Category for opinion

The Question for 21st Century Youth: Who are my parents?

In 1997 the move Gattaca the question was explored of what would happen when we could genetically engineer people to create “discrimination of the scientific sort.” As scary as this is, the movie never went about answering another very real question, which in 1997 probably seemed like a future even more distant than total knowledge of the human genome. A very real problem with the new advances in surrogacy is now beginning to enter into the legal sphere. And strangely enough, it has become a question over who the parents of a child are.

Surrogacy is a procedure in which sperm and egg fertilized in vitro are implanted into a female subject who has agreed to carry the pregnancy to term. She gives birth to the child and usually forfeits the child to the couple who has paid for the arrangement who then, for the most part, retain legal custody of the child.

For most surrogacy cases, the reason for pursuing this path usually is that the female of a heterosexual couple cannot carry her own child or the complication from her carrying term would most likely result in her expiration. This represents a little over 90% of all surrogacy cases. In these cases, for the most part, the legal proceedings have been clear: the male of the couple has provided the sperm and the female of the couple has provided the egg, and no one can challenge that the couple represents the legal characters of parents. For the most part, surrogate concerns have been sidelined as she has no legal connection to the child. Since the legal sphere has not as of yet gone to define what someone has to be involved in concerning the birth process to be considered a parent, surrogates usually find resistance and judicial scorn.

Another portion of the group paying for their children to be born of a surrogate are homosexual couples who provided the corresponding piece to the “child puzzle” from at least one partner. Here courts have been a little more uncertain and varied in decisions, but the rulings have still reflected the notion that sperm donor and egg donor, especially if the egg donor also carried the child to term, need to exist as legal guardians by current legal proceedings. If the egg was provided from another source, it becomes the choice of the women, individually, if they do or do not want to be involved in the child’s life.

The problem with the other 5% of cases not mentioned is that, quite frankly, it may turn babies into commodities. The Kehoes couple wanted to have a child but the female could not carry a child to term and it was very improbable that she could even conceive. The couple purchased their child from other people who had no known relation to them. They chose the route of surrogacy for the children they wanted much like someone picks between fine wines and strong spirits. The egg came from a medical school student at the University of Michigan and the sperm came from an athletic man who had maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school. They chose the surrogate mother based on a rating system that helped pick the “best” candidate for an easy delivery. Neither female nor male of the Kehoes couple had any part in the birth of the twins nor is there any genetic relation between the Kehoes and the children.

Legally, there truly is no answer for who are the parents of these children. The donors for the most part do not want to be involved and they usually view this procedure no more than people who donated blood for money. Legally, if those who provided genetic character to a child refuse to be legally responsible, the state needs to watch the children until foster parents adopt the children through the legal proceedings. The problem with the surrogate program is that while parents have to go through extensive screening for adoption, there is no standard for screening the parents who pay for surrogate procedures, and most couples are never screened aside from the question of whether or not their check clears. However, there is another problem: in these cases, the surrogate female is recognized, at least in some states, as an equal in legal rights to the children as the economically liable couple.

The surrogate female of the Kehoes case, Ms. Baker, challenged the couple in court for custody of the twins on the grounds that Ms. Kehoes was being treated for severe mental illness that would normally restrict her from adoption. Ms. Baker stated that had she known the mental state of Ms. Kehoes she would not have gone through with the surrogacy. The state of Michigan decided to rule with Ms. Baker and the children are now currently in her custody but the legal proceedings continue and the question of who will be considered legal guardians is still very much undecided. Similar cases have occurred in California, Oregon, New Jersey and Texas, all of which eventually ended in favor of the economically liable couple.

The question of whether or not any part needs to be played in the birth process as a requirement for parenthood still needs to be answered, as does the ethical implications behind “buying” your children. The miracles of fertilization now are to be met with the confines of law. What will occur from the encounter is still very much undecided.

For the original article please visit:

For the site that the Kehoes used to find their surrogate please visit:

For further references on foster care and the most up-to-date status of this and all cases please visit:

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Should the government get involved?

cerealCheck out this video from ABC news concerning the present state of affairs of cereal boxes.

Cereal companies are claiming that their products are healthy options, despite the fact that they contain tons of sugar and dyes. How far can companies go with misleading information before the government should get involved?
I find this fascinating 1) because people don’t stop and think, “Wow that’s a lot of sugar maybe it’s not so healthy” and 2) that it’s actually taken this long for the FDA to purpose a new method for labeling food… these labels have been around as far back as I can remember reading cereal boxes as a child.
It’s outrageous that companies can make scientific claims with really no scientific data to back it up, or rather with contradictory data and yet consumers continue to buy into it.

