Harry Potter and the prisoner of biological variations.

If you are one of the exclusive few that hasn’t watched or read the story of Harry Potter, this article may be harder to follow. However, the brief explanation below should explain the individual elements which are necessary to understand this piece, and should make things clearer.

Within the Harry Potter world, there is the school Hogwarts. Famed for its academic credibility in the teaching of witchcraft and wizardry. Within this school, the students are divided into four “Houses”, each with their own set of distinct differences and characteristics. These houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin; each named after famous wizards and witches from the Harry Potter universe. The House Gryffindor was famed for bravery, courage, and strength. Hufflepuff for hard work, perseverance and loyalty. Ravenclaw on intelligence, mental ability, and wisdom. Slytherin for cunning, for power, and nobility.

Students, when first attending the school, are sorted into these different houses by a magical talking hat; the Sorting Hat. And in these Houses they remain for the duration of their lives. Each of these Houses has different attributes, and each attribute has different benefits and drawbacks. Certain Houses are famed for certain characteristics and prospects are widely determined based on the Houses students are in.

In a rather informal, but conclusive, manner, a twitter poll was run asking four distinct questions. The first two being very much so linked. When the twitter sphere was asked “Out of the Harry Potter Houses, a member of which house do you think would be the most successful in the workplace?”, the highest voted House, with a total of 48% of the vote was Ravenclaw, followed by Slytherin on 27%. In last place came Hufflepuff, on 11% of the vote. Thus, people deem the House of Hufflepuff to be the least likely to accrue success.

Furthermore, when asked the question “A member of which house would be the least successful?”, a similar story unfolded. A grand total of zero votes, 0%, of all respondents voted that Ravenclaw would be the least successful. Echoing the results from prior poll. 53% of people voted that Hufflepuff would be the least successful, with Gryffindor on 21% and Slytherin on 26%.

From the books, people therefore thought that the House of Hufflepuff would be less likely to achieve well in the real world. Any logical or rational person can see why though. The people in the House of Hufflepuff possess different traits; perhaps less desirable traits. Perseverance and loyalty, although admirable and beneficial, does not a person who excels make. When compared to traits such as cunning, or bravery, or intelligence, the ability to continue plodding along at a certain task with perseverance seems logical that these characteristics are less desirable in environments that specifically require high levels of competency. Additionally, traits such as loyalty and friendliness correlate to a psychological trait known as agreeableness. People with high levels of agreeableness are shown in the workplace to be less successful, and to earn less than their counterparts. Assuming these assumptions are accurate, and that traits that are possessed by the members of the House Hufflepuff, it would be logical to realise that the theoretical success of House members is determined by specific psychology attributes and traits.

The black and white argument, which would surely be illogical, is to assume that someone who is part of Hufflepuff, is less successful because they are in Hufflepuff. That their success is predicated not by their individual and independent attributes, but by some collective notion that specific House membership determines the course for the individual. This view is dangerous. It assumes that because someone is a part of some group, they are therefore necessarily less capable, rather than allowing all individuals to be treated based on their own merits and own abilities.

The general theme so far of this piece may seem absurd. For what reason does Harry Potter and their systems of Houses fit at all into the real world? In general, this analogy can be used to describe the problems of gender, of the gender pay gap, and of disparities of genders in certain career pathways. Empirically, factually, and scientifically, men and women possess different psychology attributes. We have labelled them is society as “masculine” or “feminine” based on which gender is more or less likely to have these features, although this notion should be rejected. It is equally possible, although less likely, for a woman to possess the same psychological traits as men. Whether it is openness and lateral thinking, industriousness, agreeableness, neuroticism or some other mental trait. Each psychological characteristic exists not in black and white, but on a scale, you can be more or less neurotic than others, for example, and in terms of research, different levels of different personality characteristics correlates to success in the workplace.

