Friday, August 27, 2010


On Monday federal judge Royce Lamberth, appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan, blocked the use of federal funds for research using embryonic stem cells on the grounds that extracting the cells kills human embryos. It is of course true that, for good or ill, every embryo has the potential to become a totally unique human being. The same is true of every zygote created by the fusion of gametes in an in-vitro fertilization Petri dish. One or more of the resulting embryos will be transferred to the patient's uterus a few days later. There will typically be many embryos left over. They are stored cryogenically in case a second transfer is necessary. By 2008 about 500,000 frozen embryos had accumulated in cryogenic facilities around the United States. That would be closer to 1 million by now, all of which retain the potential to become unique human beings. Does Judge Lamberths decision mean that society must now assume responsibility for the continued viability of this growing population of potential people?


Renowned Harvard psychology professor Marc Hauser, author of "Moral Minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong" (Ecco, 2006), wrote that "Our moral instincts are immune to the explicitly articulated Commandments handed down by religions and governments." I agree with his conclusion, and so indeed did the two Catholic seminary teachers I wrote about in "Superstition: Belief in the age of science," (Princeton, 2008), except that Hauser and I believe it to be an instinct shaped by evolution, while the two priests said it was "written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit." Details. It is often referred to by the faithful as "the moral law." Hauser thought other primates must exhibit similar instincts, but fudged his experiments with New World monkeys to show it. It was his own students, who protested, first to Hauser and then to the Dean, that the experiments showed just the oppo on a site. As Eric Felten wrote in this morning's Wall Street Journal, they "risked their careers and reputations to blow the whistle on him. They are the scientists to celebrate."


Two weeks ago WN commented on the conservative hatred of the theory of relativity and of Albert Einstein. A week ago I added comments from Don Langenberg about Philip Lenard and Johannes Stark, and also about the beginning of Deutsche Physik. During the week I learned more about Lenard from Cornelius Noack, professor of physics at the University of Bremen. Noack did his thesis at the University of Heidelberg with J.H. Jensen (Nobel prize 1963). Jensen was a replacement for Lenard who was fired by the Allies at the end of World War II. Jensen found himself in possession of Lenards personal library. Noack read Lenards hand-written margin notes on Einstein's 1905 article in Z. fur Physik. The margin notes, Noack writes, are full of hatred, distrust and misunderstanding. Lenard, who won the prize in 1905 for his work in cathode rays, had found that it always takes a set minimum of energy for an electromagnetic ray to ionize atoms, although he never understood why. He felt that Einstein had "stolen" the Nobel Prize. Noack suggests that Lenard should be recognized for showing that cell phones arent dangerous.

Bob Park can be reached via email at
Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.