Posts Tagged ‘SCIENCE

Dear Scientists,

When this article was recently brought to my attention, I thought it would occasion nothing more than the 3rd in my series of Why Scientists Should Stop Fucking Around with Woolly Mammoth DNA Already. As it has been a while since last we spoke on the subject, let’s begin with a review:

1. Nature has already filled the void created by the extinction of the Woolly Mammoth, and it wasn’t with more Woolly Mammoths; which is to say – there is no place in the modern landscape for such an animal;

2. It is beyond cruel to resurrect an animal that can not survive in the wild and would therefore spend its entire existence in captivity;

3. If you were to ask 1,000 people who don’t work in natural history museums what they want out of life, none of them would answer “More interactions with Woolly Mammoths”; to bring back the mammoth is to spend an exorbitant sum of money on something that is neither necessary nor desirable to the world at large; it is to create a new New Coke for a new generation.

4. Since you are not working on anything of value, scientists who are “working” on the Woolly Mammoth “issue” could better serve society simply by becoming trainers for seeing-eye dogs. Or even garbage men;

5. There are actual issues of scientific importance that need to be addressed out there.

One of these issues, you may recall, is the Tasmanian Face Cancer. Yes, I am still moved by the plight of  our adorably ugly little friend, the Tasmanian Devil, spreading cancer amongst themselves at an alarming rate.

I know I’ve been bugging you – for years – to get on this, so you might think I would have been happy to discover this. Sure, that’s a couple months old – and horrifying, with the tumor-riddled face of a Tasmanian Devil [in all seriousness, that picture is rough; you may not want to look, and you wouldn’t be wrong] –  and it does seem to be good news:

After years of unrelentingly dire news, biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils, which are threatened with extinction by a contagious, highly virulent form of cancer.

A small group in Tasmania’s northwestern tip appears to have survived the scourge largely intact. It’s the first population to do so, and represents the first real sign — however tentative — that the beloved marsupials may survive.

Certainly, it’s good news that there are some Tasmanian Devils that are resisting the spread of the cancer. And, even considering that Tasmanian Devils who appeared resistant in the past did eventually succumb, it’s encouraging. But, I do question the idea that “biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils,” since, having read the full article, it sounds like the Tasmanian Devils did it all on their own:

The new findings describe what they [scientists] found: a population [of Tasmanian Devils] that, four years after the disease arrived, looked much as it did before, though the populations around them have been decimated. They still contract the disease, but in lower numbers, and to far lesser effect.

You want credit for what now? Honestly, I’m not seeing evidence of anything that the Tasmanian Devils didn’t do on their own. I do, however, have some concerns about what you’re planning on doing in the face of this progress:

“The best outcome would be that some devils in this population are resistant,” said McCallum. “We might be able to spread the resistant genotypes,” repopulating Tasmania with devils bred from the West Pencil Pine survivors.

Do you know what Dr. Frankenstein’s error was? It wasn’t that he made the monster wrong; it was that he made the monster. Period. Full stop.You getting involved in this situation, now that the Tasmanian Devils seem to be making progress on their own, it just seems like a bad idea to me.

Which, I know, is a complete departure from what I’ve spent years saying. And I do understand your impulse to help them; no one wants them to be cancer-free more than me, especially now that I see a resemblance between their horridly wonderful faces and my Oola’s sweet and beautiful face; (certainly, they are alike in temperament.) It’s tough to sit on your hands when something you love is dying and you think you can help. I’m sorry I was so pushy for so long, I really am. But please, let’s hold off on the spreading of resistant genotypes until we’ve given the Devils a chance to spread it themselves. You can use the time to work on other projects! Really. Anything but Woolly Mammoths, and I won’t say a word.


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