The danger we have as society is assuming that because someone is a women they are less capable than a man. Whilst women on the whole tend to possess traits that deem them less attractive in areas of high stress and competency, this does not mean for one second that a women may not be capable of the job at hand. Women in high competency or high stress jobs will often have lower levels of agreeableness, higher levels of industriousness, than fellow counterparts. But similarly, men in high competency positions and high stress positions will equally have higher levels of the traits which empirically show higher aptitudes. The conflation that characteristics are purely male vs. female, or masculine vs. feminine is wrong. It is equally plausible for both men and women to have the same traits, and thus the levels of success in these individuals will roughly correlate. Men and women who have equal traits will be in equal positions and likely have equal pay (within a margin). In a pluralistic society, in a free, equal society, people who are equal will achieve equal degrees of success.

If we want to ensure that women are more successful, traits such as industriousness must be encouraged, and agreeableness discouraged. However the argument comes down to how much these traits are determined by genetics. Much like with IQ, training and environmental factors will likely be able to increase or decrease IQ by say up to 10 or 20 points either side. However someone who genetically is predisposed to an IQ of 100 will never reach parity with someone who is predisposed to an IQ of 140, and just as education, training, and psychotherapy can allow women to reach their full potential, this may never, due to biological reasons, allow them to exceed that of “males”, as an aggregate of the collective group.

The blame for this, by many, has been placed on the nature of the capitalistic society. This cut throat, competitive, dog-eat-dog system. But to argue “what if the system was different?” or “what if this was not the case?” is illogical in any real scope of questioning. It is not about what the world could be in an abject utopia, but about where the world is, what we want it to be, and how we enable it to get there. Trying to use the powers of the state to mandate equality of outcome, when it is physically impossible for that to ever be the case, only acts to the detriment of society. The liberal movement, for it to be truly accepting and competent, needs to look at science, it needs to look at empirical data and results, and use this information to mold the world into the shape it can be within the scope of reality.

Just as saying that someone is worse off because they were put into the House of Hufflepuff is sorely illogical, saying that someone is less capable is predicated from the fact they are a woman is false. They are less capable due to the psychological traits they are more likely to possess, and these are universally variable across the species.

In fact, different physical traits are correlated to differing mental traits. For example, someone who is tall, is more likely to have a higher IQ. This is due to the way that our genome is coded. Our genome exists of around ten million of what are called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs for short. Thousands of these SNPs correlate to different physical traits, and there is assumed to be an overlap between the formation of these SNPs. The Manhattan Plot is a way of measuring hundreds of thousands of SNPs, and with the data we have today there is a clear correlation between the possession of different SNP groupings and different traits. Therefore it is entirely possible to assume that the genome of different people will indicate success in the work place, and thus the differences between the genetic structure of men and women will determine to what degree success is reached.

To conclude, a piece of food for thought: it has been shown that the number of differences between the sexes, including psychological differences and differences in terms of jobs and wages, are far larger in countries which are more gender egalitarian. There is no sociological factor that is forcing men and women to be different. In nations where people are more free to follow which paths they choose, men and women are more likely to tend towards different pathways. The actions by the modern feminist or egalitarian movements actually seek to reduce the freedoms of women by forcing them to go into positions or careers they otherwise would not seek to choose. This is a disgrace, this is illiberal, and it will only seek to hurt individual members of society.

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Could lab-grown meat save the human race?

To many, the concept of manufacturing meat seems like a new phenomenon, with advances in genetic science, cloning, and general biology, however, it has a rather in-depth history. The first landmark experiment leading to the development of in vitro meat is the 1912 experiment performed by Alexis Carrel. In these experimentations, Carrel took tissue culture from an embryonic chicken heart, and used a mechanism of structuring and providing this culture with the necessary nutrients for continued growth, thus aiming to prove that living cells could survive indefinitely under the right conditions. Whilst the results of his experiments were anomalous and were never successfully repeated, it was the first such use of what the modern, cultured meat, science would use.

