Friday, July 20, 2012

Yes we have to talk about fracking (since everybody else is).

An interesting account on the Science Progress blog by  A. Briggle and J. Kincaid discusses public viewpoints on fracking. It points out that they seem to divide not on traditional conservative vs liberal axes but rather 'proactionary' (positive about technology) versus 'precautionary' (concerned about anticipating negative consequences).  This may be a bit simplistic, however. It seems to me that the real issue in fracking is not whether to do it or not (gas is better than coal), but how to make sure the business model of fracking includes the full cost of preventing or reversing the accompanying environmental consequences.

Human Enhancement and the London Olympics

A recent discussion in Nature of the role of genetic mutations in athletic prowess is quite fascinating. The authors (J. Enriquez and S. Gullins) point out that success in several types of events has been associated with specific mutations. They raise the question of whether athletes with specific genetic advantages will be handicapped, or alternatively if there will be a thrust toward allowing intentional genetic enhancement. They also mention the precedent set by Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic champion runner who will be allowed to compete in the Olympics using his advanced prostheses. Recent developments in gene and stem cell therapies and in human-machine interactions are rapidly setting the stage for unprecedented capabilities to enhance human functions. Will the world of ultra-competitive athletics rather than the medical arena be the first staging ground for major deployment of human enhancement technologies?