In their letter to Nature, Coyne et al. write:
The real business of science teachers is to teach science, not to help students shore up worldviews that crumble when they learn science.
Okay, so what might be a "scientifically approved" worldview? Perhaps we should look to one of the signers of the letter "“ James Watson, the Nobel Laureate who helped decipher the double helix model of DNA.
James Watson is a eugenicist. His views are discussed in an article by Ralph Brave.
Let's consider a few excerpts:
But what exactly are Watson's eugenics intentions? How would he design better human beings? The germ-line intervention that he and other advocates most often mention is improvements to the immune system. There is a gene, for example, which provides absolute resistance to the AIDS virus. If it were possible to safely implant such a gene into an embryo, who would object? Or a gene that similarly protected someone against SARS or an even more deadly emerging infectious disease?
Such germ-line alterations are viewed cynically by Watson, though, as a means to other ends: the wedge that will open the door to further engineering. "I think that the acceptance of genetic enhancement," he writes in his new book, "will most likely come through efforts to prevent disease."
My, it looks like we have another "wedge." As scientists advance technology with things such as human cloning, are they opening the door to a new world of neo-eugenics? Many think so. Brave talks about the Trojan horse strategy some more:
Discussion of this agenda is something Watson is not interested in conducting, whether it's with a journalist or with Congress. "I'm afraid of asking people what they think," he admitted in 1998. "Don't ask Congress to approve it. Just ask them for the money to help their constituents. That's what they want … . Frankly, they would care much more about having their relatives not sick than they do about ethics and principles. We can talk principles forever, but what the public actually wants is not to be sick. And if we help them not be sick, they'll be on our side."
By keeping the focus on "curing diseases", the eugenicist can piggyback his agenda on the back of this noble cause. Why? The very technology being pursued to cure a genetic disease would make old school eugenicists salivate. As Brave further notes:
Once again, treating genetic illness is as much a ploy as it is a therapeutic achievement: If Watson and friends keep our DNA trains running on time, the argument goes, then we'll let them proceed with germline genetic enhancements.
And how shall we "enhance" the human gene pool?
The range of potential genetic enhancements at this point is almost entirely a matter of speculation. But Watson is not shy about suggesting his own eugenic targets. In a British documentary on his life and work to be broadcast in the U.S. this fall, Watson announces that he'd like to genetically treat the 10 percent of children whom he considers "stupid" and prevent the birth of ugly girls. "If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease," Watson says. Furthermore, "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."
The eugenicists have a long history of being displeased with the "stupid." They used to have various scientific categories- idiots, morons, feeble-minded, etc. Some scientific advances just never go away, I suppose.
But Watson doesn't want to simply stop with the existing human genetic repertoire. Remember, Watson wants to "add genes," meaning genes from outside the existing human gene pool. Just to make certain that I wasn't mistaken on this, I tracked Watson down in February at the Time Magazine "Future of Life" conference. By adding genes, were you referring to genes from other plant or animal species or even artificial genes created in the laboratory? I asked Watson. "Anything!" he spat back, and turned away as if the question were not even worthy of discussion.
Watson proposes that we alter the human gene pool and when asked about it, he responds with dismissive elitism. Surprised?
Watson also appeals to more scientists to "stand tall":
"My view," he concludes, "is that, despite the risks, we should give serious consideration to germ-line gene therapy. I only hope," he plaintively appeals, "that the many biologists who share my opinion will stand tall in the debates to come and not be intimidated by the inevitable criticism … If such work be called eugenics, then I am a eugenicist."
Finally, Brave includes a most illuminating quote:
Rescuing the word eugenics from its pernicious past, Watson knows that inevitably the connection with Naziism will arise. But he's well prepared for this. "Here we must not fall into the absurd trap of being against everything Hitler was for," he wrote a few years ago. "Because of Hitler's use of the term Master Race, we should not feel the need to say that we never want to use genetics to make humans more capable than they are today."
That darn Hitler really threw a kink into the eugenic agenda! Come now people, at least when it came to eugenics, Hitler got that part right!
But is Watson alone?
As with most other developments in the life sciences, three camps have formed over the germ-line issue: those who join Watson's choir in favor of germline engineering, those who adamantly oppose any germline interventions, and those who believe that there may be instances in which germline engineering is justified and should be managed under some regulatory regime. The Watsonians include Princeton biologist Lee Silver and University of Manchester bioethicist John Harris.
Lee Silver? John Harris? Hmmmm.