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July 03, 2000 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2000-07-03

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4 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, July 3, 2000
Edited and managed by GEOFF GAGNON PETER CUNNIFFE
students at thed Editor in Chief JOSH WICKERHAI
University of Michigan o t Editorial Page Editors
Unless otherwise notedunsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the
420 Maynard Street najority of the Daili 2 editorial board. All other articles. etters and
Ann Arbor, M l 48109 cartoons do not necessarily reflect the opinion of T Ie ichigan Daily
Nffuch long-winded and inspirational promise of the Utopia under a harnessed
preaching has been launched in recent - atom. Putting aside the possibilities of war
weeks following the nearly complete map- and nuclear waste, they were largely ignorant
ping of the human genome. The working of the death and destruction their discoveries
draft, nearly 85 percent complete, presents (ri~ em n i~ m e s would bring.
formidable challenges to nearly every level Genom e m appings implications Immense The dialogue on the Human Genome has
of academic discipline, and promises to begun. Still several years from completion,
touch every aspect of life. This new "code of The implications of genetic alteration, if mating the University's commitment in the the human race has enough time to reassess
life" will inspire art, poetry, philosophy and carried to their fullest extent, mean the trans- $500 to $700 million dollar range when all its role in creating the genetic technologies
science alike. But the real task and the real formation of the human species. Not only major components are in place. and modifications that will allow us to peer
danger of opening and transforming the very will many otherwise incurable diseases be With such high stakes riding on the into the very essence of life. The continued
being of humanity lies in maintaining this eliminated, but real genetic change will soon University's role in this research, as well as thrust of intellectuals, artists and scientists in
veritable genetic gold mine as a distinctly be implemented as reality. The debate on the the promise of collectively transcending determining the benefits and consequences
public enterprise with a long-sighted vision steps being taken toward altering what it what it means to be human through the use of understanding the machinery of life will
of the future it promises to alter. means to be human cannot be allowed to fall of genetic technology, the cross disciplinary determine the direction humanity takes.
Already, concerns have been raised solely in the hands of entities interested in nature of the Life Sciences Institute seems With the true promise and capacity of
recently over miscalculations and rushed ini- fiscal gain. Without abreadth of vision, play- the best approach to understanding the genetics beginning to manifest itself, neu.
tiatives to profit from patented genes. ing god with our own genetic material is an Human Genome in all its intricacy rules must not be created by scientists or
Corporations involved in gene patenting, led undoubtedly dangerous enterprise. But perhaps the initiative does not go far businessmen alone. Concentrating the power
to the brink of hubris by the promise of dol- The importance of initiatives such as the enough. To be truly cross disciplinary, the of the Genome Project solely in the hands of
lar signs, came under fire for possible mis- Life Sciences Institute at the University - initiative must encompass philosophy, art corporate interests, government or military
calculations and misidentification of genes an umbrella organization and $90 million and science cohesively. Tinkering with the programs or even the leadership of science is
involved in the transmission of the AIDS research complex comprised of researchers machinery of life is not a task left solely in dangerous. There is no certain path on the
virus. Promising a cure for AIDS and other in medicine, engineering, dentistry, public the hands of science and researchers. The genetic road to discovery, so onward we
diseases via short-sighted profiteers endan- health and elsewhere - cannot be stressed parallels seen in science's role in the must climb, collectively, bringing to this
gers the efforts to understand the workings enough. Another $200 million will be com- Manhattan Project cannot be ignored. The quest the depth of understanding carried
of our genetic machinery with their focus on miffed to the project from the University's scientists involved in discovering how to from all disciplines in the pursuit of ou*
profit margins. endowment, with President Bollinger esti- split atoms were guided by an almost naive genetically altered future.
Life n ? Failing istory
Water raises possibility and NASA's profile An ignorant society cannot remain free

