Simon Carr:

The Sketch: What is a stem cell? Most MPs don't have a clue

Share
Related Topics

Pens faltered, brows furrowed, note-taking stopped. One by one you could see MPs and gallery journalists realising that the most fundamental fact about the debate is they didn't actually know what a stem cell is. That's quite a disadvantage when it comes to the big ethical question of human/animal hybrids for research purposes.

For instance is the statement "mitochondrial DNA is autonomous" a) true, b) false, c) a misreading of illegibly scrawled notes?

Mark Simmonds told us scientists were making sperm from pluripotent cells. I asked the departmental official how it was spelt. He didn't know. Maybe it's pleuripotent. As to what it means – seven people on the floor of the House would have known.

"I know science," Dr Ian Gibson told us, but spoilt his effect by adding, "I know science backwards!" Because that's how I know science too.

So we all have to ease back on the mockery, I fear. "We should not be spliced together with the animal kingdom," Edward Leigh told us, bravely, I suppose. There was some spluttering from Labour benches, but I doubt they'd get into double figures on a Mastermind genetics quiz. Ian Gibson intervened a little grandly, perhaps, to ask what the difference was in base sequences between animal and human DNA. Mr Leigh said: "The hon gentleman is trying to blind us with science." There was more aggressive spluttering. Leigh then revealed that he knew he was genetically 30 per cent a daffodil. He'd been told so that very morning.

Chris Bryant (30 per cent fruit fly) said that many of these church-based anti-research arguments sounded like the campaign against vaccination all those years ago. This ad hominem point marked the poor fellow's final descent from sweet reason into politics.

Brian Iddon criticised Leigh's use of words like "entity" and "being" to describe "a blastocyst consisting of 150 cells". Leigh replied: "An embryo is not a thing." It was an assertion of faith with no logical basis. Of course, I don't mean to imply he was wrong.

It's the provision for 50-50 hybrids that make some of us drop our morning toast. Evan Harris asked for the ethical difference between a 50 per cent hybrid and a 1 per cent hybrid. He didn't get an answer – but there must be one, and a little reflection would produce it. But there wasn't time before the vote at 6.30pm.

Gordon – I'm guessing – doesn't know any more science than the rest of us. So how can he – or we – know what the moral course of action is?

simoncarr@sketch.sc

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger & Arrears Supervisor

£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are an experienced super...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Web Designer

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Now’s the time to bring back Top Of The Pops

David Lister
Amanda Knox will learn today if her conviction for murdering British student Mereditch Kercher has been upheld  

Amanda Knox: A retrial, two films and endless speculation - will the fascination with Meredith Kercher's murder ever end?

Peter Popham
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss