Well, there finally seems to be a head of steam behind artificial meat. Time indeed will tell if this is economic nonsense – certainly they’ll have to do an unprecedented number on getting production costs down because this stuff ain’t exactly going to be competing with a bit of genuine Aberdeen Angus any time soonish. But that’s not really what interests me because I don’t know enough on that score to comment intelligently and unlike many of the readers of the Telegraph I always at least try on that score.
The usual suspects are out proclaiming disgust. Hell, even the article calls it “test-tube burgers”. Always with the test-tube negative waves Moriarty! People still talk about “test-tube babies” despite the fact it is entirely, utterly inaccurate. Robert Edwards who developed the technique won the 2010 Nobel for his work. Tricky stuff and the Devil is as ever in the details (at the 1965 Nobel “do” a churnalist pigeon-holed Richard Feynman and asked for a snappy five minute explanation of what he’d done. Feynman replied, “Look pal, if I could explain it in five minutes it wouldn’t be worth the Nobel Prize would it?”). It isn’t if you are many of the Telegraph commentators (with their unspecified “yuk” factor*). You see they never define that. It’s new, it’s biological so it is yucky and that is all they need to know or indeed ever seek to know. It’s pathetic. It is the same sort of bizarre mentality that caused The Times (once a paper to be respected) to run as a story a few years back that Louise Brown (the first child to be born by in-vitro techniques) had given birth and point out the child was “normal”. I was disappointed. I expected some sort of Whovian villain to emerge from the womb of a perfectly healthy and normal young woman. For shame! These science wonks simply aren’t creating the Soylent Green chomping Davros-ish loons that realise moral panics.
In any case in vitro fertilization normally uses a petri dish and not a test-tube. As does the Frankenburger of doom. Otherwise, unless my geometry is entirely askew, it would be the sausage of terror.
Anyway, it really annoys me – the whole Prince Charles-ish science has gone too far! I have enough dead relatives and friends from stuff they shall laugh at as being fatal fifty years from now to think it’s gone anywhere near far enough. Nor ever shall it. But it does interest me in a different way. For much of the last century the icon of science was a symbolic lithium atom but that has turned into the double helix or that (frankly creepy) biohazard sign. The mad scientists were once physicists building atom bombs and yes they did some crazy stuff. and that’s pure, unadulterated, 100% proof Dr Strangelove. Yeah, a supersonic, tree-top level missile the size of a railway locomotive powered by a nuclear rocket dropping hydrogen bombs. It’s the sort of thing to make that loon in Tehran soil himself in joy. Yet we seem to have learned to love the bomb (or at least not hate it) and the moral panic is now over biology. Physics is old hat. Yeah, right. When the Pakistani regime fails and the Taliban takes over and nukes Mumbai try telling me that again.
*When I was 16 my local authority gave careers advice and arranged work experience. Oddly enough anyone interested even vaguely in the sciences was advised to consider a career as an environmental health officer. It was only later my Dad told me this was because the council was short of them at the time. The devious Labour rats! Anyway, my mate did a week work experience with Gateshead environmental health and this involved some incredibly dull measuring of sound-levels on a bypass and a trip to the slaughterhouse. I think it was the skip full of still peristaltic bowels that pushed him over to vegetarianism after that. My point is “yuk factor” is… Well, I’ve never seen anything so HP Lovecraft like that in a lab (and I’ve been in a few**) so “yuk factor” is just code for irrational traditionalism here.
**Including a few biology labs. Indeed I have isolated DNA and done electrophoresis and you know “Playing God” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It mainly involves working in a clean, modern lab with bright engaging people and not being in a Bavarian Schloss, cackling maniacally whilst a hunch-backed Igor cowers behind the Jacob’s ladders and the peasants mass around the perimeter with torches and indeed pitchforks. “Mad, you call me mad? I who alone know the secret of life itself!” I hate to disappoint people but it really isn’t like that. That’s why I switched to physics. That Mary Shelley has a lot to answer for. The Modern Prometheus! Pah! It’s slogging your way through Lubert Stryer’s epic tome on biochemistry. If you think the knee bone is connected to the arse bone you ain’t seen anything like Lubert’s biochemical pathways. That’s why I preferred physics. It works on principles and not doing the equivalent of being able to quote the entire “Lord of the Rings” chapter and verse. To misquote a U2 song (I know) three vector identities and the truth. I learned sod all at university in terms of facts. I learned techniques. Actually rather more than three vector identities but I didn’t want to spoil the moment. Oh and a hint of complex analysis and tensors which are all about as fun as they sound – i.e. brilliantly so. And Fourier analysis which is not going, “You call that sable – that is stoat if I ever smelled one!”.