A Couple of Items of Interest

Two unrelated items of interest today. Firstly, one of the Immortality Institute members dug up a 1972 Jacques Cousteau commentary on physical immortality in the context of evolution:

Imagine an immortal animal. ... Has evolution ever produced such a prepossessing creature? Theoretically it should be possible for the various components of the endocrine system of an animal so efficiently to collaborate that physical obsolescence is simply banished from its life program. We know of certain plants--for example, lichens and the bristlecone pines of California's Inyo Forest--that live many thousands of years, near enough to immortality so far as animal lifespans are concerned. But the oldest animal of which there is a record seems to be a tortoise that managed to struggle through 150 years (plus, perhaps, another 25 years or so)--not all that much older than many old men.

Paradoxically, if immortality has ever been attained, it has quickly been eliminated, simply because immortality cannot survive. An immortal animal would be a dead animal--the representative of a vanished species. As we saw in the first volume of this series, Oasis in Space, as least four times in the past 600 million years the reef communities around the world have all been all but obliterated by upheavals in the environment still not completely understood. Skeletons of palm trees have been discovered in Antarctica. At one time there were meadowlands on that continent, now under hundreds of feet of ice, not unlike the plains of the American West. Faced with this dimension of drastic environmental transformation any immortal animal would be helpless. His ideal adjustment to the old environment spells certain extinction in the new. Locked into this "perfection," he cannot adjust. Immortal or not, he must die.

This is somewhat of a reductio ad absurbdum in demonstration of ideas that are commonly held today by evolutionary biologists. A nice find, and a reminder that the roots of all present ideas run deep.

Meanwhile, and switching topic, this New York Times article is a good illustration of the damage done by the cancerous encroachment of intellectual property:

Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.


For example, the human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?"

If you accept that open competition under the rule of law and strong traditional property rights is the best way to harness the baser nature of humanity to produce progress, then it quickly becomes obvious that patents - and indeed any form of intellectual property - are a very bad thing indeed. Ideas, designs and data are fundamentally different from raw physical materials. Like so many other forms of governmental interference in a free market, the spread of patents provides short term enrichment for those who can buy influence, but at the dreadful cost of slowing progress for all of us.

There are any number of business models for medical science and provision - as for every marketplace - that do not require intellectual property. Look at any industry comparatively lacking in intellectual property restrictions and you'll see high levels of dynamism, creativity and competition. Stifle these things and you stifle progress.

You can be as rich as you like, but it isn't going to help you all that much if your wealth came in the form of a tax that discouraged basic scientific research on the condition that will kill you. You can't buy what doesn't exist - and you certainly can't buy what fails to exist because of your actions. Hopefully, I do not need to remind people that a day lost across the board in medical research costs 100,000 lives and another day of terrible suffering for tens of millions.

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