It all sounds a bit too familiar to the tobacco product ads that originally claimed cigarettes were a “healthy option.”

[via abcnews]

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Science requirements irk to the core, a reply.

In her opinion piece “Science requirements irk to the core, “Matilda Swartz has not only missed the point of the CLA&S academic requirement for two science labs, she is on the slippery slope of being over-specialized in her academic focus and under-prepared for the communications profession that she is pursuing. The study of science is not an exercise in credit garnering, nor is it irrelevant to those who want to concentrate on mastering the arts. Rather, science is literally at the foundation of most of what runs the known world. When students spend a semester or two in the lab – any lab – learning the language, methods and process of science, they are learning how humans discover, use and preserve the world around us. That may sound, as Ms. Swartz says, that Villanova is merely trying to mold well-rounded students who are wrapped in golden and rare knowledge. Not so. The current requirement for science courses by CLA&S students is to prepare them for business and the world they are about to enter. Those business majors that Ms. Swartz envies for their fewer science course requirements will likely end up in a business setting that is literally based on the discoveries, actions and thinking of scientists. And those marketers, accountants and managers will do much better for themselves, for their future companies, and for the consumers of their products if they have a clue as to how scientists think and how they develop the next new breakthrough product or the next important theory. Spending time on bacteria stains is really about spending time in a lab environment, thinking for a short time as a scientist thinks. It’s hard work. Even communications majors, who may end up in public relations firms, will likely work with clients who have scientists and their work as the core value of their company. She would do well to be prepared.

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Rechargeable Fuels Cells Looming in the Future, but are They Safe?

batteryBetween all the posts about fluorescent light bulbs, nuclear energy, and decreasing green house gases, I thought it was only appropriate to add to the conglomeration of environmentally-friendly technology.  Just like CFLs, a major problem with conventional batteries used in laptops, ipods, cell phones, etc. is that they are difficult to recycle.  As a matter of fact, of the 3 billion batteries Americans purchase each year, 179,000 tons of those end up in landfills contributing to the toxic metal waste build-up in this country and around the world.

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel though!  Researchers at the technology company Lilliputian have just revealed that they are in the final stages of making portable fuel cell batteries available to the public.  These batteries allow a small amount of fuel such as methanol, butane, or formic acid into the system’s chip which produces electricity without any combustion, thus negating the release of any greenhouse gases.  Although the product Lilliputian is planning on releasing in the next year or two uses butane and can only be used on devices that charge via USB port such as digital cameras or cell phones, this would open the door for bigger, and more efficient fuel cells in the future.  However, there is an economic concern; the company is projecting a $100-150 price tag for their cigarette lighter sized fuel cell system.

Although I’m all about saving the environment by trying my best to recycle paper and soda cans, I’m a little concerned about the presence of butane, methanol, and formic acid present in fuel cells.  Because methanol and butane are flammable and formic acid is corrosive, it took research companies a while to convince the U.S. Department of Transportation and the International Civil Aviation Organization to allow the transport and use of the fuel cells on board aircraft.  I completely agree that fuel cells should eventually replace conventional batteries so our electronics not only last longer but drastically decrease the magnitude of battery waste, but is it worth the risk of people carrying around flammable and corrosive materials from day to day?

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CNN cuts science team…

CNN cut its science and technology news staff last week and The Weather Channel canceled their climate change program Forecast Earth during NBC’s ‘Green Week.’ (NBC purchased TWC this summer.) I honestly don’t know what to think, but the cynic in me isn’t surprised.

Science coverage is already nonexistent in mainstream media; do these moves give other media outlets the precedence they need to drop science coverage altogether? Maybe the “important” assignments will go to the celebreporters when they aren’t trying to figure out what Speidi* is doing. In a society so deeply rooted and dependent on science and technology, concerned and responsible science reporting should be a priority rather than being summarily flushed.

It is clear that if ‘news’ cannot be sensationalized, politicized, or monetized, it must not have worth so why report it. It’s also clear that the mainstream media is not going to take responsibility for accurately reporting on science and technology issues that affect our lives every day. What hope is there for mom and dad, the grade school teacher, or the local government official to make informed and responsible decisions rather than instinctually reacting to an overhyped media blitz?

(*Spencer & Heidi – thanks to the Soup!)

