Why the hype around medical genetics is a public enemy

From aeon.co: Science has always issued medical promissory notes. In the 17th century, Francis Bacon promised that an understanding of the true mechanisms of disease would enable us to extend life almost indefinitely; René Descartes thought that 1,000 years sounded reasonable. But no science has been more optimistic, more based on promises, than medical genetics. Recently, I read an article promising that medical genetics will soon deliver ‘a world in which doctors come to their patients and tell them what diseases they are about to have’. Treatments can begin ‘before the patient feels even the first symptoms!’ So promises ‘precision medicine’, which aims to make medicine predictive and personalised through detailed knowledge of the patient’s genome. The thing is, the article is from 1940. It’s a yellowed scrap of newsprint in the Alan Mason Chesney Archives at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The article profiles Madge Thurlow Macklin, a Hopkins-trained physician working at the University of Western Ontario. Macklin’s mid-century genetics is not today’s genetics. In 1940, genes were made of protein, not DNA. Textbooks stated that we have 48 chromosomes (we have 46). Looking back, we knew almost exactly nothing about the genetic mechanisms of human disease.

Man and Machine: the macroeconomics of the digital revolution

From lse.ac.uk: The automation of robots and artificial intelligence is pretty well advanced in certain industries. The income now is shifting more and more to capital and away from workers, contributing to a general widening of inequality in the United States. Jeff Sachs argues that we need to pursue policies so that the coming generation of smart machines works for us and our well-being, rather than humanity working for the machines and the few who control their operating systems.

Driverless dilemma

From Radiolab podcast: Most of us would sacrifice one person to save five. It’s a pretty straightforward bit of moral math. But if we have to actually kill that person ourselves, the math gets fuzzy. That’s the lesson of the classic Trolley Problem, a moral puzzle that fried our brains in an episode we did about 11 years ago. Luckily, the Trolley Problem has always been little more than a thought experiment, mostly confined to conversations at a certain kind of cocktail party. That is until now. New technologies are forcing that moral quandry out of our philosophy departments and onto our streets. So today we revisit the Trolley Problem and wonder how a two-ton hunk of speeding metal will make moral calculations about life and death that we can’t even figure out ourselves.

Intelligence: A history

From aeon.co: As I was growing up in England in the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of intelligence loomed large. It was aspired to, debated and – most important of all – measured. At the age of 11, tens of thousands of us all around the country were ushered into desk-lined halls to take an IQ test known as the 11-Plus. The results of those few short hours would determine who would go to grammar school, to be prepared for university and the professions; who was destined for technical school and thence skilled work; and who would head to secondary modern school, to be drilled in the basics then sent out to a life of low-status manual labour. The idea that intelligence could be quantified, like blood pressure or shoe size, was barely a century old when I took the test that would decide my place in the world. But the notion that intelligence could determine one’s station in life was already much older. It runs like a red thread through Western thought, from the philosophy of Plato to the policies of UK prime minister Theresa May. To say that someone is or is not intelligent has never been merely a comment on their mental faculties. It is always also a judgment on what they are permitted to do. Intelligence, in other words, is political.

Is Asperger's syndrome the next stage of human evolution ?

From youtube.com: Professor Tony Attwood believes the "out of the box" thought processes of people on the autism spectrum will solve the world's big problems. He is credited with being the first clinical psychologist to present Asperger's syndrome not as something to be "fixed " but as a gift, evidenced in many of the great inventors and artists throughout history. But while Professor Attwood has reached the top of his field, he reveals in this episode of Australian Story the personal cost of a missed diagnosis in his own family. Early in his career, he didn't see the signs of Asperger's in his son Will. The consequences were devastating for everyone.

The ethical consequences of immortality technology

From aeon.co: Immortality has gone secular. Unhooked from the realm of gods and angels, it’s now the subject of serious investment – both intellectual and financial – by philosophers, scientists and the Silicon Valley set. Several hundred people have already chosen to be ‘cryopreserved’ in preference to simply dying, as they wait for science to catch up and give them a second shot at life. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical implications of the highly speculative ‘solutions’ being mooted?

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