Bioethics Discussion Blog: Halting Scientific Inquiry and Is It Ethical?: The Case of the Gay Sheep

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Halting Scientific Inquiry and Is It Ethical?: The Case of the Gay Sheep

As we end the year 2006 on the Bioethics Discussion Blog, I want to challenge my visitors with the final ethical question of the year: Are there some areas of biology where it would not be ethical for scientists to study at all because of the concern of some groups that the potential results of such scientific biological study could potentially be used for acts which would be detrimental and not be in the best interest of those groups or others? What should be the limits of biologic research? Does the public and governmental reactions to stem cell research and cloning tell us anything?

There happens to be, currently, concerns about this matter. And where are the concern directed? Why, it’s the research that is being carried out at Oregon State University and at the Oregon Health and Science University. The research? Learning about what sets the sexual orientation of rams that makes some of them “gay”. These sheep prefer to mount other rams rather than mating with ewes. This behavior reduces the farming value of these animals. If the animal’s sexual orientation could be changed to behave in a heterosexual manner, this would be of benefit. Unfortunately, these studies are felt by some as the beginning of a slippery slope toward the “treatment” of human gay and lesbians, and therefore further studies of sexual-orientation should be stopped.

So the question is whether there is just some research in biology that should never be carried out and it would be better and safer to keep humankind ignorant of some parts the interesting world around us? You can read all about this particular issue in December 31, 2006 Timesonline. Let me know what you think.

May we all have a happy and healthy and ETHICAL New Year with or without gay sheep.
..Maurice.

9 Comments:

At Monday, January 01, 2007 3:54:00 PM, Anonymous Moof said...

Dr. Bernstein, in the interest of science, everything should be explored. Yes, some groups would be "upset" by the results - but keeping the world in ignorance in order to not impact someone's beliefs or lifestyles is - ridiculous!

Such studies should be undertaken with particular care ... so that the results as accurate, unbiased, and comprehensive as possible.

You certainly have an eye for the good questions, Dr. Bernstein! :o)

 
At Monday, January 01, 2007 7:56:00 PM, Blogger Jim Newman said...

PETA’s big lie:

Just so you know. The false suggestion that the research is aimed at curing homosexuality was made by PETA. Yes, the animal rights group.

Of course PETA has their own motives for receiving press on this story. In fact, PETA heavily edited quotes by the researchers and even fabricated information to generate press coverage. Many weeks ago, a writer in the states looked into PETA false claims. Here’s what he found:

http://thenexthurrah.typepad.com/the_next_hurrah/2006/09/peta_crosses_th.html

 
At Monday, January 01, 2007 8:27:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Jim, many thanks for providing us with that URL which I will set up here as a formal link

I suggest that my visitors go to that link to fully understand what was the basis for your conclusion about PETA's motives. ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Shalin Gala said...

OSU and OHSU’s Big Embarrassment

Thank you for covering this important issue. Jim Newman―the PR rep for Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)―disregards criticism of the unscientific and unethical gay sheep experiments because of nothing more substantial than the fact that it was PETA who brought it to light. PETA sent a detailed seven-page letter to OHSU's counterpart, Oregon State University, with critiques authored by scientific experts and a prominent sexuality research society. Both universities have failed to address the key points that were raised in the letter.

OSU and OHSU certainly wish that PETA had never spoken out so that the experimenters could quietly continue their “research,” which embodies the needless slaughter of animals, an affront to human dignity, and a colossal waste of precious taxpayer funds.

To read PETA’s letter to OSU in its entirety, you can visit:
http://www.stopanimaltests.com/pdfs/LetterTo
OregonStateUniversitySeptember202006.pdf.

 
At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 4:24:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

And thanks to you Shalin for providing us with the opposing view as documented in the PETA letter which can be read as a pdf file by clicking on the following link. This is the way an ethics discussion should start..with both sides clearly presenting their views. ..Maurice.

 
At Thursday, January 04, 2007 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Jim Newman said...

Thanks Shalin for commenting - it gives us a chance to further demonstate how PETA made up false claims of bigotry and homophobia just to get in the press.