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Genetically Modified Foods

A recent article reports that countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, specifically China, are relaxing previous restrictions on the importation and research of genetically modified crops.   This is because of the increasing demand for food from growing populations, which often results in hunger epidemics.  Genetic engineering has focused on producing plants which thrive in cold weather, droughts, nitrogen poor soils, among other desirable characteristics like herbicide and insect resistance.  On the one hand, genetic engineering does (more efficiently) what farmers have been doing for centuries-artificial selection through crossbreeding.  These developed traits allow for less fertilization (less chemical sprays in the environment and chemical residue on the foods) and higher yields to feed the public.  On the other hand, the public has voiced concern about the health effects of GM crops, or “Fraken-foods.”

GM crops are already in widespread use, especially in the US.  According to this article from C&EN,

In 2007 GM crops were planted in 23 countries across 281 million acres, a larger area than all the farmland in Europe.

Rice, corn, cotton, and soybeans are the major targets.  There is talk about requiring products made with GM crops to be labeled, and some companies are voluntarily labeling already.  Companies like Silk who use soybeans (the most GM crop) gladly label that they do not use GM beans.

I think the question here as in many of our debates is how much science should interfere with nature.  I’m actually not sure where I stand on the issue:  I see both sides.  It is the purpose of science to find a way to keep up with the growing needs of the world, and food is the most basic of these demands.  But at the same time, it is often difficult for scientists to accurately predict the full repercussions of their developments.  Are the risks worth it?  Both for our bodies and the environment?

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Your tax dollars at work, naming rights to the new Mets ballpark

Citigroup is keeping their $400 million naming rights deal for the new Mets ballpark, Citi Field. 

You might have missed the news because it came on Friday, but Citigroup announced it was not planning to back out of the naming rights deal for the Mets’ new stadium, Citi Field. That’s the 20-year, $400-million naming rights deal. []

This is after announcing they are cutting an additional 52,000 jobs. Oh, and they are receiving around $326 BILLION, yes, that’s a B folks, in the government bailout. While only $20 billion is cash, the remainder amounts to the forgiveness of close to $306 billion in “toxic mortgages and related securities” (i.e., gambling debts). Unconscionable…

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Are you sure you don’t want to supersize your order?

C&EN had an interesting article yesterday about research that was conducted to determine the amount of corn found in fast food products, specifically french fries, chicken, and beef. The research covered McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s and approximately 500 servings of chicken, burgers, and french fries were analyzed. A. Hope Jahren examined the foods’ compositions by looking for different isotopes of corn. At the same time, she also tested for nitrogen content which is linked to the use (and consumption) of fertilizers.

They found that 100% of the chicken and 93% of the beef had been fed exclusively a corn-based diet. And the nitrogen analyses indicate that the livestock had been dining on heavily fertilized feed.

I suppose this probably won’t come as much of a surprise to many people, but I found this article particularly interesting because this research is the first to show scientifically that our nation is becoming heavily dependent on corn.

Corn agriculture in the U.S. has been criticized as being environmentally unsustainable, requiring disproportionate amounts of fertilizer and fossil fuels.

I can’t stand the fast food industry. It’s causing serious health problems in our country. I understand that from an economic standpoint this industry is fantastic for us, raking in about $100 billion a year, but really it’s just disgusting and I don’t understand how anyone can eat this food (especially after seeing Fast Food Nation). Cows and chickens are not supposed to eat corn – they’re supposed to graze and eat grass. We’re changing their diets, causing them to get sick, and in turn we’re eating their illness stricken muscles. I’m appalled by the fact that people continue to eat fast food not knowing what exactly is in it, and that the companies are allowed to continue selling these products without ever having to reveal what they’re actually serving.It’s also important to recognize the fact that these cows and chickens in the fast food industry are also coming from the same source that supplies our grocery stores.

If any of you are fast food fans, please enlighten me.

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Nuclear energy and religion?

If anyone has read the Wednesday, October 29, issue of the Villanova Times, you might have seen an article on nuclear power entitled Debate Over Nuclear Power Intensifies by Matt Crawford.  In this article, Crawford presents the political and environmental arguments for and against nuclear power.  He then inserts the opinion of sophomore student Mike Patson, who believes that nuclear power “is dangerous as well as possibly unethical according to the traditional Christian standards of moderation.”  Crawford goes on to say:

‘From a Christian perspective,’ said Patson, ‘nuclear energy is not an ideal technique to generate power.  While nuclear energy can provide a seemingly endless amount of energy, Christians are called to live simple lives.  The ethic of love thy neighbor is applicable.  Nuclear plants will be built in less powerful social and economic areas, and this is where radioactive waste will likely be kept as well.

