Friday, December 26, 2008

Science For The Home

While looking in at Yahoo! this morning ['bout 12:30 am, EST, to be accurate], I found the following: "Hobbyists experimenting with genetic engineering at home". Now students, for five extra points on your next pop quiz, can anyone tell me what might be wrong with this scenario? Anybody? What the Hell is wrong with you people? If this isn't a recipe for disaster, I'd like to know what is!

Granted, several marvelous things have come out of so-called "hobbyist" experiments, as the article points out [To their list I'd add the invention of disposable razor blades, vulcanized rubber, and the beginnings of the chewing gum industry. Those last two have more in common than you'd like to know, especially fans of Juicy Fruit. But I digress...]. But stacked up against those triumphs is the dismal record of other science dilettantes, at least in fiction. Consider Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the actual namesake of Mary Shelley's book [his constructed man, it should be pointed out, is referred to as "the Creature" throughout the story]. Now, the not-so-good doctor was actually experimenting in neurology [any competent plumber of the era could have worked out how to re-connect the blood and digestive systems, but even today, with exponentially greater knowledge of the human body, nerve repair is at best in the primitive stages], but the results of his labors do not bode well for the budding Home Scientist Movement.

Those of you out there who mis-spent part [or most] of your youth in reading comic books [no, NOT "Archie" ; by the way, did you know Arch, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, even Reggie, all have their own blogs at the company's web site? Almost makes me wish I'd taken up another form of expression] have certainly seen the dangerous effects of Home Science. How many villains, monsters, etc have been created by a scientific exploration gone awry? More than we can count, I fear. For those unable to read, consider programs like Dexter's Laboratory, or Johnny Test. Even the socio-political experiments of The Brain, in Pinky and The Brain, fail to give us much hope for the results.

Another potential puzzler; what if some of these scientific experiments pan out? Consider the case of Tom Dempsey, the first of only two players to kick a 63-yard field goal in a National Football League game. Careful perusers of the clip linked to above will note that Dempsey's kicking shoe is unusually shaped [a clearer look at his shoe is here. He was born without toes on his kicking foot, and so adopted a shoe with a broader striking surface. The debate over whether the odd shoe gave him an advantage over other kickers led to a rule change that forced future "toeless" kickers to wear traditional-shaped shoes on their kicking feet. The change came into effect just before Dempsey became a member of my beloved Buffalo Bills, and likely led to a drop-off in his kicking distance, and, probably not coincidentally, an end to his career. The Bills have no luck whatever...] If chance could give a kicker an [at least perceived] unfair advantage, what if some clever boyo throws some DNA in his or her handy Cuisinart, and creates an individual with giant arms? Great for passers, or receivers. How about humongous legs? Imagine running backs with pegs three or four times the size of a regular human. Better yet, imagine the lawsuits that will ensue if one of these genetically-altered behemoths demands the right to play. Great for lawyers; for the sport, not so good.

A final thought: I truly believe we need more, and better, teaching of science-related subjects [English, too, please] in our schools, but any parents who bought their children science lab kits for the holidays based on the positive image of scientists on TV in recent years are Just Asking For Trouble.

-Mike Riley


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