Cognitive Daily

At the ScienceBlogging conference last weekend, speaker Hunt Willard brought up an interesting dilemma, discussed by ScienceBlogger Suzanne Franks (aka Zuska):

At some point, Willard said, cloning will be so straightforward we’ll be able to clone a Neanderthal. He asked, “Can you really believe no one will want to do it? Just to see?” And then…what do we do when the “experiment” is over? With research dogs – we euthanize them at the end of experiments. With chimpanzees – at the end of experiments they are sent off to sanctuaries where they are well taken care of for life (and Willard said we might well consider, as another issue, why we treat our research chimpanzees better than we treat many of our elderly and poor human beings). What are we going to do with the Neanderthals? We’ll have to take care of them – or, perhaps, we have to acknowledge that we have created a legitimate new human race. And then what? This is a science issue where one needs to know absolutely nothing about the details of cloning in order to engage in a serious debate about implications and policy.

Zuska’s larger point (a fascinating one about the significance of a blogger’s opinion versus that of the “average guy”) aside, we can already see some of the implications of drawing this line where we do now. From CNN:

A female chimpanzee at a sanctuary has given birth, despite the fact that the facility’s entire male chimp population has had vasectomies.

Now managers at Chimp Haven are planning a paternity test for the seven males who lived in a group with Teresa, a wild-born chimpanzee in her late 40s who had the baby girl last week.

Workers have started collecting hair samples from the chimps for testing. Once they identify the father, it’s back to the operating room for him.

Not exactly an idyllic life for these chimps, eh? And what of this?

The Sunday Times in London published an article under the headline “Science Told: Hands Off Gay Sheep.” It asserted, incorrectly, that Dr. Roselli had worked successfully to “cure” homosexual rams with hormone treatments, and added that “critics fear” that the research “could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.”

Martina Navratilova, the tennis star who is both openly gay and a PETA ally, wrote in an open letter that the research “can only be surmised as an attempt to develop a prenatal treatment” for sexual conditions.

The controversy spilled into the blog world, with attacks on Dr. Roselli, his university and Oregon State University, which is also involved in the research. PETA began an e-mail campaign that the universities say resulted in 20,000 protests, some with language like “you are a worthless animal killer and you should be shot,” “I hope you burn in hell” and “please, die.”


As for whether the deaths of the sheep are justified, he said, “why would you pick on a guy who’s killing maybe 18 sheep a year, when there’s maybe four million killed for food and clothing in this country?”

How will the “public” decide what to do with Neanderthals when it can’t come up with a rational policy for handling sheep? It’s a fascinating question, one I don’t have an answer for. Zuska’s post may be a start.


  1. #1 The Ridger
    January 25, 2007

    I dunno. Unlimited sex without babies would probably strike a lot of human guys as precisely idyllic. 😉

    However, the questions raised are certainly worth a lot of thought. Perhaps if we have some answers in place beforehand, problems can be headed off?

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    January 25, 2007

    Continuing with the stereotype, I’m not sure how human females would feel about unlimited sex without babies.

    Seriously, though, I think the issue here is that it’s not exactly a natural setting for these chimps — it’s not what they’d choose for themselves. I’m not saying it isn’t precisely what we should be doing, but it’s certainly not ideal. Would it, for example, be appropriate for Neanderthals?

  3. #3 John McKay
    January 25, 2007

    Let’s put the Neanderthal in charge of our political and econonmic systems. He or she just might be an improvement over the Human leaders who have been messing things up for the last few thousand years.

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