Since when does the decision of whether or not to shift this country’s dependence on energy to nuclear power depend on its concurrence with “traditional Christian standards of moderation”?  Furthermore, the assertion that Christians are called to live simple lives does not apply here.  Nuclear energy is not an x-billion dollar piece of bling we can put on a chain.  No one basks in the luxury of fission.  The point is to utilize a more efficient and bountiful source of energy that will help everyone, not just a select few.

This argument could go on for quite some time.  Is anyone else concerned about an assertion such as this?

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Physics the Next President Needs to Know has quick Q & A piece with Richard Muller, author of the book Physics for Future Presidents, and a physicist at UC Berkely and LBL. The questions focus on terrorism, space exploration, and global warming.

Physics may be the furthest thing from the minds of the presidential candidates right now, but a solid grasp of the science behind some of the latest headlines will be critical for the winner. []

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The Candidates on Science and Technology


Scientists and Engineers for America (SEA) prepared fourteen questions on science and technology policy for the 2008 presidential candidates:

4. Education. A comparison of 15-year-olds in 30 wealthy nations found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 17th, while average U.S. math scores ranked 24th. What role do you think the federal government should play in preparing K-12 students for the science and technology driven 21st Century?

Take a look at McCain’s answers, Obamba’s answers, or a comparison of their answers. The side-by-side look at the candidates on science policy is also very interesting. Lastly, take a look at what national voters think about science and the elections. And then there’s the authority

[SEA via Sciencedebate 2008 via gizmodo]

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76 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse Obama

Not to belabor the point but…

Now, this is no group of sycophants, these are some of the greatest minds of our nation, so it is really impossible to view this as some sort of partisan blindness. I can’t help but think that the recent ridiculous comments of both McCain and Palin on science have something to to do with the new additions, but to their credit, they limit their statement to science, something they know a little about. For those of you have been asking, I do not know of a single Nobelist in science who has endorsed McCain/Palin. [via ScienceBlogs]

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A Vote For Science YouTube Challenge!

If you want to see who other scientists are voting for and why, check out the current crop of vids including Nobel laureate Marty Chalfie.

Scientists and Engineers for America Action Fund and ScienceBlogs have teamed up to bring you the AVoteForScience YouTube challenge. Are you a scientist? Tell the world who you are voting for this year. McCain? Obama? None of the above? Upload your YouTube video explaining who you are, who you are voting for and why you are voting for them. Tag your video with “avoteforscience” and we’ll favorite it. Make sure to end your video with “My name is [your name] I’m a scientist and I’m voting for [insert your candidates name here]. Simple as that. [via ScienceBlogs]

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Powell’s Presidential Endorsement

I don’t think I have seen such a thoughtful and balanced opinion regarding two presidential candidates. It’s well worth the seven minutes to watch. Remember, Powell is a conservative and was Bush’s Secretary of State before being forced out.

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The GOP’s war against science

I’ve been hesitant to post anything political here, but I couldn’t resist in this case as it does reflect the anti-intellectualism displayed during the current ‘regime’ and what we can most likely expect if they win the election next week.

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity. [Slate via Cosmic Variance]

And if you want to see what it would be like with Palin as President

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More BPA stuff… and a bonus!

While it is likely that the studies used were funded by those with a vested interest in the outcome (shock and awe), I’m not sure exactly which study is in question. I’m assuming (a bad habit to pick up) it is the NTP report I posted about previously.

But critics questioned why the FDA based that ruling on three studies funded by the chemical industry, all of which found BPA to be safe at current exposure levels. Hundreds of independent studies in animals and cells suggest the estrogen-like chemical poses serious risks. [via usatoday]

What really chaps me here is symptomatic of the mass media in general, no link or actual reference to the original work. I know that 90+% of their readers wouldn’t do anything with the report, but it would be nice, and responsible, if they linked or made specific reference to the work (or study) being reported. It’s not that difficult! They go on to mention a study in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, connecting BPA to heart disease and diabetes, but again fail to link to the original source. Only by following a link to another story do I find a link to the original work, for which I give them props! Go ahead, see how long it takes you to find it.

Maybe I’m not as patient as I once may have been (possibly) or perhaps I’ve been jaded a bit (highly likely), but I’d really like to see responsible and accurate reporting of significant and insignificant science stories in the mass media rather than the marketing of ‘news’ through fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). Maybe it’s just too much to ask…

OK, I feel better now…

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Why take it to the Next Level?

