The Need for a Treaty to Control Human Genetic Engineering

Jamie Metzl has an article in the current issue of Democracy magazine calling for a global treaty, modeled after the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to manage the risks of human genetic engineering.  Some excerpts:

What would a Genetic Heritage Safeguard Treaty
(GHST), based on the NPT model, look like? Above all, it would require
states possessing greater knowledge in the field to share basic-science
capabilities with others, in exchange for all members agreeing to
common protocols and appropriate regulations (requiring, for example,
the non-inheritability of germline genetic manipulations and the
banning of human reproductive cloning). […]

Although the prospect of human genetic modification
is terrifying to many, it is an emergent reality that holds both
tremendous promise and unimaginable danger for the world community. As
difficult as it will be to establish an international framework for
maximizing the benefits and minimizing the dangers of this
revolutionary advance, the alternative–allowing these capabilities to
emerge unregulated and unchecked–will prove nationally and
internationally destabilizing and dangerous to the future of our
species. This may sound like science fiction, but it is fast on its way
to becoming our reality. America and the world must do far more to
prepare. A Genetic Heritage Safeguard Treaty, modeled after the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, can be one important step in the right

Link: Brave New World War (free registration required).

The article was also reprinted by the Center for Genetics and Society (no registration required): Brave New World War.

Cellphone use while pregnant linked to health problems in children

From The Independent:

Women who use mobile phones when pregnant are more likely to give
birth to children with behavioural problems, according to authoritative


giant study, which surveyed more than 13,000 children, found that using
the handsets just two or three times a day was enough to raise the risk
of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct,
emotions and relationships by the time they reached school age. And it
adds that the likelihood is even greater if the children themselves
used the phones before the age of seven.

The results of the
study, the first of its kind, have taken the top scientists who
conducted it by surprise. But they follow warnings against both
pregnant women and children using mobiles by the official Russian
radiation watchdog body, which believes that the peril they pose "is
not much lower than the risk to children’s health from tobacco or

The research – at the universities of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark – is to be published in the July
issue of the journal Epidemiology and will carry particular weight
because one of its authors has been sceptical that mobile phones pose a
risk to health.


The scientists say that the results were "unexpected",
and that they knew of no biological mechanisms that could cause them.
But when they tried to explain them by accounting for other possible
causes – such as smoking during pregnancy, family psychiatric history
or socio-economic status – they found that, far from disappearing, the
association with mobile phone use got even stronger.

They add
that there might be other possible explanations that they did not
examine – such as that mothers who used the phones frequently might pay
less attention to their children – and stress that the results "should
be interpreted with caution" and checked by further studies. But they
conclude that "if they are real they would have major public health

Link: Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby,

via Textually.

Humans United Against Robots

Humans United Against Robots (HUAR) is a tongue-in-cheek campaign "designed to educate and aware the citizenry of the
world of the impending attack that computers and robots will put into
effect against humans." 
I like the art, if not the grammar.

HUAR is apparently a side project of web comedians Keith and the Girl

I heard about it today when one of its members called in to an NPR Science Friday show about robots.

Indra Sinha: Animal’s People

Animal’s People by Indra Sinha is set among survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal.  Sinha writes on his blog that it "is a story about poor people coping with tragedy and injustice. The book could have been set anywhere where the chemical industry has destroyed people’s lives. I had considered calling the city Receio and setting it in Brazil. It could just as easily have been set in central or south America, west Africa or the Philippines.  In the end it was Khaufpur and India."

Animal’s People recently won the Commonwealth writer’s prize and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker.

Link: Indra Sinha’s website and blog.

I learned of Sinha through an older book of his called The Cybergypsies (available in a new edition at Amazon UK).  I picked it up in Italy to read on the flight home.  It’s a novelistic retelling of early pre-web life on the net in the late 80s and 90s.  Sinha was an active member of these addictive online communities, explored through means of dial-up BBS’s and text-based roleplaying adventures.  Sinha tells of infiltrating a hacker board and other adventurers with activists, roleplayers, and other online pioneers that he calls cybergypsies.  It’s absorbing and strange reading.Cybergypsies

Cellphone health risks

Okay, maybe I’m naive to argue that the wifi-resisters deserve a hearing.  But how about cellphones?  Questioning whether cellphones might cause cancer will also get you ridiculed in many circles, yet studies keep coming out that say there’s a risk, particularly for children.  Studies that don’t find increased cancer risk also keep coming out, so the issue is far from decided.

The best source I’ve found for following news of cell phone health risks is archive of health risk posts.