Science & Its Limits

By Makena Gross, Gracie Daniels, & Sam Beyer

Are scientific advancements always beneficial to society?

We believe, that while the advancement of science many times is a positive thing, many times the negatives of new scientific discoveries outweigh the positives.

Though there are good intentions presented with scientific discoveries including stem cell research, GMO’s and weapons of mass destruction, the advancements quickly became unethical. This may seem to backwards when the original idea was to benefit humanity, but the people trying to be helped get hurt in the long run. Many scientists start out with good intentions with innovations that can potentially help all of mankind. With many modern scientific breakthroughs, we see more destruction of morals and livelihoods that were originally intended to be improved. Science, while the opinion of science id generally that of a positive one, advancing our society’s way of life, too often it does just the opposite and ethical lines are obliterated.

In stem cell research, there are many positives presented by curing multiple terminal illnesses including paralysis, MS, alzheimers and more. The benefit with using leftover fertilized embryos is that the fertilized cells were going to be wasted anyways, so if living humans are able to be cured of fatal illnesses by using something that would be wasted away anyways, then there is a practical use for stem cells that does not cross the line. Yet, when embryos are artificially created for the sole purpose of eventually being destroyed for the use of stem cells, the ethical line is crossed.

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, were first engineered to be resistant against herbicides and harmful insects. Now, they are able to produce more food, healthier food, tastier food, and they can be modified so that they are resistant against certain threats. They are a great idea, overall. GMOs are helping bring down the cost of foods, helping impoverished countries with their hunger problems, and could potentially save millions of lives. However, scientists don’t know the long term effects of GMOs and how detrimental they can be on the environment and on humans. GMOs could possibly create superweeds, a hybrid plant that grows resistant to herbicides, increase allergies, increase health care risks, and disrupt our whole symbiotic environment.

For thousands of years, mankind has created weapons to ensure their safety. But what happens when the weapons used for protection end up harming those meant to be kept safe by them? Though it can be argued that weapons of mass destruction were created for positive reasons, it can be seen, time and time again, that the weapon’s own people are destroyed by the very things they made to keep them safe. By developing new WMDs, we are only making the world a more dangerous place for ourselves.

Between stem cell research, genetically modified organisms, and weapons of mass destruction, there are several advantages that can be beneficial to society. However, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits of these scientific advancements. While anyone can be an innovator or inventor and have good intentions in the field of science and technology, there is a limit to what should be created. Once that limit is reached, a very thin line is crossed. Technological advancements should be studied in areas that are better for mankind, and not so ethically challenged by common global morals.

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Controversy over GMOs

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they are usually referred as, have become a very controversial topic. Most people don’t even know exactly what they are, which are “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated” in a lab (NonGMOProj). They were first engineered to resist against herbicides and insects but have grown to be modified even more. Most of the controversy is with the labelling of foods that are genetically modified because some people freak out if they don’t know what they are eating, but even if they know or don’t know if they are consuming GMO products, it all comes down to whether or not GMOs are safe or if they are detrimental. Now, GMOs are engineered so that they produce more food, are healthier, and are tastier, but they could potentially harmful to people’s health and to the environment. Scientists are still studying the effects of GMOs on the health of humans, other organisms, and the earth. This also raises questions about who can be an inventor and if they should be. Can anyone be an inventor? Should everyone be an inventor? After all, knowledge is power and with power comes responsibility. Overall, this new innovative invention could be a major breakthrough in science and could be very beneficial, but they could also be an indicator that science needs to set limits for what is too far.

In science, it is important to take risks. Without taking risks, society wouldn’t be nearly as far along as we are. After all, that is what Victor Frankenstein did when he created his monster. Frankenstein said himself that “in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder”(Shelley 49). However, just because Frankenstein is extremely intelligent and meant well, he created a monster, and because it was his creation, he was liable for the deaths that the monster was responsible for. Anyway, GMOs are an example of a risk that was taken in science. We don’t know the long term effects of them, and we don’t if we will be able to control them if something goes wrong. For example, if genetically modified organisms are mixed with natural organisms, then those natural organisms will be modified and that will mess up our environment. By taking the risk of making GMOs, scientists have been able to produce more of certain foods that usually would produce little. This has become a solution to world hunger and people starving to death in less privileged countries, “for GE crops hold out the best hope of sustaining the productivity growth in agriculture needed to feed the global population at reasonable cost without further polluting the planet”(Lusk). On the other side, there have been studies that have shown that GMOs can increase allergies, create intestinal disorders, cause organ toxicity, or even cause infertility. Scientists are still studying the long term effects, though.

Although, genetically modified organisms are potentially a fantastic idea and could even save millions of lives, they are hazardous until proven otherwise. The chance that they could be harmful to human beings and to our environment are too high. GMOs can easily become weeds. If genetically modified plant’s genes are mixed with natural organisms, then those natural organisms will obtain the new genes. This will result in a very artificial environment and superweeds. Also, “crops that produce viruses may lead to new, stronger viruses,” which would be destructive on healthcare and medicine(NonGMOProj). The chance that GMOs will threaten the diversity of the crops and change the whole system of our symbiotic ecosystem and environment is way too prominent and too unpredictable.

If genetically modified organisms are going to be apart of our world and are going to try to be advantageous, then scientists and society need to set limits. Not everyone should be able to be an innovator or inventor, especially in a time period where science and technology is advancing so rapidly. If certain people don’t follow the rules that are currently in place, or that should be put in place, then they won’t take responsibility for their actions, and it will all go downhill from there. That’s exactly what happened to Victor Frankenstein when he crossed the line and created a monster that killed multiple people. Therefore, GMOs should be tested and studied until they are proven unharmful, not everyone should be an inventor or an innovator, and science needs to set limits because of our quick changing world.

Sam Beyer on Stem Cells

The value of human life has always been a topic of disagreement and uncertainty, especially within the last 30 years due to the human genome project and start of stem cell research. Whether or not a fertilized egg is a human being has caused discrepancies in multiple topics such as abortion, stem cell research and cloning. Supporters of human life and the value of human life – often religiously based people – argue that stem cell research restricts the fertilized egg’s value to human life by taking their stem cells. On the other hand, supporters of stem cell research and abortion claim that the benefit of stem cells or choice is far greater than the loss of the undeveloped organism. Due to the scientific advancements within stem cell research that can lead to creating cures for several diseases, the use of undeveloped fertilized embryos should be legal and supported. Science does have limitations, but stem cell research does not cross the line if it is used to save lives using an undeveloped fertilized embryo that won’t be used for the development of human life either way. The cure for diseases currently affecting many people in the world far outweighs consequences associated with the destruction of undeveloped fertilized embryos that will not be used for the development for human life.

The creation of new chains of cells from unspecialized embryonic stem cells is a revolutionary science advancement that can be seen as unethical. Yet, someone/some group of scientists were smart enough to realize that undifferentiated cells were able to differentiate into any cell in the human body with the engineering of genes and genetic information; by using catalysts scientists are able to switch genes on and off to specialize into any cell in the human body. Not only are the cells able to differentiate into any cell in the entire body, they can take the place of cancerous cells which are killed through apoptosis. The advancements associated with stem cells are so far ahead that scientists can change the destiny of a group of undifferentiated cells, or embryonic stem cells. With all these scientific advancements come limitations, or a metaphorical “line.” The “line” associated with scientific advancements can be crossed, but in the case of stem cells, it is not. If undeveloped fertilized embryos were created specifically for the use of stem cell research, then the line is crossed. In no way should human life be conceived in order to shortly be killed for research. This may sound like a contradiction to the entire argument, but it is not. According to Cengage learning, the embryonic stem cells are “always leftover embryos from assisted reproduction facilities” which are used for “in vitro fertilization” but these embryos were “never implanted into the mother’s womb” (Cengage). If the fertilized embryos are created for families who need to use in vitro fertilization in order to have children, then they are created for a purpose; but most of the fertilized eggs are unused because the in vitro is able to work for the family. So, instead of the already fertilized eggs being thrown away, they should be used for the findings associated with stem cell research. With the left over fertilized blastocysts, stem cells can be taken in order to create specialized cells to cure illnesses. One example of stem cells in action would be stem cells differentiating into “new nerve cells” that would be created to help a “person with traumatic spinal cord injury to walk again” (Opposing Viewpoints). By using stem cells that will be thrown away anyway, many illnesses can be cured that can help people live longer lives and even be able to walk again.

One of the main restrictions associated with this is religious views and ethical concerns. It can be seen that science can cross the line, especially in areas of cloning and GMO’s. Life on earth shall not be destroyed if it has already been created for the purpose of the development of a human being or any organism for that matter. If the egg is fertilized, it becomes an embryo, a blastocyst that is full of undifferentiated cells. Once this group of cells begins to differentiate into human body parts, then it has life. In this case, and in Victor’s case in the book Frankenstein “one man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge,” that even though knowledge is acquired and other diseases can be cured, the death of one man/one embryo is not worth it (Mary Shelley). In the Roman Catholic Church, it is believed that “human life begins at fertilization” and that, like Dr. Frankenstein says, you should “not sacrifice one class of human beings to benefit another” (Opposing View). I agree, that a human life should not be destroyed in order to solve cures, because no human life is worth more than another. However, stem cell research uses fertilized cells that have already been designated to destroy anyways, because they are not necessary anymore for families using in vitro fertilization. In this case, if these blastocysts are going to be thrown out anyways and not used specifically used for the development of human life, then they should be used for the benefit of other human lives through the use of the embryonic stem cells. The benefit of curing diseases that cause harm to several humans far outweighs the consequences of throwing away a fertilized embryo that is not going to be used for human development anyways. It’s simple, if the science is available, and the no lines will be crossed because the embryos will be thrown away anyways, then they should be used for the benefit of life on earth.