Moving forward towards the first citing of the theoretical possibilities of utilising such technology for the creation of meat for human consumption, one rather famous Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, wrote that “The great mass of human beings, absorbed in the toils, cares and activities of life, are only dimly conscious of the pace at which mankind has begun to travel”. This is the first sentence of Churchill’s 1931 article “Fifty Years Hence”, which is an extraordinary read for those who have not yet considered it. In the piece, Churchill discusses his predictions and prophecies for the next fifty years, and although Churchill is perhaps a tad optimistic at times, it provides an accurate prediction overall for developments such as nuclear science and cloning. In one paragraph, Churchill writes that “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”, and thus the theory of in vitro meat was set in motion.

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A time travelling Winston Churchill wielding a lab-grown chicken drumstick in the year 2067

Not quite fifty years hence, but a mere eighty-two years later, the first public trial of lab-grown meat for human consumption was broadcast to the world. In 2013, a group of three food critics tested, on live television, the quality of lab-grown meat. At that time the cost of one lab-grown burger was around £250,000. However, since then, the costs have plummeted. Peter Verstrate, the head of Mosa Meats, a company which is planning to mass commercialise cultured meats, stated in April 2015, that he was confident that the commercialisation of lab-grown meat will happen within five years – and he is likely to be correct. Since the 2013 test, the cost of one burger has fallen from that £250,000 price tag to a mere ~£8 per piece.

With an ever-growing demand for meat from developing countries, and the mounting environmental concerns around the practice of producing and sustaining the current agricultural industry, lab-grown meat is a welcome and positive story that can, and no doubt will revolutionise the food industry. The cost of meat could be at an all-time low as the technology develops, including a wide variety of beneficial health implications.

Now let us focus on the science behind the meat. In current procedures, scientists biopsy stem or satellite muscle cells from a group of general muscle cells taken from the animal of choice. The cells taken are responsible for repairing the muscle in the donor animal. These cells are then immersed in a nutrient rich medium which encourages their potentially indefinite growth. To put this growth into context, there can be a few hundred muscle repair cells from just a few strands of muscle tissue, estimates from scientists have suggested that from as few as 10 of these cells we could, under the maximum ideal conditions, produce 50 tonnes of meat.

Next comes an area which scientists have not yet fully mastered; lab-grown cells, much like naturally grown cells, need exercise and general wear and tear to form the same texture as “actual” meat. Another problem for scientists comes in the structuring of the growth of cells. So far, it has proven difficult to structure the lab-grown cells in such a way that they produce any three-dimensional form of structure. Mainly the procedure creates a thin layer of grown cells, which can be removed and turned into what is essentially a minced meat type substance. To produce a fully formed chicken breast or steak, it would require far more development, but nothing is beyond reach. The main issue is that this common procedure produces only muscle, there is yet to be a method developed to simultaneously grow different cell types (blood, fat, muscle etc) in a natural pattern. However, once these, and a few other obstacles have been overcome, lab-grown meat production could create meat which has an identical likeness to naturally grown meat.

The latest Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) figures suggest that the agricultural industry produces around 14.5% of all total greenhouse gas emissions, greater than the entire release of emissions from global transport. Whilst the FAO has stated that emissions from the agricultural industry can, with the right implementation of waste reductions and energy saving techniques, be reduced by a third, it does not make an overall difference due to the increasing demand for meat and animal products. By the year 2050, it is estimated that the demand for meat and milk will increase 70%. Duncan Williamson, the corporate stewardship manager at WWF-UK, has stated that “Around 30% of global biodiversity loss can be attributed to livestock production”. According to the WWF “The net loss in global forest area during the 1990s was about 94 million ha (equivalent to 2.4% of total forests). It is estimated that in the 1990s, almost 70% of deforested areas were converted to agricultural land.” Regardless of one’s political position, it is difficult to comprehend the vast scale of the damage caused by the meat industry, and the potential benefits that producing meat in factories could have. An independent study from the Environmental Sciences & Technology Journal has shown that lab-grown beef takes 55% less energy to produce, 4% of the total greenhouse emissions and 1% of the total land use. One of the major criticisms however of the practice, is that since the levels of energy consumption are so high, and estimates as to how much energy will be needed for a level of in vitro meat production on a commercial scale are not known, it is said that the solution could be equally as polluting as the current meat industry, although indirectly. However, with advances in power generation, such as the emergence of cleaner fossil fuel power generation technology, nuclear and renewable energy sources, high energy consumption does not necessarily indicate that the process is not “green”, only that our main method of producing electricity is not.

