Not Your Usual Readings

Posted by | October 15, 2013 | Briefing, Ormondian | No Comments

Zara La Roche: “Ethics: Taboo Genetics”

The article “Ethics: Taboo genetics”, featured in Nature, analyses the timelessly revisited Brave-New-World question of whether science should or shouldn’t meddle with human nature. The article focuses on the ethics of investigating the genetic origins of traits such as intelligence, race, violence and sexuality.

What stood out was an examination of how the study of behaviour-influencing genes can affect public policy. In this field, new knowledge about epigenetics is reshaping how we think about the reliability of genetic testing as a means to objectively judge a person’s traits. Epigenetics, put simply, describes the environmental modifications to genes, and is currently driving the idea that environment and genetics are almost never mutually exclusive. The article draws on examples such as the discovery of ‘violence genes’ helping to soften murderer’s sentences, contrasted with the discovery of ‘homosexual genes’ aiding the passing of bills for gay marriage.

Humorously, there was also an instant survey attached to the article that has attracted over 2,000 responses. As an article that is accessed through online subscriptions to Nature, the results were clearly skewed to reflect the view of many science enthusiasts: that we should always continue to research, regardless of the politics. Science is made controversial by the reader and not the researcher.

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of:



Yes: 7.18%

No: 89.9%

I’m not sure: 3%


Yes: 7.49%

No: 87.99%

I’m not sure: 4.51%


Yes: 4.59%

No: 93.72%

I’m not sure: 1.68%


Yes: 5.01%

No: 93.5%

I’m not sure: 1.49%



Huw Hutchison: “Why Tony Abbott needs to recognise Indonesia has changed”

It’s rare that Indonesia makes it into the Australian news but Prime Minister Abbott’s recent visit – his first overseas trip as PM – has produced a cacophony of reports about our northern neighbour. Unsurprisingly, commentators in Australia have struggled to get past ‘boats, beef and Bali’ which tend to dominate proceedings between the two regional powers. But if you’re looking for something with a little more depth, have a read of this piece in The Conversation.

There are many reasons why Australians should pay greater attention to the big, chaotic and complicated nation of Indonesia, but here are just a few to get you started.

  • Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, with a total population estimated at 240 million people, 12 times that of Australia.
  • McKinsey projects it to be the world’s 7th largest economy by 2030.
  • Just a few decades ago it was host to genocide and endured an extended period of authoritarian rule. Today it stands as a vibrant democracy, the world’s third largest.
  • By my reckoning, there are no two neighbouring nations in the world more diverse than Australia and Indonesia.



William Moisis: “What the World’s Smartest People Are Afraid Of”

Reading through a list entitled “What the World’s Smartest People are Afraid Of” is an edifying task, albeit a slightly turgid one. The fears of the world’s greatest men (and women) to keep me up at night, do I really want to take a look? There are some genuinely interesting worries, like “The proliferation of Chinese Eugenics,” “The Unavoidable Intrusion Of Sociopolitical Forces Into Science,” and my personal favourite, “That in one or two generations children will grow up to be adults who will not be able to tell reality from imagination.” There is something profoundly human in these insights; they reflect not only the predictor’s ‘intelligence’ in the traditional sense, but also their social awareness – their understanding of the world and everyday life. Some scientists remain in an abstract world, wanting to extricate the “inevitable progress of science” from social and moral institutions – a worrying prospect in itself. Perhaps we ought to be more laissez-faire in the whole ‘predictions’ thing and be more like one J. Craig Venter. What does he worry about? “Not much. I ride motorcycles without a helmet.”

Thanks Mattea for sharing this originally.