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: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence