martes, 9 de febrero de 2016

Russians are becoming more family-oriented

Russians are becoming more family-oriented

Welcome to Demography Is Destiny. We launched this to counter two media memes: that humans are a cancer which is destroying our planet and that world population is spiralling to unsustainable levels. The real story is that intelligent and inventive humans will rise to the challenge of climate change and that our real problem is the coming demographic winter. The editors of Demography is Destiny are Marcus and Shannon Roberts, who live in Auckland, New Zealand. Send them your comments and suggestions.  - See more at:


Russians are becoming more family-oriented
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While Russia’s demographic outlook has improved in recent years, the country continues to struggle to reverse negative population trends.  Since 1992, about 12.5 million more Russians have died than have been born.  Thus, Russia's population has fallen every year since then except 1993 and 2010, the decline softened only by immigration. 
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently called on lawmakers to ensure that traditional moral values are safeguarded in the country's legislation in his first-ever address to the Russian State Duma, his reasons in part demographic.  According to the Moscow Times, the Patriarch commented that:
"One of Russia's main misfortunes is the high number of abortions … If the number of abortions was halved, we would have steady and strong demographic growth."
In 2010, 1.2 million abortions were carried out in Russia, according to the federal state statistics service, the terribly high number still a vast improvement from the 2.1 million recorded a decade ago in 2000.  The Patriarch proposed that abortions should no longer be covered by state medical insurance, which he said was "supported by taxpayers, some of whom are categorically opposed to abortion." 
The Russian state continues to uphold conservative moral values.  According to the Patriarch, the political sphere is secondary to the sphere of values and "no Russian political party should destroy these primary values because [if one does], there will be no Russia." Kirill added that the current composition of the Duma "implements on a practical level" the duty of protecting the country against "modern pseudo-values that are an offense to the identity and humanity of civilization as a whole."
In a poll last year conducted by the Levada Centre, Russians were asked about what they considered to be the most important things to achieve before turning 30.  Most female Russians chose getting married, giving birth and receiving an education (in that order) ahead of other options such as starting a business and travelling the world.  The three top priorities for men were receiving an education, getting married and serving in the military.  The poll was conducted among respondents from 46 Russian regions.  The results seem to bode well for the country if it is to recover from its historically dire birth rates, and reflects the trend towards more Russians embracing traditional family values. 
Olga Isupova, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics' Institute of Demography, opined that the results are due to the government’s agenda in recent years, in part aimed at improving negative population. She comments that “[Russian] people are open to these influences”, stating that conservatism has “never been as [strong] as it is presented to now.” She considers that the number of people holding traditional values has increased because those who always held conservative views but doubted them, no longer do, and those who disagree are not so inclined to talk about it openly.
However, she also comments that government advertising and ‘propaganda’ doesn't have absolute power because the declining birthrate in Russia doesn't correspond with most men and women naming having children as a top priority.  Instead, she considers that people must really believe the message for themselves and be willing to change even if it means sacrifice for real change to occur.  Women may claim that their calling is to become mothers because they are unable to resist the pressure from the society, but this pressure will not make them do what they don't want to do.  “If people are used to a particular lifestyle, they will not change it in a matter of seconds because of propaganda … It's impossible to motivate people to do something because someone else wants it for them.”
There are four categories of values societies all over the world share, according to the World Values Survey (a research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, carried out by a worldwide network of social scientists since 1981): traditional values, secular-rational values, survival values and self-expression values.  The latest cultural map created by the scientists involved in the project places Russia and other Christian Orthodox countries somewhere in the middle between traditional and secular-rational values.  However, it seems that Russian society is becoming more interested in traditional family values, rather than drifting away from them like much of the world.  
While it is hard to agree with Russia's intense nationalism and repressive political culture which can extend to hate crimes against those who disagree with the State, the positive promotion of family values bodes well for future birth rates, unborn babies and families
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MercatorNet: CRISPR, but no clearer about the human embryo

CRISPR, but no clearer about the human embryo

Gene editing relies on an unscientific approach to embryonic life.
Javier Cuadros | Feb 9 2016 | comment 

A human embryo implanting, six days after fertilisation.
(Source:IMAGES.WELLCOME.AC.UK) via Infinity Imagined

The first ever permission to conduct genomic editing in human embryos was granted recently by the UK body regulating human fertilization and embryo research activity (Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, HFEA). The permission is not universal but provided to individual applicants and only for research, the journal Nature revealed.

The permission was granted to Dr. Kathy Niakan, a developmental biologist working in the Francis Crick Institute in London. In the experiments, embryos will be manipulated and maintained for about seven days, and then destroyed.

One must admit that the news has the taint of Brave New World. Sure enough, on the electronic page carrying the news there was an inset with a title that ran “Where in the world could the first CRISPR baby be born?” Somewhere very "brave" and "new" in its approach to human life, no doubt.

CRISPR is the name of the specific gene editing technique. A lot of research is going on with human embryos and by the look of it much more is coming. My argument here is that this scientific activity carries within it a big element of insincerity.

Science is a process of knowledge in which we penetrate ever deeper into the fabric of nature and of the processes taking place in it. It is a journey through different layers of understanding. The starting point is the simple, immediate observation of individual phenomena. At this stage the “appearances” of things are noted. It is a good starting point and the only one there is.

As the observations multiply, include other connected facts and phenomena, and the human mind elaborates all of them together, it is typical that the original appearances, solid and evident as they are to the uneducated eye, are shown to be incorrect. The reality is different and the “false appearances” prove to be due to specific conditions or viewpoint.

The Earth appears to be stationary and the Sun, Moon, planets and stars to circle around it. Observation of the movement of the planets suggested a different explanation, which was finally proved by Foucault using a pendulum he devised.

The continents appear to be solid and stationary masses. Geological observation, especially of large mountain ranges, volcanic activity and earthquakes suggested that they are part of plates that actually move, collide and go past each other. This has been proven by multiple observations at very different scales, from continent to rock level, and now satellites can measure with high precision the relative displacement of the continents.

Animal and plant species appear to be fixed, maintaining always their identity. Observation of the fossil record indicates that the species existing along the long geologic eras have been different and that species have evolved into new ones. The appearance of fixed species is a result of the short time span of our original observations.

All these facts were hard to prove and encountered a lot of opposition within scientific circles.

The examples could be multiplied. It is in the very nature of science to penetrate underneath the appearance of things to understand their real inner workings. And the process is repeated time and again. The deeper explanation and its description of facts become the new “appearances”, that can be left behind by new observations or deeper and wider elaboration of those already existing.

This is why I have always been puzzled about the reluctance of scientists to apply the same program of investigation to the nature of the human embryo. Are human embryos men and women and thus entitled to the inalienable right to life and respect  for their dignity and physical integrity, or are they not?

Here, many scientists (biologists and doctors) are for applying the simple criterion of appearances. No, they are not men and women, they say, because they do not look like a person. Agreed, they do not look like a developed human being. But the Earth looks like it is stationary, the continents anchored and so on. Surely scientists should be ready to explore the issue further in order to test whether the appearances tell the whole truth. Following such investigation it has been pointed out that shape does not make a human being.

It has been shown that the most fundamental element of the presence and identity of a human being is the existence of a specific DNA molecule. The embryo, with its complete DNA information, contains all the essential elements of the developed human being. All that is necessary for such development is nutrition and the appropriate environment, however specific they need to be. There is no essential change taking place with the embryo after the egg is fertilised. As far as one can see, this is the deepest level available now to define a human being from the scientific point of view.

Abortion laws allow terminations up to certain stages of embryonic development. The reason is that the embryo looks more like a person after these stages than before. There can be no other reasons because there is no other change in the embryo before and after the legal limits. Then, of course, a newly generated embryo is so much unlike a developed human being that the same argument applies. This is very unscientific.

I really wonder that such a superficial approach is allowed to go unchecked in this age that has seen and continues to see so much progress in the discovery of underlying layers of understanding of the fabric of the universe. I suspect that, for some scientists, the question “When does a human being begin to exist?” is not answered considering only the scientific evidence. They also include in their argument a battery of social issues.

It is argued in support of CRISPR, for example, that the embryos used in the gene editing experiments will be donated by couples having IVF treatment, as though their co-operation removed a major ethical obstacle. Of course, this question has implications that affect both individuals and society in the most vivid ways. However, to allow social arguments to take over the investigation of the nature of the human embryo is also a very unscientific approach. It amounts to using opinion surveys to advance nuclear physics, or any other branch of science. This is not the way forward either for science or for society to benefit from the knowledge that science provides.

Research with human embryos is producing knowledge and human beings will benefit from it. But there is a scientific lie lurking in the middle of the whole business. After all, science is not just knowledge; it is also power. Let science be just slightly manipulated here and there, using pressure from political parties or lobbies, and what a powerful means for financial and political hegemony it becomes. And how hard for the scientist to resist the temptation of riding the huge wave that the slight manipulation will create.

Javier Cuadros is an earth scientist working in London
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MercatorNet: CRISPR, but no clearer about the human embryo


The people who want to experiment with human embryos to show that they can prevent disorders; those who create embryos in the lab and then throw some away; and those who insist that there is nothing wrong with abortion because a fetus is not a person -- all think they are the real scientists. But, as Javier Cuadros argues in his article about gene editing, they are not. Or at least, not honest ones.
That is because they judge a person by appearances, which is only the first step in science. The truth is that no matter how a week-old embryo LOOKS (a clump of cells) it already has all the genetic information necessary for it to grow into an adult human being. All it needs is what the rest of us need -- the environment that will nourish its life. Scientists know that. We know that. Outfits like the UK Human Fertilisation and and Embryology Authority (that gave permission for gene editing a couple of weeks ago) know that.
How can they get away with treating these new brothers and sisters of ours like mere stuff? Dr Cuadros has the answer, I thnk.

Carolyn Moynihan
Deputy Editor,

CRISPR, but no clearer about the human embryo
Javier Cuadros | FEATURES | 9 February 2016
Gene editing relies on an unscientific approach to embryonic life.
Russians are becoming more family-oriented
Shannon Roberts | DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY | 9 February 2016
It's a political priority.
Hillary rejects ‘safe, legal and rare’ abortion goals
Sheila Liaugminas | SHEILA REPORTS | 9 February 2016
“It’s hard to overstate how extreme Mrs. Clinton’s new position is.”
They ridiculed my big ears, so I killed them?
Izzy Kalman | FEATURES | 9 February 2016
How to prevent tragedies motivated by ridicule of body parts.
Where are all the men? Dating in the 21st century
Bernard Toutounji | FEATURES | 9 February 2016
Women were keen, but we had to beg men to come to a dating event.
Social media can strengthen families
Denyse O'Leary | CONNECTING | 9 February 2016
They can help people stay in touch better than any other device invented by human ingenuity. (For better or worse.)
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