Simon Carr:

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

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?

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - OTE £100,000

£45000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Sales Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jilly Cooper  

Jilly Cooper’s Riders: You actually can judge some books by their covers – so don’t meddle

Rosie Millard
Strength in numbers: the big, happy extended family from the 1970s television series 'The Waltons'  

How to be happy: Stop chasing the bigger house, better job or higher salary, and do what makes you feel good

Victoria Richards
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific