[UPDATE: Edited to use the version of the body text that actually makes some sense with the originally posted title.]
I’m not that old, so I’m often puzzled by people who make historical pronouncements in ignorance of recent, relevant history, sometimes history that happened within their lifetimes but not mine. Of course, as Catholic dogma would have it, not having been born is no excuse for failing to see the light: those who speak in ignorance like this, even the greybeards, should know that it’s now easier now than ever to get hold of information about events that happened before they came into the World.
You know the sort of people I mean from your days at university: trivial examples include those who skip a century and overlook, amongst others, these guys and think that popular music began with the Beatles (and conclude, for example, that performers who don’t write their own songs can’t be any good); slightly less trivial—I’m not being sarcastic—examples are student “radicals” who think that socialism started with Marx, when Marx defined his ideas against what his contemporaries called socialism. (It’s funny, but I can think of few people who would agree with my belief that communism isn’t socialism—outside the early communists. This also explains in part why most (all?) of the states with “socialist” in their names have not been a) socialist b) places you’d want to live.)
Anyway, on a similar theme, I haven’t paid much attention to the current debate about the regulation of hybrid embryo research, but I haven’t noticed a single commentator point out that we’ve been fusing together different species of living cell—including human cells—since the 60s. I know this because I studied it when I was at university myself, but also because, in the mid-90s, my boss’s boss was one of the first people to have done it. [Go here, type the phrase “cell fusion” into the search box, and browse to the end with the results ordered by date of publication.] There hasn’t been anything “Frankensteinian” about the results since then and there won’t be now. (We’ve used cell fusion to make antibodies, amongst other useful things.) I understand that originally cell fusion was indeed controversial at the time—not because a bunch of priests and politicians and journos got their knickers in a twist about it, but because the development of the technique gave rise to a rather more interesting debate about the scientific meaning of the genetics of the fused cells.
I’m well aware that even scientists don’t treat human embryonic material like just another laboratory cocktail ingredient, but much of the antis’ rhetoric reads as though the very idea of combining biological material from different species is unlike anything that has ever been done before. It isn’t. Never mind cell fusion, the word “chimera” doesn’t just mean a monster from Greek mythology, we’ve been creating them in labs for years. “God” has been doing cell fusion and making chimeras for rather longer. There’s a chance your cat is a chimera. Your wife might be one. Being forced by our inclusive, balanced media to listen to reactionary, superstitious, old windbags bloviating about the artificial mixing of embryonic tissue from different species as though it represented some completely unprecedented phenomenon makes me yearn for the supposedly more religious and conservative past that they can’t be bothered to look up.