A problem that will cause us havoc over the next few decades is the growing rate of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria. Without effective antibiotics, medical procedures will become ever more difficult. The world health organisation has stated that standard procedures such as “organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery (for example, caesarean sections or hip replacements) become very high risk”. In addition to common diseases such as pneumonia and chest infections could become extremely lethal once again. Such an eventuality would increase the rates of mortality, increase the average length of stay within a hospital, and dramatically and adversely impact the economic standing within nations. For us to prevent widespread antimicrobial resistance a major step must be taken to do two things: reduce the rate at which microbes are becoming resistant, and two, develop new strains of antibiotics. The latter is not relevant within this article, however, the prior is. The intensive farming industry is one of the largest causes of AMR that we’ve identified. In essence, antibiotics are being used within intensive battery farming to ensure that animals are able to survive in squalid conditions, this is used to reduce the price of meat, and to also increase the amount produced. According to a report produced by an independent body chaired by the British economist Jim O’Neill, farming within the US uses up to 70% of antibiotics which are critical to medical use in human beings. These antibiotics are used in healthy animals to both speed up growth, and as a preventative measure to stop disease spreading due to the unhealthy conditions the animals are kept in, as a result, the levels of AMR is becoming ever more prevalent – especially within countries that have massively developed economically over the past 20 or so years. Due to a lack of regulation, antibiotics which are kept as a last resort to save the lives of human in case of widespread AMR are being used within the farming industry, because of this, bacteria is ever more likely to adapt to become resistant. In a recent study from China has shown that some strains of Escherichia coli have developed resistance to colistin, a form of polymyxin antibiotic. This antibiotic is a last resort antibiotic, one of the last effective forms in our antibiotics armoury.

The waste runoff from intensive farming is another major concern when antibiotics are used in farming, there is very little that can be done to prevent these antibiotics escaping into the environment. Studies of sludge at wastewater facilities have shown a growing level of resistance across the spectrum. It is evident that with in vitro meat that there is no necessity to facilitate the rearing of animals, and thus there needs not be any form of antibiotic use over the lifespan of livestock. The effect this has on AMR will be substantial. Potentially influencing the lives of millions over the next few decades. If there is a single overwhelming argument in favour of the development and use of commercially viable in vitro meat production, this is it. Opponents to cultured meat state that despite growing levels of AMR in intensively farmed animals, there are precautions which can be taken to ensure general levels of AMR are reduced, namely by regulating and reducing the use of antibiotics within the farming industry, however to do this, the agricultural industry must raise the standards of care for animals, thus increasing the price of meat. This is another area where in vitro meat could one day beat normally reared meat.

The cost of developing a lab-grown burger in 2013 was £250,000, by 2015 that price had dropped to £8. With the technology still in development, it would not be too foolish a projection to suggest that this price will drop further. The cost of meat grown in a lab will almost certainly reach a price that is cheaper than naturally raised meat, with the quality and health implications being better by all measurements. With less of an environmental footprint, a reduced effect on the development of antimicrobial resistance, and with in vitro meat being potentially lower-priced than battery farmed meat, the arguments for its consumption are great. Without even touching upon the morality of consuming another creature in being, the emergence of lab-grown meat is a positive development for society.