Koepsell Kame, Konquered Kongregation

The Center For Inquiry NorthEast Ohio Chapter hosted author David Koepsell, the former director of the Council of Secular Humanism, on Sunday March 8, at the Brecksville public library. He spoke on his new  book:  “Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush To Patent Your Genes”.

If one wanted to hear a talk (or read a book) on the legal, philosopical, and technical issues associated with the genome project and the legal status of our genes, they might choose a panel consisting of a lawyer, a philosopher, and a scientist, or they might just choose Prof. Koepsell, who has a JD, PhD, and is assistant Professor of Technology and Ethics at the Technological University of Delft (Netherlands,  www.ethicsandtechnology.eu).

Prof. Koepsell began his talk,  in our rather intimate setting in a meeting room at the Brecsville Public Library and temporary temple of knowledge, by describing his wife’s area of research at the intersection of genetics and pharmacology.  It turns out that we should not all take the same drugs for the same problems, because some genetic configurations react differently – the implications of this are huge.  He then gave a brief introduction to the history of our current situation, in which parts of human genome are patented.  

There was a large international science project (Human Genome Project, or HGP), to map the human genome – sequencing of the genes- which was farmed out to various labs, based on public funding, and the knowledge was to benefit the public, and be publicly shared.  (This was not unlike the National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Health, in which our government funded basic research, with the results available to all), 

One Craig Venter founded Celera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celera_Genomics) a private  company, which raised capital, and which developed and sold sequencing machines which did benefit the HGP.  ( See “The Gene Wars: Science, Politics, and the Human Genome” by Robert Cook-Deegan.)

When the board of Celera board decided to make more money than they  could  from merely selling machines,  they began filing patents based on the results of two cases:  Diamond v Chakrebarty 1980 , and Moore v Regents of Calif 1993.  The former allowed patents on genetically engineered organisms, and the latter that individuals do not have ownership rights of the fruits of discoveries made by the harvesting of their DNA.  (Lovely)

Mr. Koepsel then covered some basic rudiments of intellectual property (IP) law, indicated why some IP  issues are rather sticky for genetics, summarized where we are (Who owns you?), and then we went to Q&A. 

For those who braved it out on a warm, wet day, it was a very valuable experience: for the rest, there is this blog.

N.B.: Patents do not, in general, apply to discovery: “A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” (James Joyce, from that sacred source of knowledge:” Ulysses”, and my universal answer to anyone who claims to have found a mistake in my posts.

Dr. Zindler was here: Morality,Ethics, & Religion.

On Feb 19, 2009, Dr. Frank Zindler – former  president of American Atheists – spoke on “Ethics Without gods” at an event sponsored by the Case Center For Inquiry student group.  He presented the group with several books, one of which he authored.

On Morality:

Exploring the nature of morality, Dr. Zindler observed that it is as much a part of human nature as is hunger.   All Morals are human made – none originate from a higher authority – they are part of our DNA.  

On a higher power: 

If god is perfect, then why is there good and evil? If god is good and has the power to prevent evil, they why doesn’t she?  If god does not have the power to prevent evil, then is he all powerful?

On the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”:

How does one apply this to masochists?  Or to Human Sexuality?  (It might be noted that Lao Tzu’s form of this rule- “Don’t do to someone else what you would not wish them to do to you”- avoids these issues.

On ethics:

Ethics must be: improvable, adaptable, and self-correcting – our survival depends on ethics based on science, not superstition. 

On Religion in general:

Religion was part of our evolutionary progress, as are other things we no longer need.  There is no external standard for religion, as opposed to science.  Religion contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction.  We are all atheists in our minute to minute activities – one does not need piety to wash the dishes or repair the car.  He shared Steven Wienberg’s observation;

“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil;  but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

On Christianity:

The first two humans on Earth were living in perfection, when they violated a rather arbitrary rule by eating a forbidden fruit.  Their punishment for this heinous crime was that they, and all of their descendants and descendants of descendants, would be penalized, have to endure a life of struggling and suffering to survive, and risk suffering for eternity – for something they had never, of course, done.  Then a perfect man came along, he was killed, and that fixed everything. 

In Summary:

We must develop an enlightened self interest:   maximize intensity and duration of doing well for ourselves and for others.