be literally true. He seems to, though the transcript of the interview does not suggest that he presents his ideas particularly clearly, suggest that he himself believes in God as a creator but not in the way that is described in Genesis.

  • How many Christians, or indeed non-Christians, still believe in strict creationism? How do they explain the discrepancy between their beliefs and evolution?

  • Is it time that the Church caught up with the times and accepted that a strict belief in the word of the Bible is completely at odds with convincing scientific theory? Is it then time for more daring changes, such as the admission of gay clergypeople? After all, if you bend the rules once, why not again?

  • How significant is Williams's admission in terms of a giving in to the possible inaccuracy of the Bible? Does it not weaken the authority and reliability of the rest of the text?

  • Will this declaration cause Williams and the church to gain or lose respect within the agnostic and atheist community? Why?

  • Should religious teachings form any part of the curriculum for secular state schools? Surely any theory explaining the creation of the Earth or any other mystery should be given equal consideration, thus giving those that learn the chance to make up their minds based on the evidence. Williams seemed to be suggesting that removing creationism from the syllabus would strengthen it because it would not be criticised when compared to scientific theory, but is this tantamount to pulling the wool across people's eyes?

  • Williams is obviously in a position of huge authority and his opinions are important, but in terms of theological reasoning he is just one man and he cannot possibly hope to represent the entire Church of England unless he never makes a decision on a contentious subject. How much influence should his ideas be credited with? Would is be better for him to keep quiet on this subject as he will always otherwise disagree with some of his church?

  • How significant are the current issues dividing the church viewed in terms of its credibility? Is it merely a case of the old-fashioned coming head-to-head with the more liberal or is it more damaging than that? How can the church maintain its popularity as it gradually begins to be more at odds with the changing times whilst avoiding giving in to the extent that its very foundations are removed?

March 15, 2006

Clinical trials and the ethics and practicalities of animal testing

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4808836.stm

I'm sure no-one can have missed the reports in the news over the past few days about the men hospitalised as a result of taking part in a clinical drugs trial. Many murmerings of incompetancy have surrounded the reports, and I'm sure someone from TeGenero AG will have to answer some very tough questions in the not-too-distant future.

This story raises many, many issues, including:

  • The manufacturer said that there was no indication in previous trials that such an extreme reaction would occur: clearly in some cases the results of trials are extremely unsual and at odds with previous testing. In order to take part in the trials the men would have to have acknowledged and accepted the risk involved: they were going in with their eyes open. That's why people often get paid large sums to take part, I guess. Provided that the manufacturer abided by the regulations, surely they cannot be held responsible for something they could not have forseen.

  • The manufacturer will undoubtedly be criticised, but if there was not way of testing this reaction before clinical trials came about how could they have done more? It is very difficult to pin any neglect on the company if the means whereby they could have avoided it does not exist.

  • Should more testing be done before drugs are put under clinical trial? If you examine this and any other case it might be argued that more thorough testing could have been carried out beforehand. But does the extra time and money spent balance out the risk? And are any extra tests actually possible or, if they are, likely to expose the problems?

  • I'm going to be controversial here: this is an example of why we need to use animal models for drugs testing. This in an extreme case where the non-human recipients (including mice, I believe) did not share the same reaction as the humans. However, in most cases animal testing does give a good reflection of the human reaction, and as such has prevented many potentially harmful drugs from being tested on humans. The reaction from animal rights activists will be that we are animals too and that we shouldn't harm them before ourselves. But the problem is that if we want new drugs to be approved they have to be tested. If we cannot test on animals, many more humans will have to suffer and, potentially, die. Step forward all volunteers to take the place of laboratory mice…

March 03, 2006

Whose right to life?

There was an article in this Monday's Metro that struck a chord with me. It was a follow-up to this article written in October about two-year-old Charlotte Wyatt, a child born prematurely with brain, lung and kidney damage and who is currently being kept alive on a ventilator.

Now, I know there are many people out there who do not believe in euthanasia in any form. I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the issue. But suspend your judgement for a moment.

Even if we accepted that it was morally admissable to allow someone to die when they are mortally ill and suffering, there is still a further problem to consider. Who should have the responsibility of making the decision?

In the case of Charlotte, her parents disagree with the health professionals and the judge presiding over her case: they want her to be kept alive by every means possible. I can see both sides of the argument. The health professionals can objectively assess her condition and recognise that her quality of life is terrible. They believe that Charlotte's parents are being unjustifiably hopeful. But should a parent be forced to relinquish their control over the care of their own child?

It seems that in situations where a person cannot lucidly make a decision about their own life, the case becomes very difficult.


February 28, 2006

The mystery of unsolved puzzles

I read a letter in the National Geographic the other day that bemoaned the loss of mystery through scientific discovery.

The author of the letter was responding to an article describing developments in neurobiology. They said that the author of the article had 'abolished the human spirit' by suggesting that the brain worked through firing synapses and denied the possibility that the mind is simply what the brain does. This made me think:

  • Are we destroying our fascination with the worlds around us and within us by finding out how it all works?

  • Cannot understanding the workings of something increase one's fascination? I become increasingly amazed by life and its processes the more I learn, because it's all so incredibly complex.

  • Has history shown that trying to understand our surroundings is something innate in us as humans?

  • Does everything work by a set of rules and mechanisms that are always obeyed and are definable? If not, we require the intervention of something mystical.

