Secondhand Smoke’s 5000th Post

Wesley J. Smith
First Things
September 2, 2011
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This is the 5000th entry published on Secondhand Smoke.

I started this blog at the suggestion of a friend, who opined correctly that my then Website was too static.  “If you want people to come to your site,” he told me, “it has to change every day.”  And he set me up on Blogger, from where I posted until invited to publish over here at First Things.

I am often asked, “Why ‘Secondhand Smoke?’”  It is the name I had long planned for an op/ed column if I were ever asked to write one.  (I’m still waiting.)  The point is self deprecatory, that is, I am filled with hot air and emit particulate matter (a view, I am sure, with which some heartily agree).

It is interesting how things go in life.  SHS has become my prime method for communicating views–it is sometimes quoted in media stories–and I spend a lot of time and care producing it.  But it is much more than that.  I didn’t plan this, but I think SHS has become one of the best repositories around for a real time history of some of the most controversial and momentous bioethical issues of our time–valuable I think as a research tool whether or not one agrees with my perspectives.  It also connects the dots about how many seemingly unrelated issues–say radical environmentalism and embryonic stem cell research–actually come together at the nexus of human exceptionalism.  At least that’s what the blog review of SHSpublished in the American Journal of Bioethics noticed.

In any event, here is my very first post, dated January 27, 2005.  It concerned the need to create reasonable parameters around biotechnological research, in which I asked, “When Is Enough, Enough?”:

The National Geographic has clued into the fact that biotechnologists are creating human/animal hybrids, known as chimeras. This is not news. Dolly the cloned sheep was created in the first place so that the Roslin Institute could genetically engineer sheep to have a human gene. Their purpose was laudable. They hoped to reap useful substances from the milk of genetically modified ewes to use in making human medicines, a process known as “pharming.”

But now, Irving Weissman of Stanford, is talking seriously about manufacturing a mouse with a human brain. Of course, he states that medical science will be advanced. The “anything goes” crowd in biotech always does. And he huffs and puffs that any legal moratorium on such activities would be to deny scientists their “freedom.”

But these issues are too important to just let the scientists decide what is moral and what isn’t. We are learning to change nature, including human biology, at the molecular level. The consequences from such research, both pro and con, will be profound. And since the scientists show no inclination to engage in any meaningful self- restraint, they force society to either set proper parameters or surrender control to them and hence create what could be called a scientocracy.

I do not reject inserting some human genes into animals to reap human-helping benefits. But we do have to figure out as a society how much human material in animals is too much human material in animals. Unfortunately, it seems that the ideologues of biotechnology have no intention of giving us the space to have that discussion.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Producing SHS is great fun, and I hope, from small beginnings at least a few important contributions have been made.  And thank all you SHSers who attend and provide both private and public encouragement and criticism (25, 743 approved comments).  You help make this blog a success.

So, here’s to the next 5000 posts. Onward!