Mad scientist holds world hostage. So the story ran in the books and B-movie serials of my youth, later to be refigured with a glaze of camp in the evil geniuses of the Bond saga and slathered with outright parody in the Austin Powers series. Absurd fiction? What about the hideous "experiments" conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele on Jewish "subjects"? And where did Aum Shinrikyo get their ample supplies of sarin when they decided to hurry up the apocalypse?We're not like that! scientists protest. Those are rare exceptions—awful, yes, but you can't judge science by those aberrations. They are right. We need to look at "normal science," science as it is practiced at thousands of sites all around the world in a vast network of knowledge and experiment, rigorous testing and peer review, cooperation and fierce competition. Today we celebrate one of the supreme achievements of "normal science": the completion of a "rough draft" of the human genome, the generic blueprint of the human organism. In the rest of this just-begun century, we will work out the implications of this map. We can only guess at the extraordinary gains that will come in treating hereditary diseases and other malfunctions that have brought so much misery.But even as we celebrate this great achievement, we should feel wary—not of "mad scientists," though there are such, but of the dark side of "normal science."Consider an op-ed piece by David Baltimore from Sunday's New York Times. Baltimore won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1975; he is currently president of the California Institute of Technology. He epitomizes "normal science" at its most successful.So how does he mark this occasion, the completion of the mapping of the human genome? He begins with a rhetorical question: "How does the genome change our lives, now that these secrets are laid so bare?"His first answer must have surprised even many readers of the Times. "First," Baltimore writes, "it confirms something obvious and expected, yet controversial:

our genes look much like those of fruit flies, worms and even plants. Should there be any doubt—and, unfortunately, there is vehement doubt in some circles—the genome shows that we all descended from the same humble beginnings and that the connections are written in our genes. That should be, but won't be, the end of creationism.

Wow! So that's what all the effort was about: to prove that human beings and the rest of Creation were not formed by God roughly 6,000 years ago. But what about people—including Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and a devout Christian—who believe that there is no incompatibility between the biblical account of creation, when it is read aright, and the evidence of the genome, when it is read aright? Are they also proved to be wrong? And what about people who persist in believing that even though we humans have a lot in common with a head of lettuce, not to mention mandrills and chimps and orangutans, we are different too, "a little lower than the angels." Are they also refuted by the genome? So Baltimore inadvertently has taught a different lesson: science is never "pure." In case we didn't get it the first time, we are given a second chance, when Baltimore begins passing the hat. The great adventure that lies ahead, he intones in his best preacherly style, "will only happen if the projected financing for the work of the National Institutes of Health is continued. … Funding for this effort needs to be maintained."Oddly, with all this talk of funding, Baltimore somehow forgets to note that many of the scientists who have been studying the secrets of the genome have also become entrepreneurs, hoping to share the profits in what promises to be a boom that will make the Gold Rush look like a yard sale.And in the entire piece, there's not even a single cautionary word about the great potential for evil that this powerful genetic knowledge holds, nor any word about how scientists should take responsibility to anticipate and prevent such abuses.Mad scientists are easy to recognize. They look odd, like Number 1 or Dr. Evil or the head of Aum Shinrikyo. Normal scientists? They stride along in their linen suits, laptops in hand, people just like you and me, full of pride and greed, generosity and love, intellectual curiosity and ideological baggage. In a word, human. Now that's a scary thought.

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Visit Books & Culture online at or subscribe here. Baltimore's piece, "50,000 Genes, and We Know Them All (Almost)quot; no longer appears on The New York Times site for free, but it can be purchased for $2.50.For more on the news of the genome mapping, see the massive coverage in The New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, and other news sites.The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity at Trinity International University has commentary and more links to human genome news.Beliefnet has several articles on the mapping, including commentary by Gregg Easterbrook, an article about the devout Christian who heads the National Human Genome Research Institute, and some wire stories on the big news.The cover story of the April 29, 2000, issue of World magazine focused on the genome project.See also the National Institutes of Health site on the Human Genome Project, Celera (the private company assembling the human genome), and Yahoo's full coverage, which offers links to news, opinion, audio and video clips, and other Web sites on the subject.Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:History Wars Update | 'Feisty' historians attempt to reconstruct their discipline. By Donald A. Yerxa Semite Sensibility | What makes a movie Jewish? A series of film festivals takes a look. By Camilla Luckey (June 12, 2000) Beneath the Orange and Green | A survey shows Northern Ireland's hope lies in its churchgoers. By Mark Noll (June 5, 2000) Barna & Bailey | The Greatest Research Show on Earth? By John Wilson (May 22, 2000) Peacemaking in Northern Ireland | Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell considers the long, often painful process. By Mary Cagney (May 15, 2000) Our Bodies, Our Selves? | Facing the discomfort we have with our physiques. By John Wilson (May 8, 2000) True West | Three excellent museum shows—not to mention our magazines—reexamine the American frontier. By John Wilson (May 1, 2000) Defending Faith and Learning | Baylor University's Polanyi Center comes under fire from the university's faculty. By John Wilson (Apr. 24, 2000) Lie Is Beautiful | Dante understood irony's use as a weapon against intellectual arrogance. By Andrew Jones (Apr. 17, 2000)

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