  • Will we ever figure everything out, or are some things just too complex for our comprehension or investigation?

February 20, 2006

The male contraceptive pill

An article I read last week discussed the merits of the male contraceptive 'pill', and it had me thinking. It turns out that the male contraceptive is not going to be as simple as the female one, and will involve an implant and regular injections. The early trials have had problems because very few man have volunteered to take part.

  • Would a man be willing to take responsibility for contraceptives, particularly when it involves a relatively invasive procedure?

  • Will women be willing to trust men with keeping up the medication regularly or being honest about whether they are protected, bearing in mind that it's the women who's left, literally, holding the baby?

  • Do men feel strongly that they should have the chance to take responsilibity for their fertility, and have more options than just condoms?

  • Do men feel that it's a woman's job to worry about such things and they shouldn't need to consider it?

  • Will there be a stigma surrounding the treatment since it involves the release of a female hormone: will some men feel it would undermine their masculinity?

January 17, 2006

Free speech?

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Several times recently people have asserted that others are 'wrong' merely because they don't conform to the perceived majority views of western society. In the entry above the debate is centred on the expression of an anti-homosexual viewpoint by Sir Iqbal Sacranie, president of the Muslim Council of Britain. Although I do not personally agree with his standpoint I have no problem with him, or anyone else, expressing the convictions of their faith providing that no active persecution takes place. Yes, religion is entirely opinion and cannot be proved, but how can the reverse viewpoint be proved either? Yes, religious extremists contradict what we believe to be correct, but from their viewpoint our feelings are blasphemous, and who’s to say who is ‘right’?

Why should people be forced to limit what they say simply because it might offend others? If we follow that argument to its logical conclusion no debate should be allowed at all, because all possible arguments offend someone!

It seems to me that everyone is extremely hasty to proclaim the necessity for free speech, providing that those speaking agree with them personally or with the popular or politically correct concept.

By defending the rights of the persecuted in an attempt to promote free speech are we going too far and as a result merely creating new victims of persecution?

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Voltaire

November 24, 2005

The scientific approach to politics

As I'm sure everyone is aware, the new licensing laws came in to action at midnight last night. This has enabled many establishments to serve alcohol for longer, and some around the clock. Many people are extremely concerned about the effect this will have on binge-drinking, crime and general antisocial behaviour.

However, at the same time the government have decided to get the police to target alcohol-fuelled offences. Why have they done this, I hear you ask? So they can cover their backs and palm off any increase in drink-related crime on the increased policing, instead of admitting that it might have something to do with the new, extended, licensing. Genius!

So if I had any influence I would call for a truly scientific approach to the introduction of new laws. In the lab we introduce changes one at a time and repeat the experiment under the same conditions, observing the changes that occur. This is the only way you can truly identify the source of a problem. The only way we could tell if these new licensing laws were improving matters would be to, as far as possible, keep all the other variables the same. But governments can't be seen to be wrong about these things, so they must manipulate each situation so that it seems that they're right.

Grrr!


November 17, 2005

Richardism of the day

'What's this and should I have my finger in it?'

… Not a good thing to be saying in a biology lab!


October 11, 2005

The side–effects of medicine

We had a Structural Biology group seminar two Fridays ago. The guy speaking was an ex-doctor working in medical research, looking at rare genetic diseases, and he made several interesting points.

Most people seem to trust that medical treatments will make them better, not worse. However the speaker said that relatively frequently with the new treatments he uses the patient can develop new, and sometimes more serious, problems. He cited a trial where 6 of the 17 patients developed leukaemia following treatment. But should these treatments be stopped if there's no other way of testing their safety and if in most cases they save the patient from a lifetime of relative misery?

The speaker also put a large emphasis on the obstacles he has to deal with to get funding for the treatments he develops. The main problem is that it's a case of medicine being ruled by economics, and illogical economics at that. Basically the NHS allocates a budget of £30,000 per person per year. If a treatment is developed that, for example, costs £60,000/year it will be rejected without consideration even if the potential costs of maintaining the sick person in their ill state could be far higher. This also completely ignores the fact that, with treatment, a patient could go from being completely dependent to living a normal life. Why on earth is there no common sense applied to this problem?

A scary fact, that I was previously unaware of, is that the NHS spends more on treating alcohol-related illnesses than it does on paediatrics. Does it not seem unfair that so much of the NHS's money is being poured in to avoidable, self-inflicted illnesses? Is there not an argument for forcing people who have brought their medical problems upon themselves to pay for their treatments? But then you can argue that smokers and heavy drinkers pay so much tax that they pay for their treatments anyway?


September 16, 2005

All these quiz things

Whilst I, of course, take the results given by these 10-minute online personality quizzes with a rather large bagful of salt they nevertheless do sometimes bring up some pertinent questions, made especially difficult due to the fact that you are only allowed to answer true or false. For example:

Do you see people who get taken advantage of as being weak and deserving of being used?

Do you think science and logic represent the pinnacle of human understanding?

Do you believe it is your right to indulge yourself with every last dollar you earn?

Do you consider living a virtuous life to be one of your top goals?

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Would you sooner go without sex than go without good-tasting food?

Think about some of the sinful or wrong things you've done in the past. Do you foresee yourself continuing to do these things?

Rich men and women deserve every penny and should spend or save their wealth as they wish.


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