However, before giving that information, I should note that PETA's false claims come 4 years after the research was initially announced by the universities and the real facts were reported internationally. Here's that initial press release that pretty much debunks your claim that the researchers were are trying to work in secret as you claim http://www.ohsu.edu/unparchive/2002/110402sheep.html

I should also direct everyone to a new posting about the Sunday Times article which has now become the source of wild conspiracy theories. I am pleased that a writer has thoroughly investigated the article. As he reports, the Sunday Times article is filled with major errors and false claims. His analysis also raises important questions about the timing of the article which comes almost five years after the research was actually conducted.

Here’s a link to that analysis that anyone who is interested in this topic should read:

A wolf in gay sheep's clothing: Corruption at the London Times
http://thenexthurrah.typepad.com/the_next_hurrah/2007/01/a_wolf_in_gay_s.html

As for how PETA the false claim up:

Here's a heavily edited quote Shalin likes to post to try and "prove" it's false claims.


"Stormshak has publicly stated that '[i]f people want to extrapolate [to humans the conclusions that he reaches with regard to altering sheep’s sexual orientations], that’s up to them.' Stormshak’s cavalier attitude shows that he places responsibility for the implications of his work on those who want to apply his conclusions to humans."

Now, here's a link to the full article in the OSU Barometer:
http://barometer.orst.edu/media/storage/paper854/news/2002/11/08/News/Osu-Professor.Studies.Sexual.Preference.In.Sheep-2294650.shtml?norewrite200611131817&sourcedomain=barometer.orst.edu

If you read the entire article, and not the info taken out of context, the message is very clear. The researchers are not extrapolating their research to humans, nor are they suggesting anyone should. It also clearly demonstrates your misuse of select quotes.

 
At Thursday, January 04, 2007 5:10:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Jim, thanks for the further resource URLs. However, because of unsatisfactory formatting of long strings in the Blogger Comments, portions of the end characters of the URL are not printed. The URL of the resources are important. But to enable the visitor who wants to go there, it would be better in this Comment section to actually write the html tags to generate a true link. To remind those visitors who don't know how to write a link, it should be in the following format: start the line with an opening bracket and the letter a followed by a space and then href= then followed by quotation mark and then the full URL beginning with http:// and ending with quotation mark followed by the closing bracket followed immediately by the link title name followed by an opening bracket then a forward slash, then the letter a and the closing bracket. The opening bracket is < and the closing bracket is >



I prepared the following links corresponding to Jim's last posting:


"initial press release"
"Corruption at the London Times"
"OSU Barometer"

..Maurice.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 9:00:00 PM, Anonymous Coranth Gryphon said...

Good question. Simple answer, in the form of other questions.

Why do we research? Why do we seek knowledge? Do we inquire to find out? Or to justify our beliefs? Are we equally content with whatever results we discover? Or are we looking to validate a presupposition?

The question of genetic or biochemical causes for homosexuality is complex only because too many people have agendas.

Some want to know so they can support their political beliefs. In either direction. These people are hoping the facts will support their pre-conclusions. Sadly, such an agenda often taints the very research that they seek to pursue.

Some want to know so they can "fix the problem". While this might be fine when the issue involves cattle (which are property), it becomes a very different question when it involves people (who are not property).

Science is about discovery. It's about understanding the reality and the process and the truth. Science can't exist in a vaccuum, but once it leaves that vaccuum it ceases to be pure science -- it becomes a tool, for those who have agendas.

Your question was "is there some research that should never be carried out". The answer is simple.

We can pursue willful ignorance, and make up unsubstantiated justifications for the choices we make. Or we can choose truth, and live with that truth and its consequences.

And some of the consequences of any scientific discovery is that the knowledge gained might be abused by those with an agenda. That's the nature of the beast. But the alternative to knowing is reliance on capricious suppositions and arbitrary conclusions.

Personally, I'd rather have truth, and try to manage the consequences of how that knowledge is used, than to live in willful ignorance.

But then again, my agenda has never been to control others.

 
At Wednesday, February 04, 2009 10:54:00 PM, Anonymous x-ray fluorescence said...

Great article.Science is about discovery. It's about understanding the reality and the process and the truth. Science can't exist in a vacuum, but once it leaves that vacuum it ceases to be pure science -- it becomes a tool, for those who have agendas..

 

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