Weekend Reads, week 17
The Ethics of Experimenting With Human Brain Tissue
If researchers could create brain tissue in the laboratory that might appear to have conscious experiences or subjective phenomenal states, would that tissue deserve any of the protections routinely given to human or animal research subjects?
This question might seem outlandish. Certainly, today’s experimental models are far from having such capabilities. But various models are now being developed to better understand the human brain, including miniaturized, simplified versions of brain tissue grown in a dish from stem cells — brain organoids. And advances keep being made.
Difficult questions will be raised as models of the human brain get closer to replicating its functions, explain Nita A. Farahany, Henry T. Greely and 15 colleagues, in Nature. [Read the full story]
The Left is Heading for a Reckoning With the New Genetics
Writing about the link between genes and educational attainment can be dangerous, as the psychologist Arthur Jensen discovered. After publishing a paper in the Harvard Education Review in 1969 entitled ‘How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement?’ he was compared to Hitler and, for a time, had to be accompanied to work by bodyguards. Last year, the political scientist Charles Murray, who addressed this subject in The Bell Curve, was attacked by a group of student protesters at Middlebury College and a female colleague who tried to protect him ended up in hospital.
Jensen and Murray both strayed on to the live rail of black-white IQ differences, but even those who steer well clear of that can get into difficulty. At the beginning of the year, I was accused of being a ‘Nazi’ after an article I’d written for an Australian magazine in 2015 about the deepening link between IQ and socio-economic status was dug up. My sin was to include a solution to this problem that I labelled ‘progressive eugenics’. It was a million miles away from what is commonly understood by ‘eugenics’, but few people bothered to read the piece. The fact that I’d used the E word was enough to damn me. ‘With his views on eugenics, why does Toby Young still have a job in education?’ thundered Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. A few weeks later I didn’t.
So kudos to the science journalist Philip Ball for daring to venture into this territory, writes Toby Young for The Spectator. [Read the full story]
Researchers Are Keeping Pig Brains Alive Outside the Body
In a step that could change the definition of death, researchers have restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs and kept the reanimated organs alive for as long as 36 hours.
The feat offers scientists a new way to study intact brains in the lab in stunning detail. But it also inaugurates a bizarre new possibility in life extension, should human brains ever be kept on life support outside the body.
If it were tried on a person, it might mean awakening in the ultimate sensory deprivation chamber, writes Antonio Regalado for Technology Review. [Read the full story]