Nature of science; human/chimp...

Garrett H. Riggs GHRIGG01 at ulkyvm.bitnet
Wed Jul 17 08:00:46 EST 1991


In message 9107160420.AA22947 at genbank.bio.net, Vince Cate
(vac at cs.cmu.edu) poses several questions regarding animal hybrids.
Among these queries are questions about human/chimpanzee crosses and
other crosses between primates and other mammals.

A number of responses to this original posting (1) have suggested that
this forum is not well suited to discussion of such topics, and/or (2)
have characterized Cate's queries as "drivel."

While it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that another forum may be
more appropriate to the serious discussion of some particular topic,
it does not make sense to me to characterize *any* scientific subject
as "drivel."  Consider the essence of Cate's original queries
on human/chimpanzee, since it is this hybrid that seems to upset people
the most:

> So far, it looks like nobody has published about experiments attempting
> to cross a Human and a Chimpanzee.

Who can argue?  I myself know of no such references.

> Even just testtube experiments would be extremely interesting.

Again, a seemingly reasonable assertion: given the well-documented
similarities between the human and chimp genomes, it is intriguing
to speculate what might happen were such a cross accomplished in
vitro.

Cate then asks for any other information anyone might have on
crosses between other species.

The point here is that anyone can be a scientist; solid science does
not need imagination or excitement.  But a *good* scientist is never
willing to dismiss a novel idea as "drivel."  History abounds with
examples.  Why should anyone believe in the existence of organisms
too small to be seen?  Why should we believe the earth revolves around
the sun?  Any fool can look up in the course of a day and see how the
sun is moving.  And how in the world could a *single* macromolecule
(DNA) encode the genetic blueprint of an *entire* complex organism?
Certainly such an assertion would have been "drivel" to some good
scientists; thank goodness it wasn't drivel to Watson and Crick!

In summary, I'm not proposing that every idea has equal scientific
merit.  On the same token, however, it goes against the grain of
academic inquiry when an unorthodox proposal or question is shouted down
or summarily dismissed as "drivel."  If you know of data showing the
paucity of a given line of thought or investigation, present them.  If
there is evidence suggesting that some idea is a dead end, show it.  But
in the absence of such data or evidence, we should not presume to judge
what is "good science" and what is "drivel;" history may prove us wrong.

It is indeed a sad commentary on the state of science when a scientist
loses or rejects the ability to wonder, "What if....."

Garrett Riggs
GHRIGG01 at ULKYVM.BITNET
Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology
University of Louisville School of Medicine
Louisville, Kentucky 40292  USA




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