A lmost overshadowed by the news sur-
rounding the human genume project
last week was news of another momentous
scientific discovery made on the planet
Mars. High-resolution images captured by
the Mars Global Surveyor revealed surface
features suggesting the recent presence of
water on the surface of Mars. While Mars'
thin atmosphere prevents water from surviv-
ing long on the surface, the photographs of
channels cut into the Martian landscape sug-
gest water could exist just below ground in
some places and is seeping out occasionally.
The discovery of water - the precursor-
to all life as we know it - on Mars has sig-
nificant implications. Many have argued that
in all the unimaginable vastness of the uni-
verse, there must be life elsewhere. Last
week's discovery on Mars makes it a possi-
bility that we could find at least rudimentary
life forms on one of our closest planetary
neighbors. And conclusive location of water
on Mars also makes future human visits to
the planet more plausible.
This discovery highlights the important
work being done by NASA. The agency's
reputation has taken some hits of late
through a series of avoidable errors including
the loss of the Mars Polar Lander earlier this
year because of a missing line of computer
code. While this and other mistakes have
caused some public and congressional doubt
regarding the importance of the space pro-
gram and the billions of dollars it consumes,
the recent findings on Mars demonstrate that
NASA is still doing important work and
making significant scientific discoveries.
NASA's recent history is marked by some
impressive successes and some spectacular
failures. The mistakes tend to draw the ire of

congressional appropriators who use inci-
dents such as the loss of the Mars Polar
Lander to justify attempts to slash NASA's
budget while its successes usually just buy
the agency some time before the next round
of threatened cutbacks.
NASA clearly needs to improve its record
and do more to avoid sloppy and costly
human errors that not only waist money, but
set back important scientific missions for
years and sometimes kill them outright.
Pressuring NASA to improve is perfectly
understandable, but the continuous imperil-
ing of its funding is the wrong way to do so.
The exploration of space has lost much of
its glamour and public interest over the
years, but as recent discoveries - such as
the likely presence of water on Mars -
demonstrate, the agency continues to pro-
duce some of the most astounding and
important scientific discoveries in the world.
Government funding of scientific
research in a world that is increasingly
dependent on research-based improvements
in technology is already too low. Space
exploration is appropriately one of the most
highly U.S. government-funded science pro-
grams and the resources do not currently
exist for NASA's work to be done by private
institutions. The benefits of space explo-
ration and many other forms of scientific
research are not as immediate as many
would like, but the work being done at
NASA and the nation's other research orga-
nizations is steadily increasing our under-
standing of our world and the entire uni-
verse. The gathering of this priceless knowl-
edge is a worthy undertaking that is neces-
sary for our continued advancement and is
deserving of our full support.

G G fhoever controls the past controls.
the future. Whoever controls the
present controls the past." George
Orwell's assessment of the importance of
history to the world of the future appar-
ently means little to many American col-
lege students. According to a study
released last week, nearly eighty percent
of college seniors from 55 top universi-
ties received failing grades on a high
school-level American history exam. All
of Orwell's dystopian visions aside, the
implications of such widespread igno-
rance on American history cannot be dis-
missed without considering the conse-
quences.
More than a third of the students did
not know the Constitution established the
division of power in American govern-
ment. Thirty-seven percent said Grant
surrendered at Yorktown: But pop culture
was no problem, with 99 percent of stu-
dents able to identify Beavis and
Butthead.
While the study was based on a multi-
ple choice standardized-style test which
contained factoids that might escape a
college student's memory (like the names
of the Constitutional framers) the overar-
ching conclusion is that the future leaders
of this nation are leaving school without
an adequate understanding of the histori-
cal events that established our democracy.
This report highlights a dangerous trend
of ignorance that leaves our democracy
without a stable foundation of knowledge
about where it has been and where the
future is taking it.
The general trend of democratic igno-
rance in American life seems compound-

ed by the barrage of new information
from the sciences, the media, advertising,
popular culture and the values of corpo-
rate and special interests that gum up th
workings of the democratic process with
floods of money.
The ever more pervasive reach of
meaningless pop culture references like
Beavis and Butthead certainly con-
tributed to the marginalization of our own
democratic history and is in part respon-
sible -for the ignorance of top college stu-
dents made apparent by this study. Th
rising tide of trivial information we
inundated with makes us blind to more
important issues and robs the past of its
significance and efficacy. History's cru-
cial role in maintaining a free society is
an integral portion of free thought. Lest
we learn from history, we are bound to
repeat its errors. And to quote Thomas
Jefferson, "If a nation expects to be igno-
rant and free it expects what never was
and never will be."
The solution to providing a historic
safeguard for our democracy is not easy or
clear-cut. Finding a way to rectify the
problem may lie in more structured and
rigorous history requirements in our pub-
lic and private universities. Or it may come
from a revitalization of democracy that
seems absolutely necessary as special
interests continue to flood our system with
money and corporations control the cul-
tural systems that robs us of our herit
and values. If the minds of the "leaders
and best" from around the nation are not
prepared with the necessary historic back-
ground in facing challenges for democra-
cy, then our freedoms will surely be lost.

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