Overall, the use of fertilized embryos that would otherwise be thrown away for the development of specialized cells that can cure illnesses is ethical and makes sense. The benefits associated with the development of stem cells far outweigh the concerns associated with a loss of a fertilized egg that won’t be used anyways. If science allows us to create new cells that can cure illnesses that consistently affect a large population of the human race, then it does not cross the lines, and it shall not be limited. The findings that were associated with stem cells are so innovative and creative that they should be used if they can create cures for illnesses. There is no reason to not use them if they do not cross limitations linked to science, so stem cell research should be further advanced and legal.

Weapons of Mass Destruction...

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” -Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

It is true that man does not intend to create evil. In his mind, he believes he is doing the right thing. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) were created with the noblest of intentions--to end war. A prime example of these is nuclear weapons. The unfortunate consequence, harming thousands of innocent people, seemed like a small price to pay to win a long and costly war. Because of this decision, the threat of deployment of nuclear weapons sent us into a 45-year Cold War where we lived in fear of what we had created, could at any time be used against us. Just because one has the knowledge and power to do something, doesn’t mean it is morally correct to create something so destructive.

Machine guns, for example were created for war. They were made to protect our country from others trying to harm us and take away our peace. While this may seem like a noble intent, it has brought incredible pain to our country this past decade. Machine guns have been used by Americans to kill other Americans in large scale heinous acts. Something that was created to save people has done just the opposite.

When Americans were fighting the war in Vietnam, the jungles proved to be a great obstacle, resulting in the loss of many men. Agent Orange was created to kill vegetation so soldiers could more easily pass through dangerous Vietnamese jungles. This seemed like an excellent solution for a problem at first, but we soon saw the evil of what had been created. People started dying, first from starvation from the loss of their crops, but as the years went on, people became sick from the effects of the chemicals in their land. Even now, Americans that fought in Vietnam are facing the aftermath of such a dangerous WMD released. Only after the release did we find out that it caused “serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer” not only in the Vietnamese population, but “among returning U.S. servicemen and their families.” Even 40 years after using something so dangerous, the people that we were trying to protect are still suffering.

Before the 1840s, musket guns were used. They were incredibly inaccurate; even with perfect aim, a bullet could miss its target by 30 feet. At this time, when men shot their own food, if you couldn’t actually hit the animal, you could not feed your family. Great minds stepped in to find a better way to provide for themselves. The rifle was created. Its impeccable aim allowed for a much larger chance of bringing home dinner. But, 25 years later, this invention made for the sole purpose of improving lives, was used against neighbors and not the next meal. The Civil War was the first war to use this new technological weapon. The rifle “had revolutionized warfare because of its increased range” but also “the havoc it wreaked on the human body.” Medicine, at this time, was not as advanced as the WMD that had been created. The wounds that the rifle inflicted, most likely killed the soldiers because of the infection that was not able to be stopped. The most Americans to die in any conflict throughout history occurred because of the rifle.

Some may claim WMDs are important because they protect us but instilling fear into our enemies, destroying people trying to hurt us, and solving problems that words can’t. That is why WMDs have been used throughout history and are still used today. Technologies that may seem like benign solutions at first, may actually be worse than the initial problem. We need to recognize that the advancement of technology can indeed be extremely harmful, there are always consequences even if they’re not easily seen at first. Innovations meant to improve life may turn around and destroy life. It is an individual's responsibility to not be blinded by possible glory of inventions so as to not recognize potential consequences. So much of the pain that this nation has felt was self inflicted. What is the point of initial protection that only ends in the fatality of its creator? In Mary Shelley’s famous ghost story, Dr. Frankenstein created his monster with the initial thought of good. He wanted to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers” but also to “unfold the deepest mysteries of creation.” Yes, by new weapon inventions deep mysteries are revealed, but only ones of pain, fear, and destruction.

Works Cited

Lusk, Jayson. "In defense of Frankenfoods." The Milken Institute Review: A Journal of

Economic PolicyOct. 2014: 30+. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Stephen King, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Frankenstein ; Dracula ; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: Signet, 1978. Print.

"GMO Facts." The NonGMO Project RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

"Stem Cells." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2015. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

"Therapeutic Cloning: Stem Cell Research." Genetics and Genetic Engineering. Barbara Wexler. 2011 ed. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Information Plus Reference Series. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2016

"Agent Orange." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.

"Rifles in the Civil War." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. N.p.: n.p., 2000. Print.