Science

Charles Darwin: Revolution of evolution

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Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace formulated the theory of evolution and fought for its acceptance across the scientific community, writes John Parrington.

I recently made a pilgrimage to Westminster Abbey. I was not there for religious or aesthetic reasons, but to visit the grave and honour the memory of Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago this month.

From great to disgrace

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When Nobel prize winner James Watson made racist comments about black people and intelligence last month, he was using his scientific credentials to legitimise bigotry.

It has been said that if the 20th century was the age of the atom, the 21st century will be the epoch of the gene. With the completion of the human genome project we are offered a future in which the genetic basis of disease has been fully worked out and medical treatment is tailored to each individual.

Extraordinary Life

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Stephen Jay Gould, who died in 2002, was among the great scientists of his generation. Socialist Review spoke to Steven Rose, co-editor of a new collection of Gould's essays.

Interest in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution among those on the left stretches back a long way. Karl Marx wrote of Darwin's Origin of Species, "Although it is developed in the crude English style, this is a book which contains the basis in natural history for our views."

Science: Beyond the Selfish Gene

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Viren Swami explains why understanding the human condition requires something more than a theory of genetics.

Some years ago, as an undergraduate taking an interest in psychology, I became particularly enraptured by a seemingly new understanding of human mentality and behaviour known as evolutionary psychology. I was not alone in this - newspaper editors and documentary-makers were seemingly captivated by the direct and immediate application of Darwinian biology to human behaviour. This endeavour promised to reveal many more truths about human psychology than an obscure philosophy of mind ever could.

Science: Turning Stem Cells into Cash

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John Parrington asks who is to blame when scientific research becomes fraud.

Anyone who has lived in a house that suffers from subsidence will know that tensions and instabilities in the foundations of an apparently sound building are sometimes revealed by cracks that suddenly appear without warning. A huge crack in the edifice of biomedical science appeared recently when what appeared to be a major scientific breakthrough, the creation of tailor-made stem cells from cloned human embryos, published in the prestigious journal Science, turned out to be a fabrication.

Making a Difference

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Review of 'The Human Story', Robin Dunbar, Faber & Faber £12.99

Ever since Charles Darwin proposed that humans and apes share a common evolutionary ancestor, we have been fascinated to understand what distinguishes us from our simian cousins. One of the most astonishing facts of modern genetics, confirmed this year by the completion of the chimpanzee genome project, is that there is only 1.2 percent divergence between our genes and those of the chimp.

Unnatural Selection

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Review of 'Genetic Politics', Anne Kerr and Tom Shakespeare, New Clarion Press £12.95

Eugenics is the idea that it is possible, as well as desirable, to 'improve' the genetic make-up of the human race. Eugenics could mean encouraging people with 'good' genes to reproduce, or preventing those with 'undesirable' characteristics from doing so. Not that long ago it seemed such ideas had been discredited once and for all by the experience of Nazi Germany. But according to this stimulating and thought-provoking book, eugenics is being given a new lease of life by new scientific developments.

The Gene Machine

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Sir John Sulston, former director of the human genome mapping project, talks to John Parrington.

We hear a lot nowadays about the genome project initiating a revolution in science, and that we're now living in the post-genomic age. In your book, you say that shouldn't really be called the post-genome age but the post-hype age. What did you mean by that?

The Measure of a Man

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Steven Rose pays tribute to the life and work of Stephen Jay Gould.

Professor Stephen Jay Gould, who has died of cancer aged 60, was an unlikely figure to have been canonised by the US congress, which named him as one of America's 'living legends'. A palaeontologist, he was based for most of his life at the museum of comparative zoology (MCZ) at Harvard. But he was best known for his unbroken sequence of 300 monthly essays in 'Natural History' magazine and republished in a seemingly unending stream of books.

Clones Maketh a man?

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John Parrington examines the controversy over the cloning of human embryos.

A controversial area of science that has hardly been out of the spotlight since the birth of its leading lady - Dolly the sheep - is cloning. The recent announcement that scientists have succeeded in cloning a human embryo has reignited the simmering debate about the issue. The US biotechnology firm responsible, Advanced Cell Technology (Act) says its intention is not to produce a cloned baby. Instead it aims to produce cloned embryos as a source of human stem cells. These have the unique property of being able to mature into any cell type in the body.

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