This website has been presented to me as a senior at Villanova Univeristy, someone who has taken a lot of undergraduate classes. I am a chemistry major, as are the other students in Dr. Kassel’s class, and we have chosen to make chemistry a big part of our lives, the predominant focus of our undergraduate careers and curriculum.

There is an enormous amount of literature and countless websites on chemistry and science out there on the big “world wide web.” However, a lot of them seem unapplicable to me as an undergraduate and someone who is still learning how to navigate through all of the chemistry information on the internet. I think this website that Dr. Kassel has here is extremely helpful to me. He is using this website to help us read and be exposed to chemistry (and other stuff) that IS applicable and useful to us. It has the potential, if read and used, to help us expand our understanding of chemistry and apply our “text book” knowledge to real life situations. Wow-did you ever actually think you were going to be able to do that?!?!?

I really really encourage you to take a look at this website daily this semester and in the future. Dr. Kassel is making a commitment to you to put up interesting articles and posts. I have never had a professor that has done this before and it actually is a really cool opportunity. It can keep us all connected and it is fun. Commenting enhances the quality of this website because it helps us all know each other’s thoughts on certain articles and other cool things. It’s fun. Everyone is friendly with each other already because it is a small group…I know some of you are very funny, intelligent, witty, entertaining writers so show off your skills!!! Even if you don’t see yourself as a good, witty or entertaining writer, use this opportunity to practice. Practice makes perfect so why not start now? There are no situations or jobs or graduate school programs where you can completely avoid writing-in fact most of them really embrace, encourage, and require writing, so this is a good place for all of us to start getting practice-practice on commenting and responding to science and intellectual stimuli.

If you need help navigating the website or figuring all of this stuff out, let me know. I will see what I can do to help. Good luck and have fun with this! After all, besides the fun parties, great friends, clubs, groups, sports and so on, we are at Villanova to get an education. We pay a ton of money and invest a lot of time to leave this place with the greatest possible preparation for what is to come; why not take advantage of this opportunity to improve your writing, get more comfortable with technology, and increase your overall scientific knowledge and awareness? Take it to the next level.

Another note about molecule of the week: while only a short paragraph is needed to complement your picture, this paragraph is important. Dr. Kassel is looking for depth and strength in content AND style. Speak scientifically. I struggled with this a lot because I have taken soooo many liberal arts classes and I feel like I have been programed to write about my feelings and I have gotten away with vague analysis of literature. However, science writing is different. Details are key and a more sophisticated vocabulary is called for in order to make your arguments/explanations/summaries. This is an assignment meant for your benefit. I will be writing my master’s thesis in a year and a half (actually a little less ah 🙂 ) so I really appreciated this exercise-even though it was really only a paragraph!!

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Impressions about Molecule of the Week Assignment

Initally, I was intimidated by this assignment. I don’t read science journals on a daily basis – actually I don’t really read them ever – and I was weary about where to begin. However, I decided to volunteer to do the assignment first with the initial notion of just getting the assignment “over with.” But fortunately, this assignment turned out to be quite a delight.

I believe I’ve never checked out an online chemistry/science journal, nor ever picked one up to read because I’m intimidated by the content. Also, I never really knew where to look – what information is legit? what information pertains to my interests? what are my interests? The list of questions is basically endless and I credit them for my procrastination. But now, thanks to this assignment, I realize that much of what is out there isn’t really intimidating at all. And actually, I felt really awesome when I understood the science that was being discussed in the article (I know 3 years ago not a word of the journal would have made sense to me and it was great to put my education to use). So I encourage you all, do not be intimidated by science journals – there are a lot of neat things amongst the pages that might just spark your interest.

This assignment also opened the door to the wonderful world of Mercury. While working on the assignment, Dr. Kassel showed me a lot of cool things that can be done to manipulate images. So I suggest you all make sure to download a copy of CSD and get acquainted with the program (its available in the Chem Office and it only takes a few minutes).

As far as the actual writing portion of the assignment is concerned, I believe it helped me recognize my weak points. This assignment has showed me the importance of learning to think and read in chemical/scientific terms and then summarize the article in a scientific manner. It’s important to note who your audience is and learn how to adapt your writing accordingly. Also, because of this assignment I was required to think and read chemistry outside the classroom – an important part to developing as a well-rounded Chemistry major.

So all in all this assignment turned out to be quite a developmental project – I didn’t just read about some metal complex and then summarize 8 pages for your personal enjoyment. I learned a lot about my own abilities, using a weblog, using Mercury, and the importance of exploring, reading, and writing about chemistry outisde the context of class.

Embrace the assignment! And if anyone needs help with anything don’t hesitate to ask.

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