Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Perhaps you've read about China censoring web content. The Chinese government, despite the Westernization, the fast cars, the fast food, the fast everything, has decided that intellectual freedom of expression is still out of the question. This goes back to my last post, in which I advocate an Internet Education class for children. Instead of teaching that the internet is a broad landscape of opinions, and that while people have the right to publicize and publish said opinions, one does not have to believe it all, China is restricting news, filtering political commentary, quashing dissidents and removing questionable content.

Why do this? Because information is dangerous? Or because their government, like ours, refuses to advance the state of their education system to catch up with technology?

Our government is better, you say? I say it isn't. Recent efforts to crack down on pornography aside (see - efforts to create .xxx, also, Attorney Gen. Gonzales), why is our government even thinking about restricting cloning and stem cell research? It's the same thing. Different mediums, same concept.

Freedom to publish content online is restricted by the basic laws that exist, like the First Amendment. You can't post kiddie porn. You can't say in a chat room that you're going to kill the President. Our current laws need to be updated (or rather, some precedents need to be established) to reflect the trends in technology, but we do not need to further restrict the freedom of the internet.

For the most part, I feel the exact same way about cloning and stem cell research. Why restrict something that doesn't really exist yet? People are afraid that cloning will get out of hand, we'll invent organ harvesting, take stem cells from dead babies, etc. etc. But by throwing a law on the books that bans stem cell research, or just hamstrings its funding, we're basically doing what China is trying to do to the internet.

Should we ban the cloning of a human being? Perhaps. Should we update our laws to control commerce and trade over the internet? Probably. But along those same lines, should we stop stem-cell research that might lead to groundbreaking treatments to Alzheimers, Parkinsons and a host of other diseases? I don't think so. Should we make it illegal for a website to display consensual pornographic content of dubious taste? I don't think that's healthy either.

Instead of educating individuals, our respective governments are trying to halt progress. Instead of encouraging our kids to pursue the sciences, we argue about intelligent design. Wouldn't a section on scientific ethics in a middle school biology class be more productive than a unit on Intelligent Design? Instead of allowing free and healthy discussion on the internet, China is closing web cafes and shutting down web sites that belong to dissidents.

Science, the internet, all technology for that matter, is not inherently evil. For an extreme example, look at Alfred Nobel and dynamite. People will inevitably use these things selfishly and to hurt others, but we can't go in and impose harsh restrictions before we've even gotten started. It would be as if Nobel invented dynamite, and the government immediate stopped his production, confiscated his materials and prohibited him from selling his prototypes. Yes, lives would have been saved. But dynamite's other purposes - mining and construction for example, would be lost to us.

We learn on the first day of basically every science class about the scientific method - make an observation, form a testable hypothesis, test the hypothesis and observe, if hypothesis is refuted, form another hypothesis and test again.

Laws against stem cell research and internet freedom of speech cut off that process. It kills the process by killing dialogue, by killing experimentation. Yes, there are always going to be Nigerian Princes in your inbox, pyramid schemes, and abuse of scientific knowledge. But the blanket laws being established in China, which are in danger of being established here, do more than censure the bad. They throw the baby out with the bathwater.

One last metaphor - let's say you have a seed. You don't know exactly what might grow out of it, but you know that it might grow into a tree that bears fruit which grants longevity and wisdom, or a tree whose fruit is delectable but carries with it a sentence of a slow, lingering death. Or maybe the tree will bear both kinds of fruit.

Do you

a) Plant the seed, cultivate it as best you can, and leave a plaque for your children and their children warning of the potential goods and evils


b) Plant the seed in an inhospitable environment and hope that it never flourishes?


Blogger panda said...

kill the seed, salt the ground so that nothing grows in it for a thousand years

8:35 PM  
Blogger Satchmo said...

Is this so we can go back to the stone age?

Word Verification Message of the Day - lzmmqmg - Local zoo mammals make quilts, must go

10:12 AM  
Blogger panda said...


i also like saying 'salt the ground so that nothing grows in it for a thousand years'.

it amuses me.

why does that work, by the way, biologically?

9:01 PM  
Blogger Satchmo said...

Salting the ground, if I'm not mistaken, changes the acidity of the soil, which can render many nutrients unusable, makes the soil have a higher osmotic potential (so that the plant can suck up less water, and in general changes the consistency of the soil.

There are plants which grow very well in high saline environments, but I don't think we want seaweeds to become the bulk of the earth's greenery. Tasty though.

Message in the Word Verification Bottle - wlonafc - Walking lonely over nails, a futile coincidence.

9:49 PM  

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